18 May, 2024


Towards A ‘Movement Of Movements’: The Traps The Opposition Must Avoid

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Sri Lanka is witnessing the biggest social movement ever in my lifetime: the protest of the peasantry. It is not devoid of political backing and the embedding of cadre, but it was not born because of any political effort. It would not have been possible for any political party or combination of political forces to have awakened the peasantry and roused it to mobilize in these numbers.

Certainly, the August 1953 Hartal or peaceful working people’s uprising was the strongest ingathering of social forces in our post-Independence history, and the peak of a powerful Left movement, but that was before I was born.

The volume and velocity of the peasant protest has made it a Movement; the first ever peasant Movement on the island. We have had strong workers’ movements and student movements, but never a mobilized peasantry; never a peasants movement.

The father of that movement is President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, which is partly appropriate because his father, uncle, cousins and brothers were all elevated by their ties with the peasantry, but in this case the peasants are resisting and rebelling against, not for, a Rajapaksa.

The peasants’ movement is the best chance that Sri Lanka has to halt and reverse the dangerous negative trends underway, ranging from the slow-motion collapse of the economy to the rapid erosion of democracy and the journey towards the Myanmar model.

The power of a peasants’ movement should never be underestimated in the global south and especially in Asia. Mao rose to prominence as a young Communist because of his essay ‘Investigation into the Peasant Movement in Hunan’. The secret of Mao’s political success and indeed the victory of the Chinese Revolution was because of a paradigm shift he effected in orthodox Marxist-Leninist political strategy, including of the Chinese Communist Party, which was focused on the cities.

There are many traps the Opposition must avoid, to prevail over this regime.

1. Don’t regard the Gnanasara issue in isolation: it is not only to resume the project of ultranationalist dominance, it is, more pressingly, an attempt to change the terms of the current situation by diverting attention from the peasant issue and those of the workers, teachers and students. It is an old tactic of splitting and deflecting if not diverting the protest churning in the largely Sinhala populated heartland. To this end the regime is striving to place the ethno-religious issue at the top of the agenda, displacing what is a far more serious threat, namely the accumulating socioeconomic issues. The Opposition and dissident opinion must link the anti-racist, anti-dictatorial, anti-militarist causes with the socioeconomic struggles of the peasants and workers, anchoring the former in the latter.

2. The struggle against the regime’s despotism must have as its main axis, a worker-peasant alliance as the main axis of a bloc of working people and students-teachers-principals. This requires getting the timing right; synchronize the struggles: true, “absolutely everything develops unevenly” said Mao, rendering Lenin more poetic, but it is vital that the workers struggle doesn’t peak too soon –for instance a blackout over the Yugadhanavi issue—and draw repression, which then deprives the peasant struggle, which is the main force, of the role of potentially the leading element, namely the urban workers. The teachers and principals movement seems to have understood this, and adopted better tactics than headlong confrontation.

3. The Opposition and the Resistance must lose all evidence of the old “Toiya’ mentality and the notion of a “baiyya/toiyya” struggle. Today it is not the “toiyyas” but the “baiyyas” who are fighting the regime and posing the most serious social threat to it. Don’t stay stuck in the urban social enclave. The action has manifestly shifted and is in the countryside.

4. Even in the urban areas, the emphasis must be the needs and demands of the economically hard-hit; not the well-off.

5. The ex-UNP Opposition mustn’t remain within the consciousness and agenda of the past quarter-century, of the Ranil Wickremesinghe led UNP. It must not inhabit the 25%-30% vote bank of the UNP constituency. It must grasp the reality that even today, if the choice, were a Ranil Wickremesinghe UNP vs a Mahinda Rajapaksa SLFP or SLPP, the vast majority of voters probably wouldn’t opt for the former. Those SLPP-SLFP voters cannot be won over by the discourse of the UNP of the Yahapalanaya (2015-2019) and preceding CFA (2001-2004) years.

