Discourse Between Reality and Expectations
(An Introduction to the Sinhala Version)
By: Siritunga Jayasuriya
This is a different kind of book. Its subject matter is the great debate within the Nava Sama Samaja Party (NSSP) throughout the period from 1980 to 1989 (a time of social, economic and political turmoil, of sharp turns and sudden changes) on how to correctly apply the Marxist method at each stage, in order to work out the perspectives, strategy and tactics for struggle. This book’s purpose is to help you the reader arm yourself for the truly titanic battles that lie ahead.
This book contains 3 sets of articles: articles authored by Wickramabahu Karunaratne on behalf of the NSSP’s Majority group; articles by the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) that we are affiliated with; and the articles written by myself (Siritunga Jayasuriya) in that discourse on behalf of the NSSP’s Minority group. Being a debate amongst comrades both in Sri Lanka and internationally within the CWI, many of the articles were originally written and published in the English language; those were translated into Sinhala and published on the actual dates mentioned therein – they were not translated into Sinhala just for publication in this book. It is noteworthy to mention here that the Sinhala translations of those originally-English articles are not particularly accurate; the translations have never been verbatim and carry many weaknesses. No changes were made in those translations in publishing them in this book, except for a few changes in important places where the translation has deviated from the sense of thought of the original article.
The history of the Leftist movement in Ceylon, ever since 1935, is replete with the clashing of irreconcilable ideologies. Should each such ideological battle of theory and practice end in an organizational split as its inevitable consequence or in the formation of factions within a Leftist party? Or will such intra-party factional differences melt away with the ongoing march of events vindicating one of the clashing ideologies and refuting the others? That depends on the concrete circumstances of each case. Let the future decide.
A superficial reading of the past history of Sri Lanka’s Leftist movement might indicate that virtually every serious ideological clash has merely created seeds of division, further dividing the old Leftist movement into even smaller fractions. For example: the question of Stalinism or Trotskyism, which erupted in the 1940s within the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP); the Russia-China conflict beginning in the 1960s, which impelled a split within THE “Communist” Party; OF CEYLON the question of coalition with the bourgeois SLFP or class independence, which caused the 1964 split within the LSSP; and then again the fighting demand, initiated by the Vama Group within the LSSP, supported by the Vama Group’s international co-thinkers, and emerging from within the LSSP, for leaving the coalition government and moving towards BUILDING a revolutionary party. It must be emphasized from the outset, however, that such a superficial reading of Sri Lanka’s Leftist movement’s history would be a profound error: some organizational splits are and inevitable; whereas the decline of the old Leftist movement was a direct result of its inability to measure up to the tasks demanded of it by the epoch.
The United National Party (UNP) is historically the major capitalist political party in Sri Lanka; its shadow as the second main capitalist party is the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). Both the UNP and SLFP are pro-imperialistic capitalist political parties. The old Left leaders opportunistically and falsely created a way out for themselves to form coalitions with the SLFP by labeling the SLFP the “party of local progressive capitalists”.
The ossified core policy of the old Left leaders was that the foundation for progressive, anti-capitalist politics would be laid by marching forward in an allegedly anti-imperialist bloc with the capitalist SLFP; even to the extent of forming a coalition government with the SLFP.
Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks established the Soviet workers’ state as a fruit of the triumph of the 1917 October Socialist Revolution. The response of the world capitalist ruling class was to invade the newborn Soviet Union (21 capitalist armies on the rampage) and to militarily support the counter-revolutionary forces in the ensuing Russian Civil War. The working class and peasantry of the Soviet Union, and its spearhead the Red Army, heroically fought back and annihilated the counter-revolution, but at terrible cost to themselves. Much of the flower of the working class died in battle, and the Soviet economy was devastated. Furthermore, and most importantly, the Revolution in other countries was defeated: Germany in 1918, 1921 and 1923; Finland in 1918; Hungary in 1919; China in 1927. Consequently the Russian Revolution was isolated in an economically-backward country beset with hunger, economic shortages and generalized want. When there is a shortage of goods essential to life, there is a queue for those goods; when there is a queue, there is a policeman to keep order in the queue; that policeman is the bureaucracy. The policeman commandeers the choicest of the goods for himself. Thus the ossification of a bureaucratic caste under Stalin, coming into its own with the death of Lenin in January 1924 and usurping power within both the Soviet Communist Party and the Soviet workers’ state. This Stalinized, bureaucratically-degenerated ‘Communist’ party formed an opportunist policy of attempting to force the working class in capitalist countries into coalition with ‘their’ local capitalist class. Stalinists called this the ‘Popular Front’ (or ‘People’s Front’) policy. However there is no such thing as a ‘coalition’ between horse and rider: it is the capitalist ruling class, the economically dominant class in society, which likewise dominates the coalition; whereas the working class, the economic wage-slave of the capitalists, becomes capitalism’s political slave as well.
