The Split of PGRI: A Reflection of Political Turmoil During Guided Democracy

The era of guided democracy in Indonesia, initiated with the issuance of the Presidential Decree on July 5, 1959, marked a significant turning point in the country’s political landscape. Under the leadership of President Sukarno, this period witnessed the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly and the re-enforcement of the old Constitution. Subsequently, the formation of a new cabinet, known as the Working Cabinet (Kabinet Kerja), with Sukarno as the Prime Minister, heralded the beginning of guided democracy. The political ideology was further elucidated through Manipol (Manifesto Politik) on August 17, 1959, emphasizing the revival of the revolutionary spirit, social justice, and the strengthening of state institutions for continuous revolution.

The complexity of guided democracy deepened with the addition of the term USDEK, encompassing the principles of the 1945 Constitution, Indonesian-style socialism, guided democracy, guided economy, and Indonesian identity. This ideological framework replaced the previous democratic system, deemed unsuitable by Sukarno for Indonesian society. The political parties underwent crystallization as Sukarno emphasized unity among nationalism, religion, and communism, forming the famous Nasakom doctrine.

According to historian M.C. Ricklefs in “Sejarah Indonesia Modern 1200-2004” (2005), “Only the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) showed significant vitality. The influence of political leaders was no longer gained through official institutions or party structures but rather through proximity to Sukarno or the military.”

Amid the atmosphere of guided democracy, Indonesia’s largest teachers’ union, PGRI (Persatuan Guru Republik Indonesia), experienced a significant split. The attempt to remain neutral amidst political forces (nationalists, religious groups, communists, and the military) proved challenging for PGRI.

PGRI, established during the early days of independence in 1945, aimed to be a unitary, independent, and non-partisan organization. Its membership was open to all, irrespective of ethnicity, education credentials, gender, etc. PGRI played a crucial role in uniting teachers during the national revolution, contributing to the struggle for independence.

However, internal conflicts within PGRI surfaced during the Guided Democracy era. The discord escalated a year before the political upheaval in 1965, when Sukarno and left-wing groups were ousted from Indonesian politics. Marwati Djoened and Nugroho Notosusanto documented this internal strife in “Sejarah Nasional Indonesia VI” (2010), attributing it to the infiltration by the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).

The intense internal conflict led to the split of PGRI on June 7, 1964, resulting in the establishment of PGRI non-Vaksentral. The division was portrayed in contemporary newspapers as a consequence of ME Subiadinata, the chairman, violating congress decisions. Subiadinata unilaterally affiliated PGRI with the Central Organization of Indonesian Swadiri Employees (SOKSI), sponsored by the military.

PGRI non-Vaksentral, led by Subandri, emerged as a counterforce against the perceived political affiliation of PGRI with SOKSI. Despite actively supporting the government’s education programs, the group declared its commitment to maintaining unity among members and supporting educational initiatives.

Sukarno expressed concerns about the dualism within PGRI, emphasizing the need for reconciliation between PGRI SOKSI and PGRI non-Vaksentral. The president, considering the importance of skilled labor for the country’s development, urged a resolution to the conflict that could otherwise impede the ongoing revolution.

Despite reconciliation efforts, dualism persisted until the September 30, 1965, movement. PGRI non-Vaksentral faced allegations of involvement in the violent events due to its proximity to left-wing organizations considered responsible for the killing of generals. Consequently, like other leftist organizations, PGRI non-Vaksentral members were hunted and killed, and the organization was banned and labeled as part of the underbuilding (support structure) of the PKI.

The split within PGRI during the Guided Democracy era reflects the intense political turmoil of the time. As a microcosm of broader political divisions, PGRI’s internal conflict mirrored the challenges faced by Indonesian society in navigating the complex ideological landscape of the Guided Democracy period. The aftermath of this split left a lasting impact on the teaching profession, with many teachers losing their lives and schools facing a shortage of educators for years to come. The history of PGRI serves as a poignant reminder of the intricate interplay between politics and education during this tumultuous period in Indonesia’s history.