INDONESIA, the insular chain linking the southern Asian mainland and Australia, consists of thousands of islands large and small, the major ones being Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Celebes, and New Guinea. These islands -- draped around the equator like a girdle of emerald, as Multatuli put it in his book Max Havelaar -- are quite mountainous, with many volcanoes. They are for the most part very fertile, and though there are still large jungles on the biggest islands -- Sumatra, Borneo, and Celebes -- on Java, Madura, Bali, and Lombok the land is under heavy cultivation.
The archipelago spans a distance of more than 3,000 miles from west to east and nearly 1,250 miles from north to south, and the total land area amounts to nearly 740,000 square miles. Java and Madura together comprise some 50,000 square miles, Sumatra and outlying islands 180,000 square miles, the Indonesian part of Borneo (the northern section is British territory) another 210,000 square miles, and Celebes 70,000 square miles more, while the Moluccas, the Lesser Sundas, and Indonesian New Guinea or West Irian (still claimed by Holland, while the eastern part is Australian) together total another 220,000 square miles.
The population of Indonesia is estimated at around eighty million, with fifty-two millions living on Java. According to the latest figures, there were twelve million inhabitants on Sumatra, three and a half million on Borneo, and six million on Celebes. Thus Java, with only seven per cent of the whole land area of Indonesia, has about 68 per cent of the archipelago's population.
If Java is overpopulated, with around 1,058 persons per square mile, the other islands are too sparsely settled. Sumatra has no more than 65 persons to the square mile, and the average for the whole of Indonesia is only around 109. The present annual population increase is estimated at about one and a quarter per cent. For the other islands such an increase is hardly perceptible, except as an augmentation of the labor force, but for Java it means a constant increase in the already tremendous population pressure.
Among the eighty million people living in Indonesia are an estimated three million of Chinese ancestry and far smaller groups of Dutch, Indo-Europeans, and Arabs. While the Dutch have been leaving Indonesia since Independence, Chinese immigration has not stopped, and our Chinese population is growing.
The unity of Indonesia as a nation derives from a close linguistic affinity between the various groups spread over the thousands of islands, from a common history, and, to some extent, from common traditions throughout the ages and especially after the coming of the Portuguese and the Dutch in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Before the arrival of the Westerners there had been constant contact with both India and China. Hinduism and Buddhism, and later Islam, came to Indonesia via India. Some nine tenths of all Indonesians are now Muslim, but before the coming of Islam in the thirteenth century there was a period when most Indonesians were Hindu. A curious remnant of that age is to be found on Bali, where most of the people are still Hindu. Another relic of the Indian influence is the large number of Sanskritic-root words in the Javanese language.
From time immemorial traders were attracted to the Indonesian islands by the spices to be found here. Java was traditionally renowned for its rice and the Moluccas for their nutmeg and cloves, and long before the arrival of the adventurers from the West there was a lively trade with India and China in all these products. So far as is known this trade never gave rise to large-scale warfare. Nor were either the older Indian religions or Islam spread by the sword, but by pacific trade contacts. Relations with other lands took on another character only after the appearance of the Westerners.
The history of the Dutch East India Company in Indonesia was one of trade coupled with violence, cruelty, and treachery. The populations of whole islands were exterminated for the benefit of the Netherlands' spice trade.
The existing Indonesian states decayed, and in the course of the following centuries the Dutch were able to construct their colonial empire on the ruins of the old principalities. Yet it was a long struggle; not until early in the twentieth century was the last Indonesian state -- Achéin northern Sumatra -- brought to heel after a prolonged war.
BUT even while the Dutch were congratulating themselves that they had established their authority throughout the archipelago, a new Indonesia was being born. Everywhere in Asia -- in Japan, in China, in Turkey, in India, and before long in Indonesia as well -- the spirit of nationalism was rising. It was the awakening of Asia.
In 1908 a group of Indonesian intellectuals formed the Budi Utomo (High Endeavor) movement, with the aim of aiding in the advancement of the Indonesians on Java. And in 1911 the Sarekat Dagang Islam (Society of Muslim Traders), was founded, which soon developed into a nationalistic mass movement. Almost as rapidly as Dutch and other foreign capital transformed the face of Indonesia with plantations, railroads, modern roads, and harbors, the way of life of the Indonesian people also took on new forms. There emerged a modern nationalist movement, striving towards freedom and a new unity of the Indonesian people. The goal was independence.
The modernization of Indonesia brought with it labor and other social problems. After the First World War labor unions were founded -- the largest of them the organization of railway men and the strongest that of pawnshop workers. There were strikes. The colonial administration did not have the vision to move with the times; it simple tried to suppress these new forces. To be sure, there were a few Dutchmen who counseled the gradual transfer to native-Indonesians of some responsibility for the course of affairs in the country, but in general little was done in that direction.
As a result the popular movement swung sharply towards radicalism. In the Sarekat Islam, originally a movement with a religious background, there developed a left wing which tended more and more towards radical, even revolutionary, socialism. In consequence, increasing tensions developed within the movement itself, and they were encouraged by the colonial administration. In 1921 there was an open split, and from the left wing the Communist Party of the Indies was born. Most of the party's initial leaders had been prominent in the Sarekat Islam, while Dutch Communists, who had been in close contact with Sarekat Islam's radical elements, provided Communist theories and the "party line."
Until the second half of the nineteenth century the Dutch had viewed Indonesia and the Indonesians only as a source of profits -- whether through the trade of the monopolistic East India Company or (after the Company was disbanded and succeeded by the Dutch government) through such programs as the compulsory cultivation of coffee. There was little concern for the lot of the people as long as they were no obstacle to the making of profits. There were practically no social services, few schools, and very little public health care in Indonesia.
In the latter part of the nineteenth century the tide began to turn. Such enlightened Dutchmen as Multatuli and Van Hoevell raised their voices for the oppressed and "maltreated" Indonesians. There was a campaign for free labor and free admission of capital in Indonesia. But it was only early in the present century that the most profound changes came, accelerating the pace of Indonesian life. New plantations, intensive oil drilling and mining, and an increase in trade brought better communications in the interior, then more attention to local administration. Schools were opened for the ordinary Indonesian, who had to be trained to operate machines, where before, going to school had been a privilege of the native nobility and higher officialdom.
Faithful to the tradition of interfering with the "natives" as little as possible -- as long as they were willing to work -- the Dutch seldom came into direct contact with the people of Indonesia; they controlled them through the local feudal rulers. This system of indirect rule became the basic pattern of the Dutch colonial administration in Indonesia. It was divided into two parts -- the European administration, replenished from the Netherlands, and the so-called native administration, recruited chiefly from the Indonesian feudal nobility (for a long time the principle of heredity determined succession in the native administration). There was, of course, a difference in the level of education and training of the two corps of administrative officials. And a native official could not be considered for a position in the European administration, so that it was all but impossible for an Indonesian to attain a very high rank. This state of affairs continued until the last decades of colonial rule in Indonesia.
After the First World War a sort of representative council was created, with its members (some of them Indonesians) appointed by the Governor General. It was not until shortly before the beginning of World War II that this council -- in practice an advisory body only -- obtained a native majority. In short, the Dutch colonial administration was extraordinarily chary of providing Indonesians with the opportunity to gain practice and experience for the tasks with which they found themselves faced after the Japanese occupation.
Before the war most Indonesians -- and this was true especially for Java -- were illiterate peasants and coolies, plus a small group of minor officials and office workers. There were very few Indonesian shopkeepers or independent businessmen. The Chinese made up the middle class, while large scale capital investment -- in the big plantations, the oil and mining companies, the shipping firms, the banks, the wholesale trade -- was exclusively non-Indonesian. Nor has this economic picture changed greatly since Independence. Economic and social differences in Indonesia still largely coincide with racial differentiation.
Nationalism in Indonesia is anti-capitalist -- largely because capitalism here is Western, and, specifically, Dutch. This is also one of the reasons why in Indonesia nationalism and Communism can go hand in hand. Nationalism in Indonesia gains its chief support from an impoverished population, while capitalism is chiefly non-Indonesian, whether Western or Chinese. As a result of economic and social competition, racial differentiation has been accentuated and distorted into racial antagonism. Consequently it is easy for the Communists to present their anti-imperialistic and anti-capitalistic agitation under the guise of patriotism and nationalism, and it is no simple task for the nationalists to detect the true nature of Communism.
But, to put events in proper perspective, when the independence of Indonesia was proclaimed on August 17, 1945, it was the Socialists, not the Communists, who predominated in the leadership of the new state. The Pantja-Sila, or Five Principles set forth in the proclamation were intended as the basis for a welfare state in which social justice in the socialist sense should prevail.
The force of the anti-colonial and anti-Dutch revolution of 1945 took the Netherlands completely by surprise. The Dutch had failed to assess the true strength of the independence movement and could not adjust their thinking to the kind of peaceful settlement which the British accorded India. As a result the colonial regime in Indonesia met its end in what was for the Dutch a less than honorable way. After the Netherlands had twice attempted to suppress the revolution with military force, negotiations for the transfer of sovereignty took place under the auspices of the United Nations, and it was in bitterness towards one another that Indonesians and Dutch took their leave of the colonial past.