The Committee for a Workers' International (CWI) held its world Summer School from 12-18 July, in Belgium. Over 300 people attended the event from all across Europe and there were also visitors from other parts of the globe, including Brazil, Quebec, Kazakhstan, Malaysia and Australia. Below are reports of some of the main discussions at the School.
Sunday, 12 July 2009
Sir Stuart Rose, executive chair of Marks and Spencer proclaimed in the Observer recently that women have got "more equality than you ever can deal with". According to Sir Stuart: "There are really no glass ceilings, despite the fact that some of you moan about it all the time".
Eleanor Donne looks at the reality women face in Britain and asks: Have women really 'made it'? Do we now live in a 'post feminist' society and what are the roots of women's oppression?
It is true that there have been significant changes in the lives of women over the last 35-40 years. Most of the direct discrimination has been removed and women have equality with men, in the eyes of the law at least.
Women make up at least half of the workforce and half of university graduates (up from one third in 1970) and girls are outperforming boys in nearly all subjects at school and university. Access to contraception and safe abortion is no longer restricted to wealthy women, as in the past. The dramatic rise in numbers of women in work, albeit mostly in part-time, low-paid work, has been significant in itself in raising women's confidence and expectations. Yet clearly women do continue to suffer discrimination.
Women at work
Rather than having to deal with 'more equality' as Stuart Rose of Marks and Spencer suggests, there is evidence that women are already being disproportionately affected by recession - losing full-time jobs at twice the rate of men.
The overall pay gap between men and women increased last year for the first time since the Equal Pay Act came into force in 1975.
Although men and women graduates in their 20s earn about the same, having children (which women are doing later and later) still results in a significant drop in earnings for women in their 30s and 40s, compared to men.
An estimated 30,000 women a year are sacked for being pregnant (although this is of course illegal) and there is an indication that this is increasing on the basis of the recession. The government has now shelved plans to extend paid maternity leave to a year, paternity leave to up to 26 weeks and flexible working to parents of children over six years old because this may be 'burdensome' to business during a recession.
Around 70% of women in Britain now work outside the home, including many with small children. This significant social change has been against the backdrop of rampant, neoliberal capitalism, which has led to increased commercial exploitation of all aspects of life.
Women have been a source of cheap and flexible labour, which was exploited by the capitalist economy in the west and in the developing world.
Traditional gender roles, reinforced under capitalism, are used to excuse low pay and casual work for women because their primary role is defined as bringing up the family and 'keeping house'.
Whilst there are now more women than men qualifying as solicitors, the majority of working-class women are still concentrated in 'the three Cs' - caring, childcare and cleaning, which are seen as an extension of what they do in the home and therefore relatively 'unskilled' and low status jobs.
Women and girls daily are bombarded with images of women from advertisements, magazines and the tabloids, telling them how they need to look to be successful in love and life generally.
The message that women are judged more by how they look than what they do or think is still loud and clear, constantly played on by a multimillion pound 'beauty' industry. No wonder then that only 1% of young women feel 'completely happy' with the shape of their body and more than half of ten to 14-year-olds girls are worried about being fat.
The sex industry has increasingly entered 'mainstream' society, with lap dancing clubs frequented by celebrities - men, and sometimes women keen to show how 'broad minded' they are. The playboy bunny now even adorns children's pencil cases and lunchboxes.
The porn industry has grown, fed by easy access for consumers via the internet and a 'supply' of desperately poor women, particularly from the ex Soviet Union countries. Individual women and men are often directly exploited in the production of pornography. But it also has wider implications for women as a whole, as in the context of a capitalist society with structured inequality for women, it reflects and reinforces stereotypical views of women as sexually available, and reduces them from whole beings to body parts. Commercial exploitation of sex is the opposite of genuine freedom of sexual expression for both men and women.
It is important to challenge sexist images and attitudes, but they are a symptom of women's oppression, not the root cause. This goes back to early history and the development of class society and the family.
The role of the family
The word 'family' to most of us means our relations, parents, partners, and children - people we may have close personal relationships with. However, to governments and the ruling class 'the family' is also a vital social institution. They use it to pass on and consolidate their property and wealth, to reinforce their ideas and 'values'.
Most importantly for a capitalist system, the family is an economic unit. Under a capitalist economy, big business shareholders and their apologists in government want to maximise profits by keeping their costs to a minimum. This applies not only to actual wages but also to what is known as the 'social wage' - the tax cost of feeding, clothing, housing and educating a new generation of workers. They do this by offloading these costs as much as possible onto individual families.
