|Statement of the International Workers’ Committee:
All imperialist troops out of East Timor!
For an independent, socialist Timor and
a socialist federation of South Asia!The occupation of the tiny, impoverished island of East Timor by U.S., Australian and United Nations troops is a continuation of imperialism’s campaign of neocolonial terror. Beginning with the Gulf War against Iraq in 1990-91 and continuing most recently with the NATO war against Yugoslavia, the imperialists’ “new commitment to intervention” is merely a cynical excuse to gain a stronger foothold in Southeast Asia.
The UN military occupation of East Timor comes one month after the Timorese people voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence from Indonesia, which annexed the island country in 1975. The vote was followed by a murderous campaign of terror by militias armed and equipped by sections of the Indonesian military. These militias killed hundreds, drove thousands from their homes and burned whole villages and towns to the ground.
The U.S. imperialists, along with their allies in Britain, Australia and New Zealand, seized on this situation to launch another “humanitarian” imperialist intervention. Thus, the same imperialists that propped up, armed and supported the bloody regime that invaded and annexed East Timor now attempt to present themselves as the “liberators” of the island.
It is clear that the imperialist occupation of East Timor will not result in “liberation” or “self-determination.” The Indonesian government of B.J. Habibie and General Wiranto “invited” imperialist “peacekeeping” troops to occupy East Timor, while allowing a token force of 1,500 soldiers to remain. In short, it was becoming too expensive for the Jakarta regime to maintain its military hold on East Timor. Allowing an imperialist force to occupy Timor would appease the Timorese and allay the fears of the imperialists.
In the meantime, Indonesia will have a new government installed in Dili, the capital of East Timor, that is willing to cooperate with the generals and capitalists of the region. Australia is already sponsoring a “government in exile” headed by independence leader Xanana Gusmao. This new “government” has already met with Indonesian government officials in New York to work out a deal that is beneficial to both sides.
The imperialist intervention in East Timor has nothing to do with “protecting” the Timorese people from the militias. On the contrary, it is designed to strengthen the imperialist presence in the region and make the area safe for capitalism. Even the name of the current mission, “Occupation Stabilize,” reflects this outlook. The goal of imperialism in East Timor is to enforce neocolonial stability and prop up the Indonesian state in the face of economic devastation and social upheaval.
Indonesia’s bloody invasion of East Timor in 1975 was prepared by over a decade of repression and murder. The 1965 massacre of over 1 million workers, peasants and ethnic Chinese in an anti-Communist witchhunt cemented the control of Suharto and his generals. These same generals had been armed, equipped and trained by the U.S. military, and served their paymasters well. Ten years later, these same generals used this imperialist sponsorship in their occupation and annexation of East Timor.
The occupation of East Timor takes place amid seething tensions and conflicts throughout Southeast Asia. Tens of millions of Indonesian workers were driven into even deeper poverty by the ongoing Asian economic crisis — also known as the “Asian Flu.” In all of the former economic powerhouses in the region, tensions have exploded into mass struggles. In Korea, mass strikes and demonstrations have at times paralyzed the government and economy. Also, Malaysia has faced numerous protests, mostly met by military repression.
Even China, the crown jewel of the Asian economic powerhouses, has faced mass strikes and protests by workers. As the Beijing government continues to sell off unprofitable State Owned Enterprises to avoid defaulting on IMF loans and ease their entry into the World Trade Organization, workers from Shanghai to Hong Kong are becoming bolder in their opposition to the “Communist” robber barons.
The Asian economic crisis, in many ways sparked by speculators from Europe and North America, has meant not only economic destabilization in the region but also political and social instability. This has allowed the imperialists to assert their hegemony over the region in ways that were previously not possible and, in some cases, not necessary. This is especially true for the Australian bourgeoisie. Their primary role in the East Timor occupation gives them the opportunity to assert their role as a regional imperialist power. It also gives them greater control over the policing of the Straits of Malacca, the key waterway through which most of Japan’s oil is shipped.
