By Kumar David –
The first part today is on the a-b-c of Leninism for a few small Left groups such as the Frontline Socialists and the USP’s Siritunga Jayasuriya who, like the larger JVP, are disoriented by the Common Candidate (CC) phenomenon, the un-socialist MoU, and the UNP-Chandrika-My3-Fonseka-JHU chop-suey (formal name: National Democratic Front, NDF). Some readers may find the leftist lingo in the this part of this piece a little awkward, but it is imperative to address the JVP, FSP and like minded groups, and it has to be done by a fellow Marxist using a shared argot.
Lenin is famous for all sorts of things; an iron will, crafting the Bolshevik Party, Revolution, and the NEP (New Economic Policy) when he compromised with the Kulaks (small-capitalist farmers) to fend off economic ruin. However, one of his foremost merits was that he was master of the ‘Next Step’; master of the moment. He is reported to have said: “Any fool can state final solutions (socialism, revolution, abolishing classes, withering away of the state, etc) but the real challenge that demands the greatest wisdom is correctly deciding the next step”. Two sentences from Left Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, declare that there are no blanket rules of strategy: And this mind you is Lenin, the man reputedly of indomitable intransigence!
“There are different kinds of compromises. One must be able to analyse the situation and the concrete conditions of each compromise”.
“The entire history of Bolshevism, both before and after the October Revolution, is full of instances of changes of tack, conciliatory tactics and compromises with others including bourgeois parties!”
I cannot recite the whole story of Lenin’s tactical flexibility, a few examples must suffice. He did not blink an eye that critics would (and did) call him a German agent when he climbed into that sealed train the Kaiser offered him to transit Germany to Russia and raise hell for the Tsar; then there is the April Thesis when he discarded the previous gospel two-stage thesis (bourgeois revolution, followed only later by proletarian revolution) and threw the Party into dire confusion in April 1917; he defeated leftist dreamers who did not want to accept the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty or make concessions to German militarism; and he stopped ‘regiment Marxists’ who tried to militarise the trade unions and curb troublesome post-revolutionary working class exuberances. Finally there was the wisdom and the realism of the huge and risky NEP compromise.
This Maithripala (My3) chap, the MoU, and the broad-based challenge to Rajapakse, has caught the JVP and radical leftists flat-footed. They want the rotten regime out, but are flummoxed that it is not going to usher in socialism; ok, to be fair they fear that the NDF in power will be just another set of rascals. I need to explain why regime change is essential although the last point is correct. Change gives breathing space; the Rajapakses are beyond redemption; the NDF can be compelled to carry through some tasks such as abolishing the executive presidency; and if the NDF scallywags are kept on a tight leash, authoritarianism can be curbed making room for a bit of good governance. OK, it’s not heaven on earth, but much better than the Rajapakses.
Anura Kumara has vowed “to participate in a movement to ensure the victory of a candidate who broadens democratic structures”. He added: “There is a possibility of a parliamentary election. Parliament must be filled with forces that work for democracy. We say to the people, don’t close shop after elections, go beyond and ensure activism”. This is an impeccably correct position, specially holding a whip over the next government to keep it in line. The problem is that Anura does not take the logical next step and finish his analysis with a concrete declaration. He is afraid, maybe of his own ultra-leftists, to explicitly add: “Therefore, vote for My3 but retain your independence and identity”. This may be what he intends to say, but why not be bold like Lenin; not for effect but to educate the class and the masses. The JVP won’t contest on its own, it is wary of My3, and it won’t support Rajapakse. What on earth does it want from this election? What concretely is its agenda? Is the crux of its agenda a boycott? In 2014 is the JVP taking a page out of Prabaharan’s book of 2005, though for different reasons? A boycott would be utterly wrong!
To influence “a movement”, as Anura calls it, the JVP first has to take a leading role in the process, which means being on the inside track. The JVP can help rebut some JHU-My3 stupidities; it is vital for mobilising people to be alert after elections; hence it must take an explicit, not an implied pro-CC stand NOW. I endorse it’s decision not to sign the MoU, there is no need to do that; but it must play a leading role, in the field. The LSSP-CP Leftwing cum others (Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri, Kumdu Kusum Kumara, etc), and Bahu’s NSSP have taken a correct inside-track stand on the elections.
