As We Go to Press
Jakarta is once more reeling from bloody clashes between demonstrators and troops using tanks and live ammunition. In a crack-down against tens of thousands of unarmed protesters trying to reach the building where a session of the Suharto-era ‘parliament’ was meeting, at least twelve people have been killed and hundreds are reported to be badly injured. Eleven opposition activists have been arrested.
In the capital of Indonesia and elsewhere, students have been joined by workers and poor people in far larger numbers than even at the height of the movement in May which ended three decades of dictatorship.
They have faced vigilantes paid and armed by the government as well as the crack troops of the state. Interviewed by TV reporters, they have made it clear they are prepared to fight to the death. Sections of the armed forces such as the marines have openly given their support, helping to clear a path through the army blockades in the center of Jakarta.
A new phase of the Revolution has opened. The country’s president of just six months’ standing – B.J. Habibie – is being told to go, along with his armed forces commander, General Wiranto. They have only aggravated the deep crisis that grips Indonesian society.
All the issues raised in this pamphlet come sharply into focus once again. They demand the urgent attention of activists and socialists around the world who are willing with all their hearts a victorious outcome to the unfinished revolution in Indonesia.
It is to the heroic workers and youth of that country that we dedicate this pamphlet.
London, November 1998
by Kerry Morgan
The Committee for a Workers’ International, with affiliated sections, groups or members in more than 40 countries, regards the still unfolding revolution in Indonesia as one of the key developments of the present period. The felling of a decades-long dictatorship by a mass movement in May of 1998 shook the international capitalist class to the core. As the notorious ‘Asian Crisis’ spreads to the rest of the world, the devastation it has brought to the fourth most populated country is a pointer to what is in store elsewhere. So too is the response of the masses, moving as they have to take things into their own hands.
The only hope for further development in Indonesia and a whole series of so-called emerging countries lies in re-constructing society along socialist lines. Capitalism has failed. All it offers is a descent into actual barbarism.
Collapse, Revolt and Instability
For those whose much-vaunted free market system is crumbling about their ears, Indonesia has become synonymous with collapse, revolt and a dangerously unstable and unpredictable political situation. When Russia’s currency and share prices plummeted in August 1998, in part as a result of the continuing downward spiral in the economies of East Asia and Japan, the specter was raised of “An Indonesia, with nuclear weapons”!
As the currencies and share markets of Latin America, Europe and the United States are buffeted by the economic turmoil, those with the most to lose – the super-rich owners of industry and of the banks – ponder their fate. How will the people who make them their millions react to the mass redundancies and impoverishment that confronts them?
Indonesia gives them good cause to fear the worst. It also offers to workers and other oppressed layers in every society, a glimpse of what their united strength can achieve. The lava of revolution has not yet cooled. The headiest days may have been those of May, when the youth of the nation occupied the parliament building and brought a dictator to his knees. But, “far more serious”, as a Jakarta observer commented, was the wave of strikes and workers’ demonstrations that swept the country.
While economic catastrophe invariably leads to political turmoil and uncertainty, Marxists see nothing automatic about the working class moving immediately into action. The onset of recession and slump undoubtedly leads to a questioning and a significant political radicalization amongst certain layers of workers and especially young people. This was evident in Indonesia, where, as the situation turned dramatically from one of steady growth to sudden collapse, opposition to Suharto’s continued rule became more and more vociferous. It also confirmed that the first reaction of workers in industry to a sharp economic crisis can often be to hold back from strikes and protests. “If we fight”, they reason, “We risk having no job”. Then, after the initial shock, they can come to a different conclusion: “If we don’t fight, we will have no job”!
In Indonesia, the victory of the predominantly student movement over a vicious military dictatorship, gave an enormous access of confidence to the millions of exploited and oppressed people. The “hunger for revenge” and the “spirit of reformasi” have still by no means been brought under control. Although the ruling class was severely shaken but not removed, the new government is still walking a tightrope between concession and repression.
