From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 8, 23 February 1942, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
In two months the troops of the Japanese Empire drove their way through the “impassable swamps” and “tiger-infested jungles” of Malaya. In two days these same troops tore to bits the mighty defenses of “impregnable Singapore Island” and swarmed all over the Gibraltar of the Far East. It couldn’t happen, but it did!
Gone are the airfields, the naval guns (all pointing the wrong way!), the $400,000,000 naval base – never used except for ONE week – and built by 20 years of labor. Japan now controls the South China seas and the water exits and inlets into the Indian Ocean. Japan now runs the rubber plantations, the rice fields and the tin mines that formerly belonged to the British. Japan now is immeasurably strengthened to strike deeper into the Dutch East Indies and at Burma and India. Every military authority admits the harshness of the blow; government spokesmen talk about “the worst is yet to come.”
Churchill faces the crisis of his career – smooth – voiced words will not satisfy the critics.
Everyone asks: Why did it happen? From all sides the answers come; British bungling, stupidity, shortsightedness; inefficiency. Failure to apply “scorched earth” is cited; failure to organize a proper air defense is pointed to.
All this is true. British militarism – run by an aristocratic caste – was never notorious for brains!
But it’s all superficial and secondary. There is a reason a thousand times more important in explaining the Singapore fiasco.
Malaya and Singapore fell because the people, the 12,000,000 Malayans, Chinese and Indians – didn’t give a damn which side won.
Labor Action has published, articles explaining the attitude of these colonial peoples – explaining how, after 100 years of British exploitation in the mines and on the plantations – they felt neither side had anything to offer them in the way of democracy, independence or improved living standards, When the war began they fled to the hills and stayed there.
Nor did the British make the slightest effort to win over the people, even when the going became toughest. They wouldn’t arm them; they wouldn’t even build air raid shelters for them (those were for whites only!)
Cecil Brown said on the radio; “At Panang the British military authorities ordered the evacuation without consulting the government. They refused to evacuate anyone except Europeans. All Chinese, Malayans and Indians were left to their fate. That was the beginning of considerable difficulties with the natives in Malaya.” (You bet! That was the beginning of the end for the British, too!)
All of this this is a deliberate policy of the British.
It proves the imperialist character of the war they are conducting. Yes, they want to win – and keep their precious colonies at the same time. Sure, they want to lick the Japs – and bold on to their colonial possessions and money bags at the same time. Yes, they want the Japs out of Malaya – and themselves back in possession of the mines and plantations so they can take up again where they left off.
They want to win the war for their Empire – but not for the people and democratic freedom. So the result is that the colonial people whom they’ve exploited for centuries won’t lift a finger to help them on such terms.
Why should a Malayan, an Indian, or a Burmese lay down his life for his master who tells him in advance that he’ll get neither freedom nor independence for it. Churchill already has informed the Empire people, that “the Atlantic Charter doesn’t hold for them.” And that’s why Singapore fell so easily to the Japanese who had only to lick the relatively small handful of white defenders.
Lord Moyne, Colonial Secretary of the Empire, in a message delivered to the people of Malaya said: “In spite of grievous reverses we shall break the enemy’s power and restore to you your freedom of life.”
What colossal gall and impudence! How can the British “restore” what the people, NEVER HAD? Exploitation and slave labor they had plenty; freedom, and independence, they had plenty of nothing. The people of Malaya will interpret this statement – and correctly so – to mean that the British want to restore their slave rule. Hardly likely to induce them to resist the Japanese.
If all this was simply a matter of the handful of British plantation owners; merchants, capitalists and “whiskey and soda” club snobs, we would not get greatly worked up over it.
But a lot more is at stake than the useless existence of the British imperialists.
We are greatly concerned with what happens to the tens and hundreds of millions of people (workers and farmers) of these colonial countries.
The victory of Japanese imperialism represents a great catastrophe to them. Japanese rule is as brutal and savage (witness China) as any that ever existed. The Japanese militarists, after all, had much opportunity to learn from watching the British in action. They will keep the colonials down with a hand every bit as iron-fisted and murderous as that of the English and Dutch. The colonials, far from being aided or “liberated” by Japanese victories, are crushed down more mercilessly than ever.
So they have an interest in defending themselves.
These people have something to lose; something more than the moneybags and property, which is about all the English lose. They have at stake that future which they have always dreamed of and worked for: a future in which ALL imperialists will have been vanquished and in which they will have gained freedom and self-government. So they want to defend themselves. They want to keep the Japanese or Germans out of their land. But the British offer them nothing but continuation of the sarne old imperialist racket. They can’t turn to their rulers. But they can turn to themselves!
They can defend their country in the manner urged by the revolutionary socialists who live and work among them: Defend their country by their own independent initiative and action! Defend themselves by organizing their own People’s Army and demanding the arming of the population (a.mass arming, not giving pistols to a few thousand Chinese boys, as the British did in Singapore). Defend themselves by running out the British – or any other imperialist who attacks them. Defend themselves by bringing out the flag of national liberation and independence; by organizing their own government of the native people, by the native people and for the native people; by organizing their own workers’ and peasants’ government.
Last updated: 27.4.2013