Text and Photographs by Kuan-Hsing Chen
Translated by Duncan Campbell
Having departed home on 4 August and travelled from Surabaya to Garut and Bandung, I now find myself, on 16 August, sitting in the Ibis Hotel in Jakarta’s Central District. In several hours, I’m to return to Taiwan. Initially, I had been concerned lest this ten or so day tour might prove too taxing for me, as the older I grow the less adaptable I seem to have become, and the long days had indeed been arduous ones. But I had been able to persist with the tour, and perhaps by virtue of the fact that the enjoyment afforded me by it served to dissipate its exertions, I was able both to personally experience the fervour of the present moment in the Indonesian people’s movement, and then return from the tour as if fully-laden and completely recharged.
At the conclusion of the roundtable discussion of the 6oth Anniversary of the Bandung Conference that was held as part of the biannual meeting of the Inter-Asia Cultural Studies Society in Surabaya on the 10 August, ten of us (including, from Kingston Jamaica (Jahlani Niaah), Bengaluru (Ashish Rajadhyasha), Seoul (Paik Wondam), Tokyo (Ikegami Yoshihiko), Naha (Wakabayashi Chiyo), Taipei (Chen Ying-en), Beijing (Guo Jia), Hsinchu (Lin Shu-fen), Jakarta (Nila Ayu Utami) and so on), set off together to travel to the Bandung district, all the arrangements for our trip having been made by my old friend Hilmar Farid and his lifetime colleague Noer Rachman (Oji), the rural social movements theorist and activist. The tour had been in preparation for some considerable time, in the hope that coinciding it with the Surabaya meeting, we might serve both to promote the variety of activities throughout Asia designed to mark the 60th Anniversary of the Bandung Conference and the Third World, and to further investigate the contemporary significance of the term “Third World”. What new possibilities might a return to Bandung inspire had been the initial thinking that had arisen during a rushed preparatory meeting held in Singapore half a year earlier, the details having been left completely in the hands of locally-based friends? In such open-ended circumstances, it was only once we had all but completed our tour that slowly its overall contours revealed themselves to us.
Around 10:00am, once we had collected our luggage at Bandung Airport, Oji, who had come to greet us, divided us up and had us board three or four somewhat aged large canopied jeeps, calling to memory thoughts of World War Two, this first and unanticipated arrangement serving immediately to liven us up, for it seemed that we were about to set off on a somewhat intrepid journey.
As we drove, Oji, who had been born in Bandung, told us that in the last decade or so its population had increased rapidly, and that from a city of around several tens of thousands it had now grown to be one of over two million people. Large numbers of tourists now flooded into the city, and in the weekends, it had become a recreation destination for the denizens of Singapore, Malaysia, and the capital Jakarta. At the same time and hinting at what we were soon to comprehend, he told us that with each passing minute in Indonesia, yet another peasant disappeared.
In a rest area before joining the expressway, members of our party introduced themselves to each other, each of us taking turns to introduce to the others someone with whom we were already acquainted. Besides Oji and Hilmar, we were also joined by a number of locals: Yufik (Yuslam Fikri Anshari, a prize winner at the 2007 Yamagata Film Festival in Japan), a long-time documentary maker for the movement who would be responsible for recording the tour; Mirwan Andan, a most active member of cultural circles; a third-year engineering student Tito (Tirta Wening Rachman, who would undertake the onerous task of interpretation); and Steni (Stenisia Steny), Executive Secretary of the Film Association, who would be responsible for all our living arrangements. Those in charge told us what would be in store for us for the next four days, and that on this first day we would be heading to Garut Regency, about two hours drive away from Bandung, to visit a peasant movement organisation and a village.
An hour into that trip, after we had exited from the expressway, we were travelling along a busy two-laned highway, lined on both sides with extensive agricultural sections, this working highway playing an important interconnecting role, and making us aware of the close relationship here between town and country. Shortly after noon, we arrived at the secretariat of the Peasant Union (Serikat Petani Pasundan, SPP) of Garut Regency, situated at the side of the road, and housed in two one storied buildings set within a compound, to be met by Yani (Yani Andre), a fifteen-year veteran of the organisation. Her years of service had given her an approachable manner and boundless optimism, and once she had asked her younger cadres to give us a brief report on their work, she invited us all to find a place to sit on the floor and join them for a simple meal.
Our meeting place was not restricted to the SSP secretariat, for it also served as the Cadre Study Centre, whilst the dormitory for the resident cadres was out the back. Most of the young organisers (including Yani herself) had graduated from the village primary and middle schools set up by the Peasant Union, those with leadership potential having been taken into the organisation in order to undertake further study, focusing on learning knowledge useful to the purposes of the Peasant Union, such as agricultural economics, law, sociology, political sciences, and so on. So it was that our first encounters were with workers at the grassroots level, for the secretariat was also a trainee centre that served gradually to induct cadres into the work of the union at different levels.
Around 3:00pm that afternoon, we set off from the secretariat to visit another focus for the activity of the members of the union: a village called Sukamukti in the Cilawu district of Garut Regency. Along the way, Oji provided a brief and chronological account of the work of the union in this area. Schools started to be established from around 2000, in order first, to avoid long daily commutes on the part of the children of the villages, and, second, to bind the union into a closer and more intimate relationship with day-to-day village realities. Local committees set up in various villages were responsible for raising the necessary funds, allocating the appropriate space, and dealing with the issues of land usage. Thirteen primary or middle schools had already been established, enrolling, in that first year, around 40-50 students. This number of new enrolments had later fallen to around 25 students, with, this year, a total of two hundred students overall. Apart from the teaching content officially stipulated, flexible adjustments are made in order to provide for the particular circumstances of each village and the need to ensure the continued rebirth of the organisation itself; one such focus for teaching activity is the endeavour to inculcate a sense of confidence in the minds of the youth of villages, this serving to ensure in turn that their efforts here are more greatly rewarded than is the case elsewhere. Those teachers living in the villages have become an important bridge between the union and the villagers.
Around 3:30pm, when we arrived at the village middle school, we found that the core members of the Peasant Union were already awaiting our arrival. The warmth of their welcome was an expression of their reliance upon and trust of, Oji and Yani and their colleagues. Again we all sat upon mats, as members of the union introduced us to their village, and the younger villagers competed with each other to give us all Indonesian names, the friendly and most adroit Ulema (the name means “one learned in Islam”), in tandem with the leadership of the village, explaining authoritatively the meaning of each of the names allocated us. The female students also in attendance, too, briefly introduced themselves, revealing the extent of both their hopes to study hard and to continue to further the purposes of the movement, and the closeness of their relationship with their teachers; it was obvious that these teachers offered their students much more life instruction than was available from textbooks. Our discussions were cut short by the passage of time and the imminent arrival of the dusk.
