Amir Sjarifuddin

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Amir Sjarifoeddin
Amir Sjarifoeddin.jpg
2nd Prime Minister of Indonesia
In office
3 July 1947 – 29 January 1948
Preceded bySutan Sjahrir
Succeeded byMohammad Hatta
3rd Minister of Defence of the Republic of Indonesia
In office
14 November 1945 – 29 January 1948
Preceded byImam Muhammad Suliyoadikusumo
Succeeded byMohammad Hatta
1st Minister for Communications and Information of the Republic of Indonesia
In office
2 September 1945 – 12 March 1946
Preceded byOffice created
Succeeded byMuhammad Natsir
Personal details
Amir Syarifuddin Harahap

(1907-04-27)27 April 1907
Medan, North Sumatra, Dutch East Indies
Died19 December 1948(1948-12-19) (aged 41)
Soerakarta, Central Java, Indonesia
Cause of deathExecution by shooting
Political partySocialist Party
Communist Party of Indonesia

Amir Sjarifuddin Harahap, also spelled Amir Sjarifoeddin Harahap (27 April 1907 – 19 December 1948) was a socialist politician and one of the Indonesian Republic's first leaders, becoming Prime Minister during the country's National Revolution.[1] A Christian convert from a Muslim Batak family, Amir was a major leader of the Left during the Revolution. He was executed in 1948 by Indonesian Republican officers following his involvement in a Communist revolt.

Early life[edit]

Born into Sumatran aristocracy in the city of Medan, Amir's wealthy background and outstanding intellectual abilities allowed him to enter the most elite schools; he was educated in Haarlem and Leiden in the Netherlands before gaining a law degree in Batavia (now Jakarta).[1] During his time in the Netherlands he studied Eastern and Western philosophy under the tutelage of the Theosophical Society.[1] Amir converted from Islam to Christianity in 1931.[1] There is evidence of sermons he gave in the largest Protestant church in Batak Batavia.

Dutch East Indies and Japanese Occupation[edit]

In the early 1930s, Amir was active in literary and journalist circles, joining the editorial board of the newspaper Panorama, together with Liem Koen Hian, Sanusi Pane and Mohammad Yamin.[2][3] In mid-1936, together with his colleagues Liem, Pane and Yamin, Amir started another newspaper, Kebangoenan (1936–1941), which—as with Panorama—was published by Phoa Liong Gie's Siang Po Printing Press.[2]

In 1937, towards the end of the Dutch period, Amir led a group of younger Marxists in the establishment of Gerindo ('Indonesian People's Movement'), a radical co-operating party opposed to international fascism as its primary enemy.[4] The Soviet Union’s Dmitrov doctrine had called for a common front against fascism which helped swell the number of Indonesians taking a cooperative approach with regards to the Dutch colonial administration in an attempt to secure Indonesian independence. Gerindo was one of the more significant cooperative parties in the years leading to World War II whose objectives included a fully Indonesian legislature; It had modest goals in comparison to the Dutch-suppressed radical nationalists led by the likes of Sukarno and Hatta, who Sjarifuddin had met before the War.[5] By 1940, Dutch intelligence suspected him of being involved with the Communist underground.

Having watched the increased strength and influence of Imperial Japan, Amir was one of a number of Indonesian leaders who warned against the danger of fascism before the war.[1] Prior to the Netherlands' invasion by Japan's ally Germany, the Netherlands Indies was a major exporter of raw materials to East Asia and to this end, Amir's groups had promoted boycotts against Japan. It is thought that his prominent role in these campaigns prompted the head of Dutch intelligence to provide Amir with 25,000 guilders in March 1942 to organise an underground resistance movement against Japan through his Marxist and nationalist connections. At this point, the Dutch colonial administration was crumbling against the Japanese onslaught and the top Dutch military fled Indonesia for Australia.[6]

Upon their occupation of Indonesia, the Japanese enforced total suppression of any opposition to their rule. Most Indonesian leaders obliged either by becoming 'neutral observers' or by actively cooperating. Sjarifuddin was the only prominent Indonesian politician next to Sutan Sjahrir to organize active resistance. The Japanese arrested Sjarifuddin in 1943 and he escaped execution only due to intervention from Sukarno, whose popularity in Indonesia - and hence importance to the war effort - was recognised by the Japanese.[7]

