The current regime lacks any viable economic solution other than perpetuating further suffering among the broader population. Their economic survival hinges on the continuation of this brutal suffering for the masses, who are already enduring significant misery.
According to the latest report from the World Food Program (WFP) of the United Nations, one-third of households are now food insecure. The charity Save the Children reports that half of the families in the country have been reducing their food intake. Power cuts, the restriction of electricity for poor households who cannot afford to pay the bills, and shortages of essential food persist.
According to the World Bank, poverty reduction has “seriously decelerated” this year, with an additional nine million people plunged into dire poverty. This is alarming considering the country’s population of 24 million. In the year 2022 alone, approximately 300,000 professionals have left the country. One growing business in the capital city of Colombo is agencies that promise job opportunities abroad, as reported by The New York Times. However, if this is considered a solution or relief, we must reject it. Prolonged suffering for the masses in exchange for profit for the rich, who are the ones responsible for the crisis, is not a viable solution. Unfortunately, there is currently no mass socialist organisation in Sri Lanka that can articulate a viable alternative to this capitalist crisis.
The mass anger made history by putting an end to the grip of the parasitic Rajapaksa clan. Although the masses demanded the complete removal of the old regime, including the entire cabinet and the resignation of all parliamentarians, their demands were not fully realised. Those who resigned, along with all the individuals who protected and collaborated in the looting and criminal activities of the Rajapaksas, carefully returned to their usual positions, enjoying the guarantee and security provided by Ranil’s presidency. They were also generously compensated for any property losses they incurred. In essence, they lost nothing unlike the millions who have suffered a drastic fall in living standards. Through their supporters in parliament, the Rajapaksa clan still maintains control over the country’s affairs.
The political establishment and ruling class as well as the masses have learned important lessons from the past uprising. Many of the key activists involved in the uprising now recognize that they should not have given Ranil the opportunity to gain control. He took power as the ‘interim’ caretaker and used the space made available for him to crush the movement and establish dictatorial control. During the height of the mass uprising, following the 9 July events, many believed they were able to dictate the type of government they wanted. However, they were not prepared to present a comprehensive alternative government. The popular slogan “Go Home, Gota” did not provide a clear plan for who or what would replace him and the rest of the parliament. This was a significant weakness of the movement. The movement was not lacking in numbers, anger, energy, or determination to oust Gota and the others, but it lacked clarity, political direction and leadership. There was a lack of clarity regarding how to maintain control of the power that the mass movement had brought to the streets, who should rule, how to utilise that power to establish an alternative, what demands and strategies should be further advanced, and so on. This lack of clarity was also exacerbated by different competing forces vying for leadership and control of the movement.
The opposition parties involved in the movement sought to limit the demands to a single call for ousting Gotabaya and holding elections, with the assumption that they would be elected on that basis. A section of the middle-class youth and activists could not see beyond parliamentary politics and opposed the establishment of a strong mass organisation based on the strength of the mass mobilisation. They also opposed the adoption of radical demands, fearing that their own self-interests would be harmed. The movement became primarily focused on the democratic demand for fair elections and establishing a ‘clean’ government within the capitalist system, rather than considering the need for the masses themselves to take responsibility for governance in order to achieve even these basic demands. It did not occur to this group that the masses themselves had to be actively involved in governance if they are to achieve even these basic democratic demands. Without a mass alternative to articulate and advance the interests of the people, the old regime’s elements or the corrupt opposition elite would return to power, perpetuating the same old dirty policies or simply be replaced by a new gang of pro-capitalists. In essence, the movement lacked clear leadership to push it forward and break with the old system.
While the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP – People’s Liberation Front) tries to portray itself as a left-wing alternative and claims support from the movement, they have not put forward anything fundamentally different from the main capitalist opposition party, Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB – United People’s Power). The JVP (through its electoral front, the National People’s Power – NPP) also focused solely on anti-corruption propaganda and the demand for fresh elections, avoiding the issue that fundamentally the crisis stems from capitalism itself and not simply the Rajapaksa gang.
