The struggle for a 'political alternative of the poor' in Indonesia

Zely Ariane is a spokesperson for the Indonesian Political Committee of the Poor — People’s Democratic Party (KPRM-PRD). The following interview was conducted by Theresia Dian Septi Trisnanti and translated by James Balowski.

Question: When was the KPRM-PRD formed?

Zely Ariane: KPRM was formed in November 2007. Our strongest bases are in Jogjakarta, Jakarta, North Sumatra, East Java and Kalimantan. Our primary activity at the moment is to struggle for a politics of the poor that is neither co-opted nor cooperative with the remnants of the old regime (Suharto’s New Order) such as the military, the neo-liberal government and the fake reformists.

We are concentrating at the moment on consolidating a new political mass organisation [Union for the Politics of the Poor — PPRM] that will unite like-minded political groups and individuals from PRD, Papernas [National Liberation Party of Unity] and some other mass organisations. This will soon be formed in order to struggle for a politics of the poor and to push towards completion of the national democratic revolution in Indonesia.

We are forging a unity of left democratic groups and women’s liberation groupings from the democratic left spectrum — to become the vanguard in developing the feminist movement. We are establishing the frameworks and making lively efforts to mark International Women’s Day and also unifying efforts to create a Venezuela solidarity group.

The main bridge and instrument to reach the masses is a united front between the left and social movements. We can find such a bridge to the masses particularly among what we call the “first spectrum” of the movement. We categorise the first spectrum as the layer who came out of the 1980s and 1990s and the upsurge of 1998. The first spectrum has proved itself able to play a leading role in the national movement today. Some of them were involved in building the United People’s Movement Conference, which was our main united front orientation prior to the KP-Papernas [Preparation Committee of Papernas] congress. It involved elements such as Friends of the Earth Indonesia, the Working People’s Association, the Consortium of Agrarian Reform and others.

Today, work among these same forces should be prioritised, on the principle of understanding each other’s capacities and consciousness. A regular conference on tactics and strategy would be a very good program among the movements to mediate the differences and enhance the maturity of each political perspective.

What is your attitude to the 2009 elections?

Our principal orientation will be to compete for hegemony against the bourgeois political parties. What does this mean? There was a 30% abstention in the 2004 election. Whatever the reason for abstention, it proved the need for alternative political forces. Abstention from the bourgeois elections occurred against the backdrop of the unstoppable spontaneous and economic protests of the people. These mostly economistic movements in some ways have a very pragmatic orientation to the ruling elites and their mainstream parties, but they provide the basis for expanding radical left politics.

If we succeed in uniting with other like-minded elements of the movement, we are confident that the 2009 election can be conquered by a more popular agenda, and it would not be impossible to organise the sentiment [that caused abstention in 2004] into political mobilisation. This might be in the form of a boycott, a popular referendum or an alternative election. These are the political stages that will destroy the illusions of the people in the ruling elites and build up their confidence in their own political strength.

Is it true that repressive violence inflicted on the left by fundamentalist Islamic forces has severely limited the ability of the left to operate openly? What is your assessment of repression faced by the left and social movements in Indonesia today? How should the left respond?

The left in Indonesia will still have hard times campaigning openly, particularly given the recent developments towards the restoration or revitalisation of New Order remnants — Golkar and the army. But the situation has not become worse than under the Suharto regime. We can handle the paramilitary counter-revolutionary agenda with many methods of campaigning, from moderate to radical types — depending on our capacity and the capacity of the social movements. The scenario must not be allowed to limit the program of Papernas. Never give up on the program of Tripanji.*

The left must never subordinate its identity to the fake reformists. We should mobilise together with the other left forces to oppose the anti-communist campaign in a well-managed plan. We have to resist openly any kind of anti-democratic action and counter-revolutionary ideas.

Revolutionary ideas have a wonderful place in this country, with their own organisations. It has never happened in our history that an Islamic party could be used to propagate revolutionary ideas. Even Sarekat Islam, which was successfully radicalised by the PKI {Communist Party of Indonesia] to oppose colonialism, was far different from recent Islamic organisations. We can revolutionise Islamic ideas with many academic and scientific works, but we can not hide under the counter-revolutionary banner of Islam. We should face up and resist. Through the reformasi movement, we won the political space that made mass action a widespread reality. Now we should win back revolutionary ideas — socialism with mass action.

Dita Sari, a leader of Papernas, in which your group is also active, has said that the struggle against foreign economic dependence compels it to consider the possibility of limited tactical alliances with owners of small and medium-sized businesses. Sari said: “They are also harshly attacked by foreign investment and the government’s policy. Their distribution and their networks are being smashed to make way for foreign investment.”

We should understand the very clear and concrete, basic and immediate problem of underdevelopment in Indonesia today. It is imperialism that completely destroyed the capacity of national industry. In Indonesia today, the amount of money spent on developing human resources and human capacity has been extremely low, even compared with Bangladesh, a level not adequate for building a sovereign economy.
Foreign investment (both government and private, in trade, industry and services) functions only as an instrument for foreign capital accumulation in non-productive and very speculative areas, which has nothing to do with the development of productive forces and national industry. Indonesian governments, from Suharto to Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, together with all instruments in the trias politica [the legislative, executive and judicial instruments] of liberal democracy are loyal collaborators of imperialism.

The anarchy of foreign capital, which is not controlled by the national government, is the source of workers’ problems today. The theory is that profits and capital will be reinvested and revitalise the productive forces. This really works only in the imperialist countries.

Profit made in Indonesia by foreign capitalists is immediately sent home, with the support of domestic free market policies. Even if the multinationals were to be audited, there are no domestic laws governing the portion of profit to be reinvested in the domestic productive sector. That is the basis of anarchical industrial competition. One industry “develops” on the back of the destruction of another similar industry — particularly by destroying industry that absorbed many workers.

This is happening already in our manufacturing industries. That is why the imperialists need domestic policies that guarantee labour market flexibility. The direct consequences are the destruction of national productivity and massive unemployment. Those problems are the root of the price hikes and the falling purchasing power of Indonesian people today — most sharply in agriculture, which has been abandoned completely by foreign capital.

So the issue is not as simple as to say that we should rely more on our national economic resources rather than being dependent on foreign investment. It is logically correct, but the critical questions that need to be answered clearly are these: In order to be independent, how would we build the national economy? Where would we get the money? Who should take control of foreign investment and the sources of domestic revenue?

[This interview is abridged. The full interview can be accessed on <>.]

* Tripanji refers to the “Three Banners of National Unity”, namely: repudiation of the foreign debt; nationalisation of the oil and mining industries under people’s control; building national industry for the people’s prosperity.