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					                               Civil Society and Democratization:

             From aliran struggle to civil society in the countryside of Indonesia.

                                         Edward Aspinall

Paper presented at East West Center Workshop on „Civil Society and Political Change in Asia‟,

                                 Phnom Penh, 24-28 October2002.

                          Please do not cite without author‟s permission.

Few countries provide clearer evidence than Indonesia that there is no simple correlation between

a dense civil society and democracy. In the 1950s and 1960s, despite high levels of poverty and

illiteracy, Indonesia's citizens were deeply engaged in associational activity. Labor unions,

women‟s organizations, peasant associations, as well as similar bodies for artists, students and

other groups, flourished. By the mid-1960s a large majority of the adult population were either

members of, or closely identified with, political or social associations.

This flurry of organizational activity did not produce a benign outcome in terms of democratic

political change. Instead, there was escalating and increasingly violent conflict between

contending socio-political currents, and a drift toward more authoritarian rule. This culminated in

1965 with one of the late twentieth century's bloodiest massacres and the inauguration of one of its

most durable authoritarian regimes, the 'New Order' of President Suharto (1966-1998).

By the 1990s, after three decades during which the military-led state had prevented, impeded and

controlled potential societal challenges, a revival of independent associational life was visible.

Some previously docile corporatist organizations became more assertive, a variegated and

energetic non-governmental organization (NGO) sector emerged, and there were even attempts to

organize previously repressed groups like industrial workers and peasants. Yet the extent of

popular participation in this new civil society was small compared to the 1960s.

This far weaker civil society in the 1990s, however, contributed to the overthrow of the Suharto

regime and a transition toward a more democratic form of rule. Suharto‟s immediate successors,

Presidents Habibie (1998-99) and Abdurrahman Wahid (1999-2001), proclaimed that they

intended to construct a new democratic order in which masyarakat madani (civil society) occupied

pride of place.

One explanation for the different outcomes lies in the very different nature of associational life in

the two periods. In the 1950s and 1960s, civil society was deeply polarized. Associational life

adhered to and inflamed cleavages in society, both along class lines, and between socio-religious

groups. Decades of authoritarian rule not only greatly weakened and fragmented civil society; it

also meant that by the mid-1990s the state had become the central problematic of political life for

the emergent civil society. Groups in civil society no longer viewed each other as their primary

adversaries. A new political discourse emerged which emphasised the creation of a “system of

rights” (Blaney and Pasha 1993) and constraint of the state.

Put most simply, the Indonesian experience suggests that only a civil society that is truly civil

supports democracy. Where the primary modes of action in civil society are violent or

confrontational, maximalist, and given to polarization, democratic rule is unlikely to survive. This

is especially the case where associational life reinforces and exacerbates societal cleavages. In

contrast, where civil society actors moderate their most ambitious goals for remaking state and

society, and no longer view each other as their primary adversaries, then the political environment

is likely to be more conducive to democracy. Key conditions for such an outcome include minimal

societal consensus about the desired nature of the social and political order, and at least some civil

society organizations which cut across, rather than reinforce, societal cleavages.

It is important to stress, before moving on, that it is not my contention that a relationship of simple

causality connects civil society and political change. It was not only the conflictual nature of

Indonesian civil society which contributed to the decline of democracy in the 1950s and 1960s.

Many other factors played a crucial role, especially the fateful decisions and interventions by

important political actors (in this case, especially President Sukarno and the army leadership) at

key junctures. The same can be said about the downfall of Suharto in 1998. The changed nature of

civil society was not the only, or even necessarily the most important, factor contributing to this

political transition. Civil society was important in many ways, however, not least by setting the

limits of possible political change: enabling actors to make some political choices, while disabling

other choices, or making them more costly. Civil society, I will argue, performs this function

especially by contributing to an underlying ideological climate in society. It played an especially

important role in the end of the Suharto regime by undermining the ideological foundations of

authoritarian rule.

With this caveat in mind, a key question which arises is: how does a conflictual civil society,

which may be destructive to democracy, evolve into a more peaceable civil society, which allows

it? The discussion in the following pages suggests that in seeking to answer this question there is

little alternative to detailed historical analysis of the particular country concerned. In the

Indonesian case, three factors were especially important, although the list is by no means

exhaustive. The first was the changing relationship of the state and civil society, especially the

former‟s structuring of civil society, as well as how groups in civil society come to view the state.

The second was the impact of capitalist development on the civil society, its changing class

structure, and the extent to which different social classes were able to assert dominance within it.

The third factor was the changing international context, especially the impact of international

linkages on the domestic civil society.

             Antecedents of civil society: aliran politics and hyper-politicization.

Civil society does not always support democracy. Sheri Berman (1997, 402), for example, has

suggested that “a robust civil society actually helped scuttle the twentieth century's most critical

democratic experiment, Weimar Germany.” She argues that this was primarily because

associational life adhered to and exacerbated social cleavages: “Germany was cleaved

increasingly into distinct subcultures or communities, each of which had its own, separate

associational life” (Berman 1997, 425). This deeply fractured civil society undermined the

legitimacy of national political institutions and provided a pool of cadres who supported the Nazis‟

destruction of the parliamentary regime.

The Indonesian experience during the first two decades of independence (1945-65) shared some

similarities with Weimar Germany. During that period, Indonesia had dense associational life.

Society at all levels was highly mobilized and politicized. This dense associational life did not

produce positive outcomes in terms of ameliorating conflict and encouraging “civility” within

society, or for democratizing the state. On the contrary, during the 1950s and 1960s conflict

between rival socio-political groups became more violent and unconstrained, accompanied by

increasing political authoritarianism, including a growing role for the military. These trends

culminated in the establishment of Suharto's military-based New Order regime in 1966.

Unlike in Germany, however, where Sherman argues that civil society undermined the party

system, Indonesian civil society was closely linked to the political parties, especially the major

Communist, Islamic and Nationalist parties. The deep politicization and organization of

Indonesian society in the 1950s and 1960s took the form of “aliran politics”, a term which was first

introduced by Clifford Geertz and subsequently became highly influential in studies of Indonesian

politics. In a 1959 article entitled 'The Javanese Village', Geertz (1959, 37) describes aliran in the

following way:

       An aliran consists of a political party surrounded by a set of voluntary social
       organizations formally or informally linked to it. In Java there are only four such
       alirans of importance: the PNI or Nationalists; the PKI or Communists; the
       Masjumi, or Modernist Moslem; and the NU, or Orthodox Moslem. With one or
       another of these parties as the nucleus, an aliran is a cluster of nationally based
       organizations -- women's clubs, youth groups, religious societies, and so on --
       sharing a similar ideological direction or standpoint...An aliran is more than a mere
       political party, certainly more than a mere ideology; it is a comprehensive pattern
       of social integration.

The aliran pattern of social organization had its immediate roots in the deep politicization of

Indonesian society during the revolutionary period, and in the logic of national political

competition thereafter. In 1945-49, parties, mass associations and militias proliferated. While their

overriding aim was to rid Indonesia of the Dutch colonialists, there was considerable conflict

between groups with different visions of how an independent Indonesia should be constituted,

leading to social revolutions in some areas, violent conflict between Communists and Muslims,

and the proclamation of an Islamic revolt. After the Dutch relinquished sovereignty, the infant

republic had to construct a workable political order, in conditions where many of its impoverished

and war-ravaged citizens had high expectations that merdeka (freedom) would satisfy their widely

varied material and other needs. Under parliamentary democracy (1950-59), electoral competition

impelled the parties into a fierce competition to expand their mass organizations. Amidst

widespread political and social conflict, and with considerable public disillusionment with the

political parties, President Sukarno eventually abolished parliamentary rule, with army support.

During „Guided Democracy‟ (1959-65), he presided over an unstable balance between the

contending mass-based socio-political forces, playing rival groups off against one another and

considerably exacerbating political tensions. Mass mobilization and organization became means

for the parties to demonstrate loyalty to Sukarno‟s anti-imperialist order and secure a place in

national government.

More generally, the flourishing of aliran politics stemmed from a failure of the state. Geertz

argued that the colonial and post-colonial state had failed to penetrate village society effectively.

Largely as a result, the aliran acted as the basic skeleton of social organization there, performing

numerous religious, educational, economic and other integrative functions and organizing the

“reconstruction of vigorous village life.” These networks of mass organizations, each centered on

a political party, substituted for effective state institutions. Through the aliran-linked

organizations, villagers could arrange loans, secure assistance to harvest their crops or repair their

houses, learn about national and international affairs, participate in or watch cultural performances

and engage in many other useful activities (although it should be admitted that PKI-linked groups

were by far the most effective in performing such functions).

If we use a minimalist definition, whereby civil society is viewed as merely that zone of

organizational life located between private or family life and the state, where citizens form

associations and pursue joint interests, then it seems viable to describe the pre-New Order

associational life as a kind of civil society. The picture becomes less clear if we add a criterion of

civil society frequently insisted upon by liberal-pluralist writers, namely that component groups of

civil society do not aim to attain state power for themselves, but rather to influence the state.

According to Diamond (1994, 6):

        . . . civil society relates to the state in some way but does not aim to win formal
        power or office in the state. Rather, civil society organizations seek from the state
        concessions, benefits, policy changes, relief, redress or accountability . . . [But they
        do not have] a desire to capture state power for the group per se.

The picture that Diamond presents is one in which the denizens of civil society view the political

and social order as fundamentally legitimate. They may seek to benefit from the state, even to

mould it to their advantage, but they do not attempt to capture, overthrow, or fundamentally

reconstruct it.

In Indonesia during the 1950s and 1960s, there was little underlying consensus on fundamental

questions about the social and political order. The aliran not only sharpened social cleavages, they

came to constitute them, with each aliran increasingly resembling a self-contained social universe.

