Showing posts with label A balanced perspective of Soekarno. Show all posts
Showing posts with label A balanced perspective of Soekarno. Show all posts

A balanced perspective of Soekarno

A balanced perspective of Soekarno
Joesoef Isak


The publication of Bob Hering’s important new book, “Soekarno, Founding Father of Indonesia, 1901-1945”, is the first Soekarno biography written from a different perspective than that of earlier Soekarno biographies. This long-awaited book, five years in the making, is characterized by two unique features: first, it is the first Soekarno biography that has been written free of certain “reifications”. Second, even though this book is written in English, it was written by a Dutchman and first published in the Netherlands.
      Hopefully, Professor Hering’s new Soekarno biography will encourage the Dutch media and the Dutch public to re-evaluate Soekarno in a more balanced manner. History has given Indonesia and the Netherlands a special, long established cultural relationship, which unfortunately has been lost in the decades following Indonesian independence, primarily because of the Dutch government and media’s misleading interpretation of Soekarno. To further interrupt the long-term cultural relationship shared by the two countries, Indonesia’s younger generation no longer looks to the Netherlands, as Soekarno’s generation did. These days, the young generation is focused on the English speaking world. This trend, seen by many Indonesians as a positive development, is in fact regrettable, because the current lack of cultural and educational exchange between the young people of Indonesia and Holland has served to further halt what once was a vibrant and dynamic relationship. Ironically, Soekarno himself, of all of Indonesia’s nationalist leaders, was the one most likely to be a good friend of the Netherlands. He had a well-known weakness and affection for Holland and Dutch people.
      It was politicians such as Van Mook, Dress, Beel, and Luns, those intractable proponents of Dutch colonialism, who were most responsible for fracturing the historical relationship between Indonesia and the Netherlands. The proclamation by Soekarno-Hatta of Independent Indonesia, completely set free from the Netherlands, was apparently too bitter a pill for the stomachs of those politicians to digest. In response, they organized a smear campaign against Soekarno -- but nothing against Hatta -- which went on for years. This futile political maneuver was backed uncritically by almost the entire Dutch media and intelligentsia. Even today, there are still strong remnants of this campaign, which was greatly enabled by the anti-leftist atmosphere generated by the United States’ Cold War.

The main accusations -- in fact, the slander -- of the anti-Soekarno campaign are as follows:

1  Soekarno was a collaborator with Japanese fascism

2  Soekarno, with his concept of Guided Democracy, was a dictator
3  The megalomaniac Soekarno caused suffering to his people by ignoring the economy
4  Soekarno was an anti-West nationalist, even a communist

At the beginning of this foreword, the sociological term “reification” was used because it is the most apt term to describe the nonsensical assertions above. Reification is the phenomenon whereby ideas that were the creation of human minds become accepted and then become a reality, and take on a life of their own -- despite the fact that those accepted ideas have no credible connection with reality. The intelligentsia, the media and the general public have been fed these reifications regarding Soekarno for years. Eventually, with respect to reifications, the law of inertia comes into play -- nobody ever questions the truth of those abstractions. Specifically, in regard to the slander of Soekarno, no one investigated the origins of the reifications, which were the creation of the Dutch politicians and press, to certain extent their Ondonesian counterparts too.

       To briefly address the accusations made against Soekarno:

Soekarno was stigmatized as being a collaborator with Japanese fascism and he was put in the same category as Mussert, the notorious Dutch traitor. This is simply an outrageous untruth. Mussert and Soekarno were polar opposites; Mussert sold-out his homeland to the invading Nazis, while Soekarno, a life long freedom fighter for Indonesian independence, put all of his credibility, as well as his entire future, totally on the line in order to win freedom for his homeland. Soekarno brilliantly used the momentum created during the brief period of the Japanese occupation to prepare the way for independence. Such an opportunity never arose during his twenty years of struggle under Dutch power. In the period right up to the outbreak of World War II, Soekarno was still being imprisoned by the Dutch for his role as the leader of the Indonesian independence movement, but nevertheless, he, along with other Indonesian nationalists, offered to fight with the Dutch against Japanese fascism. Soekarno’s offer to join forces with the Dutch was refused. Soekarno, politically and ideologically always a nationalist, found fascism even more dangerous than Dutch colonialism. Instead, in the end, the Dutch preferred defeat at the hands of the Japanese rather than allowing Soekarno the chance to mobilize and arm the Indonesian people. The Dutch surrendered Indonesia and all its inhabitants to the Japanese almost without a fight. After totally surrendering the inhabitants of Indonesia -- which included Soekarno himself -- to the Japanese, did Van Mook and his colleagues have the moral authority to make accusations against Soekarno regarding his stance towards Japanese occupation?

