Tuesday, July 12, 2022

In support of People's Struggle in Sri Lanka against Anti-People Government.

Long Live Sri Lankan People's Struggle against Anti-People Government!
Long Live Our Solidarity against Oppression, Exploitation and Imperialism!!

The neighbouring island country has been facing a mass upheaval which has brought a sea of people onto the streets and created a legitimacy crisis for the ruling power. The background of this unprecedented situation in Sri Lanka is a severe economic crisis that has been brewing and maturing since at least a decade. As per estimates, the country has defaulted on sovereign debt, and everywhere there is an acute shortage of staple items. The country needs large amounts of foreign currency for it to import staple items such as food grains, cooking gas, other edibles, petroleum, etc. in order to keep the economy running. As of now, the country faces a multitude of economic problems, such as the massive build-up of external debt; the huge concessions given to the capitalists and middle-classes which have increased the fiscal deficit; massive borrowing from capital markets; and the huge decline in foreign exchange earnings because of a badly-hit tourism sector among other factors. Further, the ill-considered decision of the government to cut down on the use of chemical fertilizers to save foreign exchange without actually providing any remedial support to the farmers has in turn hit farmers’ incomes and the food grain output.
The build-up of problems has been such that massive protests have arisen on the streets of the major cities, especially the capital and largest city, Colombo. The protesters have established a permanent protest camp at the Galle Face Greene park; now popularly being referred to as GotaGoGama. It is noteworthy that this park is located right opposite to the President’s Secretariat, symbolizing the powerful movement of the people right next to the seat of power. The assembled people have been joined by workers’ delegates from hundreds of trade unions, and a general strike has been reported for the first time in four decades. It shows that the people do not just want to play the game of musical chairs, i.e., watching to see which political grouping occupies the seat of power, but rather they want more concrete change. In fact, the popular mood is such that the government has had to steadily backtrack from its initial stance of ignoring and then repressing the movement. The President and the Prime Minister’s residences have been occupied, and the regime has been completely discredited as huge wads of currency notes have been unearthed at the President’s residence, even as the general working population faces acute financial woes.

The protesters are inviting people to visit the Presidential Residence to observe the luxuries enjoyed by the President amidst widespread misery. The Gordon Gardens within the Presidential Residence has become a picnic spot for families. Protesters have organised volunteer troops to handle the large number of visitors to the now publicly-occupied Presidential Residence. It shows the resilience of common people to undertake those activities which authoritarian states use as the legitimate reason for their existence.

It is ironic that the island country which was since a few decades being termed an economic miracle, has completely collapsed. The irony lies in the nature of the political system which has served to completely subjugate the interests of a vast majority of labouring people of the country. It should be noted that the ruling parties, riding on the wave of jingoism, majoritarianism and anti-minority sentiments, have been capturing power for many decades. The ruling parties are basically cliques of landed and capitalist powers. In order to hold onto power, the now dominant Sinhala-majoritarianism was unleashed in the 1970s by the ruling parties. This political development was followed by enactment of anti-people economic measures. The government in 1977, for example, dramatically reduced or abolished price controls, tariffs and other regulations, and invited foreign capital to invest in the economy. As a result, foreign debt increased massively. The people’s movements against these policies were crushed. The trade unions were curbed, and the working masses were actively divided on ethnic, linguistic and religious lines. Generous tax holidays were granted to domestic and international companies, and tariff-free imports of inputs characterised the emerging economic scene. This led to increasing reliance on foreign debt, laying the basis for the current economic crisis. 

