What is your name, age and profession?
Arveent Srirangan Kathirtchelvan, 26 years old, Executive in Change and Transformation Management
What drew you to PSM? When did you join the party?
I was drawn to PSM due to my research in university on socialism. I searched which party in Malaysia embodied socialism and found that PSM’s was the only one fighting for grassroots issues, economic equality and fighting against big capital control. Once I was finished with my studies, I joined PSM in August 2018 as an intern first and then as a member in the same month.
Why do you think socialism has such a negative reputation among so many people around the world? What do you say to those who discourage you?
Socialism has a negative reputation due to the hard work of capitalists painting a negative picture of it. The United States and its allies have led huge propaganda initiatives to paint socialism as authoritarian and a failure. What they don’t say is how they actively invaded countries like Chile to depose democratically elected socialist leaders, how they destroyed the economies of countries like Cuba and Venezuela through embargoes and how countries like China and Vietnam continue to thrive against Western Imperialism.
To my detractors I say only one thing. Socialism is the only ideology fighting for those who have been exploited for capital gains. Farmers, those working long hours for low pay, those who can’t afford housing or healthcare, all of these people are those big capitalists have exploited to fatten their own pockets. Why should I be ashamed to fight for them?
How familiar are you with Malaysia’s left wing history? Are there particular leaders you admire?
I am quite familiar with Malaysia’s left-wing history after attending PSM’s ideology classes on it. I can say that I particularly admire Ahmad Boestamam. He was part of the Parti Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya, a left-wing Malay nationalist party that led Pusat Tenaga Rakyat (PUTERA) and along with the All-Malayan Council of Joint Action (AMCJA) wrote the People’s Constitution of 1947. This pushed for Malayan Independence much before the likes of UMNO. In fact, the left-wing nationalists were the true freedom fighters for Malaya, whereas the right wing Perikatan simply were the lapdogs of the British who further protected their interests in Malaya, economic and otherwise.
Boestamam then was jailed without trial due to British nervousness of the left-wing and after the Emergency, Boestamam founded Partai Rakyat which later became Parti Rakyat Malaysia, from which PSM emerged in 1998.
Is there any frustration you feel over PSM’s size and impact? Since Dr Jeyakumar and other candidates were soundly defeated in GE14, has the party been reduced to mosquito status?
Yes of course we feel very frustrated over our size. Not due to any personal political ambition, the reality is we have done extensive work on the ground and know the real issues that affect the people. From the faulty system of PPR housing where there are simply not enough houses for the B40 to the exploitative practices around migrant labour compounded by our corrupt government, we are aware and fight hard outside parliament against them. If we were larger and had a few seats, we could theoretically fight harder.
However, politics isn’t all about electoralism, politics is about the people first and foremost. It’s not a popularity contest. We fight on the ground to organise the masses and build people’s power to independently solve their own problems. We set up labour unions, housing associations and many other fronts against capitalist exploitation. That is real politics.
The real frustration comes when supposed progressives are so enamoured by popularity alone to dismiss the real meaning of politics and the real value of our work. They lead the masses away from organising on the ground to keep the status quo of their dependence on public figures to solve their problems for them. The keep hero worship alive and profit off of it. That to me is disgusting.
Yes we are small, some call us a mosquito party, but we have won thousands of labour cases, houses for plantation workers, compensation for those wronged by capitalists and many, many more grassroots battles. No other party does this and has this impact. Mosquito party with a mammoth impact more like.
Do you see any differences between BN and PH rule?
BN was overtly capitalist and racist. PH was subtly capitalist and racist. That is the only difference. Whereas BN wore evil on its’ sleeves and stole openly from the rakyat, PH fought to keep the status quo of capitalism alive with their oppression of the labour force and support of housing developers. Even in the recent Gatco issue, where PH has been using Gatco farmers against BN and subtly promised to deliver what they wanted, when they won PH simply reverted to the same promises that BN gave.
Of course, there have been pockets of progress. Hannah Yeoh as Deputy Women Women, Family and Community Development (KPWKM) did a great job. So did Gobind Singh in MCMC. But were these enough? Simply put, no.
What can be done to broaden PSM’s appeal, particularly among young people and non-Indians?
We are now focused on using social media more effectively to deliver our message. Recently, Twitter has been a huge success, with it delivering a 40% increase in our Pemuda Sosialis membership numbers, most being Malay cadres. For now, our push is in electronic media as that is where most young people are. Instagram and even TikTok is on the horizon of our focus.
I think we have what is considered appealing, it’s just that we have to let people know against all of the right-wing fascism of the current government and the overt neoliberalism of PH. We have to let people know what real politics looks like and they will come. This I am confident of.
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