A short history of the radical movement in Indonesia
By Edwin Gozal
[This talk was presented to the Asia Pacific Solidarity Conference, April
10-13, 1998 by Edwin Gozal, International representative for the Asia
Pacific of the Peoples Democratic Party of Indonesia.]
But back in the real world ...
The anti-Suharto demonstrations continue to escalate with around 10,000 students on the streets in Yogyakarta, Suharto's home town on March 10. The demonstrations against the re-election of Suharto as president are also spreading around the region. The cost of the military breaking the movement challenging Suharto will be high. Already there have been mass arrests, disappearances and killings of scores of pro-democracy activists.
Meanwhile, in Australia, under a so-called ``democratic system'', the Senate could have come straight out of 1984 too. As we know, when Senator Bob Brown from the Australian Green Party put a motion to express his concern about the arrest and disappearance of Indonesian pro-democracy activists, it was defeated by Senators from the Liberal and Labor parties.
Democracy appears to be in decline not only in Indonesia but also in India, the Philippines, South Korea, Malaysia and other parts of the world. Although their parliaments are officially populated by representatives of the people and sometimes they have a chance to alter its composition, there's a big gap between the people and the ruling class.
As we all know, the Democratic-Republican party in the US, Labor or Liberal in Australia, Sonia Gandhi's Congress, Ramos's Lakas-NUCD, and Mahathir Muhammad's UMNO, have all adopted the same strategy: as an employment bureau for political careerists and to win power for the interests of the bourgeoisie.
What can be done about it? The revolutionary political party is the most important intermediary between the people and the ruling class. Of course we don't mean a ruling class party, but a party which could provide some kind of long-term perspective for the people. For those of us struggling against a military dictatorship, as are the Burmese activists, the party can be a political vehicle in challenging the military dictatorship.
The `poverty' of opposition
A comrade just back from the Third Asia Pacific Coalition for East Timor meeting in Bangkok, told me he met an opposition activist who said that Indonesia, under the New Order government, doesn't have any tradition of struggle under the leadership of a political party, so it's not necessary to set up a revolutionary party.
We must look at the origin of the pro-democracy movement under the New Order regime in Indonesia before we examine the correctness of this argument.
Social Democrats and Liberal Democrats of 1970 never attempted to become a revolutionary political formation to topple the military regime. They never tried to make their program known to the public. When 1 million people spilled on to the streets of Jakarta in 1974 and 1978, they tried to request the masses retreat.
The result was demoralisation and some returned to academia or set up NGOs (in the early '80s, there were literally thousands of NGOs). Through NGOs they turned their life into a career path, and they were exposed for what they were — petty bourgeois opportunists, with mobile phones, BMWs, houses with 15 rooms and weekends in Singapore.
On the basis of these experiences, we marched forward with the clear goal of overthrowing the dictatorship and implementing democracy to its fullest extent. We came up with an alternative revolutionary party and mass organisations.
In the early days, we were an NGO with three main political activists. Two remained NGO activists looking out for their own career and they didn't want to unite their forces with students groups who represented the student movement in that period.
From the small student group in the early '90s, we succeeded in setting up a national student organisation called Students in Solidarity for Democracy in Indonesia (SMID). For the first time students, the student movement realised it must unite with the people's movement. This perspective encouraged us to work among workers, peasants and the urban poor.
We built the Indonesian Centre of Labour Struggle (PPBI) as an independent trade union in the early '90s, followed by the formation of a national peasant's union (STN) and youth-urban poor organisation.
Then came the time to combine the forces into one against the military dictatorship. In 1994, we established the People's Democratic Union as an umbrella organisation for the sector. Due to opportunism and reformism among some sections of the leadership of People's Democratic Union, there was a split in 1995. After the opportunist element was defeated, our organisation was able to move forward towards forming the People's Democratic Party in 1996.
In the last eight years, the masses gave proof of their radicalism and militancy from their overflowing dissatisfaction with the regime. The question was with the masses now in motion, would they be abandoned? Under this condition, the PRD tried to propagandise about the importance of the mass movement and extra-parliamentary forces in challenging military dictatorship.
The PRD was successful in bringing the message to broader and broader layers of people through mass meetings, and were even able to join with the masses in the fist attempt to break through military blockades. But the bourgeois opposition figures, who look to parliament, tried to hold the movement back and abandon the masses. As the result, 100 people died in a military crackdown in Jakarta on July 27, 1996 when the military took over the headquarters of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI).