Indonesian National Revolution[edit]

As a cabinet minister, and later prime minister, Amir aligned himself with the generally older group of political leaders who, in establishing Indonesian independence, emphasised the need for diplomacy and the formation of sound political structures. This group struggle contrasted with the alternative and generally younger alternative political leadership advocating struggle; the vying for influence between these two groups was a defining feature of the Indonesian National Revolution.[8]

Partai Sosialis[edit]

In 1945, he was the most widely known and respected Republican politician to consider himself communist.[9] Although Amir had been in contact with the 'illegal' Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), he had nothing but disdain for the 'unsophisticated' and unknown Marxists who re-established it in 1935.[9] His closest colleagues from the 'illegal PKI' underground or the pre-war Gerindo formed the Partai Sosialis Indonesia (PARSI) on 1 November 1945. The same month, Amir followers formed PESINDO (Pemuda Sosialis Indonesia, "Indonesian Socialist Youth").[10]

At a two-party conference on 16–17 December it was announced that Amir's PARSI would merge with Sjahrir's political grouping, PARAS, forming the Partai Sosialis (PS).[9] The Partai Sosialis quickly became the strongest pro-government party, especially in Yogyakarta and East Java. The party accepted the argument of Amir and its other leaders that the time was not ripe to implement socialism, rather that international support necessary for independence be sought, and that unruly constituents had to be opposed. The party's westernised leaders showed more faith in Netherlands left-wing forces, than in the revolutionary fervour of the Indonesian people, which became a source of discontent among the party's opponents.[9]

Cabinet minister[edit]

Information Minister

Following the Japanese surrender on 15 August 1945 and the proclamation of Indonesian independence two days later, the Republic announced its first ministry on 4 September. The seventeen-member cabinet was composed mostly of 'collaborating' nationalists;[11] Amir, appointed as Information Minister, was however, still imprisoned by the Japanese following his 1942-43 anti-Japanese underground activities.[12] Early in the Revolution, Amir worked closely with the first Prime Minister and Sukarno's rival, Sutan Sjahrir; the two played the major role in shaping the arrangements linking the new government of Indonesia with its people remarkably effectively.[13]

On 30 October Amir, along with Sukarno and Hatta, was flown into the East Java city of Surabaya by the desperate British caretaker administration. The three were seen as the only Indonesian leaders likely able to quell fighting between Republican and British Indian forces in which the British Brigade were hopelessly outnumbered and facing annihilation. A ceasefire was immediately adhered to, but fighting soon recommenced after confused communications and mistrust between the two sides, leading to the famed Battle of Surabaya.[14]

Minister for Defence

On 16 October 1945, Sjahrir and Amir engineered a takeover within the KNIP.[10] and following 11 November transition to parliamentary government, Amir is appointed to a new cabinet with Sjahrir as Prime Minister.[15] Described as 'a man even his political adversaries found difficult to hate',[16] he played a key role as Minister of Defence. His position, however, was a source of friction with the TKR and its new commander, Sudirman, who had nominated their own candidate, the Sultan of Yogyakarta, Hamengkubuwono IX. (The Sultan, however, was not eager to contest the position). Amir was a central figure in the government's 'anti-fascist' programme with the army a key target, which caused further frictions. Sjahrir attacked PETA-trained army officers as 'traitors', 'fascists', and 'running dogs' who had cooperated with the Japanese. Amir promoted the Red Army as a model of a citizens' army loyal to the government and holding socialist ideals. On 19 February 1946, Amir inaugurated a socialist and Masyumi politician-dominated 'education staff' for the army. The body appointed fifty-five 'political officers' at the end of May without consulting the army command. These new officers were to educate each TRI unit in the goals of the revolution.[17] He was not, however, able to effectively impose such ideals on unit commanders, particularly as Sudirman and other PETA-trained resented the 'fascist' slur cast on them.[18] The Marxist's overtones of Amir's new military academies conflicted with the popular army view of being above politics and the need to play a unifying role in the national struggle; the army leadership consequently rejected attempts to introduce partisan ideology and alignments.[18]

