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From a Malaysian police cell: 'Why I am a socialist and intend to remain so', explains Jeyakumar Devaraj

[Jeyakumar Devaraj, a federal member of parliament, is one of six Malaysian socialists being held without trial since June 25. Protest letters still are urgently needed to be sent to the Malaysian government, please visit http://www.parti-sosialis.org/en/en/articles/1585 for details of where they can be sent. See also "Malaysia: Protests demand release of democracy activists" and "Asia-Pacific socialists demand: 'Free all political prisoners! Democracy for the Malaysian people!'".]

By Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj, written in detention

July 19, 2011 -- Parti Sosialis Malaysia -- “Hey Kumar! Still tilting at windmills are you?”, a doctor friend greeted me at a function four years ago. There had been some news regarding the Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM, Socialist Party of Malaysia) in the media that previous week. For many, the socialist experiment had already been assigned to the dustbin of history and only deluded people would still work towards socialism

But for us in the PSM, we believe that socialism has an important, even crucial, role to play in averting a collosal economic-ecological disaster that will occur within the next 30-60 years!

We believe that the world has to find a workable alternative to an economy driven by corporate greed. We advise three main arguments for this position.

1. Malaysia’s current economic course recommends to a 'race of the bottom'

The global owners of capital and technological expertise that control market access are a relatively small number of corporations – about 500 to 1000. They have become all powerful in the unipolar world of today and they can “bargain hunt”. Even the biggest governments can’t control them. 

The measures that Malaysia is taking to attract investors into Malaysia include:

  • Lowering corporate tax and supplementing tax income by enacting a goods and services tax (GST). The tax burden is being shifted onto ordinary Malaysians.
  • Enhancing “labour flexibility”. This is a misnomer -- it undermines job security and workers’ rights through allowing contractualising of labour and by weakening trade unions.
  • Privatisation of basic services such as health care and tertiary education.

All these measures pile economic pressure on the poorer 70% of the population.

And these are measures other developing countries are also taking – each outdoing their neighbour in the mad rush for foriegn direct investment (FDI). It is very difficult to build a caring society within this framework of development.

2. Chronic underconsumption leading to massive growth of financial capital and increasingly volatile financial 'bubbles'

The ability of large corporations to “bargain hunt” in the cheapest sites to station their factories has meant mega-profits for these corporions but at the same time has stunted the aggregate consumption power of the global economy. When a US or European firm lays off 100 US workers by shifting to China and hiring 100 Chinese workers at one-seveth the wage, the total buying power of the working class is reduced.

The absence of robust growth in consumer demand dictates that the profits of the corporations cannot be invested in the production of more consumer goods. So the corporations need to try other alternatives to make money such as the futures market, currency trading, the sharemarket, and other financial products like derivatives.

This tendency is highlighted by the fact that “quantitative easing” – the release of more money into the US economy in an effort to stimulate industrial production, thus reducing unemployment – has backfired into the creation of more financial bubbles in various parts of the world. The problem is sluggish consumer demand, not a lack of productive capital.

The issue here is not insufficient regulations but a misdistribution of the world’s wealth! To address this problem, the power of the corporations has to be challenged!

3. We are reaching the environment limits of growth

The global economy is heavily dependent on petroleum. This commodity is going to run out within the next 50 years or so. We urgently need to think not only of alternatives sources of fuel, but also of  much greater fuel efficiency!  

Global warming is with us. How soon and how fast sea levels are going to rise is still a matter of conjecture – but does that mean we can afford to ignore the issue if it only impacts our grandchildren and not us?

An economic model that requires a global average rate of growth of 4% per year to avoid downturns is clearly not sustainable! Not for the next 50 years! We need to redistribute the wealth we already are creating more equitably. We have to cut down waste! Growth cannot be endless.    

All of these are only possible if we are ready to challenge the paradigm that unchecked greed will lead to the best possible outcome for the world’s majority because Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” is still operating in today’s corporate-led globalisation.

The ordinary people of the world need to take power to dictate the direction of the national and world economy away from the hands of the 560 richest corporations of the world.

We need to empower the marhein [little people] of the world to take on these tasks through a democratic process. These are the tasks facing 21st century socialism. These are not easily attainable goals.

