Forwarded from Nestor (my obsesssion with Indonesia)

Richard Fidler rfidler at
Fri Mar 14 13:33:56 MST 2003

One of the best places to start:

"Communism and Pan-Islamism"
by Tan Malaka

from What Next, No. 21

INTRO: This is an extract from a speech made by the Indonesian Marxist
Tan Malaka at the Fourth Congress of the Communist International in
1922. Taking issue with the theses drafted by Lenin and adopted at the
Second Congress, which had emphasised the need for a "struggle against
Pan-Islamism", Tan Malaka argued for a more positive approach.

Tan Malaka (1897-1949) was elected chairman of the Communist Party of
Indonesia in 1921, but the following year he was forced to leave the
East Indies by the colonial authorities. After the proclamation of
independence in August 1945, he returned to Indonesia to participate in
the struggle against Dutch colonialism. He became a leader of the Partai
Murba (Proletarian Party), formed in 1948 to organise working class
opposition to the Soekarno government. In February 1949 Tan Malaka was
captured by the Indonesian army and executed.

            * * *

SHOULD WE support Pan-Islamism - yes or no? And if yes, how far should
we go?

Pan-Islamism is a long story. First of all I will speak about our
experiences in the East Indies where we have cooperated with the
Islamists. We have in Java a very large organisation with many very poor
peasants, the Sarekat Islam (Islamic League). Between 1912 and 1916 this
organisation had one million members, perhaps as many as three or four
million. It was a very large popular movement, which arose spontaneously
and was very revolutionary.

Until 1921 we collaborated with it. Our party, consisting of 13,000
members, went into this popular movement and carried out propaganda
there. In 1921 we succeeded in getting Sarekat Islam to adopt our
programme. The Islamic League too agitated in the villages for control
of the factories and for the slogan: All power to the poor peasants, all
power to the proletarians! So Sarekat Islam made the same propaganda as
our Communist Party, only sometimes under another name.

But in 1921 a split occurred as a result of clumsy criticism of the
leadership of Sarekat Islam. The government through its agents in
Sarekat Islam exploited this split, and it also exploited the decision
of the Second Congress of the Communist International: Struggle against
Pan-Islamism! What did they say to the simple peasants? They said: See,
the Communists not only want to split, they want to destroy your
religion! That was too much for a simple Muslim peasant. The peasant
thought to himself: I have lost everything in this world, must I lose my
heaven as well? That won't do! This was how the simple Muslims thought.
The propagandists among the government agents exploited this very
successfully. So we had a split. [Chairman: Your time is up.]

I have come from the East Indies, and travelled for forty days.

The Sarekat-Islamists believe in our propaganda and remain with us in
their stomachs, to use a popular expression, but in their hearts they
remain with the Sarekat Islam, with their heaven. For heaven is
something we cannot give them. Therefore, they boycotted our meetings
and we could not carry on propaganda any more.

Since the beginning of last year we have worked towards re-establishing
the link with Sarekat Islam. At our congress in December last year we
said that the Muslims in the Caucasus and other countries, who cooperate
with the Soviets and struggle against international capitalism,
understand their religion better, and we also said that, if they want to
make propaganda for their religion, they can do so, though they should
not do it in meetings but in the mosques.

We have been asked at public meetings: Are you Muslims - yes or no? Do
you believe in God - yes or no? How did we answer this? Yes, I said,
when I stand before God I am a Muslim, but when I stand before men I am
not a Muslim [loud applause], because God said there are many devils
among men! [Loud applause.] Thus we inflicted a defeat on their leaders
with the Qur'an in our hands, and at our congress last year we compelled
the leaders of the Sarekat Islam, through their own members, to
cooperate with us.

When a general strike broke out in March last year, the Muslim workers
needed us, as we have the railwaymen under our leadership. The Sarekat
Islam leaders said: You want to cooperate with us, so you must help us,
too. Of course we went to them, and said: Yes, your God is powerful, but
he has said that on this earth the railwaymen are more powerful! [Loud
applause.] The railwaymen are God's executive committee in this world.

But this does not settle the question, and if we have another split we
may be sure that the government agents will be there again with their
Pan-Islamism. So the question of Pan-Islamism is a very immediate one.

But now one must first understand what the word Pan-Islamism really
means. Once, it had a historical significance and meant that Islam must
conquer the whole world, sword in hand, and that this must take place
under the leadership of the Caliph, and the Caliph must be of Arabian
origin. About forty years after the death of Mohammed the Muslims split
into three great states and thus the Holy War lost its significance for
the entire Muslim world. It thus lost the meaning that, in the name of
God, the Caliph and the Muslim religion should conquer the whole world,
because the Caliph of Spain said, I am the true Caliph, I must carry the
banner, and the Caliph of Egypt said the same, and the Caliph of Baghdad
said, I am the real Caliph, since I am from the Arabian tribe of

So Pan-Islamism no longer has its original meaning, but now has in
practice an entirely different meaning. Today, Pan-Islamism signifies
the national liberation struggle, because for the Muslims Islam is
everything: not only religion, but also the state, the economy, food,
and everything else. And so Pan-Islamism now means the brotherhood of
all Muslim peoples, and the liberation struggle not only of the Arab but
also of the Indian, the Javanese and all the oppressed Muslim peoples.
This brotherhood means the practical liberation struggle not only
against Dutch but also against English, French and Italian capitalism,
therefore against world capitalism as a whole. That is what Pan-Islamism
now means in Indonesia among the oppressed colonial peoples, according
to their secret propaganda - the liberation struggle against the
different imperialist powers of the world.

This is a new task for us. Just as we want to support the national
struggle, we also want to support the liberation struggle of the very
combative, very active 250 million Muslims living under the imperialist
powers. Therefore I ask once again: Should we support Pan-Islamism, in
this sense?

See also:

J. van Steen:  Tan Malaka: Revolutionary Hero, in  What Next? No.22

Helen Jarvis of the Australian DSP translated Tan Malaka's 3-volume
memoirs, Dari pendjara ke pendjara (From Jail to Jail) into English -
published in 1991. I recommend it highly.

-- Richard Fidler

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