The Mass Upsurge in Indonesia and East Timor and Its Implications for Australian Politics

The Activist - Volume 9, Number 2, 1999

By Max Lane

[The general line of this report was adopted by the 18th Congress of the DSP, held in Sydney, January 5-10, 1999.]

Comrades, the basic proposal of this report is that the DSP substantially increase its efforts in the area of solidarity with the Indonesian revolution and East Timorese national liberation struggle. The key proposals of this report in this regard are:

1. That we increase the street profile and campaigning authority of Resistance around the issues of solidarity with Indonesian and East Timorese students and that the Resistance national leadership takes more responsibility for thinking out, planning and implementing such actions. As a part of this proposal, the National Executive is proposing that Resistance organise a National Day of Solidarity with the Students of Indonesia and East Timor one a day during the week, May 15-20, and this NDA be a full tendency mobilisation.

2. That we increase media, street action and other protests forms against specific actions by the Australian government and business in relation to their ties with the Indonesian regime.

3. That we extend the networking activities of ASIET on a sectoral basis, including organising networking and/or campaigning tours of Australia of PRD members or supporters representing the women's movement, the gay and lesbian rights movement, the trade union and labour sector, the student sector, the legal aid and human rights sector, the disappeared sector and the Chines-Indonesian minority rights movement. To finance this ASIET will need to organise these tours in co-operation with Australian based sectoral groups. This will need to be complimented by ASIET publishing information sheets or dossiers on a wider range of "social justice" issues and Green Left also publishing more material of this nature.

4. That we launch new initiatives to consolidate the profile of the PRD, through the Stands with a Fist video and a new booklet of PRD documents and analysis.

5. That we launch new initiatives to focus attention on the role of the Indonesian military and Australian political and military support for the Indonesian ruling class; joint activities with East Timorese, Burmese, Turks and Kurds on the issue of "militarisation"; relaunching the ASIET book on Australian military ties with an updated supplement insert and publication of George Aditjondro's booklet on Australian-Indonesian business links.

6. That we prepare for an internal party educational campaign on issues of the Indonesian revolution.

Changes in Indonesia and East Timor

Suharto has gone but the regime remains. But the regime now faces enormous mass discontent and a reawakened student movement. The vanguard role of Indonesian students must be met be a heightened response by Resistance and politically-conscious students in Australia. This is our challenge.

It is worth looking at the vanguard role of Indonesian students in recent months and the challenges that Indonesian revolutionaries face in regard to that movement.

During December 1997 and January 1998, students began protesting in a string of provincial universities, starting in Lampung and Solo. Often mobilising students from the less prestigious campuses, militant student committees moved into confrontation with the Armed Forces which had issued instructions for the students not to take the protests outside the campuses.

The rapid spread of student protests right around the country, in at least 22 cities, and the consistent use of the "long march"-off-campus tactic meant that stories of army attacks on students spread rapidly throughout the country. Many of the military attacks on students at this time took place off campus and in front of witnesses from the urban poor populations. There are many stories of housewives and others helping injured students or crying hysterically as they shouted against the brutality of the military. The image of the students as suffering at the hands of the military because they were fighting for the people was strengthened many fold.

During this period, too, there were more riots as well as protest actions against police stations and other government offices. As the economic crisis deepened tensions at the grass roots were increasing greatly. In January, there were numerous attacks on supermarkets in several cities throughout the country. Attacks on grain warehouses and other food centres also broke out here and there. In February, thousands of street peddlers mobilised in Bandung. There were anti-police actions in several Javanese towns. There were public transport strikes in numerous cities in Java as well as in Lampung as the prices of spare parts rocketed.

The regime began to panic. On the one hand, army chief Wiranto made his pathetic offer for dialogue with the students hoping they would end the long march tactic. A campaign began, perhaps launched by Prabowo, to try to capture the underground PRD leaders. More than 20 activists were kidnapped and interrogated about the whereabouts of PRD underground leaders. The panic reached its climax when soldiers shot students dead on Trisakti campus in a last ditch attempt at intimidation.

After the Trisakti shootings, followed by the price rises and riots, the student movement leapt forward in its level of organisation. Forum Kota (FORKOT -- City Forum), a cross-campus activist coalition was formed uniting activists from 14 campuses. And mobilisations were planned for May 19 or 20 at the parliament building. Similar preparations began in other cities.

