To all of Communist and Chin Peng sympathizers, I would like to share with you some knowledge that I gained from my Cold War and Communism studies for 4 years, up till university level. I believe that there is some confusion about Communism and Chin Peng among Malaysians. As Malaysians growing up, we have been taught in our KBSM History subject that the Communists and Chin Peng himself were evil. This is a story not properly told.
Our (Malaysian) version of history is very much skewed from a narrow, local perspective. This subject should be taught from a global perspective, as the Cold War, which was the origins of Chin Peng, was an international event. However, I do not blame KBSM for this, because it is impossible to tell the whole story about the Cold War, as it is extremely complicated and long. In order to determine whether or not Chin Peng and Communists are evil one has to learn the history of the Cold War, which has a 4-decade time frame. In fact, it is the longest War of our century that started way back in 1948, to 1990. I’ll make it brief here.
I studied about the Cold War during A-Levels, up till my university years in The London School of Economics and Political Science. The study of Communism is banned in Malaysia. To formally study about Communism, one has to make an application to the Special Branch. Thus I consider myself lucky to be able to have pursued this subject in great depth at the LSE. Hence, I feel obligated to share what I know with Malaysians, in conjunction with Chin Peng’s passing.
To those who barely know about the Cold War, it is was a period when the USA and Soviet Union (Russia) had an ideological battle. The USA championed the Capitalism ideology, a brainchild of Adam Smith. The Soviet Union, was expanding the Communism ideology by Karl Marx. Capitalism is an ideology that advocates free, competitive market, with no, (or more realistically, limited) government intervention in the economy. Communism on the other hand believed that government intervention in the economy is necessary to provide everyone with equal amount of resources. Each has its pros and cons. However, here I would like to emphasize on the degree of government intervention, as this was the key point of conflict between the two ideologies.
Because Communism believes in full government intervention, it is perceived by the USA as being no different from a dictatorship. In contrast, the Communists saw capitalism as a business ideology that encourages profit-making at the expense of others. Because Westerners were driven to make profit, they became imperialists, always seeking new resources to the extent of colonizing other nations in the name of business. Both are not wrong. The 19th century was an era of colonization, spearheaded by the British Empire and the Soviets had a reason to fear imperialism. On the other hand, the 20th century began with the rise of fascist regimes like the Nazis, where Hitler exercised full government control over economic affairs. As the leader of the democratic world, the USA had a reason to feel threatened by dictatorships. Long story short, both the USA and the Soviet Union embarked on a mission to spread their ideologies across the globe during the Cold War.
Up till the late 1980s, the world was pretty much divided into two; the Western and the Eastern block, each led by the USA and the Soviet Union respectively. The USA’s allies were Western Europe, including Great Britain. The Soviet Union influence spread across much of the Eastern Europe. You may be wondering which block Malaysia belonged to. Although we are located on the eastern side, we were under the influence of the USA, via Great Britain. In fact all other British colonies used the capitalist system.
During the Cold War period, Communism expanded into China in 1950s. After China, it crept into South East Asia. This was where the likes of Chin Peng and Ho Chi Minh came in.
Ho Chi Minh was the leader of the Vietcong, the communist rebels in Vietnam Meanwhile, Chin Peng headed Bintang Tiga also known as Parti Komunis Malaya (PKM), the communist rebellion in Malaya. Although Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnam War was in the 1960s, and Chin Peng’s insurgency was in the 1950s, there was a lot of resemblance between the two leaders. Both had a similar aim, to pursue independence. Both also wanted to enforce the communist ideology onto their country’s administrative system once their struggles succeeded. Of course the two of them had different methods of achieving the aim, due to difference in political circumstances they faced in their respective nations. This is where one ended up being hailed as a national hero, when the other was labeled a terrorist, and later exiled.
Ho Chi Minh led North Vietnam against the USA-dominated South Vietnam. The USA launched an all out war against the north. They killed many North Vietnamese along the way. The USA used Agent Orange (a chemical weapon) that caused birth defects that runs through generations, the effects of which persist till today. To put it simply, it was overkill by the USA onto the Vietnamese. As such, a massive retaliation by the Vietcong was understandable. Much like Chin Peng, Ho Chi Minh retaliated and killed many Pro-USA south Vietnamese, as how Chin Peng killed many of our own Pro-British Malayan forces. The British however, did not use Agent Orange in Malaya, nor did they commit brutal murder and burn our villages like what they did in Vietnam.
Chin Peng somehow maintained the inhumane methods used during the struggle against the Japanese invaders (because the Japanese were cruel to China). While the killings of our police forces aligned to the British were debatable, slaughter, mass murder of innocent civilians, village burnings, and assassination attempts on top officials were not.
The period of 1940s-1960s was a time of peaceful decolonization. It was a time where the imperialists, namely France, Spain and Great Britain were letting their colonies go, through peaceful handing over to the local leaders. As the leader of Malaya, Tunku Abdul Rahman embraced this transition and brought about our independence through peaceful means. We were not in an all out war like the Vietnam War that required aggressive action on the side of a rebel group. The communist insurgency lasted until 1960s, even after 31st August 1957. Yet, violence from the Bintang Tiga continued. Chin Peng led Bintang Tiga that terrorized, slaughter, caused fear and despair among not just Malays, but Chinese and Indians that supported Parti Perikatan. They did all that in the name of independence, something we were already getting in a peaceful way from the British. In fact other colonies of the British were getting independence the same way. There was no justification for aggression, much less, brutality. Some would dismiss the casualties as collateral damage of war, but it is not the case if we burn villages, slaughter, and commit mass murder on those who do not support our cause.
