Colombo, End of war special edition, Identity, Jaffna, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War

Tamil Question and the Global Crisis of Capitalism

One whole year has elapsed since Sri Lanka’s military victory over the Tamil Tiger forces that were fighting for a separate state.  Many had high hopes that the triumphant Mahinda-regime would now magnanimously bring out a political solution to settle the long-running ethnic conflict that has been bugging the Sinhala-dominated state in various forms since colonial times. However, still there are no signs of introducing either a substantial devolutionary package or even the so-called unitary solution for which the government has been paying lip service for quite a while.

In view of the Sinhala Buddhist majority’s key national aspiration – that Lord Buddha himself appointed god Saman to protect Sri Lanka, as the only viable land on Earth for authentic Buddhism to thrive – a unitary solution to the Tamil Question may be more prudent than any other model.

However, to attract a highly antagonised Tamil community to a unitary solution will not be easy at all. Perhaps, nothing less than a fully-fledged power-sharing model at the centre may win over the highly motivated Tamil Diaspora away from the rapidly re-emerging separatist ideology among Tamils.

Is there any chance the Mahinda-Regime of invoking far-reaching democratic changes of that scale at the centre? None whatsoever, I should say. Sri Lanka being part of the crisis-ridden global capitalist chain, I argue, powerful political and economic factors virtually rule out any such democratic change in its lopsided state structure. [Most Tamils are unlikely to take seriously the government’s latest ‘ploy’ – the so-called Reconciliation Commission – while so many Tamils rot in prison for years without trial.] In all likelihood, Mahinda administration will keep the existing forms of virtually monocratic rule intact in the face of Sri Lanka’s ‘sovereign-debt bomb’ ticking in the background. [I shall return to this point later; for now, more on the unitary solution.]

In principle, there is nothing wrong in a unitary setup provided the government is willing to go for a substantial transformation of existing state structures that can convincingly attract all three communities; in other words, a ‘democratic revolution’ that institutionally enthrone equality and the rights of individuals and communities. On the contrary, it is becoming increasingly clear that the government wants to hold on to the existing supremacist forms, hoodwink the Tamil speaking Hindu-Muslim communities and encourage the Sinhala Buddhists’ sentiments of racial superiority to thrive.

The relentlessly worsening economic nightmare seems to me to be a major factor that compels the government to do so. Like in Greece, Sri Lanka’s capitalist regime knows that eventually it has to impose the burden of debt on the people, and it knows what that means in terms of social unrest. Thus, the regime is unlikely to discard the present forms of harsh rule, or its ideological cover needed to camouflage the core issues from the public.

Perhaps, as Leon Trotsky pointed out in his Theory of Permanent Revolution, full-blown democracy in underdeveloped countries can only materialise through the socialist revolution. In other words, the democratic changes can only occur as part of the socialist revolution; and, not under national bourgeois governments. In fact, Sri Lanka’s post-independence history is a testimony to that. The unique manner in which Sri Lankan bourgeoisie emerged from an artificially imposed capitalist economy on a thriving feudal society may not be conducive for full-blooded democracy . I shall later explain how Sri Lanka’s present situation confirms Trotsky’s point. First, let me dwell a bit more on the unitary solution.

Considering demographic, geographic and economic factors [e.g. the spread of Tamil speaking people all over the island, the virtually inseparable natural water circulation pattern and the economic advantage of unitary planning, to mention a few] it seems beneficial for all communities to have a unitary setup. However, this may only work if visibly appealing power-sharing institutions establish equality of all communities at the centre itself along with the introduction of power-decentralisation to regional and local levels. [My own unitary model with “two regional parliaments and an equality-based Supreme Parliament at the centre” is one such possibility – for which I have been campaigning for a long time.]

Now, can the Mahinda regime, I repeat, carry out such a radical transformation? It certainly cannot for obvious reasons. Sri Lankan state, being an inseparable unit within the global capitalist network (which is in mortal crisis), will want to widen its fascistic arsenal even more to defend the capitalist system against the radicalising trade unionists, farmers and socialist leaders. It will force the media to support the government’s ‘economic war’ to save capitalism. Anybody who opposes will be branded as ‘traitors’ to be eliminated.

