Sri Lanka 28 April 2022 general strike, photo USP
Sri Lanka 28 April 2022 general strike, photo USP

The following statement was circulated by the United Socialist Party (CWI in Sri Lanka) to socialist parties and groups in Sri Lanka on 12 August

An open appeal to socialist organisations

We are at a crucial juncture in Sri Lanka as the capitalist class, the state, elite and their institutions, regional powers, China, and the western imperialist powers have a common aim: defeating the mass movement that has developed – while also fighting for their individual interests and investments.

Capitalists have no solution to the crisis. Printing money, adjusting the interest rate, increasing tax, selling public services, land and essential services to the vulture capitalists, cutting wages, and borrowing more money with draconian conditions attached to it, were the methods that they all agree upon. This is not acceptable for the struggling masses as it will only increase poverty and misery.

Capitalist representatives are prepared to use maximum force and do ‘whatever it takes’ to hold onto their control. Socialists and trade union activists should step up our collaboration and fight back to prevent repression and take the mass movement forward.

The current parliament does not represent the masses. Demands for the resignation of the president and all 225 parliamentarians were met with military repression. But the masses have shown their power and strength, and shown that anything is possible. The masses should not accept a bogus proposal of an ‘interim government’ of looters. The movement should organise an interim government of representatives of workers, the poor and oppressed that can take emergency measures to alleviate the crisis people face, and to organise elections to a revolutionary constituent assembly which can decide on the future of Sri Lanka.

We welcome the demands that are articulated so far by the masses and ‘Aragalaya’ (the Struggle), though these demands are still somewhat limited, as they do not challenge the capitalist roots of this crisis. But even to win these demands, we need a strong involvement of the organised working class and the building of a democratically organised mass organisation that puts forward an alternative socialist programme. Socialists, together with our supporters in the organised workers’ movement, can take an initiative towards this.

We have had many discussions in the past with the left to unite our work on specific issues, and possibly to agree on a general programme. The JVP (People’s Liberation Front) leaders, though claiming to be on the left and even Marxist, never engaged in such democratic discussions or even tried to come close to putting forward a socialist programme, as they in practice work within capitalism. The rump of the (formerly Trotskyist) LSSP, the communist parties and a few other small organisations are mere opportunists, having repeatedly made alliances with capitalist parties, taken part in coalition governments and no longer having anything to do with building the forces of socialism.

We are appealing to the rank-and-file members and supporters of these organisations who want to struggle to break with them to come towards a socialist programme. In the past we argued that the mere collaboration of a few socialist groups alone will not be enough to create a mass organisation; but joint action on a clear programme can be a starting point to involve a wider section of the working class, particularly the organised workers in the trade unions.

Given the past history, we also face enormous difficulty in developing a general programme that we can all agree on. However, joint action based upon concrete demands that we agree on can take place while discussing what a clear programme should contain. The United Socialist Party will continue to fight for a socialist programme, as we hold that no solution can be found for the current crisis on a capitalist basis. We propose all left parties trade unions and socialists put forward a socialist programme and fight to win the working class and struggling masses to that programme.

Reject all capitalist representatives

Together, we should call on the struggling masses to reject all capitalist representatives as they seek to save the current system. There should not be any trust in any of the capitalist parties. Any interim arrangement with the capitalist representatives can only destabilise and weaken the movement. Instead, we must build our own political platform. With a democratic federal structure, and with a clear programme, we could bring together key sections of society and the masses. Setting up a ‘peoples’ council’ just to assist the capitalist government will not deliver on the needs of the masses.

What organisation?

There is an agreement emerging on the need for building democratically organised committees in the villages and the towns to organise resistance, and democratically supervise the distribution of supplies. However, this should involve the participation of workers, farmers, and other key activists reflecting genuine representation. Democratic structures should be established where delegates are elected and accountable to the committees. Discussion should be held in terms of the role these committees can play.

For example: can these committees take responsibility for and have maximum influence in workplaces that produce essential commodities? How will union branches be established and incorporated? Can they bring together farmers, youth, and others? Open discussion should start about the nature of the committees along with working to build such committees – which is an urgent task. These committees, through elected delegates, can form a national body. This body can determine political representation too – deciding also what sort of constitution is needed.

The national body can help to build key sub-committees, such as defence committees, to protect protesters from attack by the security forces and pro-government supporters. Such a committee could also appeal to the rank-and-file soldiers to be involved in the protection of the masses. It is not an easy task to organise this without clashing with state institutions, which would claim to have the power to organise society. Hence taking over key institutions and bringing them under the democratic control of the masses should also be organised.

What programme?

We must establish a united voice on at least the key demands that are fundamental to any socialist organisations. The call for mass mobilisation should be linked to calling on the organised working class to take action such as a general strike. We must fight for the protection of nationalised services and bring them under the democratic control of the workers; nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy; implementing an adequate minimum wage universally for all workers; free trade zones and special concessions made to foreign investors to carry out super-exploitation should be abolished; trade unions and workers’ organisations to be organised democratically and independently of capitalist parties.

We must demand non-payment of debt altogether. This includes micro debt. All the debt of farmers must be cancelled immediately, for example. We should also reject any deal with the IMF and the Indian and Chinese capitalists’ looting. An international appeal should be made, particularly to the workers in the south Asian region, for solidarity actions and support.

The call for the abolition of the executive presidency and draconian laws, such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act and anti-trade union legislation, poses the need for the complete change of the constitution and the complete reorganisation of society. The call for a democratically elected revolutionary constituent assembly is vital to meet this need and to prepare to reorganise society. This can lead to a workers-led government and the implementation of a planned economy.

Such demands should be articulated in all our material and campaigns. While defending the freedom of press, free speech and all democratic rights, socialists should also make clear their position on the national question if we are to unite workers of all ethnicities.

We must boldly advocate a socialist alternative

Some organisations, such as the JVP, use Marxist rhetoric, but in reality do not put forward socialist ideas or work to build the forces of socialism. Collaboration with capitalists and defenders of capitalism is justified by the argument that there is no mass support existing for socialist change at this stage. This is exactly the opposite to the strategy of Lenin and the Bolsheviks in 1917 as they worked to build majority support for ‘All Power to the Soviets’ and socialism.

We know that no mass movement is pure or develops in a straight line. Economic and social demands that the masses articulate can push them to take a leap in consciousness to see the limitation of capitalism and the inability to achieve lasting solutions within the boundaries of capitalism. But socialist and left organisations, including the trade unions, must lead the discussions on this openly and boldly, and put forward the necessary concrete steps that need to be taken. That is how we can work to build confidence in socialist ideas among the masses. The masses are looking for an alternative – we must explain that the alternative is a socialist one.