The New-JVP and the ex-LTTE

Important new trends in left politics


Kumar David

It is clear that the New-JVP (or People’s Struggle Movement, or We Are Sri Lankans – it seems not yet to have settled on a definitive name) is building connections in the Tamil areas, especially Jaffna, and recruiting ex-LTTE cadres. If this is true, and if these efforts are succeeding, then this is the best political news I have heard in a long time. At last a left with sizable involvement of both Sinhalese and Tamil young people is emerging. We have not seen anything like this since the left’s golden age in the late 1940s and the 1950s. However, my optimism is tempered by caution because I expected much from the New-JVP when it surfaced last October, but have been disappointed. Nothing of much significance has yet seen the light of day so I hope this new initiative of multi-ethnic party building will be a fruitful breakthrough.

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya has added to my joy by declaring that radical youth in the south and the north are joining hands. Bus loads of New-JVPers travelling from the south to Jaffna for a protest rally against abductions have been harassed by the police and military at every point. When an authoritarian state gets jittery, it betokens good news for the people. Forget the slander that terrorism is raising its head; that’s what the state always says when it is readying to unleash repression. "Terrorism" is a well known code word for admitting that progressive, people based movements, are gaining ground.

I hope the Defence Secretary’s information that Sinhalese and Tamil radicals are joining together is correct. I hope he is not lulling ageing Marxists into false complacency, tempting us to retire, hang up our boots, put up our feet, relax and enjoy a beer with a cigar. I do hope the long overdue next (No, next after next; our retirement is long overdue) generation has arrived.

The New-JVP statement

It was especially gratifying that New-JVP spokesman Udul Premaratne told it straight up front, just as it should be said:

"We must make it clear that former LTTE members are now with us. We should not be afraid to say it. We should announce it to the world come what may. We do not approve of separatist terrorism. We do not do politics with any separatist organisation. Yet we are with the ex-combatants". (Daily Mirror, 13 January)

I have not heard such refreshing candour in left politics for a long time. Tissa, DEW, Vasu? Yak! Ugh!

There are a couple of points apart from candour in this statement that need comment. First, I interpret the rejection of separatist terrorism as not confined to this form of terrorism alone but a rejection of all terrorism; if so, excellent. If the New-JVP and its Tamil recruits do not eschew violence, and do not make their programmes explicit, the people will be justifiably troubled by fear of a return to bad old habits.

Second, the comment rejecting separatism. Obviously any party that does not accept separatism, or the right to self-determination for national minorities, has a right to declare its position. But that’s incomplete, it must develop and publicise its programme on the national question in full and explicitly. The national question has been the central issue in Lankan politics for six decades; can any party, left, right or centre, afford to duck the issue and not have a clear and comprehensive agenda on the matter?

Yes, yes comrade, we known about the primacy of the class struggle, we understand the need to move beyond the capitalist state, etc, etc. But the national question cannot be swept under this carpet; it cannot blithely be subsumed under the rubric of the class struggle which is expected to solve all and every problem one day. Leftists who don’t get the point I am driving at should go read their Lenin again.

But I do not wish to be unduly harsh on a new party, let’s give it time to develop its programme; but not too much time. Actually the most productive way to do this would be when a substantial number of Tamil comrades, ex-LTTE or otherwise, have entered the New-JVP, and the programme on the national question is a product of a thoroughgoing discourse of this enlarged multi-ethnic cadre base.


The fate of Lalith Kumar Weeraraju and Kugan Muruganathan is a taste of things to come as the struggle opposing the repressive state builds up. They were abducted in Jaffna on 9 December 2011 and have not been heard of since. Your guess is as good as mine; that is we and everybody else knows that it is the forces of the state, or the paramilitaries who are behind these abductions, as also other abductions in the North, which are increasing like a cancer in recent months. The greater concern however is that even if the worst has not yet happened, how can the abductors release them now? They will spill the beans and identities will be revealed. This is not like an underworld kidnapping; this is the dilemma of all political abductors; they have no choice but to end up as murderers! The liberal bourgeois class is campaigning, quite rightly, about the impunity with which Lasantha Wickrematunge was slaughtered and the continuing cover-up. Is it not time for liberals to also wake up to what is going on right under its nose and raise international and local concern about current human rights violations in the Tamil North? To quote Premaratne one more time:-

"There have been many abductions and murders that have taken place in the North amidst the massive presence of security forces," he said adding that these incidents could take place only with the connivance of the military. He called on the government to respond by asking if the Mahinda Rajapaksa government or the military controlled the North. "If the government controlled the North, then it needs to inquire into the disappearances of the two members and tell the people the truth, if not, the government needs to admit to the people that it is a military rule that is controlling the North". (Sunday Leader, 15 January).

Somewhat unexpectedly the government is coming simultaneously under pressure on several fronts. The next two or three weeks may witness heightened trade union action on wage demands; if the government retreats it will scuttle its compact with the IMF, if not confrontation may be unavoidable. The imbroglio created by the A-Level fiasco will worsen as the university admission date approaches and the government may be driven to irrational decisions in an effort to thwart the influence of the New-JVP in the Inter University Student’s Federation. The TNA is refusing to play dead, the SLFP’s internal turmoil is worsening thanks to Duminda, brain-dead or not, and Mervyn, clearly brain deranged. On the bright side the economy was slowly picking up, but recent news (rupee exchange rate, interest rates, trade deficit, FDI, in fact many indices except tourism) is less encouraging.

Of course the sky is not going to fall in next week but governments which are accustomed to using military power rather than democratic discourse and with a penchant for political thuggery could quickly turn ugly, especially when facing determined opponents. I see the New-JVP as a determined opponent, in fact the most serious opponent of the Rajapaksa regime at the present time. The New-JVP is certainly threatened with serious repression and I am not sure whether it has prepared itself to face this. The strategy of the state, obviously, would be to crush it and nip it in the bud before it accumulates extensive support.

I hope the New-JVP has the theoretical understanding and organisational maturity not to respond with adventurism like its 1971 and 1989 avatars did. The sure guarantee of good sense is if it forms united fronts with other left and democratic organisations and eschews isolation. One of the reasons that the 1971 and 1989 JVPs ended up in idiotic blind alleys was secrecy and isolation. Although joining some common forums, it is not participating in a sufficient number or sufficiently actively. In any case the New-JVP has no foothold in the trade union and working class movements; therefore it has no option but to participate in united front involvements in this sector.

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