Sri Lanka: The Way Forward

Liberation of the Entire People of Sri Lanka is Possible only by Mass Uprisings

New Democracy 24, March 2007
Theoretical Organ of the New Democratic Party, Sri Lanka

[What follows is a summary paper of a recent discussion among Sinhala and Tamil Marxist Leninist activists. The discussion was aimed at carrying forward the struggle against social oppression, for the liberation of the country from imperialism and hegemony, and the resolution of the national question through solidarity among the nationalities, based on the principle of the right to self-determination. Readers are invited to make their critical observations on this paper so that the ideas contained therein could be dealt with more thoroughly and expanded upon.]

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) made in 2002 between the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe and the LTTE have been in effect until 2006. Armed conflicts, Claymore anti-personnel mine attacks, explosions, murders, kidnappings, disappearances, and arrests that occurred over the past year have rendered them ineffective

The national question and alien forces

In the pretext of supporting the war against terrorism and helping with the peace efforts, forces of imperialism and hegemony are determining the day-to-day conduct of the affairs of this country. Through that the US, the countries of the European Union, Japan and India are exercising hegemony. The economy of this country has been enslaved by India through the one-sided Free Trade Agreement between India and Sri Lanka which only benefits India and through Indian investments in Sri Lanka. Besides, Sri Lanka receives military support from the US, Pakistan and Israel. The CIA, FBI, RAW, Mossad and other such foreign intelligence services are carrying out their espionage activities unhindered.

It is as a result of the stand taken by Sinhala chauvinism and the errors of the Tamil nationalists that there is increased domination by foreign forces; and today the national question has become the main problem and has been left in the hands of foreign forces. As a result of Sinhala domination and its oppressive approach, the Tamil, Muslim and Hill Country Tamil nationalities and national minorities like the Burghers, Malays and the Attho (earlier known as the Veddha) have been subject to untold suffering, cruelty and oppression. The struggles of the oppressed Tamil people have become centred around the LTTE, whose armed activities have been on the rise.

Meanwhile, under the imperialist globalisation programme, neo-liberal economic schemes are being implemented in the agricultural sector as well. While the people are continuing to oppose them in view of their effects, the ruling classes are continuing with them. The programme of globalisation has killed the life cells of a national economy based on self sufficiency. The oppressed peasants, workers and the middle classes are badly affected. It is doubtful under the worsening climate of liberalisation and privatisation whether any of the resources of the country will be left behind for the generations to come.

Dissatisfaction and resistance among the people

Under these circumstances, any reasonable person will protest about the way the ruling classes are governing this country. The people as a whole have reached a state where they are willing to accept that the present anti-people form of government should be replaced by a form of government that gives prominence to the interests of the people.

The constitution, the presidential system of government, and the parliamentary system have failed to protect, among other things, the welfare of the people of Sri Lanka, their honour and self respect, their wealth, and their democratic and human rights. The police, the armed forces and the judiciary seem to be concerned with serving the ruling classes and protecting their interests, and defending the Sinhala hegemony of the upper classes. Meanwhile the workers, peasants, and the employed middle classes are getting ready to take a stand against the exploiting classes and face the challenges.

The current Sri Lankan situation demands the transfer of powers in the hands of the ruling classes to the true representatives of the people. Major changes are required in state power. The people are becoming like dried leaves and a single spark to set the woods alight. They have lost faith in the ruling classes. The old system of government and administration of the ruling classes have reached their limit of incompetence. The ruling classes have forfeited their eligibility to continue to rule the people. Under these conditions, the people of Sri Lanka are affected in many ways, directly and indirectly. Even the comfortably off middle classes and people with considerable wealth are beginning to feel insecure.

A new approach to struggle

Thus, not only the ordinary masses, but also those living in some comfort are compelled to seek changes through alternative political activity. Such alternative politics has to be revolutionary politics.

The characteristic of the ruling classes of Sri Lanka is that of a client of imperialism. On the political and social planes, the policies of the state uphold violence and war as their main approach. There are differences between the methods of struggle against such ruling classes and those against earlier political establishments. There are differences between the strategy and tactics of governance by the old exploiting reactionary classes and those of the present ruling classes based on banditry and terror. One who takes note of these differences cannot be satisfied about the adequacy of the current approaches to struggle.

