East Timor (was Re: marxism-digest V1 #1312)

Nestor Miguel Gorojovsky nestor at SPAMsisurb.filo.uba.ar
Sun Sep 12 07:50:51 MDT 1999

To the subscribers of the L-I list: this is from a thread
on East Timor on the Marxism list.

El 11 Sep 99 a las 20:00, R.J.G.Alves nos dice(n):

I understand (and in a certain sense, share) the concern
and anguish of our Portuguese comrades on the East Timor
situation. But I feel there are too many unexposed
assumptions in the debate that is taking place on the list.

Even the Inquisition tribunals included a "Devil's
attorney" (abogado del diablo, abogado do diavo), and I
will assume that role now.

> Legally,
> the territory is probably still portuguese, even if that
> means next to zero in practice.

Then, the legal order is certainly still the oligarchic
international order of colonialism. It means lots in
practice, far from "zero".

>  I believe that the "west" has had enough of the military
>  clique in
> Jakarta. They were helpful as a south-east Asian buffer
> against communism, but now they look far too brutal and
> far too corrupt. They are trying to find a more palatable
> puppet, and Megawati can still be the obvious choice. The
> brutality of the regime has become an embarassment, not
> because of the brutality itself but because it has been
> exposed.

Or, perhaps, because it has been vomited by the Indonesian
society. The brutality of the Indonesian regime was widely
known the world over for decades. I believe that this sudden
Western "anti-militarism" in Indonesia (not in the USA or in
Europe themselves, of course!) has to do with different

It is Indonesians who have had enough of the Indonesian
military rule in the first place.  In this sense, the "West" (I accept your
inverted commas gladly, Portugal, Australia and the USA
conflict and hold diverse points of view; IMHO the
Australian bourgeoisie, for example, is far from a pawn in
the E. Timor struggle) has had to bend to the situation.

And, probably (as they learnt in Argentina -British
diplomats of the old times may be condescendingly smiling
at their American counterparts- after 1982) they want to
get rid of Indonesian military when a coincidence of
popular rage and Western attack on Indonesian sovereignty
may push them into anti-Western nationalism. "Even a clown
(Mahatir) can decide on a "nationalist" road, why wait for
an Indonesian nationalist military officer to appear?" may
well be the idea behind Western current tears on the poor
East Timorese.

Don't take me wrongly: I am against any kind of slaughter.
But one must keep the head cold. First bag of ice on the
head is the inversion of Reagan's dictum: "They are the
Empire of Evil". Even when they may seem right, there must
be the worst reasons behind them. Since we are talking on
the Western rim of the Pacific, it would not be untimely to
recall that even during the World War II, when American
imperialism seemed to be waging a just war (against Hitler,
an easy task, but a just war anyway), an American writer
could declare ("The naked and the dead") that on the
Pacific America was overtly struggling throug her own
imperial expansion. If their struggle of those days, even
under the cloak of anti-Nazism, hid expansionist
intentions, why should we suppose they have become more
human with time?

>  My position is that the embargo on arms sales is more
>  important as a
> form of diplomatic pressure than any economical sanctions,
> which would hurt the ordinary indonesian. I also think
> that intervention does not have to depend in Jakarta's
> agreement, because there is no base for any indonesian
> claim of sovereignty over the territory.

The base, for a Marxist, must not be searched in legal
history but -oh, what the hell, I will say it openly- in the
geopolitics of world revolution. I stick to the idea that
the current circumstances (and probably the whole situation
since, at least, the late 19th. century) has made it
impossible to imagine a true East Timorese independence
without some form of imperialist support.


> Timor is more of a nuisance than anything else for the
> indonesian army right now. By burning and looting the
> towns of Timor Loro Sae and by killing pro-independence
> militants, the army is probably trying to give some sort
> of warning to the other independentist movements elsewhere
> in the indonesian archipelago (West Papua, Aceh).

If this is true, then I stick harder to my position. The
road to revolution in the Malay world to which Indonesia
belongs is the road of unification. The situation is
similar to the attempt of the United States to create a
puppet state in Sicilly immediately after World War II,
through the good offices of Salvatore Giuliano and the New
York Sicilian maffia. This "intelligent" move sent Italian
Communists and Christian Democrats (that is, the party of
the Italian workers and the party that took to itself to
take care of and to keep alive all the features of the
Fascist state that would be useful under the new
situation) into each other's arms. The responsibility of
British, Portuguese, Dutch (and currently Australian)
imperialism in the Balkanization of the Malay world should
be enough reason for us Marxists to be careful when
supporting East Timorese independence _tout court_.

If East Timor were a colony of an imperialist country (such
as, say, Puerto Rico) I would immediately stand for
independence, without a doubt. Not because I believe
in East Timor as an "oppressed nation" in itself, however,
but because this independence may be a step ahead to the
recovery of the lost unity of the Malays (this last term
understood vastly, in a "national" and not "ethnic" sense,
as the construction of a multicultural great nation in the
sense the Latin American nation will be some day). The
reactionary regime of Suharto, however, made the
reactionary (could it be otherwise?) shortcut and simply
invaded East Timor. Was it wrong because Suharto is the
greatest s.o.b. in the Western Pacific (a qualification I,
nevertheless, reserve for the American, Australian and
Japanese bourgeoisies first, the real fist within Suharto's
iron glove)? No, it was not wrong. On this peculiar point,
Suharto did what any Indonesian regime would have done: to
unify the disjointed country.

As a Marxist, I keep a very distrustful and careful
eye on claims for independence that  rely on imperialist support.

The East Timorese, during WW II, saw the Australians
as liberators. What kind of a semicolonial progressive
nationalism is a nationalism that greets an imperialist
army as a liberation army?  Was the Australian army an
imperialist army, or not? Quod sequitur...

>  I agree with you that the indonesian army will eventually
>  leave Timor
> Loro Sae. My fear is that they will leave nothing but
> ruins behind them.

It is a reasonable fear. But what is the solution? History
has been too cruel on Timor, and the barrel of toxic gas
has just exploded in the worst of all manners. People are
being massacred, and we must obviously claim for a truly
definitive stop to the massacre. What _I_ claim is that
struggling for the independence of East Timor is just to
struggle for a continuation of the current _statu quo_,
that is for future, and most horrible, massacres.

Someone (that is, WE) must put an end to all this, and
we can do something in this sense: we should be struggling
to stop _every_ kind of imperialist intromision in the
Malay issues, at least to the extent that our forces permit.

In the current world situation, a UN force on the
terrain would be acceptable _if, and only if_ there were not
a single Western soldier (NOT TO SPEAK OF OFFICERS)
in it. But will this be the case? Can this be the case? We
should at least try to expose this idea to the world,
nevertheless. I do not see a better choice.


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