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Jurnal IndoPROGRESS, Vol. 1, No. 1/2021: The Pandemic In Neoliberal Asia

How do those hoping for an end to capitalism understand the repercussions of the coronavirus crisis?

This edition of Indonesian Marxist Jurnal IndoProgress is aimed to understand and reflect on the impact of COVID-19 in the Asian region. We do this with an agenda close to our political sympathy. But we too acknowledge the fact that influential international donor organisations—who are smack at the epicentre of our neoliberal global economy—have admitted that the pandemic has exposed new and exacerbated old kinds of inequalities (Ferreira, 2021). Scholars in “Western” capitalist democracies problematise the link between right-wing populists and the lack of expertise in handling the crisis while arguing for the presence of the State (Fukuyama, 2020). The so-called liberals hope for an end to populism as Bolsonaro and Trump fail to lead.

But this kind of hope is one that is detached from the realities of the working classes, many of whom are vital workers as well as increasingly precarious bourgeoisie (Standing, 2011). At least in the past three decades, neoliberal transformations of capitalist economies around the world and the Asian region have perpetuated the exploitation of working classes. While we might be socially positioned within different classes, races, ethnicities, genders, religions—and the list goes on—we are all inextricably linked with the intricate web of 21st century neoliberal capitalism in distinctively exploitative ways. It is with this in mind that we have decided to publish our journal in two languages: Indonesian (to make the authors’ work known across different regions in the country) and English (to make their work known and engaged with regionally). We position this journal within broader and local camaraderie.

Developed economies, such as the US, have faced a crisis and its repercussions in 2008, and the current COVID-19 global pandemic has driven the world economy into survival mode. While the pandemic has impacted all countries, communities, and classes simultaneously, the way it affects us is far from homogeneous. The pandemic may take form as a health crisis, but we see it as symptoms of a deeper problem with the way capitalism is able to transform itself in response to and riding on the reforming of social values (Harvey, Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism, 2014) to sustain capital accumulation. This manifests in socially complex, distinctive, heterogenous, and, at times, conflicting ways, as neoliberal markets permit.

The mapping of internal contradictions within the spatial logic of capital accumulation is a primary task for scholars and activists who are concerned with the way profit and rent-seeking occurs in distinctive “moments”, as Marx puts it. After all, we live in an historical situation in which the production, consumption, and distribution of people and goods goes as fast as capital is being invested and reinvested in an increasingly digitised labour market.

Here, David Harvey’s observation of anti-capitalist politics in pandemic times is useful. He expressed that:

“It gets complicated as it gets elaborated through, for example, the lenses of geopolitical rivalries, uneven geographical developments, financial institutions, state policies, technological reconfigurations and the ever-changing web of divisions of labour and of social relations. I envision this model as embedded, however, in a broader context of social reproduction (in households and communities), in an on-going and ever-evolving metabolic relation to nature (including the “second nature” of urbanization and the built environment) and all manner of cultural, scientific (knowledge-based), religious and contingent social formations that human populations typically create across space and time” (Harvey, 2020).

Together with the authors in this edition, we reflect on how the virus has spread across an already unequal social terrain, mobilising social inequalities at speeds never before seen in the 21st century. It plays out in hierarchies of power and disputes between political elites in processes of State policy responses towards COVID-19, with uneven resources in the public health sector already ridden by powers concentrated in the hands of a few. This state, of course, has been percolating, and internalised, in the actions of administrators for generations.

We look at cases in Indonesia, India, and the Philippines. In this edition, authors discuss how the Indonesian capitalist government takes advantage of the pandemic to find novel ways for worker exploitation and labour self-organisation before and during the pandemic. Panimbang (2021), by studying strategies of labour organisation of ride hailing in Indonesia’s capital city Jakarta, argues that innovative strategies of resistance have developed new forms of participation among drivers. They are vital workers who are dictated by market mechanisms to remain mobile during the pandemic, yet under extreme exploitation have found ways to self-organise based on communities, associations and unions. This practice of collectivity is pertinent in imagining and conceptualising anti-capitalist politics, in which new strategies for labour solidarity—one that is facilitated by the very digital platforms designed to exploit them—helps us reflect on broader labour movements beyond Indonesia.

Importantly, vital workers are exploited in socially specific ways; one that works along the lines of caste. Vyas and Jha (2021), using Harvey’s political economy of space and Foucault’s biopolitics and technologies, make the experience of Dalit sanitary workers as frontline warriors during the pandemic in India known to us. All sanitary workers are Dalits, the most marginalised caste in India. Labouring in a system of environmental sanitation inherited from British colonialism, such social segregations are intertwined with the way waste is managed in urban and rural areas; which, historically, are physical spaces of controlling both disease and the native population. COVID-19, as the authors argue, has extended spaces of labour control and capital accumulation, while segregating and segmenting city areas at the expense of Dalit workers.

What are Left intellectuals and activists to do in these historical social settings? Tadem’s (2021) reflection on the middle class-led Left movement in the Philippines, we find, is very useful in our internal discussions regarding the supposed failures of Indonesia’s liberal bourgeoisie in reforming our democratic political system (Mudhoffir, 2021) and what this means in a broader class analysis (Pontoh, 2021). Tadem (2021) examines the composition of middle-class leadership in the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA), along with its political medium, the National Democratic Front (NDF). Together, they defined the direction of the revolutionary movement, in which the skills of the bourgeoisie were instrumental. These are not unlike the professionalism and expertise lacking in the pandemic policy responses of right-wing populist governments problematised by liberal scholars. Importantly, Tadem argues that middle-class acumen pushed democratisation forward, while also cautioning readers about the limits of these methods in radical structural changes.

