Indonesia: downfall of a dictator

by Pete Brown
(from Communist Voice #18, August 1, 1998)


. The overthrow of Indonesian dictator Suharto is one of the most exciting events of recent years. Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous country, with 202 million people, and Suharto had ruled it with a grip of steel for 32 years. That this iron dictatorship was dismantled in just a few days shows the immense power latent in the working masses. When they rose against Suharto, all of the institutions he had relied on for decades did not avail to keep him in power.

. The question now is, can the working class sustain the mass ferment needed to completely dismantle the New Order (Suharto's name for his system of power)? Can they smash up the "dual function" system, in which the army effectively controls all of society? Or will the army and Suharto's cronies be able to re-impose Suharto-ism without Suharto? This is a period when the workers need maximum initiative to achieve the most radical democracy possible, and at the same time to prepare for future class battles. They also need to build up their trade unions and other class organizations to push forward their class demands for relief from the economic crisis.

Basic chronology

. The Indonesian economy crashed at the end of 1997. The rupiah (Indonesia's currency) lost 70% of its value. Indonesian banks became insolvent. They could not pay off their creditors in Japan, the U.S. and other countries. And they could not afford to loan out money to merchants and manufacturers. The latter then began laying off employees. While workers were losing their jobs, they were also facing higher prices for basic consumer goods.

. Suharto appealed for help to the International Monetary Fund. The IMF agreed to loans up to $43 billion, but only on certain conditions. Suharto had to break up the monopolies controlled by family members and close friends of his. He had to allow more imperialist penetration of Indonesia's commercial and banking sectors. At the same time the IMF demanded high interest rates to support the currency; but this would have the effect of choking off business activity and leading to more layoffs. And to prevent inflation the IMF demanded an austere government budget, with a cutoff of price subsidies on basic consumer goods. Some of the IMF prescriptions, such as the attack on monopolies controlled by Suharto cronies, were popular in Indonesia; but all in all the program was designed to shore up imperialist investment and not to help the working masses.

. Suharto himself didn't like any of the conditions. He knew he was sitting on a time-bomb. If he imposed the harsh IMF prescriptions on the workers, they might well revolt. And he wasn't inclined to do away with his cronies' privileges either. On the other hand, he needed loans and cash from the IMF to keep the economy afloat, even temporarily. So he played footsy with the IMF, agreeing in words but in fact not implementing their prescriptions. Meanwhile, in early '98, the economy worsened. And by March the IMF had decided to cut off loan disbursals to Suharto if he didn't take immediate measures. Finally, as commerce ground to a halt, Suharto agreed to the IMF conditions in early May. Government subsidies on food, gasoline and cooking oil were removed, and the price of these goods skyrocketed.

. This was the match setting off mass protests against Suharto. University students began an unending series of protests. Before, a few mild protests had been held on campuses, with demands mainly centered on the students themselves -- lower tuition, etc. But the economic shocks hitting Indonesia now led the students to take up demands favoring the poor. From demands for reform, the students now went over to denunciations of Suharto and even some scattered calls for him to resign. The students' protests became steadily more militant.

. Riot police kept the students bottled up on campus. But the students became ever more aggressive, battling the police and trying to get off campus to carry their protests into the heart of the city. Finally, on May 12th, students at Trisatki University in Jakarta managed to break out and swarm over a highway, blocking traffic. Riot police surrounded them, clubbed them, and then opened fire with automatic weapons. Six students were killed.

. After this atrocity things were quiet for a day. The students mourned their dead and spread the word about Suharto's brutality. Then on the 14th riots broke out all over Jakarta. The poor workers of the capital city made their attitude known with a vengeance. Thousands of stores were looted and torched. Rich people's cars were burned. Special targets were assets owned by Suharto's family and friends, such as banks and ATM machines. A mob managed to get to the family mansion of Liem Sioe Liong, one of Suharto's close buddies and one of the country's richest men. They burned his house and chased Liem's family out.

. The rioting quieted down the next day, but then erupted again for the next couple of nights.When it was all over, some $1 billion worth of damage had been done in Jakarta.Hundreds of people were killed.

