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A fragment on anarchism in Malaysia

category south-east asia | history of anarchism | opinion / analysis author Tuesday July 19, 2005 23:17author by Hilary Munro Report this post to the editors

The anarchist movement was strongest in the urban areas of the Straits Settlements and the more developed Malay states but fizzled out in 1925 after a botched attempt to assassinate the Governor of the Straits Settlement in Penang, and universal revulsion to the results of a bomb thrown into the Chinese protectorate.

A fragment on anarchism in Malaysia

The Malayan communists were deeply influenced by, and came out of, the Chinese political upheavals in the early 20th century. Political affiliations were broadly cohesive within the specific Chinese groupings who tended towards occupation specialisation. Thus the natural supporters of Sun Yat Sen and the triads were the Cantonese, who were mainly urban but not in charge of the few industries; the tin mining Hakka who were converted through night schools for adult education; and the Hainanese who worked mainly with Europeans and in the rubber plantations. The Hokkienese were not communist sympathisers because they were the wealthy from the import/export trade.

Historically, communism in Europe was preceded by anarchism and was rooted in the urban working classes. However Malaya differed from other candidates for conversion to communism because there were no large industries and most recruits were in minor occupations (cobblers, rubber tappers, miners etc). Not surprisingly, the anarchist movement was strongest in the urban areas of the Straits Settlements and the more developed Malay states but fizzled out in 1925 after a botched attempt to assassinate the Governor of the Straits Settlement in Penang, and universal revulsion to the results of a bomb thrown into the Chinese protectorate.

The failure of the anarchist movement coincided with the death of Sun Yat Sen in 1925, the splitting of the Kuomintang and subsequent putsch of Chiang Kai Shek's nationalists against Mao Tse Tung. The 3rd Internationale from Moscow filled the vacuum of leadership during Mao's wanderings. These events in China coincided with large numbers of Javanese communists moving to Malaya, especially to Johore and Selangor plantations, following the crushing of the Indonesian (mainly Javanese) communist uprising by the Dutch in 1926. These communists had traditionally looked to Moscow, and in later years, this influence created split loyalties within the CT movement.

This is extracted from a longer essay on Communism in Malaysia by Hilary Munro to be found at Copyright with the original

author by S Randhawapublication date Tue Oct 30, 2007 19:12author address author phone Report this post to the editors

This should be treated with caution. In the wider article, the author refers to the Malayan Communists as CTs, without clarifying that this means 'Communist terrorists' and was part of British colonial propaganda. And I'm not sure all her facts are entirely accurate.

That said, I have spoken at the Malaysian Culture Group and recognise that the author of the review may not have been the same person who presented at the group etc, and some facts get lost along the way....

author by Hilary Munropublication date Fri Nov 30, 2007 15:52author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I appreciate the understanding by the writer of the previous comment. I am not sure how this article I wrote for the Malaysian Cultural Society came to be edited and inserted under this flag - the internet is an amaziing tool but must be treated with caution.

Whilst much of what I wrote is still kept, the meaning in places has been changed to reflect a different wider message and the tone is more strident.

I guess that is interesting in itself, and serves to instruct to check provenance and facts behind any written work and to be alert to bias.

author by mitch - WSApublication date Mon Nov 17, 2008 22:14author email wsany at hotmail dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

by Prof Datuk Khoo Kay Kim and Ranjit Singh Malhl

K. Baradan’s article on The men who gave all for justice in The Star (National Day Supplement) of August 31, 1993, is extremely interesting.

It is the first time that the public has been informed of the role the British administration played in the shaping of the trade union movement in Malaya. The man directly responsible for grooming trade unionists and founding trade unions was John Brazier.

Baradan pointed out that as early as 1949, Sir Henry Gurney (the High Commissioner assassinated near Fraser’s Hill in 1951), wanted the trade union movement to be controlled by Indians. This partly answers a question which has long been posed in this country, namely “Why is it that the Indians appear to dominate the trade unions ?”

The answer usually given was that the Indians, being more talkative, took more easily to trade unionism. This is almost similar to Harry Miller’s answer to the question: “Why was the communist movement in this country dominated initially by the Hainanese ? “ Miller’s answer was that they had an inferiority complex. This is no more that coffee shop talk.

The Indians were not the pioneers of the trade union movement in this country. The Chinese were. Trade union activities began, clandestinely, after World War I.

They were led by a group of Chinese who subscribed to the ideology of anarchism. Not surprisingly, it was brought to this country from China.

In China, the person widely acknowledged as the “Father of Anarchism” was Lau Sze Fuk (known in history books as Liu Shih-fu).

In 1912, he founded in Canton an anarchist organisation called the Cock-crow society (Hui-ming hsueh-she) which published the Min-Sheng (Voice of the People) magazine, better known in this country as Man Seang (in the Cantonese dialect).

Its French edition was given the title La Voco de la popolo (in Esperanto, the international language which failed to take off).

