Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Window to Our Past

Admittedly, history is not a topic that would interest many today. Yet, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, what drew many Penangites to Kompleks Penyayang on 8th January? Simple. They knew that a window to our past would be opened for all to have a glimpse at what shaped the course of our history, political direction and the role of the left.

Undeniably, due to lack of exposure, education and exposition by parties who wished to bury the past for obvious reasons, the history of the leftists in Malaysia has been largely under-explained, misunderstood and even distorted.

Fortunately for Malaysians, Strategic Information and Research Development Center, better known as SIRD, an independent scholarly publishing house in Malaysia, has been publishing books that embody social awareness, critical and alternative perspectives, and the hidden histories of Malaysia, Southeast Asia and the wider world we live in.

To that end, SIRD organized a book launch of "MEMOIR PERJUANGAN POLITIK SYED HUSIN ALI and AN UNCOMMON HERO: M.K. RAJAKUMAR IN POLITICS and MEDICINE on Sunday followed by a talk on “Left Politics in Malaysia: An Appraisal” featuring Tan Pek Leng, Syed Husin Ali and Choo Chon Kai. The Special Guest for the event was Dr. Poh Soo Kai.

Tan Pek Leng : The Left in Malaysian History and the Role of the Labour Party

In the early pre-independence years, there was a conflict between nationalism and the left movement. Till today, many are wonder whether KMM (Kesatuan Melayu Muda) was a leftist movement or a nationalist movement.

But who were the leftists in Malaya? Leftists refer to those groups who support for social change to create a more egalitarian society. Examples include KMM, Putra AMJCA, PRM, PSM, Labour Party and the North Kalimantan Communist Party and the most controversial Communist Party of Malaya.

Speaker Tan Pek Leng highlighted the need for more non-partisan analysis of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) in our country's endeavour to develop nationalism, independence and justice, especially via the labour movement in the 1930's and 1940's.

In the post-WW2 period, there was actually a Malayan Spring where various parties tried to establish a new democracy in Malaya. Then, the CPM had considerable support from workers, peasants and students.

Notably, the first attempt at establishing a multi-racial coalition in Malaya was carried out by Putra AMJCA via the Council for Joint Action (CJA) comprising the MDU, PKMM, MIC and other parties which are elaborated HERE. Speaker Tan Pek Leng raised a very interesting question as to why the coalition disbanded after the Emergency.

During the next part of her talk, Tan Pek Leng traced the history and development of the Labour Party of Malaya  and how it formed the Socialist Front with Parti Rakyat Malaya.

Interestingly,the LPM captured the City Council of Georgetown in Penang in the 1956 local elections with a majority of eight seats. With success, came more repression. Eventually, with the enactment and enforcement of ISA, the Labour Party was destroyed as key leaders and their cadres were arrested. Grassroot members who had to take over did not have the kind of esprit de corps of the leaders. Following infiltration by certain quarters, the party slowly lost its influence and eventually boycotted the 1969 elections as there was no one who could manage the campaign.

Speaker Tan Pek Leng questioned whether this move was strategically and tactically correct.

She ended her talk by emphasizing that their role in history is largely as a model for a multi-racial coalition. Clearly, there was a need for greater persistence in the cause.

Decades down the road, are we still fighting the same battles?

written by M


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