‘On the United Front with Pan-Islamism in Java,’ Discussion at the Fourth Congress of Comintern by Tan Malaka from International Press Correspondence. Vol. 2 No. 107. December 5, 1922.

‘Fourth Congress delgeates, 1922. Standing: third from left, Tan Malaka; sixth from left, M.N. Roy. Sitting:first from left, Ho Chi Minh; third from left, Katayama Sen.’

A still relevant political intervention from leading figure of the first generation of Indonesian Communism, Tan Malaka. Here he speaks as a delegate to the Fourth World Congress of the Communist International in November, 1922 in the discussion on the united front. The Second Comintern Congress had put forward the notion of united front with revolutionary nationalists in oppressed nations, to which Malaka instructed the Comintern that in Indonesia, that means Pan-Islamists.The PKI was among the most vital and influential of the early Communist Parties in a colonial country. As the first Asian Communist Party to join the Comintern it was, in the first half of the 1920s, also the largest Comintern section in Asia. Working in, and partially leading, the popular Islamic party Sarekat Rakyat, the PKI played a central role in the mass rebellion that broke out against Dutch imperialism in 1926.

‘On a United Front with Pan-Islamism in Java’ Discussion on the Report of the Executive at the Fourth Congress of Communist International by Tan Malaka from International Press Correspondence. Vol. 2 No. 107. December 5, 1922.
Malaka in 1922.

On behalf of the Communist Party of Java, I wish to speak on the importance of the question of the United Front for the oppressed masses of the East. I should like to put several questions to Comrade Zinoviev and Radek Perhaps Comrade Zinoviev did not mean that Java must have a different United Front. Perhaps our United Front is different from the others. However, the decision of the Second Congress of the Third International means that we must form a United Front with the revolutionary nationalists. Thus, our United Front is not a United Front with the social democrats but with the revolutionary nationalists. We must recognize in our country that we also need a United Front. However, with us the tactics of the nationalists frequently assume various forms. Two of the most popular forms of nationalist tactics against imperialism are the boycott and the liberation struggle of the Moslems – of Pan-Islamism. It is on these two forms that I should like to put the following question: firstly, should we or should we not support the national boycott movement, secondly; should we support Pan-Islamism? If so, how far shall we go?

I am ready to admit that a boycott is not a communist method, but it is a method which under the political and military enslavement of the East is one of the most effective weapons, and we have seen that the 1919 boycott in Egypt against British imperialism, and the great Chinese boycott in 1919–1920 were crowned with success. The last boycott movement took place in British India. We may assume that this year or next year another form of boycott will be applied in the East. We know, of course, that the boycott is not our method but rather the method of the petty bourgeoisie and of the nationalist bourgeoisie. Moreover, we can say that the boycott is tantamount to supporting the native capitalists, but we also see that owing to the boycott movement in British India 18,000 leaders are kept in prison. The boycott in India has produced a very revolutionary atmosphere, and has compelled the British Government to ask Japan for military support in the event of the boycott movement being transformed into an open armed rising. We also know that the Mohamedan leaders in India, Dr. Kirchlef, Hasrat Mahoni and the brothers Ali are nationalists and that there was no rising when Ghandi was arrested. Everyone knows that local risings must end in defeat, because we have no arms and other war material at our disposal. Therefore, the boycott movement is important for us Communists, now and in the future. We know in India and Java that many of our communists are inclined to proclaim the boycott movement in Java, perhaps because the communist mood created by the Russian Revolution has passed over, and perhaps also because in British India the atmosphere was not ripe for communist actions capable of competing with the other movement. In any case, we are confronted with the question: should we or should we not support these tactics? And how far shall we go? Pan-Islamism is a long story. First of all I will deal with our experiences in India where we collaborate with the Islamists. We have in Java a very large union comprising many very poor peasants, viz. Sarakat Islam. Between 1912 and 1916 this union had more than one million members. Until 1920 we collaborated with this union. Our Party, consisting of 13,000 members, went to the National Assembly and carried on propaganda. In 1921 we succeeded in making Sarakat Islam adopt our program, and it went into the villages agitating for the control of production and for the watchword: “All power to the poor peasants and to the proletariat. Thus, we carried on the same propaganda as our Communist Party. Only sometimes under another name. However, a split occurred in 1921, owing to the tactless criticism of the leaders of the Sarakat Islam. The government, through its agents, made use of this split, and also of the decision of the Second Congress of the Communist International to fight against Pan-Islamism. The government agents said to the simple peasants that the Communists did not only want to create a split among them, but also that they wanted to destroy their religion. This was too much for a simple Moslem peasant. The peasant thought to himself that he had already lost everything in this world, and that he was not willing to lose heaven as well. Such was the mood of these simple minded people, and the government propagandists and agents made good use of it. Thus we have a split.

