26 September, 2022


Musings On The Occasion Of The LSSP’s 81st Birthday

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Musings on the occasion of the LSSP’s 81-st birthday: Left must coalesce into one party!

Next Sunday, 18 December is the eighty-first anniversary of the formation of the LSSP. Wikipedia says five were present at the meeting (NM, Colvin, Leslie, Philip and his brother Robert) but I think there must have been others, perhaps in the shadows, names lost in the mists of time. Nor have I been able to ascertain where they met – must find out. The LSSP has had its golden moments (freedom struggle, Bracegirdle, Hartal) and at times has fallen on rocky roads. Crucially, international conditions were not conducive for a Marxist-inclined or a left social-democratic government to emerge in any democracy of ex British Imperial origin. Arguably the nearest was the post-war Atlee government in the UK itself whose fame rests on the son of a Welsh coal miner and leader of the Labour-left, Aneurin Bevan, who founded the National Health Service and was crafted the post-war welfare state.

NM’s guru was Harold Laski of LSE whose other star pupils were Krishna Menon and Pierre Treadu and who deeply influenced Nehru. Laski’s influence in India is far greater, in line with the deeper intellectual traditions of that country, than in Lanka. Nehru promoted the Harold Laski Institute of Political Science in Ahmadabad in 1954 though he never was a student of Laski – Nehru graduated with honours in science from Trinity College, Cambridge, and then read law in London. Laski is reported to have said of his protégée “NM is the best person to be prime minister of Ceylon”, so Ajith Samaranayake entitled his piece when NM passed away “The best prime minister Sri Lanka never had”. Of one thing we can be certain, had the LSSP formed a government with NM at its head, this country would not have been drenched in blood the way it has been for thirty years. Laski was a Marxist, Bevan a left social-democrat; both suffered at Atlee’s rightist hand. In practical matters the LSSP leaders were Bevanite and Laskite, intellectually they oriented to Marx and Trotsky; a fitting dichotomy for their times.Mark Bracegirdle

Photo – Brace Girdle, Colvin and Samasamajists

Back to the future

In August this year the LSSP Majority Group (MG) which I support, together with like minded tendencies in the CP and Bahu’s wing of the NSSP, held an all day symposium to take stock of prevailing trends and plan how to work together. I had the privilege of making a presentation and was concerned about sectarianism, weakness in left unity and the absurdity of parties that agree 101% on analysis, the current situation, and what needs to be done, but are paralysed by an inability to get together.

MG will commemorate the LSSP 81-st on 15 December; so a brief introduction to MG. It was the outcome of a revolt because Tissa Vitarana so abjectly capitulated to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s shenanigans. Tissa like Vasu wished to hang on to a cabinet post and damn political sense. The lowest point was when Vitarana, Vasu and DEW voted in favour of the 18th Amendment when MR read them the riot act: “I will throw you out of Cabinet”. MG was a mutiny against capitulation by the “official” Vitarana minority wing which still remains in control the party machinery. MG’s leaders are: Lal Wijenayake, Secretary, Jayampathy Wickramaratne, MP and constitution drafter and Prof Vijaya Kumar, intellectual and theoretician who I dissuaded from a watery finale some 40 years ago. The MG people are a cut above Vitararna and his retinue in integrity, motivation and intellect. The Dead Left, in every way, is but a dull residue beside the MG, the CP dissidents and the NSSP’s Bahu wing.

Sectarianism or left unity?

Trotsky famously remarked “The world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat”. Had he been living in Lanka at this time and seen the divisions and squabbles among the left parties he would have held his head in horror. The plain fact is that the crisis of the left in Lanka is its division into dozens of fragmented sects each with a General Secretary, a PB, CC, OB, AB, BC, and CD! Some sects don’t have enough members to fill a minibus!

The antidote, let me be perfectly explicit, is not united fronts, common platforms etc but ONE SINGLE PARTY! I most certainly include the JVP, Siritunga’s USP and other left currents in this call. The JVP must be especially blamed as it has the clout to take the lead in left unification but lacks the theoretical confidence to do so. The programme of the single party must emphasise social democratic tasks not early twentieth century “building the revolutionary party” or heroic role of “professional revolutionaries” illusions. This was Marx’s way of moving with real material forces as they change; this is Trotsky’s theory of combined and uneven development. The core principle of the left in Lanka, in the context of the global economic and socio-political reality, must begin by eschewing sectarianism, dissolving irrelevancies and forming one left party, a trend that is emerging in some European countries.

