The Rise and Fall of Harian Rakjat: A Chronicle of Political Turbulence

The history of Harian Rakjat, the official newspaper of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), is a testament to the turbulent political landscape of Indonesia in the 1950s and 1960s. From its inception in the aftermath of the Madiun Affair to its eventual closure after the G30S coup, Harian Rakjat played a significant role in shaping public opinion and reflecting the complex relationship between the PKI and the ruling authorities.

Harian Rakjat emerged from the tumultuous period following the Madiun Affair and was first published on January 31, 1951, under the name Suara Rakjat. The newspaper’s slogan, “Untuk rakyat hanya ada satu harian, Harian Rakjat” (For the people, there is only one daily, Harian Rakjat), reflected its commitment to serving the interests of the common people.

D.N. Aidit and Njoto, prominent figures in the PKI, recognized the need to secure financial stability for Harian Rakjat. In July 1951, they purchased a significant portion of the shares of P.T. Persatuan, later renamed P.T. Rakjat, to facilitate the newspaper’s circulation. By 1957, the newspaper’s circulation had reached 60,000 copies.

Under the leadership of Njoto and Mula Naibaho, Harian Rakjat faced challenges but adapted to the changing political climate. The newspaper underwent a transformation, aligning itself with the party’s front-line policies. Njoto took control of the editorial direction, emphasizing simplicity and liveliness in the newspaper’s language.

Despite facing obstacles such as the August Sukiman Raid that paralyzed the editorial work for nearly a year, Harian Rakjat continued to thrive. The newspaper’s effectiveness in conveying news was highlighted, emphasizing simplicity yet vibrancy in its reporting.

Harian Rakjat actively engaged its readership through initiatives like Korbu (Koresponden Buruh) and Korta (Koresponden Tani), encouraging contributions from workers and farmers. This approach not only expanded the readership but also fostered a sense of community involvement.

Financial issues plagued Harian Rakjat, exacerbated by the high transportation costs and the indifference of some party committees. The declaration of martial law in 1957–1958 further strained the newspaper’s finances. Aidit initiated the “Dana Bantuan Harian Rakjat” program in October 1959 to address the financial crisis.

Despite the close relationship between the PKI and President Sukarno, Harian Rakjat faced multiple closures. The government’s imposition of total bans on PKI publications, including Harian Rakjat, during periods of political tension contributed to its financial instability.

Internal ideological conflicts within the PKI, particularly between Njoto and Aidit, marked the decline of Harian Rakjat. Njoto’s removal from Depagitprop PKI and Oloan Hutapea’s takeover signaled the end of Njoto’s influence over the newspaper.

After the G30S coup, Harian Rakjat published its last edition on October 2, 1965. The newspaper claimed that Colonel Untung had saved Sukarno from the alleged coup attempt by the Council of Generals. However, with the government’s ban on all newspapers except Angkatan Bersendjata and Berita Yudha, Harian Rakjat never circulated again.

Harian Rakjat’s journey reflects the intricate interplay between politics and media during a critical period in Indonesian history. From its founding as Suara Rakjat to its closure after the G30S coup, the newspaper played a pivotal role in shaping public discourse. Its rise and fall underscore the challenges faced by media outlets in navigating political complexities, and its legacy remains a part of Indonesia’s historical narrative.