By Dayan Jayatilleka –
At a time when the JVP–NPP has grown unprecedentedly, can play an unprecedentedly valuable role and score unprecedented success, it is being simultaneously held back from actualizing its full potential and propelled towards its third disaster by old habits—ghosts as it were—of old errors; errors from its past, combined by the errors of the Sri Lankan left as a whole.
By a dialectical irony, while it is hamstrung by the burdens of past negativity of its history and that of the movement it emanates from, it is also suffering from the absence of the positive aspects of its past, i.e., of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Let’s start with the abandoned positives. Rohana Wijeweera was acutely aware of the experiences of the global left even as he chose to ignore some of its lessons. In the founding years of the JVP, he was profoundly affected by the decimation of the huge Indonesian Communist Party (the PKI) headed by DN Aidit. The lesson he and generations of leftists drew from Indonesia and later from Chile was that however enormous and pacifistic a left party was, it was acutely vulnerable to extermination at the hands of a ruthless Right.
The Indonesian experience was of particular import for Sri Lanka, at the time Ceylon, because it featured in an ideological struggle that almost split the UNP government of the day. That struggle played out in the main in Lake House.
On one side were Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake, Planning guru Dr. Gamani Corea and his deputy, Godfrey Gunatilleke, who were committed to the mixed economy and the welfare state.
On the other side were Esmond Wickremesinghe (the present President’s father), BR Shenoy and JR Jayewardene who was to abandon this this rightwing ideology a decade later and pick the brilliant, left-leaning admirer of Cuba, Ronnie de Mel as Finance Minister in 1977.
Esmond Wickremesinghe applauded the Indonesian coup and the economic model that followed it. His opponent in Lake House was my father Mervyn de Silva who had returned just before the coup from Indonesia where he (accompanied by my mother and me) had been guests of President Sukarno’s foreign minister Dr. Subandrio, at the Afro-Asian Journalists’ conclave celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Bandung conference.
To their credit, the Dudley Senanayake team which was staunchly opposed to the economic doctrine of Esmond and Shenoy, took the stand that “we’d rather spend on social welfare than slash it and have to spend on security”.
The split in the government was ideologically so sharp that Wijeweera fully expected the rightwing to overcome the Dudley Senanayake wing, forestall the election scheduled for 1970, and install the Suharto model that they had been advertising with such vehemence. The mistake that he made was that he underestimated the strength of the progressive and left movement that the fledgling JVP had itself contributed to, which overcame any putschist projects and ensured elections. He had overreacted also by self-defensively arming the JVP to fend off an Indonesian style massacre, and then couldn’t uncoil the coiled spring the party had become, or to decelerate.
That said, a version of Wijeweera’s nightmare of ‘the Indonesian model’ is about to be implemented in its economic and political dimensions by the son of the man who first advocated it. The Suharto economic model which was repeated after the Chilean coup of 1973 by Pinochet who called in Milton Friedman and the Chicago Boys, is on the agenda in Sri Lanka today with unelected President Wickremesinghe inducting the rightwing Venezuelan economist Ricardo Hausmann.
In Indonesia and Chile, a dictatorship was installed by a coup and preceded the economic model. In Sri Lanka, the economic model was not preceded by a coup, but is being installed together with the closure of the political and legal systems through the freezing of elections and the attempt to introduce the totalitarian Anti-Terrorism Act, which should be re-named the State Terrorism Act.
Though the JVP-NPP doesn’t seem to realize it, it is looking exactly like the Indonesian Communist Party in 1965. I know the thinking of the PKI at the time because my father interviewed DN Aidit, its leader. The PKI was proud of its rapid peaceful growth into an enormous force. So too is the JVP-NPP.
The JVP-NPP is derisive about the breakaway FSP and thinks that the latter will be the target of repression by the Ranil administration—a prospect it will shed no tears over. What it utterly fails to grasp, just as the German social democrats failed to in the 1930s while expecting the axe to fall only on the Communists, is that there is an insurmountable contradiction between on the one hand, the economic model the bourgeoisie was seeking to install in the context of the crisis at the time, and on the other hand, the trade union base of the large, moderate Left parties.
The JVP-NPP will be hit hard by the most rightwing, reactionary regime Sri Lanka has ever had, not because of its radicalism, but because of its trade union base.
The rapid growth of the JVP-NPP is no guarantee, as the party seems to think, against repression. The hybrid JVP-NPP formation is too big to be ignored by the regime but not strong enough to deter or defeat the repression. It is big enough to be perceived as a threat but not powerful enough to preempt or paralyze the regime.
