Issue 246 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published Novaember 2000 Copyright © Socialist Review

Books

Review

   

Uncle Sam's GI blues

The American War
Jonathan Neale
Bookmarks £11.99

The brutal face of US imperialism
The brutal face of US imperialism

In 1971 Colonel Robert Heinl wrote, 'The morale, discipline and battle-worthiness of the US armed forces are, with a few salient exceptions, lower and worse than at any time...in the history of the United States... Our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers...dirty rotten...mutinous...conditions among American forces...only exceeded in this century by the...collapse of the Tsarist armies in 1916 and 1917.'

The US, the world's greatest superpower, was kicked out of Vietnam. It had used more bombs flattening North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia than had been dropped in the Second World War. Three million Vietnamese were killed, along with 58,000 US troops. And yet the US suffered its greatest military humiliation. Why?

Jonathan Neale's The American War attempts to explain how the mightiest killing machine in world history was derailed.

The US entered the war to maintain the dominance of its system. Vietnam began as a sideshow in the Cold War, a war fought with bullets in Korea and Vietnam, and with imprisonment and sackings and witch-hunts against Communists in the US. China had fallen to the 'reds', and so had North Korea. If Vietnam fell, Indonesia could have been next (a real possibility in 1965). It was 'liberals' like John F Kennedy who sent the troops to Vietnam.

Yet despite the weight of firepower, military planners faced increasing problems. The Vietnamese people fought back heroically. In 1968, at the height of the Tet Offensive, the world saw peasant guerrillas storm the US embassy in Saigon. US policy was simple, according to Marine lieutenant Philip Caputo in 1965: 'Our mission was not to win terrain or seize positions, but simply to kill: to kill Communists and to kill as many of them as possible.'

Such barbarity led to increasing protests in the US. November 1969 saw 500,000 march on Washington in the biggest demonstration in US history, 1970 saw mass protests against the US invasion of Cambodia, and four students were shot dead at Kent State University. The war had come home.

And in Vietnam the soldiers began to hit back at the brutality. A movement that started with peace signs and 'FTA' (fuck the army) written on helmets developed at a pace. Soldiers' papers appeared wherever Americans wore uniform. One US aircraft carrier had a rank and file paper called the Potemkin--the implications of that name are clear. And 'fragging' developed--the army's own figures say up to 1,000 fragging incidents occurred in Vietnam. (Rolling a fragmentation grenade into an officer or NCO's tent was fragging. The army's figures don't include attempts to kill officers by shooting them.)

By 1970 much of the army just wasn't fighting. The 'top brass' began to understand they had to get the troops out before the army collapsed. A movement begun by the poor peasants of Vietnam had spread to the campuses of the US, which in turn gave confidence to the working class soldiers in Vietnam to refuse to be used as cannon fodder.

The US has spent much of the last 30 years attempting to rewrite history and to dim the memory of a social movement linked with the struggle for civil rights that shook the US establishment to the core. But facts are stubborn things, and the memory of a generation that produced the anti-war protests, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party can't be removed so easily.
Michael Bradley


