Marxism in Indonesia - Preface to the new Indonesian edition of Reason in Revolt

In his preface to the recently published Indonesian edition of Reason in Revolt, Alan Woods points out that the intense anti-Islamic propaganda in the West is merely a “crude ideological cover for the pretensions and arrogance of imperialism and especially US imperialism, which seeks to dominate the entire world and subject it to its pitiless exploitation”. In answer to all this what is needed is that the rational, scientific outlook of Marxism should become the viewpoint of the labour movement in all countries.

I have been asked to write a short introduction for Indonesian readers, “especially considering that some parts of the book will be considered heresy by the ever religious, superstitious Indonesians.” I do not know why the Indonesians should be considered as more religious or superstitious than any other people. In any case, the publication of Reason in Revolt in Indonesia – a key country in Asia – is something that deserves a wholehearted welcome.

When people in the West talk about religious fundamentalism, superstition and extremism, they usually refer to Islam. In reality, the intense propaganda against Islam is only a crude ideological cover for the pretensions and arrogance of imperialism and especially US imperialism, which seeks to dominate the entire world and subject it to its pitiless exploitation.

There are plenty of very religious and superstitious people in the most developed capitalist nation on earth, the United States of America. Despite all its colossal scientific and technological advances, in the philosophical sense, the USA is the most backward country in the world. This backwardness finds its most extreme expression in the outlook of the leading circles.

If it were possible to open the head of President Bush and look into his brain we would find a heap of all the undigested prejudices and superstitions of the last two thousand years. The same is true for the clique that surrounds him in the White House. This gang of rabid reactionaries faithfully express the views of the conservative trend known as the religious right.

These hypocrites bring the blessings of western civilization to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan in the form of high explosive shells, and then calmly sit down to pray to the “God of Peace”. It was of people like this that the celebrated Scottish poet and revolutionary democrat Robert Burns wrote:

Ye hypocrites! Are these your pranks?

To murder men and give God thanks.

Desist for shame. Proceed no further!

God won’t accept your thanks for murther.

Nor would it be correct to say that my book is “heretical”. A book can only stand accused of heresy when it expresses a particular interpretation of religion. Thus, for orthodox Sunnis, the Shia interpretation of Islam is considered to be heretical, just as Catholic Christians consider the Protestant interpretation of Christianity to be heretical.

However, Reason in Revolt is a book about science and philosophy, not religion. It is not intended as a thorough analysis of religion, which would be a separate subject. It can be as profitably read by a believer as by a non-believer, by a Christian or a Moslem, a Sunni or a Shia. I hope that everyone will find something to agree with as well as to disagree with.

Reason in Revolt deals with the affairs of this world, not the next, since that is a subject neither of the authors is very well qualified to speak about. We are quite happy to leave that to the mullahs and preachers who believe in it. The real subject of this book is a criticism of the existing capitalist society and its ruling ideology. We believe that the capitalist system is in a terminal crisis, and that the decay of the system threatens culture and civilization – possibly even the future of humanity itself.

The symptoms of decay are present everywhere: the economic crisis that condemns millions to unemployment. That is very clear in Indonesia, where unemployment weighs particularly heavily on the shoulders of the youth. Every year a large number of students are condemned to stagnate in forced inactivity instead of putting their skills and talents at the disposal of society as doctors, nurses, teachers and engineers. Is it any wonder that some of these young people are drawn to desperate measures? The blame for this should not be put at the door of religion and superstition but rather on a bankrupt socio-economic system that produces, as Lenin said, “hell on earth”.

The authors of the present work firmly believe that socialism offers the only way out for Indonesia and the rest of the world. Capitalism is a gigantic dead end that must be overcome before any real advance is possible. We believe that in order to bring about the overthrow of a diseased, corrupt and unjust system, the first thing that is necessary is a scientific understanding of the world we live in. And this can only be provided by Marxism.

Marxism is first of all a scientific philosophy, known as dialectical materialism. This is a method that provides us with the necessary tools to analyse and understand the world in which we live. Only if we base ourselves on such an understanding can we change the world. Merely to react to the injustices of capitalism by blind acts of violence leads us nowhere.

The Indonesian working class has a great tradition of revolutionary struggle. It played the leading role in the struggle against Dutch imperialism and built impressive organizations. The PKI, with three million members, was the biggest Communist Party in the world outside the eastern Bloc. It could have taken power, but was let down by the policies of its Stalinist leadership.

The destruction of the PKI was one of the most monstrous acts perpetrated in the history of imperialism. I remember those terrible events of 1965 very well. In fact, I wrote about them at the time. Nobody knows how many people were murdered in an orgy of reaction orchestrated by the CIA and the forces of militaristic reaction, but the figure was not less than one million. This was the work of the “forces of democracy and civilization” in Indonesia!

