By Eric Vandenbroeck and co-workers

In the summer of 1919, the embassies and hotels in Paris remained crowded with delegates for Versailles' peace conference. It was on 18 June, shortly before the peace treaty was signed with Germany, that yet another petition began to make the rounds, entitled ‘Demands of the Annamite People’ and signed ‘Nguyen Ai Quoc’ – ‘Nguyen the Patriot.’ It elicited a few polite, non-committal responses. The British Foreign Office refused categorically to acknowledge it.

The demands in themselves were moderate enough. They called for freedom of the press and association, the right to education; equality under the law; and government decree abolition. They asked for an amnesty for political prisoners and ‘freedom of emigration’ and residence overseas. In many ways, it was a cri de cœur of the village abroad. There was something about the missive – its tone, its presumption in speaking directly to power – that instantly got under the skin of French officials. ‘Nguyen the Patriot’ was clearly a pseudonym, and, appalled by his audacity, by what they referred to continually as his ‘libel,’ they tried to find out everything they could about the person or persons behind the name.

The “Demands of the Annamite People” claimed to speak for the inhabitants of the part of French Indochina that is today the heart of Vietnam. The petition, writes, was one of many into which was decanted the hopes of entire peoples.  It was received politely by Woodrow Wilson and even the president of the French republic. But its tone, of presuming to speak directly to power, got under the skin of the French authorities, who had built an empire in Indochina on the back of forced labor, while plantations ran their own private prisons. As the document circulated among the diplomatic missions and, within two months, hit Hanoi's streets, the security services knew that its author, Nguyen Ai Quoc, a pseudonym meaning “Nguyen the Patriot” (today better known as Ho Chi Minh) was in some way important. They were to maintain that conviction for more than three decades. Briefly, Nguyen Ai Quoc would break cover, for instance, to address political meetings in Paris, scruffily dressed. Yet the expanding secret-police files on him reflected official frustration. He lied about his age, his name, his origins, and his profession. He changed his accent to suit. Time and again, Nguyen Ai Quoc slipped like quicksilver through the fingers of imperial powers. His shadow was found in libraries, cafés, and boarding houses across France, in port cities such as Singapore and New York, and even in the London suburb of Ealing; one rumor had him as a pastry chef under the great Escoffier. His writings surfaced in illicit journals in China and Korea. But just when the Sûreté Générale picked up his scent again, he was gone.

In 1902, Japan had allied with Britain in East Asia, and now events were drawing her closer to France. A series of sensationalist reports in the Écho de Paris in January 1905, headlined ‘The Yellow Peril,’ claimed that Japan planned to use Taiwan, now also a colony of Japan, as a base to attack the French in Indochina. By strange osmosis of animosity and opportunism, Japan responded by strengthening ties with France. A Franco-Japanese Treaty was signed in 1907, and the French immediately used it to put pressure on Japan’s Vietnamese émigrés.As the Governor-General of Indochina explained it to the minister of the colonies in Paris in July 1908, the people of Vietnam could not be indifferent ‘to the events occurring in this theatre of nations’ when their country, because of its long border with Siam, rail links to China and sea lanes to the ports of China, Japan, and Southeast Asia, lay in the middle of ‘the great Far Eastern highway.’

Later, during Nguyen Ai Quoc, the 13ème arrondissement in Paris, around the Place d’Italie, became home to those who had come to work and study. Chinese students and workers met people from across the colonial world in the left-wing circles of L’Humanité and at the public meetings, which Nguyen Ai Quoc continued to haunt. He was now known to lead French socialists, such as Karl Marx’s grandson, Jean Longuet, who had rallied support in Savarkar’s extradition case in 1910. Longuet recommended that Quoc read Das Kapital. Quoc put it about that he used it as a pillow. But he moved closer to the socialists and introduced five Chinese students to party work in the 13ème arrondissement. For this reason, he was marked as the most dangerous of men, and his name traveled across this world.

Chinese students now came to France in larger numbers. The André Lebon, arriving in October 1920, brought them from far inland, after a long river journey from Sichuan province, and then thirty-nine days in steerage from Shanghai. Some were very young: Deng Xiaoping left home at fifteen years of age, funded by the Chongqing Chamber of Commerce, and was assigned to a private school in Bayeux, Normandy. By this time, there were some 1,300 Chinese work-study students in France, twenty-one of them women. Many of their leaders were graduates of the Hunan First Normal School. The women came under the auspices of a Hunan ‘Embroidery Company’, a fabrication to allow acceptance of the idea of women abroad. One of the Hunan students, Cai Hesen, traveled with his sister, Cai Chang, and their fifty-five-year-old mother. He formed a romantic attachment on the voyage with Xiang Jingyu, a friend of Changsha's family circle. Xiang had already founded a new model girl’s school back home in Hunan. In France, in May 1920, she advocated, in a local French version of the famed New Youth, study societies, nurseries, student loan societies for women, and free choice in marriage. When Cai Hesen and Xiang Jingyu ‘married’ in the same month, they created a prototype for a new socialist ‘free love’; there were no formalities, just a picture of them sitting together holding a copy of Marx’s Das Kapital. 

In 1920, the ‘lost generation’ of many nations embraced Paris as a world capital of art, literature, and pleasure; for others, it was the terminus of bitter exile. But the close-knit communities of work-study students were formed in very different conditions from the literary cafés of Montparnasse or Pigalle. Like many of the working migrants, they concentrated in quartiers on the city's outskirts, such as at the education association in La Garenne-Colombes, where the anarchist Li Shizeng had set up his soya bean factory before the war, and which many used as a poste restante. Others went to smaller factory towns, where Chinese workers and ‘students as workers’ began to live together for the first time. By 1921, the Chinese population amounted to the largest non-European community in France: 13,000. There was increasingly less work for the students, and with no work, there was no study. Many of the early arrivals, such as Zheng Chaolin, awoke to the fact that they ‘had descended from the “petty bourgeoisie” into the “proletariat”; simultaneously – was there a connection? – I stopped thinking as a democrat and started thinking as a socialist, and I even started acting as a socialist’. They scrutinized Russia's news with a searing earnestness and debated it by mail with similar groups of students in China, particularly the New Citizens’ Study Society in Hunan. Between 6 and 10 July 1920, a group of students gathered at a college in Montargis, south of Paris, a town where the local municipal worthies had helped support a small community of students in the hope of encouraging republican ideals in China itself. To some extent, the meeting was a reading party: Cai Hesen brought over 100 western publications, and these were divided up and discussed in groups. But the difficulties they faced in France raised a fundamental question for the work-study program: how was it possible that education by itself would bring change? The founding vision behind work-study was, in the words of one student leader, Xiao Zisheng, ‘anarchism – without force – a Kropotkinist-style revolution. This is more peaceful and perhaps slow, but even though slow, it is peaceful.’ But others, witnessing a wave of labor strikes in France at first hand, drew a different conclusion. At the meeting, Cai Hesen tried unsuccessfully to form a Marxist party. In August 1920, he wrote to a classmate of his and Xiao Zisheng’s from Hunan, Mao Zedong. He predicted a Kerensky-style February revolution in China: ‘I believe that a few young people will take part in it, but I hope you will not do so. I hope you will prepare for the Russian October Revolution.’ He pointed to the new Communist International in Moscow. Now back in Beijing, Mao replied to say that he had already come to the same conclusion. In this constant exchange of letters and ideas over long distances, it was hard to say who led or got there first. In time, the students' return to China would draw together the different strands of this discussion with explosive intensity.

