Indonesia: Anti-communist Terror and the Meaning Behind It

Those who rule through deceit, hypocrisy and violence always look over their shoulder for the creeping spectre of truth. They do so more restlessly as they begin to feel the march of history catching up to them and the antiquated system they rest their privileges on. And such is the epoch that we are entering today as capitalism has dug itself into the deepest crisis in its history. The crisis is so deep that it is no longer in the realm of absurdity for the ruling class to think that the only way out is to keep digging until they come out of the other side.

The more bankrupt and backward is the ruling class, the more crass and vulgar are their methods in stemming the tide of rising class struggle. The Indonesian ruling class can be counted among them. They have the blood of hundreds of thousands of communists on their hand to prove it.

The Repression Began

In the past few months there has been an increased anti-democratic repression by the state apparatus and reactionary paramilitary outfits that have been known to be connected to the army. While violation of democratic rights is not uncommon in Indonesia, there has definitely been a marked intensification of such violation recently. The wave of repression began around February when a festival called Turn Left Festival, which was organized by a heterogeneous group of Left-wing intellectuals, students, and artists, were forcefully dispersed. Scores of reactionary protesters hand in hand with the police intimidated the organizers and accused them of being communists.

The main theme of the festival was to rehabilitate the history of Left movement in Indonesia – particularly the history of PKI (Communist Party of Indonesia) – that has been distorted by the Soeharto regime. As one of the organizers said: “The festival aims to inspire the young and make them aware of the need to learn history that hasn’t been twisted, [in order] to build a better Indonesia. I'm wondering why the government is so afraid of the festival.” But the reason is clear. Even though the content of the festival -- and the intellectuals around it -- is very confused, the ruling class is afraid of anything that might resurrect the revolutionary memory of the PKI in the hearts and minds of workers and youth. Truth is a stubborn mole that can burrow its way out of anything.

The organizers of the festival have made it clear that they are not communists. In fact they believe that communism, Marxism, and Leninism are dead and irrelevant. Hence their bewilderment as to why the government was afraid of the festival. But the ruling class disagrees wholehearted with them on this point. While capitalist media and ideologues keep delivering eulogies for Marxism, the more far sighted sections of the ruling class know full well of the danger of communism, especially during this period when capitalism can no longer inspire confidence even amongst its most diehard adherents.

The repression accelerated in the next few months with the banning of a number of public meetings and screenings of a documentary entitled “Buru Island, My Homeland”. The documentary tells the stories of former detainees of a prison camp in Buru Island that housed tens of thousands of communists and communist sympathizers who were rounded up following the 1965 counter revolution by Soeharto. This low-budget film hardly carries any outright radical message. It is more like a sad reunion of former Buru Island detainees, old and defeated, and whose only desire is for the government to recognize that the Buru Island gulag did exist. But even this very harmless film ruffled the feather of the ruling class. Basic democratic demands, such as rehabilitation of history and dignity of those wronged by the New Order regime, carries such a weight that the regime cannot tolerate them in the slightest.

A monologue about Tan Malaka, the leader of PKI in the 1920s, entitled “Saya Rusa Berbulu Merah” (I am a Red-furred Deer), was also cancelled following intimidation and threat from Islam Defenders Front (FPI). FPI is one of the most notorious reactionary groups in Indonesia. Their members wear distinct white robes and have amongst their daily activities the raiding of nightclubs and brothels in order to blackmail owners of these joints some money and liquor. With the excuse of defending Islam and protecting society from godless communists, it has been given impunity by the government to attack Left-wing meetings and activities.

The rather harmless and apolitical ASEAN Literature Festival also did not escape intimidations from the police and reactionary organizations who objected to some of its programs that dealt with LGBT issues, Papua, and 1965. The so-called “Alliance of Muslim Society and Students” staged a rally in front of the venue and accused the organizers of the festival of having “a disguised agenda to champion communist ideas, provoke separatism and promote freedom of expression for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.” The police threatened to withdraw the event permit if the organizers did not change their program.

