While last week’s May Day demonstrations took place relatively peacefully, acts of vandalism during protests in several cities across the country triggered a police crackdown on so-called anarcho-syndicalist activists.
National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian said that he has ordered the mapping of the group and that action would be taken against it.
“We’ve seen them in previous years in Yogyakarta, in Bandung, now they are in Surabaya and Jakarta,” he told reporters recently. “Unfortunately they conduct violence and vandalism, tagging the ‘A’ symbol and damaging fences.”
Police spokesperson Insp. Gen. M. Iqbal also said that police would investigate the group and “the motive and concept and who is behind it”.
Arrests of alleged anarcho-syndicalists have been made in Bandung, West Java, Makassar, South Sulawesi, and Malang, East Java.
The most arrests occurred in Bandung, where police detained 619 people, mostly young men who were wearing black, following accusations that the group painted graffiti on cars belonging to labor union members who were also taking part in the Labor Day protests.
Police ordered the detainees to take off their shirts. Officers forcefully shaved their heads and sprayed their faces and bodies with paint. Only two men were eventually charged with damaging motorcycles, while the rest were released.
The treatment of the detainees drew condemnation from labor activists and right groups who called the police actions “unwarranted” and “arbitrary”.
Bandung Legal Aid Society (LBH) director Willy Hanafi, who is advocating on behalf of the detainees, said they were not all part of the same group.
“From our monitoring, the arrests were random and just based on who was wearing black clothing,” he told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.
Bandung police chief Sr. Comr. Irman Sugema, however, claimed that the alleged anarcho-syndicalists had to be separated from the rest of the May Day demonstrators to avoid friction between the groups.
“It was likely that there would be [commotion] so we separated them to avoid a larger conflict,” he said.
Ah Maftuchan, the executive director of the Perkumpulan Prakarsa research organization, said that the anarcho-syndicalist movement did not have a very large presence in Indonesia.
“So far, I have not seen any sort of centralized structure,” he told the Post.
He said the anarcho-syndicalists in Indonesia had not previously had much association with the labor movement, but had rather developed among young people, high school and university students, as well as in the underground and punk music scene.
“Internationally, anarcho-syndicalism is against both unionism that leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat and capitalism,” he said. “None of the major union confederations in Indonesia subscribe to anarcho-syndicalist ideology.”
Maftuchan added that he did not think the movement posed any significant danger.
“I don’t think that it is a serious threat to the stability and order of this country,” he said.
Gadjah Mada University sociologist AB Widyanta echoed Maftuchan’s comments, saying that the police response to the alleged anarcho-syndicalist actions had been overblown.
“This movement has been around for a long time, ever since the Reform Era, and is associated with pro-democracy movements,” he told The Jakarta Post. “The authorities should not act excessively and turn it into a new boogeyman like communism.”
He said that while police should take measures against illegal acts such as vandalism, the anarcho-syndicalist ideology itself should not be vilified.
“In essence, anarcho-syndicalists are anti-class activists who want to address structural inequalities,” he said. “Capitalism in the form of market fundamentalism could be considered more harmful as it can lead to environmental damage and greater inequality.”
He said the spirit of anarcho-syndicalism was not that different from that of Indonesia’s founding fathers who aspired toward social justice.
“We should try to think more critically and not just turn everything into a phobia,” he said.
Published 10:17, 07 May 2019