These events posed a fundamental question about the direction and purpose of universal history. Liang Qichao and other late-Qing reformers had placed China within world-historical time and broken away from the cyclical time of the old dynastic order. This heightened awareness of both the synchronicities and imbalances with other countries' experience, which the many journeys to Europe had deepened. Now the Bolshevik Revolution had begun to create a new order, albeit fragile and increasingly isolated in Russia. But Russia was an Asiatic country and stood apart from the epicenter of capitalism's birth in western Europe. A reappraisal of China’s place in time and the world followed from this. How were Asian countries to be positioned within this new world-historical moment? Did Europe always have precedence? For many voyagers, especially those who had witnessed, at first hand, the crisis of Europe during and after the First World War, the front line of the global struggle against capitalism and imperialism lay not there, but in Asia, in remote, little-known places seemingly at the wildest frontiers of human empire.

Then on Saturday, 14 August 1937, a bomb landed outside the Great World in Shanghai, killing 1,047 people and injuring 303 more. The amusement palace had been distributing free food and drink to city dwellers under siege. The bomb was from a Chinese plane and had been aimed at the Japanese cruiser Izumo. The Izumo had fought at the Battle of Tsushima in 1905 and now bombarded Shanghai from the Huangpu River. Other bombs exploded outside the Cathay and Peace Hotels. They marked the beginning of the end of the international city. Chiang Kai-shek had chosen Shanghai to make a stand because of the presence there of western residents and the major news agencies. Over the coming weeks, his wife, Soong Mei-ling, would make a radio address in English to broadcast the city’s plight to the world.1 The events in China in the summer of 1937 marked an escalation of the long struggle to succession to the western imperial order. The Great Asian War could trace its beginnings to 1914 when Japanese troops were committed to the siege of Qingdao; it intensified with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 and became global in compass after Japan launched its push to the south and across the Pacific on 8 December 1941. It was longer and bloodier than the European war, claiming 24 million lives in Japanese-occupied Asia, 3 million Japanese, and 3.5 million more in India through the war-related famine. In the twelve years after 1947, the foreign concessions in China would be swept away, the British Raj and the Japanese empire would fall; so too would Chiang Kai-shek, and new revolutionary regimes would arise in China, Vietnam, and Indonesia. 

From its earliest stages, the Great Asian War absorbed many of the struggles of the Asian underground. It came to Singapore early, with the arrival of political refugees, many of them from Shanghai. This represented an unprecedented influx of intellectuals: writers transformed local newspapers; artists discovered in the archipelago new utopian possibilities; teachers took their radical outlook into small-town schools. Tan Malaka was at the heart of this, teaching English in a Chinese school in Singapore, living in a Chinese neighborhood with Chinese friends, and a Chinese passport. A second united front in China from 1937 brought the old adversaries, Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party, into an uneasy alliance. In Singapore, Malaya, and elsewhere, ‘National Salvation’ was a catalyst to a new mass politics. The communist underground had hitherto failed to recover from the arrests of 1931. It now seized the opportunity to widen its support in schools, cultural circles, and trade unions. By 1939, as many as 700 associations, with over 40,000 members and ten times as many sympathizers, came together to enforce a new boycott of the Japanese and rekindle the spirit of May Thirtieth. The poet Yu Dafu, a one-time associate of Guo Moruo, declared his arrival in exile in Singapore that ‘there should be no dividing line between politicians, the military and the intellectuals.’2 But the young men and women who heeded his call to struggle tended to come from a more insular, small-town milieu: they were a different generation, with a very different experience of the world. Over time, they gave the movement a local rootedness within Malaya and a purchase in the countryside it had hitherto lacked.3

For some of the older generation, Japan’s vision for a ‘Greater East Asia’ still carried emotive force. When Japan effectively occupied Indochina after France's fall in 1940, Prince Cuong De campaigned to be its ruler, but in vain. When Singapore fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942, and large numbers of Indian troops fell into their hands, Rash Behari Bose traveled south to provide civilian leadership for an Indian National Army to fight in Burma alongside Japan for the liberation of India. Rash Behari was soon to pass the mantle to the man M. N. Roy had repeatedly tried to win to his cause: Subhas Chandra Bose, whose road to Singapore, after his exile from India 1941 to evade the British, was through an Axis underground from Berlin and Tokyo. In Singapore, Bose rallied the Indians overseas on a scale never seen before; his platform oratory was equally an inspiration to others. But Japanese pan-Asianism after 1941 was in a very different key to the radical internationalism of the 1920s and 1930s. The ‘New Asia’ had the imperial palace in Tokyo as its perpetual political and spiritual nucleus. Nevertheless, many Asian nationalists seized the opportunity of the Japanese occupation to advance their own cause. They adopted a martial militancy grounded in an emotive appeal to youth, blood, and sacrifice, drawing on older anti-colonial resistance memories. Subhas Chandra Bose’s movement followed many old revolutionary networks pathways across Asia, drawing in South Asians across class and religion from Tokyo, Singapore, and Bangkok. The military goal of attacking Assam through Burma revived the central objective of the Ghadarites in 1915 and the Comintern in 1931. Subhas Chandra Bose’s writings and speeches echoed older pan-Asianisms and the idea of Asia as a place for concerted action against the empire. The veteran Rash Behari Bose lived long enough to see the proclamation of a provisional government of Azad Hind in Singapore on 21 October 1943 and died in Tokyo on 21 January 1945.

