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Truth Will Out: Indonesian Accounts of the 1965 Mass Violence

This is our problem as a nation

The following is a narrative about the 1965 tragedy in the eyes of a former freedom fighter in Indonesia’s revolution for independence, who also became a leader in the farmer’s movement. We will call him Samsul Ahmad. Samsul was a fearless fighter since his youth, and in his old age he continued to defend the interests of people in the lower echelons of society, farmers in particular. He became the General Secretary of the farmer’s organization called SAKTI (Serikat Kaum Tani Indonesia, Indonesian Farmer’s Union) and was a member of the House of Representatives (MPRS, Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat Sementara). Ironically, it was because of his defence [of farmers] that he was arrested, imprisoned and finally exiled to Buru island in the Maluku islands, Eastern Indonesia.

The narrative that you are about to read is a reconstruction made by a member of the History Commission of PUSdEP, Tri Chandra Aprianto, from various interviews with Samsul Achmad. Integrated into this are letters that Samsul sent to Chandra, notes from lectures, writings, poetry, and interviews by other people with Samsul Ahmad. Tri Chandra Aprianto is a lecturer in history at Universitas Negeri Jember, in the town of Jember, East Java. He carried out this research when he was doing his doctoral study at the Universitas Indonesia in Jakarta.

It is a great pity that when the process of narrating these memories was underway – and many important issues had yet to be recorded – Samsul was suddenly called to his Creator on 26 May, 2009.

I was born in 1926 to a family of traders in Ranah Minang, West Sumatra. When I was young, I was mainly active in battle. This is because I used to be in the army. But what I mean by the army is not the army that started out as the BKR –Barisan Keamanan Rakyat [People’s Security Front] which later became TRI [Tentara Republik Indonesia, Army of the Indonesian Republic] and subsquently the TNI [Tentara Nasional Indonesia, Indonesian National Army]. Together with my friends, I joined a people’s militia or laskar whose ideals were to defend Indonesia’s independence which had been proclaimed in 1945. This militia was better known as the Jakarta People’s Militia [Laskar Rakyat Jakarta Raya] whose founders were Chaerul Saleh, Nandar, Darwis, Johar Nur, Hasnan, Wahidin, Armansyah Hasan Dayuh and others. This young group also helped with the birth of the proclamation of Indonesian independence on 17 August 1945.36 Their activities were inspired by the times.


1926 is known as the year when the communist rebellion happened in Indonesia against the Netherlands East Indies colonial government, a rebellion which was not propertly thought through in advance by those involved. The same period was also characterized by the emergence of the movement of educated youth.37

Even though the emergence of these youth was the result of the colonial government’s Ethical Policy which was discriminative in nature, it also brought rational thinking that held the awareness of the movement for independence.38 The group included people like Ki Hajar Dewantara, Ibrahim who was known as Tan Malaka, Maroeto Nitimihardjo, Soetomo, Semaun, Musso, HOS Tjokroaminoto, Abdoel Moeis, Samsi, Sukarno, Syahrir, Hatta, Amir Syarifuddin, Achmad Kapau Gani, Mohamad Yamin and many others. In those years figures also emerged from the youth who later pushed through the 1945 proclamation of independence, like Soekarni, Chaerul Saleh, Djohar Nur, Hasnan, Samsuddin, Sidik Kertapati, Ibnu Parna, Samsu Haryaudaya, Legiman Haryono, Bahar Razak, Winaye and others. They all had colonial education. They could be called ‘dissidents’ in the eyes of the Dutch colonial government.39

The beginning of the 20th century was the revolutionary period in Indonesian history. At the time, all the thoughts and energy of Indonesian society were driven by the flow of revolution. The young educated youth of Indonesia became increasingly revolutionary. And that then transformed other youth very quickly. In the first half of the 1940s, when I still relatively young,40 and almost without being aware of it, I was already being carried along by a current full of turbulence.

Because of the Japanese occupation of Indonesia [1942–45] I could not go to school any more. When the proclamation [of independence] was made, I immediately immersed myself [in the fight for independence]. At the time it was not really clear where I was and who I was there for. But basically, whereever I was and whoever for, it was all because I decided this for myself. That was what I experienced. And this was also the experience of any others. For instance, there was a young man called Kartini from Bondowoso, East Java, who, during an emergency, was told to take refuge. He refused, and preferred to join the youth and fight alongside them. Actually this process of awareness happened gradually. And because it grew gradually, people like Kartini would not retreat even though they faced many obstacles. This was a process. Steel is forged in extreme heat so that it does not become iron.41

I joined a group of youth, teenagers, and I was 20 years old. I was consumed by a youthful spirit that fired up, to be free and to fight for independence. I joined the ‘Menteng 31’ group in Jakarta which, during the time of Japanese fascism in 1942–43 was a kind of ‘School for Politics’. Some were boarders, some not. And so it was, along with other youth I got to know senior people in the movement [for independence] like Soekarni, Adam Malik, Chaerul Saleh, Djohar Nur, Hasnan and others.42

After that I was active in the Action Committee (Komite Aksi) chaired by Chaerul Saleh, which metamorphized into the Angkatan Pemuda Indonesia [Indonesian Young Generation, API]. Then API, in September 1945 transformed into the Jakarta People’s Militia (Laskar Rakyat Jakarta) and developed into the West Java militia (Laskar Jawa Barat). I was more active in that. And from then on I lived in the flow of battle, as I mentioned earlier.

On 15 August 1945 I was in Jakarta. Actually I was at Sukarno’s house, at Jl Pegangsaan Timur number 56. Apart from myself, others there at the time were Bung Hatta and Soebardjo. That was when I first saw Sukarno extremely angry after listening to Bug Wik’s [Wikana] urgent request, conveyed by the youth.