A subtle analysis of this process in Sri Lanka has been given in the book titled ‘HAWUL AANDU DESHAPAALANAYA’ (Politics of the Coalition Government) by V. Karalasingham, one of the leaders of the LSSP. Later on, however, Karalasingham too “stamped on the throat of his own song” and capitulated to the Coalition politics of class-collaboration and betrayed the working-class.
The Vama Group (Left Group) of the LSSP emerged (1970 – 1977) as the result of thoroughgoing criticism of the LSSP leadership’s coalitionist policies amid prolonged debate within the LSSP. Wickramabahu Karunaratne, Sumanasiri Liyanage and Siritunga Jayasuriya were the pioneers of that period; Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Edwin Kothalawala, Oswin Fernando, Arasarathnam and Reginold Mendis subsequently joined the group as a result of the continuous struggle launched within the LSSP. A strong group of regional leaders of the LSSP and leading trade union activists were attracted to the Vama Group.
The historic debacle of the 1977 election, where the LSSP and the ‘Communist’ party lost absolutely all their parliamentary seats, marked an end of era of the politics of the old Left movements. In fact it signified the end of Sri Lanka’s old Left movement itself.
We must never forget that the 1977 electoral catastrophe experienced by the LSSP, at one time the critical and decisive force, the vanguard, of the workers’ political struggle in this country, was due to the LSSP’s coalitionist politics of class-collaboration, of capitulation to the capitalist enemy. Thereafter, the LSSP became just a ‘namesake’ political group in the country.
The Vama group decided to convene a Party Congress of the LSSP. This was in the teeth of opposition by the LSSP leadership, who had for many years in succession prevented the holding of the supposedly-annual Party Congress, having turned it into a class-collaborationist, bureaucratically-led party, the LSSP leadership feared the rank-and-file’s democratic instincts. This convention was called by the Vama group with an open invitation to the entire LSSP party membership. The result was a successful party congress at the New Town Hall, Colombo, on 30th – 31st December 1977.
UNP leader J. R. Jayawardena (J.R.), having secured a parliamentary majority exceeding 2/3 in the 1977 election, misused his mandate to impose a new authoritarian constitution in 1978 containing a draconian Executive Presidency and a system of parliamentary Proportional Representation. Through this undemocratic constitution forced down the people’s throat, J.R. proclaimed himself the first-ever Executive President of Sri Lanka; in no time he bypassed the parliament and became a real civilian bonapartist dictator. He promulgated several draconian Acts and Regulations for suppressing opposition to his regime. Public protests, rallies and demonstrations were proscribed. Trade union activities and student movement activities were crushed. To withstand the ceaseless, vicious, brutal state repression, Left grassroots activists urged a united effort in collaboration with trade unions and leftist movements. This was how a call for unity and amity amongst leftist forces emerged against the bloodthirsty repression of the UNP regime.
We, who were instrumental in calling the LSSP Party Congress in December, 1977, were called the Vama Group until such time; subsequently we began to call ourselves the ‘New Leadership of the LSSP’. Thus the LSSP was a party of two factions, the ‘New Leadership’ and the ‘Old Leadership’.
The Old Leadership, including Colvin R de Silva, was of the opinion that the existence of two Sama Samaja parties was a barrier to achieving a united platform amongst leftist parties. At the same time, the argument emerged within our ranks that appearing as the “New Leadership” of the discredited, class-collaborationist LSSP would tarnish our own image as a revolutionary party.
A serious debate ensued amongst the ‘New Leadership’ Wickramabahu and others were vehemently opposed to any change in the name ‘New Leadership of the LSSP’. At the end of prolonged argument the Central Committee decided by majority vote on the name ‘Nava Sama Samaja Party’ (NSSP). This Central Committee meeting was held on 15th – 16th September 1979 where 15 members voted for the motion and 04 members including Wickramabahu voted against. Because his argument was rejected by majority vote, Wickramabahu, who had been General Secretary of the party up to that moment, petulantly stepped down from the post of General Secretary of the party. He resigned in frustration against the majority of the members present at that Central Committee meeting. As a result, Siritunga Jayasuriya was elected to the post of Secretary of the NSSP. It was also decided not to publish that information in the media so as to refrain from exacerbating the party’s internal clashes. Shortly thereafter, after a lengthy discussion over the matter and considering a written request made by Wickramabahu, Siritunga stepped down from the post of secretary for the sake of party unity; the party decided to reappoint Wickramabahu to the post of General Secretary of the NSSP, assisted by Siritunga and others.
The NSSP made its mark on society during this period, gaining particular influence and prestige within the working class movement. The Government Clerical Services Union, a radical union hitherto led by the LSSP, elected an NSSP leadership. Leading trade unions of the Railways, the Government Press and the Government Health Service, and the Local Government Clerical Association, which were the leading trade Unions attached to the LSSP, now came under the leadership of the NSSP. In many other trade unions, large sections of workers rallied round the NSSP and established fresh trade Unions under its leadership. As for the private sector, at Bata, Lever Brothers and BCC, militant trade unions were formed with a mass fighting membership. Furthermore many radical members of the LSSP in the regions of Jaffna, Batticaloa and other places joined our new Party. In this way, the NSSP was established in a consolidated manner with a broad support base as the embryo of a mass workers’ party — although it would never reach the scale of the LSSP during its 1950s and 60s heyday.
