Indonesia: 25 years since the fall of Suharto – we need revolution, not reformation!

A quarter of century ago, on 21 May 1998, the much-hated dictator of Indonesia, Suharto, was overthrown by a mass revolutionary uprising. Although this moment is widely known as Reformation (Reformasi), it was truly a revolution. The masses, held in deep slumber for decades, were suddenly awakened into political life and pounded against the door of the established power. The New Order regime, which had ruled comfortably and confidently for 32 years, and appeared immovable, collapsed like a house of cards when faced with the mass uprising of the Indonesian youth and workers.

A whole generation has passed since then. It is important for the new generation of revolutionary youth to revisit the 1998 Revolution. Not for the sake of nostalgia, the annual ritual of many ‘98 activists who either now live comfortably with cushy jobs in the government and NGOs, or have been demoralised and abandoned the movement altogether. They remember 1998 as their golden age, a time when they were young and courageous, with the word revolution always on their lips. Today they have become “wiser”, more “realistic” in their outlook, and sneer at their own youthful naivety. We have no need for such pitiful nostalgia. For today's generation of workers and young revolutionaries, 1998 is a priceless moment in history, full of important lessons for the success of future revolutions.

The birth of the New Order

To appreciate the significance of the 1998 Revolution, we must first understand the character of the New Order regime and how it came to be. It was the product of a counter-revolution that crushed the entire proletarian movement. The brutal defeat of the Indonesian Revolution, christened with blood, became the basis for the 32-year-long military dictatorship.

In the first half of the 1960s, Indonesia was in a revolutionary period. The Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) had become the largest communist party outside the Soviet Union and China, with 3 million members and more than 10 million supporters in the various mass organisations that it led. Broad strata of the working people were politically mobilised. Almost all bourgeois strategists predicted with dismay and even despair that Indonesia would soon go communist.

However, the PKI leadership lacked the perspective to lead the proletariat to the conquest of power, to end capitalism and landlordism, and to bring Indonesia to the gates of socialism. Instead, the PKI supported Sukarno's bourgeois government.

Election supporters for PKI Image public domainThe Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) became the largest communist party outside the Soviet Union and China / Image: public domain

Sukarno was a bourgeois nationalist who entered the popular imagination because of his role as the flag-bearer of Indonesia independence. A myth was built around him as a fearless leader against imperialism. But in reality, he was a typical representative of the weak, cowardly bourgeoisie of the colonial world. During Japanese occupation, Sukarno was cooperating dutifully with Japanese imperialism, serving as their puppet to tame the masses and help “recruit” millions of romusha (forced labourers) for Japan’s war efforts. Sukarno’s cowardice shined through when he was afraid to proclaim Indonesian independence even after the Japanese forces had surrendered. Only after being kidnapped and forced by a group of militant youth did he reluctantly proclaim independence. During the war of liberation against the Dutch (1945-49), at every turn his government sought to make compromises with the imperialists. At the end of the war, Sukarno agreed to return all Dutch properties and pay war reparations, thus subordinating the Indonesian economy to imperialist interests.

In the subsequent wave of colonial revolution in the 1950-60s, Sukarno managed to present himself as an anti-imperialist figure, combining Marxist-sounding rhetoric with his own brand of petty-bourgeois nationalism. But in reality, the bonapartist Sukarno was delicately balancing between the classes. While he engaged in revolutionary phrase-mongering, in the last analysis his government represented the defence of the capitalist class. Yet, the illusions in Sukarno that gripped the masses were only possible because of the Menshevik policy of the PKI leadership. Instead of exposing Sukarno’s empty radicalism, counterposing it with genuine revolutionary ideas and programme of Marxism, the PKI leadership tried to ingratiate itself with Sukarno, to the point of openly adopting Sukarnoism as its own.