4:30pm or so, our group was split into four, and were led separately to nearby fields, where we listened to brief on-site introductions. Standing in an expansive mountain forest, we were told by a participant in the Peasant Union struggle that much of this land had been used for agricultural purposes as early as the colonial period, but that after Merdeka, land ownership had reverted to the state, and that later, as a result of corruption and the division of the spoils of power, the land had been transferred into the ownership of plantation companies. Under authoritarian rule, arable land available to neighbouring villagers was very limited and in circumstances under which their livelihoods were severely constrained, the peasants had suffered in silence. Once Suharto had been overthrown in the late 1990s, however, the Peasant Union had slowly managed to mobilise the peasants and, under the provisions of the constitution whereby unused land can be made over to possible users of that land, occupant-used land was now about 35 hectares which, after research-based planning, was used collectively for economic cropping. Those crops that we saw growing included coffee, maize, tobacco, and Evening Primrose (the oil of which is used in cosmetics and so on), and what was of especial interest was the fact that all these crops were growing together at the same time. Because land ownership now resided with the peasants, conflict between them and both the plantation companies and the government was a constant reality, and the close and emotional association between peasant and union had been forged in course of this struggle. In this process, the burden shouldered by the women was considerable, for they had not only undertaken agricultural and organisational work (especially in connection with the co-operative association), but they had needed also to attend to the household chores, both large and small (in the course of our visit we observed how they would tease the younger men into doing more of the housework); it seemed as if the progress of the movement had also served to raise the status of women in this particular Islamic society. The Peasant Union not only organised a co-operative association which both smashed the monopoly of the middle-men merchants and ensured better supply to the peasant, but at the same time had created increased employment opportunities that would encourage the youth of the village to remain at home. The Peasant Union had opened a branch office in the village to promote the work of the union, and gradually had set up the school, and through the influence of union members in the local government, the union had been granted official educational registration, with their educational activities having been widely welcomed by the villagers, and thus strengthening the legitimacy of the union’s existence.
As the light of the day disappeared, we passed through two villages on our return journey, and we visitors could not avoid being moved by the apparent exuberant life that we observed. The faces of the children, the young people, even the middle-aged and elderly gathered together to gossip, were vibrant and full of good humour; the architectural style of the houses had a simple beauty, each house with its own individual character, with hardly any sign of ruin or dilapidation anywhere to be seen. The environment was neat and tidy, and everywhere there was evidence of sustainable material sufficiency. In concert with the beauty of the last rays of the setting sun, the scene struck one as picture-perfect, a latter-day Peach Blossom Paradise. Of course, this is to over-idealise the result of a twenty-year-long struggle on the part of the people’s movement, and yet, at the same time, one might imagine that without this collective effort and struggle, these three villages could well match the stereotype of villages elsewhere: the loss of population, leaving behind just the very old and the very young, poor living conditions, villages sunken into a downward trajectory. And yet, how long can this result of the “class struggle” over land use and occupation endure? Can the movement for occupier-use of agricultural land continue to expand and grow? These are the on-going dilemmas faced by the villagers and the organisation together.
On the way back to the wooden classroom building that we had gathered in earlier, we passed by the Peasant Union’s village office, and as we did so several middle-aged women warmly invited us in for a visit. They had prepared some simple snacks: beautifully sweet boiled peanuts, prawn crackers, green vegetables, rice. On the whiteboard was listed the names of all the villagers, their land allocation, and their production type; obviously, within the village, the Peasant Union played the role of allocation and mediation. One guesses that the issue of how to ensure a system of fair allocation of every aspect (land, income and so on) is no simple matter.
After a short rest at the school, dinner was slowly brought out, the menu for which was healthy fine dining: fried tofu, pan-fired fish, large cucumbers, stir-fried greens, lettuce, and rice, along with the inevitable prawn crackers. I love eating large lettuces, and these ones I discovered where large enough to wrap my entire meal in, including the rice. Much of what we were offered to eat (and drink) had been grown by the villagers themselves, including the coffee that followed the meal (thinking back over this, our several meals in the village constitute a most happy memory of our tour). Oji announced: “Simplicity is the essence of everything”, a truth that applies not just to everyday life, but also to the workings of the village school.
At 7:30pm that evening, the next round of meeting and discussion began, including the showing of a 2003 documentary made by the Peasant Union, a film completed in 2007 by Yufik, both of which returned us to the past. Many of those featured in the film were present for the viewing, and whenever one or other of them would appear on scene, everyone would get very excited; to those watching, it was as if they now found themselves sitting amongst movie stars. At the time, one reasoning behind the content of the films was an attempt to bring people together, to reduce the differences between villagers of different generations, and the musical theme of the second film, in particular, sought to make a connection with the older generation by this means, and to establish a commonality of view. When the school was established in the village, it was the realisation of the peasant’s shared dream, the students entering the school on the basis of the “work/study” mode whereby they would both study and work the surrounding fields. Ince, once a singer who had become their teacher, told us how he had sought to overcome and eradicate the gap that existed between the teachers and the students. The livelihoods of the villagers had slowly improved, the material conditions of the village had been enhanced, people had greater opportunities to go to Mecca on the haj, and now thought was being given to the establishment of a clinic to care for the neighbouring peasants. During our conversations, we observed both that many of the earlier generation of students had returned to the village after eventually having completed their studies, themselves in turn to take up the tasks of the movement, and, even more powerful an impression, the extent to which religion had played a positive role in this process; Ulema, young and bright, was the village leader, and had become a vital member of the Peasant Union, whilst at the same time he was a member of the Ulema, introducing to that organisation different ways of thinking and persuading the religious authorities to accept the positive role of the Peasant Union.
In a private conversation later on, Oji also revealed that the senior Islamic leadership had only gradually been persuaded that Muslims in the cities had lost their roots and that Islamic society and the popular grassroots in the villages should therefore give positive support to the peasant movement as the sole means of improving the livelihoods of the peasants.
That evening, we were all allocated billets with a number of different Peasant Union members. By reason of issues of language accompanied by Tito serving as translator, two villagers led us off to the house of an important family. A two-story building stood in a courtyard, surrounded by a low wall. My host, apparently summoned from his deep slumbers, sat politely in his sitting room receiving his somewhat uninvited guests, offering us a cup of tea. Tito told us that this man and his family were rather well off and had, all along, been very supportive of the work of the Peasant Union, frequently conversing with the peasants for some time, and inviting them to his house to rest. I was taken upstairs to a guest room and, having used the bathroom on the ground floor, bid my host good night, falling almost immediately asleep after a full day’s journey.
Dawn the next day, 11 August, at around 4:00am, the village loudspeakers started broadcasting verses from the Qur’an; seemingly for the purpose of arousing the villagers so that they would recite their prayers, this proved an occasion for me to experience the extent of Islamic influence in the everyday lives of Indonesians. I’d had similar experiences before, in Dhaka, the South Asian capital of Bangladesh, in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, and in Dakar, the capital of the West African nation of Senegal. But on this occasion, the impression on me was more profound. For anyone who lives in North-east Asia, this degree of religious influence in social organisations is one only rarely experienced.
As the sky slowly lightened up and after we had done our ablutions, we took our leave of our hostess, herself long out of her bed, but the memories of our stay would linger with us. Along the road, the kindly villagers waved at us, and, as our path happened to go past Ulema’s house, he was kind enough to point out the direction of the school to us. The types of organic relationships produced in livelihoods, social organisations, scholarship, politics, and economic production within everyday Islamic society, these would be the lessons we were now to study.
Last night it had been announced that we would all meet up again at 7:00am; we were running a bit late, it seemed, and the students appeared shy and reluctant to go into the classrooms, but rather stood around outside chatting, their usual space having been occupied by us outsiders. I guess that today’s 7:30am start to classes was somewhat later than was usual for them. The male and female students gradually filed into the classroom, where they sat themselves down on mats around a wooden trestle table, whereupon, in his morning talk, their mentor, Ince, sought to hearten them, encouraging them to study hard, for the sake of their families, their fellow villagers, for the continued consolidation of the movement; the extent to which the Peasant Union school served as an important link in the chain whereby the movement constantly renewed itself was very obvious. In the hour that followed, we outsiders from beyond Garut and engaged in a light-hearted dialogue and exchange of ideas with the students. The easy facility with children on the part of the Jamaica-born Jahlani exceeded all our expectations; she even set them some homework—to find out where on a map one could find the Caribbean Sea. The students’ confidence when engaging with foreign guests, their relaxed air, and their commitment towards the movement, all left us with very powerful impressions. Once the dialogue was over, the students gave each of us a gift: two small yellow metal coffee cups. The smallness of the cups belied the weight of their emotional freight, for these souvenirs, once they had made it home with us, will forever remind us of all that we experienced in the village.
