23 Apr 2004

Lenin and Singapore

Lenin and Singapore

Manuel Castells again

The Last "tiger" of our story, Singapore, baffles me, as everybody else. Unlike the three other countries, no civil society has really developed in Singapore in the 1990's, and the state seems to be as powerful as ever, in spite of statements to the contrary. This applies to authoritarian politics, and the control of information, as much as to the steering and monitoring of Singapore's development. The state continues to work in close contact with multinational corporations, as was 30 years ago, but, having become rich, it also now uses its own resources to invest in companies, either by itself or in joint ventures. Per capita income in Singapore now exceeds the average of the European Union. The city-state works smoothly in a fully planned metropolitan system. The island is the first country to be entirely wired with optic fiber, and is poised to become the first smoking-free and drug-free country (drug traffickers are sentenced to death, and often executed). The city is clean: littering the streets is penalised with heavy fines, and with community work performed in green uniforms, with the culprits exposed in the media. Political and cultural dissent is kept to a minimum, without the need to resort to extreme repression. There is formal democracy, and token opposition. When an opposition leader denounces government abuses, he is sued in court by the corresponding government official, and the court takes care that the daring critic is heavily fined or jailed. There is effective management of inter-ethnic tensions. And there is relatively peaceful co-existence with its surrounding Muslim world, although the whole population continues to be organised in armed militia, and the Singaporean Air force is on a constant state of alert to proceed with retaliatory bombing of large cities just minutes away in their flight plans. The towering figure of Lee Kwan Yew, while no longer Prime Minister, continues to permeate Singapore’s political culture and institutions. He succeeded in inventing a society out of nowhere, and making it the historical proof of the superiority of "Asian values," a project probably dreamed in his Oxford years, as a nationalist without a nation. (Chua 1998) In fact, he rediscovered Victorian England, with its cult of moral virtues, its obsession with cleanliness, its abhorrence of the undeserving poor, its belief in education, and in the natural superiority of the few highly educated. He added a high-tech twist, actually funding studies to establish a scientific basis for the biological superiority of certain groups. Not on a racial basis, but on a class basis. His beliefs directly shaped Singapore's policies. For instance, college-educated women in Singapore received, in the 1980s, special allowances from the state to give birth to as many children as possible, as well as family leave to educate their children, while working-class women (Chinese or Malay) were taxed for having too many children. The aim was to improve the quality of the Singaporean population by increasing the proportion of children born to educated families. The whole of Singapore is based on the simple principle of survival of the fittest. The ultimate goal of state policies is to enable Singapore to survive, and win, against the implacable competition of the global economy, in an interdependent world, by means of technology, social engineering, cultural cohesiveness, self selection of the human stock, and ruthless political determination. The PAP implemented this project, and continues to do so, an accordance with the principles of Leninism that Lee Kwan Yew knew, and appreciated, in his resistance years as a labour lawyer in the anti-colonialist movement. And, indeed, it is probably the only true Leninist project that has survived, outlasting its original matrix. Singapore represents the merger of revolutionary state with the developmental state in the building of legitimacy, in its control of society, and in its maneuvering in the economy. It may also prefigure a successful model for the twenty-first century: a model that is being sought, consciously, by the Chinese Communist state, pursuing the developmental goals of a nationalist project.

Manuel Castells(End of Millennium, page 305-306)

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