WASHINGTON — Many scenarios have been developed about the September 30, 1965 communist rebellion in Indonesia and its tragic aftermath, and the issue is still hotly debated among historians and other experts. A new book, Indonesia and the World, 1965-66, attempts to look into the tragedy from an international context.
The book is a compilation of various papers presented at a conference at the Goethe Institute in Jakarta in 2011. Although what happened after September 30, 1965 has been recorded as an extremely tragic event, when perhaps millions of communists and suspected communists perished at the hands of the Indonesian military, the international community was totally silent. One of the factors that contributed to this tragic outcome, according to Bernd Schaefer, one of the book’s principal editors, was the antagonism created by then-President Sukarno toward the West as well as toward the Soviet Union.
"From 1963 onward, Sukarno sided with China and its communist Asian allies to build a global movement of so-called newly emerging forces, Conefo, for the Third World, guided by Jakarta and Beijing," explained Schaefer.
This movement simultaneously challenged Western capitalist forces, the Soviet bloc, the non-bloc movement led by Yugoslavia, India and Egypt, as well as the United Nations. This ambitious foreign policy, conducted though partnership with China, was the greatest challenge to the U.S. and Soviet Union and made Indonesia the focus of the world at the height of the Cold War.
The international communist movement also played a role, according to Schaefer. In 1965, the communist world was divided between the Soviet Union and China. As the third largest communist party in the world, the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) was openly siding with Beijing, even to the extent that the PKI flouted the Soviet Union and its allies. This situation explains why condemnation of the PKI massacre post-September 30 only came from China; the Soviet Union was silent on the matter.
"This international dimension clarifies why it was more important for the Soviet Union and its allies to renounce Chinese-inspired strategies rather than to engage in a sincere humanitarian appeal against the mass killings," said Schaefer.
Schaefer concluded that the Sino-Soviet schism made PKI powerless to face up to the Indonesian military campaign of 1965 and 1966. One could wonder about the possible effects of the PKI having been on friendlier terms with the Soviet Union and its allies; could a more aggressive Soviet Union intervention have prevented the Indonesian military from eradicating the PKI?
On the other hand, Western countries were concerned with Sukarno's anti-Western policies and wanted an Indonesia that was friendlier towards the West. Thus, Schaefer says, the West not only stayed silent during the communist massacre in Indonesia but actively supported the Indonesian military in its efforts to find PKI members and their sympathizers.
"They also demonstrated how shockingly and eagerly leading western countries promoted and furthered the physical elimination of Communists … They are really sickening to a certain extent, to the extent that they are worried that not enough communists got purged and killed and eliminated, and actually joyed when it happened and at the opportunity now that the West has," said Schaefer.
With regard to the communist eradication in Indonesia and the absolute power that the military enjoyed for more than 32 years, Baskara Wardaya provided a grim picture of Indonesian history throughout that period.
"It was a change from a people-oriented government under Sukarno to an elite-oriented government under Suharto. Everything was centered in Jakarta; almost 80 percent of the money that circulated in Indonesia was in Jakarta. What was also obvious, the change of the Indonesian government from being anti-foreign investment under President Sukarno, to a government that was promoting very much the presence of foreign investment in Indonesia with all its economic and development consequences," said Wardaya.
This book provides a fascinating historical overview of how Indonesia was the victim of global politics and the Cold War during its violent upheaval in 1965 and 1966.