Selasa, Jun 16, 2009

Communist Insurgency in Malaya 1948-60 : External or Internal Factors ?

dari Changkat Ning

Almost 40 years have passed since The Emergency in Malaya wasofficially ended. Although the official period of the insurgency is from 1948 to 1960, the unrest started even before 1948. The Emergency is the war between the government with the Communist Party of Malaya ( PKM ). Unfortunately, those who suffered the most are the public, ordinary people who stuck in between the government and the Communists.

The country did not demolish as expected by the Communist. Sabotages that had been started by the Communist is in intention to destroy Malaya’s economy and with the hope that people become dissatisfied with the government and starts unrest. Unrest and conflicts will make it easier for the Communist in its coup d’etat.

The insurgency had slowed down Malaya’s development .Millions were spent by the government to counter the Communist revolution. It was estimated that The Emergency was costing the Federation government some $300,000 a day. The loss to public is not only in term of wealth, but also lives. During the Emergency, 2473 ordinary people died, 810 lost and 1385 injured because of the attacks by the Communists rebels . The Federation also had to seek help from abroad which resulted help came from other Commonwealth countries who sent Scottish, English, Australians, Gurkhans and Kenyans troops. At the end, PKM admitted the defeat and 6719 of its rebels army were killed and 6853 surrendered to the government Army (Department of Information Malaysia ,1960).

Along with the Communist Insurgency, there’s question regarding on why PKM started its armed revolution and what caused the revolt? Why PKM changed their policy of United Front to a policy of militant and revolt?. There’s analysis’s that said that the revolution are the result of the Russian’s order that PKM get through the Calcutta Conference in February 1948.

In my opinion, external factors are not why PKM starts its revolution towards the British. In other words, the armed revolt of PKM was caused by internal factors and nothing to do with Soviet Russia order for revolt against the Colonialists in Southeast Asia.

The Theory of External Influence

For those who believed that external/ outside influence that leads to the 1948 Communist revolution/Insurgency, They supported the Theory based on the 2 Communist Conferences in India:

1) Youth Conference in Calcutta ; Feb.19 1948.

2) The Conference of India Communist Party.

These 2 Conferences were regarded by external theorists as the starting point of Communist revolutions in Southeast Asia. The Youth Conference in Calcutta is considered by some as a very important conference because shortly after the Conference, several revolutions appeared in Southeast Asia countries. The unrest in Burma (In March), Malaya (in June) and Indonesia (September) has been related to the Conference. They believed that revolutions in those countries resulted because of the order received during the Conference. It was held and backed by World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY) and International Union of Students (IUS). As both are influenced by Communist Soviet , its unsurprising that all agenda and opinions in the conference are pro-Communist . This was supported by H. Miller (1954) who wrote:

“Experts in Communist affairs consider that from this Conference stemmed the general strikes, agitation and strifes that broke out afterwards in India and Burma and that it inspired the Malayan Communist Party to switch to the armed struggle.” (page 76)

We have to look at the conference’s implication based on international view. Russia during the period was practicing the policy of spreading the Communist ideology to the world. At the same time, the policies were stopped by the Capitalist countries lead by the USA. Using the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan, America spent billions of dollars towards the Europe in order to redevelop the Western European economies that were badly damaged during the World War II. The US believe that with strong economy, these countries can counter the Communist’s influence and will never fall under the Soviet’s influence. With that, Moscow had no chance to spread its ideology to the Capitalist countries. So, the United Front policy which were practiced during the war were changed by the Soviet. The change of the policy was announced by A.A. Zhdanov in his speech in Cominform meeting in 1947. Before the change of policy, Russia’s policy towards Southeast Asia is similar with its policy towards European countries. After 1947, the policy have been changed which lead to the end of co-operation with other nationalists. According to Zhdanov, world were divided into 2; Imperialist (America, Britain and France) and anti-Fascist (Russia and other Communist countries). This mean co-operation with other nationalists is prohibited.

