Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Fourth International, November 1946


Correspondence from Malaya


From Fourth International, November 1946, Vol.7 No.11, pp.349-351.
Transcribed, edited & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


The wealthy imperialists of Great Britain must be feeling very happy with the Labor Government’s rule of the British Colonies. The whizzing of bullets and thud of a baton on the head of a hungry worker is good music to their ears. Without a doubt the old pre-war imperialist policies are in full swing, and Churchill need have no fear of his Majesty’s Government liquidating the Empire.

The situation in Malaya is a study picture of the Labor Party in action. The entry of the British Military Administration in September 1945 set the tone for future Imperial policy. British and Allied troops were welcomed as an army of liberation. For a few weeks large sections of the masses maintained this illusion until requests were made for cheap food, a living wage and the elementary freedoms. Since then, the country has been plunged into a sharp struggle between the representatives of British Imperialism and the downtrodden population. For the first time in Malayan history all sections of the community stand in opposition to the British Administration. The result has been a splendid growth of a trade union movement, increasing interest in politics, the formation of nationalist parties and organizations of professional elements. The old bubble that Malaya was the quietest spot in the Empire has burst with a vengeance.

A brief survey on the makeup of the country will provide the necessary background to the present struggles. The natives of Malaya, the Malays, are in a minority and number a little over 2 million as against 2 million Chinese, _ million Indians, 19,000 Europeans and 30,000 Eurasians. These are the war figures. 99 per cent of the population are descendant from immigrants of recent centuries. The original inhabitants are the aboriginal numbering 30,000 who live in the jungle and scrape out a miserable existence.

Malaya has been a gold mine for the imperialists. The country’s two main commodities are tin and rubber. The former accounted for 40 per cent of the world’s output and the latter fed half the consumption of the globe. The rubber plantations were so profitable that as much as $220 million were invested there alone. The imperialist whisky-swilling class were not content with trade profits alone. In addition, they voted themselves handsome pensions. From 1925-35 the costs of these pensions rose from $2 million to nearly $6 million.

The results of British administration is an undernourished population with not a vestige of security. The laws of Malaya do not differ essentially from those of a Fascist state. Before the war, the trade unions and working class parties were banned. Left-wing literature was not allowed inside the colony and deportations of militant workers was a normal affair.

The following Acts are regularly employed: “Banishment Ordinance and the Banishment Enactments.” Section 4 of the Ordinance provides “that whenever it appears to the Governor in Council, after such inquiry as he deems necessary, that the removal from the colony of any person not being a national born subject of the King, is conducive to the public good, the Governor in Council may issue an order banishing such person from the colony for such a period and generally in such a manner as the Governor in Council deems expedient. A Banishment Order can be made against a person who has become naturalized in the colony.”

It can be seen how easy it is for the Governor to intimidate the working class. To simply go to the plantations to help the illiterate natives in a minor struggle results in deportation. And deportation carries with it a likely threat of death for Chinese when handed over to the Kuomintang or imprisonment for Indians. Yet despite this persecution, countless numbers of militant workers organized illegally, risking their very lives in the attempt.

The recently issued White Paper on the Malayan Union aroused a certain amount of interest, mainly among the middle class. The British Government realizes that the masses in their colonies are on the move for independence. The imperialists hope to win over the middle class by granting them a number of seats in the Assemblies, and thus split the native populations. Whitehall, at the same time, is centralizing its hold over Malaya. In place of the old three distinct groupings of role: the Federated States, the Unfederated States, and the Straits Settlement, a cumbersome method which involved the utilization of British Residents etc., the White Paper carves the country into two parts, the Malayan Union, and Singapore and important islands of military value. According to the official legend, the mainland is approaching some form of self-government (Malayan Union), but Singapore must remain under direct rule. In practice, both areas will he controlled as before – by British imperialism.

Before 1942, the native Sultans were draped with imaginary powers to rule over the masses. The White Paper now confines them to religious matters only. The Sultans first agreed to this. What set them to oppose the proposal later were the intrigues of British planters and capitalists. The Empire holders are scared stiff at the rise of popular leaders among the Malays and are attempting to prop up the Sultans to act as a brake on this mass awakening.

Great play was made by the Malayan press on the number of seats to be given to elected nominees in the Legislative and Assembly Councils. Singapore for instance will have an equal balance between elected and nominated candidates in the Legislative Council. This body will have 22 members: four ex-official members, seven nominated officials, two nominated non-officials and nine elected members. The fundamental issue is that regardless of the number of elected nominees, the real power is still vested in the British Governor, who retains the power of veto. To make matters worse, the latest news relates that only a small section of the population, considered to be sufficiently educated, will have the right to vote. In Singapore, a successful candidate must be able to speak good English.

