The Indonesian Revolution Has Begun

The Indonesian islands have gone from being seen in the rest of the world simply as a holiday paradise to appearing more and more often in the headlines of the world’s press. First it was in the ‘business pages’, when, as a result of the crisis, the economy collapsed. Then, when the dictator Suharto had to resign after months of protests, Indonesia regularly appeared in the more widely read pages of foreign news.

The more than 200 million people who live in Indonesia are still confronted with enormous social and economic problems, and there are still few democratic rights. After the collapse of the Stalinist states in 1989/90, the propagandists of capitalism celebrated the ‘End of History’. But in 1998 the youth and working people of Indonesia have reopened the book of history – the history of oppressed people and their struggle for liberation.

This pamphlet tries to give a brief overview of the social and economic crisis in Indonesia, against the background of the mass movement of the recent months and weeks.

‘Asian Fever’ Ignites a Revolution

In the 1980s, the states of Southeast Asia came to be seen as model economies. The strong economic growth of the ‘Asian Tigers’ stood as incontrovertible proof that the capitalist system had not only outlived its Stalinist counterpart, but was also able to assure a bright future for mankind.

This dream collapsed like a house of cards when, in the Summer of 1997, the currencies and economies of the region began to collapse one after the other, leading to an international crisis on the stock exchanges. The boss of the US National Bank, Greenspan, at first called the process ‘healing changes’. But the ‘Asian Fever’ quickly spread to affect the whole world economy.

The background to all this is a fundamentally weakened world economy. It is hardly in a strong position to withstand such shock waves. In the USA the economy is growing by only 3%, in Japan 1.5% and in the EU by 1.7%. The average growth rate of the capitalist states was a weak 2.8% per annum in the ’80s and it has fallen even lower to only 1.8% in the ’90s. Compared to the post-war boom (1950-1973), when growth was at 4.5% per annum, these rates are extremely low. Compared to what consumers can buy, production is too high. World Capitalism is in a crisis of over-production and over-capacity.

On this basis, the further shrinking of the markets causes massive problems for a more and more export-oriented and inter-linked world economy. Cuts in public spending have made the demand for goods in the imperialist countries decrease as well as the inability of the crisis-stricken East Asian countries to pay for imports from them. The effects of the crisis are therefore not limited to one region, but are international.

For the states in Southeast Asia, the crisis means a drastic loss in value of their currencies, the closure of factories and companies, mergers of banks and the selling off of the national economy. For the people in these countries this means the loss of millions of jobs, a rise in inflation, wages going down and prices going up.

In Indonesia the economic and social crisis has led to a crisis in the political system too. The full impact of the Asian crisis on the world economy is yet to unfold. But it has already brought about an Indonesian revolution!

The Weak Foundation of the Indonesian Economy

Indonesia was a Dutch colony from the 17th century. In the 19th century the ruling class in the Netherlands lived well on the wealth that could be squeezed out of Indonesia. The islands’ most attractive goods were spices and several other agricultural products. The people of Indonesia had to suffer extreme exploitation on the plantations and in the textile industry.

Even after the political independence of Indonesia was achieved in 1945, it was still an economically dependent country. Suharto started to stabilize the economy after he gained power in a military coup in 1965. From the early ’70s onwards, the country’s economy started to grow strongly and the ‘New Order’ regime of Suharto produced a new layer of rich – ‘orang kaya baru’ (OKB) – who formed the social foundation of the regime.

The basis for the economic growth was oil and gas on the one hand (Indonesia was the world’s eighth largest oil producer and could make high profits during the oil boom) and, on the other hand, ‘development aid’.

In the early ’70s, oil exports were about 30% of the gross domestic product (GDP); in 1991 just 11%. On the one hand, income went down, due to the decline of the oil price. On the other hand, the volume of extraction has had to be reduced to such an extent that Indonesia will most probably be importing oil by the turn of the century. The development aid that used to be a large part of the state income (1973-74: 17.4%; 1993-94: 15.3%) was not to the benefit of the whole population. It went, directly or indirectly, into the pockets of Suharto’s family and friends.

