VIEWS ON COLONIAL SINGAPORE, OUTSIDE INFLUENCES IN SINGAPORE INDEPENDENCE LEADERS’ THINKINGSBy. Jean Louis Margolin (Prof., Dr) University Of Provence AIX-France Research Institute on Southeast Asia (IRSEA/CNRS)
Note: A much more extended version of this text will be published in 2009 in Karl Hack and Jean-Louis Margolin (ed.), Remaking Singapore: From Srivijaya to the 21st century, National university of Singapore Press
Note 2:That conference version has been elaborated in slightly acrobatic conditions, in Indian cybershops. Hence diverse imperfections, both in content and in shape. The oral presentation will not follow closely that written text, and will be more focused on the summary’s argument.j
The initial programme and its ambiguities
During the inaugural meeting of the People’s Action Party (PAP), on 21 November 1954, Lee Kuan Yew, its Secretary-General, presented the six major objectives of the party. Three were political, all of them connected with the independence of Malaya. The new state should be unified with Singapore; it should be “unitary” (not federal), with equal rights for the migrant Chinese and Indians as well as for the Malays; it should be ruled through universal suffrage, and based upon the ideal of the “creation of a prosperous, stable and just society”. The three other points were characteristic of a left-wing, socialist party: “To abolish the unjust inequalities of wealth and opportunity”; to fight against unemployment and exploitation; to create a comprehensive system of social security and benefits for those unable to work. The accompanying, much longer Manifesto was slightly more radical: it demanded a quick Malayanization of the civil service and the repeal of Emergency laws and regulations, especially of those curtailing the freedom of trade unions, and of the “arbitrary power of arrest and indefinite detention without trial”.
This initial programme was something like a compromise between the two factions of the PAP – the reformist, socially moderate, elite group led by Lee Kuan Yew, and the radical, communist-leaning, union-based wing. It had not been exceedingly difficult to agree on independence, democratic freedoms, merger with Malaya, or the building of an advanced national economy. But the very meaning of these demands remained hazy: were they just one step towards the lofty goal of a socialist Malaya modelled on Soviet Union or China, or did an independent, democratic and social state constitute an end in itself? That very ambiguity ensured the durability of the 1954 documents: they were never explicitely rejected by the party, even if, from 1959, they were quietly put aside and half forgotten; the 1961 split of the Left wing, and the resulting Barisan Sosialis (Socialist Front) party, revendicated their faithfulness to the Manifesto. Sinnathamby Rajaratnam, prominent among the moderates, explained later on why the Manifesto remained in many ways unfinished and “open”: “The drawing up of the manifesto for the new Party was by no means an easy task, particularly when individuals in the group had different views and interpretations of terms such as “democracy” and “socialism”.”
Indeed, during its three first years of existence, the PAP embarked into a swing to the left. It proclaimed itself “socialist” in 1956, but even beforehand it started developing a strongly-worded egalitarianism: according to The tasks ahead, what is aimed is a society “in which the great differences of wealth and opportunity between our peoples would be reduced and gradually eliminated.” The way toward it could be not entirely peaceful: the other political forces, Petir stressed in 1958, “are equally afraid of any party which is really out to bring about a social revolution. They recognize that the PAP is such a party.” In numerous Petir articles, the representatives of the left wing used a language almost indiscernible from communist discourse. Thus, in 1956, left-wing leader Sandra Woodhull underlined that “one of the greatest impediments to peace recognized by the neutral Asian and African countries is the phobia of communism and Soviet Russia engendered in the West”. And he evoked “the genuineness of Soviet desire for peace.” It is probably no coincidence if, along the years 1954-1957, the PAP published few programmatic or theoretical documents: the 1954 Manifesto and the 1956 The tasks ahead were the only exceptions. The party was too deeply divided to go much further. However, the shortlived triumph of the radicals at the PAP August 1956 conference, quickly followed by their administrative detention, ensured the definitive victory of the Lee group. The unchallenged moderate line led then to the publication of several essential documents. They formed the solid background to the PAP 1959 takeover.
