What does Indonesian society look like almost three years after the fall of Suharto?

The Activist – Volume 11, Number 3, February 2001

By Max Lane

[The general line of this report was adopted by the 19th DSP Congress held in Sydney, January 3-7, 2001.]

Some very recent events point to the general picture.

On November 24, almost 100,000 factory workers blocked the streets of the country’s second biggest city, Surabaya, demanding wage increases. A few days later they occupied the government offices of the nearby town of Sidoarjo, virtually taking over the town for a day. At about the same time 20,000 workers in the biggest cigarette company went on strike and demonstrated. There is a non-stop run of strikes all throughout the country. Since the new law allowing trade unions to register easily was passed a few months ago, 38 new national unions have been registered and over 20,000 enterprise unions, at least half of which are considered to have been formed free of employer influence.

Among the tens of millions of semi-proletarian city dwellers, signs of restlessness are everywhere. Protests and demonstrations are a daily event, a part of every day life. Ten per cent official inflation (about 25per cent unofficially) during the last year, on top of 220per cent inflation during the previous two years is economically squeezing the mass of casual workers, causing immense pain.

In the villages too, restlessness is the general phenomenon — intense conflicts between dominant cliques attached to the parliamentary parties combine with social discontent to produce a string of incidents. Politicians houses are burned down; fights break out between parties or between cliques within parties; people demonstrate against price rises.

In some areas, rice farmers are abandoning their fields to seek work elsewhere as International Monetary Fund policies make rice farming an unprofitable enterprise for small farmers. In the sugar industry, which employs 9 million people, mills are closing and cane cutters, warehouse workers and others have also been striking.

Politically everything is also uncertain and restless. On Christmas eve, bombs exploded simultaneously in around 16 towns, all near Christian churches. Seven people were killed. Bomb explosions have been regular in recent months. Efforts to create an atmosphere of instability and uncertainty by forces wishing to see a return of the old regime never let up. Imagine the organisation involved in exploding decent size bombs in 16 towns all on the same day and time! But other factors also underline the uncertainty in the political sphere.

The whole of the state apparatus seems not to be able to find Suharto’s son, Tommy, who has been sentenced to jail for corruption. The case against Suharto himself has been dismissed. The impotence of the government to act against the elements of the old regime colours the whole of the political scene. A former parliamentary head of the Suharto machine. GOLKAR, Marzuki Darusman, is Attorney-General and presides over that non-action department. Jokes about the missing Tommy feature regularly on the front pages of the mass dailies.

Meanwhile, the parliament feuds among itself, unable to agree on anything except that Indonesia must implement the IMF restructuring policies. The only IMF policy that there is real opposition to is that no action should be taken against crony companies trying to avoid paying off their debts.

The factionalism in the parliament is reflected, as I mentioned above, in even worse in-fighting — even armed physical confrontations — between the parliamentary parties at the base level. The national parliament is about to pass laws that will allow provincial governments to directly spend more money at the provincial level and the saliva is gushing down from the pigs mouths and the prospect of new troughs sparkles before them.

Wahid is president, but GOLKAR and the army (TNI) control much of the state apparatus. A constant see-saw of policy change reflects the ever-changing balance of forces between Wahid and the representatives of the old regime, with the balance of forces ever slipping in favour of the old regime.

At the archipelago’s extremities, furthest away from Jakarta, turmoil is even greater. In Aceh an almost revolutionary situation exists. In November, on the anniversary of the 2 million-strong 1999 demonstration, hundreds of thousands of Acehnese rallied in the capital despite a military cordon thrown up around the city. The army even set up a naval blockade to stop people arriving by fishing boats. But still hundreds of thousands made it, but at the cost of many lives and injuries. The popular sentiment for independence remains strong in West Papua and has now been added by armed attacks by Papuans against transmigrants as well as the police. In West Timor, the 100,000 East Timorese hostages have still not been able to return home and their TNI backed kidnappers, the militias remain free.

The TNI is demanding the right to wage all-out war in Aceh and West Papua. So far Wahid is fighting this demand.

Complicating the situation even further is that reactionary elements in Aceh and West Papua currently have the upper hand in the nationalist movements. Examples illustrating social restlessness, political uncertainty, economic decline, and turmoil on the extremities are almost infinite in number.

The society teeters on the brink of deep social, political and economic crisis. While it teeters, things still function in some form or another, The government and public services more or less work. It is even possible for a citizen to live in Jakarta or Surabaya or Medan and not be directly affected by demonstrations and actions.

The ruling class too sees through the façade of stable functioning. In an end of year report, the State Intelligence Agency, BAKIN, predicted "a domestic security picture for 2001 that is extremely stormy". The report stated that "the continued weakness of the economy, with sluggish growth, a volatile exchange rate and rising inflation, would fuel a rise in instability." The agency also advised ministers that crime was set to worsen, and that problems associated with drug abuse would increase, possibly leading to what Bakin termed a "lost generation".

Referring to the changed consciousness among the people, BAKIN stated: "In the era of reform the people perceive a far greater degree of transparency and are making a range of demands. This has occurred as a result of the injustice, abuses of human rights and a system of law that did not work, especially under the New Order government." Strikes and demonstrations are continuing and there has been a change in behavior among the people, so that it has become common to see 'street justice' meted out against perpetrators of crime," the report also stated.

Another phenomenon is the continuing incredible flowering of left-wing publishing. Wahid may have retreated on trying to formally repeal the ban on Marxism-Leninism, but it certainly is not functioning at the moment. Books on Marx, Engels, Mao Tse Tung, Che Guevera and on Lenin, sometimes with an introduction by Budiman Sujatmiko, are in bookshops everywhere. The PRD-backed publication Kiri, with the Indonesian translation of the Communist Manifesto, can also be found in bookshops. Left-wing book publishing has now overtaken religious book publishing.

The country is not yet in full convulsion but the potential for a major political and economic crisis — indeed the potential for a revolutionary crisis — is growing daily.

This is a factor that the revolutionaries of Indonesia, still only found in the PRD, must have in their thinking all the time: that a full blown revolutionary crisis can break out at any time. They work on that assumption. Maybe the struggle will proceed for several decades yet, but perhaps things will explode next week, or next month, or next year. They must operate as if they were in a race against time.

