By Dayan Jayatilleka –
DEW Gunasekara belonged to a great progressive camp and powerful current in world history: that of socialism, tracing its origins back to the October Revolution of 1917 (and intellectually to 1848 and theCommunist Manifestoof Karl Marx), and led globally and historically by the land of Lenin. In choosing that path, he belonged to a camp with hundreds of millions the world over. He also belonged to a current in Sri Lanka that was strong, influential and numerous. Globally for the most part – with some extraordinary exceptions such as Cuba—and in Sri Lanka, the Communist movement and the Communist Party was the birthplace of all radical efforts that seriously challenged the System.
Today, Comrade DEW stands alone, not in the world, not in Asia, not in the global South, because there are Communists in power in one of the world’s two or three greatest powers—China—and in other important countries such as Cuba, Vietnam and Nepal. But he stands alone in Sri Lanka. That is not his personal tragedy but a tragedy for Sri Lanka.
Why do I say he stands alone, and in what sense does he do so? As a Communist, Comrade DEW stands for an anti-imperialism that is universalist; not one that is neotribal, racist, religious chauvinist and Islamophobic. However, in Sri Lankan there are now two and a half camps. On the one hand the camp of neoliberalism and neocolonialism; of an elite (and its civil society hangers-on) that claims to be anti-racist and anti-xenophobic but actually generates a growing backlash of xenophobia, racism and religious chauvinism by its very policies and existence. There are a few in this camp who are anti-racist but also patriotic, but they are marginalized, dormant, or silent.
On the other hand, there is a camp that is superficially anti-imperialist and anti-neocolonialist but is ethnocentric and ethnoreligious chauvinist; a camp which precisely by being neotribalist and divisive, places us in the minefield of interventionism laid by neocolonialism. There are a few in this camp who are anti-imperialist but also anti-racist, but they too are marginalized, dormant, or silent.
The ‘half a camp’ is that of those who claim to be on the Left and indeed of radical, revolutionary lineage but they have openly propped up the neoliberal, neocolonial establishment and thereby discredited themselves and what they stand for, opening the space for their ethnoreligious, chauvinist, neotribalist critics whose anti-imperialism is corrupted by xenophobia.
DEW is the only political leader today who combines a critique of the neoliberal, neocolonial elite and its massive corruption (e.g. the Bond scam) with a critique of their imperialist patrons and their global plans, and a frontal rejection and critique of majoritarian chauvinism.
The camp of the neocolonialists and neoliberalism does not care about national sovereignty, national unity, national security and social justice and public welfare in the socioeconomic sense—only in the dimension of gender and sexual preferences and identities.
The camp of the neotribal, racist and xenophobic nationalists who claim to be anti-imperialist have no idea that the winning of elections and the assumption of governmental power can prove to be a prelude to the breakup of the country if they try to put their domineering and hegemonistic ideology into practice, imposing a backward cultural tyranny on a multiethnic, multireligious, multilingual, pluralist society and rolling back the reforms unilaterally which were part of a bilateral accord with our powerful neighbor.
DEW Gunasekara knows all this; he has warned about all this. Therefore, he stands apart and stands alone. DEW is the only politician today who is acutely aware of the inextricable, organic link between Sri Lanka’s ethno national/ethno religious question, and the question of national unity and sovereignty in the face of imperialist intervention and hegemonism.
DEW is the only political leader in Sri Lanka today who knows that the only tried and tested solution to such questions is ethnic regional autonomy; a Communist, Leninist solution that has survived into post socialist, post-Soviet Russia, and remains in practice in Communist-led China, Vietnam, and Nepal.
DEW is the only political leader who openly advocates provincial autonomy and the retention of the 13thamendment within the Indo-Lanka Accord, while rejecting neoliberalism and neocolonialist interference. DEW is the only Sri Lankan political leader who knows that there can be no sustainably positive relationship with India without a resolution of the Tamil question and that without a stable and positive relationship with India, even China and Russia cannot protect us and will not even comprehend us.
DEW is the only political leader who knows that the survival intact of the Sri Lanka and the avoidance by our country of the fate of former Yugoslavia, depends entirely on combining anti-imperialism with anti-chauvinism and internal autonomy. DEW is the only one who would recall that the abandonment of Marshal Joseph Broz Tito and the League of Communists of Yugoslavia’s (LCY) nationalities compact and the abolition of the autonomous status of Kosovo as a province by Serbian Socialist leader Milosevic, pushed and propelled by Serbian ultranationalists, ensured the end of Yugoslavia and the birth of Kosovo not as an autonomous province but as a separate country, midwifed by external intervention.
DEW is the only political leader who knows that any anti-imperialism based on a backward ethno-religious chauvinism is doomed to fail. He is the only political leader who knows how precarious and vulnerable Sri Lanka’s existence is in the external environment and that our present options will lead us to disaster– though it is not inevitably so.
DEW is the only one who knows that there is another path, one of progressive internal development—including ethnic autonomy– which is in keeping with, and relies upon the new, positive factors in the world such as the drawing together of Russia and China, the emergence of the triabular Russia-India-China (RIC) equation, the presence of BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the resurgence of Russia under the leadership of Vladimir Putin and the inexorable world-historical trend away from unipolarity towards multipolarity.
DEW may be alone among political leaders in Sri Lanka today, but History will prove him correct and prophetic. Though his enlightened views make him isolated locally, on our small island, he can draw great comfort from global and historical trends and dynamics, namely the fact that the worst tragedy of his and our time, the collapse of the USSR and the socialist camp resulting primarily and directly from the schism and hostility between Russia and China, has been reversed and there is a growing convergence of the two giants, the worlds largest and the world’s most populous countries, which are also contiguous, and are once again acting as each other’s safe rearguard, constituting a powerful Eurasian heartland which acts as a counterweight against unipolar imperialist hegemonism.
To conclude and summarize then, DEW is the Sri Lankan political leader most knowledgeable about and possessing the best grasp of the international factor; of contemporary world history and global dynamics. This in turn makes DEW the sole political leader who correctly grasps the nexus between Sri Lanka’s National Question and International Question; between the internal and external dimensions and dialectics of Sri Lanka’s very existence.
One can only hope that today, in these his advanced years, he can catalyze and mentor a convergence of the authentic left in Sri Lanka, of those truly committed to common values of struggle against imperialism, neoliberalism and neotribalist chauvinism, against sociocultural backwardness and for rapid social and cultural advancement towards and through a developed, democratic socialism.