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New left activist alliance formed in Indonesia

Max Lane - May 14, 2008

Over the last few days good news has come in on the formation of a new Left united front formation, called the National Liberation Front (FPN). The FPN will be organizing its first street action on the 10th Anniversary of the downfall of Suharto, May 21 around the issue of the current government's increases to fuel prices. This will be followed by another action on June 1. Small actions and leafleting have already begun.

The formation of the FPN flowed from an initiative of the Aliansi Buruh Mengugat (Workers Demands Alliance – ABM) an alliance of left and progressive trade unions that have come together over the last five or so years. Some of the unions were formed by left activist groups, but most have sprung up from the workplace and/or broken away from old structures that had been controlled by the state before the fall of the dictator Suharto. It is therefore a rather diverse mixture of initially enterprise based unions, which have then formed various more-or-less ad hoc federations which have then stabilized. They include manufacturing and service sector workers, in both state and privately owned firms.

While engaging in lobbying (of MPs for example), their primary emphasis is on mass struggle in the extra-parliamentary sphere. At the moment also no left party has been able to be registered to participate in elections. They take up immediate workplace issues, issues to with trade union rights and legislation impacting on those rights as well as general socio-economic issues. They are firmly against to neo-liberal capitalism. The majority have been won to one kind or another of left orientations.

ABM called the meeting, which led to the formation of FPN, initially to organize an action for May 21. This followed high levels of collaboration among most left and progressive groups in organizing mobilizations for May Day in Jakarta and other cities.

The initial members of FPN includes, of course, the ABM – mostly made up of militant and progressive unions based in Jakarta and several other major cities around the country. It includes KASBI (Congress of Indonesian Trade Union Alliances). KASBI leaders played an important role in this initiative. It also includes the Indonesian Front for Labour Struggle-Politics of the Poor (FNPBI-PRM, the left wing of the old PRD led union), which has also been an important actor in this process (initially the two sides of the FNPBI were active, but only the FNPBI-PRM is active at the moment).

The three main socialist left national political formations now operating in Indonesia are also members. These are:

  • Persatuan Politik Rakyat Miskin/PPRM – Poor Peoples Political Union, an initiative of the Political Committee of the Poor – Peoples Democratic Party (KPRM-PRD), comprising KPRM-PRD members plus others.
  • Perhimpunan Rakyat Pekerja/PRP – Working Peoples Association, also a national formation, with a student and worker base
  • Serikat Mahasiswa Indonesia/SMI – Indonesian Student Secretariat, which collaborates closely with the Jakarta Federation of Worker Unions (FPBJ)

Other groups include:

  • Walhi – The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (the Indonesian Friends of the Earth organization)
  • Aliansi Rakyat Miskin (Poor Peoples Alliance) – an organization that grew out of campaigns against new regulations in Jakarta banning 'begging'.
  • Korban (Coalition of the People Arising to Resist) – an alliance of victims of human rights abuses
  • The Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH)
  • The Institute for Global Justice (IGJ) – the main anti-neoliberal globalisation, activist oriented think tank in Indonesia.

It also includes the Serikat Pengamen Indonesia (Indonesian Street Buskers Union, SPM), quite a militant union of the poor, and Perempuan Mahardika (Freedom Women), a women's liberation group (where KPRM-PRD women activists are already very active).

(To date those specific peasant struggle oriented groups, influenced ideologically from other peasant oriented political tendencies, such as the Indonesian Students Front (FMN), are also not participating.)

While there no doubt is a lot of consolidation work to do, this is undoubtedly a major and very positive step forward in left and progressive regroupment in Indonesia. If it consolidates, it will lay the basis for breaking out of the encirclement by bourgeois and elite political forces that has been the legacy of 33 years of almost totalitarian dictatorship under Suharto (1965-98).

We will try to provide English language updates and analysis when there are more developments.

Other organisations listed as part of FPN are:

  • Praxis – A Jakarta activist centre coordinating various grass-roots campaign projects in different parts of the country, mainly peasants. Also publishes research on grass-roots conditions and campaigns – a few major books.
  • Ikohi – The union of the families of the disappeared from the Suharto period, headed by Mugiyanto, an active leader of the PRD in the nineties – he left as part of group, around 2000. Some of that group are now in PRP, which is also now in the FPN.
  • Pergerakan – A network of mainly activist oriented left intellectuals, also spread around the country; some with links to grass roots groups
  • PAWANG, FBTN, KPA, LBH FAS, JGM – not sure exactly which groups these are.

There is still further potential for this kind of collaboration to spread. Several other left networks are working with many of these groups in the Hands Off Venezuela committee, which has also set up a joint working group to study how "socialism in the 21st century' might be applied in Indonesia. There are literally hundreds – maybe more – left networks and action committees that have sprung up around the country (4th most populous in the world). The extreme fragmentation of the rest is a direct reflection of a very big spontaneous formation of small groups in the absence of any large formation to appear at the end of the 33 year dictatorship and in the absence – virtual total absence – of any continuity of tradition with earlier left ideologies. (see chapter Memory in Unfinished Nation <http://www.versobooks.com/books/klm/l-titles/lane_max_unfinished_nation.shtml>). It appears that there is now a steady accumulation of new ideological discussion around socialism that may, bit by bit, provide the glue to help some, maybe many, of these fragments achieve greater collaboration.

The roles of KPRM-PRD, the SMI-FPBJ current and the PRP will be very important in propelling this.

There is a lot to study. Many of these groups are only 4-5 years old, or where there are older links, they are very new combinations. They often don't know much about each other either. This especially is the case in the provincial cities, where such groups have started separate from any Jakarta-based initiative.


On this May Day the other wing of the PRD (referred to these days as PRD/Papernas) did not participate in May Day. I am not sure why. They did, through their FNPBI, however, organize a pre-May Day seminar. They invited as keynote speaker, the regime's Minister of Labour The Below is a translation of the stated aims of the seminar:

Energy Resilience, National Industry Situation and the Trade Union Response


  • to explore what common issues exist among trade unions in relation to the commemoration of May Day and which orient to the national interest and workers welfare
  • To find the points of common interest between unions and national entrepreneurs as basis for a common struggle against the globalization current which is damaging the national interest
  • To create a synergy between workers and national entrepreneurs in the context of supporting a strong, independent national economy and for advancing the welfare of workers.

I understand that Papernas is now a member of another front, together with REPDEM (Volunteers for Democracy), led by another former PRD leader, Budiman Sujatmiko, and other groups. REPDEM was recently formally integrated into the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the party of former President Megawati Sukarnoputri. Meanwhile, electorally, they appear to be pursuing a policy of stopping doing any major politically activity through Papernas (using student, urban poor and other fronts for a few actions), in preparation for standing candidates and supporting candidates under the banner of the Star Reformation Party (PBR), a mixed bag of Islamic fundamentalists, pro-regime and other opportunists and adventurers.

For more information and analysis on Indonesia visit Max Lane's blog at http://blogs.usyd.edu.au/maxlaneintlasia/