29 November, 2020

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‘Democracy First’: Lessons For The Lankan Left From US Left 

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. 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.     

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Latest comments

  • 10
    7

    For f*&%ks sake, you’ve switched back to your electoral mobilisational Trump influenced ultra Fascist Engelesque mode again. Have you never heard of the Plain English Campaign? http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/

    • 4
      1

      Stanley

      “For f*&%ks sake, you’ve switched back to your electoral mobilisational Trump influenced ultra Fascist Engelesque mode again. “

      I am sorry I don’t understand a thing.
      Please explain.

      • 6
        1

        Dear NV please don’t use expressions like ‘I am sorry I don’t understand a thing’. They betray a lack of self importance. Use something like ‘I apologise for not fully comprehending the intricacies of your no doubt all-important comment on the subject matter under review’.
        .
        And next month, when you are buying Christmas cards, ask for ‘Birth of Son of God celebratory goodwill communications’.

        • 4
          0

          Stanley

          ” ‘I apologise for not fully comprehending the intricacies of your no doubt all-important comment on the subject matter under review’.”

          Isn’t it pompous, long winded, verbose, …..Grandiose ?

          “Birth of Son of God celebratory goodwill communications’.

          Am I allowed to say “Happy Holidays”, which is simply gender, faith, colour, caste, region, class, ….. neutral politically correct wishes?

    • 4
      0

      Many thanks for info about the Plain English Campaign. I’ve done loads of editing & proof-reading over the years but never heard of this campaign until now.

      • 3
        0

        Manel, it is a British organisation, perhaps there are similar organisations in the USA.

        • 3
          0

          Thanks, Stanley. I am actually in SL (tho born in London). Doesn’t say much for me being unaware of this organisation. I guess it wasnt around when I was an undergrad (English hons) at UCL. I presume you are in England.

          • 2
            0

            Manel,
            then you are lucky. Most in LONDON are not feeling well in terms of keeping away from COVID infections.

            • 2
              0

              Manel, LM, yes it was started by Chrissie Maher in 1979. She pointed out that the NHS had published a definition of the term ‘bed’ that used 229 words. She publicly shredded hundreds of official documents in Parliament Square to complain about objectionable official language.
              .
              I think that in our case it would be better to keep the documents and shred the MPs.

    • 3
      0

      Stanley,
      .
      Unfortunatly, that is not known to him. That was the reason, DJ has not shown his consistencies during the last 5 years.
      :
      First he stood with Wimal Buruwanse – until he got posted to Russia.
      :
      On his return from Russia, he did not go back to the lap of MAHINDA Rajaakshe for some reasons. Nor did he it to Gamarala’s.

      His new journey was to promote SJB, but as we never thought SJB did not win the election.
      :
      Anyways, looking back, I feel, this nation would never grasp it. Knowing that first year of the Rajapakshe JUNTA 2 achieved nothing, yestreday bayyas were in good mood even if we were kept away from watching their milk rice eating street extra vaganza celebrations.

      And the TV PUBLIC SPEECH of Gotabaya was similar to that of a student in 8 grade- was just an empty one which had nothing in it. Criminals of high grade would never let their “shame gene” to express. Rajakshes are experts in that area above anything else.

  • 2
    0

    In a BBC News recently, the following item may be of interest to Sri Lankan Citizens. Politics based on
    family-basis is not new:

    Abdou Razak (C) of Togo demonstrates with others against President Faure Gnassingbé in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza outside the UN in New York on September 19, 2017IMAGE COPYRIGHTAFP
    image caption Most Togolese have lived under only one family’s rule
    A former French colony, it has been ruled by the Eyadema family for the last 50 years, making it the dynasty that has been in power for the longest period.

    And of all the governments currently in power in Africa, it is under the greatest threat of being overthrown in a mass uprising. Crowds of up to 800,000 have repeatedly taken to the streets since August, demanding an end to dynastic rule in the country of 6.6 million.

    Protesters accuse the government of tinkering with the constitution so that President Faure Gnassingbé can remain in power until 2030. The government denies this, insisting that it will introduce a two-term presidential limit ahead of elections in 2020.

    With the backing of the military, Mr Gnassingbé became president in 2005 after the unexpected death of his father, Gnassingbé Eyadema, at the age of 69. Later, he won two elections, which were denounced by the opposition as a sham.

  • 4
    2

    Stanley,
    In simple terms, Dr. Dayan advises JVP and other left (not those who sold them to Rajapakse Kingdom) to join in hand with Sajith group to fight against Gota dictatorship in his second term. But the question is will there be any possibility for second term in four years time. 20th amendment already gave Gota all the powers including not having elections in the future.

