Date: Wed, 4 Oct 1995 00:17:59 CDT
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Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Oct. 5, 1995 issue of Workers World newspaper

How Washington backed bloodbath in Indonesia

By Deirdre Griswold, in Workers World,
5 October, 1995

When the last decade's setbacks for the world socialist movement are fairly evaluated, and the external, objective factors are considered along with subjective problems of leadership--one antecedent event will stand out as having had a profound effect on the fate of tens of millions of exploited and oppressed workers and peasants.

That event was the massacre of the Indonesian progressive movement by the fascist military in 1965-66.

The 30th anniversary of the beginning of this bloody process is now here. So far, little has been said about it in the corporate media. In this year when it seems every serious TV program is a documentary on some anniversary or other, the reticence to even mention the Indonesian massacre is conspicuous.

Half the U.S. population is too young to recall these events. Few of the older half ever heard about them. They were as underreported then as now.

Yet in a few brief months, the cream of Indonesia's labor, peasant, youth and women's movements was mowed down in a vicious counter-revolutionary assault.

Estimates in the Western press ran from 300,000 to 1 million killed. It was the Asian equivalent of Hitler's mass murders in Europe.

And behind this bold offensive by the Indonesian generals was the hand of the CIA, the Pentagon and U.S. imperialist politicians.


The right-wing military rid the Indonesian government of all its more nationalist and progressive figures and placed President Sukarno under house arrest.

The cover story was that the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) had tried to stage a coup on Sept. 30, 1965--but that patriotic officers foiled it and launched a counter-coup, rescuing the country from a communist takeover.

It was an absurd tale. The PKI was the largest Communist party outside of the socialist countries, with 3 million members and links to 15 million more in mass organizations. Yet it was totally unprepared for the struggle.

Its leaders were either assassinated or jailed without ever calling out their supporters. There was no civil war. The left was not armed.

The officer charged with plotting a coup, a Lt. Col. Untung (many Indonesians have only one name) of Sukarno's palace guard, was not a communist but a nationalist who worked closely with the president. He and Air Marshal Omar Dhani later testified that they had attempted to break up a clandestine "Council of Generals" that, with CIA assistance, was plotting to overthrow Sukarno.

They killed six of the generals on Sept. 30, but the main leaders of the plot escaped.

The surviving generals then accused all the members of Sukarno's cabinet of participating in an attempted communist coup. The whole government was rounded up and some executed.

Clearly, the generals were the real coup makers.

They destroyed the civilian government. But they also did much more.

They made the rivers in many parts of Indonesia literally run red with the blood of their victims. For months, the army went from village to village, island to island, shooting and hacking at whoever was pointed out to them by local reactionaries as "trouble makers."

The police, landlords and merchants used this holocaust as the opportunity to settle old scores and tame the mighty popular movement. Hundreds of thousands who survived the killings were jailed for decades in barbaric concentration camps, where many died.


Indonesia had been in ferment since World War II. Before that, for over 300 years the peoples of what Europeans called the East Indies were colonial subjects of Holland and, at times, England.

With a population of 100 million on 3,000 islands spread out along the Equator, the Indies had great potential in the post-colonial era. The islands are mountainous and have important minerals.

The soil on Java is rich and fertile, the growing season year-long. There is oil on Sumatra, and rubber and valuable timber in Kalimantan and West Irian.

The riches of the Indies had made little Holland a world power. All the other colonialists must have thought at one time or another that they'd like to push aside the Dutch and take over this juicy plum.

In the late 1930s, Japanese troops marched into the Asian colonies of not only Holland but Britain, France and the U.S. The ensuing world war undermined the old class structures. It brought a growing national consciousness to the millions of workers and peasants, who were being squeezed by both colonial overlords and feudal masters.

By the end of the war, independence movements had great popular support. Socialist ideas had taken root among many of the workers.

It was President Dwight Eisenhower who drew the attention of U.S. politicians to Indonesia. In his infamously frank speech to a 1953 governors' conference, he said Washington should continue to foot the bill for the French war in Indochina because "if we lost all that, how would the free world hold the rich empire of Indonesia?"


By the late 1950s, Washington was trying to subvert the independent Republic of Indonesia. This became public when a CIA pilot, Allen Lawrence Pope, was shot down over Sumatra in 1958 while flying with a right-wing rebel force.

But the nationalist government wasn't strong enough to tell Washington to get lost. Between 1959 and 1965, the U.S. pumped $64 million in military aid to the right-wing Indonesian generals, cultivating those who would become its "friends."

