Sri Lanka: Fighting back against capitalism and chauvinism

The Sri Lankan United Socialist Party (USP) – affiliated to the Committee for a Workers International (cwi) – held its most successful ever congress on 25 – 26 March in Colombo.

One hundred and twenty delegates and visitors gave up their holidays – Easter and a Bhuddist holiday is celebrated on the same weekend here –to come to this vital congress where all the important issues confronting the working class and poor peasantry of Sri Lanka were discussed. The road leading to the Congress hall was colourfully festooned with red flags and a big banner placed at the entrance to the hall greeted arriving delegates.

The JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna – Peoples Liberation Front) – a Sinhala chauvinist party masquerading as “socialist” and “marxist” – in the area in which the congress took place, tried unsuccessfully to get the caretaker of the hall to remove the red flags and banners. They claimed that the red flag was “theirs”.

Stolen banner

Siri Jayasuriya, General Secretary of the USP, answered this at the congress by declaring that the JVP’s “red flag” was a “stolen banner”. It is the symbol of the working class associated in the past with mighty workers parties like the now largely defunct LSSP (Lanka Sama Samaja Party). Their betrayal left an opening for the JVP, which while it claims to be “socialist” is participating in the capitalist coalition government along with the SLFP (Sri Lankan Freedom Party).

The JVP uses base chauvinism particularly against the Tamil people. Their spiteful attempt to undermine the work of the USP, and their congress, is a measure of their concern at the growth the USP who energetically recently championed the cause of the Tsunami victims. It is the only party which can unite Tamil, Muslim, and Sinhalese workers in a struggle against chauvinism and capitalism. This was reflected in the attendance at the congress.

Present were workers from the South, representatives from important unions – government press workers, health workers and especially the oppressed plantation workers – Tamils the North and Muslims from the East and crucially a significant group of Tsunami victims. They have joined the USP because the party has championed their cause. One young Muslim woman stated how surprised and delighted people from her area were when the USP turned up within a day of the Tsunami with vital help for them.

The real heartbeat of the working class and poor was reflected in the discussion on the perspectives for social, economic and political developments in Sri Lanka. Muslim workers reported on the persecution they face in the east of Sri Lanka. This comes from the government on the one side but also from representatives of the LTTE (Tamil Tigers of Eelam)who tell them to “go back to the Muslim countries”. The LTTE do not recognise the rights of the Muslims many of whom live in the eastern part of Sri Lanka and yet they campaign internationally for the recognition of their own organisation and those of the Tamil people.

Crushing burden

The meeting was moved by a vivid description of the plight of plantation workers and farmers. The leaders of a poor farmers organisation in the South of Sri Lanka almost cried – and moved the delegated to tears – as he described the crushing burden on farmers and their families brought about by policies imposed by the government and its MPs.

But the tone of the congress was also one of defiance against Sri Lankan capitalism and the Popular Alliance (PA) government. The documents on Sri Lankan perspectives – which we will publish soon – was introduced by Siri Jayasuriya and the discussion was summed up by Srinath. This congress document was fully accepted by the delegates present.

Mahinda introduced the session on organisational tasks for the party, the main theme of which was the great opportunities which exist to build the USP. Alwis gave the financial report and a rousing financial appeal which resulted in a splendid collection of 30,800 Rupees.

Peter Taaffe introduced the discussion on international developments and prospects and this was supplemented by Khalid Bhatti of the Socialist Movement, Pakistan (CWI Pakistan), GC Jagadish of the New Socialist Alternative (CWI India) and Sevarajan from the Socialist Party of Malaysia. Peter Taaffe and Siri Jayasuriya summed up the congress with general agreement that it had been very successful. The congress ended with a rouding rendition of the Sri Lankan version of the “Internationale” and a pledge from the delegates and visitors to go back to their areas and commit themselves to the organisational tasks which had been accepted at the conference and to build the USP into a significant force.

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