Since the 1980s, the country has seen a boom of investment. Indonesia became interesting for foreign capital, with investors being more than willing to ignore the bloody regime of Suharto. Especially foreign direct investment grew strongly. Between 1988 and 1992, 1,395 deals were made worth over $30.6 billion – more than during the whole 20 years before. In 1996, the IMF placed Indonesia in 7th place amongst all the economically developing countries.

But this economic growth was based neither on the development of an independent national economy nor on a corresponding demand for goods within the country. The economic system is, in addition, entirely corrupt, with enormous amounts of money vanishing into unknown holes. Therefore, additional loans have been taken out since the beginning of the ’80s. This is accompanied by a drastic growth of the country’s debts. In the early ’90s, already one quarter of the money spent by the state had to be used to pay creditors.

‘Krismon’ – the crisis of the monetary sector, which led to a devaluation of the national currency (rupiah) by more than 80% – will lead to an estimated decline in the economy of 10% (until now). Inflation is already at 35% and a rise to 100% is feared.

With the onset of the crisis in Southeast Asia, the devaluation of the rupiah and the corresponding growth in foreign debt (which has to be paid back in US-dollars), the private economy became virtually unable to make repayments. It has foreign debts of about $70 billion. The state is on the road to bankruptcy too. It has debts of over $70 billion abroad (of which $59 billion are due to be repaid this year) compared with only a small amount of reserves – less than $10 billion in hard currency at the beginning of 1998.

The IMF “Helps”

The enormous financial difficulties of Indonesia summoned the International Monetary Fund (IMF) onto the scene. It offered credits of $43billion, but linked them to a set of conditions. These conditions included dissolving the monopolies owned by Suharto’s clan, a purge of the banks, the revision of the budget for 1998/99 and cuts in public spending. The IMF made these conditions in accordance with the interests of the imperialists. The purpose was not to undermine Suharto let alone to help the movement but to improve the conditions for foreign capital. In this way the Indonesian economy was to be opened up for foreign investors. The cuts in public spending, which include the halting of construction projects and the reduction of subsidies, hit the broad masses of the population hard. Suharto tried to get the IMF to make some concessions, even using mock anti-imperialist rhetoric.

The Social Consequences of the Crisis

In the 32 years of his government, Suharto turned the country into a self-service shop for himself, his family and his friends. The economy of the country with a population of 200 million was controlled by about 200 people. Indonesia’s distribution of wealth is extreme – the few rich are very rich and the mass of the poor has almost nothing. The richest 20% get about half of all income; the poorest 25% only about 5%!

After the crisis started in the summer of 1997, the situation grew even worse. Millions of Indonesians live below the poverty threshold, which is set at less than one dollar a day and this number is continually growing. Before the crisis, the jobless rate was 12%; since it started, another 4 million jobs have been lost. In the cities, the number of jobless has doubled since July 1997. (Anyone is counted as employed if he/she works more than 3 hours a week). These ‘new’ jobless are in addition to about 35 million Indonesians who were already ‘underemployed’ one year ago (i.e. got less hours of work than they needed). In the past, these people could go to Malaysia or Saudi Arabia as immigrant workers, but now, as the whole region is in a crisis, this option does not exist anymore.

Simultaneously, prices for basic food such as rice and oil rose by about one third. In the beginning of May, a further sudden rise of prices occurred. Under the pressure of the IMF, subsidies for prices were partially abandoned or reduced. This caused the price of petrol, needed by 60% of the population to get to the work (on their motor scooters etc.), to rise by 71% – a trigger for new protests.

A social safety net does not exist in Indonesia. The national health service is free but transport and medicine have to be paid for by the patient, causing it to be beyond the reach of huge sections of the population. Even middle class people complain that now, due to the crisis, they cannot afford necessary operations. The infant mortality rate is correspondingly high (7.1%), as is the mortality rate for children (11.1%). Diseases like malaria are still a problem for large sections of the population.

The Students Initiate the Struggle

The economic crisis led to a political crisis in Indonesia. Suharto was safe, as long as he could count on economic growth; but the economic breakdown in the summer of 1997 marked the beginning of the end of his rule. Already in 1997 the first disorders occurred. On the island of Flores, a temporary state of emergency was declared. In February 1998, a protest movement started, growing wider and more political. The roots and the center of this movement were inside the universities.