       If we closely examine the accusations, it is quickly revealed that the accusers themselves exhibited a startling lack of consistency. For example, the anti-Soekarno slanderers avoided making any accusations against Mohammed Hatta, who in fact followed exactly the same policy towards the Japanese as Soekarno. However, as part of the Dutch divide and rule strategy, the Dutch made sure that it was Soekarno, the most charismatic and effective nationalist leader, who was always targeted. The most sickening thing is how the Dutch, who presented themselves as the bold defenders of democracy, took exactly the same posture towards the Indonesian struggle for freedom as the Germans Nazis took towards the Netherlands when they invaded and occupied that country.
       The potentially explosive Dutch accusations of collaboration were at that time calculated to politically decimate Soekarno, but this cynical, politically motivated tactic entirely failed to diminish the strength of Soekarno’s leadership and popularity. The “collaborator” accusations, so loudly trumpeted, totally failed to take hold. The Dutch were trying to sell a politically motivated fabrication as the truth, and from the start, it rang false with the Indonesian people. The essence of the whole issue was that the Dutch wanted that particular accusation to discredit Independence, which of course was won by Soekarno through the strength of his leadership and vision. The Dutch politicians simply could not accept Indonesia freeing itself totally from Dutch control. In their desperate attempt to besmirch the validity of Indonesian Independence, they attempted to belittle and demean its monumental accomplishment by passing it off as merely the tainted doings of Soekarno, the collaborator. Those politicians’ attempts to stop history ultimately proved futile.

Soekarno as a dictator? Soekarno’s Guided Democracy authoritarian?

This is a myth, constructed by the Dutch Soekarno detractors, who were aided by certain well-known Indonesian Soekarno detractors. In all these years, there has never been any real investigation as to whether or not Soekarno ever truly possessed the power to be a dictator. The fact is that for fifteen uninterrupted years after the 1945 proclamation, Soekarno was no more than a symbolic president. Until 1959, Indonesia’s several consecutive governments emanated either from Hatta and Syahrir’s political mainstream, or from among those nationalists who were always compromising with Masyumi and the PSI. Soekarno only started to wield some “real power” after the declaration of “Guided Democracy” in July 1959, but even that was very much just a formal power because there was a parallel power structure from the center to the regions. This was the real and effective power of the Army. It was the military that wielded real power, and they who were latching on to Soekarno’s authority. They carried out political arrests using their Martial Law powers, and they also imposed other restrictions on public freedom. They did all this in the name of Soekarno. The Army organized other complex political maneuvers as well, such as Manikebu, the Body for Support of Sukarnoism, and they exploited Soekarno’s idea of “functional groups” for their own purposes. It was this Army group that overthrew Soekarno and was able to wield unrestricted power during the “New Order”, with nobody trying to hold them back. The Army was able to brilliantly and completely implement their “international task” to establish the McCarthyist paradigm in Indonesia, which was to destroy the PKI and to remove Soekarno from the historical stage. From the 17th of October 1952, when General Nasution aimed his canons in front of the Merdeka Palace, demanding that President Soekarno dismantle Parliament, until 1965, the Army worked behind the scenes, and skillfully infiltrated the progressive revolutionary movement. It was not until the rise of the new order that the bare face of military power revealed itself and its partnership with Golongan Karya as its civilian arm.

