National Sections of the L5I:

Sri Lanka and the Tamil question

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1. The India Sri Lanka Accord of July 1987 represents the latest attempt at imposing a reactionary settlement on the national struggle of the Tamil people. The accord proposed autonomy which demanded the disarming of the only force enjoying the support of the Tamil people and reliance on Indian troops responsible for the repression of national groups inside India. It proposed a referendum in the Eastern Province in late 1988 to decide whether to continue links with the Northern Province.

Ten years since the formation of the guerrilla groups and four years since the start of open warfare between the Tamils and the government the Sri Lankan economy is in a parlous state. Export earnings have plummeted, tourism is in ruins, the military budget is crippling; indebtedness to the world’s banks has mushroomed as a consequence.

Through the accord the Indian government hoped to:
(i) forestall the complete victory of the Tamil separatists and prevent the creation of Tamil Eelam which would be an encouragement to nationalists in India to attempt secession.
(ii) end the attempt by the Sinhalese government to impose a purely military solution on the Tamil struggle and force Jayawardene to recognise the need for apolitical settlement which, while making some concessions on local autonomy, preserves the unitary state.
(iii) restore a ‘favourable investment climate’ for imperialism.
(iv) increase Indian hegemony over Sri Lanka and displace the influence of Pakistan.

2. The Tamil Tigers (LTTE the main guerrilla force) were not party to the accord, nor consulted about it. Nor, on the other hand, did they openly denounce it, initially placing their trust in the good offices of the Indian bourgeoisie. The Tigers hoped to effectively use the accord to their advantage by retaining their arms and maintaining geographical control of the peninsula. In this way they believed it was possible to use the provincial autonomy proposals as a means of furthering their struggle. Once this became clear the Indian and Sri Lankan governments decided on a military offensive.

The Tigers’ control of the administration of large parts of the Jaffna peninsula has been effectively ended, but the Tigers have not been decisively crushed. Rather they have retreated to regroup and continue their guerrilla struggle at a lower level.

The effect of the Indian attack has been to destroy for the moment many illusions in the Indian ‘ally’. A whole period lies ahead whereby India will attempt to make the accord work by pushing ahead with the proposals and drawing in Tamil ‘moderates’ to oversee it, in other words a battle for the hearts and minds of the Tamil people. Whatever its short term prospects it is unlikely to quash the national struggle for good because the accord does not address any of the main structural problems that have led to the Tamil struggle for national liberation.

3. The roots of the present conflict lie in the exploitation of the island of Ceylon (Sri Lanka after 1971) by British colonialism and imperialism between 1802 and 1948. For much of this period all major decisions effecting Sri Lanka were taken by the London tea barons of Mincing Lane who owned the tea plantations of the island.

The vast nature of the British Empire required the colonialists to become masters in the art of divide and rule, using sections of the indigenous population as their administrators. The form of political control sponsored by the British colonial masters to safeguard their super profits explains the ethnic rivalry in Sri Lanka. Britain selected out the ‘Ceylonese Tamils’ - descendants of the Tamil population who came to the island from Tamil Nadu in India thousands of years previously. These made up half the Tamil population. Sections of them were given privileges by the British administration in both education and employment. Whilst only ten percent of the population by 1948, these ‘Ceylonese Tamils’ occupied some 60% of civil service posts and nearly 50% of the armed forces. The ‘Indian Tamils’ (some 10% of the population) by contrast were brought over as a conscript labour force to work the Southern Highland tea plantations. Today they are the most oppressed and super exploited section of the Sri Lankan working class.

4. After independence in 1948, a short spell of working class unity gave way to inter-communal rivalries. The privileges enjoyed by sections of the Tamils in the civil service and professions led to antagonism against them from the Sinhalese. These rivalries have been systematically used by the Sinhalese bourgeoisie to obscure class questions facing the whole of the Sri Lankan working class. Universal suffrage allowed the weight of the Sinhalese masses to be felt. Continued savage super exploitation of the island’s economy by imperialism made the harmonious development of relations between the groups impossible. Reverse discrimination became entrenched, sponsored by the bourgeoisie and landowners to divide the working class. For thirty years the two main Sinhalese bourgeois parties (SLFP and UNP) vied with each other in communalist measures against the Tamils.

