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What is left of the Left sans the Tamil national question, asks Diaspora Tamil academic

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 23 February 2016, 21:53 GMT]
"Only a process of national liberation of the oppressed Eelam Tamil nation can facilitate the grounds for the revolutionary conditions necessary to undertake and advance all other revolutionary struggles within the island; that pertaining to the rights of the Tamil speaking interspersed minorities, the struggle of the Sinhala masses, the anti-caste struggle and the proletarian struggle at large,” writes Norway-based Eezham Tamil anthropology academic Athithan Jayapalan. “Any prospect of anti-imperialism, without accommodating the indivisible right of Tamil self-determination and the recognition of the multi-national nature of the island with the historically evolved Tamil and Sinhala nations and homelands, will paradoxically remain in the service of imperialism by safeguarding the unitary structure of the imperialist implanted Sri Lankan state,” he further writes.

Full text of the article follows:

What is left of the Left sans the Tamil national question?

Athithan Jayapalan


External Geo-politics and the Unitary State

Athithan Jayapalan
Athithan Jayapalan
Ever since the conclusion of the genocidal massacres on Eelam Tamils in Mu'l'livaaykkaal more than 7 years ago, the external geopolitical dimensions of the Sri Lankan unitary state and the ulterior motives of its principle international backers have manifested themselves in more overt manner than before. These external backers of the unitary state which is located in the heart of the Indian Ocean have proven to be none other than major international and regional hegemons of the modern world, mainly the U.S. - UK - Japan axis, India, and China.

Unfortunately for oppressed peoples of the world, world hegemons have consistently proven to rely on imperialist-corporate logic, both in securing their geopolitical and economic interests and to advance their aspirations of hegemony by aiding post-colonial state formations and respective comprador native elites in consolidating their powers irrespective of the implications of national oppression, genocide and chauvinism.

Towards such an end the Western states have institutionalized a science, through colonial encounters amongst others, behind subjugating, containing or eliminating threats to the state power in the form of Counter-Insurgency (COIN). Furthermore there is developed a doctrine on how to transform hostile states into friendly entities through instigation of regime changes. Regardless of the orientation of these hegemons, whether in strategic partnership with one another or in rivalry, the established nation-states that were formed by the agenda of colonial masters are predominantly perceived as a prerequisite for maintaining influence in the Indian Ocean region. Consequently, contrary to the needs of the oppressed nations, the neo-colonial state is sought to be consolidated or hijacked as per the requirements of the geopolitics of the concerned world hegemons.

The legitimate aspirations of the oppressed for the reconfiguration and disintegration of the oppressor unitary nation- state in order to accommodate the multi-national nature of the island and Tamil nationhood is left out of the question.

Of the hegemons vying to secure the unitary state, China’s role may be traced back to its sporadic dealings with Srimavo Bandaranaike’s SLFP led United Front government through the Beijing wing of the communist party of Sri Lanka in order to gain foothold in the island state and in the Indian ocean. The left supporters of Srimavo Bandaranaike and China were locally termed Srimavoists.

The role of the regional hegemon India, can undoubtedly be traced to its imperialist expansionist venture into the island against the Sinhala Left inspired JVP insurrection of 1971. Furthermore during the 1980s India first trained and provided arms to Tamil militants, later proceeding to strike against them and the national masses with genocidal fury when Indian attempts to manipulate the Tamil national question and armed struggle for its own geopolitical interests failed. Such a sinister motive was machinated by the Indian establishment when it became necessary to pressurise the West-leaning UNP government of J.R. Jayewardene to realign itself and the Sri Lankan unitary state towards New Delhi.

The U.S. and its predecessor the U.K. establishments’ imperialist involvement and linkages to Sri Lanka can be traced from the colonial period itself; embedded within the foundations of the modern post-colonial Sri Lankan state, i.e. in its territorial integrity, sovereignty and unity. The contours of the contemporary Sri Lankan state remain within the administrative framework implanted by the British colonial masters in 1833.

