In Search of Indonesia

An Autobiography by Sukarno,

as told to Cindy Adams
Bobbs-Merrill, 324 pp., $6.00

An Introduction to Indonesian Historiography

edited by Soedjatmoko, Mohammad Ali, G.J. Resnik and G. McT. Kahin
Cornell, 612 pp., $9.75

Sukarno; drawing by David Levine

It has become ever more evident since last autumn just how unknown a country Indonesia is. For many years, practically all political analysis of the Indonesian scene has centered on the delicate balance between the inexorably mounting power of the Communist Party under Aidit and the army which was itself gradually being infiltrated under the uncertain leadership of Nasution. Between these two shifting forces an ailing Sukarno was poised. On September 30, an unknown lieutenant colonel of Sukarno’s personal guard named Untung (“untung” means “destiny”) allegedly tried to prevent a Putsch of “the generals” by taking power himself and butchering a number of military commanders, but he failed to kill them all and was himself crushed by the survivors. This “episode of our Revolution,” as Sukarno called it, resulted in the wholesale massacre of the Communist leaders and at least a hundred thousand, and perhaps as many as half a million, of their followers by elite divisions of the army and militant Moslems. Since then, many things, all highly contradictory, have happened, and nobody has yet been able to explain the September 30 “Gestapu” coup which has brought down the whole fictitious structure of Sukarno’s state philosophy and balance of power.

Even if it was something more than a particularly unfortunate incident in the incessant palace intrigues which President Sukarno kept going among his crown princes and the various army factions, it certainly was not the Communist uprising it was afterwards supposed to be. The “mightiest Communist party outside the Communist world” apparently had not even time to take sides in the scramble, and the “Communist masses” came into the picture only to be slaughtered. With them, the sounding board of President Sukarno’s fiery speeches and slogans has disappeared; the complicated court rituals surrounding the angry Great Leader of the Revolution have become dull and empty, and although they sound the same the revolutionary war cries, insofar as they ever meant anything at all beyond excitement for its own sake, now mean the opposite of what they seem to be saying. Gone are Aidit, Nasakom, the Peking-Djakarta axis, the Mecca of the New Emerging Forces; embassies and consulates are still burned down but they are different ones from those of a year or two ago; and as the romance of the Indonesian Revolution marches on, the revolutionary legitimacy of Bung Karno is slowly being overshadowed by the much older Javanese legitimacy of Sultan Hamengku Buwono IX.

ANALYSIS HAS TO START afresh in a fog where the accustomed points of reference have vanished. Developments of this kind are usually unlucky for political books written just a few months ago and published when the situation they analyze has been overturned. Writing on contemporary politics is risky for an author, because he must stop just at the edge of the uncertain future but he cannot avoid trying to evaluate its prospects. Furthermore, with the present long…

This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Premium Subscription — $99.95

Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.

One-Week Access — $4.99

Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on

If you already have one of these subscriptions, please be sure you are logged in to your account. If you subscribe to the print edition, you may also need to link your web site account to your print subscription. Click here to link your account services.