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Building a united front against the dictatorship

Info-Pembebasan (Liberation) - July 11, 1997

[The following is a translation of an interview between Mirah Mahardika. Coordinator, Central Leadership Committee, Peoples Democratic Party (KPP-PRD) and Pembebasan (Liberation)]

Organisational questions

Pembebasan (P): After a number of PRD members were arrested, the underground KPP-PRD (Komite Pimpinan Pusat-Partai Rakyat Demokratik) was formed. What is the organisational form of KPP-PRD?

Mirah Mahardika (M): KPP-PRD was formed on the instructions or a mandate from the PRD chair, Budiman Sudjatmiko. KPP-PRD is made up of three departments. The department of education and propaganda, which I head, the organisational department headed by Rizal Ampera and the department for coordinating our united front work headed by Siswa Ahmadi. Each department has members assigned according to their needs. The leadership of KPP-PRD is of a collective nature.

The existence of KPP-PRD does not nullify the central leadership of the PRD chosen at its congress. Our function is to run the activities of the party while the leadership is in jail and until a future PRD congress can be organised.

The regional PRD leadership is the City Leadership Committee (Komite Pimpinan Kota, (KPK). Like KPP, each KPK is also made up of three departments.

P: How many members does the PRD have at the moment?

M: I cannot reveal the actual number because this could be used to calculate our strength. However since we have gone underground, we have continued to recruit new members. Certainly since the July 27 crackdown there have members who have left, however the new members are far more radical and their courage rarely fails. Although the July 27 crackdown was a blow against our organisation, it also had a positive impact, that is to reveal which elements in the party were afraid and vacillating and those elements which were committed and radical. It was a selection process for the party. Those who were committed to the struggle stayed, while those who were afraid and vacillating, pulled back. This was very good for our organisation at this time.

New members that join are carefully chosen. Those that join are a selection, people who are fully aware of the risk involved in the struggle. Those who are afraid, opportunistic or unconvinced do not join.

P: Operating underground, how does the PRD get its program out to the people?

M: Operating underground means that we cannot be heard as widely [as before] though newspapers or mass actions. But we have other means to communicate with the masses. Every month, the PRD publishes the bulletin Pembebasan (Liberation), which is distributed underground and also via the internet, including the email news list Indonesia-l. KPP-PRD also regularly publishes Info-Pembebasan which is distributed on the internet. Large numbers of leaflets are also produced periodically.

P: What about the mass organisations affiliated with the PRD, such as SMID, PPBI, STN and Jaker? (1)

M: These mass organisations are also still operating underground. Since going underground, KPP-PRD has functioned as the spokesperson. This is done for the security of the organisation.

P: There were rumors that there was a split in the PRD. Apparently between those in jail and the KPP-PRD.

M: That is untrue. As I have already said, KPP-PRD was itself formed on the basis of Budiman's mandate. How can this be said to be a split? Certainly there are two leadership, but we had already reached agreement on our separate tasks.

P: It has also been said that there are sharp differences within the PRD, that is between those who believe that "there can be dialogue" and hard line elements who believe "there can be no dialogue"?

M: This is an extremely funny view... ha... ha... ha... I don't know where this rumor originated. I think that all PRD members are hard liners. With regard to the question of whether "there can be dialogue", that depends on who the dialogue is with. With the military, the authorities, with the oppressors? No way! Let's have the discussion in the parliament, that is the place! Open dialogue with other pro-democratic forces, that we accept. We have always called for the formation of a united front, forming a coalition and so on. What is more, within the structure of KPP-PRD there is a department for the formation of a united front, this is one of the three departments that exist.

P: PRD campaigns overseas have been ongoing. Is this a priority in the organisational work of the KPP-PRD?

M: The struggle for democracy is the responsibility of all people throughout the world. The struggle to democratise Indonesia is not just the responsibility of the Indonesian people, but the responsibility of all nations. Thus building international solidarity to strengthen the Indonesian struggle is extremely important work. For this task, the PRD setup international representatives based in Sydney and Amsterdam. But two offices are not enough and we plan to establish representatives in other places.

Strategy and tactics

P: In the framework of mobilising the masses, the PRD first used the tactic of calling for an election boycott (2). When the elections still went ahead, and the people did not campaign for a boycott, what tactic did the PRD then employ?