The defeat experienced at the 1980 July General Strike had a great impact upon the NSSP. The NSSP was the livewire of the July General Strike. The UNP government led by J. R. sacked the employees to the score of sixty thousand, including U.E. Perera, S. Sathyapala, Dharmabandu of the Railway, Nandasena, Mahinda Silva, Nimal Punchihewa of the Local Government Service, K.J Silva, Gerad Gamage of the Government Office Service, J. D. Silva and L. P. Perera of the Teacher Service, Sawanadasa, Gunasena Mahanama and Pitigala of the Clerical Service, Quintus Liyanage, E.A.P. Alwis, Reginald Fernando of the Government Press, Regie, Bandusena, Premalal of the Ratmalana Railway Workshop, Sarath Wimalarathna of the People’s Bank and many other trade Union Leaders and activists attached to the NSSP, under the draconian Emergency laws of the J.R. government.
The convenor of the Joint Trade Union Action Committee that gave leadership to this General Strike was L. W. Panditha, who was also a Leader of the Communist Party. The Ceylon Mercantile Union and the Hospital Service union did not join the Strike; hypocritically citing all sorts of self-serving reasons, they abstained from supporting it. Although the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) tried to prevent the Lanka Teachers’ Union from joining the Strike, its leader H. N. Fernando courageously rejected the JVP scabs’ demands, motivating the union to energetically join the strike. (H. N. Fernando is the brother–in–law of the J.V.P. founder Rohana Wijeweera). The JVP acted as strike-breaking scabs against the General Strike. Comrade Somapala was murdered by gunshot in the brutal state terror launched against the Strikers; Upathissa Gamanayake (a JVP leader), who turned up to pay a floral tribute to the dead body, could not reach the coffin as the workers gathered there grabbed him and threw that wreath of flowers into the Beira Lake. That very protest at Comrade Somapala’s funeral showed the hatred of the working class towards the JVP for its stance of not supporting the Strike.
The General Strike failed before the cruel state suppression of the UNP Government. Because all the trade unions affiliated to the NSSP had joined the strike, the defeat was felt vividly by it. The trade union leaders lost the organic contacts they had had with the working class. The political degeneration suffered by the NSSP at a latter stage was a poisoned fruit of the defeat of the 1980 July General Strike.
The Black July 1983 racist holocaust occurred within the prevailing context of ‘strike defeat’ nostalgia. The Labour Movement could not stand alone against the racism. It was Minister of the UNP government Cyril Matthew and chauvinist thugs who gave the leadership to those Sinhala racist rioters and anti-Tamil pogromists. Many innocent Tamils were burned to death in broad daylight. Racist Sinhala gangs looted Tamil businessmen’s houses and Tamil business places. Then the pressure mounted both locally and internationally, against the J.R. regime for its heinous role in creating the anti-Tamil pogroms.
J. R. Jayawardene took immediate steps to ban the J.V.P. and the NSSP (Even though the ‘Communist’ Party too was banned, that ban was lifted after two weeks.). Warrants were issued immediately to take the JVP and NSSP leaders into custody. Their photographs were displayed at every police station and public place under a ‘WANTED’ label, with the offer of a Rs. 50,000/- cash reward for their capture. That was how cunning JR deflected local and international condemnation for instigating the pogroms, by falsely blaming them on the NSSP and JVP. Murderous brutality and slanderous hypocrisy: The ruling assassin, drenched in the blood of Tamil workers, accuses the NSSP (at that time the Tamil workers’ relentless defender and unflinching ally) of committing the crime!
The proscription of our party was a novel experience for us. We had to go into hiding and lead the party in secret. I am of the opinion that the one-year proscription period and the 1980 July General Strike defeat caused the NSSP to deteriorate politically to a certain extent.
It was during this period that two articles were written by Comrade Wickramabahu titled “Two letters to a Tamil Sama Samajist (Socialist)”. Those articles contained glaring, profound, interconnected errors: the characterization of the newly-formed Mahajana Party (People’s Party) in 1984 as a workers’ party; the analysis of the Indian capitalist class as relatively progressive; and the political stance of the NSSP of critically-supporting the Indo-Lanka Agreement of 1987 and the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPK). That was how a prolonged debate began, including the Committee for a Worker’s International (CWI) which the NSSP was then affiliated with.
Thereafter, this theoretical discourse began to unwind between the Majority group and the Minority Group of the NSSP, which we believe has much relevance to today’s timely and on-going dialogue for a reawakening of the Leftist Movement. The label of ‘majority’ or ‘minority’ was according to the votes each group received at the 1986 NSSP Party Congress. The majority group was led by Wickramabhahu, Vasudeva, Linus, Neil Wijethilaka and others, while the minority group was given leadership by Siritunga Jayasuriya, K.W.Jayathilaka, S.Sathyapala, Quintus Liyanage and others.
