The next phase of the Indonesian revolution has begun
Six months after the toppling of Suharto, Indonesian society has again been thrown into open turmoil, bordering on civil war, after 11 democracy demonstrators were killed in violent clashes with the military in Jakarta.
Rallying on November 12 during the stage-managed special session of the Suharto-appointed Peoples’ Consultative Assembly (MPR), more than 150,000 students and up to one million other people began to descend upon the parliament - the same building which was occupied by students during the dramatic events in May which toppled the old dictator. The presence of 30,000 troops and thousands of paid thugs on the streets prevented the masses occupying the building once again.
‘Reformasi total!’ - total reform - is their slogan and it is becoming clearer that the Indonesian masses will be content with nothing less than the sweeping away of the old order. While cautious, given the bloody track record of the Indonesian military, far from being cowed by the events of November 12-14, the Indonesian masses are again learning lessons and gaining confidence in their own power.
This renewed social upheaval is not only limited to Jakarta. The ruling oligarchy’s constitutional wranglings to save their skins have provided the masses with an opportunity to put their stamp on events.
The special session of the MPR, which concluded last Friday, was promised by president Habibie when he assumed power after Suharto’s resignation. It was always going to be a delaying tactic designed to preserve the regime. While the people demand freedom and democracy, the regime can only deliver bloodshed and empty promises. Its illegitimacy is displayed before the world.
It is clear to all now that Habibie is no solution. He was always going to be a stop-gap measure so that the oligarchy could gain time, throwing sop after sop to the masses. Far from satisfying their appetites, it has made them even more hungry. The regime’s hopes to marshal a safe transfer to a controlled capitalist democracy have been deeply shaken by this week’s events.
Splits are emerging above. Under pressure from the uncompromising demands of the masses, the MPR agreed to include Suharto’s name in a draft law which laughably says it aims to eradicate corruption, collusion and nepotism. This from the very assembly built through cronyism since Suharto came to power in 1965.
Elements of the ruling party, Golkar, and the military have called for Habibie to resign now. This amounts to little more than a coup threat with the alternatives put forward as armed forces chief general Wiranto or the sultan of Yogyakarta. Some of the MPR legislators are openly discussing a ‘compromise’ with the military which could include a presidium with general Wiranto, and three moderate reform leaders - muslim leader Abdurrahaman Wahid, Amien Rais, Megawati Sukarnoputri (daughter of Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno) - and the sultan of Yogyakarta.
For now, Habibie has placated the military with full support for the crackdown and giving general Wiranto carte blanche to prevent chaos. But this will only anger the people more. However, within the military forces themselves, it seems as though sides are being taken. There have been reports of the marines defending students against other military and police units.
In contrast, there seems to be growing unity and confidence below. In contrast to the May events, the demonstration organised for the MPR session was coordinated by Akrab, a joint committee formed at the end of October bringing together all the forces demanding complete abolition of the military’s role in politics and rejecting the legitimacy of the MPR. The alliance ranges from those around the militants of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PRD) to the most moderate of the student groups. Whereas in May moderate students - the majority in the parliament occupation - voted against mobilising the urban poor and working class, last week the students unanimously voted to involve all sectors of society.
The army had organised thousands of thugs armed with bamboo poles. The so-called Civil Security attacked the students who fought back. A PRD report states: “In the first clashes between these thugs and students, the students fought back. On seeing some of these clashes, the Jakarta urban poor poured out of their neighbourhoods, sometimes armed with air rifles and other weapons, and defended the students.”
It was on the evening of November 13 that the killings occurred after around 15,000 students had broken through blockades around the parliament during the previous evening. According to the PRD, this was when the indiscriminate firing of rubber bullets at crowds of students and urban poor took place in all sectors of the city. In many areas where the military attacked, both the masses and students fought back with rocks and other projectiles including molotov cocktails.
“Part of the new consciousness among the students that was evident [from] November 11, was that they would fight back if attacked or if force was used to try to stop their advance on the parliament building.”
Clearly a revolution is developing in Indonesia, but what sort of revolution is it? Many, not least in Indonesia itself, say a bourgeois democratic revolution.
Lenin once said, referring to Russia 1905, that it was an odd sort of bourgeois democratic revolution that was led by the working class in alliance with the peasantry. As we have remarked before, Lenin did not let a bad formulation get in the way of a good revolution. The category of ‘bourgeois democratic revolution’ was inherited from the Second International and later codified by Stalin.
In their hands the bourgeois democratic revolution was a necessary and predetermined historical stage. Thus, faced with any revolutionary crisis, they expected the bourgeoisie to lead and the working class to follow. True, in 1642, 1776, and 1789 the middling classes took the position of leadership. However, in general since then this class has become thoroughly conservative, not to say counterrevolutionary.
And yet we are left with this fixed category of ‘bourgeois democratic revolution’ - part of the theoretical baggage which has led us to defeat time and again. The Stalinites rediscovered its Menshevik content of two stages and applied it with murderous results in China in 1927 and beyond, subordinating the proletariat to the mythical ‘progressive’ bourgeoisie.
In the hands of the Trotskyites, the ‘bourgeois democratic revolution’ has divided the world in half. In their rigid schema, democratic tasks are to be undertaken primarily by the bourgeoisie. The working class’s task is an abstract ‘socialism’ which is arrived at through transitional demands which for the Trotskyites are separate and different from democratic demands. In the advanced countries, by and large, the democratic questions have supposedly been solved by the ‘bourgeois revolution’. However, in the backward countries that has not yet occurred. Avoiding the treachery of the Stalinites, the Trotskyites say that the bourgeoisie is incapable of carrying out ‘their’ democratic tasks in such countries and it is left to the proletariat to clean up the mess.
