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26th October 2008, 12:43 PM
Will PSM join PR?

New Sunday Times
26 Oct 2008

Left sails through the turbulent times

N. Patkunam (in dark suit) inviting Tunku Abdul Rahman to tea with
George Town’s left-controlled city council in the early 1960s. —
Picture courtesy of Patkunam

MALAYSIA’S Socialist Front scattered in the mid 1960s. But former
members tell SANTHA OORJITHAM that socialism is still alive today —
although it may be practised under different names by different

Pas member Ishak Surin says Parti Sosialis Malaysia and he are on
‘parallel paths’

PSMarti Sosialis Malaysia would have to ‘review’ idea of joining
Pakatan Rakyat, says Dr Mohd Nasir Hashim

Dr Syed Husin Ali says Pas would not accuse him of being a communist

ISHAK Surin, Dr Mohd Nasir Hasim and Dr Syed Husin Ali all began their
political careers with Parti Rakyat Malaya (PRM).

Each was arrested under the Internal Security Act for his socialist
beliefs, which their jailors equated with communism and/or Marxism.

And today, each says he is pursuing the same goals with a different
party. Ishak is now the deputy chairman of the Pas Workers and
Squatters Bureau, Syed Husin is deputy president of Parti Keadilan
Rakyat (PKR) and Nasir is chairman of Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM).

The Socialist Front peaked in the early 1960s but had collapsed by the
middle of the decade. And after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989,
many wrote off socialism in Malaysia.

But with Parti Sosialis Malaysia winning one parliamentary seat and
one state seat in the March 8 general election, with its registration
in August and with several other parties claiming to champion similar
"pro-people" policies, maybe reports of the death of socialism have
been premature.

"Socialist goals are still alive today, advocated by different groups
and parties -- although it is not as widespread as it was in the 1950s
and 1960s," says political scientist Khong Kim Hoong, author of

After World War 2, groups such as the leftist Kesatuan Melayu Muda
(KMM) that had collaborated with the Japanese collapsed. Leftist Malay
activists formed new groups, including the Malay Nationalist Party
(PKMM) and Angkatan Pemuda Insaf (Api).

"All the Malay parties under Pusat Tenaga Rakyat (Putera) and the
non-Malay parties under the All-Malaya Council of Joint Action (AMCJA)
united to oppose British colonialism," says Ishak.

In 1948, the British banned Api, followed by the Communist Party of
Malaya, PKMM and others, jailing hundreds of their leaders, including
Ahmad Boestamam, a former KMM member and the leader of Api.

When he was released in 1955, he started PRM, which the 19-year-old
Ishak joined "because I saw it as the only way to achieve
independence, not because I was a socialist".

But as the young teacher read, listened to lectures and attended
meetings, "I found there was injustice. At that time, I thought
socialism could form a nation and society which was just".

Ishak became assistant secretary-general and, after PRM and the Labour
Party formed the Malayan People's Socialist Front (SF) in 1958, he
helped in the campaign for the first general election in 1959.

The Front won eight seats at the national level, making it the third
largest party in Parliament after the Alliance and Pas. Meanwhile, it
was also consolidating power at the local level. In Penang, for
example, it held 14 of the 15 George Town seats after the 1961 city
council elections.

By 1965, Syed Husin notes, the socialists had gained control of the
municipal councils in Penang and Malacca as well as the local councils
in Seremban and Serdang.

Adds Khong: "Poverty, poor wages and healthcare, and less access to
electricity and water were breeding grounds for socialism."

Trade unionist N. Patkunam, a founding member of the Labour Party of
Malaya and member of its central executive committee, won the Sungai
Pinang council seat in the 1958 and 1961 elections and was elected
deputy mayor in 1960.

As a young teacher, he sold his parents' land in Green Lane and handed
the proceeds to his party.

"We wanted a socialist society which would alleviate poverty and
provide for fair distribution of wealth," he explains.