McVey (1958) also noted that the new Soviet policy was first announced in Calcutta during the first Conference. This mean the Conference which were attended by representatives from Vietnam, Indonesia, Ceylon, Burma, Pakistan Nepal, India, Philippines , Malaya; as well as observers from China , Korea, Yugoslavia, Australia, France ,Canada, and Czechoslovakia ; had been used by the Soviet to launch its new order. Both WFDY and IUS through the Calcutta conference have been used to persuade the Asians representatives to be more harsh and militants towards Colonialist-Imperialist powers. The conference was the first international conference in the region after World War II and although the representatives came from different ideologies, the conference remained in Communist’ influence. Mc Vey (1958) noted:

“In spite of these differences, the Conference remained safely in Communist hand .” (page 9)

In short, the theory believed that revolutions occurred in the Southeast Asia countries were caused by the order of Communist Russia that the representatives got in the conference in Calcutta.

The theory of Internal Factors

Although the Conference was backed by the Communists, the Theory that said that it is the Soviet Union who ordered the Revolution was unclear. This is because there is no clear and concrete evidence that supports the Theory. If the Soviet wanted to send the massage there, the Calcutta’s Conference is not a suitable place to do so. This is because :

1) The Conference are participated by representatives from different ideologies.

2) It is not a confidential and secret Conference. It is impossible that the Indian government cannot detect if there’s any such order given during the Conference to the representatives.

After studying this theory, there’s exist unanswered fact in the theory. The theory did not give a clear proof that the order of Revolution came during the Conference in Calcutta. The only point that the theory gives is speculation on what is said there. It is a coincidence that revolutions insurgency erupted in Burma, Malaya and Indonesia in 1948 and the theory relate the three revolutions to the Calcutta Conference. Ironically, all three sent their representatives to the conference. But, this does not necessarily mean that they get the order to revolt during the Conference.

In addition, there’s no proof that the order came from Moscow through the conference. This is because as Calcutta is located in what was for the Communist enemy territory (India) and constituting an object of curiosity to the police, the Calcutta meeting would seen a particularly inappropriate spot at which to pass through orders of such an important and confidential nature.

When relate the theory to PKM , there were no documents that shown that the party received order to revolt against the British in Malaya. Ian Morrison (1948) believed that the PKM’s plan for revolution based on the order from Moscow is merely pure speculation. This is because the Executive Committee of PKM during the time (1948) is ultra-secret and there’s no document regarding to the order of Revolution. Furthermore, the Conference did not openly declare for insurrection, but its mood was one of extreme belligerence towards colonial rule.

This perhaps was translated and understood by the representatives as an encouragement to be more vocals and militant against the Imperialists and Colonialists. But this does not mean that it is an order to revolt given by Communist Soviet. Researcher Tanigawa Yoshihito ( cited in Nagai Y. & Akira Ireye ed. 1977) wrote :

“ The Soviet Union and the Cominform placed greater emphasis on using the Conference as a forum for thorough propagation of the Soviet line concerning the International situation rather than as a conduit for orders for insurrection.” (Page 369)

Although the doctrine of 2 camps (Imperialist and Anti-Fascist) is true, it is not an order to start a revolution. However, it is admitted that the conference in Calcutta is used to attack and condemn the Capitalist and Colonialists; based on Soviet and Communist view of world’s affairs. Short’s (1975) book, The Communist Insurrection in Malaya , explains :

“ At the very least, the Calcutta Conference provided a forum for the discussion and correct understanding of the Zhdanov line and the Soviet view of World affair .” (page 47)

Other writer (McLane 1966) felt that Indian Communist Party Conference which was held shortly after the Calcutta Conference is more important. This is because the ICP Conference was attended only by Communist professionals and not other representatives from different ideologies as what had happened in the Calcutta Conference.

