Workers Vanguard No. 1148
8 February 2019
For Workers Revolution in Indonesia!
Independence for West Papua!
We reprint below the second part of an article from Australasian Spartacist No. 236 (Summer 2018/19), newspaper of the Spartacist League of Australia, section of the International Communist League. Part One appeared in Workers Vanguard No. 1147 (15 January).
The bloody slaughter of 1965-66 was the direct product of the support by the PKI [Communist Party of Indonesia], as well as their Stalinist mentors in Moscow and Beijing, to the bourgeois government of Sukarno. Far from championing national struggles as a motor force for proletarian revolution, the PKI helped to channel the Indonesian masses’ deep bitterness at colonialism into support for bourgeois nationalism. After Sukarno’s forces crushed its 1948 revolt in the city of Madiun, the PKI gained “respectability” and re-established its prominence as a political party by grotesquely embracing Indonesia’s chauvinist claim over West Papua.
In line with Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong’s “bloc of four classes” doctrine and the Stalinist quest for “peaceful coexistence” with “progressive, non-aligned” capitalist “friends,” the PKI helped to prop up capitalist Indonesia, maintaining its alliance with the weak bourgeoisie by restraining the working class and containing class struggle. Adhering to Sukarno’s “Nasakom” popular front, the party leadership preached “joint unity” with Sukarno and his Indonesian National Party to forge a “united national front, including the national bourgeoisie,” which would carry out “not socialist but democratic reforms” (see “Lessons of Indonesia 1965,” Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 55, Autumn 1999).
This treacherous class-collaborationist program stands in stark contrast to the revolutionary internationalism of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolshevik Party in Russia. In many respects, Indonesia then, as today, resembled tsarist Russia, albeit the latter was the weakest link in the imperialist chain. Russia was a multinational state with a narrowly based ruling class, subservient to and dependent on imperialist countries, and with enormous social contradictions between a modern industrial sector and a countryside stamped in pre-capitalist times. The perspective for resolving the fundamental democratic questions posed by such combined and uneven development is provided by the theory of permanent revolution, developed by Leon Trotsky and vindicated by the victory of the 1917 Russian Revolution. As Trotsky wrote:
“With regard to countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries, the theory of the permanent revolution signifies that the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses.”
—The Permanent Revolution (1929)
If it is not to be strangled by backwardness and imperialist intervention, the social overturn must be linked to the fight for workers rule in the advanced capitalist countries, like Australia.
Lenin forged the Bolshevik Party in the struggle against Great Russian chauvinism and for national liberation struggles in the tsarist prison house of peoples. The Bolsheviks’ championing of the democratic right of self-determination resonated amongst the masses of the oppressed nations under tsarism. As Trotsky put it in his powerful History of the Russian Revolution (1932), “the national current, like the agrarian, was pouring into the channel of the October revolution.” Just as the Bolsheviks’ fight for the rights of oppressed nationalities was key to the victory of the 1917 October Revolution, so too championing the national rights of the Melanesian Papuans and other oppressed nationalities will be key to uniting the workers and peasants across the archipelago, including the Javanese masses, in the struggle for the revolutionary overthrow of Indonesian capitalism.
The regime issuing from the October Revolution provides a model for what this might look like. In November 1917, the new Soviet government issued the “Declaration of Rights of the Peoples of Russia” setting forth the equality and sovereignty of the peoples of Russia, the right of self-determination up to secession and the formation of a separate state, abolition of all national and religious privileges, and the free development of all national and ethnic groups inhabiting Russia.
The Russian Revolution was also internationalist in character, the first step on the road to world socialist revolution. It opened the possibility for extension to Europe. However, with the failure of revolutionary opportunities in Europe, most particularly in Germany, the economic backwardness and isolation of the Soviet workers state led to the rise of a nationalist, bureaucratic caste that seized political power from the working class in a political counterrevolution headed by Stalin in 1923-24. With the consolidation of its rule, and the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet workers state, the revolutionary, internationalist program of the Bolsheviks was replaced with the Stalinist dogma of “socialism in one country” and the illusory pursuit of “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism. Defending the remaining gains of the revolution, not least the collectivised property forms, Trotskyists stood for the unconditional military defence of the Soviet Union against imperialist attack and internal capitalist counterrevolution while fighting for a political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy and return to the road of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks.
