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Workers Vanguard No. 1147

18 January 2019

For Workers Revolution in Indonesia!

Independence for West Papua!

(Part One)

We reprint below the first part of an article from Australasian Spartacist No. 236 (Summer 2018/19), newspaper of the Spartacist League of Australia, section of the International Communist League.

Next year [2019] marks 50 years since the 1969 “Act of Free Choice” that formalised West Papua’s incorporation into Indonesia. The former Dutch colonial rulers had ceded control seven years earlier. Under this cynically named Act, just over 1,000 Papuan leaders were selected by the Indonesian regime and threatened and coerced into voting unanimously in favour of integration. The rigged outcome was rubber-stamped by the United Nations, with Australia playing a leading role in having it rammed through. Faced with the indigenous population’s just strivings for self-determination, the Indonesian regime has carried out a brutal military occupation from the outset.

Between 1963 and 1969, it is estimated that as many as 30,000 Papuans were killed by the Indonesian military (TNI), with many more tortured and terrorised. Today, the estimated number of Papuans slaughtered ranges from 100,000 to 500,000. Simply raising the Morning Star flag, the symbol of West Papuan independence, is a crime that carries a 15-year jail sentence or worse. The 1998 Biak massacre is but one example of the countless atrocities carried out by the Indonesian state. In a coordinated action, Indonesian police, navy and military forces attacked, tortured, sexually abused and killed some 150 people following pro-independence gatherings. Mutilated bodies dumped at sea washed up on shore for days afterwards. Twenty years on, the Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, seeks to lull the populace with talk of giving “special attention to West Papua” while overseeing the continued military suppression of Papuan separatism. According to an article in the Asia Times (13 March), 8,000 Papuan independence activists have been imprisoned in the last two years.

Such repression is carried out with the assistance of Australian and other imperialist forces [including the U.S.], who help train and supply the ruthless Kopassus special forces killers and the “anti-terror” squad known as Detachment 88 linked to the widespread torture and extra-judicial killings in West Papua. One Papuan activist summed up the Australian government’s role: “You give money for Indonesia to kill people in West Papua—you are the perpetrators of violence in West Papua” (ABC News online, 29 August 2012). We oppose all military ties between the Australian imperialists and the Indonesian regime.

With its vast wealth of natural resources, West Papua is a place of brutal exploitation where largely tribal subsistence farmers have been driven off their land without compensation. West Papua’s per capita GDP is more than 40 percent above the Indonesian average, yet the poverty rate among the indigenous population is nearly triple the country’s average. The region has the highest infant, child and maternal mortality rates in Indonesia as well as the worst literacy rates. A study in 2013 reported the occurrence of HIV/AIDS was almost 20 times the national average.

Despite dire hardship and the ferocious repression meted out against men, women and children, the Melanesian Papuans have been fighting tenaciously for decades for their independence, defiantly protesting, convening independence congresses, and waging a protracted low-level guerrilla insurgency by the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement (OPM), the National Liberation Army of West Papua. The Papuans’ struggle for independence must be championed by workers around the world, including in Australia. As a Leninist tribune of the people, we oppose the hideous oppression of indigenous Melanesians and link that opposition to a program for socialist revolution. We stand for the military defence of the independence fighters against the Indonesian military, while giving no political support to bourgeois nationalist forces. We demand: Indonesian troops out! Australia hands off! Independence for West Papua!

We fight for a workers and peasants government centred on the indigenous Melanesians. However, our support for Papuan independence is not contingent upon socialist revolution. As Marxists, we recognise that the struggle for the rights of oppressed nations can be a motor force for revolution. Our stand for West Papuan independence is part of our perspective for socialist revolution in the Indonesian prison house of peoples. Indonesia’s multinational population, brought together under colonial rule, is predominantly Muslim. Today, with the growth of Islamic fundamentalism, religious minorities and the small ethnic Chinese population are targets for persecution. From Aceh to West Papua, oppressed national minorities have struggled against the stranglehold of the Javanese-chauvinist bourgeoisie and its military machine.

