Oleh Dr. Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--Salam Perjuangan to all!
A warm welcome to the 23-rd PSM Congress This is the second time we are holding our National Congress online.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn caused by it has had a large impact on not only the health and the economic condition of the people, but also the political and international scenario.
It is of utmost importance for us, a party of the left, to understand the new scenario brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic so that we can continue to build the progressive movement in Malaysia.
Impact Of Covid 19 on Malaysian Citizen The COVID-19 pandemic has afflicted all layers of society in Malaysia.
There are some who say we are all on the same boat. However, this is not quite true. We are in the same sea, afflicted by the same storm, but the richest amongst us are on sturdy luxury liners, whilst the poorest 20% are on leaking sampans.
The impact of COVID-19’s has not been uniform. The impact of COVID-19 and the Movement Control Orders (MCOs) have been far worse for certain sections of society.
And sadly, the aid provided by the state for the most adversely affected has not been sufficient.
There are four (4) sectors of society which have been affected most adversely
1. The Urban Poor
These total about 2.5 million, and are largely workers in the informal sectors.
They are the daily paid workers in restaurants, markets, construction sites and in the transport and other sectors.
These daily paid workers are not protected by existing social safety nets like the Employment Provident Fund (EPF) or the Social Security Organisation (SOCSO).
When they lose their jobs, they and their families have no other governmental aid other than occasional cash transfers, such as the “Bantuan Prihatin Rakyat” (BPR).
A total of about RM3,000 has been disbursed under these cash transfers to each B40 family in the last 16 months and another RM 1500 has been promised before the end of 2021.
The majority in this category are not eligible for the I-sinar, I-lestari, and I-citra withdrawal schemes as they aren’t members of the EPF.
They are also not covered by the Employment Insurance Scheme (EIS) that is operated by SOCSO as they aren’t contributors to SOCSO.
The moratorium for housing loans does not really alleviate their financial burden as most within this category live in rented houses.
They have had to rely heavily on aid from Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that have been providing food and cash payments, but such help has been patchy and far from sufficient.
2. The Micro Businesses (1 Million Businesses)
Micro businesses are those whose gross revenue is less than RM 300,000 annually.
Many among them operate roadside stalls. Others are located in night markets, day markets, and the like.
The reduction in the income of the average worker, the usual customers of these micro-businesses, has diminished the market for these small businesses.
The repeated enforcement of Movement Control Orders (MCO) has aggravated the economic plight of these micro businesses.
Many within this category do not have EPF savings that are significant enough to aid them.
They are not eligible for the EIS scheme as they are not contributors to SOCSO. They are also not eligible for the BPR cash transfer scheme because they are registered under the Registrar of Businesses.
They have only received the aid that the government has allocated for small businesses - totaling to about RM 6,500 per business in the last 16 months.
3. Rubber and Oil Palm Smallholders, Paddy
Farmers and Fishermen (1.5 Million People) Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, this category has been among the poorest in Malaysia.
The restrictions on movement and the shrinking markets for farm products have affected the earnings of this sector as well.
They have received the direct cash transfers under the BPR schemes but are not eligible for SOCSO’s EIS programme.
Most of them do not have EPF savings that they can draw upon.
4. The Youth (19 – 25 years)
Even before the pandemic, our youth have been having difficulty in getting work that is commensurate with their education and at wages sufficient to pay back their education loans (the Pinjaman Perbadanan Tabung Pendidikan Tinggi Nasional or PTPTN).
The rate of unemployment among the youth was three times higher than the overall unemployment rate before the Covid pandemic.
Even when they managed to secure employment, many were in jobs that were contractual in nature and are not guaranteed.
Even worse are the “zero hours” jobs that only pay an allowance if their services are required.
This type of work does not offer any sort of social protection.
The economic downturn sparked by the pandemic has aggravated the employment situation for our youth. It is estimated that now, about two million youth are unemployed or precariously under-employed
The following groups of people have fared somewhat better:
The formal workers.
These comprise the 6.5 million active EPF contributors. They are formal workers in the private sector and as a whole they have better protection compared to the above four categories.
