Sinhala leftist criticizing government repression overlooks Tamils’ struggle
The Sri Lankan government’s real concern at the moment is “the threat of widespread social unrest and an uprising by workers, youth and poor”, writes Sinhala leftist K. Ratnayake in article published on the Trotskyite World Socialist Web Site on Monday. Referring largely to Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s “Sri Lanka’s National Security Concerns” lecture at the Kotelawala Defence University in early June, the author claims that “The defence minister’s reference to a renewed “terrorist” threat is aimed at whipping up anti-Tamil communalism to divide the emerging struggles of the working class.” However, an alternative politics Eezham Tamil activist from Jaffna questions whether Mr. Ratnayake, who overlooks the Tamils’ struggle for sovereignty resisting genocidal occupation of their homeland by the GoSL, is consciously or unconsciously defending the state structure that he claims to criticize.
Further comments by the Eezham Tamil activist follow:
Tamils have seen a long history of the Sri Lankan ‘mainstream’ Left competing with the Right in their bid to promote Sinhala national interests at the cost of the Tamils. Whether it is the ‘Trotskyite’ leaders like Colin R. De Silva or ‘Stalinist’ leaders of the JVP, the mainstream Sinhala Left has been party to state oppression of the Eezham Tamils.
Those minor portions of the Sinhala Left who support the Tamils’ right to self-determination have been unable to convince the Sinhalese in the South of the grave errors of the Sinhala nationalists perpetrating genocide, of the agent-imperialist nature of the Sinhala state, and the need to wage a struggle against them.
They have also been unable to disseminate among their constituency, the workers, peasantry and the rural poor, the moral and political crime of participating in the colonization of the homeland of the Eezham Tamils.
Sadly, they have even been unable to intellectually challenge Sinhala writers from the broad ‘Left’ who wax eloquent on workers’ rights but omit any reference to the genocidal oppression that the Eezham Tamils’ face.
For instance, consider Mr. Ratnayake’s article. Contesting Gotabaya’s contention that “democracy has been completely restored” in the North-East, the author writes, “The military occupation of the north and east is continuing and high security zones remain in place. People are subject to constant surveillance and harassment by security forces and associated paramilitary groups.”
The author also notes, not without adequate substance, that “All the major global and regional powers backed the renewed communal war against the LTTE, supplied military assistance and remained silent about the Sri Lankan military’s atrocities against civilians. The US and its allies only began to raise very limited concerns about the slaughter of civilians in the final months of the war, not out of concern for Tamils, but as a means for forcing the government to distance itself from China.”
While taking to account the massive military expenditure of the Sri Lankan government, the author concludes that this is largely for use against the working class, young people and the poor.
The author’s opinions could have been a decent assessment from the Left had only he taken into account the Eezham Tamils’ continuing struggle for independence from a fundamentally genocidal state apparatus.
By its ominous absence, the article appears only as an appeal for regime-change, albeit from the Left. This can also be inferred from the failure of the author to deconstruct the essential nature of the Sri Lankan state.
Tamils can politically support a leader or intellectual of progressive Sinhala politics only on the condition that he or she recognizes the Eezham Tamil nation’s right to self-determination and sovereignty over their historical homeland not only in statements, but also proving it in political action.
The failure to recognize the irreconcilable antagonism between the interests of the Eezham Tamil nation and that of the unitary genocidal Sri Lankan state is not progressive. Even if this comes from a ‘progressive’ concerned about the rights of the workers and the poor in words, in practice it only feeds into the political logic of Sinhala nationalism.