Reflections on the 1965 Massacre in Indonesia
By Prof. Jose Maria Sison
International League of Peoples' Struggle
18 December 2005
I wish to thank the 1965 Commemoration Committee for inviting me to speak. It is an honor for me to be with other speakers
very knowledgeable about the subject and very distinguished in the struggle to seek justice for all the people victimized by the
1965 massacre in Indonesia.
I have become acquainted with Indonesian history and current affairs since 1961 when I took a scholarship from the Jajasan
Siswa Lokantara. I stayed in Indonesia during the first half of 1962 to study bahasa Indonesia and translate the poems of Chairil
Anwar. I went back to Indonesia twice in 1963 and 1964 as a correspondent of the London-based Eastern World and as member
of the Afro-Asian Journalists' Association.
I had the opportunity to meet Yusuf Isak in 1963. He was then an officer of the Indonesian journalists' association. I admire
him for his longrunning fight for human rights in connection with the 1965 massacre and other barbarities of the so-called New
Order of the US-directed Suharto military fascist dictatorship.
Since 1962 I have been exceedingly close to Indonesia and the Indonesian people. As general secretary of the Philippine-Indonesian
Friendship and Cultural Association up to 1965, I arranged quite a number of cultural exchanges between the Philippines and Indonesia.
I also met officers and members of Indonesian progressive forces, including communists, nationalists and religious believers, and gained
some insights into the factors and events before, during and after the 1965 massacre.
US and Other Imperialist Forces Behind the 1965 Massacre
The US and other imperialist powers were behind the 1965 massacre in Indonesia. They had the largest interest in and strongest
motive for using the Suharto military clique to end the Sukarno government and the national united front that were opposed to
colonialism, imperialism and neocolonialism. They provided the most decisive means for the Suharto military clique to do their brutal
bidding. And they got what they wanted
through the puppet instrumentality of the Suharto military fascist dictatorship.
In the aftermath of World II, the US emerged as the strongest imperialist power and coveted Indonesia as a rich source of cheap
raw materials, a large market and a wide field for investments. It regarded control of the country as necessary for having hegemony
over the entire Southeast Asia. It wished to have Indonesia as a semi-colony in the face of the determination of the Indonesian
people to uphold and fight for their national independence as proclaimed in 1945 as well as the failed attempts of the British and
Dutch imperialists to bring back the old colonial times.
The sense of national unity among the Indonesian people was strong against colonialism and imperialism, particularly because
of the revolutionary role of the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) and the constant willingness of this party to be in alliance
with the nationalists and religious believers against foreign domination. The US, Dutch and British imperialists saw the PKI as
an obstacle even only to making a semi-colonial or neocolonial arrangement.
Thus, the US and its Indonesian stooges were always seeking to suppress the PKI. In fact, the Madiun incident of 1948 was
the first serious provocation aimed at eliminating the PKI and its followers through mass arrests and mass murder after World
War II. It pushed the communists out of the government and paved the way for the neocolonial compromise like the Round
Table Conference Agreement of 1949. The US, British and Dutch held on like mad to their oil interests and plantations in Indonesia.
Under the Eisenhower administration, the US National Security Council had already adopted by 1953 a series of documents whose
essential line called for "appropriate action, in collaboration with other countries, to prevent communist control of Indonesia."
Military training of Indonesian officers was planned as a means of increasing US influence. At the same time, the CIA concentrated
on undertaking and developing relations with the right-wing political parties and organizations, including the Masjumi, the pseudo-socialist
parties, the SOKSI trade unions and certain Islamic youth organizations. And it provided them with funds.
The ceaseless attempts of the US and other imperialist powers to press their neocolonial demands eventually compelled the nationalist
Sukarno to seek alliance with the PKI against US-lining political opponents like Hatta and Sumitro, the Partai Socialis Indonesia and
Masjumi up to the mid-1950s and the regional rebellions like those of Permesta-PRRI and the Darul Islam-TNI in 1958. The US supplied
arms and money to the regional rebellions through various channels, including Filipino military agents, and even openly launched an
assassination attempt on Sukarno in 1957 by airplane from the US Clark Air Base in the Philippines.
