Perspectives for the Indonesian revolution – a First Estimation

Twelve years since the magnificent movement that overthrew the hated Soeharto regime in Indonesia it is time to draw a balance sheet of what was achieved and what the state of the movement is now. As the crisis of worldwide capitalism begins to bite, Indonesia too is faced with a new situation, one where the working class and youth will seek to learn the lessons of the past. This two-part document attempts to draw those lessons.

Marxist analysis and perspective on the Indonesian economy and politics is still rather limited for a country which ranks as the fourth most populous country in the world, a country with the largest Muslim population, and the most dominant country in Southeast Asia. The lack of such analysis can be traced back to the historical defeat of the Indonesian working class movement in 1965, which can be said to be as significant as the defeat of the German working class when the Nazis came to power.

With the resurgence of Marxism in Indonesia, the need for an economic and political perspective from a Marxist point of view has become a priority. From a correct perspective flows correct action that can bring the emancipation of the Indonesian working class and other oppressed layers of society: the poor peasants, fishermen and urban poor. The current perspectives document is by no means the first attempt at such perspective, and it won’t be the last, especially with the current turbulent world we are living. It will be the first estimation from which we can gain an understanding of what needs to be done. 

Furthermore, a serious revolutionary defines his or her task from an international angle not because of sentimental values of internationalism but because the very fact that capitalism is international. While for all practical purposes, the workers must organise themselves at home as a class with their country as their immediate arena of struggle, the real content of the class struggle is international. Therefore, this document has to be read in conjunction with the 2010 World Perspective document, or else it will lose all its value. We only have to see the political writings of Tan Malaka (Naar de Republik, Massa Aksi, Thesis, etc) where he always started with international appraisals before going into the political perspective of the Indonesian revolution. 

The History of “Massa Aksi”

Indonesian history has always been the most important aspect for the movement. The perversion of history by the Soeharto regime was so complete that the first important act of the Indonesian movement was to restore the history of “Massa Aksi”. 32 years of reaction under Soeharto had not only physically destroyed the working class movement but also ideologically stripped the movement completely of its tradition of mass struggle. “Floating masses”, that is the terminology used to describe the kind of society that the Soeharto regime constructed: depoliticized, ahistorical and demobilised. 

Thus, for many youth, the vanguard of the movement, relearning the tradition of “Massa Aksi” was a revolutionary act, and it is still a revolutionary act. The Soeharto regime was very afraid of the history of Indonesia, and rightly so because the history of Indonesia is a negation of the “floating mass” concept. One such work which had a very strong influence in this process is the Buru Tetralogy novels written by Pramoedya Ananta Toer. His works are comparable to Chernyshevsky’s What is to be Done?, part fiction and part propaganda, a work that influenced a whole generation of Russian youth who were to become the Bolsheviks and lead the October Revolution. Not surprisingly, within one year of publication, the novels were banned by the regime. But this didn’t stop the books from being distributed and read clandestinely by the youth. 

The history of Indonesia is one which is rich in Massa Aksi. Since the awakening of nationalism, mass mobilization has been the main trait. Contrary to what the Soeharto regime tried to portray, the Indonesian national liberation struggle was not one fought solely on the military plane. It was one fought on the political plane with mass mobilization. Even when it was fought on the military plane, the army took the form of a people’s militia whose control was under that of the mass organizations. 

Until 1965, all layers of Indonesian society were politically mobilized. Politics penetrated all aspects of life. There was a situation of pitched class struggle at that time. The 1960s was a period of revolution (and counter-revolution) throughout the world. The G30S incident spelt a complete reversal of this and Indonesia was never to be same anymore. 

The 1965 counter-revolution

What happened to the Indonesian Communist Party? This is the burning question that still plagues the minds of Indonesian revolutionaries. It is therefore fitting for us to visit this question before we go on to address the 1998 Reformasi and later the prospect for the coming revolution in Indonesia.

Prior to its annihilation, the Indonesian Communist Party claimed 3 million members. The PKI also had many affiliated and sympathizing mass organizations: Pemuda Rakyat (People's Youth) with 1.5 million members, SOBSI (Indonesian Centre of Workers' Organizations) with 3.8 million members (out of a total of 7 million organized workers), the BTI (Peasants Front of Indonesia) with 5 million members, and Gerwani (Indonesian Women's Movement) with 750,000 members.[1] This made the PKI the third largest communist party in the world after that of the Soviet Union and China. In one stroke, and without any significant resistance, the PKI – and with it the whole workers’ and peasants’ movement – was decimated by the reactionary generals under the guidance of the “democratic” imperialist forces. What followed was a 32-year period of reaction. There is no defeat more demoralizing than one without a fight.

The savagery of the ruling class is not something that we should be surprised at. Since the first attempt of the proletarian revolution, i.e. the Paris Commune in 1871, the ruling class has been brutal in their counterattacks. To put it into perspective, the failure of the Paris Commune resulted in the massacre of around 80,000 people in a town of 1.8 million people. Indonesia’s population was 90 million at the time of the 1965-66 massacre. The reasons for the failure of the Indonesian revolution lie deeper than in the mere savagery or trickery of the ruling class. That factor is a given. The important factor for us lies in the incorrect political line of the PKI.

The PKI was the mass workers’ party of Indonesia. However, it had the misfortune of being developed under the guidance of the Russian and Chinese Stalinists after the 1926-27 failed putsch. When the party was officially re-established again in 1945, like many other communist parties it had become the tool of Moscow’s foreign policy and took an incorrect policy that brought about the demise of the working class movement. It is important here to separate the genuine desire of these leaders (Aidit, Njoto, Lukman, Sudisman) to liberate the workers and peasants from their obvious political errors, or else we would not be able to move forward.

By the late 1930s, the Communist Party of Soviet Union was no longer the same party that had led the October Revolution. It had become the tool of the Soviet bureaucracy to maintain its privileges. It was no longer in their interests to fight for world socialism despite the rhetoric of the party. It sought to peacefully co-exist with capitalism and thus became an active brake on the socialist struggle around the world. The Chinese Communist Party was built on the image of the CPSU; thus the Chinese state started off where the Russian Revolution ended, i.e. as a deformed workers’ state. These two states were a massive political influence in the working class movement throughout the whole period.

