Rebutting DPM Teo

I refer to the 10 Oct 2014 Straits Times report “Mr Lee’s radio talks on merger fight back in print”.

No communist

It was wrong for DPM Teo to portray the Communist Party of Malaya as being the party that opposed Singapore’s plans for merger with Malaya. The MCP had long been crippled by the Special Branch so it could not have played any role let alone a leading one in Singapore politics then.

The Malayan Communist Party … was not particularly effective. It hosted a meeting … most notable … for the comprehensive surveillance by the British Special Branch … Subsequent mass arrests decimated the MCP

[Jungle of Snakes: A Century of Counterinsurgency Warfare from the Philippines to Iraq, James R. Arnold, page 134]

In December 1949 the Special Branch obtained the full list of the STC through a planted informer, and conducted a raid on 1 May 1950. Singapore Town Committee Vice Secretary Ah Har and three other committee members were arrested … Later that month, 20 more MCP and ABL members were arrested. Seven months later, on 5 December, because of an alert Special Branch officer, STC Secretary Ah Chin and his assistant, Ho Seng, were caught …the mass arrests caused the near collapse of the MCP’s operations in Singapore

[Paths Not Taken: Political Pluralism in Post-war Singapore, Michael D. Barr and Carl A. Trocki, page 61]

The first thing to realise is that although left-wing and anti-colonial radicalism flourished to unprecedented levels during the first half of the 1950s, the Communist Party itself was diminishing as a controlling force in Singapore over the same period

[Constructing Singapore: Elitism, Ethnicity and the Nation-building Project, Michael D. Barr and Zlatko Skrbiš, page 26]

The MCP itself … seems to have been more a figment of the imagination of … the British Special Branch and the right-wing forces in Singapore. Its “ghost” may have lived a much longer and more active life than the real one ever did. While the party … attracted idealistic recruits from Singapore … we may question the extent of its organization and power in Singapore, particularly during … 1952-63. Repeated waves of arrests, banishments and defections between 1948 and 1963 severely limited its ability to launch an effective organization

[Singapore: Wealth, Power and the Culture of Control, Carl A. Trocki, page 101]

The leader of the anti-merger group was Lim Chin Siong. Lim Chin Siong was never a communist.

Due to his association with the Chinese trade unions, labour unions, and schools, as well as his past brush with subversive activities in the Anti-British League, Lim was regarded as communist by both the PAP and the British. This was despite the fact that Lim was never linked with any communist organization. Even Chin Peng, head of the Malayan Communist Party stated that Lim was not a part of the party. However, in the eyes of the PAP government as well as the British colonialists, he was one because he had acted “subversively” against their regimes by instigating protests to their policies. Yet when Lim was in government he so scrupulously adhered to constitutional, legal, and democratic methods of government that it put him at a disadvantage. Lim himself claimed he was labeled a communist by the PAP government because it enabled the government to detain him without trial.

[Southeast Asian Personalities of Chinese Descent: A Biographical Dictionary, Leo Suryadinat, page 600]

At the same time, Lee pressured the British to arrest the Leftists under the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance (PPSP). Recent research shows that Lord Selkirk, the British Commissioner in Singapore, and his deputy Philip Moore believed that the Barisan intended to work within constitutional means. For a time, explaining that the left were a political rather than a security problem, Selkirk and Moore warded off Lee’s calls for mass arrests … London overrode Selkirk and sanctioned the arrests to broker an agreement on merger with the Tungku. The British implicated Lim Chin Siong in an anti-Malaysia revolt in Brunei … On 2 February 1963 … Operation Cold Store detained 113 left-wing political leaders … including Lim. Subsequent British investigations found little evidence of Barisan involvement in the Brunei plot, but the detentions decimated the left. After Operation Cold Store, the PAP carried out a systematic crackdown on the unions … The government mounted trials of left-wing union leaders for misuse of union funds … In truth the issue was not, as implied, corruption … but a simple failure to maintain proper documentation … due to a lack of expertise … and shortage of funds for engaging accounting clerks.

[Paths Not Taken: Political Pluralism in Post-war Singapore, Michael D. Barr and Carl A. Trocki, page 218]

Why Lim opposed merger

Lim opposed merger because it would have reduced Singaporeans to second class citizens in Malaysia.

In December 1961, Lim Chin Siong, the secretary-general of the BS, warned that amalgamation would consign Singapore to second-class status.

[Hegemonies Compared: State Formation and Chinese School Politics in Postwar Singapore and Hong Kong, Wong Ting-Hong, page 68]

Lim had grown concerned about merger with the federation and the prospect that the Chinese would be awarded “second-class citizenship” in a politically Malay Malaya.

