Indonesia after S11: Anti-Terrorism, Geopolitics and Counter-Revolution

Bruce Boon analyses the political situation in Indonesia in the light of the events of September 11.

"Hegel remarks somewhere that all the events and personalities of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as a tragedy, the second as a farce."

Karl Marx in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

With the birth of Indonesia in 1945, it's first President Sukarno wrote a classic tragedy with himself as the tragic hero bound to fall from his heavenly heights and die a lonely death. Incarnated in this life of a president is the heroic story of a people, the tragedy of an ideology and with it the masses it led. The heroes are the workers and peasants who fought a class war for liberation from oppression, a battle against imperialists, aristocracy (bupati) and national bourgeoisie. The tragedy is the death-end of Sukarno's anti-colonial nationalism and its aide in the Stalinism of Aidit, leader of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). Pushed by the masses the colonial revolution meant a massive leap forward. But the PKI leadership rejected the road of a permanent revolution towards socialism. Instead of relying on the power of the masses, they preferred to play the game of elite politics and relied on Sukarno to counterbalance the military reaction. The inevitable consequence of this tactic was the defeat of the revolution and the genocide of the Left by the counter-revolutionary forces of General Suharto. In the year 1966 begins the so-called New Order regime.

1998 is the year that the Indonesian Revolution was reinvented. Led by the students and the illegal labour unions, the masses stood up against Dictator Suharto . Since then Indonesia has been the scene of revolution and counter-revolution. In the process of revolution illusions come up and will be smashed. The current incarnation of illusions is the new president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of Sukarno. After the bloody rule of the New Order, Sukarno's Old Order tragedy is recycled as a New Order farce. The contemporary repetition of Indonesian nationalism under President Megawati is indeed a farce because today there is nothing progressive and revolutionary in her nationalism. The colonies are already liberated from direct political domination; they have achieved political sovereignty. Yet the colonial masses have bumped into the limits of capitalist domination, from which there can't be national liberation. Only a fight for international socialism can bring this liberation.

In the unfolding revolution the masses will have to expose all illusions in Sukarno. For now, in line with Marx' analysis, "the tradition of all the generations of the death weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living. And just when they seem involved in revolutionising themselves and things, in creating something that has never before existed, it is precisely in such periods of revolutionary crisis that they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service and borrow names, battle cries and costumes from them in order to act out the new scene of world history in this time-honoured disguise and this borrowed language (2) ." On the basis of such illusions in the past, in the mythical person of Sukarno, a grotesque and mediocre personality as Megawati could grab power as the result of the bourgeois infighting over assets and government control(3). After her first months in reign, she has proven that bourgeois nationalism means nothing more than being a satellite state of imperialism.

Together with some top ministers and leading businessmen President Megawati on September 18 set sail for a 9-day working visit in the U.S., where she met President Bush. Also on her schedule were meetings with International Monetary Fund (IMF) president Horst Koehler and World Bank president James Wolfensohn, and with several CEOs of American oil companies operating in Indonesia. In spite of the chaos surrounding the S11 terrorist attack on the U.S., the American ruling class seemed eager to meet Megawati and her entourage in what was before S11 announced as a visit to gain support for the economic recovery of Indonesia. After the World Trade Center inferno the Bush administration shifted its rhetoric to "looking for allies in the global combat against terrorism". Both reasons, 'economic recovery' and 'combat against terrorism', serve however to cover the real intent behind the talks: assigning Indonesia a place on the new geopolitical world map.

Nurturing Fundamentalism

Megawati's U.S. visit was taking place at a time when the two countries are facing terrorism, allegedly from ultra-right Muslims. Last year on Christmas Eve and last July, Indonesia was the stage of a series of bomb attacks on churches and shopping malls. The Indonesian police say that they have found evidence linking the bombings to Malaysian Muslim extremists. And again on Sunday 23 September, just days after President Megawati joined the U.S.-led global war on terrorism, at least two explosions rocked the Atrium Plaza shopping mall in Central Jakarta's busy Senen business district. Since the U.S. attack on Afghanistan bomb explosions have mushroomed throughout Indonesia. Even if we are not sure who exactly committed these bombings &endash; especially in a corrupt country like Indonesia &endash; it is clear that terrorism is spreading, and that the perpetrators claim to do it for the cause of Islam.

There is a possibility that the right wing of the state apparatus is creating this atmosphere of terror in order to get public opinion to support the expansion of the repressive machinery and a clamp down on every supposed terrorist group, including left wing activists. Nevertheless it is beyond doubt that fundamentalism is on the rise in Indonesia, just like in the Philippines and Malaysia. Although the majority of Indonesian Muslims is historically very moderate and open in its interpretation of the Koran, we have seen in the last few years again an upsurge in extremist interpretations and actions.

Laskar Jihad is a good example of such a fundamentalist group. They recruit fighters and collect money to support the Holy War against the Christians in the Moluccas(4). Its commander Jaffar Umar Thalib used to be a mujahideen fighter in Afghanistan. According to Al Chaidar, an academic who wrote several books on radical Islam in Indonesia, the international mujahideen network, made up of former fighters from Chechnya, Kashmir, the southern Philippines, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, held meetings in Malaysia in 1999 and 2000. At that moment they pinpointed Indonesia as the ideal place to develop their movement. "They called Indonesia the number one country in terms of looseness, corruption, and instability. They decided it was very easy to infiltrate and a very good place to develop themselves," he said as quoted by AFP(5).

On several occasions fundamentalist groups like Angkatan Muda Ka'bah (AMK) and Gerakan Pemuda Ka'bah (GPK) attacked leftist and labour activists, like last June at an international conference in Bogor. AMK and GPK are fundamentalist groups of criminal youth set up by the local military and the United Development Party (PPP).

Also this year, several right wing forces joined in the Aliansi Anti-Komunis (Anti-Communist Alliance) and raided bookshops for socialist literature. Especially when attacking the Left, those organisations collaborate openly with the police and army. We have here a curious concurrence. On the one hand fundamentalism is targeted by the state for acts of terrorism against the public order. On the other hand fundamentalism is supported by the state as a force of terror against the working class and socialism. Muslim extremism is an essential instrument in the counter-revolution.

The parallel with the Middle East policy of the White House and reactionary Arab regimes is obvious. It suffices to remember the origins of 'super-terrorist' Osama bin Laden, namely as a CIA-supported 'freedom fighter' against the Stalinist regime in Afghanistan. So the imperialists and the state use a puppet to clean up the mess in their political warfare, but then the puppet grows stronger and starts to turn against its own master as a consequence of the same imperialism. Even more so, imperialism and the concomitant state repression create a mass base of unrest and hate against the government and the imperialists. Because of the failure of secular Arab nationalism and the betrayal of the Stalinist leadership, fundamentalism became in the Middle East, regrettably, the sole organised mass movement that gives an expression to those anti-imperialist feelings, be it in a very deformed manner(6).

Although in Indonesia fundamentalism still doesn't have this mass base, the soil is made fertile by the socio-economic crisis of capitalism, the ongoing anti-socialist tactics of the state and the imperialist drive towards a 'clash of civilisations'. In the last few weeks, Muslim groups have rallied in Jakarta and other cities to protest the attack against Afghanistan and generally to condemn the blaming of Islam for terrorism. Although not all these groups are extremist, it is beyond doubt that the fundamentalists are capitalising on the imperialist aggression and the anti-Islam campaign by the majority of the bourgeois media. The justified condemnation of the American offensive by broad layers of Indonesian society has already pushed Megawati to openly reject the air raids, thereby weakening Washington's international alliance against terrorism. But in the absence of a strong labour leadership that puts forward class-based internationalist demands, the general mood is one of religious fervour instead of anti-imperialism.

On the other hand it would be dangerous to exaggerate the situation. Contrary to what the Western media and all sorts of think-thanks (such as Stratfor) seem to indicate, Indonesia is far from being taken over by the fundamentalists. They still lack a serious social base. As soon as they face the resolute action of the working class and the students outside the factory or the neighbourhood, they rapidly disintegrate. We can draw this conclusion from recent historical precedents.

