February 26, 2018
Living in a Time of Deception: Look Back on Malayan History
by Maryam Lee @www.malaysiakini.com
COMMENT | “So colonialism is about how brown people suffered and died for the ambitions of white men?”
I asked him. Dr Poh Soo Kai replied, “Not necessarily, it’s not about the skin colour, you see. The Japanese were not white, they also colonised us.”
Colonialism is an attitude, it is a way of thinking. It is the imperial mentality that people under imperialism deserve to be subjugated simply because they are not born of the “superior” race.
I spent a lot of time in early February listening to stories of transnational activism, before and after the Japanese occupation in South-east Asia, from the man himself, Dr Poh Soo Kai. Socialist activist, political prisoner, now the author of “Singapore: Living in a Time of Deception”.
His book has been translated to Indonesian by one of the local publishers, Ultimus, and the launching of the book was done in one of my favourite cities of culture and activism, Yogyakarta.
Poh shared many stories. When we went to the beach for lunch, Poh told stories of what Soekarno did to the communists in Indonesia (Madium 1948), and how the communists supported Soekarno anyway, when he nationalised Indonesian assets to piss off the Dutch.
And then stories of Malayan communists. Led by Loi Teck, who was a Vietnamese, the communists brokered an agreement with the British in return for recognition of the Malayan Communist Party in the new parliamentary democracy Malaya was supposed to adopt upon independence.
When the British left, the Malayan communists had fought the Japanese to gain independence. When the war was over, there was a dilemma, whether or not to continue the fight, since the British came back to secure Malaya again.
The British made an agreement with Loi Teck, under which they recognised the MCP for a ceasefire of the arms struggle that would resist the British’s return.
Ahmad Boestamam and other members of the Persatuan Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya (PKMM), the anti-colonial party set up after the Japanese occupation, refused to lay down arms and wanted to continue the arms struggle for independence.
Unfortunately, PKMM could not fight without the communists. So when they laid down arms, as per Loi Teck’s instructions, the left had no choice but to discontinue the arms struggle.
Shortly after surrendering their arms, Loi Teck disappeared with MCP’s money. They looked for him, but according to Chin Peng (on right in photo), the Thai communists found and killed him because he resisted arrest. It was later known that Loi Teck was a double agent that had double-crossed his own comrades for his own personal gains.
British needed the distraction
Why the British had been so “nice” to the communists in Malaya was because they had to hold down the ports in Indonesia for the Dutch. The British Indian Army was sent all over Indonesia where there were uprisings, largely to Surabaya and Bandung, before the Dutch were strong enough to come back.
In the meantime, the British, who were not strong enough to fight the Malayan communists, had to convince MCP to lay down arms, via Loi Teck. The British needed this distraction so that Malayan communists could not succeed in gaining independence for Malaya, and for the British troops to come back from Indonesia.
When the war was over, the Dutch got hold of Indonesia, British troops were called back to suppress Malaya, and that was when all unions and left-wing organisations were banned and many of their leaders killed.
The promises the British made to MCP via Loi Teck to recognise the communists never materialised. As a matter of fact, with the newfound strength of the British army, they defeated the communists into exile.
“You see, Maryam, the cruel thing about colonialism is how brown people kill other brown people for those with pale skin and blue eyes,” Juliet said. Juliet is also a friend who had accompanied us in Yogyakarta.
“They made us fight each other, kill each other, and not even for the benefit of our own countries, but for the benefit of the imperialist countries,” her interjection served as a reminder of the unnecessary evils of colonialism, from which we only broke free not too long ago.
Some of the people who lived through British and Japanese occupations in Malaya are still living. And they tell their stories in their memoirs to be compared to the “official” history written by those who had won, at least on the side of history.
Colonialism may be a recent past, but unfortunately, it lives as a distant memory. Poh’s stories must continue to be told and recorded to do justice to our post-colonial discourse. For historians, or those who record history, have the power to tell truth to power in a time full of deception.
MARYAM LEE is a writer with a chronic tendency to get into trouble. What she lacks in spelling when writing in English is made up for with her many writings in Bahasa Malaysia. She believes in conversations as the most valuable yet underrated cause of social change. She wants people to recognise silences and give them a voice, as she tries to bring people together through words.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.