[Singapore Stories: Language, Class, and the Chinese of Singapore, 1945-2000, Ernest Koh, page 30]

Mr Lim’s predictions came true. Our Malaysian non-Bumiputra friends lament every now and then about being second class citizens in their own country. Malaysian Indians also took to the streets in 2007 to protest their pathetic status. Lim Chin Siong was thus prescient in not wanting Singapore to be a part of Malaysia. Opposing merger wasn’t an evil, communist scheme but the right thing to do that history has validated.

Several years ago, I was having a friendly banter with a pro-PAP ex-colleague. At some point, she asked “What if Singapore had been led by a lousy party that decided to do a silly thing like merge us with Malaysia? We would all end up as second class citizens!” she exclaimed. I explained to her that such a silly thing did happen and it was Lee Kuan Yew who did that silly thing she mentioned. She was shocked, didn’t know how to respond and just muttered about her lack of knowledge on this. So even PAP supporters intrinsically know that merger with Malaysia had been wrong so it’s bewildering Mr Teo is now resorting to touting the merger as their holy act when it was actually a heinous sin.

Turning the tide

If Lee Kuan Yew had managed to turn the tide, how come all three options in the referendum forms were “Yes” options? Why were there no “No” options? Why even blank votes were counted as “Yes”?

Clearly Lee Kuan Yew didn’t have the confidence he would win the referendum so he didn’t give people the chance to say no. How can that be construed as having turned the tide?

… the PAP passed a bill … The bill postulated that … all blank votes would be counted as supporting the amalgamation. The referendum offered people choices of three alternative forms of merger, but not the choice of whether or not to go through with the merger itself.

[Hegemonies Compared: State Formation and Chinese School Politics in Postwar Singapore and Hong Kong, Wong Ting-Hong, page 68]

There is thus no proof that Lee’s radio talks succeeded in winning back the majority or portraying the Leftists (the word ‘communists’ is rejected because Lim Chin Siong and the Barisan weren’t communists) as losing because all three referendum options were for “Yes” and even blank votes were counted as “Yes” so we would never know what proportion of Singaporean pioneers would have voted “no” had they been allowed to do so.

No armed revolution in Singapore

Mr Teo was wrong to say that Singapore will turn 50 next year. Singapore will turn 196 next year.

It was meaningless for Mr Teo to ask what if CPM had won because CPM had lost and fled to Malaysia and no longer featured in Singapore’s road to independence.

Mr Teo’s reality check was merely self-delusion instead. He should acknowledge that truth has been lacking all this while in our 150th ranked press so there’s nothing wrong for historians to bring truth back to the public.

Since the communists had been forced to flee to Malaysia, how could they have seized power through armed revolution in Singapore? Why couldn’t Mr Teo name even one victim of the supposed armed revolution or struggle in Singapore? Mr Teo couldn’t because for all his talk, he has got nothing to show other than LKY’s one sided speeches. But LKY changes words like a chameleon changes color. The long list of LKY flip flops suggests his words cannot be trusted.

Mr Teo’s so called communist conspiracy was just that – a conspiracy theory that doesn’t hold water because it was based on nothing but the one-sided tale of a man who changes words like a chameleon changes color.

Road to independence

Mr Teo was wrong to say that Singapore’s road to independence began with our merger with Malaya. Singapore’s road to independence began shortly after the end of the Japanese Occupation when Singapore pioneers began to agitate for greater self determination much like what is happening in Hong Kong today. Pressure from pro-independence groups culminated in our achieving full internal self-independence in 1959 and the creation of the State of Singapore, our own Singapore national flag and our national anthem Majulah Singapura that are still in use today.

After the Second World War and a traumatic occupation by the Japanese, a political awakening occurred in Singapore … as they began to anticipate independence … The late 1940s and early 1950s were characterized by labor unrest, strikes, and demonstrations. In 1955, they forced the British to introduce a new constitution proposed by the Rendel Commission … However, the 1955 elections were followed by more riots and social unrest, constitutional negotiations were reopened, and new elections were planned for 1959 with Singapore granted almost complete internal self-rule.

[Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, Daron Acemoglu, page 8]

The war ended suddenly with Japan’s surrender on 14 August 1945 … While the returning British troops were welcomed, the occupation had eroded the innate trust in the empire’s protective embrace. New political forces were at work and the road to independence had begun.

[Singapore, Joshua Samuel Brown and Matt Oakley, page 25]

To defuse hostile sentiments against colonial rule, the colonial government in Singapore had agreed to accept the reformation of the local constitutions in 1954, granting Singapore greater internal self-government. Elections held under this constitution in 1955 eventually paved the way for a local government to be formed.
[Singapore in Global History, Derek Thiam Soon Heng and Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied, page 220]

The Rough Road to Independence: 1945 – 1963

[The History of Singapore, Jean Abshire, page 109]

Leftists did not fear quick end to British rule

Mr Teo’s theory that Lim Chin Siong and the Barisan (the word ‘communists’ is rejected because Lim Chin Song and the Barisan weren’t communists) feared a quick end to British rule and thus rejected merger doesn’t stand up to reasoning because Lim Chin Siong and the Barisan fought for complete independence which would have meant a quick end to British rule anyway.

