Communist Victory

Feb 4th, 2008, in History, Opinion, by

What if the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) had taken over in 1965.

Hypothetical: What Would’ve Happened if the Communists Took Over in 1965?

Halo Friend,

Time for a “hypothetical”, an exercise in imagination, fiction and history. What would have happened if the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) had emerged victorious from the events of September 30, 1965?

I’d like to invite Indonesia Matters readers to contribute their own imagined histories and scenarios.

Mine will follow. I’ll probably get a lot wrong, and my scenarios may be wild and fantastic. Some may find it controversial. No doubt, some will accuse me of justifying dictatorship.

There will be a lot of problems with this exercise.

Everyone will have a different view, but that’s the point.

But here goes.

Three different versions of history in instalments.

Communists Take Power in Indonesia, 1965.

In each scenario, I’ll imagine that some of the Military were concerned with purely their own interests and sided with the winners, in this case the PKI. We’ll assume a Islamic/Nationalist faction side against with the communists and decide to fight. The Navy and Air Force (I think) were already leaning towards the PKI.

Optimistic: Scenario 1.

Aidit, PKI leader, is appointed emergency President of Indonesia. He orders the military to restore order. There are clashes between pro-and anti PKI forces in the villages, countryside and cities. The military is ordered not to use excessive force or to intervene. Confused, the soldiers stand by and let the civilian militia fight it out. The fighting dies down after about five years, but the military is accused of “doing nothing.”

Aidit eventually becomes chairman of the Indonesian Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat (DPR), and restores democracy, but the other major parties, Masyumi, and the Partai Nasionalis Indonesia (PNI) complain of heavy bullying and intimidation. Nevertheless, the PKI emerge as kind of “Eurocommunists.”

The PKI restore democracy, bringing an end to Soekarno’s “Guided Democracy.” They nationalize all remaining Western and many private businesses. Bulog is created, totally taking over distribution of food and basic commodities. (Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese are very angry and become staunch opponents of the communists).

The PKI pursue a Soviet Bloc/Chinese model of development, pursuing “Socialism with Indonesian Characteristics”. Economic growth is 0% due to the withdrawal of capital and economic disruption, but famine is averted.

Islamist leaders in Aceh, West Java, Makassar, and other devout parts of Indonesia all set aside cherished desires for an Islamic state and accept Communist-led government. Initially, some PKI leaders had worried about secessionists, but are happy to allow Islamist leaders to call on the Umat to revolt and in some cases, mercilessly slay the godless atheists.

Yet multi-party democracy is allowed. In 1970, Indonesia holds its first multi-party elections since 1955, and the PKI are soundly defeated, with a PNI-Masyumi coalition taking power. PNI-Masyumi follow a conventional Western model of development, but the PKI, who still control 35 % of parliament, stall all major efforts at reform.

Eventually, Indonesia settles on a Socialist-Democrat model, pursuing a similar growth path to India. Mass poverty (as measured by the World Bank), remains, as India’s did, at over 50% for 25 years. The public-works programs financed by Jakarta alleviate some of the the worst symptoms of poverty, as they did in Kerala and China, but Indonesia remains amongst Asia’s very poorest nations. In the mid 1990s, Indonesia embarks on a messy stop-start market liberalization program that continues to this day.

Medium: Scenario 2.

PKI realize persuasion – as well as force – must be used to bring about Communism in Indonesia. Soekarno announces “Nasakom”, the blend of Nationalism, Communism and Religion, will be the guiding ideology of Indonesia. Soekarno stays in power.

The PKI strikes a deal with the Nahdlatul Ulama: Muslims still allowed to pray and practice in in private life in return for supporting the party. Some Kyais accept. Some violently object, joining a nation-wide widespread Islamic revolt against Jakarta, supported by the Muhammadiyah.

The ideological battle for the countryside that has been raging since the mid-1950s continues. By about 1970, the rivalry between Soekarno and the PKI intensifies, with Soekarno wooing the nationalist faction of the military. Inflation remains at 600% overall and 1000% in rice prices, bringing about widespread malnutrition in Java and famine in Eastern Indonesia, East of Lombok.

