Dr. DAYAN JAYATILLEKA
The newly gazetted Emergency Regulations regarding essential services isn’t a simple replay of the same old script. It cannot be that this regime regards every hyphenated designation with the word ‘General’ in it, as making mandatory, the appointment of an Army General! The new Commissioner of Essential Services is an Army General. In the history of independent Ceylon/Sri Lanka the post has usually been held by a senior civil servant. The new Commissioner-General is empowered to appoint several assistant commissioners. He can ‘download’ the powers of the Secretary/Ministry of Defence.
Not only can any service be declared essential, any activity such as motivating anyone to impede the functioning of a service deemed essential (I would think that includes leafleting, picketing) is criminalized.
The new structure and process are a departure from and a blow to civilian administration, while the new restrictions together with the new structure and chain of command constitute a blow to civilian democracy and labour rights, i.e., the rights of the working people.
The writing is on the wall. The regime’s new move targets the trade union movement. Indeed, it targets the organizations of workers, teachers, school principals and peasants. With these organizations paralyzed or smashed through arrests and sackings, the path will be open for the sell-off of assets and lands, for encroachments and spoliations, for the diversion and deprivation of water, urban real-estate scams and the implementation of the KNDU.
The new gazette seems aimed to remove all obstacles to the regime’s planned new model of accumulation and the tough moves needed to implant it.
The new gazette reinforces the existing semi-militarized Task Forces and implants a model of military dominance is society and the economy. This is the plant, or the egg. One day we shall awake to see a military-civilian junta, with the civilian component being the Rajapaksa dynasty, ruling the country. The model will be a military or militarized oligarchy, such as the Marcos dictatorship was in the Philippines. Or Sri Lanka will simply be Myanmar II.
The repression will be unleashed. Knowing the players on the side of the establishment, with their internationally infamous track record, the repression could be bloody, even lethal.
Repression can be successfully resisted and can even lead to progressive outcomes as the events last year in Chile among other places have proved. There is ongoing popular resistance in Cali, Colombia.
It is not that the JVP and FSP do not know these. They do. They know more: even the history of the anti-globalization and Occupy movements of an earlier decade.
However, they gloss over the difference between those situations and the possibilities in Sri Lanka, namely the existence in those countries of a broad, authentic, semi-spontaneous, organic popular movement made up of diverse currents.
There are internal blockages within the JVP and FSP which weaken their capacity to resist repression. By internal I do not mean problems of personalities. I mean problems of ideology and political strategy. These are by no means abstract problems and could mean the difference between success, survival and extermination.
Though they differ or many issues, the JVP and FSP share at least one blind-spot. They have never questioned Wijeweera’s post 1973 perspective on the history of the world communist movement and his rejection of the united front in all its variations as a Stalinian deviation. Ironically, though he claimed that his policy was broadly in accord with the Left Opposition of the Bolshevik Party and upheld the first five Congresses of the Communist International (Comintern), he conveniently suppressed the fact that the theory of the United Front was first enunciated by Lenin.
Left strategy has four basic models of the United Front which may be regarded not as contradicting one another but as concentric circles.
1. The United Front of the Working Class: This meant the bringing together on a common platform with a minimum program of those parties which had been bitter rivals i.e., the socialists/social democrats and the Communists, so as to reunify the workers movement in the face of a capitalist counter-offensive which was incipiently fascist. Lenin and Trotsky were the main theorists.
2. The Popular Front: the main weapon against the fight against fascism, uniting the parties of the working class and those of the urban and rural petty bourgeoise, chiefly the peasantry, or with a significant petty-bourgeois base. Dmitrov and Togliatti were the main theorists of the Popular Front, with complex theoretical and strategic refinement by Gramsci taking it to the next level of the ‘national-popular’ bloc.
3. The New Democratic Front, which is that of the broad anti-colonial/anti-imperialist national united front, which extended the worker-peasant front to include the middle and ‘national’ capitalists. Mao and Ho Chi Minh were its main theorists.
