Indonesia 2009 Election Result: Where to go now?

On April 9 of this year Indonesia held its fourth 'democratic' elections since its independence in 1945. What has been lacking throughout this period had been a genuine labour movement based mass workers' party. This has coloured debate on the left including the question of "boycott". What is required is a return to Lenin and a study of how he dealt with the question in the Tsarist Duma.

Introduction

On April 9th 2009, Indonesia held its fourth 'democratic' election since its independence in 1945. The first one was the 1955 election, which was the very first election in Indonesia. The second and the third ones were held in 1999 and 2004. They were 'democratic' in a sense that they were not held during the iron grip of the Soeharto regime. Thus they were relatively freer but still within the confines of bourgeois democracy, i.e. democracy for the rich only.

However, despite being a bourgeois election, it would be a mistake if the Left were to take a dogmatic position of opposing any bourgeois election in principle. Equally unacceptable is the parliamentary cretinism of the opportunists who compromise on their class stand in order to obtain any seats. Marxists have always relentlessly fought both of these destructive tendencies within the working class movement: ultra-leftism and opportunism. For Marxists, it is never a question of principle. The main task of all revolutionaries is to gain the ear of the masses and win them over to their revolutionary programme. Starting from this aim, we should use all possible tactics, which will give the intended result in a certain objective condition.

In the wake of the 2009 election in Indonesia, an intense debate emerged within the Left as to what their orientation should be: to intervene or not to intervene, and should we intervene then what kind of intervention should be organised. This debate has once again fragmented the Left and caused another split within the People's Democratic Party[1] (PRD).

Some have said that this debate has weakened the Left in Indonesia and fragmented it so badly that it has not been able to mount any real fight against the neo-liberal measures brought in by the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) government in the past two years. However, if the debate is conducted systematically and lessons are drawn from the 150-year class struggle through a Marxist lens, we can see that in actual fact the Left in Indonesia could gain a lot. Russian Marxism, embodied in the Bolshevik Party, developed and gained strength from its ideological struggle within the working class movement. Consequently, it managed to emerge united and disciplined in ideology and carried through the October Revolution.

History of Elections in Indonesia

For Marxists, an election result is a snapshot of the balance of forces in any given society at a particular moment in time. When analysed in its context, it can provide valuable information on the state of the class struggle. However we have to be careful not to analyse it mechanically, without taking into account other factors such as the historical context and the general political and economic situation. The following exposition on the history of elections in Indonesia should be seen in this light.

The first election in Indonesia took place 10 years after it proclaimed its independence from Japan on August 17, 1945, a couple of days after Japan announced its surrender to the Allied Powers. However, contrary to what the Allied Powers told the people, that they were fighting to liberate countries from the clutch of Japanese imperialism, the Allied Powers were in reality only interested in returning to the past imperialist arrangement: Indonesia under the rule of the Dutch. With the help of the British and Allied Powers, the Dutch returned to Indonesia to colonise the country again.

However, a revolutionary fervour had infected the masses. They were demanding 100% independence. With their rallying cry: "Merdeka 100%" ("100% Independence") and "Merdeka atau Mati" ("Independence or Death"), they fought valiantly against the Allied Powers and also against the nationalist leaders like Hatta who sought to capitulate to the imperialist powers and return all Dutch properties and companies (which were acquired through 350 years of looting of Indonesian resources) which practically meant subordinating Indonesia economically to the Dutch. These counter-revolutionary nationalists were so hell-bent on obeying their imperialist masters that they sent their troops against the people's militias who were fighting to defend their new-founded nation. Thousands of brave young fighters, who were deemed too revolutionary, were hunted down and killed by the government's army. The most notable was the execution of the main leader of the Indonesian independence movement, Tan Malaka, in 1949.

On December 27, 1949, after many courageous battles, which claimed the lives of more than 200 thousand Indonesians, the Dutch were forced to recognise Indonesian sovereignty. However, the nationalist leaders had sold out the whole of Indonesia by agreeing to return all Dutch companies, agricultural lands and mines and pay the sum of 4.3 billion Guilders (or the equivalent to US$10.1 billion in 2009)[2] which was the cost of Dutch military aggression against Indonesia in the previous 4 years. This put the whole of the Indonesian economy under the thumb of the imperialists and the program of 100% independence was betrayed.

With its economy in shambles and many rebellions breaking out, the first election couldn't be convened until 1955. Deemed as the most democratic election in the history of Indonesia, there were more than 30 parties participating. The four largest parties were the Indonesian Nationalist Party (PNI), which was the party of Soekarno; Masyumi, a right-wing Islamic party; Nahdatul Ulama, an Islamic party with strong ties to the landlords and who were later instrumental in helping Soeharto physically eliminate the PKI in 1965-66; and the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). This election reflected the three major political powers at that time: the Nationalist, the Islamist, and the Communist. Trying to balance between these forces was Soekarno who came up with an ideology of NASAKOM (Nationalism, Religion, and Communism).

