Indonesia: The 2014 Election and the Lesser Evil

The upcoming presidential election in Indonesia (July 9th) has become much more interesting with the formal entrance of Jokowi as one of the presidential candidates. For more than a year the rumour mill was running non-stop as to whether or not Jokowi would throw his hat into the race.

Now that it has been confirmed that he will run under the patronage of Megawati and her party, PDI-P, as expected his candidacy has aroused a glimmer of hope amongst the toiling masses who are looking for a way out from their unending poverty, amongst liberal democrats who are disgusted with the old corrupt politics but damningly impotent in doing anything about it, and a significant section of the Indonesian Left who have been frustrated by their own insignificance and isolation.

Months before his candidacy, poll after poll had put Jokowi as the most popular presidential candidate, way ahead of other possible candidates. In one poll, he garnered 35% support while his closest competitor, ex-army general Prabowo Subianto, chief of Gerindra, only managed to garner 10% support. Other more established figures in national politics, such as Aburizal Bakrie (chairman of Golkar), Wiranto (chairman of Hanura), Jusuf Kalla (former vice president) and Megawati, had to be content with dismal support.

Megawati herself had to accept the humiliating fact that she is no longer seen by the “wong cilik” (the poor) as their “ratu adil” (saviour). All the political capital that she and her party had won from the 1998 Reformasi period had been squandered to pay off every pro-capital policy they passed and defended, every haram cent and cushy position that the party elites got for themselves, and every political scandal that involved their cadres. The PDI-P now finds itself obliged to borrow the political capital of Jokowi, and they are in for a world of surprises when this borrowed political capital turns out to be not as deep as they originally thought. This has been strikingly confirmed by the result of the legislative election, where Jokowi’s candidacy was not able to lift the PDI-P above 20% of the votes in the legislative election.

mapJokowi has been a political phenomenon for the past two years in Indonesia. He captured the imagination of the wider public in 2012 when he ran in the gubernatorial election of Jakarta and subsequently won. His plain straight-to-the-point mannerism, as opposed to today’s political elites who are seen as being aloof, indifferent, and dishonest, won the heart of the masses. In fact, the masses saw in him every quality that they wanted to see in a leader, whether or not he actually had them. As a new figure in politics, he was seen by the people as someone who is not from the corridors of power. In the eyes of the public, he has not been soiled by the dirty politics that has plagued every nook and cranny of this establishment.

The main active battalions of Jokowi and Ahok, his running mate in the 2012 gubernatorial election, came mainly from Jakarta’s middle class layers: 1) the better off layers of the working class which encompasses white-collar professionals and 2) the small to medium businessmen. These more affluent layers are sick and tired of the incompetence of all the previous governors to fix Jakarta’s many problems. They dream of a Jakarta with international standards, a New Jakarta (the slogan of Jokowi-Ahok gubernatorial campaign), free of traffic jams so their cars can cruise more smoothly, free of poor people, street vendors and beggars that are nothing but eyesores to them. They wanted a metropolitan Jakarta that can live up to their high living standards.

A demographic survey of voters carried out by the Indonesian Survey Institute and Tempo magazine showed that people with university degrees, higher incomes, larger houses, and who own a car tend to vote for Jokowi-Ahok. Meanwhile the poorer masses are more or less equally divided between the two main contenders (Jokowi-Ahok and the incumbent Foke-Nara) and in some cases even more leaning toward the incumbent.

While there seemed to be euphoria surrounding the Jokowi-Ahok campaign, there was no significant change in the abstention rate compared to the past election. The number still hovered around 35%, showing that not even Jokowi’s charm and the media fanfare around him can break the political cynicism of the toiling masses.

Behind Jokowi we also find the poor masses, not only of Jakarta but also outside Jakarta, who saw in him someone who could cure this sick nation from its acute ailments. They shared similar hope as the more affluent layers mentioned above, although for a slightly different reason. It is important to note that his programs were mainly reformist and administrative in nature, and did not differ fundamentally from other candidates: to clean the municipal government of corruption and bureaucratic red tape, to solve the problems of traffic congestion and flooding, to build more public housing and transportation, and achieve better urban management. His programs did not even contain reformist demands that could threaten the interests of capitalist in general, such as increase taxation for the rich and corporations.

Hence, the positive response in general from the ruling establishment – the tendency of the richer layers of the society to vote for him and the big gains in the Jakarta stock exchange upon his announcement to run for the presidential election. However, he did draw the ire of many politicians and bureaucrats because he concentrated all the pent-up hatred of the masses on their unparalleled incompetence, pettiness, and arrogance.

