Nobodies Eduardo Galeano Fleas dream of buying themselves a dog, and nobodies dream of escaping poverty: that one magical day good luck will suddenly rain down on them – will rain down in buckets. But good luck doesn’t rain down yesterday, today, tomorrow, or ever. Good luck doesn’t even fall in a fine drizzle, no matter how hard the nobodies summon it, even if their left hand is tickling, or if they begin the new day with their right foot, or start the new year with a change of brooms.
The nobodies: nobody’s children, owners of nothing. The nobodies: the no ones, the nobodied, running like rabbits, dying through life, screwed every which way.
Who are not, but could be.
Who don’t speak languages, but dialects.
Who don’t have religions, but superstitions.
Who don’t create art, but handicrafts.
Who don’t have culture, but folklore.
Who are not human beings, but human resources.
Who do not have faces, but arms.
Who do not have names, but numbers.
Who do not appear in the history of the world, but in the police blotter of the local paper.
The nobodies, who are not worth the bullet that kills them
[Eduardo Hughes Galeano (3 September 1940 – 13 April 2015) was a Uruguayan journalist, writer and novelist whose best-known works are Open Veins of Latin America, 1971 and Memory of Fire, Trilogy, 1982–6. Poem courtesy: holywaters.wordpress.com]
Editorial The already chaotic political situation of the country has been further confounded by the partly anticipated dissolution of parliament on 26th June with general elections to be held on 17th August amid controversy about the 20th Amendment to the Constitution concerning changes to the elections system.
Little has been politically different between the two main Sinhala political parties except issues of personalities. In the past decade both UNP and SLFP suffered splits based mostly on personal issues: the former owing to leadership rivalry encouraged by vested interests, against a background of successive electoral defeats; the latter owing to internal contradictions aggravated by the authoritarianism of former President Rajapaksa, most of which remained dormant until Rajapaksa moved to contest for a third term. His recent announcement that he will contest the parliamentary elections has made the split a certainty. How the split will materialize depends on developments in the coming weeks amid attempts at reconciliation and could continue even if the warring factions field separate slates of candidates.
Although the UNP has superficially patched up differences, bitter personal rivalries still at work are bound to surface after the elections. Holding together the alliance that defeated Rajapaksa will be a challenge since partners are already disgruntled over sectarian interests.
What matters is not which alliance comprising incompatible political parties will come to power but what plans that any of them has to rescue the economy and resolve the national question. The media gleefully give the impression that the UNP will adopt foreign and economic policies agreeable to US imperialism while the SLFP, united or divided, will adopt policies that will be friendlier towards China. Recent events have shown that pragmatism dominates foreign policy and an anti-China policy by any government is unlikely despite sections of US loyalists in the UNP craving for one. As for anti-imperialism, the SLFP has been good at making the occasional anti-imperialist noise for local consumption while in practice bowing to US and European Community pressures on matters of economic and social policy.
The country’s economic policy has since 1978 been dictated by the IMF, the World Bank and other financial arms of imperialism. No regime has deviated from the line laid by imperialism. Electoral considerations did, however, slow down certain projects such as total privatization of education and health sectors. But state funded education and health continue to be systematically run down with gates wide open for private hospitals, private practice by government doctors, private schools under the guise of “international schools”, and local and foreign private universities. The election pledge of 6% for education by Maithripala Sirisena, to which both the UNP and the SLFP subscribe, is likely to be fulfilled the way JR Jayawardane delivered on his election pledge of 8 kg of grain per person which gave the electorate the impression that the gain will be free or at subsidized prices, by offering 8 kg of grain at market price.
People are used to elected governments breaking promises. Yet public frustration and anger found expression as mass demonstrations on several occasions in the past few years, especially as the glitter of war victory wore off. It seemed ominous that the BBC, reporting the dissolution of parliament, chose to display below the news caption an image of President Sirisena flanked by the commanders of the Army and Navy. It is likely that future dissent in any form will be met with brute force.
The failure of the main presidential candidates to address the national question was not accidental. While Mahinda Rajapaksa adopted an openly chauvinist line, Maitripala Sirisena pledged that the country’s security will not be compromised and that an internal inquiry will be conducted into war crimes, the former to placate Sinhala chauvinists and the latter the “International Community”.
Leaders of minority nationality parties displayed their political bankruptcy by not demanding from the UNP a clear statement of its stand on key aspects of the national question. Resettlement and rehabilitation of the war displaced, release of persons arrested on suspicion of being terrorists and detained without charges, and withdrawal of excess troops from the North and East are matters on which positions need to be clear.
The narrow Tamil nationalist TNA likes to have it both ways by making loud pronouncements about national rights of Tamils while cosying up to the UNP, knowing well that the UNP will do little more than making a few symbolic gestures on the national question. Its rival, the Tamil National People’s Front, for electoral gain, hints at a separatist agenda, but without plans, amid growing public displeasure with the TNA and the Northern Provincial Council which hardly addresses matters that concern the livelihood of the people. All Tamil nationalists are unwilling to take any stand critical of the US and India, even in maters where the people are affected. The reliance of Tamil nationalist leaders on the “International Community” to solve the national question while shying away from mass politics and mass mobilization will only weaken the struggle of the minority nationalities for their rights.
Disputes about the 20th Amendment on electoral reform which failed to materialize clearly revealed that the political leaders of the minority nationalities and parties such as the JVP and JHU are only interested in ensuring their parliamentary seats and privileges that flow from them.