Hence it is necessary to transform completely the old approaches of the people, to undertake new initiatives and to carry forward new forms of struggle in new directions. Trade union activities of workers and peasants, strikes, electoral political meetings, processions and demonstrations have only provoked harsh responses accompanied by violence, and yielded counterproductive results.

Thus several struggles that are distinct from those of the past need to be carried out, outside the scope of the parliamentary electoral arena and the confines of trade unions, unlike the struggles carried out within and outside the electoral arena, and in ways different from that of traditional propaganda. It is also a historical necessity to function in ways unlike that of NGOs that are confined to a specified framework.

Through elections and the importance given to them, the ruling classes have become more and more privileged. Meantime, even the most ordinary rights of the ruled classes are denied to them.

The armed struggle of the JVP in 1971 and 1988 and the armed struggle for the right to self determination of the Tamil people have led to a feeling of disgust among the people so that they do not want such struggles to emerge. The imperialists and the reactionary ruling class forces have succeeded in this. However, the oppressed people have no choice or alternative but to impair the existing system of government and the ruling classes through the correct form of struggle and establish a meaningful democratic government. To achieve that, new forms of mass struggle with fresh meaning should be launched. It is in that way that great mass struggles and uprisings take place across the globe.

Lessons from earlier struggles

Owing to the errors of the leadership, the hatral of 12th August 1953, despite popular participation on a massive scale, could not be developed into a mass uprising. Various strikes, including the July 1980 strike, resistance campaigns by the people, and mass demonstrations have, owing to the activities of bogus left forces and mischievous NGOs, and contrary to expectations, helped the ruling classes. The exploited and ruled classes have continued to be affected. We need to advance by learning from these experiences.

It cannot be denied that people have won some rights and that some significant political changes have been achieved through mass movements and resistance campaigns. But the leadership was captive to the predominance of anti-people forces. These struggles were, in general, used to achieve the political goals of the UNP and the SLFP, and used until the leadership was granted its opportunity.

A new mass uprising becomes necessary

Today, a political climate prevails in which the people stand face to face against the ruling classes, their political enemy. That confrontation requires no less than a fundamental social change and to that end urgently demands a new popular uprising under the appropriate radical change in political leadership. The maturing of this condition and the achievement of a victorious situation depends on the entire Sri Lankan people.

At the mention of mass uprising and mass struggle, some jump to protest that they will be ruthlessly suppressed by the terrorist ruling classes, chauvinists and fascists, and will only pave the way to further reinforcement of state power to unprecedented levels. They would also claim that the people will be subject to suffering. People who argue in this fashion do not see popular uprising as a correct path of struggle to protect the people.

Those who accept popular uprising as the path for struggle need to pay attention to the new meaning, the new form and the new workings of the popular uprising for social change. It is necessary to prepare an alternative economic defence, action and reaction, and a culture that emphasises the case for the struggle so that the popular uprising is invincible. A mass struggle carried forward with maximum popular participation could contain one or several aspects concerning the welfare of the people. Lazybones and ones who refuse to endorse popular uprisings think that such an uprising will lead to the killing of unarmed people and that it is difficult for a popular uprising to take place. Such people have no faith in the power of the people.

If it is possible for the ruling classes to militarily suppress and decimate a mass uprising, it means that the uprising is not a correct mass uprising. A mass uprising comprises a continuous sequence of mass struggles. In such a correct mass uprising, there are preparatory measures for the steps leading to social change. They have features such as strategy and tactics. Mass struggles are, simultaneously, acts of training the people and struggles generating confidence among them.

Uprisings should be carried forward with care

Any mass uprising carried forward in a state of unpreparedness is suicidal. Mass uprisings cannot be created compulsively. Mass struggles cannot be transformed into a mass uprising merely through an announcement, or appeals through leaflets and posters. Mass uprisings cannot be specified a time, place and event. When the necessary objective conditions are there and contradictions sharpen, the emergence of a mass uprising is inevitable. As much as one cannot compulsively create a mass uprising, a mass uprising once started cannot be stopped either. It will run its course until it reaches its target. After which, the uprising should be sustained to retain its victory.

