Rejoinder: The Dynamics of Revolution

Malik Miah

ONE COMMON ERROR socialists tend to make when discussing unfolding revolutions in other countries is to offer programmatic analysis that has little to do with the real situation on the ground. Comrade Steve Bloom makes that mistake in regards to “the relationship between the democratic and the socialist revolutions”in Indonesia.

Bloom writes that socialists in Indonesia “must work to merge the `democratic revolution’ with the socialist revolution or else use it to help advance our preparation for the socialist revolution.”

What does he mean by “merge”the democratic revolution with the socialist revolution? He doesn’t explain. It’s an assertion to be critical of the socialists on the ground trying to advance a revolutionary process that is at its earliest stage of development.

Moreover, in Indonesia there is no mass revolutionary socialist party. The tactics used by a small group seeking to grow are not the same as those advanced by a mass party that can directly organize and lead masses in struggle. There is no working-class party in Indonesia that can directly challenge the capitalist opposition to Suhartoism for state power.

Two Revolutions

While Bloom doesn’t say so, I’m glad to see he recognizes that there are two distinct revolutions before a merger is possible.

What strategy and tactics are utilized in this situation (which is changing daily) are based on the level of social and political consciousness of the masses and the relationship of class forces at any given time.

The battle for democracy is an elastic concept depending on how classes define it. What is not in dispute is the fact that Suharto and his family must be denied power.

What is the situation in Indonesia today? There is an unfolding democratic revolution. The main demand of the anti-Suharto forces is to end thirty-three years of military rule and to establish a more democratic capitalist regime.

There is no discussion about overthrowing the market or establishing a government based on a planned economy. That consciousness does not exist there any more than it exists here in the United States.

Yet there is a mass struggle demanding fundamental changes to the current system of authoritarian capitalist rule. Some thirty new parties have been formed since May 21 (Suharto’s date of resignation) as well as many new unions and other social organizations.

The East Timorese people have stepped up their fight for a referendum on self determination.

So why is Bloom is so concerned about a “merger”of revolutions? He explains that this mass upheaval, which is still being led by the pro-capitalist opposition, will simply lead to replacing “one kind of bourgeois government with another.”For him, that’s a problem.

Yes that’s the likely scenario. There is no mass socialist movement in Indonesia. There isn’t even a mass independent trade union. The peasants are just beginning to stir, occupying golf courses and seizing other land.

So, in this context, is ending Suharto’s regime and installing a more liberal one a step forward from the point of view of the working class? Should workers and peasants support such a change?

One approach is to say since it will happen anyway because the workers’ movement is too weak to stop it, ignore the process and raise more radical demands: In other words, take no active part in fighting the capitalist opposition on what type of government should be formed.

This is exactly the error some socialists made in the Philippines in the 1980s. It led to their isolation from the broader people’s power movement.

The other tactic is to recognize socialists are a minority but nevertheless seek to define what type of new government should be formed and what program it should have.

The real debate, of course, is whether representatives of the independent workers’ movement can participate in an anti-Suharto coalition government. Right now the democratic opposition is divided over this question. Should there be immediate elections? Should a coalition government be formed to write new electoral laws?

The conservative opposition wants to work in the framework of the old constitution. They are concerned that the uneducated masses are a danger. They want to limit democracy.

I believe a call for an inclusive transitional regime can expose the more conservative opposition to the masses and can strengthen the position of the left wing in the pro-democracy movement.

Does this position mean the left wing has illusions in the capitalists? I don’t think so. But it does indicate that the fight for more democracy is not clean cut. Yet how this political struggle is resolved will say a lot about how far the struggle to root out Suhartoism can go, and whether the workers and peasants can move toward political power.

Democracy and Class Politics

The fight to end Suhartoism is the first stage in the revolutionary process. It gives the leadership of the workers and peasants the political space to organize independent of the capitalist opposition and to build a mass influence.

Unless that happens there is no hope of these forces leading the democratic revolution. And if the socialists self-isolate from that stage of the revolutionary process, all talk of a “merging”of the democratic and socialist revolution will be purely academic.

In Indonesia today the Habibie presidency is Suhartoism in new clothes. The armed forces continue to dominate society. Washington and its allies are now backing the new regime. Suharto is still living in Jakarta and seeking ways to reassert himself and his family. It is a very dangerous times for the democratic oppositions.

In this context the main job of socialists is to build a broader democratic movement that places pressure on the state to open up more space for workers and peasants that’s been denied them for decades.

The key demands remain: Free the political prisoners, legalize the PRD and other banned groups, self-determination for East Timor, formation of a broad-based coalition government, no to the IMF austerity, nationalization of Suharto’s and his cronies’ wealth, higher wages, land to the peasants and defense of the ethnic Chinese from racist violence.

Unless the movement grows strong enough to force the Habibie regime out of power, the military will be able to reassert itself. The issue of depoliticizing the armed forces (much less the dismantling of the most anti-people units) will never be possible.

What socialists must do in this situation is to build a stronger democratic movement. They must raise demands to further isolate Habibie and the military from the masses. They must advance slogans that allow workers and peasants to organize independent groups so their voice can be heard in then broader movement.

This is the policy of the PRD.

Promoting Illusions?

Bloom is concerned that my position supports self-limitation of the revolutionary process. Or, worse, that I have illusions in the capitalist opposition.

Neither. I simply believe that understanding the stages of a revolutionary process is essential for the socialist movement to grow and be in a position to advance the building of a revolutionary Marxist party.

The real lesson of the Russian Revolution was the program followed by the Bolsheviks before 1917. It allowed the party to grow and to be in a position to adjust to the rapidly changing new situation after February 1917. The pre-1917 program was to end czarist rule and establish a bourgeois-democratic republic.

It was that correct program (see Lenin’s Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, discussing the 1905 revolution) that laid the basis for the toilers to have the chance to achieve their own rule. Lenin always defended that strategy. In fact, it was the socialists who disagreed with the Bolshevik strategy and took a more leftist position who were not able to build a party before 1917.

Of course, there are no guarantees when a revolution begins. Habibie could consolidate his power. He has the support of imperialism. The conservative opposition could make a deal with him and prevent the workers and peasants from gaining more influence.

I strongly believe, however, that unless socialists join the messy process underway for democratic change to root out Suhartoism, they will find themselves more isolated and without much influence. There is no shortcut. That’s the road to socialism. Socialists who reject this approach will be incapable of using the mass upsurge (in Indonesia or any country) to build a mass working-class socialist party.

ATC 76, September-October 1998