Postcolonial Studies, Vol. 11, No. 3, pp.

277 292, 2008

Batjaan liar in the Dutch East Indies: a colonial antipode
HILMAR FARID AND RAZIF
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In the historical literature of Indonesia, the formation of the nation is often presented as the work of an elite intelligentsia educated in Dutch schools and employed in the colonial government’s offices. Supposedly, it was these officials, who had access to the cosmopolitan knowledge about nationalism in the world and access to the industrial technology of printing presses, who had the ability to articulate a critique of colonialism from within the very logic of the colonial rulers’ own ideology (nationalism) while simultaneously inviting mass participation into a newly imagined community of compatriots. They issued the call ‘arise countrymen’ and magically the masses united themselves into a nation and resisted the colonial rulers. Composed of the elite intelligentsia itself, the nationalist elite that supposedly pioneered the nation wrote themselves into the script in the starring role, systematically ignoring the lower-class figures of the movement. Expunged from this elite history were a large number of nationalist activists and prolific writers. The struggle of these orang partikelir (private or independent persons) outside the colonial bureaucracy, especially those connected with labor unions and peasant associations, to publish and distribute their writings has been ignored.1 In this elite version of the writing of national history, we can see the meeting point between the thought of the colonial rulers and that of the postcolonial elite. Both viewed the lower classes as children who could not move on their own initiative. The colonial rulers regarded them as the ‘object of nationalist agitation and propaganda’ while the nationalist leaders perceived them as ‘the mass waiting for leadership’. This conjunction of colonial and local elite narration of the national history was by no means unique to Indonesia. Indeed, the critique and the need to go beyond or beneath this narrative are among the initial motivations for the launching of Subaltern Studies in India.2 This article aims to resurrect some of the voices expunged from the elite national history of Indonesia. It focuses on the radical literature produced by the nationalist movement of the early twentieth century which was disparagingly dubbed by the colonial state as batjaan liar (wild publications); there was perhaps an ironic expression of frustration on the part of the colonial state because ‘wild’ clearly signifies that the colonial state was unable to control the growth of this subaltern literature. It included a great variety novels, poems, pamphlets, newspapers and journals and amounted to
ISSN 1368 8790 print/ISSN 1466 1888 online/08/030277 16 # 2008 The Institute of Postcolonial Studies DOI: 10.1080/13688790802226694

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hundreds of titles, which mushroomed after 1914.3 In the mid-1920s the production of batjaan liar reached its peak, as did the burgeoning anticolonial movement. After the suppression of the failed 1926 uprising of the anti-colonial movement, the batjaan liar was also banned.4 Dutch colonial scholars then systematically removed the traces of batjaan liar in the public consciousness: the publications were forbidden to be studied in schools or to be kept in libraries. Their efforts were renewed later by nationalist scholars, such as H B Jassin, eager to distance the nationalist movement from such low-class militancy. The journalists and activists behind batjaan liar were usually affiliated with the left movement. Their efforts to publish were nothing short of heroic, given the censorship of the colonial state and the risks of imprisonment, and deserve a place in the history of the nationalist movement even if the nation was not the central theme of their writings. Appropriately the language they used was colloquial Low Malay, which was significantly different from the colonial administration codified High Malay found in the texts now considered to be the loci classici of nationalist thought, such as the letters of R A Kartini and the writings of Soekarno and Hatta. Unlike writers and activists from other colonial societies who wrote in the languages of their colonizers to express their thoughts, these writers and activists from the Netherlands East Indies turned one of the indigenous languages, Low Malay, into a powerful tool of resistance, able to express what Marx called ‘the language of real life’.5 These writers imagined Indonesia as a nation of toilers struggling against exploiters, and many of those exploiters were putative ‘Indonesians’. The production and distribution of batjaan liar Writers on nationalism tend to emphasize the role of literacy (Gellner) and ‘print capitalism’ (Anderson) in the formation of nationalism. Print capitalism according to Anderson eliminated the dominant influence of Latin in Europe and ‘created unified fields of exchange and communication below Latin and above the spoken vernaculars’ and helped to connect people who ‘might find it difficult or even impossible to understand one another in conversation’.6 In this version of nationalism’s history, capitalism appears as a progressive force that breaks up an older consciousness of time and space and provides the basis for the sense of national community. However, what occurred in the colonies could perhaps be described as ‘print colonialism’ since all modern printing equipment, first introduced in the 1600s, was almost entirely controlled by the colonial rulers. The Dutch East India Company (VOC), which ruled parts of the Indies up to 1799, strictly controlled the printing houses. Almost all publications, such as the newspaper Bataviaasch Koloniale Courant, were issued from the government’s own printing house. A law passed in 1856 partially opened up the printing business by allowing people to publish magazines and newspapers, but even those publications had to pass the censors first. The first indigenous publication only emerged after a 1906 law repealed the old regulation that 278