The School of Jokowi

During this 2012 election, this is what Militan wrote:

“There is euphoria amongst Jokowi-Ahok supporters. The middle class who can no longer tolerate the corruption of the ruling parties and their politicians now put their big hope on Jokowi-Ahok. They volunteer to spread the “gospel” about the arrival of the saviour Jokowi-Ahok... Social media is their arena, and the checkered shirt has become a mystical symbol against the corrupt incumbent and a call for a New Jakarta. It is not an exaggeration if we are reminded of the hopes and dreams of the American people – and even the people all over the world – in Obama in the 2008 US presidential election. With this we quickly see how later the American people became disappointed when their hopes were dashed. Obama’s rhetoric of change faced its contradiction, because he promised change for the working people while still serving the interest of capital. Immediately after taking his seat, Obama poured in billions of dollars to save the capitalists from the financial crisis and made the working people pay for this capitalist crisis. This disillusionment with Obama quickly manifested itself in the victory of the Republicans in the 2010 mid-term election.” (Pandu Jakasurya and Ted Sprague. Pilkada DKI Jakarta: Sikap Apa yang Seharusnya Diambil Kaum Sosialis? 7 September 2013)

Six years after the much-celebrated Obama-mania in the US there is no longer talk of hope. Obama and his message of “Hope” and “Change” have been discredited, and so were those so-called Lefts who were campaigning for support for Obama. Between the 2008 and 2012 presidential election, Obama lost 5 million votes and there was no longer grassroots enthusiasm amongst his voters that was a hallmark of his first election campaign. The working masses of the US voted for Obama again in 2012 because he was simply the lesser evil and not because of any hope for a better future under Obama. The youth and workers in the US had to go through the painful school of Obama. In a similar manner, the Indonesian masses are also about to go through the School of Jokowi and face a rude awakening. In less than 2 years, they have already begun to see some of the limitations of Jokowi’s programs.

In their election campaign, Jokowi and Ahok promised to provide free health care to 4.7 million people in Jakarta. However, the question of how such a program is going to be financed was never addressed. At the end of the day the question of providing health care to the people – and mainly poor people who cannot afford it – is not a question of having better management or having a political will as many pundits like to argue. It is a class question, just like any other social program. It is a question of who will pay for it, the working class or the capitalists.

If the poor cannot be taxed anymore on the account of being poor, the money for social programs has to be gained from taxing the upper classes, the upper middle class layers and the capitalists. Our “middle class”, especially those layers of white-collar workers whose conditions are relatively better economically, have an aversion to being taxed. In fact, their economic position is very fragile, and more and more they are being pushed out of this “middle class” dream. It is only a matter of time before the bulk of them realize that they are a part of the proletariat. Meanwhile, our capitalists, especially in this period of crisis, are dead-set against any form of taxation. With a bleak economic perspective, the last thing the capitalists want is more taxes and more regulations that will eat away their already diminishing profits. On the contrary, what they seek is more stimulus and tax cuts. Hence, the question of financing social programs becomes more serious as capitalism enters into an acute crisis all over the world. In each corner of the world governments are having to deal with big deficits that they have to balance, and they are doing so by cutting billions of dollars of social subsidies.

Not surprisingly Jokowi’s ambitious health program – the so-called Jakarta Health Card – has been mired in problems: hospitals refusing to participate because they were not adequately compensated, patients being turned down, inadequate facilities and medical staff, long line ups, etc. In other words, there are no adequate resources to provide quality health care services for everyone. To deal with this problem, last year Jokowi and Ahok proposed to double the healthcare premium, from Rp.23,000 to Rp.50,000. They quickly shelved this plan as they knew full well that it would provoke a massive backlash from the masses. This year, to fill their budget gap, the Jakarta government has increased property taxes between 120-240%. This policy has begun to worry the upper middle class layers, which was the main active battalion in Jokowi’s last election campaign. When they so creatively peddled Jokowi and Ahok during the campaign, no one ever told them that their taxes would be raised. Undoubtedly, this will erode their support toward Jokowi and Ahok in the future.

Managing street vendors is also a pressing problem that many people in Jakarta hope this new administration could tackle. Unable to find jobs in formal sectors, hundreds of thousands of people in Jakarta engage in informal sectors by becoming street vendors, selling snacks, clothes, accessories, cigarettes, newspapers, etc., or providing a million and one services. These “creative entrepreneurs” often clash with the local authorities who attempt to move them from public spaces (sidewalks, bus stops, parks, etc.). Jokowi won the heart of the masses – both the residents of Jakarta and the street vendors – when he employed a more humane approach in dealing with the street vendors. He took away the batons and shields from the notorious Satpol PP (municipal law enforcement) who are known to be light-handed when evicting street vendors.

Consequently, early efforts by this administration were met with success. Street vendors willingly relocated because they believed that Jokowi would provide them with new and better locations for their operations and that they would receive training. However, it was not long before they returned peddling their merchandise on public places. Street vendors are a social question that cannot be dealt with in administrative and technocratic manners. As long as there is generalised want, then there will always be street vendors in every corner of Jakarta, pushing their carts to make a meagre living. Lately there have been clashes between the authorities and street vendors who refused to be evicted. Jokowi and Ahok are beginning to be restless that their relocation program is faltering. “Arrest, take away their belongings, seize it!” threatened Ahok. If only these words were directed at the corrupt elements and big capitalists in Indonesia. But no, they were directed at small traders on the streets. Without their batons and shields, Satpol PP is like a declawed tiger who would not be able to implement this “arrest and seize” policy, and this state apparatus sooner or later will have to use violence to face street vendors who will fight back. The illusion of humane capitalism will be shattered.

general-strike-posterMoreover, Jokowi-Ahok’s limitation is decisively exposed by their attitudes and actions during the wave of workers’ strikes in the past 2 years. When faced with the historic national general strike on October 3rd 2012 (Read Indonesia: One Million on Strike), Jokowi had only this to say: “Everything which is good for society, I will support.” It was not clear where he stood: for or against the general strike and its demands. He couldn’t say whether or not outsourcing is good for the workers, whether today’s minimum wage is enough for the workers. This people’s leader tried to position himself neither here nor there, i.e. he tried to present himself as “neutral”. In a class society being “neutral” means standing on the side of the ruling class. Thus, when the question is a concrete class question, where they stand becomes clear.

