Wednesday, July 14, 2010

China historian's view of why Barisan declined

Jul 13, 2010

By Cai Haoxiang

A CHINA historian is here to offer reasons why the once-powerful leftist movement Barisan Sosialis disappeared entirely from Singapore politics.

Dr Cheng Yinghong's thesis is that China's Cultural Revolution of 1966 influenced the Barisan movement significantly, causing it to become more extreme.

The change led eventually to the Barisan's decision to have its remaining seven Members of Parliament stage a walkout from the House in October 1966, so as to launch an extra-parliamentary struggle.

Dr Cheng, 51, an associate professor of history at Delaware State University in the United States, will present his theory in a lecture at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies tomorrow.

What may prove controversial is his stance that while the massive security crackdown of 1963, codenamed Operation Cold Store, seriously damaged the leftists, it did not lead to the Barisan's demise.

'I'm not defending the PAP, but you have to compare (the reasons why the leftist movement in Singapore disappeared),' he said in an interview with The Straits Times.

'Globally speaking, the disappearance of the left was due to violence and crackdown, but not in Singapore.'

His analysis of the reasons for the Barisan's fall was based on research done on the leftist newspapers of that time, namely the Barisan's semi-monthly Front and monthly Party News, and the People's Forum, a semi-monthly newsletter run by the leftist Partai Rakyat Singapura.

He found evidence that one month after the Cultural Revolution began in China in 1966, the Barisan's politics were dramatically radicalised, as seen in newspaper articles which carried the slogans and rhetoric of Chinese leader Mao Zedong.

The Barisan, formed in 1961 as a splinter from the People's Action Party, was once one of the most powerful leftist movements in South-east Asia.

Most of its leaders were, however, arrested during Operation Cold Store, during which more than 100 leftist politicians and unionists were put behind bars.

Yet the Barisan machinery was still good enough to enable the party to win 13 seats in the 51-seat legislative assembly, during the September 1963 general election.

But Cold Store destroyed the Barisan's hopes of becoming Singapore's ruling party, causing its members to feel lost.

Dr Cheng said that as a result, the Barisan lost hope in beating the PAP at the polls.

'That's why I think they embraced the Cultural Revolution when it broke out in 1966,' he added.

Dr Cheng was born in Suzhou, China, in 1959, and left to pursue a doctorate in the US in 1994.

In 2007, he applied for a fellowship to research the impact of the Cold War in Asia at the National University of Singapore's Asia Research Institute.

There, he met scholar C.C. Chin, 69, who co-authored the book, Dialogues With Chin Peng: New Light On The Malayan Communist Party. Mr Chin suggested he look at primary sources like the old Barisan newspapers.

Dr Cheng's lecture tomorrow forms part of an ongoing re-examination of the left's role in Singapore's history.

He plans to conduct more research on Barisan leader Lim Chin Siong's ideological development and whether the Barisan was a local or national movement.

No comments: