Significance of a counter-hegemonic culture: : An Urgent Need for Marxist Reading Groups

Raju J Das

Capitalism creates poverty. It indeed requires poverty and thrives on it. It causes and requires massive social and geographical inequality. And capitalism is inherently crisis-prone. We have just witnessed a major global economic crisis. In part because of its crisis-proneness, modern world capitalism is necessarily imperialist: advanced capitalist countries try to shift the effects of the crises they experience to politically and economically weaker countries (often with the connivance of the state in these countries). Normal mechanisms of capitalism and the combination of economic crisis and imperialism have major adverse impacts on the living conditions of the working masses in general and workers and poor peasants in the less developed countries such as India in particular.

No system of injustice goes unchallenged, however. Away from the pre-occupations of the corporate-controlled mainstream media, people’s movements against the profit-driven system have been taking place. Consider, for example, the Arab Spring, various social justice movements in India and elsewhere, as well as the ‘occupy movements’ in the US and Europe, which are bound to leave an impression on the radical imagination of the masses, even if they are being repressed. Humans have an irrepressible quest for justice and have a desire for a humane world. These various movements have emerged in response to the heightened levels of exploitation of workers, massive amount of dispossession of peasants from their property, undemocratic control over socio-economic activity and the government by large companies, and the irreparable ecological devastation and cultural impoverishment.

Many activists and movements have been inspired in their thinking by the critique by Marx and other progressive scholars of capitalist commodification and development. Ideologically, these protests and the recent economic crises call into question the legitimacy not only of capitalism, including its neoliberal form, but also of capitalist nation-states and global ‘state’ apparatuses (e.g. World Bank; IMF). This happens in richer countries and in poorer countries such as India as well.

There has indeed been an extraordinary resurgence of interest in a Marxist worldview recently, which as Terry Eagleton put it, is the ‘most theoretically rich, politically uncompromising critique of [the capitalist] system’ (Why Marx was right?). The process of resurgence of this intellectually insurgent worldview (Marxism) has been helped by the fact that the social relations of authoritarian ‘communism’, and other related views, which had acted as a fetter on the development of productive powers of Marxist research, have been burst asunder. In this context, question of alternatives to capitalism (beyond Keynesianism, state-bureaucratism, and neo-populism) – and the role of (Marxist) intellectuals whether in academy, in the media or ‘civil society’ in radical social change – are being actively discussed the world over. This has led to a series of important interventions rethinking political parties, democracy and visions of viable socialisms. More and more people are reading Marx and Marxists, and reading them critically, for Marxism is a science which must be updated where necessary. There is an outpouring of Marxist discussions including in journals such as New York-based Science and Society, world’s longest continuously published Marxist journal, which celebrated its 75th anniversary in October 2011, Review of Radical Political Economics (from Cornell University), Historical Materialism (from SOAS, London), Capital and Class, and so on. Much of this resurgence is exhibited on- online, Radical Notes itself being a testimony to this as is, for example, Sanhati.

The remaking of socialist visions – which emphasize socialism as the flourishing of optimal level of democracy in all spheres of human life – has also meant extensive considerations of race, caste, tribality, gender, sexuality and disability. These issues of social oppression/discrimination are important in their own right. But they are important dominantly because of the ways in which capitalism subordinates them to its own logic. Capitalism furthers its accumulation projects by using these sources of oppression to define certain working subjects as less than average workers who can be paid lower compensations. Capital also politically dominates the suffering subjects (workers and peasants) by dividing them on the basis of these non-class identities. An aspect of the resurgence of Marxist research is the immense popularity of Marxist dialectics as a holistic way of looking at the capitalist world, in terms of its unity as well as difference, from the standpoint of radically changing it. Such a dialectical method allows us to reflect on various methods of exploitation and social oppression as interconnected and as forming a concrete whole.

Reading Marx and those who engage in what the American Marxist, Hal Draper called ‘Marx’s Marxism’ would be more than apt at a political moment when neoliberalism, in theory and practice, is in crisis, when the turbulence of capitalist economies is part of daily life. As David Harvey and others have argued, Marx is more relevant now than he was during his own time.

The problems caused by capitalism are everywhere. These problems are, however, particularly acute in less developed countries and in the most under-developed parts of these poor countries. In many under-developed regions of India (e.g. Odisha), capitalist market relations in land and labour coexist with remnants of coercive production relations in some localities and with highly undemocratic relations of casteism, patriarchy and tribalism more generally. The institutions of the state are more or less ‘instruments’ of property-owners, including those whose main object is to subject natural resources and working people to cruel forms of commodification and ruthless forms of exploitation, all in the name of development and dollars (export earnings). There is an inverse relation between democratic rhetoric and its actual content. There is an absence of democratic values both in the economy or polity: ordinary people have little real democratic control over the way our resources and abilities to work are used. The cult of violence is everywhere. There is systemic violence as that caused when people’s livelihood is snatched away from them or when people do not have the money to buy basic necessities because of which they starve to death or suffer from poverty-caused diseases. Related to this violence is ‘agentic violence’: in some places ordinary people, often out of sheer desperation, tend to resort to violence (which is unproductive in the long run), in response to which and often to preempt which the state resorts to massive and disproportionate violence.

The situation in more under-developed regions of India and in similar other countries raises several questions. Why are these regions so poor when they are so rich in terms of natural resources and labouring quality of their workers and peasants? How does capitalism make use of undemocratic social and economic relations? What explains the inability of the political and intellectual elite to help the suffering masses in any significant way? Just why it is that the majority of our people have no access to nutritious food, decent housing and clothing, quality education and health-care as well as other amenities including safe drinking water and electricity? These and many other questions can be fruitfully explored only if we have an adequate understanding of capitalism as such and the ways in which it works in concrete circumstances. Understanding Marx is essential therefore. A proper understanding of Marx and his legacy would also make clear to people that the Marxist vision is a vision of a society which is authentically democratic and that Marxism has little to do with any political activity which is aimed at hurting individuals. Individuals are bearers of social relations. What needs to be changed is the system of social relations, not occupiers of positions in the system.

