Response to Mike Friedman on Australia vs. Indonesia

Fred Feldman ffeldman at
Sun Jul 6 19:04:31 MDT 2003

I think Mike is being too abstract in placing my criticism of the
slogan "End Australian military ties with Indonesia" on the level of
tactics and principles.  Personally I am not convinced that there is
such a thing as a purely tactical or purely principled question.  I
placed the question I raised in the concrete context of the current
spread of imperialist military interventions in weak, crisis-ridden,
and increasingly unstable semicolonial states. This context is making
it more important than in the past, in my opinion, to think very
carefully about when, whether, and how to make such demands on the

I stressed the greater importance today of placing such questions on
an anti-imperialist axis rather than the bourgeois-liberal "human
rights" axis, and the importance of stressing that human rights in
semicolonial countries can only be won the way they have been
substantially won in Cuba -- through the anti-imperialist,
revolutionary-democratic, and anticapitalist struggles of the
oppressed nations themselves.

I certainly did not propose supporting Australian military ties with
Indonesia, or for supporting arms shipments to Indonesia. I oppose
both as does the Green Left Weekly. (I hope Mike has read my
subsequent article, "How and why to oppose Australian military ties
with Indonesia.")  But I am opposed to imperialist economic,
political, or diplomatic sanctions of any kind against Indonesia
today, regardless of the regime's violations of human rights and
oppression of small nations. Imperialist domination, and not simply a
reactionary and antidemocratic government or army, is at the heart of
the social and political crisis that afflicts Indonesia today.

Because of the increased military aggressiveness against the
semicolonial nations of all the imperialist powers, above all the
United States but certainly including (as the Green Left Weekly
recognizes and often correctly points out) Australia and New
Zealand -- I think it is very important  to clearly motivate
opposition to such aid primarily on the threat that Australian
imperialism and imperialism generally represents as the main enemy of
the peoples of Indonesia. Australian imperialism cannot play any
positive role in "pressuring" Indonesia to be more democratic abide by
international human rights standards. The working people of Australia
can play such a role by overthrowing the imperialist rulers.

I don't think the current outcome of the just struggle of the peoples
of East Timor for their national rights -- formal independence under
direct imperialist occupation -- has been a progressive one.  I
believe that struggle has been contained and strangled for the time
being, just as the liberation struggle of the Haitian people in the
late 1980s was strangled and set back, not won through US sanctions
followed by military occupation (more and more the pattern in the
world today) in the name of "human rights" and "democracy."

I don't believe that such an outcome would be progressive in Aceh
either, or in Papua.

Of course, the imperialists right now support the Indonesian
government in these fights, just as they once did in East Timor, but
that is very much a tactic for them and not a principle. If the
Indonesian government is unable to contain and defeat popular
struggles -- and that is the current direction of events in my
opinion -- the Australian and other imperialists will intervene more
directly, and will become inspired critics of the Indonesian
government's violations of human rights, even though these were
fundamentally carried out in the interests of imperialism.

We have to place our slogans and demands more consciously on the axis
of imperialism as the main enemy of the peoples of Indonesia, not the
semicolonial and subject government or even the brutal and antipopular
Indonesian army.  The fact that imperialism is being forced to be more
aggressive to defend its interests, and that many semicolonial regimes
and societies are in deep and desperate crisis with no short-term way
out, makes it more important to be clear on these issues.

Imperialist occupation of East Timor strengthened the hand of the
Australian imperialists not only in East Timor, but also against the
oppressed nation of Indonesia. It is also a fact that the reactionary
Indonesian government's savage, semi-genocidal attacks on the East
Timorese provided the imperialists with the opening for this
reactionary intervention.

It is a more serious mistake today even than in the past to lose or
dissolve the fundamental social relation between oppressor and
oppressed nations into the question of whether the current Indonesian
government is progressive or reactionary, or whether current
imperialist tactics are to support or undermine this government (or
both as sometimes happens).

The dissolution and evasion of this fundamental social relation has
contributed to providing ideological cover for stepped-up imperialist
"humanitarian" intervention to assert more direct control in
semicolonies from the Congo to Iraq -- and Indonesia must be
recognized as a potential target as well.
Fred Feldman

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