Margaret Thatcher during the recession of the early 1980s said: 'there is no such thing as society, only individual families'. The government used this idea of the family as a provider of services to justify cuts and hospital closures and blamed social problems created by their economic policies on the 'breakdown' of the family.
This process is likely to be repeated in the current recession. The Financial Times reported that councils in England have axed about 10,000 jobs, with 70% expecting further losses due to the recession. Cuts in social and health care services affect women especially, as workers, but also because they will be expected to 'take up the slack' as carers in the home.
The family is also used as a means of reinforcing the hierarchy in society in many ways. This may not seem so obvious now as in Victorian times or under a feudal system when men's authority as 'head of the household' had the full weight of the law and the church behind it.
After all, in Britain we are generally free to choose our partners and to end relationships. Women can no longer be imprisoned for adultery or locked up in mental institutions as degenerates for having 'illegitimate' babies (which happened here as late as the 1960s).
However, it was only less than 20 years ago that law lords finally ruled that marital rape was illegal. The idea of 'conjugal rights' can still give many men a sense of entitlement to sex, as statistics on rape indicate. The legal right of husbands to beat their wives was removed 150 years ago, but domestic violence continued to be viewed as a private matter, generally ignored by the police and useful in keeping women in 'their place'.
Today, home office statistics show that, on average, two women a week are killed by their partner and one in four women will suffer violence from a partner or boyfriend at some point in their lives.
Nature or nurture
It is in the interests of the ruling class in society to promote the idea that their system, the way society is organised, including the family, is a reflection of the 'natural order' of things rather than something that they have imposed. Religion played a key role in this, but an emerging capitalist class also misused science, medicine and psychiatry to 'prove' the inferiority of non-white races, women, the lower classes and 'sexual deviants'. Homosexuality was made a crime in 1885. Women, it was said, were designed only for childbearing, domesticity and looking decorative, and attempts by them to enter politics or public life would result in anything from a withered womb to mental illness.
The ruling class imposed their model of personal relationships, the 'bourgeois family' - with male breadwinner and dependant wife and children, onto society as a whole. This was what the working class should aspire to, even though in reality they rarely had the financial resources to allow a 'stay at home' wife and mother. In most families even the children had to work.
This ideology was challenged, most notably by Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx's closest collaborator. Anthropologists had found, often to their surprise and sometimes disgust, that women in 'primitive societies' had a degree of status and sexual freedom that was unheard of in the capitalist societies.
Using the best evidence available at that time, Engels explained that the oppression of women, far from being natural and timeless, was very recent in human history. For 90% of our time on the planet men and women lived in groups in what are usually known as hunter/gatherer societies, where resources were shared and children were the responsibility of the whole group.
Men and women often had different roles, but this division of labour did not mean that the tasks women undertook were less valued. Women were as free as men were to pair up and separate and there were no economic implications to this for them or any children they had.
The patriarchal family with the man as ruler of the household, and with it the institutionalised domination of men over women, became a feature of human society about 10,000 years ago, when it was possible through agriculture and later, trade, for some groups to produce more than subsistence levels of food, clothing etc. This type of work was mainly the preserve of men, so the wealth and status generated was closely associated with men, a minority of whom rose above society and became a political elite.
The issue of inheritance became important and therefore, for the first time so did paternity, as men wanted to pass on their wealth and needed to know which children in the group were theirs. Monogamy for women was strictly enforced by new structures of society and women were no longer free to end their marriage.
Whilst women's sexuality became tightly controlled, men were free to take 'mistresses'. This established a double standard between male and female sexuality that still exists, with women judged much more harshly for being sexually 'promiscuous'. This whole process took place over thousands of years, but by the time of early Roman societies the patriarchal family was well established along with slavery.
The development of private ownership, concentration of wealth in the hands of male elites, and the passing of wealth through the male rather than female line, led to a loss of status and freedom for women which Engels called the "world historical defeat of womankind".
Class and gender
Initially the women most affected by the rise of class society were those in the groups who were accumulating wealth and power and rising above the rest. So they benefited materially from the process even though as women they lost freedom and rights.
This contradictory process still applies today, as women of the ruling class and upper middle class experience domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment and cultural stereotyping in common with women of other classes.
But to end women's oppression means ending the class system that gave rise to it and this brings about a conflict between the interests of their gender and their class. Some privileged women are drawn into campaigns on specific issues, such as domestic violence and abortion rights.