Other than the direct cash transfers (the BPR handouts), they have been supported by wage subsidy schemes whereby the government pays RM 600 per worker per month to firms to avoid retrenchments.
Around 2.6 million workers benefited from this scheme since the pandemic began.
Formal sector workers who were retrenched are eligible for the Employment Insurance Scheme (EIS) as well as additional compensation under the Employment Act (Retrenchment and Lay-off Benefits).
These formal workers also had the option of withdrawing a portion of their KWSP savings if they had to.
So far around RM110 billion in KSWP savings have been withdrawn by formal sector workers. (This has helped them greatly in getting through this crisis, but their post retirement financial security has been severely compromised).
Government staff who total about 1.6 million individuals and government pensioners (0.8 million) are two categories that have enjoyed good protection.
They have not faced a loss in income during these tumultuous times. Most of the top 20% of our society (T20) have weathered the pandemic quite well.
The professionals in this category could switch to online work and most of them haven’t had to mobilise their savings to get through this period.
Quite a few of the T20 have seen their net wealth increase as shares prices have risen in the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange (KSLE) over the past 18 months.
The education for the children of the T20 has not been affected as much as for the children of the B40 as T20 families have sufficient resources to follow classes online.
Treatment for diseases such as diabetes, ischaemic heart disease and high blood pressure in the B40 and M40 have had to be postponed because government hospitals are filled to the brim with COVID-19 cases.
However the T20 have continued to enjoy high quality treatment in private hospitals.
There are 3228 billionaires in the world today. As a group they have enjoyed a 32% increase in their wealth in 2020, and they owned assets totaling to USD 14.7 trillion at the end of December 2020. (This is about 15% of total World GDP).
The Movement Control Order and the economic downturn have been particularly tough for the poorest groups in our society, and the gap between the rich and the poor in Malaysia has gotten wider in the past 18 months.
The Ineptitude of the Mainstream Political Parties in Responding to the Covid Crisis
This pandemic has exposed the character and focus of the existing political leaders in Malaysia.
Many of these leaders didn’t seem too concerned about the problems faced by the ordinary citizens.
Most of them didn’t go to the ground to find out the situation being faced by the people. Instead they have been more focused on political intrigues.
This has created an opportunity for PSM to demonstrate that we are a political party which takes the problems of the people seriously and are able to recommend policies and programmes that will genuinely help the ordinary citizen.
Since May 2020, the PSM has been advocating a cash transfer scheme for families which have lost their main source of income.
This scheme envisages a transfer of RM 1000 each month to the affected families.
We have also been asking for a House Rent subsidy scheme to help the families who have been unable to pay their house rent.
Many in the B20 were not helped by the housing loan moratorium as they have not taken such a loan and are living in rented premises.
Some among them are being pressured to vacate the house because of nonpayment of rent for several months.
The PSM has also been recommending a moratorium on immigration offences for a period of one to two years to enable migrant workers to come forward for testing , quarantining and vaccination.
The PSM has also proposed measures to enhance the capacity of the Covid Assessment Centres (which have been set up in each district) such that they can better support the Covid cases who have been advised to quarantine themselves at home.
These patients require proper monitoring and early testing so that clinical deterioration is recognised early and appropriate referral made.
The poor monitoring of home quarantined Covid-19 patients is one reason for the increase of brought-in-dead (BID) Covid cases.
The Hospital Support Services Union (set up by the PSM) has been highlighting the issue of adequate supplies of personal protective equipment and Covid vaccination for the cleaners and security guards in government hospitals and PSM’s workers Bureau has handled several dozen work related cases in the past 16 month.
The people have witnessed, over the past 16 months, that the national leaders of Pakatan Harapan (PH) parties have not focused much attention on the plight of the people.
PH politicians have instead expended their energies in ridiculing and denigrating the efforts of the Perikatan Nasional government.
The PH have eighty nine members of parliament several of whom serve as ministers and deputy ministers.
However the PH did not form special committees to look into health and economic issues affecting the Malaysian public.
PH leaders expended a lot more effort in trying to topple the PN administration.