Although the prolonged 3-decade war has ended with the regime’s 2009 military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE), the National Question of Sri Lanka remains intractable. Within the entire neo-colonial world, Sri Lanka provides the most glaring example of the complete inability of the capitalists of an underdeveloped country like Sri Lanka to solve the national issue. The fact that the national issue can be solved only by the working class seizing power through revolutionary struggle is yet again proved by the recent march of events.
This 25-year-old debate within the NSSP, as to how to correctly apply the Marxist method, will be extremely useful in enhancing the knowledge and experience required today for building the revolutionary movement. During the epoch of antagonism between Russia and other so-called Socialist Countries on the one hand versus America and other imperialist countries on the other, much of the Left movement abjured serious theoretical analysis and its practical application altogether, contenting itself with the mere mouthing of ‘Marxist’ slogans. However, since the collapse of the Stalinist regime in Russia and most other so-called Socialist Countries and the reestablishment of capitalism there, the Marxist movement is faced with complex challenges. Lethargy in theory and complacency in practice are luxuries the Marxist movement cannot afford.
Because some of the original articles appearing in this book refer to the class-character of the state in countries such as Cuba and China and Syria, Ethiopia and Burma, an overview must be added here too. Those articles or letters had been written by Ted Grant and Allan Woods of the CWI, and sent to Wickramabahu. In 1992, Ted and Allan with some others subsequently broke away from the CWI and formed their own organization.
Although the current leadership (of the United Socialist Party; at that time the Minority Group within the NSSP) generally agrees with the analysis made regarding Cuba and China in those articles, as for the analysis made regarding Syria, Burma and Ethiopia we had – and have — some reservations. Later the CWI made a reappraisal of those stances. The relevance and need of this reappraisal was absolutely vital because the historic experience emerged soon after the collapse of the Stalinist state mechanism. Hence Wickramabahu’s accusation against the CWI, that because the CWI asserts that the Chinese revolution of 1949 and the Cuban revolution of 1959 accomplished the tasks of the bourgeois revolution despite the absence of decisive organized working-class participation therein, therefore the CWI is guilty of peddling the international myth that the neo-colonial, radical capitalist forces could successfully make the crucial social change by toppling the aristocracy and capitalism in the neo-colonial countries, is a completely false accusation. Such a delusional belief on the part of the CWI would be totally incompatible with our common initial thought regarding Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution. This Theory states that in the neo-colonial countries the capitalist ruling class, weak, subservient to world imperialism, tied to the landowners, can never achieve the bourgeois-democratic revolution. On the other hand, in cases such as Mao Tse-Tung in China in 1949 and Castro in Cuba in 1959, petty-bourgeois radicals were able to provide leadership to the peasantry’s struggle for the land, build a guerrilla army based on the peasantry, and militarily defeat the bourgeois state. Given the specific context of the international and local situation and the dynamics of the struggle; the weakness of world imperialism, the victorious guerrilla army, and the organizational weakness of the working class both locally and internationally, the Mao Tse-Tungs and Castros established bureaucratically-deformed workers’ states with nationalized economies but without Workers’ Democracy. These were ruled by a bureaucratic caste that expropriated the local landowners and capitalists. Wickramabahu’s false accusation against the CWI is merely an example of his empty, abstract and scholastic (not Marxist) application of the Theory of Permanent Revolution.
We had an argument during those days to the effect that, because of the impasse based on capitalism and landlordism in the colonial countries and given the specific conditions, if the working class did not move to change society then other radical strata within society might attempt to do so. Ethiopia, Syria and Burma were the examples we quoted.
These radical layers succeeded in expropriating the weak capitalists and landowners in the context of the existence of ‘Soviet’ Russia and China, which they used as the model for creating bureaucratically-deformed workers’ states. These radical forces were able to confiscate a major quantity of industries in Syria and Burma. However, the ruling group carrying out this transformation was the military and old capitalist strata. To carry this change forward, these forces of Syria and Burma based themselves on the support of the common people. This situation was analyzed by the CWI leadership as a tendency of emerging as bureaucratically-deformed workers’ states; which was somewhat similar to the analysis made in regard to Cuba.
Analyzing the evolution of Syria and Burma, in retrospect what we could see is that such analyses were not factually correct. Yet, the conclusion we made on Syria and Burma were not totally false, merely because the fact that such regimes in Russia and Eastern Europe collapsed and went back to restore capitalist property relationships. With the collapse of Stalinism, it was proved that not only in Russia and Europe but in other countries too, the old bureaucratically-deformed (or in Russia’s case, bureaucratically-degenerated) worker’s states could revert to capitalism once again. Therefore, in the context of the pre-1990 conditions, nothing was seen to be wrong in such characterization of those countries.
