Frontline socialists or Sinhala nationalists?

FLSP is little different from JVP on NQ


Kumar David

You could have knocked me down with a feather! The Front Line Socialist Party (FLSP), the break away from the JVP, has come down hard, just like its predecessor, against devolution; just plain simple devolution. Devolution is simply decentralisation of power and administration to lower levels, to the people. Devolution means reducing centralisation in favour of the grassroots. I did not expected the FLSP to accept self-determination, but that it opposes common or garden devolution raises concerns whether there is theoretical depth in the movement on the national question (NQ).

Despite some grumbling from my comrades I had hoped the FLSP would overcome the two birth defects of the JVP – infantile adventurism and narrow Sinhala nationalism. I have never called the JVP chauvinist and I do not call the FSLP chauvinist. Their nationalism is of the passive type – unwillingness to stand up for the rights of minorities and inability to understand the minority mind because of their own cultural insularity. The active type of chauvinism that does positive harm to minorities is the domain of DS, SWRD, JR, the Rajapaksa siblings, and the formal chauvinists.

What motivates this piece is Premakuar Gunaratnam’s interview with Peter Boyle on website Links based in Australia. Gunaratnam, the FLSP leader who was abducted, allegedly tortured and deported by the government, has depressed my hopes that the FLSP could escape from narrow Sinhala nationalism and grasp the underlying principles of Lenin’s exploration of the NQ. I intend to write today from within the FLSP’s and JVP’s own avowed standpoint, a Marxist paradigm. I know these two parties follow these discussions with interest and this is one reason for writing this piece.

Not even devolution!

I will dissect the Gunaratnam interview piece by piece; here is the first quotation.

QUOTE: "Unlike the JVP, we in the FLSP believe that there is national oppression of the Tamil people and the Muslim people. But in the present circumstances in Sri Lanka, we do not believe accepting self-determination or devolution of power for the Tamil majority areas will help to solve the national question. On the contrary, it will worsen the situation. At the same time we believe that there is a national oppression against the minority communities". END QUOTE.

The minorities are oppressed but the way in which this can be mitigated, that is devolving power to enable them to manage their own affairs, is ruled out! Forget Marx, Lenin, Rosa and the whole blithering pantheon - this defies simple logic and commonsense. The chauvinist bandwagon does not tie itself up in such silly knots. The chauvinists are straightforward; they say there is no oppression, there is no national problem, what are the bloody Tamils snivelling about? - logically consistent, though politically dishonest. Neither do the Rajapaksas put their feet in their mouths so blithely; in their view they liberated the Tamils. Oppression! What oppression?

Gunaratnam versus Lenin

on socialism

Gunaratnam lays out his ideological perspective in the two quotations that follow:

QUOTE: "We believe a solution should be based on democracy and equality but it is not going to be a reality under the present neo-liberal capitalism. And also a solution should be able to unite the different national communities but not to divide them. Division of nationalities means division of oppressed classes. It doesn’t strengthen the class struggle but causes further weakening. We do not encourage the drawing of vertical national lines but work towards uniting proletarians of different national communities for the sake of advancing the class struggle". END QUOTE.

QUOTE: "We should practice a socialist program instead (of) a social-democratic program. In Sri Lanka there are (a) number of unfinished democratic revolutionary objectives, including the national question, which has to be accomplished under socialism. The FLSP believes that an effective and practical political program should be implemented to unite the working class and the peasants among different national communities". END QUOTE

At the outset I said my task was to deconstruct Gunaratnam’s thesis from the standpoint that the FLSP has adopted as its own paradigm, what it would in its own words call Marxism-Leninism. Then how do these assertions of Gunaratnam measure up against what his accredited guru Lenin says? Precisely the opposite! Gunaratnam wants the minorities to wait till the dawn of the golden age of socialism at which time all their tears will be washed away and all their misery resolved. Lenin took precisely the opposite view; he called for recognition of the right to self-determination of minority nations as an immediate demand for unifying working class struggles for liberation from capitalism, with the struggle of nations seeking emancipation from Great Russian chauvinism. What Lenin was referring to was the recognition of a right as basis for mutual respect between the revolutionary proletariat and minority nations; obviously he was not necessarily advocating secession but only recognising it as a right.

