Did the Communists Win Us Independence?
A common revisionist theme in modern analyses of Malaysian history is to paint the Malayan Communist Party as having played a significant role in winning Malaysian independence from the British.
This is of course a controversial idea, and has led to some overreaction from Malaysian politicians, who at one point condemned a memorial to the resistance against the Japanese occupation because many of the same men who fought the Japanese later become communist guerillas.
While reading a passage in Bakri Musa's Towards A Competitive Malaysia that condemned the historical revisionism which paints communists such as Chin Peng in a positive light, it dawned on me how deeply race pervades our thinking.
My immediate emotional response to the passage was a sense of dismay, followed by a sense of dismay at my dismay. My initial dismay, I realised, stemmed largely from Bakri's strong criticism of Chin Peng; in other words, despite my best efforts, I had failed myself and ended up momentarily perceiving the world from a racial point of view, since there is no logical reason to be supportive of a murderer like Chin Peng.
I have no shame in admitting this, because I readily acknowledge that race is something which will always be with us. Our emotional tendencies are rarely the right way to go, though, and what is important is that we are able to reason logically about something, rather than continuing to allow emotion to dominate and govern our actions.
Bakri's vehement emotional response to historical revisionism did, however, also seem to contain a tinge of such possibly unconscious racial sentiment; to deny that some communists really did fight for Malayan independence, instead of their own personal interests, is simply historically inaccurate. (Bakri himself subtly acknowledges this when he praises the Malaysian effort to convince communists to rejoin society as peaceful Malaysian citizens.)
None of this, however, deals with the main question: did the communists play a role in winning Malaysian independence? I think the answer has to be a yes.
At first glance, this seems counterintuitive — the destabilising communist insurgency would surely have been an incentive for the British to hold on to Malaya, lest it become another communist domino.
Some historians have made the novel argument that in reality the communist war was an incentive for the British to wash their hands of Malaysia, and leave it to its own devices. I do not think this argument is a sound one, because the British played a major role in leading the fight against the communists during the early days of the Emergency.
The reason I think the communists helped win us independence is because they provided an external force for Malayans to rally against. The communist battle affected all Malayans, regardless of ethnic community.
The communists murdered anyone who got in their way, regardless of race; their oppressive ideology was something all Malayan communities would detest; they pillaged and plundered not only from the Malays and British, but from the Chinese (according to psychological warfare expert C. C. Too, one reason for the Briggs Plan which relocated half a million Chinese was that the communists kept extorting supplies from remote Chinese settlements).
This external factor for unity resulted in a common sense of purpose for all Malayans, and a common identity, which was lost after the Tunku Abdul Rahman government and the administrations which followed it emphasised identification of race with socioeconomic function.
As most historians acknowledge, the British would not have handed power over to a government which would have been unable to contain ethnic unrest; that would have been a sure recipe for disaster (especially with the MCP guerillas poised to take advantage of any disturbance).
Because of the Emergency, Malayans were united. The communists did horrible things; they murdered, they pillaged, they plundered, and much erosion of our civil liberties can be attributed to them. (Laws like the Internal Security Act stem directly from the Emergency period.)
But to these terrorists, I must give a salute, for thanks to them, our country was briefly united, and it was this unity that led to our independence and gave us a sense of hope in this new nation of ours. Thank you, commies, for giving our country the unity and independence we may not have had otherwise.