Once it became clear that the May 19-20 mobilisations would go ahead, the regime's cohesion started to break down as the whole New Order Establishment sought a way to prevent a further escalation, a further increase in the level of organisation of the students, and any real independent mass mobilisations.

MPR Speaker Harmoko panicked and started to call for Suharto to step down. Army officials started to hint that a voluntary and dignified step-down might be the right thing for Suharto. Islamic intellectual Nurcholis Madjid called for Reformasi to be led by Suharto himself. Abdurahman Wahid, ever afraid of an independent mass movement, turned up at the presidential palace, lending his authority to Suharto's manoeuvres. Amien Rais went on TV to urge people not to mobilise. Megawati Sukarnoputri remained silent, afraid that any comment by her might be interpreted by her supporters as a call to action.

The whole of the New Order establishment, in and out of power, moved to bring the mobilisations to an end and to prevent the prolongation of the student movement. Any prolongation, at such high levels of mobilisation, posed the threat of the emergence of an independent-mass-action-based political power.

In the end, even Suharto realised this danger too and resigned. His resignation did end -- for a while at least -- the huge wave of mobilisations.

It should be noted here that it was not only the key political figures of the New Order establishment that were afraid of the prolongation of the mass actions. A major debate took place within FORKOT on May 14 as to whether the students movement should call on the general population to join the May 19-20 mobilisation. A vote was finally taken on this question and those arguing for a students-only mobilisation won the vote by a small margin. PRD students from Universitas Indonesia and two other campuses had led the move, but lost the vote. The majority of students had felt that calling on the urban population to join in would lead to rioting. The PRD and other students had argued that the urban poor would come out on the streets anyway. Riots were more likely, they argued, if there were no clear political direction.

Grass-roots power after May

Large-scale mobilisations ceased after May until the MPR session in November. However, small and medium-scale protest actions, involving both students and grass-roots social sectors multiplied enormously in Jakarta, in provincial cities and towns and even is some villages. Even at these lower levels, they continued to frighten the establishment. In June, Minister of Defence and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces General Wiranto threatened to take action against the "aksi reformasi yang marak" (the multiplying reformation actions) which, he said, "were tending to challenge anything and everything". Troops continued to be mobilised against some actions with several workers being killed. Rightist pseudo-Muslim groups have also been deployed behind campaigns accusing the student movement, especially FORKOT and the PRD, of being "communist".

As the November MPR session approached, the generals mobilised large numbers of troops in Jakarta. They also took measures to establish the Pam Swarkasa contingents armed with sharpened bamboo sticks. The military commanders took the position that the MPR session itself was under threat and that they would do all they could to safeguard it.

The November mobilisations differed from May 19-21 in the following ways:

1. The political demands were more advanced. In May, the students had demanded the resignation of Suharto and the holding of a special session of the MPR. In November, they again demanded the resignation of the Suharto, but this time rejected the MPR outright and called for a provisional government to be formed.

2. In May, the students still held illusions in military figures like as General Wiranto and focused their anger on figures such as Prabowo. In November, the students were demanding the immediate ending of any political role for the Armed Forces at all. Several Islamic student organisations who took a more moderate line on the special session of the MPR also took a position of opposing outright the political role of the Armed Forces.

3. In May, no non-student masses were mobilised in Jakarta until at the very end, after Suharto had resigned. The medium-sized contingents of workers and semi-proletarian urban poor that had come to the MPR on May 19-20 were refused entry by the students leadership. In November, hundreds of thousands of non-students from the urban poor neighbourhoods of Jakarta joined the students, often clashing physically with the military and the Pam Swakarsa. These masses also showed their support for the same political demands as the students.

4. Outside Jakarta, student-masses protests started to target military bases, including in Solo a KOPASSUS training centre, as well as radio and TV stations as well as parliament buildings.

The November events showed that the resignation of Suharto had bought only a brief respite for the regime. The more militant and more radical November mobilisations took place even though Suharto had been removed and the so-called official "Era Reformasi" ushered in. In fact, a process of radicalisation had taken place on a mass scale.

