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Home arrow Religion arrow Islam and the making of the nation: Kartosuwiryo and Political Islam in 20th Century Indonesia

Surabaya

By the early twentieth century, Surabaya had become one of the major cities in Java - and, by default, of the Indonesian archipelago. Between 1900 and 1914, Surabaya underwent a sudden increase in industrial employment, with colonial statistics suggesting that by 1915 there were at least ten thousand workers employed in industrial establishments across the city and its residency. World War I pushed the colony to change its production patterns, and the manufacturing of materials that had typically been destined for the export market - like sugar, tobacco and textiles - was largely replaced by the metallurgical, machinery and building-materials sectors. All told, these industries employed around twenty to twenty-five thousand workers in 1920.[1]

In Soekamo’s often-quoted words, ‘In 1916 Surabaya was a bustling, noisy port town, much like New York. [...] [A] key industrial area with [.] a large influx of mariners and merchantmen who brought news from all parts of the world. [.] The town was seething with discontent and revolutionaries.’[2] It is partly because of its overwhelmingly proletarian population and partly because of its distance from the colonial administration that Surabaya became host to a lively intellectual (mostly socialist) anti-Dutch movement, in much the same way that Bandung would in the 1920s-1930s for the Islamic movement.

In 1912, Oemar Said Tjokroaminoto transformed Surabaya’s batik traders’ union, the Sarekat Dagang Islam, into a political organization known as Sarekat Islam (SI, Islamic Union). Together with Boedi Oetomo, Sarekat Islam constituted the groundings for the anti-colonial movement. Though Boedi Oetomo is generally considered the first nationalist organization in the Indies, the group had originally been an association advancing Javanese cultural values. Van Niel has described it as the first Indonesian organization structured along Western lines, but, as it was aimed at representing the interests of one particular cultural group, this organization had ‘no pretensions about establishing a nation’.[3] Boedi Oetomo, literally meaning ‘beautiful’ or ‘noble’ endeavour, was established in 1908 under the leadership of STOVIA (School tot Opleiding van Inlandsche Artsen, Training School for Native Doctors) alumnus and village aristocrat Dr Wahidin Soedirohoesdo in Weltevreden, which is now known as Menteng, in central Jakarta. Aimed at the advancement of both Javanese aristocrats and the Javanese people (bangsa Jawa) in the fields of education and culture, Boedi Oeto- mo’s only nationalist aspiration was at the ethnic level.[4]

The desire to see the natives advance to the same level as the Europeans was to take different forms. For the colonial establishment, this advancement was to be achieved through education and integration into the administrative system. For some local aristocrats, progress involved the promotion of ethnic culture and values. For others, especially those who in the long run would become advocates of the nationalist movement, mobilization was aimed at social and political change. Raden Mas Tirto Adhi Soej (18801918), who founded the Sarekat Priyayi (Priyayi Union) in 1906, soon joined Boedi Oetomo, hoping that this group would be a better vehicle for inducing radical change in the Indies. Tjipto Mangoenkoesoemo was of a similar mind. However, their efforts to transform Boedi Oetomo into a socialist party dedicated to improving the masses failed, as they found the Boedi Oetomo environment too entrenched in Javanese aristocratic values. Tirto and Tjipto then took separate paths in their common efforts. Tirto, betting on the dynamism of the Muslim trading class, established the Sarekat Dagang Islam (Islamic Trading Union) together with Hadji Samanhoedi. Tjipto joined the socialist Indische Partij (Indies’ Party) in 1911.[5]

The Sarekat Dagang Islam was the first embodiment of what would later be known as Sarekat Islam. It originated as an organization whose main stated aim was the economic protection of Muslim batik traders against the powerful Chinese textile industry.[6] In a statute submitted to the Dutch authorities, Tirto portrayed Sarekat Islam as ‘an association of Muslims working for progress’, in which Islam, as Shiraishi has argued, was the signifier of nativeness.[7] As Laffan has shown, this group soon developed as the political organization that ‘formed the true basis for the nationalist movement’.[8]

In its early years, Sarekat Islam’s strength lay in Tjokroamino- to’s ability to create a bridge between socialism and Islam. From a mixed santrirpriyai background, Tjokroaminoto succeeded in reaching farmers, coolies and intellectuals alike, addressing issues of social and economic inequality as well as pointing to Islam as the foundation of society. Tjokroaminoto assumed leadership in 1912 and retained it until his death in 1934. He had attended the Opleidingsschool voor Inlandsche Ambtenaren (OSVIA, Training School for Native Officials) in Magelang and the Burgerlijke Avondschool (Civil Evening School) in Surabaya, where he became proficient in the English language and at the same time received a religious education. As long as Tjokroaminoto led the group, Sarekat Islam was primarily concerned with advancing the socioeconomic conditions of the widely exploited Javanese peasantry.