Their main propaganda currently revolves around not selling Sri Lanka out to foreign capital. Ranil dedicated a significant portion of his “special statement” to refuting this propaganda and criticizing the left in general: “Unfortunately, some groups involved in traditional politics are actively working to hinder our economic revival. They are spreading false information about our reform agenda and intentionally misleading the public with claims that we are selling off the country. Throughout history, these groups have continuously resorted to fear-mongering tactics, falsely asserting that our actions are driven by a desire to sell out our nation. They have deceived many Sri Lankans in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and even the 1980s, instilling an irrational fear of the country being sold away. From then until now, these groups have disrupted real progress for economic reform by perpetuating this slogan of ‘selling the country’.”
The growth in support for the NPP is more a result of the unpopularity of the other right-wing parties than its role in the mass uprising or the demands it presented. Although the JVP gives the impression of being against the government’s policies, a closer look reveals that they do not have a fundamentally different economic alternative. The JVP’s ultra-nationalist and chauvinistic orientation persists since its inception.
The origin and political motivations behind the JVP’s 1966 split from the Communist Party (Peking) still remain unclear to this day, but are tainted with racism. Its leader at the time, Rohana Wijaweera, allegedly expelled for refusing to print Tamil leaflets, opportunistically turned to Sinhala Buddhist nationalist sentiment that had developed sharply at that time. Then prominent movements and groups, such as Ape Sinhala (‘We Sinhalese’), and new Buddhist Shaba, formed in rural areas, came to influence a generation of youth who were growing in poverty. Pandering to such influence, from its inception, the JVP intertwined Marxist rhetoric with ultra-Sinhala nationalist sentiments. The Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), a left-wing party at the time, first formed a coalition government with the capitalist SLFP in1964 arguing that it was a progressive party. The LSSP, the first political party in Sri Lanka, emerged from the textile workers strike of 1933, and developed as a combative party, becoming a significant point of attraction for the struggling masses in Sri Lanka. The Trotskyist core of the LSSP led many battles and established strong authority among the working masses, who believed the LSSP would maintain its class independence and continue to advance its interests. However, a section of the LSSP leaders abandoned that direction and opportunistically turned towards an ‘electoral’ solution by forming a government in 1964 with what they thought were ‘progressive’ capitalists in the SLFP.
While this coalition was short-lived, being ousted from office the following year, considerable resistance developed to the LSSP dropping its previous position of not joining capitalist governments. The LSSP itself split over the issue and there was discontent, particularly among the youth. As a result, thousands of youth gravitated towards the JVP with hopes of achieving a socialist Sri Lanka, only to be misled by its leadership. 1970 saw the election of another SLFP-led coalition including both the LSSP and the smaller Communist Party, both having initially had big support but also frustrating those who wanted fundamental socialist change. This was the background to the JVP’s growth. In 1970 it began attacks against the then UNP government and, after the election of the SLFP led coalition, launched in 1971 an ill-conceived insurrection that, tragically, saw many youth losing their lives as the rebellion was brutally repressed. The JVP leadership put forward no clarity, perspective or full programme of demands. Instead, the rural youth were asked to attack police stations, seen as the government’s main instrument of control, and march to the capital supposedly to ‘take power’.
Fifteen years later, after enduring severe repression, the JVP resurfaced as an ‘insurrectionist’ organization, this time advocating the defence of Sri Lanka’s unitary state and opposing Indian intervention. From 1987 to 1989, thousands of political activists and socialists were ruthlessly murdered by the JVP for not opposing the Indo-Lanka accord, which followed the Indian military occupation of the North. During this period, JVP leaders openly espoused ‘anti-Tamil’ rhetoric. They were previously accused of involvement in the 1983 anti-Tamil massacre.