. A few days later Suharto rescinded the economic "reforms" that raised the price of basic necessities. But the protesters were unimpressed. "Too little, too late," they said. Meanwhile thousands of students had invaded the country's parliament building and taken it over. They demanded that legislators act against Suharto. Faced with the mass sentiment, leaders of Suharto's own party began giving speeches calling for him to resign or be impeached.

. On May 19th Suharto offered to form a special reform committee to re-work his government. But again it was too late; Suharto couldn't get anyone to actually serve on his proposed committee. So finally on May 21st he announced his resignation, stepping down in favor of his vice-president, B.J. Habibie.

. Immediately student protesters denounced Habibie as a clone of Suharto and demanded his resignation as well. But army generals supported Habibie as the "constitutional successor" (even though they weren't too enthused about him personally), and other bourgeois sectors seemed content to see what he could do.

. Since then there's been a certain flowering of mass democracy. New political parties are being formed, even though according to New Order laws only three parties are allowed. Workers are forming new trade unions and some strikes have taken place. Protest marches have been organized in various cities including in East Timor, which has been under martial law for decades. Even bourgeois media outlets have been ignoring the old rules about censorship, running exposures of corruption and screaming for reform.

. In this period of ferment Habibie has been forced to go along with some of the calls for reform, at least in words. He has promised new presidential elections sometime next year and promised that the electoral process will be opened up somewhat. When thousands of students surrounded a prison in Jakarta and demanded the release of political prisoners, Habibie released a couple of the more prominent ones. The army command is allowing some demonstrations to take place. And Habibie has promised to abide by the UN's labor code and thus to allow trade unions.

. But the reforms demanded by the masses have not actually been implemented. Suharto's cronies, including Habibie and Gen. Wiranto (army chief of staff), are still in control. Suharto himself is maneuvering behind the scenes, meeting with prominent bourgeois politicians and trying to make sure he's protected from prosecution and that his family's fortune (tens of billions of dollars) is protected. Though Habibie released a couple political prisoners, thousands of them remain locked up, including hundreds who have been there since Suharto's accession to power in the 1960's. Though Habibie reshuffled Suharto's cabinet and dropped Suharto's family members, he maintained other buddies of Suharto and added to his cabinet the army general who oversaw one of the worst massacres (years ago) in East Timor, where his troops opened fire on a demonstration and killed 270 people.

. And even though the army is allowing some demonstrations to occur, these are kept within very strict limits. A couple days after Suharto resigned, army troops ushered the students out of the parliament building, which they had been using as a center for organizing further demands for democratization. There are reports of clashes between protesters and police in the industrial city of Surabaya, in East Timor, and in Aceh (where there is a regional movement for independence).In western Papua riot police fired rubber bullets into a crowd of demonstrators who had raised the flag of the independence movement there; one demonstrator was killed.

. Forcing Suharto to resign showed the power of mass struggle. Suharto had been in power for over three decades, had just been reelected president (unanimously -- by his handpicked electoral college), and was promising to stand for election again in 2003. So it took a powerful mass upsurge to force him out. But the institutions of Suharto's New Order live on. For now the army brass may be lying low, muted by the calls for reform. But if progressive sections -- the workers, the democratic-minded students, and others -- do not step forward and smash up the New Order, it will reassert itself. Habibie still insists that East Timor will never be granted self-determination and that the old "Communist" (revisionist) Party will never be legalized. This shows he intends to put very strict limits on any reform process. The old parliament, dominated by Suharto's military party, continues in office and will control the drawing up of new election laws. For the workers to have a system in which they can breathe easier and have a voice, they need to support the struggle for all-out democratization. To carry through this struggle they need to get organized independently of the bourgeois politicians who only want to limit the struggle.

The economy

. For decades the people of Indonesia, even including some bourgeois sectors, chafed under Suharto's rule. Many bourgeois were angry that Suharto and his cronies cut them out of the choicest pieces of pie. And some army leaders were angry at Suharto's corruption. But so long as the GNP kept growing every year, the bourgeois could console themselves with the notion that eventually they would get a piece of the pie.