However, when we reappraise our 1970s positions today, we can clearly see that we were unable at the time to correctly understand the ‘hybrid’ situation then prevailing in Syria and Burma. These errors in our argument can be most clearly seen in regard to the State mechanism in those countries. Sometimes our International might have focused their attention too much on the build up of nationalized property relationships in those countries. In several countries such as Libya, fifty per cent or more than that of industries had been nationalised by then. The sole reason for that situation in Libya was that its economy was based on the petroleum industry, specifically the extraction of crude oil.
The difficulties of categorizing the ruling regimes based on historic roots and post – evolutionary contexts are shown when such an argument is formed as far as China is concerned. According to our view, the economy of China is getting more and more capitalistic, and at the same time the core of the Maoist-Stalinist state apparatus has largely remained intact. More than virtually any other country, the ruling elite in China has greater power of control over the economic levers of the state. It was clearly depicted during the recent economic crises, when Chinese bureaucrats were able to implement stimulus packages in a much easier manner than the governments in European countries and America. In this context, the ruling elite seem to be very much anxious over the social inequality and therefore intervening in a decisive manner to make the economy stable.
In other words, in the context of the difficult and complex analysis of current socio-economic system in any criterion, China has never reached the development stage of the old Europe by any given standards. Thus, the way of implementation of capitalism in China is entirely different. Also, the remnants of the Maoist regime could handle the steps of economic stabilization. In contrast, China has been failing in finding solutions to the issues that have cropped up in the new developments. That is clearly shown in the overheating of the Chinese economy of today. On the other hand, the workers’ struggle in China today is gaining in intensity, depth and political perception, where all the views about China will have to be changed.
Thus one can imagine how difficult it is to make an all-time valid categorization about countries such as Syria and Burma where ‘radical’ regimes emerged as a phenomenon in the neo-colonial countries in the 1970s, if even the current developments in China are difficult to be categorized in a simple way. Therefore, it would have been much more sensible if we had in the 1970s labeled those countries as regimes whose class-character was still evolving, since they had not reached the stage of analysis to provide interpretations based on incidences. One cannot give a completed definition to a far-from-completed process. Instead one must analyze the direction, intensity and tempo of movement, of the arrow in flight: Are the commanding heights of the economy being wrested out of the capitalists’ hands and being nationalized (at a fast or slow pace)? Have core sectors of the economy been nationalized? Is the economy under centralized bureaucratic planning, or does capitalist market anarchy hold sway? Today, in 2010, unlike in the 1970s and 80s when their class-character was still evolving, it is obvious that Syria, Burma, Ethiopia, Angola and Mozambique are all capitalist countries. On the other hand, countries such as Cuba and Vietnam remain bureaucratically-deformed workers’ states. In the case of China (today the second-largest economy in the world in absolute terms) strong elements exist of both centralized planning and capitalism, though the general trend is plainly from the former to the latter.
Although we find ourselves wrong in our interpretation of the class-character of some ‘radical’ neo-colonial states during the 1970s and 80s, that is by no means a criticism of the core method of Marxism (the science of perspectives) applied by the CWI.
Whereas the inductive and brittle logic (not dialectics) of Wickamabahu, posed against our line of argument, is incorrect in both theory and practice. Wickramabahu’s theory that “if Cuba is to be classified as a bureaucratically-deformed workers state there should be a communist party” is a completely absurd fallacy. At the time of overthrow of Cuba’s landlords’ and capitalists’ regime by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara’s 26th July movement, the Cuban ‘Communist’ Party was an insignificant force. That was how a bureaucratically-deformed workers’ state was established in Cuba, devoid of genuine democratic rule of the proletariat. In any case, the ‘Communist’ party ruling any Stalinist country is a bureaucrats’ party, not a workers’ party in any sense as Trotsky characterized the Russian “Communist” party in 1933.
On this score, by 1988 this debate within the NSSP on international developments and local theoretical and political dimensions had come to a heated level. The Majority Group had by that time come to a decision that this debate should not be taken any further. Discussions on burning issues such as the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 were unscrupulously swept under the carpet by the Majority Group. An opinion was circulated among the NSSP membership that the Minority Group was not in fact NSSP members. The open invitation of 1988 extended to the political parties of the Socialist Alliance was not extended to the Minority Group by the Majority Group. This shows the Majority Group leadership’s fear and hatred of the Minority Group. Steps were taken in the guise of the namesake Majority, with its Majoritarian pigheadedness, to summon Party Branches, District Councils, and Central Committees (CC) of the Party without informing the members of the Minority Group. At the end, a party convention was also convened, in the guise of a Majority Group convention, without calling the Minority. Then, ultimately, the Majority announced that the Minority were a separate group.
The HARAYA, the NSSP’s (and thus the Majority Group’s) newspaper published a news item on Friday the 11th of November 1988 as follows:
A Separate Group in the NSSP
A PRESS RELEASE issued by the NSSP on 07th November in the HARAYA states that the Group headed by Siritunga Jayasuriya and K.W. Jayathilake (Jayathilaka Kammelaweera) must make it public, that they were a separate group within the party as it has been the way they have acted in the recent past. A CC member told Haraya paper that the Bolshevik tradition of the right to form a separate group within a party exists only in Trotskyite parties.