By 1972, the human crisis has become unbearable and the army intervenes whilst the politicians bicker. A reckoning with the PKI’s forces in the countryside follows.

Pessimistic: Scenario 3

Aidit appointed emergency President. Like Soekarno he appoints himself President for life and declares Indonesia must “return to the year zero”. Forced collectivization of the countryside, as in China and Cambodia. Village life is completely reordered around rural collectives.

All land becomes the property of the state and the PKI, which is the vanguard of the people. There is no problem because the people still own the land. Capitalist running-dogs are to be eliminated and the military is deployed to enforce the will of the people.

Religious and ethnic rebellions in Aceh, Makassar, West Java, Bali, Madura, and many parts of Central Java, where a Maoist state in Jakarta radicalizes even some Nahdlatul Ulama. Factions of the Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI) side with the rebels. Aidit vows he will fight to his death to bring about the “Will of the People” in Indonesia. Civil war ensues. Jakarta proves unable to retain control over much of Sumatra and Sulawesi. Kalimantan secedes, as does Papua. Java left to support Eastern Indonesia.

32 Comments on “Communist Victory”

  1. TheWrathOfGrapes says:

    Achmad — Achtung!!! Here’s the hypothetical answers to your hypothetical question.

    1) The communists took over and united the whole archipelago.
    2) Immediate turmoil and some bloodshed, followed by Indonesian versions of the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Backwards.
    3) No seccessions or talk of break-away regions as these are put down ruthlessly.
    4) After 2 decades of failed central planning and equal misery, an enlightened Indonesia pragmatist (similar to Deng Xiao Ping) rose to the challenge and decided that it doesn’t matter whether the kucing is black or white – it is a good cat as long as it catches mice. For convenience, this hypothetical hero is named Su Ah Mad.
    5) In effect, Indonesia travelled the Long March to prosperity a la the China way.
    6) Indonesia ‘s reserves of foreign exchange of gold is now US$1,439 billion, instead of US$53 billion.

    The second scenario would be for a Patung’s Action Party to ride the communist tiger to win the hearts and mind of the Indonesian people.

    1a) The communists took over and united the whole archipelago.
    2a) Unions were banned, ministers’ salary were cut, and secret societies rooted out.
    3a) Though democratic in name, the economic practices were more socialist, if not down right communist, as can be seen in the pervasive state planning, state pension plan and massive participation of government linked companies in the economy. Multi-national companies were courted to provide jobs and market in an era where nationalism reigned and MNCs were being booted out by many developing countries.
    4a) Indonesia has in name embraced communist socialism, but in fact embraced socialist capitalism.
    5a) In effect, Indonesia travelled the less-trodden path of building on the infrastructure left by the colonial masters and improving on it, instead of demonising and pinning all the economic woes on the past exploitations – the tiny red dot way.
    6a) Indonesia ‘s reserves of foreign exchange of gold is now US$155 billion, instead of US$53 billion.

  2. Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Tovarisch (Comrade) ! Thank you. Not sure about those foreign exchange figures — China’s domestic market is just a tiny leetle bit bigger than Indonesia’s… But many thanks. Da Comrade, Da ! Da !

    * Singing the East is Red *

  3. Sputjam says:

    If communist had taken over Indonesia in 1965, the rest of south east Asia would follow suit, due to support from two giant communist states (China and Indonesia) given to other communist insurgents in south-east Asia.
    Soekarno and Chao-En-Lai were blood brothers and were for a united third world under Non-aligned movement.
    Australia would feel threatened and armed itself with nuclear missiles. China may station some hydrogen bomb capable missiles on TIMOR and we would have our own nuclear stand off just like Europe had during the cold war.

  4. Murphy says:

    After the 1965 coup succeeded, Indonesia’s politics changed to some sort of parliamentary democracy with Sukarno remained “president for life” and “great leader of the revolution”. PKI knew very well that they wouldn’t be able to rule Indonesia without Sukarno at the throne. Aidit became prime minister and quickly proposed that all members of DPR to be replaced with revolutionary-progressive politicians, a.k.a PKI supporters. Suharto died misteriously in a “car accident” in Puncak Pass. Following the 30th September massacre all army leaderships were replaced with pro-PKI generals. PKI continued with land reform across Java and Sumatra, snatching state land and land belongs to the NU landlords and divided them among PKI member and supporters. Seeing that being member of PKI entitled people with such benefit, PKI membership swelled from 3 million to more than 15 million in 2 years time. No bloodbath or riots following the land reform as PKI then had the full backing of the army. Nobody in Indonesia had the power or guts to confront the deadly PKI-army combo.

