Max Lane: The Impossibility of Citizenship

(This article is an edited transcript of Dr. Max Lane's lecture at International Workshop on Power, Conflict & Democracy 2018 in Yogyakarta, 26-28 October 2018)

The increased discussion on citizenship is the idea that transition to democracy is either taking place or has taking place. Several key advances in the transition from dictatorship to democracy after 1998: (1) there is a systematic armed coercion in political life; (2) there is increased freedom of speech and criticism (although there are some limitation, e.g. Marxism banned, advocacy of 80ism is still banned); (3) there is extended participation in election (but some limitation for certain ideology). Parliament also making it more and more difficult for new party to participate in election. We now has a system where government is formed on the basis of popular election. The New Order's election did not really decide who will govern but then Habibie's government allows the freedom of association (trade union).

There are some problems remaining: (1) Marxism, socialism, communism is still banned; (2) ideology advocacy of class-based organization is still banned; (3) there is still an ongoing debate about what happen in 1965 and how the New Order came to be; (4) There is restriction in political society and ideology banning; (5) regulation on party-verification means  new party with no enough fund or network has no chance of competing. 

Under class analysis approach: do the social class outside of elite circle has an organization or ideology on their own? No, there is no political party emerges from grass-root organization. That is a crucial fact in our transition to democracy. This is unlike the situation in industrialized country where political party based on trade union has established themselves. This problem also applies in Philippines, Malaysia, etc. In a place like India, we got socialist party, communist party, trade union, but they only organize a small amount of member.

Because there is this transition from dictatorship to democracy, this is where we should discuss citizenship. In this transition, citizenship rights increase or come to being. Naturally we would expect citizenship rights to increase. I think the democracy in Indonesia can be described as elite democracy similiar to Philipine: a situation where democratic infrastructure basically only facilitate or only allow participation of elites - not non-elites. In specific case of Indonesia, due to dictatorship and how it was formed, political party can only emerge with popular class ideology (e.g. Soekarno’s Marhaenism). This is reinforced by actual concrete political infrastructure which is also oriented to elite.

Study on the vast members of parliament shows that majority of its members are recruited from clearly very consolidated middle-class veterans. Since 1965, the ideological institution of country: school, mosque, churches are dominated by single ideology. In the last 5-6 years, the major trade union integration (2-3 big one) has been co-opted into elite politics (they are either affiliated with PDIP/Jokowi coalition or support Prabowo Subianto). As I mention this, the ideology is somewhat integrated.

Some argue that state political infrastructure is weak in a country like Indonesia. I don’t think it's weak. It's strong, but it's only going to one class - hence no access for grass-root level. We have strong infrastructure oriented to elites. We do have small group of powerful conglomerates bourgeoisie as well, then the middle-class bourgeoisie. The upside of bourgeoisie is that we have popular class with no representation, organization or ideology and either included/excluded from political system. They often depend on agents and mediators within patron-client general framework.

The concept of citizenship emerges after the collapse of imperialism. Citizen is connected to non-feudal state. The emergence of democracy leads to the idea that citizen has power to form government or oppose government. This is the minimum requirement to make citizenship a reality.

The concept of citizenship as rights is a European concept. The very concept emerges from non-feudalism (republic). Even in Western democracy, there is difference between having legal rights, political rights and having the power and capacity to exercise those rights (effectively or not). In many western countries we have freedom of speech but some people have no access to media (ineffective). Thus, having the political infrastructure to allow people exercise their rights is important.

There has been little attention on developing citizenship concept without the European bias. Citizenship in post-colonial state devolves to something akin to Western practice. Citizenship based on having rights is Western practice. The concept of rights is not necessarily the way things work in post-colonial Indonesia. In the West yes we need to understand that people have rights but some have no way to exercise it effectively. In order to exercise these rights (e.g. the ability to choose or form government), we need infrastructure to do that - we need education and cultural media not dominated by money. We need grass-root organization to gain power.

In Indonesia, taboos are still significant. There is an increase in democratic space but there is no capacity to fill that space by agency from below. This lack of agency is disguised with the rhetoric of ‘Pesta Demokrasi’, which only serves as a manifesto, but people have no agency to decide the policy they want. There is no real discussion in policy. In terms of economic development, it is impossible for citizenship concept to evolve. This is not only occurring in Indonesia but also in many emerging economies. The infrastructure to create national project is disappear. The global infrastructure imposes narrow choice. Citizens are hegemonized by market. Citizen are defined as someone who can purchase commodity - even state facility is a commodity. As such, crimes are endemic. KPK has no significance. The monopoly of capacity is a problem.

In the middle of campaign period, this will continue to be the direction. There will be no interrogation on the fundamentals of economic paradigm. This applies to every emerging economy with no leftish progressive power. From Prabowo’s side, we will hear how to deal with the economic problem while the Jokowi’s side will confirm the correctness of current economic strategy and that we need better improvement of the current strategy. The two sides are the same in discussing basic economic strategy. Ultimately, the exercise of citizenship rights is an exercise of power. But it requires infrastructure of agency (ideology or organization). Historically, only minority class has this infrastructure of agency.

Meaningful citizenship is only possible under two changes: (1) infrastructure of agency is rebuild by non-elite class - no infrastructure from grass-root means citizenship is impossible; (2) political-economic structure changes from one that institutionalize elites - this can only be possible if the new agency able to institutionalize itself.

Some people make a mockery of democracy by saying: “Instead of being antithetical to democracy, the reliance to state institution should be seen as a constitutive form of democracy. Instead of patron-client being opposed, it should be embraced as a form of citizenship.” The problem is, even in feudal times, farmer also access something from the above through personal relationship. This kind of argument is a mockery. Very dangerous analysis and a shame.

Political structure of agency in popular class is interesting to see under academic glasses. Confederation of trade union has decided to start ongoing workshop to organize themselves into a consolidated united front organization. The second conference will take place in December. I don’t know whether it will succeed or not, but it reflect the dynamic where there is an absence of popular class agency.

However, even if agency starts to develop, will international economic structure allows Indonesia to develop national project where they can exercise national sovereignty? In country like Bolivia and Venezuela, when a country decides to build a project that oppose western economic interest (e.g. building socialism, building the nation), they will enter into war. They will face economic-political-military aggression from western country. In Venezuela, they face economic problem because they are facing war. Hence once a country went out of the imperialist core, if their citizen wants to be real citizen, they will instead become a troop in economic war. Citizenship will remain impossible in the context of people being turned into a troop of economic war.


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