By TU Senan –
The inherent contradiction in capitalism produces various crises. Seeking a solution to the current crisis on a capitalist basis will only mean accepting devastating consequences for millions of people. There is also no lasting solution that can be found on a Keynesian basis or with neo-Keynesian Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). Indeed, Sri Lanka stands as clear evidence of how MMT cannot be a global solution to the current economic crisis. Even the prominent advocate of MMT, Stephanie Kelton, agrees that it is an exclusive theory – only suitable for a few rich nations that have so-called monetary independence (The Deficit Myth, Kelton). One of the key understandings further confirmed by the consequences of Covid is that every problem that humanity now has demands a global solution. MMT supporters ignore the powerful interconnection that exists between economies. They also ignore the neo-colonial relationship that the most economically powerful country has with the rest of the world. In some senses, modern Keynesian ideas, if implemented, will add to the misery for millions in the neo-colonial world.
Economically weak countries simply do not have the means to utilise a large percentage of GDP as a stimulus, to manage an ever-increasing debt bubble, or even to control interest rates and inflation. Some claiming to be on the left, such as Democrat party congress representative, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in the US, argue that the MMT methods can create full employment. Leave aside the bogus promise of full employment under capitalism this would be done at the expense of the rest of the world’s poor.
The so-called ‘progressive’ liberals in poor nations, who, in effect, are no different from the western Keynesians, argue for mild capital controls and a form of decoupling from the world market as a way to increase domestic production. They seem to have not learnt any lessons from history. Various forms of Keynesianism have now been revived as a potential solution to the capitalist crisis as they can find ‘no other option’. Keynesianism is often mistakenly credited for ‘saving capitalism’ from the depression of the 1930s; it reveals the intention of these ‘lefts’ to work well within the framework of capitalism and their inability to come out with anything that can challenge capitalism (even after some admit that the crisis is systemic). But they are also wrong about the so-called success of Keynesianism. In fact, it was World War 2 – the destruction of value on a mass scale – that was the dominant feature acting as a ‘reset button’ to save capitalism.
Capitalist governments acting in the interest of profit-making will not pick and choose the commodities that will be allowed to circulate in the interest of the masses. Various similar measures made during Sirimavo’s period failed. This was mainly due to the fact that even the local production of essential items is very much interlinked to other key commodities that need to be imported and which are essential for production. Even if an element of planning was introduced at that time, it could not have survived in isolation. The idea of isolated self-sufficiency is not possible for any country, let alone a small nation that has very limited resources. It cannot be fully successful even as a temporary measure. Even if a workers’ led government came to power, it may have to make deals with those who are willing to provide essential goods and commodities without compromising the workers and poor. Hence it will be vital for such a government to appeal to the working masses in the region and internationally for support. Winning the support of the working masses in India and Pakistan, for example, will be vital for the survival of any workers’-led government in Sri Lanka. Revolutionary changes in these countries can lead to the voluntary formation of a socialist confederation that could put in place a plan to organise resources in the interests of the wider masses.
Even to introduce immediate an emergency economic plan in Sri Lanka – such as non-payment of debt, capital control, and further investment in local production, etc. – the state must introduce a form of a planned economy. The current Sri Lankan state or any of the existing main parties have no such aim. Only a workers’ led government can take such a decisive measure. This is not an abstract question or something that is impractical, as some would dismiss. Those who refuse to go beyond the framework of capitalism reject the idea of a workers’ led government as not practical, or utopian, etc. Even when the question of who governs is brought to the fore by a militant mass movement, the petty-bourgeois elite hangs on to its old ways and narrows its aims to winning the next election and allowing another version of the existing government to come back into power. It is very clear that any pro-capitalist forces that replace Gota’s regime will face the same problems and is likely to be an extension of the previous regime rather than coming forward with a clear alternative. The movement that is developing in Sri Lanka cannot restrict itself to either bringing the right-wing opposition to power or supporting any ‘palace coup’ as a solution. A strong mass movement does not just challenge the existing regime but also decides who controls state affairs in the future. This second aspect of what comes next is crucial for the success of any mass movement.
Marxists who stand firmly on the side of the masses seek lasting solutions, not the renewal of the existing order. The enormous power and sacrifice brought to the street by the masses should not be satisfied with partial victories. The working masses should aim to control state affairs themselves if they want to get what they need. Workers’ control by proxy is not real control.
An interim government – no matter what name is used: temporary, provincial or caretaker – could come into place to control the movement. But even at this stage, workers and militant activists should not disperse or lose their independence. A coalition with bourgeois forces is a compromised position often preferred by those so-called progressives who may claim to act in the interest of the working masses. In effect, they make sure workers’ interests are defeated. It is often the case that bourgeois forces will aim to buy time in the so-called ‘interim period’ to defeat or weaken the power base of the workers and poor masses. The defeat and demise of the LSSP in Sri Lanka provide historic lessons in terms of the failure of policies in coalition with sections of the capitalist class.