True to their Stalinist two-stage theory, the PKI leaders saw Sukarno as a progressive bourgeois that had to be supported by the proletariat at any cost, and that Indonesia was not ready for a socialist revolution. The Indonesian revolution in their view had to be limited to the tasks of national democratic revolution (freedom from imperialism and feudalism). But the truth is, only by completely breaking away from the bourgeoisie and moving towards socialism could the national democratic tasks be completed; and the only class capable of completing those tasks was the proletariat. The PKI chairman Aidit instead faithfully tail-ended the bourgeoisie and postponed socialism to a distant future.

With such a policy, in the midst of a sharpening class struggle, the PKI ideologically disarmed the workers and peasants. Aidit and the other leaders accepted wholeheartedly Sukarno’s Nasakom [cross-class alliance of nationalist, religious and communist forces] and Guided Democracy [a Bonapartist policy of balancing between the classes], which were nothing but a class-collaboration policies designed to paralyse the workers and peasants. Thus, the interests of the toiling masses were subordinated to the interests of the bourgeoisie. The Stalinist leadership actively put a brake on the sharpening class struggle that was developing, all in the name of national unity with the “progressive” bourgeoisie.

In reality, there was no progressive bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie desired no national unity with the workers and peasants. They preached national unity in order to deceive the working people, weaken their class vigilance, and finally crush them. With the working class and the peasantry disarmed, the ruling class launched their bloody counter-revolution, using as an excuse an alleged coup attempt. The communists who had been lulled into believing in Sukarno's government did not resist at all when faced with reaction. Millions died without a fight in the massacres of 1965-66. The proletarian movement collapsed completely, physically as well as morally. The mistake of the class-collaborationist two-stage theory paved the way for the New Order military dictatorship. We shall see how this mistake was repeated in 1998, with the left, even those claiming to be Marxists, throwing their support to the bourgeois liberals.

Indonesia in the epoch of imperialism

After the Second World War, many colonial countries like Indonesia won their independence. But this independence was merely a formal one. Their economies to this day are still under the thumb of imperialist domination through the mechanism of the world market. Indeed, the exploitation and domination of ex-colonial countries becomes more certain and intensified through this market, and therefore inhibits the further development of their productive forces.

Imperialist domination over ex-colonial countries creates miserable conditions of exploitation in order to ensure super-profits for multinational companies. Workers toil for low wages, under wretched working conditions. Their natural riches are funneled to the New York, Tokyo and London stock exchanges. The influx of cheap goods from abroad destroys local traders and small producers who are unable to compete. The entry of money relations and capital into agriculture and the countryside pushes small farmers to the brink of extinction. Land is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few landlords; land prices and rents soar along with it. The rural economy is collapsing faster than the city's ability to absorb the migration that floods the cities, thereby creating large layers of permanent urban poor.

The class question, the land question, and the national question all converge into one point, creating an explosive social and political situation. There is an impasse in society. But the bourgeoisie is unable to lead society out of this impasse because they are bound by a thousand threads to imperialism as well as to landlordism. The only way out is a revolutionary break from the shackles of imperialism, which also means overthrowing capitalism, and the only class that can do this is the proletariat.

It is under these conditions that social tensions in ex-colonial countries reach their extreme point. The weak bourgeoisie of the ex-colonial countries cannot rule using the same methods of bourgeois democracy as are commonly practiced in the advanced capitalist countries. In order to ensure the rule of property, the capitalist and landlord class must establish an authoritarian regime. They must rule by the sword. Under the epoch of imperialism, democratic regimes are the exceptions in ex-colonial countries. This is why, if we look at most ex-colonial countries, their history is one of military dictatorships, and of bonapartist regimes one after another.

Bonapartist regimes arise out of a society engulfed in a permanent and intense crisis, where the bourgeoisie is too weak to impose its order through normal means, but the working class is not yet ready to take power. In this situation, the state can rise above the whole of society, even above the class that it is based on. The bonapartist dictator, directly or indirectly basing himself upon the special bodies of armed men, becomes the final arbiter, wielding the sword. An illusion is created of state power rising above society for the common national interest, but in reality it is a power representing the properties classes.