The British did everything in their power to prevent news of the Indian National Army from reaching India. The new global conflict widened the fissures in Indian politics. In September 1939, Lord Linlithgow took India into the war, as his predecessor Lord Hardinge had done in 1914, without consulting a single Indian. After 1942, Congress withdrew its cooperation with the Raj, and most of its senior leadership went to jail. The Quit India disturbances in 1942 were the most elemental challenge to the Raj since 1857. But not all followed its logic of resistance. In May 1940, Roy held a ‘study camp’ at the house he had taken with Ellen after joining him in India, in Dehra Dun, in the Himalayan foothills, at some remove from the main national center's politics. There, Roy argued that the global fight against fascism must take precedence from his own long struggle logic. But when he stood for the presidency of Congress in 1940 based on this policy, he was beaten by 183 to 1,864 votes by another global revolutionary from Bengal, Abul Kalam Azad, standing on a platform non-cooperation. Roy’s sworn enemies, the Communist Party of India, came to the same position as Roy after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact's termination in June 1941. By standing aside at this high water of anti-colonial protest, both groups played a high political price. Roy was expelled from Congress and founded his own Radical Democrat Party. There was a moment in early 1944, when the new viceroy, Lord Wavell, considered him for a seat on his Council when he might have joined the mainstream of politics. Wavell was well briefed on Roy’s past: ‘has been a Bengal terrorist,’ he noted in his diary, ‘a worker for Germany, the Indian representative of the Comintern, expelled from France, imprisoned in India.’ But Roy overplayed his hand, and Wavell concluded that he was still viceroy ‘and did not propose to be vice-Roy.’4 In Dehra Dun, although he wrote prolifically, producing far-sighted blueprints for India’s economic development and federal governance, Roy was largely a bystander to the great events of the end of empire in South Asia. It was Azad who led Congress until 1946 and, on 15 August 1947, became the first education minister of independent India, in the government of the man Roy still referred to as ‘the Harrow Boy,’ Jawaharlal Nehru.

The issue of war now determined political futures. In China, the rural strategy set in motion by Mao Zedong in Jiangxi in the aftermath of the Nanchang Rebellion's failure was strengthened after a second Long March in 1934–5 to the base area of Yan’an in the north. This allowed the party to emerge after the united front in 1945 with the peasant support and military resources finally to take back the cities. Across East and Southeast Asia, the sudden collapse of Japanese rule in Southeast Asia in August 1945 was merely a hiatus before a new, deciding wave of civil war and anti-colonial rebellion, led by groups that had also built up their own military resources, whether under Japanese tutelage as in Indonesia or through guerrilla warfare in Malaya, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Although some of the leaders of these struggles had links to the global underground of the first decades of the century – Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping proved to be consummate political survivors – the rise to the paramountcy of Mao within the Communist Party represented the playing-out of his long struggle against the so-called ‘Moscow faction.’ Many of those who inherited power had little direct connection to the pre-war village abroad by fate or design. The leader of the Malayan Communist Party who took it into open rebellion against the British in 1948, Chin Peng, was born in Malaya in 1924.

More fundamentally, this period marked the end of an era of imperial globalization. In many ways, the kinds of connections that had made the Asian underground possible were broken. In Japanese-occupied Asia, long-distance shipping all but ground to a halt; the posts were erratic, and in some places, there was a virtual blackout on international news for three and a half years. Borders became battlefronts. During the Japanese occupation, the largest migrations were compelled, as in the conscription of forced labor, or romusha, for railway projects; of women for sexual slavery in so-called ‘comfort stations’; or in the flight of refugees from devastated areas. At the war’s end, travel, trade, and remittance resumed. There was a cascade of internationalist sentiment. Migrant communities raced to restore ties with their homelands. But, in the longer term, the great political upheavals in India and China turned inward. The partition of South Asia in 1947, the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, and the retreat of the Kuomintang regime to Taiwan in 1949 raised harder borders and gave these journeys a new finality.5 As Roy saw it, the new territoriality embraced even the left. Echoing Lenin’s comments on the Baku Conference of 1920, he wrote in 1952: ‘Asian communism is nationalism painted red, the means become the end.’6

In early 1941, the long journey of Nguyen Ai Quoc finally led home. He had, after years in the wilderness, been permitted to leave Moscow for China in 1938. Traveling via Mao Zedong’s base area in Yan’an, he acted as a liaison officer with the Vietnamese in southern China, writing reports, producing propaganda, and traveling, including Chiang Kai-shek’s capital at Chongqing to report to the party representative there, Zhou Enlai. When, after the fall of France, Indochina came under the Japanese's effective occupation, he gathered a group of radicals and communists in Guilin for a new training program. Over Chinese New Year 1941, they took their skills to the border area. On 8 February 1941, after thirty years abroad, Quoc crossed the way-marker into Tonkin, to set up a secret base in a cave near Pac Bo in Cao Bang province, a mountainous, ungoverned area into which the party had already made substantial inroads. There he was able finally to launch his long-range, broad-front strategy and build a coalition of national resistance, led by the communists but called a League for the Independence of Vietnam, the Viet Minh. As the Communist Party within Vietnam was hit hard by repression at the Vichy government's hands, Quoc urged caution. He remained in the background and took on a new identity, ‘Ho Chi Minh,’ or ‘He Who Enlightens.’

In August 1942, he made for Chongqing for news of the international situation. Still, he was again arrested by a Chinese regional military commander in Guanxi province in September and held in eighteen different prisons and then house arrest until his release in March 1944. This further burnished his legend. By returning to Cao Bang after nearly two years, the base area had expanded. This was the work of many hands, but, by August 1944, the French had discovered that the man behind its propaganda, Ho Chi Minh, was none other than Nguyen Ai Quoc. The head made the connection of the Sûreté, Louis Arnoux, the very same man who had tracked him down in Paris in 1919 when he had sent his insolent demands for freedom to President Woodrow Wilson.7 Crucially, the remaking of Quoc, from the son of a mandarin to a plebeian, from a cosmopolitan into a patriot – his training and guidance, his ability to read the international situation, his revolutionary charisma – helped the Viet Minh to seize its moment and declare a provisional government in Hanoi on 2 September 1945 with Ho Chi Minh at its helm.8 But this was only the beginning. 

Tan Malaka was in Singapore in 1942 at its fall and witnessed the worst horrors of the Japanese occupation. He was present at the screening and mass killings of Chinese men and was lucky to escape with his life. He left for Pen and took advantage of the lapse in border controls and crossed to Medan in Sumatra. He felt like Rip Van Winkle, awakening after twenty years. But his mystique, as a once and future king, traveled before him. As he browsed a bookstall in the market, the seller sidled up to him: ‘This is a good book, and it’s prevalent.’ It was Padjar Merah, by Matu Mona. The seller added: ‘You know, Tan Malaka is in Padang. He spoke today in Padang Square. He has a high position with the Japanese army.’9 These stories were everywhere, so he had no option but to abandon his plans to visit his parents’ graves and travel on, again via Penang, by steamer, and by sailing prahu to Java. He settled for a while in one of Batavia's outer kampongs so that he could travel into the city to use the museum library at Gambir and write. With the resources available to him and from memory he wrote, he calculated in 720 hours, his magnum opus, a philosophical work entitled Madilog: Materialism, Dialektika dan Logika, ‘Madilog: Materialism, Dialectic, and Logic.’ It was no less than an attempt to rewrite Marx, as if Marx were writing from within an Indonesian, Islamic or, more particularly, a Minangkabau world view.10 It was a lesson in the purpose and power of reason, to instruct the young people of Indonesia. War conditions and political propaganda privileged the spirit and strength of youth, or Pemuda, over the elite bureaucratic finesse of the zaman normal. Thousands of Pemuda were recruited into armed militias, led by Sukarno, who had emerged from internal exile to national pre-eminence under the Japanese. In the later stages of the war, Tan Malaka worked at a labor camp in west Java and saw more of its most brutal war conditions amongst the coerced workers, the romusha. It was here that he encountered Sukarno, who visited the camp. Tan Malaka was unimpressed by Sukarno’s cautious, mendicant approach to the struggle for freedom, and although they spoke, Tan Malaka did not reveal his identity.