    • 6
      0

      Thank you Ajith. I just meant that the writer has the habit of using over complicated language. He had reduced his tortuous and convoluted expressions recently but now they have returned with a vengeance.

  • 3
    7

    Present JVP leaders should learn a lesson from their leader Rohana Wijeweera who saw separatism of Vellala Tamil politicians as a plot by imperialists to break the country so as to make it easy for them to manipulate. Hence he vehemently opposed Tamil separatism while other Marxists politicians supported it in order to get the support of trade unions dominated by Tamils. The imperialists used LTTE as a ‘coolie army’ to do the dong key work for them to achieve their objective but failed. They identified JVP’s position as a main contributing factor to their failure and decided to ruin JVP. Present leaders fell into that trap and slept with UNP during ‘Jadapalana’ Government and committed suicide.
    That plot is still there. That is why Vellala Tamil elite politicians still keep on repeating ‘Aspirations of Tamils’, ‘Tamil Problem’, ‘Minority Problem’, ‘National Question’ like parrots.

    • 3
      0

      But Rohana Wijeweera pledged support for the Tamil separatists when he visited Jaffna at the end of 1981, and changed his mind the next day in Galle.

      • 1
        1

        SJ,
        .
        Reason may be the SINHALA genetics. JVPrs have good arguments, but they have failed to win the majority. May also be possible, only cheaters and can win their hearts and minds.
        :
        See Gotabaya came to power promising a new form of governing. But what happened to him today – he is locked up in his mental asylum, while his brother et al, most known political criminals be the front men of current govt.
        ************************************************************************************
        How pathetic was his TV speech last night ? Until then, he did not show up to any kind of press briefings. Nor did he implement any good systems within the year passed, though their self-proclaimations are in the air.
        ***********************************************************************************
        There are increasing number of people in that 6.9 mio voters today that say, MAITHIPALA SIRISENA implemented lot more during his first year.

        Nothing is achieved even if a year is gone since they grabed the power with the approval of 6.9 million of voters.
        :

        • 0
          0

          Sinhala genetics?
          Is there a common thread of Sinhala genes?

      • 1
        0

        SJ

        “But Rohana Wijeweera pledged support for the Tamil separatists when he visited Jaffna at the end of 1981, and changed his mind the next day in Galle.”

        And you blame Amir, Chelva, FP, Ponna, Suntha, TULF, Navam, ………. TC… Mavai, for Rohana’s change of his mind.

  • 2
    0

    1. JVP did that in 2015. It joined anti-Rajapaksa forces to topple Mahinda. Fantastic! But what did that do to the JVP? Disaster! JVP lost everything and became a lost cause. Now people ridicule it calling it 3%. JVP does not have the power it had in 2015.

    2. Besides unlike USA, there are “Leftists” with Gotabaya which Trump did not have. Tough they are nothing they used to be, they can still dilute the other Left.

    3. JVP has a history of violence. Though Tamils love the LTTE for it, Sinhalese hate the JVP for it.

    So Dayan, your strategy does not work.

    Rajapaksas must be banished from power for good. I want it, you want it and all right thinking people want it.

    That can be done by winning the Rajapaksa heartland by another couple of percentages. Near the election Rajapaksas are going to restart their TNA strategy with a Sinhala twist. Sinhala homelands, Sinhala grievances, Sinhala aspirations, Sinhala nationality and Sinhala superiority. Just like the TNA voter, SLPP voter is tickled. They vote and Rajapaksas win again.

    Learn from Wigneswaran and Ponnambalam. They broke into TNA heartland by doing the same thing.

    We need another Alt-Right to divide the Rajapaksa heartland. That is the only way to topple them.

  • 1
    3

    As far as the world is concerned the american left is a true democracy in every sense of the word and deed.
    The same cannot be said of the shit buckets paltry aim at hoodwinking the glove with their now infamous comedy of deliberate errors known worldwide as a rajapuka creation of a dictatorship.
    B.
    One does not have to waste ones 🤣 energy the recent draconian comical autocratic draconian taken by these amde clad cheapest of them rogues is proof enough for the world’s freedom lovers to realize with.a deep drawn sigh that Lanka will always be in the bottom of the bottom of the colony of the beggars.
    C.
    The only manner in which a redemption is possible is to mass cull the entire rajapuka low classed good for nothing mangy flea ridden PARIAHs be hung by their uncouth unsavoury hypocritical balls.
    This should be done as quickly as possible.
    D
    This is the only way that Ceylon can get restored to it’s pre 1956 glory and respect.
    E.
    Enough is enough should be the new war cry of a wail to bring back sanity into the minds body and souls of the silently suffering masses of this one time exportter of rice to the world.