Discrimination in education, employment, language rights, and landownership in the 1950/60s were supplemented in the 1970s by colonisation (of a West Bank nature) of the Eastern Province where Tamil speakers were in a large majority and the banning of Tamil parliamentary representation. Throughout these decades pogroms have been a regular feature of repression.

The effect of these four decades of systematic repression has been to transform a bourgeois reformist struggle for language rights and an end to discrimination within a unitary state into a fight for a separate state for the Tamil people.

5. The record of the leftist and nationalist parties is a dismal one. The bourgeois nationalist TULF failed to defend the Tamil people in the 1960s and 1970s. This failure spawned the petit bourgeois guerrilla groups in the mid 1970s. In the 1980s the TULF - outside of parliament and trailing the Tamil Tigers - has been forced to lend its verbal support for a separate state whilst facilitating negotiations for much less. They lent their support to the accord.

For many years the main party of the left was the LSSP. Affiliated to the Fourth International (then the International Secretariat after 1953, the USFI after 1963) it was not a Trotskyist party. After 1948 it was a centrist party with a social democratic practice covered by Trotskyist phraseology.

While it did lead mass struggles of the, predominantly urban Sinhalese, working class in the 1950s, it was weakly based in the peasantry and the Tamil workers. It succumbed to electoral cretinism and the lure of office within the semi colonial regime. Its indifference to the fight against Sinhalese chauvinism (an indifference tolerated by the leadership of the International Secretariat) led it to enter a Sinhala chauvinist government of the SFLP in 1964. The entering of a popular front by the historic party of the Sinhala working class was a historic betrayal which led to its collapse and disintegration, thus opening up the working class further to the bourgeois chauvinism of—the Bandaranaike party. As a result of the LSSP’s betrayals the forces loyal to proletarian internationalism within Sri Lanka remain small and isolated but they deserve the support of the international workers’ movement against the repressive actions of the government.

A similar fate has beset the JVP which as a student based organisation in 1971 led an abortive leftist uprising against the government Today, it opposes the accord as a Sinhalese chauvinist terrorist organisation.

The failure of the left working class parties to stand firm against chauvinism has only succeeded in sponsoring the growth of Sinhalese chauvinism on the one hand and Tamil petit bourgeois nationalism on the other.

The centrist ‘United Secretariat of the Fourth International’ found its Indian and Sri Lankan sections completely politically disarmed by the Accord. The Indian section, like the LTTE itself; could ‘neither endorse or oppose’; the Sri Lankan’s saw the Accord as a ‘window of opportunity’ for peace. They failed to call for the removal of troops and must take their share of responsibility for what followed.

6. Revolutionary Marxists have, as their prime duty, the unconditional defence of the Tamil people against repression and discrimination. We defend their right to self determination up to and including a separate state. The fight for unity of the Tamil and Sinhalese workers begins with a fight to win the latter to a defence of the Tamils’ cause Unity of the workers in the struggle against the Sinhalese bourgeoisie’s austerity attacks rid repression of the trade unions cannot he lasting or principled without a struggle against chauvinism in the ranks of the Sinhalese masses.

However, the Tamil Tigers are not the Tamil people. The oppressed masses shelter and feed the LTTE who in turn defend them from the army; but the people have no way of democratically deciding what forces within the liberation struggle they support, nor are they able to express what form of self determination they desire within Sri Lanka. We all on the Tamils to rise up and expel the Indian and Sri Lankan army. We call for the formation and arming of working class and peasant based defence committees as a necessary first step to the expulsion of the occupying forces and as a necessary basis for Workers and peasants to be able to determine the future of the liberated areas.

Should the Tamils’ struggle successfully turn into a mass uprising that results in the withdrawal of Indian and/or Sri Lankan government troops then communists and democrats should demand the summoning of a sovereign constituent assembly in the liberated areas to decide the political form of the state, its relations with the Sinhala dominated areas of Sri Lanka (i.e. complete independence, free federation or unitary republic) and with the Indian state.

