Monday, 22 December 2014

PJ Thum repeats old claims as historical truth remains elusive

Thum Pingtjin responded to Burhan Gafoor's letter with a FB posting that he is “happy that the government is engaging with my work”; he claims that his article on Coldstore “which was peer-reviewed and has extensive citations, does address the issues and evidence that Burhan raises”.

Thum's article does nothing of the sort. It fails to include several important revelations by Chin Peng, Fong Chong Pik aka The Plan, Eu Chooi Yip and other CPM/ABL leaders and activists that demolishes his arguments. Eu's revelations that the Barisan was formed on the instruction of The Plen completely undermines his whole thesis that the Barisan was just an ordinary left-wing political party instead of being the principal communist united front organisation (CUF) in Singapore that it was. His allegation that the CUF was an “invention” by the authorities has now been proven to be false.

Click here to read earlier article on what Chin Peng and The Plen say in their own memoirs. 

In another article which also touched on Coldstore and merger, Thum declares that his work quoted extensively the Chinese press – did he know that The Plen has written in his book that many of the articles in the Chinese press originated from him?

Many of these revelations have been in the public domain for the last 15 years. His entire unsubstantiated case against the government over Coldstore collapses now that it has been proven that the Barisan was indeed a political front of the CPM and that the communists were actively driving Barisan's disruptive activities and that the communists conspiracy was real and not imagined as alleged. Will Thum now revise his article?

Thum's response to Burhan was a repetition of his old line that his article was “peer reviewed” as though that in itself authenticates his work as a truthful account and addresses all concerns about inaccuracies and misrepresentations. Since he relies heavily on peer reviews, and give the many misleading arguments in his article, readers are entitled to know who are these peers who reviewed his work and how were they chosen? What are their areas of specialisation and research interests? How familiar are they with Communism in Southeast Asia, in particular Malaya and Singapore? How familiar are they with Singapore history? Have they conducted research on Singapore history and politics?

Further, would Thum address all the evidence and arguments highlighted in Burhan's reply in his forthcoming works on Coldstore or is it going to be an expanded version of his flawed articles? In particular, would he include all the revelations by Chin Peng, The Plen, Eu Chooi Yip and former CPM/ABL members that contradict his thesis? Would he also include the revelations and exhaustive research conducted by authors like C C Chin, Cheah Boon Kheng, Lee Ting Hui, Drysdale and Bloodworth and other British colonial records that argue against his own arguments?

Like Thum, I too hope that the state would declassify more documents. But when academics do not use materials that are publicly available and shoddily analyse those that they have access to, then I wonder when that day will come.  

Monday, 10 November 2014

History for history's sake?

Revisionists and their supporters are clearly distressed by the wide publicity on the communist threat in the early 1960s, as a result of the re-launching of the Battle for Merger. They do not seem to want the public to be reminded about the global Cold War or communist subversion in Singapore and insurrections in Southeast Asia.

To counter the publicity and mainstream narrative about the communist threat, Hong Lysa cites the dated work of Tim Harper and echoes the claim that there "is no evidence" of instructions from communist China or the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) to the communists in Singapore. She cites British Deputy Commissioner Philip Moore as saying in a dispatch that "while we accept that Lim Chin Siong is a communist, there is no evidence he is receiving orders from the CPM, Peking or Moscow."

But Moore's claim has been established to be inaccurate. It is roundly contradicted by revelations from the Secretary General of the CPM himself, Chin Peng. In his book published in 2003, Chin Peng revealed that in a meeting in July 1961 in Beijing, Deng Xiao Ping told him that he wanted the CPM to continue its armed struggle; Chin Peng agreed and accepted Deng's offer of financial support. (If anyone is interested, Chin Peng actually made a dangerous overland route from south Thailand to communist-controlled Hanoi, before boarding a plane to Peking.) Further, at the meeting in Beijing in 1961, Chin Peng instructed Eu Chooi Yip, the chief CPM strategist running operations in Singapore from Jakarta, to "sabotage" merger and Malaysia.