Repression Stepped Up

Feeling confident, the authorities stepped up their repression by going after books that they consider to be subversive, particularly those about the 1965 counter revolution and the PKI. The army and the police raided a number of bookshops and confiscated books about 1965. Intelligence agents made rounds and visited bookstore owners, asking them if they are selling any Marxist books.

But the government overplayed their hand. They took their confidence too far that it quickly turned into a display of absurdity. Boneheaded police and army officials strived to outdo each other as to who could be the most rabid anti-communist crusader, perhaps expecting a promotion at the end of the day. Authorities began sweeping just about any stores looking for merchandises that carry not only a hammer-and-sickle symbol but also anything that had a resemblance to it. A T-shirt store owner was arrested for selling T-shirts of German-based thrash metal band Kreator featuring an album cover that has hammer and sickle on it. The police released the store owner after their lengthy[!] investigation found that “the sellers sold the T-shirts purely for business purpose ... [and they found] no evidence of treason”.

Shortly after, two youths in North Maluku were arrested and charged with “spreading communism” for wearing a T-shirt with a play-on-words acronym of PKI. The two youths are indigenous rights activists who uploaded their photo on their Facebook account wearing the said T-shirt with a comment “Mr. Dandim (Military District Commander), will I also be arrested because of this T-shirt?” The T-shirt reads “Indonesian Coffee Lovers”, which is meant to be a play on word of PKI and a clear playful jab at the authorities. But this was enough for the army to pick them up in the middle of the night and jail them for “spreading communist ideas.” Their rooms were ransacked and in it the army found evidence of six “communist” books. One of them was Reason in Revolt which was recently published by Militan Indonesia. The police eventually had to release them when it became clear that they lacked the evidence to pursue this case.

This absurdity was finally crowned by a recent statement made by a retired Major General Kivlan Zen in a symposium titled "Protecting Pancasila from the threat of the PKI and other ideologies". There the old general said that two weeks earlier the PKI was founded again after more than 50 years being destroyed. According to him, the party now has 15 million members with well-established party structures from provincial level to village level ready to strike in 2017. The headquarter of this reborn PKI was said to be located in a building around Kramat Raya area in Central Jakarta, where the new Central Committee is meeting. When checked by members of the media, this alleged PKI headquarter turned out to be an abandoned building that has not seen a soul in it for decades. The building used to be owned by the PKI before it was attacked and burned by anti-communists mob in 1965, but now it stands empty with bushes and weeds growing around it.

Ruling Class Out of Touch

The senile retired general with his wild statements is a reflection of the state of the ruling class in Indonesia, or at least a section of it, that has lost touch with reality. His was only the most extreme and inevitable expression of the anti-communist paranoia that has been plaguing the whole ruling class. When the government warns the public day in day out that communism is lurking in the dark corner ready to strike back lest people stay vigilant, it is only a matter of time before some people really buy into this black propaganda and takes it a step further into a realm of fantasy.

Such wild statements - and Kivlan’s was not the only one - and the arbitrary arrests that the army and the police have been conducting to crack down on communist symbols, have had people shaking their head at the stupidity of government officials and reactionary forces like FPI, a stupidity which is quite well established and has been the object of ridicule by a wide layer of people. Responding to the media’s questions on whether or not communist movement is resurrecting or whether the police have been excessive in their actions, the Indonesian National Police spokesman, Boy Rafli Amar, suddenly found himself becoming a dialectician: “One cannot answer yes or no to that question. If there is no communist resurrection, but how come there are signs of it.” A truly dialectical answer, albeit one which was unconsciously arrived at through sheer ignorance!

In their crusade against the fictional danger of communism, the ruling class have made themselves look like fools. But there is a method in such foolishness and absurdity. A society in deep social, political, and economic malaise is abound with the signs that Mr. Amar and the Indonesian ruling class are fearful of, the signs of the spectre of communism. The October 3rd 2012 general strike (Getok Monas), the first since 1965, and the following wave of strikes and labour actions was one of those signs. Even though the workers’ movement has been temporarily defeated and is in retreat, the ruling class cannot help but feel that the workers will learn from their mistakes,  wake up from their shallow slumber, and strike back with a greater confidence. Workers are lowering their heads but their discontent and disgruntled feelings are seeping through and palpable to the ruling class.

