Anti Communist Massacres

Jan 25th, 2008, in History, by

The nature of the massacres of 1965-66.

Guest Writer Spew It All writes about the nature of the anti-communist massacres of 1965-66.


One regular writer for (Ross) submitted his article on communism and genocide in Indonesia, a riposte to a piece by Julia Suryakusumah in the Indonesian English-language newspaper the Jakarta Post. The article succeeded in provoking much debate, but sadly, some of the discussion still reflects how poorly misunderstood the killings of 1965/66 are.


The massacres of 1965 have been the biggest conundrum in Indonesian history. The communist members and their partisans were hunted and killed gruesomely by their fellow Indonesians with support from the military. The killings took place following the failed coup attempt carried out by several military officers and a few members of the Communist Party. Parallel to this, transition of power also occurred. Sukarno, who reigned in the country for more than twenty years, was replaced by Suharto, an army general who later headed Indonesia for more than thirty years.

Official Accounts

During the Suharto period, the stories of massacres seemed to be forgotten. Official history only highlights the heroic action of the Indonesian army that successfully crushed communism in Indonesia. This constructed truth is perpetuated further through enactments in various museums, films and school history textbooks.

Much worse than that is the New Order’s representation of that bloody event seeing it as merely horizontal conflicts between the PKI masses and their bitter rivals. Any alternative interpretation was an anathema in Indonesia during Suharto regime. Gaol and others sanctions would be the consequence for contesting the New Order version of history. Books written by scholars were banned and the writers were refused to enter the country.


Despite these problems, some scholars succeeded in conducting researches on what happened in 1965 including Hermawan Sulistyo, Iwan Sudjatmiko, Clifford Geertz, Geoffrey Robinson, Harold Crouch, and John Roosa. Not all these scholars agree with the idea that the killings were state-sponsored violence.

Horizontal-Spontaneous Conflict

Sulistyo, Sudjatmiko and Geertz are the proponent of “horizontal theory”. There seems to be no dissimilarity between their conclusions and the official version released by the government of Indonesia. The Army Information Centre (PUSPENAD), which launched its report a year after the coup took place, suggested that the mass anger could not be controlled. Pusat Penerangan Angkatan Darat, Fakta-Fakta Sekitar “Gerakan 30 September”, Penerbitan No. 1, 2, 3, Jakarta, P.N Balai Pustaka, 1966, p.105. Likewise, twenty years later, the Indonesian State Secretary used the term, “spontaneous mass action against the PKI” to describe the ferocity of the event. Sekretariat Negara Republik Indonesia, Gerakan 30 September Pemberontakan Partai Komunis: Latar Belakang, Aksi dan Penumpasannya, Jakarta, PT. Ghalia Indonesia, 1994, p. 134.

Military-State Sponsored Violence

A differing view is put forward by another historian, Hilmar Farid, who suggested that the task of disputing this view is not too intellectually challenging, because blatant evidence can reveal the involvement of state apparatus. Hilmar Farid, ‘Indonesia’s Original Sin: Mass killings and Capitalist Expansion 1965-66’, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Volume 6, Number 1, 2005, p. 8.

Early Military Role

There are important factors that should be taken into account, if we want to look at the military role in the killings. Firstly, the military’s immediate action to control media by closing down all media except Angkatan Bersenjata and Berita Yudha, which were owned by the Army. Pusat Penerangan Angkatan Darat, ‘Fakta-Fakta’, p. 48. By closing down media outlets, it enabled them to create fear through propaganda and the fabricated story of the PKI as the main culprit in the killings of seven generals spread out easily.

Moreover, the military publications also reported that military operations to purge communism in Indonesia’s outer region had succeeded in seizing firearms, grenades and documents revealing the coup plans. This would clearly make people under the impression that the PKI was ready to launch a coup.

Secondly, Suharto was appointed to head the Operational Commander for the Restoration of Security and Order (Pangkokamtib) and commenced an effective campaign against the PKI. In conjunction with the military campaign, KAP Gestapu (Action Front to Crush the Thirtieth of September Movement) was formed by an alliance of anti-Communist organisations and their overall campaign mantra and objective was to

“crush the PKI down its roots.”

Secret Cable Message

There was also a report that the military was involved in the training of youth organisations. According to a cable sent by the US embassy in Jakarta to State Department in November 1965, the Indonesian Army would try to avoid direct confrontation with the PKI.

In Central Java, Army (RPKAD) is training Moslem Youth [probably either Banser or HMI] and supplying them with weapons and will keep them out in front against the PKI. Army will try to avoid as much it can safely do so, direct confrontation with the PKI “¦ Army is letting groups other than Army discredit them [the PKI] and demand their punishment. Cited in Robinson, Hilmar Farid, ‘Índonesia’s Original Sin’, p.8.

Having said this, it can be argued that the training was inextricably linked to the campaign programme and the strategy of avoiding direct confrontation with the PKI.