Bung Wik pressed Sukarno, in a demanding way, to proclaim Indonesia’s independence at once without worrying about the Japanese who by this time had surrendered. Sukarno point blank refused. Even so, as we know, through the pressure and force of the youth, Indonesia’s independence was finally proclaimed on 17 August 1945.43

This historical event is incredibly important, because the process of it was extraordinary. There were many figures who played a part. Ironically, thus far Indonesians commemorate the proclamation as though just having a party. Lots of activity and all kinds of competitions and hurrah-hurrah. There is no analysis of how that proclamation came about. It is never said how it happened and who was behind it. If this goes on, how and when will we know our own history in the right way?

Risks of the revolutionary situation

At that time, the dynamic of the youth movement was to keep pressing forward. As I said above, the Action Committee led by Chaerul Saleh transformed itself into API. Then API changed into the Jakarta people’s militia, and finally into a division of the Indonesian army called the Divisi Bambu Runcing (bamboo stake division) the commander of which was Sutan Akbar and his deputy was Sidik Kertapati.

Rebellion to achieve sovereignty kept on raging, even though the government, as the representative of the older folks, preferred diplomatic channels. To the younger generation, diplomatic channels were more an act of compromise towards the colonial power. Even though at that time there was information going around that the temporary Dutch government in Indonesia had run out of funds to continue governing. Added to that, it hadn’t managed to get any more loans from the British and American governments. As a result, whenever the colonial government carried out its acts of agression, the areas targeted were those regions with the possibility of quick capital, namely plantation areas. The politics of diplomacy were merely to give the Dutch opportunity to ‘catch their breath’.

This is why our choice was to keep the battle going without giving the colonial side any breathing space at all. It seemed that the Republican [Indonesian] government tended to agree more with the colonial side to hold negotiations. The first negotiations, known as the Linggajati Agreement,44 after the place where they were held, [near Cirebon in West Java, ed] were held on 12 November 1946. The Republic of Indonesia was represented by Sutan Syahrir, and the Dutch colonial side was represented by Schermerhorn. The Linggajati Agreement produced the decision that de facto the power of the Indonesian Republic was restricted to Java, Madura and Sumatra.

I said above that it was revolutionary spirit that drove me to join the people’s militia. However, in 1946 I disagreed with the stand of the Republican government, which at that time was represented by Syahrir. When the Linggajati negotiations happened, we rejected the result because it contained a sentence that said that the Republic of Indonesia was de facto limited to Java and Sumatra. We opposed that. And because we opposed it, we were ‘struck’ by the government. We were dumped and hunted down. I myself went on the run.

While I was on the run, I experienced many things, including inhumane treatment. You must remember that the situation then was one of revolution. If you have been yelled at as a ‘traitor’, it was like your destiny was cut or slaughtered. At the time, if anyone was found wearing three colours [red, white and blue, the colours of the Dutch flag] then he would be labelled an enemy spy. And it was death for him. Even though it was not clear at all that he was an enemy spy. But those were the risks of living in the situation of revolution.

Acts of rebellion

Apart from physical rebellion, we also had a newspaper printed in mag­azine format called Genderang and a magazine titled Godam Djelata. The editors were Armoenanto who was nicknamed ‘Kerongkongan’ (Skeleton). ‘Keriting’ or ‘Fuzzy’ was the nickname for Sidik Kertapati, and we called Haroen Oemar, ‘Bob’, short for ‘bopeng’ (pockmarked) because of his spotty face.45

Then, what we had dreaded came about. The Dutch started to breach the terms of the Linggajati Agreement. From around May 1947, the Dutch started getting prepared for an attack against Indonesia, and on 20 July 1947, they implemented this by carying out agressive military action against the territory that was under Indonesian sovereignty. It was exactly as we had predicted, the areas that were attacked were those with the potential for quick capital, one of them being the plantations.

Seeing this, our leaders wanted to hold discussions with the government to help with the opposition towards the colonial government. For the time being, differences of opinion were avoided, mindful that there was oneness of purpose, namely war against the colonial government. This is what made the Jakarta People’s militia join with the Indonesian National Army (TNI). After joining with the TNI, the militia changed its name to the Bambu Runcing (Bamboo Stake) Division, headed by Sutan Akbar and with Sidik Kertapati as his deputy.

The discussions took place in Yogyakarta. There was already the Indonesian National Army (TNI) by this stage. I myself left for Yogyakarta together with the Division Commander, Sutan Akbar. We took the train to Gombong, central Java, then got off and walked towards the territory under Indonesian control.

Later I was moved to Priangan, in West Java, to assist the Priangan Brigade with their commander, Astra Wiguna. We were located in Cidueng at the time, in Tasikmalaya, West Java. And from then on, my friends and I carried out a series of guerilla raids in the territory of the Priangan residency.

Along with continued guerilla tactics, the [Republican] government, because of foreign intervention, was also pushing for renewal of negotiations with the Dutch. In January 1948 a second round of negotiations was held on the ship the USS Renville. From Indonesia, the person carrying out the negotiations was the Prime Minister of the time, namely Amir Syarifuddin from the Communist Party. As a result of the agreement, the TNI had to withdraw from its guerilla pockets. Once again, this action gave advantage to the Dutch colonial military. The incident of withdrawing from guerilla territory was known as the ‘pilgrimage’ (hijrah) to Yogyakarta. And once again, whether because of staunch resolve or because of ‘stubbornness’, our militia rejected the Renville agreement and refused to surrender out territory to the colonial side. We refused to join the ‘pilgrimage’. We continued our resistance.

As a result of our refusal to withdraw to Yogyakarta, we were considered rebels. And because of this we were attacked by a brigade sent by the [Indonesian Republican government] from central Java. The first assault happened in Ciwaru, West Java. This resulted in the death of some of the leaders of the Bambu Runcing Division. Those who died included Sutan Akbar, Gatot, Suharya, Abu Bakar and Maulana. Most of the force then escaped. As the force was in chaos, I, Astra and some others slowly consolidated and continued to carry out guerilla tactics. Apart from facing the Dutch in battle, in 1948 the Bambu Runcing Division also had to face the forces of Darul Islam/Tentara Islam Indonesia [DI/TII, Indonesian Islamic Army of the Islamic separatist movement].

