The decisive stage of the military-backed Suharto dictatorship’s bid for power came in 1965 when, on the pretext of a (largely or wholly) invented coup attempt by the PKI, the massive Indonesian Communist Party, the army slaughtered between a half a million and a million people.
The corrupt populist-nationalist government of President Sukarno had been in power since 1948 — after a struggle for independence against Dutch imperialism.
The former underground nationalist resistance had declared independence in 1945 when the Japanese left. Between ‘45 and ‘48 the Dutch went to war to recolonise Indonesia, but were beaten by the nationalists. Because they were not Stalinists the nationalists received US diplomatic backing, which exerted powerful pressure on the Dutch. There was considerable anti-war activity, including strikes by Dutch workers opposed to Holland’s colonial war.
By 1965, the Communist Party — founded by a Dutchman, Sneevleit — which was not aligned with Moscow but loosely with China, had three and a half million members. The world’s largest non-ruling Communist Party, it slavishly followed the Sukarno regime because of Indonesia’s membership, along with countries like India, of the Sneevleit non-aligned movement of Third World countries, which attempted to balance between the USSR and the USA.
In 1965 the military accused the PKI of smuggling weapons into Indonesia for a coup. Whether there was any basis for this is unclear, but it seems unlikely. Some military officers were killed on 1 October, and the PKI was blamed. Suharto, on cue, led a military takeover. The army — and the Islamic fundamentalists they whipped up into a frenzy — massacred up to a million people. Millions more (communists, radicals, trade unionists, etc.) were jailed. The PKI was destroyed.
Sukarno was left in office for a year, until he died in 1966. Then Suharto assumed full dictatorial power, and the stage was set for the development of the Indonesian Tiger.