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States consul reports that the sugar industry is “in a hopeless condition,” that only one-tenth of the plantations are paying. But there is no evidence to connect this decline with the change from government to private management. It is due to the ravages of the sereh, and to the fall in price caused by the increase of production throughout the world and by the European bounty system. On the other hand, it may be said that the free industry is bearing up against difficulties that would have absolutely crushed the government culture if it had been maintained, that would have crushed the natives engaged in the culture, for it was they who bore all losses. Under the culture system, without the spur of competition, machinery and processes were extremely crude. The American consul at Batavia wrote in 1862 that it was impossible to introduce improved agricultural implements in Java, because of the prejudices and lack of energy of the people there.2 The free planters inherited traditional methods from their predecessors, but when the crisis came they were fit to meet it by the flexibility of a free organization. They introduced improvements in all branches of the industry, in machinery, in processes and in cultivation. The government has been obliged to give up the tax on sugar production or export, which, after being suspended for a number of years, was finally abolished in 1898. The wages of native cultivators have fallen to some extent. But the brunt of the blow has been borne by the individual planters, who have succeeded by energy and economy in reducing very considerably the costs of production.3
But one government culture.remains to be considered, the most important of all in the past and the only one that is still maintained, the coffee culture. Under the old system coffee alone returned more than four-fifths of the total revenue that was obtained from the sale of products by the government; the large
10. S. Commercial Relations, 1896-97, 1: 1040. In 1898 (p. 1065) the consul reported that sugar was doing better, as a result of the Spanish-American war, and of the repeal of the export duty.
'U. S. Commercial Relations, 1862, 287.
3 de Vries, De Gids, 1895, i, 283 ; De Economist, 1889, 187. The mean product, in pikols per bouw, has risen from 52.88 in 1881 to 91.86 in 1897. Jaarcijfers, Koloniën, 1897, 54.
profits were an index of the strength of the culture, and led to its being retained for fiscal reasons long after the other cultures had been abolished. In 1898 the government coffee culture was still imposed on 250,157 families, scattered through fourteen of the twenty residencies into which Java is divided. In the budget of 1900 the receipts of the government from the sale of coffee are estimated at 10,185,815 florins, out of total receipts estimated at 141,931,008 florins, and the specific expenditures on account of the coffee culture are put at 5,713,461 florins.
The cultivation of coffee differed from that of sugar in organization, in that no elaborate processes were necessary to prepare the crop for market, and the whole industry was carried on by natives. The lack of a class of Europeans, standing in established relations with the native cultivators, was an argument against abolishing the forced culture, for it was claimed that the natives would be left to themselves and would cease to produce for export at all. Individual planters were no longer, as formerly, discouraged from settling in the island; they were given opportunity to lease land and make contracts for labor with the natives, and the production of coffee on private account has increased until it amounts to more than that carried on under the government. But the government has resolutely upheld its own interest in the coffee culture, seeking by changes in detail to remedy the abuses of the old system and to increase its efficiency. The payment of percentages on production was abolished in 1865 in the case of European officials, because of its bad effect on both officials and natives, and the pay of the cultivators has been raised. Percentages are still retained for the native officials, who are the superintendents of cultivation. Under their direction work is carried on in a careless and halfhearted way. Attempts to introduce a more intensive cultivation and better treatment of the crop have failed because the interests of the natives are not enlisted, and it is said that the quality of the product is declining:
'U. S. Commercial Relations, 1898, 1066. Van Soest, De koffij kultuur op Java, De Economist, 1872, i, 128. For a description of the shiftless work on a government plantation see Tijdschrift voor indische taal- land- en volkenkunde, 1884, 29: 513.
With the fall in the price of coffee, due to increased supply in the world's market, and the consequent decline in profits, the motive for maintaining the government culture has grown weaker. The government has had, moreover, to contend with the ravages of the coffee blight, which reached Java in 1879 and which has ruined many plantations. Before the date named, in 1875, a committee of the Second Chamber, after studying a report of the chief inspector of cultures, advised that the government culture should be discontinued, but the Chamber took no action. Again, in 1888, a royal commission was appointed to report on the government culture, and after a thorough investigation advised that this last remnant of the culture system should be given up.
No decisive action was taken, but the Chamber recommended that the government should give up the monopoly rights that it had exercised over the production of individual natives, and should either pay natives bound to the culture full wages or lease the plantations. A subsidy was granted to go in part toward raising the price paid the cultivators, who were reported as suffering severely in some districts.
