Marxist analysis and perspective on the Indonesian economy and politics is still rather limited for a country which ranks as the fourth most populous country in the world, a country with the largest Muslim population, and the most dominant country in Southeast Asia. The lack of such analysis can be traced back to the historical defeat of the Indonesian working class movement in 1965, which can be said to be as significant as the defeat of the German working class when the Nazis came to power.
With the resurgence of Marxism in Indonesia, the need for an economic and political perspective from a Marxist point of view has become a priority. From a correct perspective flows correct action that can bring the emancipation of the Indonesian working class and other oppressed layers of society: the poor peasants, fishermen and urban poor. The current perspectives document is by no means the first attempt at such perspective, and it won’t be the last, especially with the current turbulent world we are living. It will be the first estimation from which we can gain an understanding of what needs to be done.
Furthermore, a serious revolutionary defines his or her task from an international angle not because of sentimental values of internationalism but because the very fact that capitalism is international. While for all practical purposes, the workers must organise themselves at home as a class with their country as their immediate arena of struggle, the real content of the class struggle is international. Therefore, this document has to be read in conjunction with the 2010 World Perspective document, or else it will lose all its value. We only have to see the political writings of Tan Malaka (Naar de Republik, Massa Aksi, Thesis, etc) where he always started with international appraisals before going into the political perspective of the Indonesian revolution.
The History of “Massa Aksi”
Indonesian history has always been the most important aspect for the movement. The perversion of history by the Soeharto regime was so complete that the first important act of the Indonesian movement was to restore the history of “Massa Aksi”. 32 years of reaction under Soeharto had not only physically destroyed the working class movement but also ideologically stripped the movement completely of its tradition of mass struggle. “Floating masses”, that is the terminology used to describe the kind of society that the Soeharto regime constructed: depoliticised, historical and demobilised.
Thus, for many youth, the vanguard of the movement, relearning the tradition of “Massa Aksi” was a revolutionary act, and it is still a revolutionary act. The Soeharto regime was very afraid of the history of Indonesia, and rightly so because the history of Indonesia is a negation of the “floating mass” concept. One such work which had a very strong influence in this process is the Buru Tetralogy novels written by Pramoedya Ananta Toer. His works are comparable to Chernyshevsky’s What is to be Done?, part fiction and part propaganda, a work that influenced a whole generation of Russian youth who were to become the Bolsheviks and lead the October Revolution. Not surprisingly, within one year of publication, the novels were banned by the regime. But this didn’t stop the books from being distributed and read clandestinely by the youth.
The history of Indonesia is one which is rich in Massa Aksi. Since the awakening of nationalism, mass mobilisation has been the main trait. Contrary to what the Soeharto regime tried to portray, the Indonesian national liberation struggle was not one fought solely on the military plane. It was one fought on the political plane with mass mobilisation. Even when it was fought on the military plane, the army took the form of a people’s militia whose control was under that of the mass organisations.
Until 1965, all layers of Indonesian society were politically mobilised. Politics penetrated all aspects of life. There was a situation of pitched class struggle at that time. The 1960s was a period of revolution (and counter-revolution) throughout the world. The G30S incident spelt a complete reversal of this and Indonesia was never to be same anymore.
The 1965 counter-revolution
What happened to the Indonesian Communist Party? This is the burning question that still plagues the minds of Indonesian revolutionaries. It is therefore fitting for us to visit this question before we go on to address the 1998 Reformasi and later the prospect for the coming revolution in Indonesia.
Prior to its annihilation, the Indonesian Communist Party claimed 3 million members. The PKI also had many affiliated and sympathising mass organisations: Pemuda Rakyat (People's Youth) with 1.5 million members, SOBSI (Indonesian Centre of Workers' Organisations) with 3.8 million members (out of a total of 7 million organised workers), the BTI (Peasants Front of Indonesia) with 5 million members, and Gerwani (Indonesian Women's Movement) with 750,000 members.1 This made the PKI the third largest communist party in the world after that of the Soviet Union and China. In one stroke, and without any significant resistance, the PKI – and with it the whole workers’ and peasants’ movement – was decimated by the reactionary generals under the guidance of the “democratic” imperialist forces. What followed was a 32-year period of reaction. There is no defeat more demoralising than one without a fight.
