We have seen that Sjahrir’s career was a long struggle to achieve a set of ideals which were formed at an early stage, and which remained constant in their essence throughout his life, but were tempered by experience. Despite his intellectual brilliance and his many achievements the final phases of his career were unsuccessful, and ended in deep personal suffering. The failure of the Socialist Party to find a durable place in Indonesian politics was the central feature of this period of his career. To make sense of this failure in biographical terms, we must examine several aspects of his personality and style of action. Finally, although it is necessarily a rather speculative enterprise, it is worth asking whether alternative strategies might have produced any different result. We have already seen that education was the medium of Sjahrir’s personal advancement in his early years, and that he was driven by a strong pedagogical impulse. Indeed, education was to him the essential task. In his own words, it was “the greatest work there is”. This preoccupation is apparent in his rhetoric, in his mode of political action and in his personal relations. Sjahrir’s rhetoric reveals a teacher rather than an orator. His political utterances reflect his pedagogical preoccupation, as he constantly employs the language of the schoolroom, both lexical and structural, to make his thinking clear.
The rhetorical style of a politician like Sjahrir could easily be a study in itself, but here only a few points need be noted. Implicit in his recorded thought is the idea that political ends can best be sought by teaching, convincing, demonstrating the validity of one’s views. For instance, he often speaks of ideas he believes in, like socialism and democracy, as ajaran, which may be translated as “doctrine” but has the essential meaning of “teaching”. For him political conflict was largely a contest between teachings. At the root of this is a belief that consciousness can determine or at least strongly influence action. If people can be educated, convinced, made aware, then desirable actions will follow. At the same time, since rational understanding and planning should link desirable actions with desirable results, education becomes the key to progress. Thus political action becomes inseparable from the educational project. Hence for Sjahrir, socialism is “a teaching and a movement seeking justice in human life”.The rational approach contained in Sjahrir’s effort to teach is reflected in the literal quality of his language. In this he contrasts starkly with many Indonesian politicians, notably Sukarno. Sjahrir rarely uses symbolic techniques to convey meaning, and rarely slips into the use of slogans. He consciously rejected slogans, seeing them as a poor if superficially attractive substitute for explanation. His arguments are therefore generally concrete and immediate in their content and logical in their structure, and resemble nothing so much as thoughtfully constructed lectures, which indeed they are. Longer pieces are carefully divided into manageable, tightly argued sections. He often describes general conditions before moving on to specifics, and he gives his audience considerable help by frequent definitions, use of topic sentences and generous use of introductory and summary phrases which help the audience keep track of the development of his argument, such as “We will now consider a number of things which we believe to be important factors...” or “Now that we have explored and stated frankly what we regard as shortcomings...we may draw the conclusion that...”
It is easy to see how closely Sjahrir’s rhetoric resembled the academic discourse in which he had so excelled as a youth. This was not wholly unconscious; indeed, this kind of political language was a source of some pride to him. Tas remembers Sjahrir’s pleasure in remarking after his 1955 speaking campaign that “all my speeches were lessons” to which the people had listened with patience.’
One possible interpretation of Sjahrir’s preoccupation is to view education as a quasi-reproductive activity. This has a psychological as well as a sociological aspect. Education may be considered as a social process which not only contributes to the development of the individual’s knowledge, skills and attitudes but also acts as a conduit for the perpetuation or reproduction of norms and values, of ideology. To the extent that ideology is intimately connected with an individual’s identity, as Erik Erikson suggests, the kind of political education which Sjahrir strove to impart involves an attempt to reproduce an aspect of the educator’s identity. According to such an interpretation, Sjahrir’s educational work was not only the implementation of a rationally arrived at strategy of political action, but also the fulfilment, perhaps dimly conscious, of a drive towards a quasi-parental nurturing relationship with his followers.
From a historical angle, this pedagogical concern can also be linked to the educational heritage of the Kota Gedang tradition. A major concern of parents in the Kota Gedang lineages was to achieve educational openings for their children, especially because of the connection between education and government employment. Their patronage of the many private schools which sprang up around the turn of the century, as well as their dominant position in the Dutch schools, even beyond their own region, demonstrates this. Thus a strong connection was established between promotion of a child’s formal educational career and the quality of parental nurture. To such a way of thinking, to leave a child in unschooled ignorance might be an unconscionable neglect. More generally, a deep concern for the work of nurturing is discernible in Sjahrir’s life quite apart from his educational principle. This is reflected in his love of children, his reluctance to cause or allow suffering in others, and broadly in his attitude towards the Indonesian people. In his letters it is clear that he does not love the people because of identification or kinship, but because they are “the sufferers and the losers”, the victims of colonialism and other avoidable evils. He feels “sympathy for the underdog”, but as a detached person who sees the people as “them”. An endearing aspect of Sjahrir’s character is his love of children. He had only two children of his own, but was regarded as an adoptive father by many others. Even during his brief, youthful sojourn in
Sukarno accepted the younger man’s reprimand but cannot have forgotten it. Twenty years later, prisoners of the Dutch at Prapat, the two grated on each other. Sukarno’s vanity irked Sjahrir, who was unable to restrain himself and treated the president to a stinging outburst. Even Sukarno’s singing in the bathroom provoked Sjahrir to his own flurry of coarse Dutch. When Sjahrir received his letter of appointment as adviser to an Indonesian negotiating team, his first reaction on seeing Sukarno’s signature was, “Who is he? Why does he have to appoint me?” Hatta reports that the story got back to Sukarno, who was suitably insulted. Arnold C. Brackman remembers witnessing a heated exchange between the two men when working as a journalist in
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