The Marxist Conspiracy Ghost (Busted?)
Those detained under Operation Spectrum in 1987 are haunting the government with a vengeance in the 25th anniversary of the Marxist Conspiracy. Various personal commentaries led by Teo Soh Lung from SDP, some of which better than others, accused the government of abusing the ISA. It took 25 years for the controversy to come full circle and now finally we have the version of some of those arrested.
Operation Spectrum is an odd misnomer for the narratives of the Marxist Conspiracy. We only hear two competing histories, both naturally trying to defend their position in an empyrean debate of who is right (the narrator) and who is wrong (the other). A spectrum of views it is not. I am a cynic by nature and I tend to view government versions of events critically. In the same breath, I am also reluctant to take opposition member Teo Soh Lung’s stories to be totally factual. She is from the SDP, can her political agenda be any less clear?
The Marxist Conspiracy debate renewed last year during the presidential election debate organised by TOC. Tan Jee Say all eager to win votes and be anti-establishment to the point of behaving unpresidential and crass, said something to the effect that the ISA was used against political opponents. A honest reading of the ISA’s use is that it was used against communists until the 1980s. Tan Jee Say was correct that as the Cold War-inspired communists were political challengers to the PAP, yes the ISA was used against “political opponents” e.g. those arrested in the Cold Store sweep that the British supported. But it is not as the same meaning that the ISA is used against parties in the democratic machinery – was the ISA used against WP, SPP or even SDP? No. The tool to silence peaceful political opponents to the PAP is not the ISA, but defamation laws.
So was the Marxist Conspiracy all myth? This occurred in the 1980s when the Cold War was still on and the collapse of the Berlin Wall and communism as a hegemomic challenge to Western-styled democracy only happened in 1989. I won’t dismiss that left-leaning thinking and movements in Singapore could have been existing then albeit the nature of the threat by such conspirators, Marxists or not, might have been overestimated. Anyway, I was caught up in remembering and unraveling 1987 and read Teo Soh Lung’s account of her arrest – Beyond the Blue Gate. It was an interesting read and enlightening on how ISD can be very mean and cold in their application of the law e.g. the court ordered her release on a technicality but she was then immediately re-arrested once she stepped out of prison. Also, while her Marxist Conspiracy companions were released, she was defiant and uncooperative by her own account and that might be why she was detained longer than the rest.
What is tragic inside the book is that Teo Soh Lung, the main person championing the rewriting of the history of the Marxist Conspiracy, did not have a closure. Who can blame her and who can be unsympathetic to her plight? Interestingly, some of her companions have remained silent and there are questions we should ask but will probably never know the answers, or at least the real answers. Was Teo Soh Lung wrongly arrested? Were those who remained silent complicit, and even implicated her since they were released earlier in a prisoners’ dilemma game, and thus did not want to dig up old graves?
Speak truth to power? Yes. Also, the truth is rarely pure and never simple.