The Dutch still felt they had been disadvantaged by the Renville agree­ment. So, yet again the colonial side reneged. On 18 December 1948, the colonial side began another military agression, their second military action. Of course, the members of the people’s milita who had rejected diplomacy with the colonial side from the outset were extremely upset about this.

And at the same time, in 1948 the [Indonesian] government issued its policy about the reorganization and rationalization of the army [known as the ‘Re-Ra program’, ed.]. This policy was for a fully professional army as military force for the Republic. In the former guerilla days, one weapon could be held by two, three or even four members of a militia, carried in turn. But after ‘Re-Ra’, the army had to be professional. One weapon per soldier. So as a result of ‘Re-Ra’, many militia members, even though they had taken part in guerilla warfare and carried weapons for years, had to ‘return to society’.

Needless to say, this act was felt keenly by various people’s militia who had participated in guerilla warfare for years to defend the independence of the Republic. Even so, there was nothing they could do about it. They were gathered together and taken back to society by truck. They were given ‘pocket money’ of 5 rupiah per person. I myself do not really know where the government got the money for the Re-Ra from.

Those who could not accept the Re-Ra policy carried out acts of resistance by establishing the ‘Barisan Sakit Hati’ (BSH) or ‘Offended Squad’. This was what Lieutenant Colonel Jamil and his forces did by continuing resistance in the area of Tomo, Cirebon. Actually, I and some other friends also felt offended, but we did not carry out action like Jamil’s group did.

Extremely disappointing situation

A bitter reality awaited those militia members who were accepted as members of the Indonesian national army. Although they were accepted as TNI members, they had to suffer a lowering of rank. This was because they did not have a formal basis of military training. On the other hand, those from KNIL [the former Dutch colonial army]46 got an automatic rise in rank, because they had had formal military training. Even though KNIL were the Dutch colonial government force that had previously fired at the people’s militia.

When the people’s resistance to the colonial Military Agression was going on, once again the government of the Republic of Indonesia ‘interrupted’ it with diplomacy. This time, the diplomacy was carried out in The Hague, Holland, in the form of the Round Table Conference held on 2 November, 1949. In the agreement reached at this conference, Indonesia was in a weak position. The Republic of the United States of Indonesia [Republik Indonesia Serikat, RIS] had to take on the debts of the Netherlands Indies government, which was actually the cost of the Dutch colonial government to control Indonesia. The [Indonesian] government’s actions this time negated the war to defend independence which had been carried out by people in villages all over Indonesia, and which had gained control of the centres of the plantation business which were formerly Dutch owned. With the Round Table Conference, all control over the plantation business centres had to be restored to the Dutch.

Disagreement with the result of the Round Table Conference was still shown with resistance, for instance with the resistance of groups led by Chaerul Saleh, Syamsuddin Chan, Leimena and others. However, they had to face attacks by the army of the United States of Indonesia [APRIS, Angkatan Perang Republik Indonesia Serikat], which combined the Indonesian and Dutch armies. This put us in a difficult position. Chaerul, myself and other friends could not do much, because the president of the Republic of United States of Indonesia [RIS] was Sukarno. If we opposed Sukarno, the people would rip us to shreds. Sukarno was really rooted in their hearts.

As time went on, we as a resistance group fired with the enthusiasm of youth, and who wanted complete sovereignty for the Republic of Indonesia, began to chose a new form of life. Some of us went back to school as our schooling had been interrupted during the war, others wanted to go home and take up farming and so on. Chaerul himself was sent overseas for schooling by Sukarno.

I myself finally decided to stop being a member of TNI. I surrendered my position as Brigade Commander. After all, our brigade accepted by the army made up just one battalion. That one battalion was made up of four companies. As for my post and responsibilities, I surrendered them to my deputy who was called Jaya. That was really hard. But the situation was so disappointing. I felt fed up. I was haunted by all kinds of feelings. And in the middle of all that I thought, well, that’s enough, I’m going to stop.

A ‘synthesis’

Through the legitimation given by the Round Table Conference, foreign capital found its way back to Indonesia. Needless to say I was really disppointed with this. And my sense of disappointment just grew.

In the midst of this disappointment, some friends and I went to Jakarta to meet Mohamad Yamin. Fortunately, Mohamad Yamin was one of the people who had been part of the Indonesian delegation at the Round Table discussion. We went to his house this time not to express our ‘difference of opinion’ as before, when Yamin was on the government side and we came as ex people’s militia who were the opposition. This time we came to discuss the latest political conditions and where things were leading for the future. As it turned out, our friend Johar Nur was staying at Yamin’s house, and he was sick at the time.

I saw that Yamin had a big collection of books at his house. If you put them all in a pile it would probably be one and a half metres tall. The books were stored in big boxes. It seemed that while he was in Holland as part of the delegation, Yamin had spent his time buying lots of books. Yamin said ‘if you want any books, just open and read them here.’ We all nodded.

Most of the books that Yamin had brought were about farmers’ issues. For instance, the book Peasant War, and books about farmers in Germany, farmers in South Africa, and about farmers’ problems in China. During the guerilla time, we had actually read books like these, but just flipped through them. And the whereabouts of those books was anyone’s guess, for it had been wartime. After we met Yamin, what we had just flipped though back then we now read properly.

After holding long discussions with Yamin about the current social and political situation and prospects for the future, we began to read these books. Then we held discussions with Sidik Kertapati. The questions were, ‘What can we do now? We’ve been cast aside. It’s though there is no place for us in this Republic.’ But meanwhile our passion to serve the nation was not dimmed. It was this passion that pushed us to find new strategies. So I said, ‘Well, the famers are important. The majority of the Indonesian population are farmers. Why don’t we take a look at this?’ And Sidik said, ‘what about making an organization?’ And I immediately answered, ‘Let’s!’ And so then we established a farmer’s organization.47

According to me, talking about movements means talking about struggle. And talking about struggle means talking about the people’s sovereignty, prosperity and welfare. In the case of Indonesia, the way I see it is that the meeting point of all of these is the problems faced by farmers. In this country, farmers are the largest sector [of the population]. At that time, they numbered 80%. Meaning, if you could solve the farmers’ problems well, then you would also solve the problems of the whole Indonesian nation.

