Political Vocabulary: Eleven Words from the Introduction of "Leninism, Asian Culture and Singapore"
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Leninism, Asian Culture and Singapore (Introduction only)

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Leninism, Asian Culture and Singapore
By Chung-Kwong Yuen
Apr 2, 2001
1. Introduction

Singapore is a place that arouses deeply divided feelings among observers. Economically, it is one of the great success stories of this century, but it is also widely seen as an authoritarian state that limits freedom of speech and political rights. Even more importantly, its leader Lee Kuan Yew has set himself up as the proponent of an alternative model of economic and political development for the poorer nations, one that rejects western decadence while incorporating "Asian" values of studiousness, achievement through hard work, and deference to authority and group. That is, instead of humbly pleading guilty to liberal charges of sacrificing human rights for the sake of prosperity, he claims to have invented a superior ideology more applicable to the less developed part of the world than what North America and Europe wish to export. This elevates the polemic to a higher level of controversy, with western journalists constantly carping on Lee's speeches and the actions of the Singapore government, hoping to detect chinks in their armours, while they answer in kind through their various public relations channels. In the end, neither side has been able to strike a knock-out blow, and a standoff has ensured.

This is not a simple standoff between good and bad; between democracy and dictatorship; not even between east and west. Lee's stance is discomfiting to the western liberals precisely because it cannot be neatly labelled and then dismissed. If he were just an ignorant Asian dictator, on route to his inevitable downfall like, say, Ferdinand Marcos, then his ideas would pose no threat to the orthodoxy of the western nations.

The fact is however that his policies achieve economic prosperity while ignoring many of the sacred cows of standard political thinking, a situation that cannot be taken in without a serious and painful reassessment of one's basic tenets; in fact, something that threatens the currently fashionable ideological paradigm. Considering that the great Soviet Union has collapsed like good old capitalists said it would, is little Singapore going to defy the most well proven liberal thinking? But what exactly is Lee's so successful ideology?

There is nothing special about a belief in education, hard work, family, social hierarchy, and so on. These are not the particular inventions of Lee Kuan Yew, or even particularly Asian. Lee's invention is much more original. It is a unique combination of Leninist organizational tactics with capitalist industrial and commercial technology implemented among a population with an Asian social background, resulting in a strictly controlled and paternalistic corporate entity that has delivered material wealth to its members. In this article, I wish to analytically examine the various facets of this structure.

Apl 2, 2001

Excerpts from Sacred Cows - A Study of Asian Values (Chapter 3)3.of Leninism, Asian Culture and Singapore Professor Yuen Chung Kwong has been Associate Professor/Professor of Computer Science at National University of Singapore since 1983.
The full manuscript can be accessed at www.comp.nus.edu.sg/~yuenck/book.pdf (requires Acrobat) It was first published in Asian Profile, June 1999, and posted 27 Sept 1999 in response to Buruma & Mahbubani dialogue "Are Singaporeans Afraid to Think" in Straits Times..