Revolution or evolution?


New govt. being formed on Jan. 09, 2015

From the word go astute political analyst Izeth Hussain characterized the political change that occurred in our country on the 8th of January 2015 as "a revolution". To mark the first anniversary of the January 8th change, the Presidential Secretariat has produced an ostensibly scholarly publication titled One Nation Great Power. Some 25 political heavyweights have pondered over the nature of the momentous change. Besides several key professional politicians, the assessors of the nature of the change include political activists like Sarath Wijesuriya, Jayadeva Uyangoda, Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri, Jayampathy Wickramaratna, Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Imitiaz Bakeer Marker, Gamini Viyangoda, Mahim Mendis, Rohan Edirisinghe, Ravi Jayawardena and Nimalka Fernando.

Near Unanimity

Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe portrays the change as "a revolutionary victory". Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka unambiguously calls the change "a revolution". Prof. Sarath Wijesuriya’s judgment is that on January 8th, "the law-abiding citizens of Sri Lanka executed a silent revolution." Prof. Jayadeva Uyangoda opines that "the replacement of an authoritarian government by electoral means … without bloodshed [makes] Sri Lanka a real wonder of the modern world". Imitiaz Bakeer Marker, quoting Leon Trotsky, identifies what happened in Sri Lanka on January 8, 2015, as "a revolution." Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri’s historical judgment is that the change which took place on 8th January 2015, was "a revolution with low intensity". Among the 25 contributors to the celebratory volume only two are women: Ms. Deshabandu Jezima Ismail and Ms. Nimalka Fernando. Their enthusiastic celebration of the January 8th political change boarders on the ecstatic. However, Nimalka studiously avoids the term "revolution" to denote the change; but Jezima echoes Dinesh Weerakkody’s description of the change as the "Great November Revolution". Without exception, the five Muslim contributors to the volume concur with Izeth Hussain’s original characterization of the change as "a revolution". What the two Tamil contributors -- the redoubtable public intellectual Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu and the brilliant academic mathematician Rajan Hoole -- write about the January 8th change is circumspect, politic and sagacious. Dr. Paikiasothy somehow eschews the use of the word "revolution". If I am any judge, Rajan Hoole has written the most erudite, closely-reasoned, thought-provoking and constructive piece in the volume. He soberly declares that "what transpired on 8th January was an opportunity for change, NOT A REVOLUTION". (emphasis added)

Martin Wickramasinghe

In my quest to understand the nature of the political change that occurred on January 8th , I turned to my encyclopedic friend Martin Wickramasinghe (1890-1976) who was my mentor on non-medical matters. In 1971 (the year of the JVP’s first infantile revolution) he published a little book called "Revolution and Evolution". The book opens with the sentence: "Revolution is also an aspect of Evolution". It seems to me that in this judgment MW has put an unerring figure on the essence of the matter in question. Scholars who have looked intently at revolutions that occurred in the past have uncovered foundations that had been at work for decades before the cataclysmic event identified as a revolution actually took place.


In a Pelican book titled Evolution and Revolution by W.F. Wertheim published in 1974, the author says that in order to understand the phenomenon of revolution we must ask ourselves what the state of society was when there was no revolution. Was it absolutely stable or was it changing gradually all the time? Since everything in nature is in a state of flux and "nothing is permanent except impermanence" all societies are changing all the time.

All societies therefore are evolving and when a big change (a change of state) occurs at some point as the cumulative effect of small changes, we use the sanguinary word "revolution" to denote the cataclysmic event. It is something like water at sea level becoming hotter and hotter when heat is applied, until at 100ºC, it boils and becomes steam i.e. changes from the liquid state to the gaseous state. In this context, MW’s assertion that revolution is also an aspect of evolution makes good sense.

Final Assessment

Concerning the ensemble of manifest differences that occurred consequent upon the political change of January 8th, Izeth Hussain enumerates changes in democracy, ethnic relations, consensual government and national unity. (The Island October 1st , 2015) He argues that these collectively constitute a revolution. I remember how in 1956 when Dr. N.M. Perera addressed the Socialist Society of the Colombo Medical Faculty, I asked him what a revolution is. His answer was that a revolution is a transfer of political power from one class to another. In Sri Lanka on the 8th of January 2015, presidential power was transferred from the President of the SLFP to the Secretary of the SLFP. This change certainly does not fulfil Dr. N.M. Perera’s definition of a revolution who believed, moreover, that presidential power is an evil that should be wholly abolished from our country! Alone among the contributors to One Nation Great Power Dr. Rajan Hoole explicitly disagrees with the rest about the revolutionary nature of the January 8th change. Oscar Wilde once said that "whenever people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong". Conversely when people disagreed with him he must have felt that he was right. By this test, arguably, because the rest of the contributors disagree with Dr. Rajan Hoole he must be right. As to the impact of the January 8th "revolution" on our future, what comes to my mind is a quip attributed to Zhou Enlai (1898 – 1976) the famous Prime Minister of Revolutionary China. In the early 1970’s, in reply to a notoriously mistranslated and therefore misunderstood question about the impact of the French Revolution he said "Too early to say".

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