The following consists of a series of three articles published within the month of July in Turkish on the web site of the DIP (Revolutionary Workers Party) of Turkey, www.gercekgazetesi1.net. All three articles address the questions that the Sri Lankan “100-day uprising” from early April to mid-July has faced, but draw lessons for all countries from an internationalist perspective. The articles were all translated into English by our comrade Ege Latifcan.
The lessons of Sri Lanka: (1) the people’s palace
A certain event that happened during the 1917 October revolution has always been a bit of a mystery for historians. After the Bolsheviks brought down the provisional government and handed power over to the highest organ of the Soviets, the revolutionary soldiers descended into the wine cellars of the Winter Palace, went to the wine collection of the Tsar, each bottle of which was a fortune, and got drunk for days. We need to point out the contradiction here. Russian workers and peasants do not drink wine, their national beverage is vodka. Wine was the beverage of choice for snobbish royals and their imitators such as the up-and-coming bourgeoisie, politicians whose whole career was to protect their interests and as such lived in their close proximity, and army generals. Despite all these, the peasants and workers who had likely never drunk wine, and certainly not French wine, before drank bottles upon bottles of them.
Today, those who see the youth and kids jumping in and out of the swimming pool of “his excellency the president” like swarming fish might be reluctant to think that this is an unarmed people’s uprising or even a revolution. One might be inclined to think that the people will simply leave once they have experienced the mystery and the luxury of the president’s palace as if they went to a picnic. But in fact, the capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo, is a seaside city with the relaxation offered by a hot climate. The youth and the kids can go to the sea whenever they like. But not the president’s pool! And that is just what a fine-aged French wine in the cellars meant to the Russian worker and peasant!!
The end of the Rajapaksas’ saga
For those still dismissive, let us turn our gaze to somewhere else: just as the poor kids of Sri Lanka were jumping in and out of the pool, a group of rich people, whose faces were not clearly captured in a video, were boarding a military ship with their luggage in hand, trying not to get their feet wet. The president himself was probably in that very same group.
“Gotabaya go home!” was the number one demand during the last two months of the massive people’s movement that has been going on since the deep economic crisis started in February-March. That the people referred to the president by his first name was not a sign of great affection, as it was when the Cuban people called Castro “Fidel”. Gotabaya was the last person in the line of officials from the infamous Rajapaksa family that demonstrated an advanced version of an increasingly common global phenomenon of governing with the whole family on board, like Trump in the US and Erdogan in Turkey. The people did not demand “Rajapaksa go home” because there were many of them and the others were already sent back home! So the final target became Gotabaya, which is why he was referred to by his first name. Prior to this, his brother, the ex-president and later prime minister Mahinda was toppled on the 9th of May, sent into hiding in a rural part of the country. (Back in 2009 when the Rajapaksas were butchering the minority Tamil people, he was the president and Gotabaya was the defence minister!)
And that is not all. Before the onset of the giant crisis, three more Rajapaksas were working in the government, scratching each other's backs. Just like Trump’s son Donald Jr. (spitting image of his namesake father) and son-in-law Kushner.
Now, think about this: whether the youth dive into the pools or take selfies in the president’s bed, what do we call it when a people struggling in poverty for four months removed five Rajapaksas and dozens of ministers from power, let us say “fired” them from their positions or gave them a layoff? When even the emergency prime minister that replaced Mahinda later resigned? What is this if not a successful people’s uprising? What do we call it when a dynasty that ruled the country, except for four years, from 2005 onwards, when Mahinda became the president, was wiped out and their regime torn down? What is this if not a political revolution? And does not the fact that the agents of this political revolution are not some sort of a progressive junta in the army or an oppositionist clique in the ruling classes, but the poor people who have been struggling in poverty for four months, imply at least the possibility of a social revolution?