1959: A socialist party ?
The general perspective of the party’s 1958 and 1959 publications remained undoubtedly socialist, but clearly reformist. According to PAP: The Fourth Anniversary Celebration Souvenir of 1958, ‘socialism can be achieved step by step through peaceful parliamentary democracy’ . The party projects, the Tasks Ahead (May 1959 version) emphasizes, ‘are realistic and are based on actual existing political and social conditions and economic circumstances’. Therefore, far from being a ‘workers’ party’ or ‘people’s party’ as claimed, the PAP now described itself as an interclass movement: ‘the traders and local businessmen who are honest support us because they gain by the elimination of squeeze and corruption, and the establishment of an honest and efficient government’. The only declared enemy, in a purely rhetorical way, is foreign capital, whose denunciation is used as a tool towards national unity: ‘It is necessary to explain to our Malay people that it is not the non-Malays who are depriving him of economic opportunities, but a colonial capitalist economy’.
A generally positive inventory of the colonial era
The PAP programmes are also surprisingly positive about the colonial legacy. Taking them together, the balance sheet of the economy, after 140 years of colonisation, is presented in surprisingly positive terms. PAP publications note the high level both of per capita national income (then Asia’s highest, Japan included) and of workers’ wages. The latter were then at least twice as high as anywhere else in the region. Hence the need to protect the local labour market against a potentially massive foreign immigration. The other advantage, invoked to explain high incomes, is the ingrained quality of population and location: ‘First [Singapore] people are industrious and enterprising. Second, her central position in Southeast Asia made her the natural trading centre for the entire region’. That gives to the colony ‘access to large markets in neighbouring countries’. Furthermore, capital is abundantly available. The main problem would be to tap it in favour of a development policy which would be based on massive industrialisation. Hence, even at this stage, the PAP emphasized the necessity of an interventionist government: ‘the large gaps that will be left in the investments needed of Singapore by private enterprise must be filled by the government, if the economy is not to collapse under the pressure of our rapidly increasing population’. Nevertheless, as future Finance minister Goh Keng Swee noticed, the stage of initial capital accumulation was already largely overcome by the 1950s, through a century and a half of foreign investments and, even more significantly, through the settling in Singapore of a huge segment of the most successful Chinese businesspeople from the whole region. The future government should lead, induce, coordinate, modify the allocation of already available funds and labour; significantly, in 1959, even the communists did not advocate extensive nationalisations.
On the other side, the most serious weakness was seen as the weak manufacturing sector: it employed less than a fifth of the working population, even as unemployment was rising. Population growth was high, and the prosperity of entrepot trade was threatened by the nationalistic trends in newly independent Indonesia (1949) and Malaya (1957). The only solution was to “reorganise our economy from a non-productive trading economy to a productive one. , and ‘to expand our manufacturing industries’. This implied what was, for the time, standard Import Substitution Industrialisation (ISI) strategy, replacing foreign imports with home-manufactures, but also, given Singapore’s limited size, it implied a merger with Malaya. That alone could supply a large enough economic hinterland to make an ISI model credible. Economic logic therefore seemed to demand a closer relationship. Petir (the PAP official newspaper) evoked the ‘fundamental economic unity of the two territories’, and stated that ‘every effort must be made to coordinate the policies of the two territories’. The first measure to be adopted should be be a common market, widening the scope of the new industries. This would also allow a sharing of the burden: Malaya would focus on the transformation of primary products, and Singapore on the consumer goods. The international connections of the island would facilitate the penetration of foreign markets by Malayan goods. The future economic union would be a tremendous incentive for foreign investors, as the level of economic as well as political uncertainty would be lowered. It is significant that, even at a time when socialist ideas were most influential, Singapore’s international orientation was accepted: everybody understood that Singapore’s prosperity, its very existence, depended on this.