Our work these past 16 months has to an extent boosted PSM’s profile as a party of the people - as a party that is sensitive to the plight of the ordinary citizens and which constantly advocates for them.
It is important that PSM continues to demonstrate that we are a party which stands consistently with the people.
We must continue with our practice of going to the ground to identify the problems being faced by the people, analyse their situation and find solutions to the problems they face – often the people affected will give us valuable insights and suggestions.
Our modus operandi is to then discuss these problems within the party so as to better understand the main underlying issues.
We often call for a roundtable discussion with friends, academicians and NGO activists to fine-tune our proposals before we come out with policy statements and proposals that we forward to the government.
The Pandemic has exposed several truths about the international situation
Firstly, it is appalling that the poorer countries in Africa and Asia have not been assisted to procure sufficient Covid-19 vaccines.
Many of these countries are not in a position to borrow funds from international banks , as the interest rates are high.
While economically stable countries in the European Union can borrow at interest rates of less than 1 percent per year, the poorer countries are charged interest at 8 percent per year as they are already facing balance of payment difficulties and are designated as not “credit-worthy”.
The World Health Organization (WHO) launched the Covax initiative and invited all the countries of the world to purchase vaccines through Covax so that prices can be kept low, and poorer countries can be cross-subsidised by the richer.
Unfortunately almost all the richer countries decided to buy directly from the giant pharmaceutical companies and not through the WHO initiative.
In addition many of the wealthier countries bought much more vaccines than they required – because there was considerable doubt at the beginning which of the various vaccines are effective against Covid 19.
Canada for example ordered an amount that was 5 times more than what it needed to vaccinate the entire adult population, and Australia did the same. Britain ordered 2 times what it needed.
The WHO Covax initiative did not receive the funds it was pledged by richer countries.
This has led to very unequal rates of Covid vaccination throughout the world as is shown by the chart below.
But this is an extremely unwise approach. Failure to control the Covid-19 pandemic in all continents creates the conditions for the generation of more and more variants (which is directly a function of the amount of opportunities we give the virus to replicate).
The risk that one of these variants will not be impeded by the immunity that the current set of vaccines impart is ever present.
The porous state of our borders will predispose to a second major wave of the new variant of Covid 19 and we would have to again scramble for a new effective vaccine.
India and South Africa which both have the capability to produce vaccines requested that the intellectual property right requirements be relaxed so that they can produce more of the Covid 19 vaccines for use in the poorer countries in the world.
Their request was opposed by the large pharmaceutical companies producing the vaccines.
This objection was supported by the rich countries including the USA, the EU countries, UK, Canada, Australia and Japan. (US withdrew its objection in May 2021) but up till now India and South Africa have not secured the approval to produce the Covid 19 vaccines which are protected by patents.
The above two occurences clearly demonstrate the inequalities between countries that still exist today (although formal colonialism ended about 50 years ago) and inform us that imperialism is still alive and kicking!
The chart above is a clear and unconscionable manifestation.
Although almost all countries are nominally “independent”, the structure of the world economy is such that much of the wealth generated in the formerly colonised third world countries is still appropriated by giant multinational corporations (MNCs) which make up the Forbes 500.
This occurs by means of two major processes:
-The first is that the terms of trade for agricultural commodities is constantly kept at extremely low levels due to the nature of the market – millions of small producers selling to a handful of giant corporations as well as the tendency towards over-production on the part of the poverty stricken producers.
While at the same time the prices of machinery, agricultural inputs, technology and medicines have continued to increase.
The option of making these more expensive items in developing countries is restricted by the lack of capital, economies of scale and the existence of patents that greatly raise the costs of production.
-The second process that enables the MNCs to appropriate a large share of the wealth generated in the third world is through suppressing the wages of workers in developing countries to low levels. (Wage suppression).
MNC companies outsource parts of the manufacturing process to local capitalists in developing countries and then play them against each other to keep the prices of the manufactured components low – although the MNC sells the same product at grossly marked up prices in the affluent countries.
If a local capitalist in say, Malaysia, asks for a higher price for the product that he is producing for the MNC, the MNC will threaten to transfer its orders to a local capitalist in Thailand or Vietnam who is also producing the same product.