Another point is that PKM sent only Lee Song (McLane 1966) as its sole representative in the Calcutta conference. He is the president of New Democratic Youth league (NDYL), did not held any important post in PKM Central Committee and did not have major influence in the party. In fact, he returned home before the Calcutta Conference ended. So, it’s not possible that he came home with the order of revolt . At the same time, Australian Communist Party representative, Lawrence Sharkey, on his way home from India, attended the 4th. Plenary PKM Executive Committee Meeting 17-21st. March 1948. McLane also believed that it is reported that Sharkey criticized the PKM’s policy and it is him who inform the Committee about Zhdanov’s two camp doctrine.

The Committee have approved 3 resolutions in the Plenary meeting :

1) Based on the present political situation, the only way of achieving independence is through people’s revolutionary was and PKM must lead the way.

2) The policy of surrendarism must be changed and PKM must be more militant.

3) The discipline among PKM members must be upgraded.

This shows that the revolution by PKM is not by the order of Soviet Union and the Theory of the revolt came from outside is baseless. Within limits of my present knowledge, it is unlikely that precise instruction were conveyed via Calcutta or by any other medium. What was conveyed is a general message of rising international militancy which was both necessary because of capitalist aggression and propitious , because democracy forces, such as those in China and Vietnam , were on the offensive.

Post-World War II

It is important to note that PKM is the only party that remained active during the War. After the Japanese surrender to the British, Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA) went out from their bases in the jungle and claimed the government administration left by the Japanese. They established their power before the return of British Army. The MPAJA also gained the support from the masses, especially the Chinese.

The period after the World War II was considered as the prime time for the PKM/MPAJA because its popularity as at high. The party are not only accepted by the people, but also recognized by the British Military Administration (BMA) as a legal political party. Stenson (1977) wrote:

“ MCP policy between August 1945 and early 1948 was that a peaceful United Front with the object of achieving a more or less constitutional takeover of power . The policy was predicted upon British acceptance of open politic, Trade Union and similar activities which would be considered legal in Britain itself.” (page 63)

However, it was also the period where PKM have made a wrong step; the mistake that cost their objective in the future. Their objective of founding Communist Republic of Malaya was almost achieved as the party has large numbers of active members as well as supports from the public. They made the mistake during their co-operation with the British. This maybe because in accordance to the Communist International (Cominform) Order of United Front. There’s also possibility that the policy were set by Lai Teck, the Secretary General of PKM. He has been mentioned by some people as a British agent (McLane 1966) . Another question is that is it because the British helped them with finance and arms which leads to PKM co-operation with the British?

Actually, PKM co-operated with the British based on its objective and intention to get Malaya. After the Japanese officially surrender in 1945, when British denounced MPAJA and ordered that all weapon must be given to the British, PKM only returned small number of weapon and military equipment. In fact, most of the weapons mere hidden along with the arms they confiscated from the Japanese army during the War. This clearly mentioned by Short (1975):

“ While there was a surplus of almost 700 riffles and over 1000 shotguns , representing weapons which the guerrillas had acquired for themselves, there were deficits varying from 300 to over 400 in each categories of stens, carbines and pistols.” (page 36)

This is interesting as the action was questionable and perhaps a tactic by PKM to use those weapons in the future. In addition, they formed MPAJA Ex-Service Comrades Association to maintain close relationship with other MPAJA members.

The Emergency 1948-1949

A proper perspective of the events which caused the declaration of a state of emergency in June 1948 can only be obtained from a survey of the tactics followed by Communists since the liberation in their efforts to gain effective control of labor in Malaya. From 1945, when their initial hopes of taking advantage of the Japanese collapse to set up Communist administrations by means of the Resistance Forces known as The Malayan Peoples’ Anti-Japanese Army were frustrated, they endeavored to achieve their ends by setting up General Labor Unions directly under their own controls and by infiltrating into newly formed Trade Unions which it was the policy of the Government to foster. While the government was doing everything possible to encourage the building up of a stable and organically sound Trade Union movement which should have the inherent strength to with-stand the post-war world-wide threat of Communist infiltration, the Communist sought by every means in their power to anticipate this object and obtain the control they sought before it was too late. It was in fact a race against time and by the middle of 1948 it was apparent to the Communist that their tactics had failed. Despite the hardship of post-war economic conditions, so favorable to Communist propaganda , the inherent good sense of responsible labor leaders strengthened by the tireless efforts of the Trade Union Adviser and his staff had in great measure withstood the Communist challenge.

