A Short History of the Indonesian Communist Party – Part 2

The Aidit Years

From the outset, the appearance of the new leadership was one of spectacular success. From fewer than 7,000 members in early 1952, the party numbered more than 150,000 by 1954. In addition, its trade union federation, SOBSI, had become the largest in the country.

Rather than concentrating on making “fronts” with nationalist leaders, who wanted no part of such deals following Madiun, the PKI was “forced to concentrate on a united front from below, a tactic which proved singularly effective in 1950-1951 and was one of the chief factors in the party’s swift post-rebellion recovery and its development of a number of powerful Communist mass organizations”. [15]

This had occurred as a reflection of declining economic conditions – up to 25 per cent unemployment, the continued existence of feudal relations on the land, and the absence of any visible benefit from independence. It is interesting to note that 70 per cent of the estates on Java and Sumatra were back in foreign hands by 1953.

The party’s growth continued apace. In the general elections of 1955 the PKI polled 16 per cent of the vote, and in local elections two years later they had become the most popular party in Central Java. By 1958 the PKI membership had reached 1.5 million.

At government level, a series of weak and unstable coalitions came and went from power – in less than seven years, six cabinets succeeded one another. Meanwhile there were increasing signs of agitation from the senior level of the military, who had emerged as a powerful force from the independence struggle. It was against this background, and to divert the attention of the masses from their economic problems, that all the parties in Indonesia became involved in a fervently nationalist campaign to have Dutch occupied West New Guinea incorporated into Indonesia.

In the course of this campaign, in a series of largely spontaneous actions led by both PNI and PKI rank and file members, the workers of Indonesia occupied and took control of all Dutch enterprises in the country. In turn, the Armed Forces seized the companies. Their power was now not only military, but economic as well.

The following year a faction of the Armed Forces representing feudal interests on the Outer Islands (and backed by the United States) attempted to overthrow the government. Lacking mass support the revolt was crushed. As a result some political parties were banned and those that weren’t had their activities severely curtailed. Martial law was introduced. Independence had certainly not brought with it stable capitalist democracy.

But worse was to come. Up until 1959 there had at least been elections, but in that year Sukarno the President, under pressure from the army, dissolved parliament, and in its place proclaimed the formation of an appointed, handpicked ‘Consultative Congress’. Thus was introduced the ‘Guided Democracy’ period during which not a single election was held. The PKI approved of Sukarno’s actions.

It’s worthwhile pausing here to consider the theories upon which the PKI’s practical decisions were based. According to Aidit, the primary task was to form “a united front of all anti-imperialist and anti-feudal forces in the country. That is to say the working class, the peasantry, the petit-bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie. The task of this alliance is to bring about not socialist but democratic reforms”.

It should be noted first of all that this was precisely the same ‘bloc of four classes’ formula from which the Chinese Communist Party had operated in the 1920s and which led to their terrible defeat. But why was it such a dangerous theory?

The starting point for any serious theory about changing society has to be the concrete reality of society as it stands. Clearly Indonesia had not become a modern capitalist country – as Marxists put it, it had not completed the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution, which were:

  • A thoroughgoing land reform, giving land to the peasants which in turn could create a viable internal market.
  • The unification of the country and the development of the nation along modern lines, both economically and politically through the institution of parliamentary democracy.
  • These tasks were completed in the advanced capitalist world (Europe, America, etc.) roughly by the end of the nineteenth century. However they had not been completed in the colonial and ex-colonial countries. Thus with the advanced capitalist countries increasingly dominating the entire world in imperialist fashion, for the colonial and ex-colonial nations a third task was added:

    • The overthrow of direct rule by imperialism, and even after that was achieved, the overthrow of the economic stranglehold exercised by imperialism.
    • Put simply, these measures were what was necessary to transform Indonesia from a backward agricultural nation into a modern capitalist economy. But the vital question was, which forces in society were to carry through these tasks?

      In Europe these measures had been carried out against the incumbent feudal interests by the rising national bourgeoisie in each of the different countries – using the masses to do their fighting for them. Was this to be the case in Indonesia? What role was the working class to play? Let us backtrack briefly.