The economic, political and social processes unfolding in Indonesia at the moment are moving the country closer and closer to another explosive political crisis that has the potential to dwarf the political crisis of the Suharto dictatorship that exploded between September 1997 and May 1998. The precise development of this new crisis  - which will be a crisis of rule for the whole of the Indonesian capitalist class - depends on how separate economic and political crisis unfold and intersect. Between September 1997 and May 1998, a severe financial crisis of Indonesian capitalism intersected with an already developed crisis of legitimacy for the rule of the Suharto clique.

What lies on the horizon during this decade is another similar intersection: a further crisis in the growth and stability of Indonesian capitalism and a crisis in the legitimacy of the rule of various segments of the Indonesian political elite, in particular a crisis in the rule of the non-GOLKAR political parties which are formally dominant in the current Indonesian government.

Political crisis

The ground is being laid for a crisis in government. It has become increasingly obvious that the process of overthrowing the Suharto dictatorship did not go sufficiently deep to deliver a death blow to the political ambitions of the old regime of GOLKAR and the TNI. During 2000, they have steadily inched their way forward and are increasingly positioning themselves for a full take back of power. This development sharpens a contradiction between the post-Suharto parties that are in government — the PDI-P headed by Megawati Sukarnoputri and especially Wahid’s National Awakening Party (PKB) — and GOLKAR, the TNI and its allies.

The ability of GOLKAR to begin to reassert itself is based upon a number of factors.

First, GOLKAR retains the support of the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI), including the police. No important GOLKAR official guilty of any offence has been apprehended by the military or police. Second, GOLKAR has the support of all the largest business conglomerates and thus retains a major source of finance. As almost all the print and electronic media is owned by these conglomerates, GOLKAR receives the best press of any party.

Third, GOLKAR retains control of the provincial administrations in at least 60per cent of Java and 40per cent of the rest of the country. With the devolution of more spending autonomy to the provinces, and therefore more opportunities for corruption, this will also boost GOLKAR's coffers.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, it has become clear that GOLKAR has retained, reasonably intact, a social base of support that it developed during the 33 years of Suharto’s rule. This social base of support is made of at least three elements. The first and least stable is the professional classes. The second and more stable is the more wealthy and prosperous middle peasants and land owners, especially outside Java where lucrative export crops are grown.

The third element in GOLKAR’s social base is the biggest and the most stable, at least in a majority of provinces. This is the army of hundreds of thousands of petty bureaucrats that inhabit the state apparatus. During the Suharto period, much emphasis was placed by its opponents on the role of the military, including its political role right down to the village.

A central aspect of this political role was to back up the despotic rule of the army of bureaucrats, who acted and still try to act as virtual petty lords in the provinces, districts and villages. This is a centralised bureaucracy that extends into every village and into every aspect of life. Its resilience as a social force stems from a number of factors.

First, it has centuries of tradition behind it and at least 150 years of institutional continuity in many provinces. Before colonisation by the Dutch, most parts of the archipelago where there was some form of state were ruled by tribute-collecting despots, based on the social formation that Marx described as the Asiatic mode of production. A supreme ruler farmed out the right to collect tribute to a hierarchy of mandarins who administered the territories under his or her control. Extorting tribute became the universal mode of enrichment by the state apparatus.

As the Dutch colonisers gradually spread their administration, they absorbed this hierarchy of tribute collecting despots into their own state apparatus working under a layer of Dutch bureaucrats, many of whom also adopted or adjusted to this tribute extorting mentality.

The Dutch multiplied many fold the number of permits and documents needed by a subject of Dutch rule, thereby also multiplying both opportunities for extortion as well as extending the reach of the local bureaucrat into more and more aspects of the daily life of the citizen, especially in the rural villages. A massive army of extortionists and despots was created.

This particular state apparatus was inherited by the Republic of Indonesia after independence. It did come under attack during the period of revolutionary struggle against the Dutch between 1945-49. In some areas where the mass struggle radicalised quickly, these local despots were deposed by popular uprisings, and often publicly executed. The right wing of the nationalist movement was able to seize the initiative after 1948, following an armed suppression and massacre of the Left, with the result that the new independent Republic took over and absorbed into its apparatus the colonial state apparatus, minus the Dutch.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the despotism of this apparatus was constrained to a certain extent by the growth of the popular left and explosion of mass struggle. But the total defeat, including the physical extermination of the Left in 1965, meant that during the Suharto regime, the army of bureaucrats, the little lords of the provinces, districts and villages, were free to rule as they pleased.

In fact, backed by the force of the army, they became the main instrument of rule for the Suharto dictatorship. They themselves were given uniforms and ranks. The permits and documents, rules and regulations, which citizens were subject to multiplied even further. This included the need for "a letter of clean circumstances" that certified that an individual, as well as the whole of the individuals’ extended family, were free of any connection to the Left before 1965.

Thirty years of extended opportunities for extortion with each letter or permit issued created a substantial material base for this social layer as well. In addition, since the Dutch period, the chief village bureaucrats automatically received village rice land as their own on their appointment to office.

It was not surprising, therefore, that for three months after the overthrow of Suharto in 1998, there were mini revolutions in hundreds of villages throughout Indonesia where village bureaucrats were also deposed. Sometimes they were physically attacked, their houses burned downed or trashed. Localised and without a broader political perspective, these actions petered out after three months. Even so this layer is conscious that, Reformasi Total as demanded by the students and sections of the masses, threatens their very existence. In fact, they also resent even partial reformasi in so far that it has opened up the political space to allow people to organise opposition to the arbitrary rule (i.e. despotism) and extortion that is this layer’s source of wealth.

A majority of this social layer has been absorbed into GOLKAR and gives GOLKAR access right down to the village level. A minority, in specific locations but not as a national phenomenon, has also been absorbed into the PDI-P.

The combination of support from the crony conglomerates, including the press, the TNI and this massive army of despots and extortionists means that GOLKAR remains a potent, counter-revolutionary force.

