New Indonesian translation of the Communist Manifesto to commemorate 175 years since publication

The following is the preface to the 2023 Indonesian edition of the Manifesto of the Communist Party. The last Indonesian translation of the Manifesto was made in 1948, but unfortunately the quality of that edition is far from what this important document deserves. Furthermore, the 1948 edition was written in an Old Indonesian style. Meanwhile, the Indonesian language itself has developed a lot in the past 75 years. Therefore, there is a pressing need for a new translation that can explain more clearly the ideas contained in this brilliant work for the new generation of Communists. The new edition can be accessed at the Marxist Internet Archive.

One 175 years ago, Marx and Engels wrote the Manifesto of the Communist Party. This brilliant work has gone through a very long journey, but its main ideas are not only still relevant in today’s world, but have even matured. Every time the ruling class triumphantly proclaims the death of communism and writes its obituary, which it has done many times, the living reality of capitalism itself affirms the fundamental truth contained in this work. There is no other text in the history of mankind that retains such historical force, a real force in history that has moved – and continues to move – mankind and shape history. Especially today when capitalism is entering its deepest crisis, there is a pressing need to renew and improve the Indonesian translation of the Manifesto, so that the ideas contained in it become clearer to the new generation of Communists who are entering the arena of history.

The first Indonesian edition of the Manifesto came out in 1923. It was translated by Partondo, who edited the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) paper Soeara Ra’jat (People’s Voice), and serialised in the PKI newspaper in April 1923. The second edition was translated in 1925 by Axan Zain or Subakat, a journalist and PKI activist who was then on the run from the Dutch colonial government. Those years, the 1920s, witnessed the first revolutionary awakening of the Indonesian masses. On one hand, we had the rousing of Indonesian proletariat, who just found their class identity; on the other hand, the birth of a national consciousness, in a nation that had been under the colonial yoke for three centuries. Thus, the publication of the Communist Manifesto in Indonesia marked a significant change in the course of Indonesian history. Engels, in one of his prefaces to the Manifesto, had commented on the relation between the publication of the Communist Manifesto and the development of capitalism and the proletariat. In his preface to the Polish edition, Engels wrote prophetically:

“It is noteworthy that of late the Manifesto has become an index, as it were, of the development of large-scale industry on the European continent. In proportion as large-scale industry expands in a given country, the demand grows among the workers of that country for enlightenment regarding their position as the working class in relation to the possessing classes, the socialist movement spreads among them and the demand for the Manifesto increases. Thus, not only the state of the labour movement but also the degree of development of large-scale industry can be measured with fair accuracy in every country by the number of copies of the Manifesto circulated in the language of that country.”

The Communist Manifesto arrived in Indonesia together with the first revolutionary wave of the proletariat. With the ebb of this revolutionary wave, which was marked by the complete crushing of the PKI in the 1927-27 rebellion, the Manifesto practically disappeared from the public eye. For almost two decades the Manifesto, and whatever was left from the decimated Communist movement, was forced to contend with an underground existence. They only resurfaced in 1945, with the outbreak of the Indonesian National Revolution. To commemorate 100 years of the Communist Manifesto, and also to mark the return of PKI and assert its authority as the party of Marx, in 1948 the PKI published a new translation of the Manifesto. The translation work was carried out by D.N. Aidit, M.H. Lukman, A. Havil, P. Pardede dan Njoto. This third edition was later reprinted by the PKI publishing house, Jajasan Pembaruan, with minor changes in 1952, 1959, 1960 and 1964.

Just like its first arrival, the second arrival of the Manifesto was a harbinger of a new revolutionary period that was unfolding in Indonesia. The difference is, this time, the PKI had become a mass party. In 1923, the PKI was a small party of about 1000 members, but during the revolutionary period of 1950-60s at its height it boasted 3 million members and 10 million followers behind it. The three decades that separated those two periods did not pass in vain. A more mature capitalism had created a strong proletariat that was not only more numerous but also more mature politically. A communist revolution was truly on the cards, and as proclaimed by the Manifesto: “Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution.”

