The Politics of the Malayan Communist Party from 1930 to 1948

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David Lockwood

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 political actor. This book gives a political history of the Party from 1930 to 1948, and explains why the MCP was launched into this collective act of self-destruction in 1948. In particular, Lockwood questions assumptions that post-War politics led inevitably to armed struggle, and questions the accepted narrative of Party Chairman Lai Teck's treachery. This is a strongly revisionist history of a period, and political force, that has left a lasting mark on the politics of Malaya and Singapore.

"Meticulously researched and lucidly argued, Lockwood’s study of the Malayan Communist Party through its crucial years identifies the party’s unique position in Malaya and its many successes. The forensic examination of the political career of the MCP’s controversial leader Lai Teck is a model of dispassionate historical analysis." - Peter Monteath, Flinders University

"This represents a completely new approach to the history of the Malayan Communist Party, focusing on Lai Teck and his leadership. It is a dialectical approach that gives us much to ponder." – CC Chin, editor of Interviews with Chin Peng

David Lockwood is an associate professor and visiting research fellow in History at the University of Adelaide.

Publication year: 2024
272pp / 229 x 152mm
ISBN: 978-981-325-258-5