Ted Grant

Indonesia: the Asian Revolution has begun

Source: In Defence Of Marxism, May 22, 1998. Co-authored with Alan Woods.
Markup: Maarten, May 2008

The news of Suharto’s resignation hit the world like a bombshell. For thirty-two years, this bloody tyrant ruled Indonesia with a rod of iron, having come to power over the corpses of over a million people. Now he has been blown away like a dead leaf in the wind. The magnificent mass movement of the students and workers has won a great victory. To the very last minute, Suharto clung to power, threatening a bloodbath if the masses continued to defy him. But in the moment of truth the whole edifice of repression collapsed like a house of cards in the face of a popular uprising. This is the beginning of a revolution. It is like 1931, when the Spanish monarchy was deposed and the Republic proclaimed. This opened the flood-gates of revolution. Indonesia has now entered the same road.

The events in Indonesia have caused shock-waves in international capitalism. Just when things seemed to be going nicely for the bourgeoisie, the crisis in Asia struck with the devastating force of a tropical typhoon. Now the economic crisis has begun to express itself in social and political terms. The press, as usual, tries to cover up the real situation by painting a picture of chaos and anarchy. But among themselves the strategists of capital know that what is occurring in Indonesia is not just a riot. It is the beginning of a revolution. It is essential that all conscious workers are clear on what is happening in this key Asian country.

To some extent the bourgeoisie have only themselves to blame for the recent events. For decades they have looted the economies of Asia, Africa and Latin America, forcing them to open up to the big multinationals and imperialism, lower their tariffs, sell off their industries and utilities for derisory sums. The prices of the raw materials they mainly export have been pushed down while the prices of the commodities and machinery exported from the advanced countries to the Third World have constantly increased. The resulting indebtedness of the ex-colonial countries has reached astronomic proportions and will never be paid off. The crippling interest on the debt crushes their economies. And the international policemen of Capital, the IMF and World Bank, watch like hawks to see that every cent is paid, on pain of severe sanctions. Thus, world imperialism has placed two thirds of the world’s population on hunger rations.

The greed of the bourgeoisie is accompanied by gross stupidity. They believed that this merry carnival of money-making would go on forever. They had discovered the alchemists’ stone which would turn base metal into gold. The fact that this gold was coined from the blood, sweat and tears of millions of the poorest and most downtrodden people on earth was a matter of sublime indifference to them. These bloodsuckers were only interested in extracting the maximum in exchange for the minimum, and to hell with the consequences. But this ruthless squeezing of the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America has led to the piling up of insoluble contradictions over a period of decades. And now the day of reckoning has come.

The events in Indonesia have caught them by surprise. They try to comfort themselves with the thought that this is “just a riot.” It reminds one forcibly of the king of France in 1789, when he asked one of his courtiers whether there was a riot, and was told: “No sire, it is a revolution.” Such stupidity is typical of a doomed class that refuses to believe that the writing is on the wall for its system. There have been riots in Zimbabwe and Tanzania, provoked by the ruthlessness of the IMF. That was already a warning that the patience of the masses was reaching its limits. But the Indonesian events are qualitatively different. These are not just riots, but the beginnings of a revolution which will unfold over a period of months and years and will shake Asia and the world.

Overnight the world has “discovered” that Suharto is a bloody dictator who has slaughtered millions. The imperialists wring their hands and appeal for peace and democracy. But this is all a hypocritical farce. The West has known all along who Suharto was, and backed him to the hilt. In 1965, when he rose to power over the corpses of over a million communists, the West publicly looked the other way, but in private applauded the butchery and actively participated in it. The CIA provided the Indonesian army with the names and addresses of all known communists and sympathisers, who were then murdered. For over three decades Wall Street and the City of London have financed this mass murderer with no qualms of conscience. Western governments—including, to its shame, the present Labour government in London—have continued to sell arms and police equipment to Jakarta. Although US military aid to Indonesia has been banned since 1992, the Pentagon has conducted joint training with elite Indonesian military units under a Joint Combined Exchange and Training (JCET) program. Since 1993, the US military has conducted 41 JCET training programs with the Indonesian military at a cost of 3.4 million dollars. What did it matter as long as the money kept coming in? As the German saying goes, “money does not smell”. Suharto was the guardian of stability, and stability, as anyone will tell you, is the first condition for serious money-making. The murder of over a million men, women and children was just a little detail, which, moreover, could be justified on economic grounds. It restored “order”, albeit the order of the graveyard. Things seemed to be nicely tied up for the men of money in London and New York. Until now.

Crony capitalism

The explosion in Indonesia is not something that has come from nowhere. It is not even the result of the recent economic collapse in Asia, although that has undoubtedly acted as a powerful catalyst. It is the result of the accumulation of insoluble contradictions over decades. Indonesia, like all the other tigers, was held up as a shining example of what capitalism could achieve for formerly backward countries. In point of fact, the large infusion of foreign capital solved none of the fundamental problems of Indonesian society, but merely exacerbated them. What it did do was to strengthen the working class, the only force that can really show a way out of the impasse and bring about a thorough and progressive transformation of society.

In common with all the other bourgeoisies of the ex-colonial countries, the Indonesian bourgeoisie is rotten and corrupt to the core. It has shown its complete inability to transform Indonesian society on progressive lines. After half a century of so-called independence, it has solved not a single one of the basic problems—neither the agrarian problem, nor the national problem, neither modernisation nor democracy, nor even genuine independence has been achieved. The Indonesian bourgeoisie has arrived too late on the stage of history to play a progressive role. Weak and degenerate, it can only play the role of the local office-boy of foreign imperialism. The clearest expression of this is the plundering of the country by the Suharto family and its hangers-on who own and control a large slice of the economy. Thus, in spite of its huge natural resources, the fourth most populated country in the world has been reduced to beggary and humiliating dependence on hand-outs from the IMF. This is the end result of half a century of bourgeois “independence” in Indonesia.

The Suharto family have ruled Indonesia like a royal dynasty, or, more correctly, like robber barons, for 32 years. They own the best part of the economy which they plunder without restraint, giving an entirely new meaning to the expression “Keep it in the family.” President Suharto and his six children have an estimated net wealth of $40 billion, equal to roughly half the country’s gross domestic product. Their influence flows to nearly every capillary of Indonesian life: they control assets from oil and electricity to planes, cars, toll roads and media. Igit Harjojudanto, Suharto’s eldest son, along with Bambang largely owns petrochemical sector. Bambang Trihatmodjo, his middle son, controlled Bank Andromeda (25 per cent share), owned PT Bimanatara Citra group listed on the Jakarta stock exchange, and, in his spare time, is the treasurer of the ruling Golkar party . He also owns shares in the tanker operator Osprey Maritime and is part owner of 75 per cent of the Chandra Asri petrochemical plant. The notorious Hutomo (Tommy) Mandala Putra owns the Bank Utama jointly with Siti Hutami, runs the Timor national car project and PT Timor Putra Nasional. He also set up and controls Humpuss Group, as well as PT Humpuss Intermoda Transportasi. In addition he controlled a trade monopoly on cloves (now dismantled), and owns Goro company. So much for the sons. But the daughters did not do too badly, either. Siti Hardijanti Rukmana (Tutut), the President’s eldest daughter, controls PT Citra Marga Nusaphala Persada toll road operator, owns Bank Yama, is deputy chairman of the Golkar party, as well as welfare minister. She set up the Citra Lamtoro Gung group and jointly holds 30 per cent of shares in the Bank Central Asia, together with Sigit. Siti Hediati Harijadi Prabowo, the middle daughter, controls an 8 per cent stake in bank Industri. Siti Hutami Endang Andyningsih, the youngest daughter, is only a joint owner of Bank Utama, together with Hutomo.

