Reposting: Indonesia: 1965 and the Counter-Revolution against the Nation.

Indonesia:  1965 and the Counter-Revolution against the Nation.

By Max Lane


“The impact of the counter-revolution was, however, even deeper than the sum of these combined policies – from mass murder and terror to totalitarian imposed ignorance and passivity. The 1965 counter-revolution was a pre-emptive purge aimed at the prevention of the final unfolding and completion of the revolutions that were brewing: a national revolution as well as a social revolution.”


Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world, of immense geopolitical strategic importance straddling the sea and air lanes between the Indian and Pacific oceans, and with substantial mineral resources. Yet today, and for the last 50 years, its international political presence has been almost zero, including on the Left. The primary reason for this is the 1965 counter-revolution in Indonesia and the consequent radical remaking-cum-unmaking of the country, the nation. On the one hand this counter-revolution produced an Indonesian state and economy that posed no threat to either western or Japanese imperial economic or geo-political interests, and on the other a society whose new post-counter-revolutionary experience would emasculate any progressive class fightback for decades, even until now, and thus also its intellectual and cultural life.

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This essay summarizes some of the basic features of the “informal proletariat” in Indonesia using the definition presented in Mike Davis’s Planet of the Slums. These include features that flow from the low levels of industrialization of the national economy as well as those related to the day-to-day socioeconomic reality of this specific segment of the urban proletariat. The essay goes on to show that the fact that the “informal proletariat” predominated within the proletariat as a whole facilitated forms of different political mobilization and organization than that usually associated with proletarian politics, such as trade unions, during the period of intensifying political struggle against the authoritarian Suharto government, especially in the 1990s. It also notes how the relationship between radicalizing students, convinced of the idea of “democratic revolution,” as espoused by V.I. Lenin, also facilitated these non-trade union forms of organization. It identifies the interacting relationship between the mobilization of the formal and informal sectors of the proletariat during periods of political struggle as a possible important element of addressing the question as to what extent the informal proletariat might be able to assert political agency.

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The slave Spartacus and reading Dalton Trumbo

Reading Dalton Trumbo

(Spontaneous thoughts.)

It was Hollywood that got me. In particular the film Spartacus, produced and starring Kirk Douglas, directed by Stanley Kubrick and screenplay by Dalton Trumbo. The other main roles were played by Jean Simmons, Laurence Olivier and Peter Ustinov. The film was inspired by Howard Fast’s wonderful novel, also called Spartacus. The film was a Hollywood spectacular, with a “casts of thousands”, huge battle scenes between the rebel slave army and the Roman Legions. There was no CGI then, back in the 60s, just extras from the Spanish Army. I saw it first when I was quite young, so the spectacular romance and adventure would have been very appealing to a boy from the boring Western suburbs of Sydney.

Dalton Trumbo

But the story was also inspiring. Millions of so-called ordinary people, oppressed under a violent and anti-human slave system, led by their most militant section – gladiators – rise up and refuse to be slaves and keep the most powerful army in the world at bay for years. And they do it right in the heart of the Roman Empire – in Italy.

It is a beautiful film, both visually and its words; its dialogue. In today’s world, ridden with cynicism, in general, and on the intellectual Left, with cynicism over-layered with layers of artificially created “nuance”, some may react to this beauty as corny. But there is nothing corny about an idealistic desire to be free so that human beings can savour the beautiful things around them without the embitterment of being treated as an animal or a thing: the stars, knowledge of nature and the world, a kiss and embrace. “A tool with a voice”: that was a slave.


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ARTICLE – After THE ACT OF THE KILLING: Indonesia, 1965: rehabilitating victims, rehabilitating revolution by Max Lane

Indonesia and 1965: rehabilitating victims, rehabilitating revolution under a counter-revolutionary state.

Max Lane

Text of notes used for talk delivered at Conference: “After The Act of Killing: Historical Justice and the 1965-66 Mass Killings in Indonesia”, University of Melbourne and Sekolah Tinggi Filsafat, Jakarta, August 30, 2013.

 It is very heartening to see the increased and more open discussion of the 1965-68 mass killings of supporters of President Sukarno and the Indonesian Left, including the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI),  internationally and within Indonesia. The stark and cruel brutality of the 1965 murders revealed by the confessions in the film THE ACT OF KILLING has played a very important role in provoking this discussion. The public release of the main findings of the KOMNASHAM Report affirming the systematic role of the state and the military in the killings and the passing of this report to the current Indonesian government has also been very important. The ongoing work of former members of the pre-65 political left, now mostly aged, in raising the issue of their plight, digging up mass graves, and through other campaigns has been crucial.  Former GERWANI leader, Sulami, played a heroic role in pioneering this process among her comrades. There have also been court cases seeking compensation for loss of property and violence suffered, sometimes successful, sometimes not.

