1948: Amir Sjarifuddin

On this date in 1948, leftist former Indonesian Prime Minister Amir Sjarifuddin was summarily executed by forces of the infant Indonesian Republic for his participation in an attempted coup d’etat three months before.

A Dutch-educated Communist politician who had adhered to an anti-fascist “common front” position, Sjarifuddin was a vigorous activist against the Japanese occupation during World War II — and lucky to avoid execution for it.

Indonesia’s declaration of independence following the war sparked the National Revolution, during which Sjarifuddin emerged a leading player of the left as rival factions maneuvered against each other within Indonesia under pressure from the Dutch colonial power looking to reassemble its old dominions.

Sjarifuddin briefly served as the fledgling state’s second prime minister, but resigned in January 1948 after an unpopular diplomatic foray to calm tensions with the Dutch. His support for a botched and premature revolt by Communist officers in September sealed his end as a political factor and eviscerated left influence in the revolution, confining the latter’s character to an essentially nationalist one.

The rising’s suggestion of internal division may also have encouraged the Dutch incursion into Java on this date. There was a touch of poetic justice if that was the case: Republican troops, melting away from superior firepower for an insurgency campaign, opted to execute Sjarifuddin and about 50 other captured leftists before retreating rather than free them.

According to George Kahin, Sjarifuddin rendered with his death one last service to his nationalist — if not his Communist — ambitions:

[O]nce the [Indonesian] government … had put down the [September] rebellion and shot its leaders, it was no longer possible for the Dutch to make American officials and the US Congress believe — as previously many of them had — that most leaders of the Republic were under strong Communist influence and that their government was providing a bridge to an ultimately Communist Indonesia.

Its Marshall Plan aid threatened, the Netherlands recognized Indonesian independence in 1949.

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