Partai Komunis Indonesia (1914–1966) is a work that focuses on the history of the Indonesian communist party (Partai Komunis Indonesia, or PKI). It was founded during the Dutch colonial period by the Indonesian national movement and the socialist movement in the Netherlands. With Partai Komunis Indonesia (1914–1966), Torenbosch attempts to re-archive this history, so scantily archived in the Netherlands, as extensively as possible. His efforts underline how the socialist movement and the political party, each with a strong anti-colonial political program, contributed to Indonesian independence in 1945, and the years that followed.
The PKI arose from a collaboration between Semaun and Raden Darsono Notosoedirdjo from Indonesia in addition to Henk Sneevliet and Adolf Baars from the Netherlands. Their main goal was to achieve an independent Indonesia, international solidarity, and to realize reparations for the Indonesian population from the Dutch state. The party was banned from 1927 to 1945 but later became prominent in Sukarno’s state ideology. In the years that followed, the PKI became the largest non-governing communist party in the world, until its violent dissolution in 1965-66.
In this work, Torenbosch sets out to create an image bank of digital images from archives in Indonesia, the Netherlands and other parts of the world, resulting in an image report representing both local and international contexts. The image bank reveals the active history of the PKI, and also the international political forces, which exerted constant pressure to intimidate or prohibit the party. The image bank Partai Komunis Indonesia (1914–1966) will eventually be available to the public.
Semaun (1899 Curahmalang, Jombang, Dutch East Indies – 1971 Jakarta, Jakarta, Indonesia). In 1915 at the age of sixteen, he was elected as one of the first Indonesian members of the Union of Train and Tramway Personnel (VSTP), soon quitting his job as a railway worker to become a trade union activist full-time. At the same time, he was elected vice-chairman of the Surabaya office of the Indies Social Democratic Association (ISDV), which was to become the Indonesian Communist Party or PKI.
By 1918 he was a member of the central leadership of Sarekat Islam (SI), then the dominant nationalist political organization in the Dutch East Indies. In 23 May 1920, the Communist Party of Indonesia (originally the Partai Komunis Hindia, changed to ‘Indonesia’ a few months later) was founded after the deportation of the Dutch founders of the ISDV. Semaun became its first chairman. The PKI initially was a part of Sarekat Islam, but political differences over the role of class struggle and of Islam in nationalism between Semaun’s PKI and the rest of SI led to an organizational split. At the end of that year he left Indonesia for Moscow, and Tan Malaka replaced him as chairman. Upon his return in May 1922, he regained the chairmanship and tried, with limited success, to restore PKI influence over the sprawling SI organization.
In 1923 VSTP, the railway union, organized a general strike. It was soon crushed by the Dutch government, and Semaun was exiled from the Indies. He returned to the Soviet Union, where he was to remain for more than thirty years. He remained involved as a nationalist activist on a limited basis, speaking a few times to Perhimpunan Indonesia, a Netherlands-based organization of Indonesian students. He also studied at the Communist University of the Toilers of the East for a time. He travelled extensively in Europe, and played a role in leadership in Tajikistan in the Soviet era. He wrote a novel, Hikayat Kadirun, which combined communist and Islamic ideals, and produced a number of pamphlets and newspaper articles.
Upon his return to Indonesia after its independence, Semaun moved to Jakarta, where from 1959 to 1961 he served on a government advisory board. He was rejected by the new leadership of the PKI, and was affiliated to the Murba Party (Proletarian Party), which was opposed to the PKI. He also taught economics at Universitas Padjadjaran in Bandung. He died in Jakarta in 1971.
Raden Darsono Notosudirdjo (1897 Pati, Dutch East Indies – 1976 Semarang, Central Java, Indonesia). Darsono was converted to the cause of socialism when he attended the trial of Henk Sneevliet. He was impressed that a Dutch person would be willing to lose everything in order to side with the Indonesian people. He became a member of the Indische Sociaal-Democratische Vereeniging and became secretary of the Semarang branch in 1918.
The Sarekat Islam (Malay: Islamic Union) was the first mass organization of Indigenous people in the Indies, who organized themselves loosely around the identity of Islam. But the organization contained quite a lot of ideological diversity, with Islamic nationalism (led by Cokroaminoto, Agus Salim and Abdul Muis), communists (led by Semaoen, Darsono and Alimin), and a synthesis of the two by Haji Misbach. In 1918, Darsono became a paid propagandist for the Sarekat Islam and became well known for his tireless effort to drive that organization to the left. Although the leaders of the “Central Sarekat Islam” based in Batavia (Jakarta) were skeptical of the move towards communism, they appointed Semaoen to their board as well as making Darsono propagandist. For this the central organization tried to make a deal with them to not publicly split with the organization or propagandize against them. During this time he was skeptical of the Insulinde party which had been founded by E.F.E. Douwes Dekker, Tjipto Mangoenkoesoemo and Soewardi Soerjaningrat. He expressed in meetings and articles that he believed that party mainly represented Indo people and that if they came to power they would relegate native Indonesians to a subservient position.