Political leaders of first world countries are only good at arguing about solidarity and human rights (as well as the climate crises) but fail to control the greed of MNCs based within their countries.
The Covid-19 outbreak has also given us an invaluable insight to the current character of China.
The pandemic has demonstrated that the Communist Party of China (CPC) is firmly in control of the administration of the country and is able to determine how a significant part of the country’s surplus wealth is utilised.
People all over the world were amazed when two multi-story hospitals were built in 10 days and thousands of health personnel from across the country were deployed to Wuhan city to treat Covid-19 patients in early 2020.
Chinese leaders also put Hubei province under a tight lockdown and provided food supplies and adequate basic needs for a population of 60 million people for a period of several months.
Although Hubei province is located in the heart of China, the Chinese government was able to curb the spread of the Covid-19 epidemic from that province to other parts of China.
All of this indicates that although the character of the Chinese economy is capitalistic - in the sense that workers work for wages, exchange of goods is by prices set in a fairly free market, production is for profit which a growing capitalist class appropriates - the CPC still controls society and enough of the economic surplus generated to implement programs that the CPC deems necessary.
Although China now has 1,000 billionaires (out of a total of 3228 billionaires in the world), it appears that the capitalists in China have not yet been able to control the political process in the country.
This has long been accomplished in the United States and many other “developed” countries!
Cuba, a small country with a population of 11.3 million and tormented by U.S. economic sanctions for decades, has created four Covid-19 vaccines-Abdala, Soberana 1 and 2 as well as Mambisa-and is implementing a vaccination program with these self -created vaccines.
To date (22/8/21), more than 25% of their citizens have received a full dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
Cuba is planning to supply its vaccines at low prices to South American and African countries.
If Cuba can, why can’t ASEAN with far more economic resources and scientists be able to stand on its own and do the same? Why do we still rely on MNCs to provide us vaccines?
Post Covid Economic Recovery
The PSM has taken a firm stand that post-Covid-19 recovery cannot be left to the private market.
The government must accept the fact that certain groups such as contract/daily workers, other retrenched workers, small traders and young people in our society have been more severely affected by Covid-19, the MCOs (Movement Control Orders) and the economic downturn.
The government must take responsibility to ensure that these groups are given adequate assistance to rectify their situation as soon as possible.
Among the policies and programs proposed by PSM to attain a degree of economic well being of the people after Covid-19 are:
Senior citizens pension scheme
•for all Malaysians aged 65 and above who do not receive a government or Socso pension.
Jobs Guarantee Scheme
•For anyone looking for work
Creation of Green Jobs
•To rehabilitate logged forest, reforestation ,cleaning rivers , building domestic waste management systems to recycle as much as possible.
Increased allocation of the ministry of health
•from RM 32 billion for 2021 to RM 38 billion for 2022 so that health services can be strengthened.
Construction of 200,000 people's housing project (PPR) houses annually
•to be rented to families earning below RM 3000 per month at reasonable rates
Taking over the management of low cost flats by local councils
•as well as the allocation of sufficient funds to repair elevators, lights in general areas, handrails for stairs and so on.
These demands are part of the latest PSM national campaign that was launched on 9th September 2021.
It is PSM's intention to mobilise the general public around these pro-people proposals to demand that a larger portion of the country's wealth (surplus) is distributed to the ordinary citizens through the schemes outlined above.
Read the full document here: https://partisosialis.org/a-
The larger role of the left movement is to expose the “theft” of the wealth generated by the efforts of all our citizens.
Malaysia’s wealth has increased phenomenally over the past 50 years.
Malaysia's gross domestic product (GDP) was RM 10.3 billion in 1970.
In 2019, Malaysia's GDP reached RM1.5 trillion or RM1,500 billion - an increase of 145 times over the 1970 figure.
After taking into account the increase in the price of consumer goods (450% in 50 years) and the increase in the population of Malaysia from 10 million in 1970 to 32 million now,
The increase in Malaysia’s GDP per capita in real terms is more than 10 times.