This was how the NSSP took steps to chase away the Minority Group of the NSSP from the inner core of the party, hypocritically citing slogans from Trotskyism. Thereby the comrades of the Minority Group were prevented from working as members of the NSSP, as members of a single political party. This type of bureaucratic expulsion of the members of a party has been committed historically only by the Stalinists. This Stalinists’ strategy has been revealed after collapsed of the USSR by a one-time follower of Stalin–Bukharin this was revealed by his wife after he was shot by Stalin.
The Majority Group of the NSSP took steps to expel the Minority Group from the Party, having adopted methods that were nothing but Stalinist, while posing as a Trotskyite party. Steps were taken even to stop the full-time allowance to Siritunga who had been the pioneering full timer of the Left tendency, the preceding organization of the NSSP till the founding of the party. It is unfortunate to note here that those who became “full –timers” in the NSSP at the latter stages did not have the courage to resign from their permanent jobs and dedicate themselves as full-timers at that critical initial stage.
The NSSP, deviated from the Marxist method of dialectical analysis when, instead of analyzing the class-character of and the perspectives for the Mahajana Party of Vijaya Kumarathunge, it wrongly concluded that the Mahajana Party was a workers’ party, and at that the main workers’ party of the country! This was no mere random error. Instead it signified the Majority Group’s capitulation to the petty-bourgeois radicals flocking to the merely charismatic film-idol image of Vijaya Kumarathunge. The Minority Group launched a struggle, completely within the scope of the democratic-centralist internal discipline of the party, against these wrong and harmful ideas of the Majority. And what was the Majority Group leadership’s response? It was to brutally attack the Minority, both organizationally and sometimes even physically, to blunt the NSSP as the workers’ weapon in the class war in order to make it opportunistically attractive to the petty-bourgeois radical wave swirling around the Mahajana Party. The Majority Group leaders thus consciously betrayed the party membership, leading them down a blind alley precisely when they were athirst to build an anti-UNP mass struggle.
The Peoples’ Liberation Front (JVP) that had been organizing as a banned party took steps to struggle against the UNP rule of J.R. Jayewardene and against ‘Indian hegemony’, in the context that the old left movement, JR and the 1987 Indo-Lanka ‘Pact’ were acting in concert. Then the JVP took steps to kill the candidates who had decided to contest provincial council elections under the 13th amendment of the regime’s constitution and who supported the Indo-Lanka Pact, branding them as traitors. Vijaya Kumarathunga, L.W. Panditha, Upali Vithanage, D.M.D. Chandrawimala, Douglas Kaluarachchi, Wimalasena of the Government Press and many other Sama Samaja, Communist, NSSP and Mahajana Party activists were killed by the DJV (Deshapremi Janatha Vyaapaaraya, ie. “Patriotic Peoples’ Movement”) attached to the JVP. Instead of confronting the petty-bourgeois riot of assassination and racism with the fighting will of the working class, not only the old Left leaders but even the NSSP Majority Group leaders opportunistically muted their political opposition to the UNP government of J.R.; merely in order to obtain guns from the government and thereby ensure their own physical survival. When the Minority Group demanded within the NSSP that the murderous racist insurgency of the delirious petty-bourgeoisie be confronted and destroyed by the power of the organized working class, that voice was suppressed by the NSSP leadership. The Majority Group leaders cynically branded the Minority as trouble-makers, crypto-JVPers, and created the environment for expelling the entire Minority Group from the body of the Party.
Tumultuous events followed one another at an unimaginably rapid pace, leaving the Majority’s wrong prognoses dead in the dust. At the same time, the argument posed by the Minority regarding the future of the party was not tolerated by the majoritarian leadership.
The NSSP leadership used Stalinist bureaucratic methods, hypocritically camouflaged by pseudo-Marxist phraseology, to expel the Minority group. The Majority leaders had the brazen effrontery to falsely equate the Minority’s principled intra-Party stand against their opportunist policies, to what?: To Zinoviev and Kamenev’s public struggle, condemned by Lenin as strike-breaking cowardice, against the Bolshevik Central Committee’s decision to launch the Insurrection that would achieve the October 1917 Revolution! The NSSP Majority leadership had no qualms in attempting to manipulate the legacy of even the Russian Revolution, the greatest event in the entire history of the entire world so far, to suppress the ideology posed by the Minority.
The Minority’s emphasis on the Party as the subjective factor in revolution — as the leader, the weapon, the hope, of the working masses for overthrowing the capitalist vampire — was rejected out of hand by the Majority leadership.