After July 27, the masses' dissatisfaction with the regime become stronger after the economic crisis hit. They ran the riots, smashing and burning the symbols of power and wealth. PRD discovered another base of strength, the masses who were already fighting the dictatorship. We intervened in order to educate people in the strategy and tactics of resistance and the meaning of thoroughgoing democracy.
The other opposition groups and NGOs adopted the more moderate approach, or started to dream again of change from within.
Some of them are waiting for the economic crisis to bring down Suharto. They are still teetering on the brink of collaboration with the regime or the army. Some of them have naive illusions that by begging bourgeois imperialist institutions, such as the IMF, and imperialist countries that they would somehow introduce democracy in Indonesia.
Some opposition groups have argued that because the US is committed to foreign investment and the expansion of trade, it is therefore committed to democracy in Indonesia! Everyone can agree the US government wants Indonesia to be integrated within a free-trade zone that offers prospects for greater profits for US corporations. But the US government is interested in democracy only under certain circumstances, and it is interested only in a specific type of democracy.
The US only supports democracy when the authoritarian government can no longer control the people, when the country becomes ungovernable. The US pays lip service to democracy, but its real commitment is to private, capitalist enterprise. When the rights of investors are threatened, democracy has to go; if these rights are safeguarded, killers and tortures will do just fine.
The case of the Philippines is a good lesson. The US government supported Marcos's declaration of martial law in 1972. While Marcos sabotaged the legislature and the judiciary, closed down the opposition press and monopolised the economy for himself and his cronies, the US applauded. Military aid to Marcos went from $18.5 million in 1972 to $43 million in 1976.
US economic aid quadrupled during the first six years of martial law. The US military helped to train the death squads in the Filipino military. In 1986, Marcos called for an election to prove his legitimacy. The Reagan cabinet supported Marcos until the election was exposed as a fraud. It was only at that point, after the elections were over, that the Reagan cabinet abandoned Marcos, after they found that Marcos couldn't control his followers any more.
Some of the Indonesian opposition forces underestimate the masses. These groups are products of the New Order regime. Their access to social and political theory was always restricted, they were marginalised and powerless as they never linked up with the masses.
Meanwhile, the masses still have illusions in bourgeois opposition figures and we had not yet won the leadership of the opposition. But at least we can win over some of the best elements who want to struggle. At least we can encourage them to think about the concept of alliances, although we are still far far away from the strong alliance from the whole anti-dictatorship forces in Indonesia.
Apart from that, the PRD is the one of the few organisations which has declared its program and has a perspective on what people want: what is necessary to overthrow the dictatorship and achieve full democracy. The government knows this, and that's the reason why it continues to target the PRD (although most of the PRD's national executive has already been jailed after appearing in kangaroo courts).
When the students' demonstrations escalated in the last few months, the military accused the PRD and its student wing SMID of being behind them. The regime has escalated its repression: three PRD members were arrested a few weeks ago and badly tortured. The president of SMID, Andi Arief, was kidnapped by the military and has disappeared.
These arrests and disappearances will not stop our struggle. We believe that there is a spirit of mass resistance and that it just needs time to be organised. When the mass base has been built by the revolutionary party, it's time for the people to confront the ruling class, even though it's supported by the ruling class around the globe.
The ruling class versus the people
As soon as Suharto was re-appointed, Asian and Western governments reluctantly congratulated him. A report in the South China Morning Post said Fidel Ramos, the Thai government, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Muhammad, the South Korean government, Boris Yeltsin and John Howard sent their warm support.
This is evidence of how the ruling class work together globally for the rich.
After the US election in 1996, the US Senate and media pretended to be more critical towards the Clinton government, because he was suspected as having received US$ 200,000 in ``donations'' from the Riyadi family which owns the majority shares in the Lippo group for his presidential campaign fund. The Riyadi family is a close business associate of Suharto's family.
Actually, what happened between Riyadi and Clinton was only a small part of the expansion of the Suharto oligarchy's connections with the ruling class around the world.
Burma's military regime and Suharto's family are no strangers either since PT Rante Mario, one of the companies under the Humpus Group, belongs to Suharto's youngest son, Hutomo Mandala Putra who invested US$75 million to build a wood processing industry with Myanmar Timber Enterprise. Not only that Suharto's daughter, Titik Prabowo, has invested US$200 million to build a new cement factory in Burma.
