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Dissent! Refracted

Histories, Aesthetics and Cultures of Dissent


Edited By Ben Dorfman

This collection of essays addresses the ongoing problem of dissent from a broad range of disciplinary perspectives: political philosophy, intellectual history, literary studies, aesthetics, architectural history and conceptualizations of the political past. Taking a global perspective, the volume examines the history of dissent both inside and outside the West, through events in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries both nearer to our own times as well as more distant, and through a range of styles reflecting how contested and pressing the problem of dissent in fact is. Drawing on a range of authors and international problematics, the contributions discuss the multiple ways in which we refract memories of dissent in cultural, historical and aesthetic context. It also discusses the diverse ideas, images and phenomena we use to do so.
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Stephanie Sapiie - Intellectual Identity and Student Dissent in Indonesia in the 1970s

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Stephanie Sapiie1

Intellectual Identity and Student Dissent in Indonesia in the 1970s

Abstract This paper examines themes in student dissident activities in Indonesia (West Java) in the 1970s, a period which followed intense student involvement in the anti-communist movement of 1965–1966. The 1970s marked a new phase in student activism, defined by the rise of new leaders in the student-movement and the rise of intellectual criticism and dissent as a valued activist technique strategically suited to the growing authoritarian landscape of Indonesian politics.

Student dissent is central to the politics and history of modern Indonesia. During the late colonial period of the early 1920s, students were key figures in the anti-colonial nationalist movement. After independence in 1949, Indonesian state-universities saw a growth in regional student enrolment and a rise in political activity fuelled by political party-recruitment. In the mid-1960s, at a time when student activism was a global force for left-wing critiques of state power and war, Indonesian students were implicated in local campaigns of violence against the left-wing—the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI)—and supported the emergence of military rule. Despite the fact that these students were avid consumers of western popular culture, my paper shows that student dissent in the 1960s engaged with the ideologies of student activism in the West in unusual ways. For example, a recent interpretation of the student activist movement as an archetypal cowboy drama draws on a distinctly un-Indonesian image of the outlaw and reflects students’ consumption of American-movies like Shane (As Indro Cahyono describes in Budiarso [2002]).

Ironically, as advocates for free-speech, Indonesian students in the 1960s generally advocated against Left-wing speech and were mobilized by what they saw as the irrationality Left-wing politics in the 1960s in Indonesia. Whereas in the United States the student free-speech movement occurred (in part) because students ← 117 | 118 → opposed the draft and the war in Vietnam, the issues of free speech that students in Indonesia cared about were markedly different. Students wanted neo-classical economics taught, for example. They wanted bans on foreign films and music lifted. Indonesian students expressed profound alienation from the state, and as Indonesian politics grew more authoritarian in the New Order under Suharto in the 1970s, Indonesian students increasingly withdrew from direct action in politics, choosing dissidence and dissident research as their main vehicle for the expression of oppositional thought.

Two dominant narratives shaped student-activism in the 1960s and 1970s. One narrative—that of the symbol of the student as nationalistic, heroic, and self-sacrificing—was central to the army’s anti-communist campaign in 1966 and would become the basis for the student movement known as KAMI (United Action Front of Indonesian Students), a student Anti-Communist movement that has been described as a student-army partnership (Paget 1970; Boudreau 2004; Aspinall 2005). The violence against the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) leadership carried out by vigilantes and armed-groups framed the anti-Communist student movement However, this violence was rooted in a particular intellectual discourse promoted often by figures within and part of the student movement. Universities provided the space and social networks for the recruitment of anti-communist intellectuals.

A second narrative about the student movement was one the New Order regime would actively promote through its early advocacy of intellectual discourse, academic freedom, and social-responsibility: that of a unique student civic-identity. This narrative had its roots in the Indonesian higher education system and was promoted by the state. By 1979, the state promoted a new policy called Campus Normalization that called on students to cease all political-activities. Campus Normalization represented a radical break from the regime’s early alliance with the student movement in 1966. It reinforced several components of the New Order ideology of stability and order. First, a normal campus was one where students did not “demonstrate,” where students’ “engagement in politics” was permitted only at the level of “discourse,” and where students’ “discourse” did not strengthen or engage in mass action (Anwar 1977). Students’ campus activities were limited to sports and culture- and art-based activities. NKK reversed the government’s early tolerance for academic freedom, which Suharto, in his 1973 End of Year Address, had maintained “was beneficial to nation-building” (Suharto 1973).

Some of the earliest efforts to write about the student movement in Indonesia were by activists who participated in the KAMI protests (Bachtiar 1969), or by those who were observers of anti-communist mobilization at the University of ← 118 | 119 → Indonesia in 1966 (Gie 1966). This work describes well the numerous political, cultural, class, and religious divisions of the student movement: the diversity and conflict of campus-life mirrored the larger diversity and cleavages of Indonesian society. Yet the social, culture, and organizational nature of campus life obscured the cultural dynamics of the student movement, which had absorbed the inherited Dutch culture of Indonesian universities (they had started as Dutch schools, after all, to educate the non-Native population in the Indies) and the universities reflected this elite culture (Aminoedin, “Student Organizations in Indonesia,” no date)

After the violence of 1965, a period during which most political organizations and mass-organizations confronted restrictions, students were the beneficiaries of the regime’s good will. Student activism reciprocated, at first, with positive support for the army in 1966. However, by the early 1970s, dissatisfaction with the military regime became more abundant and students cautiously stepped around restrictions imposed on issues free-speech and individual rights to disagree or dissent with the regime. Student dissent reflected nationalist themes of Indonesian independence. While their nationalist credentials would lend them strong military-backing in the 1966 anti-communist movement, by the 1970s students generally confronted a more restrictive set of circumstances (Boudreau, 2004).

