30 May, 2023


The Left As Political Actor – Part 2

By Dayan Jayatilleka –

Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

In memory of Stephane Hessel (1917-2013), author of ‘Time for Outrage’

This year and month mark the 130th death anniversary of Karl Marx. 2013 also marks the 60th anniversary of the assault on Moncada led by Fidel Castro and of his address ‘History Will Absolve Me’. It is then an appropriate year for any Left party to take a long hard look at the road it has travelled and the path ahead.

The past returns to haunt political movements just as they do individuals. In this sense the past is part of the fabric of the present. This is why an accurate evaluation of one’s past is as important for a political movement as it is for a person. It seems that neither the JVP nor the breakaway FSP have an entirely accurate diagnosis of their collective past, without which their present and future standing is negatively affected.

Under pressure perhaps from the FSP breakaway, the JVP has concluded that its support for Gen Sarath Fonseka at the Presidential election was an error. Though it was arguably an error for Gen Fonseka to have contested the first post-war Presidential election against a popular incumbent President, instead of focusing on the correct target of entering parliament and making his presidential bid the next time around, it is less obvious that, given the choices available, the JVP erred in supporting him. The JVP’s error was perhaps in leaving the ranks of the ruling coalition before the war had been won. Karu Jayasuriya probably made the same mistake. This permitted the monopolisation of the legitimacy of the historic military victory.

The FSP’s stance appears to be that the JVP was in error to have entered coalitions with bourgeois parties. Not only does this indicate that they should re-read Lenin’s text ‘Two Tactics’, but that they have turned their back on the most successful political period and achievement of the JVP, namely the experiment of the Provisional Government with Chandrika Kumaratunga and the subsequent 39 seats they won at the parliamentary elections. Here again, the JVP’s error was a different and opposite one: to have quit that Provisional Government prematurely. If the JVP and /or FSP are to break out of a politico-ideological ghetto, they will have to retrace their path to those successful episodes of radical democratic politics.

They will also have to revisit their collective behaviour during the latter half of the 1980s which remains a social memory (not least among UNPers at the grassroots) and constitutes polemical ammunition for their political critics. Especially important is their lethal reaction to perceived competition: Vijaya Kumaratunga’s SLMP and the smaller far left groups. That sectarian reaction and the inevitable counter-reaction benefited the state and damaged all players on the Left, when the option of a united front (as in Central America) or at least a political ceasefire was always available. The sole, sadly ephemeral episode of a correct united front tactic by the JVP was the five-party Left Bloc of 1980, and is an experiment that should become a model.

Perhaps the JVP and FSP should learn from successful Left movements in Latin America which have not renounced in any way, but have gradually put to rest, the memories of their founder-leaders and the reputations of their violent pasts, which in most cases were far less blemished than that of the JVP. In short, they no longer evoke the ghosts and have learnt to let go and move forward, thereby presenting their enemies with a smaller, moving target. The JVP and FSP should perhaps also re-interrogate their past and rediscover other heroes and potential leaders less tarnished than Wijeweera (such as Sarath Wijesinha of Kegalle).

There is in Sri Lanka today a huge opportunity for the Left. The current UNP is unable to play its role as a dynamic opposition and alternative government, and its Reformist dissidents seem unwilling to do so, while the SLFP too has many disaffected members at all levels.  This permits a smart, strong, ethical (i.e. Gramscian) Left to make deep inroads into the mass bases of mainly the UNP and secondarily the SLFP. Thus there is an open door (in the case of the UNP base) and a half open window (with respect to the SLFP) for the Left to walk or climb through. However, it will simply not do for the Left to expect the masses who vote for these mainstream parties to turn sharply leftwards and come through that opening towards it. It is the Left that will have to move through the portal, repositioning and partially reinventing itself as a radical democratic option so as to win over these masses of citizens.

