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Nigel Harris

[Counter-Revolution in Indonesia]

(Spring 1966)

From The Notebook, International Socialism (1st series), No.24, Spring 1966, pp.8-9.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Nigel Harris writes: The full terror of the current Indonesian counter-revolution is only slowly emerging in fragments of information, but it seems, in terms of numbers brutally murdered, as terrible a blow as the Kuomintang destruction of the Chinese Communist Party in 1926-7, and not dissimilar in its reasons. Estimates of Communists (PKI) killed vary between 10,000 (including 45 of the 50 central committee members) and 200,000; on 15 January Sukarno admitted 87,000 had been killed since the abortive coup of 1 October. This is only the surface manifestation of a terrible purge affecting the whole of Indonesia – 4,000 civil servants sacked in North Sumatra; 30,000 gaoled in West Borneo; 2,500 gaoled in East Java (and 5,700 teachers sacked), 10,573 gaoled in West Java; the PKI proscribed in West Java, Moluccas, South and South-East Sulawesi, West, Central and South Kalimantan, Jakarta, South Sumatra, Atjeh. The gaps of non-proscription indicate the areas where the PKI is still too strong to ban or where local army commanders are protecting the Party, and, in particular, the Central Java PKI stronghold where there is now open fighting between the army and PKI. On top of this, there has been a mass exodus from the Party now it has been challenged to stand against the army and deliver the goods it promised. The powerful PKI following among agricultural labour in Sumatra is said to have dwindled to nothing now that it is clear the Party cannot execute its promised radical land reform programme, and has left it too late to declare revolutionary opposition to the Jakarta status quo.

The PKI, since its abortive rising of 1948 (part of the Comin-form Left turn that had such disastrous results in most of Asia), has pursued a Maoist policy of class collaboration, without guerilla warfare. Muso, one of the PKI’s 1948 theorists, stated the aims of the PKI as follows: to unify all social forces, including the bourgeoisie, to press for democratic reforms, the elimination of feudal remnants and anti- imperialism – the sort of programme Mao would have followed if the Kuomintang had accepted his often pressed request for an alliance (and outlined in Mao’s On New Democracy). The PKI, like the CCP, projected itself into a classless role, outside the social structure (but without the CCP’s military forces), a unification point for a purely and imperialist platform with a residual identification with radical land reform and state capitalism (neither overtly stressed at the national level lest it excite the opposition of threatened classes). This moderate platform won it acceptance by President Sukarno, himself desperately needing counterbalancing forces to the army and the Muslim-nationalist parties. But insofar as the PKI became accepted, it had to curtail its propaganda and activity within terms laid down by Sukarno and the army – the PKI demand for more democracy gave way in 1959 to a demand for strong government in order to underpin Sukarno’s suppression of other political parties in the name of ‘Guided Democracy.’

The Party’s reward came when Sukarno granted it 55-60 seats in the 261-member appointed Assembly (the Right parties then pressurised to increase the seats to 283, within what was in any case a politically neutralised Parliament). In 1962, Aidit and Lukman, two PKI leaders, were included in the ‘National Leadership,’ and the PKI received appointments to all the main organs of the State except the military security bodies. But again, the gains in inner influence were more than outweighed by the PKI’s total immersion in responsibility for government policy, at a time when the economy was in rapid decline and popular hostility towards the State increasing. The PKI was also trapped in its identification with China, given that the main block of Indonesian traders and merchants are Chinese; China accepts a watching brief over the interests of the Chinese segment of the Indonesian bourgeoisie, and the hostility towards the one accrues to the other, and thence to the PKI. This was demonstrated by the paralysis of the Party in 1960 when a wave" of anti-Chinese feeling swept Indonesia and temporarily strained Pekin-Jakarta relations. On the other hand, the real balance of power in the State was exhibited in June 1960 when Lukman and Sakirman, PKI Left leaders, openly attacked the Government’s economic policy and the rightist tendencies of the army – Sakirman was arrested, Aidit and Lukman held for questioning by the army, all PKI publications containing the criticism confiscated, Muslim mass demonstrations of protest against the PKI held in South Sumatra, East Java and South Kalimantan. Simultaneously, the army suppressed PKI organisations in parts of the main islands. Sukarno’s personal authority alone shielded the Party, but the price of that protection was the withdrawal by the PKI of all its criticisms.

