- Society must meet the needs of the majority, not the profits of a few
- Wealth must be redistributed from the rich to the poor
- All workers must have secure well-paid jobs
- International finance capital is sweeping countries like sharks
- Humanity is threatened by imperialist third world war
Although one of the smaller parties contesting the presidential election, the Socialist Equality Party (SEP) has a history of over half a century of active politics in Sri Lanka. In 1964 it broke away from the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) when the old left party joined the Sirimavo Bandaranaike coalition. In 1968 the breakaway group formed as the Revolutionary Communist League (RCL), and later in 1996 as the SEP. The Trotskyist party which is the Sri Lankan section of the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) advances a revolutionary socialist programme based on international working-class solidarity. spoke to Pani Wijesiriwardena, Presidential candidate of the SEP, on their plan and programme for the upcoming election and beyond. Mr Wijesiriwardena is a retired teacher and an editorial board member of the World Socialist Website.
Q At the recent ‘Public Platform’ at the Sugathadasa Stadium you said the SEP was different to other parties contesting the 2019 presidential election. What makes you different?
Our difference mainly lies in our programme. Our programme is not to reform the existing capitalist system but to abolish it and replace it with a socialist system. A socialist system needs international implementation, and hence our programme is international. The programme for Sri Lanka is an integral part of that international programme. In Sri Lanka our history is unique. For the last 51 years we have never compromised with any other bourgeois party or the appendages of bourgeois parties such as the pseudo-left.
In short, the SEP advances a socialist programme in opposition to all bourgeois parties, including the United National Party (UNP), Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), as well as their pseudo-left hangers-on, the Nava Sama Samaja Party (NSSP), United Socialist Party (USP) and Frontline Socialist Party (FSP).
We stress there is no solution to the dangers facing workers in Sri Lanka and internationally—war, austerity and the threat of dictatorship and fascism—within the framework of capitalism and its outmoded nation-state system. Our solution lies in the abolition of the profit system, by unifying workers throughout South Asia and the world to refashion society to meet the needs of the majority of humanity, not the profits of the ultra-rich few.
The utter cynicism of the government and its allies is underscored by the fact that senior national leaders and defence officials knew of the April 21 attacks, and did nothing. They allowed the slaughter of hundreds of innocent people to exploit the tragedy for their own political purposes
QYou say the Sri Lankan working class is part of a global movement. Do Sri Lankan workers themselves believe this?
Most workers are yet to grasp this objective truth and organise accordingly. Hence it’s not an accomplished fact. However historical laws are powerful, and they are making inroads into the consciousness of the working class everywhere. Working-class struggles are erupting, country after country. The most recent are in Chile and Lebanon. These two seemingly disparate countries were brought to a halt by working people facing similar grievances rooted in the historic and systemic crisis of global capitalism. We have no doubt the Sri Lankan working class will grasp that it is a part of a global movement, sooner than later.
Moreover, this resurgence of international class struggle demonstrates the objective unity of the working class. So our presidential campaign is focused on building a revolutionary working-class leadership with our sister parties of the ICFI, for the struggles ahead in Sri Lanka, South Asia and globally.
QPoverty, unemployment and job insecurity are major concerns. How do you propose to tackle these?
Our manifesto proposes to expropriate big business and redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor. We propose job expansion by reducing the working week to 30 hours, without any loss of pay. Employment can be created through implementing a public works programme to build public housing, schools, hospitals and roads. All workers have the right to secure well-paid jobs, with a living wage indexed to inflation. Also, the contract labour system must be abolished.
There is no way for contemporary capitalism to be purified from corruption. To abolish corruption, the whole capitalist system must be overturned and socialism established
QWhat do you think of farmers and workers being encouraged to become small-scale entrepreneurs?
With soaring profits of big business multinationals, there’s very little space for so-called entrepreneurs. International finance capital is sweeping countries like sharks, seeking profits. Hence it’s a fallacy that farmers or workers can become successful small-scale entrepreneurs. These are stories promoted by big business media to deceive the people and defend the capitalist system.