The savagery of the ruling class is not something that we should be surprised at. Since the first attempt of the proletarian revolution, i.e. the Paris Commune in 1871, the ruling class has been brutal in their counterattacks. To put it into perspective, the failure of the Paris Commune resulted in the massacre of around 80,000 people in a town of 1.8 million people. Indonesia’s population was 90 million at the time of the 1965-66 massacre. The reasons for the failure of the Indonesian revolution lie deeper than in the mere savagery or trickery of the ruling class. That factor is a given. The important factor for us lies in the incorrect political line of the PKI.
The PKI was the mass workers’ party of Indonesia. However, it had the misfortune of being developed under the guidance of the Russian and Chinese Stalinists after the 1926-27 failed putsch. When the party was officially re-established again in 1945, like many other communist parties it had become the tool of Moscow’s foreign policy and took an incorrect policy that brought about the demise of the working class movement. It is important here to separate the genuine desire of these leaders (Aidit, Njoto, Lukman, Sudisman) to liberate the workers and peasants from their obvious political errors, or else we would not be able to move forward.
By the late 1930s, the Communist Party of Soviet Union was no longer the same party that had led the October Revolution. It had become the tool of the Soviet bureaucracy to maintain its privileges. It was no longer in their interests to fight for world socialism despite the rhetoric of the party. It sought to peacefully co-exist with capitalism and thus became an active brake on the socialist struggle around the world. The Chinese Communist Party was built on the image of the CPSU; thus the Chinese state started off where the Russian Revolution ended, i.e. as a deformed workers’ state. These two states were a massive political influence in the working class movement throughout the whole period.
This historical fact determined the fate of many communist parties around the world. The leadership of the PKI was educated in the Stalinist “two-stage theory” (which was in fact a rehashing of Menshevik policy) which in essence says that in an undeveloped country like Indonesia the first stage of the revolution is of a bourgeois democratic character in order to abolish feudalism and imperialism. Thus, the task of the communists in such country is to ally with the progressive bourgeoisie, to subordinate class struggle to national struggle against feudalism and imperialism. Only after this a gateway will be opened for class struggle toward socialism.
From “Indonesian Society and the Indonesian Revolution (Basic Problems of the Indonesian Revolution)”2, which was a political perspective of the PKI written by D. N. Aidit, “a manual for use in the Party Schools at the centre and in the provinces and approved by the CC Plenum, July 1957”, we will examine closely the “two-stage theory” of the PKI and the many contradictions of its theory and policy.
The documents started with the appraisal of current Indonesian society, which it claimed to be semi-feudal and semi-colonial. From here it flows that the “main enemy of the Indonesia revolution at the present stage is... imperialism and feudalism.”3 This is the first error. Fundamentally, Indonesian society has long been a capitalist society. Its mode of production is dominated by the capitalist mode of production, which is private ownership of the means of production. The Indonesian economy has been tied to capitalism since its first contact with the Dutch colonial power more than 400 years ago (see Appendix “The History of Capitalist Development in Indonesia”). It is semi-feudal only in the sense that the national bourgeoisie – like any other national bourgeoisie in undeveloped countries – was never able to carry out its historical task of agrarian reform, not then and not even now. It was semi-colonial only in the sense that within the context of global capitalism and the uneven development of capitalism, like many other smaller capitalist countries, it becomes a prey of bigger capitalist countries.
From this fundamental error flows the idea that the task of Indonesian revolution is to create “a people’s government” and that “this government (the People’s Democratic Government) is not a government of the dictatorship of the proletariat but a government of the dictatorship of the people.”4 (page 57).
Marx and Engels, and later Lenin, fought valiantly against the concept of the “people’s state”. Lenin in his State and Revolution explained this clearly:
“The ‘free people's state’ was a programme demand and a catchword current among the German Social-Democrats in the seventies . This catchword is devoid of all political content except that it describes the concept of democracy in a pompous philistine fashion. Insofar as it hinted in a legally permissible manner at a democratic republic, Engels was prepared to ‘justify’ its use ‘for a time’ from an agitational point of view. But it was an opportunist catchword, for it amounted to something more than prettifying bourgeois democracy, and was also failure to understand the socialist criticism of the state in general. (...) Furthermore, every state is a “special force” for the suppression of the oppressed class. Consequently, every state is not ‘free’ and not a ‘people's state’. Marx and Engels explained this repeatedly to their party comrades in the seventies.” (Lenin, State and Revolution) [Emphasis added]
Soekarno’s government was not a military dictatorship. Under his government, the communists were given free reign; they occupied cabinet and parliamentary posts. Engels was prepared to give some temporary justification for the usage of the agitational slogan “people’s state” in German in 1870s as they were living under a German Empire, an autocracy. But that was not the case in Indonesia under Soekarno. The slogan of the “people’s state” of the PKI was just another capitulation of the working class program to the national bourgeoisie.
