By Dayan Jayatilleka –
I was in Indonesia as a boy, accompanying my parents a month before the infamous September 1965 coup and the horrifying bloodbath. President Suharto’s progressive foreign minister Dr Subandrio (later jailed by the military junta for life), passing through Colombo had invited my father and the family to the 10th anniversary event commemorating the Bandung Conference of 1955. It was the Afro-Asian Journalists Conference. My father was last foreign journalist to interview DN Aidit, leader of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). Aidit was discovered in hiding on an island and summarily executed by the soldiers.
In 1967, the BBC for which my father worked, used him to pass a clandestine message to their correspondent in Athens when we visited. The coup had just taken place and the BBC correspondent was under surveillance, probably threat.
In the Summer of 1985, I was at the World Festival of Youth and Students and met many personalities who had variously fought the Nazis, the Salvadorean juntas and were fighting Pinochet.
In 2008 as the elected Chairperson of the ILO, I worked closely with its iconic Director-General Juan Somavia. He had been a close companero of President Salvador Allende. He and I sang Victor Jara’s songs at the end of official luncheons and dinners. We also had long conversations about the events of 1973 and after.
Therefore, I have gained an apprehension of these things and the ability to spot the signs and symptoms beginning to build up; a gathering darkness with streaks and flashes of red.
Biggest Social Movement
The anti-Accord riots of 1987 were more dramatic but less important than the present, growing round of protests. The 1987 upsurge was fueled by ethno-nationalism with no real anchorage in the material, socioeconomic conditions of the masses. Therefore, the sustained presence and participation of the working masses was absent or at best, minimal. That is not the case with today’s protests.
I witnessed the left in the 1960s onwards and participated in the 1970s and 1980s. I have never seen the spread and depth of protest movements in Sri Lanka as I am doing now. Every locality and every stratum of the working people are involved, mobilized, on a semi-spontaneous basis. Given that there is no strong Left at the helm unlike in the August 1953 Hartal, today’s mass movement is more ‘organic’.
That is the danger.
1. The Mass Movement or Social Movement– and this includes the political parties of left and center that are engaged with it–is strong enough to resist Government policies but not strong enough to resist the State machine and the project of the Deep State.
2. The Movement is clear about the conduct and character of the government and its policies and the discourse of the peasants, workers and teachers is surprisingly sharp, but it is unclear about the character of the new model of regime that it is confronting, and what that regime-model is capable of doing.
3. The Movement is unaware that the crisis we are witnessing is a crisis of the government and even of the regime, but it is unaware of the nature of the hard drive of the regime.
4. The Movement does not know that as the crisis worsens, the hardcore of the regime will escalate higher and faster than the Movement. It will be faster on the draw.
5. The Movement and its more conscious elements still think the main enemy is the Rajapaksa regime, but it does not realize that the Rajapaksa regime is only the rocket carrying, whether it knows it or not, a warhead. The Rajapaksa regime is in crisis but the ‘warhead’ is not. The intensifying crisis may trigger the launch of the ‘warhead’.
One cannot and must not blame the base, the grassroots participants of the Movement for theses absences and gaps. The fault lies with the politically more literate elements, mainly of the Left, who play a guiding role.
a) The JVP has twice before in its history, grossly overestimated the strength and momentum it has accumulated and been shattered when the state machine counterattacked.
b) Though the mass movement today is unprecedentedly deep, wide and strong, the Left has utterly failed to do what Friedrich Engels used to, and scrupulously study the military moves of the class adversary. The Left and democratic center parties had dome so, they would take serious account of the new formation, the 1 Corps. (1 Corps (army.lk); 1 Corps of the Sri Lanka Army – Highly Trained and Operationally Elite (newsfirst.lk)) This is a nucleus which would be immune to the possible effect on the regular infantry, of peasant demonstrations and possible casualties.
c) The JVP, FSP and the liberal-democratic centrists have totally failed to understand the internal composition and logic of the GR project.
d) They are blind to the most obvious of questions and the most obvious answer to that question. The question is “why should a President undertake a policy that shatters the electoral support base of his presidency, his government and his ruling coalition?”
e) The logical answer to that question is “neither the real base of this Presidency nor the intended endgame is electoral”. There could be an attempt to pre-empt an electoral endgame or abort its results.
What is to be Done?
What can be done to deter a presidentially-driven or endorsed putsch, or to survive one? There are several principles which comparative international political history yield upon study, none of which are in use, thanks mainly to the narcissistic sectarian hostility (towards both the Opposition leader and the FSP leader) on the part of the leader of the main left party.
For whatever its worth, this is what can avoid a catastrophe or parry it:
1. No party can monopolize the protest movements, which are uneven in accordance with sectoral and geographic realities. Every party can contribute something, the ratio of which will differ from place to place and time to time.
2. The struggle is also multi-dimensional. Strengths at the grassroots can be offset by weaknesses in parliament and in international legitimacy, while weaknesses at the grassroots can be compensated for by strengths in these other domains.
3) The trade unions should be grouped sector-wise and then coordinated as a single bloc, rather like the Joint Council of Trade Union Organizations (JCTUO) of yesteryear. The same should take place at the all-important level of peasant organizations, students etc. the principle of coordination should be both sectoral and geographic, creating a grid—and then a grid of grids.
4) The final concentric circle must be a bloc of blocs: a “popular bloc” or “coordinating body” (a “Bloque Popular” and a “Co-ordinadora” as they say in Latin America) of all these sectors (workers-peasants-fisherfolk-students-teachers-principals-health workers etc.).
5) There needs to be, indispensably, a united democratic platform of all Oppositional forces, South and North, as represented by their leaders. This apex body is also essential for international legitimacy.