By INS Contributors

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia—The Malaysian Socialist Party (abbreviated Parti Sosialis Malaysia or PSM in Malay), the only left wing political organization of its type in Malaysia, draws from a rich and storied history being the spiritual successor of a variety of similar organizations that have fought for social equity since the country’s pre-independence days.

Despite numerous obstacles thrown up by various, often politically oppressive governments built on ethno-nationalist narratives, PSM has overcome the barricades thrown up to contain and strangle it and is on the path towards putting class disparity at the forefront.

Speaking to INS, PSM Secretary-General Sivarajan A. said while the challenges towards building a socialist-led government are daunting, the party will not waiver from its path, buoyed by the strong desire of millions of disenfranchised Malaysians to break away from toxic racial politics and rampant corruption and build a nation based on mutual respect and dignity.

PSM was decades in the making

INS: Malaysia has had a long history of leftist political movements. Give us a brief history of the leftist political movement in Malaysia leading up to PSM as we know it.

Sivarajan A: Despite what certain members of the political establishment would tell you, Malaysia has a rich and storied history when it comes to leftist movements from before independence in 1957. In fact one of the first political parties founded in Malaya as Malaysia was then known, is the Malayan Communist Party, founded in 1930.

Around this time, locals, inspired by the rise of the Indonesian Communist Party, sought to develop a nationalist struggle along similar lines in and one of the organizations built along these lines was the Kesatuan Melayu Muda (Young Malays Union) founded in 1938 by Ibrahim Yaacob and Ishak Haji Muhammad, and as a major pre-World War Two nationalist movement.

Of course the war and the end of colonial powers catalyzed political movements in the country. This saw the rise of a whole plethora of left-leaning political movements in Malaya with some notable ones being API , BATAS, AWAS , MATA etc. working together with non-Malay left leaning political forces such as Pan Malayan Federation of Trades Union, Malayan Democratic Union, and many others.

The missed chance for Malaya to have taken a left path. The British, who were the then-colonial masters of Malaya, ignored the left PUTERA –AMCJA coalition representing a truly multi-racial coalition Peoples Constitution, and clinched a deal with Malay ultra-nationalists and pro-royalist elements to hand over the independence of Malaya, continuing their divide-and-rule policy and therefore securing their interests in the newly-independent country for decades to come.

In tandem with this policy, the British engaged in an armed conflict against the Malayan Communist Party from 1948 to 1960, in what they called the “Malayan Emergency”. This was an undeclared war, with the British and their local allies refusing to call it a war due to insurers refusing to pay out in the instance of war.

Post-emergency, the native government, first Perikatan Nasional and later Barisan Nasional (BN), two political coalitions built on racial politics, continued their suppression of leftist movements and worse still the rewriting of history to purge all elements of alternative political structures.

But the people of Malaya and Malaysia would not let the idea of alternative political structures go and various leftists held out as civil society organisations (CSOs) and as individual activists, keeping the light of the left from being completely being extinguished and finally as the Cold War drew to a close in the 1990s, these various organizations and individuals reconstituted themselves as PSM.

Of course the political establishment was not about to give their leftist rivals an easy ride, recognizing the powerful unifying ideas behind socialism against their divide-and-rule system inherited from their colonial masters, and it took a full decade from registration to approval, 1998 to 2008, and this was the result of the persistent and dedicated push to gain political recognition and the right to openly espouse our ideological beliefs.

A new path for a new era

INS: Considering the widespread disillusion and disappointment by many Malaysians especially the younger voters against the current crop of BN, PH and PN politicians, how does PSM aim to harness this and translate it into votes?

Sivarajan A: The younger generation does not carry the baggage of the BN’s propaganda against socialist and communist. But having said that, there is still great disparity amongst the urban and rural Malaysia and how socialism and communism is perceived.  

So we need to package these progressive ideas and policies as socialist ideas of the 21st century that are relevant today. But the first task is to convince voters, especially the incoming 18-21 year-old voters, to vote for parties based on their political ideology and not merely on their logo and rhetoric.

This task seems more feasible now compared to 2008, 2013 or even 2018 general elections, as the people have experienced what bourgeoisie politicians from both political divides had to offer. The rakyat (people) are familiar with the character of BN-PN and their allies that have ruled all this while with the same divisive racial and neo-liberal agenda.