The weakness of other bourgeois forces

The other factor that advantages GOLKAR (and behind it the TNI) is political weakness, internal division and, ultimately, the conservatism of GOLKAR’s opponents from within the bourgeoisie. These forces are those organised in the political parties such as PDI-P, led by Megawati; PAN, led by Amien Rais; and PKB, supporting Abdurrahman Wahid.

To start with, none of these parties are backed by any of the big conglomerates, although they are all now wooing them. The social base of these parties is primarily provincial-level capitalists and landlords, including some provincial capitalists who have just recently began national operations. The recent or aspiring national level capitalists retain a certain hostility to the crony conglomerates who they see as blocking their development. On the other hand, the parties these new or aspiring capitalists support, need the crony money to play the game of politics as it is played in Jakarta, namely, politicians auction themselves off.

The ultimately provincial character of these parties also means that their popular support base is localised to specific areas. In Indonesia, this often means that these parties concentrate their support in areas which have a specific religious, cultural or ethnic composition and the parties tend to adopt that character as well. This phenomenon works against unity between these parties.

Their ambiguous attitude towards the conglomerates and the divisions among themselves make them a weak opponent to GOLKAR.

There is an additional major factor that weakens their position, namely, their social and political conservatism, although the nature of this conservatism differs among these parties. Representing a section of the urban and rural capitalist class, these parties share many of the same fears of Reformasi Total as does the social forces upon which GOLKAR stands.

Furthermore, in the case of the PDI-P and PAN (as well as the other smaller Moslem parties), they are in competition with GOLKAR in their particular local bases for support from among the same layer of bureaucrats. The combination of these factors is actually producing a situation where the PDI-P and PAN and other Moslem parties are drifting more and more into a situation of alliance with GOLKAR. Although this situation has not totally clarified yet, in the case of the PDI-P it has created outbreaks of dissent and anger at the mass base level in some areas.

The PKB, the party with which President Wahid is associated, is the only one of the significant parliamentary parties that attempts to show some support for liberal democratic ideas. This reflects the dominance (so far) of the Wahid wing of the party, based on intellectuals, youth and religious scholars under his influence.

The contradictions of the PKB liberals are most clearly represented in the stance of Wahid himself. On some key issues relating to democratic rights, Wahid has initially taken clear and strong stands. He called for repeal of the ban on Marxism and Leninism, saying that such ideological suppression was unconstitutional. He supported a referendum for Aceh. He supported, and even financed, the West Papuan People’s Congress. Recently, he instructed the release of detained Papuan leaders. He ordered the disarming of the militias in West Timor and the arrest of Eurico Guiterres. He agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding with UNTAET whereby the Indonesian government would ensure that UNTAET investigators could question suspects in human rights violation cases in Indonesia.

All these stands taken by Wahid were strongly opposed by GOLKAR, the TNI. Amien Rais and sometimes Megawati. With GOLKAR, the TNI, Amien Rais, the rightist Moslems and even Megawati sometimes aligned up against him. Wahid’s only real option for defending his positions against his opponents is to call for shows of popular support. On most of these issues, the student movement, and certainly parties like the PRD, would be willing to help organise joint mobilisations. However, Wahid has always been afraid of mass action, especially ongoing mass action, as a means of political struggle. As a result, he instead resorts to more and more complicated sets of maneuvers, and maneuvers within maneuvers, sometimes even confusing his own supporters.

In the end, he has been forced to retreat on almost every stand he has taken. He has withdrawn support for a referendum on Aceh. He has withdrawn his call for the release of Papuan leaders in West Papua. He has not mentioned the repeal on the ban on Marxism for months. The TNI has refused, with impunity, to submit any of its officers for questioning by UNTAET.

Wahid always looks for new ways to push forward his stance again. For example, in a December visit to Aceh he explicitly and strongly rejected the TNI call for a war against the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), stating on TV that GAM must not be treated as an enemy. But these moves by Wahid are always in the realm of maneuver and are never backed by any sustained campaign of popular support. Given the forces aligned against him, unless he changes strategy, he will lose all the battles relating to a liberal agenda.

GOLKAR comeback

The weaknesses of the PKB, PDIP and PAN should not be read as a sign that there is a popular sentiment to surrender the gains made by the anti-dictatorship movement. As the BAKIN intelligence report confirmed, popular sentiment is still strongly in favour of the eradication of corruption, collusion and nepotism and of bureaucratic despotism. Popular sentiment is still strongly in favour of maintaining the rights to demonstrate and to free speech, as is reflected in the continuing high number of protest actions.

This is also why there is constant grumbling from some sections of the ranks of the PDI-P against the apparent closeness between Megawati and the GOLKAR leadership. In recent weeks also, there have been splits in some towns within the youth organisations supporting Wahid between those, on the one hand, who want action in support of the liberal elements of Wahid’s agenda and who are frustrated with the lack of a campaign against GOLKAR and those, on the other hand, who shy away from any mass campaigns. This frustration among the Moslem youth supporting Wahid has not taken the forms of splits but independent initiatives in some areas. For example, in some towns the youth wing has made public apologies to the PKI for the role of their organisations in the 1965 massacres and have offered to help campaign for justice and compensation. In some cases there are discussions of joint actions between these groups and the PRD.

The non-party aligned student groups, while less active than in 1999, have also still shown that they can mobilise in force, especially around issues associated with Suharto and the New Order, i.e. associated with the immunity of GOLKAR. The most militant clashes between students and the state apparatus have been around the issue of putting Suharto on trial. Any sign of an imminent comeback by GOLKAR would provoke the mass student movement into action again.

A comeback by GOLKAR therefore will face two major problems. First, there is no popular sentiment at all for such a comeback and second, mass action, as reflected in the constant demonstrations and strikes by all sectors of the population, is still seen as a legitimate and indeed powerful form of political activity. This contradiction between GOLKAR’s struggle for a comeback and popular sentiment including militant student sentiment, sets the scene for a major political conflict and crisis. Such a crisis also contains the seeds of a crisis of legitimacy for the non-GOLKAR bourgeois parties in which large sections of the masses still have illusions as alternatives to GOLKAR.

