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Suharto: "One of the 20th century's biggest killers and greatest thieves"
THE STATE funeral of Indonesia's ex-dictator, General Suharto, took place on 28 January as Asian stock markets began to slide once more. At the time of the last Asian crisis ten years ago, he was forced from office by a mass movement.
Clare Doyle, Committee for a Workers' International
"One of the 20th century's biggest killers and greatest thieves" is how the Daily Telegraph described him. His death should have been marked by a public recital of all his crimes. Instead, the current prime minister, Yudhoyono, announced seven days of public mourning.
Suharto, with the full backing of the capitalist world, waded to power through rivers of blood in 1965-66. On the pretext of crushing a communist plot, more than a million people were slaughtered and the whole population was held in fear of their lives for over 30 years.
The communist party at the time was three-and-a-half million strong - the third largest after China and the USSR. There was real capitalist fear of a Cuba or a China and, along with Vietnam, the idea of a major Asian country setting off a domino collapse of capitalism in the whole region.
The veteran Australian author and broadcaster, John Pilger, explains that it was none other than the US embassy in Jakarta that supplied Suharto in 1965 with a "zap list" of Indonesian Communist Party members.
Pilger explains: "Indonesia under Suharto would offer up what US president Richard Nixon called 'the richest hoard of natural resources, the greatest prize in South East Asia'"
Thirty years later, with the genocide in East Timor, carried out with British-supplied aircraft and machine guns, Margaret Thatcher described Suharto as "one of our best and most valuable friends" and the World Bank described the Suharto dictatorship as a "model pupil".
Indonesia received the biggest bail-out loans from the IMF at the time of the Asian crisis of 1997-98. But nothing could save the rotten Suharto dictatorship once the mass movement had gathered its unstoppable force.
The decades of considerable, though not spectacular, economic growth were achieved on the backs of the super-exploited Indonesian working class, banned from organising their own unions or parties and deprived of the right to strike or protest publicly.
The Indonesian regime also had the good fortune of rising world prices for the country's oil. None of the benefits reached the majority of the population.
Meanwhile, General Suharto and his brood were plundering state assets to record-breaking levels. Suharto himself is said to have amassed at least €35 billion. Yet he has never been successfully tried for these crimes.
The plundering of every branch of the economy by all of his six children has also gone virtually unpunished. One son, Tommy Suharto, was successfully prosecuted, only to then be acquitted and go free.
In spite of the high hopes of the activists who fought heroically against the Suharto regime, the record of the governments which have succeeded him does not augur well for the people of Indonesia to get either social or economic justice.
With a different policy, the massive Indonesian Communist Party - basing itself on the growing working class and with policies to end capitalism and landlordism as well as imperialism - could have led a successful struggle for power long before the crisis of the 1960s.
The fatal mistake of the Communist Party, following the Maoist 'two stages' theory of revolution, had been to submerge its forces in an alliance with the capitalist nationalist 'founder of the nation', Sukarno. The idea was to build up Indonesian capitalism before fighting for socialism.
However, the crises in society could not be solved by a weak capitalist class and the military was able to use its power to move in and impose its brutal methods of rule.
The harsh lessons of the past need now to be drawn by a new generation of youth and workers who will be forced into struggle by the crises to come.
The mass demonstrations which brought an end to Suharto's dictatorship were made up predominantly of students who risked their lives in the fight against corruption, nepotism and military rule. They were supported by the millions-strong working class.
Suharto must have known the game was up when the army began to crack. The scenes of young women in headscarves calmly placing flowers in the barrels of the soldiers' guns will remain in the memory of all who saw them.
A full version of this article, plus more material on Indonesia, is available on www.socialistworld.net A pamphlet on the rise and fall of the Indonesian Communist Party can be purchased online for £1.50.
In The Socialist 30 January 2008:
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Debt and Housing Feature
Marxist analysis: history
Socialist Party workplace news