Nathaniel Mehr

Leftist British journalist

Constructive Bloodbath in Indonesia (2009): 127 pages. Discusses a very important, but often ignored event in history: the wholesale slaughter of communists and working class sympathizers in Indonesia (conservative estimates put the number of victims at half a million).

The blunt name of the book is the author's way of pointing out this lack of interest in what can only be described as a genocide. Started by the military, with the support, backing, and encouragement of amerika and britain, the massacre was carried out by different elements of society, all with clear instructions from the top and under the general control of the military. The main perpetrators besides the military itself were nationalist youth groups and islamist groups, both of whose political philosophies to this day focus an inordinate amount of hatred against the left. One of the many important points that this book makes is the extent of islamist involvement in the slaughter: many islamist groups organized lynch parties armed with knives and sticks to kill communists (of course killing many non-political people in the process), and these same groups then went on to rule the country after Suharto.

Another point to be made on this general subject is the admiration for youth movements which started in the 60's and 70's and is still unfortunately with us. I would like to add a brief quote from a speech of Isaac Deutscher's here that is very appropriate: “Any political movement which bases itself only on students is characterized by a basic political and moral instability. The students now [1967] play a very big role in various countries all over the world. Don't forget that behind the slaughter of several hundred thousand unarmed and defenseless communists, men, women, and children, in Indonesia, the driving force was the students...I remember also a time when the students were in the vanguard of fascist movements in Europe. I remember the students in my native country who vented all their political energy on forcing through the segregation of the Jews in the University of Warsaw. The role of students is transient. They are not a stable element in society; they are, if you allow me to use this despised term, ideologically unstable.”

Finally, the biggest question that comes to mind: How did the PKI, the largest (non-ruling) communist party in the world at the time come to be wiped out by force? This is a very complex question, but I will delve into this issue briefly. The PKI at this point was not following the Soviet line anymore, but had switched to the Chinese line, which despite giving it more freedom to act on its own, didn't at all free it from the stifling effects of stalinism. The PKI had compromised itself early on after WWII by joining forces, in a way, with Sukarno and assuming that they could string their partnership on long enough to be completely sure of taking power. But the military was always opposed to the PKI, and although Sukarno was outspokenly anti-imperialist, he was still a nationalist dictator who was politically unreliable and in the end an enemy of a real socialist revolution. The amerikans hated Sukarno and thus they funded the army directly, and were able to get it to be more loyal to them than to Sukarno. This is a point which never can be stressed enough: if as revolutionaries we put any faith or hope in a government that is not directly in control of the people, or unite with nationalist or liberal elements, not only will we suffer for it with our own blood, but the cause of the revolution will be fatally, if not mortally wounded.