The two major Islamic aliran, those centered around Masjumi and Nahdlatul Ulama wanted to

establish, if not a theocratic Islamic state, at least one in which sharia would be binding on all

Muslims. They effectively aimed to impose their interpretation of religious doctrine on other

Muslims. In fact, care should be taken not to overstate the totalizing aims of the major Islamic

aliran. Both Masjumi and NU cooperated with non-communist nationalists and Christians in

national government; NU, was especially amenable to cooperation, so long as the interests of the

NU community were safeguarded. Nevertheless, the Nationalist and Communist aliran, derived

part of their cohesion in reaction to Islamic claims and identity, and they drew their adherents

mostly from nominal Muslims and religious minorities.

It was the rapidly expanding Communist aliran which most seriously threatened the political and

social order. Its aims were ultimately revolutionary and its appeal was explicitly directed toward

the lower classes. Moreover, its growth came in the wake of major communist victories in China

and North Vietnam, at a time when, as Anderson (1994) has argued, Indonesian communists

believed that they were part of a world-wide historical wave that would eventually sweep them to

victory. To be sure, the party had learned from previous defeats. For much of the 1950s and early

1960s it downplayed class struggle and even recruited locally influential headmen and other

patrons to assist its expansion in village society. However, the PKI was essentially engaged in a

classical Gramscian “war of position” within the terrain of civil society (although its leaders did

not use these terms). By organizing and mobilizing a massive base among subordinate classes, the

party effectively sought to establish a counter-hegemonic movement which would “undermine the

foundations of state and class rule” (Keane 1998, 15). The short-term aim, during Guided

Democracy at least, was to force the PKI‟s enemies to allow it to participate in national

government. But this „national-democratic‟ phase was preparatory to a second or „socialist stage‟

of the revolution during which, the experience of other countries suggested, the PKI would assert


The state was not clearly delineated from the aliran system. State officials at the local level were

frequently party bosses, while various ministries became fiefdoms for the different political parties.

The Communists were the only aliran which did not possess a significant foothold in the state

apparatus, and the party‟s gradualist strategy was largely aimed at securing such a position. The

army was virtually the only state institution which became increasingly coherent and whose

leaders developed a distinct corporate identity during the 1950s and early 1960s. But the army, too,

was deeply involved in inter-aliran conflict by virtue of the implacable hostility of most of the

officer corps toward the PKI. In such circumstances, there was little possibility that the state could

effectively mediate between competing socio-political groups or provide the institutional and legal

framework within which a civil society could grow. Instead, state functionaries were themselves

involved in the mounting conflict between different aliran with incompatible, maximalist political


             Case study: Land Conflicts in Rural Java during Guided Democracy

One area where inter- aliran conflict became particularly acute was in rural areas. In the 1960s,

Indonesia remained an overwhelmingly agrarian society and the PKI‟s rapid growth was largely a

rural phenomenon. Borrowing in part from the strategy of the Chinese communists, the PKI

emphasised recruitment among small and landless peasants, and explicitly aimed at the eventual

abolition of landlordism.

The PKI‟s main front organization in rural areas was the Barisan Tani Indonesia (National

Peasants‟ Front). Established in November 1945, BTI had initially been relatively independent of

the party, and it retained many independent-minded members to the end. Nevertheless, the BTI

became, in the words of one contemporary observer, “next to the party… the principal agency

concerned with the implementation of Communist policy objectives.” (Van Der Kroef 1965, 197).

It was also huge; although such claims are impossible to verify, by 1962 it claimed five and a half

million members, equivalent to 25% of the adult peasant population (Hindley 1966, 169). It grew

partly by performing many basic integrative functions in village society, offering its members

literacy training, teaching them new agricultural techniques, and running campaigns to raise

productivity and destroy rats (with the nationwide death toll published in the organization‟s

bimonthly journal, Suara Tani).

However, in late 1963, marking a departure from the previous “national united front” approach,

the party and BTI initiated a vigorous campaign of “unilateral actions” (aksi sepihak) in the

countryside, in which poor peasants seized land owned by landlords. In the short term this

campaign was designed, as Mortimer (1974, 277) argues, to be “an additional lever” to force the

party‟s opponents to give it a share of power in national government. In the longer term, “in the

event of untoward developments at the political centre, the party would by its radicalization of the

villages provide itself with a firm base for continuing the struggle outside the bounds of the

system.” (Mortimer 1974, 277-78).

In launching aksi sepihak, the PKI and the BTI stressed their legality. They intended, they said, the

proper implementation of the 1960 Basic Agrarian Law, a piece of legislation which embodied

much of the egalitarian spirit of the independence struggle. One of the law‟s basic provisions set an

upper limit on land (five hectares in densely populated, wet-rice areas) which could be owned by a

single family; land in excess of this was to be redistributed to landless peasants. However, by

mid-1963 the law had met considerable resistance from landlords, local government officials and

leaders of the non-communist parties (three categories which overlapped greatly), and its

implementation was stalled in many regions.

Even so, as Törnquist (1984, 195-96) notes, PKI and BTI slogans such as attacks on the “seven

village devils” went far beyond the provisions of the Basic Agrarian Law.1 Land-hungry peasants

seized property held by landlords who controlled less than the five hectare limit, sometimes

surprising party and BTI leaders by their vehemence. However, the essential aim of the campaign

was to secure the communist movement a base in the countryside by increasing class polarization.

As the BTI vice-chairperson, Dahliar (1964, 5), put it at a conference of peasant women:

        The aksi sepihak have provided a revolutionary education to the peasants, women
        and men. They have educated the peasantry to trust in their own strength, to trust in
        the organization and to trust the leaders. The peasants increasingly understand who
        sides with and leads them in winning their just demands, and who is indifferent
        toward and deride the peasants, and who also who confronts the peasants with
        unsheathed bayonet.

 The seven village devils were “wicked landlords and wicked boat-owners (for fishing areas), usurers, rice
wholesalers, wicked middlemen, bureaucratic capitalists, wicked officials, and village bandits.” (Suara Tani, No. 5-6
1964, p. 1).

The campaign attracted much support from poor peasants, so that by late-1964 BTI claimed 8.5

million members (Suara Tani, Sep-Oct 1964, p. 4). However, it also met with much violent

resistance. The police and military frequently backed landlords, who were themselves often

leaders of non-communist political parties who could mobilize their own clients and party

supporters in opposition to land claims. As a result, in many places the conflict, at root about class,

frequently took on the character of a horizontal clash between the peasant followers of different


The conflict became most severe in areas of rural Central and East Java where the Nahdlatul

Ulama was strong. Many of the more prosperous peasants and landlords were santri, or orthodox

Muslims, affiliated to the NU. Moreover, NU was founded on the institution of the rural pesantren

or Islamic boarding school. The kyai, or religious scholars, who ran these boarding schools were

venerated by their followers as the bearers of sacred Islamic knowledge and scholarly tradition,

and were also frequently large landowners in their own right, as well as managing land donated to

their pesantren by wealthy members of the community. Students at pesantren frequently worked

on both types of land as payment for their education.

In their land reform campaign, the Communists frequently targeted land owned by kyai and other

NU leaders, who in turn described the campaign as an attack by atheists on religion, and urged

their followers to resist in the language of jihad. The result was severe violence, especially in East


          The clashes were marked from the outset by acts of violence such as stabbing and
          kidnapping, and before long large scale confrontations between opposed forces

       armed with kris and other weapons were taking place. Factions took to burning
       down the houses of hostile elements and destroying their crops in the fields. In a
       number of places, police intervention led to serious loss of life and injury.
       (Mortimer 1974 317)

In most cases, the communists got the worst of the violence. NU groups tended to be more

disciplined and tenacious, and in some places they received backing from local military and police

units. Resistance became so great that in the final months of 1964 PKI leaders admitted defeat and

attempted to terminate the unilateral actions.

These conflicts over land in 1963-65 set the scene for far greater mass violence in 1965-66. In

October 1965, following the kidnapping of six senior army officers in a left-wing coup attempt

(“the September 30 Movement”), the army leadership and its civilian allies launched a campaign

to wipe out the communist aliran once and for all. In the ensuing massacres, between 500 thousand

and one million people, mostly members and sympathizers of the PKI and its affiliated

organizations, including BTI, were killed.

The 1965-66 bloodshed was partly a conflict between state and society. It certainly involved a high

degree of central army direction and planning, and soldiers did their share of the killing. However,

to borrow a phrase from another recent work on twentieth century Germany, there were also many

civilian “willing executioners” (Goldhagen, 1996). The killings tended to be most severe in areas

where the land reform campaign had been strongest; in some places there was barely a break

between the two rounds of violence. In East Java for example, there was serious violence on a

weekly basis through August and September 1965, prior to the “coup attempt”, and in early

October some NU supporters began to kill communists before they were instructed to do so by the

military (Sulistyo 2000, 155, 162-63). The large scale killings by NU members which began later

in the month, involved close coordination with the military, although many NU kyai urged their

followers forward by issuing “fatwa declaring that the PKI were kafir harbi (unbelievers who are

belligerent toward Islam) and bughat (rebels against the legitimate government) against whom it

was obligatory for Muslims to wage war” (Fealy 1998, 255). In Bali, although the army

“orchestrated and incited the violence” (Robinson 1995, 295), many of those who conducted the

killings were supporters of the Nationalist PNI who had only months earlier fought with their

communist victims during the land reform campaign.

The conflicts which led to the great violence of 1965-66 and subsequent establishment of

Suharto‟s authoritarian regime were thus not merely or even mainly one between the state and civil

society. On the contrary, the main lines of conflict split society itself (and, to a lesser extent, the

state apparatus), along class lines and between aliran, reflecting the absence of minimal societal

consensus about the desired shape of the political and social order. Conflict within civil society

itself contributed to the breakdown of both civility and democratic rule.