However, for such campaigns to succeed in the long run it is vital to link these to the overall struggle to change society. This means finding common cause with working class men, as it is only a united working class that is capable of getting rid of the current economic and social system, which is underpinned by and reinforced by women's oppression.
Whilst it could be argued that all men benefit to some extent from patriarchy which gives them power and status within the family, the vast majority of men also lost power and status in society as a whole with the development of class society because they became the slaves, serfs and workers.
Women in struggle
Whether it is Mr 5% cuts or Mr 10% who wins the next election, the scale of public debt means that public services and public sector workers face a massive attack. Women will be in the forefront of the coming fight to defend public sector jobs and against cuts in services.
Past experience shows that, when women workers move into struggle, they become more conscious of their exploitation as women and demand that they be able to play a full role in the fightback.
It is no accident that the biggest movements of women, the early 20th century campaign for the vote and the 1970s women's movement, emerged at a time of heightened class struggle when there was a growing feeling that the working class needs, and can achieve, a fundamental change in society. The ruling class try to divide workers along gender and race lines, to undercut wages and to weaken opposition to their system. The Socialist Party, being Marxist, has always argued for maximum unity of the working class, whilst recognising the importance at times for specially oppressed groups of workers to organise round their specific demands.
If the Tories win the next election it is very likely that abortion rights will come under attack again and the Socialist Party will renew its call for the trade union movement to take up this issue, including mobilising for a national demonstration.
The need for socialism
Ros Coward, active in the women's movement of the 1970s and 1980s, concluded by the late 1990s that 'feminism has achieved its aims'. Liberal feminists were always prepared to limit their demands to those that could be accommodated within capitalism.
Yet it is now clearer than ever as the global economic crisis bites that the struggle for equality, and even more so for the true liberation of women and men, also means a struggle to overthrow the current economic and social system. In the process of such a struggle many of the existing prejudices and assumptions, the ideology that plays a crucial role now in reinforcing and legitimising women's material inequality, will be undermined.
A socialist society, where the economic resources would be owned and controlled collectively through a planned economy, could use these resources to provide services such as decent childcare for parents that want to use it, socialised laundry and ironing services, cheap, but good-quality restaurants. Hours at work could be reduced with no loss of pay so that men and women get to spend time with each other, their children and friends.
Access to affordable housing and a decent income, either through benefits or work, would allow women economic independence and mean that ending a relationship would not lead to poverty and social exclusion as is often the case now.
Such a society would ultimately provide the opportunity to develop personal relationships free from the pressures not just of poverty and overwork, but also from structured gender inequality.
From The Socialist, CWI Britain and Wales
Tuesday, 7 July 2009
A WARNING TO WORKERS IN LATIN AMERICA
On Sunday 5 July Manuel Zelaya, the President of Honduras who was overthrown in a coup a week earlier, attempted to return to Honduras. The Honduran military blocked the airfield refusing to let him land. The army then started to fire live ammunition at the unarmed men, women and children gathered outside the airport, hoping to welcome Zelaya home. Zelaya was forced to retreat, and is now reduced to appealing to the US government to resolve the situation.
Half of the population of Honduras lives below the poverty line. The official unemployment rate stands at 28%. More than one million of the 7.8 million population have had to emigrate to the US to try and find work.
Manuel Zelaya, a wealthy landowner, was elected as President in 2005 representing the centre-right Liberal Party. Once in power, however, impelled by pressure from below, he implemented a number of reforms to assist the poorest in society, most notably a 60% increase in the minimum wage. Having started as a supporter of US imperialism and the North America Free Trade Agreement he moved towards the left, and last year took Honduras into the regional alliance promoted by Venezuela, the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA). He has also ended the monopoly of the multinational on the importation of fuel through an agreement with Venezuela.
All of these actions enraged the Honduran ruling class. Historically the Honduran ruling class have been completely tied to US imperialism, with a long history of military coups when Presidents even mildly threatened the interests of US capitalism. In the 1980s it was the main base for the reactionary paramilitary, US-backed Contras, that fought to defeat the revolution in Nicaragua.
It was Zelaya's move to try and change the constitution, which proved the final straw which led to the coup. On the day he was overthrown a non-binding referendum was due to be held to gauge popular support for the formation of a national constituent assembly to draft a new constitution. Had a majority supported the proposal Zelaya had declared that a referendum would be held on the same day as the 29 November elections. The Supreme Court, the right wing dominated Congress, and the military, which is responsible for organising election in Honduras, all opposed the referendum. When Zelaya refused to retreat, they overthrew him.
