Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Rebirth of the Communist Party of Indonesia

The following essay deals with the resumption of the legal activity of the Communist Party of Indonesia after 50 years of prohibition. It is an adaptation and elaboration of Vladimir M. Soloveichik’s presentation, published on the Leningrad Internet TV and YouTube on 27 June 2016, in Russian language.

The article offers interesting information about the heroic and tragic history of the once largest non-ruling Communist Party in the world and expresses the optimism that the new generations of indonesian communists will continue the path of the struggle, joining the marxist-leninist movement for the materialization of the communist ideal. 

By Srećko Vojvodić.


This subject has a big moral importance for us, communists. Here we talk about the Communist Party of Indonesia. Rich is its history of blasts-off, tragedies and bravery of communists, and crimes against them, committed by the bourgeois reaction. Now, after a 50-year long ban, the Communist Party of Indonesia held its Convention and resumed its legal activity in its own country. 


One of the largest communist parties of the world, one of the largest communist parties of Asia, the Communist Party of Indonesia had, at the moment of its ban in 1965, approximately three million members and followers and, among them, two million members. It was the third most numerous communist party of the world, just after the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and the Communist Party of China (CPCn). 

History of that Party began in May 1920. Indonesia is a country, spread over a vast archipelago in South Eastern Asia, which was at that moment a Dutch colony. 

Dutch social democrat Henk Sneevliet started gathering his comrades, left social democrats – both Dutchmen and locals, and organized a foundational Congress of a party, which entered the history thereafter as the Communist Party of Indonesia. It carries this name since 1924. 

Who was Henk Sneevliet? Already not very young man, at the age of close to 40, he had accumulated a lot of experience of trade union work in the Netherlands, and, as such, was appointed Representative of the Eastern Section of the Comintern. After founding the Communist Party of Indonesia, he went to China, where he stood at the foundation of the Communist Party of China. It was he, who organized, in July 1921, the foundational Congress of the Communist Party of China, in Shanghai. It was also none other than he, who invited to this Congress, among others, a young Beijing University student, Mao Tse-tung, seeing in him the traits of a future communist leader. 

After working in the Eastern Section of the Comintern, Henk Sneevliet returned to the Netherlands and then happened his dramatic rupture with the Dutch communist leadership, his switch to the positions of Trotskyism, and then his split with Trotsky. Later on, in the years of the WWII, independent MP of Holland, workers’ representative Sneevliet came to the helm of Dutch underground Resistance and organized the largest strike in the times of the Nazi occupation of the Western Europe against Hitlerism, in November 1941. He was apprehended and executed by the Hitler’s GeStaPo in April 1942. By then he was not yet 60 years old. 

The Party, founded by Sneevliet, developed in the same way as many other Eastern Parties of the Comintern – Asian Communist Parties: it went through the White Terror in 1926, through the fight with colonizers, through the Japanese occupation and the armed resistance to the Japanese allies of Hitler. 

After the debacle of the Japanese militarism in 1945, Indonesian nationalists, headed by the President Sukarno, began their independence struggle against the Dutchmen and their colonial rule. The CPI supported Sukarno – as any patriotic force should – to what he reciprocated with a dark ingratitude. It was none other than Sukarno who, together with Indonesian nationalists and Islamic generals, staged an armed provocation in 1948, involving Army and armed formations of the Party, whose outcome was a bloody massacre of Indonesian communists, killing of the then Secretary General of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Indonesia, Munawar Musso and the member of the Politburo, Amir Sjarifuddin, who was Defense Minister in the coalition Government of Communists and Nationalists – the anti-colonialist Government of Sukarno. 

However, understanding that he still may need communists in the struggle against Islamic generals and Dutch colonizers, Sukarno stopped short of banning the CP, hoping that its new leaders would be more loyal to him than Munawar Musso and Amir Sjarifuddin, whom he executed. 

And, actually, to the helm of the Party came Dipa Nusantara Aidit, Njoto, M. H. Lukman and some others, oriented towards the victorious Communist Party of China and a collaboration of the Communist Party of Indonesia with the CPCn. 