Also, the Mahathir and Suharto families know each other well. Suharto's eldest daughter, Tutut, is the dealer in Indonesia for Malaysia's Proton Cars and she is currently building toll roads and a new airport in Malaysia. Although, the haze from the Indonesian bush fire hit Malaysia, Mahathir didn't criticise Suharto because his eldest son, Mirzan Mahathir and Tutut have already working together.
In May, the Filipino people will see who will become the new ruling class, but both Joe de Venecia and Erap Estrada will work together with the Suhartos. De Venecia is the main actor behind Brunei-East Asean Growth Area (Sabah-Sarawak, East Kalimantan, and Eastern Indonesia), and this project was set up with the backing of the Indonesian ruling class.
Meanwhile, Erap Estrada, is building ties with a few barons from the Cojuangco family. Philippines Telephone Corporation (Piltel) is one the largest customers of Pasifik Satelit Nusantara, which belongs to Suharto's second son Bambang Triatmojo. The director of Piltel is Ramon Cojuangco Jr. Apart from that, former ambassador Eduardo ``Danding'' Cojuangco has been eager to sell his shares in San Miguel Corporation to First Pacific group, the money maker of Sudono Salim, one of Suharto's best connected business associates.
Indonesia is also involved in a US$2.4 billion contract to rebuild Fort Bonifacio in Manila, and Tutut has invested US$475 million in the Metro Manila Skyway project. So, whoever becomes the new president of the Philippines, Ramos, Erap, or De Venecia, he will never forget the Suharto family.
Some activists are quite confused about why the so-called ``democratic government'' of Thailand harassed the participants of the Third Asia Pacific Coalition meeting in Bangkok last January. Don't they know that PT Elektrindo Nusantara, owned by Bambang Triatmojo, is the main supplier for the Royal Thai Airforce as well as the Thai Department Interior?
This is just a small example how the ruling class in the Asia Pacific region works together with Suharto for the rich.
In response, activists in this region should more actively work together for mutual solidarity.
It is a big bonus for the Indonesian and East Timor activists and for all of us here today to learn about the Maritime Union of Australia's decision in the 1940s to ban Dutch ships to support the independence movement in Indonesia.
Of course we hope that similar actions will be declared not only in support of Indonesia's pro-democracy movement but also the struggle for self determination in East Timor, in Burma, the anti-nuclear testing struggle in the Pacific and another struggles against oppression.
Given today's economic crisis, the role of the revolutionary party is important in terms of organising mass protests which can put pressure on the brutal and oppressive ruling class.
The Titanic Asia
The Asian economic crisis is really shaking the arrogant confidence of capitalist ideology. This crisis richly demonstrates the irrationality, contradictions and instability of the capitalist system.
The crisis kicked off in Thailand in May-June last year, then spread to Malaysia, Indonesia, and Philippines and later to Hong Kong and South Korea.
Indonesia, Thailand, South Korea and the Philippines are seeking assistance from the IMF. Under orders from the IMF, the ruling classes in those countries are busy driving the austerity program. As a result, unemployment has tripled, wages are increasingly not paid and workers are facing new attacks on their rights.
In the future, the ruling class will need to attack the people who are eager to challenge the austerity programs being introduced.
As we know, the class struggles in some Asian countries have already become a massive phenomenon. In Indonesia today, almost every day there are demonstrations against the re-appointment of Suharto and the economic crisis. In South Korea, thousands of workers have already gone on massive strikes. In Thailand, the poor, workers and peasants are also demanding economic and political reforms.
The ruling class has decided to escalate its repression, in particular in Indonesia where the government is applying new methods of terrorism such as kidnapping and shooting by death squads.
This repression might break the movement for a while, but it will deepen the contradictions and maintain the struggle against exploitation in the region.
In this process, the role of the revolutionary party is very important. It can provide political education and give some political direction on how to fight the ruling class. The Asian economic crisis may look like the Titanic sinking. But on the Titanic, the First Class passengers knew how to escape with their lives, to the cost of the poor wretches on the lower decks. So the Asian ruling class knows how to survive, but we can learn from the poor passengers on the lower decks: we need to prepare our own vessel, and that means preparing now to build the revolutionary party.
Date: Wed, 24 Jun 1998 00:35:29 +0200
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