Class, Race and Colonialism in Peninsular Malaysia: A Political History of Malaysian Indians - Michael Stenson

Class, Race and Colonialism in Peninsular Malaysia: A Political History of Malaysian Indians - Michael Stenson

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In Class, Race and Colonialism in Peninsular Malaysia: A Political History of Malaysian Indians, Michael Stenson offers the authoritative political history of ethnic Indians in colonial and early post-colonial Malaya. Rejecting the plural society approach, he discusses relevant aspects of the political economy of colonial Malaya, including its class structure, the organisation of labour, its place in the world economy and importance to the British empire.

Stenson links British policies to the exploitation and impoverishment of mainly Indian workers. The cultural, linguistic and other differences of the working masses in colonial Malaya lent themselves to ethnic mobilisation. Some from the Indian petty bourgeoisie or middle class mobilised along mainly ethnic lines, often with reference to the growing anti-British nationalist movement in India.

Meanwhile, the increasingly militant labour movement also mobilised along familiar communal, but essentially class lines. After the trauma of the Japanese Occupation, when many Indians were initially mobilised against British colonialism in India, the radical labour movement worked with others in progressive anti-colonial coalitions, such as Putera-AMCJA, to demand independence.

Later, after Independence, many joined the Labour Party in the Socialist Front. Both the colonial and post-colonial state harshly repressed radical, class-based, anti-imperialist politics. Stenson outlines how Malaysia’s post-colonial ruling elite perpetuated communal divisions in furthering ethno-populisms in defence of their own interests.

Now republished with an Afterword by V. Selvaratnam, Stenson’s historical insights remain relevant in the face of the continuing, but nonetheless changing plight of the vast working-class majority of Malaysian Indians.

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SIRD and Pusat Sejarah Rakyat. 2019. 264 pages. Paperback.