By Kumar David -
The JVP has made a good choice in Anura Kumara Dissanayake, not least because he shares with this columnist an excellent set of initials, AKD! He is known for his meticulous work and preparation on issues he raises in public or parliament, he is young (45) and promises stability for 15 to 20 years, and is said to represent the middle position in the party, (as NM did most of the time), so he will be able to bridge internal debates. By all reports he is prepared to rethink past mistakes and the brief reference he made to the national question in his acceptance speech (“We have failed to reach the Tamil people”) may signal better things to come.
A friend quipped to me that he would make a better Leader of the Opposition than the current one! There was a time when parliament was a forum of great tribunes, NM, Colvin, Pieter and SWRD; when they stood up, the chamber hushed; when they spoke, the nation listened. For decades thereafter it was a fish-market whose cacophony dismayed even schoolchildren. Recently Sumanthiran, Anura Kumara and a few others have begun to regain lost ground; in time they too may emerge as worthy tribunes. But I do not know the chap personally – JVP types are reluctant to enter into extended conversations with outsiders – so my impressions are superficial.
It will be better if I use this essay to think aloud about the party and the challenges it faces. To put it straight upfront: The crucial challenge is the interleaved issue of identity and role going into the 21-st Century. The JVP still retains a clear identity (the identities of the LSSP and CP have withered); but should it rigidly hold on to an ideology derived and inherited from the past or are there fundamental issues to rethink (parliamentary democracy, revolution, socialism, globalisation, and 21-Century world order)? As for its role, the JVP has had three distinct personas, ultra-left adventurism up to the early 1970s, Pol-Pottian cannibalism in the late 1980s, and from late-1990 to now, a democratic, left and parliamentary phase. Despite role transitions, the party has sustained a high degree of identity in its own mind and in the minds of the people. It is these two sides (identity and role) that the party will be forced to re-examine during the course of this year.
The leadership transition comes at a time when the JVP is going through a period of extended quietus and loss of parliamentary support. It has also suffered two heavy splits, one a welcome cleaning of the stables, the other a great pity; mad racist Weerawansa, and Frontline Socialists (Peratugami), respectively. The split with Peratugami is not fundamental and can be overcome IF good sense prevails; I say this with great confidence as I have talked a lot with these excellent young comrades. What do they want? (a) A greater degree of internal democracy and transparency in decision making; (b) a candid review of the mistakes made in the democratic period – was in right to enter Cahndrika’s government, was it right to support General Fonseka, what about the national question, and so on. Unless the new leadership makes a sweep towards internal democracy, and unless it opens up a discussion of the last 15 years (the errors of 1971 and 1989-90 have already been discussed internally) the party will not go forward, Peratugami or no-Peratugami.
The other matter on which I wish to make a brief comment is a life and death theoretical issue for modern Marxism and 21-Century socialism. This is not yesterday’s world, this is not 1917 which was probably a unique event, this is not pre-1949 Maoist China. On the other hand neo-liberalism has crumbled; it was been defeated by people all over the world. Global capitalism is going through its greatest structural crisis since the Great Depression and there are no signs of a sustained recovery – if at all we only see a Wobble-U effect, sporadic spurts and spluttering downturns. Income and wealth inequality has never been so great at any previous time in human history. Marx will say “I told you so”; but the old bugger was unforgiving in his demand for intellectual honesty. So he will kick all of us, and the JVP, in our butts and thunder: “Get off your arses you thick headed mutts; don’t repeat what I said as though it was the Bible; think, look at your times, open your eyes”. That then is the theoretical frontier facing the JVP as it goes forward into this century. It is too big a topic for me to say anymore within the few miserable words that the CT Editor permits me.
Lastly, I will get my point across on political role, or action, in as few words as possible; an example helps. The LSSP ran into a midlife crisis when it reached the age of, say 40, if we count from the early 1930s. The crucial issue was the relationship to state power. The LSSP and CP made the fateful decision to carry through the transition to socialism by alliances, intervention through parliamentary mechanisms, a Republican Constitution, land reform and takeover of the commanding heights of the economy (estates), reform of tenant-landlord relations in housing, and most significant of all NM’s budgets to put the economy on a new keel. This was the grand, indeed colossal project the Old Left (not the pigmy caricatures of the Dead-Left) set itself. The project failed for two reasons; the outside world had changed dramatically and the second reason flowed from this; this method of reaching socialism was undoable. Not only China, but also social change ongoing in the West, shows us that more complex pathways of class and international alliances and statist tracks have to be pursued to reach a better world.
The bottom line of this story for the JVP is that its principal role in this historical period is an oppositional one – Oh if only the LSSP had remained an opposition party all along, right up to now! Brief spells in governments are another matter, but the JVP’s main role in this historical period is long term work among the people to expose and keep the swine (UPFA, UNP and Fonseka) in check. Making and breaking short-term links for tactical reasons is of course essential, but that’s another story.
I close by congratulating Comrade Anura Kumara Dissanayake and wishing the JVP success.