This historical fact determined the fate of many communist parties around the world. The leadership of the PKI was educated in the Stalinist “two-stage theory” (which was in fact a rehashing of Menshevik policy) which in essence says that in an undeveloped country like Indonesia the first stage of the revolution is of a bourgeois democratic character in order to abolish feudalism and imperialism. Thus, the task of the communists in such country is to ally with the progressive bourgeoisie, to subordinate class struggle to national struggle against feudalism and imperialism. Only after this a gateway will be opened for class struggle toward socialism.

From “Indonesian Society and the Indonesian Revolution (Basic Problems of the Indonesian Revolution)”[2], which was a political perspective of the PKI written by D. N. Aidit, “a manual for use in the Party Schools at the centre and in the provinces and approved by the CC Plenum, July 1957”, we will examine closely the “two-stage theory” of the PKI and the many contradictions of its theory and policy.

The documents started with the appraisal of current Indonesian society, which it claimed to be semi-feudal and semi-colonial. From here it flows that the “main enemy of the Indonesia revolution at the present stage is... imperialism and feudalism.”[3] This is the first error. Fundamentally, Indonesian society has long been a capitalist society. Its mode of production is dominated by the capitalist mode of production, which is private ownership of the means of production. The Indonesian economy has been tied to capitalism since its first contact with the Dutch colonial power more than 400 years ago (see Appendix “The History of Capitalist Development in Indonesia”). It is semi-feudal only in the sense that the national bourgeoisie – like any other national bourgeoisie in undeveloped countries – was never able to carry out its historical task of agrarian reform, not then and not even now. It was semi-colonial only in the sense that within the context of global capitalism and the uneven development of capitalism, like many other smaller capitalist countries, it becomes a prey of bigger capitalist countries.

From this fundamental error flows the idea that the task of Indonesian revolution is to create “a people’s government” and that “this government (the People’s Democratic Government) is not a government of the dictatorship of the proletariat but a government of the dictatorship of the people.”[4] (page 57).

Marx and Engels, and later Lenin, fought valiantly against the concept of the “people’s state”. Lenin in his State and Revolution explained this clearly:

“The ‘free people's state’ was a programme demand and a catchword current among the German Social-Democrats in the seventies [1870]. This catchword is devoid of all political content except that it describes the concept of democracy in a pompous philistine fashion. Insofar as it hinted in a legally permissible manner at a democratic republic, Engels was prepared to ‘justify’ its use ‘for a time’ from an agitational point of view. But it was an opportunist catchword, for it amounted to something more than prettifying bourgeois democracy, and was also failure to understand the socialist criticism of the state in general. (...) Furthermore, every state is a “special force” for the suppression of the oppressed class. Consequently, every state is not ‘free’ and not a ‘people's state’. Marx and Engels explained this repeatedly to their party comrades in the seventies.” (Lenin, State and Revolution) [Emphasis added]

Soekarno’s government was not a military dictatorship. Under his government, the communists were given free reign; they occupied cabinet and parliamentary posts. Engels was prepared to give some temporary justification for the usage of the agitational slogan “people’s state” in German in 1870s as they were living under a German Empire, an autocracy. But that was not the case in Indonesia under Soekarno. The slogan of the “people’s state” of the PKI was just another capitulation of the working class program to the national bourgeoisie.

In order to justify its two-stage policy, a progressive national bourgeoisie had to be created. Thus, the PKI twisted and turned to redefine the nature of the bourgeois class in Indonesia:

“The bourgeois class is composed of compradors and the national bourgeoisie. The big bourgeoisie that is comprador in character directly serves the interests of the big foreign capitalists and is thus fattened up by them (...) However, the national bourgeoisie displays two features. As a class that is also suppressed by imperialism and the whole development is also stifled by feudalism, this class is anti-imperialist and anti-feudal, and in this respect it is one of the revolutionary forces. (...) The Indonesian national bourgeoisie, because it too is oppressed by foreign imperialism can, in certain circumstances, and within certain limits, take part in the struggle against imperialism. In such specific circumstances, the Indonesian proletariat must build unity with the national bourgeoisie and preserve this unity with all its strength.[5] [Emphasis added]

So, there is a good bourgeoisie and there is a bad bourgeoisie. This thesis runs contrary to the Marxist class analysis. It is true that at any given time there can be splits amongst the ruling class as one section might have different secondary economic or political interests than the other sections. However, the primary interest of the whole bourgeoisie remains the same: the subjugation of the working class. The whole existence of this class is based on its rule over the proletariat.

The Indonesian national bourgeoisie was born late in history. Since the beginning, its existence was tied to imperialism. Even worse, unlike the national bourgeoisies of other developing countries (India and China for example) who played a more active and dominant role in the nationalist movement   although in the end they too were incapable of completing the national liberation movement   the Indonesian native bourgeoisie never led the nationalist movement.

With their incorrect appraisal of the national bourgeoisie, the PKI then actively sought an alliance with the “progressive bourgeoisie” by subordinating class struggle to national struggle, subordinating the working class to the national bourgeoisie despite their lip service to the fact that “the Indonesian revolution will not succeed unless it is under the leadership of the Indonesian proletariat.”[6] History has not been kind on those who have been trying to find a progressive national bourgeoisie as one has yet to be found. Where was the progressive bourgeoisie when the PKI was crushed and millions of their supporters persecuted? Where was the progressive bourgeoisie during the military dictatorship of Soeharto?

The inconsistencies of PKI theory on the nature of the national bourgeoisie become even more vulgar:

“In facing the wavering characteristics of the Indonesian national bourgeoisie, attention should be paid to the fact that it is precisely because it is politically and economically weak that it is not very difficult to pull this class to the left, to make it stand firmly on the side of the revolution, so long as the progressive forces are large and the tactics of the Communist Party are correct. This means that the wavering element of this class is not fatal, it is not insurmountable. But on the other hand, if the progressive forces are not large and the tactics of the Communist Party not correct, then this economically weak and politically weak national bourgeoisie can easily run to the right and become hostile to the revolution.”[7] [Emphasis added]

If the national bourgeoisie is already “politically and economically weak”, all the more reason to cast it aside. It is because they are weak that they are not to be made allies. In a war, allying yourself with a weak ally is never advisable because instead of strengthening your force you will find your force compromised.