4. The Frente Amplio model: the unification of the various streams of the vanguard and the broad ‘popular fronts’ including ‘popular blocs’ of various trade unions and grassroots organizations. This included united fronts with progressive currents of mainstream parties (such as left Christian Democrats). Fidel Castro and the Latin American Left were the originators of this contemporary contribution. Uruguay’s Tupamaros and El Salvador’s FMLN were the best practitioners.
Though he claimed to be Leninist and an admirer of Vietnam, Cuba’s Fidel Castro and the Latin American revolution, Wijeweera swept all these under the rug and thereby deprived the JVP and himself of their benefits. If he had not undertaken this sectarian deviation, his fate would almost certainly have been different.
Neither the JVP nor the FSP have rectified this massive error. Therefore, they do not have the necessary vaccine against the political Covid-19 of the coming repression.
The historical evidence is clear about the life-and-death nature of the variable of united fronts.
Had Wijeweera’s JVP reached out to the Northern Tamil Maoists in the late 1960s, it would have fared better and recovered faster in the 1970s.
Had Wijeweera’s JVP established a United Front or Bloc with Vijaya Kumaratunga, the SLMP and various radical Left outfits (all of whom had protested against the unfair banning of the JVP by the UNP Government) as well as the North-eastern Tamil left organizations, the balance of forces would have been very different in the 1980s.
History also provides evidence about the JVP and the mainstream parties. The imprisoned Wijeweera secured his freedom and that of the JVP by an understanding with the UNP in 1977.
During the repression of the 1980s, the JVP had to lean on the SLFP for solidarity and support.
In the late 1980s the JVP could have avoided its fate had it arrived at the equation offered by President Premadasa.
In 2004 the JVP had its largest and highest share of political power as part of a coalition and Provisional Government with the SLFP.
Today, the JVP and FSP underestimate the Gotabaya Rajapaksa regime because it misunderstands it theoretically as a version of the Mahinda Rajapaksa presidency, i.e., as the same old family oligarchy which is in interminable crisis this time as it has never been before.
Deprived by Wijeweera of the rich storehouse of conceptualization and strategy behind the various formulae for united fronts and blocs ranging from the Comintern, through the Chinese and Vietnamese Communists, to Latin America especially in the recovery and resistance against the military juntas, the JVP and FSP seem to ignore the fact that not every type of bourgeois regime is the same and that the emergence of the entire discussion of United Fronts arose from the appearance of new more vicious types of bourgeois, rightwing reaction, ranging from Fascism to the ‘Civilian-Military Junta’ and the ‘National Security State’ (Latin America, Greece, Turkey).
The JVP and FSP have buried the entire treasure house of the contribution to Marxist Political Theory and Political science by Antonio Gramsci and Nicos Poulantzas. The latter’s studies of types of dictatorships and their trajectories of crises are indispensable today.
Poulantzas advocated a strategy with three prongs:
(A) Struggles against the state
(B) Struggles at a distance from the state and
(C) Struggles within the state.
He urged a strategy of the combination of these three types of struggles.
For today’s Sri Lankan Left, the most urgently imperative readings are those of Antonio Gramsci, Palomiro Togliatti, Nicos Poulantzas, Santiago Carrillo, Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. They point to a strategy of Left Populism.
No resistance to the coming repression is possible without the JVP and the FSP arriving at a minimum program since they have their social bases among the workers, peasants, fisherfolk and students, who must be brought together.
No resistance is possible without an interface with the parliamentary populist-democratic SJB. The JVP’s avoidance of an equation with the older Premadasa destroyed both Wijeweera and Premadasa.
Television coverage is no substitute for a united front-based strategy of resistance.
In the face of coming repression, a Sri Lankan left strategy based on contemporary Popular Frontism or a version of the decades-long, successful Frente Amplio (Broad Front) of Uruguay’s Tupamaros, inescapably involves a triangulation of the JVP, the FSP and the SJB.
[Dayan Jayatilleka, PhD, is former Chairman, ILO, and the author of The Great Gramsci | Taylor & Francis Group (taylorfrancis.com); The Twin Legacies of Lenin and Fidel | global-e journal (globalejournal.org); and Che’s Visage on the Shroud of Time (granma.cu)
The peasantry and the middle-class
by Uditha Devapriya
Faced with the prospect of pauperisation, Sri Lanka’s lower middle-class is getting restive and radicalised. With hiking prices and plummeting incomes, they are on the verge of taking to the streets. The government’s policies may well push them over the edge.
