29 Jun 2019



1.0     INTRODUCTION                                                                   2

          2.1     Marxism                                                                        4
          2.2     Hegemony Theory                                                          5

          3.1     Marxism                                                                        8
          3.2     Hegemony Theory                                                          10

4.0     THE DEVELOPMENT OF DEMOCRACY IN MALAYSIA AND WHY COMMUNISM FAILED                                                13

5.0     CONCLUSIONS                                                                     17
REFERENCES                                                                                  18

Marxism is an economic and social system derived from the work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1829 - 1895). It is a theoretical-practical framework based on the analysis of "the conflicts between the powerful and the subjugated" with working class self-emancipation as its goal.

It asserts that the Capitalist mode of production enables the bourgeoisie (or owners of capital) to exploit the proletariat (or workers) and that class struggle by the proletariat must be the central element in social and historical change. According to Marx, a socialist revolution must occur, in order to establish a "dictatorship of the proletariat" with the ultimate goal of public ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange.

Classical Marxism is a variety of Socialism and provides the intellectual base for various forms of Communism. It was conceived (as to some extent was Anarchism) as a reaction against the rampant Capitalism and Liberalism of 19th Century Europe. It is grounded in Materialism and it is committed to political practice as the end goal of all thought.

As a philosopher, Marx was influenced by a number of different thinkers, including: German philosophers (e.g. Immanuel Kant, Georg Hegel and Ludwig Feuerbach); British political economists (e.g. Adam Smith and David Ricardo); and French social theorists (e.g. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Charles Fourier, Henri de Saint-Simon, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Flora Tristan and Louis Blanc).

The defining document of Marxism and Communism is "The Communist Manifesto", published jointly by Marx and Engels in 1848. The first volume of "Das Kapital" (Marx's ambitious treatise on political economy and critical analysis of Capitalism and its practical economic application) was published in 1867, with two more volumes edited and published after his death by Engels. For the most part, these works were collaborations and, while Marx is the more famous of the two, he was strongly influenced by Engels' earlier works, and Engels was also responsible for much of the interpretation and editing of Marx's work.

Hegemony is the political, economic, or military predominance or control of one state over others. In Ancient Greece (8th century BCE – 6th century CE), hegemony denoted the politico–military dominance of a city-state over other city-states. The dominant state is known as the hegemon.

In the 19th century, hegemony came to denote the "Social or cultural predominance or ascendancy; predominance by one group within a society or milieu". Later, it could be used to mean "a group or regime which exerts undue influence within a society." Also, it could be used for the geopolitical and the cultural predominance of one country over others; from which was derived hegemonism, as in the idea that the Great Powers meant to establish European hegemony over Asia and Africa.

The Marxist theory of cultural hegemony, associated particularly with Antonio Gramsci, is the idea that the ruling class can manipulate the value system and mores of a society, so that their view becomes the world view (Weltanschauung): in Terry Eagleton's words, "Gramsci normally uses the word hegemony to mean the ways in which a governing power wins consent to its rule from those it subjugates". In contrast to authoritarian rule, cultural hegemony "is hegemonic only if those affected by it also consent to and struggle over its common sense".

In cultural imperialism, the leader state dictates the internal politics and the societal character of the subordinate states that constitute the hegemonic sphere of influence, either by an internal, sponsored government or by an external, installed government.


2.1       Marxism
Marxism is a way of thinking critically, but it is not a “system”: “I have never established a ‘socialist system’”, Karl Marx wrote in his “Notes on Adolph Wagner's Lehrbuch der politischen Ökonomie” (1880). Marxism is analysis of the development of the world as it is, a method that must forge an intimate connection between practice and theory.

