The Indonesian bloodbath, Part 2

What it has meant for the world

In Part 1 of this article, we wrote about the U.S. role behind the scenes in bringing about the horrendous massacre of up to a million people in Indonesia in 1965-66.

It is now 50 years since the military coup and slaughter began that drowned in blood the Indonesian Communist Party and also decimated the mass organizations of workers, peasants, women and youth that the party had built up over decades of struggle. Together, at least 15 million activists had participated in this broad progressive movement, which was then crushed by the reactionary, pro-imperialist forces in the military, backed by U.S. imperialism and much of Indonesia’s capitalist and landlord ruling classes.

We look now at what effect this monstrous setback had on the world struggle against imperialism, which had been gaining momentum as more countries won their liberation from the colonial powers.

After World War II, Washington tried to turn back the revolutionary tide that was sweeping Asia. A key part of this effort had been the U.S. imperialists’ massive invasion and war in Korea, which lasted three years. But even though the U.S. Air Force dropped more bombs on People’s Korea in the north than it had on Europe in all of World War II, the conflict ended in 1953 with a stalemate at the 38th parallel, where it had begun. In reality, this was a hard-won victory for the Korean people’s struggle for sovereignty. It was the first time that U.S. imperialists had been fought to a draw.

By the 1960s, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was strongly moving ahead with reconstruction on a socialist basis after the ravages of the war.

The People’s Republic of China, which had assisted the Korean struggle in the 1950s by sending more than a million volunteer soldiers and workers to the front, had hundreds of millions of mouths to feed. It was now focused on modernizing agriculture through the revolutionary development of communes.

Socialist North Vietnam was building up industry and agriculture while at the same time supporting the struggle in the south for liberation and national reunification.

Communist-led guerrilla movements were fighting for national liberation in the Philippines, Malaya and Laos.

How did the massacres in Indonesia affect the liberation struggles going on in Vietnam, Laos and later Cambodia? Certainly, the success of Washington’s maneuvering with the Indonesian generals emboldened the U.S. ruling class in their anti-communist crusade in Asia. They continued their terrible wars in Southeast Asia for another 10 years, until the U.S. itself was engulfed by anti-war and anti-racist struggles.

‘Jakarta is coming’

The bloody massacres in Indonesia were hailed by hardliners in the imperialist countries and by the regimes they had cultivated and brought to power in areas formerly “owned” outright by the colonial powers. These reactionaries hoped that the ferocious elimination of those fighting for the rights of the masses in that large and strategic country would undercut similar movements elsewhere.

Indeed, what the forces of imperialism and reaction had achieved in Indonesia was soon used to intimidate progressive movements as far away as South America. One can see the hand of the CIA in graffiti that appeared on the walls in Santiago, Chile: “Jakarta is coming.” Similar threats were directly conveyed to members of the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende before the fascist coup there. (Andre Vltchek in Counterpunch, Nov. 22, 2013)

Most leaders of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) had refused to back down or grovel before the fascist generals, speaking out forcefully at the phony “trials” that preceded their deaths. But the international left movement was painfully lacking in their support. Much of this was due to the internal crisis that had occurred in the Communist movement with the Sino-Soviet split.

Sino-Soviet split

The Chinese leaders had rightfully opened up criticism of the policies advocated by the Communist Party of the USSR, beginning several years after Nikita Khrushchev became its general secretary in 1953. They accused it of accommodating to the pressures of U.S. imperialism and the Cold War by openly revising principles that had been basic to communism, at least on paper, since the time of Lenin.

However, this split between the two socialist giants degenerated from a political struggle to a state-to-state one, leading many imperialist analysts to gleefully predict war between the two. That did not happen — beyond a very brief ­border clash in 1969 — but the effects on the international movement were severe. In almost every country, the parties divided into pro-Moscow and pro-Beijing wings. The PKI was not immune to this.

Nor were the parties in most of the imperialist countries themselves. Instead of mobilizing in defense of the PKI and the left in Indonesia, the opposing factions blamed each other for the defeat.

This needs to be brought up because the need for a united front against capitalist reaction must be understood in the movement. Political differences should not be papered over; they are real and need to be debated to achieve clarity. But in the struggle with the capitalist enemy, the working-class movement must seek to present a united front.

Environmental destruction

There is another area of great concern to today’s progressive movements that is directly connected to the bloodbath in Indonesia: the destruction of the environment.

The victory that imperialism achieved through the bloody elimination of Indonesia’s progressive forces opened up the country for massive exploitation by transnational corporations, especially those that had greedily eyed Indonesia’s abundant natural resources.

Corporations like Mobil Oil, Freeport Sulphur, Goodyear Tire and Rubber, Uniroyal, Union Carbide and Unilever rushed in, sometimes availing themselves of virtually free labor from the hundreds of thousands of political prisoners. Of course, the military overlords got their cut.

Once the imperialists were in control of Indonesia’s underground resources and its precious trees, some of which had been growing for centuries in rainforests teeming with life, the result was an ecological disaster.

In the words of “Indonesia is a treasure chest of biodiversity; it is home to between 10 and 15 percent of all known species of plants, mammals and birds. Orangutans, elephants, tigers, rhinoceroses, more than 1,500 species of birds and thousands of plant species are all a part of the country’s natural legacy. The mass destruction of Indonesia’s rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands for palm oil and paper threatens this and is the main reason why Indonesia is one of the world’s largest emitters of climate-changing greenhouse gases.”