Revolutionary communists (Trotskyists) in the Sinhala dominated regions should be fighting in the workers’ movement for the right of the Tamils to self determination alongside the struggle to overthrow the Jayawardene Bonapartist regime. In the field of democratic demands we fight for the separation of all religious bodies from the state and the expropriation of their lands and accumulated wealth; for political rights for the Tamil plantation workers; land to the tillers. These demands should focus on the call for a sovereign constituent assembly for the non Tamil areas or for the whole of Sri Lanka if the mass organisations agree to participate and the Sinhala majority accepts in advance the right to self-determination of all the Tamil people.

Whatever the outcome of the existing civil war and the national or democratic struggles and whether or not a constituent assembly/assemblies come into existence only the creation of a revolutionary workers and peasants’ government can ensure the carrying out of these demands as well as resolving the fundamental questions of class exploitation.

7. As revolutionary communists it is our duty, however, to say that we believe the Tamil guerrillas are leading the Tamil people into a cul de sac. Their tactics of armed defence against the Sri Lankan army and the goon squads of the so called ‘Home Guard’ in the Eastern Province have naturally won the support of the Tamil people. But the failure to arm or train more than a tiny number of youth (2,500) has left the Tamil masses defenceless in the wake of the Indian attack.

Certain tactics pursued by the Tigers flow from their increasingly narrowly nationalist ideology. Whilst unconditionally defending their right to pursue the war against the Sinhalese and Indian armies, we will criticise the backward and divisive nature of such tactics. Often the Tigers have killed hundreds of Sinhalese workers and peasants as a short-sighted response to new Sinhalese settlements in Tamil areas. Whilst not the cause of chauvinism against the Tamils, such actions do nothing to undermine it and much to entrench it. In addition they have systematically eliminated rival Tamil groups in the North in order to bolster their claim to sole representation of the Tamil people.

But more than anything it is the strategy and goal of the Tigers Tamil Eelam which is a bankrupt solution to the misery the Tamils presently endure. A separate Tamil state in the North and East, based on the most economically deprived sectors of present day Sri Lanka will be even more at the mercy of the world’s bankers and industrialists. It will permanently divide the working class.

Nor can the prospect of Tamil Eelam appeal as a liberatory ideology to the key sector of the Tamil working class the plantation workers geographically and politically isolated from the Tigers’ struggle as they are. The goal of revolutionary Marxists is the united struggle of all Sri Lankan workers and peasants around a programme of anti-imperialism, anti-landlordism and anti-chauvinism which is directed at the Sinhalese bourgeoisie and its Tamil apologists and leads to a workers’ and peasants’ government and a workers’ republic. For these reasons we do not advocate a separate state.

Revolutionary Marxists oppose the reactionary unification ‘from above’ of any Tamil state with Tamil Nadu under the control of the Indian bourgeoisie as openly advocated by some sections of the TULF. Rather we fight for the extension of the struggles of the Tamil workers and peasants into Tamil Nadu itself as part of the struggle for a socialist federation of the entire Indian subcontinent. To fight for this strategy of proletarian independence and permanent revolution a genuine Trotskyist party must be built in Sri Lanka which unites the best class fighters -Tamil and Sinhalese.

8 .Our key slogans in the present period are:
• India out of Sri Lanka!
• Smash the India Sri Lanka Accord!
• For the Tamil resistance against the Indian/Sri Lankan army!
• Release all political prisoners!
• For an end to all discrimination in jobs, education, language
• For full political rights and citizenship for the plantation workers
• Against the pogroms of national minorities within both Tamil and Sinhala areas
• For the right of the Tamil people to Self determination up to and including complete separation
• Cancel the debts to the IMF bankers
• No to austerity
• No bans on trade unions or political parties, no press censorship
• Land to those that till it; expropriate the large landowners
• Separation of all religious bodies from the state
• For the abolition of all religious and caste discrimination
• Down with Jayawardene’s Bonapartist regime
• For a revolutionary communist (Trotskyist) party in Sri Lanka
• For a workers’ republic of Sri Lanka
• For a socialist federation of the whole Indian sub-continent