West Papua: “New Order” Prize for 1965 Massacre
U.S., British and Australian imperialism were up to their necks in the blood of the Indonesian people in 1965-66. From the U.S. embassy in Jakarta lists that had been compiled of some 5,000 Communist Party members and sympathisers were passed on to the Indonesian Foreign Ministry to aid the massacres. Radio Australia operating in Indonesia broadcast pro-army propaganda during the killings, urged on by Australia’s ambassador to Indonesia, who boasted it was “excellent propaganda and of assistance to the anti-PKI forces.” In the wake of the massacres, Australia’s prime minister, Harold Holt, gloated to a gathering of the Australian-American Association in New York, “With 500,000 to 1 million Communist sympathisers knocked off, I think it is safe to assume a reorientation has taken place” (New York Times, 6 July 1966).
Once in power, Suharto’s “New Order” regime reopened Indonesia to foreign capital, and soon many American and European companies had regained control of mines, estates and other enterprises nationalised under Sukarno. The Suharto regime also began selling off West Papua’s resources for imperialist exploitation. In 1967 they signed a contract with the U.S.-based Freeport Sulphur company to begin mining gold and copper at Mt. Ertsberg. In 1968, a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate for Indonesia smugly stated, “The prospects for private foreign investment in extractive industries are fairly good….”
The imperialists’ endorsement of the 1969 “Act of Free Choice” in West Papua was a reward for services rendered by Suharto’s military in crushing the Indonesian Communists. The military commander in West Papua at the time was the violently anti-Communist CIA-linked Sarwo Edhie, who (having returned from military training in Australia) commanded the paramilitary forces dispatched in 1965 to Central Java to “clean up” and restore order.
For 32 years, Suharto’s blood-drenched military regime ruled Indonesia with an iron fist. While Suharto has long gone, Jakarta continues to ride roughshod over the many different peoples across the archipelago. In West Papua, successive regimes have enforced the ongoing military occupation, with at least 15,000 troops stationed there in 2011. There are over 40 administrative regencies across the territory, each with its own police station and military base. There are reportedly plans to increase the number by 70 percent. As one activist put it, “Special forces and intelligence personnel are stationed in virtually every village.” The military in West Papua have vested interests in suppressing dissent. Only 25 percent of their budget comes from the central government with the rest made up from fees for services, including providing security at businesses and facilities such as the Grasberg mine.
Seeking to “divide and conquer” West Papua, in 2003 Jakarta split the territory into two provinces, called “West Papua” and “Papua.” Jakarta also implemented “special autonomy” in a futile attempt to weaken the independence movement but this has only led to greater discontent.
From the beginning, Jakarta has pursued conscious policies designed to assimilate West Papua into the Malayic culture of Indonesia and extinguish the Melanesian Papuan identity with its different languages, religion, social customs and organisation, and agricultural practices. To this end, Jakarta has for decades used its government-sponsored transmigration program to relocate many thousands of people from Java and other islands to West Papua. Significant self-financed transmigration has also occurred over the last decades, particularly from eastern provinces such as Sulawesi and Maluku. Alongside creating a non-Papuan workforce, transmigration has also served “security” objectives, with settlements adjacent to PNG [Papua New Guinea], along with the depopulation of local villages, acting to restrict the cross-border movements of Papuan activists. Reportedly, many transmigrants in these areas are former military personnel. While President Widodo stated in mid-2015 that the transmigration program to West Papua would end, it continues to be encouraged. As one government minister earlier declared, “There is still a lot of land,” (Sydney Morning Herald, 5 February 2015).
Following successive waves of settlers, by 2010 the population in West Papua had grown to 3.6 million and was fairly evenly divided between Papuans and non-Papuans. More recent population projections calculate that Papuans may now have become a minority within their own country. However, they continue to occupy the largest geographical area, almost exclusively in the highlands. In the accessible coastal areas, where new settlers predominate, there is a vast mix of ethnicities.
As part of the fight to break the hold of the Indonesian ruling class, Marxists would seek to mobilise the combative Indonesian workers, including those in West Papua, to champion the struggle of the indigenous population for independence. In an independent West Papua, revolutionaries would recognise the right of settlers to remain in the land they have made home. Among those who have moved to West Papua are minorities fleeing religious and ethnic persecution. Many of these people have little reason for allegiance to the Javanese-chauvinist regime in Jakarta and may welcome independence from Indonesia.
