Singapore Revisited (V): The PAP in opposition

James Myburgh writes on Lee Kuan Yew’s uneasy internal alliance with the pro-Communists

The previous article (part IV) in this series described how the People’s Action Party, founded in 1954, was built upon an alliance between English-educated anti-colonial socialists, led by Lee Kuan Yew, and the pro-Communist United Front led by Lim Chin Siong and other Chinese-educated operatives. In the elections held on 2nd April 1954 the PAP had won three of the four seats it had contested. The PAP-aligned trade unionist Ahmad bin Ibrahim won a fourth seat, standing as an independent. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

The “pro-Communists” and “non-Communists” were united by their commitment to socialist ideals and a desire to see the British gone. Where they differed was on whether socialism could be implemented peacefully and incrementally through the institutions of liberal democracy, as the Fabians (and Lee Kuan Yew) thought, or whether it could only be done through the imposition of a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, as the Communists believed.

Each side sought to use the other for their own purposes. As the Observer correspondent, Dennis Bloodworth, later noted:

“Since the militant left carried the Chinese working masses with them, the social democrats looked upon their dangerous ally as a tiger that they must somehow ride if they wanted to rule. And since the Communist Party was outlawed, the militant left looked upon the PAP as a legal vehicle under whose cover they might penetrate the citadel of constitutional politics in order to capture power from within — in short, as a Trojan Horse.”[1]

The strategy of the Communist underground was to build up the widest possible front around a minimum programme of anti-imperialism. The expectation was that once the British and their repressive security apparatus had been neutralised the local opponents and allies of the Communists would be helpless and defenceless when the tactical shift occurred towards the seizure and consolidation of total power.

This strategy required keeping the Communist identities and loyalties of its united front operatives hidden, their caucusing secret, and disguising or obfuscating their ultimate goals. As Niccolò Machiavelli noted in the Discourses it is foolish and impudent to demand a thing and declare beforehand that it is intended to be used for evil. This will only increase resistance to your plans. One should, he wrote, “never show one’s intentions, but endeavour to obtain one’s desires anyhow. For it is enough to ask a man to give up his arms, without telling him that you intend killing him with them; after you have the arms in hand, then you can do your will with them.”

The third participant in this “three cornered struggle”, as Bloodworth described it, were the British authorities, then in the early stages of trying to extricate themselves from the responsibilities of empire, while trying to head off Communist takeovers of their former colonial possessions.


Following the formation of the PAP the Special Branch were interested in determining Lee Kuan Yew’s true loyalties. He and his wife were invited to drinks by a senior British police officer B N Finch. In attendance was the young Special Branch officer, William Cheng, the Oxford-educated son of a high-level Kuomintang government official who had served as China’s ambassador to Australia and Iran before the Communist seizure of power. Cheng himself would later go on to serve in several high-level positions in Singapore’s civil service.

During the chitchat Lee was challenged by Cheng on his alliance with the pro-Communists. Cheng put to Lee the old Chinese proverb that while one can ride a tiger, the moment that you try to dismount it you will be eaten alive. As Cheng later recalled in an oral history interview he told Lee that while he could ally with the Communists, when he tried to extricate himself, he would be destroyed by them. (This is what had happened to the Kuomintang). “And he turned around to me, he said, ‘No, you are wrong. I’ll get off the tiger and I will beat the Communists’.” The Special Branch assessment then was that Lee was not a Communist and was just opportunistically aligning with the militant left.[2] The concern was that he was handling forces that he did not understand and would not be able to control. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

As Lee Kuan Yew would later admit, at various points in his autobiography, he and his English-educated contemporaries were naïve about Communist strategy and tactics, as well as the hold Marxist-Maoist ideals exerted over many of the best and brightest of the Chinese-educated youth of that generation.

Over the following years while Lee was a strident critic of the British from the opposition benches, he and his closest political confidants were carefully watching and learning from their Communist allies. Very soon after the election he would be provided with a masterclass from the new Labour Front government in how not to deal with the Communist challenge.