In 1914 Lau Sze Fuk founded, in Shanghai, the Comrades for Anarchistic Communism Society also known as the Chinese Anarchist Party which, in Chinese was called Wu-cheng-fu tang, (in Cantonese, Mo Cheng Fu Tong), literally, “No Government Party”. It expressed in a very simplistic way the concept of anarchism.

The Anarchist Party was established in Malaya by 1919 and its objectives were stated to be as follows:

“Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, Community of Goods, Co-operation; each does what he can and takes what he needs: no government, laws or military forces, no landlords, capitalists or leisured class. No money, religion, police, prison or leaders, No representatives, heads of families, no person uneducated or not working: no rules of marriages, no degrees of high or low, rich or poor, and the method to be adopted is given by organisation of comrades by means of communication centres, by propaganda in pamphlets, speeches and education, by passive resistance to those in power.

Do not pay taxes, cease work, cease trade; by the method of direct action, assassinate and spread disorder. Anarchy is the great revolution.”

It is clear from the various terms used by the movement in this country that it was spearheaded by the Cantonese. One of the pioneers of this movement in Malaya was Lau Hak Fei, a brother of Lau Sze Fuk. Before coming to Kuala Lumpur where he became editor of Yik Khwan Po newspaper, he was also an editor of a paper in Manila.

By 1920, Anarchist societies had existed in Singapore, Penang, Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur and Seremban. Some of the Chinese schools were important centres of activities.

The Anarchist movement in this country seems to have received its earliest impetus from the May 1st (rather May 4th) demonstration of 1919. In an account of the movement in Malaya, by one of the leaders, it was stated that:

“On May 1, 1919, the Peking students started distributing to the inhabitants of the city hundreds of thousands of “Holy Labour” loaves. At the same time in Shanghai, thousands of workers joined the students in a big procession through the streets. And so this enthusiastic movement had a great effect upon the whole nation, and later on the South Seas (Nanyang). Many propertyless men in the South Seas long sunk in slumber were awakened. And for the first time they began to know that there has existed such a thing as Labour Day.”

Owing to its preponderant interest in the workers, the principal recruiting ground of this movement was, not unexpectedly, the various Chinese trade guilds, which had long existed in this country.

The Anarchists looked upon May 1 as a day of great importance not only because it was symbolic of the labourers’ struggle against capitalism but also because it was a significant day in the history of all revolutionary movements in general, being the day on which Adam Weishaupt (1748-1830), founded the Illuminati in Bavaria in 1776. It was, however, a short-lived movement of republican free thought.

In this country, May Day was first celebrated, clandestinely but with great enthusiasm, by the Anarchists in Ipoh in 1921. A big meeting was held which was attended by workers and students.

The following year it was intended to distribute tens of thousands of leaflets on Labour Day but the scheme fell through because no printer was prepared to undertake the job.

However, numerous Anarchists publications entered the country that year among which were: Kung Sai Yam (Save the World), Kung Chan Tong (the Communist Party) and Anarchists Morality by Kropotkin.

There were also pamphlets printed or published locally such as the Tai Yeung (the Sun) printed at the premises of the Yik Khwan Po in Kuala Lumpur an Yan Kheun (Power of the Proletariat) which was published in the town of Gopeng, about ten miles south of Ipoh.

The Anarchist movement in Malaya entered an even more active phase in 1924 when several new leaders emerged especially in Kuala Lumpur.

But there were probably not more than 50 hardcore members in the Peninsula. Their influence was reported to have reached a much wider circle of Chinese, especially among the school teachers.

The last major activity of the Anarchists in Malaya occurred in 1925 when an attempt was made, first to assassinate the High Commissioner of the Federated Malay States and Governor of the Straits Settlements, Sir Lawrence Guillemard.

When this failed to materialise they turned their attention to Daniel Richards, the Protector of Chinese for Selangor.

On January 26, 1925, a Chinese woman (Wong Sau Ying), about 26 years old, with bobbed hair, wearing a white jacket, black shirt, white shoes and white stockings, arrived at the Chinese Protectorate in Kuala Lumpur. She bought with her a small brown attaché case.

Finding Daniel Richards and his assistant (W.L. Blythe) seated at a table, she entered the office, placed the case near a corner of the table and spoke softly to Richards.

She then fumbled with the catch of the attaché case pushed it towards Richards. There was an explosion. Both Richards and Blythe were injured but survived.

The assassin was apprehended and subsequently sentenced to 10 year imprisonment. While serving sentence in the Pudu Gaol she committed suicide by hanging herself. After the bomb incident, the Anarchist movement in Malaya fizzled out. The Communists took over the role of inciting workers to oppose their employers and government and government.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s the Chinese were the active trade unionists, receiving no official sanction though, in Malaya. Their leaders, being mainly leftists, were arrested as soon as they gained influence.

It was only after World War II that the government embarked on a deliberate policy of grooming Indians to take control or workers’ unions as a counter to the influence of the radical Chinese.
* * * * * * *
from: The Sunday Star (Kuala Lumpur), September 12, 1993

Posted on October 19, 2006 8:47 AM | Permalink ... d_tra.html

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