When the Russian Marxists grasped that the liberal bourgeoisie was unable to play the role of standing up to the hereditary family based autocracy as its French counterpart so famously had, they resolved that the working class and its parties had to do step in, giving leadership to the peasantry. Given the victories and dramatic advances in recent years of the Left in Latin America and in Greece, there is almost no limit to what the JVP and its dissident spin-off the FSP can achieve in democratic politics, if – and it is a very big IF indeed—they make the right moves, in a spirit that is recognised by the masses as being sincere, deep-going and irreversible.

To put it at its most starkly challenging, if the Left in any society is to achieve its fullest potential, it must fulfil at least two criteria: (a) it must represent something new, hopeful and credible and (b) be perceived by the people to be the best elements among the citizenry, and thus an authentic vanguard. This is how the Left can outweigh the enormous economic and material strengths of the Right. When the people look for hope, they will look to the Left only if that formation is more attractive and credible an alternative than the ultranationalist or conservative Right.

The Left must represent a new, fresh spirit; a spirit of hope and credible possibility. It must represent such a spirit in order to replicate and multiply that spirit among the citizenry. This must not be the spirit of fanaticism and conflict—of which the country has experienced plenty–though it must be a spirit of righteous ethical indignation against blatant injustice and lack of strategic foresight of the ruling elite.

While the Left must never reduce its appeal to issues of economics, economics must play a prominent part in its public pedagogy. The citizenry must be educated as to why things are as bad as they are, why they are suffering, why the suffering is not inevitable by any means and how things could be much better. The Left in Latin America and Greece surged to the forefront when the economic crisis hit. In Sri Lanka the socioeconomic crisis is surely coming and thus also the need for socioeconomic democracy.

The crisis is as much external and ethnic as it will be economic. The Left must inspire confidence that it can do what the post-independence and post-war ruling elites have been unable to, namely to build unity in diversity, construct a united democratic nation of our many communities. This is the only foundation of a strong state able to resist separatist impulses and encroachment on national sovereignty. However the JVP must not repeat its old mistake of confusing paranoia for anti-imperialism or adulterating the latter with the former. Not everything it rightly opposes (e.g. re-merger) needs to be an imperialist conspiracy and the fact that some action or phenomenon may result in benefitting external critics or foes does not mean that it has an external cause.   For its part, the FSP must learn that ‘anti-capitalist’, ‘anti-neoliberal’, ‘anti-Empire’ and ‘anti-globalisation’ are far from identical, and that there are different models of capitalism and projects of globalization.

In the face of the crisis the Left must represent the talent of the educated and the energies of the youth. But the question is: what kind of youth? When the Left fails to give a self-critical accounting of its past and is also seen to defend those who engage in socially repugnant practices such as intra-campus violence and university ‘ragging’ (‘hazing’), it allows itself to be depicted as the Sinhalese were after July ’83, because the failure to differentiate oneself by standing up against something and standing in the forefront of opposition to it, makes it possible for powerful enemies to tar one with the brush of complicity.

Finally, if the Left is to project itself as the formation of the educated Lankan youth (in the island and the Diaspora); intelligent, honest, and dedicated, with hope in the future, credible answers for the crisis and an attractive vision for the country; it must ensure that their leaders who are the public face and ‘brand ambassadors’ of the Movement are the mirror or embodiment of that image. The Left must get not only the politics but also the optics right.


Related posts;

The Left As Political Actor – Part 1

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy

    • 0

      Again, I must question the relevance of Marx to the modern-day. Modern economics has dispensed with Marx entirely. Therefore, those who promote Marxist ideology as a solution to modern-day challenges – in any way, shape, or form – must themselves be first-class buffoons. At the same time, Dayan’s disillusionment with the UNP borders on the level of megalomania. The UNP is the best thing that happened to Sri Lanka, if only because JR introduced the open-market economy to Sri Lanka. Ranil continued this tradition; unfortunately, Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism decided subjugation of the Tamils was a more “worthy” task. The end result – a village clown from Hambantota and his band of cronies dismantling the Constitution, judiciary, education system, etc. – all while former sycophants like Dayan sip cognac in Western capitals and wax eloquent about Fidel.

