By Dayan Jayatilleka –
What are the real choices facing Sri Lanka and much of the world? What is the main problem and what are the feasible solutions?
What we are witnessing in Sri Lanka today is a political crisis which is the concentrated expression of a larger and deeper crisis. This is the crisis of a certain model. This model is in crisis, nationally, locally, in Sri Lanka. It is also in crisis globally.
The model that is in crisis in neoliberal globalization. Neoliberal globalization is not globalization as such. As any reader of the Communist Manifesto knows, capitalism has always been global and globalizing. Perhaps the most outstanding Marxist political economist of recent decades, who died recently, Samir Amin, drew a distinction between ‘colonial globalization’, the ‘negotiated globalization’ of the postcolonial years of the strong Nonaligned Movement, and the current ‘liberal or neoliberal globalization’ which is unilaterally imposed by the world capitalist centers.
The neoliberal model could be summed up as one of free market fundamentalism and denationalization, in which borders and national sovereignty are effaced, thereby dismantling all forms of national controls, restrictions, regulations, resistances and impediments to imperialist control. In Sri Lanka, its representative par excellence has been Ranil Wickremesinghe in his two terms as Prime Minister (twinned in his second term by Mangala Samaraweera).
This model was installed and could be installed only after the fall of global socialism. If one were to take Sri Lanka, it would be hugely irresponsible to see a linear continuity from JR Jayewardene’s Open Economy, through Premadasa, Mahinda Rajapaksa, Chandrika and Ranil. It is no mere coincidence that 60 percent of the economy under JR Jayewardene remained in State hands—the giant Mahaweli project was emblematic– as he himself stated and Dr. Chanaka Amaratunga, a true economic liberal, often complained.
Evidence of the sharp contradistinction between the JRJ and Ranil-Mangala models comes in a 2017 interview given by Pradip Jayewardene, who was very close to his grandfather. Making a damning indictment that “the core values of the UNP are eroding”, he emphasized that: “My grandfather was of the view that State control had to be maintained in the liberalization process of the economy, to guarantee a social safety net…There is no argument that private sector should run business, but State control and regulation of key areas is vital…” (Ceylon Today)
Now that doesn’t sound like neoliberal globalization, does it?
As with economics so also with politics and vice versa. It is no coincidence that in July 1983, President Jayewardene declared the First Secretary Political of the US Embassy, Kevin Scott, persona non grata and put him on board a flight back to the USA in 24 hours, after he had made a critical remark at a cocktail party! Nor was it coincidental that President Jayewardene and Fidel Castro were friends, and Fidel walked with him through the streets of Havana. JR Jayewardene was not only the first President of the Lanka-Soviet Friendship association, it was he who moved in the Ceylon National Congress that the Communist Party should be given membership—which it was from 1944-1947. This was one of the reasons that DS Senanayake pulled the plug on the CNC and formed the UNP. JR’s choice of Finance Minister to open up the economy in 1977, was a former independent radical, who was perhaps the only Sri Lankan ever to have met Che Guevara, in Cuba in the 1960s—Ronnie de Mel. It was carefully calibrated opening, quite unlike neoliberal ‘shock therapy’ practiced by Ranil and Mangala.
As for Premadasa, his programs of housing, Janasaviya, free school uniforms and free midday meals (this last was inaugurated by him when JRJ was still President), as well as the strict conditionalities about labor conditions and meals embedded in the 200 Garment Factories Program, had nothing whatsoever to do with neoliberalism and were its exact opposite. His publicly named developmental role model was Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohammed. Premadasa’s election winning manifesto of 1988 was penned in Hong Kong together with Susil Suriswardena (a radical thinker), after he had an extended visit to Deng Hsiao Peng’s China, a country he had visited under Mao and written a book let about (he visited the USSR on the same trip) in 1957.
Again, it is no coincidence that as President and UNP leader, Mr. Premadasa invited as chief guests at the convention of the United National Party, a high-level delegation from the communist Party of China.
As for Mahinda Rajapaksa, his focus on public infrastructure, his retention of the commanding heights and strategic assets of the country in state hands, his continuation of social welfare programs, and his selective retrieval/restoration of state ownership, is a very far cry from neoliberalism indeed!
