Exposure to poverty not a necessary condition for societal transformation

IF we blindly adhere to the argument of Kedah Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor that it takes those who have experienced poverty to understand poverty, the world today will be a different place.

There will be no movements of emancipation, peasant struggles, working class struggles and others.

The world be a dull place without history in the words of Francis Fukuyama, the author of End of History.

Class and peasant struggle against poverty for the emancipation of the poor and underprivileged might have taken place at an unprecedented level at the global level.

In fact, the struggles to get out poverty will be not be confined to what academic James Scott described as everyday forms of struggles, struggles engaged spontaneously and periodically by the affected groups to mitigate the worst effects of poverty.

Such attempts might not contribute to long-term solutions for the eradication of poverty rooted in class and other forms of exploitation.

Those who experience poverty as a result of exploitation or discrimination might not be in the position to change their objective situation apart from waging immediate responses to mitigate the worst situation.

The theory of rational peasant argues that poor peasants lacking the emancipatory consciousness might only want to ameliorate their immediate situation by wishing to return to the status quo that was less oppressive before.

The theory of the status-quo is key in understanding the argument behind the theory of the rational peasant.

Progressive scholars and thinkers have argued to the extent the peasantry despite their objective situation of exploitation, did not possess the intellectual wherewithal of an emancipative transformation.

Attention was focused on the working class as the main transformative force in the engine of social, political and economic change.

The working class will be led by intellectuals who have fully grasped the fundamentals of historic for a far-reaching societal transformation.

It was said not in those words, those in the forefront of social, political and economic change in the past, the present and the future might not be those who have experienced the weight of grinding poverty.

They might emanate from the middle or upper echelons of societies by virtue of their intellectual abilities in wanting social transformation.

For them, it was not enough to understand society but how to effect profound and meaningful change for the better.

They might have escaped the vicious cycle of poverty to emerge as intellectuals and thinkers who are bent on the emancipation of those locked in poverty or any other forms of human exploitation.

To say that one needs to experience poverty to speak against this viciousness flies in the face of historical and contemporary evidence.

It is not enough to experience poverty, but there is need to understand, analyse and find ways and means to transform situations of poverty.

There is ample and overwhelming evidence in history how small groups of intellectuals came together to organise revolutionary changes in their respective countries.

Bringing about social and economic changes not to be revolutionary, they could take on a more passive and incremental methods.

The theory of parliamentary process comes to my mind as opposed to more radical transformative ways.

Government leaders might not have experienced poverty, but they might be thinkers and are intellectually equipped to change circumstances of poverty.

It is good that they might have experienced poverty, but this is not the necessary condition to transform circumstances of poverty.

Yes, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim might not have experienced poverty but this is not a necessary condition for those who want to understand poverty and the steps to be taken to overcome it.

Anwar was among others who was engaged in the Baling demonstrations in 1974 in support of the peasants in Kedah.

I suppose Sanusi has not kept with the past history of the country especially how intellectuals came together to confront and change circumstances of poverty and human exploitation.

I doubt these individuals had experienced poverty themselves. – June 6, 2023


Prof Ramasamy Palanisamy is the DAP state assemblyman for Perai. He is also Deputy Chief Minister II of Penang.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.


Main pic credit: Reuters

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