In all, the country has not gained anything significant except for the passage of the 19th Amendment which curtailed some of the presidential powers and effectively made the notorious 18th Amendment null and void. The defeat of Rajapaksa was a symbolic victory against a chauvinistic dictatorial trend. Parliamentary politics cannot consolidate that victory. It is time for the people of all nationalities to build a genuine left, progressive democratic alternative.
The Imperialist Myth of Sustainable Development ‒
a Third World Perspective Deshabakthan
Freedom does not consist in any dreamt-of independence from natural laws, but in the knowledge of these laws, and in the possibility this gives of systematically making them work towards definite ends. This holds good in relation both to the laws of external nature and to those which govern the bodily and mental existence of men themselves — two classes of laws which we can separate from each other at most only in thought but not in reality. Freedom of the will therefore means nothing but the capacity to make decisions with knowledge of the subject.... Freedom therefore consists in the control over ourselves and over external nature, a control founded on knowledge of natural necessity; it is therefore necessarily a product of historical development. (Engels, in Anti Duhring, 1877) Introductory remarks
The term sustainable development, defined in various ways, is strictly a contradiction in terms, and especially so in a global context with finite resources and where development is seen as ceaseless growth of consumption, even at supposedly sustainable rates. It is as true of the definition by the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission) in 1987, which is hailed as a landmark definition: "Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
What may be sustained, however, is human survival by placing sensible limits on what is widely perceived as development. However, sustainable development is generally discussed in terms of sustaining global economic development, without challenging the global economic order which threatens sustainability. Thus, we should be careful not to use the term “sustainable development” in an absolute sense but only as a means of prolonging the survival of the human race on this planet while ensuring that the human being realizes its full potential, subject to the constraints placed on it by nature and its laws.
Growing environmental awareness made the protection of the environment a key aspect of sustainable development, along with food security, health, availability of potable water and conservation of mineral resources among other frequently spoken topics. However, the issues seem be addressed mainly from the point of view of the advanced capitalist countries, so that the Third World enters the discussion only when developments there affect the advanced capitalist countries. Even where issues of development in the Third World are taken up, the attitude, almost without exception, is at best condescending.
This essay is meant to demand addressing of issues of sustainability in ways that will be duly inclusive of the Third World and its oppressed and exploited masses who are the main victims of imperialism.
The Capitalist approach to sustainability
Much has been written on environmental problems and their implications for human survival on the planet. While some writers still underplay the dangers facing humanity if the present pattern of energy production continues, many more recognize the problem. Approaches to solutions differ widely, based on differences in the assessment of the ability of the prevailing global capitalist system to respond to the problem. Both explicit and implicit defenders of the prevailing system respond with piecemeal solutions for each recognized issue and avoid a approach that require addressing the fundamental issues. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) — which are certainly not apolitical and mostly in the pay of imperialist powers — readily yield to pressure from their paymasters as well as governments when they address environmental issues.
Green politics emerged in developed capitalist countries in response to environmental issues, but generally stopped short of examining whether the environmental issues raised by the Greens can be resolved under the capitalist system. However, their contribution to environmental awareness has been commendable. There have been issue-based environmental analysts who have in course of time come close to the Marxist position which points to a direct link between the environmental crises and the capitalist system.
Many useful writings have been published by Marxist scholars and analysts on matters of sustainability and the environmental crisis, which have thoroughly exposed the duplicity of capitalism in passing solemn resolutions addressing environmental issues while doing very little to alter the conditions that give rise to them. Marxist scholars have also researched the works of Marx and Engels to expose the mischief of right wing analysts who claim that Marx’s thinking was akin to the capitalist outlook on development, and established that the Marxist concept of development was the exact opposite and concerned creating a climate in which human beings realized their creative potential to the fullest.
Advocates of the capitalist system, especially the defenders of imperialist neo-colonialism and globalisation, find ways to blame the Third World for the environmental crisis. The increase in population and per capita consumption of food, energy and other essentials in Third World countries are presented as causes of shortage of food and water and degradation of the environment. At the same time consumption patterns imposed on the Third World by imperialism through the open economic system encourage the consumption of non-essential goods.
For capitalism, sustainability is essentially a matter of sustaining profit. Initially it concerned assuring forever the unrestricted availability of raw materials, cheap labour, captive markets and stable government at home and abroad. Capitalism in its course of development into imperialism faced several crises which threatened its survival. But it overcame them through transferring much of the burdens of its own creation to the Third World. That has remained part of the imperialist strategy even as it shifted from colonialism to neo-colonialism, imposed its neo-liberal agenda on the Third World and adopted the imperialist scheme of globalization.
Capitalism andenvironmental degradation
Environmental sustainability became an issue for global capitalism to address, only after the threat that environmental degradation posed to life on the planet became public knowledge and environmental issues posed a political challenge to the capitalist state. In the past, health related problems resulting from industrial pollution which affected urban areas were addressed locally with no concern for the countryside, let alone global implications. Even today, there is partiality towards cities in dealing with matters of development ranging from the location of large industries and power installations to issues of transportation. Industrial pollution of major cities, once associated with capitalist industrial development, was addressed by shifting the sources of pollution to far away locations by creating industrial towns and zones. That approach was applied to issues of urban pollution by transport vehicles. Electrified public transport systems helped to shift emissions from urban centres to remote locations where power stations are located. The growing interest in electric motor vehicles is a more recent manifestation of the same approach.
