United Front were no communists: British intelligence

The report below is by Maurice LB Williams, the Security Liaison Officer (which is the title of the Head of the British intelligence unit, MI5, office in Singapore), evaluating the evidence presented by the Singapore Special Branch on the security situation in Singapore. You can see his initials at the bottom of page 4.

“Security Situation in Singapore”, 25 April 1962. In CO 1030/1160 (“Internal Security Council, Singapore: 1960-62”), National Archives of the UK, folio 159.

The document – or the entire file, if anyone wants – can be ordered directly from the National Archives at:


The file, which was requested by historian Dr Thum Ping Tjin, was released by the British Government under the Freedom of Information Act.

Williams’ report sheds light on the claims that the opposition in Singapore then were part of a communist conspiracy to topple the People’s Action Party (PAP) government of the day.

In the report, Williams writes,

“In spite of intensive investigations, no evidence has been obtained of C.P.M. directions to open United Front workers as to how they should carry out their activities.”

The “United Front” is the generic term that the British used to refer to a broad coalition of anticolonial groups, including political parties, trade unions, civil society organisations, and student groups.

Williams, however, reiterated that if indeed the United Front was being dictated to or controlled by the communists, as alleged by the government, it would be quite improbable that British intelligence did not pick up on this.

Williams writes:

“The very tightness of Communist Party discipline and extreme security of Party contacts and activity is [sic] a source of weakness in this situation.

“As the scope of the United Front widens to include a major element of the trade unions, as well as peasant and student organisations, it must become increasingly difficult, if not impossible for a secret caucus of Party members (assuming that such exists) to control all its ramifications and direct all its activities.

“If they were indeed doing this successfully, it is inconceivable that Special Branch investigations would have failed to yield any evidence of such control and direction.

“It is far more likely (as was envisaged by the Party themselves in the October Resolutions of 1951) that the “United Front” represents an amalgam of different and conflicting interests, individual ambitions, industrial grievances, Chinese nationalism, housing problems of the peasant population and educational frustration of the students.

“At present they are united only in their dissatisfactions with the P.A.P. Government, and they cannot be considered to form a monolithic Communist edifice under strict Party management (as implied in para 24 of the S.B. paper).”

Williams’ report runs counter to the PAP government’s claim that the opposition was involved in a communist conspiracy to topple the government.

The 1963 arrests of more than 100 opposition members in the now infamous “security sweep” named Operation Coldstore were based on such allegations.

It is an accusation which the PAP government continues to adhere to till this day.

The detainees have always rejected the accusation, even today.

We leave you, the reader, to decide for yourself.

Here is William’s report in full, courtesy of Dr Thum Ping Tjin who recently gave a talk on this particular episode of Singapore’s history. You also may wish to read up Dr Thum’s article that was just published recently for the full academic write up. (link to article)

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