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Unity of the Indonesian revolutionary movement is urgent

IndoPROGRESS - November 1, 2009

The Second National Unity Cabinet has finally been formed. For those who had been eagerly tinkering around with possible elite political constellations, many were shocked. The composition of the cabinet, as it turned out, largely reflected a desire to consolidate the fragmented politics at the elite level.

But for the progressive movement, the composition of the cabinet only reconfirms what had been predicted up until now: the need to pursue the capitalist-neoliberal agenda immediately without a fuss being created by fragmentation within the elite. A stable elite constellation was one of the important aspects that had to be realised, and only then conquering or co-opting the anti-capitalist and anti-neoliberal forces. In order to discuss this political conclusion further, Coen Husain Pontoh from IndoPROGRESS spoke with Zely Ariane from the Political Committee of the Poor-Peoples Democratic Party (KPRM-PRD). The following are excerpts form the discussion.

IndoPROGRESS (IP): What is your opinion on the composition of the second National Unity Cabinet?

Zely Ariane (ZA): It is fitting to refer to the new cabinet as "bribery for the sake of stability". The new cabinet is a result of a compromise and horse-trading between the election winners, which was accelerated as a result of the capitalist crisis, with an opportunist elite political "opposition" that is asking for a share. The result only further demonstrates that they are indeed bogus, just a fake opposition. The entire thing has been blatantly for one purpose, for immediate peace in order to fight to patch up the financial losses of the foreign and domestic capitalist lords as a result of the global financial crisis.

IP: How have you arrived at an assessment such as this?

ZA: From the aspect of its composition, aside from his allies in the presidential elections, SBY [President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono] has embraced all [the political interests and parties], particularly the remnants of [the late dictator President Suharto's] New Order regime, the Golkar Party.

Who knows why [Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, PDI-P Secretary General] Pramono Anung and [the daughter of PDI-P General Chairperson Megawati Sukarnoputri] Puan Maharani failed to become ministers, despite the fact that Megawati has gone as far as referring to the SBY government as "strategic partners" – perhaps because they couldn't agree on a suitable "price" – plus [Megawati's husband and PDI-P powerbroker] Taufik Kemas has succeeded in becoming the speaker of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR).

SBY had to give the largest bribes to the PDI-P. Because it is the PDI-P that is the largest "opposition" at the moment. And SBY was successful, at least in so far as Megawati was prepared to issue a statement to that effect. And perhaps by embracing the PDI-P, [Megawati's former vice presidential running mate] Prabowo Subianto from the Greater Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) was no longer important in his calculations.

The basis for all this is to ensure that the political situation is stable, the various remedies for the capitalist crisis set out by the Group of Eight (G8) industrial nations, which has already "transformed" into the G20, of which Indonesia has already become an important part, must be pursued immediately. Don't create unnecessary complications by letting the elite hold "limited protests".

With the subjugation of the PDI-P through Megawati's statement, the representation of the biggest "reformers" – outside of the political parties that have already entered into a coalition with SBY – have again proven themselves bogus. And, their opposition will only be pretend opposition, fake opposition.

In historical terms, we already know all of the political elite's crimes, their betrayals. This has been demonstrated by their consistently being the defenders of big domestic and foreign capital – and only defending the ordinary people during election campaigns. They are even quite prepared to use "nationalist" sentiment to assist the interest of the domestic capitalist lords to defend them from the "threat" of foreign capital, although it is only for the sake of conducting negotiations.

IP: If there is no longer an opposition in the parliament, does this mean that hope for an opposition lies outside parliament. Is this possible?

ZA: Before assessing the opportunities for an extra-parliamentary opposition at present, I think it is important to look at why there is no material and historical basis for an elite opposition – which by definition is a group that opposes the government – in Indonesia. This is important so that we don't pretend to look for or fabricate something that in factual terms doesn't actually exist.

