4 December, 2022


Socialism & The Electoral Failure Of “The left”

By Kamal Nissanka

Kamal Nissanka

Kamal Nissanka

Searching a common candidate for 2015 Presidential election and campaigning for the victory of Mr. Maithripala Sirisena is a unique political experience. In this campaign activists who are labeled as “leftists” (whether old or new) played a vital and massive role in criticizing Mahinda Rajapaksa regime and the familial rule. On the other hand two frontline Jathika Hela Urumaya( JHU) MPs Patali Champika Ranawaka and Rev Athuraliye Rathana who fired initial salvos against the regime also possess a left orientation . Janatha Vimiukthi Peramuna (JVP) being outside the mainstream of common candidate platform courageously slammed the Rajapaksa familial rule in and out. The political bureaus of Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and Communist Party of Sri Lanka (CPSL) split and Dr Jayampathy Wickramaratne, Lal Wijenayake(Attorney-at-Law) and Raja Uswetakeiyawa were in forefront of the search of a common candidate and subsequent campaigning.

Most of those former leftists who involved in the presidential campaign, thought that Ranil Wickremesinghe as a reformed personality. Former editor of the ‘Ravaya” newspaper senior journalist Victor Ivan is also one of such persons.

However JVPs stance from the beginning of the campaign for presidential election was controversial and as they did not contest the presidential election their support base voted for Maithripala. The JVP appeared as a partner of victory after the election and became a participant of national executive committee. Its campaign also directed at parliamentary election and had already decided to contest alone.

General Election

Maithri votes at the presidential election were distributed among United National Party (UNP,) Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchhi (ITAK) and JVP at the recently held parliamentary election but the latter’s performance at parliamentary election was below 5 percent. One argument prevailing is that as the people were polarized between pro Mahinda and anti-Mahinda duality a significant section of people who associated with JVP voted for either to betel leaf or elephant symbol not to the bell symbol. With this electoral set back JVP‘s manifesto also became insignificant.

JVPLSSP being the oldest party in electoral politics was unable to get a parliamentary seat because of their unprincipled policies. For Communist Party there is a seat in Matara. Though Wimal Weerawansa managed to get 5 seas through UPFA, I don’t categorized National Freedom Front ( NFF) as a party representing Marxism or Socialism.

With this Sri Lankan background the pertinent question that comes to my mind is whether there is a correlation between the failure of JVP including the left and failure of socialism in world scale.


Scientific Socialism is the doctrine introduced by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in the 19th century to replace capitalism as the next historical stage of human society. One of the features of socialism is to create a political party by proletarians to seize political power from the capitalists and following the teachings of Marx and Engels, Vladimir Iliyich Lenin, Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin led the Russian October Revolution in 1917 and applied socialist ideology to specific conditions in Russia and created the first socialist country in the world. In the 1930s a major theoretical split occurred in the Bolshevik party popularly known as Trotskyism and Stalinism. Sri Lankan left or socialist movement was pioneered by LSSP , was basically a Trotskyite movement and Communist Party followed the Stalinist model. Early left parties in Sri Lanka instead of hard line revolution embraced parliamentary politics and their contribution to the political discourse is great.
The new left that was formed in the mid sixties was an assault of old left. VLSSP of Edmond Samarakkody, Ceylon Communist Party (Revolutionary) of N. Shanmugadasan, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna of Rohana Wijeweera, Peradiga Suanga of Gamini Yapa, Ginipupura of Kalyananda Thiranagama and later Nava Sama Samaja Party of Dr Vickramabahu Karunaratne are considered as parties of new left. These new left parties wanted radical social change but among these the JVP attempted to grab state power in 1971 following footsteps of Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Kim Il Sung, Ho Chi Ming , Fidel Castro and Ernesto Che Guerra.

Second insurrection of JVP between 1987 and 1989 was suppressed by then UNP government in ruthless manner and however in 1994 it participated in the parliamentary election through a different party and got a seat in Hambanthota. JVP politics since then is known to the public.

Democratic Revolutions

A great change sometimes called as democratic revolutions took place in late 1980s across Eastern Europe starting from Poland and ended up in breaking the Soviet Union into number of states. In parallel to this great change, Communist China under Supreme Leader Deng Hsiao Ping introduced economic reforms deviating from the socialist model but retaining the power of the Communist Party of China and ultimately China was able to maintain a high growth rate surpassing 8 percent continually for more than a decade. Now it poses a great challenge to USA to become another economic super power.