But all the hostile US maneuvers and intrigues resulted in the intensified resistance of the Indonesian people and in the strengthening
of the PKI and the NASAKOM, which was the united front of the nationalists, religious believers and communists. Failing with using blatantly
crude methods, the US used a wide range of methods of subversion.
While robbing Indonesia of its oil wealth through the operations of Stanvac and Caltex, in exchange for paltry amounts of royalty payment,
the US offered economic and military aid in grants and loans. It promoted exchanges between US and Indonesian universities and the
Ford Foundation used research, study and travel grants in order to influence the academics and indirectly some students.
The most subversive activities of the US were undertaken by the Pentagon, the CIA, the US air force, RAND corporation and the Ford
Foundation and were aimed at generating influence within the Indonesian military officer corps. The US military assistance program
offered and provided arms, communications and transport equipment. Indonesian military officers were induced to undertake US-designed
military training program locally and in American military forts.
Under US influence, Generals Nasution and Suwarto established the Indonesian Army Staff and Command School in Bandung (SESKOAD)
to convert the Indonesian army fully into a counterrevolutionary organization under the strategic doctrine of "territorial warfare" or
"counterinsurgency" and developing civic mission or "civic action" programs. The main thrust of the training was supposedly to prevent
a PKI seizure of power, by preparing military officers to take over functions in administration and in the economy and cooperate with
civilian officials and anti-communist organizations at all levels.
The Ascendance of the Suharto Military Fascist Dictatorship
It was at SESKOAD that Colonel Suharto became the protégé of General Suwarto and took a prominent part in the early 1960s in the
formation of the Doctrine of Territorial Warfare and Civic Mission. CIA agents like Guy Pauker and assets like Colonel Jan Walandouw
spotted Suharto as an excellent puppet officer, one who was clever and corrupt. The latter had wormed his way into the confidence
of Sukarno and became the commanding general of the Strategic Reserve Command.
He quietly focused on counterintelligence and became prominent by playing both ends in the rivalry between Generals Nasution and
Yani and eventually making in the army seminar of April 1965 the SESKOAD doctrine as the compromise army doctrine Tri Ubaya Cakti,
touting the independent political role of the army. Under the pretext of counterintelligence and loyalty to Sukarno, he was able to
spread intrigue in his favor and gained advantage at having access to and using elements and parts of the presidential guards and the
Diponegoro Division. His main collaborators were officers associated with the US-lining PSI.
Suharto and his military clique became the key instrument of the US in preparing the destruction of the PKI, the NASAKOM and the
Sukarno government to allow the US neocolonial takeover of Indonesia. They rapidly developed in that role from 1961 to 1965.
Although Nasution had been publicly perceived since the Madiun massacre as the principal Indonesian military agent of the US, the
CIA was disappointed with him in 1961 for failing to make a coup against Sukarno on a number of occasions and for going along with
him on the line against Britain, especially with regard to Malaysia.
During the 1961-65 period, the Indonesian people pressed hard for the realization of their national democratic rights and interests.
The MANIPOL-USDEK was the guiding light within the NASAKOM framework. The people, especially the workers, pushed for the
nationalization of imperialist-owned enterprises and plantations. The PKI deepened peasant support for the Indonesian revolution
by undertaking a campaign of rural research, mass organizing and land reform.
The people compelled the Dutch to leave Irian Barat under Indonesian sovereignty. They induced the foreign oil monopolies
to agree to the production-sharing agreement. They mobilized in opposing the British neocolonial creation of Malaysia. The US-inspired
Maphilindo initiative of the Manila government could not stop the "ganyang Malaysia" campaign of Indonesia. The Sukarno government
became active in pursuing a policy of nonalignment and anti-imperialism and demanded the dismantling of US military bases in the region.
It developed closer relations with the Soviet and Chinese governments.
After Sukarno declared, "To Hell with US Aid", the US government suspended non-military aid and the CIA instigated and manipulated
currency speculation and the scarcity of goods, especially food. But it continued to deliver military assistance to the Indonesian army
in the form of arms, communications equipment, land vehicles and 200 aero commander planes from Lockheed.
Apart from receiving secret CIA funds, the Suharto military clique received money for counterrevolutionary operations and self-enrichment
from the Lockheed payoffs and the royalty payments of US oil companies to the army's oil company Permina run by General Ibnu Sutowo
and another oil company Pertamin run by Chaerul Saleh, head of the pseudo-proletarian and pro-US Murba party.