The crisis which has been brewing since the 2000s has been accompanied by the regime using majoritarian sentiments on the one hand, and resorting to repressive measures on the other. The current ruling family, the Rajapaksas, came into power in the early 2000s, and completely crushed the Tamil liberation movement by launching a civil war. This proved to buoy up the then President, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s popularity, while weakening solidarity among the labouring masses. However, on the economic front, the foreign debt continued to rise, with higher interest rates being imposed and shorter return period of loans. Despite growing debt, the government continued with its pro-rich policies such as continuing to grant tax concessions to the rich – ostensibly for attracting investment – while the working masses faced shortages of staple items. The expenditure on the army is also staggering, with 12.3% of the entire budget being allocated for the military in 2022, even as the working masses face severe shortage of almost everything. 

Since 2010 Sri Lankan government Debt-to-GDP ratio gradually increased. Source: Central Bank of Sri Lanka, 2021.

Thus, this unprecedented crisis has created a crisis of legitimacy for the ruling elites now. Protests have erupted not just against certain individuals, but against the system itself. The earlier policies of the ruling parties to divide people have received a jolt in recent months, and the hitherto curbed popular forces have found a new awakening. As per reports, at GotaGoGama, Sinhalese and Tamils have reportedly celebrated the Sri Lankan New Year together. In order to curb the people’s movement, the state has tried to criminally intimidate people and has used violence to arrest, kill or scare them away. However, these terror-tactics are proving unsuccessful, and with every act of violence, the people have organized brutal reprisals on the state machinery by burning, occupying or ransacking politicians’ homes and offices. Also, the state-sponsored rumours to stoke communal dissension among the masses have been repudiated by the people themselves. They have done live-streaming from different locations across the country to falsify the rumour being spread by the state apparatus, and to show communal harmony among different communities. Various religious groups have collectively observed breaking of fasts during Ramadan, thereby showing solidarity among the working people. It has also been noted that in the south, people have turned out for the very first time to mourn the Tamils killed in the civil war. This solidarity, even amidst attempts to stoke communal divisions is laudable, and forms the basis for the success of the present movement.

The main demands of the protesters have been to demand the resignation of the President and the Prime Minister. The various other demands which propelled the current political crisis have largely remained inchoate, or, have been deliberately pushed out of the mainstream, such as the concrete demands related to the living and working conditions of the labouring masses. In such a situation, and especially when a sweeping change in the system is required, there are of course sly politicians waiting in the wings, who despite being present for substantial periods of time in the politics of the country, have till now remained complacent and are now opportunistically riding on the wave of popular sentiment. An apt example is the former President, Maithripala Sirisena. With the growing demand for the ouster of the government, he has also voiced his opinion that the present government should not continue. However, one needs to only see his dubious credentials as the person to appoint both the incumbent and the former Prime Ministers, to realise that the clique of opposition and the ruling parties are ideologically bankrupt. Both opposition and ruling parties wish to simply continue with the current corrupt system which has betrayed the labouring masses of the country. This would only prove absolutely antithetical to the popular aspirations against the current system in Sri Lanka.

Even as the protesters continue to occupy the premises of the President’s and the Prime Minister’s residences, the ruling elites representing the dominant economic classes, both domestic and international, have begun to muster forces. The President, though unable to govern, is defiant and is keen on continuing in power, even as he vainly offers to resign. Despite widespread misery, the ruling elites are keen on continuing as before, with or without the present government. Thus, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been contacted, and there is likely to be a deal between the imperialist agency and the crisis-torn country. The IMF is infamous for offering assistance funds armed with various austerity measures which would only impoverish the masses while enriching the domestic and international capitalists.

The need of the hour is to not just oust the present government, but to strengthen the powerful people’s movement further. There is a need for a change in the politico-economic system of the country, not just a change of rulers and ruling parties. Whether executive presidency or parliamentary power, the need is to go beyond both. In this regard, the popular mood has already moved, and a new social consciousness has taken birth. There have been calls for the abolition of executive presidency which gives the President enormous sweeping powers. In the past decades, such powers have been used to crush the labouring people’s movements, persecute the ethno-religious minorities, bolster jingoism, and deprive the masses of their democratic rights. However, the death knell of such powers and such systems has sounded. The people’s movement holds sway, and their aspirations can only be fulfilled with the complete change in the system.