When in November 1998 the military organised the extreme-right Islamic Pam Swakarsa militias to counter the student demonstration they were forced to withdraw them after the first skirmishes. Rapidly many of the urban kampung(7) of Jakarta became no entry zones for those armed fundamentalist groups of lumpenised youth. Most of the Pam Swakarsa militiamen ended killed by the youth of those neighbourhoods. The military who had announced the presence of 30,000 of them to help to keep order, feared a general backlash and decided to take them out. June 2001 in Yogyakarta, the capital of Central Java, something similar happened to the Ka'bah youth movement (the mentioned GPK). After months of trying to terrorise poor neighbourhoods, the local population supporting the PDI-P organised themselves in antifascist committees with the help of some student activists and gave the GPK people literally a deadly hammering which they still remember.

Although fundamentalist protests were manifold during the last period, they nevertheless mobilised relatively small numbers of people, in most demonstrations no more than 1.000. Only one time in Jakarta there were more than 10.000 protesters against the war, yet not all of them fundamentalists. Before the war against Afghanistan the 2 largest Muslim organisations, Nahdlatul Ulama (40 million members) and Muhammadiyah (28 million), indeed threatened to call for Jihad if the U.S. would attack Afghanistan, but they were very quick to say that they don't mean a holy war by that, but just a non-violent effort to defend Islam. In the end when the war broke out, their position was even more moderate.

What concerns politics, based on the 1999 elections the political landscape is dominated by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) which received 199 seats, the Golkar Party with 167 seats, the PKB with 38 seats, the PPP with 33 seats and the National Mandate Party (PAN) which got 19 seats. Neither of these parties can be considered fundamentalist. The strongest fundamentalist parties are the Crescent Star Party (PBB) and the Justice Party (PK), both of which grabbed just one seat, not what one could call a 'fundamentalist threat'. It is true that the PPP is a conservative Muslim party &endash; which is not the same as fundamentalist, although it can develop to one &endash; that wants to introduce the sharia (Islam law) in Indonesia. But when Vice-President Hamzah Haz of the PPP recently tried so, all the other main parties voted against, including the political voice of Nahdlatul Ulama, the PKB of former President Wahid. The other known politician sometimes categorised as fundamentalist is Amien Rais, the speaker of Indonesia's People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), the top legislative body. His party PAN, the political voice of Muhammadiyah, is allied with the fundamentalist parties PBB and PK in the so-called Central Axis. By the way, those of you who remember the Western news around the time of Suharto's fall, will know Rais used to be the favourite of the Western bourgeoisie and media. He is indeed also known to be a bourgeois reformer and as such opportunist enough to look for his own masses, in casu conservative Muslims including fundamentalist fractions. Again, his opportunism does not make him a fundamentalist, although domestic and international developments can steer him in that direction in the future. So given the fact that the absolute majority of Indonesian Muslims are moderate practitioners of their religion, that there are no fundamentalist politicians with a mass base and that every top-level opportunist will think twice in the current world situation before converting himself to fundamentalism, we can safely conclude that for the moment there is no threat for a fundamentalist regime in Indonesia.

Of course this is our short-term perspective, because it is clear that fundamentalism is generally on the rise in Indonesia. If the crisis keeps on festering &endash; and it will &endash;, if the bourgeois politicians can't offer a strategy out of the crisis &endash; and they won't &endash;, if the military in its bid to power does not crush the fundamentalists &endash; together with the labour movement &endash;, and most importantly if the workers leadership does not offer a real, socialist alternative to the masses, then one can be damn sure that Indonesia will have a fundamentalist regime in the future.

American Anxiety and Generosity

The U.S. is fully aware of the threat posed to its interests in the region by an ascending fundamentalism in the largest Muslim country of the world. Even before the S11 disaster in New York and Washington, a new report about Southeast Asia(8) by the Council on Foreign Relations referred to "the spectre of politicised Islam" in Indonesia. The rebellious province Aceh is mentioned as a particular example, since important sections of the GAM (the Free Aceh Movement) want to declare an independent Muslim state. The report further states that the same spectre also threatens "the lower ranks of the army" and even "the central government". Also some weeks before the terrorist attack on the U.S., Robert Zoellick, the U.S. trade representative to Jakarta, and James Kelly, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific Affairs warned that there are links from Osama bin Laden to militants in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. And recent reports even said that Osama bin Laden might find refuge in Aceh.

In the past the U.S. supported fundamentalism as a force against socialist-inspired regimes. But it turned out that fundamentalism doesn't want to play the role originally assigned to it, namely as agents of U.S. imperial interests. After its experiences in the Middle East, Uncle Sam is haunted by the vision of Indonesia as a stronghold of Muslim fundamentalists. That &endash; partly &endash; explains why the American elite showers Indonesia with promises. During their meeting, Bush promised the visiting President Megawati a restoration of military aid and a total of US$657.4 million in financial aid. The U.S. severed military ties with the TNI, the Indonesian military, following mayhem in East Timor in September 1999. But now President Bush pledged that the United States would lift its embargo on commercial sales of non-lethal defence equipment to Indonesia. Of course this is only a first step.

The U.S. made several economic commitments too. Funds are provided to three sectors of society: the state, the social sector and the economy. An important part of the money goes to strengthening the state apparatus as well as indoctrinating the masses. Concrete this means that, according to a joint statement, Bush promised to help Indonesia to increase civilian participation in defence and security issues by allocating $400,000 to educate Indonesian civilians on defence matters. He also promised to lend $10 million for the training of Indonesian police in an effort to strengthen Indonesia's "law enforcement capability". Further Bush pledged to work with Congress to secure at least $130 million to help finance Indonesia's legal and judicial reform in fiscal year 2002.

On top of that, the U.S. would donate $10 million to assist refugees in Maluku, $5 million to rebuild destroyed schools and other infrastructure in Aceh, and $2 million to assist East Timorese who have chosen to stay in Indonesia. One can easily determine that social aid is not the priority of Washington, a mere $17 million on a total sum of $657.4 million. Nevertheless, the specific domain to which social aid goes is also telling. By giving some small money to help the victims of Jakarta's murderous policy towards restive provinces, the White House not only tries to bring stability to the fragmenting country, but even more so anticipates future critique of its support for the Megawati government, namely that it boosts military repression in those provinces.

On the economic front the U.S. is rather generous. Three U.S. trade finance agencies -- the Export Import Bank (Exim), the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), and U.S. Trade and Development Agency (TDA) -- would provide a total of $400 million to promote trade and investment, especially in the oil and gas sector. Bush also agreed to grant duty-free status worth $100 million to 11 Indonesian products under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). According to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, the 11 products exempted from duties are: Turpentine gum, tuna and skipjack, prepared or preserved snails, copper ores and concentrates, sorbitol, four types of plywood sheeting, rattan or palm leaf articles, and contact lenses. As quoted in the Jakarta Post of September 21, Zoellick said the purpose of the facilities was to "support President Megawati as leader of the world's largest Muslim democracy and to help encourage growth prospects for the Indonesian economy." By continually referring to Indonesia as the largest Muslim country while displaying the rewards for its allegiance, U.S. officials try to dampen anti-American feelings inside the Muslim community. After steering towards a clash of civilisations at the home front to intensify patriotism, Washington now tries to contain the situation by the classical technique of divide and rule.

Aside from that, the rewards are quite substantial compared with the normal attitude of the imperialists. It seems the Bush administration has big plans for Indonesia. Indeed, the recent talks between the two countries' leaders go further than a global war against terrorism.

This is clearly understood by the Indonesian bureaucracy. Dewi Fortuna Anwar, an adviser of former President Habibie, said for instance that Indonesia's support for the global war against terrorism was not the main reason why the U.S. heaped promises of aid to Megawati. Cited in the Jakarta Post of September 22, Dewi gave three long-term considerations behind the promises. First, Indonesia has a very important role to play in the Southeast Asian region. So the U.S. does not want to see a weak Indonesia. Second, the U.S. wants to help smoothen the transition process toward democracy in Indonesia. Third, to protect U.S. interests in Indonesia, as there are many U.S. companies operating there. These three reasons capture, in the usual evasive and polished language of bureaucrats, the long-term meanings of the reinvigorated alliance between the U.S. and Indonesia.

