Nov 22, 2017 Last Updated 3:54 AM, Nov 13, 2017

Political engagement

Inside Indonesia must go beyond sympathetic reporting and now engage politically with the struggle against neo-liberalism and militarism.

Max Lane

Inside Indonesia has survived 20 years. I think the resilience of Inside Indonesia does point to a very positive process in Australia, one that has helped ensure the magazine’s survival. The number of young people who have had exposure to Indonesia and who have been directed to issues of social justice, democracy, gender and the environment through the education system has steadily increased during the 1990s. They have increasingly contributed to Inside Indonesia. This is an important achievement by Indonesianist academics in an otherwise difficult environment of university budget cuts. The program of sending Australian students to study in Indonesia, where some of them have been introduced to the progressive side of Indonesia has been a very positive process. It is this process also that has helped foster the growing number of progressive minded people interested in the arts and culture of Indonesia, especially dissident art.

So now there is a real challenge, a challenge made all the more urgent by the crisis so vividly outlined in Indonesian contributions in this issue of Inside Indonesia. Will this new, larger pool of talent and capacity contribute to the Indonesian peoples struggle to change their society? In the so-called era of globalisation, where what happens to the Indonesian people is also being determined by decisions in Western capitals, such a direct political engagement seems all the more necessary.

As founding editor of Inside Indonesia, I remember speaking to very many meetings in 1983 trying to convince people that the magazine was needed. I would explain that there was a need to publish a magazine that could counter the equal sign between ‘Suharto military dictatorship’ and ‘Indonesia’ — an equation that existed in the minds of much of the Australian public.

Countering this equation was to be done by reporting the movement in opposition to this dictatorship and its reflection in various fields. This was a way of saying: look, don’t think Suharto represents Indonesia. This was especially important in an era when the Australian and other Western defenders of the dictatorship were propagating the idea that there were separate ‘Asian’ values from ‘European’ values. These, they said, reflected the outlooks and practices of people like Suharto. Inside Indonesia showed another set of values active in Indonesia: democracy, resistance, struggle and solidarity. Europe and North America may have produced some of the ideas of both liberal and socialist democracy, but it also produced Nazism, General Franco, the Greek Generals, Joe McCarthy and George W Bush. Indonesia is no different in this respect.

Initially, in the 1980s, Inside Indonesia campaigned, with an exclamation mark, to spread the views and activities of those fighting Suharto. That was its particular form of engagement. Today, I think, we need a new form of campaigning. Inside Indonesia can be part of the campaign to find a solution, an answer to the crisis of survival faced by Indonesian society. Indonesians will be the ones to find this solution; just as it was Indonesians who rid their country of Suharto. But globalisation, and the IMF-Jakarta elite-driven integration of Indonesia into a neo-liberal globalised world means that the struggle for a counter-strategy to neo-liberalism and militarism is an international task.

Such a political engagement and active solidarity in the intellectual arena of ‘Indonesian studies’, affects priorities: what needs most to be studied, reported and analysed from the point of view ensuring the movement for change succeeds. There are so many things that can be interesting, but what needs study and analysis now in light of the state of the struggle for change?

I think that there is no doubt that Inside Indonesia is read less in Indonesia today than in the 1980s. Part of the reason is, perhaps that the internet as well as more freedom means that the information and views to be found in Inside can be more easily found in Indonesia today than in the 1980s. I don’t really think that is true. People who had access to Inside in the 1980s were also readers of the myriads of pamphlets, bulletins and newsletters of that period. It was not just information, but rather it was the open partisanship, that attracted people. Inside was part of the movement and was seen as such.

Today, Inside needs to be integrated into a new campaign — a campaign to get out of the neo-liberal, debt and dependency trap. It already is part of this campaign — but only marginally. Most articles are about one or another aspect of the injustices faced in Indonesia. There needs to be more engagement with the debate in Indonesia around these questions: debates which question everything, even the role of NGOs themselves.

If Inside could link up more directly with the growing efforts to achieve real political change, it will become an integral part of the spearhead for change; then it really will be read inside and out (of Indonesia).

The question is, therefore, how to do this, how to achieve an engagement with the struggle for change. There are a number of issues, I think. The first is how to have more Indonesian originated material in Inside from right across the spectrum of those fighting against neo-liberal dependence and militarism. We need a comprehensive inventory of all the struggle groups and NGOs, an inventory of their publications, a process of selection and translation. We need to bring this material, including the debates within the movement, to the Inside readership, and provoke an interchange of ideas.

Observing and commenting, even from the perspective of sympathy with issues of social justice, will not be enough in the coming period. Worsening conditions in Indonesia will produce deeper crisis, more struggle, more confrontation: both more genuine alliances against Western exploitation as well as more irrational forms of opposition.

This engagement needs to be a conscious project and not simply reflect the individual interests of Australian based researchers, observers, students and others. We need to ask: what are the actual real debates and discussions within the movement in Indonesia today; what are the debates central to the struggle for a solution. Then we can also ask: how do we engage; how does Inside relate; what can we do here in Australia; how does Australia, part of the ‘West’ and the ‘First World’ relate to Indonesia part of the ‘East’, the ‘South’ and the ‘Third World’. How is the Australian elite conducting its exploitation?

We need a big gathering of activists from across the spectrum of those opposed to the neo-liberal and militarist agenda to connect supporters of Inside here in Australia with the movement in Indonesia, in its full breadth and dynamism.

Max Lane (max_lane@bigpond.com) is founding editor of Inside Indonesia and a Research Fellow at the Asia Research Centre, Murdoch University.

Inside Indonesia 76: Oct - Dec 2003

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