The ideological roots of the Indonesian Communist Party’s defeat in 1965: part two – the illusions in the peaceful nature of the ruling class

Marx once said that “force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one.” He was referring to the employment of “the power of the State, the concentrated and organised force of society, to hasten, hot-house fashion, the process of transformation of the feudal mode of production into the capitalist mode, and to shorten the transition.”

This was done particularly through a system of colonial exploitation that led Marx to conclude that “capital comes [into the world] dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt,” [1] the former statement retains its general validity in a revolution that will overthrow capitalism. This naturally flows from the stubborn resistance of the status quo and its defenders to change.

However, it would be a great folly for any serious Marxist to preach to the masses that a socialist revolution has to be a bloody violent affair. The ruling class is always trying to frighten the workers by associating socialist revolution with violence and civil war. We should not behave like ultra-left sectarians who feel the need to assert their revolutionary credentials by displaying their enthusiasm for “bloody revolution” and the “inevitability of violence”. We insist that Marxists are in favour of a peaceful socialist transformation of society, which would be perfectly possible on condition that the leadership of the working class mobilises the full force of the working masses. We also explain to the masses that history has shown time and time again that no ruling class has ever surrendered their power without a fight. The responsibility for any possible violence therefore falls squarely on the shoulders of the ruling class and their state apparatus.

The working class has the right to defend its revolution and the subsequent gains it has won. In many cases we have in fact seen throughout history that the old power merely crumbles without a fight before the might of the working class, provided that the working class possesses a leadership that is decisive and resolute enough to carry the struggle to the end. In fact, the October Revolution was won with very minimal bloodshed because the Bolsheviks had prepared the workers for power through patient explanation of the slogan “All power to the soviets”. Violence only visited the Revolution later on the active instigation of the ruling class.

civil war images image YanachkaThe slogan of “All power to the soviets” was not a call for a civil war. The imperialists and capitalists inflicted this on Russia / image: Yanachka

The slogan of “All power to the soviets” was not a call for a civil war. In his report to the Seventh All-Russian Conference in the Bolshevik Party in April 1917, Lenin said: “To speak of civil war before people have come to realise the need for it is undoubtedly to fall into Blanquism. We are for civil war, but only civil war waged by a politically conscious class… The government would like to see us make the first imprudent move toward revolutionary action, as this would be to its advantage.” [2] Hence the slogan “All power to the soviets” aimed at educating the working class that power was already theirs to begin with in the form of the soviets, and that they only needed to be politically aware of this fact and wield it for their own class interests.

Numerous times the Bolsheviks had to reject accusations from the ruling class and their Menshevik-SR allies that they were out for blood. Here is how Lenin skillfully responded to such accusations:

“You are lying, Mr. Minister, worthy member of the ‘people’s freedom’ party. It is Mr. Guchkov who is preaching violence when he threatens to punish the soldiers for dismissing the authorities. It is Russkaya Volya, the riot-mongering newspaper of the riot-mongering ‘republicans’, a paper that is friendly to you, that preaches violence.”

Pravda and its followers do not preach violence. On the contrary, they declare most clearly, precisely, and definitely, that our main efforts should now be concentrated on explaining to the proletarian masses their proletarian problems, as distinguished from the petty bourgeoisie which has succumbed to chauvinist intoxication…”

“So long as you, capitalist gentlemen, who are in control of the army command, have not yet begun to use violence, it is our tactics, the tactics of all Pravdists and of all our Party, to fight for influence among the proletarian masses, to fight for influence among the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.” [3]

Lenin put the responsibility of violence squarely where it belonged, on the shoulders of the capitalist gentlemen who were in control of the apparatus of violence, and the reformist SR-Mensheviks who, by their refusal to claim power that was already in their hands, rendered a violent conflict inevitable. Two subsequent episodes—the July Days where several hundred demonstrators were gunned down, and the Kornilov military coup that was defeated by the masses—showed clearly before the eyes of the masses who the real instigators of violence were. The working class learns from experience, and from these two episodes they became resolute in their conviction to overthrow capitalism through mass revolutionary actions.

