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Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha
Edmund Samarakkody on the Events of July – August 1977
24 August 2007
[See also Organised Pogrom Against Tamils - 1977 ]
Front Note by Sachi Sri Kantha
Edmund Samarakkody (1912-1992) was a pioneer among the Leftist politician-thinkers of colonial and post-colonial Ceylon. He was a member of Ceylonese parliament from 1952 to 1965, as a representative of Trotskyist Lanka Sama Samaja Party. He was also an unadulterated Trotskyist, who didn’t compromise on his principles to cling on to the cushion of a parliamentary seat. As such, while he lost popular influence among the Sinhalese voters in 1965, he gained respect among the Tamils for his principled stand and pro-Tamil views on the atrocities committed by the Sinhalese rulers.
‘Respect’ – yes, that is the word of relevance here. It was American stand up comic Rodney Dangerfield (1921-2004) who pointed strobe lights to the word ‘respect’ with his celebrated tag line, “I don’t get no respect”. Respect, an attitude of admiration and deference, can only be earned in the old fashioned way. Opportunist fence-sitting politicos like V.Anandasangaree (who also began his political career as a Trotskyist!) never earn this ‘respect’ in their life time what Tamils accord to Samarakkody, a Sinhalese gentleman. It may even help Anandasangaree to kick start a second career now as a stand up comic, picking on the tag line of Rodney Dangerfield, ‘I don’t get no respect’, and earn some respect. That’s a different theme, for another day.
My father was one Tamil who respected Samarakkody. One of Samarakkody’s nieces was a co-worker with my father. Long after Samarakkody lost his status as an MP, my father expressed his wish of receiving the autograph of Samarakkody (in the format of a short letter of introduction from him) and did arrange to have one through this Trotskyist’s niece. And my father kept this memento from Samakkody as one of his treasured possessions.
After I went to Illinois in 1981 for graduate studies, I purchased the past issues of Workers Vanguard (New York) broadsheet which had carried Samarakkody’s commentaries and forwarded them to my father, living in Colombo. Subsequently, my father returned these to me with the comment that ‘These are worth keeping, for you’. That Samarakkody was a thoughtful commentator on Sri Lankan political events is an understatement. What he contributed about the events of July – August 1977 also serve well to rebut the mean-spirited muck lately emanating from Anandasangaree, who shed his Trotskyist label opportunistically for parliamentary cushion. The two Samarakkody commentaries which I have transcribed below appeared in the Workers Vanguard (New York) broadsheet:
In these two commentaries, Samarakkody had presented his thoughts on three inter-twined themes: (1) The 1970-77 mis-rule of Sirimavo Bandaranaike regime, (2) Results of July 21, 1977 General Elections and the Emergence of J.R.Jayewardene, the ‘Dictator’, and (3) Anti-Tamil riots of August 1977. Then, Samarakkody had perceptively predicted that (1) Jayewardene’s leadership would be dictatorial and detrimental to the island’s welfare; (2) TULF cannot lead the Tamils to a separate state; and both had been proved true. In the words of Samarakkody, “Tamil bourgeoisie cannot lead the struggle of the oppressed Tamils for their liberation from national oppression.” But he also expressed his “support of the right of the Tamils to establish themselves as a nation, if that is their desire.” [the words in italics, as in his original.]
Samarakkody’s commentary entitled, ‘Behind Bandaranaike Rout in Sri Lanka Elections’ (Workers Vanguard, Sept.2, 1977) presents a solid rebuke to Anandasangaree’s recent epistolary crap. In his ‘Letter to Thamby Pirabhakaran’ dated June 26, 2007, [published in the Island, Colombo; and also made available in his own website] Anandasangaree had opportunistically wailed on the theme of Alfred Duraiappah’s assassination in 1975, as follows:
Apart from the fact that the above passage is filled with half truths and innuendos, Anandasangree was indeed correct in mentioning, “People are changing day by day. Some come out with fantastic ideas and new theories. History is getting distorted” and this perfectly applies to him.
Anandasangaree’s insinuation that LTTE leader Pirabhakaran introduced the gun culture to Jaffna is a malicious distortion of history. The gun culture was introduced to Jaffna in 1961, when prime minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike first sent the army to disrupt the non-violent satyagraha agitation of Tamil nationalists. One has to ask where was Anandasangree on May 3, 1961, when Edmund Samarakkody as an MP for Bulathsinhala constituency rebuked prime minister Mrs. Bandaranaike for her military rule in Jaffna in the parliament. Here is an excerpt of Samarakkody’s condemnation:
How did the Sri Lankan army intimidate the Tamils in 1961? – not with broom-sticks, but with guns. There is a poignant photo recorded for history where a young satyagraha volunteer S.T.Arasu laying on the ground to stop the passage of an army vehicle, and two army men with pointed guns towards Arasu.
It is rather comforting that Edmund Samarakkody in his 1977 commentary, ‘Behind Bandaranaike Rout in Sri Lanka Elections’ had provided (socio)logical pointers for the untimely death of Alfred Duraiappah. To quote Samarakkody,
Between 1970 and 1975, Duraiappah willingly served as the collaborating public face in Jaffna for this corrupt, oppressive SLFP regime. This was the main cause which led to his tragic end. But Samarakkody has inadvertently omitted another notable transgression of human rights perpetrated by the SLFP-LSSP-CP regime, viz., postponement of a by-election for 28 months (from Oct. 1972 to Jan. 1975) to the Kankesanthurai constituency, caused by the resignation of S.J.V. Chelvanayakam.
