This essay summarizes some of the basic features of the “informal proletariat” in Indonesia using the definition presented in Mike Davis’s Planet of the Slums. These include features that flow from the low levels of industrialization of the national economy as well as those related to the day-to-day socioeconomic reality of this specific segment of the urban proletariat. The essay goes on to show that the fact that the “informal proletariat” predominated within the proletariat as a whole facilitated forms of different political mobilization and organization than that usually associated with proletarian politics, such as trade unions, during the period of intensifying political struggle against the authoritarian Suharto government, especially in the 1990s. It also notes how the relationship between radicalizing students, convinced of the idea of “democratic revolution,” as espoused by V.I. Lenin, also facilitated these non-trade union forms of organization. It identifies the interacting relationship between the mobilization of the formal and informal sectors of the proletariat during periods of political struggle as a possible important element of addressing the question as to what extent the informal proletariat might be able to assert political agency.

Get full article here


Article: Old Politics Rises to Challenge New Politics in Jakarta by Max Lane

Published Singapore  22 November 2016 in ISEAS Perspectives  CLICK here to read.

Tentang masalah “nation”.

Tentang masalah “nation”.

(Bagian 1 – disempurnakan October 21, 2016)

Oleh Max Lane

(Maaf atas kesalahan dan ketidakjelasan Bahasa. Saya menulis ini langsung dalam Bahasa Indonesia.)

Dalam bahasa Indonesia kata “nation” biasanya diterjemahkan ‘bangsa’ atau ‘nasion’. Sebenarnya kata ini sulit dimaknai dalam situasi-situasi tertentu yang terjadi. Komunitas manusia yang namanya “nation” adalah produk berkembangnnya sistem produksi baru yang bernama kapitalisme di Eropa. Sistem produksi baru ini, yang semakin memanfaatkan teknik produksi menggunakan ilmu teknologi, melahirkan aktor sejarah baru, yaitu kaum pengusaha pemilik alat produksi baru tsb. Kelas sosial ini tidak bisa terima keterbelakangan cara berpikir kaum bangsawan dalam hampir segala hal. Mereka juga tak bisa terima Eropa terbagi2 “kerajaan”2 kecil dimana2, dgn mata uangnya sendiri, bahasanya sendiri, dan segala macam lokalisme yang lain. Kaum pengusaha ini (kaum bourjuis) membangun gerakan bertujuan mendirikan wilayah politik dan pasar yang lebih besar dan luas, dgn bahasa yang sama, dan dengan kebudayaan baru yang menolak keterbelakangan pikiran sistem feodal, baik yg berlaku di kalangan bangsawan maupun rakyat. Rakyat banyak (yg miskin sekali itu) sering juga mendukung gerakan kaum burjuis ini untuk hancurkan feodalisme dan menjadi kekuatan penting dalam prosesnya. Tetapi kemudian dikhianati oleh kaum bourjuis yg memimpinnya. Continue reading “Tentang masalah “nation”.”

Article: Stopping the boats is about smashing social solidarity by Max Lane

(This article was first published in RED FLAG newspaper on June 18, 2015.)

It seems fairly certain now that Australian Customs and Navy personnel paid the captain and crew of an Indonesian ship carrying 65 asylum seekers, including children and a pregnant woman, to take the Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis and Burmese back to Indonesia.

Sixty-five desperate people, all from situations of misery and repression, who had no doubt spent much of their little cash on the boat ride to New Zealand, were put on two new boats and turned around. This is despite requests by the refugees to be taken on board the Customs and Navy ships.

The Australian state paid the crew to betray their desperate customers and take them back to a society with a per capita income of only US$4,000 per year and mass poverty. No offer was made to bring them to Australia, one of the richest countries in the world (whatever the unjust distribution of that wealth).

Former Labor prime minister Paul Keating introduced mandatory detention. Then Liberal PM John Howard escalated the propaganda about “border security”. His government told the disgusting lie in 2001 that children were “thrown overboard” by asylum seekers in order to force the Navy to rescue them. And it instituted the notorious “Pacific solution”.

Since then, “stop the boats” has become a central platform in the Australian ruling class’s ideological agitation, articulated by both the Liberals and the ALP. It was Rudd’s ALP that came up with the cruel policy that no refugee arriving by boat would ever be settled in Australia, but instead be sent to Papua New Guinea. Abbott added to this with the criminal and inhumane tow-back policy.

But why?

Neither party is opposed to receiving refugees in Australia. In 2012-13, 20,000 visas were issued under Australia’s humanitarian program, according to the Department of Immigration. This is nowhere near enough, but it indicates that the elites here have no in-principle objection to refugees settling in Australia. People arriving in Australia on tourist visas by plane who then seek asylum also face minimal obstacles to their settlement.

Neither are the numbers of arrivals by boat huge: in 2009-13, the average was around 10,000 per year. This is an easily absorbable number of people in a population of 24 million. And it is only a fraction of the total annual migration to Australia (around 200,000 people). So why is the hysterical agitation of “stop the boats” and “illegal arrivals” (they are not illegal) so central?

The idea that it is about “defending sovereign borders” is, of course, a joke. Most boats aim only to arrive at Christmas Island, which is a huge distance from the Australian continent and hardly within real borders. The same is true for Ashmore Reef.

As a huge island continent, Australia has always had porous borders. Until Howard’s Tampa agitation, it was considered only a minor problem to do with small numbers of smugglers. Furthermore, the refugees coming by boat are not trying to sneak into Australia – they report directly and as quickly as they can to Australian authorities.

So why?

There is only once conclusion: the issue fulfils a propaganda need for the Australian ruling class. It uses the issue to undermine any philosophy of collective solidarity. The policies legitimise cruelty and inhumanity towards others in the name of “defending sovereignty”, which has become a code word for an illusory “what we have”. This helps legitimise the idea that the world’s have-nots should “wait their turn” in a “queue” that is policed by the haves. This is the reason that “both sides” of bourgeois politics agitate around this issue.