Just like most other capitalist countries, Sri Lanka also has been borrowing billions of dollars to cover massive budget deficits, not just to enhance the war-machine, but also to pacify the Sinhala majority by peddling the illusion of development. [Contrary to what Prof. G.L. Pieris claims , the haphazardly- done infrastructure developments and city-beautification projects – without  wide-ranging social security networks and major improvements in health, education and housing sectors – will invariably be contrary to the real interests of the ordinary masses. Although, corrupt ministers’ whimsical infrastructure projects  could have a temporary ‘trickle-down’ benefit for some layers, in reality such ventures will only benefit the regime-backed profiteers. Pumping ‘paper money’ for them will widen the rich-poor gap even more. They can do more harm than good to the society and the environment in general.  Widespread belief is that these projects are primarily cooked up to fulfil the insatiable greed of crafty ministers and businesspersons rather than the real needs of the majority. In any case, I should say, such ‘developments’ have nothing in common with the economic planning of scientific socialism.]

To return to the main point: largely, mountains of debt have been funding both the war and the selective infrastructure projects. The global ‘credit bubble’ remained the ultimate bulwark behind the ‘economic growth’. That bubble has now blown up dragging the nerve centres of global capitalism along with it. It is now taking the form of a ‘sovereign debt-contagion’ that forces the capitalist states to take back the money spent on ordinary masses. Mahinda-Regime also will be compelled to carry out this capitalist necessity in the form of massive cuts in public spending and social services. [The often-used term, ‘austerity measures’ is inadequate to depict the gravity of the ‘economic reversal’ involved.]

The continuing debt-crisis and the resultant mass confrontation on the streets of Greece seem to provide the images waiting to re-occur in many European cities, former colonial countries and eventually the United States itself in the near future. [Sri Lanka is not an exception.]  American nervousness was obvious when it created billions of ‘paper ‘dollars out of thin air –despite its worsening debt-problem at home – and handed over to Europe to stop (read: postpone) the ‘sovereign debt-contagion’ spreading out of control. However, everybody knows that the only meaningful way to save capitalism is to somehow nullify the debt-based ‘prosperity mirage’ and pay the money back to capitalist financiers; also, everybody knows that the states’ attempt to do this will provoke class conflict as never before.

Are the capitalist states ready to tackle the consequences? Not quite; at least not yet. The artificial capitalist booms have also strengthened self-confident working classes all over the world who will not be prepared to sacrifice their hard-won living conditions easily. Therefore, the states will have to first prevent the working classes gaining the political awareness necessary to comprehend the real issues involved – i.e. to prevent the working class from perceiving the economic crisis as a capitalist problem and seeing the need to change the profit system to bring in global socialism. The capitalist states have historically used various ideological weapons to do this before using state-power to crush the struggles. Whipping up nationalism and racism to split the working class has often been a major tactic.

The above discussion’s relevance to Sri Lanka’s case is obvious. Just like many other capitalist states, the biggest problem Sri Lanka is presently facing is the debt-problem; and, keeping the working class split along ethnic lines is crucial. To do that, Sri Lanka has a readymade arsenal of communalist ideology and racist sentiments that can be lit up at short notice. Moreover, Sri Lanka has a readymade arsenal of fascist gangs to mobilize at will along with the Sinhala troops.

As I have pointed out earlier, the Mahinda regime has a stake in maintaining the status quo. Nobody should be naive enough to expect solid democratic changes to solve the Tamil Question or disband its network of gangsters. The Reconciliation Commission will only be a smokescreen to buy time.

In this context, it is sad to see most Tamils, along with their Sinhala counterpart, still failing to transcend the nationalist mindset and comprehend issues in class-terms. The Tamil nationalists’ present effort to revive a separatist struggle will contribute to the ‘Sinhala’ government’s strategy to keep the working class divided along ethnic lines. This has happened in the past, and in the present context, it will happen again with far more disastrous consequences to all communities. The time has come for the Tamil separatists to go beyond narrow-nationalism and understand the most fundamental problems facing Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims as class-issues, and not ethnic issues. Only a far-reaching democratic transformation of the country as a whole will solve the cultural aspirations of all three communities. Such a change will require a paradigm-shift in economic thinking, and is inseparably intertwined with a fully-fledged remodelling of society on the principles of scientific socialism. Remember, this does not prohibit the role of regulated private enterprise within limits.

End of War Special Edition