How the New Order regime began to falter

Indonesian capitalism ran its course under the New Order military dictatorship regime. With the complete destruction of workers' and peasants' unions, exploitation of workers and peasants could be carried out freely, without worrying about complaints from the oppressed. Order was enforced for capital to be able to reap profits. Commerce and industry grew rapidly; amidst the poverty of the working people, and bourgeois upstarts displayed their wealth unashamedly. Truly, this was a profitable business for all parties in power, for the US and Japanese foreign capital in particular, and Suharto and his cronies as well.

Regan and Suharto Image The U.S. National ArchivesDuring Suharto's 32 years in power, he sold Indonesia to the highest bidders / Image: The U.S. National Archives

During Suharto's 32 years in power, he sold Indonesia to the highest bidders. In the process, Suharto received a sizable commission and enriched himself and his family. The military was ever present to ensure the submission of the working people, from the parliament building, to factories where workers were kept in line at the muzzles of guns, to remote villages to ensure successful land grabbing. Although the bourgeois lost their political rights, they were freed from their worries because they had left politics to the tender care of the army’s bayonets. For the successful operation of their businesses, the capitalists did not need democracy, even for themselves.

In an even more pronounced form than under Sukarno, the state, that is the special bodies of armed men, separated itself from society, rising above it, and thus also became a point of reference for all that is rotten in bourgeois society. The state became a hotbed of corruption, the catalyst of all that was vile. Through the state, all the rottenness of bourgeois society was revealed. Therefore, the struggle against capitalism was concentrated into resistance to the New Order's rule. As a consequence, even the struggle for the most basic democratic rights became a struggle of revolutionary dimensions. The struggle for democracy became truly impossible without a revolution, which we would see with the 1998 revolution that toppled the New Order.

Starting from the late 1980s, the Indonesian economy shifted from oil and gas exports to exports of manufactured products. This created a large proletarian army. The number of industrial workers jumped from 10.6 million in 1976 to 28.4 million in 1997. Likewise, the number of workers in the communication, transportation and mining sectors increased threefold to 12 million in the same period. This new, young proletariat became the force that shook the Suharto regime. The number of strikes increased rapidly in the 1990s. Those officially recorded by the Ministry of Labour jumped from 61 in 1990, involving 31,000, to 360 in 1996, involving 220,000. One estimate even noted that there were more than 1,000 strikes in 1994.

The workers’ movement was becoming more and more militant day by day, which was being answered with even more brutal repression. But the repression did not dampen workers' resistance. The story of Marsinah's struggle and sacrifice is a testament to the workers' heroism in fighting the brutal regime during this period of the revival of the labour movement.

On 3-4 May 1993, hundreds of watch factory workers in Sidoarjo organised a strike for better wages. The military immediately intervened and arrested those workers whom they considered to be the leaders. Marsinah, who led this strike, was kidnapped and brutally murdered by the soldiers. But this did not frighten the workers. ‘Beware, o ruler when the people are no longer afraid.’ Labour demonstrations continued to spread. Workers, through their own experience, learned how their economic struggle was intertwined with the struggle for democracy, and their actions were becoming increasingly political.

Land conflicts became more widespread and sharper in the early 1990s. Poor peasants lost whatever small parcels of land they had, crushed by capitalist competition. If not that, their land was ‘freed up’ for golf courses, state projects, large plantations and mines. Literally with guns in their hands, the military regime robbed the peasants of their only means of subsistence and hastened the process of land concentration into the hands of capitalists. The image of Suharto handing out hoes to small peasants became a farce when they no longer had any land to work on; when the hoe, a primitive instrument of small-scale farming that could not compete with a tractor owned by big landlords, was the reason why they lost their land.

All the fury of the countryside was therefore concentrated on the government. The peasant protest movement grew bolder every day, going so far as to attack and burn police stations and government buildings. And so it is with all bonapartist regimes, which concentrate power in their hands, and thus also concentrate the discontent and anger of the masses onto themselves.

