Colombo Telegraph

Vitarana Cremates His Uncle’s Legacy: Expelled LSSPers Should Aim For Left Unification

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

It pains me when someone drives another nail into the coffin of the LSSP. I have been wrapped in the Samasamaja tradition from the age of 12 and the tangential entities I joined carried the name (Nava Samasamajaya and its clandestine forerunner Vaama Samasamajaya). I was with Vasu’s DLF for a bit but he has now gone bonkers. The LSSP leaders’ belief in 1964 and 1970-75 that it was possible, given new global conditions, to transform the state and travel in the direction of socialism through an alliance with Mrs B’s national bourgeoisie was scuttled by the rise of neo-liberalism to the apex of global economics and politics in the late 1970s. NM’s budgets, the Republican Constitution, land and housing reforms, though no other government did so much within five years, was out of step with global right wing ascendency. The left was jettisoned ignominiously and Mrs B did the ground work for JR’s market dominated neo-liberal venture.

Then a grievous mistake was made by Bala Tampoe, Edmund Samarkkody and 150 fine comrades who split after the victory of NM’s coalition resolution at the 1964 conference. They should never have split. Had they held firm they could have emerged as a significant internal force and this vigour (remember Bala’s defence of JVP detainees) would have prevented the decimation of the left post-1975. And what became of Bala’s and Edmund’s parties? Nothing! Those of us who went on to form the NSSP are guilty of the third blunder; we should have negotiated and accepted tough conditions but not split. When Bahu and Siritunga were expelled in the mid-1970s, that was the cue. We should have had the tactical guile to circumvent the expulsion of Vasu and the Vaama mainstream.

The historic mistakes of the past were not plain bananas, unlike the events of the last few weeks. Tissa Vitarana (TV) with highhanded hubris has driven another nail into the coffin if he goes ahead with the planned expulsions. [I don’t call him Professor though he uses Prof which he is not entitled to. TV is not a Professor Emeritus and lost the badge when he completed his term at SJP Medical Faculty]. About a fortnight ago he suspended fourteen of the LSSP’s best; Central Committee members, trade unionists and a youth leader; many better known and respected than him. I will call these people the LSSP-Left or the left-group in this piece. The following are among the fourteen who have been suspended; the purported Central Committee “vacancies” have been filled though expulsion letters have not yet been dispatched.

Keerthi Kariyawasam, Party Treasurer; WP-PC member; TV’s secretary when he was minister.

Dr Jayampathi Wickremaratne, President’s Councel; currently a 19-th Amendment drafter.

Attorney-at-law Lal Wijenayake, former Central Province Opposition Leader and PC member.

Professor Emeritus Vijaya Kumar and President of the Lanka Estate Workers Union.

Wimal Rodrigo, former Colombo Municipal Councillor, much admired in Thimbirigasyaya for standing against racist mobs.

T.M.R Rasdeen, Secretary, Ceylon Federation of Labour.

Jagath Hemachandra and M.D.M. Abeyratne, trade union leaders.

Chameera Perera, youth leader.

NM

This reads like a Who’s Who of the LSSP; can readers name anyone else of significance? I cannot and fear that TV, like Vasu, has gone loopy. The criminality of this madness is that not only does it deplete the party of the best, but it also pushes them to organise separately. There are dozens too many left parties in Lanka and it is nuts to push anyone into forming another. But the left faction has no choice but to establish a structure so that it can work as a team. The team’s objective I hope is to keep itself transitional and use its position to promote a united left front as a first step to a large unitary left party.

There is much to learn from the Greek Syriza example; I touched on it in (“Lessons of the Syriza victory”) and will return to the topic before concluding.

Expulsions and after

What got TV frothing at the chops? A large number of LSSPers openly worked against MR and for MS in the presidential election; the same happened in the CP but I am not sure how many have been suspended or dismissed. The LSSP process was ludicrous. At the eighth hour of a meeting called to discuss three papers on Party strategy, a resolution for which no notice had been given, stating that the Party will support MR at the presidential election was introduced. The standing decision of the Party on the presidency up to this time was a demand that MR change the constitution and abandon presidential elections. This the LSSP decided six months previously but MR disregarded it with contempt. Since no election had been called at the time of this CC meeting and candidates had not been named, the left-group suggested that the resolution be reintroduced giving the necessary notice once candidates were known. VT turned down this sensible request and unjustly put it to vote; it was carried by 25 votes to 13.

Vitarana (center)

TV was anxious to swear allegiance to an undeclared candidate in an undeclared election on that very day. He desired to ingratiate himself with Basil’s ploy to offset bad publicity from Ratana Thero’s principled stand. The JHU, unlike the LSSP, quit the government when MR refused to consider its draft of the 19-th amendment. Sadly, TV discovered only after the election that the 100-day programme is fine and went on bended knee with DEW to grovel before MS. Meanwhile, embittered by loss of office, he launched a classic Stalinist purge against the LSSP’s best activists and is now left with a Ruwanwela-based rump most of which worked for MS!