Every Malaysian is 10 times richer than a Malaysian in 1970! But many families are in debt and live in misery.
This – debts and economic pressures - is the reality faced by the majority of the people in an increasingly wealthy country.
Where is the wealth of the country going? Why is this wealth not used to make life easier for ordinary people? Why are our young people burdened by high student loan debts and a lack of jobs that are commensurate with their level of education?
Why do our senior citizens end up without any source of income in their old age and have to depend on their children and grandchildren when it is their hard work that developed the economy of this country? Why is the management of our nation’s wealth so poor?
These are among the issues we need to convey to the general public so that they become motivated to join us in demanding a larger portion of the nation’s wealth (created by the people themselves) be used for the good of the general public.
The Covid-19 wave will subside gradually in the coming years and this will open up space for us to launch roadshows to uphold and popularize our demands.
This campaign has the potential to open the minds of the general public to the narrative being put forward by the PSM - a society based on the solidarity of the people where the wealth of the country is used to create a prosperous, harmonious society.
But I would like to enter a caveat with regard to mass action.
Street protests that support racist demands or those which stem from feelings of frustration without proposing a progressive solution, or that advance the aspirations of a bourgeois political leader determined to take over the government, will not generate political awareness of the structure of class oppression that exists in our society.
So we, a leftist movement, should try our best to ensure that progressive demands that have the potential to bring political awareness are embedded in the mobilization that we engage in.
We need to guard against being pawns of factions playing bourgeois politics-who only intend to take power but have absolutely no desire to question or modify the existing distribution of national wealth.
General Elections GE 15
There is a strong possibility that GE15 will be held in the middle of 2022 and we must be ready.
In the Trolak discussion of January 2020, we decided that we should participate in the GE but in a smaller number of seats as compared to GE14.
Another decision of the Trolak Retreat was that we should try to increase the votes obtained in each of the seats that we contest.
But we must be realistic when we face GE15.
Yes, we have won two seats in elections before, but we must be cognisant of the fact that voters in those two constituencies voted for the PSM candidates because we represented the opposition at that time and the voters were determined to bring down the BN government.
They were not voting us for our socialist ideology. For them, we were opposition candidates.
This situation is changing incrementally and the public is beginning to realize that PSM is somewhat different from the PH parties because we have not been politicking but have been consistent in voicing and fighting for the issues of the people. But such awareness is far from the level necessary for PSM to win in the three cornered contest with PN-BN-PAS and PH.
Currently, political consciousness among Malaysians is a combination of ethnic feelings/perceptions, feudal expectations (where political leaders are expected to distribute money and otherwise look after their supporters) and poorly defined antileftist attitudes.
According to Gramsci, it is crucial for the left movement to challenge the ideological hegemony of the ruling elite and to put forward an analysis that opposes it – a counter hegemonic position.
A divergent analysis with a new vision – along with a narrative as to how the society can achieve this new vision. Gramsci argues that a leftist party will only succeed once a significant portion of society understands and supports the “counterhegemonic” narrative and involve themselves in the struggle to achieve that vision.
This is what the PSM is trying to do through the Marhaen Movement and our national campaigns which include the post-Covid-19 national recovery plan.
But these efforts will take several years to create a counter-hegemonic wave large enough to bring us electoral victories in three-cornered fights.
The PSM Central Leadership (the CC) has solicited feedback from all PSM branches and state units regarding their views on GE15.
The majority view was that we should enter into an electoral agreement with the PH if their terms are reasonable. Following this, the CC contacted PH to inform them of our readiness to enter into an electoral pact and a face-to-face meeting has been held.
The CC proposes to hold an Internal Discussion Session (SPD) on GE15 early next year. It is highly probable that party members will have varying views on the issue of electoral pact with the PH.
The role of CC is to provide a space for all members to voice their views and exchange ideas.
Ultimately, we have to come to a decision – by consensus if everyone is in agreement, or by way of a vote if differences in opinion remain, as we have to move on. Following this, the party will follow the majority decision for the time being.
This is the meaning of “democratic centralism”.
