Rebels with a Cause

February 16, 2016

Rebels with a Cause

by Lim Teck Ghee

Lim Chin Joo (above) with his book, My Youth in Black and White  (我的黑白青春)

An email account brings all sorts of letters, notes and news. Most items need a few seconds to glance through and even more quickly to forget. A few, however, stir the mind into deeper thought. One that arrived recently was a posting which contained an English translation of Lim Chin Siong’s ‘Q&A Posthumous Manuscript’. The original of this article is contained in the book by his brother Lim Chin Joo, My Youth in Black and White ( (我的黑白青春).

Younger Malaysians are probably not familiar with the name–The Comet in the Sky–Lim Chin Siong. But to the pre- and post merdeka generation of activists and social reformers, Chin Siong was a much admired anti-colonial and nationalist leader of Malaya (which included Singapore during that period) who was punished for his refusal to recant his political ideology.

And what were his beliefs and values that landed him in prison for close to a decade? In his words:

I then realised that as a human being, one should not only live for oneself.If the country or nation and the people are yet to be free, an individual will not be free either. If a nation or the people wish to be free, the most oppressed and the most exploited must rise and be united, and struggle till the end…

I firmly feel that, no person in his right senses will reject the “realisation of a society where there is no exploitation and oppression of man by man, no poverty and illness; where everyone is equal, free and given the opportunity to give full play to his potential; from each according to his ability, and to each according to his needs”.

Chin Siong was initially incarcerated by Lim Yew Hock’s government from 1956-59 and then by his party colleague, Lee Kuan Yew, with whom he co-founded the Peoples Action Party (PAP) in 1954. His second prison spell from 1963-69 followed Singapore’s merger with Malaysia and the ensuing notorious Operation Cold Storage sweep which netted 120 political prisoners. These detainees held under the notorious Internal Security Act (ISA) were mainly opposition leaders from the Barisan Socialist, the opposition party that Chin Siong founded after he broke up with Kuan Yew and the PAP.

The man who according to David Marshall, Singapore’s pre-independence Chief Minister, was introduced to him by Lee Kuan Yew as “the future Prime Minister of Singapore” and “the finest Chinese orator in Singapore” left prison a broken man. Following release from prison, he went into political exile in London, and when he finally returned to Singapore a decade later, was prohibited from taking any further part in politics.

Lim Chin Siong died in 1996. Lee Kuan Yew in his political memoir book, “The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew” described his role in Singapore’s politics in the following way:

I liked and respected him for his simple lifestyle and his selflessness. He did not seek financial gain or political glory. He was totally committed to the advancement of his cause…Because of the standards of dedication they set, we, the English-educated PAP leaders, had to set high standards of personal integrity and spartan lifestyles to withstand their political attacks. They were ruthless and thorough. We became as determined as they were in pursuing our political objectives.”–Lee Kuan Yew

Chin Siong was one of a handful of remarkable Singaporean and Malaysian leaders whose roles in the struggle for independence and the tumultuous years immediately after have suffered, or have been marginalized or obliterated, as a result of the dictum that it is victors who write the history fed to the masses.

But this dictum is no longer true especially since the advent of social media.

Another dissident anti PAP leader, Dr Lim Hock Siew’s story, parallels that of Chin Siong’s with the difference being that he is still alive and therefore able to share his uncompromising views on that period of history which has impacted the lives of Singaporeans and Malaysians.

We considered politics a calling, a responsibility, and a privilege to serve our country, not a career …. Leaders should not be discovered by inviting and enticing them with high pay and high office”–Dr. Lim Hock Siew (pic above)

In 1963, Dr. Lim was arrested under Operation Cold Store and detained without trial for nearly 20 years before he was released in 1982. A Home Affairs Ministry statement on his release had said that he was arrested under the Internal Security Act for his involvement in Communist United Front (CUF) activities. But no evidence has ever emerged supporting that nebulous charge which would have been thrown out by any judicial process.

Hock Siew refused to agree to any conditions that would have granted him early release and ended up in the record book as the second longest-held political prisoner after his leftist colleague Chia Thye Poh (pic above), who served 23 years.