TV and his rump find themselves in an unenviable position. MS’s 100-day programme incorporates NM’s cherished wish of his last years, abolition of the executive presidency; Jayampathi is a 19-th amendment drafter. Then President MS invited and thanked LSSP, CP and DLF left members who supported him. The group asked MS to deal directly with it and not through Tissa, DEW and Vasu and wanted representation on the National Executive Council. Lal Wijenayake has been appointed by the President to represent the Left in the Council – a big set back for DEW, Vasu and especially TV.

TV kicked out the LSSP-Left on the grounds that it violated Party discipline by working for MS. What disciplinary issue is involved in refusing to adhere to a disingenuous resolution improperly smuggled through a CC meeting? It was TV who grossly violated discipline by brazenly voting for 18A in Parliament against express party instructions so that he could retain his impotent ministry, perks and allowances. He has consistently refused to give leadership to the LSSP stand that the executive presidency be abolished. He abstained on the shameless resolution to impeach the Chief Justice while his fellow MP, Padmasiri cringingly voted in favour. TV now cannot separate himself from the racially undertoned filth propagated by Weerawansa, Vasudeva, Gamanpilla and Dinesh.

A strategy for the LSSP-Left

The LSSP-Left is holding a consultative assembly next Sunday (22) at the New Town Hall and I believe that it is open to all Samasamajists. Obviously the best outcome will be if TV is forced by the rank and file to abandon the expulsions and if the left group can get back to work. My personal conjecture is that this can only be over TV’s dead body, however if the Left gets back it must make a determined bid to carry through leadership changes, perhaps at a party conference; get a new party leader, secure a majority in the CC and Polit Bureau. Whether there is a leadership change in the LSSP or whether the LSSP-Left is compelled to set up an alternative structure the short term goal should be a front or working relationship of all left entities, that is parties, groups and tendencies. The medium term objective should be a unified political party encompassing all left entities that are wiling to participate.

This is where Syriza shows the way, rising from a loose gathering of small groups that polled 3 to 5% of the vote a decade ago to the second largest securing 27% in 2012 and then in January 2015 a spectacular election victory with 37% of the vote. Syriza now leads a government with civil engineer Alexix Tsipras as prime minister and the erudite Yanis Varoufakis, self-styled “erratic Marxist” – who has taken European capitals by storm with his eloquence – as finance minister.

For an iconoclastic but brilliant talk by Varoufakis go to;

Varoufakis graduated in mathematics and statistics and holds a doctorate in econometrics. He taught in the UK and Australia and is now a professor in Greece. Politically, mutatis mutandis, he is similar to NM in the 1970s. The left is not in a position to capture state power he says but it has to save millions from deprivation, or in his words “save capitalism from itself”. This calls for living with the Euro, steering the economy, and relating to multinational like the IMF. Hence Syriaz will fight austerity and secure relief for people but it is realistic about its constraints. He also has two criticisms of Marx; one nonsensical the other has a point to it. Both lie outside the scope of this essay.

To return to my theme, recall that just a decade ago Syriza was a motley assembly of about 20 groups, as cranky as our own congenital left sectarians! (Active Citizens; Anti-Capitalist Political Group; Citizens Association of Riga; Communist Organization of Greece; International Marxist Tendency; Democratic Social Movement; DIKK; Ecosocialists; Internationalist Workers Left; Movement for Unity in Action; New Fighter; Radical Left; Roza Luxemburgism; Communist Ecological Left; Synaspismós; Union of Democratic Centre;  Unitary Movement).  What forced them into a unitary structure was that only the largest single party, not coalitions or alliances, is eligible for 50 a seat bonus in parliament.

Synaspismós, the largest group led by Tsipras, was the key to unification. A sine qua non to make unity possible was internal democracy. The JVP which should play a similar crucial role, unfortunately, is not interested in creating a left alliance. It sees itself as the monopoly owner of the left legacy. It does not appreciate that when a large number of smaller entities join the clout of the whole is much larger than the sum of the parts.

Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi’s huge victory in Delhi proves that people, at least in cities, are fed up with the Mafia State though they may never have heard this term. What is needed is a clean record, a half decent programme and an alliance of credible size. The LSSP-Left should draw together expelled or suspended members of the LSSP, CP and DLF and as many others as willing, and then it should confront the JVP with a demand for left unity. Otherwise Anura Kumara and his crew are so full of themselves that there is nothing they will do about unity. The lessons of Syriza and Aam Aadmi are quite lost on the JVP.

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