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The Indonesian National Revolution or Indonesian War of Independence was an armed conflict and diplomatic struggle between Indonesiamarker and the Netherlandsmarker, and an internal social revolution. It took place between the time of Indonesia's declaration of independence in 1945 and the Netherlands' recognition of Indonesia's independence in 1949.

One of the largest revolutions of the twentieth century, the struggle lasted for over four years and involved sporadic but bloody armed conflict, internal Indonesian political and communal upheavals, and two major international diplomatic interventions. Dutch forces were too weak to prevail over the inexperienced but determined Indonesians, but strong enough to resist being expelled. Although Dutch forces could control the towns and cities in Republican heartlands on Java and Sumatra, they could not control villages and the countryside. Thus, the Republic of Indonesia ultimately prevailed as much through international diplomacy as it did through Indonesian determination in the armed conflicts on Javamarker and other islands, exhausting the Dutch economy.

The Revolution destroyed a colonial administrationmarker which had ruled from the other side of the world. It also significantly changed racial castes, as well as reducing the power of many of the local rulers (raja). It did not significantly improve the economic or political fortune of the majority of the population, though a few Indonesians were able to gain a larger role in commerce. Hopes for democracy and freedom were thwarted by the autocratic tendencies of the subsequent rulers.


Indonesian nationalism and movements supporting independence from Dutch colonialism, such as Budi Utomo, the Indonesian National Party (PNI), Sarekat Islam, and the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), grew rapidly in the first half of the twentieth century. Budi Utomo, Sarekat Islam and others pursued strategies of co-operation by joining the Dutch initiated Volksraad ("People's Council") in the hope that Indonesia would be granted self-rule. Others chose a non-cooperative strategy demanding the freedom of self-government from the Dutch East Indiesmarker colony. The most notable of these leaders were Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta, two students and nationalist leaders who had benefited from the educational reforms of the Dutch Ethical Policy.

Japan's three and a half year World War II occupation of Indonesia was to be a crucial factor in the coming Revolution. Under German occupation itself, the Netherlands had little ability to defend its colony against the Japanese army, and within only three months of their initial attacks, the Japanese had occupied the Dutch East Indies. In Java, and to a lesser extent in Sumatramarker (Indonesia's two dominant islands), the Japanese spread and encouraged nationalist sentiment. Although this was done more for the sake of Japanese political advantage than from altruistic support of Indonesian independence, this support created new Indonesian institutions (including local neighbourhood organisations) and elevated political leaders like Sukarno. Just as significantly for the coming Revolution, the Japanese destroyed and replaced much of the Dutch-created economic, administrative, and political infrastructure.

With the Japanese on the brink of losing the war, the Dutch sought to re-establish their authority in Indonesia, and requested the Japanese army "preserve law and order" in Indonesia. The Japanese, however, were in favour of helping Indonesian nationalists prepare for self-government. On 7 September 1944, with the war going badly for the Japanese, Prime Minister Koiso promised independence for Indonesia, although no date was set. This announcement was seen as immense vindication for Sukarno's apparent collaboration with the Japanese.

Independence declared

Under pressure from radical and politicised pemuda ('youth') groups, Sukarno and Hatta proclaimed Indonesian independence, on 17 August 1945, two days after the Japanese Emperor’s surrender in the Pacific. The following day, the Central Indonesian National Committee (KNIP) elected Sukarno as President, and Hatta as Vice President.

Euphoria of revolution


We, the people of Indonesia, hereby declare the independence of Indonesia.

Matters which concern the transfer of power and other things will be executed by careful means and in the shortest possible time.

Djakarta, 17 August 1945

In the name of the people of Indonesia,

[signed] Soekarno—Hatta

(Translation by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, October 1948)
It was mid-September before news of the declaration of independence spread to the outer islands, and many Indonesians far from the capital Jakartamarker did not believe it. As the news spread, ordinary Indonesians felt a sense of freedom that led most to regard themselves as pro-Republican, and the elation of revolution swept across the country. External power had shifted; it would be weeks before Allied Forces entered Indonesia, and the Dutch were too weakened by World War Two. The Japanese, on the other hand, were required by the terms of the surrender to both lay down their arms and maintain order; a contradiction that some resolved by handing weapons to Japanese-trained Indonesians. The resulting power vacuums in the weeks following the Japanese surrender, created an atmosphere of uncertainty, but also one of opportunity.