Almost daily, the JVP-NPP leaders articulate a public position while being blissfully unaware of its implications. The position is this: Ranil’s regime would have elections if it could be certain that its class, as represented by itself or Sajith Premadasa’s SJB , could win an election, but since it knows it cannot count on a victory and knows that power is shifting to another class—to the popular classes- for the first time in 75 years, it is not holding an election.
Fair enough, but if that is the case, surely a regime that avoids a mere local government election is not going to hold a far more crucial election to the Presidency in 2024 or parliament in 2025.
The JVP-NPP’s answer is, yes, well, we’ll force an election at the time while consolidating for the next year and a half. The problem with that argument is that the regime will be entrenching itself too, and using the time to come for the JVP-NPP, and the populist wing of the SJB, after it has suppressed the FSP.
So, how is the JVP-NPP going to escape this fate? Certainly not by the boastfulness and ego-centrism that has characterized the party since its inception in 1965. Nor by the recourse to arms that it engaged in before it had exhausted all other options in 1971 and built the necessary alliances in 1986.
The only answer known to politics is a series of united actions, leading to united fronts and popular blocs. Anyone who rejects that course is like someone trying to defend a community which will be under attack by a ruthless enemy, without building fortifications, walls, trenches, and alliances.
However large the JVP-NPP is, a way of being of political unipolarity and isolationism, devoid of partnerships has never led anyone to any success. Surely the lesson of the struggle against nazi fascism is the necessity and success of the Popular Front and the convergence, irrespective of system and ideology, of the Allies.
*Dayan Jayatilleka is the author of ‘Fidel’s Ethics of Violence: The Moral Dimension of the Political Thought of Fidel Castro’, Pluto Press, London.
Ajay Sundara Devan / March 29, 2023
Look who is talking about narcissism. The writer is a master at deploying arcane Left typologies, bizarre jargon, and dad anecdotes – all in the service of thrusting himself onto the centre stage. Usually everything goes well – except for the lack of an audience.
Native Vedda / March 29, 2023
Ajay Sundara Devan
He is many things to many people.
He lives in his world of fantasy.
Please leave him alone.
srikrish / March 30, 2023
Yes! Dr Dayan Jayathilake is a master narcissist, yet his views deserve some attention.
NPP/JVP should learn lessons from international history. When the time is ripe, one has to strike, any delay wavering is suicidal and there will be no time to regret!
Sinhala_Man / March 29, 2023
I’m not a fan of Dayan Jayatilleka, who is very much of a narcissist himself, but this article must be taken seriously.
Towards the end of this, Dayan calls for a “series of united actions.” This may be misunderstood. Right now, pressure must be mounted for the conducting of the Local Government Elections. On this all must unite. Put disagreements on other issues be on hold.
Instead, what do we see? The NPP and the SJB (led by Sajit Premadasa) bashing each other, and also some NPP bashing of the FSP. Why did I just now make very sure that the SJB gets properly identified? Because the guys who just read CT articles (without being “addicted” like me!) are confused by initials standing for so many Parties. Then the FSP? – it doesn’t matter because such readers are unlikely to ever know them.
Break up the activity in to steps. Unite to ask for Elections. State clearly that other policies will be debated only after the results of those elections. Dayan is right when he says that a Ranil who doesn’t allow Local Elections will not allow Elections at more serious levels.
Panini Edirisinhe (NIC 483111444V)
MSarrij / March 29, 2023
The main “political culprit” in Sri Lanka is the culture of impunity from the very beginning of independence. The country has been governed by more or less by the progeny of a few select group of family members with impunity to the detriment of the majority who had been taken for a royal ride, sadly.
To correct this imbalance what is needed is to have constitutionally a system where term and age limits and equal representation of both sexes in the Parliament is introduced. Fortunately, the country is blessed with an abundance of bright and younger people in spite of the recent exodus, for the purpose of governance.
It’s time for “the old “to retire and the younger generation to take over; the same old same old is no option..
Sinhala_Man / March 29, 2023
The initial comments, placed on the virgin age, have come on, with mine second, and yours third, dear MSarrij.
I agree absolutely.
Ajay Sundara Devan is also right about our attitude to Dayan, but the issues are so serious that we must unite with all who call for Local Government Elections ASAP.
old codger / March 30, 2023
“However, when I said that all that I had was a Senior Citizen account on which I was earning 15% interest, this sweet voice informed me that it should be turned into a fixed deposit at 20%, and then I could have this Credit Card. Sounds good. What’s the catch?”
