Main WIN Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Workers’ International News, February 1940


Singapore Strikes


From Workers’ International News, Vol.3 No.2, February 1940, pp.8-9.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Singapore workers have gone on strike. From a careful study, of the meagre press despatches, it becomes clear that what cheerfully describe as only a strike among the dock workers engaged by the Harbour Board was in fact a general strike involving large sections of the Singapore proletariat. The Times of January 18th, mentioned casually that three to four hundred workers engaged in the hospitals have also struck. We were told also that workers in a cane factory had besieged four English officials of the factory and had fought the police who had been summoned to release the officials, using bottles as missiles. Although the correspondent is reticent it is not difficult for us to guess what kind of missiles the police must have used.

The method employed by the authorities in connection with the workers’ movement must be noted, for there can be no doubt that in a similar situation in the metropolis, the some methods will be used to deal with British workers.

The ideological preparation for the use of extreme measures had been laid down by the Governor, Shenton Thomas, in a speech on January 1st.

“There are some in Malaya”, he said, “who are doing all they can to stir up trouble. I do not know if they realise it, but they are behaving as if the Nazis their friends. I warn those people that I regard them as enemies and that I shall deal with them accordingly.”

It was no surprise therefore, when the whole paraphernalia of war-time emergency legislation was imposed upon the workers to break their determination to win a living wage. On January 13th, the Times correspondent declared emphatically that the strikes would “not hamper naval work and shipping will not be affected.” And yet before two days had passed it was reported that “the strike was hampering military work” and that “it was impossible for the government to tolerate acts of this kind.” By January 17th many of the strike leaders, all Chinese, were behind prison bars charged with the offence of “prejudicing the war efforts,” under the defence regulations. The last report published by the bourgeois papers informed us that in spite of the strong action taken by the authorities, the strike was continuing.

The Singapore strike is a significant episode in the drama of imperialism in war time. Taken in conjunction with the recent strike movement among the workers in India they not only give us an idea of the effect of the war on the colonial masses, but also of the forces which will end the war.

The Maharajahs, the Nawabs, the Sultans, the Chiefs, the landlords – together with the native capitalists – all are as deeply involved in this war as their masters and protectors, the big capitalists of London. Their benedictions on British imperialism can no longer hide the fundamental contradiction between the needs of the colonial masses and the needs of British imperialism in war, a contradiction which will blow the Empire into smithereens ere long. The Malayan authorities had kept its working population in unspeakable poverty in time of peace. Today, more than ever, it is compelled to launch heavier attacks on the working masses. On November 23rd, Sir Shenton Thomas tearfully proclaimed his intention of imposing additional taxation. He trusted that “the Malayan Government would offer the bulk, if not the whole of the proceeds to the imperial government as a contribution to the cost of war.”

The colonial question is causing many an anxious heart searching among the rulers of the empire. Can they win the war before the disintegrative tendencies in the Empire accumulate with the force of an earthquake? The British Empire entered this war, the last that it is destined to fight, torn with internal strife. The economic crisis which weighed most heavily on agricultural production had given rise to a mass peasant movement which is increasingly taking on a political character under the influence of the rising movement of the working class. The German imperialists are hoping that before Chamberlain can deal a death blow to their own ambitions a storm will have broken out in the colonies. That is why from the point of view of British .imperialism, every colonial worker who demands and fights for a living wage, every peasant who demonstrates against rising prices, is an enemy and an agent of Hitler.

It is against this background of the gathering storm in the colonies that we must place the Comintern’s slogan “stop the war” if we are to understand the full extent of its perfidy. The Kremlin satraps can see in the gathering forces of the colonial revolt only the signature to its own death warrant. The Stalinist press having for years maintained a significant silence on the colonial issue, has suddenly rediscovered the sufferings and struggles of the colonial slaves in the “democratic” empires. But their noisy advertisements of the struggle of the colonial workers is meant solely for the education of the British and French bourgeoisie, to convince them of the reasonableness of acceding to Hitler’s terms immediately before the plebeian revolution sweeps away the entire system. The slogan “stop the war” is therefore directed not only against the Czech and the Polish masses enslaved by German imperialism, but also against the millions in the French and British colonies. Not under the slogan of “stop the war” but under the slogan of the overthrow of capitalism and the freedom of the colonial musses – the slogan of the Fourth International – can the workers win peace for themselves and the whole of humanity.

Top of page

Main WIN Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 20.10.2005