AN INTROSPECTIVE VIEW

Lennon Remembers
Jann S Wenner
Verso £13

Lennon Remembers

These 1970 Rolling Stone magazine interviews with John Lennon are re-published this year to coincide with what would have been the rock star's 60th birthday. You have to wade through the first 93 pages if you are just looking for the politics. But perhaps this is justified. His politics jostled with his rock 'n' roll celebrity ego and the eternal question which seemed to haunt him--was his music art? Lennon's ego and self doubt had to contend with a body pumped full of drugs, the mystical rubbish spouted by the Maharishi which Lennon finally saw through, and the primal scream therapy which he did not. He also had to contend with attempts by LSD guru Timothy Leary and lesser known crackpots to woo him obsessively, a thousand rip-off merchants at his door, and finally the daily glare of the world's media which followed the breakup of the Beatles and the arrival of Yoko. She was greeted by the other Beatles, many fans and the media with subtle and not so subtle hints of racism and sexism. So maybe introspection was inevitable.
Still, this is a deeply apolitical book, missing almost entirely the spirit of 1968 that ultimately was responsible for John Lennon's mind-blowing shift of artistic and political direction. On page 93, and the odd page after that, we do get a glimpse of this. He says he wrote 'Give Peace a Chance' for Moratorium Day, the massive anti Vietnam War demo, in Washington in 1969. He says he composed 'Working Class Hero' for the revolution (a song conspicuously missing, incidentally, from the recent round of television Lennon nostalgia). And 'Imagine' is a great socialist song, even if it's also a favourite of some cabinet ministers and a former editor of the Sun newspaper. Later in the interview he's asked if he really believed in revolution, because wouldn't it mean the end of the world? 'Not necessarily,' he replied. 'They say that every time but I don't really believe it.' Lennon had become disenchanted with the froth of the 'cultural' revolution of the 1960s. 'The people who are in control and in power, and the class system and the whole bourgeois bullshit scene system is exactly the same except there's a lot of middle class kids with long hair walking round London in trendy clothes.'
There's some unfortunate anti-gay slang in this passage, which I've deleted. No doubt in time he would have overcome this final prejudice.
In 1971 a group of Socialist Worker readers at British Leyland's AEC bus and truck factory at Southall, London, joined the strike to resist attacks on trade union organisation in the engine plant. Strikers sat all day in the local pub. It was difficult to get a discussion about Marxist politics going because John Lennon's 'Power To The People' was blasting from the juke box at a zillion decibels, hour after hour. He would have enjoyed the irony.
When the 21st century global revolution looks back at its 1968 dress rehearsal it will surely remember, and maybe even occasionally listen to, the 1968 rock poets who either anticipated it or celebrated it: Bob Dylan, Bob Marley and, yes, John Lennon.
These 1970 Rolling Stone magazine interviews with John Lennon are re-published this year to coincide with what would have been the rock star's 60th birthday. You have to wade through the first 93 pages if you are just looking for the politics. But perhaps this is justified. His politics jostled with his rock 'n' roll celebrity ego and the eternal question which seemed to haunt him--was his music art? Lennon's ego and self doubt had to contend with a body pumped full of drugs, the mystical rubbish spouted by the Maharishi which Lennon finally saw through, and the primal scream therapy which he did not. He also had to contend with attempts by LSD guru Timothy Leary and lesser known crackpots to woo him obsessively, a thousand rip-off merchants at his door, and finally the daily glare of the world's media which followed the breakup of the Beatles and the arrival of Yoko. She was greeted by the other Beatles, many fans and the media with subtle and not so subtle hints of racism and sexism. So maybe introspection was inevitable.
Still, this is a deeply apolitical book, missing almost entirely the spirit of 1968 that ultimately was responsible for John Lennon's mind-blowing shift of artistic and political direction. On page 93, and the odd page after that, we do get a glimpse of this. He says he wrote 'Give Peace a Chance' for Moratorium Day, the massive anti Vietnam War demo, in Washington in 1969. He says he composed 'Working Class Hero' for the revolution (a song conspicuously missing, incidentally, from the recent round of television Lennon nostalgia). And 'Imagine' is a great socialist song, even if it's also a favourite of some cabinet ministers and a former editor of the Sun newspaper. Later in the interview he's asked if he really believed in revolution, because wouldn't it mean the end of the world? 'Not necessarily,' he replied. 'They say that every time but I don't really believe it.' Lennon had become disenchanted with the froth of the 'cultural' revolution of the 1960s. 'The people who are in control and in power, and the class system and the whole bourgeois bullshit scene system is exactly the same except there's a lot of middle class kids with long hair walking round London in trendy clothes.'
There's some unfortunate anti-gay slang in this passage, which I've deleted. No doubt in time he would have overcome this final prejudice.
In 1971 a group of Socialist Worker readers at British Leyland's AEC bus and truck factory at Southall, London, joined the strike to resist attacks on trade union organisation in the engine plant. Strikers sat all day in the local pub. It was difficult to get a discussion about Marxist politics going because John Lennon's 'Power To The People' was blasting from the juke box at a zillion decibels, hour after hour. He would have enjoyed the irony.
When the 21st century global revolution looks back at its 1968 dress rehearsal it will surely remember, and maybe even occasionally listen to, the 1968 rock poets who either anticipated it or celebrated it: Bob Dylan, Bob Marley and, yes, John Lennon.
John Rose