Care is needed, however, to avoid an impression of inevitability here. I do not mean to suggest that

“too much” societal participation and radicalism seamlessly gave rise to authoritarianism. Nor is it

my intention to blame the communists for their own murder. Maximalist, even revolutionary, aims

do not in themselves doom civil society and democracy. As Foley and Edwards (1996, 42) point

out, the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna, which Robert Putnam (1993) famously holds up as

exemplar of his thesis that a dense civil society may generate the “social capital” which enables

democracy to flourish, was an area where the Italian communist party (along with the Christian

Democrats) dominated associational life. In retrospect, the very scale and horror of Indonesia‟s

1965-66 blood-letting makes it hard for us to imagine alternative outcomes. But it is important not

to forget that Indonesia may have taken a different path. The Indonesian communists (like their

Italian counterparts) might eventually have been peacefully accommodated within the political

system, had their enemies been willing to provide them the democratic space and role in

government they strove for. Indeed, it is worth recalling that at least one contemporary observer of

the PKI (Hindley 1962) believed that Sukarno‟s attempts to constrain the party during Guided

Democracy were already leading to its “domestication.”

It is at this point that we must emphasise, like Neil de Votta in his contribution on Sri Lanka in this

volume, the importance of interventions by political actors at key junctures for shaping the nature

of civil society and, consequently, the political system. The key in the Indonesian case was thus

not so much the mere existence of divisions in civil society, but rather that the anti-communist

groups (in both state and society) were not prepared to countenance civil society‟s expansion and

invigoration to incorporate the demands of their adversaries, particularly radical calls for

redistribution. It was this logic which pushed the military state to the fore. From at least the early

1960s, fearing an eventual confrontation, the major anti-communist aliran all cultivated support

within the military (for NU efforts in this regard, see Fealy 1998, 236-37), and threw their lot in

with the army when the time came. The elimination of the PKI was the primary goal of the civilian

anti-communists. Many of them (including NU leaders) also hoped that removing the PKI would

allow for greater representation of their own interests in government. They became bitterly

disillusioned when this did not eventuate. The more far-sighted elements (like many urban liberal

students and intellectuals who supported the army through the anti-communist and anti-Sukarno

“Action Fronts”) knew that a period of military dominance was unavoidable. Some Christian and

secular urban intellectuals even favoured military control, because they believed that political

Islam would otherwise assert dominance (Ward 1974, 35-36). By the terms of this Faustian

bargain, the anti-communist political groups ceded a large measure of political control to the army,

in exchange for the elimination of their main foe, the re-establishment of social order, and a

commitment to economic growth.

                   The New Order regime and its structuring of civil society.

The establishment of President Suharto‟s New Order was in one sense the bloody culmination of

the aliran politics of the 1960s. The military-led government, however, also set about cutting

through the conflictual nature of aliran politics and establishing social and political consensus by

force. In the 1965-66 massacres, it had eliminated one wing of Indonesian organizational life (the

communist party and its affiliates) that aimed to capture and reconfigure state power. It later put

severe constraints on the other wing (political Islam) whose goals were almost as ambitious.

Moreover, the military leadership had what Richard Tanter (1990) described as „totalitarian

ambitions,‟ in that it attempted to extend state control to the furthest reaches of associational life.

State violence and the constant threat of it, reinforced by memories of the bloodletting of 1965-66,

allowed the army partly to achieve these ambitions. Organizations of the lower classes were either

eliminated or corralled into state-controlled „sole organizations‟ (attempts to do the same for

middle class groups like lawyers and students were somewhat less successful). The army forced

the surviving political parties to fuse into unstable agglomerations, which were then subject to

constant state supervision and intervention. It was more difficult to dominate the major religious,

especially Islamic, organizations, but they were generally effectively controlled by a mixture of

patronage rewards for leaders prepare to cooperate with the state, and judicially applied repression

for those who challenged it. Overall, civil society became a denuded and barren landscape when

compared to the richness of the Parliamentary and Guided Democracy periods.

Civil society consisted of three main categories of organizations for much of the New Order period.

The first were the exclusionary corporatist “sole organizations,” the products of enforced fusion of

the surviving, non-communist organizations representing subordinate classes. For example, in

1973 surviving peasant organizations were shepherded into a new body, the HKTI (Himpunan

Kerukunan Tani Indonesia, Indonesian Peasant‟s Harmony Association). HKTI, like equivalent

bodies for labor and other groups, was dependent on the state for direction. It was affiliated to the

state party Golkar; its leaders were often military officers or other state functionaries (frequently

from the Department of Agriculture). It did not attempt to build an active mass membership base,

and although its leaders occasionally offered carefully-worded criticisms of government policies,

they never attempted to mobilize against them. The most striking feature of New Order civil

society was its changed class basis, produced by the systematic eradication of independent

organizations representing the lower classes and their replacement by corporatist bodies, like

HKTI, that were effectively instruments of the state.

The corporatist organizations did not represent the sum total of associational life, however.

Numerous other organizations were allowed to survive, provided that they respected certain limits:

they had to profess loyalty to the state ideology of Pancasila; they could not make any direct claim

on political power; nor attempt to mobilize lower class groups. There was a large spectrum of

semi-corporatist organizations which, while independent in their origins and aspirations,

compromised with the state in order to survive or prosper, participated in regime structures such as

parties and parliaments, supported at least some official policies, and experienced some degree of

state interference in their internal workings. Among the most important such groups were the large

Islamic mass organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah. These groups were allowed to

survive essentially intact, as were the network of institutions they were based upon (pesantren, in

the case of NU; modern schools, universities, and healthcare institutions for Muhammadiyah). At

times, the army leadership used open force and intimidation against these organizations. For

example, NU followers were victims of considerable state violence during the 1971 election

campaign, a time when the organization‟s leaders were already embittered by the political

marginalization they had experienced after the destruction of their communist foes. But the state

also remained a critical source of patronage resources for them. When relations were good,

government funds became available for pesantren development programs, mosque construction in

local communities and the like, not to mention business opportunities and more straightforward

bribes for the most cooperative leaders. As a result, although many NU leaders remained willing to

criticize the government when they believed the core interests of the Islamic community were

threatened, many were ultimately anxious to cooperate with it.

Especially after the New Order‟s first decade, a third category, of what might be called

proto-oppositional civil society organizations began to emerge. These were organizations which

strove to maintain greater autonomy from state intervention and which sometimes adopted a

critical stance vis-à-vis state policies and actions. They mostly avoided repression by emphasizing

particularistic goals rather than openly espousing systemic change. The largest category were

non-governmental organizations, active in fields like legal reform, environmental protection, and

alternative community development. Early on in the New Order, many NGOs, research institutes

and similar bodies were led by middle class intellectuals who had allied with the army in its

conflict with the left. They thus shared a degree of ideological affinity with the New Order state.

Early NGOs, such as the Legal Aid Institute (Lembaga Bantuan Hukum, LBH), frequently

described themselves as part of the New Order. Their leaders also maintained many political and

financial links; for example, LBH and several other NGOs which eventually numbered among the

New Order's staunchest critics were initially sponsored and funded by prominent New Order

ministers and generals. By the 1990s, however, the NGO sector had become a prominent player in

the Indonesian political scene. In 1996, Coordinating Minister for Politics and Security, Soesilo

Soedarman, estimated that there were some 8000 NGOs in the country (Republika, November 4,

1996). While most engaged in development-oriented activities compatible with the government‟s

own aims, many also became important sources of political criticism.

Associational life during the New Order was marked by two significant phenomena. In the first

place, there was a blurring of the boundary between state and civil society. This was

predominantly a product of the dominant role played by the state in restructuring civic life and the

ubiquity of state supervision and intervention in legal societal organizations, especially those with

a mass membership. As a result, challenges to the New Order were frequently characterized by

what X. L. Ding (with reference to Dengist rule in China) describes as „institutional

amphibiousness‟, in which official or semi-official institutions were utilized for purposes which

ran counter to their official aims. Such phenomena remained characteristic of Indonesian political

life until the end of the New Order. A famous example, in the early 1990s, was the attempt by a

section of the modernist Islamic community to colonize the state from within, via the mechanism

of ICMI (Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals' Association) an organization established with

considerable societal support, but which attained the sponsorship of Suharto's favoured

Technology Minister B. J. Habibie and, through him, Suharto himself.

A second characteristic of New Order civil society was its frequently defensive character. From

the early New Order many political actors retreated from the explicitly political sphere (especially

parties), where they were likely to attract the hostile attention of the state, into officially

“apolitical” activities, such as community development, cultural expression and religious life. For

example, activists from some political parties and student groups established NGOs as a means to

maintain their own networks and reach out to broader social constituencies. A group of young

intellectuals formerly associated with various Muslim, Socialist and Christian student groups

established the prominent research institute LP3ES, while several prominent members of the

Nationalist aliran established the Consumers‟ Foundation (YLKI). This defensive shift was also

evident in the later behaviour of Nahdlatul Ulama. During the 1970s, NU relations with the

government hit a low point, with many of the organization‟s leaders harshly criticizing what they

saw as the government‟s hostility to the interests of the Islamic community and its legitimation of

secular norms. In 1984, the organization officially severed its relations with formal politics, by

withdrawing from the Islamic-based United Development Party (PPP). It also accepted the state

philosophy of Pancasila as its “ideological foundation.” These moves greatly improved NU‟s

relations with the government, and led to the release of greatly increased development funds to NU

pesantren. But it was also noteworthy that NU leader Abdurrahman Wahid justified this move as a

way to preserve the organization‟s integrity, its links with its membership base and its relative

freedom of movement (Ramage 1995, 56). It was no coincidence that the NU chairperson had been

active in the Jakarta NGO world, and a leading advocate of the cultural and economic

modernization of the traditionalist Islamic community. He later encouraged the development of a

network of NU-linked NGOs, and, in the government‟s final decade, became one of the country‟s

better-known exponents of the idea of civil society (although he never advocated confrontation

with the government).

