The JVP and 'Pol Potism'
by Sachi Sri Kantha
In the spirit of 'Know thy enemy from the words of another of your adversaries,' I provide a verbatim reproduction of Chapter 9...I can do justice to both the JVP and to Dayan Jayatilleka, if I transcribe the entire text without any omission.
"The JVP and Pol Potism"
by Dayan Jayatilleke
Front Note by Sachi Sri Kantha
One of the cardinal rules in either business or combat [whether serious warfare or sports encounters - which are nothing but simulated warfare] is 'Know thy Adversary/Competition/Critic/Enemy.' One can add that it is even more important to 'Know thy Adversary, from the words of your trenchant critic.' Dayan Jayatilleka is one of the leading anti-Tamil polemicist critics, though he couches his words in a deceptive charade to portray that he is only anti-LTTE, but not anti-Tamil.
In the spirit of 'Know thy enemy from the words of another of your adversaries,' I provide a verbatim reproduction of Chapter 9 entitled 'The JVP and Pol Potism' which appears in Dayan Jayatilleka's book, Sri Lanka, Travails of a Democracy, Unfinished War, Protracted Crisis (Vikas Publishing House, New Delhi, 1995, pp.95-107).
JVP is the abbreviation for Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, founded by Rohana Wijeweera in the late 1960s. A voluble, racist predecessor of this JVP also had the same abbreviation, but stood for Jathika Vimukthi Peramuna, and was represented by a husband-wife team, K.M.P. Rajaratne and Kusuma Rajaratne – parliamentarians of the 1950s and 1960s.
Multiple reasons pushed me to re-read this chapter and transcribe it for a wider audience.
First, when the LTTE leader Pirabhaharan began his 2005 Heroes Day address with the sentence, "The Sinhala nation continues to be entrapped in the Mahavamsa mindset, in that mythical ideology," a few hisses were heard from Sinhala analysts, including Tisaranee Gunasekara, one of Dayan Jayatilleka's comrades-in-arms in the production of anti-LTTE polemics. In this chapter, ten years ago, Dayan Jayatilleka has discussed this same Mahavamsa mindset of the Buddhist clergy.
Pirabhakaran also made reference to "Sinhala-Buddhist racist forces [which] could not tolerate the emergence of a congenial environment of goodwill" and noted the JVP and Jathika Hela Urumaya as major representatives of these forces.
Second, in 1995 when this chapter was published, the JVP's parliamentary representation was in the single digits (one, to be exact). Now the JVP's parliamentary representation has increased to double digits (39); as such they have become more vocal and have attracted trans-border attention as well. Whether they talk sense is another matter. This year also marks the 35th anniversary (on April 5th) of when the JVP made its splashy entry into the Sri Lankan political lexicon, and the words 'terrorism and terrorist' were introduced in the island.
Third, the cliché 'Pol Potism' is pedantically used by Narasimhan Ram of the House of Hindu publishers to smear the LTTE. In my view, Ram - born to the Brahmin caste – consciously uses this 'Pol Potism' word as a pejorative euphemism for the caste marker on the LTTE leadership, since it has become politically incorrect to call a Tamil leader with a caste marker. Thus, Ram and his coterie in the House of Hindu publishers deserve to be educated that Pol Potism (a hotch-potch of Communism blended with Aryan brown-skinned Buddhism) does exist in Sri Lanka, but its practitioners are born Buddhists dipped into half-baked Communism.
Fourth, Dayan Jayatilleka, the author of this chapter, is blessed with quite a few merits; (a) being the son of distinguished Sri Lankan journalist Mervyn de Silva, (b) being a wordsmith for Marxist/Communist polemics presented in flowery, sometimes stilted, English, (c) being a prolific analyst on Sri Lankan affairs, (d) fluenct in the Sinhala language, which allows him to read the JVP literature in its original, (e) being a terrorist himself - representing the underground group Vikalpa Kandayama (in the mid 1980s) - who was "indicted (in absentia) in the Colombo High Court as the first accused, on 14 counts, including conspiracy to overthrow the state through violence" as per the back-cover blurb of this 1995 book. Check the foot-notes 12 and 13 at the end of the Chapter. This Vikalpa Kandayama group was in rivalry with the JVP for the lumpen proletariat among the Sinhalese. (f) being a beneficiary of the munificence of India's intelligence gumshoes, when he was 'on the run' from J.R. Jayewardene's rule of terrorist law.
