16 May, 2022


Defeating Gota-Ranil: Re-Thinking The Aragalaya & Left Strategy

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

The Gotabaya presidency has pressed the re-set button. The Aragalaya must do so too, or else it will be fighting with the old tactics against a target that has reconfigured.

‘The concrete analysis of the concrete situation’ is the heart of politics according to Lenin. There is a new situation or in Marxist terminology a new ‘conjuncture’ with a new balance of forces. Any party or formation which thinks strategically must grasp that fact and adapt to it in order to transform it.

With the appointment of Ranil as PM the administration will get some traction, some section of the people will cut it some slight slack, and the Aragalaya will find that it does not enjoy the same near-universality of support it did. Quite a few sympathizers of the Aragalaya may move to the neutral or let’s wait and see column. The reason is that the target profile of the enemy has changed: it’s no longer Gota plus Mahinda. It is no longer an overt Rajapaksa family regime. It is no longer top-heavy with Rajapaksas.

If Gotabaya’s re-set project fails, it doesn’t mean the Aragalaya succeeds. The next move may be an outright military junta with or without Gota, and as several public opinion polls show, though few people support military rule, most people are pro-military. Outright military rule is not the only option. There could be a civilian-military rule with the military chairing the political negotiations which Gota is now chairing. The behaviour of the political parties maybe quite different then, and in any case as in the Pakistan of old, the military may regulate and restructure the political-governmental space. I doubt that the Aragalaya leaders are aware that things are not back-and white and there are varieties of “intermediate regimes” (Michael Kalecki).

Antonio Gramsci, the founder of a Marxist political science and one of the greatest political scientists ever, rejected Trotsky’s approach (unfairly says Perry Anderson) as “the theorist of frontal assault at a time the balance of forces is such that it could only lead to failure”. Whether or not it was accurate about Trotsky (unlike in Lenin’s case sometimes it was, sometimes it wasn’t, as far as I can tell), Gramsci’s point is valid.

When I hear a prominent Aragalaya youth leader talk about “street fighting” I recall Gramsci’s stricture. If students are shot by the Army it won’t mean the outbreak of the Revolution when it is a recomposed Government in office—and in any case the Army knows that riot-guns with birdshot have non-lethal results.

The slogan Gota Go Home remains valid but it cannot be fought for by the old methods of frontal assault. Gota will not go home and he cannot be sent home right now–not with the military backing him and a new PM bringing some degree of hope. Gota Go Home must be recalibrated, not as an event but as a process of transition. As Gramsci famously said, it must not be a strategy of frontal assault but a war of position, of attrition.

The Aragalaya made a big mistake. It had won a major strategic battle by mid-day on May 9th when it beat back the Mahinda mob and prevailed politically with the resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa. History may record that this was the highest point of the Aragalaya as it had evolved from the Mirihana uprising of March 31st.

The strategic blunder began after that victory of mid-day May 9th. That was the lethal character of the mob violence that caused 9 fatalities and injured Kumar Welgama, the first anti-Gotabaya politician, as well. It is not that the Aragalaya perpetrated that violence but it did not condemn it though there was real time social media and mass media coverage available to it. Today is May 15th and the condemnation is yet to be heard.

The strategic blunder was consummated on the night of May 9th into the early morning of May 10th with the mob violence outside Temple Trees, the successful attempt to break through the gates and enter the premises. Fires were also started by the attackers. The attack started after dusk and went on till pre-dawn the next day. There was plenty of coverage on TV news and social media. Given the bloodthirsty rage of the crowd there was no doubt that the former President and Prime Minister would have been lynched, together with his family. The Aragalaya leaders and the political party leaders associated with the Aragalaya failed to call for restraint. They have still not condemned the incident.

The result of the attempted lynching of Mahinda Rajapaksa was that it gave the military the chance to intervene and a legitimate reason to do so. The Anti-Hijacking and Hostage Rescue Unit of the Commando regiment effectively held the line and performed the rescue. By the morning of May 10th 2022, we were in a different territory. The military had been infused into the situation and the Army Commander’s remarks were determined yet serious. The military was in the game and the power-equation.