Towards a mixed economy
The problem was that, in 1959, merger with the Federation remained a remote perspective: the Malay-dominated Federation not wanting to internalise Singapore’s Chinese-majority and turbulent politics. The most urgent task should therefore be to increase the government’s capacity for economic intervention. As early as February 1959, Petir announced that the cornerstone would be the creation of an Economic Development Board (EDB) ‘partly political and partly industrial’, in which both trade union and business leaders would sit. EDB’s mission would be to give technical assistance to companies, to pilot development planning, and to lend capital to manufacturing industries. EDB could also initiate joint ventures with private companies, eventually as a majority partner, or be the sole owner, but only of newly formed companies. EDB’ role, therefore, should be to supervise, to advise, eventually to replace private capital, not to victimise or marginalise it. The EDB project may be traced to the report elaborated in 1955 by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), that recommended the setting up of a Division of Industrial Development aiming at a closer connection between government and private businesses. Consequently, a Singapore Industrial Promotion Board had been initiated by the Lim Yew Hock government, in March 1957. However, its severely limited means had left it almost inactive. A new impulse had come from another report, released in January 1959: F.J. Lyle, industrial development adviser at the Commonwealth-sponsored Colombo Plan, did recommend a powerful Joint Industrial Development Council, common to Singapore and the Federation of Malaya. As a consequence, early in 1959 (before the crucial May elections), two important laws had been voted: the Pioneer Industries (Relief for Income Tax) Ordinance, and the Industrial Expansion (Relief from Income Tax) Ordinance. Similar measures had been edicted in Malaya in 1958. The setting up of the actual Economic Development Board – with comparatively huge means at its disposal- was to take place in August 1961 only.
More generally, the idea of a semi-planned economy, with the government as the major actor, should be related to Lee Kuan Yew’s formative years, in the late 40s and 50s. According to one of his close friends of that time, he was then an avid reader and great admirer of John Strachey (a “revisionist” British Labourite, author in 1956 of Contemporary capitalism), of George Padmore (the famous Trinidad-born Pan-African leader, author in 1956 of Pan-Africanism and communism) and Ashok Mehta (close to India’s Prime Minister Nehru since 1955, he became in 1962 his Economic Affairs and Planning Minister; he published in 1959 Democratic Socialism). All three of them had been Marxists, close to the international communist movement, but had converted later on to social-democratic conceptions focussing on economic and social planning, welfarism, social justice and equal opportunities. They rejected widespread nationalisations and egalitarianism, and were staunch anti-communists.
While paying lip service to the then prevailing socialist dogma of nationalisation, the PAP rejected that policy in practice. The first reason was the huge prevalence of small businesses: expropriating a few large companies would have a limited effect, while the resulting loss of confidence with indigenous as well as foreign investors could spell disaster for such an open economy. Furthermore, the compensation to be offered to the shareholders (their spoliation was out of question) would be a tremendous burden for the weak public budget. But the most decisive argument was the relative lack of management skills among civil servants. Alluding to the already obvious failures induced by economic nationalism in Indonesia and Ceylon, the PAP concluded that a well-managed private company delivered more than a drifting government company in terms of economic development. The perpetuation of a dominant private sector was thus assumed, while government’s role was to facilitate faster development. A major role is recognised for foreign capital, although ‘the major form of foreign capital that government can hope to seek will be inter-governmental loans’. But direct investments would remain necessary, be it for knowledge transfer or for the mastering of modern methods in management and know-how. Consequently, attractive incentives should be offered to foreign capital. Despite widespread fears, independence should help: the collusion between foreign firms and colonialism, once broken, ‘a modus vivendi beneficial to both Malaya and the foreign capitalist may be worked out’. One of the first measures to be taken should be the creation of pioneer industries that would not cut down on direct taxation, but would allow ‘generous loss deductions and preferential treatments for profits actually re-invested [and] provision of opportunities for the investment of surplus undistributed funds’. So the PAP was advocating a doubly mixed economy: public as well as private, indigenous as well as foreign.
