Ashes, and the Communist Party of Malaya

The Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) originated from the world communist movement (comintern) in Moscow. Two years after the communist revolution in Russia (1917), world communists gathered in Moscow and decided that the survival of the Russian revolution could only be guaranteed by fomenting communist revolutions all over the world.

In 1921, the Communist Party of China (CPC) was formed. In 1925, CPC turned its branches in Southeast Asia into the Nanyang Communist Party (NCP). In 1930, CPM was officially formed from within the NCP with an entirely alien Chinese membership led by a Chinese Vietnamese communist.

This brief tale of origin and mission shows nothing Malayic about CPM. It was created outside of Malaya by international communists.

CPM did not fight for the independence of Malaya, nor did it fight against the British. From 1930-1941, its mission was to foment rebellion in Malaya for international communism. Its directives came via CPC. From 1941-1945, its actions were to “fight” the Japanese army in Malaya as an extension of China’s peoples’ war against Japan. The Chinese living in Malaya had been sending money to China as a contribution to the war against Japan.

And, when the war in Asia ended with Japanese surrender on Aug 15, 1945, CPM did not oppose British forces returning to Malaya.

CPM also did not oppose the British Malayan Union project which strengthened the British imperialist presence in Malaya by taking sovereignty away from the Malay rulers.

This is in contrast with the CPV which immediately opposed the return of French military to Vietnam the day of the defeat of the Japanese and declared Vietnam’s independence from France.

So, when did CPM start “fighting the British”? That was only after June 16, 1948. This date is significant in understanding CPM. It was four months after the Malayan Union was replaced by the Federation of Malaya (Feb 1, 1948), returning the sovereignty of the Malay rulers. In other words, CPM began fighting the British only after and because the British had taken action to restore Malaya to Malay sovereignty and rule, and to resurrect the Malay states in all their dimensions. It was not a fight against the British, but one against the revival of the Malay states, and an attempt to wrest control of the land.

According to a comintern document in 1940, CPM’s objective was the creation of a republic in Malaya, where the people would be “using our national language for each nation” (i.e. Malay students would learn in Malay, Chinese students in Mandarin, and Indian students in Tamil). Meaning, CPM’s objective was the establishment of a contra-Malay state. That should explain why they continued fighting the Malayan government until 30 years after independence.

It is redundant to ask if the CPM armed struggle caused the British to hand independence to Malaya. Independence for the Malay states was already forthcoming after the war as the British were obliged, though reluctantly, to grant independence to all their colonies as per the Atlantic Charter of Aug 14, 1941 between US President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Churchill, in return for US assistance in the world war.

The CPM insurgency was a non-necessity because the British were in Malaya by treaty with the Malay rulers, and negotiation would facilitate their departure. The insurgency in fact became a delaying factor in Malaya’s independence as the British had to be certain that the government of independent Malaya would be ready to handle the insurgency. Tunku Abdul Rahman’s success in handling Chin Peng at the Baling talks on Dec 8, 1955, gave the British this confidence, and Malaya got its independence smoothly, just 20 months later.

CPM was never a nationalist party. In fact, the entire communist ideology (Marxist, Leninist, Trotskyist, Stalinist) rejects nationalism. CPM’s members were revolutionaries, not nationalists. Nationalists preserve the identity of the state and symbols and values of its civilisation. Revolutionaries seek to destroy them as did CPM.

The CPM insurgency was also one of unspeakable terror and atrocities, killing and maiming thousands of civilians including children and members of security forces. No nationalist party or freedom fighters would have done that.

The return of Chin Peng’s ashes has caused widespread dismay and anger, much of it silent, because it rekindles memories of the insurgency’s atrocities and horrors.

But some, for simple political reasons, do not share these pains. They defend the ashes, saying the communist insurgency is long past and the matter should not be of interest anymore.

If so, why not just leave the ashes abroad, thereby avoiding making the subject current again? And why lambast those who oppose the return of the ashes as bigots and racists? Yes, Malay communists also returned without controversy, but Chin Peng was the top man, hence the dismay. Even if the Hatyai peace agreement allowed all communists to return to Malaya, the party should understand the feelings of the people, and they should know what they should not do.

Chin Peng might have had his last wish. But what about the last wishes of the people and children murdered during the insurgency?

Some politicians, intellectuals, historians, and media people are now bent on imposing a New Morality: recognition of fake nationalists, customised history, and an exhortation to “forget the victims and hail the ‘wronged’ perpetrators”.

Arof Ishak is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.