This is “crony capitalism” on a vast scale, where the whole of this huge and potentially wealthy country is systematically fleeced by the Suharto clique and foreign imperialism. The simmering discontent and indignation at this state of affairs affects all classes, not just the workers and peasants, but a large number of petty bourgeois and students, creating a potentially explosive situation. For some time this was masked by economic growth which held out the prospect of future amelioration. But the crisis in Asia instantly reduced these dreams to ashes. Overnight, the Indonesian economy was plunged into crisis. the rupiah fell to 11,000 to the dollar. The bankruptcy of the economy rapidly laid bare the bankruptcy of the régime.

The Indonesian events must be seen in the context of the general crisis in Asia which has hit Indonesia particularly hard. The crisis in Asia has had a devastating effect on jobs, wages and living standards. Many workers, sacked from their jobs, are now faced with the prospect of savage increases in the price of basic necessities. Spokeswoman for The Indonesian Women’s Association for Justice (APIK) Sriwiyanti pointed out that the employers are using the worsening economic crisis to justify the current wave of lay-offs and dismissals. She added:

“‘There is no question that the crisis has led many companies to the brink of bankruptcy but a lot of companies which have not been badly affected had used the issue to dismiss employees in the name of efficiency,’ she claimed.” (Jakarta Post, 5/5/98.)

“The price rises follow lay-offs of millions of workers, caused by the collapse of the economy and the devaluation of the rupiah. Unrest is growing across the country as the Suharto Government ends subsidies on basic goods in line with the conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund in return for its economic rescue package.” (Sydney Morning Herald, 7/5/98.)

The collapse of the rupiah from around the 2,400 level against the dollar last July plunged Indonesia into its worst economic crisis since Suharto took power in the mid-1960s. Inflation and unemployment are shooting up, most companies are in technical bankruptcy and trade has come to a virtual standstill. The increase in fuel prices were part of the IMF reform agreement, but were obviously going to cause terrible hardship in a nation dependent on transport between 17,500 islands spread for 5,000 km (3,000 miles) along the Equator. The per capita income of Indonesians as measured in US dollars has already dropped by at least 60% over the last six months. This is reflected in the inability of an increasing number of Indonesians to get access to basic commodities as prices soar. Prices of basic foodstuffs and cooking oil have increased 20 per cent. Massive hoarding has made some goods scarce, including rice. The government has been forced to announce that it will import an additional 500,000 tonnes of rice to meet demand as panic buying continues.

It is not quite true that the IMF’s measures were responsible for the explosion. They were only the spark that ignited the powder-keg. As Hegel once said, necessity expresses itself through accident. With or without the IMF’s measures, there would have been an eruption. The ground for it had been prepared by the whole of the previous period. The increase in prices of rice, cooking oil and other basic necessities of life was the last straw. As the rupiah plunged to 10,000 to the dollar, the IMF used the opportunity to force further concessions from the Suharto government. Desperate to restore some stability to the currency, Suharto was forced to accept even more stringent conditions. The new letter of intent signed between the IMF and Suharto on January 15th increased concessions on two fronts. First, the regime has had to agree to end subsidies for electricity and oil. The rise in energy prices will maintain high inflation for an extended period. The increase in fuel prices represented an average of 47%, and electricity prices by 60%. The official Suharto-IMF estimate is that inflation will be at least 20% per year for the foreseeable future, though in practice it will be more. The burden will fall disproportionately on the poorest sections of society. Increased fuel prices will especially hit the 50 million poor in Java. Since the destruction of Java’s forests and the loss of all firewood, the mass of people are dependent on kerosene for both cooking and the essential boiling of drinking water.

On Monday the fourth of May, bowing to pressure from the IMF, the Indonesian government Monday announced an increase in public transportation fares, only a few hours after it announced price hikes for fuel and electricity in accordance with an International Monetary Fund (IMF) recommendation to reduce government subsidies for the two commodities. Inflation is already running at an annual rate of close to 30 percent, with prices jumping 4.7 percent in April from a month earlier. Some fuel prices rose 71 percent The increases covered bus, train and ship transportation fares with an average increase of 65.61%, The highest increase of 100.72% were imposed on economy-class train fares, while economy-class inter-city bus fares were increased by 50 %. Fares for regular buses and minibuses, which are used daily by most commuters, were raised by 66.67% and 50% respectively—from 300 rupiahs (about 4 US cents) to 500 rupiahs for buses and from 400 rupiahs to 600 rupiahs for minibuses. Fares for diesel-powered trains were raised 72.96%, while ship fares—very important in a country made up of a large number of islands—were raised 53.33%.

The Minister of Mines and Energy Kuntoro Mangkusubroto acknowledged the price hikes would be a hardship for the public, but said the decision was “the best” from a list of “hard and bitter” choices. Leading opposition figure Megawati Sukarnoputri castigated the government for the increases, saying they showed Suharto’s administration was out of touch with the people. Just how far out of touch was immediately revealed. The “hard and bitter” choices produced a result that neither the government nor its foreign backers, nor the bourgeois opposition leaders, anticipated. There was a sudden and spontaneous explosion. Violence erupted as soon as the increase in fuel and transport prices was announced:

“‘Everybody is now complaining about the prices,’ said Yayah Syamsiah, a 40-year-old noodle vendor in Jakarta who has six children. ‘Who will listen to us? Ordinary people are crying’.” (Associated Press, 5/5/98.)

Once it began, the movement quickly acquired an all-Indonesian character. In the North Sumatra capital, Medan, the disturbances broke out on Monday the fourth, hours after the government announced sharp fuel and electricity price hikes, in line with economic reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund. In the ensuing rampage, some 170 shops were destroyed or looted and burned in Medan while 38 cars and 21 motorcycles were also set ablaze, North Sumatra police reported. The reaction of the régime was to resort to force.

The pig-headed stupidity of the strategists of capital, and their complete indifference to the suffering of the masses, was strikingly expressed by the comments made by the IMF’s managing director, Michel Camdessus, speaking in Melbourne, Australia, after the riots had already started. He expressed “deep concern” over the rioting in Indonesia, but, with astonishing complacency, said the real cause of unrest was not price rises, but the deeper economic management problems which had led to the crisis in the first place. More incredibly still, he insisted that the 71 per cent petrol price rise which led to riots in the city of Medan was “indispensable to the country’s economic future”, and he urged Jakarta to push ahead with the tough economic programme backed by the IMF. He said the petrol price rise was part of the IMF’s agreement with Indonesia, and described IMF policies as medicine which created more pain at first, but which would lead to a more balanced economy. “Deplorable as these [riots] É can be we should always remember that our programs are not the deep origin of these problems,” Mr Camdessus said. (Sydney Morning Herald, 6/5/98.)

An anti-Chinese movement?

One feature of the riots that has been singled out by the press is attacks on Chinese shopkeepers. This is not a new phenomenon in Indonesia, where Chinese, who account for only three per cent of Indonesia’s 202 million people, dominate the commerce sector and control 80 per cent of the 163 companies listed on the Jakarta stock exchange. These have long been the targets of discrimination that occasionally erupted into violence, exacerbated by the fact that many wealthy Chinese businessmen were prominent backers of Suharto. For the mass of unemployed and hungry town dwellers, the temptation to raid the shops—almost all owned by Chinese—and carry away food and other goods, proved irresistible. Tragically, it was the small Chinese shopkeepers who were the main victims.

