Rajapakse’s victory is a defeat for the workers and peasants of the whole island
In Colombo and other towns and cities the streets are full of cheering crowds, letting off fireworks and waving the national flag. People are shouting, “Sri Lanka, one nation!” But the unity being celebrated is a fraud. The Tamils, nearly twenty per cent of the population, are not celebrating, despite Mahinda Rajapakse’s statement to parliament, commenced in Tamil, that the country has been “liberated from terrorism”, that his “victory” is not a victory over them. Whilst promising to find a solution that “should be acceptable to all the communities,” he added: “There are no minority communities in this country. There are only two communities, one that loves this country and another that does not.” This is a communalist and chauvinist denial of the Tamils’ national identity and democratic rights and no peace based on such an outlook can survive for long.
What the government has now put back on the table for the Tamils is the thirteenth amendment to the constitution, passed in the 1980s as a supposed olive branch from the victors to the defeated national resistance. At that time, it was seen as an insult, even by moderate Tamils. Although it allowed Tamils an assembly in their majority areas in the north and east, they were to have no control over their own budgets, planning or infrastructure. In other words, they were to be totally dominated by the government in Colombo.
No one will believe Rajapakse’s assurances in the north of the country, which has been conquered at incredible cost in terms of lives lost, people displaced, homes, farms, workplaces and infrastructure destroyed. International reports claim 8,000 people were killed and about 250,000 displaced in the last four months of the conflict alone.
Having refused either a negotiated ceasefire or to accept the unilateral “silencing of the guns”, the army has now televised pictures of the bodies of Velupillai Prabhakaran, other top leaders of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the last 250 fighters. They hope this annihilation will break forever the Tamil national struggle. In fact, they have just given it more martyrs and, whatever form it takes, it will undoubtedly revive.
Tens of thousands of refugees are detained in some 42 camps, behind razor wire, being “processed” by the army and the police. There can be little doubt that anyone suspected of being a “Tiger” will face a grim fate. The full horrors of the government’s genocidal assault will take some time to come to light, given the exclusion of foreign news agencies and the intimidation and murder of many independent Sri Lankan journalists. Government employed doctors, who carried on working within the besieged LTTE zone and who reported the scale of civilian casualties to the world media, have been arrested and face charges of aiding the enemy. But, in spite of everything, the truth will come out. History has always shown – in Europe, Palestine, South America and Indonesia – that atrocities such as these cannot be concealed forever.
Some people, though not, of course, the chauvinists, may think they are just celebrating peace at the end of a 25 year long civil war that was marked by terrorist outrages on one side and pogroms against the minority on the other. Alas, they are wrong. Any “peace” based on conquest, injustice and oppression cannot even benefit the majority of the “victors”. A nation cannot be “unified” against the will of a large, distinct and long-oppressed minority.
The repression visited on the Tamils, and on the courageous minority of Sinhalese who opposed the brutal war, will, in the months ahead, fall on the heads of the majority, on ordinary working class people from both communities. The war has drained away vast resources and now the full effect of the world economic crisis will be felt. When workers and the rural poor fight back, they, too, will be accused of “not loving their country” and will suffer repression from the government of the victorious Rajapakse.
At this bitter moment for the Tamil people, it is our duty to make their voice heard, not only that of Tamils on the island but of the Tamil communities around the world. First, we must make known the sufferings of those in the far north of the country, civilians as well as those who fought so determinedly for their freedom, at the hands of the Sri Lankan Army. Second, we must make the voice of those Tamils displaced into “refugee” camps heard. Only if these voices are heard will there be any chance of real peace in Sri Lanka.
The government hopes that repression can break all Tamil resistance to its actions. This will not succeed. A new generation will step forward to replace those who have fallen for as long as repression continues. What form this takes is not clear yet. Certainly, for now, the LTTE has been crushed as a regular army defending permanently occupied territory. But guerrilla warfare and individual terrorist attacks are far from impossible. In our view, this is not the road to freedom for the Tamils and would leave the mass of the people on the sidelines or, rather, make them victims of the struggle. For this reason, revolutionary socialists have always argued for a different road from that taken by the LTTE since 1983.
Today, this road must start with defence of the violated democratic rights of the Tamil population in the north and east but also of those in the cities and countryside of central and southern Sri Lanka. To be successful, this struggle must be united with that of the Sinhalese workers and peasants who will come under attack from a government determined to make them pay the price for the war and the economic crisis.
At present, socialists and, indeed, sincere democrats of both communities, are under attack, they are isolated and labelled as collaborators of the LTTE. This is nothing new. Revolutionaries across the world must continue their work in whatever way they can, in bad conditions as well as good. The Socialist Party of Sri Lanka, along with their comrades in the League for the Fifth International, will continue to make the case for the democratic rights for the Tamil people. Until they have the right to self-determination, until a Sri Lankan government recognises this and allows them to decide their own fate, there can never be real peace or justice for all. This struggle is ultimately inseparable from the struggle for jobs, wages and union rights for all workers.
After the defeat of the LTTE, we have to set ourselves a new task; to fight within the Tamil communities across the country to build a new movement, a new political organisation capable of really ending the oppression of the Tamils. A genuine revolutionary socialist party, uniting both Tamils and Sinhalese workers, peasants and youth into a fighting organisation that uses the methods of class struggle, not the strategy of guerrilla warfare or individual terrorism. This must also be a struggle against the Sri Lankan capitalists, their imperialist backers and their government in Colombo.
Now that the war is finished, the workers must renew their efforts to fight for their demands, no longer can the JVP and the pro-war trade unions be allowed hold back workers with the excuse of “not disrupting the war effort with strikes”. Now, most workers will expect to see the “peace dividend” that Rajapakse and company have long promised. Socialists will be there, in the workplaces, arguing for the most militant forms of struggle.
Our ultimate goal is the downfall of the capitalist class in Sri Lanka, and across South Asia. This may seem a long way away now but the economic crisis is bringing it nearer. Rajapakse will be unable to deliver on most of his promises of reconstruction and rebuilding. Our most important message is that only a socialist Sri Lanka, a state that recognises the right to self determination including the right to secede, can ensure real genuine peace, can end hunger and poverty and can bring justice to all the toiling and oppressed peoples on this island.
Today the most urgent demands are:
The defence of Tamil communities against all attempts at pogroms or expulsion.
The right of all refugees from the fighting to return to their homes.
The release of all prisoners, the entry of independent journalists, Sri Lankan and foreign, into the war zone and the camps. The ending of compulsory detention.
An end to all repressive legislation against Tamil organisations. For the restoration of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press.
Massive international aid in terms of food and medical supplies and in rebuilding homes and infrastructure
The withdrawal of SLA forces from the majority Tamil areas.