A History of the Malay Left: Part One

loading After the British returned to Malaya in the aftermath of World War II, the Malayan Union was formed. However, the Union was met with much opposition due to its constitutional framework, which allegedly threatened Malay sovereignty over Malaya. The event sparked the first major show of force by Malay nationalism, which eventually resulted in the formation of Federation of Malaya in 1948.

Many Malays opposed to colonialism in the pre-War period were considered communists by the British. Despite the failure of their various agendas, their early contributions were broad and lasting.


Being anti-colonial, the Malay Left was classed either as communists or at least as fellow travellers of the reds.1 The basis for this claim? Undeniably, being leftist or against the status quo was not enough to make one a communist.

So who or what was the Malay Left, really?

The Rise of the Malay Left

For starters, the Malay Left ought to be understood against the backdrop of the heterogeneity of Malay society before the Second World War. By 1941, three separate strands had appeared to challenge those in power.

The first was the Kaum Muda, a group of Middle East-educated scholars with Pan-Islamic sentiments who sought solutions to the social and economic backwardness of Malay-Muslims via Islam. The second was the radical intelligentsia inspired by the Indonesian nationalist movement. Lastly, there were the English-educated professionals and civil servants of the Malay Administrative Service.2

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