Democratic Centralism

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The USP and combating communalism

CR says the USP’s 14,660 votes in the general election is not significant. But this has to be seen in the context of a growing Sinhala communalism in Sri Lanka today. In spite of this, in the July 2004 Provincial Council elections, the USP doubled its votes. CR uses simple arithmetic without considering this vote in the present relatively complicated situation in Sri Lanka. Compared to Siri and the USP, Vasu and Bahu and their organisations have, up to now, had a higher public recognition. However the election results show that this has changed. Their support is declining (as is that for the two major capitalist alliances) while the USP’s is growing. True, this is from a relatively small base but it portends big potential growth for the future.

The USP as a party has established a firm base amongst a layer of working class and down-trodden people. Above all, the USP has taken an uncompromising stand against communalism, which has historically plagued the workers’ movement in Sri Lanka and has been encouraged by the Sri Lankan bourgeois parties at certain stages.

The SLFP, for instance, started out as a Sinhala-only party after breaking from the UNP under the leadership of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. Rather than conducting a political campaign against the UNP, the SLFP at that time took up communal slogans to win over the rural Sinhala masses. In the present conjuncture, the JVP within the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) government is continuing the same Sinhala racist politics, not only against the UNP but also against Chandrika, in order to win the bulk of the Sinhala masses in the south of the country. That is why the JVP is campaigning against the Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) and any devolution of power to the Tamil-speaking people.

The emergence of the Sinhala chauvinist Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) as a political force demonstrates the rise of communal forces in the south. The JHU is trying to overtake the JVP in the race for support for communalism because the JVP has become a partner in the capitalist coalition government. But all these communal forces will fall into line together eventually if the ‘peace process’ restarts again.

Wrong conclusions after Stalinism’s collapse

It is clear that CR has no semblance of understanding – despite his claims to the contrary – of the political terrain that was created by the collapse of Stalinism. In Sri Lanka it was enormously aggravated by the complete collapse of the once mighty LSSP (after its disastrous participation with the SLFP in capitalist governments), by the 20-year long war as well as by the vicious Sinhala chauvinist terrorist campaign of the JVP against both the Sri Lankan state and particularly against the left. He comments: "I have no doubt that Bahu and Siri and others will try to explain the abysmal showing at the polls with all kinds of rationalizations. The explanations will attempt to ‘externalise’ the problem, invoking the usual suspects, from the rise of Sinhala chauvinism promoted by the various reactionary forces in the country to the machinations of US imperialism working through the Peace negotiations. Those of us who do not want the Samasamaja tradition to die completely will do well to persuade Siri and Bahu to face up to the ‘internal’ failures of their political tendencies. I mean their failure to adjust to the new situation in the country and the world after 1989, which in my view is the main reason for the steady decline."

He lambasts Bahu in particular because his party, the NSSP, has not heeded his call for "Radical, innovative analyses going far beyond the timid theoretical reforms being now discussed in the [NSSP]. We have mild reform when what is called for is a revolutionary reconstitution of theoretical perspectives." As his subsequent comments demonstrate, it would be more accurate for him to use the phrase "counter-revolutionary reconstitution of theoretical perspectives". The reasons for this are spelt out when he writes: "One major reason is the collapse of socialist regimes and strategies world-wide, as more and more people began to realise that present day ‘bureaucratic socialism’ was no alternative to the best existing capitalist societies in the Third World… Most of us, including Bahu, now realise that Socialism as a viable political movement can only be reincarnated under very different circumstances. Only Siritunga proceeds as if socialism – in the way understood by most people – still has a future in backward countries. The fact that he is totally at variance with Trotsky’s ideas on this issue does not seem to bother him overmuch."

Firstly, this ‘theoretician’ emanating as he claims from a ‘Trotskyist’ tradition, shamefully describes the Stalinist regimes as "socialist" or as "socialist countries", allegedly like the USSR or China. This terminology is borrowed from Stalinism, and particularly from the Stalinist ‘communist’ parties in the neo-colonial world. To re-state a basic tenet of Trotsky, these regimes were closer, in many ways, to barbaric capitalism than they were to genuine democratic socialism as perceived by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. They were deformed workers’ states - planned economies but with bureaucratic authoritarian one-party regimes - which were caricatures of democratic socialism. The above comments of CR, which he claims are now supported by Bahu, mean in effect the complete abandonment of arguments for revolutionary democratic socialism and for a workers’ and peasants’ democracy based on a socialist plan as the political form of the transitional state from capitalism to socialism that will be necessary.

Menshevik position

How is Siritunga’s heroic defence of the case for socialism at "total variance" with Trotsky? The only interpretation that can be placed on these remarks of CR is that Trotsky did not argue the case for socialism in the "backward countries". In fact, that was the position of the Mensheviks. In the culturally backward economic and social conditions of Russia they argued for the theory of "stages". First came capitalism, which through its development of industry also develops the working class, and only then was it possible to speak about socialism, which was, in reality, relegated to the mists of the future. Both Lenin and Trotsky, as well as the best leaders of the LSSP in its heyday, argued vehemently against these ideas. CR, in an e-mail sent to Siri in early August 2004, in effect admits to accepting a Menshevik position:

"Do you really think a socialist programme is meaningful in Sri Lanka? This is a major point of difference between us. I have been arguing from around 1990, if not earlier, that the best option for the working class and the forces of contemporary democracy in Sri Lanka is to have a thorough development of capitalism. This is not what we have had or are getting at the present time. Initially everyone disagreed with me, but now I think that Shanta, Bahu, Kumar, Niel and many others have come round to this point of view. Only you and Vasu seem to think that there is a socialist alternative…

"I know you do not distinguish between the kind of capitalism I advocate and the capitalism we have already had. Broad and deep capitalism like in South Korea and Taiwan will solve the national question more easily, absorb the lakhs of unemployed young people and break the back of all chauvinist groups in the South and the North. Of course it is hard to get capitalism moving strongly in Sri Lanka; the bourgeoisie is weak and not really in control of the political processes or the state. That is why Left support is essential to move this process forward…

"In what way will your 'socialism' be different from what we have seen in Russia, China, Vietnam, Cuba etc. Never before in history has any other social experiment failed as decisively as has the attempt to build socialism in backward countries. They have produced brutal dictatorships, some of which have been among the most barbaric in all history, like the Pol Pot regime and Mengistu in Ethiopia. The most successful, China is rapidly building a modern kind of capitalism. China is lucky: in most countries the experience of 'socialism' has been a step backward.

"The reason for this is also so simple: it is industrial capitalism that has the historic task of disciplining people into organized activity and converting a peasant mass into modern, skilled individuals. You know from your own political work the difference between the work habits of industrial workers and people from rural backgrounds. No amount of work in political parties can change the latter into the former. The simple answer is that when you try to sidestep the capitalist market which is the disciplining force, socialist leaders end up by having to use police power. Which is more brutal? The pressure of the capitalist labour market or the arbitrary power of Stalinist bureaucracy. I for one will choose the former. Even so, no Stalinist power has actually succeeded in duplicating the historic role of the market. So it is not even a possibility worth considering at this point."