. But when last year's economic crisis hit, and the masses became restive, Suharto's support was undermined. He could no longer justify repression with the argument, "we need to do this to keep the economy growing."

. Now Suharto is gone, but the economic crisis lingers on. Predictions about the crisis in Asia continue to worsen. Japan is in recession. It seems likely this will spread to the U.S., and it's doubtful Indonesia will see economic growth again for some time. If the masses continue to be aroused and angry about the economy, Habibie and the army will have a difficult balancing act trying to maintain the New Order. The IMF is trying to help him out: for one thing, they approved the disbursal of Indonesia's loan package, so the "bailout" of Indonesia's economy could begin. For another thing, they allowed him to rescind the price increases that triggered the mass revolt against Suharto.

. But the economy remains in rotten shape. Trade and banking are practically at a standstill. Unemployment and misery are spreading. Of course the workers were always severely exploited under Suharto. Even before the current economic crisis Indonesian workers were forced to take jobs that paid starvation level wages. The American corporation Nike, for example, made a habit of hiring Indonesian children and paying them less than the Indonesian minimum wage, $2 a day. Workers made various attempts to organize against these conditions, especially in the "special enterprise zones" set aside for multinational corporations. In 1996 workers launched a series of militant strikes in an enterprise zone near Jakarta. But this was illegal according to New Order legality. Suharto's riot police moved in, broke picket lines and arrested the union leaders.

. Today the workers are raising economic demands -- for jobs, for lower prices on consumer goods, etc. In the present crisis these are literally a matter of life and death. Laid-off workers cannot survive in the cities, and many of them are returning to their native villages where their families reside. But for many there is nothing there either. Without money income from wages they cannot afford to buy food, much of which is imported. Nor can they purchase lifesaving medicines or even visit a doctor. Many families are reduced to foraging, digging roots and boiling wood to eat. (See the special report by Nicholas D. Kristoff in the New York Times, June 8.)

. This is a classic example of a capitalist boom going bust. Over the last few decades many workers have been drawn into the capitalist market system, leaving their villages and going to work for wages in urban factories. This enabled them to buy necessities as long as they were employed. Today supplies of workers' food, clothing, medicines, cooking oil and gasoline are stockpiled in Indonesia and abroad, waiting to be sold. There's no actual shortage of these goods. And the workers are willing to work. But because of the breakdown in capitalist relations -- devalued currency, inflated prices, super-high interest rates -- the factors of production cannot be brought together. So workers starve in the midst of plenty.

. For the workers there is no going back to pre-capitalist relations; that way only starvation looms. After decades of bourgeois investment and integration into the globalized economy, Indonesia is thoroughly dominated by capitalist relations. The workers can only fight to survive in this economy and for a higher form of social relations in which large-scale industry is retained and developed, but in which workers' needs rather than capitalist profits are the priority.

. The experience of the '95 currency crisis in Mexico teaches a bitter lesson for the workers of Indonesia. Long after Mexico's "recovery", when profits and asset prices returned to their previous levels, and the capitalists began to brag again about their great free-market system, workers' wages have still not recovered to pre-crisis levels. In any capitalist crisis the workers are always the first to get hit, they suffer the most, and their suffering is more prolonged. The only way to really turn this around is for the working class itself to take charge of the economy, organizing production and distribution of goods to serve people's needs. This eliminates the market and allows a continuous, planned expansion of social wealth. This is socialism. Short of that, to minimize their pain the workers need to organize themselves and carry on a militant struggle around economic demands. This is important for any country and any capitalist crisis. But in Indonesia today it's critical, since as the bourgeoisie itself now admits the crisis in Asia is much more severe and long-lasting than the Mexican crisis. (See David E. Sanger's article "After a Year, No Letup in Asia's Economic Crisis," New York Times, July 6.)