I wouldn't also overlook a few noticeable defects of Jayatilleka; these include, (a) allegiance to unprincipled opportunism in political theater, though he self-anointed himself about his 1980s career move, as one of the 'rational revolutionaries' (b) delivering flashy, crystal ball predictions which turn out to be utterly wrong, and (c) a penchant for ignoring/twisting ugly facts which don't fit his Sinhala-Buddhist bias.
Fifth, occasionally Dayan Jayatilleka can be very candid in his comments and delivers the correct choice of amusing phrases. On the JVP's political ideology, he notes that "what you have in Sri Lanka is a malignant, midget Marxism – a dwarfed, distorted, debased, caricatured Marxism," which in fact equally applies to his past and present career as a card-carrying Marxist-Leninist commentator.
This will suffice for a front-note and I leave Dayan Jayatilleka to describe the JVP's deeds from 1971 to 1995. At first I thought about whether I should select and provide only excerpts to clip the verbiage of Jayatilleka, the unrepentant Marxist-Stalinist. Note that critic Regi Siriwardena, in one of his essays, said that "the last surviving admirer of Stalin in Sri Lanka is probably Mr. Dayan Jayatilleke" [Lanka Guardian, May 1, 1996, pp.7-9]. But I felt, I can do justice to both the JVP and to Dayan Jayatilleka, if I transcribe the entire text without any omission. Thus, if Dayan Jayatilleka's pathological obsession with cliched phrases of Marxist-Leninist rhetoric repels the reader at first, I plead please stick to reading until the end. His view (towards the end) sheds some light on the JVP from a vantage angle, which no non-Sinhalese academic can deliver.
The JVP and Pol Potism
by Dayan Jayatilleka
The endogenous contradictions of the capitalist mode of production are compounded by the feature of dependence as far as the peripheral economies are concerned, and the mid-1960's saw economic crises gripping Sri Lanka. The heightening of the phenomenon of unequal exchange in trade was revealed in the balance of payments problem assuming major proportions, while the successive governments' exercise of its class-determined option of increased external borrowing, ensnared the national economy inextricably in the debt trap. On the advice of the World Bank, IMF and other agencies, the mendicant bourgeoisie of Sri Lanka began stripping away layers of the social welfarism that had cushioned the masses to an extent and had provided the scaffolding for the country's highly successful bourgeois-parliamentary system.
The social class to be hardest hit, in terms of 'relative deprivation', was the petty bourgeoisie, which saw a rapid fall in its living standards, while spiralling unemployment blocked the fairly free upward social mobility it had enjoyed in the wake of the 1956 Bandaranaike populist reforms (which in turn, were made possible by the economic boom conditions). For this class, the problem was accentuated by the marginalisation caused by the 'Green Revolution' which reached Sri Lanka's rural areas in the mid-1960s, (thus paralleling developments in many other Third World countries such as Mexico, Philippines, Thailand and India). Greatly reduced infant mortality, due to the expansion of social welfare, accorded youth an overwhelmingly predominant place in the country's population structure thus lending an added (generational) dimension to already existing the social strains and stresses.
The petty bourgeois youth, especially in the rural areas, caught up in the vortex of the crisis of capitalism on a national and international level, could undoubtedly have been a vitally important ally of the Sri Lankan proletariat, had not the parties of the working class been so hopelessly enmeshed in reformism and engaged in tailing abjectly behind the SLFP1. The revolutionary alternative to the Old Left was provided at the time by the Maoist Ceylon Communist Party of N.Sanmugathasan whose mechanistic, Sino-centric standpoint was in fact no real alternative. Ideology apart, in organisational aspects and style of work, it was a virtual mirror image of the bureaucratised pro-Moscow Communist Party. So, as in Latin America, it was becoming increasingly obvious that the formula of 'new democracy/people's war' was not the real answer to the Khrushchev-Brezhnev line of the local CP.
