From left: Poh Soo Kai, Lim Kean Chye and Tan Kim Hong
The launch of a book, The Fajar Generation, about a group of idealistic university students in the tumultuous setting of Singapore in the 1950s.
About 150 persons attended the ‘Fajar Generation’ book launch on 9 January 2010 in Penang. Many young persons were among the audience. Members of the press were also present.
The forum began with Lim Kean Chye, the doyen of the Penang Bar, reminiscing about events occurring and personalities involved during the tumultuous years before the independence of Singapore. He recalled the struggle of the people to secure genuine independence from British colonial rule.
Penang-based activist Toh Kin Woon reiterated that the original aim of the Socialist Club of the University of Malaya in Singapore was to demand full independence for the country and for it to be governed based on the principles of democracy, justice and multiculturalism. The members of the Socialist Club stood firm by their principles despite the repressive measures taken against them by the British colonial government in Singapore. Many of their leaders sacrificed their career advancement to carry out this noble struggle. These leaders subsequently suffered long years of political detention without trial under the PAP regime.
Historian Tan Kim Hong related the struggle of the Socialist Club to the wider political and social struggle taking place in the then Malaya. He recalled having read the club’s newsletter, Fajar, which means dawn in Malay. The newsletter had a great influence on the political thinking of the students during his time. Many students were able to relate their role to the greater political struggle by the trade unions, farmers and the various sectors of the society.
Tan urged the present generation of activists to learn from the experience of the Fajar generation. He quoted passages from Dr Poh Soo Kai’s writing that advises activists to at all times maintain their independent judgement of the those in power and not to the trust the authorities unquestioningly. Further, activists must objectively assess the political situation they find themselves in and make their decisions in the best manner possible to benefit the people.
Dr. Poh Soo Kai was the third speaker. He told the audience that many of his friends had asked him to write his stories so that the experience of his generation could be recorded for posterity. To do this, he did a lot of research at the British Archives in London, where official documents were declassified after 30 years. By doing so, he was recording the British version of the history. His work confirms that the grand design for the formation of Malaysia was indeed planned many years in advance by the British colonial government to maintain their interest in the neo-colonial structure of Malaysia. He reaffirmed that the struggle for a democratic, just and multi-cultural society, as demanded by the people at that time, was a genuine and just anti-colonial struggle.
The question and answer session saw many interesting and burning questions being raised. A member of the audience stated that of late the world has seen a resurgence of socialism in many South American countries. Europe has witnessed an increasing acceptance of social democratic governments. North American countries such as Canada and the United States have also put in place some policies aimed at providing a social safety net for their less fortunate citizens. He wanted to know if Dr Poh thought that socialism would make a comeback in Malaysia and Singapore. And if so, in what forms would such changes take shape?
Dr Poh answered that there was no alternative but to accept some forms of socialist systems of government. At the rate events are taking place in the world, not only would there be no end to the crisis of capitalism, there would not be an ecology left to talk about! As regards to the forms of socialism , Dr Poh felt that socialism would take many forms. Each form would evolve to suit the special needs and circumstances of the society that adopted it.
Many young members of the audience were interested to know more about the experience of the Fajar generation. A few senior participants also shared their stories about other members of the Socialist Club whom they had known over the years. A member of the audience showed a newly published book written by his father, who was a member of the Socialist Club. This caused much surprise among the speakers too.
The meeting ended with an atmosphere of camaraderie as books were autographed, old ties renewed and new friendships established.