Of Patriots and Pretenders: The Unofficial History of our Struggle for Independence


(Dr Kua Kia Soong) — More than 50 years after Independence, Malaysians are still frequently reminded by UMNO leaders of the so-called ‘Social Contract’ that was supposed to have been agreed upon by “the three races” whenever the non-bumiputeras demand civil liberties and the end to discrimination.

kua kia soong book patriots and pretenders storyMy new book ‘Patriots & Pretenders’ aims to put the historical facts in perspective so that the new generation of Malaysians understands the class forces that were arraigned during the anti-colonial struggle and gets to know who the real anti-colonial fighters were.

The publication of this book coincides with the recent announcement by the Education Ministry that history is to be a compulsory subject in the SPM. It led to vocal protest from several sectors who find the ‘official’ history in Malaysia rather suspect.

Ever since the ‘May 13 Incident’ and the promulgation of the National Cultural Policy, Malaysian history has been written from the point of view of the ruling party Umno in line with its Malay-centric populist ideology.

It is an official history that is used to bolster one ethnic group at the expense of the other communities in an attempt to divide and rule. Consequently, whole categories of people have been denied their rightful place in Malaysian history.

‘Patriots & Pretenders’ tries to set the record straight by providing a class analysis of the anti-colonial struggle and acknowledging the contributions of the patriotic forces in all the ethnic communities to Independence and nation building.

This ‘Peoples’ History’ which is based on academic research by respected scholars, has been hidden from official Malaysian history and by studying it we can uncover the roots of racial polarisation in Malaysia and lay the basis for a non-racial solution to our nation’s challenges.

The Neo-Colonial Solution

From the Colonial Office and Foreign Office documents of the period uncovered from the Public Records Office in London, it has been possible to provide evidence of the thinking and calculation of Western interests with regard to Southeast Asia, but especially the importance laid on securing Malaya for economic, political and military-strategic interests.

They show the priority accorded to defeating the anti-colonial forces spearheaded by the workers. The post-war period was also one of re-dividing the world by the Western powers, which under the hegemony of the US, began to move toward an integration rather than division of interests. These records reveal the articulation of the whole Western, rather than solely British, interest in Malaya.

NONEThe atmosphere of repression during the ‘Emergency’ provided the British colonial power with an opportunity to deflect the forces of revolt and effect the neo-colonial accommodation. The entire colonial strategy – especially the aftermath of the Malayan Union crisis – had convinced the British that the custodians of an Independent Malaya would be the traditional Malay elite.

This was in keeping with the communalist strategy of British rule throughout their colonisation of Malaya. At the same time, the neo-colonial arrangement had to accommodate the upper strata of the non-Malay capitalist class who were a necessary link in the foreign domination of the Malayan economy. The repression during the ‘Emergency’ enabled the colonial government to exploit sectional interests and thereby isolate the working class and the peasantry.

Thus, the ‘Alliance Formula’ with all its contradictions was devised in Independent Malaya. The reform measures conceded by the colonial power and grudgingly agreed to by the Malay rulers were in many ways necessitated by the ferocity of the revolt.

Another myth that is purveyed during ‘Merdeka Day’ every year is that it was UMNO who won Independence for the country.

The evidence presented in ‘Patriots & Pretenders’ will show who the main opponents of the British colonial power were and who put up a protracted struggle to end the exploitation of the country’s natural and human resources while forging a truly multi-ethnic peoples’ united front.

The Independence struggle and the Merdeka Agreement have to be understood in class terms – the ruling class in the making represented by UMNO, MCA and MIC on the one side, and the truly anti-colonial forces in the PMCJA-Putera coalition representing the workers, peasantry and disenchanted middle class on the other.

The Struggle for Independence

The UMNO leadership after the Second World War represented the interests of the Malay aristocracy. They were by no means anti-colonial and did not challenge British interests. Malaya was still very much dependent on export commodities, largely rubber and tin. The industrial base was narrow and based on these two commodities, while the problem of the peasantry since colonial times was still unresolved.

The mass-based anti-colonial movement, on the other hand, had very clear policies based on self-determination, civil liberties and equality. The workers’ movement was the main threat to colonial interests and the Federation of Malaya proposals culminating in the Merdeka Agreement were intended to deflect the working class revolt by introducing communalism in the Independence package.