In suppressing the struggles of workers and the myriad oppressed minorities, the Indonesian bourgeoisie act as compradors for the Australian, U.S. and other imperialists. Enforcing capitalist stability, they ensure the imperialists’ continued plunder of the archipelago’s rich natural resources and super-exploitation of its toiling masses. This is sharply seen in West Papua with the currently majority U.S.-owned Freeport-McMoRan Grasberg mine. One of the world’s largest gold and copper mines, it is Indonesia’s largest taxpayer. While the Indonesian capitalists, corrupt governmental bodies and TNI all take their cut of the profits, the mining conglomerates take the lion’s share under the protection of the imperialist-funded military.

Reasserting Leninism on the National Question

It is over 30 years since we have raised the correct demand for West Papuan independence in our Trotskyist press (see “Australia’s Indonesia Jitters,” ASp No. 109, Summer 1984/85). While we have opposed the murderous Indonesian military, demanding the TNI get out and Australian imperialism keep its bloody hands off, the call for independence for West Papua as for East Timor was dropped following the publication of a letter in ASp No. 110 (March/April 1985). Titled “East Timor/West Papua: The National Question,” and published without reply, the letter conflated political independence and national emancipation. In doing so, the conclusion was that, as these were largely tribal, pre-national societies, their independence could only be achieved by “breaking the grip of imperialism through region-wide socialist revolution.”

The premise of the letter was consistent with an anti-Leninist assimilationist framework for oppressed nations in multinational states then adhered to by the International Communist League (ICL). By concluding that these societies would be incapable of forging independent states under capitalism this letter served to denigrate the just fight of the East Timorese and West Papuans for national liberation. Despite the talk of “socialist revolution,” this attitude could only be to the benefit of the brutal Indonesian regime and its imperialist overlords.

As Lenin wrote in 1916:

“It would be no less mistaken to delete any of the points of the democratic programme, for example, the point of self-determination of nations, on the ground that it is ‘infeasible,’ or that it is ‘illusory’ under capitalism….

“…all the fundamental demands of political democracy are ‘possible of achievement’ under imperialism, only in an incomplete, in a mutilated form and as a rare exception (for example, the secession of Norway from Sweden in 1905). The demand for the immediate liberation of the colonies, as advanced by all revolutionary Social-Democrats, is also ‘impossible of achievement’ under capitalism without a series of revolutions. This does not imply, however, that Social-Democracy must refrain from conducting an immediate and most determined struggle for all these demands—to refrain would merely be to the advantage of the bourgeoisie and reaction.”

—The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination (January-February 1916)

While it is true that national emancipation cannot be won short of socialist revolution, it is false that independence cannot be achieved under capitalism.

Through an internal political fight in the mid-1990s, with key contributions from international cadre, the SL/A re-established the call for independence for East Timor. This was a qualitative step forward in taking a Leninist approach to the national question in Indonesia. It also put us in good stead when the chauvinist campaign for Australian troops to East Timor erupted in 1999 in response to the terror unleashed by TNI-sponsored pro-Indonesian death squads following the vote for independence. The SL/A was almost alone on the left in opposing the pro-imperialist campaign. Demanding independence for East Timor, we motivated the need for workers revolution in both Australia and Indonesia (see “Australian/UN Imperialist Troops Out of East Timor,” ASp No. 170, Autumn 2000).

While reinstating the call for East Timor’s independence, our internal fight did not draw broader programmatic conclusions and the question of West Papua was left untouched. In 2012, an attempt by the SL/A to restore the demand for independence was shelved following international discussion. The question was finally put on a Leninist foundation in the context of our recent international fight against adaptation to great power chauvinism and the concomitant longstanding perversion of Leninism on the national question. The outcome of this internal fight was codified at the Seventh International Conference of the ICL (see Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 65, Summer 2017).

An SL/A motion re-establishing the call for independence for West Papua was endorsed by the 2017 International Conference. Pointing to the convulsive 2011 Grasberg miners’ strike that united Melanesian and non-Melanesian workers in struggle, and galvanised support from West Papuan independence fighters, the motion concluded, “This [strike] illustrates our perspective of linking the emancipation of the deeply exploited working class of the archipelago with the struggles of its minority peoples, and the necessity of linking the fight for workers revolution in Indonesia with the fight for workers revolution in the advanced imperialist countries.”

