The 1965 CIA massacre in Indonesia

The following are excerpts from a speech delivered on Dec. 6, 2005, at a forum hosted by the ANSWER Coalition—Act Now to Stop War and End Racism—in San Francisco. Santos is a spokesperson for the Alliance for a Just and Lasting Peace in the Philippines and a member of the Northern California Steering Committee of International ANSWER.

Former Indonesian president Sukarno led the country on an anti-imperialist path until he was overthrown in a CIA-backed coup in 1965.

Photo: Archive Photos

I would like to thank our esteemed colleagues in the ANSWER Coalition for giving me this opportunity to speak to you tonight about the 1965 CIA massacre in Indonesia and its continuing impact on the world today. The horrendous tragedy of the massacre of millions of Indonesians 40 years ago is an occasion for us to reaffirm our commitment to fight to bring an end to this monster—U.S. imperialism—the world’s number one terrorist and violator of human rights.

The 20th century was a century with an unbroken record of U.S. wars of aggression and bloody conquest against smaller and weaker countries throughout the world. They were wars to give U.S. imperialism the exclusive freedom to move its monopoly capital around the world and the freedom to have colonies from which to extract cheap raw materials and markets to dump its expensive finished goods. That’s why the U.S. government and every U.S. president—especially since William McKinley—always talk about “freedom” and its style of democracy.

U.S. crimes in Asia

What transpired 40 years ago was chronologically the fourth heinous crime of the 20th century perpetrated by U.S. imperialism in Asia.

The first was the brutal re-colonization and occupation of my country, the Philippines, more than a century ago—from 1898 to 1916. That occupation led to the deaths of about 1.4 million people, or about one-fifth of the country’s population at the time. This war to “civilize and Christianize” Filipinos was a war of conquest to establish the Pacific as an American lake—the opening salvo for U.S. imperialism to seize colonies and become a full-fledged imperial power outside of the mainland United States.

The second crime was the atomic bombing of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 60 years ago, instantly killing hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians. It was the first time any country used nuclear weapons in a war.

The third U.S. crime in Asia was the war against the Korean people—a war that in three years led to the deaths of about 3 million Koreans and left the country divided along the 38th parallel until this day.

Then there was Indonesia. Before Vietnam, there was Indonesia. Before the U.S. military moved in to occupy the southern part of Vietnam with about 1 million troops to try and crush the heroic resistance of the Vietnamese people, the CIA orchestrated a bloody massacre in Indonesia.

An era of national liberation

Anti-imperialist billboard in Indonesia, July 1964.

To understand the tragedy of Indonesia, let us briefly review the world situation that led up to it: The period after World War II ushered in a feverish era of countries striving for independence, nations wanting liberation and people waging revolutionary struggles to free themselves from the clutches of their colonial oppressors, particularly in Asia and Africa.

Under the wise and able leadership of Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party, hundreds of millions of people in China stood up and cast away colonial and feudal bondage and the corrupt government of the Nationalist Party, the Guomindang. On October 1, 1949, the Chinese people declared their national freedom from foreign imperialist and puppet control and embarked on the path to establish socialism.

The subsequent war in Korea from 1950 to 1953 was an attempt by the imperialists led by the U.S. military to stem this rising tide of national liberation that was sweeping the East. The imperialists failed to defeat the heroic Korean people supported by the Chinese and Soviet peoples despite the great cost that the Koreans had to bear in defense of their fatherland. Out of the ruins of this U.S. war of aggression and occupation, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea survived in the liberated north.

At about the same time, the Vietnamese people humiliated their French colonial oppressors and defeated them decisively in the valley of Dien Bien Phu and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam secured control in the northern half of their country in 1954. U.S. arms and advisers to the French did not stave off their defeat.

In country after country, the peoples of Asia and Africa were winning their national freedom. The colonial powers were scrambling to retain control as their colonies and semi-colonies struggled to break loose from their stranglehold and achieve national independence.

Indonesia’s national liberation

Indonesians won their independence from their Dutch colonial overlords in 1949. When the Republic of Indonesia came into being, a popular, ardent nationalist by the name of Achmed Sukarno became its president with the help of communists, socialists and other nationalists. Indonesia became politically independent of its colonial masters, even as economically and militarily the latter still had some control.

Indonesia under Sukarno began to take bold steps to overcome all vestiges of colonial control in the economy as well as in other facets of cultural life. In December 1957, Sukarno took steps to nationalize the Dutch-owned businesses like the oil industry.

