The parliament of Sri Lanka, whose understanding of democratic government is limited to the bourgeois parliamentary system, was based on the British model as was its system of election. The Left, like the Right, know that it was not in the interest of the working people. From the outset, the Communist Party (CP) urged People’s Democracy. However, parliamentary and local government elections contributed to the illussion that the people had a say in bourgeois parliamentary government. The CP, which while working towards a genuine democratic alternative to the bourgeois parliamentary system was aware that keeping off the electoral process could isolate it from the masses and that there were basic rights of the working people that could be won through Parliament, chose to tactically participate in parliamentary politics. And that was correct.
The Left knew that― besides obstacles such as the financial muscle of the capitalist class, its access to media resources for propaganda and intervention by governmental establishment standing in the way of a left political party taking parliamentary political power ―even if the left captured parliamentary power despite heavy odds, any step by it that hurt capitalist class power risked intervention by the state machinery and international capital on behalf of the local capitalist class.
Nevertheless, the Lanka Samasamaja Party (LSSP), belonging to the Trotskyite tradition of Sri Lanka, was tempted by the prospect of forming government by mobilizing a parliamentary majority. Although the total number of parliamentary seats won by the three left parties in the General Election of 1947 gave room for such an illusion, the true electoral strength of the Left at the time was neither island-wide nor based on adequate political instruction. The Hartal of 1953, however, indicated the prospect of expanding the left movement across the country. But the LSSP, which misinterpreted the mass resentment of the United National Party (UNP) regime as island wide support for the Left, neglected all mass politics other than electoral politics. When Bandaranaike seized in 1956 the electoral political space which the Left failed to capture, the leadership, instead of building a people’s political base, immersed themselves deeper in the mire of parliamentary politics.
Ten years after the Hartal, opportunity came in 1963 in the form of the “21 Demands” campaign of the Joint Committee of Trade Unions and the formation of the United Left Front comprising the three left parties of the time. This opportunity to reunite the left― which has continued to be divided since the 1930’s ―and secure the demands of the workers was wrecked by the decision of the LSSP to join the Sri Lanka Freedom Party government in 1964. Thus a chance for the revival of the Left was let slip. Besides, in 1964, the rise of parliamentary opportunist politics within the LSSP and the CP led to splits in both parties.
Post-1964 parliamentary left politics led to the tragic situation where the Left, almost entirely, could not win any parliamentary seat without the support of the SLFP. Although the LSSP and the CP were boastful of the number of seats that they secured in the General Election of 1970 with help from the SLFP, the election of 1977 revealed their real strength.
Betrayals by the parliamentary left very much helped the chauvinist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) to grow strong using a leftist facade. Besides, tactical mistakes of the revolutionary left too benefitted the JVP. The ‘proportional representation system’ introduced in 1978, which benefited the JVP and minority nationality parties, further weakened the parliamentary left. The New Left Front founded in 1999 to rescue the left movement from this sad plight was wrecked by the craving of the leader of the Nava Samasamaja Party (NSSP) for position. This experience which hampered the revival of the left movement was also a warning against those with interest in the parliamentary path.
The three political parties belonging to the Samasamaja tradition with significant social activity stumbled after 2005. One joined Mahinda Rajapaksa only to degenerate rapidly. The other two warmed up to the UNP, with one now reduced to a propaganda organ of the National Government led by the UNP. Meanwhile, the parliamentary left is miserably caught between blatant support for Mahinda Rajapaksa and shameless support for the UNP. Their main political issue is not the grave economic crisis facing the country; nor is it the national question. It is the question of choice between Ranil Wickremesinghe and Mahinda Rajapaksa. The political privation which haunted parliamentary left politics during the two elections of 2015― when political bankruptcy with no programme other than being rid of the executive presidency, or more precisely the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, clashed with blind faith in Mahinda Rajapaksa ―still prevails.
This is time for deep thinking by members and supporters of all left parties. Genuine leftists and other progressives should dare to challenge the leaders who meekly follow the two reactionary camps that treat the people like herd; to reject the ruining of the country under capitalist and imperialist diktat, in compromise with chauvinism; and to evolve a solid political alternative. It is only through a credible alternative political programme that the left movement can grow and lead the people.
The prospect for it is in the making and growing. Mass initiatives for democratic revival and moves towards a united front in which genuine leftists and other progressives could work together are afoot in the spheres of political theory and mass struggle. The New Democratic Marxist Leninist Party is working hard, shoulder to shoulder with other good left and progressive forces.
Marxist Leninist New Democracy sends its revolutionary greetings to genuine leftists and other progressives to advance courageously to enfeeble the tendency to seek shelter reactionary capitalist camps, totally reject the parliamentary path incapable of resolving the problems of the country, and evolve and implement with revolutionary clarity of mind a fresh political alternative.