The Politics of the Malayan Communist Party from 1930 to 1948

The Politics of the Malayan Communist Party from 1930 to 1948

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By 1946, the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) had become one of the most successful communist parties in Asia. From its foundation in 1930, it had built up a membership in the thousands, mainly among Chinese and Indian workers in Malaya. It had forged a mass trade union movement which it led in a constant struggle of attrition against employers and colonial authorities.

When the Japanese came, the MCP organised the Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA), the only effective resistance force, earning grudging support from the British. After the War, when the British returned, the Party launched a highly effective legal campaign for independence, and a better life for Malayans.

But by 1948, the MCP had surrendered all these achievements, left its mass organisations to their fate, and taken many of its members underground to launch a disastrous insurrection against the British. The Party withdrew from the political and economic struggle and transformed itself into an Army. It was to be utterly defeated.

To understand these momentous turns of history, a fresh view is required of the Malayan Communist Party as a political actor. The Politics of the Malayan Communist Party from 1930 to 1948 gives a political history of the Party and explains why the MCP self-destructed in 1948. In particular, David Lockwood questions assumptions that post-war politics led inevitably to armed struggle and questions the accepted narrative of Party Chairman Lai Tek’s treachery. This is a revisionist history of a period, and political force, that has left a lasting mark on the politics of Malaya and Singapore.

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