It is in this light that one may trace a pattern in the post-war scenario of international, regional and local geo-politics and interests which conditions the political reality in the island. The unitary state has proven to remain a strategic asset or as a mechanisms for the corporate-imperialists interests of competing international and regional hegemons. It was moulded forth in its present form due to the U.K and U.S establishments assessment of the Indian Ocean as the major strategic platform binding together the world trade as evident in the words of American Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840 – 1914), considered the father of modern American naval strategy and geo-political thinking:

“Whoever attains maritime supremacy in the Indian Ocean would be a prominent player on the international scene. Whoever controls the Indian Ocean dominates Asia. This ocean is the key to the seven seas in the 21st century, the destiny of the world will be decided in these waters.”


The Western imperialists in Westminster and Washington, the Mandarins in Beijing and the Rajagurus and Nawabs in New Delhi have grasped the strategic importance of Sri Lanka, and likewise identified the unitary state with centralized power in Colombo as the optimal mechanism to negotiate forth their interests. The unitary state was implanted by the British imperialists to secure their perennial interests in the Indian ocean region, and they groomed a Sinhala English educated bourgeoisie in the manner of Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism with the prerogatives to subjugate, assimilate or annihilate Tamils and other non-Sinhala Buddhists.

This national ideology, giving rise to a state-centric national abstract consciousness among the Sinhala masses was integral in order to preserve the unitary nation state in the service of imperialism, and to secure the governing legitimacy of the Sinhala national bourgeoisie elites and subsequently their class interests.

Such a chauvinist logic was congenially encouraged by the British colonial masters through the workings of the British Royal Asiatic Society, Theosophical Society and other Western orientalists such as Max Muller who proclaimed the Sinhala speakers a pure Aryan race in the midst of a Dravidian ocean in South Asia. The British imperialists and Western orientalists converged for various reasons in the cultivation of a racist ideology of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism.

This nationalist ideology was and remains central in consolidating the power of certain elites within the Sri Lankan state while effectively retaining the service of the state apparatus and strategic assets on the island for various external backers who prove instrumental in maintaining a comprador control over state power. The unitary Sri Lankan state, its territorial integrity and sovereignty over the Tamil homeland was thus deemed the politico-judicial framework and its Sinhala elites as the comprador agents in securing external geopolitical interests.

The period of the armed national liberation struggle by the Tamil youth and masses, and the preceding national political mobilization by the Tamil progressive bourgeoisie then led by the Federal Party effectively challenged the unitary state of Sri Lanka and the power structures enjoyed by both the Sinhala urban conservative bourgeoisie elites associated with the UNP and the Sinhala rural bourgeoisie elites associated with the SLFP. As the challenges to the unitary state and by extension its external backers’ interests emerged from the dialectics of the Tamil national question and the movement of Tamils to secure their inalienable right to self-determination, sinister actions were executed to contain or eliminate such potentials of threats.


The Tamil National Question and Imperialism

Thereby the Tamil national question remains at the heart of the socialist and democratic task in Sri Lanka. Any prospects of anti-imperialism, democratic revolution, co-existence or egalitarian development in the island resides on the recognition of its multi-national nature, the structural crimes of the Sri Lankan state against Tamils as constituting genocide and to accommodate the national democratic demands, aspirations and grievances of the Tamil national masses. It is through the effort to rationalize the Tamil national question among the Sinhala masses that the ground can be prepared for the Tamil national masses and the Sinhala masses to work through common fronts as equals.

The path towards accommodation of an oppressed nation of its collective will is to facilitate it to practice its inalienable and indivisible right to self-determination along the lines V.I. Lenin elucidated. In his historic analysis of the early 20th century he assesses that the Norwegians were entitled to conduct a referendum amongst them and decide in Norway and likewise the Polish nation to do the same in Warszawa and not in Stockholm or Moscow -the very seat of the elites of the respective oppressor nations.

A principled left movement on the island of Sri Lanka as a prospect was desecrated during the 1960s due to the revisionist conciliatory approach of the leadership of the parliamentary Left parties towards the Sri Lankan state, and by extension with elements of fascism, chauvinism and pro-imperialism. In order to redeem their historical failures, and to rebuild a multi-national unity, the Sri Lankan Left needs to address the conditions of oppression and potentials for revolution within the island not along some statists’ fantasies which safeguard the unitary state, but by advocating the national question along the principle of equality between the nationalities.