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allowed the colonial state pre-publication censorship. Thus, for 300 years all production of reading material in the Dutch East Indies by modern printing presses was in the hands of the colonial officials and European private businesses. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the government began using Malay as a medium of communication with the colonized. Faced with a profusion of different dialects of Malay, they chose one dialect, codified it, and called it High Malay. They standardized the High Malay language such that it could be used for official purposes. It was a somewhat artificial language in the hands of the Dutch since they developed their own set of rules for it. The term ‘Melayu Rendah’ (Low Malay) was invented by the colonial state to denigrate the colloquial Malay, the lingua franca of the archipelago. Until the end of the nineteenth century, most publications were for colonial government officials, plantation owners and their staff, and a small number of indigenous persons with Dutch education. They usually used Dutch or High Malay and were full of stories about plantation revenues, state budget problems, and official ceremonies. Given their readership, these publications did not criticize the colonial system. This situation began to change when some Indo-Chinese and IndoEuropeans established dozens of new printing houses towards the end of the nineteenth century. They ended the Dutch monopoly in the publishing industry. These new publications carried stories about investigations into scandals at the plantations, romances that offended colonial good taste, and news about the Russian-Japanese war from the perspective of those in solidarity with a rising Asian power. From the printing presses of the IndoChinese and Indo-Europeans emerged a new literature in Low Malay: newspapers, novels, poems, advice books, and reports on events in the Indies. This new literature found a market in the people educated in the expanding colonial school system of the late nineteenth century. By the beginning of the twentieth century the number of ‘native’ students at government and private schools had reached about 80,000. The emergence of a Low Malay press changed the script in which that language had usually been written. The new press adopted the Roman script already in use for High Malay. The Jawi and Rumi scripts, which had been the standard scripts for Malay for centuries, were displaced. Few publications in Low Malay appeared in any script other than Roman after the early twentieth century.7 Trade unions and political organizations were important centers of the production and distribution of batjaan liar. The railway workers union, VSTP (Vereeniging voor Spoor- en Tramwegpersoneel), based in Semarang, bought their own printing press and published a newspaper Si Tetap [The Steady One]. Its circulation 15,000 copies was remarkably large in a colonial society where the literacy rate of the native population in Java was as low as 6.4 percent.8 Unlike the Dutch printing houses which only employed ‘natives’ as unskilled workers, the Indo-Chinese and Indo-European private printing and publishing houses employed them as assistant editors and sometimes gave them the opportunity to write. Several important figures in the production of batjaan liar such as R M Tirtoadhisoerjo started their careers 279

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as interns at the publishing houses owned by the Indo-Chinese and IndoEuropeans. They learned, apart from writing and editing, how to manage a publishing house so that it could be self-sustaining and produce reading material independently of the colonial power.9 Some of them ventured out to start their own businesses in the early twentieth century. In 1907, Tirtoadhisoerjo started a publishing firm called the Medan Prijaji and published a newspaper with the same name. In Solo, H M Misbach founded the publishing house Insulinde which produced much of the radical literature of the 1910s. These radical literatures discussed concrete problems faced by political organizations, conflicts with the colonial government, and inequalities and injustices typically encountered by the readers. These journalists were very much aware that their position was entirely in conflict with the colonial rulers. Consider what Mas Marco wrote:
Indeed, it is hard for people to side with the weak ones. Look at the repeated strikes that have entered into the news reports of Sinar [a newspaper]. Here the reports reveal that there were dozens of victims in these strikes, and it certainly makes sense that it was so [with so many people joining the strikes]. Challenging or resisting the owners of factories is the same as resisting an unjust government. Because of this, a war of voices, i.e. the side of the government and the side of the people, has emerged between newspapers. Was any newspaper established in the Indies that was supported by the monied class so that it could challenge the people’s newspaper? There is! The readers can find the name of that newspaper by themselves. Other than that, we can only remind you, don’t read just any newspaper. Pick one that genuinely sides with you and does not side with the monied class. Otherwise, it is foreseeable that we in the Indies will definitely fall into a very humiliating hole of misery.10

Colonial rulers were conscious of the power of words and employed all sorts of strategies to suppress Mas Marco’s newspaper. Censorship and repression against the press were often applied. Dozens of indigenous journalists as well as the Dutch ones who sided with the movement were arrested and tried for violating the press law. Colonial rulers also ordered printing houses owned by the Dutch not to serve indigenous publishers of batjaan liar. The rulers also expanded their own publication of Malay-language books, whose content and style of language were more agreeable to them. As journalists, writers and publishers began to get involved in trade unions and nationalist organizations, they strengthened the financial and institutional bases of their publishing houses. Members of the organizations were usually obliged to buy newspapers and other printed matter produced by these publishers. Likewise, the publications helped to expand the organization. This cooperation with organizations brought in quite a large income for a publisher, sometimes even more than that earned by the colonial publishers. Some of them were successful enough to parlay the capital earned into other business ventures, such as opening hotels and restaurants. The wave of workers’ strikes from 1918 to 1923 was crucial for the activists and their supporters. It helped them to better understand the colonial system. 280

