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Interview with Indonesian activist Muhammad Ma'ruf

In Defence of Marxism - July 1, 1998

In July we interviewed Muhammad Ma'ruf, chief-editor of Pembebasan-Liberation, paper of the Indonesian PRD.

What is the meaning of the May unrest in Indonesia which led to the downfall of Suharto?

MM: The May uprising was the result of the intensification of the contradictions in Indonesian society which were directed against the power of the dictatorship. It was an anarchistic uprising, in which the people's movement lacked leadership. The bourgeois opposition could not give leadership to the people's unrest. The left-wing groups tried to organise the people but the subjective conditions for doing this were very small, for historical reasons. The anti-Chinese attacks are the result of the depoliticisation of the people for 32 years. The people have no perspective and don't know how to fight the oppression of the dictatorship and of capitalism. The IMF has a responsibility in this anarchy. Its program of cuts in subsidies for food and electricity made the people very angry. It changed the situation from bad to worse. The military also has responsibility for this, because they provoked people to attack Chinese ethnics in order to turn the anti-government uprising into a racialist riot.

Rioting is actually part of the insurrection....The process of revolution is not finished. It has just started to develop. The May riots are just one of the many steps in this process. New riots can happen again at any time.

The PRD intervened in these events, how do you evaluate its role?

MM: We started to intervene 1 year ago. For 2 years we felt the unrest amongst the urban poor and saw the potential for insurrection. Our aim was to lead the people and to develop the unrest into an insurrection. We deployed our cadres from the campuses to the slum areas. But we are still small and could not give the necessary leadership for a mass uprising. But our intervention was very important along the lines of transforming the unrest not just in rioting but into an insurrection to overthrow the dictatorship. Our demands are for the release of all political prisoners, for the nationalisation of crony capitalism, the repeal of the "double function" of the army, the withdrawal of the 5 repressive political laws and for free multi party elections. We refuse parliament and struggle for the organisation of people's councils that will be the base for a transitional government of those who participated in the liberation of the people.

Suharto has been replaced by Habibie. Does he represent any change?

MM: Habibie is not different form Suharto. He is a loyal servant of Suharto. His appointment is a concession made because Suharto is refused by the people. Everywhere people say: "Suharto is a robber, the 3rd richest man in the world but also with the poorest people in the world". We should have no illusions in this new government. Habibie is part of Suharto's scenario to intensify the internal contradictions in the regime to win back his position and that for his family-clique. Not one member of this new government is committed to the interests of the people.

But the Habibie government and its Ministers are taking economic and social measures to alleviate the conditions of the people like the distribution of cheap rice and cooking oil. The IMF is authorising new subsidies to basic food and so on.

MM: Not one of these figures and their measures can bring salvation. Habibie can do nothing. His stupid call to fast two days a week amidst the threat of starvation to save on rice consumption proves he has no perspective to solve that problem. The IMF can't change the economic conditions either. All faces of capitalism can bring no solution. The only government which can solve the economic catastrophe is a government that is 100% supported by the people and that puts into practice an economic programme that is 100% controlled by the people. You know, Indonesia is basically a very rich country. We have big reserves of timber, tin, nickel, rotan, rubber, oil and so on. These resources have to be controlled and managed by the people. We can rescue ourselves without IMF loans. The IMF measures will maybe strengthen the Rupiah to the Dollar, but they will not change the conditions of the workers. The IMF can not bring a democratic government either. The military are still in control in Indonesia. The IMF knows that its neo-liberal program will provoke new people's unrest and that they will need the military to suppress it. The conclusion is that we should not believe or trust any bourgeois leader to change for the better the people's conditions.

We would agree with that, but are there no illusions amongst the students and the workers in this government?

MM: One day after the appointment of Habibie, the students started to campaign against him. Through different Muslim organisations Habibie tries to engineer so-called "mass-action" to support him but the workers unrest in particular is increasing everywhere. These last weeks there have been 4 demonstrations each day in Indonesia. All of them were political and are directed against government leaders at regional and local level. Unrest is everywhere in Indonesian society, but the military are also omnipresent. That leads to violent clashes. The government is attacked from many lines and not the least from East Timor. The masses in East Timor demand self-determination through a referendum. The government just want to give them an autonomy status. The refusal to grant a referendum on that question and to release East Timor political prisoners led to new uprisings in the capital. The same is happening in East Papua. Of course the government gives some political concessions. For instance it repealed 3 of the 5 repressive political laws, it intends to limit the political role of the military but without touching on the "double function" of the army, it promises free multiparty elections but refuses to legalise Marxist parties. Some political prisoners are released but not all of them. They refuse to nationalise crony capitalism, they just intend to "audit" it. Through all these measures the government wants to create illusions. Our role in the actual situation is to try to lead legally where this is possible despite our illegal situation. If we don't do that the movement will be led by the bourgeois democrats. We intervene to organise mass actions around the people's demands. Megawati, the ousted leader of the PDI (Democratic Party of Indonesia), daughter of the former president Sukarno and a typical bourgeois democrat, never gave leadership to the masses. During the May uprising, she said nothing and did nothing. She is stagnant. That is the real attitude of Megawati.

What is the relationship between the struggle for democracy and the struggle for socialism.

MM: We are in favour of an uninterrupted movement, an uninterrupted revolution. The struggle for democracy means a freeway for socialism. A strategic demand for the actual situation is the building of people's councils at every level. The nationalisation of crony capitalism will have to develop to the nationalisation of the whole economy. Of course the objective conditions for socialism are difficult. The workers movement is not well organised and the workers consciousness is still low. But we need to develop anti-capitalist consciousness. In our program we are preparing for socialism. In our propaganda we can make no illusions in bourgeois democracy. We cannot separate socialism from the democratic struggle. We must propagate socialism widely. For instance with the nationalisation of crony capitalism the workers will gain experience on how to nationalise all capitalism. The people's councils will be the instrument to put a socialist program into practice.

How can the international labour movement assist your struggle?

MM: The Indonesian labour movement is part of the international labour movement. We must support each other. The May uprising and the overthrow of Suharto gave inspiration to the labour movement in other countries. The people's resistance in Indonesia means an attack on world capitalism through for instance the multinational companies who settled in our country. The workers' demonstration in your countries also support our struggle, because demonstration you made weaken the capitalism. Workers in capitalist countries' demonstration is big support for workers in our country. Maybe we can get victory, but it will be defeated by international capitalist reaction, if workers in others countries movement is not strong. The labour movement in your country should demand that your government stop supporting Habibie and the military intervention in political affairs and against continued political repression. You should organise pressure for these demands also in front of the embassies.

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