To understand the world, it is not enough to have sense-data. We need theory, this is because important aspects of the world are not immediately accessible to mere empirical observation. To understand the world from the standpoint of the majority, the working masses, we need a theory from their standpoint. Radical transformation in the direction of social, economic and ecological democracy and justice is not possible without a radical theory. Marx and his legacy provide such a theory. It would be useful to set up Radical/progressive reading groups in different places to promote a counter-hegemonic culture, a tradition of radical imagination in theory. Consisting of interested academics, activists, workers-peasants, and indeed anyone who is interested in critically understanding the current situation with a view to radically transcend it and deepen the democratic content/spirit of our society to the highest extent possible, this group could meet regularly to read the Marxist and progressive literature on topics of classical and contemporary significance and discuss it in a comradely and non-sectarian manner. It will also connect the readings and the discussions to the world around us and draw theoretical implications for political practice. There are thousands of progressive people engaged in theoretical-political struggle for justice. Often in terms of theory, politics and method of struggles, there are ‘deep’ divisions among them (including, and interestingly, over the fact of whether poor countries such as India are dominantly capitalist or not). Perhaps an understanding of Marx and his legacy would show that the divisions are not as real as they appear to be, and that there is cause more for unity and less for division: at least the divisions should be discussed in the light of theoretical discussions the foundation for which was laid by Marx. These reading groups cannot only read radical academic literature but also encourage performance of radical art in its various forms and reflect on these theoretically.

A culture that accurately reflects the interest and ideas of the majority of the people is a most democratic process to promote. Setting up Marxist Readings Groups is an important need of the hour therefore.

Raju J Das is an Associate Professor at York University, Toronto, Canada. Email:

Anu Muhammad on India’s role in South Asia

For the full interview, click.

During the recent visit of India’s Finance Minister to Bangladesh, India signed an agreement offering $1-billion credit facility to Bangladesh at a particular interest rate, which many in Bangladesh have found “disgraceful” and “too high”. This line of credit for Bangladesh was the one-time single-largest credit package offered by New Delhi to any other country. And it has been frequently noted that through such lines of credit, India, like other more advanced countries, has been facilitating the overseas expansion of its domestic capital. What is your assessment of the present Indo-Bangladeshi relationship? Don’t you find streaks of sub-imperialism (both in economic and political terms) emerging in this relationship as in the case of India’s relationship with Nepal and Sri Lanka?

Anu Muhammad: The question of India is very important for us. Without locating India and the role of Indian corporate big capital we cannot get rid of overall hegemony of global capitalism. India has the highest number of rich people but contradictorily India also has the highest number of poor people. The current Indian state is not representing Indian people but is representing Indian big capital. India for South Asia is the same as what the US is for the world. It is hegemonic, oppressive and undemocratic. The present India should be characterised with the rise of big capital, unprecedented accumulation of wealth and power in few hands, and its linkages with global monopoly capital. This India can be termed as sub-imperialist within the global capitalist system, and within South Asia it is imperialist. This India has recently increased its military expenditure to a record high level, also building military alliances with the US. They are both now trying to take control of the Bay of Bengal. With the increasing interests of India, China and the US in Bay of Bengal, the possibility for creation of new alliances or conflicts is rather high. Either way, Bangladesh is going to suffer.

Now global corporate bodies including the ADB, the WB or MNCs consider India a regional centre. Therefore, their projects are selected in line with the interest and long-term programme of Indian big capital. For example, the coal that the British company, Asia Energy, wanted to extract, when it attempted to start open-pit mining in Phulbari, was supposed to be exported to India. When the US oil multinational UNOCAL was trying to export gas, the destination was once again India. Now a number of projects have been conceived to build new coal-based power plants in Khulna and Chittagong. It is apparently a joint project, but the result will be different for the two countries. Bangladesh will have carbon emissions and dispossession of farmers that will create social tension and human tragedy, but Indian companies will earn huge profits.

Indian big business has access to huge potential market in Bangladesh, especially after the SAP. India’s presence is very high in every sector in Bangladesh. It is trying to monopolise each of those sectors, started utilising aid or credit, very well-known instruments of imperialist control and influence. Recently, India granted 1 billion USD loan to Bangladesh for building its own transit facilities. This transit is going to change everything in South Asia. Bangladesh is entering into the ambit of India’s military, political and economic domination on a scale not seen before.

I don’t know, how far the military aspect of the domination will go, but economically India is going to have a commanding authority over Bangladesh. India is claiming that Bangladesh is the land of terrorists and they erected fences around border, then how can they feel comfortable in taking their goods through Bangladesh? Yes, it will be used as an excuse. So, they will demand more regional security coordination under India’s control. The security system of Bangladesh will be subordinated to India status and interests.

Indian sub-imperialism behaves similarly with Nepal, Sri Lanka and other smaller countries in the region. In this context, people’s movements of India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other neighbouring countries should have a very high level of cooperation and coordination to strengthen united struggles for building a free, democratic and different South Asia not polluted by Indian or big capital’s hegemony.

An interview with Benedict Anderson

Benedict Anderson was in Delhi recently to deliver a lecture on his latest work. He “is one of the first and original theorists of nations and nationalisms. His pathbreaking work ‘Imagined Communities’ is an exploration of how various peoples have at a certain juncture in history imagined themselves into nations. An anthropological explorer of various national-liberation movements in East and Southeast Asia, Prof Anderson sees the rise of nationalism as being closely connected with the growth of printed books and with the technical development of print as a whole”. Paramita Ghosh interviewed Anderson for Hindustan Times. FOR THE FULL TEXT

Q: As a man of the Left, what is the future of Marxism in south Asia and in India?

A: Communism has taken a beating in the last 20 years. But it won’t go away if underlying problems in society don’t go away. There has to be new ways to revive it. However, one framework which Marx never anticipated was how the atomic tests would destroy civilisation. The limits of resources are not there in Marxist vocabulary, it comes from Thomas Robert Malthus and it has to be grappled with.

India has three kinds of Communisms. The established left, the CPI M-L and the new Naxalites who are no longer led by college students. They go to the bottom of society.

Q: One of our living realities is the competition between Indian and China amid the babble of economic cooperation. How can Third World solidarity be revived?

A: What solidarity can there be to speak of? There was never a leftist government in India. The Cold War put China on one side and India played a role in between…. Both are rapidly expansionist, they are bound to get in each other’s hair. But it is in everyone’s interest to reduce the power of America.

China wants a ring of friendly countries around it, but it won’t occupy them. It’s not clear what China wants in Africa. I don’t know whether they intend to stay. If the Chinese start moving there, then it might get interesting.

There is, I think, however, a growing acceptance that war will not get you more territory. What threatens nation-states are not external states, but internal collapse. It has happened in Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia. It may happen in India. States can’t get any bigger, but they can get smaller.