Immediately after Suharto’s resignation, workers moved into action demanding a doubling of the minimum wage, equal pay for women and the restitution of subsidies on the nine basic necessities or ‘sembako’. Their demonstrations were confronted by heavily armed troops – in the ‘red belt’ of Jabotabek on the edge of Jakarta, for example, and on the streets of Surabaya, Java’s sprawling industrial second city.
The response of a frightened government was to increase the minimum wage – but only by 15%, when prices had gone up by 200%! – and to try and introduce a ban on large demonstrations. They have also moved to bring in new industrial legislation that would severely restrict the ability of workers to organize a fight back against retrenchment and all the injustices in store for them as the economy collapses. The moderate as well as the state-run trade union federations have proved themselves unable or unwilling to mobilize effectively against either the bosses or the regime that helps pass onto workers the full burden of their system’s crisis. (The pro-market SBSI of Mukhtar Pakpahan is known to get support from the German CDU (Kohl’s Party) and members of the US Congress).
Sporadic strikes and demonstrations have continued – of workers in engineering, textiles, electronics – in spite of over one-third of factories being out of production. Networks of trade union activists exist, holding meetings and conferences in secret. In the factories, mines and depots, the representatives of these independent ‘unions’ and workers’ committees may not be formally elected but are recognized as leaders by their fellow workers, many of whom may not yet themselves be formal members. Strong independent unions are a vital weapon for defending workers in the face of crisis and mass unemployment.
The months-long protests of the students, having achieved their immediate aim in May, temporarily subsided. The students drew breath and considered how much further they needed to struggle. There were sharp differences of opinion amongst them anyway as to what they saw as the ultimate goal. Those who had got closest to the workers and poor, wanted to link up the struggle to rid society of corruption and dictatorship with a broader struggle to eliminate poverty and exploitation altogether. Others had limited their horizons to simply cleaning up ‘crony’ capitalism and replacing it with a democratic ‘free market’ version, in which opportunities for participation in the economy and society were opened up to wider layers of the middle class.
But, as it has become clear that even the reforms promised by Suharto’s successor, in the face of their ‘revolution’, have got stuck in the sand, the students have renewed their demonstrations. Every day there are protests demanding an end to the Suharto-era legislature, an end to the involvement in politics of the army (‘dwi fungsi’) and increasingly for President Habibie to resign.
This hapless successor to General Suharto, had the effrontery to suggest to the starving millions of his fellow countrymen, women and children that they should follow his example and fast for two days a week! The fact that a president can always find sufficient for his needs on the days when he is not fasting was not lost on protesting workers and farmers who demanded that rice be subsidized. Habibie then conceded a price subsidy – too little and too late. The vast stocks of rice being hoarded by vulture speculators waiting for higher prices are a provocation to starving families. No wonder the pattern of the recent period has been direct action – people taking what they regard as theirs by right, besieging banks, demanding nationalization of all crony property even seizing opportunities for mass breakouts of the teeming prisons.
Half Measures in a Crisis
President B. J. Habibie was fond of calling his friend and predecessor ‘SGS – Super Genius Suharto’. Now he is keen to tell reporters that no-one should expect that he can wave a magic wand or “just go ‘zingaboom’ and everything is there!”. Indeed, he seems as surprised as anyone to find himself still at the helm of what has become a very shaky ship of state. All the half-measures he has introduced – be it in relation to probing Suharto’s mega wealth, devising new electoral laws, clipping the wings of the army etc. – are aimed at keeping every layer of society satisfied. In fact, they are more likely to irritate each of them by being totally inadequate.
With the local currency – the rupiah – having lost 80% of its value compared with the US dollar and with national production shrinking by between 15 and 20% this year, the economy is seizing up. Factories are at a standstill. Much of industry and agriculture has been disrupted beyond repair. Real wages are back to the level of 1965. The ‘miracle’ growth of the ’80s and 90s, which took per capita income from $70 – $700, has turned into its [own] opposite. Far from getting into the top ten economies in the world by the year 2005 – the declared aim of the dictator Suharto – Indonesia came to be universally regarded as a ‘basket case’.
