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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Sri Lanka: A critique to NPP/JVP economic plan – Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

It is an absurd fiction of right wing economists ignorant of economic history and the history of ideas –including, obviously, Marxism—that parties with a Marxist, Marxist-Leninist or Communist formation (which includes a grounding in Marxist political economy) cannot create a prosperous economy. The Communist Party of China and the Communist Party of Vietnam are Marxist (as was Deng Xiaoping). The elected Communist coalition that runs Kerala, the state with the highest human development indicators on the subcontinent, is also Marxist.

The JVP-JJB is nowhere close to being a mature Marxist or Communist party. Nor is it a social democratic, progressive-populist formation such as that of Brazil’s Lula da Silva or Mexico’s Lopez Obrador. It is neither Asian Communist nor Latin American Leftist.

If the diagnosis is wrong the prescription cannot be right. The JVP-JJB’s diagnosis of the crisis is wrong. Its prescription is therefore wrong. If the JVP-JJB assumes office, we shall not have a 21st century social-democratic mixed economy (which we need), but a mixed-up economy born of mixed-up thinking.

Here is the conceptual core of the JJB (NPP’s) manifesto:

“Introduced in 1977, the Open Economic Policy has been destructive through its prioritization of personal gain over social responsibility. A clear indicator of the culture of greed this economic system has bred is how a select group of people benefits, and profit from fraudulent and corrupt business practices even in the face of the pandemic. This culture of greed and the destructive economic thinking that shapes it has also created a system of political power centred in the hands of a few…

This economic policy laid the foundation for the severe economic crisis that we face today. Instead of prioritizing and strengthening production, the key features of this policy are the unnecessary expansion of financialization, austerity measures subsidy cuts, creating market monopolies, inefficient and excessive borrowing, and sale of public property and state-owned enterprises to a small coterie of favoured individuals and companies. This policy, which gradually evolved, is called neoliberalism. Its operation, alongside globalization, allowed the domination of financialization and created an artificial financial market that created economic bubbles, deviated from commodity production…”

(‘A Thriving Economy Instead of a Dependent Economy’, Rapid Response to Overcome Current Challenges, Jathika Jana Balavegaya/NPP, pp 4-6. NPP Booklet English)

While denouncing “successive governments that have ruled Sri Lanka in the last few decades” the JJB fails to condemn the economic policies of “successive governments that have ruled Sri Lanka” BEFORE the “last few decades”, such as those which generated the 1947 General Strike, the Hartal of 1953 and the General Strike of 1976-’77.

Sri Lanka’s 1977 model open economy certainly needed re-balancing and rectification, which is what President Premadasa did with his ‘growth with equity’ strategy, fusing multi-pronged social upliftment programs with decentralised rapid industrialisation program. The latter was exactly the “commodity production” that the JJB manifesto erroneously claims the country deviated from since the 1977 open economy. Premadasa’s industrialisation drive has been upheld as exactly what Sri Lanka needs today by Prof. Howard Nicholas who lectures in Vietnam and whose mastery of Marx’s economic theory dwarfs that of the JVP leadership and its JJB (NPP) academic and intellectual front.

Rohana Wijeweera and I became deadly foes but he was way better-read and brainier than the current JVP-JJB. His analysis of the crisis of Sri Lanka’s economy spoke to historico-structural causes. He emphasised that Sri Lankan capitalism did not evolve of its own internal dynamics from feudalism but was superimposed by colonial coercion. The plantation-dominated colonial capitalist formation had family clans as nodes. This was the root of backwardness and crisis.

By contrast, the crude analysis of the JJB led by JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake begins with 1977:

“Introduced in 1977, the Open Economic Policy has been destructive through its prioritization of personal gain over social responsibility.”

The JJB’s logic implies that:

(a) The economic policy that prevailed before the 1977 open economy was better by comparison and was so to such an extent that no critical mention of it is necessary.

(b) The logic of the economic policy that preceded the open economy of 1977 was NOT the “prioritization of personal gain over social responsibility.”

 

Given the JVP-JJB’s damning of the 1977 open economy and preference for the pre-open economy/non-open economy, in contradistinction to a re-balanced open economy as practiced by the Latin American Left, will Sri Lanka not slide back to the closed economy of 1970-1977 or worse, if the JVP-JJB governs?