       Moreover, Soekarno had no real talent for being a dictator. In order to be a dictator he would have needed to have no conscience whatsoever; he needed to be prepared to murder and arrest his own people as Soeharto did during his more than thirty years of rule. It was Soeharto whom the West lauded, declaring that his barbaric maneuvers provided the necessary remedy for Soekarno’s authoritarianism, and returned Indonesia to the right road. Soekarno, the leader who understood his people better than anybody else, consciously decided to reject mimicking Western democracy even though his mind was alive with the great ideas of social-democracy and the Enlightenment, and with concepts from the French and American revolutions -- even with ideas taken from the resistance of William of Orange against Spain. He was completely inspired by ideas of the West but he stood with his two feet planted squarely on the soil of his homeland. He knew from his experience in the struggle for reform in defense of the oppressed, that the people would always end up on the losing side if the norms of Western democracy were followed. He developed an idea that he took from Ki Hadjar Dewantara: “democratie met leiderschap” (democracy with leadership). We all know that Soekarno’s Guided Democracy was tragically murdered in its infancy in 1965, and never had the chance to prove itself -- to prove that it was what the people needed in order to improve their own situation. In the Western world, democracy had more than a century to establish itself and become the system that we know today. Soekarno’s five-year-old experiment -- which the Army from within, and the Cold War from outside, was always sabotaging -- was declared a failure and libeled as authoritarian.

Soekarno was also accused of ignoring the economy and also of being anti-West as reflected in his famous assertion: “go to hell with your aid!”

We know that billions of Marshall Aid dollars poured into Europe after the destruction of World War Two, in order to revive its economy, as well as to keep communism at bay. What did the West and America do then for the Third World and in particular Indonesia? There was no flood of dollars, but instead its generals, as the local agents of the West, subverted the country in its efforts to pursue the Cold War in Indonesia. The task of the local military was to stop the communists and Soekarno, as ordered by their masters overseas. At the same time the Dutch Foreign Minister, Joseph Luns, and his insistence on the Dutch retention of West Irian hemmed in Soekarno for years. Is there a leader in the world who would have been able to adequately develop the economy under such circumstance? If Soekarno had been willing to sell Indonesia to Western capitalism, Soekarno would have encountered smooth sailing from the West, and in particular, from America. However, Soekarno could not be bought. That is why the West organized so many forms of subversion against Indonesia -- precisely so that Soekarno could not develop the economy.