Following the national general strike where the workers won a 50% increase in the minimum wage, he signed a moratorium note for hundreds of companies in Jakarta allowing them to be exempt from the minimum wage regulation. This effectively rolled back any gains that the workers had won from the general strike. The workers went on strike again the following year, demanding a 30% increase in the minimum wage. Under pressure from the bosses, Jokowi signed a 10% increase for workers in Jakarta. His reason: a 30% increase is not a rational demand, which in other words means it is not rational for the capitalists’ profit. On questions that really matter, we can clearly see where he stands.

In short, Jokowi is a bourgeois reformer, who promises everyone everything. He promises a capitalism that will function for all layers of society, a capitalism without contradictions. More than 150 years ago Marx and Engels wrote about such bourgeois populism, which they referred to as “Conservative or Bourgeois Socialism”:

“A part of the bourgeoisie is desirous of redressing social grievances in order to secure the continued existence of bourgeois society... The Socialistic bourgeois want all the advantages of modern social conditions without the struggles and dangers necessarily resulting therefrom. They desire the existing state of society, minus its revolutionary and disintegrating elements. They wish for a bourgeoisie without a proletariat... this [form of] Socialism sought to depreciate every revolutionary movement in the eyes of the working class by showing that... [only] administrative reforms, based on the continued existence of these relations, [could be of any advantage to them].” (Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto, Chapter Three)

Sooner rather than later Jokowi will find himself entangled in capitalist contradictions, regardless of his good intentions to defend the poor. Even now we are already seeing how he cannot move beyond the rigid framework of capitalism, especially when it is the workers themselves who organize and move to fight for their own interests without waiting for a Satrio Piningit [a saviour]. The wide toiling masses will learn many valuable lessons, albeit bitter, from this school of Jokowi, that the problems they are facing require solutions outside capitalism and that they can only trust in their own strength. There are many other schools that the workers have to go through, and they will find it difficult to graduate when every time there is a test our Lefts opt for shortcuts: either running candidates through bourgeois parties or supporting populist figures like Jokowi.

The market’s reaction

The capitalists were not so coy in expressing their feelings about Jokowi’s candidacy. The Jakarta stock exchange jumped by three percent upon hearing that finally Megawati had anointed Jokowi as her party’s candidate for president, the biggest one day gain for six months. The Rupiah, that has been losing value for the past year, rose by 1.3 percent against US dollar.

While the Left has tried its hardest to paint Jokowi as a pro-people, anti-neo-liberal candidate, the more sombre bourgeois analysts see in him in quite a different light. The Financial Times wrote that, “investment banks have also started issuing what will no doubt become a flurry of research notes on why the candidacy of Jokowi, as he is universally known, is exciting for foreign investors.” One of the main reasons for this optimism on the part of foreign investors, as echoed by The Financial Times, is that Jokowi’s government will be a government of stability. However, we shall see that this stability will be as elusive as the longed-for recovery that the strategists of capital have been hoping for since 2008. Let us be clear that stability in the eyes of capitalist investors is stability to make profits. The extent to which Jokowi’s regime will ensure stability for the capitalists has been shown by his conduct in the past two years during the most tumultuous labour disputes this country has ever seen since 1998. This is why there is not even an ounce of concern amongst serious analysts that Jokowi will turn into a Chavez or a Soekarno.

During Jokowi-Jusuf Kalla’s presentation of their economic platform to the business community at the luxurious Ritz-Carlton hotel, the moderator opened the event by stating what was clear to many in that hall: “Because our speakers today, the presidential and vice-presidential candidates that are being put forward by this community [business community], are from this community also. Mr. Jokowi and Mr. Jusuf Kalla are just like you, businessmen, and also professionals. That is why... their policy will be guaranteed to be business-friendly.”

The capitalists have high hopes that Jokowi could bring stability for them. This is what we wrote almost one year before Jokowi candidacy:

“Today’s political system has become so bankrupt and its legitimacy in the eyes of the people has become so thin that it seems that it could collapse anytime. The only thing that prevents this system from collapsing is the absence of a revolutionary leadership for the workers. This is why many bourgeois parties are competing with each other to win Jokowi to their side. In addition to giving legitimacy to their own parties, they also want to give legitimacy to the political system, that the system of bourgeois democracy can still give to the people a competent and clean leader. Imagine if the wider masses lose any hope in political leaders and the existing system, and start to look at themselves as agents of change and take their destinies into their own hands. Jokowi and Ahok, while not a few political elites are trying to knock them down, is a breath of fresh air for the defenders of bourgeois democracy, because they provide the proof they need to say that this democracy can still produce clean leaders. There is therefore no need for mass action and there is no need for a workers’ party.