In order to justify its two-stage policy, a progressive national bourgeoisie had to be created. Thus, the PKI twisted and turned to redefine the nature of the bourgeois class in Indonesia:
“The bourgeois class is composed of compradors and the national bourgeoisie. The big bourgeoisie that is comprador in character directly serves the interests of the big foreign capitalists and is thus fattened up by them (...) However, the national bourgeoisie displays two features. As a class that is also suppressed by imperialism and the whole development is also stifled by feudalism, this class is anti-imperialist and anti-feudal, and in this respect it is one of the revolutionary forces. (...) The Indonesian national bourgeoisie, because it too is oppressed by foreign imperialism can, in certain circumstances, and within certain limits, take part in the struggle against imperialism. In such specific circumstances, the Indonesian proletariat must build unity with the national bourgeoisie and preserve this unity with all its strength.”5 [Emphasis added]
So, there is a good bourgeoisie and there is a bad bourgeoisie. This thesis runs contrary to the Marxist class analysis. It is true that at any given time there can be splits amongst the ruling class as one section might have different secondary economic or political interests than the other sections. However, the primary interest of the whole bourgeoisie remains the same: the subjugation of the working class. The whole existence of this class is based on its rule over the proletariat.
The Indonesian national bourgeoisie was born late in history. Since the beginning, its existence was tied to imperialism. Even worse, unlike the national bourgeoisies of other developing countries (India and China for example) who played a more active and dominant role in the nationalist movement although in the end they too were incapable of completing the national liberation movement the Indonesian native bourgeoisie never led the nationalist movement.
With their incorrect appraisal of the national bourgeoisie, the PKI then actively sought an alliance with the “progressive bourgeoisie” by subordinating class struggle to national struggle, subordinating the working class to the national bourgeoisie despite their lip service to the fact that “the Indonesian revolution will not succeed unless it is under the leadership of the Indonesian proletariat.”6 History has not been kind on those who have been trying to find a progressive national bourgeoisie as one has yet to be found. Where was the progressive bourgeoisie when the PKI was crushed and millions of their supporters persecuted? Where was the progressive bourgeoisie during the military dictatorship of Soeharto?
The inconsistencies of PKI theory on the nature of the national bourgeoisie become even more vulgar:
“In facing the wavering characteristics of the Indonesian national bourgeoisie, attention should be paid to the fact that it is precisely because it is politically and economically weak that it is not very difficult to pull this class to the left, to make it stand firmly on the side of the revolution, so long as the progressive forces are large and the tactics of the Communist Party are correct. This means that the wavering element of this class is not fatal, it is not insurmountable. But on the other hand, if the progressive forces are not large and the tactics of the Communist Party not correct, then this economically weak and politically weak national bourgeoisie can easily run to the right and become hostile to the revolution.”7 [Emphasis added]
If the national bourgeoisie is already “politically and economically weak”, all the more reason to cast it aside. It is because they are weak that they are not to be made allies. In a war, allying yourself with a weak ally is never advisable because instead of strengthening your force you will find your force compromised.
Sadly enough, we are seeing the same argument now being used by the PRD/PAPERNAS to justify their turn towards an alliance with the national bourgeoisie. History repeats itself, the first time as a tragedy, the second time as a farce.
