Imperialism and colonial peoples’ struggles in the bloody experience of Indonesia
From its origins to 1920
(Il Programma Comunista, n.1-5,7-9, 1967)
The proletarian bloodbath Indonesia is emerging from, or is rather still plunged in, is the last link in a tragic chain we here propose to document as a picture of capitalistic thievery and a reconfirmation of the Marxist revolutionary program.
Considering the climate, fauna and flora of the vast archipelago that makes up present-day Indonesia (3,000 islands, of which only 1,000 are inhabited), Indonesia has the looks of a natural eldorado, a gods’ gift to man’s happiness. Inside 1.900.000 km², from Sabang in the north of Sumatra to Merauke in Western New Guinea, live 82.500.000 people. The average density is 44 inhabitants per km² (according to 1958 data). The temperature is stable and uniform (26,2 Celsius in both Pontianak, north-west of Kalimantan, and Kupang in Timor Island, in Djakarta, the temperature is 26,4 Celsius in May and 25,5 in January), and to this day 70% of eastern islands is covered by forests (80% in Kalimantan, 60% in Sumatra, 25% in Java).
While Indonesia’s average density is 44 inhabitants per square kilometer, in the Moluccas population density is about 80, in the Sunda Islands 65, in Sulawesi (or Celebes) 30, in Sumatra 25 and in Kalimantan (or Borneo) 7. As for Java, it concentrates about two thirds of the population, registering a density of 410 inhabitants per square kilometer. Many things have changed, of course, for the inhabitants of the "happy" islands from the period the Asiatic despotism of the Srivijaya kingdom, based on village-communities, ruled over them to when the colonial system was imposed through alternating events and bloody and ferocious villanies.
In the words of Karl Marx: “It was "the strange God" who perched himself on the altar cheek by jowl with the old Gods of Europe, and one fine day with a shove and a kick chucked them all of a heap. It proclaimed surplus value making as the sole end and aim of humanity” (Capital Volume I, Part VIII, Chapter XXXI).
Leaving aside the conjectures about a very ancient permanence of the human species in the islands of the Indonesian archipelago (in 1891 the famous Pithecanthropus was discovered in the plains of Trinil, northeast of Sumatra, and another was found in Java), let us focus on the period that goes from the tenth to the thirteenth century. During this time, the kingdom of Srivijaya flourished. The kingdom was an expression of the Asiatic despotism based on the typical village-community system, which survived until the end of the nineteenth century. We will later go through the abominations and the ferocious methods of the Portuguese, French, English and Dutch Christian colonizers as they succeeded, over the course of four centuries, in instilling the "natural" principle of private property over the peasants of the "happy" islands, forcing them to abandon the traditional system of the village-community by looting, robbery and massacre.
With the fall of the Srivijaya Kingdom, and through the rise in the 12th century of the naval empire of the Modjopahit Kingdom, the expansion of Islam inside the Indonesian islands was achieved. Unlike what happened elsewhere – for example in India – the spread of Islam was fast and certain, and today 88% of the Indonesian population is Muslim. On the social level, the new religion led to the disappearance of the caste system.
In the middle of the 13th century, the first Muslim states were established in northern Sumatra. When the Portuguese came across the Indonesian region in 1511, they were confronted with three powerful Muslim kingdoms. They were the Sultanate of Atjeh (Sumatra), Demak (East of Java), and Ternate (in the Moluccas). It is interesting that chronicles report that in 1414 a Muslim, Mohammed Iskandar Shah, was prince of Malacca. It is interesting because Malacca granted control over the spice trade from the eastern islands to India. In reality, the bearers of Islamism in Indonesia were Arab, Persian, Indian (from Sind and Gujarat) pirates and merchants. The sole purpose of the Muslim kingdoms of Malacca, Atjeh, Demak, and Ternate was to defend the monopoly of the spice trade. To give an idea of the profits ensured by this monopoly, we recall that for example, the price of cloves (mainly widespread in the Moluccas, Ternate, Tidore, Halmahera) doubled up as it traveled from the Moluccas to Malacca, furtherly increasing from Malacca to Europe.
In 15th century Europe, the development of artisans into industrial capitalists was too slow of a process in the face of the commercial requirements created by the then developing world market. It proceeded, as Marx writes in the above-mentioned chapter of Capital, at a "snail’s pace" as the feudal constitution of the countryside, the corporate constitution of the towns constituted its limitations. Those same limitations stood in the path of the development of the two forms of capital the Middle Ages inherited from previous economic formations and preserved: usurer’s capital and merchant’s capital. The barriers had to be broken, and they were with "force… the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one. It is itself an economic power", (Capital Volume I, Part VIII, Chapter XXXI). “The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production” (Capital Volume I, Part VIII, Chapter XXXI).
Such words Marx had about the "the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies" that was carried out by Portuguese navigators during the sixteenth century. It marked the dawn of the era of capitalist production. Albuquerque, the Portuguese adventurer who conquered Goa in 1510, occupied Malacca in 1511, using the most brutal violence against the local population. He then sent Francesco Serao to the Moluccas, center of clove production. The islands had already caught the attention of the Spanish (in 1521 Magellan landed there favorably welcomed by the sultan of Tidore), who left in 1529.
Despite the violence that the Portuguese resorted to in their policy of commercial expansion (e.g. in 1550 the Portuguese governor had the sultan of Ternate assassinated, provoking an insurrection) the methods they used to secure the monopoly of the spice trade consisted essentially in a number of agreements with the Muslim kingdoms of the archipelago. In 1521 a Portuguese bank was created in Ternate. Later, compromises were made with the sultan of Atjeh for pepper. Trading contracts in the Moluccas with the sultan of Ternate were made. These methods co-existed with violent methods of annexation. Timor was occupied, and so in Java were the states of Gresik, Panarukan, and Cheribon.
Competition from other European trading states (the Spanish occupied the Philippines and found Manila in 1517, Drake and the English arrived in Ternate and left with a massive cargo), made the price of spices rise enormously. According to Jean Bruhat’s “Histoire de l’Indonésie” (Presses Universitaires de France, 1958), the price of spices tripled after the Portuguese arrival. Gigantic profits were therefore accumulated in the period of time the Portuguese trade empire was formed, thanks to the monopoly of the spice trade violently imposed on the East Indies. Those profits poured into Europe and favored the genesis of industrial capital.
On one hand, European usury and merchant’s capital found free field in the West Indies, outside the constraints of the feudal constitution of the countryside and the corporate constitution of the towns: the ferocity of the methods employed look idyllic when compared to those characteristic of the colonial system in the era of manufacturing and large-scale industry.
On the other hand, the profits accumulated through the monopoly of the spice trade, pouring into Europe and moving from Spain and Portugal to Holland, made the rise of the first manufactures and industrial capital possible. In the cited Chapter 31 of Capital Marx wrote: "With the national debt arose an international credit system, which often conceals one of the sources of primitive accumulation in this or that people. Thus the villainies of the Venetian thieving system formed one of the secret bases of the capital-wealth of Holland to whom Venice in her decadence lent large sums of money. So also was it with Holland and England".
Marking the dawn of the era of capitalist production, the Portuguese trade empire of the East Indies also introduced its economic methods, similar to how dawns introduce the first sun rays of the day. In fact, not satisfied with the result of tripling the price of spices, turns out that, when the local production exceeded the possibilities of transport and the demands of the market, Portuguese traders destroyed any surplus on the spot to avoid a drop in prices. Camõens rightly sang "burning pepper [...] the dried flower of Banda. [...] The nutmeg, and the dark clove, to be sought in the new isle of Maluku". The "burning pepper", in reality, was being burned by Portuguese traders as overproduction hurt prices, igniting with these and other flames "the new Maluku island".
After enumerating, in the quoted passage, the signs that marked the dawn of the capitalist production era, Marx continues: "These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation. On their heels treads the commercial war of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre. It begins with the revolt of the Netherlands from Spain, assumes giant dimensions in England’s Anti-Jacobin War, and is still going on in the opium wars against China, etc" (Capital I, Part VIII, Chapter XXXI).
