Midweek Review
The JVP-our infantilism

by Ravi Perera
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna popularly known as the JVP entered mainstream politics with the election of ten of its members to parliament in 2000. Undoubtedly the proportional system of elections helped it achieve representation. On an electorate basis the JVP did not secure a single. But, the fact that they managed to obtain a sizable amount of the votes in certain districts is reason enough to consider the phenomenon seriously. How is it that a political party, so insular, absolutist and supposedly adhering to outdated Marxist dogma, is able to muster enough support to enter parliament.?

One obvious reason would be the frustrations created by a stagnant economy that lags behind most Asian economies. The resultant poverty breed’s movements like the JVP, which offer simplistic solutions. Never mind that the panacea promised, as the poor Cambodians discovered, would be far worse than current problems. Grinding poverty does not grant one the imagination to picture a future JVP regime. For the present the enemy is the status quo. The JVP with its anti-system focus is irrestible to the desperate. The solutions that the JVP offer may be childish and self defeating. But, at least they profess to have a solution. A soothsayers following depends on the maturity of his audience. An audience of doubtful maturity with economic problems is easy putty in the hands of a political party like the JVP. Let us take a look at some of the pet theories of the pet theories of JVP.

Socialism and the theory of a planned economy is the biggest false dawn of the 20-century. The sufferings that the failed experiment brought to countless millions are unimaginable. (rising in Europe out of the turmoil of the industrial revolution Marxism attempted to be in social science what Darwinism had become in natural sciences. Marx was a scholar after the best European tradition. Through, fearless and deductive he wanted a theory that could explain our social evolution from the treetops to skyscrapers. After copious studies he concluded that from the time that man was able to produce a surplus, meaning more than what was required for his consumption, a class system evolved with the controlling class usurping the surplus created by the controlled. History, he declared is the record of the continuous struggle between the classes on the opposite sides of the means of production. The slave owner versus the slave, the feudal lord versus the serf, the capitalist versus the worker were in conflict until by a dialectical process the relationship is changed to be replaced by a new class conflict. Marx saw that Industrialisation which was then developing rapidly in Europe was making it possible for there to be relative prosperity for all. This has been the dream of social thinkers through the ages. We now had the economic system that provided us the means to achieve it. The only impediment to achieving it was the class conflict which denied the working class the fruits of its labour. By historical necessity this conflict would resolve it self in the triumph of the working class. But it would be unsatisfactory if its victory were to be followed by another class conflict. The Marxist answer was the Communist party which would organise and lead the workers in their triumphant march and then play the role of the conscious moulder of history by working towards creating a State-less thus a class less society.

Marxism fell upon an agonised and confused Europe which was in throes of early industrialisation like a clap of thunder. Peasants uprooted from an impoverished countryside were flocking to urban centres in search of employment. This urban drift created an under class subjected to the same horrors that a present day slum dweller grapples with. Marxism was going to be their sword and shield.

One can imagine the deep impact Marxism made on the disadvantaged classes, the intellectuals and students of the time. Here in one doctrine was an acceptable explanation of history, a call to arms and a promised land. Some of the most idealistic, intelligent and capable men of the time rallied to the call of Marxism and set in motion the communist movement which was to rapidly and fundamentally impact our social evolution unlike any other movement before it.

Of all the European countries the backward and corrupt Russian empire was the most vulnerable. The drubbing its army received from the modern well-run German army in the world war broke the back of the empire and in 1917 we had the first communist country in history.

Communism in its ideas, methods and organisation remained for a good half a century a very European movement. Most of Asia were colonies of European powers and were not familiar with ideas such as political parties, economic classes or social equality. But the days of Empires were numbered. Young students from the colonies sent to Europe for studies often returned with distaste for imperialism but a partiality to communist theory. These young men wedded communism to the anti-imperial movement that was then burgeoning in the colonies and gave an impetuous to the second wave of communism, which swept over most of Asia. European communism centred in Moscow soon developed into a monolith far more rigid than the Zarist state at its worse. The one party rule that communism imposed meant a dictatorship by a small group of secretive men deriving their power not from a popular mandate hut by a claim to be the drivers of a historical process. Despite this selfjustification the dictators were insecure and resorted increasingly to the secret police to impose their will. In practice Marx’s theories were completely turned around. The workers enjoyed far more freedoms and prosperity in the capitalist states while the "workers’ states" had to erect walls and fences to prevent its citizens from escaping to the west. Communism proved to be a false dawn.

In Asia communism followed a different path. These countries were not industrialised and had different political and cultural evolutions to Europe. In China the founders of the communist party turned the state in to an oligarchy with no retirement age. North Korea cut it self off from the rest of the world and has become a hermit land owned by one family. Cambodia became a killing field. The other communist countries are all economically backward dictatorships miles behind the Asian Tiger economies.

Why then is the JVP espousing a communist style planned economy?

The founders of the left movement in Sri Lanka were by and large westernised cosmopolitan men with a broad world out look. When they embraced Marxism in the early 20-century it was yet unsullied and held much hope and promise. In the fight against colonialism it was an effective tool. But, in the post colonial world countries that embraced communism became poverty stricken dictatorships while countries that adopted free market policies were richer and freer. With the Russian involvement in Eastern Europe and the Chinese in Tibet colonialism was no longer the exclusive preserve of the old European countries. The general disenchantment with communism was reflected in the demise of the old left movement in Sri Lanka.

In its place grew the home grown insular youth movement which came to be known as the JVP. Quite cynically it based itself on the most immature and vulnerable of the nation-the youth. Unlike the old left it cannot boast of leaders of any eminence or stature. On the contrary it is their ordinariness that strikes one. In its leadership there isn’t a single who is a standout. In fact only a few among them have ever held a job. The JVP’s main recruiting method is a so-called series of lectures which purports to teach every thing you need to know about politics to the raw recruits. In reality it is a situation of the ignorant lecturing to the credulous. A more perceptive and intelligent audience would have laughed these pretentious lecturers off the stage. There is something fundamentally lacking in our national ethos and philosophy that our youth find the farrago of confusion that emanates from the JVP stimulating. To be naive and easily led are not qualities to be admired. The future belongs to those who can think independently and be ahead of developments.

One very discernible feature of our national psychic is its narrow outlook. Historically, Island nations generally were isolated from international trends. After we became a British colony we were more exposed to the world and benefited from it. But as the saying goes it is one thing to take the boy out of the country but another thing to take the country out of the boy. Visions of atavistic revisitations from the misty past hold sway in the minds of most national thinkers of our country. This pre- occupation with the past is the clearest evidence of the bankruptcy of the present generations. It is also a direct anti-thesis of the Marxist proposition of the progression of class conflict. How can a few monuments that have survived the ravages of time absolve the feudal lords of the crime of holding the vast majority of our fore fathers in absolute bondage? In historical times the vast majority, often kings included, were illiterate. They were functioning in very different circumstances facing vastly different problems. It is ignorant and silly to offer solutions from an imagined history to modern problems. That is what the JVP often resorts to.

Even to that history it is not faithful. Heros of the past despised life when faced with defeat. But our modern day revolutionaries craven conduct when captured by the forces during their failed insurrection in the late 1980s shows that they are of a different mould.

There is no doubt that a party like the JVP could only thrive in a country like Sri Lanka. It needs that sad combination of ignorance, narrowness and fatalism that we provide. It is a creation of our infantilism.