Australasian Spartacist No. 236
For Workers Revolution in Indonesia!
Independence for West Papua!
Indonesian Troops Out! Australian Imperialism Hands Off!
Next year 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, 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 multi-national 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 Netherland 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 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.
PKI Popular Front Vs. Permanent Revolution
The bloody slaughter of 1965-66 was the direct product of the support by the PKI, as well as their Stalinist mentors in Moscow and Beijing, to the bourgeois government of Sukarno. Far from championing national struggles as a motor force for proletarian revolution, the PKI helped to channel the Indonesian masses’ deep bitterness at colonialism into support for bourgeois nationalism. After Sukarno’s forces crushed its 1948 revolt in the city of Madiun, the PKI gained “respectability” and re-established its prominence as a political party by grotesquely embracing Indonesia’s chauvinist claim over West Papua.
In line with Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong’s “bloc of four classes” doctrine and the Stalinist quest for “peaceful coexistence” with “progressive, non-aligned” capitalist “friends,” the PKI helped to prop up capitalist Indonesia, maintaining its alliance with the weak bourgeoisie by restraining the working class and containing class struggle. Adhering to Sukarno’s “Nasakom” popular front, the party leadership preached “joint unity” with Sukarno and his Indonesian National Party to forge a “united national front, including the national bourgeoisie” which would carry out “not socialist but democratic reforms” (see “Lessons of Indonesia 1965,” Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 55, Autumn 1999).
This treacherous class-collaborationist program stands in stark contrast to the revolutionary internationalism of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolshevik Party in Russia. In many respects, Indonesia then, as today, resembled tsarist Russia, albeit the latter was the weakest link in the imperialist chain. Russia was a multinational state with a narrowly based ruling class, subservient to and dependent on imperialist countries, and with enormous social contradictions between a modern industrial sector and a countryside stamped in pre-capitalist times. The perspective for resolving the fundamental democratic questions posed by such combined and uneven development is provided by the theory of permanent revolution, developed by Leon Trotsky and vindicated by the victory of the 1917 Russian Revolution. As Trotsky wrote:
“With regard to countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries, the theory of the permanent revolution signifies that the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses."
—The Permanent Revolution (1929)
If it is not to be strangled by backwardness and imperialist intervention, the social overturn must be linked to the fight for workers rule in the advanced capitalist countries, like Australia.
Lenin forged the Bolshevik Party in the struggle against Great Russian chauvinism and for national liberation struggles in the tsarist prison house of peoples. The Bolsheviks’ championing of the democratic right of self-determination resonated amongst the masses of the oppressed nations under tsarism. As Trotsky put it in his powerful History of the Russian Revolution (1932), “the national current, like the agrarian, was pouring into the channel of the October revolution.” Just as the Bolsheviks’ fight for the rights of oppressed nationalities was key to the victory of the 1917 October Revolution, so too championing the national rights of the Melanesian Papuans and other oppressed nationalities will be key to uniting the workers and peasants across the archipelago, including the Javanese masses, in the struggle for the revolutionary overthrow of Indonesian capitalism.
The regime issuing from the October Revolution provides a model for what this might look like. In November 1917, the new Soviet government issued the “Declaration of Rights of the Peoples of Russia” setting forth the equality and sovereignty of the peoples of Russia, the right of self-determination up to secession and the formation of a separate state, abolition of all national and religious privileges, and the free development of all national and ethnic groups inhabiting Russia.
The Russian Revolution was also internationalist in character, the first step on the road to world socialist revolution. It opened the possibility for extension to Europe. However, with the failure of revolutionary opportunities in Europe, most particularly in Germany, the economic backwardness and isolation of the Soviet workers state led to the rise of a nationalist, bureaucratic caste that seized political power from the working class in a political counterrevolution headed by Stalin in 1923-24. With the consolidation of its rule, and the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet workers state, the revolutionary, internationalist program of the Bolsheviks was replaced with the Stalinist dogma of “socialism in one country” and the illusory pursuit of “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism. Defending the remaining gains of the revolution, not least the collectivised property forms, Trotskyists stood for the unconditional military defence of the Soviet Union against imperialist attack and internal capitalist counterrevolution while fighting for a political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy and return to the road of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks.