As part of the hopes of Left intellectuals and activists to widen the social space for Marxist discussions in the region, we carried out Call for Papers to recruit young scholars and mentor them to carry out empirical analysis grounded on problematising capital accumulation. Here, we would like to thank Hizkia Yosie Polimpung, Diatyka Widya Permata Yasih, and Abdil Mughis Mudhoffir who have allocated the time and energy to participate in our intellectual, political strategy. We deeply appreciate their labouring and redistribution of access to knowledge in this small, but no less meaningful, setting.

Polimpung worked with Wilujeng (2021), as she examines how the Indonesian government is rebounding from the multidimensional crisis by catalysing technological platforms. These platforms, she argues, sustains a marketplace that blurs the boundaries between human labour power and modes of production. Such a space caters to the demand of not only middle class consumers increasingly relying on the private sector to fulfil their basic needs, but also accelerates the exploitation of workers through legitimising entrepreneurialism and the State’s withdrawal from the provision of secure employment.

Yasih worked with Wirman’s (2021) study on the internalisation of neoliberal subjectivity through internship programmes in the service industry. He argues that such programmes have increased the adaptability of young workers in an increasingly unstable labour market made more precarious by the pandemic. Wirman’s concerns are very much interlinked with Wilujeng’s (2021), as young workers and graduates are left to fend off for themselves not only to seek work, but to survive in a climate of labour precarity made more normal by the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Mudhoffir worked with Rainditya (2021) in his discussion regarding the production and acceleration of the Omnibus Law for Job Creation, which was ratified during the pandemic. He argues that the Law safeguards the oligarchy’s surplus by securing access of extractive industries to resources and legitimising the casualisation of labour. Taking advantage of the multidimensional health crisis, this Law was passed under the guise of national economic recovery for the country to recuperate the impact of the pandemic. Importantly, he observes the convergence of neoliberal and oligarchic interests during Indonesia’s experience with COVID-19.

This edition is closed with Anugrah’s (2021) book review of Žižek’s Pandemic! Covid-19 Shakes the World (2020). He challenges Žižek’s proposed new form of Communism by pitting it against the historical lesson of the Bolsheviks’ “War Communism”: The necessity of socialist construction. In time when public health cost is high and state power is arbitrary, Anugrah critically questions whether such a communist proposal is no more than a rejuvenation of Keynesian social democracy, as issues such as a clear democratic strategy, neoliberal markets and their destruction of natural ecologies remain unaddressed. This review closes the edition so appropriately, tying together the different angles, cases, and contexts with historical materialism. So we come full circle.

To end this editorial note, we would like to give a special thanks to Marcello Musto, Professor of Sociology at York University, Canada, who has kindly provided suggestions for the direction of this first edition, as well as connected us to Ranabbir Samaddar, Director of the Calcutta Research Group, through which we were able to curate Vya and Jha’s work. We too thank Vedi Hadiz, Director of the Asia Institute, University of Melbourne, who has kindly introduced us to Eduardo Tadem, Center for Integrative and Development Studies, University of the Philippines Diliman, through which we too were able to curate Tadem’s work. We deeply appreciate the camaraderie and hope that reading these reflections provide some relief from our inevitable heterogenous experience with alienation.

Board of editors

Jurnal IndoProgress

August 2021


Download this issue


Anugrah, I. (2021). Book Review: Slavoj Žižek, Pandemic! Covid-19 Shakes the World. Jurnal IndoProgress, 1(1).

Ferreira, F. G. (2021, June). Inequality in the Time of COVID-19. Retrieved August 2021, from International Monetary Fund:

Fukuyama, F. (2020, July/August). The Pandemic and Political Order It Takes a State. Retrieved August 2021, from Foreign Affairs:

Harvey, D. (2014). Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Harvey, D. (2020, March 22). Anti-Capitalist Politics in the Time of COVID-19. Retrieved August 2021, from Reading Marx’s Capital with David Harvey:

Mudhoffir, A. M. (2021, June 6). Aktivisme Borjuis: Mengapa Kelas Menengah Reformis Gagal Mempertahankan Demokrasi? Retrieved August 2021, from Project Multiatuli:

Panimbang, F. (2021). Algorithmic Labour Process and Resistance against It in the Platform Economy in Indonesia: The Case of Ride-Hailing Apps GO-JEK and Grab. Jurnal IndoProgress, 1(1).

Pontoh, C. (2021, June 16). Menginvestigasi Kelas Menengah: Tanggapan untuk Abdil Mughis Mudhoffir. Retrieved August 2021, from IndoProgress:

Rainditya, D. R. (2021). Capitalist Transformation in Indonesia: The Convergence of Neoliberal and Oligarchic Interest during the Pandemic. Jurnal IndoProgress, 1(1).

Standing, G. (2011). The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class. London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Tadem, T. S. (2021). The Politics of a Middle-Class-Led Left Movement in the Philippines. Jurnal IndoProgress, 1(1).

Vyas, M., & Jha, M. K. (2021). Pandemic, Public Health, and Sanitation Workers in Mumbai: Crisis of Work and Life. Jurnal IndoProgress, 1(1).

Wilujeng, E. P. (2021). Commodification of Subsistence: Profit, Platformisation, and the Pandemic in Neoliberal Indonesia. Jurnal IndoProgress, 1(1).

Wirman, E. R. (2021). The Normalisation of Precarity in Neoliberal Indonesia: Looking at Internship Programs during the Pandemic. Jurnal IndoProgress, 1(1).

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