1955 Election Result

No

Party

Votes

%

Seats

1

Indonesian Nationalist Party (PNI)

8,434,653

22.32

57

2

Masyumi

7,903,886

20.92

57

3

Nahdatul Ulama (NU)

6,955,141

18.41

45

4

Indonesian Communist Party (PKI)

6,179,914

16.36

39

5

Others

8,311,705

21.99

59

TOTAL

37,785,299

100

257

This election put the PKI on the political map again after it had been physically decimated 7 years earlier in the Madiun incident in 1948 where thousands of its cadres were massacred by the Indonesian government.

The period that followed was one of turbulence and hardship. Indonesia was in a shambles economically and politically. Out of this, the PKI emerged stronger as it managed to mobilise and organise the workers and peasants. Membership of the PKI leapt from 165,000 in 1954 to 1.5 million in 1959. By mid-1964 the Communist Party was claiming 3 million members. In addition, the PKI also had many affiliated mass organisations: Pemuda Rakyat (People's Youth) with 3 million members, SOBSI (Indonesian Centre of Workers' Organisations) with more than 3.5 million members, the Peasant Union with 8.5 million members, and the Gerwani (Indonesian Women's Movement) with 1.75 million members. At face value, almost 1 in 5 people in Indonesia were associated with the PKI. The PKI was the third largest communist party in the world after the Soviet Union and China.

However, what the PKI had in numbers it lacked in political perspective. Falling into the trap of the two-stage theory, the leadership of the PKI subordinated the class struggle to a national struggle. It is based on the belief that to fight imperialism and feudalism, the workers and peasants have to ally themselves with the progressive bourgeoisie first. Therefore, to win the confidence of the national bourgeoisie, the class struggle has to be postponed to a later date. According to this perspective, only after eliminating feudalism and imperialism in Indonesia, could the class struggle be put forward. This mistaken policy prepared the way for the US-sponsored right-wing generals to stage a so-called 'silent' coup, which was drenched in the blood of millions. Between 500 thousand to 3 million leftists, trade unionists and student and peasant activists were massacred by the army. Time Magazine reported on December 17, 1965:

"Communists, Red sympathizers and their families are being massacred by the thousands. Backlands army units are reported to have executed thousands of Communists after interrogation in remote rural jails. Moslems, whose political influence had waned as the Communists gained favor with Sukarno, had begun a 'holy war' in East Java against Indonesian Reds even before the abortive September coup. Armed with wide-bladed knives called parangs, Moslem bands crept at night into the homes of Communists, killing entire families and burying the bodies in shallow graves. ... In Central Java the army even gave military training to Moslem youths. The murder campaign became so brazen in parts of rural East Java that Moslem bands placed the heads of victims on poles and paraded them through villages. The killings have been on such a scale that the disposal of the corpses has created a serious sanitation problem in East Java and northern Sumatra, where the humid air bears the reek of decaying flesh. Travelers from those areas tell of small rivers and streams that have been literally clogged with bodies; river transportation has at places been impeded."

Standing on the corpse of millions of people, Soeharto established himself as a dictator and ruled over Indonesia for the next 32 years and became the office boy for the imperialist interest in plundering the rich resources of Indonesia.

The first election under Soeharto's "New Order" regime was held in 1971. Along with the regime's party, Golkar, there were nine other election participants. Not surprisingly the new government interfered heavily in the internal affairs of the other nine parties in order to make sure that they were suitable for the "New Order" democracy. Time Magazine reported on July 12, 1971: "The government also weeded out 2,500 unacceptable candidates and arrested many others." The new government spent 55 million dollars (261 million dollars in today's value) on this election in order to make sure that Golkar obtained a clear majority in the parliament and thus was able to re-elect Soeharto as President in 1973.

1971 Election Result

No

Party

Votes

%

Seats

1

Golkar

34,348,673

62.80

236

2

Nahdatul Ulama

10,213,650

18.67

58

3

Muslim Party of Indonesia (Partai Muslimin Indonesia)

3,793,266

6.94

20

4

Indonesia Islamic Union Party (Partai Syarikat Islam Indonesia)

2,930,746

5.36

24

5

Others

3,413,174

6.23

22

TOTAL

54,699,509

100.00

360

In the following five elections under the Soeharto regime, only three parties were allowed to participate and the functioning of a political party was legislated under the infamous UU 3/1975. Islamic parties were forced to fuse into one party: United Development Party (PPP). The rest of the parties were systematically disbanded and forced to merge into the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI). In order to ensure that Golkar always won more than 60% of the popular vote, a number of tactics were employed by the regime. The two political parties were forbidden to criticize government policy. Their slogans and candidates had to be approved by the government. All civil servants had to become Golkar members.

The results were always the same: a huge sweep by Golkar, a total electoral domination unseen in many countries, while the other two parties were only ornaments to give an illusion of choice.

