Pogroms in East Java 1965-66

Jan 10th, 2006, in History, by

The nature of the 1965-66 pogroms in Indonesia as they occurred in East Java province.

Background. On September 30, 1965, a coup attempt took place in Jakarta which involved the murder of six generals. The exact playout of the coup, or even whether what took place constituted a coup attempt at all, is hotly disputed to this day, and we will concern ourselves with how the events were perceived in the country and what flowed from these perceptions, rather than deal with the coup itself.

The said coup attempt was blamed on the PKI, the Communist Party of Indonesia. It failed and in the subsequent months the PKI was systematically destroyed, by a combination of military and civilian forces. In some areas of Indonesia the campaign against the PKI widened into a more general pogrom against certain groups in society, in the main Javanese peasantry, Hindu peasantry, and perhaps, but to a much lesser extent, ethnic Chinese, in general all people who were thought to be connected to the PKI, in that they were believed to be the party’s main supporters, but animosity against whom went much deeper than recent party affiliations, and had much older, sectarian and class causes.

The numbers of killed in these pogroms is believed to have been between 500,000 and 2 million persons, typically for Indonesia there is much like this that is not agreed upon. Here we will look at one of the primary sources used to study the killings in East Java province, “Report from East Java”, available for viewing at Cornell (PDF).

The work constitutes a field report by an military intelligence officer on the progress of the liquidation of the Communist Party in the towns and villages of East Java. East Java, along with Bali and north Sumatra saw the greatest number of “crushing actions” by both military and civilian groups. The province was held to be a stronghold of the Communist Party.


First the author deals with formal, semi-official plans for the destruction of the Communist Party. He notes that a “United Action Command” was formed to oversee the process, after there had been some outbursts of spontaneous popular violence.

The phase of people’s spontaneity was followed by efforts at more organization, and by formation of a United Action Command. This Action Command was comprised of the parties and their Mass Organizations: the Nahdatul Ulama [NU], the Catholic Party, the PSH [Partai Sarekat Islam Indonesia, Indonesian Islamic Union Party], Parkindo [Partai Keristen Indonesia, the Protestant Party], the IPKI [Ikatan Pendukung Kemerdekaan Indonesia, League of Upholders of Indonesian Independence, an army-affiliated party], and the PNI-Hardi.

At the outset we have a fairly broad range of political interests involved.

  • Nahdatul Ulama, the largest Muslim political group. (18% share of 1955 election.)
  • Catholics, aggressively anti-communist.
  • Partai Sarekat Islam Indonesia, a small Islamic party.
  • Protestants, although the author later states they were “confused” about their position.
  • Military, no surprises there.
  • PNI-Hardi, the right-wing faction of the PNI, a nationalist-secular party which had won the ‘55 election with 22% of the vote.

One important absence is the Masyumi party (21%, 1955), a modernist Islamic group which had been banned for its involvement in a rebellion in west Sumatra after the 1955 election. Masyumi in any event had only weak support in east Java, the powerbase of the Nahdatul Ulama, and an important source of votes for the nationalist-secular parties.

A video showing a grave excavation and some scenes from 1965.

The author mentions that Nahdatul Ulama took the lead in the Action Command while other parties were slow to act. In some strongly anti-communist areas it appears social groups such as Nahdatul Ulama took the lead early on in the massacres and dissolution of the Communist Party, while in other areas the Army was the main agent.

Alongside this Action Command which organized the “open” [E] actions, there exists a committee consisting of the NU, IPKI, the Catholics, the Protestants, Muhammadiyah, and the PNI-Hardi, for the purpose of forming a “brain trust” [E] for the crushing of the PKI.

Clearly again there is broad-based, inter-faith cooperation.


So who were the victims? To the author of the report there is no question, the targets are communist cadres, leaders and officials of the Communist Party in east Java. However in several places he voices concern that some among the participants in the “crushing” were over-enthusiastic and killed people who were merely vague supporters of the Party, its voters.

Some of his examples.