The reason as to why he continued to wage war against the British and Malaya was to institute Communism, under the direction of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union wanted to make Malaya their satellite state, like Eastern Europe. Chin Peng wanted independence from the British, only to have Malaya colonized by Soviet influence. Which was why they continued to fight. Nevertheless, I would like to make it clear that fighting for communism without external influence (the way China did, independent of Soviet Union) was not the problem, but violence was. In fact, during ‘Pertemuan di Baling’ between Tunku and Chin Peng, the former did not agree to legalize Parti Komunis Malaya because of its brutal methods and it would have been morally wrong to acquit the murderers. In other words, if Tunku legalize PKM, it would have meant that Chin Peng and his rebels get to free themselves from murder charges. Of course Chin Peng would not accept an unconditional surrender either, which was why the meeting failed to reach a consensus.
As an economics and history student, I do not believe the communist ideology could work (this is yet another debate), but I do not consider the ideology evil, as indoctrinated onto us by Western propaganda. However this does not mean I am pro-dictatorship. The system could work if mixed with capitalism, which China has been quite effective in doing. What I would consider as pure evil, is brutality and murder of the innocent. No matter what the intentions were, even if it was to fight for an ideology, violence is not the answer. Our civilized society should reject it, exactly the way we rejected the violence committed by Osama bin Laden, who believed he fought for Islam.
Of course during the time of the communist insurgency, Malaya was not spared from the Western propaganda that demonized Communism. Which is why today, this indoctrination remains fresh especially in the minds many Malaysians. The word ‘komunis’ is somewhat taboo in this country. However, I believe that the communist ideology itself should be subjected to an open economic and political debate on its viability as a system for a country. The term ‘komunis’ that is used in Malaysia actually refers to ‘Bintang Tiga’, a group of violent rebels headed by Chin Peng that championed the communist ideology. Unfortunately, due to the confusion of this term, we have some Malaysians advocating for Chin Peng using his ideological struggle as a basis for their sympathy. We hear some people saying that Chin Peng was not wrong to pursue Communism and lauded him for fighting the Japanese and British in the name of independence. Pursuing an ideology and struggling for independence are not wrong. Violence is wrong and that was the method used by Bintang Tiga. It is also wrong to free our country from one colonizer only to surrender the sovereignty to another. Remember, we were in a Cold War period when Soviet Russia was expanding their influence in the eastern side. Chin Peng’s call for independence was not genuine. Some may argue that Tunku’s version of independence was not genuine because in the end, we enforced capitalism under British advice. Again we have to look it from a global perspective to appreciate that the independence British gave us in 1957, freed ourselves from their effective control. The Soviet Union satellite states in Eastern Europe, were not free because the authoritative and interventionist nature of the communism system. In other words, had Malaysia been under Chin Peng, we would find the Soviet Union controlling our state affairs they way they did for the Eastern Europe and USSR states.
Some accuse the government of contradicting themselves for having bilateral relations with Communist China but at the same time, demonizing Chin Peng, a communist leader. The Malaysian government, although inheriting the capitalism system from the British, did not hate the Communist ideology the way USA did, which was why Tun Razak established bilateral relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1974. At this juncture, the PRC, which is a Communist nation, isolated themselves from PKM by issuing a statement of no-support for PKM’s brutality in Malaysia. Communism is an ideology that was painted as evil by the Western world during the Cold War as a psychological war tactic. To me, Communism is not evil. Communism is a system that is in conflict with the USA’s. But it is not to be confused with PKM, which was a group of people that was hoping to use the end to justify the means. One needs to know about the Cold War in order to make a clear distinction between the Communist ideology and Bintang Tiga. Islam is not evil, as an ideology, but Al-Qaeda is evil. More than 2,000 innocent civilians died on 9/11. 10,000 Malaysians perished as a result of the communist insurgency. Millions of Malaysians lived in fear of communist brutality. Yes, Chin Peng fought the Japanese and deserve credit for that. The Taliban also freed Afghanistan from Russia in 1989. Nevertheless, the deeds of the past could not vindicate the acts of terrorism they committed later on.
To sum up, there has been some confusion between Communism and the role of Chin Peng. The notion that our KBSM Sejarah has not given us a clear picture about the history of Chin Peng, is to some extent true. It has been unable to give a global perspective to a topic that can only be understood appropriately from nothing less than a global perspective. Which is why I can understand why certain people have doubts about what has been taught to us about Chin Peng by KBSM Sejarah. But despite its lack of depth, it brought about what I consider to be an accurate message: Chin Peng was not a hero. Fortunately, KBSM Sejarah does not demonize the Communist ideology. It merely revealed the cruelty of Chin Peng and Bintang Tiga. As a matter of fact, KBSM Ekonomi Asas properly explains the Communist ideology from an economic standpoint. Hence KBSM’s effort, given its limited ability to cover such a broad topic should be commended.
So, when asked whether or not Chin Peng was a hero, I would say he was not. Academically, I do not have a problem with the Communist ideology, but I do have a problem with the atrocities of Bintang Tiga a.k.a Parti Komunis Malaya. Should his ashes be allowed to be buried in Malaysia? No, because the tomb will be hailed by certain quarters. Indeed, the ashes could not resurrect and threaten our lives. However, the death of Chin Peng revealed to the nation who Chin Peng supporters have been all these years. He should be buried at sea away from anybody’s reach. It would be deemed offensive to Malaysians, even more so to the families of the brutally killed victims, should his remains be brought into the country and hailed like a hero.