A brief introduction to the Socialist Party of Timor

By Max Lane

The Socialist Party of Timor (PST) is still a small party, with around 500-600 committed activists, now mostly based in branches in several East Timorese towns. It has received another 2000-2500 applications for membership in recent months. Its leaders acknowledge that the organisation is still in a very early stage of development and is not yet consolidated.

The PST traces its origins as a socialist current to 1981, when a small group of youth established OJETIL, Youth Organisation for an Independent East Timor, as a communist youth group. This occurred at the same time that Xanana Gusmao, as president of FRETILIN, led a move to remake FRETILIN as a Marxist-Leninist party.

It wasn't until December 1989 that three of the original OJETIL activists who had taken up studies in Java and Bali established the FECLITIL (Clandestine Student Front for the Liberation of East Timor). In the meantime, OJETIL had become more moderate.

The Timorese Socialist Association (AST), later the PST, was developed during a period when the key directive coming through the CNRM (later renamed CNRT, National Council for Timorese Resistance) was for activists not to develop a party affiliation or identity. In 1998, the PST began operating openly in Indonesia and East Timor. The PST had developed a substantial base in East Timor as well as in Bali, Java, South Sumatra and East Kalimantan. It began the initial work to establish worker, farmer, youth and women's organisations.

The PST joined neither the CNRM nor the CNRT, which was formed through a congress held in Portugal in 1998. The formation of CNRT, with Xanana Gusmao as president and Jose Ramos Horta as vice-president also brought an increased weight for the Timorese Democratic Union, UDT, including elements that had either collaborated with or prospered under Indonesian occupation. The word "maubere" was no longer used in the name. This was a concession to UDT, which considered that "maubere" meaning "little people" or "oppressed people" was a Marxist or class struggle term.

Soon after, the PST took the initiative to establish the People's Council for the Defence of the Democratic Republic of East Timor (CPD-RDTL). [RDTL is the Portuguese acronym for Democratic Republic of East Timor, DRET). This is an attempt to draw together all the East Timorese who support the re-establishment of the DRET proclaimed in November 1975. FRETILIN proclaimed DRET after defeating UDT in a civil war provoked by a coup d'etat organised by some UDT elements. FRETILIN had agreed to withdraw support for the DRET proclamation when it signed an agreement of national convergence with UDT in 1985.

The development of Timorese society

In "The Cooperative Movement in Coffee Production" in the PST internal bulletin Militancia No 1, June 1999, Kaynaga Lear provides a brief history of the development of East Timorese society from primitive society to a "feudal" or "semi-feudal" society. The process is described as first proceeding through a period of war between tribal groupings in which some tribes established their dominance over others. This period of dominance led to the development of social hierarchies (classes).

Central to this class structure were the emergence of liurai (kings), baino [nobility] and atan (subjects). The liurai and baino monopolised rights over the use of land and also horses, buffalo and other cattle. Atan were obliged to render free labour to the liurai and baino for specific projects.

When atan worked for individual liurai and baino, the harvest was divided, some seedlings being provided for future planting, some seedlings provided to the liurai or baino and some portion of the harvest being paid to the liurai or baino for use of buffalo. Any remainder was divided 50-50 between the liurai/baino and the atan working on the land.

Kaynaga Lear also briefly outlines developments after the arrival of Portuguese colonialists in 1511. After a period of resistance, the liurai/baino eventually negotiated with the Portuguese and a long-term relationship developed between the Portuguese colonialists and the liurai and baino. As an export economy developed, the liurai and baino, together with Portuguese and mestizo capitalists, expanded their holdings in coffee, copra, sandalwood and rice lands. A segment of the economy also came under the domination of Chinese migrants invited in by the Portuguese.

This situation of productive agricultural land being monopolised for profitable export crops by liurai and baino as well as Portuguese, mestizo and Chinese capitalists was the situation that prevailed in 1975 and still prevails today.

Strategies for the struggle for socialism

The PST in 1999 published a booklet entitled Manifesto dan Program Politik Partai Sosialis Timor (PST). It comprises "Declaration of Principles", "Political Manifesto", "PST Constitution", "PST Statutes" and "Recapitulation of the PST Political Platform".