So, after a few discussions, we eventually reached an agreement, namely to form a farmers organization called Serikat Kaum Tani Indonesia [SAKTI, the Indonesian Farmers Union]. These were still early thoughts, responding to the need to establish a farmers organization. We were aware that all the time we fought against the Dutch army, it had been the farmers who had given our army food. The theory of cause and effect was used here. Farmers were the majority. That was the ‘thesis’. But the reality was that their destiny was not good. This was the ‘antithesis’. As the ‘synthesis’, the farmers organization was formed.


Back in the guerilla times of the colonial war, the group in society that was the the most vulnerable was the farmers. And that’s how it was too with the land they tilled, whether it was rice fields or agricultural fields. During the war of independence, their fields turned into battlefields. And even more, the farmers became the targets in this war. Without being aware of it, lives were at stake. But don’t mock this. It was part of the Indonesian farmers’ awareness. Indonesian farmers at that time were aware that they had to make efforts to support the resistance to colonialism. At that time, the support the Indonesian farmers could give was simple food like drinking water and rice packages, to help keep the resistance [against the Dutch] going.

Inspired by lots of reading – thanks to Mohamad Yamin – and with our experience in the field, after decisions at a few meetings SAKTI began to formulate its basic principles and work plans for the organization. Our program was different from the Communist Party’s mass organizations for farmers, namely BTI [Barisan Tani Indonesia or Indonesian Farmers’ Front] and RTI [Rukun Tani Indonesia. Indonesian Farmers Cooperative]. They were clearly oriented towards the Communist Party. They had a program which at the time was the nationalization of land. This was not like us. We at the time owned land for the farmers. We learnt from China, South Africa and other places. The farmers must not be separated from land. We had a program of land for the farmers. We called on all kinds former freedom fighter friends. Apart from reconsolidation, they also then helped to extend the farmers’ organization.

However, along the way, the founders of the organization began to face technical problems. For instance the need for a place to meet to formulate ideas, the need for tools, typewriters, and other things. Keeping in mind our limitations, we thought about approaching someone senior called Tabrani Notosudijo. Tabrani was from the Murba Party. To me, he was one of the figures from the movement who wanted to understand the ideals of the militia. Fortunately, at that time Tabrani was deputy mayor of Jakarta. As deputy mayor he had a big house and everything laid on. So, we ‘borrowed’ space for an office there.

In order to faciliate the process of founding and establishing the organization, we drew up the leadership of SAKTI. As a mark of respect, Tabrani Notosudirjo was given the position as general chairman. Sidik Kertapati was deputy chairman and I was general secretary. The other officials were Burhan, Sasongko,48 Salam and Zainal Simbangan.

With the facilities provided by Tabrani, the organizing committee could now begin to build the organization at a regional level. Of course building the organizations in the regions could not be done quickly, mindful of the organization’s limitations. What we did was visit former revolutionary collegues from guerilla days when we opposed the Dutch colonial government. We would discuss various problems and needs in the regions in order to find solutions. Our own skills were ‘married’ to what the people wanted.

It must be noted that what we call ‘the people’ is not something autonomous. All are linked, whether they be in opposition or relating to one another. It is all going on at the same time. That is why, when there is a problem, we have to look at it by going back to the root of the problem. Meaning that to see one problem, we have first to see how we think. Everything comes back to that, whether we like it or not. Meaning we come back to how we think. Are we, in our thinking, using rules or not. If we follow every one of our thoughts, there will be no limit to it. Therefore, thinking has to have its rules. We need to be aware of the importance of rules for our thinking, especially important thoughts that involve lots of people.

For this, we must first of all think using the pattern of cause and effect. Because for one cause there is an effect. But in turn, this effect will become cause, and so on. Secondly, we need to use logic. What we call rational is the result of using logic. Logic means thinking right and straight. If we do not use logic, it is impossible for us to get to a rational point. Thirdly, we need to use rules of thinking that are often called dialectics. Meaning that we need to think based on our reading about process and dynamics, and how they are in dialogue. If we do not use this way of thinking, then our thoughts will go all over the place. Here is the difference between a person rich in empirical knowledge and those who only study knowledge.49

Starting with farmers

We tried to organize the farmers through all kinds of activities. In certain situations, what happens is that socially and economically, the organizers rise to the top while the farmers stay on the bottom. We wanted to avoid that, and hoped that the movements would come from the farmers themselves and be executed together with them. This was our basic concept in establishing SAKTI.

There were some areas that later became the targets for SAKTI to develop its organization. I myself was more involved with familiarizing people with it in the Priangan area. This was an area I knew well. During the guerilla war against the colonial power, this was the area where I had been most active. Some other friends went to East Java, Central Java, Lampung and North Sumatra. The development of the organization at that time went on with a high level of awareness. Uniquely, there was no special discussion about funds for those who had to travel to the regions. Yet strangely, it all worked out. Tom Anwar and Sakti Alamsyah even managed to travel by KPM, the Dutch ship, to Medan. It turned out that the ship toured to Singapore first, and then continued its journey to Jakarta.