In May 1920, Semaoen refounded the ISDV as the Partai Komunis di Hindia (Malay: Communist Party in the Indies), which 9 months later would be renamed the Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI). At that time Darsono was still in prison in Surabaya. In October 1920 the Semarang wing of the Sarekat Islam, and Darsono in particular, came into conflict with the central group of the organization in Batavia (Jakarta). Darsono was accused of breaking the truce with the central Sarekat Islam that had been agreed upon in 1917.
From 1921-23, Darsono left the Indies to travel through Siberia to Western Europe. During that trip he represented the PKI at the third Congress of the Comintern in Moscow. After that he worked for the Comintern in Berlin. He also spoke at a congress of the Dutch Dutch Communist Party in Groningen in 1921. In that speech he called for closer collaboration between the Dutch and Indonesian communist parties in the interest of reducing racial hatred. Darsono returned to Moscow in 1922. While he was abroad the Dutch authorities in the Indies discussed that he should be treated similarly to Semaoen and not allowed to reenter the colony when he came back from Europe. However, he did manage to reenter the Indies a year later.
In 1923 the Semarang authorities and the Governor General debated whether Darsono and Semaoen should be deported from the Indies, but decided against it for the time being. Although they were aggressively organizing strikes and spreading the communist message, the authorities thought that deporting them might not change anything. During this time, Darsono was relatively moderate as a communist compared to Semaoen, in that he did not believe in the use of bombings, terror or other methods. Darsono was finally arrested in 1925 and expelled from the Indies in 1926 If he was a more moderate figure, with him and the other PKI founders gone, the party became far more radical. The ill-fated 1926 PKI revolt happened while he and Semaoen were out of the country, and even though they tried to negotiate on the Indonesian communists’ behalf with the Soviet party, they were increasingly out of touch and unable to be of help from where they were.
He returned to the Soviet Union via Singapore and China; under the pseudonym of Samin, he worked for the Comintern for a number of years. He was even elected as an alternate member of the Executive Committee of the Communist International in 1928. In 1929 he also ran for office on the Dutch Communist Party list. However, he was expelled from the Comintern in 1931. Darsono was still in Berlin in 1935 when the Nuremberg Laws were passed. At this time many communists fled Germany, but he was unable to escape for a time, and so he left his son Alam Darsono to stay with Bran Bleekrode, a Jewish violinist living in Amsterdam whose cousin Bram Bleekrode was organizing places to stay for communists fleeing Germany. However, Darsono was apparently able to rejoin his son in Amsterdam later in 1935, where he stayed for a number of years.
Upon Indonesia’s independence from the Netherlands, Darsono finally returned to the country in 1950, after twenty years of being barred from entry. He broke with his previous communist views and became an advisor at the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs until 1960. Darsono died in Semarang in 1976.
Henk Sneevliet (1883 Rotterdam, The Netherlands – 1942 Leusden, The Netherlands).
He became a member of the Social Democratic Workers Party (SDAP) as well as the Dutch Association of Railway and Tramway Employees (NV) in 1902. From 1906, Sneevliet was active for the SDAP in Zwolle, where he became the first social democrat city council member in the elections of 1907.
Sneevliet was very active in the NV and was elected to the union’s executive committee in 1906. In 1909 he was tapped as vice-chairman of the union and named as editor-in-chief of the union’s official journal. He became chairman of the union in 1911. Sneevliet, as a committed socialist and militant trade unionist, was strongly supportive of an international seamen’s strike which was called in 1911 and was disgruntled by the failure of his union and political party to support the campaign. As a result, he resigned from both organizations, joining instead the more radical Social Democratic Party of the Netherlands (forerunner of the Dutch Communist Party) and writing for the Marxist magazine De Nieuwe Tijd (The New Time).
