Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Middle Class & Bourgeoisie in Indonesia

By Perry PADA

The growing expansion of the middle class and the bourgeoisie in Indonesia is an interesting phenomenon to be examined; the important question to address is this: are they an agent of social change? Studies of the Indonesian middle class and bourgeoisie are in their infancy both in terms of theorizing this social category in its Indonesian context and assembling a systematic and comprehensive set of data to support any wide ranging quantitative as well as qualitative conclusion. Most demographic studies have tended to focus on such factors as income raising, urbanization, regional stability, changing age structures and family planning, rather than class stratum and structure, although there has been some work done on the industrial labor force or working class struggles, but it is insufficient to explain the role of the middle class and bourgeoisie within the complexity of Indonesian social and political development.

The main question is what is the impact of the middle class on transformation of Indonesian society and culture? Will they create a greedier and more individualistic or more a community oriented and democratic society? Do they want the rule of law, other than for the purpose of protecting property, civil rights and freedom of speech and the accountability and transparency of government and the bureaucracy? Will they support any regime that protects their new found privilege?

Based on the growing reality of materialism in the era of consumerism which can be clearly seen in many big cities in Indonesia, one can easily jump to the pessimistic conclusion as to the direction of change preferred by the middle class. It is generally agreed that the traditional or middle class’ conception in favor of social justice, human rights and democracy has been replaced by a concern for career ambitions and the cultivation of consumerist materialistic lifestyles. Therefore, it is no wonder that the many night clubs are growing fast, Elite clubs, the have clubs and the like are frequently seen in the city across the country -- the so called upper level society lifestyle is becoming the dream to be achieved for the emerging middle class. At this juncture, the new middle class, it is argued, is merely prepared to fight for narrow personalistic interests devoid of social ideals. This is not surprising, according to many of the commentators, given that the existing middle class is clearly not autonomous in term of its relation to the state system and market influences. The emerging society with its capitalist ideology therefore cannot be avoided in Indonesia, or can it? They only project their opportunities in terms of improving their position within the channels of the state institutions and within the confines of its ideology.

Barrington Moore’s dictum, ‘no bourgeoisie’, no democracy’ may well be true, but it doesn’t follow that the presence of the bourgeoisie necessary implies liberal democracy or that this class will support democratic reform in all circumstances. The Indonesian bourgeoisie differs from Barrington Moore’s notion. The bourgeoisie in Indonesia found its interest embedded in state and market regimes. Additionally, in Indonesia, the potential of the bourgeoisie to establish itself as the ruling class is limited because the state is dominated by Indonesian conglomerates whose public political and social rule is dictated by their own interests and ambition.

Employing Moore’s idea concerning the ability of the bourgeoisie to initiate change, one may pessimistically conclude because it is difficult to envisage them as standing for some redistribution of wealth in Indonesia. From the socio-economic perspective, big oligarch business tends to support their own social class while seeking support from the state/government policy thereby excluding other voices. A big part of oligarch business in Indonesia is not native either in people or in resources and therefore they do not have the inclination to pursue traditionally critical politics. On the other hand the native businessmen whose growth flourishes in Indonesia usually have a link to power. They do not have any interest to change the system because they benefit from it. Another group can be found among the workers, but without sufficient strength to lead a movement for change. The clear reason is that the Indonesian working class is voiceless due to its social vulnerability.

It can also be stated that the Indonesian class structure is unfavorable to real democracy, but at best can be characterized as engaged in procedural democracy of general elections or the existing pluralism of political parties and the long list of formalistic procedures. The independent bourgeoisie and the working class, that have historically been associated with the rise of democracy, are small and relatively powerless in Indonesia. The relatively low level of urbanization and industrialization -- two-thirds of the population earn a living from agricultural activities means that the middle and working classes are relatively undeveloped. This is a problem as history validates the view that it is the working class and sections of the middle class who have been most inclined to the democratic process. The business class in Indonesia is also said to be highly dependent on state power while deeply dependent to overseas credit or donors. A compounding problem is that key components of the business class are ethnic Chinese, who as a minority are politically vulnerable and therefore even more dependent on state protection.

The middle class and bourgeoisie have been heavily dependent upon the state for jobs, careers, contracts and monopolies and more broadly, as the engine of economic growth. Hence they have been reluctant to upset the balance of power of the state and the ascendancy of the stratum of politico -bureaucrats. In other words, the middle class and the bourgeoisie have not yet established their ascendancy as socially dominant forces autonomous of the state and the market. They still require the financial resources and coercive power of the state to preserve the social order.

Depok, 19 Mei 2006

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