6. The tectonic shift of the Sinhala voters of 2019-2020 won’t snap back entirely and automatically, however bad the economy gets, to that 2001-2004/2015-2019 UNP agenda. It is because JR Jayewardene and Ranasinghe Premadasa knew this that even while the awful economic policies of Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Dr NM Perera were causing such immense suffering to the masses, they didn’t expect the voters to automatically shift and therefore totally revamped and repositioned their party.

7. If those Pohottuwa/ SLFP voters who regard themselves however inaccurately as “left” (“Vamay”), “progressive” (“pragathisheelee’) and “patriotic” (“jathika/deshapremee”) are to be won over, the ex-UNP has to shift to a progressive center i.e., a moderate-nationalist center-left.

8. The Opposition must pivot so as to politically supply the mounting “social demand”. A technocratic perspective, free-market economics, hoorays for the lifting of price controls, and shout-outs to the IMF, won’t achieve that. The program, platform and discourse of the Opposition must be much more ‘national/patriotic’ and Populist –representing the 99%–than technocratic/free-market fundamentalist.

9. When SWRD Bandaranaike split from the UNP and formed the SLFP, he and his fellow founder-members didn’t think of themselves as ex-UNP or as building a party which was the successor of the UNP. They built a new force, carving out a new, Center-left space; a Middle path between the Conservative Right and Marxist Left. Thus, they succeeded in attracting voters from right and left.

10. The strategy must be a replay the national-popular bloc constructed by Ranasinghe Premadasa which was far from (a) JRJ elitism (b) DB Wijetunga “majoritarianism” or (c) Ranilian ‘minoritarianism’, but a platform and discourse of and for the “have-nots” plus a multiethnic, multireligious, multiethnic approach. Today’s democratic Resistance must be built from and represent the social movements, i.e., the people’s movements, that have already arisen. These must be replicated in every social sector and every locality until a grid covers the whole social topography and national terrain. The democratic Resistance must be a “Movement of movements” representing the “99%”.

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Latest comments

  • 14

    I was intrigued by, ‘There are many traps the Opposition must avoid, to prevail over this regime’.
    That the country needs to free itself of this Regime, if we are to exist as a free country is given. But, there is no Opposition to prevail or surrender! That is the reality.
    Dayan may not agree with me, but Sajith has made sure that all opposition to nil.
    I must make myself clear; I’m not telling that Ranil would have been better.
    Ranil never opposed Rajapaksa (senior). I haven’t figured out the reason for that.
    If any of you do, please share it, here.
    Gota enjoys a free ride because Sajith hurt Ranil when Ranil was at his weakest.

    • 14

      Sajith has made sure that all opposition to nil.
      Should read,
      Sajith has made sure that all opposition is brought to nil.

      • 11

        Dr. DJ writes:
        “even while the awful economic policies of Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Dr NM Perera were causing such immense suffering to the masses”, and then:
        “A technocratic perspective, free-market economics, hoorays for the lifting of price controls, and shout-outs to the IMF, won’t achieve that.”
        So , if Mrs B’s economy was awful, why is market economics to be avoided?
        It is time we got leaders who did what’s good for the country, not what’s good for their electoral prospects. The fact is, the people have got used to living beyond their means. Look at the people selling stuff out of the boots of expensive cars on the roads. Why did they buy these cars in the first place? We need to get people into productive employment, and that doesn’t include tuk tuk driving or being ranaviruwos. I seriously doubt Sajit has the skills, even though he isn’t short of empty words.

        • 6

          Until some years after JRJ turned almost everything upside down, political parties and leaders had some vision, which one may approve or disapprove of.
          There was opportunism in forming alliances, but even those were mostly guided by some form of ideology. Colvin R de Silva erred, as a Marxist, in carrying a flower basket to the Maligawa. But he did not switch to Sinhala Buddhism (despite yielding to pressure in drafting the constitution).
          What has Sajith P have as ideology?
          The JVP is claims an ideology which does not match its practcie; and I strongly doubt its integrity.
          The JVP has much explaining to do in public, which it is unwilling to even consider.
          There are no more traps to avoid as each major opposition group is fully trapped by its opportunist politics.