After the fall of socialism the countries in the Eastern Europe embraced the liberal free market economic model and social model with multi party representative democracy. Many of these countries are members of NATO. The national liberation movements against colonialism, neo colonialism in the 1960s and 1970s prevailed in Asia, Africa and Latin America gradually disappeared. Non- Aligned Movement (NAM) became a non entity and major countries in the NAM like India, Indonesia and many embraced free market. The cold war between USA and USSR ended and USA was identified as the sole super power. Western countries thought that after the fall of socialism the major threat to western system was posed by Muslim fundamentalism and one party dominance states in the Middle East. As at present Cuba is emerging from its international isolation and established diplomatic relationships with USA. Francis Fukuyama; contemporary liberal thinker wrote in his “End of History and Last Man” that multi party representative democracy will be the last social and political model in the world

So the failure of socialism worldwide is now sealed and in this context a question arises as to whether there is any significant role to play by the socialists in Sri Lanka when state capitalism and socialism is obsolete and non functional.

My feeling is that the changes that had taken place in the above mentioned countries s were not properly followed by the left and socialist intellectuals of this country. JVP’s failure is also part and parcel of failure of socialism as a political ideology and instead democratic norms are respected and taken by people more seriously. People of Sri Lanka and specially the younger generation have understood the effects created by ongoing communication revolution and process of globalization in the digital age.

During the last five years we witnessed the rise of democratic movements in the Middle East beginning from Tunisia sometimes called as “Arab Spring”. The political change took place on the 8th of January this year in Sri Lanka resembles Arab Spring. People saw Mahinda Rajapaksa as an authoritarian( sometimes called as soft dictator) and Maithri-Ranil as democrats and on August 17 people rallied round democratic forces and not under obsolete socialist world outlook of JVP .

Fredrick Von Hayek

Liberal philosopher Fredrick Von Hayek who twice won the Nobel Prize for Economics was the first person to visualize the failure and collapse of socialism from a theoretical perspective. In his popular work “The Road to Serfdom” written in 1944 at London School of Economics, dedicating the book “TO THE SOCIALISTS OF ALL PARTIES” Hayek posed an important question when he said that do people believe that the economic planning can do within the exiting democratic institutions?. Hayek saw that central planning makes it inevitable that large amount of power is concentrated in the hands of the controlling authorities. He said that socialist system degenerates in to one of power, personal discretion and unequal treatment under law. In general, his view was ideals of socialism have faded into tyranny and if central planning policies continue to be pursued totalitarian forces will get the upper hand. Hayek believed and theoretically emphasized that capitalism did not create poverty it provided the mechanism that would cure it.

In conclusion it could be decided the fall of socialism in the world scale had also an impact on the electoral failure of JVP and “the left” as many of our citizens are well informed about the realities of global political trends in a one polar world.

*Kamal Nissanka is the Secretary General of the Liberal Party

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Latest comments

  • 10

    rather immature writing-maybe would get pass marks if written at a A level exam. But this guy is a secretary of a political party.

    It is obvious the country has become mediocre in every way. Maybe the result of an education given in sinhala.

    • 1

      Issue is not whether it is mature or immature writing but whether fall of socialism in world scale has any impact on Sri Lankan left politics

  • 3

    Lenin – Dead, Stalin – Dead, Mao Tse Tung – Dead, Kim Il Sung – Dead, Ho Chi Ming – Dead, and Ernesto Che Guerra – very Dead.

    Fidel Castro – nearly there, and he just held on to see Cuba join hands with their old enemy.

    The struggle is over friends. People of today want the best there is going; education, good jobs, smart iphones, good clothes, performance cars etc.
    They want to better themselves rather than be pulled into the gutter by ideologies that cater to the lowest common denominator.

    They want politicians who will practice good governance, not sit down discussing, ad nauseam, old failed ideas that led to nowhere. The Soviet Union, China, Yugoslavia and now Cuba have all turned to face hope, optimism, and good things for hard working smart people.

    The best thing that has come out of our latest elections is that the people have seen the light and have turned away from outdated policies and yesterdays people.

    Long live WE the People.

