THE first twelve years of independence have been bitterly disappointing to many Indonesians. Despite their country’s vast potential and the natural wealth in and under the soil, freedom from Dutch colonial rule has not meant freedom from crippling economic problems and grave internal disorders. Subsequent operations to remove what the Indonesians regarded as the lingering colonial cancer in the economy failed to stimulate native economic growth. Similar action against Chinese rural merchants merely added to the problems of distribution.

In terms of day-to-day living, most people are no worse off than they were before independence, but thanks to the government’s concerted attack on illiteracy, one of its more outstanding efforts, they are at least aware that they are no better off. Frustration exists at almost all levels, ranging from President Sukarno, the gregarious sixtyyear-old “great leader of the Indonesian revolution,” who is conscious that Indonesia’s population of 93 million makes it the world’s fifth largest state and would like it to enjoy an international status comparable to its size, to long-suffering, inflation-ridden housewives, who have to line up even to buy kerosene for cooking, though the country is a major producer of oil.

In the search for scapegoats, the Indonesian leadership has turned to the colonial power and its political and economic legacies. And since the Dutch have doggedly dug in their heels in West Irian (West New Guinea), which all Indonesians regard as theirs, and have embarked on a crash program to prepare the Papuans for independence instead of turning over the territory to Indonesian rule, their denigration has become a significant and popular form of mass action. The campaign serves to divert attention from difficulties at home; it is also a means of achieving unity in this vast archipelago of more than 3000 islands, whose people differ widely ethnically and culturally and whose regional interests are often in conflict.

Late in 1957, when the Indonesians failed to get the required two thirds majority for a resolution in the General Assembly calling on the Netherlands to negotiate the West Irian dispute, they retaliated by seizing all Dutch assets, estimated at about $1.6 billion. Thousands of Dutch citizens, including many whose families had made their home in Indonesia for generations, were obliged to leave the country.

Three years later, when The Hague decided to strengthen its small marine and naval air garrison in West Irian and sent out reinforcements aboard the aircraft carrier Karel Doorman, Indonesia broke off all relations with the Netherlands. It also turned its back on what remained of the inherited Western democratic forms and set out to create a new political, economic, and social system.

Blaming the Dutch

At the conference of the unaligned nations in Belgrade last September, President Sukarno may have sounded like a fellow traveler to many Westerners when he said that current international tensions were not caused by Soviet actions in Berlin but by imperialism and colonialism; but at home he was on sure ground. The Dutch colonialists are not only blamed for all major internal ills; they are even accused by responsible officials of planning to use West Irian as a springboard for the invasion of Indonesia.

I hough the latter charge is nonsense, it is true that Indonesia was poorly equipped for independence. During their more than three centuries oi rule, the principal interest of the Dutch was trade. It was not until the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth that their sovereignty extended over the entire archipelago. Even then, the Dutch paid little serious attention to such matters as Indonesian education; in 1939-1940, for example, there were only 157 Indonesian students in colleges and universities.

There were enough trained and competent Indonesians in 1949 to run a fair-sized city, but for the task of conducting the affairs of this large, complex state, the numbers were woefully inadequate. Even if relations with the colonial power had provided a climate for friendly cooperation and assistance — which they did not — the transition would have been extremely difficult.

It is from this experience and background that many Indonesians have learned to equate capitalism and colonialism. As early as 1945, I President Sukarno, who got his education at an Indonesian technical college, had decried the American system of government. “What is called democracy there is merely a political democracy,” he said. “There is no social justice and no economic democracy at all.”

Even at this early stage in the struggle for independence, President Sukarno was thinking in terms of a system of government based on mutual help. His National Front, which is supposed to embrace all sections of the community, is the outgrowth of this.

Several factors combined to provide the President with the opportunity to scrap the existing political forms. The political ineptitude and bureaucratic corruption of the early 1950s were more a reflection of the country’s lack of administrative experience and training than a condemnation of democratic procedures, but they served, nevertheless, to help the President establish his thesis that Western democracy was not suitable for Indonesian conditions at a time when his idea of Indonesia’s new path into an auI thoritarian form of government was influenced by the seeming progress he had seen in Communist China.

In progressive steps, the elected Parliament was broken up, the two major opposition parties, the Masjumi and the Socialist, together with the Democratic Front, were dissolved, and specifically Westernoriented organizations, such as the Masons and the Boy Scouts, although not the Christian churches, were abolished. Liberalism officially became anarchy. Love for independence was required to produce hate for colonialism and imperialism.

This internal political and economic reorientation occurred at a time when Djakarta’s relations with the West were badly strained, and the Khrushchev visit to Indonesia in February, 1960, was well-timed, especially since it also coincided with the Indonesian decision to break the Overseas Chinese stranglehold on village trade, deteriorating relations, in consequence, between Djakarta and Peiping.

