Jun 14, 2024 Last Updated 8:34 AM, May 27, 2024

17 August 1945

Published: Jul 27, 2007

The revolution begun in 1945 must be completed

Pramoedya Ananta Toer


17 August is not the occasion to reduce things to shallowness through ceremony and ritual. This date is pregnant with many different significances. First of all, of course, it marks the liberation of 80 million people from hundreds of years of conquest by the Dutch, a small country and nation from the other side of the world. With the proclamation of independence on that date, the various peoples of Nusantara merged themselves into the Indonesian nation. This was a contribution to humanity itself, and not just a political advance: this was something we were able to contribute to the history of humankind.

For five years [after the proclamation] (1945–1949), Indonesia had to suffer and overcome the intrigues of the imperialists and their allies. And it was not only once, that Indonesia was entrapped by their bait. Once, after the Dutch had launched their first military action in 1947, Indonesia was entrapped into sending a religious styled mission, the 1948 Hijrah (‘Migration’), to wipe out the communists in East and central Java. The ‘pilgrimage’ of the Siliwangi [division of the Army] to East and Central Java paved the way for the emergence of Kartosoewirjo who founded the Darul Islam movement and the Indonesian Islamic Army which was quickly able to spread its influence over one third of Indonesian territory.

And after this hijrah task was completed, did Indonesia receive recognition and help from America, even though this event was bestowed in the official histories with the title of the ‘[crushing of] communist Madiun rebellion’? Wow, on the contrary. In 1948 also, the Dutch launched their second military action. Yes, Indonesia was not Vietnam. As a result of the second Dutch military action, almost the whole of Indonesian territory fell into Dutch hands. Bung Karno and Bung Hatta were even captured and sent into exile.

Indonesian military efforts had lost all strategic significance, while the evolutionary Government had become an Emergency Republican Government based in Sumatra. There followed a hard two years for the republicans, in fact many spent this time in Dutch gaols. There remained just a few Indonesian fighters outside the country mobilising whatever resources were available to do whatever they could to help lobby to get the Dutch out of Indonesia. And we cannot forget those friendly states that lobbied to open the debate in international forums. Finally, international pressure forced the Dutch to recognise the Republic of Indonesia on conditions that Indonesia regarded as not too burdensome.

The first chapter of the Indonesian Revolution could then be said to have been completed. But, it could also be said that it was not yet completed. America’s total defeat in Vietnam and consequent start of the Vietnam War, meant that America started to shift its focus to Indonesia in the context of what it called the war against communism, alias the Cold War. The primary target was Bung Karno who openly declared his opposition to imperialism, colonialism and capitalism. Opposition to these three things was not just material used to carry out agitation either before or behind the backs of the masses. Opposition to these three things arose as a direct antithesis of 400 years of a history of exploitation, oppression and parasitism. We can use as a firm year to mark the start of this as 1511, the year Portugal occupied Malacca in its hunt for the spices of Indonesia.

Bung Karno declared that the revolution was not complete because not all of the goals of the revolution had been achieved, but he also elaborated new goals for the future of Indonesia. These he called: Trisakti, a trio of ‘powers’. The first was: to achieve sovereignty in politics; the second was to be able to stand on one’s own feet in economics; the third was to develop character in culture. This Trisakti concept was the answer to 400 years of exploitation, oppression and parasitism of Western imperialism, an imperialism that had made the West rich and strong, and which could use the interest accumulated from its capital as ‘aid’ and turn the nations that had been its victims into its debtors. It was Bung Karno himself who had condemned them mercilessly: ‘Go to hell with your aid’.

Also in the context of the struggle to complete the revolution, Bung Karno called for ‘nation and character building’. The response of the Western imperialists to the potential implementation of this call was a policy of terror which reached its climax is the major rebellion of the [1956–57 military led rebellions — ed] PRRI-PERMESTA, which was supported from British military bases to the country’s north and from US bases in the Philippines. From its Philippines bases, America made several air attacks on Maluku. An American plane, piloted by Allan Pope, was shot down after making several attacks. Indonesian courts did not give him the death sentence but rather Bung Karno handed him over to his wife to take back to America. That was the answer to President Eisenhower who had already decided: Sukarno must be removed. But that was just his decision. The reality was that Sukarno survived seven assassination attempts.