Despite the fact that Tjokroaminoto’s socialism had its philosophical foundations in Islam, thereby rejecting Marx’s theory of historical materialism, he was still able to ensure close cooperation between Sarekat Islam and the Indische Sociaal-Democratische Vereeniging (Indies’ Social-Democratic Association). Charisma and political strategy allowed Tjokroaminoto to attract those elite factions concerned with the economic and social conditions of the Indies, as well as the disaffected masses. Shiraishi describes the fascination and excitement surrounding the peasants’ experience at the rallies, and interestingly reverses the traditional understanding of Tjokroaminoto as the Just King: people did not ‘flock to the SI out of their “millenarian” and “messianic expectations”’, but ‘rather the unusual and strange experiences people had [...] generated the language of the Ratu Adil’.[9]

Tjokroaminoto was soon aided by Hadji Agoes Salim, also a Dutch-educated intellectual, whose religious understanding had been influenced by his cousin Ahmad Khatib, a Shafi’i imam in Mecca. Hadji Agoes Salim had joined Sarekat Islam in 1915 as an informant for the colonial secret police, but he soon converted to the cause, becoming the party’s religious soul and second only to Tjokroaminoto in the party structure. Salim’s influence on the young recruit Kartosuwiryo is undeniable, and it emerges with particular clarity when considering Salim’s dedication to the panIslamic ideology. Working at the Dutch consulate in Jeddah had shaped both Salim’s religious piety and his way of interacting with the colonial authorities. On the one hand, he should be seen as the figure who most significantly contributed to the Islamization of Sarekat Islam’s policies, and on the other hand, as the one who favoured cooperation with the colonial authorities.

In the late 1910s, as the Indies’ manufacturing industry was booming, increasing the number of industrial workers as well as accelerating urbanization, Sarekat Islam rapidly expanded across and outside of Java. Pointing to the violence sparked in Central Sulawesi and West Java in the name of Sarekat Islam’s struggle for economic justice, and to the colonial authorities’ reaction, Shirai- shi sees 1919 as a turning point for Tjokroaminoto’s decline and eventual failure to reconcile the communist and religious souls of Sarekat Islam.[10] During Tjokroaminoto’s jail term, Salim took control of the 1919 Congress, and capitalizing on his familiarity with both the colonial and religious elites, he pushed SI towards

Islam and away from communism. The 1923 Madiun Congress proclaimed ‘party discipline’ against members of the Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI, Communist Party) and changed the organization’s name to Partai Sarekat Islam-Hindia Timoer (Islamic Union Party- East Indies), marking the beginning of its existence as an explicitly Islamic party.

In the early 1920s, the party was increasingly Islamized. Tjok- roaminoto’s attempts to maintain a focus on the socio-economic empowerment of the indigenous population were overpowered by the impact of Mustafa Kemal’s decision to abolish the Caliphate in March 1924. The activities of the Khilafat movement in India had stirred admiration across the Muslim world in general, and in Java in particular, such that in 1925 the al-Islam Congress in Yogyakarta decided that an envoy would be sent to India to establish relations with the Central Khilafat Committee. In 1924, Sarekat Islam party leaders had already established a Central Comite Chilafat in Surabaya, and later that year the same city hosted the al-Islam Congress to discuss how to approach the Caliphate question. Tjokroami- noto attended the Meccan Moe’tamar ‘Alam Islami (International Islamic Congress) in 1926, and Hadji Agoes Salim was sent as the Indies’ delegate in 1927.[11] The al-Islam movement would re-emerge in 1930, but with a different aim (see Chapter 2).

As the Middle East was hit by the internal dismantling of the caliphal institution and the external fragmentation of the Ottoman Empire, pan-Islamism was also losing support in favour of pan-Arabism and nationalism. Yet it is at this historical juncture that Muslims ‘at the periphery’ of the Islamic world began to play a crucial role in the revival of the caliphate ideal.[12] The fact that the Caliphate question began to gain support in the Dutch Indies only in the 1920s, when the rest of the Islamic world was shifting from pan-Islamism to nationalism, should be analysed in conjunction with the state of political activism in the archipelago. Hadji Agoes Salim first asserted the centrality of religion as the founding principle of Sarekat Islam with the establishment of the al-Islam Congress in 1923. On this same year Salim had reoriented Sarekat Islam’s approach to the colonial administration by pushing for the approval of the non-cooperation hijrah policy.[13]

Before the 1920s the Indies’ anti-colonial movement had not yet been ideologically defined. I suggest that the Indonesian nationalist movement emerged as a result of a transformation that took place in the 1910s. Accepting the fact that the first organizations to advocate independence from colonial rule were Boedi Oetomo and Sarekat Dagang Islam, I argue that the nationalist movement emerged from fractures within, and reorganizations of, these two groups, a reshaping that occurred along ideological lines.

This process of moving away from a general idea of ‘indigenous advancement’ towards the formation of well-defined Islamic, communist and nationalist parties, with agendas molded according to domestic needs and international models, passed through a transitional period in which each organization had multiple political souls. Sarekat Islam had split into a socialist and an Islamic wing in the mid 1920s. In following years, the caliphate issue, the Islamic state ideal and the pan-Islamic project would quickly become important elements in rallying support among the Indies Muslims, and in further widening the chasm between the various groups. Appeals to a transnational network of alliances based on Islam strengthened Sarekat Islam’s position against Soekarno’s nationalism and Semaoen’s socialism. The case for independence from colonial rule as part of a transnational religious movement was made even stronger by the argument that striving for the unity of the ummah was a religious duty.