As disillusionment deepened among the New Order's most liberal former allies in the early 1970s,

there were elements in the emergent civil society who argued (while not opposing the New Order

state in toto) that citizens, and by extension, a civic space, should be protected by subjecting the

state to an impartial rule of law. As Daniel Lev (1978, 1987, 1990) has argued, private lawyers

were particularly prominent in promoting this argument, giving rise to institutions like LBH. Such

groups were a kind of minority vanguard of civil society. Most organizations avoided overt

confrontation with the state and sought to carve out niches which were congruent with state

policies, or which would at least not provoke confrontation and repression. The dramatic growth of

community-development NGOs in the 1970s was one product of this tendency. But even this kind

of activity generated an incremental ideological shift. In the world of community-development

NGOs, a perspective evolved seamlessly from an emphasis on “basic needs” in the late 1970s

through “people's participation in development”, “popular empowerment” to the development of

“civil society” by the mid-1990s (although, to be sure, many of the major developmentalist NGOs

still avoided such critical language).

By a myriad of similar processes, by the late Suharto years, the idea of “civil society” as a

guaranteed realm of freedom from state interference (in short, as an aim of organizational life, as

much as a sphere in which citizens organised) became increasingly influential in public political

discourse (cf. Poland in the late 1970s and 1980s: Arato 1981, 23). The idea of civil society

(masyarakat sipil or masyarakat madani) was achieving something like hegemonic dominance

among NGO activists, critical intellectuals and students.

                                 The “civilizing” of civil society.

By the mid-1990s, although the old corporatist structures and institutional amphibiousness

remained ubiquitous, there was also an increasingly vibrant civic life independent of the state. The

NGO sector continued to grow, there was a new and resilient student activism, as well as early

attempts to organize lower class groups. Some organizations adopted a more confrontational

stance toward the state. Many NGOs began to openly promote democratization. Some new

student-based groups declared that they wanted to overthrow the New Order. There were also

attempts to assert the independence of semi-corporatist and corporatist organizations, giving rise

to some major internal battles for control (such as one inside Nahdlatul Ulama in 1994 when

Abdurrahman Wahid and his supporters successfully resisted a government-engineered attempt to

oust him: Fealy 1996).

The new civil society was very different from that which existed before the New Order. In the

1960s, civil society was not only highly organized, but it was also a terrain for bitter contest

between groups with very different political visions. By the late-1990s, civil society remained far

weaker institutionally. It was the site of much less intense ideological contention. Different groups

still had different visions of the ideal society, but there was an emerging political consensus that

the state and social order were not fundamentally illegitimate (although many groups viewed the

New Order government and regime in this way). Instead, the primary aims of politics were

conceived as i) pressuring, lobbying or otherwise influencing the state to achieve desirable policy

outcomes; ii) constraining state intervention in, and carving out a domain for, autonomous societal

initiative; iii) subjecting the state and its officers to an impartial rule of law. Of course, different

groups varied in the extent to which they were prepared to articulate these goals openly and many

had entirely different views about their strategic implications (some groups believed that it was

ultimately necessary to overthrow the New Order government to achieve these goals, others

believed in incremental reform; most still refrained from political action). In one way or another,

however, this set of ideas became central to the emergent civil society. Some NGO activists and

intellectuals explicitly argued, in neo-Gramscian terms, that they were engaged in a kind of

long-term, incremental “war of position” or “counter-hegemonic struggle.” Unlike in the early

1960s, however, this was not a war of position between subordinate and dominant classes. Instead,

it was conceived of as being one between civil society and the state (see for example, Billah 1994).

Several factors underpinned both the slow and painful growth of civil society, as well as the new

mood of restraint that underpinned it. The first, ironically, was the consolidation and dominance of

the state itself. For much of the New Order period, the state was unquestionably dominant. It

moved resolutely against all forms of illegal opposition, and its overthrow appeared impossible.

This dominance made the state the central problematic of political life for those who wanted

reform. However, the state was not undiscriminatingly repressive. As noted above, it allowed

many organizations to survive, so long as they respected certain limits. The combination of

repression and toleration imposed high costs on the promotion of alternative totalistic ideas, and

allowed a shift in the conceptual frame toward incremental reform and containment of the state.

Thus, during the New Order period, substantial sections of political Islam abandoned the

long-cherished goal of an Islamic state and embraced the secular compromise embodied in the

state philosophy of Pancasila. Many Muslim activists explained this shift as changing their goal

from the attainment of an “Islamic state” to that of an “Islamic society.” There was also a more

subterranean diffusion of ideas traditionally associated with the Indonesian left, so that even when

new radical left-wing groups (such as the PRD, Peoples‟ Democratic Union, later, Party) emerged

among student activists in the 1990s, they combined traditional leftist ideas (such as class analysis

and hostility to capitalism) with suspicion of the state and commitment to political pluralism.

Meanwhile, the consolidation of an increasingly institutionalized, ambitious and effective state

from the late 1960s created many new interfaces for state-society interaction of the sort typical of

the liberal-pluralist vision of civil society (such as in the design and execution of economic

development policy). More fundamentally, the increased dominance and consolidation of the state

enabled the conceptualization of a distinct state-society delineation in a way that was impossible

during the Guided Democracy due to the inter-penetration of the state, parties and associational


Changes in the economy and class structure constituted a second important influence on civil

society. Under the New Order‟s repressive-developmentalist rule, the Indonesian economy

expanded dramatically. Growth produced considerable social disruption among the poor,

eventually triggering new forms of civil society activity by lower class groups (see next section).

One of the chief beneficiaries of growth, in contrast, was the urban middle class. In 1965-66, the

threat of a violent overturning of the social order drove much of this group into the arms of the

military. As time passed, the middle class became much larger and more robust. Although most

continued to value social and political order, their fears of a revolutionary threat from below

gradually receded, adding to their political confidence. This process should not be exaggerated:

many scholars have stressed that much of the middle class remained tied economically to the state

and were either politically ambivalent about, or supportive of, authoritarianism. Most tolerated

middle-class civil society organizations likewise maintained an ambivalent posture, often seeking

an increasingly autonomous sphere for their own action, but retaining multiple financial, political

and other links with state institutions and sponsors. Nevertheless, as the middle sectors became

increasingly vigourous, at least a vocal minority increasingly sought to constrain state interference

in their affairs. This shift, combined with restrictions on lower class political activity, meant that

civil society became increasingly a vehicle for the articulation of a middle-class worldview, even

for the inculcation of middle-class values among subordinate classes.2

A third factor was the changing nature of the international environment. In the 1960s, the Cold

War encouraged polarization in Indonesian society. The communist aliran viewed itself as part of,

not merely an international movement, but an epochal wave in world history. Its foes, especially in

the army, derived much support from the United States and the other capitalist powers. Shifts in

global politics, especially the end of the Cold War, provided an environment much less prone to

polarization, with the United States even sometimes criticizing the New Order for its abuse of

  For example, although NGOs were middle class organizations, the raison d'être of most of them was to organize
lower class groups, even if often only for credit, income generation or alternative technology schemes. Eventually,
many middle class NGO and student activists sought to promote more political forms of organization in lower class
groups, even to radicalize them. However, they often did this by seeking to channel and “civilize” lower class political
activities, even to recast them in a middle class mould. For example, NGO activists engaged in early labor organizing
efforts generally emphasized teaching workers their normative legal rights and encouraged them to seek legal redress
for their complaints, rather than engage in disorderly or violent protest.

labor and other human rights. Moreover, civil society also derived much sustenance from

international links, so much so that from the mid-1970s it becomes increasingly difficult to speak

of an Indonesian civil society as a discrete national entity. A large majority of NGOs, especially

those which were more critical of the government, became dependent on foreign funding for their

survival. In some instances, such as that of the Legal Aid Institute, LBH, there was a very direct

relationship between a decline in state funding (initially provided in LBH‟s case mostly by the

Jakarta city administration), its replacement by grants from foreign donors (initially the Dutch

organization NOVIB) and an increasingly critical and campaigning style. Indonesian NGOs also

readily adopted and disseminated major trends in international civil society discourse (not least the

promotion of “civil society empowerment” in the 1990s), a phenomenon partly encouraged by the

need to comply with project criteria set by foreign donor organizations. Foreign funding also

meant that many NGOs became highly professional organizations, with financial plans, budgetary

guidelines, project objectives, offices to rent or purchase, and salaried staff with middle-class

lifestyles and career ambitions. Such institutional ballast meant that most NGOs were reluctant to

risk provoking the state into closing them down, and hence avoided straying too far toward


                      Case Study: Land conflicts in the 1980s and 1990s.