During this period of the struggle to complete the revolution, domestic opposition to Bung Karno’s policies clearly aligned with the imperialists. They accused Bung Karno of being anti-democratic, of making himself a dictator and of self-aggrandisement. They never mentioned the Cold War, or the imperialist encirclement of Indonesia. This is understandable as they were mostly still in the grip of colonial education which glorified Western democracy. And Bung Karno himself rejected Western democracy, a form of democracy which limits its operations to its own country. Outside of its home erritory it conquered, invaded, exploited, oppressed and lived like a parasite off other countries. Bung Karno himself had been several times imprisoned and exiled by a Western democracy.

During the period of the unfinished revolution there were many of acts of imperialist terror and other incidents aimed at Indonesia. Even in these circumstances, Bung Karno still made time to talk about culture. The third element in the Trisakti was: to build character in culture. It is a pity there was never a chance to elaborate more deeply on this theme. Bung Karno also raised the issue of ‘character building’, another aspect of culture. But the attacks from imperialism also meant that there was not the time or space to develop this idea further.

We can say in short that ‘to build character in the field of culture’ has been neglected. In fact, however, it is through culture that a nation’s and people’s character is manifest. This issue is also connected to our attitudes to history.

To deal with this issue, we need to approach things rationally. Our traditional approach to history is to see it as the record of the victor’s road to the throne. There are Dutch sources that say that the one exception to this is in the Bugis Makasar tradition. As in the modern approach to history, they emphasise recording the facts and the times things occurred. Right up to the period of the struggle to complete the revolution (the period of the unfinished revolution), we have never made a proper attempt to evaluate and correct our culture and history. In fact, the older generation prefers to caress all that has been left by our ancestors as if they were some kind of perfect beings. With a rational approach, we will be able to throw off all that we have inherited, everything that is an obstacle to our progress, without sentimentality.

The view that history is simply the record of the journey of the victors’ to the throne has meant that our culture only recognises power, power alone. Humanity is not the driving force in life or in the traditional arts and culture. Forgive me if I am wrong here. We can at least say that in order to glorify and make a cult of the victors, our traditional histories have turned into a series of myths and legends. This is continued even today in what these days is called sinetron (a current form of pop TV ‘drama’), with even less rational contents. The concept of humanity only first appeared with the birth of the Panca Sila, coming from Bung Karno. And it is not surprising that Bung Karno said: humanity or internationalism. Because the origin of the concept came from developments among humankind internationally: 1. The Declaration of Independence, which liberated the American people from British colonialism; 2. The Communist Manifesto, which liberated the lower classes from structural oppression; 3. San Min Chui, written by Sun Yat Sen, that formulated the nationalist framework for the colonised peoples of Asia. We need not be embarrassed to admit that we learned of the concept of humanity at the time of our independence. We indeed need to know our own deficiencies.

It is a revolution itself to start to think rationally freed from the shackles of a history based on myths and legends. It is the same with understanding imperialism. Viewed dialectically, we see that imperialism was not a source only of evil for the conquered peoples of colour. If they had done evil only, our peoples would have long been destroyed completely. And on the island of Java, its conquered people instead multiplied greatly so that Java is now the most densely populated island in the world.

The reality is that every system that operates in our homeland of Indonesia has come from the imperialists: the administrative system; formal teaching; the police, the military even right down to the traffic system. The systems operating in social life also gave rise to new moral norms, to some extent or other. And the national revolution which succeeded in expelling the Dutch, left our territory with an operating administrative system, including a system of main roads, and, especially on Java, of railway lines.

Nah, we have not finished the 1945 revolution. World imperialism could not stand seeing Indonesia develop good relations with the communist countries: Indonesia had to be destroyed. This was part of the Cold War. According to one of the brains behind the ‘Thirtieth of September Movement’ (G30S), British Ambassador Gilchrist, it would be easy to change Indonesia: just one round of shooting and Indonesia would change. Then they could move on to blacken China. In 1996 the British archives were opened. From the available documents, the regional role of Gilchrist in the revolt against (then President) Bung Karno is exposed — although global leadership was still in the hands of the USA and its CIA. And the phase of completing the revolution has not reached its goal. Not yet at least.

G30S, the mass murder of two million people, according to Admiral Domo, was the result of an imperialist conspiracy aimed at replacing their lost, after their defeat in Vietnam. The period of struggle to complete the national revolution was brought to an end with the establishment of the fascist regime that called itself the New Order or ORBA. Panca Sila was raised up as an ideology and used as a weapon to strike out at elements the regime did not like. The international press greeted joyfully the mass killings that had taken place and were still taking place. This was all followed by the theft of the rights of hundreds of thousands of people; their property was seized without any legal process, and they suffered detention without legal process either.

