Lessons from History

The target is not religion, different racial groups or even feudal power. … So drop the Islamophobia and racial profiling while targeting corruption, injustice, discrimination, abuse, greed, lust, cowardice and hypocrisy.

By batsman


The fight against corruption and abuse of power in Malaysia may have reached a stage where people start to ask deeper and more penetrating questions. In order not to suffer too many questions and not enough answers – hence leading to demoralization, it may be good to review lessons of history. 

And since we are trying to change society for the better, the pertinent questions surround reforms and revolutions, in particular the history of capitalist and socialist revolutions. 

As far as feudal revolutions go (against slavery), there does not seem to be too much literature on the matter. We may take it as an unconscious and deterministic development of the historical dialectic. The feudal economy was more democratic as well as more efficient and productive compared to the slave economy so smart people everywhere sided with the feudal lords. 

The capitalist system offered even better efficiency and productivity, so when feudal power became too concentrated in too few hands, feudalism declined and smart people everywhere sided with the more democratic capitalists. This statement assumes that capitalist power was already well developed within the feudal order – at least powerful enough to challenge the feudal aristocracy militarily in the battlefield as well as financially in the raising and supplying of armies. 

When the capitalist economy became too concentrated in too few hands, it started to decline. Capitalism could no longer cater to the needs of millions of hungry and dispossessed.  The only class who could challenge the capitalists was the working class. The problem was workers are not owners. Their power is not expressed in terms of money or productive assets but in terms of discipline and organization. This made the working class dependent on the capitalist class in a way that the capitalists were never dependent on the feudal lords. 

When Marx came up with his classic study of capital, he recognized this limitation of workers. He therefore predicted that working class revolutions could only succeed in the most advanced and mature capitalist countries. This did not come about. 

Instead it succeeded in Russia, a backward agricultural semi-feudal country with only a small proportion of workers in its population. Lenin argued that since Marxist theory already armed the workers with foresight, they knew what was about to happen. They therefore need not wait for the capitalists to develop Russia into an advanced industrialised country. Instead they could seize political power and used the power of the state to push the workers’ revolution to its final successful conclusion, or at least they tried while the traditional Marxists eventually were absorbed into the capitalist establishment. 

Even though the workers revolution occurred in the semi-feudal Tsarist state collapsing under its own weight in obvious contradiction to Marx’s prediction, Leninism was recognized as the creative extension to Marxist theory. This was because Lenin was able to guide the workers through every twist and turn as well as every difficulty and uncertainty in the immensely complex revolutionary process using Marxist methods of analysis. 

When it came to semi-feudal and semi-colonial China, the situation was even more backward than in Russia. Mao himself never personally organized revolutionary activities in Chinese cities although other Chinese revolutionists tried to. The Chinese revolution was an almost purely peasant affair using only nominal working class Marxist theory as a guide to revolutionary tactics and strategy. In fact Mao even saw the small Chinese capitalists as his allies. That is why only the Chinese and their allies recognize the Chinese revolution as a Marxist revolution and Maoism as the creative extension of Leninism. Things were beginning to develop beyond their logical limitations. 

When it came to fully colonial Vietnam, the Vietnamese revolutionists avoided calling their fight a revolution. They called it an anti-colonialist and later an anti-imperialist fight for Vietnamese independence. Like Mao during the Sino-Japanese war, the Vietnamese knew better than to provoke a revolutionary civil war when they had their hands full with fighting an entrenched militarily powerful colonial power and later a meddling genocidal military superpower. That would be committing the mistake of fighting on 2 fronts as RPK himself cautions against. 

When it came to Malaya, the thinking and analysis turned murky. In his book the ex-communist chief honcho Chin Peng admitted that communications between the various guerilla units was a major problem and never satisfactorily solved. Some communists probably saw their struggle as an anti-feudal anti-colonial revolution. This meant fighting a revolutionary civil war against feudal forces as well as an anti-colonial war against an entrenched colonial power. The end result was a deepening split in Malaysian society based on race and religion engineered by divide and rule tactics of the colonial government and the isolation and neutralization of the communists. 