At 9:00am we enjoyed breakfast in the next-door open-plan and wall-less wooden classroom, before bidding goodbye to the students, their teachers, and our village friends. Then, once again, we leapt in to the canopied jeeps and set off across undulating hills and through plantations. When we reached a hilltop farm, people of various ages from the movement talked to us about their experience of the struggle with the police, the military, and security personnel. One young woman worker, speaking with directness and indignation, spoke about her trajectory from the school to the movement. As it happened, a middle-aged woman working in the fields nearby joined in the conversation; in statue and in spirit, she was by all appearances a powerful figure, and she, for her part, told us that during the stand-off the arrival of the women on the scene had scared off the hapless military police. Another bystander at the time told us that this woman’s courage had already become the talk of the village. The woman herself, embarrassed by the conversation, continued to wave her arms about in protest.
Our group then departed from Sukamukti and its surrounding villages and plantations, and by noon we had returned to the secretariat of the Peasant Union in Garut. Alumni of the school, both university graduates and cadres who were still undertaking study programs, had all gathered and were waiting for us. Briefly, each of them spoke to us about their educational specialties, these including Education, Critical Law, Agricultural Economics, Sociology and so on. A number of them had already graduated and become, at different levels, members of the Committee of the Peasant Union, working particularly on strengthening the union movement. Others had become teachers in the Peasant Union schools, others again, based at the schools, had established adult technology classes. All, alike, had been through a Peasant Union school, and again we had an opportunity to appreciate the extent to which these schools were the critical crucible for nourishing the cadres of the Peasant Union.
After a short rest once we had finished our lunch, we embarked upon a relatively formal discussion, with Oji providing us with a systematic account of the development of the movement, focusing particularly on the struggle in West Java. The anti-communist massacre of 1965 (involving the slaughter of between 500,000 to one million people, the actual figures remaining to this day a matter of considerable contention) wiped out the leftist forces and established the conditions for the uncontested development of Indonesian capitalism. The monopolistic power structures of the colonial period transformed land into a commercialised tool of capital, with proportions of the land taken over by companies and financial groups, such as mining interests, and gradually agricultural production, once designed to sustain peasant livelihoods, became targeted at capital accumulation. In this process, the peasants had become reorganised into the Green Revolution. During the course of this period of high-pressure rule, there had been no movement organisation, only intermittent and spontaneous resistance to the powers that were. From 1985 onwards, the student movement “went down” into the countryside, in the attempt to seize back the land and to establish an underground organisation. In 1995, they raised the demand for the reform of the agricultural sector, and set up a youth and student forum. With the fall of Suharto in 1998, the movement’s time had arrived. Between 1998-2000, the Peasant Union was established, forming a united association out of all the various formal and informal organisations then in existence. In 2001, the demand for self-management was voiced, thus ensuring a sovereign and mutual-aid space for the peasants, and the first mobilisation on the part of the Peasant Union resulted in a demonstration of over 10,000 people, clashing with the system. The organisational elements of the Peasant Union comprised, mainly, village leaders, with strong roots in village life, their authority derived from the most grassroots level. For the past almost twenty years, the movement has had the energy and significance that has allowed it to continue to resist official control, and positively to promote land reform, whilst the collective aim of those involved in the movement has ensured that, in the process of governmental change and policy determination, united and collective action has managed to change the world. Concrete achievements are seen in the extent to which, gradually, the land seized back after capital had taken over the plantations has been transformed into peasant-led and peasant farmed land that sustains 14,000 peasant families, to the vast improvement of their livelihoods. By means of cooperative movements at all levels, the movement has been able to grasp transformational junctures, and, working with relevant friendly forces, to take the opportunity to occupy government positions at both the local and other levels, even to the extent of becoming agricultural advisors and so on to the central government, generating at all levels mutually reinforcing power. Because of these successes and the establishment of popular trust, the membership card issued by the Peasant Union plays an important role at the local level, even the police taking notice of it. A critical factor in this dynamic is the extent to which action at every level is co-ordinated and reinforced, with each level supplying the needs of the other, and both formal and informal channels of communication being brought into play, with scholars altering policy through their role as advisors, for instance, and participating in government actions, whilst at the same time retaining their links with the grassroots, and engaging with the real demands of the Peasant Union. The schools and study units serve the function of a supplementary structure, one that helps play a role in reproducing workers with similar ideology and specialised study. Only once such links in the chain are established, Oji argued, can they continue to make history under negative conditions. In order for the movement to be self-sustaining, knowledge renewal is vital, and the publication of theoretical and analytical books, and the production of simple and practical handbooks (such as, for instance, the small pamphlet Reform agri aria), were an important component for the reproduction of the organisation. The establishment of co-operative associations were a means of achieving economic autonomy; at the same time, they needed to maintain friendly and supportive relationships with the various political parties. Most importantly, in present circumstances, the movement needed to illustrate the excellent long-term prospects for the peasant, so that people could return to the village as a means towards liberation, whilst striving to maintain also the confidence of the family and friends of the peasants.
Oji summed up his talk by saying that although Indonesia had been independent for 70 years (Merdeka day is 17th August), the road toward genuine independence and autonomy was still a long one; how to sustain the capacity of the peasant movement generated over the course of the past fifteen to twenty years was in itself something of a conundrum. As an intellectual, he needed, he said, to ensure that his every thought and action embodied the positive legitimacy of the movement, that the two continue to support and nurture each other.
Oji’s talk was followed by an hour-long discussion, in dialogue with the younger members of the organisation, and the leadership of the movement, with the general-secretary of the Peasant Union, Agustiana, also taking part under a scorching sun and amidst much excitement. During course of the discussion, it became obvious that the younger generation of the movement were extremely vague about Bandung (and its spirit), the commemoration of the meeting’s 60th anniversary having already become simply a function of officialdom.
Once the discussion had wrapped up, the general-secretary invited us all to proceed to the nearby hot springs, so that we could experience the unique Indonesian custom of bathing, whereby the swimming pool serves as a large bathtub. Our hot pool bath serve to sough off all our accumulated weariness and sweat, and at around 5:00pm, our entire group bid goodbye to our Garut friends and headed off towards Bandung. Our journey proved a fast one, and the volume of traffic, too, was heavy. Our short day-and-a-half visit had left us with rich experiences, such that were hard to digest immediately; the manner of life at every level in the village, the formation of an organic organisational relationship between that way of life and the Peasant Union and so on, all these things had, to a greater or lesser extent, made quite an impact on us. A particular light had been shone on the alternative possibilities of the village under present global circumstances, one that required of us further study and consultation. Circumstances were different in different places, of course, and the variations in the arc of history are great, such that what we had seen here would be hard to reproduce elsewhere.
Two hours later, we arrived at our destination, and booked into the Ibis Hotel opposite the Museum Konferensi Asia Afrika/Historical Museum of Bandung. After a simple dinner at one of the roadside stalls nearby, we rested up for the night.