Here are the basic principles of Marxism:
• Opposition to an economic system based on inequality and on the alienation and exploitation of the majority (by means of the system of wage labor), a system whose purpose is to obtain profits for some people rather than satisfying the needs of all. This describes capitalism, but one can obviously imagine other systems that would present similar essential characteristics, to which Marxists would be equally opposed.
For the transformation of society, Marxism considers that a revolutionary process that will lead to a society based on cooperation and the free distribution of goods and provision of services is necessary.
• “The emancipation of the workers must be the task of the workers themselves.” This is principle is inherent to real Marxism, which implies democracy and self-emancipation; it also means that democracy is the indispensable foundation for a new society (called socialism or communism). This society, liberated from the diverse forms of domination, will have to be freely constructed by its members.
• Internationalism, which is simultaneously the recognition of the common interests of the workers of the entire world and of the need to struggle on a world scale, and of the goal of abolishing nations in the transition to a human world community.
• The knowledge and analysis of History (the materialist conception of history).
• The recognition of the existence of social classes that divide men and women into distinct segments of the population; the recognition of the profound inequalities and injustices that separate these classes; and the recognition that as long as society is divided into classes, there will be conflicts between these classes (the class struggle).
As a result, while they participate in the day-to-day class struggle of the workers, Marxists work on behalf of a reorganization of society that will put an end to this class division.
• The free exercise of the critical spirit. “Doubt everything”, Marx said; for the goal is to perceive reality as it is, in order to understand it better and thus to transform it.
These principles, or some of them, could very well be embraced by other political and social tendencies: if this is the case, then so much the better! Marxism does not attempt to isolate itself, quite the contrary: the goal is to contribute to the constitution of a movement of all of society for the creation of “an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all” (Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto).

            2.2       Hegemony
Hegemony is derived from the Greek word Hegemonia. The word hegemony literally means supreme command, or supremacy in Greece, particularly in designating the diplomatic and military control which was granted to an individual state because of the authority, bravery and war experience of its citizens by a number of other states.

In order to understand the basis principle of this theory, one must learn about Antonio Gramsci before proceeding to this theory of hegemony.

"It was Gramsci who, in the late twenties and thirties, with the rise of fascism and the failure of the Western European working-class movements, began to consider why the working class was not necessarily revolutionary, why it could, in fact, yield to fascism." (Gitlin, 1994)

According to Gramsci, hegemony locks up a society even more tightly because of the way ideas are transmitted by language.  The words we use to speak and write have been constructed by social interactions through history and shaped by the dominant ideology of the times.  Thus they are loaded with cultural meanings that condition us to think in particular ways, and to not be able to think very well in other ways. 

For a modern, U.S. example, consider the word "welfare." What feelings and images come to mind?  Someone who is poor.  Unhappy, perhaps.  Passive.  Irresponsible.  Overloaded with children. Struggling to go to school.  Ashamed.  Maybe out to cheat the system.  A drain on the taxpayers. A bureaucratic institution that needs continual attention and reform. All negative images, evoking anger or pity.  Think about it. We have had no word to describe this system of government payments that carries a positive connotation.  No word that evokes images of dignity and family pride or of a nation's debt to those it cannot or will not furnish with the opportunity for meaningful work and a relevant education.  Gramsci's point is that we have been conditioned by our language to think -- and feel about that thinking -- in ways that serve the dominant ideology.  And if that dominant ideology insists that poverty is the fault of the individual while systematically keeping certain groups or classes of people poor, that hegemony must be dislodged by substantive, revolutionary change. 

Gramsci added another dimension to the definition of hegemony: domination by consent.  It seems impossible that anyone would consent to be oppressed, or that we ourselves might be consenting to oppress others.  But no matter how outraged we are at the poverty that exists in the richest country in the world, all most of us do to fight it is tinker with the system.  We know that the rich are getting richer while the poor and the middle class are feeling less and less secure.  We know, but we accept.  "What can one person do?" we say.  "The poor have always been with us."  It's a fatalistic feeling we have, but Gramsci doesn't blame us for it.  "Indeed," he says, "fatalism is nothing other than the clothing worn by real and active will when in a weak position."

Gramsci believed that everyone, no matter what their occupation, their interests, or their education, is able to work out their own coherent ideas of how the world really works.  Despite his description of hegemony as society's brainwashing, he had great faith in people's ability to go beyond the mere acceptance of the ideas they grew up with and become critical thinkers. 

