Academic journal article Southeast Asian Studies

Liberational Justice in the Political Thought of Ahmad Boestamam

Academic journal article Southeast Asian Studies

Liberational Justice in the Political Thought of Ahmad Boestamam

Article excerpt


David Kelly, in his discussion of the meaning of the idea of freedom and the elements that frame its expression in the context of Asia, notes:

. . . there is a key cluster which seems repeated to claim centre stage and to describe itself as real freedom. This is the cluster centring around ethics, politics and law. . . . But for much of the time, freedom really matters in social history when it figures as social practice, an idea, indeed even a "shared vision of social life," but more specifically as the underlying source of criteria of legal, ethical, and political practices-human rights, the rule of law, civil society, democracy and so on. (Kelly 1998, 3)

Kelly's insights are important to understand how people and society in Asia conceive of freedom and justice beyond their daily experiences, on their own terms and practices. The leaders of these communities, in particular, are central to the articulation of these elements. Building on this, this article focuses on Ahmad Boestamam's articulation of liberational justice as freedom, and how he defined freedom as "an idea, indeed even a 'shared vision of social life'" in the context of Malaysian political history.

A socialist revolutionary and nationalist, Boestamam4 is unequaled in terms of revolutionary fervor, rhetorical expression, and radical political ideology. He engaged in journalism, politics, and literary writing.2) Boestamam started his career as a journalist. During that stint, he met individuals who provided the foundation for his political ideas and influenced his activism throughout his life. He helped form the Parti Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya (PKMM, Malay Nationalist Party) and established its radical youth wing, Angkatan Pemuda Insaf (API, Awakened Youth Movement), and later the Parti Rakyat Malaya (PRM, Malaya People's Party). He held steadfast to socialist idealism throughout his life.

Boestamam wrote extensively and possessed an expansive writing range.3) Written from the 1950s to the late 1960s, his novels capture vividly the Malaysian political landscape and contestation of ideas. Among his significant writings are the political treatise Testament Politik API (The political testament of API) and his autobiographical trilogy Lambaian dariPuncak (Waving from the summit) (1983),Merintis Jalan kePuncak (Carving the path to the summit) (1972), and Tujuh Tahun Malam Memanjang (Seven years of prolonged nights) (1976).4) As literary texts, they are invaluable for the study of Malaysian intellectual history, particularly the conception of liberational justice. However, Boestamam's articulation of liberational justice is strongest in the realm of politics. His Testament Politik API is a seminal political treatise on the political history and intellectual tradition of Malaysia.

This article starts with a discussion of how Boestamam articulated liberational justice as freedom. His thoughts on this matter are well recorded in the political manifesto Testament Politik API (1946). The article then moves to discuss the issues of society and time as articulated by Boestamam in his novel Rumah Kacha Digegar Gempa (Glass house shaken by tremors) (1969). This novel offers a window to his views and hopes on the political landscape of Malaysia. The article concludes by highlighting how the liberational justice discourse espoused by Boestamam emerged with the notions of society and time and was a pivotal discourse in the sphere of competing political discourses during the 1960s.

Liberational Justice as Freedom

A.P.I. mahu kepada satu Negara Merdeka yang berdasarkan demokrasi tulen, satu pemerentahan yang datangnya dari ra'ayat, di-jalankan oleh ra'ayat menerusi kerajaan yang di-bentok oleh wakil2 ra'ayat, untok faedah, kebajikan dan keselamatan ra'ayat. (Boestamam 2004b, 9)

API wants an independent state founded on genuine democracy, a body politic constituted by the people, conducted by the people through a government instituted by people's representatives, for the interest, welfare, and security of the people. …

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