After the debacle of the last government of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and National Democratic Alliance (NDA), politics is centred on the antics of the ‘communist’ parties (CPs) which are supporting the central government headed by the Congress Party under the banner of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). In the name of the implementation of the Common Minimum Programme, which has become a reference bible for the CPs, they have chained the working class to submission.
cwi international conference.
Reports from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka presented to the 2004 meeting of the International Executive Committee (IEC) of the cwi, held in Belgium 14 – 20 November.
New challenges in Asia
General Political Situation
Of course they gleefully claim that they have held back the government from implementing many neo-liberal policies. Except for the hollow victory that they gained in relation to the dropping of the "foreign experts" from the consultative committees of the planning commission, no anti-working class measure or policy change has been stopped. Much to the chagrin of the "comrades", the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, who is the darling of the World Bank and IMF, declared in Washington that there will be no roll back of the reforms set in place by himself in 1991 and later vigorously executed by the BJP government.
Under the very watchful noses of the CPs, the government has gone ahead with the removal of the cap on foreign direct investment in civil aviation. The same is in the pipeline in relation to the telecommunication and insurance sectors.
Despite the protestations of the ‘communist’ parties, all the anti-working class and neo-liberal offensives are being let loose on the people.
The pathetic situation of the Indian CPs was graphically explained in a recent report of the ‘Business Standard’ which was reporting on a meeting of the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry to discuss India’s Economic agenda. This capitalist body found no harm in inviting the leaders of both the ‘communist’ parties for this discussion. The chairman of this body, finishing his speech, greeted the ‘communists’ with "Lal Salaam" (red salute) and in reply to the greeting, one of the communist leaders addressed them as "comrades".
The recently concluded elections in Maharashtra further emphasise the fact that
the toiling masses of India are totally against neo-liberal policies and communalism. Both the Congress and BJP-Shivasena alliances have seen a rebuff in the elections. While the BJP-Shivasena cannot aspire to power, the votes that the Congress has got are not sufficient for it to rule the state on its own. Hence it had to cobble together an alliance with an erst-while split-off of itself.
The state of the BJP
The Maharashtra election results have added to the woes of the BJP. It had to change the party president to quell the revolt. Though the claims are being made that the change of the leader is to bring the party back to power, it is certain that the BJP is facing a crisis. The leadership is in a dilemma on the future course of the party – whether to take to the full-blown communal agenda of the 1990s or to retain a watered down, soft communal programme of the BJP in the NDA era.
It is certain that the partners of the NDA coalition will jump from the sinking ship on the pretext of the BJP going back to its hard-line communal politics. It is also possible that the forces that are unhappy with the BJP for not catering to the demands of the hardliners while in power, may seek to form a separate party on extremist lines.
While the present government formation of the UPA is safe for the moment, it is possible that, as the government, it will try to flex its muscles in relation to labour reforms. The ‘communists’ will be forced to oppose it and even vote against it. Such an eventuality cannot be ruled out given the pressure of the international agencies to further liberalise the economy.
Since the intervention of the CWI in the Mumbai World Social Forum, the Socialist Alternative (CWI India) has made modest gains flowing from the contacts made at the event itself. There have been visits to many areas: Tamil Nadu three times and once each to Mumbai, Kerala and Andhra.
Overall we have grown and there are many close contacts who can join hopefully by the end of this year. Though progress in Mumbai city has been slow, a very good result has been reaped in Tamilnadu where we now have groups of members in three towns comprising of textile workers, agricultural workers and tribal activists. In Bangalore there has been some new recruitment, too.
We have been involved this year in transferring our Bangalore centre. We have been able to bring out three issues of the paper – Dudiyora Horaata and have published special election material during the April-May general election. In total we have produced four leaflets including a reprint of a leaflet on trade unions.
The organisation has made gains in new areas, and now faces a big task of consolidating all our new members. The shortage of resources of both a financial and physical nature are of course posing enormous challenges but in the coming period it will be a test for the organisation to overcome these hurdles.
The ‘Socialist Movement’ (CWI Pakistan) has made good gains in the last six months. In very difficult circumstances, it has been able to develop a profile as the fastest growing left organization in Pakistan. The SMP now present in all 4 provinces.
One of the most important factors has been the production of four issues of the paper, the Socialist, since May of this year. This has provided a field of activity for all members and sympathisers to be involved in – selling and writing for the paper. It has also proved in practice that the new organisation is viable.
Well over half of the members are workers and just under one third are youth. Just 10 per cent are women but good work is being done to improve the level of participation of women in our party. Of all SMP members, over two thirds pay their dues regularly. 70% of our income is now generated through our fighting fund.
