Friday, August 29, 2014

What is ‘left’ of the left movement

Recently, several ‘left wing’ members of parliament held a meeting to explore the possibility of forming a common front against Bodu Bala Sena and its General Secretary, the firebrand monk Galagodaatte Gnanasara Thera. While this may have been seen as an attempt to control the activities of the movement, it also emphasizes the level of bankruptcy the left movement had fallen to.

(L-R) DEW Gunasekera (Communist Party), Vasideva Nanayakkara (Left Democratic Front) and Prof. Tissa Vitharana (LSSP) Pic from
Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, had one of the strongest Trotskyist movements in the world. The Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) was stronger than the Communist Party (CP) of Ceylon. Those days, the LSSP and the CP of Ceylon fought with many adversaries, among them the Empire of Britain. The workers’ movements in the city of Colombo and in the estates were extremely powerful and militant and at times clashed with the imperial might without any hesitation. In instances like the Bracegirdle Incident, the leftwing movement of Ceylon put His Majesty’s Government in serious trouble and embarrassment.

After independence, the LSSP was the strongest opposition party in the country. Dr. NM Perera was the Leader of the Opposition until 1952, when the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) came to electoral politics. Even then the LSSP leader was again the Leader of Opposition from 1956, when the United National Party (UNP) was reduced to eight seats.

If Trotsky had lived to see the end of 1940s, he would have been proud of the achievements of the LSSP in Ceylon. Trotskyism never got into the mainstream of the Communist Movement around the world. It was shunned by both Moscow and Beijing and remained an outcast. But Trotskyism in Ceylon was a different story.

Meanwhile, despite the ideological subjugation to the Kremlin, even the CP of Ceylon made a strong impact on local politics. Despite the serious ideological differences between the left movements, they created a political discourse which was unmatched. For example, the CP of Ceylon (later CP of Sri Lanka) political newspaper “Aththa” (The truth), is remembered for its impact of the local political discourse, despite slavishly adapting the name of the Soviet Communist Party paper, Pravda.

From this state, the left movement has fallen to such a level that they have to explore the possibility of forming a common front against an upstart Buddhist monk. The left which once openly defied the monarch who ruled the largest empire in the world has today been reduced to a bunch of people who “explore their possibilities.”

The main reason for their downfall was losing their identity. The formation of the SLFP was a crucial blow to the left movement of LSSP and the CP of Ceylon. The SLFP could claim that it was an inherently Sri Lankan socialist party, as against the LSSP and CP of Ceylon, who followed a foreign ideology. The left movement found it hard to erase the anti-religious label that had been put on them.

Perhaps knowing that they could never achieve power alone, the LSSP and the CP of Ceylon came to a united front with the main opposition to the UNP, which was the SLFP. This United Front won the 1970 General Election. But in supporting the SLFP, the left movement lost its identity and also strengthened the bourgeoisie of the country in a different way.

Later in their history, they would join forces again with the SLFP in 1993. This new party that was formed, the People’s Alliance, defeated the 17 year long UNP regime 20 years ago in August 1994. By that time, the left was an “old left”, or “traditional left.”

The “compromise” by the left parties with the SLFP gave the chance to new political forces to hijack the “revolutionary politics” of the country. Their alliance with the SLFP made possible for new revolutionary groups to fill the vacuum created, most notably the JVP. The consequences were terrible. Meanwhile their stance on language issue cost them the Tamil people’s support. This removed a moderating force from the politics in the north, only to be exploited by groups like the LTTE. Young people abandoned the traditional, compromised left and joined the radical groups by their thousands.

In the long run, the compromise of the left helped create immense destruction and also destroyed those movements as well. It has come to a point where some of the old guard is exploring their political survival. But, judging by the present state, the LSSP and the CP of Sri Lanka might not survive another generation to tell the story of their glorious past.

* First published in The Nation newspaper on August 17, 2014.

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