Sunday, 17 December 2017

The Experience by and Conclusions drawn about the Outstanding Leader, Lim Chin Siong’s Constitutional Struggle - an ideological wealth he has left behind for the People of Singapore, Peninsula Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak [Updated on 20 Dec 2017]

The Experience by and Conclusions drawn about the Outstanding Leader,  
Lim Chin Siong's Constitutional Struggle - an ideological wealth he has left behind 
for the People of Singapore, Peninsula Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak

Written by Chng Min Oh @ Zhuang Ming Hu
Translated by Agnes Khoo

【Updated on 20 Dec 2017】

[Sahabat Rakyat Editor's note] 

Author Chng Min Oh (right) was a Singaporean painter active in the labour movement of Singapore from the 1960s to the 1970s. He became a Traditional Chinese Medicine physician in his later years and he is still practising at 80 years old today.  He wrote this article in Chinese language last year to commemorate Lim Chin Siong's death twenty years ago. This is the English translation of his article.

This article reveals Chng’s persistence in exploring the truth of the rise and fall of the leftist movement (including the labour movement) in Malaya (including Singapore) in that era. More importantly, it expresses his recognition and reverence for the contribution of the movement’s prominent leader, Lim Chin Siong from 1950s to 1960s. He puts forward two “little hopes” in his article:

He hopes that those (especially the key figures) who had wrongly criticised Lim Chin Siong, critically reflect and evaluate themselves and what they had done. Justice for Lim must be done in the remaining years of the persons concerned.

He hopes that the complete Q&A/ Posthumous Manuscript of Lim Chin Siong, which has been kept away for at least twenty years be released/published as soon as possible since what has so far been published is only a fragment of the entire manuscript. This is to realise Lim’s long-held wish to publish his memoir and to fulfil the public’s yearning to read his complete work.

Before the publication of Chng’s article and ahead of the 20th anniversary of Lim Chin Siong’s death, Sahabat Rakyat published an article entitled, “The Best Way to Commemorate Lim Chin Siong is to Propagate His Ideology and Ideal” in the Chinese language. The English rendition was subsequently published on 22nd February of the same year.

We mentioned in this article that “Lim Chin Siong endured relentless suppression and devastation by Lee Kuan Yew and the erroneous criticism and merciless blows by the left-wing aggressive leaders after the Feb 2 Incident in 1963. He was then being exiled to London, UK by Lee Kuan Yew ruling clique in 1969.We are of the view that, the best way to commemorate Lim Chin Siong, is to propagate his ideology, ideal and lessons learnt, especially the reflection and summing-up he did at his old age (upon his return to Singapore in 1979) on those important historical incidents of anti-colonialisation struggle of the people of Malaya (including Singapore) and his own experience on leading the anti-colonialisation struggle. He died of a heart attack on 5 February 1996. The Q&A Posthumous Manuscript is the precious message he left about the national liberation and democratic revolution struggle of the people of Malaya and Singapore that he knew and he had been through.

Today, less than two years after the afore-mentioned articles were published, we received an English translation of this article from  Chng Min Oh. Chng told us that it was translated from his Chinese article by Dr. Agnes Khoo, a Singapore-born scholar (see Introduction of Translator at the end of the article). 

Chng’s purpose of getting his article translated from Chinese into English is to ensure that his writing is accessible to the English-speaking majority in Singapore today. Under the rule of Lee Kuan Yew and his clique, Singapore has become a society with English as the dominant language used by the majority, particularly among the middle-class and the younger generation.

Lee Kuan Yew's ruling clique has effectively silenced and undermined the Chinese-speaking leaders who once commanded respect and influence in the political and social movements of Malaya and Singapore. Lee and the PAP has rendered leaders and peoples whose first languages are Chinese and Chinese dialects voiceless and powerless. It is only by reaching out and educating the new generation of Singaporeans who are predominantly English-educated, that it is possible for Singapore to "change."

The publication of the English translation of Chng’s article is also timely for the people of Peninsula Malaya, Sarawak and Sabah. The people are opposing UMNO’s hegemonic rule and fighting for equality for all ethnic groups, as well as the long over-due democratic reforms of the country. This includes no less, the resistance of the people of Sabah and Sarawak against UMNO’s hegemony. People are fighting for self-determination, and their right for non-exploitative and sustainable development that does not discriminate any ethnic group. This article appears at a critical historical juncture, just as Peninsula Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak, gear up for the upcoming General Elections. The people should no longer be misled and sabotaged.

The anti-colonial movement in Singapore during the 1950s-60s, brought the Lee Kuan Yew-led PAP ruling clique into power. The painful experience of detention, persecution and ultimately, destruction of the leftist movement (mainly the workers’ movements and trade unions) and its prominent leader, Lim Chin Siong has resulted in a totalitarian and autocratic society that Singapore has become today.

The suppression and disintegration of the progressive movement and the lessons learnt from our painful experience must be critically examined and evaluated. This should include Lim Chin Siong’s own critical reflection and summing up of the key historical episodes of our anti-colonial struggles and his personal experience in leading that movement. Therefore, his unpublished work is invaluable to the people of Peninsula Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore.