Students in Indonesia are a part of the elite and come predominantly from rich families and the military. Despite that, there are many among them who do not want to accept the current social and political situation. As in other Asian countries, it is an Indonesian tradition for students to organize movements that fight for the mass of the repressed and exploited too.

In 1974, up to one million people participated in student protests and the state reacted with the ‘Malaril’ law, which prohibited any political activity inside the universities. In the beginning of 1998, as the protests of the students started, the law was reversed. Demonstrations were then only allowed inside the universities. This was an attempt by the regime to isolate the students’ movement from the rest of the population. Suharto hoped that, once the students got tired of demonstrating, the movement would dissolve by itself.

The Movement Widens

But the movement grew stronger and stronger and it became more intense and political and spread into other parts of the population. It had been started as a protest against the devastating results of the crisis, especially against the massive price rises and against ‘korupsi’, ‘kolusi’, ‘nepotisma’. But it quickly grew into a political movement, demanding ‘reformasi’ and even ‘revolusi’. ‘Down with prices!’ soon became ‘Down with prices; down with Suharto!’ Besides social improvements, several political changes were demanded, mainly including a set of democratic rights.

In mid-May the military tried for a last time to get control of the movement, offering a ‘Dialogue’. But the attendance at their meeting of April 18 was poor; the most active and radical students boycotted it. They organized a simultaneous meeting elsewhere with about 3,000 delegates from the most important universities of Java attending in order to discuss and plan the next steps of the struggle.

The students knew their limitations and tried to widen the movement. They traveled between the universities and tried to build up a network. They tried to come out of the campuses or to mobilize people from other layers to the demonstrations inside their campuses. The police did everything to prevent the widening of the movement. Before demonstrations the whole area would be systematically closed off, so that nobody could see what was going on.

Nevertheless the percentage of non-students in the demonstrations went up steadily. For example, in Solo (eastern Java) in April, already one third of the demonstrators were non-students. They were housewives, bus-drivers, street singers (prosecuted by the regime because of their critical songs), the ‘urban poor’ (the city population, who live from hand to mouth and survive as petty criminals and street traders) and, in growing numbers, workers. In the industrial town of Surabaya in eastern Java, famous for its textile workers’ strike in 1994, delegations of workers joined the various demonstrations. On May the first, joint meetings of workers and students took place in the universities.

On attempts to leave the campus, several violent clashes with the police occurred. The ‘polisi’ were equipped with truncheons, rubber bullets, tear-gas and even with live ammunition; the students with ‘Molotov cocktails’ and with their hatred of the regime.

On May 12th, the protests escalated, after the police fired into a demonstration at the elite Trisakti University in Jakarta, killing several students. According to students from Jakarta, 13 were killed, 7 suffered critical injuries and 41 were still missing days after the demonstration. They became known as ‘sacrifices to change’.

A huge revolt followed, forcing Suharto to resign only a few days later. More than 500 men and women died in those days, called ‘chaos and anarchy’ by the press. People were plundering and starting fires. Even pogroms against Chinese people occurred. Often the were aimed against the property of the ruling clique, including Chinese people like Lim Sioe Liong, one of the richest men of Indonesia.

One student from Jakarta commented: ‘I want to underline that the riots are not racist or sectarian. Despite it is correct that the people often ignite cars, houses and shops belonging to Chinese during the riots, this reflects the anger of the people against the government. The shops of the Chinese are ignited, because the social differences in the society are growing.’

The international airport of Jakarta was packed with foreigners, desperate to leave the country. The IMF advisers, whose demand to drop the subsidy for petrol was one of the decisive reasons for the rebellion, were also leaving the country as fast as possible.

Suharto tries to react to the movement by reshuffling his government, but it’s too late. As a result of the mounting protest, on the 21st of May, Suharto resigns.

New President; Old Regime

As the last action of his 32-year-long rule, dictator and president Suharto appointed his political pupil, Habibie, as his own successor. The 61 year old Bakharuddin Jusuf Habibie has been closely connected to Suharto since the 1950s. He started his career as a member of the Association of Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI), which was founded in 1990 in order to support Suharto.