The methods: austerity and discipline
However, the influx of foreign capital as well as government action would have no long-term effect if development did not become everybody’s concern: ‘it will have to be the result of a total national effort – a national effort in which every section of the population must make as complete a contribution as possible. The Government must devise measures that will ensure this contribution is made’. Far from promising any paradise on earth of prosperity and automatic social progress, as so many colonial liberation movements were doing in that period, the PAP, with that blunt, Churchillian directness that was to become all too familiar to Singaporeans, stated that ‘capital formation will require a long period of austerity and hard work. We must also recognise that there may even be a lowering of the already low standards of living of the working class’. At a time when Keynesian financial principles, of government pump priming the economy to avoid slumps and hardship, had become widely accepted, a conservative budget policy was still advocated. Those curious Singaporean socialists appear very close to later, liberal monetary orthodoxy, when they state that a strong currency is a kind of Kantian categoric imperative, that may request heavy sacrifices, particularly a severe restriction in spending: ‘in a word, the Malayan dollar is a good and sound currency. This is a great help to our trade. A stable currency also enables people to plan far ahead into the future’.
To reach these goals, the PAP logically recommended a reduction in public spending as well as an increase in private savings, on a part voluntary and part compulsory basis. Civil servants’ wages should be lowered (a practical and symbolic measure), while taxation of the higher incomes should be increased. The PAP claimants to power also tackled contentious issues of industrial relations, issues which touched on the power base on their own left wing union leaders. These leaders, such as Lim Chin Siong, derived their power from their ability to organise direct action and protest. Yet PAP publications now advocated reining in these areas, calling for ‘industrial peace [and] political stability’. Alluding to the strike waves of 1955-56, which on occasion had led to riots, they warn: “a strong government would not hesitate to suppress any attempts of coercion by violence and intimidation” . This was a strange discourse for former union advisers and strike leaders, on the verge of being elected by voters themselves frequently trade union members. But it was also a discourse that heralded the repressive measures which would follow. Some of these are even detailed in the programmatic statements: the new government should receive power to impose a negotiated solution in labour disputes, through compulsory arbitration.
Some measures could be regarded as closer to workers’ demands, but they never propose to give them increased responsibilities over their own fate: they seem inspired by paternalism. Thus legislation should be amended to oppose arbitrary firings; business taxation for the pre-existing retirement fund should be increased; a bold social housing policy should free many employees from their employer’s goodwill and degrading housing conditions; collective bargaining and contracts should be generalised; cheap technical education should be spread out, as a precondition of industrialisation. Even more ambivalent was the PAP’s declared will to give birth to a powerful ‘unified trade union movement’. On one hand ‘splinter and yellow unions’ could be disbanded, and unionisation of civil service would be allowed. But on another hand, all the unions should compulsorily adhere to the Singapore Trade Unions Council (STUC). And if the employers would be forced to recognise the unions, the counterpart would be a strike holiday. The general inspiration is clear: to strengthen the unions’ institutional power, but a power on (or against?) the working class, at least as much as against the employers. Even before assuming power, the PAP was speaking the language of the disciplinary, developmental state, stating that, ‘the country’s economy must be safeguarded from industrial unrest …, the PAP, more considerably than any other political group in Singapore, has … advocated law and order- and justice – in industrial relations’. Thus, as early as 1959, Lee Kuan Yew used the “industrial peace with justice” motto, constantly pressed upon the population in the following years. The main aim was to integrate the unions in the government network: a Trade Union House would be built in the heart of Singapore, unionists would be offered managing positions in statutory boards, and a union centre for economic research (not for social issues) would be initiated.
Welfarism and national mobilization
Regarding social reforms, the PAP remained more clearly a left-wing party, although national integration, nation-building and economic development were the rationale behind social progress, especially in the fields of urban and housing policies. Urban infrastructures, it said, should be greatly improved, starting with a complete revamping of the corresponding administrations: for better efficiency the elected City Council should disappear, and the municipal services be merged with those depending on the government, under a new Public Utilities Board. The languishing Singapore Improvement Trust, only able to deliver 21 000 social housing units since 1947, should be replaced by a new Housing Authority, told to deliver no less than 10 000 units per year, and to develop urban planning. Land and housing speculation should be severely dealt with. The specific problems of the ‘rural’ (actually more and more suburban) areas, strongholds of the radical Left or of the Malay parties, were also not neglected. Outside the improvement of the infrastructure, particularly deficient there, squatters were to benefit from the grant of land property titles or of long-time leases, before being relocated in the new social housing estates. Community Centres (already existing in a few neighbourhoods) were to be created everywhere, and incentives would be offered for the location of light manufacturing industries.
