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Socialist revolution or bourgeois compromise?

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By Uditha Devapriya

For the oppressed masses of the Third World, the establishment of UNCTAD and the proposal for a New International Economic Order marked the high point of 20th century multilateralism. These coincided with the longest spell of decolonisation recorded in history, in turn fuelled by a spate of bourgeois democratic and Marxist Left alliances in almost every corner of the developing world. Though such alliances did not bring about emancipation for the masses, the experience of the 1960s suggested that radical transformations, for the Global South and the world in general, were in the offing.

Was the Third World wrong in pinning hopes for a fairer world order on the election of bourgeois democratic elites and the realisation of multilateral initiatives? In Sri Lanka two periods of socialist rule, which oversaw vast strides in North-South Dialogue and South-South cooperation, and enacted ambitious land and labour reforms at home, gave way to an endless succession of neoliberal authoritarian administrations, alternating between centre-right reformism and centre-right and rightwing populism.

The argument of Marxist commentators is that this situation would not have arisen if bourgeois national elites did not alienate the Marxist Left, even as they forged alliances with it. That is what happened in Sri Lanka in the 1970s, and it is what happened in Egypt as well: despite its immensely progressive potential, Nasserism ended up liquidating the Communist Party, leading up to the defeat of the Arab-Israeli war and the shameless capitulations to the neoliberal right under Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak.

Unique Sri Lankan experience

The Sri Lankan experience here is both general and unique. Though the contradictions between the Left and the bourgeois democratic centre-left reflected similar contradictions elsewhere in the Third World, particularly in Asia, they were rooted in the dynamics of Sri Lankan society, in particular rural society. Even today, the staunchest critics of the LSSP’s and the Communist Party’s decision to form governments with the SLFP contend that such agreements detracted from the imperatives of socialist revolution, and that the Marxist Left could enter into them only at the cost of its very existence.

Fair as this critique is, it ignores three important considerations. Firstly, the Marxist Left in Sri Lanka lacked a rural agrarian base. As Anil Moonesinghe observed in an interview with Michael Roberts, the LSSP from its inception found itself unable to mobilise rural workers, partly owing to the cultural conditioning of its leadership. The situation was such that by 1956 the Left had the backing of urban workers, while the SLFP had the backing of rural workers. That could only lead to a reconciliation or a rapprochement between these two formations. Necessity proved to be the better part of valour here.

Secondly, the LSSP and Communist Party had to reckon with a more powerful and popular movement in the form of the JVP. The JVP took advantage of an entrenched but frustrated rural petty bourgeoisie. Gamini Keerawalla’s view that its rise coincided with the growth of an intermediate bourgeoisie in the villages is correct: it indicates that the Sri Lankan Left could be threatened by an ultra-Left element, and that, if pushed too far, the latter could evolve into an ultra-Right formation. That is what precisely what happened during the last few years of the J. R. Jayewardene regime, though by then the Old Left had been submerged and repressed so much that it could only watch from the sidelines.

SLFP considered bourgeois democratic

Thirdly, the view that the SLFP was bourgeois democratic and thus incapable of carrying out any revolution, let alone a socialist one, ignored the fact that it was composed of different interest groups and these converged with and diverged from each other on various issues and fronts. More relevantly, unlike Egypt and Indonesia, Sri Lanka remained a parliamentary democracy. That may not have meant much in the larger scheme of things, but it did prove relevant for any party envisaging a radical transformation of society.

It was Sri Lanka’s system of parliamentary democracy and its emphasis on contact between the government and the people, combined with the socialist credentials of the parties in power, which enabled the United Front administration to implement far-reaching reforms like the Workers’ Councils. Yet that did not prevent breakaway factions within the Left, such as the LSSP (R), to denigrate the SLFP as a petty bourgeois formation. The JVP went one step ahead here, calling the SLFP as no different to the capitalist UNP.

The LSSP’s rejoinder to these claims was that the SLFP was not an ordinary petty bourgeois party, but a petty bourgeois party situated in a semi-colonial society, with much potential for change. As Anil Moonesinghe put it, the SLFP contained a reactionary and revolutionary wing: the former included the C. P. de Silva faction and, later, the Felix Dias faction. It was only by coming to terms with these specificities that any viable socialist programme could be enacted and seen to its end – and not just in Sri Lanka.

