By Joyton H.L. Fu
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It was the year 1927. A communist uprising had just taken place one year ago in Indonesia against the Dutch. Despite being a failed attempt, some Indonesian intellectuals fled to British Malaya and started advocating nationalism and anti-colonialism ideologies. Sensing a huge opportunity to revolt against the British, a group of young intellectuals who received education in Sultan Idris Training College (SITC) collaborated with the Indonesians in pursuit of independence. However, it wasn’t until 1938 that an organization with notable influence, Kesatuan Melayu Muda (KMM) was formally established. It was immediately considered a threat as their ideologies were not only gaining popularity, but was also said to be “radical”.
KMM was a left-wing organization that primarily strove for independence along with Indonesia, besides improving the socioeconomic situation of Malays. Admittedly, this was not the first time British had to deal with nationalists. What worried the British though was the fact that their ideologies spread like wildfire, which could be attributed to the advocacies of Malay School teachers graduated from SITC. To mitigate this, the British imprisoned several leaders of KMM in 1942 and rendered the organization dysfunctional by various means. Despite that, this essentially formed the basis of Malay nationalism, and it should always be remembered as a key step towards gaining independence.
Upon the end of World War II in 1945, the organization was succeeded by Parti Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya (PKMM), which had more or less the same goal as KMM. Right after three years, the British imposed a nationwide crackdown on left wing political parties following the declaration of Emergency in 1948. PKMM, due to its close affiliation to Malayan Communist Party (MCP) was tremendously hindered by the British government to carry out any significant political action and was subsequently abolished.
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Despite being relatively short-lived, it laid the foundation of political collaboration between non-Malays and Malays when it formed an alliance with other predominantly non-Malay political groups under the All-Malayan Council of Joint Action, forming AMCJA-PUTERA coalition. It was vital to note that this was way before the collaboration between United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and Malayan Chinese Association (known as Malaysia Chinese Association now) in 1952 to contest in the Kuala Lumpur municipal election.
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The legacy of left-wing political parties in Malaya didn’t end here, as leaders of PKMM either joined UMNO or Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) or established other political parties, with the largest being Labor Party of Malaya and Malaysian People’s Party. These two parties would eventually form the Malayan People’s Socialist Front (SF).
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For the next couple of years, SF remained as one of the largest opposition parties in parliament, until a momentous event which occurred in 1963 eventually spelled doom for Malay left-wing nationalism. The controversies over the merging of North Borneo (Sabah and Sarawak) with Federation of Malaya sparked relentless criticism by then president of Indonesia, Soekarno, who insisted that the merger was nothing more than a form of neo-colonialism. Being a pro-Indonesia party, the government incarcerated numerous leaders of Socialist Front forthwith, which gave rise to even more civil unrest as supporters of SF held rallies and mass demonstrations to oppose the government’s actions. In the following general election of 1964, SF only managed to retain 2 out of 8 seats, a result that finally rendered them futile in regaining support from Malayans.
It was the unequivocal truth that the loss had been a significant setback for both People’s Party and Labor Party, which was seen when SF was officially disbanded in 1966. The Labor Party would soon merge with the United Democratic Party, which was a faction separated from MCA, to form Parti Gerakan Malaysia (Malaysian People’s Movement Party), which would proceed to govern the State of Penang for 39 years.
As John F. Kennedy, former president of the United States once said: “A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on.” From introducing anti-colonialism and nationalism, to advocating radical social reformation policies, the rapid rise and fall of left-wing political parties brought consequential changes to our country. One can attribute the independence of our beloved country to the Alliance Party (which consists of UMNO, MCA and MIC), but one must not deny that it was KMM that first promoted this idea and PKMM which laid the groundwork for major interracial collaboration.