Supporters of the coup claim that Zelaya's main motivation was to change the constitution so that he could run for a second term. Zelaya has denied this. It seems clear that the real fear of the Honduran ruling class and state apparatus was that Zelaya, mild as his reforms have been, was threatening their interests and that the call for a Constituent Assembly could, in an echo of Bolivia, raise the hopes of the masses that more fundamental social change is possible.
The coup organisers' claim that they stood for democracy is blatant hypocrisy. Peaceful pro-Zelaya protesters have been fired at. Some trade union leaders have been arrested. During the five hours of the coup all power was cut so that no media could report what was taking place. Since power resumed most TV stations have just been playing soap operas and cartoons. The few that have reported what is taking place have been ordered to 'moderate their coverage' by the military.
The international capitalist powers, including US imperialism, have verbally condemned the coup and are anxious not to be seen as supporting a return to the 'bad old days' of military dictatorships in Central and Latin America. However, the US has de-facto accepted the coup, by insisting on keeping relations with the new regime open and up until now, more than a week after the coup, has not met Zelaya. In reality, the position of the majority of the imperialist powers was summed up by an editorial in the Spanish newspaper El Pais which declared, "we reject the coup, but we support its aims."
Honduras is a warning to all left governments, including Venezuela and Bolivia. As long as capitalism remains in place it's leading representatives will attempt to reverse any reforms that threaten their interests. As was shown by Pinochet's bloody coup in Chile in 1973 the representatives of capitalism will be prepared when necessary to use the state, including the army, which ultimately act in the interests of the dominant class in society, in order to brutally defend their system.
In 2002 a 'Honduran style' coup was attempted against Chavez in Venezuela. The poor masses of Venezuela rose up and reversed the coup. Zelaya, a politician from a right wing background who has shifted left under pressure, does not have the same popular base as Chavez in 2002. However, the masses of Venuezuela heroically showed the limits of the power of the capitalist and landowning classes, even when backed by US imperialism.
A general strike is now needed in Honduras. Such a movement would also need to make an appeal to the rank-and-file of the army, who are overwhelmingly from poor backgrounds. Other demands that would politically arm the movement would be for the development of a revolutionary constituent assembly to determine the future of the country and for the establishment of a workers' and peasants government standing for a decisive break with capitalism and the development of a democratically planned socialist economy.
Hannah Sell, CWI
Thursday, 2 July 2009
NATIONAL QUESTION REMAINS UNRESOLVED
The war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan government's armed forces has come to an end. It went on for close to 30 years and originated from the unresolved national question in relation to the minority Tamil population. Government forces were able to defeat the 'Tigers', kill its top leaders, including Velupillai Prabhakaran, and capture all the territory held by the LTTE.
There were organised celebrations in the south of the country to mark the war victory and also a campaign to show that there is no more national problem. However it will now become more complex in the near future than it was 60 years ago. In the ceremonial speech made by the president in parliament, declaring the war victory on 19 May, the president said, "There are no minority communities any more in this country. There are only two communities. One that loves this country and another that does not". But the national conflict in Sri Lanka has a long history; it is by no means resolved by Rajapaksa's so-called military victory.
History of the national question in Sri Lanka
After the winning of independence from British imperialism in 1948, the new Sri Lankan government wanted to replace the English language, which had been at the helm up to then, with the Sinhala language, which was the language of the majority Sinhalese. They promised to give a comparable status to the Tamil language but it never became a reality. Instead they attacked the rights of Tamil plantation workers and later signed an agreement with India and repatriated tens of thousands of workers and their families. The Tamil leaders in the early period tried to act in co-operation with the Sinhala bourgeois. Indeed those Tamil leaders believed that they could resolve the problems affecting the Tamil community through dialogue with Sinhalese leaders. But that belief gradually faded away. The decisive role in this connection was played by Soloman (SWRD) Bandaranayaka in 1956.
In 1952 Bandaranayaka had resigned from the United National Party which was in power at that time and moved towards a Sinhala nationalist position in order to win political power. For that purpose he built a nationalist force comprised of Buddhist monks, native physicians, teachers, peasants and workers – the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. He pledged that the Sinhala language would be made the official language within 24 hours after him becoming prime minister. Only the leaders of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and Communist Party (CP) campaigned and voted against the Sinhala Only Act in the parliament.