The Political Manifesto identifies two arenas of struggle. The first is the struggle for political power, that is, for a "socialist state" (negara sosialis). The second is for the economic organisation of the masses at the grassroots as a start to building "socialist society" (masyarakat sosialis). The proposals in this second area are for a "Popular economic cooperatives movement characterised by intensive education among the oppressed masses and based in the rural areas".

Lear describes five tasks of a cooperative among coffee farmers: 1. to gather together households/families conscious of the need for cooperatives; 2. these cooperative cells should operate as centres for political and economic education; 3. the cells should also operate as centres for agricultural education; 4. to train and facilitate the marketing of coffee; 5. to form a basic unit in organising legal advocacy and other methods of confronting the capitalists.

The Political Manifesto envisages that, as the cooperative movement grows, it will create a structure that will be the basis of the party structure. The Manifesto also envisages that profits accumulated by the cooperatives could be used to finance business enterprises that could challenge existing enterprises owned and run by the capitalist class.

In addition, the concept of an "economic revolution" through the cooperative movement appears to be based on an assessment that a strategy based on direct struggle for political power is inadequate.

There is a concern at the perceived failure of socialist states in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Indochina and Cuba. Secondly there is an implied concern that the balance of forces in East Timor is such that an immediate winning of power is not possible. The Manifesto states:

… because there are many forces playing in the political manoeuvres in the process towards political power [i.e. independence] in whatever form it may be won, the Department of Political and Ideological Orientation (DOPI) has concluded that the strategy for the struggle for socialism must diverge from the path of political revolution, of political struggle. That is, we must carry out the Revolution with Two Characteristics: Political Revolution and Economic Revolution aimed at building the party's base in [the struggle towards] a socialist society. In this strategy, the question of the state receives second priority, and the socialist society, first priority.

This orientation is also summed up:

Our political orientation, in the specific objective conditions of our people at the moment, is to build the socialist society first and the socialist state tomorrow. Or, to put in another way, to strive for a situation with a democracy where two powers develop, that is: the Government and the People.

Cooperatives and politics

The idea for the cooperatives appears to contain two separate aspects which the PST wants to combine. One is the development of cooperatives as functioning economic units that can produce a surplus (profit) and provide an economic basis for challenging existing capitalist commercial power. The other is the development of cooperatives as the basis of the party's growth and structure. In relation to this aspect, major emphasis is given to political education and organisation.

The PST states that mass mobilisation must be used to force a policy retreat by the state if the government or big capital begins to suppress or hinder the cooperatives' development.

The PST adopts a position of defending liberal democracy as the best political form which can provide the opportunity for mass political organising. The PST supports the establishment of a parliamentary system that recognises democratic pluralism, the right of political opposition, the possibility of governments formed by party coalitions and the separation of powers between executive, legislative and judicial arms of government.

The PST supports full freedom of press and information, freedom of organisation and freedom of religion, including the freedom not to have a religion.

Mass action

While the cooperative movement looms large in the Political Manifesto and while cooperatives are reported as functioning in at least six areas in East Timor, political education, mass organising and protest actions appear to be the basis of the development of the PST to date. The PST's development in Indonesia has been characterised by cooperation with the People's Democratic Party (PRD) in carrying out mass actions. In East Timor, the PST was the first to carry out open protests in Dili following the signing of the May New York agreement, although it later prioritised door-to-door propagandising prior to the August 30 vote. The publication of TUBA during 1998 made it the only party to produce a newspaper during the pre-referendum period.

The PST now has a perspective of participating in any genuinely representative transitional arrangements under the UNTAET administration with the aim of ensuring that there will be fair elections held for the first independent government. The PST's orientation towards participation in a CNRT-initiated Transitional Council is explained by PST secretary general Avelino da Silva:

The council must represent all political forces and the people in general in order to be able to voice the interests and desires of the East Timorese people. The council must have the function of control, both providing input to UNTAET and also able to reject any UNTAET policies. The question is what must be done to ensure that this works … In the view of the PST, the crucial need is for the mass support of the organised people. Mass strength is the best bargaining power. To achieve this, mass political education is essential, and the organisation of the people cannot be further delayed.

In this statement, the emphasis returns to the need for mass organisation. Apart from the party itself and cooperatives, the PST's mass organising plans include the formation of an Alliance for Socialist Workers, Alliance for Socialist Youth and a socialist women's organisation. Apart from specifically socialist workers' organisations, the PST also envisages involvement in the establishment and development of trade unions.

