The press is filled with stories that General Suharto, corrupt dictator of Indonesia for more than three decades is on his last legs. Leaders from abroad and various pundits are commenting that Indonesia achieved substantial "economic growth" under Suharto, along with the widespread corruption but there is little mention of the events of 1965, which were once portrayed in a powerful film, The Year of Living Dangerously, which dealt with the massacre of large numbers of working class Indonesians by Suharto's army, even though the politics of the massacre were not seriously analyzed.
The target of the massacre, which assumed genocidal proportions was the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI), the oldest Communist party in Asia and historically one of the most militant. The party had its roots in the struggle against Dutch colonialism (Indonesia was Dutch colony until 1948). Initially founded in 1914 as the Indonesian Social Democratic Association by an exil ed Dutch trade unionist, revolutionary socialist, and later Comintern figure, H. Sneevliet, the radical faction of the association under Sneevliet's leadership supported and tried to emulate the Bolshevik revolution, in 1917, forming Soviets which were ruthless suppressed by the Dutch colonialists. The PKI was formally formed in 1924 and emerged in subsequent decades as an organizer of poor peasants and workers against Dutch colonialism and a leading force in opposition to the Japanese occupation of Indonesia during WWII.
After WWII, the U.S. initially did not support the restoration of Dutch colonial power in Indonesia because it regarded the nationalist leader Sukarno as anti-Communist and amenable to U.S, imperialist interests in oil rich Indonesia.
But this changed radically by the 1950s. Sukarno and the forces that he led adopted a strategic alliance with the PKI and moved to the left in its internal policies,oil and other industries and also joining the non-aligned movement led by India and developing positive relations with the Soviet Union and China. At the same time, Sukarno sought to "balance" the influence of the PKI and prevent the development of revolutionary socialism in Indonesia by continuing to take substantial aid for his military from the U.S. (even though there had been a CIA inspired attempt to assassinate him in the late 1950s) and using both the high officer corps of the Indonesian army and reactionary Muslim clerical forces tied to the landlord class against the PKI, while he sought to use the PKI's organization and advances among the masses to hold back these reactionary forces and both sustain his power bring about advances in the country.
The PKI in the process grow hugely among the masses, and had an estimated membership of three million in 1965 (as against ten thousand in the early 1950s),when a deepening economic crisis destroyed Sukarno's balancing act.
First, Indonesia in 1964-1965 was rife with rumors of a military coup against the Sukarno-PKI alliance and rumors from the right of a PKI coup to establish a "Communist takeover" the CIA term used throughout the world in the cold war period.
The PKI began to train cadre to fight against the right wing coup and held mass demonstrations against the economic crisis (runaway inflation) and a blockade against the U.S, embassy which it accused of sponsoring the coming coup in September. On September 30, a group of lower officers launched an uprising against the Generals, accusing the Generals Council of plotting to overthrow Sukarno and the PKI in a bloody coup planned for October 5th which was army day in Indonesia.
Although they were initially successful in Jakarta in seizing key positions and executing a number of prominent Generals of the Generals Council, the failed to capture General Suharto, commander of the elite strategic reserve forces, who successfully put down the uprising, blamed it on the PKI, and, with active U.S. support, turned the large sections of the Indonesian army loose, along with rightist Muslim vigilantes to brutally murder worker and peasant militants, their supporters and families, on the grounds that they were "Communists." While the numbers killed remain a subject of dispute, the serious low figure is around four hundred thousand and the high one around one million. Along with the political genocide (people murdered because they were considered Communists), members of the ethnic Chinese minority were also caught in the terror and killed because of their ethnicity.
The U.S. government was deeply involved in the mass killings, having played a leading role in funding and training the Indonesian officers who directed the killing. U.S. embassy officials later admitted that they had handed over to Suharto's forces lists of names of five thousand Communist activists and were later told that everyone one had been caught and murdered. A State Department intelligence official dealing with Indonesia later summed up the U.S. government's attitude when he said that "no body cared as long as they were Communists that they were being butchered" a statement that pretty much speaks for itself as an indictment of the genocide carried out in Indonesia in 1965.
Suharto's regime was built on this mass killing and followed it with a policy of blacklisting in all public sector work family members of those who had been murdered along with, of course, large numbers of former PKI members who survived the massacres.
The people of Indonesia still live with this horror, still fearful to speak of it, while capitalist media "balance" the corruption and tyranny of the Suharto years against its "achievements" in "economic growth." Also, the capitalist media that do remember the massacres of 1965 blame the PKI for launching the coup. (There are also ultra-leftists who in the time honored ultra-left tradition, blame the PKI for its strategic alliance with Sukarno and its participation in its government for "disarming" the workers and the peasants, even though the PKI built a mass party of three million members and moved the Sukarno government in a socialist and anti-imperialist direction through that alliance.)
It is important for all U.S. progressives to remember the genocidal massacres of 1965 and to work for a U.S. government which will acknowledge its role in aiding the perpetrators that massacre as part of a policy that seeks reconciliation with the Indonesian people on an anti-imperialist basis.