This is the closest the country has come, since the second JVP insurrection, to a full-scale middle-class rebellion. Of course it is unfair to put the blame entirely on the government. Like every other such institution, it is limited in what it can do. Yet, its mismanagement of the present situation has served to alienate the middle-class further.
The peasantry, too, is getting restless. The tipping point has been the government’s policy on fertilisers. While the adverse impact of chemical fertilisers has gone on record and while a transition to organic fertiliser, or less harmful chemical varieties, has been in the offing for decades, the transition itself has not been phased out. The government for its part remains optimistic about crop yields, while foreign news outlets publish report after report exposing the flaws of its policies. Even the latter outlets take a balanced approach on the issue: hence both The Economist and Al-Jazeera, in otherwise cogent critiques of the fertiliser imbroglio, quote farmers saying that they would prefer organic, and that conventional pesticides have been affecting their health badly for years.
If recent developments tell us anything, it’s that the situation forebodes a conjuncture of the middle-class and the peasantry. Political commentators have noted as much: many of them seem to think that, in banning imports of chemical fertilisers on the one hand and of luxury and consumer goods on the other, the government has united two otherwise diametrically different classes. While they do not jump to conclusions yet, they contend, if not suggest, that this could lead to full-scale protests and riots in the future.
The argument has to be further analysed for its implications to fully seep in. Historically, Sri Lanka’s lower middle-class has always been upward-aspiring and conservative in its outlook. Yet to speak of a monolithic social group would be a little fallacious: like the peasantry with whom they are united today, they remain stratified and diverse.
The main difference between these classes lies in the pecking order in which they feel the heat of economic downturns: despite the crunch they have suffered over successive periods and governments, the middle-class has managed somehow to realize their aspirations. I am by no means contending that the ride has been easy for them; merely that they have had much less scope for radicalisation than has the peasantry.
What then would a conjuncture between these two groups imply? It would imply, first and foremost, a reconciliation of their class interests. Such a reconciliation would in turn aid the Left when it formulates its tactics against the regime. This, in turn, would help the Samagi Jana Balavegaya, the country’s foremost Opposition, to turn from its pandering to orthodox economic theory to a more fire-in-the-belly approach to the issues at hand.
For its part the Left has not let off the possibility of these developments. That might explain, on the one hand, the recently held discussion between the JVP and the FSP, and on the other, the dissensions within the Communist Party over the teachers’ salary issue. The SJB seems tentatively to be undergoing a paradigm shift within its ranks, but it remains divided – split would be a better way of putting it – between its left and right wings. That is why, while not a few MPs advocate a reversal of price controls, other MPs call for such measures.
The SJB is yet to come out with a coherent programme. To be fair, the JVP and FSP are yet to come out with one too, but they have held more consistent stances on economic issues, and issues to do with the peasantry and working class, than the SJB. The UNP for all intents is dead as a dodo, and while I will not dismiss the possibility of elements in the SJB calling for a return to the parent party, the latter remains united only in the person of its sole MP. By contrast, the SJB is more diverse, though much less articulate. The present crisis and its class conjunctures might radicalise it. This, however, remains to be seen.
The question as to whether a radical class bloc consisting of the lower middle-class and the peasantry remains viable, in the long term, is one I really can’t answer. Certainly, as long as the present crisis – a crisis not wholly of the government’s doing – will continue, so long will these groups remain united with each other. But to hedge all bets for a radical formation on the unification of these groups would be untenable. Why do I say that?
For all its defiance of the government, Sri Lanka’s lower middle-class is only as radical as circumstances permit it to be. While a sociological study of this milieu is yet to be written, all one can say, based on its behaviour and voting patterns, is that it has traditionally chosen the path of radicalisation only in the absence of countervailing influences.
Its animus against the regime is based in the restrictions imposed on luxury goods, as well as the controls imposed, and then eliminated, on food prices. While it has reacted much more angrily to the latter owing to the essential nature of food items, its response to the clampdowns on imported goods has been no less intense.
