I recently wrote an article where I picked apart the notion of parliamentary democracy in Malaysia and followed it up with another that showcased an alternate system. In this article, I will attempt to forth important steps in moving forward from our current system to the proposed alternative.
There are no lesser-evils
The first step we must take is letting go of our infatuation with the notion that better elected candidates are enough to remedy our political maladies. The reality is the current political system disallows any candidate who does not favour capital to gain any significant mileage electorally. There is a romantic notion amongst those who are anti-PN that PH is a lesser evil that can bring forth some good. However, the same PH during their 22-month tenure could not achieve any significant milestones that challenged capital. The increase of minimum wage was only from RM 1000 to RM 1050 per month, later increased to RM 1100 after workers protested this move. Top Glove, a notorious anti-worker company was given the green light by the then Labour Minister.
This is because PH and PN, whilst seemingly at odds at one another, both are beholden to the same capital that prevents them from making good on their pro-rakyat promises. This may be nefarious, to promise something that they cannot deliver in order to gain votes (as PH Prime Minister Mahathir suggested), due to ideology (as PH do not hold Marxist criticisms of capital’s influence over politics) or due to sheer incompetence. In any case, the conventional two-party system of PH vs PN will not result in a participatory democracy as both are beholden to capital. In fact, if PH truly empowered the rakyat, once the Sheraton coup happened, they could have mobilised the masses they have organised previously, through direct action such as a general strike or mass protests, and taken back power. Alas, this didn’t happen as PH simply viewed them as a means to an end.
The current government will not allow for the organisation of workers’ or people’s councils. It is in its favour that the marhaen are atomised to weaken their voice rather than unionised to be stronger. Hence, we must find spaces within this repressive regime to organise ourselves. The best avenue is through forming the seed of Workers’ Councils, which I explained to be involved in a company’s management, through the formation of stronger Workers’ Unions.
With capital holding so much power over the common Malaysian, we must recognise that the levers that generate this capital are workers themselves. Capitalists would not be able to produce any goods or services without workers, hence would not be able to generate any profits and would not be able to steal any surplus capital from their workers. They know this and this is why it is so difficult to form any workers’ unions here. With this in mind, it must be made a priority the organisation of the working class within their own companies and industries.
As unionisation rates increase, more and more concession can be demanded from the capitalists to an extent whereby workers can ask to be represented within decision-making circles within the company like the board of directors. This lays the foundation of the workers one day taking over these companies and industries with self-management through Workers’ Councils. It is also a good first step in seeding the idea of forming Peoples’ Councils within residential areas.
We must remember that workers themselves are part of their local communities. A radicalised worker used to the system of Workers’ Unions will be able to grasp the utility of the People’s Councils well. Moreover, with what they have learnt within these Workers’ Unions, skills such as organising, documentation, handling bureaucracy, communications and the like, they will be able to assist the formation of these Peoples’ Councils better.
One may wonder why this cadence of Workers’ Unions first before the People’s Councils? It is all a part of instilling within the masses the interplay between capital and power. No where is a person closer to understanding how rich capitalists extract value from labour than at the workplace. When forming the union, workers will understand the true worth of their labour and the value of capital it produces. They will understand that not only are they being paid only a fraction of what they produce, they are not even allowed to decide what their excess capital should be used for.
In the process of forming unions, workers will also come across many union-busting activities. Threats to be sacked from their jobs, racial elements to dissuade them for uniting on class-terms and bribes will be paid by capitalists to ensure these unions do not exist. Through this interplay, the true face of capitalism will emerge as an uncaring, inhuman beast which will do anything to ensure its main goal of expanding profits is protected. This will educate the workers on how capitalists use their means to influence society and political representatives to enable themselves to continue profiting off the masses. In fact, faced with capitalist incursions, workers will realise that racial, religious and other forms of identity politics right-wing figures use are simply distractions to keep the masses away from analysing and understanding the true source of their suffering, capitalism.
It is important, in line with the above, that the common man at the residential area level is organised as well. This can be done, and is done by organisations such as PSM, by focusing on local cases of oppression. Take for instance if there’s a forced eviction case of urban pioneers. Organisers such as PSM can assist the people being evicted by forming a temporary union of sorts of local residents. This is initially done to solve the case of these local people. However, in doing so, we can point out the failures of the capitalist system in caring for the marhaen.
If we continue with this example, we can say that these pioneers were forced to build their own homes, many times in squalor, as the state did not provide enough affordable housing. Whilst staving off homelessness, urban pioneers usually live at an area for generations until a developer needs the land for whatever profit-seeking project. The state then claims the land these urban pioneers have lived in, as they don’t have legal permits to live there, thus forcing them into homelessness. These contradictions can show clearly that the bourgeois state and the private sector work together to maximise private profits at the expense of common Malaysians.
Organising people in this way will teach them the worth of uniting as a class to fight against oppression as they can see the true face of capitalism clearly. These temporary associations can later become solidified as working groups that stay on to organise others in a similar way that they have been organised. These organisations are important to divorce the notion that there is a need for politicians and bureaucrats to solve their problems for them. The masses learn that through solidarity they can demand for their rights from their representatives and obtain them effectively. This then plants the seed of forming People’s Councils later on.
The above are some steps which are vitally important if we are to move away from the hegemony of the current electoral system. It is now our responsibility, as organisers, as workers and as part of the community to enact these to the best of our ability. For the liberation of the masses does not come from external sources, rather through the empowerment and solidarity of itself.
Head of Science and Technology Bureau,
Parti Sosialis Malaysia