Is Indonesia heading towards Fascism?

Hidup Biasa, translated from Kontinum

Some observations on the crisis and new terror laws.

A series of recent laws are highlighting a political trend in Indonesia. New laws on Dealing with Social Conflict and Intelligence are already ratified, and three other similar regulations are still in the pipeline: concerning National Security, Military Reserve Forces and Societal Organisations. Not only are these laws terrorising civil liberties and social movements, but they are also laying the basis for the growth of fascism in Indonesia.

The terror of ‘terrorist legislation’.

In the proposed law on societal organisations, when civil society forms groups or alliances, they are viewed as a threat to security and national politics. The proposed law would place strict controls on the growth of societal organisations, regulating both their formation and their activities. This is an attempt to restrict the freedom to organise. Under the new law, each organisation would have to be approved by the interior ministry and the law and human rights ministry, obliging them to obtain a permit to operate and make reports on their activities and the funding they receive.

If the law is approved, then all kinds of organisations, including small groups or communities, must bow down to the standard norms it establishes. This includes prohibiting activities that are considered critical or subversive, such as discussions or publications, and the censorship of written material and other information. It is also said that the state will be able to disband organisations, or declare them illegal, thus criminalising participants.

This tendency is honed further by the proposed law on Military Reserve Forces for National Defence which has an agenda of militarising civil society. Under that legislation, the state would impose five-year military service for people aged between 18-48, with the threat of prison for any who resist. Compulsory military service is claimed to be the solution to defence problems. But the fact that this would be financed by provincial governments mean that this law could also potentially reactivate territorial commandos.

Meanwhile, in the third proposed new law, this time about National Security, the scent of militarism and state repression is similarly conspicuous. The basic aim of this law is to give the military as much scope as possible to intervene in society and politics, giving them the freedom to invent their own interpretations of events and take actions accordingly in any situation which they consider to be a threat to national security. The state will have the right to abduct, arrest or spy on people, as part of their mandate to uphold the social order, and this can also include armed intervention.

In almost the same way as the existing laws on Dealing with Social Conflict and Intelligence, this proposed law is a way to legitimise the use of armed force to respond to protest actions, social struggles or any situations which state forces might construe as a risk.

Crises of Capitalism and the Weakening State.

If we look at trends in the global situation connected with symptoms of crisis within capitalism, we can see the proposal and ratification of laws such as this as signs of a developing fascism in Indonesia.

Capitalism is a system based on contradictions. These contradictions make possible the sort of crisis that could end up in the downfall of the capitalist system. However we know that history is not linear, again and again, capitalism manages to recover from crisis and destruction. When that happens it is not just by magic or through its own strength, but because capitalism always has the state to back it up. That’s the historical role of the state.

To guarantee capitalism’s continuation, the state must be strong. Even in states where neo-liberal values have taken root, they still must be able to enforce regulations and control their population in order to safeguard the circulation of capital.

In Indonesia, diverse problems such as poverty, corruption, destruction of sources of livelihood, political instability and popular struggles in various areas, indicate a state in crisis., or a crisis in the state’s capacity to guarantee the continuation of the capitalist system. A crisis for the state affects its capacity for repression and control. The result is that the state’s ability to overcome future crises of capitalism is also weakened.

In this context, fascism has a great opportunity to find fertile ground. It’s true what they say: ‘fascism is capitalism plus murder’.

If the state is not able to create order, to ensure that capitalism continues as the key structure and social relationship, then the (traditional) state needs to renew and strengthen itself by becoming a ‘fascist state’ so that it can withstand the crisis of capitalism.

When new regulations are brought out, it is no more than a crass attempt to save capitalism, using a militaristic approach to strengthening the state and build the basis for dictatorship. These regulations provide the legitimacy and legality to let it take the actions it feels it needs to.

Fascism as it is generally understood is not merely another word for militarism or violent repression. Fascism also means the state keeping all aspects of the social and economic spheres under its close control. It is characterised by a centralised authority under a dictatorship which aims to keep all social and economic interactions under close control.

Fascism also emphasizes respect and veneration of the state and sometimes accompanied by blind obedience. A fascist state adopts an orientation which focusses on war or national security, with nationalism as its foundation.

In such a way, fascism can become the solution to a state’s crisis during the transition to capital’s total domination over society. Such a crisis will never be fully overcome by a fascist state. On the contrary, a fascist state is only effective on the surface, merely keeping the economy in order so that riots don’t break out that could have a destabilising effect, for example.

Is Indonesia heading for fascism?

In 2003, political expert Laurence W Bitt wrote a magazine article entitled “Fascism Anyone?”. The article outlined at least 14 characteristics of fascism, based on conclusions from comparing of Hitler n Germany, Mussolini in Italy, Franco in Spain, Salazar in Portugal, Papadopoulos in Greece, Pinochet in Chile and Suharto in Indonesia.

Amongst these characteristics of fascism were: the ever-burning flame of nationalist sentiment, violations of human rights, the scapegoating of common enemies with labels such as terrorists, communists, separatists etc., military supremacy, an obsession with security and defence, partnerships between ruling elites and religious elites, protection of corporate power, repression of workers’ movements, rampant corruption and cronyism, and attacks on intellectual freedom and freedom of expression.

If we look at current trends in Indonesia, such characteristics can be seen to be rapidly on the rise once again.

We can clearly see the tendency in government policy which is increasingly orientated towards developing defence and military infrastructure. One indicator is the defence budget which increases each year (67 trillion Rupiah in 2011, 77 trillion in 2012). Talk of renewal primary defence systems equipment s also being mainstreamed, and several new laws steeped in militarism and national security are being ratified, such as the law on Societal Conflict and the Intelligence law.

The worsening situation in Papua and in several other areas is also an indication. Especially as this provides the basis for grubbing up nationalist and warmongering sentiment. Moreover it is a chance to exploit tendencies that exist within society, of intolerance towards perceived differences. Patriotic and sectarian movements also emerge, together with psychological feelings of nostalgia for the majority as they face up to a changing society, and these subjective factors can have a decisive effect.

The possibility for fascism in Indonesia is still wide open, bearing in mind that ever since the reformations of 1998, this ‘democratic nation’ has been unable to deliver stability, as shown by the popular struggles that have emerged across its territory. As this has not been beneficial for investment and the economy, so it calls out for a response to rescue capitalism – by strengthening the power of the state.

The implementation of the new and proposed laws, such as those described above, is not the deciding factor of whether or not a state will become fascist. However, laws such as these do give a legal grounding that legitimises the repressive actions of the state or other civil groups. This can then prepare the ground on upon which fascism can grow. That is what we must be alert to and resist.

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