The theme of this essay is the need for a multisided and flexible long-term approach that is free from narrow isms and prejudices in countering the threat to the rule of law, decency and democracy posed by the Rajapaksa Regime (RR). The essay distances itself from three categories of people, all good anti-RR folk, but I think tactically, strategically of psychologically a bit on the wrong track; the talk-&-write only verbal champions of democracy, the ultra-left radicals who proclaim that veedi satang (mass uprisings on the street) should be the exclusive focus, and thirdly the dispirited and pessimistic. I recognise allies and potential allies among all these folks in resisting autocracy; but I also believe that sharing views on strategy and attitude will be beneficial.
It is not that I do not subscribe to an ism; I do. People who do me the honour of glancing at my column know I am an unrepentant Marxist. However, the first two lessons this ism inculcates is: (i) an all sided viewpoint (what else is historical materialism?), and (ii) goal oriented flexibility in alliances, slogans and activities (what else in Leninism?). I know most anti-RR folk agree with this but the difficulty is in identifying and prioritising the types of activity – the concrete in practise – which it is most appropriate at each point in time. I will make two suggestions before when closing this piece. But I welcome refinements and alternatives with the condition that they be specific (not hot-air generalities like “revolutionary uprising of the proletariat” at one end, or vacuous hopes of “engaging with President and government” at the other), and they must be doable now.
“Hit the bugger on all sides”
I was rather a sickly kid in my first six years and my mother would take me (in a rickshaw) to the family doctor, Dr Sivapragasam, who had a clinic on Galle Road, Wellawatte, near about Vihara Lane, if I recall correctly. In those days I was an incubator of throat infections, colds, streptococci, coughs and bronchitis. Dear Dr S had one all-round Leninist strategy that worked like magic; “Hit the bugger on all sides”. Immediate gargling, rest and keeping warm, nourishment, cough mixture and analgesics; that was his multi-pronged offensive. In later life I supplemented this with a whisky-sour, hot water and a teaspoon of honey. No throat virus can withstand this combined onslaught.
Not all those committed to anti-RR work and who see themselves as revolutionaries, perceive the multi-dimensionality of the task. Even their intervention in debates and writings has a ring more rhetorical and declamatory than patient, persuasive and practical. Some do not grasp on-the-ground Leninism (despite verbal allegiance to the master) at all, or the indisputable urgency of intervention in all forums, not only veedi satang. For example, they scorn enlisting international pressure against Rajapaksa’s excesses; maybe they have not heard of Lenin’s transit through Germany to Petrograd in April 1917, in a sealed train with the compliments of the Kaiser and will be horrified to learn that he endorsed: “The organisation of a workers’ militia to be paid for by the capitalists as a measure of tremendous and decisive importance” (The Proletarian Militia; 1920).
Some purer-than-Marx revolutionaries stoutly object to taking cognisance of the bourgeoisie and the city elite, as though such association would deface their middle-class (sic!) proletarian purity. The on-the-ground reality is that RR is a threat to the upper classes since Klepto-Nepotistic Autocracy endangers their freedoms and despoils their economic ambitions. Yes, Marxists and the bourgeoisie cannot remain together in bed, in perpetuity, in the hope of begetting world socialism. But does this mean they should promptly cut each other’s throats instead of disembowelling the common enemy? It was the guru himself who called such Left-wing Communism an Infantile Disorder.
My point is not that everybody is equipped to work in all forums; each is better cut out for some tasks. I only ask that the broadness of the struggle be acknowledged and a cooperative state of mind be established. Frontline Socialists and the JVP will remain barren among Tamils till they get a rudimentary grip on the national question, but there is much they can achieve among the Sinhala petty-bourgeoisie; Friday Forum etc. had better steer clear of trade unions and the aforesaid petty-bourgeoisie and focus on expunging the short-sightedness of the international community; the Marx School is for training a future generation to replace the cranial vacuum in the Dead Left; the best thing the TNA can do is rebuild the self-confidence of the Tamil people; the UNP needs to get its underpants adjusted if it wants to be more than the butt end of perennial jesting. Sometimes march on your own, sometimes together, but always towards one shared objective – The Rajapaksas must go!
