From the February 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard
Television, radio and newspapers for several weeks, on and off, have been announcing news from Indonesia: Military Coup in Sumatra, Oil Installations in Rebel Hands, Banks Seized in Indonesia, Take-Over Flags Hoisted, Dutch Alarm Over Communist Threat, Air-Lift for Dutch from Indonesia, Dutch Navy Moves, British Firms Fear Loss of Staff, Sea Claim By Indonesia.
Why the Western Capitalists are worried
Western capitalists with investments in Indonesia are, of course, worried about the seizure of property and investment in Java belonging to the Dutch. While the Western capitalists are prepared to cut one another’s throats in the struggle for trade, when there is a threat to their general interests, then they become brotherly. Of a total foreign investment of U.S. $1,400 million in Indonesia, the Dutch own U.S. $1,040 millions, the British U.S. $200 [millions], and the U.S.A. $90 millions. The Daily Express, which expresses a viewpoint of some of the capitalists in an editorial column, pressed the British Government to take action against die rebels.
But the map shows the strategic importance of the threat there to Western Capitalism. Indonesia, the sixth largest country in the world as far as population is concerned, consists of a string of islands stretching for 2,000 miles from Northern Australia across the Pacific Ocean to the mainland of Asia. Were Indonesia to fall to rebels favourable to the “Communist” group, the latter would leapfrog S.E.A.T.O. defences, the U.K. Far East Command in Singapore and the Commonwealth Strategic Reserve in Malaya. Forming a barrier between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, it would endanger “Free World" communications. Indonesia is the focal point in the S.E Asia collective defence system. How the great powers fish in troubled waters is indicated by U.S. aid totalling $33 million, while the Soviet Union have granted a credit of $100 million.
An Adolescent Ruling Class
These individual items of news are only facets of changes that are going on, mere symptoms of a grander development, and it might be as well if we look behind the news items at the developments taking place there. The Dutch East Indies, as Indonesia was called before independence, was sternly ruled by a Civil Service under the Netherlands. The native ruling class increased from small beginnings without training in the administration necessary for the efficient running of a modem state, for the Dutch filled practically every job. This had the effect of making the Indonesian capitalists rely particularly heavily on their workers for support for the Nationaist Party (P.N.I.) in attaining independence and in the running of that country since.
Workers in Indonesia
Strictly speaking the Indonesian working class started in the 18th Century as employees of the Dutch colonists, but it was with the opening of the Suez Canal and the demand by industry for rubber and oil, the two chief exports of the country, that led to rapid development. In 1919, the formation of the Central Workers' Union led to a wave of strikes. The Colonial Government was at first sympathetic but when they saw the conflagration spreading they soon turned on the workers. In 1923 the Communist Party (PKI) was formed and grew in popularity, claiming to be a Workers’ party. Although its policy was one of reforming capitalism, many gave their support as the one hope (or so it seemed to them, not being socialists) in a repressive colonial set-up. The pressure of the Dutch workers and administrators forced the concession of freedom of the press and assembly for the whites, but the Indonesian workers also benefited to a lesser extent. The workers who bore the exploitation were supported by the native capitalists who found it quite simple to lay the blame for the workers' troubles on the foreign exploiters and also by the student body who had poor hopes of suitable employment whilst the Dutch filled the Civil Service jobs. In 1927 a Communist Party insurrection was suppressed.
Meanwhile, the radical transformation of village life proceeded apace as the great plantations with their demand for wage-labour and the oil wells were developed. Strikes grew more frequent and in 1926/7 there was a particularly serious outbreak.
During World War II the Japanese seized the colony from the Dutch, and partly because they were heavily committed elsewhere, gave a measure of self-rule to the budding native capitalist class. After the War was over the Dutch tried unsuccessfully to resume control of this former colony but it was already too late; the Native Government, with the support of the workers, were too firmly entrenched. In 1947 the Dutch resorted to warfare, and the Indonesian workers fought for their masters with Japanese arms.
But in 1948/9, the U.S.A., dreading the setting-up of a Communist Government in Indonesia hostile to western capitalism, suspended Marshall Aid to the Dutch, and their attempt to resume control failed.
Trade Unions flourished and in 1953 they had a total membership of 1,400,000. The reforms advocated by the “Communist” PKI and their hostility to the Free-World Bloc brought them support and in June, 1954, 17 of their members were elected to the Indonesian parliament. In the provincial elections of last year the PKI made further advances.
Thieves fall out
But things have not gone too well for the ruling class. Having seized control of the machinery of government they are now quarreling over the division of part of the spoils; on the chief island of Java, where the capital is situated, they are fiddling the central government taxes to the anger of the exploiters on the other islands of the Archipelago. Although this passing of the taxation buck to less powerful groups is quite a normal procedure for some capitalists, those who are being mulcted of their hard won proceeds of exploitation have not been philosophical about it but have rebelled, under the leadership of the local military. It is this that chiefly lies behind the news of revolts in the outlying islands earlier last year.
Indonesian Meat but with Different Gravy
But with the rebellion in Java there are other factors. One of the dangers in Indonesian society is that of authoritarian political methods above the village level. The authoritarian tradition and the related habit of dependence upon orders from above, both stemming from the long period of colonial rule and from the absence of democratic methods in the past and the ignorance of the workers as to their true class interests, has left the working-class movement wide open to reprisals from their masters. The latter have had enough of the well-nigh endless demands for better conditions. It has for some years now been fairly generally recognised there that it only required a market setback to spark off a general attack on the workers. The falling prices of rubber and other tropical products and the surplus of oil on world markets in recent months have done the trick. In the mixed reports from Djakarta can be seen the anti-working class trend of events. The situation here recalls our comments on Hungary and on Malaya in past issues of the Socialist Standard where we said “In other countries whenever the ruling group is firmly in the saddle of government they lose no time in turning on the workers.” This attack was under the cover of a New Life Movement aimed at getting the workers to work harder. All party leaders are agreed that the seven hour day, existing on all estates and mines, is wholly inadequate. Workers were recently taken during working hours from a variety of coffee houses by military police and excoriated as “time corrupters.”
Another red herring is the Government’s claim on New Guinea. This vast undeveloped area 1,000 miles away would be nothing but embarrassment to the Indonesian Government unable even to control their existing domains, but it serves to distract attention from their anti-working class actions at home. Visitors to the lush tropical islands of Indonesia may find the landscape a great change from the more temperate parts of the world but if they listened to the utterances of the Indonesian government leaders they might well imagine themselves back home again. The current policy of telling the worker to take his finger out and get cracking with a developing welfare state as an inducement, is another instance. To an extent, then, the crisis in Indonesia is the pay-off for the workers there.
Homeless Dutch Refugees
But we cannot conclude without a comment on the Dutch refugees. Once again the similarity with the fairly recent events in Hungary is in the plight of these people. The inhumanity that results from the decision to expel the Dutch residents by the Indonesian Government acting in the interests of the capitalist class there is revealing. The break-up of families and the horror of both young and old at being uprooted and driven out is an almost continuous process in a class-dominated society. The Dutch refugees now join the grim procession; before them the Hungarians, the 900,000 Arab refugees in the Middle East, the Muslims who have fled from India, the Hindus from Pakistan, the continuous stream from East Germany and the enormous number of White Russians in China now being forced to move again. It seems that this column of spectres will go on while the present system of society lasts.