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Alternatives in the Transition from Capitalism

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Sumanasiri Liyanage (“Transcending Capital-Labour Relation:A Note on Social Entrepreneurship”, 10 November) makes an interesting point about “social enterprises”, co-operatives, worker-co-operatives and the like.

He argues that structurally, many of these enterprises are bureaucratic, and that “many social enterprises, having failed to make sociality their ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ characteristics, show a tendency for degeneration, putting aside their social characteristics and creating a strong permanent bureaucratic apparatus. The main concern of this bureaucratic apparatus is not profit, as in private enterprises, but ‘income’ as a revenue.”

There is a great deal of truth in what he says. In a capitalist system, social enterprises, by their very need to exist in that milieu, must look to profit. Indeed, as one participant in a recent online conference of worker-co-ops in the USA commented to me, they seem to be more concerned in their engagement with the capitalist system, rather than with expanding a socially-owned economy.

“Yes, I see the emphasis on ‘income’,” my informant tells me, “especially here as initial funding for co-ops,etc., comes from non-profit foundations that emphasise ‘entrepreneurship,’ also ‘social enterprise’ is just seen as for profits with some social mission, either corporate ‘responsibility’ or community contributions, or a social service abandoned by the State.”

However, exceptions to this rule do exist. My informant, who consults for worker-co-ops in the US, thinks that these are more concerned with social issues than with mere profit, although they do realise the need for surplus income, in order to survive and expand. Exemplifying this attitude, the newly-formed Rhode Island Political Co-operative, which won democratic primaries, as well as seven seats in the state’s General Assembly, and two city council seats, campaigned on socio-economic issues, such as a $15 minimum wage, the Green New Deal, single-payer healthcare, criminal justice reform, affordable housing, quality public education, immigrant rights, and getting money out of politics.

Liyanage should look at the problem as a Marxist. Historically, social change has taken place through the resolution of internal contradictions, but has been accompanied by the establishment of institutions which pre-figure the next social stage. In Hegelian terms, the transformation of quantity into quality.

In Europe, the transition from slavery to serfdom did not take place in a vacuum. For example, serf-based production emerged within the slave-holding Roman Empire, the collapse of which caused the transition to feudalism. Similarly, bourgeois institutions, such as banks and manufacturing concerns emerged in feudal society: joint-stock companies appeared (stillborn in the first millennium in China) in the 13th century in Europe. These proliferated within pre-capitalist societies, laying a transformative foundation until a cusp was reached, and the bourgeoisie seized power, carrying out a metamorphosis of economy, society and polity.

One could, realistically, expect a similar mechanism to occur prior to a transition to socialism. Indeed, the USSR, during the “New Economic Policy” period, encouraged the establishment of worker-co-ops and farmer-co-ops. Lenin believed that co-operatives, particularly producer-co-ops, held the key to building a socialist society. He wrote in 1923 (“On co-operatives”, Pravda, 26-27 May 1923) that the only task left was “to organise the population in co-operative societies.”

Apart from farmer collectives, Lenin also encouraged “Big Bill” Haywood, the US trade unionist, to set up the Kuzbass Autonomous Industrial Colony, which brought together American and European workers with Soviet ones in a giant worker-co-op: dissolved, unfortunately, in 1926. Hence, co-operatives, and particularly producer co-operatives, are part of the practical Marxist tradition.

The “father of socialism in Sri Lanka”, Philip Gunawardena, encouraged the creation of multi-purpose co-operative societies (MPCSs), both for the promotion of collective activity, and as potential units of rural democracy. During the 1970-75 United Front Government, several farmer co-operatives emerged in Sri Lanka, as well as a handful of worke-co-operatives (notably a steel-making co-op in Moratuwa). So the tradition exists on the Sri Lankan Left as well.

Of course, producer-co-ops by themselves cannot, as utopian socialists such as Robert Owen and Charles Fourier imagined, guarantee the transition to socialism (any more than the emergence of capitalist enterprises in pre-capitalist societies ensured the success of the bourgeois revolution). As both Marx and Lenin pointed out, the necessary condition for this transition lies in the class struggle.