Further, by outsourcing of industrial production, advanced capitalist countries benefitted economically through access to cheap labour, and natural resources, while shifting of large scale industrial production to poorer European capitalist countries and later to the Third World as well helped to ease the burden of environmental pollution associated with industrial production. It should be remembered that countries under colonial rule were denied industrial development, and there have been several instances where local industry has been wilfully wrecked, as in the case of the weaving industry of India. Today the role of industry in the Third World is to provide a variety of industrial goods and occasionally services to the advanced capitalist countries without posing a threat to imperialist profit. Neo-colonialism has ensured that the Third World’s industry increasingly depends on foreign investment and foreign markets so that the market for goods from a country and therefore its economy depend on its abiding by terms laid down by imperialism.
Industrial waste has proliferated in the past several decades to dangerous levels and to include many toxic substances. Dumping of industrial waste, including toxic waste, in unsuspecting countries, most often countries with corrupt regimes, continues despite the occasional detection and prevention of dumping. There are strict laws against transportation of toxic waste within and among countries of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) mainly comprising countries of Europe and North America and a few of their allies. But waste, often including environmentally harmful substances, continue to be shipped from OCED countries to non-OECD countries in the Third World for reprocessing, dumping in landfills or incineration. Shipping of toxic waste has been brought under stricter surveillance since the scandalous dumping of a toxic waste shipment in Abidjan in the Ivory Coast in 2006, which occurred despite the adoption in 1989 of the Basel Convention (to control of transport of hazardous wastes and their disposal).
There are strict national and international laws against dumping waste into the oceans, but waste disposal continues as direct discharge of industrial waste, surface runoff of contaminated water and ballast water discharge from ships. Waste disposal in the ocean also includes plastics and toxic substances. It should be noted that such pollution is directly related to development, sustainable and otherwise.
Japan released thousands of tons of radioactive water per day into the Pacific Ocean following the Fukishima nuclear power station disaster of 2011. Radioactive water continued to leak at the rate of a few hundred tons per day and is now intentionally released into the ocean owing to difficulties in storing nuclear contaminated water.
Massive spillage of oil has occurred by accidents in offshore oil rigs, damage at sea to oil tankers, delivery pipe leakage and acts of war. Deep sea mining is a relatively new environmental menace that damages the ocean bed at depths of between 1.4 and 3.7 km below ocean surface in the process of mining for precious metals over extensive areas. The lack of eco-technological experience in the process bears hidden risks whose full impact may not be known for decades.
The energy question
Energy related issues affect sustainability in two ways. One concerns the need to find new sources of energy to meet the fast growing demand for energy with no sign of slowing down. The other concerns environmental implications of energy consumption. While the emphasis has been on the emission of green house gases, especially carbon dioxide, there are other pollutants like sulphur from oil and heavy metals from coal, besides emissions like nitrous oxides and carbon monoxide produced by the combustion process. There has been much emphasis in the past decades on the reduction of emission levels, but benefits of reduction in emission levels are in good part offset by the rise in energy production.
Renewable energy is increasingly seen as a viable alternative to fossil fuel and nuclear fuel which pose serious environmental threat. The reality is that renewables are not entirely renewable and have an energy price tag on them which is currently paid upfront using fossil fuel. Both the manufacturing process and the remnants of renewable devices at the end of their useful life involve waste material with serious environmental implications.
What is generally ignored in the analysis of sustainability of resources and environment is the centrality of consumption to the problems to be resolved. The adverse impact of consumerism on the availability of natural resources extends to clean air and water as well.
There is a tendency to rank countries as energy consumers and environmental polluters based on the overall energy consumption and emission levels. What is forgotten is that many Third World countries produce goods for consumers in advanced capitalist countries so that the energy consumption and environmental pollution by a country should strictly be assessed based on the energy input needed for producing all goods consumed in the country, including transportation costs from source of raw materials to delivery.
Similar criteria would apply to minerals and raw materials consumed, so that the ultimate responsibility for depletion of natural resources including deforestation and the loss of fresh water, decline of coral reefs and other environmental damage will lie with the consumer, who is also a victim of consumerism, which is part of the imperialist scheme of affairs.
That is not to exonerate the rulers of the countries of the Third World, who are often willing accomplices in the impairment of the human environment and depriving future generations of essential resources.
Sustaining the Third World
The tragedy of the Third World is that countries which could have been key players in resisting imperialism willingly adopted the capitalist model of development, while many others sleep walked out of colonial rule into neo-colonial domination. As a result, with few exceptions, Third world countries became sources of raw material for development, which they continue to be. Even China and India which have developed into strong capitalist economies are depleting their natural resources and wrecking their environment in the name of development, more to serve the demand for goods and materials needed at low prices in the advanced capitalist countries forming the imperialist network than to serve the need of their own people.
The degradation of the environment in the Third World has seldom been a central issue in the various projects undertaken by the Greens and NGOs in the pay of imperialism to save the planet. Imperialism has got away with callous indifference towards human and environmental tragedies for which it is directly responsible, as for instance the Bhopal tragedy of 1984 and continuing oils spills in Nigeria that have blighted the once fertile Niger delta. Some of these matters are talked about because of the scandalous scale of the tragedy, but again the tendency is to blame the victim.
Poverty has often been identified as the main cause of environmental degradation in the Third World. However, very few dare to point out that neo-colonial grip on the Third World is the cause of both poverty and environmental pollution in the Third World.
Besides expansion of mining for mineral resources in the Third World, which as earlier mentioned is a target for dumping of waste, the Third World, at present Africa mainly, is prime target for land grab leading to dispossession of farmers and using the land acquired by foreign investors to produce food and commercial crops for the global capitalist market. The adverse implications for environment and food security in the target countries together with the introduction by agro-monopolies of genetically engineered crops, which are heavy users of toxic agrochemicals and fertilizers that harm the soil, are altering the face of agriculture in the Third World. It will be long before the industrially advanced countries face the consequences and the harm too late to reverse.