Today, certain democratic parties, organisations and leaders in Malaysia are cheating and deceiving the Malay majority of their votes. There are those among them who hope to take over power from the ruling UMNO by welcoming Mahathir into their ranks. He who is marginalized in UMNO and continues to uphold Malay hegemony and propagates the Malay majority as Malaysia’s “savior”, should not be trusted.

Many people in today’s Malaysia, desperately wants a “change of government” and among them, there are those who support Mahathir at all costs. The failure of the leftist movement in Malaya (including Singapore), due to the errors and “wrong judgment” of some of its leaders who thought Lee Kuan Yew was their “ally and leader of the anti-colonial struggle” should serve as a stark warning for us. The Left was brutally crushed and thrown aside by Lee Kuan Yew as soon as he seized power. Have we not learnt our lesson yet?

Below is the English rendition by Agnes Khoo and the introduction about her.

1. The significance of remembering Lim Chin Siong is to learn from his experience and conclusions drawn from the peaceful constitutional struggle he had led.

Lim Chin Siong is an extraordinary leader with a strong labour movement background who whole-heartedly dedicated himself to the national democratic movement of Malaya (including Singapore) from the 1950s to 1960s. Lim passed away on 5th February 1996. Nevertheless, he remains our leader who was larger than life. His advocacy for the mass line of peaceful constitutional struggles, remains the political ideological guidelines of the people’s democratic and national reform movement of our country today.

5th February 2016 was the 20th Anniversary of his death. We mourn for him as we gather together for his memorial. We learn from his total dedication to and sacrifices for the Malayan workers’ movement and the anti-colonial, nationalist democratic movements. We should emulate his spirit of self-sacrifice and learn from the lessons he had left behind. Without doubt, his was an arduous, painful and difficult struggle in which many like-minded Malaysians and Singaporeans have made untold sacrifices for. It is crucial that while we look to our past, we continue to move forward in our struggle for democracy and human rights in Singapore, Peninsula Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak.

2. Lim led the labour movement against exploitation and oppression and graduated on the political stage of anti-colonialism.

When the British colonial government imposed Emergency Regulations in Malaya (which included Singapore) in 1948, people’s lives were heavily censured, closely monitored, and social movements were severely suppressed. Activists were brutally punished, detained and deported. Despite the rising mass discontent against the Emergency, the colonial government dragged its feet in lifting it. In 1954, the Chinese Middle School students in Singapore protested the colonial government’s move to impose compulsory military draft of young Singaporean men. This culminated in the famous May 13th Incident that subsequently, nurtured the students’ movement in Singapore.

In 1955, workers of the Singapore Hock Lee Bus Company went on strike to demand for better pay and working conditions, but they were violently suppressed by the government. This ignited the island-wide 12th May Uprising, followed by waves of protests and demonstrations by workers. The British colonial government then rolled out parliamentary elections under the Rendel Constitution in the same year, and legalised political parties, trade unions and civic organisations, to ease the discontent of the masses. This helped facilitate the emergence of progressive trade unions that fought for the rights of the workers and the masses.

Lim Chin Siong was in his third year of Junior Middle School at Singapore Chinese High School in 1951. He participated in the students’ strike against compulsory examination imposed by the colonial government and was jailed for a week. Consequently, he was expelled from school and could not return to formal education.

From late 1953 to early 1954, he became actively involved in progressive trade union organising. He was initially employed as the paid Secretary of two union branches under the Singapore Bus Workers’ Union (SBWU) namely, the Changi Branch Union and the Paya Lebar Branch Union. Following that, he became the Secretary General of the Singapore Spinning Workers’ Union. On 4th April 1954, he was elected as Secretary General of the newly established, Singapore Factory and Shop Workers` Union (SFSWU).

Lim had always wanted to work for the workers and to be in solidarity with the toiling masses. He had experienced first-hand, the suffering of the workers, especially those at the grassroots who had to eke out a living despite bad working conditions with low wages. He fought for their rights and led trade union activists and leaders with complete dedication. He called for all workers to unionise, to unite and to struggle for better pay and working conditions. Under his leadership, the membership of the Singapore Factory and Shop Workers` Union (SFSWU) rose from less than a thousand to more than thirty thousand within a year.  This proves without dispute, Lim’s charisma and influence over the trade union movement. His leadership and ideas quickly made him one of the most respected leaders in the workers’ movement. He was without doubt, the most important leader of the progressive trade union and workers’ movements of Singapore.

His rise to popularity quickly caught the attention of Lee Kuan Yew who was trying to form the People’s Action Party (PAP) in 1954. Lee contacted Lim Chin Siong through the Chinese Middle School student leaders. Lim Chin Siong finally accepted Lee Kuan Yew’s invitation to become a PAP candidate for the Bukit Timah Constituency in the February 1955’s Legislative Assembly Elections in Singapore. Lee and four other PAP candidates also contested in the same election. Unsurprisingly, Lim was elected with majority votes. The speeches he made during the election, his subsequent intervention in the Legislative Assembly and his unequivocal opposition to colonial rule won him praise and trust of the workers and the masses.  He soon became the undisputed spokesperson of the workers and ordinary people. All these have established Lim Chin Siong as an iconic figure in Malayan history. He was an anti-colonialist at heart and a fearless dissident.