Still living under a borrowed name, Tan Malaka was back in Batavia, now Jakarta, on 17 August 1945, when Sukarno and Hatta stepped forward to declare the Indonesian republic of which Tan Malaka had been the prophet. The radicalized Pemuda became its vanguard. Their zeal inspired tan Malaka. ‘We are,’ announced the writers of the self-styled Generation of 1945, ‘the heirs to world culture.’ But the worldview of most of them had been shaped from within Indonesia itself during the slump of the 1930s and the dearth and isolation of war. Tan Malaka tried to reach them, initially in vain. The republic began to arm itself, and the Pemuda militias formed the core of a Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI), an Indonesian National Army. But it soon became clear that the Netherlands was determined to reoccupy the Indies at any cost, using the British, who had reoccupied Singapore in September 1945, as their proxy. Believing that a firm show of popular resistance was needed to forestall British troops' imminent landing, Tan Malaka approached a friend from his days in the Netherlands, now acting as foreign minister. He then met, in secret, with the new president, Sukarno. At the end of the meeting, believing that the British were likely to arrest him, Sukarno told Tan Malaka that if he and his deputy, Hatta, we're unable to act, Tan Malaka should lead the republic in their place. This message was repeated at a second meeting. These private undertakings formed the basis of a formal Political Testament, to which, at Hatta’s insistence, four other names were added after Tan Malaka’s. There would later be much controversy over the intent and status of this Testament. But Tan Malaka viewed it as wholly binding.11

To test the leadership’s resolve to resist the British, Tan Malaka suggested it hold massive ‘ocean’ rallies in the cities. The largest was on 19 September, when a crowd of 200,000 people gathered in Ikeda Square in Jakarta, many armed with sharpened bamboo staves. Sukarno, increasingly worried about provoking the Japanese or the Allied troops, tried to prevent the assembly. But, in a moment of supreme political theatre, he arrived on the rostrum and, in a short speech, demonstrated his control over the masses by persuading the crowd to disperse without violence. To Tan Malaka, it was clear that Sukarno had not tried to inspire the crowd to action, ‘but to request the masses to “have faith” and “obey” and to order them to go home.’12 On 1 October, Tan Malaka left Jakarta in disgust, never returned, and headed east. Rumors of his presence flew ahead of him, and there were sightings of ‘false’ Tan Malakas across Java and Sumatra. British intelligence believed that he was in peninsular Malaya and behind the foundation of a new radical nationalist party there. 

Instead, he witnessed the aftermath of the British occupation of the city of Surabaya in October 1945. British and Indian occupying troops were resisted street by street; tanks were confronted by the people from the urban kampungs, the arek Surabaya, armed with bamboo staves and knives. Thousands perished. Sukarno again appealed for order and calm. But, moved by the city’s sacrifice, on 3 January 1946, Tan Malaka finally revealed himself at a large ‘people’s congress’ at Purwokerto in Central Java. He announced a ‘minimum program’ for the revolution, under the cry: 

‘One hundred percent independence.’ This was defined as the immediate departure of all foreign troops from Indonesian soil, a people’s government, and the people’s ownership of the economy. It set a new yardstick for freedom movements across Southeast Asia, and his Persatuan Perjuangan, or ‘Struggle Union,’ rallied Pemuda and radicals from a wide spectrum of other bodies. But it was too much for the new government, who were now seeking to negotiate with the British and Dutch. In March 1946, Tan Malaka was jailed for a fourth time by the Indonesian republic.13 One of the TNI officers responsible for his arrest described their reasoning:

Tan Malaka lived more than twenty years in exile, in jail, or hiding. He lived in a world full of ideas, a troubled world of dreams and fantasies of a utopia. It was a solitary world. Thus, it should not be surprising if he did not always think or act based on the reality of the time's situation and atmosphere. Furthermore, he was surrounded by radical followers … who thought nothing of the consequence of his radicalism … [and] wanted to spread their own radical ideas through Tan Malaka, who had been cut off too long from the Indonesian struggle people.14

Tan Malaka wrote prolifically, critiquing the national leadership and memoir, Dari Penjara ke Penjara, ‘From Jail to Jail.’ 

This was Tan Malaka’s longest stretch behind bars. By the time of his release eighteen months later, in September 1948, the republic was in crisis. It had been pushed back by a Dutch ‘police action’ into smaller territory pockets, with its capital now at Yogyakarta. Old adversaries also confronted tan Malaka. On 11 August 1948, Musso came out of exile in Moscow by airplane via Prague and New Delhi, secretly at first, although not for long. He still, as his old housemate from Surabaya days, Sukarno, observed, possessed the air of a Jago, or street fighter.15 Alimin had arrived ahead of Musso, although a visit to Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi had tempered his approach. At every opportunity, Musso invoked his Moscow credentials as he attempted to revive the old PKI on a militant platform called a ‘New Road for the Indonesian Republic.’ To Musso, Tan Malaka was a Trotskyite renegade. As they refuted 1926 and 1927, Tan Malaka established a Partai Murba, a proletarian party, but failed to regain the momentum he had lost during his time in jail. 