But Pakatan Harapan (PH) too is exposing its reform agenda as a farce, as both PH stronghold states, Penang and Selangor have come under fire many times since 2008, because of their pro-capital, investment driven and businesses friendly governance. Many times this has worked against the people’s interest. Take for example the recent contentious issues such as the Penang Sea Reclamation project, Selangor degazettement of Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve etc.

So the challenge is to wedge our ideological alternative in between the two opposing bourgeois political blocks. We need to develop the narrative that there is an urgent need for a fresh 3rd progressive left block to truly represent the people’s interest in all matters and keep big businesses on the watch.

So we intend to do this by aggressive campaigns that offer a new left deal for Malaysia towards concrete reforms and policies. If we can reach out to people effectively, then we could target to swing votes to us in those constituencies that are convinced that socialist can contribute to bring forth good policies.

INS: Could PSM form the core of a socialist-led third force through working with independents, civil society and even alliances with other parties for the upcoming GE15?

Yes talks have been on the way. PSM has initiated meetings with many CSO and other groups throughout the country since last year. There is a feeling amongst many that these CSOs and PSM should work together to put forward candidates in GE15. But nothing concrete has been formed yet. This project for a third alternative has been attempted many times.

Back in 2014, after GE13, we initiated a left progressive coalition known as Gabungan Kiri. It was to be a coalition of left parties and progressive individuals. But unfortunately,  PSM was the only organized political party in the coalition.  The other members were participating in their personal capacity or they were merely NGI’s and did not belong to any organization. Thus it failed to develop a credible 3rd force political coalition for the GE14.

We are still open to the idea of forming a progressive block. But we need serious partners to come in as strong organizations with reasonable support. But in reality, there are many good activists out there who are really passionate about this idea, but lack the organizational and mass support.  In order to offer ourselves as a 3rd credible political force, we need to be a coalition of parties contesting a significant number of seats in Parliament and State Assembly. Otherwise the rakyat will just look at us as independent spoiler candidates.

During the last GE14, CSO and other groups fully backed PH and scorned us when we contested separately as PSM. Now after seeing the true colors of PH, we hope that CSO’s will commit themselves to form an alternative third force. While PSM have been consistent in our strategy of not joining PH and to only work with them on the electoral platform, we hope that those who are really serious about making change will join us committedly and not fall back to support PH closer to  GE15.  

INS: What are some of the key policies and reforms that PSM could bring should it succeed in forming a federal government?

Our key focus would be structural changes and not just reforms per se. There are many, just to name a few:

-Key reform areas would be – For the working rakyat, Housing, Healthcare, Education and poverty in urban and rural areas.

-Amendments to Employment Act, Industrial Relations Act and Trade Union Act to ensure they empower workers , unions and enhance enforcement against exploitative employers.

-Resume the role of the government to provide housing for the rakyat, affordable housing. Government should undertake the supply of housing for the B40 and not rely on developers. Increase building of PPR for rent and sale.

-Strengthen the public healthcare, build more hospitals, and stop the brain drain of specialist doctors from public to private hospitals. Moratorium on new private hospitals and health tourism.

-Free education for all until tertiary level, 1st degree.

-Targeted approach to address poverty. Database of poor families that live below the poverty line. Increase social and welfare workers to reach out to these families. Direct cash assistance to families that have lost income due to COVID-19. A Single coordinated welfare scheme for all. With simple registration and a database of all poor that requires assistance.

-Social Inclusion and Non-Discriminatory Act to reduce disparities along racial lines.

-Enhance domestic economy; focus on local industries, talents to provide jobs and supplies. Regulate foreign investment effectively. Review tax holidays and incentives to increase state revenue.

-Introduce wealth tax and inheritance tax

-Introduce Job Guarantee Scheme for the youth and unemployed. Government as the main employer.

-Moratorium on logging and mining licenses in forest reserves.  

INS: What are some of the outreach efforts the party has to draw greater support and who are the party’s key voter base?

Our main outreach is two-fold. One via our grassroots movement the other via our national campaigns and activism. The organized grassroots movement of the party is known as MARHAIN. It consists of worker groups, labor unions, farmers, cattle farmers, environmental activists , plantation workers, urban poor in urban low cost flats, orang asli etc. It is still in the process of building and we have yet to have our organization in all states.

The other reach out is to the masses in general through our various campaigns and positions that we take on national politics and socio-economic issues. There are many that join us through our national campaigns like Climate Emergency , Support Orang Asli , voicing out against attacks and discrimination on LGBT communities, freedom of speech and assembly and other initiatives against government its neoliberal policies.