A Battle for Hegemony in the Pacific Rim

Those three reasons are also present in the mentioned report by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) about what the Bush administration should be doing in the region(9). Under the title The United States and Southeast Asia: A Policy Agenda for the New Administration, Dov Zakheim drafted a report for his boss Defence Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who in his turn uses it to advice President Bush. Dov Zakheim is a Reagan-era Pentagon planner and now one of Bush's Under-Secretaries of Defence. Between working for Reagan and Bush Jr., he was a lobbyist for weapons manufacturers like McDonnell Douglas (now part of Boeing), promoting arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Israel and elsewhere. And nearly one-third of the report's 27-member panel is made up of corporate representatives, including Exxon-Mobil and baked-goods giant Sara Lee, both of which have extensive investments in Indonesia.

In the report are implied two key recommendations: strengthen U.S. military presence and market-oriented reform. Southeast Asia is described as a "troubling landscape of political turbulence and economic fragility". Therefor the report recommends that the "highest American priority should still be assigned to maintaining regional security", as to keep the region "free of domination by any hegemonic power". Further, the CFR describes the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as "a nascent security community", and pleads for "a constructive U.S.-ASEAN response to an emerging China". Since Indonesia is identified as "the region's most important state", one can imagine the content of the talks between Bush and Megawati. The fact that he invited her in late July directly after she assumed office and prior to the terrorist attacks, proves that Washington already had big plans for Indonesia that go further than fighting terrorism.

Indeed, the U.S. sees its hegemony in the Pacific challenged by a resilient China. As a consequence Bush relabelled China from a "strategic partner" to a "strategic competitor". In the aftermath of the spy plane incident last April, we already stated that "at every step, China's vital interests in Asia clash with those of the United States. The contradictions have been manifested in a series of incidents that have hampered the establishment of normal relations between the two countries. There was a serious clash over the Tien an Men Square massacre in 1989. In 1996 there was the crisis over the lobbing of Chinese missiles close to Taiwan. In 1999, there was the crisis over the American bombing of the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia. Given the existence of conflicting interests in a whole series of areas, incidents like these will continue to occur at regular intervals. (É)

"Above all, the problem of Taiwan, which Beijing still regards as a rebel province which must rejoin the Motherland, remains as an ulcer that poisons relations. Washington is pledged to come to the aid of Taiwan in the event of hostilities, and there is a vocal pro-Taiwan lobby in Congress, especially in the ranks of Mr. Bush's party. There is a lot of bluff on both sides. It is not at all clear that the US could defend Taiwan successfully against an all-out attack from China. But the threat of US military intervention is always present, and it is doubtful that Beijing would want to take the risk. But the situation remains explosive. Both China and Taiwan are arming to the teeth. Washington continues to arm Taiwan - which recently held full-scale military manoeuvres, obviously directed against China - with the most modern weaponry. The Taiwanese are pressing the Americans to equip their armed forces with the latest missile defence systems - a prospect that enrages the Chinese. (É)

"With every passing day, China is expanding her economic and military power. This has important long-term implications for Asia and the world. Although it suits the ruling Bureaucracy in Beijing to seek a modus vivendi with Washington as a means of obtaining the technological know-how and capital it needs to build up its economy, it is under no illusions that, sooner or later, a clash with America is inevitable. For the present, the incident of the spy plane is closed, and China has won on points. But in the future there will be new flash points in the struggle of China and America to dominate this decisive part of the globe. (É)

"The development of explosive contradictions in the Pacific is shown by the arms race that affects most countries in the region. China itself is busy increasing its military strength. It has recently announced an increase of 18 percent on military expenditure. This is a big increase on the 10 percent increases of the past period, which themselves caused alarm among China's neighbours.(10)"

Containing the Chinese Dragon

Most intelligence estimates suggest China will be unable to present the United States with a major military challenge until at least 2020. By that time Washington wants the ability to counter Beijing with a tight, multilevel arrangement between the region's major military powers as to deter aggression from Beijing and preserve its own hegemony in the Pacific Rim. During a visit to Australia in late July, U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell proposed a multilateral security relationship between the United States and its three main Pacific allies: Australia, South Korea and Japan. Until now U.S. military ties with these countries have been bilateral, separate state-to-state relations between the U.S. and each of these allies. But today Washington feels the need for deeper co-operation between them to contain the Chinese dragon and therefor tries to organise a multilateral alliance around its imperial interests. According to the strategic think-thank Stratfor "the next logical steps to increase security links will be agreements on weapons and communications interoperability, more joint exercises and perhaps agreements to expand access to one another's military bases(11)." Also Singapore is since the mid-1990s steadily building up its armed forces with the help of the United States. This "modernising of Singapore's armed forces is transforming it into a key link in the security chain that the United States is building around China(12)."

And even though the White House is rethinking its relationship to ASEAN &endash; because in the late 1990s ASEAN has included Stalinist Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, plus Chinese ally Myanmar, thereby drifting away from its 1967 founding motive, i.e. containing China and the Communist insurgency in Asia(13) &endash; Indonesia is as "the region's most important state" lined-up in the frontline of Washington's new geopolitical positioning in the Pacific Rim.

Indonesia's waters are the most strategic in the world. Indonesia is the gateway between the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean. From the Straits of Malacca eastward to the Banda Sea, it is impossible to pass between the Pacific and Indian Oceans without passing through the coastal waters of Indonesia. U.S. naval forces and trading vessels constantly sail through these shipping lanes. The Ombai-Wetar Straits in East Nusa Tenggara are the main Indian-Pacific Ocean nuclear submarine passage. East Asia, particularly U.S. allies Japan and South Korea, is heavily dependent on the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf, which much pass through Indonesia's sea lanes. On top of that, Asian exports to Europe have to be shipped through Indonesian waters. Since these are all coastal waters, there is no need for a huge navy to control the passage of merchant ships. Small patrol craft and land based coastal artillery and missiles would be quite sufficient to interdict the movement of vessels. Indonesia is a strategic country for its vast natural resources like oil, gold and copper too. In all these fields, American multinationals are operating. Therefor, if Indonesia would disintegrate or, still worse, come in the Chinese sphere of influence, America's multinationals and political allies would face serious problems.

Candidly, China is already expanding its influence in the South Pacific, which it traditionally considers as its backyard. During Wahid's presidency, Bejing has sought to develop ties with Jakarta, but until now has failed to gain a real breakthrough in its relations with a regime that for the last 37 years has been a staunch opponent of Communism, or Maoism for that sake. Because of that, China's ruling caste has switched its policy to separatist movements, aside from courting smaller powers in the South Pacific like Papua New Guinea and Tonga(14). Recently, they held talks with separatists from Indonesia's eastern-most province of Irian Jaya, the Free Papua Movement. The aim is clear. Bejing wants to gain leverage in this strategic area to counterbalance U.S. hegemony and in preparation of a seemingly inevitable clash with its rival. Through its dealings with South Pacific nations, Beijing can turn political influence into military capability in the event of a crisis.

Washington for its part would prefer Indonesia holds together. Stability is a necessary condition to counter China's aspirations in the Pacific. But since the Asian crisis and the 1998 revolution against dictator Suharto, Indonesia has been the region's prime example of instability: ethnic and religious violence in Ambon, Kalimantan and Sulawesi; separatist movements in East Timor, Aceh and Irian Jaya; labour unrest in the whole country, with major eruptions in Surabaya, Bandung and the Jabotabek area; a parliament squabbling about the impeachment of former President Wahid; clashes between supporters and opponents of Wahid; student revolts; fights between police and army; bomb attacks on churches and shopping malls; fuel riots. Not exactly what one would call stability.

Bourgeois Democracy and the Military

In the past, the army and its strongman Suharto ruthlessly held Indonesia together and assured stability. At that time Washington fully supported this bloody dictatorship as a bulwark against Communism. But when Indonesian troops were implicated in a militia rampage ignited by East Timor's vote for independence in 1999, the U.S. Congress responded to calls from the East Timorese and international civil society by cutting U.S.-Indonesian military ties. The so-called Leahy Amendment specified that the Indonesian military should be called to account its abuses in East Timor, before the U.S. can resume military relations. One of the major stumbling blocks for the resumption of military ties was the lenient sentencing of six East Timorese militiamen for the murder of three UN humanitarian staff -- including an American -- in Indonesian West Timor September 2000.