Post the 1998 reform period, there have been five political forces that have been the main obstacles to economic and political reform in Indonesia. They are: 1) The government as a capitalist collaborator; 2) the Golkar Party as a representative of the remnants of the New Order regime that survived and succeeded in adapting to political reform; 3) the military, which in structural terms inherited the values of violence and anti-democracy from the New Order – even the Dutch colonial army; 4) the fake reformists, namely the political parties and political elite that moved quickly to betray the promises of the 1998 reform movement; and 5) the reactionary civilian militia, the various organisations derived from the New Order and military, which are used to organise anti-democratic actions.

These five political forces have the same ideology: they are pro-capitalist and have voluntarily become capitalist collaborators.

I think that the Ciganjur declaration [a statement by four prominent opposition figures in 1998] and the parliamentary overthrow of Gus Dur [former President Abdurrahman Wahid] in 2001 by the "opposition" coalition of fake reformists, Golkar and the military, destroyed the material basis for the emergence of an elite opposition in Indonesia. At the very least, it has already been demonstrated that all of the civilian elite (who claim to be reformists) have given in to the military, and are even willing to again embrace the remnants of the New Order, whereas both represent the principle backers of the New Order political system.

It is because of this therefore, that a genuine opposition will only emerge when left forces, which are anti-capitalist, anti the remnants of the New Order, anti-military and anti the fake reformists, grow and develop, both in the parliament as well as outside the parliament. Given the current situation, because there are no left forces in the parliament, then the hope does indeed lie outside the parliament.

IP: Who possibly are the opposition forces outside of the parliament? How big is their potential to become an opposition force?

ZA: Before discussing that I would like to straighten out the statement about the opposition forces. With regard to the term "opposition" itself, I am still a little confused. Opposition, which by definition is a group that opposes the government, could emerge from anywhere (parliamentary or extra-parliamentary). Because there will always be many groups that will oppose the government in partial terms. Such as fighting government policies that damage certain bourgeois groups or factions, or the interests of the ordinary people, within a specific time frame.

In pursuit of such interests, it may well be that the PDI-P, or Gerindra and Hanura [the People's Conscience Party headed by former General Wiranto], could again become an opposition in parliament. Not excepting members of coalition members in SBY's cabinet itself. It is this that is referred to as pretend opposition, the fake reformists. Without exposing their track records and ideological veil, the progressive movements will continue to be trapped into supporting this kind of opposition.

Within this understanding of the word, there will be a great deal of opposition, and later this could well spread beyond the parliament. Even the spontaneous resistance of the people against forced evictions can be categorised as opposition, including resistance that is ridden with the interests of the political elite or even mobilised by them.

It is because of this therefore that I'm not interested in playing around with the word opposition, like playing around with the word anti-neoliberalism – as mainstream politics is so interested in doing at the moment.

So the word opposition is inaccurate or merely a simplification or a euphemism if it is not aimed at or pinned to groups who do indeed want to change the capitalist system into a proletariat or socialist system.

Myself, as part of one of these groups, could well be categorised as the opposition, but it's more than just that, we are part of the revolutionary movement that is endeavoring patiently, militantly, astutely and democratically, to continue to find a strategy and tactic to overthrow the capitalist state. And these groups are indeed still small.

So yes, there are left political forces outside the parliament, who are consistently cultivating the people's resistance, building the political movements and its unity to replace the government and the capitalist state. They also took part in the recent demonstrations on October 20 [against Yudhoyono and Boediono's inauguration], both in coalitions as well as individually.

IP: How big is the potential to be able to, at least at this stage, challenge the political hegemony of the elite?

ZA: I believe that objectively it's big. More and more people are disgusted with the behaviour of the political elite, which, at the very lest, has manifested itself in golput [to abstain from voting or not mark the ballot paper] (regardless of their backgrounds or motivation) in the legislative and presidential elections earlier this year.

The people's resistance is becoming bigger and its methods more advanced because it is increasingly obvious that their "representatives" do not defend their interests. Meanwhile the capitalist onslaught is further impoverishing them.

