Sectarianism against the methods of Marxism
The World Socialist Website (WSWS) recently published an article on their website authored by the Socialist Equality Party (SEP) in Sri Lanka in which they attacked the United Socialist Party (USP) with a number of false accusations. The article reveals both their sectarianism and their complete failure to understand Marxism and Trotskyism.
While the USP was engaged in a relentless campaign to end the war in March 2009, the SEP’s website shamelessly claimed that “the USP joined with the UNP”. In various forms they continued this lie in all their articles since then. They have made many fictitious claims such as the USP gave “backhanded support to Mathiripala Sirisena”, it is “lining up with US imperialism in its intrigues, intervention and military build up” – “Washington human rights campaign in Sri Lanka is fully backed by the USP” etc.
In the recent article – their major document for the coming election in Sri Lanka – they declared that the USP is an “outfit” which is ready for “hire” and claims that the USP is “willing to ally with any capitalist parties”. In slanderous lies it says that the USP general secretary Siritunga Jayasuriya had said that the USP had “supported both of the two major bourgeois parties at different times”. The USP, it is outrageously claimed, “has never fought to defend democratic rights” and that “during the 2010 presidential election, it continued to back the UNP”. The SEP claims: “The USP played a prominent role in the US orchestrated regime-change operation that saw the ousting of Rajapaksa” and that: “The USP did absolutely nothing to dispel the illusions in Sirisena and thus helped him into power”. Truly the SEP is going that extra mile for a really sensational story when it claims that: “Jayasuriya declared that we will join hands with Mahinda Rajapaksa”!
In every election in Sri Lanka the SEP carries out this ceremony religiously. They post a slanderous commentary article attacking the United Socialist Party in their website. The USP has organised numerous public meetings, protests and participated in almost all the working class activities of significance. The SEP has no presence whatsoever in these events and takes no opportunity to debate in front of the masses about the correct way forward. Knowing well that they will be booed and booted out of the workers’ meeting, they resort to keyboard Marxism. But they come out with hilarious accusations and innovative lies that could rival the right-wing tabloids. They continue the notorious tradition of the late Gerry Healy of the defunct Workers Revolutionary Party.
The WSWS shows itself incapable of understanding the USP’s involvement in the ‘platform for freedom’. Misunderstanding is one thing – but it is outrageous that the WSWS claims that this tactic proves that the USP is an ally of the capitalist parties. On the contrary the USP has previously explained that “The ‘Platform for Freedom’, as its name explains, was a crucial attempt to create an opposition to the warmongering dictatorship. The platform for freedom is not a political alliance, rather a platform to gather voices against huge repression.
At a time when political murders had become very common, attacks against the Tamil minority were at an all-time peak and hundreds of Tamils were killed during the war. USP members refused to be silent and were prepared to participate not in a political bloc but in a concrete practical campaign in defence of democratic rights. It was correct not to debar any forces, even those who refuse to go outside the framework of capitalism, in a campaign against the dictatorial methods of the Rajapakse government. Moreover, Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks engaged on many occasions in similar actions with petit bourgeois and bourgeois forces in the struggle against Tsarism. At no time did the great Marxist leaders advocate political support for pro-capitalist organisations like the UNP in Sri Lanka. However, a concrete practical arrangement on crucial democratic issues is an entirely different matter. The USP upholds the banner of the workers’ movement in Sri Lanka on this crucial question.”
Revolutionary party had to oppose dictatorial regime regardless which wing of the capitalist class its represents. We may have to bloc temporally with various opposition forces on specific issues, particularly on democratic demands. This does not mean in anyway of lowering the banner- USP maintained its independent banner and program, most of the time carrying out severe criticism of the limitation and inability of those part of the bloc, including UNP. USP never created any illusions that working class can find solution through UNP or any other capitalist parties. USP position of uncompromising opposition to capitalism and dictatorship will not have changed if UNP and its leaders prepare dictatorial onslaught. USP fought ruthlessly against the JR Jayawardena regime in the late 70’s and the 80’s which forced some of the leaders into exile. Siritunga’s attempt to explain this crudely interpreted as wsws claimed “Jayasuriya declared that we will join hands with Mahinda Rajapaksa”! Such is the crude analysis that wsws offers.