"To criticize one's own conception of the world means to make it a coherent unity and to raise it to the level reached by the most advanced thought in the world," Gramsci wrote from his prison cell.  "The starting-point of critical elaboration is the product of the historical process to date which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory."

In other words, critical thinking about our own thinking process can move us toward our own coherent philosophy when we begin to trace the origins of our most deeply held beliefs.  "What do I really think about this difficult teenager I'm tutoring?"  "Where did these beliefs come from?"  "What people and what institutions taught me to think this way?"  "And where did their beliefs come from?" Gramsci's fate might lead us to think of ways people in our own country with disturbing ideas have been silenced -- by censorship, by rumor mongering, by lynching, by incarceration. If you volunteer for a prison education project you may be surprised by the number of creative, deeply intelligent men and women who are thinking, discussing, writing and growing as human beings in much the same way Gramsci did -- despite the sometimes cruel and retaliatory conditions of their incarceration.

            3.1       Marxism
The notion of ideology, as it informed critical social theory throughout the twentieth century, emerged in the work of Karl Marx (1977; also see Marx and Engels 1989). Here, ideology refers to the ways in which society as a whole adopts the ideas and interests of the dominant economic class. Marx’s model of ideology rests upon a historical-materialist perspective, which asserts that material reality is the foundation of social consciousness. Material reality sets boundaries on the ideas that may emerge as important, or even acceptable, in a given social setting. However, it is through the dominant ideologies of capitalism that the working classes take for granted their exploitation within economic structures of inequality.

For Marx, the most important aspects of material reality center on human productive labor. The appropriation of resources from the natural world for the production of goods is the foundation of social life. Within a capitalist mode of production, the most important social relations are those between members of the working class as they engage in productive labor, as well as the relations between the working class and the capitalist class, which owns the means of production (such as factories and machines). Through their owner to appropriate the labor of the working classes, who lack access to the means to produce the necessities of survival — including food, clothing, shelter — for themselves.

Ideology enters Marx’s theoretical framework to explain how the subordinate classes take exploitative relations of production for granted, as something solid and unchangeable. One way in which this is accomplished is the way in which objects with use value become commodities characterized by their exchange value. Objects produced through human labor have value insofar as they fulfill a particular function. The use value of wood may be realized if I build a house; the use value of an apple is realized when I eat it. By contrast, exchange value refers to the social labor that is required to produce the same objects for a capitalist economy.

The move from use value towards a system of exchange value removes from visibility the role of human labor in producing value. Commodity “fetishism” refers to the way in which the objects produced by human labor are divorced from that productive labor and are re-located in the economy of exchange value within a capitalist mode of production (Marx 1977). This process is ideological in the sense that it obscures the central importance of labor to social life. It transforms the material product of human labor into a “social hieroglyphic” which is undecipherable to capital’s subordinate classes. Through this process, elite social groups naturalize capitalist relations of production. Workers come to view the capitalist mode of production as the only viable option, where they must sell their labor power to the capitalist class in order to obtain commodities. Ideology, then, functions to secure the participation of subordinate classes in exploitative relations of production.

For Marx, the equation of labor power with money, or wages, is another way in which ruling groups secure the consent of the working classes for their own exploitation. Workers exchange their labor power for wages, which they use to purchase the commodities that they produce, but which the capitalist class owns and sells. This transmutation of labor into wages creates a false reality for workers. Marx writes:

What flows back to the worker in the shape of wages is a portion of the product he himself continuously reproduces. . . . The illusion created by the money form vanishes immediately if, instead of taking a single capitalist and a single worker, we take the whole capitalist class and the whole working class. The capitalist class is constantly giving to the working class drafts, in the form of money, on a portion of the product produced by the latter and appropriated by the former. The workers give these drafts back just as constantly to the capitalists … The transaction is veiled by the commodity-form of the product and the money-form of the commodity (Marx 1977).

Marx’s use of terms like “illusion” and “veiled” suggests that both the commodity form and money play an ideological role in securing the willing participation of the working classes in their own domination. Wages construct an illusion for the working class that veils the exploitative relation of the appropriation of surplus value.