The Political Context of Anti-Communism and the Rise of the New Order, 1965–1966

Campus-mobilization in the 1960s reflected the general conflict occurring outside of campus—particularly the build-up of communist-concentrations and the public-works projects of groups and leaders affiliated with the PKI (Indonesian Communist Party), which in rural areas undertook massive public projects to improve schools, infrastructure, and local government. Beginning in 1965, after a steady growth of the power of the Indonesian Communist Party led to infiltration of units within the Air Force and in some army-units (Boudreau 2004 and Crouch 1978), the Indonesian military and paramilitary-organizations actively dismembered the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and their affiliated cultural associations and members. Campus student organizations affiliated with the PKI, like the Communist-Concentrations (CGMI), were banned.

In the immediate aftermath of the state-sanctioned violence that surged throughout Java and Bali from October to December 1965, anti-Communist student groups were seemingly nurtured by the new military-junta around General Suharto called the New Order. New student newspapers and student radio transmissions began in the capital, Jakarta, starting in January 1966 (described in some detail by Soe Hok-Gie’s 1966 diary, Demonstration Notes [reprinted in 2005]). ← 119 | 120 → A new shift in the culture of student activism was evident. Student newspapers advertised student art exhibits and campus happenings (Steele 2005, 49). Students read poetry over radio stations that had once communicated strategic positions for Army commanders. While facilitated by the army, the student movement became something increasingly less controlled by the army. Whereas campus groups in Jakarta and Bandung in the pre-1965 era had found themselves at the epicenter of campus conflicts between pro-communist and anti-communist organizations, by the time the pro-PKI groups were eliminated in late 1965, student activist campaigns shifted. As early as January 1966, student dissent emerged as markedly academic, with students supporting new economic policies and marching in support of exiled neoliberal economists who spoke of introducing foreign direct-investment, lifting import bans, and enacting a shift away from price-controls (Bresnan 1993 and Soe Hok-Gie, 1966 [2005]).

New student newspapers took sides with the army’s seizure of power against the Indonesian president, Sukarno (under house arrest from March 1966). Student editorials in the Army-backed newspaper, Indonesian Student (Raillon 1985) featured strongly worded statements in support of the Army’s intent to remove all traces of Sukarno’s influence from Indonesian campuses. Amidst this shift to military rule (a shift that has been documented as both brutal and savage, killing an estimated one million Indonesians) was a stranger phenomenon: the rise on-campus of a student-centered culture fashioned around student issues and personal concerns rather than partisan-based conflict. Raillon (1985) has documented this new print-culture of the student movement identifying the discourse and the transmission of anti-communist thought through this newspaper.

While the army’s repression across campus included bans on any groups once allied with the PKI or the GMNI, this ban was limited in its reach on campuses. Spaces outside the regulation of state power soon emerged, including departmental study clubs and student-sponsored conferences, suggesting that within narrow parameters academic study was relatively un-infiltrated by the state. In fact, the new military regime promoted academic freedom, a move which legitimized university activities including the student-activism that arose within these academic conferences and student-initiated research and practice groups (some of which led to the early NGO movement by the late 1970s).

Typologies of Student Dissent

If the student dissent that emerged in the immediate aftermath of the PKI-purge could be characterized as at times spontaneous and exuberant, campus dissent movements in the early 1970s can be characterized as more markedly ← 120 | 121 → “contentious talk” in the manner described by Hank Johnston (2005, 115). These activities took place in private settings that stressed students’ elite status “as intellectuals and /or scientists…to strategize ways to challenge regime policies” [and] to proclaim dissent and demonstrate it one way or another to compatriots” (Johnston, 2005, 115).

This shift was not simply one of ideology, it seemed to mark a shift in the practices of the movement itself, in which the movement generated a cultural style that fit or responded to the particular exercise of state-repression. Much of the student dissent in the post-1966 period fits Johnston’s category of “informal politicized talk,” (2005, 113) in which participants engage in speech that is broadly cognizant of what the regime will allow. Through the prism of personal experiences, the politicization of daily life and activist-responses to state repression are evident. This paper examines the activism of two different student dissenters whose activist careers differ significantly. The first student, Soe Hok-Gie, was a literature student at the University of Indonesia in 1966—at the beginning of the New Order. His younger brother, Arief Budiman, is today a prominent Indonesian academic and during the 1970s was an intellectual-critic of the New Order. Budiman was active during the early implementation of New Order-electoral reforms. His critique of the 1971 elections, the GOLPUT, or Golongan Putih (White Group), was Budiman’s dissident campaign.