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This radicalization of labor in turn increased the growth of batjaan liar. In the second half of the 1910s, hundreds of books and dozens of newspapers categorized as batjaan liar were published. In contrast to reading material in Dutch and High Malay which taught the natives about law, regulations and orders, the publications in Low Malay brought up a wider variety of themes. Not all of them were related to politics or nationalism. There were stories about criminals, romantic scandals, and lifestyles of the urban youth. The same writers and publishers also produced propaganda and translations of political books. Biting criticism and polemics were popular forms of writing, especially in the movement’s newspapers. Even though the main target was the colonial bureaucracy, the movement’s activists bitterly argued amongst themselves in the Low Malay press. The term batjaan liar itself was actually used by colonial rulers to refer to all books published by orang particulier, not just those published by radical activists. From the beginning of the twentieth century, academics and colonial bureaucrats, like Snouck Hurgronje, had paid attention to ‘reading materials that are dangerous for indigenous people whose intelligence is low’. To counter these publications, the government established a ‘commission for popular reading’, or Balai Pustaka, in 1908, with the explicit goal to ensure ‘that the educated indigenous people have decent reading materials’.11 They recruited several educated natives as editors, whose task was not only to bring the use of Malay in accordance with the standards established by the colonial government, but also to ensure that the content of the reading was, as we might say today, ‘politically correct’. Books and magazines published by this institution were intended to introduce the modern world to the readers. This was a contradictory task because these reading materials wanted, simultaneously, to prevent the growth of modern ideas about individual rights and freedom. The books were usually distributed to plantation companies, government offices, government schools, and by mobile libraries in trucks to reach the villages and backstreet urban neighborhoods. Additionally, the Balai Pustaka also became a kind of clearing house for colonial scholarbureaucrats who monitored the political movements. Several ‘natives’ who had been inside the movement switched their loyalty and worked with the police and prosecutors to interpret secret letters intercepted by officials. D A Rinkes, the first director of Balai Pustaka (1908 1917), was also the Advisor for Internal Affairs (a department policing the politics of the ‘natives’) and a key source of information for the colonial rulers about the ‘natives’. Nonetheless, this combination of the power of swords and words could not curb the growth of radical publications. Balai Pustaka provoked the activists into publishing even more of their own literature. Starting in 1920, an open ‘war of voices’ (as Mas Marco called it) was launched. Radical political organizations began to emerge at the district level with their own publications. Various newspapers not only scrutinized the content of the books published by Balai Pustaka, but also revealed the political interests behind them. Semaoen, one of the trade union leaders, said ‘the oppressed have to read their own books written by people from their own class; this is how the oppressed class will be fundamentally aware of its fate’.12 Moesso, a leader of 281

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the Communist Party in Surabaya, directly aimed his criticism at Balai Pustaka:
Those people’s almanacs and peasant almanacs certainly have scientific things (wetenschappenlijk) which apparently do not have anything to do with politics but people who know just a little bit about politics can understand that those books and almanacs were not primarily written or produced for educating the people but for misleading people’s thoughts in a gentle and systematic way. The fruit of thought from that other side (pihak sana) was implanted in the people’s heads. It is time. And our duty is to fight the influence of Balai Pustaka. We have to publish the necessary books, our own storybooks, so that the people will not be uprooted from the movement. People should not follow the stream of good advice from books from the Volkslectuur [Balai Pustaka] because those reading materials are not good for the colonized.13

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Anti-colonial politics gained momentum and the influence of the left movement became wider. In 1923, the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) the first organization using the term ‘Indonesia’ in the colony was established. Propaganda, as could be expected, received great attention from the party leaders. Learning from the experience of Iskra and Pravda in the Soviet Union, PKI leaders established a special body whose task was to publish socialist literature; it was named the Commission for Reading Materials (Komisi Batjaan). Soekindar, an important official of the Communist Party, explained the need to publish reading materials that would serve as the basis of a ‘scientific perspective’:
Therefore, it is necessary to highlight those difficult sayings with a katjamata wetenschap [scientific perspective]. At the same time our movement should not ignore their knowledge. But in the Indies, here, what is still disappointing is that very little socialistisch literatuur exists which would be useful for our movement. In our opinion, the wetenschapplijke literatuur [scientific literature] is like the heart of mind of the movement so if they do not exist it would be difficult for the knowledge of the movement to spread in the heart of the people. For all friends in the movement, we call upon them to work hard to translate socialist texts into Malay or to produce the original texts ourselves. We especially call upon the hoofdbestuur [central committee] of the PKI to be willing to collect existing texts in Dutch and attempt to produce Malay texts or original texts. Nowadays most of the people are still filled with the spirit of capitalism, so that they who have this new science can implant [the new science] in the heart of the people. And believe me, the new world will be born soon.14

The PKI’s commission published, among other things, the first translation of Marx and Engels’s Communist Manifesto in 1923. But there were also quite a few original texts explaining Marxist theory and methods for forming organizations. The dominant discourse, as might be expected, was about progress, the prospects of a new socialist world, and the importance of scientific knowledge in reaching socialism. Contrary to common belief that communist propaganda was always shallow and uniform, the PKI’s early literature displayed some creative thinking. Writers like H M Misbach tried to 282

