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September 2006

Several prominent Indonesian historians have come under criminal investigation for writing an official history textbook in 2004 in which they no longer insisted that the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) was the mastermind of an attempted left-wing coup in September 1965.

In October 1965, General Mohammad Suharto used chaotic circumstances created by a pro-left colonels’ revolt to lead a right-wing military coup and initiate a wave of terror against the Indonesian left in which at least 1 million people were murdered and all leftist organisations were outlawed. Mass organisations such as trade unions were also banned or ordered to stop their activity.


To see a selection of these articles go to and enter "Max Lane" (with quotation marks) to search the ASAP website.

'Better to the hell than to be colonised again', written on a tram in Batavia in 1945, after the proclamation of independence in Indonesia.

Photo: ABC Press, Amsterdam, from the collection of the International Institute of Social History (IISG), Amsterdam,


[see also]

Protest demonstrations continue to sprout every day across Indonesia on almost every kind of issue — socio-economic injustice, political abuse, administrative arbitrariness and ecological damage. Poverty and economic hardship still probably make up the cause driving the majority of these protest actions. [Click below to read rest of article].

Children join demonstration following eviction of squatters and losing chance to continue school. Photo from KOMPAS newspaper collection.


On April 20 2004 in a gala ceremony in New York the American PEN Center honoured Indonesian publisher, Joesoef Isak, with the 2004 Jeri Laber Freedom to Publish Award. The award was given to Joesoef Isak in recognition of his long record of courageous publishing during the years of the Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia. Joesoef isak is not just a courageous publisher, he is one of Indonesia’s finest intellectuals who has been at the forefront of a cultural guerrilla war to win back for Indonesians their own history, stolen from them during the 332 years of dictatorship.

In April 2005, Joesoef was awared the Australia PEN Kenealy Award.

Joesoef Isak at the PEN Sydney event where he was awarded the Australian Pen Keneally Award, April, 2005. He is with authopr Thomas Keneally and publisher and broadcaster, Brian Johns. Brian Johns waspublisher at Penguin books and was responsible for Penguin decideing to publish This Earth of Mankind in English.

Read the PEN citation here.


Below are the notes used for a seminar paper delivered in, I think 2001, at the International Institute for Social History (IISG) in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The paper was never prepared for publication. The IISG's website has a lot of interesting material on it regarding labour history and the history of left movements. See



Seminar notes by Max Lane, 2001(?)

Between 1965 and 1989, there was virtually no mass participation in Indonesian politics. Certainly there was no sustained organising and mobilising of exploited or oppressed sections of the population, either to defend their immediate circumstances or to seek any form of change. This began to change starting around 1989, perhaps a bit earlier, when university students began to help peasant farmers organise to defend their interests. The most celebrated case of this in this early period was the Kedung Ombo case. In this case, peasants, supported by students, mobilised in various form s of protest action against inadequate compensation for land being seized as part of an area to be flooded by a major dam.


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I have recently completed the manuscript for a book entitled AKSI, the Fall of Suharto and Indonesian History. AKSI is the Indonesian word for "action" as in street protest action or in "aksi massa" - mass action. There is a little commentary on this phenomenon in Indonesia in my working papers “Recovering class consciousness after total defeat: "Memory, street protest, and Soekarnoism in contemporary Indonesia.” and in “Re-organisation’ of Mass Politics and the Weakened National Revolution in the Era of Neo-Liberal Globalisation”

One way to get some impression of the widespread and varied nation of aksi in contemporary Indonesia is by subscribing to Indonesia Round-Up which provides short news items on these aksi. The service takes reports from just a few Indonesian language websites so it is revealing only the tip of the ice-berg. But it is a useful connection with the state of society. I reproduce below a sample of the kinds of reports. You can obtain information on how to subscribe or just read them on the web by clicking here: INDONESIA ROUND-UP and scroll about one third to half-way down the page. tINDONESIA ROUND-UP is in the right hand column.

INDONESIA ROUND-UP AKSI reports - selection


One of the first publications to publish information on the early opposition to the Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia was New Internationalist. In an October, 1982 issue it published an issue with the theme Dissent in Indonesia The issue included articles on thefall of Sukarno, on Pramoedya Ananta Toer and Hasta Mitra publishing house, on Rendra, and gave a selection of quotes from dissenting voices in Indonesia at the time. Click here to see the issue on the web.


The cover is of a painting by Permadi Lyostra. Permadi was an artist active in the Left-wing artisst organsation LEKRA. He was arrested in Bali in 1965 and eventually imprisoned on Buru Island concentration camp, where he painted this picture. He was allowed to paint in retuirn for painting portraits on order for the prison guards who arranged them for clients back in Jakarta or other cities. The painting is in the possession of Max Lane.

I re-publish the article I wrote for that issue below.

A sense of déjà vu

by Max Lane (October, 1982)

Peasants and professionals, workers and intellectuals today are joining hands in peaceful resistance to the subtle repression of the Suharto government It is not their first clash with authority. Max Lane recounts the last years of President Sukarno, when populist action panicked Indonesia's military elite into an orgy of bloodletting.

SUKARNO, the man destined to become father of the Republic of Indonesia, was walking in the fields of West Java, heartland of the Dutch East Indies. It was the 1930s and independent Indonesia was still much more than a world war away.


Max and Pram 2006.jpg

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