    • 3
      2

      rj1952,
      You want to take this country back to the era when Malabar Vellala Demalu who licked the sss of Bricks ruled and oppressed Sinhalayo who are the Native people.
      —-
      “This is the only way that Ceylon can get restored to it’s pre 1956 glory and respect.”

      • 0
        0

        Eagle Eye,
        Demented man who seems to have no respect to anyone, but to Rajaakshes who looted the state as no others so far.
        .
        Why to take, is it not experiencing today under Rajapakshes ? Malabar Vellala Tamils , srilanken muslims and other minorities would laugh at us from their both ends each time when they read your posts… not even 10 year olds would not voluntarily become laughing stocks, but pathological racists of your nature do.

        Superstition is promoted by them, for their political survival. No doubt, masses would rally round to destroy Rajaapkshe kith and kin in the days to come. Enough is enough.. They belong to prisons basta.

  • 1
    3

    This piece is principally about HOW the left should mobilise – it is what one would call about tactics.
    I agree with the perspective and the lessons to be drawn from the US Democrat Left.

    However the basic question is WHY SHOULD the left mobilise? The immediate motive is defensive; expectation of an anti-democratic onslaught. The aside about drones is well taken. But the more important issue is that a transitional programme is essential as SL and the world hurdle to debt driven crisis.

    Here too vital lessons come from the transitional programme US Left-Democrats negotiated with with Bidden. By Left-Democrats I refer to: Sanders, The Squad (AOC, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Talaib) and Elizabeth Warren. The Trump populist/neo-fascist Base cannot be broken unless underlying causes are addressed – eg. tragedy of traditional white workers, poverty of mid-western rural folk, healthcare, education. (Add environment and race to enliven the liberal elite!).

  • 1
    5

    The answer is simple. The majority in this country respond to power, they don’t care for merciful people who would try to use reason and explain out the issues. They’d rather listen to a unqualified degenerate of a woman who throws clay pots in to rivers to control a pandemic than listen to adivce of local, foreign and international health organizations.

    All the parties to form one for the sake of the future of this country and nominate a few ruthless para buggers who will make rajapakshes and their cuck lackeys look like a bunch of cats in comparison. Real para buggers who will not be influenced by thug monks and their peasant click supporters to realise their stupid unrealistic dreams of making this into a buddhist state.

    • 3
      1

      sitrep24,
      Sinhale was a ‘Buddhist State’ for thousands of years, it is a ‘Buddhist State’ now and it will remain as a ‘Buddhist State’ in future.
      Simply because Sinhalayo saved some refugees from Hindusthan who faced persecution and allowed them to settle down in this country and gave citizenship to slaves brought and abandoned in Sinhale by colonial parasites they are not prepared to change the status of this country as a Buddhist State.
      What the eF Ke you mean by ‘Thug Monks’? Get the hell out without insulting Buddhist monks who are doing a great service by protecting this country from ‘Para’ people.

      “Real para buggers who will not be influenced by thug monks and their peasant click supporters to realise their stupid unrealistic dreams of making this into a buddhist state.”

  • 1
    0

    Ajith: Thanks for making me understand what this “Prof” was trying to tell. Will JVP take his “Advice”? I doubt it very much. If I am to advise JVP at this moment, that proposal must be put into the “Dust Bin”. What is Sajith’s political ideology compared to JVP? Isn’t it poles apart? By now JVP must have learned a “never to forget” lesson in taking a position with “Yahapalanaya” during that “100 Day” Government. JVP must now stand by NPP for better or worse. I still don’t see NPP making headway in establishing its identity in the political arena. However, I saw in one of the TV appearances, NPP nominated MP in answering a question posed by a journalist, stating that she is not explaining matters on behalf of JVP, but NPP. That is the correct way to go and I appreciate her stand. The two other MPs (AKD & Vijitha Herath) must also appear as “NPP MP” in Parliament as they contested under the name “NPP”. We know what this “Sajith & Co” is and it is simply a “Shadow” of “Rajapakse & Co,”. If this “Prof” cannot understand that, he should refrain from making these stupid proposals.

  • 2
    2

    Agreed! Yes, Lankan capitalism is nothing like the US capitalism. US Capitalism came about through the hard work and interaction of the Masses (although one admits its many rabid phases gave it much impetus – from colonization of the Americas by the Europeans, to slavery, to sale of war weapons during the world wars).