The New Order regime took extraordinary measures to repress, control and proscribe independent

organization and mobilization among subordinate classes. One aim of these policies was to

facilitate capitalist development, upon which the regime relied in large part for its legitimacy. In

the late 1980s and early 1990s, however, lower-class protest began to have a significant impact on

national politics. Such protest was to a large extent fostered by the very pattern of capitalist

development promoted by the state. One sign of this was an unprecedented wave of strikes from

1990 by workers in the new industrial estates surrounding the big cities (Hadiz 1997). Prior to this,

protests by farmers and other members of rural communities had attained considerable coverage in

the national press. The most celebrated of these cases occurred in Kedung Ombo, Central Java

when the government attempted to relocate approximately 30 thousand people to make way for a

massive reservoir which was being built with funds partly provided by the World Bank. Residents

complained that they were being offered inadequate compensation, and that the military was using

violence, intimidation and deception to force them to leave (Stanley 1994). Many of them refused

to do so. Local NGOs and student activists became involved. INGI (the International NGO Forum

on Indonesia), the major umbrella group for Indonesian NGOs and their foreign counterparts,

campaigned internationally on the issue, raising President Suharto‟s ire. Students accompanied

residents to the national capital, Jakarta, where they held rowdy demonstrations. Although the dam

was filled with water in early 1989, many residents still refused to accept the government‟s miserly

offers of compensation or relocation. The case dragged on for years. There were court challenges,

frequent feature articles in the national press, and even plays. The Kedung Ombo case became a

cause celebre of the late New Order.

Apart from its public prominence, Kedung Ombo was in many ways typical of the land dispute

cases of the 1980s and 1990s. Most such disputes concerned penggusuran (expropriation), when

local residents were forced off their land to make way for private and public development projects,

such as golf courses, hotel complexes, plantations, agro-industry projects, factories, refineries,

residential housing, and the like. In most cases, developers offered no or inadequate compensation

(in the Cimacan case campaigners farmers complained they were offered the equivalent of the

price of an egg for every square meter of their fertile land). Security forces frequently used

intimidation to force peasants to leave, sometimes accusing resisters of harboring PKI or BTI

sympathies, a terrifying label which justified all manner of abuse. When resistance persisted,

security forces often arrested, beat or tortured ringleaders. In many cases, their houses or crops

were burned down or wrecked, often in the dead of night. There were many hundreds of such cases:

between July 1994 and September 1996, the National Human Rights Commission recorded 891

instances of human rights abuses in land cases (Lucas and Warren 2000, 223).

Landholders employed widely varied forms of resistance. Typically, these began with a few of the

bravest residents making individual representations to local officials. The next step was often

involvement by outside groups, either NGOs or student activists. Eventually, court challenges

might result, as well as direct action like coordinated refusals to sign acquisition papers,

occupations and symbolic plantings of dispossessed land, protests in district and provincial

capitals, press campaigns and the like. Such campaigns frequently resulted in physical

confrontation on the land itself, such as in Jatiwangi in West Java, where land belonging to eight

villages had been claimed by the airforce since the 1950s. In 1988, residents collectively refused to

pay land rents, while some of the old women in the community stripped naked in the fields to

dramatise their impoverishment. The following year, two thousand farmers attempted to work

their fields, resulting in violent confrontation with military forces after which some of them were

detained and tortured.3

Campaigning on land disputes involved broad networks of civil society actors. From the mid-to

late 1980s it drew on an array of middle-class activists, who brought with them the political ideas

which had been gestating in urban civil society groups, especially interest in the rule of law, human

rights and democratization. The first outside groups to become involved in land disputes were

often NGOs. LBH, as the private institution best known for defending the legal rights of the

disenfranchised, was often the first private port of call for landholders. It first dealt with land

acquisition cases in the early 1970s, when the Jakarta city administration (then under the control of

the organisation‟s sponsor, Mayor Ali Sadikin) displaced the residents of several slum areas for

urban redevelopment projects. Early on, the organization‟s leaders viewed land disputes as

primarily legal matters, to be fought in the courts. Sometimes (especially in the early Jakarta

disputes), they played an „intermediary‟ role between residents and the Jakarta administration,

learning that they could resolve these cases by negotiation and pressure exerted via the press

(interview with Adnan Buyung Nasution, December 5 1995). By the late 1980s, LBH had

developed a concept of “structural legal aid” in which legal conflicts were no longer viewed as

merely matters to be litigated, but as material for the development of a broad “social movement”,

focusing on the “legal empowerment” of those involved. Along with labor, environmental and

political cases, the organization viewed land disputes as high-priority areas where campaigning

could most enhance “collective rights” against state interference (Aspinall 2000, 134). LBH

lawyers still took cases to court, but they also worked with other NGOs (by the mid-1990s there

were several dozen which focused on land issues) and student groups. The aims were to publicize

and condemn land expropriation, and to encourage victims to organize to defend their rights.

From the late 1980s, student activists also became involved in land disputes. Many of these

students had been radicalized by the government‟s suppression of campus political activity from

    “Sejarah tanah pertanian Jatiwangi yang dirampas AURI,” Suara Petani, March 10, 1990.
the 1970s, and had concluded that it was necessary to mobilize popular sectors if they wanted to

democratize the regime (Aspinall 1993). In some cases, student activists‟ first contacts with rural

communities were as voluntary researchers for NGOs like LBH. Elsewhere, student activists

independently visited villages where land disputes were occurring, collected information and then

organized seminars or protests on their own campuses. Some formed ad-hoc campaign committees

and stayed in affected villages for months at a time. The aim was typically to impart to the farmers

basic political education and practical skills for organizing resistance campaigns (pemberdayaan,

or empowerment, as one of catch-phrase of the early 1990s put it).4

A subterranean form of organizing also developed in the affected communities themselves.

Frequently assisted by students and NGOs, sometimes independently, landholders threatened by

or experiencing displacement organized themselves. Often, the pattern of organization was based

on a highly participatory, consensus model, assisted by the cohesion of small rural communities, in

which issues were discussed and decided upon by all those affected. But these groups also often

involved a considerable degree of organizational sophistication, with democratic selection of their

leaders, role specialization and acute consciousness of the need for secrecy (Firmansyah et al 1999

includes case studies of several such organizing attempts from across the archipelago).5

Such efforts culminated in attempts to organize peasant resistance on a more permanent basis. The

  Numerous manuals circulated among student and NGO activists about how to conduct such empowerment activities.
Often, these were translations of books produced by similar movements in the Philippines, South Korea, and
elsewhere. More broadly, these efforts also produced a rich underground literature. Bulletins, magazines and journals
with titles like Suara Petani („Voice of the Peasants‟) and Suara Rakyat („Voice of the People‟) proliferated, extolling
the virtues and dignity of the farmers‟ life, detailing particular disputes, outlining landholders‟ legal rights and
incorporating more general anti-government material.
  During a visit to the site of the Jatiwangi dispute with the airforce in October 1993, I was impressed by the great
sophistication of local networks. Not only could large meetings of the local community be assembled to meet me with

radical student-based PRD, for example, established a „National Peasants‟ Union” (Serikat Tani

Nasional, STN); while a group of student and NGO activists around the Bandung-based LPPP

(Lembaga Pendidikan dan Pengembangan Pedesaan, Rural Education and Development Institute)

assisted the formation of several Ikatan Petani (Peasants‟ Associations) in West Java in the early

1990s. These organizations were centered on the most motivated peasant-activists at land dispute

sites, and remained rudimentary and mostly underground affairs. They primarily aimed to assist

networking between farmers affected by similar cases of land expropriation. In 1994 the

Consortium for Agrarian Reform (Konsorsium Pembaruan Agraria, KPA) was formed; within a

year it involved over sixty-five NGOs and six peasant associations. It campaigned for

“people-oriented land reform” and the “defence of victims of land disputes” (KPA 1995).

There were similarities between the land dispute campaigns of the late New Order and those of the

1960s. The student and NGO activist practice of “living in” in rural communities, for example,

resembled the old PKI “going down” (turun ke bawah) campaigns, when the party sent its urban

cadres to experience the realities of rural life. Some more radical student activists were also

motivated by Marxist class analysis. By the mid-1990s, the KPA and allied groups began to

formulate demands for thorough „agrarian reform‟ (pembaruan agraria), the centrepiece of which

was a call for the reinvigoration of the old 1960 Basic Agrarian Law, which they called a

“masterpiece” of the Sukarno era (see for example, Fauzi 2001). Such steps required great courage

given the stigma attached to land reform due to its prior association with the PKI and BTI. Senior

government officials accused groups like KPA of harboring communist tendencies.

very short notice, but local people were able to keep a close watch on the movements of local military personnel,
shepherding me between villages so as to avoid contact with them.

But the differences between the land disputes of the 1980s and 1990s and the aksi sepihak of the

1960s were also obvious, and revealed much about changes in Indonesia‟s civil society in the

intervening decades. In the land reform campaign of 1963-64, a primary schism was within village

society, whether along class lines (poor and landless peasants versus the „seven village devils‟) or

those of aliran (PKI vs. NU, nominal vs. traditionalist Muslims etc). The land conflicts of the

1980s generally pitted entire rural communities against external forces, either the state, private

developers or, most commonly, an alliance between the two.

This shift happened despite a continued „objective basis‟ for conflict within rural society. The data

we have available suggests that landlessness and land concentration had become more pronounced

since the 1960s (Pincus 1996, Fauzi 1997, 165). Even so, the shift did also flow from the pattern of

capitalist development encouraged by the regime. Indonesia was becoming an increasingly

industrialised society, and land acquisition typically resulted from intrusions by urban-based,

capital-intensive development into rural areas (Setiawan 1997, 205). 6 Such development,

moreover, involved a close alliance between state officials and the nascent capitalist class. Indeed,

the latter group was largely emerging out of the bosom of the former in the shape of various types

of crony capitalism (Robison 1986). It was precisely this alliance which confronted peasants in

land disputes, with urban-based private and public investors invariably working hand in glove with

local officials and the military to secure cheap access to land.7

  As a result, many of the new generation of rural-oriented activists argued that it was now “pointless” to explain
agrarian conflict by reference to division between feudal landlords and peasants (Setiawan 1997, 203).
  It is worth noting that some of the bitterest conflicts, in which the greatest violence was used against local
communities, involved the military as developer, such as in the village of Wedoro Anom in East Java, where the
Brawijaya military command initially claimed that it was acquiring land for a military base, it later being revealed that
real estate speculation was the motive (Firmansyah et al 1999, 88).