The Great Resource Grab Continues: People fight for law, Government throws it to the winds

Campaign for Survival and Dignity

On November 20th, the police opened fire on an unarmed protest rally in Narayanpatna, Orissa, by the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha and killed three people. The Campaign condemns these murders – for that is what they are – in the strongest possible terms. Meanwhile, adivasi groups organised demonstrations across Andhra Pradesh yesterday against the State government’s illegal move to record community forest management rights and powers in the name of Joint Forest Management committees – which function as proxies of the Forest Department. In Andhra Pradesh or in Orissa, the irony is the same: it is the people who are fighting for the law, and the government that is using all the force possible to break it. In Delhi we find the Prime Minister and the Home Minister talking of the “rule of law” all the time, but for the government it seems that the “rule of law” is just another word for the rule of brute force.

The Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha is an adivasi movement that came to attention earlier this year when it mobilised to take back adivasi lands. The lands had been illegally taken over by non-tribals, in violation of the Orissa Land Reforms Act and the Orissa Scheduled Areas Transfer of Immovable Property Regulation. Though the government insists, as usual, on calling the Sangha a “Maoist front” and a “Maoist overground organisation”, the Sangha’s leaders have always been very clear that they are not linked to the CPI(Maoist) and have publicly stated their differences with the Maoists. They have organised people in a mass movement for adivasi land rights. This movement, of course, is intolerable for the government and for powerful interests; so, as usual, those fighting for people’s rights are labelled Maoists and, on this pretext, killing, beatings and torture all are considered justifiable.

On the 20th, the adivasis gathered to protest harassment of women and children, including beatings, that had taken place during so-called “combing operations” in the preceding days. According to fact finding reports, they were not carrying even their traditional bows and arrows. The police opened fire within half an hour of the protest reaching the police station. An estimated 60 people have been injured (no injuries to police have been reported) and those injured are not receiving medical treatment. The police are still engaged in combing operations and have arrested a number of other adivasis. There is no report of any action being taken against those responsible for the killings.

In Andhra Pradesh, meanwhile, a quieter attack on democracy is underway. The Forest Rights Act recognises the right and power of forest dwellers to protect, conserve and manage their “community forest resources”. This was the biggest step forward in this law, and it is the one part that the government appears most keen not to respect. In AP, the Forest Department has found a new trick to get around these provisions – it has persuaded the State government to confer community management rights under the Act on Joint Forest Management committees, which have forest guards as their secretaries / joint account holders and are effectively controlled by the Department. This is completely illegal and amounts to robbing people’s resources through the back door. But, once again, we find deafening silence or active support from the Central government for these illegal activities, and reportedly AP has even been cited as a ‘model’ by Central officials for this action.

Thus the struggle of the people for control over their resources and their livelihoods continues. The question that the government has to answer is very simple: does it actually believe in the rule of law? Or does it believe in crushing all those who fight for the very laws that it has passed?

Response to S Sivasegaram’s Rejoinder

Ron Ridenour

S Sivasegaram’s rejoinder to my series on the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils and the role of Cuba – ALBA in this tragedy is an excellent, well-thought and balanced piece. He, much more than I, knows the history and the peoples.

Without knowing anything about that part of the world until the end of the civil war, I was moved to conduct research because of the treatment the Sri Lankan government and military conducted against Tamils. I was also moved by what I believe essential for revolutionary morality: one does not side with a brutal government which practices discrimination (genocide even) against an entire people regardless of errors or incorrect attitudes by members of that people. I did not write to support elitism on any side, nor the Tigers, who, as I understand it, did act as Sivasegaram described they did. I wrote, in part, to admonish my comrades, the governments of ALBA countries whose resolution in the Human Rights Council is abhorrent in its applause for such a government and in its lack of solidarity for the interned Tamil people.

The fact that Sri Lanka has become a pawn in the hands of imperialism and authoritarian governments sometimes in opposition to US-led imperialism (China and Iran) in no way justifies an immoral stance by revolutionaries. The enemy of our enemy is not necessarily our friend. So, if ALBA must trade with the authoritarian-anti-democratic-anti-revolutionary governments of China and Iran that is for them to decide, but that must not make them dependent upon them politically. We certainly should have learned that, after all those years with the Soviet Union, which did not always conduct foreign policy in the interests of the people at hand.

We revolutionaries must not act cynically. Even if the Tamil nationalists should support other peoples and should have discussed matters with Latin Americans, this failure cannot justify abandoning a tortured people and applauding the torturers.

A Rejoinder to Ron Ridenour’s essay on Sri Lanka

S Sivasegaram

For Ron Ridenour’s essay, First Article, Second Article, Third Article, Fourth Article, and Fifth Article

I fear that the attitude of supporters of the Tamil cause towards Latin America is rather subjective, and that their approach is still sentimental. I will come to that later in my response, but, before that, the Tamil nationalist, especially pro-LTTE, claims need to be studied with care.

Firstly, accepting the right of Tamils in Sri Lanka to self-determination is correct. But the national question is far more complex than supporters of the Tamil cause in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere in India are made to understand. I have elaborated on this in my long essay which Radical Notes published as a book. Secession is still not the answer and the call for secession in 1976 was thoroughly ill-considered.

Secondly, the history of Tamils in Sri Lanka is being wilfully distorted. A most objective version of ancient history exists in the recent work of Dr K Indrapala, a Tamil, now in Australia. The point that comes out is that there is evidence of Tamil settlements in the island much earlier than acknowledged in the past. But that does not mean that the present-day Tamils are their descendants. The Jaffna Kingdom on which Tamil nationalists lay their claim to Tamil statehood is something of the Second Millennium A.D. which ceased to be nearly 5 centuries ago. There were, however, Tamil chieftains and despotic rulers in the Vanni who survived until the British moved in early in the 19th Century. Part of the Vanni was under the ‘Sinhalese’ Kandyan Kingdom.

The Sinhalese have had a longer history in terms of kingdoms ruled by ‘Sinhalese’. (Not all rulers were really Sinhalese. At least one was from Kalinga. Several were Tamils or Telugus). But what does all of this prove? Not a lot.

The reality is that in the course of modern history, two Sinhala-speaking polities that had a separate existence for 450 years merged into one to serve certain class interests. Tamil-speaking polities ended up as three nationalities with distinctions in many ways and with problems for which Eelam was not an answer. The attitude of the Tamil elite in early 1900s alienated the fisherfolk of the west coast of the island and let them accept a Sinhala identity. In course of time the Tamil identity of the Colombo Chetties and the Paravar communities was lost. The main reason for these was that the Tamil leadership (of Jaffna mainly to which the Vanni and the East got added much later) was dominated by the Vellala Saivaites (equivalent of the Pillai/Mudaliyar etc. of Tamil Nadu, Nayar/Pillai/Menon of Kerala, Patels of Gujarat etc.)

