Indonesia - An Unfinished Revolution
Parties and prospects
One of the most viable of them is the New Mandate Party (PAN) of Amien Rais - leader of the 28 million strong Muslim Muhammadiyah organisation and regarded as an important moderate opposition leader. Abdurrahman Wahid, known as Gus Dur, leads an even larger Muslim organisation - Nahdatul Ulama. He has also declared the setting up of a party - the National Awakening Party or PAB - which could line up with the Democratic Party of Indonesia (PDI) of Megawati Sukarnopoutri.
In spite of being virtually illegalised, the Megawati wing of the PDI is widely expected to gain a massive vote at the elections when they eventually take place. It was able to hold a rally and conference in the party's traditional stronghold of Bali during the second week of October attracting up to 100,000 participants. In the colours of the party they formed a sea of red holding high massive banners and placards bearing portraits of their leader - Ibu or 'mother'. Roars from the crowd greeted her denunciations of corrupt cronies as she declared: "Parasites have destroyed Indonesia over the last three decades. Now we must destroy the parasites..".
Megawati is torn between the demands of the ex-generals and free market economists who have flooded into her party and the mass of her grass-roots supporters who are praying to her for some relief of their dire poverty. "She can't be both a leader of the elite and the poor", commented a western diplomat. While there are other contenders, like Amien Rais, for the position of 'leader of the opposition', it is widely said that, "What 'Mega' lacks in enthusiasm she makes up for in popularity". Many have the illusion that she can work miracles and turn the clock back to the days of her father - the first president of the newly independent Indonesia. Illusions, by their nature, are doomed to be shattered on the rocks of reality. Megawati has declared her allegience to free market policies and taken an ex-general as deputy leader of the party, opening up the possibility even of an alliance with the old ruling party - Golkar.
The hopes and aspirations of the masses, aroused by the movement, are whipped to fever pitch by the appalling conditions they face. But, under any capitalist administration, however beneficent, they are doomed to be sorely disappointed, given the extent of the damage wrought on the economy by the Asian crisis and on political life by a brutal, three decades long dictatorship. No one single charismatic leader can solve these problems. No party that does not stand for a complete break with capitalism can begin the task of reconstruction with the chance of any lasting success.
As the global crisis seizes the world economy, the prospects of robust growth in Indonesia are eclipsed. In the context of further stagnation in the economy, of break-down in social life and disintegration of the country, genuine democracy can only be built from below by a movement that sets out to transform society along socialist lines. That is the central contention of the Committee for a Workers' International.
Argueing the case
Important material is reproduced here to argue this case. It is aimed to throw light on the dramatic events of this year and offer an explanation of what is behind them and what is to follow in the near future. It includes elements of a programme which we hope accords with the needs and aspirations of the Indonesian people. It is not for academic debating circles but a contribution, we hope, to the urgent and very practical task of building a movement that can end the calamitous rule of capitalism in Indonesia.
The accounts and articles published in the papers and journals of the sections of our International, in particular those in the British monthly, 'Socialism Today', have drawn on first-hand material collected on visits to Indonesia this year by European members of the CWI - Anna Schneider, Anton Wilin from Sweden and myself. We had the privilege of meeting some of the most dedicated and self-sacrificing activists - youth from the campuses and working men and women from the factories. We experienced the fervour and thirst for revolutionary ideas that only a revolution can engender.
In our discussions, we were guided by what we had learnt of the many previous experiences of mass struggle and the combative traditions of the Indonesian working class - much of it from the invaluable short history "From the Ashes" reproduced on pages 11 to 28 . The tight censorship operated by the military dictatorship, only partially eased since its figurehead was brought down, means few activists inside Indonesia have had access to the true history of their own heroic past and its bitter lessons. We discovered that Craig Bowen's pamphlet has been keenly studied on courses organised by the out-lawed, left-wing People's Democratic Party.
As it points out, the Indonesian Communist Party, formed in 1920, was the first in Asia. In the years after independence, it grew to become the third largest in the world. It was physically destroyed in 1965-66 when over one million activists and supporters were slaughtered by Suharto's crack troops.
Understanding the tragedy of those years not only gives an insight into today's events. It brings home how even the most promising of revolutions can be shipwrecked by fatal errors of leadership, notably in this case, the failure to declare a party, draw up a correct programme and give a lead to the working masses.