Sadly enough, we are seeing the same argument now being used by the PRD/PAPERNAS to justify their turn towards an alliance with the national bourgeoisie. History repeats itself, the first time as a tragedy, the second time as a farce.

Let us look at how Lenin approached the question of alliances with other social classes and groups. During the era of the Tsar, one of the immediate tasks of the Russian proletariat was to fight against the autocracy of the Tsar. In The Tasks of the Russian Social Democrats written by Lenin in 1897 while in Siberia, he wrote:

“In the democratic, political struggle, however, the Russian working class does not stand alone; at its side are all the political opposition elements, strata and classes, since they are hostile to absolutism and are fighting it in one form or another. Here side by side with the proletariat stand the opposition elements of the bourgeoisie, or of the educated classes, or of the petty bourgeoisie, or of the nationalities, religions and sects, etc., etc., persecuted by the autocratic government. The question naturally arises of what the attitude of the working class towards these elements should be. Further, should it not combine with them in the common struggle against the autocracy? ... should they not, therefore, combine with all the elements in the political opposition to fight the autocracy, setting socialism aside for the time being? Is not this essential in order to strengthen the fight against the autocracy?

“Let us examine these two questions.

“The attitude of the working class, as a fighter against the autocracy, towards all the other social classes and groups in the political opposition is very precisely determined by the basic principles of Social-Democracy expounded in the famous Communist Manifesto. The Social-Democrats support the progressive social classes against the reactionary classes ... This support does not presuppose, nor does it call for, any compromise with non-Social-Democratic programmes and principles—it is support given to an ally against a particular enemy. Moreover, the Social-Democrats render this support in order to expedite the fall of the common enemy, but expect nothing for themselves from these temporary allies, and concede nothing to them.

“... This brings us to the second question. While pointing to the solidarity of one or other of the various opposition groups with the workers, the Social-Democrats will always single out the workers from the rest, they will always point out that this solidarity is temporary and conditional, they will always emphasise the independent class identity of the proletariat, who tomorrow may find themselves in opposition to their allies of today. We shall be told that “such action will weaken all the fighters for political liberty at the present time.” We shall reply that such action will strengthen all the fighters for political liberty. Only those fighters are strong who rely on the consciously recognised real interests of certain classes, and any attempt to obscure these class interests, which already play a predominant role in contemporary society, will only weaken the fighters. That is the first point. The second point is that, in the fight against the autocracy, the working class must single itself out, for it is the only thoroughly consistent and unreserved enemy of the autocracy, only between the working class and the autocracy is no compromise possible, only in the working class can democracy find a champion who makes no reservations, is not irresolute and does not look back. The hostility of all other classes, groups and strata of the population towards the autocracy is not unqualified; their democracy always looks back.

“The proletariat alone can be—and because of its class position must be—a consistently democratic, determined enemy of absolutism, incapable of making any concessions or compromises. The proletariat alone can be the vanguard fighter for political liberty and for democratic institutions. Firstly, this is because political tyranny bears most heavily upon the proletariat whose position gives it no opportunity to secure a modification of that tyranny—it has no access to the higher authorities, not even to the officials, and it has no influence on public opinion. Secondly, the proletariat alone is capable of bringing about the complete democratisation of the political and social system, since this would place the system in the hands of the workers. That is why the merging of the democratic activities of the working class with the democratic aspirations of other classes and groups would weaken the democratic movement, would weaken the political struggle, would make it less determined, less consistent, more likely to compromise. On the other hand, if the working class stands out as the vanguard fighter for democratic institutions, this will strength the democratic movement, will strengthen the struggle for political liberty, because the working class will spur on all the other democratic and political opposition elements, will push the liberals towards the political radicals, will push the radicals towards an irrevocable rupture with the whole of the political and social structure of present society.” [Emphasis added]

We apologize if we have to quote lengthily from Lenin, but we wish to avoid the practice of selective fragmentary quoting that many so-called Leninists like to do.

So it is clear how the Bolsheviks approached other social classes in the fight against absolutism: recognizing that the proletariat and the national bourgeoisie might have the same interests for specific goals, but at the same time openly criticizing the limitations of the bourgeoisie in their fight, and warning against merging democratic activities with them. In essence, the proletariat has to uphold its class independence and not cast aside its socialist goal.

This was written in 1897, before the fateful 1905 Revolution that brought the first blow to the autocracy and revealed even more the bankruptcy of the national bourgeoisie. Here is what Lenin wrote in 1906 in “The Democratic Tasks of the Revolutionary Proletariat” after the betrayal and cowardice of the national bourgeoisie in their fight against the autocracy:

“... the bourgeoisie as a whole is incapable of waging a determined struggle against the autocracy; it fears to lose in this struggle its property which binds it to the existing order; it fears an all-too revolutionary action of the workers, who will not stop at the democratic revolution but will aspire to the socialist revolution; it fears a complete break with officialdom, with the bureaucracy, whose interests are bound up by a thousand ties with the interests of the propertied classes. For this reason the bourgeois struggle for liberty is notoriously timorous, inconsistent, and half-hearted.”

The PKI, despite its claim of being Leninist, seems to have not read carefully Lenin’s writings. The workers and peasants of Indonesia had to pay dearly for the mistaken policy of the PKI: 32 years of military dictatorship that robbed the whole generation of its class fighters and tradition of class struggle.

The fall of Soeharto

After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the bourgeoisie of the whole world were celebrating. They sharpened their teeth even more with their ideological assault. “Capitalism has triumphed,” so they claimed.

Indonesia was set as an example of how a country could prosper if they embraced capitalism. However, beneath the “Indonesian miracle” was the beginning of the movement that would eventually rock the whole region. Early 1990 saw the formation of the nucleus of youth who would later lead the struggle against Soeharto. These students were grouped around the PRD, the only organized Left force at that moment, working clandestinely under the threat of kidnapping and disappearance.

Early 1990 also saw the emergence of mass movements. The number of peasant protests was increasing. The number of recorded workers’ strikes rose in the 1990s, from 61 in 1990 to 300 in 1994 and even more went unrecorded. This is because the economic miracle of Indonesia was built on exploiting the workers and peasants. Jobs were getting hard to find in the villages, and more and more peasants were forced into the cities where they either settled as urban workers or urban poor.