The history of the NSSP, from the day the Minority was expelled to today, is a clear vindication of the accuracy of the Minority’s ideology and perspectives. Sinhala racists in their vilest manifestations, the naked flaunting by the bourgeois parties of their extreme reactionary politics, the government campaign of murder and repression against opposition media workers. All this is a consequence of the marginalization, the eclipse, the impotence, of the Left movement today. In the end, the NSSP Majority Group leadership bureaucratically expelled the Minority Group, slamming the Party door in its face; this was the culmination of the Majority leaders’ false passive-defencist slogan, first propounded by them during the JVP-DJV death-squads’ riot of assassination and racism, that “the protection of the Party must be given top priority”. Protection from what?: At first, “protection” from the JVP-DJV death squads, not by building a fighting armed defense based on the power of the organized working class, but instead by kneeling before the government and begging it for guns! And in the end, “protection” from the Minority group’s ideas, grounded upon the correct application of the Marxist method – to which the Majority leaders had no answer except bureaucratic expulsion! With the Party’s internal democracy strangled by the Majority leadership, we were bereft of our Party, the Party which we had loved more than our own lives, which we had participated in forming at the very beginning, which we had built with our blood, sweat and tears. Then we formed the Marxist Workers’ Tendency to face the next potential challenges in the years to come on our political path ahead. The Marxist Workers’ Tendency was the pioneering organisation of our political party, which today bears the name the United Socialist Party (USP).
During the formative years of the NSSP, it had the necessary qualities needed to become the mass revolutionary party of the proletariat. It was the NSSP that marched at the forefront of the anti-government struggles launched throughout the period from the late 1970s to the late 1980s. Workers, poor peasants, the oppressed Nationalities, students and youth, intellectuals and artists flocked together and rallied around the NSSP. Nevertheless due to the wrong decisions taken by the leadership of the NSSP, serious limitations were imposed upon the democratic fundamentals secured up to that time within the party. With the strangulation of the internal democracy of the party, there began the downfall of a healthy working-class political party that was nourishing wholesomely for more than decades.
If not for such a fateful turning point the political history of the country could well have taken a different direction. Disregarding all the Minority group’s warnings and critiques, the Majority group leadership was not ready for an internal self-criticism. Although the right to self-determination of the Tamil-speaking people including their right to secession, and several other core policies, were correct in the NSSP, due to the analyses given deviating from the Marxist method and based on subjective rationales regarding the guerilla groups in the North and the concrete slogans of the class struggle, the development of the party was placed at stake.
The political space thus created was completely sufficient for the petty-bourgeois Sinhala-racist extremist organizations to form, within the general public and even sections of the working class, a sentiment of hostility against the revolutionary left movement. The stance of the NSSP at the philosophical level was that even the Red Army has no right to enter into a country even for the sake of revolution – an absurd pacifist stance. Yet the same NSSP in 1987 happily extends critical support to the Indo-Lanka Pact – a pact of treason, a murderers’ conspiracy, by two capitalist regimes aimed at the throats of the Tamil workers, the Sinhala workers, and the workers of India! This was a fatal mistake on the part of the NSSP. Joining hands with the Indian and Sri Lankan capitalist class to crush the Tamil-speaking people’s liberation struggle would prove to be a hammer-blow shattering the very backbone of the party.
The NSSP leadership, having neglected the chances for correcting their mistakes, began to abandon any attempt to apply the Marxist method and instead started to perform spectacular political somersaults. The NSSP found itself benumbed, disorientated and paralyzed in the context of the formation in 1985 of the Mahajana Party (i.e. People’s Party) amidst a massive upsurge in support for the latter from the urban petty-bourgeoisie. This was nothing new in the history of Sri Lanka: at the time of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike’s split from the bourgeois UNP in 1953, the same political catatonia descended upon the Lanka Sama Samaja Party when they witnessed the huge wave of support swirling around Bandaranaike’s bourgeois SLFP from the Sinhala-Buddhist petty-bourgeoisie; the LSSP leadership began to form coalition politics with the SLFP ever since 1956. This class-collaborationist capitulation began first with the electoral pact with the bourgeois SLFP, betraying the Marxist principle that we participate in elections to gauge our strength within society as opposed to the enemy’s strength, not to opportunistically scramble after parliamentary seats; it culminated in the coalition government with the bourgeois SLFP, of the wage-slaves’ erstwhile representatives in bed with the capitalist enslavers! It was coalition politics, the politics of treason against the working class, which diluted, defocused and ruined the mounting force of the farmers and working class at that time rallied around the LSSP. The old Left, which initially labeled a “temporary measure” their coalitionist politics with the bourgeoisie, has now gone to hell permanently; this is the direct result of the false principles, perspectives and strategies with which they have lumbered themselves for more than half-a-century now. We believe it timely for us to publish these arguments of yesteryear, in order to enlighten the present-day Marxists regarding the clash of ideas and perspectives, of argument and counterargument, of their thesis, antithesis and synthesis, within the NSSP when we were an integral part thereof. Although serious changes have inevitably occurred by now in the ideological positions and perspectives then espoused by the CWI, we publish without any modification the original documents giving their original stances at that time, in order to ensure your right as reader to study the living history of unfolding events and decide for yourself. I agree that you may have your own doubts and criticisms regarding my positions as well. Regardless, it is necessary to facilitate the study of the living thread of events, their history and their interconnections, as they actually unfolded.