In late April 1955, a pro-Communist union went on a strike at the Hock Lee Bus Company. Chinese middle school children, again under Communist direction, then came out in support. On the night of 12th May 1955 rioting broke out with mobs attacking police and any white person they could find. Two policemen, Detective Corporal Yuen Yau Pheng, and a Volunteer Special Constable Andrew Teo, were beaten to death by the mob, as was Gene Symonds, a journalist for the United Press.

A Chinese middle school protester, Chong Lon Chong, 16, was shot in the lung, probably by the police, and while wounded was paraded around town by his comrades for three hours to further inflame tensions. By the time he was taken to hospital it was too late to save him, and he died of his wounds.[3]

In his autobiography Lee notes that he came to learn that the goal of the Communists “was never to argue, reason and settle. It was always to engineer a collision, to generate more popular hatred of the colonial enemy. They wanted to establish the Leninist preconditions for a revolution: first, a government that no longer commanded the confidence of the people, and second, a government that had lost faith in its ability to solve its problems as growing lawlessness, misery and violence overwhelmed it.”

In Lee’s later view the newly elected Chief Minister, David Marshall, who ended up capitulating to the Hock Lee strikers demands, was too weak and vacillating to deal effectively with the Communist strategy of using strikes and Chinese middle school protestors to destabilise the existing order. As a result, the strength of the Communist united front massively increased during Marshall’s brief term in office.

An article by Peggy Durdin in the New York Times later that year – headlined “Singapore Needs a Miracle” [4] – described how this “green, prosperous and pleasant little island”, once regarded as stable and solid outpost of the British empire, seemed to be on the brink of falling to Communist subversion. She wrote that “a rash of strikes, open defiance of Government and large-scale rioting over the last few months have shown that this rich and thriving city is successfully infiltrated by Communists, moving steadily leftward, increasing pro-Peiping [Beijing], aggressively restless and ready to fight in both constitutional and revolutionary ways against British rule.”

The April elections had lifted the lid from the simmering discontent of the deprived Chinese-educated majority on the island that had long been brewing beneath. The heart of Singapore, she wrote, is “miles and miles of streets lined with tiny box-like Chinese stores selling everything from dried squid to thousands of tons of rubber. Above these rows of little stores and factories live thousands of Chinese shopowners, clerks, working men and their families, often eight, ten and twelve cramped in a single stuffy room. There are no green lawns in this part of the city; women dry the family laundry by draping it on long bamboo poles which stretch from every upstairs window over the bustling street like banners.”

The Communists had built up an extensive network with cells operating in schools and trade unions. They were highly organised, everywhere and invisible. Among the Chinese-educated, under a certain age, pro-Communist sentiment and ultra-nationalism had merged. Those Chinese who refused to toe the Communist line were denounced as “running dogs of the white man” and even the more moderate nationalists were pressured into taking radical public positions. Such racialist sentiments were “strongest among Chinese school-age children”, Durdin wrote. High School students had been at the centre of the city’s troubles over the past six months, having long been the target of Malayan Communist Party subversion.

“It is a young Chinese today who deliberately jostles a white person on the sidewalk or curses a passing white driver in Chinese dialect. It was Chinese students who carried the dying body of a fellow schoolboy an hour and a half on their shoulders further to inflame the rioters in Singapore’s black night of mob rule. ‘Give me a sentence in the active voice’, said a teacher. ‘We must kill the white monkeys’ answered the schoolgirl.”

In the article Durdin quoted, but did not name, “one of Singapore’s most promising politicians” – presumably, Lee Kuan Yew – whom she described as “an extremely Anglicized Cambridge-educated Chinese who is now learning Mandarin”. This politician told her that “every Chinese in the city under 40 is pro-Peiping. This… sentiment extends from 8-year-old children right up through the rubber multimillionaires, who logically should shudder at the thought of communism.” This was based on pride flowing from the initial resurgence of China, under Communist party rule, and the belief that that country was finally reclaiming its old power and greatness after China’s century of humiliation at the hands of Western and Japanese imperialism.