More than 80 million people, out of a 200 million population, can barely assure themselves even one meal a day. By the end of the year it will be more like 100 million. A recent newspaper report claiming a certain ‘stabilization’ of the currency and ‘improvements’ in business prospects, stressed the fragility of the situation. It also brought home with one ghastly statistic, the human cost of economic disaster. Half of the country’s children below the age of two are so undernourished that they have suffered irreversible damage to the development of their brains.
Television reports from Indonesia have shown children suffering from all the horrific symptoms of malnutrition associated with Africa – no flesh on their bones, swollen stomachs, vacant eyes. They have also shown swarms of desperate and starving people descending on onion plots or rice fields, being chased away by terrified farmers wielding bamboo poles, and swarming back again. Fields and plantations have been stripped bare, fish stocks raided and rice warehouses forced open.
The situation is rapidly deteriorating; the question is sharply posed: ‘Who will re-plant and who will re-stock?’. Some urban and rural poor have invaded the estates and even the golf courses of the rich and planted rice and other crops, agreeing to cultivate and distribute the produce on collective principles. These are, at present, a minority. Blind rage has led to the torching and destruction of buildings and equipment on palm-oil plantations, for example, where Suharto cronies still refuse to recognize the grievances of local people. The situation is crying out for a form of direct democracy and local decision-making that bring immediate results. In many areas, mass demonstrations, picketing or occupying government buildings, have forced out of office not only local governors associated with Suharto’s corrupt regime, but even village head-men — mini -Suhartoes — accused of cronyism, nepotism and favoritism.
The fall of the Suharto dictatorship gave a huge boost to the struggles for liberation in the regions that have suffered the cruelest national oppression – Aceh, Irian Jaya, East Timor. Mass demonstrations forced the Habibie government to give the appearance of acceding to demands for the withdrawal of troops. In Aceh in August as the last divisions were supposed to be leaving the area, agents provocateurs were obviously under instruction to stir up riots and provide a pretext for the decision to be reversed.
In spite of one much publicized airlift of soldiers from East Timor, there are now more, rather than less, encamped in the territory – over 25,000 according to TV reports which have shown military landing craft spewing out hundreds of fresh troops onto the beaches of this half-island nation. East Timor has suffered the slaughter of one third of its population since the invasion of 1976 – one of the worst ever genocides in history.
Since the hated Suharto’s departure, there have been huge demonstrations in the capital Dili and many other areas. Political organizations have come out into the open to pursue the struggle for national liberation to the end. Under the pressure of the movement, some rebel leaders have been released from prison. The most well-known – FRETILIN leader Xanana Gusmao – remains in a Jakarta jail, refusing on principle a deal on ‘special status’ for East Timor within Indonesia. He holds out for a referendum on self-determination, though he believes it may take five, or even ten years before it is held and should be under UN supervision. It is possible that even he under-estimates the determination of his own people to achieve complete independence in the shortest possible time.
Chaos and the Army
Today throughout Indonesia, conventional ‘law and order’ have broken down. In East Java hundreds of people – human rights workers, young people and local Islamic leaders- have been killed by black-clad ‘Ninja’ assassins. In revenge, vigilante groups have turned into lynch mobs, carrying out summary executions. Ethnic and religious rivalries have been exacerbated by poverty and desperation but they are whipped up and used by the ruling class to divide and rule the population. In a predominantly Muslim country, Islamic fundamentalism in one form or another would move to fill the gap left by the breakdown of conventional authority and the absence of a revolutionary workers’ party capable of uniting all the oppressed against the common enemy.
It is said that the army is the only force operational on a national basis. It is certainly still very much in evidence in political life. In the government’s proposals for a ‘reformed’ parliament, the armed forces -ABRI- would still have 55 un-elected seats. Although there is much talk about ABRI moving back into center stage, the likelihood of a military coup is still small – at least over the next 6 – 12 months.
The army is discredited and now even officially blamed for provoking the riots which brought the widespread death and destruction to Jakarta in May. The International Herald Tribune reports in one province, armed clashes between rival military units.
