Monday, 8 June 2015

The perilous anti-colonial struggle - Birth of the open leftist student and labour movements

Memorial essays collection for comrade Chiam Chong Chian.

Before the partnership with the political opportunistist Lee Kuan Yew in 1959, many circumstances led the commmunists and leftists to rethink their strategy towards the anti-colonial struggle. Instead of only opposing the hated imperialists through underground warfare, the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) also opposed the British through open legal struggle as well.

After the declaration of the unlawful "Malayan Emergency" on 20 June 1948, many MCP members were removed from the city areas in Singapore and Malaya to conduct war on the imperialists from the jungle. They were drafted into military units that slept, worked and fought hard against the hated British colonialists day and night. Many of them paid the price with their lives because they hoped their children would have a brighter, freer future without the oppression of the colonialists.

A group of about 40 MCP cadres and leftist sympathisers stayed in Singapore to maintain supplies and conduct urban struggles. They organised themselves into a Singapore Town Committee (STC) structured into four districts: Bukit Timah (West District), Admiralty (North District), South Bridge Road District and North Bridge Road District, and a Students Committee that was in charge of leading the students in Singapore.

As mentioned previously, some MCP underground cadres formed the Singapore People's Anti-British League (SPABL) at the Chinese High School (CHS) in 1949. A separate group led by Eu Chooi Yip, Joseph Tan, P.V. Sarma and Lin Zanrong also formed an English speaking branch of the SPABL, which spread progressive ideas to the English speaking students at the University of Malaya.

However, after the STC failed to assassinate Singapore Governor Gimson on 28 April 1950, the British Special Branch was more aggressive in arresting STC members. They captured STC secretary Ah Jin and propaganda committee member He Sheng, who then betrayed the organisation and led to the arrests of all the other members. Only the Student Committee, the committee in charge of progressive newsletter Zi You Bao (The Freedom News), and the E Branch Assassination Squad remained.

So the heavy burden of leading MCP activities in Singapore fell to young Huang Maozong also known as Wan Fong of the Students' Committee. Unfortunately, he too was arrested on 29 January 1954. 

Thus Ng Mengqiang, also known as Comrade D, took over from him.

According to former SPABL member, Zhong Hua:

"此时的学委,在黄明强领异下,有詹忠谦,林月娥和张允伏三条线,积极发展抗盟在华校中学生当中的组织。林月娥是中正中学学生,负责领导女校和发展女盟员,在众多女成员中相当有威望,他们都称她二姐。詹忠谦和张允伏跟黄明强一样,都是1950年华中高二班同学,在校时期就是品学兼优的学生,很受同学们敬重,而詹忠谦在当年的斗争中被公认为地下组织的一支笔杆子,他的文章笔锋锐利,狠狠地打击了敌人,有力地鼓舞了群众。” [Translation: Ng Mengqiang appointed three key members, Chiam Chong Chian, Lin Yue Er and Chan Yean Fock to develop SPABL branches in Chinese high schools. Lin Yue Er was a  Chung Cheng High School student and she was in-charge of leading groups in girls' schools and recruiting new female members. She had a good reputation among her members and was called "second elder sister". Chiam Chong Chian, Chan Yean Fock and Ng Mengqiang were Form 5 students in CHS in 1950. They too were well respected for their good conduct and academic results. Chiam was an exceptional writer who hit out at enemies with critical writings and stirred up the passions of the masses.]

Around this time in 1953, the British imperialists began drafting the Rendel Constitution to deceive the population that it was interested in granting self-government to the people of Singapore and Malaya. In fact, the imperialists only wanted a lackey government that would continue to allow the British to exploit the vast riches in Malaya and Singapore.

Sensing a change, the MCP commanders in Malaya made a wise decision to conduct both underground warfare and open legal struggle against the imperialists. 

Zhong Hua continues,

"在这种新形势下,学委领导及其地下组织“星抗盟”也适时地决定调整斗争战略,要求盟员创造条件,从地下秘密活动转为公开合法斗争,许多盟员在1954年底根据上级的指示,开始积极地和大规模地筹组各种群众性组织。在这一新方针指导下,在短短的时间内,工会、农会、妇会、校友会和各种文化团体、刊物,就如雨后春笋般涌现。” [Translation: In this new situation, the leaders of the Students' Committee and SPABL decided to change strategies and carry out open and legal struggles. Many SPABL members received orders from their commanders to form organisations of the masses, such as labour unions, farmers' associations, women's federations, alumni associations and many different types of cultural organisations.]

“尤其是在公运方面,成绩最为显著,形成一股不容忽视的力量,令人刮目相看。据统计,当时全新加坡大约有12万产业工人,其中约有8万7千人加入157个职业会,而在这些职工会当中,以后来成为明日之星的林清祥领导的“各业工厂及商店职工联合会”(简称“各业”)最为强大。”[Translation: The labour struggle achieved the most obvious results. Statistics say that there were 120,000 workers in Singapore and about 87,000 joined the 157 trade unions. The Singapore Factory and Shop Workers' Union (SFSWU) led by Lim Chin Siong was the strongest among the 157 trade unions.]

“各业”取得的迅猛发展,绝非偶然。除了客观形势的有利因素外,也与其领导人背景密切关系。据了解,除林清祥外,该会前后两任主席林振国和杨高锦、两位副总务蒂凡那和詹姆斯·普都遮里也都是“星抗盟”盟员。” [Translation: The rise of the SFSWU was not coincidental. It was because of the situation at that time and its leaders. Besides Lim Chin Siong, SFSWU former chairmen Lin Zhengguo and Yang Gaojin and two deputy secretary-generals Devan Nair and J. Puthucheary were all SPABL members.]"

So the roots of the glorious student movement in the 1950s can be traced back to this group of dedicated MCP cadres and their followers. 

To these SPABL comrades, Ng Mengqiang, Chiam Chong Chian, Lin Yue Er, Chan Yean Fock, Lim Chin Siong, Eu Chooi Yip, Joseph Tan, P.V. Sarma, Lin Zanrong, Lin Zhengguo, Yang Gaojin, Devan Nair, and J. Puthucheary:


Lim Chin Siong next to Lee Kuan Yew.

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