Many pemuda joined pro-Republic struggle groups (badan perjuangan). The most disciplined were soldiers from the Japanese-formed but disbanded Giyugun (PETA) and Heiho groups. Many groups were undisciplined, due to both the circumstances of their formation and what they perceived as revolutionary spirit. In the first weeks, Japanese troops often withdrew from urban areas to avoid confrontations. By September 1945, control of major infrastructure installations, including railway stations and trams in Java's largest cities, had been taken over by Republican pemuda who encountered little Japanese resistance. To spread the Revolution message, pemuda set up their own radio stations and newspapers, and graffiti proclaimed the nationalist sentiment. On most islands, struggle committees and militia were set up. Republican newspapers and journals were common in Jakarta, Yogyakartamarker, and Surakartamarker, which fostered a generation of writers known as angkatan 45 ('generation of 45') many of whom believed their work could be part of the Revolution.

Republican leaders struggled to come to terms with popular sentiment; some wanted passionate armed struggle; others a more reasoned approach. Some leaders, such as the leftist Tan Malaka, spread the idea that this was a revolutionary struggle to be led and won by the Indonesian pemuda. Sukarno and Hatta, in contrast, were more interested in planning out a government and institutions to achieve independence through diplomacy. Massive fiery pro-Revolution demonstrations took place in large cities, including one led by Tan Malaka in Jakarta with over 200,000 people, which Sukarno and Hatta, fearing violence, successfully quelled.

By September 1945, many of the self-proclaimed pemuda, who were ready to die for '100% freedom', were getting impatient. It was common for ethnic 'out-groups' - Dutch internees, Eurasian, Ambonesemarker and Chinese - and anyone considered to be a spy, to be subjected to intimidation, kidnap, robbery, and sometimes murder, even organised massacres. Such attacks would continue to some extent for the course of the Revolution.Reid (1974), page 49; Mochtar Lubis, Jalan Tak Ada (Jakarta: Yayasan Obot Indonesia, 2002) [originally published 1952]), p.78; Anthony Reid, Indonesian National Revolution (Hawthorn, Vic.: Longman, 1974), chs. 2 and 3; Shirley Fenton-Huie, The Forgotten Ones: Women and Children Under Nippon (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1992); Anthony Reid, 'Indonesia: revolution without socialism', in Robin Jeffrey (ed.), Asia: the Winning of Independence (London: MacMillan, 1981), pp. 107-57. As the level of violence increased across the country, the Sukarno- and Hatta-led Republican government in Jakarta urged calm. However, pemuda in favour of armed struggle saw the older leadership as dithering and betraying the Revolution, which often led to conflict amongst Indonesians.

Formation of the Republican government

By the end of August, a central Republican government had been established in Jakarta. It adopted a constitution drafted during the Japanese occupation by the Preparatory Committee for Indonesian Independence. With general elections yet to be held, a Central Indonesian National Committee (KNIP) was appointed to assist the President. Similar committees were established at provincial and regency levels.

Questions of allegiance immediately arose amongst indigenous rulers; Central Javanesemarker principalities, for example, immediately declared themselves Republican, while many raja ('rulers') of the outer islands, who had been enriched from their support of the Dutch, were less enthusiastic. Such reluctance among many outer islands was sharpened by the radical, non-aristocratic, and sometimes Islamic nature of the Java-centric Republican leadership. Support did, however, come from South Sulawesimarker (including the King of Bone, who still recalled battles against the Dutch from early in the century), and from Makassarese and Bugis raja, who supported the Republican Governor of Jakarta, a Menadonesemarker Christian. Many Balinesemarker raja accepted Republican authority.

Fearing the Dutch would attempt to re-establish their authority over Indonesia, the new Republican Government and its leaders moved quickly to strengthen the fledgling administration. Within Indonesia, the newly formed government, although enthusiastic, was fragile and focused in Java (where focused at all). It was rarely and loosely in contact with the outer islands, which had more Japanese troops (particularly in Japanese navy areas), less sympathetic Japanese commanders, and fewer Republican leaders and activists. In November 1945, a parliamentary form of government was established and Sjahrir was appointed Prime Minister.

In the week following the Japanese surrender, the Giyugun (PETA) and Heiho groups were disbanded by the Japanese. Command structures and membership vital for a national army were consequently dismantled. Thus, rather than being formed from a trained, armed, and organised army, the Republican armed forces began to grow in September from usually younger, less trained groups built around charismatic leaders. Creating a rational military structure that was obedient to central authority from such disorganisation, was one of the major problems of the revolution, a problem that remains through to contemporary times. In the self-created Indonesian army, Japanese-trained Indonesian officers prevailed over those trained by the Dutch. A thirty year-old former school teacher, Sudirman, was elected 'commander-in-chief' at the first meeting of Division Commanders in Yogyakarta on 12 November 1945.