Habibie’s accession to the presidency means there is no real change of direction. But it was made as a concession to the movement, in order to take the wind out of its sails. The new cabinet under Habibie differs from the old Suharto cabinet only by a very few names. But Suharto was increasingly being called upon to resign by former leading army officials and his own intellectual elite in the last months. And in the last days, even the ‘parliament’ called upon him to resign. It seemed to be the wiser choice for him to resign and to retain his economic power via his puppet Habibie. The newspaper, the ‘Jakarta Post’ quotes Suharto: ‘I am going to be a ‘pandito’ (a ghost, a wise man)’ He was aiming to continue his rule in the background.

What Will the Future Hold?

Although Habibie is not enthusiastically supported by any layer of society, and is therefore seen as a temporary solution, he is connected with certain expectations from certain layers and groups. The military hopes to be able to control him and to stay in power thereby. The western powers hope for the situation to stabilize in order to secure their investments. The future has not yet been written, but one thing is for sure: Habibie is not interested in real democratic changes and he will not end the exploitation of the masses.

Habibie makes some concessions such as the release of political prisoners and the announcement of new elections (although it is neither clear when the election will take place nor who will be permitted to vote or stand) in order to save the ruling clique and their privileges.

A major source of concern is the ‘ABRI’, the armed forces. They seem to support, and are increasingly present in, the Habibie government. The wing around its commander, Wiranto, has been strengthened. He is as much a representative of the old regime as Habibie, but there could well be a ‘reform government’ in the next period, including more ‘trustworthy’ persons. Even if the representatives of the bourgeoisie turn their support to the pro-capitalist opposition that has been until recently suppressed, they will continue to control the economy. Such a ‘democratic’ government would try to keep the people quiet with some small concessions. But this changes nothing of the basic exploitation, which is even stronger now under the IMF’s pressure.

The Bourgeois Opposition

A key player of the bourgeois-liberal opposition is Amien Rais, the head of the 28-million-member Muslim organization, Muhammadiyah. He did not participate in the mass protests against Suharto, partly even trying to stop them, as with the protests on Suharto’s ‘re-election day’ in March. Until shortly before Suharto resigned, Rais was giving him a period of grace of six months: ‘Until October, to get a grip on the economic crisis’. Then on May 11th, he suddenly changed his tactics and publicly called for the president to resign. Then he declared himself leader of the opposition.

Rais is not only a close personal friend of Habibie, but also has close contacts with both General Wiranto and General Prabowo. He is not really opposed to the ruling clique. On the day Habibie became president, Rais offered him the same six-month ‘ultimatum’ or period of grace he had offered Suharto. Because of his clear pro-capitalist and ‘western’ orientation, he is the favorite of the big capitalist powers. He would be a guarantor for the protection of foreign capital’s interests. In an interview for the Far Eastern Economic Review he declared: ‘I say without doubt that the IMF is the only alternative.’

Another prominent figure is Megawati Sukarnopoutri, the daughter of the first president, Sukarno. Megawati is the leading representative of the Democratic Party of Indonesia (PDI), but she was removed as its president by an inner party rebellion instigated by the military in 1996. She has been very much in the background during the whole movement. She appeared in public only after the slaughter of students at the Trisakti Univeristy, where she mostly used references to the state philosophy of Pancasila and appeals to God. Her program has little to offer.

Neither Rais nor Megawati can deal with the social questions or solve the problems of the masses hit by the economic crisis.

The Forces on the Left

After the complete elimination of the PKI in 1965, there were almost no organized left forces in Indonesia for a long period. In more recent years, activists came together in the Democratic People’s Party (PRD), founded in 1994 and then banned in 1996. These people declare themselves to be socialists. In the recent months, the PRD has participated in the movement, obviously from the underground, and distributed hundreds of thousands of leaflets, demanding steps such as nationalization.

But the socialist forces of Indonesia are still weak and are under enormous pressure. They not only have the task of widening and developing the workers’ movement, but also of unmasking bourgeois leaders such as Rais and Megawati.