The intelligence agencies of the US, British, Dutch, Japanese, German and Australian governments collaborated in sharing their intelligence
stock with the Suharto military clique before, during and after the process of eliminating the PKI, NASAKOM and Sukarno. As early as
December 1964, a Pakistani ambassador in Europe wrote to foreign minister Ali Bhutto that a Dutch intelligence officer with NATO had
told him the following: Western intelligence agencies would organize what would appear as a premature PKI coup, provide the army the
opportunity to crush the PKI and make Sukarno the army's prisoner of goodwill. In early 1965, Sukarno himself complained to Lyndon
Johnson's special envoy Michael Forrestal about the letter of British Ambassador Gilchrist referring to the planned coup against Sukarno.
The so-called Gerakan September Tigapuluh (Gestapu) was neither a movement nor a coup against "Rightist generals" by the PKI and
leftists, as claimed by Suharto and his imperialist masters. All the generals that the so-called Gestapu targeted were pro-Sukarno, with
the possible exception of defense minister General Nasution who had the reputation of being Rightist and anti-Sukarno. The army chief
of staff General Yani and the other five generals murdered were either pro-Sukarno or followed state policy as put forward by Sukarno.
The so-called Revolutionary Council supposedly headed by Colonel Untung of the presidential guards had no more reality than the press
statement issued in his name. It was used by the Suharto military clique to give the Gestapu a semblance of reality and to implicate
Sukarno inasmuch as Colonel Untung allegedly claimed that he was acting in defense of Sukarno against a "Council of Generals". Even
Sjam the former PSI member and double agent in the PKI special bureau was used merely as a conduit for the tale about the "Council
of Generals" and as a tool for giving a semblance of truth to the claim that PKI had foreknowledge of the Gestapu and participation in it.
Suharto used the Gestapu to frame up the PKI and to eliminate the army generals who outranked him and who could stop his rise to
power or even counter the plan to massacre the PKI and other stalwarts of the NASAKOM. He directed some army units to arrest
and murder the six generals in the name of the illusory Gestapu and then put himself in command of the entire armed forces under
the pretext of stabilizing the situation and defending the leadership of Sukarno. He proceeded to direct the mass arrests and
massacre of the PKI and other people. Government officials and the mass media of the imperialist countries kept quiet as most
of the carnage was done by the Indonesian army and its irregular recruits.
Suharto pretended to protect Sukarno and systematically removed the pro-Sukarno and pro-Yani officers from key army positions.
In carrying out the massacre and rendering Sukarno impotent, he was assisted mainly by pro-Suharto and anti-Yani generals, like
Basuki Rachmat and Sudirman and other officers from SESKOAD. He capitalized on Nasution's support for the anti-PKI pogrom
but he also undercut and boxed him out eventually.
Sukarno apparently trusted Suharto until it was too late. In March 1966 Suharto demanded and got from him the presidential
authority to exercise martial law powers. In March 1967 he made the Provisional People's Consultative Assembly name him as the
acting president Sukarno remained under house arrest until his death in 1970. The US gained full control over Indonesia as a
semi-colony or neocolony through the instrumentality of the Suharto military fascist dictatorship.
It seemed as if this dictatorship would stay in power forever. It proceeded from one anti-national and anti-people socio-economic
policy after another. In the 1960s and 1970s, it seemed to have stabilized the Indonesian economy by using its oil export and
other natural resource income and rising level of foreign debt to allow imperialist superprofit taking, bureaucratic and military
corruption, consumption-oriented imports and infrastructure-building.
Then with the oil income declining, it shifted into export-oriented semi-manufacturing and into a foreign-funded program of private
construction that boomed in the 1980s and 1990s. These were excuses for a cash flow to favor conspicuous consumption (cars
and palaces) and were in fact sustained by ever more onerous foreign borrowing. Came the 1997 financial collapse in Southeast
Asia, the protest mass actions spread, became bigger and intensified. The Suharto dictatorship was ripe for a fall in 1998.
The economic, social and political conditions in Indonesia continue to deteriorate. They are indicated by Indonesia's having become
a net oil importer since 2004, by its severe difficulties in serving the foreign debt and by the US imposition of the "war on terror"
or a "strategy of tension" calculated to stir up religious and ethnic conflicts and to justify US hegemony over Indonesia and the rest
of Southeast Asia.
