13 December 2015
A spectre is haunting Indonesia, the spectre of communism. All the powers of the political establishment have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Muslim and Christian clerics, politicians and bureaucrats, the military and vigilante rackets.
Karl Marxs famous first sentences of the manifesto of the Communist Party, written in 1848, precisely depict Indonesia’s current situation. But, in sharp contrast to Europe in the mid-19th century, there is no leftist party worthy of mention in Indonesia. Communism in Indonesia is a mere spectre indeed.
Fifty years after the bloody extermination of the Communist Party, the very term of communism is still an effective tool to exclude from public debates those that are perceived as a threat by the ruling elite. This tool can be applied to virtually all leftist movements opposing the established political and economic order.
The political elite can count on various groups whom, despite not knowing what communism actually is, remain willing to oppose this ideology as it has been depicted as a threat not solely to the elite, but to the nation in general.
It is doubtful whether members of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) or the Anticommunist Front are able to explain how Marxist economic thought explains economic exploitation, what surplus value is, what the concept of the working class is about.
Communism, to those people, is without any precise content and is merely something that should be feared. It is exactly this perception of communism which makes large parts of society mentally captivated by Cold War doctrines.
Approximately 32 years of indoctrination by an anticommunist regime continues to show its effect and it could be that this consciousness is one of the biggest obstacles for both reconciliation and democratization.
Before the International People’s Tribunal was held in The Hague recently, the School of Southeast Asian Studies at Bonn University, Germany, conducted a workshop on the 1965 incidents and on the question of how to deal with that bloody past. The event was attended a crowd of Indonesian citizens, by lawyers, journalists and survivors.
Participants were able to discuss sensitive topics with the Indonesian deputy ambassador in Germany. The deputy ambassador listened to what the victims had to say.
In contrast, the reactions coming from the administration of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Vice President Jusuf Kalla leave much to be desired since they are not willing to pay any attention to those victims proving testimony to the cruelty they experienced.
The decision of Balinese authorities at the Ubud Writer’s Festival and even by universities to ban the screening of Joshua Oppenheimer’s films on the 1965-issue is also a clear sign that the fostered fear of communism is still a reason to restrict the freedom of expression.
It is this mixture of ignoring those stigmatised people who suffered painful experiences on behalf of a harmonious, conflict-free society and the ignorance of what communism actually is that makes it so hard for Indonesia to deal adequately with its past.
However, while these attitudes linger on, Indonesia will not succeed its transition towards democracy because of two reasons; firstly, because this attitude clearly highlights a gesture of suppressing points of view considered cumbersome for the elite and for those many citizens with minds still rooted in New Order ideology.
Furthermore, the attitude of fear toward the confused thread named communism prevents Indonesia’s political culture from becoming democratic as it hampers socialist or labor parties from the political stage.
As long as that is the case, voters in Indonesia will not have real alternatives in elections because the established parties do not differ fundamentally in their ideologies.
All parties are more or less bound to fuzzy nationalist and Islamic notions and are pragmatic and usually pro-capital in their political operations.
The fostered fear of communism is still a reason to restrict the freedom of expression.
However, democracy needs alternatives and the most urgently needed one continues to remain as a spectre of fear in Indonesia; a leftist alternative to pro-capitalist realpolitik with blurry nationalist notion.
For as long as Indonesia is unready to face the truth about the actual idea of communism, violation of human rights such as freedom of speech and the stigmatisation of the victims of 1965 will persist. In contrast to his opponent Prabowo Subianto, Jokowi highlighted his commitment to implement human rights during his campaign.
In alliance with parties supporting him, he also stressed in his Nawacita program that he would “create space for dialogue between citizens”. It is obvious that he will fail to do so if the government keeps on demonising communism and those victims of the anti-communist massacres.
The International People’s Tribunal was an excellent opportunity for the President to provide proof of the promises made during the election campaign.
But instead of “creating space for dialogue between citizens”, Kalla reduced the incidents of 1965 to the issue of the six murdered generals and did not even mention the hundreds of thousands of victims.
Also, Attorney General Muhammad Prasetyo called the tribunal “irrelevant” and said Indonesia doesn’t need intervention from other countries, indirectly blaming the Dutch government which had nothing to do with the tribunal.
The organisers, in contrast, stressed that they would have conducted the tribunal in Jakarta, but as many victims did not felt safe in Indonesia, they decided to perform it at The Hague, the city of international law.
Given that facts, the government effectively limited the space for dialogue between citizens because they are still not able to leave New Order narratives behind.
Until today, Marxist works are officially banned in Indonesia – works that represent the foundations of major political parties in many well-established democracies all over the world. Social democracy, socialism, labor parties and left-wing green parties are all based on Marxist political thoughts.
Through leftist parties, Marxist thoughts enrich democratic pluralism and provide political identities that are not solely based on religion and nationalism. Indonesia, with its immense workforce of labourers, peasants and urban poor, needs a political ideology that can represent and articulate these people’s economic demands.
Institutional reforms alone do not make a democracy work; for as long as conflicting ideological alternatives have yet to be established and socialism is excluded from Indonesian politics, Indonesia’s democracy is flawed. – December 13, 2015.