Thus, we need to be alert to the prospects of such a mass uprising. We should also develop the political and organisational preparedness that could withstand that environment, and the emotional and intellectual standards that correspond to it. Such preparedness will be able to mobilise accordingly the spontaneous feelings of the people and guide them.

When such preparedness does not exist, the enemies of the people can make use of mass struggles to their advantage and render the struggles ineffective and obstruct social transformation, which is the goal of the struggles. In the history of Sri Lanka, most mass struggles have been used merely to bring the UNP and the SLFP to power in turn. NGOs have incorporated mass struggles into their programmes. That too is to help the ruling classes.

The political goal of mass uprisings

It is important to ensure that mass struggles and their purposes concern the interests of the people and are in the hands of the people rather than belong to the leaders. A struggle is meaningless in the absence of the goal of social transformation,

The people of this country have been affected by the rule of both major parties, which can neither fulfil the aspirations of the people nor be reformed into parties for the people. To create other parties in their place is not an alternative either. People should be made to realise that mass activities that are confined to elections and economic demands are of no benefit. Although it may seem that they can be confined to resolving certain problems that are in the open and to winning certain demands, reality is otherwise. There should be agreement and interest in resolving the fundamental issues.

The national oppression against the Tamil people and imperialist oppression both direct and indirect are not the same. Thus they may be viewed on different planes. But the programme of imperialist hegemony against the two nationalities is fundamentally the same. While there is a situation in which imperialist hegemony is opposed separately from the respective planes, what is opposed and what is to be won are common to both. The struggles of the two nationalities need to be confederated. They should be coordinated and carried out against the common enemy, the terrorist ruling classes locally and imperialism internationally. In the same way, the mass activities to press for economic demands of the workers in the plantation and state sector should be confederated with the struggles of the fisher folk and the peasants.

Also mass activities against the Upper Kotmale hydro power scheme, the Noraicholai and Sampur thermal power schemes, and the proposals for the Weerawila Airport and the super highway could be combined against the main enemy, namely the ruling classes and imperialism.

The confederation of struggles

It will be useless to confine mass struggles to specific demands on specific planes, without basing them on social transformation. They need to be combined. Confederation does not mean reducing the importance of any struggle or altering its aim. While each struggle is carried forward on its plane with vigour and intensity, there is need for coordination between the mass struggles and between the leaderships. The basis of confederation could be independence-consensus-dedication. If there is no coordination between struggles, it will be easy for the ruling class to set one struggle against another. It is well known that the chauvinistic ruling classes of Sri Lanka have succeeded in presenting the Tamil people’s struggle for self-determination as one against the Sinhalese and Muslim people. To defeat them, it is necessary to develop cooperation among the struggles, a common line against the common enemy and a common programme. Also, like uniting all forces that could be united in a given mass struggle, there is need for need to confederate different struggles and their leaderships.

To say that there is need for unity in mass struggles does not mean unity with those involved in the activities of the parties of the ruling classes, bogus leftists, opportunists and NGOs. It means that there cannot be unity with forces that are explicitly or implicitly anti-people. It should be understood that when, in the context of the national question, we say that broad-based unity is needed in the struggle against chauvinism, we do not mean unity with those working hand-in-hand with the chauvinistic oppressors. To ensure success of a struggle, one should ensure participation by the vast majority of the masses, maximum possible friendly forces and the smallest possible number of enemies.

Unity, confederation and struggle

Likewise, winning the support of those outside a given struggle by joining in the activities of their struggle will be most effective. Matters should be handled in a way that the support of those outside is not just moral support but one with commitment. For example, when the support of the Sinhalese to the struggle of the Tamil people takes the form of mutual linking of common struggles, it becomes strong and enduring.

The strongest power against the ruling classes is the power of the people. That power can be built only through mass struggles. Besides, it is the right thing to do to affirm the support of those not associated with the struggle by linking up with their struggles.

There is need for unity within specific struggles and between struggles. That unity should be based on confederation and be democratic. Confederation cannot only be a concept; it should also concern practice and organisational structure.

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