A letter to the Chairman of DAP, Dr. Chen Man Hin- The May 13 Disturbances

Below is the complete text of a letter dated 31.12.69 form Comrade Lim Kit Siang , our detained Secretary-General, to our Party Chairman Dr. Chen Man Hin.

Dear Chen,

Today marks the end of the Sixties.

The decade which opened up with the end of the first Emergency has ended with the beginning of the Second Emergency. The decade which was ushered in by the first Parliamentary elections is now followed out by the suspension of parliamentary democracy and the solemn pronouncement that ‘democracy is dead.’ The decade which started with the boast that Malaysia was model of racial peace, goodwill and harmony closed with the shattering of the myth which mistook the absence of racial conflict for Malaysian identity and solidarity.

Grave mistakes in nation building and the government of the country had been made in this decade. If we are to survive as a nation and as a people, we must have the capacity to be our own severest critics, recognize our mistakes, identify the real problems of our country, formulate and implement the solutions.

The events of Tuesday, May, 13, 1969, and the days following it are the greatest blot in the history of Malaysia. It is impossible for the people, particularly the victims and their relatives and friends, to forget their horrors. Nor is it desirable that these events of May 13 should be forgotten.

A top government leader recently urge the people to forget about the May 13 events. If this is the government’s attitude, then it betrays a shocking inability to grasp the nature and dimension of the problem of nation building, and the qualities needed in nation healing. All this bodes ill for the future.

Let May 13 be boldly imprinted in the Malaysian memory and consciousness as a stark warning to Malaysians of the madness and cost of racialism. Otherwise, May 13 will soon be relegated to the footnotes of history, completely overshadowed by even greater racial holocausts which, in comparison, the May 13 events were no more than child’s play.

The government’s refusal to commission a full-scale and comprehensive study and inquiry, both into the causes and spread of the May 13 racial riots, and the entire problem of racialism in Malaysian life, to pinpoint the root causes of racialism, its nature and strength and seek ways to minimize their divisive effects in nation building, is not only regrettable but deplorable. It is typical of the catrich-like attitude of ‘sweeping under the carpet’ which government leaders claimed in post – May 13 days that they have abandoned.

Far from showing statementship in post- May 13malaysia, the ruling authorities seemed to be more interested in the partisan game of witch-hunting and cutting opposition parties and leaders down to size with the use of Emergency powers.

Instead of an impartial and objective account of the events leading up to May 13, we have a highly-biased White Paper to whitewash the culprits and tarnish the innocent.

By its weak toleration of the real culprits of the May 13 killings, and its refusal to take stern measures against them, the Government is in fact condoning their criminal actions. The Government is sowing the wind which will reap the whirlwind.

Those who do not learn from the lessons of history are condemned to repeat its mistakes, st an even greater price. Let us pray that we Malaysians will have the intelligence and self-enlightenment to learn from the lessons of May 13.

May 13 has painfully borne out our main thesis for the last three years that the basic problem which will make or break Malaysia is the problem of nation building; that despite 13 year of Merdeka, and out international recognition as a national and legal entity, we are not yet a nation of Malaysians.

The primary affiliation of the overwhelming number of Malaysian citizens is still to race, not to the nation. They still not feel and think in racial, rather than in national, terms.

While nation building and the evolution of a common Malaysian consciousness and identity is a task which cannot be completed in a decade or two, the people have a right to expect tangible result through the years.

The great indictment history will make against the government is that it has failed in this primary task. Its policies have failed to make more and more Malaysians to think more and more in Malaysian terms, and less and less in terms of race. On the contrary, they have been directly responsible for making more and more Malaysians to think more and more along racial lines, and less and less in Malaysian terms.

Hence the May 13 riots. When the racial riots erupted in Penang and North Malays in November 1967, over the ostensible devaluation of the old currency, we had sternly warned that there had been a growing intensification of racial antagonism over the years, and that unless there is a dramatic reappraisal and change of the government’s political economic, educational and cultural policies and measures, we are heading towards an era which will see escalating unrest and violence.

It is now bruited that certain issues must henceforth be regards as sacred, whose criticism and comment are prohibited. I presume that the deal struck by the UMNO and the MCA before Merdeka will be included in this holy category.

The deal, in short, was that the Malays would be the political and cultural masters, while the Chinese would be the economic masters of Malaysia.

It is this deal which has caused untold harm to the process of nation building, because of the following three reasons:

(1) The deal is based on the clear premise that Malaysia is not, and not to be, a nation of Malaysians, but a nation of so many races.

(2) Such a deal goes against the eternal human aspirations for equality and justice, as no long will long content to be politically, economically or culturally unequal to others purely on racial grounds.

(3) Such a deal does not benefit the races, for the UMNO and the MCA (I do not understand what role the MIC plays, before and now do not truly represent the separate races. Nobody believes that the UMNO truly represents the poor Malay farmers, fishermen or the landless, just as nobody believes at the MCA is a party championing the cause of the Chinese have- nots, whether he be hawker, laborer, squatter or jobless.

The deal was one to preserve the vested interest of the haves of both races – the economic interest of the Chinese compradores and capitalist and the political interest of the Malay feudalists and landlords –at the expense of the have-nots of all races. No Malay peasant, fishermen or landless would want to remain a economic slave, and no Chinese labour hawker or squatter would want to be a political or cultural serf.

By banning criticism and opposition to such a pernicious doctrine, which perpetuates racial separatism, the government does not abolish dissent. It merely forces dissent underground, to seed violent rebellion against it.

My conviction that Malaysia’s only salvation lies in a policy and politics of multi-racialism in all fields of human endeavour, whether in political, economic, cultural or educational spheres, has been further strengthened by the events of May 13.

There will be no May 13 if since Merdeka, our thesis of a multi-racial Malaysia had been accepted and implemented.
Only multi0racialism can prevent and check the growing polarize of politic along racial liners which threaten to plunge the country into a vicious circle of racial conflicts and bloodshed, ending eventually in national disinterfration.
We must get more and more Malaysians to accept, in principle and in practice, the following fundamental propositions of multi-racialism:

1. That no race is a master or super race in Malaysia.
2. That Malaysia should not be dominated by any one race, whether in politics, economics or culture.
3. That Malaysia is not the exclusive home of any one race, but the home of all Malaysian citizens.
4. That a model Malaysian is not a Malay, Chinese or Indian, but any Malaysian-minded and centred citizen, whose primary affiliation is to nation and not to race.

Malaysia’s survival as a united nation depends to a large extent on the will and stamina of our movement and cause for a multi0racial Malaysia. If we are remain firm and dedicated to the cause of multi-racialism, we may play a critical role which decides whether Malaysia splinters up in a welter of racial bloodbath, or hold together as a united people and nation.

Our way and trials ahead will be an arduous one, but when other movements, in other ages, countries and climes can overcome even greater and more challenging problems, I do not see why, we ourselves cannot gave a good chance of success.

We cannot of course guarantee that the cause of multi-racialism will triumph in Malaysia, but we can guarantee that if the cause of multi-racialism fails, Malaysian shall perish!

It is our duty, the duty of everyone of our members, branch, state and national leaders, elected representatives, to march in the frontline of the struggle to spread the word of a multi-racial Malaysia to Malaysians of all races, in both the urban and rural areas.

Let us not shirk from our responsibility and duty to our nation, ourselves, and our children and children’s children.

Yours fraternally.
Lim Kit Siang