4th May 1997

The JVP without the revolution?

By Rajpal Abeynayake


Can the JVP sur vive in an ideological vacuum? The JVP seems to have regained some of its romance . The most organised rally at Thursday's May Day celebrations was the JVP rally.

The JVP is high profile, but also it seems that the JVP now faces an identity crisis.

The JVP was always the revolutionary party. There is no going behind this.

On many occasions, the JVP made attempts to recast itself as a "workers party" or a "left party." It may be all of these things, tangenitally, but primarily, the JVP has been the party of the violent revolution.

Today, the JVP has to necessarily say that the party has abandoned its "revolutionary course."

That is almost a survival exercise. Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte has already announced that a violent JVP will not be tolerated.

But, what can be said for a JVP that is not revolutionary? It is a fact that the JVP loses its main ideological peg when it ceases to be revolutionary. Simply said, the Cold War is over.

Revolutions of the oppressed working classes, however legitimate (or romantic) such exercises sound, are history.

No post Cold War revolution has occurred. In a post Cold War environment, how does a party such as the JVP position itself?

Basically, once it jettisons the concept of the revolution, the JVP reduces itself to a party of the stature and character of the British Labour Party, or the Communist Party of Sri Lanka.

That is the reality. The JVP has today positioned itself against the communist party and the old Sri Lankan left, and alleged that the old left is passé.

But, the function of the JVP today is the same as the function of any of the parties of the old left.

It is a party committed to upgrading the lot of the working class through the process of the establishment.

Now, this might sound like something that the JVP did out of political expediency, a charade of sorts that the JVP has had to resort to, due to the fact that two JVP "revolutions'' have failed.

But, perhaps there is a different perspective on this. The Cold War was over some five years back.

The JVP relied mostly on the youth component. These youth were easily impressionable because they harboured an inherent grievance against the system.

But how fast these parameters have changed! The youth who are coming into mainstream political consciousness, the youth in the early twenties, probably knew nothing of functioning communism.

They will know nothing of functioning communism either, unless they hear about a queer place called Cuba.

How would the JVP enthuse such youth about the "impending socialist revolution" when socialism does not palpably exist?

Ideologues and old faithfuls of the JVP would say that a "revolution" does not need a beacon in the Soviet Union to guide its course.

Technically, that would be true. It could be argued that "oppression'' is the only necessary ingredient for fomenting and legitimising revolution.

For instance, the Shining Path and the Tupac Amaru function as anti-establishment movements even though there is no tangible support either ideologically or materially from the direction of ( what used to be ) the Soviet Union.

But, what's moot is whether any of these are revolutionary movements in the true sense?

Whither the state, if any of these revolutions succeed? Is Peru going to enthrone a communist regime, in splendid Latin American isolation?

Sincere ideologues will definitely argue that this line of thinking is all tosh.

They will say that oppression remains, and as long as oppression remains the concept of the revolution cannot be extinguished.

Oppression remains, but do the means of dealing with the oppression of the working classes remain the same?

When it has become obvious that it is difficult for a communist regime to exist in splendid isolation ( e.g. .Cuba) could a revolutionary party such as the JVP enthuse the mass mind that there will be emancipation after the struggle? Simply put, after the revolution, then what?

To the post Cold War generation, this will be a most pertinent question.

They wouldn't expect the JVP to resurrect something from history, or to regurgitate global communism?

The JVP would have addressed this ideological question, and judging from the stance of the JVP, the party has positioned itself as the champion of the working classes.

The champion which will redress the wrongs done to the working classes by its previous champions, the old left.

The JVP for instance sees the debacle of the old left as arising from their alignment with "capitalist parties." The JVP sees itself as the left party with the clean slate the unadulterated version .

But, at a time when the revolution is a thing of the past, the JVP, unadulterated or not, will have to work within the structure of the establishment.

To an extent , the current JVP seems to be succeeding in this pursuit - looking at the way the JVP high command went into raptures about the 101 seats the party won at the recent elections.

But, for the JVP to be a champion of the working classes, perhaps, it will necessarily have to re-orient its image .

Perhaps, the JVP will not capture power, democratically, for another two decades.

In that case, the JVP will have to be the party that fights for the working classes from within the establishment structure, which begs the question how different will the JVP be from the old left?

Perhaps the JVP hopes to do efficiently, what the old left did inefficiently. But, for the JVP to morph itself into a party that accepts the capitalist economy, will be to jettison part of its image and identity. That's difficult for any party to do.

But, if the JVP wants to stage a rebellion, there is always the room for it as long as there is a sense of grievance.

If the JVP cannot change the system, but merely replaces the ruling cabal, won't the 'revolution'' of the JVP (when it happens) be a coup, or an insurgency?

These questions necessarily have a simplistic ring to them. But, many grand concepts have simple underpinnings.

For instance, how did the Soviet Union collapse in a matter of months...?


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