The Revolution Has Only Just Begun

Suharto’s end has come about at the same time as the collapse of the ‘tiger economies’ which until last year were able to represent capitalism as a viable system. Suharto had to go, but the crisis of capitalism is still horribly present for the masses in the whole of Asia.

Seeing their economy shattered, Indonesian workers felt helpless to change their destiny. Memories of the massacre in 1965 weigh like a heavy burden on the shoulders of the working class. Seeing the obvious weakness of the ‘New Order’ regime and the downfall of its founder, Suharto, the working class is daring to move in a more conscious way once more. Workers are starting to join the struggle again. In mid-May, strikes took place in support of the movement. On the 12th and 13th, hundreds of public transport drivers in Bogor went on strike, hundreds of workers in Bekasih and more than a thousand workers in a cardboard factory in Tangerang.

If democratic reforms are carried out in Indonesia, it will enable the workers to build unions more easily and, most importantly, a workers’ party. This is even more important now in order to achieve any social progress in the severe crisis. They have to build their own representation and link up nationally and internationally. Only if the working class can administrate and control the economy and not a few national and international capitalists and if they can hold on to power, will there be real change.

The struggle of the students, workers and poor in Indonesia has not only been an inspiration nationally, but will have an enormous international impact. The workers of the whole region — the Philippines, South Korea, Japan — look towards Indonesia. It is the first major revolutionary movement since the collapse of the Stalinist countries in 1989 and the first time for a long time that a movement has raised demands for nationalization.

Other countries of the region have been hit hard by the crisis which has claimed not a few victims. The full extent of the crisis in Asia has not yet been felt but it has already ignited the beginning of a revolution in Indonesia. Many of the ‘classic’ ingredients of a revolution exist – a militant youth, wide layers of the population participating in the rising, a working class that has entered the struggle and last, but not least, crisis and dissension within the ruling class, which lurches between concession and repression. With all of these ingredients, revolution is most certainly still brewing!

Lessons of History

Indonesia has had a tumultuous history in which the working class has played a significant role. (See: ‘From the ashes – the rise and fall of the PKI’)

For the 32 years that Suharto maintained power, the parliament – the ‘House of Representatives’ and the ‘Consultative People’s Assembly’ – was nothing more than his marionette. Apart from the official party, Golkar, only two, not really independent, parties were allowed. Free trade unions were prohibited. Not even the official union federation – the SPSI – was allowed representation on every important issue. The president and the army – which officially has a dual function (a military and a political one) – held the power.

In March 1998, Suharto was elected president for the seventh time – every time without a rival candidate. Suharto’s power was based on his military apparatus. It was equipped by the western powers who supported Suharto’s regime as a strategic bulwark of western imperialist interests against the spread of ‘communism’ in the region.

In the 1970s, Suharto was confronted with a growing movement of resistance. In 1973/74 as well as in 1978, massive student movements took place, the social bases of which were sections of the ‘intelligentsia’ and of the bourgeoisie. In the 1980s, along with the advance of industrialization, workers started to organize themselves. Strikes for better pay and better working conditions took place and there were attempts to launch genuine independent unions.

With the launching of the PRD in 1994, a broad, left organization combining different social strata was established. Within it were ranked numerous ardent, self-sacrificing revolutionaries. But of key importance to the further development of society, especially as a revolution gathers momentum, is a party with a clear analysis, program and tactics for making conscious all the unconscious strivings of the working class. To put an end to exploitation and oppression in Indonesia, it is necessary to combine revolutionary practice with Marxist theory and to learn from history.

The task of Marxists is to develop appropriate slogans and demands which take into consideration the needs of the people and which at the same time forge links to a socialist change in society – a transitional program. It is not enough to develop a program and leave it at that. It has to be permanently revised and suited to the level of consciousness of the participants in the movement. Consciousness during such a movement often changes rapidly.