In the immediate post-Cold War era, there could be no justification to continue to support autocratic anti-Communist regimes. Moreover, the conjunction of capitalist hegemony on a world scale and revolting masses in the Third World meant that the imperialists could play the card of 'democracy', of course as the most weak and feeble derivative of what this word actually means. By linking 'democracy' and 'good governance' to IMF liberal reform, the imperialists tried on the one hand to wipe out the memories of their sordid past of support for repressive regimes and blame all maleficent impacts on these regimes themselves, while on the other hand driving up the capitalist plunder of the poor nations. Because during the 1990s there was no immediate threat from a new socialist counter-movement, formal bourgeois democracy was the ideal demand to legitimise capitalist rule.

It is the reminiscence of this strategy of containing mass revolt that still dictates Washington's lip service to democracy, although we have entered a qualitatively different stage of history. The honeymoon of the post-Cold War period is over, the declared New World Order by George Bush Senior has proven to be a World Disorder, the Pax Americana can not even provide security and peace on its own soil. American hegemony is challenged by secondary powers like China, Russia, the EU, India and Brazil, calling for a 'multi-polar world', while an anti-capitalist movement is building up in the hearth of imperialism itself. In the Third World anti-American ideologies are spreading in very different forms: right wing fundamentalism in the Arab world and left wing populism(15) in Latin America. As a consequence Washington is redefining its position to the world and more in particular the kind of allies it needs. In official reports there is a remarkable shift from a (rhetorical) reference to 'democracy' towards the term 'stability'. As a policy this means that the White House will prefer more authoritarian regimes with a greater role for the military.

That is not to say the world will see in the near future a general return to clear-cut military dictatorships like the one in Pakistan. In most countries, the people as well as the military are reluctant to return to that kind of regimes. Add international opposition to dictatorships and this option is ruled out for Washington, at least for the moment. Rather what we are facing now is the rise of so-called 'strong(wo)man-democracies', of which Megawati's Indonesia is a prime example.

It is in this light that we have to consider the talks between Washington and Jakarta. On the one hand the lip service to democracy is still there. For instance, Bush described Indonesia's transition to democracy as "one of the most significant developments of this era." But then his words took a quite peculiar turn. In the same joint statement by the presidents it is stated that "President Bush recognised the important role of the Indonesian Military (TNI) as a national institution and both leaders observed the importance of military reform in Indonesia's democratic transition. In that regard, the two presidents agreed to expand modest contacts and resume regular meetings between their militaries to support Indonesia's efforts at military reform and professionalism." Also, speaking at a dinner hosted by the United States-Indonesia Society, Megawati said the resumption of military ties would strengthen democracy in Indonesia. "As in other democratic countries, the minimal role vested in Indonesia's military establishment is that of protecting the country's territorial integrity and political sovereignty. These two things are essential in a democracy. A democracy cannot exist if its territorial boundaries are changed or twisted at every turn."

From a vague reference to democracy, both leaders swiftly went to the real issue, restoring military ties. For Washington an armed Indonesia under the rule of Megawati and the TNI equals an ally against China and, to a lesser extent, against fundamentalism. For Jakarta such relation in the first place equals suppressing secessionist movements ("protecting the country's territorial integrity") and other opposition, like the labour movement and the students. Towards fundamentalism the Indonesian establishment, as said, has a more ambiguous position of using while containing.

This restoring of military ties is for imperialism all the more urgent since Indonesia's military, the TNI, is "a far cry from the nearly monolithic force that held Indonesia together and ruthlessly destroyed the opponents of Suharto", as stated by Stratfor(16). In the same article they explain that "for decades, the armed forces ruthlessly held the republic together, but today intelligence indicates the 300,000-man military is a mere shell of its former self. And although the TNI is far stronger than any single rebellion, it would have great difficulty putting down simultaneous outbreaks across the country." Also, the Jakarta Post September 8, 2001 quoted Minister of Defense Matori Abdul Djalil as saying "the two forces [the Navy and Air Force] are still operating ships and planes that are between 30 and 40 years old." So in order to have a strong ally, the White House was already in June trying to persuade the Congress to allow the resumption of ties. This was all the more urgent since some factions in the Indonesian elite, like former President Wahid, were starting to flirt with China.

Last August, the British ruling class through Foreign Minister Bradshaw declared itself ready to restore arms sales to Indonesia, after the European Union lifted its embargo. At that moment it became clear that imperialism again favoured the TNI. On August 30 2001, Agence France Presse reported that "Megawati's visit looms as a campaign gathers pace for a renewal of US military links with Indonesia, which the smart money says is emanating from the Pentagon." And further "Congressional sources say administration officials have already held discreet consultations on Capitol Hill on just how much political latitude there is for a resumption of some military ties." With the S11 terror attacks and the presence of fundamentalist groups in Indonesia, the Bush administration has got the ideal pretence to persuade the Congress. And in order to accommodate Capitol Hill, Jakarta already has promised to establish a human rights court to sentence those implicated in the killing of East Timorese and UN staff.

Resurrecting the New Order

Under Megawati Indonesia will experience steady remilitarisation instead of the very modest demilitarisation and democratisation of the Habibie and Wahid administrations(17). To be clear, during the last months of Wahid's reign the TNI was already coming back into prominence, in the end helped by the president who in his power agony tried to declare a state of emergency with the help of the army, thereby offering them the most crucial role in deciding who was going to be the country's leader. As their grip on Megawati is stronger, they refused Wahid's offer. Megawati rewarded the TNI with four Minister positions in her cabinet for retired generals, including Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as Co-ordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs. On top of that, the defence budget for 2002 is raised by 18 %, in times that the government is cutting her social expenses like oil and telephone subsidies. Although this increase adjusted to the current inflation rate is still insufficient to give the army back the strength it benefited under the Suharto regime, it is nevertheless symptomatic of the budgetary and therefore political priorities of this new government.

It is obvious that the Indonesian bureaucracy and military will use the argument of 'a war against terrorism' to justify an even stronger build-up of the state apparatus and a crackdown on all opposition, like all other governments in the world for that matter. Actually one could observe this trend before September 11. In Indonesia's northern neighbour Malaysia, Prime Minister Mahathir said on September 1 that Muslim militants are seeking to create an Islamic union of states comprising Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. This warning is a part of his campaign against Islam extremism, which the government claims is linked to its main political opposition, the Parti Islam Se Malaysia. As part of its campaign, it has arrested opposition forces under its internal security act, put heavy restrictions on political demonstrations and threatened actions against suspected anti-government organisations and leaders. By alleging a region-wide threat from militant Islamists, Mahathir hopes to counter domestic and foreign criticism of his opposition crackdown. Both Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri discussed the fundamentalist insurgence in the region with Mahathir during visits in August, according to statements by Malaysia's foreign minister(18).

The Megawati administration is indeed following the same script as Mahathir under pretext of the global war against terrorism(19). For a start, they are stepping up the repression of secessionist movements in the provinces Aceh and West Papua, both rich in natural resources. Recently the army murdered the leader of the Free Papua Movement (OPM) Theys Eluay and Megawati made clear that every attempt to harm the unity of Indonesia will be crushed by the security forces. Notably the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) is a suitable victim of a coalition against fundamentalism, since important factions in GAM want to establish a Muslim state. In accordance with Mahathir's analysis of an expanding network that seeks to create an Islamic union of states, Jakarta has long expressed concerns that Islamic separatists in Aceh are supplied through Malaysia. Furthermore GAM is qualified as a terrorist organisation through alleged involvement in the bombings in Jakarta. Nevertheless, these claims have not been based on any demonstrable evidence, so it's clear that the central elite is faking evidence to assure its control over the oil-rich Aceh province. Besides, in Aceh itself the Christian minorities are not being harassed, while in Java Christian churches and houses have been burned.