After discussing various problems with farming in various areas in Indonesia, and having read what farmers do in various countries, we came to the conclusion that farmers cannot be separated from land. Someone cannot be called a farmer if he or she does not work a plot of land. Whereas, since the feudal era, the farmers’ land in Indonesia had been concentrated in the hands of a few, namely the aristocracy. Added to that, in the colonial era, via the laws known as the agrarische wet and agrarian besluit of 1870 which became the basis of the domeinverklaring, the state had the absolute right to turn the land in its colonized areas into the object of various state transactions with capitalists who needed land for their agribusiness investment, whether that be with the rationale of it being for the welfare of the people, or for the state coffers.50

This is why from the outset, SAKTI’s program was land for farmers. Many people had special rights in the colonial system, namely the erfpacht right in the name of Dutch-owned plantations. Those lands had been deserted by their owners since the fascist [Japanese] era, and were ruined as a result of war. This is why efforts were needed to convert those lands into property owned and worked by Indonesian farmers. And further, you must remember that Indonesia was independent, so that its citizens had the right to own and manage their own land. Formerly, via all kinds of manipulation in the name of ‘existing regulations’ the people’s land had been taken by the colonial government.51 Now this had to stop.

This is what distinguished SAKTI’s program from other farmers’ organizations like BTI [Barisan Tani Indonesia] which indeed was from the beginning an organization affiliated with the Communist Party. SAKTI was also different to RTI which was also oriented towards the Communist Party. At that time, the political program of those two organizations was more oriented towards the nationalization of land. The purpose of nationalization was to give the land ownership rights to organizational hands, or to the state, with a centralized system of land management. This was of course different to the system of agrarian structure that came from the farmers themselves.

Changes at the top

Slowly but surely, SAKTI began to flourish, as far as North Sumatra, Lampung, and parts of Sulawesi. The implementation of the land program for farmers gathered in enthusiasm until the eruption of the Tanjung Morawa incident in North Sumatra in 1953. This incident was extremely complex. The government was dragging resolution of the Senembah Plantation land. The famers’ unions there were pushing for a quick resolution. This conflict was about seizure of power over the agrarian resources produced through colonialism. As a result, people died, both on the side of the farmers and the police. Initially, one of the farmers who died, Soedomo, was said to have been a member of BTI, but afterwards the Communist Party admitted that he was a member of SAKTI. As the General Secretary of SAKTI, I was given the mandate to settle this issue.

The program ‘land for those who work it’ pushed SAKTI into various areas in Indonesia. Then in 1953, SAKTI held a national farmers’ conference. In this conference, Tabrani, as head of the organization, was presented with a question which went more or less like this: ‘Our organization has developed. Now the farmers themselves have begun their actions, so, what about you? Do you want to stay on as head of SAKTI? If so, then it is better that you do not stay in the position of deputy mayor. It would be better that you did not hold these two positions at once. If you want to stay on as deputy mayor, then you should give your other position to somebody else.’

Tabrani responded by saying that he chose to remain deputy mayor of Jakarta. He also felt he was getting old, and there should be regeneration at SAKTI. So in the end Sidik Kertapati was elected as head of SAKTI. Seeing this take place, Soekarni joked that this group, from the start, could never be put right.

President Sukarno taking notice

Meanwhile, people’s organizations were becoming more established in the process of Indonesia’s national life. In the 1955 general elections, together with Armoenanto, Astra and some other people not affiliated with political parties, I was nominated as a candidate for people’s representative, because at that time SAKTI was not yet affiliated with the Communist Party, unlike the BTI. Not long after this, the Communist Party accepted us as non-party candidates as part of the Communist Party. So we entered the electoral race. As we were elected, we then became people’s representatives from the Communist Party.

From this point on, my political activities in the national arena kept moving forward. I felt called for more of a role in government, so I ended up becoming one of the members of MUPENAS [the General Assembly for the Development of the National Economy]. When I was being inaugurated as a member of MUPENAS, all those people who had never had good relations with me, were suddenly all over me with con­gratulations and saying: ‘well, that’s enough now of all that extremist stuff. Now is the time to build.’ Apart from that, I became member of the MPRS (House of Representatives). I was recommended by Chaerul Saleh. At the MUPENAS inauguration, Sukarno congratulated all the participants, including me. He did not say anything directly to me – he was the President, after all. I just said ‘yes’. Subandrio congratulated me too. ‘Congratulations, Mas Samsul’. ‘Thank you’, I replied. Then Leimena also congratulated me. ‘Congratulations, Mas Samsul’. I answered, ‘thank you’. Finally, Chaerul Saleh came up. He didn’t congratulate me, but he said: ‘Thank you for joining.’ Of course, I answered this warm greeting from a close friend with a friendly jibe: ‘bullshit’! This shocked people who heard it, and even President Sukarno looked around.

Becoming General Secretary

At that time, farmers’ unions were growing fast. Especially as the 1955 elections had produced representatives from the farmers. Actually, there were already attempts to unite the various national farmers forces, but these efforts always went nowhere. It was not an easy thing to unite large farmers organizations each of which had strong support. The BTI itself, after fusing with the RTI in 1953, was more intensive in its approaches to the executive leadership of SAKTI. BTI wanted SAKTI to fuse with it. However, the majority of SAKTI members rejected this, making it difficult to achieve. The primary reason was the difference in views about control of rights over land and how land use would later operate.

But it seemed that BTI would not give up and kept on pushing for a fusion between the national farmers’ forces. Some said that BTI was infiltrating SAKTI. There was a series of talks held between Sidik Kertapati as Head of SAKTI and BTI organizers. Eventually, Sidik Kertapati as head of SAKTI began to waver towards the invitation to fuse with BTI. Added to this was the head of the Communist Party, Aidit’s political speech about the future of Indonesian farmers. That’s how it was. So, the vision was the same. This was the beginning of the fusion. In terms of programs, BTI and SAKTI were the same, there was no difference between them. And Sidik Kertapati as head of SAKTI began to familiarize members with the idea of fusion. Then he invited the other central organizational members of SAKTI to discuss the matter more seriously.

The core organization of SAKTI gathered. Sidik Kertapati, Burhan, Sasongko and myself acted as hosts. Together, we four discussed BTI’s offer of fusion. Burhan rejected it. Probably Burhan could not forget the guerilla warfare time, when Amir Syarifuddin [a Communist Party member] signed the Renville Agreement. To Burhan, the Communist Party action at that time was painful. This is why he did not want to stay with SAKTI if it fused with BTI.

