Indonesian Communist Party and Trade Unions Suppressed

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Indonesian Communist Party and Trade Unions Suppressed

Indonesia 1927-1966


The Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) was formed in 1920. Because of its opposition to Dutch imperialism, the PKI suffered much hostility from the colonial government. The PKI fomented revolutions in Java in November 1926 and in Sumatra in January 1927. Soon after, the Indonesian government outlawed the PKI and exiled some of its leaders. The PKI was reestablished on 21 October 1945. In November 1946 the Sentral Organisasi Buruh Seluruh Indonesia or the All-Indonesia Organization of Trade Unions (SOBSI), which embraced communist ideology, was founded. On 11 August 1948 Sardjono-Alimin Musso, one of the exiled communist leaders, returned from the Soviet Union. He tried to enlarge the PKI by including other socialist parties under its umbrella. This led to the communist rebellion in Madiun in 1948. In this rebellion, Musso was killed. In July 1950 Dipa Nusantara Aidit, another exiled communist, returned to Indonesia and in 1951 assumed leadership of the organization. Sensing a threat from the PKI, the United States began to support a military dictatorship over Indonesian communists in the early 1960s. The killing of six generals by an Indonesian Army faction on 30 October 1965 led to the mass murder of PKI supporters and destroyed the Communist Party and trade unions in Indonesia.


  • 1925: Released from Landsberg Prison, Adolf Hitler is a national celebrity, widely regarded as an emerging statesman who offers genuine solutions to Germany's problems. This year, he publishes the first volume of Mein Kampf (My Struggle), which he dictated in prison to trusted confederate Rudolf Hess. The second and final volume of Hitler's opus, a mixture of autobiography, "history," and racial rant, will appear two years later.
  • 1936: Hitler uses the Summer Olympics in Berlin as an opportunity to showcase Nazi power and pageantry, but the real hero of the games is the African American track star Jesse Owens.
  • 1942: At the Wannsee Conference, Nazi leaders formulate the "final solution to the Jewish question": a systematic campaign of genocide on a massive scale. By the time the Holocaust ends, along with the war itself, the Nazis will have killed some 6 million Jews, and as many as 6 million other victims in their death camps and slavelabor camps.
  • 1945: April sees the death of three leaders: Roosevelt passes away on 12 April; the Italians execute Mussolini and his mistress on 28 April; and Hitler (along with Eva Braun, propaganda minister Josef Goebbels, and Goebbels's family) commits suicide on 30 April.
  • 1947: The Marshall Plan is established to assist European nations in recovering from the war.
  • 1948: Israel becomes a nation and is immediately attacked by a coalition of Arab countries. Despite being outnumbered, Israel will win the war in the following year—as it will win many another war against larger forces mobilized by its hostile neighbors.
  • 1955: The Warsaw Pact is signed by the Soviet Union and its satellites in eastern Europe.
  • 1955: African and Asian nations meet at the Bandung Conference in Indonesia, inaugurating the "non-aligned" movement of Third World countries.
  • 1956: By now firmly established as the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev denounces the crimes of his predecessor and mentor, Josef Stalin.
  • 1956: First aerial testing of the hydrogen bomb at Bikini Atoll creates a blast so powerful—the equivalent of 10 million tons of TNT—that it actually results in the infusion of protons to atomic nuclei to create two new elements, einsteinium and fermium, which have atomic numbers of 99 and 100, respectively.
  • 1961: Almost overnight in August, East Germany builds the Berlin Wall, ostensibly to protect against invasion from West Berlin, but in fact to prevent East Berliners from escaping.
  • 1968: After Czechoslovakia adopts a more democratic, popular regime, Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces invade to crush the uprising.
  • 1971: Taiwan is ousted from the United Nations so that China can take its place, both in the General Assembly and as a permanent member of the Security Council. In the next year, President Nixon will make an unprecedented visit to China, where he meets with an aging Mao.

Event and Its Context


Indonesia, which had been known as the archipelago or the Dutch East Indies, was colonized by the Dutch from 1596 until 1945. During this period, the Dutch cultivated spices and crops for export back to their own country and demanded high taxes from the peasants. The Dutch also established business enterprises that exploited the peasants and laborers in the production of export crops and mining. An example of this was the management and exploitation of the archipelago's oil resources by Royal Dutch Shell.