A new spurt of the world revolution
Since world capitalism sank into the Third Great Depression in 2008, the peoples of the world never stopped breathing down its neck. Starting with the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011, the world revolution quickly spread into the Mediterranean and elsewhere in the world. Then it suffered a temporary defeat and slowed down. And in 2019 it broke the dam and started pouring again. At first in other countries of the Arab world: Sudan, Algeria, Iraq, and Lebanon. In the meantime, the Yellow Vests appeared in France. Then it spread to another continent with raging blood: in Latin America, it rose its head in Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia (against a fascist coup attempt), Haiti, and even in the US colony of Puerto Rico. It made Latin America its home, so much that in the most reactionary country in the region, Colombia, it resurfaced as a people’s uprising. Even the US was shaken by the protests against the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020 with the largest mass movement in the country’s history.
The world capitalist economy already gave the signals of its decline into the swamps before the pandemia. Once the pandemia slowed down, inflation rates blew up. The struggles of the central banks to combat inflation led to the threat of economic recession. Today, each country has outcries on the unbearable cost of living in its own language. The crisis in Turkey is heavier than most, leaving aside poverty-stricken Sudan constantly shaken by a long-going revolution, Argentina as another country virtually addicted to its crises, and Sri Lanka. But the high cost of living hurts the working people of all countries.
Thus capitalism is showing its true face. Its historic decline underlying the great world crisis does not only lead to wars and fascism. It cannot even provide bread to the people anymore! Peru in May and Ecuador in June were shaken by people’s uprisings. The rest of the world is waiting for their turn. Capitalists in Turkey are already talking about insuring their factories against a possible people's uprising.
This is the outlook of the poor, but are the rich any better? A single example will suffice: the third largest economy of the EU, Italy, had 1.9 million people in “absolute poverty” in 2005, but this number has tripled to 5.6 million today. This poverty affects children and the young population between 18-34 three times more than the elderly (il manifesto, 9 July 2022). And these numbers are not from the unions or the opposition but directly from the state statistics office called Istat.
Would you begrudge these peoples their revolution?
The events that befell the Rajapaksa dynasty can only be described as poetic justice. In Sri Lanka, the Tamil minority lives together with the Sinhalese majority. The organization called Tamil Tigers fought a guerilla war against the oppression of the Tamil people for decades. Then Mahinda became president and Gotabaya became defence minister in 2005. The Tamil Tigers, who had kept up their fight for decades, were beaten and their struggle ended. How? Through the murder of tens of thousands of civilians. By a small-scale Tamil genocide.
The Rajapaksas have the blood of the Tamil people in their hands. The people of Sri Lanka should not just seek justice for the corruption and nepotism but the Tamil massacre as well, and judge them in front of the whole world. The toiling people of Sri Lanka must learn that the butchers of other peoples can never be their friends. Just as Marx said: “A nation that oppresses another is forging its own chains.”. The people of Sri Lanka learned this through hunger. They were educated by hunger.
The people need leadership, the working class needs a party!
The people of Sri Lanka made huge steps towards toppling the regime in their determined struggle over the last four months, but this does not mean that the crisis is over, that a new regime that will fight poverty will come by itself.
No, even now the temporary prime minister who resigned keeps calling to the parties. Telling them to convene the parliament and govern. This is why he is resigning, to call for a national unity government.
This is a step by the Sri Lanka bourgeoisie to hamper the deepening of the revolution the people have started. Those who defend a “national unity government” today are fighting for the unity of the bourgeoisie against the revolution. They are resorting to the last few means in their hands. The very last one will be the army.
The people desperately need revolutionary leadership. The only way for this is a working-class party. As far as we know, there is no such party in Sri Lanka that has the strength and the political will to assume this gigantic responsibility. We will see if this party can be forged in the heat of the battle. But the very lack of revolutionary leadership that would unlock history stands in front of us today as an even greater problem than when Trotsky expressed this in 1938. And all over the world.
When this problem is solved, all palaces will belong to the people.