Such analysis will prove that the national liberation of the oppressed Tamils itself holds the single most democratic and revolutionary potential for restructuring the unitary bourgeoisie state of Sri Lanka. Only a process of national liberation of the oppressed Eelam Tamil nation can facilitate the grounds for the revolutionary conditions necessary to undertake and advance all other revolutionary struggles within the island; that pertaining to the rights of the Tamil speaking interspersed minorities, the struggle of the Sinhala masses, the anti-caste struggle and the proletarian struggle at large.

Any prospect of anti-imperialism, without accommodating the indivisible right of Tamil self-determination and the recognition of the multi-national nature of the island with the historically evolved Tamil and Sinhala nations and homelands, will paradoxically remain in the service of imperialism by safeguarding the unitary structure of the imperialist implanted Sri Lankan state.


The Litmus Tests of the Left in Sri Lanka

Following Mu'l'livaaykkaal in 2009, the UNHRC initiated multiple sessions in Geneva to address what was termed ‘grave human rights violations’ in Sri Lanka. While the UNHRC was opting for an international investigation into allegations against all parties involved in the war, the U.S.A. meticulously motioned for resolutions on Sri Lanka’s proposed human rights inquiry which opted to allow the Sri Lankan state and its government to execute an investigation process into its own conduct as well as that of the Tamil fighters.

In due course, the U.S. resolution and its requirements to Colombo were accommodated by the Sri Lankan regime under Rajapakse in the form of the 2011 LRRC processes. The LRRC and the U.S. resolution discourse in Geneva were thus compatible, as they primarily consolidated the unitary state, and its territorial integrity and sovereignty, while denying Tamils nationhood and by extension the structural genocide and intentional processes of violence and oppression institutionalized by the state against Tamils.

The U.S. intervention within the UNHRC process was oriented towards hijacking international pressure, only until it managed to machinate a regime change of the Rajapakse government which despite its dealings with Washington was deemed a liability due to its accommodation of Chinese geopolitical interests and influence in the island. Once this was achieved in January 2015, the next phase of securing and consolidating the unitary Sri Lankan state, the very source of the national oppression of Tamils, appears to commence.

Now the prospects of international investigation are unwarranted by the U.S. axis, having in place a favourable regime stabilized by the coalition of factions from the major Sinhala chauvinist and pro-imperialist forces from the UNP, JHU, Liberal Party to the SLFP, and with the colourful addition of a market friendly JVP. It is this enthusiasm which ushers the international corporate media furore about the’ historic elections’ and ‘national government’ established in Sri Lanka under Mathiripala Sirisena.

The U.S.A. has pushed for a domestic process in order to silence the Tamil national political demands once and for all, by forcing down the throat of Tamils the politics of reconciliation and capitulation without addressing or arresting the root causes of oppression, which are primarily the unitary state and its consequent denial of Tamil nationhood.

The UNHRC and assorted INGOS caught within the geopolitics of the U.S. are opting to create a ‘middle path’, instead of challenging such injustices of the hegemons. This is made evident in the proposals for hybrid courts, wherein international participation in a Sri Lankan state controlled judicial process is deemed legitimate enough to address the crimes and injustices committed against Tamils.

The crimes of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed against the Eelam Tamil nation are the overt manifestations of a political injustice which at its root lies within the undemocratic and united nature of the Sri Lankan state. The unitary state denies Tamils the democratic accommodation of their inalienable and indivisible right to self-determination over their collective development as a nation and to exercise that collective right within and over their traditional homeland.

The very premise of the hybrid court, is that it against the will of the affected Tamils, legitimizes the unitary Sri Lankan state as a credible politico-judicial entity in leading the investigation into the conduct of its own armed forces instead of perceiving it as a perpetrator and hence a party to crimes which must be investigated. Incidentally this state ordered its armed forces to beleaguer the Tamil homeland during 30 years of armed conflict and now for 6 years into the post-war period.

