Refuting Ronald Tan

I refer to Mr Ronald Tan’s 20 Jul 2014 TR Emeritus letter.

The gist of Mr Tan’s arguments is these:

1. Since Comintern in Moscow directed the MCP’s set up, MCP was taking orders from Comintern, Soviet Union. So the MCP wasn’t patriotic, wasn’t fighting for the Malayan cause but was merely following Soviet orders to turn Malaya into another Soviet satellite similar to East European Soviet states where oppression was worse than by the Nazis and where political dissidents were either executed or sent to gulags.

2. Ho Chi Minh tortured the South Vietnamese and supported the Khmer Rouge which murdered two million people. Anyone who portrays Ho Chi Minh as an admirable anti-colonial is whitewashing his despotism and his mass murders which is no different from Holocaust denial.

3. Saying that communist violence cannot be condoned but that they deserve better is covering up for communist wrong doings and is like saying the Nazis deserve better even though they were mass murderers.

MCP taking orders from Soviet Union

The argument that MCP was taking orders from the Soviet Union because its set up was directed by Comintern is facile at best and deceitful at worst.

The following evidence shows that Comintern was disbanded during the war so the MCP’s patriotic jungle war against the Japanese couldn’t have been Soviet directed after that. It also shows that the later Cominform was more focused on China and Indonesia and that Ho Chi Minh had an independent streak, not a complete Soviet stooge.

• The Comintern had been abolished in 1943 as a gesture to the anti-Fascist allies. In November 1947 it was reconstituted as the Cominform [Communist Information Bureau] … But Andrei Zhdanov ‘boxed in’ the organization with ‘the rigid and rather simplistic “two-camp doctrine”, under which the Cominform deliberately bypassed what would seem to have been obvious opportunities in Asia. The turn to Asia … was focused more on China than Southeast Asia, and in Southeast Asia more on Indonesia than Indochina … some in Moscow saw Ho Chi Minh as too independent, too much like the Yugoslav Tito who had refused to bend to the Russians’ will in Europe.
[Southeast Asia and the Great Powers, Nicholas Tarling, page 124]

The following evidence shows that the Special Branch, Chin Peng and the Russian agent Sharkey all denied Soviet instructions for the MCP uprising of 1948.

• The Times (London) had long ago (June 1948) taken the view there was little evidence of direct Soviet intervention in the rise of revolutionary movements then taking place in Malaya and other parts of Southeast Asia

• At the beginning of the Emergency in June 1948, the Special Branch was inclined to downplay the importance of the CPM’s uprising unless it received external support, and no reports of any such external assistance had been received. It began to look more closely at the situation, however, when captured documents revealed that the CPM was in written contact with Liu Shao-che, a top-ranking member of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee … It was apparent that the CPM attached importance to Mao Zedong’s On New Democracy (1940) and his “Theory of National Democratic Revolution”, which essentially adapted Marxist-Leninism for Chinese conditions to provide an ideological justification for China’s supporting communist revolutions in Southeast Asia.

• After weighing all of these factors and their knowledge of the local situation, the Special Branch came to the view that Soviet influence, as opposed to Chinese influence, was negligible in Malaya

• Too Chee Chew who later became head of the government’s psychological warfare section, supported the Special Branch’s analysis. Writing much later in the New Straits Times … he reasoned that while the CPM leaders could be expected to take note of such international communist directives that happened to serve their purpose, they would infinitely prefer to be masters of their own destiny than “running dogs” or puppets of international communism.

• Chin Peng stated that Sharkey did not convey any “instructions” or “message” from the Calcutta meeting to the CPM, a denial that he subsequently repeated at the Chin Peng Workshop in Canberra, 22 February 1999. In fact, in an earlier BBC TV interview in London on 19 June 1998, he had already denied that the hidden hand of the Soviets was behind the CPM’s uprising.

• In the Tribune of 14 August 1948, Sharkey pointed out that ‘Always the Communist Party is supposed to be “ordered” from outside to do this, that or the other thing: whereas wars of national independence cannot be conjured up by “instructions” from anyone but arise out of existing conditions.

• To sum up … evidence assembled by the Special Branch that the CPM’s uprising arose from its own dynamics rather than any “instruction” issued to it from the Soviets … the views arrived as early as 1949 by the Malayan Special Branch are corroborated by contemporary research that mined the recently opened Russian archives in Moscow as confirmed by … Asian Research Institute, National University of Singapore, 10-11 July 2008.

[The origins of the cold war in Southeast Asia: the case of the Communist Party of Malaya (1948-1960) – a Special Branch perspective, Leon Comber, visiting senior research fellow, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore]

The following evidences show that the MCP was more China and anti-Japanese inspired, not Soviet inspired:

• … Chin Peng … had been introduced to the Party through the anti-Japanese movement which had taken hold of the Chinese Middle School students after 1937 … As a schoolboy, he dreamed of enlisting to fight in China and began a process of self-education in the works of Mao Zedong.
[Forgotten Wars: The End of Britain’s Asian Empire, Tim Harper, Christopher Bayly]

• By 1948 it was clear to the Communists leaders that the Russian revolutionary model was not working, so they converted to Mao’s model. In June 1948 the new secretary general of the Malayan Communist Party, Chin Peng, mobilized the former anti-Japanese guerilla army and committed it to a Maoist-inspired guerrilla war.
[Jungle of Snakes: A Century of Counterinsurgency Warfare from the Philippines to Iraq, James R. Arnold, page 137]

• the Malayan Communist Party … Over-all strategy was now dominated by the Chinese line and patterned after that evolved in the Chinese revolution. Such texts as Strategic Problems of the Malayan Revolutionary War, issued at the time by the insurgents, were not much different from Mao Tse-Tung’s own Strategic Problems of China’s Revolutionary Wars, first written in 1936.
[The 1948 Communist Revolt in Malaya: A Note on Historical Sources and Interpretation, Michael R. Stenson, Gerald De Cruz, page 1966]

