East Timor and Brest-Litovsk

Ben Courtice benj at connexus.net.au
Fri Feb 28 19:19:40 MST 2003

Some on the left like to paint the socialists (mainly the DSP of Australia) who called for intervention to help the East Timorese in the
same light as the social-democrats who voted for war credits in 1914.

I would suggest a better parallel: the Soviets  who had to sign an unpleasant peace treaty with imperialism at Brest-Litovsk (was it
1918?). However, I would not paint the "left" opposition to the DSP's position in the same light as the left Communists who argued
against the Brest-Litovsk treaty: the lefts of 1918 were at least willing to do the fighting (and presumably the dying).

The East Timorese liberation movement was mostly unarmed and mostly unprepared for the massacre (with the exception of the
PST, who made sure all their cadres were safely in the hills). They called for Australian troops to help. For the left, in East Timor and
Australia, it was a necessary compromise to buy time and ensure survival, which we made because (obviously, I would have thought)
an immediate victory over imperialism was not possible.

I think the Australian bourgeoisie were probably willing in some measure to accept (put up with) an independent East Timor.
However, they still recommended to East Timorese to vote against it in the UN referendum. They knew of, and covered up their
knowledge of, the TNI plans for a massacre if the referendum went the wrong way. I think they hoped at the worst (from their
perspective) to have the liberation movement in East Timor eliminated before any sort of independent state was set up. In the event,
they were forced to intervene before the massacre was completed.

The option they preferred was: a possibly independent East Timor, with some level of Indonesian involvement perhaps, functioning
as a neo-colony of imperialism, with  no left or nationalist forces to impede the exploitation of the country.

The demonstrators in Australia created a better possibility that may not otherwise have existed: an East Timor that was a neo-colony
of imperialism, but with a left still surviving, and a nationalist government that may not be entirely happy with Australian theft of oil
reserves. Remember the negotiations over the oil fields? The East Timorese got a raw deal, but Mari Alkatiri did argue and try to get
a better one. I recall that over one (smaller) oil field the Australian negotiators were unhappy they didn't get as much as they wanted
(although this was used a smokescreen for the theft they perpetrated over a much larger field).

Of course, the Australian establishment will milk the situation for whatever it's worth. But they are still not on friendly terms with the
Indonesian government like they were with Suharto. The [early] action by the Australian troops did cause a rift.

An anecdote about the troops (who some of the more infantile left, e.g. the Sparts, claim are just as bad as the TNI because they are
imperialist and therefore just as brutal etc): I've heard (second hand) from people actually in the army that the Australian troops who
went, who uncovered lovely things like wells filled with dismembered corpses and so on, were in little mood to collaborate with the
TNI let alone the militias, they weren't tolerating any continued massacres by the militias; rather, what I heard was that they were very
enthusiastic, when confrontations occurred, about trying to kill the militias.

That's just an anecdote, about one unit, and I know there have been some unsavoury actions by the Australian troops also uncovered.

But the point is: the left and the general public who rallied for Australian intervention immediately forced a concession from
imperialism. Those who opposed it were paralysed by their fear of opportunism, and achieved nothing. No victory is without its
contradictions, and this one was no exception, but I stand with the East Timorese left and liberation movement, and with the tens of
thousands of Australians who had finally had enough of seeing our government stand by doing nothing while our neighbours were
massacred by the Indonesian army. That's not a concession to imperialism, or an illusion in it: it's the beginnings of an opposition to

Hopefully the experience of East Timor, with the militia gangs collaborating with (and created by) the TNI (a tactic also used by
Suharto in 1965) will help Australians to see what is really going on in Aceh, West Papua and other parts of Indonesia where the TNI
is still using this tactic.

Ben Courtice

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