“From the side of the toiling masses, there are many who wish Jokowi could save this nation from its demise. From the side of the ruling class, they also see in him a figure who could save this nation. While on the surface these two hopes look alike, but there are class interests that are diametrically opposed. In the minds of the working people, the salvation of this nation is quite simple. It means jobs and decent wages, quality housing, access to healthcare and education, etc. Meanwhile, for the bourgeois ruling class, the salvation of this nation means the salvation of the exploitative system of capitalism, which is increasingly being discredited because of its inability to provide prosperity for its people, and further exacerbated by vulgar actions of their politicians with their “aji mumpung” mentality [aji mumpung means “while you have the opportunity”] who plunder this system through their rampant corruption without thinking about the long term sustainability of capitalism. Jokowi is seen by the bourgeoisie as someone who can bring together these two hopes or, more correctly, who can create an impression or an illusion that he is fulfilling the first hope while in reality he is fulfilling the latter.” (Ted Sprague. Berlomba-lomba Memenangkan Jokowi. 31 May 2013)

Bourgeois Election and “People’s Election”

Once again the question of the election causes such a confusion amongst our Lefts. There are those who support participation in this election by entering existing bourgeois parties and running candidates through them, there are those who support Jokowi with all kinds of qualifications and conditions, also those who are supporting the former general Prabowo as an anti-imperialist figure, and there are those who refuse in principle to participate in the election. We will attempt to analyze these positions one by one.

First, Marxists do not categorically refuse to participate in bourgeois elections. Refusal to participate in bourgeois parliaments in principle is an infantile approach. Calls by anarchist or ultra-left elements to boycott this election because it is a bourgeois election and to demand a so-called “people’s election” expresses naivety if not ignorance. There is no such thing as a “people’s” election, as there was no such thing as a “people’s state” that Marx and Engels thoroughly criticized as far back as the 1870s. Under a system with capitalist production relations, all elections are therefore bourgeois elections. A bourgeois parliament is formed and designed in such a way as to defend the rule of capital, and for no other reason. This is the ABC of Marxism on the question of the State, but after the ABC there are other letters, there are other combinations of letters that form words, and other combinations of words that form sentences, and so on and so forth. One cannot impress anyone with just the ability to recite the ABC.

Since Indonesian independence in 1945, there has never been a people’s election. All the elections since 1955 have been bourgeois elections. Of course, not all of them are the same. There are differences in the extent of democratic freedoms in each of those elections, which is determined by the existing balance of class forces. The 1955 and 1999 elections, which were relatively freer, in many ways cannot be considered as “people’s elections” and remain bourgeois elections. However, it would be the highest stupidity to boycott them in principle. Lenin has explained this very well when he tried to convince German communists not to deny the  bourgeois parliament:

“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 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).” (Lenin. Left-wing Communist: an Infantile Disorder. 1921)

Even in the most “democratic” election, with the most ideal conditions – for example with very liberal Election Laws, with the existence of a mass labour party that can participate in the election, etc. – this election will remain a bourgeois election, and we still carry the responsibility to patiently explain these bourgeois-democratic prejudices to the people. Thus, while employing parliamentary tactics – when it is possible – Marxists cannot hide the truth from the masses that the bourgeois parliament is a tool to defend capitalism, and that the final aim of the proletariat is the revolutionary conquest of power, by completely disassembling the very bourgeois parliament that they are using. Marxists use parliament not just to bring about reforms that will alleviate the suffering of the working masses. If so, then we are no different from the liberals and reformists. We also use parliament as a platform to put forward our socialist ideas and mainly to expose to the people the limitations and bankruptcy of the bourgeois parliament, and from here prepare the working class to do away with this bourgeois parliament.

Thus Marxists do not in principle reject participation in bourgeois elections. Marxists are distinguished from the other Lefts by their flexibility in tactics and firmness in ideology. Meanwhile, our Lefts are very flexible in their tactics, jumping from one tactic to the other, from one campaign to the other, while in ideological firmness many of them are simply lazy. Attempts to study and learn theory are often ridiculed as intellectual activities, and our Lefts are fonder of engaging in practical activities, taking to the streets, organizing demonstrations, to “go to the people” as they like to say it. Consequently, “Marxism” in Indonesia is not being developed by revolutionaries themselves, but by academic intellectuals in the universities. Their ridicule becomes a reality as Marxist theories are now dominated by the academic intellectuals. When these activists need theories to justify their actions, they turn toward ready-made theories from these academic “Marxists”, either from outside figures like Zizek or from our young academic “Marxists” around Indoprogress and STF Driyarkara [a well-known philosophy university in Indonesia].

If we do not principally reject participating in the bourgeois parliament, then the questions that follow are: When do we use it and when do we boycott it? How and in what proportion can we combine this tactic with other tactics? There is no magic formula that can provide answers to all of these questions. There is no such thing as a checklist with yes-or-no questions, where upon answering all of them will provide us with a final tally that will help us answer the above questions. What we have are history and today’s objective, as well as subjective, conditions that we can analyze with the method of genuine Marxism.

Our “Progressive” Bourgeoisie

The PRD (Democratic People’s Party) is one of the several organizations that decided to participate in this 2014 election by entering bourgeois parties. This mistake of entering bourgeois parties and completely submitting to bourgeois programs comes derives from their false perspective on the nature of capitalism and imperialism in Indonesia.