. Leadership of the workers' struggle must be kept independent of the bourgeoisie and its politicians, who devote themselves to working out compromises between the workers and capitalists. Sure, both workers and capitalists are affected by the crisis. But there's a vast difference between those who starve during the crisis and those who merely see a reduction in their profits. And they have opposite solutions: the capitalists try to recover their profits by casting workers aside and forcing those left to work ever harder, at lower pay. And they have opposite long-term orientations: the workers look to radical solutions and socialism, while the capitalists think only of stabilizing their beloved market. They may support the movement for democratization for awhile, but they will also try to limit it, to stop the workers from getting out of their control. The Indonesian bourgeoisie, along with international finance capital, supported Suharto for over three decades because the New Order provided them with steady high profits. While workers need to smash the New Order, the bourgeoisie will only be trying to restructure it.

The struggle for democracy

. For 32 years Suharto consolidated a military dictatorship. He dressed it up in a variety of ways with a parliament, political parties, elections, and "opposition" media. But in fact this was nothing but a fascist dictatorship. Military officers exercised "dual functions" as army officers and local/regional government executives. They were appointed mayors, provincial governors, etc. as well as executives of state-owned economic enterprises. In addition a certain number of seats in parliament and other government bodies were set aside for army representatives. Thus the army intervened in and controlled all aspects of life. The riot police and local police were organized as part of the national military.

. The government recognized only three political parties. People who tried to start up other parties were jailed. Political parties were not allowed to campaign in the rural areas, where most of the population lives. This gave GOLKAR, Suharto's party based on the military, a monopoly on politicking in these areas. Needless to say, GOLKAR always won the elections. Elections to president were carried out by an electoral college, over half of whose members were appointed by Suharto. And just in case the other two parties did something Suharto didn't like, he had laws giving him the right to intervene in their internal affairs. For example in 1996 when Megawati Sukarnoputri was talking about mounting a campaign for the presidency, Suharto had her removed from the leadership of her party. This sparked riots in Jakarta which Suharto suppressed with army troops.

. The daily newspapers in Jakarta used to be a joke. Nothing critical of Suharto or the military could be discussed. Editors who allowed some critical comments to pass -- for example some mention of Suharto family members landing government contracts without bidding on them -- found themselves in hot water with the military.

. Since May's mass uprising and Suharto's forced resignation, newspapers have been ignoring some of the old censorship restrictions, and they are all claiming to be advocates of reform. Suharto's family members and other close cronies have been compelled to resign from some of their executive positions. And as mentioned above there has been a certain flowering of democratic forums. Protests, strikes, the formation of new trade unions and political parties are being pursued. In some cases these activities flout the laws of Suharto's New Order. But though Suharto is gone and some of his fascist rules temporarily ignored, the New Order institutions remain in place. Suharto's adopted son, Habibie, remains president. Suharto's joke of a parliament and handpicked electoral college remain the leading legal forums. And the army with its "dual function" remains omnipresent in society.

. These institutions must be smashed up for the workers to enjoy basic rights and have wider grounds to organize the workers' movement. The workers need legalized parties, trade unions, uncensored newspapers and other forums to build up their movement. This enables the workers to fight for present demands as well as prepare for the future struggle for socialism.

. Smashing the institutions of the New Order will involve a struggle. The army brass revels in the old system which gave them not only power but riches as well. And while some civilian bourgeois leaders are talking up reform, they have no interest in a radical democratic solution. The bourgeoisie knew they were living in a repressive hell but said nothing about it for decades. To them it was a capitalist heaven. Now that the workers have gotten rid of Suharto the bourgeois are falling all over themselves declaring their love for democracy. This emphasizes the need for workers to organize themselves independently of the bourgeoisie and its political parties and leaders. Now that reform is in the air, every bourgeois hack will be competing for workers' votes. But it was only the revolutionary struggle that made it possible to talk about reform. And it was the poor workers who struck the major blows in this struggle.

Political trends

. Today Indonesian workers are faced with the task of building up their own independent political movement. Since Suharto was forced to resign, to some extent a power vacuum has opened up in Indonesia. This has given workers some new opportunities for organizing. But the bourgeoisie and imperialist powers are in a hurry to fill this vacuum with some new, "stable" political trend that can guarantee profits as usual. They are urging workers to rely on one bourgeois trend or another and avoid pursuing the path of class struggle.