Allied counter revolution

Dutch opposition to independence

The Dutch accused Sukarno and Hatta of collaborating with the Japanese, and denounced the Republic as a creation of Japanese fascism. The Dutch East Indies administration had just received a ten million dollar loan from the United Statesmarker to finance its return to Indonesia.

Allied occupation

A soldier of an Indian armoured regiment examines a light tank used by Indonesian nationalists and captured by British forces during the fighting in Surabaya.
The Netherlands, however, was critically weakened from World War II in Europe and did not return as a significant military force until early 1946. The Japanese and members of the Allied forces reluctantly agreed to act as caretakers. As US forces were focusing on the Japanese home islands, the archipelago was put under the jurisdiction of Britishmarker Admiral Earl Louis Mountbatten, the supreme Allied commander in Southeast Asia. Allied enclaves already existed in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneomarker), Morotaimarker (Malukumarker) and parts of Irian Jayamarker; Dutch administrators had already returned to these areas. In the Japanese navy areas, the arrival of Allied troops quickly prevented revolutionary activities where Australian troops, followed by Dutch troops and administrators, took the Japanese surrender (except for Balimarker and Lombokmarker).

The British were charged with restoring order and civilian government in Java. The Dutch took this to mean pre-war colonial administration and continued to claim sovereignty over Indonesia. British Commonwealth troops did not, however, land on Java to accept the Japanese surrender until late September 1945. Lord Mountbatten’s immediate tasks included the repatriation of some 300,000 Japanese, and freeing prisoners of war. He did not want, nor did he have the resources, to commit his troops to a long struggle to regain Indonesia for the Dutch. The first British troops reached Jakarta in late September 1945, and arrived in Medanmarker (North Sumatramarker), Padangmarker (West Sumatramarker), Palembangmarker (South Sumatramarker), Semarangmarker (Central Javamarker) and Surabayamarker (East Java) in October. In an attempt to avoid clashes with Indonesians, the British commander Lieutenant General Sir Philip Christison, diverted soldiers of the former Dutch colonial army to eastern Indonesia, where Dutch reoccupation was proceeding smoothly. Tensions mounted as Allied troops entered Java and Sumatra; clashes broke out between Republicans and their perceived enemies, namely Dutch prisoners, Dutch colonial troops , Chinese, Indo-Europeans and Japanese. The first stages of warfare were initiated in October 1945 when, in accordance with the terms of their surrender, the Japanese tried to re-establish the authority they relinquished to Indonesians in the towns and cities. Japanese military police killed Republican pemuda in Pekalonganmarker (Central Java) on 3 October, and Japanese troops drove Republican pemuda out of Bandungmarker in West Javamarker and handed the city to the British, but the fiercest fighting involving the Japanese was in Semarang. On October 14, British forces began to occupy the city. Retreating Republican forces retaliated by killing between 130 and 300 Japanese prisoners they were holding. Five hundred Japanese and 2000 Indonesians had been killed and the Japanese had almost captured the city six days later when British forces arrived.

The British subsequently decided to evacuate the 10,000 Indo-Europeans and European internees in the volatile Central Java interior. British detachments sent to the towns of Ambarawamarker and Magelangmarker encountered strong Republican resistance and used air attacks against the Indonesians. Sukarno arranged a ceasefire on November 2, but by late November fighting had resumed and the British withdrew to the coast. Republican attacks against Allied and alleged pro-Dutch civilians reached a peak in November and December, with 1,200 killed in Bandung as the pemuda returned to the offensive. In March 1946, departing Republicans responded to a British ultimatum for them to leave the city of Bandung by deliberately burning down much of the southern half of the city in what is popularly known in Indonesia as the "Bandung Sea of Fire". The last British troops left Indonesia in November 1946, but by this time 55,000 Dutch troops had landed in Java.

