The Political Economy of Governing the Peasants

The coup of October 1, 1965 and the charges against the Communist Party as the generator of the event served to change the social life and institutional direction of rural Java, and by extension, Indonesia. The Communist Party, with remarkable success in mobilizing peasant interests in land reform, was decimated; many of its members were killed and imprisoned in a series of frightful terrors. The slaughter of over 500,000 people, many of whom were peasants, workers, and activists supportive of the Indonesian left mostly in rural areas of Java and Sumatra, had radically changed the village and prompted waves of migration to the city. Ali Sadikin, the governor of Jakarta who served in the first decade of the Suharto regime noted in his memoir that the influx of migrants (permanent or temporary) to the capital city was overwhelming especially when many of them had become “vagrants” (gelandangan) and “sex workers” (wanitaP).22 This may not be true, for many of them were gradually absorbed into the informal sector, but the violence of category suited Sadikin’s need to demonize the poor migrants from villages for the “cleaning up” of the capital city. As I will argue in the next sections, during the mid-1970s, the formation of the periurban became a space for the containment of migrant labor from the countryside, and this move was due, in large measure, to the aftermath of the 1965 terrors, in which the governing rural bodies became heavily monitored by rapid spatial and political disciplinary actions. I will return to this issue, but for now, it is sufficient to say that Sadikin was appointed by Sukarno (1950—1966), but he worked in the force field of Suharto who assumed power in 1966. The urbanization that the governor witnessed was different from that of Kenneth Watts, for the influx of migrants of his time stemmed from the “cleaning up” of the village from “communist infiltration” and the “restoration of order” under military control.23

“Directly after the coup,” Gary Hansen points out, “nearly every ‘district head’ (bupati) on Java was replaced by an officer from the army, usually of colonel rank. Likewise, many ‘village heads’ (lurah) were replaced by veterans or recently deactivated members of the army. To further buttress government hegemony in the countryside, the army created its own hierarchical structure parallel to the territorial units of local and regional government. Thus, all levels of civilian government from the province down to the village area are now complemented by a counterpart army command with functioning authority over the respective territorial jurisdiction.”24 This systematic alteration of political and institutional life within the village fundamentally reorganized the political economy of rural life to a degree that there were “no ‘peasants’ lobbies at either local, regional, or national level.”25 The restructuring, as Gary Hansen reported, “had served to cast a heavy pall over rural Java, and most peasants and rural leaders were much less inclined to risk involvement in any form of organized political activity, let alone opposition to government programs.”26

The agrarian land reform program initiated under the Sukarno regime was soon regarded as “communist inspired.”27 In place of agrarian reform, the Green Revolution was introduced, under which peasants were transformed into farmers’ groups and cooperatives in order to carry out state-controlled “intensification” of food production, a strategy that had resulted in national self-sufficiency in the 1980s. While this was acknowledged as successful (receiving international acclaim), it was also an expression of the top-down approach, in which farmers of the government group could obtain “fertilizer, insecticides, and pesticides at the ‘official’ prices, credits to pay their input, loans . . . and better prices for their produce.”28 Those who remained independent producers of their own land were never quite left alone, for they, too, held no power in the system that sought to undermine their agencies. In Agrarian Transformations, Hart, Turton, and White indicate just how the mechanism of creating agrocommodity relationship is linked to the control of the peasantry.29 The Green Revolution has taken away the peasants’ control of their means of production (both land and tool) even though they have gained productivity and larger income.30 In this sense, the Green Revolution, while increasing productivity, has its goal of dismantling the political base of the peasants and hence protecting the regime from the possibility of rural unrest.