To talk of a Tamil nation comprising 25% of the population is incorrect. The Tamil nationalists nominally represent about 10%, but they truly represent the interests of a fraction of it. When the armed conflict escalated in the 1980s, the elite fled and it was the oppressed who bore the brunt of intensifying chauvinist oppression and war. The elite are abroad, living in comfort, and want to prolong the conflict to pursue their pet project of ‘Tamil Eelam’. The vast majority of the Tamil diaspora have been misled by a few nationalists (pro-LTTE and now the vociferous pro-government groups). What I like to stress is that history has been successfully distorted on all sides to serve narrow interests and to divide the people.

Thirdly, the LTTE was on the one hand the only remaining armed resistance to state oppression. But on the other they systematically failed the people. Their dominance of Tamil politics came about mainly by brutal repression of all opposition, rivals and potential rivals. That continued until their ultimate fall. The genuine left still treated them with some deference for being the only defence that the Tamil people had against state repression; but the LTTE was undemocratic, acted to please imperialism (especially since antagonising India), never believed in people’s struggle, and relied on military victory led by their army. They recruited children by force especially as their fortunes faded. They let the rich get away by paying off while the poor had to send heir children to join the LTTE ranks. All these are factors that contributed to their defeat. But that does not in any way justify any of the cruel and at times barbaric acts of the state.

Yet, failure to criticise the LTTE for its attacks on civilians (not just Sinhalese) has done a lot of harm. Rivals of the LTTE with Indian and Sri Lankan state patrons have been just as guilty. A section of the genuine left criticised the LTTE’s faults while defending the struggle and denouncing state oppression.

Fourthly, leaving alone the anti-democratic and even terrorist acts against civilians, the LTTE and its supporters among the Diaspora have much to answer for the failure of the peace talks (although the government is the main culprit); its reliance on the US (which used the peace talks to get the better of India in Sri Lanka while undermining the LTTE in collaboration with the UNP leadership); and its failure to protect the people.

The LTTE cannot escape the charge that it led 30,000 to the slaughterhouse and 300,000 to what are open prison camps. That tragedy could have been averted had the LTTE let the people go after the fall of Kilinochchi in December 2008. If they did not drag along with them the 100,000 or so from the Kilinochchi District, the government forces could not have advanced fast without clearing the District, and that would have allowed the LTTE leadership to change their strategy. Also there would have been political issues that would have arisen preventing the government from taking people out of their homes. That was water under the bridge when the people were taken to Mullaitivu and compelled to live a life of misery, with the government curtailing if not blocking the supply of essentials. But what justification was there to forcibly prevent the people from leaving when they could not bear the agony anymore? I have heard from people who escaped before the fall of the LTTE about the anti-people methods used by the LTTE to keep the people with them?

Did they seriously think that they could reverse their military fortunes? Did they expect meaningful foreign intervention? If so, in what form? There is substantial circumstantial evidence that they were given false hopes by a section of the Tamil elite among the diaspora about some form US/UN led intervention (to save the LTTE leadership even if not to save the Tamils). Many such questions are being carefully avoided by the Tamil nationalists.

Thus the blame lies with firstly the Government, secondly with the Tamil nationalists as a whole and the LTTE in particular, and thirdly the forces of foreign intervention (the US and India especially) for the tragedy of 2009.

To turn to Latin America:
Objectively, Latin America is increasingly facing US-led threats (The Honduras coup and the Colombian bases are additions to an existing threat). Human rights have consistently been used by the West to undermine defiant states. The US, which uses one set of rules for the Palestinians, a different set of rules for the Kurds of Turkey, and a slightly different one for the Kurds of Iraq, also encourages secessionist forces in the wealthy parts of Bolivia and Venezuela). Latin America sees the issues in terms of a global reality that it faces.

The UNHRC resolution was a pre-emptive response to an anticipated resolution that the US, UK, Germany and Mexico (of all countries!) were planning. Why did Sri Lanka become an issue to them? It was to punish Sri Lanka, not for killing Tamils or denying Tamils their basic rights, but because the government was drifting out of US control. (Indo-US rivalry too has been a factor). USSR and China even during their socialist days had steered clear of UN intervention (and have hopefully learnt from their mistake of allowing meddling in Afghanistan and let the invasion of Iraq pass).

The basic guideline for countries confronting US imperialism is to do what is possible to prevent US meddling in any form. To imagine that a resolution denouncing the Sri Lankan government would have brought relief to the Tamils is fantasy.

Then there are subjective reasons, which cannot be ignored.

Leading Tamil nationalists of all shades have cared little for struggles for justice internationally. (Anton Balasingham, the LTTE ‘theoretician’ had even denounced the struggle in Kashmir as trouble making as he did the resistance in eastern India). The LTTE has not denounced the oppression of the Palestinians or US aggression anywhere, much in line with their political forebears in the Federal Party who denounced the Vietnam struggle as communist trouble making. The SLFP had an anti-imperialist past, but had been dodgy after the 1980s. Of late, the government has occasionally stood up for the Third World on important issues; the role of Dayan Jayatilleka (whose politics is not necessarily genuine) during his short spell as Sri Lanka’s UN ambassador has made an impression in Latin America. I do not think that the Tamil nationalists have had a moral right to ask for support from any country outside the imperialist world and India whom they loyally served. The tragedy is that they have left the Tamil people badly isolated.

By isolating themselves from the left governments, the Indian, especially Tamil, friends of Latin America will achieve nothing. They should have sought to discuss the matter with some of the Latin American embassies before jumping to conclusions. Taking decisions one-sidedly without reference to their friends is not healthy practice. It will be the progressive forces of India who will lose most by such kneejerk action.

Narayanpatna: An Interview with Gananath Patra


On the 20th of November three adivasis, including a leader of Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS), were gunned down near the police station of Narayanpatna. The CMAS has been struggling for the redistribution of land among tribals in the region. Nachika Linga and Gananath Patra have been spearheading the movement since its inception. The police alleges the CMAS of conducting violence. According to the police, hundreds of adivasis had come to loot the police station; the police had to fire in retaliation and hence the incident. Later, a section of media claimed that the government has issued a shoot-at-sight order against Nachika Linga. Kumudini Behera, another leader of the CMAS, is already under arrest. The following is a telephonic interview with Com. Gananath Patra.

Satyabrata: The media is projecting that hundreds of members of CMAS had organized themselves around the police station in order to loot weaponry. How much truth does this statement of the police carry?