      In the very early 1920s, when the Communist International had been a healthy organization, an extremely important discussion took place within its ranks concerning precisely the relationship between the proletariat and the national bourgeoisie of the colonial countries.

      Arising from this discussion Lenin stated:

      “I should like especially to emphasize the question of the bourgeois democratic movement in backward countries…There has been a certain rapprochement between the bourgeoisie of the exploiting countries and that of the colonies, so that very often – perhaps even in most cases – the bourgeoisie of the oppressed countries, while it does support the national movement, is in full accord with the imperialist bourgeoisie i.e. joins forces with it against all revolutionary movements and revolutionary classes”.

      But if the bourgeoisie themselves are incapable of carrying through the bourgeois democratic revolution, then which section of society is capable?

      Of all the great revolutionary theoreticians, it was Trotsky, who not only earlier, but also more exactly, analyzed the nature of the revolution in the colonial world and, flowing from it, the tasks of communist revolutionaries. This set of ideas subsequently became known as the “Theory of permanent revolution”.

      Central to the theory was the realization that in the colonial and semi-colonial world the national bourgeoisie and the feudal interests were woven together. Thus there was no way that the national bourgeoisie would side with the masses against those feudal interests, nor the interests of imperialism. Therefore the workers and peasants would have to carry out the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution…against the national bourgeoisie!

      In addition, “Throughout history the peasantry, tied to its small plot of land has had a very narrow horizon, an extremely parochial horizon. Moreover, because it is so heterogeneous it always looks to the urban classes for leadership. In the modern epoch it is either the capitalists or the working class which provides the lead”. [16]

      The revolution could not be led by the capitalists because the revolution was against them and thus it had to be by the working class. But having initiated the bourgeois democratic revolution against the bourgeoisie, the workers and peasants obviously would not stop there and thus the tasks of the bourgeois democratic and the tasks of the socialist revolution were telescoped together – hence permanent revolution.

      In turn, because of the impossibility of building socialism in one country, particularly an economically backward one, the revolution would ultimately have to spread internationally or face inevitable degeneration.

      Because of the imperialist domination of the world, there was no role for the colonial bourgeoisie. This was particularly so with the Indonesian bourgeoisie who were so weak as a class that the major question was whether they even actually existed or not! What was incontestable was that those seedlings of a capitalist class that did exist were inextricably interlinked with feudal interests.

      As Aidit himself wrote in frustration in 1964, “Indonesia’s national bourgeoisie is still young and has many family ties with the landlords. One of its legs is capitalist while the other is feudal”. Yet the PKI leadership put their faith in their “alliance” with them. In fact their analysis was based on the Stalinist two-stage theory of revolution and had little to do with the concrete reality that existed in Indonesia.

      According to Aidit, “The character of the Indonesian revolution at the present stage is bourgeois democratic and not proletarian socialist. But the bourgeois democratic revolution in Indonesia is no longer one of the old type, or part of the outdated world bourgeois democratic revolution: it is one of a new type and a part of the world proletarian socialist revolution firmly opposed to imperialism.

      “The Indonesian revolution is bourgeois in nature because it does not abolish private ownership of the means of production. This is manifested in the fact that it distributes land to the peasants and encourages the growth of the national bourgeoisie so that it may be free from dependence upon imperialism. It is also democratic in nature, because it is opposed to feudalism and fights for democratic rights for the Indonesian people as a whole”. [17]

      For all of Aidit’s playing with words about “new types” and “old types” of bourgeois democratic revolutions, what it boiled down to was two distinct stages; firstly the bourgeoisie would come to power and then, the working class and peasants would come to power. Yet as Aidit himself had pointed out, “The failure of the August 1945 revolution showed that the Indonesian bourgeoisie was unable to lead the bourgeois democratic revolution in the era of imperialism”. Yet still, because all their theoretical education had been Stalinist, because of the authority of Moscow and Peking, and because of their growth in numbers, the PKI continued to base their strategy on ‘alliance’ with the national bourgeoisie.