EVERY COMPLAINT IN THE WORLD

Globalize This!
Ed: Kevin Danaher and Roger Burbach
Common Courage Press £11.95

Globalize This!

During the huge protests against the WTO last November, a television journalist reported that 'it seems as though every group with every complaint from every corner of the world is represented in Seattle this week'. Globalize This! brings together essays written by activists and campaigners who were in Seattle, reflecting the wide range of concerns represented there.
Several of the essays give a sense of the excitement of the event itself, with first-hand accounts of the planning and activity in the lead-up to the demonstrations, the feeling of achievement when groups such as trade unionists and environmentalists came together, and the sense of satisfaction at closing down the WTO meeting. Paul Hawken gives a vivid description of the sense of injustice which drove the demonstrators to protest against the growing concentration of wealth and power in the hands of multinational corporations, and how that sense was deepened when the police tore into peaceful protesters with batons, teargas and rubber bullets. Starhawk and Medea Benjamin discuss how the protesters organised, and give a flavour of the continuing debate over what tactics will best bring about global change.
Other writers provide a wealth of reasons to oppose the WTO. They destroy the myth that globalisation helps the world's poor, showing how the free trade policies the WTO 'locks in' throw small farmers off their land as the prices for their produce are driven down by competition from multinationals. William Greider exposes the tragedies for which the multinationals are to blame, as they force people to work long hours and then sleep in factories without even basic fire protection. Steven Shrybman describes the perversity of a world in which environmental standards become 'technical barriers to trade', and in which there exist greater powers to protect a company's patent 'rights' than to prevent the destruction of natural resources.
The final section deals with ways the world economy could be democratised. There are a range of measures discussed here including demands for the introduction of the Tobin Tax on currency speculation, codes of corporate conduct written into international law, and suggestions for a system of preferential tariffs based on a country's record on human rights and environmental protection. Walden Bello argues for a more flexible international regime involving various institutions, such as the UN, with 'checks and balances' to allow small countries to implement their own development programmes.
Many of the arguments presented here focus only on partial aspects of the system which is destroying people's lives, and tend to concentrate on institutional and legal changes which the multinational and major governments have set their faces firmly against. As such they have their limitations, but nevertheless, having been taken up by a mass movement, they have become powerful demands for a world where people come before profit. Crucially they also set the ground for a continuing debate within the movement about what kind of global change is both necessary and possible. This is a debate in which socialists have a lot to offer.
After Seattle the Los Angeles Times commented that 'the elitists had lost and the debate had changed forever'. As Kevin Danaher says here, 'Globalisation from above is being rejected and millions of people all over the world are struggling to build globalisation from below.' Globalize This! brilliantly conveys the vibrancy of 'the coming out party for a new global movement'. giving a real taste of why and how resistance is being globalised, and of the ongoing questions being posed by a new movement.
Andy Jones