So Burhan left the farmers’ circle. Sasongko did the same. He also rejected the offer. But the way he did it was more polite than Burhan. ‘That’s enough for me, I want to go back to teaching,’ he said. Sasangko was an art teacher at the Taman Dewasa school in Yogyakarta. Actually, I also rejected the offer of fusion, but because Sidik Kertapati was pushing for it, in the end I went along with it. And after the fusion, the name chosen for the organization remained ‘BTI’.

Even though the fusion had taken place, this did not mean there were no internal dynamics afterwards. There were many differences of opinion and political views internally. Even so, the fusion did make the farmer’s organization much bigger. However, the ideals of freeing the farmers from vestiges of feudal and colonial systems as the primary target helped make us focus on the ideals we shared.

After the fusion, my own position was now merely a staff member of the information section of the organization, whereas in SAKTI I had been General Secretary. Now I felt like I was just carrying out technical duties like typing letters or preparing administrative requirements for the head of BTI at that time, Sardjono. I had to accept this as part of the logical consequence of the process of fusion, and assist my dear friend from guerilla days, Sidik Kertapati. I did once complain to Sidik about what had happened, and he just said: ‘It’s just for the time being. Wait for the Congress.’

And it was not until the BTI Congress of 1962 that I was elected as General Secretary of BTI. I was no longer just the guy on the typewriter, ha … ha … The Head of BTI was Asmu Jati Wirosubroto.


As for the agrarian situation, there were many things going on that I found questionable. According to me, we did not have to sacrifice the interests of the farmers and workers in the name of national unity. The problems of farmers and workers should rather be problems handled together as a nation. But in reality it was not like that. One example of this took place in Subang, in West Java, when the Plantation Workers’ Union SARBUPRI and BTI took over a plantation. Chaerul Saleh ordered the local government, via radiogram, to arrest farmers who according to him were anarchist. Because of this incident, some BTI members were even arrested by local police.

As part of the BTI leadership, together with some others from the BTI organization, I approached Chaerul Saleh who was at that time Deputy Prime Minister. ‘What do you think you are doing? You issued an order to arrest farmers,’ I barked at him. ‘Come on, I did nothing of the kind,’ he answered. After a long debate, Chaerul Saleh withdrew that radiogram, and ordered the release of the farmers.

Although the farmers were freed, I still went back to see Chaerul. ‘What’s it this time, Sul?’ he asked. ‘You have to recompense those farmers who were arrested’, I argued. ‘Do you know how long they were they held? How could their wives and kids eat without running up debts here, there and everywhere?’ Chaerul answered, ‘Oh come on, you can’t just do this kind of thing in our Republic.’ I did not want to give in and interrupted. ‘You are Deputy Prime Minister. So there has to be a way, and now is the moment.’ As a former comrade in arms, Chaerul Saleh could only swear: ‘Damn you!.’ Even so, he did fork out some money to recompense those farmers who had been arrested. I think this was an extremely rare event in Indonesia’s history, ha … ha …

Apart from this, there was another incident in the village of Jengkol, Kediri, East Java. It began at a farmers’ conference at Puncak, West Java, where plans were being drawn up for the ‘unilateral actions’ (aksi sepihak). Unilateral actions were not anarchic actions. They were intended to implement the agrarian reform law (UUPA, Undang-undang Pokok Agraria) and the produce distribution law (UUBH, Undang-undang Bagi Hasil) of 1960. These laws had long been ratified, but it was as though the government bureacracy was loath to implement them. Our bureaucrats at that time were still basically the former feudal class. They preferred to conspire with the land owners than defend the farmers’ interests. Seeing this attitude, we carried out unilateral actions in order to push for the implementation of the Agrarian Reform and the UUBH as quickly as possible.

President Sukarno tolerated the actions and created the Land Reform courts. Those involved with these courts came from various existing farmers organizations. There were some from BTI, PETANI (an organization under the National Party, PNI), and others. They were recruited to become members of the Assembly of Judges for Land Reform. This was done to fulfil the implementation of land reform. As it turned out, I myself was part of the committee that drew up the plans for the land reform act.

As a result, the unilateral actions spread. Almost every village that was a Communist base carried out these actions. The landlords were very ‘busy’ confronting this movement. There were clashes in a few areas, between those who supported the unilateral action movement and the landlords. The most ‘active’ clash was in the village of Jengkol in Kediri, East Java. There were some casualties on the police side in the clash.

On the run

The incident of the early hours of 1 October 1965 really astonished many people. As for me, I found out about it when I was in Bandung. At the time I was visiting my in-law who was sick.

I heard about the 1 October incident on national radio (RRI). I also heard the announcement about there being a Revolutionary Council. The names were mentioned one-by-one in the news and I listened very carefully. There were some I knew, some I didn’t. I found it all confusing. Hardojo, for instance, who had just finished as Head of CGMI (Consentrasi Gerakan Mahasiswa Indonesia, Indonesian Student Movement Concentration), his name was there as a member of the Revolutionary Council.52 But then my own name was not mentioned. Even though, in terms of the hierarchy of power, my political position was more strategic. I was General Secretary of BTI, both a member of MPRS (Parliament) and also a member of its Leadership Body, and also a member of MUPENAS. So how come my name was not there on the list of members of the Revolutionary Council? If the Revolutionary Council really existed, of course. And it was that way too with other political elite whose names should have been there, but were not. Then there was Amir Machmud who was there as a member of the Revolutionary Council and so on. At the very least, I sensed that there was some extraordinary political process going on. This had the potential to bring about incredible political confusion. So I just didn’t get it.

The incredible political confusion fueled my desire to know what was going on so I quickly went back to Jakarta. To find out what was happening, I immediately went to the MPRS offices. But there was absolutely no one there. The MPRS offices were suddenly empty, quiet, ominous. I was hoping to get some explanation as soon as possible about the events going on, but there was not a single member of the Communist Party elite for me to meet. Suddenly I lost contact with the Communist Pary elite like Aidit, Njoto, Lukman and others. I felt I had lost touch with all groups. The atmosperhere was chaotic and confusing. Out of my confusion I even forgot to park the jeep from Chaerul Saleh which I usually drove.

