Q: The Front Line Socialist Party (FLSP) has made its entry into the election and is making its presence felt in the election as a movement in the left. But the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) is absent from the contest. Don’t you think that the FLSP has obtained a chance to voice their opinion while the JVP has not?
A: The JVP has represented people’s rights as a left wing movement, whether there are elections or not. In this election we are conducting a unique campaign as a left movement. We have already conducted several meetings. We will continue to conduct the campaign until January 5. We have planned a comprehensive and large scale campaign. For example, we will have a program of distributing leaflets in places island-wide and the leaders of the party will be involved in this campaign in Colombo. We have also planned a program of going to house to house to talk to people. There will also be grass root level meetings in a village level.
Those who do not have a political organizational strength think that politics cannot be done through not contesting elections. Some groups pop-up during election times since they do not have political organizational strength at other times. We have the strength to mobilize people whether there is an election or not.
Q: Are you afraid that you cannot get more votes than certain groups?
A: We do not have such fears. We can either choose to compete or not. Or else we can form alliances and compete. It all depends on our assessment of the political situation of the country and our strategy.
At this moment, if we decide to compete separately, the anti-government votes will be split. It will be advantageous to Mahinda Rajapaksa. At this point, we have to focus on defeating the president. Therefore, anyone who is acting in an advantageous manner towards Rajapaksa, even indirectly, can be considered as his pawns. In some cases, they are actually nurtured and aided by Rajapaksa government. They might appear as opponents of Rajapaksa but actually they are helping him.
Q: There is considerable discussion on various aspects like good governance. However, there seems to be a little discourse on the capitalist system and its inequalities. In your absence in the campaign can the JVP voice the concern on the system?
A: As a movement of the proletariat, our ultimate objective is to overthrow the capitalist system. However, the social, political, economic and cultural conditions should mature to a certain level for that to happen. Also, there should be an organization based on the working class to take advantage of these conditions and lead the process of toppling the capitalist system. Once these conditions are satisfied, whether elections are held or not, the system will collapse. Capitalist systems were not overthrown through elections in other places in the world. But it needs the correct conditions.
However, we believe that the conditions and also the organization are still in the process of maturing. Therefore, until then, our objective is to win certain social reforms which will ultimately help the overthrow of the capitalist system. For example, if we can get the 17th Amendment implemented, it is an advantage.
Today, government service is politicized. Recruitment, transfers and promotions are all politicized. If there can be a more just system in it, it will help our struggle. If the police, elections process, and judicial system can be wrested out of the control of the bourgeoisie rulers, and if media freedom can be assured, they will all be advantageous for a movement of the proletariat to grow, organize and promote their ideology.
These freedoms will not be granted by the Mahinda Rajapaksa government. Therefore, once this government is toppled, we can get a relatively free environment for a certain period of time. Of course, it will not be permanent. If the Maithripala Sirisena government stays in power for a long time, it will also become a part of the capitalist ruling class and develop the structures that will help it consolidate its power. But, for a certain period of time we can have a relatively free period.
However, we are not asking the people to vote for anyone in particular. Since we do not contest, we cannot ask people to vote for a particular candidate who is not a member of our party. We do not have a right to do it either. We have been criticized by both the government and opposition for this stance. But what we say is that there are things to be done after January 8 and people should organize for that.
Q: But you said at this juncture, Mahinda Rajapaksa must be defeated. The JVP does not want anti-government vote to split. You also mentioned that all those other candidates are in a way helping Rajapaksa by splitting the vote. So, isn’t this stance indirectly helping Maithripala Sirisena?
A: Yes. It helps the presidential election candidate Maithripala Sirisena. But we cannot take responsibility for that. We cannot take the responsibility for what Maithripala Sirisena will do after he comes to power. But what we want is to organize the people in order to win their rights. We cannot forget that people have won their rights mainly through organized struggles.
Q: According to the Marxists view, the system is more important that the person. In that sense, by focusing on one person in the form of Mahinda Rajapaksa, aren’t you forgetting the system and changes that needed to be done?
A: Marxists believe that the fundamental basis of the capitalist system should be changed. But in Sri Lanka, one person has become supreme by the constitution that is in place now. Executive Presidency has made this happen. So, we have to abolish executive presidency and replace it with a parliamentary system. Today, even though there is a parliament, it does not have meaningful powers. One should not be mistaken by the notion that a parliamentary system will solve the problems of the people. It will not. It will not change the fundamentals of the capitalist system. But it will be a better environment than having executive presidency.
Q: It means that this moment is not the right time for a third force?
A: The word “third force” is wrong. Then one can ask, ‘so who are the first two?’ This is a term introduced by the capitalist system itself. The word itself has a meaning that it is a lesser force. What we think is that we need an alternative force against the capitalist system. This will rise through the labor movement of Sri Lanka. The JVP has now established itself in the working class movement better than any other party. Therefore, we are in a position to build the alternative force.
Q: But Sri Lanka has a relatively small labor movement. Some people criticize traditional left movements for not being able to reach to other sectors. Where did the left movement go wrong?
A: All sectors such as farmers, students, women and others are important. The JVP is building up its strength in these sectors as well. But they are not vital when it comes to putting pressure on the rulers. They are required but not vital. The vital sector driving a left movement is the working class even if it is small.
The mistake the JVP made initially was to base its struggle on the students’ movement. The rulers can close universities and schools for several months or even years. It will not affect the ruling class. But what if they close down a factory for five days? What if the service sector such as health and electricity supply is interrupted for a few days? The capitalist system will end up in a serious crisis. That is why the labor movement is important. The JVP had to replace the reactionary old left movement from the labor movement but now we have become the main driving force there.
Q: But why does not it transfer to votes. The JVP had 39 members in the parliament at a time. But its representation has shrunk dramatically.
A: A left movement cannot be judged by the number of parliamentary or other elected seats. We have fought for the rights of the people in the last few years even better than when we had so many members of parliament. In the recent years, we were able to stop government’s plans to rob the EPF and ETF funds. We managed to stop the government from increasing the electricity prices from Unit 1 itself. We managed to restore the farmers’ pension scheme. All these came about as a result of a struggle, even when we have only a few parliamentarians. The only advantage in having elected members is that we can voice our opinion there as well. But that is just one part.
Q: But a poor electoral performance can affect the perception of the public. They might think the JVP is weak.
A: There are certain drawbacks in not focusing only on elections. But once elections are over, people will come back to us to ask for help to win their rights.
Q: Coming back to the presidential election, the Jathika Hela Urumaya signed a separate agreement with Maithripala Sirisena, not entering the Memorandum of Understanding which the others signed. Why didn’t the JVP take a similar measure?
A: The JHU is a separate entity and is not based on the working class. It is more of a Sinhalese nationalist organization. Their agreement is based on their strategies and ideology. For them former President Chandrika Kumaratunga and UNP Leader Ranil Wickremeseinghe are reactionary. The JHU wanted to have an agreement separate from those people. The JVP is a working class movement. We plan our strategies according to our goals. That is the difference.
First published in 'The Nation' on December 7, 2014.