The JVP continued its nationalistic and chauvinistic trajectory by conditionally supporting the capitalist government and later the Rajapaksa-led SLFP government. The ‘12 conditions’ put forward by the JVP in 2005, to support Mahinda Rajapaksa’s election as president and to collaborate with his administration, reflect its fervent nationalism. Advocating the scrapping of all peace agreements with the Tigers, safeguarding the unitary nature of the state, eliminating anything deemed harmful to ‘national security’, and preventing the promotion of separatism inconsistent with Sri Lanka’s constitution, and so on, were the JVP’s core conditions. They also opposed Norway’s involvement in negotiations with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, commonly known as Tigers) and emphasized cooperation with China. Additionally, the JVP and the Rajapaksa-led SLFP agreed not to privatise or abolish the executive presidency, and pursued economic policies aimed at “strengthening and promoting the national economy with equilibrium.”
This position remains to this day as per their latest election manifesto. The Rajapaksa-led SLFP cannot be compared to the SLFP that formed the United Front governments in 1964 and 1970, both in terms of economic policy and political outlook. Even during that time, the SLFP, as seen by the majority of workers, rural youth, and the poor, was rightly regarded as a capitalist party, and the LSSP’s collaboration with it to implement capitalist policies was soon seen as a betrayal. This was the basis for the collapse in the LSSP’s vote from 433,000 in 1970 to 225,000 in 1977 and their failure to recover.
The emergence and growth of the JVP was rooted in opposition to the 1964 United Front government. Although the JVP never had a revolutionary Marxist programme, in its early stages, it gave the impression of being a ‘revolutionary’ organisation and attracted people willing to make personal sacrifices. However, over the decades, faced with numerous objective difficulties, they have “lowered the red flag and held onto the nationalist flag,” as one of their key leaders himself later acknowledged. Their sudden support for one of the worst SLFP governments and their justification of all its crimes, including heinous human rights abuses, did not come as a surprise to those who had followed the trajectory of the JVP. Its political leadership has reached such a low point that its positions on the economy and the Tamil national question have become even worse than those of the remnants of the LSSP who collaborated with them in supporting the Rajapaksa regime.
Their former leader, Somawansa Amarasinghe, went so far as to claim that they creatively integrated Marxism with “indigenous culture”, specifically Buddhist principles. This blatant betrayal of the interests of the thousands of former cadres who sacrificed their lives to establish a socialist Sri Lanka did not go unnoticed. Rebellious youth have turned away from the JVP, and many who left the party in 2012 formed the Frontline Socialist Party (FLSP), delivering a significant blow that marked the end of the JVP’s claim to being a ‘revolutionary’ force. Instead of engaging in substantive political discussions, the JVP has attempted to reinvent itself as an ‘electoral alternative’ and an anti-corruption party. Even traditional social-democratic parties have presented more coherent programmes than the current JVP.
With their abysmal stance on the Tamil and national question, they have no means of influencing Tamil workers and youth. Moreover, a significant portion of the progressive youth in the south has also grown disillusioned with them. The majority of committed youth involved in Aragalaya movement, for instance, have questioned the JVP’s true intentions, viewing them more as an electoral party rather than a party of genuine struggle. JVP leaders in turn continue to attack Aragalaya. It is the mass struggle that gave the opportunity for the JVP front NPP to gain some popularity, particularly among the middle class .But the JVP, despite basing itself largely on the middle class, hypocritically criticised Aragalaya as a middle class movement.
It also claims that it is Aragalaya that brought Ranil into power. This argument is extremely crude and one that has a cunning intention reflecting its real political understanding. It is true that Aragalaya, lacking in direction and clarity, gave the opportunity to the capitalist UNP to manoeuvre itself back into power. However the JVP, instead of standing firm in opposition and continuing to mobilise, abandoned the all-struggle platform in favour of concentrating on challenging Ranil in elections. The leaders of JVP unions faced vehement opposition when they called a strike on the day of the uprising (9 July 2022), effectively stopping workers and youth going to the capital, in fact aiding the continued existence of the Rajapaksa regime. But they were forced to withdraw. Key JVP union leaders to this day act as a barrier to taking collective action against Ranil’s government with the argument that there is no support for strike action among the masses. If anything, the JVP continues to aid the prolonging of the Ranil led government. Unable to provide leadership to the struggle that emerged, they want everyone involved to concentrate now on the elections. We do not oppose standing in elections, but the JVP is posing elections as the alternative to active struggle.
