Reading this line was the only time I laughed in these very sad and dour works of the remaining Singapore leftists of the Merdeka generation (among others fuck the UK, literally why we can’t have nice things). Poh Soo Kai recalled that someone told him that when he was recruiting members for his University Socialist Club. This cuts deep to him since he came from a very wealthy family.
These people would eventually prove him wrong by being martyred over their publication Fajar. This Fajar clique would later defy their social democrats counterparts in favour with the trade unionists, Singapore Association of Trade Unions (SATU). If anything, biggest traitor from the Left here was a trade unionist himself.
Although played off as a harmless anecdote, this line cuts deeper than Poh Soo Kai could ever know. Lately a new iteration of this exact criticism attacking the Left comes from both its dissidents and opponents, at least in the first world countries.
According to its adherents the Left has become too middle class, too intellectual, too detached from the “working class”. These “radlibs” or “people of college”s are often derided as middle class and well educated people on a power trip, using those below them as tools to gain office or social capital.
Singapore, a city of yesterday, has finally caught on to this trend. In the election a few months ago, the Workers’ Party newer candidates faced these exact same criticisms. Too well educated and/or wealthy, too similar to PAP, too attracted to identity politics. Indeed the irony (and yet reality) where an extremely elite economist and an activist who is the daughter of a wealthy family is being seen as the left wing option against the leader of the trade unions is not lost on anyone.
Despite winning (a historical moment in an election where PAP was touted to sweep the country), these criticisms are still ringing in the national discourse. Yet the incompatibility of this narrative with the reality of Singapore leads me to not only distrust this narrative on a national level but also on an international one.
Make no mistake, this is a very tantalizing narrative. The worst excesses of these middle/upper class leftists do need to be curbed. It creates a very soothing and easy dichotomy, that of the middle/upper class intellectuals or people of college with their social liberalism versus the common folk, the working class with their casual chauvinism and spooky nationalism. It is built on a truth, that there is an under-representation of the working class in any left wing movements (at least in the First World).
But it ignores perhaps the most glaring reality of the Left, the “working class” Left here or anywhere is almost nowhere to be seen.
Although many modern “Fajar-ites” still exist in academia and other spaces, their SATU counterparts are nowhere to be found. The trade unions in Singapore has been painted yellow decades ago and any genuine grass-roots organizing has been similarly recuperated by the PAP.
Supporters of the PAP have been typically working class, grateful for the meagre handouts given to them every year. The minority that already are agitated or class conscious are working within parties that is led by or supported by said people of colleges. The Left over here did not abandon the working class, if anything the inverse happened.
Maybe your country’s trade unions aren’t willingly suppressed and cucked as Singapore. Maybe your country’s middle or upper class and the intelligentsia aren’t the only ones that actually knows what socialism is, let alone advocate for it. Maybe your working class aren’t wallowing in temporary embarrassed millionaire syndrome and delusions of meritocracy. But that is not the case in Singapore, and I suspect the same goes for other parts of the world, at least in the First World.
Of course the same dissidents and opponents will try to accommodate this uncomfortable truth by claiming that the people of college/middle or upper class leftists chased them away, but even that reveals their ignorance of history. The working class in the past has always been socialism’s strongest advocates and prime movers with the middle class being its cheerleaders at best. This is true for Singapore in the 60s, with the working class, not only kickstarting the socialist/communist movement but also forming its vanguard.
Such a narrative renders the working class a caricature, robbing them of their choice to be socially conservative or liberal. Indeed the browbeating of the recent BLM protestors as people of college/petite-bourgeois or lumpen highlights their bigotry of low expectations. But worst of all it robs any blame and therefore agency from the working class, painting them as a helpless princess awaiting for their knight in shining armour to come and save them from themselves. Without any working class’s core to work with and rally around, it is to be expected that the people of college/middle or upper class leftists to indulge their detached and social sensibilities. If one finds the cries and antics of these ‘socialites’ to be annoying, it is because the silence of the working class have been too deafening.
By all means, whip the middle or upper class leftists into shape! Force them to focus on class issues and wean off woke politics! Just don’t pretend that is it is a silver bullet against the docile and passive nature of the working class. 巧妇难为无米之炊! No matter how accommodating the middle or upper class leftists can be, without an agitated working class, an influential left wing movement cannot be formed. Agitation and education of the working class has to work in tandem if not prioritized over these measures.
The person who made the remark to Poh Soo Kai eventually relented and joined the USC, with Poh Soo Kai making a causal remark that ‘Even socialites can be socialists’. I hope whoever is reading this take note of this small reminder from an old socialist. (Also, fuck the British and their Labour Party)