“It was the Chinese who suffered most,” wrote the Sunday Times, “The small businessmen in Chinatown were paying the price for generations of racial resentment and the present-day alliance between Suharto’s family and some fabulously wealthy Chinese tycoons. And they are an obvious target for the so-called ‘floating mass’ of Indonesians who have been relentlessly depoliticised for three decades under Suharto’s ‘New Order’ regime.

“Of course, the richest Chinese had already fled. A mob made its way to the stylish contemporary house of Liem Sioe Liong, an immigrant noodle seller from Fujian province who became a cement billionaire. They ransacked it and set it on fire. On the wall outside somebody scrawled ‘Suharto’s dog’. Liem was not at home—he had gone to the United States.” (The Sunday Times, 17/5/98.)

From the first day, the Western media have tried to use these things to present an entirely distorted picture of events in Indonesia—just as they did previously in relation to Albania. The papers are filled with pictures of looting and arson. In fact, even the rioting reflected a kind of blind protest against the rich and privileged, as when the rioters pulled cars out of the shops and burned them, or attacked banks. As the Suharto family has a monopoly share of the “national car” and is heavily involved in banking, the message was clear. The Guardian correspondent observed that: “Companies owned by Mr Suharto’s children, who have all amassed vast fortunes, were the main targets of protesters.” (The Guardian, 6/5/98.) And again: “Jakarta mobs seemed to start dismantling the family empire yesterday when they attacked branches of the Bank Central Asia, Indonesia’s biggest private bank, part-owned by Mr Liem and two of Mr Suharto’s children.” (The Guardian, 15/5/98.) The same point was made by The Sunday Times: “Against these voices are those of the president’s old cronies and his own children. His eldest daughter Siti Hardyanti Rukmana, or ‘Tutut’, owns the Jakarta toll roads attacked by the mobs and sits in the cabinet as minister for social welfare. Tommy, Suharto’s son, has made a fortune through a national car dealership—its showrooms were prime targets for the violence, as were banks connected to the family.” (The Sunday Times, 17/5/98.) The mood of the rioters was conveyed by the following quote from the same article: “Down at street level, Agius, 24, an unemployed graduate, was happy at the mayhem. ‘The Suhartos have robbed our country and now the people are robbing them,’ he said.” (The Sunday Times, 17/5/98.

It is not necessary to explain that the burning of shops is very far from being a revolutionary activity, and is rather an expression of the despair and anger of the most downtrodden layers who seek to take revenge on society as a whole for their plight. This fact is even understood by the middle class who fall victim to the rage of the declassed elements, like the hotel owner whose hotel was burnt to the ground who commented: “What do you expect? The people are starving.” These elements are undoubtedly present. The lumpenproletariat, “the passively rotting scum”, as Marx calls them, always tries to take advantage of every disturbance for its own ends, burning and looting. It is quite likely that the régime’s agents provocateurs deliberately incited these elements and turned them against the Chinese in order to distract attention from the rich. But they will not succeed.

In any case it is entirely false—and in fact a slander—to identify the revolution with just plain rioting. There are elements of this in every revolution, since, by its very nature, a revolution stirs up society to its depths, arousing not only the working class, but also the poorest, most downtrodden and desperate layers. However, this element is entirely incidental and not at all the essence of the movement. That the rioting and looting was entirely separate from the political demonstration was clear to the authorities themselves: Deli Serdang Military Commander Lt. Col. B. Sinuhaji told The Jakarta Post that the riots were a separate issue.

“‘These are lootings. They did not have anything to do with politics or demonstrations,’ he said.” (Kompas 8/5/98, our emphasis.)

We may add in parenthesis that there are elements of reaction mixed up in every revolution, including the Russian revolution, when the Black Hundred lumpenproletariat mobs, orchestrated by the tsarist police, were directed against the Jews. That fact did not alter the nature of the Russian revolution in the slightest. Once the proletariat takes firm control of the movement, these elements are soon pushed into the background, as even the lumpenproletariat is drawn behind the revolutionary movement of the workers.

The revolution commences

The movement began as a movement of the students. There is nothing unusual about that. Although the students and intelligentsia cannot play an independent role in society, they nevertheless represent an extremely sensitive barometer which faithfully reflects the moods building up in the depths of society. The Russian revolution, in its early stages, began as the revolutionary movement of the intelligentsia, as early as the 1860s and 70s. The Spanish revolution in the early 1930s also began as a movement of the students, as Trotsky pointed out in 1930:

“The spirited demonstrations of the students are only an attempt by the younger generation of the bourgeoisie, and especially of the petty bourgeoisie, to find a solution to the instability into which the country fell after its supposed liberation from Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship, of which the basic elements are still totally preserved. When the bourgeoisie consciously and obstinately refuses to resolve the problems that flow from the crisis of bourgeois society, and when the proletariat is not yet ready to assume this task, then it is often the students who come forward. During the development of the first Russian revolution [1905], we observed this phenomenon more than once, and we have always appreciated its symptomatic significance. Such revolutionary or semirevolutionary student activity means that bourgeois society is going through a profound crisis. The petty-bourgeois youth, sensing that an explosive force is building up among the masses, try in their own way to find a way out of the impasse and to push the political developments forward.

“The bourgeoisie regards the student movement half-approvingly, half-warningly; if the youth deal a few blows to the monarchical bureaucracy, that’s not so bad, as long as the ‘kids’ don’t go too far and don’t arouse the toiling masses.

“By backing up the student movement, the Spanish workers have shown an entirely correct revolutionary instinct. Of course, they must act under their own banner and under the leadership of their own proletarian organisation. It is Spanish communism that must guarantee this process and for that a correct policy is indispensable. That is why the appearance of your newspaper, as I said before, coincides with an extraordinarily important and critical moment in the development of the whole crisis; to be more precise, it coincides with a moment when the revolutionary crisis is being transformed into a revolution.” (Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931-39), pp. 58-9.)

In Indonesia too the students feel that they are representing a general mood of discontent and opposition in society, and draw strength and courage from this fact.

“‘Many people can’t say openly what the students say, writes The Guardian, “They are still afraid. But they support them. They are glad the students say what they can’t,’ said Ikrar Musabhakti, a scholar at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences.” (The Guardian, 13/5/98.)

The student protests rapidly spread to many parts of Indonesia, despite a tough warning on Thursday by General Wiranto, chief of the Indonesian Armed Forces, combined with stern measures by police. The most important element in the equation is the fearlessness of the students, their willingness to face beatings, imprisonment and death in the fight for a just cause. When the masses lose their fear, then the régime is doomed. Without arms, without organisation, without even a clear programme or perspective, these young people were prepared to confront armed police and troops, and even fight back. Numerous reports bear witness to the fact that the demonstrators are beginning to respond to the violence of the state with stones and molotov cocktails, and that the police have not escaped with impunity, as the following extract shows:

“The wave of student actions across the country on Thursday led to a number of clashes with the security forces. There were casualties on both sides; the number of student injured was higher than on previous days, many caused by truncheons, rubber bullets, stone throwing and beatings.

“The worst clash occurred at Sudirman University, Purwokerto, Central Java where 65 students were injured, of whom 28 were taken to hospital. Most had suffered head injuries from rubber bullets or truncheon blows. Eight were very seriously injured. A monitoring post set up by the students reported that nine students were missing.