    The weapons arrived from China to arm the farmers and peasants. PKI was then equipped with 500,000 strong armed militia; capable of invading a small nation. The konfrontasi with Malaysia would continue. The cornered Communist Party of Malaya was given new blood by infusion of army and weapons from Indonesia. Malaya and Northern Borneo remained in civil war for many years to come.

    PKI halted all Sukarno’s grandiose projects; arranged for soft loans from China and Russia to finance the country mounting debt. All foreign companies were nationalised. This was followed by nationalization of few big local corporations (sadly, all Indonesia had at the time). PKI created it’s own brand of communism, focused more on strengthening the agriculture rather than forcing for industrialization. All pesantrens and madrasahs was closed as the santri was needed to “build the country”. They were employed as low paid labour to build road, irrigation, dams, and power plants. All effort was directed to build Indonesia as major agriculture producers.

    Sukarno’s life was short; the “doctor” from China insulated him from western medical treatment and his health condition worsen. He passed away in 1968. He was missed and mourned, but nothing was changed in political scene. Soebandrio was appointed as “President of Indonesia”. Masyumi and PNI were never outlawed, but they were demonised continuously by PKI, labelled as “imperialist puppet”. You need a very strong gut to walk into crowd and flash your PNI membership card; as this invited insult at best and death at worst. Becoming member of other political parties was useless anyway as PKI suspended election indefinetely.

    Indonesia’s GDP plunged deeper for the first 3 years as most of productive companies were were now run by inefficient and corrupt PKI bureaucrats. However, the building of infrastructure paid off. With increasing of agriculture production capacity, Indonesia achieved food security in 1974. GDP started to increase at 3% rate starting 1973. However actual GDP per capita was stagnant as population growth remained unchecked. From PKI’s perspective Indonesia high population is an asset; not liability.

    Malaya was divided into two: the peninsula became The People’s Republic of Malaya and Northern Borneo remained the land of conflicts with three parties joining the war; the western supported Malay, the Indonesian backed Chinese, and the Philippines supported Sabah nationalist. America and the west had given up hope on South East Asia.

    Indonesia then followed the Vietnamese path. Centralised economy, repressed citizen, burgeoning small capitalist under the disguise of “marhaenism”, another Indonesian brand of communism. Luckily high oil price in the 1970’s supported the economy. Roads were built, children were sent to school, and free health care was the norm. Economy grew at healthy 4.5% per annum. For the first 15 years, Indonesia broadcasted the illusion of stability to the world and was the poster boy of communism. The whole southeast Asia remained entreched in poverty. Indonesia was poor; but the neighbours, except for the Philippines, were even poorer.

    However, PKI never was the omnipotent communist party as in Vietnam or Malaysia. Corrupt officials and brutal repression continuously created resentment among people. People remained poor and lost hope as the beacon that is Sukarno was not shining anymore. Only religion and faith gave people hope. PKI was never able to completely repress religious activity. People still gathered in the mosque in the evening to listen to pengajian albeit with “supervision” by at least one PKI member. Strong religious affinity held the dissident together. Secretly an underground organisation backed by Masyumi and Nahdlatul Ulama gained sympathy from the masses. Even some TNI element started to build relationship with this rapidly growing movement. The support mostly came from army officers who were tired with constant competition with the “Angkatan ke-5” militia to receive favour from the PKI Central Commitee.

    In 1982, backed by the CIA, Masyumi and NU organised mass protest, mobilizing 3 million people all over Indonesia supported by anti-PKI military officer. Everybody was asked to wear green as symbol of muslims solidarity. This people power revolution was called affectionately as the “Green Revolution” by western media. Some bloodbath ensued as the military and PKI’s militia fired live bullet to the rally. However, in a fairy tale turn of events; all armed forces officers unitedly sound their support for the movement. Wisely averting full scale civil war, PKI central committee and the army agreed to the compromise of general election in 1 year time.

