Sri Lankan academic campaigns for a dictatorship
Posted on July 4th, 2018

By K. Ratnayake  Courtesy World Socialist Web Site
4 July 2018

Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri, a professor at the University of Colombo, is conducting a thinly-veiled social media campaign for a dictatorship in Sri Lanka. Having previously postured as a supporter of democracy, Dewasiri is justifying his backing for a dictatorship by claiming it would be an inducement” for a democratic revolution.”

Dewasiri began his political career as a student radical in the mid-1980s and embraced postmodernism in the early 1990s. He is prominent as an opinion maker among academics, postmodernists, pseudo-lefts and sections of the media and has cultivated close relations with the Colombo political establishment. At the same time, Dewasiri openly opposes Marxism, socialism and the Russian Revolution.

In a Facebook comment, Dewasiri posed the rhetorical question: Why do we need [former defence secretary] Gotabhaya Rajapakse as next President [in Sri Lanka]?”

He then answered: The Sri Lankan democratic revolution would receive an inducement from a person who does not know an iota about democracy and, because of that, who does not hesitate to violate democracy, someone like Gota. Germany became democratic society, highly conscious about democratic values because Hitler came to power.”

The reference to Germany and the rise of the Nazis is telling as the Stalinist German Communist Party (KPD) employed the slogan After Hitler, our turn” to justify their passivity in the face of the danger posed by fascism. What emerged from Hitler’s coming to power, facilitated by the KPD’s splitting of the working class through its ultra-left denunciations of German Social Democracy, was not a turn to democracy but the systematic destruction of democratic rights and all workers’ organisations, and the opening of the road to war and the Holocaust that cost the lives of millions.

While Gotabhaya Rajapakse does not head a fascist movement, he is notorious for his wholesale abuse of democratic rights. An ex-colonel, he was installed as secretary of defence in December 2005 as his brother, former President Mahinda Rajapakse, resumed Colombo’s bloody communal war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

He is directly responsible for war crimes, including the massacre of tens of thousands in the final weeks of the conflict in 2009 and the activities of the military-backed death squads that carried out violent attacks, abductions and the murders of Tamils, political opponents and journalists. He also presided over the brutal crackdown on protests by workers and the poor, and would do so again if he came to power.

The only way of halting the drive towards dictatorship is through a political struggle to unify and mobilise the working class in a struggle for a workers’ and peasants’ government to implement a socialist program. However, just as Stalin and the KPD opposed the mobilisation of German workers, fearing it would trigger a movement of the Soviet working class, so Dewasiri is organically opposed to any fight for a socialist perspective by Sri Lankan workers.

Following up his initial comments, Dewasiri declared: Gota should be made president because he cannot be blocked.” He used an idiomatic term in Sinhala that means that one should kiss the hands of someone who one cannot defeat. He then blamed the Sri Lankan people who voted for the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) of Mahinda Rajapakse in local elections in February, falsely claiming that the tendency of the society [in Sri Lanka] is towards a dictatorship.”

In reality, the bulk of the vote for the SLPP was not support for the Rajapakses but a protest against the current right-wing national unity” government led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. It was helped to power by various pseudo-left groups and NGOs such as Citizens’ Power and the National Moment of Social Justice (NMSJ) in which Dewasiri was a leader.

These groups all campaigned for Sirisena against Mahinda Rajapakse in the January 2015 presidential election claiming that he would usher in a new government that would provide good governance, democracy and reconciliation.” It was a blatant lie. Sirisena had been a minister in the Rajapakse government and is thus responsible for all its crimes. His chief ally—the United National Party of Ranil Wickremesinghe—has a long history of authoritarian rule.

The ousting of Rajapakse was a regime-change operation orchestrated from Washington on the basis of a bogus human rights” campaign. The US, which had backed Rajapakse in his brutal war against the LTTE, was not concerned about democratic rights but the ties that his government developed with China. But the US, and its stooges in Colombo, could not have pulled off the operation without the assistance of figures like Dewasiri who dressed up Sirisena and Wickremesinghe in democratic clothes.

Three years later, the warnings made by the Socialist Equality Party (SEP) have proven correct. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government has ruthlessly implemented the austerity demands of the International Monetary Fund and has not hesitated to use the military and the police against the mounting opposition, protests and strikes by workers and the poor. These struggles have produced a major political crisis within the government, which was compounded by its humiliating defeat in the February local elections by Rajapakse’s SLPP.

The response of Dewasiri is symptomatic of a sharp shift to the right by the various middle-class groups that backed Sirisena and Wickremesinghe. Terrified by the emerging struggles of the working class, they are all backing police-state measures to crush any opposition.

Wickremabahu Karunaratne, leader of the pseudo-left Nava Sama Samaja Party (NSSP), is sticking by the government and calling on Prime Minister Wickremesinghe to use the police to silence his rivals. Karunaratne also supports the use of police against striking workers, who he has accused of being in cahoots with the Rajapakses.

Dewasiri has taken different track, throwing his lot in with Gotabhaya Rajapakse, who has issued a call for a strong leader” for Sri Lanka and is campaigning through his right-wing Viyath Maga movement to become the next president. He is backed by Sinhala chauvinist groups, along with sections of the military and big business elite, who are looking to him to crush the working class (see: Ex-Sri Lankan defence secretary calls for brutal big business regime”).

On June 20, Gotabhaya Rajapakse’s birthday, a top Buddhist prelate Vedaruvey Upali urged him: If they call you a Hitler, then be a Hitler and build this country.” The monk went on to declare that he should become even a military ruler,” in order to end the country’s instability. The reactionary Buddhist establishment is a major prop of capitalist rule in Sri Lanka and this leading monk is expressing the sentiments of sections of the bourgeoisie.

On the same day, Dewasiri displayed Gotabhaya Rajapakse’s photo with a beaming smile on his Facebook page and wished him happy birthday.” This obsequious greeting to an aspiring dictator makes clear that Dewasiri and the middle-class layers he represents are embracing Rajapakse, not because he believes that his victory will usher in a democratic revolution” in the future, but precisely the opposite. They hope that such a regime will viciously suppress the working class so as to maintain capitalist rule and their own privileged existence.

As the SEP alone has insisted all along, the only social force capable of defending basic democratic rights is the working class as an essential component of the political struggle for a workers’ and peasants’ government to implement socialist policies. It is this revolutionary perspective to which Dewasiri and his ilk are utterly opposed.

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