Source Aliran

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--Recently, a former senior research fellow at the University of Malaya, Shahruddin Maaruf, said socialism could be an option for Malaysia.

His views deserve contemplation given the inequalities that prevail in the capitalistic system of governance.

Pre-independence, it was the imperialists who imposed their unfettered will to further their economic objectives.

As colonists, their only consideration was to reap profits from the rubber and tin mining sectors. So, they sparked a migration of foreign workers to work on the tin mines and to transform virgin jungles to rubber plantations.

Though this took place a century or more ago, the same scenario appears to be repeating itself even now. Today, our homegrown business elites seem to have taken over the role of the colonists!

The plantation sector is reminiscent of a colonial-era economic venture. In the colonial era, the British sought to secure a constant supply of cheap labour to develop the rubber plantation sector.

Today, Malaysian plantation owners are duplicating the colonial-era scheme of securing a constant supply of labour by sourcing for migrant workers at exploitative wage levels.

During the British occupation, migrant workers were treated as a means of production and deprived of social standing. They were victims of a slavery system perpetuated by the British.

Between the colonists and the prevailing modus operandi of the many government-linked companies that function in the plantation sector, the only difference is that the latter are operating in a different era.

The colonists were outright in their immoral pursuit of repatriating revenue, and our homegrown plantation owners seem to have embraced the same mindset.

In the past, marginalised segments of society from host nations toiled under an indentured system. The situation is no better in this era.

Even today, we hear claims of bonded labour. US Customs and Border Protection has banned imports not only from the manufacturing sector but also plantations on allegations of abuse and forced labour indicators.

These are homegrown enterprises which, by right, ought to subscribe to accepted labour standards – regardless of whether their workers are Malaysians or migrants.

The government has a responsibility to ensure that all labour laws are realigned to conform to fair labour standards.

Sadly, that does not seem to be the case – simply because our country is still ruled by capitalist elites.

Under such circumstances, can socialism find a footing with the people?

Historically, the Malayan People’s Socialist Front (the Socialist Front) had sizeable support from the people. In the 1959 general election, the Socialist Front collected about 35% of the popular vote.

But, despite such popular acceptance, the Socialist Front was crushed through a propaganda campaign of systematic demonisation after the Indonesian-Malaysian confrontation.

Historically, the tenets of socialism had found traction with the people. So, socialism may still find acceptance, especially with young voters, who may be receptive to the ideas of social justice. With youth unemployment at 13.9%, there is a real possibility they could be swayed by the concept of socioeconomic justice.  

The question is, will the opposition parties, other than the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM), have the political courage to reach out to voters on a platform of socialism?