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Interview with Malaysian anarchists
south-east asia | anarchist movement | interview Monday June 20, 2011 18:17 by Sean Matthews - Workers Solidarity Movement
While in South East Asia recently Sean Matthews caught up with two Malaysian anarchists who told me about the issues they face as workers and anarchists in their country. Over a few drinks and few hours we discussed the current political and social situation including the problem of race and religion in their country. We exchanged ideas and experiences, the wider international anarchist movement and most important what we can do to assist anarchists in this part of the world. [Italiano]
Interview with Malaysian anarchists
While in South East Asia recently Sean Matthews caught up with two Malaysian anarchists who told me about the issues they face as workers and anarchists in their country. Over a few drinks and few hours we discussed the current political and social situation including the problem of race and religion in their country. We exchanged ideas and experiences, the wider international anarchist movement and most important what we can do to assist anarchists in this part of the world. This is a slightly edited version of the interview. For security reasons their names are anonymous.
Could you explain for our readers the current political and social situation in Malaysia?
The political situation in Malay remains the same since achieving independence from Britain 50 years ago, when the political struggle evolved into racism and religion. The same party is in power today. There are several states that are governed by several opposition parties.
The ruling political party uses racial issues, especially "Malay Power" to ensure power is maintained to this day, although the country is multi-ethnic. In 2010, there were several sectarian incidents including property sabotage on mosques and a church.
After 2008 the opposition parties did well in the elections because of the economic situation. They believe Malaysia can only be changed through reforms to overcome corruption but they are mistaken.
Today the social situation in Malaysia is critical with so many economic pressures coupled with corruption, race and religion. Government is too dependent on investors from outside where the capitalists will take advantage to manipulate the workers.
Is there much of a workers' movement and wider left in the country?
Currently, there is not much of a workers' movement. There are some independent organizations or committees which focus on struggles for civil rights liberation but normally these organizations participate from activist society and bourgeois class. Last year there were some people trying to build local Marxist organizations (CWI – Committee for a Workers' International), we had a few session debating with them about ideology and class struggle. There is one socialist party in our country (PSM – Socialist Party of Malaysia), but they have no direction or strategy to build a workers' movement. There is a single anarchist group, which focuses on youth activism and doing Food Not Bombs program stuff.
What is your own political background and how did you become interested in anarchism?
I began my political jouney at university (1998), involved in organizing a reform group to remove one prime minister due to corruption. After 2 years the reform group turned into a political party and I realized the issue was not about people's struggle anymore. In 2003, one of my friends asked me to look into anarchism since he always saw me talk about radical ideas of changing society but did not believe in the state and never voted or supported any party. Through some reading, discussion and debating, I became interested in anarchism even though I do understand the difficulty of struggle in our country by using the anarchist method or idea. Now I believe in building up an anarchist group among friends to introduce and empower a workers' liberation movement.
There is a notable history of anarchism in other parts of south-east Asia, such as in Korea and the Philippines. Is there a history of anarchism in Malaysia and what state is the movement in today?
There was some anarchist history before we got independence (1957)... radical ideas coming from immigrant Chinese workers at the time. One our friends in CNT Paris, just informed us they found some historical document that had been sent by anarchists in Malaysia to the Spanish CNT a while ago. The communist party was banned by the government in 1988 and there is no real anarchist movement which exists.
How does the repressive security situation and religion affect the anarchist movement there?
Repressive security comes from authority and law. We don’t have the right to meet or gather in public unless we get a permit from the police. We also have a publishing act where all literature is monitored by the government, printing company. We do not want to risk publishing radical literature. The government also monitors radical websites and social networking sites such as Facebook. In these weeks one anonymous hackers' group declared it had attacked a government website after the Malaysia government announced it would block some file-sharing websites. We also have the Internal Security Act (ISA), where the government can detain anyone without trial. Our communications such as mobile phone and internet connections are controlled by a government agency, and there are requirements such as required identification registration for every mobile number. Religion is always an issue with Muslim populations because their historical perspective on communism as well as understanding of ideology caused by government education policy. So, people are scared to get involved in the workers' movement because they believe they will force them to abandon from their religious beliefs.
What can the international anarchist movement do to assist anarchists in Malaysia?
Until today we have been receiving literature material from the international anarchist movement. Also helping to build up anarchist organization such as hosting a conference or workshop in Asia to gain awareness and education. Coordination of direct action also can very helpful if we have a local issue that we could relate to your country.
For more info on anarchism in Malysia please check out
Joint Statement of European Anarchist Organizations
International anarchist call for solidarity: Earthquake in Turkey, Syria and Kurdistan
Elements of Anarchist Theory and Strategy
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Declaración Anarquista Internacional por el Primero de Mayo, 2022
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Against Militarism and War: For self-organised struggle and social revolution
Declaração anarquista internacional sobre a pandemia da Covid-19
La révolution du Rojava a défendu le monde, maintenant le monde doit défendre la révolution du Rojava!
Anarchist Theory and History in Global Perspective
Capitalism, Anti-Capitalism and Popular Organisation [Booklet]
Reflexiones sobre la situación de Afganistán
South Africa: Historic rupture or warring brothers again?
Declaración Anarquista Internacional: A 85 Años De La Revolución Española. Sus Enseñanzas Y Su Legado.
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As a member of PSM and who identifies a lot with anarcho communism and who have volunteered for different organisations in the country including serving food for FNB, I don't think PSM lacks a direction or strategy to build a workers' movement, like the person interviewed said.
Part of PSM's strategy is building a workers movement through community organizing and campaigning be it on the streets, in the slums or in Parliament. Our parliamentary struggle is but an extension of our left-wing propaganda campaign with our sole MP acting as the people's voice in Parliament - winning the hearts and minds of Malaysian MPs and citizens alike by being a different kind of MP. Electoral politics aside, we participate in grassroots struggles. One example of how we build a movement through community organising is to rally different groups of people who are victims in the same issue, students from low-income backgrounds for example, and with our collective effort and mass mobilisation, start a mass campaign to call for universal, free education. You can read more info about all this on our website - www.parti-sosialis.org
I do think, like many other party members, that there are many ways our party can improve; though I wouldn't say that we have no direction or strategy. Would be great if that person being interviewed can contact us so we can have a constructive dialog on this and plan action as part of an anti-capitalist campaign.
I want to say that I appreciate Kris' invitation to comradely dialogue and debate... unfortunately, in anarchism we have a sometimes deplorable tendency to sweeping statements such as this "no strategy" one.
But I'd appreciate if the people interviewed or Kris himself could let me know anything about the protests that have been called against the government next month... who's tha main political and social actor behind them? what possibilities are there for building a revolutionary alternative? can anarchists and revolutionary socialists play any significant role in them?
I truly feel sorry for PSM because here in Malaysia, they are being treated like some pariah organization by the government as well as the public. I've been attracted to anarchism a few years back. I understand that most people in this country (Malaysia) treat anarchists and people with radical ideas like social outcasts and pariahs. I've seen it with my own eyes. UMNO (United Malay National Organization), the leading party and government in Malaysia, has been bashing on other political parties with such disdain. That is their way of making sure that they stay in power while disrespecting other parties. I totally agree with the person interviewed on workshops on anarchism here in Malaysia. It sounds like a good idea but if it really were to be held here in Malaysia, the government would totally ban it, which would be a shame.