Suharto, the strong man of southeast Asia, the dictator who came to power by wading through a sea of blood, has been forced to step down from the stage of history.
The regime in Indonesia was built on the bones of murdered Communist-led workers and the incarceration of 4 million political prisoners. It is a military regime armed to the teeth by the West, including Blair’s Britain.
Indonesia has been seen as a safe haven for capitalists wanting to make a quick profit for over 30 years. The corrupt state which organised massive patronage for Suharto’s family and friends was a lucrative outlet for arms sales for the West and investment for Japanese capitalists. The same corrupt state which the western media and governments now hypocritically condemn!
The Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975 was condemned by the UN but western governments took no action. They continued to sell weapons to the butchers, indifferent to the bloody repression in East Timor. They continued to trade with the murderous regime.
In the end Suharto lost the support of those who had propped him up for over three decades. The terrified Indonesian ruling class deserted him in the face of a massive revolt by the people. The bravery of the demonstrators who faced death brought down Suharto the Great Executioner.
Ousting Suharto changes everything, and yet it changes nothing. The faces of Indonesians, full of joy celebrating Suharto’s resignation show that the mental chains of 32 years of repression have been shattered for millions. The change in the mood and psychology of the mass of the people, their new found willingness to resist, shows a tremendous potential for generating real change.
And yet, so far, little fundamental has changed. Suharto’s replacement, Habibie, formerly Vice President, was hand-picked by Suharto. The army still has its vast power.
Yet this revolution has all the signs of only being interrupted, not stopped. Even the Economist is calling the situation one of “revolution postponed”. The small cosmetic changes — selective release of political prisoners, less political repression, and promises of distant elections (by the year 2003!) — will not be enough to halt the Indonesian revolution. Demonstrations are building up again. The fire under the feet of the Indonesian ruling class is continually being re-kindled by the continuing economic crisis.
The Financial Times reported on 9 June that 10,000 striking workers had fought police in a fifth day of protest in Surubaya, Indonesia’s second largest city. Student protests are growing.
The outcome of the Indonesian revolution depends on the development of working class politics. Its defeat or victory will be decided not through slow liberal reform, but in class struggle.
Just two years ago mouthpieces for the bourgeois politicians of Europe praised the pure capitalism of the Asian “tiger economies”, unshackled by the constraint on capital of a welfare state, unhindered by unions, free to expand continuously. The Western ruling classes — including Tony Blair — told us to “be more like Asian workers”, to “compete with your fellow workers in the East or lose everything.” Some even tried to fool us into believing that the South Korean, Indonesian and Chinese workers had no desire for democracy or trade unions, that they could do without welfare. “Don’t impose the alien ideas of solidarity on Eastern workers, instead learn to live like they do,” argued the crasser capitalist press.
There is a story in the Bible that Samson found a bees’ nest full of honey inside a slaughtered lion. In the same way a new sweet source of workers’ solidarity and revolution has appeared in the tiger economies. Revolution shakes Indonesia to its roots, South Korean workers strike and march for welfare and against unemployment! It is brilliant confirmation that capitalism not only creates its own gravediggers — the working class — but through its inevitable crises forces class struggle to the central stage of history. In Indonesia it is as yet only the beginning.