Around 8:00am on 12 August, we gathered together. I had been up since 6:00am, and had walked around the neighbourhood for about an hour. Although the hour was early, because we were in the central business district, and there was little evidence of mass rapid transport facilities, on all four sides one was surrounded by an endless stream of private cars and motorcycles, and it was difficult to escape the pollution and the noise, this serving as a stark contrast with the quiet tranquillity of the mornings in the Garut villages that we had just been visiting. The asymmetries of the housing around us were glaringly obvious; the rich lived cheek by jowl with the poor. Having thus thoughtlessly stumbled into the midst of a crowded and narrow townsfolk living space, we were however the greeted with smiles by the locals, the people we encountered displaying no sign whatsoever of resentment at our intrusion into their lives. The traditional marketplace is the centre of the citizens life, and so, like other places throughout Asia, here was concentrated sellers of vegetables, fruit, fish, meat, groceries, and snacks, all arranged according to category of product for sale, with older customers having established shared relationships with certain shop keepers, the bargaining that was going on being both ceremonial and a reinforcement of those relationships. Stall holders preparing their stalls along the road, and those stalls on wheelbarrows moving to and fro, formed the main scene of the town centre, as if this was the most important way of making a living. Throughout Northeast Asia, this sort of flexible space and pattern of livelihood has all but disappeared, and even where it does still exist, it is only possible on the basis of permits granted. Here, it seems, people still have room to breath.
The 1955 Bandung Conference had left some physical traces, apart from the museum; a large marble stone at the entrance to the central square was engraved in bold with the words: Asia Afrika. And the April commemoration of the conference’s 60th anniversary, not long finished, meant that the town was still festooned with posters promoting: “South-South Cooperation”, these posters forcing themselves into our consciousness. And yet, of course, there was a question mark over how many of the townsfolk understood discursive formulations such as “South-South Cooperation”, a phrase which in any case encapsulated the enormous changes that had taken place in the organs of international politics, moving from the “Third World” of the 1950s to the “Global South” of the 1980s onwards.
After 8:00am, curators from the Museum Konferensi Asia Afrika led us on an hour-long tour of their institution. Although all of us had a certain degree of previous reading knowledge of the conference, the splendid text and photographs on display served greatly assist our understanding of the historical circumstances of the time, the half-hour long documentary, especially, much enhancing our historical imaginations. Apart from preserving the large room used for the conference in 1955 (much restored, and now available as a conference venue), most valuably, the museum has established a library that over the last half century has collected material and books on the conference from throughout the Third World and elsewhere. My fellows on the tour garnered a number of books not easily available, and the museum assistants were more than happy to make copies for them.
Once our visit was over, with Hilmar facilitating, we engaged in an hour-long discussion. Beyond doubt, the 1955 conference held a global significance at the time. Many of the national leaders in attendance had themselves been involved in anti-colonial independence movements with strong mass backing, and meeting together had served to consolidate the end of the belief in colonialism. Both directly and indirectly, the conference had contributed to the independence of many Asian and African nations, a movement that lasted until the 1970s (at the time of the conference, as yet not independent territories were only granted observer status). From the perspective of contemporary Indonesian history, the Bandung Conference had a positive significance also for, although Sukarno had declared Indonesian independence on 17 August, 1945, the scope of that independence was limited and the process of the struggle had been both long and arduous. At the time, Indonesia still owed enormous debts to its colonial master, The Netherlands, but the conference lent Sukarno’s voice considerable authority, and from then onwards, Indonesia began to cast aside its financial relationship with the colonial power, achieving economic autonomy from Dutch control. Did the Bandung Conference have a similar effect elsewhere? Or rather, did it have resonance at various other levels? Such questions require our continued inquiry.
After the Bandung Conference, the pattern of strongman politics, with Sukarno as representative became a common phenomenon (especially throughout the Asian and African regions), this system of authority and long-term conduct of power lasting without resolution until today. As well as this, the gradual divorcing of leadership and people led directly to the people’s movements of the 1980s onwards, on the part of the powerless in various places, and in search of greater space for autonomy, this being, perhaps, a reflection of the loss of public trust in the nationalism of the Bandung Conference, with its resulting adverse repercussions for the people. Revisiting the spirit of Bandung sixty years afterwards is to be made aware of how changed the situation in the world today is, with the lessening of the Cold war, the evisceration of socialism, and the rise of the five BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). When in 2015 the leaders of the world met, the significance of their meeting had shifted towards economic cooperation, and what caught one’s attention was their especial declaration about the Palestinian Question, and their strong demand that Israel withdraw from the territory captured during the 1967 war. Joko Widodo’s Indonesian “Maritime Axis” policy, Xi Jinping’s “One Belt One Road” policy, and so on, are all distant visions of cooperation that are based in perspectives of the development of particular nations, in the hope of “win-win” outcomes. Such policies signify the extent of the retreat from “World Revolution” to an imagination that is restricted simply to the internal development of individual nation-states, the difference between these two visions being enormous. Thinking about the changes that have taken place over the course of the past sixty years, then, one resonance of the Bandung Conference has been, surely, the consolidation of the purview of that most powerful of institutions, the nation-state.
In the afternoon, Hilmar invited us all to lunch at the nearby 100-year-old Brags Permai. During the colonial period, this restaurant was not permitted to serve locals; nowadays, an endless stream of people of all kinds are to be found eating here, and it has already become a famous tourist destination.
Following our lunch and a short rest, we visited the colonial-era Landraad Courthouse where Sukarno had been arraigned in the 1930s—Gedung Indonesia Menggugat (The Indonesia Accuses Building). The courthouse is now managed by the Bandung municipality, and is used for public events. When we visited, an exhibition entitled “Asiafrica! To Build the World Anew” was being hosted, showing depictions of historical figures newly created by contemporary artists as part of the 60th anniversary commemorative program, including for instance, a portrait of the author Pramoedya Ananta Toer as a young man; as a writer, he was profoundly influenced by the 1955 conference. Perhaps taking the opportunity of our visit to host a meeting, Hilmar and Oji had been in touch with thirty-odd core leaders of the PERGERAKAN-Confederation of Indonesian People’s Movement (hereafter, KPRI) and from various parts of the country they had travelled to Bandung to take part in the occasion, the vice-chair of the organisation, Sapei Rusin, chairing a whole day of activities. The organisation had been established in 1999, becoming in 2003 formally a membership-based collective made up, essentially, of various types of union and including workers, peasants, women, fisher folk, indigenous people, environmental groups and so on. After a decade of expanded alliance building, according to the current Youth Chairman, Sastro (Anwar Ma’ru), the organisation presently has around 700,000 members.
In this way, the overall picture of the movement we had been visiting suddenly became a great deal clearer. For instance, the Peasant Union of Garut Regency that we had visited is a core organisation of the KPRI, reflecting the fact that the peasant movement is a link in the chain of a larger movement and that for a long time now, internally differing types of movement had been working towards integration. During course of a conversation with a member of an indigenous people’s movement organisation, I discovered that his movement was largely based in Bali, Sumatra, and West Kalimantan, and that he believed the reason for KPRI’s success was largely in reaction to the extent to which former NGO organisations had distanced themselves from the everyday demands of the people, resulting in an organisational commitment to establish connections with the masses at the grassroots level. Oji’s talk yesterday had concentrated on the peasant movement, and on the basis of that, we were today observing the KPRI’s greater organisational reach, within which relationships of joint overall planning and coordination between movements of different types were being built. Perhaps it was only by virtue of this growth of the collectivisation and expansion of social power, that land occupation and such like movements were able to continue their opposition to state and capital; were the powers that be to wish to impose control over such movements, the cost to them would be very considerable.
