A Specter is Haunting Indonesia – The Specter of Marxism

The Indonesian ruling class thought they had destroyed Marxism forever when they brutally suppressed the Communist Party of Indonesia in 1965. However, people and organizations are born and die, come and go, but ideas cannot be killed. Just ten years after the overthrow of the Suharto regime and the promise of democracy and prosperity, not much has changed in Indonesia - except that the workers and youth are searching for ideas that can lead to a fundamental transformation of society, the ideas of Marxism.

Yes indeed, the specter of Marxism is back, haunting the old decrepit ruling class in Indonesia: the oligarchy, the bourgeoisie, and their state. The ideas of Marx and Engels are being revived once again from a deep slumber. 42 years after the horrendous defeat of the Indonesian communist movement in 1965, and with it any kind of mass movement, the working class is once again awakened.

What was then thought to be impossible was done in 1998 when the people overthrew the Suharto regime. Although the movement didn't amount to any systematic social change due to the absence of a revolutionary party, the Indonesian working class has gained the most important lesson, they have learned that they are capable of transforming society. 32 years under the most repressive of regimes under Suharto and his capitalist cronies has deprived the working class of any political experience. Now, they are learning the lessons again.

Prior to 1965, the consciousness of the Indonesian working class was one of the most advanced in the South East Asian region. The Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) was the third largest communist party after the Soviet Union and China. The objective conditions were there for the people to take power and carry out the socialist revolution.

However, as Marxists, we know that there is another aspect that is just as crucial as the objective situation, and that is the subjective factor, the revolutionary leadership. And this was precisely what was lacking. The PKI leadership was plagued by the Stalinist theory of two stages; for them, socialist revolution was not in the order of the day.

In 1951, D.N. Aidit, the Secretary General of the PKI said that what had to be established

"...is a united front of all anti-imperialist and anti-feudal forces in the country. That is to say, the working class, the peasantry, the petit-bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie. The task of this alliance is to bring about not socialist but democratic reforms." (D.N. Aidit, The Road to Peoples' Democracy in Indonesia, p 94.)

In 1961 he also declared,

"Our class struggle takes the form of a national struggle. The basic principle which we must stand by in pursuing the national struggle is that the class struggle is placed below the national struggle." (Ever Forward to Storm Imperialism and Feudalism, Jakarta, 1961 pp 19-20)

The treacherous leadership of the PKI basically said that the working class must seize power and then hand it to the national bourgeoisie so that the capitalist stage of development could be completed. The leadership's devotion to the national bourgeoisie was so unwavering that they allowed millions of their members and sympathizers be slaugthered by Suharto's army, literally destroying their own mass base. The PKI and the mass movement were crushed, the masses were demoralized and what followed was 32 years of reaction under the military rule of Suharto.


During these 32 years, Suharto and his capitalist backers did all they could to suppress any mass movement through military rule and the systematic brainwashing of the mass of the people. Indonesian history was rewritten to fit the agenda of the ruling class. The role of the communist movement in the national liberation struggle of Indonesia was erased. The fact that many of Indonesia's national heroes: Tan Malaka, Sutan Syahrir, Sukarno, and many others were influenced by Marxist ideas was also taken out the history. Communism was made taboo; every year, a state-made documentary was played to instill in the minds of the people that communism was a latent danger to society, that a communist was nothing more than a blood-thirsty, God-hating person.

A law was enacted in 1966 to outlaw Communist and Marxist tendencies in all forms and this law is still in effect, even after the 1998 reforms. As a matter of fact, one year after the 1998 student movement that toppled the Suharto regime, something which promised long overdue democratic reforms, another law was passed outlawing Marxism. This law even goes so far as to persecute those who have any sort of connection to any Marxist-Leninist/Communist organization - a crime that carries a 15-year prison sentence.

Terror, kidnapping, "disappearances", and assassinations were the methods of choice to silence those who are considered a danger to the state. In all practicality, the ruling class has done a perfect job in stifling the masses and the ideas of Marx and Engels. However, one simple thing that capitalism cannot do is provide the people with decent living conditions. No matter how much lip service the capitalist philistines and moralists have paid to the concept of equality and prosperity for all, the very existence of capitalism presupposes inequality. There must be a large group of people who possess nothing but their labor power and thus are forced to sell their labor power to the highest bidder; and on other side there are the highest bidders, i.e. the small privileged group of capitalists who practically own everything.

Necessity expresses itself through accident. An economic crisis hit Asia in 1997, exposing the mounting contradictions that were created through the decades of plunder under Suharto. With the poor being hit the hardest by the crisis, the Indonesian masses moved. Lead first by the students, they toppled the Suharto regime in 1998.

The events of 1998 ushered certain concessions for the Indonesian working class, mostly in the form of democratic political reforms. Where once access to the political arena was only a privilege of three political parties, there are now dozens of political parties, although most are dominated by opportunists who simply want their share of state power. Numerous trade unions and grassroots organizations also sprang up. Newspapers are filled with articles which criticize the government, an act which could have led to imprisonment back in the old days.

On these concessions, the reformist leaders, echoing the words of the ruling class, speak of the wonders of Western democracy, i.e. bourgeois democracy. They speak of the wonders of the free market, which supposedly inherently brings about economic prosperity and political freedom to the masses. They speak of the rule of law, bourgeois law that is.