This paper then ends with the activist campaigns waged by student cohorts at the Institute of Technology in Bandung (West Java) in the mid-to-late 1970s. The individuals behind these actions include Student Chairman, Heri Akmadi and the Student-Councils of 1973–1974 and 1977–1978. These case-studies demonstrate different categories of dissent—whether as “informal politicized talk” or more modest forms of direct action—and demonstrate different cultural adaptations by students to differently repressive circumstances. If the army’s 1965–1966 purge of Sukarno and Communist-ideology involved the empowerment of anti-communist student groups unaffiliated with political parties, the late 1970s demonstrates the potential impact of student empowerment. The military repression of 1978 ended the brief alliance between students and the modernizing military junta that students found uniquely appealing in 1966. It also marked the end of student-activism narrowly tailored to campus concerns. By the late 1970s, activism would end in campus repression that banned the few groups once allowed to express criticism: the Student-Councils. As activists found themselves contemplating exile from politics once more, new shifts in the student movement facilitated a shift towards greater populism and off-campus activism than had been experienced by the campus-based movement of the 1970s. ← 121 | 122 →

Indonesian Academic Culture: Sources of Dissidence

Reading Western magazines, consuming Western culture, and generally immersing themselves in a world funded by American and British sponsorship, including lending-libraries established by the British Council, were all recreational activities that most Indonesian university students enjoyed throughout the 1960s. Ease in this cosmopolitan world was part of how Indonesian academics functioned (particularly since many had studied abroad). In contrast, while Sukarno was part of a generational cohort that had been educated at university abroad (often in the Netherlands), he was an exception to this practice, choosing instead a political career rooted in West Java with the newly-formed PNI (Indonesian National Party) in the 1920s (Adams 1960, Legge 1997 [2003]).

Traditionally, university training did not prepare one for a career in the academy but in politics or the civil-service. The purpose of university education throughout the Dutch era (and also, indeed, during the early years after independence) was to create a new administrative elite. The status conferred by a position within the civil service was one that suited the elite backgrounds of many of the university educated. However, while the civil service in the post-independence period continued to grow to 1.7 million, it failed to absorb most university graduates by the late to early 1960s (Smith and Carpenter 1974). University graduates were also increasingly alienated by the effect of Sukarno-era policies on university instruction and doctrine. The result, by 1961, was a student movement supported by many faculty and older academics alienated by a political process that had reduced the traditional status of intellectuals.

The process of constructing an oppositional consciousness in the early 1960s grew out of movement-communities that were based in the social networks of dissident intellectuals in Jakarta and Bandung, and which were rooted in the culturally-cosmopolitan circles that existed in Jakarta between literature-students, the military, writers and journalists. These circles were increasingly defined by individuals who professed the prestige of scientific knowledge and technical expertise. As Sukarno was viewed increasingly as an ideological puppet of the PKI, many dissidents sought refuge in study-circles and underground discussion groups held in and around Jakarta in the mid-1960s. Documented by Janet Steele’s 2005 book about Indonesia’s first newsweekly, Tempo (modelled on Time magazine), these circles involved a number of overlapping categories: students, journalists, writers, literature-professors, and contacts from the Congress for Cultural Freedom’s Asia Program, which sponsored early anti-communist journals like Mochtar Lubis’ Obor [Torch] (Steele 2005, 39). These discussion groups functioned less as active-dissident groups than as dissident-spaces where disgruntled individuals gathered ← 122 | 123 → to talk and circulate readings. They functioned to sustain and nurture dissident intellectuals and their writing.

Soe Hok-Gie: Adapting Personal Disgust and Rage into Political-Activism

Soe Hok-Gie was a dissident figure who emerged in the student movement in the 1965 anti-Communist student movement known as KAMI (United Action Front of Indonesian Students). Soe Hok-Gie described much of the KAMI-activism in his journal, later published as Catatan Demonstran (Demonstration Notes, 1966 [Republished in in 2005]]). Soe Hok-Gie’s journal is a primary source which documents events in Jakarta from January 15-January 30, 1966, a period during which KAMI was an active street presence. His journals describe the sometimes anarchic, sometimes joyous participation of students at the prominent University of Indonesia in Jakarta during January 1966.

The University of Indonesia in Jakarta had a history of student activism that dated back to medical-student activism in the late-1930s, during the period of Japanese occupation (Anderson 1972 [2006]). During the 1950s, the university was at the epicenter of Indonesian president Sukarno’s political program known as Guided Democracy. The doctrine of higher education, revised continuously in the post-independence era, stressed the social obligations of individuals in the educational system. In 1950, the goal of education was outlined by the official mandate Tri Dharma, or “Three Pillars of Service of Education.” The Tri Dharma specified the purpose of higher-education as 1) [to] educate, 2) [to]research, and 3) [to] provide community service…to create decent, capable human beings and democratic citizens who will be responsible for the welfare of society and our nation” (Buchori and Malik 2005, 257).

In an attempt to unify diverse and at times incompatible groups—nationalists, communists, traditionalist and modernist Muslims—the Indonesian president and former revolutionary leader Sukarno tried to promote Indonesian culture and identity throughout the 1950s. Following the 1957 parliamentary elections, which saw major gains by his party’s major rival, the PKI (Indonesian Communist Party), Guided Democracy was a massive effort by Sukarno to exercise political control in an increasingly fractious political landscape. In West Java, where Sukarno’s party, the PNI (Indonesian Nationalist Party), was based, opposition to the PKI was especially strong and evident among student groups. Increasingly, on campuses in West Java conflict escalated between nationalist and communist students.

Growth of the PKI had occurred outside the urban university milieu (McVey 1990). Almost all of the PKI’s efforts from 1961 to 1964 had been in areas of rural ← 123 | 124 → development, education for training cadres, and organization of civilian ‘fronts’. While the PKI’s membership grew to 2 million by 1964, its base was not among left-leaning intellectuals, many of whom identified with PSI (Indonesian Socialist Party). University students, especially at ITB (and among somewhat PSI circles), saw themselves as more “western” and “modern”. They were

not attracted to the PKI. Moreover, the idealists among them were alienated by the corruption and hypocrisies of Guided Democracy, and they considered the PKI particularly culpable for supporting that system … as the post-coup student demonstrations would show, class attitudes and anti-establishment ideals combined among them to produce a virulent anti-communism.” (McVey 1990, 20).