Scott Burchill, a scholar of International Relations at Deakin University in Australia, describes this terrifying repression as follows. "About 6,000 automatic weapons were recently shipped by the TNI to central Aceh, to further arm transmigrants there [who are] already receiving training from the TNI's notorious Kopassus (special forces). Kopassus trained and led the brutal militias of East Timor. The Indonesian government would no doubt argue the training and weapons are for self-defence. But to the Acehnese, these ethnically Javanese militias are just a variation on the thugs that were trained and armed by the TNI in East Timor. (É)

"The national police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) also has a high presence. Yet Brimob is hardly 'civilianising' the conflict. In any other country, Brimob would be called the Civil Guard, or the domestic army. I even saw a Brimob post north of the Lhokseumawe, the troubled and violent town near the valuable Arun natural gas field, designated as 'Hunters'. As one TNI Lieutenant-General told me in Jakarta, Brimob had "problems with discipline". Unfortunately, the vast majority of the people hunted and killed by Brimob, and the TNI, are not GAM but civilians. Officially more than 1200 people have been killed this year. Unofficially, including those who have 'disappeared', the figure is much higher, perhaps double. And this does not take into account the persistent use of rape, torture and beatings to attempt to compel compliance. Aceh is less a discontented part of Indonesia and more, like East Timor was, a territory under brutal military occupation. That effectively all Brimob and TNI in Aceh are from elsewhere in the archipelago confirms this impression of occupation(20)."

Nevertheless British Foreign Minister Ben Bradshaw said Britain is ready to resume sales of weapons to Indonesia, saying that the British government has accepted the assurances from the TNI that these arms would not be used for internal repression, including in Aceh. "The assurances they [TNI] gave us are reliable," he said as quoted by the Jakarta Post of August 29. We can conclude from this that he is either a naïve idiot who is used by the TNI and British arms exporters, and therefor incapable of leading a country. Or he is a murderous hypocrite who serves the interests of imperialism and their collaborators in the Third World, and thereby an adversary of labour.

In a move to counter military power over her policy, Megawati said October 5 during the Indonesian Military's (TNI) 56th anniversary celebration that the country's military should separate itself from politics. This move is dictated by the pressure of the masses that support her party PDI-P because of its anti-military and anti-New Order rhetoric, as well as the pressure of international pro-democracy forces. Megawati definitely wants to avoid the image of her being a military puppet. Therefor she wants to pursue dialogue in Aceh, apart from military intervention, as a means to resolve the conflict. And although she has succeeded for the moment in blocking the deployment of 15,000 extra troops in the province, in the end the president succumbed to the wishes of the generals in agreeing not to meet GAM members. "The army would prefer Ibu Mega to take a stronger line against the Acehnese rather than to give in to their demands, which makes it appear that we are weak," said a two-star general quoted by the Straits Times(21). But he was clear that differences over tackling the Aceh problem would have little bearing on the military's "symbiotic" relationship with the new President unless she prosecuted generals for human-rights abuses. Despite pressure from important factions in PDI-P to expose the military's atrocities, Megawati has refused to publicly attack the TNI. According to an army source "Ibu Mega, unlike Gus Dur, seems to better understand the sensitivities of the military." Sukarno's daughter indeed is in the grip of the generals, still more than her predecessor Wahid was.

In a further move to regain its control over society, the TNI proposes to establish a new anti-terrorist agency. Indonesian Military chief Adm. Widodo launched the idea at a hearing with the House of Representatives, with the backing of retired military and police officers, including those in the House of Representatives. In that way they try to resurrect Kopkamtib(22), the New Order's dreaded internal security agency (in 1988 renamed Bakorstanas(23),). Only in 2000 this institution of terror was disbanded under pressure of the masses. As in the past, the new 'anti-terrorist' agency would allow widespread human rights abuses to be carried out by the state in the name of security.

This would have enormous implications for the working class. The main task of Kopkamtib was suppressing labour in the name of national stability. During the early 1980s, Admiral Sudomo as the most notorious chief of Kopkamtib placed industrial disputes under complete control of the military(24). In 1981 he ordered direct military intervention in labour disputes. Later, in 1984, Sudomo as Minister of Manpower (!) banned all strike action and even collective labour agreements because these contravened with the principles of Pancasila Industrial Relations, the state ideology concerning production relations. Only at the end of the 20th century, the workers and students were able to smash this brutal system of oppression. But after a few years we already see the rhetoric of imperialism and Indonesian politics shifting back to 'national stability'. On the basis of 'the war against terrorism', capital and the state are reintroducing their old methods of repression. An anti-terrorist agency is just the beginning.

Social Disaster in the Make: the Unfolding Slump

The Indonesian economy is in shambles. Since the Asian crisis of 1997-98, Indonesia hasn't been able to achieve even a superfluous restoration like countries as South Korea and Malaysia did on the basis of the world economic boom. Public debt (owed by the state) now stands at US$134 billion, representing 104% of Indonesia's Gross Domestic Product. Indonesia spends 23 times as much government revenue repaying debt as it does providing health services.

According to the United Nation's World Investment Report 2001, foreign investors continue to stay away from Indonesia(25). Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), i.e. investment in production capacity by multinational firms, is in the era of imperialism probably the main engine of growth. It was investment by Japan, the U.S. and the early Tiger economies (Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore) in the second generation Tigers (Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines) that drove the Asian Miracle of the late 1980s until the mid 1990s. In 1997, at the height of the boom, FDI in Indonesia peaked at $4.7 billion. But the flow of foreign direct investment dropped to minus $0.4 billion in 1998, meaning that foreign capital outflow exceeded foreign capital inflow by that amount. In 2000 the FDI figure in Indonesia was minus $4.6 billion, an increase from minus $2.7 billion in 1999. Indonesia's FDI index now ranks 134 out of 135 countries monitored by UNCTAD, or second from the bottom preceding Yemen.

Cited in the Jakarta Post of September 19 2001, economist Djisman Simanjuntak of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies stated that "[The negative FDI figure] was caused by foreign companies in Indonesia paying off their debts and one or two companies pulling out of the country." He further said that the mid-1997 economic crisis and the ensuing political uncertainties had caused foreign investors to look elsewhere. Also J. Michael Stinson, senior vice-president of Conoco, a company that has interests in the gas fields of Riau, claims: "Indonesia will be one of the best places to put money if you have a stable and predictable tax environment, law respecting human resources and workers. Then it will be conducive for foreign investment." (quoted by the Jakarta Post September 25, 2001) In the bourgeois New Speak "law respecting human resources and workers" simply refer to a docile labour force. Since only authoritarian states adhere to this criterion, we find no surprise in seeing China, Vietnam and Myanmar as new magnets for investment in the Pacific region.

Since the 1998 revolution, Indonesia has indeed become the scene of mass unrest and upheaval. In the aftermath of the S11 inferno and the war on Afghanistan, the situation will further tend to worsen. Investors are already fleeing the country following threats by Muslim extremists, which had a devastating impact on the Indonesian rupiah falling past 10,000 to the dollar for the first time since July 31. After Megawati came to power in late July, the currency rose by as much as 25 percent from the 11,300 low against the dollar during Wahid's tumultuous demise. Now the new government's honeymoon is over.

Moreover, Indonesia's exports are set to decline due to the recession in the world market and especially the U.S., Indonesia's biggest export market. Purchase orders for Indonesian steel pipe products from the U.S. stopped when the U.S. economy plunged into recession, according to the secretary general of the Indonesian Steel Pipe Manufacturers Association (The Jakarta Post October 26, 2001). He also predicted that no shipments would take place in the first quarter of next year, with the U.S. economy still expected to be in the doldrums. About 70 percent of the country's total steel pipe exports of 40,000 tons last year went to the U.S. market. Also the Indonesian Textile Association (API) said it expected the country's 2001 textile export to decline by 25 percent from US$8.2 billion last year. "The local textile industry is very sensitive to the slowdown in the U.S economy because about 26.3 percent of its export goes to this country," API executive director Indra Ibrahim said in The Jakarta Post of October 20, 2001. Textile is the country's major non-natural resource export product, and the sector employs a great number of workers. Indra said that the prospect for 2002 remained gloomy as textile companies had yet to receive orders for January-April shipment, which in normal times were usually made starting October. Further, API informed that there is a growing list of local textile companies complaining of cancellation orders from the American buyers in the aftermath of the S11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, which deepens the world's economic crisis.

