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Socialist Party of Malaysia: Building socialism while capitalism crumbles
By Choo Chon Kai, International Bureau, PSM
November 13, 2008 -- Kajang, Malaysia -- It was timely for the Socialist Party of Malaysia (Parti Sosialis Malaysia -- PSM) to host the ``Socialism 2008 –- Malaysia'' conference, when the world is caught in a deep crisis that is considered the worst since World War II. The conference showed that capitalism, during its 18-year term as the dominant ideology of the world, had wreaked havoc on the lives of people and the planet, and that there was an urgent need to put forward a socialist alternative.
Socialists from Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Australia, Britain, Sweden, Taiwan as well as from different parts of Malaysia, gathered at New Era College, Kajang, Selangor state, during the weekend of November 7-9, 2008, to discuss and debate some of the burning issues related to the struggle against capitalism and for socialism today. The organiser chose November 7, the anniversary of the Great October Revolution, as the day for the opening rally and ``Youth Revolutionary Night''.
Five-hundred people attended the opening rally on November 7, with keynote speeches by Nasir Hashim (chairperson of the PSM), Syed Sharir (president of the Malaysian Trade Union Congress), Saraswathy (deputy chairperson of the PSM), "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-Hung (Hong Kong Legislative Council member), Francisco Nemenzo (from Laban ng Masa in the Philippines) and Colleen Bolger (from Socialist Alternative, Australia).
Speakers at the opening rally, with the theme, "Socialism in the 21st Century", spoke about the deep crisis of global capitalism and the urgent need to build socialism from below. Leung Kwok-Hung, a radical social activist who is often called "Long Hair", said in his speech, "You can call it neoliberalism, globalisation or whatever. It is merely another stage of global capitalism."
Nasir Hashim (left), chairperson of the PSM, stressed during his speech at the opening rally, "Socialists must always be prepared to grab the chance to replace capitalism when the crisis of capitalist economic crisis explodes one day."
All the representatives of the participating international groups in the forum, together with comrades in the PSM, were invited to go onto the stage and to wave their flags and banners, after the opening performance which depicted the struggle of the working class and ordinary people in Malaysia. The Internationale, the anthem of revolutionaries and working class all over the world, was sung in high spirits, on the day the October Revolution took place 91 years ago.
Following the opening rally, was the Youth Revolutionary Night, with many dramas, pantomimes, songs and dances performed by young people. There was a mixed media performance by children of Kampung Berembang about their struggle against eviction, as well as a "Malaysian Political Oscar Awards" which entertained the audiences with satirical political scenarios in Malaysia from the last year.
Such use of revolutionary and critical art and the dedication demonstrated by our young people greatly inspired the international delegates; some of whom said it has given them a lot of ideas on applying art in the same way in their home countries.
Capitalism in deep crisis
The next day, November 8, the program kick started with a session on "Crisis in Capitalism: "Financial, Food and Fuel Crisis." The chair for this session was Rajamoorthy, from Third World Network, while the speakers were Lim Mah Hui, an economist, and Mickael Von Knorring, from the Swedish Left Party.
Lim Mah Hui gave a brief yet detailed analysis on financial capitalism. He said, "Capitalism is prone to crisis. Capitalism is a highly productive system but prone to flaws –- inequality, destruction. Dominance of finance over productive capital is problematic. Financial capitalism has become even more unstable. Over the last 70 years there have been 124 banking crises -– South American, Scandinavian, Japanese. The current crisis started with the subprime. " Mickael's talk was more focused on the oil crisis and ways to overcome it.
After the first session, there was a launching of the Malay translation of Lenin by Ian Birchall. This is the first in a series of translations of the ``rebel's guide'' series of books planned by the PSM to help Malaysians understand socialism.
The second session "Climate Change -– How to Weather it?" was chaired by Nizam Mahshar, a social environmentalist, as he calls himself, from Friends of the Earth. The speakers of this session were Terry Townsend, editor of Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal and the Australian Democratic Socialist Perspective, and Jonathan Neale, a leading member of Socialist Workers Party of Britain, who is actively involved in campaigning against climate change.
Terry warned that "a 6˚C rise in temperature would mean billions of human beings will perish, with broad areas of fertile lowland swamped by rising seas and desertification." Jonathan also said, "They [governments] want to do something, but they cannot do it within their system. We have to build a global climate movement to force them to do it. We cannot build it based on sacrifice. This movement will be nothing unless we have it in USA, China, India and Asia. We cannot have a movement in Asia that's based on sacrifice. We cannot have a movement in Asia to tell people to go back and live a simple life. We have to build a movement that says we will have jobs, we will have growth and we will make poverty history." Only a socialist system driven by popular democracy and planning and not personal enrichment and consumption can alleviate the problems we have today.
Peoples' struggles around the world
The next session was on "Revolution and Counter Revolution in Latin America", chaired by Amer Hamzah, a human rights lawyer. The speakers for this interesting topic were Jorge Martin, International Secretary of Hands Off Venezuela, and Lisa Macdonald (at microphone, below right), national coordinator for Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network.
Jorge shared the inspiring stories of the brave Latin American masses in fighting capitalism and imperialism. There's right now a major debate in Latin America to differentiate between reformist socialism and revolutionary socialism. Lisa also said, "The gains people have made in Venezuela have made an impact in the revival of mass uprising in a variety of countries. The Venezuelan revolution is unfinished and an open-ended process and threatened by the contradiction of the process."
After "travelling" to a continent far away, we returned to our own region in the session on "South East Asia –- People's Power and Betrayals". The session was chaired by K. Arumugam, a social activist, and the speakers were Giles Ji Ungpakorn, from Turn Left Thailand, and Francisco Nemenzo, from Laban ng Masa in the Philippines.