Battle of Surabaya

The Battle of Surabaya was the heaviest single battle of the Revolution and became a national symbol of Indonesian resistance. Pemuda groups in Surabaya, the second largest city in Indonesia, seized arms and ammunition from the Japanese and set up two new organisations; the Indonesia National Committee (KNI) and the People's Security Council (BKR). By the time the Allied forces arrived at the end of October 1945, the pemuda foothold in Surabaya city was described as "a strong unified fortress".
The city itself was in pandemonium.
There was bloody hand-to-hand fighting on every street corner.
Bodies were strewn everywhere.
Decapitated, dismembered trunks lay piled one on top of the other...Indonesians were shooting and stabbing and murdering wildly


In September and October 1945 the ugly side of revolution surfaced with a series of incidents involving pro-Dutch Eurasians, and atrocities committed by Indonesian mobs against European internees. Ferocious fighting erupted when 6,000 British Indianmarker troops landed in the city. Sukarno and Hatta negotiated a ceasefire between the Republicans and the British forces led by Brigadier Mallaby. Following the killing of Mallaby on 30 October, the British sent more troops into the city from 10 November under the cover of air attacks. Although the European forces largely captured the city in three days, the poorly armed Republicans fought on for three weeks and thousands died as the population fled to the countryside.

Despite the military defeat suffered by the Republicans and a loss of manpower and weaponry that would severely hamper Republican forces for the rest of the Revolution, the battle and defence mounted by the Indonesians galvanised the nation in support of independence and helped garner international attention. For the Dutch, it removed any doubt that the Republic was not simply a gang of collaborators without popular support. It also had the effect of convincing Britain that wisdom lay on the side of neutrality in the Revolution; within a few years, in fact, Britain would support the Republican cause in the United Nations.

The Dutch return

With British assistance, the Dutch landed their Netherlands Indies Civil Administration (NICA) forces in Jakarta and other key centres. Republican sources reported 8,000 deaths up to January 1946 in the defence of Jakarta, but the city could not be held. The Republican leadership thus established themselves in the city of Yogyakartamarker with the crucial support of the new sultan, Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX. Yogyakarta went on to play a leading role in the Revolution, which would result in the city being granted its own Special Territory status. In Bogormarker, near Jakarta, and in Balikpapanmarker in Kalimantan, Republican officials were imprisoned. In preparation for Dutch occupation of Sumatra, its largest cities, Palembang and Medan, were bombed. In December 1946, Dutch Special Troops (KST), led by commando and counter-insurgency expert Captain Raymond 'Turk' Westerling, were accused of trying to pacify the southern Sulawesimarker region using arbitrary terror techniques, which were copied by other anti-Republicans. As many as 3,000 Republican militia and their supporters were killed in a few weeks.

On Java and Sumatra, Dutch military success was limited to major cities and towns, but they were unable to subdue the villages and countryside. On the outer islands (including Bali), Republican sentiment was not as strong, at least among the elite. They were consequently occupied by the Dutch with comparative ease, and autonomous states were set up by the Dutch. The largest, the State of East Indonesia (NIT), encompassed most of eastern Indonesia, and was established in December 1946, with its administrative capital in Makassarmarker.

Diplomacy and military offensives

Linggadjati Agreement

The Linggadjati Agreement, brokered by the British and concluded in November 1946, saw the Netherlands recognise the Republic as the de-facto authority over Java, Maduramarker, and Sumatra. Both parties agreed to the formation of the 'United States of Indonesia' by 1 January 1949, a semi-autonomous federal state with the Monarchy of the Netherlands at its head. The Republican-controlled Java and Sumatra would be one of its states, alongside areas that were generally under stronger Dutch influence: southern Kalimantan; and the 'Great East' consisting of Sulawesi, Maluku, the Lesser Sunda Islandsmarker, and Western New Guineamarker. The Central National Committee of Indonesia (KNIP) did not ratify the agreement until February 1947, and neither the Republic nor the Dutch were happy with it. On March 25, 1947 the Lower House of the Dutch parliament ratified a 'stripped down' version of the treaty, which was not accepted by the Republic. Both sides soon accused each other of violating the agreement.
...[the Republic] became increasingly disorganised internally; party leaders fought with party leaders; governments were over thrown and replaced by others; armed groups acted on their own in local conflicts; certain parts of the Republic never had contact with the centre-they just drifted along in their own way.

The whole situation deteriorated to such an extent that the Dutch Government was obliged to decide that no progress could be made before law and order were restored sufficiently to make intercourse between the different parts of Indonesia possible, and to guarantee the safety of people of different political opinions.

—former East Indies Governor H.

J. van Mook's justification for the first Dutch "police action".

Operation Product

The Dutch launched a major military offensive it called Operatie Product at midnight on 20 July 1947 with the intent of conquering the Republic. Claiming violations of the Linggajati Agreement the Dutch described the campaign as Politionele acties ('police actions') to restore law and order. This used to be the task of the KNIL. However, at the time the majority of the Dutch troops in Indonesia belonged to the Royal Netherlands Army. Soon after the end of WWII, 25,000 volunteers (among them 5,000 marines) had been sent overseas. They were later followed by larger numbers of conscripts from the Netherlands. In the offensive, Dutch forces drove Republican troops out of parts of Sumatra, and East and West Java. The Republicans were confined to the Yogyakarta region of Java. To maintain their force in Java, now numbering 100,000 troops, the Dutch gained control of lucrative Sumatran plantations, and oil and coal installations, and in Java, control of all deep water ports.