He helped Penangites to get low-cost housing, put in streetlights
where there hadn't been any and helped people get jobs.

"I do not think people in Penang were afraid of socialism," he says.

But pressure was building up. Federal Government propaganda
"demonised" socialism, claims Syed Husin, giving it "a terrible stigma
associated with communism and being 'anti-religion'".

In 1964, the SF won only two seats. Ishak attributes this to
Indonesia's declaration of Konfrontasi in 1963.

"The Front was seen as pro-Indonesia. All the SF leaders were arrested

And after he helped to organise a mass demonstration to protest the
arrests, he was also detained under the ISA and later sentenced for
having "subversive" documents.

But the final blow was the suspension of local government elections in
1965 (after the 1964 declaration of Emergency during Konfrontasi).

"Socialism never recovered," says Ishak. No more socialists made their
way into Parliament until this year, although a couple won state seats
over the years.

Unions have also been weakened since the Emergency, says Khong. Before
independence, there was one General Labour Union, adds Nasir, "not
separate unions for workers in the private and public sectors. It was
very powerful. Most of the members were socialists".

At the same time, as Khong points out, working conditions have
improved -- and so have the amenities.

By the 1980s, says a former PRM member helping with election campaigns
then, "response from the voters and the public was very poor. They
recognised that PRM members were committed but there was a real
suspicion that socialism was not for this country. It was seen as

He was disillusioned by the breakup of the Union of Soviet Socialist
Republics (USSR) in 1991 which he says, "really buried socialism. I
left because I could see that capitalism worked, whether you liked it
or not. There is ample room for democracy under capitalism".

Today, he is a planner with a government-linked company.

Ishak left even earlier, for a different reason: an ideological and
leadership struggle within PRM in 1969.

Younger leader Kassim Ahmad, who had taken over as chairman in 1965,
brought in "scientific socialism" and changed the name to Parti
Sosialis Rakyat Malaysia.

Scientific socialism had the same goals as the earlier ideology of
"Marhaenism" (named after a peasant whom Sukarnomet), aiming to remove
the vestiges of colonialism and work towards a society based on
nationalism and social justice. "The party did not want to be
associated with Indonesia," explains Syed Husin.

Founder Boestamam and others (including Ishak) left to form Parti
Marhaen Malaysia which tried to revive the Socialist Front for the
1974 elections but failed. Ishak joined Pas in 1985.

"Pas helps workers, educating them on their rights and educates
squatters on their right to housing," he explains. "It has similar
goals to socialism."

Parti Sosialis Malaysia was formed by another splinter group. When
PSRM reverted back to PRM in 1989, Nasir left "after they dropped
socialism from both the party's name and constitution".

Since then, his party has worked with "urban pioneers", plantation and
factory workers, farmers, Orang Asal, students and migrant workers
among others.

Among its successes, says the new Kota Damansara state assemblyman,
were pushing for the Selangor state policy (which was adopted in the
early 1990s) that when plantations are developed, the affected workers
must be given alternative housing; and persuading the Federal
Government to put smaller plantations under what is now the Rural and
Regional Development Ministry so that it could take care of them
(which was done in 1993).

Meanwhile, Syed Husin led PRM members into a merger with Parti
Keadilan Nasional to form Parti Keadilan Rakyat in 2003 -- although
some Keadilan members opposed the merger arguing that PRM and he were
"socialist and anti-religion", he recalls.

And when PKR wanted its deputy president to contest the Kota Baru
parliamentary seat in the 2004 general elections, Kelantan chief
minister Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat objected to his socialist background,
claiming that socialists are "adik kepada komunis".

PKR's objectives now are "more pro-people and non-racial", says the
party's deputy president. "Wealth is to be shared by the poor and
disadvantaged... You can call it socialism if you want. Some say it is

Although Pas may still associate socialists with communists, he says,
"they have changed their attitude towards individuals and would not
accuse me of the same today. And if PSM wanted to join Pakatan Rakyat,
I don't think Pas would oppose that".