In July 1955 Tunku (Prince) Abdul Rahman, the conservative and pro-British leader of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) in alliance with the Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) and Malayan Indian Congress (MIC) won 51 out of 52 seats in the July 1955 Malayan elections. In February 1956 Malaya become effectively self-governing, with the date for full independence set for 31 August 1957. Malaya would remain dependent on the military support of Britain and other Commonwealth countries for the suppression of the Communist insurgency in the country.

In Singapore meanwhile Marshall decided to press for full independence (Merdeka) for Singapore ahead of a later merger with Malaya – with the British retaining control only of external defence – at the constitutional talks in London in April 1956 and said he would resign if the British did not agree to his demands. Lee and Lim were the two PAP representatives on the thirteen-member all-party delegation at the talks.

A British government assessment prepared ahead of the conference described Lee as a “brilliant Westernised Chinese” of “extreme Left-wing sympathies, though professed anti-Communist. He took a double first at Cambridge. He is not a fluent speaker in Chinese which limits his appeal to the masses. Behind him is the more sinister figure of Lim Chin Siong, a shrewd and tough young Chinese who speaks little English and is undoubtedly a Communist sympathiser.”[5] By this stage the Special Branch had confirmed that Lim was a member of the Communist underground.[6]

At the conference itself the British Colonial Secretary Alan Lennox-Boyd was not willing, given the ongoing Communist threat, to give up having the “ultimate word” on internal security in Singapore, and the talks stalled on this point. Unable to get what he wanted Marshall resigned following his return, with the former trade-unionist and Minister of Labour and Welfare, Lim Yew Hock, taking over as Chief Minister in early June.

In his address to the PAP’s July 1956 conference Lee described the British as the “most cunning colonialists in Asia” and said that independence was needed “so that the fruits of our labour and industry will not be taken overseas by our British masters.” He however rejected armed revolution as being neither practical nor desirable, stating: “We must take the peaceful and constitutional road to freedom. We believe nothing can stand in our way to freedom. Our aim, we repeat, is an independent democratic non-Communist Malaya.”[7]

At the conference Lim Chin Siong was elected to the central committee with 1 537 votes to Lee’s 1488 votes, with the “moderates” retaining only a marginal (7 to 5) majority on the twelve-member central committee. The Straits Times reported on the results as a failure by “outsiders” (i.e., pro-Communists) to take control of the party’s central committee. [8]

As Lee would later recall, this was a successful show of force by the pro-Communist grouping. Lim Chin Siong “had made it clear that when it came to mass support, the pro-Communists held all the trumps. Their strength was overwhelming, and they could easily take over the party whenever they wanted to.”[9] The top three leadership of Lee, Ong, and Toh remained the same, though with Lim now becoming assistant secretary general.

In September 1956 Lim Yew Hock launched, at the instigation of British security officers, a crackdown on the Communist activists and front organisations in Singapore. The Singapore Women’s Federation and the Chinese Brass Gong Musical Party were the first organisations to be dissolved. Seven alleged Communist activists were also arrested by the Special Branch, six of whom were banished from the colony. Lim Yew Hock told the press that “strong action” was needed to “counter the growing menace of Communist front organisations” and to check the “covert penetration” of reputable associations by the Communists and their sympathisers.[10] Some days later the Singapore Chinese Middle School Students’ Union was deregistered, with thousands of students taking to the streets in protest.

On 4th October Lee introduced a motion in the legislative assembly condemning “the recent arrests of trade union and civic leaders and the dissolution of two societies and [which] deplores the arbitrary manner of the Government's action.” Lee accused the government of Lim Yew Hock of becoming embroiled in a conspiracy with the British using “the instruments which their colonial masters had forged over the years to maintain their rule over this colonial territory.” He said that while this action had delighted the British, Americans and Australians, government leaders were being labelled (not incorrectly, he implied) "colonial stooges" and "running dogs" in mass meetings across town.

