There is a ferment in Indonesian society. The bringing down of the corrupt and ruthless regime of general Suharto by a mass movement has opened the floodgates for all oppressed layers to demand a redress of their long-held and deeply felt grievances. The task of the hour is to build a fighting force that can bring lasting victory.
The movement, which culminated in the historic May 21st resignation, was largely uncoordinated and led by the courageous youth of the campuses. They had gained the support of practically every layer of society – their own lecturers and teachers, academics, doctors and civil servants, disaffected government ministers and ex-generals but also, in their millions, the poor and oppressed of town and country and the workers in the factories, in transport, in fuel, food and wood processing depots. Then it was tacit support; now there is a mood for direct action – occupations, pickets, strikes and demonstrations – to feed the family, to get a decent wage, to remove cronies, to win the right to national self-determination. Again, the movements are largely spontaneous. A mass party of the oppressed is absent.
The most combative organizations of resistance during Suharto’s rule were brutally suppressed. Even today, many of their leaders remain in jail. But the situation cries out for a bold lead and a coordinated movement. A revolution has been begun, and the Habibie regime, including the army, is in crisis. Yet there seems to be no force, no leadership that can follow up on the first victory.
A party is needed to unite the struggles of the different layers of the working class, the urban and rural poor and the oppressed nationalities. With a clear strategy, a preparedness to struggle for all basic democratic rights and with a program of ridding society of crony capitalism once and for all, such a party could rapidly gather support and grow into a mass force.
While workers immediately displayed a huge access of confidence and moved into fearless action on issues like prices and the minimum wage, they came up against the forces of the state and the people they looked towards for a lead failed to give it. Instead of channeling all the pent-up energy into a coordinated offensive against the vacillating Habibie regime, they poured cold water on the movement. Pakpahan of the PSBI announced a moratorium on workers’ demonstrations and Megawati called for leniency in relation to the ex-dictator, Suharto!
A workers’ party, especially under the leadership of dedicated revolutionaries who believe in socialism as the only way out, would inscribe on its banner all the basic democratic demands of the movement and go further. It would mobilize around slogans that would capture the support of the masses.
It would call for the immediate trial of the ‘King of Thieves’ and his brood by a tribunal made up of workers, peasants, the urban poor and student activists – the people they have exploited and persecuted over the years. Elections without delay to a constituent assembly, supervised by elected representatives of the movement. The release of all political prisoners and the dropping of all charges. The abolition of all restrictions on demonstrations, on the media and on the setting up of parties, trade unions and other organizations.
Such a party would also call for the immediate honoring of the basic right of all nationalities to self-determination, including complete separation, where a majority wishes it. For referendums to be held wherever an oppressed nationality demands it – East Timor, Irian Jaya, Aceh – supervised by workers, students and the poor people of those areas.
A leadership serious about carrying through the transformation of society would ensure that, through meetings of the party, all the pressures of the ruling ideology would be countered. Campaigns would answer all the propaganda of the ruling class aimed at intimidating workers into accepting the ‘status quo’.
A far-sighted leadership would emphasize that the movement, though inchoate and scattered at present, still has enormous potential power. A workers’ party could mobilize and organize all the angry layers of the oppressed in a movement that could wipe out every petty-fogging limitation to their rights. The new laws and the threats of an army clampdown are the work of a frightened regime. The Habibie government is in crisis, the army demoralized and discredited.
Workers and other oppressed people are looking for a political force to pursue their demands. They urgently need a party of their own, independent of the ideology of the bosses – of the market, IMF deals and so on. Such a party would take advantage of the weaknesses of the ruling layer, explain what is, and launch an organized offensive to end the rule of capitalists and big landowners.
It is becoming clear that, in the context of the worst-ever economic situation with predictions of a 20% fall in production and 20 million thrown out of work, with industry left in private hands, there will be nothing but blood sweat and tears for the majority of the population.
It is not just a question of crony capitalism denying workers their rights to a decent life but capitalism as a whole. Its representatives in Indonesia and on a world scale are waiting to come back with their ‘prescriptions’ for a recovery – the abolition of subsidies on basic food and fuel, the lifting of restrictions on export of essential goods and a fire-sale of low-wage, high-profit enterprises. They are not against the maintenance in power of a strong state, prepared to suppress the demands of an aroused population and the trade unions and political organizations they create.
Workers have already shown they are not prepared to pay for a crisis that is not of their making. They, and, least of all, those who aspire to give a lead to the movement, should put no trust in parties or leaders who believe free-market capitalism can solve today’s dire problems!
If working and poor people do not find or forge their own combat organizations and a party that unifies their struggles and gives a chance of victory, they will become dispirited. The prospect of suffering further deprivations will make them lose heart for the struggle. This would then give the enemy a chance to recover and reaction, even in the form of a new military coup, could triumph. The road to the socialist revolution would then be closed again for a whole period, in which it would become far more difficult to build a genuine party of labor, let alone a party of revolution.
The aim of all determined fighters must be:- For an independent party of the working class and urban and rural poor. For regular mass meetings in the workplace, the campus, the neighborhood, the village and even the army to discuss the issues of the hour and to prepare for a movement of general strike proportions. For the right of all organizations to put forward their views in these forums and for the election by these bodies of representative committees to link up on a regional and national level.
The movement must maintain an unstinting struggle. Against price rises and for a decent minimum wage. Government (tax-payers’) money must be spent on subsidies and services for the poor not on luxury housing and bail-outs for the ‘fat cats’. Against redundancies and closures and for the opening of all books of account. For the nationalization under democratic workers’ control of all failing businesses as well as the assets of Suharto and all major conglomerates, agro-businesses banks and finance houses.
The Committee for a Workers’ International is firmly of the belief that only on the basis of public ownership of industry and land and a plan of production under democratic workers’ management would it be possible to begin to rebuild the Indonesian economy. Jobs for all on decent wages and of no more than 35 hours a week duration could be allocated as desired through democratically elected representative committees. The needs and desires of working people of town and country could at last be made a priority and the conditions developed for their rapid fulfillment.
This, in the context of a revolution begun, is not a dream but a real prospect, even a necessity. The task is to build a party that has this as its strategic aim and not as a dim and distant goal for some time in the future!
We invite all those who agree to dedicate themselves to this task in the closest of contact with the parties and organizations of the CWI – in all continents and more than 40 countries of the world. Join us in an uninterrupted struggle for democracy and for the socialist transformation of society!
CWI Statement, August 1998