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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How did we get Merdeka?

All the friends I have met since the sudden termination of my Emergency Ordinance (EO) detention have been very clear - the EO6 were set up by the police and the BN government to spook the Malaysian public from participating in the Bersih 2.0 rally.

NONEThey feel that it was ridiculous and totally unacceptable to charge that the EO6 and the PSM were threats to public order and national security.

But after several minutes of expressing their dismay and disgust at the gross misuse of police powers, and reaffirming their commitment to vote wisely in the coming general election, several of them asked, “So what's the story about the T-shirts (depicting photos of communist leaders)? Did the police plant those too?”

No, the nine T-shirts - there were five with Suriani Abdullah's picture, two with Abdullah CD's and one each with Rashid Maidin's and Chin Peng's - were not planted by anyone. They were ours.

These nine cheap cotton T-shirts were in a carton of about 30 T-shirts - the remainder were with anti-privatisation and anti-neoliberalism themes - that were left over from the PSM congress in Sungai Siput on June 3.

The carton containing these items was loaded on to the bus along with the pamphlets for the 'Udahlah' campaign. They would have stayed unnoticed in the luggage compartment of the bus for the entire duration of our 'Udahlah tu ... Bersaralah' campaign if not given front-page prominence in several national dailies by our men in blue.

It was never our intention to sell these T-shirts to the public or indeed even to wear them during the course of the campaign - it simply would not have been relevant to the message of our campaign! In fact, most of us on the bus only became aware of the T-shirts after the police arrested us and searched the vehicle.

But why have those T shirts in the first place?

That is a reasonable question, and there is a reasonable answer for it if you would bear with me as I briefly recount some history of our nation's independence struggle.

CPM was part of independence struggle

The PSM is the political expression of all the grassroots work that several activist organisations were doing in the early 1990s among plantation workers, urban pioneers (squatters), vegetable farmers on government land, and other groups marginalised by profit-centred development.

The inspiration to form the the PSM had nothing to do with the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM).

However, after forming the PSM, and realising that our political analysis and programme can only be termed “socialist”, it became incumbent on us to understand the history of the other left-wing and progressive groups that have been active in Malaya and Malaysia - the AMCJA-Putera coalition, the CPM itself, the Labour Party and the Parti Rakyat Malaysia.

Our reading of history from sources such as Michael Stenson, K Das, Said Zahari, Colin Abraham, and others brought us to the realisation that the BN government's depiction of the CPM leaders as well as other leftist leaders as bloodthirsty, inhuman villains wasn't quite objective.

Let me cite a few historical facts:

(i) Following World War Two, all left-leaning groups partook in open politics, demanding for early Independence. They were part of the AMCJA-Putera coalition. Rashid Maidin and Abdullah CD were in unions affiliated to the PMFTU (Pan-Malaysian Federation of Trade Unions) which was a major component of the AMCJA.

hartal 10 tahun sebelum merdeka documentary 151008 posterAMCJA-Putera came up with the 'Peoples Constitution' in February 1947, which the British ignored. This group organised the 'hartal' of August 1947. A hartal is a non-violent general strike where not only workers do not go to work, but businesses do not open and schoolchildren do not go to school.

The August 1947 Hartal brought all economic activity to a halt for a day, but it did not result in the commencement of negotiations with the colonial government that the AMCJA-Putera was hoping for.

All this goes to show that the initial intention of this coalition was not armed struggle, but political mobilisation utilising legitimate democratic avenues.

(ii) It is also a historical fact that the colonial regime reacted harshly against AMCJA-Putera long before the start of the armed rebellion in June 1948. Some examples:

  • Ahmad Boestaman, the charismatic leader of API (Angkatan Pemuda Insaf), a component of AMCJA-Putera, was arrested in 1947 and detained for eight years.
  • A new Trade Union Ordinance was passed in 1947 and this led to the de-registration of 85 percent of the component unions constituting the PMFTU. They were all required to register. However when they attempted to register, they were turned down and thus rendered “illegal”. The PMFTU itself could not get registered.
  • Chin Peng endorses 'The Finest Hour'The 'thondar padai' (anti-toddy activists) faced harsh aggression. Beatings by the colonial police actually led to deaths among anti-toddy activists picketing at toddy shops in Kedah (see account in Colin Abraham's book, 'Their Finest Hour').
  • Estate union activists planning for May Day were attacked by the police - their chairman was shot dead (see also Colin Abraham (left in photo with Chin Peng).