      As Rex Mortimer put it, “It has seldom happened that a party as large as the PKI has held a class fraction, the ‘national bourgeoisie’, in such high esteem, placed so many hopes upon it and accommodated itself to it, while knowing so little about it”. In essence the PKI leadership were putting their faith in people who were not ‘allies’ but were in fact enemies of the masses; this was why it was so dangerous.

      Let us take stock: Ten and more years after independence and none of the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution had been accomplished. Feudal property relations were still intact, parliamentary democracy had been abolished and instead of capitalist industry forging ahead the economy was in shambles.

      The development of the economy that had taken place was undertaken by the state. But as Richard Robison explains, “The development of state enterprises did not represent a concerted move towards socialization, or indeed even nationalization of the economy… The intervention of the state in the economy, to 1956, was heavily influenced by the idea that the state would provide the infrastructure for the development of a domestic capitalist class, operate enterprises that were necessary but beyond the capacity of national capital, and directly finance and protect a national (and by national was generally meant indigenous) bourgeoisie”. And further, “Despite the concerted attempt by the state to build an indigenous bourgeoisie, the growth of this class was not impressive”.

      It was fundamentally the same economic idea underlying the ‘Guided Democracy’ period but increasingly the historical ineptitude of the local capitalist class was becoming obvious. The Dutch ‘concerns’ (business operators) that the masses had seized could not be handed over to the local bourgeoisie because they were simply too weak, therefore they had to be nationalized. It was the concrete reality rather than the desires of those in power that governed the situation. Robison continues, “It is agreed by most commentators that by 1965…the domestic bourgeoisie had not advanced since the 1950s”. [18]

      Two-Stage Theory

      But furthermore, what flowed from the two-stage theory was the idea that the working class could not take industrial action against the national bourgeoisie because they were supposed to be in alliance. But this was not an equal alliance. Because it was supposedly the bourgeois democratic revolution, then the interests of the bourgeoisie had to come first – the interests of the workers had to come second.

      As Rex Mortimer describes it, “The entire emphasis…was on the self-abnegating role of the workers and their political responsibilities toward other classes and the nation as a whole”. [19] This was the most dangerous and ultimately the most fatal aspect of the whole situation.

      Why then was the PKI growing so rapidly? Because as Indonesia slid towards catastrophe the whole of society was polarizing … and on one side was the PKI. They were relatively untouched by corruption scandals rife at the time and, despite their policies, they were at least perceived to be doing something; they were the workers’ traditional, and only, political voice. As Ruth McVey observed in the early 1960s, “The PKI is now virtually the only party worth considering as a major factor in Indonesia. The Masjumi and PSI were generally discredited as a result of the rebellion… and were finally outlawed in 1960. The Nahdatul Ulama and PNI have degenerated as organizations into little more than self-perpetuating patronage machines. Only Murba, a national-Communist Party…has improved its position: but it remains a splinter group at heart, a state of mind rather than a political organization”.

      On the other side was the military. Their increasing prominence was a reflection of the weakness of not only the Indonesian bourgeois/feudal political parties but, more fundamentally, the Indonesian bourgeoisie itself. According to the ‘two stage’ theory, this should have been the period where bourgeois democracy was in blossom. Yet, so weak was the capitalist class, that its up-front representation had to be the military – the State forces – normally capitalism’s last line of defense!

      And then there was Sukarno – the classical Bonapartist balancing delicately in between. By the early 1960s, the class forces in Indonesia were assembling for the showdown. It was now only a matter of time.

      Conditions for the masses were becoming impossible. “The late 1963 harvest in Java had been heavily depleted by the worst drought and rat plague in living memory… Aidit himself in his report of December 1963 mentioned that: “The people are now eating virtually anything edible”. In the following months, various sources drew attention to misery on a huge scale.