By sharp contrast, Ranil Wickremesinghe made the UNP join the IDU, the International Democratic Union which is the cartel of the global Right, of which he was elected a Vice-President. The IDU was founded by Reagan and Thatcher, and its co-chairs are the US Republicans and the UK Conservatives. No wonder then that in him we have the quintessential perspective and spirit of neoliberal globalization. Mercifully, Sri Lanka has produced only PM and party leader who ever spoke like this:
“…A specialist brought down from the US Treasury, said Wickremesinghe, introduced the Government to this system. “We had to go ahead with macroeconomic liberalization to get integrated into the global economy,” he said. Agreements with IMF and other documents were furnished by the Premier to the Commission to show the economic policy of the Government” – ‘Ranil resolute before Bond Commission,’ Daily FT, 21 November 2017
My point is very clear. For Sri Lanka and even for the UNP, there is a viable model which remains within the Open Economy and globalization, but is not the neoliberal model, the project of neoliberal globalization, of Ranil-Mangala. The Open Economy and the Neoliberal model are not coterminous. The question is what kind of Open Economy? To say otherwise is to leave Sri Lankans with no choice other than Ranil’s neoliberal model or some failed or untested model which is completely outside globalization and the Open Economy. This is a false choice which ignores the conspicuous developmental successes and contributions of JR, Premadasa and Mahinda.
This true globally as well. The problem is not globalization but what kind of globalization, what model? There has to be a viable, visible choice which is not necessarily an alternative to globalization as such, but to the neoliberal model of globalization. In the West there is such a choice, namely that which is presented by Jeremy Corbyn and the Labor Party. It is an untested answer as yet. But in Eurasia and the global South there is no time for untested answers. Here, where the majority of humanity dwells, we already have an alternative globalization, not an alternative to globalization—but the former is what we need, and it has proven a success.
You don’t have to take my word for it. Take Samir Amin’s. This is how Frontline magazine described Samir Amir, an intellectual heavyweight who makes Guardian columnists and writers such as George Monbiot, look lightweights by comparison: “SAMIR AMIN is one of the world’s greatest radical thinkers alive today. At least for the last five decades, he has been a great source of inspiration for those who dream of an alternative and better world. A Marxist thinker of profound originality and theoretical innovation…”
And this is how Samir Amin identified the alternative: a “sovereign project”: “The strategy of starting transformations by action at national levels can be summed up in the following sentence: one must refuse to adjust unilaterally to the requirements for extension of the established globalization, replace it by prioritizing getting to work on ‘sovereign projects’ and force the global system to adjust to the requirements for the unfolding of these national projects.”
Samir Amin then identifies and names a successful sovereign project—China: “…China is the only country truly engaged on the path of a sovereign project, and is the only one for which this is the case. This is a coherent project: it articulates the planned establishment of a self-centered (although simultaneously and aggressively open toward exporting) modern and complete industrial system to a mode of agricultural development based on the modernization of small farms not owned by the farmers—thus guaranteeing access to the land for everyone.”
This is what Samir Amin has to say about China’s comparative success, in one of his last interviews, this year:
“Comparing China and India is very significant in that respect. In China, the growth of income has been a reality for almost all the population even if that growth has been much higher for some than it has been for the others (the majority). Therefore, in China, growing inequality has been accompanied by reduction of poverty. This is not the case for India, Brazil and almost all other countries of the South. In these countries, growth (and in some cases significant high growth) has benefited only a minority (from 1 per cent in some cases such as Equatorial Guinea to 20 per cent in cases such as India). But this growth has not benefited the majorities, who have even been pauperized.”
This is why China is an alternative economic model; THE alternative model at this time. It works—for the many, as well as the country as a whole! The neoliberal model, or if I may go further, the Western or IMF-driven model does not; it is in crisis and decay.
This is also why I readily and proudly admit that I am an advocate of the view that Sri Lanka should adopt and adapt the Chinese economic model to the extent that our size will permit us and while remaining within our electoral democratic system. This does not mean adopting or adapting the Chinese political model– except in retaining a strong unitary state (with local autonomy) and a Presidential system, especially at a time when the Westminster model is showing its cracks and dysfunctionality over Brexit on our TV screens every day.