Indonesië klaagt aan, Soekarno’s court defence

Bettman, Door, ‘Indonesian President Achmad Sukarno Calming down Protesters’, photograph, 30,67 x 26,84 cm, Jakarta 17th of October 1952.

Soekarno’s and his court defence

Djokja, December 30, 1929. According to the De Sumatra Post, the Dutch East-Indian colonial police took serious action against the Indonesian National Party (PNI). The Dutch East-Indian colonial administration anticipated an insurrection and moved swiftly. They detained several persons associated with the PNI, including Soekarno (1901-1970), who was arrested while in Djokja for the Pemoeda Indonesia convention. While Soekarno was being taken to Bandoeng by the colonial police, other colonial police officials searched 35 PNI members’ homes and discovered some of Soekarno’s personal documents. Because these records revealed no damning evidence, they decided to keep Soekarno in custody because of already existing charges.[1]

Following his arrest, Governor-General Andries Cornelis Dirk de Graeff (1872-1957) declined to exile him and instead opted for regular justice.[2] De Graeff hoped for the development of emancipatory nationalists with whom he might could cooperate, and thus as a sign of goodwill, he was willing to acquit Soekarno.[3] As a result, De Graeff arranged for Soekarno to be tried by the Bandoeng Landraad. In Bandoeng, Soekarno was accused of belonging to an organisation whose purpose is to commit crimes and because he propagates hatred and falsehoods.[4] Soekarno defended himself before the judges of the Bandoeng Landraad courtroom during this trial in August 1930.[5] In his defence, he criticized the Dutch, capitalism, and imperialism. He used several works from respected scholars to back up his arguments, and as a result, he delivered a furious and well-reasoned justification of his conduct. Despite his defence, Soekarno was condemned to four years at Soekamiskin jail in December of 1930.[6]

Therefor the main question is, ‘What does Soekarno’s accuse the Dutch of doing, how does he accuse the Dutch and why does he accuse the Dutch of these actions in this way?’ Thus, this essay will explain what Soekarno accuses the Dutch of doing and why he accuses them of doing, and this will be answered by first looking at Soekarno’s day and age, then at Soekarno’s story, after which the essay will do some source criticism of Soekarno’s oration called Indonesië klaagt aan, and finally this essay will critically look at what Soekarno is actually saying. There will also be space to discuss the usefulness of this particular source for further research.

The main question will be answered by focusing on what he was against and what he wants the future to be like. To answer this, the essay shall utilize a translation of Indonesia Menggugat made by De Arbeiderspers.[7] Next to this primary source academic articles and books shall be used to create a context and to further explain Soekarno’s thoughts.

I. Context

I.I The Dutch East-Indies in Soekarno’s days

During the 1920s and 1930s, Indonesia was part of the Dutch colonial empire, and the Dutch referred to it as the Dutch East-Indies. The Dutch gradually colonized the Indonesian archipelago. They were hesitant at first, but fierce Spanish and Portuguese competition in the spice trade forced their hand. Their first conquest was a Portuguese fortress on Ambon in 1605, this marked the beginning of Dutch colonization of the Indonesian archipelago.[8] This project would not be finished until 1914, and the Dutch would reign over the entire archipelago from that year until 1942. Their influence was greater in Java’s administrative centre, Batavia, and weaker on the other islands on the edges.[9]

During the 1930s, there were roughly 240.000 Europeans in the Dutch East-Indies, of which 200.000 were Dutch, 1.2 million Chinese, and 60 million indigenous people. It was a race-based society. Dutch people and Europeans, for example, were tried under Dutch law, Indigenous peoples under regional common law, and Chinese under European trade law. In addition, Chinese and indigenous peoples enjoyed fewer civil and political rights than Dutch and Europeans. For example, Dutch and Europeans were paid more than Chinese and indigenous people for the same task. The median pay for an indigenous person was 60 guilders, 330 guilders for Chinese, and 2700 guilders for Dutch and Europeans. Nonetheless, Chinese were among the wealthiest individuals in the Dutch East Indies. Furthermore, it was a society divided based on race and class, with most Dutch and Europeans living in closed of residential neighbourhoods. With the exception of their servants, they had practically no interaction with indigenous peoples.[10]

From 1901 through the 1920s, the Dutch attempted to uplift the indigenous people through a limited expansion and development of healthcare and education. The improvement of education resulted in the creation of social mobility for a limited number of people. In the 1930s, around 10 percent of indigenous males and 2.2 percent of indigenous women were literate. Furthermore, it can be said that higher education was only available to those of the appropriate decency and loyalty.[11]

