By Dayan Jayatilleka –
An expatriate academic critic, Dr. Siri Gamage spends a great deal of space, attempting to reconstruct, and analyze and denounce “Jayatilleka’s New Political Mission and its Darker Undercurrents” (Colombo Telegraph, March 10, 2015) Having de-coded it to his evident satisfaction, he is confident it will not succeed, based on the results of the most recent election.
Firstly the confident assumption that the success or otherwise of my political project rests upon an election result can only be based upon ignorance of Rousseau’s clear assertion that the General Will is not reducible to (arithmetical) representation.
Secondly to base one’s political conclusion so confidently on the results of one election when the political system makes for two, is as smart as basing one’s prognosis of a cricket match on the narrowly better performance of one side in the first innings of a two inning Test match. Let us await the results of the general election and the new balance of political forces that will issue—a balance which I hope will lead to greater political and social equilibrium.
More pertinent is Dr. Gamage’s idea that my political mission is new, bound up entirely with Mahinda Rajapaksa and is indeed post-2015 election. This is preceded by Dr. Gamage’s assumption that I ignored issues of governance and backed the wrong horse as it were.
Both these assumptions are wrong. It is not that I was unaware of or unconcerned about the many faults of the Rajapaksa regime. It is that, as I had written repeatedly, that was not and is not my main arena of concern. I am not primarily concerned with matter of political culture, political behavior and issues of governance. My focus is the state. This has been a decade’s long focus. I distinctly recall the first tutorial set for us freshers by our guru Prof K.H. Jayasinghe when we entered Peradeniya: “What is Political Science?” My tutorial which earned an A Plus from him was entitled – and the title prefigured my conclusion which I had argued out in the tutorial—that “Political Science was the Science of the State and Revolution”. That has remained my perspective, though I would add “and Counter-Revolution” to the definition and title.
Any academic should be able to understand the distinctions between State and Government. I am concerned about the State, not about Government, still less governance, which I why I didn’t give a darn as to whether or not President Premadasa ran a “one –man show” as was widely alleged.
The distinctions I observe are analogous to the one made so famously by Carl Schmitt, between ‘politics’ and ‘the political’. He conceptualized the latter as defined by the “friend/enemy” distinction, and paid a tribute to Lenin for introducing this new political perspective—which, interestingly, he also traced to tough-minded Catholic political thinkers. In the 1970s, French intellectuals drew a similar distinction between “la politique” (government, everyday politics, politicians) and “le politique” (‘the political’ especially as concerns State power). It is the latter that is my main domain of concern and has been so for decades. I cannot be accused of not using criteria from another domain or genre, any more than I can be accused of not liking country and western music (which I actually detest) when I have long stated that I am a blues, jazz, rock and soul fan.
That’s why I support/ed Mahinda Rajapaksa, Ranasinghe Premadasa (rather than the DUNF or CBK), Mao (despite the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap), Stalin (despite the Gulags), the Communist tradition rather than the Trotskyist, and am a (non-practicing) Catholic rather than a Protestant. I am sure the continuum of values and criteria are rather plain.
To get to grips with the question of Jayatilleka’s ‘new political mission’: It certainly has elements and emphases that are new, because there is a new ‘conjuncture’ and as Lenin said, the main thing is the concrete analysis of concrete conditions. However, it would be erroneous to locate everything or even most of it in Mahinda Rajapaksa and the elections- recent or forthcoming. It would also be wrong to locate it in a recent Pauline or ‘reverse Pauline’ conversion to Sinhala nationalism. The shortest, most helpful explanation I can give is to quote from the essay I was invited to submit to ‘History and Politics: Millennial Perspectives- Essays in Honour of Kingsley de Silva’ published in 1999.
In it I wrote inter alia, as follows:
“…The struggle against the hegemonic project of the sole superpower: The US hopes to maintain and protect the historical moment of unipolar hegemony. This is manifested in its aggressive, interventionist and militaristic policy of downgrading the sovereignty of independent states. The policy of serial state cleansing is meant at changing the norms of the global state system, deconstructing the global political superstructure and redrawing the world map. The aim is quite simply world domination. In response the strategy should be one of a global anti-hegemonic alliance based on the defense of national independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. This alliance would include countries, nations and peoples. It would also take many concrete forms ranging from the Belarus President’s idea of an anti-NATO bloc to a worldwide movement of solidarity with Russia in the event of a Communist or Communist-nationalist victory at the elections.
…This requires the construction of the broadest possible anti-comprador united fronts bringing together all possible classes and strata including the middle and perhaps even the big manufacturing bourgeoisie) in a bloc against the neo-liberal model… Two corresponding united fronts then mirror parallel strategies: an anti-hegemonic front and an anti-comprador front. Common to both is the recognition of the main enemy and the primary aspect of the primary contradiction– Imperialism. It is on the whetstone of anti-imperialism, which organically includes the struggle against its national local allies, that Marxism can continue to be sharpened…” (Dayan Jayatilleka, ‘Marxism and the Millennium’, History and Politics: Millennial Perspectives- Essays in Honour of Kingsley de Silva 1999).
Certainly Mahinda Rajapaksa was nowhere in the picture when I wrote this. I was nowhere near Geneva and the successful united front in the defense of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty in the battle against ‘human rights imperialism’. All my stances since, including on Sinhala nationalism, should be seen within the perspective laid out here.
I know on which side of the barricades Western imperialism is and in the final analysis, Mahinda Rajapaksa was and is. Mahinda was on the side of sovereignty.
Tamil nationalism—I should say expansionist ‘Tamil Zionism’– was always on the side of imperialism and sought its support against Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. Those within the Tamil movement who were anti-imperialist were violently eliminated by the Tamil ultranationalists or converted to their cause.
I know the strategy and tactics of imperialism and its regional allies and partners, in the move for regime change from Iran in 1953 to Libya in 2012 and Venezuela today. It failed in Syria thanks to Putin’s Russia.
I know that Mahinda Rajapaksa was in part, externally de-stabilized, with the stakes involving the competition with China and Eurasia (China and Russia). I know which states in the world system have proved our consistent friends and allies. I know how slogans and the ideology of human rights and governance have been used for decades to de-stabilize patriotic regimes throughout the third world and since the 1990s, through the so-called Colour Revolutions, in Europe itself, in an effort to encircle Russia.
I know that the game, the great struggle is not yet over. The Mahinda Movement is a force for resistance. Whatever its backward features may be, Sinhala nationalism is a force and factor of resistance and the defense of sovereignty, and is therefore objectively progressive. This is why Stalin said in the 1920s that “the Emir of Afghanistan is more progressive than the British Labour Party”—a line that Samir Amin often quoted in recent decades.
I know that neoliberalism, Tamil nationalism, the pro-imperialist comprador elite (Ranil’s UNP), and the semi-feudal residues (CBK) are in a single power-bloc. I know which side of the global struggle this new power-bloc is located. It stands against national sovereignty, with imperialism, for hegemonic interference and interventionism.
Those in Sri Lanka who oppose Mahinda Rajapaksa were and are objectively on the side of imperialism and against sovereignty. Those who were at Nugegoda on February 18, 2015 were objectively for national sovereignty and against imperialist de-stabilization of a patriotic regime. As a Gramscian I know which is, or approximates, or is potentially, the national-popular bloc, the bloc of the ‘people-nation’, and which is not; which is the opposing cosmopolitan bloc. I know which side of the barricades I am on. I also know the duty and the ‘project’ of the ‘engaged’ intellectual.