PSM and former socialists like himself "are still struggling for a
non-communal society with fair distribution of wealth," he says.

"Our paths are parallel. If they stick to these principles, they will
succeed. I can do the same within Pas."

But if reports of the death of socialism are premature, speculation
about PSM joining Pakatan Rakyat may be premature as well.

"We have yet to receive an invitation," says Nasir. "If there is one,
we will review it in our congress."

Both PSM candidates stood on a PKR ticket during the March polls and
have cooperated with other PR parties for years.

But, the chairman stresses, "As socialists we prefer to overhaul this
exploitative system rather than fine-tune it."


7th June 2010, 01:04 PM
PSM opts not to join Pakatan

Hazlan Zakaria
Jun 6, 10

Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) will not be joining Pakatan Rakyat as a component party, but has instead opted to continue its “close cooperation” with the opposition coalition in the fight to topple the BN-led government.

PSM secretary-general S Arutchelvan (left) said the decision followed a spirited discussion between two camps in PSM – one in favour of joining Pakatan, and another dead set against it – in a special closed-door session that dragged on until 2am last night that resulted in the compromise.

“There were two viewpoints, one side wanted for PSM to remain independent as a third force in a tri-party system, the other side wanted us to join with Pakatan so that we can bring down BN,” Arutchelvan told Malaysiakini when contacted after the close of the party's three-day congress in Kuala Lumpur.

The party is not averse, however, to closer cooperation with Pakatan in order to fight the “main enemy,” he noted.

“BN is our main enemy, and Pakatan is our best weapon to wield against the ruling party. We have no problem with using a common logo, or a common platform or manifesto (with Pakatan).

“In fact, we can also sign an electoral pact with Pakatan,” said Arutchlevan further, adding that PSM is opened to campaigning under the Pakatan logo and manifesto in the next general election.

He explained that the compromise was reached so as “not to rock the boat”.

The party, Arutchelvan said, does not want the conflict to worsen and lead to the departure of party members.

Nor does PSM want to spoil the “friendship” it currently enjoys with the opposition coalition, he added.

'Don't copy BN'

In the same spirit of friendship with Pakatan, Arutchelvan said party delegates also passed a motion to inform the opposition coalition of PSM's unhappiness with what it said was Pakatan's “charity-gifting” during the Hulu Selangor by-election campaign.

“Whatever they have done, BN can also do. So there is no difference between the two. Pakatan needs to differentiate itself,” he added.

Simply giving gifts to the people is good and should be continued, but it must go hand-in-hand with educational programs to educate the people.

Arutchelvan said he believed that the people support Pakatan not because of the 'gifts', but because they understand what the opposition coalition is fighting for.

What Pakatan lacks, he claimed, is a concerted effort to inform and educate the people.

“Without an ideology the actions do not matter. This lack of ideology may hinder Pakatan's efforts in the long run,” he said.

The motion on whether or not to join Pakatan and to censure the opposition coalition over 'BN-style' campaigning in Hulu Selangor discussed were part of 26 items submitted for discussion at the party's congress which was attended by 300 delegates from nine states.

Other notable motions passed during the congress included socialists party's criticism of the government's planned subsidy cuts, the lack of minimum wage.

There was also a motion blaming the deplorable state of the environment on the questionable business practices of “big industries and capitalists” who Arutchelvan said are the “root cause” behind the problem.

“It is no use telling people to recycle, not to use plastic bags and what not, if we don't pinpoint and solve the root causes,” he added.

PSM has two seats - a state seat (Kota Damansara in Selangor) as well as a parliament seat (Sungai Siput in Perak) - which it won at the 2008 general election under the PKR banner as PSM had not yet been formally registered at the time. Malaysiakini. Subscription required. (http://malaysiakini.com/news/133781)