Anti-colonial movements arose during this time period. Higher education had exposed some indigenous people to the Dutch independence struggle against the Spanish (1569-1648), these lessons inspired them to. Higher education also brought individuals from all across the Indonesian archipelago together and taught them how to think critically and be self-aware. These people began to organise themselves because they desired a higher quality of living and thought they were being oppressed.[12] But, many ordinary people also started to organise themselves, because they wanted better education, welfare, and healthcare.[13] The Dutch East-Indian government became aware of this, therefore in 1916 they established the Politieke Inlichtingendienst (PID). The Dutch East-Indian administration also established a parliament-like organization called the Volksraad in 1916, although it served solely as an advisory body. At this location, 39 people, 15 of whom were indigenous, gathered to discuss the future. It was at this location that appeals for self-determination were made, and these requests were addressed by governor-general Johan Paul van Limburg Stirum (1873-1948), who promised to progressively provide self-determination to the indigenous inhabitant.[14] However some of these movements, for the communist Partai Komunis Indonesia were brutally suppressed.

I.II Soekarno

Soekarno was one of such educated individuals. He was born in 1901, as the son of a low nobility Javanese teacher and a Balinese woman.[15] Soekarno claims that he grew up in poverty and so he understands what it is like to be poor.[16] Despite this, he was able to follow education. Soekarno received his primary education at his father’s school in Majakert.[17] After finishing primary education, Soekarno started to attend the Hogereburgerschool (HBS) at Surabaya in 1916. In Surabaya Soekarno resided at a pension and here he was exposed to a wide range of new political and religious beliefs and ideals.[18] According to anthropologist Benedict Anderson (1936-2015), children of mixed offspring were uncommon among the local population during Soekarno’s days, and even more so among

Later, in 1926 he even studied architecture at the Bandoeng Institute of Technology. In 1927, he formed a student group where he and others debated politics, and in July of that year, he launched Partai Nasional Indonesia (PNI). This was the first significant political party whose membership was ethnically Indonesian, whose aim was political independence, and whose territorial vision included Indonesia’s boundaries as established by the Dutch. By May 1929, PNI had branches in all of Java’s major cities, as well as one in Palembang.[19] Furthermore it can be said that Soekarno’s party combined Islam, Marxism, and nationalism.[20] Soekarno frequently brought this up at party meetings. When he did this, he orated passionately and well articulated, but also clearly and simply. This is why, according to historian and writer David van Reybrouck (1971), he was able to truly captivate his audience.

II. The source

The specific source Indonesië klaagt aan is a Dutch translation form the year 1931 of the defence called Indonesia Menggugat. This particular edition was printed by De Arbeiderspers, a left-wing publisher from Amsterdam.

This hardcover book is filled with regular paper pages and contains a grand total of 120 pages, 112 of which include printed texts, 106 of those are filled with Soekarno’s court defence. There are also 8 pages with no written content, two of which feature photos and six of which are blank.

The page preceding the title page is filled with drawn pictures of Indonesian themes. Some dancers, palm trees, a jailhouse, coffins, and Governor-general Joannes van Heutsz (1851-1924) are depicted here. The image’s composition depicts a gloomy environment. This is due to the fact that van Heutsz is nicknamed “The Butcher of Aceh”. This nickname was given to him as a result of the horrific deeds he did between 1898 and 1904 during the final stages of the Aceh War (1873-1904). The picture also depicts coffins and a jailhouse. The coffins and the jailhouse might allude to crime and punishment. The text in the bottom right corner is not completely shown, rendering it unintelligible.

The page after the last page of printed text also has an image, this time a photograph. The image depicts nine dark-skinned youngsters creating straw hats; therefore the topic is child labour. Those youngsters are almost certainly from the Dutch East-Indies. This is because the overarching theme of Soekarno’s court defence, from which this book is a translation, is mostly about the Indonesian archipelago.

The preface is written by a translator, who is simply referred to as ‘the translator’. In this preface he uses the phrases bourgeoisie, feudalism, and economic class-based social divides. The preface is also critical of Dutch colonialism.[21] As a result of these remarks, as well as knowledge about the publisher, it is apparent that both the author and the publisher are left leaning. This is due to the terminology he employs, which is that of a Marxist. He discusses class antagonism in the same way that Marxism does, and he refers to historical phases in the same way that Historical Materialism does.[22]

Then there is the court defence, which serves as the book’s major body, and it seems that Soekarno’s defence is an essay. This is due to the fact that it includes several chapters, an introduction, and a conclusion. The real build-up is divided into two sections. The first section describes what the Partai Nasional Indonesia stands for and what it opposes. This section includes the following chapters: the first on imperialism and capitalism, the second on imperialism in Indonesia, the third on the Indonesian movement, and the fourth on the Partai Nasional Indonesia.