Picture from Chin Peng: My side of history

Picture from Chin Peng: My side of history

Fong Chong Pik aka the Plen has confirmed the instruction Chin Peng gave to Eu Chooi Yip. The Plen disclosed in his book published in 2008 and also to historian CC Chin that in a meeting in Beijing in 1957, the CPM had directed Eu to set up a working committee in Jakarta to strengthen and consolidate communist united front activities in Singapore. He was assigned this task, with further instructions to rebuild the united front with the PAP. One of his priorities was to meet Lee Kuan Yew in order to coordinate the policies and activities between PAP and the left-wing movement. On the merger issue, the Plen even revealed that he had used the local Chinese press to disseminate CPM's lines to influence the Chinese-speaking community.

There above should suffice to debunk Hong Lysa's and Moore's claims that there "is no evidence" of instructions from communist China or the CPM in Beijing to the communists in charge of running operations in Singapore. (As for Harper's dated article which Hong Lysa lauded, it was published in 2001 well before Chin Peng's and Fong's memoirs.)

The question arises as to why the revisionists have chosen to ignore the remarkable admissions of the communist leaders. Why do they instead grasp at a dated official document (Moore's) with an assessment that has been proven to be patently wrong at the time it was written? Moore himself later effectively conceded in another dispatch to the Colonial Office dated 7 December 1962 that he was mistaken! He wrote that the "communists (in Barisan Sosialis) seem to be sufficiently entrenched to control policy and action." The revisionists failed to mention this reversal of opinion and re-assessment of the communist threat in Singapore.

The explanation for the revisionists' selective use of documents and sources boils down to the fact that they are less keen in establishing historical truths and more interested in being the vanguard of fashionable counter-theories. Together with like-minded persons, they sought to show that there was no justification for Operation Coldstore, and to use this as a pretext to join the bandwagon of opposition politics. This is not history but politics.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

From London with Love

Two perhaps questionable moves by Tan Jee Say in his early efforts to gather public support for his next run for office -- one is to rely on the widely circulated but maybe questionable research findings of a relatively new professor (Thum Ping Tjin). The other is to parrot what this fresh researcher wrote and said without due diligence of his own, like cross-checking with other historians and sources.

Having recently retired and now splitting my free time between Singapore and London, researching into the social history of Singapore, let me cite just 4 reasons why both Tan and Thum might not get a reply the government:

Firstly, unknown to many non-historians and members of the public, Thum has given a simplistic account of the communist threat and Operation Coldstore in his talks and articles. Thum has ignored several colonial dispatches and Internal Security Council (ISC) minutes that clearly showed the existence of a serious communist threat. Lord Selkirk, the UK Commissioner in Singapore and his deputy, Philip Moore, were concerned about the communist threat and had advocated firm action as early as 1960. See for example these extracts from the British archives:

In a May 1960 ISC meeting, Lord Selkirk:

“…expressed his appreciation of the skilful way in which the Singapore Government were trying to deal with the problem of subversion in the trade unions, but said that it was obviously necessary to keep a careful watch on any pressure building up to subvert the TUC [Trade Union Congress].” ISC (60) Revised Minutes of 9th Meeting, 19 May 1960 (para 4)

Later, during another ISC meeting in October 1960, Selkirk commented that the Singapore Government:

“…was faced here by a challenge against the democratic system over the whole of Malaya. To a large extent this challenge was now being made through the trade unions in Singapore. The Government could not allow itself to be knocked about by the Communists acting through the trade unions. The strength of the Government's case was that these people were pressing the Communist cause by subversive methods. By sticking to its line, the Government would emerge stronger in the end. It should not, therefore, be deterred by fears of any temporary unpopularity.” ISC (60) Revised Minutes of 14th Meeting, 7 Oct 1960 (para 8)