Gananath Patra: It is ridiculous that the police is even able to say such things. Firstly, there were only hundred and fifty adivasis who had come to the police station. There was a genuine reason for that. The previous night, in the name of hunting down the Maoists, innocent adivasis were beaten, looted and women were molested in Kumbhari panchayat. They had only come to seek an explanation. They were naturally agitated because of what they had to face the night before but they had no intentions of looting the police station, they were unarmed; they came without even their traditional weaponry. Moreover, if they had intentions of looting the police station, they could have easily conspired that in the night. Why would they, in broad daylight, come to the police station unarmed!

Satyabrata: Curfew has been declared in the region with the enforcement of Section 144 of the IPC. Cobra battalions have reached the region. The situation is being militaristically dealt with by the government. Why so?

Gananath Patra: Due to the pressure of our movement, several landlords and liquor merchants ran away from the area, and they have organised themselves in adjoining Laxmipur in the name of a Shanti (Peace) Committee under the patronage of the BJD, the ruling party of Orissa. The State has its class character and this move only explicates it. The State is against the movement of the adivasis for their rights because their rights mean loss to the landed propertied classes which are the class base of the ruling party in that region.

Satyabrata: The state has militarized itself. What will its effect be on the movement?

Gananath Patra: We know very well that behind the military intervention of the State is its intention to militarize our movement in order to find a plea to brutally subjugate it. We know their intentions and we are careful about any move we shall be taking. The movement must continue.

Satyabrata: The CMAS is being projected as the frontal organization of the Maoists. Is that true?

Gananath Patra: You mean the CPI(Maoist). No. we have considerable differences with the CPI(Maoist) line, though they are our sympathizers and critics. I believe in Marxism-Leninism- Mao Tse-tung Thought, which has considerable differences with the Maoism of the CPI(Maoist). Our method of occupying and cultivating land is mass line task and has nothing in common with the CPI(Maoist).

Satyabrata: Why are you being projected as Maoists then?

Gananath Patra: We pose a danger to the status quo the ruling class wants to maintain and hence it wants us to be branded as Maoists. Then the matter becomes simple; pick up anyone who is against this status quo, brand him a Maoist and rob him of his movemental potentiality by either putting him behind bars or by gunning him down. History has been spectator to this strategy of several States at several conjunctures in the past. The state has banned the CPI(Maoist) to facilitate this purpose.

Satyabrata: Your message to the people who will be going through this interview.

Gananath Patra: The movement at Narayanpatna is the struggle of the indigenous adivasis against the exploiters. Time will show, if things go our way, we will be able to produce agricultural products in a quantity many times more than that produced under exploitation, and the produce will go to the producers. We don’t need any Green Revolution. Of course, the State is trying its best to subjugate the movement, but, this is our struggle – the struggle of indigenous adivasis against our exploiters. The State and the media have joined hands in projecting it as a terrorist movement and CMAS as a terrorist outfit. Let us join hands to prove them wrong.

A Public Meeting on the “Right to Dissent”

Janhastakshep, Campaign Against Fascist Designs invite you for a public meeting
Date & Time : November 26 at 5 P.M.
Venue: Gandhi Peace Foundation, Deen Dayal Upadhaya Marg, ITO, New Delhi.
Panelists: Mr. Surendra Mohan (Former M.P.), Mr. Rajendra Sachar (Former Chief Justice Delhi High Court), Mr. Neelabh Mishra (Journalist), Mr. Prashant Bhushan (Advocate Supreme Court), Mr. Manoj Mitta (Journalist), Mr. Jaspal Sidhu (Journalist) and others

On November 16, thousands of people gathered in the village Nanda Ka Pura in the district of Kaushambi in U.P. to pay their respectful homage to Uda Devi, a well known dalit martyr of the 1857 Indian War of Independence. To prevent the assembly the State Administration had imposed preventive measures U/s 144 of Cr. P.C. leading to lathi charge and firing on the people. People there were not deterred even by such repressive measures wherein 30 peoples sustained injuries.

On November 3, when the Sikh community in Punjab was protesting against the anti-Sikh violence of 1984 and against the denial of justice for the victims of that violence, a group of tenant- peasants of village Khanna-Chamiara were subjected to unprovoked and indiscriminate firing. These peasants were protesting against the attempts to vacate the land being cultivated by them for the past 60 to 70 years. The irony is; the entire operation culminating in the killing of two and injuring many peasants, was ordered by the so-called Task Force of S.G.P.C., which was supposed to protect the interest of Sikhs.

The country is witness to widespread popular movements on the issues of displacements of dalits and tribals in the States of West Bengal, Chhattisgarh and Orissa. The rulers in different States are resorting to the draconian provisions under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA) for suppressing the voice of dissent. In Chattisgarh mere criticism of the state government invites black laws such as “sedition” to be slammed upon members of the press, intellectuals and civil liberties activists. In West Bengal well know intellectuals such as Aparna Sen and Mahashweta Devi have been threatened under the UAPA.

Recently contempt proceedings have been initiated against Shri Prashant Bhushan, a noted Human Rights activist in the Supreme Court for his reported statement that Hon’ble Mr. Justice S.H.Kapadia should have recused himself from hearing matters relating to the Vedanta Group of Companies since there was an element of conflict of interest.

In his reported statement, Shri Prashant Bhushan had only raised the issue of judicial propriety wherein Hon’ble Mr. Justice S.H. Kapadia had candidly observed in the open court that he was holding shares in the Vedanta/Sterlite Group of Companies; and even after making such observation he proceeded in the hearing and passing orders in the matters involving the said Vedanta/Sterlite Group of Companies. It is the basic postulate in the Rule of Law that no person shall be judge in his own cause and justice should not only be done but seen to be done. The reported observation of Shri Prashant Bhushan was made with a view to bring about transparency in the judicial functioning. The fact that in a subsequent development, Hon’ble Mr. Justice Kapadia has recused himself from hearing matters relating to Vedanta/Sterlite Group of Companies on the self – same ground is also indicative of the prima facie correct view on the part of Shri Prashant Bhushan.

The resort to invoking contempt jurisdiction of the Superior Courts to deal with such situations is nothing but an attempt to gag the fearless voice of human rights activists who are striving to bring forward issues of judicial transparency and accountability to public domain. From being the institution which has been entrusted to protect the citizens constitutionally guaranteed rights, the courts are increasingly becoming willing instruments for further suppression and curtailment of people’s rights and freedom by the state and ruling political powers.