West Papua and Dutch Colonialism

West Papua was one of three colonies carved out by the imperialists on the island of New Guinea in the 19th century. The eastern half of the island was divided between Germany and Britain. In 1906 Australia took over administration of the British colony and then seized the German colony with the outbreak of the first imperialist world war. The League of Nations (precursor to the UN) granted “trusteeship” to Australia in 1920. Thus Australia got its very own colony as a result of World War I. With little prospect for major profits until mining opened up around the 1960s, Australia developed little infrastructure and ran a grotesquely racist, paternalistic colonial regime. Renamed Papua New Guinea (PNG), the country gained independence in 1975 and became a neo-colony of Australian imperialism.

The western half of New Guinea, now West Papua, was claimed by the Netherlands and known as Dutch New Guinea. It became part of the lucrative Netherlands East Indies that extended across the islands of the Indonesian archipelago. The indigenous Melanesian people, however, are distinct from the largely Austronesian ethnic groups of Indonesia. Made up of hundreds of ethnolinguistic groups, the Melanesians are more closely linked to the populations of Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu and Kanaky (New Caledonia).

The Dutch government had little interest in developing Dutch New Guinea and little impact. Far greater inroads were made by Dutch and German missionaries, such that today most Papuans identify as Christian. Government posts established around 1900 served mainly to assert territorial claims against the British, Germans and Americans. The almost impenetrable highlands remained largely unexplored until the Second World War. One thing the Dutch did establish in the inhospitable jungles of West Papua was the notorious disease-ridden Tanah Merah internment camp, built to hold Indonesian nationalist and Communist anti-colonial militants. Opened in 1927, the first prisoners, numbering more than 2,000, were survivors of two abortive uprisings in 1926-27 which were led by the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) and ruthlessly crushed by the Dutch.

During World War II, with the advance of the Japanese army into the Netherlands East Indies in 1942, the Dutch colonial administration fled to Australia. After three centuries of being under the boot of the Dutch, many Indonesians initially welcomed the Japanese imperialists as a liberating force. This illusion was soon shattered by the brutality of the new occupying power. In Dutch New Guinea, Papuans reportedly aided the Allied imperialist forces. Contrary to Australian nationalist mythology, in neighbouring PNG many inhabitants had little choice. Dragooned into service, those who rebelled or simply wanted to leave were kept by force. The Second World War in the Pacific, as in Europe, was an imperialist war between rival powers for markets and colonies. Australia’s “war effort” was fuelled by vile anti-Japanese racism. Trotskyists fought for revolutionary defeatism of the imperialist combatants while standing for the unconditional military defence of the Soviet Union, a degenerated workers state, and for the liberation of the colonies.

By mid-1944, U.S.-led forces under General MacArthur had defeated the Japanese military in western New Guinea and the Dutch oppressors returned to the region. However the Japanese remained in control of Java and other islands until their surrender in August 1945, whereupon the Indonesian nationalists declared independence. When the Dutch subsequently attempted to reassert control, they were met with determined, widespread resistance by independence fighters. This struggle was supported by unions in India, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere, including Holland. Workers successfully fought together to black ban [refuse to handle] Dutch shipping to Indonesia, including preventing the transport of military equipment and personnel. Known as the Black Armada, these international proletarian solidarity actions played a vital role in stopping the Dutch from recolonising Indonesia, helping to open the way for independence.

Indonesian Nationalists Demand West Papua

It took four years of fierce armed struggle before the Dutch finally conceded Indonesian independence in late 1949. However, the Dutch refused to relinquish their New Guinea province to the new Indonesian bourgeois-nationalist regime, who claimed the territory as part of the old colonial Dutch East Indies. The Dutch hoped to turn the province into a profitable neo-colony. (The discovery of a huge oil field was kept under wraps.) Making a show of having broken from the old forms of colonialism, they began to prepare the Papuan population for independence. West Papuans welcomed the moves to increased self-governance and the prospect of sovereignty.

Ongoing negotiations over West Papua between the Dutch and Indonesians completely broke down in 1952. By the following year, the dispute was the central political issue in Indonesia, with all parties, including the PKI, backing President Sukarno’s strident determination to bring West Papua under Indonesian control. During the anti-colonial struggle, Dutch New Guinea had been promoted as an intrinsic part of the future nation— “Indonesia free—from Sabang to Merauke” was a popular slogan. It was also woven into the folklore of the independence struggle as many Indonesian martyrs had been interned and had died at the Tanah Merah prison camp. The capitalist state that emerged with independence was dominated by the Javanese majority, whose political representatives opposed autonomy or independence for the various peoples of the former Dutch colony.