History often repeats itself, but never in every detail. Even under dictatorships, the battle of class forces continues. Some elements are weakened, others strengthened. The world situation today, and the fragile condition of the once-mighty army in Indonesia, rule out a bloodbath like that through which Suharto waded when he came to power. But, unless the momentum of the movement is maintained and a clear independent policy adopted by the leaders of the working class and oppressed layers, reaction could prepare a comeback. Since Suharto was removed by a persistent mass movement of unarmed people, he has still not been put on trial for the mass murder he conducted in the '60s nor for any of the later atrocities carried out during the 32 years of his rule.
Scores to Settle
The majority of the population in Indonesia has scores to settle with Suharto and his cronies. There are the relatives of the millions killed or 'disappeared' under Suharto's orders, the millions whose identity cards are still marked with the words 'political prisoner', the tens of millions who have laboured to create the massive wealth accumulated by him and his cronies and the tens more millions starved of the basic means of a decent life. Known to have utilised state power to enrich his own immediate family - said to be worth up to $46 billion - the fallen dictator has recently appeared on national television claiming he has "not one cent" in a foreign bank! Those who are supposed to be investigating his wealth are drawn from the very same clique that was in power under this 'King of Thieves'. They will not want to push things further for fear of revelations about their own corrupt dealings!
The CWI argues that only a clean break with the past regime and with the whole system of capitalism - by its very nature corrupt and unjust - will lay the basis for satisfying the modest demands of the Indonesian masses. Only a genuine 'people's trial' of Suharto, a real purge of the army and government by a workers' and small people's government and the socialist re-construction of society will satisfy the strivings of the mass of the Indonesian population.
Democratic rights can and must be squeezed out of the present regime by the sheer force of the mass movement. But they will be limited and short-lived unless the system of organising society and the economy is changed. This involves mass struggle with the aim of eliminating private ownership and putting land, industry and finance to use for improving people's lives. An extension of the struggle for socialism to other countries would be not a distant goal but a vital necessity to prevent the return of outright reaction.
The case for this programme is made in the pamphlet 'Indonesia - The Revolution has Begun' included here on pages 29 to 41 produced in June 1997 by the Austrian section of the CWI. It was written by Anna Schneider who visited Indonesia less than one month before Suharto's resignation to discuss with participants in what were already dramatic events. It gives a political 'who's who' and 'what's what'. It outlines how the monetary crisis that hit Indonesia in mid-1997 turned into the profound social and political crisis of 1998 that hit the world's headlines.
Elements of revolution were already coming together and have yet to reach their full stature. Not one act but a process, revolution never develops in a straight line. It goes through numerous phases and stages. This does not mean that Marxists and leaders of the workers' movement should fall into the trap of limiting the struggle to 'bourgeois democratic' and socialist 'stages'. On the contrary, in countries where the bourgeois revolution has not yet been completed (see material on later pages of this pamphlet) and land reform, for example, urgently needs to be carried through, the only way it can be done is by eliminating capitalism. For the land-owners, bankers and industrialists, all tied up together in exploiting the labour of others, democracy is a luxury they cannot afford.
The example of Spain
The extensive writings of Leon Trotsky on developments in Spain during the period 1931-7 are instructive in this respect. They graphically illustrate what is at stake as the processes of revolution and counter-revolution unfold. A revolutionary period can begin with something like the internal collapse of a form of rule that has held sway for decades - constitutional monarchy, military dictatorship. It can pass through a period of weak government, short-lived regimes, riddled with crisis, forced to make concessions but awaiting the moment to reassert its control. It will see workers struggling at first in an uncoordinated and spontaneous fashion, suffering defeats and resolving to come back for more. Suharto's successor, Habibie, could well be taken for the Berlinguer of Indonesia - the 'Gateman of the revolution'.
Indonesia in the next period, may well see a development akin to the June days of the Paris Commune in 1871 in France or the July days of the Russian Revolution 1917. As Trotsky explained, the most militant workers, awoken to struggle may be initially defeated because of the scattered, partial nature of their movement. Then, learning from their mistakes, and still not prepared to tolerate the intolerable, they can push ahead towards a show-down with the ruling class, underestimating the obstacles that stand between them and victory. The most advanced layers may not be fully aware of the need to win the support of other layers or at least to neutralise opposition to a successful bid for power.
A revolutionary party would launch a programme to rally the support of the masses around demands aimed at dispelling lingering illusions that the new 'democratic' representatives of the old ruling class are capable of solving even their immediate problems. A revolutionary party would also understand the need to conduct agitation aimed at winning over large sections of the army to refuse to fire on workers and students.