First published on 9 July 2022 in Turkish
The lessons of Sri Lanka (2): the cost of opportunism
Sometimes history seems coincidental. All the different conditions coming together to lead to a historical event might look like a fortunate coincidence. For example, how did the two determining factors, as we see it, among the countless conditions leading to the October revolution come together? How did the road of that torrent of working-class revolutionary movement intersect with a leadership of the likes of the Bolshevik Party? If the Bolshevik party was born elsewhere, likely, the October revolution would not have succeeded. That is true, but this perspective misses the deep causal link if it sees the birth of the Bolshevik Party in Russia as a mere coincidence. If that kind of working-class movement had not been there since the 1890s, the Bolshevik Party likely would not have developed in the first place. The remaining crucial factor is the role of human will in history. If the Bolshevik Party did not have the iron will of Lenin, the revolution might still have failed. There is no hard rule that the Russian soil at the beginning of the 20th century was bound to create someone like Lenin. Indeed, it was the strength of the class movement that attracted a genius like Lenin in the first place. But what about later? Here is a single example: it is well known that Lenin was completely alone among the party leadership from the 1917 February revolution up until the April congress. (Trotsky, who agreed with him, was not a member of the party at the time.) Hence the importance of human will, hence the importance of the subjective factor.
History can conjure the same necessary conditions at another time in another place, but precisely because the subjective factor is missing, that “fortunate coincidence” does not come to fruition. Look at Sri Lanka. The poor people, with the proletariat and the peddler, the housewife and the student, but all together hundreds of thousands strong, fought a costly battle for four months against the terrible hardship brought upon them by the government. Conquered the president’s palace, burned down the prime minister’s residence, and having realized that the prime minister does not intend to leave just yet, occupied his office. To put it humorously: what the Marxists call the tool of oppression against toiling people, the state, is now in the hands of the people themselves! But the people cannot take the power for themselves. Why? Because it lacks its councils, its soviets. Because it lacks a revolutionary party!
But it could have had them! No, we are not saying this in a general sense. What we are saying is much more concrete. Sri Lanka used to be the place where Trotskyism, meaning the movement fighting for a Fourth International, was the strongest in the world. If only that party would have existed today, even if in a weaker state considering the general state of the socialist movement. But it does not! What remains are smaller and negligible remnants, who even though they may continue to struggle, perhaps with good intentions, have lost all social impact. (When we speak of Trotkyism here, we do it in an oecumenic manner, that is to say, without making any distinction between the different factions that were born of the 1953 split in the ranks of the Fourth International that Trotsky and his comrades founded in 1938.)
The party that gave socialism its name
It is well known that Sri Lanka (which used to be called Ceylon) together with its northern neighbour India was a British colony for a long time. The aforementioned party was founded under colonial rule in 1935 with the name Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP). It is a first in many aspects. The first working-class party in the country. The majority language of the country, Sinhalese, did not even have a word for “socialism” at the time. The party used the term “sama samaja”, meaning “equality”, to stand for “socialist” and it has been used as such ever since. Thus, it is the Sri Lanka Socialist Party that gives its terminology to the whole Sri Lanka left! It is not just the first Trotskyist party. As far as we know, it is the first instance where a pro-Soviet Stalinist party was born from inside a Trotskyist party as a minority. (But it seems, precisely because Trotskyism has been the stronger of the two, that their relationship was not as conflicted as in other places, and they had united fronts, electoral coalitions, etc.)
The party immediately gained a foothold among the working class, right after it was founded. In the Sri Lankan political tradition, unions have always been organized on the initiative of political parties. LSSP formed and led unions while also sending representatives to parliament. (At the time, Britain was forced to concede to a semi-parliamentary system in an attempt to control the growing unrest)
The party grew much stronger after the independence of Sri Lanka in 1948, following the Second World War. The vote share and the number of representatives oscillated from election to election but it had one of the biggest groups in the parliament. In the 1960’s it led various unions that organized private and public sector workers in the big cities as well as public employees and plantation (large-scale agricultural enterprises) workers. It is claimed that at this point, the LSSP led about a million workers country-wide. In a country with an estimated population of 10-12 million at the time! But the problems started during this period of growth.
