Colombo, Elections, Politics and Governance

Sarath Fonseka – A potential De Gaulle or Chavez?

Sarath Fonseka’s dramatic exposure of Gotabhaya Rajapkse’s role at the final stages of the war marks a new turn in the presidential election. From now on the extremist layers among the Sinhala majority will decisively rally round the Mahinda-regime while those layers that do not approve the war’s barbaric conclusion while supporting the LTTE’s military defeat will firmly turn towards the General. Hence, I argue, the socialist forces and the Tamil-speaking minority that presently back alternative candidates should join forces with Sarath Fonseka to try and bring down the government. If not they would in practice be only helping to protect the status-quo.

As I correctly predicted when the “Mahinda-Sarath split” occurred, from now on the battle between the two main candidates will increasingly represent a watershed between the two conflicting forces of Sri Lanka’s changing social consciousness. The Left parties should realize that this is not the time for naïve politics of sheer propagandism.

Sarath Fonseka (SF) doesn’t belong to any mainstream political party; and, he has no deep-rooted political ideology. Contrary to what Minister G.L. Pieris said, both these attributes are positive qualities indeed in a fast changing world. Veteran politicians with fixed views often fail to see a reality in transition.

SF is still a politician in the melting pot. Therefore, he has the potential to become either a Charles De Gaulle [as Mangala Samaraweera predicts] or a Hugo Chavez [as I suggested he should try to become]. Which way will he evolve depends on many global and local factors. I shall not go into all that here. But I shall explain what will happen if he ends up as a De Gaulle.

We all know how De Gaulle’s presidency ended up in 1968. The general strike of the French working class and the student movement brought the entire French society into a standstill and forced De Gaulle to get out of politics altogether.

Remember, when he became the president of France in 1959 global capitalism was going through a boom; thus he could maintain stability until the boom ended in crisis during the 60s. 1968 general strike was the result of that economic doom. His war-time expertise could not handle the gigantic power of the masses.

On the contrary, when Hugo Chavez (with his military background) came to power in Venezuela his primary objective was to eradicate endemic poverty in the country. In comparison with De Gaulle, that’s his big difference. Presently Venezuela’s poverty-problem is steadily evaporating, not because it has oil, but because of Chavez’s socialist approach to economics. Even in Sri Lanka, had there been a socialist regime it would have solved the Tamil problem a long time ago and used the billions of dollars spent on war-destruction for poverty eradication. It’s important to realize that a change from “Trickle-Down Economics” to “Common-Welfare- Economics” involves a paradigm shift.

Now, if Sarath Fonseka wins this election he’ll be confronted with a twin-problem both of which are unprecedented in Sri Lankan terms. One, the issue of democracy; two, the issue of the economy; both are closely intertwined; and, nobody can solve one without the other. I shall show later why socialist economics is crucial in eliminating poverty and creating jobs. [In fact, the inseparability of the democratic & socialist stages is an aspect of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, as opposed to Stalin’s two-stage theory. Read Lyon Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution.]

Democracy and human rights are in tatters. And, the steadily eroding living conditions of the poor majority are touching intolerable levels. Tamil civilians’ misery and suffocation continue to drag on; innocent Tamil journalists still suffer in prisons. And, the question of a political solution vis-à-vis Tamil aspirations remains unresolved. But, can any government carryout democratic changes in isolation from economic changes? I don’t think so. Any future administration focusing on democratic transformation alone will inevitably renege on their promises and be compelled to return to dictatorial methods to tackle social unrest if the economic issues remained unresolved.

In this context, Sarath Fonseka’s vocabulary and promises at the recent trade-union gathering were quite impressive indeed. But words are not good enough unless he rejects the existing UNP-SLFP economic vision based on the ‘trickle-down’ economics of capitalism; and instead adopts socialist ‘common-welfare economics’. Or else, he’ll be in trouble. The collapsing global economy is not conducive at all for the kind of economic games Sri Lankan governments have been playing since JR Jayawardane launched the open economy. That episode is well and truly over. The ongoing global effort to save private bankers by recklessly offering trillions of public funds will not eradicate poverty. Remember, the economists who advise the states at present never saw the credit crunch coming in the first place. [Ironically, it was Queen Elizabeth who raised this question when she visited the London School of Economics. She wanted to know why nobody saw the crisis coming!]

What this means is: Sri Lankan economists’ approach to the problem of widespread poverty should dramatically change. And that implies: a paradigm shift is necessary – from capitalistic to socialist form of thinking.

Presently, both UNP and SLFP economists promote ‘private investment’ as the driving-force of development. They think the private-profit system would eventually overcome poverty as the profiteers’ wealth gradually trickles down to lower classes. This is a criminal myth that has failed time and time again.

A new economic model based on scientifically-designed, islandwide infrastructure targeting common-welfare should be the driving force of social development. Let me emphasize here that the concept of infrastructure should invariably include nationwide health, education and housing services, on top of modern transport-systems, energy-distribution, water-distribution and communication systems covering all parts of the island. For, people’s health, education and living conditions are as important to productivity as efficient train/bus services, electricity, mobile-phones and computers are. Thus, good health and education of everyone is not just a moral requirement, it’s an economic necessity.