The obstacles are mainly subjective; the chief obstacle is NOT long outdated ideological and theoretical historical baggage BUT personal ambitions. Theoretically, how relevant today is the division between Stalinism and Trotskyism, or this or that international that gives a little pocket money or the occasional air-ticket? No, the problem is this: If say five parties unite there cannot be five General Sectaries, a Politbureau of 45 and a Central Committee big enough to fill Town Hall? This is the main obstacle. These personal ambitions, not outdated ideologies are the true obstacle. In truth there are no theoretical divisions sufficient to justify different left political entities. The other big obstacle is property – headquarters buildings and bank accounts. What irony! What Marxists!

Unification of the European left was delayed till the second generation of leaders died and a third with fresher minds took over – Syriza’s Alexix Tsipras and Pablo Iglesias of Spain’s Podemos are only 42 and 38, respectively. It is true that Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn are in their 70s but they are only symbols of a new political scene; the reality is the youthful profile of the activists. In Lanka, after the current second generation leadership passes away, a third less sectarian crop may, ne hopes emerge. The longevity of Bala Tampoe suggests however that we may have a long wait.

This is not only tongue in cheek humour about my erstwhile comrades; there is a serious side. Another ten years without a generational overturn in the leadership of the “new” left parties will be a calamity. The JVP had a generational overturn a few years ago which has improved its image but its sectarianism, its refusal to candidly discuss it errors of 1971 and 1989-90, and its refusal to rectify a wrong headed attitude to Tamil demands for devolution will always stunt it.

Need for a Programme

In the immediate context unity is necessary to collectively push for completion of constitutional reform, arrive at a solution to the national question and oppose moves to privatise non-loss making enterprises. We must oppose the imposition of an IMF sponsored neo-liberal agenda – neo-liberalism is still not 100% dead. Above all we have to ensure that the aims of the Jan.8th movement of enhancing democracy, opposing fresh attempts to restrict media freedom and fight corruption (corruption is continuing albeit on a reduced scale to raise its head under the new regime). The left, logically, should provided leadership to the Jan. 8th movement but the Dead Left’s total subordination to MR paved the way for civil society to assume leadership. While the CP has been able to largely unite both its groups and appears to be gradually distancing itself from MR, there is no such initiative in the LSSP’s Tissa Group, which has officially aligned itself with GL’s Sri Lanka Podujana Pakshaya. The need for the left to take a strong stand on the issues of the day based on the political positions they held in the past is crucial.

However recent developments do not seem to augur well for the future. The present government is under intense pressure from business leaders, bourgeois economists and international bodies to adopt a certain type of economic strategy. There is no counter strategy being put forward by the left; we are giving the bourgeois strategists a walk over. Here is an example of what they are saying; this is a quotation from “renowned economist” and Institute of Policy Studies Chairman Professor Razeen Sally – Daily Mirror Business section 26 July 2016. “So far the government hasn’t come up with a credible plan for reforming the economy whether it be on taxation and expenditure as well as other important issues like freeing up the business climate domestically and liberalising Sri Lanka’s trade and foreign investments”. He goes on to complain about “public spending increases, salary increases and more expenditure increases on the way”. This is not partisan propaganda but serious bourgeois political-economy; if the left does not like it, it must propose an alternative which it has not formally done.

To be pragmatic one has to be real, that is take the facts on the ground seriously. The private sector, that is domestic capitalism, is not investing. Money is available; banks are not squeezing big and medium size firms; a more capitalist friendly administration than Ranil’s UNP is naïve for Sally and Lanka’s capitalists to dream about. Still political and business uncertainty holds them back. This is fact number 1 and fact number 2 is that foreign investment is not pouring in – not only here but global investment flows have frozen. Trump has damned US investors seeking foreign pasture. Let’s face it domestic and foreign private capital is not powering ahead with investment, job creation and business activity overseas. That is the nature of the times even if Ranil rushes headlong to fulfil Sally’s wish-list.

