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Jakarta Post

Scholars, government differ on Marxism

  • Bambang Muryanto and Jon Afrizal

    The Jakarta Post

Yogyakarta and Jambi   /   Mon, May 23, 2016   /  10:20 am
Scholars, government differ on Marxism A heated debate takes place between journalists and police officers prior to the dispersal of a 2016 World Press Freedom Day celebration in Yogyakarta on May 3. The police urged journalists and press activists to disband the event, which planned to screen Pulau Buru Tanah Air Beta (Buru Island: My Homeland), a documentary by Rahung Nasution on the 1965 tragedy. ( Muryanto)

Amid intimidation from the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) against scholarly discussions on Marxism, the country’s intellectuals and the government are still arguing about whether the leftist ideology is an acceptable subject for discussion.

If the country’s scholars and the government are unable to settle their differences, the FPI’s hostility could become the ultimate winner in this lengthy debate over freedom of expression.

Several academics on Sunday called on the government to protect freedom of expression at universities following a series of crackdowns on discussions on Marxism in Bandung and Sumedang, West Java, by the FPI.

The FPI dispersed a discussion at the Indonesia Institute of Arts and Science (ISBI) in Bandung on May 10 and a seminar on the same topic at the Padjajaran University (Unpad) in Sumedang on May 19.

Despite the crackdown and coercion, the Research, Technology and Higher Education Ministry has washed its hands of the matter, proclaiming Marxism illegal in all universities in the world’s fourth largest democracy.

“Marxism cannot be taught because it is not in line with the nation’s ideology of Pancasila,” Intan Achmad, the ministry’s directorgeneral for learning and student affairs, told The Jakarta Post.

Responding to that statement, Mukhtasar Syamsuddin, head of Gadjah Mada University’s (UGM) School of Philosophy, said the government should ensure protection for any kind of event on campus, including events at respectable education centers in West Java.

“These discussions are within the academic realm. They are not efforts intended to change the nation’s ideology. The government has to provide protection as part of its mandate to educate the whole nation,” Mukhtasar told the Post on Sunday.

He said Marxism had been taught at his school since the 2000s, a move aimed at giving his students a complete philosophical perspective.

“We are obliged to learn every branch of philosophy, including Marxism, liberalism, pluralism and multiculturalism, because they cannot be critical toward everything without having a holistic comprehension,” he said.

In stark contrast to Mukhtasar’s sentiment, Intan said “there is no need to wax nostalgic on the uses of Marxism, for it does not have place anymore in this era”.

Nonetheless, renowned scholar Franz Magnis Suseno said Marxism was still a “relevant” subject for discussion, especially in the academic forum, so that younger generations would know why the teaching could not be implemented in the country that uses Pancasila as its governing ideology.

“The law only prohibits the dissemination of Marxism-Leninism, based on the now-defunct Indonesian Communist Party, with the intention of changing the country’s founding ideology,” Franz told the Post on Sunday, referring to Article 219 of the Criminal Code.

“Marxism is not an ideology. There is a lot of it that is not related to communism, such as Marx’s critical theory of society,” said Franz, a senior lecturer at the Driyarkara School of Philosophy in Jakarta.

Franz also raised his concerns over the government’s “inaction” in dealing with the swelling tide of intimidation and intolerance seen in West Java, saying “it is a dangerous threat to freedom of academic expression. This threat is more dangerous than the threat posed by the FPI”.

Meanwhile, several academics within the Progressive Intellectuals Forum, including UGM sociologist Arie Sujito, Sanata Dharma University historian Baskara T. Wardaya and Airlangga University political science lecturer Airlangga Pribadi, demanded on Saturday that the government protect freedom of academic expression on campus.

Separately, the crackdown on communist symbolism continues as soldiers from the Batanghari base in Jambi apprehended a man, identified as RS, on Saturday for wearing shirt with the hammerand-sickle logo, similar to that of the PKI. (mos)