The PRD election manifesto, after we purge it from all its rhetoric about oppressed people, is nothing more than just a call for class collaboration, that is a collaboration between workers, peasants, and national bourgeoisie. All these layers, according to the PRD, are victims of foreign capital and imperialism, and therefore we need a “national unity” of all Indonesian citizens – regardless of their class background and the interests that come with it – to stop imperialism. Here is what the PRD writes:

“To fight this imperialism, we need a political means, which is national unity. The impact of neoliberalism that affects almost all social layers and sectors of the Indonesian people (workers, peasants, urban poor, youth, indigenous people, small and medium business owners, national capitalist, etc.) is a condition conducive to building unity.” (PRD election manifesto)

This logic seems simple. There is a group of people coming from different social and economic statuses who are victims of neo-liberal policies and imperialism. Thus they ought to unite, the poor with the rich, the oppressed with the oppressors, the workers with the bosses, under the banner of “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” [Indonesian national slogan that means “Unity in Diversity”]. It is a simple formalist logic, where 1 + 1 = 2. But in politics, simple formalism is never adequate and often proves to be wrong. 1 + 1 doesn’t always give us 2, because in politics different classes occupy different positions in the relations of production, and each class interpenetrates the other, they contradict each other, cross each other in their interactions, and in their continual interactions always change.

As Trotsky aptly put it when criticizing the Popular Front during the Spanish civil war, “However, arithmetic alone does not suffice here. One needs as well at least mechanics. The law of the parallelogram of forces applies to politics as well. In such a parallelogram, we know that the resultant is shorter, the more component forces diverge from each other. When political allies tend to pull in opposite directions, the resultant proves equal to zero.” Here we are talking mainly of the two main classes: the working class and the capitalist class, whose characters have kept changing since they were born: the former becoming stronger with each passing day and revealing itself more and more as the future class; the former becoming more and more bankrupt, cowardly, and impotent in advancing the nation.

At the beginning of the Indonesian struggle for independence, which started in 1910s, we witnessed a unity between the recently-born, and still-in-its-infancy, working class and capitalist class. Imperialism, which is the last and highest stage of capitalism, was also just asserting itself at the turn of the century. It immediately ran into its contradictions and exploded in the First World War. Paradoxically, it is the nation-state contradiction of imperialism that sparked the nation-state consciousness amongst the oppressed colonial people, starting from their intellectual layers.

This brought about waves of national liberation struggles in Indonesia and other colonies. With the wider toiling masses, the nascent Indonesian capitalists demanded their independence and were involved in the struggle against Dutch imperialism. However, since the beginning they had shown their hesitation, cowardice, and vacillation. This is because they were born in the epoch of imperialism that stamps upon them these two characters: 1) Dependency upon foreign capital; 2) fear of the working class. In fact, they are more afraid of the working class than they are of being colonized, and this fear becomes stronger as the proletariat grows in size and strength as a class for itself.

The first serious blow against Dutch imperialism was delivered not by our bourgeois nationalists but by the working class through its party, the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). Amongst other political organizations in Indonesia in the first period of the national liberation struggle, the PKI was the political organization with the largest number of members, sympathizers, a mass base and influence. Tan Malaka, one of the main leaders of the PKI in the 1920s delivered a scathing criticism on the existing bourgeois parties. Budi Utomo was portrayed by him as “the laziest party of all the bourgeois parties in Indonesia... It doesn’t have the methods of action of radical bourgeoisie and hasn’t had the courage to approach and mobilize the people since the beginning and until now.”

Meanwhile, on the National Indische Party (NIP), that would later became the Indonesian National Party (PNI), Tan Malaka wrote this: “With a mind which is paralyzed and filled with hesitation, the NIP cannot bring itself... to ‘kiss’ Indonesian nationhood... [it] stands with one foot on the side of imperialism and another foot on the side of Indonesian nationhood... Let alone revolutionary actions, even a strike is far from the wishes of NIP members.” (Tan Malaka. “Mass Action,” 1926)

Why are our bourgeois so “lazy”, “cowardly”, “paralyzed”, “filled with hesitation” in fulfilling their national democratic duties? Tan Malaka explained: “In reality it is not the quality of the leaders themselves that cause Indonesian bourgeois parties to ‘again and again break in the middle’ ... Because there is no native big capital, their national program and their organization as a bourgeois party cannot survive.” That is very correct. Because our national bourgeoisie is under the thumb of foreign capital and depends on it for their existence; thus they are weak and continually break in the middle in their attempts to realize their national and democratic tasks.

What is the state of our bourgeoisie today compared to Tan Malaka’s time? Is it becoming “courageous” and “decisive” now after 100 years? Quite the contrary! They are becoming more cowardly, and with this cowardice comes their tendency to betray. In 1945, their leaders, Soekarno and Hatta, had to be forced by the revolutionary youth to proclaim Indonesian independence. Then in 1945-1949, these same leaders betrayed the struggle for 100% independence because of their fear of imperialism. They put the heads of thousands of communist cadres and their leaders on a silver platter for their imperialist masters.