International reaction to the Dutch actions was negative. Newly-independent Indiamarker and neighbouring Australia were particularly active in supporting the Republic's cause in the UN, as was the Soviet Unionmarker and, most significantly, the United States. Dutch ships continued to be boycotted from loading and unloading by Australian waterside workers, a blockade that began in September 1945. The United Nations Security Council became directly involved in the conflict, establishing a Good Offices Committee to sponsor further negotiations, making the Dutch diplomatic position particularly difficult. A ceasefire, called for by UN resolution, was ordered by the Dutch and Sukarno on 4 August 1947.

Renville Agreement

The United Nations Security Council brokered the Renville Agreement in attempt to rectify the collapsed Linggarjati Agreement. The agreement was ratified in January 1948 and recognised a cease-fire along the so-called 'van Mook line'; an artificial line which connected up the most advanced Dutch positions. Many Republican positions, however, were still held behind the Dutch lines. The agreement also required referenda to be held on the political future of the Dutch held areas. The apparent reasonableness of Republicans garnered much important American goodwill.

Diplomatic efforts between the Netherlands and the Republic continued throughout 1948 and 1949. Political pressures, both domestic and international, hindered Dutch attempts at goal formulation; similarly Republican leaders faced great difficulty in persuading their people to accept diplomatic concessions. By July 1948 negotiations were in deadlock and the Netherlands pushed unilaterally towards Van Mook’s federal Indonesia concept. The new federal states of South Sumatra and East Java were created, although neither had a viable support base. The Netherlands set up the Bijeenkomst voor Federaal Overleg (BFO) (or 'Federal Consultative Assembly'), a body comprising the leadership of the federal states, and charged with the formation of a United States of Indonesia and an interim government by the end of 1948. The Dutch plans, however, had no place for the Republic unless it accepted a minor role already defined for it. Later plans included Java and Sumatra but dropped all mention of the Republic. The main sticking point in the negotiations was the balance of power between the Netherlands High Representative and the Republican forces.

Mutual distrust between the Netherlands and the Republic plagued negotiations; the Republic feared a second major Dutch offensive, while the Dutch objected to continued Republican activity on the Dutch side of the Renville line. In February 1948 the Siliwangi Battalion of the Republican Army, led by Nasution, marched from West Java to Central Java; the relocation was intended to ease internal Republican tensions involving the Battalion in the Surakarta area. The Battalion, however, clashed with Dutch troops while crossing Mount Slametmarker, and the Dutch naturally believed it was part of a systematic troop movement across the Renville Line. The fear of such incursions actually succeeding, along with apparent Republican undermining of the Dutch-established Pasudan state and negative reports, lead to the Dutch leadership increasingly seeing itself as losing control.

Operation Crow and Serangan Umum

We have been attacked....The Dutch government have betrayed the cease-fire agreement.
All the Armed Forces will carry out the plans which have been decided on to confront the Dutch attack

General Sudirman, broadcast from his sickbed.

Frustrated at negotiations with the Republic and believing it weakened by both the Darul Islam and Madiunmarker insurgencies (see below), the Dutch launched a military offensive on 19 December 1948 which it termed 'Operatie Kraai' (Operation Crow). By the following day it had conquered Yogyakarta, the location of the temporary Republican capital. By the end of December, all major Republican held cities in Java and Sumatra were in Dutch hands. The Republican President, Vice President, and all but six Republic of Indonesia ministers were captured by Dutch troops and exiled on Bangka Islandmarker off the east coast of Sumatra. In areas surrounding Yogyakarta and Surakarta, Republican forces refused to surrender and continued to wage a guerrilla war under the leadership of Republican military chief of staff General Sudirman who had escaped the Dutch offensives. An emergency Republican government, the Pemerintahan Darurat Republik Indonesia (PDRI), was established in West Sumatra.