During this period, the anti-colonial sentiment among the people of Singapore was high and the opposition movement was strong and powerful. The Singapore people were demanding independence from Britain, which really shook the status quo and compelled the British colonialists and their accomplices to finally expose their true fascist nature. There were mass arrests starting from 18th September 1956.  Many leaders from the progressive trade unions, civic and grassroots organisations, as well as political dissidents were arrested and imprisoned. The British also banned all democratic trade unions and organisations.  On 26th October of the same year, progressive trade union leaders including, Yong Koh Kim, Lim Chin Siong, C.V. Devan Nair, Fong Swee Suan, Tan Kok Wee, Dominic Putucheary were detained.

According to the report of Singapore’s Chinese language Daily, Sin Chew Jit Poh on 28th October 1956, 234 people were arrested on 26th October under the Internal Security Act (ISA).  The mass arrests infuriated the people and a mass protest ensued. Unfortunately, it was brutally suppressed. The government opened fire at the protestors, followed by a curfew. The violent clamp down had resulted in fifteen deaths and many injured.

However, the mass arrests between 18th September and 26th October of 1956 did not diminish the determination of the workers and the masses to continue the anti-colonial struggle. Soon after, many trade unions, such as Singapore General Employees’ Union, Singapore Bookshops Publication & Printing Press Workers’ Union, The National Union of Building Construction Workers, Singapore Textile and General Merchants Employees’ Union etc., united together to demand the release of their leaders and members who were imprisoned. The workers’ movement did not back down in the face of repression. On the contrary, the people persisted.

3. PAP came into power on the back of the workers led by Lim Chin Siong – Lee Kuan Yew was alarmed at Lim’s immense influence.

Since the formation of the PAP in 1954, it has portrayed itself as an anti-colonial and democratic political party, which subsequently led to its overwhelming victory at the 1959 Legislative Assembly Elections, garnering 43 seats out of 51. It was given the power by the people to form the first self-government of Singapore. The people of Singapore, in particular the workers, were hopeful that Lee Kuan Yew, as the first popularly-elected leader would continue to rely on the power of the masses to get rid of the British colonialists, and to liberate the country from colonial rule so that we no longer live in fear and exploitation.

Unfortunately, Lee Kuan Yew exposed his true self as soon as he became the Prime Minister. He wasted no time to suppress the workers’ movement because deep down, he was worried of workers’ power; he knew that workers when united, could undermine his power.  Nevertheless, he was bound by his election promise to release several political prisoners, so he had no choice but to free eight trade union leaders including, Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Swan and C.V. Devan Nair. In fact, upon their release, he went on to appoint Lim and Fong as the Political Secretaries of the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Labour and he put Devan Nair in-charge of the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC) that the government was establishing.

However, Lee Kuan Yew had retained all the anti-labour and undemocratic laws and ignored the people’s demands to unify trades unions, to open democracy and freedom, and to increase workers’ wages and so on.

The PAP under Lee’s leadership betrayed its founding principles and vision and became increasingly antagonistic against the people. It soon became clear that it has aligned itself with British interests. This eventually led to a split within the party, between the faction loyal to Lee Kuan Yew and the other, led by Lim Chin Siong and Lee Siew Choh who had insisted on continuing the anti-colonial struggle in Singapore. As a result, the Left in the PAP walked out of the party and formed an opposition party, the Barisan Socialis Singapura (BSS) on 17th September 1961.

Barisan Socialis Singapura as a left-wing party was to lead the masses against the British colonial design of merging Malaysia and Singapore into the Federation of Malaysia. Article 2 of its Constitution declared its support for the formation of a democratic Malayan government that guarantees universal suffrage for all adults born in Malaya or who pledge loyalty to Malaya. Thus, Barisan Socialis Singapura has adopted the aim and line of struggle of the progressive labour movement, which is to pursue constitutional struggle.

Lim Chin Siong as the Secretary General of Barisan Socialis Singapura had emphasised in his report at the Party’s first General Assembly held on 11th October 1962 that, “We must do our utmost to adopt concrete steps and through constitutional means, in uniting all left-wing and anti-colonial forces of the Federation of Malaya to form a central government that truly represents the majority of our people. Only when we succeed to do so will the lives of our farmers, workers and people of all classes be improved. We believe that a genuine merger of Malaya and Singapore that is based on equality and democracy can only take place through such means. And it is also the only way through which the democratic rights of the people of Malaya can be guaranteed. It is only so that we can build a country that is truly peaceful and prosperous”.

The people welcomed and supported Lim’s leadership because of his advocacy for the line of peaceful constitutional struggle, which is in line with their aspiration and interests. He was right that it is only by uniting the people through the anti-colonial mass movement that the progressive opposition could win and undermine the rule of Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP.  The political development in Singapore after mid-1962 showed that if the Legislative Assembly Election was called in 1963, as stipulated by our Constitution, the PAP was bound to lose its majority and Barisan Socialis Singapura would surely win. Hence, Lee Kuan Yew in desperation to hold on to power, quickly suppressed the anti-colonial democratic forces. In particular, he had to detain Lim Chin Siong under a pretext, so he tried to instigate Lim Chin Siong and his colleagues to carry out radical protests and actions so that he could in turn, use that as an excuse to arrest the leaders of Barisan Socialis Singapura. He also accused Barisan Socialis Singapura of aiding the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM).