The second section discusses why the accusations against him should be dismissed. Thus, the fifth chapter is about his denial of the charges levied against him, but it is also about the impending Pacific War. This essay will now examine both parts of Soekarno’s defence, but it will mainly concentrate on what Soekarno accuses the Dutch of doing and how he defends himself.

III. How does Soekarno defend himself?

The year is 1930, and Soekarno is accused of being a part of an organisation whose goal is to commit crimes and propagate hatred and falsehoods. This is why, on the second of December, he defended himself with a two-day-long defensive oration called Indonesië klaagt aan.[23] Thus this is why this section of the essay will focus on how he attacked the Dutch and defended himself.

III.I first part of the defence

Soekarno mostly discussed the faults of capitalism and imperialism in the first portion of his case. He goes into great length here to accuse the Dutch of being a member of a criminal organisation. So, in a manner, Soekarno defends himself by demonstrating to the court that it was they who were part of a criminal organisation. Soekarno accused the Dutch of numerous sins here.

On page 8 Soekarno starts with explaining to the court what he is going to talk about. He tells them that when he talks, about imperialism and capitalism, he does not talk about the Dutch or the government. He says that he talks about capitalism as in a ‘social system, which arises from a mode of production which separates the worker from the means of production. Capitalism is a consequence of this mode of production, […] that surplus-value does not fall into the hands of the worker, but into the hands of the capitalists!’. He says that capitalism is not a person or a nation, but a system. Thus, therefore he claims that he does not attack the Dutch.[24]

Then Soekarno explains what he means by imperialism, he says that ‘It denotes an inclination, an aspiration, to control or influence the household of another people, or of another country.’[25] On page 9, he goes on to say that it is a social structure based on economic facts. He goes on to explain why a few states are imperial. He lists and describes a few European empires, but he also discusses Asian empires. Empires such as Timur, Malaya, Madjapahit, Japan, and others. This he further backs up by an extended economic and history lesson about why capitalism created imperialism and how capitalism creeped and corrupted the hearts of man on the pages 9 to 17.[26] Throughout these sections, he demonstrates to the court that he is a well-educated and intelligent man. He accomplishes this by citing European statesmen and intellectuals such as Pieter Jelles Troelstra (1860-1930), Henry Nol Brailsford (1873-1958), Dr. Jan Steffen Bartstra (1887-1962), and many more. In that sense, he does attack the Dutch. This is because the article already said that the Dutch invaded and colonized the Indonesian archipelago, but he also downplays the charges because he also critiques other empires and explains why it was not the Dutch’s fault, but capitalisms.[27]

These kinds of assaults are not exclusive to this chapter; a similar structure can be seen in the other chapters as well. For example, chapter II, which starts at page 18, about imperialism in Indonesia follows the same structure. He starts with explaining some background and context, then he introduces a lot of academic sources and scholars, and in the end, he finishes his statement. Thus, every chapter is like a small essay about a particular topic. The only difference with this chapter and the one before is, that this chapter specifically attacks the Dutch. He accuses them of committing some serious crimes. Soekarno discusses the activities of Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) officials extensively on pages 18 to 20. He discusses Jan Pieterszoon Coen (1587-1629) and the genocide on Banda, for example, but he does it through using scholarly essays written by a Dutch professor named Herman Theodoor Colenbrander (1871-1945) and an untraceable Dr. Veth. This similar framework will be used to criticize the cultuurstelsel, an agricultural system in which peasants were forced to produce cash crops for the colonial administration, as well as the 19th century colonial wars of conquest.[28]

In addition to these critiques of capitalism, Soekarno spoke in a nationalistic manner. This is due to the fact that, according to Hans Kohn (1891-1971), nationalism entails ‘Nationalism, ideology based on the premise that the individual’s loyalty and devotion to the nation-state surpass other individual or group interests.’[29] This he does clearly on page 36 to 37. Here he says that the people will eventually fight the things he criticised in chapter I. This he again backs up with a small history lesson of peoples and their fight against oppression by foreigners. He also discusses the Indonesian people’s awakening.[30] He claims on page 39 that this national awakening is a reaction to Dutch imperialism.[31]

Even more clearly does Soekarno demonstrate his nationalistic colours in Chapter IV, on page 41, where he says, ‘The Partai Nasional Indonesia is of the opinion that the main condition for reconstruction of the Indonesian society is National Freedom, and thus the aspiration of the entire Indonesian people should be directed in the first place to National Freedom.’ Here, he expresses his desire to establish an independent state for the Indonesian people.[32]

