10 August, 2022


N. M., Allende & Chavez: Re-reading Three Strategies For Socialism

By Sumanasiri Liyanage

Sumanasiri Liyanage

Sumanasiri Liyanage

On the occasion of 110th birth anniversary of Dr. N. M. Perera, a leader of the Lanka Samasamaja Party (LSSP), commentators may praise him as a great democrat and outstanding parliamentarian. It has been generally agreed that N.M (as he was lovingly known) had contributed immensely for the development of parliamentary tradition in Sri Lanka. His critical analysis of the 1978 constitution foresaw the developments that had occurred in the last 37 years. When N.M wanted to replace it with new constitution, he did not just single out the executive presidential system as advanced in the 1978 constitution. People who has been focusing on only this aspect not only misunderstood his argument but also use his name as it was done in the discussion of the 19th amendment to inflate the validity of piecemeal amendments downgrading him just as a proponent of the Westminster tradition. N.M’s concern for democracy and the parliamentary tradition should be read not in isolation but linking them with his life-long effort and struggle to develop a system ensuring human emancipation and freedom. In this light, I propose to re-read N.M comparing him with another two great left leaders of the South, Salvador Allende of Chile and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Understanding their commonalities as well as differences would be helpful for young generation of Sri Lanka who are totally disoriented with the present system of exploitation, marginalization, and social exclusion propagated by neoliberalist globalization.

A LIFE magazine image of the former Finance Minister Dr. N M Perera. Photo Credits - James Burke

A LIFE magazine image of Dr. N M Perera | Photo Credits – James Burke

I may do an injustice to N. M. Perera and Salvador Allende since I propose to engage in this comparison from the perspective of what is called the 21st Century Socialism, the phrase widely used by Hugo Chavez, the youngest of the three. Nonetheless, from the futuristic point of view, I trust that 21st Century Socialism represents a better perspective. N.M. Perera and Salvador Allende operated in ‘late capitalist’ environment that in multiple ways differs from the current neoliberalist global environment. What are the critical features of the 21st century socialism? Chavez had identified three features: (1) economic transformation; (2) participative and protagonistic democracy in the political sphere; and (3) socialist ethics based on “love, solidarity, and equality between men and women, everybody”. Marta Harnecker has outlined what 21st century socialism should not entail in the following words: “we rejected any lack of democracy, totalitarianism, state capitalist methods, and bureaucratic central planning. We opposed collectivism that sought to standardize without respect for differences, and productivism that emphasized the expansion of productive forces without taking into consideration the need to preserve nature. We also wanted nothing to do with dogmatism, intolerance towards legitimate opposition, attempts to impose atheism by persecuting believers, and the belief that a sole party was needed to lead the process of transition.” In a more constructive sense, she identified five main characteristics of 21st Century socialism as advanced by Bolivarian revolutionaries:

  1. Human development as the center and focus. Socialism is to be governed by the logic of humanism and solidarity and have as its aim the satisfaction of human needs, not profit;
  2. Respect for nature, and opposition to consumerism. Our goal should not be to live “better” but to live “well”;
  3. Socialism requires a new dialectic of production/ distribution/ consumption based on: (a) social ownership of the means of production, (b) social production organized by workers and (3) the satisfaction of communal needs;
  4. A new concept of efficiency that both respects nature and seeks human development;
  5. Rational use of available natural and human resources through a decentralized participatory planning process that has nothing do with the hyper centralized bureaucratic planning of the Soviet state. (A World to Build. pp. 57 and 83-84)

This list signifies that 21st century socialism is qualitatively and significantly different from the socialism that existed in the Soviet Union and many other countries. Although somewhat critical on many issues, both N.M. and Allende had operated within this old framework that was characterized by more centralized bureaucratic planning and state ownership.

Three in Action

Although all three left leaders accepted social emancipation through socialism as their goal, they adopted significantly different strategies. It is also important to note that all three leaders decided to operate within the democratic structures rather than resorting to armed struggles. (See Figure 1)

N.M. PereraN.M and the LSSP in 1964 took a decision that was in total opposition to its previous political line. The decision was to enter into a coalition agreement with the populist bourgeois party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) may be read as a novel experiment on the belief that if the support and the pressure of the left would make it possible to for the SLFP led government to go forward in the direction of socialism. N.M. himself had realized in the early 1970s that the experiment ended up in a failure and led the LSSP to come out of the coalition government. N.M.’s experiment has shown that peoples’ frontism with bourgeois parties would not bring in expected outcome even the parties of the working class work hard. Working class parties would be used to tame the struggles of the working class (ex: suppression of the bank strike) and as a necessary corollary, the working class party would get weakened as the lower classes get demoralized paving way for amore right wing repressive regime.

Salvador Allende led a political formation that represented the lower classes of society, workers, peasants and other marginalized layers of the Chilean society. Socialist Party and Communist Party were the main partners of the political front led by Allende. The left front government implemented many policies that brought in benefits to poor masses in the society. It appeared that Allende believed that he and his government could carry out its program using the same institutional structures. However, Fidel Castro, undisputed leader of Cuba, warned Allende and his government that the march towards social transformation would be impossible since the bourgeois will use existing institutions that include armed forces and police to hit back the progressive government. CIA together with Chilean armed forces planned a coup and killed Allende and toppled his government making room for Pinochet dictatorship.

