From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 29, 28 October 1940, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
SINGAPORE – Happy, oh happy indeed is the world of dreams and illusion! In this outpost of British imperialism the most popular current movie is that of our old friends, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour in The Road To Singapore!
As you know, this picture has about as much to do with Singapore or the road leading to it as President F.D.R. has to do with the road leading to peace. But I suppose this is precisely why it is so popular with the population and has been indefinitely held over. For life in colonial Singapore – hot. dirty, squalid, overcrowded – would hardly be bearable without some make-believe touch to relieve the monotony of each day’s existence.
The island of Singapore is today dotted with hastily constructed military and naval works. While an indifferent and largely hostile colonial population looks on. the British authorities are putting the last touches to their Gibraltar of the Far-East. For, far from expecting the early arrival of crooner Crosby or luscious Lamour on the next P&O boat, they nervously await the long-feared invasion of Japanese naval and military forces. Thus, Singapore has become Britain’s major military base in this area of the world, with large naval forces, several airfields and a minimum of 10,000 troops.
Occupation of Singapore would give the Japanese imperialists complete domination of the Southern Pacific, including the Dutch East Indies, British and French Borneo and would place the forces of Japan a bare 350 miles from Australia. Such is the strategic value of this Far Eastern rock! The road to Singapore is sown with the hard rock of bitter, inter-imperialist military conflict.
Britain has been staging an embarrassing retreat in the Far East. Before the overwhelmingly superior position of Japan one imperial barricade after the other has tumbled. The British gave up the ghost in the Tientsin dispute, then withdrew their naval forces from Hongkong, closed the Burma Road (until this week – Ed.), withdrew their total forces from Shanghai, etc., etc. But it will not surrender Singapore without a bloody last ditch fight. Far too much is at stake. Not only would surrender mean loss of the South Pacific, but the eastern portals guarding the entrance to Malay, Burma, Ceylon and India would be thrown open. It is for this reason that Singapore has become a concentration center and base of the Empire. All those troops, forces and equipment that were withdrawn from China, etc. have been drawn as if by a magnet to Singapore island. In addition, extra troops have been shipped from Australia, England and India. Anzacs from down under; swaggering English lads in R.A.F. uniforms; small, dark Malayans; powerfully-built Punjabis from Northern India – all these soldier types can be seen on Singapore’s streets. Come what may, the imperialists are determined to hold on to their plunders!
There is yet another objective behind these military preparations. As a part of the daily growing military and political accord between America and the remnants of the British Empire, there is a distinct possibility that Singapore may be “leased” to the United States for its own imperial purposes. I understand that imperialist surveyor Mr. Roy Howard is shortly expected here as part of a tour of the East Indian area. This notorious American journalist salesman no doubt intends to sample the goods before the purchasing price is fixed! American capital is extending its arms across the vast Pacific and preparing to reach for new, hitherto untouched areas.
But Singapore island has more value than that of military-strategic importance. It is the shipping and feeder-point for the peninsula of Malay – a colony rich- in two highly coveted raw materials, rubber and tin. Raw rubber and tin – how badly are these products needed by the hungry war machines of the imperialist powers!
And this brings us right to the question of the colonial population who inhabit Singapore city and the adjacent peninsula. On Singapore island itself Chinese who migrated from Canton, Hongkong and Fukien Province in South China form about 85% (450,000) of the total population. The balance of the population (leaving aside the unwanted foreign imperialists) consists of the Malayans and Indian immigrants. As for Malay, there the bulk of the population consists of the native people who work the plantations.
In no sense do these people (95% of the population) participate in the decisions that supposedly are to decide their fate. They are the dark, exploited masses – slaving away on the rubber plantations, in the tin mines and smelter factories, on the quays and dockyards. Colonial rule in Malay is as harsh as any other place – sub-existence wages, union organizations forbidden, long prison terms for malcontents, etc. Since the war began, the collapse of the international market and shortage of shipping have thrown tens of thousands into indefinite unemployment. Singapore’s great harbor today handles two or three ships per week! And at the same time there looms that greatest danger of all – a shortage of rice, the food staple of the masses.
In the early months of this year Singapore labor responded nobly to the difficult problems facing it.
There were economic strikes among the rubber plantation workers, dock laborers and factory women. Most dramatic strike of all was that of 300 women working in the American owned Firestone rubber factory of Singapore city. These women pulled a sit-down strike and were only ousted after a physical clash with the police. So fierce did Malay and Singapore labor become that the authorities began to lose their heads and newspaper editors became hysterical. On May Day several Chinese workers were killed in a bloody clash with police during a Stalinist-led parade. The closing of the Burma Road hardly added to British popularity.
But these actions, unfortunately, were conducted mainly under Stalinist leadership. These gentlemen, far more concerned with conducting military defeatist propaganda in favor of the Hitler-Stalin accord, could give no lead or shape to the rising movement. Instead, they fell victim to the police and many of them were interned or deported. Now the movement has temporarily died down and all is tentatively quiet. What was lacking was revolutionary direction.
And what if Japan attacks? What will happen then? First of all, under the complex circumstances of today it would be wrong to assume that Japan is prepared to attack Singapore shortly. No doubt they are planning to do so ultimately and have long ago spied out the ground with their ubiquitous “fishermen”. But Japan, partly because of its own internal weakness which is far more than most people imagine and partly because of fear of incurring Hitler’s wrath, must play a waiting, cautious game. Japan cannot act boldly and swiftly.
But if and when they do attack there is no question that Singapore will fall. It can be largely isolated by naval and land forces, while the Japanese can bring up large forces. Far more important is the fact that the masses, seeing no distinction between British and Japanese imperialism, will remain passive and neutral, forming the silent mass of the Third Camp that is slowly being whipped into shape by revolutionary internationalists everywhere. Although they bum with hatred of the Japanese (Singapore’s Chinese colony has done more for Nationalist China than any other Chinese foreign community), they cannot distinguish sufficient difference between the British and Japanese to make it worth while dying for. For an independent Singapore and Malay, yes – for England’s colony, no. So they will fold their hands in silence while the rival brigands fight it out.
Even worse for the British is the fact that their large Punjabi (Indian) forces will quit the fight at the first opportunity. These Indian soldiers, brought to Singapore against their will, have no heart to fight for the British. Already there have been several cases of rebellion and “disobedience” in the Punjabi ranks. Let it be remembered, as Lenin pointed out in his writings on Ireland, that Indian regiments in Singapore were the first to rebel against the last World War – a full year before Ireland’s Easter Week uprising! And these soldiers, to whom I have talked, have not forgotten 1915. They want only to return to India, to fight for India’s freedom!
Such is Singapore today. Waiting nervously and expectantly for the outcome of the war. And in the background, more conscious than ever before of the purely mercenary and imperialist character of the conflict, hover the Chinese and Malayan masses. They too are waiting – waiting their first opportunity to smash all imperialisms be they white, yellow or brown. These are the people to whom the small group of Fourth Internationalists in Singapore direct their revolutionary propaganda.
Last updated: 22.10.2012