Subchan Z.E.: A Modernist Maestro and Political Intellectual in the Mid-1960s

In the mid-1960s, H.M. Subchan Z.E., a young leader of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), embarked on a visit to Matraman to meet Nyai Hj. Sholichah, the wife of K.H. Wahid Hasjim. This encounter, documented in Aisyah Hamid Baidlowi’s memoir, sheds light on Subchan’s dynamic personality and his role in shaping the socio-political landscape of his time.

Born in Kepanjen, Malang, on May 22, 1931, Subchan hails from a prominent family. Raised by the family of H. Zaenuri Echsan, a wealthy cigarette entrepreneur, Subchan’s early life was marked by his entrepreneurial spirit. He excelled in the business world, establishing PT Inter Asia in the late 1940s and engaging in successful ventures in the import-export industry.

While lacking formal academic credentials, Subchan actively sought knowledge, frequently visiting foreign universities such as Stanford and Washington. His expertise in trade and public speaking bolstered his popularity as a lecturer and commentator on economic matters. Subchan’s involvement in international conferences and collaborations with military figures paved the way for his entry into politics.

Subchan’s political ascent within NU began with his role in the NU Department of Education (Ma’arif). His career gained momentum, leading to key positions such as head of the Department of Economy. His strategic connections with military leaders, notably A.H. Nasution, positioned him as a central figure in the anti-communist movement during the tumultuous events of 1965.

In the aftermath of the September 30th Movement (G30S) in 1965, Subchan played a crucial role in coordinating anti-communist activities. Together with leaders from various political parties, they formed the Kesatuan Aksi Pengganyangan (KAP) Gestapu. Subchan’s involvement extended to the establishment of Front Pancasila, which orchestrated demonstrations and physical attacks against communists.

As the political landscape shifted, Subchan’s once-close ties with the military waned. He emerged as a vocal critic of the New Order regime, challenging the legitimacy of the electoral system and advocating for the rehabilitation of Masjumi and the Indonesian Socialist Party (PSI). Subchan’s bold stance led him to consider legal action against Golkar, intending to file complaints with the United Nations and the International Court of Justice.

Despite his contributions, Subchan’s clash with the NU leadership, particularly the Syuri’ah Board, led to his excommunication in 1972. The decision was based on moral grounds, focusing on Subchan’s lifestyle rather than his political stance. The controversy surrounding Subchan’s dismissal revealed internal divisions within NU.

Tragically, on January 21, 1973, Subchan met his untimely death in a traffic accident in Makkah, leaving behind a complex legacy as a modernist maestro, intellectual, and political actor within the NU and Indonesian history. His life reflects the intricate intersections of religion, politics, and personal choices during a critical period in the nation’s history.