Late Hugo Chavez, like Allende, began his term in office assuming that social transformation can be achieved within the existing system. He also called this strategy “Third Way”. However, he eventually realized that the Venezuelan oligarchy was not willing to accept any kind of reforms that affect their power and wealth. Hence when Chavez came up with limited reforms through new legislation, power oligarchy organized to a coup to overthrow Chavez. They started what Chilean bourgeoisie did under Allende by disrupting the economy. So it was in this context, Chavez made a statement marking a turning point in his term of office in 2004. He proposed to rescue socialism by re-reading the past experience. Chavez had come to conclusion the new version of socialism needs proactive participation of people and setting up novel institutions. Until his death, Chavez was able to reinvigorate movement for socialism in Latin America while its popularity was in decline in many part of the world.

Two lessons

Reviewing the three strategies of three left leaders in the South, we may easily arrive at two fundamental lessons. First is no social transformation and protagonist democracy can be achieved by aligning with the upper layers of the society. In Sri Lanka the extreme center now tend to think that either aligning with the SLFP or the UNP, first phase of the social change can be achieved. They have also argued that the change can be phased out by emphasizing democratic issues in the first phase and later thinking of struggle against neoliberalism later in the second or third phases. This is the old Stalinist stagist popular frontism. Chavez and Bolivarian movement has totally rejected this strategy by emphasizing the bloc of lower classes. The second lesson was although the first is a necessary condition it is not sufficient. In other words, the bloc of lower classes cannot and should not try to operate within the institutional set up created and maintained by the bourgeoisie. One of the key characteristic of the new institutional set up is decentralization of power and power-sharing.

For a SYRIZA like formation

We live in a new period, a period that characterizes the crisis of neoliberalism. The prescriptions of neoliberalism have proved in many countries that they lead to deflation of the economy and burden on poor masses. This is the situation in Sri Lanka. The failure of the so-called ‘change’ time and again emphasizes the need of social change. The lesson in Greece, the formation Syriza is one way for us to come out of the trap that we are in. In my view, in the next Parliamentary election, all the left parties should form and alliance with 21st socialism as its political strategy. Under given situation, I think that the JVP and FSP together should take the lead in forming such an alliance, ‘bloc of the lower classes’.

*The writer is the co-coordinator of the Marx School. e-mail: sumane_l@yahoo.com

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Latest comments

  • 2

    then one fine day the Woolf really came and ate.

    [Edited out]

  • 2

    Sumanasiri Liyanage

    RE: N. M., Allende & Chavez: Re-reading Three Strategies For Socialism

    They were “socialists’ until they are given “opportunities” by the Racists, Chauvinists and Capitalists.

    They forgot the Socialist Principles.


    In 1964 the LSSP held a conference, at which the majority agreed with a theoretical categorisation of the SLFP by Hector Abhayavardhana as a petty bourgeois party, leaving the door open to a united front with it. A minority faction, led by Colvin R de Silva and Leslie Goonewardena, opposed the move but opted to stay within the Party. Another minority faction led by Edmund Samarakkody, Merryl Fernando, V Karalasingham and Bala Tampoe, left the party and formed the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (Revolutionary)- LSSP(R).

    Later that year, the LSSP joined the coalition government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Three of its MPs became Ministers; Dr N. M. Perera (Finance), Cholomondely Goonewardena (Public Works) and Anil Moonesinghe (Communications). The LSSP was expelled from the Fourth International, and the membership was passed on to LSSP(R).

  • 2

    Thank you Professor Sumanasiri Liyanage. It is great refreshing read on Socialist sanity.
    Democracy has not advanced much since Athens. It continues to offer freedom only to the slave owners.
    All three – NM, Allende and Chavez agreed with but refused to be intimidated by the conundrum that Adam Smith defined with such disarming accuracy.
    “Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.”

  • 1

    As coordinator of Marx School, Do you seriously believe that if JVP and FSP together with other lower class parties form an alliance it will lead to to 21st century socialism whatever it means.

    Where do the minorities like Tamil estate workers, Tamils and Muslims belongs to – lower Classes or Upper classes.


  • 0

    This writer is encourage and promoter of JVP & FSP political parties and class of petty bourgeois anarchism.Which provide theory of anarchism been roots goes to urban and rural poor has been act on Terrorism since 1965 the day founded by PDN Wijeweera of JVP?

    I do not understand how anarchism of JVP & FSP will give birth to 21st century ‘Socialism’? What is, his conviction of Socialism?
    Is that sciencefict socialism or Utopian socialism?

    Liyanage is that he blind on what happen in 1971 and 1988/89 political actions, led by JVP, which he forget or intentionally ignored,
    he want to misled youth and students for another an insurrection future Lanka?

    What ever the result of ‘socialism’ never derive from JVP or FSP politics in Sri lanka.

