Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI)

Indonesian Communist Party was one of the biggest and most important political parties in early Indonesia, and prior to its destruction in 1965, was the third largest communist party in the world.

PKI leadership in Batavia, 1925

The party was established in Surabaya by Dutch communist Henricus Sneevliet aka Maring in 1914 as Indies Social Democratic Association (Dutch: Indische Sociaal-Democratische Vereeniging ; ISDV). Maring would later go on to found the Chinese Communist Party in 1921. ISDV originally consisted of 85 members, all whites, members of Dutch socialist parties SDAP (Sociaal-Democratische Arbeiders Partij) and SDP (Sociaal-Democratishce Partij) residing in Indonesia.

On October 1915, ISDV started its first publication in Dutch, Het Vrije Woord, edited by Adolf Baars. At this point ISDV was white-majority party, with 100 members, of which only three were Indonesians.

In 1917, ISDV provoked a rebellion among three thousand Dutch soldiers and sailors in Surabaya. The soldiers formed the Surabaya Soviet, copying the Bolshevik revolt in Russia that year. Dutch colonial authorities quickly suppressed the rebellion, deporting the Dutch leaders of the revolt (including Maring) from Indonesia, and executing or imprisoning the leaders of the soldiers’ mutiny.

The Surabaya soviet revolt depleted ISDV of its white membership, moving the party into a majority Indonesian party. In 1919, there were only 25 whites out of a total of 400 members.

In 1920 ISDV changed its name to Partai Komunis di Hindia (PKH). PKH was the oldest communist party in Asia, represented in the 1920 Communist International Congress in Moscow by Maring. PKH’s first chairman was a Javanese tramworker, Semaun.

In 1924, PKH again changed its name to Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI). PKI membership grew rapidly thanks to Semaun’s strategy of infiltrating the Muslim organisation Sarekat Islam, eventually causing half of its membership to break-off, forming the Red Sarekat Islam, which eventually merged with PKI.

In 1926, PKI launched full-scale rebellion in Banten and West Sumatera, declaring Soviet Republic of Indonesia. The rebellion was quickly crushed by the Dutch authorities, who killed 1000 people and arrested 13000. 1308 persons, including the whole PKI leadership, were exiled to the malaria-infested Boven Digoel concentration camp in West New Guinea.

Between 1926-1945, Indonesian communists went underground, with most of its leadership in exile, with Musso, as chairman living in Moscow under protection of Stalin.

In 1945, after the proclamation of independence by Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta, PKI re-emerged to participate in the war of independence against Dutch recolonisation attempts. PKI controlled many armed groups, such as Pesindo and PSI. These groups often clashed with nationalist and Islamist armed groups, particularly over the decision by President Sukarno to use negotiations with the Dutch.

In 1948, PKI chairman Musso returned to Indonesia after twenty years’ exile in Soviet Union. In response to the very disadventageous Renville Agreement signed by Sukarno government that year, PKI joined Pesindo and leftist-PSI in forming the People’s Democratic Front (Front Demokrasi Rakyat; FDR). FDR seized control of East Javanese city of Madiun on September 1948, declaring a Soviet Republic of Indonesia with Musso as president and Amir Sjarifuddin as prime minister. In areas under their control, PKI murdered thousands of nationalists and Islamic clerics, their ideological enemies.

However, no mass revolt in support of PKI occured, so the Indonesian army of the Siliwangi Division under General Gatot Subroto quickly crushed the communist revolt, killing thousands of PKI members and arresting 36000. PKI leader Musso was shot dead, while Amir Sjarifuddin was captured and later executed.

However, PKI was not banned, and the party re-established itself in 1950 under its young chairman Dipa Nusantara Aidit, a Belitung Malay. Aidit changed PKI’s strategy into a nationalist, anti-Western party in accordance to the policies of President Sukarno. This change of policy caused PKI membership to soar exponentially, from 5,000 members in 1950 to 165,000 members in 1954, and 1.5 million by 1959.

In 1955 elections, PKI won fourth place, winning 16% of the votes. The communist advance alarmed the Muslim party Masyumi, who collaborated with opportunist regional military chiefs, the CIA, MI-6, and even the radical Islamist DI-TII rebels in launching the PRRI-Permesta rebellion in 1958. This rebellion, however, was quickly crushed by the Indonesian army helped by PKI volunteers.