“The clash occurred when students started marching peacefully to the local assembly building (DPRD) and tried to breach a security barricade. Wielding truncheons, the security forces chased the students who put up resistance. Besides hitting out with their truncheons, the security forces threw tear gas canisters. The university rector, Prof. Rubianto Misman later expressed regrets over the incident.

“In Solo, Central Java, there was a hail of stones and molotov bombs, resulting in casualties on both sides. Eleven students were injured, of whom two were rushed to hospital. The security forces suffered 43 casualties. The clash occurred when a thousand students tried to leave the campus, pushing hard against the troops surrounding the campus who forced the students back inside. Stones and molotov bombs began to fly. Tear gas was used to disperse the students. Thirteen students fell to the ground with breathing problems. The students tried to push their way onto the roads.

“In Riau, Sumatra, a clash resulted in ten student casualties. Car windows were smashed and six students were arrested but they were later released, after a crowd of some eight thousand students demanded their release. The protests in Riau were the largest for ten years. As the students tried to march to the governor’s residence, they were blocked by troops. The students managed to breach the blockade in two places but when they were within twenty metres of the building, they came under attack by hundreds of troops. When three dogs were set on the students, they rapidly dispersed. Tear gas was used and the security forces chased the students wielding rattan sticks.” (Kompas 8/5/98.)

From these reports it is clear that: a) the student movement began as peaceful demonstrations, b) the police tried to confine them to the campuses and stop them breaking out and extending the struggle, c) the students clashed with the police who used the most violent methods, d) far from intimidating the students, the repressive acts of the police merely enraged them still further and radicalised the movement which could no longer be confined, and e) the students took steps to arm themselves in self-defence and went over onto the offensive, giving as good as they got. The detail that the students forced the release of imprisoned comrades is, in itself, an eloquent testimony to the fact that the strength of the movement shook the authorities and created cracks in the repressive apparatus itself.

The students showed remarkable bravery and initiative. In one area they even improvised their own “motorised division”:

“Students from dozens of tertiary institutions took part in actions in Ujungpandang, South Sulawesi. Thousands of students on motorbikes and other vehicles converged on a city square but were forced back by security forces. They spread out in all directions and started rallying around the city.” (Ibid.)

In many ways, the resemblance to the 1905 Russian revolution is uncanny. The same report states that “Similar clashes broke out at Gunadarma University, Kelapa Dua, Jakarta where hundreds of students from several universities held free-speech forums. Trouble broke out when students from Jayabaya University walking the four kms to Gunadarma University were attacked by troops. The Legal Aid Institute later reported that at least 52 students had been injured. At Sahid University, students took part in protests, and carried banners. They were forced to return to the campus where they held a free speech forums.” Exactly the same process occurred in 1905, when the Russian students also held “free-speech forums” which were attended by workers.

The movement spread to the capital, Jakarta, where the last act of the drama was played out.

“A clash at the Technology Faculty of the Jayabaya University in Jakarta resulted in 21 students being injured, all of whom were rushed to hospital. Two had been shot in the neck and arm while the others has sustained blows from truncheons and body irritation because of the tear gas. One student had two bullets removed from his body. The rector announced that there would be no lectures Friday.” (Ibid.)

Splits in the regime

As happens in every revolution, under pressure from below, the regime begins to split. One section advocates the use of brute force to smash the opposition, while another advocates compromise. The turning-point was the killing of six students at the Trisakti university in Jakarta during a peaceful demonstration on the 12th of May, either by police who panicked, or more probably was the work of provocateurs, set in motion by the hard-liners in the government. The mood of the police was conveyed by The Economist thus:

“The security forces were supposed to have been issued only with rubber bullets, blank rounds and tear gas, but they seem to have lost control of themselves as well as of the protests. The following day, rioters lit huge bonfires in the middle of Jakarta’s business district. Gangs of looters, defying charges by armed police on motorcycles, raided shops and supermarkets. Another 12 people were reported dead, many of them in a bar which had been set fire to by rioters. The mood of the police turned particularly ugly as they lashed out with riot sticks at ordinary commuters who were trying to make their way home through the increasingly dangerous streets.” (The Economist, 16/5/98.)

According to The Economist, the killings at the Trisakti university were “the spark that caused widespread frustration into national anger.” Before this the demonstrations were mainly peaceful. Significantly, this was an elite university. As The Economist (16/5/98) points out:

“Trisakti, the university where the students were killed, is favoured by the rich middle classes. Many had already stopped backing Mr Suharto, but some have still seen him as all that stands between Indonesia and chaos. The prospect of their own children being shot may change that.” (The Economist, 16/5/98.)

The funerals of the murdered students turned into opposition rallies:

“On Wednesday, the students’ funerals created a wave of emotion. Orations were given by opposition leaders such as Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno, who was ousted by Suharto in 1966. Yet the curious thing was that among the mourners was none other than the military commander of the Jakarta area, Major-General Sjatrie Sjamsoeddin, who was given a courteous reception.” (The Sunday Times, 17/5/98.)

Frightened by the sudden upsurge of the mass movement, Suharto tried to backtrack, immediately cancelling the unpopular fuel and electricity price rises that had been demanded by the IMF. The dictator played for time, offering “reforms”—a move that fooled no-one. The influential Association of Indonesia Muslim Intellectuals, ICMI, said that President Suharto’s reform proposals were “vague, too little and too late.” (Agence France Presse, 7/5/98). The Jakarta Post on May 7th quoted former cabinet minister Siswono Yudohusodo as stressing the necessity of immediate political and economic reforms, indicating that a cabinet reshuffle may be needed to help defuse the national crisis. Siswono, also a businessman, warned that economic reform was urgent.

In certain fields, reform is a must because delay could spark demands for drastic changes that could turn into a revolution,” he is quoted as saying. These words are an invaluable testimony to the real state of mind of a section of the ruling class: we must immediately proceed to reform from above to prevent revolution from below. The feeling that the regime was utterly rotten was expressed by such people as retired generals:

“‘The system has failed. Everyone can see it does not work. We need a new Indonesia,’ the retired lieutenant-general said at a gathering of former Suharto stalwarts turned elderly dissidents. ‘We have spent all our riches for development, but the fact is that so many of our people are still poor. Politically, we are bankrupt too’.” (The Guardian, 13/5/98.) The cracks in the régime was reflected in defections of even life-long supporters of Suharto—like the Speaker of the parliament: “In a revolutionary break with a history of slavish obedience to Mr Suharto, who has ruled for more than 30 years, the speaker of parliament, Harmoko, said the ageing autocrat should ‘step down for the integrity and unity of the nation’.” (The Guardian, 19/5/98.) General Wiranto, the Indonesian military chief, sought to defuse the protests, telling students that their demands for political reform had been heard and urging them to end the demonstrations. But his appeals were ignored. The movement derived fresh strength and vigour from every step back taken by the régime. Far from ending the rebellion, the offers of concessions merely spurred it on. They were correctly understood as a sign of weakness.

What is extraordinary is not only the sweep of the movement but also the lightening speed with which consciousness has developed, passing rapidly from an elementary protest against worsening living standards to open political protests. The attitude of the students to the régime was graphically summed up in the following incident:

“In the capital, about 500 students staged a rally at the Teachers Training Institute campus in East Jakarta, burning an effigy of Suharto and blaming the embattled leader for the economic crisis battering the nation. In the protest, the students staged a mock trial in which an “Extraordinary People’s Court” accused Suharto of mass murder and wholesale corruption through his family’s many businesses.