As one would expect, Anandasangaree had conveniently ignored this issue, which was condoned by the then SLFP’s bucket-carrier Duraiappah, which in no small measure, contributed to the popular (and not erroneous) Tamil perception of Duraiappah’s role as a prominent collaborator of Sinhalese oppressive regime.
Though couched in Leftist rhetoric and jargon (which may appear dated after 30 years and somewhat grating now, to some), to preserve the tenor of Samarakkody’s hard-hitting criticism, his commentaries are presented in their entirety, without any deletions or abridgment. Samarakkody has been critical of the deeds of carefree British imperialism and the island’s all leading politicians – Sirimavo Bandaranaike, J.R. Jayewardene, traditional Leftist leaders N.M. Perera and Pieter Keuneman as well as the TULF politicians. Kindly note that the subheadings and words/phrases noted in parentheses in the two Samarakkody commentaries presented below, are as in the originals.
Rout in Sri Lanka Elections
Colombo, 12 August: Capitalist reaction in Sri Lanka has been dangerously strengthened through the unprecedented and resounding victory of the UNP [United National Party] in the recent State Assembly Elections. Perhaps it is not incorrect to state that rarely in the history of parliamentary elections in a capitalist country has a reactionary bourgeois party won so much as 86 percent of the total number of seats, as was the case in regard to the victory of the UNP. And perhaps, it is also equally rare for reformist left parties, which have had parliamentary representation previously, to be electorally wiped out, as happened to the Lanka Samasamaja Party (LSSP) and the Communist Party (CP) in this election.
Of a total of 166 seats, the UNP won 139, the TULF (Tamil United Liberation Front – Tamil bourgeois party) 17, and the SLFP (Sri Lanka Freedom Party – the party of Bandaranaike) 8 seats. The ULF (United Left Front constituted by the LSSP, CP and PDP – People’s Democratic Party , an SLFP splitaway group) constested 133 seats and registered zero. The LSSP held 18 and the CP 6 seats in the previous parliament. What is especially significant is that of the 81 candidates who contested, as many as 64 lost deposits, many obtaining less than 500 votes.
And it is not without significance that of the other left groups (Bala Tampoe group, Healy group and the Rohana Wijeweera-led JVP, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna = People’s Liberation Front) it was the candidate of the Revolutionary Workers Party (RWP), Meryl Fernando, that obtained the largest number of votes – 2,800. Also he was the only candidate of all left parties or groups to obtain more votes than on the previous occasion when he contested the same seat.
The question what happened and why in regard to the outcome of this election is by no means a mystery. The history of coalition governments of the so-called liberal bourgeoise and reformist working-class parties has shown that, as night follows day, far from pushing back reaction through such coalition governments, the opposite happens. Such governments only open wide the door for the forces of reaction to come in an avalanche, and invariably through military/police dictatorships accompanied by bloodbaths for the working class and the left movement. This was precisely the lesson of Indonesia’s NASOKOM (Sukarno-Communist Party coalition government in 1964) and Allende’s UP in Chile (1973). Perhaps it is fortunate that it is only a sweeping parliamentary victory, and not the military/police coup and the blood bath, through which the forces of reaction in Sri Lanka have been strengthened.
However, it may be that Sri Lanka escaped the rightist coup and bloodbath of Indonesia and Chile only because this was partially accomplished by the coalition government itself, through the 1971 youth massacre, and because the virtual shackling of the trade union and the left movement was the reality through a five-year Emergency Rule. Nor is it unimportant that during this period there were real indications that Sirima Bandaranaike was contemplating the desirability of not holding elections and continuing her regime by tearing up the Constitution.
And it is not altogether irrelevant to note that the UNP leader Jayewardene (now prime minister) was parleying with Sirima Bandaranaike (about 1973) in the perspective of realizing the ‘strong government’ of the capitalist class under her leadership. Jayewardene abandoned the idea when he saw the signs of a possibility of an election victory for the UNP. He opted for elections, and was proved right. Without the risky operation of a Sirima Bandaranaike/Jayewardene coup, he won control of state power.
Rejection of Bandaranaike Regime
In regard to the sweeping victory of the UNP, it was basically and unmistakably a negative vote. It had hardly any relevance to the false promises of the UNP to bring down living costs and to solve the unemployment problem, or to bring about a ‘just and righteous society’.
The seven-year regime under SLFP leader Sirima Bandaranaike was unprecedented in the oppression and the sufferings that the workers, toilers and the middle classes had to endure through the failures, the misdeeds and corruption of this government.
In the interests of the capitalist class, it was correct for SLFP leader Bandaranaike to decide to pull up the capitalist economy of Sri Lanka by its boot-straps. Her policies were by no means madness without method. For its survival, the capitalist class had theneed for drastic steps which could well bring about unpopularity. The crisis of capitalism in Sri Lanka in the context of the world crisis of capitalism was such that all welfare aspects introduced by all previous regimes had to cease.
Subsidising of food and essential commodities had to be drastically pruned. Foreign exchange had to be conserved at any cost. This called for drastic cuts and even a ban on the import of a large number of consumer goods. All this and the frequent price increases of food, increase of train fares, bus fares, postal fares and of products of state corporations received the unqualified approval of the imperialist International Monetary Fund (IMF) and also of the capitalist class and vested interests in Sri Lanka, including the capitalist political parties, UNP and FP (Federal Party).
