From The Pages Of History

Stalin on Indonesia

[This letter is a part of the lengthy exchanges between Stalin and D N Aidit in relation to the rewriting of the party programme of the Communist Party of Indonesia. (1) Stalin explained the retention of the colonial status of Indonesia after the departure of the Dutch in 1949 so that the country remained a colony of the Netherlands. In the letter below Stalin expatiated on the features of the feudal survivals in Indonesia. These observations have a value for the contemporary semi-colonial and dependent countries including India. Stalin emphasised the necessity of maintaining a distinction between asserting the existence of feudal survivals/semi-feudalism in a country and maintaining that feudalism still existed as a whole. This has an importance for the discussions in India. But it is also of importance to note that in India each modification of the survivals of feudalism (the Permanent Settlement of 1793, the defeat of Mughal landlordism in 1857, the land reforms of the 1950s) have been projected by the reformist left as the termination of the feudal survivals and the victory of capitalism in the rural sector. Stalin's references to the monopoly of land possession under semi-feudalism is also of particular value to India where the ‘land reforms’ of the 1950s preserved a situation where the top 15% of the landowners hold the same percentage of land as prior to the ‘reforms' even though the composition of this 15% has changed: thereby preserving the remnants of feudalism in the countryside. Similarly in the rural relations India experiences the widespread payment of rent in kind to the landlord through sharecropping; the payment to the landlord of labour rent in the form of begar; the peasant, moreover, is subjected to extensive debt slavery as outlined by Stalin. India additionally suffers from the extensive survivals of the pre-feudal caste system as well as the remnants of tribalism. The letter of Stalin confirms the actuality of the extensive survivals of feudalism in contemporary India.
—Vijay Singh, Editor Revolutionary Democracy]

D N Aidit
I have received your letter of January 13, 1953. I did not intend to reply to you, as I thought that it was possible to put this off until our next meeting. But later I learnt that your comrades were expecting an answer. Therefore I have decided to reply without waiting until we meet.

1. The Peasant Question
It is a welcome fact that there are no longer any disagreements between us on the peasant question. But I think that there should not only be no disagreements between us, but no misunderstandings at all on this question. I have in mind one passage in your letter, which says; “we will make the work among the peasants, that is, the abolishment of feudalism as our main work.” This sentence may give rise to misunderstanding, since people may think that in Indonesia there exists full, 100 per cent, feudalism; which, of course, is incorrect. During our talk, I already said that there is not, and cannot be, 100 per cent feudalism in Indonesia, just as there was not in Russia before the October Revolution in 1917, just as there was not in China or other People’s Democracies before the beginning of the anti-feudal revolution.

It may be asked, to what extent did feudalism actually exist then in those countries and what exists now in Indonesia? There was, of course, not 100 percent feudalism there, but there were important and onerous survivals of feudalism. The Russian Communists spoke of the survivals of feudalism when they roused the peasants against the landlords in 1917. The survivals of feudalism were also mentioned during the carrying out of the “agrarian reform”. I think that the same thing is taking place in Indonesia; therefore, in drafting the programme, the formula about the abolition of feudalism should be replaced by the formula about the abolition of the survivals of feudalism, as being more exact.

Of course, in some articles and letters the formula of the abolition of feudalism is sometimes used and this does not always arouse objection. When, however, it is a question of drafting a programme, it is necessary to be quite exact and precisely for this reason preference should be given to the formula about the abolition of the survivals of feudalism.

The question arises: what are these survivals of feudalism, what is their essence?

They are, in the first place, the actually existing right of the big landowners to monopoly possession of the land cultivated by the peasants, the majority of the peasants being unable in view of their poverty—to own land and therefore being compelled to rent land from the landowners on any terms (“monopoly right” of the landowners to the land under feudalism).

They are, in the second place, payment to the landlords of rent in kind, which constitutes a considerable proportion of the peasant harvest and which leads to the impoverishment of the majority of the peasants (“obligation of payment in kind” under feudalism).

They are, in the third place, the system of rent in the form of labour on the landlords’ estates, carried out with the aid of primitive peasant equipment, which puts the majority of the peasants in the position of serfs (“Corvée” under feudalism).

They are, finally, a dense network of debts, enmeshing the majority of the peasants, making them insolvent debtors and putting them in the position of slaves in relation to the land-owners (“debt slavery” under feudalism).

The consequences of all these survivals of feudalism are well-known: technical backwardness of agriculture, impoverishment of the majority of the peasants, contraction of the internal market, impossibility of industrialising the country.