West Papua: “New Order” Prize for 1965 Massacre
U.S., British and Australian imperialism were up to their necks in the blood of the Indonesian people in 1965-66. From the U.S. embassy in Jakarta lists that had been compiled of some 5,000 Communist Party members and sympathisers were passed on to the Indonesian Foreign Ministry to aid the massacres. Radio Australia operating in Indonesia broadcast pro-army propaganda during the killings, urged on by Australia’s ambassador to Indonesia, who boasted it was “excellent propaganda and of assistance to the anti-PKI forces.” In the wake of the massacres, Australia’s prime minister, Harold Holt, gloated to a gathering of the Australian-American Association in New York, “With 500,000 to 1 million Communist sympathisers knocked off, I think it is safe to assume a reorientation has taken place” (New York Times, 6 July 1966).
Once in power, Suharto’s “New Order” regime reopened Indonesia to foreign capital and soon many American and European companies had regained control of mines, estates and other enterprises nationalised under Sukarno. The Suharto regime also began selling off West Papua’s resources for imperialist exploitation. In 1967 they signed a contract with the U.S.-based Freeport Sulphur company to begin mining gold and copper at Mt. Ertsberg. In 1968, a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate for Indonesia smugly stated, “The prospects for private foreign investment in extractive industries are fairly good....”
The imperialists’ endorsement of the 1969 “Act of Free Choice” in West Papua was a reward for services rendered by Suharto’s military in crushing the Indonesian Communists. The military commander in West Papua at the time was the violently anti-Communist CIA-linked Sarwo Edhie, who (having returned from military training in Australia) commanded the paramilitary forces dispatched in 1965 to Central Java to ”clean up” and restore order.
For 32 years, Suharto’s blood-drenched military regime ruled Indonesia with an iron fist. While Suharto has long gone, Jakarta continues to ride roughshod over the many different peoples across the archipelago. In West Papua, successive regimes have enforced the ongoing military occupation, with at least 15,000 troops stationed there in 2011. There are over 40 administrative regencies across the territory, each with its own police station and military base. There are reportedly plans to increase the number by 70 percent. As one activist put it, “Special forces and intelligence personnel are stationed in virtually every village.” The military in West Papua have vested interests in suppressing dissent. Only 25 percent of their budget comes from the central government with the rest made up from fees for services, including providing security at businesses and facilities such as the Grasberg mine.
Seeking to “divide and conquer” West Papua, in 2003 Jakarta split the territory into two provinces, called “West Papua” and “Papua.” Jakarta also implemented “special autonomy” in a futile attempt to weaken the independence movement but this has only led to greater discontent.
From the beginning, Jakarta has pursued conscious policies designed to assimilate West Papua into the Malayic culture of Indonesia and extinguish the Melanesian Papuan identity with its different languages, religion, social customs and organisation, and agricultural practices. To this end, Jakarta has for decades used its government-sponsored transmigration program to relocate many thousands of people from Java and other islands to West Papua. Significant self-financed transmigration has also occurred over the last decades, particularly from eastern provinces such as Sulawesi and Maluku. Alongside creating a non-Papuan workforce, transmigration has also served “security” objectives, with settlements adjacent to PNG, along with the depopulation of local villages, acting to restrict the cross-border movements of Papuan activists. Reportedly, many transmigrants in these areas are former military personnel. While President Widodo stated in mid-2015 that the transmigration program to West Papua would end, it continues to be encouraged. As one government minister earlier declared, “There is still a lot of land,” (Sydney Morning Herald, 5 February 2015).
Following successive waves of settlers, by 2010 the population in West Papua had grown to 3.6 million and was fairly evenly divided between Papuans and non-Papuans. More recent population projections calculate that Papuans may now have become a minority within their own country. However, they continue to occupy the largest geographical area, almost exclusively in the highlands. In the accessible coastal areas, where new settlers predominate, there is a vast mix of ethnicities.
As part of the fight to break the hold of the Indonesian ruling class, Marxists would seek to mobilise the combative Indonesian workers, including those in West Papua, to champion the struggle of the indigenous population for independence. In an independent West Papua, revolutionaries would recognise the right of settlers to remain in the land they have made home. Among those who have moved to West Papua are minorities fleeing religious and ethnic persecution. Many of these people have little reason for allegiance to the Javanese-chauvinist regime in Jakarta and may welcome independence from Indonesia.