We have close contacts in many cities and also certain members who need to be consolidated. The main challenge is developing the cadre level in the SMP. This is always a hard task but especially in the neo-colonial world. The completion of the smallest task can be quite time consuming but we have allocated responsibilities for the different aspects of the work to different leading comrades who are putting time in to building the organization. This, together with the hiring of a centre has led to a good mood within the SMP.
Education, publications and interventions
We hold a regular monthly Marxist school and three study circles. The paper is coming out regularly and documents are also regularly circulated.
The printing of the CWI’s book on Venezuela in Urdu, with a specially written introduction, is a big step forward. It has been a great success and has opened a new debate on the left..
Our activities have included intervention in the PTCL strike and in a steel mill struggle. We have also conducted a solidarity campaign for Quetta striking workers and conducted an important campaign against domestic violence including printing an impressive poster on the issue.
World Social Forum and General Election
The year 2004 has been a year of many public events for the Sri Lankan organisation. We started in January with the intervention in the World Social Forum in India. Before we arrived back in Sri Lanka, the parliament had been dissolved and a general election was announced.
In the election, the USP contested 21 districts out of 22 districts in the country. We got 14,660 votes and came first out of all the left parties. (Unfortunately, in one district – Ampara in the east of Sri Lanka – the USP candidates pulled out of the election after they received death threats.)
The election was won by the ‘Freedom Alliance’ of the SLFP, JVP, CP and LSSP on the basis of a communal campaign but one with an anti-World Bank rhetoric.
Provincial Council Elections
Three months later came the provincial elections. Due to the USP gains made in the general election, the New Left Front (of Wickremabahu and the NSSP) and the Democratic Left (of Vasudeva Nanayakkara) came to a ‘no contest’ agreement with us. In accordance with that agreement, the USP stood in 14 out of the 15 districts where elections were held, without any real challenge from the left. (In the North and East districts, there were no provincial elections at this time.) Only in the Colombo district, where Bahu was a provincial councillor, was the election contested by the NLF (and not by us).
In the provincial election, the USP managed to double the vote of the time of the General Election with 21,732 votes in the 14 districts we contested. In many of the districts we came in 3rd or 4th place. The most important thing is getting recognition from the people that there is a socialist party fighting against both of the big capitalist, communalist parties. It is not easy to get recognition for a party like ours in a neo-colonial country like Sri Lanka, with small forces, little or no resources and, in the provincial elections, no official media coverage – TV, radio, press.
At present, Sri Lankan politics is dominated by a dangerous form of communal politics. The peace talks with the Tamil Tigers of Eeelam (LTTE) have been postponed indefinitely. The communal JVP is opposing re-starting the peace talks on the LTTE proposals. It has 39 MPs and four ministers in the present government. The Communist Party and Lanka Sama Samaja Party have no voice in the government. The USP has been contesting elections with a lot of pro-communal agitation going on. In this situation, some of our members pulled away from the struggle. But with all these pressures, still the USP managed to recruit new members and grow during the past six months.
The present situation in Sri Lanka is complex; you can see both difficulties and opportunities. The SLFP/JVP government is popular and people have a lot of expectations. But their popularity is going down rapidly due to the high cost of living and continual price rises. At the same time the JVP is mobilising Sinhala communal forces through a fascist-type organisation. The USP has big challenges to fulfil in the vacuum created by the absence of a mass working class left party.
We have taken several steps to develop the new members. We had a two-day cadre school in September and regional and individual discussions have been organised to develop the comrades. This is a big task because of the JVP’s communal campaign on the one hand and their pseudo-Marxist politics.
The election success in the country has opened up the opportunity to set up new branches (or embryos of branches) in Kegalle, Hambantota, Kandy and Matale and we are doing hard work to consolidate them. We are aiming to push up the membership still further through this.
Full Timers and premises
This year, although we really cannot afford it, we have taken on two new full timers.
Also, we have moved offices. It is very difficult to find a place for a Marxist party like ours to rent, even if we can get together enough money! We finally managed to find a place but our Central Committee decided to launch a building fund to raise one million rupees in order to get our own centre within the next 2 years. We have already got RS 95,000 ($950) in promises from the September cadre school.
Due to the practical problems connected with our move, we postponed the USP conference from December this year to March of 2005. The coming conference will play a crucial role in building the USP in a complex political situation in the future.
Youth work and our newspaper
A party youth committee has been set up and it has started to work independently. It is planning to publish the first youth journal at the end of December. This will give new life to the work of recruiting young people to the party.
The paper has been produced regularly during this year but the last issue was delayed due to the move to our new office. We are printing 1,000 copies every month, still in both Sinhala and Tamil together, and we have managed to sell all our papers – mainly in public campaigns.