Students at ITB recounted how Sukarno’s revolutionary ideology did not suit their sensibilities: “try telling an engineering student that two plus two equals five—it doesn’t work. That’s how [it was]” (Syarief Tando quoted in Hasyrul Mochtar 1997, 493). Students’ anti-communist beliefs were founded on hostility to new education reforms introduced in the early 1960s which emphasized goals of higher-education to include social responsibility and social justice. The shift from a goal-oriented education to one defined by ideology as socially-oriented was not an easy shift for non-communist students to absorb.

Under the Regulation on Higher Education, No. 22, passed in 1961, schools were directed to “develop pupils’ regard for both national and international morality and religious beliefs, intellectual, emotional and artistic lives, manual skills and physical health” (quoted in Murray [1973, 375]). In a move that especially infuriated large segments of Islamic political parties, the re-revised Education Law in 1961 defined education’s purpose as “the realization of an Indonesian socialist society… just and prosperous … materially and spiritually” (Basis and Aim of Education in Free Indonesia, 1962). To Muslim political leaders and social reformers, the 1961 mandate was further evidence of PKI’s outsize influence on national-policy. In fact, Sukarno’s Minister of Education, Prijono, a professor of literature was appointed in 1957. A member of the left-leaning Murba party, his appointment was regarded as a nod towards the influence of the PKI (Douglas 1970, 6). Prijono’s new mandates as Education Secretary further angered Muslim leaders by reducing religious instruction and mandating the instruction of “Social Education”—a curriculum that covered historical topics including “acquaintance with national heroes and holidays, the national language, flag, emblem and motto,” (Douglas 1970, 67).

Sukarno’s speeches on the Political-Manifesto were required reading at the high-school level and required for graduation from university. The poet Rendra recalled the contradictions in the national education policy, which had once promoted ← 124 | 125 → “humanistic education stressing a changing world view, developing an appreciation for objective facts…for logic…and appreciation of arts…and a teaching of compassion and charity through literature and poetry,” an attitude abandoned in the 1960s for a policy akin to “slapstick comedy” (interview, Cohen 1999, 3). In the 1960s, students’ attitudes shifted as they increasingly identified as ‘modern’ and “democratic” individuals in a society that was culturally “backwards” or “feudal.”

By the early 1960s all groups were required to adopt a new official ideology called NASAKOM/Manipol-USDEK, or face an official ban. Manipol-USDEK stood for the Political-Manifesto [a reference to a speech made by Sukarno on August 17, 1959] in which he outlined a new political outline emphasizing nationalism and communism [NASAKOM] (Feith, 1962[2007] 595). The USDEK was an Indonesian acronym which Sukarno constructed from “five essential points 1) the Indonesian constitution, 2) Indonesian socialism, 3) the ideology of Guided Democracy, 4) Indonesia’s State-Guided Economy, 5) Indonesian identity (Feith, 1962 [2007] 596). Campus events had to meet new ideological standards determined by guidelines outlined in 1961 in the mandate, the Political Manifesto (Manipol-USDEK). These sanctions curtailed students’ ability to enjoy Western movies and music at campus carnivals or events. At campuses like ITB and UI students routinely enjoyed screening of foreign films, jazz nights, and art exhibitions. New prohibitions interfered with social and cultural campus life, including the ritual hazing inflicted on all first-year students—all were banned for being representative of foreign cultural influences.

Throughout the 1960s, the military increased its supervision over university affairs. Starting with the 1957 “Crush Malaysia!” campaign, university administrators required students’ mandatory participation in drill exercises and daily marches (Douglas 1970, 75–76). Intellectual critiques of Guided Democracy that focused on the ideological requirements of the Political Manifesto were strongest among those who wrote and thought for a living. Journalists and writers regarded the MANIPOL-USDEK campaign as a restriction on free-expression (Steele 2005 35).

As a literature student and journalist, Soe Hok-Gie was part of a small underground circle of dissidents in the Literature department at the University of Indonesia, which included former professors of Economics, like Soejdatmoko, whom Soe Hok-Gie referred to as “Koko” in his diaries. Army historian Nugroho Notosusanto, employed at the University of Indonesia as a lecturer, tried to cultivate close relations with student activists, including Soe Hok-Gie. During periods when bus transportation was generally unavailable, Gie reported getting rides to and from the University of Indonesia to his house in the Kebon Sirih neighborhood of Jakarta from Notosusanto (Maxwell 2001, 132). ← 125 | 126 →

Values emphasized in Gie’s journals regarding his daily contact with ABRI generals in the post –coup period suggest that the officers embodied courage, professionalism, and pragmatism. For example, Gie recalled the following incident:

Nugroho is very aware. In 1958 was part of demonstrations in front of the French embassy against the colonial war in Algeria. He became very emotional about it and became very hot-tempered, banging the pencil sharpener on his desk as he recalled shouting ‘Vive l’Algerie!”…He told us, ‘every time I see that picture in my head at that demonstration I become that person.” We spoke for a bit but it seemed we were embarrassing him, so we changed the subject (Maxwell 2001, 132).