Turmoil in the extremities

In addition to the approaching crisis associated with the comeback of GOLKAR, the Indonesian ruling class faces major problems at its extremities, in Aceh in the west, and West Papua and on Timor island in the east. These are all major issues and need full reports of their own. I will only have time to deal with the essential elements of each.

Developments in all these areas intersect with the course of development of the general political crisis that I have already discussed. By December 2000, the TNI, backed by GOLKAR and some of the rightist Islamic forces, has established a pro-war position on Aceh and West Papua and a position of total non-cooperation with UNTAET on East Timor.

In November 2000, Minister for Politics and Security, General Bambang Susilo Yudotomo raised the possibility of ending any cease-fire with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and embarking on a policy of military action to disarm GAM. Since then senior military figures have repeatedly called on the Wahid government to give the go ahead for a full-scale military campaign against GAM. This has been backed by GOLKAR and other parliamentarians calling for the declaration of a civil emergency in Aceh. As mentioned earlier, Wahid is resisting this call. In December, he visited Aceh and also made a clear public statement that GAM is not to be treated as an enemy and calling for a negotiated solution — but with the precondition of a referendum that includes the option of independence being off the agenda.

In regard to West Papua, the military have not yet explicitly called for an all-out military campaign. But they have boosted their military forces in West Papua, arrested the most prominent leaders, refused to accede to President Wahid’s initial call for them to be released, and made several statements that all calls for independence would be treated as sedition and suppressed. GOLKAR and TNI elements have called for a state of emergency in West Papua as well. Armed actions by both the TNI and various armed Papuan groups have escalated slightly.

In Timor, both the TNI and GOLKAR parliamentarians have rejected a Memorandum of Understanding between the Indonesian government and UNTAET as unconstitutional. It gives UNTAET investigators the right to question Indonesian suspects in human rights cases in East Timor. The East Timorese militias, with the backing of the TNI, remain in control of Atambua and other important border towns. The prospect of armed incursions into East Timor after UNTAET leaves cannot be ruled out if GOLKAR and TNI make a comeback.

On all these issues, GOLKAR and the TNI is pursuing a hard-line, in fact in Aceh and West Papua a pro-war line, in defiance of the official position of the Wahid government. Wahid’s method of defending his position is again restricted to maneuver and avoids any calls for mass support. In this respect, developments in all these areas will also contribute to the sharpening the general political crisis.

Furthermore, to the extent that the GOLKAR and TNI policy wins out, whether formally or in practice, any significant use of violent suppression, let alone launching of a war, will complicate Indonesia’s relationships with the imperialist powers. All the imperialist powers are still hoping for an Indonesian government that can avoid the obvious use of violence as such open violence complicates their own job of selling to the working class in their own countries the proposition of massive bailouts to prop up the Jakarta government.

There are additional challenges for us also in educating the working class and the community in Australia around the questions of Aceh and West Papua. This is because in both cases the leadership of the nationalist or self-determination movements is not at the moment in the hands of liberal democrat bourgeois nationalists (let alone leftists), as was the case in East Timor.

In Aceh the leadership is currently in the hands of a reactionary, feudalist organisation, although urban-based progressive forces are in a good position to challenge this leadership. In West Papua, a selection of GOLKAR cronies, yes men and hired killers seemed to have partially dislodged the Free Papua Movement (OPM) from the central leadership position. The ideological character of the OPM itself is not particularly clear, but at the very least it was an consistent opponent of the Suharto dictatorship and not a part of it.

The character of the leadership of these movements may be irrelevant to our stand on the right to an act of self-determination in Aceh and West Papua, but it is not in the least irrelevant to the struggle for genuine democracy and social justice for the Acehnese and West Papuan people.

In the case of Aceh, in particular, the coming to power of a strong GAM government may actually close up space currently available to the Left for organising and propaganda. In Aceh, where there are identifiable progressive forces, we have a special task of explaining their perspectives in Australia and internationally and otherwise acting in solidarity with them.

One element of the Marxist stand on the right to national self-determination is that by bringing the struggle for self-determination to a successful closure, the way is opened for the class struggle to develop further unhindered by nationalist ideas that cut across class lines. This proposition is based on the assessment that winning national independence will not solve the basic problems which stem from class exploitation of the mass of workers and peasants and therefore there will be the incentive for them to seek other solutions to their problems.

This search for other solutions will not be assisted with the coming to power of a reactionary right-wing government that could possibly violently suppress the left and other democratic forces. The clarification of class questions in Aceh is not necessarily linked to exposing GAM in government but "exposing" the fact that independence does not end capitalist exploitation or the resort to violence by capitalists to defend that exploitation. The Left in Aceh will have to struggle for self-determination and also struggle to defeat GAM.

We will have to be able to explain these issues to people in Australia.

We also need to hark back to our earlier intervention work in the East Timor movement and also be prepared to explain that essential to ending the oppression that exists in Aceh and West Papua and of East Timorese in West Timor, sooner rather than later, is further advances in the struggle for genuine and full democracy in Indonesia itself. In the end, the only guarantee of real peace and justice for the Acehnese and West Papuan people is the total defeat of the forces of the old regime. A full guarantee will, of course, only come with victory for a workers’ and peasants’ government. This argument must be central to our propaganda intervention on these issues.

In this respect, it is important to note that the PRD is the only political party that is calling for a referendum in Aceh that includes the option of independence and that the PRD is the only party that is calling for a process of self-determination in West Papua that also does not exclude independence. Every other political party has made it clear that they oppose any possibility whatsoever for independence. The PRD has emphasised in its recent end-of-year statement for 2000, for example, that the result of any such process of self-determination must be accepted by the government, including if it is independence.

Economic attack

These looming political crisis are unfolding in a situation where the economic life of the whole society is also being brought to the brink of an abyss. This process of economic collapse started, of course, in 1997 with the so-called Asian financial crisis. The devastation done to the Indonesian economy by that crisis was enormous. The collapse of the rupiah from being worth around 2000 rupiah to the US dollar to the current 10,000 to the US dollar immediately bankrupted almost all of the country’s large, mainly crony, corporations as well as virtually the whole banking system, including the central bank. Investment, both foreign and domestic, collapsed. A small revival of foreign investment in 1999 has collapsed again in 2000. Domestic investment in 2000 was only 47per cent of that in 1999.

