19 July, 2024

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Historic Crimes Of The Chauvinistic Left: Why Defending Marxist Position Is Important

By TU Senan –

TU Senan

Developing a class position in relation to nationalities has remained a crucial aspect of the political programme of the left, one fraught with complications since the inception of the first international. The ability of competing nation-states and the bourgeois class to mobilize on the basis of nationalism has continually posed challenges to establishing class solidarity and breaking the grip of capitalist ideology on the working class. VI Lenin played a significant role in clarifying a Marxist position on this matter during his time with the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP). At the 1903 congress of the RSDLP, point 9 of the party’s programme addressed the national question, sparking a heated debate that resulted in numerous clarifications. Since then, various debates and discussions have ensued among the left on this issue, with the Leninist position enduring various historical challenges.

Recognizing the right to self-determination of oppressed nationalities is essential for building a voluntary union of the working class worldwide. It stems from the understanding that united class struggle is the only force capable of achieving maximum unity and opposing all forms of oppression. Mobilizing the working class of all ethnicities, nationalities, and other groups must be based on uniting them against all oppression, rather than selectively choosing which oppressions to address. While certain issues may take precedence and become rallying points, this does not render other issues secondary or ignorable.

Maintaining a Marxist position in opposition to all forms of oppression allows for fighting for the advancement of Sinhala working-class interests while also taking a firm stance on the right to self-determination of Tamils. This demonstrates to Tamil workers, farmers, and youth that Marxist organizations stand in solidarity with them against collective oppression and are committed to advancing their interests alongside all those in struggle. The LSSP initially upheld such a position during its early formation, eventually growing into a mass party that garnered support from workers across all ethnicities. However, the leadership eventually abandoned its internationalist principles and aligned itself with the national bourgeois class. This shift led to the LSSP’s transformation into a parliamentary party and its current role as a cheerleader for chauvinist elements in the country.

When confronted with the rise of the Sinhala nationalist left such as the JVP, the LSSP further leaned towards Sinhala nationalism and supported the bourgeois government’s violent suppression of the JVP. A leading member of the Militant wrote a report for internal circulation under his pen name Stan Roberts in 1977, following his visit to Sri Lanka. He noted: “This (1971 JVP uprising) was put down ruthlessly by the government. The Sri Lankan comrades estimate that something like 6,000 young people were killed. Some were horribly tortured and forced to commit atrocities on one another before being killed by the police and army. The LSSP leaders supported – and remained in the government – which carried out this repression. Indeed, one of the LSSP leaders boasted to me in a discussion I had with him during my visit that in 1971 he had ‘armed the workers’ against the JVP! They criminally deceived their members by picturing the uprising as a ‘CIA Plot’ their favourite charge against anyone who is opposed to them (they now accuse our comrades of being ‘CIA Agents’.”

Today, apart from the USP, none of the parties, including those claiming to be ‘Marxist-Leninist,’ support the Leninist position on the national question. The CWI articulated then and continues to uphold the Leninist position on this issue. What should the JVP, and the entire left have done? Instead of resorting to targeting and killing left activists during the period of 1987-89, efforts should have been made to unite all left parties and unions around a common programme. While complete unity may not have been achievable, collaboration could have been forged on various economic and democratic demands.

Rather than aligning with government forces and sections of the bourgeoisie, an appeal should have been made to build an independent mass force of the working class. Such an appeal should have been extended to workers and workers’ organizations in Tamil Nadu and across India and the region for support and collaboration. This was not a mere abstract notion but a tangible possibility at the time. Mass protests were rapidly gaining momentum in Tamil Nadu, with a significant number of communists, socialists, and left activists participating, including members and some leaders of both communist parties. However, the entire southern left dismissed these protests, not because they viewed it as a ‘Tamil bourgeois nationalist’ movement but also mainly due to their adherence to Sri Lankan nationalism. Unity of Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan patriotism became their primary concerns, serving as rallying points.

Marxists should have rejected patriotism and the national bourgeoisie, instead advocating for a campaign with the slogan of no trust in the Sri Lankan or Indian bourgeois class. Supporting Tamil rights to self-determination could have strengthened the call for a united struggle to overthrow the bourgeois elite in Sri Lanka, thereby posing a significant challenge to the Indian capitalist class. However, what transpired was the emergence of two armed groups fighting the same enemy in two different ways: the LTTE, which purported to fight for a socialist Tamil Eelam, and the JVP, which claimed to fight for a socialist Sri Lanka. These groups waged armed resistance against the Indian military but in vastly different ways in a country only ten years earlier renamed the ‘Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka’.

Only with clarity among the leadership and a commitment to adopting a Marxist position could a formidable fighting force have been built, not only within Sri Lanka but also incorporating the struggle in Tamil Nadu and beyond. Illusions in the Indian government could not have been exposed by counter-promoting Sri Lankan nationalism and defending the national bourgeoisie.

The LTTE, on the other hand, never appealed to the Sinhala working class. The demand for the right to self-determination of Tamils is not an offensive demand against the interests of Sinhala workers. However, the LTTE lacked a comprehensive programme and strategy to advance the oppressed Tamils’ interests, including their national aspirations. Merely standing firm on the goal of an independent Tamil Eelam was insufficient without a clear strategic political perspective.