      “Reuters news agency reported on February 16th, 1964, that in Central Java, where the crop failure had been particularly severe, one million people were starving. In the district of Wonosari between two and six people starved to death daily and the deputy governor of Central Java said that 12,000 people were being treated for malnutrition and 15,000 families had deserted their barren rice fields. Antara detailed that 18,000 people were starving in Bali and that there were serious rice shortages in South Sumatra. Harian Rakjat reported on February 18th that people were selling everything “including their children”. [20]

      Land reform laws had existed since 1960 yet in practice nothing had changed. The peasants in frustration began taking over the land. The police, army and reactionaries in the rural areas responded with violence.

      The country was in ruin, corruption and smuggling in the civilian and military bureaucracy were rife. Managerial inefficiency and corruption by the military had ruined the nationalized industries. Production had declined absolutely to below what it was on the eve of the Second World War. Indonesia had at one time been a rice surplus area. Now it was having to import 150,000 tons of rice every year. The tin and rubber export industries had dwindled away and only oil remained as an earner of dollars.

      The nation was heavily in debt to the world’s banks and each year the budget deficit was doubling. The value of the rupiah had sunk to a hundredth of its legal value as the result of chronic inflation; in the six years to 1965 the cost of living increased by 2,000 per cent. At the same time it was reported that up to an incredible 75% of the State Budget was being spent on the armed forces.

      For his part, Sukarno was more concerned with Indonesians developing “a sense of pride in their nationhood” – an affordable sentiment for a man living in a mansion surrounded by expensive works of art. To facilitate this “sense of pride”, millions were spent on prestige buildings, new boulevards and grand statues in Jakarta.

      At the same time an endless stream of speeches, slogans and new acronyms – increasingly coated in leftwing rhetoric – issued forth from Sukarno. One such was Manipol/USDEK. “Manipol being the political manifesto and USDEK an acronym made up of the initial letters of the 1945 Constitution i.e. Indonesian socialism, Guided Democracy, ‘guided economy’ and Indonesian identity”. [21] To this were added a host of others: “Ampera (the Message of the People’s suffering), Berdikari (standing on our own feet), Tavip (the Year of Living Dangerously), NEFOS and OLDEFOS (New Emerging Forces and Old Established Forces), Nasakom (union of Nationalism, Religion and Communism), the need to avoid textbook thinking, to return to the rails of revolution, the idea of continuing revolution…”, and so on and so forth.

      Enthusiastically the PKI took up the chorus of these slogans. In the early ’50s the PKI were calling Sukarno a “Japanese collaborator”, a “perverter of Marxism” and a “semi-fascist”. By the early ’60s, he was addressing PKI congresses. As Rex Mortimer puts it, “By 1963 the party’s worship was becoming almost idolatrous. Despite the President’s notorious disdain for, and ignorance of economic affairs, it declared that the solution of economic difficulties could safely be left in his hands…A short time later (Aidit) bestowed the final accolade by describing the President as his first teacher in Marxism-Leninism”. 22 In the end the PKI were arguing that Marxism and Sukarnoism were identical.

      By August, 1965, the PKI had become the third largest Communist Party in the world (only the Soviet and Chinese parties were bigger). Three and a half million Indonesians were members of the party. In addition, the different organizations affiliated to it – trade unions, peasant, youth, women’s and cultural movements – claimed the support of probably 20 million people.

      The international bourgeoisie looked on at the situation in Indonesia with increasing horror: it was commonly felt that the PKI were soon to take power. No matter what their policies may have been on paper, the concrete realities of the situation would force them to nationalize the economy as had happened in Cuba and China (as we have seen many sectors had been nationalized already). The loss of Indonesia, the fifth most populated country in the world, would be an enormous blow to international capitalism, yet they were powerless to intervene.

      The desperation of their thinking is shown in a memorandum to the Rand Corporation, in which the key American policy advisor (and CIA operative) Guy Pauker wrote, “Were the Communists to lose Sukarno as a protector, it seems doubtful that other national leaders, capable of rallying Indonesia’s dispersed and demoralized anti-Communist forces, would emerge in the near future. Furthermore, these forces would probably lack the ruthlessness that made it possible for the Nazis to suppress the Communist Party of Germany a few weeks after the elections of March 5th, 1933… The enemies of the PKI, including the remnants of various rightwing rebellions, the suppressed political parties, and certain elements in the armed forces, are weaker than the Nazis, not only in numbers and in mass support, but also in unity, discipline and leadership”. [23] (This was the thinking of international capitalism: “Where are the Nazis when you need them?”)