Red Islamic Union, 1926.

The Sarakat Islamists believe in our propaganda. They are with us “with their stomachs”, but with their hearts they remain with the Sarakat Islam, – with their heaven, which we cannot give them. Therefore, they boycotted our meetings, and we could not carry on propaganda any longer. In the beginning of last year we made efforts again to get into contact with Sarakat Islam. We said at our Congress in December 1921 that the Moslems in the Caucasus and other countries which worked with the Soviets and struggled against international capitalism know their religion much better, and we also said that they are at liberty to carry on propaganda for their religion, but that this must not be done at meetings but in the Mosques.

‘PKI meeting, 1926.’

We have been asked at public meetings if we were Moslems or not, and if we believe in God. My answer to this has been that when I stand before God, I am a Moslem, but when I stand before men I am not a Moslem, because God said that there are many devils among men. Thus we inflicted a defeat on their leaders with the Koran in our hands, and at our last year’s Congress we compelled the leaders of the Sarakat Islam, through their own members, to collaborate When a general strike broke out last year, they needed us, as the railwaymen were under our leadership. As the Sarakat-Islam leaders had expressed their willingness to work with us, they were obliged to help us. We went to them and said: Your God is all-powerful, but he has also said that on this earth the railwaymen are more powerful. The railwaymen are God’s Executive Committee in this world. However, this does not solve the question, and if we have another split, we may be sure that the government agents will be there again with their Pan-Islamism. Therefore, this question of Pan-Islamism is very important.

It is also very important to understand the meaning of Pan-Islamism. Once it had an historic meaning and meant that Islam must conquer the whole world with the sword, and that this must be achieved by a Holy War under the leadership of the Caliph who must be of Arabian descent. About forty years after the death of Mahomat the Mohamedans were split into three great States, and thus the Holy War lost its significance for the entire Mohamedan World, for it was no longer necessary to fight in the name of God for the Caliphate and the conquest of the world, because the Western secular Caliph of Spain said: I am the true Caliph, I must carry the banner. The Caliphs of Egypt and Bagdad said the same. Thus, Pan-Islamism has lost its original meaning, and means now something quite different. At present Pan-Islamism is a nationalist liberation struggle, because Islam for the Moslems is everything: not only religion, but also the State, the economic system, the food, in fact everything. Thus Pan-Islamism now means the fraternity of all Mohamedan peoples and the liberation not only of the Arabian, but also the Indian, Javanese and all other oppressed Mohamedan peoples. This fraternity is called the liberation struggle against the British. French, and Italian capitalists, consequently against world capitalism. Such is the meaning of Pan-Islamism in India among the oppressed colonial peoples for which secret propaganda is being carried on. This is our new task, and just as we are willing to support the national war, we shall also support the liberation struggle of the very active and energetic 250 million Mohamedans who are subject to the imperialist Powers. Therefore, I ask once more if we should support Pan-Islamism in this sense, and in how far we are to support it.

PKI in Jakarta, 1925.

International Press Correspondence, widely known as”Inprecor” was published by the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) regularly in German and English, occasionally in many other languages, beginning in 1921 and lasting in English until 1938. Inprecor’s role was to supply translated articles to the English-speaking press of the International from the Comintern’s different sections, as well as news and statements from the ECCI. Many ‘Daily Worker’ and ‘Communist’ articles originated in Inprecor, and it also published articles by American comrades for use in other countries. It was published at least weekly, and often thrice weekly. A major contributor to the Communist press in the U.S., Inprecor is an invaluable English-language source on the history of the Communist International and its sections.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/inprecor/1922/v02n107-dec-05-1922-Inprecor.pdf


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