The Suharto dictatorship, then Habibie and now Wahid, backed by all the political parties, have opted for the so-called IMF bail-out solution. Green Left Weekly has reported regularly on the IMF program in Indonesia: austerity, privatisation and deregulation and its consequences. It is worth just quickly running through some of the statistics.

INFLATION: On average the cost of basic goods has increased 224.16per cent between 1995 and 2000.

RUPIAH: Between 1995 and 2000, the rupiah has weakened by 359.19%

INCOME PER CAPITA in US$ has dropped from US$1,004 to US$596

NEW DEBT AS SOURCE OF GOVERNMENT REVENUES has risen from 11.96% to 35.27%



GOVERNMENT: US$67.315 million

PRIVATE DEBT: US$76.70 million

TOTAL FOREIGN DEBT: US$144,021, more than the total GNP.

COST OF EDUCATION has increased by more than 30%. Twelve million children have dropped out of school. Only 49% of children between the ages of 10-14 are at school.

INFORMAL SECTOR WORKERS: By 1999 these workers reached 64.4% of the total work force.

TOTAL UNEMPLOYMENT: 37.4 million or 39.43% of The work force


In 1996:,there were 7.2 million urban poor. By 1998, there were 5.3 million rural poor. In 1999 there were 31.9 million rural poor, an increase of 24.2% in one year. Many medical costs have increased more than 100%.

All this has happened in a country where one thing in the past seemed stable, even if unjust, namely, the economy. Now no more. And in the most recent agreements signed with the IMF, earlier commitments that key sectors of agriculture — namely, sugar and rice — would be exempt from deregulation have been abandoned. The most recent agreements commit to absolute free trade in rice and sugar. At the same time, these agreements end any subsidised credit for farmers.

The first planting of rice under these new conditions, where farmers are now making a profit of not even 20per cent of the official minimum wage, is just beginning, so it is not clear yet how things will proceed. But there are early warning signs. Their are newspaper reports of farmers abandoning their fields in some villages; of late planting; of reducing the amount of fertiliser being used and so on. Maybe the country will muddle through this harvest with some bail-out announcements or other emergency measures. But the seeds of disaster and chaos in the villages are being sown.

The so-called free market, i.e. the law of the jungle, is being set loose among the 200 million impoverished workers, semi-proletarians, peasants and petty traders of Indonesia in a time of collapsing investment, currency volatility and state imposed austerity. Worsening poverty combines with increasing uncertainty in the lives of the people.

Comrades should note here that the socio-economic plight of the Indonesian people is not set in a agriculturally barren, resource poor or even cash absent country. Indonesia, especially parts of the huge island of Sumatra, and even more so Java and Bali, is an extremely fertile country, with extremely high yields from its soil. Even excluding gas-rich Aceh and mineral-rich West Papua, Indonesia has gold, tin, nickel, coal, and almost every other mineral around, and of course more oil and gas. These minerals mean that there are hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties on mineral exports swishing around Jakarta all the time. And on top of this are billions more that are injected into the economy in the form of foreign loans. Of course, a lot of this money at some point swishes out of Jakarta again back to the US, Europe or Japan. In the end, perhaps more swishes out than swished in. But at any one time, Jakarta is awash with dollars.

The worsening plight of the Indonesian masses therefore takes place, in many respects, in circumstances which sharpen the sense of injustice and frustration. In terms of agricultural produce, mineral wealth, even consumer goods in the shops, and in terms of cash flow, there is not a sense that the country itself is so poor that nothing could be done about the poverty. Yes, it is obvious that Indonesia is a poor, underdeveloped country but there is no sense that it is a so-called hopeless "basket case".

As a result, there is a strong sense developing among the Indonesian masses that somebody must be to blame. They are more and more pointing their fingers at what is now more and more referred to as the "elite politik", which includes the super-wealthy conglomerates, as well as the politicians, generals and bureaucrats.

With such crisis developing both in the political and economic spheres, it is not surprising that so many in the PRD leadership feel the pressure of a race against time. These crisis do open the possibility — never the certainty of course — but a real possibility for the explosion of a fundamental crisis in the ability of the ruling class to continue to rule. In other words, there is an increasing possibility of a revolutionary situation. This haunts the PRD leadership in everything it does.

People’s Democratic Party

The PRD, the only revolutionary organisation in Indonesia is engaged in a race against time. This race is a race to strengthen itself organisationally and ideologically as well as to position itself again as a part of the recognised vanguard of any mass opposition that develops in the next period.

It is very difficult to comprehend what the comrades of the PRD have achieved since a small core of activists launched the party, first as an association in 1994 and then as a party in 1996, especially given that between July 1996 and May 1998 the party and all its associated mass organisations were suppressed.

Based on observations and discussions during the last two months in Indonesia, it seems clear that the PRD now has bases of some kind or another in at least 100 towns and cities, in all provinces except Papua. These most developed bases are fully fledged and commissioned branches where the branch can carry out all functions of the party’s activities as well as sustain cadre to work full-time in building trade unions, peasant unions, the student union and so on.

The next level are those towns where there is sufficient cadre to sustain full-time organising at the mass base, such as trade union building, but not enough cadre to sustain full-timers to carry out all aspects of party building work. The branch executive, to use our term, may comprise just a chairperson and secretary apart from cadre heading up organising in various base sectors. In these cases, these branches (known as caretaker branches) will draw upon the cadre resources of the nearest full branch. The least developed bases are collectives or working groups, where organising is at its earliest stages.

The process of building up these structures is dynamic and fluctuating. Comrades report that the situations in different branches move up and down. Full branches can fall back to caretaker level, or even lower, even while other full branches are strengthened. All the problems of party building that we are familiar with are manifested in Indonesia as well, but under harsher, more tumultuous and more financially deprived circumstances.

Overall, the PRD operation in the field is now very sizeable, involving scores of full-timers, hundreds of members, several hundreds more of candidate members, more still of sympathisers and then tens of thousands under the influence of the party through the mass organisations.