Although the Soeharto regime often associated Indonesians of Chinese descent with the PKI or communism in general in Indonesia, the Indonesian communist party was in fact established by Europeans and Indonesian Muslims. Movements such as the Social Democratic Association of the Indies (ISDV) and Sarekat Islam (Islamic Union) spurred the growth of a Communist Party in Indonesia. ISDV was a Communist Party founded by some young Dutch activists; Sarekat Islam was established by local Javanese in order to protect Javanese merchants from the more powerful non-Javanese traders. Although Sarekat Islam did not espouse anything like an orthodox Marxist ideology, some of this movement's ideas were in fact quite similar to the classical Marxism that formed the ideological background of the ISDV.

The PKI was founded in 1920 with the support of ISDV and Sarekat Islam. The main aims of the PKI were to challenge the imperialism and capitalism of the Dutch government by building trade unions and to promote the importance of political consciousness among the peasants. Nevertheless, during the next six and a half years, the PKI and Sarekat Islam often had ideological disagreements. Sarekat Islam was becoming more religious rather than nationalistic, and the efforts of the PKI to expand its membership base had offended some members of Sarekat Islam.

PKI Outlawed, Reestablished

Because of its openly nationalist and socialist ideologies, the PKI had to face increasing levels of repression from the Dutch government, which led to the communist revolutions in 1926 and 1927. The Dutch colonial authorities easily suppressed these revolutions. Soon after, the PKI was outlawed. The former members of PKI, however, continued their underground activities in opposition to the colonial government. The declaration of Indonesian independence on 17 August 1945, with Soekarno as the first president, brought a wind of positive change to left-wing political movements in Indonesia. On 21 October 1945 the PKI was reestablished. Some of the members of the PKI also took part in establishing the Sentral Organisasi Buruh Seluruh Indonesia, or the All-Indonesia Organization of Trade Unions (SOBSI), to foster solidarity among workers in opposing the Dutch capitalism in Indonesia. Although the members of SOBSI were not exclusively communists, the organization had a leftist ideology.

On his return from exile in 1948, Musso became the new leader of the PKI and immediately started to assimilate other communist parties into the PKI. These actions led to a communist rebellion, which started on 18 September 1948 in Madiun, during which members of the PKI opposed the army and other groups that had tried to challenge the PKI's ideology. Soekarno, suspecting Musso of being a traitor who wanted to overthrow his government, quickly sent his troops to recapture Madiun. Musso died in battle at the end of October, along with thousands of PKI members.

From 1948 until 1951 the activities of Indonesian communists were very irregular and unorganized. In 1950 some women were able to organize themselves and establish a communist group called Gerwis. One of the most important leaders during this period was an Indonesian of Chinese descent, Tan Ling Djie.

The arrival of Aidit, who became the leader of the PKI in 1951, brought a new phase to the party. Aidit was much more careful in preparing his plans. He adopted Marxism-Leninism and tried to adapt this ideology to the sociopolitical context of Indonesia. Between January 1951 and March 1954 the number of full members of the PKI increased tenfold. By August 1965, with more than 20 million members and active supporters, the PKI had become the largest communist party in the world outside Russia and China. Aidit was also supportive of the women's movement and women's participation in the party.

Aidit noticed that although Indonesia had declared its independence, the workers were still exploited by Dutch enterprises, which remained in control of the Indonesian economy. Exports and imports were also controlled by foreign companies. According to Aidit, some feudal remnants had to be abolished in Indonesia. Such feudalism facilitated monopoly of ownership of land and increased the poverty of the peasants, thus constraining the development of the Indonesian economy and society.

Revitalized PKI Attacks Outside Interests

In December 1957 workers and peasants attacked Dutch factories, plantations, and banks. Workers of SOBSI seized the Dutch bakeries and banks in Java and in Sumatra. When the Indonesian government was able to take over the Dutch businesses at the end of 1950s, the PKI started to criticize American imperialism in Indonesia.