Young people, especially university students, stood at the forefront against the New Order. Campuses became centers of resistance. The bravest and most advanced of them gathered in the PRD (Partai Rakyat Demokratik, or People Democratic Party). This is not surprising. Young intellectuals are often a sensitive barometer of the state of a society. They are usually the first to move. Initially, the Bolshevik Party also consisted of a layer of young intellectuals and was often ridiculed as a party of youngsters. However, the Bolshevik Party based its ideology, programme and methods of struggle on the proletariat, and this ensured their success. Although young people possess revolutionary energy and courage, they alone are not the layer that can win the revolution to end capitalism.

The anger of the masses that had accumulated for decades also exploded into many riots. This began with the Situbondo riot in October 1996, and was followed by the Tasikmalaya and Sanggau Ledo riots in December 1996, and a series of other riots in 1997. “Why do the masses go berserk easily?” was the main headline of a prominent magazine at that time. Lacking official channels, which were blocked by the military dictatorship, and also lacking a revolutionary leadership that could give political expression to people's unrest, the people's anger at the inequality, cronyism and authoritarianism of the regime was expressed in these violent outbursts.

The tumultuous 1996-97 period was a telling sign that the New Order regime was beginning to falter. Society was torn apart by insoluble contradictions. Guns and boots no longer worked because the people had lost their fear. In reality, the bonapartist regime, despite its stable exterior, was full of contradictions.

As Trotsky said:

“A totalitarian regime, whether of Stalinist or Fascist type, by its very essence can be only a temporary transitional regime. Naked dictatorship in history has generally been the product and the symptom of an especially severe social crisis, and not at all of a stable regime. Severe crisis cannot be a permanent condition of society. A totalitarian state is capable of suppressing social contradictions during a certain period, but it is incapable of perpetuating itself.”

Explosive materials were built under the foundations of the New Order regime. It only took one spark, and that spark was provided by the 1997 Asian Crisis.

Asian Crisis 1997-98

In July 1997, Asia was hit by its biggest-ever financial crisis. Starting in Thailand, the financial collapse quickly spread across Asia, and hit Indonesia and South Korea especially hard. This crisis was an important turning point that was also a dress rehearsal for the 2008 global crisis.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, capitalism celebrated what it thought to be its final victory. History had ended. Capitalism has resolved its contradictions. There would be no more boom-and-bust cycles. There would be no more revolutions. Capitalism was the best system, the only one. There was no alternative. That's what the strategists of capital believed and propagated. The 1997 Asian Crisis shattered all hopes and dreams for a stable capitalism. The revolutionary upsurge in Indonesia shocked everyone, especially all the tired Leftists, all the ex-Marxists, ex-Stalinists, ex-Maoists, who after the fall of the Soviet Union had abandoned revolution. But it did not surprise the revolutionary Marxists in the least.

Beginning in the late 1980s, foreign capital flowed swiftly into developing countries because of the high profit levels that could be extracted from investing there. This was partly driven by capital's overconfidence after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Cheap wages and land provided certainty of lucrative profits, especially if this certainty was backed up by a military regime, as in Indonesia. Asian economies such as Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and South Korea experienced rapid growth from the late 1980s to the 1990s, reaching 8-12 percent annually. This achievement was celebrated with great fanfare by the IMF and World Bank, who called it the “Asian economic miracle.” Everyone would be lifted above the poverty line with a trickle-down economy. The economies of third-world countries would catch up, becoming emerging economies and benefitting from all the advantages of global capitalism to become developed countries.

But this miracle dissipated as quickly as it appeared. It turned out that capitalism was still plagued by the same problem as when Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto, namely the crisis of overproduction. No miracle could overcome this inherent contradiction. Moreover, the rapid growth achieved by third world economies was largely based on the intensification of the exploitation of workers and peasants, and not on the development of the productive forces. Wild speculation and fictitious capital also coloured this "miraculous" boom. The magicians had finally run out of tricks.