The other aspect of these oppressive measures was the need to suppress the masses. Hence the Emergency Rule for six years; hence the massacre of the youth; hence the illegalization and break-up of strikes and victimization of workers who resorted to strike action; and hence the continued oppression of the Tamil-speaking people who were severely discriminated against.
In this context, the clear rejection of the SLFP and the other partners of the coalition government was inevitable. Large sections of the masses – workers, peasants, youth, lower middle classes – consciously rejected the partners of this misrule. The rejection of these parties was of course justifiable and correct. The thinking behind this rejection was: ‘Down with the SLFP devil and its ex-partners the LSSP and CP.’ But the further thinking of the masses, ‘Let any devil come,’ was of course wrong and catastrophic.
Electoral Disaster for the ‘Left’
But what calls for explanation is why the SLFP, though it suffered severely, nevertheless managed to maintain a small base in the State Assembly, whilst the ‘left’ parties the LSSP and CP were electorally wiped out. Forty-year parliamentarians like N.M. Perera, Wickremasinghe and P. Keuneman of the LSSP and CP were defeated by large majorities, and by comparatively newcomers of the UNP. While the SLFP obtained about 1.5 million votes, the ULF got only 50,000 votes. It is further relevant to note that from as far back as 1936 left parties were continuously represented in parliament.
This, too, is no mystery. Faith in a coalition government with the SLFP came through the presence of the two working-class-based parties, the LSSP and CP. This was the case in regard to a large section of politically conscious workers and toilers, and also sections of the middle classes. In any event, the LSSP and CP were looked upon as their watchdogs, if not the champion of the interests of the oppressed sections of the masses.
However, the LSSP and CP, the ‘left’ parties in the coalition were soon unmasked. While all three parties were equally responsible for the oppressive policies of the government, the LSSP and CP leaders in the cabinet and the coalition were not only acting as the devil’s advocate, but gave their fullest cooperation for all the oppressive measures of the government. Thus, while the SLFP was of course seen as an oppressor, the LSSP and CP were in addition seen as betrayers of the workers and toilers.
The part played by the LSSP and CP in the massacre of the youth and the breaking of strikes could not be easily forgotten. It became clear to large section of the masses that were staunch supporters of the coalition government at the beginning of the regime that it was the presence of the LSSP and CP in the government that helped the capitalist coalition government to strike such blows at the masses as no other capitalist government did, nor dared to contemplate.
Thus, the role of the LSSP and CP as oppressors and betrayers of the masses was prominently silhouetted in the electoral sky. This meant, not merely loss of confidence in the LSSP and CP, but even mass hatred and hostility to some of the leaders of these parties. In the view of large sections of the masses, the ‘left’ and what they knew as the ‘left movement’ has failed. Thus, whilst the hard core of the supporters of the left movement remained with the LSSP and CP and other left groups, it is a fact that large sections of the working class were not supporting the LSSP and CP and other left groups. While a section of the workers who had moved away from the left parties went consciously into the camp of a party they previously knew as a capitalist party – the UNP – the other section that decided to support the SLFP did so in the belief that the SLFP was a left party, which had a greater chance of defeating the UNP.
It was not at all a surprise that a considerable section of workers and toilers who were supporters of the LSSP and CP and who considered themselves as being in the left, decided to support the SLFP. This was the outcome of the policies followed by the LSSP and CP, especially from the 1960s. Having decided on coalition with the SLFP, the LSSP began to give this party a left or progressive coloration. For the CP, this was no new policy decision. This was indeed their political line from the time the CP was founded in 1940.
Thus it was that large sections of those who still considered themselves in the left, and part of the left movement that wanted to see the UNP defeated, rallied round the SLFP when it appeared to them that in the country as a whole the fight was between two parties – the UNP and SLFP. It thus followed that when votes were counted the LSSP and CP were, with exceptions, at the bottom of the list.
Tamil Separatists Strengthened
Another factor that calls for explanation in regard to the outcome of the elections is the unprecedented reality that the party of the Tamil bourgeoise, the TULF, is the largest opposition party with its 17 seats. This has meant that the leader of the Tamil bourgeoise is the Leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly.
The Tamil-speaking people of the two provinces, Northern and Eastern, and the plantation workers totaling about 2 million have remained an oppressed minority for several decades. They have been denied their language rights and discriminated against in numerous ways by all past governments, and in regard to the Tamil plantation workers, a large section are still denied their citizenship rights and remain in the category of ‘stateless’ persons.
The SLFP/LSSP/CP coalition government not only failed to take any steps to grant any real relief to the Tamil people in regard to their pressing problems, but even intensified their state of oppression through the implementation of anti-Tamil discriminatory policies, especially in regard to employment, education and land distribution. These anti-Tamil policies of the coalition government, of which the LSSP and CP were a part, helped to drive the Tamil masses into the camp of the Tamil bourgeois communalists (Tamil Congress and Federal Party) despite their record of betrayal of the Tamil masses.
In the desperate situation of the Tamil people they have been driven to demand a separate Tamil State, which is not at all a solution to their problems. It is in this context that the Tamil people registered their total loss of confidence in the Sinhalese-dominated bourgeois parties and governments, and what is more, in all left parties and the left movement. It is thus that the Tamil people rejected the parties of the previous coalition government, and also the UNP, and rallied round the TULF, strengthening the forces of capitalism within parliament and outside.