For the advisory Councils in the Malayan Union and Singapore, the White Paper mentions the election of nine members “in a manner to be prescribed.” Adult suffrage is not even mentioned. British residents, however, automatically get a vote. Such is the sum and substance of the British “reforms” in Malaya.

The weaknesses shown by the British rulers in face of the Japanese in 1942 and the experiences gained during the Japanese occupation have roused the Malays. A great opportunity was present for a revolutionary Marxist party to tear the Malay peasantry from the Sultans. In the absence of such a party the road was clear for the Stalinists to sidetrack the political struggle. In November 1945, the Stalinists organized the “Malayan National Party,” with a vague, ambiguous and class collaborationist program. A key section reads: “To cooperate with Britain, United States of America, Soviet Union and China and all countries where freedom is enjoyed.” A report in the Stalinist Malayan Standard states:

“The Congress also made a decision to unite with all Sultans and Royal families in order to achieve mutual understanding between the parties. Moreover, the Malayan National Party decided that if the people and the Sultans were disunited, such disunity would provide a great weapon for a third party to use it to the detriment of the Malays.”

At first the British Military Administration gave the Stalinist MNP its blessings. But as this movement began increasingly to serve Stalin’s foreign policies, the Sultans and the British Military Administration proceeded to set up the “United Malays National Organization” in March 1946. The object was to undermine the MNP, to prevent the rise of popular leaders inside the country opposed both to the Stalinists and the Sultans, and to organize the Malays on a racial basis for the purpose of dividing the oppressed masses in the town and countryside. These are the aims of both the BMA and the Sultans.

The gloves were definitely off at the March 1946 Congress. A reactionary bureaucracy ruled the platform and despite the strength of the MNP, very little representation was given it in the form of delegates. Practically unknown groupings had more delegates than the MNP.

The motion was made to grant citizenship rights to the Chinese and Indians. Instead, the President, Dato Onn bin Jafaar of Johore, who is linked with the Sultans, proposed going back to the pre-1941 days. The Singapore Sunday Times quotes him as saying:

“... to stand united as Malays of the Peninsula and not as pawns in the hands of Chinese Communists or Indonesian-cum-Malay nationalists. We recognize the fact that we are at the moment not ready for self-government let alone complete independence.”

Just like the voice of an Indian Prince, abject and servile before his foreign master!

The British policy of dividing the Malays from the other nationalities can result in racial riots. Racial riots have already occurred in some areas of the country. One disturbance caused 30 deaths.

The Malays are mainly farmers of small holdings. The Chinese and Indians are not encouraged to hold agricultural land. The Malays are squeezed flat by the Sultans and the rich trader. Food production was not encouraged before the war. (The Japanese sponsored food production and cleared large tracts of jungle for cultivation.) It is like India. Before the British overran these countries they were self-sufficient in food. The imperialists forged a new economy and led these nations into starvation. Malaya and India ultimately had to import 2½ million tons of rice annually from Burma. Before the war, food imports to Malaya amounted to 60-70 per cent of consumption.

Hunger is most acute in the cities. In Singapore, 63 persons died from beri-beri in April. This is the official figure taken from the Municipal findings. Thousands more are on the fringe of death from the same cause. Hunger and death are not something new in Malaya, Hungry bellies were a common feature before the war despite the immense wealth extracted from the country. An official Government Report: Nutrition in the Colonial Empire published in 1939, says of Malaya: “Beri-beri, xerophthalmia and other gross deficiency diseases are not infrequently reported.”

At the present time the black market is causing untold misery to the poor. Available food stuffs are cornered by the rich merchants without serious opposition from the government and sold at prices far above the earnings of the average person. Army food and luxury items, obviously stolen, are in full view on stalls.

The cost of living is sky high. The Malaya Tribune in May published the following table:


Pre-War $


Today $

Sugar (per Katie)



Soya Sauce (per Katie)



Bread (1 lb.)



Pork (per Katie)



Eggs (Single)



The Straits Times published an official list of the Municipality:



1941 $


1946 $

Beef Steak






Bamboo shoots (pr. Kt.)



Green beans (pr. Kt.)



Cabbage (pr. Kt.)



Potatoes (pr. Kt.)



White Rice (inferior quality)


Evaporated Tin Milk (1 lb. tin).






(A Katie = 11/3 lb.)

As foodstuffs are scarce the black market sends these prices still higher. The basic meal of rice has been cut again in May so the ration is now at the pitifully low level: Adult males from 2¼ Kt. to 3. Women from 1½ to 2½ and children from ¾ to 1½ per week.

No wonder a doctor in the Singapore advisory Council was forced to point out that out of a population of over ½ million in this city there are 100,000 cases of tuberculosis. About an average of one in each working class and middle class home!