    • 6

      Have you read the Batalanda commission report?.

      • 2


        Where can I get a soft copy?

    • 0

      Ranil was always weak. He has never fit into Sri Lankan political culture because he never believed in collegial politics. He was seen strong only because there were stronger people behind him like Gamini Athukorala, Rajitha Senaratne etc., always (stupidly) propping up this weak body. Now there is not a single soul to do that stupid job and that is why Ranil is almost vanished in to thin air and soon no one would hear about him.

  • 13

    Whoever wants to challenge, or run against the family of rulers, it is far better to not show your hand too early. They have a bad habit of imprisoning those who run against them (Sarath Fonseka), or arresting those they think are a threat in their little brains.

  • 10

    All these are Chingkallams who once obtain power will start to discriminate and marginalize Thamizh in the name of Mahavamsam and to gain popularity with the largely racist Chingkalla population. Gothic is the worst of the lot but the others are no better.

  • 3

    DJ forgets what happened after the 1953 event.

    It strengthened SWRD-B and he replaced Sir John and Dudley who were also nationalists in a thumping victory in 1956.

    This is what will happen. As people suffer hunger, unrest, hopelessness, that is the perfect breeding ground for racism.

    Only solution is to divide the island into 3 mono ethnic nations and relocate people. Why should everyone suffer because of a few crooks?

    The Opposition is totally divided.
    * JVP and UNP/SJB will not unify.
    * Now a few jokers from the government led by Weerawansa have created another opposition group.
    * TNA will not join any one of them (unless it is a presidential election).
    * SLMC, ACMC and CWC will join any party that rules.

    What is the Opposition DJ is talking about?

    There is a huge demand for the opposition market today with no dominant player. Many parties will share the opposition market with small chunks.

    This is what happened from 1977 to 1994. Hunger, unrest, mass murder, riots, war, invasion, etc. failed to unify the then opposition.

    Only solution is 3 mono ethnic nations in the island.

    • 3

      G: “Only solution is 3 mono ethnic nations in the island.”
      Can we have a map please.

  • 12

    This “ESSAY” is to tell us to have a “Consolidated” Opposition as an “Alternative” to the present “Rajapakse Regime”. It is futile and a “Worthless” attempt with “Sajith” as the Leader. This “Sajith” is no “Leader” excepting his struggle to become the “President” like his father and to accomplish a “Wish” of his Mother. That again is a “Family Business”. Who are his “Team” members except a “FEW” who could be counted with the fingers of one hand? What are his “Plan” and “Action” strategies to take us out of this “Humongous” hell-hole? Nothing and Nothing. This “Sajith” is another “Bad Debt” item like “Ranil W” that must be written off the National Books of Accounts.

    Dr. Dayan J must first understand the simple “Reality” briefly stated above. He(as the Advisor to Sajith)must have surely implanted that “PEASANT” terminology in the minds of “Sajith & Co.” and that could be the reason that he (Sajith) suddenly appeared at a “Govi Peramuna” march. Dear “Dr DJ”, please “Withdraw” that term “PEASANT” (a reference to “Goviyas”) and description of their “Protests” for not making available the fertilizer their “Protests” as “Peasant’s Struggle”. If you do need to use the term “Peasants”, use it on Teachers, who do not even get “Rs. 1000.00” a day.

    What the PEOPLE need and a LOOKING for are (1) A TEAM of “Honest”, “Sincere” and “Will Do” types with a “Sound” Policy initiative and an “Action Plan”. (2) A “DEDICATED” Leader to “LEAD” without strings attached. This “Sajith & Co.” is nowhere near that “NEED” and “DEMAND”.

    • 5


      I am told Gota’s entourage to UK includes GL, and other faithful retainers. An old friend told me, he was in the audience when GL addressed some students at London uni in 1997, during his speech he apparently promised to deliver lots of X Mas goodies to Tamil speaking people.