Although Dutch forces conquered the towns and cities in Republican heartlands on Java and Sumatra, they could not control villages and the countryside. Republican troops and militia led by Lt. Colonel (later President) Suharto attacked Dutch positions in Yogyakarta at dawn on 1 March 1949. The Dutch were expelled from the city for six hours but reinforcements were brought in from the nearby cities of Ambarawa and Semarang that afternoon. Indonesian fighters retreated at 12:00 pm and the Dutch re-entered the city. The Indonesian attack, later known in Indonesia as Serangan Umum ('1 March Public Attack'), is commemorated by a large monument in Yogyakarta. A similar attack against Dutch troops in Surakartamarker was led by Lt. Col. Slamet Riyadi on 7 August the same year.

Once again, international opinion of the Dutch military campaigns was one of outrage, significantly in both the United Nations and the United States. In January 1949, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution demanding the reinstatement of the Republican government. United States aid specifically earmarked for the Netherlands' Indonesia efforts was immediately cancelled and pressure mounted within the American Congress for all United States aid to be cut off. This included Marshall Plan funds vital for Dutch post-World War II rebuilding that had so far totalled US$ 1 billion. The Netherlands Government had spent an amount equivalent to almost half of this funding their campaigns in Indonesia. That United States aid could be used to fund "a senile and ineffectual imperialism" encouraged many key voices in the United States - including those amongst the Republican Party - and from within American churches and NGOs to speak out in support of Indonesian independence.

Internal turmoil

Social revolutions

The so-called 'social revolutions' following the independence proclamation were challenges to the Dutch-established Indonesian social order, and to some extent a result of the resentment against Japanese-imposed policies. Across the country, people rose up against traditional aristocrats and village heads and attempted to exert popular ownership of land and other resources. The majority of the social revolutions ended quickly; in most cases the challenges to the social order were quashed.

A culture of violence rooted in the deep conflicts that split the countryside under Dutch rule would repeatedly erupt throughout the whole second half of the twentieth century. The term 'social revolution' has been applied to a range of mostly violent activities of the left that included both altruistic attempts to organise real revolution and simple expressions of revenge, resentment and assertions of power. Violence was one of the many lessons learned from the Japanese, and figures identified as 'feudal', including kings, regents, or simply the wealthy, were often attacked, sometimes beheaded, and rape became a weapon against 'feudal' women. In the coastal sultanates of Sumatra and Kalimantan, for example, sultans and others whose authority had been shored-up by the Dutch, were attacked as soon as Japanese authority left. The secular local lords of Acehmarker, who had been the foundation of Dutch rule, were executed, although most of Indonesia's sultanates fell back into Dutch hands.

Most Indonesians lived in fear and uncertainty, particularly a significant proportion of the population who supported the Dutch or who remained under Dutch control. The popular revolutionary cry 'Freedom or Death' was often interpreted to justify killings under claimed Republican authority. Traders were often in particularly difficult positions. On the one hand, they were pressured by Republicans to boycott all sales to the Dutch; on the other hand, Dutch police could be merciless in their efforts to stamp out smugglers on which the Republican economy depended. In some areas, the term kedaulatan rakyat ('exercising the sovereignty of the people') - which is mentioned in the preamble of the Constitution and used by pemuda to demand pro-active policies from leaders - came to be used not only in the demanding of free goods, but also to justify extortion and robbery. Chinese merchants, in particular, were often forced to keep their goods at artificially low prices under threat of death.

Communist and Islamist insurgencies

On 18 September 1948 an 'Indonesian Sovietmarker Republic' was declared in Madiunmarker, east of Yogyakarta, by members of the PKI and the Indonesian Socialist Party (PSI). Judging the times as right for a proletarian uprising, they intended it to be a rallying centre for revolt against "Sukarno-Hatta, the slaves of the Japanese and America". Madiun however was won back by Republican forces within a few weeks and the insurgency leader, Musso, killed. RM Suryo, the governor of East Java, several police officers and religious leaders were killed by the rebels. This ended a perilous distraction for the Revolution, and significantly, it turned vague American sympathies based on anti-colonial sentiments into diplomatic support. Internationally, the Republic was now seen as being staunchly anti-communist and a potential ally in the brewing global Cold War between the American-led 'free world' and the Soviet-led bloc.

Members of the Republican Army who had come from Indonesian Hizbullah felt betrayed by Indonesian Government. In May 1948, they declared a break-away regime, the Negara Islam Indonesia (Indonesian Islamic State), better known as Darul Islam. Led by an Islamic mystic, S M Kartosuwirjo, Darul Islam sought to establish Indonesia as an Islamic theocracy. At the time, the Republican Government did not respond as they were focused on the threat from the Dutch. Some leaders of Masjumi even sympathised with the rebellion. After the Republic regained all territories in 1950, the government took the Darul Islam threat seriously, especially after some provinces declared their joining of Darul Islam. The rebellion was put down in 1962.