Lenin in Switzerland Image public domainLenin put the responsibility of violence squarely on the shoulders of the capitalists and reformists / Image: public domain

Lenin, however, while explaining that the working class simply had to take the power, he never sowed any illusions amongst the proletariat about the peaceful nature of the ruling class. One only needs to compare this to Aidit’s conception of the “peaceful road to socialism” for Indonesia. In 1960, he said in an interview with a Western correspondent that “the prospects for a peaceful transition to socialism, as laid down by Khrushchev at the Twentieth Soviet Party Congress, are the brightest and the opportunities most bountiful in two countries, namely, Cuba and Indonesia.” [4] He elaborated this further in another interview in 1964:

“When we complete the first stage of our revolution, which is now in progress, we can enter into friendly consultation [!] with other progressive elements in our society and, without an armed struggle, lead the country towards Socialist Revolution. After all, the national capitalists in our country are both weak and disorganised. At present, in our national democratic revolution, we are siding with them and fighting a common battle of expelling foreign economic domination from this soil.” [5] (Our emphasis)

The reporter was shrewd enough to ask what would happen if the national capitalists developed a class character and opposed any kind of socialism. Aidit answered:

“The chastening effect [of the present stage of the revolution] would maintain a kind of revolutionary pressure on Indonesia’s national capitalists… There will be no armed struggle unless there is foreign armed intervention on the capitalists’ behalf and, when we successfully complete our present national democratic revolution, the chances of any foreign power interfering with Indonesia’s internal affairs will become extremely remote.”

The difference between Lenin and Aidit’s so-called “Leninist” conception is stark. Aidit developed the idea of an a priori peaceful path to socialism in such a way that completely disarmed the working class, by placing their trust blindly in “other progressive elements” and “the national capitalists”. Lenin, on the other hand, argued that the Bolsheviks and the working class desired for peaceful transfer of power to the soviets as long as the Mensheviks and SRs, who were then at the heads of the soviets, were ready to do so. But he never harboured one iota of trust in the bourgeoisie, whom he constantly exposed as the side that was riot-mongering. Through consistent and persistent propaganda work, the Bolsheviks politically prepared the working class for a class independence policy of taking power.

Let us investigate the premises of Aidit’s peaceful road to socialism:

1) Socialism is a matter of “friendly consultation with other progressive elements [read: national capitalists] in our society” after the completion of the national democratic revolution.

What Aidit was telling us was that once capitalism had been fully established in Indonesia through the completion of the national democratic revolution, there would no longer be class struggle between the working class and the capitalists. The two classes— which Marx and Engels had always maintained to be diametrically opposed to each other and to have irreconcilable interests—would now sit together like two civilised gentlemen to discuss how to reach socialism. Aidit would have made the French utopian socialists very proud.

The utopian socialists before Marx and Engels’ time believed that socialism was just a matter of convincing everyone, including the capitalists, of the superiority of socialism over capitalism. After all, in the Kingdom of Reason established by the French Revolution, Reason was believed to be the sole measurement of everything. Therefore “friendly consultation” with all sides using Reason was enough to reach socialism. But the French utopian socialists could be excused for their mistake, as history had yet to furnish them with the proletariat, and class conflict between the capitalists and the proletariat had yet to take a definite shape. Theirs was a mistake of being too ahead of their time. But things were very much different by the mid-20th century, when class conflicts had not only taken shape but also plunged the whole world into two global wars, revolutions, and counter-revolutions.

