D.N. Aidit: A tragically
misunderstood PKI leader

M. Taufiqurrahman, The Jakarta Post/Jakarta

Dipa Nusantara (D.N.) Aidit, the doomed leader of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), was demonized by the New Order regime as the ruthless mastermind of the Sept. 30 coup attempt, a bloody event blamed on the communist party.

At the height of former president Soeharto's dictatorial rule, his specter was raised every year to guard against the reemergence of communism in the country.

In the New Order propaganda film Pemberontakan G30S PKI (The Sept. 30th PKI Rebellion) directed by filmmaker Arifin C. Noer, he was portrayed as being diabolical -- a power-hungry man who single-handedly stage-managed the bloody coup.

In the film at least -- based on historical accounts drawn up by New Order historians -- he was incriminated because he was at Halim Perdanakusumah airbase, while PKI youth wing organization Pemuda Rakyat and women's organization Gerwani were present at the murder scene of six military generals and an officer.

According to the film, he was present at the location where the generals were tortured before finally being killed. The generals' faces were sliced with razors and their eyes were gouged out before their bodies were dumped into a hole. Aidit, therefore, was deemed responsible for the heinous crime.

Thanks to the propaganda film, such a portrayal is now deeply ingrained in the minds of most adult Indonesians and, for a long time, no one dared offer an alternative view on Aidit.

Now, more than seven years since the demise of the Soeharto regime, a small number of people who are knowledgeable about the PKI leader have begun to speak out in his defense.

Murad Aidit, the younger brother of D.N. Aidit, said that his sibling was an ordinary man who stuck to his principles and, in the end, was victimized by those who disagreed with him.

""There's no way that a person such as Aidit, a quiet, soft-spoken person, could have masterminded such a bloody plot,"" Murad said in a discussion to commemorate the G30S PKI rebellion last Saturday.

Murad's view on Aidit has also served to challenge the notion that his older brother was a firebrand, as depicted in Arifin's film.

He said that Aidit turned into a firebrand only when he talked of imperialism.

Rebellious father

Murad grew up with his older brother in Belitung, an island off the South Sumatra coast, a place where both were born.

D.N. Aidit was born Achmad Aidit in Belitung, on July 30, 1923, to a devout Muslim father.

His father, Abdullah Aidit, was the leader of a youth organization that fought against the Dutch colonial government.

Abdullah, who, in the early 1940s founded a Muslim organization, Nurul Islam (the light of Islam), was a member of the House of Representative during the early years of the Republic.

Achmad changed his given name to Dipa Nusantara, meaning ""the nation's guardian"", in the early 1950s, when he sensed that he would soon become an important figure.

Budiman Sudjatmiko, former leader of the Democratic People's Party (PRD), who has read extensively about the history of the country's communist movement, said that Aidit came close to accomplishing something that could have changed the course of the nation's history.

For better or worse, the PKI could have won an election and ruled the country had there been no G30S PKI coup attempt.

""The turnaround was accomplished simply by means of his youthful spirit and perseverance,"" Budiman told the Saturday discussion.

Indeed, Aidit's rise to the PKI leadership was a stunning accomplishment.

Assuming the party leadership at the very young age of 24, Aidit went against all the odds to rejuvenate the PKI while it was in disarray.

With only 8,000 members at his disposal, Aidit rebuilt the party to become a robust political grouping that commanded three million members in the years leading to the first parliamentary election, held in 1955. It was one of the largest communist parties in the world, along with those in the Soviet Union and China.

The death knell first tolled for the PKI in the wake of a bloody insurgency in 1948 in the East Java town, Madiun.

The PKI was blamed for the incident and the administration of premier Mohammad Hatta embarked on a nationwide witch-hunt against PKI members.

More than 35,000 of them were arrested and a number of its leaders were executed.

During the pogrom, Aidit fled to China and waited for better times.

He returned to the country in 1951 and quickly assumed the party leadership, aided by other young turks such as Alimin, Njoto and Sudisman.

However, soon after he took the party's helm, the administration of prime minister Sukiman launched another purge against the PKI after it sponsored a nationwide strike.

The PKI survived the ""Sukiman Razzia"" and continued to build its political strength.

Such perseverance paid off when the PKI came in at fourth place in the 1955 parliamentary election, winning over six million votes.

A reluctant participant?

Joesoef Isak, owner of left-leaning publishing house Hasta Mitra, who was also a political commentator and journalist in the 1950s and 1960s, said that Aidit was one of the best administrators the country -- or even the world -- ever had.

Despite its new-found political leverage, the PKI was always excluded from the government; to maintain its existence it had to build an alliance with president Soekarno, who sought an alternative political force to counterbalance the growing power of the Indonesian Military.

Soekarno accommodated the PKI to a point when he adopted communist ideology as one of three components of his concept, Nasakom (Nationalism, Religions, Communism), as guiding state principles.

In the mid 1960s, Soekarno appointed Aidit as one of his coordinating ministers.

For his children, it was during this period that their father became an extremely busy person.

""Despite his activities, he always spent time with his family. He always took us to places like Puncak, Cilincing and Anyer,"" Aidit's son, Ilham, said, referring to three recreational sites located around Jakarta.

Also in the months leading up to the Sept. 30 event, Aidit showed no indication that he was up to something as cataclysmic as the bloody coup, Ilham said.

If Ilham's view of his father's role in the coup is considered inaccurate, a legion of analysts may support his account.

Historian Bernhard Dahm wrote in his book, The History of Indonesia in the Twentieth Century, that he did not see the role of Aidit as more than that of a reluctant participant in the plot.

""It is hard to suppose that Aidit, the brilliant PKI theoretician, took part in planning the clumsy and abortive coup,"" Dham wrote.

Dutch historian W.F. Wertheim offered a more convincing view about Aidit's possible role in the coup attempt.

""It is by no means certain that the leadership of the PKI or members of its central committee played a role of any importance in the preparation and execution of the putsch,"" Wertheim said in The Killing of The Communists.

Their views were to support what was known as the ""Cornell report"", a preliminary account of the event drawn up by academics Benedict R. O. Anderson and Ruth McVey from New York-based Cornell University.

The report reached the conclusion that the coup was the outcome of an internal army affair stemming from a small clique in a certain division, which attempted to use both Soekarno and the PKI leadership for its own ends. The report has been in circulation since early 1966.

History, apparently was not on Aidit's side.

In the coup's wake, Aidit lived on the run until he was apprehended and executed on Nov. 22, 1965.

He remained defiant until the very end.

Aidit was given half an hour before being executed and made use of the time to deliver a speech.

The passion with which he spoke made all who heard him very angry; they were unable to control their emotions, so the rifle triggers were pulled.

The precise location of Aidit's burial place remains unknown to this day.

-- Profile of Ilham Aidit on page 20

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