12 August, 2020

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The Renewal Of The Opposition & The Role Of The Intelligentsia

By Dayan Jayatilleka –

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Mental habits, however damaging, die hard. Having spent many years erroneously attempting to achieve peace by placating Prabhakaran rather than prevailing over him, the UNP has been repeating the error of searching for a solution while retaining the problem: that party is seeking to overcome its chronic crisis by equivocation and placation of Ranil Wickremesinghe, rather than by decisively rejecting him. This is not the profile of a party that the electorate would consider fit to rule a country facing an existential threat from the fanatical Tamil Eelamist movement in neighbouring Tamil Nadu and the Tamil Diaspora.

The pro-Opposition ideologues and commentators who criticise me for attacking Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNP more than I do the Rajapaksas or State, should ask themselves why there is very little criticism of the Tsar and his family in the 45 volumes of Lenin’s writings, despite the execution of Lenin’s beloved older brother by the Tsarist autocracy!  Much of those writings are taken up with polemics against various trends and sub-trends in the anti-Tsarist, i.e. Oppositional space. In Lankan politics today, the ‘key link’ (which Lenin and Mao said must be grasped) or the ‘game changer’ (as Barack Obama would have it), is terminating the citizens’ lack of a viable democratic option; ending the absence of competition in the political system and the near-monopoly enjoyed by the regime due to the endemic crisis of the Opposition which in turn is reducible to a crisis of leadership.

Reading Padraig Colman’s critical commentary (‘Gramsci, Dayan and New Labour’, Ceylon Today, Thursday, Oct 24th 2013, p 13) was a delight for its intelligence, style and sly wit (as a recipient of a gift from my wife of the collected Blackadder DVDs, I loved the Baldrick reference).  It was also a sharp contrast to the critiques that usually come my way. A sheer sense of disgust and a sense that ‘time is tight’ (as Booker T and the MGs insisted) has prevented me from responding, for instance, to the rancorous, rancid racism of Prof GH Peiris and HLD Mahindapala, who are attempting to mount a rearguard action having recovered from the shock of the reactivation of the Northern Provincial Council which they polemicized  against fanatically, secure in their conviction that they had a strongman on their side who would put a stop to all this nonsense of devolution.

I must confess that I am a partisan of the makeover of the Labour Party which made the victory of Blair possible. I maintain that it was far better that Labour eventually won than had the Conservatives been re-elected yet again; that the re-thinking and re-branding of the Labour party was a necessary pre-requisite and therefore a good thing, and that the entire experience has relevance for the renewal of the democratic opposition in Sri Lanka.

Tony Blair’s execrable conduct in the Iraq war—preceded I might add by Kosovo—does not negate the importance of the re-making of the Labour party. Though Robin Cooke had it wrong on Kosovo in 1999, his brave dissent on Iraq proves that there was a position within New Labour (as distinct from the residue of Old Labour) which was healthier than that of Blair, and thus the problem was not with New Labour but its neoliberal perversion which, in foreign policy terms, made it the twin of the neo-conservatism of George W Bush. David Miliband, who waged a crusade against Sri Lanka, is the perfect exemplar of that strange fusion.

The main point of disagreement between Padraig and me concerns the relevance of Antonio Gramsci to the renewal and recovery of the British Labour Party. Padraig regards it as a bit of a reach. The reason that I do not is a rather literal one. The three intellectuals I named (and another I possibly should have) were utterly explicit about Gramsci as the source of the inspiration for their analyses and prescriptions for the understanding of Thatcherism, the critique of Old Labour and the strategic prescriptions for the re-positioning of the Opposition. I have beside me right now, having retrieved it from my bookshelf, a well-thumbed copy of Stuart Hall’s The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left, a collection of essays and lectures, one of them with Martin Jacques, drenched with references to and exegesis on Gramsci (including the seminal essay ‘Gramsci and Us’).  Most of the pieces had appeared in Marxism Today edited by Martin Jacques and the collection itself had been co-published by Verso and Marxism Today.

