On August 17, 1945, two days after Japan’s surrender, Sukarno declared Indonesian independence and shortly thereafter formed a provisional republic that he headed as president with Hatta as vice president.9 When Dutch and British troops arrived to take the surrender of the Japanese forces, conflicts erupted between Indonesian and Dutch forces. The Dutch expected to be able to reestablish their colonial authority by supporting Indonesian leaders who favored close links between Indonesia and the Netherlands. Between September 1945 and December 1949, Indonesia became a battlefield in a power struggle over who would lead what kind of government for all areas formerly ruled by the Netherlands. On one side were the nationalists, led by Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta, who had issued the proclamation of Indonesian independence and who were leading a revolutionary struggle to expel the returning Dutch forces. On the other side were Dutch-backed governments that were being established in the outer islands by Dutch colonial officials backed by their military forces. Over this period of four years, the Dutch and the Indonesian Republic, led by Sukarno, alternately fought and negotiated for a final settlement. Before a peace agreement could be signed, the new Indonesian Republic had to demonstrate wide popular support and defeat a Communist rebellion in Java in 1948.
In the immediate aftermath of Japan’s surrender, Indonesia entered a period of chaos and conflict characterized by roving military and militia units linked to newly formed political parties, all competing for power and for very limited resources. In this environment, two Communist leaders emerged as key players in the contest for political supremacy. Tan Malaka had been arrested in 1922, and after his release from prison, he fled to Moscow where he became a Comintern agent. He later lost his job because of “deviations,” by opposing Comintern strategy for violent revolution. Instead, he favored joining with other political groups to share power and then “from within” seizing complete power in a Communist coup. Musso was another former PKI organizer who fled from the East Indies to Moscow to become a Comintern agent. In 1947, the reorganized Comintern, now called Comintern, pronounced the Zdhanov Doctrine, promising Soviet support for Communist-led “wars of national liberation” in former colonies of European powers. In August 1948, Musso returned to Indonesia to begin implementing the Comintern’s tactics of revolution. These two Communist leaders, pursuing different strategies, attempted to seize power from the nationalist coalition headed by Sukarno and Hatta.
Following his secret strategy, Tan Malaka joined the Indonesian nationalist government, and played a Machiavellian role, pitting one faction against another and espousing more radical policies than Sukarno and Hatta were prepared to accept. He founded Partai Rakyat Djelata (Common Peoples Party), recruiting radical youth, unemployed discharged soldiers, and former PKJ members. The Indonesian political scene was chaotic, since elections did not determine power, but representation within the government was based on assumed popular support. Therefore, parties organized demonstrations as a tactic to display and demand representation in government councils.’ Nearly all parties also cultivated relations with military, paramilitary, and police units to maximize their power. In this environment, Tan Malaka expected to create a crisis that would dislodge Sukarno and Hatta from power. However, when Tan Malaka openly challenged Sukarno and Hatta to resign in March 1946, Sukarno, supported by the cabinet, had Tan Malaka arrested. At the last moment, several key “fence sitters” had thrown their support to Sukarno to save the nationalist government.
Meanwhile, under Musso’s leadership the Indonesian Communist Party was revived and began mobilization of paramilitary units in anticipation of fomenting a proletarian revolution. Sensing an increasing threat from a revived PKI under Musso’s leadership, Sukarno released from prison Tan Malaka, who quickly mobilized his followers in a renamed Partai Murba (Proletarian Party) to confront and undermine the PKJ. When skirmishes broke out between the two Communist factions over the control of Maduin, in Java, Musso decided to announce the start of the “proletarian revolution.” The PKI militia forces began attacking orthodox Muslims who were condemned as “capitalists, landowners,” and government supporters. Quickly, the main units of the Indonesian ArmY intervened and recaptured Maduin, and within a few weeks about 35,000 persons were arrested, many from the PKI’s paramilitary formations. During those operations, the army killed Musso and many other PYJ leaders.11 Although Tan Malaka had opposed the P1(1, he had also alienated the top command in the Indonesian Army. Under Major General Abdul Hans Nasution’s leadership, the army pursued Tan Malaka, who was arrested and put to death in March 1949, by the same division that had earlier promised him political support.
These events revealed Sukarno’s political skills and established a pattern of army intervention in Indonesian politics that became more apparent over time. For the second time in Indonesian history, a Communist revolution had been crushed. And, Sukarno gained increased legitimacy for his leadership of Indonesia in its continuing contest with the Netherlands.
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On August 17, 1945, two days after Japan’s surrender, Sukarno declared Indonesian independence and shortly thereafter formed a provisional republic that he headed as president with Hatta as vice president. More >>
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