Sri Lankan communists: “21st century is the century of socialism.”

Interview with Sunil Handunethi, member of the People’s Liberation Front (JVP) politburo

There have been many rebellions all over the world in the last few years. From 2019, our 40 rebellions article remain fresh in our memory. India, Sudan, Chile, Las Tesis, Black Lives Matter, Yellow vests are the first ones that come to mind.

Even though these widespread, massive, continuous rebellions that had a tendency to grow in radicality slowed a little with the pandemic, they continued as a wave from the bottom. We tried to convey this in our articles and interviews.

Rebellion movements and general strikes, which continued despite the pandemic, were also what were visible on the surface. Approaching this year’s May 1st celebrations, the peoples and workers of the world were reshaping their relationship with the streets. Although not like the years before the pandemic, the trend of mobilization in the masses was manifesting itself.

While looking at the May 1st celebrations with this perspective, the celebration that caught our eye this year besides Cuba was Sri Lanka, with its red cortege and mass, where the photographs of Marx, Engels and Lenin marched in the forefront.

After May 1st, images of the actions in which the houses of the ministers were burned and the streets were taken over appeared before us.

We contacted the People’s Liberation Front, which organized the May Day cortege that we mentioned. Along with the rebellion process, we tried to understand the historical and social structures of the struggles that developed in Sri Lanka.

We asked all the things we were curious about, without being short of our questions. Comrade Handunethi, a member of the Politburo, answered one by one.

 

1.  Could you briefly introduce JVP to our readers?

JVP (People’s Liberation Front) is a political party built on Marxist-Leninist principles. It considers Communism as its political philosophy. The leadership  of the party consists of a Central Committee and a Political Bureau which has been elected by the Party Convention, the Supreme institution of the Party. The Janatha Vimujthi Peramuna, which is being built with the organizing structure of Democratic Centralization as the Party of Working Class has a large network of multiple organizations consisting of farmers, workers, youth, students, women and clergy.

JVP was established in 1965 with the initiative of Comrade Rohana Wijeweera, who is the founder of our Party. Before 1965 Comrade Rohana was also a member of the Communist Party. However, when the old left Political Parties betrayed the working class of Sri Lanka to the capitalist class and capitalist Political Parties for their personal gains Comrade Rohana understood the necessity of a correct leftist Party. He also had the experience of being educated in the USSR. Simultaneously, the revolution in Cuba, assassination of Comrade Che and Liberation Fronts in Africa had inspired the youth towards a new leftist movement. All these factors collectively counted for the inception of JVP. Since beginning JVP had been subjected to the capitalist suppression.

JVP inspired two armed insurrections in 1971 and 1988-1989 against the capitalist government. Nearly a 70000 of its comradeship have sacrificed their lives due to capitalist suppressions that occurred time to time. Even after such suppressions JVP has become capable of culminating as the socialist example in Sri Lankan mindset. All full time members of JVP are involved in politics as volunteers cultivating the actual working class culture in Sri Lanka.

Currently JVP is leading National People’s Power which is a broad collective of intellectuals, professionals, trade unions, political parties and several progressive organizations which have faith in the Populist political culture.

2.  How is the final situation? Are protests and activities common in the country? What exactly is the frequency of protests and activities? What do you think about people’s participation in them in terms of quality and quantity?

The system is collapsing and there are several challenges at the moment. It started with economic unrest, and it is led to a social and political crisis. Economic crisis can be categorized into five sections/segments.

  1. a) Production crisis
  2. b) Budgetary crisis – low income of the government and expenses being thrice higher than the income
  3. c) Trade deficit crisis
  4. d) Debt crisis
  5. e) Inequality of the income distribution among people

As a result of all of the burden and the pressure that has fallen upon the people, they organized and spontaneous protests emerged. Protest wave started to intensify with fertilizer issue which led farmers to the road. Then the fuel/gas crisis, electricity, food and lack of medicine had made the situation in the country dire and hopeless. Numerous people have lost their income and infants are dying in hospitals due to lack of medicine and electricity during the day. In the history of Sri Lanka, the highest rate of inflation has been marked during these days, which started with the Rajapakse regime. The other disaster is irrationally printing paper money without the consent of the Central Bank and the Parliament. As a result of these challenges people who suffered immensely  sought the leadership of the JVP and the JVP lead massive protests against  the ruthless, self-centered, corrupt government in every nook and corner of the country. JVP organized ‘work to rule- trade union’ actions, successful hartal on the 6th of May, massive rallies demanding the needs of people, parading and political discussions via popular media and YouTube.