Over the next decade, Sukarno used the continuing Dutch administration of West Papua to whip up nationalism and hold together the multitude of competing ethnic, religious and political groups within Indonesia. His “anti-colonial” rhetoric demanding Indonesian sovereignty over West Papua helped to harness potential political rivals to his leadership and divert attention from deteriorating economic conditions, including skyrocketing inflation. By 1957, growing bitterness towards the Javanese-centred government erupted in open revolt. Outer islands which were the major wealth producers (from oil, rubber, tin and copra) resented that the greater share of revenue went to the main, most populous island of Java.

In 1957-58, rebellions in Sumatra and Sulawesi, led by disgruntled regional army commanders in collusion with the imperialists, attempted to break from Jakarta. Faced with insurrections and economic chaos, Sukarno imposed a “State of War and Siege” and set about crushing the revolts. This was followed by a campaign whipping up a frenzy against the Dutch over West Papua and leading to the nationalisation of Dutch-owned companies. Sukarno also proclaimed the basis of government to be “Nasakom,” the union of nationalist, religious and communist organisations (nasionalisme-agama-komunisme). Sukarno’s bloc with the PKI was an attempt to both prop up his fragile bonapartist regime and to co-opt the Communists. By then the PKI had become the largest Communist Party in the capitalist world, with three million members, and over fifteen million in affiliated unions and peasant, women’s and other associations.

Imperialist Cold War Machinations

In the 1950s, the imperialists’ anti-Communist Cold War against the Soviet Union was in full swing. While the United States had emerged from World War II as the preeminent imperialist power, the Soviet Union had also gained enormous international prestige through its leading role in defeating Nazi Germany. U.S. imperialism and its Australian junior ally watched developments in Indonesia with growing concern. Already revolutionary upheavals in the rest of Asia had seen peasant-based guerrilla armies in China and North Korea sweep away capitalist rule, consolidating bureaucratically deformed workers states modelled on the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union. Communist-led forces in Vietnam had defeated the French colonialists at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and were now fighting against a U.S.-backed puppet regime in the South. Communist-led insurgencies had erupted in Burma (Myanmar), Malaya and elsewhere. Capitalist Indonesia’s professed “non-alignment” with either Washington or Moscow and, above all, the growth of the PKI was of major concern to the imperialists, who wanted to ensure that the toiling masses of Indonesia did not take the Communist road. To that end, they began developing closer ties with the Indonesian military, fostering anti-communist elements within the officer corps.

By the early 1960s, escalating tension over control of West Papua led the Indonesians and Dutch imperialists to the brink of war. Sukarno played the two camps of the Cold War off against each other, anticipating that the substantial military aid received from the Soviets would force Washington’s intervention into the dispute over West Papua. In 1961, newly elected U.S. president, John F. Kennedy, spearheaded a drive to stop Sukarno moving closer to the Soviet Union by pressuring the Dutch to abandon their claim on West Papua. The Dutch finally ceded West Papua to Indonesia in a 1962 “New York Agreement” overseen by Washington. Jakarta was “obligated” under the agreement to conduct a referendum on self-determination no later than 1969. However, once in control, the Indonesian military acted to stamp out any political dissent.

By 1967, General Suharto and his military dictatorship had risen to power in Indonesia through the slaughter of over a million Communists, workers, peasants and ethnic Chinese. One of the most savage massacres in modern history, the white terror that raged throughout the archipelago from late 1965 through early 1966 was perpetrated by an alliance between the army and Islamic fanatics mobilised in a holy war against Communism with the direct support of the imperialists. The killings were so ferocious that rivers were choked with human corpses. Hundreds of thousands more were arrested and thousands interned for years, including the renowned anti-colonial novelist, Pramoedya Ananta Toer.



Workers Vanguard No. 1147

WV 1147

18 January 2019


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For Workers Revolution in Indonesia!

Independence for West Papua!

(Part One)