Let us look at how Lenin approached the question of alliances with other social classes and groups. During the era of the Tsar, one of the immediate tasks of the Russian proletariat was to fight against the autocracy of the Tsar. In The Tasks of the Russian Social Democrats written by Lenin in 1897 while in Siberia, he wrote:
“In the democratic, political struggle, however, the Russian working class does not stand alone; at its side are all the political opposition elements, strata and classes, since they are hostile to absolutism and are fighting it in one form or another. Here side by side with the proletariat stand the opposition elements of the bourgeoisie, or of the educated classes, or of the petty bourgeoisie, or of the nationalities, religions and sects, etc., etc., persecuted by the autocratic government. The question naturally arises of what the attitude of the working class towards these elements should be. Further, should it not combine with them in the common struggle against the autocracy? ... should they not, therefore, combine with all the elements in the political opposition to fight the autocracy, setting socialism aside for the time being? Is not this essential in order to strengthen the fight against the autocracy?
“Let us examine these two questions.
“The attitude of the working class, as a fighter against the autocracy, towards all the other social classes and groups in the political opposition is very precisely determined by the basic principles of Social-Democracy expounded in the famous Communist Manifesto. The Social-Democrats support the progressive social classes against the reactionary classes ... This support does not presuppose, nor does it call for, any compromise with non-Social-Democratic programmes and principles—it is support given to an ally against a particular enemy. Moreover, the Social-Democrats render this support in order to expedite the fall of the common enemy, but expect nothing for themselves from these temporary allies, and concede nothing to them.
“... This brings us to the second question. While pointing to the solidarity of one or other of the various opposition groups with the workers, the Social-Democrats will always single out the workers from the rest, they will always point out that this solidarity is temporary and conditional, they will always emphasise the independent class identity of the proletariat, who tomorrow may find themselves in opposition to their allies of today. We shall be told that “such action will weaken all the fighters for political liberty at the present time.” We shall reply that such action will strengthen all the fighters for political liberty. Only those fighters are strong who rely on the consciously recognised real interests of certain classes, and any attempt to obscure these class interests, which already play a predominant role in contemporary society, will only weaken the fighters. That is the first point. The second point is that, in the fight against the autocracy, the working class must single itself out, for it is the only thoroughly consistent and unreserved enemy of the autocracy, only between the working class and the autocracy is no compromise possible, only in the working class can democracy find a champion who makes no reservations, is not irresolute and does not look back. The hostility of all other classes, groups and strata of the population towards the autocracy is not unqualified; their democracy always looks back.
“The proletariat alone can be—and because of its class position must be—a consistently democratic, determined enemy of absolutism, incapable of making any concessions or compromises. The proletariat alone can be the vanguard fighter for political liberty and for democratic institutions. Firstly, this is because political tyranny bears most heavily upon the proletariat whose position gives it no opportunity to secure a modification of that tyranny—it has no access to the higher authorities, not even to the officials, and it has no influence on public opinion. Secondly, the proletariat alone is capable of bringing about the complete democratisation of the political and social system, since this would place the system in the hands of the workers. That is why the merging of the democratic activities of the working class with the democratic aspirations of other classes and groups would weaken the democratic movement, would weaken the political struggle, would make it less determined, less consistent, more likely to compromise. On the other hand, if the working class stands out as the vanguard fighter for democratic institutions, this will strength the democratic movement, will strengthen the struggle for political liberty, because the working class will spur on all the other democratic and political opposition elements, will push the liberals towards the political radicals, will push the radicals towards an irrevocable rupture with the whole of the political and social structure of present society.” [Emphasis added]
We apologise if we have to quote lengthily from Lenin, but we wish to avoid the practice of selective fragmentary quoting that many so-called Leninists like to do.
So it is clear how the Bolsheviks approached other social classes in the fight against absolutism: recognising that the proletariat and the national bourgeoisie might have the same interests for specific goals, but at the same time openly criticising the limitations of the bourgeoisie in their fight, and warning against merging democratic activities with them. In essence, the proletariat has to uphold its class independence and not cast aside its socialist goal.
This was written in 1897, before the fateful 1905 Revolution that brought the first blow to the autocracy and revealed even more the bankruptcy of the national bourgeoisie. Here is what Lenin wrote in 1906 in “The Democratic Tasks of the Revolutionary Proletariat” after the betrayal and cowardice of the national bourgeoisie in their fight against the autocracy:
“... the bourgeoisie as a whole is incapable of waging a determined struggle against the autocracy; it fears to lose in this struggle its property which binds it to the existing order; it fears an all-too revolutionary action of the workers, who will not stop at the democratic revolution but will aspire to the socialist revolution; it fears a complete break with officialdom, with the bureaucracy, whose interests are bound up by a thousand ties with the interests of the propertied classes. For this reason the bourgeois struggle for liberty is notoriously timorous, inconsistent, and half-hearted.”