This does not mean there was no division within rural society. On the contrary, developers and

officials frequently attempted to divide rural communities, for example by bribing village heads to

falsify land documents. Village heads, larger landowners and other village notables had profited

considerably from New Order policies of increasing agricultural production. Even so, in

penggusuran cases they also often lost their land to developers. Indeed, they often stood to lose the

most. As a result, such individuals were frequently at the forefront of resistance.8

Conflicts over land also did not now give rise to horizontal, aliran conflict. Unlike in 1963-64,

when NU was violently hostile to PKI land reform campaigns, from the 1980s traditionalist NU

communities were often victims of expropriation, and local kyai sometimes defended them against

pressures to vacate their land (one notorious case occurred in 1994 in Nipah in the island of

Madura, when a large crowd of peasants resisting the construction of a dam were fired on by

security forces, killing four of them). 9 In some places, such as Jenggawah in East Java,

traditionalist communities consulted kyai to attain Koranic justification for their resistance (Hafid

2001, 151). Some students from NU families studied leftist literature, formed action Committees

(komite aksi), and became involved in anti-penggusuran campaigns. In some places, there was

confrontation, even violence, between these activists and NU groups (especially from the youth

organization, Ansor) who were close to local officials and accused the activists of communist


  Thus, in the Jatiwangi case, student activists suggested that the chief leaders of resistance were several wealthier
farmers, retired civil servants and soldiers, and even some of the local officials of the New Order‟s corporatist peasant
association, HKTI.
  See for example the interview with the famous kyai, K. H. Alaway Muhammad in Forum Keadilan, December 9,
1993, p. 19.

A second difference from the 1960s was that there were now far greater obstacles to organization.

In the 1960s, organizational life had permeated the very fabric of rural society. Aliran-linked

peasant associations had millions of members. The PKI and BTI had been able to take offensive

action to redistribute land to poor and landless peasants. In contrast, the campaigns of the 1980s

and 1990s were primarily defensive; they usually aimed at regaining or defending villagers‟ land

from the clutches of developers, or, when that proved impossible, at attaining adequate

compensation. Moreover, it was now extremely difficult to build lasting and effective

organizations among peasants, let alone ones which aimed at land redistribution and class-based

mobilization. This was largely a product of repression. From the start, the New Order regime had

applied depoliticisation policies especially rigorously in the countryside (see Fauzi 1997, 123-24

for a summary of the state‟s control apparatus in rural society). Student activists reported that it

was very difficult to conduct organizing work in village communities, given the high level of

surveillance and intimidation they experienced. Military personnel sometimes tortured student

activists who were involved in land dispute campaigns; a relatively rare event for those who

confined their anti-government activities to campus. Farmers who protested were routinely subject

to even greater violence.

Difficulties in organizing were also caused by the structural nature of the disputes. In the 1960s,

the PKI had organized its campaign for land reform on the basis of structural inequalities in land

ownership and control which it identified throughout rural society. Now, although there were

many thousands of land disputes across the country, each was essentially a specific, hence isolated,

„case‟. Student and NGO activists who dreamed of fostering class-consciousness among the

  After NU university students in Jombang demonstrated against military repression of a strike in a local factory, local
authorities and Ansor leaders organized intimidatory counter-demonstrations accusing the students of being

peasants, and mobilizing them against the regime, frequently complained that these campaigns

tended to peak around the time of land expropriation itself. If the developers offered sufficient

compensation to satisfy a sizeable proportion of the residents, or if a majority of them simply

became exhausted and moved away in search of employment, then the campaigns fostered by

activists often faded away.11

As a result of these obstacles, organizing on land disputes took the form of a proliferation of small

groups, whether NGOs, student groups, or groups of farmers and landholders. There was a great

deal of effective networking, but the overall pattern was characterized by ad-hoc, informal,

underground and semi-underground methods. Unlike in the 1960s, when associational life in rural

society consisted of large, cohesive blocs, the associational efforts of the 1980s and 1990s are

better imagined as forming a kind of spiderweb, faint to the eye, but nevertheless remarkably


Importantly, the fact that the state was so central to these conflicts, either as the direct agent of

disenfranchisement, and/or the main obstacle to organization, meant that they were more readily

conceived by those who participated in them in “state versus society” terms than in the 1960s,

when rural society itself was divided into warring camps.12

Finally, note should be made of the impact of the international context and linkages on the new

communists: „Tandingi aksi buruh, Kades turun ke jalan‟, Surya, October 24, 1995.
   It should be noted, however, that even when landholders were forced off their land, and the level of overt resistance
declined, they usually still rejected the legitimacy of the acquisition and remained ready to take over their land when
conditions allowed it (as indeed occurred in 1998-99). Some groups even chose names that underlined their patient
refusal to surrender their claims; one in North Sumatra which had been involved in a decades-long dispute called itself
the Badan Perjuangan Rakyat Penunggu Indonesia (Struggle Organ of the Waiting People of Indonesia).

pattern of civil society activity. In the 1960s, those advocating redistribution of land had readily

linked their struggle to a world-historical wave promising the coming of a classless social order.

By the late 1980s, even though some middle-class land activists still viewed agrarian conflict

through a Marxist lens, the international communist movement was in decline, as were attempts to

establish egalitarian rural regimes and collective agriculture in other parts of the developing world

(Low 1996). Now, groups involved in land disputes were often linked to NGOs which in turn, as

noted above, were part of an emerging global civil society movement. As a result, the new

campaigning on land issues was embedded in a new global discourse, in which the basic references

were no longer the international class struggle, but the evolving architecture of universal human

rights. As one activist involved in rural NGOs put it (albeit after the fall of Suharto) “agrarian

problems are problems of basic human rights. And in the struggle to fulfil and protect human rights,

including the basic rights of peasants, the basis is international law, namely the Universal

Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.” (Damanik 2002, 34.)

                            Civil society and the democratic breakthrough.

Civil society campaigning like that around land disputes did not mount an immediate threat to the

New Order state. But it did have a significant political impact. The unjust terms of land acquisition,

and the brutal techniques used by the military to suppress those who resisted, generated much

discussion in the media, academia and other public forums. As such, it added to the mounting

burden of legitimacy problems faced by the regime. The cumulative effect of this and similar civil

society activity, from the early 1990s onward, shifted the grounds of public discourse under the

  It is significant, for example, that the main weakness the new generation of land campaigners identified with the old
Basic Agrarian Law of 1960 was that it gave unfettered rights to the state to control land (KPA 1995, 3-4).

feet of the government and greatly undermined its legitimacy. It is here that civil society made its

most important contribution to the transition to democratic government: it eroded the ideological

foundations of authoritarian rule.

However, in the final event, the collapse of the Suharto regime was dictated not so much by

processes within civil society, but by processes internal to the state, combined with a massive

external shock. As I have argued elsewhere (Aspinall 1998, 2000), growing „sultanization‟ of

government ruled out the possibility of a negotiated or pacted transition. Suharto's dominance in

the political structure and the identification of his and his family's interests with those of the New

Order, partially clarified what had previously been a blurred line between state and society, and

imparted to the transition the character of a society-initiated ruptura. Indeed, after the devastating

impact of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the suddenness of the collapse of the Suharto regime

caught many in civil society organizations unprepared; it did not fit with their schema of a

long-term, incremental “war of position.”

Even so, the fall of the Suharto government, was reminiscent of the 1989 “victories of civil

society” in Eastern and Central Europe. The mass democratic movement of February-May 1998

drew extensively on the language and ideas of various efforts over previous decades to carve out a

civic space. This was most apparent in the demands of the student protestors, whose political

program was essentially a culmination and distillation of all such efforts, drawing extensively on

the discourse of NGOs and radical social movements. For example, one of the popular slogans of

student groups in Java, “menolak tunduk, tuntut tanggungjawab” (“refuse to submit, demand

accountability”), had according to one account initially been coined in 1996 by peasants involved

in the Wedoro Anom land dispute with the military in East Java (Firmansyah et al 1999, 95). Some

groups even chose names which reflected the hegemony of the civil society idea (hence, when

former Suharto minister Emil Salim mounted a challenge to the candidacy of B. J. Habibie as

Vice-President, he called his support-group the Gema Masyarakat Madani or “Echo of Civil

Society”). Some civil society organizations played an important role in increasing pressure on the

regime during the crisis (for example the Legal Aid Institute, LBH, launched a highly effective

public campaign against a series of military abductions of political activists).

However, it is important not to overstate the role played by organized civil society in the fall of

Suharto, especially the degree to which it led or managed the mobilizations which drove the

political transition. The organizations which made up civil society were mostly too weak to

organize anti-regime mobilizations, or were ill-suited to playing this role. Organizations of

subordinate social groups like workers and farmers remained fragmented, and were reeling from

the impact of the economic crisis. They played little part in the key mobilizations. NGOs were

mostly professional, middle-class bodies without solid links to a mass base. Corporatist or

semi-corporatist bodies remained reluctant to risk their institutional and financial resources by

challenging the state. In the case of Nahdlatul Ulama, for instance, although many of the

organization‟s students and younger members participated in the anti-Suharto protests, its leader,

Abdurrahman Wahid, had in 1997 effected a dramatic and expedient reconciliation with Suharto

and his regime. As a result, the NU leadership vacillated for most of the crucial final months

(Mietzner 1999).

The social groups whose protests drove the transition – students and the urban poor – were

precisely those most suited (albeit for different reasons) to relatively “spontaneous” and

unstructured political action. In the case of the students, a huge number of organizations were

involved in the protests leading to Suharto's downfall. Although these organizations drew upon the

legacy of previous decades of student political activity, many of them were ad-hoc, temporary,

even anarchic in their organizational style. In the case of the urban poor, whose rioting played an

important role in impelling sections of the political elite to finally break from Suharto, their action

– violent rioting in the streets – was the very antithesis of an organised and moderate civil society.