Such an oxymoronic approach to criminal justice or political rights seems to be unparalleled in the world, which in itself is coloured with the history of political injustices meted out to a plethora of once sovereign and now oppressed peoples. Oppressed people aspiring to safeguard their sovereignty and practice their principle collective right to self-determination, often expressed through their shared nationality are meticulously denied such a democratic right by world hegemons as well as international human rights organizations. A right or a collective national condition is reserved for the enjoyment of the oppressor nation within the spectrum of established nation-states.

The outlook of established nation-states, its coalitions of ruling elites and the majority-nations they represent is conditioned by the fact that its members have historically had their constitutive sovereign power as a people enshrined and transformed into a constituted sovereign power, i.e. a nation-state in the legitimacy of their nationhood. Hence they conveniently deem nationalism or national aspirations of oppressed people or people who have not had their nationality consolidated through constituting their sovereign power as a nation-state as simply unwarranted, irrational, and superfluous.

Modern day imperialism lies behind such processes of political injustice to the oppressed nations and nations without states in the world, and in the perpetuation of political obfuscations which preserve the above mentioned injustices. Thereby it is expected that a genuine Left committed to the revolutionary advance of the oppressed masses and their democratic rights and interests ought to address the injustices levied upon the oppressed and their national questions through principled stands which reflect cardinal Marxists-Leninist teachings.

V.I. Lenin illuminates that Karl Marx having lived in England for fifteen years , in a letter to Engels in 1867 , analysed the national question of the Irish and vowed support to their liberation movement, the Fenians. Lenin writes,

“Such was the programme proposed to the British workers by Marx, in the interest of Irish freedom, of accelerating the social development and freedom of the British workers: Because the British workers could not become free so long as they helped to keep another nation in slavery (or even allowed it)” (1).

Likewise in his classical work from 1914 ‘The Right of Nations to Self-Determination’ , Lenin defends the Polish nation’s right to self-determination against a critique proposed by Rosa Luxemburg and Semkovsky reminiscent of the arguments raised by the contemporary national Left against the nationalism of the oppressed as a bourgeoisie phenomenon. Lenin brilliantly elucidates,

“If, in our political agitation, we fail to advance and advocate the slogan of the right to secession, we shall play into the hands, not only of the bourgeoisie, but also of the feudal landlords and the absolutism of the oppressor nation. …When, in her anxiety not to “assist” the nationalist bourgeoisie of Poland, Rosa Luxemburg rejects the right to secession in the programme of the Marxists in Russia, she is in fact assisting the Great-Russian Black Hundreds. She is in fact assisting opportunist tolerance of the privileges (and worse than privileges) of the Great Russians” (2).

He refutes those with sinister motives or those blinded by theoretical interpretations absolved of the material analysis of history, who deny oppressed people their inalienable rights. Lenin illustrates that the spirit of self-determination lies in the fact that it is the oppressed nation which must be facilitated to determine their collective political future. In this regard he upholds the Swedish proletariat as being exemplary in regards to the Norwegian national question. In 1905 when the Swedish bourgeoisie and clergy decided to enforce their union upon Norway and annex it by force, the Swedish proletariat denounced such an intention and struggled to assist the Norwegian demand for self-determination by opting for a referendum to be held among the Norwegian people.

Thereby for any prospectus of revolutionary changes within Sri Lanka, and the safeguarding of the island from neo-colonial exploitation and neo-imperialism, it is imperative that the Sri Lankan Left, begins to undertake revolutionary duties among the Sinhala masses towards endorsing Tamil nationhood, self-determination, sovereignty, and homeland. This is paramount in order to materialize multi-national unity and solidarity. The manner, by which such a democratic national right can be re-ascertained, besides accounting for the historic mandate from the Tamil people to Tamil nationhood in the Vaddukkoaddai resolution of 1977, is to facilitate for an independent internationally monitored plebiscite among the Tamil speaking people of the North-East. Without addressing the root cause of the crimes against the Tamils and consequently demanding the reconfiguration of the unitary state of Sri Lanka and the accommodation of Tamil nationhood, which a hybrid court ostensibly fails in, justice will be outside the reach of the beleaguered Tamils of the North-East.


