These translations offer a valuable insight into how Indonesians engaged with Marxism and how this engagement evolved over time. How did Indonesians translate and elucidate Marx’s concepts for the Indonesian context? What vocabularies did they draw on in their translations? What role was there for terms derived from Javanese or Arabic? Which terms were considered untranslatable? Were Marx’s arguments subtly altered as they were translated? Were certain sections of his writings rephrased or left out? Did the translations notably change between the 1920s and the 1960s? Answering these questions will show how Indonesians mediated between Western culture and their own, and how they attempted to make the writings of a nineteenth century German philosopher comprehensible in a mainly Islamic, Southeast Asian country.
My project is a case study in a ‘global’ approach to intellectual history, which seeks to understand how transnational ideologies, such as Marxism, interacted with existing patterns of religion and culture as they spread, rather than treating these ideas as unproblematically universal. As such, my research fits with the ‘Global Asia’ project’s stated goal of seeing the circulation of ideas through Asia not as a hegemonic transmission of ideas from West to East but as a dialogue, in this case a dialogue between Marx and his Indonesian interpreters.