Posts made in April, 2016

Tan Malaka – Indonesia’s Own Scarlet Pimpernel

Posted by on Apr 9, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Tan Malaka – Indonesia’s Own Scarlet Pimpernel

Sutan Ibrahim gelar Datuk Tan Malaka was an idealistic Indonesian nationalist and early Communist Party member. A West Sumatran Minangkabau Muslim by birth, Tan Malaka attended teachers college in Bukittinggi and in 1913 received a sponsorship to continue his education in the Netherlands. During six years in Europe, the young Tan Malaka was exposed to both western and Marxist influences. He suffered serious illness (tuberculosis) and endured various hardships, including the vicissitudes of colonial discrimination. He was particularly inspired by Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution. When he returned to Indonesia in 1919, he took a teaching position at a Dutch plantation in East Sumatra, where he witnessed firsthand the cruel treatment of native laborers. Tan Malaka’s formative experiences in Europe and on the Dutch plantation inflamed a deep and emotional animosity within him toward Indonesia’s colonial rulers. Tan Malaka relocated to Semarang, Central Java in June 1921 and joined the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), which had been founded there a year earlier. By December, he had become party chairman. Dutch authorities arrested Tan Malaka three months later for subversive activities and exiled him to the Netherlands. There, he joined the International Communist (Comintern) movement and traveled widely. [1] Arrested several times in Europe, he relocated to Moscow and then to China as a Comintern supervisor, returning to the Indies before the PKI rebellion in November 1926. Distraught with the Soviet leadership of the international communist movement, Tan Malaka vocally opposed the disastrous uprising in the Indies and entered into a bitter rivalry with pro-Moscow PKI leaders Musso and Alimin. He quit the Comintern, resigned from the PKI and again left the country. From exile in Bangkok, Tan Malaka formed his own party in July 1927, the leftist Republic of Indonesia Party (Pari) with ties to the underground independence movement in the East Indies. Pari was Tan Malaka’s attempt to resurrect the crushed PKI organization, but he and his small group of supporters faced incessant harassment. Suffering from tuberculosis again, he returned to China and remained there until the late-1930s, when he fled ahead of the Japanese invasion and settled in Singapore. In 1942 when Japanese forces threatened Singapore, Tan Malaka escaped to his native West Sumatra and ultimately to Java. During fifteen years in exile, Tan Malaka had resided for periods in Hong Kong, Canton, Shanghai, Manila, Bangkok and Singapore. Even before returning to Indonesia, he was a legendary figure based on his travels and his prominent role in the Comintern movement. Back in the Indies, Tan Malaka’s exploits had been glamorized in a series of popular dime novels, in which he was depicted as Pacar Merah (the Scarlet Pimpernel), shamelessly exploiting the popular early-twentieth-century British play by the same name. The largely fictional accounts were full of romance, daring escapes and international intrigue – making Tan Malaka a well-known and popular hero among the native population. He established contact with anti-Japanese underground figures but maintained a low profile during the Japanese occupation. In his autobiographical account, Tan Malaka maintained he joined romusha laborers toiling in a coal mine in Banten, West Java and worked with the Japanese overseers to improve...

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