On this, Soekarno defended his action of crushing the revolutionary ranks in 1945-1949 by saying that “national revolution cannot be weakened by class struggle”. This is exactly the political line espoused by the PRD and the likes of them today: prioritize the national struggle, postpone the class struggle. Then in 1965, our national bourgeoisie marched in an orderly manner behind the military to drown the labour movement in their own blood. The PKI made the same mistake as the PRD today, which is putting their trust in the so-called progressive national bourgeoisie. Ignoring the wishes of the PKI 50 years ago and the PRD today, our bourgeoisie has made its choice: it is better to live as imperialist stooges than living together with organized, strong, and independent workers and peasants.

This is why they were quite content to live under Soeharto, and never once knocked – let alone pull down – at the gate of the Soeharto dictatorship. In 1998, after that gate was taken down by the youth and the oppressed masses, our bourgeois opposition – Gus Dur, Megawati, Amien Rais – played the role of pouring cold water on the revolutionary flame of the people. It is our Reformasi “heroes”, our so-called “most progressive section of the bourgeoisie”, who brought Indonesia more under the rule of foreign capital. The PRD election manifesto spoke lengthily about the role of the Gus Dur and Megawati government in implementing liberalization and privatization programs. However, they still refuse to recognise the impossibility of national unity with the capitalists and their political representatives.

The PRD is still looking for the progressive bourgeoisie and again and again they only see their fleeting shadows. They keep calling for spirits that have long gone from this earth. They want to return to the golden period of the “national bourgeoisie”, that is when our bourgeoisie still allowed itself to be forced to read a piece of paper that proclaimed Indonesian independence. They are still looking to the past, while the future of socialism is postponed until Indonesia can become an “independent capitalist country”. The national struggle is placed above the class struggle! This is the PRD slogan. In reality, the history of our struggle has shown again and again that the spell of imperialism can only be broken by class unity of the toiling masses, that the slogan of national unity is a slogan to subordinate the workers and peasants under the bourgeoisie.

Workers Go Politic

Other than the PRD, we are also seeing trade unions of the KSPI who are putting forward their parliamentary candidates through bourgeois parties. Workers’ leaders were being presented as candidates in various parties. We have to see this within the context of the workers’ movement today.

The wave of strikes and actions in 2012-13 that involved millions of workers has opened a new chapter for the working class struggle in Indonesia. The workers are becoming a real political force that is not only recognized by the wider masses, but also feared by the ruling class. They, for the first time since the 1965, have entered the stage of national politics as a class with a burning confidence.

The experiences of the past two years have imparted an important lesson to the workers, in that they cannot just rely on economic struggles. Coming into collision with government policies, workers are beginning to understand that they also have to wage a political struggle. The gates of their factories are becoming too small for them, and they wish to get out and enter the gates of parliament. This is part of the process of development of working class consciousness.

However, today the workers do not have their own mass party, like in Brazil or in Britain. It is this contradiction that we are seeing, between the growing desire of the workers to enter politics and the fact that there is no political vehicle for the workers. Unable to wait for a mass labour party to be formed, some workers have sent their colleagues to run as worker candidate through the bourgeois parties. This step has garnered some support among the workers. There is a little naivety among these workers, which is also the result of their many victories in the past two years. The workers truly believe that they can defend the class independence of their worker candidates.

We have to explain patiently, but also firmly, that their class independence could be best maintained through their own political party. The same way that workers can only gain their independence in their economic struggle through their own trade unions, thus the workers can only gain their independence in politics through their own political organization.

The workers’ desire to “go politic” has to be channeled into the slogan “Build a Workers’ Party from the workers, by the workers, and for the workers”. The workers have to move “from the factory to the public” and become the leaders of all the oppressed classes in Indonesia. This can only be done by building a workers’ party that is based on the unions and inscribes in its banner socialist programs: the nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy and a democratically planned economy by the workers.

Fascism and The Lesser Evil

With the entrance of Jokowi into the presidential race, our Lefts are quick to line up behind him with a myriad of reasons. One of the main reasons, given that the other candidate is an ex-military implicated in the kidnapping and disappearance of many activists in the past, is that rejecting Jokowi means opening the road to fascism. Thus Jokowi is the obvious lesser evil.

Because of the deep trauma of military dictatorship under Soeharto, there is a paranoia amongst the Lefts about anything that is military. The fascist bogeyman is erected, with a call to “kick fascism out from the ballot box in Indonesia.” This emotional fear dictates their political position: anything which is not military is better. There is not a thread of class analysis in this.

First, on fascism. Fascism is a mass movement of the petty bourgeoisie that develops when society runs into an acute dead end without a way out: the bourgeois class is too weak to defeat the increasingly radicalized workers, while the working class itself is unable to bring to a conclusion the revolutionary period it is entering. A society cannot be forever in the state of ferment. There must be a decisive solution to it. It is here we find the role of fascists with their petty bourgeois mass battalions, which is released like a mad dog by the bourgeoisie to break the revolutionary movement. This is what happened in Italy with Mussolini and Germany with Hitler, and to a certain extent Spain with Franco. It is only during a revolutionary period that the ruling class begins to release their fascist mad dogs. Before fascism can triumph, the workers will have many opportunities to win, and only once they fail to conquer power can the wave of fascist reaction sweep them aside.