Thus, the 1962 snap referendum on the merger of Malaya and Singapore was a preamble to Lee Kuan Yew’s sinister plot. If Lim Chin Siong was to call for a boycott of the referendum, Lee could detain all the opposition leaders by accusing them of intending to riot and thereby, justify his mass arrests and repression. Further, Lee could then deprive the opposition of their right to run for the upcoming 1963 election, as well as their right to vote.  His intention was to abrogate the right of the anti-colonial forces in running for elections and their right to vote. In so doing, Lee and PAP wanted to prevent the democratic forces from gaining momentum and power in Singapore.

Faced with this dilemma, Lim and his colleagues tried their best to respond with reason and tact. Throughout the process, Barisan Socialis Singapura conducted mass political mobilisation through peaceful means by educating the people about how unreasonable and unjustified the referendum was. They tried to expose the insidious intention of PAP and the fake constitutional democracy propagated by the Party.  In fact, Lim Chin Siong had urged the people to void their votes instead of a boycott and his strategy eventually succeeded in neutralising Lee’s plot.

On 8th December 1962, the so-called ‘Brunei People’s Armed Uprising’ gave Lee Kuan Yew another pretext to clamp down on the opposition. He so desperately needed to detain Lim Chin Siong and other opposition leaders to ‘nib’ the anti-colonial forces ‘in the bud’. Recent historical research has revealed that the so-called armed revolution in Brunei was in fact, instigated by special agents of the British colonialists to suppress the emerging anti-colonial movements in Brunei and Sarawak. This move succeeded in giving the ruling elite of Malaya and Singapore a pretext to suppress dissent.

4. The line of struggle advocated by Lim Chin Siong was undermined by Lee Siew Choh and other leaders of Barisan Socialis Singapura.

1. Lim Chin Siong’s perspective on peaceful constitutional struggle and parliamentary democracy

The results of the September 1962 Referendum saw the defeat of the opposition in Singapore. There were doubts about constitutional struggle within the anti-colonial movement, which had led to pessimism and a defeatist tendency on the one hand, and adventurism and radicalism on the other.

Lim assessed the outcome of the referendum on 12th September in his statement, which reiterated the need for peaceful constitutional struggle for as long as the conditions for it exist. He wanted to counter the extreme right-wing and left-wing tendencies within the opposition, which have both cast doubt on his political strategy.

On 21st October of the same year, Lim was interviewed by his party newspaper and he said, “In the eyes of the right-wing reactionary forces, parliamentary democracy will consolidate the ruling elite’s position and power. They will not allow the left-wing forces that advocate socialism to seize power through peaceful constitutional means”.

On his assessment of peaceful constitutional struggle, Lim said, “the denial of the reactionary forces among us and the validity of peaceful constitutional rule and parliamentary democracy precisely prove that it is possible for socialists to have the support of the majority of the people, if we follow the path of peaceful constitutional reform. With this as our foundation, suppression cannot destroy or stop the progress of socialism”.

He also said that, “The Singapore Left must seek social change through peaceful constitutional means. Only when the majority of our people wants socialism can socialism be realised. And only then will the attacks of the reactionary forces be futile. Hence, the reactionaries will increasingly rely on un-democratic and fascist means to strengthen their rule… It is obvious that because socialist forces are advancing through constitutional means that the reactionaries of the Federation had no choice but to attack democracy”.

In his 1963 New Year’s speech, he further pointed out that, “if the Federation of Malaya insists on stepping up police terror against the people, it would be this country’s political turning point. The Left must respond resolutely”.

The above was Lim’s perspective on peaceful constitutional struggle for Singapore. It is the iron proof of his understanding of the dialectical dynamism of peaceful constitutional struggle, and his realisation of its purpose and significance in the democratisation of Singapore and Malaya.  History has shown that, the distortion of Lim’s advocacy for peaceful constitutional struggle as “right opportunism” by certain “left opportunists” within the Malayan Left, and for their selfish and personal agendas, have irrevocably undermined the national democratic struggles of Malaya (including Singapore). Even though over half a century has passed, there is a need to properly evaluate this unfortunate turn of event today.

2. Lee Siew Choh and his colleagues accused Lim Chin Siong as “Right opportunists”, and “Parliamentary Cretinism”.

Over time, various historical material that deals with the internal disagreement, divisions and debates about the lines of political struggle within the anti-colonial movement of the 1960s have emerged. Those who knew about these dynamics or who were part of it are not hesitant to discuss it today. One of the key leaders of Barisan Socialis Singapura, Chair of the Tampines Branch, Poh Ber Liak, has revealed much of the internal disputes, which has helped us understand the context within which the split within the Barisan Socialis Singapura had taken place. Below is a brief explanation.