Unless the mass movement travels towards taking control, we will not see a solution. In its absence, what are likely are chaos, limited capital control, and further attacks on living conditions. Bourgeois forces and their allies will continue to preach to the workers and poor to ‘tighten their belts’ while doing everything possible to protect their own profits. We will not see investment to increase national productive capacity. Utter chaos and trial and error policies are likely to continue till the ‘return of growth’ that is promised to take place sometime in the distant future – even if growth returns, the workers and peasants will have to put up enormous struggles even just to get back part of what they have lost. This is the reality that is faced by the masses in Sri Lanka.
To avoid this, the mass movement has to take decisive steps. It will also have to take an organisational form with a clear programme. The masses coming onto the streets are only a starting point – and that alone is not enough to bring about lasting change. The regime will hold on to power with the aim of somehow dispersing the ‘crowd’, either through repression and concession or a combination of both. It is also often the case that the bourgeoisie and a section of petty-bourgeois elements of the opposition will limit their scope to minor concessions with the hope of potential reform of the regime. The movement will also face division along ethnic, national and religious lines.
A programme that can hold the movement together and provide a clear way forward is crucial in every mass movement. Such a programme must include the demand for full democratic rights rather than narrowing it to the demand of one section of the movement. Everybody can unite on the basis of the ‘regime must go’ but such a single slogan is never enough to change the system, once and for all.
The sporadic but strong protests that are taking place, at this stage, have not developed into a coherent movement with a clear strategy. This has to change if it is to go forward. All trade unions and workers’ organisations should be invited to be part of it. The vast majority of the Tamils and Muslims have not yet fully joined the movement despite the massive hatred of the Rajapaksa family that exists in these communities. Demands that are relevant to these communities should be taken by the movement to win their support. The abolition of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) is one such key demand that has already been taken up in the many protests that are taking place. But this is not enough. The release of all political prisoners, releasing all occupied land, defending the religious rights of Muslims, etc. are some of the additional democratic demands that the movement should support.
This also means standing firm against the Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism which can be used by Gota’s regime and their supporters to divide the movement. Taking a correct approach to the national question is also crucial. A mere slogan of ‘equal rights’ is not enough. Without addressing the national aspiration of the Tamils, the youth and active layer of the Tamils cannot be won fully over to the side of the mass movement. Many organisations – even those who are claiming to be Marxist – that are taking part in the mass mobilisation and movement are not willing to articulate any demands that have been prominent among the Tamil and Muslim masses in the country. Hill country workers’ demands should also be prominent. This position can be used by right-wing Tamil and Sinhala leaders to keep the divide for their own benefit. This situation will not change if it is left to an organisation such as the JVP. Non-sectarian committees should be formed by the workers and activists to adopt fresh demands and plans and push for taking full control and implementing a socialist planned economy. Such a force not only will change Sri Lanka but the whole region.
SS / April 16, 2022
No Solution Can Be Found On A Capitalist Basis
Because the solution has to be a spiritual one first
RizMoh / April 16, 2022
The author has mistaken Socialism for Capitalism
ramona therese fernando / April 17, 2022
I agree. I agree that Motherland needs a Socialist structure, minus getting trapped within with any global capitalistic entity, and instead linking up with other socialistic networks like Vietnam, Bhutan, Cuba – China being too capitalistic oriented.
I can’t agree however on having ethnic division with the Island. The Tamil division will liaison with Tamil Nadu and get their money from there. Any Islamic division will get their money from the Middle East. It will be an unfair set of divisions for the Masses of which are mostly Sinhalese. There will be eternal strife. It is better that the Motherland is united under one Socialistic structure.
Lester / April 17, 2022
Correct. Pure capitalism in its current form has hit the peak. Many developed nations are moving now towards some kind of UBI, given the extremes in income inequality.
Regarding Sri Lanka, given the abundance of natural resources, it’s bizarre to see people lining up in food queues. This is a country where food grows on trees. Small home gardens are possible even in big cities like Colombo. Tomatoes, onions, greens, etc. Outside the big cities, there are massive amounts of unused fertile land. The same can be said of energy. Solar and hydropower can fulfill most of the country’s energy needs. The government should move away from fossil fuels, especially coal.
ramona therese fernando / April 20, 2022
Agreed. Only party that can achieve this is JVP-PP. Wonder if the IMF will fund this. The Western world is also trying to convert.
ramona therese fernando / April 20, 2022
Fernando20 / April 18, 2022
I don’t think capitalism is our main problem, what is wrong with our country is the corruption, from the top right down to the grama niladaris. That is the real reason the poor stay poor, because the benefits don’t reach them. This article says a lot against capitalism, but the only solution offered is to get support from the working classes in India and Pakistan?!?!. How is this going to improve our economy?. Where is the billions going to come from to pay the public services personal annually?, which now mostly comes from the taxes of private sector personal. Are we all going to queue up with ration cards, so we can be equal?. Can you please explain how this proposed new structure is going to bring in the billions needed to run this country?, pay public services salaries, keep concessionary rates on essentials, free education upto university?
ramona therese fernando / April 20, 2022
It has to be a gradual change. Hope the IMF will encourage this.