The Mass Line in Indonesia

Back in the 1950s and 1960s Indonesia had one of the largest and most popularly supported Communist parties in the world. This Party, the Communist Party of Indonesia (or PKI, from its Indonesian initials), unfortunately tailed behind President Sukarno and the national bourgeoisie. Instead of following a revolutionary line (something similar to what was done in China), it succumbed to the illusion of peacefully achieving power through elections. But as it got larger and larger the bourgeoisie (and especially the comprador sector of it) became more and more alarmed.

Starting in October 1965 and continuing into the next year, a group of pro-U.S. fascist army generals headed by Suharto and Nasution unleashed a horrible massacre of Communists, their sympathizers, other progressive people, and also a great many people who were not even involved in politics at all. This massacre was on a scale that is comparable only with that unleashed by the Nazis in Europe, or the Japanese massacres of the Chinese during World War II. Several hundred thousand people were murdered outright in cold blood, and hundreds of thousands more were thrown into prison—many to be tortured, and many never to come out alive.

To this day the full story of this terrible crime—and the central involvement of the United States (and Britain) in it—has not been completely disclosed. It is now known, however, that the CIA was the major orchestrator of the massacre. Among other things, it is now virtually certain that it was the CIA that engineered a phony "communist-inspired military plot" (called the "September 30 Movement") that served as the pretext for the massacre. [See: "Our Bloody Coup in Indonesia", The Guardian (London), Aug. 1, 2001.]

While the 1965 massacre was the work of Indonesian reactionaries working for the U.S. imperialists, the PKI also shares a lot of the blame for allowing this catastrophe to happen. The PKI self-criticism about this, and its renunciation of the revisionist policies that facilitated the disaster, is included in the pamphlet listed below.

In 1998 the dictator Suharto was finally forced out of power by popular protests. But the communist movement in Indonesia has only barely begun to start recovering. The revolutionaries in Indonesia have a lot of work ahead of them!

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There are at least two references to the mass line in the PKI self-criticism pamphlet. The first reference remarks about the self-criticism:

      It says that the mass character of the Party is not determined above all by the large membership, but primarily by the close ties linking the Party and the masses, by the Party's political line which defends the interests of the masses, or in other words by the implementation of the Party's mass line. And the mass line of the Party can only be maintained when the prerequisites determining the Party's role as the advanced detachment are firmly upheld, when the Party members are made up of the best elements of the proletariat who are armed with Marxism-Leninism. Consequently, to build a Marxist-Leninist Party which has a mass character is impossible without giving primary importance to Marxist-Leninist education.[1]

This is a good point. It is indeed an important thing to understand that having the proper relationship between the party and the masses is a far more important thing than just having a large party, let alone than just having a large or mass party at any cost! The "proper relationship" does mean that the party actually attempts to help the masses struggle for their own day-to-day interests. But also included in this "proper relationship" are the continuing efforts to educate the masses (as well as party members) in their long-term and ultimate interests, and most especially in their fundamental interest in making social revolution!

Note that the document seems to use the term "mass line" to mean maintaining close ties between the party and the masses, and defending the interests of the masses. Personally, I prefer to define the mass line as meaning most essentially the use of the leadership method of "from the masses, to the masses", or, as Mao also described it, the method of combining leadership with the masses. The document does give an implicit nod to this idea in the second reference, however:

      In a situation when liberalism dominated the organizational line of the Party, it was impossible to realize the Party's style of work "to combine theory and practice, to keep close bonds with the masses and to conduct self-criticism". It was equally impossible to realize the method of leadership whose essence is the unity of the leadership and the masses; to realize it the leadership must give an example to the rank-and-file.[2]

Despite these good comments, however, I would have to say that the PKI self-criticism does not seem to emphasize the importance of using the revolutionary mass line to the degree that it should, nor does it sufficiently expose the revisionist distortion of the mass line that seems to have been part of the ideology that led up to the 1965 disaster.

As far as I know there is not at present a revolutionary communist party in Indonesia which practices the mass line. However, I have heard rumors that there are efforts to create such a party, and that the Communist Party of the Philippines may be attempting to assist in this development. My best wishes go out to those engaged in these efforts.

—Scott H.

Articles from Indonesia referring to the mass line

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