Giles raised a few crucial issues like the gap between mood and struggle, problems of alliances on the left, alliances with Islamic parties, transitional demands in a time of global economic crisis, and the need for a Marxist political organisation; while Francisco concentrated his presentation of the development and challenges faced by the Filipino left.
The fifth session on November 8 was on "Nepal under Maoists". The invited speaker from the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) was not able to make it to the forum but had sent his apologies and solidarity greetings. The speakers for this session were Farooq Tariq, from the Labour Party Pakistan (LPP), and Siritunga, from United Socialist Party of Sri Lanka. The recent developments in Nepal, a landlocked country of the Himalayas, has attracted tremendous attention and interest from socialists around the world including those in Malaysia.
Farooq spoke about the meaning of the success in Nepal and the challenges faced by CPN (M), while Siritunga talked about the problems with the Maoists. Farooq said that one of the victories of the Maoists was that they stood ordinary people against the government heavyweights in the electoral contest and they deserve credit for putting the maximum number of women in parliament. "Those already fighting on a hammer and sickle should then move forward, not backwards. It's our task to have an open mind and open eyes as socialists, and as internationalists," said Farooq.
After a long day of discussions, the second day ended with the screening of films about local and international struggles.
The way forward for the left
The third day, November 9, started with the session "Left in Coalition Politics", chaired by Koy, a social activist. Speakers for this session were Jesus Syaiful Anam, from International Marxist Tendency (IMT) Indonesia, and Jeyakumar Devaraj, central committee member of the PSM and member of parliament for Sungai Siput.
Jesus shared the experiences and debates about coalition politics in Indonesia. Kumar pointed out one of the main reasons for this topic is because the left is weak and divided. Kumar pointed out the dialectics of "success" in coalition politics, where the nature of the revolutionary party itself can change when taking part in electoral politics. Kumar outlined the principles of engagement in coalition-electoral politics – ideological clarity, democracy within the party and the avoidance of cultism. He also cautioned against elected representatives becoming too comfortable with their new positions. "Coalition politics does offer the left opportunities to spread its analysis and win over more supporters and members. But it is a doubled-edged sword which may actually result in the subversion of our aims and destruction of our party", said Kumar.
The session that followed was on "PSM – 10 Years and Beyond", chaired by Amir Muhammad, a well-known filmmaker. The speakers were Tan Jing Quee, who was a leader of Socialist Front in Singapore, and Arutchelvan (``Arul''), secretary-general of the PSM. Tan talked about the history of the left in Malaya, while Arul (left) shared the history of the PSM and challenges ahead.
Tan Jing Quee reviewed the inspiring history of the Malayan/Malaysian left, the contributions and the challenges faced. Having played a role in that great history, he spoke with passion, and sometimes with regret at current interpretations of certain events of that period.
According to Arul, there are four critical issues facing the PSM today which will determine its future path:
1. How do we build the party? Around election work or through building the class movement?
2. Welfare work/reformist versus revolutionary work.
3. Help build a two-party system or the third force, and
4. Creating a more multi-ethnic membership.
Arul also shared the three ``guiding stars'', advice from a very prominent socialist in her mid-80s:
1. Always read and understand ideology.
2. Do a lot of hard work with the people to gain their support, and
3. Never betray your members and the people at large.
The last session before the closing session was on an interesting topic – "Islam and Socialism". The session was chaired by Mashalina Hamzah, from Sisters in Islam, and the speakers were Farooq Tariq from the LPP, and Mat Sabu, vice-president of the Islamic Party (PAS) of Malaysia.
Farooq argued that religious fanatics are not anti-imperialist. Meanwhile, Mat Sabu said that Prophet Muhammad had established a welfare state in his time. Farooq said that a political leader, leading a simple life, by itself is not enough. The more important thing is what policies are you going to implement. Farooq also emphasised that "Socialism is a message of the future, religion is a message of the past. They both stand on two different ends in ideology. We must oppose religious politics but not religion."
Socialism strives on
The final session was chaired by Sivarajan, treasurer of the PSM. The line-up of speakers for the final session with the topic on "Building the Class Forces" included Nasir Hashim, chairperson of the PSM, Kohila, coordinator of the Oppressed Peoples' Network (JERIT), S.N. Rajah, an active trade unionist, Ishak Surin, a founding member of People's Party (PRM) and currently the deputy chairperson of the Bureau of Labour and Urban Pioneers in PAS, and A.J. Kattaiah, editor of the Tamil version of Malaysiakini.
After the five speakers delivered their speeches, representatives from each international organisation participating also gave their views about the way forward for socialist struggle and about the forum. Farooq Tariq (right, with Nasir Hashim) said, "You (PSM) brought together some of the internationals who would not meet each other or sit with each other in their own countries. In Labour Party Pakistan, we have Maoists and Trotskyists, ex-Maoists and ex-Trotskyists. They are all there and they call themselves socialists. We are almost the same because we want to build a party of the working class!"
Jonathan Neale also gave his comments about Socialism 2008, "I will go away very tired in my body, but I will go away with my heart singing, and with much more courage. This room is full of the spirit of struggle… I became a revolutionary in Asia. And I am not interested in a revolution in Britain that does not include a revolution in Asia… Along the struggle, you will make a lot of mistakes, but it is better to do that than to get the theory worked out and do nothing."
A three-day event filled with revolutionary passion ended with the singing of the Internationale in four languages -- Malay, Mandarin, Tamil and English. Socialism has shown its vibrancy and indomitable spirit at ``Socialism 2008 – Malaysia'', and it will continue to strengthen through mass mobilisation and rising of the working class all over the world to resist capitalism and to build a socialist world.
Long live the people! Long live socialism!