The infrastructure should be the foundation of the economy – the real material base of the economy. The level of productivity in the country as a whole is dependent on this. It is this half of the economy that should constantly be maintained and improved through scientific guidance. Massive state-investments on infrastructure will obviously create jobs all over the country. Easily accessible credit should be made available for the poor to create the demand for private investors to orientate towards. Considering Sri Lanka’s scenic and cultural beauty, tourism, in my view, should become the number-one foreign exchange earner that should be essentially run by public institutions.

Obviously, private-profiteers cannot develop visions for the country as a whole. Only, a social-democratic-state accountable to the masses can develop such visions.

Both UNP & SLFP finance ministers cannot develop such visions because they still maintain rock-solid optimism on the global profit-system. But the reality is different: global capitalism is already crumbling. Pumping in trillions of dollars to prop up bankers is not going to solve the global crisis. The next episode of the economic tsunami is already gathering momentum to hit the shores. There’s only one way to transcend the ongoing economic deadlock: global socialism.

The economic vision I elaborated in relation to Sri Lanka is only a miniature-vision that can be expanded to the globe as a whole. That’s why I keep insisting on the necessity for a global currency, global parliament and a socialist World-Bank.

But where’s the money to do all this? The answer is simple. Look at the way the Sri Lankan state funded the thirty-year war with billions of dollars. In the last four years alone Sri Lanka’s defense spending amounted to 629 billion rupees (5.5 billion US dollars).

The central banks are in a special position to ‘create’ money in so many ways. We’ve seen how the USA unleashed the Marshall Plan to rebuild a war-battered Western Europe after the Second World War. Also, we saw how the states in many countries pumped in trillions of dollars to provide life-support to the crumbling global economy after the credit crunch.

To return to the Sri Lankan issue let me point out that there’s a fundamental difference between raising credit for war on the one hand, and for infrastructure development on the other. The former is spent on destroying things; the latter is spent on creating things; the former is destroying productivity and living standards while the latter is increasing productivity and living standards. Thus, the former is accumulated as state-debt while the latter is instrumental in creating wealth. The former causes poverty to spread and economic turmoil to deepen; while the latter helps eradicate poverty. Accordingly, the central bank with expert advice can scientifically plan development and unleash credit on a long term basis. And that’s the way to wipeout poverty, and not by blindly opening up Sri Lanka’s resources for the profit-hunters to greedily exploit.

Let me come to the million dollar question now: What if Mahinda Rajapaksa wins? Again, the answer is simple. The above elaborated logic applies to him too. He too can either choose the capitalist path, as he’s been doing all along. Or, he can choose the socialist path of eradicating poverty along with democratic change. On my part, I think, Sarath Fonseka has a better chance of metamorphosis than Mahinda Rajapaksa. Whoever comes to power will have to tackle the issues of democracy & economics all at once; if they fail, however, a general strike could well be on the cards sooner than later. Both must not underestimate the big change of mass-perception taking place in Sri Lanka since the Sarath/Mahinda split.

Nobody can be absolutely certain which path Sarath Fonseka would take once he’s in power. Only thing I can say is that he has the potential to either become a De Gaulle or a Chavez. If he picks out the ‘De Gaulle-line’ then – given the existing global and local economic conditions – social struggles will be on the cards, and his vision for democratic change will vanish into the thin air. He’ll resort to dictatorial methods to curtail media freedom and crush the trade unions and people’s protests. If, on the other hand, he succeeds in combining his democratic vision with socialist economics he can emerge as Sri Lanka’s Chavez to enlighten Asia along with China.

I think Sri Lanka’s Left and the trade union movement should give the benefit of the doubt to Sarath Fonseka and help him replace the present regime, because nobody else can do it. But every step during his rule after taking power will have to be closely watched. There’re many unknown factors here than the known ones.

One must realize that I’m not at all saying that SF is definitely going to emerge as a Chavez. With UNP’s influence he might well end up as a De Gaulle. My stance stems from a different perspective: I perceive the ‘SF-MR battle’ as an unprecedented socio-political phenomenon in Sri Lanka’s history. It has created a superb opportunity to contribute to the fast changing Sinhala-Buddhist consciousness in general. I want to bring in democratic and socialist values to the centre of the ongoing debates. I think I’m doing it somewhat successfully, because I stayed with those Sinhala forces that challenge the present regime. [Those Sinhala forces won’t come to support Bahu at this point of their transition. That’s why I think that the Left and the Tamils should have critically (not unconditionally) supported SF’s effort to bring down the government, as I’ve been doing. If SF is going to make a U-Turn on his democratic promises, he’ll be compelled to do that right from the beginning. That’s the time for all progressive forces to come forward with the real alternative. At present Bahu’s propagandist campaign only helps Mahinda Rajapaksa to stay in power. And the Buhu-supporters, in practice, are only ‘masturbating’ for self-satisfaction.]