However, these institutions may prove to be essential allies in the class struggle – their very existence contradicts the bourgeois idea of private property, as against collective property. “Under private capitalism,” Lenin pointed out, “co-operative enterprises differ from capitalist enterprises as collective enterprises differ from private enterprises.”

 

Marx (in his ‘Inaugural Address of the International Working Men’s Association”) had this to say about workers’ co-operatives:

“The value of these great social experiments cannot be overrated. By deed instead of by argument, they have shown that production on a large scale, and in accord with the behests of modern science, may be carried on without the existence of a class of masters employing a class of hands; that to bear fruit, the means of labour need not be monopolised as a means of dominion over, and of extortion against, the labouring man himself; and that, like slave labour, like serf labour, hired labour is but a transitory and inferior form, destined to disappear before associated labour plying its toil with a willing hand, a ready mind, and a joyous heart.”

On a practical level, the burgeoning Latin American “Solidarity Economy” movement has attempted to build alternatives to capitalist institutions, challenging capitalist property relations, as part and parcel of a class-based revolutionary process. Hence, rather than merely condemning actually existing worker co-ops as bureaucratically degenerated, commercialised enterprises, it may be more constructive to regard them as part of the solution to a transition from capitalism, and consider how these institutions may be reformed, structurally and ideologically, from within.

SAVITHRI GURUGE



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Opinion

The Wickremesinghe Presidency Response to Dr Mahim Mendis

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By Anura Gunasekera

All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common; it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership- J.K. Galbraith.Dr. M.M., through an inexplicable thought process, has seen it fit to classify my writing as – quote- “…. A reflection of a segment of the English-speaking middle class of Sri Lanka, confused and burdened by the state of flux, or the terrible uncertainty that engulfs the nation at large. They often confine their criticism to private gatherings, while a few others express themselves through newspaper columns with hard-hearted sentiments against politicians like Premadasa, whom they love to undermine”- end quote

Firstly, my viewpoints on national issues have been exposed in the public domain, through newspaper articles, fairly frequently across the last couple of decades. I cannot quite understand what he means when he says, “members if this social class, going by the contents of Mr. Gunasekera’s column, never believed in ousting Rajapaksas or Wickremesinghe, as they easily embrace the status quo”. To clarify, I have been a steadfast critic of the odious status quo that successive Rajapaksa regimes have represented since the day Mahinda Rajapaksa was first elected President, and I maintain that position to this day. I can also state with total confidence that I represent the viewpoint of a large mass of people, not all of them part of the so-called “English-speaking middle class”. If Dr. MM is in any doubt about my credentials, I suggest that he check out the blog, ‘Rilawala Reflections’, or my medium account – if he can find the time and the inclination.

I do not “resent” (Dr MM’s word) the militant outlook of the university student federations and the other participants of the Aragalaya. It is not possible to confront repression without militancy and steadfastness. But my concern, as an average, law-abiding citizen, was the descent of justifiable civil protest in to violence, particularly after the 9th May. Violence is frequently an outcome of civil protest, the world over, and Sri Lanka was no exception. The occupation of Temple Trees, the President’s house, the Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s office were unnecessary, and the physical damage caused within those premises, unacceptable. The countrywide damage and destruction of private property was criminal and the murder of two men in Nittambuwa abhorrent, as was the torching of Ranil Wickremesinghe’s house. As far as I am aware, none of the leaders of the Aragalaya, insofar as it has a defined leadership, has publicly condemned those incidents.

Irrespective of the righteousness of the original purpose of the Aragalaya, which I endorse without reservation, those responsible must be made accountable for those crimes. To endorse the Aragalaya unequivocally is to endorse all those unacceptable acts. Dr. MM perceives this position differently. Quote- “Anura Gunasekera has taken the typical position often repeated by the English-speaking elites …”- end quote. The call for law and order is common amongst all right-thinking people and certainly not confined to “elite” groups. If Dr. MM wishes to explore the evolution of my views on the Aragalaya and connected events, I suggest that he reads my articles in The Sunday Island editions of April 11, April 17, April 25, May 15, June 05 and July 17. It is not necessary for me to go in to detail in this writing.

