“An inspiring event”
Steve Jolly, Socialist Party (CWI) Councillor in Yarra City Council, Melbourne, reports on the recent ‘Socialist 2005’ conference, held in Malaysia, on 10-11 September. Over 700 people attended the meeting in Kuala Lumpur. With more than two days of political discussion, music, film and food, this was the first ever openly socialist public gathering in Malaysia. It was organised by the Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM).
See also the report by Clare Doyle (Socialism is alive and kicking, and it has a world to win, 15 September 2005).
Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) organise first ever ‘Socialist Weekend’
I had the honour of attending the brilliant Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) Conference in the city of Kajang on behalf of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI). Clare Doyle, of the CWI, also attended from London.
The PSM is only socialist party in Malaysia and the only party that actively encourages class unity by appealing to Malay Muslims (65% of population), Chinese (25%) and Tamil Indians (8%) to join the party in the fight for socialism. While still a relatively small party, the PSM has influence way above its size, thanks to the heroic efforts of its members and leaders. Amongst workers, amongst youth, amongst squatters (named ‘Urban Pioneers’ by the party) the PSM – through several broader organisations – has big influence because of the great work it has done against different wings of the capitalist class and its political representatives in Malaysia.
The video of PSM work shown on the Saturday night of the Conference (with the Ken Loach film about the Spanish Civil War, ‘Land and Freedom’, simultaneously showing in another meeting room) was a highlight of the weekend for me. It showed the terrible way developers and police treat Urban Pioneers in Malaysia and the bravery of the PSM members and supporters in resisting these outrages. Despite the brutal reputation of the Malaysian state machine, the party members – through standing strong on rallies – have won some democratic space for direct action and the police are forced to treat them warily.
The Conference was preceded on Friday night with an opening rally, followed by several bands, mainly made up of Malay youth. It was a strange sight for me to see young Muslim Malay women with punk haircuts and dress, as well as Malay ‘Red Skins’ (progressive, anti-fascist punk music followers).
The opening rally was translated into Malay, Mandarin, Tamil and English – the first sign to me of the great ability of the PSM to organize extremely efficiently.
The first speaker was the General Secretary of the Malaysian Federation of Trade Unions, who while not a PSM member, spoke of his support for socialism. I said to him at the end, ‘I wish more union leaders in Australia had your politics!’
I spoke next. Other speakers were John Percy, of the Australian Democratic Socialist Perspective, Dita Sari, the legendary Indonesian union leader, and a leader of the left party, the PRD, as well as the Chairperson of the PSM, Nasir Hashim.
The Conference proper began the next morning at 9am sharp. All sessions were videoed and a DVD will be made of all sessions. If delegates were late they could watch proceeding outside on a TV screen in the hallway. Each session was opened by a party member, who then introduced the Chairperson and speakers. Other members handed a cordless microphone to those who wanted to contribute from the floor. At the end of each session, the Chairperson and speakers were handed a PSM banner to keep. Outside, other party members staffed food stalls, bookstalls and each international speaker had a party ‘minder’ to help them in any way. In this way, many members of the party had an active role to play in the Conference.
On Saturday, the first session was: ‘Globalisation – Capitalism and its resilience’. This was important to put the whole Conference in a broader context. I spoke from the floor, taking up the arguments of one of the speakers, Rajamoorthy T (a non-PSM member), who argued that we needed to give critical support to China and Russia as an alternative block to Washington. I suggested the real alternative to US imperialism was the struggle of workers and poor peasants throughout the world, including the continental revolt of the masses in Latin America.
The next session was: ‘New Imperialism – Can the US be stopped?’ followed by ‘The failure of socialism in Russia and China. Why?’ Here one of the speakers was the CWI’s Clare Doyle, who outlined the character of these societies and who explained that the Trotskyists always opposed Stalinism.
The following session was: ‘Revolutionary Feeling – Brazil, Venezuela and Latin America’. I spoke with John Percy of the DSP. John Percy was of the view that a socialist revolution was unfolding in Venezuela already and he argued against artificial schema being used to compare developments in Venezuela. From the floor, Thailand’s Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a member of the ISO/SWP, said he hoped Venezuela didn’t take a Cuban path, as he thought Cuba was a state capitalist country and, therefore, not fundamentally different from any other Third World country.
In the sum-up, I opposed the argument of Giles, outlining the great gains of the Cuban revolution but also warned that a ‘blank cheque’ approach to the Cuban leadership was also dangerous – for example Castro supported the Tiananmen Square massacre by the Chinese government.
The last session on Saturday was: ‘Peoples Power and regime change in South East Asia’, with Dita Sari, Giles, and the well-known Sonny Malencio, of the Filipino Workers’ Party, speaking.
Some members of the PSM said to me that they thought it was unfortunate that the left in the advanced capitalist world were divided so much. I replied that we must and do work together around concrete issues, such as fighting the occupation of Iraq, against capitalist globalization, and defending trade unions. However, it would be a mistake to ignore important differences.
On Sunday, the sessions were on Malaysia. ‘Why the Left failed to gain power in Malaysia/The MCP and the Socialist Front in Malaysian history’; ‘Lessons of reformasi 1998’; ‘Class and Communal Lines – The Unsolved National Question’; and ‘Building the Movement’.
The final session ended with the singing of the ‘Internationale’ – the anthem of the international working class – in Malay, Tamil, Chinese and English.
I look forward to further discussions and joint solidarity work between the sections of the CWI, especially in Australia, and the PSM.
The CWI stall at the Conference was popular. We sold all the copies of the new Che book and nearly all our literature.