The bourgeoisie was overconfident with their victory in 1991. So confident were they that there would never be any more revolutions, that they resorted to an orgy of speculation without any limits. Seven years prior t the 1997 economic crisis, there was a huge influx of capital into the Indonesian private sector, from $314 million in 1989 to $11.5 billion in 1996, an increase of 3500%. This massive private capital, mostly in speculative short term investment in the real estate sector, spurred economic growth reaching almost 10% a year. The bubble economy had to burst sooner or later because at the end of the day all the skyscrapers and apartments being built had no buyers. This was a classic crisis of overproduction.

The 1997 Asian Financial Crisis was a disaster, not just economically but also politically for the ruling class. Just 8 years before they had been talking about the “end of history”, that there would be no more bust in the capitalist economy and no more revolution. Here in Indonesia, the country touted as the example of the superiority of capitalism, the system crumbled. And the “floating masses” disintegrated under the pressure.

From being hailed as the “father of development”, within months Soeharto became the symbol of everything that the masses hated. In a pre-revolutionary situation, one of the characteristics that we always see is a split in the ruling class: between one section that seeks to reform the system from above in order to prevent revolution from below and another section that fears that any kind of reform will embolden the masses further.

The radicalization of the masses in the last 9 years had made Soeharto’s position so untenable that even his most trusted man, Harmoko, the Speaker of the Parliament, urged him to step down. The capitalists, domestic and foreign, started abandoning him by suddenly shedding crocodile tears about the repression of democracy under his regime. A compromise was eventually struck: Soeharto was to resign but no trial should ever be held, and the reformists would take the helm of the movement, making sure that it went through a safe channel.

The Left, practically the PRD being the only organized force, was not ready to take power. There were many factors at play, each one reinforcing the other. The 32-year period of reaction under Soeharto was definitely the main factor. The extent to which the workers’ movement was defeated and decimated for a whole generation was so significant that it still weighed heavily on the consciousness of the masses and its leadership. Making matters worse was also the incorrect perspective on the part of the PRD, which was to rely on the progressive bourgeoisie, i.e. the reformist leaders.

The aftermath

The Reformasi movement did not change anything fundamental in Indonesia. When it seemed that power was in the hands of the people, with millions of people on the streets and occupying the parliament building, the power was handed back to the ruling class. What actually happened?

The reformists played exactly their historical role: saving capitalism in its moment of crisis. Therefore, their betrayal is a given factor; it is inevitable. Thus, any attempt to blame the failure of the Reformasi 1998 on these reformists does not lead us one step further. The accusation of “false reformist” (reformis gadungan) which has become a catch word amongst the Left, particularly after the failure of the 1998 movement, shows the inability to comprehend the nature of bourgeois reformers. These so-called “false reformists” are actually true reformists.

The immediate task of the 1998 Reformasi was the overthrow of the military dictatorship of Soeharto. We recognize that parliamentary democracy is a better field for the working class to fight in. However, it is one thing to recognize the need for a parliamentary democracy in place of military dictatorship; it is another thing to expect that parliamentary democracy can be realized by the bourgeois reformers. Only the workers, in alliance with the peasants and urban poor, can be relied on to carry out the democratic tasks to their completion. We expect nothing from the bourgeoisie. The PRD’s reliance on the progressive national bourgeoisie created confusion amongst the rank-and-file of PRD and its periphery. When all the bourgeois reformers betrayed the movement, the resulting ideological confusion created demoralization within the movement for the next 3-5 years. The only answer provided is that these reformists were “false reformists”; thus the campaign to seek true reformists began anew.

Could the Left, as it was at the time, have then taken power and brought about the establishment of socialism in 1998? With the benefit of hindsight, considering all the factors, we can say that the answer to that question is negative. In order to take power, the workers needed a party which was ready to take power. The 1965 defeat robbed the working class of this chance. The PRD, the only party at that time, was too young and it lacked the necessary leadership to be able to tackle the question of power.

However, if the PRD had had a correct programme it could have emerged stronger from the failure of the Reformasi movement. With correct tactics, the PRD could have retreated in an orderly fashion and not be splintered into many factions that opened up a period of demoralization afterwards. A good army is one that can retreat in an orderly fashion to prepare for a new stronger assault.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t support reforms. We support reforms as much as they still have a vital forcefulness, as much as they still attack the base of the ruling regime. For example, when Gus Dur was talking about abolishing the anti-communist law, the attitude of revolutionaries should have been one of support for this demand but not one of supporting the Gus Dur government. We agitate widely for this demand on our own terms, which is that only a workers’ government can completely fulfil this demand, that we can only trust the workers to fulfil this demand. We expected nothing from the bourgeois liberal government of Gus Dur. We support reforms always with a perspective of workers conquering power. Only through this can we prepare the working class for their historical task. With such a class independent policy, the rank and file of a revolutionary party will not be confused. If anything, they will gain more confidence and clarity for the upcoming task.

The eventual fate of the PRD was the only logical conclusion of their policy. With each passing year, the PRD drifted more and more towards a class collaborationist policy. Many of its cadres joined bourgeois parties. At first, in the eyes of those who are new to politics, the PRD’s rhetoric still sounded radical and revolutionary. However, beneath these revolutionary phrases one finds the idea of the “two-stages”, of supporting the so-called progressive national bourgeoisie.

The final turning-point for the PRD was their coalition with the PBR, a bourgeois party through and through, in the 2009 election. It was not even a coalition as the PRD weren’t allowed to put forward their own party name, flag, programme, etc. This electoral strategy was a complete failure. The PRD/PAPERNAS was silent about the result. So, when in their seventh congress earlier this year they changed their party’s principle from “People’s Social Democracy” (which is just another name for Marxism in the Indonesian context since the outright mentioning of Marxism is illegal) to Pancasila [the official philosophical foundation of the Indonesian state], it didn’t come as a big surprise. Unable to learn from their mistaken policy of class collaboration, there was only one way to go: return to the disastrous policy of the PKI.

Those within the PRD who deny that the PRD has held a class collaborationist policy only have to look at where the PRD is now. Many who denied this in the past finally realized it in the course of years, and they either split away (PDS, KPRM, and the PRP which was not a direct split from the PRD but a formation from the remnants of PRD cadres) or quit the party altogether and went their own separate way.