In any case, farmers are already small-scale entrepreneurs. We would categorize them as petty-bourgeoisie. As you know these farmers are oppressed and trapped within the clutches of big business multinational corporations and banks.Thousands who couldn’t repay their loans have committed suicide in Sri Lanka and other under-developed countries. So much for entrepreneurship.
QNational security is being raised by some candidates. How important is this?
The security of the working population must be sought against the oppressive capitalist state, which is the defender of big business and the ruling elite. The main parties are aiming to establish police-military states to suppress the aspirations of working people and youth. Hence the working class will have to establish its own action committees in workplaces to organise the security of workers.
Moreover, humanity as a whole is threatened by an imperialist third world war. The US is encircling China and threatening to ignite a world war to defend its hegemony. They have already ignited wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Nearby, nuclear-armed India and Pakistan are engaged in warmongering. To eradicate the security threat, imperialism must be wiped out.
On the other hand, terrorism is a reactionary response to capitalist oppression. In many cases, the ruling class instigates and encourages terrorism to utilize it later against the working class and masses. People have experienced this during the 30-year communal war. After the April 21 terrorist bomb attacks by Islamist militants, the government declared a state of emergency and imposed anti-democratic measures. The utter cynicism of the government and its allies was underscored by the fact that senior national leaders and defence officials knew of the attacks, and did nothing. They allowed the slaughter of hundreds of innocent people to exploit the tragedy for their own political purposes. The real target of the police state measures and the anti-Muslim campaign is not terrorism, but the working class.
September saw a growing wave of strikes and demonstrations, like the teachers’ protest for better wages and education facilities.
Pic by Nimalsiri Edirisinghe
QThe major parties are calling for a strong leadership and stable government to achieve social and economic prosperity. Can this be achieved?
Strong leadership and stable government for the ruling class means having a police-military state to curb working class resistance against IMF-dictated austerity policies. It is an assurance to global financial capital that the country is a safe haven for investments and for the uninterrupted exploitation of labour. This will serve the profit-hungry capitalist elite at the expense of the country’s working-class and oppressed masses.
Our solution lies in the abolition of the profit system, by unifying workers throughout South Asia and around the world to refashion society to meet the pressing needs of the vast majority of humanity, not the profits of the ultra-rich few
QAnother slogan is the eradication of corruption. Can the country be developed if corruption is eliminated?
Contemporary capitalism is rotten to the core and corruption is inherent to it. The issue is that a portion of looted profits from the working class is distributed among the corrupt allies of the exploiters, one way or the other. For example, business commissions are part of profit sharing. There is no way for contemporary capitalism to be purified from corruption. So this slogan is to deceive the working people and nothing else. To abolish corruption, the whole capitalist system must be overturned and socialism established.
QPresidential elections are often seen as a two-horse race where voters must pick the “lesser evil”. Do you agree?
This is a fraud induced on the public by the defenders of capitalism, particularly the pseudo-left.
The experience of the working class has been that the so-called lesser evil always clears the path for the greater evil. When people vote to bring down an oppressive regime by voting for a capitalist alternative, thinking it is the lesser evil, in no time they realise they have been driven into a trap by the so-called left parties and trade unions.
Through these methods, moribund capitalism tries to survive until the working class challenges it with a socialist alternative. Our task is to arm the working class with this socialist programme.
In many cases the ruling class instigates and encourages terrorism to utilize it later against the working class
QWith many left parties running, one can ask what it means to be “left” and “progressive” in today’s political context?
Here I’d like to go back to your first question and emphasize that “left” and “progressive” in today’s context should refer to an internationalist socialist programme and the party that defends it. All others, in one way or the other, are appendages of capitalism. We call them the pseudo-left that the working class must politically get rid of as soon as possible.