LSSP entered the 1956 elections by splitting the electoral regions with a left-wing bourgeois party, one of the two biggest parties in the country, that was under the leadership of a politician called Bandaranaike. Just this alone resulted in strong criticism from the international organisation that the LSSP was affiliated to, called the Fourth International [International Secretariat], yet the LSSP took it even further. After Bandaranaike was assassinated in 1959, his wife formed another government in 1960. The LSSP gave its vote of confidence to this government! Then in between elections, Bandaranaike proposed a coalition government to the LSSP and it accepted! The three foremost leaders of the party sat in ministerial positions.
Joining bourgeois governments as coalition partners, giving ministers to bourgeois governments, etc. under ordinary circumstances was always considered to be a case of class collaborationism to be condemned since the 19th century, that is, even before Lenin. Since this unacceptable political stance was first implemented in France, by a socialist called Millerand joining the bourgeois government of the time, this violation of principle is called “Millerandism”. Working class parties joining bourgeois governments that would only serve to shackle them, called “Popular Front” tactics, is a subset of this principle in the logical sense. Trotskyism is against the tactic of Popular Fronts in resolute manner.
In the 1960s, what can be called the biggest and most effective Trotskyist party in the world, at least in the sense of its presence in the political system, violated this essential principle without even citing any special circumstance or extraordinary condition to justify it. This resulted in the expulsion of the party from the Fourth International. The left wing of the party split and became a Fourth International section called LSSP (Revolutionary Section). But all the political resources accumulated over the years, such as the unions, finance, members, prestige, and the widespread network remained in the main party, LSSP.
One might wonder if great gains were made at least for the toiling masses. That is not the case. The political line of the Bandaranaike government, before the coalition government with LSSP, had elements of nationalization and such, but also tended to favor the Sinhalese majority, trampling the rights of the Tamil minority nation. On the other hand, LSSP used to single-handedly defend the Tamil minority, not only those native to Sri Lanka but even the immigrant agricultural workers of Indian origin who did not attain Sri Lanka citizenship. The coalition government led to an abandonment of this internationalist principle. After the 1970s, the Bandaranaike government would change the constitution to favor the majority Sinhalese religion Buddhism against the Hinduism of the Tamil minority.
But these are not the main issues. Whatever Bandaranaike might have done for the people with the support of the LSSP, that could never make up for the price the LSSP paid for it. By becoming a part of a bourgeois government and thus becoming a servant of the well-being of the capitalist machinations, the LSSP lost its revolutionary essence. No social organization is immune to adaptation to the existing order. The most militant union leader may become a servant of the bourgeoisie, the most revolutionary theoretician might serve imperialism, and the most revolutionary party may become an establishment party. The attempt to exploit what looks like a political opportunity that might yield short-term gains, to “smartly” use them in the hopes of strengthening the party, disregarding their incompatibility with principles, is called “opportunism”. But principles are not to be trampled upon, and they are there for a reason! Opportunism is the enemy of revolutionary politics.
The rest of the story is not worth telling. As part of the normal dynamics of parliamentary politics, the coalition gradually lost ground and finally lost the majority to the right-wing party. Once that government position, which brought power, fame, and vainglory, was lost, the party itself became an empty shell. The rest was a constant decline downhill. The party was split into tens of pieces during the following decades.
The party is the panacea!
A revolutionary party exists for revolutionary times. But this does not mean that it just sits there and waits for the revolution. It, of course, strives to push the working-class struggle to new boundaries, raise their consciousness, and make steps towards winning over potential allies. The party must always be flexible and creative in this regard. But it must also stay away from the bourgeoisie! It must never strap itself using the ropes of the establishment. While fighting inside the bourgeois order, it must stay out of it ideologically and politically.
Because the time will come when the working class, the toiling people, the oppressed gender, the oppressed nation or religion, the youth, and the other oppressed will need a revolutionary party. This will come up at a time of imminent civil war or martial law, perhaps even the threat of fascism, a time of political crisis and vacuum, and sometimes at times of war. In these times, the Revolutionary party is the panacea and it must be there to heed the call!