The policy pursued by the Communists was to secure key positions in Trade Unions for their own adherents and to concentrate their strength on the formation of larger Unions or Associations of Unions which would enable them to organize agitation and strike action involving the largest numbers possible while at the same time creating the widest gap between the laborers and their Union executive to ensure ignorant but unquestioning obedience. By securing the key posts in such wide Associations they hoped to stultify the genuine and local efforts of labor leaders in its component parts.

This policy was embodied in the Pan-Malayan Federation of Trade Unions which was under direct Communist domination. By early 1948, the struggle was reaching its climax and the Communists were testing their strength by promotion of numerous strikes and labor unrest on trivial pretexts all over the country. Nevertheless there were not wanting signs that many of the Unions were dissatisfied with P.M.F.T.U. domination and the Communists resorted to methods of violence, intimidation and extortion in the attempt to restore their waning position. The coup de grace to their hopes was administered when legislation was passed through all its stages on the 31st. May to provide for the restriction of office-bearers of trade unions to persons who had minimum of three years’ experience in the industry concerned; the prevention of persons convicted of extortion , intimidation and other similar crimes from holding such office and finally the prohibition of the federation of trade unions otherwise than on an industrial or occupational basis. This directly nullified the Communists tactics and neither P.M.F.T.U. nor its satellite State federations made any attempt to adapt their system to the new requirements. Their labor infiltration tactics had failed and they turned to their weapon - violence. This change of tactics was undoubtedly also hastened by the increasing use which the Government had begun to make of its powers of banishment and which made it necessary for the known Communist leaders to go underground. The pattern of the bandits’ strategy was becoming clearer. Attacks were being concentrated largely on estates and mines and it was of paramount importance to put them in a state of defense.

Details of the Communist Insurgency

If we look into details, it is a fact that PKM had already planned its revolution since 1945; long before the Conference in Calcutta. In other aspect, since its establishment in 1930, PKM had already plan to form Soviet Republic in Malaya (Hanrahan 1954). Despite that the Ordinance of Emergency were declared on 18th. June 1948, the insurgency started long before it was officially declared.

Even if there existed connection between the Calcutta Conference and the decision of PKM to revolt, we also must see the PKM’s failure in gaining the power through its main organization. It is a fact that PKM had made its plans to use force against British since 1945. It can be clearly seen in their actions of hiding their weapons from the British and the establishment of MPAJA Ex-Comrades Association. As Stenson (1977) wrote in his book :

“ Although the MCP had some preparations for the possibility of armed revolt in the late 1945 (in the form of secret arms dump and the MPAJA Ex-Comrades Association), it made every attempt to gain its political objectives prior to 1948 by relatively peaceful , non-revolutionary methods.” (page 28)

Stenson also mentioned that , as early as December 1947, Chin Peng and Lau Yew had been reported to encourage MPAJA Ex-Comrades Association to reorganize all its organizations and prepare with adequate funds in considering a revolution.What is interesting is that Constitutional Campaign Fighting Fund AMCJA-PUTERA have been referred as People’s Fighting Fund and Struggle Fund on January 1948. This showed that PKM has its own plan to revolt and waiting for suitable time to do so as the central Committee realized that the party’s policy of United Front has failed.