    Liyanage is may be LSSP Party card holder and follow of NM politics line of thinking which mixed up with that doctrine of Trotskyist anarchism.

    It undermined development of capitalist sustainability and pillar of democracy governances that right to elected Parliament by the votes.

    I do have reasonable doubt Liyanage outlook is he belongs not that school of Marxism! , He belongs to the type of Marxist school may be anarchist of Trotskyism ?

    What Stalin said in November 1918;
    “It has ..erected a bridge between the Socialist West and the enslaved East ,having created a new front of revolution against world Imperialism…” (The October Revolution and National Question works iv ,170 )

  • 0

    You socialist guys had better come up ASAP, with something a whole lot more plausible and enticing you can sell the public. If you want Sri Lanka to sustain honorably for the next century, the solutions have to be in e.g. pictorial form, and with not too many words.

    Because so far, Lankan democracy and capitalism has ended in a rather large group of Lankans in places like Pasadena CA, living the life of the American millionaire, bordering billionaire statuses. Indeed, that is the benchmark of Lankan aspiration; everything that was taught by the Buddhist priest ended in selling paddy lands (that being a comparatively honorable one compared to the thuggish deals) and taking the cash and brains (mostly cash) over to places like Pasadena, CA.

    And if US is to help SL in this, that is good also. For all these decades, Lankans (and other persons of the earth), were implicitly encouraged by US, to sell off assets and come to places like Pasedena, CA. But now as China is overtaking USA, transferring of assets to US is not exactly desired.

    Now it is the containment of Chinese influence in the South Asian region, and the balance of the World’s Currency Reserves and the need for countries to stop being too capitalistic courtesy China. Good thing for the world’s health actually.

    And Capitalism in Sri Lanka that can only come with Chinese influence- India being a no-show as no true Lankan will ever want to liaison capitalistically with India!).

    Therefore, if Sri Lanka is being given a nudge to become more social-like, that is actually the best thing for the cultural heritage and long term aspirations. And US will give us a lump-sum, no doubt, to kick start the social program at good monetary level.

    The Three Choices are:

    1) UNP : Ranil-My3-CBK trio – Capitalism via India till the Stars and Stripes is finally reached (there goes the ancient heritage)

    2)UPFA : Rajapaksa-My3 duo – Capitalism courtesy China (there goes the ancient heritage)

    3) LSSP : JVP-FSP – Socialism, courtesy USA (ancient heritage sustained for another 1,000 years) (UNP-UPFA et al. encouraged to alliance)

  • 1

    Well Sumane is not wrong but he is incomplete.

    a) I quote him: “N.M and the LSSP in 1964 took a decision that was in total opposition to its previous political line. The decision was to enter into a coalition agreement with the populist bourgeois party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) may be read as a novel experiment on the belief that if the support and the pressure of the left would make it possible to for the SLFP led government to go forward in the direction of socialism”. Yes that is true and history proved this assumption to be incorrect. But I also say (though I was a mere youth but still against NM at the 1964 Party Conference) that NM was trapped by the global rise of neo-liberalism in the 1970s unlike the 1960s at which time he formed his strategy and populism had more hope.

    b) Yes I agree with both comments in the table about Allende. Then why did he fail? The direct and indirect intervention of imperialist power was too much to withstand. Therefore Castro’s warning which Sumane quotes amounts to this: “Be careful; don’t go too far because neither you nor anybody can suddenly change entrenched local and global correlations of power overnight”.

    c) Yes Chavez carried through a social transformation, at least up to a point. But today Venezuela’s economy is in collapse; no in disastrous collapse. I do not think the social gains will be all be lost after the Nicolas Maduro government is kicked out, as it inevitably will be because of economic ruin. Then it behoves us to ask: What went wrong? Too much populism? Subjective errors? Ahistorical over-reach? I do not buy some people’s answer “Imperialism!” because everybody know that imperialism is around, its up to us to make the necessary adjustments as Lenin would.

    Anyway agree about the relevance of the SYRIZA (and don’t forget Posedas, more relevant, and Turkey’s HDP) example. But these are Allende, not Chavez type strategic moves.

    KD (Professor; Marx School)

  • 0

    I am all for Venezuela’s success, but about reports like this which is just one example of a wholesale economic catastrophe?


    Aren’t the Chavesta (Is that the right word for Chavez loyalists?) preparing the ground for the victory of the counter revolution and their own death?

  • 2

    What is important is for the parties that represent the ‘lower classes’ to unite in the first instance maybe on the basis of a common minimum program because it is too much to expect the wide spectrum of ‘ left parties’ to merge into one in the near future. The second step is for these parties to widen their outlook accepting that Sri Lanka is a multi cultural country, the parties to become more inclusive and shed all concepts of Sinhala Buddhist supremacy ( too much to expect too soon?). The third step is to accept that it is through more decentralisation and greater devolution the unity of the country and its steady growth could be ensured.

    Could these three steps become a reality in the foreseeable future? If the answer is in the negative, we have to forget about the21st century socialism and may have to dream about one for the 22nd century!
    That is the reality!

    Sengodan. M

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