By Dayan Jayatilleka –
Low-level governing party representatives attack a demonstration against road construction. Mahindananda Aluthgamage says the peasant demonstrations are by the JVP. Johnston Fernando reminds that a crow should be killed and a feather hung to scare the rest. President Gotabaya says that the peasant gentlemen or gentleman farmers (“govi mahathun”) do not have the right to agitate against him as President. He also mentions the rank-and-file soldiery from peasant families. Some government personalities claim that the JVP, SJB and the fertilizer companies including the multinationals are in a conspiracy.
The writing is on the wall. The repression will be unleashed. Knowing the players on the side of the establishment, with their internationally infamous track record, the repression could be bloody, even lethal.
Repression can be successfully resisted and can even lead to progressive outcomes as the events last year in Chile among other places have proved. There is ongoing popular resistance in Cali, Colombia.
It is not that the JVP and FSP do not know these. They do. They know more: even the history of the anti-globalization and Occupy movements of an earlier decade.
However, they gloss over the difference between those situations and the possibilities in Sri Lanka, namely the existence of a broad, authentic, semi-spontaneous, organic popular movement made up of diverse currents.
There are internal blockages within the JVP and FSP which weaken their capacity to resist repression. By internal I do not mean problems of personalities. I mean problems of ideology and political strategy. These are by no means abstract problems and could mean the difference between success, survival and extermination.
Though they differ on many issues, the JVP and FSP share at least one blind-spot. They have never questioned Wijeweera’s post 1973 perspective on the history of the world communist movement and his rejection of the united front in all its variations as a Stalinian deviation. Ironically, though he claimed that his policy was broadly in accord with the Left Opposition of the Bolshevik Party and upheld the first five Congresses of the Communist International (Comintern), he conveniently suppressed the fact that the theory of the United Front was first enunciated by Lenin.
Left strategy has four basic models of the United Front which may be regarded not as contradicting one another but as concentric circles.
1. The United Front of the Working Class: This meant the bringing together on a common platform with a minimum program of those parties which had been bitter rivals i.e., the socialists/social democrats and the Communists, so as to reunify the workers movement in the face of a capitalist counter-offensive which was incipiently fascist. Lenin and Trotsky were the main theorists.
2. The Popular Front: the main weapon against the fight against fascism, uniting the parties of the working class and those of the urban and rural petty bourgeoise, chiefly the peasantry, or with a significant petty-bourgeois base. Dmitrov and Togliatti were the main theorists of the Popular Front, with complex theoretical and strategic refinement by Gramsci taking it to the next level of the ‘national-popular’ bloc.
3. The New Democratic Front, which is that of the broad anti-colonial/anti-imperialist national united front, which extended the worker-peasant front to include the middle and ‘national’ capitalists. Mao and Ho Chi Minh were its main theorists.
4. The Frente Amplio model: the unification of the various streams of the vanguard and the broad ‘popular fronts’ including ‘popular blocs’ of various trade unions and grassroots organizations. This included united fronts with progressive currents of mainstream parties (such as left Christian Democrats). Fidel Castro and the Latin American Left were the originators of this contemporary contribution. Uruguay’s Tupamaros and El Salvador’s FMLN were the best practitioners.
Though he claimed to be Leninist and an admirer of Vietnam, Cuba’s Fidel Castro and the Latin American revolution, Wijeweera swept all these under the rug and thereby deprived the JVP and himself of their benefits. If he had not undertaken this sectarian deviation, his fate would almost certainly have been different.
Neither the JVP nor the FSP have rectified this massive error. Therefore, they do not have the necessary vaccine against the political Covid-19 of the coming repression.
The historical evidence is clear about the life-and-death nature of the variable of united fronts.
Had Wijeweera’s JVP reached out to the Northern Tamil Maoists in the late 1960s, it would have fared better and recovered faster in the 1970s.
Had Wijeweera’s JVP established a United Front or Bloc with Vijaya Kumaratunga, the SLMP and various radical Left outfits (all of whom had protested against the unfair banning of the JVP by the UNP Government) as well as the North-eastern Tamil left organizations, the balance of forces would have been very different in the 1980s.
History also provides evidence about the JVP and the mainstream parties. The imprisoned Wijeweera secured his freedom and that of the JVP by an understanding with the UNP in 1977.
During the repression of the 1980s, the JVP had to lean on the SLFP for solidarity and support.
In the late 1980s the JVP could have avoided its fate had it arrived at the equation offered by President Premadasa.
In 2004 the JVP had its largest and highest share of political power as part of a coalition and Provisional Government with the SLFP.
Today, the JVP and FSP underestimate the Gotabaya Rajapaksa regime because it misunderstands it theoretically as a version of the Mahinda Rajapaksa presidency, i.e., as the same old family oligarchy which is in interminable crisis this time as it has never been before.
Deprived by Wijeweera of the rich storehouse of conceptualization and strategy behind the various formulae for united fronts and blocs ranging from the Comintern, through the Chinese and Vietnamese Communists, to Latin America especially in the recovery and resistance against the military juntas, the JVP and FSP seem to ignore the fact that not every type of bourgeois regime is the same and that the emergence of the entire discussion of United Fronts arose from the appearance of new more vicious types of bourgeois, rightwing reaction, ranging from Fascism to the ‘Civilian-Military Junta’ and the ‘National Security State’ (Latin America, Greece, Turkey).
The JVP and FSP have buried the entire treasure house of the contribution to Marxist Political Theory and Political science by Antonio Gramsci and Nicos Poulantzas. The latter’s studies of types of dictatorships and their trajectories of crises are indispensable today.
Poulantzas advocated a strategy with three prongs:
(A) Struggles against the state
(B) Struggles at a distance from the state and
(C) Struggles within the state.
He urged a strategy of the combination of these three types of struggles.
For today’s Sri Lankan Left, the most urgently imperative readings are those of Antonio Gramsci, Palomiro Togliatti, Nicos Poulantzas, Santiago Carrillo, Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. They point to a strategy of Left Populism.
No resistance to the coming repression is possible without the JVP and the FSP arriving at a minimum program since they have their social bases among the workers, peasants, fisherfolk and students, who must be brought together.
No resistance is possible without an interface with the parliamentary populist-democratic SJB. The JVP’s avoidance of an equation with the older Premadasa destroyed both Wijeweera and Premadasa.
Television coverage is no substitute for a united front-based strategy of resistance.
In the face of coming repression, a Sri Lankan left strategy based on contemporary Popular Frontism or a version of the decades-long, successful Frente Amplio (Broad Front) of Uruguay’s Tupamaros, inescapably involves an equation between the JVP, the FSP and the SJB.
*Dayan Jayatilleka, PhD, is the author of The Great Gramsci | Taylor & Francis Group (taylorfrancis.com); The Twin Legacies of Lenin and Fidel | global-e journal (globalejournal.org); and Che’s Visage on the Shroud of Time (granma.cu)