He also accused the government of seeking to take away “all the supports, all the ground organisations” that sustained the People's Action Party. In an even more virulent speech Lim Chin Siong challenged Lim Yew Hock “to deny that he has not made a shameful backdoor deal with Mr Lennox-Boyd and the Colonial Office to feed the constitutional anti-colonial forces of Singapore to the gaping jaws of colonial repression in return for a sham Merdeka which will be safe for colonial vested interests.[11]

The confrontation triggered by government’s crackdown culminated in rioting by thousands of Chinese Middle School students at the end of the month which left 13 dead, 123 injured, 70 vehicles damaged or destroyed, two schools burnt to the ground and two police stations damaged.[12] Government security forces were able to keep a lid on the situation, and hundreds of arrests were made, including of Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan, Devan Nair, and other suspected pro-Communist trade unionist and PAP leaders.

In his address to the Legislative Assembly after the riots Lim Yew Hock said that government had acted as it had to liberate trade unions, Chinese schools, and other organisations from Communist penetration and control. “We are engaged in Operation Liberation from an actual threat and a further possibility of tyranny on this island.”[13]

Lee meanwhile introduced another motion deploring government’s actions. He said that the government had alienated the Chinese-speaking population by being seen to be assaulting Chinese culture, civilisation, and education, and not just trying to root out subversive elements. “The foolish, the silly, the completely inept interference in local affairs” by the British in this matter, Lee commented, “when the best thing they can do is to slink out of the picture has convinced me that the white man is determined to destroy himself in the Far East.”[14]

Privately, Lee filed away two important lessons on how to deal with his Communist allies, at the point at which they became adversaries. In his autobiography he wrote that “Marshall had taught me how not to be soft and weak when dealing with the Communists. Lim Yew Hock taught me how not to be tough and flat-footed.”

“It was not enough to use administrative and legal powers to confine and cripple them”, he wrote. “Lim did not understand that the Communist game was to make him lose the support of the masses, the Chinese-speaking people, to destroy his credibility as a leader who was acting in their interests. They were thus able to portray him as an opportunist and a puppet acting at the behest of the ‘colonialist imperialists’.”[15]


Lee would benefit politically in two ways from Lim Yew Hock’s actions. Firstly, Lim had alienated the Chinese-speaking community by being seen as a British “stooge” and Lee and the PAP would be the electoral beneficiaries. Secondly, in terms of the looming struggle within the PAP, the clampdown did check the momentum of the Communists’ united front strategy. With the pro-Communist “first team” in the PAP now in detention their “second team” cadres also had to step in to fill the gap.

At the constitutional talks in London in 1957 a five member all party delegation, on which Lee was the sole PAP representative, agreed to the “three quarters independence” that Marshall had rejected the previous year. A new 51-person assembly would have jurisdiction over all matters except foreign affairs and defence. Where internal security and defence overlapped the power would reside in an Internal Security Council composed of three British members, one of whom would be chairman, three Singapore members, and one representative from the Malay Federation. Elections under the new constitution would only be held once a new citizenship law had been adopted and implemented.[16]

The pro-Communist trade unions were increasingly unhappy at the direction the talks were taking and pushed the Central Committee to force Lee to take a much tougher line. They wanted immediate independence, the abolition of the Internal Security Council and immediate elections which would see the ejection of Lim Yew Hock from office. But their demands were rebuffed by chairman Toh Chin Chye.

Shortly before the conclusion of the talks Colonial Secretary Alan Lennox Boyd had said that to prevent Singapore falling under Communist domination the British would insist that the new constitution would have to contain a provision (clause 30) barring all persons detained for subversive activities from running in the first elections following its adoption.[17] Lee and the rest of the delegation denounced this provision publicly as undemocratic, but signed the agreement nevertheless. On his return to Singapore after the talks Lee admitted that full independence had not been negotiated and this was something that could only be achieved through merger with the Malay Federation.