In Marx’s writing, resistance to ideology must take a primarily material form. It is not sufficient to analyze ideological systems from a theoretical or academic standpoint. He writes, “All forms and products of consciousness cannot be dissolved by mental criticism . . . but only by the practical overthrow of the actual social relations which gave rise to the idealistic humbug” (Marx and Engels 1989). Political praxis must involve people acting for social change within the mode of production. Just as material reality gives rise to the dominant ideologies of a society, people can only overcome the ideology of capitalism through action directed at transforming the economic substructure of society.

3.2       Hegemony Theory
The notion of “hegemony” is rooted in Gramsci’s (1992) distinction between coercion and consent as alternative mechanisms of social power. Coercion refers to the State’s capacity for violence, which it can use against those who refuse to participate in capitalist relations of production. By contrast, hegemonic power works to convince individuals and social classes to subscribe to the social values and norms of an inherently exploitative system. It is a form of social power that relies on voluntarism and participation, rather than the threat of punishment for disobedience. Hegemony appears as the “common sense” that guides our everyday, mundane understanding of the world. It is a view of the world that is “inherited from the past and uncritically absorbed” and which tends to reproduce a sort of social homeostasis, or “moral and political passivity” (Gramsci 1971). Whereas coercive power is the exclusive domain of the State, the institutions of “civil society,” such as the Church, schools, the mass media, or the family, are largely responsible for producing and disseminating hegemonic power (Gramsci 1996). In industrial capitalist societies, hegemonic power is the prevalent form of social power; the state relies on coercion only in exceptional circumstances.

Gramsci ascribes a greater degree of importance to the cultural superstructure of capitalist societies than is attributed by Marx. From this perspective, the superstructure does not simply reflect the economic base. Rather, there is a meaningful degree of autonomy between the spheres. This means that the ideas of the ruling classes do not necessarily become the defining values of society as a whole. Rather, ongoing social action creates and reproduces hegemonic power. Hegemonic networks of power are the result of contestation between ruling elites and “subaltern” groups. Because contestation is basic to the process of constituting hegemony, there is never a unified, totalizing system of ideological domination. Hegemony and counter hegemony exist in a state of tension; each gives shape to the other. For Gramsci one of the main issues facing dominant social groups is how to maintain the necessary degree of “ideological unity” to secure the consent of the governed (Gramsci 1971).

Gramsci also asserts that hegemony has a material dimension. It is not only a system of ideas, floating above economic structures. Rather, the social action of everyday life produces hegemonic effects. Writing about the emergence of Fordist production in the United States, for example, Gramsci (1992) describes an American hegemony that is “born in the factory”. Gramsci (1996) describes how the interplay of our cultural and material surroundings constructs hegemony as follows:

The press is the most dynamic part of the ideological structure, but not the only one. Everything that directly or indirectly influences or could influence public opinion belongs to it: libraries, schools, associations and clubs of various kinds, even architecture, the layout of streets and their names.

Furthermore, hegemony often lies beneath the surface, unarticulated. As Williams (1977) writes, “A lived hegemony is always a process. It is not, except analytically, a system or a structure. It is a realized complex of experiences, relationships, and activities, with specific and changing pressures and limits”. This illustrates how hegemony works as a sort of common sense, rather than as a coherent body of thought, such as we would associate with ideology.

Gramsci gives us an image of society in which the cultural realm is a central location for the exercise of social power. By comparison with the Frankfurt School theorists, however, hegemonic power is something that is always contested, always historically contingent and always unfinished. He ascribes a high level of importance to the subaltern classes, intellectuals, and revolutionary political parties as agents for social change. For Gramsci, a revolutionary seizure of the means of production is not a viable tactic for creating radical social change in modern capitalist societies. Where a society is characterized primarily by the exercise of hegemonic power instead of coercion, a prolonged cultural “war of position” is more important, where the hegemony of the ruling classes is dissembled and a new hegemony is crystallized (Femia 1975). This occurs as subaltern groups realize their own capacity to become philosophers of their daily experience; they come to understand the hegemonic common sense that they otherwise take for granted.

