Political Islam in changing times Sarekat Islam and Masyumi under the Dutch and Japanese occupations (1930-1945)

Djadi, berdiri di luar, bukan berdiam diri!! (So, we stand outside, we are not staying silent!!)[1]

The same forces that had ensured economic growth and prosperity in the 1920s were, a decade later, pulling the Indies down the road towards stagnation. The Great Depression that hit the West inevitably reached the colonies, stalling exports of manufactured goods and crop production. Schools were producing thousands of unemployable graduates, and trained clerks were forced to take up menial jobs, while older employees were fired to make room for younger (cheaper) workers. Nonetheless, in urban Java real wages increased, socio-economic conditions were no worse than usual and the general economic distress did not stir political discontent, much to the surprise of colonial authorities and nationalist leaders alike.[2]

The 1930s were characterized by the further fragmentation of the nationalist movement, which experienced external pressure from the heavy-handed colonial authorities, as well as internal pressure from the movement’s own inability to find solid common ground for a unified front. For Partai Sarekat Islam Indonesia, this decade marked its isolation from mainstream politics, as the party pulled out of PPPKI’s ‘brown front’,[3] rejected any form of cooperation with the Dutch and, under Kartosuwiryo’s guidance, became increasingly concerned with Islamic politics.

Sarekat Islam’s commitment to non-cooperation is often considered an earthquake second in damage only to the split between the ‘red’ and ‘white’ wings that occurred in 1923, as membership dropped, leaders were expelled and splinter parties mushroomed.

Yet, as anticipated by the changes in the party statutes in December 1929, the 1930s should also be seen as a time when the religious soul of the party gained prominence, ‘freed’ as it was both from the controlling hand of Tjokroaminoto, who died in 1934, and from diplomatic efforts to establish a common strategy with the secularists. Even as Japan took over Java and Sumatra in 1942, effectuating major changes in the independence movement, the two groups were to remain separated, each with its own ideological and strategic concerns.

  • [1] Kartosuwiryo, Sikap hidjrah PSII, 1936.
  • [2] John Ingleson, ‘Urban Java during the depression’, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 19-2(September 1988): pp. 292-309.
  • [3] Soekarno had begun to refer to a ‘brown front’ in late 1927, in opposition to Dutch talks ofestablishing a blank front (white front) under the leadership of the hardliner H.C. Zentgraff; seeHering, Soekarno: Founding father, pp. 134-4.
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