At a debate in the legislative assembly on 26th April 1957 Marshall criticised the provisions of the new constitution which the pro-Communists were also opposed to, and criticised Lee for acceding to it. He then challenged Lee to step down as an MP so a by-election could be held to test his support, and he would do the same and meet him on the hustings. Lee immediately accepted. [18]

In the debate the following day Marshall also accused Lee of not actually wanting left-wing PAP members to be let out of gaol, and of stabbing them in the back at the London conference. “The struggle for power between the right and left wings of the P.A.P. is notorious,” Marshall commented. “If the left wing comes out of gaol, the right wing goes out of the window!”

Lee denied that he had stabbed anyone in the back, saying that the PAP detainees “were colleagues of mine and my Executive Committee, and my Party will never take office as long as they are in gaol, whatever our differences.” He announced that he would be tendering his resignation as the Member for Tanjong Pagar and then standing in the resultant by-election as the PAP. [19] Marshall however backed down from his side of the challenge some 48 hours later – this after the pro-Communist unions indicated that they would not support a by-election challenge to Lee – announcing he would be quitting politics “permanently” instead.[20]

The non-Communist wing of PAP used the by-election, which they won comfortably, as a means of gauging their popular support, and so deliberately rejected offers of assistance by Chinese Middle School students and the (Communist controlled) unions. In his manifesto Lee sought an endorsement from his constituents of the stand that he took during the recent constitutional mission to London “on two issues, which are the constitutional proposals and the anti-subversion clause.” His manifesto reiterated that what the PAP stood for was as follows:

"1. To end colonialism and establish an independent, united Malaya.

2. To create a democratic, non-Communist Government of Malaya.

3. To abolish the unjust inequalities of wealth and opportunity of the present social system and provide equal opportunities for all.

4. To build a Malayan consciousness among the people of Malaya." [21]

Lee’s rhetoric in the campaign remained stridently left-wing and anti-British. In one speech he stated:

“We want to establish an independent, united Malaya in which we shall establish within the framework of the democratic non-Communist system a fair and just society, a socialist society in which no man can exploit his fellowman.

To establish a fair and just society where man does not exploit his fellowman, we must first end the colonial society, the result of the exploitation of the wealth of Malaya and our people by British capitalist interests. That is why the P.A.P. is vehemently anti-colonialist. Colonialism means not only the exploitation of local man by local man, but also the exploitation of all local men by the white man.

It is only when we have ousted the British from political control that we have a chance to create a new different society with equal and fair opportunities for all to live and learn and work without exploiting their fellow men either by their greater wealth or greater talents.”[22]


The growing tension within the PAP between the non-Communist and the pro-Communist wings of the party reached a head at the Party’s annual general meeting in early August 1957. Lee’s grouping presented a resolution to the conference endorsing the present agreed constitution – while formally rejecting clause 30 – and of the goal of an “independent, democratic, non-Communist Socialist Malaya.” They also sought a mandate to reorganise the party.[23]

The pro-Communists in PAP had caucused beforehand and plotted to wrestle control of the party out of the hands of Lee and his group, while leaving them in place as figureheads to placate the British. They proceeded to slander their moderate rivals in the run up to the conference and were able to flood the venue with supporters by “arranging that admission cards were not sent to private addresses but to trade union offices, where they could be handed out to rank and file who were not necessarily members of the PAP at all, but would go in and vote as they were told.”[24]

Both sides presented slates of eight candidates in an effort to secure a majority on the party’s twelve-member central committee. In the event the pro-Communists chose not to block the resolution but were able to secure six seats on the committee, with the non-Communists only getting five of their preferred members back on.