The PKI, despite its claim of being Leninist, seems to have not read carefully Lenin’s writings. The workers and peasants of Indonesia had to pay dearly for the mistaken policy of the PKI: 32 years of military dictatorship that robbed the whole generation of its class fighters and tradition of class struggle.
The fall of Soeharto
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the bourgeoisie of the whole world were celebrating. They sharpened their teeth even more with their ideological assault. “Capitalism has triumphed,” so they claimed.
Indonesia was set as an example of how a country could prosper if they embraced capitalism. However, beneath the “Indonesian miracle” was the beginning of the movement that would eventually rock the whole region. Early 1990 saw the formation of the nucleus of youth who would later lead the struggle against Soeharto. These students were grouped around the PRD, the only organised Left force at that moment, working clandestinely under the threat of kidnapping and disappearance.
Early 1990 also saw the emergence of mass movements. The number of peasant protests was increasing. The number of recorded workers’ strikes rose in the 1990s, from 61 in 1990 to 300 in 1994 and even more went unrecorded. This is because the economic miracle of Indonesia was built on exploiting the workers and peasants. Jobs were getting hard to find in the villages, and more and more peasants were forced into the cities where they either settled as urban workers or urban poor.
The bourgeoisie was overconfident with their victory in 1991. So confident were they that there would never be any more revolutions, that they resorted to an orgy of speculation without any limits. Seven years prior t the 1997 economic crisis, there was a huge influx of capital into the Indonesian private sector, from $314 million in 1989 to $11.5 billion in 1996, an increase of 3500%. This massive private capital, mostly in speculative short term investment in the real estate sector, spurred economic growth reaching almost 10% a year. The bubble economy had to burst sooner or later because at the end of the day all the skyscrapers and apartments being built had no buyers. This was a classic crisis of overproduction.
The 1997 Asian Financial Crisis was a disaster, not just economically but also politically for the ruling class. Just 8 years before they had been talking about the “end of history”, that there would be no more bust in the capitalist economy and no more revolution. Here in Indonesia, the country touted as the example of the superiority of capitalism, the system crumbled. And the “floating masses” disintegrated under the pressure.
From being hailed as the “father of development”, within months Soeharto became the symbol of everything that the masses hated. In a pre-revolutionary situation, one of the characteristics that we always see is a split in the ruling class: between one section that seeks to reform the system from above in order to prevent revolution from below and another section that fears that any kind of reform will embolden the masses further.
The radicalisation of the masses in the last 9 years had made Soeharto’s position so untenable that even his most trusted man, Harmoko, the Speaker of the Parliament, urged him to step down. The capitalists, domestic and foreign, started abandoning him by suddenly shedding crocodile tears about the repression of democracy under his regime. A compromise was eventually struck: Soeharto was to resign but no trial should ever be held, and the reformists would take the helm of the movement, making sure that it went through a safe channel.
The Left, practically the PRD being the only organised force, was not ready to take power. There were many factors at play, each one reinforcing the other. The 32-year period of reaction under Soeharto was definitely the main factor. The extent to which the workers’ movement was defeated and decimated for a whole generation was so significant that it still weighed heavily on the consciousness of the masses and its leadership. Making matters worse was also the incorrect perspective on the part of the PRD, which was to rely on the progressive bourgeoisie, i.e. the reformist leaders.
The Reformasi movement did not change anything fundamental in Indonesia. When it seemed that power was in the hands of the people, with millions of people on the streets and occupying the parliament building, the power was handed back to the ruling class. What actually happened?
The reformists played exactly their historical role: saving capitalism in its moment of crisis. Therefore, their betrayal is a given factor; it is inevitable. Thus, any attempt to blame the failure of the Reformasi 1998 on these reformists does not lead us one step further. The accusation of “false reformist” (reformis gadungan) which has become a catch word amongst the Left, particularly after the failure of the 1998 movement, shows the inability to comprehend the nature of bourgeois reformers. These so-called “false reformists” are actually true reformists.