. Gen. Wiranto is looked to by some bourgeois pundits as the "man on the white horse" who can stabilize things. During the movement against Suharto, Wiranto emerged as the more "moderate" of the army leaders. He discouraged shooting down demonstrators, and this policy brought him into conflict with Suharto's son-in-law, the army commander of Jakarta, who promoted harsh measures against protesters. Wiranto was smart enough to see that shooting down demonstrators just incited more protests. And he eventually decided that it was better for the New Order to cut its losses by getting rid of Suharto than to risk losing the entire system. So he supported Suharto's resignation, and at the same time won his power struggle with Suharto's son-in-law; the latter was transferred to a rural outpost.

. But though there are some cracks in the military, and Wiranto may represent a more "moderate" wing of the army, the army brass in general remains the staunch pillar of the New Order. The army remains the fascist occupier of East Timor, where they massacred one-third of the population after seizing it in the 1970's. The army continues to suppress national movements in western Papua and Aceh. The army's bureaucrat executives continue to enrich themselves at the expense of the masses and to enforce anti-democratic, anti-worker regulations to ensure this. And the army remains the main protector of Suharto himself, his family, cronies, and their billions of dollars in looted property. So the workers cannot look to Wiranto or any other army brass as possible leaders out of the present crisis. On the contrary; they should demand the dismantling of Suharto's army and the end of the military's "dual function".

. Another name being tossed around as a possible "savior" is Amien Rais. Rais' power base is the Muhammadiyah, the nation's largest Islamic organization. Close to 90% of Indonesia's people are Muslims, and there are a number of semi-political Islamic organizations. Leaders of Muhammadiyah preach the chauvinist line that Muslims are being shut out by some favored minorities, in particular Christians and Chinese. But Muhammadiyah is a relatively moderate organization, and Rais now describes himself as a modernist who believes in freedom of speech, press and religion. During the spring Rais gained popularity among students by visiting them during demonstrations and defending their right to protest. And he was one of the first bourgeois politicos to give a clear call for Suharto to get out.

. Nonetheless Rais' class roots are clearly with the bourgeoisie. And for awhile he was even directly associated with Suharto and Habibie. Habibie recruited him into the Association of Muslim Intellectuals, an attempt by Suharto and Habibie to co-opt Muslim leaders into supporting Suhartoism. Since then Rais broke with Suharto and tried to position himself as a viable alternative. But his class roots show through in how he misled the anti-Suharto movement.During the high point of the struggle against Suharto, Rais called for a mass demonstration in downtown Jakarta on May 20. It was estimated that this single demonstration could easily draw one million people and would paralyze downtown Jakarta. Obviously it would strengthen the movement and give rise to a more powerful political trend among the masses. But the military brass banned the demonstration. At the critical moment Rais caved in to pressure from the army and called off the demonstration. This was a definite setback, since a direct confrontation of this size could only have strengthened the movement.

. Since Suharto's resignation Rais has also shown his class roots by counseling patience to the student demonstrators. When the students switched their slogans from "down with Suharto" to "down with Habibie", Rais stopped supporting them. He urged everyone to take it easy and let Habibie "show what he can do". Thus he advocates giving the New Order a breathing space, allowing it to make a comeback.

. Another bourgeois maneuvering to take Suharto's place as president is Megawati Sukarnoputri, Sukarno's daughter. Sukarnoputri was the main leader of the Democratic Party before Suharto had her thrown out in 1996. This made her a popular "martyr." But afterwards she never condemned Suharto's suppression of the demonstrations in her defense; never denounced Suharto or called for his resignation, much less his overthrow; and never tried to organize any continuing mass opposition, relying instead on her attorneys to file lawsuits. In the past few months she has been practically eclipsed by the mass movement. At its beginning, a few months ago, she was giving very weak-kneed statements against Suharto suggesting that because of his age perhaps he would not want to run again for president. She did condemn his cronyism, but at the same time praised his "years of service".