Within the revolution, the cleavages came to a head-on 18 September, when leftist troops seized Madiun's central Javanese town. Musso decided to support them. In a radio broadcast, the next morning, Sukarno decried it as a ‘coup.’ Replying by the same medium ninety minutes later, Musso condemned Sukarno as a Japanese collaborator and released the ‘criminal’ Tan Malaka. He announced that Madiun was ‘a signal to the whole people to wrest the state's powers into their own hands’. But the communists were unprepared for a full revolt, and republican forces and Muslim militias crushed them within ten days. Musso died with perhaps 10,000 others in the mopping-up operation.16 

Tan Malaka wanted nothing to do with the affair. But events thrust him center stage. In December, a further Dutch ‘police action’ took Yogyakarta, and Sukarno and Hatta were captured. Tan Malaka headed east and sought the protection of a militant, brutal fighter called Sabarudin and his notorious Battalion 38, in the village of Blimbing. On a battered typewriter, he continued to attempt to rally the revolutionary forces under his leadership. He invoked the Political Testament of 1 October 1945, claiming that, now Sukarno and Hatta were under arrest, the revolution's mantle fell to him. But he was an outcast on all sides, a target of both the Dutch special forces in the area and the TNI, who had no truck with his alliance with a renegade battalion. On 19 December 1948, Tan Malaka was arrested by a TNI company and held at a village ten miles from Blimbing. On 21 February 1949, the camp came under attack from the Dutch; the prisoners were abandoned and began to flee. Slowed by a wounded leg, Tan Malaka struggled towards a TNI post at Selapanggung. He was identified by its commander, who decided he was too dangerous to remain at large. Like so many in those days of chaos and violence, Tan Malaka faced summary military justice and was shot the same day, at the foot of nearby Mount Wilis.17 The Indonesian revolution, like all revolutions, was quick to eat its own. 



To the victor, the mausoleum in a city square: to the vanquished, the shallow grave in the woods. Many of those with whom Tan Malaka’s path crossed during his years of exile met a violent end. After eluding the Nazi occupiers for two years, Henk Sneevliet was shot alongside other members of the Dutch resistance in the Amersfoort concentration camp on 12 April 1942. Sneevliet’s comrade of his Java days, Asser Baars, died in Auschwitz in 1944. Sneevliet’s successor in China, Mikhail Borodin, survived the purges and the war as editor of the English-language Moscow News, only to be arrested in a fresh purge in 1949 and died a gulag in 1951. His one-time ally, Chen Duxiu, was released from prison in 1937, but he too was an outcast from the party he had led and died in obscurity in 1942, after working for a time as a schoolteacher near Chongqing. Chen’s successor, Li Lisan, after the collapse of the ‘revolutionary high tide’ in 1931, was sent on a long period of rehabilitation in Moscow. He returned to play a central role in the foundation of the People’s Republic in 1949. After the Sino-Soviet split of 1956, his past told against him, and he perished in the Cultural Revolution in 1967. His Russian wife, Lisa Kishkin, survived him, a citizen of China. 

The hybrid family histories of the Asian revolution were one of its most enduring legacies. Musso was survived by children from two Russian wives and a son in Indonesia born before his departure in 1926. Musso’s fellow exiles, Semaoen and Darsono, returned to Indonesia after independence to public service careers. They played no role in the revival of a ‘new’ PKI after 1954. Alimin was the last of the old guard to remain with the party and was one of its staunchest critics. A scholar who interviewed him in Jakarta in 1960 described him as ‘old, senile, ailing, lonely, and no longer visited by party members.’18 Alimin died in 1964, in the midst of the party’s final push for power, before its destruction in 1965–6 in slaughter and detentions on a massive scale. 

The moral journeys of this generation took very different paths. Of the members of India House, Har Dayal’s trajectory was unique in that, obstructed by the British, he never returned to India. He did, however, return to London and completed a doctoral thesis in 1932 at the School of Oriental and African Studies. He died in Philadelphia in 1939 while on a lecture tour. Vinayak Savarkar returned from the Andaman Islands, his prison writings traveling ahead of him, and became a foundational thinker for Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism. When his old adversary Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 at the hands of a Hindu extremist – an event which had parallels to the Dhingra affair that had bitterly divided them nearly forty years earlier – Savarkar stood trial and was acquitted, for his alleged role in it. By contrast, his closest associate in London, M. P. T. Acharya, lived in Berlin and Amsterdam after leaving Moscow and the Communist Party of India and moved back to anarchist internationalism. He was allowed to return to India in 1935, wherefrom Bombay, he continued to write on anarchist and pacifist themes and where the paintings by his Russian wife, Magda Nachman, were much sought after by the city’s elite.19 The friend who traveled with Acharya in 1910 to Morocco and turned back, Sukhsagar Datta, brother to the convicted terrorist Ullaskar, worked as a doctor in Bristol active in Labour Party politics, and died there in 1967, after nearly sixty years in the UK.20 The origins of many of these choices can be seen in the radical movement from its earliest inception. Ghadar charted paths to anarchism, nationalism, communism, Islamism, and Sikh militancy.21 Many of the British empire’s most-wanted men in 1915–17 remained committed to international causes and what one writer has described as ‘the hard slog of forging and sustaining alliances across an uneven and unequal geopolitical field.’22 Taraknath Das and Bhagwan Singh stayed in America after serving the prison terms handed down in 1918 at the San Francisco conspiracy trial. Taraknath Das married an American supporter, Mary Keatinge Morse, herself a founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and became a professor at Columbia and Georgetown Universities. Bhagwan Singh also lectured widely on India and spiritual themes. He was invited to return by India's independent government in 1958 and died in Chandigarh in 1962. In a way, M. N. Roy too abandoned active politics or was left outside them and took a more scholarly path. While in prison, he wrote to a friend: 

I concluded that civilized humanity was destined to go through another period of monasticism, where all the treasures of past wisdom, knowledge, and learning will be rescued from the ruins to be then passed on to a new generation engaged in the task of building a new world and a new civilization.23

Largely alienated from the intellectual circles in Bengal and elsewhere, he surrounded himself in Dehra Dun with a small circle of ‘Royists’ and devoted himself to a Radical Humanist Movement. However, Visitors observed that Roy kept a photograph of Stalin on his mantelpiece to the end of his life. He survived the older man by less than a year: after two years of illness following a bad fall, he died on 25 January 1954. The national press carried brief obituaries. His wife Ellen continued to organize his movement and edit its mouthpiece, The Radical Humanist, from Dehra Dun. Until she was beaten, the dead body was discovered on the morning of 14 December 1960. From the long police investigation and resulting prosecutions, there were signs that it was a political murder, but the mystery of its motive was never really solved.24 Roy’s first wife, Evelyn, remarried and lived quietly in California until she died in 1970, reluctant in later life to talk publicly of her role in the world revolution, and unmentioned in the memoirs Roy published in the Radical Humanist in his last years.