The concept of the party

The structure of the PST as set out in its constitution can be described as democratic centralist. It appears that at the formation of the PST a Central Committee was established as the highest decision making body. The constitution sets out the Popular Assembly (i.e. congress) as the highest body once the war for independence is won.

The general concept of the character of the party is summed up in a contribution to Militancia by Akara Lenin, the secretary of DOPI. He wrote:

From a progressive-revolutionary perspective, the party must be a representation of the oppressed (the proletariat). Such a party must have the goal of raising awareness, of developing politically and ideologically conscious cadre who are aware of their objective class condition (class consciousness). Such a party must develop as a minority that can develop the tactics and strategy that will be used by the movement of the majority. Such a party must play the role of vanguard in the revolutionary movement.

Such a party does not aim for the quantitative accumulation of masses irrespective of whether there is consciousness of the aims and needs of the movement or consciousness of all the forms oppression that surround them.

The goals of cadre are to educate the people and mobilise them. Political education is aimed at developing the values and the understanding needed to fight all forms of repression caused by feudalism and capitalism. Such a party desires the total destruction of the existing old and decrepit order and its replacement with a new order that is progressive and egalitarian. … In this context, it is the oppressed masses who are politically and ideologically conscious that represent the basis of the power needed for the total liberation of the people.

Akara Lenin contrasted this kind of party with a "mass party".

A mass party tends to emphasise the quantitative accumulation of the masses, without organising them politically and ideologically. In fact, it is not surprising to find that such parties are only vehicles for elections. These parties often have a populist (reactionary conservative) character and are opposed to total change (revolution) of the rotten old order … They are primarily concerned to get the chance to govern and raise their social status. When there is a desire for change, they tend to proceed extremely slowly and to carry out change which is not fundamental. As a result they provide the oppressors with the chance to continue to dominate.

Excerpts from 'Recapitulation of PST Political Program'

Independence is an international human right which cannot be negated for the East Timorese people. The integration of East Timor into the territory of the Republic of Indonesia, besides being the result of an annexation and military occupation, is in contradiction to norms of international relations. It must be resisted!

PST Political Principles

The PST resists the integration of East Timor into the territory of the Republic of Indonesia with the aim to prepare the conditions and opportunities for the East Timorese people to determine their own future of national independence.

In the struggle for independence the PST emphasises the political-diplomatic struggle and the education of the oppressed as the determining factors and mass action as the supporting factor.

As regards mass action, the PST roots itself in all efforts to mobilise the whole of the East Timorese people in such forms of struggle as petitions, strikes and demonstrations.

After the winning of liberation and national independence, the PST will struggle for the formation of a socialist society for East Timor and, during the struggle for independence, will accompany that struggle with the development of socialist society, via democracy.

Given that the minimum program is the general basis for cooperation with other East Timorese nationalist forces, the PST must: (a) seek all forms of cooperation with other nationalist forces to advance the movement; (b) support the East Timorese people in their self-organisation for the independence movement; © galvanise international information and diplomatic networks to seek the maximum support for the struggle of the East Timorese people; (d) materialise the principle of mass action as a force to pressure the Jakarta government to enter into dialogue to resolve the issue of East Timor; (e) set up cooperative cells as the backbone of an independent society which is politically, economically, socially and culturally conscious and make those cells the centre of education of the oppressed masses

To implement the above points, all PST cadre at all levels must: (a) raise awareness among and organise the East Timorese people to participate actively in the national resistance; (b) carry out pressing tasks:

  • political and ideological work
  • continuous consolidation of the concept of national liberation and national independence for East Timor as the only internationally accepted framework for realising the development of a just life for the East Timorese people
  • continuous defence of the integrity of the concept of national independence and opposition to new ideas such as special or extended autonomy for East Timor within the territory of Indonesia, as put forward by some East Timorese
  • continuous consolidation and re-popularisation of the symbols that can help reawaken the East Timorese people to the values of the proclamation of the Democratic Republic of East Timor
  • the creation of the objective conditions to allow persuasive means to succeed in establishing a dialogue where all elements and factions can sit together to achieve a solution that can satisfy all parties.