For Workers Revolution
In September 2017, exiled Papuan independence leader, Benny Wenda, presented the United Nations “decolonisation committee” with a petition calling for an internationally supervised referendum for self-determination. The West Papuan People’s Petition had been signed by 1.8 million West Papuans, including reportedly 70 percent of all Papuans and more than 96,000 settlers. The committee chairman predictably refused to consider the petition, declaring his support for Indonesia’s territorial integrity. The campaign then sought to appeal to the UN General Assembly, which met in September/October this year. In the lead-up, independence activists in West Papua organised protests seeking to highlight the plight of West Papuans. These were met with a crackdown by security forces. For over a week security forces systematically arrested, tortured, shot at and killed West Papuans accused of supporting self-determination.
Also appealing to the UN to oversee a new independence referendum is the “Westminster Declaration” of the International Parliamentarians for West Papua, a group co-founded by British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, renowned for opposing Scottish independence from his own country. The Declaration has been signed by an array of capitalist politicians internationally. West Papua is a cause célèbre for bourgeois liberals, including the capitalist Greens in this country. These “friends of West Papua” would keep Papuans begging to the same United Nations that oversaw the outrageous 1969 “Act of Free Choice” in the first place. The UN is a den of imperialist thieves, their victims and intended victims. Its interests lie in upholding the grinding oppression of the West Papuans under the heel of the Indonesian regime and their imperialist masters. The natural ally of the oppressed Papuan peoples is the working class of Indonesia and internationally.
Like the Bolsheviks, we base our revolutionary program on the political independence of the workers movement. We fight to forge Leninist-Trotskyist parties, tribunes of the people, that instil in the working class irreconcilable hostility to all the capitalist exploiters and the consciousness of its historic tasks. Led by such a revolutionary workers party, and at the head of all the oppressed, the working class must sweep away the entire capitalist system through socialist revolution, and establish a workers state based on collectivised industry and serving the needs of all.
In 2013, after three West Papuan activists sought refuge in the Australian consulate in Bali, calling for the release of Papuan political prisoners incarcerated by the Indonesian regime, the then prime minister, Tony Abbott, warned that Australia would not “give people a platform to grandstand against Indonesia.” As part of their role in maintaining stability for Australian imperialist profit-making in the region, both Liberal/National Coalition and Labor Party administrations have long defended the territorial integrity of Indonesia. For Australia, backing the Indonesian regime’s oppression in West Papua also serves its interest in keeping unrest from spilling over the border and igniting struggles in its poverty-stricken PNG neo-colony.
Australia has become increasingly jittery about Chinese influence in the region and in PNG in particular. PNG has pushed for Australia to help fund a doubling of its defence force, with the defence chief declaring that China was ready to step in if rebuffed. Recently Australia brokered a deal with PNG (since joined by the U.S.) to redevelop the Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island, where Australia long maintained a notorious offshore refugee detention camp.
Along with its extensive national resources and low-wage labour, Indonesia is of great geo-strategic importance as it sits astride the gate to the Pacific Rim. It forms the southern land mass of the narrow Strait of Malacca through which much of China’s fuel imports are carried from the Middle East. Ever since the 1949 Revolution swept away capitalist rule in China, the imperialists have sought to destroy the Chinese bureaucratically deformed workers state by one means or another, in the pursuit of unhindered imperialist exploitation. Today, as part of the U.S.-led military encirclement of China, U.S. and Australian imperialism have been strengthening their military ties with Jakarta.
It is in the interests of the world’s working class and oppressed to defend the Chinese deformed workers state against imperialist attack and internal capitalist counterrevolution. A political revolution is necessary in China to sweep away the bureaucratic, nationalist Stalinist regime, which appeases the imperialists, and to establish a government based on genuine workers councils and a revolutionary internationalist program.
In Indonesia, the fight to emancipate the deeply exploited working class is bound up with the struggles of the oppressed minority peoples, of women and the rural poor. Only socialist revolution establishing the dictatorship of the workers, leaning on the poor peasantry, can satisfy the basic needs of the masses: freedom from imperialist subjugation, agrarian revolution, alleviation of poverty, social equality for women and emancipation for oppressed national minorities. This struggle is necessarily internationalist in its outlook. For workers to succeed in this fight requires the building of a multiethnic revolutionary internationalist workers party—an Indonesian section of a reforged Fourth International. Workers in Australia also have a role to play, not simply by standing in class solidarity with the struggles of their Indonesian class brothers and sisters but by forging a Trotskyist party in this country to lead the necessary fight to sweep away the racist Australia ruling class through socialist revolution and establish a workers republic of Australia, part of a socialist Asia.