This also stiffened the back of the Gotabaya presidency, but it did so without causing either him or the military to sound like there had been a shift to military rule, because that is not what has happened. Addressing the nation, he didn’t sound more autocratic than before nor did he come across as quite as insensitively autocratic as he used to be. The Aragalaya had clearly shaken him but not enough to leave; only enough to make him more flexible when earlier he was totally inflexible.

What has happened is that Gotabaya now has both a stick and a carrot.

The stick is the military and the Police backstopped by the military. The real center of gravity of power for the moment is the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

The carrot is a recomposed Government and a set of reforms which include a partial presidential retreat. Gota has publicly promised the repeal of 20A and the return of 19A, also indicating that the door and the road were open for the abolition of the executive presidency. The Opposition must relentlessly push him on that.

As Nicos Poulantzas, the most famous Marxist political scientist since Antonio Gramsci pointed out, the state apparatuses are not a monolith; they are cross-cut with contradictions, are porous and permeable. Democrats fighting against dictatorships should aim at working those contradictions and shifting the lines of force within the state. This is the strategy that was successfully adopted by the Spanish Communists led by Santiago Carrillo.

That is why I advocated that the SJB to take the space available and use the 19th amendment to shift the balance of power. I urged that the SJB to operate as a pincer with the Aragalaya and penetrate the system, get its hands on the levers of power.

What then is the path to victory for the Aragalaya and the Opposition? Lenin provides an answer in Leftwing Communism: An Infantile Disorder. The masses must learn by their very own experience, of the correctness of the vanguard party’s slogans, which must be calibrated according to each stage of the mass consciousness. Therefore, the Aragalaya and Opposition strategy has to be two-fold:

Firstly, though the Aragalaya may be difficult to broaden and may lose some of its breadth, it can be deepened, by resisting unfair economic hardships caused by creditor-and-IMF driven cutbacks and launching new waves of struggle.

Secondly, change the main slogan of the Aragalaya to that which was raised by Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa on March 15th 2022 during the first demonstration at the Presidential Secretariat, and recently renewed in modified form by the smartest strategic mind of the pro-Aragalaya Left today, KD Lal Kantha of the JVP: demand EARLY ELECTIONS. Of course, with Gota still around, with or without the 20th amendment, that has to include Presidential elections too. In 1988-89, with two civil wars raging and foreign troops on our soil, we had several rounds of Provincial Council elections followed by Presidential and Parliamentary elections. Both Presidential and Parliamentary elections can and must be held within this year.

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Latest comments

  • 3

    Aragalaya means it has its condition to consider it is part of the solution not part of the problem it is not a victory request basic need of people

    US past president Obama said when people went to moon first no one had experiance but they suceeded and Obama without any experience ruled 2 terms apoint a new one same example like US, and follow transperancy & rule of law and Make people to do great things

    • 6

      “Firstly, though the Aragalaya may be difficult to broaden and may lose some of its breadth, it can be deepened, by resisting unfair economic hardships caused by creditor-and-IMF driven cutbacks and launching new waves of struggle.”
      Really? What is Dr DJ suggesting, in his smokescreen of pseudo-Marxist rhetoric?
      There is no fuel . Hydropower will last only as long as the rain. Food has to be imported, thanks to Gota’s stupid fertilizer ban. How is the Aragalaya supposed to resist? By refusing to buy food or fuel ? By refusing to pay enhanced taxes? Or by starting another orgy of looting and arson? What will either solve?
      Dr DJ should tell us precisely what he means.

  • 12

    Now, When the nation is in the state of uncertainity the Indians are trying a master stroke to turn the attention of the people. They have invented a novel idea to help the Rajapaksa dynasty resurrectiong an LTTE theory.
    I know people will not buy into it. Indians once nurtured this terrorist outfit, trained them armed them until the assasination of Rajiv Gandhi.
    Now they are just meddling in the affairs of Sri Lanka in order to divert the attention of the demonstrators so that there will be mayhem in the country that would give breathing space to these Rajapakse goons.
    I am sure we Sri Lankans are smarter than these Indian goons.
    Do not fall for this new invention my countrymen.