The a large share of the burden of controlling accumulated pollution, like ozone layer depleting gases and green house gases — to which the main contributor has been the developed capitalist countries — is also passed on to the Third World.
The Third World will only become more polluted with life and livelihood increasingly unsustainable as long as it accepts the norms of development imposed on it. There is a need to get its priorities right and turn away from export oriented economies towards national economy and regional cooperation aimed at self sufficiency in essentials such as food, clothing, shelter and medicine.
It is the responsibility of all left forces and other fair minded people across the world to defend the right of the Third World to define development and its sustenance on their own terms.
Capitalism by its very nature is a system that can only ceaselessly expand or perish. Its capacity for production beyond what could be genuine human need has meant that it needs to expand by seeking and securing of raw materials, cheap labour and new markets. Over production required the creation of a consumer culture which necessarily implied a faster depletion of natural resources and the generation of waste. Also in its quest for new resources for materials including fuel, imperialism has resorted to practices that are extremely harmful to the environment.
Capitalism offers various technological solutions, without compromising on its hunger for profit and therefore pressure to increase consumption. It is important to note that no technology can have an answer to the problems of environment unless consumption is based on need and guided by reason. A system based on greed and guided by ruthless urge to exploit fellow human beings for profit cannot be expected to care for the environment at the expense of profit.
Green politics cannot be unaware of the track record of imperialism, but it refuses to call for the replacement of capitalism with another more just and egalitarian system. Greens pose as the soft option to the capitalist classes by proposing reforms that will keep the environment clean without challenging a social order which only encourages consumption at home and abroad and in the process aggravates environmental pollution as well as poverty, hunger and disease in the Third World.
The challenge facing the Greens is whether they are ready to recognize capitalism as the source of the environmental crisis. Green politics avoids the question and is most unwilling to confront imperialism.
There is also the tendency to claim that socialist countries too have been guilty of harming the environment. But the point is that any such harm was not wilful damage except in the context of war and other threats to the survival of a people. Unlike capitalism, for which the profit motive reigns supreme, socialism concerns general welfare and any activity that is a threat to the well being and survival of humanity can be corrected or even arrested as necessary. The greater the say that the broad masses will have in the affairs of the state the better will be the prospects for sustenance of the human environment for posterity.
***** In Memory of Comrade Soodamani
Communist Thought in Current Context Comrade S.K. Senthivel (A slightly abridged adaptation of the text of address by Comrade S.K Senthivel at the First Death Anniversary Commemoration Meeting in honour of Comrade IK Soodamani in Vavuniya on 30th March 2014) Comrade IK Soodamani who was the subject of love and adoration by all members of the Party and the community in which he lived passed away an year ago on 29th March 2013.
Comrade Soodamani was an exemplary comrade who lived as a Marxist Leninist in word and deed from the time he embraced Marxism Leninism until his last breath. He worked for the cause of social change in accordance with the Marxist world outlook, and his life and work were marked by proletarian class consciousness and the spirit of class struggle, courage, sacrifice, dedication and service to the people combined with arduous work for the Party, which are characteristics of good communists throughout the world. Through his commitment to the Party and its policies and by being true to the people and the Party to the very end he has made an indelible impression in the minds of the people of the country.
The current social climate of Sri Lanka
In the current social climate of Sri Lanka, the entire people of the country are facing a variety of problems and crises and are subject to much pain and suffering. More than 90% of the population lives a life of dearth, unable to fulfil their essential needs of food, clothing, shelter, health and education. They face difficulties in their daily lives in their struggle to find employment and adequate wages to meet these needs. These problems manifest themselves as poverty, malnutrition, disease and lack of access to education and other unfulfilled social needs.
Inequality, selfishness and competitiveness have become commonplace. A close look at this social trend will reveal a general absence of a sense of togetherness and social consciousness. Self-centred individualism seems to dominate everything and individuals have to varying degrees been driven into the capitalist mode of self-seeking competitive thinking. This not something that anyone has willingly accepted or chosen personally.
The Marxist approach
Marxism tells us that one’s social being determines one’s thinking. And we see that that the ideology of the society we live in has an effect on each of our activities. Thus it is necessary to think deeply about how the thoughts and deeds of the people are guided in the spheres of politics, society and culture. It is only then that we can understand the contemporary social environment in which we live and find appropriate solutions for the problems faced by the people.
What Marxism teaches us is that we should approach everything scientifically and historically and thereby raise questions of how, why and what for about each and determine the truth by finding the answers. That is what Marx meant when he famously said “Everything must be doubted”. That meant that the truth can be determined by questioning everything and finding answers supported by evidence.
Marxist ideology comprised such scientific study of human history and social development. It is on that basis that Marxists study their social environment and come to conclusions. Hence they treat Marxism as a source of thought and a powerful tool of social transformation than as a dogma for worship. Marx asserted that “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it”. This quotation is engraved at the bottom of Marx’s tomb carrying his famous battle call “Workers of all lands unite”.
A historical view of our classes
To understand the current Sri Lankan social structure and environment, we need to go back in time and take a historical view. Sri Lanka, like other countries, especially those of South Asia, has passed through a feudal phase. Ideology and thought characteristic of feudalism were followed in economic, political and socio-economic spheres of the feudal society. Amid this, the European colonists who arrived in Sri Lanka did not introduce in their colonies the capitalist system as developed in Europe. They were intent on appropriating the natural resources and human toil of Sri Lanka.