“In the trial drama the students charged Suharto with killing as many as 1.5 million people during his rise to power in 1965-1966, in East Timor in 1975, in the so-called mysterious killings of 1983 and in the Tanjung Priok rioting of 1984. The students pronounced Suharto guilty and sentenced him to death.” (Deutsche Presse-Agentur - May 8, 1998)

Jakarta-based diplomats said the mock trial marked an extraordinary escalation in the tone of anti-government protesters, who had in the past showed a degree of respect for the 76-year-old leader. In the same way in Russia before January 1905 the masses had illusions in the “little father”, the tsar, which were blasted away by the fusillade of Bloody Sunday. In the same way the stupidity of the police in opening fire on the students with live ammunition completely transformed the situation. All the accumulated hatred and rage is now concentrated on the person of Suharto. The indignation at the present murders is linked with the memory of past atrocities, producing an explosive mixture. This poses a deadly threat to capitalism and imperialism.

The Indonesian ruling class was split down the middle. One section wanted to get rid of Suharto as soon as possible. Even the Speaker of the parliament—an old crony of the President—called on him to step down. But another section resisted such a move, fearing that it will set in motion a movement which nothing can control. The contradictory statements of general Wiranto merely underline the splits and vacillations in the ruling class that are the first symptom of revolution. The second condition for revolution is that the petty bourgeoisie, the middle layers of society, should be wavering between the status quo and revolution. in fact, the big majority of the middle class has turned its back on the régime or is actively fighting against it, as the movement of the students shows.

The third condition is that the working class should be prepared to fight for a radical change in society. The Indonesian working class, as we shall show, has already entered the arena of struggle.

But the decisive factor that is missing is the subjective factor—a revolutionary party and leadership capable of providing the necessary organisation, programme and perspective to unite the movement and guide it to the seizure of power. The slogans of such a party are clear in advance: Factories to the workers! Land to the tillers! For a democratic and just solution to the national problem! For the repudiation of all foreign debts and the nationalisation of all the property of the imperialists without compensation! For the confiscation of all the property of the corrupt Suharto clique and its hangers-on! For a revolutionary general strike to overthrow the régime! For the immediate formation of democratically elected committees of workers, peasants, soldiers and students to take into their hands the running of industry, the state and society! Only the democratic rule of the working class can cleanse Indonesian society of all the accumulated muck and corruption of the past and commence the movement in the direction of a socialist society.

Such a movement can ultimately only triumph on the basis of internationalism—the overthrow of landlordism and capitalism in the rest of Asia and the world. But the victory of the Indonesian proletariat will immediately transform the situation throughout Asia. Malaysia, Thailand, Korea are all in crisis. In the event of a successful workers’ and peasants’ revolution in Indonesia, these weak capitalist régimes would be faced with mighty revolutionary movements. The road would open to the extension of the revolution to the rest of Asia.

Role of the working class

The most decisive question is the role of the working class. As in tsarist Russia a hundred years ago, the influx of foreign investment has strengthened the working class and laid the basis for a stormy upsurge in the strike movement. The growth of industry has created fat profits for the foreign and Indonesian bosses, but has not led to an improvement of the workers’ living standards. The gap between rich and poor has been highlighted by the emergence of between 20-30 hugely wealthy families in control of gigantic business corporations which have become referred to in Indonesian society as “konglomerat”. The biggest of these “konglomerat” are those belonging to Suharto’s children and Suharto’s close personal and political associates. At the same time, wages of Indonesia’s rapidly expanding and extremely young workers earn only $2-$3 per day, often in very dangerous factories and workplaces. At the same time, Indonesia’s peasantry has been subjected to higher and higher taxes and other administrative charges. Any acts of protest by workers or peasants against low wages or corruption have been met by military repression.

The massive price hikes in fuel, electricity and transportation costs provoked a wave of strikes. Thousands of workers across Indonesia went on strike demanding wage increase after hikes in fuel, electricity and staple food prices. About 4,000 workers staged a rally in front of two ceramics factories in the greater Jakarta area town of Tangerang, demanding higher improved benefits and more transparent hiring policies. 1,500 workers at wood processing manufacturer in Kerawang, West Java staged a pay strike Wednesday, the Pikirin Rakyat daily reported. “We know for sure the management kept making huge profits during the economic crisis because our products are aimed for exports,” one worker was quoted as saying. “Meanwhile our wages stay the same whereas our daily expenses have skyrocketed”. (Agence France Presse, 7/5/98.)

Through their own experience, the students were drawing revolutionary conclusions, and seeing the need to appeal to the working class. An Indonesian political scientist, Mr Ryass Rasyid, said the demands of the students and their supporters had gone beyond the review offered by the House of Representatives and now involved the resignation of the President and the convening of an emergency session of the 1,000 member People’s Consultative Assembly. He said the student demonstrations could be stopped only by military force or through extensive political reforms and added a significant phrase:

I have heard of student efforts to solicit support from workers,” he said. “It is therefore very urgent for the Government to take action to accommodate the people’s aspirations.” (Sydney Morning Herald, 7/5/98, our emphasis)

From the beginning the workers showed their unerring revolutionary instinct by supporting the students. Numerous reports bear witness to the fact that workers participated on the students’ demonstrations:

It’s not a pure student protest anymore, because it involves ordinary people,” police Lt. Col. Amrin Karim said. “There are thousands of angry people trying to burn houses. They are burning tires and turning over cars.” At least 20 officers were injured and 59 people arrested in Monday’s unrest. (Associated Press, 5/5/98, our emphasis.)

And again:

“In the central Java city of Solo, 650 kilometres southeast of Jakarta, an estimated 5,000 university and high school students joined with labourers and clashed with security forces in a running battle that left at least 130 people injured.” (Deutsche Presse-Agentur - 8/5/98, our emphasis.)

An article by Derwin Pereira in the Straits Times of May 3rd pointed to the fact that workers were participating in the students’ protests:

“In nation-wide rallies yesterday, thousands of Indonesian students protested against President Suharto’s decision to rule out major political reforms in the next five years.

Meanwhile, workers for the first time joined them on several campuses in the capital in a “show of solidarity”, to stress students were not alone in calling for changes in the New Order regime.”

And the article goes on to quote one of the workers:

“Labourer Abdul Kadir, 30, said that he and 300 other factory workers from Tanggerang in East Jakarta joined the demonstrations in front of the medical faculty of the state-run UI at the invitation of the university’s student leaders.

“Our aim is to turn this into a movement big enough to put pressure on the government,” he said.

“We are not happy with what is going on in Indonesia. The government is oppressing us, not helping us. More and more of us will be joining the students’ cause.”

“The workers, who wore red arm bands to distinguish them from students dressed in the yellow jackets of the country’s most prominent university, joined 3,000 students in the sometimes carnival-like atmosphere, by singing songs and chanting political slogans calling on Mr Suharto to step down.” (The Straits Times, 3/5/98.)

The fact of the workers’ participation in the protests of the students is of tremendous symptomatic importance. Only the revolutionary movement of the Indonesian proletariat, uniting in struggle with the students, peasants and oppressed nationalities, can carry through the transformation of society. The Indonesian working class is very strong. Once it is organised to fight under the banner of the socialist revolution, it would be an unstoppable force. In fact, if a genuine communist party existed, it would already be moving towards taking power. It is only the lack of the subjective factor that prevents this from coming about.