Out of the many splits and polemics of the past 10 years, the movement has gained ideological clarity. It has become clearer where everyone stands. This is a painful process that every movement has to go through. Those who make a hue and cry over the splits and pronounce them as tragic don’t understand the dialectics of the movement. Unity is needed on the Left, but not unprincipled unity that glosses over theory. The workers need to unite on a clean banner, not one filled with a hodgepodge of different ideas.

The bourgeoisie now

After the hammer blow of the 1998 movement, the bourgeoisie could no longer rely on a system based on a monolithic party. The masses have decisively rejected GOLKAR and it is unlikely to ever regain its past glory. So, what we have now is a bourgeois multiparty system, where we have 6-8 parties each gaining between 5-20% of the votes. Not one party holds a majority. The 1998 blow has still left the ruling class fractured, but at the end of the day they all still band together. Immediately after the 2009 election, six parties formed a coalition giving them a majority of 421 seats out of 560.

The Massa Aksi in 1998 had also delivered a huge blow to the bourgeois state. Even though many of its reactionary laws are still in place, the state can no longer openly implement them. The army and the police can no longer be used openly and arbitrarily to crush the movement. However, when the movement becomes a potential threat, the state employs all its machinery to repress it. The attempt of PAPERNAS to run in the 2009 election was one example; the party was not only prevented from participating through electoral regulations but also physically attacked.

The military was still intact. While formally the Dwifungsi ABRI has been dismantled, its real structure, the Military Territorial Command (KODAM, KODIM, KOREM, KORAMIL, BABINSA), is still in place. It is also still dominant in politics. We only need to remind ourselves that the current president of Indonesia is a military man.

However, it would be wrong to think that because the ruling class is fractured into many different parties that it is therefore weak. On the contrary, the forces of New Order are becoming more confident. Now it can impose the dictatorship of capital under the disguise of democracy. They have even gone as far as proposing to grant Soeharto the status of national hero. Such action would not have been possible five or ten years ago.

Indonesia in the global economic crisis

While the economic indicators seem to point to the fact that Indonesia is on a recovery track after being hit by the 2008/2009 global financial crisis, this is built on very shaky ground. The major capitalist countries are experiencing a jobless recovery, and some countries have even entered into a new crisis. Recently Greece plunged into a crisis that shook the world economy despite the hopeful assurances of the bourgeois commentators that the crisis in Greece, albeit a small country, would not affect the global economy. At the beginning of the Greek crisis, the Indonesian government was confident that its economy would not be affected. However, from April 30 to May 24, the IHSG (Jakarta Composite Index) dropped from 2971 to 2514, more than 15% in 3 weeks.

The Greek government has been forced to implement an austerity measure, cutting their budget by 30 billion euros over three years. Workers are being asked to pay for the capitalist crisis. Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, and Britain – which are larger economies than Greece – are in a similar situation. On May 29, Spain followed the step of the Greek government, passing an austerity plan that will cut 15 billion euros spending which includes a pay cut for civil servants. This is on top of the 50 billion euro austerity package announced earlier in January. The new Cameron-Clegg coalition government in Britain, on May 24, after just two weeks in power, took its first steps in attacking the workers by announcing 6 billion pounds of spending cuts. On May 26, the Italian government under Berlusconi unveiled a plan to slash 24.9 billion euros from their state budget, which includes a three-year wage freeze for public sector workers. On May 13, the Portuguese government announced tax increases and spending cuts. All these austerity measures have been met with demonstrations, however none as big as the ones we have been seeing in Greece.

The world economy is slowly emerging from the biggest economic crisis since the 1930s. However, there won’t be a return to “normality”. The crisis marks the end of an epoch; economically it marks the end of a welfare-state epoch and politically it signifies the end of Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” epoch. As the above picture has shown, we are entering the age of austerity. An outright depression from the 2008/2009 recession was averted by an unprecedented bailout, estimated to be in the region of $14 trillion. John Hawksworth, PwC’s head of macroeconomics, explained: “We have been able to survive this major economic shock by throwing money at it. But who is to say in ten years it won’t happen again? So we should be planning to get back into surplus so that we have some money to throw at it [next time].”

The IMF has pointed out that governments around the world have added, on average, a debt load of 20% of GDP and are projected to add another 20% by 2015. The IMF advice to the G20 countries is massive cuts in expenditures to the tune of 8.7% of GDP.

Economically, this will mean that there will be a period of jobless recovery, with lower demand. While Indonesia’s economy is not as reliant on exports as other Asian economies, the prolonged slump in export demand will destroy Indonesia’s home industry. Already the Indonesian government is trying to overcome this lowering of export demand through free trade agreements such as ACFTA (ASEAN-China Free Trade Area) and AIFTA. However, this wishful thinking will be shattered immediately. China and India also have had their export markets cut due to the crisis, as the demand from North America and Europe has fallen, thus they also seek to open new markets for their exports. Being a weaker economy, Indonesia will not be able to compete with the products from China and India.

Capitalism has developed an unsolvable contradiction; on the one hand there is the contradiction between private ownership of the means of production and the collective social character of production itself, and on the other hand there is the contradiction between the nation-state and the international character of the economy. Free trade and protectionism, implemented to varying degrees in different countries depending on the correlation of economic forces of those countries, are the methods that the capitalists use to overcome these contradictions. In extreme cases, they resort to military measures: the two world wars and the numerous “small” wars in the course of last century.

What is needed is the free exchange of the fruits of the people labour’s carried out in the interest of the workers and peasants not for the profitability of private capital, which can only be achieved if the means of production and distribution are expropriated out of the hands of the capitalists and put under the democratic control of the workers and peasants. Socialist countries can then democratically and voluntarily enter into trade with each other not with the purpose of conquering each other’s markets and squeezing profit for private capital, but to fulfil human needs.

The socialists in Indonesia will have to start from the demand against free trade agreements (ACFTA, AIFTA, etc), as this is the natural reaction of the workers and peasants who rightly see such agreements will hurt their livelihoods. However, starting from this “minimum” demand we have to connect it to a socialist perspective, to the question of power. We have to say no to capitalist free trade, and also no to capitalist protectionism. The capitalist regime of SBY cannot be trusted to deal with the current economic crisis, as we have seen how the “Reformasi” government dealt with the 1997/98 economic crisis by auctioning off state properties and increasing exploitation, i.e. by forcing the workers and peasants to pay for the crisis. The only solution is for the Indonesian workers to be in power under a socialist programme, with the creation of the Socialist Federation of South East Asia, reviving Tan Malaka’s demand of United ASLIA (Asia-Australia).