There are at least three key parts of an exclusive interview he provided in February, 2010 that all Malaysians – especially those in or intending to enter politics or engage in social activism in our part of the world – should have as compulsory reading.

The headings to the parts reproduced here are mine.

Coping with Incarceration

Asked how he coped with the long incarceration, he puts it down to an unshakeable conviction that his political stance is right.

‘We were the leaders of the main opposition party, supported by the workers in Singapore, and we cannot betray our supporters. So we stuck to the bitter end. It’s a matter of intellectual integrity.’

No to Two Classes of Citizenship

Although the leftists were committed to the ultimate goal of unification between the peninsula and the island, they argued that these terms for merger would make Singaporeans ‘second-class citizens’.

The main sticking point, as Dr Lim points out, was that there were ‘two sets of citizenship: one for Malaysians and one for Singaporeans. Singaporean citizens could not participate in Malaysian politics, much less be proportionally represented in the federation’.

Political Service as a Calling and Not as a Career

Hitting out at ministerial pay, noting that a symbolic amount of $10,000 or $20,000 a month would be enough, Dr Lim says that Barisan leaders were prepared to sacrifice their lives for their political beliefs. “We considered politics a calling, a responsibility, and a privilege to serve our country, not a career.”

He believes enough talented young people will come forward to serve the country. “Leaders should not be discovered by inviting and enticing them with high pay and high office… you harness the people, let them decide. They’ll do wonders.”



13 thoughts on “Rebels with a Cause

  1. The politics of Singapore during the David Saul Marshall and Lee Kuan Yew Eras produced a number of outstanding political leaders who were driven by ideas and ideologies. These men would sacrifice their careers for their beliefs. That Mr. Lee Kuan Yew was able to defeat them is testimony to his political acumen and brilliance. –Din Merican

  2. “I firmly feel that, no person in his right senses will reject the “realisation of a society where there is no exploitation and oppression of man by man, no poverty and illness; where everyone is equal, free and given the opportunity to give full play to his potential; from each according to his ability, and to each according to his needs,” Lim Chin Siong.

    The last sentence “…from each according to his ability, and to each according to his needs” is popularised by Karl Marx. The problem is of course the need could be made infinitely large for some if those needs are not constrained by ubiquitous forces such as market force aided by traditional cultures and religions. Since communists have overblown distrust of religions and traditions, they must install dictatorships to establish and maintain communist systems, of which we now know all come to ruin.

    Japanese culture, while conservative, has the ability to absorb elements of western culture when the western culture was obviously at the more superior position in 19th and early 20th centuries. Japanese culture remains unique even after absorbing certain foreign culture elements. Communism did not pull the rug under their feet.

    In contrast, Chinese culture suffered severe disarray upon encountering more powerful western culture in the 19th and early 20th centuries. They doubted their own tradition so much that they abandoned almost all of them, with the exception of oversea Chinese and Taiwan, and they found communism, which is of course from the West. It was the oversea Chinese who were not communists and still retained “old tradition of some sort” who come to the rescue of Communist China when China needed to survive economically.

    Lim Chin Xiong represented Chinese-educated Chinese who failed to make Singapore/Malaysia a communist country. Lee Kuan Yew represented Chinese who retained “old tradition of some sort” and was Western-educated. Eventually it was Communist Deng Xiaoping came to visit Lee Kuan Yew in 1978 and learned from this oversea Chinese on which part of Western culture was worth learning and which part was truly trash. He obviously found out the trash is socialistic way of managing economy.

  3. Malaysia was an attractive well-crafted gift to Malaya, the Tunku and the Sultans by the British with a caveat that Singapore must be included along with Sabah and Sarawak. The British wanted to pull out their administration and troops from the Far East at that time and banked on the reliable pro-British Tunku to lead the new Malaysia with Britain’s commercial and strategic interests protected.

    To Tunku, Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) and PAP were chilli padi right from the start, along with the fact that Singapore was predominantly Chinese. He wanted a Malaysia without Singapore as he foresaw problems ahead with LKY and he was right. British insistence and the lure of resources- rich Sabah and Sarawak with the passive nature of their natives made Tunku to accept the idea of Malaysia with Singapore included perforce.