Sneevliet’s alienation strengthened him in his decision to leave the Netherlands for the Dutch East Indies. Sneevliet lived in the Dutch East Indies (present day Indonesia) from 1913 until 1918, where he quickly became active in the struggle against Dutch colonial rule. In 1914, he was a co-founder of the Indies Social Democratic Association (ISDV), in which both Dutch and Indonesian people were active. He also returned to union work, becoming a member of the Vereeniging van Spoor- en Tramwegpersoneel, a railway union which was unique in having both Dutch and Indonesian members. Thanks to his experience as a union leader, he soon managed to turn this still fairly moderate union into a more modern and aggressive union, with a majority of Indonesian members. This union later formed the base for the Indonesian communist movement.
ISDV was strictly anti-capitalist and agitated against the Dutch colonial regime and the privileged Indonesian elites. This led to much resistance against the ISDV and Sneevliet himself, from conservative circles and from the more moderate SDAP. In 1916 therefore he left the SDAP and joined the SDP, the predecessor of the Communist Party of the Netherlands (CPN). After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Sneevliet’s radicalism gained enough support amongst both the Indonesian population as well as Dutch soldiers and especially sailors that the Dutch authorities got nervous. Sneevliet was therefore forced to leave the Dutch East Indies in 1918. ISDV was repressed by the Dutch colonial authorities.
Back in the Netherlands, Sneevliet became active in the fledgling Communist movement, becoming a salaried official of the party’s National Labor Secretariat (NAS) and helping to organize a major transportation strike in 1920. The same year he was also present at the 2nd World Congress of the Comintern in Moscow as a representative of the Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI), which was the successor to Sneevliet’s ISDV. There Sneevliet (using the pseudonym Maring) was elected a member of the Executive Committee of the Communist International. V.I. Lenin was impressed enough by him to send him as a Comintern representative to China. Sneevliet lived in China from 1921 to 1923 and was present at the founding congress of the Chinese Communist Party in July 1921. Sneevliet was an advocate of cooperation with the non-Communist nationalist Kuomintang, headed by Sun Yat-sen, with whom he had personally established contact on behalf of the Comintern. Early in 1924 Sneevliet returned to Moscow, his tenure as a Comintern representative to China at an end.
Sneevliet returned to the Netherlands from Moscow in 1924 to assume the position of secretary of the National Labor Secretariat (NAS). He joined the executive committee of the Communist Party of Holland in 1925 but the two years were marked by worsening factional relations between Sneevliet and his co-thinkers and the bulk of the CPN leadership. The denouement came in 1927, when Sneevliet broke all ties with the CPH and the Comintern. In 1929 Sneevliet formed a new political party, the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP). This organization concentrated on national issues, gaining some successes in organizing the unemployed movement, strike actions, and the struggle against the rise of fascism.
He remained interested in Indonesian affairs and in 1933 was sentenced to five months imprisonment for his solidarity actions for the Dutch and Indonesian sailors who took part in the mutiny on “De Zeven Provinciën”, which was put down by an air bombardment in which twenty-three sailors were killed and which at the time aroused considerable passions in the Dutch public opinion. That same year, while still imprisoned, Sneevliet was elected a member of the Lower House of parliament, a position in which he remained until 1937. In August 1933 the RSP signed the “Declaration of the Four” along with the International Communist League, led by Leon Trotsky, the OSP and the Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany. This declaration was intended as a step towards a new 4th International of revolutionary socialist parties.
The worsening political climate both abroad and nationally and the constant struggle against both the communist and social democratic parties, as well as government interference, took a heavy toll on Sneevliet and his small organization, however. When war broke out on 10 May 1940, Sneevliet immediately dissolved the RSAP. Some months later with Willem Dolleman and Ab Menist, he founded a resistance group against the German occupation, the Marx-Lenin-Luxemburg-Front (MLL-Front). This was largely engaged in producing propaganda for socialism and opposing the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands and as such was heavily involved with the February strike of 1941.
As a known Communist, Sneevliet had to go into hiding even before he started his resistance activities. In the underground he edited a clandestine newspaper called Spartakus and took part in other activities. For two years he managed to keep out of the hands of the Nazis, but in April 1942 they finally arrested him and the rest of the MLL-Front leadership. Their execution took place just outside Kamp Amersfoort on 12 April 1942. It was reported that they went to their deaths singing “The Internationale”.
Adolf Baars (1892 Amsterdam, The Netherlands – 1944 Auschwitz concentration camp, Oświęcim, German-occupied Poland). He studied to become a Civil engineer in Delft, graduating in 1914. The college in Delft was a hotbed of student radicalism, and during his time there he joined the Amsterdam chapter of the Social Democratic Workers’ Party.
