The city of Jakarta, Indonesia, is one of the largest of the growing number of megaslums around the world. In Jakarta 28 million people live in tightly-packed slum housing consisting of unstable tenements and improvised shelters. Forty percent of the population lives on less than $2 per day and average wages are only $113 per month in a city where apartment rents hover around $500 per month (Reuters, 3/12/12).
Workers in Indonesia now have a new hardship to worry about. Of the estimated 400,000 commuters riding Jakarta’s dilapidated public trains during peak hours, many are forced to hop the trains and ride on the roof. This practice, called “train surfing” in Jakarta, is a necessity in a city where wages are too low to cover rising train fares.
The Indonesian government, eager to collect these fares, has long fought train surfing by greasing the roofs of train cars and hanging large concrete balls over the tracks to knock riders off. Now they are embarking on a plan to lower the power lines of the trains to electrocute those that risk a ride to work. This murderous plan is being implemented alongside a 40% fare hike, guaranteeing that millions of workers will be forced to risk their lives to work in Indonesia’s sweatshop economy (BBC, 7/27/12).
But Indonesia did not have to be a growing megaslum where workers get poorer every year while millionaires are minted at the rate of 16 a day on the backs of the working class (a figure lauded by capitalists; it indicates the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of the few at the expense of the growing poverty of the many). Between 1945 and 1965, a coalition nationalist government, pushed along by a massive “communist” party, experimented with some aspects of social democracy that saw rising wages, increased literacy and improved health rates, alongside the development of the public infrastructure.
The Indonesian “Communist” Party (PKI) was once the largest in the capitalist world with a membership of 3 million in 1965. But they made the mistake of thinking that they could ally themselves with “good” capitalists and peacefully evolve into a socialist state without violently taking state power. This delusion would prove fatal when General Suharto, backed by the U.S. CIA, began a murderous campaign against the PKI in 1965.
Between 1965 and 1968, when Suharto officially took power over the country, an estimated 500,000 to 1 million communists and communist sympathizers were systematically murdered by death squads. At the time the New York Times praised the massacre as a “gleam of light in Asia,” a “savage transition” that would not have been possible without U.S. aid and the American invasion of Vietnam (NYT, 6/19/66).
The Suharto regime, always the obedient vassal of the U.S., went about turning Indonesia into a third world slum that would be fit for exploitation by Western corporations seeking the lowest wages in the world. Public programs were gutted or eliminated, the urban infrastructure was allowed to deteriorate and labor organizations were viciously liquidated. Now trains, not renovated since the 1950s, regularly derail; boats and ferries sink; airplanes disappear from radar; shacks are buried in mudslides or destroyed by floods; and the Jakarta slums swell as the city grows (from 1.5 million in 1950 to over 28 million today).
Indonesia is praised by many capitalist economists as a model economy, showing the economic development promised by free markets. Indeed their tiny capitalist class is seeing an unparalleled growth in their personal wealth. Yet for the millions of Indonesian workers, capitalism is a killer.
Journalist Andre Vltchek described the conditions of the Jakarta slums, “One turn off from the main streets and the real Jakarta exposes its wounds: filthy narrow alleys, channels clogged with garbage, makeshift stores selling unhygienic food, children running barefoot; thousands of big and small mosques, but not one decent playground for children. Garbage accumulates at every corner and polluted air penetrates throat and eyes. Little girls are offering themselves for a pittance, while boys are sniffing glue from plastic bags.” (Japan Focus, 2/5/08)
This is the victory of capitalism in Indonesia. The bosses have everything, while the workers hope that they don’t get electrocuted on their way to work. The lessons from the destruction of the PKI for communists everywhere were hard-learned. There are no “good capitalists” and there can never be any allegiance between the working class and the capitalist class. The struggle between the working class and the capitalist class is a life-and-death struggle. The fight for communism is not a national struggle as the PKI thought, but an international struggle against the exploitation of capitalism everywhere.