Though less concerned with theory, Eric Hobsbawm’s inspiration and points of reference both in his political critique of the Trotskyist supported trade unionist Labour left and his elaboration of a program and strategy for a new Labour opposition, were the politics of the Popular Front of the 1930s, its extension and elaboration in the writings of Gramsci and Togliatti, and the perspectives of the Euro-communists, most notably the Italians.

It is of course true that Hobsbawm, who was proud of his achievement in helping defeat what he regarded as the dangerously ossified leftism of the Trot-trade unionist bloc, felt that the pendulum had swung too far with Tony Blair.

My lapse was in omitting Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe from my list of intellectual influences that helped shift the Labour opposition onto a winning track. That lapse was because their project was never one explicitly one of the political reform and rejuvenation of the Labour party, unlike in the cases of Hobsbawm, Hall and Jacques. However, insofar as they made, in Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985) a convincing deconstruction of the old notion of the working class as the privileged agency of the socialist project, they helped liberate the Labour party from the grip of the trade unions.  Laclau did not lean on Gramsci but rather on Eduard Bernstein. His collaborator Chantal Mouffe however, was heavily Gramscian. (Her partiality for Gramsci and a left reclamation of Carl Schmitt is something I share, albeit in a different, Third Worldist mix, but that is of little relevance).

Across the Atlantic, neoconservative ideologues were to accuse their academic rivals who supported the repeated remaking of the Democratic Party with the candidacies of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, of being influenced by Gramsci in their strategic emphasis on culture and education and a war of attrition for the achievement of intellectual and cultural hegemony.

The dramatic and triumphant performance of a New Latin American Left (with its roots in the revolutionary movements of the 1960s and 70s) is due at least in part to the deep absorption of Gramscian thinking and strategy in the grasp of the ‘national-popular’/popular-national’, as the basis of the formation of expanding social blocs. As noted in a definitive work ‘The New Latin American Left: Utopia Reborn’, “The growing critique within left-wing intellectual circles of this social and historical vision—which in Latin America was heavily influenced by Gramsci’s critique of the orthodox reading of Marx—marked the gradual transition to new interpretations of the left’s theoretical traditions and the formulation of new theories…The confluence of ideas drawn from Marx, Gramsci and Luxembourg had contributed to the formation of a radical democratic tradition in Latin America…” (‘The New Latin American Left: Utopia Reborn’ eds. Barrett, Chavez and Rodriguez-Garavito, Pluto Press, 2008, pp. 8, 28)

In Sri Lanka too, the ‘hard road to renewal’ of the country and its society runs through the renewal of alternatives; of a democratic opposition capable of re-occupying the broad centre through a smart patriotism and social democracy.

Just as the British Labour Party had to liberate itself from the grip of the trade-unionists and the Trotskyists and their strategy of frontal assault on Thatcherism; just as the US Democrats had to shift from the old anti-war social welfarist coalition to a new centre, the Sri Lankan opposition has to break decisively from the Colombo cosmopolitan ‘peace NGO’ constituency with its links to the Tamil Diaspora, the antimilitary message, the blocs with tiny parties of tattered Trotskyists, and the LGBT profile of its leadership. While it certainly must eschew a nationalism that is narrowly sectarian, the mainline Lankan opposition has not been perceived since 1999 as national or patriotic! It has to become capable of competing credibly in the new mainstream, without becoming a clone of the Rajapaksa regime.

The failure to do this is not unrelated to the enormous failure of the critical Lankan intelligentsia, including the expatriates, to learn from or grasp the relevance of the political thinking of Antonio Gramsci, his stress on the progressive value of the national-territorial unification of the state, his revaluation of Machiavelli, repeated invocation of the ‘national-popular’ and rejection of ‘cosmopolitanism’ while embracing and exemplifying the universal.

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Latest comments

  • 0
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    This author is suffering from verbal Diarrhea!

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      We don’t need high flown theories and the political science rubbish it’s only a quasi-science anyway.

      A simple analysis will suffice: Sri Lanka never had/has a major national party with nation-building at heart; to unite all communities for prosperity of the island.

