Green Left Weekly discussion list, June 18, 2006
Tom O’Lincoln, Scott Hamilton and my good friend Greg Adler on Marxmail, and others on the Green Left list, are battering away at the DSP for supporting the 1999 Australian intervention in East Timor.
I think the arguments that they are advancing are mistaken. I’ve written at length on this in a debate on Marxmail a couple of years ago, I don’t take back a work of what I said, but it would be tedious to repeat all the arguments in the same detail.
The opponents of the first Australian intervention in East Timor implicitly presume that there is some kind of immutable, interminable Marxist principle that Marxists never in any circumstances have any kind of bloc with military actions by imperialist states.
This view is simply false. There are instances in which Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky supported military actions by imperialist states, or formed tacit alliances with them. These instances are rare, but they do exists, as I spelled out in the previous discussion on Marxmail.
There’s no serious in my mind that the Australian, and implied US, military intervention in Timor in 1999 is one of those necessary exceptional circumstances that required a tactic with the military forces of imperialist states.
The opponents of the 1999 intervention wax lyrical about how, politically, that intervention aided and abetted other, reactionary military interventions. That may or may not be so. Greg, Tom and others overstate that, in my view, but even if it were as powerful an issue as they say, you’re dealing with matters of a quite different order of magnitude.
In 1999, the Indonesian military was involved in a wholesale massacre with the clear intention of decapitating the East Timorese national movement in the most brutal way – the same way the Indonesian military decapitated the Communist movement in 1966.
In the absence of a mass mobilisation of the working class in Indonesia and Australia, which was not happenning, the only material force capable of halting the massacre by the Indonesian state was military intervention by imperialist states.
Perceived political benefits to imperialism from the intervention are of massively lower significance than the extermination of the East Timorese mass movement and its leadership, which was proceeding at the time.
I find it faintly repellent for socialists to be groping around in the problems of development of a small independent state, attempting to prove a very abstract, and false, political point retrospectively.
How do the critics of the 1999 intervention in East Timor expect that country to have developed? Are they surprised at the contradictions and problems of development in a desperately poor former colony that is still under great pressure from imperialism?
Despite the current problems in East Timor, the present situation beats the hell out of the situation in say, Aceh or West Papua.
Despite the problems in East Timor and the presence of Australian, Portuguese and Malaysian troops, without prettifying the military forces of imperialist countries in any way, it has to be noted that the troops in East Timor are not behaving in the brutal, exterminatory way that the Indonesian military does in Aceh and West Papua. As everybody knows, I’m no particular friend of either faction of the DSP leadership, but I do respect the long-time involvement of the DSP, and non-Marxist activists such as Clinton Fernandez and others in the East Timor solidarity movement, and their opinions, based on considerable knowledge of East Timor, should be listened to carefully.
Metaphysical abstractions and invented principles have little application to the concrete problems of national movements, and in my view have very little to do with careful Marxist analysis.