Soe Hok-Gie had strong personal sentiments that were clearly opposed to Sukarno’s self-aggrandizing style of politics. Sukarno, Soe Hok-Gie wrote, “only builds palaces; things that cannot be enjoyed by the people who are all hungry” (Maxwell 2001, 12). In his critique of Sukarno’s personal behavior Soe Hok-Gie quietly acknowledged the need for a new national culture from one under Sukarno that was corrupt and glorified power to one more individualistic and humanist (Soe Hok-Gie 1966 [2005], 138). Some intellectuals rallied, in anonymous manuscripts, around themes of illness and renewal (pembahruran) for ‘reform” (Maxwell 2001, 138). The idea of renewal appealed to many, who like Gie who were both repulsed and fascinated by the president:

I remember meeting Bung Karno [Sukarno] three times at the palace. I looked at the female assistants he had working for him … but I remember thinking, seeing his secretaries … I knew just looking around that I didn’t care for it. Yes, they were pretty but it seemed dirty and corrupt to me. Whenever I left the palace I felt sick and disappointed. (Demonstration Notes 1966 [2005] 126)

At a time when large, mass-membership organizations prevailed across campuses, Soe Hok-Gie’s most lasting contribution in politics was his individual cultural criticism of Sukarno and the political extravagance of his administration. Soe Hok-Gie’s own politics were shaped by his background as a Christian Chinese-Indonesian who was on the periphery of politics and whose own anti-political politics was no doubt shaped by personal aspects of his identity.

Anderson’s 1970 obituary of Soe Hok-Gie (“In Memoriam: Soe Hok-Gie,”) suggests a different interpretation for the youth’s anti-Sukarno opposition than that proposed by John Maxwell (Soe Hok-Gie’s biographer). While Maxwell speculated that Soe Hok-Gie may have admired the armed forces for their heroics and ideals of sacrifice, Anderson instead argued that Soe Hok-Gie’s

Fondness for the ideals for a modern democratic society were “encapsulated” by the spirit of modernization that seemed to lurk in both the ideals and values that students and the army shared in the pre-coup days. While Gie would go on to be very critical of the ← 126 | 127 → Army and the student-leaders in the post-coup period, the idea of ‘modernization’ did not mean for Gie what it meant for the military…Modernization…for him meant, above all liberation: liberation from hypocritical conventions and the degradation of accepted servitude. Being modern meant being able to stand up to those in power and see them for what they really are” (Anderson 1970, 227).

The 1970s: The Landscape of Student-Dissent and the White-Group (GOLPUT) Campaign

Compared to the landscape of the 1960s, where political parties aggressively recruited students, the campus in the New Order was a more sterile environment. While groups like GMNI and HMI continued to exist and recruit student members, the emerging leaders on campus were the elected representatives of the student-body on each campus: the Student Councils and Senates. The Student Councils were a product of reforms passed after independence by the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Instruction in 1947.

Medical students had lobbied for a system of student councils ‘to discuss the possibility of establishing a general student union for coordinating student activities and for representing the student body (resembling a structure that existed on many “Anglo-American universities”). The desire to create student councils had taken place in the 1950s out of desire to create ‘indigenous’ student organizations to combat the culture of “Dutch” social clubs (Augusdin Aminoedin, “Student Organizations in Indonesia,” Date unknown).

Student Councils had legitimacy on campus; they had tried to improve student life. In Bandung, the Student Council lobbied for a branch of a local bank to be built on campus for students and for canteens on campus. In Jakarta, the student council undertook surveys of students in Jakarta (Salim 1954). It helped enormously that the Student Councils also had allies in the press. “The student press,” Indro Cahyono (a former student-activist) told me, was “behind the promotion of the idea that students could articulate the peoples’ aspirations. It was the student journalists who most distrusted the political process” (Interview by author with Indro Cahyono Jakarta, June 2002).

Press coverage aided student mobilization efforts. Each time the press published a petition or was in attendance at a Student Council seminar, the story that followed helped promote the movement’s grievances, raised the profile of the student movement, and provided publicity for the movement’s activities. The student newspapers would, as Francois Raillon put it, “became the vehicle for students who wanted to forge a new history” (1985, 70). In the post-1966 period, the student newspapers began to perform another function: to produce work ← 127 | 128 → by students, including investigative reporting, as well as to update on activism throughout campuses across the country (Douglas 1970, Steele 2005).

New student groups were increasingly active. One such group was Mahasiswa Menggaguat (“Students Oppose”), formed in Jakarta on January 15, 1970. It intended to pressure the government to speed up an investigation on corruption known as the Commission of Four. Mahasiswa Menggaguat is typical of the efforts of students in the post-KAMI era. Actions were built around social networks of activists, student groups, and pre-existing movement communities. Alongside these, actions also involved new efforts by students in Bandung to “Petition for Justice,” a statement signed by students in the KAPI group in Bandung. The petition expressed students’ mistrust of government” and called on government to be more socially responsible. This included, as some student groups demanded in Yogyakarta and Jakarta, “calls for a government-imposed ban on massage parlors and gambling dens in support of more ‘socially responsible’ development” (Reported in Mahasiswa Indonesia, January 21, 1970).

More problematic had been the promised electoral reforms. As Zufluki Lubis, the leader of the group Young Generation, said to about 30 students in November, 1970:

the government, the army, the political parties form a group in politics [who] do not, at all, have a modern orientation. They are not at all democratic. They are totalitarian (totaliter)….[students] are part of a new political force that is outside the political power of the army and political parties and which will only represent our interests and aspirations (Reported in Mahasiswa Indonesia, November 29, 1970).

Suharto had promised in 1967 that “the New Order would not degenerate into a military dictatorship, and that the rule of law, democratic principles and human rights would be upheld” (Bourchier and Hadiz, 2003, 12). The regime promised new elections to be scheduled within two-years when it was first inaugurated in March 1966. However, electoral - reforms were delayed pending new rules implementing changes to political parties and mass organizations. Political parties were re-shaped into three broad party-groups, and a small number of mass-organizations were officially sanctioned by the government. If Indonesian politics under Sukarno had been a chaotic and sometimes seething environment, in the early years of the New Order politics was purged of all conflict, except that wielded by the state.