It was also clear in November that only the regime's policy of using force to prevent an occupation of the MPR prevented a full scale governmental crisis. Without the use of force to prevent an occupation during the MPR session, the MPR would have been occupied by a huge mass of students and Jakarta poor.

The limitations the grass-roots mass movement

But the regime was able to prevent the occupation of the MPR, at the cost of 12 dead and scores injured. The use of rubber bullets to disperse the crowds at Semanggi and Gatot Subroto did fuel greater anger among people on the next day, so that there were bigger mobilisations on November 14, which did reach the MPR building. Later that evening the huge crowd outside the MPR building voluntarily dispersed.

What were the limitations of this grass-roots mass movement at that moment and up until the now?

The crucial factor is that the mass-action process that has developed in Indonesia since 1989, starting with the Kedung Ombo protests, has still not yet made the leap to become an independent political movement with its own organisational forms and leadership. The movement, essentially still led by ad hoc student action committees, does not pose itself as a potential source of political leadership. It does not see itself and is not yet seen as an alternative to the other possible political leaderships active in Indonesian politics. In the context of opposition to the current government, this fact means that the logic of the political dynamics of the situation is for the student movement, despite its mass support and radicalisation, to act merely as a source of pressure on the dissident elements of the New Order establishment: represented by Amien Rais, Megawati and Abdurahman Wahid.

The dynamic of the events of November 11-14 had the potential to lead to mass occupation of the MPR or a mass encirclement of the MPR, reinforced by similar events in other cities, which could have legitimised a demand by the so-called Ciganjur Four for Habibie to resign and hand over power to them. But none of these New Order fringe dwellers wanted to come to power at the hands of the mass movement.

The question of the suppression of mass-mobilisation politics remains central to the political agenda at the moment. In recent weeks, we have seen Abdurahman Wahid call for national reconciliation and attack the Habibie regime for having no political sense. According to Wahid, mistakes by the regime were increasing the danger of a "social revolution". Echoing Wiranto's June speech that the reformasi actions were tending to oppose everything and anything, Wahid defined a social revolution as when the masses would oppose everything.

At almost the same time, the Gajah Mada University authorities called a national dialogue of 78 or 80 political parties. One of the key outcomes of this gathering was a statement that the election campaign next year should not involve mass mobilisations. Parties should rely on campaigning through the media.

Abdurahman Wahid's statements, the UGM meeting and the regime's own stand against the use of street politics all reflect the continuing recognition that the danger from mass opposition is not yet over.

The basis for mass mobilisation

In this regard it is worth restating the basic reasons for the development of the depth of discontent that has been behind both the student and other mass mobilisations.

Issues of nepotism, corruption and collusion, NKK as they are known in Indonesia, have received wide media coverage in recent years and knowledge of them has been incorporated into popular culture. NKK has been a key cause of the popular discontent. These issues have been especially important among better-paid white-collar workers and middle-class professionals. The NKK issue has also concentrated hatred on the Suharto-crony-military complex among the poor and exploited classes of society.

But there is another factor impacting in these classes as well. Namely, their actual conditions of life in both the economic and socio-political fields. A graphic description of the situation of the urban poor is provided in an interview with a central leader of the PRD, which shifted many of its organisers to Jakarta urban poor neighbourhoods after the May elections. The presence of hundreds of thousands of the urban poor on the streets of Jakarta last November underlines strongly that those conditions still exist.

In fact, the impact of the developing global economic crisis on Indonesia is likely to worsen these conditions. Neither are conditions likely to improve in the country's sprawling factory areas nor in the villages, where there have been protest actions against village administrations as well as attacks on food storage buildings. There have been more reports of such events just in the last few days.

So, firstly, the basic material causes of deep social discontent remain, including the pervasive presence of the territorial military structure. Secondly, the students, workers, and the petty-bourgeoisie have new and inspiring experiences of political mobilisations.

Thirdly, while carried out by a still relatively small force in the PRD, there is continuing propaganda within the student movement arguing for turning the mass movement into a fully-fledged independent political movement with its own organisation, leadership and strategy. In some cities, such as Lampung, Palu, Menado and Solo, these ideas have already started to gain ground. In this context, there is now a campaign for the formation of "people's councils" formed by uniting local action committees in specific areas as an alternative source of political leadership to the New Order loyal opposition and as a potential source of alternative power.