Marx and Engels had from the beginning warned the workers of the reactionary characters of those who advocate the old ideas of utopian socialism today:

“The significance of Critical-Utopian Socialism and Communism bears an inverse relation to historical development. In proportion as the modern class struggle develops and takes definite shape, … [the ideas of Utopian Socialism] lose all practical value and all theoretical justification. Therefore, although the originators of these [Utopian Socialist] systems were, in many respects, revolutionary, their disciples have, in every case, formed mere reactionary sects. They hold fast by the original views of their masters, in opposition to the progressive historical development of the proletariat. They, therefore, endeavour, and that consistently, to deaden the class struggle and to reconcile the class antagonismsthey are compelled to appeal to the feelings and purses of the bourgeois. By degrees, they sink into the category of the reactionary [or] conservative Socialists depicted above, differing from these only by more systematic pedantry, and by their fanatical and superstitious belief in the miraculous effects of their social science.” [6] (Our emphasis)

As such, Aidit and the leadership of the PKI had turned themselves into reactionary and conservative socialists. The bourgeoisie have a penchant and centuries-old-sharpened skills for tricking workers that it stands for democracy, that it is flying high the banner of Liberté, Égalité, et Fraternité, so that workers entertain the illusion that their interests could be served through some sort of mature friendly negotiation with the capitalists in a parliament. The task of any revolutionary is to lift this facade and expose the real nature of bourgeois democracy.

2) The national capitalists are “weak and disorganised,” and hence the road to socialism will be peaceful.

The Indonesian capitalists might be weak and disorganised, but that is only in relation to their ability and willingness to complete the tasks of the national democratic revolution: establishment of a democratic parliament; agrarian reform; independence from foreign imperialism. This is because they are indissolubly tied to foreign capital and landlordism by a thousand threads. Furthermore, the sight of the proletariat strikes fear in them, far more than being under the thumb of foreign capital. For that reason, when it comes to defending their class interests, profits, and ownership of the means of production, they will not be weak and disorganised.

The bourgeoisie has in its hands a state—which in the last analysis is made up of armed bodies of men and women—built specifically to maintain wage-labour exploitation by capital. This state was not by any means weak and disorganised. It had been used numerous times since its formal establishment on August 17, 1945 to crush the working class movement.

Suharto at funeral Image public domainImmediately after independence, the Indonesian bourgeoisie sought compromise and rapprochement with the imperialists / Image: public domain

Immediately after independence, the nascent Indonesian bourgeoisie sought compromise and rapprochement with the imperialists. Sukarno and Hatta promised that all foreign assets would be returned, which in Indonesia meant all the main levers of economy would be under the control of foreign capital. This was not the vision of independence that the people had been fighting for. Meanwhile, independence had unleashed a social revolution with demands that had gone beyond the goal of formal sovereignty and sought to uproot all old structures of privilege. The people were demanding 100% independence, expropriating all foreign assets, which the Indonesian masses rightly saw as ill-gotten properties from 350 years of brutal colonial occupation. Complete expropriation of all Dutch and foreign assets would have meant the Indonesian revolution taking the first step toward socialism. This put the nascent bourgeoisie and their newly founded state at violent odds with the aspirations of the toiling masses. Troops were sent to hunt down and annihilate forces that opposed the government policy of conciliation with imperialism.

The Madiun affair in 1948, mentioned by Aidit above, was one of the flash points of this clash between the revolutionary wing and the conciliationist wing of the independence movement. After a series of clashes, manoeuvres, and provocations, on September 18, 1948, the city of Madiun fell into the hands of the PKI-led coalition quite unexpectedly. The Sukarno-Hatta government quickly capitalised on this episode as a pretext to crush the PKI. Speaking on the radio with his usual dramatic flair, Sukarno accused the PKI of treason and engaging in “looting,” “robberies,” “kidnapping,” “mental terrorisation against the labourers, peasants,” “mobilizing criminal gangs to plunder and commit robbery intensively day and night”. [7] He went on to give two choices to the people: follow the Musso-led PKI, or follow him.

The PKI fell into this provocation and prematurely called for a seizure of power. Musso in his reply to Sukarno’s radio broadcast announced that Madiun was “a signal to the whole people to wrest powers of the state into their own hands... The people of Indonesia were asked by Sukarno to choose Sukarno or Musso! The people should answer back: ‘Sukarno-Hatta, the slaves of the Japanese and America! Traitors must die!’” [8] The government sent in their troops and crushed the PKI, not only in Madiun but all over Indonesia. A White Terror was unleashed. Thousands of PKI cadres were executed. The Madiun affair was also used by the government to crack down on all opposition, including Tan Malaka, who was captured and executed without trial in 1949. The Sukarno-Hatta government showed that the national capitalists were clearly not weak and disorganised in their brutality to crush the Communists.