Around 3:30pm, the last session of the meeting commenced, with Oji presenting an hour-long report. His core idea was that before Merdeka, Indonesia had been controlled by what Sukarno had labelled “the curse of the colonial”, a subservience to foreign capital, but that now the new curse of colonialism was the predominance of the marketplace above all else, and once this ideology had gained hegemony, the citizenry status achieved by post-independence peoples had been transformed into “market citizenship”, with the sole criteria for judgment had becoming its marketable value. Further, this trend was not just restricted to Indonesia, but rather was transcending the nation-state boundaries and was seeping into every corner of the world. From the ASEAN call for a common market, to the establishment of APEC in 1987, all such things had served to force open the path towards the so-called free trade market. Those who faced the brunt of the assault of this process were the peasant classes, and the curse of the colonial had appeared yet again, in naked form, a circumstance expressed in the seizure of land—this, too, had already developed into a global movement. Having lost their land, the peasants had also lost his or her job and had no further means of sustaining a livelihood, especially in a nation such as Indonesia, where the peasant were a core factor and the rural population still constituted as much as 45% of the total population. How to protect land from seizure by powerful capital and transnational companies had become the shared core question for the Indonesian people’s movement. The identity of indigenous peoples is indivisible from the land, quite apart from the livelihood of the peasant, and the loss of agricultural land forced the people into the cities in search of a way out of their difficulties, the cheapness of their labour becoming a major contradiction between them and the workers of the cities, thus worsening the environment. As a result of this, a number of movements which, on the face of it, were dissimilar in nature became linked. Studying how effectively to occupy the land, to collectively to plant and manage it, how to escape the exploitation resulting from the control of the marketplace through cooperative associations, how to achieve a commonality of understanding, all these things became the first objective of the movement at the time. Oji’s report was greeted warmly by the KPRI members in attendance.
At about 5:30pm, the chairperson invited two singers long involved in the people’s movement, Mukdi and John Tobing, up on to the stage to perform for us. Both were battle-hardened, their performance proving profoundly moving, as they sung and spoke, in their own highly individual manner. One hears that both of them have produced a great many highly popular records but that, despite their fame, they continued to be engaged in the movement, their music having developed in tandem with the Indonesian people’s democracy movement. Knowing that we had come from different parts of Asia, they sang in a variety of different languages. Later on, speaking with them privately, I discovered that they were both unassuming and friendly, full of opinions, and I hope that the future will see opportunities created for them in Asia to work together with singers from the movements of other places.
After a simple but fulsome dinner in the conference hall, accompanied by relaxed and random conversation, Mukdi took the lead in getting those of us at the meeting, from all over the world, to work together on composing a song, asking those who had something to say to come up with a sentence each. My friend Ashish, for instance, came up with “Mukti, mukti, mukti” (Bahasa Indonesia for “Liberation”, repeated three times, sensitive to the closeness of the pronunciation of this word to Mukdi’s name). Everyone’s ideas were collected up and projected on a large LED screen, and Oji undertook the editorial work, revising the lyrics in dialogue with the attendees. In about half an hour, the words had been agreed upon and Mukdi started plucking on his guitar strings to come up with a tune. Finally, we came up with the song given below (after getting back to his studio that night, Mukdi proceeded to put the song to music, and the next morning he issued us all with a copy of the song as memento):
Life is treasure—revisiting Bandung spirit 2015 & Mukti mukti
We have been lonely for so long,
We journey for Asia-Africa,
Dancing with the moonlight,
Meet new friends and family.
We are different but we are together,
Bandung spirit is in our hearts,
Touching soul is our motherland,
Our land is our life.
Spirit of Bandung is in our heart,
Mukti, Mukti, Mukti,
Life is treasure,
Mukti, Mukti, Mukti,
Life is treasure.
This song, along with the collective photograph taken at the time, left us with profound impressions of the Indonesian people’s movement. The experience of collective creation was an unprecedented bonus for me, raising a number of questions that will require further investigation from me, such as what impetus and trajectory should the movement of every political line embody? Under what particular circumstances should these movements unite? How should we be prepared to progress the self-possession that has developed during the course of the thirty years since the 1960s to the end of the 1990s? What is the relationship today between the KPRI and party politics, and the nation-state? And what do the connections between localism and globalism imply?
The moon that night shone brightly, and bidding goodbye to the singers and our new KPRI friends, we returned to our hotel in positive mood, to collapse immediately into our beds.
We reassembled at 8:00am the next morning (13 August), the first order of business seeing us set off on a double-decker bus for a tour of Bandung city. It was still early when we arrived downtown and the flee-market surrounding the public park was our first stop, with a glittering array of merchandise of every kind laid out for view: old things, new products, from craftwork to mobile phones, even airguns for hunting. The hour-long tour was lead by a specialist guide who introduced us to details of our every stop, providing us with an overall impression of the important architectural and historical features of the town. It was a very special experience, sitting high in the top level of the bus, ducking under the occasional low-hanging tree branches or power lines. The only problem was that as the bus needed to proceed slowly, in order that the explanation of what we were seeing could keep pace, an already bustling street became even busier, inducing in us a degree of guilt for holding the traffic up.
The next item on our itinerary, at around 11:30am, was a visit to Koffie Aroma, an old coffee bean shop that had been in the hands of an overseas Chinese family for five generations. It is a typical family business and does not serve coffee but just sells the beans, with queues lined up outside its door everyday. Although the shop has become famous over the years since it opened in the 1930s (and when later we reached Jakarta we discovered that all the literary cafes there sourced their beans from this shop) and sold aromatic coffee beans that had been stored for, in some cases, five to eight years (mainly Arabica and Robusta), the owner had adamantly refused to set up branches elsewhere, continuing his small-scale business. Perhaps by virtue of Oji’s status as something of a local mafia boss, with a relationship of longstanding with the owner, old Mr Widyapratama, the boss, and his daughter kindly took us behind the counter on a tour of the factory where we saw the beans being dried, stored, roasted, and manufactured. Those of us who previously had only known how to drink coffee were now given a privileged insight into its manufacture. As we waited for the beans to be ground, so that we could take some home for friends and family, we watched the boss’s wife manage the counter, helped only by her two daughters, grinding the beans and packaging the coffee, and several local workers who roasted and stored the beans, both of whom had been with the firm for many years. Oji told us that he had suggested to the boss that the history of the five generations of his family should be written up. As we departed, all of us heavily-laden, the manageress thanked us, although of course it was us who owed her the thanks for having given us this opportunity to observe the workings of a business that had been in operation for almost a hundred years, a privilege for which we will be forever grateful.
Lunch was taken at a famous old diary factory, and in the afternoon we finally had some free time, although our hosts continued to work, seizing the opportunity to interview a number of us individually on video, in the hope that this would be a way that those workers who had not been able to join us on this occasion might nonetheless be able to understand something of our tour, on the assumption that our outsiders’ view might perhaps be able to provide something by way of new perspectives or added incentives. Yufik was in charge of a small media documentary team, and this experience, too, opened up my eyes, as I observed the whole process of the recording of our tour. He and his disciples became members of our tour, undertaking work as they made the visits with us, engaged in the same sorts of cogitation as us, about how best to make the lessons from this unique opportunity of our tour more readily available to a wider number of people, so that they, too, could be influenced by it. The difficulties to be faced in this quest are many, and yet Yufik’s face seemed always to radiate light and good humour, creating a powerful sense of trust and hope.