Post-election sticking points
I now turn to issues that interest the general reader and retain the assumption that Rajapakse can be defeated but caution that it is not a certainty. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has created difficulties by pledging to abolish the Executive Presidency (EP) within 100 days but saying the new government (meaning Prime Minister and Cabinet of Ministers) and old parliament will co-exist for two years. There are two difficulties: (a) parliament may not enact the constitutional amendment by the requisite 2/3 majority, and (b) the new government will have to function for two long years in the teeth of an inwardly hostile parliamentary majority.
There may be a calculation that this supine lot will switch sides and turn into stooges of the victors. This is likely, but you are asking the country to put up with them for two years after a victory! Public contempt is widespread; people will be charged-up if Rajapakse is defeated. There will be a clamour to throw out old rubbish. That is, even if it enacts the mandate of the presidential election (a de facto referendum), soon after that is a good time to dissolve parliament.
Ranil laid out his expectations in a discussion with Rev Sobitha’s NMSJ movement. He saw two options. The desirable option is immediately after victory to press the old parliament to abolish EP within 100 days, re-enact the 17A, and introduce a new electoral system. The old parliament will then drag on cohabiting with the new all-party Cabinet for two years. He thinks of this as an interim fix to glide over constitutional and governance disputes and reckons it will reduce instability during transition. He reckons that if the election is won by a big margin, many donkeys will cross-over and help abolish-EP expeditiously. There will then be two years left to get other things done he says.
The second option arises if the old parliament withholds a 2/3rd majority. Then My3 can dissolve it and call elections. The electoral system may or may not be the same as the existing one. The UNP is confident it will form the next government – a two-year UNP led national government will complete the unfinished part of the MoU.
Ranil’s first scenario is too optimistic because even if Rajapakse is defeated by a landslide problem (b) will be intractable. Victory should be followed by dissolution of parliament (even if it abolishes EP by a 2/3 majority) and replaced by another in unison with the new perspectives. The six month road map proposed by the NMSJ is more realistic. It gives time for crossovers, dissolving parliament before or after abolishing EP, and an energetic campaign for a new programme. It remains to be seen how things will actually pan out.
The things that won’t happen
I have stressed why a common candidate on a minimum programme is indispensable and what can achieved if “the rascals” are held to account. Since there should be no illusions let me also enumerate what will NOT happen even if the common candidate wins.
- The economy will obviously remain capitalist in the transition period and afterwards since the UNP will win parliamentary elections. There will of course be structural modifications.
- The state will remain non-secular and the constitutional position of Buddhism retained. There will still be much inane mumbo-jumbo on state occasions.
- The state will remain unitary; there will be no further devolution (that is no 13A+). But 13A may be more genuinely implemented. (Ranil and CBK are liberals; that helps). Wigneswaran and the NPC will have a freer hand, cussed obstacles put in his way by Rajapakse will ease, and there could be some reduction in militarization.
- Conversely, there is alarm in the minority communities that My3’s anti Tamil-Muslim alliance with the JHU is a threat to them and to 13A. These nincompoops are endangering 18% of the vote (Ceylon Tamils and Muslims; 24% if you count Upcountry Tamils)), but what for? The JHU can pull hardly 3% of the ultra-chauvinist vote in the country away from Mahinda. Fortunately My3’s influence will go with EP, but not before doing a lot of damage.
- Governance may be better; to be frank it can’t be worse! Once 18A is repealed and modified 17A enacted, the judiciary will be less enslaved and police abuses reduced. Will there be fewer crooks in high places? Who knows; keep your fingers crossed.
- The stance of a putative interim My3 government on alleged war-crimes will be no different from that of the Rajapakse government.
When I pestered you to support a minimum strategy with a joint front I did not promise the sun and the moon or milk and honey. I said there were clear targets to aim for and I defined them. The point is that this strategy is also the absolutely necessary Next Step.