Most of these men and women lived long enough to write histories of their lives and times. They maintained a global web of correspondence, reliving encounters from long ago. But, for some, the underground was a dark cave from which they did not return – like those who perished in Stalin’s purges – or left behind only the slightest traces. This web of infinite connections was a fragile one that could all too easily break or never even fuse at all. To go overseas was always a battle against being forgotten. The work of the memorial was central to the village abroad from its very beginnings. The first histories of Ghadar were martyrologues, which shaped future waves of anti-colonial violence. The landscape of Punjab is dotted with shrines to the men of 1915. ‘India House’ is reconstructed in a memorial park over fifty-two acres at Shyamji Krishnavarma’s birthplace in Mandvi in Gujarat. In Vancouver, Mewa Singh, the assassin of W. C. Hopkinson, is commemorated annually, and for Canada, the Komagata Maru has become a potent symbol for national reflection. More quietly, Vietnamese visitors to Canton's modern city still visit Pham Hong Thai's tomb to pause there to bow in homage to his memory, but as a patriotic martyr, not an anarch internationalist. Similarly, sites such as that of the Nanchang uprising and the Canton commune are commemorated as the People’s Liberation Army's birthplace, or as a step, or misstep, along China’s revolutionary road. For many years, the memory of the global underground dissolved into national stories. In this sense, it remained a lost country: a history of revolutionary failure or something that did not happen. But, as it re-emerges, the view from the underground shifts our understanding of larger events in significant ways. Bhagwan Singh later insisted that the Ghadar mutiny was a close-run thing. Had there been arms from Germany, had the German troops in China not ‘been lost us’ when they were marched into captivity at the fall of Qingdao, had leaders within India not actively recruited for the British, events may have played out very differently. As it stood, he argued, it was Ghadar, in its stimulus to action, to repression, that brought a ‘mass awakening’ to India: ‘it was these shocks of [the] Indian Army’s disloyalty and undependability that convinced the British that India could not be held against her will’ and, by its propaganda overseas, ‘destroyed the moral justification of British Rule in India.’25 Despite the illusion of ‘normal time’ in the 1930s, the empire's foundations were fatally undermined. This view is borne out by much later scholarship.26 In China, too, the events of 1923–7 can be seen as the beginning of a decades-long cycle of military violence that ‘unmade’ and remade the nation and extorted a horrendous toll from its people.27 

Seen from the underground, time is loosened further. The history of what later became known as the ‘global Cold War’ takes on a longer duration, with its beginnings in the Bolshevik panic across empires in the 1920s or even back in the earlier struggle against international anarchism. This protracted conflict is a window on human movement experience in the twentieth century, its ebbs and flows, surveillance, and obstruction. Some ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, an installation by the artist Arnold Dreyblatt displayed a ‘mirror archive’ of around 4,000 intelligence documents drawn from multiple sources, including the archive of the Shanghai Municipal Police, seemingly relating to an individual called ‘T’ (born in Hungary in 1879, died in Shanghai in 1943). ‘T’ is revealed to be a composite life of the multiple individual names in the files, which are shown redacted and cross-referenced to suggest strange, aimless, subversive journeys across America and Eurasia. ‘T’ becomes an Everyman whose obscure purposes are followed by the police of many countries. The archival fragments are constantly cut up, reorganized, and redisplayed so that ‘any desire to recover an original moment of intention or of action or observation or of inscription or of transmission (and the multiplication of possible starting points already testifies to a crisis of determination) gives way … to other fascinations’.28 Part of the purpose of this kind of history is to reveal a sea of stories that other historians will navigate in their own ways. 

Some of these led to later internationals: the 1947 Asian Relations Conference in Delhi, held in the full heat of the freedom struggles in India, Indonesia, and Vietnam, or the Afro-Asia Conference in Bandung in April 1955, where Sukarno and Zhou Enlai dominated a new world stage. But Bandung was more a meeting of established nation-states than a common front of peoples. Perhaps the most important legacies of the old Asian underground were the internationals it spawned outside of states – of trade unionists, artists, or scientists – that are now again coming into historical focus.29 Equally significant were how old networks of smuggling people, funds, and arms across Indochina's borders, across the Straits of Malacca, sustained the Vietnamese and Indonesian revolutions at their most vulnerable moments.30 In a strange twist of fate, the internees from Boven Digoel, evacuated to Australia in 1943, played a pivotal supporting role in this by coordinating by aerogram a global boycott of Dutch shipping.


The underground of 1905–27 was a singular moment in time. As an anarchist chronicler described it:

Besides a constant exchange of ideas from country to country by translations of questions of more than local interest. In this way, every good pamphlet became very soon known internationally. This intellectual exchange sphere ranged from Portugal to China and New Zealand, and from Canada to Chile and Peru. This made every formal organization, however loose and informal it was, really unnecessary; to such an extent, one of the purposes of organization, international friendly relations, was already realized in these happy years when the globe seemed to have become a single small unit, while today it is split up and scattered into atoms, separated from each other in a worse degree than in the darkest medieval times; at least this is so in the greater part of the European continent at present, and is supported in dumb submission.31

The ‘today’ of the passage was 1924, the crescendo of this revolutionary age. Several shared qualities drew these stories together and made them something more than the sum of their parts for all its partings of ways and divergent destinies. Foremost among these was patience. The pathfinder, Phan Boi Chau, published a memoir in 1940, from his house arrest in Hue. ‘My history,’ he wrote, ‘is entirely a history of failure, and the maladies that have caused this failure are indeed obvious.’ He was, he admitted, excessively self-confident, overly open with others, impetuous in his judgments: ‘on many occasions, because of small things, a big plan failed.’ ‘All the same,’ he continued, ‘I do not venture to say that there is nothing of which I can be proud.’ Here he listed his audacity, ability always to remember ‘a good thought’, and above all his optimism: ‘I always look forward to reaching the goal and achieving victory at the last moment; even though the means and strategies may change. I am not distressed.’32 

This extraordinary fortitude came from a conviction that revolutionaries stood at, and had a unique perception of, the defining moment of the age when there was a possibility of them acting as an agent of elemental change whereby the previously disempowered – the ordinary worker or peasant, women, even the poorest of the poor – might reach for a new future. They constituted, in the Indonesian term, an aliran, an unstoppable wave of collective consciousness. Across the terrains of exile – cities and neighborhoods – this vision gathered force and conviction as revolutionaries shared resources and skills, forged alliances, or simply witnessed each other, drawing strength from a sense of co-presence.33 These places were fertile ground for radical new ideas. The political thought of the underground emerged in motion; it was fluid, instinctively eclectic, and endlessly creative in its work of translation. The most fertile minds did not remain doctrinal Marxists for long. Ideas were not principally found in philosophical treatises, although these certainly existed, as in Tan Malaka’s Madilog, written as a treasury of hard-won wisdom. They were often published in mosquito journals that rapidly came and went, or as pamphlets whose only later traces were often in police archives, or they were spoken and taught. At the heart of the underground was a worldwide experiment in mass education, in political instruction, in creating a ‘new culture’ and a new type of popular intellectual – what was termed in China a ‘Red literati.’ They shared a premonition that Asia lay at the forefront of human futures, and that, however much they adapted its learning, in M. N. Roy’s phrase, Europe was not the world.