According to Anderson, Soekarno’s idea of nationalism was wide and focused on the cultural and ethnic variety of the Indonesian archipelago rather than ethnicity. According to Anderson, he did this because of the insight his mixed background provided him.[33] Soekarno’s perspective of nationalism was combined with anti-capitalistic Marxism. Soekarno’s blend of Marxism and nationalism is known as Marhaenism.[34] Marhaenism is an ideology that defended the people against the oppression and extortion of capitalism, imperialism, and feudalism in order to build a just and prosperous society free of oppression and extortion for both the nation and the people of mankind.[35] The origin of these ideas can be traced back to Soekarno’s student time. This because during this time he came into contact with Ernest Douwes Dekker (1879-1950), Tjipto Mangunkusumo (1886-1943), and Ki Hadjar Dewantara (1889-1959). These people were the leaders of the Indische Partij, a political movement that put Indonesian nationalism before Marxism, Islam, and ethnic nationalism.[36]

III.II second part of the defence

The second section begins on page 89, and on pages 89-90, Soekarno defends himself against charges of disrupting public order and promoting hatred and falsehoods. Soekarno emphasises that there is no link between his speeches and deeds and the turmoil in the Indonesian archipelago. He assures the court that he did not cause the commotion. Unrest was already rife among the populace. This upheaval was sparked by misery created by the colonial government, which Soekarno had clearly described in the first half of his argument.[37]

Then he goes on to say that not only him, but others, were predicting a major event in 1930, and that the publications Sin-Po, Darmokondo, and an unnamed government-run newspaper were disseminating messages of unrest and dread. He claims to have actively spoken out against these messages. As a result, Soekarno argues that he did not contribute to the disruption of public order.[38]

Then, on pages 90-98, Soekarno denied that he was the one frightening people about the possibility of war in the Pacific. Soekarno expresses his belief in a future “Pacific War” in this passage. He claims that those are not his conjectures and falsehoods. Soekarno claims that all he did was regurgitate what European academic scholars were saying. Soekarno argues that he does not intend to instil fear in the people of the Dutch East Indies, but rather to prepare and strengthen them for the impending war. According to Soekarno, he was only playing the role of a warning prophet, he was like other individuals who had warned of war before 1914. He backs up this claim by referring to European scholars. He extensively points to parts from writings published by scholarly men. He cites the writings of German geopolitical scholar Karl Haushofer (1869-1946), British writer and naval officer Hector Bywater (1884-1940), and Swiss politician Ernst Reinhard (1889-1947). Soekarno further claims that on June 14, 1928, a Sulawesian professor named Dr. Ratu Langi (1890-1949) talked to the Volksraad about the impending Pacific War.[39]

After that, he goes on to say that the previously mentioned people discussed and wrote about the Pacific naval weapons race, the presence of strategic resources, and Japan’s resource scarcity. Soekarno further says that periodicals such as the Praengerbode and the Javabode propagated the notion of this impending Pacific War. So, in summary, Soekarno, according to himself, was not guilty of the allegations levelled against him. This is due to the fact that Soekarno only repeated what newspapers and scholars said.[40]

The only thing is that during rallies and speeches, Soekarno frequently invoked the idea of a Pacific war. During these, Soekarno frequently spoke about the rising likelihood of the Japanese empire clashing in the Pacific with the United States of America and the British empire. These hypotheses were connected by Soekarno to the Djojobojo prophesy. This prophecy predicted the white man’s demise at the hands of the yellow race. After this demise, someone referred to as ratoe adil would free Java. Japan, in Soekarno’s conception, would be the liberator, and he would be the ratoe adil.[41] So in a way Soekarno is disturbing the public order by actively preaching that the time for independence was soon at hand.

IV. Usefulness

This extensive resource may be utilised for a wide range of research purposes. This material, for example, may be used to learn how leaders of the anti-colonial resistance movement spoke, as well as the sorts of arguments and rhetorical techniques they employed. However, additional primary sources are required for this. By combining and analysing reading sources provided by other anti-colonial movement leaders in Dutch East-India, one may build a picture of how anti-colonial movement leaders in Dutch East-India thought and acted. However, Indonesië klaagt aan might be included in a wider research, such as one on anti-colonial movement leaders in Southeast Asia.

Furthermore, one may use Indonesië klaagt aan to uncover how Soekarno’s ideas, views, and thoughts have developed through time. This is because Soekarno condemned the Dutch of genocide and tyranny in the early half of his defence, but decades later he would commit the same things. By performing a study on Soekarno’s evolving perspectives, one may discover when and why his thoughts and beliefs evolved.