Soviet aid

To earlier, and largely unused, credits, amounting to $155 million, Khrushchev added another $250 million during his visit. Today hundreds of Soviet technicians are busy in Indonesia on projects ranging from a stadium for the Asian Games, in August of next year, to steel and aluminum mills, hydroelectric installations, shipbuilding facilities, large-scale mechanized ricegrowing ventures, and a reactor for the peaceful uses of atomic energy.

The mounting tension between Indonesia and the Netherlands over West Irian late in 1960 provided another opportunity for the Soviet Union to get its foot in the Indonesian door. Khrushchev offered both encouragement and the military wherewithal needed for armed assault. Long-range jet bombers and fighters, submarines, destroyers, ground-to-air missiles, and an array of other sophisticated weapons flowed into Indonesia, radically altering the balance of military power in Southeast Asia. Relations with Peiping also began to improve; and at first, or even second, glance, Indonesia seemed to be heading for satellite status.

Despite the obvious political strength of the Indonesian Communist Party, which now has two million members and candidate members, this is not the case. The President veers no further left than the anti-Communist Army permits.

The Army’s role

Russian military aid has had an ambivalent effect: though it may yet prove extremely useful in furthering the international ambitions of the Soviet Union by stirring up trouble in Southeast Asia, it has greatly strengthened the Army’s hand against the Communists.

This has been an important contributing factor in the almost total collapse of the regional revolts in Sumatra and the Celebes. The surrender in recent months of Dr. Sjafruddin and all but two or three of the lesser rebel leaders is a significant military victory for the Army.

However, the Army does not appear anxious to destroy the President’s leadership. It prefers to cooperate in most decisions. It accepts, and even sits with, the Communists on advisory bodies, but it resolutely declines to accept them in the executive. Its approach to many matters is no less authoritarian than the President’s, but, rather than seeking power for itself, it seems content to see that the President’s use of power is restrained.

The result is a despotism that is more benevolent in fact than in intention. Controls are authoritarian in appearance but often cheerfully lax in application. Indonesia has become neither a Communist nor a fascist state. Political parties have been dissolved in name but not in outlook. Tolerance remains under a veneer of intolerance.

In fact, Indonesia is much the same as it has been for the past twelve years. President Sukarno leads, but does not truly direct. The Communist membership proliferates but lacks the hard, dedicated revolutionary outlook demanded by the ideology but denied by local circumstances and conditions. The Army, conscious of the President’s really important unifying role, maintains the status quo. Even the most rebelliously disposed — men like Colonel Zulkifli Lubis, who was known as the iron man of the Sjafruddin revolt — have returned to the fold and promised to keep the peace.

The cost of defense

How long Indonesia will keep the peace over West Irian is another matter. The temptation is strong to use the newly acquired military hardware. Indonesian Army leaders, though mildly critical in private of the emotionalism behind the campaign to “liberate” Irian, are confident that they have the tools and the manpower to do the job.

This capability has been bought dearly. The Netherlands-Indonesian Union could have been a mutually satisfactory and profitable association if West Irian had not bedeviled and destroyed it. The Dutch were a vital factor in the Indonesian economy, and the sequestration of their assets has not compensated for their departure. In communications, the Dutch were especially important.

The Indonesian National Shipping Line, PELNI, now has more tonnage at its disposal than its Dutch predecessor, K. P. M ., ever used, yet inter-island sea communications are in sad disarray. Schedules scarcely exist any longer. Fat cattle intended for the Djakarta market grow thin waiting on the beach for ships on the meat-producing island of Lombok. Textiles shipped to Macassar for the end of the Ramadan fast in March, habitually celebrated with new clothes and feasting, failed to arrive until July. Smuggling continues to divert both revenue and foreign exchange into private hands.

Since Indonesia has been meticulous in repaying loans, its credit on the international money market is high, but credits are now used to repay credits; and, even in the case of low-interest Communist-bloc loans, which, with the latest military credits added, run to nearly a billion dollars, the service loading is becoming almost crippling for a country whose export earnings run to no more than $600 to $700 million a year, with little prospect of early improvement.

More than half the budget is devoted to military expenditure, and the figure, despite the collapse of the internal revolts and the elimination of the need for costly police actions, is rising rather than falling as the country becomes more deeply involved in the purchase of bigger and more expensive armaments. Though the government has an ambitious Eight Year Plan, which envisages an annual growth of more than 2 per cent a year in per capita income, and the Soviet Union is making a significant contribution to the industrial sector, it is difficult to be optimistic. World prices for Indonesia’s agricultural products are declining, and there is no sign yet of any improvement in productivity. In fact, few of the factors which contributed to past frustration have been eliminated.