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Malaysia: PSM -- a decade of struggle

Port Dickson, Malaysia, June 1, 2008 -- The Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM -- Parti Sosialis Malaysia) successfully concluded its 10th congress at a time when the ruling Barisan Nasional Party faces its biggest threat to its survival in Malaysian politics and while capitalism faces its biggest challenge -- the world food crisis. It is an exciting time and it is time for change.

The PSM's successful three-day (May 30-June 1) national congress was attended by around 150 people, including delegates from seven states, three front organisations and invited guests who have been strong supporters of PSM for the past years.

The congress was held at the National Union of Banking Employees (NUBE) centre, Port Dickson. The road leading to NUBE was decorated in red. Banners greeted the delegates. [The PSM is] the vibrant and only remaining socialist party in Malaysia... [This congress marked] 10 years of uncompromising politics -- to uphold class politics against communal politics, to advance the working-class agenda against the ruling capitalist class. Ten years of survival without legal political registration.

This year's congress marks yet another milestone in the PSM's history. The congress was extra special -- besides being the PSM's 10th year, the congress for the first time was attended by two elected representatives - socialist member of parliament Comrade Dr Jeyakumar and a socialist member of state assembly Comrade Dr Nasir Hashim. Another reason for the party to cherish [this congress] was the presence of four new branches from Tanah Rata (Cameron Highland), Seremban (Negri Sembilan), Semenyih (Selangor) and Jelapang (Perak).



The congress began with the singing of the Internationale and a new song introduced by Comrade Chon Kai, titled Lawan (Fight) -- a translation from an Italian song, Bella Ciao. Then, our deputy chairperson comrade M Saraswathy gave her opening speech. She welcomed the delegates and guests. As usual she was very energetic in her speech touching on various issues, from the food crisis to the Maoist victory in Nepal. This was followed by international solidarity messages from 18 socialist organisations in Asia and Europe.

Comrade Nasir Hashim, the chairperson of the party, officiated the congress after his opening address which praised the brave decision made by Malaysian voters in the last election to bring change. He also spoke about Pakatan Rakyat -- a coalition of opposition parties which won five states in the election -- as well as the rapid growth of socialism in Latin America, the overthrow of the monarch in Nepal and finally [blamed] capitalism for destroying the world and named it as the culprit for the current food crisis, climate change and economic crisis.

This was followed by responses from each branch, front organisation and by state delegates on Nasir's statements. Certain issues seemed to dominate the debate this year, especially the victories of Pakatan Rakyat, the PSM's failure to get registered and the inspiring developments in Nepal.

Later in the evening, the PSM's secretary general, Comrade Arutchelvan (Arul), read out his report covering [the period] from June 2007 until May 2008. His review was remarkable. He described the year as being one of the most historic, horrifying, challenging and incredible. It is not only the 50th year of independence for the nation but also a turning point for the Barisan Nasional, which was defeated in five states in the March 8, 2008, election.

Comrade Arutchelvan's speech addressed the controversial positions taken by the PSM, especially on the two big gatherings last year -- the BERSIH and HINDRAF rallies -- which raised serious conflicts... The BERSIH (Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections) rally, in going to the King, was seen as an endorsement of the feudal institution, while the HINDRAF rally was an ethnic-based mobilisation [of Malaysia's Indian population]. Both actions led to massive gatherings of people in the streets and made the party review its position on tactics and strategies. It led to a discussion on ``Socialism in 21st century'' to assess mobilising strategies in view of the dynamic changes in objective and subjective conditions. The party played a key role in organising several important rallies last year, such as the anti-fuel hike protest which resulted in 18 leading party members being arrested, as well as a protest to defend freedom of assembly and the May Day rally. These efforts were applauded.

The secretary general also discussed the difficult and painful experience in [parliamentary] seat negotiations with opposition parties, especially with the DAP. The PSM only asked for four seats but the arrogance and hostility shown by some opposition members was extremely hurtful. They claimed they were their traditional seats, but we can also claim the same for those seats, which once belonged to the Socialist Front! Anyway, after 44 years, Comrade Kumar won a parliamentary seat in Sg. Siput while Comrade Nasir won the Kota Damansara state seat after 40 years.

This will definitely help the party to grow but we will continue to face challenges from Barisan Nasional as well as Pakatan Rakyat since PSM does not a have registration and we have to use other party symbols. This is used by some of these parties to suppress the PSM and its ideology.