A national liberation movement of a minority nation was for Lenin, in the present epoch, inseparable from the socialist revolution. He went so far as to say minority nations would mobilise against Great Russian chauvinism under bourgeois leaders and this movement against Great Russian chauvinism, notwithstanding its bourgeois democratic character, was historically progressive and an ally of the proletarian revolution. Gunaratnam goes to the opposite side; even if a minority mobilises for national liberation within a "social democratic programme", an alliance must be rejected. The only explanation for such ridiculous Sinhala nationalism on the part of a "frontline socialist" is that he must have learnt his socialism from a certain Mr Wijeweera.

Replace Great Russian chauvinism by Sinhala chauvinism, replace Tsarist autocracy by the autocratic Rajapaksa state, and replace the bourgeois leaders of the minority nations in Russia by the traditional leaderships of the Tamil, Muslim and Upcountry Tamil communities, and you have a near exact replica of Lenin’s model. This, the FLSP and JVP style rote-learned Marxists, can’t fathom. Lenin sought an alliance of minority nations and the working class to make revolution; Gunaratnam wants the minorities to wait till after the revolution to find relief from their oppression. Lenin insisted that the demand for self-determination of minority nations against Tsarist autocracy was progressive; Gunaratnam declares the demand even for regional autonomy by Lanka’s minorities against the Sinhala-Budhist state (currently the Rajapaksa regime), to be an abhorrence. Gunaratnam and Lenin are polar opposites in their comprehension of the national question and their perspective of how to strengthen the revolutionary alliance between classes and nations. The same goes for the JVP.

I am willing to allow the JVP and the FLSP to dissent on self-determination if they do so on the grounds that the Ceylon Tamils do not constitute a nation with the attributes laid down in self-determination theory. My inclination is to disagree with this negative hypothesis, but it is a reasonable point for theoretical exploration, and I will take it up with these comrades in study classes. However the refusal to support devolution and grassroots self-administration by the Tamils in their areas of domicile raises suspicion of a psychologically Sinhala nationalist mind set. They further muddy the waters with sham references to Indian gonibillas and neo-liberal monsters which only deepens the suspicion.

Indian goni billas and

neo-liberal monsters

QUOTE: "Devolution of power is a slogan imposed by India. We don’t want to divide the country into ethnic territories. We won’t oppose any form of democratic reform. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the government are pushing power devolution but we are going to explain to the Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala people that this is not a solution for the national question". END QUOTE.

QUOTE: "Imperialist powers, including India, preach and encourage so-called devolution of power and self-determination according to their political agenda in the region. But at the same time we oppose the unitary state concept, as it further widens the differences between different national communities. Both unitary and federal state structures represent the same neo-liberal capitalism at present". END QUOTE.

QUOTE: "Imperialist powers, including India, preach and encourage so-called devolution of power and self-determination according to their political agenda in the region. But at the same time we oppose the unitary state concept, as it further widens the differences between different national communities. Both unitary and federal state structures represent the same neo-liberal capitalism at present". END QUOTE

So it is the Indians not the Tamils of Jaffna, Vavuniya and Batticaloa who are asking for devolution and freedom to administer their own affairs? In what planet does Comrade Gunaratnam live – it must be somewhere much further than Australia, it must be Mars. And suppose it could be shown (he should take a trip or organise a referendum) that Tamils in the north and east of Lanka desire devolution, what then, will he change his tune? As for the third quotation I can’t make head or tail of it; he is against the unitary state, the federal state and what else? I am convinced the chap does not know what he is talking about. The JVP, of course, is known to worship at the altar of the unitary state.

A few comments about neo-liberalism and imperialism and I will wind up. Neo-liberalism is finished, it has collapsed in the West; Gunaratnam is shadow boxing against an imaginary enemy. Neo-liberal ideology has been bankrupted by history and vanquished by events – Fukuyama is the biggest joke in town. Gunaratnam is tilting at windmills as sate-capitalism creeps over the banking and financial sectors in the West. The command and control centres of Eurozone finance capital are the consultations of European state leaders, the European Central Bank and the European Council. The American recovery is faltering and come Obama-again or Romney, it does not matter - the future of the US economy will depend less and less on the "free" market. The New Depression has killed neo-liberalism as a global ideology, so what is Gunaratnam talking about? Yes, I agree the Rajapaksas have set out on a corrupt, nepotistic and pro-capitalist road that is doomed, but that’s another story.

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