The elections and negotiation of a new power-sharing arrangement

The call for "reconciliation" by Abdurahman Wahid included the stipulation that discussions about how to avoid a social revolution include representatives of the regime and the military. Indeed he has also insisted that ex-president Suharto be involved. A negotiated new arrangement for power-sharing among the political institutions and leaders of the New Order is the preferred option for figures such as Wahid. . It is also significant that none of the so-called major new parties are calling for the release of the jailed leaders of the PRD before the new parliamentary elections. Budiman Sujatmiko, Dita Sari and six others are still in jail. Let's not forget this.

Suppression of mass grass-roots mobilising for the elections is also necessary to ensure that the issues on the agenda for the elections remains restricted. All the New Order participants have similar stances on a range of major issues:

Š1. Retention of the dwifungsi for the foreseeable future and recognition of ABRI as a legitimate political force. Retention of the ABRI territorial structure.

2. Support for the economic and social policies represented by the IMF-Suharto package signed in February.

3. A negotiated settlement with the crony corporations, i.e., no proposals for permanent nationalisation.

4. An ambiguous stance on East Timor, either regarding actual policy or timing of changes.

The only issue of apparent contention is on the question of the fate of Suharto. But even here, there is no real evidence of any of the New Order forces attempting to apply real pressure on the issue of bringing Suharto to trial. Even as early as June, Megawati had urged forgiveness for Suharto. Amien Rais's deadlines come and go with boring predictability. In any case, the regime has already made the necessary formal promises that reduce the differences between its stance and that of the loyal opposition. In December 1998, Abdurrahman Wahid even called for Suharto to be involved in his proposed national dialogue, amounting to a virtual rehabilitation of the ex-dictator.

If there are no fundamental policy differences on issues related to the causes of mass discontent between the major players, the real thing being decided at such elections is simply the power-sharing arrangement for administering a socio-political system which in the experience of the mass of people will hardly be different.

But mass actions are continuing. The events of the last two years, the defeats for the government in May at the hands of the student movement, the inspiring experiences of May and November, the on-going work of radical organisations, and the worsening material conditions of the masses all mean that it is unlikely that the struggle between parliamentary and extra-parliamentary dynamics will end soon. Those wishing only to rearrange the power structures of the New Order state and those forces that want to democratise society will be in increasing conflict.

In this conflict, two factors will play a determining role. Firstly, whether the effectiveness of mass organisation at the grass-roots level increases and whether it extends substantially beyond the students. Secondly, whether the argument is won inside the student movement on the question of the need for a mass movement with an alternative strategy and program to that of the New Order loyal opposition.

This also means that the PRD must make ground in convincing the student movement to throw itself into organising among other sectors of the population. We can help boost this by our sectoral solidarity work.

East Timor

A feature of the last several months also has been emerging vanguard role of the student movement in East Timor, led by the East Timorese Student Solidarity Council. The student movement in East Timor adds a new factor, a new player, in the resistance movement, showing increasing impatience with the slow pace of diplomatic developments and the constant talk of long-term autonomy under Indonesian sovereignty.

This makes this year an even more important time for building Australian student solidarity jointly with the Indonesian and East Timorese students.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian ruling class is trying to buy as much time as possible by offering to provide a level of autonomy in East Timor which they claim goes a long way towards self-government. It appears that agreement is about to be reached between Portugal, Indonesia and the UN on an autonomy plan. This will be a major challenge for the East Timorese resistance movement as a whole. If the petty-bourgeois nationalist leaders of this movement endorse such a plan, it is likely to provoke the student movement in East Timor into greater activity.

Responses of US ruling class

The United States ruling class has followed a policy of supporting the Habibie government, but using the IMF to exercise maximum influence on the regime's economic policies. The Habibie government is still implementing a package of restructuring policies that was agreed to between Suharto and the IMF last February. This is an extraordinary agreement which binds the Indonesian government to incredibly precise and specific policies in all areas of the economy.

