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The Opposition’s road ahead, and a critique of the Radical Centre

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As it stands, the Opposition under Sajith Premadasa has three routes to take, or to be more specific, left to take. Without considering all the cards on the table and deciding what card it should deal with, it cannot and will not go forward. Simply put, there is nothing to talk about if the SJB doesn’t evolve a consensus on tactics and strategies.

Unfortunately, for reasons that are only too obvious, the regime seems to be losing as much legitimacy as the Opposition. People have given up, or seem to have given up, because they don’t see the government being constructively engaged. If Premadasa is serious about upping the ante, he has to correct course, engage, and confront better.

The first option the SJB has is to unite under Mr Premadasa. This is the simplest option, yet also the most effective. The SJB’s biggest strength is the SJB. From a strategic perspective, it has the arsenal and the ammunition. It has several figureheads from the yahapalana regime who are not tainted as most of those in the UNP are. While it won a fraction of the votes the present government did last August, it did come out as a viable opposition. To pose the kind of challenge to Mr Rajapaksa’s regime it managed to do last year was not easy, but that it did speaks a lot about its credentials. The SJB is the only option those against the regime have at present. To claim it as the other side of that regime’s coin, then, is plainly absurd.

The second option is to bring the parent party, the UNP, back. Those in support of this view Mr Premadasa as a weak opposition leader. They claim that he has not stuck to the job well enough and has failed in his task. While they offer no proof of how he has floundered, they claim that Ranil Wickremesinghe is more suitable for the post than Mr Premadasa.

To put it simply, these critics of the SJB view the present batch of parliamentarians with so much disfavour that they see Mr Wickremesinghe as a superior candidate: cleaner, smarter, sharper. This is of course an oversold claim, especially when considering that Mr Premadasa was among the few names not mentioned in connection with the Bond Scandal, but as I have noted before, Sri Lanka’s middle-class prefer a neoconservative or a neo-liberal in office, and they have, rather tragically, not yet come to terms with Mr Premadasa.

The third option is to retreat from parliament entirely and partner up with an amorphous and ambivalent radical centre. A section of Sri Lanka’s middle-class, including left-liberal artists and activists, have emphasised again and again their dissatisfaction with the establishment, recommending an alternative platform outside the system. In the absence of such outfits, they have gathered around Mangala Samaraweera’s Radical Centre.

The Radical Center does not pretend to be or to operate as a party; it is an activist group, and as with all such groups, it works with ideals, not action plans. That those in it accuse those in the opposition of not having action plans is rather strange, but the truth of the matter is that they have attracted the disaffected from Sri Lanka’s anti-political stratum of intellectuals and activists. Hence, insofar as they constitute or resemble a political association, they oppose not just governments and oppositions, but the idea of politics itself.

The legion of radical centrists spreads far and wide, and is hardly an isolated phenomenon. Those who believe it has no influence are deluding themselves: Mangala Samaraweera was the Foreign Minister in the yahapalana regime, later serving as its Finance Minister. Most of his pronouncements are on foreign policy and the economy. These pronouncements may be wrong, as they often are, but the expertise and experience underlying them cannot be denied. The Opposition cannot wish them away; it must confront them.

Thus, if the SJB is to counter any negative publicity from his outfit, it must listen to what Mr Samaraweera has to say on these matters and consider how to react to his comments. To start things off, they must note that Mr Samaraweera has got it wrong on three fronts: his assertion that all politics is to blame for the crisis in Sri Lanka, his conflation of narrow racism with “a socialist mindset”, and his suggestion that the SJB is no different to the government.

Sri Lanka’s liberals have, for the most, never been able to distinguish between different kinds of political formations. This is why they regard Sinhala nationalism as a devil to be harnessed in much the same way ultranationalists regard human rights and multiculturalism as devils to be harnessed. They make two mistakes here: pitting nationalist politics against liberal democracy, and assuming liberal democracy is the only form of democracy at the table.