Large elements of the army are impoverished and demoralized. Mining companies complain that the military, along with local officials are unwilling to intervene to stop thousands of miners digging gold and coal for themselves and selling it on the open market. “As they cannot feed the people,” comments a Broken Hill Proprietary manager, “They’re quite happy for the community to help themselves!” (And it is not only gold and coal that is being appropriated in this way…but whole forests full of teak!).
Socialist Order or Capitalist Compromise
In situations of famine and crisis all kinds of committees spring up dominated by bourgeois and intellectual elements who appoint themselves but do little to overcome the powerful lobbies and corrupt practices which plague a poverty-stricken society. But the challenge before the leaders of the class struggle is to replace chaos and ‘lawlessness’ with an ordered but democratically controlled and practical way of planning the distribution and use of resources, starting with the most basic aspects of life. They need to encourage the election of councils to take over the task of feeding the population.
Elected representatives of the rural and urban poor, linking up with those of workers in the factories and offices, could begin to organize collectively the acquisition, production and distribution of food and basic necessities.
Such councils of action, similar to the soviets thrown up in the course of the Russian Revolution, could mount a struggle to take all large estates, banks and industrial conglomerates out of the hands of capitalist cronies and landowners. Under the ‘direct democracy’ of a workers’ and peasants’ government, they could organize democratic workers’ control and management of society. All that is on offer from the Habibie government is new elections in May of 1999 and a presidential poll in December. Some doubt that either will be held. A new campaign to discredit the ideas of socialism and communism is under way and troops are preparing to crackdown on demonstrations outside the ‘phony’ parliament’s meetings this month – November.
The seven-person committee of academics, appointed to draw up reforms to the constitution, has agreed to proposals which contradict even the accepted norms of ‘representative’ democracy. To register, a party must have branches in half of the 27 provinces or get a million signatures on a petition! To be eligible to stand for a second time it must pass a 10% threshold in the election.
Yet, all these efforts to maintain the status quo are by no means assured of success. Laws severely restricting the right of assembly have already been over-ruled even by today’s phony parliament. They have seen that that in the present inflamed situation, they are anyway being disregarded and discredited. In the political ferment that has followed the end of the Suharto dictatorship, no fewer than 250 different new journals and newspapers have appeared on the scene. New radio stations have opened up and numerous new parties and organizations have come into existence. Eighty eight parties are applying to be legally recognized.
Parties and Prospects
One of the most viable of them is the New Mandate Party (PAN) of Amien Rais – leader of the 28 million strong Muslim Muhammadiyah organization and regarded as an important moderate opposition leader. Abdurrahman Wahid, known as Gus Dur, leads an even larger Muslim organization – Nahdatul Ulama. He has also declared the setting up of a party – the National Awakening Party or PAB – which could line up with the Democratic Party of Indonesia (PDI) of Megawati Sukarnopoutri.
In spite of being virtually illegalized, the Megawati wing of the PDI is widely expected to gain a massive vote at the elections when they eventually take place. It was able to hold a rally and conference in the party’s traditional stronghold of Bali during the second week of October attracting up to 100,000 participants. In the colors of the party they formed a sea of red holding high massive banners and placards bearing portraits of their leader – Ibu or ‘mother’. Roars from the crowd greeted her denunciations of corrupt cronies as she declared: “Parasites have destroyed Indonesia over the last three decades. Now we must destroy the parasites”.
Megawati is torn between the demands of the ex-generals and free market economists who have flooded into her party and the mass of her grass-roots supporters who are praying to her for some relief of their dire poverty. “She can’t be both a leader of the elite and the poor”, commented a western diplomat. While there are other contenders, like Amien Rais, for the position of ‘leader of the opposition’, it is widely said that, “What ‘Mega’ lacks in enthusiasm she makes up for in popularity”. Many have the illusion that she can work miracles and turn the clock back to the days of her father – the first president of the newly independent Indonesia. Illusions, by their nature, are doomed to be shattered on the rocks of reality. Megawati has declared her allegiance to free market policies and taken an ex-general as deputy leader of the party, opening up the possibility even of an alliance with the old ruling party – Golkar.