The secession of the Netherlands from Spain – which according to Marx was the beginning of the commercial war among European nations that had the globe as its theater – was, at the beginning of the Dutch colonization of Indonesia, one of its main causes. After Portugal’s annexation by Spain (1580), Netherlands’ clash against Spain made it difficult for Dutch merchants to secure spices in Lisbon, hence Holland’s economic necessity to colonize the East Indies. A long commercial war took place. Its stage was the Indonesian archipelago. The population was cruelly implicated and the war only ended in 1648 as Spain recognized Netherlands’ independence. Among the events: in 1595 the Hispanic-Portuguese fleet left Goa with the intent to destroy the Dutch fleet. In 1601 the Dutch chased the Hispanic-Portuguese away from the port of Bantam, and defeated them in Ternate. Netherlands’ colonization of Indonesia was manifested in a long commercial war, however, it was not a byproduct of the state’s initiative but of the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie that was forming. Marx writes: "The new manufactures were established at seaports, or at inland points beyond the control of the old municipalities and their guilds”. He adds: "The “societies Monopolia” of Luther were powerful levers for concentration of capital.
The colonies secured a market for the budding manufactures, and, through the monopoly of the market, an increased accumulation. The treasures captured outside Europe by undisguised looting, enslavement, and murder, floated back to the mother-country and were there turned into capital. Holland, which first fully developed the colonial system, in 1648 stood already in the acme of its commercial greatness. It was in almost exclusive possession of the East Indian trade and the commerce between the south-east and north-west of Europe. Its fisheries, marine, manufactures, surpassed those of any other country. The total capital of the Republic was probably more important than that of all the rest of Europe put together. Gülich forgets to add that by 1648, the people of Holland were more overworked, poorer and more brutally oppressed than those of all the rest of Europe put together” (Capital I, Part VIII, Chapter XXXI).
Thus, on one hand, profits "captured" in the colonies "by undisguised looting, enslavement, and murder", floated back to the mother-country and were there turned into capital for the first manufactures. On the other hand, those same manufactures found in the colonies "a market for the budding manufactures, and, through the monopoly of the market, an increased accumulation”. Holland, according to Marx, was the first to fully develop the colonial system. During this period, the industrial period, the colonial system was based on “looting, enslavement, and murder". So wrote Marx and so we will demonstrate, succinctly, in regards to present-day Indonesia.
Later, during the large-scale industrial era, the colonial system was "perfected", and today, during the imperialistic era, it is called "outdated", or, to use the jargon of the sycophants of capital, "rationalized". Moreover, purpose of our study is to demonstrate, using Indonesia as a specific example, that the "refinements" and "surpassings" of the colonial system are such only in terms of savagery and villainy.
Forced to acquire spices no longer through Lisbon, but directly, the Dutch commercial and industrial bourgeoisie founded the first Dutch trading company with the East Indies, the Van Verne Company. The company undertook its first expedition on April 2, 1595, reaching Bantam and Bali. Escaping the hunt of the Spanish-Portuguese, it triumphantly returned to the homeland. A series of Dutch expeditions then took place, reaching Sumatra, Java, Madura and the north of the Borneo. Van Neck arrived in the Moluccas, trading agencies set in the Banda islands. Consequently, in Holland new private companies flourished. In Amsterdam, the "New Company" was formed, which merged with the "Van Verne Company". In 1597, Balthazar de Moucheron founded a company in Zeeland. In 1598, the Middelburg Company was formed. Isaac Le Maire founded in Amsterdam the "Brabant Company". The States of Holland advocated for a single company "for the preservation of trade", and finally, thanks to the work of Oldenbarnevelt, a merger was achieved. On March 20, 1602, the "United East Indies Company’’ was born. The company had not only the monopoly of trade, but also the right to organize the colonial system in the Indonesian archipelago.
According to the aforementioned Bruhat (Histoire de l’Indonésie) the "United Company" had the right "to make contracts in the Indies with the country’s natural inhabitants in the name of the State, and to keep troops and officers for the administration of justice" that "will take an oath of Allegiance to the State and to the Company as regards trade". florins) was provided by the six Chambers of Commerce of the United Provinces. The Chambers were united by a federative bond in the Assembly of Seventeen, proportionally constituted as follows: Amsterdam (8), Zeeland (4), Meuse (2), North Holland (2), while the seventeenth representative of the Assembly was designated in turn by Zeeland, Meuse, and North Holland. Clearly, the State became the business committee of the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie. The States General appointed the directors of the Company based on a list proposed by the Chambers and the Company’s employees had to swear allegiance to the State. Fleets commanders returning from the Indies had to deliver a written report to the State. Finally, under the approval of the States General, the Seventeen decided to entrust the general management of the Company’s discount banks, forts, territories, military and naval forces to a governor general, the first being Pierre Both (1610-1614).
Now that the sound foundations of the first colonial system of the capitalist era were laid, its outward crowning was the foundation of Batavia, capital of the Company, in 1619. The Dutch commercial and industrial bourgeoisie now had freedom of development as it conquered the State, reducing it to its own business committee. It organized the colonial system so it could bring the "treasure" of the East Indies back home to transform it into capital and increase its accumulation by pouring its products into the colonies thanks to its market monopoly. Its rise and power is clearly shown in the following table, taken from Bruhat’s study:
|Dividends of the shareholders of the 3rd "United Company"|
As Marx writes, the colonial system, "the strange God perched himself on the altar cheek by jowl with the old Gods of Europe” proclaiming surplus value making was the ultimate and only goal of humanity. Let’s take a look at how the pious Calvinist colonists of the East Indies put their specific mission – according to which surplus value making was the ultimate and sole aim of humanity – into practice.
Let’s uncover the peculiar features of the colonial system inaugurated by the Company in the East Indies. On one hand, the policy of violent annexation continued with unparalleled ferocity. During this period, the long and atrocious Javanese wars took place, whose purpose was for the Company to impose its monopoly over the territory once corresponding to the former sultanate of Mataran. The Javanese wars only concluded in 1684. The war for Celebes, against the sultan of Makassar, went on from 1660 to 1670. On the other hand, the Company continued to pursue agreements with the surviving local powers. Now, however, these so-called "agreements" are reduced to the pure and simple monopoly of the Company, therefore generating the above mentioned endless wars and leading to progressive annexation.
The features of the "economic system" inaugurated by the Company are very illuminating in this regard. The features can be reduced to the following: the Company has the exclusive right to buy products. For example, in 1734 the Company ordered the Sultan of Mataran to cultivate pepper, ordering at the same time the destruction of any coffee cultivation within six months. Nearing the end of the century, coffee prices had on the contrary risen and coffee cultivation was once again imposed in the very same region. Another example: in the Moluccas, the Company ordered the destruction of clove plantations, generating revolts among the populations of Ambòina, today Ambon, (1648) and Ternate (1650). They succeeded in defeating Dutch garrisons, to which followed the atrocious repression at the expense of the local populations, the destruction of the plantations as inhabitants were enslaved and transported from one island to another.
Throughout this period, revolts came one after another. In Jepara, a discount booth was attacked and destroyed. In the Banda islands the harvesting of spices generated revolts. In the Keli Lontor, Palau Bun, Rozengain islands male population was exterminated, and women and children were enslaved. In 1740, Batavia itself, capital of the Company, was stained with the blood of a sort of St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre, in which Chinese people (mostly artisans and small traders) were slaughtered. The latter joined Chinese residents outside of Batavia and together rose up, managing to occupy the cities of Kartasura and Rembang. It took the Company two years to tame the rebellion.
Summarizing the features of the first phase of the Dutch colonial system, corresponding to the industrial period and the original accumulation of capital, Marx wrote, in the aforementioned Chapter XXI of the First Book of Capital (referring among other things to a work by Thomas Stamford Raffles – English governor of Java in 1811 during the times of the commercial war between France and England – Java and its dependencies, London, 1817): “The history of the colonial administration of Holland – and Holland was the head capitalistic nation of the 17th century – “is one of the most extraordinary relations of treachery, bribery, massacre, and meanness”.
Nothing is more characteristic than their system of stealing men, to get slaves for Java. The men stealers were trained for this purpose. The thief, the interpreter, and the seller, were the chief agents in this trade, native princes the chief sellers. The young people stolen, were thrown into the secret dungeons of Celebes, until they were ready for sending to the slave-ships. An official report says: “This one town of Makassar, e.g., is full of secret prisons, one more horrible than the other, crammed with unfortunates, victims of greed and tyranny fettered in chains, forcibly torn from their families”. To secure Malacca, the Dutch corrupted the Portuguese governor. He let them into the town in 1641. They hurried at once to his house and assassinated him, to “abstain” from the payment of £21,875, the price of his treason. Wherever they set foot, devastation and depopulation followed. Banyuwangi, a province of Java, in 1750 numbered over 80,000 inhabitants, in 1811 only 18,000. Sweet commerce!".