I had long arranged to share a cup with Andan, and now, we had a moment free. He lived in Makassar on Sulawesi, and had been invited along by Hilmar to help in hosting us. Now over thirty years old, he had graduated from Universitas Indonesia with a degree in French literature, having also established something of a reputation for himself within artistic and literary circles. We had known each other only for about half a year, but our conversations were unhindered by any linguistic obstacles and we got along very well indeed, with a lot to discuss with each other, and his help in my understanding of Indonesia was very considerable. Late afternoon, we returned to Brags Permi and he ordered their famous ice cream, and both of us had a glass of spirits. Andan’s present plan is to establish a multi-media cultural centre in Makassar, selling coffee, hosting lectures, curating exhibitions, organising small reading and discussion groups, and opening a small library. He told me that there is an expression in Bahasa, “knee thinking”, that meant that one carried one’s dreams with one wherever one went so that, eventually, they were no longer an illusion but rather, once the connections had been made, would become a reality. My thought is that my small contribution could be, once I retire, that I donate some of my books to his library. They would find more use there, I’m sure. As society advances and much remains in flux, everyone has their own dreams that they wish to pursue, and Andan is no exception to this rule. He became a father some weeks ago, and so the pressures of life have increased for him, but he has not given up his hope of establishing an autonomous source of authority at the local level, and I do hope that he can realise his dream.
Our dinner that night was to be our last meal in Bandung, and it had been agreed that it would be the turn of us guests to host our erstwhile hosts to thank them for all their efforts. The choice of venue had eventually lighted on Sejak, an old restaurant that had first opened its doors in 1947. The downstairs of the restaurant and its courtyard was not divided off, and so we had been allocated a long table in the open air. The evening was cool, the cuisine was “fusion”, combining Indonesian and Chinese food, and the smell of freshly-baked bread from the jointly run bakery wafted around us; all this, combined with the historical and literary atmosphere of the restaurant, its walls covered in paintings depicting the workers and peasants in their anti-colonial struggles, added up to a fine evening. To be able to thank our hosts in such a richly cultural circumstances seemed to add a level of sincerity to our gratitude. After the dinner was over, the younger members of our party, with whatever energy remained to them, continued to make happy; those too tired, headed to bed.
Friends from our party had already started to make their own ways home overnight, and although those remaining had agreed that we would meet up together at 8:00am the next morning to discuss what next we should all do together, perhaps by reason of the exertions of the last few days, we all found that we were all slow to get up, and the discussion became somewhat unorganised, although we did decide that the critical issue was to undertake some translation work in various languages, so that research relevant to the Indonesian people’s movement could become a resource for those elsewhere.
After breakfast, I took leave from my Bandung friends, thanking them for their well-wrought arrangements and willingness to find the time in their busy lives to accompany us for a full four days, no simple matter I’m sure. That Oji was willing to expend so much time and energy on this organised form of connection-making, escorting, and lecturing, especially the extent to which he opened up to us various levels of the organisational structure, allowing us outsiders to both observe and engage in dialogue, reveals a very high level of confidence. It is a confidence derived, I believe, from his own theoretical predilections, his faith in Antonia Gramsci reinforced by the especial direction of Stuart Hall’s insistence on the need to re-read the work of this man, particularly the extent to which he is able to reconsider the theoretical implications of the articulation of issues of class and race, to the considerable advantage of his consideration of the internal aspects of the Indonesian situation and the movement. All this had encouraged him in the understanding of and hope for those of us who work in the field of culture who have some work under our belts. At the same time, both he and Hilmar perhaps appreciate that for the Indonesian movement to have reached its present circumstance has required that it both have space to develop, and become connected with external networks of relevant knowledge, providing new ways of thinking and both exchanges and nutrition for the movement. Especially those connections that can help renew the call to arms of that local capital, the Bandung Spirit, must have some considerable positive impact on the movement, and our party was from a variety of different nations, with members who had been involved in Inter-Asia related networks for decades, or even several decades, who could serve as links into various relational networks. For our part, we had experienced over the course of the four days so very much, so very quickly, that we would require time to digest what we had experienced.
At 10:00am, after we had hugged Oji and his colleagues goodbye, wishing them all the best, a party of six of us set off towards the railways station, in time to catch the 11:00am express to Jakarta. We all of us much enjoyed the Bandung railways station, designed to resemble a park to the extent that sitting waiting for the train was a bit like sitting in a well-established garden, our historical circumstances serving to lessen the usual anxieties associated with catching a train. Replete with happy memories, we boarded the train and bid goodbye to Bandung as our train drew out of the station precisely on time.
The three-hour train journey passed quickly, the train taking us through the West Java countryside. Moved, Ashish exclaimed that the scenery passing before his eyes was very similar to that of India, but that the two places knew so little of each other’s culture and wisdom, and that these two major agricultural nations really should increase rapidly their steps towards exchange. He had joined the workings of the Inter-Asia editorial committee in 2000 and for the past decade or so had been an enthusiastic participant in the work at various levels, the plan in 2010 of establishing a Consortium to promote shared pan-Asian PhD classes and other Master classes had derived from his innovative thinking. During course of the various visits of the last few days he had been inspired to suggest the renewal of a resolution taken by the editorial committee in 2010, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the organisation, to the effect that, besides the regular quarterly issue of the journal, we should also produce one or two electronic issues, giving us greater room for creativity, flexibility, and freedom, and thus establishing also a better channel of communication with both the contemporary age and the younger generation. This proposal had not been enacted these past five years but now that it had been raised again, I think that perhaps we should act with some urgency, making use of the rich experiences of the Indonesian peasant/peoples movement of the last four days as an experiment for the future electronic issue. That night, this proposal gained Hilmar’s support.
2:00pm that afternoon we arrived in Southeast Asia’s largest city, Jakarta, staying in the centre of the city, also, coincidently, in an Ibis Hotel. At the request of the filmmaker Ashish, Andan took us all to a DVD shop to buy some Indonesian films. At 7:00pm in the evening, Hilmar had arranged for a number of friends from Jakarta film circles, both directors and scriptwriters, to meet up with us for a meal at the Kedai Tjikni Café in Cikini, just around the corner from our hotel. I’m told that this is a district of old streets, and that in recent years a number of Western cafes and restaurants had opened up here, serving coffee from all parts of Indonesia (including Aroma), producing an humanistic atmosphere and a unique streetscape. A woman screenwriter we were conversing with told us that this was where she often arranged to meet up with people for business meetings, a far more pleasurable place to conduct business than the coffee shops to be found in the shopping centres. As she finished speaking, an animation film director dragged her off to the next-door table to have a chat. Our fellow tour party member Steni worked in an independent film association, at the same time as helping Hilmar out, and so she knew all the people that we were meeting up with, this district obviously having already become something of a cultural meeting point During course of the evening’s conversations, we learned a great deal about the circumstances of the Indonesian film industry and heard also that there was a trend that was hoping to localise in Indonesia Hong Kong films.
The busyness of the past few days had ensured that we were all very tired, and so we took our leave of Hilmar before 10:00pm. He is an important Indonesian thinker and activist who has helped open up for discussion many hitherto taboo aspects of Indonesian history. I’ve known him for more than a decade now, and we have built up a relationship of mutual trust; if but for this connection with him, I am sure that we would not have been able to get to see so much on this trip that others are not privileged to see; I trust that he will be able to persist and continue to progress. It was at this point that I also bid goodbye to Andan and Steni, wishing them all the very best, and thanking them for the care and attention they had put into our arrangements and thus ensuring that our five days together passed without any problems. I hope that we may all be able to maintain contact and that the future might see us work together again sometime.
