Saturday, May 17, 2008

Book review: Shan Ru-hong's "The War in the South"

Shan Ruhong is one of a number of members of the former Malayan Communist Party who have recently published their memoirs.

This particular volume is a detailed account of the guerillas that fought the occupying Japanese forces in the Malayan state of Negri Sembilan during World War 2.

They operated as the Malayan Peoples Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA) under the leadership of the Party.

The Malayan Communist Party, however, was led at this time by a Vietnamese national known as Lai Te who worked as a double agent for the Japanese during the war and for the British after the war.

The story of his eventual exposure and removal from leadership is told in Chin Peng’s book “Alias Chin Peng: My Side of History”.

Shan Ruhong provides an incredibly detailed record of the various committees and organizations established to further the anti-Japanese cause. Some of this detail is lost on me as a non-Malaysian, but for the descendents of the heroes of this struggle to have a record of their parents’ and grandparents’ contributions is a wonderful legacy.

Drawing on the rich experience of anti-Japanese armed warfare, Shan Ruhong summarises the lessons learned in various stages of the struggle in a way that will be of great benefit to future generations of revolutionary activists. One senses, for example in the 18 observations that Shan Ruhong lists in his chapter on “The State Committee on working methods and tasks”, the same sort of universality of general principles that imbues the writings of Mao Zedong from the same period of anti-Japanese warfare.

Shan Ruhong also discusses the contradiction between central and regional leadership, using the central decision to move the 2 Independent guerillas to West Pahang.

He writes, “With the withdrawal of 2 Independent the fight would be weakened and the enemy attacks would increase, the activity of traitor would also increase. What would be the fate of the anti-Japanese people? How to deal with the decision?”

He notes that “Central had not understood the situation in Negri…nor had they consulted….But the directive had to be obeyed.”

Shan Ruhong communicated his firm acceptance (but disagreement with) the decision to the centre, and urged his comrades to set an example in unity for the people. He pointed out to his comrades that because the local and foreign situation favoured the anti-Japanese struggle, and although the enemy attacks would be fierce, that “our difficulties were temporary and that if we were resolute we would win.”

Shan Ruhong says that after the war, and after Lai Te’s exposure as a Japanese agent. It was clear that decision to transfer 2 Independent had come from the Japanese.

And, despite his own disciplined acceptance of the organizational principle of democratic centralism, he cautions about excessive leadership secrecy: “Lai Te’s movements were a mystery, camouflaged by the excuse that underground activities needed the utmost secrecy. This avoided collective supervision by the Central Committee. Everything was done over the heads of the central Committee.”

Shan Ruhong’s book also reveals some of the background to the apparent isolation of the predominantly Chinese MCP from both the Malay and Indian nationalities.

He accepts that the responsibility mainly lay with the Chinese Malays: “We had formerly been prejudiced and regarded the Malay kampong as ‘backward’ because we only saw that side of them which had swallowed Japanese propaganda, that did not cooperate with the Chinese masses to resist Japan. But that was wrong because it must surely take time for the Malay masses to wake up to the truth about Japanese propaganda.”

Likewise, he blames his own Party leadership for rebuffing an approach from the leaders of 10,000 Malay Indians who “learnt about us and wanted to join the resist Japan movement.” These same Indians “had a hatred of British imperialism, wanting to attack all the way to India to achieve Indian independence.” But nothing came of their overtures, even at the end of the war when the Indians were “ready to join us in attacking the British” owing to Lai Te’s rejection of the proposal.

I commend this book to anyone wanting to learn more about the Malay peoples struggles against Japanese imperialism during World War 2.

(If interested in this topic, see also my review of Shan Ru-hong’s Gold in the South: )

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