Interview with Muhammad Ma'ruf, member of the National Executive of the PDS (Democratic Socialist Association)

"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"


We present our readers with two new articles on Indonesia (one following this introduction and the other one here). They were written before the impeachement of President Wahid at the end of July. Nevertheless these articles maintain their validity and political sharpness.

The first article deals with the convulsive development of the young workers' movement in the archipelago. Giving a panoramic view of the different, old and "new" trade unions the author goes on to explain how the ideas of socialism can be linked to the ongoing day to day struggles of the workers. Focusing on the labour protests which rocked the main industrial centres in June he details the demands brought forward and examines them from a Marxist point of view.

Those protests in June were probably the biggest outburst of industrial protest since the fall of Suharto. In that sense they marked a new turning point in the process of the building of a mass democratic workers' movement.

The article does not share the confusion and pessimism common to the majority of the left about the so-called "economistic " consciousness of the workers in Indonesia. Many left activists complain about the "limited" consciousness of the workers and about the fact that they are "indifferent" to politics. They claim that workers are "only" interested in their economic interests and in immediate reforms. This idea is particularly echoed among student activists and isolated (ex) workers and organisers.

Let's be clear on this question: there exists no fixed and static consciousness amongst the workers corresponding to some kind of "economism" or even to some inherent reformism. The need for broadening the struggle in the factories to the struggle against the capitalist system and its state arises from the day to day experience. In reality the need to change society rises precisely out of the workers' experience, because the bosses cannot accept the implementation of these "economic" demands. Even if they are forced to accept the workers' demands under pressure, they will not tolerate those concessions for very long. The bosses will undermine them by all kinds of means at their disposal. This experience in the struggle for the day to day demands is the basis for the development of a socialist consciousness. Reform and revolution, economic and political demands, are not separated from each other by an unbridgeable Chinese Wall.

The Russian Revolution of October 1917 found its way to the masses thanks to the simple demands of "Bread, Land and Peace". The Indonesian socialist revolutionaries will find the ear, first of all of the workers activists and later the masses thanks to the same approach.

This approach is summarised in the method of the Transitional Programme outlined by Leon Trotsky, by which demands are formulated as bridges to revolution. It needs to be studied by the young worker activists in Indonesia.

The second article is an interview with Muhamed Ma'ruf of the Democratic Socialist Association. With great clarity he sets out the real meaning of the intense infighting in the Indonesian ruling oligarchy which was to lead to the coming to power of Megawati Sukarnoputri at the beginning of August.

More importantly he criticises the majority of the left, the Democratic People's Party in particular, for their policy of collaboration and coalition with the old President Wahid.

Despite the denials of the PRD leadership, their actions, articles and campaigns have built up the image of Wahid as a potential democratic reformer who deserves "critical" support from the left.

This policy is really shameful for a party that had once succeeded in attracting some of the finest and the most radical and committed young fighters against the Suharto dictatorship. Is has been a big mistake on the part of the PRD leaders to channel the energy and hopes of those young fighters into a systematic effort to mobilise support for Wahid and his followers. Instead the party should have been concentrating on building the independent workers' movement and the youth.

Wahid has always been a bourgeois, a capitalist politician. The liberal or democratic character of a bourgeois politician is not a matter of principle or a question of personal commitment. The only main principle which guides the actions of a bourgeois politician, and the faction of the oligarchy he or she leads, is power, privileges and wealth for him, his family, his friends, his political group and for his social class. Bourgeois politicians can move from democracy to dictatorship and back again in the same way that an Indonesian man or woman changes his or her sarong.

This was also the case with Wahid who started out as a "democratic" reformer and ended his short presidency as an autocrat in both manner and content. In a sense it can be said that in the last period there was even less freedom and "democratic space" under Wahid than under Habibie, Suharto's crony who took over the presidency after May 1998.