All other wrong assumptions follow from these two mistakes. Thus, having equated nationalism with anti-democracy, they equate nationalism with socialism, and place the two on a vaguely defined continuum. Since all politics in Sri Lanka have caved into populism or socialism in some form, and at some stage, this cohorts translate their opposition to populist and socialist politics into a total opposition to politics: given that most of us are nationalists or socialists in their books, they conclude that there must be something rotten with all politicians, not just the government. Ergo, supporting them is untenable; ergo, we need a radical centre.

What is grievously wrong with this view of things is not that it pits the good against the bad guys à la Cowboys versus Indians. If all it did was to divide “us” from “them” ideologically, even politically, there wouldn’t have been a problem. Rather, what is wrong with their vision is that they assume what’s good for them is good for the country.

This explains why their notion of liberalism is superficially progressive, yet quintessentially fundamentalist: they support individual rights, independence of the judiciary, and separation of powers, but are silent and ambivalent on socio-economic matters, i.e. matters that concern the populace at large. Indeed, insofar as they hold any view on the latter at all, they project a right wing, libertarian stance, opposed not to authoritarian states, but to interventionist states. Having confused “government” with “authoritarianism”, they seek to reduce it politically and eliminate it economically, giving pride of place to the market.

The inescapable conclusion here is that most of our liberals are, in reality, classical liberals. They view the government with disfavour and imply that its presence is reason enough for its speedy elimination. Advocating market reforms as a panacea for the problems of the country, they have become as rigid in their outlook as their nationalist opponents. That explains, inter alia, their rather strange opposition to incorporating ESC rights in the constitution.

Economics has never been a strong point with Sri Lanka’s deracinated activists: they oppose infringements of individual rights, yet prefer the market to the government and disparage any party or alliance that recommends an alternative to the current economic system. They fail to understand that even in the capitals of the West, liberals haven’t opposed interventions by the state when such intervention was considered necessary, be it in the interests of sovereignty or security. They fail to understand that liberal as economists in these countries may be, many of them, including Krugman and Stiglitz, have emphasised the need for intervention in times of crisis. The irony is that our liberals charge their nationalist opponents of being out of step and outdated, yet the latter accusation can just as validly be applied to them.

Let me explain. If Sinhala ultra-nationalists are stuck in 2009, somewhere in Nandikadal, Sri Lanka’s (classical) liberals are stuck in 1973, somewhere in Santiago. This explains their fascination with Ricardo Hausmann and their marginalisation of Joseph Stiglitz; they prefer free market fundamentalists to their more pragmatic counterparts. Whatever the reason there may be for this state of affairs, our liberals remain trapped in a rabbit hole: they believe in a liberalism even the liberal West has seen fit to abandon. Clearly, being out of touch with the times is far from the exclusive preserve of nationalists, socialists, and populists.

Sri Lanka’s pro-market right is occupied and manned by a strange mishmash of activists, artists, and economists, most of whom vacillate between condemning the idea of the state and advocating a free market fundamentalism scarcely different from the fundamentalism of their nationalist opponents. It tells us a lot about the depths academic standards have been lowered to that Sri Lanka’s nationalist and liberal circles remain intellectually obdurate and politically untenable. Whatever route Mr Premadasa and the SJB take, then, they must avoid a joining of hands with intellectuals, activists, and ex-parliamentarians whose claims about the polity are as simplistic as the claims made by their opponents. The SJB must evolve a consensus on its political ideology, articulate and debate it publicly, and set itself up as a strong opposition. To aim at self-righteous rhetoric now would be to achieve precious little later.

Note: Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz are both Nobel Prize recipients. You’d think our liberals and neoliberals had better sense in their choice of economic consultants.

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com



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Politics

How D.B. Wijetunga became Executive President of Sri Lanka

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by Nihal Seneviratne

Dingiri Banda Wijeunga (born February 19, 1922), hailing from Pilimatalawe, Udunuwara was one of the most popular politicians at that time. He endeared himself to others by his stark simplicity and his very affable manners. The people were so fond of him that his initials DB were used by people to call him Dearly Beloved and even Dunnoth Baraganan.

In the Nineties, he was chosen to be Prime Minister by President R. Premadasa overlooking two outstanding UNP politicians of that time Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali- a very adroit move. Mr Wijetunga had a Parliamentary service of over 25 years having served as Minister of Power, Highways and Energy; Minister of Posts and Telecommunications and Minister of Agricultural Development in the seventies and eighties.

