Capitulation to junior imperialism

East Timor and Australian DSP

Just days after the East Timorese people emphatically rejected special autonomy within Indonesia in favour of independence, the Indonesian military has unleashed its bloodhounds in the form of pro-Jakarta death squads. The situation in Dili and outlying areas is spiralling ‘out of control’ (under the control of the army). Martial law has been declared and in Indonesia itself there is talk of an impending coup. The government has rejected any immediate deployment of an international peacekeeping force. The United Nations is withdrawing its mission from Dili immediately.

Yet sabres are rattling. With the UN sending a mission to Jakarta, the US and Australian governments have ruled out an “uninvited” military presence in East Timor - for now. But as pressure builds this stance will become increasingly difficult. With thousands of troops moved to the northern Australian city of Darwin on 24-hour active notice and the third party of Australian politics, the Democrats, calling for immediate military action, some sort of international ‘solution’ - whether welcomed by Jakarta or not - is looking likely.

In East Timor itself, reports of massacres and forced migrations to Indonesian West Timor is piling pressure on the Australian government in particular. Jose ‘Xanana’ Gusmao - the leader of the East Timorese resistance movement, Fretilin - has been released after seven years in gaol and is now in Dili. The East Timorese independence organisations are calling for the UN to intervene, or, if necessary, for other powers to push in uninvited.

This is causing a furore in Australia. Echoes of Kosova and Nato’s intervention are reverberating, as the liberal mainstream press begins to accuse the UN of sitting on its hands while thousands are terrorised and killed. The conservative Liberal Party Prime Minister John Howard has said there is a need to balance stability with the safety of Australian soldiers. The French government has been the first western country to call for immediate military force - with or without Indonesian approval.

It is in times of crisis such as this that political programmes are tested. The response of the left to the crisis in Kosova revealed much that was fossilised in living flesh and blood, as the main organisations of the old sects revealed their bankruptcy through their different opportunistic slogans. Support Yugoslavia! Demand UN intervention! No to Kosovar self-determination! Rights for states, not people! Welfare, not warfare! Condemn all involved!

Only a small minority - CPGB, Socialist Outlook, Workers Power - took a principled position: Against Nato! Independence for Kosova!

We are beginning to see the same confusion raise its head over East Timor. Incredibly, the main left organisation in Australia, the Democratic Socialist Party, has demanded the immediate deployment of Australian troops. Its national executive statement of September 6 said: “The Democratic Socialist Party calls on all supporters of democracy to mobilise to demand that the Australian government insist that the United Nations authorise the immediate dispatch of Australian troops to East Timor.” Further, it states that: “If the United Nations Security Council continues to argue that an international military force cannot be sent to East Timor without the Indonesian government’s agreement, then the Australian government should act unilaterally and send its armed forces into East Timor.” On the surface, this outright capitulation to Australian junior imperialism is all the more surprising, given the DSP’s active involvement in support for the East Timorese resistance through its front organisation, Action in Solidarity for Indonesia and East Timor. But this belies the DSP’s consistent tailist method in all its international work. It bases its approach on the ‘diplomatic internationalism’ characteristic of the ‘official’ communist parties, not consistent and honest proletarian internationalism.

In calling for imperialism to solve the crisis in East Timor (which was in no small measure created by Australia in the first place), the DSP said: “All East Timorese national liberation forces have called for immediate UN-authorised military intervention in East Timor.” Apparently it does not want to endanger its links with Indonesian and Timorese organisations by pointing out the dangers in relying on imperialism - but perhaps that is a generous interpretation.

As in Kosova, it is not surprising that nationalist forces such as Fretilin call on the UN to come to its rescue. There is no effective, internationally organised working class movement - let alone core republics where the working class holds power. If these existed, then such forces would surely look elsewhere. Nevertheless, whatever the state of our movement, we must not dissolve our programme into the ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ expediency of petty bourgeois national liberation movements.

The DSP must answer these questions: does imperialism have a progressive role to play in East Timor? How does your call for imperialism to assist the East Timorese resistance further the revolutionary movement in Australia and Indonesia?

Such a slide into liberalism is disgusting in a supposedly Marxist organisation. Just as Noam Chomsky ended up supporting US troops invading Haiti, the DSP has fallen into the camp of those who, in desperation, are forced to the conclusion that ‘there is no alternative’. But there is no such thing as benign imperialism.