When it comes to their notion of a “national economy with equilibrium”, the current leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake claims that the JVP has “ten scientific plans” to rebuild the country. These plans are based on the concept of a “self-reliant economy” that harks back to old ideas, such as promoting local farming, utilising available natural resources, promoting tourism, and attracting foreign investment, all on the basis of capitalism. However, the JVP has failed to provide a comprehensive explanation of how they will implement these plans differently from the current regime, or previous promises made by the Rajapaksa government. The lack of investment, concrete plans, and democratic control over production raise doubts about their ability to bring about significant change in the so called rebuilding process.
Instead of clearly advocating for nationalisation and worker’s control as a basis for planning the economy, the JVP speaks of “people’s participation” in production, without clearly defining what it entails. Moreover, they take a divisive approach by suggesting that only 6% of the population in the North Central Province would be allowed to participate in the ‘economic system’. This is not only a confusing exclusion but also this stance opposes the idea of nationalisation and worker’s control. Although the JVP attempts to obscure this position through rhetoric, it becomes explicit in its statements regarding education and healthcare, two crucial social sectors that face significant threats of privatisation and have sparked strong opposition across the country.
According to their manifesto, the JVP proposes “measures to regulate postgraduate studies in both public and private higher education sectors”. They also mention allowing privatisation under their “supervision”. However, there is no mention of reversing the privatisation of education, which has sparked significant student opposition in recent times. Additionally, their allocation of a mere 6% of the budget to education and 5% to healthcare falls short even compared to previous capitalist governments. This lacklustre commitment raises concerns about the JVP’s stance on these crucial social sectors.
Furthermore, the true character of the JVP was exposed by one of its leaders, Bimal Ratnayake, who openly stated that the party is not campaigning for socialist policies but rather for “capitalist reforms”. Siritunga Jayasuriya, the General Secretary of the United Socialist Party, highlighted the deceptive nature of the JVP in a recent article, revealing a two-faced approach. Siritunga wrote:
“Anura Kumara Dissanayake, who is the leader of the JVP, had a discussion with a group of independent intellectuals last month (February 2023). In that discussion, he clearly stated that they have now abandoned building the fight for a socialist society. After all the journalists had left, Anura asked the meeting audience to switch off their mobile phones. He then told them that ‘there is no capitalist class in Sri Lanka and therefore their agenda is to maintain the capitalist system without corruption’.”
You can read Siritunga Jayasuriya’s article here: https://www.socialistworld.net/2023/03/09/sri-lanka-is-the-national-peoples-movement-a-viable-mass-alternative/
This incident sheds light on how the JVP currently operates. It conceals its intentions and political positions from the broader masses, presenting itself as a viable electoral alternative focused on anti-corruption and the well-being of the people, while assuring local and international capitalists that they are not their enemy. They don’t even have clear understanding of how ‘corruption’ emerged, not as the moral corruption of an individual but as part of the rotten nature of capitalism in Sri Lanka. In reality, their economic policies are not fundamentally different from those of past capitalist governments, with the reformist Sirimavo Bandaranaike governments of the 1960s and early 1970s being, in some limited aspects, far more progressive in comparison.
Regarding debt, the JVP’s approach seems to revolve around working diplomatically to restructure debt repayment and obtain debt relief, echoing similar measures expressed by Ranil and others. The JVP’s solution appears to be centred on further borrowing to address the problem, without considering alternatives such as non-payment of debt, as a key part of a wider socialist programme, which has been advocated by the CWI and its Sri Lankan section, the United Socialist Party. While many on the left have come to accept the non-payment of debt as a viable demand, the JVP has remained opposed to it, despite boasting in meetings about the economic relief it has supposedly brought, as if the party had actively campaigned for it. This duplicitous nature is also evident in their discussion of a ‘fair tax’ system, which fails to mention how taxing the rich will take place or re-taking wealth from capitalist exploiters.