Hence, the immediate task of the Communists is to eliminate the survivals of feudalism, to develop the anti-feudal agrarian revolution, to transfer without compensation the landowners’ land to the peasants as their private property.

The question arises: does not temporarily renouncing the nationalisation of the land and the division of the landowners’ lands among the peasants as their private property mean renouncing socialist prospects in the development of agriculture? No, it does not.

In Russia it was possible and necessary to proceed to the nationalisation of the land by a direct route and not through the division of the landowners’ lands, since favourable conditions for this existed there, viz: a) the principle of private property in land did not obtain due popularity and was even undermined among the majority of the peasants owing to the presence in Russia of the peasant commune with its periodical re-divisions of land; b) the peasants themselves, the majority of them, considered that “the land belongs to no one, the land belongs to God, but the fruits of the earth should belong to those who labour on the land”; c) the strongest workers’ party in the country, the Bolshevik Leninist Party, which enjoyed confidence among the peasants, stood for nationalisation, conducted propaganda for nationalisation of the land; d) the strongest peasants’ party in the country, the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, in spite of its petty-bourgeois and kulak nature, also stood for nationali-sation, and conducted propaganda for nationalisation of the land. All this created a favourable situation for carrying out nationalisation of the land in Russia.

The situation was different in the People’s Democracies. These favourable conditions not only did not exist there, but, on the contrary, the principle of private property in land became so rooted in the life of the peasants that they did not conceive of the agrarian revolution in any other form than that of the division of the landowners’ estates into private property. As regards the slogan of nationalisation of the land, the peasants’ attitude to it was one either of indifference or of great distrust, because they believed that nationalisation of the land means an attempt to take away from the peasant owners the land that they owned. Consequently, it was necessary in those countries to proceed to the nationalisation of the land and to socialist prospects in the development of agriculture, not directly but in a round-about way—through the division of the landowners’ lands.

Seven or eight years have passed since the agrarian revolution in the People’s Democracies of Europe. What did the division of the landowners’ lands lead to there in this period, what results did it produce? It should be noted first of all that the agrarian revolution did not put a stop to the differentiation of the peasantry there, but, on the contrary, has intensified it recently, by dividing the peasantry into three groups the poor peasants (the majority), middle peasants (25-30 per cent), kulaks (5-10 per cent). Further, the poor peasants became convinced that the land alone, which they received as a result of the agrarian revolution, was insufficient for any considerable improvement of their material position, that for this they needed also livestock and equipment, sufficient quantities of seeds and agricultural machinery. The peasants, however, experienced a great lack of all these things. Hence the working peasants came to the conclusion that it was necessary to combine the small land holdings of the peasants and their equipment in a single large-scale co-operative farm on a large area of land and to require the assistance of the state in the form of tractors, combines and other agricultural machinery. In other words, the working peasants in those countries took the path of collective farms, the path of socialist development.

As regards nationalisation of the land it is being prepared and beginning to he carried out in those countries in a rather peculiar way, namely, by promulgating a series of separate laws restricting the right to private ownership of land and making difficult or even altogether prohibiting the sale and purchase of land. This is the path towards nationalisation of the land.

Such are the results of the agrarian revolution and the division of the landowners’ lands in the People’s Democracies of Europe.

It is this path that China is taking too.

I think that the same thing will happen in Indonesia after the victory of the agrarian revolution there.

2. The National Front
Of course, if the Communist Party is so weak that it is incapable of simultaneously taking up both the organisation of an alliance of the workers and peasants and of the creation of a national front then it will have to choose between these two social undertakings and concentrate its forces on the organisation of an alliance of the workers and peasants as the more important task. But such a contingency cannot be considered in any way desirable. It would be desirable, on the contrary, for the Party to gain the possibility of building simultaneously both the alliance of the workers and peasants and the National Front. In this connection it should be borne in mind that the National Front is certainly essential and important for a successful struggle not only against the internal reaction but also against the foreign menace.

Hence my advice is: in organising the alliance of the workers and peasants on the basis of a revolutionary agrarian programme you should take up at the same time the improvement and strengthening of the united National Front so that the Communist Party will acquire in time a leading position within this front.

3. For the rest, your letter does not call for any comment.

With Communist greetings,
J Stalin
February 16, 1953

[Letter to D N Aidit on the Question of the Survivals of Feudalism and the National Front in Indonesia]

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Vol 55, No. 49, Jun 4 - 10, 2023