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Vol. 76/No. 40      November 5, 2012

‘Maoism vs. Bolshevism’:
Lessons from Indonesia
(In Review column)

Maoism vs. Bolshevism by Joseph Hansen, 90 pages. Pathfinder Press, 1998. Education for Socialists bulletin, Documents of the Socialist Workers Party. $12.

Maoism vs. Bolshevism
deals with the social and political roots and the international repercussions of the “most devastating defeat for the working class since the fascist victory in Germany in 1933”—the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of members and supporters of the Communist Party and other working people in Indonesia in 1965. The Indonesian Communist Party, the biggest in the capitalist world, along with unions and other organizations were wiped out in just a few months.

The massacre was directed by Gen. Suharto, who subsequently led a coup that brought him to power. The reactionary U.S.-backed Suharto tyranny endured for some three decades.

Maoism vs. Bolshevism is a collection of Socialist Workers Party documents between 1966 and 1974 by Joseph Hansen, then a leader of the party.

Hansen poses the question: How could a political force like the Indonesian Communist Party, claiming 3 million members, another 3 million in the youth group and 20 million in mass organizations, undergo a mauling at the hands of armed forces totaling 350,000?

Workers and farmers in Indonesia were inspired by the 1949 Chinese Revolution. The Chinese Communist Party—which came to power on the crest of that mighty social upheaval carried through by millions of Chinese toilers—had enormous prestige and was looked to for leadership and guidance. The defeat in Indonesia cannot be understood, Hansen says, without understanding the role played by the CCP led by Mao Zedong. He compares it to the role the Soviet Communist Party under Joseph Stalin played in Germany in the 1920s and ’30s and in the Spanish Revolution in the 30s.

“In relation to Indonesia, Mao played a role comparable to that of Stalin in the German events,” wrote Hansen. “Just as Stalin … blocked the German Communist Party from developing a revolutionary policy that could have stopped Hitler and put the German working class in power, so Mao out of similar passing diplomatic needs (an alliance with Sukarno and the Indonesian bourgeoisie) blocked the Indonesian Communist party from developing a revolutionary policy that could have stopped the reactionary generals and put the Indonesian working class in power.”

Sukarno became Indonesia’s first president after a powerful national movement forced the Dutch colonialists to cede independence in 1949. He ceded power to Suharto in 1967.

The leadership of the Indonesian Communist Party, with Chairman D.N. Aidit at the helm, put the brakes on the mass movement and subordinated it to the Indonesian bourgeoisie, at the urging of Beijing.

Hansen points to the international repercussions of the defeat in Indonesia. “The most spectacular immediate result … is to be seen in China. The evidence strongly indicates that it was the precipitating cause for the ‘cultural revolution,’” a brutal and culturally repressive campaign launched by the Chinese Communist Party in August 1966.

Maoism vs. Bolshevism documents the discussion in the Fourth International, at the time an international organization of revolutionary parties, going into its 1969 and 1974 World Congresses on the assessment of the Cultural Revolution. The main dividing line is the characterization of the Maoist leadership.

Hansen and others saw the Maoist policy as expressing the interests of a “crystallized bureaucratic caste” that could not be reformed, but had to be overthrown. They characterized this privileged social layer in China as “Stalinist, because of its essential similarity to the counterrevolutionary bureaucracy consolidated in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s.”

It’s this commonality, in fact, that drove at that time the deep rivalry between the Soviet and Chinese governments, the booklet explains.

“Mao’s policy on the international plane was fundamentally opportunist, aimed at reaching an accommodation with American imperialism and at practicing class collaboration with the bourgeoisie in the colonial and semicolonial countries,” Hansen explained. This “generalized policy of peaceful coexistence is dictated by the material interests of the bureaucratic caste, which fears the spread of revolution and the effect it might have on the masses in its own country.”

The opposing position held by Ernest Mandel, Pierre Frank and Livio Maitan, leaders of sections of the Fourth International in Europe, saw the Maoist leadership as “bureaucratic centrist,” sensitive to mass pressure for reforms and that significant concessions to the masses would be a forthcoming result of the Cultural Revolution.

In an assessment of the Cultural Revolution presented to the 1974 World Congress, Hansen points to the effects of the Maoist foreign policy in relation to Vietnam during the U.S. war to roll back the revolution in that country. “The bankruptcy of this [Mao’s] foreign policy became glaringly clear when … Mao offered ‘peaceful coexistence’ to the [U.S. Richard] Nixon administration.

“The real stake for Nixon was Vietnam. Mao paid off by inviting Nixon to Peking in February 1972. So that the Vietnamese should be certain not to miss the point, Nixon timed his visit to Peking to coincide with a savage escalation of the bombing of Indochina.”

The documents point to a number of other examples in which narrow nationalists interests of the Chinese bureaucracy clash irreconcilably with the interests of the working class on the international plane and reveal its counterrevolutionary character. Beijing was the first to recognize the reactionary Boumedienne regime that came to power with the overthrow of the Algerian Revolution in 1965, and among the first to recognize the bloody fascist-like dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile. It backed, and in some cases aided, capitalist military dictatorships around the world—from Gen. Francisco Franco’s Spain, to Greece, Ceylon, Sudan, East Bengal and Peru. It opposed reductions in NATO forces aimed against the Soviet Union and gave only lip service to selected workers’ struggles that didn’t impinge on these alliances.

The introduction to Maoism vs. Bolshevism was written by Steve Clark on behalf of the Political Committee of the SWP in 1998, just weeks after Suharto’s resignation.

“Responsibility for the defeat [in Indonesia] lay not with bad ideas, but with a self-serving class-collaborationist course of the privileged bureaucratic caste in Peking and its subservient followers in the leadership of the Indonesian Communist Party,” writes Clark. “Only by clearly understanding the accountability of Stalinism for the 1965 catastrophe in Indonesia can we accurately appreciate the historic significance of the fact … that the Indonesian workers, peasants, and youth who are today beginning to return to political life no longer confront this massive counterrevolutionary obstacle that repeatedly stood in their path to victory throughout much of this century.”
Related articles:
Farmers in Indonesia rally for rights to land, against seizures  
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