Conclusion

Certain international left federations in cohort with established national left parties or circles perpetuate an idea of the established nation-state in a manner conceptualized by Slavoj Zizek as a fantasy, denoting the longevity of the idea of the state in the collective consciousness despite the rational deconstruction of it. Such an structural condition explains their limitations when understanding the unitary state as ‘essentially good’ and when proven unwilling to rationalize or commit to a dialectical analysis of the history of oppression and resistance in given context. As a consequence the political praxis which tends to sprout forth through the coalition between parliamentary left parties in the global north and south when pertaining to national questions tend to morph into that of an social democratic anti-nationalist, bourgeoisie state centred reform movement, harping rhetoric of anti-nationalism and multiculturalism of the Liberal order.

People along this school of thought, wittingly or unwittingly tend to attack or attempt defaming the revolutionary nationalist struggle of the oppressed while supporting a left party with a reformist agenda within the existing nation-state structures, inevitably accumulating the legitimacy of a colonial state. They miserably fails in these cases by not invoking the scientific distinction between the nationalism of the oppressor and the nationalism of the oppressed under given historical conditions, as well as that between reactionary nationalism and revolutionary nationalism as elucidated by Black Panther Party’s leader Huey. P. Newton. Yet, to cover up such a fraudulent internationalist approach or political bankruptcy, in which an oppressor state is naturalized as legitimate, they forsake a principle stand of solidarity with oppressed nations and people in favour of espousing support to a selected few ushered by the politics of affection.

The left in Sri Lanka needs to undertake the necessary theorization or material analysis of the national question to create a sustainable platform to discuss an intersected revolutionary program between the two nations in the island subjected to two distinct form of oppression by the same nation-state. Rather than doing this certain elements in the Sri Lankan left and their international allies, are claiming everything between heaven and earth to find reasons to avoid challenging the bourgeois imperialist implanted unitary-state of Sri Lanka. There cannot be a support to Palestine while ostracizing Eelam. When anyone is part of denying the self-determination of the oppressed which ends up on the same plane as the imperialist in denying their inalienable right, then there is something frighteningly wrong with a very specific section of the left.

By solely focusing or campaigning to build alliances among parliamentary-centric parties with a fantasy to reach through them the abstract solidarity among the masses of absolutely everyone in starting world revolution, leads to the neglect of the historical necessity and condition which demands national political mobilization to empower the masses of an oppressed nation. The works of international solidarity should be premised along a principled solidarity with and among the oppressed and its character is to be decided out of the interactional dynamics between representatives of oppressed nations and peoples. The representatives of workers and progressive forces in the established nation-states or among oppressor nations should strive to work in a spirit of solidarity when accommodating the national spirit for freedom and the democratic aspirations among oppressed nations. There can be no denial of the historical dialectic which engender the revolutionary and democratic credentials of the liberation struggles and struggle for equality among the national masses of an oppressed people.

Solidarity with the Eelam Tamils national question in the island of Sri Lanka is an revolutionary condition which determines whether the larger terrain for social revolution will be secured or not, because it has fundamentally both historically and in the present challenged the single most perpetuator mechanism of imperialist geopolitics in the region and in the island, the unitary Sri Lankan state, comprador to its very founding pillars.


Reference:

(1) V.I. Lenin. 1914 “The British Liberals and Ireland” in Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 20, pages 148-151.

(2) V.I. Lenin. 1914 “The Right of Nations to Self-Determination” in Lenin Collected Works: Progress Publishers 1972, Moscow: Volume 20. Pp. 293-454.

* * *


An in-depth analysis by Athithan Jayapalan, titled ‘The National Left, Imperialism & National Question’ which was presented on 12 September, 2015, when the Tamil academic gave a memorial lecture in London on the Birth Centenary Celebration of Comrade A. Vaidialingam, is provided below. Mr A. Vaidialingam was one of the pioneers of Left politics in the island.



External Links:
Research Gate: The Sri Lankan National Left, Imperialism and the Tamil National Question

 

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