BAYANG-BAYANG PKI (Images of the
Indonesian Communist Party),
with a foreword from Goenawan Mohamad,
published by ISAI (Institute for Studies on Free Flow of Information),
Jakarta, December 1995, 180pp.
For the first time since 1990 when the Washington Post
and other US newspapers published revelations by the
journalist Kathy Kadane about the role played by US diplomats
in the 1965/66 massacre of thousands of
Communist cadres in Indonesia, these events have again
become the topic of vigorous public debate in Indonesia.
What appears to have happened is that a new generation
which has grown up in recent decades, unburdened by the
traumatic experiences of their parents, wants to know what
exactly happened in those critical years. People have
started to question the veracity of the official version which
has served to underpin the New Order ideology.
In the past few years, several books have been published which are critical of the official version that the former President Sukarno who was deposed by Suharto and Nasution was guilty of involvement in the tragic events. One important book, published in 1994, was written by former member of Parliament and diplomat Manai Sophiaan, Kehormatan bagi yang berhak - Bung Karno tidak terlibat G30S/PKI (Honour to one who deserves it: Sukarno was not involved in the 30 September/PKI movement). Another was the autobiography by Oei Tjoe Tat, a former minister and one of Sukarno's close collaborators, which was published in 1995 and banned a few months later.
But what was missing in Indonesia until recently was a publication critically dealing with the central accusation of the Suharto regime, that the 1965 events happened as the result of an attempt by the Communists to take power by force. It is this topic that is dealt with by the book under review.
There are a number of foreign works by experts in Indonesian history which discuss the 1965/66 events all of which have been scrupulously studied by the members of the ISAI team that undertook the research on which Bayang-Bayang PKI is based. But competent Indonesian historians living in their own country have until now shrunk from seriously and critically dealing with this hot issue. All the more do the youthful members of the ISAI team deserve our admiration for having had the courage to publish the results of their investigations and their evaluation of the different versions of the sequence of events.
Evidently, Sukarno was of the opinion that the PKI,
rather than being responsible for the murder of the generals, had fallen victim to a provocation. It was this
declaration that provided Sukarno's enemies with the
pretext to depose him as president.
The authors look closely as a number of foreign sources which have tried to demonstrate that the so-called 'coup' was the result of a provocation by certain Indonesian army circles. The hypothesis that a 'premature Communist coup' was provoked so as to enable the army to strike decisively at the left-wing forces in Indonesia, has been advanced for example by Geoffrey Robinson, and by Coen Holtzappel of Leiden University (who is Dutch, not German).
The authors quote at length from my article 'Whose Plot? New Light on the 1965 Events', published in 1979 in the Journal of Contemporary Asia. In that article I attributed a crucial role in the whole affair to Sjam (Kamaruzzaman), to whom Aidit, PKI the chairman, had entrusted the task of penetrating and subverting the Indonesian armed forces. But Sjam, appointed by Aidit to head the secret branch, which since 1965 has been referred to by the New Order as the Special Bureau, according to my analysis was a double agent working for the armed forces to infiltrate the Communist Party.
As for the military commander from whom Sjam directly or indirectly received his orders, in my article reproduced in the book under review, I suggested the Kostrad commander, Suharto himself, as a plausible candidate. In this connection the authors, like me, refer to the highly compromising meeting on the night of 30 September 1965 between Suharto and one of the main plotters, Colonel Latief, a few hours before the seven generals were kidnapped. The book also quotes Manai Sophiaan who writes that, after his talk with Latief, Suharto should have reported to his superiors(p.84). But it is wrongly stated that Suharto and Latief met again at the Military Hospital on 1 October. Also, on p.27, my recent article 'Indonesia's hidden history of 1965: When will the archives be declassified?', published in Kabar Seberang 24/25, is mistakenly attributed to Van den Heuvel.
Another chapter considers whether the 'coup' could also be described as a clandestine CIA operation. The authors carefully studied the writings of Peter Dale Scott, Geoffrey Robinson and Frederick Bunnell. Bunnell in particular has disputed the claims made by H.W.Brands in his article: 'The US didn't topple Sukarno'.
In Chapter IV, the authors draw the conclusion that a major factor which led to the 1965 tragedy was the fact that the Communist Party allowed its chairman Aidit, in collaboration with his unreliable associate Sjam, to pursue an adventurist strategy in breach of the peaceful, parliamentary road re-affirmed in successive PKI congresses. In 1966, this adventurism was sharply criticized in Criticism and Auto-Criticism, clandestinely circulated by Party leaders who were still at large. One top leader, Sudisman, who was arrested soon afterwards, repeated this criticism at his trial in December 1966 (pp.112 ff.). The authors rightly argue that the Party as a whole cannot be held accountable for the actions of a tiny group of irresponsible leaders. 'Maybe,' they write, 'to borrow the words of Bung Karno, the actions should actually be attributed to the PKI leaders having fallen into a trap.'
The final chapter analyses the reactions of a random sample of younger people to a questionnaire asking them what attitude should be taken towards the 1965 events. Sixty-two per cent of the respondents thought that people involved in the 1965 events should now be forgiven; eighty-eight per cent agreed that the 'ET' mark on the identity cards should be abolished and eighty-one per cent agreed with the award to Pramoedya Ananta Toer of the Magsaysay Prize.
In his Foreword, Goenawan Mohamad concludes that the volume formulates the right questions rather than attempting to provide answers. In their own Introduction, the authors draw the following conclusion from the questionnaire. Evidently, the youngsters who responded were no longer obsessed by the Communist scare. 'To the generation which will soon grow up, maybe the most important problem will be, how to protect themselves from being crushed by "globalisasi".'