Sri Lanka: Reply to slanders against heroic United Socialist Party (USP)

A courageous record fighting repression and ethnic division

The World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) posted a scurrilous article, on 14 January 2010, written by one of its editors, Wije Dias, regarding the presidential election in Sri Lanka. Claiming to stand for ‘socialism’, this sectarian organisation constantly misrepresents and lies about its political opponents.

The writer picked out the United Socialist Party (USP), arguing that the USP is wrong to participate in the ‘Platform for Freedom’, a practical campaign to defend democratic rights. The article slanderously accuses the USP and its presidential candidate, Siritunga Jayasuriya, of campaigning for Sarath Fonseka, the United National Party (UNP) candidate. This is just one example of the grotesque dishonesty running through the reports of this website. David North and his followers, who edit this site, have a long history of sectarian slander against others on the left. They continue with the same notorious methods as the late Gerry Healy, the leader of the defunct Workers’ Revolutionary Party.

In his article, Wije Dias contradicts himself when he quotes from a USP leaflet. The leaflet correctly explains to workers and the poor the character of Fonseka and President Mahinda Rajapakse, the two main pro-capitalist presidential candidates. The only reason behind Wije Dias’s article seems to be that the UNP leader, Ranil Wickremasinghe, paid credit to Siritunga for establishing the ‘Platform for Freedom’. Unfortunately, Wije Dias is blinded from seeing that it is an important achievement. Siritunga was quite correct to point out that the ‘Platform for Freedom’ will need to continue the campaign for democratic rights, as there is no hope of change regardless of which pro-capitalist leader wins the election.

The actual quote from Ranil Wickremasinghe used in the article is as follows. “He [Siritunga Jayasuriya] took the initiative in forming this force [‘Platform for Freedom’]. We followed him. Today we have advanced far. I salute Siritunga. Threatened with assassination we were afraid to come out. Then Siritunga came forward. It paved the way for us to be able to challenge the incumbent president.”

The UNP leader made this comment at the memorial meeting for Lasantha Wikramatunga, the country’s leading journalist before his murder, which is believed to have been carried out by pro-government forces. Other members of the freedom Platform were present at this meeting.

Ranil Wickremasinghe’s admission that, even with all their wealth and security, they were afraid to come out for fear of their lives graphically shows the desperate conditions that existed at that time. It took the courage of Siritunga Jayasuriya and USP members to take the lead to defend workers and the poor.

Siritunga travelled to Chennai and Tamil Nadu, in India, to mobilise the masses and speak out. Tamil nationalism, whipped up by the Tamil Nadu right-wing politicians, had created an anti-Sinhala sentiment among certain section of the masses. Even journalists escaping the Rajapakse regime had difficulty getting accommodation because of their Sinhala names. But Siritung was able to cut across this nationalism and bravely spoke out against the war. Indeed, many people in Tamil Nadu was shocked to hear a clear condemnation of the Rajapakse regime and its war from someone they considered a ‘Sinhala politician’. Within days, reporters queued to interview Siritunga, mainly due to the pressure of the masses to hear Siriunga’s point of view. At a time when nationalist forces could do everlasting damage to the solidarity of workers of different ethnicities in Sri Lanka, Siritunga intervened to counter it.

Not only did the USP become a vociferous voice against the war but it also played a significant role in founding ‘Stop the slaughter of Tamils’, the predecessor campaign of ‘Tamil Solidarity: for the rights of all workers and oppressed people in Sri Lanka’. Siritunga was then elected by the Tamil left activists and students as an honorary president of this campaign; an incredible achievement when you consider the mounting polarisation on nationalist lines. Ability to cut across the ethnic divide and build solidarity between workers of all backgrounds is an important strength of the USP.

Siritunga was also behind the setting up of the Civil Monitoring Commission (CMC), of which he is a chairman. Tamil-speaking workers in the south will never forget the fear of white vans carrying thugs, who conducted kidnappings and killings. In fact, ‘white van’ gained a new meaning in the Tamil vocabulary for the brutal fear they inflicted on the masses. It took the courage of USP members to mount any real opposition to this and to bravely defend all the victims, as well record and publish the names of the victims. Abductions and extra-judicial killings still continue and the USP will continue to use the CMC to counter those attacks.