The mass organisations, that is FNPBI, STN, GPK, LMND and JAKKER, represent both an essential strength as well as an extra strain on the whole party operation. In the current period, uncentralised social struggle, often around economic, local or other limited demands, is the key characteristic of political life. These sectoral organisations are essential for growth and recruitment. It is only the most advanced students, workers and peasants — still a tiny minority  - who are attracted directly to the party. The party can still only mobilise small numbers in its own name, compared to thousands or even tens of thousands in a strike or other similar action.

At the same time, however, this work is a big strain. Building FNPBI, for example, means building a new trade union from scratch in a non-unionised work force, where there is still little legitimacy for unions and where employers can still often just ignore even legally registered unions, or deploy thugs against the union, without any hindrance from the state.

This must also be done in cooperation with conservative, i.e. class collaborationist trade unions receiving large amounts of money from overseas social democratic trade unions. It also means taking full responsibility for all the nitty gritty for running a trade union. Think of how many discussions we have in our party branches when comrades working in a union, or some other area, taken on what is considered too much administrative union work. How much more of a problem is this when you have total responsibility for the whole of the union and you are building it from scratch. This means there are constant and lively discussions of priorities, especially in periods when the whole party needs to carry out major centralised campaigns.

PRD’s party building work

The literary work of the party also continues to advance. Call to the Workers, a 32-page A4 monthly publication of the FNPBI, is now very regular and well distributed among worker activists. Call to the Village, a publication of the peasants union is also increasingly regular, and also is published by email. The theoretical journal Left, a more recent publication carrying overt Marxist-Leninist material, and not formally published by the PRD, is now also appearing regularly, including in key bookshops and in more and more provincial towns.

Local branches also publish their own newsletters and bulletins. The party’s own publication, Pembebasan, continues to be published regularly, but not as frequently as the PRD would like. There is strong desire to make a leap forward with Pembebasan. The growing geographical and sectoral spread of the PRD makes a central organ more and more urgent. The main constraint now is financial. ASIET has launched a campaign to help raise some funds to help launch Pembebasan as a fortnightly tabloid publication.

Financial constraints are a major problem for the PRD at the moment. The economic crisis is hitting its own support base — workers and peasants and students — hardest. This is reflected in many areas of its activities. Hard hit is the national offices ability to communicate with the 100 party branches or sub-branches. Telephone communication is too expensive. Mail is also expensive, not to mention slow and insecure. Email is not too expensive at the national office end, but many smaller branches cannot afford either computers or subscriptions to internet servers. Many smaller branches also find it hard to pay for regular access through an internet café. The centre can often lose contact with a branch for extended periods.

Full-timers are mostly not paid. In some offices, there is kitty money for food. In the field, full-time organisers often rely in the generosity of workers or peasants for food or a place on the floor to sleep. The 26 national office full-timers sleep on the floor of the office.

The question of levels of commitment and norms, especially of full-timers, was the most important factor in the recent split by a small number of PRD leaders and some 15 or so members to form the PDS. With a few exceptions, most of these people had not been active under party co-ordination for some time.

While the question of full-timers and norms was not raised in their public documents it was a key aspect of the documents they circulated briefly within the party before they left. Their criticisms of the PRD have not found any significant base of support among the PRD membership and have only attracted sympathy from various small semi-anarchist and other anti-party circles.

It is likely that the PDS will exist as one of half a dozen or so other new "democratic socialist" grouplets, that have sprung up in the last six to 12 months. Many of these appear to have some patronage from elements in the liberal establishment. In the case of the PDS, some of its key figures are connected to the journal Kritik, which has appeared three times during the last 12 months and which has a sponsors board, including publishing capitalist and high profile liberal figure, Goenawan Mohammed as well as academic Dr Arief Budiman. Kritik publishes a mixture of liberal and radical articles, including some translations of the more theoretical articles from Links. None of these grouplets have shown any capacity to sustain a major organising effort at the mass base level, i.e. among workers and peasants, which is essential for any party to have a real political life in Indonesia.

Preparing to seize the initiative

The political framework for PRD’s campaign work is reflected in its general slogan for the last period: "Smash the remnants of the New Order, leave behind the fake reformers".

This has involved two spheres of political action. One has been participation in a range of actions, usually organised by ad hoc coalitions, either aimed directly against GOLKAR or in support of specific demands relating to putting Suharto on trial. Sometimes the coalitions have been with various of the non-party student groups, other times it has been with forces associated with the National Awakening Party (PKB) or Nahdatul Ulama, particularly the youth. The PRD has been able to maintain a dialogue with the PKB leadership as well as develop good links with local PKB youth bases in some towns.

The second sphere has the been actions, often initiated by the FNPBI, against policies associated with the neo-liberal offensive being implemented by the Wahid government in association with the IMF. Such actions include that organised through the Anti-Debt Coalition and early in 2000, the May Day demonstration and the demonstrations against the fuel price rise. At another level, all the actions initiated by PRD-associated organisations around economic demands bring the movement into direct contradiction with the Wahid government, as well as the other parties represented in the parliament, all of whom support these policies.

During 2000, however, in one respect the PRD has been working under more difficult conditions than during the 1996-1999 period. The final end of the mass anti-dictatorship movement after the 1999 elections took away the main platform from which the PRD reached out to the people on a mass, national level. While figures like Budiman and Dita Sari are still regularly quoted in Indonesian newspapers, the profile of the PRD in the mass media has dwindled considerably compared to the period between 1996 and 1999.

This is not helped, of course, by the fact the media is dominated by conglomerate capital. The PRD’s political interventions are now more localised or channeled through the mass organisations. At the same time, it is also clear that the popularity and credibility as committed strugglers for democracy that the PRD won during the earlier period has not disappeared. This is reflected in the fact that there has been very little drop-off in invitations for Budiman or Dita to speak at public meetings, seminars and so on. It is also reflected in the fact that the PKB leadership, at both national and local levels, still wish to maintain a dialogue with the PRD.

