Haji Muhammad Suharto, former dictator of Indonesia, has died as a result of multiple organ failure at the age of 86 in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta.
Suharto was one of those Cold War dictators aided and propped up by the West colourfully described by the statement ‘He may be a son of a bitch, but at least he’s our son of a bitch’ attributed alternately in reference to Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza García or Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo.
It was just over a year ago that another one of these US-backed dictators died, Chiliean dictator Augusto Pinochet. I was in Havana at the time attending a scientific conference on Caribbean marine ecology. Ironically my hotel room was just off the Salvodar Allende Avenue, and the day before I had been presented with a gift of a few english language books, including ‘Salvador Allende Reader : Chile’s Voice of Democracy.’ There was mass celebration that night, alot of good rum (14 years!) and dancing. Mixed in with this was a general feeling of anger that Pinochet had escaped justice with his death. I wonder if similar scenes are happening now throughout Indonesia.
I recall watching the 1997-8 demonstrations on the tv in the evenings while I was at university, demonstrations that successfully led to his overthrow in May 1998. I remember learning what little Bahasa Indonesian that I know at this time, “Rakyat Bersatu Tak Terkalahkan” – the people united will never be defeated.
Suharto came to power in 1965 through a de facto military coup, formally overthrowing the renowned and leftist President Sukarno in 1967. With US assistance (logistics, intelligence – including lists of suspected communists, and supplies of military hardware) the third largest Communist Party in the world at that time (after the USSR and the PRC), the Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI), was essentially liquidated. Between 300,000 and one million PKI members, leftists and labour organisers were executed in these purges. With continued Western support Suharto invaded both East Timor and Western Papua New Guinea (Iriyan Jaya), and committed many crimes against humanity against dissenters and seccessionist movements.
It is interesting to note that the US was not alone in being complicit in these many crimes against humanity, but the British were also heavily involved. Our own new Governor ‘Sir’ Richard Gozney is in fact alleged to have been party to British assistance with the Indonesian invasion of East Timor and the facilititation of British military hardware to Suharto’s military.
Suharto’s regime bore all the hallmarks of a reactionary totalitarian state, with the use of terror, assasinations, kidnappings and ‘disappearences’ to silence critics of the regime, and mass propaganda to indoctrinate the masses.
While Suharto has died, the legacy of his regime continues to haunt Indonesia today. While he was never bought to justice for his crimes against humanity, the class, the imperialists, the system itself that spawned him remains. The only way to guaruntee there will be no more Pinochet’s and Suharto’s as ‘last resorts’ to defend the capitalist order itself is to abolish that very system.
The crimes of Suharto and those other ‘SOBs’ need to be studied, and the complicity of the Western powers needs to be illuminated. Those still around who were complicit in these atrocities must be exposed for the criminals they are. What is more, we must study the mistakes of the past movements in order to abolish this system that manufactures and deploys these Suhartos to defend their system.
It is time to move away fro simple ‘reformasi’ and start ‘revolusi.’
I am reminded of the words of Jack London’s character Ernerst Everheard in the Iron Heel:
“Lost for this time. But not forever! We have learned many things. Tomorrow the cause will arise once more, stronger in wisdom and in discipline.”
Rakyat Bersatu Tak Terkalahkan!