      We have opportunist leaders, and politicians, including the author. Stop.

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        Thiru,
        Listen to this:-

        Set aside 30 minutes to listen in full with volume loud.

        ——————————————————————————————MP Harsha de Silva makes epic speech to Parliament –’This is a den of thieves’

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lt9ns4qHlHA
        UNP MP and economist Harsha de Silva slammed the country’s legislative body as a ‘den of thieves’ during the debate in parliament this week over the COPE Report. Harsha first lambasted the government ministers for engaging in political grandstanding and not participating on the issues of the debate, “none of the government members spoke two words about it” said the MP.

        Harsha’s nearly 30 minute address to the house was brimming with passion and anger, spoke both in English to Sinhala as the MP went through a laundry list of alleged corruption charges within the government that he says the parliament failed to remedy. ”I am disgusted!” barked MP de Silva at one point in his address. “I am telling you I am disgusted– because there is so much corruption in this institution” said an agitated MP.

        Concluding his hard-hitting speech the MP de Silva had even harsher words in his concluding statement “I am sorry to be standing here as a member of parliament”. said the MP ”This has become a den of thieves”.

        The MP however expressed hope that next year it will be a better situation. The 2012 COPE report can be downloaded on the Parliament’s website. The entire speech is well worth a watch.

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          We need something like the French revolution to wipe out the rotten, corrupt, chauvinistic politicians and the despotic rulers to the guillotine to start afresh: Thieves emptying the state coffers must be hanged.

          Only then proper nation building with due respect to various communities, and prosperity and justice for hard working honest people possible.

          The so called intellectuals and intelligentsia are all hypocrites and should be jettisoned.

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            Dayan is right however you despise his outlandish and cocksure style.

            What ‘French Revolution’ can you expect from this fellow Wickremesinghe holding on to the UNP leadership for nearly two decades disallowing the party and the opposition to reposition its program and action in ousting a regime like the Rajapaksas?

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              Do you think even if RW would leave the party, the stupid folks would not support MR thugs in the future. Most of them are like hallucinated today. Failure lies on the stupid masses that deliberately vote for them and easily get deceived.

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            Thiru, not the French Revolution. We had our own Home-grown Solution in the not so distant past, when the Thapasa Monks went round the Villages and remote areas, educating the people about what the then government was upto. People listened to Monks, and this was a quiet revolution. Unfortunately now we have Gotabhaya and his White vans, so I do not know whether it will succeed in the current environment.

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      He will remain like that. He is proud of his self made estimates.

      Most of the time, we the readership love to read TG^s article on this platform, but not that many seem to even see the articles written by this KNOWALL of the nation.

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    Ranil went to the extent of considering the ISGA for LTTE. Some could argue he did not have any options. After all, the economy and the army was decimated. Although he purposely neglected streagthening the army. There is no excuse for someone who risks national security to this extent. People used to think UNP was better at managing the economy. Even there the UPFA are now the preffered party. I agree with you. He needs to step down. He needs to step down because fundamental shift in direction is needed by the UNP under a new leader.

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    UNP’s hour of need is to learn how to sell itself to the ordinary punters who are the great majority.

    This great majority wouldn’t know Gramsci from Kadala Parrippu.

    But they know what is good and what is bad m after the 30 year misery and suffering inflicted on them by the previous governments.

    What has the UNP offered to the inhabitants as an alternative to Rajapaksa in this post Nanthikadal era?.

    The latest I believe is a promise to totally ban Casinos when they come to power.

    How does this sit with neo capitalism let alone capitalism which the UNP is totally aligned with.

    How can they hurt Harrahs and obey Obama, sorry Hilary and seek their help and guidance if Mr Perera and Mr Harsha get into power with in the next 10 years?.

    The current leadership lot have nor credibility, nor substance to offer anything better than what our inhabitants have now.

    And the inhabitants have expressed this sentiment over and over again at the ballot box and that is what counts.

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    Here the half wit goes again displaying his western book learning laced with Marxist catch phrases that mask this man’s wallowing in the scraps thrown by the MARA establishment be it in Paris or some other unmaxist watering hole where he can parrot his BS.