The villainy of the colonial system in the East Indies, in its first phase corresponding to the industrial era, however, did not draw criticism in Holland. Marx wrote: "With the development of capitalist production during the industrial period, the public opinion of Europe had lost the last remnant of shame and conscience. The nations bragged cynically of every infamy that served them as a means to capitalistic accumulation".
At the end of our analysis of the first phase of the Dutch colonial system in the East Indies, and as a conclusion summarizing its historical significance, we add as an epigraph the words with which Marx ends Chapter XXXI of the First Book of Capital: "Tantae molis erat, to establish the “eternal laws of Nature” of the capitalist mode of production, to complete the process of separation between labourers and conditions of labour, to transform, at one pole, the social means of production and subsistence into capital, at the opposite pole, the mass of the population into wage labourers, into “free labouring poor,” that artificial product of modern society. If money, according to Augier, “comes into the world with a congenital blood-stain on one cheek,” capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt".
The commercial war between European nations with the globe for a theater – which according to Marx accompanied the fundamental moments of primitive accumulation and started with Netherlands’ secession from Spain – assumed, again according to Marx, gigantic proportions in England’s anti-Jacobin war.
Before we get to the war and its consequences on the evolution of the Dutch colonial system during the transition from manufacturing to Modern Industry, we believe it is of interest to acknowledge a marginal episode of the perpetual commercial war that accompanied capital’s genesis. That would be the one between Holland and England from 1780 to 1784 that led to the English conquest of Penang George Town. This was one interesting war because it was grafted onto the American War of Independence. Alongside the armies of Washington and Horatio Gate, not just France (1778) and Spain (1779) but also Holland (1780) fought against England. Aim of the anti-English intervention was, on the part of Spain and Holland, to reduce the size of the English colonial empire. In fact, following the Treaties of Versailles (September 3, 1783) not only was the independence of the thirteen American colonies recognized, England had to also surrender Senegal and several islands in the Antilles to France while Spain seized Florida and Menorca. As for Holland, it surrendered Penang to England, as we already mentioned.
Such are the "anti-colonialist" origins of the United States of America, which managed to wrest their independence only due to a chapter of the commercial war for the division of the colonial loot among European countries. Colonialism is the greenhouse capitalism blossomed in, and American capitalism is no exception. It emerged from a chapter of the commercial war between Spain, France and Holland against England, and developed through the massacre of aboriginal populations and the semi-colonization of South America. Today, as capitalism reached its imperialist phase, American capitalism extends its power to Africa, Asia and Latin America, and its methods surpass in ferocity and villainy those employed by the colonial systems of the past. Today, its rapacious hands also extend over Indonesia, as we shall see at the end of the current study. Still, despite everything, the false "communists" of the Kremlin and the Quakers of the world impudently pretend to weep over the fate of the American "democracy" compromised in the Vietnam War!
After what is not a digression but rather an anticipation, it is now time to take a look at the repercussions of England’s anti-Jacobin war on the evolution of the Dutch colonial system. The Batavian Republic, born after the French Revolution, signed a treaty of alliance with France in 1795. In the meanwhile, in London William V was inviting the Company’s governors to welcome the English as friends. Colonial administrators on their part decided to remain loyal to the new government. On May 1, 1796 the old Company dissolved, and a "Committee for the Affairs of East Indies Trade and Possessions" was formed. In reality, both the Dutch bourgeoisie and the administrators of the defunct Company had nothing to fear from the new Batavian government. Suffice it to quote, in this regard, two passages on the abolition of slavery from April 27, 1799 Declaration: "It is not necessary to apply the principles of liberty and equality in the possessions in the Indies as long as they are in the necessary state of subjection. It will not be possible to abolish slavery until a higher order of general civilization permits the amelioration of the slaves’ fate by the cooperation of all the European nations that have dominions overseas" (Jean Bruhat).
Throughout those years, of course, England’s anti-Jacobin war – a gigantic expression of the commercial war for the division of the colonial spoils among European nations – continued. In the East Indies it manifested in the perpetual war between the English and the Franco-Dutch. From 1808 to 1810 the French became rulers of the East Indies. On August 8, 1811 Batavia was occupied by the English, and the fate of the Dutch colonies fell into the hands of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, remembered by Marx as the late lieut. of Java. In 1814 England returned its colonies to Holland, however Raffles refuted the "betrayal" and held out. On January 29, 1819 Raffles founded Singapore, Strait of Malacca‘s mandatory trading center, on an island "bought" from the Sultan of Johor. Finally, following the Treaty of London (March 17, 1821), the English kept Singapore and the East Indies remained Dutch possessions.
Having recalled the chronicles of England’s anti-Jacobin commercial war and its repercussions on the Indonesian archipelago, it is crucial to take a look at the years Indonesia was occupied by the French (1808-1810). That is because it marked the transition from the first phase of the colonial system corresponding to the manufacturing period, characterized by looting, enslavement, and murder, to the second phase, corresponding to the epoch of Modern Industry, in which looting, enslavement and murder are "perfected", "systematized", “legalized", and as such increase in ferocity and villainy. It is of particular interest that the "perfectioning" of the Dutch colonial system took place during the period of the French occupation and was the result of the work of the "Jacobin" Daendels. He was a "pilgrim of freedom" who fled from Holland to France during the turbulent years of the Revolution, returning to Holland with the establishment of the Batavian Republic. Finally, he became governor of Indonesia from 1808 to 1810 where he could put into practice the "very same [Jacobin] principles". It is of interest because, from the outset, it characterized the "anti-colonialism" of the French petty bourgeoisie, marking its infamy. After all, from 1808 onwards, more evidence of the “eternal principles” of the French petty bourgeoisie – which its anti-colonialism is based upon – has played out, let’s say on a grand scale, from Indochina to Madagascar to Algeria during the course of a century and a half.
During Daendels’ governorship, the process leading to the loss of all the autonomy of the indigenous princes continued. Characteristic were the innovations introduced in the field of export crops. We have seen that, during the Company’s monopoly, everything came down to the fact that the Company had the exclusive right to determine the nature and extent of the plantations, as well as to buy the resulting products. Daendels "perfected" the old system, made it legal and more ferocious. By law each village was ordered to plant, for example, a given number of coffee plants. After 5 years, two-fifths of the crop would go to the state for free. As for the remaining three-fifths, the state would buy them, monopolistically, at current prices. Daendels even legalized the slave-feudal system of forced labor, used illegally during the Company’s domination, introducing the corvées system. In this regard, he wrote: "The only way to collect taxes from the peasants is the corvée system", (Jean Bruhat).
French domination also marked the beginning of private colonization through the sale of large tracts of land west and east of Batavia, with their owners having total freedom to exploit the peasants. In the words of Daendels "The protection of the labourers only serves to encourage them in their natural laziness, while it would discourage western planters" (Jean Bruhat, Histoire de l’Indonésie). Certainly, it was not easy to convince the East Indian peasants to "freely” sell, under a "free" contract, their labor-power in the plantations as a commodity, in order to produce surplus value. They were bound to the village-community system and thus not yet separated from the natural conditions of their labor – i.e., the means of production and subsistence. They were not freed by the "eternal principles" yet.
To achieve in Europe such result, such "modern history work of art" three centuries of looting, enslavement and murder in the East Indies and colonies were required. For it to be imposed on the people of the "Indonesian archipelago", the legal enforcement of the same ferocious methods that characterized primitive accumulation in Europe, e.g. in England, was necessary.
In the concluding chapter of Vol I of Capital entitled “The Modern Theory of Colonisation” Marx wrote: “In Western Europe, the home of Political Economy, the process of primitive accumulation is more or less accomplished. Here the capitalist regime has either directly conquered the whole domain of national production, or, where economic conditions are less developed, it, at least, indirectly controls those strata of society which, though belonging to the antiquated mode of production, continue to exist side by side with it in gradual decay [...]
