13 December, 2019

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Class Drivers & A Gotabaya Autocracy

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Structural commonalities of unrest sweeping across the world; Class drivers and a Gotabaya autocracy

At no time since 1848 in Europe has unrest, rebellion, street fighting and mob rule erupted as much as in 2019. This time it is worldwide – South America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Europe. I will work up a list half-way down this easy. Sri Lanka at this moment is quiet. That’s because a presidential election is pending and it is also a periscope into the next general election. Unrest cannot breakout unless incited by the business, ex-military and political throng mobilising in support of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s presidential bid (the Shangri-La class), and unless executed by the subaltern hoi polloi that constitutes his ballot-box fodder. The certainty ‘Gota is coming’ keeps both Shangri-La throng and petty bourgeois ultras quiet, but in rapt anticipation.  

If he does come back the ambitions of the Shangri-La lot will be fulfilled if it accepts – it will be cowed into accepting – a “combination of private liberty and public despotism” – quoting DCP Amerasekere; The Island 28 October. The riot act that will be read to it is: ‘Go enrich thyself but shut up about my use of state-power. You want riches or you want to monkey with liberty, equality and strikers running amok?’ Still DCP has a point; liberalism all over the world is on the run. He pictures Gota offering authority, discipline and no pussyfooting. Though he does not verbalise it his bent is palpable: “Come on Sri Lanka, cut a deal, that’s the way out of our impasse”.     

Corralling into a constricted political and intellectual space is false. I will return to this falsity after a digressing to the state of the world where in everywhere there is unrest and governments are under pressure to quit. The number is large and diverse; I have to limit my sample to a dozen. Diverse yes, but there is commonality in socio-economic drivers and in psychological (cultural-nationalist-sectarian) banality. Take a step back, the common thread can be seen but what relevant to the discourse on Sri Lanka is that nowhere would authoritarianism constitute a solution to crisis. 

Lebanon

Three weeks of non-stop demonstrations demand jobs (unemployment is 35%), an end to corruption and resignation of the government. Road blocks, banks, businesses, universities and schools closed, and now running battles between different sides. Prime Minister Saad Hariri has resigned but there is no pause in the bedlam. Sectarianism rides unchallenged. There is a power vacuum and a stable alternative government is nowhere on the horizon.

Chile

The poster child of IMF-policies, President Sebastian Pinera was compelled to throw out his entire Cabinet but he may not survive the veritable uprising against free-market economics. Thanks to these policies and unsurprisingly Chile’s economy is the most “successful”, its society the most unequal in Latin America. The big gripes are the cost of medical and public services and universities and low pensions. Deaths on the streets of Santiago has risen to twenty. Attempt at a military “solution” will result in civil-war which the US cannot stage manage as it did in 1973 when Salvador Allende was overthrown to make way for the Pinochet dictatorship. 

Spain-Catalonia

Barcelona is on fire with street battles between Catalans and the Spanish police. Not only Catalan separatists (just 50% of the region’s population) have joined in huge numbers, outraged by draconian prison terms handed down to Catalan political leaders who spearheaded an independence vote in the regional assembly of the “autonomous Catalan region” in the autumn of 2017. No compromise is in sight; harsh action from Madrid as made the crisis near insoluble for now.

Iraq

More than 250 people were killed in September and October on the streets of Baghdad, Karbala and Basra during demonstrations which demand the resignation of the government and an end to rampant graft which is robbing the country of its huge oil wealth. The world’s third largest oil exporter sufferers from widespread poverty and an unemployment rate of around 15% while it is estimated that $400 billion of oil revenue has been stolen since the overthrow of Saddam in 2003. The country is rent by sectarian divisions and there is no hope of finding a stable government. If the authoritarian option didn’t work when US troops occupied the country will it work now?