A closer examination of these reactions gives us a glimpse into the thinking underlying this social group. Middle-class opposition to restrictions on imported consumer goods depends largely on the extent to which the middle-class has turned those goods into status symbols. The government, to be clear, has imposed limits on high-end products: this is obvious if one examines the full list. What, then, can we conclude about middle-class responses to those restrictions? Not just that this class forms a crucial part of an economy that rests so much on imports, but that it has come to measure itself based on whether it can afford such imports. This is what explains the many memes, posted well before the pandemic hit, that compare vehicle prices in Sri Lanka with prices elsewhere. Insofar as their aspirations as a globalised middle-class remain denied, then, they remain a radicalised group.
Their attitude to price controls reveals their thinking even more. Before the Gotabaya government backtracked on emergency regulations, the urbanised middle-class opposed price controls. This had less to do with their opposition to the regime than with their animus against government-imposed controls: then as now, much of this milieu, especially its youth, prefer free markets to state intervention. The more suburbanised or ruralised middle-class, on the other hand, remained divided: while poorer sections seemed to favour price controls, more affluent sections appeared to oscillate between acceptance of a need to impose such controls during a crisis and opposition to the notion that such measures need to be in place even after a crisis. There was also anger, among this particular segment of the middle-class, at hoarders, but no critique as such of how market forces, in the long term, ensure supplies for those who can afford them and shortages for those who cannot.
With the opening up of the food sector to market forces – forces determined less by vague laws of demand and supply than by the diktats of hoarders and intermediaries – the poorer middle-class, the lower middle-class, has united itself against the government’s reversal of price controls. Of course the more affluent segments remain in favour of the government’s backtracking – “not a popular decision, but the right decision”, one tweet runs – but this is a view shared by an elite minority; for the rest, even the rest of the middle-class, the controls remain preferable to the squeezing of disposable incomes that awaits them with ever-rising prices. Not that the latter group has completely abandoned their thinking about privatisation and state regulations: “Free markets are good,” one of them told me the other day: “just not when there’s a pandemic.” I prefer what another friend said, only half in jest: “free markets are good, just not when real free markets are tried.”
The implications of these points to the formation of a radical class bloc should not be lost on anyone, certainly not on the SJB and even less so on the Left (JVP-FSP). If the point that the country’s lower middle-class can swing both ways (opposing import restrictions and also the lifting of price controls) holds true, then the impact of economic recovery on this class must be appraised by any opposition hedging all its bets for a resistance against the government on the unification of the middle-class with the peasantry and working class. Put simply, the Left should, when joining hands between a pauperised middle-class and subaltern groups – what Partha Chatterjee once called “the dangerous classes” – consider the possibility of the middle-class to revert to its comprador instincts once recovery kicks in.
In a column I wrote not too long ago, I predicted that when the global economy would start to recover from the slump it was going through earlier this year, the harmony that prevailed between the government and its corporate backers would dissipate. I realise now that I was wrong in thinking this honeymoon would break up two years into the future: it is very much happening now, even if only slightly. I am certain, nevertheless, that whatever unity is there between the radicalised middle-class and the peasantry will also not last for long: it too will start dissipating once recovery kicks in. The task of a Left formation should therefore be, not to incorporate middle-class elements and cave into them, but to chart a programme which prioritises the interests of those done down hardest by the crisis: not a class that opposes the government over the jacking up of iPhone prices, but a class that stares helplessly as policies not of their choosing push them deeper into the pit. The role of the Left, accordingly, should be to radicalise the mainstream, and not be co-opted by the mainstream.
The writer can be reached at email@example.com
Colin Powell – The reluctant warrior
by Vijaya Chandrasoma
General Colin Powell died Monday, October 18 of complications caused by Covid 19, at the Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. He was undergoing treatment for multiple myeloma, a terminal cancer of the white blood cells, and early stages of Parkinson’s disease. His treatment prevented him from getting a third booster vaccination, which he was scheduled to take the previous week. Powell is survived by his wife of almost six decades, Alma.