Social-political affairs

  • equal requirement for all people to work
  • equal opportunities for all people for humane and dignified work
  • fight all forms of child labour in factories and industry
  • equal rights for women and men
  • fight openly all forms of maintenance of prostitution and other social ills
  • fight for the protection of pregnant women and to ban the working of pregnant women
  • the right to divorce based on objective and common sense reasons
  • struggle against polygamy and polyandry
  • provide dignified dwellings for all East Timorese.

Human rights and justice

  • fight all forms of unfair and inhumane methods of trial and justice
  • abolition of capital punishment and all sentences of more than ten years in length
  • sentencing should be aimed towards rehabilitation and education, not revenge
  • a national rehabilitation centre as an education, transformation and socialisation centre for prisoners.


  • struggle for the equal distribution of land to all East Timorese, to be implemented through a cooperatives system as a part of land reform.


  • an economy based on agriculture
  • integration between industry and agriculture in order to eliminate the gap between town and village
  • the extension of national manufacturing and agriculture based on collective planning
  • centralisation of all credit in a state national bank
  • credit to be provided at the lowest possible rates to the people and prioritising the agricultural sector
  • the nationalisation and socialisation of all property of the Indonesian regime in East Timor
  • the registration and control over all property of East Timorese acquired during the period of integration with Indonesia with the aim of implementing a progressive tax
  • the end of private ownership of the latifundia estates
  • centralisation of control over investment in the hands of the state, and the prioritisation of investment on a scale that is oriented towards agriculture
  • decent wages for all workers based on the principle of equal pay for equal work
  • "close" East Timor to large-scale investment that is not in accord with an agricultural economy or popular economy for a period of approximately ten years
  • the principle that economic power should be subordinated to political democracy
  • the coexistence of public, private and cooperative ownership and control of the means of production, noting that private ownership must be subordinated to a social function
  • the participation of all through mechanisms and vehicles to be instituted within a democratic economic planning system
  • the water, the sea floor, rivers, lakes and all wealth to be found therein must be controlled by the state
  • economic protection for war victims and wounded.

This program will be reviewed and maybe changed by a congress of the Popular Assembly after the war of independence is concluded.

Mass Mobilisation in theory and practice

A contribution to Militancia, by Fitun Fuik

What is mass mobilisation? of course many people will think it is mobilising people to carry out some activity. This is an understanding that is no doubt widespread and widely accepted. We often hear how organisations struggling for independence have Departments or Bureaus for Mass Mobilisation. The basic thinking underlying the emergence of the concept of mass mobilisation is the idea that people or the whole people can be developed into a single mighty force that can resist, oppose and overthrow institutions of oppression or enemies that exercise power over us. Can such understandings as these be used as the basis of the mass mobilising that is to be carried out by the PST?

In the understanding of the PST, the most fundamental principle is that the masses that we wish to mobilise must be conscious of and understand both the need for them to be involved as well as the goal of the mobilisation. If this is not present, it will only give rise to conflicts that will make the organisation of large actions more difficult. There are therefore two basic principles that we uphold in mass mobilising. First principle: Mobilise for conscientisation (Mobilizar para concientizar!) Second principle: Conscientisation for mobilisation (Concientizar para mobilizar!)[1]

What does this mean, Mobilise for conscientisation? It means that when mobilising the masses to struggle for any particular demand, winning the demand is not the underlying priority but rather the conscientisation of the masses. All during the process of mobilising the masses, we must use the momentum to educate them, to bring them to awareness of the correctness of their choice to become involved in the struggle and of the direction of their struggle. This is also necessary to ensure that the masses do not begin to feel that they are being used.[2]

Conscientisation for mobilisation means that the people we educate, whose consciousness we have raised, must be able to be mobilised for further struggles for goals that are also their own choice. If we are unable to further mobilise these people, then all our previous activity must be considered a total failure. We would become a group of idealist theoreticians involved in activity that is nothing more than aimless activism.



1. Conscientisation is a concept popularised by the Brazilian Marxist Christian pedagogue Paulo Freire. It is a secular version of the idea of conversion; that is, it is the process whereby a person obtains an intellectual understanding of their own position of oppression in class society, which then leads to a commitment to act to change that society.

2. The formulations that the masses must be subjects of mobilisation processes rather than objects is also very strongly emphasised in the writings of Paulo Freire.