Massive layoffs hit. The Rupiah fell. Inflation skyrocketed. Prices of basic necessities soared. To save the government from bankruptcy, Suharto accepted a large loan from the IMF, which demanded the abolition of social subsidies and privatisation as conditions. Gasoline, kerosene and electricity prices rose. The burden of the crisis was shifted onto the shoulders of the poor. With this, the struggle against the New Order became national, involving not only organised workers and farmers whose land was confiscated, but also extending to the urban poor, bus drivers, shopkeepers, white-collar workers, small traders, and housewives. The New Order regime, whose footing had been shaken in previous years, finally collapsed under the unstoppable wave of mass actions.

Revolution, not Reformation

If people were asked 10 years before 1998, or even five years before, whether the New Order regime could be overthrown, almost everyone would have shaken their heads in disbelief. Especially the liberal democrats, who pinned their hopes on NGOs and humanitarian work, on minor and gradual changes, and had no faith in the working class and revolutionary action. They regarded the 1965 massacre, the army's seemingly absolute domination, the rapid economic growth under Suharto’s regime, as well as the fall of the Berlin Wall, as incontrovertible proof that revolution was impossible – a relic of the past.

But the sharp contradictions in Indonesian capitalist society could not be resolved by gradual change. Only revolutionary mass action could overthrow the New Order regime, and 1998 was a witness to that. Of course, it was easy to support mass revolutionary action when it had become a fact. This is the disease afflicting liberal democrats: they worship established facts. As soon as the mass revolutionary action became a reality, they hastily cast their lot with it, waving the banner of the revolution while at every step seeking to moderate it, weaken it, dull it, steer it on a safe path, transfigure it into a Reformation. But before that, revolution and mass action were things that they shunned.

Students fight police Image Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Indonesia Wikimedia CommonsIn reality, the New Order regime could only be overthrown by a proletarian revolution / Image: Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Indonesia, Wikimedia Commons

In reality, the New Order regime could only be overthrown by a proletarian revolution. And this is exactly what happened in 1998. Since 1990, it was the toiling masses – the workers, peasants and urban poor – who were the first to challenge the New Order's rule with their mass mobilizations which were increasingly militant and daring.

There were two possible outcomes of the 1998 Revolution: the seizure of power by the proletariat, or the establishment of a bourgeois democratic republic. But the establishment of a bourgeois democratic republic was not the fruit of a bourgeois revolution, but the abortion of a proletarian revolution, which had not yet matured. When the proletariat, and in this case their vanguard, are not yet in a position to win power, then the bourgeoisie – unable to push back the mass movement – would restore their rule on the basis of bourgeois democracy.

This is what happened during the 1998 Revolution. The working class had moved and was the driving force behind the revolution. The liberal democrats who often became the spokespersons for this movement only thought of reforms. But the working people fought to end all forms of oppression they were subjected to and to fundamentally change their destiny. General Wiranto, the army’s Supreme Commander at the time, complained with dismay that the mass actions “tend to challenge anything and everything.” This is a correct judgment from the main representative of the regime. The 1998 revolution not only demanded the downfall of Suharto, not only demanded democratic rights, but also rejected the entire existing system of exploitation and oppression, namely capitalism, even if the participants did not understand this clearly. But this was what the ruling class clearly understood. It would not be wrong to say that the capitalist class generally has higher class consciousness than the working class, especially when the working class lacks a revolutionary party that can articulate their will into a finished programme.

The reformation as we know it today was but a by-product of a revolution. The reforms gained were a partial gain of a defeated revolution. It is high time that we proudly celebrate this movement as a revolution, and thus understand the essence of this movement: the forced entry of the masses into history to change their own destiny.

