Arief Budiman Wasn’t Always a Famous “Left” Scholar

Soe Hok Djin came to HB Jassin's house on Jalan Siwalan, near Pasar Senen in Central Jakarta. He handed over several short stories to the host, who carefully read them. A few weeks later, the short story Djeki, Anjingku was published in Mimbar Indonesia magazine, which was edited by Jassin, Indonesia's most respected literary critic. The author was still in second grade at Kanisius Middle School when the short story was published. Djin, who was born on January 3, 1941, in Jakarta, later changed his name to Arief Budiman.

Arief told the above story when he received the Freedom Institute's Achmad Bakrie Award for Social Thinking in 2006. Rizal Mallarangeng's institution considered Arief to have contributed significantly by advocating for a structural approach to reading social issues in Indonesia, challenging the cultural/modernization approach that had dominated since the New Order came to power.

Some of us may be familiar with Arief's younger brother, Soe Hok Gie. Both were cool academics, only with different areas of interest: Gie was more interested in socio-politics, whereas Arief was more interested in the arts. In recent years, he had focused more on literature, drama, and fine arts reviews than fiction.

Arief attended the University of Indonesia's Faculty of Psychology. During the hazing period, he met Goenawan Mohamad. They clicked right away because they both loved art and philosophy. They both became signatories to the Cultural Manifesto in 1963.

In summary, the signatories expressed their opposition to the communists', PKI's, and People's Cultural Institute's push for "politics as commander-in-chief" in the arts. Arief and Goenawan were both 22. Senior figures such as Wiratmo Soekito, HB Jassin, Trisno Sumardjo, Zaini, and Bokor Hutasuhut also signed.

How to Become a Political Activist

Wiratmo took on the role of a mentor for young people like Arief and Goenawan. This man, who studied philosophy at Nijmegen's Catholic University, was also the "conceptor" of the Cultural Manifesto.

The environment was productive and healthy. The debate was held on an equal footing. Things changed dramatically on May 8, 1964, when President Sukarno banned the Cultural Manifesto. This prohibition had far-reaching consequences. Signatories could not teach, write for the media, exhibit, or perform works.

When the upheaval of 1965–1966 erupted, Arief entered the political sphere, though he was not prominent. Soe Hok Gie was one step ahead. After all, Arief was still deeply involved in the world of literature, including when he finished his studies in the late 1960s. He wrote a thesis on Chairil Anwar's poems, which were philosophically studied. The thesis was published in 1973 under the title Chairil Anwar: Sebuah Pertemuan.

Arief's schedule was packed after graduating from UI. He was elected to the Jakarta Arts Council, served on the Film Censorship Board, and helped run the literary magazine Horison.

In the case of Horison, Arief deserved to be referred to as the initiator. Arief paid a visit to journalist Mochtar Lubis while he was under house arrest. During their conversation, Arief suggested starting a new literary magazine. Mochtar approved the proposal. Horison, the new magazine, was launched in July 1966.

Taman Mini Led to His Arrest

Arief's activism became more intense after he gave up his student status. He demonstrated the plan to construct Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (TMII), established the Anti-Corruption Committee, and perhaps most notably, launched the Golongan Putih or Golput movement.

Abstentions arose in response to the New Order's restrictions on the right to associate with and take part in politics. As a result, Arief requested that the public refrain from voting in the 1971 elections. Arief was detained for four weeks because of protests against the TMII's construction. He was arrested while attending a seminar at the Hotel Indonesia.

Arief was fired from the Film Censorship Board after being released from detention. The security forces also contacted media editors, requesting that they stop publishing Siti Leila Chairani's husband's writings.

He then applied to three major US universities: Berkeley, Chicago, and Harvard. Arief had to accept the harsh reality that none of the colleges would accept him.

The International Association for Cultural Freedom (IACF) provided the antidote to grief. Arief was offered a year of work at the agency's office in Paris, France. He was familiar with the IACF because it had helped fund Horison magazine since 1970.

The IACF served as a replacement for the Congress of Cultural Freedom (CCF), which was disbanded after its relationship with the CIA was revealed. CCF awarded Arief a scholarship to study at the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium, in 1964.

To Paris, and Then to Harvard

He returned to Europe eight years after Bruges. In Paris, the door was opened for Arief to study as a "special student" at Harvard University, which is a non-degree program on this well-known campus. Accepted terms required a Harvard professor to serve as a sponsor.

After Arief submitted his writings to several English-language magazines, sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset agreed to become a sponsor. Lipset taught his friends Harsja Bachtiar and Sulaiman Sumardi.

His only activities as a "special student" were in class and at the library. He had been struggling with books on basic social science theory until the evening. It's understandable given that his S1 lecture was less encouraging.

With that in mind, he needed to prepare to be a regular student at Harvard. There was no master's level in the Department of Sociology, only a Ph.D. Acceptance was fiercely competitive. In April 1974, he was declared a Ph.D. candidate. Arief attended lectures for the next two years.

It was time to work on his dissertation. He had been gathering ideas for a book about underdevelopment and developing countries' reliance on developed countries. He also chose Chile for his dissertation research.

In his opinion, the case in Chile was the only peaceful and democratic attempt to transition from capitalism to socialism. It occurred when Salvador Allende was elected and became president. Allende was deposed in a coup in 1973, and the US was thought to have played a role.

The dissertation was finished in May 1980, and the Ph.D. was ready. Arief had become a "leftist" scholar around this time. Arief was not a Marxist when he was younger. He was more influenced by the works of Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre.

Arief changed while living and studying in the heart of capitalism. He studied Marxism, particularly in its contemporary form, namely the structural approach and its derivative, dependency theory, while working on poverty.

Many social scientists believed that poverty resulted from a negative mental attitude. Prof. Koentjaraningrat, for example, spoke about the mentality that needed to be prepared in order to fit with the spirit of development.

When he returned to Indonesia, he taught at Salatiga's Satya Wacana Christian University (SWCU). He also vigorously advocated for a structural approach and debated the Pancasila economy with several other academics, including UGM professor Moebyarto.

This father of two continued to write in newspapers and magazines, criticizing the New Order. Several books have been published, including State Theory: State Power and Ideology and State and Development: Studies of Indonesia and South Korea.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, his beautiful house in Salatiga became a haven for several student activists who were dissatisfied with the Suharto regime. He then left Indonesia and went to Australia to teach until he retired.

Arief Budiman died on April 23, 2020, leaving an intellectual legacy comparable to 24-carat gold.