Second, whatever reservations Selkirk or his deputy Philip Moore might have had about arresting the communists, they later became fully convinced of the need for security action when more evidence emerged about communist control of the political party Barisan Sosialis Singapura (BSS), the discussion BSS leaders had about the question of armed struggle, and when the BSS came out in support of the armed rebellion in Brunei. On 7 December 1962, a day before the outbreak of the Brunei rebellion, Moore wrote:

“I enclose copies of reports which came to us last month from a reliable and well placed source on two meetings held at the headquarters of the Barisan Sosialis last September. These reports are of considerable importance, not only for what they reveal of the future intentions of Barisan Sosialis, but they provide more conclusive evidence than we have had hitherto for the belief that Barisan Sosialis are Communist controlled…It has never been disputed that the Communists in Singapore are following United Front tactics and that Barisan Sosialis is their principal instrument on the political front…The report on the first of the two meetings shows that those engaging in the discussion were Communists examining quite frankly how best to achieve their ends. Furthermore, we can see that the Communist influence within Barisan Sosialis is not confined to the Central Executive Committee but extends to Branch Committee level…”. CO 1030/1160, Moore to Wallace, 7 Dec 1962 (paras 1 and 2)

A week later, on 14 December 1962, after the Brunei rebellion, Lord Selkirk sent a dispatch to Duncan Sandys, the Secretary of State for the Colonies:

“I said I had recognised all along that a threat was presented by the communists in Singapore. I had not however previously been convinced that a large number of arrests was necessary to counter this threat. Recently, however, new evidence had been produced about the extent of the communist control of the Barisan Sosialis and also there had been indications that the communists might resort to violence if the opportunity occurred. Recent statements by the Barisan Sosialis and Party Rakyat supporting the revolt in Brunei confirmed this. Accordingly H.M.G. [Her Majesty’s Government] were prepared to see [arrest] action taken in Singapore…”. CO 1030/1160, Selkirk to SSC, Tel. 582, 14 Dec 1962 (para 5)

Third, the above British declassified documents show that it is a big folly to read the MI5 report in isolation. Thum Ping Tjin and then Tan Jee Say have brandished the MI5 report without realizing that it should be read in the context of active and robust discussions about the extent of the communist threat. Thum is seized by the MI5 report without considering its context and taking into consideration the totality of evidence. I do hope that Tan Jee Say will reconsider his position, because as a opposition politician and he shouldn't bet so many eggs in this basket.

Fourth, what Thum (and Tan) fail to realize is that the MI5 report by the British SLO Maurice Williams was not the norm, and it is a gross error of judgment for a historian, even if new, to rely heavily on such a report to make momentous conclusions. Revelations from many sources, including CPM sources, confirmed without a shadow of a doubt, the existence of a communist conspiracy and the communist united front. CPM chief Chin Peng and the Plen had revealed in their books about sabotaging PAP’s plans for merger and Malaysia. The Plen had revealed how he had used the Chinese press to disseminate his opposing views. He also revealed how he had had secret meetings in Jakarta to lead the united front in Singapore and target the PAP for subversion, how he had ordered a top CPM cadre in the Workers Party to resign, and how he had ordered all support for Partai Rakyat to be withdrawn during the 1959 General Election. Chin Peng in turn had disclosed how Deng Xiaoping had ‘advised’ him in July 1961 in Beijing to continue with the armed struggle and how he accepted the ‘advice’ and Deng’s offer of financial help. These are just some facts that clearly contradict the claims by Thum, Tan and others that there was “no evidence” of a communist conspiracy.

Bottomline for all interested readers is this -- we should read new interpretations of history with a curious mind and not take everything at face value. As a Singaporean who has been a long time working resident of London, I will say that the British public is also somewhat skeptical of the British archives because one might never know if ALL documents were declassified or if officials writing the reports have other motivations. Nevertheless, Singaporeans should never forget our own history because if we do, then Singapore would really become just a place for people to make money!