Another way to use the source Indonesië klaagt aan is in the study of colonial justice and the repression of anti-colonial movements. When this source is combined with other sources on justice and the punishment of anti-colonial movements, it is possible to reconstruct how the Dutch colonial administration attempted to punish and repress anti-colonial activities. The only downside of this source is that it does not show the reaction and the counterarguments of the court. So, in order to better portray what actually happened, one ought to find if other documents regarding to this trial survived.

V. Conclusion

Thus, in the end the answer to the question ‘What does Soekarno’s accuse the Dutch of doing, how does he accuse the Dutch and why does he accuse the Dutch of these actions in this way?’ is in hindsight quite clear. Soekarno is defending himself during his court trial. He defends himself against the accusations of being part of an organisation that plans to commit crimes, disturbing public order, and spreading hate and lies.

He defends himself by first demonstrating to the court that it was not he, but the Dutch, who were members of a criminal organisation. He clearly asserts and demonstrates, with the assistance of books and papers produced by European experts, that the Dutch committed crimes. Atrocities like as the ‘cultuurstelsel’ and the massacre on Banda. Soekarno also explains what was wrong with capitalism and why it was terrible in his opinion.

Soekarno is also defending himself against allegations of disrupting public order, inciting hatred, and lying. He does this by demonstrating to the court that he attempted to combat the increasing discontent generated by others. Then he goes on about a future conflict, referring to European experts and several publications that discussed the chances of a Pacific War. By doing so, he demonstrates that he did not claim anything, he just reiterated renowned European intellectuals and newspapers. In the end Soekarno tried to show the court the hypocrisy of the charges levied against him. He does this with a well augmented defence. This defence is long and contains many references to European scholars and other traceable sources.

[1] De arrestatie van Soekarno. “De Sumatra post”. Medan, 30-12-1929, p. 10. Delpher 22-06-2021,

[2] David van Reybrouck, Revolusi: Indonesië en het ontstaan van de moderne wereld (Amsterdam 2020) 123.

[3] Bob Herring ‘Indonesian Nationalism Revisited’, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 18 (1987) 2, 294-302, there 295-296.

[4] Herman Burgers, De garoeda en de ooievaar: Indonesië van kolonie tot nationale staat (Leiden 2010) 215.

[5] Van Reybrouck, Revolusi, 123

[6] Burgers, De garoeda en de ooievaar, 215.

[7] Soekarno, Indonesië klaagt aan!: pleitrede voor den landraad te Bandoeng op 2 December 1930 (Amsterdam 1931).

[8] Van Reybrouck, Revolusi, 38-39.

[9] Ibid., 40-41.

[10] Ibid., 80-84.

[11] Ibid., 85-87.

[12] Ibid., 95.

[13] Ibid., 101-102.

[14] Ibid., 104.

[15] Ibid., 98-100.

[16] Theodore Friend, Indonesian Destinies (Cambridge MA 2003), 24.

[17] M.C Ricklefs, A History of Modern Indonesia Since c.1200 (Ebbw Vale 2001) 228.

[18] Van Reybrouck, Revolusi, 98-100.

[19] Ricklefs, A History of Modern Indonesia Since c.1200, 230.

[20] Van Reybrouck, Revolusi, 121-122.

[21] Soekarno, Indonesië klaagt aan!., 3-4.

[22] Henri Chambre and David T. McLell, “Marxism” (version 24-03-2020), (23-06-2021).

[23] Burgers, De garoeda en de ooievaar, 215.

[24] Soekarno, Indonesië klaagt aan!, 8.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid., 9-17.

[27] Ibid.

[28]Ibid., 18-20.

[29] Hans Kohn, ‘Nationalism’ (version 28-10-2020), (30-06-2021).

[30] Soekarno, Indonesië klaagt aan!, 36-37.

[31] Ibid., 39.

[32] Ibid.,) 41.

[33] Benedict R. O’G. Anderson, ‘Bung Karno and the Fossilization of Soekarno’s Thought’ Indonesia 74 (2002), 1-19, there 3.

[34] Ibid., 5.

[35] Aminuddin, Katimin and Syukri, ‘Sukarno’s Thought about Marhaenism’, Budapest International Research and Critics Institute (BIRCI-Journal) Humanities and Social Sciences 2 (2019) 2, 420-426, there 420.

[36] M.C. Ricklefs, A History of Modern Indonesia Since c.1200 (Ebbw Vale 2001) 228.

[37] Soekarno, Indonesië klaagt aan!, 89-90

[38] Ibid., 89-90.

[39] Ibid., 90-98.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Burgers, De Garoeda en de ooievaar, 211-213.

Copyright © 2021

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