Election Results 1977-1997

Year

Golkar

PDI

PPP

Votes

%

Votes

%

Votes

%

1977

39,750,096

62.11

5,504,757

8.60

18,743,491

29.29

1982

48,334,724

64.34

5,919,702

7.88

20,871,880

27.78

1987

62,783,680

73.17

9,324,708

10.87

13,701,428

15.97

1992

66,599,331

68.10

14,565,556

14.89

16,624,647

17.00

1997

84,187,907

74.51

3,463,226

3.07

25,341,028

22.43

The election results following the defeat of the PKI provide an insight into how far the working class movement has been thrown back. The bigger you are, the harder you fall. This expression is true in the case of the PKI, which was a mass party with millions of members throughout the country. When it was destroyed, the ruling class didn't hesitate at all in their measures. They uprooted everything in sight. The defeat of the working class in Indonesia is comparable to the defeat of the German working class when Hitler took power.

Beneath this impressive vote for Golkar, there was a seething dissatisfaction amongst the masses. The 32-year domination of Golkar was shattered overnight by the mass movement that brought down Soeharto in 1998. The Asian economic crisis in 1997 exposed the fact that the economic miracle of Indonesia was built on sand. Massive increases in gas prices and day-to-day commodities served as a spark and the brave Indonesian students led the movement by organizing daily demonstration and rallies. But it was not until the broader masses joined the movement that the movement gained a significant political thrust that managed to bring down the government. Soeharto was brought down, and to replace him was vice-president Habibie who lacked any legitimacy. The whole 1997 election result was rejected by the masses. In order to provide legitimacy and to channel away the mass struggle, the ruling class was forced to hold an election in 1999 where the limitation on the number of parties was abolished. 48 parties participated in the 1999 elections. It was literally an electoral carnival for the masses.

At that moment, the only politically organised Left was a group of youth within the PRD. Although small in numbers, their role was significant in the overthrow of Soeharto. While all the bourgeois oppositions cowered in the face of the Soeharto regime, the PRD was the first to challenge the regime head-on and became a source of inspiration for the movement. However, once the great masses of Indonesia moved, the small force of the PRD was not able to become the political vehicle of the movement. Lacking a true mass party that could give the mass struggle the direction it needed, the aspirations of the masses were turned to the 1999 election and to Megawati, the daughter of Soekarno, Indonesia's founding father. While the PRD was only able to gain 80,000 votes nationally, the PDI-P's votes leapt to a huge 35 million votes (34%).

1999 Election Result

No

Party

Votes

%

Seats

1

Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P)

35,689,073

33.7

154

2

Golkar

23,741,749

22.4

120

3

United Development Party (PPP)

11,329,905

10.7

59

4

National Awakening Party (PKB)

13,336,982

12.6

51

5

National Mandate Party (PAN)

7,528,956

7.1

35

6

Others

14,159,996

13.5

43

TOTAL

105,786,661

100

462

ABSTENTION RATE

10.2%

The masses seized this election to voice their rejection of the Soeharto regime, whereby Golkar lost more than three-quarters of its usual share of votes. The bourgeoisie opposition parties to the New Order, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) led by Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of the first Indonesian president, the National Awakening Party (PKB) of Gus Dur, and the National Mandate Party (PAN) of Amien Rais gained an overwhelming share of the vote. Golkar was only able to hang on because it still had a formidable state apparatus in its hands - although it had been badly shaken - especially in the more isolated villages where the "Reformasi" movement was seen as a mere urban matter.

The reformist leaders did what they set out to do: restore the normal functioning of capitalism. Failing banks and companies were bailed out by the government using taxpayers' money. The bailout cost Indonesia about US$72billion. IMF austerity measures were implemented where state companies and the public sector were privatised, and state subsidies were abolished. Under this new democracy, all that was achieved was more freedom for the bourgeois to compete with each other in exploiting the people. In fact, this was one of the main interests of the bourgeois opposition in toppling the Soeharto regime.

The "Reformasi" era has brought no fundamental change in the conditions of the majority of the masses. As a matter a fact, exploitation is becoming more rampant as a blatant neo-liberal agenda is implemented in the name of rescuing the Indonesian economy. Many of the "Reformasi" demands were either not carried out or done so only half-heartedly. The "Reformasi" was discredited in the eyes of the masses. In the next 2004 election, the three major parties that symbolized the "Reformasi" era, PDIP, PAN, and PKB, lost almost half of their support, dropping from 53.4% to 35.5%. The participation rate also dropped, from a 10.2% abstention rate in 1999 to 22.9% in 2004. There was a widespread mood ‑ although a mood which was still very raw and unorganised ‑ amongst the masses that all these parties represented the same interest. Two new players, the PD and PKS, who had an urban base, gained a combined vote of 15%, nearly the amount of votes lost by the old reformist parties. This represented the rejection of the masses of the old parties.

2004 Election Result

No

Party

Votes

%

Seats

1

Golkar

24,480,757

21.58

128

2

Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P)

21,026,629

18.53

109

3

National Awakening Party (PKB)

11,989,564

10.57

52

4

United Development Party (PPP)

9,248,764

8.15

58

5

Democratic Party (PD)

8,455,225

7.45

57

6

Prosperous Justice Party (PKS)

8,325,020

7.34

45

7

National Mandate Party (PAN)

7,303,324

6.44

52

8

Others

22,659,115

19.94

49

 

TOTAL

113,488,398

100

550

ABSTENTION RATE

22.9%*

*Data from Statistics Indonesia (Badan Pusat Statistik; www.bps.go.id) as of February 6, 2004 registered 147,216,531 eligible voters from a total population of 215,631,379

What we see in this election is the reshuffling of the bourgeois parties. Golkar, although this time it came out as the winner, is unlikely to ever regain its past glory again. The masses have decisively rejected it and the ruling class is smart enough to realise this and therefore bets on other parties. Although on all major issues, i.e. on how best to exploit the masses, all these different parties vote together.

