Revisiting the G30S/PKI
    Category: Column By : Taufik Darusman Read : 1077 Date : Sunday, July 10, 2016 - 19:44:30

    The recent acrimonious exchange of words between former generals over what Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Kivlan Zein and his supporters claimed to be the re-emergence of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) has resonated beyond national borders. During the recent Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore, a meeting of defense ministers on Asia-Pacific security issues, Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu was asked if the now defunct PKI really posed a threat to Indonesia. Ryamizard reportedly said: “The nation must remain vigilant against the PKI as it had twice, in 1948 and 1965, launched a rebellion.”

    In 1966 the then nation’s Army-controlled highest body, the People’s Consultative Body (MPR), issued a decree banning the PKI (and Communist teachings) for its alleged complicity in the so-called 1965 “September 30th/PKI Movement” (G30S/PKI) that saw six generals murdered. In his book “Economists with Guns” (2008), Princeton University scholar Bradley R. Simpson cited an internal CIA memo saying: “Regardless of whether the Army really believes that the PKI was solely responsible, it is presenting this as the case and is acting accordingly.” Two years earlier, in 2006, in his widely-acclaimed and well-researched book, “Pretext for Mass Murder,” University of British Columbia’s John Roosa went so far as to write: “Despite the steady stream of propaganda for more than thirty years, Suharto’s army never proved that the PKI had masterminded the movement.”

    In the aftermath of the 1965 movement, which saw Suharto, a relatively obscure two-star Army general, come to power and rule the country for over three decades, it was politically incorrect for any Indonesian to think that the PKI was not behind it. To think otherwise would mean the movement was actually an internal Army issue—as Western scholars would have it—an even worse political heresy in the eyes of powerholders.  Today, post-reformasi Indonesians are agnostic: the G30S/PKI may or may not have been conceived by the PKI, but it was factually executed by military units led by Lieut. Colonel Untung, the presidential security chief. What is also a fact is that the movement was not a coup attempt as such against Sukarno—Untung did not wrest power from Sukarno and replace him—but a purge of what the PKI often refers to as “counter-revolutionaries” in military uniform. 

    Fifty years on Indonesians find it laughable that the PKI would even think of making a comeback and find sympathizers to promote what is universally acknowledged as an ideology that failed to deliver the goods. But that is precisely what Zein and his supporters claimed last month in a symposium on protecting state ideology Pancasila. Bordering on the ridiculous, Zein, a former chief of staff of the Army’s strategic reserves Kostrad, even accused the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Panjaitan, a retired four-star Army general, and Lieut. Gen. (Ret.) Agus Widjojo, the chief of the state-run think tank Lemhannas, of “facilitating the re-emergence of the PKI.”  

    Indeed, the whole episode smacked of former powerful people seeking a stage by exhuming political cadavers. Books on the G30S/PKI abound, including the hastily-prepared Cornell Papers, but the final chapter seems yet to be written. For now, it is best to describe it as a mystery shrouded in uncertainty until Indonesians are ready to come to terms with the truth.