Today the people of Sri Lanka cannot find a way out after four months of heroic struggles. They toppled ministers and the prime minister. They occupied the president’s palace and took him down. They toppled his proxy, the new prime minister, and burned down his residence. He was forced to concede and resign. But the same proxy prime minister announced the next day that the president would return from his exile in Singapore and that he himself was appointed as the temporary president. The people occupied the prime minister’s office as a response. Who are you Gotabaya, you cannot even stay in the country, yet you dare to appoint presidents and prime ministers in your absence? Then that person proclaims a state of emergency and orders the army to do whatever is necessary, “shoot the people if needed”.
Do you see how desperate the people are? Of course, they are mighty. They toppled the mightiest. But the dice are loaded, don’t you see? The people need to delegate power to someone or some party so that it itself will not be trampled under the soldiers’ boots. They conquered the palace, dived into the pool, and slept in the bed. But the millions cannot sit on the president’s chair!
If only the LSSP leadership would not have brought the party to its end on the road of opportunism! Then at least a portion of the people, its most advanced sections would have guidance!
This article is more or less finished. Latin American revolutionaries end their speeches with “that is all I have to say”, and sometimes they add: “there is nothing else”. That is also all we have to say here. For those who still refuse to understand the indispensability of a revolutionary party for the working class and the toiling people, there is nothing else to say.
But to those who do understand this point, we have one final word. If the party that introduced the word “socialism” to its country’s political lexicon would have continued its existence, even if humbly, instead of being swayed by the lure of opportunism, history would have looked like a fortunate coincidence today, just as we mentioned at the beginning of this article. In a world with very few real proletarian revolutionary parties, we would have had a country with a revolutionary crisis and, as fate might have it, we would also have had a revolutionary party! How fortunate! Or is that so?
No, a thousand times no. The Leninist method, perseverance, persistence, and patience. Not good fortune.
Both locally and internationally. The old leaderships have failed to achieve this. The new generations can and should!
First published on 17 July 2022 in Turkish
The lessons of Sri Lanka (3): From misery to uprising, from uprising to the IMF!
The “100-day uprising” in Sri Lanka is slowly being halted, pushed back, and dispersed by the government and the army. The situation is too complicated for a brief overview. And since we are talking about a country of which not much about the political traditions and customs is widely known, even the necessary background information can take up a lot of space. But we will skip over a lot of details and try to keep the length of this article reasonable. We will try hard, because, oh you have no idea, there is so much to learn from!
The victories of the people’s struggles
Let us remind you what the situation looked like where we left off in our previous article. Sri Lanka's economy entered a horrible crisis in March. Foreign currency reserves have dried up, completely halting petroleum and natural gas imports. So, petrol and diesel fuel are distributed by rations. Even commercial vehicles need to wait in a 2-kilometer-long queue for 6-7 hours to get 5 litres of fuel at most! Power cuts are commonplace, sometimes for 6-7 hours a day and sometimes even 10. There is a shortage of medicine and food products. Sri Lanka is suffering from a kind of crisis never seen before since its independence in 1948. At the time of independence, it used to be the second most affluent country in Asia following Japan according to socio-economic metrics. Now it is an extremely poor one!
This unprecedented economic crisis pushed the toiling people of Sri Lanka to rise up. Starting from the beginning of April and reaching its 100th day in the middle of July, during this uprising, people occupied the surrounding venues of a building serving as the president’s undersecretariat. At the same time, various marches were constantly organised each day by different parties, organisations, neighbourhoods, and groups.
The main demands of the people were to get rid of the Rajapaksa family that took the country in its grip since 2005, justice for their corruption, remove all corrupt officials from office, early elections, a nationwide anti-corruption campaign, and the abolishment of the “executive presidency” system first established in 1977. Of course, there were also many important social and economic demands.
This people’s uprising that sprang forth from all over the country gradually achieved its first political demands: Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, three other ministers from the same family, and certain other ministers were forced to resign at the beginning of May. Then came the head of the Central Bank. And finally, it was the turn of the “executive president” Gotabaya Rajapaksa. After a short push-and-pull, the people were victorious and Gotabaya was sent packing. The people occupied Gotabaya’s palace on the weekend of 9-10 of July, and he ran from the country. First to the Maldives and later to the new financial centre of Asia: Singapore. He is rumoured to go to the United Arab Emirates next. This is accompanied by the people burning down the residency of the temporary Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, appointed by the president in place of his runaway brother. The Prime Minister, called Ranil due to his long surname even in the land of long surnames Sri Lanka, vowed to resign, “to help facilitate a national unity government”.