• On November 15, 1969, the Chinese opened a clandestine radio station, the “Voice of the Malayan Revolution,” which in its broadcast called for an “extensive people’s war” in Malaysia and Singapore. It stated explicitly that the Communist part of Malaya was guided by the thought of Mao Tse-tung.
[Autopsy on People’s War, Chalmers A. Johnson, page 80-81]

• the Central Committee of the CCP congratulated the Malayan Communist Party on the thirty-fifth anniversary of its founding; discussed the party’s leadership of “the armed struggle against British imperialism and … the MCP’s opposition to “modern revisionism”
[Revolution and Chinese Foreign Policy: Peking’s Support for Wars of National Liberation, Volume 34, Peter Van Ness, page 89]

• The Malayan Communist Party had a vision of large guerrilla bands, in the ‘Yenan way’ of Mao Zedong’s movement in China.
[Forgotten Armies: The Fall of British Asia, 1941-1945, Christopher Alan Bayly, Timothy Norman Harper, page 134]

The following evidences show that Comintern or Soviet Union had limited control or influence in Southeast Asia or Malaya:

• If the Soviet Union had instigated the insurgency it remains odd that no Soviet arms, funding or civil-military personnel were sent to ensure success. This would have almost certainly been an imperative, especially if the USSR wanted to ensure that a future communist Malaya fell under their influence and not, after 1949, that of Mao’s China. It also fails to take into account the anti-colonial element. The MCP, like other anti-colonial insurgent groups, would likely have been influenced by India and Burma’s recent independence from Britain.
[The Counter-insurgency Myth: The British Experience of Irregular Warfare, Andrew Mumford, page 45]

• The Comintern did its best to control communist movements in South East Asia, but its ability to impose its will was limited by poor communications, insufficient financial and logistical support, interception of its directives by the authorities, and by periodic arrests of militants … Finally, not least of the problems faced by the Comintern, was its directives always had to be adapted by communist parties to domestic traditions and local circumstances.
[The Oxford Handbook of the History of Communism, S. A. Smith, Stephen Anthony Smith, page 238]

It is clear from the above evidences that Mr Tan’s assertion that since the Soviets directed the setup of MCP they controlled MCP is pure hogwash. It then follows that all the Soviet atrocities Mr Tan tried to pile onto the MCP to make the MCP look immoral is also pure hogwash as is his assertion that the MCP was fighting and dying in the jungles for the Soviets rather than for Malayans. The MCP’s fighting and dying for fellow Malayans against the Japanese or against colonialism clearly and unambiguously qualifies them as patriots. If fighting and dying for your fellow countrymen is not considered patriotism, what is? There is nothing fawning, adulatory, disturbing or immoral about recognizing patriotism as patriotism. On the contrary, it is Mr Tan’s refusal to recognize patriotism as patriotism that is disturbing and immoral.

Ho Chi Minh and communist violence

Mr Tan got it wrong when he said that Ho Chi Minh’s fighting the French does not make him a liberator. Ho Chi Minh’s freeing of his people from the French is definitely an act of liberation. Similarly, stating that Vietnamese today hail Ho Chi Minh as their hero is not portraying him to be a saint but merely stating a fact as a fact.

Mr Tan reminded us of Ho Chi Minh lending support to the Khmer Rouge who murdered two million people. But Ho Chi Minh merely helped Khmer Rouge come to power; he didn’t help them commit massacres which only occurred after the Khmer Rouge won power. Is Mr Tan also going to blame the Soviet Union for lending support to the Chinese Communist Party resulting in millions of death during the Great Leap Forward? Ho Chi Minh even invaded Cambodia to put an end to Khmer rule. Mr Tan reminded us of Vietcong atrocities. But even the Americans committed atrocities like the My Lai massacre.

Stating Ho Chi Minh’s revere by his own people is neither portraying him as admirable nor whitewashing his cruelty nor denying the Holocaust but merely stating a fact as a fact. Is it not a fact that the Vietnamese today revere Ho Chi Minh? What cruelty can prevent a fact from being said as a fact? Does the Germans’ act of Holocaust prevent us from saying they just won the World Cup?

Saying that communist violence cannot be condoned but that they deserve better obviously refers to Chin Peng and the MCA vis-à-vis others like Ho Chi Minh and his Vietcong, Sukarno and Nelson Mandela in the original posting. If the crueler Vietcong can be regarded as heroes by its own people today, why does the less cruel MCA deserve less? This is no denial of Ho Chi Minh’s cruelties, no denial of the Holocaust. This is just putting cruelty beside cruelty and saying that the one with less cruelty ended up with more infamy in its own country. This is not, as Mr Tan has claimed, like condoning the Nazi mass murder or covering up for communist wrong doing but simply comparing wrong doings and saying that for the same or for less wrong doing, the MCA had been more villainised.

Mr Tan wrongly brushed off the original article as an apologia for communism and communists like Ho Chi Minh. It is not. Instead, it is Mr Tan who is making an issue out of no issue.

To conclude, Mr Tan’s main argument that the CPM was doing the Soviet’s bidding is without basis, without merit. His attempt to pile Soviet atrocities onto the CPM is rejected too as it rests on his false assertion that the CPM was doing Soviet bidding. Mr Tan’s attempt to alter the statement of the fact that the Vietnamese today revere Ho Chi Minh into one of glorifying Ho is also rejected because, like it or not, a fact is a fact. Mr Tan’s false sense of self-righteousness is betrayed by his own deceitful arguments.

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