       As a statesman and politician, Soekarno managed the revolution he was leading in stages. The first stage was the political stage, based on his Political Manifesto (1959-62). Only when this stage was over and the West Irian question had been resolved, did Soekarno turn to economic issues. Soekarno introduced his “Dekon” (Economic Declaration) of 1963, based on self-reliance, whose implementation was broken in 1965. Despite all the local and foreign attempts at subversion, Soekarno did begin to address the economy in 1963. It is a cheap criticism to say that Soekarno was never engaged in economics; sadly, his efforts to improve the economy did not even reach infancy; it was bloodily murdered while still in embryo by local generals. Because of all the covert action against him, Soekarno never had a fair playing field on which to test his ideas. The Western intelligentsia and the press choir until this day like to sing that Soekarno ignored the economy, while it is they themselves who ignore the whole story, never elucidating the sinister and formidable forces that were stacked against him. Instead, it appears that Soekarno was supposed to create some kind of economic miracle in just two years, while facing formidable covert opposition. Unable to produce such a miracle, he was then labeled as neglecting the economy. For the West, an economic development strategy can be said to exist and operate correctly only if it bases itself on Western loans and investment, that is to say, if it makes itself fully dependent on the economies of the capitalist countries.
       It was general Soeharto whom the West saw as the person who developed Indonesia in a proper and successful manner. And so the skyscrapers appeared in Indonesia’s large cities, and the local and foreign conglomerates emerged based upon Indonesia’s abundant natural resources. A new Indonesian elite was born -- prosperous and well off, and wealthy beyond belief.
       When Soekarno cried out: “go to hell with your aid!” it was immediately interpreted as anti-West agitation and Soekarno was viewed as openly joining forces with the communist camp. However, his statement was not just a political statement; more importantly it was a cultural statement. Soekarno, who also had the great agenda of “nation and character building”, was consciously trying to educate his people, who were just emerging from hundreds of years of colonial domination, not to be beggars. The West never understood or respected the cultural nuances of Indonesia or the psychology of Soekarno. What the West called “Soeharto’s economic development success” has left the Indonesian people with a debt burden of 140 billion dollars or approximately 3,500 dollars for every Indonesian family, children as well as babies.
       No Indonesian supporter of Soekarno is interested in seeing a hagiography of Soekarno. People have the right to write whatever they like about Soekarno. However, one only hopes that people who write about Soekarno -- especially the Dutch -- can liberate themselves from the old worn cliches that have stuck to Soekarno as truths. Writers are of course free to be critical of Soekarno, but one hopes that writers avoid shallow arguments tired old reifications.
Willem Oltman’s book, “Mijn Vriend, Soekarno” was labeled a hagiography. This book did not make Soekarno a cult figure at all, Oltmans was in fact sharper and more informative about Soekarno, in several of his memoirs; especially “Den Vaderland Getrouwe” as compared to “My Vriend, Soekarno”. The latter was a pamphlet written quickly to celebrate the centenary of Soekarno’s birth. How did the Dutch respond to Oltman’s views on Soekarno? Oltman, who endeavored to give a balanced picture of Soekarno, was vilified in his own country by the Dutch power structure for more than forty years, starting in 1956. To be precise, Oltmam’s was prevented from earning a living as a journalist because he was effectively blackballed and repeatedly denied access. This man, a Yale alumnus of political science, and author of dozens of books, was a fine investigative journalist and scholar. As a young reporter he followed and maybe believed all the anti-Soekarno propaganda, but during his very first meeting with Soekarno in Rome in 1956, he had the opportunity to know Soekarno peronally and they eventually became good friends. Injustice may last a long time, but it won’t ultimately triumph. It is the truth that is victorious -- eventually. Oltmans himself was vindicated when in May 2000, he won a landmark court case, and the Dutch court decided that Oltman should be paid tax free four million US dollars as compensation for his being robbed of his right to his livelihood. We can be thankful anyway, that in the end, no matter how late, the truth wins out, both for Soekarno and for Wim Oltmans.
      Lambert Giebels -- a Dutchman too -- gave another picture of Soekarno. He clearly tried to become more objective in his writings, even though his picture is rich in its fantasies. Like Nefo and Oldefo, nor Nasakom nor Unity and Union, they all were not romanticed ideas of Soekarno, but Giebels himself was full with romanticised imagination. His creativity resulted the biography rather into a novel, for he does not recoild to contaminate his fairly description of Soekarno with fantastic and absurd gossips. An erroneus work is the consequence of gossips and rumours being accepted as truth. Having said that, his efforts must be still respected
       The third Dutch biography writer of Soekarno now is Bob Hering who delivers a balanced perpective of Soekarno, after decades of calculated misinformation and deception on the part of anti-Soekarno polticians and journalists in general.

There have been many scholars, as well as clever observers, both Indonesian and foreign, who have written that Soekarno’s ideas were brilliant but unworkable. According to these people, Soekarno’s ideas were the reflections of pure romanticism. That particular point of view is put forth by writers who have failed in understanding Soekarno.