Solidarity with the young workers’ movement now struggling to breathe in Indonesia is one of the important ways to fight for a better future — for them, for us and for the planet.



INDONESIA 1965: Lessons of a catastrophic defeat (part 1)

by Deirdre Griswold


Who wants to study defeats? It is much more satisfactory to study victories. To read about conquering heroes instead of fallen ones.

Yet any soldier can tell you that warriors shun the study of defeats at their own peril. The lessons to be learned from past setbacks are essential to future successes.

If for no other reason, the progressive social movements now rising in this period of deepening capitalist decay need to learn about the cataclysmic defeat that occurred in Indonesia starting on Oct. 1, 1965 — half a century ago.

Within a few short months, rivers throughout that populous Southeast Asian nation were clogged with bodies. The army had gone from island to island and from village to village asking local henchmen to round up those who had any association with the Indonesian Communist Party — the PKI — or its mass affiliates: associations of workers, peasants, women and youth who had been demanding justice and greater equality.

Once identified, they were either murdered on the spot or sent to concentration camps. Estimates in the Western press of the number who died in this months’-long bloodbath, reported without emotion, ranged from 300,000 to a million.

You won’t hear about any of this in the self-serving histories that present the U.S. government and military as defenders of world freedom and democracy. But the U.S. was deeply involved, even as it was expanding its neocolonial war in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos at the same time.

In recent years, courageous Indonesians and some Western researchers have dredged up bits of this horrendous history. Two documentaries by the filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer — “The Act of Killing” in 2012 and this year’s “The Look of Silence” — are based on interviews with Indonesians who carried out some of the killings and still brag about it, as well as family members of their victims.

Oppenheimer says that working on the films was like going to Nazi Germany 40 years after the Holocaust — and finding the same people still in power.

Journalist Kathy Kadane in 1990 interviewed former State Department and CIA officials who not only admitted that the U.S. had given lists with the names of thousands of PKI members to the Indonesian military at the time of the killings, but tried to justify it. (Chicago Tribune, May 23, 1990)

Opposition to massacres in U.S.

What has not been mentioned, however, is that an active opposition existed in the United States at the time of the killings. Youth Against War & Fascism, the youth arm of Workers World Party, held demonstrations against the U.S. role in these massacres and exposed what was happening in Indonesia through articles in this newspaper.

YAWF also organized a Public Inquest at Columbia University on June 2, 1966, attended by 1,000 people. The group placed an ad about the inquest in an international edition of the New York Times so that the world could see there was opposition in the United States to the terrible crimes being perpetrated by Washington, in collusion with a cabal of right-wing Indonesian generals.

The famous mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell sent a message to the inquest on behalf of his Peace Foundation. Two of his representatives had been attending a conference in Jakarta at the time of the coup.

Russell wrote that “few had any doubt about what was taking place around them. The United States Seventh Fleet was in Javanese waters. The largest base in the area, feverishly constructed by the United States but a few months earlier on the southernmost point of the southernmost island of the Philippines, was ordered ‘on alert.’ General Nasution had a mission in Washington. The United States was directly involved in the day to day events.”

Speakers at the Inquest included William Worthy, a correspondent for the Baltimore Afro-American who had visited Indonesia three times; Professor Andrew March, of Columbia’s East Asian Institute; journalist Eric Norden; and Mark Lane, a former New York State Assembly member who later conducted an independent inquiry into the John F. Kennedy assassination. The Inquest was chaired by this writer.

The corporate media boycotted the event, but a transcript of the entire meeting was published by YAWF that year in book form under the title “The Silent Slaughter: The Role of the United States in the Indonesian Massacre.” Copies are still listed by online booksellers.

YAWF continued to expose and protest the horrific physical extermination of the left in Indonesia, which before the coup had numbered at least 20 million people — 3 million members of the PKI and 15 million to 20 million activists in various allied groups.

In February 1970 YAWF published “Indonesia: The Second Greatest Crime of the Century,” which went into the country’s struggle to overcome its legacy of extreme poverty after defeating Dutch colonial rule. Under Sukarno, its first president, Indonesia had become a magnet for newly independent countries trying to survive in a world dominated by imperialism.

The book also showed that U.S. politicians were well aware of the monumental crimes carried out by their allies in Indonesia, beginning in 1965, and regarded the tens of millions spent in military aid to the generals as having “paid dividends.” (Testimony of Alabama Sen. John Sparkman at hearings on the Foreign Assistance Program, 1967)

An important player in the Lyndon Johnson administration’s dealings with the Indonesian generals was Vice President Hubert Humphrey, whose “liberal” reputation provided a good cover for his secret contacts with Indonesian Foreign Minister Adam Malik. Malik told journalist Marianne Means, of the World Journal Tribune, that Humphrey had played a secret, but important, role in encouraging the “democratic forces” in Indonesia, meaning the murderous generals. (WJT, Sept. 28, 1966)

Next: Political, social and environmental impact of Indonesia’s wrenching transition into the New World Order.

Griswold authored the book “Indonesia: Second Greatest Crime of the Century.” It is freely available online at

“The Second Greatest Crime” was reprinted in October 1975. A third edition was published four years later.