Their crudeness and sectarianism also flow from the fact that there is little evident that the SEP have any influence or base among the working class. It makes no effort whatsoever to take part in the day-to-day struggles of workers. Instead, without dirtying their hands in the often complex and complicated living struggles, SEP members preach the ‘purity of socialism’ from the comfort of their home. Some activists are seen only when they travel around the other left party offices collecting material to organise their ‘next big thing’ – a new sectarian slander against the left.
The SEP was seen nowhere in the election in 2004 when the USP launched a vehement campaign against the mistake of boycotting the election propagated by LTTE(Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). The USP pointed out what it could bring to the Tamil masses and argued that building an independent mass workers’ organisation was a vital task. This approach gained small but significant support and helped the USP to continue its battle against the dictatorial regime that emerged after.
When presidential candidate and The USP general secretary Siritunga Jayasuriya came third in that election he used the platform to clearly warn against the unleashing of chauvinist forces by the victorious Mahinda Rajapaksa. The SEP did nothing of that sort. When their candidate Wije Dias spoke on the same platform he gave a little history lesson (as usual) and announced that none of the election promises will be kept and finished with the audacious claim that he alone can save the working class. Their post-election article was the usual SEP offering – an attack on the USP arguing that the “next regime will be just as unstable as the last with no popular mandate whatsoever”.
They completely misunderstood and misinterpreted what processes were taking place at that time. This is in complete contrast to the USP which was warning against the possible massacre which sadly came to pass. Extremely general guesswork and revolutionary-sounding clichés is what passes as a ‘perspective’ in SEP written material.
Soon after Mahinda Rajapaksa took power the USP adopted a new tactic. This small but far-sighted organisation did everything in its capacity to mobilise all the forces on the left, all progressive sections of society and all workers’ organisations to unite and organise to halt the emergence of a dictatorial regime, to stop the brutal war, and then to fight to reverse the undemocratic measures pushed through by Rajapaksa. While standing for a socialist transformation of society, the USP unlike the sectarians, refused to be silent in the face of such brutalities as were unleashed on the minority population and the working class.
The USP led an uncompromising opposition to the war. It became instrumental in raising awareness not just within Sri Lanka but also in India, particularly in Tamil Nadu. The USP also helped to bring together left forces and progressive sections in Tamil Nadu to create a strong anti-war campaign called ‘stop the slaughter of Tamils’ which was later renamed Tamil Solidarity. This campaign continues to fight for fundamental democratic rights. The USP also participated in the calling solidarity action across the world – including organising an anti-war protest day which saw the protest taking place in many countries on the same day.
Following the war the USP continued its strategy of bringing together all relevant forces against the regime to fight for democratic rights, against war crimes committed, etc. While a massive shadow of fear was settling over society, the USP initiated various campaigns such as the civil monitoring commissions. It also played an instrumental role in establishing a ‘platform for freedom’ which brought together various forces. These initiatives played a key role in defeating the brutal regime eventually.
The USP general secretary and its members spoke at the ‘platform for freedom’ meetings and at other press meetings along with various left forces and at times along with capitalist UNP party. The USP demanded that the UNP-supporting unions should mobilise against the regime. However the USP relentlessly argued for the independent mass mobilisations of the working class to oppose war and bring down the regime. The USP also participated in initiating a debate in the country to consider various perspectives to bring down the Mahinda regime. The USP has also persistently argued against the so-called “common candidate” and the idea of supporting ‘lesser evils’. The majority of the oppressed Tamils and big sections of the progressive working class, mainly from the cities expressed a strong yearning to get rid of the regime whatever the cost may be. The USP patiently argued for the need to build an independent mass organisation based on the working class.
While fighting against the regime in an uncompromising way, the USP refuse to lend its support to the UNP-Maithri coalition that was formed to defeat Mahinda in the election. The USP stood its candidate in the much polarised election and continued to argue its clear position. The USP put forward a democratic programme including defending the right to self-determination of the Tamils and withdrawal of the military. When discussions were taking place about the formation of a new constitutional arrangement supposedly to curtail the executive presidency, the USP campaigned to popularise the demand for the establishment of a revolutionary constituent assembly. This demand raises the question of working class participation in deciding what kind of society the masses want to live in.