The Gramscian model of hegemony departs significantly from the Marxist notion of ideology, while retaining Marxist foundational categories of class, the capitalist mode of production, and the distinction between the economic base and the cultural superstructure. Among the advances made by Gramscian theory is the attention to hegemonic power as an often-implicit “common sense” rather than a coherent body of thought, which is inherently unfinished and historically contingent. It is the embodiment of hegemony in everyday common sense, through the mundane activities connected with work, school, the family and the church, that secures the consent of capital’s subaltern classes.


A multi-racial country such as Malaysia is fragile and is built along a racial lower class and ethnic lines. The incident of May 13, 1969 is a good example of this. This is when the communists indoctrinated the people at all levels -- government officials, trade unionists, the armed forces, police, and middle classes -- with communist ideology. Their second goal was to cripple the government and create instability within the politic and in the economy by using the categories of people mentioned above to take advantage of the instability in order to overthrow the government of Malaysia. The communist's party main targets were the middle and lower classes living in remote and rural areas. These were classes that were easy to influence because the means of communication and information from the government were limited. Most of the people living in remote areas were Chinese and Malay; it was difficult to influence the Malays because of their strong religious belief which included the concept of a God. Politics were dominated by the Malays. The communist party took advantage of this to start propaganda about the diversity of the races such as Malays' political dominance and the Chinese and Indian people being second class citizens. The Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) was supported by the People’s Republic of China and Soviet Union through a third country, namely Indonesia during the Sukarno period.

The failure of CPM to achieve its objectives was basically due to the overall success of the Malaysian Government itself. The government was able to carry out effectively its program of development, political stability, racial integration, economic reform, security operations and winning the "hearts and minds of the people". The Department of Information was created to repel communist propaganda which attempted to overthrow the government through destabilizing the economy and disrupting political life.

Other than that, the reason why communist failed in Malaysia can be known as;

a)      Political Stability
Due to the complex nature of Malaysia as a Federation, with administration at the federal and state levels as well as the multiracial, religion and cultural composition of it population, Malaysia was considered fortunate to have a comprehensive constitution. The Malaysia Constitution is supreme, consisting of fundamental laws which describe the manner in which the state (nation) is organized administratively and how justice is administrated. The Constitution includes basic features such as guaranteed fundamental rights, special powers to combat subversion and the ability to declare states of emergency , special protection of the Bumiputra, the official religion and freedom of communities to practice their own religion in peace and harmony, and the other institutions within the country such as the conference of rulers, among other things. Therefore in Malaysia's case, the constitution can definitely be considered as an instrument in ensuring security, be it from internal threat through defining fundamental values on which the political society is founded thus propagating peace and harmony or from external threat through the function of government. After the event of May 13, RUKUNNEGARA, a form of national ideology was formulated, consisting of five principles that were acceptable to all the communities, and provided the common basis for the aspirations of all Malaysian. It is a further means to promote cohesiveness and a nationalistic spirit among the population.

Political stability affects national security in Malaysia since any instability will bring about internal insecurity and a host of other factors that will weaken the state, such as investor confidence and unemployment thereby causing an economic slowdown or recession and providing an advantage and cause for an upsurge in communist ideology. Also, since political parties are still built along racial lines or tend to champion certain racial groups and interests, any political instability will bring about racial confrontation or clashes. This situation can further be externally exploited. Since independence, Malaysia has been governed by the Barisan Nasional (coalition government). In every general election in the past, the government has also managed to secure the much coveted two- thirds majority in parliament. This is important as the passing of any bill to amend the constitution requires a two- thirds majority. It is also often as having political stability. However Malaysia's political system is still maturing, being only 40 years old. In its process of transition to a liberal democracy, like in any typical young political system, constitutional changes of government and leadership can cause tension, anxiety and instability which may then affect national security. For example, the May 13 incident accrued soon after the 1969 general election.

b)     Security
The National Security Council under the Prime Minister's department was established in 1971 with the responsibility of coordinating policies relating to the security of the country and the overall direction of security matters. This security structure was extended to the state, district and village levels parallel to the development structure. In this respect, the Prime Minister (and the Minister of Defense) the late Tun Abdul Razak bin Hussian said," The primary task of armed forces is to fight the communist, but at the same time they must also help implement the government development plan. This is part of the fight against communist. Defense and development go hand in hand." The NSC further developed this concept into what is known as KESBAN (security and development), and this concept as one of it instruction, particularly to fight the communist menace.