Powell was born in Harlem and raised in the ethnically diverse section of the South Bronx in New York. His parents, both of Scottish/African lineage, were immigrants from Jamaica. His father, Luther Powell was a shipping clerk, his mother, Maud a seamstress. Their son, Colin, embodied the spirit of the American Dream, that once beckoned all immigrants, “the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free”.
The American Dream is becoming increasingly illusory in modern times. National racism against immigrants of different hues, and the cruelty of the scenes at the borders of the Shining City on the Hill, seem to indicate that the flame in the lamp of Lady Liberty may be flickering, the golden door beside it a tad tarnished.
Powell, a self-admitted average scholar, left high school with no career plans. He got his degree in geology from the City College of New York. He also participated in the ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) at CCNY, and received a commission as a second lieutenant in the army upon graduation in 1958. Powell described the ROTC program as one of the happiest experiences in his life. “I not only liked it”, he said, “but I was pretty good at it”.
Powell served two active tours in Vietnam. During his second tour in 1968, he survived a helicopter crash, in which he rescued three other soldiers from the burning wreckage. His experience in Vietnam helped define his future military and political strategies. A professional soldier throughout his life, Powell rose to the rank of four-star general, and was Commander of the United States Armed Forces in 1989.
Powell was the first black National Security Adviser to Reagan (1987 to 1989), the first black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Bush Senior (1989 to 1993) and the first black Secretary of State in the cabinet of Bush Junior (2001 to 2005). He won numerous US and foreign military and civil awards and decorations, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (twice) and the Congressional Gold Medal.
Powell was the consummate American soldier, whose military record and his national reputation prompted him to consider a run for the presidency in 1995. The Republicans saw him as their only hope of defeating Clinton, the national polls were extremely favourable. He finally decided not to run, on the grounds of a “lack of passion for politics and campaigning”. The real reason, of course, was that his wife, Alma, whom he married in 1962, was against his candidacy, and ordered him not to run. He may have been the celebrated Commander of the US Army, but it was clear who was the general at home.
Powell was always concerned about America’s involvements in military battles, especially in the Middle East. He oversaw Bush Senior’s Operation Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf war against Iraq in 1990-1991. But he also formulated the “Powell Doctrine”, which “limits American military action unless it satisfies criteria regarding American national security interests, overwhelming force and widespread public support”.
A doctrine which he himself spectacularly violated in 2003, during the Bush reign of error.
In his capacity as the US Secretary of State, Powell gave a speech at the United Nations in February 2003, replete with fabrications about the urgent necessity for military action against Iraq. He made the Bush/Cheney/Military Industrial Complex case for military action against Saddam Hussein, on the basis that there was incontrovertible evidence that the Iraqi dictator possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), which he intended to use against his neighbours and his own people. An assertion later proved to be a bald-faced lie, sadly one that Powell himself knew to be so during his address to the United Nations.
Completely out of character, a man who had won international respect, he deceived the world with a pack of lies. He was not just horribly misled or mistaken. He knowingly used fabricated evidence and ignored repeated warnings that what he was going to say was false.
His speech of deception swayed the world, and his lies got the congressional support Bush needed to declare war against Iraq. His words sent thousands of Americans and her allies to kill and die in Iraq. Powell – and Bush/Cheney – have never been held accountable for what were basically war crimes. And they never will be so indicted, for they are Americans.
A lifetime of honour tainted by one act of dishonesty. He voiced public regret for his speech, calling it a “blot on his record” and was fired by Bush in 2005 for expressing such regret. A moderate Republican, he endorsed Barack Obama for the presidency in 2009, despite his decade-long friendship with Republican candidate, John McCain. He condemned the Republican Party for moving unrecognizably to the right under Trump. And he enjoyed the ultimate honour of being denounced by Trump.
None of these may remove the stain from his record of that one mistake he made in 2003. But we mourn his death because he lived and ended his life as a decent and honourable man, and all the good he has done will live after him.
Speaking after Powell’s death, Trump spewed the regular and churlish comments he reserves for the passing of anyone who has dared to criticize him. Making Powell’s death, like everything that happens in the world, all about himself, he called Powell a classic RINO (Republican In Name Only), saying “it was wonderful to see Colin Powell, who made big mistakes on Iraq and famously, so-called weapons of mass destruction, be treated in death so beautifully by the Fake News Media. Hope that happens to me someday”.
