Of all the nations hit by the great Asian financial crash of 1997, Indonesia has gone through the most widespread political upheaval (Smith, 2003). A hated dictator has been thrown out, and democracy is on everyone's lips. But in spite of this victory, the capitalist democracy that most of the mass movement imagines is not possible in a nation as super exploited and crisis-ridden as Indonesia. In the end only a socialist revolution led by the working class can prevent a new period of dictatorship by the imperialism supported military (Indonesia's Revolutionary Crisis, n.d.).
Built-up bitterness at the thirty two-year reign of military dictator-president Suharto, who had himself officially re-elected, was combined with anger at the rapid inflation and other austerity measures commanded by imperialist financiers like the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Starting in January, the assortment exploded in militant strikes, mass riots in opposition to rising food and fuel prices by the poorest segments of the working class, as well as extensive student protests. The movement continued in spite of deadly suppression by the army. It ended with huge demonstrations in the capital, Jakarta, and in other major cities (Indonesia's Revolutionary Crisis, n.d.).
Noting the size of the rallies and the fierceness of the urban riots, the ruling class forced Suharto to resign in order to avert a mass uprising. He was replaced by Vice-President B.J. Habibie, a long-term member of the infamously corrupt Suharto clan that has raked in profits from all financial activity in Indonesia. Suharto had ruled through a bloody dictatorship since the CIA-backed military coup he headed in 1965-66 (Justice in Jakarta, 1995). The coup, one of the greatest routs suffered by the global working class since the Second World War, ended in the murder of nearly a million people. The victims were mainly ethnic Chinese and members of the PKI, then the third-largest Communist Party in the world. "The regime's murderous history also includes the slaughter of 200,000 during Indonesia's takeover of East Timor in the 1970's" (Indonesia's Revolutionary Crisis, n.d.).
The present upsurge has its roots in struggles that began some years ago. New unions independent of the regime fashioned in the early 1990's. In 1996, Suharto's military took over one of the two legal bourgeois resistance parties, the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI). The army discharged the PDI's leader, Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of former president Sukarno, the nationalist leader who had lead the country in the early period of independence from Dutch colonial rule after World War II. After mass protests, joined with workers' strikes for better wages and against military intervention with unions, major trade union and resistance leaders were arrested (Indonesia's Revolutionary Crisis, n.d.).
Particularly targeted for suppression was the PRD. It was formed in 1994 out of several student activist organizations which had supported campaigns over workers' and peasants' matters. Its program is radical bourgeois democracy and its main goal has been to win a People's Coalition Government through methods of mass struggle. It has been in a bloc supporting the PDI and the other bourgeois resistance, the Muslim-based United Development Party (PPP). The regime labeled the PRD communist, trying to revive fears of the PKI that had been belittled and exterminated in 1965. But the PRD's program has nothing in common with the proletarian revolution. In 1996, the PRD called for Megawati of the PDI to be president. "When the mass upsurge broke out, the PRD demanded that Suharto be replaced by an opposition government; it proposed participation by Megawati, Amien Rais, head of the Muslim mass organization Muhammadiyah (who has reportedly encouraged attacks against ethnic Chinese), Budiman Sudjatmiko, the chairman of the PRD and the chair of the PPP, both of whom are still in jail" (Indonesia's Revolutionary Crisis, n.d.).
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