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combine Communism and Islam at a time when the colonial state was encouraging Muslim leaders to view communists as wholly alien and atheistic. At the PKI congress in 1924, the leaders came to the conclusion that ‘the era of agitation to unify the heart has passed and the party should as soon as possible improve the quality of the cadre and the members’ knowledge’.15 On the one hand, this decision could be interpreted as strengthening the institutions producing batjaan liar. On the other hand, it could also be interpreted as the beginning of a clear schism within the movement as the party sought ideological purity. The party limited its themes related to the party line, such as organizational discipline, internationalism, and proletarianism. The leaders of the party themselves often referred to decisions of the Comintern and the need to fight for the ‘class line’ within the movement. This kind of tension consistently marked the formation of discourse about national identity during the colonial era. In the next sections, we will show the dynamics of this tension. Critique of colonialism Almost all leaders and activists within the radical movement in the early twentieth century came from the ranks of workers, lower officials, and petty traders.16 Their life experiences were different from those of the priyayi (the Javanese aristocracy) and of the students who joined organizations such as Perhimpunan Indonesia (Indonesian Association) in the Netherlands, and of the students who were involved in the Sumpah Pemuda (Youth Pledge) of 1928, resulting in different perspectives on colonialism. The priyayi usually refrained from openly criticizing colonialism. Their ideas centered on reforming the colonial system such that it would respect the indigenous population more and pay attention to their conditions. They usually situated themselves between ‘the people’ and the high Dutch officials. They spoke on behalf of ‘the people’ to the colonial government in terminologies more comprehensible to the colonial rulers than to the people they claimed to represent. Working in the bureaucracy, they were more drawn to Javanese feudal traditions (or rather, invented traditions) than to the modern ideas emerging in the island’s bazaars and factories. It was from amongst the ranks of the priyayi that the colonial rulers found many men willing to accept appointments to sit in the Volksraad (a kind of parliament) established in 1918. Dutch-educated Indonesian intellectuals were usually sharper in criticizing colonial rulers than the priyayi. Some of the students who were part of Perhimpunan Indonesia were very radical and willing to adopt socialist and communist ideas they learned in Europe. They talked about principles of freedom, national unity, and solidarity with the oppressed. Nevertheless, they barely understood the concrete situation in the Indies. Instead, they thought more in terms of a racial struggle between Asia and Europe which sometimes overlapped with the socialist struggle against capitalism.17 Their reluctance or inability to develop an analysis about class was probably a result of their background as part of the traditional elite and their conviction that they 283

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would become the new rulers if the Dutch were ever driven out of Indonesia. Their nationalism, therefore, relied more on differences of skin color rather than the economic inequality produced by colonialism. They spoke Dutch fluently and the High Malay used among the educated, so that they often felt more comfortable debating with colonial rulers who were their enemies rather than talking with the people whose interests they were supposed to defend. The writers of batjaan liar, by contrast, wrote in straightforward prose and were not hesitant to satirize the powerful. They understood, or even experienced, the suffering of plantation and industrial workers, and many of them even had the experience of working in those sectors before joining the movement. They never felt the need to paternalistically represent other people to the colonial rulers. The tone of their writings was also very clear, directed towards the people and not to the colonial rulers. This was what made their publications worrisome for the rulers who still believed in the possibility of ‘association’ between the rulers and the ‘natives’. These radical writers dreamed of their own modern world, one inspired by the Russian Revolution, Kemal Attaturk, and the concrete experience of the colonized. In contrast to the educated priyayi who seemed hesitant to express their opinions, the activists wrote in a style that was alternately intimate, witty, ironic and sarcastic. By borrowing idioms from different languages impossible in colonial Dutch or High Malay they could evoke a wide range of registers. Theirs was a flexible heteroglossia. Consider the following quotation:
Poor those fellows who have that saying! Who the hell is he? The ass-licker consists of two words: lick plus ass. Lick 0rub the tongue against something. Ass 0je weet wel (well you know what). Yikes, disgusting, huh! [Brrrr, afschuwelijk, he!] But there are many people who like to do it. For the Javanese, the ones who do it most often: priyayi. Many people from other nations know that many Javanese priyayi like likken. It is clear that many people do not understand the value of hard work, or they do not trust their own strength. For those who know would certainly feel ashamed to lick like that.18

Some of the activists used Low Malay consciously as an act of resistance to the colonial system. There was a practical reason as well. Semaoen, chief editor of the above-mentioned union-owned daily newspaper Si Tetap, for example, said that Low Malay was used because it was understood by the majority of the East Indies population, unlike High Malay or Dutch. Since the number of Javanese who could read romanized characters was only 6.4 percent, those interested in the batjaan liar formed reading circles where the literate ones would read aloud to those who were illiterate. This practice was only possible in Low Malay which was more a transcription of daily language. Activists of the lower class in the nationalist movement always based themselves on their concrete experience of injustice and composed journalistic reports that exposed the cruelty of colonial practices. It was the lower class’s experience of oppression that grounded its conception of Indonesian nationalism. The writers of the batjaan liar did not imagine themselves to be in solidarity with every person in the Netherlands East Indies; they viewed 284