The increase in support for the JVP-led electoral coalition the NPP can be attributed more to the lack of viable alternatives rather than the appeal of its policies. Deceptive rhetoric has thus far obscured the true character of the JVP from certain sections of the masses. The urban middle class, for instance, may view the JVP as a potential temporary fix. The NPP has garnered significant protest support based on its past opposition to government and superficially radical rhetoric. The threat of the NPP winning in elections was significant enough for Ranil to cancel the elections in March this year.
However, the reality is that a NPP government is far from imminent, as bourgeois parties are buying time to regroup, divide, and manufacture their victory. They may even align themselves (including the main opposition SJP) to prevent the NPP’s triumph. Despite the NPP’s concerning programme, the victory of the JVP would still be seen as a blow to broader capitalist interests. In particular, their position regarding China would be perceived as a threat by many Sri Lankan capitalists, the Indian government and also the western imperialist powers. The JVP claims that they will pursue “a non-aligned foreign policy that acknowledges the reality of geopolitics and regional balance of power and is not biased towards any camp in global politics”. However, it is widely understood that this is ‘shorthand’ for their real stance of support for Chinese interests in the country and vehement opposition to Indian interests. In fact in various interviews they alluded to “the Chinese model” as a sort of solution to Sri Lanka.
Although the JVP has met with the US ambassador and various Western embassies to assure them that they are not a threat, western loyalty primarily lies with Ranil, a staunch pro-Western figure. The JVP is also unlikely to fully embrace the current UNP-led neoliberal offensive demanded by the IMF. Even modest measures favouring workers, peasants, and youth will still be considered potential threats by local and foreign capitalists, who are determined to pursue policies that attack living standards as the sole means to safeguard their profits.
Young activists should understand the JVP and its front NPP for what it is. The JVP is neither Marxist nor a revolutionary organisation. Even as a left social democratic party, working within capitalism, what they are putting forward is extremely limited. In some interviews they go as far as putting forward a neo liberal programme, to the extent of promising not to intervene in the capitalism market if they form a government. The JVP remains a very nationalist party, with a tinge of left ideas and some Marxist rhetoric. Some within the JVP (and some supporters in the NPP), are still devoted to the ‘stageist’ theory. They believe Sri Lanka had to first pass through the process of establishing democracy and clean capitalism before they can move to the stage of fighting for socialist revolution. This is a false understanding, one that can justify class collaboration and eventual disintegration. As a neo-colonial nation Sri Lanka is not at all likely to enjoy a Taiwanese or South Korean development and, even if it did, as a capitalist economy it would be hit by the developing crises around the capitalist world. The NPP has nothing much to offer to the revolutionary and radical youth other than presenting itself as the ‘lesser evil’ on the electoral plane.
Some may argue that the JVP’s ability to attract the wider masses presents an opportunity to engage with them and raise political consciousness in general. However, it is crucial to recognize that the mass mobilisation of the NPP is based on a very low political foundation, one that is not significantly different from that of capitalist parties. While the current NPP has not been ‘tested’ in terms of holding government power, the historical role played by former JVP leaders like Wimal Weerawansa, who served as Rajapaksa’s henchman, suggests the direction some of these leaders may take.
The example of the LSSP, a once-mass left party, is pertinent here. Despite its political bankruptcy being questioned by radical youth at the time, the LSSP continued to maintain support among certain sections of the rural and urban populations on an opportunistic basis. In the 1970 election, many deprived sections voted en masse for the LSSP in the hope of change, resulting in the party gaining its highest-ever votes. However, subsequent wrong policies and betrayals not only destroyed the LSSP but also had detrimental consequences for the entire left movement, ultimately paving the way for the triumph of the neo-liberal UNP. It is imperative that we learn from this history. Merely supporting one faction or another within the bourgeoisie will not bring about lasting change. The JVP/NPP’s willingness to lower their banner to achieve reasonable electoral results will only exacerbate despair and hopelessness. Instead, what is needed is the building of independent, combative, and democratic workers’ organisations, even if they initially only garner support from an active layer of the working class and youth.
The JVP still fails to endorse the Galle Face declaration, which was collectively put forward by those involved in Aragalaya, leading up to the eruption in July. The Galle Face demands themselves are extremely limited in their scope, ambition, and proposals for a viable organisation to deliver these demands.