"Rakyat Bersatu Tak Terkalahkan", (the people united will never be defeated) is one of the most popular slogans shouted at the student demonstrations in Jakarta these days. It is proof of a clear shift in the orientation of the democratic student movement towards joining with the workers, the urban poor and the peasants in order to defeat the regime. The new organisations of students which sprung in existence the three last months tend to call themselves people's committees and not a few students are directly involved in organising the workers and the peasants.
"Rakyat Bersatu Tak Terkalahkan", (the people united will never be defeated) is one of the most popular slogans shouted at the student demonstrations in Jakarta these days. It is proof of a clear shift in the orientation of the democratic student movement towards joining with the workers, the urban poor and the peasants in order to defeat the regime. The new organisations of students which sprung in existence the three last months tend to call themselves people's committees and not a few students are directly involved in organising the workers and the peasants. It also illustrates the new level of unity achieved in the student movement in Jakarta around the demand of the rejection of the special session of the puppet parliament (MPR) composed by cronies of Suharto, the establishement of a democratic transitional government, the setting up of people committees at all level, the rejection of the dual function of the Army and the lowering of the prices for the basic necessities.
Despite of this unity the student movement in particular in the capital is in constant political recomposition expressing the ferment of ideas amongst these youth but also differences of opinion on how to achieve democracy. But the general tendency is of uniting with the people and democratic mass mobilisations to achieve their goals. It was with that background and the further deterioration of the economic situation including the developments of famine in some areas that since September small groups of students were staging almost daily demonstrations in front of the parliament building. The real warming up for this weeks mobilisation started with the massive demo of 10.000 students on Youth Pledge day - 28 of October, despite the impressive military protection of the parliament. On that day joint action was coordinated in 12 different cities of Indonesia.
Now the same would happen but with a new degree of involvment of the workers and the urban poor. In Jakarta the students decided to stage a street parliament in Merdeka square in the centre of town and to hold daily demonstration and try to occupy parliament again like they did in May and also in September. The quasi military occupation of the city by 30.000 soldiers, the mobilisation of 125.000 so-called civil self defence groups (in reality a paramilitary youth wing of the ruling party Golkar composed of unemployed youth from the outskirts of Jakarta, petty criminals and gangsters motivated only by the promise of money and food), the 16 warships in the Jakarta harbour (including a submarine and a missile launcher), all those measures were deployed to protect the "representatives of the people" from ... the people. There is no better evidence of the complete lack of popular legitimacy of the actual regime and his president Habibie.
To the indignation of the students the place were they intended to hold their street parliament, inviting all who wish to speak, was occupied by 2000 thugs who pretended to hold a mass prayer. The students decided to move their meeting and to mobilise for the next day in order to oust the civil defence guards. Their presence was a clear provocation organised by the army as part of a "people against people strategy", engineering clashes to justify their intervention and "proving" this way the immaturiy of civilians to govern themselves. The following day 5000 students from different universties gathered around Merdeka square. Shouting started and stones were thrown. To great surprise of the students suddenly young local residents armed with sticks and other weapons stormed the square in order to help the students, expelled the thugs and opened access to the square again. There they decided to occupy the place until the next day. The meaning of this very significant incident was also understood by the army and from that moment on they decided not to use their civilian provocateurs for the rest of the week as they had originally intended. Their strategy was clearly backfiring.
The same day at another side of the city 30 buses and trucks filled by students formed a 1km long caravan and moved to parliament via the urban highway. In their 3 hour trip they were greeted by workers who left their factories, urban poor, street sellers and whole families in the shanty towns. It was clear that the students enjoyed massive support amongst the population although at that time the demonstrations were still composed mainly of students. Something which was going to change later in the week. On different occasions that democratic and combative convoy clashed with police and civilian guards and forced them to flee. The students also armed themselves preparing for the inevitable confrontation. Many of them felt they had a moral duty towards the people of Indonesia. If necessary they explained to me, they would die in the fight againts the regime. "Our bodies are not important" they repeated to me. "Our soul and are ideas will continue to live".
They arrived in front of parliament where hundreds of heavily armed soldiers blocked the access. That evening despite the growing number of locals who joined the students, they decided to retreat but only until the following day. The day after, all the students gathered again at Merdeka square. They were joined by peasants from Tapos, who are currently occupying the land which belongs to Suharto, and students from different other islands, in particular from East Timor. During the free speech forum the military tried to push the students out of the place but failed thanks to the courageous intervention of the stewards. The PRD leaders made also their first public appearence in Jakarta during that meeting. Growing numbers of workers started also to participate since then in particular those organised by KOBAR, Workers Committe for Reform Action.
When the demonstrators decided to move to the parliament they were again blocked by an impenetrable wall of marines and trucks.The students again with great bitterness decided to retreat orderly after being surrounded by all sides by more soldiers. The following days showed that the will of the students to challenge the state and the regime was intact with the mass popular revolt on Friday and Saturday, bringing on the streets of Jakarta almost 1 million people. The democratic credentials of the regime are now exposed for what they really are: a thin layer of veneer on a regime that is a continuation of Suhartoism without Suharto.
Reporters in the parliament building were regularly assaulted by parliamentarians with the very revealing question of "What is happening outside?". I think they are very aware of their lack of support amongst ordinary Indonesians. It is only the massive military presence which maintains the regime in power. And that regime is ready to cowardly kill the flower of Indonesian youth in order to preserve its priviliges and power. If the word heroism has any meaning at all it has to be applied to these fearless and self sacrifying youngsters, boys ans girls alike, Muslims, Hindus and Christians together who could easily have chosen the path of a carreer in the regime but who decided to give a new meaning to their life and ...death. They are part of the traditions of those young workers like Marsinah who forgetting about the personal risks organised the exploited in order to defeat the bosses and was kidnapped, tortured, raped and killed by the military in the early 90s.
One conclusion imposes it self after this week of confrontation in Jakarta: the masses make history, but they have to be armed with a program which can lead them to victory. Again just like during the May uprising the bourgeois democratic leaders like Megawati and Amien Rais are unwilling to give any lead. In reality they are more afraid of the masses than of the regime. After this week the students and all exploited layers of society will be in ferment and looking for answers to their burning questions. The PRD has the potential to give these answers if it succeeds to build on a program of class independence and socialist revolution.
by Jean Duval (Belgian socialist activist)
November 14th, 1998