The strength of the communist movement lies in winning the heart and minds of the populace and the sympathizer country. Internally, the Malaysian government was successful in containing the communist armed struggle in the early eighties but is still looking for a way to eliminate this ideology from the people totally. Development in the rural area is important as the communist strength is spreading propaganda in this area to gain support. The government should establish very close relationship with the people. This will make it easy for development and help security forces implement their task with the information provided by the populace. A successful external policy is also important to counter the communist armed struggle. This is because the CPM is supported by sympathizer countries. The domino theory is frightening for Malaysia. The purpose of ZOPFAN and joining NAM is used as protection for Malaysia against the communist external threat.    

c)      Social Development
Besides the political and economic factor, the socio - cultural factor divides into different areas, language, religion and cultural practices, which also play an equally important part in keeping the different races apart. It has been said, if the people of Malaysia are to be truly of one Bahasa Malaysia, the challenges and answers lie in the socio cultural factors more than any other component.

Racial integration and relations in Malaysia have improved since the 1970s and the 1980s and were accelerated after the eighties. The rapid economic growth has contributed in making a society with less to complain about, since there is now more to share. In effect, the government and the people are coming of age as an independent country, confident and proud as a nation and as individuals, with a future that is promising yet at the same time demanding of a vision that can build upon the success thus achieved. Such a "Vision", however must always take in consideration the maintenance of fairness and justice to all Malaysian.
It is impossible in Malaysia to have only one culture as every race have their own culture and will try to protect them. The communist theory of social revolution means that there will be one dominant culture. Malaysia countered this theory by promoting every race and harmony between the races. The communist dialectical materialism theory states that is no creator and no god. This theory provided a good way for the government to counter communism. Most Malaysians are either Muslims, Hindu, Buddhist or Christians. The government promotes belief in God and encourages people to believe strongly in their own religion. The government also promotes freedom of worship.  


Through this theoretical overview, I have traced a route through a map of theories of Marxism and hegemony. These key theorists provide a variety of explanations for the ways in which ideology and discourse function to convince people to accept systems of social inequality as acceptable and immune from social transformation. In explaining why people consent to unequal relations of social power, they also illuminate possibilities for resistance to ideological power and for social change.

If this model of power, domination, and consent is correct, there are also important implications for theory and political practice. In this model, power is discursive, while having material effects. It flows throughout daily life in multiple directions. As such, it is untenable to envision a Marxist style of revolution, which can ultimately overcome power. Instead, we are better off directing theory and practice at destabilizing our consent to these power relations. Social theory might help produce the kind of reflexivity that encourages us to better monitor and manage relations of power. This leaves us with the prospect of an endless project of challenging and minimizing the harmful effects of power relations, through practices like radical democracy or cyborg politics.



Agger, Ben. 1998. Critical Social Theories: An Introduction. Oxford: Westview Press.

Eagleton, Terry. 1991. Ideology: An Introduction. London: Verso.

Femia, Joseph. 1975. “Hegemony and Consciousness in the Thought of Antonio Gramsci.” Political Studies 23:29-48.

Gramsci, Antonio. 1971. Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. Translated by Q. Hoare and G. N. Smith. New York: International Publishers.

Marx, Karl. 1977. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy (Volume 1). Translated by B. Fowkes. New York: Vintage Books.

Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. 1989. “Excerpts from The German Ideology.” Pp. 246-261 in Basic Writings on Politics and Philosophy, edited by L. S. Feuer. New York: Anchor Books.

Parry, Benita. 2004. “Problems in Current Theories of Colonial Discourse.” in Postcolonial Studies: A Materialist Critique. London: Routledge.

Williams, Raymond. 1977. Marxism and Literature. New York: Oxford University Press.

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