In order to survive, companies are passing the crisis on to the back of the workers. Many companies already have cut workdays to five days a week from six and shifts to one shift from two and even three shifts a day. Although workers resent working 50 or more hours a week, they badly need the income because of their starvation wages. The next step is mass lay-offs, in a country that is already flooded by 40 million un- or underemployed workers. API chairman Benny Sutrisno predicts that the workforce in the textile industry alone will be cut by 100,000 workers (The Jakarta Post November 7). Especially unionised workers are targeted. With the crisis capitalists use economic reasons to justify to lay-off militant union members first and thereby break the backbone of organised labour. November 15 the Jakarta Post noted a case in the industrial zone of Tangerang where textile 8 workers were detained for violating Criminal Code Articles 170 and 160 on vandalism and incitement to violence. These are typical laws used by the New Order to repress labour protest and union organising. And again now those 8 women who take the lead in defending their rights as workers are arrested as ordinary criminals. All they and their comrades asked was severance payment from the company because the management dismissed 250 workers, so according to Indonesian law they owe them severance money. That the bosses picked 250 workers who recently joined the Karya Utama Labor Union Federation, is probably 'pure coincidence'. Of the union members of Garteks, the garment and textiles sector of SBSI, already 220 lost their job at PT Hyang Do Tama in Tangerang, 300 at PT Senang in Karang Anyar Solo, 850 in Sragen, Solo, just to mention some examples.

In a first phase, those massive dismissals will weaken the position of the unions by causing a decline in membership and presence on the shop floor. Given a correct perspective by the union leadership and activists, this quantitative decline can be superseded by a qualitative leap in consciousness. It is of absolute importance that workers know capitalism is causing their suffering and the chaos in society. Conquests by the working class are always temporary under capitalism, at the corner of every economic boom stands a crisis that will be paid by the workers. Therefor the workers need a clear program that goes further than economic demands and gives a perspective of how they can transform society. The bosses' attack will surely prepare the stage for further instability and revolts. The last years Indonesia has experienced an unseen wave of strikes and union organising, culminating in the June labour protests of more than one hundred thousand workers in Bandung, Surabaya, Jakarta and other major cities . Compared with these labour protests the fundamentalist demonstrations shrink to nothing. The bourgeoisie and the state are afraid for yet other worker eruptions, knowing that the workers won't give away their recent conquests and that in the background looms the spectre of socialism(27). The Indonesian Revolution has barely started.

The Corporate Take-Over of Indonesia

As explained, Indonesia is a strategic country plus it is host to huge investments by multinationals. During her U.S. tour President Megawati spoke at the 2001 Houston Energy Conference, which was attended by a number of leading U.S. businesses including Texaco, Exxon-Mobil, Freeport McMoRan, Unocal, Elpaso Energy International, Halliburton, Anadarco and Conoco. All of them have considerable investments in Indonesia. For example the U.S. mining company Freeport McMoRan has build the world's largest gold mine in West Papua and also began exploiting its plentiful copper resources. Such 'sunken' capital has to be protected. And in these turbulent times only one force can preserve U.S. economic interests: the army.

The TNI itself depends largely on investment and the economy, as it receives only 30 percent of its funds from the state budget. The rest comes from the military's own extensive business operations. And because the military depends on a healthy capitalist economy, it will go to possibly extreme lengths to ensure national stability. Their interests therefor converge with those of foreign capitalists. The latter will thus give the military tacit support to crack down on unrest, as well as look the other way should the armed forces resort to extreme measures, including human rights violations. To be clear, this not at all new. This year Exxon-Mobil was sued in U.S. federal court under the 200-year-old Alien Tort Claims Act for responsibility for serious human rights abuses, including murder and torture, committed by the TNI in connection with providing security for its operations in Aceh.

Such violations are for Big Business by no means a reason to stop supporting its ally in the archipelago. The US-ASEAN Business Council, a private body made up of the heads of corporations with interests in Southeast Asia &endash; including Exxon-Mobil, Freeport-McMoRan, Boeing and Coca-Cola &endash; released a report in February urging the Bush administration to "lift the embargo on military equipment and training while re-establishing direct military-to-military contacts." And, as said above, the Council on Foreign Relations, which also argues for renewed military ties, is such a capitalist lobby too. The CFR is one of the main actors in the network of secret international negotiations and decisions, and used to be the home base of the infamous former U.S. Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Henry Kissinger.

While courting the TNI, the American bourgeoisie further conquers Indonesia's markets and means of production by imposing draconian IMF measures. The CFR report advises the U.S. to "promote market-oriented economic reform, technology-driven development, and measures for poverty alleviation." The road to poverty alleviation is to "assist the International Monetary Fund." And this in a time when even a staunch propagandist of capitalism and free trade like Jagdish Bhagwati &endash; who is nonetheless a member of the CFR &endash; criticised the IMF for its disastrous imperialist role in the Asian crisis(28). Recently the IMF has pushed the Indonesian government for yet another hike in oil, electricity and telephone prices by cutting in government subsidies. That fuelled the June protests because Indonesia's poor saw their living standards tumble once again. Several of the arrested activists are still in jail since they distributed leaflets to the masses. Meanwhile the IMF at last has approved two months ago to disburse a next US$395 million loan tranche to the country, after cunningly waiting for months with the disbursement to bring about the fall of the unpredictable Wahid government.

The U.S. imperialists wield enormous economic power over the archipelago. The U.S. takes more than 25 percent of Indonesia's exports, it's one of the largest foreign investors and commands the biggest influence both in the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Nevertheless such instruments of imperialist pressure stay external and are therefor not enough for complete economic domination. The U.S. bourgeoisie had to gain a firm foothold inside the Indonesian government. And that's exactly what they got with Megawati's new cabinet. The current stable of advisers has close ties to international lending institutions and US corporations. Finance Minister Boediono is the former director of the World Bank's Indonesia office and worked for Bank of America in Jakarta. Laksamana Sukardi, the new minister of state-owned enterprises, is a former Citibank executive. These choices demonstrate Megawati's commitment to creating a 'favourable climate for investment'.

From Tragedy to Farce and Beyond

The parallel with the 1960s is striking. At that time imperialism was arguing for "stability" and "containing China" too. Under Sukarno, Indonesia had become a leading force in the non-aligned movement, a major impediment to US efforts to "roll back Communism" and to isolate China in particular. And from the second half of the 1940s onwards Communism was again on the rise in Indonesia, pushing the nationalist Sukarno to the left. A Communist (or even Stalinist) Indonesia would have posed a far bigger problem to world capitalism than the victorious struggle in Vietnam. Therefor the U.S. backed, after a failed attempt in 1958, the Suharto-led 1965 coup against Sukarno and the PKI, the Indonesian Communist Party. Last summer the CIA, as well as action officers at the U.S. State Department, have prevented the official release of a study by state historians about the involvement of Washington in the massacre of up to 1 million Communists and other Left wing Indonesians in 1965-66. This study is largely compiled of quotes from official state documents that were declassified in 1998 and 1999. Nevertheless the CIA could stall the release of the documents and called the books back(29).

Some journalists suggested that this move was inspired by the (correct) CIA assumption that Sukarno's daughter Megawati would come to power. According to these journalists it would have been bad for diplomatic relations if it was proven that Washington had a hand in the murder of Megawati's father. We think Megawati knows very well what happened at the time. But for her this is of no concern now she has the power, just as she refuses to investigate the brutal attack by the New Order on her party PDI-P in 1996. Megawati is clearly not prepared to fight the New Order nor its patron, U.S. imperialism. She would love to see herself in the position of Dictator Suharto. So the release of the document just would be inconvenient at a time both parties want to restore military ties. And that was exactly what happened when Sukarno and the PKI were toppled by the coup of General Suharto. After they gave Suharto a leg up, the U.S. and Britain re-established military trade and joint exercises with Indonesia, while launching a world-wide campaign to clear the name of their vassal(30).