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the priyayi as part of the colonial state, not part of the Indonesian nation. Their literature presented stories about the kidnapping of women to be turned into plantation slaves and the hunger suffered by certain communities. Such stories filled the pages of newspapers and inspired various pamphlets, novels and poems. The descriptions were usually precise and included details that reflected the writer’s knowledge of the situation. The two main targets of criticism were the expropriation of land by plantation owners and tax collectors. Once urban industry developed, the radical literature also addressed injustices at the workplace. There were also critiques of the local aristocracy in imposing feudal customs. One article, for instance, complained about the regulations requiring bank workers to squat and pay obeisance (sembah jongkok) when their managers appeared.19 The language of class was very striking and became the trademark of radical literature of the 1920s. Critiques of colonialism did not stop at matters directly experienced by the colonized. Activists realized that education was crucial for progress and for the advancement of the anti-colonial movement. Education was needed to undo the education promoted by the colonial state. Constructing a new history of the Indies society thus became an important aim. Perhaps the most ambitious project in this respect was Marco Kartodikromo’s rewriting of the Babad Tanah Jawa, the classic Javanese-language text of the history of Java first written by the court poet of King Pakubuwono III of Surakarta in 1788. The text was written after the Surakarta court had already been defeated by the Dutch and reflected the Javanese royalty’s compromise with colonialism. Mas Marco’s version was published in serial form in the magazine Hidoep in 1924.20 The goal of the rewriting was to ‘take back the past of the Javanese who have all along been in the hands of the Dutch’. Marco noted that colonialism did not only create injustice in economic matters but also robbed the consciousness of the colonized of their own past. He criticized the collaboration between the colonial rulers and the indigenous literati (pudjangga) to reshape the past:
Babad is a knowledge (wetenschap), but not a few composers of Babad faked their writings. This problem turns out to be like what the Czechs would say: ‘Among those Babad composers, there are also some who fake the Babad they write while Babad is supposed to be written truthfully like what actually happened.’ The Turks have a saying as well, ‘the one who writes or composes Babad is not an ink container’.21

While writing his own babad Marco studied the writings of colonial scholars such as Sir Thomas Raffles (1781 1826) and Pieter Johannes Veth (1814 1895) about Java and expressed his criticism toward both their facts and interpretations. Marco divided his book into six parts, covering the origins of the name Java, the arrival of Hinduism, and the arrival of the Portuguese and Dutch. For Marco, the existing Babad Tanah Jawa basically reflected the defeat of Javanese culture. Therefore, he felt the need to provide a scientific grounding to understand why the Javanese had been defeated and what they had to do to overcome the weakness. Unlike the poets who failed to acknowledge the defeat of the Javanese kingdom and culture, Marco 285

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highlighted the intellectual and moral weaknesses of Javanese kings themselves as the main cause of the defeat. Since the coming of Hinduism, he contended, Javanese kings had never waged any resistance.22 For Marco, the Babad was a rewriting of history in a way that would be useful for the anti-colonial movement. Other activists of his generation shared his views even though none wrote at such length about history. One crucial theme in the production of batjaan liar was race. From the end of the nineteenth century, the colonial rulers imposed a system of segregation by dividing the society into three strata: (1) the Dutch and other Europeans, (2) Foreign Orientals, such as the Chinese and Arab, and (3) the natives. The radical writers sometimes combined their analysis of capitalism under colonialism with their criticism of the Chinese, as reflected by the term ‘babah kapitalisten’.23 This tendency often provoked debates between the Chinese and the native writers. When Marco published Mata Gelap [In a Rage], a novel about colonial society which, among other things, portrayed the Chinese traders as rentiers, a newspaper owned by a Chinese criticized his use of the rather pejorative labels Cina and bah:
Today we received a story book which is entitled Mata Gelap, written by M. Marco, editor of Doenia Bergerak in Solo. Actually the book has such a low quality that initially we didn’t really want to talk about its content in this newspaper. But since the writer there expressed his condescending attitude towards the Chinese, we feel forced to write this review, with a request that Mr. Marco in the future if he writes another book, doesn’t insult the Chinese like what he does now, which is shown in the sentence: ‘Bah! I want stroopijs [cold syrup]’ Remember, the Chinese are also of humankind. The Chinese feel and acknowledge that in this colony they are like guests and indeed want to live cordially and peacefully with the Bumiputra. But the Bumiputra, as hosts, also have to show respect and humility towards the Chinese. As polite people, hosts naturally have to show to their guests.24

Marco then responded:
That term [Cina] has been commonly used to refer to the Chinese . . . if we interact with the Chinese, we always use that term, and well, nobody rejects it. Haven’t the Javanese given enough respect to their guests? Haven’t the Javanese showed enough cordiality to their guests? If we say Babah or Bah or say Cina for the Chinese, does it mean a humiliation to the Chinese? Actually we don’t quite understand. Why, on the map, it’s still written China, is it not? If you guests really don’t want any dispute with the hosts, we expect you not to prolong this matter. Remember, this time, this is not a good time around the world . . . . It’s another problem if you guests want to look for problems with the hosts. If the guests can not live genially with the hosts, it should be the hosts who carry out what’s just.25