    I wonder what the real rural based JVP would have done to this black englishman quoting from as many western scholarly catch words from the marxist lexicon as he can?

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    The UNP will never learn.In fact they don’t want to learn.Today the UNP is an NGO. Quite satisfied in obtaining money from foreigners including the defeated Tamil terrorists living abroad ostensibly to promote HR. Ravi K obtained money from Raj Rajarathnam to promote HR and democracy.Even the likes of Karu J are no better.For them the UNP is their bread and butter.

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    “Sri Lankan opposition has to break decisively from the Colombo cosmopolitan ‘peace NGO’ constituency with its links to the Tamil Diaspora, the antimilitary message,..” Very true,

    Colombo cosmopolitan ‘peace NGO’ monkeys / US$ Vultures were never Patriotic but on a hidden US/West agenda to divide Lanka & failed , UNP still carrying that heavy Cross over it’s shoulders, so never close to vast majority of people ,hence can permanently occupy opposition benches.
    Those who see RW as an educated, intelligent & intellectual etc, should ask, if so,
    Why, RW cannot understand the little thing, that if he leaves UNP for good, UNP would be better off with new leadership & with new image would perhaps even bounce back to power in 02 years time ???

    If he cannot ?? is he an intelligent / intellectual ???

    or his greediness for power , which he never gets overpowers his intelligence ??

  • 0
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    What a load of hogwash!!!

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    DJ. your piece is seemingly erudite and full of nuances and theories.

    These academic references to your intellectual panel is lost on us lesser mortals who are merely concerned about wanton corruption, nepotism, theft of state resources, vitiation of judicial process, selective application of the rule of law and the unbearable cost of living, besides other miseries inflicted upon us by this authoritarian and profligate regime.

    Do you think that our perception of the impotent opposition(meaning UNP)will change with the simple ouster of Ranil? Fat chance.

    I believe that the entire opposition(including UNP)is in serious need of re-branding requiring new slogans and initiatives. They need to bridge that ever-widening credibility gap.

    Even so, it would take years to establish their position as a viable alternative to the current regime.

    By then the coming generations would have choked to death under the jack-boot of despotism coupled with with the ever-increasing debt burden being imposed on this hapless country.

    In the meantime please keep writing DJ, till MR “re-discovers” you, and gives you that plum foreign posting which you are not-so subtly angling for.

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      Not a foreign posting, my bet is DJ for Governor NPC! How would you like that? A couple of months of Gramsci, and Wignes will go begging to MR… “please, Sir, please can we have that army guy back?”

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      You are spot on MNZ, Thanks

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    Oh now he’s comparing himself with Lenin.

    I think you don’t take on the likes of Mahindapala and even Rajpal Abeynaike Dayan the way you try to rip others apart because you know they have inroads to your boss, Mahinda Rajapaksa. It wouldn’t do for the Abeynaikes and the Mahindapalas of this world to go snitching to Temple Trees about what a little bother you have become and how (in writing at least) you decry everything he stands for.

    A humbug of the first order.

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    Mr Dayan Jayatilleke, you are nothing but a compulsive csucker to those who hold and exercise power, anyone. In earlier csking exercises you hurt MR’s bit and it cost you. Now you are trying to make amends. We can see through you. You are repulsive. Shut up.

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    Hi Dayan, Gonnas don’t read this kind of stuff. Not sure whom you are writing this for. Hope it is not for your personnel consumption.