A transitional program such as that put forward in these pages, must be subjected to scrutiny and detailed discussion. It has to explain why the capitalist system has to be overthrown and how a new social system can be built up. A socialist revolution is not a coup; it is not carried out by a handful of heavily armed cadres but is supported by the majority of the active population. Different parts of the exploited and oppressed population will inevitably participate in it – the peasants, the poor in the cities and in rural areas and the working class. Nevertheless, it is workers who have the greatest experience in working together and organizing resistance. They will play the leading role in a socialist revolution.

The working class is a strong force even in economically underdeveloped countries. In Indonesia 40 million people – that is 20% of the population – belong to the working class. To organize the working class and all oppressed layers in this struggle and to lead a revolt to a successful conclusion, the ‘subjective factor’ – that is to say the revolutionary party – is vital. This party must be an organization which analyzes and explains what is happening, which learns from past events and from history. It must be bold in its program and its ideas and fearless in action.

The revolutionary party must strive to win the support of all struggling layers in society. It must combine everyday demands and measures with the perspective of changing society – with the need for power to pass into the hands of workers’ representatives and those of all the oppressed in society. Only through a struggle to end capitalism on a national and international level can a new, socialist world be built

Would the Development to a Healthy, Capitalist Country Have Been Possible?

In relation to the so-called “third-world” countries, this question comes up time and again. What is the reason for poverty in these countries? Is it an accident that the rulers are just not capable and not prepared to build up the economy, but instead steal the wealth of the country for their own benefit? Would it therefore be possible for a ‘sensible’ government to build up a healthy, capitalist economy, which could provide for the mass of the population a living standard which can be compared with that of Europe?

All these states are former colonies, which are still very much dependent on their former colonial ‘masters’ and other imperialist states. They are exploited by them because of their cheap labor and forced to sell them cheap raw materials. An independent development of these economies is not, or at least only to a certain extent, encouraged by imperialism. From its point of view, these countries can serve as export-markets, but must not be allowed to become competitors with their own goods. The development of an independent, national capitalist class is excluded. The ruling class in these states is, due to their historical development, tied closely to and dominated by the ruling class of the imperialist states. Countries like South Korea are exceptional. Here an economically totally underdeveloped country was deliberately developed through massive, favorable treatment from the USA given for essentially political reasons during the ‘Cold War’.


Because of the economic crisis, average Gross Domestic Product per head per annum has dropped in Indonesia from $1,000 to $300. The minimum wage is 5,750 rupiah, less than one dollar a day. Although since July 1997, the rupiah has heavily lost its value, and although there was a dramatic increase in prices, the minimum wage has remained that low. Women can earn as little as 1,500 rupiah (plus one meal) for working all day in the paddy fields. For comparison: a tin of milk costs half a dollar, to go on the tram a few hundred rupiahs and a meal in a fast-food snackbar 2-4,000 rupiahs.

How do the Students Organize?

Beside the official structures – the ‘senates’ – independent structures were built at the universities, often called simply ‘Committees’. The most militant and active students are organized in these Committees. The headquarters of the resistance – some on a university basis, some even on a faculty basis – are called ‘Posko’. There the students sit, day and night, and discuss the next steps in their struggle, but also about strategy and tactics. ‘Workers’ organizers’ are sent from here, to go to the workers to spread the movement.


School starts at the age of seven with six years of primary school. After this should follow three years of middle school and three years of high school. The university takes five years although, due to the high fees, only 1 % of young people can afford to study. Some of the 300 universities are public but most of them are private and religious (mainly Islamic and Christian).

Over half Indonesia’s population is under 25. The youth suffer disproportionately from mass unemployment. The rate of unemployment is 16 % officially, unofficially much higher. Child labor is not uncommon.

Racism Against Chinese People

One element of the events which was widely mentioned in the European press was the attacks on Chinese people. About 3% of the population is Chinese; around 10 % have Chinese relatives. Originally the Dutch colonialists promoted Chinese people many of whom became part of the ruling class. A big part of the economy came to be controlled by Chinese – some sources mention up to two-thirds.