On Tuesday, May 4, 1993, the Speaker announced the assassination of His Excellency President R. Premadasa. “It has been a brutal and cowardly act not just in the personal sense but also because it is directed at the Head of State, therefore at the Government and the entire nation. The loss of the Head of State of any country affects its citizens, irrespective of caste, creed and religious and political affiliations…. We Sri Lankans cherish democracy and we must all join hands to ensure that the reasons for such insane acts do not recur – the Secretary General of Parliament will now make an announcement,” he said.

I then announced that as a vacancy in the post of President had arisen and that under Section 2 of the Presidential Elections (Special Provisions )Act No 2 of 1981 a new President had to be appointed and under Section 5, the Secretary General of Parliament has to keep Parliament notified.

The second notice I was called upon to read to Parliament was that under the Act, I name Friday, May as the date for receiving of nominations under the provisions of Clause 5 of the above Act. On May 7, the Speaker at the commencement of business announced that the Secretary General will make an announcement in regard to the election to the office of President.

I then made the following announcement: Under Section 6 (1) “I wish to inform the House of the provisions relating to the receipt of nominations to the office of President. The relevant Section 10 of the Presidential Elections (Special Provisions ) Act No 2 of 1981 reads as follows:

6 (1)On the date fixed for the receipt of nominations, Parliament shall meet and the Secretary General should act as the Returning Officer.

2) A Member who wishes to propose any other Member for election to the office of President shall obtain the written consent of the Member indicating that such Member is willing to serve.

3) A Member addressing himself to the Secretary General shall propose any other Member present to the office of President. The proposal shall be seconded by another Member but no debate will be allowed.

4)If only one Member be so proposed and seconded to the office of the President, he shall be declared by the Secretary General to have been elected to such office. If more than one Member be so proposed and seconded, Parliament shall subsection of Section (3) find a date and time for the holding of the election, such date being a date not earlier than 48 hours from the date of receiving nominations.

In terms of Section 6 of the Presidential Election (Special Provisions) Act 2 of 1981, I shall now receive nominations for the Office of President.”

Election of President – Mr Wijepala Mendis, Minister of Transport and Highways said: “Mr Secretary General of Parliament, under the terms of Section 6 (1) of the Presidential Elections (Special Provisions) Act No 2 of 1981, I have much pleasure in proposing the name of Hon. Dingiri Banda Wijetunga, a Member of the Honourable House for election to the office of President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. I tender to you the written consent of the said Honourable Member agreeing to serve in the said office if elected by the House.”

The Hon. A.C.S. Hameed, Minister of Justice and Higher Education – “The Secretary General of Parliament, I have much pleasure in seconding the name of Hon. Dingiri Banda Wijetunga, a Member of this Honourable House for election to the office of President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.

The Secretary General: Are there any other names?

I then made this announcement:

“In terms of Section 6 (4) of the Presidential Elections (Special Provisions) Act No 2 of 1981, I declare that Dingiri Banda Wijetunga has been elected to the office of President uncontested.

Congratulations to His Excellency the President.”

The Speaker: “Your Excellency, please accept my sincere best wishes on your assuming office today as the Third Executive President of Sri Lanka.

I wish to congratulate you on your election to the high office of President of the Sri Lanka which fell vacant following the tragic assassination of His Excellency Ranasinghe Premadasa. I have known your Excellency for nearly four decades. You are a gentle person with an ability to resolve any problem or issue on your own without causing injustice or harm to anyone. I am confident that you will be able to guide the destiny of the people of Sri Lanka towards peace and prosperity.”

The best speech was by Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe, Minister of Industries, Science and Technology and Leader of the House who made a long speech in Sinhalaese congratulating the new President.

After the day’s proceedings were over, the new President in his usual simple manner thanked me sincerely for all I had done to help him in his election. I responded: “Sir, I was only performing my tasks under the law and nothing more. But please Sir, please be kind enough to accept my warmest wishes and congratulations.”

