By 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.