As an editorial in the Straits Times noted, the pro-Communists had not opposed Lee and Toh’s re-election – and they were re-elected with the most votes – but they were able to prevent the re-election of three of the eight members of the non-Communist slate, including Treasurer Ong Eng Guan. The pro-Communists would, the newspaper said, “like PAP to move further to the left, but ostensibly staying respectable under the old leadership. For the first time, however, Dr Toh and Mr. Lee would not be in control.”[25]

Toh and Lee however refused to become “puppets”[26] and declined to stand for re-election as the party’s two top officials. The pro-Communists were then forced to put up their own candidates for these posts. Such a Communist takeover of PAP was not acceptable to the government and on the night of the 22 August 1957 five members of the PAP executive committee were detained, along with 13 other branch officials.[27]

At the end of October another PAP conference was held, and Lee’s grouping now took complete control of the Central Committee and received a mandate to reorganise the party.[28] The pro-Communists still retained a formidable presence in the lower level structures of the party. They could not pull the plug on the PAP either, as their strategy depended on it winning the next elections. They however successfully infiltrated Marshall’s new Worker’s Party, which they then used to pressure the PAP from the left.


In the December 1957 City Council elections, the PAP reached an informal electoral agreement with UMNO and Lim Yew Hock’s Labour Front not to contest the same seats. Out of a total of 32 constituencies they fielded 14 candidates to UMNO’s two and 16 for the Labour Front. In the event PAP won 13 of the seats they contested – emerging as the largest party on council – and UMNO two out of two. The Labour Front won only four seats, however. The incumbent Liberal Socialists, the successor party to the Progressive Party, won only seven seats out of 32 contested, the Worker’s Party four out of five, and independents two.[29]

The PAP candidate, Ong Eng Guan, was elected mayor. Ong, a native Hokkien speaker, had stepped up as PAP’s most effective campaigner and rabble rouser, following the imprisonment of Lim Chin Siong. One of Ong’s first actions was to have the ceremonial mace removed, describing it as a “colonial relic”. He added that it should go to the Raffles Museum where it would “remind our children and grandchildren of our suffering under the yoke of colonialism and our hard fight to free ourselves.”[30]

Such sentiments were widely shared in the PAP. Ronald Milne, a Eurasian official at the Singapore Port Authority, later recalled how the PAP’s Kenneth Byrne, a friend of his though their politics differed, once told him at a dance in the Victoria Memorial Hall: “Ronnie, you see all these governors’ photographs here? I am going to get them altogether one fine day and do the bonfire for everybody to see what we think of them. And in their places I am going to have people like Sun Yat Sen, Mao Tse Tung and all these people put up.”[31]

The Mace was not the only ‘relic of colonialism’ Ong was to jettison, Bloodworth noted. “There were also the men. The mayor successfully bullied and ridiculed more than half of the expatriates in the City Council into resigning within a year, provoking ‘creeping paralysis’ in the gas and electricity and water services.”[32] Ong’s populist rhetoric and actions over the following 16 months, while bringing some benefits to the city’s poor and enthusing the Chinese-speaking population, demoralised the council’s European and Asian officials and dismayed many of the English-educated.[33] They also had the beneficial effect for the PAP leadership, Bloodworth wrote, of stealing the Communists’ populist thunder.

By 1958 it was clear that the Labour Front had badly damaged its popular support both through its politically mishandled clampdown on Communist subversion, but also the corruption and incompetence of some of its ministers. Although Lim Yew Hock had promised elections in August 1957 Lee encouraged him to delay them using various procedural requirements related to the implementation of the new constitution as the excuse. This was an opportunity for Lim to try and rebuild support for his government, but also for Lee to re-organise the PAP and strengthen the hold of the non-Communists over it.


The PAP was now widely expected to win the upcoming elections to be held under the new constitution. In secret one-on-one meetings Lee held in 1958 with Fang Chuang Pi (whom he would dub “the Plen”), the undeclared leader of the Singapore section of the MCP, a truce was agreed between the Communist underground and the non-Communist leadership of PAP. The Communist underground needed the PAP to triumph at the polls (and not one of the more right-wing parties) so that it could secure the release of eight detained PAP leaders, including Lim Chin Siong, Devan Nair, and Fong, something which Lee had promised to do should the PAP win the elections.