Bolivia

The Bolivian challenge is of a different sort. President Evo Morales did a double-Mahinda by amending, some say fudging the constitution, to run for a fourth term. He is popular with workers, the indigenous people (he is one) and leftists; but he has undercut respectability by pushing through the constitutional amendment. The 20 October 2019 presidential election gave him 47% and runner-up Mesa 35.5%. A run-off is not required since either 50% or a 10% lead of over the runner-up avoids a run-off. But the margin is just 1.5% over the required 10% matgin, prompting allegations of electoral fraud. Morales has challenged the opposition to a run-off which he will win. The US is getting into the act by withholding recognition of Morales.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong differs from the others. Peaceful protest for legitimate rights quickly descended into mob violence, vandalism and recently looting. Beating Mainland people and all who disagrees is commonplace. There has been no intervention by Beijing and action by the HK government has been minimal. Use of force by the police has been to protect railways, banks, stores deemed pro-China by rioters, and to put out Molotov-cocktail generated fires. These events are a distinctly different genre from all the others (the psychology of mass hysteria and foreign incitement are explanations). There is nothing useful for a Lankan discourse from HK. 

Honduras, Peru, Venezuela and Ecuador

Variations on a theme; all have been thrown into uncertainty and governments challenged daily by rebellious clashes. The biggest gripes are corruption, politicians involved in drug dealing, inflation, low living standards, unemployment or a combination thereof.

Yemen and Kurds-Turkey-Syria

Ethnic and religious sectarianism, what in a broad-brush sense I previously called “psychological-cultural-national-sectarian conflicts” compounded by international actors underlie what is happening. However, these two cases belong to a different genre from all the others and generalisations to a Sri Lankan context is meaningless.

Trump

Flabbergasting! A presidential phenomenon beyond comprehension! But is he an anomaly in the backdrop of a decline in decency in public life? He makes no secret of twisting public office for private gain, hoodwinking the taxman and indulging in shady deals. For just that his Base adores him ever more earnestly! America needs a reset in personal values and public spaces if it is to recover. A degeneration of liberal values is the other side of the coin of capitalism’s economic decline.

We can abstract are three causative themes from the dozen. A surfeit and simultaneously a deficit of Democracy. Second, inequality or unjust Capitalism. Third, Sectarianism, that is a surge of feral primitivism. First, huge demonstrations and uprisings are impossible without democratic space. In Saddam’s Iraq, Pinochet’s Chile, Franco’s Spain, or for that matter right now in Fattah el-Sissi’s Egypt and Modi’s Kashmir, mass demonstrations are invitations for blood and bullets. Democratic spaces have opened in the last two decades and cleared the way for public protest on a mass scale. At the same time democracy has fuelled a need for people to be ever more empowered and in every decision. This closes the space for government to function when unpopular economic decisions are needed or when concessions to minorities are justified.

These examples show cross-class revolt. The “new authoritarianism” demand in Lanka is intimately connected to Sinhala-Buddhist politics, not class politics. Opposition to authoritarianism is also cross-class. It is false that the “disenfranchised poor, the transient poor and the informal sector” are in Gota autocratic bag. The vector separating Gotacracy from the populist mass is chauvinism; DCP’s alternative theorisation is false. His “class analysis”, though methodologically interesting, is empirically invalid. As computer people say: “Don’t blame our algorithm; garbage-in garbage-out”. 

Second, ‘just capitalism’ is an oxymoron because economic equality subverts capitalism’s raison d’etre. This was well known long before Marx’s thundering indictments. Today finance capital, for reasons to do with its structure, expedites economic inequality at an exceptional rate. This is to do with asset price inflation, its nature as retainer or rent-seeking capitalism, debt inflation and the like that I have written about a few times – does anyone read the stuff? The point here is this: Growing democracy is incompatible with economic inequity, the trademark of finance capitalism. If you want a modern economy to grow on a capitalist basis you have to do what the IMF prescribes, no argument. But if you do what the IMF prescribes you will have a revolt on your hands! No deity, IMF or liberal-democrat has found a snake-oil to cure this fatal dichotomy. No autocrat nor Gotacract will.

My third fundamental driver of global unrest is sectarianism, a shorthand term which includes narrow nationalism, racism and faith driven extremism. So much has been written on this that I don’t need to expand on it today. There are also other factors, corruption, gross nepotism, family bandyism and politicians involved in drug peddling (mainly South and Central America), but all this can for the moment be subsumed under democracy deficits. 