At the same time the USP explained that an alternative society cannot be built without directly challenging the existence of capitalism. Despite the massive polarisation that existed, the USP won significant support for its arguments. The USP continues to follow this strategy. Given the return of Mahinda in the coming election campaign, and the revelations of corruption linked to the UNP, the need to build an independent mass force can gain traction. The USP is once again standing in the coming general election in attempts to raise these ideas in the debates that will take place. In this election, as in the previous one, the USP appealed to the left in general to come forward to stand together on this principle. The USP’s preference was for a left ‘common candidate’ to help draw the working class towards the left and socialism with the aim of building its strength. The current level of class consciousness, the increasing influence of Sinhala chauvinist nationalism among some sections, and the potential dangers of Tamil nationalism taking a violent route again, etc, are some factors in the current situation that cannot be swept under the carpet but must be addressed. The USP explains that without building a mass left alternative, various reactionary forces will continue to grow in the vacuum. Hence it consistently appeals to the left to come together to stand together to call for the building of a mass force of our class. For various political reasons this has not so far been successful, mainly due to the fact that the USP stood openly for the national rights of Tamils, including right to self-determination- and parties such as the FSP have withdrawn from this idea. Nevertheless The USP used all opportunities to raise awareness about the need for establishing a working class mass alternative.
But the sectarian SEP was completely muted in its activities as usual. Having failed to anticipate or understand the emergence of the brutal conditions which affected the whole of the working class, SEP leaders failed to analyse the results and to offer any way forward. They remained in silence during the massacre that took place during the war. Not only did they do nothing to oppose the war, nowhere in their material did they put forward a clear opposition to the war. Their condemnation of war akin to the UN’s, bereft utterly of meaning. Nowhere in their material did they argue the case for an immediate end to the war or put forward a perspective of how that could be achieved. Instead they criticised almost all the protest movements and continued their slanders against the left as usual.
In Sri Lanka the SEP played no role in opposing the regime. It made no effort whatsoever to contributing to the perspective to defend the conditions and democratic rights of the working people. They seem to believe that the masses will come to them when the time comes – until then repetition of the mantra of ‘socialism’ is enough. This utopian view may be enough to write movies but it’s useless in mobilising the working class.
Building mass organisations of the workers, peasants and the poor depends on various factors. The ability of a revolutionary party to lead a working class-led movement to victory is not an automatic process or one that will take place in a straight line. The capitalist system has far outlived its purpose and can be overthrown at any time. But that will take place only if the working class moves into decisive and conscious action against the system. Without the working class mass involvement any wishful thinking and new formations will fail to overthrow capitalism. In assisting with the building a mass movement of the working class and oppressed, the revolutionary party at times orientates towards the mass organisations which exist, despite the weaknesses and flaws.
The trade unions and other organisations that represent oppressed sections of society provide key opportunities to bring forward and fight for socialist methods of struggle and ideas. The call for a united struggle of “workers, peasants, youth, and other progressive sections of the society along with all oppressed Tamils and Muslim” is a vital initial step in the process of building a mass party of the working class. For the SEP this represents “complete fraud!” Having no connection to workers, their distant dream depends on waiting for that ‘one day’ when all workers will suddenly turn towards them making this ultra-sectarian party into a mass party! Its shows how disconnected they are from the daily life of the masses and how little they understood about Marxism.
There are no shortcuts or strategies based on simple logic that will end capitalism and free humanity from its suffering. Merely repeating the mantra of “opposition to capitalism” is not enough. It is necessary to work with and help the masses in the process of their daily struggle to find the bridge between their current demands and the socialist programme of the revolution. The present demands stem from today’s conditions and the consciousness of the working class.
A Marxist organisation which aims to help the working class build an organised fight cannot ignore this. However in the name of ‘socialism’ some sectarian left organisations put their own petty importance above the class and completely ignore the plight and key demands of the working masses. The Socialist Equality Party in Sri Lanka is such an organisation. The USP however has no illusions of convincing SEP’s leaders on the methods of Marxism. There is no hope of recovery for them from the decades of isolation and sectarianism. The few commentaries on their website – the only place they exist – will not change the course of history. Instead the point is to work towards building a strong united working class force in Sri Lanka which will end the madness of capitalism.