Please don’t hold your breath, Mr. Trump. General Powell made just one mistake, out of misguided loyalty to the greed of another Republican villain. A grave mistake he immediately and publicly regretted, showing genuine remorse for which he has received universal forgiveness. He did not continue to commit, like you, crimes against the state and humanity as you have your entire life.
You will suffer the death of a Julius Caesar for all the crimes you have committed. Like Caesar, you will be stabbed by 40 Senators “amid fears that you planned to claim the title of king, overthrow the Senate and rule as a tyrant”.
There will be no lack of Brutuses for you to echo Caesar’s famous last words, “et tu, Brute”. There will be no Marc Antony come to praise you, just Foxes, Cruzes and Hawleys come to bury you. The evil that you have done will live after you. There is no good to be interred with your bones.
These men may have loved you once, for evil cause. When you ceased to be of any use to them in the pursuit of the cause you initiated, the death of democracy, they began to hate you. They are all ambitious white men and you finally got in the way.
There will be no heart in the coffin with you, no beautiful treatment in death by the Fake News Media, when that joyous day finally dawns. Your memory will forever live in hatred and misery.
To err is human, to forgive divine. The one error General Powell made during an honourable and decent life has been forgiven, by man and God. His memory will forever live in honour.
The economic crisis and the crisis of economic thinking
Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka
Who says the economic crisis cannot be dented? The prerequisite is that the austerity approaches of both the militarist-ultranationalist GR regime and the ‘IMF plus debt consortium’ option of the neoliberals, are rejected. An out-of-the box, but hardly unique approach is needed.
The present economic epidemic can be dented by a ‘double-vaccination’ alternative policy:
(A) Cut the ‘bloat’ of the Defence budget. There is hypertrophy, if not metastasis, of defence spending. Bring defence expenditure to the level of sufficiency in peacetime. Reassess and right-size it.
(B) Increase appropriately the direct taxes (not transferrable to the consumer) on the biggest corporates and wealthiest citizens. If anyone thinks that’s my residual radicalism rising, they’ve not read US President Joe Biden and more especially, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
Sri Lanka’s agrarian crisis was not caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. It was the result of deliberate presidential policy which could have been abandoned at any point, but has not.
Unlike India, Sri Lanka after Independence never had a rebellious peasant movement, though it has a long history of peasant associations. The sole exception was when a peasants struggle was led (in Anuradhapura, I think) by the All-Lanka Peasants Congress (‘Samastha Lanka Govi Sammelanaya’) led by Ariyawansa Gunasekara of the Communist Party.
That struggle ended in a very Ceylonese way. The highly literate, brilliantly articulate (and witty) young cadre sent fresh from the university by the Communist Party to ideologically guide the struggle, Tissa Wijeratne, and the daughter of the rapacious large landowner the peasants were rebelling against, fell in love and married– and that was that.
All that’s ended, gone with the wind, thanks to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s incredible agrarian policy of a shock ban, nationwide, on chemical fertilizer, weedicide and pesticide.
His stand on this flies in the face of scientific evidence as well as of political good sense.
The smartest and toughest-minded of rulers, Lenin, reversed his agrarian policy twice. The first-time round was when, just before the Revolution, the Bolshevik party abandoned its peasant program of collectivization and literally stole the far more moderate peasant program, sensitive to the needs of the individual peasants, of its political rival the Socialist-Revolutionaries (the ‘SRs’).
The second time is better known. When the tight economic policy of War Communism which included forced requisitioning of grain by the Red Army to feed the citizens of the cities, exploded in the Kronstadt rebellion (which was suppressed by Trotsky), Lenin swiftly adopted the New Economic Policy (NEP) which liberalized the economy and enabled peasant prosperity.
Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh, a strong and sagacious leader also reversed the harsh agrarian policy of his comrade Truong Chinh, and won back the peasantry. Then of course there is Deng Xiaoping, who kicked-off China’s economic miracle by liberalizing the rural economy and facilitating prosperity in the countryside.
The lesson is that the toughest leaders who were also the smartest, never went against the peasantry and when they found they had done so, unhesitatingly reversed course and beat a retreat.
