[Marxism] Joesoef Isak

Peter Boyle peterb at greenleft.org.au
Thu Mar 17 22:31:16 MST 2005

Joesoef Isak (74), journalist, publisher, former political prisoner and 
political activist since the 1940s, is one of the speakers at the 3rd 
Asia Pacific International Solidarity Conference in Sydney. I believe he 
is the first person from that generation of political dissidents in 
Indonesia to ever speak publicly in Australia. I am not sure if he has 
visited the US or Western Europe since his detention.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s he held senior positions in Indonesian 
Journalists Association. He was editor of the mass circulation daily, 
Merdeka, until 1962 until its proprietor removed him for taking the 
paper too far in a left wing direction. After 1962, he became 
Secretary-General of the Asia Africa Journalists Association working to 
build cooperation among anti-imperialists and journalists throughout the 
Third World. In that capacity, he met Che Guevara and Fidel Castro.

In 1965 General Suharto seized power, began the process of overthrowing 
President Sukarno, and annihilating the Indonesian Left. More than 1 
million people were murdered. Tens of thousands more were imprisoned. 
Joesoef Isak was one of these. Between 1965 and 1977, was dragged in and 
out of detention in various military safe houses.. finally, in 1967 he 
was imprisoned in Salemba prison, Jakarta until 1977. He was never 
charged or tried for any crime.

Soon after release from prison, in 1979, and in complete defiance of the 
Suharto dictatorship, he joined with two other people who had been just 
released from prison camp after they had been fourteen years detained 
without charge or trial. These were Hasyim Rahman, who had been 
publisher of the biggest selling left-wing daily before 1965, Bintang 
Timur, and Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Indonesia’s leading fiction writer at 
the time and a columnist in Bintang Timur. They had all been part of the 
movement attempting to win socialism in Indonesia. These three formed a 
publishing company, Hasta Mitra, which proceeded to defy a ban by the 
dictatorship on former leftists working in the publishing arena. Between 
1981 and the late 1980s they published novels written in prison camp by 
Pramoedya Ananta Toer. The novels were quickly banned – but they still 
were in the bookshops long enough to become best sellers. Joesoef was 
arrested again when he was accused of helping organize for Pramoedya to 
speak on University of Indonesia campus. Three more months were spent in 

Hasta Mitra has remained the most important alternative and left 
publisher in Indonesia for more than 20 years despite the bans and 
harassment. Since the fall of Suharto, there have been many major 
publications organized by Joesoef Isak through Hasta Mitra. Two of the 
most important have also involved massive translation efforts. The first 
was an 800 page volume of translations of US State Department and CIA 
documents relating the overthrow of Sukarno, the installation of Suharto 
and the mass murders of the socialist movement. This was published as 
“The CIA Documents” in 2003. In 2005, Hasta Mitra published the first 
ever Indonesian translation of the three volumes of Marx’s Capital. 
Former president Abdurrahman Wahid launched the publication which was 
attended by other leading left intellectuals.

Joeseof Isak will give special greetings to APISC on the occasion of the 
50th anniversary of the Asia Africa Conference in Bandung, Indonesia. 
This conference, held in 1955, began the non-aligned movement of the 50s 
and 60s during its period as an international coalition against 

See <www.apsc.net.au> for program.

More information about the Marxism mailing list