The absence of a single representative of a left party in the State Assembly reveals a position of extraordinary strength to the capitalist class and vested interests. In any event, the new UNP government has greater parliamentary strength than any other previous bourgeois government.
All sections of the capitalist class and vested interests – industrialists, estate owners, importers, traders, hoteliers – and privileged sections like lawyers and doctors are overjoyed over the election to office of a UNP government. Bourgeois newspapers displayed screaming headlines: ‘Red Menace Eradicated!’
Post-Election Violence Fomented by UNP Victors
An indication of what the working class, the left movement and opponents of the UNP may well expect at the hands of the government became manifest during the first week after the victory of this party. Within a few hours after the formation of his government, Prime Minister Jayewardene resorted to the use of the Public Security Act to meet a situation of widespread violence created by the supporters of the UNP.
Known supporters of the UNP obtained control of public roads, commandeered government buses and other motor vehicles and went on a rampage, armed with death-dealing weapons – swords, bombs and firearms. These armed bands of UNP supporters struck at their opponents – cutting, maiming, raping and killing known opponents of the UNP and those associated with them during the elections. Widespread looting, destruction of dwelling houses, business establishments, motor vehicles, the destruction of farms and the killing of farm animals was a part of the reign of terror that was unleashed by the supporters of the UNP, lasting for nearly two weeks. It is estimated that there were over 200 deaths and that damage to property, which included the property and dwelling houses of thousands of poor people, can be well over a million rupees.
According to a press report during the pre-election period, Jayewardene had stated that if he became prime minister the first thing he would do was to send the police on holiday. It appeared as if Jayewardene fulfilled his promise! It is the fact that when these UNP bands were on rampage, armed with deadly weapons, the police were invariably onlookers, and the reports were that police did not entertain complaints, and in most cases had chased away victims or others who called to make such complaints against UNP supporters during these days. The serious nature of the violence unleashed could be gauged by the fact that the curfew that was imposed in several areas continued for about three days, and in some parts, there were 14-hour curfews.
Jayewardene Promises ‘Strong State’ Anti-Working Class Regime
The stage is now set for the realizing of the ‘strong state’ of the capitalist class, that is, the dictatorial rule of the capitalist class and the smashing of the trade unions and the left movement. In keeping with the manifesto of his party, Prime Minister Jayewardene has, through his policy statement officially announced his plans for the change of the constitution, to make the president the all-powerful executive head of state, who will have power to keep parliament suppressed, and to govern as a dictator backed by the armed forces.
In this same statement Jayewardene announced his decision to smash the trade union movement under cover of seeking to democratize trade unions and to protect the workers from outsiders. And it is this role of destroyer of the trade unions and the left movement that the capitalist class and vested interests, especially, expect Jayewardene to undertake with speed.
In regard to ‘economic development’, as expected Prime Minister Jayewardene lost no time in announcing that it will basically be the private sector that will be entrusted with the task. And in this regard the capitalists need not entertain any fear that the state will make any encroachments in this sphere. Nationalised enterprises which were anathema to the UNP will, where necessary, be dismantled and handed back to the private sector. This has already taken place in regard to four nationalized enterprises, and a start has been made to return land taken over under the land reform law to the former owners, under cover of setting right injustices and revengeful acts of the former regime.
The UNP government’s aim of sustaining the Sri Lanka capitalist economy and class rule thorough a close link up with foreign capitalists and imperialists is unconcealed. Meaningful steps to bring about the economic dominance of imperialism have already been announced. The notorious device of opening the doors to foreign capital through so-called Free Trade Zone areas is to be shortly undertaken. Under cover of providing job opportunities to the unemployed, foreign capitalists/imperialists will be allowed in selected areas, to establish industries under special privileges, such as freedom from export or import duties, and with rights of unrestricted export of profits and capital, and of course with guarantees against nationalizations. Incidentally, for the foreign capitalists/imperialists, Sri Lanka is at present the cheapest labour market in the whole of South and Southeast Asia.
It is not without significance that the day after he assumed office as prime minister, Jayewardene, in answer to foreign newspaper correspondents, stated that there were no objections to Sri Lanka joining ASEAN, the notorious anti-communist bloc (Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore). This political-cum-economic combine with the backing of US imperialism was set up ten years ago to replace the then-notorious imperialist/military alliance SEATO, for aggression against Vietnam, other countries of Indochina and against Red China itself.
The new government’s promise to bring down living costs is seen as empty of conent in the light of the negligible price reductions in flour and bread (20 cents per pound of flour and 15 cents per pound of bread). And as for the government’s claim that it has fulfilled its promise to give eight pounds of cereals per week per person by its announcement of making available for purchase on the ration four pounds of flour and four pounds of rice, it is a fraud. While four pounds of rice was already available for each person on the ration under the outgoing regime, flour was freely available, though at a higher price.
In any event, it is already possible to discern the limitation to the government’s exercise in reducing living costs through the reality that the meager price reductions and the liberalization of imports of a few essential commodities have called for release of additional foreign exchange of Rs. 700 million (ca. $100 million).
The truth in regard to the foreign-exchange problem is that it remains acute as ever before, and with the continuing crisis of Sri Lanka’s economy, in the context of the continuation of the crisis of the world capitalist economy, it must necessarily become more acute in the period ahead. This means that Sri Lanka’s capitalist economy could be bolstered up only through the more thorough exploitation of the workers and toilers for the increase of capitalist profits and for capital accumulation, and through drastic cuts in regard to mass consumption and social services.