The feudal elite classes readily joined hands with them and thereby protected their property and wealth as well as won their confidence to secure various administrative posts and further enrich themselves. Be they Sinhalese or Tamils, they belonged to the class of landed gentry and high caste, such as the Govigama and Vellala.
It was under these colonial conditions that limited capitalist development took place in Sri Lanka and brought in its wake certain changes in the social, economic and political spheres. But there was little change in the ideological sphere. Neither the colonialists nor the feudal and emergent capitalist classes sought to eliminate the religious and cultural influences or to bring about changes in religious and cultural affairs. As a result, unlike in Europe where capitalism overcame feudalism and religion got isolated from the spheres of economics and politics, conservative religious and cultural ideology was not weakened. Thus, in the South Asian context, feudal ideology and thought, along with religion, culture and traditions, still shield the ruling classes.
Entry of neo-colonialism
Although Sri Lanka entered a new phase in the name of independence from British colonial rule, its affairs are still conducted according to rules laid down by foreigners. A new form of colonialism, which we call neo-colonialism, has replaced old colonialism. The World Bank, the IMF, ADB, WTO and other such bodies control the economy of Sri Lanka and keep it in their grip. At the same time, the UN and the bodies which come under it are the political tools of imperialism headed by the US. They act collectively to safeguard the interests of neo-colonialism which has been thrust upon the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The neo-liberal economic policy of neo-colonialism has been in practice over the past four decades. The policies of liberalization and privatization which uphold imperialist globalization are gaining strength by the day. The economy of the country as a whole has been wrecked under the neo-liberal economic policy. Paddy production in Sri Lanka, once known as the paddy silo of Asia, is in ruin.
Likewise, production of paddy and other field crops in the Northern, North Central and Eastern provinces and in the Hill Country has been on the decline and faces ruin. The neo-liberal economic policy is bent on eradicating the status of Sri Lanka as an agricultural country. The tendency is for the production of tea, the main export crop, and other produce to decline, while privatization has finished off whatever industry that was established. Human resources are being shipped to the Middle East where our people are squeezed dry for modest wages. The plight of women is indescribably pathetic. At home, workers of both male and female are working in the state and private sectors are working for low wages; the plight of plantation workers is particularly bad.
Impact of neo-colonialism
The neo-liberal economy under neo-colonialism is carried forward by multinational companies, big capitalist ventures and transnational corporations. Information Technology (IT) contributes very much to the globalization of neo-liberalism. Although IT is considered to be the peak of development of human knowledge, it only benefits capitalist exploitation and imperialist global hegemony.
IT also has contributed to many negative social developments through modern communication appliances such as computers and mobile telephones. Modern communication appliances have, especially among the youth, been used thus far to promote social decadence in the form of drug abuse, alcoholism, theft, violence, murder, sexual abuse and paedophilia, which have contributed to destroying social awareness and social concern among the youth.
The neo-liberal economic policy has also created an unhealthy climate in which making money takes priority over all else, irrespective of the means used. This is the logical conclusion of the road taken by capitalism, since European colonialists plundered the gold and silver of the Native Americans and killed off many thousands in the process. It was this gold that provided the capital essential for the growth of industrial capital.
Marx and Engels have in their analysis of capitalism illustrated how money has degraded the value of people in every respect. They point out that capitalism has destroyed all old bonds between human beings leaving behind only transactions based on self interest, destroyed all freedoms other than the freedom to trade and reduced all human relations to monetary transactions.
Capitalism which accumulated money and gave it primacy has rid society of collective existence and development and encourages individual rivalries and the false faith that competition will lead to development. This exactly is what capitalist imperialism is doing all over the world through its programme of globalization.
Sri Lanka is yet another country that has fallen into the treacherous trap of imperialist globalization. Unable to escape from it, the people of the country are struggling with their burdens of sorrow. Meanwhile it is well known that a few percent of the population comprising the propertied wealthy elite and ruling political class that represents them are making money and enjoying all pleasures of life.
The national question
At this point, we cannot transcend the national question without understanding its importance since it has severely affected the Tamil, Muslim and Hill Country Tamil people. The war resulting from the unresolved national question has caused severe losses to the people of the North and East.
Those who have suffered loss of life and property and subjected to harsh displacement, still unable to recover from the effects of their losses, are undergoing inexpressible sufferings. The Rajapaksa regime and the chauvinist ruling classes have no political solution to offer for the national question. The government which boasts of a military solution secured through war continues to place the North and West under military oppression.
The US and other Western imperialists contributed to transforming the national question into war in order to facilitate imposing on Sri Lanka their neoliberal economy under the scheme of imperialist globalization, and have succeeded in their mission.
Even today, rather than seek a political solution to the problem, they conduct political activities locally and internationally that would aggravate the national contradiction. Meanwhile, the ruling chauvinist capitalist forces, in the interest of retaining and prolonging their power over the state, tend to reject a political solution.
At the same time, the Tamil parties have neither a clear and far sighted common programme for liberating the Tamil people from Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism nor a policy based scheme to mobilize the people along the mass line. The Tamil parties have nothing besides a narrow nationalist stand that they would use to conserve their vote bank and thereby secure posts and positions at various levels. Apart from this, they have fully surrendered themselves to India and the ‘International Community’ comprising the US and its Western allies, on whom they have pinned their faith.
