This article will feature in issue 37: Oppression and Resistance
The oppression and mass killing of the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) in 1965 – 1966 occurred due to the threat they posed to both western, and Suharto’s, intentions in the region. The suppression of the PKI occurred between 1965-1966, and saw communists executed by both the military and the general public. This public purging of communism was instigated through a mass propaganda campaign by the military, following the September 30th Movement. The movement saw communist leaders kidnap and eventually execute six military officials. The removal of communists benefitted both western interests and Suharto.
The oppression of the PKI benefitted the west by ensuring a capitalist ally in Southeast Asia. The Cold War divided the world into two spheres, communist and capitalist. Indonesia only gained independence in the late 1940s, and was influenced by both America and the USSR. This influence was exerted both economically through financial aid and politically, providing legitimacy and backing in intergovernmental organisations. Indeed, these spheres of influence enabled proxy warfare between both the USA and USSR to occur. Through creating an alliance with Indonesia, the USA ensured hegemony within the region. This hegemony acted to limit USSR and Chinese power. The success of communist and socialist regimes within the region, such as China and Vietnam, threatened western global hegemony. The mass killing of communists partially removed this threat in Indonesia. The oppression of the PKI exemplifies the extent of western power globally, and their desire for regional hegemony.
The suppression of communism also benefited the local government and Suharto. The PKI group acted as an umbrella organisation, with support extending into different social groups. Female liberation, agricultural associations, youth programmes, all subscribed to communism. This huge base was demonstrated in the 1955 election, where they received sixteen percent of the national vote. This concentration of power posed a threat to the Suharto regime. This regime was young, in a nation divided with a plethora of problems. The September 30th Movement was the starting point for changing public attitudes towards communism. Through a widespread propaganda campaign, the military began most communists. The military campaign also included forced conscription. Estimates place the number of those killed at above 500,000. Through this, the Indonesian government bred complicity. This complicity saw citizens unable to oppose the government through fear of repercussions of their actions. The removal of communists secured governmental power through eliminating opposition.
To conclude, the suppression of communists in Indonesia was the result of both local and western intentions within the region. The west used Indonesia to extend hegemony in the region during the Cold War. The removal of communists protected western influence and sent a message to the wider communist threat. Local governments removed opposition to ensure their political authority in the region.
By Ellie Thompson