Capitalism as a system is marked precisely by “the prioritisation of personal gain over social responsibility”. Therefore, one can only conclude that for the JVP-JJB, the pre-1977, pre-open economy period from 1948 was a non-capitalist economy of some sort. This is silly.

“A clear indicator of the culture of greed this economic system has bred is how a select group of people benefits, and profit from fraudulent and corrupt business practices even in the face of the pandemic.” (Ibid)

For the JJB, the 1977 open economy is not a policy regime or model but an “economic system” –as capitalism and socialism are—which it is not.

Why does the JVP-JJB think that the people electorally decimated the managers of the economic model that preceded the 1977 open economy, wiping out the LSSP and never returning Sirimavo Bandaranaike as the leader of the country?

Why did the electorate keep out the SLFP for 17 years until Chandrika came along and credibly convinced the electorate of her conversion to the 1977 open economy, albeit with ‘a human face’?

Why did the people keep successive UNP administrations practicing the open economy, in office for 17 years?

Could it possibly be because in 1970-1977 there was semi-starvation and people were rooting in dustbins, picking out papaya skins to eat? How can the JVP-JJB be unaware or uncritical?

What had Gotabaya’s ruinous fertiliser ban to do with the open economy of 1977? Was it not exactly the opposite, a reversion to the Sirimavo-NM closed economy of pre-1977 which the JVP-JJB refuses to remark on critically?

For the JVP-JJB, the ‘open economy’ is synonymous with ‘neoliberalism’, which of course it is not.

“…This policy, which gradually evolved, is called neoliberalism. Its operation, alongside globalization…” (Ibid).

A literate Marxist party would not conflate the ‘open economy’, ‘globalisation’ and ‘neoliberalism’. China’s and Vietnam’s economies, as well as those of East Asia in general are open economies, but hardly fit the description of neoliberalism in which the state plays a minimalist role.

For Anura Kumara Dissanayake, the ‘open economy’ a.k.a ‘neoliberalism’ operates ‘alongside globalisation’. Marx and Engels were the first to recognise capitalism as a truly global and globalising economic system. The Communist Manifesto (1848) is the best description and tribute to the globalisation that is inherent in capitalism. It was not the ‘globalisation’ aspect of capitalism that Marx and Engels critiqued, combatted and sought to overthrow. Globalisation is a process that is centuries old. Neoliberalism is a policy has been in operation only for a few decades.

The problem for any Marxist, rational radical or lucid leftist is not ‘globalisation’ as such—which has President Xi as a determined champion—but a specific mode of globalisation, i.e., unipolar and neoliberal globalization.

The conceptual blunders of the JJB’s policy document cannot be written-off as those of the JJB rather than the JVP leadership. AKD leads both the JVP and the JJB (which he founded). The JVP’s brightest ‘theoretician’ Bimal Ratnayake tells our sister paper:

“…Social market economic theory is nothing but propaganda carried out by the German Social Democratic Party at that time. It was an invention to implement capitalism under the garb of socialist policies…”

That’s ignorant nonsense. The ‘social market economy’ was NOT ‘propaganda carried out’ by the German Social Democratic Party (SDP) but precisely by its centre-right rival, the ruling Christian Democratic Party (CDU) and its leader Konrad Adenauer. The anti-socialist CDU wasn’t interested in hiding the implementation of capitalism which it proudly championed, ‘under the garb of socialist policies’.

The root of the JVP-JJB’s problem is ignorance, starting at the top. As Karl Marx exclaimed, slamming the table with his palm while responding to the communist and tailor Joseph Weitling at a meeting of the First International, “ignorance has never helped anyone yet!”

Given the JVP-JJB’s damning of the 1977 open economy and preference for the pre-open economy/non-open economy, in contradistinction to a re-balanced open economy as practiced by the Latin American Left, will Sri Lanka not slide back to the closed economy of 1970-1977 or worse, if the JVP-JJB governs?

When that happens, the JJB may govern but the JVP will rule. It will be the JVP’s Politbureau/Central Committee machine (‘apparat’) with its tightly integrated collective leadership core, doctrinal blinkers, opaque selection and closed-door decision-making, that calls the shots, marginalising the JJB front organisation with its fellow-travellers and incrementally installing totalitarian control in place of an open economy and an open society.

From “Sri Lanka at 75, Ranil’s ‘full implementation’ and JVP-JJB’s dangerous diagnostics” published in Daily  FT

 

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