(1)Lee Siew Choh advocated for the boycott of National Service (Military Draft) Registration in 1964
Before the September 1963 Singapore Legislative Assembly Election, Lee Siew Choh was very confident that he would win the election. Hence, he was extremely frustrated when he lost. That November, he attended a rally organised by the Malaya Labour Party in Johore Bahru (Malaysia) and called for a boycott against national service enforced by the Malaysian government. This was a preamble of his advocacy of the same in Barisan Socialis Singapura.

In January 1964, the Central Committee of Barisan Socialis Singapura called for a joint meeting of its members and Legislative Assembly members who were not imprisoned. It was to discuss the Party’s position and policies on National Service. It was attended by ten members namely, Lee Siew Choh, Low Por Tuck, Koo Young, Chia Thye Poh, Ong Lian Teng, Tan Cheng Tong, Lim Huan Boon, Poh Ber Liak, Kow Kee Seng and Chio Cheng Thun. After much discussion, Lee had insisted on boycotting the National Service Registration Decree, but his motion was only supported by Koo Young, the other eight had voted against it. Among those who opposed, some of them advocated for registration under protest and still others, opted for ‘principled registration’.

(2) Lim Chin Siong opposed Lee Siew Choh’s advocacy and was accused by the latter as  “Right opportunist”, and ‘against the Party’s principle and position’

February 1964, Lim Chin Siong wrote to the Central Committee of Barisan Socialis Singapura from prison, expressing his position on the matter:
• After the 2nd February 1963 Incident and the General Strike of 8th October, the mass movement in Singapore has entered a lull. Therefore, it is not the right time to adopt any high-profile struggles but to sustain low-intensity struggles instead.

• We should opt for registration under protest because our relationship with the masses is like ‘fish and water’; without water, the fish cannot survive. Without the support of the masses, we cannot carry out any form of struggles. Until the masses are ready and demand protests, it is futile to carry out high-profile struggles.

• Not engaging in high-profile struggle now does not mean there is no opportunity to do so in the future. The unjust laws of our enemy are many, we have much to struggle against later.

However, Lee Siew Choh criticised Lim as pessimistic and defeatist. In his opinion, political movement should always be on the rise and never on the ‘low’. The socialist movement of many countries began only with a few people but in Singapore, there were tens and thousands of us. Does this look like a movement in its ebb? Lee questioned and labelled Lim as a right opportunist and a coward. He said Lim was fearful, was giving in to the power-that-be, that it was capitulation, and that he had gone against the party’s position and principles. When Lee’s call for the boycott was rejected by the Party’s extraordinary meeting on 29th April 1964, Lee Siew Choh and seven others resigned from the Party on 4th May.

 (3) On 7th March 1965, Lee Siew Choh returned to the party as a victor and advocated for the “Revolutionary Struggle Line”, targeting the so-called “right opportunists”and openly opposed Lim Chin Siong and his line of struggle.

When Singapore was ejected from the Federation of Malaysia in 1965, Lee Siew Choh and his colleagues’ criticism of Lim Chin Siong and his line of struggle became increasingly apparent.

On the separation of Singapore from Malaysia
On 8th March 1965, 30 left-wing trade unions gathered to celebrate the International Women’s Day.  The Singapore Trade Unions Liaison Secretariat (STULS) had published a policy statement entitled, “Resolve Malaysia, Secede from Malaysia” in its special publication for the celebration. It discusses the correct path that the people of Singapore should follow. On the same day, the Serangoon Gardens Branch of Barisan Socialis Singapura also published an article entitled, “Singapore – where should it go from here?” This article held similar position on the matter as the trade unions. It was rumoured that Lim Chin Siong might have authored it. However, this article is no longer available today and probably, all destroyed. When Lee Siew Choh had rejoined Barisan Socialis Singapura on 7th March, he would not have tolerated the dissenting views expressed in that article.

On 9th August 1965, the Lee Kuan Yew-led Singapore was forced to leave the Federation of Malaysia. Lee Siew Choh was attending the Anti-Atomic Bomb Peace Assembly in Japan on the day the news broke. He telephoned Koo Young and Chia Thye Poh to instruct them to declare Singapore’s independence as phoney; that Barisan Socialis Singapura would not recognise Singapore’s independence.  On the same day, Singapore’s 30 Left-wing Trade Unions led by the Singapore Commercial House and Factory Employees` Unions (SCHFEU)  issued a joint statement entitled, “Singapore Left ‘Malaysia’: British Imperialist Rule frustrated and forced to deploy new deception” (see SCHFEU`s Bulletin, Issue No. 15, 15th August 1965). According to the statement:

This is an advancement of the people’s struggle against the formation of Malaysia. This signifies the joint failure and defeat of the Barisan National (BN) and PAP as puppet governments of the imperialists. It is particularly, the failure of neo-colonialism, and of British imperialism.

The declaration highlighted that “Independence and Autonomy” is the common will and hope of the people. It is also the aim of the left-wing trade union movement in its persistent struggle for democracy. It also affirmed the rights of the people of Singapore, politically, economically, and militarily and so on… That the aim of our struggle is the genuine unification of Malaya and Singapore.

