Neoliberalism responsible for present crisis - Dr. G. Weerasinghe | Daily News
Communist Party celebrates 80th anniversary today

Neoliberalism responsible for present crisis - Dr. G. Weerasinghe

Today there is nothing that isn’t politics. People are searching for strong political leadership with political solutions for the problems they are facing. Everyone wants a better world, and some feel that only political solutions can bring about a better world. Amongst them are those that agree with the communist ideology. Today the Communist Party of Sri Lanka celebrates its 80th anniversary. It owes its existence to those who feel that it can provide the kind of political leadership Sri Lanka needs. The Daily News speaks to General Secretary of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka Dr. G. Weerasinghe, about communism, the role that the Communist Party has played in Sri Lankan politics and where it is today.

Q: Today you are celebrating the 80th anniversary of the Communist Party. During those 80 years what have been your achievements?

A: Our party was founded in 1943. However, I must say that this political movement of ours began before this. Our founder Dr. S.A. Wickramasinghe was elected as a member of the State Council in 1931 and became the first Marxist to be elected to the legislature and it was he who started the leftist movement in Sri Lanka. In 1935, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party was started. The leaders of the Communist Party that began later were also the leaders of the LSSP. They were Dr. Wickramasinghe and M.G. Mendis and others. However, as we know, an ideological dispute led to the creation of the Communist Party of Ceylon in 1943. The members of the Communist Party of Ceylon were passionate about independence for Sri Lanka. We received independence from the British in 1948. However, the party did not accept this so-called ‘Independence’. What we got was dominion status. There was a defense treaty with the United Kingdom. We had British bases in the country. We took oaths in the name of her Majesty the Queen who was our Constitutional Head. Our jurisdiction was still very much under the British. We felt that this dominion status was not ‘true independence’. I must say that in pursuit of independence, the Communist Party of Ceylon played an important role. The Communist party rallied the working class. This strengthened the independence struggle. Since we were not satisfied with the kind of independence we got in 1948, we worked continuously as a front with like-minded political forces. Finally, Sri Lanka was declared a Republic in 1972, and the First Republican Constitution of 1972 enabled us to get complete independence.

General Secretary of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka
 Dr. G. Weerasinghe

We also stood for Socialism. While standing for Socialism, we achieved so much more for our country. If you take the working class, their ‘victories’, can be attributed to the efforts of the leaders of the Communist Party of Ceylon. These battles were fought by the Communist Party of Ceylon. What were these battles and victories? Pension, an 8 hour work day, overtime payments, special holidays etc. If you take the private sector, you have the Employees Provident Fund, which is a big victory. This came about during a strike conducted by the leadership of the Communist Party.

And then when it comes to social reforms, we continuously fought for them. Some of these reforms we agitated for were free education, free healthcare and social welfare. The Communist Party has always believed in human development. That has always been their vision. That is why the Communist Party has heavily focused their efforts on education. In 1931, in the State Council Dr. S.A. Wickramasinghe, went to great lengths to ensure that adequate attention was given to education. The importance of education was top priority for both Wickramasinghe and the Communist Party. Later on this helped Dr. Kannangara in his efforts. If you take the history of our country, I think everyone will agree that Free Education was one of our greatest achievements. When it comes to Free Education, we have always given it prominence.

Another important aspect of our achievements was that we maintained close contacts with socialist countries. After the Second World War, National Liberation Movements around the world escalated and we supported them. After the Second World War we maintained links with socialist countries or you could say with the system of socialist countries – the Soviet Union, China, Cuba and Vietnam. That is why after 1956, Bandaranaike’s Government was able to maintain links with these countries and in doing so was able to receive international aid from these countries. These links helped when it came to industrialization in Sri Lanka and education opportunities for the Sri Lankan youth. And what about culture? Russian books were translated into Sinhala and Tamil. Works by great Russian authors were made available to the Sri Lankan youth. These were the achievements of the Communist Party of Ceylon. We have served this country well.

Q: Around the world we see the weakening of socialist systems and the strengthening of capitalist systems. What is your opinion on this?

A: The Soviet Union emerged as a result of the 1917 Russian Revolution. It faced a crisis in the 1980s and finally the socialist system collapsed in 1991. Why did this happen? What I think is this. The socialist countries were unable to adapt to the economic changes that the world was undergoing. Capitalism was strengthening. The Socialist countries simply could not compete in this contest. The economy of the Soviet Union stagnated. The collapse was due mainly to economic reasons. Neoliberalism became dominant under America’s leadership. Around this time there were more changes happening in the world. Take China for instance. China adopted a practical approach to its economic development. China has now become the world’s second largest economy under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. China has now become a powerful economy. The biggest producer in the world is China. The biggest exporter is China. It is the biggest investor in the Research and Development (R&D) sector. In many fields in the world China has outstripped other countries in the West, for example, in the field of AI. Now China is engaged in its 14thFive-Year plan. At the end of this plan it will become an advanced economy. By the year 2035 it will complete its update of socialism, and by 2049 it will become a modern socialist state. This was revealed at the 20th National Conference in October 2022. Even though socialism collapsed in the Soviet Union in 1991, and Neoliberalism became a dominant ideology in many countries, socialism has not disappeared from the world. With the rise of China you could say that socialism gained the upper hand. China’s rise has an effect on the whole world. The unipolar world has ended. We must examine recent happenings like what happened in Afghanistan, Ukraine and developments in the Middle East, the weakening of the influence of America and other imperialist countries, and the momentum of the de-dollarization. Now some powerful countries are using their own monetary units for trade and are finding alternative platforms for SWIFT. We also see various economic organisations coming into existence in the world. BRICS has a huge demand. So many countries wish to work with BRICS. If you take BRICS, it has overtaken the G7 in global GDP. ASEAN has become a powerful organisation economically. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is another. In addition, there are others such as those in Africa and Latin America. So we see powerful economic centres coming into existence. We now see a new political/economic pattern emerging in the world. All of this has been triggered by what is happening in Asia. Asia has now become the centre of the global economy. And its centre is China. Yes, socialism collapsed in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, but today in a different way we see capitalism in the imperialist countries is also weakening. Social development does not happen overnight. It takes time. So we have now come to a different stage. Today the conditions are right for socialist forces and the imperialist countries and Neoliberalism are weakening.