So if there was news about the murder of communists or graduates of the left, well, I knew nothing about it. Basically, from 1965, after the Gestok incident [Gerakan Satu Oktober, 1st October Incident), all my relations were cut. My communication with friends from MPRS was cut. And so too communication with Party people. The atmosphere was indeed made like that, amongst other things by Soeharto’s lies. Meanwhile the students were being dragged in by the army. In this situation, yes, of course we had no other choice than for each person to save him or herself.

As for the issue of the Council of Generals, there really was one. This political issue was no secret. Almost everyone had heard about this Council of Generals. Do you think we didn’t know? According to information, the Council of Generals probably emerged from dissatisfaction with Sukarno. But they did not have any clear solution to answer this dissatisfaction. And this lack of clarity only added to the confusion in the 1965 incident.

So what to do? We were all dragged along without knowing things clearly. Why had things suddenly turned to this? Even we did not understand the background to it. Now, if you ask me about this, I find it difficult. And that’s just me – probably the party members themselves did not know. And they were scattered all over the place. No one knew where Aidit was, where Njoto was, where Lukman was.

At that time, they ran helter skelter who knows where. But strangely enough, at the grass roots level there was nothing. And from this, actually you can already say that there were some involved, but others who were not involved; some who agreed, and others who did not agree – or whatever, as for me I don’t know how to formulate it. But this is the reality I have to relate. The reality showed that we [people from the Communist Party] were not monolithic, you see? There was no unified attitude about the incident itelf. Isn’t that strange? Even though the Communist Party is said to be centralistic. But the reality was different.

Suddenly there had also emerged this new figure called Lieutenant Colonel Untung. Who was this Untung? This was the first time I had heard his name. At that time I often visited the presidential palace, I was a member of the MPRS then, but I never heard that name of Untung. Even though I knew President Sukarno’s adjudants well, like Si Guritno, Jatmiko and others.

In the midst of all these confused political games, suddenly the Communist Party and its ‘onderbouw’ were accused of being the mastermind of the current political process. Automatically, as one of its high officials, I was also accused. I lost all my contacts in Jakarta, while hiding, I returned to Bandung. Then I went on the run. Once again I was on the run in my own country, ha ha … While in Bandung I could only go around in circles moving from one friend’s house to the next. Until finally I was arrested. I forget exactly when, but it was around the end of December 1965 – or maybe it was already January 1966.

Humans have human hearts

There is an interesting story from the time I was on the run. I met Rustamadji. It seemed that he was on the run too. Now he had started out as a member of the Dutch Communist Party. But he had gone against the party line. When the Dutch parliament sanctioned the Police Actions [military agression of 1947 and 1948], all the factions agreed. But he did not. As a consequence, he had to give up his position as a member of the Dutch parliament. He returned to Indonesia. Once he got there, he was under suspicion. He was arrested, but later released. Then, after the Gestok incident he was on the run again. When we met, I asked him: ‘Rustam. Shouldn’t you be in Holland? Isn’t this hard here?’ He answered, lightly: ‘Ah, even Hitler’s Gestapo couldn’t catch me, so I’m not worried about these idiot Malay intelligence.’ And as it turned out he was never arrested.

Actually, the hardest thing for me was family. When my mother-in-law heard of the incident and while I was on the run, she died. She had a heart attack. I was her favourite in-law, more or less. I was able to go to her house, and then she died. When I was arrested, my wife was working at the Soviet Union news office in Jakarta. I married her in 1958 after a courtship of 7 years, because her parents did not agree to the marriage. They thought that my way of life lacked direction.

While I was on the run, I was actually waiting to be called in, at least as a witness. But during the trials I was considered to have no connection with them. So I was not called. Asmu Jati Wirosubroto was called in as Head of BTI, then Sidik Kertapati as Deputy Head, but I was not. Even though I was General Secretary. In terms of the organizational structure, I should have been called. But strangely there was no warrant for me.

Looking at various publications, I read that it indeed seems as though Aidit had his own agenda. It seems that he had his own different support within the Communist Party. He was extremely close to Sjam Kamaruzaman. I never knew what was going on. Once, after a meeting at Jl Kramat Raya in Jakarta [the office of the Communist Party’s Central Committee], Aidit invited me to join him to go to Bandung. As we were going over the Puncak Pass in West Java, the car stopped and we had something to eat. When we were done, Aidit stood up and said ‘let’s go on to Bandung’. So I asked him about paying. Aidit gestured with his thumb behind him and said that there was ‘The Boss’. I kept quiet. Eh … only later did I know that ‘The Boss’ was Sjam Kamaruzaman. And then, later on it was also mentioned that there was what was called the ‘Special Bureau’. I found out about that from reading the papers. And it was in the paper that I saw the face of that person who had paid the bill at Puncak Pass.

When I was arrested, I was immediately taken to the Regional Police Headquarters for interrogation. They asked me for information about the various political activities I was involved with. Needless to say the process of interrogation was extraordinary. I was slapped, scolded, abused and so on. The lot, basically. The police had come to get me on a tip off from a PKI cadre. ‘Sweet’, huh? Ha ha …

At the time, the head of the Communist Party for West Java came to meet me at a certain place. He came together with another cadre. He warned me that X had been arrested, Y had been arrested. I was a bit suspicious and worried that someone would ‘sing’ and report this meeting place to the police. And sure enough. Suddenly the police came in. I was immediately arrested. I was handcuffed, while that cadre just stood at the door watching everything going on. And I was taken off to police headquarters. Now, there at headquarters that same cadre was doing the interrogation alongside the police, calling us names. He was even crueller than the police! There were quite a few PKI cadres who did this kind of thing. This was because they could not stand the terror and violence inflicted on them. There was a lot of putting yourself first and saving your skin at that time. Anyone could act like that, including party cadres who just could not bear the terror and violence that struck them.53

While under detention at the local police headquarters, we kept being moved from one place to another. From one isolation chamber to another. One thing happened which I thought was a bit strange. When I was going to be moved from police detention to army supervision, there was a policeman called Beni. He was one of the investigative team that detained me. He said, ‘hey, you can go out for a bit. We are going to separate soon. Let’s go out and eat together first’. So he asked the police chief for permission, it was Bondan Guntowaru at the time. He said okay. So we went to a restaurant where I knew the owner.