M: Although the elections went ahead, there were many riots. But according to the regime it was still a success. And the people did not come out into the streets calling for an election boycott. There were only minor actions [openly] calling for an election boycott. But we can't say that the tactic of calling for an election boycott failed totally, just because the election went ahead and the masses did not come out into the streets calling for a boycott.

Why didn't the masses come out into the streets calling for a boycott? I believe there were two main reasons. First, many still have illusions in the elections and still hoped that things could be changed through the elections. Secondly, the means or an "umbrella" [organisation] to build a mass boycott campaign did not exist. The most correct tool [for this] is a united front, which represents a grouping of different mass organisations and parties with a mass base. If such an "umbrella" [organisation] had existed, under conditions of sharp repression, it would not have been a problem.

But there was still an opportunity to use the elections as a way to mobilise the masses, that is actions rejecting the election results and calling for the elections to be rerun. Rejecting the election results in fact grew out of the tactic of boycotting the elections. So, the result of the boycott issue was that we had an issue for mass actions, that is actions rejecting the election results and demanding that the elections be rerun. I see this as having real potential because it can unite may different groups; those that Golput-ed (3), those that boycotted the elections, pro-Megawati Sukarnoputri Indonesian Democratic Party members and the United Development Party which was cheated [in the elections]. But once again, without an "umbrella" [organisation to channel the] large mass actions it is very difficult to build such large mass actions.

P: What was the means used to raise the issue of rejecting the election results and an election rerun, and how successful was this?

M: The measure of success is whether or not large numbers people could be mobilised, primarily in Jakarta and other strategic areas. But of course we cannot hold large actions without [going through] a longer [political] process. Small actions rejecting the results of the elections and an election rerun are just the beginning, they must become constant and nation wide.

Aside from the this, these issue must consistently be raised, through illegal publications, leaflets, graffiti actions and the like. Drawing together as many groups as possible on a common platform to hold joint actions on these issues is most strategically [useful] and important.

P: Before, the PRD prioritised the labour sector, but is now prioritising the urban poor. Isn't this inconsistent?

M: "Zig-zagging" between the labour sector and the urban poor was done because resistance by the urban poor matured first. Resistance by the urban poor is extremely high and militant. While workers are consistent in actions on economic issues, they are not very political. The political consciousness of workers is still low, and many workers still have illusions in simple economic demands. In reality this is only an illusion. Improvements in workers' prosperity – and anyone else's – is actually determined by the political system. So from this the struggle to raise the quality of people's lives requires a political struggle.

In pushing forward the struggle of the urban poor, the PRD aims to increase the political "temperature". If the national political "temperature" is hotter, the non-politicised sectors will become political, because it is influenced by external social condition. Thus the working class will become politicised, so to the peasantry, the middle class and the like.

However it must be noted, that the economic actions by the working class do have meaning. They continue to have meaning by increasing the political "temperature".

This must be emphasised. This tactic does not mean we are abandoning [work in] the labour sector. Not at all! Organisational work among workers is being continued.

P: At some time will the PRD reemerge in mass actions under the PRD flag as before?

M: Absolutely. But when, that depends on the situation. If the situation makes it possible for mass actions under the PRD flag, the PRD will do so. But if the situation is such that it is still not possible, the PRD will use other means, such as graffiti actions, distribution of leaflets, illegal publications or other innovative means.

Translators notes:

1. SMID: Solidaritas Mahasiswa Indonesia untuk Demokrasi, Student Solidarity for Indonesian Democracy.

2. PPBI: Pusat Perjuangan Buruh Indonesia, Indonesian Center for Labour Struggle.

3. STN: Serikat Tani Nasional, National Peasants Union.

4. Jaker: Jaringan Kesenian Rakyat, Peoples Cultural Network.

5. The original Indonesian term was "memboikot" (derived from the English word) and is distinct from another commonly used acronym, Golput (Golongan Putih, White Movement), which first emerged as a campaign by students in the 1971 elections and derives its name from the idea of not marking the ballot paper. Championed by people such as Arif Budiman, the movement did not reemerge in later elections until 1992. Golput is a more "passive" form of protests – abstaining from voting – while "memboikot" refers to a open political campaign which had the aim of disrupting the elections and through a public and mass display of resistance render the results invalid. Ibid.

[Translated by James Balowski, ASIET Publications and Information Officer. The original interview was untitled and the one used was chosen by the translator.]