In addition, the US Embassy in Jakarta is maintaining close dialogue with all elements in the loyal opposition, with senior diplomats attending many opposition functions. In this respect, US imperialism's policy in Indonesia is best illustrated by the example of South Korea. From Washington's interests, it is best to have a former popular opposition leader in charge during a time of severe recession and restructuring. It is easier for such figures to intensify repression than for already unpopular and isolated regimes. This is also the policy urged by US Vice-President Al Gore in Malaysia in the form of a strong policy of support for pro-IMF, but currently popular, former deputy PM Anwar Ibrahim.


Response of the Australian government

The Australian government seems less sure about this tactic of using the popular illusions in opposition figures as a framework for repression. Unlike the US rulers, both Howard and Downer have repeatedly gone out of their way to make statements defending Habibie against criticism. In Malaysia at the APEC summit, Howard stated that "Habibie had achieved more than he was being giver credit for". Alexander Downer has echoed such sentiments, both generally and in relation to Habibie's manoeuvres on East Timor.

Howard and Downer are going along with the Habibie regime on East Timor while doing the minimum necessary to defuse unhappy Australian public opinion. The Australian government won agreement from the Indonesian Armed Forces, their preferred institution, for a defence attache to visit East Timor to ask the Indonesian military about troops numbers -- with no meaningful result. Downer also went through the motions of trying to have some investigations into the death of Australian journalists in 1975 in East Timor itself, but this was rejected. Downer immediately accepted the rejection.

Downer is also seeking ways to maximise the legitimacy and credibility of the Habibie regime and any new regime that flows from it. The Australian government has offered the services of the Australian Electoral Commission to help administer this year's general election in Indonesia.

At the same time, there is significant evidence that sections of the Australian government see figures such as army chief General Wiranto as the preferred long-term option. Downer has said so openly to a gathering of European diplomats. A number of Canberra-based Australian academics are also busy prettying up Wiranto's image and no doubt are selling this image to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs. This department is reported to have a high level of contempt for most of the loyal opposition figures and sees ABRI as the only reliable institution -- reliable in being able to guarantee stability.

We should not underestimate the ability of the Australian government to change horses if they deem it necessary. They will do it in less than a second.

Shift by ALP

It is not entirely clear, but there seems to be some more complicated manoeuvres taking place within the ALP on the Indonesia and East Timor question. Almost immediately after the Australian general election last year, new ALP foreign affairs spokesperson Laurie Brereton issued a statement that Australian foreign policy should not tie itself to the defence of the Suharto regime. The ALP conference also adopted new formulations on the East Timorese diplomatic negotiations which left open an interpretation that the ALP supported self-determination. Despite initial despicable unanimous votes against resolutions on Indonesian and East Timorese political prisoners by ALP senators, the ALP eventually reached agreement with Greens senator Bob Brown on a resolution calling for Xanana Gusmao to be freed and voted for it in the Senate.

Most recently, Brereton's office has successfully pushed for a Senate inquiry into Australian policy on East Timor with very wide-ranging terms of reference, including looking at the historical record.

In November, Comrade Wilson from the PRD and I had a long meeting with Brereton's special advisor on Indonesia and East Timor, Dr Philip Dorling, a professional scholar of Australian-Indonesian diplomatic history. It appears that he and Brereton have now twice visited Jakarta to meet with Megawati and Abdurrahman Wahid. Dorling's analysis of Indonesian politics is that the country is facing a period of maximum instability. He used the example of Russia under Yeltsin, with governments changing all the time, as a comparison. He indicated that "the Australian national interest", to use his words, would be best defended by a foreign policy that was extremely flexible and able to relate to all forces. He was also of the view that the Australian government's intervention into this arena would be best served by a better image which might be achieved by withdrawing from all but the most minimal -- care and maintenance, he described it -- relationship with the Indonesian military.

He also held the view that the current and further impending political instability and the increase in mass protest activity in East Timor may mean that East Timor may be independent sooner rather than later. In this regard, he was also concerned that the Australian government's image needed to be repaired if were to be able to defend Australian oil interests in any negotiations with a new East Timorese government.

Repackaging Australian foreign policy so as to be on good terms with the next regime in Indonesia and East Timor lies at the heart of Dorling and Brereton's vision. "Good relations" remains crucial for Australian imperialism. As a small imperialist power, Australia does not have the economic or political clout to compete with the USA, the European Union and Japan for its share of the Indonesian economic cake without good friends on the inside.

