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The Gerakan experiment has failed

‘The Celts with all their follies, weakness and savageries

Never fell into that cardinal blunder of mistaken means for ends. The ends they pursued, often blindly and wildly,

Were the fostering of individual dignity,

And of the spiritual imagination.’

- Hugh MacDiarmid

To Teng Chang Yeow,

Gerakan Secretary-General

It is with regret that I write to inform you that I have decided to resign my life membership of the Gerakan Party as from today.

As you will know, I’ve been a member of Gerakan for two years. During that time I’ve seen that in Gerakan, there are many enthusiastic activists in the party, covering the length and breadth of the country, though they suffered a national shock in March 2008 when the party lost the Penang state after governing it for 39 years.

Gerakan, since then, has begun the important process of returning to the core fundamentals/ values/ideology of the party in line with the party constitution. These are significant achievements by any standard.

But here we are in 2010, just two short years for the next general elections and everything has gone belly up. A party that was once composed of comrades and friends - united in the struggle for a Malaysian identity - has been turned into a party at war with itself. Bitter recriminations and accusations have been bandied about. The atmosphere inside the party is ugly and toxic.

How did we get to this point? There will be many who now believe that this mess is all the cause of a single individual’s personal follies.

It is wise to think that the success Gerakan could all be attributed to one man so it is equally logical to think that the current split within Gerakan Penang could all be attributed to the same individual/Gang of 4. That is akin to believing that the current war in the Iraq was started by George W Bush rather than trying to understand the political forces at work.

It is important that as many people as possible – whether members of the Gerakan or not - try to undertake a calm and rational analysis of what has happened to Gerakan Penang, if for no other reason than to avoid repeating these mistakes in the future. A full postmortem is absolutely vital and it’s something I intend to contribute to before rigor mortis sets in.

A rigorous and critical analysis of the party’s internal structures and culture, of key tactical decisions, and of the party’s overall political orientation would suggest that the cracks had appeared long before the March 8, 2008 general elections. Collective responsibility has to be shouldered for the current state of Gerakan as a whole.

My decision to resign from Gerakan is a result of the current leadership in Gerakan Penang. Political and personal considerations have come into it, as these things always do. But the shameful scenes that are taking place in the party this few weeks, running up to the EGM, is the final straw for me.

Gerakan has become increasingly marginalised in recent years. It has built little roots in local communities and has only a passive electoral support outside its ranks. There is little direct communication taking place between the party and its supporters.

The problem with this approach is that Gerakan has relied on the filter of the corporate media to get its ideas over. This corporate filter has been strategically placed between the party and the people. The dangers inherent in this approach are self-evident. The corporate media have no obligation to be fair to Gerakan. They are owned and controlled by multinational corporations/ political parties hostile to everything Gerakan stands for.

The suffocating culture of bureaucracy that has permeated Gerakan Penang has created a culture which stifles individual initiatives and even localised initiatives. Members tend to wait for instructions from the state/Gang of 4 or for resolutions to be passed, rather than just doing things themselves.

Where now for Gerakan Penang? Gerakan was a bold and brave experiment that ultimately failed. The idea of uniting the left was never going to work. Genuine unity is around principles not upon the vague and liberal idea of getting everyone under the one roof like being a member of Barisan Nasional that also consist of race-based political parties.

At present being a member of Gerakan is like being stuck in a sack full of angry wasps. The atmosphere is toxic. Those who remain in Gerakan face a hard uphill struggle to make the party credible in the eyes of its own supporters and relevant to the needs of the 21 st century.

The jury is out on whether the new look Gerakan will be merely the old one Mark II. Only time will tell. There are many good Malaysian members still within Gerakan who have learned from the mistakes of these past two years. Good luck to them.

After all those years of boring meetings in cold and drafty halls, I’m looking forward to the freedom that being outside of a political party will finally give me. I might even get involved in some real politics now. It will also mean the freedom to get involved in causes that I chose rather than the lost causes that sections of the left persist in choosing.

But most important of all it will give me the time and space to do what I should have been doing for these last two years and that is achieve my first class honours law degree. Education is important. The language and the culture of resistance is important.

It is not political parties – as many on the left mistakenly believe - but a country’s radical writers, musicians and other creative individuals who piece together and preserve the often hidden or censored history of working people. It is these same people who have the intellectual freedom and rigour to come up with radical new ideas.

I’m leaving with no regrets or bitterness towards anyone. I value the many good friends I’ve made in Gerakan over the years – on both sides of the current divide. I’m sure, in the future, many of us will work together in the fight for a Malaysian nation and for the breaking up the old elitist systems of power.

I still love politics, starting from school days, an interest that is now permanent in me. I will look into my political future after completing my law degree and till then, there are many ways for me to reach out to Penangites.