I recall with nostalgia, the visit I paid him at his office at the Presidential Secretariat to say that I was leaving the office of Secretary General next week. He responded saying, “Nihal, we can’t afford to lose your services to Parliament after your distinguished service of over 30 years.” adding he would ask the Government to move a resolution to Parliament to extend my services, even after reaching the statutory age of retirement of 60 years. I politely declined his very kind offer and said my successor will be able to function as well I did. He then asked whether he could appoint me as Ambassador to a foreign country which too I very kindly declined and thanked him, saying I would return to my home in Havelock Road, Colombo 5 to spend time with my wife and two children. I thanked him profusely and left his office.

I will end with a note regarding his extreme simplicity and willingness to help. He had been approached by a Member of Parliament asking him to do him a favour – of getting approval of Parliament for him to have an extension from his telephone in his office upcountry to his home which was five miles away. The President himself phoned me and very affectionately addressing me as Nihal said, “I know you will find a way to help this Member and please do so.” I politely reminded him that I cannot do so as extensions to another place, apart from where his official phone is situated is only possible if that extension is within a few yards and that I could not approve it as I would have to face similar requests from other Members. In his own inimitable style he said, “I know this Nihal, but I also know that you will find some way of helping this Member” and rang off. The Member himself called me and said he had spoken to the President. I told him politely that I had already explained to him that I was unable to accede to his request. He left my office, not quite happy.

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Some reflections on Sri Lanka’s political “memers”

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By Uditha Devapriya

For many of us, the only hope for the country lies in getting out of the country. This is by no means a recent phenomenon: we have been seeing the best among us depart these shores for greener pastures over the last 30 years. The reason used to be the war; now it’s politics. It’s as though peacetime has unleashed all the ugly things about the nation that the war had bottled up. Back then we had bombs in buses and snipers at day to think about; now we have bribes and graft, nepotism and despotism, to rage against.

When the best news you think you can hear is a politician being stricken by the pandemic or booed by his supporters, especially on social media, you know how the rift between rulers and ruled has widened. This is hardly a welcome development.

Of course, there’s really no one to take up the politicians’ cause these days. Nor should there be; especially with regard to their handling of the pandemic, both government and opposition have been, if I may be charitable, ambivalent. Such issues are controversial and debatable and need not detain us here: what needs to be noted is a glaring absence of empathy in the handling of the worst public health crisis since the Spanish Flu.

This problem, of a yawning gap between what is being done and what needs to be done, has engaged ministers, health officials, students and, teachers, and trade unions. It has provided us with a never-ending series of debates between the government and the opposition on the one hand, the government and the state machinery on another, government and citizens on yet another, and supporters and opponents of the government on another. Different as their viewpoints may be, they focus on one question: whether or not to lock down.

These interest groups articulate different concerns. For the government, the most pressing concern is the economy; for health officials, it’s the nation’s health; for students and teachers, the education sector and salary anomalies; and for unions, their members. For many daily wage earners, there’s the struggle to survive. The government’s announcement on August 20 marked a conjuncture between them: with the fourth lockdown we have seen here thus far, everyone has had their way.

The politician has emerged badly from this scheme of things. I don’t mean only the regime here; even the opposition has attracted censure over the last year. This is not to suggest that people side against them unconditionally: some have turned their anger towards health officials, students and teachers, and trade unions. But there is no doubt that politicians have turned into the ultimate object of hate.

Indeed, whatever they manage to do or not do, the public interprets it as more evidence of their incompetence. In the court of public opinion that is social media, moreover, criticism of politicians has become so democratised that even disinformation, as long as it conforms to the popular view of them as inept and corrupt, gets accepted. This is, if not concerning, certainly symptomatic of our disillusionment with politics in general.

The lengths to which such criticism can go make it imperative that we draw a line between genuine critique and hysterical hogwash parading as critique. One does not have to absolve politicians to concede that any assessment of them should meet the litmus test of verifiability and be consistent and valid, and that while the right to criticise must be open, abusing it will not help with any campaign against incompetence, corruption, and apathy.