Often the question is asked what the LTTE should have done in that complicated juncture where they faced an existential threat. One of the crucial failures of the LTTE was its inability to recognize the role of India. Unlike the new versions of the section of the Tamil elite who happily endorsed the Modi regime in India, the LTTE never gave support to the Indian government. Despite that, they maintained illusions about the Dravidian elite and refused to take a position on the struggles within India, particularly in Tamil Nadu. Though they secretly provided weapon training to a section of Maoists, they maintained that they would not take a position in the ‘internal affairs’ of India or Tamil Nadu. It was at a time when the LTTE and its leadership enjoyed enormous support among all oppressed sections in India. From afar, the LTTE is seen as a beacon of resistance by many. They fail to build on it. They failed to harness this support and channel it into building a strong political alternative.

Instead of succumbing to Indian pressure and demands, including surrendering their weapons, they should have made an effort to join forces with all resistance to the Indian state that was taking place, with the intention of building a strong political alternative. The LTTE and almost all the militant organisations that emerged in the North claim that they are fighting for a socialist Tamil Eelam. However, none had farsighted socialist perspectives. A lack of understanding of the class composition of society, the failure to understand the role of the working class, the inability to see the importance of building international solidarity among workers, and so on, were common features. Hence, they also lacked a clear strategy of how a government of workers and poor could be established. The LTTE failed to see the power in such a political organisation. Instead, they become cannon fodder for the political manoeuvres of the Sri Lankan bourgeois representative whose base relied on the support they harnessed from the most vicious Sinhala chauvinism. It was a political weakness of the LTTE that was exposed when they expected the Premadasa government to uphold the demands or see the LTTE is accepted as the political leadership of the North and East. Instead, the LTTE should have appealed to Sinhala workers and the poor, highlighting the dangers of capitalist governments, and sought to form alliances based on principled politics. Building an independent political force that could challenge all political establishments in Sri Lanka should have been a priority.

While the LTTE had political ideas, they lacked clarity and a broader perspective. Today, some argue that the LTTE collaborated with India, Norway, the West, etc., to justify their current lobbying and collaboration with repressive forces as a continuation of the LTTE’s struggle. However, this is far from the truth.

For example, the LTTE’s position in the UK refuses to have any links with the Conservative Party. Many Tamil youths who campaigned for Jeremy Corbyn’s first electoral win had associations with the LTTE and sought collaboration with figures like Tony Benn. Solidarity protests in Britain began in 1983 with support from Militant (now the Socialist Party, the England & Wales section of the CWI), with figures like Militant MP Dave Nellist leading many of these marches. While their instincts and ideas were aligned with the left, they did not go far enough to draw organizational conclusions or develop effective political methods.

In the period 1987-89, the LTTE should have taken a decisive political turn to expand and enhance its political presence. Instead, a turn towards military methods took place. Both the LTTE and the JVP took paths that did not prioritize political methods of struggle. The LTTE strengthened its military wing throughout the 1990s, sidelining its political wing and becoming intolerant of all political opponents. As the military campaign became dominant, political strategy was further weakened. The past position that the majority of militants held in terms of support for strikes, protests, organised political opposition, etc., was lost.

The JVP, on the other hand, grew closer to state institutions. They went to court to divide the North and East from being treated as one administrative unit. The JVP also started its close collaboration with senior SLFP members, prominent among them the Rajapaksa family. Rajapaksa won the presidential election in 2005 with full endorsement of the JVP. They worked closely with the Mahinda campaign, rallying support for them. The LTTE boycotted that election and successfully prevented a large section of Tamils from voting. It was a narrow victory for Rajapaksa who won with just over 190,000 votes.

Siritunga Jayasuriya also took part in that election as the United Socialist Party candidate. He stood for far-reaching rights for the working class and all oppressed sections including the national rights of Tamils. The significance of this position is still beyond the comprehension of Tamil leadership and the nationalist left alike. However, Siri at that time publicly condemned this political mistake and warned that “the dogs of chauvinism will be unleashed”’ soon after the Rajapaksa victory. Unfortunately, this came true very quickly as Rajapaksa carried out a genocidal slaughter. All through the war crimes and indiscriminate slaughter, the JVP kept its silence. If anything, they only issued nationalist propaganda that LTTE terrorists should be wiped out for the benefit of the country – and that the military was only killing LTTE terrorists. To this day, they refuse to acknowledge the horror of war unleashed on the Tamil population.

Unable to see the political process, the LTTE encountered the full force of its enemies in 2009. India and all the regional powers, together with the US, Israel, and the West, ganged up with the Sri Lankan military to finish off the LTTE. By then, the LTTE had no allies left to defend them. The Tamil masses in the diaspora and Tamil Nadu, and workers’ organisations, such as some unions in Britain and Pakistan, were the forces that protested and demanded an immediate end to the killings. At such a helpless time, one key LTTE leader appealed to the USP for any help they could give. Nothing could be done at that time other than building a mass campaign against the war and massacre. The USP at that time had been organising an international campaign, particularly also focused on the Tamil Nadu masses. Unfortunately, the Dravida Munetra Kalakam (DMK) leader was the chief minister at that time and made sure that such work of mass mobilisation against the war did not succeed.