This ALP's Senate inquiry into East Timor has been set up to be a vehicle whereby the ALP can repackage its image. The report back date for the inquiry is October this year, and even that deadline is not fixed in concrete. The inquiry's report is not intended to impact on current developments but to ready the ALP for next year, as the political situation in Indonesia becomes clearer. It is a work-in-progress mechanism for Brereton as he tries to fine-tune how to strike up the best relationship with the next bunch of pro-capitalist rulers in Indonesia.

What is not clear is how shared this orientation is in the ALP. There are persistent rumours that Kim Beazely shares the outlook of his old ministry in the Keating government, i.e. the Department of Defence. At the time of the student demonstrations in Jakarta in November, he recommended the South Korean model of a police force capable of suppressing student demonstrations with baton and water cannon rather than bullets. There are rumours that Beazley and Gareth Evans want to see Cheryl Kernot take over Brereton's portfolio. Evans certainly thinks Brereton is a fool and most likely still holds official Department of Foreign Affairs views.

Brereton may be gambling that Dorling's analysis will turn out to be true and that this will secure his position against any Beazley-backed rivals.

In any case, whatever Brereton's motives, initiatives like the Senate inquiry provide openings for us to expose both the Coalition and the ALP, as well as raise out politics again. ASIET should make a submission to the inquiry and publish it as a pamphlet. We will keep a close eye on the inquiry's schedule so that demonstrations can be organised whenever representatives of the Australian ruling class -- Whitlam, Evans, Hawke, BHP and so on -- appear. ASIET should attempt to facilitate real representatives of the East Timorese and Indonesian movements to appear before the inquiry and, more importantly, the bourgeois media.

The party, Resistance, and ASIET must be ready to respond to every little twist and turn by the Australian government and the ALP as they try to relate to the new developments. Our job is to trip them up as they make these twists and turns, and to profile more ASIET, Resistance, the DSP and the PRD in this process.

Responses among liberals

The fall of Suharto, the huge mass mobilisations, and the rise of the student movements in Indonesia and East Timor have had only a minor impact among the middle-class liberal milieu of aid agencies, academics and human rights non-government agencies. This layer of people has always been sceptical of the power of mass action and they are uninspired by the recent developments in Indonesia. However, the increased openings for activities within Indonesia by non-government aid agencies that do not threaten the status quo may provide some new openings too for the Australian aid agencies.

In March this year, there will be a major international conference on the future of democracy in Indonesia. The conference will be held in Jakarta. It is being organised by an organisation called INFID, which comprises all the mainstream non-threatening NGOs in Indonesia and their overseas funders. This includes the Australian Council For Overseas Aid (ACFOA), with the main pillars being Community Aid Abroad and the ACFOA Human Rights Office. This conference may provide a platform for such groups to increase their profile and their advocacy of community welfare organising and human rights lobbying as the best strategy for change. ASIET should attempt to participate in this conference. The PRD is also attempting to participate. Much will depend on how assertive we are and how reliable allies various Filipino NGOs are who are key organisers of the conference. Hopefully, the comrades of the SPP can also become involved in this process.

Another opening that flows from the greater political space now available in Indonesia has been the holding of another Asia Pacific NGO conference to form ANDI, the Asian Network for Democracy. This was organised last July and Comrade James Balowski attended, representing ASIET. It was initiated by Bangkok-based NGOs which have a moderately more left-wing or, at least, more open approach to left politics. Their main partner in Indonesia was the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute, which is also a very open organisation. ANDI is less well-funded than INFID and may have a harder struggle to develop as an effective network of left-leaning NGOs. ASIET must be involved in both these networks.

The main publication of the aid agency and liberal academic milieu is Inside Indonesia, published in Melbourne and under the control of ACFOA bureaucrat Pat Walsh and "Indonesia expert" Gerry van Klinken. This magazine has celebrated the fall of Suharto, but it has been very mealy mouthed about the mass movement. It is a rather insipid celebration, not of the vigour, courage and militancy of the student movement and the urban poor, but of the resilience of an abstract "civil society". The logic of their approach is to accept a combination of Megawati, Amien Rais and Abdurrahman Wahid and the NGOs as the stable voice of Indonesian "civil society". They scoff at talk of a mass-action strategy and think only of the possibility of gradual change under the shadow of an-all powerful army.