If the PKI leadership was dedicated to collaboration, its local and front organisations had to be committed to at least some form of class identification, a situation similar to the KMT-CCP alliance in China before 1927. Riding both horses simultaneously, the Party grew – allegedly, to three million members (the largest Indonesian party), with eight to ten millions in the front organisations which included the largest trade-union federation, SOBSI, women’s, student, youth and peasant associations. What these figures represent in real revolutionary terms has been demonstrated since 1 October, and, given its terrible losses, the PKI at the moment is probably not much more than a hard core of 50-100,000 strong, heavily concentrated in Central Java.

The coup itself, the 30 September movement, has still not been conclusively demonstrated to have been a PKI initiative. On the contrary, it looks like an attempt by a small number of radical army officers to destroy the senior army leadership, and borrowing on rank-and-file PKI support without explicit sanction from the PKI leadership. Biassed army accounts have admitted that coup was supported by five battalions of the army, four or more senior officers (including Brigadier General Supardjo, and the Central Java Chief of Staff, Colonel Suherman), a number of Cabinet Ministers, and the air force chiefs.

The army alleges that the air force used its Jakarta Halim aerodrome to fly in arms from Pekin for use by the PKI. Thus popular hostility towards the Chinese merchants (and so China) is linked directly with the army’s own hostility towards Indonesia’s increasingly close links with China (which cannot supply the army with modern weapons, in contrast with the Soviet Union which can) and towards the PKI’s steady encroachment on State power] In defence of nationalism and Sukarno (like Chiang Kai-shek’s ‘defence’ of Sun Yat-sen), the terror has been launched against the PKI. Such being the suddenly changed balance of power, Sukarno’s protests can be ignored by the army with impunity – Sukarnoism is no longer linked to Sukarno.

But the army cannot rest content with merely destroying the PKI within the existing status quo. It has placed the entire administration of the country under its Council of Generals (military governors have replaced civilians in all regions), leaving the Cabinet and Sukarno as increasingly marginal elements in the real power structure. The army must now stabilise the class structure in order to stabilise its own power, and escape from the administrative anarchy that existed under Sukarno. It has banned all but one newspaper to each political party in each region, while permitting any number of government or army newspapers, and taken over direct military supervision of all the press. In December, it initiated a drastic revaluation of the currency, demanding that ten per cent of all currency given into banks for exchange into new notes should be retained ‘for the national revolution.’ It has slashed public expenditure, and made a substantial increase in the price of petrol (up 60 times over in one night), of post office services, bus and train fares. It has then sought to hold down all ordinary retail prices by direct military brutality, blaming the wild inflation that has swept Indonesia for the past two years on the Chinese shopkeepers. It is the Government’s price increases that precipitated the student demonstrations of mid-January, agitation that signifies the deflationary punishment being inflicted with the purge.

But the organisation which crystallised popular radical feeling is no longer available to oppose the army. It has paid the price of its success in conjoining defence of the status quo in its leadership with opposition to the status quo at its grass roots, a juggling trick which amounted to little more than gathering popular support for the regime through dishonest promises. Indonesia now faces the prospect of a military dictatorship under General Nasution, aligned with Moscow (Pravda has scarcely bothered to mention the liquidation of its Indonesian ‘fraternal party,’ nor have the 700 Soviet technical advisers in Indonesia been withdrawn in protest), on a platform of conservative state capitalism. No doubt CIA funds will be increasingly applied to help the new fledgling along.

Whatever the political criticisms of the PKI, this is a terrible blow for the Indonesian people, and one from which they will only recover with great difficulty. When the CCP was driven from the towns in 1927, the necessity of rooting itself in the most backward elements of the most backward rural areas was slowly converted into a virtue. This virtue Aidit rejected, as he rejected guerilla warfare. It can be presumed that he will now find it necessary, completing the last link in the Maoist strategy and making a final abandonment of the urban proletariat. Whether he will be as lucky as Mao was remains to be seen in the coming decades.

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Last updated: 14.5.2008