The Latin Americans are lucky, since their movements re-entered democratic politics with the re-openings of space and have wound up in power, engaging in progressive reforms which have made Latin America, together with East Asia (differently of course) the sites of the most energetic and successful experiments on the globe.
Each generation brings its own collective formation and experience to the Left project. Each historical period produces its own Left or mutates the existing Left. An abiding failing of older leftists is to fall prey to two opposite responses to a newly emergent left, or a left born of different experiences at a different time. The older generation of leftists, be they activists or academics, cadres or commentators, tend either to hail the new left as a proxy for their fantasies, or wag a finger at them for falling short of their standards and ideals. Both stances--idealisation or condemnation, romance or remonstrance-- reflect the generation gap. Neither stance is realistic or helpful.
This year, 2012, is perhaps the best occasion for the traditional left to reflect upon a road that it did not take 40 years ago, in 1972, when leading Communist party personalities Dr SA Wickremesinghe, Sarath Muttetuwegama and the Aththa editorial board made their promising move, which proved short-lived, and the left tendency of the LSSP emerged but stayed within the party while Vasudeva Nanayakkara returned from custody only to return to the fold.
The JVP and its recent breakaway, the FSP, are the organisations that should engage the serious student of Lankan left politics. For now the JVP has the more stable, ramified organisational structure and national reach, with an impressive group of young parliamentarians, while the FSP has achieved a zestful breakthrough among the educated student youth and some substrata of the working people.
My generation witnessed too many leftists die, lives wasted in fratricidal strife. The JVP murdered the brightest of left student leaders of that time, Daya Pathirana, and the latter’s comrades hit back, in understandable and imperative alliance with the state. It is a different century now, and one hopes the lessons have been learnt. I leave the contemporary Left parties a few thoughts for consideration.
1. Always strive to attain and retain the moral-ethical high ground. That is how the Latin American left survived its defeats and near decimation, to recover and achieve victory. The moral high ground is not simply your own sense of self-righteousness; it must be shared by the general public and conceded (however sporadically, privately and grudgingly) even by your enemies. In Sri Lanka, what does that mean? (a) Understanding that commemoration of Rohana Wijeweera and the two uprisings (especially the second) evoke memories among the broader masses, of a time of terror for which the JVP is also, even primarily, responsible. Therefore, it means having an honestly self-critical and dialectical approach to one’s own lineage and traditions, discarding that which should be discarded and preserving that which is valuable, while looking much more to the future than to the ‘heroic’ past (b) Be exemplary and be the best, not only in Spartan self-sacrifice, but in everything you undertake, including your academic studies and professional practice. Do not be seen as the protectors of ‘raggers’ in the universities, and take the forefront in stamping out the practice.
2. Left-on-left violence was a crucial factor in the outcomes of the 1980s. The Sino-Soviet clash was probably the single most crucial factor in the collapse of global socialism. Latin America teaches the paramount importance of non-sectarianism on the part of the left; of the crucial necessity of broad united fronts, blocs and platforms and a pluralist left space.
3. The national factor cannot be forgotten, especially when there is an authentic threat of imperialist hegemonic encirclement and interventionism. A primary task of the Lankan Left is to envision a truly Lankan identity, which is also internationalist, and to build a multiethnic Lankan nation. The national project must be combined with the democratic, the social, the local, the regional, the continental and the global—and each of these dimensions combined with the national. This is another lesson of the Latin American left, particularly of Brazil and Venezuela, whose projects are ‘national-popular’ in the Gramscian sense.
4. The last war and opposition to the LTTE will remain inescapable lines of demarcation over the long term. The bridge to Sri Lanka’s largely Tamil North must pass through a dialogue and fusion with the Tamil Marxists. Wijeweera failed to do this for twenty years. Attempting a dialogue while skipping over this stage, mediation and counterparts, smacks of a lack of respect for the Tamil Left that stood up to the Tigers at terrible human cost.
5. Going beyond slogans (neoliberal capitalism, socialism) to actual explanation, the people must be given both critique and credible alternative proposals, at micro and macro levels; at enterprise, neighbourhood, local, provincial and national levels; which can demonstrably change things for the better.
These are the lessons of Brazil’s Worker’s Party, El Salvador’s FMLN and Uruguay’s Frente Amplio; the open secrets of the successes of Lula and Dilma Rousset (Brazil’s President, a former urban guerrilla), and Jose Mujica (Uruguay’s president, a former leader of the Tupamaro urban guerrillas who was imprisoned for over a decade, including two years at the bottom of a disused well).