Roundtable on mass violence in Indonesia 1965-1966: editorial introduction
CHUA Beng Huat
2015, this year is the 50th anniversary of the massacre, known as the Killings in Indonesia, which started on 1st October 1965, with the last killing reported in 1967. The massacre was the aftermath of the murder of six military generals on the night of 30 September, by a small group of junior army officials, allegedly affiliated with the PKI (Communist Party of Indonesia). Major-General Suharto took control of the situation and initiated a violent ‘retaliation’ against PKI and the subsequent massacre. The number of people killed across the vast archipelago that constitutes the nation remains murky but currently estimated at around 500,000; five percent of the population in the island of Bali was reported killed. The event also propelled Suharto into the office of the President of Indonesia. Under the more than 3 decades of Suharto’s New Order regime, Indonesia was brought into the circuit of global capitalism and sustained respectable rate of annual growth in its domestic economy. In the agricultural sector, the Green Revolution resulted in, for a short-lived period, self-sufficiency in rice production. The overall economic development was palpable, reflected in a burgeoning middle class and the current trajectory of growth, although poverty remains a massive problem. In hindsight, one might be able to surmise that the economic development was to some extent enabled by the preceding violence. However, perhaps understandably, incensed by the scale of the killings, academic attention has been largely focused on the violation of the human rights of the slaughtered. Until now.
In 2005, we published an essay by Hilmar Farid, an Indonesian academic-activist, entitled “Indonesia’s original sin: mass killings and capitalist expansion, 1965-66” (Farid 2005), which argues that there is a direct causal link between the mass killings and the subsequent expansion of capitalism in Indonesia. He argues that mass killings constituted a “classic” instance of what Marx characterized as part of the process of “primitive accumulation” that is essential to get capitalism going; “a process ‘whereby the social means of subsistence and production are turned into capital, and the immediate producers are turned into wage-labourers’.” The massacre thus constituted an epochal moment when, again quoting Marx, “great masses of people are suddenly and forcibly torn from their means of subsistence.”