This is where we left off. It was followed by another article, that was written without any new developments in the meantime, with the purpose of identifying and studying the lessons from these established events. It showed how big a loss it is for a revolutionary party to adapt to the bourgeois parliamentary system, discussed with the historical experience of the biggest revolutionary party in Sri Lanka's history. Now we want to discuss what further lessons Sri Lanka has taught us with the new developments since the occupation of the president’s palace by a revolutionary thrust.
Cunning manoeuvres of the ruling classes
After running away, Gotabaya appointed Ranil as interim president, using the authority given by the constitution. So, Gotabaya did resign, but did not “go back home”, was not thrown into the waste bin of history. For the appointee Ranil has entered parliament as the single representative of his party. He has no one else but himself! But Gotabaya’s party still has two-thirds of the seats. Ranil’s leash is in Gotabaya’s hands! This means that the second demand of the people will not be realised. Gotabaya will not be tried for his crimes, and his road to re-election in the elections coming in two years is still open. So Ranil will likely be remembered in history as Gotabaya’s con man! [Since the writing of these lines and their publication in Turkish a month ago (28 July), a spokesman for Gotabaya has said that he will return to the island on 24 August.]
That is the medium term. Then there is the short term. Ranil was appointed by Gotabaya as an acting president. And right after this, he gave the army extensive authority to end the “protests”, adding that “the governing power will not limit or supervise this in any way”. The quotes are directly from his official statements. Then the parliament (or rather representatives from Gotabaya’s party, as all others voted against this) elected him as interim president for the remaining two years of the current presidential period. As soon as he had the authorization, he declared a state of emergency. The army, then, directly went to the location of the ongoing occupation of the president’s undersecretariat and dispersed it through violence.
Now let us study the first lesson. The left liberals that represent the “civil society” of Sri Lanka say, on one hand, that about 85-90% of the people support the protests, and yet at the same time warn that “democratic rules” must be obeyed! What kind of a democracy is that? “85-90%” of the people are completely against Gotabaya and Ranil, but the election of Ranil nominated by Gotabaya is “democratic”! Such events will happen all over the world, if not now then later, so we must learn from them. We cannot in any way accept such criteria of “democracy”. If the vast majority of the people are against the parliament, then the democratic mandate is with the people themselves, not their representatives! At the very least, an early election must be called! And our dear “civil society” knows very well that this is among the demands of the people.
But even further than that, the correct stance is to demand either a Constituent Assembly, to fight for a complete change of the regime, or if the conditions are right, move directly towards a new regime of workers and the toiling masses through executive organs (such as councils, soviets) that are made up of elected recallable representatives from workplace, neighbourhood or sector-based mass organisations. That is when the people can achieve justice against these scoundrels. If they try to escape to Maldives, Singapore, or the UAE, their properties can be confiscated. And finally, the real solution to the economic crisis, which will be discussed next, can be found here, not through further suffering of the people.
“Settle for hunger if you do not want misery!”
Of course, neither Ranil’s election as president nor his orders to the army to disperse the people mean that the uprising will automatically end. An example to the contrary is being enacted before our very eyes. On another continent, Africa, the Sudanese people made a revolutionary push starting at the end of 2018 and impacting the entire year of 2019, which was slowed down as the people waited for the work of the so-called “democratic transition” of the Sovereignty Council, in which the civilian representatives of the revolution were to work together with the top brass of the army in the hope that this would lead to a democratic state. But that “middle of the road” ruse was destroyed with the counter-revolutionary attack of the army. And now Sudan is again shaken by the fierce, vigorous, and stubborn rise of the people. More and more, this bears the impact of the toiling masses and the poor, rather than the petty bourgeoisie. 300 people were murdered by the army since 2019, but that cannot silence the people! Who can tell if that very same thing will not happen in Sri Lanka? We will wait and see.