PKI 1925 Image public domainThe PKI’s policy of supporting Sukarno was first formulated and implemented by Stalin in the 1920s in the form of the popular front in China / Image: public domain

Later on, Aidit, in his attempt to find the progressive national bourgeoisie in the person of Sukarno, tried to distance the latter from his responsibility in the Madiun affair. The massacre of communists in Madiun, according to Aidit, was wholly led by the comprador bourgeoisie, in the person of Hatta:

“On September 19, 1948, President Sukarno gave a speech that called the people to band together [to] annihilate ‘the rebels,’ [by] which he meant annihilating Communists and other progressive forces physically. I would say that the full responsibility of this was in the hands of Hatta, because Hatta was the Prime Minister at that time. But, because Hatta knew that his influence in the armed forces and other state apparatus was very small, especially amongst the people, then Hatta used Sukarno’s mouth and borrowed Sukarno’s authority to kill Amir Sjarifuddin and thousands of sons of Indonesia from Java.” [9]

If Sukarno’s voice and authority could be so easily used by the so-called “comprador bourgeoisie,” that said a lot about the reliability and independence of the so-called “progressive bourgeoisie”. The progressive bourgeoisie is therefore a left cover for the true nature of the bourgeoisie, which makes the former even more dangerous. Yet, here is what Sukarno himself had to say about the Madiun affair later in his autobiography, which is clearly at odds with Aidit’s wishful historical revisionism:

“It was Sukarno who squashed the Communists in 1948. ... I was not about to let them or anyone else throw God out of my beloved country… I sent in our crack Siliwangi army division. They did the rest. Within days the back of the rebellion was broken... Let nobody say Sukarno flinched in crushing the Communist uprising.” [10]

The Indonesian Stalinists learned well from their mentors in Moscow. The PKI’s policy of supporting Sukarno was first formulated and implemented by Stalin in the 1920s. While the Russian Stalinists found themselves inviting Chiang Kai-shek, the would-be Chinese reactionary dictator, to the great hall of the Comintern, lavishing him with praise just months before he soaked his hands in the blood of Shanghainese Communists, [11] the Indonesian Stalinists outdid even their mentors. They not only dutifully washed the blood of Madiun Communists from Sukarno’s hands after the betrayal, but also placed the fate of the Indonesian revolution in those same hands. The student had truly become the master.

There is one little detail that is worth mentioning here from the above quote. Sukarno knew full well that the PKI never had a political programme of abolishing religion, nor do any communists for that matter. But he felt the need to accuse the PKI of wanting to “[over]throw God” and used this common red-baiting prejudice in Indonesia to attack the PKI. This fits perfectly with his role as a Bonapartist, a shrewd politician skillful in balancing antagonistic interests of various classes and social forces, until of course it all crumbled in 1965.

Presiden Sukarno Image public domainSukarno was a Bonapartist, a shrewd politician, skillful in balancing antagonistic interests of various classes and social forces, until of course it all crumbled in 1965 / Image: public domain

Aidit’s historical revisionism did not stop here. He had to establish the presence of the ever-elusive progressive national bourgeoisie as far back as 1945. After Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945, both Sukarno and Hatta—who in the past three years had obsequiously served the Japanese occupation forces—were infected with a paralysing fear of proclaiming Indonesian independence without consulting the Japanese beforehand. They were unsure of themselves, reflecting their class basis, and had to be kidnapped by a group of youth and pressured. A decade later, Aidit was recounting a different story: that it was now only Hatta who had opposed the immediate proclamation:

“For the first time I would like to say that for a long time I have felt guilty for taking part in the movement to force Hatta [to] sign the 17 August 1945 Proclamation of Independence. Hatta since the beginning was stubbornly opposing the proclamation of the August Revolution. He fully hung the fate of Indonesian Independence on the mercy of Saiko Shikikan (Japanese High Army Command) that never arrived.” [12]

3) The revolution would put some kind of pressure on the capitalists, taming them and rendering the transition to socialism peaceful.

