11 February 2008

An important Development on the Indonesian Left

By Max Lane
In this article, I want to report and analyze on one of the most important developments on the Indonesian Left. These developments began in Indonesia in July 2007, seven months ago now. I apologize to all those readers who have been reading my English language articles as a means of following the Indonesian left. I have been unfortunately constrained over the last seven months, and even now

In July, 2007 a majority of the current leadership of the PRD voted on a leadership body that a small number of leaders, who disagreed with current political perspectives should exercise their "democratic rights" to "go their own way" to test out their own line. Members of the PRD were to be informed of this decision and all those who did not support the perspective of the current majority would be invited to join those "going their own way". In other words, all those with differences were being de facto expelled. Formal expulsions of Jakarta based members and the freezing of branches whose membership's rejected the current leadership's perspectives took place later in the year.

The differences

In 2005, the PRD decided that it was a priority to intervene or respond to the 2009 general and presidential elections. After a failed but brief series of discussions with other groupings in the broad left activist milieu in order to organize a conference that might lead to a party of the united activist Left, the PRD initiated the formation on PAPERNAS (Party for National Liberation Unity). PAPERNAS evolved as a party comprising the PRD and an extensive section of the PRD's periphery and past contacts. While some other non-PRD organizations joined the PRD at its foundation, by 2006 it was clearly the PRD plus its friends and supporters.

This was a result of a fantastic effort on the part of the PRD cadre and represented a real expansion of the number of activists that were being coordinated by the PRD.

However by the end of 2006 it was also clear that PAPERNAS would not succeed in meeting the criteria to achieve official registration as a political party and an electoral participant. Laws passed by the Indonesian parliament, dominated by the major bourgeois parties, required proof of branches and memberships in two thirds of all provinces and two thirds of all districts within provinces. There would also need to be proof of membership of fixed percentages of the population, which would include provision of phot ID. Physical offices, and local government statements that such offices existed, in all these areas was also required.

Despite the impressive growth of the PRD-PAPERNAS organized network of activists, it was still a small force unable to smash through these undemocratic obstacles.

Coalition and merger for seats

In late July, 2007, a position paper was circulated internally in the party which set out a proposition for a merger with another party which already members on the parliament and therefore might not need to go through the electoral registration process. This was the Star Reformation Party (PBR). PBR was a split from the Soeharto era, pro-Soeharto Islamic United Development Party (PPP). It was anti-communist, anti-secular and anti-pluralist. It was led by anti-Left activists from the late 1990s in combination with local elites, including Islamic fundamentalist elements.

While posited as a "coalition" in this paper, the proposal amounted to a merger proposal. PAPERNAS would take 5 seats on the PBR national leadership council; would campaign under the PBR name; would stand candidates and campaign only in electorates where the PBR was not strong; would change its name to drop any reference to it being a party; and would accept the watering down of some of its slogans. On the latter, for example, "nationalization of oil and gas" would be restated as "protecting national sovereignty in resources".

At the same time, the paper insisted that PAPERNAS would retain its independence as a separate organization, although affiliated to PBR. The proposal was being supported by PRD chairperson, Dita Sari and PRD Secertary general Agus Jabo.

It was not clear at the time whether the PBR had actually agreed to this proposal or whether it was just the wishes of the PRD leadership.

A few days after this paper was circulated, these proposals were presented for a vote on the main leadership body. A small number of four leaders voted against it. Following this vote, another discussion and vote was taken resulting in the majority vote that those with differences "go their own way".

The emergence of The Political Committee of the Poor-PRD

In the months since this decision was taken, the majority forced split has spread throughout the party and its affiliated mass organizations in almost the whole country. As members dismayed at and opposed to the course of merger with the PBR discussed among themselves why this had happened and what they must do, a consensus emerged that the leadership was taking the party on a parliamentarist and opportunist path.

On January 31, they declared publicly the existence of a new grouping The Political Committee of the Poor-PRD (KPRM-PRD). Even before this, also in January, the KPRM-PRD had carried out public protest actions, demanding the nationalisation of oil and gas industries and the lowering of prices, both in Surabaya, Jakarta and other cities.

The KPRM-PRD has also restarted the publication of the PRD's old paper PEMBEBASAN (LIBERATION) which has not appeared in hard copy for more than two years, while the party devoted 100% of resources on trying to achieve electoral registration.