. Since Suharto's fall some trade union leaders led by Muchtar Pakpahan of the SBSI (Indonesian Prosperity Workers Union) have taken up the project of organizing a social-democratic electoral party, and they have asked Megawati to be its chairperson. This is a retrograde step and shows they aren't serious about trying to organize a fighting workers' movement. They just want to use workers as election fodder for bourgeois candidates. Pakpahan's model trade union is one built along West-European lines, based on class conciliation. He doesn't see the need for an independent workers' movement.

. In the next couple years Habibie may pass the presidential torch to one of these bourgeois figures or a similar one in a compromise between the opposition and the New Order. There will be a conservative parliamentary system, with many laws and repressive institutions against the masses preserved as long as possible. South Korea gives an example of this kind of bourgeois democratization. As the example shows, this sort of democratization, left to the bourgeoisie, moves at a snail's pace. And it's coupled with austerity demands aimed at driving down the workers' living conditions. The workers need their own independent movement to push for the most radical reforms possible.


. Among popular democratic forces the most well-known is the People's Democratic Party (PRD), an activist social-democratic formation that first began organizing a few years ago. PRD activists led the 1996 strike movement and many of the demonstrations in defense of Megawati. And they have been active in the past few months as well. In this issue of CV we reprint some recent statements put out by PRD to provide more information about the anti-Suharto movement, as well as to give readers a sense of the PRD itself. Following are some comments of our own about PRD:

. PRD appears to be a coalition of activist organizations that work on different fronts. Its general outlook is that of the petty-bourgeoisie. They represent social forces that are genuinely angry about Suhartoism and being shut out by his repressive system; they have this in common with the working class. At the same time they represent the aspirations of the petty bourgeoisie and so look to build an all-class political unity that includes the bourgeoisie. PRD tends to see all problems as originating in Suharto's system and don't deal with the upcoming period when the masses will be faced with the tasks of an intensified class struggle under a more or less reformed bourgeois regime.

. PRD does organize among the working class. They issue economic demands on behalf of workers, organize trade union groups and carry out strikes. This marks them as quite different than the bourgeois groupings headed up by Rais and Megawati. At the same time PRD looks to bourgeois like Rais and Megawati for leadership. And the tactics they advocate are not consistently militant, working class tactics. For example in the 1996 demonstrations against Suharto PRD continually called on Megawati to be more active and yearned for her leadership. But Megawati was not about to challenge Suharto. And when Suharto got fed up with the demonstrations and moved in the army, PRD itself condemned the masses for rioting.

. PRD does take a healthy stand on the question of minorities and national rights. They called on protesters to avoid getting caught up in ethnic violence.(1) And they call for the people of East Timor to be allowed to determine their own future through a referendum. These are good stands against chauvinism.

. But PRD is conciliationist to the imperialist bourgeoisie. In their statement of February 20 they say, "International capitalism . . . certainly wants economic and political change in Indonesia. Imperialism wants a new regime . . ." And further, "There is no other choice for the international community other than supporting the people's struggle to overthrow Suharto...." But this was said at a time when imperialism was still banking on Suharto to implement the IMF plan as he took office for another five years. Imperialism relied on Suharto to carry out the budget-cutting, the elimination of subsidies, the layoffs, the price-gouging of the masses in order to stabilize the currency and restore loan payments to imperialist banks. Now Suharto is gone, but that doesn't mean imperialism has given up this program; today they're relying on Habibie to carry out the selfsame policies. They aren't calling for a new regime or supporting the popular struggles.

. PRD does call for militant struggle in their leaflets and for not stopping until the old institutions are thoroughly smashed. But they see only a popular struggle against Suharto and don't warn the working masses in this struggle that there will be different class trends seeking to build a post-Suharto regime. They think the only two alternatives are the old regime or a radical regime, and don't warn of the danger of liberalization via a compromise between the respectable opposition and the military. But in fact there is the popular struggle based on the working masses who want to sweep away the old. And on the other hand there is the trend of compromise with the old for the sake of maintaining as many whips against the workers and peasants as possible.