Liberal bourgeois opposition

Since the early 1990s, as mass actions intensified, sections of the ruling class, especially those at the periphery, began demanding political reforms from above. This was not because they were defenders of democracy, but because they could sense an overwhelming pressure from below that could burst violently into a revolution. They saw that there had to be some sort of democratic institutions to channel the anger of the people into a safe avenue, otherwise the whole system could explode. The role of the bourgeois opposition was mainly filled by Megawati (the daughter of Sukarno) and the PDI (the Indonesian Democratic Party, one of the three sanctioned political parties under Suharto’s regime). In other words: reform from above to avoid revolution from below. This was what prompted the initial split at the top, which began with the emergence of Megawati in the popular consciousness and was marked by the Kudatuli incident, when on 27 July 1996 the government forces attacked the head office of the PDI to remove Megawati as the leader of PDI.

The bourgeois opposition also had their own interests. For decades, even though they were part of the ruling class and the New Order, the most lucrative tenders, projects, corruptions and positions were all enjoyed exclusively by the army, Golkar, and Suharto's inner circle. They were only given small crumbs. They saw an opportunity in this reform to negotiate a bigger share of power. We only need to look at the state of the parties of Reformasi today, PKB, PAN, and PDI-P; their politicians are now living a more prosperous life from looting the state coffers.

Golkar and the army, on the other hand, saw an inherent danger in making concessions to the working class. In this, they were not mistaken. Each concession would only give greater confidence to the masses, who would demand fundamental changes in society. The whole structure of capitalism would be under serious threat, because the overthrow of the New Order regime could also lead to the overthrow of capitalism. They still remembered the history of 1965, and the spectre of communism continued to worry them even though the PKI was buried deep below millions of corpses. Even after removing Suharto, the revolutionary movement did not subside and continued to peak until the November 1998 mobilisation, which was even bigger and more militant than that of May 1998.

What happened in 1998 was a revolution. If today this revolution is called reformasi, it is only because the bourgeois opposition succeeded in extinguishing the flames of the 1998 revolution and channelling it onto the reform agenda. Reformasi was a by-product of the 1998 Revolution: a product of its defeat. But the defeat of the 1998 Revolution did not mean a return to the status quo. Although this revolution did not succeed in completely destroying the New Order and capitalism, its explosion was so powerful that it forcibly opened democratic spaces.

Jakarta riot Image Office of the Vice President Wikimedia CommonsIf today this revolution is called reformasi, it is only because the bourgeois opposition succeeded in extinguishing the flames of the 1998 revolution / Image: Office of the Vice President, Wikimedia Commons

At the decisive moment, the ruling class understood that they had to grant concessions if they did not want to lose everything. Their apparatus of violence was no longer useful for repressing the masses. The revolution had started. The ruling class who face losing everything will implement any kind of reform to maintain the continuity of their entire system. An agreement was made with the liberal opposition, that is, the reformists. Suharto would step down, but would not be brought to justice and his wealth would not be touched. ABRI's dual function (their secured seats in the parliament and active role in the running of the government) would be removed only gradually in order to ensure that their power remained intact. Democratic reforms – free elections, freedom of association, speech – would be granted, as long as the capitalist system of exploitation was not touched. The peaceful transition of the Reformasi ensured that the 1998 Revolution did not move beyond the limits of capitalism.

It would be a mistake to call this bourgeois opposition “false reformists.” What the reformists did, represented mainly by Megawati, Amien and Gus Dur, was reform in the true sense; namely they were the representatives of reform from above to stem the flow of revolution from below. At every opportunity, they sought to stop mass mobilisation.

After the fall of Suharto in 1998, there was a frenetic carnival of democracy. Despite the hard efforts of the reformists to stop the tide of this revolution, there were no signs of it stopping. As a matter of fact, Suharto's resignation opened the door to revolution.

In the end, the masses cannot be held in a permanent state of mobilisation. Without a revolutionary leadership and party to provide it with a programme and slogans for achieving the final victory, after a series of battles, upheavals, sharp changes, which culminated in November 1998, the flames of the 1998 Revolution finally died down. The ruling class skillfully combined repression of the most advanced layers of the movement and reforms to appease the wider layers of the working people, who were getting tired, to convince them that the nation was moving towards an era of democracy, and all their grievances and problems could now be resolved through the mechanisms of bourgeois democracy.