Saturday, 15 August: Of our party only Ikegami Yoshihiko, Wakabayashi Chiyo, and I remained, and the three of us spent a very leisurely day together. In the morning, we returned to the coffee district, sitting there for two to three hours, conscientiously arranging our responses to our various visits, and in the afternoon, under the bright sun, we visited the National Monument (Monumen Nasional), and the National Museum of Indonesia (Museum Nasional). In the evening, we sat outside at a nearby restaurant eating an Indonesian meal.
Sunday, 16 August: A fine day. At breakfast, I ran into Ikegami Yoshihiko. He and Wakabayashi Chiyo are to leave together tonight. We have been on tours together often before. The last time was a trip in June to Dakar in Senegal and as we parted, we both promised to write up reports of our tour; we were to be meeting up again in October in Naha. On the way to the airport, I ran into a number of demonstrations in anticipation of the Indonesian Independence Day celebrations the next day, and my taxi was caught in the traffic jam for quite some time. Once I was at the airport, and had passed through immigration and customs, I sat down and told myself that, after 10 frantic days, I had survived. Once I had arrived home, I received that letter that Oji sent all members of our party, asking that we all of us write something about our impressions gained on the tour, and this present report of mine can be considered both something by way of an expression of respect for him and Hilmar, and my feedback.
This tour served to bring to the fore various questions, a number of which I continue to turn over in my mind, the most obvious of which is to do with the land occupation movement. This is not an issue that I personally have undertaken any research on, and nor do I have any real understanding of it, but the impression left me from previous experience has been of the phenomenon of the loss of agricultural land and that this wave is the result of the seizure of land by global capital in all sorts of guises, and which, on the African continent, is manifested by a scrabble for land on the part of transnational capital; at the same time, whether the result of adjustments to the structure of the political economy or as function of national ideology, “urbanisation” has become the guiding form of thinking, planning, and realisation with regards to villages and towns. In such circumstances, the predominant power of resistance on the part of the peasant is to be found in various parts of the Third World, and the land occupation movement of Indonesia’s West Java can perhaps be understood in a similar vein, although of course the movement doubtless also has its own historical particularity. Most importantly, the trend of our tour of Garut Regency served to overturn our previous impressions, providing us with alternative possibilities in thinking about the issue: the peasant movement not only effectively opposes both capital and the nation-state, it also operates at the village level, the local and central government levels, in the law courts and within religious organisations, whilst simultaneously establishing mutually reinforcing systems of aid (union organisations, peasant schools, cooperative associations, production and marketing institutions, research and publishing outlets, even to the extent of joining both political parties and parliament), transforming peasant livelihoods, and creating the conditions for the peasants both to remain in their villages and to find work. To be able to establish bases in such diverse and relevant contexts in this manner is a rare ability, and one much to be prized. Obviously, the crisis will be ensuring the stability of long-term and settled use of the land, for the moment that the power of the movement weakens, it is more than possible that the forces of nation-state and capital will take the opportunity to fight back, thus destroying previous gains; and the critical factor in this respect will be whether or not the movement will prove, under particular circumstances when the attributes of the nation (class or other societies) are in the movement’s favour, robust and efficacious enough to seize hold of such opportunity and transform itself into a resulting organisational structure and whether, through the process of national and legal legitimisation, the peasants will earn the lands rights (publically owned or as yet undeveloped) of effective use for the purposes of their livelihoods; and whether this demand can be extended and become a shared consciousness at the national, local, and global levels, is a question worthy of our further thought. And yet, regardless, the Peasant Union testifies already that once the objective conditions have been created, peasants, their villages, and their agricultural production, all have a future, and urbanisation and industrialisation are not our only alternatives, and that in areas or nations where agriculture remains the predominant mode of production such an outlook is even more possible. Obviously, this global struggle is bound to continue awhile yet and the manner in which we outline future prospects must adopt the manner of a protracted war.
And yet the creation of such circumstances does not happen in a vacuum, but rather operates within the soil of pre-existing societal conditions. On this tour, we observed the extent to which Islam played a vigorous and positive role, and although this religious power should not be exaggerated on the web as an explanatory structure, nonetheless at the same time it should not be ignored. Both in work and at rest, the life of a peasant involves daily-enacted religious rituals that are connected with the details of associated aspects of life, and the organisational aspects of the movement must work within and in concert with these structures. On the tour, we had readily observed the extent to which the Ulema enthusiastically lead and participated in work at the village level, as evidenced by the scenes we had observed of how in the documentary music was used to unite different generations, how at the beginnings of every meetings brief ceremony was always conducted, and so on, especially with respect to the extent to which the bulk of both members and leadership of the organisation were Muslims and that over time, such customs had become the prerequisite of the movement. The critical aspect for success will be how to more robustly discriminate the dynamic of Islam within the social body, and how to gain the recognition and support of the religious institutions.
Indonesia is the largest Islamic nation of the world, and one which, obviously, post 9/11, has been energised by the oppression of the power of the mighty. From an historical perspective, the nature of the particular relationship in Indonesian society between religion and politics, and the role that Indonesia’s existence in the Islamic world plays, are topics well worth further investigation. Thinking about these issues within the discursive realm of Asian/African/ Latin American Third Worldism, the Muslim population constitutes a very large proportion of the total, not just within Southeast Asia, for in South Asia almost one third of the population is Muslim, and whilst Central and West Asia, and the Arabic world of North Africa are obviously the core belt, on the African continent south of the Sahara Desert, with the exception of the southern region of Africa, the Muslim population is sizable. As a Third Worldist, the smallness of the Muslim population of Northeast Asia could be said to be the only Asian region that is an exception to this rule and for a long time we have lacked a full appreciation of the function of Islamic religious belief within the world of Muslim life, and this tour of Indonesia had forced me to recognise that, if we wish truly to understand the world, then we need to look at it through eyes that hitherto remained tightly shut and begin, more sensitively and positively, conscientiously to apply ourselves to the study of the critical place of religion in the contemporary world, Islam especially.
If the thousand skeins that tie the Peasant Union to Islam are not exceptional, then the collective entity that was the KPRI had required detailed management of the power of religion. The extent to which over the course of our tour we had been able to directly interact with members of the KPRI had enabled us to sense with great excitement the rise of the overall Indonesian people’s movement, and even my Korean friend Paik Wondam, and my Okinawan friend Wakabayashi Chiyo, both told me how moved they were. People’s movements throughout the rest of Asia are on a downward trajectory, and yet the circumstances in Indonesia served to raise one’s spirits, especially in terms of the extent to which the existence of the organisation implied that on the organisational level the movements of workers, peasants, women, and indigenous peoples, environmental activists worked together (or had at least begun to do so), and once this accumulated power reached a certain point, it could quite possibly leap beyond the boundaries of the nation-state and drive and lend support to movements elsewhere. Of course, what we had observed had been the result of the present stage, and what requires further study is the extent of the energy and trajectory that it may be able to assemble, for it is only once one has grasped the historical depth of the formation of unity can one clearly perceive how it will be able to develop. One has to assume that the advent to power of Joko Widodo’s new-style political power will have ensured fertile soil for the expanded development of the movement, and yet at the same time it is hard to avoid certain anxieties given previous experience of political change in Asia, and will the new government begin to absorb and incorporate the energy of the movement, leading in the future to its implosion, and how will the KPRI then respond? In terms of the political dimension, how will it think about its relationships with other parties? Should it cooperate with the government party, or should it seek to organise its own political party on the basis of its existing foundation? Should it continue with its mass line, or adopt political methods? May it be possible for it to create a new political form on the basis of its location within its own historical circumstances? What is the international and global view of the KPRI? What positive significance for the movement inheres in the Bandung Third World spirit? Further questions such as these could be raised. The core members and leadership of the KPRI are all middle-aged, mainly over forty years of age, whilst the grass-roots cadres are all about twenty years or so old, not to speak of the male and female students throughout the peasant schools. Succession seems not to be an issue, then, but the road ahead is a long one, and one hopes that they can consolidate the movement at each step and progress slowly, so that, in Gramsci’s terms, the victory of the hegemony will remain forever unstable, and that in the course of the practice of the movement our knowledge of our lives may be transformed, this being the decisive battleground.