In the first direct presidential election in Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of the Democratic Party won overwhelmingly with 60.9% of the vote over Megawati. Megawati, who was revered by the masses five years ago and expected to carry the same revolutionary zeal as her father, proved to be nothing but the lackey of the ruling class. The result of this presidential election was a damning proof of that. The only reason why she could even muster a 39.1% vote was because some voters would prefer to have Megawati than SBY who had formed a coalition with the much-hated Golkar by having Jusuf Kalla, the chairman of Golkar, to be his running mate.

In the 2009 election, the party of the incumbent president, the Democratic Party, came first. With the Election Commissioner registering 171,068,667 people as eligible voters for the 2009 election but with only 105,099,785 votes counted, the abstention rate stands at a massive 38.6%. This increasing abstention rate in the past three elections (10% to 20% to 40%) is a clear indication that more and more people have came to the conclusion that there are no fundamental differences between these parties. The true winner of this election is the absentee group, or otherwise known as the "Golongan Putih".

2009 Election Result

No

Party

Votes

%

1

Democratic Party (PD)

21,703,137

20.8

2

Golkar

15,037,757

14.4

3

Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P)

14,600,091

14.0

4

Prosperous Justice Party (PKS)

8,206,955

7.9

5

National Mandate Party (PAN)

6,254,580

6.0

6

United Development Party (PPP)

5,533,214

5.3

7

National Awakening Pary (PKB)

5,146,122

4.9

8

Gerindra

4,646,406

4.5

9

Others

22,971523

22.2

 

TOTAL

104,099,785

100

ABSTENTION RATE

38.6%*

*Total eligible voters for 2009 election were 171,068,667. Data from the Election Commissioner.

Reformism and its true nature

The disillusionment of the masses during this recent period has become even greater as they have learned the hard way that "Reformasi" only means more choice for them to be exploited in different ways. It is akin to choosing to be either kicked in the shin, hit in the gut, or punched in the face. In the mean time, many once promising figures in the Left have also been co-opted to these parties, exacerbating the disillusionment. The most notable one is Budiman Sudjamitko, the first chairman of the PRD, who left the PRD and joined the PDI-P in 2004. In fact, nearly all previous chairmen of the PRD and many of their once-leading figures have joined these bourgeois parties and renounced socialism altogether. This phenomenon is not limited to the PRD. Many young radical activists, under the pressure of reformism and without a clear socialist perspective, have joined bourgeois parties in the hope of transforming them to become parties that better represent the 'little people' (wong cilik). What we are seeing here is not any lack of moral grounding amongst these people who jump ship, but a lack of ideological clarity.

Going into the 2009 elections, all the reformist heroes have dropped all their pretences. They openly discussed forming a coalition with the old "New Order" forces. Many in the Left have dubbed them as false reformists, seemingly expecting that there are such things as true reformists. However, these reformists are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing, they are fulfilling their historical role: siding with the bourgeoisie to divert the mass revolutionary struggle into safe channels and carrying out the tasks which the ruling class was unable to do openly.

The biggest historical betrayal of reformism was when the majority of the leaders of the Second International supported the First World War in 1914 after signing the Basel Manifesto two years earlier, that read: "In case war should break out anyway it is their duty to intervene in favour of its speedy termination and with all their powers to utilize the economic and political crisis created by the war to arouse the people and thereby to hasten the downfall of capitalist class rule." Instead, these leaders helped the ruling class carry out the task that they could not carry out themselves: to sell the war to the workers as a war in defence of the fatherland. Not only that, after a series of revolutions broke out in the aftermath of the war, the reformist leaders derailed the revolution with everything at their disposal. Such, in the last analysis, was the historical role of the reformists: to be the loyal defenders of capitalism. There should not be any illusions about this.

However, any serious Marxists will always fight for reforms that alleviate the suffering of the masses. We do not reject reforms as long as they still preserve a certain degree a vital forcefulness. Marxists carry out day-to-day struggle with a perspective of the working class eventually conquering power. This is what separates revolutionary Marxists from the reformists who not only have lost faith in revolution but also despise it and seek to prevent it whenever it is about to take place.

The attempts of the Left to participate in elections

The question of whether to intervene in bourgeois elections has been a key debate amongst the Left, not only in Indonesia but also throughout the world. Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky wrote abundantly on this subject and their works should be studied carefully by any serious activist. These teachers of Marxism waged a ruthless and systematic battle against opportunism on one side and ultra-leftism on the other side. This ideological battle is not waged for the sake of scoring a cheap debating point but as an effort to strengthen the movement.