    First democratic election in 30 years followed in 1984 won by NU and (revived) PNI coalition. The western world hailed the result as the victory of democracy against communism. Indonesia distanced herself from China and the Sovyet Union. The “Angkatan Ke-5” was absorbed into the army. Communist jargons were replaced with Nationalist jargon and (ironically) free market jargon. Twenty years under corrupt communist government, no institution in Indonesia was capable to master democracy and free market economy at the same time. A rushed liberalisation created oligarchs similar to what we saw in Boris Yeltsin’s Russia. Indonesia plunged again into deeper crisis. The artificially propped up rupiah lost 50% of it’s value in one month. Oil price went south to $8 per barrel. GDP was a 5% free fall in 1985; and never saw black in 5 years to come.

    After 3 years, people were again dissilusioned by the government. However the winning coalition kept their promise to run general election in 1989, exactly at the same time with the fall of Berlin Wall. Masyumi won the election of 1989. Masyumi leader, learnt from the 25 years of failure decided to use their band of Sicily University educated economist to overhaul the economy. Italy, back then, was the only country outside the Communist Bloc approved for overseas education. This group of economist swiftly imposed restructuring program for Indonesia ailing economy. They drafted competition law, impose fiscal discipline, renegotiate foreign debt, and continue with, albeit slower, liberalization. This economists until now are still known as “The Sicily Mafia”.

    By 1997, Indonesia seemed to be on the right track. Democracy was flourishing, the market economy gave Indonesia average of 10% growth per annum. The income per capita remains low at $380 per year, but after 30 years people started to see that there was hope for Indonesia. But on the fateful April 1997, the Thai Bath was under attack by currency speculator…….

  5. Here is what would have happened. The United States would have extended the Vietnam War to Indonesia, maybe through English or Austrailian proxy forces. They would have napalmed and carpet bombed Java into submission. Indonesia would have been broken into numerous mini-states. Finally, they then would have installed Soeharto as their puppet for the next 32 years.

  6. Janma says:

    Here is what would have happened. The United States would have extended the Vietnam War to Indonesia, maybe through English or Austrailian proxy forces. They would have napalmed and carpet bombed Java into submission. Indonesia would have been broken into numerous mini-states. Finally, they then would have installed Soeharto as their puppet for the next 32 years.

    I agree…. that’s probably what would have happened.

  7. Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Um, folks, none of this really looks pretty, ‘specially the Timor nuclear bomb scenario. Let’s not forget Mao Tse Tung was a bit of an imperialist megalomaniac according to Wild Swans author…

    Also, Murphy, would the PKI just have rolled over and taken it ?

    Thomas Belfield, the U.S. wasn’t exactly successful in carpet bombing Vietnam into submission. The TNI was pretty good at guerilla warfare, much more experienced than the U.S. at the time — who hadn’t done it since the 1860s I daresay the Javanese populace wouldn’t have been too thrilled at carpet bombing and supported anyone that fought the invaders.

    So, yes, a U.S.-supported President might have taken power, but of a massively destabilized and weakened state with Islamist and communist rebellions across the archipelago. Wouldn’t have been pretty, now, would it ?

  8. Janma says:

    Achmad a US supported President did take power…. and there was a communist rebellion which was quickly put down…. (hence the massacre)….. and no, it wasn’t very pretty.

  9. Murphy says:


    Rolled over and taken what? Malaya? Then they would face direct armed confrontation with the West; completely a different ballgame compared to the face-spitting competition initiated by Sukarno. With their “arsenal” of decrepit ex-Sovyet’s WWII warships, PKI was smart enough to know that they were no match to American or British firepower.

  10. Achmad Sudarsono says:


    You’re thinking of a direct confrontation ala Clausewitz. But the entire theory of communist insurrection, Mao Tse Tung, Che Guevara, Vo Nguyen Giap, as well as their urban heirs, is based on indirect confrontation of asymmetric warfare.