And if the ‘strong government’ of the capitalist class has been realized through the election of the Jayewardene-led UNP government, it means above all that it is a government of deepening crisis of the capitalist economy and rule. In other words, it is a government that from the outset is called upon to adopt more and more unpopular measures against the masses, to strike more severely at the living standards of the masses, whilst taking drastic steps to suppress the working class and toilers through dictatorial rule.
Crisis of Leadership in the Workers Movement
Undoubtedly, it is the gravest situation ever for the worker and toilers generally, and for the organized trade union and left movement and for all other oppressed sections of the people. The question of defending the trade unions from the blows the government is striking, is even now sharply posed.
The quality of the traditional leadership of the trade-union and left movement, and the role played by these leaderships in the extraordinary strengthening of the forces of reaction, is now not altogether unknown to the masses.
While these parties need, for their own survival, to maintain a show of an oppositional stance in regard to a government which they characterized in advance, in the pre-election period as ‘fascist,’ yet the treacherous character of this leadership is already manifest. LSSP leader N.M. Perera started by seeking to become a constitutional advisor of Prime Minister Jayewardene by stupidly saying that the advancing of the day of summoning of the State Assembly was unconstitutional. Perera took the opportunity to sympathise with Prime Minister Jayewardene in his predicament, caused by the action of the previous prime minister, Sirima Bandaranaike.
In the same context, the LSSP daily paper Jana Dina in its editorial categorically stated that neither the UNP nor the UNP government was responsible for the pre-election violence and atrocities that were unleashed by the UNP supporters and often under the leadership of well-known UNP men! And it is not without significance that, as in the period of ‘responsive cooperation’ (1960-64) Prime Minister Jayewardene publicly invited LSSP Secretary Bernard Sozsa to be a member of the commission he intended to appoint to probe into post-election violence! The LSSP has not made any comment on this invitation so far.
The LSSP/CP reformist leadership is totally incapable of mobilizing the masses for any struggle, defensive or offensive, against the UNP government and the capitalist class. On the contrary, these parties and their camp followers, the ‘Vama (Left)-Samasamajists’ (Vasudeva Nanayakara etc.) are preparing to once again fool the workers and toilers. They have already commenced to keep the working class disarmed by talk of the need of an ‘anti-UNP struggle’. They are seeking to continue the parliamentarist election front – the United Left Front – to prepare for the next elections. Opportunistically, these ULF leaders will protest at the wrongs of individual ministers and bureaucrats in the government. In any event, these reformists will seek to block the development of any anti-government, anti-capitalist struggle. Tailing the ULF reformists, the Vama-Samasamajists (Vasudeva/Wickremabahu) have already called for the transforming of the ULF into a ‘fighting front’!
Although the LSSP/CP coalitionists have been wiped out at the parliamentary elections, they will not disappear politically. They will continue their parliamentarist politics from outside. This means that the urgent task of mobilizing the working class and toilers for struggle to defend their hard-won trade union and other rights, and for struggle against the Jayewardene-led capitalist dictatorship, is beset with serious difficulties arising out of the class-collaborationist politics of the LSSP and CP.
It is however inescapable that the real mobilization of the workers and toilers for struggle in the period ahead can never become a reality except to the extent that the more politically alerted and advanced sections of the working class succeed in developing the struggle to drive out of their positions of leadership the LSSP/CP reformists and in the process succeed in forging the new revolutionary leadership, i.e., the building of the Revolutionary-Leninist-Trotskyist Party which is the condition for success in struggle against the UNP government and the capitalist class in the perspective of overthrowing capitalism and the realization of socialism.
Behind the Anti-Tamil Terror: The National Question in Sri Lanka
Colombo, 15 September: The outbreak in mid-August of the anti-Tamil pogrom (the third such outbreak in two decades) has brought out the reality that the Tamil minority problem in Sri Lanka has remained unresolved now for nearly half a century, leading to the emergence of a separatist movement among the Tamils.
As on previous occasions, what took place recently was not Sinhalese – Tamil riots, but an anti-Tamil pogrom. Although Sinhalese were among the casualties, the large majority of those killed, maimed and seriously wounded are Tamils. The victims of the widespread looting are largely Tamils. And among those whose shops and houses were destroyed, the Tamils are the worst sufferers. Of the nearly 75,000 refugees, the very large majority were Tamils, including Indian Tamil plantation workers.
The violence that broke out during the height of the language issue in 1956 and again in 1958 was of the same character. It was plainly a question of anti-Tamil pogroms. In 1961, it was anti-Tamil violence of the bourgeois government. This was the violence unleashed by the Sirima Bandaranaike regime, when it sent an army of occupation to the Northern Province for the suppression of the Tamils when the Tamil bourgeois Federal Party (FP) launched a satyagraha movement (civil disobedience) against the government on the issue of the oppressive Language of the Courts Act.
Among the factors leading to the increase of Sinhalese – Tamil antagonisms and the outbreak of the recent anti-Tamil pogrom were:
The intransigence of the [recently defeated] coalition government in regard to the problems of the Tamil minority and the intensification of discriminatory practices against the Tamils in regard to employment, land colonization, educational and medical facilities, aggravated by government repression of the Tamil people through police violence; an aspect of this repression being detention without trial of Tamil youth and launching irresponsible prosecutions against Tamil leaders.
The formation , about two and a half years ago, of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF – an amalgam of the Federal Party, the Tamil Congress (TC), the Ceylon Workers Congress (Thondaman) and some Tamil petty-bourgeois groups), and the opting of this party for a separate Tamil state, ‘Tamil Eelam’.