Karangasem. This village is a center for “gun-slingers” and robbers. … it became a hideout for the PKI and PR [Communist youth]. This was discovered by the Pemuda Ansor [NU Youth], and, with spirits ablaze and insufficient calculations, they made an attack on Karangasem from Muncar and Banyuwangi with four trucks, three cars, and four motorcycles. The PKI got wind of their plan and made preparations.


In the area of Rogojampi, many PKI figures were kidnapped and murdered by religious groups.

and in Bondowoso

The community, especially the Religious groups, were very active in reporting PKI elements to those in authority, who would then take action. Only in ODM [Military Sub-Districts] and 139 BODM [Military Sub-District Bodies] were many PKI elements found….

in Jember

..the Religious groups that were present wanted to burn down the HQ of the PKI..

At a mass rally of the Religious groups, resolutions were passed demanding the banning of the PKI…

in Madura

In Sampang, as is known, the Police chief, Sutarjo, was murdered at a large rally.

Recently anti-Javanese sentiment has arisen, because people think that it was Javanese who brought the PKI into Madura. But the NU leadership took action quickly in order to prevent [anti-Javanese] excesses.

in the provincial capital Surabaya

After the large rally in Surabaya, purges were finally organized against Gestapu and PKI elements, as well as against workers who had taken over the enterprises (the Ngagel Complex and State Trading Enterprises) on October 1, 1965.

The mass concentration of the PKI in Surabaya is in the southern part of the City (primarily in Gubeng-trowongan, Patemen, and Pakis). There have already been purges in these areas.


In Mojokerto almost all the PKI leaders, activists, and executioners have been finished off.


In the Paree (Kediri) area there is a village in which the lurah [village headman] and Ansor together took the initiative to protect the [PKI] peasant farmers””who were only taggers-on””by giving them badges as members of Ansor or NU. They were gathered together, and coincidentally, there happened to be an operation by the military and Ansor going on. Seeing many people gathered together, the soldiers and Ansor asked the lurah who all these people were. The lurah, nervous and panicked, responded that they were PKI.

Before he had finished speaking, every one of the approximately 300 people was killed, and their families were not permitted to remove their bodies so that they were buried where they lay.

This last example is quite instructive. Undoubtedly it is the tip of the iceberg in terms of wider occurrences of the same type. The main victims, apart from PKI cadres, were ordinary, poor peasants who had made the mistake of voting for the PKI, or were associated with it. Many of these peasants had heeded the calls of the PKI leadership in the early sixties for unilateral land redistribution.

The Jagir dam on the river in Surabaya. Contemporary sources speak of it becoming clogged with bodies.

In other places he makes mention of attacks on Chinese-owned stores and there was an obvious connection in some minds between the Indonesian Communist Party, Red China, and the local Chinese population.

In Situbondo he says

The people are very anti-Chinese, as many of them are Arabs.

In Madura

Arrests of PKI leaders and cadres were undertaken, and in several places (tobacco storage) warehouses were burned down, most of them owned by Chinese considered to be financiers of the PKI. Also the contents of several Chinese-owned stores were brought out on the street and burned.

In the capital

In addition, the contents of several Chinese stores were taken out onto the streets and burned.

No mention is made of any killings or massacres of Chinese.


The NU forms the vanguard of the movement to crush the PKI and its mass organizations.

The Nahdatul Ulama is very strong in east Java and hence their leadership role is to be expected. The writer mentions factional disputes within the NU.

Within the NU forces there are two groups, one of which used to cooperate with the PKI. This group has been geisoleerd [D: isolated].

The Catholics are seen as reliable.

Two groups can also be found in the Catholic Party, and, as in the case of NU, the domineerend [D: dominant] one is now anti-PKI. Their mass following is more gedίsplineerd [sic] [D: disciplined] and organized, and their key strength lies in their youth, especially college students. Their leader is Rusmo, a member of the Kasimo group.