During this period, his allies in the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), led by Dipa Nusantara Aidit, grew to become the largest communist party outside of the Soviet Union and China, with a membership of 3 million. The mass organizations under its influence easily reached close to 10 million.

The headquarters of the Communist Party of Indonesia was destroyed in the 1965 counterrevolutionary terror.

Sukarno, or Bung Karno, as his people fondly called him, began to play a prominent role in the developing movement worldwide against imperialism and colonialism in Asia, Africa and Latin America. In 1955, Sukarno hosted the Afro-Asian Summit held in Bandung.

Subsequently, Sukarno teamed up with other statesmen like Zhou Enlai of People’s China; Jawaharlal Nehru of India; Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt; and Josip Broz, better known as Marshal Tito, of Yugoslavia to forge the Non-Aligned Movement. This was a grouping of countries newly independent from colonial rule that chose not to align itself with imperialism in the international setting and chart a course free from neo-colonial and imperialist domination.

All of Indonesia’s moves to create a broad international united front with socialist as well as other Third World countries striving for greater independence from imperialist domination and control infuriated U.S. imperialism. This fury was compounded by the following facts.

First, under Sukarno, Indonesia was already the largest Muslim nation on earth.
Second, Indonesia possessed vast oil resources. Having a nationalized oil industry enabled Sukarno to offer cheaper oil to China, India, North Korea, North Vietnam and other non-aligned countries.

Third, much of the world’s trade already flowed through the Malacca Straits between the Malayan Peninsula and Indonesia.

From the start, the business of breaking free or de-linking from the domination of monopoly capital had already prompted the United States and other capitalist powers to demonize People’s China, North Vietnam and North Korea as all part of a “Bamboo Curtain” closing in and descending on the rest of “free” Asia. Indonesia’s association with these people’s democratic states further meant, in the crude imperialist propaganda of the time, that it was another “domino” about to fall into the hands of the communists that were supposedly threatening the rest of the “free” capitalist world.

Sukarno established a “guided democracy”—decision-making in government based on consensus and the best traditions of the Indonesian people. He worked with a broad united front called NASAKOM that included nationalists, religious believers, socialists and communists to make Indonesia more independent from the stranglehold of imperialism.

The Indonesian people’s movement, with the PKI playing a prominent role, made great strides to advance in Indonesian society, but the Indonesian state still remained a bourgeois state that was not yet firmly in the hands of the toiling masses. As patriotic as he was, Sukarno was still, after all, a representative of the national bourgeoisie.

U.S.-backed destabilization

Despite the immense size and influence of the PKI, however, it remained an open democratic, albeit unarmed, force which was exclusively committed to pursuing socialism through the peaceful, parliamentary road. Essentially, it was a sitting duck for its mortal enemies, who were eager to unleash untold violence against them.

The U.S. government, therefore, made it a point to train the Indonesian military and to provide it with increasing military weaponry, “assistance,” and “advisers.” The U.S. government embarked first on external subversion to topple the Sukarno government. U.S. imperialism through its dirty tricks department, the Central Intelligence Agency, made several failed coup attempts against Sukarno’s government with the help of its allies in the Philippine military. In 1958, the CIA fomented an uprising by right-wing anti-communist rebels in Sumatra and Java. That uprising eventually failed due to the lack of popular support.

Then, the United States and Britain provocatively concocted the so-called “Federation of Malaysia” by joining the British satraps of Sarawak and Sabah in the northern half of the island of Borneo with its colonial possessions in the Malayan Peninsula and Singapore in 1963. They staged rebellions with their stooges in Indonesian North Borneo. But Sukarno and his loyalist forces were able to put them down.

Indonesia started an armed and diplomatic confrontation called the Konfrontasi with its pro-British neighbor Malaysia in the island of Borneo. As usual, the United States and Britain used these confrontations to foment anti-Sukarno armed actions as well as organize anti-Sukarno opposition inside Indonesia. The problem was eventually settled diplomatically.

But as Indonesia moved more to the left, the U.S. government stepped up its campaign of intrigues, subversion and economic sabotage against Indonesia. The Pentagon also increased its aid, and its influence within the Indonesian military grew ominously. CIA operatives began to organize within civil society for the purpose of promoting subversion.

As a prelude to the bloody coup, Father Jose Blanco, a Filipino Jesuit priest who was also a CIA operative, formed the KAMI, an Indonesian student organization that started anti-communist demonstrations in Jakarta and all over Indonesia.