Wahid typically balanced between different factions and social forces. By flirting with the PRD , the NGO's and the democratic movement he was just covering his left flank. The pledges of reform and of mobilisation against the military and the return of the New Order elements prepared new betrayals of previous "promises".

Now the PRD is lashing out at Wahid, after having promoted him as a reformer. Yes, they admitted, he was a bit inconsistent, but he just needed to be pushed a bit to the left so that big democratic gains could be made.

The PRD now declares that Wahid betrayed the democratic movement. Yes, but he only betrayed the illusions of the PRD leadership and the NGO's in Indonesia. He did not betray his inherent bourgeois nature.

PRD activists should draw a more general conclusion from this experience which is a basic postulate of Marxism: the bourgeois are incapable of playing any democratic or progressive role; only the working class in alliance with the poor peasants are truly democratic. True democracy and the tasks of the democratic revolution can only be carried out by the workers taking power and overthrowing the capitalist state. Only a policy of complete class independence can give the left a future. This is the essence of Mar'uf's comments.

The new government of Megawati is a temporary coalition of elements of the New Order, the military and some of the most reactionary factions. It represents an attack on democratic rights. International capital seems more satisfied by this new regime in the sense that it will give them or promise them more stability to exploit the human and natural wealth of the archipelago.

But Megawati's honeymoon will be short lived. Very soon she will face the same problems Wahid has faced. All of these problems derive fundamentally from the deep crisis of Indonesian capitalism. The euphoria will rapidly be followed by moods of depression, by renewed infighting and by presidential balancing exercises between the bourgeois factions in parliament and the social classes as soon as this reality comes knocking on the door of the government.

President Megawati will be put on a new collision course with parliament and maybe also with the military. But more importantly, she will face the growing tide of social revolt and national aspirations. The multitude of the downtrodden of the cities and the countryside, the factories and the paddies, the streets and workers' quarters will become the new protagonists of Indonesian politics. They will push aside all these pathetic figures who have been at the forefront up until now. However, despite the protracted character of the Indonesian revolutionary process it does not give the left unlimited time to build a Marxist party with a real programme of class independence. It has to be done now. Because without a party there can be no successful socialist revolution in Indonesia or in any other part of the world.

by Jean Duval, August 22, 2001 

Question: The factional infighting between the Indonesian parliament and the President has reached the point of a severe constitutional crisis. An impeachment procedure against him has now started and will culminate in a special session of the People Representative Assembly on the first of August. This may lead to the censuring of the President and his replacement 22 months after being the first democratically elected president. What are the underlying causes for this protracted crisis at the top of Indonesian society?

M. Ma'ruf: The main causes of the crisis in the capitalist elite lies in the unfinished process of bourgeois consolidation initiated after Suharto was forced to step down in May 1998. The bourgeois class is trying to lead the transition from crony capitalism to liberal capitalism and from military dictatorship to parliamentary democracy. After the first multi-party elections in 1999 with a high level of participation a coalition government was formed embracing the main bourgeois parties, the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI-P) of Megawati, Abduraman Wahid's party, the PKB based on the largest Muslim organisation Nadlatul Ulama, Amien Rais' Party of National Awakening (PAN), Golkar the party of the New Order regime, the United Development Party (PPP) and the political faction of the military and the police.

This process of consolidation of a new bourgeois regime was full of tension and contradictions as it led to incessant attempts to carve out new spheres of business influence at the expense of other factions who have been the only ones to access power before. This behind-the-scenes intense and merciless struggle involves the business interests of the husband of Vice President Megawati, as well as the President's brother and the different factions within Golkar.

During the first year of this bourgeois government scandal after scandal erupted. Golkar was involved in the Bank Bali scandal, where international funds were siphoned into the party's bank accounts. 'Buloggate' and 'Bruneigate' involved the personal entourage of the President when his personal masseur disappeared with billions of Rupiah earmarked for the National Logistic Agency and when Wahid was unable to explain the final destiny of a multi-million "gift" from the Sultan of Brunei. This situation has led to incessant conflicts in the Cabinet of Ministers, where numerous ministers have been replaced and reshuffle has followed reshuffle. This conflict has intensified and reach the point where parliament has initiated the procedure of impeachment that must be finalised with the Special Session of the General Assembly of People's Representatives on the 1st of August.