The failure of AMCJA-PUTERA in requesting its right in Constitution is a big defeat to PKM .The formation of the AMCJA-PUTERA has represented a last attempt to reverse tide of political change. It’s failure to embody a sufficient United Front meant the removal of an essential precaution for the effective pursuit of a peaceful United Front policy. Stenson (1977) explained :

“..... The moderation which the MCP’s two main ‘front’ organizations opposed as part of its attempt to achieve its end by more or less constitutional means was exploited by government and employers to exclude them from substantial influences upon Malayan politics and society .” (page 11)

This failure should be seen in a wider perspective, in political context of Malaya. The Malayan Union proposal have been seen severely rejected by the Malays and for the first time, the Malay’s masses and the UMNO’s elite united and combined to pressure the British to abandon the Malayan Union. Seeing the rejection of the Malays and the addition of strikes by the Indians and Chinese (both immigrants), the British government decided to abandon Malayan Union and this leads to the formation of Federation of Malaya on Feb.1 , 1948.

The formation of Federation of Malaya marked the end of AMCJA-PUTERA from taking further action as in the new Constitution, the Communist ideology is not recognize by the Federation government and considered illegal (Cheah Boon Kheng 1977).The added failure to PMFTU to control labor unions had shattered PKM’s chance of achieving its objective ; the Communist Republic of Malaya through United Front policy.The failures left PKM only 2 choices :

1) Accept the defeat and abandon its main organization.

2) Starts revolution and armed rebellion against the Federation government.

The first choice was suitable in long-term plan as it would give adequate time to PKM to reorganize its organizations and wait for suitable time to act. For the short-term period, it was rejected by PKM members as the first choice means that they surrender and admit defeat to the power of Imperialist British.

For that reason, the resolution in the 4th Plenary Meeting and the 5th. Plenary Meeting of PKM’s Executive Committee had ordered its members to be more militant. Yet, the order came without clear explanation to its members for revolt. The members of PKM absorbed it as an order of revolutions and armed rebellion which resulted and started murders, sabotages and other violence in order to gain the power from British and form Communist government in Malaya. On 16th June 1948, Sir Edward Gent, The High Commissioner declared The Emergency in Perak and after that to whole Malaya.The Communist Revolution officially ended on 31st. July 1960 which marked the failure of PKM in its revolution. Still, they stayed in the jungle and fought based on guerrilla type of war. PKM became weaker as its has lost its support since the country achieved independence in 1957.In 1989, Chin Peng admitted defeat and surrendered to the government which resulted an agreement that lead the abolishment of PKM.

The fact is that the Communist was insurgency caused by the failure of United Front policy. There are also other factors that lead to PKM revolution. One factor is the leadership changes in PKM (Hajost 1967). The originator of United Front, Lai Teck; who was also the Secretary General of PKM, lost his post. He and his rightist group left the party (Ongkili, 1973 ). He was replaced by Chin Peng from the leftist group . Chin Peng immediately changed the policy and introduced aggressive policy which has influenced members of PKM (Hanrahan 1954).

Another factor is the PKM-British relationship. PKM thought that after the World War II, British would gave more power and autonomy to PKM for their co-operation during the war .The dream shattered after the war ended as the British not only did not give the autonomy to PKM but also try to weaken the party’s power and influence. This caused dissatisfaction and anger from PKM. Along with the change of leaders and feel cheated by the British, they reacted through armed rebellion to get its autonomy and power.


In conclusion, it can be said that the PKM’s revolution that leads to The Emergency 1948-1960 was caused by 4 internal factors:

1) The failure of PKM’s United Front policy.

2) British failure in giving PKM more autonomy and power.

3) Changes in PKM leadership.

4) The establishment of Federation of Malaya where PKM its not recognized as legal political party in accordance to The Federation Constitution 1948.

For those reasons, it leads to PKM starts its armed rebellion in order to achieve its objective of forming Communist Republic of Malaya. What is rejected here is that the theory that the revolution in Malaya and other Southeast Asian countries started because the order of Soviet Union through the Calcutta Conference because there are not enough and strong factors from the outside that can lead to the revolution.

Kuan Yew’s trip for the future

dari Changkat Ning

An excellent article form one of my favorite columnists, Jaceline Tan.
from The Star Online, 16th June 2009.