Amarasekera is right

The SLFP was the logical heir and successor to the Sinhala Maha Sabha, which S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike chose to make a part of the UNP. Gunadasa Amarasekara is correct when he criticises the view of the Sabha as a chauvinistic outfit as unjust and unfair. Both the Sabha and the SLFP gave vent to the cultural aspirations of a community that had been tied to 400 years of colonial rule. Insofar as it spoke to this group, the SLFP possessed an emancipatory potential, which could well have made it a fellow traveller of the Old Left.

To be sure, subsequent events proved that this was not to be. Yes, the SLFP did possess a progressive potential, but then this was not the same as being a progressive party. At its inception it was composed of a myriad of interests, some progressive, others not so, and others conservative and no different to the comprador elites in the UNP they considered to be their foes. Not surprisingly, the party’s victory in 1956 did not usher in a triumph for all these class elements; only a certain bloc therein. Paraphrasing Trotsky, the petty bourgeois shadow gained in size and strength, to the exclusion of more radical elements.

And yet, to wholeheartedly condemn the Left for forging an alliance with the SLFP would be to ignore the three points I have underlined above. More pertinently, it would be to ignore the strides made by the SLFP-LSSP-CP combination in the international sphere, including its contribution to the Non-Aligned Movement, its declaration of an Indian Ocean Peace Zone, and its interventions in UNCTAD and the New International Economic Order.

The breakaway Left, including the LSSP (R), as well as the JVP, had their own views regarding Sri Lanka’s foreign policy. The SLFP, the LSSP, and the CP in unison, by contrast, conceived a more internationalist foreign policy, shaped less by adherence to theory than by the need to establish links with the world. One may contend that the United Front government’s policies privileged expedience over principle here, but as the 1971 uprising showed, these enabled it to garner support almost everywhere, from Moscow to Washington.

The Left’s encounters with the SLFP failed to bring about a socialist revolution in Sri Lanka. There it differed very little from what was happening elsewhere: across much of the Third World, the Marxist Left’s alliances with the bourgeois centre-left provoked a middle class backlash against socialism, enabling the neoliberal right to come to power.

Global scenario

This was propelled by developments taking place on the world stage including the food crisis, the oil shock, and the abandonment of the Gold Standard. The latter, in particular, encouraged Western governments and policymakers to let go of Keynesian prescriptions, leading to a wholesale embracement of neoliberal monetarism which has shaped economic growth paradigms ever since. These developments conspired to wipe out the Marxist Left from parliament, though as Vinod Moonesinghe has correctly pointed out, the groups that broke ground with the LSSP and the Communist Party over their alliances with the SLFP got annihilated long before the fallout of the 1977 election.

Viewed that way, the Marxists’ view of bourgeois democratic parties as reactionary may be justified. Yet it misses well more than a few points. No socialist or radical programme can, or will, be effective unless it takes into account the concrete, dynamic specificities of society, including its social and political structures. This was the Old Left’s primary achievement, and conversely, the breakaway Left’s and the New Left’s primary failure.

The LSSP and the Communist Party cannot be absolved for the stances they took, or rather were compelled to take, over the language issue and the National Question later on. But one should not forget that these parties framed such issues from a progressive standpoint, and that when in power, they saw through a series of radical reforms which were accepted wholeheartedly by the masses of the time, though rejected by a growing middle-class. That these reforms did not reach fruition, and that they were abandoned by successive regimes, should not serve as an indictment on those who authored them.

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com



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Features

Glimmers of hope?

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The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self-interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away.

Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?

What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.

‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.

‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.

‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.

‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.

‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.

Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.

Heartfelt hope of the many

The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”

Still utterly hopeless

Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.

Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.

Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.

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Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis

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By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)

There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.

The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.

FERTILISER ISSUE

1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.

2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.

3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!

4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.

Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains

We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened

1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.

2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.

3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.

4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.

Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.

Recommendations

1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.

2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible

3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:

Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.

Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.

Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.

Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.

Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.

Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.

Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.

Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.

1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers

All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.

The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of

India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and

There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.

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Thomians triumph in Sydney 

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Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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