The support from the military is significant as in some areas the number of the PKI members and its opponents seemed to be on a par. For example, the killings in Bali did not take place until the middle of December 1965. Although tension heightened between two dominant factions in Bali, the PNI and the PKI, it did not culminate in the bloodshed. With the arrival of troops from Jakarta, the anti-communist camp held more sway. Geoffrey Robinson, The Dark Side of Paradise: Political Violence in Bali, Ithaca, New York, Cornell University Press, 1994, p. 295.

Central Java

In Central Java, the arrests and killings took place not long after the arrival of RPKAD (the Indonesian Special Forces) headed by Sarwo Edhie Wibowo. The troops arrived in Semarang on 18th October 1965 and then fanned out to other towns. A witness, Suparno, recalled what happened before he was accused of planning to overthrow the head of the region and arrested and imprisoned for decades. He remembered that the troops paraded in his town Pati, before stopping at the town hall and delivering a speech on what had happened in Jakarta. The operations were then carried out in the next days. Rinto Tri Hasworo, ‘Penangkapan dan Pembunuhan di Jawa Tengah Setelah G-30-S’, in John Roosa, Hilmar Farid and Ayu Raith (eds), Tahun Yang Tak Pernah Berakhir: Memaham Pengalaman Korban 65, ELSAM, Jakarta, 2004, p. 29. With the support from civilian militias, the operations were done easily. The military provided trucks and the militias helped with information or even took part in the killings.

Rivers of Blood

As many may have heard the colour of the River Brantas in East Java, turned to red during the horrific months. Rivers were perhaps the “favourite” places for the killers to dump the bodies. The reason might be practical as the current would take the bodies away. However, the floating bodies in the river might be containing a powerful message for Indonesians. As if they liked to say through the river:

communists should end up like this!

Associate Organisations

Noteworthy, not all of victims were actually communists. Even Gerwani and the labour unions were not officially part of the Communist Party. These organisations worked together with the PKI on several occasions, unlike Pemuda Rakyat, which was officially the youth wing of the party.

One survivor admitted that he was a member of an Islamic party, Masyumi, but was arrested. Ibid.,p.31. It is denunciation behind this false accusation.

Chinese people were amongst the victims but they were by no means a majority.


The fates of victims in prisons were not better than those who were summarily executed. Tortures and killings could happen even in the prisons. Some commentators suggested that the number of inmates shrank in several regions. Zakaria, a leader of youth organisation, who carried out interrogations of prisoners in Lombok, admitted that after August 1966, the number of communist prisoners had decreased. Roosa (et al), ‘Tahun Yang Tak Pernah Berakhir’, p. 16.

In Kediri, this similar method of killings also took place, albeit under the different name of Operasi Teratur or Organised Operation, and resulted in a greater number of victims. Hermawan Sulistyo, Palu Arit di Ladang Tebu: Sejarah Pembantaian Massal Yang Terlupakan 1965-1966, Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia, Jakarta, 2000, p. 173.

For female prisoners, beside tortures, they were also subject to sexual harassments. Nona, a woman who was arrested, was forced to have sex with the military officer and then became pregnant and delivered her baby in the camp. Rinto Tri Hasworo, ‘Penangkapan dan Pembunuhan’, p. 48.

For three decades this horror remained untold. But following the downfall of Suharto, many stories of the massacres began to emerge. Survivors who were released from prison wrote their memoirs giving their accounts on that crucial moment in Indonesian history.

The Future

Discussion on what happened on 1965 is still centred on the mastermind of the coup, however. The pitfall of this over-attention on mastermind may lead to assuming the killings as separated from the establishment of the New Order. As Robert Cribb lamented in his article, the unsolved biggest question is not



“can it happen again?” Robert Cribb, ‘Unresolved Problems in the Indonesian Killings of 1965-1966’, Asian Survey, Vol. 42, No. 4, The Legacy of Violence in Indonesia. (Jul. – Aug., 2002), pp. 550-563.

It is important for Indonesians to contemplate the later question if they want to build a more democratic Indonesian in the future.

69 Comments on “Anti Communist Massacres”

  1. dewaratugedeanom says:


    Did John Roosa (Pretext for Mass Murder), or any of the other researchers, mention something about an eventual involvement or reaction from the PHDI (Parisada Hindu Dharma Indonesia) or its predecessor in Bali? The fierceness of the massacres in Bali raises the suspicion that some higher religious authority might have been backing or at least condoning.

  2. Janma says:

    Ida Bagus Oka told them it was a ‘holy war’ … that because of PKI the light and dark (sekala niskala) was out of balance, so it was their duty to kill them all….. this after quite a few months of the army and various others from Java trying to stir them up, apparently the balinese were quite hard to start up on the massacres but after started were hard to stop.