It is well known that the so-called “International Community” is using the Tamil people as their pawns to serve its own agenda. All parties other than the ordinary people affected by the Sri Lankan national question have benefitted by that, and continue to do so while the Tamil. Muslim and Hill Country Tamil people and ordinary toiling masses continue to suffer. Meanwhile, the Sinhala Buddhist chauvinists continue to deceive the Sinhala masses and divert their attention from key issues.
Burdens of History
Apart from the above, the entire population appear to be distracted by conservatism and religious and cultural traditions. Superstitions enable the transformation of the faith of the people in religion and temples into thriving businesses that make money.
One form or another of naivety and blind faith is being nurtured within the political, economic and cultural spheres. Essentially, the people are fooled by these and blinded from seeing the social reality and the truth.
Also, besides class and national oppression in the Sri Lankan society, there is oppression based on caste and gender, which capitalist political parties with claims to leadership of communities avoid addressing. The people too persist with parliamentary politics in the politically naïve belief that it represents freedom and democracy. This is regrettable, but there is a need to patiently explain to the people about the truth and reality that is hidden from them in politics.
The Case for Communist Thinking
It is the above context that we see the need for communist thinking. Marxism is the foundation of communist thought. Of all ideologies that human history has seen, Marxism and communist thought represent the highest in seeking the path for the liberation of humanity. Until Marxism came into being only 166 years ago, there has been no philosophy or system of thought that pointed to the liberation and salvation of the toiling masses. It was only Marxism that that demonstrated that it is only the working class that can put an end to social inequality and injustice.
It is a historical truth that it was the scientific socialism put forward by Marxism that, even for a brief period of human history, eliminated social inequality and injustice. Thus Marxism and communist thought are not things that dropped from heaven but emerged out of the real need to combat exploitation, inequality, oppression and social injustice. Communist thought will raise its red flag of liberation wherever there is exploitation, inequality, oppression and social injustice, and it transcends differences of nation, race, religion, language and colour to call for proletarian internationalism.
The Significance of Comrade Soodamani
Comrade Soodamani embraced Marxism and communist thought at a very young age and travelled along that path for more than fifty five years in the firm belief that Marxism alone can liberate people from all manner of oppression. That belief was not pretentious or wanting in any way because he put into practice that belief by ceaselessly working for the Communist Party. His contribution was such that there was hardly a meeting or activity in which he did not participate.
He was there among the people and shared in their joys and sorrows. He would take up the problems of the people and seek solutions on his own initiative and though the Party. No one but a handful of his political foes will deny that he was a wonderful comrade who lived a simple life and worked hard for the Party. He was no scholar but only an ordinary literate worker who advanced very much as a Marxist, communist militant, a servant of the masses and a ceaseless worker for the Party. That he was respected by the uneducated and academics alike surprised many.
Yet, he did not live a life of comfort. He lived on the modest income that he generated through physical work by persuading his family to live frugally. He also succeeded in ensuring that his family life, especially his partnership with his wife, did not deviate from his party political life. He had to face hard times. Poverty and illnesses troubled him. Displacement by war caused great suffering. His life was not smooth: he was attacked by political foes as well as the police.
Since he lived the life of a communist, his family had to face a variety of threats and rejection. But Comrade Soodamani stood firm with his chest erect and marched on as a communist. He lived as a steady red idealist so that in his last years even his opponents were amazed by him.
His memories are not mere personal memories but memories that show the way ahead to all of us, especially the youth who should learn from Comrade Soodamani’s life as a communist, his spirit of dedication in carrying out Party work.
His was a life of service to mankind by choice so that no load could make him bow, and his life was one of sacrifice for all of us.
Re-reading the Right to
(Finding solutions from within and learning lessons from without)
The right of self determination has been a central issue in the search of solutions to the Sri Lankan national question. The understanding of the concept has been marred over the years by issues of definition and, in Sri Lanka, it has generally been interpreted as a license for succession by its advocates as well as opponents. Secession is no end in itself, to neither imperialists nor Marxist Leninists who hold diametrically opposed views of the right of a people to nationhood and secession. Imperialism has often used secession as a means to further its expansionist ends. But that alone is no reason for a Marxist Leninist or anti-imperialist to oppose the right to secession. On the contrary, one should uphold the principle even more firmly. Marxist Leninists see the right to session as an inalienable aspect of self determination, which is, rather than a licence to secede at will, a proven means to avert secession and secure harmony among nationalities.
Secessionist movements have, as in Kashmir and Nagaland in India and East Timor in Indonesia, resulted from the forced annexation of regions without consulting the people concerned. They have also resulted from the denial of national rights of a people, including the right to self determination as in the case of the Kurds, especially of Turkey. What is important is to understand the causes of the call for secession and examine whether the call represents the genuine wishes of a nationality or the interests of exploiting classes and external forces. Even if imperialism supports a secessionist movement, there is need for a careful study of the call for secession to assess the justification for it and seek means to address the issues.
This article re-reads the concept of right of self determination in the light of past experiences of Sri Lanka and explores the prospect of finding solutions to the Sri Lankan national question from within.
Understating the Right of Self Determination
The concept of self determination has its origins in the revolutionary ideology of the working class. Lenin developed it in the context of imperial Russia to unite the oppressed nationalities and defined the right to self-determination as the inalienable right of a nation to secede. Thus self-determination necessarily implied equality among nations coexisting voluntarily and without coercion within the framework of a state. Self-determination means the right of a nationality to secede from the state that includes it to either create its own independent nation-state or join another nation-state. This bourgeois-democratic right has, however, been denied by capitalist rulers and imperialist powers.