As for the “fatherly advice to these militant youth”, (Dr. MM’s words) let me illustrate my position with a detailed, real-life episode.

In or around 1992, R. Paskaralingam, Secretary of Finance in the R.Premadasa regime, summoned all private company corporate heads and directors, seeking from them a solution to the issue of unemployed graduates. He requested the assembled corporates to provide suitable in-house training, without remuneration, for a minimum period of six months, to make those graduates—in his own words—”employable”. However, Ken Balendra, then Chairman of John Keells, insisted that all trainees be paid and in order to maintain uniformity, it was agreed that each trainee would be paid an allowance of 3,000 per month. Paskaralingam’s ministry supplied around 6,000 names of unemployed graduates to the private companies represented at the meeting. I was present at the first meeting as well as all the meetings which followed.

At the final meeting, six months later, the late Lyn Fernando of the apparel sector submitted the graduate training programme details to Paskaralingam. Of over 4,000 graduates given training appointments, fewer than 10% completed the training programme. On behalf of my company, of which I was then the Head of Human Resources, I interviewed over two dozen candidates and did not employ any, as none of them were prepared to report for training on a Saturday. Exchanging notes then with many of my contemporaries in the private sector, I found that my experience was mirrored right across the sector. The project was a failure entirely due to the reluctance of the greater majority of unemployed graduates, despite being provided with employment opportunity, to conform to the diligence expected by the private sector. Hence, my ‘fatherly advice” to unemployed graduates.

In the last five decades, till retirement in 2020, I have been directly associated, in every organization that I worked in, with Human Resource Management. During this period, I have interviewed thousands of candidates. Therefore, I am fully aware of the issues regarding educational standards, especially in outstation areas, and the difficulties faced by graduates seeking employment. Contrary to Dr MM’s assumption, I speak with reasonable awareness and knowledge of the relevant issues, especially from the perspective of an employer. My knowledge is derived from direct interaction with every level of employment, from manual workers to senior corporate managers.

My criticism of Sajith Premadasa is not an attempt to undermine him. I have no party affiliations but I have voted at every election since 1977, casting my ballot on the basis of strongly held views on major national issues. I voted for Premadasa at the last presidential election as I considered a Gotabaya presidency abhorrent, for reasons I have explained in detail in other writings which pre-date the Yahapalanaya regime. In this instance, promoting Dullas as opposition to RW was, to me, and to many other people who expected greater things of Premadasa, a great disappointment for a number of reasons.

The rationale behind the promotion of the Dullas candidacy was probably the result of a think-tank deliberation, which, judging by Dr MM’s observations, he himself may have been privy to. Given the content of my article at issue, even without reference to any of my previous writings, it is quite absurd of Dr MM to pose the question, “Is Anura Gunasekera an appeaser of the Ranil-Rajapaksa regime to have a serious grouse with Sajith Premadasa for not accepting the Prime-Ministerial post under Gotabaya?” Frankly, that proposition does not merit debate.

Dullas A has been a Rajapaksa loyalist, which means a Rajapaksa lackey, for over two decades. He was the regular spokesman for Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the most incompetent leader this country has ever had. Until he suddenly developed a conscience and defected from the Rajapaksa ranks- though only when the writing on the wall was clear to all- Dullas endorsed the Gotabaya inspired tax concessions, the money-printing, the organic fertilizer fiat, the sugar scam, the ban on agrochemicals and the 20th Amendment.

In the above context, within a few short weeks after switching a decades- long loyalty, what makes him a better candidate for the presidency than Premadasa? The nation was confronted by the most crucial leadership vacuum since independence and, in my view, Dullas was not a choice. In his writing, Dr MM has detailed many of the issues Premadasa has been involved in, and the initiatives he has launched, as an Opposition leader. But that is exactly what an Opposition leader is expected to do. Weighted speeches and impressive rhetoric in parliament and at other forums are, at best, poor substitutes for concrete action at opportune moments. The ground reality, as far as I am concerned, is that he has faltered twice when confronted with the final hurdle. Ordinary citizens like me are not privy to what goes on in the minds of our leaders. We only see the results and, obviously, weigh those against our expectations and arrive at our conclusions. Sajith cannot expect to win by lying low, limiting his profile and interminably biding his time. In the words of another great crisis manager, “The nation will find it very hard to look up to leaders, who are keeping their ears to the ground.” ( Winston Churchill)