Officially, the 1971 election involved choices between three party groups—blocs two of political parties [one secular bloc and one Muslim bloc] and the Golkar [functional groups] party. Intellectuals feared the growing militarization of politics, concerns the new regime dismissed as “groundless” (Suharto, 1967 [2003], PAGE). The regime attempted to avoid the fragmented electoral composition of the ← 128 | 129 → Indonesian parliament by implementing new rules governing party organization (Suharto, 1967 “Interim Peoples’ Representative Council” Address). The new rules forced existing political parties to consolidate. One new political party—Golongan Karya (“Functional Groups,”) recruited from over 90 groups and associations, including the civil service and the military. Secular and Moslem political parties were consolidated into “blocs,” supposedly consistent with the 1945 Constitution. (Besar [1968] quoted in Chalmers and Hadiz [2003,43]).

Through examination of two student dissident campaigns in the 1970s—1) the 1971 White-Group (GOLPUT) Campaign and 2) the 1978 student campaigns against national elections—these activities reveal strategic political identities students adopted during a period when expressing political opposition was extremely difficult due to strict restrictions on public groups, gatherings, and anti-government speech. At times, student dissident campaigns reflected a shifting dynamic involving the promotion of public narratives about corruption and virtue. At other times, students organized actions aimed at the new electoral reforms.

A call to boycott the 1971 election was followed by a creative and imaginative campaign called GOLPUT, or White Group (Golongan Putih), a word play on the Golkar (Functional Groups). GOLPUT grew out of a justification for student activism newly identified in the 1970s by Arief Budiman as “moral force power (Budiman 1978). Moral force power meant that “students sought only to speak their minds, to inform policy-makers of problems and injustices, and then, as in the manner of classical Javanese mythology, retreat” (Budiman, 1978, 610). Moral force power permitted a strategic critical role for student-dissent, even while perhaps rendering students essentially powerless to act.

At a meeting of GMNI (Nationalist Indonesian Student Movement) on the 25th of November, 1970, Arief Budiman called the upcoming elections “a theatrical exercise designed to disguise rule by force,” “sandiwara penguuasa untuk mempertahakan kekuasaanja.” (GMNI Diskusi Kader Nasional [National Recruitment Discussion, Indonesian Nationalist Student Organization], West Java, 21–25 November, 1970). The GOLPUT campaign urged Indonesian citizens to demonstrate opposition to the election by refusing to participate. Opposition did not have to be difficult or expensive, its proponents said: “To show that someone identifies with the White Group, they will wear a white five-sided badge with a black border. They can make these badges themselves using a piece of card and a safety pin” (Golput Manifesto [1971], Bourchier and Hadiz 2003, 73–74).

The White Group called on individuals to critically evaluate the electoral reforms that had made the Indonesian people “spectators” in their own politics. The White Group, themselves, denied political ambitions. Instead, it aimed at carrying ← 129 | 130 → out “public education for the general public, especially the younger generation … through holding discussions concerning current political issues, by openly sharing thoughts and so on.” (Golput Manifesto [1971], Bourchier and Hadiz 2003, 73). Defining its identity against the values and culture of the New Order, the White Group noted:

It does not aim to make people follow any particular political stream but to encourage them to think critically and creatively in confronting their environment. … The White Group movement in itself already constitutes political education, by implanting awareness within society that in a general election every citizen has the right not to vote (in Bourchier and Hadiz 2003, 73–4).

GOLPUT denied it was an organization,

The White Group is not an organization. It is an identity, an identity for those who are not satisfied with the present situation because the rules of democracy have been trampled upon, not just by political parties (for example, when they initiated the general election regulations) but also the Golongan Karya [Golkar] who in their endeavor to win this election utilized government agencies as well as undemocratic methods” Bourchier and Hadiz 2003, 73–4).

The adoption of an identity constructed around “a cultural movement” that did not “struggle for … political power, but a social tradition whereby basic rights are always protected from arbitrary power” reflected the posture of “moral force” power identified by Budiman (1978, 610). The group was careful to identify as law-abiding and to not risk using overt tactics that could be labeled disruptive. The “White Group does not act outside the law,” its organizers proclaimed, but in fact to “strengthen obedience of the law” (Golput Manifesto [1971], Bourchier and Hadiz 2003 74). As an adaptation to the repression of direct action and large mass-membership organizations, the White Group fit the contours of what was acceptable opposition-speak in the New Order. It exemplified the moral-force power idea of critique without action.

The student movement,” Arief Budiman argued (1978, 616), was modeled on “the [Javanese concept of the] resi, the hermits and sages [who] reside in isolated caves or on lonely mountainsides, removed or withdrawn from the society. Their typical role is to diagnose decay within the kingdom and to give warning of the impending downfall of the dynasty.”

Following the GOLPUT campaign, students increasingly agitated against foreign investment in Indonesia, spurred on by development projects in which Japan played a leading role. In the following parable (called the Water Buffalo parable), the student-movement is depicted in the conversation between two water-buffaloes: ← 130 | 131 →

One day a large, well-fed buffalo was speaking to a thin buffalo, “Believe me when I say we are all well-fed. We are building a new nation, so just stay quiet, everything will be alright.” The little one answered, “So, if ordered, I should just stay quiet? Meanwhile, our friends get thinner as the fields of grass get bigger! How can one stay quiet in a world so corrupt?” The large buffalo replied, “It won’t come to that, but remember little one, don’t grow horns so long that you are no longer polite and become angry.” (ITB Student-Council Open-Letter, “Dialog between Two Water Buffaloes,” 1973).

