Timor: 'We need to mobilise people's power'
By Max Lane
JAKARTA — Shalar Kosi is the secretary general of the Socialist Party of Timor (PST). In an interview with Green Left Weekly, he stressed that the crucial question for socialists in East Timor is building bases among the people.
"One of the frameworks for this has been the formation this year of groupings in different sectors", he explained. "These include the Workers Socialist Alliance, the Peasant Socialist Alliance, the Socialist Youth Alliance, Socialist Alliance of Women and a Socialist Study Centre. They are all at the early stages of development, although many workers outside East Timor, such as in Lampung, are already organised.
"In East Timor, we have the beginnings of bases among port workers, construction workers and drivers. Among coffee farmers, both small owners and labourers, we have some cells that are also developing cooperatives."
A theme in Shalar Kosi's analysis is the necessity of a strategy of mass action, both for the independence struggle and for a socialist East Timor.
"We think the chances of victory in the referendum are good", he said, "but we would have preferred that the movement reject the UN agreement on May 5 and then apply pressure through mass actions for one where the Indonesian army wasn't in charge of security for the referendum. Even now, we think that there should be more pressure applied through mass action, through people's power."
The PST, which was formed as a party in 1997, is not a member of the National Council for Timorese Resistance (CNRT) nor of Fretilin. One of the reasons is that the CNRT does not recognise the 1975 declaration of independence that formed the Democratic Republic of East Timor (DRET). There are other differences too, such as on people's power as a central tactic.
The PST has helped form the People's Council for the Defence of the Republic (CPD) which organised demonstrations soon after the May 5 UN agreement was signed. The CPD, said Kosi, is a loose network, including many non-party people who still support the DRET.
"But now we are working together with Xanana Gusmao and the CNRT to mobilise for the referendum. We also support the proposal for a coalition government after a referendum victory, which includes the current pro-integration forces."
The PST was represented among the pro-independence groups that participated in the recent "dialogue" between pro-Jakarta and independence groups in Jakarta, which also included figures such as Jose Ramos Horta.
According to Kosi, a coalition government should have only two tasks: to keep the administration going and to prepare general elections. "We want free multi-party elections as soon as possible after a coalition government can be formed. Six months is preferable, but definitely no more than two years.
"We would like to see a second referendum also, on whether people wish to re-establish the Democratic Republic of East Timor that was proclaimed in 1975. The people should have the right to have their say on that too."
Kosi expressed caution on whether Jakarta would abide by the results of the referendum if the independence option won. There was still a question whether the Indonesian army (TNI) would withdraw as required and whether it would leave armed militias behind.
"Again, we will need to mobilise people's power. We will need stronger organised bases among the people."
Kosi stated that people's power would be as effective as the role of Falintil, the resistance army. History had shown that guerilla struggle and people's power can be a very powerful combination. "We also have no problem with the disarming of Falintil together with the militias. This will open up more space, make it easier for mass mobilising."
He was confident that the pro-integration militias could be defeated in this manner. "They have no basis, apart from the backing from the TNI. They will wither under the force of people's power. But we must still recognise the danger that a withdrawing TNI may try to start a civil war."
Kosi also emphasised that a key part of defeating the occupation was cooperation with the Indonesian democratic movement. "We worked together with the PRD [People's Democratic Party], for example, in the 1994 occupations of the Dutch and Russian embassies. The struggles in East Timor and Indonesia cannot and must not be separated."
While a united front to win the referendum, establish a transitional coalition government and force the TNI to withdraw remains the central tactical priority, Kosi emphasised that laying the basis for a socialist East Timor remained the fundamental goal of the PST.
"Of course, at the moment, the people look to Xanana as the leader or symbol of the fight for independence. Or they relate to Fretilin as the organisation that fought for independence in the 1970s. Our influence at this point is limited. We have no illusions about that. But we also think that the prospects for the socialist movement in East Timor are good."
Behind this optimism is the assessment that an East Timorese capitalism has not yet taken root and that building a socialist East Timor would not require great efforts to demolish a deeply rooted capitalist system.
It is also based on the PST's assessment that while both Xanana and Fretilin have great authority and popularity, they have not developed functioning party structures among the people. "The coming period will be a period of ideological clarification among all the political forces", Kosi added.
"The PST is still small, with about 300 cadre in East Timor and slightly less in Indonesia. The 300 in East Timor include 70 new members who have just been through classes. In Indonesia, we have branches covering East Java and Central Java as well as the worker groupings in Lampung.
"On August 1, the PST set up an open legal office in Dili. Our chairperson, Saruntu, is based in Dili. Our position is that the socialist forces should come out from the underground and declare their presence. This is the only way we can win people to our ideas and strengthen our base."
As part of this coming into the open, the PST has launched a newspaper in a tabloid format, Tuba. Two issues have been published over the last two months, and the party is confident of it continuing on a regular basis.
"We have distributed 5000 copies in East Timor. They are sold by our members to supporters and sympathisers. The newspaper not also debates and analyses current political developments in relation to the UN referendum and the situation in East Timor but also carries educational material on the East Timorese social structure as well as the prospects for socialism in the region as a whole."
The PST was formed in 1997, but Kosi traces its origins back much further. A few left-wing youth, having received some education from leftists in Fretilin, had established the youth organisation Ojetil in 1981 although "Ojetil now is a completely different organisation".
This attempt to build a socialist-oriented youth group failed in the context of a trend towards a politics of "national unity", which included disconnecting the guerilla forces from Fretilin, a rapprochement with the conservative Christian Democrat-oriented UDT [Timorese Democratic Union], a non-party orientation by other student groups such as Renetil and Xanana's resignation from Fretilin and the formation of the National Council of Maubere Resistance (CNRM).
According to Kosi, between 1981 and 1989 the left-wing elements in the resistance were in retreat. Some left leaders in the guerilla movement disappeared from the struggle.
Then in December 1989, three of the original members of the 1981 Ojetil formed the Clandestine Student Front for the Liberation of East Timor (Feclitil). This was based outside East Timor. Its first action was a joint protest with Renetil and unaffiliated East Timorese students in Jakarta against the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre. In December 1991, 10 people gathered to form the Timorese Socialist Association.
In the initial period, said Kosi, the PST was the subject of considerable slander and gossip, even to the extent of rumours that the head of the PST was Abilio Araujo, a former president of Fretilin who became a pro-Jakarta figure.
"However, by 1995 we were able to establish formal contact with Xanana Gusmao and engage in some cooperation, while maintaining our right to make criticisms and to stay outside of CNRT. Actually, we were also ready to join Fretilin if Fretilin was able to transform itself into a united front of left or progressive forces within CNRT, but it seems Fretilin wants to be a party of its own, perhaps with a social democratic platform. Maybe there will be possibilities of a coalition in the future."
Kosi explained that the PST's socialism bases itself on Marxism and rejects the Stalinist version. "We also try to learn from the contributions of revolutionary socialist leaders, such as Lenin and Trotsky. But we are short of readings and materials, so we are still studying.
"We think that the socialist forces throughout the Asia-Pacific region need to collaborate and work out common approaches to issues. This region is going to be a centre of conflict between socialist and capitalist forces in the coming period, especially with the real potential for social revolution in Indonesia. An early victory for socialism in East Timor with its weakly developed indigenous capitalism and its small size and population could also be an inspiration for socialist forces throughout the region."