They are not only influenced by their general rejection of the power of mass action, but also motivated by their commitment to a lifestyle of constant travel back and forth to Indonesia without risk to their projects and linkages with the regime.

ŠInside Indonesia does not have to be the only regular magazine reporting on Indonesia and East Timor. Based on the already well-developed email information services that ASIET has developed, the reportage of Green Left and the new PRD email information service, ASIET could also produce a quarterly magazine of Indonesia and East Timor solidarity.

The new prominence in the reformasi era of a range of new human rights issues, such as the disappearances of activists, the rape of Chinese-Indonesian women, the killing of students, the charging of treason against a number of ex-generals in the last few weeks, have all increased activity on Indonesia by the traditional civil liberties groups such as Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists. Amnesty will be launching a new campaign on Indonesia next year. The ICJ is sending lawyers to a new round of political trials in Indonesia and has also expressed interest in the disappearances cases in Indonesia. In this respect, Comrade Karen Fletcher has joined the ICJ and may act as an observer for it at an upcoming trial. ASIET may be able to act as a key organiser of a delegation from the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute to Australia this year.

Trade unions

There is no doubt also that the fall of Suharto and the new situation in Indonesia is adding extra impetus to shifts and twists and turns in official trade union attitudes and policies towards the Indonesian labour movement. These shifts and twists and turns have actually been long in the making. Our own campaigns, for example against the previous ACTU support for the Suharto regime's yellow union and for Dita Sari's freedom, have also had a major impact. In particular, the international campaign for Dita Sari's release has made her case internationally legitimate.

There are a number of factors at work that flow directly from the fall of Suharto. The Habibie regime, under both domestic and international pressure, has dropped its formal policy of recognising only one trade union organisation. The regime has registered the so-called union of Mochtar Pakpahan and several other small independent trade unions. Some sections of the official yellow trade union have declared their autonomy from the official centre, although it is unclear if there is any change in the character of their pro-employer activities.

All the same, this specific change in policy by the regime increases the legitimacy of all trade unions and labour rights groups in Indonesia, reducing the pressure on the ACTU to have only one "partner" in Indonesia. Thus the ACTU now cultivates closer and closer ties with the Pakpahan union. Other international trade union centres are now documenting the plethora of new workers' groups, including PRD-initiated groups.

Of course, this change of policy by the regime has uneven impacts at the grass-roots. Workers are still shot. Harassment still continues. Dita Sari is still in jail. This aspect of the labour situation keeps the human rights side of trade-union affairs high on the agenda just as the change of policy on the level of union recognition legitimises the idea of relations with multiple unions. This has been a big boost to our campaign for recognition of the PPBI and the release of Dita Sari. It has been reflected in the recent decision by the ACTU to write directly to President Habibie to specifically demand the release of Dita Sari. This letter was also signed by Leigh Hubbard, VTH secretary, reflecting the networking done by ASIET in Melbourne with the Victorian trade unions.

At the same time, the preferred partner of the ACTU and Hubbard are those like the Pakpahan union or some of the "autonomous" ex-yellow union subsidiaries who do "traditional trade union work", free of possible radical political complications. Hubbard's first financial contribution to Indonesia was for a whiteboard for Pakpahan's union.

The changes in Indonesia combined with ASIET's increasing authority open the way for it to escalate its intervention into the trade-union sector. We hope that ASIET can organise more tours of PRD activists working in the labour sector. Green Left and ASIET dossiers will need to focus more on the conditions and economic struggles of Indonesian workers. We need to investigate whether we can consolidate slide presentations on these issues. ASIET should explore the possibility of getting union support for seminars in Melbourne on the trade union movement in Asia, utilising our contacts in Pakistan, the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. Exposure visits of Australian trade unions to Indonesia are another possible activity.

A major initiative in this area will be around the campaign to free Dita Sari. We propose to rename the Peoples Power Fighting Fund, the Dita Sari Fighting Fund; to institute a Dita Sari Asia Pacific Labour Activist Award to be given by ASIET annually to a regional activist; and the printing of a "Free Dita Sari!" poster.

