- Created: Saturday, 19 October 2013 16:23
- Written by Jack Edwards
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 235 October/November 2013
Chin Peng - Revolutionary Communist
21 October 1924-16 September 2013
‘I make no apologies for seeking to replace such an odious system with a form of Marxist socialism…If you saw how the returning British functioned the way I did, you would know why I chose arms.’
Chin Peng, former leader of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), died on 16 September aged 88. A ferocious fighter for socialism and national liberation, he died in exile in Bangkok, having been banned from his homeland in 1989.
Chin was born into a family of Chinese migrants in Setiawak, Malaya, in 1924. Thousands of Chinese migrants were introduced to Malaya by British colonial administrators during the 19th and 20th centuries, serving as slaves and coolies on British rubber plantations and tin mines; anti-Chinese racism was central to colonial rule and contributed to his decision to join the banned MCP aged 15.
During the Second World War Chin was a leader of the MCP’s Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA), whose 9-point programme demanded an independent Malayan republic. While the British eagerly used MPAJA’s military assistance against the Japanese, their political programme was unpalatable; the British ruling class had no intention of losing Malaya, the largest net dollar earner in the sterling area. After the war the MCP remained a proscribed organisation, and under the command of Attlee’s Labour government hundreds of party members were arrested; the MCP’s leader, Lai Tek, had disbanded MPAJA, leaving the communists powerless against the crackdown.
Lai’s actions were opposed by most party members, and he was soon exposed as a British agent. In 1947 Chin was elected party leader and reinvigorated the fight for independence. As the Labour government prepared a new racist constitution barring 90% of Malaysian Chinese from citizenship, the MCP built an anti-imperialist and anti-racist trade union movement, the Pan Malayan Federation of Trade Unions (PMFTU); between April 1946 and March 1948 2.6 million days were lost to strikes in Malaya and Singapore. Labour’s response was predictably racist, with Ivor Thomas MP recommending that striking workers should be flogged. Colonial police executed orders with brutal precision, shooting strikers, banning the PMFTU and arresting its leaders. On 20 June 1948 the British declared martial law. The MCP was left with no choice but to embark on armed struggle; Chin Peng became the most wanted man in the British Empire, with a £250,000 bounty on his head.
The armed struggle against British imperialism lasted 12 years, pitting 10,000 MCP guerrillas against a 400,000-strong British colonial army. The British cynically dubbed its counterrevolutionary war the ‘Malayan emergency’; a declaration of war would have voided insurance policies protecting British capital. By 1953 4,500 air strikes had been launched on the Malay peninsula. Villagers were butchered, their houses burned to the ground, and nationalists terrorised by the infamous Dyakheadhunters. Extreme population control measures were implemented; approximately 40,000 Chinese were deported in British sweeps, while 500,000 civilians were forcibly resettled in ‘new villages’, a system of guarded concentration camps. Guerillas were contemptuously labelled as ‘bandits’ and treated as terrorists. A secret Foreign Office file explained the reasoning behind the reign of terror: ‘the war against bandits is very much a war in defence of [the] rubber industry’.
Popular opposition to British repression forced a partial amnesty and peace talks in 1955. As chief negotiator for the MCP, Chin demanded the party’s right to a position in a coalition government, while the British demanded the MCP’s surrender. The MCP refused, and peace talks collapsed. However, the Malay bourgeoisie was now forced to support independence; this was granted in 1957, although 70% of Malayan company profits remained in the hands of the imperialists. The MCP continued to fight the new comprador government, although repeated crackdowns took their toll; in 1989 a peace agreement was signed, guaranteeing remaining guerrillas safe havens in ‘peace villages’ on the Thai border.
While the MCP was defeated, Chin never repudiated the struggle and died a committed communist. In his final letter he hoped that ‘the path I had walked on would be followed and improved upon by the young after me. It is my conviction that the flames of social justice and humanity will never die’. His remains have been refused entry to Malaysia. Even in death he strikes fear into the ruling class.