The first effort by the Left to intervene in the post-Soeharto election was the participation of the PRD in the 1999 election. While the PRD played a very important role in toppling the Soeharto regime, its forces were too small to make any gains in this election. An internal disagreement within the PRD on how to respond to this election was also distracting and harmful to their electoral effort. In effect, there were three lines within the PRD: 1) for a complete boycott, 2) vote for the PRD or boycott, and 3) just vote for any of the reformist parties. Due to these factors, they only managed to obtain 80,000 votes. Although without a doubt the 1999 election was a manoeuvre on the part of the ruling class to channel the anger of the masses into a safe venue, to boycott this election would have been a disaster since the masses saw the election as an opportunity to voice their rejection of Soeharto and his party, Golkar.

In 2004, the PRD again attempted to participate in the elections. On July 27, 2003, the PRD with more than 50 other Left organizations formed an electoral party, POPOR (Partai Persatuan Oposisi Rakyat, The People's United Opposition Party). Dita Sari was elected as its chairperson. However, the new electoral law proved to be discriminatory toward small parties, especially those that do not have millions of dollars to spend. Consequently, POPOR was unable to qualify for the election. On the other hand, debates within the PRD about whether to boycott the elections slowed the development of this party. In the meantime, many activists at that time advocated a complete electoral boycott.

Again in 2007, the PRD spearheaded an initiative to form a party to participate in the 2009 election. However, not satisfied with regulatory repression to bar the participation of PAPERNAS in the election, the ruling class also physically attacked PAPERNAS. On January 17, 2007, the founding congress of PAPERNAS was attacked by a group of anti-communist thugs. Many PAPERNAS activists were also harassed by these thugs, their offices ransacked and their meetings disrupted. On a number of occasions, the authority refused to permit PAPERNAS activities.

Using an anti-communist sentiment that is still prevalent amongst the masses, PAPERNAS' main program, "three banners for people's welfare": nationalization of the minerals sector (including oil and gas), cancellation of Indonesia's foreign debt, and national industrialisation, was attacked as a communist program. In the end, the repressive electoral rule prevented PAPERNAS from participating. In order for a party to gain electoral registration, it must have branches in more than 50% of the country's 33 provinces, and in each of the provinces where it has members it must show it has branches in more than 50% of the districts, and in each district more than 30% of the sub-districts. This electoral law is clearly designed to make it almost impossible for new parties to participate, especially a party whose social base is the poor peasants and the working class, and that therefore does not have the money to set up (i.e. buy) enough branch offices.

A split in the PRD emerged after it decided to participate in the election under the banner of the PBR (Star Reform Party). The PBR began as a split from the PPP, a party that was created from the forced amalgamation of all Islamic parties under the Soeharto regime. It was established in 2003 and gained 2.5% vote in the 2004 election. A section of the PRD, grouped around Zely Ariane and Danial Indrakusuma, split away from the PRD over this decision and formed a new party, the KPRM-PRD (The Political Committee of The Poor - People's Democratic Party). They considered PBR to be another bourgeois party, and rightly so. The PRD argued that any opportunity to run an electoral candidate must be seized because "parliament is the main edifice that needs to fortify the people against the ferocity of the free market"[3], even if it is done under the banner of another party. Dita Sari, the current PRD leader, saw the PBR as "the best out of the worst". More than 40 PAPERNAS members were to run under PBR tickets, including Dita. In this "coalition", PRD/PAPERNAS could not campaign under their organisation's name, banner, and program, and could not criticise the PBR, thus effectively dissolving itself into the PBR in this electoral coalition. The PRD/PAPERNAS was silent when the leadership of the PBR was considering a coalition with Gerindra, the party of Prabowo, an ex-army general who was implicated in the kidnapping and torture of left activists during the Soeharto era.

In the meantime, many workers and peasants' organisations were rejecting the 2009 election and calling for a boycott on the basis that all the participants were pro-capitalist parties. KASBI (Congress of Indonesian Union Alliance), KPRM-PRD, PRP (Working Peoples' Association), and a number of other trade unions and student organizations, held a joint action[4] on March 14th calling for a boycott of the 2009 election and demanded:

  1. Build a political organization on the basis of workers, peasants, students, and other oppressed layers of society.
  2. Nationalisation of the economy that controls the welfare of the majority under workers' control
  3. Strong and independent industrialisation
  4. Eradicate foreign debt
  5. Expropriate the assets of the corruptors to finance free education and healthcare for the people.

Parliamentarism and Extra-Parliamentarism, Opportunism and Ultra-leftism

The question of participating in a bourgeois election has always been a heated issue amongst the left. On the one hand, we have parliamentary cretins who see parliamentarianism as the main way of changing society. On the other hand, we have those who reject any kind of participation and intervention in the parliamentary field. The former is opportunism and the latter is ultra-leftism. A genuine Marxist adopts neither of them because a Marxist is not a dogmatist. Marxists always start from the objective condition that is presented to them in determining their tactics because we are materialist. Of course both opportunists and ultra-leftists will claim that their tactics are supported by the objective conditions. However what separates them from Marxists is our method of analysing the material condition: i.e. dialectics.