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Latest comments

  • 4
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    What about Myanmar Model for a Buddhist Rajyaya led by a military junta?

    • 1
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      Siri,
      Don’t you know that China is doing better by brain-washing to Marxism which is not practiced even by the authority itself)!

    • 2
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      Yep! Myanmar- style sounds ok……but better is the Neo-Marxist JVP.

  • 2
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    Thanks prof for a little bit of informative research done. My perception is that basically both the candidates are not tolerant for another point of view and they are quite capable of snuffing out life of the opponents killing directly or oozing out the capability to live. The well educated like you, Prof, must germinate some seeds so that a powerful organisation will come up to protect human life and dignity, to say the least, to form an effective barrier to minimize the human rights toll in the years to come.

  • 6
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    These people are doing nothing original and unique for the needs of the Motherland. It’s all about blindly copying what places like the US do. USA direly needs that “Shangri-La” or futuristic Trumpian capitalism; they have no other way round it considering their history. The US base innately knows this. Such a place like the US is needed to govern the world’s money for millennia. Other places can only contribute to it, but on their own terms.

    Sri Lanka is so different a scenario with her history, location and people-ability. But no! Our Shangri-La set can’t see beyond their own power and glory. Indeed, such phenomena comes about when the masses around don’t have their advantage. Other more intelligent countries (eg. The Indo-Chinese ones), know how to balance global trends and work diligently for the actuality of their race and chromosomal structures. Their people lie contented.

    But our Shangri La crowd are bent on power and selfish madness. And our Masses are actually living in that dream. Can you believe it: they are actually comparing Sri Lanka to Dubai? Dubai used its OWN previous oil-wealth money to build up their city structure. They rolled their previous oil-wealth into the Middle-Eastern oil-rich backing system. Same scenario for Singapore – they became banker for the oil-wealth of the S.E. Asian region. These countries do not have to pay back loans. Now how Sri Lanka is ever to achieve the positions of US, Dubai, and Singapore style capitalism is beyond me.

    • 0
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      Romona,
      You and KD remind me Nalin de Silva who was advocating to modify science to fit SL culture (for him S/B culture). I don’t know whether he he ever managed to modify relativity to a satisfactory level! The only difference between you & KD is KD is still trying to wake up from the failed utopian Marxism!

      • 4
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        D.P.,
        Even Eisenstein will agree that money is relative in different contexts of history in countries around the world, and its time-impinged content on chromosomal structures.

        • 0
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          And no need to force the 335 million years ago Pangaea model on us….our DNA as mutated beyond belief since then.

  • 2
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    The author’s bottom line seems to be that the “class driver” of what he calls Gotacracy is actually cross-class. Gota has the strong support of a certain type of business class (mainly the new riche), nationalist inclined professionls and the ex-military. He also has a base in the urban lower midle classes and the informal sector but in these cases it is the more Sinhala nationalist segments that back him. I think most of this is true.

    Similarly the Sajith-DNF base is also cross-class, but incorporates different subsections of the rich people, lower middle class and informals (not so Sinhala inspired people). This again I think is correct, so the Sinhala-Buddhism is the dividing “vector” idiom is valid.

    Strangely the author does not mention the rural mases. Here Gota has no personal base and is freewheeling (may be successfully) on Mahinda’s mass following. The Sajith-UNP rural mass base is a bit of a questionmark at this time.

  • 0
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    Peofessor,
    One thing is clear, whatever trump wants to do in an extremist manner, he is unable.to do, Thanks to the constitution of US with enough checks and balances.
    It is the characteristic of Capitalism distinctly different feudalism.
    There were no heros.in the history of America, like you have in any other country with with Westminister which is.feudalistic.in character.
    In Capitalism everyone is a hog in a wheel. You can replace anyone with anyone else.
    Public corporations and Islamic sharia law is better approximation to the.objectives of Marx than Maoism, lenninism or stalinism.
    Society takes the risk and reaps the benefit in amore equitable manner.
    Similarly US constitution distributes the power of the state in much.more equitable manner.
    You do not need hero’s like Stalin,.Mao,Fidel,Lee Quan Yu or Mahathir
    Nobody has absolute power.