IN BLACK AND WHITE

The Business of Books
Andre Schiffrin
Verso £16

The Business of Books

Andre Schiffrin has an impressive CV from his 40 years in the book trade. He commissioned Ronald Fraser's The Blood of Spain and Angus Calder's The People's War and published authors who read almost like a who's who of left wing publishing.
Schiffrin is passionate in the belief that ordinary people are interested in challenging and political books, and that they should be widely available. In the 1920s and 30s political novels and books were widely sold for 25-30 cents from newspaper stands, and sold in their 10,000s.
Books such as Why You Should be a Socialist by John Strachey, priced at 2 pence, sold 300,000 copies. The Left Book Club, aligned to the Communist Party, had some 50,000 members and published books, many of which explained important issues such as the rise of the Nazis.
This helped create a 'well-informed vanguard of public opinion on the left'. Today, despite attempts at dumbing down, there are always political and historical books at the top of the bestseller lists, such as Stalingrad, Francis Wheen's biography of Marx, or political novels such as A Star Called Henry.
Schiffrin worries that new ideas are being stifled by the conglomerates. Big media corporations gobble up publishers (five conglomerates have 80 percent of US book sales) and then either ditch the more intellectual divisions or cease to allow them to produce political work (as happened to Pantheon--one of its lead titles in 1998 was a book on Barbie dolls). In the 1950s London had some 200 publishers of significance. Today there are less than 30.
Managers are brought in who only look at print runs and the pricing of books--small print runs do not conjure up enough dollar signs. New works of 'minority interest' get cancelled. Schiffrin says that the market cannot be an appropriate judge of an idea's value. New authors by definition have not yet proved themselves.
One possible outlet for minority works--the university presses--are themselves being squeezed by management to show a profit as they are opened up to market forces. The scrapping of the net book agreement a few years ago meant books could be discounted, which could only benefit the big players. The over-riding effect of the market is greater centralisation, mediocrity and reduced choice.
When radical ideas are popular, the publishers will of course cash in. When Time Warner took over the Book-of-the-Month-Club it got rid of the respected panel of judges that selected titles and the criteria became whatever maximised profits.
Market madness means bigger publishing empires and more international bookchains like Borders. The remaining independents find it harder to survive. The chains are chasing super-profits and are less likely to take chances. The logic is think big, and big profits will follow. This has a knock-on effect throughout the whole profession.
Huge advances are given to celebrity authors which are rarely made back (HarperCollins paid Newt Gingrich a $4.5 million advance--coincidentally he was influential in the allocation of television franchises). In turn overheads rocket, which require even greater profits to compensate.
In 170 pages the author does not go into any real depth, but the story is the same as elsewhere--huge corporations are dominating too much of our lives and that's why we are seeing a craving for ideas to explain how to end the madness and resistance on a global scale.
Lindi Gonzalez


AN INDUSTRIAL DISASTER

Magic Mineral To Killer Dust
Geoffrey Tweedale
Oxford University Press £40

Exactly 100 years ago an unidentified 33 year old died of asbestosis--Britain's first medically confirmed case. The man had worked for 14 years in the asbestos industry and told his doctor that he was the only survivor from a workshop of ten. Today the asbestos death toll is predicted to peak in 2020 with up to 10,000 deaths a year in Britain alone. We are witnessing a major occupational health disaster.
This book charts the 20th century history of Turner and Newall (T&N), a massive British multinational and one of the biggest companies mining and processing asbestos. As the Lancashire textile industry started to suffer at the end of the 19th century T&N diversified into the new miracle fibre. Originally manufactured to replace cotton seals in the pistons of steam engines, asbestos spread rapidly to every area of industry. Virtually indestructable by heat, machine pounding or acid, asbestos has excellent insulation properties. By the Second World War it was everywhere.
But health problems were soon apparent. By 1898 government Factory Inspectors were drawing attention to the 'evil effects' of asbestos manufacture. An inch cube of asbestos contains 15 million miles of fibre. The tiny fibres that make up asbestos cause ulcerations and cancers in the lungs and their linings creating a criss-crossing web of hard scar tissue--death is a very slow process of oxygen starvation.
Tweedale has written a highly detailed book. His raw data comes from millions of T&N documents obtained by Chase Manhattan Bank which sued T&N for the cost of removing asbestos from the biggest sprayed fireproofing job in history, the bank's 60-storey Wall Street skyscraper. The book is a damning indictment of the profit motive without explicitly saying so. The bosses who ran T&N did so in the knowledge that asbestos kills. They set up and subsidised 'scientific' research centres which obligingly 'proved' that acceptable levels of asbestos dust exist. Their treatment of dying victims was disgusting, employing legions of lawyers to wriggle out of admitting responsibility and to fight over every penny of pathetic levels of compensation.
Tweedale also slams the government Factory Inspectors (who became part of the Health and Safety Executive in 1974) who, even in the 1960s, were putting economic considerations above workers' health. When government regulations were introduced in 1931, asbestos companies flouted them with inspectors' connivance. The medical and scientific profession get a pasting for sharing the industry's basic philosophy that asbestos production should not be stopped for economic reasons and, ironically, for safety reasons.
In the final chapter Tweedale contrasts the attitude of the employers and the establishment to the 'nobility...gritty determination and fortitude' of the ordinary working class people who suffered the most. Individual campaigners and rank and file workers carried the fight, often in the teeth of opposition from trade union officials more worried about job losses than the death toll. ('Consistent campaigning' by Socialist Worker in the early 1970s also gets a mention.)
The mass of highly detailed facts and figures makes it hard work at times but this is a very useful addition to the literature on one of capitalism's dirty crimes.
Simon Hester


