By Dayan Jayatilleka –
The Army calendar for 2022 carries a photograph of Gen Shavendra Silva with a quote from him underneath it in block letters. It reads: “THE SRI LANKA ARMY IS CAPABLE OF DEVELOPING AND MAINTAINING A PROSPEROUS AND SUSTAINABLE NATION.”
In a democracy the task of “developing and maintaining a prosperous and sustainable nation” is not the task of the Army. This is also true of systems that are not liberal democracies. In China and Russia, the Army would dare not assert that it is “capable of developing and maintaining a prosperous and sustainable nation”. That is the task respectively of the Communist Party of China and the elected President of Russia and his government. In all these systems the task of the army is DEFENDING AND PROTECTING the nation.
It is only in a military dictatorship that the army would lay claim that it “is capable of developing and maintaining a prosperous and sustainable nation”. Sri Lanka has been a democracy since 1931 and never in the history of the Sri Lankan Army has its ever made this claim, because as an institution it was steeped in the democratic ethos.
Does this claim, appearing now, indicate a bid to step into the role played in all political systems except military juntas, by civilian authorities?
Is it a signal that in 2022 we shall be in transition from democracy to something else?
On Dec 29th, the evening newscast showed Army chief, Gen. Shavendra Silva addressing the newly established elite reserve strike force, the 1 Corps, headquartered in Kilinochchi. He told them that the Army has been tasked by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to drive the ‘green agriculture’ project, educating the peasantry on it.
Why should the Army Commander address 1 Corps, of all the units of the Sri Lankan army, on this, of all subjects—or include this subject in his address to 1 Corps?
Unless one were to assume that the Sri Lankan army’s equivalent of America’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), is going to be bogged down in teaching and implementing organic cultivation, then this is an indication of what’s going to happen next year, with the most reliable, freshly-minted formation of the Sri Lankan military, headed by a hard-bitten former Special Forces commander of wartime vintage, being deployed in the rural theater, facing down the restive peasantry.
Contemporary world history shows that the only successful formula for resistance to dictatorship whether of the military sort or a frankly fascist sort has been the United Front, and this has been pioneered and sustained by the Left.
Furthermore, the Left has been most successful when it has been part of a united front, whether as the leader or the most dynamic element and driving force. This is not a “united front from below” with the rank and file of other parties, but precisely a “United Front from above” at the political leadership level.
This is also precisely that which has been ruled out by the JVP, the leadership of which either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that the theory of the united front was adopted by the Comintern (Communist International) a century back, in 1921, when it was steered by Lenin and the undivided Bolshevik leadership.
The JVP seems to have no idea what or who its main enemy is and what, who and from which direction the main threat comes. Any rational reading would clearly reveal that the most dangerously reactionary force is the main threat and enemy, and in Sri Lanka today, that is the threat to democracy from the bloc of those who actually consider Hitler as a legitimate role-model, i.e., the bloc of militarists and ultra-chauvinists congealed around the Gotabaya presidency and which include that specific presidency.
It is crucial to grasp the sheer irrationality of today’s JVP-NPP strategy. It is a political go-it-alone project with no other political parties of any mass significance involved. In that sense it is a stance of political self-isolation. This is the very opposite of the logic of a United Front, in which the main enemy is isolated by a broad political encirclement.
The JVP’s discourse which attacks the two major political formations and rejects political fronts with anyone who participated in government, presumably for 72 years, means that the JVP-NPP’s enemy or target is broadened to include almost everyone but itself, instead of narrowing it to the most dangerous and reactionary element.
The JVP-NPP’s irrationality goes beyond this. The fact that the JVP’s present project is of getting from 3% of the vote and 3 seats in parliament, to the assumption of state power and the leadership of the country, in one go, through mass struggle, without an intervening period of transition which involves intermediate stages and political alliances.
Anura Kumara Dissanayake once suggested that the Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa should “get his head examined” for indicating that he and his party the SJB were ready and able to assume the leadership of the country. If, given the SJB’s current strength, Sajith Premadasa’s ambitious assertion warrants getting his head examined, how much more valid would that advice be for a leader who makes the same claim with 3% and 3 seats?
Of course, the current dynamics are that the JVP-NPP has grown rapidly, but it would require exponential growth and a quantum leap to get from where they were in 2020 to where they aspire to be soon. Only Lenin and the Bolsheviks did anything like it, and Lenin, Trotsky and Gramsci emphasized that the same thing was not possible in a very different social and political formations such as those which existed in Western Europe where the citizenry enjoyed political rights unlike in Tzarist Russia. Gramsci’s distinctive work could be said to have pivoted on that qualitative difference.
Having been crushed militarily twice, it is almost unthinkable that the JVP is ignoring one of the basic postulates of Marxism-Leninism: the role of the State’s repressive apparatuses, namely the armed forces, the police, the para-military, the prisons.
In 1970 or 1971, sometime before the insurrection, the JVP’s main rival, G.I.D “Castro” Dharmasekara wrote a pamphlet critical of the JVP, predicting that “on one moonless night, the JVP will lead the youth of this country to the executioner’s block”. Years later, addressing an audience at Peradeniya University, Dharmasekara (who had shifted from Castro to Mao) told us that there was only a single error his prophecy of pre- April 1971. “It was a full moon” he said with a sad half-smile, referring to the foredoomed JVP uprising of April 5th 1971.
The political sectarianism of the AKD-Tilvin Silva duumvirate may well march a third generation of Sri Lankan youth into the waiting guns of the State’s repressive apparatuses, with power being wielded for the first time by hardnosed military veterans of the Southern civil war. Remember Matale, anyone?