The real purpose of this bloodbath was to make Indonesia safe for capitalism. The corrupt dictatorship that was erected on the bones of a million Indonesian workers, students and peasants lasted for decades, but it solved none of the problems of Indonesian society. It created new and unbearable contradictions that led to a new revolutionary upheaval and the downfall of the brutal Suharto dictatorship. The students and youth played a very courageous role and were a shining example to the whole world.

New possibilities opened up before the people of Indonesia. But these possibilities have been wasted. In the absence of a genuine revolutionary leadership, capitalism was left in place, and the old corrupt ruling classes were allowed to keep their power, wealth and privileges. As a result, the mass of people is no better off now than before. Is it any wonder that sections of the youth turn in despair to the desperate resort of fundamentalism and individual terrorism?

But these methods cannot succeed in overthrowing capitalism and its ally imperialism. That can only be done by a mass organised movement of the workers and their natural allies, the poor masses of town and village, the revolutionary youth and intelligentsia and the oppressed nationalities. And such a movement, if it is to succeed, will need to be armed with the revolutionary ideology of Marxism.

There are signs that sections of the workers and youth are beginning to realise this. Some time ago I was approached by a group calling themselves “Islamic Marxists” – young people who, without abandoning their allegiance to Islam, wanted to study the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. Needless to say, I gave them every encouragement.

Some years ago I presented Reason in Revolt in Pakistan – a devoutly Islamic country. I spoke at big meetings of hundreds of people. Most were practicing Moslems, but they were also mainly poor workers, peasants and trade unionists. Very often there were mullahs present at these meetings, listening attentively to what I had to say and more than one of these later expressed their admiration for what I had to say. The message of consistent anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism was what most impressed them. Probably they did not expect a European to express himself in such terms.

The capitalist system has committed terrible crimes against the entire world, and no more so than in the Middle East, Asia and Central Asia. There is a growing spirit of revolt against the crimes of imperialism and capitalism. Because these crimes are perpetrated mainly by the “Christian” West, an idea has sprung up that this a “war of two civilizations”, a war between East and West, between Christianity and Islam. This is entirely false.

The present worldwide war is a war between rich and poor, between exploiters and exploited, between robbers and those who are robbed. Even before the criminal war against Iraq was announced, millions of people demonstrated on the streets of London, Rome, Madrid and New York against the war. The people of Spain later rose up against their government and forced the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq. At this moment there is a growing anti-war sentiment in the USA itself.

These forces are the allies of the oppressed peoples of Asia, not their enemies. To present the whole of the western world as a single reactionary bloc is a foolish and false idea, which, if it were true, would doom the revolutionary movement to impotence everywhere. Fortunately, it is not true. As time passes, as the smoke from the battlefields rises and people look at each other’s faces, they will begin to recognise who is a friend and who a foe.

Reason in Revolt was written at a time when the world revolutionary movement was in retreat. The collapse of the Soviet Union created a mood of pessimism and despair. The defenders of capitalism launched a ferocious ideological counteroffensive against the ideas of socialism and Marxism. They promised us a future of peace, prosperity and democracy thanks to the wonders of the free market economy.

A decade has passed since then and a decade is not such a long time in the scales of history. Not one stone upon another now remains of these comforting illusions. Everywhere there are wars, unemployment, poverty and hunger. And everywhere a new spirit of revolt is arising, not just in Asia and Latin America but also in Europe and the USA itself. The tide is turning, as we knew it must do. And people are looking for ideas that can explain what is happening in the world. The ideas of Marxism are enjoying a renaissance. Support for these ideas is growing stronger by the day.

The great Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky once said that revolution is the locomotive of history. That is truer of the present epoch than any other period in human history. The masses learn from their experience. The masses in Indonesia have had many bitter experiences in recent years. The movement has been through many ups and downs. But through all these twists and turns of history, the masses are learning. Starting with the most advanced elements of the workers and students, they will come to understand the need for a genuine revolutionary ideology, programme and method.

The present ferment that is affecting the intellectual life of all countries will sooner or later produce positive results. The collapse of the moral authority of Marxism in the last period has meant that a layer of the youth in the Middle East and Asia who in the past would have been attracted to Marxism have instead been attracted to such things as religious fundamentalism and terrorism. But to the degree that they begin to understand the limitations of these false alternatives, they will move beyond them and seek more viable alternatives.

In the end what is required is a rational and scientific theory. That is what is offered by Reason in Revolt. If it helps even a small number of workers and youth to understand the philosophical basis of Marxism, it will have been worthwhile. The experience of history shows that even a small handful can make a big difference, once the objective situation changes, as it must. The important thing is to make a start.

London, July 2005