Thus, the organisationally fairly strong Sri Lankan proletariat was ideologically and politically weak, due, among other things, to the fact that its vanguard parties functioned within the false problematic imposed on them by the leading centres of the World Communist Movement – a problematic which did not confront the fundamental reality of the qualitatively changed role of the national bourgeoisies. Owing to this basic political weakness, the proletariat was incapable of assuming a hegemonic role vis-à-vis the crisis ridden, volatile petty bourgeois rural youth. So, this social stratum threw up its own political leader – the JVP and Rohana Wijeweera – who led it in the bloodily suppressed Spartacist rebellion2 whose sole, if tenuous affinity with the proletariat was that it occurred in the centenary year of the Paris Commune!
A proletarian party – one based on the working classes and/or steeped in its ideology – has the capacity to assimilate and digest the experience for the most terrible defeats. (The Chinese CP after 1927 is but a single example.) But the disaster of spring 1971 had a different impact on the collective petit bourgeois psyche of the JVP. The sordid squabbles, denials, denunciations and betrayals at the Criminal Justice Commission (CJC) trials3, the violent fratricidal strife within the jails, where criticism and self-criticism was sometimes effected by violent means, all revealed the depth and extent of the trauma and the petty bourgeois psyche's utter inability to cope.
The government's savage butchery of almost ten thousand members, supporters and sympathisers of the JVP (and large numbers of innocents) was one kind of traumatic experience, more painful altogether however, was the experience of betrayal. The JVP had very few illusions as to the ideological political degeneracy of the LSSP and CP (Moscow Wing), but was unprepared for the extent to which the leaders of these parties could go by gleefully applauding the barbaric bloodbath. However, the unkindest cut of all was inflicted not so much by the local Left, but rather the World Communist Movement, the various segments of which either actively supported the repression (China) or remained studiedly silent. This was something the JVP was totally unprepared for.
Orphaned by the local Left (including the Maoists who in a mirror image of the Old Left's utterly grotesque denunciation of the JVP as CIA agents, branded them KGB agents!) and the World Communist Movement, the JVP began to be adopted by the so-called 4th International. Together with messages of support from the Unified Secretariat in Paris (the Ernest Mandel Wing) and the legal counsel of its local representative (the mercurial Bala Tampoe) came a steady stream of ideological literature which was a major influence in the formation of a theoretical framework cum perspective for Wijeweera in comprehending the shattering experience of 1971. The specificity of the social structure of this country is such that the petty bourgeoisie is a sprawling class and its ideological influence extensive. This accounts in the main for the historical eccentricity within the Lanka Left Movement that its dominant trend is Trotskyism. This curious feature of the country's political topography was an added factor in speeding up the process of Wijeweera's conversion to Trotskyism, which was made easier by the fact that the original JVP had no refined and clearly defined ideological positions to start with, except for the vulgarly eclectic mixture of Maoism, Castro-Guevarism and Trotskyism.
The JVP which existed at the time of its proscription by the UNP in 1983, was in actuality merely the Wijeweera faction of the original party. While a considerable section of the old cadres had simply quit politics, and yet another segment had joined the UNP/SLFP or the reformist-revisionist parties, the vast majority of ex-JVPers still within the revolutionary fold were anti-Wijeweera. Only three of the 41 who appeared before the first Criminal Justice Commission trial remained with the official JVP by 1980. Most of the old Politburo members, District Organisers and the militants who saw armed action in 1971 (including those who were on the run for years, with munificent bounties on their heads) had irrevocably broken with their former leader. Quite a few of them were grouped in a loose organisation known as the 'Janatha Sangamaya' (People's League). The original rupture occurred owing to Wijeweera's conduct at the trial where they alleged that he attempted to 'pass the buck' to his lieutenants. The gap thus created, widened over the Wijeweera faction's refusal to engage in a genuine self-criticism of the movement's past policies and practices including the 1971 insurrection. Instead of any such self-criticism, the pro-Wijeweera group, then in a majority within the prison camps, is said to have indulged in savage physical violence against their critics4. There is no evidence however, that nay really independent, creative in-depth analysis of local and global phenomena, took place within the jails.