      On the night of September 30th, 1965 things came to a head. Six generals of the high command were kidnapped and killed by a small force of middle-ranking military officers and a number of locations in Jakarta were seized. Army units under General Suharto rapidly crushed the ‘coup attempt’ in the capital, although fighting continued for several weeks in Central Java. The ‘coup’ and the killing of the generals were blamed on the PKI.

      The killing of PKI members and sympathizers began. At first there was enormous confusion. Most observers thought there would be a civil war. As the Economist pointed out on the 16th October, “The most significant party in the country can hardly be driven underground without the risk of civil war”. And indeed there was a civil war – but only one side was fighting.

      Time magazine reported on December 17th, 1965 that “Communists, red sympathizers and their families are being massacred by the thousands. Backlands army units are reported to have executed thousands of Communists after interrogation in remote jails. Armed with wide-bladed knives called parangs, Moslem bands crept at night into the homes of Communists, killing entire families and burying the bodies in shallow graves.

      “The murder campaign became so brazen in parts of rural East Java that Moslem bands placed the heads of victims on poles and paraded them through villages. The killings have been on such a scale that the disposal of the corpses has created a serious sanitation problem in East Java and Northern Sumatra where the humid air bears the reek of decaying flesh. Travelers from those areas tell of small rivers and streams that have been literally clogged with bodies. River transportation has at places been seriously impeded”.

      The New York Times Sunday Magazine on May 8th, 1966 reported a schoolteacher in a village near Jogjakarta as having said, “My students went right out with the army. They pointed out PKI members. The army shot them on the spot along with their whole family; women, children. It was horrible”. The NYT’s correspondent, Seth King, commented, “Surabaya, capital of East Java and long a center of Communist activity, is laced with turbid canals. Since last October one of the more grisly tasks of local householders living beside the canals has been to get up each morning and push along the bodies caught near their garden landings”. [24]

      In Bali, which had been the fastest growing center of PKI organization, the killings became so indiscriminate that finally the army stepped in to control them. And the CIA, not known as a humanitarian organization, itself wrote, “In terms of the numbers killed, the anti-PKI massacres in Indonesia rank as one of the worst mass murders of the twentieth century”.

      Within four months between half a million and a million people, the cream of the working class, the best and brightest of Indonesian society, were slaughtered. The culmination of the PKI’s two-stage theory of revolution was vicious counter-revolution with no stages!

      But what was most incredible about the whole situation was that the PKI, the third largest Communist Party in the world, with 20 million supporters, was wiped out virtually without resistance. As Rex Mortimer explains: “A dispersed and shattered leadership seems to have lost all capacity to rally the party or cope with the decimation of its ranks. Sticking to the last to the hope that Sukarno would pull their irons out of the fire, the leaders went into hiding and became to all intents and purposes, deactivated. Illustrative of the paralysis that afflicted the cadre forces of the party is the following account by a PKI member, and wife of a Central Committee functionary, of the way she and her husband reacted in the weeks and months following the coup:

      “‘After September 30th, we went on with our work for some days in the normal manner, but no one with whom we came in contact was able to inform us as to what had happened or what we were expected to do. As the atmosphere in Jakarta grew worse, we just sat at home and waited for instructions. My husband had been given no guidance about what to do in such an eventuality. We did not expect things to turn out so badly; we thought there would be a setback for the party but that eventually it would be sorted out by Sukarno.

      “‘That is why the party disintegrated so rapidly. There were no orders and no one knew who to turn to or who to trust, since arrests had started and we knew there had been betrayals… (Party leaders) sent word just to wait and I know that a party leader’s wife was sent to see Sukarno'”. [25]

      Sukarno… it all rested on Sukarno.