    • 7

      “They have invented a novel idea to help the Rajapaksa dynasty resurrectiong an LTTE theory.I know people will not buy into it.”

      Don’t assume that the people will not buy it. They have to buy it. You should not forget that Easter Bombing. You may still think it is the work of Muslim Terrorists and you may think Indian intelligence was wrong but it happened. All Muslim Terrorists suicide bombers and they were killed. None survived but over 250 killed. Over 500 injured. Most of the Sinhalese believed that it is Islamic Terrorism. Do we know all the facts? There are people within Tamils who can be hired or volunteered by the Ruling regime to complete another massive Bomb blast which might bring back the strong man group again. Sinhala masses are lving under fear for nearly 70 years and the Power will not allow them to realise the truth.

      • 5

        Yeah you are right. People with low IQ and those who are pandering to the Rajapakses will not understand what I am trying to highlight.
        We are living in a world with such people.
        How sad it is.

  • 6

    “………..With the appointment of Ranil as PM the administration will get some traction, some section of the people will cut it some slight slack, and the Aragalaya will find that it does not enjoy the same near-universality of support it did. Quite a few sympathizers of the Aragalaya may move to the neutral or let’s wait and see column………….”

    DJ, I dont like your politics ……but endorse that comment 100%

    People will wait as RW the ‘economic whizkid’ will get the rich countries +India to deliver gas, petrol, flour, parippu, ….oh the list is too long…

    I pity the ambitions of the people….but this IS A TRAP…..!!!

    Ranil cometh as the savior of the country/economy….but in true sense he is saving the R gang as well……He will divert people’s anger towards the Indian ocean and start an exit plan for those world class rogues with no punishment…

    That is what happened in 2015 !! He asked Dilki to resign from the Bribery Commission so that R gang will be safer…..

    History will repeat …again and again…..if RW has a grip on it…!!!

  • 4

    DJ makes sense.

    The political dynamics in our country has drastically changed. The political situation that has emerged in the last 2 months is something that has never been seen in Sri Lankan politics before. This change became noticeable with the start of the Galle Face struggle. Our entire political dynamics is happening between the two polarized groups, on one side is the politicians and on the other is the civil society. The civil society politics is driven mainly by the youth, especially from the Galle Face and other protest sites. Whereas the politicians are engaged in their conventional party politicking without realizing that they are responding to the mass protest.

    During the last 30 to 40 days the civil society with the leadership of the youth has clearly established their power over the conventional politicians. This has made politicians virtually helpless. The cabinet reshuffle, stepping down of the prime minister and the dissolution of the cabinet are major achievements of this youth driven civil protest. For the first time in the Sri Lankan history this mass uprising has made even the religious leaders from all sects to step out and show their solidarity with the masses . One thing is very clear, though the slogans in this protest are mainly addressed towards the president and the prime minister, there is a general disillusionment about the present political system.

  • 2

    One-seat Party leader Ranil Wickremasinghe’s appointment as the Prime Minister is illegal, unconstitutional and criminal.
    As I said, ultimately the Sinhalese Buddhists were taken for a ride! The well known American
    bootlicker has been appointed as the PM again!
    This is the same Prime Minister who looted the Central Bank in 2015.
    This is the same Prime Minister who didn’t take any action until nine Muslim suicide bombers killed innocent people in six locations. Had he imposed curfew when the first suicide bomber blasted himself at a church, hundreds of lives could have been saved.
    This is the same Prime Minister who tried to introduce a Federal Constitution to divide Sri Lanka.
    This is the same Prime Minister who tried to sell the country to the US for US$ 500 million.
    This is the same Prime Minister who sold national assets for pittance.
    This is the same Prime Minister who denied the rights of the Buddhists. Do you remember, he even tried to loot the temple Pin Ketaya (Charity Box).
    Hold on, I have a long list. We fought against Ranil-Maithri slave government for 5 years! This country is run by traitors, looters and criminals who are supposed to be in jail!

    • 4

      “This is the same Prime Minister who tried to sell the country to the US for US$ 500 million.”
      Don’t you think that would have been a good deal, considering that the Treasury is down to zero dollars now?

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