By 1951, full legal activity of the CPI was restored and in this year, Indonesian communists adopted their Party Program, containing – as it turned out later – many erroneous points and confusion, which forced the leading Secretary of the CC of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolshevik), I Stalin, to express his criticism of the CPI draft Program. Unfortunately, under the conditions of semi-legality and terror conducted over the CPI by Islamist generals, in the absence of direct connection between the CPI and the AUCP(B), Stalin’s deliberations reached the new CPI leadership only after the adoption of the new Program. 

Instead of taking these criticisms into account while developing their activities, CPI leaders wrote a reply to Stalin refuting practically all his considerations and showing the aplomb of nephytes: their leader Aidit was not at that time 30 years old! Only one among the Politburo members, Rinto, who was actually Prof. Iskandar Subekti, knowledgeable Marxist who was fluent in Dutch, English and several other foreign languages, educated in Europe, thoroughly acquainted with the works of classics of Marxism, expressed his dissent and wrote a separate letter to Stalin, asking him to sketch some ideas about perspectives of the Indonesian revolution. To the amazement of Aidit and Njoto, Stalin replied to the letter of crde. Subekti, inviting him and other Indonesian communists to be guests at the 19th Congress of the CPSU in October 1952. 

Subekti arrived to Moscow and later on, in December 1952, Dipa Nusantara Aidit with Njoto also came to the capital of the Soviet Union, after attending the Congress of the Communist Party of the Netherlands. So, in the first decade of January 1953 conversations of Stalin with the leadership of the CPI began: about moving forces, perspectives and character of the Indonesian revolution. 

Conversations were fairly interesting and meaningful, comradely. Stalin tried to convince Indonesian communists that his conclusions were correct. All-in-all, he managed to do it.

Based on these talks, Stalin composed a large document on 16 February 1953, addressed to Aidit: “On the Character and Moving Forces of the Indonesian Revolution, on the Perspectives of the Communist Movement in East Asia, about Strategy and Tactics of Communists in the Agrarian Question”. De facto, this was the last theoretical work of Stalin, unfortunately unknown in the USSR for a long time. For the very first time it was published in Russian language in 2009, printed directly from his manuscript. This handwritten original is kept in the Presidential Archive of the Russian Federation, Stalin’s Fund. 

This last theoretical work of Stalin of 16 February 1953, only two weeks before his passing away, is very interesting, in the first place, because in it he formulated the key point of the Indonesian revolution: the agrarian question. He criticized Indonesian communists since they were writing: “We will fight against feudalism,” without clarifying which remnants of feudalism in the Indonesian society they were talking about and clearly insisted that the CPI must put the slogan about delivery of the land to Indonesian peasants into their private property, without compensation – providing a firm theoretical explanation why it had to be done exactly so, how agrarian situation in Indonesia at that time was different from the agrarian situation in pre-revolutionary Russia, from the agrarian situation in Eastern Europe and why, therefore, in Indonesia it was exactly the slogan about delivery of the land to Indonesian peasants into their private property, without compensation that was necessary, while explaining why a slogan about nationalization of the land would not work in the given situation. 

It is exactly in this work where Stalin raised the question of National Front, warning the leadership of the Communist Party of Indonesia about possible absorption of the Party of Communists by the national bourgeoisie, about conversion of the Party into an appendix of the President Sukarno and his clique, so that the communists of Indonesia do not become a bargaining chip in a clan fight between nationalists and Islamists, between direct colonizers and their accomplices, so that they conduct an autonomous line of an alliance of the working class and peasantry and pointed out that the stronger the alliance, the firmer positions of the Party in the National Front would be. 

The work is interesting in itself because of its completely undogmatic approach. For instance, while analysing the agrarian situation in Russia on the eve of the October Revolution, Stalin positively evaluates not only the Bolsheviks’ agrarian program but also of the Socialist Revolutionaries (SR), calling them both “socialist parties”.  He further declares that the October was victorious due to the alliance of the working class with peasantry, which materialized politically in common actions of the two socialist parties, Bolsheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries – which was an absolutely non-traditional view in Soviet social sciences of that time! 