SOME billed the landmark visit of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew to Malaysia as “a trip down memory lane.” It has been anything but that.

For a start, the Minister Mentor of Singapore is not the sentimental sort and, second, this particular lane in history does not exactly hold pleasant memories for him.

This elder statesman probably left for home yesterday after his eight-day visit armed with insight and perspectives about this country and its politics that no other contemporary leader in Singapore has ever been privileged to.

He met an array of people from the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and Prime Minister to the royal figures and political leaders of several states as well as a string of politicians from both sides of the divide.

“It was really unprecedented. The people he met included the who’s who of Malaysian politics,” said one Pakatan Rakyat MP.

And it was all the more curious because it took place without the usual anti-Singapore voices filling the air or showy protests by Umno Youth.

VIPs cleared their diaries for his courtesy call and many bent over backwards to hear what he had to say and to tell him what he wanted to know.

The sole exception was perhaps Negri Sembilan Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan, who resisted being drawn into any political discussion so much so that some of the conversation had to actually meander down memory lane.

But Kuan Yew’s crosshairs were on the Pakatan states.

He is curious about the new players in these states. As most of those he met noted, Lee arrived very well-informed but he wanted to meet them to fine-tune what he already knew and make his assessment.

They had the sense that he wanted to get to know them for “future purposes” and several of them were invited for more discussion in Singapore.

One of them was Kelantan Mentri Besar Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat who was savvy enough about Malaysia-Singapore relations to not say yes; he told Lee it would be too tiring for him to make the trip. Yet, Nik Aziz had been to China four times, as Lee pointed out.

It seemed like the PAS side also tried some mind games on him. The translator who sat in at the Lee-Nik Aziz meeting had studied and worked in the United States for eight years – their way of telling Lee that well-educated Malays were now with them.

When he met Nik Aziz’s right hand man Datuk Husam Musa, the latter brought along his assistant, a PhD holder who had spent 13 years in Britain.

Singapore leaders have been observing Malaysia’s politics with some concern since the 2008 election and they are not taking the Pakatan claims about capturing Putrajaya lightly.

At his meeting with PAS president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang, Lee, who takes a keen interest in Malaysian and Indonesian affairs, was keen to know how foreign policy, especially that towards Singapore, would change if PAS took over.

“He wanted to see for himself, to hear from the horse’s mouth. He also understands that the head of any government in this country must be from a Malay-based party,” said one of those at the meeting.

The other point here of course is that he chose to meet only one of Pakatan’s contenders for the prime minister’s post.

Some said he gave Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim a miss because they have issues dating back to when Anwar was still the deputy prime minister.

But Lee understood the political sensitivities and knew where to draw the line on his trip.

His longest session was with the Penang leaders. The DAP and PAP go back a long way and the discussion probably had more common ground than elsewhere.

The Penang leaders found him sympathetic to their issues but they also thought he was way off on some of his assessments. They probably did not appreciate Lee’s scepticism that Pakatan could capture Putrajaya by the next elections.

When asked by the press to sum up the meeting with Lee, Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said, among other things: “Lee Kuan Yew is a historical figure. For me and my colleagues, today is a historic occasion, meeting a piece of living history.”

Lee’s visit was to see and hear for himself the political changes that have taken place in Malaysia and getting acquainted with some of the new players.

He is not totally convinced that Pakatan has what it takes for a home run in the next elections; at the same time, he does not intend his country to be caught flat-footed.

Underlying all this is the niggling fear that his own citizens may take their politics ala Malaysia.

Many have wondered at Lee’s political longevity. Some of those he met last week had a glimpse of how he does it and, that is, to be a step ahead of others, even at age 85.

However, not everyone was pleased about the red carpet treatment.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, describing Lee as “The Little Emperor” was dripping sarcasm when he blogged about how “all those who met the great man from the little country were lectured on how Malaysia should be run.”

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