They shared too a pervading dilemma over the means for achieving these futures, over the necessity of political violence, its temptations, and its costs. Asia’s first age of revolution ended as it had begun, in violence and trauma. The question of its ethics remained unresolved. In the spring of 1949, Jawaharlal Nehru visited Muzaffarpur, where Khudiram Bose had thrown the bomb at Mrs. Kennedy and her daughter's carriage on 29 April 1908, killing them both, and arguably setting in motion a long cycle of terror and repression. Nehru refused a request from local political worthies to lay the foundation stone of the town’s martyr’s memorial to Khudiram because ‘the principle of non-violence was involved.’ Just over a year had passed since the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. Writing at the time, M. N. Roy observed that even a couple of years earlier, Nehru would not have been so weighed down with the burdens of state to refuse such a task. The prime minister of India, Roy claimed, was a beneficiary and ‘not morally entitled to be censorious about acts of violence prompted by selfless idealism.’ Nationalists in power continued to commit mass violence; as Roy had seen at first hand in China in 1927, it was the direct consequence of these earlier acts. To Roy, ‘one can never be a nationalist and yet be sincere in the profession of non-violence.’ Roy recalled how, over forty years earlier, in April 1907, he had met Khudiram on the very eve of his ‘fatal pilgrimage’ to Muzaffarpur. As long ago as 1917, in Mexico, he had repudiated his youth's religious violence, as he had later that of Leninism, for the methods of reason and cultural transformation espoused within Radical Humanism. But Roy still held that the claims to the idealism of Khudiram and the first generation of martyrs were such that ‘the grandeur of their selflessness outshines the smallness of their mistakes.’34 After 1927, for that matter, after 1949, the cycle of imperial and revolutionary violence unleashed around 1907 had a long way to run. 

But, for all this, by 1927, there was a sense of the passing of an old guard and the rise of new leaders, more dogmatic thinking, and iron party discipline. By the 1920s, in orthodox Stalinist circles, the term ‘anti-nationalism’ was a term of abuse reserved for anarchists, Trotskyites, and bourgeois internationalists. Vera Vladimirovna-Akimova had to wait for forty years to write about her Canton and Wuhan experiences in 1926 and 1927. She explained that she wrote not just for herself but also for ‘other voices that are now stilled forever would resound.’ It was a testimony of a ‘remarkable’ moment of Sino-Soviet friendship: remarkable because it no longer was a possibility.35 As her translator noted, her richly evocative memoir ‘reads like a roll call of the dead,’ a history of loss, of lives robbed of their historical salience.36 Such loss is omnipresent in writing on this era of Asian connections: the mourning of old elites for bygone influence; a grieving for lost cities and vanished neighborhoods – the closure of Shanghai to Tan Malaka, or Berlin or Colonia Roma to Roy – for loss of mobility itself.37 This is not merely a tolling for lost friends, family, and comrades, nor liberty, for what was destroyed. There is a particular cadence to this loss for the underground, grief for which people were unable to build, for a lost heterotopia. But as another witness to this, Walter Benjamin wrote from a similar time but another place, a moment of loss is also a ‘moment of danger’ at which future possibilities can be grasped.38 In this, the underground image carries its specific sense of mutability and mobility, of the possibility of new places, new beginnings, and new struggles: the ‘old mole’ of history, burying, burrowing, and resurfacing elsewhere. 

For many decades after his death in Java, Tan Malaka was a spectral presence in Indonesia. He was never forgotten. In 1963 Sukarno remembered his debt to him and declared him officially a ‘national hero.’ But after Sukarno's fall and the bloody crushing of the leftist movement, he remained a ‘lonely’ and problematic figure. In 1991, a three-volume English-language translation of his memoirs appeared, but it was little read outside a circle of Indonesia's specialist scholars. It was only with the restoration of democracy in 1999 that Tan Malaka re-emerged as ‘the forgotten father of the republic’; his works were republished and became popular with a new generation of politicized youth. His image was seen on posters and T-shirts, a Che Guevara for Nusantara. The slower work of academic history had an important role to play in this, with the publication in the Netherlands in 2007 of a 2,194-page study of his life and times based on multiple archives and interviews over many years, entitled Verguisd en Vergeten, ‘Despised and Forgotten.’ As its author, Harry Poeze, observed, it was completed when Tan Malaka’s times were vanishing from the memory of living; such a study would not be possible again. It soon made a larger impact on Indonesian translation. 

As it did so, in 2009, a grave was opened at the foot of Mount Wilis in East Java. A portrait of Tan Malaka in middle age was placed over a makeshift attap tomb. The ‘lonely revolutionary’ had left no heirs. Still, a surviving cousin raised the possibility of DNA testing and reinterring his remains in the heroes’ cemetery in the capital, Jakarta, or in his Minangkabau homeland. The science, however, was inconclusive.39 In 2011, a theatre production opened in Jakarta called Opera Tan Malaka. It was staged in Soviet-era constructivist style, with a libretto by Goenawan Muhamad, one of Indonesia’s leading writers. But an attempt to hold the production in East Java was blocked by the authorities. Tan Malaka remained an uncertain, dangerous presence. In the opera that bears his name, Tan Malaka does not appear. As the narrator tells it: ‘I disappear; therefore, I exist. I am present. Tan Malaka will not die in this story. Maybe that is what I need to say.’40 These words echo Tan Malaka’s own, to his British interrogators in his cell in Hong Kong in the summer of 1932: ‘Remember this. My voice will be louder from the grave than ever it was while I walked the earth.’41


1. UNW. See Hans van de Ven, China at War: Triumph and Tragedy in the Emergence of the New China, 1937–1945, London, Profile, 2017, and also Rana Mitter, China’s War with Japan, 1937–45: The Struggle for Survival, London, Allen Lane, 2013.

2. Yeo Song Nian and Ng Siew Ai, ‘The Japanese Occupation as Reflected in Singapore-Malayan Chinese Literary Works after the Japanese Occupation (1945–49)’, in Patricia Lim Pui Huen and Diana Wong (eds), War and Memory in Malaysia and Singapore, Singapore, ISEAS, 2000, pp. 106–22. 

3. This section draws on themes of Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper in Forgotten Armies: The Fall of British Asia, 1941–1945, London, Allen Lane, 2004.

4. Penderel Moon (ed.), Wavell: The Viceroy’s Journal, London, Oxford University Press, pp. 51, 55.

5. For this, see Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper, Forgotten Wars: The End of Britain’s Asian Empire, London, Allen Lane, 2007. 

6. Samaren Roy, The Twice-Born Heretic: M. N. Roy and Comintern, Calcutta, Firma KLM, 1986, p. 188.

7. For an elegant summary of Ho Chi Minh’s movements in this period, see Pierre Brocheux, Ho Chi Minh: A Biography, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2007, and for Arnoux pp. 84–5.