Consequently the government is faced with the stark option that the state must assume an active and interventionist role. This goes against the mother’s milk of ‘Leave it to the private sector; the private sector is the true engine of growth’ mantras on which Ranil-Malik-Eran-Harsha have been natured. Now they have no option but to concede that things are not going that way. The State, the Administration, leaders (our Lee Kwan Yews and Deng Xio Pings) have no choice but to be pulled by the ear, taken by the scruff, and kicked on the bum into adopting an interventionist economic stance. Then the question is can this government jettison its mother’s milk and turn interventionist? Difficult but not impossible; when their backs are to the wall, as we say in Tamil, “kuthiraiku kundi kanjal vaikalum thinum” (when the going gets tough a horse will even eat straw). Capitalisms crisis is global and an alternative programme is being evolved by a united left.

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Latest comments

  • 3

    Thank you, Professor Kumar David, for discussing this very pertinent issue in this interesting article.

    Obstacles for building a new social-democratic alternative in Sri Lanka (and elsewhere in the world) lie in the very obvious personal leadership ambitions of the ‘remnants’ of the older generations of the left. The baton of building a new third political alternative in Sri Lanka needs to pass from the ‘old leadership ambitious’ current generation to a ‘new’ younger generation who can think afresh about all the issues!

    Yet, It is unfortunate that we need to continue to discuss Stalin and Trotsky today, even in this article. Still, some of the new left movements in countries like Australia and the west, have not been able to escape from this decades long legacy of sectarian tendencies. No one appears to discuss the importance of learning from the failures of the so-called ‘socialist’ economic model employed by many previous and current ‘socialist’ economies and from the reasons for resurrecting private investments in their economies as a new economic model. We all agree that the neo-liberal economic model has failed, as maximising profits at any cost to people is their objective. However, what is the alternative?

    We need to learn as a whole from the historical international experiences that primarily led to the devastation of the left bastions world-wide, and from its resurrection in other forms, particularly in Latin America.

    • 4

      Dr Lionel Bopage

      We the South Asians don’t make any mistakes, therefore, we have nothing to learn from our past.

      My Elders told me many moons ago ” if you find yourself in a hole stop digging”

      My problem is that I do not know whether I am in a pit or on a mount. I am also not sure if I want to get out of the pit since I am unable to see beyond my nose.

  • 2

    The Line….

    Of one thing we can be certain,had the LSSP formed a government with NM at its head,this country would not have been drenched in blood the way it has been for thirty years….

    True Indeed.But then,this country,has always been a land of missed opportunities!
    By the way Bracegirdle in the photo could be mistaken for Prof:Batho!

  • 4

    dear David
    Thanks for reminding us that Trotsky’s ghost is still hovering around in Sri Lanka, not even in Bolivia. Bensen

  • 2

    Laski is reported to have said of his protégée “NM is the best person to be prime minister of Ceylon”
    Most of the Britishers’ assessments as far as Sri Lanka is considered were biased and unreliable. NM along with his other partner did not prove having an unwavering stand on issues affecting the integrity of the country.

  • 2

    It is also sad that NM and Colvin were responsible for bringing “Buddhism” into the constitution followed by Vasu and Vitharane joined hand with Mahinda to corrupt the nation and part of BBS in spreading racism and fundamentalism.In fact, they killed the true nature of socialism.

  • 1

    NM became a worst person when he said in public that tea and rubber estate workers don’t deserve monthly wages. He said further that no country in the world pays monthly wages to estate workers. This was told when he was the Finance Minister, hanging in a sari potha govt.

    Leftists remain good with their slogans until they sell themselves for a mere ministry half ministry and head of corporations.

    • 2

      Not only that. There was also the mistaken impression gathered by the LSSP then, that the Ceylon Workers Congress lead by Thondaman which played an important role in benefitting the economy of the country was communally based. The leadership did nothing tangible to allay that formulation. It was one of the reasons for the ‘thosai and masalavadai’
      emerging in 1963/64 at the May Day rally after the failure of the ULF.
      That demarcation and divisivess of the working class was also an integral factor which played a role debilitating the cohesiveness of the working class in the country.

      • 0


  • 2

    Where the dragon, Old Royals (SLFP) regime did came from? Isn’t it the mutant birth of defunct dinosaurs LSSP, MN and Silva, and CP Peter…?

