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Capitalism and Counter-insurgency? Business and Government in the Malayan Emergency, 1948-57

  • NICHOLAS J. WHITE (a1)

Abstract

Contemporary critics argued that counter-insurgency in Malaya represented more than the defeat of militant communism. Britain's campaign against the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) was seen as resulting from British government collaboration with British capitalists to maintain profits at the expense of the legitimate aspirations of Malayan workers. More recently, it has been argued that the declaration of the emergency in June 1948 was a pre-emptive strike intended to ‘resolve the problem of political control’ and prevent the ‘radical nationalist forces organized around the MCP’ from gaining a nation-wide following. According to this view, government strategy was to ‘manage nationalism’ and ‘control’ decolonization so as to preserve the position of British capital in Malaya. For marxists, the emergency is seen as part of the process of establishing ‘neo-colonialism’. Even for less determinist models, the general complicity between British government and British business in colonial counter-insurgency campaigns is apparently clear. In primary-producing territories like Malaya, the harmony of interests between ‘gentlemanly capitalist’ officials and unofficials (centred on the City of London) ensured that after 1945 ‘coercion tended to be the first resort of policy’. The majority of scholarly output on the emergency has focused on official and guerrilla strategies leaving aside the role of business interests. As a result, the relationship between British business and British government has not been explored in depth. The present article seeks to fill this historiographical gap by reassessing official and commercial interaction in politically disturbed Malaya.

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Capitalism and Counter-insurgency? Business and Government in the Malayan Emergency, 1948-57

  • NICHOLAS J. WHITE (a1)

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