The long game being played by the MCP, according to Lee, was to use its released cadres to rebuild its organisation in Singapore back to the level before the October 1956 purges. Once this had been done the Communists would be able to dictate surrender terms to the PAP government. Any attempt at a security clampdown would, as before, only serve to alienate the Chinese-speaking population.[34]

Lee used this pause in the hostilities – he demanded and received the withdrawal of Communist support for Marshall’s new Workers Party and the Party Rakyat – to strengthen the non-Communist position for any eventual showdown after the elections. He put it on record in a speech to the Legislative Assembly in October 1958, that although the PAP opposed the renewal of the emergency regulations, as per its 1955 manifesto, it would not be seeking a mandate for their abolition at the next elections.

The basis for this was that Singapore was seeking merger with the Malay Federation. Consequently, the PAP would not seek an abolition of the Emergency laws in Singapore until they have been abolished in the Federation. “Those who want the Emergency laws abolished in Singapore should try to help to establish conditions of peace and security in the Federation so that they may no longer be required there.”[35]

At a special party conference in November 1958 the following month, the PAP also changed its constitution to prevent another attempt at Communist capture of the leadership from below. Party membership was split between ordinary members and cadres. While party members would have a say over the policy and programme of the party, only cadres would have the right to participate in the control of discipline, be able to determine the organisation of the party, be able to hold office within the party, and stand for election as party candidates.

To become a cadre a party member would have to undergo a period of training at branch level before being recommended for cadreship by divisional leaders. These would then be considered by the central executive committee.[36] The ostensible model for this was from the Catholic church whereby the Pope chooses the cardinals, and the cardinals choose the Pope.[37] In reality, the PAP was adopting a Leninist form of organisation to prevent the Communists from taking control of it. The party proceeded to appoint 300 cadres, with all known pro-Communists being excluded. The leadership then further selected and then imposed 23 paid organising secretaries on the branches.

The concern of the PAP leadership in all selections – including of candidates to stand in the elections the following year – was to identify “dependable and non-Communist” individuals who would remain loyal when the showdown with the Communists ultimately arrived. This was easy enough when it came to English-educated Chinese, Malays, and Indians, but a different matter when it came to finding Chinese-educated organisers and candidates (whom Lee was desperate to recruit) “who would remain loyal” when the final showdown with the Communists arrived. [38]

The MCP’s counter to the PAP’s leadership’s efforts to exclude pro-Communists from all the controlling organs of power within the party was to infiltrate a new generation of moles into the organisation. Unlike the older generation of pro-Communists in the party their sympathies could not be gleaned from their past statements or associations. They were under strict instructions to adopt a moderate non-Communist posture, and do nothing to alert either the PAP leadership or the Special Branch as to their true loyalties. ‘Avoid exposing your status and wait until the time is right’, was the instruction.[39]

Lee and the non-Communist leadership insisted that the six leading PAP detainees[40] agreed to a statement – drafted by Devan Nair in consultation with Lee – to be issued on their release should the PAP win the election, giving their unqualified endorsement to the party’s objection of creating a “independent, democratic, non-Communist and socialist Malaya.” Nair, an Indian, had by this stage become disillusioned with the Communists and its underlying Chinese chauvinism, and moved over into the non-Communist camp.


By early 1959 the non-Communists and pro-Communists within the PAP had both moved their pieces into place ahead of a confrontation that both knew was coming. They shared one last commonality of interest, and that was ensuring that the PAP won the 1959 elections and formed the next government. Once that was achieved battle would be enjoined for control.

The PAP in government is the subject of the next article in this series (see here).


[1] Dennis Bloodworth, The Tiger and the Trojan Horse. Marshall Cavendish. Kindle Edition.

[2] Alexander Nicholas Shaw, “The British intelligence community in Singapore, 1946-1959: Local security, regional coordination and the Cold War in the Far East”, Submitted in accordance with the requirements for the degree of PhD, The University of Leeds, School of History, January 2019.