"It is otherwise in the colonies. There the capitalist regime everywhere comes into collision with the resistance of the producer, who, as owner of his own conditions of labour, employs that labour to enrich himself, instead of the capitalist. The contradiction of these two diametrically opposed economic systems, manifests itself here practically in a struggle between them. Where the capitalist has at his back the power of the mother-country, he tries to clear out of his way by force the modes of production and appropriation based on the independent labour of the producer. The same interest, which compels the sycophant of capital, the political economist, in the mother-country, to proclaim the theoretical identity of the capitalist mode of production with its contrary, that same interest compels him in the colonies to make a clean breast of it, and to proclaim aloud the antagonism of the two modes of production. To this end, he proves how the development of the social productive power of labour, co-operation, division of labour, use of machinery on a large scale, &c., are impossible without the expropriation of the labourers, and the corresponding transformation of their means of production into capital. In the interest of the so-called national wealth, he seeks for artificial means to ensure the poverty of the people. [...] As the system of protection at its origin attempted to manufacture capitalists artificially in the mother-country, so Wakefield’s colonisation theory, which England tried for a time to enforce by Acts of Parliament, attempted to effect the manufacture of wage-workers in the Colonies. This he calls “systematic colonisation”.
"So long, therefore, as the labourer can accumulate for himself – and this he can do so long as he remains possessor of his means of production – capitalist accumulation and the capitalistic mode of production are impossible. [...] As in the colonies the separation of the labourer from the conditions of labour and their root, the soil, does not exist, or only sporadically, or on too limited a scale, so neither does the separation of agriculture from industry exist, nor the destruction of the household industry of the peasantry. Whence then is to come the internal market for capital? [...]
"On the one hand, the old world constantly throws in capital, thirsting after exploitation and “abstinence”; on the other, the regular reproduction of the wage labourer as wage labourer comes into collision with impediments the most impertinent and in part invincible. [...] No wonder Wakefield laments the absence of all dependence and of all sentiment of dependence on the part of the wage-workers in the colonies. … says his disciple Merivale: “ … In ancient civilised countries the labourer, though free, is by a law of Nature dependent on capitalists; in colonies this dependence must be created by artificial means”.
The colonies Marx refers to are, as he makes clear in the footnotes, "virgins soils, colonized by free immigrants". He refers to the new frontier, the United States of America, that opened up to European immigrants around 1840.
In the States, the mode of production and appropriation based on one’s own labor, characteristic of free American settlers, opposed the establishment of the capitalist mode of production, based on the expropriation of workers and the transformation of their means of production into capital. In the Indonesian archipelago, the obstacle capitalism found in its spread was the same. The producer was the owner of his own working conditions, he enriched himself through his labor and not the capitalist. In the East Indies, the obstacle had the form of the village-community, residue of the Asian mode of production. In such a form, the association between agriculture and household industry within the village community was also peculiar, as it was for free American settlers. In the East Indies, the first objective of capital remained the separation of agriculture from industry, the destruction of the rural domestic industry for the creation of the domestic market.
The "systematic colonization" corresponding to the period of Modern Industry thus pursued the manufacture of wage-workers in the colonies, guaranteeing through artificial means the regular reproduction of the laborer’s labor-power as a wage-worker himself. Once again we quote Marx: "The contradiction of these two diametrically opposed economic systems, manifests itself here practically in a struggle between them. Where the capitalist has at his back the power of the mother-country, he tries to clear out of his way by force the modes of production and appropriation based on the independent labour of the producer". This struggle, in which the Dutch capitalists, backed by the power of the mother country, forcibly wiped out the mode of production and appropriation based on one’s own labor, had its prelude in the East Indies in the corvées system inaugurated by the "Jacobin" Daendels and reached its climax from 1825 to 1870 with the Van den Bosch system, which we will now discuss.
Two historical events of great importance marked the beginning of the Van den Bosch system in the East Indies, a system that we are going to define in advance as the slave-feudal organization of the colonial export crops in order to achieve the violent expropriation of the peasantry and the artificial “manufacture” of wage-workers. The two historical events were the great insurrection of Dipa Negara in 1825, and the Belgian revolution of 1830.
The revolt, led by prince of Yogyakarta Dipa Negara, protracted for five years (1825-1830) causing the death of 15,000 colonial troops and 200.000 victims among the population. With its ferocious suppression, the "systematic colonization" typical of the epoch of Modern Industry sanctioned the principles of violent annexation and destruction of any local autonomy. In that sense, the capitalist phase typical of the Modern Industry epoch directly anticipated, in the methods used in colonies, the following imperialist phase, and the current phase that the sycophants of capital call the "decolonization" phase and that we, revolutionary Marxists, call the phase of the world’s imperialist division following WW2.
Other ferocious suppressions, carrying the same meaning as the one against Dipa Negara, followed one another throughout the nineteenth century until the beginning of our century. Among them was the suppression of the Atjeh Sultanate, north of Sumatra, which controlled the trade routes. The Sultanate was defeated through an Anglo-Dutch agreement whereby Holland recognized the English dominion over Malacca and Singapore and England gave Holland a free hand in the occupation of North Sumatra. Atjeh’s destruction was accomplished in a war that lasted from 1871 to 1908. Other massacres took place, such the one in Bali in 1906, etc.
The other historical event that inaugurated and accompanied the establishment of the Van den Bosch system in the East Indies was, as we said, the Belgian revolution of 1830. Academic historians call it a "liberal" revolution: "freedom" for capital in the motherland, "freedom" of corvée in the colonies. Such was the meaning of the Belgian "liberal" revolution.
In chapter 10 of Capital Vol. I, “The working day” (Section 2: The Greed for Surplus-Labour. Manufacturer and Boyard), Marx strikes a comparison between “the greed for surplus labour in the Danubian Principalities with the same greed in English factories” then, after reminding us that in the Romanian provinces “Their original mode of production was based on community of the soil”, he writes: “In course of time military and clerical dignitaries usurped, along with the common land, the labour spent upon it. [...] This corvée soon developed into a servile relationship existing in point of fact, not in point of law, until Russia, the liberator of the world, made it legal under presence of abolishing serfdom. The code of the corvée, which the Russian General Kiselëv proclaimed in 1831, was of course dictated by the Boyards themselves. Thus Russia conquered with one blow the magnates of the Danubian provinces, and the applause of liberal cretins throughout Europe”.
Similarly, the Belgian revolution of 1830, which following the liberal Franco-English accord led to the separation of Belgium from Holland and the abdication of the "autocratic" William I, accompanied the flourishing of the Van den Bosch system in the East Indies and the legalization of the corvée to a far greater extent than the one codified in the code of General Kiselëv. All, of course, amidst the applause of idiot liberals throughout Europe.
Let’s take a look now at what novelties characterized the Van den Bosch system with respect to the system of his "Jacobin" predecessor Daendels. During Daendels’ governorship, it was established that each village had to pay 2/5 of its harvest to the state. A sort of rent in kind. Under the Van den Bosch system, each village had to give up 1/5 of its land to the state, and each adult man had to spend 1/5 of his labor on that land (from 60 to 70 days of corvée per year). The obtained products – export products – would go to the Trading Company which would resell them in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Therefore, the system consisted of the expropriation of the peasantry and initial destruction of the village’s common property (1/5 of the land went to the State), and the legalization of the corvée.
But this was only the legal facade of the Van den Bosch system. During this time, in fact, "contractors" (Dutch and Chinese companies) came out, taking over some of the lands belonging to the village-community and forcing the peasants to work them. The land appropriated by the government and private planters went from one-fifth up to one-third. The number of days of service imposed on the peasants was legally 60-70 per year, but in reality it was 90, and even 240. Other corvées were added such as the transportation of products to the warehouses, the construction of roads, ports and fortifications resulting in a very high mortality rate. The peasants had now only one or two days off per week, and yet a land tax continued to be levied on them! The administrative system in this period conformed to the economic measures aimed at the eradication of common property and the artificial creation of wage-workers we have already talked about.
The entire territory was divided into provinces: in each one of them a European resident, helped by an assistant resident, a secretary and an inspector, had the function of imposing the compulsory crop-rotation system and the corvées. Each province had an indigenous regent, who was entrusted with the role of intermediary between the government and the population. Each regency was divided into districts that depended on another indigenous chief (the wedono). The basic unit remained the village-community. Its leader was elected by the population, but ratification by the Batavian government was necessary. Between 1824 and 1870, that is between the Treaty of London which marked the restitution of the East Indies to Holland and the Agrarian Law which we will deal with shortly, the destruction of the village-community and the suppression of the common ownership of the soil occured. The union of agriculture and domestic industry was achieved. The violent introduction of private property and the violent separation of the laborer from the conditions of his labor took place. We saw what methods were necessary to achieve such results.