In a vulgar manner, without a serious class analysis, some of our intellectuals draw “similarities” between Prabowo and Mussolini. With these categories, they reach the conclusion that Prabowo represents fascism, and thus has to be stopped at any cost. This concretely means voting for Jokowi. However, today there is no situation that is conducive for fascism to develop in Indonesia. Indonesian capitalists do not need fascism or a military dictatorship at the moment. They are quite content to rule through a democratic system and to rely on the corruption, cooptation and reformism of the workers’ leaders. Particularly without the latter, capitalism would have been overthrown – not in the backward countries, but in the advanced capitalist countries – a long time ago. Fascism doesn’t just arrive on the scene because there is a figure named Prabowo, with all its military background, who may have a dream of being a Fascist leader a la Mussolini. There must be a certain balance of class forces, as explained above.

Furthermore, those who are fond of erecting fascist bogeymen think that they could stop fascism in its tracks by supporting the bourgeois democrats, whereas in fact by doing so they are simply preparing for the rise of fascism in the future. Their class collaboration politics will in fact weaken the labour movement and render it ill prepared to overthrow capitalism. It is when the working class cannot overthrow capitalism that is in deep crisis that the danger of fascist reaction will begin to lurk in the corner.

We must also not forget that one cannot fight fascism through parliamentary means, as if any genuine fascist would respect it. As Trotsky said, we defeat fascism by “acquainting their heads to the pavement”. Only an organized force of the working class, with its self-defence groups, could challenge fascism in a serious manner. Workers’ experiences in clashing with the hired thugs during the wave of strikes in the past two years are a concrete and valuable lesson on how to fight fascist elements: through decisive firm mass action.

Secondly, about the state and the military. The violence perpetrated by the army (and other sections of the state apparatus) is not determined by the military background of the head of state. The state will still use – and has used – its apparatus of violence to protect the interests of the ruling class, and this is not determined by the civilian or military character of those in power. This is because the state, in the final analysis, is an organ of suppression of one class by the other. The liberal and petty bourgeois democrats in Indonesia dream of a state which will be led by civilian politicians, with the hope that a civilian state as such would be a modern democracy that respects the rule of law and human rights. However, they forget to mention that most modern democracies on the face of this earth, such as the US, France, Britain, Germany, where they have a civilian government, are the ones that send soldiers to Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali, Libya, and other conflict areas. It is these civil politicians who approve and support actively military coups against elected governments all over the world when these do not align with their interests.

The Populist

A populist figure like Jokowi – and even to a certain extent also Prabowo who is invoking Soekarno-ism in his populist rhetoric – comes into being because of the political impasse that the toiling masses face. The unbearable crisis of capitalism cannot wait for the establishment of a revolutionary leadership that can lead the working masses. The workers cannot wait for a party such as Lenin’s Bolshevik Party to arrive on the scene. When the trade unions cannot be the organs of struggle for the wider masses, when the mass working class parties with their reformist leadership turn out to be the greatest obstacle for the workers, the people will use any channel to express their will. This is why in the absence of a revolutionary leadership we witness all kinds of political formations – from left to right – that come into being so fast and also wither at the same speed.

To name a few: The Occupy movement, the Indignados in Spain, Idle No More in Canada, and other spontaneous movements in various countries. We can also add Obama in the US, Beppe Grillo of Italy, Marine Le Pen in France on the right, and even the emergence of Chavez on the left, as expressions of the absence of revolutionary leadership. In Venezuela, this was brought about by the failure of the Venezuelan Communist Party, the leaders of the trade unions, and the bankruptcy of “guerilla-ism” that dominated revolutionary politics in Latin America from the 1960s to the 1980s. It is these historical factors that open the way for the manifestation of all kinds of political formations. “History knows all sorts of metamorphoses,” said Lenin. It is exactly during this period that Marxists must redouble their efforts to instill Marxism amongst their ranks so that they are not thrown into confusion by the political storm that will become more severe as capitalism digs itself deeper into the crisis.

There is always a theoretical possibility that Jokowi could move farther to the left more than what he has ever dreamt himself. As Marxists we do not deny that theoretical possibility; however, we do not base our political position and tasks today on some distant chance and hope that Jokowi might be the next Chavez. We will change our position and our political tactics based on the changes in the objective situation in the future. If Jokowi were ever to break from the capitalist class and become a focal point of the revolutionary pressure of the toiling masses as Chavez did, of course Marxists would also change their position and tactics. A revolutionary has to have a dialectical understanding that takes its starting point not from ready-made and ready-to-use abstract definitions, axioms, and models, but from a living and changing reality, in all its concreteness, with all its diversity and contradictions.

About political variants that could develop out of the impasse of capitalism and the absence of a revolutionary leadership, it is instructive to quote what Alan Woods wrote in this article “Marxists and the Venezuelan Revolution”:

“The most important factor in the present situation is the absence of a strong and authoritative Marxist leadership on a world scale. The tendency of genuine Marxism has been thrown back for decades and at present represents a small minority. It cannot yet lead the masses to victory. But the problems of the masses are excruciating. They will not wait until we are ready to lead them. They will try by all means to change society, to strive to find a way out of the impasse. This is particularly true of the ex-colonial countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America, where there is no possibility of carrying society forward on a capitalist basis.”

“In the absence of a mass Marxist tendency all sorts of peculiar variants are possible – in fact they are inevitable. A creative approach is necessary to understand the nature of such developments, distinguishing at every stage what is progressive and what is reactionary.

