By Dayan Jayatilleka –
The JVP and FSP seem to be mired in strategic errors which have proved among the most bloodily expensive in the history of the world’s left.
Strategic Blunder 1
Both the JVP and the FSP oppose the presidential system. However, the FSP’s Kumar Gunaratnam criticizes the JVP for allegedly softening its commitment its abolition (though one has not seen any documentary evidence to back the charge). It has now become a stated obstacle to left unity.
‘“On the other hand, the JVP has now started to espouse the virtues of the executive presidency. We have heard its top leaders stating that the executive presidency is not that bad. The JVP has been against the executive presidency since its introduction to this country. The present day JVP may change its stance, yet we have no reason to change our policy of detesting the executive presidency. These differences would not let us join with them,” Gunaratnam said.’ (FSP rules out any truck with JVP – The Island)
He seems to forget Rohana Wijeweera’s presidential candidacy in October 1982.
There are no valid grounds for a leftist or indeed a progressive to stand for the abolition of the executive Presidency.
Lankan liberalism’s argumentation that a presidential system makes for authoritarianism is demonstrably nonsensical. The latest international survey, while listing the decline of democracy, has several countries denoted “full democracies”. Uruguay is one of them. Uruguay has a presidential system. It had a presidential system when President Juan Bordaberry declared a state of siege and instituted a civilian-military junta in 1972. During that time Mujica one of the leaders of the Tupamaros, was imprisoned at the bottom of a disused well.
Uruguay had a presidential system when decades later, the Tupamaro candidate Tabare Vasquez became President and still later when he was succeeded, by popular election, by Mujica himself who had been vice-president! The Tupamaros never tried to abolish the presidential system because they were rational enough to know that the dictatorship they had suffered so terribly under, and the country’s option of a presidential system as such, had nothing to do with each other.
Every ruling Communist party governs in a Presidential system (China, Vietnam, Cuba etc.).
Virtually ex-guerrilla movement with a Marxist-Leninist ideology has assumed the leadership of their countries, by winning a presidential election. This is widely manifest in Latin America, with the Nepali Maoists as an episodic exception elsewhere.
Every national liberation struggle which has won state power has a presidential system (e.g., South Africa).
Every anti-imperialist or state which counterbalances unipolar hegemony has a presidential system (e.g., Russia).
Every country which had a bourgeois democratic revolution in its history and political culture, has a presidential system (USA, France).
Why do almost all Marxist-Leninist, Communist, revolutionary, leftist, radical and progressive parties and forces, support the presidential system or do not oppose it and call for its abolition? Why do they perform much better and come to the leadership of their countries through elections in presidential systems or remain within or opt for presidential systems?
The reasons are simple. Firstly, the presidential system better reflects the views of the majority of the citizenry, who in most countries, are socioeconomically underprivileged. This gives a better chance for progressives to attain leadership someday.
Secondly, as in Chile under Salvador Allende or the Venezuela of Chavez, it is the legislatures that are more easily manipulated by vested interests of a reactionary nature. Even in the USA today, Joe Biden’s progressive attempts on social spending and voting rights are blocked in Congress (by two rightist Democrats) and by State legislatures controlled by Republicans.
Strategic Blunder 2
The second mistake is to assume that as a crisis mounts, developments can go only one way, namely in a direction favorable to the left and more socioeconomically radical solutions. That is based on the pattern of the Russian revolution. The history of the European counterrevolutions culminating in Italy, Germany and Spain in Fascist dictatorships, shows there’s a more frequent outcome.
In a country like Sri Lanka where “Be a Hitler!” is a renewed slogan, it would be unwise to rule out that outcome as the crisis mounts. In an intense crisis, things can shift to the Left or further to the Right, or to the Left initially and the Right eventually.
What happens is a battle of the organized vanguards–the left and the Right, chiefly the military. The outcome is decided by two factors: (a) on which side an effective majority of the masses are, or whether they are neutral and (b) whether there is a significant shift towards the masses on the part of a decisive part of the military.
Therefore, the crucial element is THE INTERMEDIATE STRATA. Which side will they pivot to, or will they stay neutral? Mao Zedong, strategist of genius, said “unite the many, defeat the few”, which he elaborated as ‘unite all forces that can be united, isolate the main enemy, win over the intermediate forces, neutralize those who cannot be won over’.
Are the JVP and FSP following this strategic advice?
Strategic Blunder 3
A second major mistake the Left looks like it is making is the assumption that if it is the Rightwing regime and not the Left that abandons the rules of the democratic game, the regime thereby unmasks and delegitimizes itself, and the beneficiary cannot but be the Left, in fairly short order too.
That militarization/polarization theory was pure crap. In Indonesia, Chile, the Philippines and almost every other place, when the dark night of the dictatorships finally ended, it took decades and the democratizing force – and successor administration—was never the radical, still less revolutionary or Marxist-Leninist left.
In Chile, Pinochet’s departure took 15 years and it was the hands of Salvador Allende’s Socialist Party, after its many splits and reformist renovations and under the leadership of the moderate-centrist Ricardo Lagos. The earlier vanguards, the Chilean MIR and the Communist Party, which had spun off a radical offshoot together with the ‘Miristas’, named the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front (MRPF) were (sadly but understandably) kept out of the Democratic Concertation, the broad democratic bloc that defeated Pinochet’s dictatorship in the referendum and eventually took power electorally.
Strategic Blunder 4
While at a time such as this, of unprecedented pressure on real wages, almost any strike is justified, some strikes can be wrong because they are just dumb and potentially dangerous. The rash of wildcat strikes in the health and transport sectors fall into that category, not because they are unjustified but because they turn the majority of the citizenry against sections of the trade union movement, i.e., the organized working-class.
The wildcat strikes are also incredibly ill-timed. The coming surge of peasant unrest due to the inevitable crash of the Maha harvest, require the backing of the urban working class and the student movement.
If the latter go into action arbitrarily and prematurely, they not only earn the wrath of the citizens, but far worse, provides the regime with an opportunity for a crackdown in the guise of a pro-citizen intervention, thereby depriving the peasants of the effective support of the urban wage-workers and the student movement.
The rash of wildcat strikes merely give the impression of creeping anarchy and if they continue, they will have the same result that the health and transport sector strikes had in 1989, namely to turn public opinion against them, enabling the unleashing of repression.