The propaganda of Sinhalese bourgeois leaders and the impression created by the government that the just demands of the Tamils are inimical to the interests of Sinhalese; and, on the other hand, the impression created by the Tamil bourgeois leaders that the Sinhalese are the enemies of the Tamils, and that Tamil rights have to be wrested in struggle against the Sinhalese people – this communalism on both sides being nothing new.
In any event, the aftermath of the anti-Tamil pogrom is widespread communalism. Undoubtedly, sections of the working class also have been affected by this virus of communalism.
Conditions are favourable for the further strengthening of the forces of Sinhalese communalism, as both the governing party, the United National Party (UNP) of J.R. Jayewardene, as well as the other bourgeois mass party, Bandaranaike’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), are communalist and will seek to further their political interests through Sinhalese communalism. And outside these parties leading Buddhist monks and their associations are even now calling for drastic legislation to suppress the Tamils, to illegalize the right to carry on propaganda or agitation on the issue of a separate Tamil state. They are also calling on the government to send more and more Sinhalese into Tamil-majority areas for land colonization and to keep the military in occupation of those areas.
Legacy of Colonialist ‘Divide and Rule’ Policies
Viewed historically, the Tamil minority problem has been conditioned by the reality that the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in Sri Lanka remain uncompleted. This is indeed the case in regard to minority oppression in the backward countries. More generally, capitalism in decay has the need to utilize pre-capitalist forms of oppression and also to widen and perpetuate old divisions based on nationality, religion and caste, on the principle of ‘divide and rule’.
The British conquerors commenced the superimposition of capitalism in Sri Lanka with the overthrow of the feudalist Sinhalese kingdom in Kandy in 1815. Capitalist development called for, among other matters, the unification of the country. The Kandyan Sinhalese kingdom was only one part of the island, the region of the hill country. The people in the rest of the country were in two other distinct regions – the low country Sinhalese, occupying the southern part of the country, formerly a separate kingdom; and the northern region of the Tamils, also a former separate kingdom. Within the three regions, there were further divisions through the operation of the caste system.
The unification of the peoples in those regions was possible only on the basis of mutual agreements in regard to their special cultural and other interests. But the British rulers had no need for forging national unity in that way. As the new foreign oppressors of the country, whose aim was the speedy consolidation of their rule for realizing a colonialist economy, they were not to be guided by concepts of democracy and of the overall needs of an all-sided development of capitalism in Sri Lanka. Besides, such a unity of the peoples of the country could well lay the foundation for undermining British rule.
What the British did in the situation was to achieve unification on an administrative basis. It was the fiat of the ruler that the whole of Sri Lanka be administered as a single entity. This meant that the welding of the peoples of these three regions did not take place. It was thus that old antagonisms between the up country Kandyan Sinhalese and the Sinhalese of the low country remained, and especially the antagonisms between the Sinhalese and Tamils continued unresolved. So also the caste jealousies and antagonisms which persist up to this date in many parts of the country.
Sinhalese Bourgeoisie Oppresses Tamil Nationality
It was thus that an unpostponable task before the Sri Lanka bourgeoisie when they obtained political power from the British in 1947 was to carry out even belatedly this unification of the country, especially between the two main nationalities, the Sinhalese and the Tamils.
The story of how the Sinhalese bourgeoisie and vested interests accomplished this task is now all too well known. The plain truth is that all bourgeois governments – UNP, SLFP, and the SLFP/LSSP [Lanka Samasamaja Party]/CP [Communist Party] – have hopelessly failed in this regard. Far from seeking to settle by mutual agreements with the Tamils the problems concerning their rights and interests, all Singhalese bourgeois governments have rushed to increase their privileges over the Tamils, and in consequence have reduced the Tamils to the status of an oppressed minority.
This situation in Sri Lanka is by no means unique. As in the case of the bourgeoisie of all backward countries in this twentieth century, in the contest of the class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, it is inconceivable that the bourgeoisie in Sri Lanka could have given leadership to the struggle of the minorities against their state of oppression. Far from playing any such progressive role they have proved themselves reactionary in that regard. Both the UNP and the SLFP and other bourgeois groups have not concealed the fact that keeping the Tamil as an oppressed minority is an important aspect of their respective political programs.
For the same reasons, the Tamil bourgeoisie cannot lead the struggle of the oppressed Tamils for their liberation from national oppression. The history of the struggle of the Tamil minority for their just rights is the history of betrayal by the Tamil bourgeois parties, the Tamil Congress and the Federal Party. The recently formed TULF is only an amalgam of the TC, FP and other petty-bourgeois groups.
Incidentally, the reactionary role of both the UNP and also of the so-called national bourgeoisie (the SLFP) in regard to the minority problem, and especially the record of the SLFP/LSSP/CP coalition government, has exploded the myth of the Stalinists (supported by the LSSP) that the uncompleted democratic tasks can be accomplished in alliance with the ‘national bourgeoisie’ in the first or ‘democratic’ stage of the Sri Lanka revolution.
In this context the leadership of the struggle of the oppressed Tamil minority as well as of all sections of the oppressed falls to the Sri Lanka proletariat. In fact, it is a condition for the victory of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie that the proletariat becomes champion and leader of all the oppressed sections of the people of Sri Lanka, seeking to mobilize and bring them into the mainstream of the class struggle. And it is precisely in this way that the Sri Lanka proletariat will overcome the problems arising from the reality that it forms only a minority of the population.