That we outsiders could find resonance with members of the KPRI was largely the result of the trajectories of our own individual activities in various parts of the world, and although nobody said so openly, I believe that we all immediately responded to the dense leftist foundation of the KPRI. After the anti-communist massacres of 1965, the leftists became a taboo topic in Indonesian politics, and organising a communist party remains an infringement of the constitution. Over the course of the past fifty years, if they were still alive, older members of the KPRI continued to lay low, at most all they could do, from their various cultural posts, was to seek to continue the tradition and to pass on the seeds of fire, and most of the middle-aged generation of activists that we met had had to crawl forward half underground. That the KPRI was able to break through to the surface towards the end of the 1990s must be understood to have been the result of the gradual build-up of the 1970s and 1980s, to a greater or lesser extent inheriting the pre-1965 visualisation of the liberation of mankind. To ask the question from a reverse perspective: “At the time, in 1965, the Partai Komunis Indonesia (Communist Party of Indonesia or PKI) was very powerful, second only in terms of left-wing political parties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and if but for the massacre of that year, what would be the situation today in Indonesia, Southeast Asia, even the Asia region more generally?” As the veteran activist Muto Ichiyo pointed out in a meeting held in August this year in Tokyo to discuss the Bandung Conference, 1965 was an important watershed, in all likelihood implying the questions above. The 1965 massacre constrained the politics of Indonesia and its region (indeed, the entire global situation), and the direction then taken, and from this perspective, 1965 has not retreated into the past but rather has taken shape as a vital aspect of the contemporary situation, such that to understand present circumstances one cannot but seek to understand 1965. And yet, at the same time, that the Indonesian people’s movement has been able to reach the present point in its development inspires considerable reflection, for similar eradicate the reds campaigns were unfolded throughout Asia, including in South Korea, Taiwan, and Malaysia; can the revival of the leftist movement of Indonesia fifty-years after the massacres be explained by the fact that, in relative terms, the eradication of the Indonesian leftists was both the most extensive and brutal of its kind? Or is it that the younger generation has already cast aside the burden of the leftists and, in their bones, have inherited the past and are capable of opening up new horizons with regards present realities? In comparison to these regions, the left wing in Taiwan is pitifully weak, and how can this circumstance be explained? Is it at all possible that this is unconnected to the fact of the power of the communist party on the mainland? Whatever the answers to these questions, the as yet unexamined leftist historical taboos in these places appear to be separate issues but are in fat interconnected, none of them completely separable from cold war global and regional structures. As soon as the people’s movement leaps beyond the framework of the nation-state, it must seek to establish connections beyond boundaries, re-opening for examination those areas of commonly-shared history that have been locked up, only then will it become able to fully explain the arrival at the present moment’s turning point; especially when viewed from the trajectory of Indonesia’s internal history, the Bandung Conference of 1955 and the 1966 massacres are linked by an inner continuity, and in returning to the Bandung Spirit sixty years after the conference requires that we both clarify and face up to the indivisibility of these two important historical events and re-define their significance both in the history of the region and that of the world.
If the capital left us by Bandung is the so-called Bandung Spirit, this this is not (nor should it be) the monopoly of leftist thought, for the Third World Nationalism of the Bandung of 1955 marked a spirit of internationalism that was grounded in anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism, and the nationalism that arouse everywhere at the time was strongly inflected by that internationalism, the two implying no contradiction, the tension of the pull between the two representing a broader imagining of the unity between the pre-Third World and the colonies, only then transcending the compartmentalisation to left and to right. And yet, what can be observed today, sixty years afterwards, is a nationalism that has retreated within the nation-state, the elements related to internationalist unity having relinquished their role, with everybody addressing the world simply on the basis of their own interests. To return to Bandung today requires of us that what we seek to incorporate and refer to is a Pan-African nationalism that continues to win hearts and minds, for the nationalism that this points towards is not the individual nation-states that were carved out of the continent by the colonial forces, but one that fully recognises the fact that the nation-state is an invention of the colonists and that the independence of these individual nation-states, in and of themselves, has no significance unless Africa is able to unite, this in turn implying that a nationalism that is not predicated on Pan-Africanism cannot stand, leading to the demand for the independence and autonomy of Africa as a whole. And because of this, Pan-Africanism is not a simple form of regionalism but is, simultaneously, an expression of internationalism. If nationalism is a product of history, with still a major role to play within the people’s movements, then the summons of Bandung, sixty years after the conference, is how to open up again the internationalist inclination that lurks within nationalism, how to re-establish “Third World Nationalism, how to promote again the imagination of a Third Worldism that involves Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and how to reignite the Third World socialism that was to be found therein at the time, and thereby to transcend a nationalism that is rooted in the nation state. Only then will we be able to escape from the internal dilemmas found in all parts of the world, and embark upon a more capacious road into the future.
Draft begun 16 August, 2015, Jakarta; 1st draft completed, 26 August; Revised, 3 September, Baoshan Township, Hsinchu County.
My thanks to Lin Jia-xuan for his response and assistance, to Nila Ayu Utami for supplying relevant materials, and to Zhang Zheng, Guo Jia, Chen Ying-en, and Liu Ya-fang for discussing this article with me. The Chinese version appears in Renjian Thought Review, No. 11, 2015: 155-187.
2. On 3 September, 2015, when the members of our Bandung trip met up at the Brilliant Time Bookshop (a Southeast Asia-themed bookstore) in Taipei’s Nanshihchiao area, the manager, Zhang Zheng, told us that he had encountered at least three expatriate Indonesians working in Taiwan who had told him that they intended to start up bookshop back home once they had saved up enough money; this trend, it seems, is growing apace. [↑]
3. See Sam Moyo, Paris Yeros, and Praveen Jha (2012), “Imperialism and Primitive Accumulation: Notes on the New Scramble for Africa”, Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy, 1(2): 181-203. For a Chinese translation of this article, see this issue of the Inter-Asia Cultural Studies: Bandung Special Issue, pp. 117-136. [↑]
4. See Sam Moyo and Paris Yeros (eds.), (2005), Reclaiming the Land: The Resurgence of Rural Movements in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, London: Zed Books. For a wider discussion of the “Three Rural Issues” faced in Africa, see Sam Moyo (2008), “African Land Questions, Agrarian Transitions and the State: Contradictions of Neo-Liberal Land Reforms”, Dakar: CODESRIA. [↑]
5. On 31 July, 2015, Muto Ichiyo was invited by the Tokyo Branch of the Inter-Asia Cultural Studies Society to present a talk at Meiji University, entitled “From Bandung to Durban: My Personal Experience of Transnational People’s Movements, 1950-1980”. [↑]