It was mentioned in the beginning that this theoretical debate began with the article published by Wickramabahu titled ‘Two letters to a Tamil Sama Samajist (Socialist)’. That article, and the articles which followed in reply to it, were in regard to the stance that should be taken by Marxists on the National Question of Sri Lanka and the concrete slogans that should be highlighted in that context. Although the prolonged 30-year war has now ended (with the LTTE’s 2009 defeat), the national issue, far from disappearing, has in a fresh turn of events gone beyond the boundaries of the National Question itself. Therefore workers seriously studying the national issue will find it useful to study this debate. Circumscribed though they are, being the internal documents of a party, I believe that these articles can be of great help in that endeavor.
Please note that in order to make this book compact, the political proposals presented at the NSSP Congress in 1985, the addenda presented by me to those proposals, the documents presented at the NSSP Special Congress in 1986, and the reply written by Wickramabahu titled “A reply to the International Secretariat” in 1986, are not included in this book.
Today, what we see in most political parties is that their internal disputes are based on careerism, personal notions, the mere survival-instinct; not on principled argument between different political positions. In this context, by contrast, this battle of ideas within a Leftist workers’ party provides a refreshing change – though, to be sure, amidst many lapses.
This argument erupted within the NSSP two decades ago. The Majority group and the Minority group of those days have divided into many fractions later on. Nevertheless the struggle and the ideology we launched as the Minority group of our party, on the future of the class struggle and the national issue, we carry forward on our shoulders unflinchingly. Today, a leader of the then Majority group Vasudeva has fled from leftist politics and joined the bourgeois coalition government as a member of parliament. Although the political party built under the banner called the “United Socialist Party“ is as yet far from established as a mass workers’ party, we built that party to face the challenges we are confronted with in the national and international spheres. Nevertheless our United Socialist Party carries out the timely and essential mission today of enthusing the advanced workers with hope, for building the mass movement for Struggle, Solidarity, Socialism!
It is a common fallacy amongst many “socialists” that the building of a cadre-based Bolshevik type party is useless today. In contrast, we advocate precisely such a party in order to face the powers of world capitalism. The capitalist state (with its armed forces, police, secret police, judges, jailers, torturers, executioners) is armed to the teeth, directed by an unelected and un-removable military-officer caste tied by a thousand financial strings to the bourgeoisie. To defeat this centralized, bestial capitalist state, the workers need a democratically-centralized party of their own, which they must turn into a mass workers’ party capable of attracting to its banner large numbers of the armed forces’ rank-and-file.
Many independent Leftists are of the opinion that a mass workers’ political party should be built on a confederal basis, where trade unionists, working class community groups, and different working-class parties holding opposing ideologies, can all work together to fight the ruling capitalist enemy shoulder-to-shoulder while relentlessly criticizing each other. We agree wholeheartedly with such an application of the workers’ United Front strategy; we are engaged in protest campaigns with broader alliances with other segments in present-day politics. As Lenin taught us, “No mixing of banners, no muting of criticism! March separately, strike together!” At the same time, a cadre-based workers’ party is absolutely necessary, as the embryo of a future mass workers’ party for Socialism, for winning over to its banner the huge majority of workers as well as large numbers of soldiers and peasants, in order to achieve the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism.
This ideology, which even many who claim to be Leftists do not advocate, we fight for to the end. Through capitalist globalization, the capitalist system has launched a powerful and unrelenting assault against the working class and all the oppressed throughout the world. The working class has demonstrated in their millions against the crisis that has engulfed Greece and Spain. Trade unionists are beginning to discuss how to fight back both industrially and politically against the wave of attacks planned by the neo-liberal German and British bourgeois governments. All over the world, the discrediting of capitalism has placed the struggle for Socialism firmly on the agenda. That is the reason we argue that the 21st Century shall belong to Socialism. That is shown in the development of struggle the world over, launched by the working class everywhere.
During the decisive era (1989 – 1991) during which capitalism was re-inflicted upon Russia and most of the bureaucratically-deformed workers’ states, the ruling capitalists the world over were delirious with triumphalism, shouting from the rooftops the alleged superiority of capitalism over “socialism”. Many a faint-heart hitherto active in the Socialist camp, incapable of withstanding the stream’s flow, abandoned the Left movement for good and some even joined capitalist parties.
Yet the organized working class has joined hands and are launching protest demonstrations, strikes and even General Strikes, once again showing the world the strength of the masses’ struggle. Even without adequate organization, even having neglected to request trade union support, young workers and students have come forward to stage protest campaigns. It is only a mass, cadre-based political party, armed with revolutionary foresight, which can give leadership to the workers in their struggle to overthrow the capitalist regime and bring forth a new social order. Triumphing in country after country and eventually throughout the planet, the working class shall achieve its destiny – the Socialist future of humankind.
July 10th 2010
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