At the forefront of the PRD’s thinking about political work in 2001 is the question of how to build on the work done in both spheres of activity — anti-GOLKAR and sectoral campaigns — to launch a process of bringing together the various strands in the political and social struggles that occurred during 2000 and that are still continuing.

One aspect of this has been to reformulate the general slogan: "Smash the remnants of the New Order, leave behind the fake reformers" In the end of year report issued by the PRD, this has been reformulated as: "Smash the remnants of the New Order for Total Reformation! Not supporting the smashing of the remnants of the New Order = fake reformer = enemy of the people". This formulation, and its variants, both links the struggle against the Golkar-TNI comeback with the all the demands of the 1998 movement, such as abolition of the political role of the military, the trial of Suharto and the abolition of corruption. It also challenges the non-GOLKAR parties to join a serious campaign against the GOLKAR comeback.

To give substance to such a slogan, the PRD is planning an attempt to bring together all the various alliances that it has established in both spheres of activity during 2000, at the national but especially at the sectoral and local levels. The first successful step has been made in this direction with the formation of the National Assembly Campaign (KRN). It has gathered 75 mass organisations, including supporters of Wahid and other elements of the liberal bourgeoisie, behind the general slogan of smashing the forces of the old order and its supporters.

The PRD aims to try to win all these groups, whether local PKB or PDI-P youth, or other trade union, peasant, cultural or student groups, to a plan to organise nationally coordinated, mass meetings to discuss ways of fighting the GOLKAR comeback and of finding a way out of the social and economic crisis.

Coordinated with these mass meetings would be actions to GOLKAR offices, TNI headquarters and the parliaments. They would start at town level and try to snowball to larger cities.

This is a complex and ambitious project. It will also involve discussions with these other groups regarding a minimum common platform, which has yet to be finalised. This initiative may be immediately effective in bringing together the various strands in the movement or perhaps it will be the start of a longer, slower process. In any case it will be an important, even qualitative, expansion of the armory if the mass movement in Indonesia.

Street actions

The movement that the PRD began with its emphasis on aksi, i.e. street protest actions, developed an emphasis on agitation for immediate protests around very specific demands. Open mass meetings to discuss politics in greater depth, to discuss out analysis and future campaigns will be a new and important activity. It will also increase the need for a regular, central party organ discussing the full range of issues facing the masses and their struggle.

While the PRD is the only revolutionary party in Indonesia, PRD members are not the only revolutionaries. There are still many people, perhaps thousands or tens of thousands even, who support revolution but are not active in a revolutionary party. These comprise thousands of former members who were involved in the revolutionary movement before 1965, in the PKI, other left parties, or revolutionary mass organisations.

Most of these comrades are over 60 years of age and have spent 10-20 years in prison, or otherwise isolated from society during their most productive years. Not all of these people have retained a left-wing or radical perspective.

There are some groups of PKI members who have adopted a very conservative approach and even hostile to the radicalism of the PRD as likely to provoke general repression from the ruling class. There are factions claiming the authority of the PKI, some working publicly, others underground. These are often sympathetic to the PRD but still harbour fantasies that the old party can be revived. Many still live in the 1960s and, for example, voted for the PDI-P in the vain hope that Megawati had some of her father’s left-wing politics. They are now turning to the PRD.

The best elements of the revolutionary tradition from the PKI have had a visible concrete manifestation in two ways. The earliest was the emergence of the publishing company, Hastra Mitra, or Hands of Friendship. This was formed in 1981 by three leading left intellectuals, including the writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer, and the journalist Yoeseof Isak. They published the revolutionary novels of Pramoedya, which had a massive impact on politicising youth in the 1980s and which restored intellectual continuity with Indonesia’s revolutionary traditions. Of course, Suharto banned the books and harassed Hasta Mitra.

The second manifestation has flowered since the fall of Suharto and is embodied in the Indonesian Institute for the Study of the 1965-66 Massacre. Led by Sulami, the inspiring 79 year old PKI member and former Deputy chair of the massive Indonesian Women’s Movement, teams of 60-year-old PKI members and some more youthful supporters have been established in more than 100 towns. These people are working to uncover the mass graves of the anti-Communist massacres of 1965-66 and collect other evidence that can be used for a campaign to put Suharto and other GOLKAR and TNI leaders on trial. Like Pramoedya, Sulami also identifies publicly with the PRD.

We will find ways to give more exposure to Hasta Mitra and the 1965/66 Massacre Institute through Green Left and ASIET.

Our tasks

The continuing sharpening of social, economic and political contradictions in Indonesia guarantees deepening crisis. War, repression, ruling class initiated terrorism, increasing social unrest and social explosions will all be features of the coming period. All these developments do point to a situation where the ruling class’s ability to rule is being undermined. The possibility of the revolutionary forces making leaps forward cannot be ruled out during the next period. The PRD has shown great skill so far in adopting the correct tactics to take the movement forward.

The report on Australian Imperialism in the Asia Pacific earlier in this Congress outlined the Australian ruling class’s concern with the "arc of instability" that stretches from Aceh, through the Indonesian archipelago and into the South Pacific. The Indonesian archipelago, where more than 220 million people live and which once hosted the biggest communist party in the world outside the USSR and PRC, is the most unstable part of this arc of instability.

At the moment in the Australian press there is considerable editorial comment, reflecting opinion amongst at least some of the ruling class here, that the Australian government must lobby the Wahid government to resume a more conciliatory approach in relation to West Papuan pro-independence sentiment.

The West Papuan issue illustrates the contradiction that faces the Australian ruling class. They fear an East Timor-style war against the West Papuan people which will eventually result in public pressure in Australia for another Interfet style intervention. But the only political force in Indonesia willing to defy GOLKAR and the TNI and to be genuinely conciliatory with the West Papuan people, i.e. which will not rule out at the start independence, is the PRD. But, of course, the Australian ruling class can never support the PRD given the PRD’s total opposition to capitalist rule.

