By Dayan Jayatilleka –
The repression of the Left by the regime is inevitable but may or may not be imminent. By the Sri Lankan Left, I mean the JVP and the FSP, though not necessarily in that order.
There are several reasons for repression to be inevitable. None of those reasons are because the Left poses a threat to the regime, still less the state.
The Left will be repressed not because it is a THREAT but because it is an OBSTACLE.
The Left is not a threat to national security, but it is an obstacle to the political economy of the model that the regime seeks to install and implement. In more theoretical terms, the Left is potentially an obstacle to the ‘regime of accumulation’ that the new power-elite seeks to erect.
That regime of accumulation or more simply that economic model is one of crony capitalism, which is also a client capitalism of a rising Far Eastern metropolitan center of world capitalism.
It is not that Sri Lankan crony capitalism has anything ideological against the West or for the East. It is simply that the rate of expropriation of surplus value and therefore of profit will be higher when the capital comes from a source that cares less about labor regulations and standards than competing Western sources of capital which have been forced by powerful trade union movements to raise the labor standards.
While the Left is an obstacle to the implementation of this model as understood in the structural sense, it is also an obstacle to implementing the model as understood in a conjunctural sense, i.e. in the prevailing and emerging situation.
That situation is one of the economic crises caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and post-pandemic plans of the power-elite to recover from the pandemic and revive the rate of growth. That recovery plan necessitates the burden to be carried by the working people of town and country who are already hard-pressed by carrying the burden of the shrinkage of the economy due to the pandemic.
So, the working people will have to carry the weight of the shrinkage of the economy as well as of the plans for rapid recovery and expansion of the economy, i.e. the revival of the rate of profit.
The crony capitalists will strive to catch up for its losses by striving not for a normal rate of profit but for super-profits and beyond—for maximum profit.
This requires downward pressure on wages and welfare, as well as the plundering of the land and natural resources.
This is turn will mean coming up against the Left-led popular organizations and their resistance. This resistance will be an obstacle not a threat, but will be projected as a threat.
The social resistance will be sought to be crushed by the regime.
The Left must be prepared with a counter-strategy, which will of course have to be non-violent, not least because the objective and subjective conditions do not exist which necessitate, justify or enable non-peaceful means of struggle.
The strategy of the Left seems to be either a parliamentary strategy or one of popular protest or both.
A parliamentary strategy cannot succeed given the marginality of the Left in parliament. Parliament itself has declined in importance after the passage of the 20th amendment. In any case the Left cannot hope to win a majority of seats.
That leaves a strategy of street protest.
Here, the regime is way ahead of the Left. I do not know what the Army’s new drone regiment is intended for—apart from catching corona curfew violators! –but I can certainly envisage what it can and will be put to.
Engels wrote that the tactic of barricade fighting was no longer possible after the new boulevards had been built through the working-class neighborhoods of Paris, thereby enabling rapid movement of artillery.
Engels’ counter-strategy for that period, which by no means excluded a final frontal assault on the system, was of the buildup of the socialist left as a mass electoral party; a strategy which, in Germany, was succeeding despite the repressive Anti-Socialist Law.
In Sri Lanka however, this cannot be applied mechanically, because it is a huge leap from 3% to anything like a determining or even significant degree of representation. This is more relevant when one recalls that the regime hopes to increase the cut-off point while also diluting PR within a mixed electoral system.
What then is to be done in the face of the coming repression? What is the most viable strategy?
I would strongly urge that the Lankan Left looks to and studies the experience of the most significant Left current in the world today. That is the progressive and leftwing of the US Democratic party, most closely identified with Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and The Squad (of progressive women Congressional representatives).
The US Democratic left fielded a candidate—Bernie Sanders—but when he failed to win the candidacy, did not form a third party because it did not want to repeat the mistake made by Ralph Nader whose third-party candidacy probably caused the defeat of Al Gore and the victory of George W Bush, with disastrous consequences for the world, such as the Iraq War.
Sanders, AOC and the progressive and Left Democrats threw their weight and their mobilizational energies fully into the Biden-Harris campaign, because they were very clear that Trump and the social forces behind him constituted a potentially fascist danger which had to be defeated before anything else became possible.
Their strategy was what we might call ‘Democracy First’. They recognized that without political democracy, they could not effectively fight for anything else and would certainly be unable to if Trump got a second term. Defeating Trump’s autocratic project was the first priority. Therefore, they backed Biden and didn’t drop out when Sanders conceded to him (as they did after he conceded to Hillary Clinton). The US Democrat Left regards the defeat of Trump as “only the beginning” (as AOC said) of the struggle for social democracy or for the more committed such as AOC, for ‘democratic socialism’. It was the imperative first stage or phase.
The US Democratic Left provides a model of how to combine powerful protest movements, grassroots electoral mobilization, the clear identification of the main danger and enemy, and collaboration with centrists and moderates on electoral programs in order to push the main democratic opposition to a more progressive position.
That seems to me the most viable strategy available to the Left wherever in the world it faces Trumpism and a Trumpian regime. This is more so in contexts where the regime does not face the obstacles that the US Constitution imposed on Trump, and indeed has systems which Trump would have loved to have had, such as control over the electoral institutions. In such cases the existential threat to the Left and progressives is much more than in the USA. Sri Lanka is a case in point.
Here the ratio (proportionality) between the various components of the US Democratic Left strategy will have to creatively change—but the template should remain the US Democratic Left, most especially the Democratic Socialist current.
In 1925, Stalin said that from the point of view of the struggle against imperialism, “the Emir of Afghanistan is more progressive than the British Labour Party”. Today we may say that from the point of view of the global struggle against Trump-Bolsonaro-Gotabaya-type autocratic, ultranationalist regimes; the struggle for democracy, the US Democrat Left is more progressive than the Chinese Communist Party.
In Sri Lanka, the survival instinct of the Left , progressive and democratic forces should tell them that there can be only one, main strategic objective: as in the case of Trump, a second term must be denied to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, through a bloc of democratic forces and in support of the candidate who can most realistically beat him by winning back lost voters and areas of the country’s heartland.