Unfortunately without collaborating to build allies on a political basis, the LTTE ended up weak politically and militarily defeated. The massacre and the horrors were unleashed under the political triumphalism of the Rajapaksa-led regime. Out of the ashes of this war, emerged a left-wing campaign, Tamil Solidarity. Though small in number, today Tamil Solidarity is the only organisation that organises militant Tamil youth in the diaspora. It is growing into a significant organisation in the diaspora. Not so surprisingly, the majority of them collaborate with the CWI and treat the USP as their close ally.

Today, the JVP-led ‘National People’s Power’ (NPP) has become a significant electoral platform in Sri Lanka but has shifted towards collaborating with the IMF, continuing the privatization of education and health. And now they are for maintaining friendly relationships with the Indian government. While protecting all geopolitical aspects of the Indo-Lanka accord, one thing they still want to abolish is the 13th Amendment which gave few administrative rights to regions.

The JVP still considers those advocating for Tamil self-determination as separatists and threats to Sri Lanka’s unity. In a recent meeting in the North, Anura Kumara, the leader of the JVP, claimed they are happy to collaborate with “moderate Tamils”. Who are these moderate Tamils with whom they are willing to collaborate? Those who defend the unitary state – those who reject the LTTE as terrorists – and those who are willing to tolerate the collaboration with the Sri Lankan state. It is this section that argues the 1987-89 period was a period of ‘missed opportunity’. Their interpretation of missed opportunity is different to others – one that sees the demise of LTTE at the hands of the IPKF and the triumph of continued collaboration with Indian and Sri Lankan governments on the basis of a few Tamil elite groups controlling the administration in the North and East. Their vision for a ‘political solution’ does not go far beyond this point.

The LTTE is no more. But the threat of the past history of struggle still haunts many. The JVP and its allies still refuse to see the militant section of the Tamils as their friends. They are to bring revolution to the Tamils by collaborating with the Tamil moderates – i.e. the bourgeois and petit-bourgeois section. For a section of the Tamil liberals, it’s a marriage of convenience. For many Colombo-based academics and liberals, and a section of the Jaffna elite, dismissal of the LTTE as ‘fascist’ or ‘terrorist’ becomes the credential to be ‘intellectual’. They can then be tolerated by the so-called ‘progressives’ in the South and trusted by the state institutions. With this, real voices of struggle that are emerging in the North are silenced and sidelined. While leaning on these individuals and using them as ‘token Tamils,’ the Southern left, dominated by Sinhala nationalism, continues to maintain that they are for equal rights for Tamils, as though this somehow will meet the national aspiration of Tamils. Of course, there also remains a small minority who worship the LTTE’s leader and its history and will not tolerate any critique. Most of them have no clue about political perspectives or the strategy needed but aim to seek support among Tamils only on this basis.

But the new generation entering the struggle cannot go forward with empty slogans alone. A huge number of lessons need to be learned from history, not to make ‘adventures’ attachments to it, but to use it to advance our political understanding and develop new strategies for the present struggle, to win all rights and to change the rotten capitalist system once and for all – a course worth fighting for and dedicating our time to. No struggle is conducted without facing complications and ups and downs, due to many factors. As we saw earlier, an organization that holds onto the right ideas can be pushed back and marginalized. A revolutionary organization that aims to base itself on advancing the consciousness of the working class will rise and fall with it. Right-wing capitalist parties will ride the reactionary wave to maintain their grip on power by any means. Those who succumb to that wave, like the JVP, which dropped the red flag and took up the national flag, may survive but will contribute enormously to the defeat of the struggle in general, further adding to the pushback on consciousness.

The JVP still presents itself as ‘Marxist,’ while continuing to deny the national rights of Tamils. They oppose the full implementation of the 13th Amendment or the North-East merger, for example. Former NSSP leaders like Bahu have now shamelessly ended up endorsing the capitalist UNP and its leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who has become one of the most hated figures in the country. Another group, a rump of the LSSP, former members of the NSSP and JVP, and a section of the CP, fully welcomes Chinese involvement and still engages in right-wing nationalist propaganda. In the eyes of Tamil youth, this does not create any attraction towards Marxism or the Marxist party but rather resentment.

Hence, it is vital to hold onto a Marxist programme and method to develop a perspective of what is likely to develop and how revolutionaries should respond. Maintaining such a position can, of course, shrink our forces when the reactionary wave is stronger. But it will remain a high point in history, and when the masses enter the scene of history, we will begin to see the regrowth of the forces holding onto the farsighted class position. A new generation of class fighters should seek to reach out to these pointers in history and fight to make new history that will change the future of humankind and all living on the planet.

Part 1 – Did the Sri Lankan military aid Tamil youth in escaping from Indian troops?

Part 2 – Historic Crimes Of The Chauvinistic Left: Horror Of Indian Military & JVP 

Part 3 – Historic Crimes Of The Chauvinistic Left: Struggle For Far Sighted Marxist Position

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