The hopes and aspirations of the masses, aroused by the movement, are whipped to fever pitch by the appalling conditions they face. But, under any capitalist administration, however beneficent, they are doomed to be sorely disappointed, given the extent of the damage wrought on the economy by the Asian crisis and on political life by a brutal, three decades long dictatorship. No one single charismatic leader can solve these problems. No party that does not stand for a complete break with capitalism can begin the task of reconstruction with the chance of any lasting success.
As the global crisis seizes the world economy, the prospects of robust growth in Indonesia are eclipsed. In the context of further stagnation in the economy, of breakdown in social life and disintegration of the country, genuine democracy can only be built from below by a movement that sets out to transform society along socialist lines. That is the central contention of the Committee for a Workers’ International.
Arguing the Case
Important material is reproduced here to argue this case. It is aimed to throw light on the dramatic events of this year and offer an explanation of what is behind them and what is to follow in the near future. It includes elements of a program which we hope accords with the needs and aspirations of the Indonesian people. It is not for academic debating circles but a contribution, we hope, to the urgent and very practical task of building a movement that can end the calamitous rule of capitalism in Indonesia.
The accounts and articles published in the papers and journals of the sections of our International, in particular those in the British monthly, ‘Socialism Today’, have drawn on first-hand material collected on visits to Indonesia this year by European members of the CWI – Anna Schneider, Anton Wilin from Sweden and myself. We had the privilege of meeting some of the most dedicated and self-sacrificing activists – youth from the campuses and workingmen and women from the factories. We experienced the fervor and thirst for revolutionary ideas that only a revolution can engender.
In our discussions, we were guided by what we had learnt of the many previous experiences of mass struggle and the combative traditions of the Indonesian working class – much of it from the invaluable short history “From the Ashes” reproduced on pages 11 to 28. The tight censorship operated by the military dictatorship, only partially eased since its figurehead was brought down, means few activists inside Indonesia have had access to the true history of their own heroic past and its bitter lessons. We discovered that Craig Bowen’s pamphlet has been keenly studied on courses organized by the outlawed, leftwing People’s Democratic Party.
As it points out, the Indonesian Communist Party, formed in 1920, was the first in Asia. In the years after independence, it grew to become the third largest in the world. It was physically destroyed in 1965-66 when over one million activists and supporters were slaughtered by Suharto’s crack troops.
Understanding the tragedy of those years not only gives an insight into today’s events. It brings home how even the most promising of revolutions can be shipwrecked by fatal errors of leadership, notably in this case, the failure to declare a party, draw up a correct program and give a lead to the working masses.
History often repeats itself, but never in every detail. Even under dictatorships, the battle of class forces continues. Some elements are weakened, others strengthened. The world situation today and the fragile condition of the once-mighty army in Indonesia rule out a bloodbath like [the one] through which Suharto waded when he came to power. But, unless the momentum of the movement is maintained and a clear independent policy adopted by the leaders of the working class and oppressed layers, reaction could prepare a comeback. Since Suharto was removed by a persistent mass movement of unarmed people, he has still not been put on trial for the mass murder he conducted in the ’60s nor for any of the later atrocities carried out during the 32 years of his rule.
Scores to Settle
The majority of the population in Indonesia has scores to settle with Suharto and his cronies. There are the relatives of the millions killed or ‘disappeared’ under Suharto’s orders, the millions whose identity cards are still marked with the words ‘political prisoner’, the tens of millions who have labored to create the massive wealth accumulated by him and his cronies and the tens more millions starved of the basic means of a decent life. Known to have utilized state power to enrich his own immediate family – said to be worth up to $46 billion – the fallen dictator has recently appeared on national television claiming he has “not one cent” in a foreign bank! Those who are supposed to be investigating his wealth are drawn from the very same clique that was in power under this ‘King of Thieves’. They will not want to push things further for fear of revelations about their own corrupt dealings!