Lenin did not advocate secession per se and his core aim was the unity of the working class within national boundaries and between the working classes of advanced capitalist countries and the colonies. The case for secession was based on context. While Lenin argued the merits of large states with integrated industrial and financial ties, he also defended the right of oppressed nations to secede so that the proletariat could win the colonial masses to its side. Lenin was well aware of the incompatibility of revolutionary consciousness with national chauvinism when he wanted communists to defend the rights of oppressed peoples as a way to combat chauvinism among the working classes of imperialist countries. This also meant that the workers and peasants in the oppressed countries would, in the course of their struggle, learn that workers in the imperialist country were their allies while their nationalist bourgeoisie were their enemy.
The ambiguous stand of the US on the colonial question and self-determination was apparent in its conduct in South and Central America and the Caribbean since the late 19th Century. Several Caribbean and Central American countries including Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Nicaragua came under direct US control in the 20th Century, and the US still holds on to Guantanamo, a part of Cuba, has military bases in many countries around the world, and still has its army of occupation in South Korea and in Okinawa, Japan although fighting ended in Korea in 1954 and in Japan in 1945.
While the Soviet Union looked favourably on independence as the way forward in Asia and Africa, colonialism rejected secession except when secession could serve to annex the seceded territory, as in Tibet in early 20th Century, or delay independence from colonial rule, as in the case in India. The colonial rulers were not interested in conflicts based on race, religion, nationality or any form of ethnic identity among their subjects unless it served their interests. Colonial ‘divide and rule’ did not include secession as long as colonialism could hold on to territory.
Lenin was clear that the defence of self determination was consistent with class struggle. While proletarian revolution in developed capitalist countries was the key aim, an alliance of the proletariat there with the masses in the colonies and semi-colonies — initially led by bourgeois nationalists — in the context of brewing revolutions in the colonial world could be decisive in overthrowing the capitalist system that had transformed into imperialism. Under colonialism, self-determination referred to the liberation of a country from its colonial master.
Following the liberation of colonies and semi-colonies, imperialist control took the form of neo-colonialism, with one or several imperialist powers indirectly controlling the economy of a former colony by various means including terms of trade, foreign credit and development aid. Politics of identity came to the fore so that nationality, region, language and religion became fault-lines along which the people could be divided. That suited the local exploiting classes, since identity based differences served to divide the oppressed classes, as long as they did not lead to civil commotion threatening social stability and thereby their survival.
The national question in the post-colonial era involved contradictions vastly different from those in the colonial era. Thus self-determination needs to be seen from angles different from that at the dawn of the century when the national question concerned an oppressor nation and an oppressed nation. The situation where the main nationalities and national minorities comprising various ethnic groups united against a common enemy ceased to be with the removal of a visible oppressor such as a colonial master or an aggressor like German or Japanese fascism.
Contradictions between nationalities, ethnic groups and communities developed into powerful divisive forces as the new elite classes that took nominal control over the state of the former colony failed to fulfil the expectations of the masses who supported them in the independence struggle. The ruling classes exploited the contradictions among nationalities, religious communities and regions to divert attention from important issues concerning the economy and living conditions; and imperialism too benefited from it.
Secession and its discontents
The right to self-determination is not something to be applied blindly or to be imposed on a nationality or an ethnic group, regardless of context. A nationality seeks the right to self-determination or struggles to secede only when it feels that its identity or for that matter its very existence is under threat. Intervention by a Marxist party should aim at removing such threat, and that is best achieved by defending the right to self-determination. The opportunist left has presented the demand by a nationality for secession as the issue rather than the threat faced by it.
Imperialism and reactionary forces too have adopted the cause of the right to self-determination and encouraged secession in several countries. Carving out a white state from South Africa was a serious consideration on the eve of the success of the struggle against the white racist state. Imperialist support in 1960 for the secession of the mineral rich Katanga Province of Congo was designed to weaken the government of the newly independent Congo. Katanga and its leader Tshombe were cynically abandoned following the coup and the assassination of the Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba in 1961, which placed the Congo under the control of imperialism.
Another classic case is Eritrea, which, with the blessings of the US, was forcefully federated with Ethiopia in 1952 and made a province of Ethiopia in 1962. When Eritrea sought to secede, the US sided with Ethiopia to crush the secessionist struggle until 1974, when a military coup overthrew ‘Emperor’ Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and set up a pro-Soviet government. Then the US changed sides to support the Eritrean struggle, and the Soviet Union competing with US for global domination sided with Ethiopia. After the pro-Soviet regime fell in 1991, the US and the Soviet Union switched loyalties, but nothing could stop Eritrean independence in 1992.
A point to note regarding the Sri Lankan national question is that imperialism has also resorted to using the grievances of ethnic groups and nationalities to weaken liberation movements as it did in Vietnam and Laos. It tried to weaken Nicaragua’s Sandinista government in this fashion, but failed because of the wise handling of the national question by the Sandinistas. Also secession as an imperialist tool has now transcended ethnic identity. This brings new challenges for the concept of right to self determination and for the Marxist Leninists.
Struggles of oppressed nationalities are complex and continuously evolving, and no two struggles are alike. The differences are further accentuated by foreign intervention driven by hegemonic intentions. Thus there cannot be a universal Marxist Leninist position on the national question in the post colonial context. Imperialism, when it wants to stage a ‘regime change’ in a “less friendly country” it meddles in its internal affairs. The national question provides the pretext for intervention in the name of defending the human and fundamental rights of oppressed nationalities. It would also use the pretext of ‘combating terrorism’ when it chooses to support an oppressive chauvinistic regime.