The crisis and mass consciousness

A crisis can have a dampening effect on the mood of the masses, and this is what we are seeing in general now. At the moment, we are not seeing massive worldwide mobilization after the recent recession. This is because the economic cycle and consciousness do not have an automatic proportional relationship. This is similar to the 1929 Great Depression that forced the wider mass of workers to lower their heads instead of mobilising. Only in 1934 did the workers start to move, once there was the beginning of a recovery.

Added to this is the weight of history on the shoulders of the world working class: with the ossification of reformism for a whole generation since the post world-war boom and the fall of the USSR which was accompanied by a capitalist ideological offensive. This has created a whole period filled with confusion and ideological backsliding. Alien ideas penetrated the workers’ movement. Pessimism and cynicism became prevalent with many people deserting the movement altogether, leaving the movement in the hands of reformists and careerists of the Blair type.

During this very difficult period, our international tendency stood firm; maintaining the banner of Marxism and a revolutionary class policy when everyone was abandoning it. Events have proved that we were right. We are now living in a period of turmoil, economically and politically. This period is shaking the consciousness of the working class which was burdened with reformist illusions and pessimism in the past. However, more importantly, it is creating a new generation of a young working class which is completely free from reformist illusions. The new period of austerity will create for the first time in the history of capitalism a new generation of youth who will not have a better living standard than their parents. This will be a new generation which will be raised in a period of turbulence, with wars, revolutions and counterrevolutions unfolding across the world. In Indonesia too, a new generation is emerging, one which has never lived through the period of reaction under Soeharto, one which has witnessed the failure of “Reformasi”, and now the failure of capitalism worldwide.

Economically, in a broad historical sense, the objective situation for socialism has been ripe and mature for some time. However, what is lacking now, and has been lacking, is a revolutionary leadership with a correct idea. The past half century saw the leadership of the movement in the hands of reformists and Stalinists – the latter is actually nothing more than a revolutionary phrase-mongering form of reformism. In the coming period, the leadership of the movement most likely will still be in the hands of the reformists as the forces of Marxism are still too small. However, the masses will learn through experiences and see the blind alley of reformism, and will either force their leaders far to the left or remove these leaders and place new ones in their place. During this period, the ideas of Marxism will start gaining ground. This will be a protracted process – not in months but maybe in years or decades – with leaps and bounds, but the direction is clear. The most advanced layers of workers and youth will find themselves moving towards revolutionary Marxism.

The “progressive national bourgeoisie”

The history of Indonesia (see Appendix “The History of Capitalist Development in Indonesia”) has shown that since the 16th century the social, economic, and political development of the country has been linked to the birth and development of capitalism. It is because of this that Indonesia’s class development has never followed the “classic” class development of the advanced capitalist countries. Even Indonesia’s feudalism was affected by Dutch rule as the colonial rule brought the feudal rulers to their knees and then used them as their local ruling agents, tying them to imperialism.

And what of the national bourgeoisie? The national bourgeoisie came too late on the scene of history in Indonesia, and they were born under the yoke of imperialism, which did not make them more progressive in any way but subservient to imperialism and foreign capital.

It is instructive to see how the nationalist movement in Indonesia was born in the early 20th century. The Indonesian nationalist movement was initially led by intellectuals who rested upon the peasants and the newly emerging proletariat (mainly plantation workers, railway workers, pawnshop clerks). The Indonesian bourgeoisie was non-existent in the nationalist movement from the beginning. The nascent Indonesian bourgeois, i.e. the small merchants and traders, formed Sarekat Dagang Islam (Islamic Commercial Union) in 1911. But its original purpose was to protect the interests of Javanese batik merchants from the increasing competition from the Indies Chinese traders, and not to advance the liberation of the East Indies people from Dutch rule. Within a year this organization caught the popular imagination of poor peasants and workers of Indonesia who flocked to it in the thousands and overwhelmed the merchant base of the organization. In 1912, the SDI dropped its commercial name – and effectively its merchant base – to become Sarekat Islam (Islamic Union), the first mass political movement in Indonesia which became the mass basis for the Indonesian nationalist movement. The only political party that was of any serious significance at that time was the Indonesian Communist Party, who oriented and was rooted within the Sarekat Islam. So, while SI was the mass basis of the first nationalist movement in Indonesia, the PKI was the only party that provided the Indonesian nationalist movement with a coherent political expression.

The demise of SI and the PKI in 1927 opened the stage for bourgeois-nationalist elements to dominate the movement, albeit this being a period of semi-reaction where the nationalist movement was thrown back. However, there was still no bourgeois class in Indonesia. Instead what we had were intellectuals with a bourgeois nationalist ideology but without a strong native bourgeois class to lean on.

The 1945-49 independence struggle reveals again the reactionary character of these bourgeois-nationalist leaders. They were content at having Indonesia under the Dutch crown and the economic rule of the imperialist forces. The programme of 100% independence was betrayed by the likes of Soekarno, Hatta, and Sjahrir, marked by the signing of the Hague Agreement in 1949.

The bourgeois class started to crystallize after the period of sturm und drang of 1945-1949. Born too late, the Indonesian bourgeoisie was too weak to play any role – let alone a progressive role   and when they did play a role, they sided with Soeharto and the foreign capital behind him in the bloody massacre of millions of Indonesians. The PKI paid a heavy price for their wrong two-stage policy, whereby they subordinated the class struggle to the national struggle and thus sought an alliance with the “progressive” national bourgeoisie. The problem is that there was no progressive national bourgeoisie, not even its shadow. This alliance with the bourgeoisie meant the subordination of the working class programme to the interests of the capitalists, postponing the question of workers taking power, and effectively disarming them. When the reactionary generals struck, not one element of this national bourgeoisie rallied to defend the PKI or stop the massacre of the poor workers and peasants.

In the 32 years under the military dictatorship of Soeharto, the Indonesian national bourgeoisie never lifted a finger to defend even a “bourgeois parliamentary” democracy, which is supposed to be the basic classic task of the bourgeoisie. Instead, they were complicit in the dictatorship. Politically they were impotent and the army had to literally run the government. Economically they are tied to foreign capital, and when they do bark against foreign capital it is only to get a bigger slice of the pie from the exploitation of the workers and peasants, not because of any genuine aspiration to liberate the people from the yoke of imperialism as some on the Left would like to think.