Dr MM’s writing suggests a preoccupation with the segment of our society which he labels as the “English-speaking middle class” and, in a sweeping generalisation, attributes to this group all manner of socio-political and ideological inadequacies. There is also a confusing reference, seemingly irrelevant to the context, “to those who have proved that they have not read any decent books in their own libraries.” As for me, although I now habitually write in English, I am quite fluent in Sinhala and reasonably so in Tamil. I also, calculatedly, seek the views of all linguistic groups in the country and many of my views are informed by such discussions.

I understand Dr. MM’s compulsion to reinforce his leader’s position and I respect his views, whilst holding firmly to mine. As for Sajith Premadasa, I pray, on behalf of a nation desperately in need of a viable leadership option in troubled times, that before long he is presented with that perfect opportunity he is awaiting. If it comes to a people’s ballot Sajith is assured of mine.

Dr MM has concluded his writing with a quotation on the “significance of compromise in politics,” attributed to Kevin Spacey, American actor and film producer, currently embroiled in a major sexual misconduct controversy. Let me conclude mine with a quote, attributed to another American, celebrated for genuine greatness; “Nearly all men can stand adversity but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”- Abraham Lincoln.

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The Chinese Ship; enough is enough of protest marches

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The most pressing occurrence of now is the arrival of the Chinese ship Yuan Wang 5 with sophisticated scientific/astronomical/electronic equipment, which is said to be able to study satellites spinning around in outer space. What is not said is its other capabilities like monitoring electronic communication, etc. It was to arrive on 11th and depart on 17th this month.

Hence India’s howls of protest about its docking in the Hambantota Harbour. Sri Lanka placated it with the sop of postponing the arrival. There is a world of difference between postponement and cancellation/dis-allowing. Even a Grade 5 student should know that. Not our big bugs in the Foreign Ministry. In the first place, did the Ministers of Shipping and Defense grant permission for the ship to enter our waters and the harbour down South or did China not bother to seek permission having a 99 year lease over the harbour? Debt-trap tactics. The ship’s claim for docking is merely to ‘replenish and refuel’. Surely, such a high-tech sailing lab would want to do more. Thus, India’s justified concern, which is “the possibility of the ship’s tracking systems attempting to snoop on Indian installations while being on its way” and over here for seven whole days.

Neighbour or Friend

The last thing poor, bankrupt, battered and shattered Pearl of the Indian Ocean needs is a international scuffle in its waters or over its head. Experts from various fields have spoken about this; written about it and novice Cassandra cannot analyse the problem nor deal with it expertly. But she has a very definite opinion or two as to who or which country Sri Lanka should be more loyal to. Her answer is: Who do you feel more loyal and obliged to – your friendly neighbour or your friend? We are on the doorstep of India and she is our Big Brother – or Big Sister – no two words about that. We are closely linked to her racially: Aryan and Dravidian descent; culturally with close relations forged from long long ago; we were given the teachings of the greatest Asian who lived and preached in India. And during our recent troubles, the worst crisis Sri Lanka has faced, India was the one country who came fast and substantially to our aid and actually saved us from anarchy when fuel ran dry, paralysing the country.

China is rather disapproved of by the likes of Cassandra since that great country, in its drive for its Belt and Road Initiative, acceded to our Prez of then, MR, consumed with egotistic hubris and accommodated his grandiose Oxymandias non-productive buildings getting us into colossal debt. China of decades ago with Chou en Lai, Deputy Head, helped us very much: first with the Rubber-Rice Pact (1952) and thereafter fostering close relations and supporting us in international forums; also gifting us a magnificent conference hall – the BMICH.

Of course, it will require absolute tact and finesse to balance the two almost super powers and also very cleverly but subtly, consider first and last Sri Lanka’s interests and welfare. Cass feels that our Minister of Foreign Affairs – Ali Sabry – is equal to the mighty task of maintaining balance and exertion of Sri Lanka’s rights too. No better person really in appearance, tongue, manners and keen reasoning intellect.