When the whole country was gripped with war mania and anti-Tamil propaganda, many went into hiding, including opposition party members. Some sectarians on the left were nowhere to be found at the time. The government Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, unleashed an attack on democratic rights and against all dissent. Trade unionists and activists were branded as “unpatriotic” and ‘Sinhala Tigers’, as soon as they voiced any criticism of Mahinda’s regime. This was the darkest period in the history of Sri Lanka. USP members did not hesitate to worry about their lives. They campaigned vigorously. This is acknowledged even by the capitalist UNP, as its leader’s quote (above) explains. Only during this period did the USP propose the ‘Platform for Freedom’, as a method of building opposition to the colossal attacks and explaining the need to fight for democratic rights. One of the main slogans proposed is for the ‘right to live’. Just imagine the conditions that existed in order to demand such a basic slogan! Some sectarians on the left were nowhere to be seen but now – out of hiding – attack those like Siritunga who fought back.

The ‘Platform for Freedom’, as its name explains, was a crucial attempt to create an opposition to the warmongering dictatorship. The platform for freedom is not a political alliance, rather a platform to gather voices against huge repression.

At a time when political murders had become very common, attacks against the Tamil minority were at an all-time peak and hundreds of Tamils were killed during the war. USP members refused to be silent and were prepared to participate not in a political bloc but in a concrete practical campaign in defence of democratic rights. It was correct not to debar any forces, even those who refuse to go outside the framework of capitalism, in a campaign against the dictatorial methods of the Rajapakse government. Moreover, Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks engaged on many occasions in similar actions with petit bourgeois and bourgeois forces in the struggle against Tsarism. If necessary, we can supply the learned professors of the WSWS with appropriate ‘quotes’ from Lenin and Trotsky! At no time did the great Marxist leaders advocate political support for pro-capitalist organisations like the UNP in Sri Lanka. However, a concrete practical arrangement on crucial democratic issues is an entirely different matter. The USP upholds the banner of the workers’ movement in Sri Lanka on this crucial question.

The Fonseka factor did not exist then and President Rajapakse was enjoying the undivided support of the chauvinist forces. The freedom Platform was the only voice in the country to openly put any opposition. The USP urged all the journalists, activists and political parties to come out in opposition to a war that has already gone down in history as the bloodiest war in the region. It has been described as a modern holocaust. The government now faces war crimes charges.

If workers ask what was done during the difficult time of this brutal war, then the USP has a heroic history to tell. But unfortunately other so-called lefts in the country were not brave enough to stand up to the chauvinist nationalist forces. Not only did they refuse to organise any activities – which may have been understandable, as they may have ‘feared’ for their lives just like many NGO workers – but they did not even bother to turn up when the brave initiative was made to create the ‘Platform for Freedom’, which offered a way for people to act against the brutality.

The USP strongly condemned all the extra-judicial killings, including that of Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wikramatunga. The USP took up his murder to highlight the government’s brutality and campaigned to stop the killings. It is from this work that the USP’s presidential candidate was invited to speak at his memorial event. Apart from posting a ‘news comment’ about Lasantha’s death, the WSWS has not organised against his killing nor done anything to oppose the attacks against the freedom of the press.

Wije Dias also claims that he is the only ‘true’ saviour of the working class in the coming election and that an unbridgeable class gulf exists between him and the USP. There is little evidence that the WSWS has a real base amongst the working class anywhere in the world.

Even during the last presidential election, Wije Dias made no attempt to use the election to organise the working masses. After gaining a mere 3,500 votes, he spoke on the same platform with Mahinda Rajapakse at the election commissioner’s office following the declaration of the result. As usual, he only provided a basic history lesson and announced that none of the election promises will be kept. The UNP opposition candidate also made that claim throughout the election campaign! Wije Dias did not have the clear understanding or the perspective of the USP about the turn of events in Sri Lanka at the time. Siritunga Jayasuriya came third with 35,425 votes, spoke second and warned of the danger of unleashing the communal forces. Wije Dias did not have any vision whatsoever and failed to understand what Siritunga was saying; which became a brutal reality soon after. Just like today, even then the WSWS reported slanderous lies about Siritunga’s statement.

In almost all their articles about Sri Lanka, the WSWS refer to certain historical events and blame everything on the ‘betrayal of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP)’ and say little about their Healyite tradition, which is nothing to be proud of. Even recent events are explained as part of the ‘betrayal of LSSP’. History is much more complicated than that. As Marxists, it is important to understand historical failures but it is also important to take into consideration the epoch we are in, and apply Marxist methods to understand the period, rather than blaming everything on a single point of reference in history.

Marxism is about how to apply Marxist methods and analysis, to learn from history, to analyse current society and to work out correct perspectives for the emancipation of working masses. It is a life and death question in Sri Lanka.

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