In the parliamentary debate in 1956. Colvin R de Silva, a Sama Samajist (socialist/Trotskyist) leader of the time, proclaimed the famous phrase: 'one language two countries, two languages one country'. Some in the left movement who previously fought for the rights of the Tamil-peaking people later became identified with the Sinhala communalism by embracing cross-class coalition politics. When the UNP Government of Dudley Senanayaka brought in the Tamil Language Special Provision Act, supposedly to give some concessions to the Tamil people through the Dudley-Chelva Agreement of 1965, the left leaders of the Sama Samaja and Communist parties disgracefully held demonstrations together with Sirima Bandaranayaka of the SLFP (Sri Lanka Freedom Party) against the government, taking a communalist position.
A Buddhist monk, Dhambarawe Rathnasara, was shot dead by the police on 8 January 1968, while on one of these anti-Tamil demonstrations. The coalition of the SLFP with the Lanka Sama Samaja party (LSSP) and the Communist Party swept to power in 1970 and one of the reasons for the victory was basing themselves on that Sinhala Buddhist sentiment. Previously the LSSP had mass support among a wider layer of Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim workers and among the Hill Country Tamil plantation workers. Such was the support for genuine socialist ideas, that the LSSP and CP often came second in elections. However, as the LSSP leaders began to look to the parliamentary road, seeking concessions and negotiating reforms, their commitment to mass revolutionary struggle waned.
The late 1960s and early 1970s marked a turning point in Sri Lankan politics because of the betrayals of the leaders of the traditional left parties in joining the capitalist coalition government and abandoning the class struggle. This paved the way for petit bourgeois movements starting both in the south and in the north at the same time. The rebellion in the south under the leadership of the People's Liberation Front (JVP) was launched and the guerrilla movement led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) came into being almost simultaneously
The UNP and SLFP representatives of the Sinhalese capitalist-landlord class had ruled the country up to then, but now even the 'left' leaders, had degenerated in the process of bourgeois parliamentary politics. The coalition government of 1970 with the so-called left leaders, initiated a process to draft a new constitution and the Tamil leaders again attempted to get the national aspirations of the Tamil people incorporated into the new constitution. The Constitutional Council rejected all the demands put forward by the Tamil leaders. Buddhism, which is the religion of the majority Sinhalese, was made the official or state religion under this constitution. It was enacted under the same Colvin R. de Silva, the prominent leader of the LSSP, then in the government. Tamil people, who were first marginalised by the Sinhala Only Act of the Bandaranayaka government in 1956, were thus dismissed outright by even the so-called left leaders in the 1970 Popular Front government. In the absence of working class alternative that would unite all workers in the struggle for winning equal rights, oppressed Tamils looked for other means to take their struggle forward. Tamil leaders then stepped in to fill the vacuum.
The background was thus created for the formation of the Tamil United Front encompassing all the Tamil political parties. Due to the Sinhala Only Act, after 1956 a considerable number of Tamil public servants were forced out of the public service on the basis that they were not proficient in the Sinhala language. The new generation of Tamil youth were thus shut out of public service. All the expectations of the Tamil people to go up in the social ladder were dashed by this process.
Except for a cement factory in Kankasunthrai and a chemical factory at Paranthen, no major industry was established in the north by successive Sinhalese-led governments after independence. Even these two industries only came into being because of the pressure from Tamil-speaking people. Tamil Congress leader, GG Ponnambalam, was forced to take an initiative. He was the minister of industries in the 1947 UNP government and represented Jaffna, the main town in the North. In that context, the only hope of the Tamil people to have a decent life was through education. This gave them a bigger incentive than the Sinhalese to get an English education.
Youth becoming leaders of Tamil struggle
Tamil leaders who were part of the ruling class held sway among Tamil people up to the 1980s. Ponnambalam Ramanathan in the 1920s and GG Ponnambalam (who initiated the '50:50' campaign at the time of British rule in the 1940s) represented one line of the aspiring capitalist class. SJV Chelvanayagam, who founded the Federal Party in 1949, and A. Amirthalingam in the 1970s and early 1980s, were another trend among Tamil leaders. The Tamil youth movement which was challenging the established leadership came into being against this backdrop. Tamil bourgeois leaders, who claimed that they were following the non-violent methods of Mahatma Gandhi (leader of Indian freedom struggle), sought to have a policy of negotiation in order to solve the Tamil people's grievances. They were challenged by emerging Tamil youth leaders, amongst them, a group called "Tamil Tigers" as early as 1972. This changed the political pattern in the north.