Throughout his writings on the Spanish Revolution, Trotsky urges the building and strengthening of directly representative committees of workers and poor peasants as an alternative to the bourgeois republican government that protects capitalist and landowner exploitation. At the same time he urges the building of a party to lead and coordinate the struggle. Every moment of lost time and lost opportunity means time and opportunity given to reaction. In Spain the dire consequences were the eventual victory of the fascism and the long night of the Franco dictatorship for more than 30 years.
As a contribution to the vitally important discussion on which way forward for the Indonesian revolution, a CWI statement, 'Indonesia - A Revolution Begun' was produced in June of this year and circulated it as widely as possible for information and discussion. It is reproduced on pages 43 and 58 of this pamphlet. Also included, on pages 59 to 60, is a small statement on 'The Need for a Revolutionary Party' used by representatives of the CWI in many meetings with activists in Indonesia in August.
At the time of their visit, they found that the ferment in society had not abated. There was still a militant mood and strikes and demonstrations of one kind or another were a daily occurrence. Without a clear lead, there was confusion as to the ultimate aims of the movement but huge expectations that a better deal could be won. In this situation, the idea of preparing at least a warning general strike was greeted with enthusiasm. United action around the recurring demands of the movement could pull together all the largely spontaneous struggles that are constantly breaking out all over the country: 'Down with Habibie!' 'Restore the subsidies on the nine basic necessities!' 'End the 'dwi fungsi' of the military!' 'No to the sham parliamentary democracy of the MPR!' 'Free trade unions'...
In the present highly charged situation, and given the state of the army (which always reflects society) it would seem that an attempt to use it against the masses in a concerted way would break it. Similarly, a coup by generals could well have the effect of a whip; an attempt at counter-revolution provoking a new surge of revolution, as in Portugal where the masses renewed their struggle to defeat the attempted coup by General Spinola in March of 1975. After a period, however, if no way is found of channelling the revolutionary energy of the masses, if no other force sets out to 'regulate' and reconstruct society along socialist lines - things could change. The favourable balance of forces could dissipate.
It is possible to envisage certain junior officers stepping in to the breach on the pretext of halting the disintegration of the country and instituting a form of avowedly 'progressive' military rule. A new government - even a Megawati government - could find them offering their services first of all to supervise the distribution of food and other essentials. Later they could move to 'pull back the political cover' in their direction. While not eliminating the capitalist mode of ownership and production, they might use the state and its forces to introduce a heavy measure of control - in society and in the economy. In order to protect Indonesian interests, they could adopt an anti-western stance and certain measures of protectionism as well elements of centralisation and planning.
One form of bourgeois bonapartism or another will persist, that is, a more or less overt military control over society aimed at holding the balance between the classes at the expense of basic democratic rights.
Whatever government is in power in Indonesia in the near future it will come under pressure to adopt protectionist measures along the lines of the exchange and capital controls adopted recently by Mahathir Mohamad in neighbouring Malaysia. It may follow the example of the South Korean and Japanese governments and nationalise certain key areas of finance and some of the more trouble-torn industries. Indeed, under the pressure of mass demonstrations and the demands of workers, the Habibie government has already been forced to take over certain banks and industries that were run (and ruined) by Suharto cronies. It has also arranged rescheduling of some debts and increased the budget deficit.
In response to the Asian crisis, the governments of Hong Kong and Taiwan have both moved in the direction of state intervention in an attempt to innoculate their economies against the worst ravages of unfettered market capitalism. National bourgeois representatives will not be averse to using anti-imperialist or religious rhetoric to maintain their popularity when 'foreign' (especially US) capitalism is seen to be draining their economies. But nothing they do, while remaining on a capitalist basis, will save them from new bouts of collapse and disaster.
The World Bank, in a report to the new government of BJ Habibie and international investors, described Indonesia as being on the verge of bankruptcy. "No country in recent history", it declared, "Let alone one the size of Indonesia, has ever suffered such a reversal of its fortune". They could have added that no country in recent history has seen such political turmoil and the coming together of so many elements of revolution.
These will be accompanied by elements of vicious counter-revolution. There will be huge ebbs and flows as the contesting forces struggle for solutions in the interests of their own class. There will be big and contradictory changes in consciousness. But the key factor for harnessing the enormous energy and anger released by the breaking down of the Suharto dictatorship is the building of a revolutionary workers' party. The urgency of pursuing such a goal cannot be overstressed. The production of this pamphlet, it is hoped, will be a contribution to that process and towards bringing nearer the day when Indonesia's socialist revolution assures a lasting victory over poverty and reaction.