This increased role of Australia contains its own contradictions. On the one hand, the Australian government is acting as a key ally of U.S. imperialism, which wanted to more efficiently control the region. On the other hand, this increased profile has emboldened some sections of the Australian bourgeoisie. A growing interimperialist rivalry between the U.S. and Australia is being cultivated in the forests and fields of East Timor.
The imperialist occupation of East Timor is a gun aimed at the head of combative Indonesian working class. As imperialist troops geared up for their trip to East Timor, Jakarta exploded into mass student demonstrations against a new law that would have granted sweeping powers to the military. Several protesters were killed, and dozens wounded, by police and soldiers. As the protests spread throughout the country, Habibie backed down and delayed signing the law.
But the targets of imperialism extend beyond the borders of Indonesia. Workers throughout South and Southeast Asia will feel the effects of the imperialists in East Timor. In countries like Malaysia and Thailand, economic and political tension is leading to bloody showdowns that could likely draw in imperialism in the way that Indonesia has. In China, where capitalist counterrevolution is far from completion (much less stabilization), key class battles between the workers and Beijing loom on the horizon. In the remaining deformed workers’ states of the region — Vietnam and North Korea — an increased imperialist presence will put greater pressure on the bureaucracies to “play ball.”
The economic collapse of Indonesia in October 1997 led to mass workers’ protests and actions. This amounted to a nascent people’s revolution — that is, a leaderless upheaval that topples the present government. This revolution led to the ouster of one of the world’s bloodiest dictators, Suharto. But, because of the absence of a mass, proletarian political leadership, the blossoming revolution was diffused, and Suharto’s handpicked successor (Habibie) was able to consolidate control. The granting of a few paltry democratic concessions was able to quell the stirrings of the more “liberal” wing of the Indonesian bourgeoisie and imperialism.
The only “loose end” that remained for imperialism to pave the way toward greater stability and control was the resolution of the East Timor conflict. This is why, after ignoring the problem for over 23 years, imperialism gave the nod to an Indonesian plebiscite (which blew up in their face) and UN supervision of the voting. The imperialists knew that such a vote would lead to the fighting and carnage we have seen over the last month. On many ways, they counted on it. Given the imperialists’ experience around Kosovo, they knew that it would be easier to silence opposition if their occupation of the region was couched in “humanitarian” rhetoric.
The outcry for intervention in the imperialist centers has only strengthened the chain that binds the working class to capitalism. In no other place is this truer than in Australia, where the chain extends from the far-right One Nation Party of Pauline Hanson to the trade union bureaucrats of the Australian Labour Party and the Australian Council of Trade Unions. Both the ALP and the ACTU have picked up the banner of anti-Indonesian chauvinism in their role as policemen inside the working class. Street demonstrations have included burning Indonesian flags, and have resulted in the brutal beating of Indonesian students and immigrants.
The ALP and ACTU bureaucrats, who have overseen and collaborated in many of the attacks on those they claim to represent, have wholly pledged their support to the Liberal government’s imperialist adventure. This is merely an extension of their mutual support for keeping the working class weak and disarmed at home. When the government initiated its “second wave” of union-busting legislation, over 100,000 workers struck in Melbourne to protest. Meanwhile, the ALP — the political arm of the ACTU bureaucracy — stated it was not opposed to the new laws. All they ask is that it is amended to allow Australian reservists serving in East Timor to keep their jobs.
But the syphilitic chain that binds these chauvinists together does not end with the union bureaucrats. Large sections of the so-called “revolutionary” and “Marxist” left have also enlisted in the imperialist crusade.
As we have said many times, war and revolution are acid tests for those claiming to be Marxists. A neocolonial occupation by imperialism is merely another form of warfare. It is the unconditional obligation of Marxists to oppose imperialist aggression wherever and whenever it happens — no matter what the pretense.
As in the case of Kosovo, imperialism’s shrill cries and crocodile tears over “poor little East Timor” have cowed most of the so-called “Marxists.” For these organizations, the quick succession of imperialist interventions — first in the Balkans, now in Southeast Asia — brought too much pressure to bear. Many of the larger, more well known “Marxist” organizations, including many that claimed allegiance to “Trotskyism,” have jettisoned all pretense of anti-imperialism and openly sided with the bourgeois order, albeit in a “critical” manner.