Sukarno knew what was going on. He tried to break loose with his defiant anti-imperialist statement, "To hell with your aid!"

But he also continued to balance between the military and the mass progressive movement, which was agitating for seizure of the property of both foreign imperialists and local aristocrats.

In Washington, some in Congress either didn't catch on to what U.S. aid really meant or needed reassurance for their corporate friends that this money was building a Trojan Horse inside Indonesia. In the summer of 1965, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Far East called Assistant Secretary of State William Bundy to testify on a recent trip to Djakarta.

Why are we giving this aid to Sukarno? the committee members wanted to know.

"I want to point out," replied Bundy carefully, "that this equipment is being sold to the Indonesian army and not the Indonesian government."

"What's the difference?" demanded Rep. William Broomfield.

"When Sukarno leaves the scene, the military will take over," replied Bundy. "We want to keep the door open."

Bundy didn't have a crystal ball. But three months later, the Indonesian military, equipped by the U.S., had taken over and was carrying out its holocaust against the popular movement.


When the news about the bloodbath finally began to appear in the U.S. press, it was in small drips and drabs. There were no headlines, no expressions of horror or indignation, no editorializing about human rights.

But many media insiders did know exactly what was going on.

James Reston wrote in the June 19, 1966, New York Times: "The savage transformation of Indonesia from a pro-Chinese policy under Sukarno to a defiantly anti-communist policy under Gen. Suharto is, of course, the most important of these [more hopeful political developments in Asia]. Washington is being careful not to claim any credit for this change in the sixth most populous and one of the richest nations in the world, but this does not mean that Washington had nothing to do with it.

"There was a great deal more contact between the anti- communist forces in that country and at least one very high official in Washington before and during the Indonesian massacre than is generally realized. Gen. Suharto's forces, at times severely short of food and munitions, have been getting aid from here through various third countries, and it is doubtful if the coup would ever have been attempted without the American show of strength in Vietnam or been sustained without the clandestine aid it has received indirectly from here."

The success of the coup undoubtedly emboldened Washington to escalate the Vietnam War. It also was a major setback for Peoples China, not just diplomatically--Sukarno had taken a strong anti-imperialist stand in the non-aligned movement-- but politically, because it deepened the split inside China and between China and the USSR. It strengthened the "pragmatists" inside China who wanted to abandon revolutionary politics in favor of accommodating to U.S. imperialism.

The coup became a model for the fascists in Chile and their CIA mentors. As pressure grew on the Allende government in the early 1970s, fascist graffiti appeared on the walls of Santiago: "Djakarta is coming."


In the U.S., only Youth Against War & Fascism, the youth group of Workers World Party, protested the Indonesian bloodbath. It organized demonstrations and a major conference at Columbia University calling for an international inquest into the monumental crimes being committed and the role of the U.S. government.

The three decades since the coup have seen dynamic capitalist development in Indonesia, but at the expense of the masses. The military bureaucrats siphon off what cream is left them by the imperialist transnational corporations-- which are carting away Indonesia's mineral wealth, its forests, and its crops at an unprecedented rate.

Indonesian workers now produce textiles and tennis shoes for Western markets--and get paid pennies an hour.

The Indonesian military government invaded East Timor in 1975--with the blessing of U.S. President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger--and tried to crush the liberation movement there. Twenty years and 200,000 deaths later, the struggle in East Timor goes on.

Slowly, the Indonesian masses are rising to their feet again. But the leaders of every strike, every student protest, every women's meeting must look over their shoulders night and day, fearing the brutal power of the military state.

National liberation and socialist emancipation of the working class and peasantry had seemed to be on the order of the day in the early 1960s. The coup set this dream back for a long time.

The Indonesian massacre had a profound effect on the communist movement, especially in Asia. This must not be forgotten in all the reruns analyzing the setbacks for socialism.

In a discussion of the difficulties facing the oppressed masses, how can the utter intransigence of the rulers be left out? How can social transformation be seriously considered without taking into account that those with privilege and property may resort to any means, including mass murder, to stay on top?

As part of the re-evaluation of communist strategy and tactics, it's worth studying how the mass Indonesian party and the even larger movement it represented could be defeated. This can help illuminate the revolutionary strategies that ended in success elsewhere.

(Copyright Workers World Service: Permission to reprint granted if source is cited. For more information contact Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011; via e-mail: For subscription info send message to:

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