Interview with Kohila, a leading member of the Parti Sosialis Malaysia

We recently interviewed comrade Kohila, a leading member of the Parti Sosialis Malaysia (Socialist Party of Malaysia), while she was over in London. Before the interview she asked us to explain what the International Marxist Tendency (IMT), is, in which countries it is based and what are its basic principles.

We recently interviewed comrade Kohila, a leading member of the Parti Sosialis Malaysia (Socialist Party of Malaysia), while she was over in London. Before the interview she asked us to explain what the International Marxist Tendency (IMT) is, in which countries it is based and what are its basic principles.

Fred Weston gave an overall outline of the state of development of the IMT, which was supplemented by Jorge Martin elaborating further on our work in Venezuela. Kohila confirmed that there is great interest in Malaysia in what is happening in Venezuela. Alan Woods added his own comments, particularly on our successful work in Pakistan.

When we explained that our basic principle is based on what Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto, that we do not separate ourselves off from the masses and their organisations, she nodded and said "You work where the masses are, the same as we do." Kohila wanted to know how we work, how we spread our ideas in the movement, how we sustain our journals and many other questions.

Interview with Kohila, a leading member of the Parti Sosialis Malaysia
Kohila with members of the IMT

We then moved on to a discussion about the situation in Malaysia and the work of the Parti Sosialis Malaysia. Kohila explained the general situation in Malaysia, where the government is pursuing a policy of opening up the country, privatising utilities, entering negotiations with the USA about a possible Free Trade Agreement and so on. The picture that emerged from the discussion was one of a country that underwent important economic development in the past, with the creation of modern industries and a modern proletariat. But this is combined with many areas of backwardness and underdevelopment.

Kohila put a lot of emphasis on the national question in Malaysia explaining how under the British the old tactic of divide and rule had been used to keep the masses divided, between Malays, Indians, Chinese, and that this was taken over by the Malaysian ruling class after independence. She emphasised the fact that genuine independence of the people is yet to be achieved.

The comrades of the PSM are campaigning against the FTA, as well as working among different layers of workers and youth. They are active among the marginalised peoples, the plantation workers, the trade unions and so on.

The basic principles of the Parti Sosialis Malaysia are outlined in one of the documents Kohila left us, "Mobilising for change - a profile of the Parti Sosialis Malaysia:

"The root cause of Malaysia's socio-economic problems is neither race nor religion. The root cause is Private Ownership of the Means of Production which results in production geared for the profits of a small minority and not for the needs of the vast majority.

"Malaysia's socio-economic problems can only be eliminated when the working people of Malaysia take over and democratically control the means of production.

"The PSM is firmly committed to the Socialist Struggle for a secular, genuinely democratic and just society where production is geared towards the needs of the majority, and people have a real say in the administration of society through democratically elected workers' councils.

"PSM membership is open to those who accept the socialist analysis of society and are prepared to commit themselves to building a Peoples' Movement."

After the discussion we interviewed Kohila:

First of all, could you explain to us who you are and which party you represent?

I am Kohila, member of the Socialist Party of Malaysia and I am also involved in the Marginalised People's Movement. The party has been formally in existence since 1998, but we have been doing work for 20 years with the people.

What are the origins of the party?

We are a socialist party coming from a Marxist-Leninist tradition and we do work with the people. We started off with a plantation workers' committee but we moved on to build the workers' movement in Malaysia itself.

Your members are standing and have stood in elections. Which demands do you raise?

Our programme is a socialist programme and we defend socialist policies. Our people who stand in the elections declare their assets. We fight for people's rights, housing policies, land reforms. We work with the people and have an agreement with them: our candidates give them a "letter of resignation" and if we don't do our work properly they can send the letter back to us and sack us. It is a kind of right of recall.

In the last elections we only stood in three places. In the northern area we had about 12,000 votes. In another area we got 20,000 votes, where the ruling party won with a 10,000-vote majority so we did make a dent in the ruling party. Having said that, we are not an electoral party, as we have not yet been allowed to register officially. The fact is that elections are a good time to put forward our ideas, which is not always easy in Malaysia with all the laws and regulations.

We have in effect been able to introduce changes and we have created more democratic space. At one point it was forbidden to gather with more than five people, as you had to have a permit. But in 1994, 3,000 workers, mainly plantation workers, came out to protest without any permit. We were the first ones to organise such a demonstration in front of the parliament. Since then we have celebrated May Day in this way. In 2002, there was a massive crackdown on May Day and twenty people were arrested by the police. We waged a campaign around this with thousands of protest letters and we managed to get the restrictions on gatherings removed. Now we can celebrate May Day in public places without interference from the police.

What about the ideas of internationalism?

We are firm internationalists, although we don't align ourselves with one particular group. The struggle is an international struggle. We are successfully building our base in Malaysia itself with the Socialist Party but we also have contacts abroad with other groups and we try to build links especially with other groups in South East Asia such as in Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand.

What would you expect of collaboration with the International Marxist Tendency?

First of all we would like to have an exchange of ideas and experience. It would be great to be able to work together on some issues and we would like to learn from your experiences.

Is the Venezuelan Revolution known in Malaysia and how does your party deal with this issue?

On our part, we know what is going on in Venezuela and we see it as an inspiration. People can label it whatever they want but we think what is happening in Venezuela is very positive. Some call it the "socialism of the 21st century". The revolution is moving forward and the changes that are taking place are very inspiring to all of us.

What is the political situation in Malaysia now and what are your main areas of struggle?

Currently, working conditions in Malaysia are very bad because of the way multinationals work. There is no proper minimum wage; there are cheap labour policies and globalisation so workers are really exploited. The peasants are no better off either and the same goes for the youth, who face severe restrictions. Fifty years after so-called independence from Britain the people don't see much of that independence in practice. It is clear that a lot of work is to be done.

Our main area of work is amongst the plantation workers, factory workers, youth, urban settlers. We are getting people into the party but we also try to create awareness. We have two big campaigns at the moment. One is called the Minimum Wage Act Campaign and the other anti-FTA Campaign. We have been successful with the campaign against the free trade agreement in the sense that the government wanted to secretly sign the agreement but we made a lot of noise about it. We don't want to have happen here what happened in Korea when they signed such an agreement at the last minute, despite the massive protests against it. Apart from those campaigns we are active against neo-liberal policies such as privatisation of health and water.

How does the ruling class use the racial issue and what is the party's attitude towards that?

It has always been the policy of British imperialism to play the race card in order to divide the people. We are obviously against that and are in favour of working class unity. Some parties go to the Malay community and only talk about Malay issues, then they go to the Indian community and only talk about Indian issues. We take a class approach and deal with all issues. It's about putting the working class first.