The state’s position on the issue is contradictory. On the one hand, some Chinese belong to the elite and are therefore close to the regime. On the other hand, as a form of intimidation and control, the use of the Chinese script is banned as are Chinese books and newspapers. Many Chinese people were amongst the 1.5 million victims of Suharto’s bloodbath in 1965 – simply because they were Chinese, and therefore, in Suharto’s logic, “communists”. One of the principles of his rule was always ‘divide and rule’. Suharto’s son-in-law Prabowo, (ex-)chief of the strategic command Kostrad, stirred up racist tendencies and riots in the last months of Suharto’s rule, to divert attention from the Suharto clan and to provide excuses for making brutal attacks.

A Demonstration in Yogyakarta, April 1998

The demonstration is very lively. Every delegation from another faculty or university is welcomed by the speakers. When a group of housewives comes on to the campus to participate in the demonstration, the square in front of the main building of the Gadjah Mada University is filled with enthusiastic applause and shouting. The students of the Faculty of Philosophy wear red headbands. One of them explains: ìIn February, during the hunger strikes, we had white headbands. White for purity. We wanted to show that we are normal people and that it is Suhartoís regime that forces us to take these steps. But then we changed it. Now we wear red headbands. Red is the color of blood. Now we are fighting back.

From Habibe’s ‘Maiden Speech’

“Finally, let me say a few words to Mr. Suharto who has just announced his resignation as president. As a nation that upholds lofty cultural values, we will not forget his service and dedication, which not only safely guided our republic during the difficult times from 1965 to 1968, but also ensured the success of national development so that we could reach the take-off stage and achieve a higher standard of living than that of three decades ago…Therefore, on my own behalf and that of the government, I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to the second president of the Republic of Indonesia, Haji Mohamed Suharto, for all his services and dedication to the nation and the country.”

ABRI: The Armed Forces

The armed forces — ABRI — consist of the army, the air force, the navy and the police. ABRI assisted General Suharto in coming to power in 1965. In Indonesia the military have — officially — a political role. Through their “Dwi fungsi” (double-function), they are part of the administration. Each military command supervises all political activity in its respective area.

Besides this, ABRI plays an active role in the economy and is involved in a number of businesses. Their argument is: “We make profits to meet the non-budgetary expenses of ABRI.” Altogether they have 5-600,000 armed men. Amongst those are many in the most politically strategic forces – Kostrad, Kopassus, the Jakarta military command, the Siliwanngi command and the Diponegoro command. The Indonesian army is one of the biggest in Southeast Asia. But in relation to the population (200 million) and compared with other international examples, the Indonesian army is relatively small.

Two wings exist inside the army. On the one side are the hard-liners – the ‘green fraction’ which bases itself more on Islam, stirs up racism and stands for harder repression. This wing was led by Suharto’s son-in-law Prabowo, until recently chief of Kostrad, then Kopassus. In relation to a possible coup it is this wing that is the most dangerous. On the other side is the ‘red and white’ fraction (named after the national colors) around the army chief Wiranto. It represents the more ‘moderate’ forces who looked for a ‘dialogue’ with the students to de-escalate the situation.

The Peoples’ Democratic Party – PRD

The PRD (Peoples’ Democratic Party) is a young, left party which was founded on May 2nd, 1994. Mass organizations affiliated to the PRD were also set up. They organized workers (in the PPBI), students (in SMID), peasants (STN), artists (Jakar) and the urban poor. The PRD was very active in the student movement in 1995 and 1996 and also in the strike wave which took place in the same year. After the state’s attacks on Megawati’s PDI (Democratic Party of Indonesia) and the clashes of July 27th 1996, in which the PRD helped defend the PDIís headquarters, the PRD suffered heavy state repression and was banned.

Since then, its members have had to work underground. Many of their leaders are in prison, like the chairman, Budiman Sujatmiko and the trade-union leader Dita Sari, who led a demonstration of 20,000 textile-workers in Surabaya on July the 8th, 1996. PRD member Andi Arief, chairman of the student organization, SMID, was captured on March the 28th 1998 and only re-appeared ‘in police custody’ at the end of April. Many activists are on ‘black lists’ and are persecuted. Many have just “disappeared”.

The PRD supports the PDI critically, because: “The PDI under Megawati has captured the people’s hopes for change and democratization from within parliament”. The PRD rejects the label given them by the state as ‘communist’. A reason for this might be that being openly communist in Indonesia means signing away your freedom, if not your life!

