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Diplomacy and Conflict • Guerrilla Warfare

One of the most important periods of political change in Indonesian history, the Indonesian Revolution that began in 1945 helped to refashion the nation into a leftist democracy by 1949.

Seeking Independence

Since the Russian Revolution of 1917, Marxist-leaning political dissidents in Indonesia had agitated for independence from the Netherlands, which had held the nation as a colonial appendage since the 17th century. The occupation of Indonesia by Japan in 1942 and the surrender of Japanese forces three years later gave Indonesian patriots the opportunity to declare independence. Nationalist leaders Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta struggled against communist leaders Tan Malaka and Musso over control of the new independent regime.

Fearing anti-Japanese outbreaks by angry Indonesians after the end of World War II, Japanese military leaders of occupied Indonesia obeyed orders by the Allied government to prevent the Indonesians from instituting a revolution. The Japanese allowed its own puppet regime of Indonesian political leaders to remain in power. That stimulated more than 150,000 young Indonesians to clamor for independence. Many of the youths had received military training from Japanese forces. They seized arms and military supplies from the Japanese Army and compelled pro-Japanese Indonesians to recognize an independent Indonesia.

In a strange postwar alliance, Dutch units, reinforced by British Indian brigades and captured Japanese troops, attempted to put down the popular independence movement growing in 1945. The violent Battle of Surabaya, which included British air strikes and naval fire, began on November 10, 1945. An Indonesian victory, it was later named "Heroes' Day" for the patriotism of Indonesian freedom fighters who lost their lives in the engagement. Sukarno was named president on November 14, 1945, though Sjahrir and Amir Sjarifuddin, prime minister and defense minister, respectively, held the real power.


For the next two years, the Indonesian Revolution became a struggle between opposing communist and other left-leaning political groups to control the center of national politics. A year later, the Indonesian Republic orchestrated a deal with the Dutch government for Indonesian control of various island territory.

Dutch–Indonesian relations soon deteriorated, however, which led to a Dutch attempt to capture the nation on December 19, 1948. International opprobrium and guerrilla resistance by Indonesian forces compelled the Dutch to finally recognize Indonesian independence on December 27, 1949.

"Heroes' Day"

Further Reading

Cribb, Robert B. Historical Dictionary of Indonesia. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1992; Kahin, George McTurnan. Nationalism and Revolution in Indonesia. Ithaca, NY: Southeast Asia Program Publications, Cornell University, 2003; Reid, Anthony. The Indonesian National Revolution, 1945-1950. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1986; Ricklefs, Merle Calvin. A History of Modern Indonesia since c. 1200. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001.

MLA Citation

"Indonesian Revolution." World History: The Modern Era, ABC-CLIO, 2019, worldhistory.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/309753. Accessed 21 Apr. 2019.

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Entry ID: 2180538

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