  • 1
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    Prof. Kumar David reads the absence of noise in Sri Lanka as a moment of quiet. I’d accept that only if quiet is synonymous with simmering!

  • 0
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  • 0
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    Essay starts with a lie (or at least twisted half-truth). Or ells, author just woke up watching Gotham in a dream. Is South America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Europe pledged with unrest, rebellion, street fighting and mob rule…?? Is this man out of his bloody mind…??
    \
    My dear. At any given time, there will be some unrest in some corner of the world. That is called free society. We are human beings. Not robots.
    /
    Don’t try to scare us to the pooling booth to elect Sajith.

  • 2
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    Dr David, How are you?
    \
    Regret to say you win the award (if there was one!) for presenting the most internally inconsistent, self-conflicting argument ever presented in an article on CT.
    /
    Firstly, the most charitable description to your categorisation of various ‘trouble spots’ in the contemporary world in to three causative themes is that it is utterly foolish. It ignores the underlying unity of causes in American manipulation of world affairs in a vain effort to cling on to their hegemonic power, on the face of a rising China. Some of the movements behind these events include a reaction to gross income inequality that got indecently bad over the last half a century, resulting in 1% of the world (Jews and Muslims predominantly) owning 99% of world’s wealth and income.
    /
    Hong Kong is the most cynical of the global chaos being created by an American Zionist Christian agent by the name of ‘Joshua’ Wong. This atrocious movement is being reported fraudulently by the BBC and CNN as a ‘democracy’ movement. Sectarianism has not been a major issue that has ‘surged’, except in the chronic cases like Arab and Afghanistan, worsened by American intervention.
    /
    Finally, it is amazing that your understanding of the ‘subaltern’ and the ‘petty bourgeois’ captures the potential voters to Gotabhaya, rather than those of the UNP’s economic conservative and social ‘butterfly’ policies.
    /
    Antonio Gramsci and Karl Marx respectively, who coined these terms will be turning in their graves that they have been used to describe the ‘opponents’ of these classes who would be UNP voters!

  • 0
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    KD,
    Karl Marx first published the Communist Manifesto in 1848 (the original formulation of nearly all of Marxism contained in an unpublished volume, German Ideology, written in 1846 but published only many years later). The introduction says, “The spectre is haunting Europe -the spectre of Communism” and he went on to explain why: “The history of hither to existing society is the history of class struggle”! 171 years later and after several failed experiments, you are repeating the same, siting political struggles from various part of the world as examples. But don’t you see that the sited examples are not only of various nature but some also are either against failed communist rules (Hong Kong against China) or created by failed communist socialist policies (Venezuela & other Latin American countries)? Do you have any idea why there are no public unrest in existing commie states (China, Cuba, N Korea, Vietnam)?

    Speaking of occasional downturns, this has been the way for all economies through out the entire human civilization. Such crises can occur either natural reasons (droughts, floods, plagues, extra-terrestrial causes or for man-made reasons (wars, failing to adjust, greed as in 2007). Even in SL kingdoms and communities had to relocate several time due to both of these reasons. Same id true for modern economies that are evolving much faster.

    Speaking of “Just Capitalism”, social equality is an “oxymoron” in all economic systems – including communist experiments that failed since 1917. There are two unavoidable natural causes for this: 1. Not all are born with equal intelligence which is the most demanding factor in modern economy. 2. Discrimination is built into human instincts. Neither of them has anything to do with capitalism which is the derogatory name Marxists use to label market oriented economy but not necessarily democratic b’cos as in China & Vietnam, autocracies also can adopt “capitalism”.