But the problems we are facing are extremely serious. Unchecked they could lead to an ecological, food or climatic disaster that will lead to a decimation of the world’s population.

This is not the world that I wish to bequeath my grandchildren. That is why I am a socialist and intend to remain so despite my Emergency Ordinance (EO)/Internal Security Act (ISA) arrest!

What crime did the PSM 6 commit?

Sarasvathy Muthu, or Saras as she is known.

By Rani Rasiah, PSM central committee member

July 19, 2011 -- Parti Sosialis Malaysia -- "I have everything except my freedom", Choo Chon Kai, one of the six detained under the Malaysian government's Emergency Ordinance, told family members, who were allowed a 15-minute visit on July 15. The six have been deprived of all creature comforts, having been locked up in 2 metre by 2.5 metre cells, in solitary confinement in a police remand centre. The lights are on in the cells day and night and one way mirrors ensure there is no privacy.

Yet the six – Saras, Letchu, Chon Kai, Babu, Sugu and Kumar – are not complaining bitterly about their physical circumstances. This is not surprising as in their day to day lives, they have chosen to lead simple lives. They have decided to drop out of the rat race, and devote themselves to the struggle for a better deal for the downtrodden and for a more just society.

Sarasvathy Muthu, or Saras as she is known, began her involvement in community organising when she joined the progressive Young Christian Workers at the age of 17. When she started working, the plight of oppressed factory workers drove her to organise unions so that they could be in a stronger bargaining position. 

In the early 1990s Saras and others founded Alaigal, a Perak-based community organisation, which throughout its years of existence shook the Perak state government by defying and challenging among others, unjust orders that would render marginalised communities homeless or deprive them of their livelihood.

A community organiser par excellence, Saras has organised countless communities in various sectors – plantation workers, urban pioneers (squatters), farmers and workers – educating them on their rights and empowering them to struggle as a united community against whoever oppressed them. Many area struggles have been won using people’s power as a weapon.

Saras was also a founder member of the Parti Sosialis Malaysia, a party that was formed in 1998 by a group of community organisations that felt the need for elected representatives of their own in parliament and the state assemblies. Saras is the deputy chairperson of the PSM, and contested in the 2008 general elections in the state seat of Jelapang. She lost but, as is typical of PSM candidates, she has not been a loser. Known for her hard work, tenacity and courage, she has serviced the badly gerrymandered Jelapang constituency remarkably well.

For her outstanding performance as a social activist, Saras was selected for the Best Female Social Activist award by the Semparuthi Publications team in 2011.

The stories of the other five PSM members in detention are not unlike that of Saras. Sugu and Letchu opted to commit their time and energy to the struggle to improve the lives of the marginalised since the time they were teenagers. Both decided to settle for humble occupations that would allow them the flexibility that is so important in community and party work. Sugu taps rubber part of the week on a small family plot, and earns extra money doing wiring. 

What is the crime of these principled men and woman, who call themselves socialists?

Is it a crime to  devote one’s life to the service of humankind without any expectation of gain or reward? Is it wrong to criticise the government, and educate the rakyat [people] on the host of anti-people policies of the Barisan National government – the GST, amendments to the labour law, non-implementation of a minimum wage, subsidy withdrawal, signing of the FTA, privatisation of health care and education, the use of draconian laws such as the ISA, etc?

When rapacious developers want to flatten the homes of the poor in the name of development, these six have not stood idly by. When vegetable and livestock farmers are threatened with eviction, these six have defended the land along with the farmers. 

They have been arrested many times and locked up and then released for defending people’s right to their homes and livelihood, and the right to greater social justice for 70% of Malaysians.

The six, aged 25 to 57 – Babu, Chon Kai, Saras, Sugu, Letchu and Kumar – merely believe that the wealth of the country should be more equitably distributed so that every child can grow up to realise his/her potential, and not have his/her development held back by the lack of access to basic needs. They think it is not ok for the government to merely show in its statistics that the income of 34% of Malaysian workers is below the poverty line.  

What is the crime in all this?

When a government deems it politically expedient to lock up good men and women, it is high time we voted it out.

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