The reporter for the Far Eastern Review magazine clearly had a better understanding of the class struggle than Aidit. He was insightful enough to ask Aidit what would happen should the national capitalists develop a class character and oppose any kind of socialism. To this, Aidit answered that “the chastening effect [of the present revolution] would maintain a kind of revolutionary pressure on Indonesia’s national capitalists.” He would soon find out that the revolution did not “chasten” the national capitalists. It did just the opposite. A mass revolutionary movement, as we saw in the period of 1955-1965, might deal a blow against the ruling class and disorient it momentarily, pressuring it to retreat and make some temporary concessions, but it would never quell its class instincts. Once the “chastening effect” of the revolution wore off, the bourgeoisie would hit back vengefully to make sure that the masses never dared to utter the word “revolution” again.

Aidit Image Davidelit Aidit’s undying faith in the progressive national bourgeoisie led him to disaster / Image: Davidelit

What Aidit refused to understand is that a revolutionary period does not last forever, for the same reason that a society cannot be in the white heat of class struggle all the time. The toiling masses cannot be in a state of mobilisation day in and day out. They must see that the struggle will ultimately end in a fundamental change to their lives for the better. It was, in fact, truly amazing that the Indonesian masses remained in the throes of revolution for almost a decade. The tragedy was that their leadership could never lead them to the final conclusion of a revolution: the conquest of power. Thus, while it is true that a revolution might put pressure on the capitalists, forcing them to retreat, once the capitalists regroup and find their bearing, and once the revolution starts losing its momentum, the whole process will recoil violently.

Aidit’s undying faith in the progressive national bourgeoisie led him to theoretical twists and turns. In order not to scare away the bourgeoisie, he would have to convince not only them, but also himself and the whole working class of the peaceful path to socialism. Within a year of the above interview, an armed struggle did indeed erupt, but it proved to be a completely one-sided affair where the arms were concentrated in the hands of the ruling class, and the other side, the workers and peasants, were unarmed and unprepared, and were about to be led to the slaughterhouse in their millions without any resistance.


[1] Marx, Karl. Capital Vol I Ch 31.

[2] Lenin, V.I. “The Seventh (April) All-Russia Conference of the R.S.D.L.P.(B.).” Lenin Collected Works Vol. 24, 2nd ed., Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1974, p. 236.

[3] Lenin, V.I. “A shameless lie of the capitalists.” Lenin Collected Works Vol. 24, 2nd ed., Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1974, p. 236.

[4] Quoted in Mortimer, p. 172.

[5] S.M. Ali in Far Eastern Economic Review, Apr. 16, 1964.

[6] Marx and Engels. Communist Manifesto.

[7] Radio speech by President Sukarno on the Madiun Coup. September 19, 1948. (Quoted in Swift, Ann. The Road to Madiun: The Indonesian Communist Uprising of 1948. Cornell University, 1989. pp. 97-99.)

[8] Musso Radio Broadcast. September 19, 1948. (Quoted in Swift, pp. 101-102.)

[9] Aidit, D.N. Konfrontasi Peristiwa Madiun 1948 - Peristiwa Sumatera 1956. 11 Februari, 1957.

[10] Adams, pp. 269-270.

[11] At the Seventh Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Comintern, which met in Moscow in November-December 1926, Stalin invited Chiang Kai Shek’s personal representative, Shao Li-tzu, to attend. The plenum also recognized Chiang’s KMT (Koumintang Party) as a “sympathizing party” of Comintern. Stalin spoke of Chiang’s national government as “the nucleus of the future all-Chinese revolutionary power.” This revolutionary nucleus would in few months time, on April 12, 1927, massacred some thousands of Shanghainese communists and workers and began a White Terror across China.

[12] Aidit, D.N. Konfrontasi Peristiwa Madiun 1948 - Peristiwa Sumatera 1956. 11 Februari, 1957.