There were several armed youth groups in the north till the late '80s. The Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO), People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), the Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students (EROS), the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). India assisted in training all these groups in the initial period as they all stood for a separate Eelam state and nothing less. This shows the intense stage that the national aspirations of the Tamil-speaking people had reached in that period. The LTTE came to prominent partly through their attacks on military targets and partly through physically annihilating the other groups. Despite this, the LTTE managed to win the support of Tamil youth and students as their discontent against the Sri Lankan government continued to increase.
JR Jayawardana, leader of the UNP when it came to power in 1977, took steps to abolish 'standardisation' as part of implementing neo-liberal policies. Standardisation was introduced by the previous Sirima Bandaranayaka government. (Under this policy, Tamil middle level students, were discriminated against in favour of Sinhala middle level students when entering the university.)
By the time Sinhalese leaders began to recognise the Tamils' right to use their own language and take action to alleviate the injustices inflicted on them, the national struggle of the Tamil people had heightened to a stage where they demanded equal justice. They would not be reconciled to accept such petty gestures. It is very clear that Tamil-speaking people had more than enough reasons to loose all confidence in Sinhala capitalist leaders when you look at this short history.
'Black July' in 1983 - the carnage carried out against Tamils by the worst elements of the Jayawardena regime - was the turning point in the Tamil national struggle. Hundreds of innocent Tamils who lived in Colombo and other cities of the south were killed in the streets and burnt alive in their houses. All of their properties were looted and destroyed by Sinhala chauvinist gangsters. The police and the Sri Lankan Army did not interfere to stop any of these activities. But there were some Sinhalese who heroically took Tamil people into their homes to protect them from the pogrom.
By then some Tamil youth had embarked on armed struggle based on the method of individual terrorism and the case for that struggle was argued on a national and international level. From then on a bloody war ensued, which claimed more than 100,000 lives.
Military solution to the National Question
The war with the LTTE dragged on for nearly 30 years. Although unable to achieve decisive victory against the Sri Lankan state, and establish Eelam, nevertheless, by the end of the millennium, the LTTE had established almost complete control in the north and parts of the east. Not only did it have its own army, navy and even a small-scale air force, it had its own courts, taxation system, border posts and acted as a state within the state. However, the LTTE's failure to involve the masses in a democratic manner meant that splits would inevitably appear in their organization.
The defection to the side of the government in 2004 of the eastern Tiger commander, Karuna, with thousands of cadres, dealt a mortal blow to the LTTE. This combined with massive support from regional powers such as China, India and Pakistan meant that Rajapaksa was able to conduct a major offensive from 2006 onwards. Finally, the Sri Lankan army was able to capture all the territory previously controlled by the Tamil Tigers and to kill all their leaders, including Prabhakaran.
But nobody can say that the struggle, emanating from injustices inflicted on a community for decades is now over because of the Sri Lankan Army's military defeat of the Tamil Tigers.
The Sri Lankan government leaders have been boasting again and again that they have been able to bring the country, which was divided hitherto, under one national flag. In reality it is nonsense to say that, given that hundreds of thousands of Tamil people are imprisoned in open-air camps in the north and that the captured areas are deserted without any population.
No real solution can be achieved without the support of the Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and other minorities in the country. But Rajapaksa wants to create a unitary country, on his terms only, without organising any democratic measures of consulting ordinary working and poor people. The sinister motives of the Rajapaksa government can be understood from the fate that has befallen the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) which was appointed by Rajapaksa soon after he became president for the purpose of finding a political solution. Rajapaksa was repeatedly saying that he would put forward a proposal-solution within a few weeks.
The chairman of the APRC, Tissa Witharana, who is a cabinet minister and the leader of the rump LSSP, stated more than a year ago that the APRC has finalised more than 90% of its proposals. The government, while trumpeting that the war is over, keeps mum about any solution said to be presented by the APRC. It seems farcical that the APRC has now passed away without any notice being taken.
There is no way this government will address the national question without putting forward at least a framework of proposals to the Tamil people, especially against the background of its stated claim of wiping out the Tiger rebels. Through that, the government may have won over some Tamil people to their side. But the reality is that the Rajapaksa administration is fully dependent on extreme Sinhala communalists for its survival. Therefore it would be a Herculean task to get consensus among constituent partners of the ruling party for any kind of proposal which would take account of the wishes of the minorities.