The PSM since the election has had a 400% increase of membership and has four new full-timers in the elected areas. We will continue to build the people's power and the workers will definitely rule the country one day!

Besides internal problems, secretary general Arutchelvan also addressed the activities of certain international socialist groups in Europe that try to create splits here if they cannot convince the party to toe their line. However, he said, ``we don't let any international group teach us how to do work in our homeland. We are willing to learn but we will not allow ourselves to be bullied.''

Comrade Arul concluded his speech with five challenges in the coming years:

* Will Pakatan Rakyat be sustained and will it able to take over at the federal government level?

* Will Badawi remain or will he be overthrown? Is there a possibility of racial riots or will the BN declare an emergency?

* What will be the impact of the food crisis on our economy and our workers?

* What will be the decision of the Federal Court on registration of the PSM, and what if registration denied?

* Will the Internal Security Act detainees be released?

The secretary general's report was followed by that of our national treasurer, Comrade Sivarajan. He took the opportunity to thank all supporters of the PSM for their contributions... Our state assembly members and MPs are also contributing part of their allowances to fund more full-timers at branch level and one more person for head office.

Food crisis

The first day ended with a paper presented by T Rajamoorthy and Choo Chon Kai on the food crisis and it's impact on the economy and people's movement. The crisis is here to stay for at least another 10 years and the cause of the crisis was outlined by both presenters e.g. drought, overwhelming industrialisation compared to food production, increase in prodiction for biofuels, climate change and crisis in the stock exchange. Thus prices of food increase many fold. There have been protests all over the world, including in Haiti, Indonesia, Cameroon, Nigeria and Bangladesh. Millions of people will be facing hunger and death. Both presenters concluded that capitalism and its policies are the cause of the current crisis -- basically capitalism is in crisis!

The solution recommended was equal distribution of food, more land for food farming, more land for small farmers/collective farming, diversity in food farming, reinstatement of the goal of food security, more organic farming as done by socialist Cuba [since] the food crisis in 1989, and ensure that various subsidies are in place to keep the prices of food and basic essentials down. Chon Kai said that two great revolutions -- the French revolution and the Bolshevik revolution -- were triggered because of food shortages. Will we get an opportunity to put an end to capitalism and the free market system?

The second day of the congress was full of debate and healthy discussion on a number of issues. It started with a presentation from Comrade Arul and Lee Ban Chen on whether the objective conditions are mature enough for Pakatan Rakyat to take power from Barisan Nasional and whether there is a need for the PSM to form a third force. Comrade Ban Chen felt that Pakatan Rakyat is not ready to take over from Barisan Nasional, which has been ruling the country for decades using manipulation and dirty tactics. Furthermore voters did not fully endorse the Pakatan Rakyat’s agenda for change. Pakatan Rakyat is a loose coalition without a strong foundation and lacks experience. Already the federal government is sabotaging financial and administrative matters. It is possible for Pakatan Rakyat to win over the people in next election if its current policies are pro-people. In terms of whether the PSM should form a third force or support the two-party system, Lee Ban Chen was of view that the PSM should first support Pakatan Rakyat to counter Barisan Nasional/UMNO [United Malays National Organisation] and only at a second stage fight for implementation of its own program.

Comrade Arutchelvan is of the opinion that now we are in a unique situation because five states are under Pakatan Rakyat rule while seven states are under Barisan Nasional. Barisan Nasional is in crisis, UMNO is facing a power struggle, [former deputy prime minister] Anwar Ibrahim is talking about taking over power and the food and fuel crises are getting worse -- so, it's time to play an active role in politics and not grumble! As Pakatan Rakyat is a phenomenon created by the people, the PSM must ally with the people to defend Pakatan Rakyat. He also shared the views of Ban Chen that the PSM does not have the power to build a third force, but has the power to empower the people to bring down Barisan Nasional. He suggested that the PSM should work with Pakatan Rakyat on a minimum program. But if Pakatan Rakyat allies with the capitalists to go against the people, then PSM would stand with the people. The conclusion of both these papers was that the PSM should support Pakatan Rakyat and work together under a minimum program but at the same time start building the PSM and spread its influence.

The afternoon session was allocated to evaluation of the PSM program and its five bureaus -- national network, ideology, party registration, propaganda and international.