    They were pretty good at it too — hide in the countryside, hills, forests, live amongst the people and forage off the enemy. It could’ve gone on for years — 29 years in Aceh to be precise (a guerilla rebellion, that is), that the TNI never “won.”

    Think about it. Cuba, 1959. China 1949. Vietnam 1975. Russia, 1917. Many communist victories around the world. Nukes in 1965-66 made such direct confronations very, very delicate. Hence the spread of guerilla warfare and indirect conflict. Seriously, dude, this is strategy 101. Where’ve you been ?


    Yes, thanks for that, Soeharto was western-backed. Wow. I meant in the theoretical universe where the PKI took power, it might have been unstable enough for long enough that the right, led by someone like Soeharto, counterattacked and took power.

  11. Murphy says:

    Achmad my dear, that’s exactly what I wrote. PKI sent ship loads of AK-47s and trained soldiers to Malaya; fueling guerilla-style civil war throughout the peninsula; forced the British backed Malays into shameful defeat. When their side won, PKI simply installed Chin Peng as leader of the puppet government in the newly formed People’s Republic of Malaya.

    Indonesia doesn’t have to win the territory, as territory annexation means inviting British’ (or worse, American’s) fighter jets into Jakarta airspace. Asymmetric or otherwise, war is costly and most probably, politically deadly. The Sovyet Union practised the same strategy in the 50s to the 70s. Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan; held in leash, yet they remained “independent” state. Seriously, Dude, this is Cold War 101. Where’ve you been?

    However, I must continue, PKI miscalculated the political tenacity of Chin Peng. Malaya is 60% Chinese. China, of course has soft spot for chinese majority communist country. Once he’s in power he skilfully played his “chinese” card to balance Indonesia with China. PKI, not willing to offend China, left communist Malaya unharmed.

  12. Achmad Sudarsono says:


    They didn’t win. The Brits won that round with the Malaysian communists.

    Point is, in Indonesia a guerilla-style rebellion, if the PKI had a few years to consolidate could’ve gone on for a long time. As you say, costly.

    But why would the U.S. be able to win here while they were losing in Vietnam ? A war on two fronts ?

    Also, I don’t think that’s right about Chin Peng, is it ? Weren’t the PKI more or less domestically focused ?

    Anyone, anyone ?

  13. Achmad Sudarsono says:


    I post this to Global Voices. I think I’ll also accuse them of neo-imperialism and trying to silence the voice of the Brown Man. That should wind them up a bit.

    Halo My Fren,

    I am pleased you have listed this post, but saddened and disturbed you have ignored earlier posts of critical importance such as Western efforts to steal Indonesia’s UFO technology and “how to pick up babes in Jakarta Malls.” I am but a humble Ukuele player and poet, but it would be nice if my 15 minutes (15 seconds ??) of internet fame was on something important: like the rise of Indonesia’s neo-Mojopahit empire.

    I thank you friend. Now I wish to play my Ukuele all night long.

    Merdeka ! (Freedom).

  14. dewaratugedeanom says:

    I don’t dare to speak for the other islands, but growing rice on the moon would probably be easier than establishing a communist regime in Bali. Why should Communism succeed where Islam has failed? And even so it would sooner or later be adapted to some sort of bale banjar communism.

  15. Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Bali already has a kind of communism. But yes, they’d fight to the end. One thing the Balinese are not flexible about are their offerings, ceremonies, holidays, Banjar responsibilities.

  16. Janma says:

    Socialism is more what would have worked in Indonesia. Not communism. I don’t think they could have really created an atheist regime anywhere in Indonesia.
    And for what it’s worth I found Soeharto’s regime had many communist type attributes, like the massacre of thousands, the silencing of the press, the fear instilled in the people and the whole brainwashing attempt.

  17. Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Not to mention the “five year plans,” Repelita (where did that come from !), and BUMN-led vision of industrialization. Then there were the Mao-like pictures of Pak Harto in the village with a rice farmer’s hat.

  18. Masindi says:

    Fidel Castro from Cuba would have befriended PKI and shared his ongoing success in providing free healthcare and education for all.

    Che Guevara would have received a Javanese name Che “Gapuro”.

