By Sim Kwang Yang
COMMENT The long-silenced voice of socialism in Malaysia has once again been heard, following the arrest and release of Dr Jeyakumar and his five comrades from his Party Sosialis Malaysia, under the unjust Emergency Ordinance.
Once again, people are asking: what is socialism?
People in the Home Ministry would like to associate the idea of socialism with communism.
All communists are socialists, but not all socialists are communists. The confusion in Malaysia has arisen because of a lack of general knowledge about the basic terms used in politics in the ideological sphere.
Simply put, the major difference between communism and socialism is that communism will resort to violent means of political revolution, whereas democratic socialism endorses only peaceful means in its political struggle.
Communist regimes of the world are now very much curtailed in their power. As of now, the communist party controls only a few countries: China (at least in political terms), Vietnam, Cuba, Laos and North Korea.
Socialism’s global influence
On the other hand, the global influence of democratic socialism is much wider, and much longer lasting, than that of communism.
Democratic socialist parties are now in power in many parts of the developed world, controlling thriving democracies in Scandinavia, and a great part of the European continent.
Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the United States, and the establishment of the welfare state by the Fabians in the Labour Party in Britain, for example, are recognisable examples of the mark left on world history by democratic socialism.
These socialist reforms after the Second World War provided the foundation for the high standards of living in many industrialised nations today.
We Malaysians, though, have been poisoned by the politics of race and religion, which define most of the parameters of political debate. We tend to think there is no other form of politics except the politics of race and religion.
This is in sharp contrast to mainstream politics in Europe, Latin America and North America, where the ideological battleground between major contestants has long encompassed the issues of economics and class.
The battle lines have been drawn between the workers and the capitalists for centuries, since the Industrial Revolution.
Even today, the slogan of the working class remains: ‘Workers of The World, Unite’.
The DAP and socialism
When the DAP was formed in 1968, it immediately applied to join Socialist International, a collective name for all systems and parties that adopted the tenets of democratic socialism, throughout the world.
In 1986, I flew from Kuala Lumpur to Manila, to observe the presidential election that saw the coming to power of Corazon Aquino (right).
I was there on the invitation of the Asia Pacific Chapter of Socialist International, of which DAP Malaysia was a member, together with mainstream parties from New Zealand and Australia.
After the confusion of the election in Manila was over, I recommended to the DAP, and our socialist counterparts in other countries, to recognise the results of the presidential election in Manila. I was certainly proud to be a member of Socialist International then.
Socialism on the international scene has seen many twists and turns in the last 150 years.
Though democratic socialism has flowered, especially in Europe, it has evolved in many ways, and has assumed new identities, especially following the collapse of the communist bloc circa 1989.
Nevertheless, I will argue that socialism still has its place in contemporary Malaysia. One of its crucial roles is to challenge the exploitative nature of capitalism.
In Malaysia, we remain far from instituting a minimum wage policy, despite many unmet promises from the ruling coalition.
We have also drifted far from previous, commendable attempts by an independent labour union movement to protect the rights of employees at the workplace.
Politics of race
It is a pity that the rights of the working man have often been sidelined by our obsession with the politics of race.
The PSM is a new political force that declares their intention to pursue the socialist line.
I believe that their political struggle is very relevant to Malaysia, because many plantation workers, farmers and rubber tappers, among others, still suffer from the classical symptoms of exploitation.
The revival of PSM is a welcome piece of news, for it will stimulate political and economic debate, and open up a new battlefront for democracy in Malaysia.
The arrests of Dr Jeyakumar and his friends under the Emergency Ordinance, a law virtually indistinguishable from the despised Internal Security Act, are part of the repression faced by the working population in Malaysia as a whole.
We must give them our heartfelt support, and continue to defend democracy in our country, as part of a pro-people movement.
Workers of Malaysia, and of the world, unite. – Mkini
SIM KWANG YANG was member of Parliament for Bandar Kuching, Sarawak from 1982 to 1995. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. All comments are welcomed.