Between Discourse and Action: Agrarian Reform and Rural Social Movements in Indonesia post-1965

Author: Dianto Bachriadi

Bachriadi, Dianto, 2011 Between Discourse and Action: Agrarian Reform and Rural Social Movements in Indonesia post-1965, Flinders University, School of International Studies

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This dissertation is about dynamics, emergence and development (changes and continuation') of rural social movements in Indonesia post-1965. Many studies have been conducted to examine the dynamics of the economic and political changes during and after the New Order took power in 1966, and its impacts to rural communities including rural unrest. But these studies were generally focused on the resistance of peasants or rural villagers, as so-called 'victims of development', to the oppression of the New Order regime. Other studies have focus on dynamics of pro-peasant and agrarian reform movements, their organizations and networks that emerged either in the midst of the authoritarian regime or during the reformasi era. There is relatively less attention given to the strategic changes developed by pro-peasant activists and agrarian reform movements to the challenges of different regimes since the New Order. What were the contentious issues and debated about strategy and leadership among the activists that caused splits, the breakup of organizations, and the emergence of new movement organizations that were involved in politics? This dissertation will look into these issues. This thesis will study the development of the discourse on agrarian reform in Indonesia since the '70s and attempts of 'urban-educated activists' to link their activism with rural radicalism that occurred in various land conflicts during the 1980s-1990s. This discourse was reflected in the development of various peasants' organizations, both at local and national levels, and in other national coalitions for agrarian reform. This study concludes that there are three things to pinpoint about these dynamics: firstly, trajectories of rural social movements in Indonesia post 1965 until now are reflected a 'transmutation' processes of urban-based and urban-let pro-peasant movements to 'urban-led and rural-based' movements. 'Transmutation' processes mean change in qualities of organizing, issues and claims, and actions strategies while the substance of these changes remains the same. In organizing activities and forms, important substances are establishing rural-urban alliances that were dominated by urban-educated activists. In issues and claims, important substances that remain are land rights for the people, policy changes towards pro-poor agrarian policies, and recognition of political rights of rural people. While in actions strategies, important substances that remains are a combination of advocacy, collective land claims actions and political actions. Secondly, agrarian reform as a revived discourse was becoming a uniting issue for activists and peasants to strengthen their rural-urban coalition, and at the same time a source of contention among activists. On one side, through the idea of structural reform, rural-urban coalitions that emerged from protests against land evictions, continued to develop into more permanent movement organizations. On the other side, competitions to control the movement occurred amongst the activists as manifested through their debates on strategy and political orientation to push the government to implement agrarian reform. With a similar idea of structural reform on landholding, pro-agrarian reform activists built their owned movement organizations, using either the same or different consolidated peasant groups. Thirdly, there is an exchange of interests between the activists and the peasants. Rural-urban coalitions as reflected in various movement organizations, such as local peasants' organizations, national coalitions of peasant movements or coalitions for agrarian reform, which emerged in the 80s until now, could be developed and maintained even though with different types of organizing because activists can maintain the process of exchange of interests with peasant groups. Through these coalitions, ideological and political interests of the activists were exchanged for the material interests of the peasants for land, better livelihoods or improved rural infrastructures. The peasants could follow the activists' directions in the movement as long as their interests are articulated, but enthusiasm to be involved will decline once they got what they struggled for. Activists will lose their grassroots bases if they cannot discover new formulations of common struggle agendas that can bind again the different interests between them and the peasants. The three characteristics that we have pinpointed in this thesis strengthened theoretical arguments which said that social movements is politics, and social movement organizations are actually political instruments both for activists and for the grassroots to express their interests politically in unconventional ways. Therefore the entrepreneurial leadership capacity of the activists had a significant role in determining the dynamics of social movement politics.

Keywords: Discourse,action,agrarian reform,rural social movements

Subject: International Studies thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2011
School: School of International Studies
Supervisor: A/Prof. Anton Lucas and Dr. Jim Schiller