    For Malaysia to take off, the leftists, also painted as pro communists, who opposed Merger on disagreements over the terms set, had to be taken off and the security operation code-named Operation Cold Store mounted on 2 Feb 1962 did exactly that.

    Tunku was of a milder political temperament and was moderate and big-hearted. He would have released these detainees much sooner had it not been for the distraction of LKY who was bugging him from all fronts challenging his leadership and the pro- Malay policies. LKY set the fuse for temperature to go high with his call for a ‘Malaysian Malaysia” which excited the non-Malays including the natives of Sabah and Sarawak whilst instilling real fear on the Malays that their political dominance would be severely undercut. Tunku’s preoccupation with problematic LKY unfortunately robbed the detainees of possible early release by the Tunku. With Separation, and LKY in power and control, the detainees were done in for good.

  4. “That Mr. Lee Kuan Yew was able to defeat them is testimony to his political acumen and brilliance.”

    Or maybe it is testimony to how undemocratic means is acceptable to some people.

    Politics is about power. LKY had power and influence after 1990 when he handed power to his successor Goh Chok Tong. He remained in the Cabinet from 1959 to 2015. His imprint on Singapore looms large to this day.That is impressive by any measure.–Din Merican.

  5. Shiou’s comments are generally acceptable, except that it’s terribly Simplistic, perhaps for space concerns.

    The Japanese had a hyper-nationalistic culture based on Shinto, which was a synergistic amalgam of what the Westerners (and many of ‘moderns’) consider a Religion; but actually contained within it Exceptionalist Cultural Tradition and Mores. That ‘Way of Life’ was ultimately Transcendent and Deified the otherwise mortal Emperor. This was despite their rapid acceptance and practice of Western Science and Technology during and after the Meiji Restoration. State Shinto is now considered a “Surareligious” State Ideology which led to Ultranationalism, Racism and Unmitigated Militarism. The Shinto Directive post WW II sought to curtail such ‘reactionism’ – but can still be seen with the ‘incomprehensible’ requirement for their elected Premiers to visit the Yasukuni Shrine to this day. Something the Commies of PRC are horrified at, although the still make statues of that despicable Mao – whose rule was disastrous for Greater China.

    The Chinese experience was that of a decaying, utterly corrupt and weak Manchu Dynasty which never recovered from the horrific Taiping Rebellion, that almost culled more victims than both the World Wars combined. Yet the Chinese Revolution was led by an enlightened W.O.G Christian Revolutionary who tried to fuse Western and Eastern Political Philosophy with “The 3 Principles of the People” viz Nationalism, Democracy and Livelihood. Sun Yat-sen is now venerated posthumously by both PRC and ROC, even though his material support was mainly from the Chinese Diaspora – especially in what we now call BolehLand and Lil Dot. Even more curious is his Exile to Japan, where his Pan Asian revolutionary fervor was stoked. Maritime Silk Road, Nine Dash Line and all that.. PRC Commies can never be “Original”.. Ya?

    So izzit a wonder those ‘rebellious’ Lil Dot politicians although respected, lacked the innovativeness, resourcefulness and tenacity of Sun Yat-sen. Their zeal was Not of the Religious ‘Manifest Destiny’ or Original Ideology Sort. So Harry, the Master Tactician, whupped them easily and shafted/shuttered them up pretty good.

    UMNOb pseudo-Shintoism on the other hand, is like a cordyceps infected ant. Climbing a blade of grass, only to eaten by Predatory Ah Longs and Chubby Cheeked Wharton Trained Chinapek Graduates, who worship Goldman-Sachs and whitey boobs..

  6. “Politics is about power. ”

    Do you really believe that, Mr. Merican ?

    Politics is about compromise, negotiation, cunning and duplicity.

    Tyranny is about power.

    I suppose whether Harry’s grand scheme is impressive depends entirely on what the person making the judgment values.