In this situation, Indonesian CP armed itself, naturally, with all these clarifications. Stalin’s formulations found their place, also, in a new version of the CPI Program, adopted in 1954, and in a large theoretical work of Aidit, published a year later.  Of course, given the circumstances of the Khrushchov’s campaign of discrediting the revolutionary struggle for socialism and communism, under the nonsensical guise of “anti-Stalinism”, Stalin’s name was nowhere mentioned in these documents and his formulations became known only after their text was published in Russian language in 2009. 

Practically, the mere fact that Stalin’s suggestions to move the focus of the CPI’s political work to the villages were implemented resulted in such a growth of the CPI in numbers and strength that it became the third most powerful communist party of the world! Mass inflow of peasants, creation of peasants’ associations, led by communists, strengthening of Party’s positions in the workers’ movement, brought about electoral victories, as well as a boost to the reputation of communists in the Indonesian society. Three million members and followers, among which two million were members of the Party and one million: members of youth, trade union, peasants´, women´s and other organizations, led by communists. These numbers speak for themselves. And these numbers are not mythical, they are thoroughly documented. 

Growth of social contradictions in Indonesia, lack of solution to the agrarian question, worsening of the working people´s situation, covered by nationalist slogans and the anti-imperialist rhetoric of President Sukarno and his friendship with Khrushchov; resulted in a gradual transition of the CPI into the opposition to the Sukarno’s regime, albeit two of its members still remained ministers in Sukarno’s Cabinet – one of them being the Politburo member Njoto, and in a renewed move to the positions of Maoism – seeing in Mao’s saying that the rifle bears the power a simple solution to all problems of the Indonesian society. 

Khrushchov’s actions contributed a lot to it. He had been meeting Sukarno all the time, presenting him exclusive gifts from the USSR Treasury – without consulting anybody about it, calling him “a distinguished progressive figure of our times”, while treating Indonesian communists as his servants. Unlike Stalin, who spared no time or effort to convince them comradely in the validity of his arguments, Khrushchov treated them as a haughtily walking landlord treats his serfs: “Chief has spoken, period! Those who disagree: get out!”  All this contributed to the atmosphere and psychological background for the transition of the CPI leadership onto the Maoist vector of the Party development. And this became one of the most important causes of the tragedy that occurred on 30 September 1965 and of the subsequent debacle of the CPI, of the physical liquidation of almost a million of communists and their followers at the hands of bourgeois reaction. 

Looming explosion

On the surface, and in the hearts of a sea of illiterate but devout peasants, Indonesia was run by Sukarno’s pseudo-revolutionary phraseology about “Indonesian socialism” – which declaratively fitted everybody – from landless villagers to the hereditary landlords, with the comprador bourgeoisie and the swelling bureaucracy in between. In truth, there were some significant achievements, mostly in health care and education, but the economy generally declined: in early sixties, its output was below 1940 levels. Industry worked at ¼ of its capacity, mostly because of a chronic lack of raw materials, and the budget received in 1961 only 1/8 of the projected income from the state sector! Even the expensive imported equipment massively idled in the absence of any systematic planning, was often left to decay, or was just stolen away. 

Under such circumstances, regular financing of the Army dried up and the commanders turned to the business, down to the plunder of state property, smuggling and even drug trafficking. Many young officers, born in scarcity, quickly merged with compradors and landlords and all of it inevitably favoured a development of militarist sentiments and worldview, adverse to the politicians in general, but particularly to communists. 

Preparing conditions for the establishment of their dictatorship and suppression of all resistance attempts, Indonesian militarists focused their main efforts to the villages. From the times when the state of emergency was introduced, in 1957, Army commanders ran all village affairs: they appointed and replaced village elders, trained administrators and so on. In fact, Army cupula decided, as an American journalist expressed it, “to enter a competition with the CPI in the field of the work with masses”. Then Defense Minister, Gen. Nasution, assigned to the troops, relieved after Irian Conflict with the Netherlands between 1961 and 1963, a “civic mission”, naming it “Operation Work”. Those soldiers upturned virgin soil together with villagers, built and repaired housing, schools, health centers, roads, canals and dams; they distributed food and seeds to the villagers, whom they taught to become literate and to purify the water. In light of a constant protraction of the agrarian reform, this “civic mission” of the Army attracted many peasants. However, useful work was always accompanied by propagandistic brain-washing of both soldiers and peasants in an anti-communist spirit. 