President Rajapaksa stated in January 2007 that he is prepared to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the constitution. (This amendment was introduced by the Rajiv-J.R. Pact, also known as the Indo-Lanka Accord, of 1987, signed between the leaders of India and Sri Lanka. It proposed the establishment of provincial councils and the election of chief ministers in each province. Under this constitution the North and East provinces were merged into one province. Even though the chief minister was elected, in reality he did not have any power. Provinces came under the control of the executive presidency in Colombo who appointed governors.) Rajapaksa has now put a full stop to talk of that kind of thing. Even Rajapaksa's best allies are in a campaign not to implement the 13th amendment.
It should be noted that the LSSP and the CP welcomed this Indo-Lanka Pact with open arms. Even the so-called revolutionary Nava Sama Samaja Party which had broken away from the coalition politics of the LSSP, supported this pact between two capitalist parties and welcomed the Indian Peace-keeping Force entering the north and east to implement it. This, as the minority in the NSSP (who stayed with the CWI) had warned, ended up going against Tamil aspirations and paved the way for the Indian armed forces being used against the Tamil population in the north. The CWI grouping, with a clear Marxist understanding of the issues and forces involved, were the only ones to oppose the IPKF being brought into the country.
Muslims and the war
Pro-government Muslim leaders endeavor to show that there is no direct link between Tamil-speaking Muslims and the war in the north. They are trying to portray that normal life in the east has resumed after it was re-captured from the Tamil Tigers. One of the main demands of the LTTE was to accept the North and East as a Tamil homeland. Nevertheless the experience of the formation of the Eastern provincial council in 2008 shows the attitude of the Rajapaksa government towards undermining the national and religious sentiments of the Muslims in the east. He openly breached the promise he had given to Hisbullah (the Muslim leader from the ruling People's Alliance who contested in the east) that he would be appointed as chief minister in the event of the ruling party winning the election of the eastern province.
Sinhala bourgeois leaders always use Tamil and Muslim people as pawns in their political games and it is evident from this experience in the East and situation in the north. The opportunistic role of the Thondeman 'leaders' of the Hill Country Tamils, of Douglas Devananda and of Karuna (former LTTE leader in the east) is a clear indication of this. At the beginning of the Tamil armed struggle, the majority of the ordinary Muslim people in the east were supportive of it as it was seen as a challenge from the oppressed to the oppressor. But the expulsion of Muslims from the north and east provinces by the LTTE in 1990 alienated the Muslim population. Towards the end of the war, a vast majority of Muslims were opposed to the LTTE and its struggle and acquiesced to the chauvinist Rajapaksa government in the south mainly because of the blunders and mistakes of the LTTE.
Now, Muslim leaders and Muslim people are alleging that the Rajapaksa government is in the process of establishing Sinhalese colonies in traditional Muslim areas. At the same time Muslims are on the receiving end of attacks as the government has failed to arrest the deteriorating law and order situation. Equally important is the charge that regulations have been enacted to curtail the freedom to observe and practice their religion. In this manner, the traditions and sentiments of Muslim people are being challenged by the Sinhala – Buddhist hegemony. Though the education ministry has permitted female Muslim students to wear the head scarf, along with their traditional clothes, when attending school, there were reports in some schools in Colombo to the effect that school authorities have tried to prevent, or at least discourage, Muslim school girls from wearing that attire. As the principals were not amenable to their demands, the parents moved to organising agitational campaigns. Sinhalese communalists have begun a vicious campaign against that just demand of Muslim parents.
This shows the desire of these communalist–nationalist elements for hegemony, not allowing any ethnic group to go beyond the limits imposed by them. Their chauvinist hatred, going even beyond the basic laws of the country, should be defeated at the earliest opportunity. Otherwise we cannot discard the possibility of Muslim people being driven to take a reactionary Muslim religious stand against these communalist chauvinists.
Marxism and LTTE
With the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers, discussion of the Tamil national question will reach new dimensions. We as Marxists have time and again questioned the methods of the LTTE. Our criticism was that armed struggle without engaging the masses would never bring any liberation to the Tamil people. However Marxists supported and defended the Tamils' right to strike against the oppression unleashed on the Tamil people by the Sinhalese state.
Despite an early inclination to the ideas of socialism, the Tigers did not have any confidence in an awakening or a rising struggle of the oppressed masses. They carried out a campaign to physically eliminate all those people and organisations who did not subscribe to their ideology. Hence there was nothing left for the Tamil people other than to support the LTTE as the only organisation that would bring them liberation. The LTTE, while taking forward the Tamil national struggle to a level which would attract international attention, did not allow any other leadership to emerge from the Tamil community in the north and east.