This antagonism between the government and PETA-trained officers, forced Amir to find an armed support base elsewhere. He aligned himself with sympathetic Dutch-educated officers in certain divisions, such as the West Java 'Siliwangi' Division the command of which had been assumed by KNIL Lieutenant A.H. Nasution in May 1946.[18] Another source of support for the new cabinet was the more educated armed pemuda sympathetic to the cabinet's 'anti-fascist' approach. With an engaging personality and persuasive oratory skills, Amir had more time and aptitude than Sjahrir for party building, and he played the main part in wooing these pemuda.[18]

Prime Ministership[edit]

A split between Amir's and Prime Minister Sjahrir's supporters rapidly deepened in 1947. There had long been mutual suspicion between Sjahrir and the communists who had returned from the Netherlands in 1946; the fading of the 'anti-fascist' cause made these suspicions more obvious. Sjahrir's preoccupation with diplomasi, his physical isolation in Jakarta from revolution-infused Central Java, and is dislike of mass rallies allowed the more Moscow-inclined Marxists to assume more control in both the PS and Sayap Kiri. By June 1946, Sjahrir's increasing isolation from the coalition encouraged the opposing factions to depose him. This group put their support behind Amir, the alternative PS leader. On 26 June 1947, Amir, along with two other Moscow-inclined Ministers—Abdulmadjid (PS) and Wikana (PESINDO)— backed by a majority of Sayap Kiri withdrew their support for Sjahrir. Their argument was that Sjahrir had compromised the Republic in his pursuit of diplomasi—the same charge that deposed every revolutionary government—and that in the face of Dutch belligerence, such conciliation seemed futile.

Amir courted a broad coalition but hostility from Muslim Masyumi prevented its leader, Dr Sukiman, and pro-Sjahrir 'religious socialists' from previous cabinets from joining the new cabinet. In July, Amir was appointed Prime Minister of the Republic.[10] Other influential Masyumi factions, such as that of Wondoamiseno, provided support. Although Amir's communist allies controlled about 10% of the thirty-four with Amir's Defence Ministry their sole key one, this cabinet was the highest point of orthodox communist influence in the Revolution.[19] Amir succeeded Sutan Sjahrir as Prime Minister[8]

Following a backlash over the Renville Agreement, a disaster for the Republic for which Amir received much of the blame, PNI and Masyumi cabinet members resigned in early January 1948. On 23 January, with his support base disappearing, Amir resigned from the prime ministership. President Sukarno subsequently appointed Hatta to head an emergency 'presidential cabinet' directly responsible to the President and not the KNIP. The new cabinet consisted mainly of PNI, Masyumi and non-party members; Amir and the "Left Wing" are subsequently in opposition.[10]

Front Demokrasi Rakyat and the Madiun Affair[edit]

The "Left Wing" coalition renames itself the "People's Democratic Front" (Front Demokrasi Rakyat) and denounces the "Renville Agreement", which Amir's government had itself negotiated.[10] In August 1948, Musso, the 1920s leader of the PKI, arrived in Yogyakarta from the Soviet Union. Amir and the leadership of the People’s Democratic Front immediately accept his authority, and Amir admitted membership of the underground PKI since 1935. Adhering to Musso's Stalinist thinking of a single party of the working class, the major leftist parties in the Front dissolve themselves into the PKI.[10]

Following industrial action, demonstrations, and subsequent open warfare between PKI and pro-government forces in the Central Java city of Surakarta, on 18 September a group of PKI supporters took over strategic points in the Madiun area. They killed pro-government officers, and announced over radio the formation of a new "National Front" government. Caught off guard by the premature coup attempt, Musso, Amir and other PKI leaders travel to Madiun to take charge.[10] The following day, about 200 pro-PKI and other leftist leaders remaining in Yogyakarta were arrested. Sukarno denounced the Madiun rebels over radio, and called upon Indonesians to rally to himself and Hatta rather than to Musso and his plans for a Soviet-style government. Musso replied on radio that he will fight to the finish, while, the People's Democratic Front in Banten and Sumatra announced they had nothing to do with the rebellion.[10]

