The Tan Malaka publishing industry seems undeterred by a flare up in anticommunist rhetoric
It is now just over a month since this year’s anniversary of the 30th September Affair, an abortive coup attempt carried out in 1965, it seems, by a group of military officers working with the leader of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) via trusted intermediaries. (Precise responsibility for the event is still hotly contested, but the above summary very crudely reflects the important analysis carried out by John Roosa; the Indonesian version of his book on the Affair can be downloaded for free at his blog).
As often happens around this time of year, the anniversary has seen an uptick in anti-communist rhetoric, this time compounded by political manoeuvring. It peaked with an ugly scene that saw a violent crowd gather and surround the building of the Legal Aid Foundation, where an event was being held that was supposedly about the PKI. Tear gas and a water cannon were needed to clear the protesters.
Yet whilst the anti-communist posturing has been ramped up, one can still find books relating to communism in some book stores. In particular, the image taken here is a recent photo from a popular book shop and shows a series of books by or about the revolutionary (and at one time leader of the PKI, although he later fell out with the party) Tan Malaka.
The presence of these books points to the complex position of Tan Malaka in Indonesian history. His early break with the PKI, and his premature death in 1949 meant that he was distanced from the most controversial events that have become totemic in Indonesian political discourse about Indonesian communism’s alleged treachery: the Madiun Affair of 1948 and the September 30th Affair mentioned above. Indeed Tan Malaka was made an official National Hero in 1963.
Yet even the factors mentioned above could not free him from the taint of communism under the ferociously anti-communist New Order military regime that emerged in the wake of the 30th September Affair, and he was effectively un-made a National Hero, being removed from the National Heroes Biography Book used in schools (this point is made by Asvi Warman Adam in his essay ‘History, Nationalism and Power’ in Vedi R. Hadiz & Daniel Dhakidae)(ed.), Social Science and Power in Indonesia).
Since the fall of the New Order, the situation has become more complex. Tan Malaka now has his place on the official website of the Heroes Centre (under the auspices of the wonderfully named Directorate of Heroism, Pathbreaking, Comradeship and Social Restoration).
This is not to say that Tan Malaka’s status is uncontroversial: there has been continued debate about how he should be viewed and whether he should be a National Hero. Indeed, in 2016 an show about Tan Malaka was cancelled following pressure from the easily angered Islamic Defenders Front. Yet, as my recent visit to the book shows, Tan Malaka’s voice cannot be silenced that easily.