    Which line to pick? All of them are same!

    arrive at a solution to the national question and oppose moves to privatise non-loss making enterprises. Can you open up all Government Corporations to competition and see which one really making loss and which one is really doing well? Then we can decide which one to sell out. If you think selling loss making enterprises will enable them to make profit, and then why not sell all of them, that will be cost effective to consumers?

    The State, the Administration, leaders (our Lee Kwan Yews and Deng Xio Pings) have no choice but to be pulled by the ear, taken by the scruff, and kicked on the bum into adopting an interventionist economic stance. What is this talk about? China started to pick after Ping introduced the Market economy. Russia tuned around only after opened its economy. Lee Kwan fixed the economy though politics. He is not known as “socialist economist”. Mild intervention, monetary or fiscal stimulation are not socialists’ tools. They like to plan the whole economy and operate it in their way. One of their way is owning the corporations. None of the above tool will have any effect on the healthy growth of those corporations. Those are good only for the private companies.

    Let me tell the basic of the country’s economy. If you have a child, just let the child eat the food and grow itself. It will grow up. Don’t get into inject growth hormones to it thinking your child is not growing. Don’t try to make it an over eater too. Natural growth is the only real growth. If you rush and start to feed it with hormones and steroids, you are killing it before it start to grow. Sr. Bush messed up the economy. Clinton did not interfere in that. As not an economist, but only a lawyer, he may not have known much economics to interfere and mess up the economy. America enjoyed an 8 years of uninterrupted growth. Jr. Bush -Obama also almost same case. Sometimes your child may have fallen sick and lost appetite. Just some appetizers or tonics will put the child back to normal. At the start Obama stopped the serious bleeding created by Jr .Bush’s actions. He cut a little bit taxes and reduced the interest. He did not go to Keynes stimulation. But Obama too had 8 years of growth. NFTA, TPP are not Keynes stimulants. They are freeing the trade that has been already blocked by individual border rules of the countries. In any case, change in NFTA or introduction of TPP did not materialize yet.

    Ping did it in his way. Japan did it in its way. Lee Kwan did it in his way. Putin did it in his way. Brazil. India, Korea, Germany ….all have their policies. Even TN had many CM’s and all of them contributed to its growth. None of them are interventionists.

    Naai vaalai Nimirtha mudiyathu. (Dog’s tail cannot be straightened). Looters of the Lankawe cannot be stopped. That is the Old Royals.. …That is the New Royals. ….That will be future Royals…You can see that in the CB dealings. You can see what Swamynathan-Mittal dealings…. you can see it in the car imports….you can see that in the new China loans. You can see that in the megapolis deals…… But the Free Trade with India is being negotiated through 4 different governments but has not come though. Why? Very little commissions are for ministers who negotiate it. unlike in the China’s loans. In Lankawe, Interventions are only intended to make commission money not to stimulate the economy.

    I have a question for you? Can you tell me why the new CBG wants to resign? I don’t think it is by any direct political pressure. The reason is one cannot run a country with faulty ideologies and Make it as Asian Miracles at the same time.
    We must oppose the imposition of an IMF sponsored neo-liberal agenda Then why talk about the not coming forth foreign investments? Just pawn the Lankawe with China! You too will have $18 Billion in your hand to deposit in Australia. Job done!

    If you have cheap labor (Unemployed or low paid), foreign investment will flow in, when you open up the border. – Maram Palzhuththaal Vowaalai vaa enru Kuree itantalaippaar yaarum illai- Nobody invites the bats to come and eat when the tree fruits. They will come. That is what we badly need the country to kick start – foreign investment.

    In the immediate context unity is necessary to collectively push for completion of constitutional reform
    Main things needed to foreign investment are peace in the country, Law and order in the county, strong governments in the country and trade laws matching the international practices. In Lankawe they will not settle the racial disharmony. Country can go bankrupt, but they will not jeopardize comfort of their power seats. Puli pashithaalum pullu thinnaathu. (Even if it’s dying by hunger, the adamant tiger will not eat grass.)

    The only possible fix for Lankawe is not Trotskyism, but real political pressure from IC to advance the War Crime investigation. That will force to change the constitution. That will rebuild the economy to 1956 and beyond.

  • 0

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