The Indonesian CP (the PRD) is attracting the most revolutionary and courageous elements among the workers and youth. Their heroism and devotion to the workers’ cause is not in doubt. But to succeed, courage is not enough. A serious revolutionary programme and perspective are necessary. But the programme and policy of the PRD leadership does not place on the order of the day the seizure of power by the working class in alliance with the poor peasants, but rather looks to the so-called “progressive bourgeoisie” for a way out. Along this road is only defeat and disaster. Let us recall that it was this very policy that led to the catastrophe of 1965-6. It is necessary to learn the lessons of the past in order not to repeat them!

In a statement issued on July 31 1997, the PRD stated: “The PRD, as a defender of the peoples’ sovereignty, as a party of the oppressed, will continue to struggle with all it strength, ability, force and stamina to continue the struggle for social justice, peace and democracy. Democracy is the bridge that can lead to a more civilised society, reflecting the peoples aspirations. The PRD believes that “the voice of the people, is the voice of God.” And in the middle of the current repression, with the PRD’s leaders being hunted down by the regime, in the midst of the regime’s propaganda, in the midst of the hypocrisy of foreign governments, the PRD will continue its struggle.” The PRD stands for “the nationalisation of the economic assets of Suharto family, his family, his cronies and the multinationals that have collaborated with him in exploiting the Indonesian people.” That is absolutely correct. But for such a demand to be carried into practice, it would first be necessary to break with the bourgeoisie and lead the working class to the seizure of power. The expropriation of the imperialists and those who supported Suharto means, in effect, the expropriation of all big capitalist interests in Indonesia, a radical break with capitalism. This will never be accepted by the so-called “progressive” bourgeoisie with whom the PRD is allied. In order to carry this programme into practice, it is necessary to pursue a policy of class independence. The allies that the proletariat needs are allies in struggle, not in words. That is to say, the poor peasants, the urban poor and the students, not the bourgeois career politicians who want to climb to power on the workers’ backs. The struggle for democracy can only be won by carrying the fight against imperialism and the oligarchy to the end. That means that the working class must take power into its own hands, expropriate the landlords and capitalists, and carry out a revolutionary transformation of society.

The best of the students are already drawing the necessary conclusions from their experience of struggle. A report in the Australian Green Left Weekly (No. 318), quotes the words of one of the students: “Akiko described the current atmosphere in Jakarta as one where the slogan demokrasi is being replaced on the streets by the call for revolusi, and she called for us to work hard to help change the Indonesian government and get the prisoners out.” The revolutionary trend among the workers and students will inevitably grow stronger as the movement develops and grows.

The bourgeois try to comfort themselves that things have so far not reached the point of an all-out revolutionary onslaught; “the villages are quiet”, and so on. Thus, a drowning man will clutch at a straw. The revolutionary impulse will inevitably communicate itself from the towns to the villages. There will be new demonstrations and riots, not only of workers but of peasants. The rebellious mood of the soldiers will grow. If a party existed that was prepared to put the question of workers’ power firmly on the agenda, the winning over of the army would be a lot easier. But, as Albania showed, even without such a party, where the masses show sufficient determination and courage, the army can be won over in the course of struggle. Increasingly, as the soldiers come to understand that the masses mean business, that this is precisely not a riot but a serious attempt to change society, their mood has been transformed. Instead of beating and shooting at demonstrators, they look on, smile, even wave support. For their part, the students have shown a sound instinct for tactics. They fraternise with the soldiers. The situation is alarming from the standpoint of the general staff. Conflicting messages issue from the tops. Suharto’s son-in-law, the head of the crack commando troops, demands a crack-down, while other generals appealed for reason and calm. Despite this, the pro-Suharto elements were prepared to use force. This was shown by the fact that, on the eve of the planned mass demonstration of the 20th of May, those units which fraternised with the protesters have been withdrawn from central Jakarta and replaced with more hard-line units. Commenting on this, The Sunday Times stated:

“The unit’s transfer reflected disagreement among factions of senior officers over how to handle the escalating protests against the regime.

“‘There are those who know they will go down with the Suharto family, those who hope the army can manage a peaceful transition and, of course, those who are ambitious to succeed him,’ said a foreign diplomat with long experience here.” (The Sunday Times, 17/5/98.)

The Spanish paper El País reported one incident where a soldier fired on demonstrators, and was beaten up by other soldiers, and the officer had to apologise to the demonstrators. Under such conditions, one serious clash between army and demonstrators would crack the army wide open. If the masses were organised to take power, the army would break in pieces at the first real test. Wiranto realised this and overruled the other wing. That directly led to the downfall of Suharto.

Imperialists paralysed

The remorseless pressure of the IMF, using the whip handle of Indonesia’s external debt of $80 billion has brought Indonesia to its knees. But now, faced with the imminent danger of revolution, the imperialists have shown themselves to be paralysed and unable to act. The London Financial Times moaned that the Group of 8, after its recent meeting, did not even call for the removal of Suharto. For these gentlemen sitting in their comfortable offices thousands of miles away, the problem can be easily dealt with! Just get rid of Suharto and all will be well. Unfortunately, the problem will not be so easily settled. The removal of Suharto is not the end of the revolution but the beginning. That is why the G8 leaders made no call for his removal. Their advisers had undoubtedly warned them that if Suharto were removed, that could open the flood-gates wide and remove the last feeble barrier between them and disaster. The dilemma is a familiar one to students of history: reform from the top to prevent revolution from below most often has the opposite result. To remove Suharto would be dangerous. Not to remove him, more dangerous still. Whatever they do will be wrong.

While publicly wringing their hands about human rights in Indonesia, Washington was secretly lending a hand to Suharto to the very end, as indicated by the recent visit of US secretary of defence William Cohen to Jakarta. Cohen indicated that the US would back Suharto politically during this period. He made it clear that “structural stability” in south-east Asia was a key priority for the US and that Indonesia figured centrally in this framework. Asked about Suharto’s intentions regarding standing again for president, Cohen replied: “I did not try to discover his political aspirations. But from everything I saw, he is very strong and is in excellent health. It is very different from the rumours that have been circulating recently.” Cohen backed up these comments with a more concrete gesture. promising to lobby the US Congress to restore Indonesia’s participation in the Pentagon’s military training program. Congress suspended Indonesia’s participation following a campaign by some members over East Timor, labour rights violations and Indonesian crony financing of the Democratic Party’s presidential election campaign.

Cohen’s meeting with armed forces commander in chief Feisal Tanjung came only days after Tanjung had declared, “The armed forces will not hesitate to cut to pieces all anti-government groups”. Tanjung added that the army would be ready to face any threat to security in the run-up to the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) meeting in March. “We will strike down and out-manoeuvre any group, from left or right, which dares to take a stand against the government”, he told journalists. He said the intelligence agency, Bakin, was keeping close watch on all extreme groups that are planning to disrupt the meetings of the MPR. The West would like the process to unfold in such a way that its interests would be maintained, that is, that capitalism and imperialism should maintain its stranglehold over the Indonesian people. But these manoeuvres will solve nothing. The imperialists, for all their economic and military might are split and powerless to intervene. Their threats are, in the words of Shakespeare, “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

The disturbances have temporarily paralysed the economy. A recent report pointed out that:

“Activity was slow at Medan’s port of Belawan as many trucks carrying goods stayed off city streets because of the violence. Medan, Indonesia’s third largest city, is the trading hub in a major palm oil, rubber and coffee producing region. Medan, a city of some two million people, is western Indonesia’s main commercial and commodity centre.