Seeking Justice for the Massacre Victims
The army officers and troops of the Suharto military clique could easily communicate, coordinate and go around to massacre people
in the regions of Indonesia in 1965 because of the US-supplied communications equipment, land vehicles and planes. In sharp
contrast, the people being massacred by the military and their paramilitary collaborators had no way of knowing the Gestapu nor
the killing of the six generals because in extensive areas they did not even have radio sets.
As clear proof that it had no accountability for Gestapu, the PKI did not mobilize its own large following among the people and
within the Indonesian state and the armed forces either to advance the supposed objectives of the Gestapu or defend themselves
against the massacre. In November 1965, there was a Philippine delegation attending a conference against US military bases.
An Indonesian comrade delivered to a Filipino comrade a half sheet of paper bearing the most recent decision of the PKI Politburo
in effect calling on the PKI rank and file to stay calm and let Sukarno solve the internal problem of the Indonesian army. By this
token, we in the Philippines were convinced that the PKI had no accountability for the Gestapu.
Regarding the number of victims in the 1965 massacre, I prefer to take the face value of the statement of General Sarwo Edhie
that three million were killed, in the absence of a more accurate accounting by more credible entities. He should know what he
was talking about because he was the commanding general of the command in charge of the massacre. The problem with being
too indeterminate in the estimates, from the low of 300,000 to 1.5 million, is that the imperialists and their press are playing
down the number and trying to induce the people to forget about the butchery. At the same time, they busy themselves
with upping the number of supposed victims of revolutionary forces in other countries.
Bourgeois journalists, writers and academics usually claim that the victims in the 1965 massacre were PKI members. I do not agree
with limiting the range of victims to PKI members. The victims were communists and other people. There were a lot of noncommunist
victims of the massacre in view of the fact that the PKI was good at building mass organizations and doing united front work.
The sweeping massacre done by the military and its irregulars, included many noncommunists who were mistaken as communists
because they were known as friends or relatives of communists.
At any rate, whether communists or noncommunists, the victims had inherent and inalienable human rights. The imperialists and
their puppets had no license to violate the human rights of anyone. Moreover, they are reprehensible for ordering the murder
of three million people and the indefinite detention of 750,000 more people in exchange for the murder of six generals. In the
first place, the latter were the victims of Suharto's crack raiders and not by PKI women and youth, contrary to the psywar of
Suharto and the US. It is utterly absurd that the imperialists and their puppets are so vituperative about their false claims of
human rights violations by communists but keep silent about or even condone the 1965 massacre, which is one of the most
horrendous crimes in the 20th century and is comparable to the US acts of aggression in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq in terms of
the death toll.
The Indonesian people and their institutions, nongovernmental organizations, people's organizations, professional associations
and personages concerned with human rights are the most reliable in establishing and documenting the facts about the victims
of the 1965 massacre, locating the remains of the dead and the surviving family members, identifying the human rights violators,
seeking justice for the victims and their families, rehabilitating and indemnifying them and conducting mass meetings and mass
movement in furtherance of seeking truth and justice.
The people of the world and their organizations can and should extend their solidarity and support to and cooperation with the
Indonesian people in their struggle for justice for and in behalf of the victims in the 1965 massacre. They can provide moral and
material support. They can spread the findings and conclusions of human rights organizations in Indonesia. They can help the
victims and their survivors run after the human rights violators by filing the possible and necessary cases against them and somehow
holding responsible the Indonesian reactionary state. They can denounce the imperialists, the multinational firms and banks that
benefited from the 1965 massacre and the resultant Suharto military fascist dictatorship.
Not only the great number of victims of mass arrests and massacre in 1965 and thereafter were victims of the Suharto fascist
dictatorship and its imperialist masters, but the entire Indonesian people who were subjected to increased oppression and
exploitation, to national humiliation and deeper underdevelopment and poverty, because of the suppression of the movement
for national liberation and democracy.
The Indonesian people must therefore strive to carry out the new democratic revolution against imperialism, feudalism and
bureaucrat capitalism. The best way to seek justice for the martyrs of 1965 is for the Indonesian people to continue the
revolutionary struggle under the revived leadership of the PKI. ###