THE COLLECTIVE MEANING

The Stone Woman
Tariq Ali
Verso £15

The Stone Woman

The novel is set in the summer of 1899 and the Ottoman Empire is in crisis. It must change and modernise, or it is doomed. It is a time of fear and uncertainty, but also a time of opportunity. Nilofer is the narrator of the tale. She is the granddaughter of Yusuf Pasha, a writer of erotic poetry, and one-time friend and courtier to the sultan.
When Yusuf Pasha dares to suggest that nothing, including the Ottoman Empire, was eternal, and that there was historical evidence to prove that rulers and leaders were unnecessary, the sultan has him exiled from Istanbul.
Despite his fate, Yusuf Pasha is allowed a luxurious palatial residence surrounded by fragrant trees and gardens. It is to this palace that Nilofer returns with her children after her own nine-year exile. She has defiantly escaped an arranged marriage and run away with a Greek school teacher. She is welcomed back into a family that is wealthy, but unconventional and unorthodox.
Against a background of intrigue, eroticism, violence and secrets, the story unfolds. Nilofer is a strong, brave and passionate woman. She embodies the restlessness of her generation and becomes embroiled in discussions about politics, philosophy and culture. Above all she searches into the secrets which 'corrode our souls'.
She discovers relatives and friends who are trying to escape the past or the present. Others have defied tradition and have even taken part in dynamic events (the Paris Commune, for one) where the power, lust and hypocrisy of the rich were challenged.
Ali invests many of his characters with humour, warmth and sensitivity, but the most vibrant personalities are those who have lived with oppression or are themselves oppressed--incidentally they also seem to enjoy the best sex lives.
The tale begins and ends with Nilofer's visits to the stone woman, a huge rock which dominates a ruined area close to the palace. Unable to voice their fears and desires freely, generations of children, women and men have confided in this ancient repository of secrets. The stone woman is a device for the telling of the story. She also holds the collective memory of those who have searched for answers to their questions--and their pleasure and their anguish.
The book ends on the brink of a new chapter--certainty of the death of the sultans and the empire, but promised reforms that make 'action from below unnecessary'. We're all familiar with that one. The central character is deeply sceptical: 'When will our time come?'
Revolutionary events in Serbia demonstrate once again that it is the workers who have the power to topple dictators and move towards taking control of 'our time'.
Beth Stone