To this day we are still waiting for the arrival on the scene of a “progressive national bourgeoisie” in Indonesia. Some on the Left try to find this class in the person of Rizal Ramli, Prabowo, and others who use nationalist rhetoric. It was not long ago that similar hopes were put on the shoulders of Megawati, Amien Rais, and Gus Dur, who later dashed this hope and earned the nickname “false” reformists. However, there is no such thing as a false reformist. These bourgeois reformers are doing exactly what their historical task is: saving capitalism when it is in its gravest danger.

The National Question

The national question is also still a major issue. Historically, the creation of a united nation state has been the task of the bourgeoisie. In Indonesia, the nation state was created through the struggle against Dutch colonialism. However, under the framework of capitalism, the nation state was put under tremendous pressure. The voluntary union of all different nationalities and ethnicities has turned into its opposite: forceful unity for economic exploitation under the slogan of “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika”. Regions outside Java have been stripped of their resources and trillions of Rupiah are transferred to Jakarta, the ruling centre of the capitalist. Poverty is tens of times higher outside Jakarta. In the official figure from 1990, the poverty rate in Jakarta was 1.3% while in NTT it was 45.6%, NTB 27.6%, Papua Barat 12.6%, and so on.[8] Any dissatisfaction is quickly smashed with the might of the bayonet. Not only economic exploitation, we also see cultural and linguistic repression, where hundreds of ethnicities have been forced to assimilate into Indonesian nationalism and their cultures are reduced to tourist attractions and sterile showcases in TMII.

Indonesia has become a prison house of nationalities. The unity of Indonesia is under real threat with the prospect of turning into a new Balkans. The bourgeoisie has failed to maintain the unity of Indonesia. It has failed to fulfil the main task of the bourgeois democratic revolution.

Whatever unity that came out of the struggle against Dutch colonisation has been squandered by capitalism. This is our starting point. In several provinces, the aspiration for national liberation from Indonesia amongst the toiling masses has become a reality, notably in Aceh and Papua. We oppose any kind of oppression against nationalities, cultures, language and religion. We stand in full solidarity with the oppressed nationalities in their struggle to liberate themselves from the Indonesian prison house. Concretely, this means that we defend unconditionally the democratic rights of the oppressed nationalities to self-determination, up to and including the right to separate.

However, we stand clearly for a class policy. This means that it is our task to point out to our brothers and sisters in Aceh and Papua that their true ally in their liberation is the Indonesian working class. The bourgeois class in Aceh and Papua cannot be trusted and relied on to lead the national liberation movement. When the bourgeois leaders of Aceh and Papua talk of independence from Jakarta, they only wish to exploit their own people without the interference from Jakarta, they only want a bigger share of the pie of exploitation.

One way to win over the trust of our oppressed brothers and sisters, to cut across the national question with the class question, is exactly to tell them that we support their right to self-determination, even their right to separate, and that we will fight to form a workers’ government that will give them that full right to self-determination. With this position, we are telling our brothers and sisters that the Indonesian workers have no interest in oppressing them.

The experience of East Timor is a testament to the fact that genuine liberation cannot be achieved under capitalism, and that the genuine liberation of nationalities in Indonesia is tied to the fight. More than 10 years after independence East Timor’s population is amongst the poorest in the world. It has become a source of intrigues between imperialist powers (Australia, Portugal, China, US and others) to access the vast gas and oil reserves and it is facing growing repression by its own “national government”. Without a change of system in Indonesia, liberated provinces will still be under the economic and political domination of Indonesian imperialism. The only way forward is the formation of a voluntary union of the Socialist Federation of Indonesia, as a first step towards the Socialist Federation of South East Asia and the World Socialist Federation.

Socialism the only way forward

The Indonesian bourgeoisie and the nationalists have proven themselves incapable of moving society forward. They couldn’t even complete the classic tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution: agrarian reform, genuine national independence, and democracy. Sixty-five years have passed since the proclamation of Indonesian independence, and none of these tasks have been completed.

The question of land for the peasants is still a pressing problem. The current bourgeoisie, due to its economic position, cannot be expected to carry out a thorough agrarian reform. While in the past the bourgeoisie in the advanced capitalist countries had an interest in putting an end to feudalism, today the Indonesian bourgeoisie are often big landowners themselves.

The task of achieving national independence from the yoke of imperialism is also something that cannot be carried out by the Indonesian bourgeoisie. They are too dependent on foreign capital. Since their birth, they have been happy to be the local busboy of imperialism. Every now and then these bourgeoisie squirm and bark when they feel that they are entitled to a bigger share of the pie, piggybacking on the discontent of the masses in order to use them as a battering ram against their foreign master. Politically impotent, the national bourgeoisie can only lean on the strength of the toiling masses. However, their fear of the rising of the workers and peasants is greater than their aspiration to independence. Once they have gained a concession from their master, they drop their nationalist rhetoric and goals.

On the question of democracy, the historical record of the Indonesian capitalists speaks for itself: 32 years of silence – and even active participation – when basic democratic rights were trampled under Soeharto. Bourgeois democratic rights as seen in advanced capitalist countries are still beyond reach despite the 1998 Reformasi.

It is from here that we define the nature of the coming revolution in Indonesia. The incompleteness of the bourgeois democratic tasks means that the next revolution in Indonesia will have bourgeois democratic characteristics, in the sense that it will have to solve the historical tasks of the bourgeois revolution: agrarian reform, democracy, and national independence from imperialism. The problem is that we do not have a bourgeoisie that can carry out these tasks. The working class is the only class that can therefore carry out this bourgeois democratic revolution. However, the working class, once in power, and in order to carry out these tasks, will proceed directly to the socialist tasks, thus connecting the bourgeois democratic revolution with the socialist revolution.

When we speak of the working class, we mean the social class of wage earners. This is different from the urban poor, an unstable and quite heterogeneous social group prone to social explosions but not capable of becoming the vehicle for the socialist reconstruction of society. Only the working class has this quality, due to its position in production which gives it collective discipline, consciousness, action and organisation which no other class possesses. The working class does not need to be a numerical majority to have a decisive political weight. Even as a minority in Indonesian society it can and must play a leading role in the struggles ahead and become the lever of the socialist revolution. In Russia in 1917 the working class was relatively smaller than in Indonesia today and nevertheless was able to play that role.