But all of this can also result in pragmatism, or disillusionment, because there is no, or never appears to be any solution. Moreover the people have witnessed how their organisational leaders, or the activists that they know (who are popular), have even joined hands with the political elite, which they had previously campaigned as the enemies of the people. So the ordinary people, who have a low intellectual capacity and historical track record, once again end up in despondency, or remain caught up in the political elite current, which is not revolutionary. This situation is clearly dangerous and at several levels, has already undermined the previous achievements of the movement.

IP: Who then is capable of providing the framework and direction for a struggle that is revolutionary?

ZA: Only the unity of the revolutionary groups that are patient, astute, militant and democratic in building a broader movement and creating their own political platform and explicitly rejecting interference or intervention by the political forces that are the obstacle to the people's liberation – or what we refer to as the politics of non-cooptation. And this also, again, is not an easy job at the moment.

IP: What about the methods needed to achieve this unity of the revolutionary groups, and exactly what factors have inhibited this unity up until now?

ZA: First of all, and most importantly, is the political importance of unity in the current stage of the revolution that must be strong and be strived for patiently – but of course not just foolishly maintaining unity that is artificial or undemocratic. As we stated in the KPRM-PRD's political position in its declaration: "It is a positive fact that uniting the millions of ordinary people (the exploited and oppressed) under a united leadership is one of the most difficult strategic and tactical tasks, and this demands determination, perseverance and courage".

Indeed, unity is only one of the tactics to enlarge the movement, achieving victory. However in the midst of the sea of masses who are still very reformist in outlook, movement unity is an absolute necessity to lead, and at the same time cultivate progressive mass consciousness, which will accelerate and broaden.

We believe that at this stage, unity among the revolutionary groups, socialist groups, is urgent and very necessary in order to provide direction and a framework to seek a solution to address the unrest among ordinary people. In its political expression, this kind of unity must, explicitly, reject interference, not be subordinated to and free of [elite political] influence, and (moreover) cannot be allowed to fuse with pro-government forces, the imperialist agents, the military, the remnants of New Order and the fake reformists. Let's not confuse the people again and undermine the anti-elite consciousness that has begun to grow.

This is what we refer to as the "politics of the poor", namely a political alternative (rival) that has its basis in the forces of the people's own resistance, with the principle of non-cooperation and non-cooptation in confronting the enemies of the people.

This position does not of course reject the possibility of short-term unity with democratic elements, in accordance with jointly agreed demands and on the basis of freedom to propagandise.

There is no manual setting out the methods for building unity at the moment. The key is what kind of unity, non-cooptation and collaboration with the enemies of the people, and the freedom to carry out propaganda. We have been able to learn from evaluating previous attempts at unity, the progressive aspects of which we must keep, and improve those that are still lacking. For the sake of unity of the revolutionary groups, we – although still small – have started to build a culture of political unity. As much as possible we will become involved with and work in solidarity with the various political expressions of other revolutionary groups, without having to use our organisational symbols.

The aim is to erode the subjective prejudices of fellow revolutionary organisations. But the impact of this effort will remain minimal if it is not quickly followed by a consolidation of this unity that has the capacity to build its own political vehicle, which can stand against the hegemony of the political elite.

It has never been clear what factor is actually obstructing unity, because formally all of the groups declare their agreement. Some cite their organisational integrity or bad experience with earlier unity attempts. In the case of the second argument, it is easier to resolve. But in the case of the first, personally I'm not willing to draw any conclusions other than that perhaps for them, the importance of unity, at this stage in the revolution, is indeed still not that important.

[Translated by James Balowski. Zely Ariane is the national spokesperson for the Political Committee of the Poor-Peoples Democratic Party. The original text of the interview in Indonesian can be found at http://indoprogress.blogspot.com/2009/11/zely-ariane-persatuan-kaum-pembaharu.html.]