Lee stated later in his memoirs that Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan and Woodhull had been “stirring up demands for an independent Singapore without a merger” from the time of their release from detention in Jun 1959.

[The University Socialist Club and the Contest for Malaya: Tangled Strands of Modernity, Edgar Liao and Cheng Tju Lim and Guo Quan Seng, page 173]

At the Anson by-election on 15 July, Lim Chin Siong and seven other left-wing PAP assemblymen withheld support from the government’s candidate and instead backed David Marshall … who stood for immediate independence.

[Malaysia, A. J. Stockwell, page 145]

What did the pro-communists want Lee to fight for in London? It was immediate independence. This was their goal, and the reason why Lim Chin Siong had supported Marshall all the way in the failed negotiations of the previous year.

[Singapore: The Unexpected Nation, Edwin Lee, page 141]

The rest

It didn’t matter that the Malaysian government would clamp down on the CPM as the British colonial government before them did so too. In any case, Lim Chin Siong and the Barisan weren’t CPM.

Mr Teo’s acknowledgement of the communists’ conviction was hypocritical at best given the scathing remarks he had given them. He should show courage and wisdom in recognizing the distinction between Lim Chin Siong’s Leftists and the CPM and in recognizing the frailty of his accusations that are based on the one-sided words of a chameleon.

Mr Lee’s radio talks on merger fight back in print, 10 Oct 2014
He made 1961 broadcasts to expose communists’ agenda, rally support

IT WAS a tumultuous time, with the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) and its allies out to derail self-governing Singapore’s plans for merger with Malaya.

Taking to the airwaves in 1961 for 12 radio broadcasts to expose the CPM’s real agenda to seize power, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew managed to turn the tide.

A compilation of the talks, first published in 1962, has been reprinted. The Battle For Merger was launched yesterday, on the same date as Mr Lee’s last broadcast 53 years ago.

At the launch, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said its release could not be more relevant as Singapore turns 50 next year. If the CPM had won, Singapore would be a very different place today. The book will “provide a reality check” to attempts by some historians to recast the role played by communists and their supporters on the issue, he said.

“They portray the fight as merely a peaceful and democratic disagreement over the type of merger. They ignore the more fundamental agenda of the communists to seize power by subversion and armed revolution,” he said.

Mr Teo, the Coordinating Minister for National Security and Home Affairs Minister, said the CPM’s armed struggle and the Communist United Front’s efforts to destabilise Singapore have been well documented by academics and writers. They include top CPM leaders such as Chin Peng and Fong Chong Pik.

These accounts, he said, support a key argument Mr Lee made in his speeches then: that a communist conspiracy to take power was being played out over the issue of merger with Malaya.

The communists and their supporters opposed the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) vision for merger, fearing their activity would be curbed. They did so through violent and subversive means, arming themselves and infiltrating trade unions and political parties.

In 1961, the pro-communists in the PAP tried to capture the party. After failing, the faction broke away to form the Barisan Sosialis.

Mr Teo said Singapore’s road to independence began with the attempt to merge with Malaya – a move that communists, who were in the ascendency regionally and in Singapore, strongly opposed.

“Merger was against the communists’ interest… First, it would result in the quick end of British rule in Singapore and make it harder for the Communist United Front to disguise its agenda to establish a communist regime as an anti-colonial struggle,” he explained. “Second, the CPM expected the anti-communist federation government to clamp down on them, as internal security would come under the central government in Kuala Lumpur once merger was achieved.”

Mr Lee’s broadcasts, which began on Sept 13, 1961, were pivotal in lifting the curtain on the communists and exposing their manoeuvrings. It succeeded in getting the majority to back merger in the referendum in 1962.

National University of Singapore historian Albert Lau said the majority of Chinese speakers were on the fence then. “Mr Lee set out in his radio talks to convince the people that, by supporting merger, they would be on the winning side. He wanted to portray the communists as fighting a losing battle. In this, he succeeded.”

The book launch comes as the Government barred from public screening here, the film To Singapore, With Love by film-maker Tan Pin Pin, over its partial portrayal of CPM members who condoned violence and subversion. Officials say the book’s reprint and launch were planned much earlier.

In his speech, Mr Teo acknowledged there should be respect for the personal conviction of those of different views who fought on the communists’ side. But “we should, even more, acknowledge and give our respect and appreciation to the Singaporeans who had the courage and wisdom to reject the CPM’s ideology and tactics”.

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