    • 3

      Spring Koha
      On the other hand if you consider the corporate capitalist system, which is the direct opposite to the one you are deriding will you deny that there is no dehumanising involved in it, that people are not treated as tools, where labour market flexibility is not the guiding ideology in the name of efficiency which triggers unemployment and underemployment?
      Does that not result in insecurity for the working population when profits go up and wages stay down down and workers are scared to ask for better living wages fearing unemployment?
      The resulting social unrest will be blamed as unjust demand by trade unions which would become whipping boys with the whole media under corporate control.

      Why do you think the corporate capitalist system is not a form of private tyrannical system when it is unable to relax the it’s drive for profits for which it is willing to not only lie, and spread it’s tentacles into the state apparatus to destroy opposition by trade unions, the political opposition, and even the parliamentary system?

      Why is it not possible for all and not only for those who make profit at the expense of others to also have the benefit all what’s going in the form of good education,good jobs, smart phones,smart I phones, and all the rest you have listed alon with good health care ? Can it be achieved under the free market capitalist corporate system?

      • 0

        Doing politics without an ideology is like walking in the darkness.

    • 0

      For that we have the mechanism, that is regular elections. Great changes came in 1956(1970 is continuation of 1956) and then in 1977. India and Sri Lanka were able to safeguard the franchise and multi party system.Now the question before us is what path should be taken to enhance “economic growth”. development of small and medium scale industry is one alternative. Development of cooperative system is another alternative.

  • 9

    Now I understand how people like Rajiva Wijesinha became “leaders” of political entities. It is thanks to their being able to command “rank and file” like this character!
    I never thought highly of Liberals in any part of the world but this lot are not only unprincipled, they lack even the basic i.q. of their overseas counterparts!

    • 0

      [Edited out]

  • 6

    You guys should be grateful that Sri Lankans are generous people, giving morons like you a forum to puke. Whichever moron called Rajiva a Professor? Professor of what?

    • 1

      How about Dr Mervyn Silva. Doctor of what?

  • 1

    “Searching for a Common Candidate” to contest for the Presidency was the “Need of the Day”. The “NEED” was to get rid of a “Despotic Leader” and his “Dictatorial” administration. All other matters such as “socialism”, “capitalism”, “liberalism” etc…etc… got the back seat in the “URGENT NEED” to defeat MR Regime. After achieving that,”confusion” started brewing among the major players in that fight for the “Urgent Need”. Next “Urgent Need” was to undo some of the structural “ugly” features of the MR Regime and introduce a brand new “Structures” to the system of Governing. The first major turn was to introduce the 19A that was made possible but not as proposed or intended. Hopefully, the Constitutional Council and the Independent Commissions would be institutionalized and commence functioning soon followed with development work.

    One must appreciate that the period between January 8th and April 17 was not at all sufficient time to consider and weigh the facts for selecting that much desired “Honorable Parliament” composed of “enlightened representatives”. The General election once again turned out to be a “fight” between two camps : “bring back MR” and “prevent MR capturing power”. That election saw the narrow margin of “prevent MR capturing power” camp winning. The people voted without a doubt to prevent MR becoming the Prime Minister. In that struggle JVP was marginalized as it did not possess an appreciable vote base to achieve that desired end of defeating MR. This was very correctly analyzed by Mr. Lalkantha of JVP when he said: “if JVP got another ten seats, MR would have definitely won the election and become the Prime Minister”. This he stated in TV talk show by HIRU channel.

    Just yet we have entered another phase of this “struggle” to establish an administration to carry on with public functions. Again, it is NOT “socialism”, “capitalism, or any other “ism” that plays a major role; BUT what would people RECEIVE from any or combination of “isms”. The people NEED; peace, healthy life, fair distribution of economic benefits; sustainable development for the future for themselves and their families; responsible and accountable management of national wealth including the environment etc. Forgot the “isms”; if any Government fails to deliver the above stated “expectations” some other type of “ism” could easily come up and that is the danger in waiting.

  • 0

    The writer is liberally sealed, he give credentials to Ranil -Mathri as democratic .. by humbly request rally democratic forces around them.
    But “liberal” man forget added that another “democratic” of fourth generation of Tamil decadent for Banadaraygam family member of CBK.