Once again, the ability to distinguish at every stage what is progressive and what is reactionary is what we need. The two candidates today, Jokowi and Prabowo, merely represent two wings of the bourgeoisie. The fact that they have to raise Soekarno from his grave is not a sign that they have the interests of the working class close to their hearts, but a clear indication that the capitalist system in Indonesia is losing its legitimacy. It can no longer arouse enthusiasm amongst the people without resorting to the late Soekarno’s image and his anti-imperialist populist rhetoric.

Meanwhile, the market responds positively to both of the candidates. On the day of the declaration of their candidacy, the Jakarta stock exchange climbed 1%. The chief of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce, Suryo Bambang Sulisto, said what has been known very well to Marxists, that “Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto are figures who understand the world of business. Jokowi has a business background. Prabowo also understands it. They definitely know the importance of keeping the investment climate favourable for investors.” Meanwhile the secretary of the National Economy Committee, Avilliani, echoed the same tone that “investors will feel calmer because they already know him [Jusuf Kalla, the running mate of Jokowi, former Vice President in 2004-2009, former chief of Golkar Party]... So, from these two candidates, I say there is nothing to worry at all.” Indeed, there is nothing to worry about if you are a capitalist!

Our tasks

During an election period there is always a pressure that one has to do something. “We have to do something now,” press our activists. This pressure to do something concrete and practical always push our Lefts to be pragmatic. However, let us stop for a while from doing something, and start to think about what we have done in the past, what we are doing now, and what we need to do in the future. This election can be used as a momentum to draw a clear ideological line and to clarify theoretical confusion because this election has raised questions that we still need to address: the question of the State, fascism, populism, the need for a labour party, etc. We cannot be content with merely rejecting today’s elections with shallow arguments and short emotional slogans. We have to answer all the theoretical problems posed by this election, to respond critically to all the positions out there, and to analyse political events as a living process.

The rise of the Indonesian working class in the past two years is an important factor that has to be included in our analysis about this election. The wave of workers’ actions that involved millions of workers – national strikes, local strikes, sweeping and “grebek pabrik”, May Day rallies, clashes with hired thugs, actions against fuel price increases, large vergadering – are events that have more significance than the euphoria surrounding Jokowi and the election today. It was there where we witnessed the organized mass of workers, who are active and class conscious. They are not like the ephemeral pro-Jokowi masses. Amongst these workers we shall find the future of Indonesia.

Through their experience in struggle, workers are moving toward the realization that they have to step out of their factory gates and enter the parliamentary gates. However, due to the lack of a revolutionary leadership in the workers’ movement, this desire to “go politic” is being sidetracked towards the existing bourgeois parties and candidates instead of being harnessed into calls for the formation of a mass labour party. From this situation, the main propaganda task of any revolutionary will be to patiently explain to the workers who are beginning to wake up about the need to build a labour party. This election will teach the workers that they cannot gain their class independence as long as they are still tied to bourgeois political parties. We have to patiently explain this truth, while being mild in manner and bold in content.

Moreover, this mass labour party will be formed through big events. History has been a stubborn witness to this. A mass labour party cannot be formed merely through a call from a handful of small organizations, or even through their fusion. A mass party with deep roots in the working class can only be formed when the workers move en masse toward the political arena. The PT in Brazil for example was formed in the 1980s during a wave of workers’ strikes and a period of struggle of the wider masses against the military regime.

What can and must be done by a Marxist organization is to prepare revolutionary cadres amongst the proletariat. If a mass party is formed, it will be through the leadership of this proletarian class, who are more organized and class conscious. This way Marxists will start building roots amongst the proletarian vanguard. The tasks of Marxists are always the tasks of preparation to face the coming political momentum. We cannot create revolution or push it artificially. Revolution will come, with or without our intervention, because it is created through the contradictions of capitalism itself. However, we can harness its revolutionary energy to propel the working class to its historic role.

Nonetheless, we have to remind ourselves that a mass labour party itself is not a panacea for all the problems we are facing. Because of its mass character, this labour party will also include reformist, bureaucratic and conservative elements that exist in the labour movement, and all the prejudices one might find amongst the wider workers. In this labour party there will be a sharp struggle between different wings, where in it the revolutionary Marxists with their party or tendency will fight for the leadership of the workers. Hence, it is crucial now to prepare for a strong Marxist tendency that will wage a struggle inside the mass workers’ organizations, from the trade unions to a labour party.

Amidst the confusion surrounding the election, where workers are being pulled between these two bourgeois wings, the slogan of “Build a Workers’ Party” could serve as a rallying point to unite the workers around their genuine class interests. This slogan is still a cry in the wilderness, or to be more exact a cry in the midst of a busy festival of bourgeois democracy where everyone is peddling their latest commodities to sell. However, once the festival is over and the blinding lights have been taken down, the workers will quickly realise what they have bought. The coming government, be it under Jokowi or Prabowo, will find itself quickly running out of room to manoeuvre. The crushing pressure of the crisis that has yet to end will force them to attack the workers more ferociously. Class struggle will intensify once again, and this time on a higher level as the workers will have learned from their own experience to trust only their own strength. The slogan “Build a Workers’ Party” will find more fertile ground.

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