The right to health was recognised for all: ‘in a decent socialist society, every person is entitled, as a right, to access to all the medical services needed to maintain himself in sound health’. The PAP proposed importing physicians from abroad, to make up for local shortages. Disease prevention would also be organised on a massive scale, in coordination with the progressive elimination of the slums. The government would have to increase the number of hospitals and medical centres, as well as to facilitate their accessibility to the general public; and to initiate progressively a centralised system of health insurance, on a voluntary basis. Earlier, the party had made more comprehensive promises. The 5th point of the initial November 1954 Manifesto proposed a social security system for all those unable to work, whatever the cause. And, in February 1957, the PAP had made his owns the bold proposals of the official Committee on Minimum Standards of Livelihood, in which Sinnathamby Rajaratnam had been a member: a minimum wage in the less prosperous economic sectors; a comprehensive health insurance for all wage-earners; quite generous sickness, retirement and unemployment benefits.
However, the right to education is the one most extensively developed in the PAP program. The school system was a central concern for the majority Chinese community, as well as for the incoming political leaders, who considered schools as the most efficient tool towards the transformation of society and the unification of the nation. Public education should first and foremost ‘inculcate in children those mental attitudes and habits that are necessary for successful economic effort, e.g. respect for hard work, honesty, habits of thrift, punctuality, etc’. With their desire to achieve merger with Malaya in mind, and the perceived need to fight Chinese chauvinism (and so indirectly both Communists and Chinese traditionalists), a progressive unification of degree systems, of syllabus, of textbooks is vigorously emphasised. In the future, Malay should emerge as the main language, but at present English – already cleared of any colonial stain – should be privileged, for: ‘It is only in the English schools that children from all three communities find a common class-room and play ground, and in the end a common acceptance of certain values of life’. English should become compulsory for all from Primary school. The main goal was ‘integration of all schools … in a unified national education system, directed towards the development of a common Malayan outlook and a united Malayan nation’. Finally, to promote industrialisation, a new balance should be established between the academic and technical streams. Until then, technical education had been underfunded. Therefore, in cooperation with the proposed Economic Development Board (EDB), several professional schools should be created; manual work at all levels should be introduced; development of tertiary technical and technological education should be ensured. The enhancement of ‘human capital’ in the service of development is therefore, for the PAP, an unavoidable complement to its economic policy.
In Chinese traditional values, women’s education is conspicuously neglected. By contrast, the young, Left-leaning Westernised PAP leaders intend to break away with their ancestors’ prejudices. Gender equality in every field is stated as a principle. Several measures are detailed, such as the prohibition of polygamy (except among the Muslims); the development of family planning, kindergarten and maternity hospitals; the introduction of paid maternity leave. A more determined fight against prostitution and ‘yellow culture’ is not forgotten, nor are restrictive measures regarding divorce by (male-originated) repudiation, then plaguing the Muslim community . But, though it is stated with vehemence that present-day women are still ‘the slaves of their husbands and children’, the complete achievement of rights and wages equality is postponed until a fully socialist society is born: ‘this may not be possible immediately. It must be achieved step by step without dislocating our economy’.
1959-1965: inflections and hesitations
As all observers – and Singaporeans – foresaw it, the PAP gained a victory, and a crushing one at that, at the 30 May 1959 Parliamentary elections. Thus the PAP reached power within five years of its inception in 1954, and after the infant party had returned three of 25 seats in the 1955 elections. The nucleus of the government was a group of English-educated professionals clustered around Lee Kuan Yew. These self-styled moderates were tasked with the implementation of the 1958-59 program we have outlined above. Contrary to the preceding government, the image of an honest, serious, competent team was quickly projected to the public, with cuts in civil service salaries and the all-white uniform of PAP parliamentarians setting the tone. There was some progress across a range of fields, if not as fast as many expected. Above all, from May 1961 onwards, the PAP government seemed able to make the great dream of the Malayan unification come true.