      My friend told me he challenged GL as his promises sounded hollow and questioned him if there was an elections at the corner?

      It has been 25 years since.
      Doesn’t GL feel ashamed not delivering what he promised/set out and now it seems he has forgotten his mothers advice?
      Is he sexually attracted to Bad boys?

      • 0

        Dear NV: Your comment said: “…..his promises sounded HOLLOW…” Those students should have had the intellect (Gana) to realize that nothing meaningful could be expected from a “HOLLOW PROFESSOR”. When you know that a vessel is empty is there any necessity to put your hand and look for something? Simple as that.

  • 4

    “The power of a peasants’ movement should never be underestimated. “
    Thero wrote here all the time that why Ranil cannot win, but Valaththodam can win. So, apparently this is not about the right-left issue. Thero is trying to whitewash the truth that Sinhala Buddhist are only anti-incumbent, no policy. That is the reason that every time the government changes from UNP to SLFP or vice versa, it always sweeps a 2/3 majority. Peasants’ movement turned out to be headless chicken in the USSR, so Lenin captured the opportunity and imposed his experiment. In the history of world politics, Lenin’s experiment was the biggest disappointment. In Lankawe Teachers and CEB are good candidates of the middle class to bring a balanced change for all sectors of the community. Their path will be an educated middle path. But in this case, their aims are vastly different so they will not get along.

  • 1

    The teachers want positive change, but CEB employees are going on the negative side. In reality it is propagating the anti- American, pro-China policy on behalf of the government, but pretending like they are against the government. It was the same game the Old King government played in Somawathi reserve’s land sale. Even if they get along, it would be something like “UNP and SLFP” always getting united to annihilate Tamils, but on the country’s needs, they both are centuries apart. Now Don Stephen’s experiment, Solomon West’ experiment, Junius Richard’s experiment all are gone out of the gate like what happened to Lenin’s experiment. Like Lenin, they all stole the opportunity, but never educated and converted the people for the project. People never understood what to follow as none of these leaders understood what they were proposing.
    SJV said that only God can save Tamils. A lot of Tamils turned mad at him. That is because they understood what SJV was seeing, and they started to fear about their future. That is why the movement he started, even after 75 years of continuous disappointments, failure, is still alive. What is important is the mass need to be able to envisage the future and prepare them to adjust for that.

  • 2

    Siri Mao won a massive majority when she said that at any cost, even from the Moon she would bring free rice. But when she lost, she lost by an even higher majority.
    Vaalaiththodam will play the same game she did and if it works he will come with ⅔ majority. But it is not going to do anything different from the past 75 year. If the movement educates the masses about the path the country has travelled the past 75 years and wins the election based on that, then the learned mass will ensure that their government is not losing the path. Remember, in how many times the Hitler King has backtracked his decision? The Masses have a tendency to naturally resist their government’s actions. What is happening in Lankawe is the kleptocracy Aanduwas are using this resistance to develop anti-minority policies, anti-West policies and depositing the reaped harvest out of this, in foreign banks. Kleptocracy Sinhala Political parties dishonestly & cunningly perturb or arouse the Sinhala mass, but do not equip them with knowledge. But if they are educated, if they become foresighted, then their resistance will guide the government on the right path. If the masses are not educated, the mass’s actions will turn out to be sabotage against their government and thus against them.

    • 4

      “Kleptocracy Sinhala Political parties dishonestly & cunningly perturb or arouse the Sinhala mass, but do not equip them with knowledge.”
      Same thing is happening with Tamil political parties. They arouse Tamil masses bombarding fabricated history written in ‘Vadukkodei Resolution’. So, Tamils in the North are dreaming of a separate State that will cover almost one third of the country for 12% of the people. Who wouldn’t like that? That is the reason why SJVC’s separatism is still alive.

  • 8

    Dayan is high time to retire now, same as Vickramabahu Karunarathna. Dayan, your vomit only taste to you

    • 3

      Vickramabahu erred in his judgment in putting his faith in the UNP. But he still has some principles.
      He is not a patch on DJ for rank opportunism.

