Tue, 18 Apr 2000

Clamor about Marxism

As could have been expected, President Abdurrahman Wahid's proposal to rescind a decree issued by the (then provisional) People's Consultative Assembly (MPRS) in 1996 to ban the dissemination of Marxism-Leninism, as well as the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), has caused a good deal of controversy. That none of the many controversial issues the President has so far tackled have come under so much fire from so many quarters of Indonesian society is understandable.

For more than 33 years -- that is, ever since the rise and consolidation of the military-dominated New Order regime in 1966 -- communism, and hence the Marxist-Leninist doctrine, has been held responsible for every possible evil that has plagued Indonesian society in the past, from atheism to social frictions arising from class antagonisms in the community.

During all those years, not only have communism, Marxism and Leninism been touted as being among the most dangerous of ideologies that any God-fearing society or individual could face, it was -- and to a certain measure still is -- one of the most effective weapons someone could use to effectively destroy an opponent.

The banning by the New Order of PRD, the Democratic People's Party, in 1996 is a good illustration of how those in power at that time used communism, Marxism and Leninism to try to ruin a political opponent. That many academics and nationalist politicians of this country's early independence movement regarded Marxism as a clever intellectual exercise was a point which the New Order authorities chose to ignore.

It is not surprising, either, that those who at present are against the repeal of what is formally known as the MPRS Decree no.25/1966, see Abdurrahman's move as ill-advised, irresponsible and even shortsighted. Many or most, or in any case the most outspoken in this camp, are leaders and activists of Islamic parties and organizations. After all, during the bloody upheavals that broke out in the wake of the aborted 1965 coup d'etat, Muslim activists of all sects and persuasions were in the forefront fighting the "atheists" in a battle of ideas in which hundreds of thousands of lives, Muslim and nationalist as well as Communist, were lost.

Given such a background, current moves to take the President to account in the upcoming August session of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) -- or even in a speeded up special session of the assembly -- must be seen as a natural outflow of past historical events. Even so, a number of important facts should be considered.

The tide of criticism notwithstanding, quite a number of analysts and observers believe certain points deserve to be considered as far as the ban on communism, Marxism and Leninism is concerned. While most appear to agree that even in a true democracy it is justified to ban political parties and organization that clearly pose a danger to democracy itself, to ban an ideology is a different thing altogether.

In the first place, it is impossible to ban an idea. Secondly, as President Abdurrahman Wahid has correctly pointed out, the Indonesian Constitution guarantees freedom of thought. From this point of view, the President has so far done nothing wrong with regard to the Constitution. It would be difficult on those grounds to impeach him from merely proposing that MPRS Decree No.25/1969 be revoked.

Making too much of a clamor over the issue could send a wrong signal to the business world and would-be investors. Rather than indulging in blind emotional outbursts, it would be much more helpful to start a meaningful, level-headed, public debate about the matter. In that way our government leaders and legislators could arrive at a better sense of what needs to be done. For certain, it is time that the grave injustices that have for decades been done to thousands of innocent relatives and descendants of those accused of involvement in the 1965 coup be undone.