What subsequently occurred in Russia, China, Vietnam and Malaya are the concerns of different studies with more lessons that may be drawn. For this purpose, it is sufficient to realize that it is fatal both to get stuck on traditional theories as well as allowing the analysis to get murky. It is necessary to be absolutely clear about the realities on the ground, what can and needed to be achieved and how to go about it. 

In the current struggle, the fight is about getting rid of corruption and abuse of power. It is about fighting racism and narrowing the racial divide not opening it up even more. It is about building an effective system of checks and balances. It is about each and every Malaysian pulling his own weight as a minimum. It is a reformist platform not a revolutionary one. We do not need a civil war especially a racially tinged one even if the struggle is violent, painful and bloody for some individuals who have been targeted by corrupt and vicious persons in power. As things go, it is not reform in a peaceful and sporting environment, but reform under violent suppression and vicious dirty tricks. 

The target is not religion, different racial groups or even feudal power. It is corrupt persons in power who abuse their authority and the greedy backward sycophantic mindset and lack of strong ethics and value systems as well as lack of strong independent and democratic institutions that allow this to happen. 

So drop the Islamophobia and racial profiling while targeting corruption, injustice, discrimination, abuse, greed, lust, cowardice and hypocrisy. 

Having talked about leaders in history and the successful policies they came up with, it may be worthwhile to discuss the relationship between leaders and their followers. It is said that revolutions tend to consume their leaders. 

There are 2 types of leadership situations – that where leaders are the source of power and wealth for their followers (UMNO style) and that where followers are independently motivated by their own ideals and seek only leading-edge guidance and policies from their leaders. 

Revolutionary (as well as religious) leaders tend to belong to the second type. There are plenty of shades of grey, but essentially followers of religious and revolutionary leaders tend to be so because their leaders express the leading edge ideas and the hard core ideals and sentiments that they themselves possess to a lesser degree. Unfortunately when things are pushed to the extreme and the followers realize that they cannot keep up with their leaders both in idealism and fanaticism even if they try their best to follow every twist and turn blindly, they tend to pull back. If this elicits a negative response from the leaders, the followers start to feel threatened by their own leaders. This is when leaders get consumed by the revolutions they have led. 

It makes sense for revolutionary leaders to sometimes get more in touch with their followers rather than abandon their followers in preference to idealistic approaches especially ones that involve extreme violence or extreme sacrifice. They need to realize that in general most followers have a practical bent to seek effective solutions to difficult problems and do not wish to go too far. It is only a dangerous minority who are even more fanatical than their own leaders. Still, these are difficult decisions and only a few great men (and women) are able to make such decisions successfully. 

Leaders of reform movements tend to mix idealism with practical matters. Their followers tend to be more of a mixed batch. There is a tendency for opportunists and frogs to thrive more successfully in reform movements, but the same case of followers lagging behind their leaders also apply. This is when reform movements run out of steam. 

Needless to say, these tendencies tend to exist both in UMNO and PR. Wealth and power tend to get more and more concentrated in a few UMNO hands. The rest of the people find it more and more difficult to survive day to day. UMNO now has real difficulty trying to cater to the needs of ordinary Malaysians. It therefore tries to stir up racial insecurities in order to keep the support of ordinary Malaysians for corrupt, sinful and self-serving leaders. Such dirty tactics seem to have run its course and people not longer respond urgently to them, so they have to resort to other dirty tricks. 

Unfortunately a few chauvinists are fond of spreading their poison in internet forums. This activity actually helps UMNO because it makes UMNO look like it is telling the truth when it warns Malays about the danger from non-Malays thus keeping the myths alive. It is difficult to understand these people – either they are completely dense or they are actually working for UMNO as provocateurs. 

In the PR, the existence of too many frogs has caused concern while habits of patronage and cronyism have started to manifest. Old techniques of the purge and re-motivation which some MCA leaders have tried without good results may be needed in the PR to try and keep the steam up. 

MCA leaders have moved on to other tricks and tactics to try and keep the MCA and hence their own power alive. The PR seems to be moving more slowly and cautiously. Perhaps it can afford to do so since its followers comprise a higher percentage of idealistic young men and women. Still, it is a good thing if the lessons of history are learnt quickly, the situation seen clearly and the creative juices pumping more vigorously to show the way forward with good clear cut policies and tactics of struggle including all the do’s and don’t of politics.