Mahavamsa5, Marxism, Red Dutugemunuism: Re-enter the JVP
By the time it embarked on it's second insurrection in the late 1980s the JVP had become a Left fascist force, the left component of which was the Leftism of Ethiopia's Haile Marian Mengitsu, Madame Mao, Pol Pot, Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary and their spouses, Hafizullah Amin and Bernard and Phyllis Coard of Grenada.
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and the DJV6 resorted to violence initially against the parties of the Left in mid-1986 when the latter participated in the Political Parties Conference (PPC) convened to formulate a political solution to the ethnic war. That was the first manifestation of armed violence. The first use of lethal violence, the first killing, the first assassination by the JVP was of a very poor student – Daya Pathirana. He was a radical Leftist, not a member of the Old Left or the traditional Left; a leader of the Independent Students Union7, very militant anti-UNPer. This young southern student was abducted and his throat cut on December 15, 1986. This murder alone gives the lie to the received wisdom, and the standard incantations of most of the Opposition, that it is the socio-economic model and anti-democratic politics pursued by the United National Party since 1977 that are responsible for the type of conflict and the kind of violence unleashed by the JVP. We have to ask ourselves why the first targets of lethal violence at the hands of JVP were those on the left. This does not mean that the JVP was primarily anti-Left or was not motivated by anti-systemic impulses. However it is not correct to simply say that this 'bad capitalist system and the authoritarian UNP' bred the JVP monster.
The distinction between 'bad leaders' and 'misled followers' in the JVP is not correct either. What kind of revolutionaries follow, without any qualms, orders to cut throats of young fellow Leftists of similar social backgrounds – like Daya Pathirana of the ISU? What kind of Leftists destroy a computer centre in a University as they did at Ruhuna? The JVP's rank and file joined the movement out of fanatically 'patriotic' motives, to play Dutugemunu8, as the ethnic war hotted up and the government became seemingly ineffectual in securing a military victory. Wijeweera9 himself changed his post-1977 line10 and returned to a modified version of his pre-1971 line11, because he shared the views of JVP's rank and file and also to attract this radical cauvinist youth constituency. The DJV (Deshapremi Janatha Vyaparaya – Patriotic Peoples Movement, regarded as a front organization for, but actually an avatar of the JVP) leaflet following the first raid on the Katunayake airbase, slammed the government for its ineffective (!) air raids on Jaffna, while the JVP Central Committee's leaflet of June 1987 excoriated the government for attempting a political solution based on devolution, in place of the pursuance of military victory. It is not just a question of the 'top' misleading the 'base', but also of the constituency – with its consciousness – influencing the apex. From a civilizational point of view, from the point of view of the political culture of our society, which is still in advance of many Third World societies, from the point of social development as a whole and the interests of the class struggle of the proletariat for socialism in particular, these elements were a retrogressive force. Marx had harsh words for the 'idiocy of rural life' and even harsher ones for the 'flotsam and jetsam' or urban life i.e. the lumpen proletariat. The main force of the JVP and the backbone of its military section is a combination thereof i.e. the flotsam and jetsam of rural society, the most backward strata, with certain ingrained prejudices and complexes.
Therefore the JVP cannot be simply seen as a part of the petty bourgeois youth rebellion which was endemic in the Third World in the post war period. In most of those countries – particularly in Latin America, but also in the Philippines – the guerrilla movements are morally and ethically far superior in their behaviour, to the system that they try to overthrow. If you take the 1988 offensive by the FMLN in San Salvador, you will find their treatment of the civilian population to have been exemplary. It is the state that resorted to aerial bombings against the civilian areas in San Salvador. On the other hand, the Salvadoran FMLN unilaterally declared an 11-day ceasefire extending from Christmas to New Year.