Concretely this means that it is in the interests of the Sri Lanka proletariat to categorically support the struggle of the Tamil minority for their just rights, and against their state of oppression. This further means that the struggle of the Tamil minority for its rights cannot be a separate struggle apart from the class struggle of the proletariat. The democratic struggle will merge in the struggle of the proletariat for socialism. Thus there is no democratic stage for realizing Tamil minority rights separated from the next, that is the ‘socialist stage’ of the Sri Lanka revolution. We live in the age of Permanent Revolution. The Tamil minority struggle as well as the struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie can be consummated only in the process of the Permanent Revolution.
Demands of Tamil Minority
The adoption of the demand for a separate Tamil state by the TULF, and the winning of 18 out of the 24 seats this party contested in the State Assembly, does not necessarily mean that the Tamils have irrevocably opted for a separate state. What indeed is a reality is that the Tamils have lost faith in the possibility of Tamil-Sinhalese harmony and achievement of the just rights of the Tamil people under a UNP-led or SLFP-led government or under any other Sinhalese bourgeois government.
In any event, this demand for a separate Tamil state has not suddenly fallen from the skies. It is the latest phase of the movement of the Tamil minority to end its state of oppression. And it is the case that for over three decades 2 million Tamils, including the Indian Tamil plantation workers, have suffered severe discrimination in regard to language rights, employment opportunities, land colonization and educational facilities.
What the Tamil minority struggled for, and the response of the Sinhalese capitalist governments, may be summarized as follows:
(a) From 1948 on, it was the demand of the Indian Tamil plantation workers that their citizenship rights, which the then UNP government deprived them of, be restored. But what the Indian Tamil workers got in response to their representations was the ‘Sirima-Shastri Pact’, in terms of which sections of these workers were to be forcibly repatriated to India as Indian citizens. In return the Sri Lanka government undertook to grant a small section of these workers citizenship rights, but left as ‘stateless’ a very large number of them. Incidentally, the problem of citizenship rights of the Tamil plantation workers was never a problem of the Indian government, but a problem of the Sri Lankan government.
(b) What the Ceylon Tamils demanded from the 1930s on was not a separate state, but a more just representation in the legislature, and ending discriminatory practices against them in regard to land colonization and employment.
(c) Since 1956, the main demand of the Tamils was language rights – that Tamil also be declared a state language. Against attempts to organize a peaceful protest movement on this issue, the Sinhalese communalist forces backed by the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois parties and groups (SLFP, UNP, Philip [Gunawardena] group, Sinhalese Language Fronts, Bhikku Front), unleashed, in the same year, anti-Tamil violence leading to the killing of 150 persons, including Sinhalese in the Gal Oya Valley (East Ceylon).
(d) In 1957, in pursuit of the goal of blocking the road to any concessions to the Tamils on the language issue (breaking of the Bandaranaike – Chelvanayakam Pact) Sinhalese communalist forces led by UNP leader J.R. Jayewardene (the present prime minister), SLFP parliamentarians and others organized mass demonstrations, which very soon escalated into unprecedented anti-Tamil violence in May-June 1958, in which hundreds of Tamils and also Sinhalese were killed, atrocities perpetrated, and much property destroyed and looted.
The goal of the Tamil bourgeois Federal Party was to realize a federal state. However, this goal was never seriously pursued. The content of the movement led by the Federal Party was agitation around the language demand and the demand to end the many discriminatory practices against the Tamil minority.
It was in this context, when all capitalist governments – the UNP, SLFP and SLFP/LSSP/CP – had over a period of three decades denied them their just rights, that all political organizations of the Tamil minority regrouped themselves as the Tamil United Liberation Front, which adopted a separate Tamil state as its goal.
A separate Tamil state is not at all a solution to the problems of the Tamil people. On the contrary, all their problems could well become more acute than before. Besides, a separate Tamil state could also be the beginning of another period of oppression of the Tamil minority by different oppressors.
The Duty of Revolutionary Marxists
But if, indeed, the Tamils have irrevocably opted for a separate Tamil state, the question is what is the correct attitude of the workers and toilers on this issue. The question can be decided only on the basis of the needs of the struggle of the proletariat and all the toilers in the whole of Sri Lanka for socialism.
In terms of Leninism, ‘the development of nationality in general, the movement to establish a separate nation, is the principle of bourgeois nationalism.’ And this concept of nationalism connotes the idea of national solidarity of the people. This ‘community of interests’ between the exploiting capitalist class and the exploited working class and toilers is a thoroughly deceptive and mystifying ideology to prevent or retard the independent class organization and class struggle of all the workers and toilers (Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, etc.). Thus bourgeois nationalism, whether of the Sinhalese bourgeoisie or of the Tamil bourgeoisie (the nationalism of the oppressed Tamil minority), is reactionary, and must be opposed and fought against by the proletariat.
However, the national oppression of the Tamil people by the Sinhalese bourgeoisie and their governments, invoking the principle of exclusiveness (that is, privileges for the Sinhalese people), severely obstructs the self-determination of the working class in their organisation as a separate class and the development of the common struggle of the Sinhalese and Tamil workers. This means that it is clearly in the interests of the proletarian class struggle to support the Tamil people’s struggle against their oppression by the Sinhalese bourgeoisie. In Lenin’s own words, ‘Any bickerings on this national question obscures and retards the class struggle.’