But the bourgeoisie and the champagne socialists who cannot free themselves from the political hegemony of the bourgeoisie have already started assuming that Ranil will stay at the top for some time and look for solutions to Sri Lanka’s problems from this perspective. We have already discussed the economic situation in the country. People are dying from the summer heat waiting in the petrol queues, killing each other. Families go hungry to be able to feed their kids. According to the calculations of one previous head of the Central Bank, more than half the country will be living below the poverty line by the end of this year. Therefore, an urgent solution to the economic ills is a necessity.
The solution of the bourgeoisie to the economic crisis
At the roots of this economic crisis are, leaving aside the impact of the church bombing in 2019 on tourism, Covid-19, some external factors such as the Ukraine war, first and foremost the laughable policies such as vanity investments of the Rajapaksas, lowering the taxes of the rich and supposed reform by fiat of the conversion of the entire agriculture of the country into organic farming. Therefore, the irresponsible policies of the bourgeois politicians themselves. Let us keep that in mind.
With such roots, the common solution of the Sri Lanka bourgeois intellectuals, economists, and the media is…. an IMF program! They all admit that the IMF program will lead to more suffering for the people already living in poverty and starvation for the last three years. But they cannot offer anything else.
Let us put here the main points of the proposed solution of a former head of the Central Bank in a live TV program by a leftist journalist debating the solutions to the economic crisis:
- A deal with IMF
- Bridging finance to cover energy, food, and medical expenses until this deal is signed
- Quickly passing all the structural reforms
- To have a primary surplus in the budget (meaning cuts on all public spending including primarily social spending)
We should understand well what these infamous “structural reforms” mean. We quote from the same speaker:
- Public enterprises should be priced according to the market
- Electricity, water, and natural gas subsidies should be cancelled
- The Central Bank should have greater independence
- The “business environment” should be ameliorated (meaning scratching the backs of big business, and in particular, foreign capital)
- Lowering the protection in foreign trade
Even readers who are not economists should by now be well-versed in this IMF-style “crisis solution”. This means austerity for the people, and if necessary, even hunger. Already grievances about the malnutrition of kids, the degradation of the school system (which has been closed for the last two months), and the healthcare system already abound. The very bright experts of the bourgeoisie find that the only solution is to make this even worse.
We do not think that there would be any who would say “some amount of sacrifice is required” among our readership, but let us still state the calendar of sacrifice proposed by bourgeois intellectuals. Everyone says that “at least five years” is needed to reach the pre-crisis levels of 2019. That means three years of poverty due to the crisis and five more years due to the “solution”! We think this cannot be called a temporary sacrifice. And what if a new crisis happens in the meantime?
Is IMF the solution?
Let us say that the former head of the Central Bank is just a henchman of the bourgeoisie. But why does the leftist journalist interview him and help propagate his pro-IMF, neoliberal views? Is there no leftist economist in the whole country? On the other hand, a “civil society” representative invited as a “senior researcher and political analyst” also calls for the necessity of a deal with the IMF. What is her problem?
It is useful to consider if the situation is different in Turkey. There is no people’s uprising in Turkey as in Sri Lanka. But both countries are in a deep crisis. The political situation in Sri Lanka makes it absurd to make a deal with the IMF. It is insane to believe that the people who have been struggling for 100 days against poverty, deprivation, and corruption, will be in favour of a program of even more poverty. But this extreme case gives us an opportunity to think deeper into finding real solutions to the crisis.
Let us explain: when we discuss Erdogan’s interest rate policies which are determined not by economic but political considerations, leading to a growing economic crisis; when we then object to the supposed solution to this economic crisis based on the “independence of the Central Bank”, austerity through increasing interest rates, and the cruel application of market prices to commonly consumed goods; when we propose alternatives, we receive the cynical response of “we do not have the political conditions for these now”. But in Sri Lanka, “85-90%” of the people are on the streets against the poverty brought by the crisis. And not just the advisors of the bourgeoisie, but even the left liberals call for a deal with the IMF. The political conditions are completely opposite to those in Turkey. But there is still “no other way”! What can we learn from this?