The Green Revolution thus was part of the attempt to depoliticize the village by ways of intensification and commercialization of the rural economy under the disciplinary control of rural elites and, behind them, the military. The program was part of the national “stabilization and rehabilitation” program in the aftermath of 1965. In 1968, two years after the regime change, President Suharto laid out his new development plan on agriculture:

For the next five years, industrial development will be concentrated on those industries supporting agricultural development, such as manufacture of fertilizer, insecticide and farm implements. . . . Increased use of fertilizer and insecticides will require outlays by farmers. Since their resources are very limited, finance may be a major obstacle. To meet this problem, plans have been made to establish village banks and village warehouses. . . . Government rural credit facilities will also be strengthened and extended. Additional finance may be provided by private domestic and foreign capital. Such companies could assist farmers by supplying fertilizers, insecticides, and farm implements on credits, and by providing training in the use of these implements, repayment to be made by delivery part of the additional production made possible by this assistance. A start has been made in this co-operation between farmers and private entrepreneurs.31

What underlies this state patronage mechanism of agrocommodity relations is not only the attempt to alleviate rural poverty and to promote rural employment but also to control the peasants by integrating them into a network of agricultural labor dependent on the “patron-client.” With technology of production and lands in the hands of corporations, managers, and entrepreneurs, middle-lower-end poor peasants have lost the capacity to control their own agricultural base.32 In this mechanism, the rural elites ran the show while serving the state by becoming not only the beneficiaries but also the “police” of the countryside. And with social hierarchy in place, the countryside “police” were able to monitor and control the type of labor that many were engaged in within the local space. Often, many peasants on the lower end of the rural hierarchy were thereby displaced if the police suspected them to have communist loyalties. The political capacity of the state and its rural elite was based on the mobilization of the militaristic and ideological discourses of stability and security. Through the discourse of “cleaning up” the rural from the communist threat, political activities of villagers thus were eliminated.

This technique of governance that seeks to clean the social environment of the rural from the “communist threat” by working under the network of the Green Revolution has fragmented the peasantry as a relatively autonomous unit of sociopolitical force and ended what Ben White called the “self-organization and resistance” of peasants and rural poor.33 With local civilian government and its military counterpart standing out as the sole representative of organized power and with many peasants losing control of institutions and land and unable to afford inputs on the Green Revolution, the peasants became what Foucault would call “docile bodies” available for elimination and transformation. Thus, programs to eliminate peasantry and to reduce the number of peasants could spontaneously initiate with ease by the state. For instance, as recorded by Ben White,

In August 1984 Minister of Agriculture Affandi announced, seemingly out of the blue, that small farms of less than half a hectare (and in a later phase, those of less than one hectare) would be abolished: there were too many farmers in Indonesia, and the numbers were ideally to be brought down from 60—70 percent to 8 percent of the population. They would be encouraged to sell their farms or amalgamate with other farmers, to join one of the government’s Transmigration or Nucleus-Estate programs outside Java, or to shift to non-agricultural occupations.34

The Ministry ofAgriculture basically expressed the general strategy of the nation’s security measure. He recalled the concern of Major-General Ali Moertopo (1924-1984), a key member of the President’s advisory board, who had long been preoccupied by the political arrangement of Indonesian population as a prerequisite for accelerated economic growth. In 1972, Moertopo (then head of OPSUS, a special operations unit linked to the army under the Suharto regime), helped formulate a state ideology, which was to be applied “to every aspect of life, to every government institution and state organization, as well as to all levels of urban and rural society.”35 One of his most important concepts was the “floating mass” (massa mengambang)—“a demobilized and depoliti- cized population”—which became the central pillar of Suharto’s political system.36 The floating mass is essentially a policy of population control pursued in the aftermath of the terror, murder, and massive arrests of people accused to have had association with communism or leftist ideas and their affiliated mass organizations. In Lane’s word, it is “a policy of political restructuring aimed at making permanent the end of any form of open mobilization politics.”37 To ensure the death of “popular radicalism,” the military established bureaus, which screened citizens to make sure that they were clean of communism. A citizen who passed the screening of the “clean environment” (bersih lingkungan) program could obtain a certificate of good behavior needed for a job and membership application. However, regardless of whether citizens passed or failed the screening, they remained members of floating masses. In Slamet’s words,

The deprived rural masses are floating politically because the government wants them to stay unorganized. They are floating because they are more and more cut off from the land and even from work opportunities as labourers, as a result of changes in technology favourable to the richer peasants, to landed members of the bureaucracy and to agro-business. . . . 38

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