Colombo Telegraph

Who Is More Neoliberal? Mahinda Or Ranil?

By Sarath de Alwis –

Sarath De Alwis

Former President and current member of parliament Mahinda Rajapaksa has undertaken his second great humanitarian rescue effort. This time, he has come forward at the invitation of Sirisena – the president to retrieve and restore the national economy which according to him was inexorably hurtling to disaster through the neoliberal economic policies of Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Bismarck famously said that a statesman “must wait until he hears the steps of God sounding through events, then leap up and grasp the hem of his garment”.

In this instance, it is doubtful that our great war winning hero has heard the steps of God and grasped the hem of his garment. It is more likely that he heard the gargles of a ‘Gamarala’ and grasped the ‘Gamarala’s proverbial ‘amuday’. 

Just as imperialist comprador detractors attempted to diminish the dazzle of his earlier epic endeavour as the product of a ‘war without witnesses’, the same lot accuse him of practicing democracy without 113 ‘demos’ or a legitimate mandate. 

 In short, our Great war winning redeemer is now accused of  hijacking our democracy – conduct that would  have been the first option of a Bin Laden or a Baghdadi .   

This essay is not about the current conundrum in parliament. 

It is about Ranil’s neoliberal flicker and Mahinda’s promised patriotic nationalist economic glitter. More specifically this essay attempts to contextualize the post Marxist mumbo jumbo of the two false prophets Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka and comrade Vasudeva Nanayakkara in the naked power grab under the fictitious notion of preventing a descent in to a neoliberal hell. 

The most immediate provocation for this missive is Dayan’s chicken livered cheek in identifying the Lipton circus pro-democracy protestors as representing the “puppet, parasitic comprador or intermediaries between imperialism and the nation.” 

The Neo Liberal label freely bandied about and the supposed comprador origins of the protestors against erosion of democratic space is a deliberate despicable distortion of Marxist class analysis by the two  circus clowns  or bozos – Dayan and Vasu in the ‘Rajapaksa Royalisation’ Circus aimed to seduce the progressive thinking class. 

There is no doubt that Ranil Wickremesinghe and his crony clique are ardent followers of what is known as the ‘Washington consensus’. But did they embark on a neo liberal economic agenda in the last three years? 

What did they do, that is radically different from what Mahinda and P.B. Jayasundera did since 2005? 

Why is the business community not so anxious about our dicey democracy? Why does Professor Rajiva Wijesingha appearing on Aljazeera claim quite sanguinely that the business community is elated that Mahinda is back in saddle? 

Why did the tycoons who appeared at a fireside chat at the Hilton complain of Ranil’s lack of direction and were consciously nostalgic of Mahinda’s Macho Economics that promised them a ‘Shangri-La’? 

Dayan and Vasudeva epitomize the adage that politics is the worship of jackals by jackasses. Both excel in mouthing Marxian superfluity to assume a fraudulent moral superiority dismissing opponents simply by labeling them as blind reactionaries or moral lepers. 

We must not forget the engineered prosperity and growth leaps under Mahinda Rajapaksa at the wheel driving the economy. 

Under his watch the comprador bourgeoisie formed the top layer of the bourgeois class. A tycoon who gathered his initial seed capital by running casinos served as a ministry secretary and did quite a good job at it.

Buccaneer stock market operators amassed massive wealth worshipping the god Mammon. A predatory class of the nouveau riche and parasitic upstarts moved in to mass communication and mind manipulation. 

Some of them were so successful nationally, they readjusted their periscopes to look globally. They ventured in to non-productive but profitable sectors – trade, banking and services.

Driven only by the logic of profit they moved their capital from one field to another. They excelled not on the productive but in the speculative.

The ‘’underground” economy of the war profiteers acquired colonial era Scottish agency houses. They have taken great ‘liberties’, cashing in to the urbanization boom. They have thrived on identifying and exploiting ”holes in the law”.  

That they found a willing proponent and booster in Malik Samarawickrama is another story for another day.   

We are in the second decade of the 21st Century. In the age of exponential advances in technology, it is obvious that there are major changes in the class structure, but not in the direction that half-baked or power pursuing fraudster post-Marxists of Dayan and Vasu types point to.

Invention of the Microchip did not reduce the relevance of Marxist class analysis. On the contrary it fortified the essence of Marxist class conflict. 

Technology has reinforced class differences and class exploitation and the nature and conditions of the exploited and exploiter classes have drastically   changed.

Just look around. There are more temporary wage workers today than was the case in 2005 when the great redeemer Mahinda Rajapaksa took over the Presidency. 

Neoliberal or not Mahinda Rajapaksa as the all Powerful Executive President cum Finance Minister designed and drove a ‘Bandit Economy’. While doing so, he  set up a ‘Satellite Political Elite’ in parallel, to feed the bandit economy and also  feed on the ‘Bandit Economy’.  

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka with deliberate dishonesty locates the comprador bourgeoisie at the Lipton Circus where thousands thronged to demand democratic governance. 

If Dayan or Vasudeva wish to know what real neoliberalism is I can tell them. Neo liberalism is unmediated ruling class state power. That is what Nivard Cabraal and Nalaka Godahewa wish to reinstall with Gotabaya’s Viyathmaga the coalition of professionals, entrepreneurs and academics. 

Let us do a retrospective assessment of the principal determinants of the economy and the regime behavior in the period 2005- 2015. 

It was classic neo liberal economics or untrammeled exploitative market economics directed by rigid centralised state control. It was unobtrusively but quite patently linked to the international banks to implement debt payments and to export sectors to earn foreign exchange. The central bank under Nivard Cabraal hired the public relations agencies in Washington. The social explosion in Rathupaswela was mercilessly suppressed in the interest of the Tycoon making surgical gloves for export. 