If we do not understand the difference between the rebellion in Sri Lanka and those rebellions, we will not understand why our crisis is so profound. Here in Sri Lanka, not only were the civilian population, the professionals, the middle class people, the poor people, the working people, trapped by two armed vanguards (the state and the anti-state forces) but the behaviour of the anti-state forces has also been worse, from a moral, ethical, civilizational, cultural point of view than that of the state! The state, though it may not like it, has had to operate within a certain system. It has to run an economy, it has to get foreign aid, it has to get investment, therefore it is constrained to a certain degree by the human rights consciousness of the West, by the need to have some shred of the rule of law. That is not the case with this particular type of anti-systemic movement that we have experienced in Sri Lanka and which I would term the phenomenon of neo-barbarism, or of Sri Lankan Pol Potism.
Reflections on the Roots of Neo-barbarism: Some questions of Theory
Why did the combination of rapid dependent capitalist growth, deepening economic crisis, bourgeois authoritarianism and an armed national liberation struggle at the periphery not result in the upsurge of a Latin American-type of revolutionary movement in southern Sri Lanka? How comes it that the primary anti-systemic polarity that was generated was a Pol Potist one (the JVP) while the Sandinista type of rational revolutionary polarity was an entirely secondary one that never got beyond the preparatory phase of the 'accumulation' of personnel and resources, the stage of gestation? Why is it that the rational revolutionaries12 never got beyond this phase of 'primitive accumulation', which involved actions that were meant to help construct an instrumentality which could then reach out to various social forces, beginning with the advanced sectors? Why is it that these outfits never made it past the crack-down that these actions provoked, to that stage of growth where reaching out to the masses, the 'accumulation of social forces', the phase of accumulation 'proper' could have been placed on the agenda13?
Was it absolutely necessary for a movement to have recourse to irrational appeals and historical myth to built the kind of powerful apparatus that the JVP has? Was it due to the fact that the Sri Lankan crisis was catalysed by an ethnic struggle, unlike those in Latin America? This alone would not suffice as an answer, since the secessionist struggle of the Muslim Moros of Mindanao in the Philippines, did not generate a majoritarian chauvinist backlash and certainly did not cause the revolutionary CPP-NPA to abandon its stand of autonomy for the Moro people.
How comes it that far from displaying a moral hegemony, the vanguards themselves (JVP, LTTE) were and are contributing to the 'crisis of civilization'? Marxism, said Mao, is a 'wrangling'ism. Sri Lankan Marxists should not shy away from the sweat, toil and agony of the mental labour that they must engage in, in order to find answers to these questions. We must not be intellectual reformists, satisfied with tinkering with our earlier views, but most rather be revolutionary analytically e.e. ready to uproot, overturn and revolutionise our own intellectual postulates in order to cope with the challenge of the new questions. If we are intellectually lazy and do not face up to this new task it would be a careless, even criminal neglect and a gross dereliction of responsibility, involving staggering human costs in terms of precious cadres, material and social forces. Never have Sri Lankan and South Asian Marxists needed to be more creative and incisive in their analyses than now, since dogmatism defeats and myths, murder and cliches kill.
Again, why didn't the Left forces within the Eelam movement unite with each other? This could have altered the balance of forces between the right and the left within the government, perhaps forestalling certain outcomes (like the Accord14) and resulting in certain others. Just as the Lankan Left was historically split as a result of external events (Trotskyism vs Stalinism, pro-Soviet vs pro-Chinese, the various splits in Maoism and Trotskyism worldwide), the internationalist southern revolutionaries were split this time too, as a by-product of contradictions extrinsic to their national formation (PLOTE vs EPRLF). Had it not been for the intense rivalry between PLOTE and the EPRLF, which were contending for the same space (the 'real Tamil Left'), the Vikalpa Kandayama, NJVP, SJV, Janatha Sangamaya and Uduwarage Henry Perera's 'Red Soldiers' would probably have been able to unite in a single organisation or at least a single bloc. Such a unified or collective vanguard of the anti-racist southern revolutionaries, might have given the JVP a much better run for its money within the anti-State struggle.