Jan Hastakshep as a part of its constant endeavor to raise basic issues concerning the working masses would request your participation in the meeting to be held on November 26 at 5 P.M. at Gandhi Peace Foundation, Deen Dayal Upadhaya Marg, New Delhi.

Prof. N.K. Bhattacharya

Sri Lanka: Post-War Internment Hell (V)

Ron Ridenour

First Article
Second Article
Third Article
Fourth Article

“The impunity with which the Sri Lankan government is able to commit these crimes [referring to 2009 war atrocities, including brutal internment of 300,000 Tamils] actually unveils the deeply ingrained racist prejudice that is precisely what led to the marginalization and alienation of the Tamils of Sri Lanka in the first place. That racism has a long history – of social ostracism, economic blockades, pogroms and torture. The nature of the decades-long civil war, which started as a peaceful protest, has its roots in this,” wrote author Arundhati Roy.

“’This is something similar to what occurred in Gaza or worse, because neither observers nor journalists had access to the war zone,’ stated a UN source who asked for anonymity. The army acknowledges that 6,200 soldiers and 22,000 guerrillas died in the last three years of the longest civil war in Asia. The UN affirms that between 80,000 and 100,000 persons died in the conflict,” wrote Elisa Reche of Prensa Marea Socialista.

“During the war,” Reche continued, “the army had 200,000 troops. Now with peace, 100,000 are being incorporated… A strange peace it is that requires more troops than in actual combat.”

More troops are needed because systematic ethnic cleansing is now the order of the day for the Tamil people. Their Homeland will be obliterated by introducing more Sinhalese settlers. The same strategy, as John Pilger pointed out, that Israel uses against Palestinians.

This is what M.K. Bhadrakumar, an ambassador for India who served in Sri Lanka and other countries, wrote about the day after Sri Lanka declared victory.

See, they have already solved the Tamil problem in the eastern provinces… The Tamils are no more the majority community in these provinces. Similarly, from tomorrow, they will commence a concerted, steady colonization program of the Northern provinces where Prabhakaran reigned supreme for two decades. They will ensure incrementally that the northern regions no more remain as Tamil provinces… Give them a decade at the most. The Tamil problem will become a relic of the bloody history of the Indian sub-continent.

Ethnic cleansing goes hand-in-hand with the policy of imprisoning and mistreating hundreds of thousands of Tamils. For more than a year before its military victory, the Sri Lanka government enticed Tamils, wishing to flee the war zone, into so-called “welfare” centers or villages. Tens of thousands became “Internally Displaced Persons” (IDP), and are thus subject to United Nations regulations concerning decent living conditions, food and water, freedom of movement and the right to leave and rejoin families. All these rights and necessities have been denied them.

“Really if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy,” President J.R. told the Daily Telegraph, (UK) on July 11, 1983.

A quarter-century later, the current president is striving to fulfill his predecessor’s genocidal intentions. Mahinda Rajapakse has claimed that no IDP is held against his/her will and all are treated well. However, the few United Nations visitors—there are no official investigators into abuses since the Human Rights Council majority blocked such a possibility—who come to observe have quite another picture.

When UN’s political chief, Lynn Pascoe, visited camps in September he said people were not free or well treated… “this kind of closed regime goes directly against the principles under which we work in assisting IDPs all around the world.”

Rajapakse told Pascoe another tale about “free movement”. He said that detention was necessary because the army was clearing the area for mines, and it was still looking for guerrillas hiding among civilians. However, as the UN resident coordinator reported, and Amnesty Internationalquoted: “Under international humanitarian law, captured combatants…may be held pending the cessation of hostilities. Once active hostilities have ceased, prisoners of war must be released ‘without delay.’”

At of July, there were 9,400 individuals with purported links to the LTTE held separately from the rest of the population. They have not been released nearly half-a-year after internment.

Amnesty International also reported that the camps are clearly militarized. The 19-member Presidential Task Force established in mid-May “to plan and coordinate resettlement, rehabilitation and development of the Northern Province” is headed Major General CA Chandrasiri, who was also appointed governor of the province. All inmates are enclosed by barbed-wire fences, guarded and brutalized by well-armed soldiers.

“Arrests have been reported from the camps and Sri Lankan human rights defenders have alleged that enforced disappearances have also occurred,” wrote Amnesty.

“Sri Lanka’s history of large-scale enforced disappearances dating back to the 1980s, and the lack of independent monitoring… raises grave concerns that enforced disappearances and other violations of human rights may be occurring… Previous research [shows] that [persons] suspected by the government of being members or supporters of LTTE are at grave risk of extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearance, and torture, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.”

“Although the government calls these facilities ‘welfare villages,’ they are effectively detention camps…” Amnesty International also reported that not only are people not free to move as they wish, women and girls are raped by soldiers, and people live in sewage, disease-infested conditions, with little food and water and medical attention. They die in droves because of these imposed conditions.

Women and children are especially mistreated, which was the subject that James Elder, spokesperson for UNICEF, complained about to Sri Lankan authorities, who then expelled him from the country. Elder described the “unimaginable suffering” of children caught in the fighting, including babies he had seen with shrapnel wounds.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had refrained from criticizing Sri Lanka’s government, leveling his critique only at LTTE for carrying out atrocities. But when he briefly visited one camp less than a week after the end of the war, he said:

“I have traveled around the world and visited similar places, but this is by far the most appalling scenes I have seen…I sympathize fully with all of the displaced persons,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told CNN after visiting Manik Farm, the most presentable of Sri Lanka’s squalid and dangerous internment camps for Tamils civilians. The UN Chief has also promised international action regarding the heavy shelling of civilian populations during the recent fighting.

Out of the 280,000 IDPs after the end of the war (there were nearly one-half million over a year’s period), only between 15,000 and 40,000 had been released by November 1. Half of them, perhaps, have been ransomed. The Sunday Times wrote about “human trafficking at the internment camps.” Relatives were made to pay camp authorities in order to secure their release.


A week after the end of the war, the LTTE communicated that several of its leaders were killed, but the organization would continue struggling for an independent Tamil Eelam in peaceful ways. July 22, the LTTE announced that its chief of international relations, Selvarsa Pathmanathan—known as KP—was made the new leader, and that a new strategy for a “free Tamil Eelam” would occur. On August 8, England’s The Independent wrote that Pathmanathan was under arrest by Sri Lanka and held incommunicado.