In 1959, President Sukarno disbanded parliamentary democracy and installed a personal dictatorship. In 1960, Sukarno declared his rule would be supported by three elements of Indonesian society: Nationalists, Communists, and Religionists (Nasionalis, Agamais, Komunis; NASAKOM), hence cementing PKI’s place in Sukarno’s dictatorship system.

Under NASAKOM, PKI supported the successful confrontation against the Dutch to take control of West Papua. PKI played a great deal in getting President Sukarno in declaring the confrontation against Malaysia, a policy suggested by China and Soviet Union to help the rebellion of the Malayan Communist Party. PKI volunteer armed units actively participated in the jungle fighting against British and Commonwealth forces in Sabah and Sarawak. Internationally, PKI pushed Sukarno to withdrew from the UN and aligned Indonesia with China.


Dipa Nusantara Aidit, the brains behind G30S/PKI

Under NASAKOM, PKI rallies always includes photo of Sukarno alongside those of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao

Sukarno addressing a PKI rally

Worries about Sukarno’s declining health caused PKI to be concerned as to what their ideological rivals, the nationalists (represented by the army) and the religionists would do against them in a post-Sukarno Indonesia. Therefore, in 1964, PKI established the Biro Chusus (BC) to infiltrate and eventually gain control of Indonesian armed forces. By 1965, PKI has full control of the air force and has neutralised the navy and the police. Although PKI made strong inroads in infiltrating the army, the top leadership remained strongly anti-communist by manifesting the Tri Ubaya Cakti, a statement opposing Sukarno’s alignment with China and his confrontation against Malaysia.

Therefore, to neutralise this threat, PKI spread strong propaganda accusing the top army generals of being CIA agents plotting to overthrow Sukarno, while pressing for a “fifth armed force” consisting of peasants and workers armed by China, which would virtually be PKI’s own armed force.

However, this did not satisfy Mao Zedong, who urged PKI chairman Aidit on a Zhongnanhai (Beijing) meeting on 5 August 1965 to immediately wipe out PKI’s army opponents. Considering Sukarno’s erratic and unreliable behaviour in recent years, Mao urges PKI to immediately take power from Sukarno soon afterwards to forever secure Indonesia as a communist state under China’s orbit.

Aidit (l) and Sudisman presented a bird-of-paradise to their boss, Mao Zedong

Sukarno and Aidit

Sukarno and Mao Zedong. Mao thought of Sukarno as an unreliable ally and wanted to get rid of him.

On 30 September 1965, pro-communist army units based from Halim airforce base in East Jakarta, led by Lieut-Col Untung bin Sjamsuri, kidnapped and killed seven generals, the whole top leadership of the army. The coup plotters seized the RRI radio station and telecommunication building, announced themselves as 30th of September Movement, and proclaimed a Revolutionary Council government excluding Sukarno. PKI newspaper Harian Rakjat immediately declared support for the massacre, calling the dead generals “CIA agents”.

The involvement of PKI in this murder plot is undeniable as all the top members of the PKI Politburo CC (Central Commitee): Aidit, Njoto, Lukman, Sudisman, and Sakirman were all at Halim AF Base that night. Halim AF Base was chosen as the base for the coup plotters since the airforce chief, Marshall Omar Dhani, was completely under communist control.

However, the coup were foiled by two persons: Sukarno and Suharto.

Sukarno had been informed of the murder plans by PKI chairman Aidit on August 1965. He had approved of the plan as he was convinced that these generals were truly plotting to overthrow him. However, during the night of the murders, Sukarno decided not to sleep in Merdeka Palace, where Untung’s soldiers were supposed to pick him up later that night to “secure” him in Halim AF Base. He instead stayed at his third wife Haryati’s house in Grogol, where the next morning he heard the radio announcement where he was excluded from the new revolutionary government. Sensing that the plotters were actually trying to overthrew him, Sukarno gambled with his luck:

FIRST, Sukarno ordered his adjudant Brig-Gen Sabur to make a press release that he, President of Indonesia, is healthy and still hold the rein of power.
SECOND, Sukarno made a bold gamble by driving with a few dozen of his heavily-armed personal bodyguards to Halim AF Base, where he ordered the pro-communist army officer coordinating the whole 30th September operations, Brig-Gen Supardjo, to immediately cease all operations and withdrew all of their soldiers from the radio and telecommunication stations and return to Halim AF Base. Faced with a direct order by Sukarno, Brig-Gen Supardjo chickened out and complied, without consulting Aidit.