Why did the JVP or the Sinhala opposition feel more excited by the possibility of a North-East merger, than they did about the dismissal of over 70,000 striking workers15 or the referendum of 1982 December which closed off the parliamentary path? Why did the JVP constituency not hurl itself into struggle on these issues? Why did not they feel impelled to liquidate goons like Gonawela Sunil after the July 1983 riots and the subsequent prison massacres16 but did so in 1987?
Why did they mobilize people with slogans against the Provincial Councils such as 'thirty percent of the land and sixty percent of the coast land is being given away to ten percent of the populace'? Why such slogans, reminiscent of Adolph Hitler's cry for 'Lebensraum'? Why do they fetishize the unitarian character (ekiya bhavaya) of the Sri Lankan state, which is a product of British colonialism, instead of limiting themselves, as rational revolutionaries would, to defending the united character of Sri Lanka? What is that they are defending in 'unitarian-ness' that is not present in a united but federal, semi-federal or genuinely devolved polity? Is it not the prerogative of colonisation of land? In the absence of a class of large landlords and thus in the absence of a classic Agrarian Question, the latter undergoes a displacement and reappears articulated within a chauvinistic discourse in which the North-Eastern Tamils are presented as a 'collective landlord' and the Sinhala nation, a 'landless nation', as it were. Why and how, this transmutation of the (trifle dubious) notion of 'bourgeois' and 'proletarian' nations into 'land owning' and 'landless' (therefore land hungry) ethnic communities? How do we explain this 'peasant chauvinist' discourse of the JVP?
One of the JVP slogans was 'JR tho rata kewa, api tho kanawa' which may be rendered in translation as 'JR, you devoured the country, we shall eat you'. Another slogan read 'Rata pawa dun JR ge mas kamu' which meant 'Let us eat the flesh of JR who betrayed the country'. Somoza, following his father and brother, 'devoured' Nicaragua to a much greater degree than J.R.Jayewardene did Sri Lanka and the average Nicaraguan may have felt very much like the JVP slogan coiner – but, the revolutionary Sandinista vanguard never permited that kind of coarse language to enter its political discourse. One cannot think of a single Sandinista slogan of that sort. This goes for every revolutionary vanguard organisation from the Bolsheviks to the Philippino NPA. One has never come across a slogan which said 'Ferdinand Marcos, we will drink your blood!' Even the slogan of the Khomeinists, 'Death to the American Shah' was more restrained. I think that the Mau Mau of Kenya or some Black Septemberists in the Palestine Movement would come closest to the JVP in terms of sheer bloodthirstiness. One must try to understand what the specificity of the JVP's political discourse, its tone and tenor, as well as the cruelty, coarseness and brutality of the JVP and LTTE's political praxis, tells us about the mores and ethos of certain layers of Sri Lankan society.
The answer to the problem resides in the nature of the Sri Lankan state and civil society and in the class components of the anti-systemic movement. Especially important is the question of political leadership, of the social forces which are incorporated into the vanguard organisations, of their level of consciousness and political culture.
Lenin and his brilliant colleagues fought a pre-capitalist (monarchic) state; the Chinese and Vietnamese leaders, foreign oppression; Fidel and Carlos Fonseca fought usurpers and puppet exploitation. Coming from relatively privileged classes, they fought regimes and states which were anachronistic and therefore an affront to them. In these societies, daily life itself contains affronts to the progressive intelligentsia and marginalizes them. Of course, their revolutions rapidly transmitted to socialism. Why did the urbanised, westernised and educated petty bourgeois youth of Sri Lanka not throw themselves fully into the practical military type of activity? They were not quite as outraged by this set up as Fidel and Che were by Batista, or the Fedayeen e Kahlkis by the Shah – and understandably too, since J.R.Jayewardene wasn't Sergeant Batista! It is much more difficult in a society such as ours where the middle class intelligentsia has other avenues and opportunities, to emulate Che and Chou En Lai. In sum, no Batista, no Fidel; no Fidel, no Che!