For these groups, political principles and class analysis gave way to the vision of a classless, “pure” democratism some time ago. Many of those groups, who only a decade ago denounced imperialist aggression against Iraq, Haiti and Somalia, now cheer on similar actions in Kosovo and East Timor. They denounce Marxists, who recognize that “democracy” has a class basis, as “economists” and “sects.” Meanwhile, they take their place as the left flank of the capitalist order — a place once held by Social Democracy and Stalinism. (One wonders how many of these groups, who attempt to style themselves as “Leninists” and/or “Trotskyists,” would have reacted if they were around at the outbreak of either World War.)
As opposed to these petty-bourgeois, reformist “democrats,” we proletarian Marxists of the International Workers’ Committee forthrightly and unconditionally condemn the imperialist occupation of East Timor. Counterposed to their programs, which leave capitalism untouched, we fight for proletarian internationalism and revolutionary defense of the Timorese people. First and foremost, this means the expulsion of all imperialist troops from East Timor.
The Timorese people overwhelmingly expressed their desire for independence from Indonesia in their vote last month. We support and defend East Timor’s right to self-determination, up to and including their independence. At the same time, we warn Timorese workers that imperialism is no more interested in allowing them to be independent than is the Jakarta regime. A fight for genuine self-determination and independence must be done against both imperialism and Indonesia.
Timorese workers! Do not let your struggle for independence be taken over and “guided” from Canberra or Washington. The end result would be a disaster for you and your class brothers and sisters throughout Southeast Asia.
Marxists throughout the world have an obligation to oppose the imperialists’ maneuvers in East Timor. This includes not being fooled by imperialist aggression dressed up in a “labor” cloak. Specifically, we oppose the call for “union sanctions” or a “workers’ embargo” against Indonesia. In the current situation, such calls can only be a cover for imperialist sanctions like the murderous economic embargo against Iraq, which has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children.
Imperialism’s reluctant ally in this occupation has been Indonesia itself. Fearful of the power embodied in the millions-strong Indonesian proletariat, the Jakarta regime accepted imperialist occupation of East Timor as a means to stabilize their situation. Both the Timorese people and the Indonesian working class as a whole share a common enemy in the government of B.J. Habibie. And it will take a common struggle to rid them of the murderous regime in Jakarta.
Both the past experience of the Indonesian people’s revolution and the present imperialist occupation of East Timor demonstrate the need for a revolutionary Marxist party of the proletariat in both countries. As is the case for semicolonial countries and all other countries that have experienced belated capitalist development, even the most basic democratic tasks cannot be secured under the rule of the bourgeoisie. Central to the program of Bolshevik-Leninists in Indonesia and all semicolonies is the program of the permanent and international character of the socialist revolution.
We believe that only through the rule of the working class can democratic gains like national self-determination, land reform and basic political democracy be gained and extended. Any program of socialist revolution in Indonesia and East Timor must place special emphasis on securing democratic rights for the working class. As well, the struggle for socialism cannot be limited to their respective countries, but must be seen as a part of the broader international struggle for workers’ power — particularly in imperialist centers like Japan, the U.S. and Australia.
A Marxist party of the proletariat in Indonesia and East Timor would immediately be confronted by questions of chauvinism and superoppression. Such a party would act in the interests of the most exploited and oppressed layers of society — women, ethnic Chinese and the people of Aceh, who have been fighting for independence from Indonesia since the Dutch colonialists left the region and Jakarta took over.
The International Workers’ Committee is committed to helping build Marxist parties of the proletariat in Indonesia, East Timor and all countries throughout the world. Capitalism is an international system, thus workers must fight it on an international level. Solidarity and united action between workers of all countries — cutting across all racial, national and other ethnic boundaries — is absolutely necessary if we are to forever bury capitalist barbarism.
October 7, 1999