Is socialism an option for Malaysia?

Shahruddin Maaruf, former senior research fellow at University Malaya has opined that socialism could be an option for Malaysia. I believe that that his views deserve contemplation given the inequalities that prevail in our capitalistic system of governance.

Pre-independence it was the imperialists who imposed their unfettered will in furthering their economic objectives. Being the colonists, their only consideration was to reap profits from the rubber and tin mining sectors. So they arranged a migration of foreign workers to work on the tin mines and in transforming virgin jungles to rubber plantations.

Though that was the case a century or more ago, the said scenario appears to be repeating itself even now. Today our home grown 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 labour at the cheapest possible pay to toil in developing the rubber plantation sector.

Today the 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 deprived of social standing. They were but victims of a slavery system that was perpertuated by the British.
There is little difference between the colonists’ system, and the prevailing modus operandi of the many GLCs that function in the plantation sector. The only distinction is that they are functioning in a different epoch.

The colonists were outright cruel in their immoral pursuit to repatriate revenue, and our home grown plantation owners have embraced the same mindset.

When marginalized segments of society, from host nations, toiled under an indentured system, the situation is no better in this era. Even today we are privy to claims of bonded labour.
The US Customs And Border Protection Agency has banned imports, not only from the manufacturing sector, but also from plantations on allegations of abuse and forced labour. And these are home-grown enterprises who, by right, ought to subscribe to accepted labour standards regardless of whether their workers are Malaysians or migrants. I would argue that the government has a responsibility to ensure that all labour legislation is realigned to conform with fair labour standards. Sadly, that does not seem to be the case for the simple reason that our country is still ruled by the capitalist elites.

Under such circumstances can socialism find a footing with the people? Historically, the Malayan People’s Socialist Front (the Socialist Front), had a sizeable support of the people. It is reported that in the 1959 general elections, the Socialist Front garnered about 35% of the people’s vote. In spite of such popular acceptance, the Socialist Front was decimated through a systematic demonisation propaganda after the Indonesian-Malaysian confrontation.

Obviously, the tenets of socialism, historically, had found traction with the people. Thus, I believe socialism can still find acceptance especially so with the young voters who are, I believe, receptive to the ideas of social justice. With youth unemployment at 13.9%, there is a real possibility that they can be swayed to the concepts of social-economic equality. Therefore, the question is whether our opposition (other than the Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM)), has the political courage to reach out to the voters on a platform of socialism?

K. Veeriah
Malaysian Trades Union Congress (Penang Division)

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