PSM’s counter-hegemonic narrative

This speech was given in PSM’s high tea fundraising event in Kuala Lumpur on the 21st of April 2024

Hi everyone. Great seeing you all. Thank you so much for the support.

First of all, I would like to apologize for disappointing you with our dismal election performance these the past 6 years. We know that many of our friends get quite upset with the results. We too were, initially. For we believed that our efforts on the ground would win us many votes. We were mistaken.

But we have come to see that Gramsci’s analysis of society speaks to our predicament. Gramsci said that the ideology of the ruling class becomes dominant ideology of the entire society. He termed it the hegemonic ideology of society. People make decision based on the ideology perpetuated by the ruling class.

In Malaysia, for the past 50 years, ever since the demolition of the PSRM and the Labour Party by ISA arrests in the 60s and the 70’s, the people have been only exposed to ethnic based politics. So, when a party like the PSM puts forth a different, class-based analysis, most people do not understand it. It sounds foreign.   

According to Gramsci, it is only when the counter-hegemonic narrative put forward by the PSM gains acceptance among a significant portion of the people, will PSM start doing better at the polls. He termed this process a “War on Position”.

What is this counter-hegemonic narrative that the PSM should be putting forward? It has 5 pillars. I will share with you the first, to give you an idea. This first pillar is the argument that attracting FDI and growing the GDP isn’t enough. Distribution of the wealth created to all levels of society is even more important.

Malaysia has done very well in growing the GDP. In the past 50 years our GDP has increased 24 fold in real terms. That means after correcting for inflation, GDP has gone up 24 times. But the mean wages of factory workers has only gone up 1.4 times in real terms over these 50 years.

This is because of the model of development adopted in Malaysia. Malaysia relies on foreign direct investments to create jobs. We compete with Thailand, Vietnam and Philippines. All these countries try to be as business friendly as possible. And all of us are keeping the cost of labour as low as possible to attract investments. That is why real median wage of factory workers only went up 1.4 times over 50 years in a country whose GDP increased 24 fold.

Another way of sharing the wealth of society is by subsidizing public services like transport and health care as well as implementing social protection schemes like universal old age pension. But our government says that they cannot expand the social safety net because the government deficit is too big.

The budget deficit is so large because Malaysia has lowered its corporate tax rates from 40% of profits in 1988 to its current 24%. This again is linked to our model of development. We are in competition with other ASEAN countries to be business friendly. Thailand charges a corporate tax of only 19% of profits. We are caught in a race to the bottom. As a result, government revenue has decreased from 25% of GDP in the 1980s to its current 15%. One of the main aims of a progressive government would be to gradually shift the distribution of national income to benefit the 99%.

We need to articulate these points in language that ordinary people can understand. We also need to delineate the steps that should be taken to extricate ourselves from this mess. 

I will not go into the other 4 pillars, as that will take up too much time.

Apart from this “War on Position”, that is aimed at mobilizing people around this counter hegemonic narrative, the PSM needs to identify and train 30 to 40 candidates over the next 10 years. Individuals who have gone to the ground so that they understand the various problems that the B40 and M40 face. Individuals who understand and are able to explain PSM’s 5 point counter narrative. Candidates who are prepared to let the party intrude into their financial matters.

The PSM plans to set up a committee that will audit the financial status of all our elected candidates every 6 months. In today’s world, politicians face a huge risk of being influenced or bought by corporate interests. You do not have to go and ask for bribes. They will knock at your door! The business elite will seek you out and offer it. The prospective PSM candidate must be prepared to accept the party’s help to meet this challenge.

There are some in the party who say this is too intrusive. I reply them saying that 60 years ago, being revolutionary meant going into the jungle and putting your life on the line. Today, being revolutionary only means putting aside your ego and individualism to allow the party help you handle the ever present risk of being influenced by the billionaire class.

We are now in the process of identifying potential candidates. Please encourage the idealistic individuals whom you come across to find out more about the PSM.

There are friends who ask whether it is possible for PSM to build a progressive 3rd force in Malaysia over the next 10 to 15 years. To some of them I quote the Baghavad Geeta – Arjuna’s conversation with Lord Krishna before the start of the war. Krishna said that each person must carry out his duty steadfastly. The historical role of PSM at this stage is, as the largest Left party in the country, to hold up the banner of non-ethnic, progressive politics and provide a rallying point for all Malaysians who are fed up with the race based politicking and with persistent economic hardship faced by the majority of the population.

Will we rally enough people to our cause? Can we build a multi-racial electoral slate? Will we succeed? That depends how clearly we are able to project our counter hegemonic narrative. Only time will tell.

And we will need your help.  Do attend our conferences and congresses to help us refine our analysis. Share our material with people you think would be interested. Keep a look out for idealistic individuals who can be fashioned into good pro-people candidates. And keep coming for our fund raising events.

Thank you so much for being here. Let us together build a better society.

Salam Perjuangan!

Jeyakumar Devaraj
Parti Sosialis Malaysia