Q: The weakening of socialism had an effect on socialism in Sri Lanka too. Socialism in Sri Lanka has also weakened. What do you say about this?

A: Internationalism was the foundation of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka. The Communist Party of Sri Lanka was born through this ideology. An ideological dispute is what led to the creation of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka when its leaders left the LSSP and formed the party. It happened because of an international incident. We were part of the international communist movement, and have continuously been so. Naturally the weaknesses internationally also had an effect on our party in Sri Lanka. But when I say that we are an internationalist party, we are not a foreign party. We are a very patriotic party. I will give you an example, both Dr. S.A. Wickramasinghe and H. W. Amarasuriya were elected to the State Council in 1931. They were old boys of Mahinda College. When the two of them appeared at the reception ceremony, Amarasuriya appeared wearing a hat, coat and tie, while Dr. Wickramasinghe appeared in the national dress and spoke in Sinhala. That went to show that Wickramasinghe was very patriotic. However, here I must say that what happened in the international arena had an effect on us. The leftist movement in Sri Lanka was weakened. But there were other reasons also. In 1977 J.R. Jayewardene came to power and introduced a neo-liberal economic strategy. In July 1980 there was a strike against this. This was the first opposition. Here I must say we were crushed. The leftist groups were defeated. So there was a defeat for the working class movement in 1977 and 1980. So for 17 years the UNP ruled in a hegemonic way. They also changed the election system. 1977 was the last time we had the Single Vote System. By introducing the Proportional Electoral System political campaigns with no economic power found it difficult to survive. All these events weakened the leftist movement in Sri Lanka in addition to the weakness that occurred on the international stage. Because of social, political and economic reasons there occurred two rebellions in the North and the South. Because of these two rebellions, leaders in our party were murdered during 1988-1989. That also contributed to the weakening of the leftist movement in Sri Lanka. This created a new political environment. Because of racism it is very difficult for leftist movements to progress. When there is animosity within the parties, that too is hard to overcome even today. So it is because of all these factors that the leftist movement weakened.

Q: In 1971, the JVP launched a rebellion. They did the same thing in 1989. This is because a lot of youth were attracted to them. But the LSSP and the Communist Party have not been able to attract the youth. Why has the JVP been able to attract the youth and not your party?

A: If you take universities, the first Inter-University Student Body was held under the leadership of the Communist Party, by the Communist Party student movement. But in the 1980’s the JVP overwhelmed us. Even though the JVP launched a rebellion in 1971, we had the leadership in the student movement in universities in 1978/1979. But we lost influence in the 1980’s. After that in 1988/1989 it was impossible for us to do politics in universities because of the violence. Yes, I must admit that the youth community was alienated from us around the time of 1971. If you take the United Front/Samagi Peramuna (formed by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party and the Communist Party of Sri Lanka) which came to power in the 1970 General Election, did not respond to the youth when it came to the issues the youth had faced. In 1977, we started losing a lot of the youth. Because of our defeat in 1977, we rapidly started losing the youth. During 1988/1989 the fall of socialism took place. This too contributed to us losing a lot of the youth. But you cannot say that we have completely lost the youth. That I must maintain, because there are youth still with us. We feel that there are shortcomings in the JVP as they go forward. I feel that when you examine our history we have made a greater impact than the JVP. I think a person with discernment can understand this. I have my doubts about any victories that the JVP has achieved. But yes, it is true that they have progressed as a movement.

Q: What is the future of the leftist movement in Sri Lanka?

A: Today we are facing a crisis in Sri Lanka. This crisis that we are facing is a result of economic policies carried out during the last 40 years in Sri Lanka. This is Neoliberalism. Neoliberalism was born in Chile. President of Chile, Gabriel Boric said – “If Chile was the cradle of Neoliberalism, it would also be its grave”. We feel that it is Neoliberalism that has brought about the present crisis in our country. The Communist Party of Sri Lanka feels that our duty is to find a way to bring Sri Lanka out of this crisis. We know that this economic crisis is what has brought about the political crisis and social crisis. The Communist Party’s biggest concern is bringing Sri Lanka out of this abyss. We know that some of the youth are leaving the country. There is a brain drain. Life is difficult. Poverty has risen. The Government has got the IMF bailout. We are facing a dollar crisis. But we need to generate dollars. But we do not see such a programme by the Government. In the past, imperialists controlled the world by having direct colonies; after the loss of colonies, they controlled the world through a system of neo-colonialism. When that was not effective, they switched to Neo liberalism, and Neoliberalism is their strategy. That strategy is what has got us to where we are now. Now we are dealing with Imperialism. If we are to fight Imperialism I think all patriotic forces in Sri Lanka must unite. All Leftist forces must unite. All democratic parties, progressive parties and nationalist parties must unite. All patriotic forces must unite to form one unified front. This is what we have before us. If the left is to have a future, there must be a country first of all. On our 80th anniversary we have an alternative social development programme. It has been designed to address the economic crisis. We would love to talk to other political parties about this programme. We would like to go to the people of Sri Lanka and share this programme with them. When I say political parties I mean, the left, democratic, progressive and nationalist. All parties must unite.

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