They managed to get considerable fiancial and political support from abroad, especially from the extensive Tamil Diaspora. Because of the authoritarian approach of the Tigers' leadership under Prabhakaran, they did not follow through on several important opportunities which came their way to push for their full demands.
During the period that the cease-fire agreement was in operation, from 2002 to 2004, the LTTE had ample opportunity to allow a democratic discussion and debate within the Tamil community and become their leaders with their approval. But the Tigers were very much opposed to such a course of action and did not permit any democratic practice within their territory. At the same time there was also ample opportunity for them to start a dialogue with leaders of the southern working class who were defenders of the rights of Tamil people. The Tigers neither tried to organise such a thing nor did they appear to be concerned whether Marxist or workers' organisations in the south were supporting the right to self-determination. They even attacked and killed Tamil socialists.
At the same time the LTTE's response to the atrocities of the government forces in the north was to carry out military attacks and sometimes kill and terrorise southern innocent Sinhalese people. They effectively closed any opportunity for the southern Sinhala people to raise their voice in support of the Tamil struggle. The LTTE created this atmosphere because of their rejection of the struggle of the oppressed masses in the south to overthrow capitalism and build a socialist society.
It has become a very difficult task to campaign for the Tamil people's right to self-determination in southern Sinhala society due to this situation. Even under very difficult situations, the southern Marxist movement has fought for the right to self-determination of the Tamil people. What the LTTE wanted to show to the world was that there was not a single Sinhalese who is supportive of the Tamil national struggle.
The Tamil people's struggle for their freedom and liberation would unfold, in a third world country such as ours, through joining it with the struggle of the working class and poor oppressed masses - of Sinhalese people, Tamils and Muslims - to overthrow this parasitical capitalist system.
Truth unpalatable to the majority.
The period after independence aptly shows the sinister, fraudulent and deceitful nature of the Sinhalese capitalist ruling class on the Tamil national question. It is mainly due to the weak and parasitical nature of Sri Lankan capitalism, as in many other under-developed countries. Both the UNP and the SLFP (at present the People's Freedom Alliance) have always set their eyes on majority Sinhala Buddhist votes to come to power and do not have any other objective. It is therefore very clear they would and could not provide any solution to the problems faced by Tamil and Muslim people.
There are various so-called liberal people giving free advice to the government about providing a solution in a post-LTTE era. These layers express their opinions on the basis that the Rajapaksa government is capable of solving these problems. The true nature of those so-called radicals who wear garbs of liberalism or non-violence has come out only after Rajapaksa's so-called war victory.
Here we have to understand that what developed to the level of a horrendous war was the national struggle of the Tamil people which was soaked with their blood. It cannot be lightly dismissed as mere terrorism. It is difficult to say at this moment how the Tamil liberation struggle will develop or what shape it will take in the next period.
However the reality is very clear for workers and young people to see. An unprecedentedly large number of Tamil people across the world have rallied round the national liberation struggle of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. This points to an internationalisation of that struggle, including into Tamilnadu in India, rather than an ending of the war, as claimed by the Sri Lankan government. Ironically, even Jayalalitha Jeyaram, the opposition leader in Tamilnadu, who is staunchly anti-LTTE, has stated that there is no other solution to the problems of Tamils in Sri Lanka other than Eelam – a separate country.
Finally it is very clear that the Tamil national question in Sri Lanka cannot be resolved within the limits of capitalism. Democratic control of the resources for the benefit of all, regardless of ethnicity, religion, sex and caste, is the only way forward for the poor and workers in Sri Lanka. To achieve that, a fight against capitalism is crucial. Capitalism always plays a divisive role to intensify the exploitation of the ordinary working masses.
It has been borne out, as advocated by Marxists, that national liberation cannot be won through the method of isolated individual terrorism. Liberation of the Tamil people can be achieved only through the fusion of the struggle of workers and other oppressed masses in the south to overthrow the capitalist system and address the problems of Tamils and of Muslims.
The armed conflict in the north and east, which lasted for close to 30 years, claiming countless precious lives, has finally taught us this bitter lesson. It is an important lesson not only for the Tamils in the north but also for the Sinhalese in the south.
Siritunga Jayasuriya, United Socialist Party (CWI, Sri Lanka)