Having fulfilled its function, the Van den Bosch system therefore had to be abandoned. At the end of this period, the Dutch "public opinion" began to criticize the system that was in place in the East Indies. Now that the corvée system had reached its goal – to manufacture wage-workers by force – the petty bourgeoisie could become anti-colonialist, content for the moment to call for the abandonment of the most uncivilized methods as they were no longer of any use. On January 1, 1860 slavery was officially abolished. The crops system imposed by the State was gradually abolished as follows: 1863: carnation and nutmeg; 1865: indigo, tea, cinnamon; 1866: tobacco; 1878-1891: sugar; 1918: coffee.
As for the effects of the Van den Bosch system on the Indonesian economy, it is clear that the imposition of the compulsory crop-rotation to benefit exportations, and the destruction of the economy based on the village-community, could not but negatively affect the population’s diet. Although we cannot provide data on the food production during this period, we can recall that from 1844 to 1860 famines affected the region of Cheribon and central Java.
In regards to colonial crops, during these years the stagnation of traditional crops such as pepper and cinnamon occured. The continuous growth of coffee and sugarcane production, the rise of indigo plantations becoming the third most widespread plantation between 1840 and 1863, the increase of tobacco cultivation and the introduction of tea cultivation all took place. During this period, coffee, sugar cane and indigo were respectively in first, second and third place in the Indonesian colonial economy. Between 1830 and 1840 Amsterdam became the main market for coffee and sugarcane.
In order to give an idea of the single crops’ incidence on the profits, here are some stats from Bruhat’s previously cited study. In the years 1830-1877, out of the 600,000,000 florins in colonial profits, coffee was responsible for nearly four-fifths. In the years 1840-1864 coffee generated 374,180,000 florins in profits, sugar 60,743,000, indigo 32,815,000. That colonial profits were affected by the price fluctuations of the world market is shown in the data. In 1860-1864 alone, coffee, sugar, indigo, tea, tobacco generated 160,620,000 florins in profits, of which 126,158,000 came from coffee alone. In 1848, the Dutch state was selling a picul (60 kg) of coffee for 13.30 florins, with a profit of 3.71 florins per picul. In 1858 a picul of coffee was selling for 81 florins, the profit now being 27.75 florins. In conclusion, the Van den Bosch system, corresponding to the Modern Industry phase of European capitalism, marked the destruction of the common ownership of the soil in the East Indies thus creating the conditions for the spread of the capitalist mode of production.
While it was necessary to recall in short the brutal and infamous events that made the introduction of capitalist "civilization" in Indonesia possible, our intention was not to make an academy on the history of the country. Instead, we again wanted to oppose the Marxist conception – the succession of the forms of production being accompanied by large revolutionary crises and violence being the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one – to the self-interested utopias of the petty bourgeoisie – centered on "progress" and "civilization". As much as to communists capitalist "civilization" is not the definitive arrival point of human society, constituting on the contrary its last antagonistic economic formation (the most antagonistic and contradictory compared to those that preceded it), so its violent introduction in the colonies has nothing to do with the pacifist, progressive and democratic social harmonies of the petty-bourgeois "anti-colonialism". In the 20th century, after all, the very word "anti-colonialism" has gone out of fashion, replaced by "anti-imperialism".
As classical colonialism was the greenhouse that made the blossoming of capitalism possible in Europe, so the spread of the capitalist mode of production into the former colonies was the result of the transformation of European capitalism into imperialism and the consequent exportation of financial capital over the “simple” exportation of commodities. Such a process, whose phases and consequences in Indonesia we are now going to summarily follow, definitively dismantles any petty-bourgeois illusion about a possible peaceful evolution of capitalism. The latter does not lead to an overcoming of old colonialism, but to its intensification.
The introduction of capitalism into the colonies did not take place outside of time and space, as the sycophants of petty-bourgeois opportunism find convenient to think, but in a precise historical phase within the framework of the imperialist relations that dominate the world market. Former colonies cannot escape from these relations by the virtue of any decolonization, as the last fifty years of history have shown (Indonesia is a typical and tragic example, as we shall see). That would only be possible after the revolutionary destruction of capitalism in both the metropolises and the colonies.
Such were the theses and the prediction of the Communist International in the glorious years 1919 and 1920. It is the task of our Party to restore, an entire historical phase later, those thesis, drawing lessons from our defeat and from the counterrevolution that has been raging in the last forty years. The close drawn from such lessons is, at the same time, the heritage of the struggle of the Communist Left within the Third International that must be passed to the new revolutionary generations: the end of the political bloc and the end of the compromise that is the united front between the proletariat and the petit-bourgeoisie in the metropolis and in the colonies. The follow-up of our study on the revolutionary and counterrevolutionary movement in Indonesia will reaffirm, once again, the invaluable lesson that the International Communist Party drew from the counterrevolution in order to use it in the revolution of tomorrow.
Lenin relates his analysis of the imperialist phase of capitalism strictly to Marx’s Capital. On the basis of the Marxist predictions on the increasing concentration and centralization of capital, the Marxist analysis on the split between manufacturer’s profit and interest, the consequent autonomization of interest-bearing capital in the form of credit accompanied by all of the phenomena of economic parasitism and social putrefaction which will become evident in the immediately following years, in 1915 Lenin enunciates the five main features of the imperialist phase: “(1) the concentration of production and capital has developed to such a high stage that it has created monopolies which play a decisive role in economic life; (2) the merging of bank capital with industrial capital, and the creation, on the basis of this “finance capital”, of a financial oligarchy; (3) the export of capital as distinguished from the export of commodities acquires exceptional importance; (4) the formation of international monopolist capitalist associations which share the world among themselves, and (5) the territorial division of the whole world among the biggest capitalist powers is completed” (Lenin).
The general, theoretical and political significance of Lenin’s work on imperialism has already been reconstructed in our publications. It was restored to its purity, first and foremost in the face of the outrageous Stalinist and post-Stalinist falsifications. It was framed within our Party’s political task of fighting against the macroscopic manifestations of present-day imperialism, against their mystifying interpretations the global petty bourgeoisie offers to the proletariat. Our study of Indonesia’s political and social evolution is part of the (collective) political work of the Party.
In “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism”, Lenin includes Holland, in the period between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, in the “rentier state” (Rentnerstaat) category: “Sartorius von Waltershausen in his book, The National Economic System of Capital Investments Abroad, cites Holland as the model “rentier state”” (Lenin).
For us it is therefore established that Holland entered, economically and socially, its imperialist phase at the beginning of the century, and that we will look at the Indonesian political and social movement under this assumption. In his work on imperialism, Lenin also provides a picture of the "colonial possessions of the great powers (in 000,000 square kilometers and 000,000 inhabitants)" showing that in 1914 the six greatest powers (England, Russia, France, Germany, United States, Japan) had all together colonial domains extending over 65 million square kilometers including 523.4 million inhabitants. Meanwhile, the colonial possessions of all other states (Belgium, Holland, etc.) extend over 99 million square kilometers including 45.3 million inhabitants. Lenin comments on these figures: “Alongside the colonial possessions of the Great Powers, we have placed the small colonies of the small states, which are, so to speak, the next objects of a possible and probable “redivision” of colonies. These small states mostly retain their colonies only because the big powers are torn by conflicting interests, friction, etc., which prevent them from coming to an agreement on the division of the spoils”.
Therefore, it is from the above mentioned Lenin’s point of view that we will analyze Indonesia’s political and social events in our century, from the Dutch domination adapting to the new imperialist phase, the interlude of the Japanese occupation up to the present period of so-called political independence (in Marxist terms, period of the political division of the world among the great imperialist powers following World War 2). We will thus consider Indonesia’s social evolution as the evolution of a small colony of a small state, object of a possible and likely new redivision.
As we shall see, one of the preponderant objective factors of imperialism’s influence on the Indonesian economy is constituted by the discovery of oil in the Dutch Indies. We shall show how that has contributed to the establishment of what Lenin calls the fourth main feature of imperialism: "the formation of international monopolist capitalist associations which share the world among themselves".