The CWI argues that only a clean break with the past regime and with the whole system of capitalism – by its very nature corrupt and unjust – will lay the basis for satisfying the modest demands of the Indonesian masses. Only a genuine ‘people’s trial’ of Suharto, a real purge of the army and government by a workers’ and small people’s government and the socialist re-construction of society will satisfy the strivings of the mass of the Indonesian population.
Democratic rights can and must be squeezed out of the present regime by the sheer force of the mass movement. But they will be limited and short-lived unless the system of organizing society and the economy is changed. This involves mass struggle with the aim of eliminating private ownership and putting land, industry and finance to use for improving people’s lives. An extension of the struggle for socialism to other countries would be not a distant goal but a vital necessity to prevent the return of outright reaction.
The case for this program is made in the pamphlet ‘Indonesia – The Revolution has Begun’ included here on pages 29 to 41 produced in June 1997 by the Austrian section of the CWI. It was written by Anna Schneider who visited Indonesia less than one month before Suharto’s resignation to discuss with participants in what were already dramatic events. It gives a political ‘who’s who’ and ‘what’s what’. It outlines how the monetary crisis that hit Indonesia in mid-1997 turned into the profound social and political crisis of 1998 that hit the world’s headlines.
Elements of revolution were already coming together and have yet to reach their full stature. Not one act but a process, revolution never develops in a straight line. It goes through numerous phases and stages. This does not mean that Marxists and leaders of the workers’ movement should fall into the trap of limiting the struggle to ‘bourgeois democratic’ and socialist ‘stages’. On the contrary, in countries where the bourgeois revolution has not yet been completed (see material on later pages of this pamphlet) and land reform, for example, urgently needs to be carried through, the only way it can be done is by eliminating capitalism. For the landowners, bankers and industrialists, all tied up together in exploiting the labor of others, democracy is a luxury they cannot afford.
The Example Spain
The extensive writings of Leon Trotsky on developments in Spain during the period 1931-7 are instructive in this respect. They graphically illustrate what is at stake as the processes of revolution and counter-revolution unfold. A revolutionary period can begin with something like the internal collapse of a form of rule that has held sway for decades – constitutional monarchy, military dictatorship. It can pass through a period of weak government, short-lived regimes, riddled with crisis, forced to make concessions but awaiting the moment to reassert its control. It will see workers struggling at first in an uncoordinated and spontaneous fashion, suffering defeats and resolving to come back for more. Suharto’s successor, Habibie, could well be taken for the Berlinguer of Indonesia – the ‘Gateman of the revolution’.
Indonesia in the next period may well see a development akin to the June days of the Paris Commune in 1871 in France or the July days of the Russian Revolution 1917. As Trotsky explained, the most militant workers, awoken to struggle may be initially defeated because of the scattered, partial nature of their movement. Then, learning from their mistakes, and still not prepared to tolerate the intolerable, they can push ahead towards a showdown with the ruling class, underestimating the obstacles that stand between them and victory. The most advanced layers may not be fully aware of the need to win the support of other layers or at least to neutralize opposition to a successful bid for power.
A revolutionary party would launch a program to rally the support of the masses around demands aimed at dispelling lingering illusions that the new ‘democratic’ representatives of the old ruling class are capable of solving even their immediate problems. A revolutionary party would also understand the need to conduct agitation aimed at winning over large sections of the army to refuse to fire on workers and students.
Throughout his writings on the Spanish Revolution, Trotsky urges the building and strengthening of directly representative committees of workers and poor peasants as an alternative to the bourgeois republican government that protects capitalist and landowner exploitation. At the same time he urges the building of a party to lead and coordinate the struggle. Every moment of lost time and lost opportunity means time and opportunity given to reaction. In Spain the dire consequences were the eventual victory of the fascism and the long night of the Franco dictatorship for more than 30 years.
As a contribution to the vitally important discussion on which way forward for the Indonesian revolution, a CWI statement, ‘Indonesia – A Revolution Begun’ was produced in June of this year and circulated it as widely as possible for information and discussion. It is reproduced on pages 43 and 58 of this pamphlet. Also included, on pages 59 to 60, is a small statement on ‘The Need for a Revolutionary Party’ used by representatives of the CWI in many meetings with activists in Indonesia in August.