According to Nasution’s doctrine, “civic” activity of the military was interspersed with the Army preparation for the “defense of the country” together with peasants, as in the times of the war against Dutch. However, this time “the enemy” was not external, but internal. Villages were not been prepared so much for a war, but for mass terror. Armed escorts of the landlords, detachments of religious fanatics and criminal gangs were all merged into a system of pogrom-terrorist formations. As in Latin America, they were going to become known, several year afterwards, as “death squads” – according to the name of one of them. 

Tacking of the regime between antagonistic social and class blocks was gradually exhausting itself, summing close to the transition of all power into the hands of one of them. This general national crisis could have been resolved only in one of the two ways: either through a 

· revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the working people, with the hegemony of the proletariat, which would open a socialist perspective to the country, or through a 

· reactionary dictatorship of the exploitative classes, with the hegemony of corrupted bureaucracy (just 100 ministers!) amalgamated with uniformed entrepreneurs. Communists used to call them together “cabirs” (capitalists-bureaucrats). 

The clash was inexorably approaching. In August 1965 President publicly joined the call of the CC of the CPI to “strengthen the revolutionary offensive”. Prosecutor General declared that the judiciary is ready for liquidation of “cabirs”. In September, left forces went several times to the streets of Jakarta under the slogan “Death to cabirs!” On 8th and 9 September, protesters-communists besieged US Consulate in Surabaya. On 14 September, Aidit called the Party to watchfulness. Finally, on 30 September People’s Youth and Women’s Union organized in Jakarta a mass demonstration against inflation and economic crisis. On the eve of it, at a student rally, President openly called to “smash Generals who became protectors of the counterrevolutionary elements.” 

If this is not a revolutionary situation, what is? 

However, as Lenin warned in ‘The Collapse of the Second International’: “…it is not every revolutionary situation that leads to revolution; revolution arises only out of a situation in which the [elsewhere] mentioned objective changes are accompanied by a subjective change, namely, the ability of the revolutionary class to take revolutionary mass action strong enough to break (or dislocate) the old government, which never, not even in a period of crisis, ‘falls’, if it is not toppled over.” Specifically, he pointed out: “You cannot win with the vanguard only. Victory requires that not only the proletariat but also really broad masses of the working people, oppressed by the capital, arrive through their own experience to the position of either direct support of the vanguard, or, at least, benevolent neutrality towards it and a full inability to support its enemy.” 

Therefore, the objective character of the mass base of Indonesian counterrevolution showed that, in that situation, it was useless, and even worse than that, it was mortally dangerous to wait for a more favourable balance of forces. There was just one way to prevent the catastrophe: using all chances to elevate the revolution to a new, people’s democratic stage, opening not only to the proletariat but also to the petty bourgeois masses a visible perspective of a better life. 

The lost battle

On 30 September 1965 a group of young military officers, mostly belonging to the Presidential Guard and the Air Force, tried to capture and destroy the top brass of the Ground Army, standing on Islamist positions. Five generals and their entourage were killed but the main figure among the top commanders captured by left wing officers, Ground Army Chief of Staff Nasution escaped, hid and then launched, together with the Ground Army Commander Suharto, a counter attack on the Revolutionary Council, constituted by these young left oriented officers. Ground Army had numerical superiority and secured support of Airborne Troops and the Navy. Their joint numerical superiority over the Presidential Guard and the Air Force was so huge that at the end of next day, 1 October, smashed the Revolutionary Council, which practically fell apart under a fierce attack of Suharto and Nasution troops. Leaders of the Revolutionary Council hid in Halim Air Force Base and the Army launched an onslaught on it. 

Exactly at that moment, neither a day before nor a day later, CPI leadership declared its support of the Revolutionary Council and the 30 September Movement! At the moment when it already fell apart it was quite clear that its adversaries were winning. It is understood that it was not easy to convene a congress, conference or the Central Committee plenum. But the Chairman of the Central Committee, Aidit, did not even convene a session of the Politburo. Five of them, Aidit, Njoto, Aidit’s First Deputy Sakirman, his Second Deputy Lukman and the Politburo member Sudisman made the decision to support the Revolutionary Council. Then, in the morning of 2 October, when Halim Air Force Base was practically seized by the enemies of the Revolution – Islamist commanders – the central organ of the CPI published a call to support the Revolutionary Council – which, at that moment, already did not exist – and a declaration of the CPI position. 