But the DSP can and should continue to prioritise solidarity with the revolutionary movement in the Indonesian archipelago. Solidarity with the revolutionary movement in Indonesia must also be a central component of our solidarity with the movements for self-determination in Aceh and West Papua and our solidarity with the East Timorese people in their struggle for the return of the refugees in West Timor and for a secure border. Only the final defeat of the social forces represented by GOLKAR, the TNI and the other parties aligned to GOLKAR and the TNI (which includes the PDI-P) can guarantee a free future for the whole people of the archipelago.

We must continue to use all our key tools, vehicles and forums, in particular Green Left Weekly, our web sites, ASIET, UACT and IWD, as well as activities such as exposure tours to extend and strengthen solidarity with the PRD and all the mass organisations associated with it. The campaign we have ahead of us is essentially a campaign of education, networking and reach-out. The stance and the work of the PRD must become even more well known among the progressive movement in Australia. The FNPBI must become recognised by Australian unionists as the most militant Indonesian union. The fund-an-organiser campaign can be a key method to do this. LMND and JAKER should become the most well-known organisations among students and artists respectively.

Information, analysis and education about the Indonesian revolution will be a permanent activity by and within our party. For this we need more DSP members who can speak, read and translate Indonesian. Comrades thinking of going to university should all be opting to take Indonesian language as a subject. Those who have started this should keep it up and let me know as soon as they think they can take on some translation work. Don’t wait to be asked — contact me.

We must campaign within the ferment around M1 and among the radicalising youth for solidarity with PRD’s stand against the neo-liberal economic war launched by the IMF, and implemented by the Wahid government and the all-party parliament, against the Indonesian people. We must help recruit people to attend the Asia Pacific Peoples Solidarity Conference Against Neo-Liberalism in June and join the exposure tours that follow the conference. By July this year we will have what looks like will be a powerful John Pilger film exposing the role of the IMF and the World Bank in Indonesia, and featuring Dita Sari and activists from the FNPBI as well as from the National Peasants Union.

One important measure of our reach-out work will be how well our fundraising campaign to help them launch Pembebasan succeeds.

Gathering support

The PRD’s stand in support of the right of self-determination in West Papua and Aceh and its solidarity with East Timor and the Socialist Party of Timor (PST) must be taken into the milieu here who are interested in these matters. The need for a final victory against the forces of dictatorship in Indonesia must be a message that we take into campaigns here that are in solidarity with the West Papuan, Acehnese and East Timorese people. We also have extra work to do now to explain more the role and activities of the progressive organisations in these areas. We are in a good position to do that now with the Acehnese comrades and, of course, the PST. We need to do more work to find out the full picture regarding the political spectrum in West Papua.

Of course, in all this, we cannot let our own ruling class off the hook. Since the fall of Suharto, the Australian ruling class has been pinning its hopes on, and justifying its policies by reference to, the return of democracy in Indonesia. "Military ties can be resumed now that Suharto and the dictatorship have gone" is their refrain. Our answer must be that while Suharto has gone and while the New Order forces suffered a major setback, they have not yet been fully defeated. They are murdering, torturing and brutalising even now in Aceh, West Papua and the refugee camps of West Timor. They are calling for all out war in Aceh and West Papua. They are the ones organising the thugs and bullies to attack protesting workers. They are the ones who have arrested FNPBI and PRD workers in Surabaya. They are behind the recent Christmas eve bombings. They feel free to stir up the communal resentments in Ambon. They are gathering all their strength to make a comeback.

So we must continue campaigning against military ties between Canberra and Jakarta as part of our campaign in support of self-determination and democracy throughout the archipelago.

The Australian government, as part of its alliance with Jakarta during the Suharto dictatorship, won the right to 50per cent of royalties from oil coming out of a huge area of the Timor Gap on the East Timorese side of the proper border between East Timor and Australia. It is now trying to keep this blood money in negotiations with UNTAET. We must continue our campaign against this and we are proposing a national day of activity in February demanding that Australia give up all such rights. In this we will try to coordinate as much as possible with the PST.

This report reaffirms our decision to collaborate as much as possible with the PST. The political spectrum in East Timor continues to crystallise and the PST’s position as the vanguard of organised, progressive political forces in East Timor continues to be validated. The political spectrum appears to be crystallising into three general blocks.

First, there is an openly pro-capitalist coalition of well-to-do families, bureaucrats and technocrats centred around Jose Ramos Horta, Mario Carrascalao and the fledgling Social Democratic Party, which includes mini-Hortas, such as former Sydney-based Agio Perreira. This block has money, access to the emerging state apparatus and good international connections with both international financial institutions, foreign governments as well as both European Christian Democrats as well as Social Democrats.

Second, there is FRETILIN, which sits in the middle of the spectrum, still holding a powerful claim to historical leadership and with substantial family connections, but little clarity of vision or program. It has little money and is mainly connected to the Australian Labour Party and the Portuguese Communist Party.

Third, there is the PST, the newest and smallest political formation, but with an articulate and dynamic leadership and an enthusiastic support base, especially in its village bases, but also among a growing layer of youth in Dili.

It is clearest in what kind of society it wants, one based on cooperation and respecting modern democratic values. Comrades who went with latest ASIET work brigade to East Timor report that there was more rebuilding happening in the PST villages that they visited than in the areas where all the UN dollars are concentrated. A new film by Jill Hickson will be an important propaganda tool for us in this regard. Floating above these three blocks, balancing each block off against the other, often in close collaboration with the PST, but espousing an ever changing and ambiguous political outlook, is Xanana Gusmao.

So there is a lot to do, comrades. It is going to be an exciting and challenging time in relation to this work. It is a different kind of work, perhaps, that during the period of mass public anger against the Australian government policy on East Timor. It a period now of search, contact and convince. We can take our perspective on international solidarity with the Indonesian revolution into every area of our work. We must search out every single individual that it is interested and convince them to become involved. This is a kind of hunting and gathering operation, but with the prospect of gathering genuinely radicalising people and in the process strengthening our authority as the only political force in Australia seriously relating to these developments.

The Indonesian archipelago may be part of an "arc of instability" for the Australian ruling class, but for us it is an arch of potential revolution. Our task is to build solidarity with the movements throughout the archipelago and do all we can to thwart the ruling class here from effectively backing the Indonesian ruling class in their war against the people of the archipelago.

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