With the rise of the New Order, the situation changed completely. The desire for personal safety meant that the intellectual corps of Indonesia preferred to lay down and shut up rather than face the fascist power. There were some exceptions among them where, either consciously or unconsciously, a few found themselves in opposition to the regime. And when that opposition took place overseas the revenge taken against them by the New Order was not so great. In any case, we remain grateful for that opposition.

Once the New Order felt there was no more opposition in the country, Suharto presented himself as a great general and raised up A.H.Nasution also as a great general. Both of them were ex-soldiers of the Royal Netherlands Indies Army (KNIL). Whether the two of them ever formally resigned from the KNIL is not clear; at least no official documents have ever been published. At the very least, their military careers cannot be separated from their origins in the KNIL. The task of the KNIL during the colonial period was to make sure Indonesia remained a Dutch colony, during the time when the country’s freedom fighters were being thrown into gaol or exiled. The rise of these two generals, products of the KNIL, can be seen as symbols of the essence of the New Order.

All my respect goes to those students and youth who, motivated by their love for Indonesia, rose up and resisted the New Order and its Suharto. All those who had been surrounded and swamped in lies and the falsification of history created to defend the power of the New Order, showed the resolve and courage to rebel against it. Without a single rifle they faced the weapons of the New Order, even though beaten up, kidnapped and killed. This was different than the Peoples Power of the Philippines when the Armed Forces sided with the people in overthrowing Marcos…

And this whole process had developed even further than that. Many students and young people had gone down into the villages to awaken the village masses to their rights; for centuries the peasants only knew their duties, a result of the structure of traditional society. And then something started to happen which had never happened in history before: the peasants raised up their faces and seized back the lands that had been stolen from them by the New Order and its cronies, many of whom ended up owning scores or even hundreds of hectares, something in contradiction to the laws passed during the stage when we were struggling to complete the revolution.

This extraordinary movement of the students and youth now appears to have met a roadblock. What has been called reformasi was not given birth to a widely accepted national leadership. And the rising up of the peasants in the interior, something that could be fairly identified as the beginnings of a social revolution, has also not developed further, and has also not given birth to any national leaders.

Why? In the 1920s the movement was able to give birth to leaders that won wide acceptance, whether they were Javanists, Indonesianists, or ethnic leaders. Why in this second year of the 21st century has this not happened? At first I thought this was a result of some kind of psychological problem, that there was something not quite right, not quite fitting, off balance. I told this to many of the younger generation who came to visit me. After thinking about this more, I have come to another conclusion: that it is not a psychological issue.

The problem is that the starting point of the younger generation and students, and also the peasants in the interior has been reformasi: a movement only to restructure and give new content to the New Order. This not only involves avoiding but even negating our national history. We nationally have been born through the national revolution and we succeeded in defeating imperialism, we did that. The stage of the national revolution was followed in 1950 by the stage of the struggle to complete the revolution: now it has been extinguished completely. Forget about things like ‘nation and character building’, instead now there has been more and more actions murdering the nation, including reviving the old colonial practice of sending Javanese soldiers to the regions to subdue the regions outside Java.

Why is all this continuing to happen? My conclusion is that the course of developments since the New Order has turned its back on history as a source of understanding the proper starting point, thereby losing direction, and therefore does not know its destination, in other words, has lost the plot.

Throughout modern Indonesian history since the beginning of the last century, the youth has been the engine and provided the leadership for change and renewal. And so from this history, the young generation bears the responsibility for continuing the tradition of winning renewal. This is the case today also. But with additional new attitudes: using reason and courage. There can be no change without courage. And without courage, as I have often said: the young generation will be just like cattle — their presence here among the living will be for no other purpose than to turn themselves into cattle.

Reason and courage. Wipe away the New Order and its parasite spirit. Return to the phase of completing the revolution and complete it. And noting: completing the revolution does mean necessarily carrying out violence.

The youth must rise up, put their nation in order!

Pramoedya Ananta Toer is Indonesia’s leading novelist and author of ‘This Earth of Mankind’ tetrology of novels. He presented this speech as a Cultural Oration on the occasion of Indonesian Independence Day, 2002.

Inside Indonesia 76: Oct - Dec 2003

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