The violence of the transition, especially the rioting of the urban poor, was itself largely a product

of the New Order state‟s previous restrictions on organizing among subordinate classes. Lacking

avenues for peaceful organizational expression, the political frustrations and interests of lower

class groups remained unmediated. The unintended result of regime policy, therefore, was an

absence of organizational means for instilling “civility” in much of the population, an outcome

which added considerably to the potential for explosive unrest in Indonesian political life after the

democratic transition.

In short, some care needs to be taken in conceptualizing the relationship between the

organizational infrastructure of civil society (NGOs, student organizations, religious bodies etc)

and the more amorphous society in democratisation, especially in conditions of popular upsurge,

such as those which accompanied the fall of Suharto. In the literature on democratic transitions,

the popular upsurge is frequently described as a “victory of civil society.” However, the

Indonesian transition was marked by a degree of fluidity, spontaneous expression and violence

that bore little relationship to the models of political change nurtured in much of organized civil


                              Civil society after the breakthrough.

The downfall of the Suharto regime was followed by a series of political reforms which went a

long way toward establishing a more secure legal framework for civil society. From virtually the

moment that B. J. Habibie was sworn in as President, the ideas about political and social order

generated in the vanguard elements of civil society (such as human rights NGOs) over the previous

decade were accepted as the ideological foundation for the new political order. In the face of a

highly mobilized society, there was now little open resistance expressed from within the state to

notions of democracy, accountability, supremacy of law, even civil society itself.

However, even as civil society provided the ideological foundation for democratisation, certain

inherited characteristics of civil society undermined the momentum of reform. Militant

pro-democracy groups in civil society were weak, marginalized and disunited, as a result of

decades of repression. The tolerated, semi-corporatist organizations often had better organized

mass followings, but their leaders (Abdurrahman Wahid, head of the 40 million strong Nahdlatul

Ulama was an obvious example) had been deeply affected by the politics of compromise and

deal-making under the New Order. The disunited and dispersed organizational character of civil

society, plus its political moderation (both elements which had helped civil society survive under

the New Order) now meant that democratic forces lacked the political cohesion, institutional

resources, and clarity and unity of purpose to seize control of the reform process and stamp their

authority on it. As a result, the state elite survived the downfall of Suharto largely intact, and many

of the patrimonial, rent-seeking and repressive practices of the Suharto years carried over into the

post-breakthrough phase.

Even so, in the new „reformasi order‟ there were significant changes in civil society and its

interaction with the state. The most obvious was a dramatic expansion of civil society. In a pattern

typical of ruptura democratizations, the resignation of President Suharto was the signal for great

societal energization and popular mobilization. Keeping the focus on rural and land issues, the first

sign was a wave of land occupations. All across the archipelago, in places where land had been

expropriated during the New Order years (and in some cases long before), peasants occupied land,

dug up golfing greens, chopped down coffee trees, and planted their own crops (Lucas and Warren

2000, 227-31). One of the most symbolic examples was in Tapos, West Java where, within a few

hours of Suharto‟s resignation on May 21, five farmers began to stake out and dig plots on land

which had been taken away from them some 25 years earlier to make way for a cattle ranch-owned

by President Suharto himself (Bachriadi & Lucas 2001, 62-63), with many more joining them over

following days. Eventually, according to one activist from the rural-oriented NGO Bina Desa,

“hundreds of thousands” of hectares of land were seized by farmers across the archipelago in the

years following Suharto‟s resignation, with the total far exceeding that occupied during the

unilateral actions of 1963-64 (interview with Syaiful Bahari, May 26, 2002).

There was also a rapid expansion of associational activity. In the rural sector, new NGOs formed

and there was a rash of seminars and conferences to discuss issues of agrarian reform (Lucas and

Warren 2000, 227). The most striking development, however, was the rapid expansion and

formation of peasants‟ unions (serikat petani). Usually formed on the basis of the subterranean

networks established during the preceding fifteen years, several dozen such organizations were

formed or declared themselves openly for the first time. In some cases, they were soon able to

mobilize large numbers. A Lampung Peasants‟ Association was launched at a mass meeting of 12

thousand farmers in March 2001 (Kompas, August 20, 2001). By mid-2002, the Serikat Petani

Pasundan in West Java claimed some 200 thousand members. These new unions were integrally

concerned with land occupations, but they also began to mobilize in favour of more general policy

demands. In September 2001, for example, approximately ten thousand farmers organized by the

„Indonesian Peasants‟ Alliance‟ (Aliansi Petani Indonesia) were blocked by security forces from

entering the West Javanese capital of Bandung, where members of the People‟s Consultative

Assembly were discussing a draft decree on agrarian reform (Kompas, September 15, 2002).

In superficial terms, it seemed that rural politics was reverting to the pattern of the 1960s, with

mass-membership peasant organisations (though still only a fraction of the size of the old BTI) and

national campaigns for agrarian reform and absolute equality in the countryside. In the words of

one 'Declaration of the Rights of Indonesian Peasants” produced by a conference of peasant

organisations and NGOs in April 2001 (Damanik 2002, 63):

       ... improvement to the fate of the peasants can only be brought about by total
       agrarian reform, beginning with equal distribution of control over and use of the
       land, water and natural wealth...

However, the new farmers‟ movement differed from that of the 1960s. The primary focus

remained restitution of unfairly expropriated land: thus, Pri Suhardi, the coordinator of the Ikatan

Petani Lampung, stressed that although most of the organisation‟s members were landless, “We

only struggle for land which we used to own, but which is now controlled by others, it must be

returned” (Kompas, August 20, 2001). In fact, many of the occupations involved previously

landless peasants taking over plantation lands which had been state-owned since colonial times.

Significantly, the new agenda for agrarian reform stressed precisely the redistribution of

state-owned plantation land in which usage rights were granted to state enterprises and private

investors (and which amounted, by some estimates, to sixty per cent of productive land), rather

than land in the hands of small-scale landlords, as in the 1960s (interview with Syaiful Bahari,

May 26, 2002).

In short, the post-Suharto burst of associational activity substantially continued the trend set

during the late New Order, whereby civil society was primarily a domain of organizations which

eschewed the ambitious, maximalist aims of the 1960s. Instead, most civil society organizations

had a rather limited conceptualization of their own goals, they did not seek to utterly transform the

state or social order, but focused instead on restraining, seeking redress from, or gaining other

desirable policy outcomes from the state. In the words of one of the rural activists: “the obligations

of the state are the central point, namely the obligations to protect, fulfil and advance the rights of

the peasants.” (Damanik 2002, 51).13

A second significant change in civil society after the fall of Suharto was in its relations with

political society. The New Order had attempted to deprive civil society of the means to operate in

the official political domain, notably parties. In the post-breakthrough climate, there was partial

  Outside the rural sector, this trend was especially apparent in the rapid growth of watchdog-type NGOs, not only
human rights organizations of the traditional kind, but also an array of corruption-watch, judiciary-watch,
parliament-watch and election monitoring groups. These groups were overwhelmingly middle class, and their growth
was made possible by a huge inflow of “democracy aid” from foreign governments and private foundations after the
fall of Suharto. (For example, during the elections alone, USAID funded financial support to approximately 200
Indonesian NGOs: Clear 2002).

renewing of the bonds between civil and political society, in some ways reminiscent of pre-New

Order conditions. Some organizations representing core socio-political traditions (aliran) created

or resurrected political parties. For example, Abdurrahman Wahid and other leaders of Nahdlatul

Ulama created the National Awakening Party, PKB; while some leaders of Muhammadiyah, the

chief modernist Islamic organization, sponsored the National Mandate Party, PAN. In this sense,

post-breakthrough politics resembled a reawakening of the old aliran pattern, in which major

socio-cultural groupings each has its “own” political party.

However, the boundaries between the different socio-cultural streams are far more blurred than in

the 1950s and 1960s. PAN and PKB, for example, consciously strove to reach out (albeit with

minimal success) beyond their core aliran modernist and traditionalist constituencies, and even

attempted to recruit non-Muslims. More importantly, the level of conflict between the revivified

aliran is much less than in the 1960s. Although there has been considerable violence (see below),

there is little of the sense of looming social conflagration which dominated Indonesian political

life in the 1960s. In part this reflects the emergence of a much larger buffer zone of organizations

which lack aliran affiliation. Thus, in dramatic contrast to the 1960s, none of the larger new

Farmers‟ Unions are linked to political parties. Instead, when they seek to achieve desired

legislative outcomes (such as a 2001 People‟s Consultative Assembly decree on agrarian reform),

these organizations and allied NGOs lobby all the major parties, speaking in terms of “bargaining

power”, rather than class struggle, and viewing themselves as being a “pressure group” or “lobby

group” (Damanik 2002, 40, 45).

Equally importantly, the socio-cultural element of aliran identity (the division between major

religious groupings) is no longer reinforced and exacerbated by conflict about class. The only

party which pursues a rigorous class line is the PRD, a product of the student radicalization of the

1980s and 1990s, but this party attained less than 0.1 % of the vote in the 1999 election. Some of

the larger political parties campaigned on penggusuran issues and attempted to portray themselves

as advocates of farmers‟ interests, but mostly in a fitful and casual manner. When it comes to

determining policy on land, they have been influenced more by international financial agencies,

which promote a brand of agrarian reform which aims to create a more efficient and better

regulated market in private land (Bey 2002). Overall, the intensity of ideological conflict between

the aliran is far less than in the 1950s and 1960s.