  • 0
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    New globalization came into being since 1990 that Rise of Emerging nations are line up in more than dozens of countries.
    Which playing role of sustainability of Economic progress in by several models and shapes in world -wide.As whole all development of models of Capitalism of former colonial countries are Not that follow up by that so-called guide -line of political vested interest of USA means of prescriptions recommend by IMF and World Bank, ADB and International settlement of Banks.
    In reality those outlets are concern of that Monetary, Financial and Fiscal policies were unable to meet New Task challenges by developing capitalist nations >
    While Imperialist Capitalism leads by Corporate Giants of MNC-Multi-National Corporation key players whom are that control Center that giant economy of USA, EU, UK and Japan.
    Well known that Voice of USA is voice of few monopolies that Giant Corporation like Exon Mobil of Private Empire are above monopoly STATE of USA .Most of fossil fuel are in hands of Exon Mobil ,by the way major Oil field of WEALTH of are under management and ownership US monopoly giants.
    That has widen gap of between inequalities of nation Rich and Poor .
    Therefor Noam Chomsky put very correctly said that “Martin Wolf recently that the finical system are wiping out functioning markets the way larva destroy a host …” Chomsky said Wolf respected financial economist in the world and .. but ..NOT A RADICAL . Further he said that one effects of this was that WEALTH become CONCENTRATED heavily in finical industries and that led to concentration of POLITICAL POWER their leads to legislation ,so on so forth keeping the vicious cycle going. …”
    Yes David Kumar has realized that set many dozens of countries rebellions in street fighting for regain of an economic stagnation and political chaos are that root causes are goes that financial crisis in USA world-wide.

  • 0
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    Uncle KD we are waiting for your magnum opus piece to really drive the point home before Nov 16. At least if we can’t win it, we will definetly get the Alt ball rolling and kick some Wallaw, “Posh”, bourgie and lumpen-bootlicker-proletariat a** from the resistance camp over the next years.

  • 0
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    Kumar David {“…….The certainty ‘Gota is coming’ keeps both Shangri-La throng and petty bourgeois ultras quiet, but in rapt anticipation……”}.
    The ‘certainity’ is certainly uncertain. Enjoy the ‘rapt anticipation’, for another fortnight, petty bourgeois Kumar David!

  • 0
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    Once again the Professor fails to understand what is going on in the Western World.
    *
    It’s quite simple – we the Free People of the West reject the Globalist Agenda and the garbage our Politicians are trying to ram down our throats.
    *
    The Will of the People is called Democracy – a concept a Marxist such as yourself is probably opposed to. You are just another “Elite” who thinks he should be at the top lecturing the rest of us how to live/what to think/who to vote for. We’re done with “Elites”!
    *
    The Free People of the West reject all of the following:-

    – Post Modernism
    – Cultural Marxism
    – Globalism
    – Open Borders
    – Political Correctness
    – Multiculturalism
    -“Diversity”
    – The deliberate destruction of our Culture and Heritage.
    – The EU
    – The increasingly insane Left and everything they stand for.

    A Revolution has started that will not be stopped!

    The failed ideology of Marxism will end up on the ash heap of History where it belongs.

    • 0
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      UK citizen,
      I’m an anti-Marxist myself but your list looks more like coming from an ultra conservative British than from an average UK (west) citizen. I’ll go one by one:

      -Post modernism > there is no such a thing called post modernism b’cos it is impossible to live in the future but, from the same token, west is the birthplace of modernism.

      -Cultural Marxism > another odd idea b’cos there can’t be a cultural Marxism without Marxism.

      -Globalism > Globalism is also western product. The fourth industrial revolution, whether you like it or not, is essentially a globalization.

      -Open borders > May be if you are BREXIT supporter.

      -Political correctness > This funny b’cos I’ve never heard this even from known crooks in politics; political correctness is ideal all political system must strive for!

      -Multiculturalism > something westerners cannot avoid. Nazis tried and failed.

      -Diversity > same as above.

      – The deliberate ……. > nobody will tolerate but cultures are always changing under our own feet without our knowledge and it is happening much more faster than ever before.

      -The EU > that depends

      – The increasingly insane …….. > As Labor loyalist would admit, the left is not necessarily insane or not all leftist ideas necessarily bad. World has benefited a lot from the left.

      However, I fully agree with the last sentence.

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