      • 0

        This bugger Dayan De Silva is a spent force. A Humbug in the class of Anagarika Adharmapala. He is now harping on the Left, as a last straw for his survival before being kicked out. The world has seen the ideologies of the LEFT in practise in Russia and China. So what more proof is needed for these nincompoops to live the lives of luxury, bleeding their hearts for the poor. What HUMBUGS? I wish them the fate of Hugo Shavez another Fraud.

  • 0

    Hi! Dr. Dayan,
    One could keep reading the romatic epic of the Socilaist struggle and the peasantry becoming the powerful rulers cliche. But did it really materialize into the long term political solution to the working class!!!
    The human nature in inherently needs governing by and a ruling class.!!
    That is the reality.
    now what we here in Sri Lanka facing is how could we form such a ruling class that will respect the rule of law and justice to all and livng in peace and harmony.
    I guess that is the vision we would expect from a specialist like you.
    You are more than qualified to see through this haze and guide this lost nation.
    Infact ther WANDAR(O)R OF ASIA.
    We beg money form the Worl Bank and IMF and waste them on improving pavements on the byroads where politicians commute( infact it is by desing to keep the contractor friends of the goivernment get paid!!! So that they will make sure next time around the election expenses are covered by them).
    While the Natio faces increase FULE /UTILITY/Food prics on a daily basis!!!
    So the URGENT need of the Political scientist like you is to be the culture to grow the political tissue to throw these blood sucking ticks out and bring in a reasonably decent Rule that serves the people not themselves.
    PS: I sure wish you would do the needful in this hour of need just like in Gineva in 2009.The tide is turning against the Rajayaksha Oligarchy, just like the way itwas against LTTE in 2009.So Dayan give it the crushing blow my man!!!!

  • 0

    The left must move to the centre and espouse what is right. It cannot also be the left anymore. The ‘Left’ definition does not carry any meaning in the world of today. Further, the left has mortgaged its values to occupy increasingly meaningless ministerial seats and hence lost its credibilty and respect.

    We need a new type of leadership, to take this country forward, while retaining its diversity and distinctiveness. The new leadership must be pragmatic, progressive,proven, skilled,learned and above board. This is the ideal we shouls demand. It should lead the country towards a vision and not bend over backwards to cater to the lumpen elements in society. We need less of politics and more of good governance. Politics must become only a means to good governance, instead of governance being made the means to baser and baser politics.

    What we need is a revolution in this country, not by the right or left, but by those who can define a higher vision for this country.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 0

    Dayan! Do us a favour!
    Get ‘Indignez-vous’ translated into Sinhala and Tamil and circulated here.
    You surely can do the Sinhala. I have the French but also sadly admit an incapacity to translate it into even Sinh.

    Another thing to think about while you are hanging about for the next posting is putting at least a selection (if not the whole thing) of the GUARDIAN WEEKLY articles on the Net. I am surprised it hasn’t been done long before this. – MF

  • 0

    Should we eternally allow our past to define the future or should we move on to build a prosperous future for all citizens, races and religons based on a secular model? We wittness this never ending accusations and squabbles between political parties based on past events.

    These are without purpose as the past is now blurred and bludgeoned beyond recognition. What we only know is that there was a war, bombs, killings, abductions and suffering. The role of various actors other than the main are not well known.

    Now is a time for a new begining. Opposition should unite on a common platform if they wish to defeat the govt. United we stand divided we fall.

  • 0

    Have you no shame! Stop talk about hte left! You should instead focus on where your next paris hilton stay will be funded from? Have you tried talking about the left with your buddy Gota? He may give you a left to remember…now that you are looking elsewhere for your pie!