The immediate task of the 1998 Reformasi was the overthrow of the military dictatorship of Soeharto. We recognise that parliamentary democracy is a better field for the working class to fight in. However, it is one thing to recognise the need for a parliamentary democracy in place of military dictatorship; it is another thing to expect that parliamentary democracy can be realised by the bourgeois reformers. Only the workers, in alliance with the peasants and urban poor, can be relied on to carry out the democratic tasks to their completion. We expect nothing from the bourgeoisie. The PRD’s reliance on the progressive national bourgeoisie created confusion amongst the rank-and-file of PRD and its periphery. When all the bourgeois reformers betrayed the movement, the resulting ideological confusion created demoralisation within the movement for the next 3-5 years. The only answer provided is that these reformists were “false reformists”; thus the campaign to seek true reformists began anew.
Could the Left, as it was at the time, have then taken power and brought about the establishment of socialism in 1998? With the benefit of hindsight, considering all the factors, we can say that the answer to that question is negative. In order to take power, the workers needed a party which was ready to take power. The 1965 defeat robbed the working class of this chance. The PRD, the only party at that time, was too young and it lacked the necessary leadership to be able to tackle the question of power.
However, if the PRD had had a correct programme it could have emerged stronger from the failure of the Reformasi movement. With correct tactics, the PRD could have retreated in an orderly fashion and not be splintered into many factions that opened up a period of demoralisation afterwards. A good army is one that can retreat in an orderly fashion to prepare for a new stronger assault.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t support reforms. We support reforms as much as they still have a vital forcefulness, as much as they still attack the base of the ruling regime. For example, when Gus Dur was talking about abolishing the anti-communist law, the attitude of revolutionaries should have been one of support for this demand but not one of supporting the Gus Dur government. We agitate widely for this demand on our own terms, which is that only a workers’ government can completely fulfil this demand, that we can only trust the workers to fulfil this demand. We expected nothing from the bourgeois liberal government of Gus Dur. We support reforms always with a perspective of workers conquering power. Only through this can we prepare the working class for their historical task. With such a class independent policy, the rank and file of a revolutionary party will not be confused. If anything, they will gain more confidence and clarity for the upcoming task.
The eventual fate of the PRD was the only logical conclusion of their policy. With each passing year, the PRD drifted more and more towards a class collaborationist policy. Many of its cadres joined bourgeois parties. At first, in the eyes of those who are new to politics, the PRD’s rhetoric still sounded radical and revolutionary. However, beneath these revolutionary phrases one finds the idea of the “two-stages”, of supporting the so-called progressive national bourgeoisie.
The final turning-point for the PRD was their coalition with the PBR, a bourgeois party through and through, in the 2009 election. It was not even a coalition as the PRD weren’t allowed to put forward their own party name, flag, programme, etc. This electoral strategy was a complete failure. The PRD/PAPERNAS was silent about the result. So, when in their seventh congress earlier this year they changed their party’s principle from “People’s Social Democracy” (which is just another name for Marxism in the Indonesian context since the outright mentioning of Marxism is illegal) to Pancasila [the official philosophical foundation of the Indonesian state], it didn’t come as a big surprise. Unable to learn from their mistaken policy of class collaboration, there was only one way to go: return to the disastrous policy of the PKI.
Those within the PRD who deny that the PRD has held a class collaborationist policy only have to look at where the PRD is now. Many who denied this in the past finally realised it in the course of years, and they either split away (PDS, KPRM, and the PRP which was not a direct split from the PRD but a formation from the remnants of PRD cadres) or quit the party altogether and went their own separate way.
Out of the many splits and polemics of the past 10 years, the movement has gained ideological clarity. It has become clearer where everyone stands. This is a painful process that every movement has to go through. Those who make a hue and cry over the splits and pronounce them as tragic don’t understand the dialectics of the movement. Unity is needed on the Left, but not unprincipled unity that glosses over theory. The workers need to unite on a clean banner, not one filled with a hodgepodge of different ideas.
July 6, 2010
[To be continued...]
1 Justus M. van der Kroef, The Communist Party of Indonesia: Its History, Program, and Tactics (Vancouver: University of British Columbia, 1965) 166-223.
2 D.N. Aidit, Indonesian Society and the Indonesian Revolution (Jakarta: Yayasan Pembaruan, 1958).
3 Aidit 49.
4 Aidit 64.
5 Aidit 57-58.
6 Aidit 62.
7 Aidit 58-59.