Indonesian Marxism was both organizationally and ideologically part of a global movement of proletarian solidarity, but it was simultaneously a distinctly local intellectual tradition with distinctively Indonesian features. On one hand, it is very easy to situate Indonesian Marxism within the wider world, with its plethora of connections to the pan-Islamic movement, women’s rights activism, Anarchism, the Communist International, and even Turkish as well as Chinese nationalism. It produced original thinkers and traditions, and had a profound impact on discussions even at the highest echelons in Moscow and Beijing prior to its collapse in 1965. On the other, Indonesian Marxism was distinctly national, in the sense that it adapted itself to conditions specific to the Indies/Indonesia. It was also immensely adaptive and resilient; despite serious setbacks in 1926, 1948 and 1965 it continued to operate within or underneath structures of governance, and in cooperation with both Indonesian and foreign political parties and networks.
The papers in this panel are concerned with the dual nature of Indonesian Marxism, which managed to harbor both local and global within itself, not in abeyance but in a kind of productive tension. Crawford lays the groundwork by exploring how Marxist terms and analytical categories were mediated through Indonesian linguistic and cultural frameworks to render them meaningful to Indonesian audiences. Subijanto shows how female activists made valuable intellectual contributions to the nascent Indonesian communism of the 1910s and 1920s, drawing on international discourses of women’s rights, anti-Imperialism, and socio-economic equity while couching them in a distinctly Indonesian idiom. Lin shows how Islamic identity and Marxist ideas were imbricated in Indonesian nationalist discourses during the 1930s. Xie analyzes Tan Malaka, Alimin and Musso’s debates over “Trotskyism” in the 1940s, invoking anathematic labels forged in Soviet power struggles, even as all remained staunchly committed to militant anti-Imperialism in Indonesia. They illustrate Indonesian Marxists’ engagement with broader intellectual currents ebbing and flowing across the landscape of international Marxism, while remaining rooted in specifically Indonesian concerns, finding creative ways to transpose Marxism meaningfully.
Ultimately, this panel aims to show how Indonesian Marxism had varied developmental trajectories, drawing deeply on local cultures while retaining strong internationalist associations. Rather than one symptom of a larger “malaise” of communism spreading across post-war Asia, Indonesian Marxism was vibrant, dynamic, and diverse, with its own storied intellectual pedigree developed in communication with, but not subsidiary to, Moscow or Beijing.