In either event, it is through defending the rights of the oppressed nationalities and by working towards solutions based on the right to self-determination that Marxist Leninists can frustrate imperialist intentions and achieve unity among the nationalities. Marxist Leninist endorsement of the right to self-determination is not based on the faith that secession is the key to solving a national question. On the contrary, Marxist Leninists see the right to self-determination as the most effective means of ensuring unity among nationalities of a country subject to imperialist oppression.
The Marxist Leninist wish to avert secession in Third World countries arises from the position that the contradictions between the nationalities as friendly and a desire for solidarity among the oppressed people in their struggle against their principal enemy, namely imperialism. The Marxist Leninist approach to the national question thus emphasises the peaceful resolution of the differences, based on the principle of the right to self-determination. That does not prevent a Marxist Leninists from taking a principled stand on national oppression and the struggle for liberation. Marxist Leninists are obliged to support liberation struggles, even when they have a declared secessionist goal, not in the interest of secession per se, but to defend the rights of the oppressed.
It is important to recognise that the Marxist Leninist position on the national question is neither determined a priori nor developed in the abstract, but one that emerges in the course of social practice and in the context of objective conditions obtaining locally as well as internationally. Marxist Leninist support for liberation struggles is, contrary to what opponents of Marxism say, not despite emphasis on class struggle but based on it, and is a result of knowing the relationship between national and class oppression.
The Road Ahead
The socialist movement has from the time of Marx and Engels witnessed bitter debates and suffered painful splits, nationally and internationally, over questions concerning the nature of the state, the need for revolution to achieve socialism, and the case for a revolutionary armed struggle. Marxist Leninists rejected the parliamentary road to socialism not for lack of faith in democracy but out of their knowledge that in bourgeois parliamentary politics the dice are loaded against the working class. They also reject the prospect of peaceful transition from a capitalist society to socialist society, again not because they see violence as the only means of social change but because they recognize the violent nature of the bourgeois state and how violence is imposed on the forces of social change when the class interests of the bourgeoisie are threatened.
By revolutionary struggle Marxist Leninists do not mean plunging the country into civil war. To them, revolutionary struggle comprises a variety of activities by which the oppressed classes stake a claim on state power with the aim to overthrow the existing state machinery controlled by the ruling classes and replace it with a different kind of state dominated by the erstwhile oppressed classes who are the producers of wealth. In advanced industrial countries the working class could on its own capture power, while in less industrialised countries the working class needs to form alliances that are appropriate to the specific nature of the revolution and the context of the revolutionary struggle.
Marxist Leninists know that revolution is not armed struggle pure and simple. It includes a number of forms of struggle and the inevitability of violence is announced not out of a crave for violence, but out of the need to confront an enemy at home who is armed to the teeth and backed by imperialism, an even more heavily armed enemy of humanity. Resolution of both friendly and hostile contradictions involves struggle. Marxist Leninists reject the use of violence to resolve contradictions among the sections of the population who are potential allies against the principal enemy, even if the alliance is in the short term. To Marxist Leninists, revolution is an act of love for mankind, and indiscriminate violence is therefore unacceptable; and revolutionary forces resort to armed struggle after a careful consideration of not just the military aspects but also the political aspects as well as implications for the masses.
Support from foreign governments for liberation struggles within a country is generally seen as a hostile act by countries and is rare except under special historical conditions. Principled support from governments for anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles and struggles against foreign occupation and aggression existed during the era of anti-colonial struggles and even after, but has faded away with the collapse of the Soviet Union and embracing of capitalism by China. Thus, given the fact that only global or regional powers intervene militarily in the affairs of other countries and that such intervention is invariably in the interest of the power concerned, genuine foreign government support for a liberation struggle can only be political.
To conclude, Tamil national struggle should become a genuine liberation struggle of the Tamil people that distinguishes between the Sinhalese masses and the ruling Sinhala elite classes who are also oppressors of the Sinhalese. Tamil nationalists should appreciate that the right of the Tamils to self determination automatically implies the same right for Muslims and Hill Country Tamils. That is why a re-reading of the right to self determination and an open debate on the subject are essential in the context of the present crisis and our past experiences.
***** National Affairs
Comments by the Editorial Group Electoral Reforms and Political Minorities Problems with the First past the Post System (1947-1977)
Until the passage of the constitution of 1978, the electoral system of the country was based on the “first past the post” (FPP) scheme for all elected bodies from the village council to parliament. It had the advantage of stable parliamentary government in a situation with two main rivals for power, but at the price of representation not being in fair proportion to the votes received by parties and heavy bias against smaller political parties other than those with regional power bases. This was the case from 1947 to 1977 as illustrated by Schedule 1 which shows the percentages of votes received and seats won by major parties at four elections that marked major turning points in the political history of the country. Disparity between votes received and seats secured (see items in bold italics in Schedule 1), which was also distorted by strategic contesting of seats, electoral pacts and regional patterns of voting based on ethnicity, was much to the disadvantage of the loser among the main parties or alliances since 1952 (results not shown). All smaller parties except the leading Tamil nationalist parties with a strong regional base in the Northern and Eastern Provinces suffered.
The results for the left suggest that they were net gainers — except in 1977 when they lost representation altogether and only marginal losers in the elections of 1960 March and June, and 1965 (results not shown). That was because of deals with the SLFP in electorates where the left had significant support. The results of 1956, 1970 and 1977 make a strong case against the FPP system where the winning party gathered between around 20 and 63% more seats than the proportion of votes gathered by it while the main rival gathered between 70 and 80% less.
Schedule 1: Percentages of votes and of seats secured by major parties