This protracted crisis has revealed that the process of "Reformasi" has only superficially broken with the past so-called tradition of KKN, of collusion, corruption and nepotism. This democracy is only a pseudo-democracy, a democracy only in name. The reform process has never really attacked the power of the New Order or Orde Baru in the political, economic, and social and business field. Orde Baru is still alive and largely intact. In reality the remnants of the New Order have succeeded in deepening their economic power and its influence over other bourgeois factions and to spread its business interests.

Another factor (and not the least of them, as it involves the conflict between the different bourgeois factions) is the neo-liberal agenda of privatisation and deregulation imposed by the IMF and the World Bank, which if applied to its full extent will hurt a lot of business interests of the old New Order tycoons who will see their assets sold to pay back their loans.

The recent increase in the activities of ultra-right groups is also connected to the strategies of big capitalist groups and their cronies like the former President Habibie and the Radical Muslim groups. Those capitalists finance the ultra-right groups with the aim of destabilizing the present government and creating conditions favourable for the return to power of their protectors.

Gus Dur's defiance in the face of the attacks aimed at removing him from the Presidency has everything to do with the protection of the new business interests of his party and his brother. In nearly 20 months Gus Dur's brother has succeeded in expanding the family's control over 200 companies. If removed from the Presidency he will lose the political power to protect his party and his family interests which will fall prey to the predatory attacks of other bourgeois factions.

Question: But isn't Gus Dur's stubborn attempt to keep power aimed at defending democratic reform against the comeback of the military in politics and the elements of the New Order? Doesn't he deserve, for this, the support of the democrats and the left?

M. Ma'ruf: The left in Indonesia has different views on Gus Dur and on the conflict within the bourgeois elite. But the common view among the left is one that varies from uncritical to critical support of the President. There are clearly illusions in him among those people related to the NGO's and the pro-democracy groups. In words Gus Dur promotes anti-racism, pluralism, the abolition of the anti-communist legislation etc. Another reason for the support for Gus Dur among the left is based on the idea that the left is weak and small and therefore it should look for protection against the ultra-right militias and the repression from the police and the military. That protection, they think, can only come from big organisations. That's why the PRD, the Democratic People's Party and other left groups look for protection from the mass organisations supporting the President, in particular from the structures of Nadlathul Ulama, the largest Muslim group in the country, mainly based in East Java. The PRD's tactic consists of trying to escalate the conflict within the bourgeois elite in order that the NU masses will be aligned against the old forces of the New Order and the ultra-right Muslim gangs.

However, besides being a wrong tactic it is also a very dangerous one. First of all they spread illusions in the democratic credentials of Gus Dur and in his capacity, or willingness, to attack the remnants of the New Order and the ultra right gangs. Let's us not forget that historically the forces of NU and its paramilitary organisation, Banser, in Java and other parts of Indonesia were the main forces behind the anti-communist slaughter in 1965. In recent years NU and Banser were involved in physically attacking the headquarters of papers and journalists critical of the President. Banser is also responsible for attacking a workers' demonstration of the radical union FNPBI in Central Java. Gus Dur's opposition to the remnants of the New Order is also very inconsistent. For instance is he the personal friend of Tutut, the oldest daughter of the former dictator Suharto, and he had no problem in describing the student movement that toppled the same dictator in May 1998 as being financed by the CIA! Sometimes Gus Dur does indeed lean on the small left forces, but he considers them as unimportant and expendable when the moment comes to make a compromise with his rivals in the elite. So recently the leader of the "suicide squads" of NU supporters (ready to die for the President if he were to be removed from office) declared to the newspapers that they did not need the support of left groups like FAMRED (Jakarta student group) or the PRD or LMND (National Student League for Democracy, close to the PRD) because their own organisations were big and strong enough.

