Issue 225 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published December 1998 Copyright © Socialist Review
This year has been marked by inspiring examples of resistance. Most inspiring of all was the revolution in Indonesia which in May swept aside the hated dictator, Suharto. The year began with several strikes over non-payment of traditional bonuses. The struggles of workers boosted the confidence of others to fight back when the Indonesian economic crisis began to spiral out of control. In response to mass layoffs (an average of 2 million people a month) and escalating prices, the urban poor began to riot.
The protests increased in March, after Suharto was 're-elected' president, when students exploded into activity. University campuses were taken over by demonstrations, debates and battles with the army. As each week passed, more villages, cities and islands became battlegrounds of protesters facing down increasingly impotent troops. At times the industrial heartlands of Surabaya and Medan were virtually closed down by protests.
In early May, following the shooting of six students by the army, Jakarta erupted. Three days of rioting devastated the capital. The army was incapable of quelling the protests: it couldn't even clear the parliament building of the tens of thousands of students who were occupying it. On 21 May Suharto was overthrown, provoking a carnival of celebration.
The absence of a revolutionary leadership meant that the uprising was not pushed forward. The old state machine, now headed by Suharto's best mate, BJ Habibie, was left more or less intact. Most people listened to the only audible and organised opposition - the liberal bourgeoisie in the form of Amien Rais, leader of the 28 million strong Muhammadiyah Muslim organisation, and Megawati, daughter of the independence leader Sukarno, and head of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI). The aims of these leaders were to quell the protests and organise a peaceful transfer of power into their hands.
The outcome in May raised people's hopes enormously but did nothing to halt the deepening economic crisis or the suffering of the masses. As a result, Indonesia has remained in turmoil. The government has been forced to introduce reforms which has further boosted the confidence of the masses. Almost daily protests have been reported. The poor have seized land and workers have struck for higher wages. Students have continued to demonstrate, and in November tens of thousands took to the streets of Jakarta demanding political reform and were fired on by troops. Crucially, socialists have begun to organise and grow in numbers.