In 1991, several grassroots based organisations working with the urban and rural poor in Malaysia began to form an alliance. In 1994, they staged a massive demonstration at the heart of Kuala Lumpur surprising many people. Some news reports called it "Malaysian workers waking up". The last major demonstration called by the working class in the capital city was two decades before that.
In 1995, these grassroots organisation who already had their strong bases among the plantation workers, urban poor slums and industrial workers formed an alliance and together the idea to form a political party to represent the aspirations of the poor and the marginalised was mooted. The election results in 1995 hastened this process and after years of discussion and consolidations, it was finally agreed that a party with a socialist ideology was imminent to liberate the masses from their current conditions.
With this in mind, the groups took more than two and the half years to draft the party’s constitution, which was ready by the end of 1997. After further consultation with the masses, on April 30th 1998, on the eve of May Day, the new party known as the Socialist Party of Malaysia (Parti Sosialis Malaysia) was officially put for registration.
The last socialist party to exist in Malaysia, the Malaysian Peoples Socialist Party (PSRM), stripped the word “socialist” from their name and constitution in 1990. The party in recent years had taken a full turn by merging with the nationalist Keadilan party.
The decision of PSRM to abandon socialism from its constitution perhaps left Malaysia for the first time without a left based political party.
The word “socialist” itself has become a taboo word similar to the word “communist” in Malaysia. When PSM launched the party in 1998 and declared the party a socialist party, many thought that we were heading for political suicide. It was a tough decision but the party strongly felt that it is time to put socialism in the right track and it is time to question all distortions and expose the evil of capitalism. PSM not only filled the vacuum in the country’s left politics, it further introduced a different brand of politics.
PSM has only been around since 1998 but its working experience with the masses goes back more than twenty years. Over the years, the party’s three main front organisations, Alaigal, Community Development Centre (CDC) and Suara Warga Pertiwi (SWP), established more than a hundred sub-fronts. PSM’s strength lies in its work done with the masses especially plantation workers, the urban poor, industrial workers and peasants. The party also collaborates with progressive student movements.
PSM remains today the only party in Malaysia highlighting the plight of the poor from low wages and forceful eviction to retrenchment. The party has also made inroads in organising unions in the last few years. While civil and political protest are carried out by the mainstream political parties, PSM continues to support and organise pickets, strike and demonstration among the working class.
PSM’s legal status
The Federal Government of Malaysia previously refused to recognise PSM. The ruling party rejected the party’s application to register as a political party citing that PSM was a threat to national security. Despite PSM’s activities being transparent and open, the ruling party seemed uneasy to see a socialist party in its backyard.
The right to form a political party is a constitutional right and PSM became the first party in Malaysia’s history to take the ruling party and the Home Minister to court for abusing their power. In early 2003, The KL High Court rejected PSM’s application and said that the court cannot question the Minister’s view with regards to National Security. The state’s harsh treatment towards PSM was a problem but the party continued to function and carry out its program.
In 19 August 2008, the party was finally registered after appealing to the Appeals Court. Find out more here.
PSM has also in its congress decided that the party will have minimum program with other parties in the struggle to topple the corrupted ruling National Front Party. Nevertheless the party has been very cautious and has decided not to become part of Pakatan Rakyat, which is dominated by the Islamic and nationalist party. PSM is committed to a secular state and equality for all. Because of its uncompromising stand on this, PSM remains isolated in its national agenda.
In 1999, the party contested for the first time in the general election. The main intention was to popularise the party. The party lost in its seat but managed to reduce the opponent’s majority by 10,000 votes. In 2004, the party contested in four seats and managed to secure around 35 to 40% of votes. The party will continue to use elections to popularize the party as well as use it to educate the people and expose issues which concerns the masses.
The Step Forward
The party is convinced and committed to the class struggle and will continue to propagate class politics, going against the normal nouns of communal and religious politics practiced in Malaysia. The party will work hard towards empowering the masses and liberating them from the clutches of capitalism.
While PSM is committed to Marxist analysis, the party will have an open policy as far as left tendencies are concerned. PSM will continue to open its doors for criticism and differing views among the left. At the end of the day, we want people to be treated with human dignity and enjoy the fruit of their labour.