Until 1999 and 2000, we were still witnessing mass demonstrations, with the entry of new layers into the struggle, capitalising on newly won democratic rights. But these were only long echoes of the 1998 Revolution, akin to a series of aftershocks following a devastating earthquake. In general, the regime was consolidating its footing again. The reformists had succeeded in saving the entire system, and for their service they had acquired a larger portion of the power, which they used to their fullest for their own enrichment. Meanwhile, there have been no fundamental changes to the lives of workers, peasants and the urban poor, namely the class that became the main battalion of the 1998 Revolution.

Lessons to be learned

The revolutionary energy released by the masses was truly extraordinary. After being restrained for 32 years, the masses burst onto the stage of history with explosive energy. This is what we call revolution. But this great energy evaporated in vain because there was no revolutionary party present to direct it with the right ideas and programme. The revolutionary mass movement, which according to Wiranto was “against everything”, ended up changing the living conditions of the working people very little. The poor are still poor; the rich are still rich and are getting even richer; the same political elite still reigns even more voraciously, now with a thin democratic veneer. This is the main lesson of the 1998 Revolution: the need to build a revolutionary party, armed with the ideas, programme, methods and traditions of Marxism.

This party cannot be improvised during the revolution. It must be built carefully and painstakingly long before a revolution explodes to the scene. Its cadres must be carefully assembled and forged with Marxism, the essence of the history of the proletariat struggle for the last 160 years. This process requires patience, a rare commodity today among activists who always want immediate results, for they have given up the struggle for socialism.

During the 1998 Revolution, the PRD was perhaps the closest to what can be regarded as a revolutionary party. It gathered in its ranks the most advanced and radical youth. Founded in 1996, just two years before the revolution, it was too young and too small to change the course of the tide. But what it lacked in size it compensated for with its radical anti-capitalist programme. Despite its small size, the PRD became the focal point for the most advanced layer of the revolution. After the fall of Suharto, there was a wave of radicalisation and the PRD rapidly grew to be a sizable party. The most militant youth gravitated to its socialist programme. However, the PRD’s Marxism was half-baked as it repeatedly made the same mistake as the PKI: supporting bourgeois liberals under the pretext of two-stage theory (read: Important development in the Indonesian left – Interview with the Democratic Socialist Association). The PRD had the potential to be a mass revolutionary party. But because of its incorrect ideas it degenerated into a nationalist Sukarnoist party. Thus, the importance of having a correct Marxist idea cannot be overstated.

Today's younger generation was born and raised after the 1998 Revolution. Instead of seeing a thriving democratic society, as promised by the Reformation, all they see before them is a decaying society. Corruption is endemic. Democratic rights continue to be undermined, most recently with the approval of the new Criminal Code. The Jokowi regime, which promised to be a government of change, turned out to be the guardian of the status quo, namely the guardian of the capitalists’ interests. Various laws have been passed by this regime that continuously erode the living standards of the masses for the sake of sustaining capitalist profits. Life has become unbearable for the toiling masses. Such is the portrait of the post-Reformasi society: decay everywhere.

There is no way out but to end the capitalist system. Reformasi represented the best democratic gains that could be achieved under bourgeois democracy in the epoch of imperialism, and this achievement has been undermined from day one. Therefore, our task is neither to restore nor to complete the Reformasi. In order to establish a genuine democracy for the workers, peasants and all layers of the working people, the working class, must put an end to the entire system of capitalism. The 1998 Revolution demonstrated the capacity of the working class to radically transform society. Sooner or later, the working people will again find themselves on the path of revolution. The unbearable crisis of capitalism inevitably pushes them down this path when there is no other way out. Woe unto the revolutionaries if they are once again caught unprepared to face and lead a new revolutionary situation. Woe unto the working class if once again they enter into a revolutionary struggle without a party that can lead them to the final victory, and the socialist transformation of the society.

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