The Indonesian and East Timorese immigrant communities

Another impact of the events of this year in Indonesia, in particular the anti-Chinese pogroms, has been the awakening of an interest in politics among the Chinese-Indonesian community, including the large community in Australia. A new organisation called Committee Against Racism in Indonesia (CARI) has emerged and has become quite activity in this milieu. It is still primarily a humanitarian organisation but is open to co-operation with ASIET and is also willing to be involved in street protest actions. ASIET should try to jointly organise PRD leaders active in the defence of Chinese minority rights in Indonesia.

Indonesian post-graduate students in Australia are also being politicised by events in Indonesia and have also organised protests against the violence against students. A few are sympathetic to the PRD. Most are not, but are open to listening to the PRD's arguments. About 20 Indonesian students attended a meeting organised at the last minute for Comrade Wilson in Canberra, for example. There is a similar milieu in Melbourne.

There has been a mixed impact on the East Timorese emigre community in Australia of the developments in Indonesia in 1998. We retain good relations with FRETILIN in Sydney and the East Timorese community in Melbourne. However, the sense of impending victory in East Timor has focussed these groups attention on the diplomatic arena rather than solidarity actions in Australia. If anything, there has also been a softening of FRETILIN's approach to the ALP in this context.

Australian campuses

One area in Australian politics where there seems to be have no impact is on campuses, despite the fact that a huge movement of students has developed in Indonesia which has already suffered at least 16 martyrs, maybe 26 if we count the 14 student activists who disappeared before last May.

This is our biggest challenge: to convince, to inspire, to shame Australian students into solidarity with their fellow students at the forefront of the democratic struggle in Indonesia. As I noted at the beginning of this report, the NE is proposing a National Day of Solidarity with Indonesian and East Timorese Students in May. We propose that it be organised by Resistance with the widest possible sponsorship, including ASIET, and, of course, SRCs, including financial sponsorship.

The NE is proposing that Resistance organise an exposure tour of Resistance leaders and other left-wing student movement leaders to Indonesia and East Timor as soon as possible. It is likely that such direct exposure will arouse more excitement and solidarity with the Indonesian students. There are also proposals being considered for a tour to Australia of an Indonesian woman student leader and an East Timorese student leader.

These proposals alone will not be sufficient. It will be the special responsibility of all DSP student cadre, primarily through all Resistance structures, to investigate, the analyse, to invent all other necessary forms of actions and activities that can help this work. Student cadre are most familiar with the campus arena and their creative input into the overall party thinking on this issue is absolutely essential and central.

Thinking out and planning what to do in this area must be a top priority of the whole Resistance national leadership. This in many ways is primarily their responsibility -- to succeed in building solidarity with the student movement of Indonesia and East Timor even in the face of the apathy of the student left.

A central measure of our overall success in this area of work will be what happens, what we are able to achieve, on campuses. Resource-wise, Comrade Chris Latham has been assigned by the NE to the DSP National Office where half of his time will be to work on student solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor, both through Resistance and ASIET.

There will be a meeting for Resistance branch members assigned to head up this area of work during the conference. Comrade Chris Latham will organise this meeting.

Equipping the party better

To ensure that our projections here can be met the resources of the National Office are being strengthened. A national steering committee which will meet at least monthly is being formed comprising myself, comrades Jill Hickson, Janet Parker, Jon Lamb, James Balowski and Chris Latham. Comrade Janet Parker has been freed of all branch assignments and assigned nationally to this area of work.

Key projects to help better equip the party theoretically in this area of work will be the publication of a pamphlet providing a Marxist perspective on issues in the Indonesian revolution, which will include a section on the rise and fall of the PKI. The deadline for the publication of this pamphlet will be the Resistance conference in July.

It is also proposed that ASIET published a booklet on the fall of Suharto and the aftermath, comprising analytical articles and a comprehensive collection of new PRD documents and policy resolutions.


Comrades, we have more to do this year than ever before. This is because more there have been more masses on the street, led by students, than ever before, enough to force Suharto to resign and to launch a new student movement. It is because the organisational capacity of the PRD is growing steadily. It is also because we have won enough authority in this area of work -- reflected vividly in the success last April of the Asia Pacific Solidarity Conference -- to be more ambitious than we ever have before.

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