Singapore Table of Contents
The CPM was legal in Singapore during the first two-and-one- half years of post-war British colonial rule. The communistcontrolled Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army, formed during the Japanese occupation, had several hundred Chinese members, including the commander, Chin Peng. In 1945 and 1946, many poorly educated Chinese Singaporeans sympathized with the communists because they seemed to offer a program of labor reforms that would benefit the common man. Additionally, most of the better educated Chinese resented British policies that limited participation in politics to Straits-born British subjects who were literate in English. A large segment of the Chinese community also supported the Chinese Communist Party as it moved closer to gaining control in China. Chin Peng was elected secretary general of the CPM in March 1947. At that time, the communists had an estimated 300 members in Singapore who were committed to the party's goal of destabilizing the British regime by promoting civil unrest in the trade unions. In 1947 communist fronts were influential in organizing over 300 strikes involving more than 70,000 workers. Economic concessions by the colonial government and business community reduced but did not destroy communist influence, and communist leaders gradually became more militant. They recruited former guerrillas of the Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army and members of various secret society gangs to form the underground Workers' Protection Corps. When the communists were unsuccessful in penetrating targeted trade unions, small groups belonging to the Workers' Protection Corps used various methods of intimidation in an effort to have moderate leaders replaced by communists or communist sympathizers.
The party's chance to take over Singapore from the British through legal means ended in 1948 when the communist leaders decided to adopt a strategy of insurrection and terrorism in Malaya and Singapore, which led to the period known as the Emergency (see Glossary). The CPM was declared illegal and was subjected to countermeasures by the government; its membership in Singapore dropped precipitously, and all of the members of the Singapore Town Committee, which was the CPM's central committee for Singapore, were arrested in December 1950. The communist effort was crippled until the mid-1950s, when a new strategy of collaboration with legal political organizations was adopted by the government. The communist movement survived in Singapore largely in the Chineselanguage middle schools, whose students were particularly susceptible to propaganda because their employment and political opportunities were much more limited than those of English-speaking Chinese. After 1949 the success of the communists in China also attracted students to the party. The organizing force behind student activity was the Singapore Chinese Middle School Students Union. Because of the unpopularity of the 1954 National Service Ordinance, which required males between the ages of eighteen and twenty to register for conscription or face jail or a fine, the communists had little difficulty in organizing violent student demonstrations. No popular uprising in support of the communists ever materialized, however.
In 1956 when it had become clear that the British were going to leave Singapore, the communists moved to obtain control of an independent government by legal means while continuing to foster disorders. In October 1956, after more rioting by students and laborers, Singapore's police raided labor unions and schools and rounded up large numbers of communists and communist supporters. The concurrent effort by the communists to find a legal route to power focused on the party's alliance with the PAP. Organizers of the PAP had deliberately collaborated with the communists in order to broaden the PAP's organizational base among the Chinese majority, and the communists saw in the leftist orientation of the PAP an ideologically acceptable basis for an alliance. When the communists attempted to seize control of the PAP Central Executive Committee in 1957, however, they were defeated by supporters of Lee Kuan Yew. Lee went on to lead the PAP to victory in the 1959 election. As prime minister, Lee gradually eliminated communists from influential positions within the party and government and later used provisions of the Internal Security Act to prevent alleged communists from participating in politics.
In February 1963, the Singapore and Malaysian police forces organized a joint operation that resulted in the arrest of 111 suspected communists in the two countries. This large-scale police action targeted suspected CPM members in Singapore and successfully destroyed the party's underground political organization in Singapore. In 1989 there were no reports of the CPM's having reestablished a base of operations in the country.
Data as of December 1989
Singapore Table of Contents