By Kumar David –
Prof. Kumar David
Long-term perspectives for the People’s Power (PP) movement: PP is not simply an Election Front
Since it’s election season, presidential, provincial and mid-next-year parliamentary, every conversation invariably drifts that way. All are agog about “Who will be the DNF candidate?” “What is the latest prediction?” and so on. That’s natural but only a side-line for today’s column. Sure, the election later this year is important and every entity in PP will strive to strengthen Anura Kumara’s performance, but PP is not simply an electioneering machine; it is a long-term strategy. It needs to prove itself by grass roots application and commitment. If this materialises and following, hopefully, a good showing at the presidential poll, PP can aim to emerge as a strong, if not decisive force in next year’s general election. And that’s not the end either.
At a minimum it must crystallise a programme beyond the insincere collations that the SLFP, UNP and SLPP routinely fake. At best PP can influence and foster a future to take Lanka to economic improvement and social democracy. When stepping out on a new road realistic short-term thinking and visionary long-term perspectives have to be blended. What I have said in these few sentences is an outline but surely not absurdly ambitious or unrealistic? What big change, anywhere in the world, at any time, came about without fusing an immediate goal with a future vision? My vision is that the PP movement can become big and grow way into the future.
Any fool knows that PP is not going win the presidency this time, but what’s important is that the people grasp that giving PP a boost will strengthen its hand for the road ahead. I would be over the moon if it came close to polling 20% and satisfied if it breached the one million mark. Let’s take heart from the rejection of established parties everywhere and the burst of Alt-Movements of the left and the right; Jacinda Arden, Imran Khan, Five-Star in Italy, Sirias in Greece and Podemos in Spain are leftist or progressive beginnings.
The putrefaction of a system entrenched decades ago, for example the capitalist economy in America and Europe, has in its crisis, also puked ultra-nationalists. The universe is topsy-turvy and in unstable times unhinged narcissists like Trump, near-fascists like Hungary’s Viktor Oban and Italy’s immigrant hating Matteo Salvini sprout like mushrooms; so do left leaning movements. The scene in Lanka is similar; we have Gota called a fascist by some on the left, the all mixed-up UNP and People’s Power which I see as a long-term game changer.
This third-option is the most intriguing; if it polls well it would signal the arrival of a force with more than electoral perspectives. PP must be the start of a new road otherwise I can see no point in being involved. Without a radical vision and a state-power perspective what’s the point of it all? Like the rest of the visionless liberal intellectual flotsam we might just as well spend our time running behind Gota or the UNP!
What are the programmatic perspectives in outline – I have promised you a comprehensive review after the draft of the PP expert panel is made available. Briefly, there are don’t-do’s and do’s. The don’ts are easy; PP must remain free of all forms of corruption and its ranks must be above personal opportunism which is the hallmark of present-day Ministers, MPs and Provincial Councillors of the SLFP, UNP and SLPP. It must in no way indulge in the politics of race and religion and must not bow to reactionary monks and minority-baiting fanatics. The don’t-do list is easier to compile than a well-structured enumeration of positive programmatic steps. Think of the conduct of the SLFP, UNP, the SLPP and especially of the Rajapaksa cabal and its hangers-on, and that’s the don’t-do list!
What should PP’s progressive, radical or left plan of work be? First let’s ask ‘What is ‘left’ in the context of Lanka’s sad history of the last four decades of leftism? Three UPFA-lefties (LSSP, CP and Vasudeva’s outfit) are Mahinda Rajapaksa’s erand boys preparing to mount the stage and rant in support of Gota. Don’t I know how they spoke of Gota till his SLPP nomination? Not so long ago I have been at their Socialist Alliance and Vasudeva’s party confabulations where Gota was spoken of in terms like, militarist, killer, despot and even fascist. Now Gota is the saviour and the hero! How do these people sleep at night? And you call Trump a barefaced liar.
To move on with ‘What is the left?’, then there is the ULF a player in the drive to remove Rajapaksa and now a partner in the UNP led government. There are also many ‘left forces’ outside these two alliances; post-Shan entities are visible in the plantations, Tamil areas and Colombo; there are tiny sects scattered here and there and then there is the JVP, the largest and most significant left party in the country. What on earth is distinctive about this menagerie, what marks it? The answer is two-fold; roots or where a party originated, and secondly its association with the term socialism. The origin factor is as clear as the ubiquitous red of every leftist’s shirt. Every significant left party, group or sect had its origin in the old LSSP, the old CP, and after the Sino-Soviet split of the mid-1950s in Shanmugadasan’s Communist Party (Maoist) of which Wijeweera was a member. Hence one marker of leftism is genesis from which the red shirt and flag originate.
The second marker of leftism is its association with the term socialism though to uncultivated minds on left and right the word is no different from a state-owned economy as in the USSR and Soviet Block Eastern Europe. This is not the place for a harangue about the Soviet economy, the Chinese ‘Socialist Market Economy’ or Marx’s concept of socialism. (I covered China in “China’s Socialist Market Economy: Viable Concept or Oxymoron” in Global Challenges and National Crises, Hector Abhayavardhana Felicitation Symposium (2001), and that analysis remains valid to this day).
The important point is would a directed programme (dirigisme is the fancy word), goodies for have-nots and constraints on haves, attract leftists from the various corners in which they lurk? Will adapting what was successful in early stage development in the Chinese and Vietnamese experiences entice other leftists? Maybe some. maybe not others. The UPFA-left in Mahinda’s kennel will not budge. They are too far gone; no longer socialists, leftists or anything-ists, they are the walking dead. But a feasible and progressive plan of work will compel others on the left to throw in their lot with People’s Power. To put it plainly, I do believe that PP can grow and attract people at large and more parties, trade-unions etc.
There is nevertheless a crucial point for reflection: Are we looking for Left Unity and a leftist-socialist programme, or is it more realistic is the prevailing world and domestic conjuncture to think in terms of broader unity and a progressive programme? I am sure I don’t need to spell out the difference between a leftist-socialist and a broad-progressive programme, but we must come down hard in favour of the latter. Global production and financial systems have changed, technology has transformed the working class (traditional industrial workers are in decline, the labour force is mainly a new working class blended into the service sector, information processing and sales; it dresses and talks with a different attitude). What makes sense to the majority today and appeals to their needs is not the same as the programme aimed at trade unions and blue-collar workers used to be. To align with the new PP needs to be a broad, its vision has to relate to domestic and to new class and global realities. It has to take cognizance of the modern state and existing capitalist and informal sectors.
I am getting dangerously close to discussing what I promised to hold back for a future essay, concrete programmes and a review and analysis of feasible options. The treacherous way would be to sell-out like the UPFA-left, the stupid way would be to trigger wholesale economic collapse in the name of socialism as in mismanaged Venezuela. Both can be avoided with common sense. More urgent is the practical task of taking PP to districts and workplaces, attracting others to join and swelling the 30-member outfit to 50 and 100 and setting up an organisational structure. The work is in hand and PP will eventually be more than the JVP and entities on its periphery. This is not a work plan confined to the period from now to the presidential or next year’s parliamentary election. It reaches well beyond that time frame. Everyone in PP is clear about that but what’s important to carry the message to the outside.