It goes without saying that all of it was taken as a pretext for a mass killing of communists by forces of Islamist fanatics. They burnt the Central Committee building, editorial office of the central CPI organ and its print shop. All along the country, enraged fanatics started killing communists, in most bestial ways. On the chests of captured communists and their family members, they used to cut out hammers and sickles, and five-pointed stars; then they did the same on their backs and foreheads; they were cutting off their genitals; cutting open their stomachs; impaled them on stakes, were beheading them in villages to put stockades around such villages, with their heads on top… Mass anti-communist terror in October 1965 took the lives of approximately 500 000 CPI members while its leadership hoped Sukarno would protect them. Alas, nothing of that kind happened! On 6 October, Sukarno delivered his cabinet minister and member of the CPI Politburo Njoto to the military, which executed him the next day; then on 7 October, First Deputy of the CPI CC Chairman, Sakirman, and Second Deputy of the CPI CC Chairman, Lukman were executed. Aidit himself run away into a village, trying to organize a resistance, but was captured on 22 November 1965 by paratroopers and shot. Sudisman, who led the Party after killing of Aidit, Lukman. Sakirman and Njoto, survived until 1967, while organizing underground resistance in the cities, but was captured by counter-intelligence units of Admiral Sudomo and was also killed, after being bestially tortured. 

On 12 March 1966, under the pressure of Suharto and Nasution, President Sukarno, Khrushchov’s buddy and friend, made a decision to ban the Communist Party of Indonesia. Next month, trade unions were banned, as well as other mass organizations led by communists. 

Islamist fanatics were replaced by Admiral Sudomo’s counter-intelligence troops and military Special Forces, who launched mass anti-communist terror. Killings on the streets, detention of communists and their family members in concentration camps and their executions therein, killings at hands of soldiers, Special Forces, counter-intelligence troops, Islamist death squads… 

It seemed like a dark shadow had covered Indonesia. However, a human factor played, as always, its role and Admiral Sudomo’s counter-intelligence officers made a miscalculation. Member of the CPI CC Politburo, Iskandar Subekti, pushed aside by Aidit and Njoto as a pro-Soviet element – theoretician, intellectual and orator but not organizer, the man who never held in his hands anything heavier than a pen or pencil, remained out of the zone of influence of Admiral Sudomo’s counter-intelligence officers, who concluded that he would emigrate to the Soviet Union, to write memoirs at a Moscow suburban datcha, or would be lecturing Marxism in European universities. 

However, Iskandar Subekti did not emigrate but went instead to rural Eastern Java, where communists had the strongest influence in peasants associations, and launched a peasants’ insurrection! Together with his comrades in arms: Indonesian YCL leader Sukatno and the trade union deputy chairman Ruslan Wijayasastra. 

Peasants’ Army started implementing the agrarian reform – the one Stalin wrote about back in 1953! Distribution of landlords’ lands to the peasants without compensation made it a really mass force. Armed detachments of communist not only put fight to the Islamist fanatics but crushed their gangs, expelling them form their territory, and began the onslaught on the military and police forces of Sukarno’s regime. At the same time, preparations were underway for a constitution of a joint front of all insurgents’ detachments on all islands of Indonesian archipelago, for the establishment of a joint command and the Indonesian Red Army. After their first victories, they acquired heavy weaponry. 
The first ones who picked up the fight were the US diplomats, US spies – scared that Indonesia would become another Viet Nam. They put heavy pressure on Sukarno and on Suharto; provided financial and technical support to Indonesian Army, as well as armament and instructors. They silenced the existing contradictions between Malaysian and Indonesian regimes, enabling Suharto to withdraw troops from Malaysian border, and organized, de facto, a reprisal operation against liberated red territories. 

Having had both numerical and technical superiority, as well as better soldiers’ training, Indonesian Army destroyed last hotbeds of resistance in 1968. 