Marxists see things interconnected and flowing, not always in a straight line but that could sometimes change in leaps and bounds. Starting from this, Marxists can combine both parliamentary and extra-parliamentary tactics, combining one with the other without any hint of inconsistency because the perspective is always one: the conquest of power by the proletariat. Marxists use both tactics with utmost clarity in order to push forward the movement toward a revolutionary conquest of power by the working class.

The working class has struggled both in a legal and illegal manner for more than 150 years. There is a wealth of lessons that we can take on board without the need to reinvent the wheel. The best distillation of this knowledge was written by Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky. Lenin and the Bolsheviks in particular devoted great attention to fighting opportunism and ultra-leftism. It was this consistent ideological struggle between numerous factions within the Russian Left that prepared the Russian movement with clarity at the decisive time to take power. The ideological struggle in Russia was so ruthless that the "learned fools and the old women of the Second International... arrogantly and contemptuously turned up their noses at the abundance of 'factions' in the Russian socialist movement and at the bitter struggle they were waging among themselves"[5]. However, when the time came, these learned leaders of the Second International capitulated and supported the First World War while the Bolsheviks, steeled in years of struggle against opportunism and ultra-leftism, carried out a proletarian revolution.

Under the leadership of Lenin, the ideological struggle waged by the Bolsheviks was not an idle sectarian infighting that incapacitated the party, but it was a school to prepare the party and the masses to conquer power. Lenin wrote abundantly in his polemics against opportunism and ultra-leftism. Every serious Marxist should read Lenin's works. Of course, Indonesia is not Russia. To blindly and dogmatically follow Lenin's writings word by word is not a Marxist method, not to mention selective quoting to justify one's action by borrowing Lenin's authority. Lenin himself fought against such dishonest method of those learned leaders of the Second International who justified their actions by doctoring Marx and Engels' thought through selective dishonest quoting. What we are looking for in Lenin's (also Marx, Engels, and Trotsky's) polemical writings is their method, which can then be applied to the current objective condition.

The Bolsheviks utilised both legal and illegal methods in a very careful manner, and with such theoretical clarity. Theoretically, the Bolsheviks recognised that the bourgeois parliamentary system was obsolete and had been created to uphold capitalist rule, and the working class could not simply take hold of the bourgeois parliament and use it for its own purpose. However, this is just the ABC of Marxism on the question of the bourgeois state. To take this axiom and then proceed in principle to oppose participation in parliamentary struggle is childishness. Marxists must be able to use all means provided by the capitalists to prepare the masses. Lenin wrote about it very clearly:

"Parliamentarianism is of course 'politically obsolete' to the Communists in Germany; but-and that is the whole point-we must not regard what is obsolete to us as something obsolete to a class, to the masses... You must not sink to the level of the masses, to the level of the backward strata of the class. That is incontestable. You must tell them the bitter truth. You are in duty bound to call their bourgeois-democratic and parliamentary prejudices what they are-prejudices. But at the same time you must soberly follow the actual state of the class-consciousness and preparedness of the entire class (not only of its communist vanguard), and of all the working people (not only of their advanced elements)." (Leftwing Communism: an infantile disorder)

The above passage is clear. While utilizing parliamentary tactics, Marxists should not hide the truth from the masses that the bourgeois parliament is a tool to maintain capitalism, and that the final goal of the proletariat is the revolutionary conquest of power through smashing the very same parliament that we are using now. Marxists use parliament not only as a means to bring about reforms that can alleviate the suffering of the masses but also as a platform to put forward their socialist ideas and to show to the masses the limitations and the rottenness of the bourgeois parliament, thus preparing the working class to overthrow it. The opportunists on the other hand are bound hand and foot to the bourgeois parliament, worshipping it like a golden calf for they have refused to bring the masses to their promised land.

It is clear that Marxists do not categorically reject parliamentary tactics. The questions that are equally important are: when do we use it and when do we boycott it? How and in what proportion do we implement and combine this tactic with other extra-parliamentary tactics? Lenin never provided a magic formula for these questions, and rightly so as there are no straight answers. Lenin admitted that "the Bolsheviks began their victorious struggle against the parliamentary and (in fact) bourgeois republic and against the Mensheviks in a very cautious manner, and the preparations they made for it were by no means simple." (Leftwing Communism: an infantile disorder).

The Bolshevik and Parliament

To give an illustration of the complexity of the question, we can trace back the experience of the Bolsheviks. In the revolutionary period of 1905, the Bolsheviks boycotted the parliament created by the Tsar because at that time a higher form of power had emerged: the Soviet. The Russian masses created their first institution of power and swept away the parliament, thus to have participated in the Tsarist parliament during that period would have been a betrayal.