The protest- “Gotagogama” at Gallface green is being supported by the various  groups of progressive movements, and JVP led SYU (Socialist youth union)  and SSU (socialist students union) also have joined protestors.

When it comes to quality and quantity of people, a significant number represented the youth of our country. Several strata of the society have joined the protest as most people are facing the inflation right now. The politicians supporting the government ignored the cry of the masses and filled the President with all false information. The President also having a limited knowledge and comprehension about finance and economy of the country and being ignorant of the public opinion lead the country to the position which it is in today.

In the protests, all the ethnicities of Sri Lanka (Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, Maley) and even the foreign employed Sri Lankan citizens supported  and conducted protests. Rajapakse regime used ethnic and religious concerns to separate people and used it to build a strong antagonism against each other in various ways. The anti-government struggles have invited each and every individual representing all ethnic groups. Now government can no longer set ethnicities against each other as it did before.

The technology savvy protest at ‘Gotagogama’ is attracting the youth and it is used in a wise manner. For instance when the government sent attackers on  9th of May to this place where unarmed youth are protesting, with the help of youtubers, and the tech support protesters, protestors were able to acknowledge public about the attack in no time. The youth were able to notify the public and a huge disaster was controlled.

 

3.   Is there an oppositional coalition you are participating in which is driving the protests? What are the issues on which you are trying to take steps?

Within the protest there are a number of groups belonging to various parties and views such as groups with no political base. The groups gathering here are demanding the President and the government to step down. They voice up for it and firmly stand for it. The JVP led youth leaders are trying to gather all these youth to a one major platform to bring a systematic change which will eradicate corruption and bring unity among the masses. The SJB, the capitalist opposition party in Sri Lankan parliament, has no role in this protest and the leader Sajith Premadasa has been rejected by the youth during his visit on the 9th of May to Galleface/ Gotagogama. He was not welcomed and was not allowed to be there by the youth who are protesting.

 

4.         What insights do you have on the progress of the rebellion and what is the JVP trying to organize at this stage?

This is a rapidly moving situation and what JVP has been doing thus far is represented in this protest. We want to maintain the common youth and public participation in protest. We vehemently condemn any kind of harmful activities or statements towards the protesters. We are trying to support the ongoing protests as much as possible and we make public understand Ranil and Gotabhaya’s malicious political deal. We also organize protests to support and promote the demands of the people and also to strengthen the ongoing protests. Using political deals government and supporters of the government are trying to mislead and discourage the protests. We have now put extra efforts to make public understand the current situation.

5.  How did we finally reach the last rebellion process in Sri Lanka as a continuation of historical and social progress?

For decades JVP has been making people aware of and struggling against capitalist system as well as the corrupt capitalist governments. Awareness that have been raised as well as protests and trade union actions we have taken have contributed towards this leap of public protests. Especially for the past two years, JVP, its mass organizations as well as other progressive organizations have been taking numerous actions to raise public awareness and to intensely criticize government regarding the alienation of the national resources, privatization, nepotism, corruption and imperialist agreements with the USA. Most of the protests within the period of deepening of the crisis have also been organized by JVP and its mass organizations in several areas of the country.

Currently, protests are continuing demanding several progressive demands of ending corrupted political culture. Most major demand is the stepping down of President Gotabhaya from Presidency. We also stand for this demand and the demand for an election. We intend to work towards restructuring the  society for a social system change. We are collecting people and forces around our ideology for that purpose.