Prof. Iskandar Subekti himself, the one who used to meet Stalin, fell, and his comrades Ruslan and Sukatno fell, as well – together with many thousands of Indonesian communists… 


A shadow of bourgeois reaction finally fell on the country and Sukarno, having sold everybody and everything, was no more necessary to Islamist Generals and was thrown away in the political nothingness. Suharto became country’s President and Nasution – his Vice President. 

For more than thirty years the country was in the grip of anti-communist terror. Communists were killed or sent to concentration camps and jails. The last death sentences for participation in the events of 30 September 1965 were carried out at the very decline of Suharto’s regime, in 1996. For thirty years people were sitting in jails, waiting in death rows. However, the Asian financial crisis erupted. Since Suharto and Nasution’s regime did not solve any of the burning economic problems, not only did not improve the situation of the working people but, actually, worsened it, massive popular demonstrations washed away this regime to mere political garbage. 

Civic President Abdurrahman Wahid, who was the first elected President of Indonesia after the resignation of Suharto in 1998, declared a general amnesty and people who were sitting thirty and more years in jails and concentration camps started coming out. In 2000 he tried to legalize the activity of the Communist Party, invoking the Constitution of Indonesia. Generals, however, objected to it. 

Equally unsuccessful was the second attempt to legalize the CPI, in 2009 – local Islamists objected against it arguing that it is not admissible to have in Indonesia a political party that openly declares its atheism. 

Stubborn buds

Nonetheless, in 2004 and after forty years, all limitations in regards to the civic rights of communists were removed. Marxist circles started to pop up, as well as communist organizations in companies, students residences, etc. In addition to it, the External Committee of the CP of Indonesia was working during all 50 years among the numerous Indonesian emigration, in Europe and China, leading Indonesian left activists – although without direct connection with the homeland. 

Eventually, the growth of social contradictions, development of the class struggle, development of capitalism in Indonesia, as well as the courage and tenacity of Indonesian communists forced the regime to retreat. 

Here we are: in June 2016, the CP of Indonesia resumes its legal activity. 

However, the authorities did not lift the existing ban. Therefore, the coming congress of the CP of Indonesia will be counted as first, and not eight – after the previous, seventh, in 1962, as if the Party is being constituted from scratch. Nevertheless, the Party will keep its name: the Communist Party of Indonesia, and its foundational symbols: the red flag with hammer and sickle and the five-pointed star. It holds to the ideology of Marxism-Leninism and collective leadership. 

The Party will unite all those, who remained loyal to the communist ideas, during long decades underground, in Suharto’s dungeons, or in the emigration, all those who were and remained communists. 


The resumption of the legal activity of Indonesian communists is in itself an important moral event, regardless of how the CPI will develop further, which role it will be playing in the political and social life of its country and how much communists will manage to win the confidence of masses, of the working people. 

It shows that the ideas of communism cannot be quartered, shot down or burned alive. They cannot be killed or banned. Even after a fifty-year long ban, as it happened in Indonesia, they will win their way, under the same red flag with hammer and sickle and the five-pointed star. This is the ideology, founded by our great teachers: Marx, Engels and Lenin! 

We are sure that the new generation of Indonesian communists will continue traditions of their teachers: Munawar Musso, Iskandar Subekti and many, many others, who fell at the hands of Islamists, military and bourgeois reaction. 

We are sure that the Communist Party of Indonesia will join the international communist movement, the army of fighters for socialism-communism. 

Therefore, we wholeheartedly wish to the Indonesian communists, on behalf of so many comrades, victories in the struggle for our common cause, for the materialization of our communist ideal! 

In summarizing: communism cannot be killed, cannot be banned. Red idea, idea of social justice and brotherhood of the workers of all lands, of the social equality will win, regardless of the obstacles! 

So it will be! 

June 2016.

Main sources: 
· The presentation by Vladimir M. Soloveichik on the Leningrad Internet TV, on 27 June 2016 ( 
· The book ТЯЖКИЙ УРОК ИСТОРИИ: К 50-летию антикоммунистического геноцида в Индонезии автора А.В. Харламенко © Рабочий Университет им. И.Б. Хлебникова 2007 – 2016
· The book Pretext for Mass Murder: The September 30th Movement and Suharto’s Coup d’Etat in Indonesia, by John Roosa, Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 2006.