The role of younger activists has also been crucial at certain times. The first digging up of mass graces was carried out under Suharto by PRD founder, Danial Indrakusuma, working with English film-maker, Max Stahl. Indrakusuma led two further mass grave efforts during the short Habibie interregnum.

This increased activity has certainly won more profile and more space for campaigning and lobbying on the issue of rehabilitation and justice for victims of the 1965-68 terror.  At this point, however, we would have to register that the main gains won have been at the level of a small increase in public discussion, not of broader public opinion shifts, nor changes at the level of state policy.  The state, via the current Yudhoyono government, has ignored the  KOMNASHAM report: in fact the Minister for Politics and Security made a comment that he thought the 1965 mass killings were justified as it was those killings which guaranteed the creation of the Indonesia that exists today. There were rumours that the President may “minta maaf” but that did not eventuate. Indeed, the rumours provoked a string of organisations, including the Nahdatul Ulama, to make statements rejecting such a stance.

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SHORT COMMENT: On feminism and feminism

Over the course of the last twelve months, due to developments in the small Australian, British and Indonesian lefts, the issue of the Marxist orientation to feminism has become higher up in the current discussion agenda. Over the last 30 years, I have been part of a tradition that has tried to explain the origins of the society wide systematic oppression of women, throughout several periods of history, within a Marxist analytical explanation. This has involved – to summarize super succinctly – identifying processes of subjugation of women as connected to the evolution of various production practices as they in turn produce antagonistic class relationships in which various forms of property emerge and where women, historically, become property. This always also fulfills some function to make it easier for the system’s mechanisms of exploitation of a tiny minority over the mass of people to function effectively. Under capitalism, the oppression of women, for example, allows for the very cheap reproduction of the labour power needed for capitalist production by ensuring that the majority of women’s time and energy is provided free to maintain the daily operation of the family. From age to age (social formation to social formation) specific ideologies evolve justifying treating women as less than fully human.

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Max Lane: Selected coming and recent publications. (2008-2013) EXCLUDING blog articles

Sole authored books scheduled for publication in by Djaman Baroe in 2013 are:

Bangsa Yang Belum Selesai (new edition with three new chapters) (April, 2013)

Indonesia tidak ada di Bumi Manusia (a book on the works of Pramoedya Ananta Toer) (June, 2013)

W.S. Rendra: sastera kepeloporan dan kontradiksinya, 1970-78 (a book on the 1970s works of W.S. Rendra) (October, 2013)

Sole authored books:

Max Lane, Unfinished Nation: Indonesia before and after Suharto, Verso, 2008

Max Lane, Catasrophe in Indonesia, Seagull Books, (University of Chicago),  2010

Max Lane, Bangsa Yang Belum Selesai: Indonesia sebelum dan sesudah Suharto, Reform Institute, Jakarta, 2007. Being reprinted with three new chapters in 2013, Djaman Baroe, Yogyakarta.

Max Lane, Wedastera Suyasa, 1945-72 di Bali: dari politik karismatis pada gerakan socio-budaya, Universitas Mahanedratta, Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia, January, 2009 Continue reading “Max Lane: Selected coming and recent publications. (2008-2013) EXCLUDING blog articles”

Reflections on starting “anew” in Australia: some experiences from the Australian Left – by Max Lane

It has been almost five years since I was expelled in 2008 with 35 others from the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) or ‘Perspective’, as it had become by then. (And I think there were another dozen or so who had to leave in other ways.) It was a sad, angry and frustrating moment. I joined the DSP in 1981. Of the 27 years I was a member, I spent more than 13 years in full-time political activity, organizing and writing, and helping put out a newspaper. All of us in the DSP, more than 300 of us by 2007, had built a small but still substantial activist left group, for most of the time grounded in a revolutionary political outlook, at least until 2005. While I had been involved in several different kinds of activities, as a party branch activist, party newspaper person and a national leader, most of my energies had been related to international solidarity, especially with the progressive and left movements in Indonesia, the Philippines and East Timor as well as the national liberation movement in East Timor.  This work, and a lot of work by other comrades, enabled us to help build some good campaigns in solidarity with East Timor and the Indonesian democratic movement against Suharto, as well as organize some great international conferences in Sydney in 1998, 2001, 2002 and 2005 – the Asia Pacific International Solidarity Conferences.

But in 2008, the 35 plus of us were out of the DSP, a party we had helped build, and starting again with our experience as our only resource. We had fought a 5 year struggle against a trend heading towards liquidation of the party, but lost that battle. In January 2010, less than 2 years after we were expelled, the DSP dissolved itself into the Socialist Alliance, an organisation very different from the DSP, among other things, no longer basing itself on prioritizing the public defense of revolutionary politics. Trying to build that new (from 2002) organisation became the activity of our former comrades. We had the task of starting “anew” on our own project. Continue reading “Reflections on starting “anew” in Australia: some experiences from the Australian Left – by Max Lane”