Nationalist elements within the Indonesian military, especially in the Indonesian air force, became increasingly alarmed at the treacherous machinations of pro-U.S. and anti-communist elements in the armed forces. One of them, Colonel Untung, the head of Sukarno’s palace guard and a member of the PKI, acted out of patriotism and launched a coup against the rightist elements on Sept. 16, 1965. Seven of these pro-U.S. generals and a few others were killed, but the coup failed to stop them altogether. Moreover, Untung did not have the people’s movement to back him up, and the PKI leadership chose to ignore the warning signs and did not arm the people accordingly.

The coup against Sukarno

This provided U.S.-trained rightists led by Generals Abdul Harris Nasution and Mohamed Suharto the pretext to stage a counter-coup to topple the government of Sukarno. What happened next is now tragic history.

“To save Indonesia, therefore, it had to be destroyed.” This was the logic that the U.S. government repeatedly employed during World War II when it conducted indiscriminate bombing against the Nazis and the Japanese. This was the logic that the Pentagon used to justify bombing Manila into the second most devastated city during the Second World War after Warsaw, resulting in over 100,000 deaths.

U.S. imperialism, working through its puppets Nasution and Suharto and other instrumentalities of the CIA, instigated a terrible bloodbath in Indonesia that ultimately claimed from 1.5 million to as many as 3 million lives.

The KAMI group figured prominently in the anti-communist massacres and pogroms in 1965. In a bid to demolish the equal rights accorded to Indonesians of Chinese ancestry under Sukarno, anti-communist military thugs whipped up an anti-Chinese hysteria and racist frenzy that swept through village after village and island after island in the Indonesian archipelago. Nothing, and no one, was spared in these pogroms.

With CIA-compiled death lists in hand, the anti-communist butchers rounded up everyone suspected of being members or sympathizers of the PKI and summarily put them to death. The rivers literally ran red with the blood of hundreds of thousands of defenseless people—workers, peasants, as well as members of the intelligentsia, men, women and children alike were slaughtered senselessly. The annihilation of the PKI from the face of the earth was nearly complete.

The tens of thousands more that the military did not kill were hauled to prisons to languish, rot in silence and be forgotten. Many were later to die there, and those who survived would remain incarcerated for as long as 35 years. The annihilation of every vestige of the Indonesian people’s movement and the intelligentsia was so thorough that for many years afterwards the Suharto government would have a difficult time running the government for lack of civil servants that they would import teachers and civil servants from the Philippines!

Imperialism’s ultimate insult to injury was denial. Except for the outcry and outrage that resonated from the Soviet Union, China, the socialist countries and the non-aligned bloc of newly independent countries, there were hardly any major protests in the United States and Europe over the genocidal tragedy that unfolded in Indonesia in 1965. The U.S. government was massively involved, but Britain and West Germany to lesser degrees were also funneling arms to the Indonesian military. The mass media paid hardly any attention to this. The U.S. government consistently feigned non-involvement and invoked secrecy for reasons of “national security.”

Why should the U.S. public pry into these matters? Fear and ignorance of communism and the just cause of the oppressed nations fighting for their right to self-determination was what gripped the minds of people in the West. Strangely enough, this senseless callousness and shameless hypocrisy is what carried the day.

The “communist bogey” was then what the “terrorist bogey” is today. Let us remind our pacifist friends in the anti-war movement about this fact. Anyone who harbors the illusion that the path of social change can be achieved without encountering armed, organized resistance of the old ruling classes should take a good look at what transpired in Indonesia. The slaughter of the Indonesian people’s movement is a chilling reminder of the extent to which U.S. imperialism will act to prevent an oppressed people from breaking free from its monopoly-capitalist stranglehold.

When you think about the hundreds of thousands dying in Iraq at the hands of the U.S. occupation forces, when you think about the slaughter of thousands of Haitian people by the hands of U.S. surrogate thugs, or the people of Palestine at the hands of U.S.-financed Zionists, or the rising number of Filipino activists and leaders being murdered at the hands of U.S.-trained, U.S.-armed, and U.S.-financed Philippine soldiers and paramilitary death squads, remember Indonesia. No act of violence or genocide is too heinous for U.S. imperialism to carry out.

We must courageously uphold and defend the legitimate right of nations and peoples under imperialist terror to defend themselves resolutely to win their freedom.

Articles may be reprinted with credit to Socialism and Liberation magazine.

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