Despite the vileness of British rule and the fierce repressions, a trade union movement was built in a short period and from October to May the workers fought in 127 strikes. A general strike was called in Singapore during December and good gains were made. The dockers had previously struck in favor of the Indonesians. The Indians now get a wage equal to local nationalities because of union action.

The Stalinists continue to dominate the union organizations and actions. A general strike was held in January to demand the release of a Stalinist leader of the guerilla movement who had been sentenced to 4 years rigorous imprisonment for alleged extortion. It succeeded in its aim after 3 days and soon the Stalinist leader, Kwang, was turned loose. In all, 10 trade union leaders have thus far been arrested and deported without trial.

An important development in the class struggle here is the way in which Service men helped the unions. During the strikes, leaflets were issued appealing to the soldiers to maintain class solidarity. Money was collected in the barracks for the strikes. Feeling is so strong in favor of the unions that on May Day the authorities would not permit Service men to listen to the speeches. The military Police warned these workers in uniform that it was a court martial charge to enter the Stadium where the meeting took place. A Cameronian soldier was much sought after by the MPs in case he wormed his way into the meeting. This soldier was to represent the British workers on the platform and the day prior to the meeting the civilian police sent him a warning not to participate in this affair or in future to enter trade union premises. A Committee of Service men had been cooperating with the union to organize a successful May Day. It comprised Trotskyists, Stalinists (who criticize the CP leadership),and militant non-Party workers. The Revolutionary Communist Party of Great Britain was the only political party to send greetings to the Malayan workers.

Civil liberties are non-existent in Malaya. The unions are hounded and their leaders deported. Right now, open offers of money prizes are made to trade union leaders to form break-away unions.

At the time of the expected invasion, the BMA issued a proclamation punishing speech or writing detrimental to the BMA with a maximum penalty of 7 years’ rigorous imprisonment. Individuals are still arrested under this edict. Open air meetings result in baton charge, and the intervention of the military, The police are Malays under European leadership. The working class in Singapore are chiefly Straits Chinese.

The Indians are participating very actively in the unions and politically they have been roused to a high degree by the building of the Indian National Army during the Japanese occupation. Large sections of the Indian intellectuals here hotly oppose the compromising leadership of Gandhi. The way is open for a revolutionary Communist party to harness this splendid spirit behind a militant policy.

The Malayan Stalinist party was formed in 1925. As all over the world, it expelled members for siding with Trotsky. The remarkable fact is the CP has formed a variety of parties in this country. All brands, except a real communist party. They have sponsored the Malay National Party, the Malayan Democratic Union, New Democratic Youth Leagues, Ex-Servicemen’s Associations, Women’s Societies, and a myriad of other groupings. It was the Stalinists who plastered Malaya with posters calling upon the people to welcome the army of British Imperialism as liberators. Stalinist members co-operated with the fascist-minded BMA on food councils instead of making an independent appeal to the working class. This, at a time when the BMA was deporting their fellow members for trade union activity and firing on unarmed workers. While the working class movement is being hounded, the CP and trade union premises sport the “Union Jack” and the “Stars and Stripes.”

The fierce struggle between capital and labor has not abated in all the months since the Japanese surrender. The efforts of a British Labor party official, a Mr. Brazier, to take politics out of the trade unions and to tame the movement, has failed. Unemployment remains high and the outlook for this outpost of the British Empire is not a bright one. The two main industries, rubber and tin, are losing their former pre-eminence in the world market. Mr. C.T. Pyke, Economic Adviser to Singapore and the Malayan Union stated recently: “In the course of the next two years or so production of rubber in the world – both natural and synthetic – would probably be twice the consumption. There is a deficiency of tin in the world at the moment. But in the long term view there was probably more tin than the world could absorb.” None of the 120 dredges that were in operation before the war are working today. Out of more than 100 open cast mines about 50 are working at present.

The price of rubber has dropped catastrophically. In 1910, it cost 12/9 per lb.; 1929 6¾ [d.] per lb. and today it is 1/-. While the fight goes on between the Planters Association and the Government for a higher price for rubber, no thought is given to the slavery that exists on the plantations. These areas are literally cut off from the outside world and a stranger is automatically suspect as being an agitator. The workers live in hovels owned by the employers and forced to buy from shops inside the compound. It is the slave trade all over again. The labor is imported from poor areas in Southern India with promises of decent jobs, and forced to sign a contract for so many years service. Henceforth these illiterate natives are prisoners of the white sahib.

The poor workers and peasants of all nationalities in Malaya are united in their poverty. The trade union movement represents the workers of all the nationalities and fights the racial policy of the government. The Malays, Chinese, Indians, Eurasian and other workers can be united on class lines in a movement against Imperialism. All nationalities work side by side on their daily tasks and politically everything is in their favor for unity. The march of the Malayan workers is a part of the great upsurge that is now sweeping the East.

Top of page

Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

Last updated on 11.2.2009