As an artist, an architect, a great admirer of paintings and sculptures, Soekarno might be artistically speaking among the romantic school, but his ideas and political concepts have definitely nothing to do with romanticism whatsoever. As the brilliant intellectual and cultivated creative thinker he was always a man of action and of leadership. He had a deep understanding of the social, cultural and political world of Indonesia and of the outside world, who responded to his nation’s concrete problems in an effective and deeply original way. He did not move in some hyper-real world but in the concrete environment of Indonesia where the battles were real battles, requiring serious and difficult struggles, sometimes even accompanied by bloodshed, in order to achieve a just and prosperous society for the people. We must reaffirm that Soekarno was not a failure, but his ideas were in the end quashed by his enemies -- in fact, he was imprisoned until his death. Mentioning enemies here mainly referrs to the superpower, the United States, and the capitalist world as a whole. This external power was able to build a base for itself inside the Indonesian army with its main goal to defeat Soekarno. In Dutch it would say, “Soekarno was bezweken voor een overmacht!” Soekarno was defeated by a super-power that had superior numbers, firepower and wealth. The various analysts of Soekarno do not seem to have been able to grasp this basic and tragic fact, despite their intelligence and high level of education. Their way of thinking, their mental framework is inhabited by too many reifications, too many shining but empty, manufactured abstractions.
       Bung Karno’s concepts of Nasakom and Unity and Union were not the manifestations of megalomania or some kind of romantic fantasy. They were vital preconditions for the consolidation of a democratic framework that could provide justice and prosperity for all the people. Without unity, the boss would always gobble the little people up. Without unity, Indonesia would be just the milk cow of the capitalist countries. Decades after Bung Karno’s death, we see that Indonesia itself threatens to disintegrate; Soekarno’s ideals were thoroughly betrayed, and we see the legacy of that betrayal in places like Aceh, Ambon, West Irian, and Poso, there is terror everywhere, and continuous tensions and quarrels between various ethnic groups and religions. In fact Soekarno and his ideas is the effective alternative -- the golden mean -- to solve not only Indonesia’s internal problems, but also of the world which is currently overswamped with various intricated unsolvable political conflicts.
      The destruction of the concept of Nasakom and of Unity and Union are part of the permanent agenda of the capitalist countries, which want to control Indonesia and its vast natural wealth. It is a tragedy if Indonesians themselves join the capitalist globalization’s destruction of these ideas. They are not destroying Soekarno but destroying Indonesia and its people in their need for justice and prosperity.

Professor Hering’s approach to Soekarno is commendable -- namely, that he has avoided putting Soekarno on a pedestal even though he has great respect for him. His work is also free from the old worn clichŽs set in motion to detract from Soekarno’s historical significance, and the esteem with which Indonesian’s regard him. Hopefully, the Dutch will be especially attentive to the way in which Hering discuses the issue of collaboration as well as that of Nasakom -- nationalism, religion, and communism. In Indonesia itself, because of Soeharto -- the world’s most faithful disciple of McCarthy -- Nasakom is no longer understood. In fact, there is an allergy to Nasakom, it is taboo.

      Bob Hering is now just half way through his journey. He must finish that voyage by completing volume two of his Soekarno biography. We await volume two with great expectations, as it will be that particular volume that deals with Soekarno after 1945. This was a period full of dynamism and tumult, which of course includes the event known as September 30, 1965: a bloody event that brought Soekarno, father of the nation, and the one who liberated his people, to his end as a political prisoner of Soeharto’s vicious military regime.
      Volume Two of Hering’s Soekarno biography will answer this question: how much power was Soekarno able to wield as president? What was Guided Democracy, which was so cursed by the West? One cannot understand Indonesian history since 1945 without taking into account the Cold War. Since 1945 the Cold War interfered in the affairs of the Republic Indonesia.
       Hopefully, Bob Hering’s books will eventually be published by a popular press -- not only by an academic press -- so that they will be accessible to the broad public. His crucial writings on Soekarno, which do so much to shed light on this complex and greatly misunderstood leader, need to find its readership beyond intellectual circles and the university world. Bob Hering’s carefully researched and beautifully written biography delivers long overdue justice to the legacy and memory of Bung Karno, after decades of calculated misinformation and deception.

Jakarta, 28 October, 2002

*  This Foreword is based on the essay written by Joesoef Isak on the occasion of the launching of Bob Hering’s biography of Soekarno launched on the Youth Oath Day, 28 October at the Indonesian Embassy in Den Haag, the Netherlands.
   Apart from a few minor alterations, the substance of this Foreword is the same -ed.
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