By Dayan Jayatilleka –
If the JVP and its offshoot the FSP (which prefers to be called the FLSP) didn’t exist, the power-elite would be reigning, not just ruling. Person-for-person, the JVP and FSP are the perhaps the most effective, disciplined, Opposition formations around.
However, they have shared ‘genetic’ weaknesses which if not rectified in real-time, will not make it possible for them to do their best by the people and reap a just political harvest, and worse still, will make it easier for the regime to repress them.
I belong to the generation after that of the April ’71 Insurrection and its suppression. In the mid-1970s as a high-school student I was a member of the Mitipahara, a revolutionary Left group (of which Prof Rohan Samarajiva and Asoka Pieris, who in the course of his career as a public servant, served as President CBK’s Secretary, were also members as Peradeniya undergraduates). The ironies of history are such that ten years later, when Rohana Wijeweera wrote his magnum opus on the Tamil Eelam Question in the mid-1980s, it had more consecutive pages attacking me that it did Velupillai Prabhakaran.
That’s all water and blood under the bridge. What is important is that this was but a symptom—a much larger and far more tragic one being the fates of Daya Pathirana, Nandana Marasingha and Vijaya Kumaratunga—of an abiding failure of the JVP which needs to be rectified so as to prevent repetition, which in turn, is the opening for successful repression.
1. The inability to manage relationships with, still less draw together, various tendencies of the left which are broadly speaking fighting for the same cause and against the same enemy, though obviously not with the identical set of ideas. In 1971, there were several revolutionary groupings in the field, led by GID Dharmasekara, Gamini Yapa, Sumith Dewinuwara and Nihal Dias, all of which were regarded by the JVP as enemies fit for elimination. Things were far worse in the 1980s, and the JVP and FSP need to understand that had the Southern civil war not had a left-on-left civil war within it, commenced by the JVP, its military demise may not have been that fast or as assured. (The same is of course true of the LTTE.) The JVP and FSP have yet to publicly articulate a self-criticism on this score.
2. The JVP never had an equation with the leftwing element among the Tamils. That was a grotesque anomaly in 1971, because the North had a strong, militant, even lightly armed, Maoist movement. It was as anomalous in the 1980s, which saw several Tamil left organizations arise: PLOT, EPRLF, EROS, NLFT, PLFT. Today, at the elections of 2020, new Tamil left efforts manifested themselves, but there is still no North-South dialogue of the left.
3. The JVP and FSP do not have a solution to the Tamil National Question, except for the generic abstraction of a non-racist socialism.
Movements that were contemporaries of the JVP, or even younger, ranging from Uruguay and El Salvador to neighboring Nepal, have been far more successful politically, despite military defeats, in far less time.
This is not the occasion to explore that fact, though I do note that the JVP and FSP have absorbed far less of comparative global left experience than one would expect to and the situation requires them to. For instance, any study of the success of the Uruguayan Tupamaros, repeatedly elected to power despite the horrific repression they underwent decades before, would point to the stability of their broad united front—literally named Frente Amplio—which they maintained through thick and thin, for 50 years.
No Latin American Left success has been obtained by or as an organization going it alone.
Nor has any successful Latin American left experience had as an objective, the abolition of the executive presidency, however proto-fascist a President may have been. The target of the Latin American left for the last few decades—including recent successes from Mexico to Bolivia—has been the election of progressive presidential candidates. But that too is a subject for another time.
What is crucial is that the JVP and FSP rectify its congenital mistakes as best as possible given the time available to them, before this most militaristic and racist regime since Independence, cracks down on them.
The regime’s crackdown will be for two reasons:
1. Without the JVP and FSP, the rising struggles of many social strata over many issues, will not have effective spokespersons and propagandists. Those social movements will then be easier for the regime to disintegrate.
2. Such disintegration of social resistance will enable the regime to impose its desired model of dependent accumulation, i.e., of oligopolistic crony capitalism, with China as the metropolitan center.
The JVP and FSP should prioritize as the single most important take-away from the global left experience, the model of the Popular Bloc (‘Bloque Popular’) of Latin America and especially Central America.
A Popular Bloc firstly unites under a single umbrella, the various trade unions and social organizations belonging to each sector, and then brings all those sectoral organizations sectoral organizations – students, teachers, workers, women, environmentalists, peasants—in an overarching bloc. In Sri Lanka today that would give the chance for the convergence of the various struggles taking place in diverse parts of the island.
Such a Popular Bloc would also provide a platform for a political superstructure to arise: an umbrella organization of the left parties, chiefly the JVP and FSP. Again, Latin America provides the model of success—the convergence of several political tendencies or even distinct, once-rival vanguards, on the advice and with the guidance of Fidel Castro—into the phenomenon of the “Frente”. El Salvador’s FMLN is a classic case in point.