When the 30 left-wing trade unions took up Lim Chin Siong’s line of struggle and issued the above-mentioned statement based on their assessment of the reality, Lee Siew Choh quickly fabricated accusations against trade unions leaders who were then led by Tan Sin (@Tan Seng Hin @Chen Xin) as “agents of the enemy”, and for “recognising Singapore’s phoney independence” and so on.

Lim Chin Siong in his partially published manuscript after his death, which contained a series of “Q & A” mentioned that, “…when Singapore declared independence from Malaysia, I wrote to the Chair of Barisan Socialis Singapura, Lee Siew Choh from prison. I urged him to reconsider his stand that Singapore’s independence is phoney. I urged him to recognise Singapore’s independence because it simply proves that PAP’s brand of ‘merger’ has failed and that he should instead ask PAP to immediately release all political detainees who had opposed PAP’s brand of merger (see “How did you feel when Singapore declared independence?).
On “Giving up Constitutional Struggle”

After Lee Siew Choh returned from Japan, from 16th August 1965 onwards, Barisan Socialis Singapura held a few meetings to discuss its position on constitutional struggle in the event of Singapore’s separation from Malaysia and subsequent declaration of independence by the PAP.  Lee Sew Choh insisted that:
• Parliamentary Democracy has died, Barisan Socialis must boycott the Parliament
• Singapore’s independence is phoney and therefore, Barisan Socialis should not attend the Parliament
• Barisan Socialis must order all its Members of Parliament to resign
• Crush and dispel our fixation on Parliamentary Democracy (Cretinism) and organise street struggles instead.

His position was met with strong opposition from the rank-and-file, as well as leaders of the Party.  On 17th November of the same year, an incident took place among the twelve branches of the Party, which epitomises the collective position of the party’s rank-and-file in response to Lee Siew Choh’s radical line of struggle.

In October 1965, Lim Chin Siong once again wrote to the Central Committee and Parliamentary members of Barisan Socialis Singapura from prison, to express his opposition to the Party’s abandonment of constitutional struggle. The main thrust of his intervention was:

Barisan Socialis is a constitutional political party and therefore, it can only work within constitutional means and abide by the constitution. To simply choose street battles over constitutional struggle because parliamentary democracy is dead goes against the purpose and spirit of the Party. Otherwise, the existence of Barisan Socialis Singapura would no longer be meaningful.

However, the incarcerated Lim Chin Siong failed to dissuade the Party from taking its radical path. On 8th October 1966, five Legislative members of Barisan Socialis Singapura, (Koo Young, Chia Thye Poh, Ong Lian Teng, Tan Cheng Tong and Poh Ber Liak), walked out of the Parliament as ordered by Lee Siew Choh. They then protested outside the Parliament House by unfurling a black banner which said, “Parliamentary Democracy is Dead”.  From then on, Barisan Socialis Singapura completely abandoned Lim Chin Siong and his line of struggle. Under the radical line and adventurist leadership of Lee Siew Choh, the Party soon alienated itself from the masses and basically, self-destructed. Not only that, many leaders and cadres of the left-wing trade unions and organisations gave up their struggle, either on behest of or forced by the leadership, which made it easy for Lee Kuan Yew to destroy these organisations in turn, and quickened the eventual collapse of Singapore’s anti-colonial power.

However, many left-wing cadres in and outside of the Party, as well as the masses had identified with and supported Lim Chin Siong. In his speech to the cadres of Barisan Socialis Singapura, upon the announcement of the outcome of the National Referendum on 2nd September 1962, Lim had pointed to the future direction and line of struggle of the Party. He also presented his policy and actions on 11th October of the same year, at the Party’s first General Assembly (Party Congress). However, his effort was completely undermined by Lee Siew Choh. In fact, Lee was so pleased with himself that he included in his Political Report for the Second (1967) and Third (1969) Party Congress, how he had successfully overthrown Lim’s policy and line of struggle.

When Lee and seven others resigned from Barisan Socialis Singapura, the then representatives of the CPM in Singapore affirmed their support for Lee’s opposition to and boycott of national service. They even insisted that the Party must apologise to Lee Siew Choh, and affirm him as a talented leader, that the Party could not do without him, and that the Party should win him back…and so on. This development revealed and facilitated Lee Siew Choh’s hidden agenda. On hindsight, this move by the CPM had dealt a devastating blow on Lim Chin Siong.

5. Lim Chin Siong is deservedly an extraordinary leader of the workers’ movement and national democratic movement of Singapore, Peninsula Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak.

After Singapore’s separation from Malaysia, Lee Kuan Yew and his cronies intensified their persecution of Lim Chin Siong

The British colonial government,Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew and his cronies,Malaysia’s Tunku Abdul Rahman and his cronies, all tried their utmost to stop and thwart anti-colonial struggles that opposed the fake merger of Malaysia and Singapore. Using the so-called armed uprising of the Brunei people as an excuse, Lee Kuan Yew conducted mass arrests codenamed, “Operation Cold Store” on 2nd February 1963 in Singapore. More than 100 anti-colonial leaders and cadres including, Lim Chin Siong were detained overnight. Their ‘crime’ was the betrayal of constitutional rule. They were imprisoned under the Internal Security Act (ISA) which gave the government full authority to incarcerate the opposition without trial and indefinitely. Many of the political prisoners were brutally tortured.

