5 March2007. A World to Win News Service. The following statement was delivered at a memorial meeting held in London 2 March for Ho Piow, who died 11 February during a meeting of the World People’s Resistance Movement-UK.
Toon Chin Ho, known as Comrade Ho Piow, was from Singapore, and throughout his life he upheld the cause of revolution. He joined the revolutionary movement at a time when the Communist Party of Malaya was leading revolutionary warfare. The revolution in Malaya and Singapore was often featured on the front pages of the world’s media side by side with another small but growing struggle in a corner of the world that not many people had ever heard of, called Vietnam. At that time there was only one Communist Party for both territories, the peninsula of Malaya and the island of Singapore. The Left broadly in Malaya, in what has come to be called the Federation of Malaysia and the Republic of Singapore, never recognized the creation of Malaysia.
Comrade Ho was a founding member and leader of the Singapore Seamen’s Union in British-ruled Singapore. He also played a pivotal role in the later 1950s and early 1960s in the founding of quite a few other trade unions, including the printing workers’ union and the electrical workers’ union. In the conditions of Malaya at that time, marked by mass armed struggle, this was an extremely risky position, and in 1963 comrade Ho was finally arrested and imprisoned. He was beaten viciously a number of times at the beginning. But he said that the jailers eventually stopped after they decided that he was never going to betray the cause of the oppressed.
The name of Ho and the other revolutionaries in prison with him all became well known in the country because of the many struggles they waged against the brutal conditions of their confinement in Changi Prison, Crescent Moon Detention Centre and other secret police centres in Singapore. One of these was a long 56-day hunger strike.
What proved to be even more difficult for comrade Ho than physical beatings and solitary confinement, however, were the events that took place in 1976, after the death of Mao Tsetung. Like in many other third world prisons, such as Turkey, the revolutionaries spent much time in common cells. They did many of the everyday chores together, like the cooking and laundry. They also studied, discussed, sang, performed theatre, and, as we all know, Ho shared his lifelong love of poetry. In these harsh conditions of collective confinement, the comrades developed intensely close relationships. Then came the coup in China and the arrest of the so-called Gang of 4. The bulk of the leadership of the CP Malaya and almost all Ho’s comrades in prison came out in support of Hua Guo-feng and against the revolutionaries. Comrade Ho dared to go against the tide. He used his understanding of our revolutionary science to fearlessly uphold the cause of communism, even though this led to his being shunned by his closest comrades, and even though he had little or no idea whether there was anyone outside his prison who was also upholding Mao’s revolutionary line. He stood as a shining beacon amidst widespread confusion and betrayal.
Comrade Ho became a firm supporter of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement after he came to live in Britain. He would frequently turn up at meetings and read one of his poems. In many gatherings of young people, a powerful impression was created when this guy from Singapore in his late 60s would stand up and boldly and passionately declaim verses about the horrors of imperialism and the joys of revolution.
Despite Ho’s advanced age and the poor health that he suffered after spending almost two decades in the enemy’s dungeons, he was a regular member of the local WPRM, and he was known for being tireless in his willingness to discuss important political matters. He worked hard to build support for the People’s War in Nepal, while he insisted just as hard on debating the big political and ideological questions that the revolution there is now coming up against. As the ambulance came, Ho put on his favourite CD, of Chinese revolutionary songs. As he was taken away, he gave it to one of the younger comrades. Perhaps he had a feeling that he wasn’t going to make it. But even as his ears rang with the songs of the revolutionary achievements of the Chinese people in the past, we know too that his heart was filled with boundless confidence in the future of the revolutionary cause to which he had devoted his life. He will be much missed.