Seventy-One Years of Dawam Rahardjo


By: Fachry Ali

There was a period in the Indonesian socio-political history when the middle class, intellectuals and the state worked in unison. This “honeymoon” transpired in 1966 until the early years of the 1970s.

The basis of this unification was the shared perception within the three unified parties that the “Leftist” political forces were their collective enemy. The communist forces were purged from national politics at the end of 1965 and in 1966.

The so-called “Rightist” forces practically came out as the winning party and, thus, occupied state politics. In mid-1970s, however, the crack between them was unavoidable — primarily characterized by the Jan. 15, 1974 tragedy (MALARI, Malapetaka 15 Januari), when the middle class and the intellectuals collided in opinion on the development strategy with the state.

Points of their dispute are not important enough to be discussed here. What is clear in the post-MALARI era was that the state was able to marginalize the middle class and the urban intellectuals.

The state was increasingly convinced of its unbeatable force and had leeway to act as, using Herbert Feith’s phrase, “developmentalist regime” — a self-proclaimed development agent whose task was to liberate its people from poverty by launching grand economic development programs, without paying attention to the ideological and the articulation pressures of the masses.

By creating a myriad of development projects, the state tried to reach directly to ordinary people, whom it regarded as “the passive objects”. By doing so, the state, thus ,intentionally deprived its roots in the middle class and the urban intellectual’s layer.

It is within this tense relation between the arrogant developmentalist state and the absence of the people’s initiative and participation that had become the environment wherein analyst M. Dawam Rahardjo expressed his critical ideas. This prolific writer reached 71 years old this year.

What exactly had challenged Dawam, intellectually, to write during this period? In my view, Dawam drifted into a stream of thought stressing the meaning of individual autonomy: An effort of seeking self-articulation out of the state’s scope.

This consciousness went hand in hand with the idea of “economics guru” Soemitro Djojohadikusumo who — within the frame of collaboration with Friedrich Naumann Stiftung (FNS), a foundation under the umbrella of the West German Democratic Party – established the Institute for Economic and Social Research, Education and Information (LP3ES) in 1971 via its domestic counterpart, the Bina Sosial-Ekonomi (Bineksos) Foundation.

It is by taking an active part at this institute, after abandoning his former job as a staff at the Bank of America, Dawam found the effective vehicle for his intellectual autonomy.

What happened then was a tug-of-war between the increasingly concentric state, on the one hand, and the urban intellectuals who were struggling to defend their independence, on the other.

It is this tense atmosphere that was reflected in almost all Dawam Rahardjo’s writings during the course of 1970s and 1980s. The themes of his Prisma Journal writings during this period, as can be seen in his newly published book under Tarli Nugroho’s editing, Ekonomi Politik Pembangunan (The Economic and Political Aspects of Development), were continued scattering of ideas into the public sphere in order to find the alternative development paths from the one offered by the state.

In the context of development ideology, for instance, Dawam had intentionally explored people-based China’s development model — to show the public that it is the people that are essentially the power of development. No wonder, thereby, if Dawam Rahardjo paid more attention, at home, on the strategic role of cooperatives and small-scale industries in economic development as they both set forward the people as the main actors and forces in economic development.

Talented readers during the discussed period were certainly aware that the underline thought of the New Order development strategy, in the context of mentality and sociology, was “the betting on the strong” approach — using W.F. Wertheim’s phrase — an endeavor of creating economic growth through persistent collaboration between the state and the capitalist class, boosted by Western countries.

This was highlighted in the motto “Making the cake bigger first, before distributing it”. For realizing the striking absence of domestic private capital capable of baking the “cake” to grow larger, is an effective way thus must be pursued – namely, the implementation of a 1930s Keynesian derivative idea: “the big push” approach.

This way was taken by juxtaposing the economic crisis bequeathed by the Old Order regime (1959-1966) with Keynes’ lesson of the 1929-1930 Great Depression. The upshot was a legitimation that the state structurally should launch at a massive scale of capital investment (“big push”). This automatically had pushed the state to take the largest role into the economy.

Theoretically, the objective of this move was to create the economic multiplying effects — a cyclic movement that links the labor absorption, the rise of people’s purchasing power with the opening of new opportunities for a furthered private investment.

No doubt, employing this strategy is theoretically correct, even until today. Enlarging space for labor absorption would inevitably encourage private investment in many fields of the economy to produce consumption goods as well as capital goods that finally lead to the economic growth. However, for Dawam, this “betting on the strong” strategy remained a source of his intellectual resentment that prompted him to seek the alternative development paths.

For, on the pretext of the aforementioned Old Order regime’s economic crisis, once economic growth was successfully created, the state unilaterally claimed the legitimacy to establish its hegemony over the society. And — in the name of the economic development — the state possessed the logic to severely control the non-economic activities of the society. It still lingers in my mind how Dawam Rahardjo, in a personal conversation, criticized the New Order’s home affairs minister Amir Machmud for his statement denying the people’s contribution to economic development.

Implicitly, this remark valorized an adjustment that only the ruling party (i.e. GOLKAR, Golongan Karya, at that time) deserved to receive the people’s political support.

As also the case with other analysts, Dawam Rahardjo’s thoughts, which can be traced in numerous of his 1970s and 1980s Prisma writings, thus served as the intellectual reference — whence the civil society actors could find the source of ideas alternative to the states. It was such a romantic race of ideas, marked by the tug of war between the state and the independent intellectuals.

Now, this romantic period has disappeared, being engulfed by the less essential stormy and frenzied political debates of the post-New Order politics.

Based on the spirit “better late than never”, let me express Happy Birthday to Mas Dawam. Keep contributing your thoughts. Especially when the state, can no longer take its major role in the economy.


Footnote: This opinion article has been displayed in an online newspaper, The Jakarta Post, in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. The original and full article is also available at: [accessed in Kemiri Hill, Cigugur Girang, West Bandung, Indonesia: 26 July 2013].

The author is one of the founders of Jakarta-based Institute for the Study and Advancement of Business Ethics (LSPEU, Indonesia).



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here