Mention is also made of a small group:

Aside from these parties, there is also the HMI [Islamic Student Organization of Indonesia], which has better organization, complete with “planning” [E] and has many exponent en [D: exponents] in the ranks of the Army (formerly Hizbullah) and the Navy.

Other groups are regarded as less valuable, or too conflicted by past cooperation with the Communist Party.

Finally the writer deals with the role of the armed forces and the civil service. It was…

…the Regional Commanders in East Java who took actions and initiatives, leading the extermination.

…not their superiors at Territorial (provincical) level. Some regional commands are called out for being slack, or for having been infiltrated by communists.

By way of some conclusion there is

The wave of killings is still continuing, and many of those who are being killed are followers who did not know much. Many excesses have emerged…

It is these “excesses” that the events of the day are most famous for today.

7 Comments on “Pogroms in East Java 1965-66”

  1. Felis says:

    Thanks Patung.
    Very informative.

  2. David says:

    I found this site, http://www.syarikat.org/, which is interesting because it’s a Nahdatul Ulama site and they made it to try to say “sorry” for their role in the massacres.

  3. Felis says:

    I remember a few Indonesian students doing their degrees in Warsaw, who were sponsored by the Communist government in Poland.
    They were from families with radical-left background.
    Obviously there must’ve been many more in USSR at the time.
    When the massacres occurred, it seemed to me that “our”, communists authorities were taken by complete surprise.
    The media started blaming the US and other lackeys of imperialism of course.
    I couldn’t help for feeling sorry for the students, who were ordered by the Indonesian Embassy to return immediately (their passports were revoked).
    They did return.
    I don’t recall anybody asking for political asylum.
    I suppose their families were still there and so they felt they would endanger them if they decided to stay.
    I never learnt what happened to those kids (19-22).

  4. Glennis says:

    Chinese, Commies, I have no idea what these wackos think at the time.

  5. David says:

    Felis actually there’s a good chance they survived. I think about a million people were imprisoned, most of them for not too long, and most survived it. After that their ID cards were stamped with a code for ex-political prisoner and this would limit their choices in life vis-a-vis employment and marriage, etc.

  6. Robert says:

    Felis, I do know that some people never returned to Indonesia, some became exiles in the former USSR, China and Europe. Hereafter a couple of them left the USSR and China and spent the last part of their life in the Netherlands.

    What made it extra bitter for them that some of them were involved in the struggle for independence against the Dutch in the years 1945-1949, and that they weren’t able to return to the country which they love and used to fight for.

    In the Netherlands the exile-issue became actual again because it was adressed by the the new Indonesian ambassador to the Netherlands, Mr. J.E. Habibie, a couple of months ago. He said that the exiles could return to Indonesia now, because there isn’t any risk anymore of being prosecuted.

    However these exiles mention that former PKI-members and suspected-to-be-communists have been blacklisted from many occupations including government jobs and are still not being treated as “normal” citizens. So -for some of the exiles- living in Indonesia is not a realistic option, without apologies and/or rehabilitation. Also having started a new life abroad makes it also difficult to live to Indonesia again.

  7. rustyprince says:

    Grim reading here, and its a wonder how anyone can seek to condone the atrocities by the ‘Conservative’ groupings when among them, the mostly benign/pluralistic, Nahdatul Ulama now seek to atone for their involvement.
    I have no deep realization of the Javanese and neighboring Balinese character but it seems they are less than candid about the ‘post coup’ round-up and slaughter. Images which must be still vividly ingrained in their memories as neighbors/colleagues even family members and friends diseappeared. So why the continuing ‘omerta’, is it shame based, or just a flippancy in the character to move on, the past is the past, ‘time is money’ nonsense?
    And just one further query, did the surviving PKIs, their offspring, play any role in the ‘Reformasi’ movement who finally made Suharto’s steward-ship untenable or in the continuing radical student demonstrations? Were they just over-representative?
    Any affirmative to these queries might suggest a plausible explanation for the authorities unwillingness to disband FPI and other sectarian firebrands.

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