    Yet that cannot mean that the masses hard work of the Masses can
    be disregarded by forming “holes” in the natural order of American and global economic progression. Revenge against history will do the world no good. It’s time countries come in consensus with the hard-work of the Masses in mind, and not with the artificial use of the American and Western created wealth and global-systems to set up an alternate and thieving networks with the aim of global conquest in apocalyptic style. Money never comes that freely to a small country such as ours.

    • 1
      0

      Dear Ramona,
      “It’s time countries come in consensus with the hard-work of the Masses in mind, and not with the artificial use of the American and Western created wealth and global-systems to set up an alternate and thieving network….”
      You and you alone could give Dr. DJ a run fur his money in the gibberish department.

      • 1
        0

        OC
        Don’t be mean.
        How can you make her share that honour with another?
        DJ will even at his best be a poor runner up to her.

        • 0
          0

          SJ. Face the truth for the better of our Motherland. No use being blind to the obvious with false patriotism, and then mocking those who have a better discernment of reality.

      • 1
        0

        Gosh…they are very simple concepts written in simple sentences.

      • 1
        0

        old codger

        “You and you alone could give Dr. DJ a run fur his money in the gibberish department.”

        You led us believe you had too much sympathy /affection/empathy……. for Ramona .
        What has happened between you?

  • 2
    0

    Dear Dayan

    (1) First you need to define what is left, right, socialism, communism, capitalism, liberal etc.

    (2) Does it matter the definition except the policies that reflects peoples needs?Definitions are made by someone else to undermine our way of life we choose via electing parties in a democracy?

    (3) Different parties had different ideas in a democracy as to what they will do defined in the manifesto to assist the Nation become a better place to live.

    (4) I only think that is certain in our land is bunch of kids went around trying to topple our GOSL, killing soldiers and fellow man and woman in the name various liberations and insurgencies….funny how we define the killings under various disguises?? played god with another life on earth.

    (5) Yes you can compare how all learned from each other as to how to kill…..FP/TULF products….TELO/PLOTE/LTTE/EPRLF/EPDP….many more did the same?? they also read the Chinese version of communism and Russian version of Marksism at the age of 13-15 and had better ideas for the Nation?? that we are living today???

  • 3
    1

    We can only pray that our present GoSL will do the right things. They have actually given over land for the regrowth of forests, and is forcing that minister to regrow at his own expense, the many forests he cut down. What a good thing!

    As for Port City, is it correct that Motherland has a China-centered place right on the precipice of our Capital City? Dismantling it will be an impossibility, unless US pays for its dismantling. Right now, India has been given ownership of large parts of our ports. Do one grandiose thing (Port-City), and then it has to be countered with the very opposite that we did not want. Should have remained humble, hardworking, and democratic. On the other hand, interaction with India can also be a good thing, although we will howl that India is taking away our clout from Port-City. But it’s good in the end, to see that GoSL is being a bit being wise and compromising at this time.

    • 0
      2

      Grandma,
      Sound like Buddha has come back to his land after his 2500 years of vacation in heaven? But I wonder under which boo tree or where would you have met and how he changed you- by Thunderstorm, lighting & flood, or for change, he was sitting and talking with you?

      • 0
        1

        Dear Ramona,
        “It’s time countries come in consensus with the hard-work of the Masses in mind, and not with the artificial use of the American and Western created wealth and global-systems to set up an alternate and thieving network….”
        You and you alone can give Dr. DJ a run for his money in the gibberish department.

    • 0
      0

      RTF,
      .
      If we the people (at least 50% of the country) are aware of the govt and its composition, nevertheless we keep hopes them to deliver – it is almost like PIGS might fly.
      .
      Term given to the president is 5 years. First year is already gone, but not even the foundation is made for the rest of 4 years. GOTA promised to rule going beyond the traditional politics, but yet today, he has not shown it palpably. Many island nations be them poor or rich have contained the virus entering to their countries, but srilanka has failed. No matter even if their loads of self proclaimations would overflow in local media, but the truths reveal today, through exponentially increasing number of the patients. They still hang on with their theories – clusters- but community spread is obvious to the people. WIthin 2 weeks, the numbers have jumped from 2 thousands upto 19000 as of today with death rate gone up upto 70. Even if all is clear that the govt has to react efficiently – is obvioulsy not yet grasped by them.

  • 0
    2

    It appears somebody converted Cuban Communist, Thero De Silva, to Islam. Next, probably, is whatever happened to Wateraca Thero; after that permanent shut up. No show up of his head black! Period!

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