On 9th August 1965, Singapore declared independence from Malaysia and this proves that Lim Chin Siong and his colleagues were right to oppose the ‘fake merger’ and the formation of the Federation of Malaysia. And that Lee Kuan Yew’s advocacy to merge with the Federation of Malaysia was a mistake. In the eyes of the oppressed masses, Lim Chin Siong and his colleagues who were detained and persecuted were the true patriots of Singapore.

Upon Singapore’s separation from Malaysia and its declaration of independence, the continued incarceration of its opposition, including Lim Chin Siong was a very heavy political burden for Lee Kuan Yew. He had to intensify his persecution of the political detainees to force them to capitulate and then destroy them. He was particularly harsh on Chin Siong. As a result, Chin Siong suffered from acute depression and high blood pressure while in prison and was exhibiting certain unusual behaviour. The medication given by the prison doctor had only worsened his condition. By December of 1965, the newspaper reported that Chin Siong had to be transferred to the General Hospital and that he had tried to kill himself there. There were concerns about his safety and anger erupted against Lee Kuan Yew for his high-handedness. On 8th December, Singapore’s 30 left-wing trade unions issued a joint statement, charging Lee Kuan Yew for plotting the destruction of the left-wing movement by attacking left-wing cadres and leaders. They cited PAP’s maltreatment and near-murder of Lim Chin Siong as an example.

On 23rd July 1969, Lim Chin Siong personally handed a letter, dated 21st July to the prison warden, addressed to Lee Siew Choh. In it, he announced his loss of confidence in the struggle and his decision to give up politics. He also wrote to Lee Kuan Yew to express the same. Subsequently, he left Singapore for London, in the company of a psychiatrist and an officer from the Internal Security/ Criminal Investigation Department (ISD/CID). This was the beginning of his decade-long, difficult and arduous exile in London. He was only allowed to return to Singapore in 1979. It is not surprising that sending Chin Siong away was Lee Kuan Yew’s fail-safe measure, his last resort against any possible or remaining threat to his political power. By then, Chin Siong had totally collapsed mentally, having gone through immense physical and mental torture during his imprisonment.

Barisan Socilais Singapura under the leadership of Lee Siew Choh also tried to exterminate the political influence of Lim Chin Siong

Unfortunately, Lee Kuan Yew’s persecution of Lim Chin Siong to totally destroy his political life was aggravated by Lee Siew Choh’s attempt to promote his ‘revolutionary line of struggle’ as the leader of Barisan Socialis Singapura. The latter criticised and discredited Chin Siong and his line of struggle.  Lee Siew Choh had labelled his opponents’ struggle as right opportunism and parliamentary cretinism. His aim was to eliminate Chin Siong’s political influence and authority as the leader of the anti-colonial movement. For Chin Siong, such attacks from within the movement was no less devastating and painful than the blows dealt by his enemies from outside the movement.

The line of struggle that Lim Chin Siong represented was developed by the workers’ and the national democratic movement of Singapore when the Malayan Emergency ended. It is a line of political struggle within a modern constitution that defends the people’s rights and interests. It relies on the masses and believes in the masses. That is why the Singapore labour movement and national democratic movement were so vibrant and successful from 1950s to 1960s. Unfortunately, this effective line of struggle was undermined and later, eliminated by the revolutionary route led by Lee Siew Choh and his colleagues from 1966 onwards.

By the end of 1969, the foundation of Singapore’s powerful mass organisations led by Lim Chin Siong and his contemporaries had almost disappeared. Such a scenario had pained the supporters of Lim’s line of political struggle but was welcomed by its enemies.  They also felt utterly powerless and helpless. Lim Chin Siong by this time, had already descended into serious depression. He was so utterly demoralised, not only as a result of the psychological and physical torture he had endured during his detention but also from the devastating blows dealt by his party comrades. It is of no surprise that his health quickly deteriorated.

Conclusion: Lim Chin Siong was an extraordinary leader that emerged from the labour movement and the national democratic movement

He became involved in the workers’ movement at the age of twenty in 1953 and was active in the political scene after that. He was overwhelmingly voted in as a PAP candidate for the Bukit Timah Constituency in the 1955 Legislative Assembly Election. He was detained the following year by the Lim Yew Hock government and once more in 1963 by Lee Kuan Yew. Even though he was in prison, he continued to monitor and involve himself in the political developments of Singapore. When Barisan Socialis Singapura veered towards left adventurism from 1964 onwards, he tried his best to stop it. In other words, he tried to prevent the leadership of Barsan Socialis Singapura from alienating itself from the masses and towards self-destruction. His persisted until his eventual melt-down. Before he passed away, he wrote about his understanding and assessment of the historical problems faced by Malaysia and Singapore in the early years of independence, as well as his reflection and conclusion of the various important struggles and incidents that he had experienced. This is his memoir to be left behind for Singaporeans and Malaysians. This proves that even until his last breath, he was still concerned and hopeful about the national democratic movement of Malaysia and Singapore.