      Flowing from their theory of alliance with the national bourgeoisie and following the eclipse of all the political parties, the PKI had come to the conclusion that Sukarno himself, an individual, now represented the national bourgeoisie. But Sukarno had no mass movement. Had he represented something solid, a powerful class interest, his demise in no way would have been so rapid.

      It was not Sukarno but the army that ultimately represented the interests of the national bourgeoisie, along with the forces of feudalism and imperialism – all interwoven together. On the other side of the class divide were the PKI, representing the workers and peasants, and when these great class forces finally cracked apart, Sukarno simply toppled into the crevice.

      For the third time in less than 50 years the PKI had been bloodily crushed. The rank and file of the PKI were caught completely by surprise – small wonder given Aidit’s bizarre “two-aspect theory” of the state on which the party had been educated. As the underground PKI themselves put it in 1966, “According to this ‘two-aspect theory’ a miracle could happen in Indonesia. Namely the state could cease to be an instrument of the ruling oppressor classes to subjugate other classes, but could be made the instrument shared by both the oppressor classes and the oppressed classes. And the fundamental change in state power…could be peacefully accomplished by developing the ‘pro-people’ aspect and gradually liquidating the ‘anti-people’ aspect”. In essence this was really just the classical reformist approach.

      It is quite possible that Aidit knew in advance of the plan to kidnap the generals. It illustrates the whole approach of the leadership – deals at the top rather than mobilization of the masses. This is the key point.

      Let us recall: Aidit’s criticism of the PKI leadership during the independence struggle had been that the Party, “abandoned political ideological and organizational freedom and did not attach sufficient importance to its activities in labor and peasant circles. These were the reasons why the revolution failed”. History repeats itself.

      But let’s go back one generation more, back to the very foundation of the PKI itself. Had not the rightwing of the ISDV opposed the raising of class questions and spoken of the need for, “unity of the native population groups necessary for the achievement of national independence and freedom”? Did not this therefore mean support for the national bourgeoisie? Had the rightwing not split from those who went on to form the PKI precisely over this question?

      Had not the Tjokroaminoto faction of Sarekat Islam condemned ‘sinful’ (by which they mean ‘foreign’) capitalism, whilst supporting native capitalism? The Aidit leadership of the PKI had effectively reverted to these ideas. Yet it was precisely in the struggle against these ideas that the PKI had developed in the first place! The wheel had come full circle.

      In 1960 Aidit stated explicitly that the class struggle was “subservient to the national struggle”, yet in reality this had been PKI policy from at least the time that Musso had arrived back in Indonesia from Moscow in 1935. The history of the PKI is in many ways a history of the international Communist movement itself. Obviously there were certain local peculiarities (such as the reliance on one man – Sukarno) but the underlying theoretical base that led the PKI to such a position emanated initially from Moscow.

      Even following the Moscow/Peking split, when Indonesia came to side with the Chinese, both Moscow and Peking were putting forward the idea of “alliance” with the national bourgeoisie. Certainly from the 1930s onwards, much of the blame for what happened in Indonesia can be laid squarely at the doorstep of international Stalinism.

      What happened in 1965 was all the more incredible when one considers that in the last few years it was the Chinese Communist Party that had become the mentors of the PKI. The same Chinese Communists who themselves had been obliterated 40 years earlier, precisely for putting their faith in an alliance with the national capitalists. The parallels even extended to certain details.

      In an eerie replay of China in the 1920s, the PKI on 4th February, 1961 handed the “authorities” a list of party members, including addresses, position in the party and date of entry into the party. [26] Even bourgeois observers in Indonesia at the time were drawing the parallel between Indonesia of the 1960s and the China of the 1920s.

      But the tragedy did not stop there. Less than a decade later in Chile the labor movement was smashed and the best of the working class slaughtered for following exactly the same policies. Indeed, “The US-backed overthrow of the Allende government in Chile occurred under the slogan, ‘Jakarta is approaching'”. [27]

      As is the case with Chile, the CIA were intricately and bloodily involved with the destruction of the PKI. But their effect should not be exaggerated. Just as in Chile, in Indonesia it was the mistakes of the PKI leadership that were crucial. Without those mistakes the efforts of the CIA would not have been decisive.