The PRD’s program calls for “The establishment of a fully democratic, multi-party, popular socio-democratic society in Indonesia”. On the other hand, inside the PRD, strong sympathies exist for more revolutionary and socialist ideas. This is represented in a general criticism of capitalism. The PRD puts forward a number of democratic and economic demands including the demand for a minimum wage and for the right to organize freely.

The Workers’ Movement

The total labor force in Indonesia is 86 million strong. About 15% work in the manufacturing and petrochemical sector, 35% in service industries and 50% in agriculture. The number of industrial workers has vastly increased in recent decades because of the industrialization of Indonesia. At the beginning of the ’90s there was a big rise in the number of working class struggles. In 1994 there was a total of 1,130 strikes – an increase of 350% in relation to 1993! In the same year there were 100 student demonstrations and 50 peasant actions.

There are three trade union federations in Indonesia – a legal state union (SPSI) and two illegal ones. The SBSI, whose chairman Muchtar Pakpahan was arrested on July 30th, 1996 is supported by the government of the USA. The PPBI, which is affiliated to the PRD, led a number of strikes in 1994 and has organized tens of thousands of workers.

Parliament and Parties

In the elections for the parliament, which take place every five years, 400 ‘representatives’ are elected plus 100 who are appointed by the president (including 75 from the Armed Forces). The People’s Consultative Assembly, MPR, with its 1,000 members (including 500 MPs, 147 representatives of the provinces, 253 from political organizations and from the army) meets every five years and elects the president and the vice-president. The president has extensive rights, including the right to issue decrees and to appoint ministers. There are three legal parties – Suharto’s Party, Golkar, the PPP – Partai Persatuan Pembangunan (United Development Party) and the PDI – Partai Demokrasi Indonesia (Indonesian Democratic Party). Megawati Sukarnopoutri was the original leader of the PDI but she was deposed through an armed intervention by the regime in 1996. Today there are in reality two PDIs – one which was Suharto’s puppet and Megawati’s independent one.

East Timor

In 1975 Indonesian troops occupied East Timor. 200,000 people have been killed, which is more than one quarter of the population. Since then the military has ruled in a brutal way; every resistance is suppressed. FRETILIN is the main liberation organization which is forced to work underground. The most militant students and the PRD support the struggle for self-determination. They declare that they are not only in favor of an end to the occupation of East Timor but “of fighting alongside the East Timorese for their right to determine their own destiny and to be independent”.

Suharto’s Wealth

Born in 1921 in the countryside, Suharto is one of the ten richest men in the world today. The American business magazine, ‘Forbes’, estimated Suharto’s wealth at $16 billion. His immediate family is believed to worth around $46 billion. That corresponds to about 50% of the Indonesian GNP. His six children own numerous enterprises. Indonesia is marked by extreme nepotism. Suharto’s family and his cronies control key export industries and important sectors such as car production, chemicals, building and construction, toll-roads and big banks. Furthermore, a number of major foreign companies have enjoyed a high level of collaboration with Suharto: General Electric, Hughes Electronics, Lucent Technologies, Hyatt Hotels (USA), Siemens, Deutsche Telekom (Germany), Sumitomo, NEC, Kia Motors (South Korea), etc.

A Program for Struggle

  • Full democratic rights for all!
  • The right for the working people, the oppressed and the youth to organize freely in trade unions, parties and other organizations!
  • For democratic action committees in all areas, linked together in structures which can form the basis for a new, fully democratic political system. The working people, the oppressed and the youth must elect their own representatives who can run the economy and society!
  • Dissolve all instruments of repression!
  • For the right of full self-determination for all peoples within Indonesia!
  • No to the imperialist IMF and its programs. Open the books of the capitalists to show where all the money is!
  • Nationalize, under democratic workers’ control, the property of Suharto and his family, the banks and the 54 largest companies who control the economy and exploit the Indonesian masses.
  • For a democratic socialist Indonesia which can set an example to the youth and working people around the world, as a real alternative to capitalism!

Published by Sozialistische Offensivee Vorwärts (CWI in Austria), June 1998

English Edition Published July 1998