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On the home minister's qualifications to evaluate books on Marx

Is Malaysia's intellectual state to be dictated by a home minister with questionable experiential and educational credentials?

Kua Kia Soong
4 minute read

Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail has tried to justify his ministry's enforcers confiscating two books from Toko Buku Rakyat at Wisma Central, one of which is on Karl Marx, namely, "Marx the Revolutionary Educator", even though neither of these books is on the ministry's banned list. It seems Anwar Ibrahim's "Madani" administration is no different from the previous government that banned a course on Marxism run by Parti Sosialis Malaysia.

Precisely who is eligible and qualified for inclusion in Cabinets, especially the home ministry portfolio? One presumes qualifications would include experiential criteria (political experience and policy expertise) as well as educational criteria (knowledge of the humanities, for example).

Well, I do not know the educational attainment of our home minister for him to decide that a book on Marx deserves to be banned in Malaysia, a country that the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 claims to "develop 21st century skills such as critical and creative thinking".

What of his experiential criteria? My one and only experience of Saifuddin in action was on Nov 9, 1996, when he was one of the leaders who led a mob to disrupt our Asia-Pacific Conference on East Timor. Distinguished speakers from all around the world were cowering while Saifuddin and his mob threatened us with violence. 59 of us were arrested and put on remand orders while Saifuddin and the mobsters got off.

The revival of interest in Marxist analysis

Ever since that most catastrophic crisis of world capitalism in 2008, the revival of interest in Marxist analysis has seen the sales of "Das Kapital", Marx's masterful critique of political economy, soar to unprecedented levels. Young people in the West are especially keen to know the source of the capitalist crisis, as workers and other taxpayers have bailed out the banks to keep the capitalist system going amid increasing debt, job insecurity, and austerity measures. Apparently, the people who run Toko Buku Rakyat feel the same way.

Recently, as part of its "Masters of Money" series, the BBC looked at the ideas of John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek and finished by looking at the economic ideas of Karl Marx. The presenter thought there were important insights to be found in Marx, particularly his perspective on the inequality of capitalism and its instability.

She also made the observation that Marx's description of capitalism is truer now than when it was first made, noting the compulsive nature of the drive for profit within the capitalist system, which is also the source of periodic crises. Incidentally, Marx was voted "Thinker of the Last Millennium" by the BBC. Obviously, Anwar's "Madani" government thinks otherwise.

Marx's theory of surplus value expounded in "Das Kapital" is his most revolutionary contribution to economic science as well as the materialist interpretation of history. His discovery of the development trends of the capitalist mode of production also constitutes an exposition of the recurrent crises of capitalist development.

At the same time, the extraordinary growth of China into an economic miracle is the result of their leadership, which bases their inspiration and policies on Marxist socialist thinking. And they happen to have succeeded in lifting 800 million of their people out of poverty and building unprecedented infrastructure not only in China but all over the world, and they are leading the world in renewable energy and sustainable development.

Although Marxist analyses are now resurfacing in public dialogues about economy and society, especially after perhaps capitalism's worst crisis since the 1930s, Marx and Marxist thoughts have always been part of the essential curriculum of social science courses in the best universities in the world. This is the case at Harvard, Oxford, and Cambridge, as well as Moscow and Beijing universities.

Marx, with Weber and Durkheim, were the main social thinkers in the sociology courses at my university in Manchester, where Marx and Engels lived and researched much of their analyses of the capitalist mode of production. When I was teaching sociology at the National University of Singapore in 1978-79, Marx was also an essential part of the curriculum there. I cannot imagine our Malaysian universities banning Marxist thought and analysis from their curricula.

Thus, the people who run Toko Buku Rakyat should be congratulated for initiating the discussion of Marxism and the analysis of our challenging times. Instead of being hailed as the standard bearers of our Education Blueprint vision to develop 21st century skills of critical and creative thinking, it seems they are being denigrated as the purveyors of subversive teachings.

Let us not forget Einstein's well-known admonition that "no problem can be solved with the same level of consciousness that created it". It would be the height of irony and an insult to "Malaysia Madani" if the intellectual state of Malaysia is going to be dictated by a home minister with questionable experiential and educational credentials.

Kua Kia Soong is a human rights activist.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.