However, these reformists seem to forget, probably out of malice, that these concessions are forced upon the ruling class by the masses that are tired of the inability of the present system to take society forward. And when these concessions start threatening the interest of the ruling class, or in the words of the government, when they begin to threaten foreign investment, economic development, and the sanctity of the state, they can be easily overturned.

In September 2004, the foremost human rights activist in Indonesia, Munir, was poisoned with arsenic on his flight to Amsterdam. While evidence indicates the role of the government in the assassination, aside from the pilot, Pollycarpus, who was made the fall guy, no one has been brought to justice.

In many ways, this murder comes as no surprise. Munir's activities in various human rights campaigns had become intolerable to the ruling class, as he had exposed time and time again the rottenness of the present government, showing unreservedly that the present government was no different from the old government under Suharto. This revelation was dangerous because the masses could reach the conclusion that no matter how many times the government is changed or reformed, under capitalism the people can only expect repression and exploitation. Munir's human rights campaign had shown, as his own murder would prove, the repressive nature of capitalism.

Role of Islamic fundamentalists

Unable to openly use the state apparatus to stifle dissent, the ruling class has resorted to Islamic fundamentalist and an anti-communist mob mentality to sow fear. These numerous mob organizations, backed by the army and the police, have been instrumental in breaking up rallies, demonstrations, strikes, and public events.

On December 12, 2006, a public event in Surabaya, East Java, in commemoration of Human Rights Day, where a documentary dealing with the massacre of Indonesian communists in 1965-66 was to be screened, was violently disrupted by the Indonesian Anti-Communist Front (FAKI, Front Anti Komunis Indonesia). Two days later, similar anti-communist mobs under the name of the Alliance of Anti-Communist Masses (PERMAK, Persatuan Masyarakat Anti Komunis) and Youth of Military Veterans (PPM, Pemuda Panca Marga), disbanded a Marxist discussion event in Bandung, West Java.

Weeks later on January 17, 2007, the same anti-communist mobs FAKI, attacked the first congress of the preparatory committee of a newly formed left party PAPERNAS (National Liberation Party of Unity) in Yogyakarta.

PAPERNAS was the result of a merger of the PRD (People's Democratic Party), who played a significant role in overthrowing Suharto, and many other grassroots labor, student, and peasant organizations. In the same month, the regional conference of PAPERNAS in East Java was also attacked by hundreds of thugs under the banner of Islam. More recently, on March 29, a declaration of PAPERNAS in Jakarta was violently prevented by hundreds of these thugs who accused PAPERNAS of being a Communist Party, re-enacting the period of communist witch-hunting in 1965/66.

This string of events, which is just the tip of the iceberg, is by no means accidental. These mob attacks were clearly organized and represent the reaction of the ruling class against the specter of communism, which does pose a real threat to their interest. These types of reactions of the ruling class are nothing new to the Indonesians who have suffered centuries of capitalist oppression under multiple disguises; first in the form of Dutch colonialism, followed briefly by British and Japanese imperialism and then secondly, under the "new order" era under the US-backed Suharto regime; and this continued of course today, under the cloak of the "reform era".

Indonesian workers and youth are rising up once again

However, oppressed Indonesians, like many other oppressed people around the world, are rising up against their oppressors. Workers, peasants, and students are organizing throughout the country. Discussions and meetings, in big halls, backyards, front porches, coffee shop, over the Internet, practically everywhere, are taking place as the Indonesian youth are searching for ideas, for ways of changing their society.

Many of the early organizations that succeeded in toppling Suharto have since disintegrated due to the absence of an united revolutionary program; some succumbed to reformism, some were disillusioned with the direction of the movement. However, the failure to affect any systematic change after the fall of Suharto serves as a whip for the youth to equip themselves with strong perspectives and ideas.

In the past 10 years, many classic Marxist works have been translated into Indonesian, many of which have been published into books; for example, in the past 3 years, three volumes of Das Kapital were translated and published into books by small grassroots publishers. In addition to that, numerous books and documentaries on the history of the Indonesian Communist Party, its formation and its demise, have been released.

Clearly, the ideas of Marxism appeal not only to students but also to workers, because Marxism is able, in the clearest language, to explain the problems of capitalism and the road that lies ahead for the emancipation of workers. For this reason, the Indonesian ruling class and its foreign counterparts are trembling, as evidenced by their violent and rabid campaigns against Marxism and Communism.

The ruling class thought they had buried Marxism in 1965 when they disbanded the PKI; they thought that by massacring millions of communists and their sympathizers that the ideas of Marxism would never rise again. However, one thing they have yet to learn is that the rottenness of capitalism is fertile ground for Marxist ideas, and as long as there are beggars on the street, the ghost of Marxism will always haunt Indonesia.

The task of the present generation is to equip themselves with the lessons of history, to learn from the history the grave failure of Stalinism as embodied in the fall of the PKI in 1965 and that of the Soviet Union in 1991, to learn from history the treacherous nature of reformism, to rearm themselves with the methods and traditions of genuine Marxism, and to give a physical body to the specter of Marxism by building a revolutionary Marxist organization.

As Ernest Everhard said: "Lost for this time. But not forever! We have learned many things. Tomorrow the cause will arise once more, stronger in wisdom and in discipline."

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