For us solidarity activists, left-wing organizations, and governments considered to be progressive-socialist-communist-revolutionary, I believe that our task must be to press for the lives and rights of the Tamil people. Australia’s Democratic Socialist Perspective and Socialist Alliance said it well in its October 2009 international situation report:

Now the Tamil struggle has entered a new phase. The immediate campaign must focus on defence of basic human rights, release and resettlement of the Internally Displaced Persons currently held in SL government concentration camps, an end to murders, torture, rapes, and provision of basic housing, food and drinking water to the Tamil people under brutal occupation.

As a solidarity activist, who advocates the right to resist and the necessity to conduct armed struggle once peaceful means fail to induce oppressive and terrorist governments to engage in a process aimed at peace with justice, I condemn all perpetrators of terrorism and demand they change tactics to ones that are morally in accordance with our ideology for socialism, for justice with equality.

I find that most, if not all, armed movements commit acts of atrocities, even acts of terror in the long course of warfare. This has sometimes been the case with FARC and PFLP, for instance. But I support them in their righteous struggle. They are up against, as was the more brutal LTTE, much greater military and economic forces that practice state terror endemically. Remember the ANC in South Africa’s war for liberation. They committed much the same.

The main reason why I am on their side, why I have been a leftist solidarity activist and writer for nearly half-a-century is a matter of basic ethics. I define ethics in this way: Life shall not be abused or destroyed by our conscious hand—without being attacked, invaded, oppressed beyond bare. A moral person, organization, political party, government acts in daily life and in the struggle for justice with that ethic in mind. These are my thoughts on morality.

1. We act to so that no one person, race or ethnic group is either over or under another.

2. In combat against oppressors and invaders, we do not kill non-combatant civilians nor forcefully recruit them, or use them as hostages.

3. We struggle to create equality for all.

4. We abolish all profit-making based upon the exploitation of labor or the oppression of any person, group of people or class. Instead, we build an economy based upon principles of justice and equality, one in which no one goes hungry, sharing equitably our resources and production.

5. We struggle to create a political system based upon participation where all have a voice in decision-making of vital matters, in local, national and international policies.

6. We struggle to eliminate alienation in each of us.

After following liberated Cuba for half-a-century, having lived and worked there for eight years, I find that during its guerrilla struggle, which fortunately only lasted two years, it acted in a moral manner. Cuba’s revolutionary armed struggle was exceptional in this way. The Vietnamese struggle against the invaders of France and the USA was so conducted as well. There are a few other examples: the original Sandinistas is, perhaps, one.

I think that the key reason why so many millions of people the world love and respect Che Guevara is because of his moral stance, of his example as a just revolutionary leader. I conclude this all-too-long essay with these oft-quoted words from Che’s Socialism and Man.

At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love… Our vanguard revolutionaries must idealize this love of the people, the most sacred cause, and make it one and indivisible… one must have a great deal of humanity and a strong sense of justice and truth in order not to fall into extreme dogmatism and cold scholasticism, into an isolation from the masses. We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.

The Sri Lankan National Question and the People’s Right to Self-Determination



Post-war Sri Lanka has taken new directions in its political form with the LTTE militarily defeated and the liberation struggle of the Tamils facing a major setback. Against this backdrop, triumphalism of the Sinhala majoritarian chauvinism in its different forms is placing new constraints on the resolution of the Sri Lankan national question. Its impact has been almost instant.

The latest line of the NGOs and ‘civil society spokespersons’ is the idea of “non-devolutionary constitutional reform”. Newly coined terms are used to persuade the government that it could introduce constitutional reforms with little consideration for the rights and aspirations of the people. On the other hand the Tamil nationalists among the diaspora remain stuck to the mythical notion of Vaddukoddai resolution and claiming that separate state Tamil Eelam is the solution for the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Both approaches contain their fair share of vested interests.

Although the thirty-year civil war is over, the causes of the conflict still remain to be addressed. The national question, remains the main contradiction in Sri Lanka, and unresolved. Chauvinistic oppression and denial of the basic rights of the minorities remain strong, the oppression being two-fold, political and military. The reluctance of the government to propose a political solution has serous long-term implications.

While a just solution to the national question should be based on ensuring the right to self determination of all the nationalities in Sri Lanka, the term ‘right to self determination’ itself is being interpreted by different political actors, each in a way to suit its own agenda. Thus there is a need to understand the concept of the right to self determination and examine its role in finding a solution to the Sri Lankan national question.

Right to self determination

The concept of the right to self-determination has its origins in the Russian revolution. The founding of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1922 brought together more than 120 distinct peoples, each with its own language and culture, who had been oppressed by the fallen Russian Czarist Empire. This great achievement was made possible by the 1917 October Revolution. Elimination of national oppression and arriving at a correct position on what was then known as “the national question” would not have been possible without a profound struggle.

Marx’s analysis of the Irish question was a pioneering contribution to the understanding of self-determination for oppressed nations. Marx, who initially doubted the ability of the Irish nation to achieve independence on its own or even the need for it, expected that the Irish nation and workers would be liberated when the English working class overthrew the English bourgeoisie. His view was based on the idea that the English workers living in an advanced capitalist country were best placed to overthrow capitalism in the colonizing country of Britain. By the late 1860s, on recognising the virulent racism and chauvinism among the English workers themselves against the Irish people, he supported the right to independence of the Irish nation as the best means for the Irish workers to fight capitalism. He urged the English workers to stand up for Irish independence.

Marx further argued that an English workers’ party, representing workers of an oppressor nation, was duty bound to support an oppressed nation’s independence. This attitude became a central aspect of Lenin’s stand on the national question in relation to oppressed nations. Lenin was later to write: “The policy of Marx and Engels on the Irish question serves as a splendid example of the attitude the proletariat of the oppressor nations should adopt towards national movements, an example which has lost none of its immense practical importance”. Lenin, in upholding the Marxist approach, had to struggle repeatedly against other socialists who were opposed in principle to the right to national self-determination.

Lenin explained the right to self determination thus: “The right of nations to self-determination means only the right to independence in a political sense, the right to free, political secession from the oppressing nation. Concretely, this political, democratic demand implies complete freedom to carry on agitation in favour of secession, and freedom to settle the question of secession by means of a referendum of the nation that desires to secede. Consequently, this demand is by no means identical with the demand for secession, for partition, for the formation of small states. It is merely the logical expression of the struggle against national oppression in every form. The more closely the democratic system of state approximates to complete freedom of secession, the rarer and weaker will the striving for secession be in practice; for the advantages of large states, both from the point of view of economic progress and from the point of view of the interests of the masses, are beyond doubt, and these advantages increase with the growth of capitalism. The recognition of self-determination is not the same as making federation a principle. One may be a determined opponent of this principle and a partisan of democratic centralism and yet prefer federation to national inequality as the only path towards complete democratic centralism”.