MEXICAN WAVE OF RESISTANCE

Homage to Chiapas
Bill Weinberg
Verso £20

Homage to Chiapas

'It is better to die on your feet than live on your knees,' said Emiliano Zapata, the Mexican revolutionary leader of the huge indigenous peasant army which came within a whisker of taking power and made a serious attempt at building a socialist society in the Mayan heartlands of the Yucatan.
The quote aptly sums up the spirit of resistance of these people. Bill Weinberg's book is a useful and well written addition to the ample quantity of material already published on the theme of the recent Zapatista uprisings in the remote jungles of Chiapas in southern Mexico. It is also better than a lot of them in that it avoids over-romanticising its subject while at the same time maintaining a clearly partial and sympathetic stance towards the Indians.
Homage to Chiapas explains the current problems faced by the poor of the region by explaining the previous 500 years of exploitation, oppression and rip-offs by successive imperial powers. But this book does not simply document the sufferings and exploitation of the downtrodden. Much more importantly it traces in great detail and with obvious enthusiasm their resistance.
The book is not simply a chronological account, which makes it easier to read and also makes the connections between the past and the present all the more telling. So a chapter on the revolt of the Tzeltal Indians, in the guise of a religious war, is easily followed by a chapter on the condition of the Indians under the 'perfect dictatorship' of the PRI (Party of the Institutionalised Revolution, which has only recently and reluctantly relinquished control of the state after 70 years of power following the Mexican Revolution).
Weinberg provides a lucid explanation of the devastating consequences of the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) for the indigenous people, and how this in part led to the current uprising. Included in this political thesis are the largely unpublicised effects of 'modernisation programmes' on the environment, and how as a consequence of 'agribusiness' there has been a catastrophic decline in the biodiversity of one of the world's richest ecological resources.
Weinberg shows how the vast range of different maize crops raised by the Indians has now been reduced to just four 'commercially viable' strains. One of the varieties of maize grown by Indians suddenly ceased to be the property of the people who had cultivated it for many centuries and became a patented product of a giant multinational when it was 'discovered' to be disease resistant.
Weinberg is definitely on the side of the Neo-Zapatistas of today's Mexico, although he is not uncritical. But it is his criticisms which reveal both the shortcomings of his own analysis and that of the Zapatistas themselves. Weinberg makes clear the limitations of the armed struggle (noting the Zapatistas' call for solidarity from civil society), and he has obvious disdain for veteran Mexican left winger Jorge Castenada's comment that the Zapatistas were 'armed reformists' although he does not convincingly refute the accusation.
But this is a very readable and absorbing story of exploitation and resistance, which also provides one of the best potted histories of Mexico that I have read. He also gives a good explanation of the crisis and corruption within the ruling PRI. Weinberg makes a timely contribution to the growing debate about the environment, anti-capitalism and the many and successful ways of fighting globalisation.
Tim Sanders


GAY'S THE WORD

Witness to Revolution
Ed: Chris Bull
Alyson Books £12.99

Witness to Revolution is a selection of articles taken from leading American gay political magazine The Advocate between 1967-99. The magazine was founded by Dick Michaels, a gay rights activist. He intended the magazine to be agitational and also to help create a gay community.
'Anatomy of a Police Raid' from 1968 captures the experience of being gay before Stonewall. The description of the Stonewall riot is a vivid and detailed account of the second night of rioting. The article is especially interesting as it is written by Dick Leitsch, secretary of the New York Mattacine Society, then the leading gay rights group.
The birth of the new movement is covered well, as are other events that are not documented elsewhere. These articles also benefit from being written by highly partisan participants.
A good example is 'GAA zaps Harper's magazine' from December 1970. The gay activists in the GAA occupied the Harper's magazine offices for a day after it carried an article claiming that homosexuals were 'condemned to a state of permanent niggerdom among men'. The account of this small event captures the politics and strategy of the participants. It also exposes the level of bigotry that flowed from the establishment at the time.
Significant events are also recorded here that cannot be found in a lot of other gay literature. 'A Part of our Souls was Ignited' and 'New Orleans Toll 32; Arson evidence cited' tell the story of the torching of a gay bar in 1973, and the political impact this act of barbarity had.
The Advocate also mirrors the changes in the gay movement. In 1974 the founders of the magazine, who were all activists, sold up to a gay businessman. After this the articles become more standard news and feature articles--they focus more on Washington and official politics. They also cover the start of the backlash from the religious right. This trend becomes more pronounced in the 1980s with the coverage of the Aids epidemic. The article 'Aids: mysteries and hidden dangers' deals with many of these arguments.
'The New Gay Activism, Adding Bite to the Movement', written in 1988, covers the founding of ACT-UP and the massive march on Washington. Then in 1993 the magazine went completely mainstream after it passed into the hands of big business.
However, The Advocate still continued to report the work of activists. Witness to Revolution ends with two articles on the homophobic murder of Matthew Shepherd in October 1998.
The Advocate is a complete record of the American gay and lesbian movement. It works as a piece of agitation. As many of the essays compiled in this book show, the modern gay movement has come a long way but still has far to go. It also works as a history, both as a contemporary account of events and through the changes that have been made to the magazine.
Andrew Baisley