And just like now, "the IMF, the World Bank, Indonesian technocrats trained in the United States, and U.S. government advisers wrote the rules for the new economic order.(31)" Under Suharto an economic team called the Berkeley Mafia, because of their education at the Berkeley University of California, rewrote Indonesia's investment laws to create indeed a 'favourable climate for investment', after which foreign capital soon returned to exploit the cheap and laborious working class, crippled by the annihilation of their ranks and leadership. Award-winning journalist John Pilger depicts the filthy role of foreign capitalists in a stunning documentary on Indonesia and globalisation, which was broadcast by the British TV-station Channel 4. Referring to the massacre of Communists in 1965-66, John Pilger himself states that "the seeds of globalisation were planted in the bloodbath. In 1967 the Time Life Corporation sponsored a conference in Switzerland [the Indonesian Investment Conference] that planned the corporate take-over of Indonesia. It was attended by the most powerful businessmen in the world, such as David Rockefeller, the giants of Western capitalism were represented, the oil companies, the banks, General Motors, ICI, British-American Tobacco, Lehman Brothers, American Express, Siemens,É(32)" What is happening today is just a further elaboration of that corporate take-over of Indonesia, with the same sort of liberal technocrats in government and a return to unconcealed capitalist support for the TNI.

Of course that is not to say that Indonesia has entered a totally similar period as the New Order, and even less to contend that the brief Wahid interlude is similar to the great era of anti-colonial struggle during Sukarno's reign. For one thing, the balance of forces today is quite different from the one in the past. During the two decades after the Second World War and Indonesia's independence, the worker and peasant masses fought an heroic battle against imperialism, be it Dutch, Japanese, British or American. Maybe the main difference with the struggle today was that it was highly ideological. Anti-colonial nationalism and socialism led the struggle. The PKI, the Indonesian Communist Party, developed into the biggest Communist party in the capitalist world and the third one in the entire world (after the Russian and the Chinese). In order to counter-balance the power of the military the nationalist president Sukarno had to lean on the PKI, thereby pushed to the left, providing better labour laws and nationalising the Dutch industry. But as a typical bonapartist Sukarno also kept on leaning on the army, for instance by giving them positions in the government and the actual control over the nationalised companies.

Since the PKI leadership under influence from Moscow and Bejing adhered to the Stalinist Two-Stage Theory as opposed to the experience of the Russian revolution where democratic and socialist revolution were telescoped under the leadership of the working class, they refused to take power. Instead they tried to complete the national democratic revolution by relying on the so-called progressive bourgeois which was represented in their eyes by Sukarno. They failed to understand that no faction of the bourgeois in Indonesia or in any other country could play any progressive role in this epoch. The bourgeois class especially in the Third World is an utterly reactionary class, even if it disguises itself with social and anti-imperialist demagogy. Despite its mass base the PKI was politically disarmed when the military with the help of Islamic paramilitary groups unleashed an unprecedented orgy of violence against the communist movement and the left in general. Paralysed by their hope that Sukarno and his officers would protect them, the PKI did not make any serious effort to struggle for power at this decisive juncture of 1965. That was the only hope and only perspective that could have galvanised the masses in joint action to fight back reaction and start the process of the socialist revolution in the archipelago(33). But it didn't happen and so the workers were decapitated, literally. The PKI was drowned in blood.

The main weakness for the Indonesian workers and peasants today is the absence of a mass-based socialist party, the so-called subjective factor. Such a party can turn the new Indonesian Revolution into the advantage of the toiling classes, and provided with a Marxist leadership the masses in the mid-term can be able to take power.

Hic Rhodus, hic salta!

In fact, objectively the working class today is far stronger than during the Old Order of Sukarno. In the 1950s the modern industrial proletariat comprised a mere 500,000 workers, while the majority of the working class was found on the plantations and in the handicrafts. During the New Order the share of manufacturing in total economic activity was drastically altered, especially since the industrialisation drive starting in the mid-1980s. Because of the collapse of the oil prices in the early 1980s, the New Order had to redirect its economic policy to secure its balance-of-payments. In the context of the international capitalist restructuring of industry &endash; nowadays called 'globalisation' &endash; Indonesia became an export platform providing low wage labour in a repressive system. Notably after the major revaluation of the Japanese yen against the U.S. dollar as a result of the 1985 Plaza Accord, Japanese multinationals in a bid to stay competitive started to relocate production capacity to low wage Southeast Asia, thereby expanding the industrial proletariat in the region. Basing himself on a report of the World Bank Vedi Hadiz stated that "in 1971 there was a total of a mere 2.7 million people employed in the [manufacturing] sector, which constituted 6.5 percent of the labour force. In 1980, the number of workers in manufacturing had grown to 4.4 million, representing 8.5 percent of the total workforce. By 1990, however, there were 8.2 million people working in the manufacturing sector, representing 11.6 percent of Indonesia's labour force, indicating a slow, but fairly steady growth.(34) " On the basis of the investment boom of the 1990s the industrial proletariat now even has grown to represent 16 percent of total workforce, while 39 percent works in the services, according to the latest figures of the CIA(35).

In spite of the anti-labour tactics of the bourgeoisie and the state, the power of the workers is bound to grow during this revolutionary phase in Indonesian history. The disintegrating archipelago has entered an era of crisis, revolution and counter-revolution in which the working class is looking for a strong leadership. Today more than ever, the question is one of socialism or barbarism. Megawati's nationalist farce is in the process of being unmasked while the bombs drop on Afghanistan. After Wahid, she is the second 'progressive' bourgeois to be delegitimised in the eyes of the people, of the 3 that came to the forefront during the fall of Suharto (Wahid, Megawati and Rais). As a consequence of popular criticism on her support for the American imperialist agenda, Megawati has already been forced to take a distance from the government's earlier position and to criticise the aggressive policy of her liege Bush. Washington's accommodating and understanding answer towards this 'treason' shows again what significance the American ruling class attributes to keeping Megawati on the throne. Not many statesmen are allowed to attack Uncle Sam's war on Afghanistan without being reprimanded!

Megawati's policy will leave a vast vacuum of dissatisfaction under the masses. Undoubtedly some confused lumpenproletarians will make the step to the ultra right, to fundamentalism. But organised labour can simply not make this step because they are harassed by fundamentalist gangs, in their day to day experience they see that Muslim extremism is a direct enemy of the working class. Imperialism and the economic crisis are radicalising the minds of the workers, most importantly those who are fighting to build a genuine workers union. For the moment those unions are dominated by economistic(36) and social democratic ideas under the influence of the Western labour bureaucracy of the AFL-CIO (ACILS), the World Confederation of Labour and a broad spectrum of labour based NGO's. At the same time a broadening layer of workers is looking for more radical ideas since they feel reformism is not bringing them any further. The injustice of the war against Afghanistan is further politicising those workers. This gives an opportunity to the Left and the Marxists in particular to offer an explanation on class lines, to show the connection between the imperialist war against Afghanistan and the exploitation of Indonesian workers and peasants.

A revolutionary period always flows in ups and downs. With the S11 terror attacks it seems the Counter-Revolution has got a trump-card to repress the masses and the Left. But this trump-card has proven to be a poisoned gift. The Megawati government, i.e. the hand that has to play the cards, is after a few months in power unexpectedly shaky. The all-out social crisis has entered yet another stage of deepening disintegration. To bolster business confidence Megawati is obliged to use the whip of repression, which will inevitably lead to growing discontent and resistance. Nevertheless, repression will not solve the economic problems of Indonesia since repression does not touch upon the root causes of the crisis, namely international overcapacity of production. Why are so many companies not enough profitable? Simply because they have to compete against capital-intensive multinationals on the one hand and low-wage producers (particularly in China) on the other hand. Why do so many companies and banks have bad loans? Simply because there has been too much investment, overinvestment, in the fight for market share during the Southeast Asian boom. And there is nothing typical Asian in that, such crises of overproduction have occurred throughout the history of capitalism and are actually a key feature of capitalist competition. Overproduction is the logical consequence of a system that has the technological capacity to produce affluence but where the means of production are in the private hands of capitalists. Driven by the hunger for profit capitalists invest in production capacity to sell more commodities. In the end such individual decisions have to lead to overproduction since every capitalist wants to maximise his profit. If a minority of competing individuals decide over what society should produce, instead of a majority of co-operating individuals (i.e. the labouring classes), the result will always be cyclical recurrent crises. And the anarchy of production spills over into a social anarchy.