In the following weeks, pro-government forces, led by the Siliwangi Division, march on Madiun where there was an estimated 5,000-10,000 pro-PKI soldiers. As the rebels retreated they killed Masyumi and PNI leaders and officials, and in the villages killings took place along santri-abangan lines. On 30 September, the rebels abandoned Madiun town, and were pursued by pro-government troops through the countryside. Musso is killed on 31 October trying to escape custody.[10]

Amir and 300 rebel soldiers were captured by Siliwangi troops on 1 December. Some 35,000 people were later arrested. It is thought perhaps 8,000 people were killed in the affair. As part of a second major military offensive against the Republic, on 19 December Dutch troops occupied Yogyakarta city and the Republican government was captured, including Sukarno, Hatta, Agus Salim, and Sjahrir. Republican forces withdraw to the countryside beginning full-scale guerrilla war on either side of the van Mook line. Rather than risk their release, the army killed Amir and fifty other leftist prisoners as it withdrew from Yogyakarta that evening.[10]


  • Reid, Anthony (1973). The Indonesian National Revolution 1945-1950. Melbourne: Longman Pty Ltd. p. 12. ISBN 0-582-71046-4.
  • Vickers, Adrian (2005). A History of Modern Indonesia. Cambridge University Press. p. 86. ISBN 0-521-54262-6.
  • Ricklefs, M.C. 1991. A History of Modern Indonesia since c.1300. 2nd Edition, Stanford: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-333-57690-X
  1. ^ a b c d e Vickers (2005), page 86
  2. ^ a b van Klinken, Geert Arend (2003). Minorities, Modernity and the Emerging Nation: Christians in Indonesia, a Biographical Approach. Leiden: KITLV Press. ISBN 9789067181518.
  3. ^ Dieleman, Marleen; Koning, Juliette; Post, Peter (2010). Chinese Indonesians and Regime Change. Amsterdam: BRILL. ISBN 9004191216.
  4. ^ Vickers (2005), page 226; Reid (1973), page 9
  5. ^ Reid (1973), page 9
  6. ^ B.R.O'G. Anderson, Java in a Time of Revolution: Occupation and Resistance, 1944-46 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1972), pp.413-14; Bob Hering, Soekarno: Founding Father of Indonesia 1901-1945 (Lieden: KITLV Press, 2002), pp.13, 223; Jacque Leclerc, 'Afterwood: the masked hero', in Anton Lucas (ed.), Local Opposition and Underground Resistance to the Japanese in Java, 1942-1945 (Clayton, Vic.: Monash University Papers on Southeast Asia No.13, 1986), pp.342-4. (all cited in Vickers (2005), page 86)
  7. ^ Reid (1973), page 12
  8. ^ a b Vickers (2005), page 226
  9. ^ a b c d Reid (1973), page 83
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Ricklefs (1991)
  11. ^ Most Indonesian nationalist leaders saw the Japanese Occupation of Indonesia as an opportunity to take advantage of in their pursuit of independence. Their consequent cooperation with the Japanese saw the returning Dutch brand them 'collaborators', and thus illegitimate leaders, in an attempt to undermine support for the newly proclaimed Republic.
  12. ^ Reid (1973), page 32
  13. ^ Reid (1973), page 69
  14. ^ Reid (1973), page 52
  15. ^ President Sukarno accepted a proposal for cabinet to answer to the Central Indonesian National Committee (KNIP) acting as Parliament rather than to the President. This watershed event ushered in the so-called 'liberal' or parliamentary form of government, which prevailed against the Sukarnoist-proposed constitution for twelve years. Leadership was thus handed to a 'modernizing' Western-minded intellectual, who at the time were thought to be the coming leaders of Asia and more palatable to Western ideas of government. When considered against previous forms of government—indigenous Indonesian, Dutch, Japanese and even the first brief Republican government—this was the most revolutionary political change at a national level during the 1945-50 Revolution. (Reid (1973), page 17)
  16. ^ B.R.O'G. Anderson, Java in a Time of Revolution: Occupation and Resistance, 1944-46 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1972), p.206, cited in Vickers (2005), page 106
  17. ^ Reid (1973), pages 93-94
  18. ^ a b c d Reid (1973), page 79
  19. ^ Reid (1973), page 100
Political offices
Preceded by
Sutan Sjahrir
Prime Minister of Indonesia
3 July 1947 – 29 January 1948
Succeeded by
Mohammad Hatta