You are such an economic idiot. Don’t you even know that interest rates have been up to 28%? Coming down now.
The catch in a credit card is the annual fee, and interest over 30% on late payments. Get a debit card.
Sinhala_Man / March 31, 2023
I have a debit card.
I’ve got beyond that point! I will return to say more, if there is time.
Yes, I know banks are counting on the carelessness of the owners of credit cards resulting in their having to pay 30% or more.
I’m increasingly absent-minded; the IMF takes such things into account. In the current world gerontocracy, they hedge themselves against those risks by hiring “sweet and innocent young things” who don’t realise how diabolical their aged masters are.
The masters are evil.
leelagemalli / March 29, 2023
when did we see DJ being one of core lap dogs of Mahinda Rajapaksa ? He gave the same low-level service to Ranasinghe Premadasa and was once found ” pants-down and naked” running on colombo streets in 1989.
It was shortly before he was posted to Russia (in 2018 or little earlier ?) in the capacity of the embassador by former President Sorisena. You might have not forgotten, NUGEGODA STAGE DRAMA…. there this man insulted all ” higher educated community in this country”. Now there are enough sources prove that the bugger is isolated in his own 4-walls being unexmployed forever. This man is sinhala racist btw.
He has proved several times that he is unequivocably talented to twist anything everything if he is short of his next job offer. This is common in a country ” MALE PROSTITUTION” become frequent in touristic areas of this country for ages (also in earliy 80ties, srilanka was known as a gay paradise in south asia).
leelagemalli / March 29, 2023
DJ has proved several times that he is unequivocably talented to twist anything everything if he is short of his next job offer. This is common in a country ” MALE PROSTITUTION” become frequent in touristic areas of this country for ages (also in earliy 80ties, srilanka was known as a gay paradise in south asia).
DJ has proved again and again he was an arch rival of Ranil. Leaders of Ranil nature would not go after DJ or the like selfish kings.
However it was proved that was based on DJ’s personal vendetta. I wonder what DJ has got to say about ” RAJAPAKSAS” today. …
So can we trust anything coming from his what ever his lips drop ? never. However, srilanken mlechcha Media invites him calling him ” one of the diplomatic experts”. That is commen in a country where Minister joker Mervin Silva (not DJ s father) or the like became prominent ministers under Mahinda Rajapksa (the biggest ass of the nation).
Lasantha Pethiyagoda / March 30, 2023
It is very important for the NPP-JVP to make governance impossible, under the prevailing laws and not be found guilty under the present criminal procedure code while they still can mobilize its supporters. They have the means to force the govt to bend to the will of the people, while it is still “legal” to do so. If and when the new anti-terror bill becomes law, even writing like this will become a “terrorist” act and interpreted any which way the fascist authoritarian regime wants to, to punish anyone who disagrees with its draconian and wholly undemocratic governance, sucking the blood of the people. Surely most people recognize that the governing cabal of parasitic vermin are destroying the people’s future and ruining what is left of that once resplendent isle, the pearl of the Indian ocean. The time to act is now. Waiting for better times will weaken the people’s resolve, as they can be fooled again by scraps from the master’s table.
SJ / March 31, 2023
“On the other side were Esmond Wickremesinghe (the present President’s father), BR Shenoy and JR Jayewardene who was to abandon this this rightwing ideology a decade later and pick the brilliant, left-leaning admirer of Cuba, Ronnie de Mel as Finance Minister in 1977.”
“…abandon this this rightwing ideology”
“…brilliant, left-leaning admirer of Cuba, Ronnie de Mel”
May we know what this ‘left-leaning admirer of Cuba’ do in the government of JR Jayewardene who ‘abandoned’ his rightwing ideology to appoint him.
Is there some confusion here? Any clues?
SJ / March 31, 2023
The Indonesian putsch was well planned, and backed and guided by the US and UK.
Lists of left/communist leaning persons had been supplied by US & UK intelligence agents to the murderous gangs who killed far above 500,000 people.
The narrative on attempts to emulate the Indonesian coup is rather new text, and the strategy of RW (Rohana not Ranil) to meet that prospect is new too.
Can the author can give us some evidence for the key events that he is citing in the context.
Indonesia does fare in the ‘History of the JVP’ to explain its amateurish arming of itself, with some critical comments.