The economic regime and the political regime under Mahinda Rajapaksa were carefully compartmentalized. The ‘Samurdhi’ sop was left in the avaricious care of either S.B. Dissanayake or an equally voracious political beast. A repressive state had a vertical tie to the citizens who were in a real sense subjects kept in place with the efficient assistance of the saffron clerical mafia.   

 In the 21st Century the genius of Mahinda Rajapaksa took us to ‘nineteenth century methods of labour exploitation. It was Mahinda Rajapaksa who allowed the setting up of the ‘SAITM  private medical college. 

Imports of luxury goods for the urban middle class was surely and squarely based on the earnings remitted by “exported” labour of the poor.

If Dr. Dayan and comrade Vasudeva really wish to discover the nexus between Mahinda’s economics and neo liberal economics they should focus on the impoverishment of the interiors that made Rizana to seek employment in Bin Salman’s  murderous kingdom at the age of 14 years where her neck was severed purely because her burden was too heavy for her frail limbs.

It is Mahinda’s neo liberal economics that impoverished the already parched interiors uprooting the peasantry and plantation workers to crowd in to the cities and to overseas slave markets. 

In the decade of the Mahinda presidency approximately 2.3 million or more than ten percent of the population have sought employment beyond our shores. 

Remittances of the “exported labour” and borrowings from China financed neo-liberal infrastructure projects to promote the dependent economy and reign of apparel exports and tourist businesses that acquired exotic labels such as citrus and cinnamon.

It was indeed peppery neo liberal progress where super highways were forbidden for three wheelers. Only the supper classes were assured of speedy commuting. 

JR Jayewardene introduced free market economics in order to dismantle the welfare state. When Premadasa introduced ‘Jansaviya’ it was a temporary arrangement to sustain a social structure that was under the threat of genuine social discontent. Chandrika promised a free market with a human face. Human folly over took the human face.  

Mahinda won the war. Then he decided to build a port city, a port and an airport. Why? 

The idea of the three signature projects of Mahinda Rajapaksa is the unmistakable imperative of neoliberal globalization. It serves the essentially neo liberal purpose of globalization. The three projects are intended to integrate the global markets with elite exporters and medium and small compradores – the types who took part in the Hilton fireside chat- importers of electronic goods, tourist hoteliers tied to multinational hotels and resorts and other essentially service oriented enterprises relying on human resources retained to serve the new age of artificial intelligence and applications. 

In these new ventures, the chain of exploitation is more circuitous, but it still is located ultimately in the capital-labour relations. 

I am not passing judgement on these economic initiatives. I just want to persuade comrade Vasudeva and Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka to desist from their hum buggery in these troubled times when Mahinda Rajapaksa has difficulty in counting from a single digit to three digits making up 113. 

There is no doubt that there is a legitimate demand to recreate the “nation”, a “national market”, and a “national production process”  in the dying days of neoliberal economics. 

Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman are Nobel laureates who have eloquently testified to what needs to be done to alleviate the discontent of neoliberal globalization. 

Our problems are not peculiar to us alone. The world is discovering alternatives to neo liberal economics that went in to orbit after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The new czar in Russia has discovered crony oligarchic economics. Our envoy in Moscow is mesmerized. Good luck to him. 

Marxist Economist Mary Mellor has produced a treatise on the impact of debt on democracy and the fallacies inherent in the demand for austerity to sustain the myth of paper money. 

Economist Marianna Mazzucato in her path breaking treatise ‘The Value of Everything’ has exposed the wicked cunning embedded in the demand for privatization of socially owned enterprises.

Comrade Vasudeva and Rhetorician Dayan cannot be trusted with a genuine Marxist class analysis because their purpose now is to reenact a ‘Brumaire coup’ like that in 1851 in France that restored the degenerate nephew of Napoleon to the French throne. 

What do we need today? Our age demands substantial, purposeful, powerful public investment and a regulatory state that guarantees livable social conditions. 

Class analysis needs to be adapted to the rule of unmediated capital in an unregulated labour market that is necessarily linked to the global market.  We cannot put the clock back. 

The reformist redistributive politics of  the SLFP of  T.B. Ilangaratne in the seventies  have been replaced by neoliberal policies after 1978. Those policies over four decades have concentrated income and power at the top. Meanwhile technological progress has left us behind. The Mahanayakes have smart phones but have no idea of what’s up with WhatsApp.  

Technology has exacerbated class differences, not abolished them. The microchip has not eliminated the working class. As sensible economists  with a social conscience have pointed out modern trends have “shifted the sites of activity and the mode of producing within the continuing process of exploitation.”  

There is a new class structure geared to the greed of the new technologies. It has spawned new and more controlling forms of exploitation.

Inevitable automation has contributed to an increased tempo in the work place. CCTV cameras increase worker surveillance and reduces the administrative staff. “Quality work circles” is the name of the game. Workers pressure workers. It increases self-exploitation without increases either in pay or power. 

Computers allow for agribusiness to control the costs and volume of pesticides to be sprayed by reducing the number of low paid seasonal workers who spray the pesticide in larger areas ,  breathing its poison.  

International networks have created a new breed of ‘merchandisers’ whose information networks are linked to air-conditioned sweat shops producing apparel, shoes and household goods. 

It is not Ranil’s liberal economics that has caused our current and present grief. 

Our liberties are under imminent threat. The Comprador class wants Mahinda to offer autocratic stability – the sine qua non for speculative investment in the bubble of the ‘feel good’ idea.

The noise on the streets is not to the liking of investors. I salute Mahinda Rajapaksa. He has got comrades Dayan and Vasu by their cojones.

 Said Karl Marx “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please.”  

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