Transfer of sovereignty

Millions upon millions flooded the sidewalks, the roads.
They were crying, cheering, screaming "...Long live Bung Karno..."
They clung to the sides of the car, the hood, the running boards.
They grabbed at me to kiss my fingers.
Soldiers beat a path for me to the topmost step of the big white palace. There I raised both hands high. A stillness swept over the millions."Alhamdulillah - Thank God," I cried. "We are free"

Sukarno's recollections of independence achieved.

The resilience of Indonesian Republican resistance and active international diplomacy set world opinion against the Dutch efforts to re-establish their colony. The second 'police action' was a diplomatic disaster for the Dutch cause. The newly appointed United States Secretary of State Dean Acheson pushed the Netherlands government into negotiations earlier recommended by the United Nations but until then defied by the Netherlands. The Dutch–Indonesian Round Table Conference was held in The Hague from 23 August 1949 to 2 November 1949 between the Republic, the Netherlands, and the Dutch-created federal states. The Netherlands agreed to recognise Indonesian sovereignty over a new federal state known as the 'United States of Indonesia' (RUSI). It would include all the territory of the former Dutch East Indies with the exception of Netherlands New Guinea; sovereignty over which it was agreed would be retained by the Netherlands until further negotiations with Indonesia. The other difficult issue to which Indonesia gave concessions was Netherlands East Indies debt. Indonesia agreed to responsibility for this sum of £4.3 billion, much of which was directly attributable to Dutch attempts to crush the Revolution. Sovereignty was formally transferred on 27 December 1949, and the new state was immediately recognised by the United States of America.

Republican-controlled Java and Sumatra together formed a single state in the sixteen-state RUSI federation, but accounted for almost half its population. The other fifteen 'federal' states had been created by the Netherlands since 1945. These states were dissolved into the Republic over the first half of 1950. An abortive anti-Republic coup in Bandung led by the infamous Westerling on 23 January 1950 resulted in the dissolution of the populous Pasudan state in West Java, thus quickening the dissolution of the federal structure. Colonial soldiers, who were largely Ambonese, clashed with Republican troops in Makassarmarker in April 1950. The predominantly Christian Ambonese were from one of the few regions with pro-Dutch sentiments and they were suspicious of the Javanese Muslim-dominated Republic, whom they unfavourably regarded as leftists. On 25 April 1950, an independent Republic of South Maluku (RMS) was proclaimed in Ambon but this was suppressed by Republic troops during a campaign from July to November. With the state of East Sumatra now being the only federal state remaining, it too folded and fell in line with the unitary Republic. On 17 August 1950, the fifth anniversary of his declaration of Indonesian independence, Sukarno proclaimed the Republic of Indonesia as a unitary state.


Although there is no accurate account of how many Indonesians died, they died in far greater numbers than their enemies, and many died at the hands of other Indonesians. Estimates of Indonesian deaths in fighting range from 45,000 to 100,000 and civilian casualties exceeded 25,000 and may have been as high as 100,000. A total of 1,200 British soldiers were killed or went missing in Java and Sumatra in 1945 and 1946, most of them Indian soldiers. More than 5000 Dutch soldiers lost their lives in Indonesia between 1945 and 1949. Many more Japanese died; in Bandung alone, 1,057 died, only half of whom died in actual combat, the rest killed in rampages by Indonesians. Tens of thousands of Chinese and Eurasians were killed or left homeless, despite the fact that many Chinese supported the Revolution. 7 million people were displaced on Java and Sumatra.

The Revolution had direct effects on economic conditions; shortages were common, particularly food, clothing and fuel. There were in effect two economies - the Dutch and the Republican - both of which had to simultaneously rebuild after World War II and survive the disruptions of the Revolution. The Republic had to set up all necessities of life, ranging from 'postage stamps, army badges, and train tickets' whilst subject to Dutch trade blockades. Confusion and ruinous inflationary surges resulted from competing currencies; Japanese, new Dutch money, and Republican currencies were all used, often concurrently.

Indonesian independence would not have been secured without the successful (albeit often fortuitous) blend of both diplomacy and force. Without pemuda courage confronting colonial forces (both foreign and Indonesian) (and their ill-discipline raising the spectre of anarchy), Republican diplomatic efforts would have been futile. In comparison with the Vietnamesemarker experiences, where the courage of their combatants was comparable with Indonesia's yet independence achieved much later, Indonesia's superior diplomacy is evident.Most significantly, however, the Revolution is the turning point of modern Indonesian history, and it has provided the reference point and validation for the country’s major political trends that continue to the present day. It gave impetus to communism in the country, to militant nationalism, to Sukarno's 'guided democracy', to political Islam, the origins of the Indonesian army and its role in Indonesian power, the country's constitutional arrangements, and the centralism (as distinct to regionalism) of power in Indonesia.