  3. spew-it-all says:


    I don’t think i remember that. The only scholar who focuses his work on Bali is Geoffrey Robinson. Roosa’s work is mainly centring the link between the failed coup and the mass murder.
    It would be possible if any religious authority such PHDI took that position. At that time, people had to fiercely censure the PKI in order to prove to the public which position that they took.

  4. Odinius says:

    @Adrian…love “A Paradise Created.” Glad to see an “authentic Indonesianist” on here. 🙂

    Keeping on the Bali theme, I I thought I should throw Geoff Robinson’s “The Dark Side of Paradise” into the mix. Pretty interesting findings there about 1965-7: 80,000 killed (the largest proportion of any province’s population), most of whom were either not or only loosely affiliated with the PKI and were targeted more for general leftism or anti-traditionalism in Hindu religious practice. And it happened relatively late in the game after the military sent Col. Sarwo Edhie’s to make sure Bali didn’t skip the bloodletting…

  5. dewaratugedeanom says:

    The funny thing is that in 2002 the PHDI (Parisada Hindu Dharma Indonesia) has been accused on Denpasar’s official website of trying to spread communism in Bali because they wanted to reform the caste system that still exists on the ceremonial level.
    It seems that even in these days any attempt to modernise the social fabric in this country still can be discredited by sticking the label ‘communist’ to it.

  6. Odinius says:

    Wow, that’s interesting. Funny, I was in Wanosobo for the 2004 election and saw these massive banners saying “Wanosobo: proud and free of Communism.” WTF?! I figured red baiting was old hat after the wall fell and China rediscovered capitalism…

  7. El Grinog says:

    Indonesia has always followed the path of pigs and trash, when After America was discovered and west was on Ascension, they become Muslims .
    The analogy Communist in Cambodia is bull shit, after all Chinese Supported and Americans from Thailand Supported the bloody regime, but who ousted them? The Communist Vietnamese, and look at China, with most vibrant economy, Perhaps better look at Cuba, its achievements the only South American Country that wins medals in Olympic, Not to Mention it Army in Angola defeated and DISMANTLED APARTHEID , at Battle of CUITO CANUVALE, nice of you never mention TUTU , TOMI and millions and billions that swallowed and let country in ruins being the School and laboratory for new world order when the entire resources were pocked by multi national,

  8. grimaldo35 says:

    Hello, I´m peruvian, but very interested in what happened in Indonesia 1965.
    It´s clear that those killings were not spontaneous as some hypocrites pretend.
    Militars were behind, training, transporting and arming anti communist civilians.
    Some of those killers were bloodthirsty fanatics (just like Olympus) but some were manipulated or fooled by intense CIA directed campaing of disinformation, some others had to support the killings or to take part in order to avoid been targeted too.

    Bamboo impaled headless corpses floating down Brantas River, corpses clogging small rivers, long streets decorated with PKI heads, that was clearly a crime against humanity.
    Stalin and Mao are presented as “mass murderers” but most of their supposed victims died of starvation (even so more people died of starvation in India between 1949-1976 than in China during the same period).
    Some ignorants still think there was a genocide in Cambodia . . . completely false.
    Cambodia was destroyed before Pol Pot came to power, and people was dying of starvation and epidemics before, during and after Pol Pot. (Pol Pot killed and tortured some people he thought were Vietnam spies)
    Was Pol Pot a monster like Suharto? yes, he was, but he´s been charged with too much deadths.
    Olympus also say “they were communists so they were like the Khmer Rouge!, all communists are just like Pol Pot”. It´s like saying all right wing dictatorships are as brutal as the one of Suharto, completely false, absurd.
    Pinochet was a son of bitch but he can not be compared with Suharto.
    Fujimori is a corrupt fascist, but not as murdeous as Suharto.
    Is really hard to find any right wing murderer as terrible as Suharto: Videla, Trujillo, Sygman Rhee, Chiang Kai Shek, any of them was able to turn rivers red or to decorate long streets with the bloody head of their victims.
    Either way, if PKI had took power were them going to be like the Kmer Rouge? NO.
    PKI was more like the Chilean Socialist Party of Salvador Allende. Like chileans PKI had no weapons and had opted a peaceful road to power.
    If there´s any link between PKI and Khmer Rouge it´s that Pol Pot was in Peking (during cultural revolution) and was informed of the massacres of Indonesia. Pol Pot and Khieu Samphan decided to create a militarized party in order to avoid been massacred like PKI (by the way, Suharto sent militar advisors to Long Nol dictatorship).
    So, PKI was absolutly innocent of any of the charges fascists put on them.
    Which was the mistake of PKI and Aidit?
    Like Salvador Allende, Aidit forgot that if you have no weapons at least for self defense, the fascist will anihilate you.
    Allende thought that a highly civilized and constitutional society would avoid a militar coup, and Aidit thought that Sukarno could use his power to deffend the party in case of a militar attack, both were wrong, and paid with their lives (and the lives of their followers).

  9. tkoreis says:

    Unsurprising for a country that spawned Jemaah Islamiyah

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