Supporters of KPRM-PRD included a central leader at the PRD's founding, Danial Indrakusuma, as well as the former Political Secretary of PAPERNAS; the former secretary-general of the National League of Democratic Students (LMND), the secretary-general of the National Peasants Union, and a former Secertary-General of the PRD, Zely Ariane, and until recently the head of the PRD's International Committee. The overwhelming majority of the membership of three branches: Jogjakarta, East Java and East Kalimantan is supporting KPRM-PRD.

The KPRM-PRD has outlined a political perspective emphasising a mass action strategy and emphasising the necessity of prioritising efforts to unite the huge numbers of sections of the people currently engaged in protest mobilisations and campaigns. It argues that the pro-merger PRD-PAPERNAS has abandoned any orientation to the protest movement and broader Left for an orientation for bourgeois parties, which it has described as "the popular bourgeoisie".

The KPRM-PRD points out that the PBR not only openly advocates campaigning against communism and secularism, but has also opposed increases in the budget for education. In the regions, its leaders are involved in campaigns to establish Islamic law as well as being engaged in mobilising thugs against farmer activists. At its main national assembly in 2007, it invited President Bambang Susilo Yudhoyono as its keynote speaker.

More recently, through PAPERNAS documents, it has become clear that earlier warnings from critics of the pro-merger perspective that even the merger proposal itself was no more than a reflection of the opportunist dreaming of its supporters are being confirmed as accurate. While complaining that despite all the efforts of PAPERNAS, negotiations for merger with PBR have not proceeded far, Dita Sari and the PAPERNAS leadership have started discussion with officials of the Democratic Renewal Party (PDP), a clique split away from Megawati Soekarnoputri's PDIP. The central leader of PDP is millionaire businessman, Laksamana Sukardi, currently under investigation for corruption during his period as a minister in the Megawati government before 2004. (Meanwhile the PBR itself has turned to talks with The Concern for the Nation Functional Party (PKPB) which stood Suharto's daughter, the infamous Tutut Soeharto, at the last elections.)

United front possibilities on the Left

In contrast with the pro-merger PRD-PAPERNAS's perspective of seeking anybody, no matter how rotten, that might help them stand candidates in the 2009 elections, the KPRM-PRD has quickly moved to begin discussions and collaborations with several of the key components of the activist Left that has steadily grown since the fall of Suharto in 1998. As reported in thew news item written for Green Left Weekly (see below), those sending representatives to the KPRM-PRD's January 31 declaration included The meeting was attended by representatives of like minded leftist organisations including the Indonesian Student Union (SMI), Indonesian Federation of Transport Workers (FBTI), Poor People's Alliance (ARM), Left House (Rumah Kiri), Alliance for Workers Demands (ABM), National Student Front (FMN), Friends of the Earth Indonesia (WALHI), and the Independent Journalists Alliance (AJI).

Discussions are underway among some of these organizations, including the KPRM-PRD, about possibilities of more consolidated campaign alliances. This is a very positive development, but the formation of such an alliance or alliances will probably require a long process of dialogue, debate and confidence building.

Struggle for the PRD tradition

The KPRM-PRD's rejection of coalition and merger with small, right-wing and corrupt parties in order to be able to stand in elections as parliamentarism and opportunism is consistent with the long-term tradition of the PRD that was consolidated during the 1990s. Its emphasis on building campaigns at the grass roots around the pressing demands of the people is also consistent with that tradition. Its perspectives on how to approach intervening in the electoral processes are also consistent with this tradition.

The KPRM-PRD is arguing that a more unified approach from more of the activist formations, uniting the hundreds, probably thousands, of mobilisations now occurring in a very fragmented way, could quickly subvert the current domination of the public political arena of the narrow and deceitful agenda being promoted by all the bourgeois parties. (This would result in an even further deepening of the alienation of the mass of the population from the bourgeois parties which is represented in some poll results indicating that 70% of the population don't like any of the parties in the current parliament.) The KPRM-PRD points out that the PRD made a major and extremely effective intervention in the 1997 general elections when it was still an underground party, through a campaign of mass leaflet distribution and mass mobilisation around key political demands.

As I write it appears that "Politics of the Poor" wings of most of the student, women's and peasant organizations under the leadership of the PRD are also emerging publicly in many parts of the country. This is also happening in the worker sector and the Indonesian Front for Labor Struggles (FNPBI). In this area, the struggle is more bitter with the "majority" threatening members that their enterprise union's registration with the Ministry of Labor will be withdrawn if they support the KPRM wing.

However, it appears that the KPRM-PRD is likely to be successful in saving the tradition of the PRD and ensuring that the radical and consistent politics of the party in the past will be continued.*
The article below has also been posted on Max Lane blog.

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