8. David G. Marr, Vietnam 1945: The Quest for Power, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1997.

9. Tan Malaka, From Jail to Jail, vol. III, p. 122.

10. Until recently, the only extended English-language account of this work was Rudolf Mrázek, ‘Tan Malaka: A Political Personality’s Structure of Experience,’ Indonesia, 14 (1972), pp. 1–48. But see the important new interpretation by Oliver Crawford, ‘The Political Thought of Tan Malaka’, PhD thesis, University of Cambridge, 2018, esp. ch. 5.

11. H. A. Poeze, ‘Soekarno’s political testament’, in H. A. Poeze and A. Liem (eds), Lasting Fascination: Essays on Indonesia and the Southwest Pacific to Honour Bob Hering, Stein, Yayasan Kabar Seberang, 1998, pp. 291–305.

12. Tan Malaka, From Jail to Jail, vol. III, p. 100.

13. For Tan Malaka and the revolution, see Benedict Anderson, Java in a Time of Revolution: Occupation and Resistance, 1944–1946, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1972, pp. 269–83.

14. Aboe Bakar Loebis, ‘Tan Malaka’s Arrest: An Eye-Witness Account’, Indonesia, 53 (1992), pp. 71–8.

15. For an engaging profile, see Budi Setyarso et al., Musso and the Madiun Movement, Jakarta, Tempo Publishing, 2013.

16. Ann Swift, The Road to Madiun: The Indonesia Communist Uprising of 1948, Singapore, Equinox, 2010, Musso quotation at pp. 159–60. For Moscow's importance, see Harry A. Poeze, ‘The Cold War in Indonesia, 1948’, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 40/3 (2009), pp. 497–517.

17. The definitive account is Harry A. Poeze, Verguisd en Vergeten: Tan Malaka, de Linkse Beweging En de Indonesische Revolutie, 1945–1949, 3 vols, Leiden, KITLV, 2007, especially vol. III, pp. 1393–494. I am grateful to Anne-Isabelle Richard for providing an English-language summary of Poeze’s findings on Tan Malaka’s death.

18. Donald Hindley, The Communist Party of Indonesia: 1951–1963, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1966, pp. 105–6. 

19. These essays have been republished in M. P. T. Acharya, ed. Ole Laursen, We Are Anarchists: Essays on Anarchism, Pacifism, and the Indian Independence Movement, 1923–1953, Chico, California, AK Press, 2019. 

20. For a brief biography see (last accessed 25 September 2019).

21. A central theme of Maia Ramnath, Haj to Utopia: How the Ghadar Movement Charted Global Radicalism and Attempted to Overthrow the British Empire, Berkeley, University of California Press, 2011. See also Neeti Nair, ‘Bhagat Singh as “Satyagrahi”: The Limits to Non-Violence in Late Colonial India’, Modern Asian Studies, 43/3 (2009), pp. 649–81; Chris Moffat, India’s Revolutionary Inheritance: Politics and the Promise of Bhagat Singh, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2019.

22. Manu Goswami, ‘Imaginary Futures and Colonial Internationalisms’, American Historical Review, 117/5 (2012), pp. 1461–85, quotation at p. 1464.

23. Roy, The Twice-Born Heretic, pp. 189–90.

24. Tapan Ghosh, ‘Ellen Roy Murder case’, in Ray (ed.), The World Her Village, pp. 159–77. 

25. Letter from Bhagwan Singh Gyanee to Jagjit Singh, 18 June 1956, Bhagwan Singh Gyanee Materials, South Asian American Digital Archive, 

26. For example, for the Indian army as a theme of the end of empire see Bayly and Harper, Forgotten Armies and Forgotten Wars.

27. Hans van de Ven, War and Nationalism in China, 1925–1945, London, RoutledgeCurzon, 2003, p. 296. 

28. Arnold Dreyblatt and Jeffrey Wallen, ‘Hands on the Document: Arnold Dreyblatt’s T. Archive’, in Sonja Neef, José van Dijck and Eric Ketelaar (eds), Sign Here!: Handwriting in the Age of New Media, Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Press, 2006, pp. 134–49, quotation at p. 142. The online version is, alas, no longer available, but see 

29. See Su Lin Lewis and Carolien Stolte, ‘Other Bandungs: Afro-Asian Internationalisms in the Early Cold War’, Journal of World History, 30/1–2 (2019), pp. 1–19, and the other articles in this special issue.

30. Christopher E. Goscha, Thailand and the Southeast Asian Networks of the Vietnamese Revolution, 1885–1954, London, Routledge, 1998; Yong Mun Cheong, The Indonesian Revolution and the Singapore Connection, 1945–1949, Leiden, KITLV, 2003.

31. Max Nettlau, Errico Malatesta: The Biography of an Anarchist, New York, Jewish Anarchist Federation, 1924, p. 59. I was alerted to this passage by Davide Turcato, ‘Italian Anarchism as a Transnational Movement, 1885–1915’, International Review of Social History, 52/3 (2007), pp. 407–44, and here quote it more fully.

32. Phan Boi Chau, Overturned Chariot: The Autobiography of Phan Boi Chau, Honolulu, Hawaii University Press, 1999, pp. 45–6.

33. I first encountered this idea in Verne A. Dusenbery, ‘Diasporic Imagings and the Conditions of Possibility: Sikhs and the State in Southeast Asia’, Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, 12/2 (1997), pp. 226–60; John Urry, ‘Mobility and Proximity’, Sociology, 36/2 (2002), pp. 255–74. 

34. M. N. Roy, ‘Nationalism and Non-violence’, The Radical Humanist, 13/15 (17 April 1949), pp. 167–8.

35. Vishnyakova-Akimova, Two Years in Revolutionary China, p. xvii. 

36. Ibid., p. viii. A provocative account of loss of salience in another context has shaped my thinking: Christine Stansell, ‘Louise Bryant Grows Old’, History Workshop Journal, 50/1 (2000), pp. 156–80.

37. Will Hanley, ‘Grieving Cosmopolitanism in Middle East Studies’, History Compass, 6/5 (2008), pp. 1346–67. 

38. We are paraphrasing here Volker Braun on the fall of the German Democratic Republic: ‘What I never had is being torn from me,’ as quoted and discussed by Charity Scribner, ‘Left Melancholy’, in David L. Eng and David Kazanjian (eds), Loss: The Politics of Mourning, Berkeley, University of California Press, 2003, pp. 300–319, quotation at p. 300; for Benjamin see also Eng and Kazanjian, ‘Introduction: Mourning Remains’, ibid., pp. 1–28.

39. Asvi Warman Adam, ‘Tomb of Tan Malaka, finally’, The Jakarta Post, 17 February 2014.

40. Prodita Sabarini, ‘Tan Malaka: An Opera of Absence’, The Jakarta Post, 7 May 2011. 

41. Tan Malaka, From Jail to Jail, vol. II, p. 49.


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