In 1914 Baars and his wife left the Netherlands for the Dutch East Indies, and Baars took up a post as an engineer in the state railway company (Staatsspoorwegen op Java) in Batavia (Jakarta) in early 1915. In December 1915 he left that position to become a teacher at the Koningin Emmaschool, a technical school in Surabaya. One student of his during this time was Sukarno, the future independence leader and first president of Indonesia. In the Indies, Baars soon became active in the Indische Sociaal-Democratische Vereeniging (Dutch: Indies Social Democratic Association), or ISDV, and in the fall of 1915 joined the editorial board of its new party newspaper, Het Vrije Woord, alongside Henk Sneevliet and D.J.A. Westerveld. The paper was one of the only Dutch papers in the Indies to have earned the respect of many Indonesians involved in the Indonesian National Awakening, first because it denounced the arrest of the radical Mas Marco in 1916, and then because it publicly opposed the Indië Weerbar campaign to establish a ‘native’ army in the Indies.
Unlike many European socialists in the Indies, Baars worked hard to learn Malay and Javanese and used this knowledge to involve himself in Indonesian nationalist politics. Thus in April 1917 he helped found another newspaper, Soeara Merdika (Malay: Voice of freedom) with Semaun, Baars and Noto-Widjojo as editors. Published twice a month, Soeara Merdika was aimed at the type of people who might read Het Vrije Woord but who could not read Dutch, and to spread Social Democratic ideals among Malay readers of the Indies. ‘The paper failed and ceased publication within its first year, but Baars and his allies launched another paper, Soeara Ra’jat (Malay: People’s Voice), in March 1918.
By October 1917 the colonial government tired of his political agitation and honorably discharged him from his teaching job in Surabaya. The final straw was when, in August 1917, he had been giving a speech in Malay at an ISDV meeting and called the colonial government busuk (Malay: rotten), and when confronted by his superiors later, did not convince them that he was repentant. The firing was widely covered in the Dutch press of the Indies; the Bataviaasch Nieuwsblad stated that Baars had defied the Government until his dismissal, so there was no need to feel sorry for him, and that he had in addition made “disgraceful” attacks on the education system in Het Vrije Woord. However, the Dutch-Indies Teacher’s Union (NIOG), in its January 1918 meeting, determined that he had been unfairly fired and proposed to give him financial support, although in the end none was given. Their declaration stated that a teacher should be able to act like any other citizen, and if his speech crossed a line into criminal sedition, it should be a matter for the police, not his employer. He was eventually offered a municipal engineering job by the mayor of Semarang, who was also a Social Democrat; this enraged the conservative newspapers in the Indies, such as De Preangerbode and Het nieuws van den dag voor Nederlandsch-Indië.
Because the ISDV was mainly an urban party, Baars and others within the movement supported the creation of rural or agrarian organizations. In 1917 this was attempted with Porojitno, which meant to organize peasants and unskilled laborers, and in early 1918 this was reorganized as the Perhimpunan Kaoem Boeroeh dan Tani (Malay: Workers’ and Peasants’ Association) or PKBT. Baars played a major role in it at first, although by 1919 it was reorganized again and came more solidly under the leadership of Haji Misbach in Surakarta. He also helped found an Indonesian socialist group in Surabaya in 1917 called the Sama Rata Hindia Bergerak (Malay: Equality Indonesia in Motion) which soon grew to match the ISDV in size. Those types of organizing efforts can be explained by Baars’ comments after the 1918 Sarekat Islam congress; he noted that the SI movement was still dominated by religious and nationalist elements, and hence he believed that separate organizations were necessary where members could be openly socialist and push for the SI to gradually take on a socialist character as well. Baars was very inspired by the events of the October Revolution and other revolutionary events in Europe. Baars became chairman of the ISDV in 1917, a position he held until 1919. The ISDV began to organize soldiers and sailors in the Indies on the Soviet example, and managed to recruit over 3000 by the end of 1917.
In early 1919, after authorities deported his ally Sneevliet from the Indies, Baars left voluntarily and returned to the Netherlands. The government would soon deport most of the other European ISDV members in the Indies, leaving the organization in the hands of Indonesians such as Semaun and Darsono. However, Baars did not have much employment or political success in the Netherlands and returned to the Indies in early 1920, once again taking up the engineering position he had been offered in Semarang. Upon his return to the Indies he was much more vocally opposed to the Indonesian nationalist movement, saying that nationalism and patriotism were the opponents of socialism.