Communists sought participation in free elections

This was the backdrop against which the CPM made the decision to switch to armed struggle in June 1948. A strong argument can be made that the CPM was pushed by the colonial regime to take the course they did.

The third historical fact that one has to look at carefully is the Baling Talks in 1955. CPM leaders Chin Peng and Rashid Maidin were prepared to lay down arms at that time for the guarantee that they were allowed to participate in the democratic process in Malaya.

tunku abdul rahman 290809Tunku Abdul Rahman (right), and especially David Marshall, took a hardline position –'surrender and submit to preventive detention. We will decide when you can participate.'

It is now clear that the British had indicated in no uncertain terms to Tunku that Independence would only be granted if the CPM was kept out of the political process. Malaya remained an important source of wealth for Britain even after Independence. The CPM finally got what it asked for in 1955 - withdraw with dignity - 34 years later, in 1989.

The jungle war could have come to an end when the country won Independence. But the British wanted the CPM muzzled, and the Alliance government went along with that game plan.

If one is to be strictly objective, all the injuries and deaths arising from the jungle war from 1955 onwards cannot be attributed entirely to Chin Peng and the CPM. The Alliance through Tunku and the British also played a vital role in perpetuating the jungle war that everyone knew the CPM could not win.

It is on the basis of these analyses of our nation's history that the PSM perceives the CPM leaders as 'Pejuang Merdeka' or freedom fighters. They took on the most powerful colonial power of that time. They were committed to the building of an independent and just society in Malaysia.

So, even though PSM itself rejects the 'armed struggle' option as a route to political power, we consider the leaders of the CPM as Independence fighters.

Focus is on helping Malaysia's underclass

However, although our perception of the CPM and its leaders is quite different from BN'spropaganda, the PSM does not consider the rehabilitation of the name and image of the CPM as one of PSM's priorities.

Yes, history has to be re-assessed and, yes, the struggles of the past have to be accurately understood, but some of the wounds left by the armed rebellion are still raw and there are far more important things to do with/for Malaysians here and now - the ordinary people of Malaysia are being pressured by neo-liberal policies that holds down wages while increasing the costs of all necessities.

There are many estate communities and urban pioneer communities which are being threatened with eviction. And there is a need to oust Umno-BN and install the Pakatan Rakyat in Putrajaya - this will take the political process forward for this nation. These are the issues that the PSM has been focusing on.

NONEThe PSM central committee (CC) did not procure the T-shirts with the pictures of CPM leaders. However, when several such T-shirts, along with other items, were sold at the PSM Congress - a closed-door function for PSM members and specially invited supporters - the CC did not see it necessary to stop it.

The purchase and sale of such T-shirts does not contravene any law, and in any case, the memoirs and biographies of many CPM leaders are available in many bookshops in our major towns. That's how the unsold T-shirts eventually came to be on the bus - and just because of that, several of us got to experience detention without trial for almost one month.

However, we always thought - and indeed we still maintain - that we were well within the law, and that we had nothing to fear from having in our possession these or any other T-shirts.

Now, however, we have learnt through direct experience - and the public, too, has seen - that desperate men in positions of power in this country can lie and slander and grossly misuse the formidable power that they hold in order to sow fear and confusion.

It would be criminal to let them stay on in office any longer. And so, we say again: “Udahlah tu ... Bersaralah!”

DR D JEYAKUMAR is PSM central committee member as well as PSM's member of parliament. He and five others were detained for 28 days under the Emergency Ordinance in July. - Malaysiakini

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