Meanwhile, Soekarno had grown less and less attentive to the peasants. Instead, he was busy with his own political career. To combine and control the competing ideologies in Indonesia, Soekarno instituted "Guided Democracy" and his concept of Nasionalisme, Agama dan Komunisme or Nationalism, Religion and Communism (NASAKOM) in July 1959. This concept sought to combine the three central pillars of nationalism, religion, and communism into one ideological platform. PKI leaders supported this and became closer to Soekarno. This loyalty to Soekarno made the PKI leaders less critical of the first Indonesian president.

In late 1964 and 1965, when fierce clashes between peasants and landowners occurred in Java and Sumatra, the PKI leaders did not devote much attention to the peasants. Instead, these leaders urged the peasants and workers not to be impatient and pleaded with the people to support the government of Soekarno.

In the meantime, the actions and growth of the communist movement in Indonesia had attracted the attention of the United States. Starting in 1957, the American government began to mobilize enormous financial resources to aid antileftist forces in Asia. The CIA began to undertake surveillance of Indonesian communists in the early 1960s.

Massacre of Generals

The murder of six generals on 30 September 1965, led by a faction of the Indonesian Army under the command of Lt.Col. Untung, eventually brought about the mass murder of communists in Indonesia. Another general who was also on the list of those to be murdered, Abdul Haris Nasution, managed to escape, but his daughter was killed. The news spread that the PKI had planned the murders and that the generals had been tortured and sexually molested by communist women before being executed. This accusation, combined with a list of Indonesian communists provided by the CIA, led Soeharto to destroy the PKI. It is surprising that Soeharto, who was also a general at that time, was not among those murdered by Lt. Col. Untung's faction. This fact has raised some suspicion as to whether the murders were in fact initiated by Soeharto as part of his plan to take over Soekarno's government.

On 6 October 1965 Soekarno called for national unity to bring about an end to the violence and civil war. Soeharto's people became uncontrollable in killing communist supporters. PKI leaders asked the members to remain calm. When thousands of peasants, workers, and communist supporters had been killed within a few months following the murders of 30 September, the PKI leaders still did not fight back but awaited Soekarno's orders. Finally, on 24 November 1965 the army captured and murdered Aidit. About two million people were killed, and hundreds of thousands more were imprisoned without trial during the brutal hunting of the communist supporters and peasants that lasted until the end of 1966. Some communist women were raped repeatedly, and many were murdered. The mass murder was so severe that it created sanitation problems in East Java as some rivers were reddened by blood and clogged with corpses.

On 11 March 1966 Soekarno gave Soeharto some power to take whatever steps were necessary to stop the chaos in Indonesia and demanded personal protection from Soeharto. Soeharto's gate to the presidency was then wide open. In September 1966 Indonesia rejoined the United Nations. In 1967 Soeharto became the second Indonesian president. He broke the relationship with Beijing, developed friendly relationships with Western countries, and welcomed American investors. The communist people and their families remained subject to strict control under Soeharto's rule, which was known as the "New Order period." The left-wing movement in Indonesia was crushed, and the government welcomed capitalist investment. Laborers and peasants became depoliticized, and school textbooks contained stories of cruelty and betrayal perpetrated by communists against the Indonesian populace.

Key Players

Aidit, Dipa Nusantara (1923-1965): Aidit became the chairman of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in 1951. Under his leadership, the PKI became one of the largest communist parties in the world. Aidit was killed during the military coup in 1965.

Musso, Sardjono-Alimin (1897-1948): Musso led the PKI in the 1920s and at the end of 1940s. He was a strong supporter of Stalin and the Communist International in Moscow. He was executed by the Republic of Indonesia army in the wake of the Madiun rebellion at the end of 1948.

Soeharto (1921-): Born in the Yogyakarta region of Central Java in 1921, Soeharto became the second Indonesian president in 1967. He led the liquidation of the PKI and millions of its members and supporters. After seizing the presidency from Soekarno, Soeharto ruled the country until 1998.

Soekarno (1901-1970): Soekarno was born on 6 June 1901 in Blitar, East Java. He was the first president of Indonesia. He was close to Aidit and some communist leaders during Aidit's period. After the military coup, Soekarno was forced to give up his presidency to Soeharto. Soekarno died in political exile.



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—Soe Tjen Marching