In other words, criticism of politics, whether of the government or the opposition, requires critical thinking. It’s only through critical thinking that one can evolve a cohesive critique of politics. Yet, for many, such thinking appears pointless and peripheral in their crusades against the evils of those governing us or leading the opposition.

How do we differentiate between critique and hysteria along these lines? Critical thinking requires cohesive engagement with observations and perceptions. It’s about precision, clarity, accuracy, depth, breadth, and fairness, and consistency, application, and analysis. It’s about placing critiques in their context; there’s no point arguing against government action here, for instance, by summoning an analogy from 18th century France. Even if such analogies appear valid, it is vital that we account for the differences.

I am not suggesting that we don’t dig into history; merely that what is true for one period may be true for another period, and not so much to our context. When critiquing politics by summoning parallels from elsewhere, therefore, it is necessary to take stock of the validity of those “parallels” before turning them into social media agitprop. Unfortunately, for a semi-literate electorate that veers between nationalist and neoliberal forms of authoritarianism, the importance of verification before assertion has simply not been made clear.

If the internet has blurred the line between facts and factoids, social media has transformed into a petri dish of misinformation. Facebook memes offer an illuminating case study here. Criticism of government apathy is easy to make on these platforms, since they offer critics a measure of security lacking in other outlets such as street theatre and wall art. It also brings them closer to their audience, which often happens to be their personal circles.

Here, Sri Lanka’s meme culture deserves much more than a brief perusal. From what can be gathered, it’s clear that critics of national politics have found in them a tool through which to vent out their frustrations. They frequently pick on analogies from elsewhere to drive home their point: hence when the All Ceylon Bakery Owners’ Association announces a price hike in response to flour prices, they cite the most popular analogy, Marie Antoinette’s infamous (and largely imagined) expostulation on the virtues of eating cake.

Still another popular analogy: when condemning, not governments, but for those who vote for governments, these pacifist-neutralist “memers”, who disavow any political affiliations, jump on statements by colonial officials who rejected demands to extend the vote on the grounds that locals were not ready to govern themselves.

Sri Lanka’s constitution gives pride of place to popular sovereignty: that is why, while sovereignty is exercised through institutions, it resides in the people. Yet the depths to which politics has deteriorated in recent years have converted Sri Lanka’s Facebook “memers” into critics of this laudable and progressive principle.

Disenchanted by the status quo, they idealise the past and jump on statements that confirm their scepticism of the wisdom of voters. The statement they cite most approvingly, in this regard, seems to be Henry McCallum’s argument, made in 1910 on the eve of the Crewe-McCallum reforms and in response to bourgeois demands for the elective principle, that Sri Lankans were as yet not ready for self-government.

Perhaps what’s most intriguing about these posts and analogies is that no one seems bothered by the fact that more than a couple of centuries divide the present from their parallel. Indeed, it’s hardly registered that the analogy being summoned may or may not fit our situation. What are noted instead are the details which resemble that situation; the differences, crucial as they are to the wider picture, do not seem to bother “memers” at all.

That McCallum made his observations about the wisdom of extending the franchise, not surprisingly then, is not placed in its proper perspective: that his remarks reflected the times he and his contemporaries lived in, that they were framed within conditions of colonialism, is not referred to at all. Instead, we are told to accept what a Governor said more than a century ago about the wisdom of our voters merely because we vote poorly today.

In liberal democracies and soft autocracies, political crises produce a variety of responses from the upper classes and, perhaps more frequently, middle classes. The levels of frustrations are such that those who project their anger against the government or the opposition end up spreading misinformation in their critiques of establishment politics.

It’s no doubt a reflection of the irrational times we are living through that misanalogies have become authentic and legitimate for critics of governments. False as they may be, they are an insight into how these critics jump into whatever historical reference they come across. It’s inevitable, though disconcerting, that such critics end up as guilty of spreading factoids as their opponents. These “memes”, then, are a reflection of the discontent of the many. They are also a measure of the cultural conditioning, perceptions of local and international history, and class background, of Sri Lanka’s irrepressible “political memers.”

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

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THE NEW REPRESSIVE RULES & LEFT-DEMOCRATIC RESISTANCE

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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.

Left-Democratic Strategy

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)

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