First, it becomes apparent that the objection of “but the objective conditions are not right, the conditions aren’t there” is merely an excuse. The Turkish left, just like Sri Lanka left, is under the influence of left-liberalism and thus it becomes evident that they are not ready to challenge the logic of capitalism and the interests of the bourgeoisie.
Secondly, we see that the framework of the capitalist mode of production, even in the age of neoliberalism, is taken as granted by these currents. What is to be done in a crisis? Implement the IMF program, with or without the IMF. If you have a devalued currency because the central bank has kept interest rates low for political reasons, then you need to increase the interest rates. If the government intervenes in the Central Bank to keep interest rates low, then you need to defend the independence of the Central Bank! What is all of this, if not a complete surrender to the logic of markets?
Third, precisely because the solutions that will actually help the toiling peoples are never defended strongly, such policies remain inapplicable due to the famous “conditions”, and those conditions will never be there. The responsibility of working-class parties is to attract all workers, toiling people, and the oppressed masses around itself and make the fight for their interests, against the interest of the bourgeoisie. If we are silent, then who will speak?
When the method is wrong, to begin with, the natural result is to leave the people in poverty.
There is an alternative solution to the crisis for the workers and toilers!
There is an alternative. But we must overcome the mental barriers first. The advisors of the bourgeoisie declare “the economy is in the swamps, everyone is in misery, we should all make sacrifices to get out of this crisis”. (The aforementioned former head of the Central Bank says this: “there is neither rupees nor dollars”). The left-liberal nods in agreement: “Yes, we are penniless, we need to make a deal with the IMF and need to attain stability through austerity”. The only thing is that the rulers should be honest and not lie to the people, etc., etc.
“We are penniless”, is that so? Rajapaksa was living in a palace. That his family accumulated a lot of wealth through corruption is a secret around the block for Sri Lankans. How is it that tht Rajapaksa family are poor? Your imagination fails you, but at least listen to that of the people. The second demand is “reclaim what has been stolen”! That is one.
“We are penniless”, is that so? Do you think the whole Sri Lanka bourgeoisie got poor in this crisis? Did all their wealth, mansions, Jaguars, yachts, apartments, and riding horses in Sri Lanka and their accounts in Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Delhi just evaporate into thin air? Did you ever hear of a mansion sold cheap, because of seizure by courts? Could the Isle of Man perhaps be serving as a safe haven for the bourgeoisie of this ex-colony of Britain? Have you ever looked into that?
So no, it is not that “we are penniless”! There are both rupees and dollars!
And now, we have a whole new horizon opened before us. The horizon where the cost of the crisis falls on the bourgeoisie who is responsible for it and not the people who suffered from it. Then we can see alternative possibilities, and the silhouette of an alternative program emerges. We will not discuss this in detail in this article and make a long one even longer. But let us state the main points just like we did for the pro-IMF “solution” above:
- A burdensome wealth tax should be implemented to refill the coffers of the state.
- To stop and in time completely eliminate inflation a) set up neighbourhood price control committees, b) put a stop to the armed oppression of the Tamil people and quickly cut military spending, and c) reduce the printing of money in so far as the budget deficit is reduced by the previous points
- Increase social spending to cover the most immediate needs of the people, using some of the income from the first two points (fight against poverty, proper nutrition of kids and improved schools, healthcare expenditure, housing support, agricultural support, etc.)
- A public investment campaign to eliminate unemployment.
- Closure of the stock market, making a single state-owned bank the only authority on the allocation of resources, to be used for social and economic development, a continuous effort to nationalise and a step-by-step transition to a centrally planned economy. Thus freeing the productive forces from the yoke of market forces.
- All of these radical policies will create enormous pressure on the already devalued national currency. As such, the convertibility of the rupee should be abolished through capital controls.
These are our structural reforms!
First published on 28 July 2022 in Turkish