Problems of race and ethnicity interacted with the batjaan liar writers’ concern for class and anti-colonialism. The colonial state tried its best to keep the different groups of the Indies society antagonistic to one another. Officials, for instance, would approach leaders of the Sino-Indonesian community and inform them that the radical movement was deeply 286

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anti-Chinese and that they should support the repression of the movement. But the racial antagonisms that were fairly prominent in the early years of the twentieth century abated during the movement’s peak from 1918 to 1923, when the radical activists proved by their deeds that they were not targeting the Sino-Indonesians and were not motivated by racism. The activists showed they were only concerned with class. The colonial state’s rumor-mongering proved ineffective.
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Imagining the nation The radical writers called themselves orang terperentah [the ruled people], a term that tended to overlap with the terms ‘Javanese people’ and ‘Indies people’. The distinctions were sometimes not strictly drawn. But they did distinguish between those Javanese who collaborated with the Dutch and those who resisted. Thus, they attacked the ‘Javanese people’ who ‘sold themselves’ to the colonial officials and plantation owners. Everyone in the Indies faced the three-tiered racial classification system imposed by the Dutch. The question for those classified at the bottom as ‘natives’ was how to respond. A popular demand among the Chinese and Arab communities was for an elevation of their status from Foreign Oriental to European, in the same way that the small Japanese community in the Indies had been elevated after Japan’s victory in its war with Russia in 1905. Some ‘natives’ also thought that their status should be raised. But in the batjaan liar literature, the demand was much more radical: it was to remove the system that produced social inequality in the first place. Marco, in his serialized novel Matahariah in the late 1910s, used the term anak-anak Hindia (children of the Indies) to refer to everyone in the Indies who was not European:
Even now [we] have already built a consensus to establish an association we call Kromo Bergerak [People on the Move], meaning an association with the efforts of our people, the anak-anak Hindia [children of the Indies], to be at peace with each other towards one heart, so that we will not continue to be exploited by the cruel nations. Moreover, we children of the Indies can be at peace if we are one; that’s the time we can eliminate arbitrary actions. Now we already have orang particulier who certainly will try very hard for the children of the Indies to gain higher rank like the European in our land. You know it yourselves, that we children of the Indies were always disgraced by the European people who also live here.26

Some of the writers ignored the racial categorization altogether, preferring instead to see only two classes in the Indies. Consider the following statement by Darsono:
Now in the Indies emerged two groups of people, i.e. one group owns factories, railway companies, stores, etc.; and the second group is the workers of different nations or people who work for the enterprises of the first group. This group of workers comes from peasants, batik makers, weavers, petty traders of all nations

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etc. They sell their labor because they’re cornered by factories or machines and big commerce.27

Marco envisioned a social movement consisting of the ‘kromo’, the commoners, all of those who were not from the elite (the priyayi). This attitude prompted harsh reaction from the moderates who considered class discourse to be an obstacle in the process of much-needed formation of national unity; the priyayi, they thought, needed to be included. There were also those, especially communists, who put forward the principle of internationalism. In the 1930s, Tan Malaka, one of the prominent PKI leaders, proposed the idea of establishing a socialist confederation of Asia Australia. He had traveled around Asia. While he had never been to Australia, he had heard about the strength of the workers’ movement there. As the wide range of activists debated what kind of nationalism and internationalism they should adopt, the radical movement made sure that the problem of class inequality among the natives themselves was included in every discussion about ‘Indonesia’. This emphasis on class became more pronounced in the late 1910s with the wave of strikes by industrial and plantation workers throughout Java. The idea of socialism became especially significant with the news of the Russian revolution of 1917. That revolution played an influential role in the construction of a discourse about the nation. Those who praised the revolution were immediately accused by their political opponents and the Dutch colonial officials as Comintern agents who brought foreign political agendas to the colony, although many of the socialist ideas being discussed in the Indies after 1917 displayed a real concern to make them meaningful for the particular context of the Indies. The Literature Commission of the PKI condemned ideas which distracted people’s attention from the problem of class, and emphasized the importance of advancing socialism in the national liberation struggle. However, there was no clear idea about the nation itself. The proposal of several priyayis for creating a Javanese nationalism in 1917 1918 was rejected because the ‘nation’ had to be broader and include everyone in the Indies. For many of the writers, the struggle for national independence was identical with the struggle against injustice. Whoever was part of the movement against colonialism was part of the ‘nation’. One’s attachment within a nation was not determined by one’s birth identity but by active involvement in the struggle against colonialism. There were many other imaginations about the nation. A more comprehensive study about diversity of views on the nation still needs to be conducted. The writers of batjaan liar were resolute modernists opposed to tradition. Anything of tradition that hindered the movement towards equality had to be jettisoned. An example can be found in the discussion on the position of women in the movement written by Rangsang in the novel Kaoem Merah:
According to the situation of the world at this time, we women should help the work of the men, that is, the work for public needs. For centuries we women can