However, after the failure of the 1905 revolution and the smashing of the Soviets, Russia entered into a period of reaction:

"The years of reaction (1907-10). Tsarism was victorious. All the revolutionary and opposition parties were smashed. Depression' demoralization, splits, discord, defection, and pornography took the place of politics. There was an ever greater drift towards philosophical idealism; mysticism became the garb of counter-revolutionary sentiments." (Leftwing Communism: an infantile disorder)

From 1906 to 1908, the Bolsheviks still called for the boycott of the Duma, expecting that the revolutionary tide of the 1905 revolution was still strong enough to catalyse another uprising. However, the subsequent years proved this wrong, and the Bolsheviks recognised this mistake and changed their tactics and re-oriented the party for a new period (though not without an intense internal struggle against the revolutionary phrase-mongers who refused to change tactics). The Bolsheviks would have lost everything if they did not participate in the Duma. Lenin argued that in this period of reaction where the workers were on the defensive, all methods, legal and illegal, should be used to reach the widest number of workers and peasants.

However, Lenin's argument for participating in the Duma election had nothing in common with the Mensheviks' argument. The Mensheviks' basis for participating in the Duma was a tacit acceptance that the road on which Russia was embarking was constitutional monarchy and thus they called for a responsible government where their participation in the Duma was for a diplomacy to ensure such government. Whereas Lenin's basis was to reach the widest number of workers under very difficult conditions where Bolshevism was an illegal organization; this meant using the parliament as a platform for agitation and propaganda. In his polemic both against the Mensheviks and the ultra-left Bolsheviks (a group called Otzovists) on the question of participating in the Duma, Lenin wrote in 1908:

"From the view that the parliamentary group is the 'fulfilment' of the Party the Mensheviks arrive at the conclusion that it is necessary to adapt the Party to the group. The Otzovists arrive at the conclusion that such a poor "fulfilment" of the Party is disastrous to the Party. In both cases the premise is false... We send deputies into bourgeois and bourgeois-Black-Hundred representative institutions not for diplomacy, but for a special type of subsidiary Party work, for agitation and propaganda from a particular rostrum... The parliamentary group is not a general staff but rather a unit of trumpetors in one case, or a reconnaissance unit in another, or an organisation of some other auxiliary 'arm'." (Two Letters by Lenin, Proletary, No. 39, November 13 (26), 1908).

With six workers' MPs elected, the Bolsheviks fully used parliament to patiently educate the masses. They exposed the undemocratic nature of the Duma and they put forward bills that had no chance of being passed (the Bolsheviks put forward three main demands: for the eight hour day, land distribution for the poor peasants, and a democratic republic). In the course of their parliamentary work, the Bolsheviks never capitulated and maintained their class independence. The Bolsheviks mercilessly attacked the landlords and capitalists and the tsarist regime using the Duma.

Most importantly, the Bolsheviks never supported the Cadets, which was the party of the liberal "progressive" bourgeoisie. Lenin called on the workers and peasants to rely on their own strength and not to get entangled with coalitions and deals with the liberal Cadets. "Rely on your own strength," Lenin said to them. "Only in this way can we win over the lower, oppressed strata of revolutionary petty bourgeoisie (the peasants), and split them away from the Liberals (Cadets)."

The Cadets, the party of the bourgeoisie in feudalist Russia, was tied by a thousand threads to the Tsar and was unable to wage any real opposition. To this, the Mensheviks replied that it was necessary to form an alliance with any progressive forces, including the progressive bourgeoisie, i.e. Cadets. The reformist deviation of the opportunists can be summed up in their attitude toward the parliament when they declared that the Duma, "can become the centre of the movement of the entire people against the autocratic police state" (Quoted in the Istoria KPSS, vol. 2, p. 202.).

The February Revolution in 1917 overthrew the Tsar and the Soviets were once again born, but this time on a wider scale and a higher political plane. At the same time, the liberal bourgeoisie hurriedly formed a provisional government in order to save capitalism in Russia, a government that practically had no power and was only in existence because of the support of the Menshevik leaders. There was a dual power. What was the attitude of the Bolsheviks in this situation? Recognising that the Soviets were an embryo of a workers' state, the Bolsheviks called for "All Power to the Soviets" even though the Soviets at that time were dominated by the opportunist Mensheviks and the Social-Revolutionaries leaders. Unlike the Mensheviks who sent their 'socialist' ministers to the Provisional government, The Bolsheviks called for no support for the Provisional Government. Again the Bolsheviks arrived at this position after a fierce battle against those who considered it necessary to prop up the provisional government "so long as its actions correspond to the interests of the proletariat and of the broad democratic masses of the people".

The above short exposition cannot do justice to the complexity of the tactics that the Bolsheviks had to adopt which prepared the workers for the eventual conquest of power in the October Revolution. However, there is one red thread that connects all these tactics during the life of the Bolsheviks: Marxists are flexible in tactics but firm in ideas. With a careful and thought-out combination of legal and illegal work, parliamentary and extra-parliamentary work, the Bolsheviks consolidated themselves within the movement. By combination, it doesn't mean that the Bolsheviks indiscriminately used all tactics without considering the dialectical relationship between all those tactics (how they influence each other). They skilfully combined them and always carefully observing the objective condition, fighting against parliamentary opportunism and ultra-leftism at the same time.