In the process of coming to power, the working class will meet resistance from the capitalists – both domestic and foreign. In the course of this struggle, the question of power will be put squarely before them, in the factories and in the state. The bourgeois state is a machinery designed for the rule of the bourgeoisie over the toiling masses, and thus for the toiling masses to be genuinely in power they cannot use the same machinery. Therefore the abolition of the bourgeois state and the creation of a new state – a workers’ state – becomes the order of the day. This is a socialist task.

The bourgeoisie will also use their economic power to resist the workers coming to power. The only way to disarm the bourgeoisie is to expropriate the big capitalists. In addition to that, the wider implementation pro-working class policies (trade union independence, 8-hour day, living wage, pensions, etc) by the new workers’ government will be met with economic sabotage (for example capital flight) by the capitalists. Here, the slogan “factory closed factory occupied” will become concrete. The occupation of factories by workers, the setting up of factory committees, and nationalisation by the new workers’ government will become the order of the day. This is a socialist task.

More important also is the need to create decent jobs for the 20 million Indonesians who are out of work and another 60 million who are forced into the informal sector. This basic task of providing jobs for everyone would require massive economic mobilisation of the whole country, which cannot be achieved without a planned economy under the democratic control of the toiling masses. In this era of finance capital and monopolies, a planned economy can only be achieved with the nationalisation of the banks and the big businesses. This is a socialist task.

The Indonesian proletariat is a minority amongst the toilers in Indonesia. Thus, the workers have to be able to win the other oppressed sectors of society (the poor peasants, fishermen, urban poor, unemployed) to their banner. One way of doing this is to seriously embrace their struggles and explain that the solution to their problems is through the working class programme. The task of creating jobs for the unemployed and urban poor can only be carried out through a nationalised planned economy. Genuine agrarian reform can only be achieved through the nationalisation of the property of the big landowners. Cheap credit can only be granted to poor peasants and fishermen when the banks are nationalised. The nationalised industries will be able to provide cheap tractors, fertilisers, etc for the peasants. In essence, it is the concrete realisation of the slogan: “Workers in power, people will prosper”. To win over the other oppressed sectors of the population, the workers have to provide a determined leadership.

Hence, we see concretely how the bourgeois tasks are connected directly to the socialist tasks. As Lenin said, there is no “artificial Chinese wall” that separates them. The pace and the thoroughness of the flowing over from the bourgeois revolution to the socialist revolution are dictated by two main things: first, the degree of preparedness of the proletariat, moreover the degree of preparedness of its vanguard, of its leadership; second, the prospect of socialist revolution in Southeast Asia and the world. Indonesia by itself does not have a sufficient productive level to be able to build socialism. It needs revolutions in other countries which can then provide mutual economic and technical aid to fulfil the socialist tasks. We cannot build socialism with low productive forces. Like Marx said, “with generalised want, all the old craps will return”. The Indonesian proletarian can make the first breakthrough by carrying out a socialist revolution, which can then spread and burn red the whole region, and even the whole world. A working class which is conscious of this historical task and prepared with a clear programme, this is what we need to build.

The Task Now

The socialist forces around the world are still small and weak, and in Indonesia still very young. However, we are entering a period of convulsions which will open a historical opportunity for us. While there is a sense of urgency to move forward, we should also have a sense of proportion. Our task now is to patiently explain. Serious workers and youth who are looking for a revolutionary alternative will not be satisfied with simple agitational slogans. They want explanations. They want a clear and strong ideology so that they can see through all the confusion.

Our orientation is clear: towards the working class. The 1998 movement has opened up space for the workers’ movement. The next task is to consolidate this gain. The workers need their own independent trade union, one which is free from the state and free from the NGOs as well. The strengthening of the organisation of the workers is the next step, ideologically and organisationally. The 32 years of Soeharto dictatorship have robbed the movement of its traditions, and this is not a small matter. This still has to be overcome.

Trade unions are not the only organisations that the worker needs to build. The workers also need their own political party, with a working class programme and a perspective of taking power. The 40% abstention rate in the 2009 election, an increase from 20% in the 2004 election and 10% in the 1999 election, is a clear indication that the masses have increasingly come to realise that there is nothing fundamentally different between all the current political parties. The boycott of the bourgeois elections has to be transformed into a movement to create a political party based on the workers, peasants and urban poor. Furthermore, this party should be built on the basis of class independence with a clear socialist programme: nationalisation of the main industries under workers' control, land distribution for poor peasants, a just fishing law favourable to the small fishermen, cancellation of the foreign debt, free universal healthcare and education, jobs for all with a living wage, a decent pension for all, and the right to organise and strike.

The trade unions should take the initiative and leadership in building this party and put forward the slogan “Workers' party for the workers”. This workers' party should then embrace the peasants and the urban poor, but never the so-called “progressive” bourgeoisie. The party should not fall into the prejudices of the petty bourgeoisie but maintain a clear workers' leadership. Only through the leadership of the workers can the whole of the oppressed layers of society be freed. This has to be agitated for widely in the workers’ movement.

This perspectives document is a first draft. It provides a general perspective from which our day-to-day tasks will flow. It is incomplete as much as it only gives us the first stepping stone and it will be fleshed out more and more as we start moving forward and putting it into practice.

Our party is destined to play an important role, as long as we stick to our ideas steadfastly and have a sense of proportion. The coming period will open up so many opportunities for us, but we have to keep our head cool and consider the size of our force. We are still struggling to build the first nuclei of our party. We have the best arsenal which is the ideas of Marxism, and we also have history on our side. The future is for the working class to claim.

[1] Justus M. van der Kroef, The Communist Party of Indonesia: Its History, Program, and Tactics (Vancouver: University of British Columbia, 1965) 166-223.

[2] D.N. Aidit, Indonesian Society and the Indonesian Revolution (Jakarta: Yayasan Pembaruan, 1958).

[3] Aidit 49.

[4] Aidit 64.

[5] Aidit 57-58.

[6] Aidit 62.

[7] Aidit 58-59.

[8] Hal Hill, The Indonesian Economy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000) 226.

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