Death of a monster

On January 27, 2008 General Soeharto, former dictator of Indonesia, passed away. This man was responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands of communists in a bloody coup in 1965. Despite these monstrous crimes and his well-documented corruption the old butcher died in his bed, untouched by the law.

On January 27, 2008 General Soeharto, former dictator of Indonesia, passed away. This man was responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands of communists in a bloody coup in 1965. The exact number of deaths may never be known, but it is estimated that between half a million and three million leftists, trade unionists and student and peasant activists were slaughtered.  Despite these monstrous crimes and his well-documented corruption (he embezzled billions of dollars from the Indonesian people, which have yet to be returned) the old butcher died in his bed, untouched by the law.

Ten years ago, he was swept from power by the movement of the masses that brought his bloody 32-year dictatorial rule to an end.

Soeharto was born in 1921, and started his career as an army officer as early as 1940 under the Dutch military. When the Dutch ignominiously surrendered Indonesia into the hands of the Japanese, he became a member of the colonial army created by the Japanese.

After the proclamation of Indonesian independence in 1945, he joined the newly created Indonesian army, and thus served as a career officer in three different armies in a span of a decade. This was absolutely characteristic of this man, who was a cynic with absolutely no principles, ready to serve whichever master paid him better. If the Communist Party of Indonesia (CPI) had taken power, there is no doubt that he would have served the army under their rule instead of being the head of the army responsible for their massacre.

He was proud of his lack of political principles. One of his army colleagues told a journalist that Soeharto said in 1948, "My politics are at the end of the bayonet." Two decades later the people of Indonesia were to discover just how true that statement was.

After Independence Indonesia was ruled by the Bonapartist Soekarno, who tried to balance between the classes to hold onto power. The Indonesian Communist Party (PCI) was the biggest communist party outside the Soviet Bloc. It had three million members, ten million workers in its trade unions and a similar number of peasants. Moreover it claimed the support of forty percent of the armed forces. This was an infinitely stronger position than the Bolsheviks had in 1917. The CP could have easily taken power, but they had the Stalinist theory of revolution through stages. This led them to support the bourgeois Bonapartist Soekarno, a class collaborationist policy in which they were encouraged by Beijing.

The US imperialists were concerned about the strength of the PCI and plotted to destroy it and overthrow Soekarno in a violent coup. They were intriguing with right wing officers in the Indonesian army for this purpose. The PCI leadership knew all about these preparations. Bu instead of denouncing them publicly and organizing a general strike and insurrection, they attempted to solve the problem by assassinating the right wing generals on September 30th. This disastrous tactic failed and the initiative passed to Soeharto and the right wing. They mobilized gangs of fanatical Moslems to attack and slaughter the communists all over the country. Hundreds of thousands of workers and peasants were beheaded or hacked to death in this orgy of fascist violence, while the "civilized world" maintained a discrete silence.


It is now well known that this horrific bloodbath was prepared, organized and actively supported by the CIA. Britain also shamefully supported the massacres in Indonesia. The purpose was to make Indonesia "safe from communism" at a time when the USA was engaged in the Vietnam War. It was also a means of handing over the fabulous riches of Indonesia to the big US mining corporations and transnationals. Soeharto's bloody dictatorship, which banned unions and strikes and murdered labour activists, made Indonesia safe for international Capital. They rewarded him by allowing him to take a slice of the huge profits, which he salted away safely in foreign banks for decades.

For 32 years he placed his boot on the neck of the Indonesian people, with the full support of the hypocritical western "democrats". The New Order (Orde Baru) was often praised by the  "international community" as a model for democracy in Asia. No attention was paid to the sufferings of the people, the complete lack of democracy and the brutal exploitation of the workers and peasants.

However, when capitalism failed in Indonesia during the Asian economic recession in 1997, the international community conveniently blamed Soeharto for his "excesses" in ruling the country. After all these years when they turned a blind eye to his cold-blooded regime, they suddenly discovered "widespread abuse of human rights". That was because they realised that opposition was growing and that their friend in Jakarta had outlived his usefulness. Now that he is dead, they are all lining up again to praise the dictator, saying that "despite his mistakes", he has brought progress to Indonesia.

All this shows the stinking hypocrisy of the imperialists who sing the praises of democracy when it suits their interests and then support the most bloodthirsty dictatorships.

The reaction of the masses

When he was forced to resign in 1998, many couldn't believe that it had actually happened. The masses came onto the streets and everyone joined in an outburst of spontaneous joy. For decade his iron-fist rule seemed to exclude any possibility of him ever losing power; yet as history has shown time and again, when the masses move no despot can cling to power.

But ten years have passed since he was overthrown, and the mood of the masses has changed. The advent of bourgeois democracy has not been accompanied by any visible improvement in the conditions of the masses. In many respects things are worse now than ten years ago. Therefore the feelings of the masses are divided. Some sections are angry that his crimes of massacres and corruption have never been brought to justice. Other people compare the situation now with the situation then. The comparison is not advantageous to the present.

The problem is that the living conditions of the majority have not improved since the New Order regime. If anything, the extent of exploitation has actually increased under the guise of "democracy". That is logical, since for the ruling class, democracy means freedom to exploit. As a consequence, the neo-liberal agenda has been implemented even more rigorously in recent years. All state companies and properties are being privatised. State subsidies are being abolished. No wonder the masses are tired of the current situation and sceptical of what the 1998 "Reform" ("Reformasi") has brought.