The economy should not be run for the few capitalists, both domestic and foreign. Sri Lanka has vast plantations and tea companies wherein a large section of labouring population works. These, along with the large industrial enterprises, should be nationalised, and the vast wealth and profits of these should be used to purchase essential imports. Moreover, all the essential items should be distributed through Public Distribution System (PDS), education and healthcare should be managed by people’s committees, and should be completely publicly-funded. Also, for all other small economic activities, cooperatives should be formed and promoted.

The present moment in Sri Lanka is important as the people have occupied the centre stage of history. Now that the people have taken the centre stage, the ritual of voicing one’s opinion only once in every five years should be ended. The people’s movement must not retreat with a change in the government and vest power yet again in the 225 members of parliament, thereby giving back authority to them. The history calls upon them to go beyond the present, evolve a new system and institutionalize direct power of the people by establishing people’s assemblies across Sri Lanka. The people’s assemblies in the cities, towns and villages should be empowered to decide upon the most pressing issues in the country. Moreover, their power should be supreme, and the parliament should only be a representative body to manage the affairs of the country. The people’s assemblies should have the powers to summon and suspend their representatives in Parliament. Also, they should have the power to make or repeal laws by the criterion of a majority of assemblies in the country deciding to do so.

The loans by IMF and other international lenders which are aimed to hold the country to ransom should be repudiated. IMF, it should be noted, is not making a deal with the ruling elites to rescue the country. Instead, it seeks to arrest people’s aspirations so that they do not destroy the present politico-economic system.

The people in the present conjuncture have shown their collective power, which has shattered the hold of dominant economic classes over the state machinery, and has sent shock waves among the elites of different hues. The people should not withdraw after the present government is toppled, but should effectively evolve ways to empower themselves. It is imperative that the movement does not simply aim to change the government but that it brings about a fundamental change in the system itself. In this regard, it is noteworthy that the people have not just demanded that the President and the Prime Minister should resign, but have demanded the resignation of all the Parliament members, including the members of the current opposition parties which are making all-out attempts to somehow stitch an All-Party alliance to form a government or re-elect a new President to save the system. Importantly, all such overtures are proving futile. Even the appeals by the embattled Prime Minister to the protesting youth to nominate delegates to sit in Parliamentary Committees have been outrightly rejected.

This also shows latent distrust for current political and economic systems in Sri Lanka, and symbolizes a radicalised people’s movement at the verge of bringing about revolutionary transformation. It has to be seen whether the conscious advance forces within the movement manage to catapult this unprecedented crisis and mass upheaval towards revolutionary transformation. 

What is happening in Sri Lanka also represents the aspirations of the masses across the world. Not surprisingly then, the mainstream media has effectively blacked out the developments in Sri Lanka at the behest of ruling elites and dominant economic classes in various countries across the world. However, the struggle in Sri Lanka is being actively followed by the struggling progressive forces across the world in order to assess whether the potential trajectory of the struggle would be that of a fleeting rebellion or it would culminate into a historic revolution. The movement is at a crossroads, and it is the historic task of advanced conscious forces to give a tangible and concrete form to the latent yet palpable anti-systemic tendencies in the present movement. The unfolding developments would also affect the people’s movements across the world, given that similar economic crises and widespread precarity are also prevailing in all countries.

The moment beckons the toiling masses of all countries to extend their solidarity to the Sri Lankan people, and pressurize their respective governments to support the demands of the Sri Lankan people that any change in the prevailing setup must be made with the active participation of all people. One way to extend solidarity to the present movement in Sri Lanka is to build movements in one’s own country. The gathering momentum of such movements would ensure the actualisation and institutionalisation of people’s power in the political and economic systems across the world.

The People United Shall Always be Victorious!

Victory to the Sri Lankan People’s Movement!!

- Released by Krantikari Yuva Sangathan (KYS)