6.   How is the situation of the working class and working class movement  in general terms?

JVP led Trade Union Fronts are providing the fullest support for this protest/ movement at Galle Face, specially Trade Union Coordinating Centre and Inter Union workers Association (comprised of the workers of the private sector), Teachers unions participate in and supports protests.

On April 28th, the trade union movement had gone on a one-day strike demanding the resignation of President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and it was participated by an overwhelming number of participants. Similarly on May 6th the trade unions movement called a hartal, which too was considered very successful, its success was compared to the hartal of August 1953. A little over a thousand unions were expected to have had participated on this day. The then Prime Minister, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa decided to resign on   this night and that ended the hartal. Specially, trade union workers of the North and East, Tea Plantation workers participated in this Hartal.

On May 9th, when government assigned thugs to attack the peaceful protest in front of the Presidential Secretariat the trade union movement revived a three day strike which was focused against the attacks that took place on May 9th. The trade unions are launching various activities to support the Galle Face struggle. The trade union movement encourages the mass protests that are currently continuing.

7.             Can you briefly tell us about the situation and progress of the resistance, revolutionary and socialist movements as a whole? How was the position taken in the rebellion by these forces?

I have discussed this question in my previous answers.

 

8.            Could you briefly describe the situation and development of the women’s and youth movements?

Politically women are not in the forefront even though they are making a great contribution when it comes to earning and providing to their families. Since the resistance, women also have intensely voiced up and they represent the majority of people who are facing fuel, food, gas and the electricity crisis. The JVP lead Socialist Women’s Union, Women For Right Movement, Progressive Women’s Collective (lead by Harini Amarasuruiya- a Member of Parliament representing NPP) are actively involved and leading women towards their rights.

For the first time in the history of Sri Lanka, we had the Labour Day Rallies (1st  of May) in 2022 in three locations (North, South and also in Colombo). A significant role was played by women and youth in these meetings and this lead the country to have hope through a socialist movement.

9.         How is your relationship with the revolutionary forces in Asia? What  should be done to increase our solidarity and the attitude of our collective struggle with the revolutionary forces in the world?

We are having close relationships with the left lead progressive movements, and  we take part in their events, discussions and solidarity activities. Student and Youth wings of JVP are members of WFDY (World Federation of Democratic Youth) and also JVP trade unions actively participate in the activities of WFTU (World Federation of Trade Union). We are vibrant and we actively participate and play a significant role in the region. We have close relationship with CPI (Communist party of India) and CPC (Communist parties of China) and also with the Bangladesh Communist party and other leftist organizations in the region.

The ideological differences should be identified and must be well discussed for the thriving of scientific socialism and for the betterment of our world’s progress. The quality of ideology, discipline and structure of the organization should be paramount. We (JVP) have faced struggles with capitalist governments twice and we were repressed and tortured by the armed forces.

We the JVP have maintained our ideology and our discipline in a significant manner, and we have won the trust and the respect of the public to a great extent. At the moment we are the leading leftist party in Sri Lanka. Under the leadership of the JVP the progressive movement NPP (National People’s Power) is working successfully to receive the support of professionals, working class people and the common man, collectively.

 

10.   What do you think about the Tamil rebellion that has affected the fate  of your country for the last 50-60 years? What is your solution to the rebellion?

The 30-year-old war has ended. However, the struggle and burning issues of those people have not been addressed at all. The Tamil separatist movement has been defeated. Even though the government found it a victory this capitalist government was unable to win the trust of the Tamil people. We believe that can be done only by a goverment led by JVP, which can treat every ethnicity equally. The struggle of the people of the North and the East can be met only by  a government who understands their needs and genuinely represents them. The solutions should be based on equality and fairness. Racism and racist movements should be eradicated and we are working towards a society of this nature.

11.   Is there anything you want to add?

The 21st century is a century of socialism. Technology and the tech world created by Capitalism was used to bring disaster and abuse people in various manners. Technology was used to divide and rule people, bring disharmony among people. However, now it is used by the people to protect and promote their rights and the left movement/ socialist groups are using it towards building and enhancing the rights of people as well as the unity of the working class around the world.

CEVAP VER

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