Rebutting Burhan Gafoor – Part 2

This is part 2 of the rebuttal to Singapore High Commissioner to Australia Mr Burhan Gafoor’s “Response to Poh Soo Kai’s allegations”.

Communist influence doesn’t imply communist infiltration

Mr Gafoor wrote:

Chin Peng has confirmed that the Barisan was under the CPM’s influence. He cagily disagreed that the CPM “controlled” the Barisan, but admitted: “We certainly influenced them.” He did not elaborate on how the CPM “influenced” the Barisan or who were the CPM’s proxies in its central executive committee, but he confirmed that communists were among those who joined the party.

[Mr Gafoor’s reference: Chin Peng: My Side of History, page 438]

Mr Gafoor was referring to this paragraph from Chin Peng’s memoirs:

Contrary to the countless allegations made over the years by Singapore leaders, academics and the Western press, we never controlled the Barisan Sosialis. We certainly influenced them. But neither Dr Lee Siew Chor, the Party Chief nor, as I understand it, other prominent opposition figures like the Puthucheary brothers – James and Dominic – had ever been CPM members. Nor had we ever been able to control them. Unquestionably we tried, as we did with many other aspiring politicians of the time.

Thus, contrary to what Mr Gafoor said, Chin Peng wasn’t cagey but clear and definitive when he stated that the CPM did not control Barisan.

Mr Gafoor was wrong to assume that CPM’s influence on Barisan meant there were commnuists in the Barisan or there were CPM proxies in the Barisan central executive committee. Lee Kuan Yew had been influenced by Alex Josey, Jawaharlal Nehru and Professor H.J. Eysenck even though none of them were ever PAP members or in the PAP central executive committee.

I do not know why he did that. But he was influenced by Alex Josey, who came from the Middle East where he had been a reporter. Josey fed him ideas about the Muslims. The “Mad Mullahs.” The “Ultras.” Lee used the term, “Mad Mullahs.” This was Alex Josey’s phrase. Alex Josey was his close friend, golfing friend and biographer.

[Dr Toh Chin Chye referring to Lee Kuan Yew being influenced by Alex Josey during an interview published in ‘Leaders of Singapore’ by Melanie Chew in 1996]

In the early years of his political career, Lee was profoundly influenced by Jawaharlal Nehru.


Lee Kuan Yew believes in eugenics. Among others, he has been influenced by Professor H.J. Eysenck, an expert on measuring intelligence who visited Singapore in 1987.


On the contrary, Chin Peng stated categorically that prominent opposition figures like Dr Lee Siew Chor and the Puthucheary brothers were never CPM members and that tried as they did, they could not control the great many aspiring politicians then.

If CPM could not control the great many aspiring politicians then, how could those aspiring politicians have been communists? In fact, why would CPM need to try so hard to control the many aspiring politicians then if they were already communists?

The CPM’s inability to control the great many politicians then suggests instead that CPM’s influence was limited. Many historians support the notion that Barisan was neither communist nor communist controlled:

‘the MCP did not exercise the control over its fellow-travelers that it sought’, ‘the very idea of a “Communist United Front” is perhaps a misnomer’ as ‘most of the groups caught up in leftist popular radicalism … were neither communist, united, nor a front for anybody but themselves’ and the equating of disorder on the peninsula as a “Communist plot’ was ultimately made only as ‘a leap of faith’.

Harper … concluded that ‘hard evidence is hard to find’ about Singapore left’s complicity with the Communist underground. While some colonial officials had strong reservations, others made the leap based merely on circumstantial evidence. The failed MCP armed uprising, its retreat into deep jungle bases, the demise of the Anti-British League, and the work of colonial intelligence, infiltrators and agents provocateurs meant that ‘the MCP’s influence on the radical politics of Singapore in the late 1950s and early 1960s was, if anything, weaker than it had been between 1945 and 1951′.

Harper devoted considerable attention to ‘authoritative new archival research’ which suggested that Lee had been manoeuvring intensely to wield detention power from behind the scene and letting the British and Kuala Lumpur authorities take the blame for the suppression. British officials, including William Goode, Philip Moore and Lord Selkirk, had expressed strong reservations about Lee’s approach. The United Kingdom Commission in Singapore had even ‘attempted to stall and block these arrests’. Lord Selkirk had warned his superior that ‘Tunku’s and Lee’s respective bids for 25 and 250 arrests in July 1962′ were moves against their political opposition for which the British were to take the blame. Most strikingly, Selkirk assessed that Lee was ‘probably very much attracted to the idea of destroying his political opponents. It should be remembered that there is behind all this a very personal aspect … he claims he wishes to put back in detention the very people … with whom there is strong sense of political rivalry which transcends ideological differences’. However, such internal British reservations were rendered redundant by the momentum of decolonisation and the larger considerations of the Whitehall and British officials in the Federation of Malaya, as well as by Tunku’s pressure. Operation Cold Store was eventually launched on 2 February 1963, but subsequent British internal assessment had to admit that ‘the interrogations have so far produced little new evidence about the Communist conspiracy’.

[The Scripting of a National History: Singapore and Its Pasts, Lysa Hong and Huang Jianli, page 148]

In spite of intensive investigations, no evidence has been obtained of C.P.M. directions to open United Front workers as to how they should carry out their activities.

As the scope of the United Front widens to include a major element of the trade unions, as well as peasant and student organisations, it must become increasingly difficult, if not impossible for a secret caucus of Party members (assuming that such exists) to control all its ramifications and direct all its activities.

If they were indeed doing this successfully, it is inconceivable that Special Branch investigations would have failed to yield any evidence of such control and direction.

It is far more likely (as was envisaged by the Party themselves in the October Resolutions of 1951) that the “United Front” represents an amalgam of different and conflicting interests, individual ambitions, industrial grievances, Chinese nationalism, housing problems of the peasant population and educational frustration of the students.

At present they are united only in their dissatisfactions with the P.A.P. Government, and they cannot be considered to form a monolithic Communist edifice under strict Party management


… it is important to note that even though some Leftist members of the CEC were associate with the MCP, their actions were not directed by the Party. Their aggressive push for power grew from local frustrations and not from any sort of strategic planning or instructions … it seems that even at this senior level, the Party was unable to keep control of events … since 1956, the MCP had considered the Singapore operations as a whole to be overly ‘left’ and too militant and had criticised the 13 May 1954 riot and the May 1955 Hock Lee Bus riot as overly ‘left’. A directive … reached Singapore in late 1956 urging moderation, but the political situation in Singapore was moving faster than the courier communication system. Isolated directives arriving months after the events … had little impact on the ground

[Paths Not Taken: Political Pluralism in Post-war Singapore, Michael D. Barr and Carl A. Trocki, page 65]


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