In general, the ruling class can feel that the ground that they are standing on is shaking as capitalism on a world scale is spiraling into a destructive vortex. They recall experiencing this before in the 1960s, and thus they naturally associate any turbulent period to the existence of PKI. But there is no PKI to be found, no communist leadership at the head of the movement, which is a problem on its own on the part of the proletariat movement. Hence the above “dialectical” answer by Mr. Amar that communism is coming back but also not coming back, that there are signs of communist resurrection but it is not quite there as well.

There is some truth in Mr. Amar’s statement. Communism is indeed in the air, but it has yet to materialize, an issue that we will examine later in this article. In short, just like Marx once said, the spectre of communism is haunting Indonesia. In this land where people are weighed down by superstition, it is believed that those who die in a violent and unnatural manner will never rest in peace. Their soul will keep haunting those responsible for their death to seek retributions. This partly explains the psychology of Indonesian ruling class, their exaggerated fear of the return of communism. They had massacred hundreds of thousands communists in manners that are beyond human comprehension. Communists were tortured in ways that make Spanish inquisitions look benign; they were mutilated like cattle; their bodies were thrown into the rivers in such large numbers that they got clogged. For this inhumane crime the ruling class always feel haunted by the vengeful spirits of those they massacred, partly because of their superstition, and partly because of their own class instinct. The latter plays a more decisive factor, but the former gives this fear a particular tinge of paranoia.

Ruling class split

The ruling class is also split into two on the question of how to approach the nation’s dark past, ie. the 1965 massacre. One more moderate section, is taking a milder and more reconciliatory stance, while another, more hard-line section refuses to budge at all. In essence this is a split between the liberal democratic wing of the ruling class on one side, and the old Bonapartist wing that revolves around Golkar and the army on the other side. Since the 1998 Reformasi, when the Bonapartist wing lost their grip on power as Soeharto was overthrown by the masses, there has been an uneasy balance between these two wings.

The liberal democrats wish to reform the state in order to make it modern, to establish a bourgeois democratic state based on the rule of law in order to avoid excessive use state violence that could provoke a revolution. The 1998 Reformist movement was a revolution that almost engulfed the whole society in a fire that once started would be difficult to extinguish until it burns down everything that is old. The 32-year brutal military rule played a key role in piling up the flammable materials. The liberal democrats wholeheartedly believe that the only way to build a stable capitalism is through bourgeois democracy, through reconciliation of the past so that there is no longer festering wounds that could rip apart the fabric of the society. It has to showcase to the whole people that capitalism is a system that can redeem itself, that it did make a mistake but it can acknowledge and redress it.

Jokowi was elected president with the support of the democrats, who flocked to his side because their democratic sensibility was offended by Prabowo, a military-man with a Bonapartist tendency who ran as the other candidate. Once elected, the democrats demanded from Jokowi and his government a return for their kind services in the form of a number of democratic reforms. One of them is on the question of the 1965 massacre. Thus in April the government, working with scholars, human rights activists and various 1965 survivors’ organizations, organized the 1965 Tragedy Symposium. The symposium was expected to “take a historical approach [in order to] uncover the truth so that we can obtain a comprehensive understanding of events surrounding the 1965 tragedy” and to make recommendations to the government. But since the beginning this symposium has been a very uneasy compromise that the government made with the democrats.

The symposium was opened with a speech from Chief Security Minister Luhut Panjaitan, a retired general and one of President Jokowi’s most trusted and influential ministers, While he spoke of “finding a comprehensive solution [to the 1965 tragedy] so that it doesn’t become a burden for the future generation”, he explicitly ruled out any official apology from the government. He also ruled out any rehabilitation of the victims of the massacre: “We have to see, because for rehabilitation, how many people do we have to rehabilitate? How about those who were also killed by the PKI, who wants to rehabilitate them?”