  • 0

    Dr Dayan seek new LEFT for alternative new set of policies to guide Sri Lankna society for path of Democracy and Socialism.What I want to insist is on question of LEFT on the basis of historical past have been unable undertake the positive result of Democratic Bourgeoise Revolution.
    By the old and new left abandoned to lead task belongs to people’s mission last several years.
    In Fail of such mission lead to nation’s political,economic,and social imminence catastrophe.The imminence of catastrophe is only catastrophic for capitalism in as far it is possibility of the Party of Left.Even the possibility of established the Party also certain level crisis;at same time a polemic against the theory of the STAGE of Capitalist development also become crisis of Democratic task as well.
    While more the theme of Global Market hegemony Capitalism is most mature exemplification of the revolutionary tendency of the capitalist development.And social capital is subject of development.
    The character of Left’s Party work is to be done found within this relation between forecast and deluge.The Left forces in practice is not given the correspondence retraces fully, its painful birth of analysis must discover its revolutionary potentiality at a level determined by development of productive forces.Ongoing country character of crisis and depend on rule of development decisive factor take into consideration by Left Party policies and its task.
    These are in different terms are linked the rules of dialects.
    Indeed polemicist of aimed at large number society elites on critical exploration of many sectors of political-economy-social foundation of Sri Lanka.The Left need to be fully grasp the importance of cornerstone of economy system .
    What is being apply is a historical methodology in Left party development of ideas to leaps and to break the plurality of horizons need to urgency of Practice democratic politics under the people oriented broad policies.

  • 0

    Agree with your analysis.

    However, looking in to the future of the Left believing the JVP or the FSP can provide a nucleus for growth is a waste of time.

    The JVP has no ideological or policy foundation and it is simply interested in capturing power. Power without a plan has been the cause of the downfall of the Left globally and the JVP should not be encouraged.

    The FSP is a CIA and other foreign intelligence agencies’ creation that misfired with Gunaratnam’s ‘kidnapping’.

    If there is a future to the Left, that should be with new blood. JVP has nothing to go by.

  • 0

    I have added to certain points to my last comment of New Left.What I mean new-left was who replace old LSSP and SLCP of left by revaluation of Leninism By JVP and later split to Frontline Socialist Party -FSP.
    JVP more or less anarchist-politics in terrorist character and anarchy of simple commodity production,of that which base on post-colonial-economy order of Ceylon.The class composition determines by JVP organization,although an underdeveloped class composition, can mean that relation must be inverted as was in post-colonial and pre-capitalist society in Sri Lanka.
    Origin and development of JVP policies were discarded Lenin’s greatest contribution to revolutionary theory are that necessity of constructing in terms of the political composition of the working class.
    While subject to the revolutionary potential in a classes being capable of transforming reality and notion that the best used of method of revolution.But that have been trend as a theoretical and practical approch on class based analysis of existing social formation have been denied by JVP.
    Such political party of JVP leadership of anarchist-terrorist outfit unable challenge contemporary form of bourgeois dictatorship.
    Party having NO independence consist of a plurality of points of organization,a plural mobilization of all legal and illegal forms of struggles,while coordination of an entire masses network can play progressive of moments to encounter capitalist Rule.
    JVP was not highest class consciousness revolutionary elites or Marxist in opposite to that they were most primitive and backward section of our society.
    In revolutionary point of view their( JVP & FSP) politics are even today,unchallengeable to capitalist hegemony.
    The very inception JVP was anti- Marxist and non-intellectual elements of the movement of so-called New Left.It would be an idealist mistake on rooted by petty-bourgeois politics of anarchist notion of JVP backwardness radical class consciousness.
    In search for ‘Left’ by public and working class need epoch making historical changes,led to an attention of higher progressive society.What people demand and social forces pressed for now is to use Marx to enlighten us to discover the mechanisms of liberation.
    So-called “New Left” unable to fulfill such massive task challenge by our society.

  • 0

    Did not the former LSSP and CP leaders satisfy your criteria exactly?

    I quote from your above article,”intelligent, honest, and dedicated, with hope in the future, credible answers for the crisis and an attractive vision for the country; it must ensure that their leaders who are the public face and ‘brand ambassadors’ of the Movement are the mirror or embodiment of that image. The Left must get not only the politics but also the optics right”

    What went wrong? Do you want the new left to repeat the adventures of the dead left?.and die again?

    What is this optics right?another of your jargon?

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 5 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.