“At Malang in East Java, students and police fought in two separate incidents and 49 policemen and 30 students were injured, the East Java-based Jawa Post daily said. It said scuffles broke out as students of the Merdeka University and the National Technology Institute attempted to protest on the streets on Saturday. The Jawa Post said the injuries occurred in the clash with students of the institute in which security forces used tear-gas, water cannon and warning shots while the students threw rocks and debris.” (Kompas 8/5/98.)

Sensing that the game is almost up, the imperialists are fleeing Indonesia like rats deserting a sinking ship:

“Among thousands of fleeing foreigners, some of the first to cut and run were the investment bankers and brokers whose casual handouts of huge loans to corruptly connected Indonesian companies had helped set off the debt crisis and social chaos. The bureaucrats from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, whose prescriptions of economic austerity and price rises fuelled popular hatred, left the country hastily as the capital burned.” (The Sunday Times, 17/5/98.)

The same gentlemen in grey suits who yesterday bragged about the fortunes they were making in Asia, now hasten to get out. The foreign investors have pulled the plug on Indonesia:

“‘What’s happening in Indonesia is beyond economics,’ said Walter Cheung, managing director at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. ‘I’ll try to stay away from that country’.” (The Guardian, 7/5/98.)

For three decades they were content to turn a blind eye to Suharto’s bloody dictatorship, because he gave them the necessary “stability” to rob and exploit the Indonesian people. Now that people is extracting its revenge. Stability is no more. The merciless rule of imperialism and its local cut-throats has plunged Indonesia into crisis. Foreign capital has fled, and will not return until—they hope—”stability” will return under some new regime, at the cost of the workers and peasants. This means that the Indonesian people will face a prolonged period of terrible economic hardship, unemployment and poverty, unless the working class takes power into its hands and puts an end once and for all to the domination of foreign monopoly capital and its local agents. If the Indonesian revolution is to succeed, it must be a genuinely national revolution—that is to say, an anti-imperialist revolution. But the national revolution in present-day conditions can only succeed as an anti-capitalist revolution in which the peasantry and the rest of the exploited people unite under the leadership of the working class. The tasks of the national-democratic revolution lead directly to the socialist revolution. The bourgeoisie can offer no way out. The whole history of Indonesia since the second world war is proof of this.

Suharto manoeuvres

The resignation of Suharto under pressure of the mass movement in itself solved nothing. In the first place, he has manoeuvred to install his henchman, the vice-president Habibie in his place. A transitional government has been announced which is supposed to convene elections in six months time. But six months is a long time in such conditions. The whole country has been brought to its feet. Hopes have been aroused. The resignation of the hated dictator will create in the masses a sense of their own power. On the other hand, the economic crisis will become even more severe as a result of the withdrawal of foreign capital. The collapse of production and trade creates a real danger of hunger. Indonesia is threatened with a terrible catastrophe. The exporters from other countries are not prepared to send food unless they are paid in cash. “With Indonesia’s financial crisis deepening and the financial system paralysed diplomats warned of growing problems. Prices of meat, rice and vegetables in Jakarta have risen by 10% since last week’s riots adding to sharp increases since Indonesia’s economic crisis began last year” (Financial Times, May 20th). And they add: “‘Unless letters of credit are guaranteed by institutions in third countries such as Hong Kong and Singapore we have to suspend shipments’ Many Thai rice and sugar exporters are demanding payment in cash” (Ibid).

This means that very rapidly Indonesia will be threatened with starvation. The imperialists who have bled the third world nations for generations can turn the tap of supplies on and off without bothering about the effects. They want their pound of flesh, and are interested in only naked commercial calculations. The students and workers must demand that there is strict rationing at fair prices under the control of workers, peasants’ and students, councils. To imagine that the masses will be content to set aside their most burning problems and wait for six months is simply unreal. There will be new explosions. The question of democracy will inevitably become linked in people’s minds with the economic catastrophe and those responsible for it. It will become obvious that Suharto is merely manoeuvring behind the scenes to protect the ill-gotten gains of his family while continuing to rule through his stooge Habibie, who intends to stay in power until the year 2003!

The news of Suharto’s resignation was met with wild rejoicing. Students and other oppositionists danced on the streets. Such scenes have been witnessed at the beginning of every revolution in history. This is an unavoidable stage—the stage of universal rejoicing and democratic illusions—as in February 1917 in Russia and 1931 in Spain. But after the initial festivities, disillusionment soon sets in, preparing for the next stage of radicalisation of the masses and rapid polarisation to the right and left. Given the depth of the crisis in Indonesia, the initial stage of rejoicing will not last long. The students are already bitterly hostile to Habibie and increasingly critical of the leaders of the bourgeois opposition who are striving to prop him up.

The bourgeois opposition leaders have shown their true colours by immediately recognising Habibie. Amien Rais fell over himself in his haste to proclaim the Habibie government as “the legitimate government of Indonesia”. In fact, the “legitimacy” of Habibie consists in the fact that he was personally appointed by the dictator Suharto and rubber stamped by the tame national assembly. The real reason why Habibie and co. want to recognise Habibie is because they are terrified that the movement of the masses would go beyond the limits of the bourgeois system. Already the students are demanding that Suharto and his cronies be put on trial. Three of Indonesia’s biggest student organisations have condemned the Habibie succession: “we reject Habibie’s election to the presidency as he is part of the same regime,” says Rama Pertama, chairman of the students’ senate at Jakarta’s University of Indonesia.

The Army chiefs have also backed Habibie. As soon as Habibie took the oath of office general Wiranto, the chief of the armed forces, “declared the military support for the new president and said the army would prevent further unrest. He also pledged to protect Mr. Suharto and his deeply unpopular family.” (Financial Times, May 22)

Wiranto and the military caste want “order”—that is, the preservation of the old oppressive régime under different colours. That is why they back Habibie as the “constitutional” candidate, and threaten to use force against anyone who opposes him. However, the threats of Wiranto are empty. The impossibility of using the army against the masses at this stage was shown by the divisions at the top before Suharto’s fall. This shows that, at this stage, the reaction is paralysed. If there was a genuine revolutionary leadership, the workers and students could take power peacefully, without civil war. But if the workers do not take power, the same Wiranto will be prepared to wade through rivers of blood to strangle the revolution.

Behind the scenes, Wiranto and the other reactionary generals will begin to hatch plots and conspiracies which will cause further upheavals. Time and again, the workers will move to change society. The movement will unfold, with ups and downs over a period of several years before the final solution is found, either on the road of revolution or counter-revolution. There will be time for the forces of genuine Marxism to build the necessary mass base of support on the basis of a patient explanation of the process. The masses will learn through the harsh school of experience. One after another, the so-called “democratic” leaders will be exposed, and the revolutionary wing will gain in strength.

It is ruled out that Habibie will last for long. The desperate condition of the masses will inevitably result in new revolutionary movements. In spite of themselves, the leaders of the bourgeois opposition will be pushed into government, where the bankruptcy of their policies will be exposed for all to see. The strategists of capital have understood this: “‘There is no one obvious person,’ said Alan Dupont, fellow at the Centre for Security and Defence Studies at the Australian National University. ‘We may well see a government of national unity which may include Amien Rais, Try Sutrisno and possibly even Ginajar’ (Kartasasmita, the minister for economics, finance and industry). ‘Whoever it is must have the support of the armed forces.’” (Financial Times, May 22)

The first demand of a revolutionary party in Indonesia would be the expropriation of all the property of the Suharto family and its hangers-on. For decades these wealthy bloodsuckers have plundered the Indonesian people. It is not enough that Suharto should go. He must be stripped of his evil-gotten gains! They must be returned to the people. Suharto attempted to cling to power precisely because he feared that he would lose all his wealth and property. He is manoeuvring to preserve the privileged position of his family, while making cosmetic changes that, in essence, alter nothing. Once the masses realise this fact, it will give a further impulse to the revolution and invest it with an even more implacable character.