On whether any perpetrators would be brought to justice, retired general Agus Widjojo, a well-known reformer in the army who spearheaded this symposium, also made it clear that there couldn’t be any retributive justice since it would be difficult to find the perpetrators or even evidence.  But this statement was immediately disputed by many human right activists who have amassed heaps of evidence of gross human right violations, enough to be admissible in the court of justice. There is always evidence for such a wide scale massacre. Mass graves pepper the whole Indonesian archipelago. There is no lack of witness, as almost every village was touched by this massacre, where local villagers were either made victims for being associated with the PKI (mostly through its peasant organization, Peasants Front of Indonesia) or forced at gunpoint by the army to participate in the killings lest they wanted to be accused of being communist sympathizers. The perpetrators can be readily found in army barracks and army high command headquarters. In fact the main active perpetrators are still openly boasting how they shed the bloods of hundreds of thousands of people in order to save the nation from the peril of communism. What Agus Widjojo fears was that bringing the perpetrators to justice could open a pandora box that might drag in too many people in power.

It is clear that a section of the ruling class - and even a small layer within the army, exemplified by the two army figures mentioned above - wants to “move on” and is hoping that any form of reconciliation would make up for the hundreds of thousands that they had brutally tortured and murdered. They want the whole nation, and especially the future generation of youth, to move past the 1965 tragedy, for contained in that tragedy is the historical memory of a proud and courageous communist movement that they wish to keep out of sight from the youth. But in practice they couldn’t even offer basic democratic measures that would normally be considered standard practice in bourgeois democratic societies in dealing with human rights violations: public apology from the state, formation of some form of truth-seeking or fact-finding commission, legal proceedings to try the perpetrators, reparations for the victims, rehabilitation of victims. There is too much at risk as the whole foundation of the regime is built upon the skulls and bones of the 1965 massacres.

It is also worth noting that there is one fundamental thing that differentiates the Indonesian 1965-66 massacre from many other massacres of similar magnitude (the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, etc.), in that it was a mass killing conducted openly as a class war on the part of the capitalist class. The crushing of PKI and the accompanying killings were celebrated by the capitalists all over the world as the great victory over communism. Time Magazine reported it as “the best news for the West in Asia for many years,” while the New York Times gave the headline “A glimmer of light in Asia”. It was the bloodiest White Terror in history. Hence it is the only mass killing in the 20th century that despite its sheer magnitude and cruelty receives very little attention from the whole civilized world. There has never been a serious pressure from the various bourgeois human rights institutions to investigate the 1965 tragedy, because it would implicate too many parties and uncover too many embarrassing things, especially for the US imperialism.

A much larger layer of the ruling class, the Bonapartist wing, refuses to budge at all on the question of the 1965 massacre. They are taking a hard-line position of no concession on the matter of 1965. It would be wrong to attribute their hard-line attitude to their ignorance of human rights. On the contrary, they know all too well that today the world is entering into troubled waters which is ripe for the return of communist ideas, and hence their stubbornness in sounding the alarm of “the latent danger of PKI” at every chance they get.

Jokowi’s cabinet was split over this question, with Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu openly opposed the 1965 symposium that was organized by the government. He also voiced his disagreement with Jokowi’s instruction to locate mass graves of the victims of the 1965 massacre. Immediately after the 1965 symposium, Ryamizard held a meeting with retired army leaders and various reactionary Black-Hundred-type religious and youth organizations to talk about “how to anticipate the resurrection of PKI movement.” His message, which could be read as a threat, to Jokowi and the democrats is clear: “[With] meetings to provoke here and there [referring to public meetings surrounding 1965], there could be a bloodshed far more dangerous than 1965. … I remind people, again and again I remind people. If there is bloodshed, I have told you so. I am not provoking, but just reminding.”

What we are witnessing here is a classic split inside the ranks of the ruling class, between those who believe in reforms from the top to prevent revolution from below, and those who believe that reforms could instead embolden the masses and open the gate to something that they cannot control. President Jokowi was trying to balance between these two wings. He tries his best to appease the democrats while not offending hardliners like Ryamizard, and he has failed miserably in both of his aims. The symposium that Jokowi’s government organized, marked by his absence which was clearly a compromise to those who objected to it, is criticized heavily by the liberal democrats for being toothless and whitewashing. But even this tokenistic toothless symposium was too much for the hardliners. The wave of anti-communist propaganda and intimidations was no doubt also a response to what the hardliners perceive as the overtly accommodating stance of Jokowi’s government to the plight of the liberal democrats on the question of 1965.