    Yes indeed. The end of politics is power.Those you mentioned are the means to obtain and retain power. I am subjective in my judgement of Harry Lee Kuan Yew.But I am vindicated by what he had achieved for Singapore with the power he got. Najib has power, but he is using power to destroy our country.–Din Merican

  7. “The end of politics is power.Those you mentioned are the means to obtain and retain power.”

    The end of politics is judgment, collective or historical. Politics is the legitimate means to power in functional democracies. This is why in democracies power is always constrained.

    Najib’s power is illegitimate based on cash and a flawed electoral process . Harry’s power was based on a more or less free elections and a Singaporean polity who for whatever reasons chose to legitimize Harry’s power through the democratic process.

    The only quarrel I have with proponents of Singapore’s “success” is when they champion democratic ideals which they demand in this country but is absent in Singapore which they ignore or justify.

  8. Politics is the means to creating a more organized and peaceful society, by providing methods to resolve conflict that naturally occurs between men, by means of civil discussion and rational compromise. It thus stems the need for violence in tense situations and ultimately looks to avoid the degradation of a community into utter chaos. Authority is the underlying feature of politics and ensures its enforceability. Power underpins its very existence; it is a prerequisite for politics to exist. For power is the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events.

  9. LaMoy,

    I may add state’s force or state’s threat of violence is the key element to ensuring non-violent political process to continue. This is because, without the teeth of force, political players who don’t want to play by the rule will resort to political violence.

    That is the reason G25 must have its own security outfit when they are threatened by violent group for political reason.

  10. M. Gandhi (The Hindu, 1920) had this to say about politics in general:
    “I want no revolution.
    I want ordered progress. I want no disordered order.
    I want no chaos.
    I want real order to evolve out of this chaos which is misrepresented to me as order.
    If it is order established by the tyrant in order to get hold of the tyrannical reins of Government, I say that is no order for me but it is disorder.
    I want to evolve justice out of this injustice.”

    ‘Political politics’ as practiced in every corner of the world today, is not only about Political Power manipulating the Instruments of State, but perpetuating Injustice and Inequality. There is no such thing ‘reasoned’ discourse. Arbitration is not about mediation by discerning Peers, but by wretched sycophants (locally disparaged as ‘Carma-types’) dispensing ‘Judgments’.

    Conflict resolution and politics should not even be in the same sentence, unless there’s demonstrable goodwill and willingness to cooperate and compromise.

    Some of us would advocate what Vaclav Havel calls ‘antipolitical politics’, which is that which which does not serve to manipulate or rule over others, but as a way of achieving meaningful and harmonious lives together. Politics should be, above all: “a practical morality, as a service to truth, as essentially human and humanly measured cre for our fellow humans.” We can dream on..

    Let us not kid ourselves. The world has not changed from Caveman ethics. Politics and Prostitution remain the oldest Professions.

  11. “Conflict resolution and politics should not even be in the same sentence, unless there’s demonstrable goodwill and willingness to cooperate and compromise.”

    This is the case in most of the civilized world.

    Admittedly partisanship has replaced ideology in Western politics. Believing in a side as opposed to ideas.

    This is still far better than the alternatives of course.

  12. I apologize for the horrid spelling and syntax the past few posts, but it seems that me motor cortex and the language area in the Wernicke’s region are outta phase. Must be all the ‘Haram chemicals, i’ve been imbibing recently.. Not that many understand me anyway.

    The ‘cre’ in Havel’s quote should spell ‘care’.

  13. From where I live and experience, politics may be defined a means to resolving conflict. To resolve conflicting opinions, a consensus must be agreed upon by all parties affected. There are basically 3 methods which are a feature of politics when resolving disagreements within society. The 3 elements are persuasion, bargaining and a mechanism for reaching a final decision. This means that politics tries to act as a peacemaker by offering solution(s) to conflict to the parties involved by means of discussion with them. The outcome will probably require the yielding of at least one of the parties implicated in order to meet at a compromise. The mechanism is the way in which the parties make their final decisions based on the scenarios with which they have been provided. This may take the form of a vote by the general public — we, the people.

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