Yet this does not mean that nothing can be done. As demonstrators in Jakarta, Darwin, Sydney and Melbourne have already shown, the only democratic solution for East Timor lies in the hands of the Indonesian masses, supported by working class mobilisation across the world. It is clear that the Indonesian military is behind the horror. It is also clear that the Indonesian regime - under both caretaker Habibie and his most likely successor Megawati - is deeply reactionary. The regime and all its factions rests on the bones of half a million communists - massacred with CIA connivance in 1965. The Indonesian masses - above all the working class - must demand: No imperialist intervention! Arm Fretilin!  Disband the armed forces! Organise a popular militia! Indonesia must be forced to concede immediate independence for East Timor!

Working class organisations throughout the world ought to emulate and generalise the protest action taken by the Australian Services Union. Its members occupied the offices of Garuda - Indonesia’s national airline. The Australian Council of Trade Unions is considering placing a ban on all Indonesian imports, echoing the actions of the Communist Party-led unions in the 1940s against the Dutch in their oppression of the Indonesian national liberation movement. We must mobilise our own class, not rely on Australian junior imperialism.

The DSP’s line has already produced a storm of condemnation. And rightly so. Doug Lorimer, DSP executive member and the organisation’s leading theorist has responded, saying:

“Our call for supporters of democracy (ie, most working people) to mobilise to demand that the Australian government immediately send troops to East Timor to liberate the East Timorese people from the Indonesian military’s genocidal occupation is a call for the working people to actively oppose the Australian imperialist government’s reactionary alliance with the Indonesian military and for the Australian government to take immediate action to put a stop to the genocide bring carried out right now by the Indonesian military against the East Timorese nation.”

Lorimer invokes Lenin’s pamphlet written during World War I, Socialism and war:

“Lenin begins by pointing out that ‘We Marxists differ from pacifists and anarchists in that we deem it necessary to study each war historically (from the standpoint of Marx’s dialectical materialism) and separately.’ He goes on to quote Clausewitz’s famous dictum, ‘War is the continuation of politics by other (ie, violent) means’.”

Exactly. Australia’s war in Indonesia and East Timor could only but be a continuation of its reactionary politics at home and abroad during peaceful times. A DSP-backed war would be a continuation of opportunism. Rather than appealing to the Indonesian and Australian masses to take action, opportunist strategy is to demand that the government ‘do something’ in order to ‘expose’ it. But the DSP’s statement does not even amount to ‘exposing’ imperialism: rather to giving advice. It is calling on the Australian state to shift from one imperialist tactic (brutal connivance with Indonesia) to another (military opposition to Indonesia’s occupation and pogroms).

Ending pogroms and a peaceful transition to independence with as little disturbance as possible is clearly in the interests of Australia. What the DSP is demanding dovetails with those interests, not with the interests of the Australian, Indonesian and East Timorese masses - which lie in self-activity. As imperialism has shown in Kosova, it is quite capable of intervening militarily under the guise of protecting ‘human rights’. Lorimer, again dishonestly turning to Lenin to excuse his conversion to social-imperialism, says that it is perfectly alright to call on Australia to intervene because its imperialist bourgeoisie has no territorial designs on East Timor. He writes: “We are not in the midst of an inter-imperialist war. Australian imperialism is not seeking to annex East Timor, or use defence of East Timor’s right to national independence to ‘grab at’ some other state’s territory.” Yet imperialist stability and continued exploitation of the millions-strong working class in Indonesia is the aim. For this, Australia could go to war.

The US/British-led force against Yugoslavia had no goal of ‘annexing’ Kosova. There was no inter-imperialist war. Yet the DSP rightly opposed UN involvement and the “uninvited” K-for. Where is the consistency, comrades?

It will be instructive to keep an eye on the other end of the Trotskyite spectrum. In the event of an imperialist intervention in East Timor, will those organisations (SWP et al) which opposed self-determination for Kosova and refused critical support to the KLA’s struggle against the Serb army feel obliged to turn their backs on Fretilin too? Will this liberation movement be transformed into yet another ‘cat’s-paw of imperialism’ by the very act of the west’s opposition to Jakarta? Will the struggle for national liberation by the East Timorese become ‘secondary’ in view of the overriding need to defend non-imperialist Indonesia?

Marcus Larsen