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World Politics

The New Status of Indonesia

(25 November 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 47, 25 November 1946, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

An agreement has been reached between the Dutch empire and the Indonesians – called a “masterpiece of compromise” by Robert Trumbull, New York Times correspondent, in a November 13 dispatch – which grants Indonesia the right to an “independent republic” within the framework of the Dutch empire. The major islands, Java, Sumatra and Madura, will compose the Indonesian Republic, while the other islands are to be united with this republic within two years in a United States of Indonesia. Holland and the Indonesian Republic are to be united under a joint body headed by the Dutch queen.

Does this then mean that the Indonesians have successfully achieved their national independence, for which they have fought with such bitterness during the past period? We believe that, despite the formal rigmarole and the undoubted concessions granted by the Dutch – granted because of their own weakness and their fear that a stiff policy would result in even greater rebelliousness – the Indonesian people have not yet achieved their national independence.

“A Rocky Road Ahead”

What has happened in Indonesia is similar to recent political tendencies in India and the Philippines, however different the roads they travel. The restive populations of these colonial lands have forced indecisive nationalist leaders into struggles, which, though not fully consummated, have gained for them a certain measure of political independence without in any essential way lessening the economic exploitation of the imperialist powers which made their rule so oppressive.

Thus Robert Trumbull writes in the above-mentioned dispatch to the N.Y. Times that “Foreign business interests with heavy investments in Indonesia are particularly interested in the agreement guaranteeing that foreign enterprises will not be taxed more heavily than Indonesian industries ... the econonic position of the Dutch in these islands will be little impaired by the new political status ...” That last sentence is the key; for so long as the economic domination of the Dutch continues in Indonesia – as does that of the U.S. in the Philippines or Britain in India – no genuine liberation has been achieved.

That this deal with the Dutch will not be readily accepted by the Indonesians is indicated in the remarkable dispatch of Trumbull who, as so many other Times’ correspondents, reveals more than he thinks he does. Trumbull writes that “It remains for President Soekarno of the Indonesian Republic to sell this new point of view to the fervent nationalists. This Mr. Soekarno promised the commission he would do ‘with the full power of my personality’ ...” The egotistical phrase about his personality reveals that Soekarno is cut out of the same cloth as the Nehrus and Quezons: vain, self-centered, strutting petty-bourgeois peacocks who see in themselves the center of history. But, more important, why should Soekarno have to “sell” this new deal with the Dutch – unless because it does not really give the Indonesians the independence they desire?

Trumbull writes further that “Neutral observers foresee a long period of tension and mutual distrust fomented by numerous extremists on both sides. The Republican government of President Soekarno and Premier Sjahrir, which accepted this compromise with the Dutch, has a rocky road ahead.” Naturally; since the intransigent nationalists want to drive the Dutch “into the sea” – that is, out of their country – and those of their spokesmen who are fighting hardest for complete independence, like Tan Malakka and several hundred of his followers, have been imprisoned by the Soekarno government. But the struggle for complete Indonesian independence, which means first and foremost the reconquest of the wealth of the islands at present in the hands of Dutch and British imperialists, will continue. Yes, indeed, the government of Soekarno faces a rocky road ...

For the people of Indonesia have sacrificed too much, have spilled too much of their blood in the last two years of their independence struggle to be satisfied with this deal. They will understand that the deal provides them with many conquests, but not the complete national independence which is their aim and was within their grasp.

The Ceaseless Struggle for Freedom

When the war in the Pacific ended, the people of Indonesia through their self-created organizations and armies seized control of large sections of their country. They imprisoned many of the Japanese leaders and put large parts of the Japanese army in internment camps. The British, however, upon their arrival restored many of the privileges of the Japanese army – to the extent of using Japanese troops to quell the mass Indonesian movement. The Christian Science Monitor was then moved to write that “The situation is unparalleled in history and the spectacle of the defeated Japanese army still being held responsible for the maintenance of law and order is not easily understood and is causing doubt in the minds of the Asiatics as to the future position of the white race in the islands.” In polite language that meant that the Indonesians didn’t want British or Dutch rule any more than Japanese.

For months the British conducted a full-scale war against the inadequately armed but brave nationalists and in their campaign of reconquest they were considerably aided by the timorous and compromising leaders of the Indonesian Republic. The British said they were conducting their vendetta in behalf of their “Dutch cousins,” but they themselves had plenty at stake in Indonesia. British capital, through its domination of the Royal Dutch Shell Corporation, controls over forty per cent of the rich oil production of the islands, an investment estimated to come to twenty-six million pounds sterling. That this imperialist suppression was conducted by a Labor Party government only made it all the more shameful. And that the Nationalist Peoples Army of Indonesia had announced as one of its aims the nationalization of foreign-owned property, confirmed the British in their desire to help their “Dutch cousins.”

Once the nationalist forces had been scattered and many of their leaders imprisoned, the British brought the hated Dutch back to Indonesia and, with a fanfare of democratic trumpets, announced their own withdrawal. Like the master hypocrites they are, the British even urged the Dutch to negotiate with the Indonesians!

The present agreement is the result. And what a vivid contrast it makes with the words of Soekarno who said a year ago that “We do not recognize any Dutch return to power and we will not deal with them.” Today Soekarno has agreed to rule under Her Majesty, Queen Wilhelmina, and will exert the “full power of my personality” to sell this deal to the Indonesians.

But the Indonesian masses, aware that even the advantages of this deal were won by their struggle and not by Soekarno’s negotiations, will want to fight through to the end with, the aim of having their country as their own to do with as they will – without Dutch, British, U.S. or Japanese imperialism or any Indonesian Quislings of that imperialism.

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