Hence, the PKI coup immediately collapsed as the “pro-communist” soldiers abandoned Aidit to comply with Sukarno’s commands. Hearing of Sukarno’s orders, Admiral RE Martadinata of the navy and Commisioner Sutjipto Judodihardjo of the police issued statements condemning the generals’ murders. Aidit and his fellow CC members at first tried to threaten Sukarno and the soldiers, but to no avail. Consequently, the PKI leadership decided to fly to the safety of relatively pro-communist area of Surakarta – Central Java, using an airforce plane given by Marshall Dhani.

Afterwards, Sukarno contacted KOSTRAD and KODAM JAYA soldiers and ordered them to immediately occupy Halim AF Base. The president then drove from Halim to the safety of Bogor Palace, while his children were flown to Bandung in a helicopter to gain protection of Sukarno-loyalist Siliwangi Division.

PKI had failed to took into account an obscure general Suharto, commander of KOSTRAD (Startegic Reserve Commandos) whose forces are readily available in Jakarta. Suharto knew of the murder plot the day before from his pro-communist friend Colonel Latief, who believed Suharto, a known Sukarno-loyalist, would at least stay neutral. Suharto decided to sit out the murders that night, because he was not sure on whether this plot was backed by Sukarno or not.

On October 1, hearing of exclusion of the president from the rebels’ radio statement, Suharto realised that Sukarno was not behind the coup plotters. He immediately mobilised his KOSTRAD soldiers, augmented by KODAM JAYA troops (commanded by Suharto’s pal Gen Umar Wirahadikusumah) to retake the RRI radio station, declaring the murders and the coup as an attempted rebellion meant to overthrow President Sukarno. On October 2, having been tipped-off by Sukarno, Suharto led a joint KOSTRAD-KODAM JAYA-RPKAD assault on Halim AF Base, the base of the coup plotters. Disoriented and disorganised, the pro-communist soldiers, including Untung, put up little resistance and surrendered.

After arriving in Central Java, Aidit attempted to form a “revolutionary government” in cities of Semarang, Boyolali, Solo, and Yogyakarta, where pro-communist soldiers from Diponegoro Division had seized control. However, upon hearing that the rebellion in Jakarta had collapsed, these soldiers begin to abandon Aidit and disappeared from view. Not only that, PKI ranks begin to crack, with many members deciding to distance themselves from the coup attempt. Aidit was forced to abandon the cities and hide in the Solo countryside.

To replace the dead army commander (Gen Ahmad Yani), President Sukarno appointed Gen Suharto. For the first week after the coup attempt, from the Bogor Palace, Sukarno attempted to be belittle the generals’ murders as “a ripple in the ocean” (een rimpeltje in de oceaan) as to take away attention from the fact that he himself had approved the operation. He blamed the murders on “misguided elements” of the PKI, without blaming the PKI as a whole, as to maintain the NASAKOM base of his dictatorship.

However, the army, having lost its top leadership to communist murderers, was not accepting this. They wanted to destroy the PKI to its roots. Cooperating with religious and student elements, the army launched massive anti-communist violence, tinged with anti-Chinese undertones, throughout the country, starting by the burning down of PKI headquarters in Jl Kramat Raya 81 on 8 October 1965 by Pemuda Ansor NU. Under the leadership of Gen Sarwo Edhie Wibowo, RPKAD troops swept Central and East Java, then Bali to “wipe out the communists”. Thousands of youth heed the call of “jihad” by NU and Muhammadiyah, ensuing a bloodbath in which approximately 500,000 – 1 million real or suspected members of PKI were killed. One million people were arrested and jailed, many to distant penal colonies in remote islands.

Aidit was captured and killed by RPKAD soldiers under Maj Yasir Hadisubroto on 22 November 1965. PKI Politburo members Njono, Sudisman, Sjam, Pono, and Lukman were captured on 9 March 1967 and all were later executed.

In 1968, remnants of PKI under its youth leader Sukitno and Oloan Simandjuntak launched small-scale armed rebellion in Blitar, East Java. However, the army quickly crushed this rebellion in Operasi Trisula, killing both Sukitno and Simandjuntak.

Between 1967-1972, PKI armed units in West Borneo formerly engaged in Malaysian Confrontation along Sarawak border engaged in anti-military insurgency (PGRS-Paraku rebellion). By 1972, however, the army had crushed this rebellion, killing its leader, former Pontianak PKI chief Sofyan bin Hamid.

With this event, Indonesian Communist Party died for the last time.

Fic, Victor Miroslav, KUDETA 1 OKTOBER 1965, Buku Obor, Jakarta, 2004


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