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be said to have been fast asleep. We never saw the light of the sun. Because, since the earliest time until now, we women were perceived as the household’s decoration and head chef. But this rule should be changed now. For we women who have household responsibilities, the men can do that work as well, but for women who do not have that responsibility, they should indeed help the work of the men for public need. WE know that there are many women who choose to sit around and take it easy although they are educated; they like to do that thing. Now we think it’s time for us women to participate, move together with our brothers. We also know that the conservatives would smirk at this statement. Alright, we can ignore those who disagree with us.28
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The women figures portrayed in batjaan liar were generally different from the images drawn by the colonial rulers or the Javanese priyayi. Batjaan liar usually described a woman activist with a strong character, broad knowledge, able to pass judgment and sometimes conduct debates with men. One will not find such characters in Balai Pustaka novels. The position of the nyai (mistress) in the batjaan liar was also described differently compared with the other literary works of the era. The nyai was portrayed as a woman with strong character and willpower even though her fate was very much in the hands of the plantation owners. By the mid-1920s, the colonial rulers began to realize that the radical movement could not be effectively countered with books from Balai Pustaka or a new representative council (the Volksraad). The state started to use violence to destroy the movement. Several leaders of the movement such as H M Misbach and Dr. Tjipto Mangunkusumo were arrested and exiled to places outside of Java. Differences within the movement sharpened. The tension was not only between lower-class activists and the priyayi or the educated ones, but also among the lower-class activists themselves. The propagandists of the PKI stated that the struggle against colonialism was a class struggle, like the workers’ struggle to topple the Tsar in Russia in 1917. Several PKI leaders visited the Soviet Union to talk with the leaders of the Comintern. They subsequently proposed that the party sharpen the perspective on classes in the colony.29 On the other hand, figures like Mas Marco, Darsono and leaders of the Sarekat Rakyat disagreed with this rigid approach to class. At the PKI conference in Kota Gede in December 1924, one of the party theoreticians, Ali Archam, suggested that Sarekat Rakyat, the political organization of the radical ‘petty bourgeoisie’, be dissolved and that full concentration should be directed towards organizing workers into revolutionary trade unions. This suggestion was rejected by Darsono and Mas Marco who emphasized the importance of unity among all people challenging colonial power.30 These differences in views kept intensifying along with the escalating colonial repression. Discussions about class, religion and ethnicity as the composition of the nation were replaced with differentiations based on brave vs. cowardly, militant vs. moderate. By 1926, texts of the movement generally talked about the importance of militancy, discipline and firmness. Independence for them was rebellion against colonial rule, and the Indonesian nation 289

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consisted of those who supported the rebellion. Despite the ideal of total unity of the colonized, there were repeated splits and divisions within the radical movement. In this kind of uncertainty and crisis, the PKI and Sarekat Rakyat, under immense pressure from their own cadres, decided to launch a rebellion in November 1926. The colonial rulers responded with extreme repression. Thousands of people were arrested, and 1,308 people were exiled to Boven Digul in the middle of the Papuan forest. One episode of the pergerakan (movement) came to an end.
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The decline The failure of the rebellion had several consequences. First, the writeractivists from lower classes who formed the dominant bloc in the social movement of the 1920s were eliminated. They were exiled to Boven Digul and did not return until the arrival of Japanese troops in 1942. Some of them, like Marco Kartodikromo and Ali Archam, died in exile. Other figures, such as Darsono and Semaoen, left for Moscow, worked for the Comintern, and never had any influence in the movement in the subsequent years. Secondly, the networks of publishers, distributors, readers and organizations that had supported batjaan liar production for at least fifteen years were destroyed. Printing houses owned by trade unions, the Communist Party, and orang particulier, who supported the movement, were closed down or confiscated. The colonial government, in turn, established more rigid controls and regulations on the production and distribution of printed matter. It restored the power of ‘print colonialism’. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the colonized became increasingly wary of writing anything straightforward about their own problems and demands. One example of this tendency can be seen in Hatta’s explanation of the program of Perhimpunan Indonesia in front of the Dutch court in 1928.31 His explanation falsified the organization’s 1923 program, which was fairly radical, and did not even affirm that its intention was to gain national independence. The colonial rulers were successful in establishing a time of order and peace, often referred to as zaman normal. The nationalist leaders of the 1930s were generally students who studied inside and outside the colony, government officials, and political activists who escaped colonial repression. None of them had any experience in developing a movement from below and vividly expressing injustice in writing. They usually spoke and wrote in Dutch, not even in High Malay. Even if they spoke in Malay, all the spontaneity, irony and wittiness which characterized the language of the batjaan liar was missing. The tone of speech was more paternalistic, even arrogant, making a show of authority and pretending to be sagacious. They usually positioned themselves as candidates for the leaders of a modern, advanced and educated nation, who had little or no connection with the coolies in the plantations and workers in the factories. The failure of the communist rebellion of 1926 1927 became the foundation for a new type of nationalism that disregarded the 290

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central preoccupation of the earlier popular movement: class inequality. The imagination of the nation became redefined and purged of its radical content.