Lastly, we shall illustrate how, in this century, Indonesia’s entire political history – in particular its very recent and current developments, which have brought to confusion the sycophants of the global opportunism of Russian and Chinese stamp – has its explanation in the light of Lenin’s third feature of imperialism: "the export of capital as distinguished from the export of commodities acquires exceptional importance". The export of commodities, in the imperialist phase of capitalism, follows the export of the capital accumulated in the imperialist metropolises today called Washington and Moscow. Finance capital, supreme externalization of the capitalist relations of production, supreme expression of the power of global imperialism, divides, at its leisure, the world into spheres of influence, pulling and breaking the strings of those miserable puppets – capital’s own creatures – whose only task has so far been to yoke the proletariat of colonial and semi-colonial countries to the cart of capital. The names of these puppets are Sukarno, Ben Bella, Nkrumah.
Against them, against their successors, against the petty-bourgeois, pro-Russian and pro-Chinese, "anti-imperialists" everywhere in the world, the super-exploited proletariat of the colonies and semi-colonies will have to rise up, subordinating its struggle and its definitive social emancipation to the communist revolution of the proletariat of the imperialist metropolises. The INTERNATIONAL COMMUNIST PARTY fights for the achievement of this global political result, the only one that can release the explosive contradictions of global imperialism taking them to their necessary solution.
The agrarian law which we shall now tackle has the following essential features:
1) Indigenous people can legally retain common lands. The latter cannot be sold to non-natives, but can be leased to them for a maximum time of 20 years (a period corresponding to the production of sugar cane, thus favoring sugar cane planters).
2) Uncultivated land becomes government property. But the notion of uncultivated land is very vague given the use of the stubble-burning (burnt land) system in order to plant colonial crops. These "uncultivated" state lands can be given in emphyteutical rent to Dutch people, to Dutch and Indonesian trading companies.
This is how the indebtedness of the farmers and their exodus to the plantations occurs.
At the end of this process, in 1932, 83% of the land became – in Java at least – private property.
The indebtedness of small private farmers, a result of the agrarian law, is due to the fact that their labor is finalized for export. That means that the price fluctuation of raw materials on the world market affects them much more severely compared to the big plantation owners. Thus, starting with the 1870 law, the number of landless farmers increased. The small ones become indebted in order to pay taxes and buy essential consumer goods. They become dependent on usurers (the latter being, in Indonesia, community-village chiefs or Chinese and Dutch merchants).
The change in structure of export products, the destruction of common property and the introduction of capitalist production in agriculture, which has among its causes 1870’s agrarian law, is accelerated by 1885’s crisis as diseases destroy tea and coffee crops. (Coffee: exports in 1880, 59,888,000 florins, in 1885, 29,708,000 florins; price of coffee: 1877, 60 florins per picul – 1883, 35 florins; price of sugar 1877, 19 florins – 1883, 13.5 florins – 1884, 9 florins). As for colonial export products, the evolution is displayed in the following figures: in 1870 coffee and sugar accounted for 3/4 of total exports value, in 1900 40%. In 1877 the cultivation of hevea (rubber plant) and oil palm was introduced. After the First World War Indonesia became the second largest rubber producer in the world, and in 1929 was responsible for 384,000 tons out of a world production of 1,017,000 tons. In 1938 the area dedicated to the production of oil palm (elaeis) covered 84,000 hectares.
The destruction of common property, farmers’ dependence upon usurers, the formation of masses of landless peasants, the introduction of new colonial crops to satisfy the needs of the world market in its imperialist phase (rubber is a prime example) are accompanied by the formation of large capitalist plantations employing wage laborers. For example in Sumatra alone, the Deli Maatschappij, which was created in 1869 for tobacco plantations, in 1920 employed more than 35,000 workers on 830 plantations.
In the report sent to the Second Congress of the Communist International, the Indonesian delegate Maring (pseudonym of the famous Sneevliet) discusses the features of Indonesia’s colonization that we have mentioned. In particular, the imposition of monoculture through the forced rent of land to sugar cane plantation owners, the destruction of the village-community, and aristocracy’s subjugation to the colonizers. Maring provides interesting information on the economic situation particularly in Java, especially regarding peasantry’s condition. According to Maring, out of a population of 50,000,000 natives, 1 million Chinese, and about 150,090 Europeans, 24 million were peasants and 3-4 million were "proletarians and intellectuals" (intellectuals intended as natives who know Dutch and can therefore perform technical and organizational tasks).
In plantations, work days always lasted more than 10 hours; the male wage was 0.35 florins per day and the female one 0.20 (20 florins a month for railway workers). The average annual income of a peasant family, which in 1878 was about 110 florins, fell to 80 in 1904 and had not yet risen to its original level in 1920. Taxes accounted for 24% of the average income. The figures provided by Maring confirm the essential features of the evolution of the peasant economy in Indonesia since the 1870 agrarian law. This evolution, closely linked to the rise of the imperialist phase, is also reflected in the changes in Dutch emigration to Indonesia. In 1853, 17,285 Europeans resided in Java, and 4,832 in the other islands of the archipelago. Almost all of them were officials. In 1900 however, the number of Europeans increased to 62,477 in Java, and to 13,556 in the islands, and most of them were plantation owners and merchants. Alongside them finance capitalists appeared. Alexandre von Arx, in L’évolution politique en Indonésie de 1900 à 1942 (Fribourg, 1949) parodies the subjugation of the Indonesian economy by imperialism: "Si ce fut, en 1870, l’intérêt des planteurs qui dominait la politique du gouvernement, ce fut, après 1885 celui des financiers et des capitalistes".
Our modest economic sketch on the evolution of Indonesian agriculture from 1870 onwards, and the decisive influence the establishment of the imperialist phase in the capitalist metropolises had on it, cannot be better completed than by quoting the first two Theses on the Agrarian Question approved at the Congress of the Peoples of the East (Baku, 1920):
"1. The peasantry of the countries of the East, being the sole productive class and sustaining by their labour not only the landlords but also the entire bourgeoisie and bureaucracy, are crushed beneath a burden of survivals of feudalism, relations of bondage, landlords’ extortions and state taxes, and find themselves in an absolutely unbearable situation of utter ruin, chronic hunger, endless indebtedness and work for landlords, tribute-collectors and usurers. The oppression and exploitation of the peasants of the Eastern countries by the ruling authority, by foreign capitalists and by their own landlords have reached such limits that not only development but even more human existence has become impossible for the peasants, and have degraded them to the position of downtrodden and perpetually hungry beasts of burden.
2. The sources of the oppression and exploitation of the peasants are: a) the retention of feudal relations, which place the peasants in both personal and economic dependence upon the landlords; b) the seizure of the land by the landlords, which enables them, owing to the inadequate availability of free land, to reduce the peasants to bondage and turn them, though legally free, into de facto serfs; c) the seizure of the land by the ruling authority, which leases out considerable tracts to the privileged classes and the capitalists, thus giving the latter a monopoly of landownership and obliging the peasants to become sub-tenants and labourers, under very burdensome conditions; d) the unbearable burden of taxes and the predatory way these are levied, by the irresponsible bureaucratic organs of the despotic ruling power; e) the lack of personal security, anarchy, and systematic brigandage by half-savage nomad tribes, which are backed by the ruling authority in their attacks on the peasants; f) the extreme ruin of the peasants caused by all these conditions, resulting in their complete impoverishment, and the monstrous indebtedness of the cultivators, arising from this ruin, so that they fall into a state of absolute economic dependence on usurers and the object of their work becomes the unending repayment of loans and the interest on loans to various banks, landlords, kulaks and usurers; g) the peasants’ complete lack, as a result of their ruin, of means and instruments of production – money, agricultural machinery, draught animals, seed-corn, etc. – which means that it becomes impossible for the peasants to work for themselves on their own land, even when free and accessible land is available to them”.
We will see later in this study what revolutionary duty the Communist International assigned to the super-exploited peasants of the East, within the unitary framework of the global strategy of the struggle for the establishment of the international dictatorship of the proletariat and of the universal republic of the Soviets. We will see what function was attributed in this global struggle to the developed proletariat of the imperialist metropolises and to the embryonic proletariat of the colonies and semi-colonies. We’ll see through what information and what errors the struggle for social emancipation of the peoples of the East, and in the specific case of Indonesian peasants, met with the most catastrophic of defeats. Finally, we will see how this struggle cannot but be resumed in the near future, since the objective conditions that make it necessary are, half a century later, more present than ever.