On the other hand, those who do hate the system and are willing to hurl themselves body and soul into the struggle are those who, because of the Sinhala Only language policy of 1956, aren't sufficiently well grounded theoretically. The post-1956 situation in Sri Lanka is uniquely tragic in the Third World. Our anti-capitalist youth neither have a mother tongue which is widely spoken (e.g. Arabic, Spanish) nor do they know the language of the coloniser (Portuguese, French, English, Italian, German). The JVP thrives on this ignorance. If the Left has a future in Sri Lanka, it lies in the creation and incorporation of a new generation of bilingual intellectuals.
In trying to explain the ideological mix and precise practice of the JVP, it is necessary to identify two major factors in the socialization of the Sinhala youth.
The first is the role of the sangha, the Buddhist order, and the extremely circumscribed nature of the world view of that clergy. This is because they, unlike the Catholic clergy, do not have a rigorous scholastic tradition. A scholastic tradition presupposes a knowledge of at least one international language and usually of several international languages – because only this would give them the ability to contest various theological and even scientific theses that go contrary to what they think are the fundamentals of their religion. Since the bulk of the Buddhist clergy know only Pali, Sanskrit and Sinhala and most of them today do not even know Pali and Sanskrit, they have an extremely circumscribed world view – which I call the Mahavamsa mindset – in which the Mahavamsa is real; where the myth is taken as historical fact.
Secondly, the world view of the Sinhala youth who have neither the humanizing influence of world literature available to them, nor the scientific rigour of Marxism. Most revolutionary leaderships and leading cadres have both. So what you have in Sri Lanka is a malignant, midget Marxism – a dwarfed, distorted, debased, caricatured Marxism.
Pol Potism equals 'Bright Red' Fascism?
Earlier radicals could cheer on all anti-systemic movements even if certain aspects of them were disliked. But not after the experiences of Kampuchea and Iran. If one were to read the various biographies of Marx and Engels one would find that most of their political struggles, especially within the First International, were waged precisely against 'Left' elements, many of whom took active part in the European uprisings of 1848. The struggles against Bakunin, Blanquists like Emmanuel Barthelemi, individuals like Weitling, August Willich, Gottfried Kinkel, all fit into this category. The struggle against the great anarchist Bakunin was very bitter and personal. It must be borne in mind that all these elements were far more decent human beings, several times over, than Pol Pot or the mullahs. The correspondence of Marx and Engels shows the intensity of the animus that they had towards these elements who, it must be stressed were more populist and practical revolutionaries than they. Thus the Marxist attitude towards today's Pol Potists is part of the tradition of Marxist struggle against anarchism, populism, ultra-Leftism and terrorism. It has often been remarked upon by commentators that such struggles are more bitter than those between the Left and the bourgeoisie. This is true and necessarily so. In Sri Lanka today, this struggle also converges with two other struggles which Marxists waged with resoluteness throughout the world, the struggle against racism and against fascism.
There are certain limits to what a society can achieve in a historical period. It is Marx and Engels who said that no society ever sets itself historic tasks without the material forces to fulfil them. Revolution is not possible in every country at every time. The only revolution that was possible in the 1980s and the only revolutionary movement that is possible in Sri Lanka today, is the JVP kind. Any rational democrat would much rather have a reformed or even an authoritarian capitalism than a revolutionary regime under the JVP.
Perhaps the wish of the 'God of History' is not that the democratic Lankan Left brings about systemic change but rather builds up a countervailing force that will prevent the re-emergence of Pol Potism. Perhaps from a civilizational point of view, that is more important than systemic change.
The JVP is not dead as an organisation. A significant number of its cadres still exist in Sri Lanka. Furthermore they have built up a reserve of cadres among Sri Lankan migrant workers in the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia. They hold lectures and even have a news bulletin coming out of Saudi Arabia.