It was after Lenin explained and defined the right to self determination that others, notably Woodrow Wilson, defined the right to self determination as the right of peoples to govern themselves. Right to self determination implies that no one can legitimately govern a people without their consent. Wilson promulgated the right to self-determination in his “Fourteen Points” speech. The fundamental difference between Wilson and Lenin was that the latter accepted the right to secede, if it becomes impossible to stay together so that self determination meant the right to secede but not necessarily the act of secession. Lenin illustrated this with the example of the right to divorce, which does not mean that every marriage should be dissolved but ensures that every person gets into the contract of marriage while reserving one’s right to divorce. Without the right to divorce, marriage does not guarantee the survival of marriage. The right to separate makes the relationship more equal and stable than without. Lenin thus argued that by giving the right to secession the nations or nationalities in a union explore possibilities to coexist.

In the later years, the right to self determination acquired political as well as legal meanings, with the political principle having a wider scope than the legal. Article 1 (2) of the United Nations Charter, drawn up in 1945, stipulates that the UN is to “develop a friendly relationship among nations based on respect of the principles of equal rights and self-determination of peoples and to take other measures to strengthen universal peace”. Further, the principles of self-determination were embedded in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); and in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) of the 1966. These covenants affirmed self-determination as a “right of peoples” and guaranteed it by treaty laws. The impact of these UN ratifications of the right to self determination were more political than legal; and for political reasons the right to self determination is being interpreted and explained in different ways.

Right to self determination in Sri Lanka

The Marxist Leninist position on the national question in Sri Lanka, as elsewhere, has been unambiguous. It has historically identified the development of chauvinism and its development into national oppression, and recognised the development of the national contradiction into the main contradiction in Sri Lanka. Marxist Leninists have always maintained that ensuring the right to self determination of all nationalities in Sri Lanka should be the basis for the solution to the national question. Any proposal for a solution undermining the right to self determination of the nationalities in Sri Lanka is of dubious value.

The class and class interests that constitute the essence of the national question in Sri Lanka are not readily visible. Thus, limiting one’s search for solutions to the existing political framework, the executive powers of parliament within it, and to legislation will not permit one to appreciate the national and class aspects of the national question or the need to recognise the right of the nationalities in Sri Lanka to self determination. Hence claims of finding a solution within the existing framework will fail to address the root causes of the conflict and the issues involved. It has to be recognised that during the last thirty years, the contradictions among nationalities which constitute the main contradiction have grown and need to be addressed in a way that satisfies all the communities. Thus, when the government or the spokespersons for the “civil society” talk of non-devolutionary reforms, they implicitly declare that they are unwilling to accept the people’s rights as the cornerstone of the solution.

The Marxist Leninist position, to be valid, should look closely at the development of the national question, which has entered a phase where national oppression involves local and foreign elements. When a nation, a nationality or a community is oppressed as a social group, inevitably its struggle against oppression will be based on its identity. Marxist Leninists hold that to deny the right to such struggle is to support social oppression. It is on this basis that they have supported anti-colonial liberation struggles as well as liberation struggles of oppressed nationalities and social groups.

Tamil nationalism in all its forms and identities is a product of history. The evolution of Tamil identity into a Tamil national identity was due to various social, economic and historical factors. Tamil national identity itself has kept changing, and its form today is markedly different from the one that preceded it. In the 1970s Tamil nationalist leaders propagated the notion of a “separate state of Tamil Eelam” and passed the Vaddukoddai resolution in 1976 for opportunistic parliamentary political reasons. The solution for the problems faced by the Tamils cannot be based on that resolution. To be fair, any solution put forwarded on behalf of the Tamils should duly recognise the rights of the other minorities, especially the Muslims and Hill Country Tamils. But the Vaddukoddai Resolution calling for a separate state of Tamil Eelam failed to address the issues of the Muslims and Hill Country Tamils. Notably, until recently, Tamil nationalist parties have been reluctant to seek solutions based on ensuring the right to self determination for all the nationalities.

The concept of the right to self determination is not a product of bourgeois democracy but of the revolutionary ideology of the working class. The national question in the post-colonial era qualitatively differs from that in the colonial era; and self determination needs to be seen in a broader perspective than at the dawn of the 20th Century when the question mainly concerned an oppressor nation and an oppressed nation. One should also take a historical view of how imperialism has used session to advance its hegemonic interests. Tamil nationalists calling for secession, based merely on the right to self-determination, have their interests tied up with the imperialist agenda. While Marxist Leninists accept the right to secede, they do not see secession as a panacea for national conflicts. They have, in particular, warned against the prospect of imperialists using secession to serve their interests, the recent example being Kosovo. Thus seeking secession as solution for the Sri Lankan national question is not likely to be in the interest of any nationality.

The need of the moment is to ensure the right of all the nationalities in Sri Lanka to self determination. Sections of the Tamil Diaspora and Tamil media propagate the view that the right to self determination is merely a right to secession. This is misleading and harmful. The right to self determination is much more than the right to secession. Tamil nationalists as well as Sinhala chauvinists continue to mislead the masses on the principle of right to self determination. Meanwhile, some Tamil parliamentary politicians talk about “internal self determination” as a solution to the national question. This once again is an effort to dismantle the concept of self determination and in the process reject the right of the nationalities in Sri Lanka to self determination.

At this point it is important to reiterate the stand of the Marxist Leninists on secession. The use of secession as an imperialist tool does not make it right to oppose the right to secession. The right to secession is an integral part of the right to self determination and not a licence to secede at will. If at all, it is a proven way to avert secession and conflicts between nationalities. The vested interests of Sinhala chauvinism and Tamil narrow nationalism ensured that they always undermined people’s struggles for social justice. Their conduct in the past and present merely confirms their aim to retain their political power by dividing people and denying the rights of the nationalists.


The right to self-determination cannot be applied blindly or be imposed on a nationality or an ethnic group. A nationality struggles for its right to self-determination or for secession when its identity or its very survival is threatened. Struggles of oppressed nationalities are complex and continuously evolving, with no two struggles alike. In several instances, including Sri Lanka, issues have been made more complex by foreign intervention driven by hegemonic intentions. The situation in Sri Lanka is worrying, with rights of the nationalities under great threat, and upholding the rights of the minorities has become a momentous task. It is time for the progressive forces to unite and fight for the right to self determination of all nationalities, to ensure a just solution to the Sri Lankan national question.

Courtesy: New Democracy 35 – Theoretical Organ of New Democratic Party (Sri Lanka)