By Dayan Jayatilleka –
The idea that the transformation that will result if the Gotabaya government wins a two-thirds majority, is on a linear continuum with the authoritarianism of JR Jayewardene is ridiculous on many counts.
In the first place, why not extend the argument to Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s six years under Emergency and the bloody repression of 1971? Why stop there? Why not take it further back to the Senanayake UNP Government’s Thousand-day emergency rule?
More importantly, the conflation of what is likely if the Gotabaya presidency is gifted a two-thirds majority in parliament, with the earlier Jayewardene experience, makes the basic error of confusing totalitarianism with authoritarianism.
A Gotabaya administration with a two-thirds warrant will turn totalitarian, while the Jayewardene administration with a five-sixths majority was classified and classifiable as authoritarian.
The differences are structural, but at some point, an accumulation of structural differences amounts to a systemic difference. The structural differences pertain to the roles of the military and the Buddhist clergy.
The Jayewardene presidency had the military firmly under civilian political control in an institutional sense. Not so the Gotabaya presidency.
The Jayewardene Presidency had no role for the Buddhist clergy. Again, the contrast with the Gotabaya presidency is stark.
The Jayewardene Presidency accepted the concept of provincial devolution in 1984, even though it took external intervention to actually push it through. The Gotabaya presidency is explicitly hostile to political devolution with the province as the unit and is seeking a mandate to roll it back.
The idea that the Gotabaya presidency armed with a two-thirds majority will be an extension of the Jayewardene Presidency rings hollow at a time when progressive opinion in the USA has noted that the Trump Presidency is a very different animal not only from Democratic presidencies but even previous Republican ones.
This is why there exists such an analytical category as the Alt-Right.
The Jayewardene Presidency belonged to the conservative center-right. The Gotabaya Presidency belongs to the Alt-right or the Far-Right.
The Jayewardene presidency had a racist wing as represented by Cyril Mathew. The Gotabaya dispensation is Sinhala-Buddhist ultranationalist all the way through.
The Jayewardene presidency was a Bonapartist ‘balancing’ regime. The Gotabaya Presidency does not bother with Bonapartism balancing, driving for outright Sinhala-Buddhist-militarist dominance and supremacism instead.
If it secures a two-thirds mandate, the Gotabaya Presidency will use it to turn the existing structural changes such as rule through militarist Presidential task Forces, into a macro-systemic change. Sri Lanka which has experienced authoritarianism before will experience totalitarianism for the first time. And it will be a semi-theocratic totalitarianism with a dominant role for the Sinhala-Buddhist clergy, within the state apparatus itself.
This is why the struggle against a two-thirds majority is existentially vital. That is why the question “What is to Be Done?” resumes its critical importance.
That is also why it is necessary to support a political formation that can cause a large and healthy fissure within the Sinhala-Buddhist bloc, by raising socio-economic issues close to the working people. This must necessarily be coupled with competing for, not abandoning the patriotic or nationalist terrain and abdicating it to the ultranationalists, but by doing so by presenting a counter-patriotism not an anti-nationalism; an alternative patriotism with an antiracist, pluralist, inclusionary interpretation of being Sinhala-Buddhist. Only Sajith Premadasa and his SJB does this at a mass level.
The totalitarian threat can be stopped only by a competing coalition or bloc, which can deny the Gotabhya presidency of the prize of unipolarity and can return the Sri Lankan polity to its two-party or two-coalition bi-polar balance.
As for the Tamil people, the difference between the status quo, and a totalitarian, unipolar outcome which will result from a two-thirds electoral mandate, is the difference between militarism with a countervailing Provincial Council (after a forthcoming PC election), and Martial Law with no Provincial Council.
One of the lessons learned by humanity in general and the intelligentsia in particular is that it is important to recognize change within continuity and to distinguish qualitative change from merely quantitative change. In no historical experience was this more important than that of Fascism. Humanity learnt that fascism was like nothing else, and that any attempt to assimilate it simplistically to capitalism, imperialism, colonialism and racism i.e. to what had gone before, was a deadly dangerous mistake.
Having made the mistake, the left, led by the Communists were the first to come out of it. Hence Communists from Stalin and Dimitrov, Togliatti and Gramsci to Ho Chi Minh and Mao Zedong recognized the radical specificity of fascism, placed the fight against fascism as the first priority and allied with all forces necessary to defeat it, including colonialism, imperialism and monopoly capitalism.
Just last month, Putin defined Nazi-fascism as “absolute evil”.
Those of us who were indicted for fighting militantly against the Jayewardene regime while others were in comfortable emigration, are best placed to know the difference between that authoritarian regime and the possible totalitarian one.