Important development in the Indonesian left - Interview with the Democratic Socialist Association

An important political development has taken place in the left movement in Indonesia with the split of the Democratic Socialist Faction from the PRD (Democratic People's Party) during the first few weeks of November 2000. Although small in numbers (some 22 national leaders and organisers based in the capital Jakarta) the political reasons behind this split relate to fundamental questions of revolutionary socialist strategy for Indonesia.

An important political development has taken place in the left movement in Indonesia with the split of the Democratic Socialist Faction from the PRD (Democratic People's Party) during the first few weeks of November 2000. Although small in numbers (some 22 national leaders and organisers based in the capital Jakarta) the political reasons behind this split relate to fundamental questions of revolutionary socialist strategy for Indonesia: the leading role of the working class, the need for a strong marxist cadre party, work amongst women, opposition to Stalinist bureaucratism and class collaborationism, and the attitude towards the so-called democratic, progressive or "reform minded" bourgeoisie.

The latter has always been, historically and internationally, the touchstone separating reformists and Stalinists from an authentic Marxist policy of class independence. So the political differences raised by this split are more important and have more far reaching consequences for the whole of the left in Indonesia than the actual number of people involved in the split would indicate and this flies in the face of the leadership of the PRD who absurdly deny even the very existence of a split (see Klarifikasi KPP-PRD).

We believe that the conclusions reached by the comrades of the PDS are an important step in the right direction: towards a policy of class independence and the arming of a new generation of activists with the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky.

The PRD leadership maintains it has only expelled 6 of its leaders for not fulfilling the tasks assigned to them by the party congress. This implies that the expulsions are not motivated by political differences, but by organisational issues. Nevertheless the noted presence of important members of the national staff of the radical workers union, FNPBI, (led by PRD member Dita Sari) and also of national leaders of the student organisation, LMND, (also linked to the PRD), as observers at the press conference where the split in the PRD was announced, shows that the political questions raised by the split are of great concern to a wide layer of Party activists. This is even more significant, considering the fact that the PRD leadership had tried in vain to prohibit its members from even being present at the declaration of the split.

The expulsions and later the split of the Democratic Socialist Faction of the PRD will not stop the necessary political discussions inside the party from taking place. What the DSF describes as 'unconscious Stalinist mistakes' of the leadership will inevitably lead to a new crisis and turmoil in the party. The debate on the crucial political questions raised by the split is thus not closed. In reality it has just begun.

Especially if the PRD continuous to react with expulsions and bureaucratic stifling of criticism, the strong Stalinist tendencies in both political strategy and the internal regime will be consolidated. The DSF says that it has always been very careful to use the term 'Stalinism' to describe to current evolution of the party.

We think that the origin of the new crisis in the PRD stems from the contradiction between, on the one hand, the adoption of the strategy of 'uninterrupted revolution by stages' borrowed from the Australian Democratic Socialist Party, which is in reality a left variant of the 'two stage theory' of Stalin, as opposed to the strategy of the 'Permanent Revolution' developed by Leon Trotsky and, on the other, the concrete experience of the activists of the PRD with the practical application of this erroneous concept (see also Jean Duval's article in Pembebasan, August 2000). We are also convinced that many rank and file members of the PRD are not Stalinists, but we think that they underestimate the extent to which Stalinism has mutilated Marxism and how it has penetrated the leadership of their party.

Again it shows the critical importance for Indonesian socialists of studying theory and of being acquainted with the struggle of Lenin and Trotsky against the Stalinist mutilations of Marxism. This study and clarification cannot be postponed any longer among Indonesian activists. Postponing this clarification will put at peril the future of the left movement in this country and will provide the opportunity for the Stalinist-reformist ideas which played such a fatal role in the PKI in the past to come back and penetrate the movement. The study of the reasons for the 1965 massacre and the historical defeat of the strongest Communist Party in the capitalist world is vital for the success of the socialist revolution today.

Because we are convinced that this discussion must be raised throughout the whole of the left movement in Indonesia and internationally we are publishing the following short interview with Mugi one of the leaders of the PDS, the Democratic Socialist Association. We also add the declaration of the PDS dated 14 November 2000, and the statement made by the leadership of the PRD.

What are the political differences behind this split?

"Well, despite the correct decisions of the extraordinary congress of the Party in October 1999 summarised in the slogans 'Build the party' and 'Build the working class', the work of serious party-building, and especially the systematic work among the working class, was neglected by the party leadership who mainly concentrated on the work in leading the urban poor. This attitude goes back to the ultraleft concept that the leadership of the party has, which sees the urban poor (a heterogeneous social grouping encompassing street sellers, beggars, petty criminals as well as small artisans and shopkeepers - note from Jean Duval) as the main vehicle for mass revolt in the cities.