      Could the PKI have come to power? Yes, we believe – many times. Or, let us put it more accurately, the objective conditions for taking power were ripe on many occasions. In the 1920s, leaving aside their organizational disarray, it is certainly questionable whether they were powerful enough. Tan Malaka believed the uprising of 1926 had been left too late and that more time was needed now to build up the Party’s strength. That is probably right. However, during the independence struggle it is quite clear that the PKI essentially handed away their chance for the leadership of that struggle.

      Likewise during the 1960s there was no question but that Indonesia was ripe for revolution. A significant indicator is always the attitude of international capitalism – and what was their attitude? It varied from alarm to panic! Let us also not forget that numerically the PKI in the 1960s was in a far more favorable situation than the Bolsheviks had been in 1917 for example. Yet in terms of political theory it was way behind. It was not numbers, but theory that was the PKI’s problem. Obviously there are no guarantees of success. Even if the most scrupulous attitude is taken towards theory, sometimes the conditions are just not right. We do not believe this was the case however in the Indonesia of the 1940s and 1960s.

      It is not even excluded that the PKI could have come to power in the 1960s with Sukarno remaining as nominal head of government. But had they taken power (with or without Sukarno) it is inevitable, given the policies of the leadership, that the resulting regime would not have been of a genuinely socialist nature – run by workers’ democracy – but, rather, of a deformed workers’ state along the lines of China. Nevertheless, the elimination of landlordism and capitalism in the largest country in South East Asia would have been an enormous step forward and a mighty boost in confidence for the oppressed masses internationally.

      Furthermore, Indonesia has the largest Moslem population of any country in the world. Had the PKI taken power in the 1960s, the whole pattern of events in the Middle East since then may well have been very different, not to mention India or Pakistan. In the South East Asia region itself, the repercussions of revolution in the largest country would have been enormous. For Western imperialism, the loss of the fifth largest country in the world, just a decade or so after losing China, would have been devastating.


      And what is the situation now (in 1990)? Since 1965, the embryonic native bourgeoisie has expanded and some have become very rich, yet Indonesia still has the lowest wage rates in South East Asia. In addition, there is no way in the world that Indonesia will develop to the point of being a Japan or even a South Korea. It is simply too late.

      As the Indian Marxists have pointed out

      “The only capitalist countries which can claim to have developed from backward societies into fully developed industrialized societies in the post war period are Japan and the so-called ‘Newly Industrialized Countries’ of South East Asia (South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong). In all these countries, it was fear at the example of the Chinese revolution which lay behind their development. The revolution was spreading to Korea, Vietnam and Malaya and even in Japan revolution was a serious danger in the 1940s.

      “The capitalist class in these countries was incapable of breaking the power of the feudal landlords and carrying through the land reform without which industrialization was impossible. In Japan, which despite its social backwardness was already a strong military imperialist power, it took American imperialism in the form of General MacArthur at the head of its occupation armies, to overrule the defeated Japanese warlords and impose a very drastic land distribution program, at the same time financing industrialization with huge dollar subsidies.

      “American imperialism imposed the same stringent land program on occupied South Korea as a defense against the spread of revolution from the Northern half of the peninsula. Again it was General MacArthur (in one sense the most progressive bourgeois this century!) who carried through this program.

      “In Taiwan, Chiang Kai Shek’s armies, fleeing from the revolution on the Chinese mainland, performed the same role, to stabilize their occupation of the island. Singapore and Hong Kong are really ‘city-states’, likewise based on off-shore islands, so the land question was not so formidable.

      “It is noteworthy that not one of the famous ‘NIC’s is a real country. They are all fragments splintered off from countries already over-run by revolution – counter revolutions in exile! In no way can they be regarded as arguments in favor of the viability of capitalism”. [28]

      As far as land reform in Indonesia is concerned, developments have been in precisely the opposite direction. “Following independence there has been a continuing trend towards concentration of landholding and consolidation of a landlord class. Often military and civilian officials have moved into this sector with capital accumulated outside the commercial world”. [29]

      80% of the 180 million people of Indonesia live at a minimum existence. Infant mortality in Indonesia is the highest of the ASEAN nations (87 per 1000 live births) and 89% of the population does not have access to safe drinking water. As far as the democratic aspect of the bourgeois-democratic revolution is concerned, there is less democracy in Indonesia today than there was under Dutch colonial rule. The Indonesian bourgeoisie are clearly historically incapable of carrying out their own revolution.