In one sense, it is a good sign that the elite feel that they need such an issue, and that they have to make it so central to their politics. The need indicates that they fear the Australian public’s sense of solidarity with others would otherwise come to the fore. In a society where the trend is for wealth to be redistributed upwards, while cutting back on the level of social services and culture for the majority, an awakened sense of solidarity among people would be a disaster for the ruling class.

“Aspiration”, the cry, is legitimate – but the rich want aspirations fulfilled only for themselves and their close associates. “Defend our borders” is their code word for defending self-interest, even if it means cruelty to others.

This is an existential issue for late capitalism and its escalating upward redistribution. In a rich country like Australia, with a per capita income of $40,000 per year and already advanced infrastructure, which is in a situation of serious relative abundance, where can society be taken?

There are only two choices: more and more redistribution upwards as we head for some kind of technologically advanced barbarism of walled elites, or using that abundance to improve the quality of life for all human beings.

“Stop the boats”, and similar cruel, anti-human slogans, are one of the ruling class’s weapons to defend their choice. Systematising cruelty is laying the foundation for barbarism.

ARTICLE: Amsterdam students and staff demand self-organisation of universities by Max LAne

The occupation and campaigns are still going as of March 13. This article was first published in RED FLAG newspaper.


The University of Amsterdam chancellery building, the Maagdenhuis, has been occupied since 24 February, when students broke down the door and took over the ground floor. Since then, there has been a constant stream of teach-in discussions and organising activity.

The occupation followed a demonstration of more than 1,000 students and some staff. They were protesting the arrest of 39 students who had been occupying the Bungehuis building in protest at its impending sale to private interests. The sale of university property has become symbolic of what is seen as the trend to subordinate education to commerce, abandoning a commitment to the university as a place for critical education.

Discontent over university policy has been brewing for at least two years. A group called Humanities Rally was formed by students after a university plan, Profiel 2016, projected deep cuts to the humanities.

Apart from the increasing use of contract staff, the preparation of the Profiel 2016 and other changes have taken place with only pretend consultation with university employees.

Democratisation of the university – wresting power away from a managerial caste carrying out a neoliberal agenda, and shifting decision-making to the university community – has become a key plank of both the student protests, which are organised as New University, and the academic movement ReThink UvA.

These protests differ significantly from student protests in other countries in that they are joint student-staff actions demanding a total restructuring of higher education. They are calling for the self-organisation of universities, with the aim of fulfilling educational, not financial, goals.

While there was a national day of action on 4 March, the primary focus of the two groups over the last several days has been the communication of their demands to the university’s board. A letter has gone to the university with two sets of demands.

The first set calls for an immediate moratorium on restructuring processes and sale of UvA property, the issuing of a detailed proposal on democratisation and an inquiry by an independent committee into the university’s finances. The students and academics are demanding agreement to these demands by 9 March; otherwise protest actions will escalate.

The second set of demands relates to further democratisation and a major shift away from quantitative output-oriented management of education toward policies based on genuine educational goals. There are also demands for more secure employment for staff.

So far, management has been stalling. It is essentially operating within the neoliberal policy framework supported by the government, which is an alliance of the right wing People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy and the Labor Party.

Members of parliament from the left social democratic Socialist Party, the country’s largest opposition party, have spoken at the protests. So have members from the smaller, more middle class Groene Links and even from Young Labor. The minister of education overseeing the restructuring process is from the Labor Party.

While the focus has been on communications with university management, organising activity has continued. New University protest groups have now emerged at five other major Dutch campuses. Teach-in activities by staff and students are planned for the corridors of the Amsterdam campus starting this week. The aim is to expand student involvement beyond those who have come out of Humanities Rally and the immediate occupation actions.

The Netherlands Trade Union Federation (FNV) branches at the university and other campuses have voted to support the student occupations and the demands for reform. The Health Workers Union has also sent solidarity. Apart from further student mobilisations, staff have started discussing the necessity of strike or other industrial action. The FNV is still dominated by the Labor Party, but there are more and more Socialist Party members in the unions, including among organisers.

Continue reading “ARTICLE: Amsterdam students and staff demand self-organisation of universities by Max LAne”


Around 250,000 workers, members of various trade unions, mobilised in Jakarta for May Day, 2014. From all accounts, the mobilisations were similar to those of 2012 and 2013. The demands carried on workers banners and posters were for rises in minimum wages and the banning of the widespread labor hire practices. From the hundreds of photos on facebook, posted by workers from their Chinese made handphones, it appears that the mobilisations in Jakarta as well as other cities, were dynamic, colourful and had a strong activist atmosphere about them. It is a sign that the trade union movement which has developed during the last 15 years remains strongly organised and that worker consciousness remains form on issues relating to immediate conditions.

2014: A Turning Point?

may day 1
May Day, Jakarta, 2014


SHORT COMMENT: On feminism and feminism


Over the course of the last twelve months, due to developments in the small Australian, British and Indonesian lefts, the issue of the Marxist orientation to feminism has become higher up in the current discussion agenda. Over the last 30 years, I have been part of a tradition that has tried to explain the origins of the society wide systematic oppression of women, throughout several periods of history, within a Marxist analytical explanation. This has involved – to summarize super succinctly – identifying processes of subjugation of women as connected to the evolution of various production practices as they in turn produce antagonistic class relationships in which various forms of property emerge and where women, historically, become property. This always also fulfills some function to make it easier for the system’s mechanisms of exploitation of a tiny minority over the mass of people to function effectively. Under capitalism, the oppression…

View original post 1,127 more words

%d bloggers like this: