Barisan Sosialis

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Barisan Sosialis
Founded 1961
Dissolved 1988
Merged into Workers' Party of Singapore
Political position Left-wing
Colours Red, Blue
Politics of Singapore
Political parties

The Barisan Sosialis (Malay: Socialist Front; Chinese: 社会主义阵线) is a former Singaporean left-wing political party formed in 1961, by left-wing members of the People's Action Party (PAP) and led by Dr Lee Siew Choh and Lim Chin Siong.


The Barisan Sosialis was formed after the leftist members of the PAP were dismissed by then party leader Lee Kuan Yew. The key event leading to the breakup was the motion of confidence of the government in which 13 PAP assemblymen crossed party lines and abstained from voting. Together with six prominent left-leaning leaders from trade unions, the breakaway members established this new party. At the time of inception, it had popular support rivalling or even superseding that of the PAP. 35 of the 51 branches of PAP and 19 of its 23 organising secretaries went to the Barisan Sosialis.

Key Developments[edit]

The PAP was shocked by the split- these sentiments were emphasised when PAP member Goh Keng Swee commented on the schism (which, at the time, he clearly believed would end the PAP's dominance) in an interview with Dennis Bloodworth :

“…what shook us was not that we had lost the fight to the Communists but it was done with such contemptuous ease: one flick of the hand, and we were down on the floor”.[1]

Nevertheless, many Barisan Sosialis members did have (to varying extents) admiration and belief in the leftist ideals of Communism as well as Socialism due to the influence of Communist China. The leftist Barisan Sosialis was slammed by the PAP as a Communist front and attacked vehemently as being a radical pro-Communist group.

Merger Issue[edit]

Barisan Sosialis disagreed with the 1962 planned merger to form Malaysia, for two solid main reasons. To begin with, it was believed that if Singapore joined the Malaysian Federation, the anti-Communist Malaysian government then led by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) would be much harsher (on communists) than the existing Singapore government- this was, in fact, to the benefit of the PAP's anti-communist intents as a whole. Besides, Barisan Sosialis also felt that the terms of Singapore's membership in the Malaysian Federation were not fair to Singaporean citizens. According to a clause of the White Paper of 1962, Singapore-born citizens (residents of Singapore) would be granted automatic citizenship in the Malaysian Federation but would have to apply for other documents (for example passports, certificates) by themselves.

Operation Cold Store and the 1963 Election[edit]

In February 1963, many members of Barisan Sosialis were arrested during the enactment of Operation Coldstore by the ISC. The detainees included Lim Chin Siong and half of the Barisan's central executive committee, and the arrests provoked riots of protest, which in turn led to further arrests, mainly of second-echelon Barisan leaders. The arrests were a severe blow to the Barisan.[2] Despite that, in the 1963 state elections, the Barisan Sosialis won 13 out of 51 seats, becoming the second largest as well as the leading opposition party. Barisan Sosialis as a party was unsatisfied with the result, however, as victory had been expected. Additionally, partly because of a split in the opposition votes, only 14 seats were won in total (including one from the United People's Party) despite earning 53% of popular support. After the elections, in a series of 'anti-Communist' and 'anti-subversion' activities, the Internal Security Council would continue to arrest members of the Barisan Sosialis, including MPs. One famous example is Chia Thye Poh, an MP who was imprisoned without trial in 1965 and only released in 1998 as one of the longest-serving political prisoners in the world. Even then, his current conditions of release effectively barred him from participating in any politically related activities. Chia was consistently labelled as a Communist by the PAP, which supported their claims with testimonies from 2 ex-members of the underground Malayan Communist Party. Chia, however, had maintained throughout his imprisonment and afterwards that he was a prisoner of conscience.


After Singapore's independence from Malaysia, Barisan Sosialis members of parliament began resigning one by one in 1966. Though the Barisan Sosialis' official position was to 'take the fight to the streets', its morale had already been eroding due to its failure to stop the merger. By 1968, there were no opposition members of parliament and it was 13 years before an opposition party won a single seat during the Anson by-election of 1981.

In an election rally in 1980, Dr Lee Siew Choh, then chairman of Barisan Sosialis, apologised to the voters for Barisan Sosialis's actions in 1966. In 1988, the Barisan Sosialis was dissolved and its members, led by Dr Lee Siew Choh, joined the Workers' Party of Singapore.


  1. ^ Bloodworth, Dennis. (1986). The Tiger and the Trojan Horse, Singapore: Times Books International, 1986, p. 243
  2. ^ Turnbull, C.M. (1977). A History of Singapore 1819-1975, Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1977, p. 281

Further reading[edit]

Mutalib, Hussin. (2003). Parties and Politics: A study of Opposition Parties and the PAP in Singapore. Singapore: Eastern University Press. - ISBN 981-210-211-6 (Paperback)

See also[edit]