The lie is being peddled that everyone is “for reform. The nation is “united.” Even Suharto is “for reform”, provided he himself says what it is to consist of! As for elections, what credibility can they have, when all the old state machine remains intact? The question remains: Who will convene them? Under what conditions will they be held? The Indonesian people, after 32 years, are too well acquainted with the Suharto régime to place the slightest trust in its promises and “good faith”. So the question is not elections with or without Suharto, but the overthrow of the Suharto régime and the revolutionary abolition of the régime of corruption and oppression upon which it rests. The revolution now unfolding before our eyes will not be a single act. It will unfold over months and years, with ebbs and flows. It will develop in scope and intensity, as new layers are drawn in and radicalised. A clean sweep is necessary which will clean out every single person that has been involved in this gangster régime. Those who have committed crimes against the people must be tried and punished. Above all, the wealth stolen by the people must be expropriated.

Such measures cannot be expected from the bourgeois opposition. In the West, Amien Rais, head of the Muslim Muhammadiyah movement, is being publicised as the alleged leader of the democratic opposition. But in fact he has emerged as an opponent of the Suharto regime only since the May 1997 elections. Prior to this, his criticisms, while sometimes quite sharp on specific issues remained within the framework of “His Majesty’s loyal opposition.” Only in the last few months, sensing the ground shake under his feet, he started calling for Suharto to step down. Even then, at every stage, he has acted as a brake on the movement, doing everything possible to avoid a decisive conflict, pour cold water over the mass movement, and protect the old régime of which, basically, he is part. The bourgeoisie is paralysed by fear. Fear of the masses, fear of the army, fear of upheaval, fear of imperialism—fear of everything. They are terrified of coming to power—hence their cowardly support for Habibie. And, unfortunately, the leaders of the PRD are afraid to break with the bourgeois liberals. But at a certain point, the masses will take them by the scuff of the neck and propel them into power, where they will be put to the test.

This fact was made clear when the so-called “Muslim oppositionist”, Rais, despite all his anti-regime demagogy, announced the calling-off of the mass protest demonstration called for the 20th of May. There is no doubt that, had it gone ahead, it would have been the biggest demonstration in Indonesian history. Faced with a movement on such a vast scale, the regime would have been powerless. The revolution could have been achieved peacefully. The leaders of the bourgeois opposition try to hide behind the excuse of the risk of violence and civil war. But in reality they are as afraid of the movement of the masses as the ruling clique itself. In order to carry through the movement to the end, it will be necessary to sweep aside these so-called “leaders” whose only aim in life is to save as much of the old regime as possible, while haggling for positions, at the cost of the masses in whose name they falsely speak, and whom they will betray at the earliest opportunity. The first duty of any honest and consistent democrat in Indonesia is to unmask these false leaders before the people. No half-way solutions and rotten compromises! t is necessary to go to the end! For this purpose, the workers, peasants and students must put no faith in the rotten bourgeois liberals, but trust only in themselves, in their struggle, in the revolutionary movement of the masses.

The students demand that Suharto be put on trial. Of course! This monster murdered over a million people. That cannot be forgotten. The tyrant will have to expiate his monstrous crimes. The people demand revenge. If Suharto does not get out in time, he will share the same fate as Ceaucescu who, in many ways, he resembles. The extent to which this régime is covered with blood, the degree to which it has plundered the nation, means that it will be difficult to placate the aroused masses. The time for words, promises, speeches, is long past. The masses see their living standards plummet. real wages have been cut by half over the last few months, while prices soar. Of course, if the imperialists were willing to put in huge sums of money, things might be different. but this is out of the question. There are too many régimes in difficulty to bail them all out. Far from helping the ailing dictator with large hand-outs, the West has held a shotgun to his head and, in effect, short-sightedly pushed him into a crisis. But then, there is no honour among thieves! The big Western monopolies are withholding investments until the intentions of the new government become clearer. They want a clear signal that it is committed to “reform”—that is, that it is committed to continue with the IMF’s policy of placing the burden of the crisis on the shoulders of the workers and peasants.

The Asian Revolution has begun!

This is the beginning of the revolution, not only in Indonesia but in the whole of Asia, and, potentially, on a world scale. The economic crisis is everywhere producing an intensification of the polarisation between the classes. In Korea the attempt of the bourgeoisie to place the burden of the crisis on the shoulders of the working class, hiding behind the government of the “progressive Kim Dae Jung, has foundered on the opposition of the Korean workers. The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions has responded by calling a mass demonstration and a national strike later this month. The unions want no layoffs and propose instead wage freezes, job-sharing and reduced working hours without loss of pay. “All this,” wails The Economist, “ is a very different reaction to the one given to Mr Kim at his first town meeting in January, when he was president-elect. That was when his popularity soared with nine out of ten Koreans supporting him. Now he faces a hostile parliament and angry workers....On May 13th, Mr Kim warned students not to join the unions on the streets.” (The Economist, 16/5/98.)

This is a warning to the Indonesian workers of what happens when you put your trust in the “progressive” bourgeoisie. On the road of class collaborationism there is no way out. Such a road only means more austerity, unemployment and hunger, and the increased enslavement of Indonesia, Korea and the other countries to imperialism. The whole of Asia is now a seething cauldron of discontent. On the First of May in Japan we saw the biggest demonstrations of the workers for years—two million people attended rallies in more than 1,000 places, according to the Kyodo news service. The demonstrators denounced the policies of the Hashimoto government. Unemployment in Japan (officially 3.9 per cent) is the highest since records started in 1953.

It is not accidental that precisely at this time India exploded its first nuclear device. This was meant as a diversion, to head off the development of revolution in India. “India is a great world power!” That is supposed to be the message that will make millions forget their misery and hunger. Temporarily, it will have some effect, as the flag-waving mass of petty bourgeois dance on the streets. But it will not last long. When the fog of chauvinism clears, the Indian workers and peasants will once again wake up to the harsh realities of life. In reality, all the conditions for revolution have matured in India—no less than in Indonesia. The only thing lacking is the subjective factor. the so-called Communist Parties of India are playing a disgraceful role, acting as fire hoses instead of preparing the masses for power.

The revolutionary potential is immense. But, in the absence of the subjective factor, so is the potential for defeat. Over a period of two, three or five years, the question of power will be posed before the working class one time after another. If there existed even a small revolutionary nucleus, the entire situation could be transformed. But in the absence of this, and with the disastrous policies being pursued by the CP leadership, the magnificent revolution in Indonesia can again end in defeat. The revolution will pass through various stages, of which we are now merely witnessing the first act. The possibility of victory for the working class will depend on the quality of the leadership. The students and workers have already displayed great courage and initiative. Armed with a correct programme and perspective, victory would be assured. But if the necessary leadership is not built, then chaos can develop, and even elements of barbarism, as in Uganda and Somalia, leading to the break-up of Indonesia and a new and even bloodier dictatorship. But long before that hour strikes, the Indonesian proletariat will have been faced with the chance of taking power, not once but many times. Either the greatest of victories or the most terrible of defeats—these are the only two options before the Indonesian revolution.