Both schemas remain hamstrung by the Menshevik theory of the bourgeois democratic revolution, and both must be ditched, if we are to move forward to a 21st century of revolutionary victories. The unfolding revolution in Indonesia can and must assist us in developing a programme which will arm us for such victories.
For the first time in decades, the masses are determining history more and more consciously. Suharto is gone, but Habibie is no solution. Reform must be total. The army is not trusted. But just whose revolution is it? At present, that question has not been answered. The oligarchy around Habibie-Wiranto is struggling to hold itself together. But it is clear they will fail. So far the student-led revolutionary or ‘total reform’ movement seems to be pressuring the ‘democratic’ bourgeois such as Rais and Megawati to take power - some because they believe in them, fewer in order to expose them. Yet it is these forces which represent counterrevolution as much as Wiranto and the hated Kostrad special forces. On one side of the road to revolution is an imperialist sponsored ‘democratic’ settlement which would then crush its more radical supporters. On the other side is a coup and naked repression.
The most coherent force to emerge from the revolution so far has been the Peoples Democratic Party (PRD). It has been instrumental in uniting the student forces and the urban poor into action on November 12-13. Its slogans - calling for the removal of the military from political life, the trial of Suharto and his cronies, the expropriation of their wealth, and the formation of a transitional government with themselves and all other anti-government forces - have widespread support, forcing the government and the MPR to respond.
Yet it appears that many in the PRD view the Indonesian revolution through a Menshevik-style, two-stages prism. Leading PRD comrades decry Rais and Megawati and other bourgeois for not leading ‘their’ revolution.
The PRD have close links with the Democratic Socialist Party in Australia. The DSP was once a member of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International. It is revealing that one of the main reasons for the split from Usec in the early 1980s was due to the DSP’s abandonment of permanent revolution and the adoption of some form of two-stage theory of revolution in the backward countries. Concretely, this arose out of the Nicaraguan revolution and the DSP’s desire to give uncritical support to the Sandinista regime.
The DSP’s current programme seems ambiguous. It states: “The complete and lasting attainment of the goals of national liberation in the Third World can only be carried out by an anti-imperialist movement based on an alliance of the working class and the peasantry that transfers power to a revolutionary-democratic government and destroys the capitalist state apparatus” (Programme of the DSP 1995, p21). While this seems close to a Leninist conception of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry, the very next paragraph throws some doubt on the comrades’ consistency.
It says: “While bourgeois nationalist forces may be part of such a movement, historical experience has shown that the national liberation movement will not succeed if these forces enjoy political hegemony within it, or if the revolutionary-democratic forces subordinate the mobilisation of the worker-peasant masses to the goal of maintaining bourgeois nationalists within the anti-imperialist alliance” (ibid).
Slippery stuff. While this formulation argues for the hegemony of the revolutionary-democratic forces, at the same time it allots the bourgeois (note: not petty bourgeois) nationalists an anti-imperialist - ie, progressive - role. This is a capitulation to Menshevism and Stalinism.
The truth is that the national(ist) bourgeoisie is thoroughly reactionary.
At the level of tactics all manner of temporary alliances are possible. But to ascribe a programmatically progressive role to the national bourgeoisie will lead to disaster. I cannot pronounce fully on the correct tactics vis-à-vis the bourgeois ‘democratic’ forces of Rais and Megawati, but to call for a government of these people is fundamentally wrong. Yet in May that is what the PRD did.
While support for Amien Rais et al as part of a coalition which includes the PRD may be intended to expose those sections of the current movement who are conciliatory to the regime, it carries the danger of handing the initiative over to counterrevolutionary forces. The example of the Iranian revolution of 1979-81 and its slaughter by the mullahs cannot be forgotten. Not a transitional government of reactionaries, but a provisional government born of the revolution, committed to the free election of a constituent assembly.
The PRD’s tactical approach to the bourgeois forces carries a real danger of liquidating the revolutionary wing of the democratic movement. Indeed, after the events of the past week, the PRD’s demands seem to be lagging behind those of the most militant and mobilised worker, urban poor and peasant masses. While the PRD merely call for the abolition of the ‘dual role’ of the military - that is, its removal from political life - they want rid of the military altogether. They are defending their own demonstrations with sticks, stones, molotov cocktails and air rifles. Four of the armed thugs sent against last week’s demonstration paid with their lives. What is needed is the call to form the masses into armed defence corps. This is the key to splitting the military, from bottom to top.
The revolution in Indonesia can succeed only if it is led by the working class in alliance with the peasantry – this is what student radicals should work for. They should coordinate and give priority to revolutionary committees in factories, workplaces, and working class neighbourhoods. Here are the embryonic organs of dual power and the future provisional government. The land question too must be urgently addressed. Indonesia is still an agrarian country. Already, peasants are occupying landlords’ estates. A pledge to give land rights to the peasants would win them to the revolution and help split an army with its substantial peasant composition.
The MPR’s decrees allow for multi-party elections next year, an ‘in principle’ agreement to phase out the role of the military in politics and a bogus investigation of corruption under Suharto. This is way below popular demands and expectations. More confrontations between the masses and the state are inevitable. Six months after the ousting of Suharto, the Indonesian masses must have learnt considerable lessons and have started dreaming of things they never thought possible.
With a ‘reformasi’ movement developing in Malaysia, the material for a regional revolutionary movement is emerging. The lessons for us all, no matter its outcome, will be great indeed.
Victory to the democratic revolution in Indonesia! Victory to the working class and peasant alliance!