The road to betrayal of their alliance with the left groups by those forces is already clear. By clinging to this tactic the PRD is creating illusions and hopes among the masses that this sector of the capitalist class will really defend and advance democracy. By attempting to intensify the "horizontal conflict" (known in Indonesia as the conflict within one and the same social layer) the PRD is abandoning the class content of the struggle for democracy. That is also our criticism of the PRD's initiative to set up a Forum of all Anti-New Order forces, which includes Gus Dur's party, the PKB. By doing this they tend to abandon their criticism of the bourgeois politicians. For the PRD the main contradiction resides in the conflict between Gus Dur and the military, the police, Megawati's party and Golkar. Gus Dur is the so-called "secondary" enemy. Formerly the PRD remains critical of Gus Dur but this has no real clear meaning amongst the rank and file of the PRD where there is a clear lack of criticism of Gus Dur.

Question: At the beginning of June, Gus Dur has threatened to issue an Emergency Decree if parliament persisted in continuing the impeachment procedure against him. For this he has tried in vain to get the support of the Military and the Police. What is your attitude towards this threat?

M. Ma'ruf: We reject the Emergency Decree. This decree consists of a declaration of a state of civil emergency, which is a form of martial law, which Gus Dur wants to use to disband parliament. The PRD wholeheartedly supports the President in his will to issue this decree which they say must be used to attack the remnants of the New Order and Golkar. We think a situation of civil emergency where the military and the police are given extra powers to repress will be used against the left and not against the remnants of the New Order. The left should struggle for more democratic rights to organise, to strike etc., and not support an emergency decree. The PRD also supports the dissolution of parliament but add that this should be done by the masses with the aim of declaring new elections without Golkar. The PRD's position is one of strengthening and consolidating bourgeois liberal democracy. This is a reformist position, which we do not share.

The PDS position is not to take sides in the conflict between different bourgeois factions, but to focus on the class conflict in the country around class demands. We advocate a policy of class independence by which we understand a criticism of all factions of the bourgeois class and a campaign of propaganda and organising on demands related to the people's interests. Today this means we need to fight against the cuts in fuel and electricity subsidies which are causing the prices to increase respectively by 30% and 20%, and we need to struggle for wage increases, against job losses, for a better life etc. This is also one of the ways we want to combat the right Muslim groups who are trying to occupy this terrain in a demagogic manner. Contrary to what our critics on the left say, this does not mean that we abandon the struggle against the eventual comeback of the military. Our activists are intensively engaged in campaigning against the military, but we don't do this by supporting Gus Dur or by abandoning our criticism of his faction.

Our own protection and that of all the left against military repression or right wing militias cannot come from within the bourgeois groups. History in Indonesia has proven that more than once. We will get no protection from hiding under bourgeois wings.

We will only get our protection from the people, that is, the workers, the poor peasants and the urban poor. But this depends on our capacity to relate our activity and our program to the people's needs and interests. The stronger the working class and other people's mass organisations, the better our protection. And these organisations will only be strengthened with a policy of class independence.

Question: To conclude this interview could you explain to us what you think are the strengths and the weaknesses of the left in Indonesia today.

M Ma'ruf: The main weakness of the left is that it has been unable to develop a mass bass and a strong vanguard organisation since the fall of Suharto. Then there is the great lack of ideological clarity and a clear view on revolutionary policy, program and tactics. We did not succeed in winning a mass base for a revolutionary program

The strength of the left lies in the great popularity of its ideas, especially amongst students and in the proliferation of all kinds of left groups. In that sense we can say that the seeds for the building of a strong revolutionary organisation have been planted and will have to be harvested as soon as possible.

Interview by Jean Duval,
June 2001