This parable referenced the regime’s own discourse on development. A growing narrative of corruption framed many of the students’ concerns. The reference to “long horns” was a sly reference to the criminalizing of ‘long-haired’ men that had recently occurred in 1973 during a period of much urban unrest in Bandung and Jakarta.

On August 9, 1973, following the worst of the riots in Bandung that resulted in the destruction of 1000 stores and 150 automobiles, one newspaper, Indonesia Raya, noted that “Bandung may have seen some of the worst of the violence because of the ‘liberal attitudes’ of the city’s youth and because of lingering class resentments between groups of rich and poor youth” (“Let this Be a Lesson,” August 9, 1973, page unknown). While students had denied any involvement in the riots and violence that swept through Bandung in August 1973, they were nonetheless singled out as instigators for the unrest. Finally, the parable could be read as a description of the interaction between older and younger activists during many student dialogues. The parable captured sentiments of bapakism (paternalism) endemic in national politics.

Indigenous Power, Indigenous capital: Nationalist Themes of Student Activism in the early 1970s

Whereas Sukarno-era policies generally insulated the Indonesian economy from direct foreign-investment and cooperative ventures, the early New Order regime reversed these policies. The 1967 Foreign Investment Act authorized tax incentives to foreign companies with contracts in three sectors: public-infrastructure, the media, and retail-distribution (Chalmers and Hadiz 2004, 15). In keeping with the regime’s emphasis on state-led development, the first Five Year Plan for Development (REPELITA I) was implemented in 1969. REPELITA emphasized “the agricultural sector and the types of industry supporting it (fertilizer, machinery, and equipment)…targets what is most urgently needed by the public at large: food, clothing, improved infrastructure, people’s housing, a wider field of employment, and spiritual well-being” (Suharto, 1969). Both policies were part of the general shift towards, on one hand, opening the Indonesian economy to more external influences and, on the other hand, a more rational, state-planned process of intervention in the domestic-economy. As John Bresnan noted, ← 131 | 132 →

The most controversial aspect … was not any of these general policies … but rather the specific practices they permitted. The regime was immersed in corrupt practices in the granting of licenses, lending of funds, letting of contract, and every other form of state action that had any economic value … many observers believed that Indonesian corruption was the most pervasive in the region (Bresnan 1993, 292).

The shift in policies toward greater foreign government investment and greater freedom by foreign investors to operate through joint-ventures was especially criticized by many student activists who were familiar with the lessons of dependent development from Latin America, as Rizal Ramli explained (Interview by author, Jakarta, June 6, 2002). Through discussion groups in the 1970s, students began to read and discuss books that referenced the experiences of newly-industrializing economies. A former student activist from Bandung told me:

We saw that Japan and Korea were the biggest models for Indonesian economic development—there wasn’t much in the way of popular participation in the economy other than as labor, as participation in physical terms. Rather, decision-making was made by a small group of technocrats within the state [which] provided the basis for cronyism (Interview by author, Yusman SD, Bandung, April 1 2002).

Protesting against Japanese investment in Indonesia permitted students a new public role. Student-held protests outside the Japanese-owned President Hotel in Jakarta drew attention to an urban consumer culture constructed around the acquisition of imported Japanese goods like Suzuki motorcycles and Sony transistor radios (Bresnan 1993, Aspinall 1999). It would also be the last time that the regime would tolerate student protest. A former Student-Council Activist, Hariman Siregar, told me, “From 1974 to 1976, universities changed, Suharto banned students from organizing. Students never again experienced the university in the same way” (Interview, Jakarta, April 2002).

The White Book: Student Opposition in the Late 1970s

Student-council activism was a particular form of dissident culture that acknowledged the roles of intellect and prestige and power attached to particular types of knowledge and technical expertise. In the New Order period, students recognized that the values of intellectual inquiry could be used as tools of activism. Part of this component of their identity was shaped by the repressive context of the New Order state, which led students at the Technology Institute (Bandung, West Java) to write their own manifesto that would become known as The White Book (Heri Akmadi, interview by author, Jakarta, June 2, 2002).

The White Book reverberated with themes that had been discussed in study clubs and discussion groups since 1975. Students demanded greater political ← 132 | 133 → accountability of external actors such as foreign government lenders and banks. Students also began to insist on a greater role for local actors, rather than top-down imposed solutions that tended to emphasize ‘experts’ and foreign consultants. In 1977, students began to emphasize political reform as part of their dissident writings and action. They began to openly demand open elections without intimidation and with secret balloting. Rallying around the opposition candidate Governor of Jakarta, Ali Sadikin, they issued a number of reasons why Suharto should not be reelected. These reasons included 1) the failure of the developmental strategy, 2) the corrupt practices of the regime in implementing development, 3) the failure of the government to subsidize domestic rice-producers at the expense of foreign investors and 4) the general failure of the government to improve the economic conditions of most of Indonesia’s poor (The White Book, 1978, 153–154).

Heri Akmadi and the ITB Student Council in the late 1970s

Elected at the end of November 1977 as the Chairman of the ITB Student Council, Heri was Chairman at a time when, he remarked, the student body had been “asleep” (Interview, Rizal Ramli, Jakarta, June 2002). As the newly elected Student-Council Chairman in 1977, Heri Akmadi acknowledged the role students had historically played in politics:

“the basis of the students’ political stance in their struggle…is [their] natural trait…[to] seek knowledge and strive after truth…Students are trained as a matter of course to be perpetually restless and to doubt everything, so that they can then use their mental capacities to analyze each phenomenon logically, systematically and objectively” (Akmadi 1979, 112).

