World social forum, Mumbai: Struggling for socialism in Sri Lanka

What kind of conditions do workers and young people face in your area?

Below is a short interview with Sajiph Sri Lakmal, a member of the CWI’s affiliated party in Sri Lanka – the United Socialist Party (USP). Sajiph used to be a councillor for the JVP before he joined the USP. The JVP is a communalist, anti-Tamil party in Sri Lanka which hides its reactionary policies by using socialist and anti-imperialist rhetoric.

Struggling for socialism in Sri Lanka

“My local area has all kinds of social and economic problems. The gem mining industry used to be the main employer in my area and it has collapsed. This is partly due to the depletion of gem reserves. But it is also because of the middlemen who buy the jewels before selling them on. As a result of these profiteers, the gem miners never get anything near the real value for the jewels they mine. As a result the gem miners try to get other jobs. Living standards have collapsed by 60%. Now many miners try to scrape a living by taking casual jobs.

“There are also many garment workers who live in my community. As a result of the constant price rises, people can’t even afford basic necessities. Many of the children of garment workers are malnourished.”

Why did you leave the JVP and join the USP?

“After Sri Lanka got freedom from British imperialism, there were two main Sri Lankan capitalist parties – the UNP (United National Party) and the SLFP (Sri Lanka Freedom Party). Neither had any solutions for the mass of ordinary workers. The development of the JVP came about as a result of its campaigns in the name of providing solutions to the problems faced by Sri Lankan workers. I was attracted to the JVP because they said they were left and socialist. They always said they wanted to build a mass organisation based on the fight against capitalism and imperialism. They talked openly about being against the main Sri Lankan capitalist parties.

“In 2000, the JVP went into a coalition with the Sri Lankan capitalist party, the SLFP. I raised many objections and questions and argued with the JVP leaders. It was in this period that I became a councillor for the JVP. When I realised the false nature of the arguments of the leadership, I decided to resign from the JVP. All the top leaders came to see me to persuade me not to go, but I stuck to my decision and left the party in March 2003.

“I did not join the USP for two months. After I left the JVP, I was still searching for a genuine socialist party. I looked at the programmes of other left parties like the LSSP, NSSP and the CP but these parties had also betrayed the working class by going into coalition with capitalist parties – so I could not join them. I met USP members in my local area and discussed with them for two days. It was after this that I decided to join.”

What about the communalist policies of the JVP?

“The JVP always argued that the biggest obstacle to overcome in Sri Lanka was the divide-and-rule policies implemented by British imperialism. Therefore, the only way to overcome this was to ensure Sri Lanka remained united [The JVP use this argument to argue against the right of the Tamil-speaking people in the North and East of the country to be given the right of self-determination. However they go further and have organised communalist pogroms (violent attacks) against Tamils living in the Sinhala-dominated south of the country – Ed].

“After joining the JVP, I spent more and more time thinking about the national question and the war between the Tamils and the Sinhala state. The JVP leadership never answered any of the questions I had. It is only since joining the USP that my questions have been answered.

“Neither Ranil [the UNP Prime minister] or Chandrika [President of Sri Lanka] can bring peace to the island or provide a solution to the national question. In the end they always represent the interests of the dominant Sinhala capitalists who are against genuine liberation for the Tamil people. Only a workers’ solution to the national question is viable.”

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January 2004