How to fight repression

Seeing an increase of repressions many on the Left were quick to sound the alarm that the New Order is making a comeback. Their paranoia is informed by their ignorance of class politics. They do not have an inkling of how the classes move and how class struggle develops, thus they see the rise of Bonapartist military rule simply as a result of choice made by certain individuals or groups.

Bonapartism - i.e. naked rule by the sword over society - comes as a result of a deep crisis and impasse in the society, where class struggle has been fought to a stalemate. On one hand, the proletariat have waged a mass revolutionary movement that shakes the whole society from top to bottom, but find themselves unable to bring the movement to its final conclusion: revolutionary conquest of power. On the other hand, the bourgeoisie was too weak to defeat the proletariat and bring order to the society ripped apart by fever-pitch class struggle. Under this set of circumstances, the army - the armed bodies of men and women of the bourgeois state - could step in to take control in order to bring back order.

The Soeharto regime was that Bonapartist regime that came about as a result of the impasse in the 1960s. The workers and peasants movement, under the leadership of the PKI, was a behemoth that threw the whole Indonesian society into a revolutionary turmoil. The ruling classes were paralyzed, not knowing how to deal with the growing power of the PKI. But the leadership of the PKI refused to take power and embark on a socialist revolution, as they saw the next stage of Indonesian revolution as a national revolution. Thus the whole society found itself hung in the air. Who would make the first move? The leaders of PKI had made up their mind that they would not make the first move, i.e. to take power by revolutionary means. With that they have renounced their right to victory, and on September 30th, 1965, the army made their move and installed a brutal regime that lasted for 32 years.

Indonesia is not in such situation today. We have yet to enter a period of sharp and open class struggle. The capitalist class would not unleash a military dictatorship against the population until it has exhausted all other options to establish order. It is far cheaper - economically and politically - to rule through parliamentary democracy and illusions than through the naked rule of sword alone.

There is a habit amongst the Left to respond to any manifestation of anti-democratic actions on the part of the regime with New Order boogeyman. On one hand it is a reflection of their intellectual laziness as mentioned above. On the other hand it is a reflection of the opportunism and class collaborationism that dominates today’s Left - “With the New Order always around the corner, it is therefore justified to form a popular front with all democratic forces.” This also colors their methods in fighting anti-democratic repressions. Instead of mass militant actions, they opt for more “civilized” methods that are acceptable to the liberal democrats: press conferences, petitions, appealing to the state for protection, legal challenge.

What is needed to successfully challenge the terror and intimidations from state apparatus and reactionary groups is militant mass actions, particularly ones which are led by the working class and their trade unions. Self-defence groups should be formed by trade unions, which will not only protect the workers from thugs hired by the bosses to break their strikes, but also provide protections to all social activists from all forms of intimidations. This way the working class can establish itself as the only class that is consistent and principled in fighting for democracy. Clearly, the movement cannot rely on the state to guard its democratic rights.

Building a Revolutionary Leadership

The increased wave of anti-communist terror and intimidation should not be seen with pessimistic eyes. In fact it is an admission of fear on the part of the ruling class. The ground beneath their feet is shifting and they can feel the spectre of communism in the air. The crisis of capitalism on a world scale has created a very fertile soil for communism to grow again, particularly in Indonesia where living conditions are unbearable for the masses and the conducts of the ruling classes can only inspire disgust.

There might not be 15 million members of PKI at the moment as retired general Kivlan would like to believe, but there are millions of youth, workers and students - who are open to revolutionary ideas. These are the revolutionaries that will grow into battalions of communists which will strike fear into the hearts of the ruling classes. Thus serious, persistent and consistent attention has to be afforded to these layers. A Bolshevik organization has to be built that will be able to gather these in its ranks and temper them with Marxism. Let us not disappoint our Defence Minister and his reactionary colleagues who truly believe that the force of communism is gathering strength!

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