The famous interview with Marlin, one of the leaders of the party, in 1998 (published in the Australian magazine 'Links')is very instructive from this point of view. The urban poor are described in that interview as 'a dry prairie ready to be lit on fire' by the activity of the party. This insurrectionist and spontaneist deviation has continued to dominate the party leadership over the years. Since the July 27 riots, and especially after the Semangi confrontation (the brutally repressed action of students and urban poor against the military in November 1999) the party concluded that the urban poor had a big potential for organisation against the regime. The work amongst the working class has therefore been neglected because it was considered that the workers are 'too slow', that their level of consciousness is 'too low' and that they are mainly concerned with economic struggle. By doing this the PRD tried to escape from reality instead of engaging in the painstaking work of educating and leading the working class. Our criticism on this question is also shared by Dita Sari, the chairperson of the workers' union FNPBI although she did not take party in our faction.

The other significant difference between us and the majority of the party leadership is on our attitude towards the Indonesian President, Gus Dur, and his party, the PKB, based on one of the two main Muslim organisations, Nadlatul Ulama.

Mind you this question is presented by the party leadership as only a tactical one. In reality the majority of the party leadership gives critical support to Gus Dur so long as he struggles against the remnants of Orde Baru, the New Order elements of Suharto's cronies at all levels of Indonesian society. The chairperson of the PRD, Budiman Sudjatmiko, went as far as even publicly claiming that the PRD supported Gus Dur. That was later presented as a 'mistake of Budiman'. But the truth is that the PRD presents him as a progressive bourgeois. We find no proof for this at all, nor of the existence of any progressive wing of the bourgeoisie in Indonesia. Gus Dur is a fake reformist who has failed, and is doomed to fail, to put Suharto on trial, and who has not eliminated the military from politics. Quite the contrary, under Gus Dur the Dual Function of the Armed Forces has been maintained and has even been extended in time. Gus Dur has even promised to pardon Suharto if he was found guilty. Under Gus Dur the remnants of Orde Baru continue to thrive. As it is the intention of Gus Dur to be the 'Guru of the Nation' he maintains that he has to go hand in hand with all the layers of society, even including the bloody military and the remnants of the New Order!

Critical support of Gus Dur even extends to an alliance between Gus Dur and the PKB leadership 'against the remnants of Orde Baru', an alliance consisting of joint mobilisation, actions and seminars. The PKB even offered to give financial support for these activities. The leadership argues that there is no alternative but to defend Gus Dur otherwise the military will take over with the support of Wiranto (former head of the military dismissed by Gus Dur) and Amien Rais (leader of the PAN and former head of Muhammediya, the second largest Muslim group). Another argument given to justify this alliance, which is in reality a policy of class collaboration, is the fact that the party is still very small and that it needs to be protected from the military or other right wing groups. The majority of the party says that nobody except Gus Dur and NU can defend us. This tactic is completely incorrect. Our protection will come from our ability to win the support of the working class. The fate of socialism depends on winning the working class, not on winning support from alien classes. Even after the attack on the FNPBI demonstration in Central Java on the first of May by Banser, the paramilitary wing of the PKB, our leaders believed the arguments of the PKB leaders that this was just the result of problems of co-ordination with the PKB in Central Java. They even believed the chief of Banser when he promised to defend the PRD should it be attacked by the fundamentalist task force, Laskar Jihad.

When in East Java the PKB and PRD agreed on a joint demonstration against the remnants of the New Order, the PKB had promised to mobilise 5000 people. In reality only 500 were present from the PKB, and the PRD had accepted the conditions of the PKB for this demonstration, that was to leave all PRD banners, posters and slogans at home. The PRD has been systematically betrayed by the PKB in this alliance. Worse even was the fact that our party activity became subordinated to this so-called tactical alliance. Moreover, this alliance with the PKB and Gus Dur was preferred to our proposals to agitate for left unity against the government in Indonesia.

Internationally the PRD behaves in an opportunist manner: it asks for support from other forces and institutions abroad to strengthen its organisation by arguing that the PRD need more support than other Parties and also stresses the potential for the revolution in Indonesia compared to other regions. There are also indications that internationally the PRD is aiming to have closer collaboration with undemocratic and Stalinist parties, a policy we clearly reject.

Also on the women's question the PRD has failed to develop systematic work in the direction of women's liberation. We consider the work amongst women as essential for the success of the struggle for socialism."

Jean Duval
November 2000

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