The third debate session was on how socialists handle the primary contradictions between culture and economics in Malaysia's political context. Comrades Ngo Jian Yee and Dr Kumar presented the paper. This has been perhaps the most challenging issue confronting the Malaysian left for the last few decades. It was the most challenging debate. Ngo argued that the PSM should involve itself actively in the cultural struggle as it would bring the various ethnic groups together and indirectly weaken the hegemony of Barisan Nasional, which uses race and religion to divide and rule. On the other hand, Dr Kumar asked whether the mere existence of multifaceted and widespread ethnic discrimination automatically means that this becomes the primary contradiction? His viewpoint is that in this epoch of globalised capitalism, the primary contradiction is and will remain the tension between capital and the ordinary masses -- the class contradiction.

Workshop questions were given to our delegates to discuss in smaller groups to express their views on whether the PSM is on the right track by not getting too involved in ethnic- and religious-based issues, as well as on how to strengthen the [PSM] in relation to the economic and cultural struggles. Unfortunately, after much discussion, the groups were not able to make a decision and the debate was postponed and will now be decided in the PSM's internal SPD within the next year.

Twenty motions were debated out of the 35 motions tabled by the various branches and fronts. The motions were on party membership, election- and program-related issues e.g. inflation, food crisis, party newspaper, 1% membership fee. Seven motions were withdrawn, two rejected and the rest passed. Some of the motions with highest number of votes passed were:

* Our socialist MP and assembly member visit all states in Malaysia to popularise the party and it's program.

* Hire another full-timer to handle publication of the party newspaper.

* Increase the size of the party newspaper and it's frequency.

* Form a coalition and lead a campaign against inflation and the food crisis.

* Pressure the government to hold local council elections

* Organise HARTAL [strike] against the draconian Internal security Act.

* An intensive campaign to get the party registered.

The 1% contribution or a member's wage to the party was dropped after most members rejected this. This contribution is now not compulsory. During the vote, most central committee members supported the 1%. As the treasurer later said, this is democratic centralism and the party will respect the decision.

The day ended with another long discussion on how to increase party membership without jeopardising its quality. Comrade Rani and Kunasekaran presented their views. PSM membership has increased 400% from 23 in 2003 to 250 in 2008. Since the last congress, the party has loosened up its criteria to enable more people to join, and after the national election, more people seem to be interested in joining the PSM. Will the PSM's principles and ideological beliefs be diluted with more open membership? There are clearly two trends among the members -- one group who are ideologically clear and active while the the other is not. Rani's suggestion to address this situation is to have two types of membership -- voting members and ordinary members. While Sekar argued that the existing mechanism -- a probation period -- is sufficient to ensure the quality of members and that two types of membership would create more problems. The same question was put to the delegates in the workshop questions. It was yet another fierce debate which ended with members [opposing the suggestion of] two types of membership, but they asked the central committee to come up with a mechanism that only allows active members to have voting rights on the party’s positions etc.

The third and last day of the congress was less hectic. We went through the party [policies] and several amendments were suggested ... The delegates put forward 30 resolutions and some of them were:

* Register the PSM.

* The government must provide permanent land title to farmers.

* The government must enact a minimum wage law.

* Pakatan Rakyat must [implement] its election manifesto, abolish toll in its states.

* The government must stop the National Service Program

* The government must give automatic recognition to workers' unions.

* PSM is against imperialism clamping down the socialist governments of Venezuela and Bolivia, and

* The PSM is against capitalism.

The congress ended with forceful speeches from our delegates and representatives. Once again our secretary general reminded us that in two weeks' time, the federal court would decide on the PSM's [registration]. It would be the final court decision but PSM cadres will defend the party whatever the outcome. It is the abolition of classes which can stop PSM not any capitalist court of law.

Dr Kumar quoted Che, ``Let’s be realistic and do the impossible.'' When the idea to register a socialist party was mooted around 15 years ago, most people said that it was not realistic and socialism was dead. Today the PSM is alive, 60% of its membership is below 40 years of age, the party's membership has increased and more branches have been opened. We have done the impossible though being denied registration for the last 10 years. Dr Nasir summed up in his closing remarks, ``I feel safe today because we have created many more young socialists to lead the struggle forward.”

``Dunia baru kita dirikan… pasti jadi kenyataan.'' The world we are trying to create will definitely one day become a reality. A line from the Internationale, on which ended the three-day congress.

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