[3] Hansard, 16 May 1955

[4] Peggy Durdin, “Singapore needs a miracle”, New York Times, 9 October 1955

[5] Memorandum on Singapore prepared for Cabinet by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, 23 March 1956 (see here – PDF)

[6] Alexander Nicholas Shaw, “The British intelligence community in Singapore, 1946-1959: Local security, regional coordination and the Cold War in the Far East”, Submitted in accordance with the requirements for the degree of PhD, The University of Leeds, School of History, January 2019.

[7] PAP says 'No revolution', The Straits Times, 9 July 1956, Page 1 (see here).

[8] PAP says 'No revolution', The Straits Times, 9 July 1956, Page 1 (see here).

[9] Lee Kuan Yew. The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew. Marshall Cavendish Editions. Kindle Edition.

[10][10] “Lim: ‘This is war on fellow-travellers’: ‘Colony must be safe for Merdeka’, Straits Times 20 September 1956 (see here).

[11] Hansard, 4 October 1956.

[12] The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew

[13] Hansard, 5 November 1956

[14] Hansard, 5 November 1956

[15] The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew

[16] Ibid.

[17] The clause read as follows: “Persons know to have been engaged in subversive activity should not be eligible to elections to the first Legislative Assembly of the new State of Singapore”, “Lim's big moment”, The Straits Times, 12 April 1957, Page 1 (see here).

[18] Hansard, 27 April 1957

[19] Hansard, 27 April 1957

[20] “Marshall Resigns”, The Straits Times, 1 May 1957, Page 8 (see here).

[21] Quoted by Lee in a speech to the Legislative Assembly, Hansard, 12 September 1957

[22] Lee Kuan Yew, speech at Tanjong Pagar by-election rally, 26 June 1957 (see here – PDF).

[23] Stage is set for big PAP showdown, The Straits Times, 1 August 1957, Page 1 (see here).

[24] Dennis Bloodworth, The Tiger and the Trojan Horse. Marshall Cavendish. Kindle Edition.

[25] “The battle for PAP”, The Straits Times, 8 August 1957, Page 6 (see here).

[26] “PAP paper alleges an ‘impertinent’ scheme that failed”, The Straits Times, 21 October 1957, Page 4 (see here).

[27] The members of the central committee arrested were Tan Chong Kin (chairman), Tan Kong Yuan (vice-chairman), Ong Chye Aun (Treasurer), Goh Boon Toh (assistant treasurer), and Tang Seng Chiang (committee member). “Arrests ordered by the top ministers”, The Singapore Free Press, 23. August 1957, Page 1 (see here). Only the new secretary general TT Rajah was not arrested, but he resigned soon after.

[28] “The Lee team runs PAP again”, The Straits Times, 21 October 1957 Page 1 (see here) Those elected were: Dr Toh Chin Chye (former Chairman), Lee Kuan Yew ( secretary-general), Ong Eng Guan (former treasurer), Inche Haron bin Kassim (former VC), Mr Goh Chew Chua (party assemblyman), Inche Ahmad bin Ibrahim (party assemblyman), Wee Toon Boon, SV Lingam, Miss Chan Choy Siong (Women’s League), and Miss Ho Puay Choo (Women’s League).

[29] “PAP conquers the city”, The Straits Times, 22 December 1957, Page 1 (see here).

[30] “The mace may go to the museum”, The Straits Times, 12 January 1958, Page 1 (see here).

[31] Oral history interview with Ronald Benjamin Milne 31 October 1984, Singapore National Archives, Reel 38 (see here).

[32] Bloodworth, Dennis. The Tiger and the Trojan Horse. Marshall Cavendish. Kindle Edition.

[33] The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew

[34] The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew

[35] Speech in the Legislative Assembly, Hansard, 8 October 1958

[36] “PAP tightens rules”, The Straits Times, 24 November 1958, Page 1 (see here).

[37] Lee Kuan Yew. The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew. Marshall Cavendish Editions. Kindle Edition.

[38] The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew

[39] Dennis Bloodworth, The Tiger and the Trojan Horse. Marshall Cavendish. Kindle Edition.

[40] These were Devan Nair, Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan, S. Woodhull, Chan Chiaw Thor, and James Puthucheary.