  • 7

    And suppose the peasantry succeed what replaces the regime? Another bunch of thieves. Not even the Press is free of them. On Saturday the Island had a picture with a very short article bemoaning Ministers having fun while the country burns https://island.lk/while-the-country-is-burning/ . Today the same picture appears with a long article praising the Government https://island.lk/a-show-of-sand-dune-success/ Was a quick telephone call involved?

    • 3

      So sorry! I missed the sarcasm!

  • 6

    The vast majority of those presently revolting against the current regime have confessed that they “pulled firewood and water” to bring them to power. This also includes those who always sit on the fence and lean to whoever seems to be winning. The peasants are not very intelligent, and are driven by emotion more than anything else. Therefore they WILL fall prey to whatever crumbs or peanuts thrown their way when elections come. Political opportunists also need to be rejected as they too will ruin whatever is left of the country once they assume power. A third force is the need of the hour. Since the population’s general IQ is an issue, I do not see any positive outcomes until rock-bottom is hit.

  • 9

    The biggest trap that the Opposition must avoid is Dayan J himself. This is the man who read MR’s speech at the inaugural Mahinda Sulanga at Nugegoda. This is the man who went as Sirisena’s Ambassador to Russia. The man who advised Soirisena during the 52-day coup. Now he has got onto the SJB bandwagon and wants to be Minister of Foreign Affairs. Now he is praising Premadasa policies in order to ‘cut’ genuine SJBers.

  • 2

    Out of all what is said in the article the take home message is: “Today’s democratic Resistance must be built from and represent the social movements, i.e., the people’s movements, that have already arisen. These must be replicated in every social sector and every locality until a grid covers the whole social topography and national terrain. The democratic Resistance must be a “Movement of movements” representing the “99%”.

    This could be wishful thinking unless the progressive political forces organically link with the people’s struggles in the localities(rural and urban). If you wait for the social movements to mature and access power through the elections,it is probably not going to work out well. Because many social movements are not political? Politics has been left to the politicians far too long. What about the educated middle class (professionals and others like academics, journalists, artists)? One could say they are a dependent lot looking for opportunities locally and abroad(legs in both camps). But isn’t there a radical/progressive element that could give strength to the peasants,teachers and workers? These groups seem to me to be from the lower middle class. Like the JVP uprisings in the 70s and 80s, can a true political movement arise from the LMC alone? especially in the current context in Lanka?

  • 2

    The most effective way to combat the appointment of the Thug Gnanasara as the Chair of the Task Force is for all the opposition MPs to boycott parliament whenever a bill/constitution is presented to the Parliament after it has gone through this Task Force. This boycott should not be just a one-time thing, but a continuous action boycotting the Parliament right through all the readings and final vote on the bill. By doing this, even if the SLPP MPs vote and pass the bill/constitution it will look bad in the eyes of the citizens and the international community to the extent no one will honor it.

  • 2

    At the movement 69 lax of people who voted for the goverment are hiding their heads inside the sand. It is very certain that opposition will elect next president of the country. In this regard Sajith is indirectly supporting Anura kumara Dissanayake to be next president of Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka. Thank you Sajith brother

  • 1

    “The democratic Resistance must be a “Movement of movements” representing the “99%.””

    Are we on to an if-by-whiskey type of political discourse?

  • 0

    Before the European Colonisation , Kings ruled the country . There were only Kings
    and the Slaves or Followers . Now , with the colonisation ending , we all became
    Kings ! This is the First Curse ! Slaves becoming Kings without any basic
    understanding about being Kings ! So far , for us , Democracy is only about voting
    in elections and going Temples and schools ! And every year we have Budget
    celebration playing with Grocery Prices ! This is what is Politics for all of us !
    Talking about bread and rice from morning to night , day in day out , in parliament ,
    Bus stands , Railway stations and anywhere and everywhere ! When are we going
    to stop this ? That is the day we start to see some light !

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