Socialism or pragmatism?
The Fixed Political Objectives of Our Party, published in the 26 January 1961 issue of Petir, was the first major PAP political statement since The New Phase After Merdeka, of 1958. Comparing the two documents, The Fixed Political Objectives is notable for its atheoretical and very polemical tone. It bitterly criticises the ’pro-communist” Left, as well as the increasingly vocal advocates of an independent Singapore. Indirectly, that shows the growing popularity of a demand, regarded by many as the only way to escape colonial status quickly. For the 1958 Constitution only granted Singapore internal self-government, and even then circumscribed by the right of an Internal Security Council (with three members each from Singapore and Britain, one from Malaya) to dictate internal security action. The main focus of The Fixed Political Objectives, however, was on the essential unity – political and economic – of the entire Malayan sphere. Socialism could only be thinkable, it claimed, at the level of a unified Malaya. But that should not prevent the quest for an immediate betterment of the Singapore workers’ fate. For the PAP –criticising the pro-communist trade-unionists- ‘it is the interests and welfare of the people that are paramount, not dogmas and slogans’ This ideology-blind pragmatism, which was to emerge fully triumphant in the 1970s, replaced earlier attempts at theoretical elaboration. References to specific thinkers, theories and historical experiences are conspicuous by their absence.
The party leadership was also endorsing pragmatism and flexibility towards the anti-colonial struggle:
We cannot help hating colonialism. No one who wants to create a socialist Malaya can help being anti-colonialist … But whilst the objective remains fixed, we have to adjust our tactics to changing political circumstances
To over-focus on fighting British rule, and achieving complete independence, would prevent any constructive policy, which Lee Kuan Yew deemed possible even under an ‘independence at 75%’ The anti-colonial strategy was detailed in another PAP document, PAP and Colonialism, published in Petir in April 1961, just three months after The Fixed Political Objectives. In PAP and Colonialism, violent means are explicitly repudiated: ‘The PAP has never believed in the use of violence to overthrow colonialism’. Four main struggles were now defined. Two had been already won: the Malayanisation of Civil Service and the election by popular suffrage of a Legislative Assembly with the normal attributes of a democratic Parliament. Two had still to be attained: full responsibility in Defence and Foreign Affairs, and full control over the economy.
Regarding defence, pragmatism was requested: the closure of the British military bases would, it was argued, deprive Singapore of revenue Petir estimated at $250 million (equivalent to half the public revenue). Furthermore, it claimed that the smallest independent army would cost around $150 millions a year. The premature departure of the British, before more economic development, would worsen the already low living standard of the masses. The same pragmatic approach was recommended for economic policy. A massive withdrawal of foreign capital would be a passport to disaster: ‘If people want development to be carried out wholly by local capital, then they should give a clear mandate to cut down living standards very drastically’. Politically, that would probably lead to dictatorship. Actually, the concomitant State Development Plan of 1961 did give some more moderate, realistic answers, for combining local and foreign capital, as well as for government intervention. A rapid industrialisation process –the Plan’s central goal- would deliver in the near future the secure foundations of economic independence. In the meantime, the strength and honesty of the government would prevent any risk of domination by foreign economic interests.
Further steps in the departure from socialist tenets were taken around 1965, when Singapore had to redefine its destiny, in the heat of the quarrel with Kuala Lumpur that preceded the 9 August 1965 separation, and independence. Lee Kuan Yew presented a new course in May 1965 at the Bombay Asian Socialist Leaders’ Conference. He still described himself as an ‘unrepentant Socialist’, but he noticed that, since the first Asian Socialist Conference, in Rangoon in 1953, ‘They have been twelve years of many disappointments and few successes for democratic socialists’. The main reason, he argued, had been the lack of “the organisational drive, managerial and technical expertise in administration and management, and the technological and industrial skills to be able to realize their plans for economic transformation’ The socialist parties also hesitated at tapping the necessary expertise where it could be found: among the most advanced capitalist countries. Finally ‘in preaching individual liberties and human freedoms, they forgot to insist, as the communists and the capitalists did, on the individual human duty to work hard and give its utmost’.