An embarrassment for Clinton

. Suharto came to power 32 years ago with the help of the CIA, which gave him a long list of Indonesian leftists to be liquidated. With their help Suharto presided over one of the largest mass murders in history. Since then Suharto has ruled over a capitalist haven for the U.S. and other Western imperialists (including Japan). Low wages, no trade union rights -- a veritable paradise for Nike and other corporations. And Suharto built up close ties with the U.S. military-industrial complex. His army officers received training in the U.S., and Suharto bought the latest equipment (including F-16 fighter jets) from American arms merchants. Even more so than other presidents, Bill Clinton had a special relationship with Indonesia, accepting campaign contributions (bribes) from Indonesian citizens and corporations.

. So Clinton was truly saddened to see Indonesia's economy nosedive in 1997 and early '98. And he was embarrassed by Suharto's duplicity towards the IMF, promising to carry out certain reforms and then reneging. Then there was the small matter of Suharto's police shooting down student demonstrators. Not a lot killed, by American CIA standards, but they were students from a prestigious university in the heart of Jakarta, not impoverished workers or peasant guerrillas out in the hinterlands. So the U.S. began desperately searching behind the scenes for some alternative to Suharto. And it publicly scolded his riot police. But it should be noted that up until the minute he resigned Suharto still had the support of Clinton and the U.S. government. Up until Suharto's last day State Dept. spokesman continued to intone their friendship and support for Suharto. Now that Suharto has resigned, the State Dept. is planting stories in the press about how for years they have been giving money to opposition figures in Indonesia, "promoting democracy." But this didn't hinder them from giving their main support to Suharto and the New Order.

. And today U.S. imperialism's support for the New Order remains solid, despite the change in faces at the top. The State Dept. is enthusiastic about Habibie and is making sure that the IMF and World Bank rush financial aid to the Indonesian government. This is despite the fact that Habibie continues to incarcerate almost all of Suharto's political prisoners. And despite the fact that Congress has received testimony about the "disappearances" of progressive activists by the Indonesian military and police, and that Habibie is stonewalling the call for investigation. And despite the fact that Habibie recently appointed, as a cabinet-level advisor, a genocidal general from the East Timor campaigns.

. Suharto and now Habibie are an embarrassment for Bill Clinton. But Clinton and the entire U.S. government are an embarrassment to American workers, who sympathize with the struggles of workers in other countries. To support Indonesian workers we should help expose Clinton and his gang of imperialist robbers, and unite with workers in other countries to overthrow rotting capitalism once and for all.


(1) During the uprising against Suharto the American media continually raised the specter of "ethnic violence" to repudiate the movement. The masses in Indonesia were supposed to quietly accept Suharto's starvation policies because the only alternative would be "anarchy" and "bloodletting." Fortunately the masses did not follow this prescription. Yet it must be admitted that a number of attacks on the ethnic Chinese minority did occur, and PRD rightly warned protesters away from pogroms.

. The small minority of ethnic Chinese includes many of the most wealthy people in Indonesia. So it is natural that as the masses take their revenge on the rich, that some of the exploiters targeted would be Chinese. And it must be remembered that many targets of the masses' rioting were not Chinese -- for example the banks and automobile showrooms owned by Suharto family members were particularly singled out.

. Local shopkeepers of Chinese descent were singled out for attack in some cases. But it's not clear that this was a spontaneous action of the masses. A number of reports have leaked out about the activity of well-organized gangs of thugs, armed with firearms and other weapons, transported around Jakarta in trucks during the height of the mid-May uprising. These gangs urged people to attack Chinese-owned shops and led the charge themselves. From the way these gangs were organized, armed and led it seems clear they were either part of the military or some paramilitary right-wing organization attempting to divert the anti-Suharto struggle into ethnic pogroms. This is well known in Jakarta, and when asked about it Habibie promised to investigate the matter; but don't hold your breath waiting for results. (Return to text)

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