For Workers Revolution in Indonesia
In September 2017, exiled Papuan independence leader, Benny Wenda, presented the United Nations “decolonisation committee” with a petition calling for an internationally supervised referendum for self-determination. The West Papuan People’s Petition had been signed by 1.8 million West Papuans, including reportedly 70 percent of all Papuans and more than 96,000 settlers. The committee chairman predictably refused to consider the petition, declaring his support for Indonesia’s territorial integrity. The campaign then sought to appeal to the UN General Assembly which met in September/October this year. In the lead-up, independence activists in West Papua organised protests seeking to highlight the plight of West Papuans. These were met with a crackdown by security forces. For over a week security forces systematically arrested, tortured, shot at and killed West Papuans accused of supporting self-determination.
Also appealing to the UN to oversee a new independence referendum is the “Westminster Declaration” of the International Parliamentarians for West Papua, a group co-founded by British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, renowned for opposing Scottish independence from his own country. The Declaration has been signed by an array of capitalist politicians internationally. West Papua is a cause célèbre for bourgeois liberals, including the capitalist Greens in this country. These “friends of West Papua” would keep Papuans begging to the same United Nations that oversaw the outrageous 1969 “Act of Free Choice” in the first place. The UN is a den of imperialist thieves, their victims and intended victims. Its interests lie in upholding the grinding oppression of the West Papuans under the heel of the Indonesian regime and their imperialist masters. The natural ally of the oppressed Papuan peoples is the working class of Indonesia and internationally.
Like the Bolsheviks, we base our revolutionary program on the political independence of the workers movement. We fight to forge Leninist-Trotskyist parties, tribunes of the people, that instil in the working class irreconcilable hostility to all the capitalist exploiters and the consciousness of its historic tasks. Led by such a revolutionary workers party, and at the head of all the oppressed, the working class must sweep away the entire capitalist system through socialist revolution, and establish a workers state based on collectivised industry and serving the needs of all.
In 2013, after three West Papuan activists sought refuge in the Australian consulate in Bali, calling for the release of Papuan political prisoners incarcerated by the Indonesian regime, the then prime minister, Tony Abbott, warned that Australia would not “give people a platform to grandstand against Indonesia.” As part of their role in maintaining stability for Australian imperialist profit-making in the region, both Liberal/National Coalition and Labor Party administrations have long defended the territorial integrity of Indonesia. For Australia, backing the Indonesian regime’s oppression in West Papua also serves its interest in keeping unrest from spilling over the border and igniting struggles in its poverty-stricken PNG neo-colony.
Australia has become increasingly jittery about Chinese influence in the region and in PNG in particular. PNG has pushed for Australia to help fund a doubling of its defence force, with the defence chief declaring that China was ready to step in if rebuffed. Recently Australia brokered a deal with PNG (since joined by the U.S.) to redevelop the Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island, where Australia long maintained a notorious offshore refugee detention camp.
Along with its extensive national resources and low-wage labour, Indonesia is of great geo-strategic importance as it sits astride the gate to the Pacific Rim. It forms the southern land mass of the narrow Strait of Malacca through which much of China’s fuel imports are carried from the Middle East. Ever since the 1949 Revolution swept away capitalist rule in China, the imperialists have sought to destroy the Chinese bureaucratically deformed workers state by one means or another, in the pursuit of unhindered imperialist exploitation. Today, as part of the U.S.-led military encirclement of China, U.S. and Australian imperialism have been strengthening their military ties with Jakarta.
It is in the interests of the world’s working class and oppressed to defend the Chinese deformed workers state against imperialist attack and internal capitalist counterrevolution. A political revolution is necessary in China to sweep away the bureaucratic, nationalist Stalinist regime, which appeases the imperialists, and to establish a government based on genuine workers councils and a revolutionary internationalist program.
In Indonesia, the fight to emancipate the deeply exploited working class is bound up with the struggles of the oppressed minority peoples, of women and the rural poor. Only socialist revolution establishing the dictatorship of the workers, leaning on the poor peasantry, can satisfy the basic needs of the masses: freedom from imperialist subjugation, agrarian revolution, alleviation of poverty, social equality for women and emancipation for oppressed national minorities. This struggle is necessarily internationalist in its outlook. For workers to succeed in this fight requires the building of a multiethnic revolutionary internationalist workers party—an Indonesian section of a reforged Fourth International. Workers in Australia also have a role to play, not simply by standing in class solidarity with the struggles of their Indonesian class brothers and sisters but by forging a Trotskyist party in this country to lead the necessary fight to sweep away the racist Australia ruling class through socialist revolution and establish a workers republic of Australia, part of a socialist Asia.