Thereafter, pragmatism would remain the keyword in PAP discourse. The PAP increasingly perceived the challenge to be one of repeated, ad hoc approaches to very specific problems, that should be solved one after another, at the smallest cost and with the maximum celerity. Any kind of ideology, or even general theory, was considered as at best useless, and probably harmful. As Culture minister Rajaratnam said in the PAP’s Tenth Anniversary Souvenir, in 1964: ‘The party has the capacity to recognise hard facts and form its theory from them, and not the other way around’. . According to an anonymous party high cadre, speaking in 1970: ‘A distinct ideology does not help to solve real problems such as modernisation and national unity. We are more a problem-solving party. Our philosophy is based on what we do’. The PAP, seriously weakened in 1961 by the separation of its (majority) radical wing, that gave birth to the Barisan Sosialis, replenished its ranks, not with socialist-leaning ideologues, but with ‘problem-solvers’. Rajaratnam described as such the 18 new PAP candidates running for the 1968 Parliamentary elections: ‘new men of talent and experience from all walks of life who could solve economic, social and political problems’. Characteristically, they included no less than five university professors, three general managers, two lawyers, one school principal, one technician; among the four trade unionists, two were teachers.
References to socialism were not yet abandoned, but tended to be downsized to a vague adhesion to cultural, social and political Western-style modernisation. According to Rajaratnam, speaking in June 1966 in Vienna before the International Youth Union of Socialists, here are ‘the essentials of socialist creed – the search for economic and social justice, belief in an open society, the right of people periodically to judge the Government through free elections and repudiation of the barbaric superstition that racial, religious and linguistic solidarity is the way to international peace, prosperity and justice’. Everything here could be subscribed to by any liberal-leaning mind. Socialism dissolved into thin air, or more precisely into democracy.
Change and continuity
In many areas, the first, eventful six years of power were decisive in shaping what the PAP was to remain in the next four decades. The changes between 1959 and 1965 have been all the more striking as it cannot be said that the government did not strive to put into practice a programme as ambitious as it was realistic. The 1958-1959 programmatic documents had identified four major goals, that went side by side: independence through merger; an acceleration of economic development; the extension of democratic rights and freedoms, especially regarding trade unions; the development of all aspects of social welfare. Actually the two first goals soon proved contradictory to the two last. And the strong emphasis put on merger with Malaya as well as on economic stability placed the unions and social welfare on the back seat. That choice led directly to the July 1961 split with the pro-communist wing of the PAP, who then formed the Barisan Sosialis (BS). Later on, the necessity for the PAP to rely on the most moderate or conservative segments of the electorate so as to face an initially tremendously popular BS induced an accentuation of the pro-market, anti-union, pro-Western trends.
Nevertheless, the influence of socialist ideas did not disappear at once. The PAP strongly distrusted private capital (especially the indigenous one), accused of not being entrepreneurial enough, of lacking any long-term view, and secondarily to support a narrow Chinese chauvinism, including from time to time the Communist party. Therefore Lee’s government was never too tempted by the benign laissez-faire so common in the region, that degenerated all too often in the unholy alliance between corrupt officials and powerful private cronies. Social welfare itself far from disappeared. But, as we have seen, it shifted from a concern for the most destitute to a concentration on community development, and actually to the accumulation of human capital as well as to volontarist pushes in favour of economic development. Hence the diminishing transfers to the poorest, the relative stagnation of health care, but the constant progress of education, and the tremendous outburst of public housing. All these features were to enter into the “genetic code” of the PAP, to this day.
This Paper prepare to International Encompass Conference; STATES OF TRANSITION, State University of Medan, January 06, 2009.
Erond L. Damanik, M.Si
Pusat Studi Sejarah dan Ilmu-ilmu Sosial
Lembaga Penelitian Universitas Negeri Medan