The revolution destroyed a colonial administration ruled from the other side of the world, and dismantled with it the raja, by many seen as obsolete and powerless. Also, it relaxed the rigid racial and social categorisations of colonial Indonesia. Tremendous energies and aspirations were created amongst Indonesians; a new creative surge was seen in writing and art, as was a great demand for education and modernisation. It did not, however, significantly improve the economic or political fortune of the population’s poverty-stricken peasant majority; only a few Indonesians were able to gain a larger role in commerce, and hopes for democracy were dashed within a decade.


General references

  • Ricklefs, M.C. A History of Modern Indonesia Since c. 1300. Second Edition. MacMillan, 1991.

Further reading

  • Heijboer, Pierre (1979). De Politionele Acties, Fibula-van Dishoeck, Haarlem (richly illustrated with a military focus, in Dutch)
  • Ide Anak Agug Gde Agung (1996) (translated to English by Linda Owens)From the Formation of the State of East Indonesia Towards the Establishment of the United States of Indonesia Jakarta: Yayasan Obor Indonesia ISBN 979-461-216-2 (Original edition Dari Negara Indonesia Timur ke Republic Indonesia Serikat 1985 Gadjah Mada University Press)
  • Jong, Dr. L. de (1988). Het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in de Tweede Wereldoorlog, deel 12, Sdu, 's-Gravenhage (an authoritative standard text on both the political and military aspects, in Dutch)


  1. Friend (2003), page 35
  2. Friend (2003), page 35
  3. Vickers (2005), page 85
  4. Ricklefs (1991), page 207
  5. Ricklefs (1991), page 213; * ; Reid (1973), page 30
  6. Ricklefs (1991), pages 214 - 215
  7. Friend (2003), page 32; Robert Cribb, 'A revolution delayed: the Indonesian Republic and the Netherlands Indies, August-November 1945', Australian Journal of Politics and History 32 no. 1 (1986), pp. 72-85.
  8. Friend (2003), page 32
  9. Ricklefs (1991), pages 215 - 216
  10. Vickers (2005), page 97
  11. Ricklefs (1991), page 214
  12. Friend (2003), page 33
  13. Ricklefs (1991), page 215
  14. Most PETA and Heiho members did not yet know about the declaration of independence.
  15. Friend (2003), page 35
  16. Reid (1974), page 78
  17. Ricklefs (1991), page 216
  18. Ricklefs (1991), page 216;
  19. Reid (1973), page 54
  20. Ricklefs (1991), page 217
  21. Vickers (2005), page 99
  22. Indonesia Law No. 5/1974 Concerning Basic Principles on Administration in the Region (translated version). The President of Republic of Indonesia (1974). Chapter VII Transitional Provisions, Art. 91.
  23. Ricklefs (1991), page 224
  24. Ricklefs (1991), page 226
  25. Reid (1974), page 149
  26. Reid (1974), page 150
  27. Reid (1974), pages 149 - 151
  28. originally cited in Siliwangi dari masa kemasa, p. 279, taken from Reid (1974), page 152
  29. Reid (1973), page 153
  30. Reid (1974)
  31. Friend (2003), page 37
  32. Friend (2003), page 38
  33. Vickers (2005), pages 101 - 104
  34. Reid (1974), page 60
  35. Ricklefs (1991), page 230
  36. Reid (1974), pages 170-172; Ricklefs (1991), pages 232-233;
  37. Friend, Bill personal comment 22/04/04; ; Nyoman S. Pendit, Bali Berjuang (2nd edn Jakarta:Gunung Agung, 1979 [original edn 1954]); Reid (1973), page 58,n.25, page 119,n.7, page 120,n.17, page 148,n.25 and n.37; Pramoedya Anwar Toer, Koesalah Soebagyo Toer and Ediati Kamil Kronik Revolusi Indonesia [Jakarta: Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia, vol. I (1945); vol. II (1946) 1999; vol. III (1947); vol. IV (1948) 2003]; Ann Stoler, Capitalism and Confrontation in Sumatra's Plantation Belt, 1870-1979 (New Haven:Yale University Press, 1985), p103.; all cited in Vickers (2005), page 100
  38. Vickers (2005), page 101
  39. Reid (1974), pages 170 - 171

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