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  • Surabaya, City of Work: A Socioeconomic History, 1900–2000
Surabaya, City of Work: A Socioeconomic History, 1900–2000. By H. W. Dick . ( Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Center for International Studies Research in International Studies Southeast Asia Series No. 106, Ohio University Press, 2002. xxix plus 541 pp.).

Howard Dick, an economic historian at the University of Melbourne's Australian Centre of International Business, calls for a re-evaluation of the colonial heritage of Surabaya, and of Indonesia generally, in light of post-colonial events. During the struggle for independence, Indonesians fought against the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of an arrogant, foreign, colonial administration. In the process, however, they frequently failed to credit the economic contributions of that government, especially an infrastructure that promoted economic development and international commerce. After independence, evaluations of the new, indigenous government tended to reverse this balance. The post-independence governments, especially the three decades-long administration of President Suharto, 1967-98, took credit for promoting industrialization and economic growth, but they, too, concentrated wealth and power in their own hands. In both cases, the economy flourished but benefits were distributed very inequitably. Despite historical shifts in world markets, global warfare, Japanese occupation, nationalist revolution, independence, and post-independence internal struggle, these underlying continuities persisted.

The major exception occurred during the administration of President Sukar- no, 1949-66. Dick praises its relative withdrawal from the global economy, nationalization of foreign owned enterprise, and increasing decentralization at home. Unfortunately these policies were accompanied by economic stagnation, political chaos, and, finally, an orgy of mass killings as the military attacked and decimated the communist party (especially in Surabaya, a communist strong- hold) and people of Indonesian ancestries murdered those from China.

Dick gives only a sketchy account of these Indonesian politics and policies, especially since independence. Apparently Dick believed that anyone reading a book so specialized as this one would already be thoroughly familiar with the political background of the country. He also makes little attempt to place the city in a wider theoretical or comparative framework, except for frequent comparisons with Jakarta, Indonesia's capital and largest city. A very detailed, "loosely structured and idiosyncratic" (p. xxiii), monographic case study of a single city, Surabaya appears appropriately in a publication series devoted to Southeast Asia.

In a series of long, detailed, analytic chapters on government, industry, land use, and trade Dick traces the ups-and-downs of Surabaya's twentieth century fate. At the turn of the twentieth century, with about 150,000 inhabitants, Surabaya was the largest city in the country, even larger than Jakarta. Today it is Indonesia's second largest city with a population of about 2.6 million. In the earliest years of the century, the processing and shipping of sugar and other agricultural commodities of East Java, gave Surabaya its prominence. In the1930s, world depression undercut this global market and sent the city into an economic and demographic tailspin. Japanese conquest, 1942-45, followed by a guerrilla [End Page 264] war for independence, 1945-49, gave no respite in the city's economic downturn. After dalliances with both the USA and the USSR, President Sukarno ultimately withdrew Indonesia into economic isolation. Jakarta prospered as the political capital, but Surabaya, as a commercial center, continued to stagnate. It also lost much of its earlier cosmopolitan character as a result of "the repatriation of the Dutch [colonials], the partial assimilation of the Chinese, and the near total assimilation of the Arab and other Asian communities (131)," although Chinese entrepreneurs still predominate in business.

Only with the Suharto administration did the economy of Surabaya revive, based now on manufacturing, shipping, some primary crop production, and a flourishing real estate market. Nation-wide prosperity based on oil and international trade also fed the local revival. Surbaya made the "long and difficult transition from plantation to industrial economy" (xix). The most extraordinary and explosive growth took place in the 1990s. Dick, who apparently knows every feature of Surabaya's architecture and urban design, illustrates the transformation through the new physical form of the city.

[B]y the 1990s the physical signs of development were everywhere: construction of high-rise offices and banks, five-star hotels, apartment towers, and shopping malls; the spread of industrial estates, middle-class suburbs, and low-cost housing estates; the widening of streets and the growth of traffic. The problems of social infrastructure were being energetically tackled. In the kampungs [indigenous neighborhoods, built in styles of vernacular architecture, the home of the working classes and the location also of squatter settlements] the proliferation of radios, cassette players, television sets, and motorcycles suggested a general increase in prosperity (p. 110).

"Over the past twenty years the built environment has changed so dramatically that Surabaya seems almost to have become another city." (409). Despite the financial crisis that afflicted East and Southeast Asia beginning in 1997, Surabaya recovered its economic vibrancy by 2000. Although Dick does not draw comparisons to similar developments in other third-world cities, he does designate the development "an American pattern referred to as postsuburban society" (412).

One element in the city's social and design fabric remained unchanged through the century: social and economic hierarchy reinforced by segregated residential patterns. In their gated suburbs the new elites kept their distance from the masses of their compatriots in the indigenous kampungs just as certainly as the Dutch had segregated themselves into enclaves separate from the Chinese and Indonesians. "By the 1990s a new social stratification had arisen that separated rich and poor as sharply as did the racial divide in colonial society" (411). The kampung dwellers continued disaffected.

At the lower levels of society development means not empowerment but disempowerment, having things done to you without consultation or consent and, whatever the rhetoric, usually for the benefit of others (468).

As evidence, Dick cites the results of elections in 1999 in which the kampung residents of Surabaya voted for the political opposition and for Islamic parties, [End Page 265] suggesting that Surabaya might yet have a brighter future than the pro-government, pro-development "high-rise, air-conditioned, moral wastelands of Jakarta" (476). This judgment, with which Dick closes his book, makes the transition from the study of the past to speculation on the future.

Howard Spodek
Temple University

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