Poh Soo Kai comments on Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj’s new book An Alternative Vision for Malaysia, which has just been released.
What a gem – this collection of speeches, papers and letters of Jeyakumar Devaraj of PSM. I am most honoured to write this foreword to it.
PSM stands for Parti Sosialis Malaysia. Communism has been made such a dirty word for the last 100 years – even before and especially after the October Revolution in Russia in 1917. Socialism is closely associated with communism and has received as much flak as communism in this period.
So why did Jeyakumar and fellow grassroot activists, 18 years back, chose to carry this burden of history in the choice of the name for their party?
Jeyakumar did not answer this question directly. However, he minced no words in his brief review of the shortcomings of socialism and communism as practised by the former USSR, the Eastern bloc countries, China, Vietnam, and even the Communist Party of Malaya and the Left in Malaya/sia.
Likewise, he minced no words in his critique of world capitalism led by the United States and the variant that is practised in Malaysia, for the sufferings and economic deprivations caused to the majority of the people of the world today.
In this manner, the collection probes the reader to search for why the PSM founders decided that they prefer socialism over capitalism. The clues to this answer are scattered in the speeches, papers and letters of this volume.
But the reader cannot be lazy. After she/he closes the book, it is time to roll up the sleeves and get down to the business of making head or tails of numerous concepts and terms such as the evolution of capitalism from feudalism, capital accumulation, surplus profits, colonialism’s need for raw material and markets, imperialism, causes of the Second World War and the emergence of independent nation-states in Third World Countries, features of neo-colonialism, and not least, the current neo-liberal agenda, with its attendant erosion of aggregate demand and financialisation of the world economy. The above is just a rudimentary list.
As if that is not enough, the reader is further required to extrapolate all these concepts and terms with past historical developments of the world and Malaya/sia to arrive at an understanding of the present state of politics and economics in Malaysia. Certainly, this deceptively simple and small volume is not for the faint hearted! But do it the reader must, for the sake of this land called Malaysia and its future.
In his Introduction, Jeyakumar wrote very modestly that he has no blueprint for socialism in Malaysia. Yet, at all times, his goals are exceedingly clear – that it is the Malaysian marhein (ordinary people) who must benefit from any blueprint and NOT the 1 per cent of the super-rich large corporations – as it is now. At all times, the process is also exceedingly clear that building socialism is a collective work in progress to be democratically undertaken by all stakeholders, no matter how wieldy or cumbersome the process.
If we take for example, Jeyakumar’s article ‘The Role of Small and Medium-sized Firms in 21st Century Socialism’, we would be struck at the depth of research and solid grasp of the present economic situation of Malaysia reflected in it. Here, Jeyakumar highlights the plight of small and medium-sized enterprises with 10 employees or less, who in Malaysia numbered 491,849 or 87.3 per cent of all business. That is a significant majority. Then he outlines PSM’s socialist outreach to these SMEs via three main points.
It is for the reader to evaluate each of these suggestions and decide if she/he can agree with them. Are these fluffy socialist utopias or unwieldy communistic regulations that stifle growth and creativity? Do these suggestions have their feet grounded in Malaysian reality? Would they make life better for the Malaysian marhein?
Apart from this right to a livelihood for the majority of Malaysians who are engaged in small and medium-sized enterprises, Dr Jeyakumar has thought, long and hard, about the other basic universal human rights of the Malaysian marhein. In this collection, he also addressed their housing, medical and transport needs, among others.
Malaysian politics has its peculiarity in the special rights of the Malays. Here, Dr Jeyakumar is the principled politician that he is. It is the Malay marhein’s interest that he champions over the Malay contractor class. See ‘Protecting “Malay Interests”: Whose?’
Malaysian politics as manipulated today also cannot be divorced from religion, especially Islam. Here PSM presents its position in a paper entitled ‘Handling Religion’. In a series of letters to Pas leaders, Jeyakumar also respectfully seeks to engage them in dialogue on their stand pertaining to hudud….
The master piece in this collection is undoubtedly ‘A Malaysian Perspective on Re-establishing the Socialist Movement in the 21st Century’. In it, PSM pledges unequivocally to take a principled class stand on all issues.
We have seen PSM allied with Hindraf on matters of class and rejecting Hindraf when the latter took a communal line. Likewise, PSM has found it difficult to support full mobilisation along ethnic lines to counter the repression of the languages and cultures of the ethnic minorities.
PSM leaders also pledge unequivocally to take a vow of humility and poverty, in other words, to set a good example as leaders.
PSM now has a track record of over 16 years for all to see if Jeyakumar and his grassroot friends are worth their salt as socialists and fellow human beings.
There is, however, one ‘defect’ in this volume. Jeyakumar has omitted PSM’s stand on the environment. Given that capitalism is a self-acting, self-driven economic order, any effort by well-meaning persons to avert the impending global ecological disaster is impossible within capitalism. Hence all the more urgency to switch to a socialistic mode of production and relations!
Truly, as pointed out by Jeyakumar, socialism and democracy are indivisible. In other words, socialism is democracy and democracy is socialism.
In concluding, I would recommend that this unpretentious collection be published in Malay, Chinese and Tamil so as to reach a larger readership. It is a gem that should be read by all.
The above is a foreword written by Poh Soo Kai in August 2014 for Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj’s recently published book.
Dr Poh Soo Kai was Assistant Secretary-General of Barisan Sosialis. He was imprisoned twice under Singapore’s Internal Security Act — which allows for detention without trial — for a total of 17 years.
The book is available for sale at Gerak Budaya and at Aliran.