In fighting ultra-leftism, we always have to remember not to confuse our own level of understanding and consciousness with that of the majority. It is often shown that the mood of the most active and militant layer of workers can often be too far ahead of the rest of the class. We have to take a bold step to evaluate our strategy, whether or not it is just a reflection of our impatience. If it is, we have to rectify it as soon as possible so as not to lose any links with the rest of the class.

Indonesia: The next task

Unfortunately, a similar opportunist attitude to parliamentary work has now been adopted by the PRD/PAPERNAS, as Kelik Ismunanto has declared that now "parliament is the main edifice that needs to fortify the people against the ferocity of the free market" and he is expecting to "open up the democratic space that had been monopolised by the ruling party." This reminds us of the utterance of the Mensheviks that parliament "can become the centre of the movement of the entire people against the autocratic police state."

Even for the PRD/PAPERNAS, extra-parliamentary tactics are seen as a supporting beam for their opportunist parliamentary tactics:

"As was explained by Dita Sari on television recently, the extra-parliamentary movement needs parliament to formalise the program they are struggling for. Similarly, those who sit in parliament as genuine people's representatives need those on the outside to pressure the entire parliament to act in the interests of the people, to respond to their needs." (Indonesia: Tracing a path towards parliament by Kelik Ismunanto)

This is a blatant admittance on the part of the PRD/PAPERNAS that extra-parliamentary tactics are subordinated to their parliamentary perspective as the main struggle to fight capitalism.

Combining this opportunism with the vulgar two-stage theory, then we end up with this basic formula: in our parliamentary struggle, we need to form an alliance with the bourgeois liberals (opposition) in order to fight the more reactionary bourgeois. Rudi Hartono, one of the PRD/PAPERNAS leaders, wrote in his article "Clarify Your Position":

"If there is no focus to attack the most reactionary faction of the bourgeoisie now and to embrace the weak opposition (read bourgeois opposition) so that we can push them to our logic, then it is certain that the political battle in 2009 will be dominated by the reactionary political elites and the moderates and this will hurt the people's movement."

It is quite something when the PRD/PAPERNAS has already admitted that the opposition (bourgeois liberals) is weak and still expecting them to lead the economy and the country. It is because they are weak that they will betray the movement. We cannot trust them. Lenin never trusted the Cadets, even in the face of a very reactionary feudalist Tsar that the bourgeois liberals seemed progressive in comparison.

In the same article, Rudi called for the establishment of an independent economy because the current dependent economy only profits the foreign capitalists and their domestic agents. This can only mean that Rudi is calling for economy based on the national bourgeoisie that will supposedly benefit the nation as a whole. When the national bourgeoisie is prosperous, the people will receive a trickle-down of this prosperity. However, we all know what trickles down the pants of the bourgeoisie.

In their document, "Coalition Government/National Unity for the independence of Indonesia", PAPERNAS wrote:

"On paper, the political spectrum that has a tendency to be against or to be critical toward neoliberalism, like the nationalist (progressive), socialist, and progressive religion (socialist religious), should be able to be united in a common platform. This road can be a shortcut to strengthen the anti-neoliberal forces."

There is no shortcut, as the PAPERNAS would like to believe. Historically, every time the movement takes a shortcut, it is a shortcut over a cliff. The Popular Front in Spain led to the victory of fascist Franco and his dictatorial rule for 39 years. The Unidad Popular (Popular Unity) front of Salvador Allende led to the bloody coup of Pinochet. The list goes on.

The workers, the peasants, and the urban poor need their own political party. They cannot depend on the so-called progressive bourgeoisie to defend their interests. Especially at this stage in Indonesia where the workers do not even have their own party, focus should be paid to building this party. The betrayals of the reformists such as the PDI-P, PKB, and PAN have opened the eyes of more and more people that they need their own political organisation. This opportunity should be seized with both hands.

The boycott of the 2009 election should be transformed into an action to build a political organisation based on the workers, peasants, and the urban poor. Furthermore, this party should be built on the basis of class independence with a clear socialist program: nationalisation of the main industries under workers' control, land distribution for poor peasants, a just fishing law favourable to the small fishermen, cancellation of the foreign debt, free universal healthcare and education, jobs for all with a living wage, a liveable pension for all, and the right to organise and strike.

The trade unions should take the initiative and leadership in building this party and take the slogan "For a workers' party for the workers" into the labour movement. This workers' party should then embrace the peasants and the urban poor, but never the so-called "progressive" bourgeoisie. The party should not fall into the prejudice of the petty bourgeoisie but maintain a clear workers' leadership. Only through the leadership of the workers can the whole of the oppressed layers of society be freed.

(May 13th 2009)


[1] PRD is a radical Left party formed in 1996 which was instrumental in the overthrow of the Soeharto regime.

[2] In 1949, the Guilders was peg to US dollar: 3.8 Guilders = 1US dollar. The 2009 value was calculated using a Consumer Price Index inflation calculator.

[3] Indonesia: Tracing a path towards parliament by Kelik Ismunanto, one of the PRD leaders.

[4] Ratusan Kaum Buruh dan Rakyat Miskin Menolak Pemilu 2009

[5] Lenin, Leftwing Communism: an infantile disorder