Before summarizing all these issues, it is still essential to provide a few notes on the introduction of finance capital into the Indonesian economy, and on the influence that the international monopolistic associations had on it.
Following the discovery of oil fields in Sumatra (Langkat and Atjeh), Java (Rembang and Semarang) and in the Moluccas (Ceram), in 1883 the "N.V. Koninklijke Nederlandsche Maatschappij, tot exploitatie van Petroleum" – which later became Royal Dutch – was founded. In 1910 a merger between Royal Dutch and Shell Transport and Trading Company occured, with the consequent creation of Royal Dutch Shell. To the merger of Anglo-Dutch financial capital an additional merger of Anglo-Dutch and American capital followed, aiming for the joint exploitation of Indonesian oil.
In “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism” Lenin described the struggle for the division of the world: “But the division of the world between two powerful trusts does not preclude redivision if the relation of forces changes as a result of uneven development, war, bankruptcy, etc. An instructive example of an attempt at such a redivision, of the struggle for redivision, is provided by the oil industry.
“The world oil market,” wrote Jeidels in 1905, “is even today still divided between two great financial groups – Rockefeller’s American Standard Oil Co., and Rothschild and Nobel, the controlling interests of the Russian oilfields in Baku. The two groups are closely connected. But for several years five enemies have been threatening their monopoly”: (1) the exhaustion of the American oilfields; (2) the competition of the firm of Mantashev of Baku; (3) the Austrian oilfields; (4) the Rumanian oilfields; (5) the overseas oilfields, particularly in the Dutch colonies (the extremely rich firms, Samuel, and Shell, also connected with British capital). The three last groups are connected with the big German banks, headed by the huge Deutsche Bank. [...] A struggle began for the “division of the world”, as, in fact, it is called in economic literature. On the one hand, the Rockefeller “oil trust” wanted to lay its hands on everything; it formed a “daughter company” right in Holland, and bought up oilfields in the Dutch Indies, in order to strike at its principal enemy, the Anglo-Dutch Shell trust. On the other hand, the Deutsche Bank and the other German banks aimed at “retaining” Rumania “for themselves” and at uniting her with Russia against Rockefeller. The latter possessed far more capital and an excellent system of oil transportation and distribution. The struggle had to end, and did end in 1907, with the utter defeat of the Deutsche Bank…”.
At the beginning of the century the Indonesian economy was therefore completely subjugated to the laws of the capitalist world market in its imperialist phase. It became the point of contention of the struggle for the division of the world between trusts and great imperialist powers.
Until 1945, Indonesia formally remained a Dutch colony. In reality, it was in the position of those "small colonies of the small states" which were, in the words of Lenin, “the next objects of a possible and probable “redivision” of colonies”. From the beginning of the century to the present day three great imperialist powers have been contending for the division of Indonesia: the Anglo-Dutch imperialism, the Japanese imperialism and the American imperialism. The entirety of Indonesia’s political history in our century is the history of the struggle for its redivision between these three imperialist powers, as the rise to power and fall of Sukarno simply showed.
In the imperialist phase of capitalism, commodities export follows financial capital export. The following table indicating Indonesian foreign trade from 1909 to 1939 gives an idea of the struggle between Anglo-Dutch, American, Japanese imperialism for the division of Indonesia. (Source: Bruhat, Histoire de l’Indonésie).
|PERCENTAGE OF INDONESIAN IMPORTS FROM:|
|JAPAN||1,2||2||21||11||11||21||30||15||18||PERCENTAGE OF INDONESIAN EXPORTS TO:|
As can be seen from the table above, in 1913 Holland accounted for 36% of Indonesian imports and 34% of Indonesian exports, and the United States and Japan only accounted for 2%, and 2% and 5% respectively. By 1918, at the end of the first imperialist war for the redivision of the world, Holland’s position had fallen to such a point that it covered only 3% of Indonesian imports and 1% of exports, even though Indonesia formally remained a Dutch colony. On the other hand, the two new imperialist powers, the United States and Japan, accounted for 14% and 18%, and 21% and 12% respectively.
As early as 1922 the Communist International could foresee the start of a new imperialist conflict that would have as its cause the struggle between the United States and Japan for a fresh division of Asia, as expressed in the Theses on the Eastern Question of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International.
At the beginning of the century Indonesia became the arena in which the Anglo-Dutch, American, and Japanese financial capital squared off as the Indonesian economy was completely subjugated to the laws of the capitalist world market in its imperialist phase.
As far as agriculture is concerned, we stated that the destruction of village-communities as a result of 1870’s agrarian law was accompanied by the introduction of the cultivation of hevea (rubber) and elaeis (oil palm), the formation of large plantations where agricultural workers were employed and the subjugation of small farmers by usurers. Here are some statistics, taken from Samin’s article, Der Aufstand auf Java und Sumatra, published in Die Kommunistische Internationale, Issue 13, 1927, concerning on the one hand the destruction of common property, and on the other the incidence of small farms in the production of agricultural products intended for export.
|from other islands|
The statistics in the second table demonstrate: 1) the enormous development of the agricultural production intended for export (from 231 million florins in 1918 in Java to 695 million in 1924, and in other islands from 70 to 205 million) and thus the complete subjection of Indonesian agriculture to the demands of the world market in its imperialist phase; 2) small farms’ incidence on the production of agricultural export products is a clearly minor and in constant decline (from 15.7% in Java in 1918 to 12% in 1924, and from 44% to 41% during the same years in other islands). That implies the predominance of large plantations and the immiseration of the peasantry; 3) the introduction of capitalist agriculture (plantations) is much more advanced in Java than in other islands.
At this point we are able to draw a sufficiently accurate picture of the two fundamental classes of Indonesian society during the years immediately following World War One. The poor and exploited peasantry constitutes the enormous majority of the population (Maring, as we have seen, in the above-mentioned report to the Second World Congress of the Comintern stated that in Java out of 50 million natives 24 million were peasants). We do not know the number of agricultural wage-workers used in plantations, as they were evidently included by Maring among the 3-4 million wage-workers in Java. The industrial proletariat is fairly concentrated, though few in number, and located in sugar refineries, tin mines, oil wells and refineries, means of transport (railway letter carriers and tramway workers), gas and electricity. The following statistics on worker employment refer to 1938: 1,830,000 workers, of whom 120,000 employed in large factories, 840,000 in medium-sized factories, and 670,000 in cottage industries. The number of artisans, again in 1938, was around 3 to 4 million. We shall now take a look at how in the years from 1908 to 1927 the struggle of the two fundamental classes of Indonesian society, the poor peasantry and the proletariat, was reflected on a political level and on the formation process of political parties in Indonesia, in particular of the Communist Party of Indonesia.
In Indonesia, the political system in force at the beginning of the century was very simple, and corresponded more or less to the colonial administrations of the time. Sovereignty was exercised by the king and the Dutch parliament – in which sat one Indonesian deputy – and was delegated to a governor-general, assisted by the Council of the Indies.
Beginning in 1908, the first nationalist political movements developed in Indonesia. In following their formation, we will refer to Maring’s cited report to the Second Congress of the Comintern, and to Bruhat’s previously mentioned work. On May 20, 1908 Budi Utomo, a Javanese independence movement consisting of students, was founded in Batavia. This movement, among other things, advocated for the adoption of Malay as the national language for all Indonesia. The claim was advocated by the monthly magazine Pudjangga Baru (The New Writer), founded in 1913.
On October 28, 1928, the "Congress of the Indonesian Youth" accepted Malay as the sole national language. Two observations are to be made at this point: the existence of a predominant language spoken by the people, Malay, and of a predominant religion, Islam, was from the beginning a favorable element towards the conquest of national independence. Such elements, for example, did non exist in India nor exist today as contemporary India still faces the unresolved issue of linguistic and religious unity. It is superfluous to add that the absence of linguistic and religious divisions is an element that favors the unification of the proletariat in the revolutionary struggle. Having said that, we add that the Budi Utomo movement was the matrix of the Indonesian National Party, founded in 1927 by the Sukarno and Hatta after the defeat in Asia (China and Indonesia) and Europe of the world revolutionary movement led by the Communist International.
