[Marxism] Tan Malaka on Communism and Pan-Islamism

Richard Fidler rfidler at cyberus.ca
Thu Mar 23 10:40:20 MST 2006

Communism and Pan-Islamism


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.

Remarks by Tan Malaka:

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. [Laughter.]

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 Quraish.

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?

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