Capitalist Politicians in Indonesia Outflanked by Student Radicals


Political polarization is increasing rapidly as the social and political crisis in Indonesia deepens. In the confrontation in mid-November between government forces and protesters who had rejected the legitimacy of the government of “constitutional continuity” that took the reins after the resignation of veteran dictator Suharto, the procapitalist opposition leaders were clearly bypassed.

The radical action committees took the lead. They mobilized tens of thousands of students to oppose the special session of the puppet parliament of the New Order regime and to demand the resignation of Suharto’s stooge successor, Habibie.

When the students were attacked by fascist-like gangs recruited by the military and by the army itself, which shot down six protesters at Semanggi bridge in Jakarta, up to a million of the poor masses came to their aid, according to the official Indonesian news agency, Antara. The clashes plunged the faltering regime into deeper crisis.

In the aftermath of the confrontation, one of the main bourgeois opposition leaders, Abdurrahman Wahid, familiarly known as “Gus Dur,” leader of the largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, called for “national reconciliation,” not only with Habibie but even with the fallen dictator Suharto.

The Dec. 7 issue of Kompas, a major Jakarta daily, reported that “Gus Dur thinks that the way to prevent a social revolution is by a common understanding: ‘The entire elite, regardless of whether or not it is in the government, whoever is seen as a leader by the people- must work together.'”

The report continued, “Gus Dur hopes that there will be a meeting between popular figures and government figures: ‘I cannot invite Pak [Papa] Habibie and Pak Wiranto [the head of the army] to my place. Perhaps it is better if I went to meet them.’

“Gus Dur pointed out that social revolution is a situation in which the people rebel against everything, when there is no authoritative government. Gus Dur clearly expressed his worry about the growing tensions to which there seems to be no end.”

Gus Dur’s fraternal appeal to “Pak” Wiranto in particular went directly against the calls of the November demonstrators for the resignation of the army chief who orchestrated the recruit of fascist-like gangs and the deliberate massacre of students in order to suppress the demonstrators.

The Nahdlatul Ulama leader’s position was a logical extension of the common position taken by the bourgeois opposition figures at his home in Ciganjur on the time of the November confrontation. But it represented a dramatic widening of the gap that then opened between the bourgeois opposition leaders and the radical movement.

Gus Dur’s desperate attempt to “unite the elite” in order to stem the tide of social revolution for the time being has fallen flat, indicating how sharp the conflict is. Suharto and Habibie met with him all right, but Habibie announced that he was not prepared to establish any ongoing formal relations with the bourgeois opposition leaders. Gus Dur’s maneuver, in fact, was too blatant even for some moderates, who criticized him for betraying the opposition.

The government’s response to the November clashes has not been to reach out to the bourgeois opposition but to accelerate its course toward repression. Despite the fact that his attempt to mobilize gangs against the students failed and disgraced him, “Pak” Wiranto launched a project for setting up a permanent civilian auxiliary force on the model of gangs routed in November by the people of Jakarta.

The proposed force has become known in Indonesian as the “Ratih,” for “Raykat Terlatih,” or “Trained People,” and Wiranto has proposed initially that it number about 40,000.

The right-wing Islamic daily Republilka, which was one of the initiating sponsors of mobilizing conservative Muslims “against anarchy and communism,” admitted in its Dec. 23 issue that some people had been worried by the experience with the Pam Swakarsa, the so-called Voluntary Guards, in November.

Moreover, the paper reported, “There are those who suspect that the formation of the Ratih is a crash program for maintaining the status quo or for the interests of specific political groups. ”

Nonetheless, the right-wing paper tried to defend the project by arguing that the ratio of police to population was below the international standard in Indonesia. This, of course, strains belief in what for the last 35 years has been virtually a totalitarian dictatorship. It leaves out of the equation the army, which, as in most Third World dictatorships, is really a police force.

However, Republilka tried to sweeten the pill by saying that recruitment to the Ratih would lessen unemployment, “which we know is a source of social discontent. … Therefore, recruitment to the Ratih and offering material incentives has a double function in surmounting the national difficulties [i.e., unrest and unemployment].”

In fact, it was precisely unemployed village youth who were the recruits for the Pam Swakarsa-who got such a “warm” welcome from the people of Jakarta in mid-November (about half a dozen of them were lynched as hated mercenaries of the discredited regime).

Just in case some readers might wonder how the crisis-ridden Indonesian economy could afford to pay part of the population to guard the rest,Republilka noted that “Minister of Justice Muladi said that there is foreign financial help, although he did not specify the amount.”

Since the imperialist powers, in particular the United States, (the obvious sources of “foreign financial help”) have been the patrons of the blood-thirsty military dictatorship from its origins in 1965-when it was responsible for the murder of at least half a million people and perhaps three times that-the reference to such aid must have set alarm bells ringing in Indonesia.

The military has continued to send the army to attack demonstrators, and clashes have been increasing and sharpening as sections of the protesters are starting to protect themselves. Hypocritical complaints by army commanders that they are really defending the students against armed thugs are probably the music of the future as the military continues to seek to form fascist-type auxiliaries.

When Gus Dur was forced to abandon his maneuver for wall-to-wall unity between the government and the “responsible” opposition, he lamented that disorder was now not local but spread throughout the archipelago. Curiously, he mentioned only incidents of communal violence, such as the anti-Christian riots in Ketapang, Jakarta; and the anti-Muslim riots in Kupang in Catholic West Timor.

He also mentioned the killings of Muslim divines in Banyuwangi, east Java. But he himself has said that he believes that the military, led by “Pak” Wiranto, is behind these incidents.

The gyrations of Gus Dur are a clear expression of the incapacity of the bourgeois opposition leaders to lead the mass struggle against the regime of the New Order imperialist-backed dictatorship and its fascist gangs.

The revolutionary activists among the radical action groups are now in a race against time to build a political alternative for the mass movement that can forestall provocations and focus the rage of the impoverished and brutalized masses.

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