Concretely, revolutionary Marxists in Sri Lanka must support the struggle of the Tamils for language rights, i.e., that Tamil also be declared a state language; against discriminatory practices against them, for equality of the Tamil nationality with the Sinhalese nationality. This must necessarily mean support of the right of the Tamils to establish themselves as a nation, if that is their desire.
More specifically, the position of revolutionary Marxists in regard to the demand of the Tamils for a separate state is one of recognition of the right of the Tamils to secession. This means the proletariat is not committed to support this demand for a separate Tamil state or support such a struggle; revolutionary Marxists will reserve the right to carry out propaganda against such separation. However, revolutionary Marxists will defend the right of Tamils to demand and agitate for a separate state. This would mean that if the Sinhalese bourgeoisie or their state seek to prevent the Tamils from making this demand, revolutionary Marxists will give military support (not political support) in defence of the right to raise and agitate for this demand.
Opposition or refusal to recognize the right of the Tamils to secession is inescapably the condoning of or support for Sinhalese bourgeois nationalism, and of the oppression of the Tamil minority. And in this regard, what the revolutionary George Plekhanov wrote as far back as 1903 becomes especially relevant: ‘If we are to forget it [the right of nations to self determination] or hesitate to advance it for fear of offending the national prejudices of our fellow countrymen of great-Russian nationality, the call…Workers of All Countries Unite, would be a shameful lie on our lips.’
To those who seek to object that recognition of the right of the Tamils to a separate state would surely encourage the Tamil separatists, there could be no better reply than that Lenin gave to those who raised the same objection from within the ranks of the Marxist movement itself. Answering no less a Marxist than Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin said:
Reformists Refuse to Defend Tamil’s Right of Self-Determination
It is by no means a surprise that the LSSP and CP reformists reject the right of self determination of the Tamils by resort to the familiar slogans of Sinhalese nationalism, ‘Division of the country cannot be permitted!’ Both these parties have for a long time now been partners with the Sinhalese bourgeois party, the SLFP, the oppressors of the Tamils, in a common government, which during the last seven years was opposed to the slightest concession to the Tamils on their just demands. Instead, these two parties jointly with the SLFP intensified the oppression of the Tamils.
It is the deep-rooted Sinhalese chauvinism of these two parties that limited their intervention in the anti-Tamil pogrom situation to calling for ‘Peace Committees’! Of the smaller ‘left’ parties and groups, the pro-Peking Stalinist CP (Sanmugathasan) and the Left Samasamajists (Vasudeva Nanayakara) followed positions no different from those of the CP (Moscow) and the LSSP.
The Healyite Revolutionary Communist League, that claims to be Trotskyist, is shamelessly trailing behind the Stalinists and LSSP reformists on the issue of the right of self-determination of the Tamils. For these fake-Trotskyists, the reality that a Tamil mini-state would from the outset be vulnerable to the aggressive designs of the imperialists has led them to conclude that the Tamil separatist movement has already come under the imperialist shadow, and therefore that the right to self-determination of the Tamils cannot be supported.
In regard to the United Secretariat (USec) group, the Revolutionary Marxist Party of Bala Tampoe, it has echoed the LSSP/CP call for ‘Peace Committees’. But Tampoe knows well how to appear militant and revolutionary in words while taking a shamelessly reformist line. Tampoe’s slogan is ‘Form Defence Committees’ or ‘Combat Committees’! On the issue of Tamil minority rights and the question of self-determination of the Tamils, Tampoe has not made any comments. As for the JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna), it has confied its intervention to pointing out that no capitalist government could solve the communal problem. It has said nothing on the issue of a separate Tamil state.
The UNP government’s hypocrisy in relation to the problem of the Tamil minority is manifest in that its only answer to this burning issue is a ‘Roundtable Conference.’ On the other hand, the government is seeking to profit by the calamitous situation for the Tamils by suggesting that anti-Tamil violence is a conspiracy against the government. What is more, Prime Minister Jayewardene has strengthened the anti-Tamil communalist forces among the Sinhalese by a mere negative attitude, expressing the determination of his government to prevent the division of the country, without telling the Sinhalese people the truth, that this issue of a separate Tamil state has arisen because the Tamils have been denied their just rights.
This despicable attitude of the UNP government and the strengthening of the Sinhalese communalist forces are taking place in conditions of the terrible oppression of the Tamil minority and the consequent determination of the Tamils to fight against this oppression. Thus the Tamil minority question will loom large in the politics of Sri Lanka, and will indeed be a burning question for all the people of this country, while remaining for a long time an especially explosive issue for the government.
For the working class and revolutionaries the Tamil national question is not at all an obstacle but a problem of the Sri Lanka socialist revolution. A militant mass movement of the oppressed Tamils, including a million plantation workers who form a section of the real proletariat of this country, is a factor of the utmost importance and significance for revolutionary Marxists. The Indian Tamil plantation workers constitute the sleeping giant of the Sri Lanka proletarian revolution.
Under a revolutionary leadership, this democratic movement of the oppressed Tamils would surely be an effective lever for the mobilization of the working class and all oppressed sections for the anti-capitalist and anti-government struggle which is unpostponable in conditions of the growth of the counter-revolutionary forces and the speedy evolution of the present UNP regime into the ‘strong government’ of the capitalist class.
In any event, the workers and toilers of Sri Lanka cannot take one step forward in furtherance of the struggle for socialism without taking an unequivocal position of support for Tamil minority rights and in defence of the right of the Tamils for self-determination.