The clenched fist - currently the most inspiring logo for change

28 January 2013

The clenched fist, the now ubiquitous icon of resistance in our country has an inspiring history. Its very existence today is the result of a successful tooth and nail battle against bureaucratic attempts to kill it off at birth.

The first time it was introduced into the public sphere was in 1998 as the logo of the Parti Sosialis Malaysia which was then being freshly submitted for registration.   The fledgling socialist party carried the image of a resolute clenched left fist, white in colour, and set against a bright red background.  It signified struggle, and the spirit of struggle, based on people’s power, on principles and integrity.

The clenched fist was threatened with extinction together with the PSM when the application to register the party was rejected in 1999. The Home Minister revealed later that based on police information, he had concluded that the PSM was a threat to national security! It was mind-boggling, yet the paranoia was not entirely without basis.

For at least a decade, the grassroots organizations that came together to form the PSM had been a thorn in the flesh of well-connected developers, plantation companies and state governments whose ‘development’ activities were displacing urban pioneers, workers, plantation communities and farmers. Predictably, the police aligned themselves with the propertied and powerful, obliging them by acting heavy handedly against the affected communities. 

With the help of people’s power, the communities usually managed to fight off the encroachment, thereby thwarting the plans of the intruding parties. In many cases, they were given alternative housing or titles to land.   As for the police, instances of abuse of power, were pursued and exposed.  So the issue was not quite national security but the security and well-being of certain quarters.  

Ten years, a court case and many struggles later, the PSM was registered in 2008.  But the party and its effects – its logo, the socialist tag and the motto - had already been on the Malaysian political scene for ten years before being officially recognized.  The clenched fist was all over – on the PSM service center signboards at all the branches, on the tens of thousands of leaflets distributed yearly, booklets,  t-shirts etc. Not being registered by the government was not a serious hindrance to the PSM as it in no way hampered the work of the party.

But there was one major drawback. Without being registered, PSM candidates could not stand on the fist logo during the general elections. That was always a source of great regret for party members in all the elections participated in by the PSM in 1999, 2004 and 2008. In all these three elections, PSM candidates stood on the symbols graciously lent to us by other parties such as the DAP and PKR.

In early 2009, just when it seemed that the battle for registration was finally over, the Election Commission refused to register the PSM fist as a political party symbol. The reason cited was that it was ‘morally’ unsuitable as it signified violence!  But that ploy to remove the fist from the Malaysian domain was difficult for them to defend when there were already in existence parties like UMNO that had weapons in their logo!

The fist appears to have come a long way since the uncertainty of its earlier days.  It has captured the imagination of the young and idealistic, as well as of seasoned activists and politicians.

A fair number of groups and movements carry the clenched fist symbol on their banners. During the recent Hari Kebangkitan rakyat on 12 january, it appeared that the clenched fist was the most popular symbol. Many groups carried it in their tshirts and posters. The clenched fist was in different shapes and colors but it was the symbol for change and peoples power. The image seems to eloquently match the dynamism and combative mood of the struggle for political change during this defining moment in our history.  

The popular clenched fist will be finally making its debut at the 13th General Elections.

Rani Rasiah

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