By Kumar David–
The call for left unity issuing from many directions is falling on deaf or dead ears. The Dead Left in government denotes the latter while the JVP, FSP, NSSP, USP and the parties in fealty to the Shanmugadasan tradition, all sectarians, are prime examples of the former. Without minimal left unity, a left programme seemed impossible, but it is now apparent we need to start at the other end – that is put together the rudiments of a programme and allow time for collaboration to germinate through dialogue. This is my hope in offering a series of five letters titled as follows in successive weeks in this column.
a) The broad political landscape
b) An economic policy framework
c) Industrialisation the key
d) Agriculture, services, foreign investment
e) The national question and the State
I am not swollen headed to imagine that my initial thoughts are sufficient to constitute a draft programme for a unified left. There are prodigious gaps, topics I am ignorant of, and the need for wider discussion and amendment. But in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king; nobody is making a start – so some fool had better rush in where angels fear to tread.
I now turn to topic (a).
The current conjuncture
The central issue (or in Althusseran argot, the “over-determining instance”) of the current conjuncture in Lanka is no longer the national question; it is the State. I make bold to say that the national question, which underwrote all other discourse for decades, has receded from the spotlight, and the State has taken its place. The State is now the central focus, not only because of ongoing ruination, but also due to ominous trends imminent in Lanka’s regime. Finishing off the LTTE, Prabaharan’s death, and the end of civil war and of terrorism (State terror goes on) has morphed the political landscape.
It is unnecessary to recount the bizarre degeneracy of regime and State; it is the currency of daily conversation. Degradation of democracy, perversion of justice, crumbling law and order, profiting from drugs, and governance shoddier than ever before, have surfaced jointly, worse than ever before. Reflect for a moment; has it ever been worse before? Some of us love to hate JR, Sirima, Preme, Chandrika, or SWRD, but none would exclaim: “That was worse than now!” In recent years corruption and impunity were tolerated as habits or as inevitable in war, but gradually these maladies have seeped deep into social life and patron-client relationships spread into networks of hangers-on. The people themselves have become corrupt; it kick-started when JR subsumed morality under market profitability and reached its apogee, to date, when this regime comprehensively debased the State. To date!
Yes, I say to the Sinhalese South (the Tamils have had a bellyful already): “The worst is yet to come!” We glimpsed a flicker in the storming of a hotel, bullying, smashing of offices and eventual incarceration in miscarriages of justice of General Sarath Fonseka. But you ain’t seen nuffen yet! Think not of these events; think what they portend for when the Rajapaksas lose elections and have to relinquish power. Nothing is more dangerous than a cornered animal, none more perilous than a fugitive fearful of termination. I speak not of the inevitability of future elections rigged for eternal UPFA victory. No, it’s more perilous, the powers that be are predisposed to putsches and coups rather than lawful transfer of power. History has shown that even insane rulers cannot be ousted by internal strife alone after big military victories over hated enemies.
What is the relevance of this sombre forecast to a left programme? The opposition in various formations is campaigning against egregious excesses, but were any group to mature to where it can win an electoral contest, it will be snuffed out. The transition of power will be prevented by force when rigging becomes inadequate. How many times has history taught this lesson in so many places in post-war decades? The difference between mounting the protest platform with the UNP (nothing wrong with that), and hard reality, is that the latter sees this diabolical turn as the principal probability. Hence, a core element in the left’s programme is conscious building at all social levels. Teaching the people this, now, is central to the left programme; next year, 2014, 2015s, is too late.
The party scene
Drafting a left programme requires assessment and understanding of the prevailing scene. The UNP is homeless; it has lost its economic and political identity to the UPFA – not just the SLFP. This government’s IMF led ‘neo-liberal’ economic agenda is vintage UNP fare, for which reason the UNP is programmatically destitute – it has lost its agenda. The worst human rights abuses and individual acts of anti-democratic terrorism by former UNP regimes (mainly JR and Premadasa periods) were no better than the UPFA’s binge, but the latter is a sustained curriculum of unceasing actions; in UNP times it was more episodic. The NSSP and USP now collaborate with the devil to restrain a worse devil in control of the State; they are right to do so. However, the point at which they have to stop is to create no illusions about putative UNP or Fonseka regimes. After exorcising the incumbent devil, the role of the left shifts dramatically into the ranks of the opposition. The point in respect of the UNP and Fonseka is crystal clear; collaboration to stop dictatorship and no further.
The functions of today’s SLFP are a far cry from its former SWRD and Sirima days. Now it has just two roles; it is a prop to the dynastic agenda and ambitions of the Rajapaksa clan; second, it is a lucrative channel for graft. Graft means not only straight embezzlement, but also unsavoury links to the underworld (it is said that more than two or three politicos are involved in drugs, and none will know how far up these juices ooze till the regime is toppled). For a multiplicity of reasons then, a left programme must boldly identify the SLFP as the principal enemy. This is a conundrum for those like me who would like to salvage something out of the Dead Left – for example the LSSP Left Tendency associated with Anik Pituwa. The jury is out on the possibility of success; it all depends on whether the Tendency can steer the LSSP away from further shipwreck and it is incumbent on us to support it in this difficult task.
The TNA has had a hard time for tens of years, physically attacked by both the LTTE and the State, and cowed into submission by the former. The Tamil people are gaining in confidence; this augers well for the future of the TNA. I should deal with the JVP and the FSP in some detail, but to keep within word limits, and because I have written on this extensively in this column and elsewhere during the last nine months, I will omit it today.