But the 30 September Movement in 1965 changed everything. The PKI leadership – amongst them the translators of the 1948 edition: Aidit, Lukman and Njoto – proved ill-equipped to lead the Indonesian Revolution to its final conclusion. Here is not the place to examine in detail the roots of this tragic defeat (Read The ideological roots of the Indonesian Communist Party’s defeat in 1965). Suffice to say, the Stalinism in the “official” Communist movement had rendered impotent the revolutionary thought of Marx and Engels, much like what the Social Democracy had done in 1914, and led the Indonesian proletariat to its biggest defeat.

The 1964 reprint of Aidit’s version of Manifesto would be the last print, one that ended a courageous era. The Manifesto had to return to an underground life, for a longer period. Capital won the battle by spilling the blood of millions of people, that literally flowed through all the rivers and creeks in Indonesia.

In 1989-91, the Berlin Wall fell, and the Soviet Union collapsed. It seemed as if Capital had won the whole class war. Referring to what Marx and Engels wrote in the Manifesto, that: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle,” with the collapse of the Soviet Union the ruling class announced with confidence the end of class struggle, the end of history. Crisis and revolution are things of the past, they said. The Manifesto seemed henceforth forever doomed to oblivion, destined to be a footnote in history, a mere historical curiosity. The Men of Capital, embodying ‘practical reason’ had triumphed. But history is stubborn and refuses to be subordinated by Capital. The proletariat, the gravediggers of capitalism, still exist and also refuse to be done away with.

Jakarta riot Image Office of the Vice President Wikimedia CommonsThe Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, that sparked the 1998 Revolution in Indonesia, was the first blow against the End of History / Image: Office of the Vice President, Wikimedia Commons

The Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, that sparked the 1998 Revolution in Indonesia (also known as “Reformasi”), was the first blow against the End of History. The history of class struggle continues. The 1998 Revolution overthrew the brutal military dictatorship of Suharto. With the collapse of the New Order regime, a floodgate was opened; independent publishers sprung up like mushrooms, publishing the works of Marx and Engels that were previously banned by the military. There is a thirst amongst a new generation of youth to study Marx. Unfortunately, as far as we know, there was no attempt to improve the translation of the Manifesto. Even though the 1948 edition was a marked improvement from the 1925 one, it still leaves a great deal to be desired. Some ideas were not translated adequately, or in ways that are not clear. This is also true for many other classic Marxist works, whose quality is not proportional to the quantity that has been produced since then. Therefore, there is a pressing need to produce a new translation of the Manifesto.

Today the world is changing at a never-seen-before pace. Following the Asian financial crisis, the world was shaken by a global crisis in 2007-08, which was the deepest crisis in the history of capitalism, whose impact is still being felt today. Since then, capitalism has been rocked by one crisis after another. There is no longer any stability left. Capitalism cannot escape from crisis, as explained in the Manifesto:

“It is enough to mention the commercial crises that by their periodical return put the existence of the entire bourgeois society on its trial, each time more threateningly.

But today we are witnessing not a normal crisis, following capitalism’s regular cycle of boom and bust. No, capitalism is in a period of organic crisis that is affecting all aspects of society: economic, social, political and cultural. Everything is stagnating and decaying. The bourgeois is filled with pessimism, despite the gigantic productive forces that have been created by its system. Why? Because, as Marx wrote: “The conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them.”

When capitalism can only bring about poverty, famine, and war; when capitalism is dragging humanity toward barbarism, then the spectre of Communism will keep haunting it and manifest itself. This fact is recognised by the bourgeoisie, and makes them tremble in fear. This is why, this year, a ban against Communism was codified in the new Criminal Code Law of Indonesia. Yet, there is no legal apparatus that can stop an idea whose time has come.

This new Indonesian edition is translated from the 1888 English Edition of the Manifesto of the Communist Party, which is published in the Marx and Engels Collected Works, compiled by Lawrence & Wishart. The German and French edition was also consulted to improve on the translation. We hope that this new edition, that arrives in Indonesia 175 years after the birth of the Manifesto, can become another important ideological weapon for revolutionary youth and workers who are now fighting to bring about a classless society, free from oppression.

1 November 2023

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