      And the PKI? Still the regime is shooting the old men, still it is purging the civil service of ‘communists’, more than 20 years after the PKI’s last stand. But as to whether or not the Indonesian working class will politically re-form again under the banner of the PKI or whether it will be under another banner is hard to say. But really that’s not the key issue. It is the program that the party adopts rather than the name which is the important thing.

      Following 1965 there were sporadic reports, culminating in 1968, of surviving PKI groups engaging in guerilla activities. Yet guerillaism in Indonesia as a focal tactic is doomed, simply by geographical factors. The island of Java was, and continues to be, the key to the whole country. In the early 1960s Java had a greater density of population per square mile than either Holland or Belgium. And what was true in the 1960s is many times more true today given the population increase that has occurred since.

      It is the working class in the towns and cities that is the key social force. That is not to say that at a later stage some form of guerilla struggle in the Outer Islands is completely excluded as a supplement to the work in the towns. Furthermore, the ‘armed struggle’ in the sense of the mass of the workers being armed, may well be vital at a certain stage. But as a central tactic the road of guerillaism, or even worse, individual terrorist action, is a complete dead end. Indeed the occurrence of terrorist activities in the 1920s was an indication of the disarray of the movement. But there are even more serious dangers on the horizon.

      Many people in Indonesia pose today as ‘democrats’ and ‘friends of the people’, tomorrow there will be many more. Some of them have very bloody hands. When the working class movement does rise again, it is crucial that it does not mistake its enemies for its friends.

      The winds of revolt are blowing through Indonesia once more, and once more it is the youth who are at the forefront. The past pages of Indonesian revolutionary history are indelibly stamped with the imprint of youth – Semaun, Darsono, Tan Malaka and millions more. Likewise today, it is those young men and women gathered together in the study circles and activist groups, now linking together with the workers and farmers, that will form the core of the resurgence.

      In Indonesia today, workers’ political parties are banned, real trade unions are banned, leftwing papers are banned, ideas are banned – particularly the ideas of Marxism. Yet for all the regime’s banning, it is precisely the ideas of Marxism that are being debated within the ranks of the young activist and study groups at this moment. And it is from this debate, as well of course as the ongoing active struggle against this most vicious of all regimes, that the revolutionary cadre of tomorrow is being formed. It is to these heroic young revolutionaries that this pamphlet is dedicated.

      Militant International Publications, September 1990


      1. Ruth McVey, Relations with the Soviet Union (Cambridge: Center for International Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1954) 8.
      2. Peter Taaffe, ”The 1925/27 Revolution,” China – the Tradition of Struggle 7.

        D.N. Aidit, The Indonesian Revolution and the Immediate Tasks of the Communist Party in Indonesia (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1964) 14-15.

        Richard Robinson, Indonesia: The Rise of Capital (London : Allen & Unwin, 1986) 41-42.

        Rex Mortimer, Indonesian Communism under Sukarno – Ideology and Politics 1959-65 (London: Cornell University Press, 1974) 62.

        Ibid 300.

        John D. Legge, Indonesia 159.

        Mortimer 88-89.

        qtd. in Peter Dale Scott, “Exporting Military-Economic Development: America and the Overthrow of Sukarno, 1965-67,” ed. Malcolm Caldwell, Ten Years’ Military Terror in Indonesia (Nottingham: Spokesman Books, 1975) 231.

        Ibid 14-15.

        Mortimer 391.

        Mintz 8\203.

        Caldwell 15.

        Time to Change Course! Communists and the Indian Revolution (Bangalore: Dudiyora Horaata, 1989) 25-26.

        Robinson 18.