The abrogation of the Caliphate, together with the Saudi conquest of Mecca in the Arabian Peninsula and the already heated Palestinian question, dominated political debates in Indonesia as in other Muslim countries. These became powerful elements to rally Muslims’ sympathies and channel them into the anti-colonial struggle, but the goals of the religious groups were to gradually shift away from the creation of a transnational caliphate and instead towards the establishment of an independent nation-state.

Scholars of colonial Indonesia have argued that by the mid 1920s, political Islam in the Dutch East Indies was in steep decline, with communism and secular nationalism taking its place among the indigenous population. I contend, however, that although Sarekat Islam had been seriously weakened by its internal division, and by the soaring enthusiasm for Soekarno’s Perserikatan Nasional Indonesia, the Islamic party did not decline but, instead, entered a new phase. The party’s focus was no longer on relieving the indigenous population from colonial mistreatments, but on laying out the platform for an independent state of Indonesia based on Islamic precepts.

Amidst these events Kartosuwiryo moved to Surabaya in 1923. It is unclear how he entered the Sarekat Islam circle, but it is likely that during his days at the medical school, his interest in politics brought him to the steps of Tjokroaminoto’s house. In the 1910s and early 1920s Tjokroaminoto’s residence also functioned as Sarekat Islam’s office and was a known hub for socio-political discussions. Soekarno would recall his boarding days at Tjokroaminoto’s in 1915-16 as crucial to his political formation.[14] In 1962, Kartosuwiryo reportedly stated that it had been during a trip with Tjokroaminoto to Cimahi, north of Bandung, West Java, that he had first met Soekarno in 1927.[15] This meeting could be connected to Kartosuwiryo’s presence at the Pekalongan Congress discussed below, a congress in which both Tjokroaminoto and Soekarno participated. The congress would also explain Kartosuwiryo’s presence in Batavia in early 1928, soon after Tjokroaminoto’s moving there and establishing Fadjar Asia’s office in Weltevreden in November 1927.[16]

  • [1] Howard Dick, Surabaya, city of work: A socioeconomic history, 1900-2000, Research in International Studies (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2002), pp. 262-70.
  • [2] Adams, Soekarno, p. 34.
  • [3] Van Niel, The emergence, p. 56.
  • [4] M. Balfas, Dr Tjipto Mangoekoesomo, demokrat sedjati, Seri Tjermin Kehidupan (Jakarta:Penerbit Djambatan, 1952), pp. 36, 46.
  • [5] Bob Hering, Soekarno: Founding father of Indonesia, KITLV Verhandelingen n.192 (Leiden:KITLV Uitgeverij, 2002), pp. 32-4; Van Niel, The emergence, pp. 58-9.
  • [6] For different reconstructions of the origins of Sarekat Islam, see Safrizal Rambe, SarekatIslam: Pelopor nasionalisme Indonesia, 1905-1942 (Jakarta: Yayasan Kebangkitan Insan Cendekia,2008), pp. 2-3. Benda, The crescnt and the rising sun, p. 42; Ruth Thomas McVey, The rise of Indonesian communism, (Singapore: 1st Equinox ed., 2006), p. 8; Van Niel, The emergence, p. 90; NatalieMobini-Kesheh, The Hadhrami awakening: Community and identity in the Netherlands East Indies,1900-1942 (Ithaca: Cornell University Southeast Asia Program, 1999); Shiraishi, An age in motion,pp. 41-3; Laffan, Islamic nationhood, p. 167.
  • [7] Shiraishi, An age in motion, p. 43.
  • [8] Laffan, Islamic nationhood, pp. 166-7.
  • [9] Amelz, H.O.S. Tjokroaminoto: Hidup dan perdjuangannja (Jakarta: Bulan Bintang, 1952),vol. 1, pp. 48-111; Shiraishi, An age in motion, pp. 66-7.
  • [10] Shiraishi, An age in motion, pp. 113-6.
  • [11] Amelz, H.O.S. Tjokroaminoto, pp. 163-51, 174. For an extensive investigation of the Indies’Muslims’ reaction to the abrogation of the caliphate, see Martin van Bruinessen, ‘Muslims of theDutch East Indies and the Caliphate question’, Studia Islamika 2-3 (1995): pp. 115-40.
  • [12] For more on the Khilafat movement, see A.C. Niemeijer, The Khilafat movement in India,1919-1924 (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1972); and S. Oliver-Dee, The Caliphate question: The Britishgovernment and Islamic governance (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2009).
  • [13] McVey, The rise, pp. 76-104; Rambe, Sarekat Islam, pp. 90-145.
  • [14] Amelz, H.O.S. Tjokroaminoto, p. 55.
  • [15] Kartosuwiryo’s confession letter to Kodam Siliwangi VI in Pinardi, Sekarmadji Maridjan, p. 34.
  • [16] Amelz, H.O.S. Tjokroaminoto, pp. 172-7.
 
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