His memoir reveals the intrigues, plots, machinations and manipulations of the enemy at various stages of the democratic struggle. He was also critical of the mass organisations. All these demonstrate his serious and sincere attitude, his courage to face the judgment of our history and to personally take responsibility for his actions and decisions. More than twenty years ago, Chin Siong has already set an example for us by critically reflecting on the past, and to assess what we had done right or wrong. We should learn from him.

Looking at Lim Chin Siong’s life-long contribution and sacrifice for the national democratic struggles of Malaysia and Singapore, even if his decision to go to Britain was ‘voluntary’, it was only a tiny flaw in the grand scheme of things. His exile did not diminish his stature and credibility; he is still the undisputable leader of the labour and national democratic movements of Malaya (including Singapore). He is our hero; a true pioneer of our nation-building. He had sacrificed his entire life for the labour movement and the national democratic movement of Malaya (including Singapore).

6.  My wishes on the 20th Anniversary of Lim Chin Siong’s passing

Reality has proven that the line of revolutionary struggle undertaken by Barisan Socialis Singapura as propagated by Lee Siew Choh had utterly failed. Half a century has passed since his attack against Chin Siong’s advocacy for constitutional struggle as right opportunism. Unfortunately, Chin Siong died before he was vindicated. Two decades have passed and the injustice he endured is yet to be put right. Among those who had misjudged him, some had already passed away, but some of them are still alive. And most of them are now in their 70s. In commemorating Chin Siong, I implore those who were at the forefront (especially the leaders) of those attacks, to apologise and give him the justice he so deserves.

As our leader, his memoir is the ideological wealth he has left behind for the people. People of all walks of life and across all classes want to learn from him, especially those who had personally worked with him in the struggle. We are keen to learn more about his assessment and summation of his experiences.

In early 2013, we learnt that Chin Siong had completed his memoir and it was almost ready for print before his sudden death. However, up to date, the memoir is yet to be published. In July 2014, Lim Chin Joo (Lim Chin Siong’s younger brother) published his memoir (in Chinese) entitled, “My Youth in Black and White “(我的黑白青春). And he has included in his appendix, sections of Chin Siong’s memoir entitled, “Lim Chin Siong Q & A”.

Many of us who have read it believe that Chin Siong’s intention of writing his memoir was to conclude his invaluable experiences and the lessons learnt from the many struggles he had led. In other words, his memoir is a priceless historical account that he wished to leave behind for his people. Many people are waiting to read the rest of his unpublished manuscript, which will shed light on the many issues that confronted us and the movements he led at that time. Some of what he said may even be very sensitive, hardly known or understood. Those of us who have worked with Chin Siong and have followed his line of struggle do hope to read his entire manuscript before we die. Thus, in commemoration of him, we hope to read his entire manuscript soon.

Written in January and edited in February 2016
Published on 15th March 2016 by SAHABAT RAKYAT
   Translated in October 2017 by Agnes Khoo

[Related articles]

1. The Best Way to Commemorate Lim Chin Siong Is to Propagate His Ideology and Ideal - In commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of Lim Chin Siong's Departure (5 February 2016) (Updated on 22 Feb)

2. Part of Lim Chin Siong’s Q&A Posthumous Manuscript

Note on the translator

Agnes Khoo was born in 1965’s Singapore and completed her Bachelor Degree in Social Work and Sociology at the National University of Singapore in 1987, the year the Singapore government arrested 21 Church and Social Workers under the Internal Security Act (ISA), on the pretext of a ‘Marxist Conspiracy’, the government had made-up. Agnes’ father, Khoo Suan Wan was detained under the same law in 1965, as a paid secretary of the Singapore Marine Products Workers` Unions. He was arrested together with twelves others, at the eve of the Commemoration of May 1st, International Labour Day, organized by the left wing trade unions.

According to Agnes, her father suffered severe psychological torture during his detention and eventually, had a total breakdown after his release from prison. Her father’ s experience and that of several of her friends who were arrested in 1987 convinced her that to remain in Singapore’s rat-race and be part of the elite in Singapore’s society is not a solution. She subsequently left for further studies in the Netherlands and did her Master’s degree at the International Institute of Social Studies. Her thesis compared Asia’s Four Dragons: South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, in terms of their economic development vis-à-vis democratisation. She then went on to work in various NGOs in Europe and Asia before embarking upon her PhD. Studies at the University of Manchester, U.K. Her doctoral thesis was about the role of women’s movements in the democratisation of South Korea and Taiwan after 1987.

While pursuing her PhD., Agnes published in both English and Chinese, “Life as the River Flows – Women in the Malayan anti-colonial struggle” (2004), an oral history book by former women guerrillas led by the Communist Party of Malaya. This was followed by a Taiwanese edition in 2006, a Malay language edition in 2009, and an Indonesian edition in 2011.

Agnes now lives in Ghana, West Africa; teaching International Relations at Webster University and running a chicken farm with her Ghanaian husband in his home village, as a community-based, social enterprise to provide education, training and employment for women and youth.


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