What is most worrying is not the continued existence of the JVP as an organization. After all the democratic forces dealt with the JVP as an organization at the high point of the insurrection of 1988/1989. What is far more worrying is the continued prevalence of the JVP ideology, as well as the continued prevalence of an atmosphere and environment in which JVP ideology goes unchallenged. The ideological struggle against the JVP and the JVP mindset has been abandoned by the democratic opposition, by the government and by the Left parties. There is no significant attempt to explain to the youth, the gross errors and fallacies contained in JVP thinking. This is vital because it is the JVP ideology which led to the acts of barbarism committed by members of that organisation. Unless and until there is a concerted and serious campaign (not a propaganda campaign, but a serious pedagogical campaign) to root out this barbarism, this grotesque caricature of Leftism, from the minds of our youth, the JVP phenomenon cannot and will not be eradicated. The parties of the democratic opposition, including parties of the Left, engaged in human rights campaigns of a selective nature, that served to legitimise JVP thinking and the JVP's whole project of yesteryear. While human rights campaigns are all to the good, such campaigns, if they are to be authentic and sincere, have to be very critical of the massive violations of human rights committed by the JVP. What there is, is a one dimensional campaign. What is needed, on the other hand, is a campaign that is critical of human rights abuses from wherever they originate and emanate; a campaign that is critical of barbarism and unbridled violence from whichever quarter. Though the JVP has been defeated at the military level, though it has been put on the strategic defensive as an organisation, it has not been expelled from the moral high ground that it tries to occupy. A campaign and a struggle has to be waged on the moral-ethical plane, on the plane of values – and this is not being done. Therefore the JVP phenomenon is not dead. We will not be able to prevent the third insurrectionary wave and a wave of blood letting if this is not rooted out ideologically.
In less than 20 years we had two massive insurrections in the South alone, with casualties running into the tens of thousands and a tremendous setback imposed on the society, the economy and on the youth. Unless these ideas are uprooted, we may not be able to avert a repetition of that colossal tragedy.
(1) The two major Left parties (the LSSP and the CP) entered into a no-contest pact with the Sinhala Buddhist chauvinist MEP of S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike in the name of anti-UNPism. This was followed by Bandaranaike's widow in the 1960s and 1970s.
(2) The first JVP insurrection in April 1971 against the SLFP-LSSP-CP Coalition Government.
(3) The Coalition Government set up its Criminal Justice Commission to try the captured rebels.
(4) Based on conversations many ex-JVP political prisoners and veterans of the '71 uprising had with the author.
(5) An ancient chronicle of Sinhala history written by Buddhist monks. Tamils and South Indians in general are depicted as the 'traditional enemy' and the history of the Sinhala race is recorded as a long struggle against these 'alien invaders'.
(6) Deshapremi Janatha Vyaparaya (Patriotic People's Movement) – the armed-wing of the JVP.
(7) The predominant student organisation in the University of Colombo, the ISU openly supported the Tamil National Liberation struggle. It also had close links with the Vikalpa Kandayama, a clandestine revolutionary group in the South.
(8) An ancient Sinhala warrior king who defeated the Tamil ruler of the North Central part of the country.
(9) Rohana Wijeweera, the founder leader of the JVP. He was killed in November 1989.
(10) After it was legalized by the new UNP Government in 1977, the JVP adopted a non-chauvinist stance and supported a political solution based on devolution to the ethnic problem.
(11) The JVP was virulently anti-Tamil (particularly Tamil plantation workers of Indian origin) during its first incarnation.
(12) Vikalpa Kandayama (Alternative Group), Nava Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (NJVP), Samajavadi Janatha Vyaparaya (Socialist People's Movement- SJV), Janatha Sangamaya (People's League – JS) and Red Soldiers.
(13) The crackdown on these internationalist revolutionary groups commenced in the mid-1980s, spearheaded by the National Intelligence Board (NIB) whose officers have been trained by Israelis. Most of the leaders and cadres of these groups were arrested. Several went underground or into exile in the neighbouring India. They were pardoned as part of the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987, following an intensive propaganda campaign for about a year.
(14) The Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987
(15) The unsuccessful general strike of July 1980.
(16) At the height of the anti-Tamil riots of July 1983, Tamil political prisoners in the Welikada jail (situated within the Colombo city limits) were massacred by Sinhala prisoners with the approval of the guards. Gonawela Sunil, a notorious criminal with close connections to certain leaders of the ruling UNP, was believed to have been involved in these incidents.