Notes
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In the 1960s several left historians and writers criticized the elitist bias in the nationalist historiography. See Bakri Siregar, Sedjarah Sastra Modern Indonesia, Jakarta: Jajasan Pembaruan, 1964; Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Sedjarah Modern Indonesia: Babak Perintis, Jakarta, 1965. After being released from prison, Pramoedya Ananta Toer composed a biography of R M Tirtoadhisoerjo, a pioneer in the press world who had been neglected in the writing of Indonesian history. See Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Sang Pemula, Jakarta: Hasta Mitra, 1985. Ranajit Guha, ‘On Some Aspects of the Historiography of Colonial India’, Subaltern Studies, Vol. 1, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1982, pp 1 8. For a relatively complete list, see G F Ockeloen, Catalogus dari boekoe boekoe dan madjallah madjallah jang diterbitkan di Hindia Belanda dari tahoen 1870 1937, Batavia: Kolff, 1939. The arrested leaders of the movement were exiled to the furthest eastern edge of the colony, a malarial forest on the island of Papua. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology, Moscow: Progress Publisher, 1968. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism, London: Verso, 1991, p 44. For a comprehensive account of the Indonesian nationalist press in its early days, see Ahmat B Adam, The Vernacular Press and the Emergence of Modern Indonesian Consciousness, 1855 1913, Ithaca: Cornell University Southeast Asia Program, 1995. Semaoen, ‘An Early Account of the Independence Movement’, Indonesia 1, April 1966, pp 46 75. R M Tirtoadhisoerjo was the initiator of the press affiliated to a social movement. Pramoedya Ananta Toer called him ‘the pioneer’ because of his role in developing an independent press. Toer, Sang Pemula. Tirtoadhisoerjo is also the inspiration for the main character in Toer’s most celebrated work, the Buru tetralogy. Marco, ‘Djangan Takoet’, Sinar Djawa, 11 April 1918. Hilmar Farid, ‘Kolonialisme dan Budaya: Balai Poestaka di Hindia Belanda’, Prisma 10, October 1991. Semaoen, ‘Menentang Literatuur Menjesatkan’, Keras Hati 7, February 1920. Moesso, ‘Kita Haroes Mendirikan Bibliotheek Sendiri’, Api, 25 July 1925. Soekindar, ‘Socialistische Literatuur di Hindia’, Sinar Hindia, 17 December 1921. Overzichten van de Inlandsche en Maleisch Chineesche Pers, 25, 1924, pp 568 569. The priyayi and doctors who joined Budi Utomo are known as the ‘pioneers of the nationalist movement’ in the writing of modern Indonesian history. Indeed, they opened the way by establishing a modern organization and some room for bargaining with the colonial state, but by the end of the 1910s they no longer played a major political role. Some of them, such as R M Soejopranoto, Cipto Mangoensoekomo and Soewardi Soerjaningrat, chose to join the popular movement and become more radical. See Takashi Shiraishi, An Age in Motion: Popular Radicalism in Java 1912 26, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990. John Ingleson, Perhimpunan Indonesia and the Indonesian Nationalist Movement 1923 1928, Melbourne: Monash University, 1975. ‘Tjis, tra’ maloe!’ Doenia Bergerak 2, 1914. M A, ‘Sembah djongkok’, Sinar Hindia, 15 June 1918. Marco also published an anthology of verses entitled Sjair Rempah Rempah (Verses of Spices) dan Sjair Sama Rata Sama Rasa, which described the Dutch as ‘badjak laoet’ (pirates) who deceived the peoples of the archipelago and then dominated the whole territory. Marco, ‘Pendahoeloean untuk Babad Tanah Djawa’, Hidoep, 1 June 1924. It is unclear what Czech and Turk sayings Marco was referring to in this passage. Most likely, he mentioned these names of other nationalities only to create the impression that he was modern, cosmopolitan, and erudite. In his novel Matahariah Marco satirized the power relation between colonial government and Javanese kings. In Low Malay, babah is a derogatory term for Chinese. Tjhoen Tjhioe 84, 1914, pp 2 3.

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27 28

29 30

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31

Marco, ‘Mata Gelap: Boleh djadi lantaran seboeah boekoe bisa djadi perselisihan jang berat’, Doenia Bergerak 28, 1914. The novel, a rare love story between people of different races, was published as a serial in Sinar Hindia, in 1918 and 1919. The term ‘children of the Indies’ was meant to include Sino-Indonesians and IndoEuropeans, albeit only those among these communities who supported the movement. Ernest Douwes Dekker (1879Á1950), an Indo-European, established the Indische Partij (Party of the Indies) in 1913, which had a major impact on the radical movement that followed. Darsono, ‘Giftige Waarheidspijlen’, Sinar Hindia, 13 May 1918. Rangsang, ‘Kaoem Merah’, Hidoep, 1 October 1924. This novel was clear communist propaganda: it was essentially the complete Communist Party program with a few dialogues and narratives added. Semaoen, ‘An Early Account of the Independence Movement’, pp 46Á75. Persatoean Ra’jat, 12 February 1926. See Ingleson, Perhimpunan Indonesia.

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