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Henry Judd

Crucial Battle of the Pacific:

The Bitter Struggle for Singapore
Involves Vast Imperialist Stakes

(January 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 2, 12 January 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The largest battle in the Pacific area of the World War is now shaping up – the all-important struggle for Singapore.

On the one side the Japanese, having removed Hong Kong from their path, are concentrating tremendous forces in an effort to take this citadel of their “democratic” rivals.

On the other side, the Allied powers are desperately striving to strengthen the defenses of this key point – the kingpin in their Far Eastern strategy. The British are pouring in reserve forces and supplies from Australia, New Zealand and India; the Dutch are attempting to send reinforcements from the nearby East Indies; the Chinese are attempting to relieve the pressure of the Japanese attack by sending troops into Burma for a flank attack; the United States is likewise taking measures to prevent the fall of the “City of the Lion.”

Why is Singapore so important from the standpoint of the rival imperialist powers now struggling for its mastery?

  1. Malaya – the peninsula at whose tip Singapore is located – is rich in rubber and tin. These are raw materials highly coveted by both imperialist war camps.
  2. Singapore is a great military and naval strategic location, commanding the entrance to the Indian Ocean and the gateway to the East Indies. Whoever controls Singapore controls the straits of Malacca, leading directly to Burma, Ceylon and India.
  3. Capture of Singapore would mean the certain fall of the Dutch East Indies into the hands of the Japanese. The islands of Java, Sumatra, Borneo, etc., would fall into the hands of the Japanese who would then obtain much needed supplies of oil, rubber, copra, quinine, tea. Loss of Malaya and the East Indies to the Empire of Japan would vastly strengthen that country and correspondingly weaken the Allied powers enormously.
  4. The Allied powers have commercial, trade and capital interests in these territories valued at several billions of dollars. It would all go up in smoke if the Japanese should win.

A Desperate and Bitter Struggle

It is clear that a desperate and bitter struggle will be put up by both sides for the territory of Malaya. This struggle constitutes about the clearest example yet of what Labor Action means when it says the war in the Pacific is an imperialist war – for wealth, for trade, for markets, for colonies, and for raw materials of all kinds. Hundreds of thousands of men from America, England, India, Australia, Japan, China, etc., will be asked to sacrifice their lives so that the imperialist masters of the Great Powers can possess more territory to loot.

So far, the Japanese forces – descending on Singapore from their bases in Thailand and Indo-China – have made amazingly rapid and easy advances. They have overrun more than half of the country, including some of its most valuable rubber plantation areas. They appear to have gained mastery over the external sea approaches and the air. Air military authorities concede that Singapore is in grave danger of falling into Japanese hands although, of course, fierce battles still remain to be fought before the fate of this rich prize is decided.

At the same time, the so-called American military specialists and commentators are filling the press and radio waves with innumerable mis-statements and misconceptions about the entire struggle for Singapore. Ignoring the important POLITICAL factors involved in the battle – that is, the existence and opinions of the 16,000,000 native people of Malaya – they talk as though it were solely a MILITARY problem; a matter of guns, tanks and planes.

For the imperialists, this is quite natural since, they have no interest in the fate or opinions of the native colonial population of these countries. They seek only to retain them in colonial servitude, in the case of the British; or to take the place of the old masters, as in the case of the Japanese. But neither side cares one bit about the colonial people who are the decisive element in the war.

Who are these colonials? They are about 95 per cent of the population, to begin with. They are divided almost evenly between Chinese who came originally from South China; Tamils and Indians, who migrated from Ceylon and India; the original native Malayans. They are the workers and peasants, the shop keepers and merchants of the, country. They are the dock laborers in the ports and piers; they are the miners and factory workers in the tin mines and smelting factories; they are the rubber workers on the plantations; they are the peddlars and food merchants.

They are the ones who unload the ships, who bring down the rubber on flatboats from the plantations, who tap the trees, who mine the tin, who run all the services of the cities and villages, who are made to wait hand and foot on the white colonial masters and mistresses. They are the nine out of ten; the ones who say: “This is a war between two sets or robber bandits who want the right to exploit me – a plague on both your houses!”

Why have the Japanese been able to advance so rapidly? Because they have come through rubber and tin country, where the population has suffered 100 years of British imperialism and will therefore not lift a finger to help the British. The British, lacking forces and supplies, have no alternative but to retreat. They cannot mobilize the native population on their side “in the name of democracy” – any more than the Japanese can mobilize the natives on their side “in the name of liberation.”

Both are liars, and the Chinese, Malayans and Indians know it – so they run off into the hills or hide in their homes until the fighting is over. To them, there is no choice – either side is equally bad and not worth fighting for. And this is a thousand times more important in the battle for Singapore than “unified commands,” airplanes, tanks, etc. If the British rulers could mobilize the natives – to the number of 16,000,000 – on their side, the Japanese would vainly batter their heads against the stone wall of guerilla warfare, mass opposition and fighting in which each native village and city would be a citadel.

But imperialist rule in Malaya – as everywhere else – is based on exploitation. This means forbidding of unions, forbidding of any democratic liberties, no factory legislation, pitifully low wages, indefinite hours of work, coolie living standards, etc. It means rule of the people by a foreign power, in the best Hitler manner.

Freedom and Independence

For the British to win over the native people they must give them freedom and independence – the right of self-determination and self-rule. They must do away, with everything, they have done for the last 100 years.

There is as little possibility of this happening as there is of Hitler becoming a democrat or the Japanese withdrawing from China. So the great masses of Malaya will remain neutral in the war, cursing BOTH sides for bringing the horror of war to their country.

But the people of Malaya – the nine out of ten – are interested neither in Japanese victories, nor explanations about “democratic” defeats. They are interested now and in the future in a way of winning their freedom from ALL imperialisms – white or yellow – and in bettering their unfortunate lot. The fact that the leaders of the Malayan Communist Party (Stalinists) have openly offered themselves to the British imperialists will not deter these people from still insisting that their genuine interests lie not with either of the warring capitalist camps, but with the struggle of the colonial people for freedom and the right of self-determination.

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