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    once again the man with no backbone and bogus air of intellectuality is writing to get back into the good book of Rajapakse. He says “the Sri Lankan opposition has to break decisively from the Colombo cosmopolitan ‘peace NGO’ constituency with its links to the Tamil Diaspora, the antimilitary message…”. The fact is no party can win enough seats in the south to form a government unless they adopt racist policies. The sinhala-buddhists are inherently racists who will vote only for parties whouphold the supremacy of the sinhala-buddhism. This is evident if one were to look at the voting pattern in the srilankan election since 1955. In 1956 bandaranayake(SLFP)-chelvanayagam(FP) agreement was signed and unilaterally abrogated by SLFP after protest march by UNP led by JRjayawardhene and in the subsequent election UNP won. Similarly Dudley (UNP)-Clevanayagam(FP) pact was discarded after the protest by SLFP led by Mrs. bandaranayeke and the election that followed was won by the SLFP.
    So Mr jayatilake as far as srilanka politics is concerned NONE of the western philosophy is applicable. AS the secretary for Defense goatbaya rajapakse said “DEMOCRACY AND HUMAN RIGHTS ARE WESTERN IDEAS AND THEY DON’T APPLY TO US”
    No point in blaming ranil for UNP’s woes, it is the illiterate sinhala mass that has to wake up before it is too late.

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    Dayan Jayathilake your article is a mess, probably old age memory loss.

    You start from Ranil’s UNP, then go to British Labour party and then every where. So, it is difficult for us to grasp what you are saying.

    Anyway, I don’t think In Sri Lanka SLFP or UNP exists. All the UNP MPs are ministers in the UPFA govt. Do you think this same old bunch of 225 will do any change in Sri Lanka. They all are there for accumulating wealth fast. Fighting in the UNP is also to about that. Leadership post is also a very good opportunity to claim the owner ship to humongous amounts of wealth.

    You just wanted a good life as a diplomat. But, then you screwed up it and now you try to portray that you are socialist. When you enjoyed the life of a Diplomat, you also were a Aristocrat. Now, you are grieving and don’t know whom to blame and shoot every where except your beloved former pay masters.

    From time to time, you show who exactly who you are though.

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    We already have enough pat-riots in UPFA.

    We don’t need any more!

    Let Ranil be Ranil. People voted for him in 1977, 1989, 1994, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2005 and 2010.

    If not for the LTTE he would have won in 2005. LTTE favoured the Rajafucksas for obvious reasons (because Rajafucksa is a Tamil tiger).

    When JR became PM he was 71 years old!!

    Ranil has 11 more years to go!! He will be BETTER than JR.

    Some GREAT work of JR include 1977, 1983 July, Vadamarachchi. Love you JR. We need you today more than ever before. Your nephew Ranil is the one. Not this brothels company Rajafucksa the curse of the nation.

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      Fuk-u-shima, finally you are beginning to make sense!

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    Dayan is attacking Ranil because he is,to a large extent, for devolution of power. Sajith whose dream is to be the President , will be far worse than the incumbent President.
    The UNP should make Mangala its leader if it wants to be a stronger party and win the trust of the Tamils and the Muslims.

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    Dayan,

    Please stop trying to rejuvenate an opposition when for the first time in ages Colombo has stability, which benefits the entire island.

    You are talking about an opposition that took money from the Norwegian embassy in 2010 and was going to sell the President down the river to the ICC on the white flag murders.

    Sinhalese can sort out their own affairs… would never take advice from Tamils anyways.

    Quote Sivaram or Chanakya or something, why are you always quoting Europeans from 1940 … you know Colombo isn’t ruled by the British.

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    Dayan at last admits that Sri Lanka is”a country facing an existential threat from the fanatical Tamil Eelamist movement in neighbouring Tamil Nadu and the Tamil Diaspora.”
    How does he reconcile this with his stand for the full implementation of the 13th Amendment.

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    Dayan’s problems stem from his childhood and conflicts with the perpertual bacchanalian companion albeit brilliant dad. He changed his name to assimilate because to be known as Dayan De Silva would not be kosher in his mind. All these archaic pronouncements of Tsars, Lenin and a host of western politicians or philosophers is used by him to desperately show how intellectually superior he is; whilst he did great work as a politically appointment Ambassador in Geneva he suffers from a serious identity crisis and has verbal diarrhoea of the highest order. Basically he is a theoretical pandithaya who probably cannot screw on a light bulb without quoting a western white pundit: Chomsky or whoever is his erotic delight of the day. In other words he is as useless from a GDP point of view as Jehan Perera or Saravanamuttu

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