Enough is more than enough!

Cassandra refers here to the protests – marching or standing, but all shouting, nay blasting forth slogans, the women shrilly. Most look rather wild, individually and collectively. Now, protests are past their date; passé, boring, and actually to be looked askance at, if not disdainfully. What are they shouting about? ‘Pointless to shout ‘Go Home Ranil’, though some called him by his second given surname. He should, for goodness sake, not live up to that name. Friendship and back-scratching have their place but not in Sri Lanka of now, so perilously poised. Additionally, absurd and most unrealistic to call for an instant general election and Cass supposes THE Prez election too since a new constitution has not come into force with no Exec Prez for this country. There they were, the men hairy and angry faced. Much energy, much steam wasted along with the day – 9 August. None want a commemoration on the 9th of each month; May 9 was bad enough and the two following with all the destruction that was caused along with protests.

Cass did not spy the Field Marshall with a ragtag of protesters as he promised. She is sure he will be congratulated by most on his restraint and not breaking ranks with the SJB. We want him to remain the admired and respected foremost war hero.So was this 9th a bit of a pusswedilla? Hope the igniters get the message and drop their country disturbing protests even though HR organisations back them. Utterly pointless and senseless now. Let the government, good or bad, work hard and unhindered by civil disturbances to at least get on the path of economic recovery. Political recovery and punishing of the political mega-corrupt can come later.

Thus, our repeated advice: Stalin and other like leaders, stop parading the streets with conscripted teachers and firebrands who know no better and return to your career if not vocation. (Pedagogy not protest marching and demanding unreasonably.) If you no longer are a teacher, then get teachers who are members of the trade unions you lead to be better teachers – dedicated to their pedagogy; kind and tolerant to their students and considerate to parents.

Damitha Abeyratne, who looked victorious when released from remand on bail, just go back to your acting and film career, that’s if you still have that option. University students go back to lectures, sit and pass your exams and come serve your country in jobs instead of giving vent to your hooliganism pretending nationalistic pride and loyalty.

Trump at receiving end

The FBI searched Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Largo residence in Florida on Monday August 8 and even prised open a safe from which they got government papers which Trump took with him when he was made to leave the White House after he lost the presidency to Biden. Retrieved were sensitive classified government documents in his possession. Trump accused the FBI of an unannounced search and the Democrats of a witch hunt. But what an outsider feels is if he did wrong he has to pay for it. Trump is actually going to pay for his sins committed as an ego-centric, obstinate president of the US. He is getting his just deserts and after not much long since alleged crimes were committed.

Protesters shout the government should bring back stolen wealth. This shout is justified but not now; later when a firm government is in place with the economy of the country guided to stand on a surer footing.

Belated commendation

The protesters who found a big bundle of cash in the President’s House and handed it over to the police need to be congratulated and patted on their backs since they could so easily have spirited it away and shared the loot. We disapprove of their invading official VIP residences and offices, but this act must be commended. It is in sharp contrast to the grossness of sleeping on beds and diving into the pool at President’s House.

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Sunil, your slip is showing!

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It is rarely that veteran JVPer Sunil Handunetti leaves room for criticism. Perhaps, the JVP’S refusal to join the proposed all-party government had to be explained by a senior respected member – Handunetti being the obvious choice.

To an independent observer, he did not fare in a recent interview. Quite innocently, he trotted out a very puerile explanation, which could, perhaps, be applauded by school-going children in the lower grades. The tendency to be jealous, inability to appreciate the good, even in a bad situation, and the unwillingness to give credit where credit is due, coupled with age-old theoretical bug-bears and prejudices , perhaps, provoked him to quote trivialities; such as President Ranil W is on a journey to consolidate his Party and to gain kudos as the saviour of the Nation.

This exposes himself and his JVP as anti-national and narrow-minded in a situation where the country is now at its lowest depths, where everyone is expected to put his or her shoulder to the wheel. It comes ill from a JVPer who has proved himself as a useful and capable politician, and a member of a party that actively and gleefully participated in the notorious FCID outfit, organized by the then PM, Ranil W.

What a world!

I.P.C. MENDIS

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