    All these bunch of Old guard politicians of UNP and SLFP are not democracy, but share with comprador bourgeoisie class belongs to the Western monopoly capitalist groups. The different moribund Imperialist forces such as US UK & EU certain countries are back by local Comprador class member in UNP and SLFP agents are in power.

    This ‘Liberal’ writer has been the an exaggerations of country democracy and country’s capitalist path of development; in the real term of political-economy that depended on Neo-orthodox Junta type of Capitalism led by RW-UNP, MS-UNP+ SLFP and CBK+ Tamil-feudal democracy.

    Indeed a new forms of globalism a neo-liberal variant championed by US and Indian “Hindu empire” a dream of politics that BJP-RSS expansionism, by and large at Indian Ocean.

    The rise that really comprehend of Indian and US, we must understand that motivations and fears of these anti-democrat trend Sri lanka societies that are developing which penetrated so quickly by undermined UNP-RW, MS and CBK-SLFP politics of valued democracy of an Island.

    This mean setting aside our anti-democracy preoccupations and interest of US and Indian looking at world as they do!

    Where we see ours Sri lanka—rapid economic growth as globally beneficial form Asian giant like China keeping and maintain sufficient growth and opportunity for our nation rapidly changes totally lost since 2015 January 9th. Since Neo-Liberal economy of MS-UNP- RW ,it has underpinned the greatest period of wealth creation and poverty eradication in our modern history since 1948 Independence.

    Further more in reality China’s Maritain silk route, trade , investment and infrastructure initiative could have construct an alternative new zone of economic territory of dependence on the around Sri lanka. Neo Liberal class power in Colombo has denied this ample opportunity by influence of US and Indian -RWA>
    Regime in Colombo become ‘regime of Junta’s’ politics in all round way .

    How can be that ‘good governance’ or enrich democracy by MS, UNP and CBK that misrule our nation last 9 months. With the dysfunctions of Democracy institutions and the vanishing prospect of democracy and development ,that they can be reformed to better reflected the democratic realities of nationally and internationally by current misruling of MS, UNP and CBK type of regime!

    The Elections result of 2015 January 9th and August 17th would be not new democracy realignment it seems me that to be my understanding is new feudalism with the Sri lanka divide into mutually exclusive from hierarchically accepts of norms & values of democracy.

    Having reasonable doubt of Liberal writer do not realized that current power Junta led by MS RW & CBK in the handling state affairs wrongfully which by criminalization of democracy by ruling class currently in power , that discard democratic political affairs ,values, aspiration and commitments of Sri lanka’s democracy?

    So-called Liberalism has not taken into account of ongoing changes of democratic and progressive forces and elites in our societies-
    Sri lanka.

    Democracy subject to change locally and Globally .
    No government in the world that including present UNP-RW, MS and CBK regime willing to undermined the democracy, they must keep its hands off the democracy .

    They start different forms of control democracy surveillance and filtering political opinions and their democratic activities for a range of different motives are the norm.

  • 1

    Kamal Nissanka,

    Your derogatory analysis of socialism in praise of capitalism is nothing but kindergarten stuff. Evils of capitalism is much greater Kamal, endless famine, endless war, endless creation of dictators in Africa and Latin Americ. In capitalism, some win, but a great mass of people lose. In many countries for the elite vested interests parliamentary democracy is nothing but a tool.

    • 0

      If not parliamentary democracy , what should be the alternative?

      • 0

        Good question Kamal.

        I agree, socialism also failed the people because leaders of all revolutionary governments turned to be dictators themselves following the ‘Animal Farm’ edict.

        But accepting capitalism run on the so called ‘democracy’ platform purportedly having some checks and balances is nothing but giving a licence to perpetuate misery on the masses as in practice it has been proven time and time again.

        To answer your question about the alternative needs a lot of space and time to write about. It suffices for me to state here, to accept the better of the two devils should never be the only alternative.

  • 1

    There can be no doubt that the setback socialism suffered globally had its impact on the left movements in Sri Lanka. But then what impact did the near depression that global capitalism faced in 2008, the one from which it is yet to fully recover, if at all ever, has had on the capitalist parties world wide?
    Socialists must make some fundamental changes in their thinking. For example, the concept of dictatorship of the proletariat has become outdated long ago. Similarly, a mixed economy has come to stay. It is hard to think of a socialism in the future that debunks democracy and human rights.

    Sengodan. M

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