THE WRECK OF EMPIRE

Out In The Midday Sun
Margaret Shennan
John Murray £25

Out In The Midday Sun

This is a work of imperial nostalgia. It recounts, in their own words, the lives of British expatriates exploiting and ruling the Malayan peninsula from 1880 until 1960. Shennan does on a few occasions make some mild criticisms of British rule, for example, she recounts the guilt that some 'expats' felt at abandoning their Asian servants and employees when they fled the Japanese invaders in 1941. The general tone of the book is summed up, however, by her overall judgement that British rule was 'benign but just'.
The superficial nature of her account is best demonstrated by her treatment of the 'Emergency', the war with the Communist guerrillas that lasted from 1948 through to 1960. British defeat at the hands of the Japanese in 1941-42 had seriously discredited the imperialist enterprise. A numerically inferior Japanese army had driven the British from Malaya and then captured Singapore. This was the greatest disaster since the loss of the American colonies.
By and large the Malay rulers--the sultans and rajahs--who had collaborated with the British simply transferred their allegiance to the Japanese. A strong resistance movement led by the Communists and rooted among the Chinese population developed, with bases hidden in the jungle. The Communists allied themselves with the British and were expected to play a vital military role when the British finally attempted to reconquer Malaya.
The Communist objective in 1945 was for a multi-ethnic democratic republic with an extensive programme of social reform. Somewhat naively they expected the Labour government in London to share their objectives. They disbanded their guerrilla army, sent representatives to the Victory celebrations in London, and Chin Peng, the Communist leader was awarded the OBE!
The Labour government had no intention of allowing independence, democracy or social reform. Instead it imposed the most exploitative regime in Malaya's colonial history. Desperate for the dollars that could be earned from Malayan rubber and tin, the British cracked down on the left, both Communist and non-Communist.
Shennan repeats the discredited propaganda myth that the Communist rebellion in 1948 was ordered by Moscow. Yet the CP leadership had embraced a peaceful road to socialism strategy but was driven into rebellion by British repression.
The British launched the most ferocious repression. The trade union movement was smashed (the head of the TUC was hanged for possessing a firearm). Over 30,000 people were detained without trial and thousands more were sentenced to long prison terms. Over 200 communist rebels or sympathisers were hanged. To isolate the guerrillas from their supporters the British forcibly resettled over 500,000 people in heavily policed 'new villages'.
At the same time a massive police military apparatus was put in place under General Sir Gerald Templer, a man with impeccably reactionary credentials.
The only way to defeat the Communists involved conceding independence to the Malay sultans. British repression was underpinned by a divide and rule strategy, institutionalising ethnic differences and setting the Malays against the Chinese. The Communists were eventually forced to accept defeat and a reactionary pro-western regime was established in power. Shennan's book is completely innocent of all this. Her focus is on the heroic planters and their plucky fight against the communist hordes. Her book is worthless.
John Newsinger


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