The bourgeoisie will always try to transfer the costs of its own system onto the backs of the workers and the poor. Capitalists can give 3 answers to the problem of overproduction. First, they can declare all the less profitable firms bankrupt, which means unemployment on such scale that society transforms into pure dynamite. To be clear, in spite of the unprecedented lay-offs following the Asian crisis, the Indonesian bourgeoisie has not opted for the eradication of overcapacity as advocated by the IMF but instead has chosen to provide partial government support for ailing companies and banks under the Indonesian Bank Restructuring Agency (IBRA). To secure its economic interests and avoid complete social disruption, the bourgeoisie can indeed call in the state to mitigate the direct effects of the crisis (the second option). But the IMF's argument is basically right, the root of the crisis, overproduction, is not removed and thereby society stumbles along a protracted social crisis. On the other hand, the IMF's prescription of eradicating all overcapacity would mean a crisis on such a devastating scale that the current crisis would look like the Garden of Eden before the Fall of Man. And the third possible solution for the crisis is even worse. A war would physically eliminate the overcapacity by destroying factories, buildings and workers. For the moment Asia is already the scene of dozens of small-scale low-intensity armed conflicts. The military build-up in the region is huge, a real arms race in which every country takes part. Inevitably that will lead in the future to large-scale full-intensity armed conflicts between states.

But let's stay clear, there is nothing inevitable. We were talking about the answers of the bourgeoisie. On any account, the oppressed classes don't have to accept the leadership of the bourgeoisie. They can formulate their own answer to the crisis, an answer that necessarily has to break away from the bourgeois system, capitalism. For the working class, the urban poor and the small peasants there is no solution within the limits of capitalism. Their solution can only lie in advancing the revolution towards the point that they take over the rule over society themselves(37). At that point only, the masses will get rid of the spectre of militarism and exploitation.

"Bourgeois revolutions like those of the eighteenth century storm swiftly from success to success, their dramatic effects outdo each other, men and things seem set in sparkling brilliants, ecstasy is the everyday spirit; but they are short-lived, soon they have attained their zenith, and a long crapulent depression lays hold of society before it learns soberly to assimilate the results of its storm-and-stress period. On the other hand, proletarian revolutions, like those of the nineteenth century, criticize themselves constantly, interrupt themselves continually in their own course, come back to the apparently accomplished, in order to begin it afresh, deride with unmerciful thoroughness the inadequacies, weaknesses, and paltriness of their first attempts, seem to throw down their adversary only in order that he may draw new strength from the earth and rise before them again even more gigantic, recoil ever and anon from the indefinite prodigiousness of their own aims &endash; until a situation has been created which makes all turning back impossible, and the conditions themselves cry out:
Hic Rhodus, hic salta!
Here is the rose, here dance! (38)"

Karl Marx in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

by Bruce Boon(39),
December 2001


1 Ted Grant & Alan Woods, Indonesia: the Asian Revolution has begun, May 1998

2 Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Foreign Language Press Peking, 1978 [1852], p.9-10

3 Read Muhammad Ma'ruf, We fight the comeback of the military and the New Order elements not by leaning on President Gus Dur, but with a policy of class independence, June 2001,

4 'Holy War' is an extremist interpretation of the Arab word 'Jihad', which actually means 'an effort on the road to God'.

5 Agence France Presse, Experts say bin Laden fund jihad fighters in Indonesia, September 21, 2001. Al Chaidar says he is also the leader of a more 'moderate' faction in Laskar Jihad.

6 For a deeper analysis of the roots of fundamentalism read the 5th chapter of Dr. Zayar's book The Iranian Revolution: Past, Present and Future, at Also Lal Khan, The Menace of Islamic Fundamentalism and the Hypocrisy of Imperialism, October 2000, and by the same author Fundamentalist Resurgence: Causes and Prospects, October 1994,

For terrorism read Trotsky, Why Marxists Oppose Individual Terrorism, 1909, and Ted Grant & Alan Woods, US Suicide Bombing - Terrorism Aids Reaction, September 11 2001

7 Kampung is Indonesian for village or quarter.

8 Council on Foreign Relations, The United States and Southeast Asia: A Policy Agenda for the New Administration, July 2001

9 See Gerry van Klinken, Policy Recommendations for Indonesia: Upside Down, They Look Good, July 1, 2001,

10 Ted Grant & Alan Woods, China, America and the Pacific, April 23, 2001,

11 Stratfor, U.S.-Asian Alliance Proposal Aimed at China, August 8, 2001,

12 Stratfor, U.S. Builds an Asian Tiger Cub in Singapore, July 18, 2001,

13 See for the hard-line view on ASEAN the article by Republican analyst Ellen Bork in the Asian Wall Street Journal August 3, 2001, an article that caught the attention of the White House.

14 Stratfor, China Looks to the South Pacific, May 21, 2001,

15 With left populism we mean political movements led by bourgeois civilian or military personalities, like Chavez in Venezuela, who combine authoritarian tendencies with social demagogy and nationalism.

16 Stratfor, Will Indonesia Hold Together?, July 24, 2001,

17 For an excellent analysis in Indonesian read Arsyad Asy'ary, Megawati, Militer dan Mimpi Demokrasi, August 21, 2001, in the Indonesian Marxist paper Cahaya,

18 Stratfor, Malaysia: Warning of Extremist Threat, September 11, 2001,

19 Read also John Gershman, Fighting Terrorism, Undermining Democracy in Indonesia,

20 Scott Burchill, The U.S., Indonesia, and Terror,

21 Straits Times, Mega and military agree to disagree on Aceh, September 15, 2001

22 Komando Pemulihan Keamanan dan Ketertiban, in English: Command for the Restoration of Security and Order

23 Badan Koordinasi Strategis Nasional, in English: National Strategic Co-ordinating Body

24 Vedi Hadiz, Workers and the State in New Order Indonesia, Routledge, 1996, p.104-109

25 UNCTAD, World Investment Report 2001: Promoting Linkages,

26 Read Bruce Boon, The June 2001 labour protests and the possibility for socialist ideas in Indonesia, June 2001,

27 The military for instance is very well aware of the possibilities for and attempts by the Marxists and related Leftists to get a breakthrough in Indonesia. I have this information from a family member of high level officers who did not know that he was talking to a Marxist.

28 Interview in Times of India, December 31, 1997

29 But the CIA could not really prevent the text from being published because of the Internet. The George Washington University's National Security Archive put their copy of the book online as a protest against the undemocratic behaviour of the CIA. You can find it at

30 Isabel Hilton, Our bloody coup in Indonesia, in The Guardian, August 1, 2001

31 Dan La Botz, Made in Indonesia: Indonesian Workers since Suharto, South End Press, 2001, p.117-118

32 For more information on this documentary go to

33 Read Alan Woods, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Indonesia, October 1965,

34 Vedi Hadiz, Op.cit., p.111

35 CIA, World Factbook 2001,

36 Economism is the idea that workers must limit their struggle to economic demands and should not be involved in politics.

37 For a program of demands read the last chapter of Jean Duval, Indonesia: the Weakest Link of South East Asian Capitalism, March 2000, This is a general Marxist program for Indonesia. Of course such program should be completed by concrete demands starting from the current situation in Indonesia and every city, region, factory, school,... in which the program is advanced. The guideline for such demands is advancing the struggle of those who are oppressed to liberate themselves. Therefor a demand is never an end in itself but a means to mobilise the masses who in their movement will develop the structures by which they will rule society themselves.

38 "Here is the rose, here dance!" From Aesop's fable 'The Swaggerer' referring to one who boasted that he had made a gigantic leap in Rhodes (which also means 'rose' in Greek) and was challenged: "Here is Rhodes, here leap!" Marx's paraphrase, "Here is the rose, here dance!" is from the quotation used by Hegel in the preface to his book 'Outlines of the Philosophy of Right' (1821).

39 I want to thank Jean Duval for his helpful and lengthy remarks, and more in general for being my mentor on Indonesia and on Marxism.

Join us

If you want more information about joining the IMT, fill in this form. We will get back to you as soon as possible.