The social base of this nationalism, of the Budi Utomo movement first and later of the Indonesian National Party, was not the non-existent progressive, democratic and “anti-imperialist” national bourgeoisie that Stalin and Bucharin in 1926 argued about China and that the pro-Russians and pro-Chinese argue about even more shamelessly these days. The social base of this nationalism was the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia, a vile and cowardly one ready to any compromise with imperialism. We will later return to this matter, one which recurs in different forms in all the revolutionary movements that developed in the colonies in the first half of the century.
In 1911, according to Maring’s cited report, an "Indian party" extended to all Indonesia was founded by the writer Ernest François Eugène Douwes-Dekker, who, rejecting class struggle, sought the support of the Dutch social democracy. The Party was outlawed in 1913, its organizers were first interned, then got permission to move to Holland. As they returned in 1918, the organization had broken down.
In 1911-1912, under the leadership of the young intellectual Oemar Said Tjokroaminoto, the Sarekat Islam (Islamic Union) was founded in central Java, and soon expanded to the east of the island. In his report to the Second Congress of the Comintern, Maring’s assessment of this movement was contradictory, silent on essential points that characterized its social nature. His assemssment had the obvious purpose of justifying the ante litteram noyautage and united front tactics the Indonesian Social Democratic Association, of which Maring was a member, carried out towards the very Sarekat Islam. Maring defined the Sarekat Islam as a mass party with a workers’ and peasants’ following, even comparing it, without being able to provide any clear reason, to the British Chartists. However, Maring did not say what even a "progressive" historian such as Bruhat went so far as to admit, namely that the Sarekat Islam brought together the Javanese batik merchants, and that its purpose was the protection of the Javanese industry and trade against European and Chinese competition. The fact that in its agitations the Sarekat Islam resorted to violent means, and that it dragged behind masses of inorganized workers and peasants, does not justify Maring’s assessment, much less the noyautage tactic towards it.
According to Maring’s report, the Sarekat Islam was acknowledged by the government only as a local organization, and the government itself succeeded in infiltrating its agents, such as Dr. Rinkes, by creating a right wing within the Party, launching the watchword "no mass actions: the masses are not ready". In 1916 the right wing supported the government policy of strengthening national defense. While the usual distinction between right and left wing (later invoked to justify the participation of the Chinese communists to the Kuomintang) could be used by Maring to justify the united front and noyautage tactics, what he himself admited, namely the Sarekat Islam (albeit its "right wing") supporting the imperialist war, is sufficient enough to strip this movement of its characteristic of being a revolutionary nationalist movement, in the sense in which this definition was used on the Theses on National and Colonial Questions approved by the Second Congress of the Communist International.
In 1914, under the influence of Dutch socialists and H. J. F. Sneevliet (Maring) in particular, the Indonesian Social Democratic Association was formed as leftist tendencies prevailed over the Fabian right-wing tendencies. During the war the Association fought against colonial militarism attracting the sympathies, according to Maring, of the Sarekat Islam, pushing the formation of a left wing within the latter. In 1915 the Association published the bimonthly "Free Speech" and in 1916 the Malay monthly "Voice of the People". In 1917 the reformist wing left the Association constituting itself into the Indonesian section of the Dutch Workers’ Party. The discontentment, exacerbated by the imperialist war, of the huge mass of poor peasants and of the small but concentrated and super-exploited proletariat worried the colonial administration, which made an attempt at preventing and taming it with the establishment of the Volksraad (People’s Council) on December 16, 1916. Its first meeting was held on May 18, 1918. Until 1927 the Volksraad was merely advisory, but it later obtained some legislative power that could have only translated into action by agreement between the Volksraad and the Governor.
About the electoral system, to be an elector one must be 25 years old, be able to read and write, and pay the income tax on an annual income of at least 300 florins. From Samin’s previously cited article, Der Aufstand auf Java und Sumatra, it appears that according to official statistics, in 1924 the per capita income in Java was 42.86 florins per year. Bruhat writes in “Histoire de l’Indonésie” that for example in 1936 there were 709 voters in all of the province of Java, of which 178 were Dutch, 453 were natives and 78 were foreigners. In the Volksraad, Indonesians had one representative for every 2,250,000 inhabitants, the Chinese one every 200,000, and the Dutch one every 10,000. The natives rightly christened the People’s Council the "Council of the White Bugs". However, this did not prevent Sarekat Islam from participating in the "Council of the White Bugs" elections and having two "right-wing members" elected in 1918, as Maring clarified. The noyautage of the Indonesian Social Democratic Association within the Sarekat Islam, practice defended by Maring, and the establishment there of a left wing, did not prevent the Sarekat Islam from supporting the imperialist war, and participating in the "Council of the White Bugs" elections, of course under the impetus of its "right wing".
Who this right wing was represented by was never quite clear. Maring affirmed that while the founder, Tjokroaminoto, made the Sarekat Islam a mass movement with a workers’ and peasants’ following, Dr. Rinkes, a government agent, created the right wing by launching the aforementioned watchword "no mass actions: the masses are not ready". This would be acceptable, if it was not for the simple fact that in 1923 the Sarekat Islam split into a left and a right wing. The latter retained the name, and its representative was precisely one Tjokroaminoto, who had previously represented the left wing. Evidently, identical was the very story that was to repeat in China in 1924-1927, as Moscow forced the Communists to join the Kuomintang to facilitate the formation of a left wing which ended up drowning the proletarian revolution in China and all of Asia in blood. To us, therefore, it remains established that a party participating in the Volksraad elections, albeit through its "right wing", cannot be considered a nationalist-revolutionary party as defined by the Theses on National and Colonial Questions of the Second Congress of the Comintern.
In this regard, let us recall that the Algerian Etoile Nord-Africaine, a genuine nationalist-revolutionary party, in 1934 refused to agree to the Blum-Viollette Project, which would have granted to some 20,000 Algerians the right to vote in the French parliamentary elections. This took place in an historical situation far more unfavorable and counter-revolutionary than in 1918. What to say about a "nationalist" party that, like the Sarekat Islam, participated in the 1918 "Council of the White Bugs" elections!!!? And how is it possible that in 1918, according to Maring in his aforementioned report to the Second Congress, several "Javanese revolutionary socialists" even gained such a party’s leadership!!!? As for the Indonesian Social Democratic Association, it boycotted the elections to the Volksraad, only participating in local government elections.
The establishment of the People’s Council could not, of course, prevent the proletariat and poor peasants from initiating the struggle. Violent peasant demonstrations took place in 1917-18, and the Sarekat Islam and the socialists promoted joint mass actions against the government. The socialists took the initiative in forming trade unions and conquered the railwaymen one (8,000 in 1918), under whose impetus a trade union confederation rose in 1919. In 1920 the confederation counted 15,000 to 20,000 members, mostly railwaymen and sugar workers. In March 1917, at the news of the first revolution in Russia, Sneevliet was arrested but shortly afterwards acquitted, Baars and Brandsteder carried out intensive propaganda among sailors and soldiers. In early 1918 the First Socialist Congress convened. Its program stated that national independence was only achievable through mass actions directed by the socialists, linked to the worldwide revolutionary movement. At the end of ’18 Sneevliet was expelled, the Javanese Darsono and Semaun arrested. Brandsteder was expelled in the spring of 1919 while 13 members of a soldiers’ council suffered severe prison sentences. As for the Sarekat Islam, in 1919 it led an agitation for the development of rice cultivations over the sugarcane ones.
The revolutionary movement in Indonesia around the 1920s thus had some original features compared to other Asian countries and China itself. First, a leftist Socialist Party emerged in Indonesia as early as 1914. The Party kept its stance against the imperialist war, supported the October Revolution, was able to form and lead trade unions soon after the end of the war, and officially assumed the name “Communist Party of Indonesia” on May 23, 1920 by joining the Communist International.
But this very Socialist Party carried out the noyautage and ante litteram united front tactics towards a movement such as the Sarekat Islam, a movement that defended the particularistic interests of the indigenous traders, supported imperialist warfare, agreed to the most shameful compromises with the colonial administration, and embraced the ideology of Panislamism.
It was therefore no accident that Sneevliet was able to baptized the disastrous tactic of the Communists’ collaboration with the Kuomintang in China, a tactic that repudiated the Theses on National and Colonial Questions of the Second Congress of the Comintern and was about to bring a catastrophic defeat for the proletarian revolution in China and all of Asia.