We need to handle GE15 with a holistic perspective and a mature attitude. We have to admit that we haven’t yet created a counter-hegemonic mind set in the Malaysian public.
At the moment, we are in the midst of carrying out three strategic tasks
- Trying to build a people’s movement
- Developing and disseminating a new narrative regarding the future of Malaysia
- Strengthening the party machinery.
In reality, the GE15 is a “sideshow” for us. If we are able to win a few parliamentary seats or state assembly (DUN) seats, we can make use of these platforms to communicate our counter hegemonic views.
However, we are not dependent on our success in the GE to pursue our political work.
We can mobilise effectively using the activities and campaigns that PSM has already initiated.
Therefore, there is no need for us to make too many compromises in order to attain an electoral pact with the PH.
As socialists, we must be sensitive to all forms of oppression that occur in our society. Indeed, we are all aware of class oppression and ethnic discrimination.
However, many of us are not sufficiently aware of gender-based oppression.
Because we all have been raised in a patriarchal culture, many assume that our interactions with women and LGBT individuals are normal and do not realise that some forms of these “normal” interactions are actually oppressive - if they restrict the other person’s participation or make them feel embarrassed, uncomfortable or unsafe.
Last year, the PSM Gender Bureau put together a policy to address Sexual Harassment within the party so as to provide a safe environment for female members to be in and to work in.
This policy is not merely a decorative piece but will be applied to prevent and/or curtail sexual harassment.
I hope all members will cooperate so that we can reduc gender-based discrimination within the party and within our personal spaces.
Be Realistic And Achieve The Impossible
This was the clarion call of comrade Che Guevara. And this call is appropriate to our
situation. PSM’s ambitions are huge.
Our goal as enunciated in Trolak, is to become the leading opposition party in Malaysia within 20 years – a goal many outsiders will consider impossible.
Indeed, it will remain impossible if Malaysians continue to be entrapped in ethnic and feudal thinking – the hegemonic mind-set of Malaysians now.
I do not think Che was making an argument for subjectivism when he exhorted progressive forces to aim for the “impossible”.
Rather, Che is telling us we should not allow others to demotivate us by saying our goals are too high.
According to Che, the “impossible” can become quite possible if society changes and people’s minds are freed from the ethnic and feudal frameworks that they are currently trapped within.
And if the party’s capacity has been enhanced sufficiently to be able to seize the opportunity that has been created.
So, when Che exhorts us to be realistic, I think he is advising us to identify the different kinds of work that need to be done to create the preconditions for the impossible to become achievable.
The work we have to do in order to achieve our “impossible” goal include:
- Building a national marhaen movement to put forward the demands of every sector of workers, farmers and small business people.
- Strengthening the party machinery such that we have a presence in at least 90% of all parliamentary constituencies.
- Developing sufficient individuals who can run in elections as socialist candidates. These candidates must embody socialist principles and be able to withstand the corrupting influences of the corporations that would want to buy them over.
- Build the capacity of our Party to handle the questions and doubts in ordinary people about the vision of the left. The public still has doubts whether socialist society is realistic.
They have questions about the economic crisis in Venezuela, whether the Chinese state has reverted to capitalism.
They have questions about the violation of human rights in socialist countries and the issue of religious freedom.
They also wonder how society can ever obtain sufficient funds to implement all policies proposed by PSM without crashing the economy.
It is important that we are able to give sincere and clear answers to these doubts and questions.
Only when the public is convinced that the action plan recommended by the progressive forces is realistic can we win the support of the general public and advance the counter-hegemonic narrative.
There is a lot of work to be done in various fields if we want to achieve the goals we set for ourselves in January 2020 in Trolak.
The future of the socialist movement in Malaysia is in the hands of PSM members. I hope our members will commit to spending some time each week in PSM activities.
It is now time for the PSM to launch an offensive to expand the power of the people and build a national leftist movement.
The experiences of the past three years has created huge doubts in the Malaysian public about the capacity and inclination of the BN, the PN and even the PH to truly handle the issues facing our society.
The PSM has the vision to fill that void. Let’s intensify our campaign to take the socialist message to the whole of Malaysia.
Hope you have a productive Congress!
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