At the time of their visit, they found that the ferment in society had not abated. There was still a militant mood and strikes and demonstrations of one kind or another were a daily occurrence. Without a clear lead, there was confusion as to the ultimate aims of the movement but huge expectations that a better deal could be won. In this situation, the idea of preparing at least a warning general strike was greeted with enthusiasm. United action around the recurring demands of the movement could pull together all the largely spontaneous struggles that are constantly breaking out all over the country: ‘Down with Habibie!’ ‘Restore the subsidies on the nine basic necessities!’ ‘End the ‘dwi fungsi’ of the military!’ ‘No to the sham parliamentary democracy of the MPR!’ ‘Free trade unions’…
In the present highly charged situation, and given the state of the army (which always reflects society) it would seem that an attempt to use it against the masses in a concerted way would break it. Similarly, a coup by generals could well have the effect of a whip; an attempt at counter-revolution provoking a new surge of revolution, as in Portugal where the masses renewed their struggle to defeat the attempted coup by General Spinola in March of 1975. After a period, however, if no way is found of channeling the revolutionary energy of the masses, if no other force sets out to ‘regulate’ and reconstruct society along socialist lines – things could change. The favorable balance of forces could dissipate.
It is possible to envisage certain junior officers stepping in to the breach on the pretext of halting the disintegration of the country and instituting a form of avowedly ‘progressive’ military rule. A new government – even a Megawati government – could find them offering their services first of all to supervise the distribution of food and other essentials. Later they could move to ‘pull back the political cover’ in their direction. While not eliminating the capitalist mode of ownership and production, they might use the state and its forces to introduce a heavy measure of control – in society and in the economy. In order to protect Indonesian interests, they could adopt an anti-western stance and certain measures of protectionism as well elements of centralization and planning.
One form of bourgeois bonapartism or another will persist, that is, a more or less overt military control over society aimed at holding the balance between the classes at the expense of basic democratic rights.
Whatever government is in power in Indonesia in the near future it will come under pressure to adopt protectionist measures along the lines of the exchange and capital controls adopted recently by Mahathir Mohamad in neighboring Malaysia. It may follow the example of the South Korean and Japanese governments and nationalize certain key areas of finance and some of the more trouble-torn industries. Indeed, under the pressure of mass demonstrations and the demands of workers, the Habibie government has already been forced to take over certain banks and industries that were run (and ruined) by Suharto cronies. It has also arranged rescheduling of some debts and increased the budget deficit.
In response to the Asian crisis, the governments of Hong Kong and Taiwan have both moved in the direction of state intervention in an attempt to inoculate their economies against the worst ravages of unfettered market capitalism. National bourgeois representatives will not be averse to using anti-imperialist or religious rhetoric to maintain their popularity when ‘foreign’ (especially US) capitalism is seen to be draining their economies. But nothing they do, while remaining on a capitalist basis, will save them from new bouts of collapse and disaster.
The World Bank, in a report to the new government of B. J. Habibie and international investors, described Indonesia as being on the verge of bankruptcy. “No country in recent history”, it declared, “Let alone one the size of Indonesia, has ever suffered such a reversal of its fortune”. They could have added that no country in recent history has seen such political turmoil and the coming together of so many elements of revolution.
These will be accompanied by elements of vicious counter-revolution. There will be huge ebbs and flows as the contesting forces struggle for solutions in the interests of their own class. There will be big and contradictory changes in consciousness. But the key factor for harnessing the enormous energy and anger released by the breaking down of the Suharto dictatorship is the building of a revolutionary workers’ party. The urgency of pursuing such a goal cannot be overstressed. The production of this pamphlet, it is hoped, will be a contribution to that process and towards bringing nearer the day when Indonesia’s socialist revolution assures a lasting victory over poverty and reaction.
Published by the Committee for a Workers’ International, November 1998