May Day in Colombo

The May Day celebrations of Sri Lanka’s JVP (People’s Liberation Front) were this year attended by CPGB-ML vice-chair Comrade Ella Rule.

The reason for the JVP contacting our party was its appreciation of the work we recently did on the national question in Scotland, applying a strictly scientific approach rather than the sentimental one that is so often used by the bourgeoisie to divide the working class and oppressed masses against each other.

The detailed article we printed on Scottish nationalism had great resonance for communists in Sri Lanka. There, the demand that people of Tamil descent should be allowed to secede from Sri Lanka has mired the country in internecine warfare for a quarter of a century – which finally ended with the 2009 defeat of the Tamil Tiger movement. And this demand was made despite the fact that the Tamils do not occupy a single, distinct territory but are scattered throughout Sri Lanka.

The JVP has throughout the years held to the principled position of opposing all discrimination against people of Tamil descent while at the same time denying their right to form a separate state. Although it is considered to be a ‘Sinhala’ organisation, it counts among its members very many people of Tamil descent, including in leadership positions, and it takes special care to promote the interests of all minorities within Sri Lanka – be they Tamils or muslims – and to counter the bourgeois elements who stir up communalism in order to divide people against each other.

On May Day, some 100,000 members and supporters of the JVP marched five miles through Colombo to a large cricket ground where the rally was to be held. Among them were several marching bands, and some demonstrators carried huge mocking effigies of bourgeois politicians (such as US president Obama, Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, and the current kleptocratic president of Sri Lanka Rajapaksa) alongside their comrades’ party flags and banners.

Contingents on the demonstration included a large number of tea estate workers, who were overwhelmingly Tamil. The whole procession took a good two hours to file into the stadium, and when the rally finally began, the whole cricket ground was a sea of red – a colour worn by all of the JVP’s thousands of supporters present.

The speeches from the platform were in Sinhala or Tamil, so we are unable to report on their content, but the text of Comrade Ella’s speech is reproduced below.

Greetings from the CPGB-ML

On behalf of the CPGB-ML I am here to express our solidarity with the JVP in your splendid efforts to mobilise the Sri Lankan masses against both imperialism and internal reaction for socialism, so as to build a life of economic wellbeing and spiritual fulfilment. Long live the JVP.

May Day is a day for celebrating the international solidarity of the working class. It is a day when workers everywhere give expression to the ideal of their unshakeable militant unity in the fight for their emancipation.

The billionaires who rule the capitalist world subject the masses under their control to untold misery, exploitation and oppression. But they are only an insignificant minority of the population. How can such a small number of people impose their will on so many? Their secret is, of course: Divide and rule.

On May Day, we show them that in the long run these tactics won’t work. We will unite in struggle against them and we will overthrow them.

In Sri Lanka, reactionary forces succeeded for a while in turning the contradiction between the Tamil and Sinhala communities into an antagonistic one, with tragic results for the people of Sri Lanka. The JVP unfailingly fought to heal the breach between the two communities, even in the most difficult times, and it continues to promote unity between them.

The people of Sri Lanka are most fortunate that the JVP is there to protect their interests.

Comrades, the world is suffering the deepest capitalist crisis it has ever known. It is a crisis of overproduction like all capitalist crises. The impoverished masses are unable to buy the ever-increasing mass of commodities the capitalists need to sell.

Because they cannot sell all they hoped, they find themselves unable to pay their debts. Bankruptcy follows bankruptcy. Workers are thrown out into the streets. So many unpaid debts make banks insolvent too, and rescuing banks makes whole countries insolvent.

All over the world, to save banks, governments and the whole financial system from collapse, austerity is being imposed on the masses of working people. The rich are imposing on those poorer than themselves unpayable taxpayer burdens, while slashing every social facility available to the workers – medical services, education, welfare provision.

Even the privileges of intellectual and skilled workers are being eroded, forcing even these workers to rethink their traditional loyalty to the capitalist system.

These austerity measures, however, coupled with increasing unemployment, can only aggravate the economic crisis, which is, after all, a crisis of overproduction. You cannot cure a crisis of overproduction by cutting still further the purchasing power of the masses.

If, on the other hand, the capitalists try by quantitative easing and such other measures to spend money they haven’t got in order to overcome the crisis, this is equally disastrous for the capitalist system.

In their desperation, the capitalists are trying to survive not only at the expense of the working people but also at the expense of each other.

The western imperialists have for some time been waging war after war to try to seize control of the world’s supplies of oil and precious minerals to the exclusion of their rivals, the wars being sometimes the open predatory wars such as those against Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, or wars conducted through surrogates (such as the present ‘civil’ war in Syria, or the various ‘civil’ wars that have been or are raging in Africa such as those in Congo and Mali).

These wars are the source of tremendous suffering and misery for the masses of the people, who quite rightly hate them. Even in Britain, where until now the people have been kept relatively quiet by a combination of a better standard of living than is available to most of the world’s people and a bought-off leadership of the working-class movement, millions of people have come out on to the streets to demonstrate against these wars.

The moneybags, however, have been able to mobilise fake ‘Marxists’ in the form of Trotskyites and revisionists to render the anti-war movement useless and to dissipate it. These opportunists virulently oppose any attempt to mobilise the British working class to refuse to cooperate with the imperialist wars (eg, by refusing to transport war materiel or refusing to allow the broadcast of pro-war propaganda).

They seek in the name of ‘unity’ to confine activity to the occasional demonstration and letters to MPs. In addition, they themselves spread imperialist propaganda against the targets of imperialist war in order to undermine support for the resistance.

Comrades, it is incredible but true that in Britain the anti-war movement is led (or rather mis-led) by members of the same imperialist Labour party which when in government was waging these wars – and the Trotskyites and revisionists make it their business to ensure that all those who become disillusioned with social democracy get herded straight back into its paralysing embrace.

The present crisis of imperialism is setting very clearly before the proletariat the world over its responsibility to seize the hour.

The capitalist system in its day did transform the world in a most revolutionary way. But today capitalism has outlived its usefulness. It is a hindrance to the further development of humanity. It is moribund and ripe with decay. It destroys far more than it is now able to create.

It is time to finish it off. It is time for the proletariat to take power. It is time for economic planning to meet the needs of the people rather than the anarchy of capitalist production for profit. It is time to begin the era of true civilisation.

Long live Marxism Leninism!

Long live proletarian internationalism!

Death to imperialism!

Revolutionary devotion

The rally lasted for a full five hours, but the marchers stayed and listened to long speeches even after it had started pouring down with torrential rain. Our comrade learned later that the rally had also been featured on Sri Lankan television at some length.

Throughout her visit Comrade Ella was treated to outstanding Sri Lankan hospitality – no trouble was too much for her hosts. They drew the line, however, at supplying alcohol. As was explained to her, the JVP’s money is provided by the masses, and its cadres feel that they have no right whatever to waste that hard-earned cash on alcohol, cigarettes and the like.

The ban on these indulgences extends also to the many party workers who work for the party for free, such as the comrade who drove Comrade Ella on an outing to the seaside the day after the rally. Although a qualified doctor, this comrade works as a full-time official for the party without any pay, supported by his wife.

Such revolutionary devotion puts the expenses-driven culture of much of Britain’s official labour and trade-union movement to shame!