Rajapaksas on the run
I feel a new sense of self-confidence in recent months. I did say from August 2012 onwards that the slide in Rajapaksa fortunes had commenced but did not anticipate that the avalanche would be so rapid. The Chief Justice affair was Rajapaksa’s hara-kiri, self-immolation and self-inflicted evisceration. True, the siblings are shrewd, cunning and masters of undercutting, but even they are prone to fatal, yes fatal, mistakes. The damage they have done themselves is immeasurable. As the economy slips, if the Mohan Peries affair refuses to go away, if they lose the Commonwealth Heads Conference, if they get hammered in Geneva, if Delhi, notwithstanding Manmohan Singh’s legendary pusillanimity, tightens the screws, then this government will fall sooner than expected. OK this is a longish wish list and a best case scenario, but some of this will happen.
In the last few weeks RR has made one hell of a cock-up has it not? True, the ascent of the executive over a submissive judiciary is evidenced by the substance and style of the judgement on case against the pseudo-CJ; but it is unrealistic to expect obedient judges to sprout a spine in the absence of mass mobilisation. However, all this is having repercussions in Geneva and the Commonwealth. The revocation, ten days ago, of visas issued to the International Bar Association to visit Lanka for discussions with local counterparts is evidence enough that RR is in a funk and experiencing unplanned bowel movements.
The assertion that the international community (IC) has a vital role to play and can be decisive in preventing Mahinda Rajapaka from becoming another Bashar al-Assad is indisputable. True I have often expressed exasperation with the IC, but that’s in recognition of its potential.
One practical act is worth ten thousand words
The opposition must target activities that will have the most productive outcomes and are doable. Little drops of water, little grains of sand, assiduously undertaken make a mighty avalanche. In conversation as well as in web comments I often encounter the “What can we do” wail of impotency. How very wrong; if only one thinks about it, there is a great deal every one can do. Let me suggest just two leaving it to others to add to the list.
The regime’s glaring uses and abuses the state machine to execute its deranged, despotic designs is palpable. But most public servants, corporation employees, legal and judicial personnel, police and military are all ordinary decent folks like you and I. They must be fed-up with executing illegal instructions, lying to the media and functioning as RR’s coolies. Hence, friends, colleagues and acquaintances, mothers and wives, and brothers and sisters, must target public servants without respite in an unrelenting Jehovah’s Witnesses type campaign denouncing unlawful pressures.
No one wants good public servants to lose their jobs and leave the field to crooks; but remember, right understanding is the forerunner to right action. The time will come when the good will face choices. What the political opposition is obliged to do is to instil an appreciation of good governance and an understanding of the moral obligation to oppose unlawful actions of government. Raising the consciousness of public servants and the services is a foundation and a priority. I can say no more in print or web; readers must fill in the blanks.
My second suggestion is more important. Unremitting work is needed in the Sinhala reading and speaking classes who do not access the wide range of current affairs material available in the English web and print media. The Sinhala media moguls treat their dayakayas like mushrooms: ‘Keep ‘em in the dark and feed ‘em shit!’ I am aware of a few efforts to fight back already in hand; a scheme has been initiated where 20 to 30 pieces a month currently unavailable to Sinhala readers are translated and circulated by e-mail on a big list; Ravaya embodies bold and independent journalism; and of course the JVP is out on a audacious campaign. Still not enough; the laggard is the UNP. Professional groups like lawyers and FUTA, and NGOs like CPA, though making a commendable contribution, are not equipped to penetrate the Sinhala community en mass. If the joint opposition can together develop a programme to address this deficiency, that would be great.
Time to sign-off; I need to engage in a few small practical acts; remember each is worth 10,000 words!