A third feature of post-breakthrough civil society, despite all the above, has been its inability to

prevent serious violence and social breakdown in many parts of the country. The Indonesian

transition has been marked by serious violence occasioned by the suppression of secessionist

movements in East Timor, Papua, and Aceh, severe ethnic and religious conflict in some regions,

as well as widespread breakdown of law and order. A detailed examination of the sources of this

violence is beyond the scope of this chapter. In general terms, however, we can say that these

phenomena reflect the legacy of state suppression of civil society during the long Suharto period.

The state‟s restriction of organization meant that many members of society had few avenues to

vent their grievances peacefully, and few experiences of associational activity such as to impart the

habits of tolerance, mutual respect and trust sometimes ascribed to civil society interaction. A

pattern of patron-client pyramids extending from the state apparatus down to societal groups

(including criminal gangs), combined with competition for scarce resources, produced conditions

which gave rise to severe ethnic conflict in some areas, once political controls were lifted (van

Klinken 2001a, 2001b, Bertrand 2002).

Moreover, after the fall of Suharto it became apparent that the appearance of a “strong state” in

Indonesia had been deceptive. The “strong state” was in fact primarily dependent on military

repression in dealing with societal challenges, and patrimonialism for maintaining internal

cohesion (Crouch 1998). The result was that, after the democratic breakthrough, the state was

increasingly prey to predatory attack, as numerous political and business forces sought to gain

access to the state‟s resources for their own rent-seeking purposes, frequently impeding the

functioning of its machinery in the process. This process has been especially pronounced at the

local level, where in many areas old alliances between business and state elites have been rapidly

reconstituted through the institutions of the new democratic order, such as parties and parliaments

(Hadiz 2001, Robison 2002). In many regions, this process has seen the establishment of what

Franco in her contribution to this volume calls “authoritarian enclaves,” in which conflict between

business and the state on the one hand, and civil society groups representing subordinate groups on

the other, largely follows the pattern established under the prior authoritarian regime.

This continuity of violence is apparent in the new rural campaigning. The land occupations and

farmer activism which followed 1998 still faced powerful and violent adversaries. One notable

change, which reflected the great public pressure exerted on the armed forces after Suharto‟s

downfall, has been increased use of private hoodlums (preman) by developers attempting to force

farmers of disputed land. When the first line of privatised violence fails, however, police and

military forces have frequently continued to intervene on behalf of developers (see Collins 2001

for case studies of conflict in South Sumatra). In many cases, security forces have arrested farmers

occupying land and used more violent and intimidatory methods to oust them; several have been

shot dead.14 In regions where land disputes have been particularly severe, like the plantation zone

of North Sumatra, local conditions have become almost civil war-like, with private „ninjas‟ and

estate employees (sometimes guarded by police mobile brigades) regularly attacking villages,

burning down homes, schools and houses of worships, destroying property, beating whoever they

find, and sometimes killing them. In response, farmers have formed their own militia-like groups,

and proclaimed themselves ready to “fight to the death.”15

As severe as it has become in some parts of the country, this kind of conflict is not the sort which

presages a headlong descent into society-wide massacres like those of 1965-66. There is nothing

resembling the deep ideological conflict within civil society of the sort which predated the New

Order. Nor does the new pattern of violence pose an immediate threat to the liberal-democratic

shell which has largely replaced the authoritarian political structures of the New Order. Rather,

such violence says much about the kind of democracy being constructed in Indonesia (Robison

2002). It suggests that continued expansion of civil society faces severe challenges, but is also

necessary to deepen democratization and extend its benefits to subordinate groups.


Civil society in Indonesia has contributed differently to political change in different periods. In the

   See for example, “Bentrok antara Massa dan Aparat Kepolisian: Satu Orang Tewas Diterjang Peluru,” Media
Indonesia, November 30, 2001.
   See for example, “Penggarap Ancam Sabung Nyawa Dan Kibarkan Bendera SM Raja XII”, Waspada, December 10,

1960s, conflict between groups in civil society contributed to intense political conflict, a

tremendous massacre, and a long period of authoritarian rule. In the 1990s, civil society became an

arena where many groups attempted to expand space for political participation, constrain the state

and promote democratization. It contributed to the transition to democratic rule, especially by

undermining the ideological foundations of the authoritarian political order.

In general terms, civil society was much “tamer” in the 1980s and 1990s than it was in the early

1960s. As we have seen, however, it is not accurate to say that civil society was no longer violent

or conflictual. Instead, the nature of the conflict had substantially changed. The violence was

mostly no longer within civil society, as it had been during the 1960s when the party-linked mass

associations faced each other across a deep ideological gulf, and viewed each other as mortal

enemies. Land disputes in the 1980s and 1990s demonstrated that civil society remained a site of

considerable violent conflict, but also that this conflict was more readily conceived by its

participants in “state versus society” terms. Of course, conflictual relations were also not the only,

or even dominant, mode of civil society interaction with the state: especially in corporatist and

semi-corporatist organizations, and in middle class associational life, there was considerable

overlap and accommodation with the state. But the fact that civil society also partly grew under the

New Order as a defensive attempt to carve out a sphere for independent societal action meant that

it generated a political dynamic and a discourse which cumulatively did much to undermine the

legitimacy of authoritarian rule (especially in combination with the process of atrophy visible in

state institutions themselves). This erosion of the ideological foundation of authoritarianism was

the primary contribution made by civil society to Indonesia‟ democratic breakthrough in 1998.

During the long New Order years, Indonesian civil society had given rise to a discourse which

viewed the state as the primary problem of political life and its constraint as the most important

political goal. This anti-authoritarian, anti-statist impulse represented the ideational foundation of

the societal convulsion that removed Suharto from power. It meant that the fall of Suharto was

immediately followed by unequivocal movement in the direction of greater political democracy.

After this breakthrough, civil society expanded rapidly, although it also faced severe challenges,

and revealed many weaknesses which had been created by decades of military rule (in a way

reminiscent of Aqil Shah‟s account of Pakistan in this volume). In this sense, the survey of

Indonesian civil society presented in this chapter supports Hefner‟s (2000) recent formulation

(based on an analysis of Indonesian Islamic politics), that a “civil society requires a civil state.”

Even so, one reason that a democratic system was able to emerge and survive after 1998 (even if

the “quality” of that democratic system is, to say the least, uneven) was the changed nature of civil

society. Civil society was no longer a terrain for such bitter contestation as in the 1960s. It was no

longer divided into vertically-aligned blocs, each linked to a political party, each representing

distinct socio-religious and/or socio-economic constituencies, and each with incompatible goals

for reconstructing Indonesian state and society. Instead, much of civil society now imagines itself

to be inherently limited, in the sense of eschewing aims of overthrowing or fundamentally

re-ordering the state and social order, and instead seeking from the state Diamond‟s “concessions,

benefits, policy changes, relief, redress or accountability,” as well, we might add, a political space

guaranteed against state interference and violence.

In explaining the emergence of this kind of civil society in Indonesia, this chapter has emphasized

three factors. The first, and one which explains a great deal, is the changing international setting.

The end of the Cold War meant that the broader international context did not exacerbate

polarization in Indonesian society as it had in the 1960s. By the time of the fall of Suharto, there

was even a large international “democracy aid” industry, ready to disburse funds to encourage

precisely the kind of groups which accord with Diamond‟s vision of a limited civil society.

Secondly, we have seen that changes in economic structures and the dynamics of class conflict

may have an important impact on the evolution of civil society. Class conflict in the countryside

was a crucial contributor to the violent collapse of Indonesia‟s political system in 1965-66. Under

the New Order, despite an all-pervasive security apparatus which aimed to suppress mobilization

by subordinate classes, class conflict did not pass from the picture. On the contrary, our survey of

agrarian politics suggests that class conflict remained severe. However, the particular form of

capitalist development which flourished under the New Order meant that the form of class conflict,

and its impact on civil society, changed. Because the main engine of economic growth, and thus

the main cause of social dislocation, was an alliance between the developmentalist state and an

emergent urban-based capitalist class, the main fissure of conflict no longer divided small rural

communities against themselves. Instead, they set entire rural communities against powerful

forces far removed from them in the social hierarchy. The enmeshment of the new capitalist class

with state officialdom, and the role played by the security apparatus as main protector and enforcer

for capitalist development, also meant that class conflict was now more readily conceived in “state

versus society” terms. In the countryside, the agents of land alienation came dressed in the

uniforms of the civil-service corps and the military. If disenfranchised landholders were to defend

themselves, they needed to fight hard against state officials to establish even minimal civic space.

As a result, the dynamic of class conflict reinforced other trends in civil society which promoted an

orientation toward constraint and control of the state.

The final crucial factor was thus the evolution of the state, its structuring of civil society, and the

way it was consequently viewed by groups in civil society. We have seen how the state became

supremely dominant during the New Order. This dominance, especially of the repressive

apparatus, meant that the state itself became the primary problematic, and the primary focus, of

civil society life. Almost every group which sought to organize itself, to further its members‟

interests, or to achieve other social and political aims, had to confront this behemoth in some way

or another. Many groups attempted to cooperate with it, others resisted, most used some

combination of cooperation and resistance. However, the very fact that all civil society groups,

including those descended from different aliran, shared a common condition of subordination to

the state meant that the focus of political life (including political conflict) to a large extent shifted

away from the hostile axes of competition between different societal groups, and toward their

individual relations with the state.

The Indonesian case thus illustrates a very fundamental proposition. Quite apart from whether the

state in question is civil or not, if civil society is to emerge, it at least requires a state, in the sense of

a distinct set of state institutions and political interactions which have separated themselves from

the broader world of political party and associational life. Indonesia‟s New Order was in few

senses civil, it was authoritarian, violent and manipulative. Yet, it was precisely in

counter-position to this state that an Indonesian civil society began to emerge.


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