At the ISDV’s annual meeting in May 1920, Baars was present and supported the proposal to rename the party to Perserikatan Kommunist di India (Malay: Communist union in the Indies). He wanted the party to avoid Revisionist tendencies and ally itself more explicitly with the Comintern. The motion was successful and the party was renamed. Het Vrije Woord now became the Dutch language organ of the renamed party, with Baars and P. Bergsma as editors, but due to the expulsion of many European socialists from the Indies, it apparently only had 40 subscribers by this time.
In May 1921 the colonial government finally tired of his activities and detained Baars, expelling him from the Indies on the basis of the destabilizing influence of his communist propaganda work. His recent articles in Het Vrije Woord were also cited as reasons, including one protesting the arrest of a PKI member and another describing the German counter-revolution. The Semarang municipal council, which he still worked for, objected on the basis that he had never broken any of the laws on propaganda and political organizing—he had limited himself to teaching and philosophical political writings—but that the government had ignored the law and taken advantage of its “extraordinary right” (exhorbitante rechten) to nonetheless deport him. Semaun, Baars’ longtime ally, spoke up at the same council meeting and stated that Baars’ expulsion had shocked members of their party, because of how diligently he had stayed within the bounds of the law and sought to avoid offense to anyone in recent years.
In May 1921 Baars and Sneevliet met in Singapore with Darsono and sailed to Shanghai, from where Baars and Sneevliet took the train to Moscow to attend the 3rd World Congress of the Comintern. Baars ended up resettling in the Soviet Union with Onok Sawina, becoming an engineer at the Kuzbass Autonomous Industrial Colony in Siberia. There he came into close contact with other Dutch communists who were working in the colony, such as Sebalt Justinus Rutgers and Thomas Antonie Struik. It was later alleged in the Malay press in the Indies that he separated from his wife as early as 1922 and that she was living near Leningrad. In addition to his engineering work, he became a spokesman for the colony and worked for a time as its representative in Berlin. In 1927 he worked in the blast furnaces in Stalino (now Donetsk). However, he became disillusioned with communism and left the Soviet Union for the Netherlands at the end of 1927.
Upon his return to the Netherlands, Baars started publishing books about economics from 1928 onwards. However, the book that caused the greatest stir was his 1928 Sowjet-Rusland in de practijk: Indië tot leering (Dutch: Soviet Russia in Practice: Lessons to Indonesia). In the book, which was widely publicized in the conservative Dutch press of the Indies, he maintained that he still sympathized with the colonized peoples of the Indies, but that after years of working in the USSR, he no longer though the Soviet system had the capability to emancipate them. He wrote that foreign delegates in the USSR like his former allies Semaun and Darsono had very limited social circles; they worked in an office, received foreign letters and press clippings, and lived in a hotel, knowing little about the country they were living in. These letters he sent to the Indies Dutch press summarizing his book were translated into Malay, Javanese and Sundanese by the government-funded publishing house Kantoor voor de Volkslectuur (Balai Pustaka), in the hopes that it would turn readers away from communism.
A full-length book translation was even proposed but it is unclear if the translation that eventually came out received government funding or not. Baars’ allegations about life in the USSR were received with somewhat more skepticism in the Malay press in the Indies. The Bintang Timoer speculated that he may have published it as ‘revenge’ for his poor treatment by the Soviets and that it was difficult to verify. Other Malay papers, such as Abdul Muis’s Kaoem Moeda, saw a benefit to publishing it, since it might lead people back from the “darkness” of communism.
In the 1930s, Baars worked at the Netherlands Economic Institute in Rotterdam for some time. In 1937 he officially changed his name to Adolf, the name he had gone by for most of his life. According to historian Ruth McVey, Baars became a supporter of Fascism in his final years. On May 9, 1940, the day before the German invasion of Holland, Baars divorced his third wife, Aleida Lansink. During the Second World War, Baars was deported to Auschwitz concentration camp, where he was killed on March 6, 1944.
In 1960, Sukarno introduced “Nasakom”: an abbreviation of nasionalism (nationalism), agama (religion) and komunism (communism). This was intended to satisfy the three main factions in Indonesian politics: the military, Islamic groups and the communists. With the support of the military, he proclaimed “guided democracy” and proposed a cabinet representing all major political parties (including the Communist Party of Indonesia, although the latter never received functional cabinet posts).
In October 1965 in Indonesia, Suharto, a powerful Indonesian military leader, accused the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) of organizing a brutal coup attempt, following the kidnapping and murder of six senior army officers. In the months that followed, he oversaw the systematic extermination of as many as one million Indonesians because of ties to the party, or simply because they were accused of harboring leftist sympathies. He then took power and ruled, with American support, until 1998.