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The explosive potential of the Indonesian working class

The explosive potential of the Indonesian working class
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The national territory of Indonesia consists of an archipelago of 14,000 islands, ranging from large to minute, which are host to around 300 different ethnic groups by race, language, culture, history and level of social development. Despite this diversity of peoples, the anti-colonial revolution in this ex-Dutch colony managed to muster sufficient forces to form an independence movement which succeeded in nationalising western property, and defeating a series of independence movements fomented and armed by various imperialist powers. Rich in natural resources, with a soil and climate favourable to cultivation, and with a large labour force, Indonesia plunged headlong into the cycle of capitalist accumulation with all the dreadful extremes which accompany it: enrichment of the bourgeois class and extreme impoverishment of the industrial slaves, monstrous urbanisation and rural desolation, huge farms and ruination of the peasantry, and so on and so forth. Indispensable pivot of this painful subversion of the previous state of affairs was the dictatorial authority of Jakarta, whose functionaries issued in the main from the Javanese bourgeoisie.

Having exhausted its revolutionary «non-aligned» period, this state had to immediately settle accounts with a huge and concentrated proletariat, which had equipped itself with defensive organisations and joined a party claiming communist credentials of a Stalinist variety in large numbers, demonstrating its interest in the political life of the country and the wish to condition the choice of government.

The necessity of accessing global capital in order to develop the national capital meant setting aside any utopian notions of «non-alignment» and accepting the orders of imperialism, with the strongest Imperialist, America, calling the shots. This transition involved a change of government, a bloody repression of the workers' organisations and unconditional surrender to Western interests. The reinforcement of the State and anti-proletarian operations, involving a year of massacres, was entrusted in 1965 to the army, equipped and financed by the USA, and operating either openly or exploiting recent and ancient ancestral tensions between the multitude of ethnic groups in the population. The State was «entrusted to the management» of the Suharto clan who, it is said, have siphoned off disproportional dividends over the last thirty years.

The form of government has been one of «guided democracy» with seats in the assembly reserved for the army, with parties selected by the Executive, and no responsibility taken for control of the police.

The military occupation of the Western half of the island of Timor got underway in 1975 immediately following its abandonment by the previous Portuguese colonisers, an undertaking which was undertaken with the explicit blessing of the United States as compensation to Indonesia for its subjection to the strategic interests and economics of the Dollar. Amongst the resources of the island, as well as tourism, there is oil, which is exploited by American and Australian companies.

The population of this small ex-colony consisted of 845,000 inhabitants within 14,870 sq km speaking numerous dialects of the local linguistic group, Tetum, as well as Portuguese. It did not accept the annexation and was subjected to what can only be referred to as an extermination by regular and irregular Indonesian forces: after 25 years of occupation a third of the population, 200,000, had been killed.

In 1998 came the downfall of the rigidly paternalistic dictatorship of the Suharto clan, brought to its knees by its inability to be sufficiently adaptable in the face of a severe economic crisis. Referred to in our press at the time, rioting broke out in February against the rise in the cost of living and the level of resulting impoverishment (rice is rationed in April) and culminated in May, when the American Secretary of State «advised» Suharto to step down; advice which in the space of a few hours was accepted. May 1998 also saw the army, both on its own account and utilising the «Islamic» lumpen proletariat, seeking to divert the anti-government revolt into a pogrom against the Chinese and Catholic minorities.

The new government, having sworn allegiance to the holy institutions of democracy and its electoral rites, hasn't managed to even scratch the real power in the country, which is the omnipresent army, neither has it managed to exert the slightest influence on the still disastrous course of the economic crisis and the dire impoverishment of the city and rural proletariat. Demonstrations and social struggles have therefore continued as before. In June 1998, there was a new upsurge of demonstrations by the students and the poor of Jakarta. Included in their demands is the significantly anti-nationalist demand of independence for East Timor. In July there are renewed secessionist demonstrations in Irian (Western New Guinea) for the annexation of Western New Guinea to Papua new Guinea. Meanwhile in the Aceh region in the North West of Sumatra, the army continues repressive action against a third independence movement; action which in the last two years alone has resulted in 781 dead and 168 disappeared. In September and November there are more urban protests against the cost of living and provocations against the Chinese and Catholic communities.

In February 1999 the Habibie government, in what Jakarta politicians consider a rash move, yields to Portugal's request for a referendum on East Timor to be called, and agrees to be bound by the decision even if the response entails independence.

In March peoples are put to flight and there is fighting in the Moluccan Islands between the indigenous population and immigrants from the Celebes with 200 dead. In May a further 34 people are killed in Aceh and there's an demonstration calling for independence.

Celebrations in East Timor, following the outcome of the referendum approving secession by an overwhelming majority, is followed by the expected deployment of the Indonesian military against the civil population, independence fighters, and Christians: this already amounts at the time of writing (August 1999) to tens of thousands of dead.

Clearly the origin of all these episodes of real suffering isn't peripheral but central; they are all refractions of the one major evil to be sought in the economic and social crisis of the Indonesian giant. Despite these conflicts assuming racial, ethnic, religious, autonomist and independendist guises, ultimately they are all expressions, in specific contexts, of the same crisis of capitalist overproduction. The fragmented form these struggles take merely serves to hide from the protagonists the real causes of their suffering and to divert them towards the achievement of partial objectives or nothing whatsoever. This is shown by the fact that it is often harassment and ill-treatment by the army, or the services in general, which provoke the population into fighting; an army which in Indonesia is the proprietor of banks, industries and illicit traffic and therefore acts on its own behalf as an economic power that has to maintain its prestige and get a return on its money.

After 25 years of blatantly ignoring the massacres in Timor, the imperialist powers suddenly seem to be experiencing a tugging at their heart-strings and have embarked on the umpteenth humanitarian mission. This time it is headed by the Australian bourgeoisie, which has staked a claim to the right to extract oil from Timorese waters, for which it has a regular contract... with Indonesia. Meanwhile, China, India and Japan are mysteriously silent confronted with all these movements of foreign navies in their territorial waters. It is evidently an inter-imperialist confrontation in which the role assigned in this drama to the poverty stricken populations of the small equatorial island of East Timor, whether they like it or not, is bound to be that of hostage and sacrificial victim.

But if giving up Timor might let the genie out of the bottle and lead to other secessions, what the Indonesian, and global, bourgeoisie really fear is that the proletariat in the main islands will revolt against a common oppression; against the real enemy constituted by the Indonesian possessing class and its state, whether democratic or whatever other form it takes.

If the social revolt was never really going to take off in the middle of the jungle or amidst the emerald waters of a coral lagoon, what is certain is that a reborn Indonesian workers' and communist movement will never gather up the banners of bourgeois irredentism and the indivisibility of any country, unless it would make itself the successor of the dirty enterprises of General Wiranto. Only the victory of the proletariat will manage to be both avenger and liberator from so many and such cruel oppressions.

Source: «Communist Left», N° 14, Autumn 2000. Translated from the September 1999 edition of «Il Partito Comunista»

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