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  • The Contours of Mass Violence in Indonesia, 1965-1968 ed. by Douglas Kammen and Katharine McGregor
  • Anton O. Zakharov
The Contours of Mass Violence in Indonesia, 1965-1968 Douglas Kammen and Katharine McGregor (eds) Singapore: NUS Press; NIAS Press; Asian Studies Association of Australia; 2012. xiii, 305 pp., ill. ISBN 978-9971-69-616-0 (Paperback)

The making of the 'New Order' in Indonesia by General Suharto and the military was inextricably intertwined with and, perhaps, even caused by, mass violence: There were deliberate and well-coordinated mass murders of the Leftists—members of the Communist Party of Indonesia (Partai Komunis Indonesia, PKI) and its, often assumed, sympathizers. Purges of state bureaucracy, the military and, in fact, of the Indonesian society from all the Leftists were used to put an end to Sukarno's 'Guided Democracy' and to establish the rather authoritarian regime of the New Order in the mid-1960s.

Scholarly investigations ofmass violence in Indonesia have been rare, mainly because of the lack of sufficient data. Only in 1990 did Robert Cribb publish a very valuable volume The Indonesian Killings of 1965-1966: Studies from Java and Bali (Clayton: Centre of Southeast Asian Studies, Monash University, 1990) which forms the basis for actual knowledge of right-wing terror in Indonesia. However, since the fall of the New Order in 1998 and democratization of Indonesian political space many new sources, including declassified state archives in the USA, Great Britain and Australia, memoirs, eyewitness reports and mass graves of murder victims have become available.

In June 2009 the National University of Singapore held a conference on mass violence in Indonesia. The book reviewed is a selection of the conference papers carefully edited by Douglas Kammen and Katharine McGregor. It aims to reconstruct multiple forms of violence, i.e. killings, detentions, imprisonments, violence against women, surveillances, summons and stigmatizations in various parts of Indonesia.

In the Introduction Douglas Kammen and Katharine McGregor outline conceptual problems and various approaches to defining mass violence as well as its stages in 1965-1968. They rightfully point out that 'it would be a mistake to treat killings, however massive the scale, in isolation from other forms of violence' (p. 7). They emphasize that the destroying of the Leftists in Indonesia 'was not simply an [End Page 105] attack on the Left, but a reorganization of social forces and the reintegration of Indonesia in the capitalist world economy. It was, in short, a counter-revolution' (p. 11).

John Roosa examines highly complex phenomena: 'The September 30th Movement: The Aporias of the Official Narratives'. He shows that the question of the PKI responsibility for the Colonel Untung movement having been a trigger for the military to seize state power from Sukarno was used by the New Order elites to 'implicate everyone in or associated with the Party for a small, covert action that had involved only a handful of the top Politburo leaders' (p. 40). In reality, however, the PKI did not mastermind the September 30th movement: its few leaders only decided to support Untung in his intention to prevent a right-wing coup planned by the military.

The September 30th movement itself 'was a purge of the Army's high command by lower-ranking military personnel' and had no intention to abduct President Sukarno; and it was not a social revolt: the PKI leader Dipa Nusantara Aidit 'saw the Movement as a step towards a coalition government in which the PKI would have greater power' (pp. 42-4). Strangely, Roosa, Kammen and McGregor do not use the memoirs by Subandrio, former Foreign Minister and First Deputy Prime Minister under Sukarno. Subandrio states that Sukarno knew about the movement before it began (2001: 17-18; 2006).

The New Order narratives about the destruction of the PKI 'presented the Army as the innocent victim if the September 30th Movement' (p. 46) but 'the Suharto regime could not narrate the killings, because they were a crime' (p. 47). Despite the New Order collapse, the official story of the Army's role in its emergence has not changed over time.

Bradley Simpson investigates 'International Dimensions of the 1965-68 Violence in Indonesia' on the basis of declassified USA...


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