Heri Akmadi saw students as uniquely positioned to challenge the exercise of power. The failure of intellectuals to actively critique, Akamdi noted, was no surprise, given the New Order:

“The Intellectuals, who are supposed to be better informed about their rights and responsibilities in society, are also affected by this climate of fear. We can detect its influence in their choice of words. Many intellectuals prefer to use veiled and sometimes confusing language to describe certain realities…They see the examples set by the many Indonesian Intellectuals who have been formerly incarcerated in prison because they openly expressed their opinions about some situation which reflected badly on the New Order” (Akmadi 1979, 143).

Student councils were frozen and replaced by new organizations that were no longer headed by students, but by Rectors’ Assistants (Akmadi 1979, 71). Existing student associations such as HMI (Islamic Student Association), GMNI (Indonesian Nationalist Student Movement), PMKRI (Indonesian Catholic Student ← 133 | 134 → Association), GMKI (Indonesian Christian Student Movement), and PMI (Indonesian Muslim Student Movement) were prohibited from conducting activities on university campuses (Hadiwinata 2003, 63). The decision in 1978 to suspend campus activities and to arrest and detain the leaders of student government associations was a bitter end to the regime’s initial support for the student movement. Campus Normalization in 1979 would force the student movement out of politics; it emphasized solely scientific activities and analysis for students and membership in scholarly, rather than political, organizations. This policy sought to disempower student-dissidents who had, since the 1930s functioned as public critics and contributed to public discourses. Against the constraints of normalization, students publicly stated their grievances in terms of moral opposition to abuse of power. Despite the network structure of the student movement, individual activists would play key roles in issuing public criticism. Their methods were necessarily creative, reliant on court-testimony, participation in international conferences, academic work, manifestos, and research. As Heri Akmadi summed up the situation in 1979, “there is no role in decision-making for individuals, groups or social groups outside [the state;] once again the student’s role is only that of an errand boy” (Akmadi, 1979, 51).

Conclusion: Oppositional Politics and Dissent in the 1970s

The student dissidence described in this work reflected both private and public-frustrations, grievances, and intellectual concerns about the increasingly authoritarian nature of Indonesian politics. Particular modes of protest and repertoires evolved as a result. Through speeches, manifestos, declarations, and articles, activists would generally express their private and personal disillusionment with, rather than criticism of, the status quo. Student activism is not as simple as the notion of “generational anger” suggests (Feuer 1966). A long history of student participation in Indonesian politics demonstrates that activism was not fueled solely by grievances, but that it’s mobilization relied on existing networks of social organizations and sponsored activities. Whether it was football-clubs, discussion groups, dormitories, or study-clubs, these activities promoted communities built on strong solidarities that could be easily converted (in the way Doug McAdam [1993] understood) into a basis for insurgency.

As representative of something broader and more significant, the student leaders in the 1960s absorbed ideals that were shared by activists of the same time outside Indonesia: of a search for meaning and authenticity by youth in a world defined by irrationality and tremendous state violence. The rise of intellectual dissidents in the Indonesian student movement marked a fundamental shift in ← 134 | 135 → a movement that for most of its early history was defined by groups (political parties, student organizations, and clubs) rather than individuals. The student movement provided an arena of socialization where individuals learnt political skills, developed tactics, and found their political voice—whether as exiles, political dissidents, or emerging leaders.

The military would redefine the Indonesian nation in 1966 as both anti-communist and post-Sukarno. As the first president of Indonesia and the leader of Indonesian independence in 1949, Sukarno had built his own myths of nationalism in the 1950s as a strategy to govern. As I have attempted to show intellectual critiques of the Sukarno years took aim at the ideological components of the policies and the often rote-recitation required to carry out basic functions (in order to graduate from university, for example). In contrast, a decade later, when political -parties and mass-organizations were blunted into mere instruments of state-sanctioned popular will, student-activists came to represent often lone-voices in the expression of individual conscience against authority, conformity, and dictatorship.

New to the 1970s was the adaptation by students to a culture and politics constructed around the myths and symbols of the military regime, the New Order. Despite its relatively small size and official attempts to limit their activism, the 1970s student movement had a large and relatively lasting impact. I regard as one of their most important aspects their ability to serve as the “critical communities” that Thomas Rochon (1998, 50) argued are essential to lasting and effective social activism. The student movement’s most lasting impact was the way students contributed to ideas and strategies of political reform, which then became part of the Anti-Suharto movement in the 1990s. Many of their ideas did not become fully realized as broader social strategies for action in Indonesia until the 1980s and 1990s. By then, students who were active in the 1970s were no longer politically active or had left Indonesia to finish professional degrees at universities abroad. Some, like Akmadi and Ramli returned to Indonesia in the 1990s and continued to be involved in political reform. The themes of corruption and nepotism became central to the populist reform movement, Reformasi, that swept Indonesia in the late 1990s and which, in 1998, would result in Suharto’s resignation.


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1 This research was based on access to Indonesian archival sources and analysis of textual materials (student newspapers, journals, biographies, autobiographies) as well as 21 interviews with former activists in the student movement, as well as documents and compiled sources from the student-movement, carried out at the National Archives in Jakarta, the Masters’ Library at Gadjah Mada University, and from collections of student newspapers from the 1970s housed at Cornell University’s Kroch Library and at Columbia University in New York City.