The fact that Sri Lanka’s rulers think they know better, and don’t have to do likewise, tells us, the peasants and the world, a great deal about them. What makes them think they are immune to the political and socioeconomic fate that even Lenin wished to avoid, sure beats me.
The answer may lie in a specialized field of medical knowledge in which I have neither training nor experience and therefore will not venture into.
Gamani Corea-Godfrey Gunatilleke-Lal Jayawardena Tradition
It is not only the discourse of the regime’s policy elite in all domains that are embarrassingly outdated in translation into any universal language. The anti-regime neoliberals, writing in English, are no less embarrassing by international standards.
The latest issue of The New Yorker (October 8th 2021) carries in the Annals of Inquiry column, essay entitled ‘Is it time for a New Economics Curriculum?’ and introduces “‘The Economy’ a new textbook, is designed for a post-neoliberal age”.
Sri Lanka’s neoliberals, most conspicuously but not only the economists, just do not know that it is a “post-neoliberal age”. Their writings and pronouncements show that they still live in a time-warp of a unipolar post-Cold War world of free-market neoliberal globalism. For them the Great Recession of 2008 never happened and even if it did, it may no difference to their theoretical and policy constructs.
During the Great Recession of 2008, I was the elected Chairman of the ILO in Geneva, and had the privilege of working with ILO Director-General Juan Somavia, in launching the Decent Work agenda globally, starting with an event in Portugal hosted by the Socialist Prime Minister. As Chilean ambassador/Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, Somavia had organized the 1995 UN Social Summit in Copenhagen which already intellectually upended the neoliberal-globalist ideological construct that most Sri Lankan economists continue to adhere to and advocate.
In 2008 we worked closely with UN General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto, former foreign minister of Sandinista Nicaragua, who came over to Geneva. He had appointed a Commission to report on globalization and the crisis, chaired by Nobel prize winner Joe Stiglitz, former chief economist of the World Bank.
Geneva was a town in which Dr Gamani Corea, former Secretary-General of UNCTAD and later, head of the South Center was remembered with great respect. Whether it was in my work as ILO Chairman, or a Vice-President of a UN Human Rights Council or Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, a cluster of Sri Lankan names kept cropping up: Gamani Corea, Godfrey Gunatilleke, CG Weeramantry and Lal Jayawardena. Miguel D’Escoto, a former Catholic priest of the Maryknoll order (during and after the 1979 revolution even as Foreign Minister, he was “Padre Miguel”), held Fr. Tissa Balasuriya in high esteem. Prof Emeritus of International Law at Princeton, Richard Falk asked me for Godfrey Gunatilleke’s email address to renew his old acquaintance.
Which is why I am amused at those rightwing economists who mention Gamani Corea without mentioning Godfrey Gunatilleke, which is rather like mentioning Karl Marx and associating his name with someone other than his co-thinker Fredrick Engels. Certainly, in Geneva and Paris, the Sri Lankan economist mentioned with the most respect together with Gamani Corea and Godfrey Gunatilleke, is the late Dr Lal Jayewardena, student of Eric Hobsbawm and Director of the World Institute of Development Economic Research (WIDER) in Finland.
It is also ridiculously illogical for those who detest and revile the Raul Prebisch-Gamini Corea tradition and sanctify Dr. Corea’s antipode in Sri Lanka’s economic policy-making, BR Shenoy, to take it upon themselves to classify one of their free-market/free-trade co-thinkers and academic heroes in the same category as Gamani Corea, while ignoring both Godfrey Gunatilleke and Lal Jayawardena.
Contrary to Colombo’s rightwing economists, President Premadasa’s most noteworthy developmental contribution was NOT a deepening or ‘second wave’ of liberalization. Non-sequential fusion of rapid growth with social upliftment and equity was.
Janasaviya, the housing programme, redistribution of state lands free to the landless, free schools uniforms, free mid-day meals for schoolchildren, strict conditionalities on labor conditions (air-conditioning, free meals including buns at teatime, etc.) imposed on the 300 garment factories program in exchange for state bank loans, and the 15,000 projects program, provide empirical evidence.
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