There is a great diversity of opinion as to the best way to effect the transition from forced to free culture, but the change is sure to come and will probably be not long delayed. Of the natives engaged in the culture nearly half are now freed from the obligation of planting more trees to replace those that die out, and since 1894 forced culture and delivery of coffee have been entirely abolished in four of the residencies where they formerly prevailed."
The reluctance of the government to give up the system of forced cultures in Java can be explained in part by the natural inertia of all political organization, by the tendency of every government to continue in the line to which it has become accustomed. A better reason for the maintenance of the sys: tem is to be found in the revenue that it has yielded, so long as the conditions of the world market have favored one or another of the many crops to which the system has been applied. But apart from these considerations there has been another argument constantly urged in favor of maintaining forced cultures which has had immense weight in delaying the passage to a system of free cultivation. The argument was this, that under freedom there would be no cultivation of export articles at all; that the native, left to himself, would give up producing coffee and sugar and would raise nothing more than the food necessary for his own subsistence, and that the people of Europe would lose all the benefits which the natural resources of Java, if properly exploited, could confer upon them.
1 There is a good sketch of the history and organization of the coffee culture in de Louter, Handleiding, 377–390, and full statistics are to be found in the Jaarcijfers and the Koloniaal Verslag. Van Soest's article on the coffee culture, De Economist, 1872 i, is a criticism of the forced culture and an argument in favor of leasing the government plantations. The proposal that a stock company should be formed to assume the coffee interests of the government suggested too many dangers to be seriously entertained. (Het ontwerp eener West-Java-Koffij-Kultuur-Maatschappij, De Economist, 1865, 321 ff.) More recent proposals have aimed at a reform of the system by which the natives are paid, and at an improvement of the government administration by transferring the coffee culture to the forestry department. (De Economist, 1889, 179; 1890, 229 ff.; 1892, ii, 831 ff.)
The strength of this argument will be apparent from a brief review of some of the features of the economic organization in Java. The population of the island is at the present time extremely dense for a country that is almost purely agricultural. For each bouw (about one and three-fourths acres) of land cultivated by natives there were in 1891, 4.4 inhabitants, a proportion equivalent to over two persons to the cultivated acre. It should, however, be borne in mind that the population has more than doubled since the middle of the century, and that the land is of exceptional fertility. That there is, even now, no serious pressure of population on subsistence is shown by the fact that the principal crop is rice, an article of food which is by no means the cheapest in the East, and which was regarded as a luxury by the native population in the period when the East India Company ruled in Java. The Dutch planters, therefore, could not rely on the pressure of actual necessity to secure to them any constant supply of laborers. Most of the natives were cultivators of the soil, and had no motive to bind themselves to work for others so long as they could maintain an independent existence. The class of natives who had neither land nor a trade to support them and who served others for hire was not large in numbers and was absorbed to a considerable extent in the internal organiza
tion of the village. It furnished a certain amount of the labor force for the undertakings that were established after the abolition of the forced cultures, but the laborers from this source were extremely unreliable.
Supporters of the culture system claimed that aside from effecting an increase in the production of certain articles, it was valuable for its educational influence. It was supposed to discipline the natives by constraining them to labor. Some authorities, who deprecated its bad influence in many directions, expressed themselves in favor of it as a temporary but necessary stage in the development of free contract relations between European employers and native laborers. It is probable that in fact the system was of some benefit in impressing on the minds of the natives the obligation of steady work under certain circumstances. But the culture system formed the worst possible introduction to a system of free labor in so far as regards the impression that it left on the natives as to the real reason for labor. They worked because they had to, not because they wanted to, in fear of punishment and not for hope of reward. The culture system educated them as producers, not as consumers;' it gave them the capacity for labor without the motive for applying it, for it created in them no wants that they had not had before.
The ships that took tropical products to the Netherlands returned to Java in ballast during the operation of the culture system; the coffee and sugar were a tribute for which Europe made no return. It was perfectly natural that the natives who saw the ships come empty should be willing to let them go away in the same condition. After each step, therefore, in the abolition of the culture system, the natives tended, for a time at least, to revert to their former hand-to-mouth system of production, that brought them in as much as they had been accustomed to receive and cost them much less labor.2
1“It is not money that the Javanese need, but the faculty of using it," said a man who had a good acquaintance with the free laborers about the time when the culture system was declining. According to his experience the only thing that would tempt laborers to work was the desire for opium or the want of money for gambling. De Economist, 1862, Bijblad, 333.
? When the forced services in the clove culture were abolished in 1859, "in spite of the advantages offered to them, the majority of the freedmen declined