  19. Ross says:

    Interesting stuff.
    Having published a book, ‘Red Jakarta – A Novel of the PKI Dictatorship in Java, 1966-2006’ I tend to think a PKI take-over would have been a nightmare of all the usual communist atrocities. Reluigion persecuted, academic institutions strait-jacketed, land stolen from the peasants via collectivisation, rice shipped to needy comrades while Indoensians starved. And the media?
    That old creep Pramoedya would have become a typical conscienceless culture commissar. The suppression of the anti-red media would have been even more firm than when he was egging on the book-burners from his pedestal in LEKRA, while Aidit would have jumped at the chance to put into practice the brave new theories of his idols in North Korea. Death camps, labour camps, concentration camps, just like Cuba, Vietnam, Laos and the genocide experts in Beijing.
    The only way to examine the PKI is to see what their counterparts did elsewhere. Political cultures may differ, from Russia to Hungary to Albania to Cambodia, and those mentioned above, but they were all run by murderous red ratbags.

  20. Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Ross — now all the anti-communism clicks. Cyber-promotion. Viva !

  21. Ross says:

    Almost all sold out already, so alas, avid would-be customers must needs await the next one!
    My publishing empire is actually pretty low-key- it’s purely a hobby, print a couple of hundred and flog ’em to pals, colleagues and my email network. It’s simply that there is so much material in Indonesia it’d be a shame not to write it up.

  22. pj_bali says:


    Actually Che was renamed Bung Tomo. Check out the link. This is funny.

  23. Odinius says:

    Imagine the horror of a communist takeover: no democracy, guided or otherwise; massive corruption; uneven development; machine party politics; rule of the military; maybe even mass killings!

    oh wait…

  24. TheWrathOfGrapes says:

    Good one Odinius!. Give me communism a la China (post black-cat-white-cat) or Vietnam (recent years) any time…


  25. Janma says:

    ‘Red Jakarta – A Novel of the PKI Dictatorship in Java, 1966-2006″²

    A novel meaning fiction Ross?
    Cause I don’t know which PKI dictatorship lasted from 1966 till 2006 in Java….?

  26. Janma says:

    PJ Bali, that was a funny link! Malangsia juga Indonesia ya!!! I think it’s pretty rotten that Bung Tomo went to jail and that the one who put him there is going to get the hero status.

  27. Ross says:

    Janma, you are totally accurate in your definition of novels. Fiction, but hopefully well-researched when dealing with alternative futures or pasts. I also produce ghost stories, even more fictional!

  28. Pak Rachmat (PNS) says:

    As a matter of fact, Repelita has now been substituted by Rencana Pembangunan Jangka Menengah (RPJM) Tahun 2004-2009, and I was finishing the 2009-2014 version untul dawn last night (so I could charge taxpayers some badly needed extratime). In addition, BUMN led industrialization is replaced by PEPI Team (Tim Nasional Peningkatan Ekspor dan Peningkatan Investasi), which is chaired by Bpk Presiden SBY. Thus, in terms of Central Planning, pemri consistently strives to match the excellent standard set by Kabinet Bpk Presiden Soeharto (RIP) during orde baru. However, I must underline that they had it easy back then. Now we face obstacles such good governance and accountability. I am not entirely certain what those definitions imply in the first place. There are also previously unforeseen difficulties as a consequence of regional autonomy. Pemri now has to compete with Polri, TNI and regional authority when charging services (jasa) for the purpose of licence faciliation to the business community. It has gotten so bad recently, even pemri has to compete with other institutions within. I personally denounce such practices as iti gives a conflicting image to potential businesses. Such incident would never happen in Orba. Back then it was ten percent and everything was taken care of. I hope I don’t bore you to death, but I am just trying to share my concern. I am sorry if i do.

  29. Country man says:

    Can just we say that Communisim is setting the common misery for all of us in all aspects of life , and the Capitalism is to rip systematically the welfare right of the most people to a ceratin group of captilalist making uneven welfare distrubution ? Sosialist is nothing more than a clown and try to neat picking on what’s good of Communism and waht’s good on Capitalism. Isn’ it ?

  30. Gunung Batu says:

    Capitalism is man exploiting man. Communism is the other way around.

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