Some in the left have rushed to blame the masses as ignorant and blind. It is true that with the passing of time, memories fade. Many young people have no personal experience of the Soeharto dictatorship and do not know how cruel his regime was. And some people who do remember the old regime conclude that it was a time when life was more bearable, rice and tempe were way cheaper.

Anybody with a realistic understanding of the psychology of the masses will understand this. But one thing is the attitude of the masse, and another, quite different, is the attitude of the professional politicians and self-styled democrats.

True nature of "Democracy" revealed

The day Soeharto passed away, many "pro-democracy" elements rushed with indecent haste to pay tribute to the dead dictator. Amongst them was Gus Dur, former President of Indonesia (1999-2001) and one of the three main reformist leaders (Gus Dur, Megawati, and Amien Rais) during the 1998 movement.

This "democrat" said: "Indonesia has lost its most honourable son". He failed to mention the millions of sons and daughters of Indonesia who perished under his regime. Nor is it clear how a man who shamelessly plundered billions of dollars from his country can be considered honourable. In the summer of 1998, just before he was overthrown, he sent nine billion dollars to banks in Austria. His personal fortune was estimated at $16 billion, but this figure does not include the lavish amounts he donated to members of his wife, six children, half-brother and grandsons.

The family of this "honourable son of the nation" were given monopolies that were a license to print money, for which they usually paid nothing. His wife Tien (popularly known as Madam Ten percent) held, through the Bogasari flour mills, the state monopoly of the import and milling of wheat. His son Tommy controlled the clove trade. His daughter Tutut controlled the toll-roads. Another son, Bambang, held the licence for mobile phones. Other family members were given control of TV networks and other key parts of the economy. So all these "honourable sons and daughters" made their fortunes out of Indonesia, while millions lived in poverty.

Suharto with William Cohen
Suharto with U.S. Secretary of Defense
William Cohen, January 14, 1998.

Even more disgusting were the comments made by Megawati, the daughter of Soekarno who was overthrown by Soeharto and kept under house arrest until his death. She "genuinely prayed that the soul of Mr. Soeharto be accepted by god's side". It remains to be seen what Soekarno, who is supposedly also in heaven, will have to say to  the very man who overthrew him and brought havoc to the nation he founded.

Another "hero of democracy", Amien Rais, a man well known for his showmanship and statesmanship, boasted how they "were enemies once, but now it is all water under the bridge" and "we have to have a big heart." Isn't this a prize example of the most repulsive and nauseating hypocrisy? A people that has been raped, robbed, tortured and murdered is asked to forgive and forget. It is supposed to show a "big heart" towards a heartless monster and criminal!

The whimpering of these pro-democracy elements is a testament to the bankruptcy of "democracy" and reformism. They are all singing in chorus: "Let us forgive him for he has done so many good things for our country!" Soeharto himself never asked for forgiveness because he never recognized his crimes against the Indonesian people, much less showed signs of repentance. He died as he had lived: a hardened cynic and an unreconstructed criminal.

These petty-bourgeois and bourgeois reformists have all shown their true colours. In the name of morality, they try to justify their own political and moral bankruptcy. They cry "forgive thine enemy", hoping that by this means they can hide their inability to bring to justice those responsible for the killings and repression of millions of people.

But how can they ever do this? Their interests have never been the same as those of workers. Their interests are linked to those of the imperialists and foreign capital. They are all supporters of capitalism. Bringing to justice the crimes of Soeharto will bring to light the crimes of capitalism, it will incriminate all the other perpetrators (the whole Indonesian ruling class and their foreign masters) and show to the masses the true horrific nature of capitalism.

All this shows the treacherous nature of reformism. It reveals in its crudest form that there is no such thing as a progressive bourgeoisie or petty bourgeoisie in Indonesia. 

A Sobering Perspective for the Left

For the Left the death of Soeharto does not give much to celebrate. Of course, there is a sense of relief that this monster has finally met his death. But any sense of relief is quickly cut short by the reality that the forces of the New Order are still intact. In fact, the New Order elements are becoming more confident since they have regained ground lost in 1998. The current government under Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has even dared to call seven days of national mourning for Soeharto, instructing people to put the national flag at half-mast as a sign of respect. They have even gone as far as proposing to grant Soeharto the status of national hero.

Such actions would not have been possible five or ten years ago. This is a reflection of the fact that the masses are disenchanted with bourgeois democracy, which has not produced any fundamental change in the living condition of the masses. The masses still long for changes but see that the 1998 "Reformasi" has brought nothing to them. To blame the masses and accuse them of not being ready for revolution because a large number of people turned out to mourn for Soeharto shows a complete inability to understand how the masses think and feel. 

This should serve as a moment to reflect on the mistakes of the movement and embolden us to fight for socialist revolution. The tasks of democratic reform cannot be separated from the tasks of socialist revolution. In countries like Indonesia, there cannot be any talk of democratic reform in and of itself. The reformist democrats have shown that they are incapable of fulfilling the mandate of the 1998 "Reformasi", which included bringing Soeharto to justice. Only the workers can carry out these democratic reforms, and along with it the socialist tasks of nationalizing the commanding height of the economy under workers' control and ending poverty and oppresion once and for all.

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