Figure 1. Detainees were often interrogated wih extreme violence.
Sketch by Gumelar Demokrasno

While we were eating, they said: ‘Forgive us. We are just just doing our duty.’ I immediately replied: ‘You don’t have to ask for forgiveness now. Because at this moment what you just said is insubordination. All of us are insubordinates. I really believe that you are human, and that humans have human hearts.’ And they cried. So I asked: ‘After you capture me are you going to get promoted?’ They said ‘Yes’. Some raised two ranks, some three from their former rank. ‘Well that’s good’, I said. ‘I don’t harbour revenge against you, because you are carrying out your duty. I know that you are forced to do all this. Forced, even though you like it because you get the chance to bash people up.’ And we all laughed.

Every time they finished interrogating me I had to be dragged away. This was because I just couldn’t bear torture. As for torture, it feels as though it will never end. I always asked myself, ‘when will I die?’ To me, it was over. We don’t hope to live just another day. That’s suffering.

Buru Island

After police headquarters, I was moved to Kebon Waru prison. Something happened there that was extremely moving in my life. While I was at Kebon Waru prison, family could still visit, including my father-in-law. One time my father-in-law came together with my wife. My father-in-law gave me excellent support. He even told my wife to remain faithful and wait for me. ‘You must wait for your husband until he comes out’, he said. Even though when we were courting I had to wait 7 or 8 years because it was really hard to get his blessing [for our wedding].

After they were ‘satisfied’ with me at Kebon Waru, I was taken to Nusa Kambangan. Then I was taken to the place of exile, Buru Island. I was under New Order detention for about 15 years. You know all about Buru Island. Any information that came in was of course news that fitted the interests of the New Order government. Hearing the news was just to know what the New Order government was doing at the time, including when there were visitors from outside. Of course, whenever there were visitors the detainees were given preparation on how to greet them well, how to talk to them and other rules of ‘courtesy’.

Towards reconciliation

To me, this is all past now. This is not my personal problem. This is our problem as a nation. We do not live now for other days. What is bad from yesterday has to be left behind. Because what is most important to me is the truth that must be brought forth. But this is all just my way of seeing things, okay?

The truth that I imagine is objective truth. We must be able read reality as that reality. We must not keep adding other stories. Nor must we take away from it. Basically, leave it alone. Leave it as that reality. And that is ‘truth’. For sure there are many versions of the truth. Every person has a different head. Many philosophers have formulated this matter of truth. But the way I see it, truth is events that do not need to be reduced, added to, or whatever.

From objective truth we can formulate what justice is. And what do we mean by justice? Being just to victims, just to perpetrators. The justice I speak of is all that everyone possesses. It is the same as what I said about truth. We must be just also to the perpetrators. If the wrong is 10 kilos, then judge no more than that. That action must be avoided. From these two things we can move towards reconcilation.

36 Interview 12 May 2000

37 The term ‘the educated’ always appears in Samsul’s interviews, seminar papers and private correspondence.

38 See Samsul’s letter of 12 July 2006

39 See Samsul’s letter of 12 July 2006

40 Most of the figures of the Indonesian nationalist movement were indeed very young at the time. Some of those who were already main figures in the movement were not yet 20 years old.

41 See also Samsul Ahmad, proceedings of the workshop ‘Memahami Gerakan Sosial Masa Lalu dan Masa Kini’, Yogyakarta 28 September-1 October 2005, unpublished (Henceforth: Samsul Ahmad ‘Memahami Gerakan Sosial’.)

42 See Samsul’s letter written in the context of Independence Day celebrations, 17 August 2005. This letter was written in story form and titled ‘Menjengkuk Masa Lalu, 60 tahun Merdeka, 60 years Bernegara.’

43 The text of the Proclamation written by Sukarno uses the Japanese date, namely 17 August 2605. But according to Samsul, Sayuti Melik changed it, acting ‘boldly’ without telling anyone, to ‘1945’.

44 The name Linggajati rather than Linggarjati is used deliberately.

45 See Samsul’s letter just before 17 August 2005.

46 Het Koninklijke Nederlands(ch)-Indische Leger, or the army of the Royal Netherlands East Indies.

47 See Samsul Ahmad, Memahami Gerakan Sosial.

48 Sasongko was from an aristocatic family. His face was very similar to Hamengkubuwono IX’s. When Sasongko died, according to Samsul, palace soldiers came to carry his body.

49 See Samsul Ahmad, Memahami Gerakan Sosial.

50 According to Samsul, after Diponegoro and his followers lost the Java War (1825–1830, from 1830–1870 the colonial government prepared two things for their colonized lands: (i) the structure of bureaucracy, including the organization of colonized land and (ii) agrarian land policy. That is why when the Agrarische wet appeared it could implemented immediately. Interview, 26 April 2005

51 See Samsul Ahmad, Memahami Gerakan Sosial

52 In a separate interview, Hardojo said that he felt he knew nothing at all about the Revolutionary Council. His name appeared on that list out of the blue.

53 Even so, as a leader Samsul could not just ignore the confrontation with cadres like this. ‘As leaders, we also had to take responsibility for cadres who were bad. We could not take the credit for good cadres if we shrugged responsibility for the bad ones’, Samsul said. Interview 26 April 2005.

Truth Will Out: Indonesian Accounts of the 1965 Mass Violence

   by Dr. Baskara T. Wardaya SJ