Published: Red Flag, [Organ of the Communist Party of Ceylon] No. 2, 1970.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Once again the game of politically deceiving the people through the fraud of bourgeois parliamentary democracy is in full swing. All parliamentary parties are busy administering huge doses of the opium of parliamentarism to the masses. Some ’learned’ and one-time revolutionaries have even pontificated that the coming general elections will be the biggest class struggle (!) that the country has ever seen! The bourgeois newspapers are working overtime to build up this election fever and contributing their mite towards the deception of the people.
That is why it is necessary for us, as a Party guided by the revolutionary philosophy of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought, to explain our attitude to these parliamentary elections and why we call upon the people to reject the bankrupt path of peaceful transition to socialism through parliament.
Let us, first of all, consider the context in which adult franchise was granted to us. It was in 1931 that, as a result of the recommendations of the Donoughmore Commission – at a time when we were directly ruled by British imperialism – adult franchise was cleverly foisted on a people whose leaders, with the exception of Mr. A. E. Goonesinghe, had not even asked for it.
Would anyone be so rash as to suggest that this action on the part of the British imperialists was motivated by feelings of benevolence and good-will towards the people of Ceylon whom they had conquered by force and were ruthlessly exploiting? Such a suggestion would stretch anyone’s imagination too much.
On the contrary, the British imperialists found in the fraud of adult franchise a convenient weapon to divide the Ceylonese people according to race, religion, caste and other trivial and sectarian issues and thus prevent and sabotage the growing unity of the anti-imperialist forces so that the imperialist masters could continue to ride on the backs of all sections of the people of Ceylon.
This was precisely what has happened. Well can the British imperialists look back upon a piece of work well done!
Let us also remember that all adults in Ceylon over the age of 21 were given the right to vote in 1931, at a time when the women of France – a very developed country of Europe – had not been given the franchise. French women got the right to vole only in 1945. The women of Switzerland– another developed European country–do not possess the franchise even today! Yet, our men and women have enjoyed this ’right’ from 1931. Now the voting age has been reduced to 18. Let us also remember that the reactionaries in the UNP did not oppose this move!
Surely, if the right to vote was such a good thing for us, the imperialists and the local reactionaries would not have been so keen about granting it to us! In any case, what is the essence of this much-boasted right? It is the right once in five years to use a blunt pencil inside a structure that resembles a rural toilet to mark your choice between two or more candidates about whose selection for nomination you had no say. The whole operation does not last even one minute.
Secondly, let us consider how many times our people have exercised this so-called right of franchise and also what kind of men and women they sent to the legislature by means of this process of elections. The people voted in 1931 for the first State Council, in 1936 for the second State Council, in 1947 to the first Parliament, in 1952 to the second Parliament and in 1956 to the third Parliament which brought to power Mr. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike. In 1960, as if voting once was not enough, the people voted twice. They voted again in 1965 and are going to vote again within a month’s time.
Through the exercise of this so-called right to vote, the people sent to the legislature many eminent men – graduates of Oxford and Cambridge, learned Barristers, fiery orators, able debaters, etc. Some of them, like Keuneman, have celebrated the 20th anniversary of their entry into Parliament. Others, like Dr. N. M. Perera, claim to have been there for an even longer period.
We are not disputing these claims. That some of these ’eminent’ and ’learned’ gentlemen had been members of the country’s legislature for nearly a quarter of a century and that they made clever and even good speeches is true. We, too, applauded them once. There are still others left to applaud them!
But that is not the question at issue. The question at issue is this: has the ruthless exploitation of the working people that existed in the country when the farce of adult franchise and parliamentarism began in 1931 been reduced even a little as a result of the wonderful speeches and efforts of these eminent gentlemen who rode to Parliament on the backs of the common man?
An honest answer has to be a plain “NO”!
Why is this? It is because the misery of the toiling people is due to the exploitation they suffer at the hands of the imperialists, the feudalists and the bourgeoisie; because the workers and peasants and the rest of the toiling people are compelled to sell their labour power at very low prices to the exploiting classes. While the exploiting classes grow more and more rich as the result of amassing huge profits through the creation of surplus value from the labour power of the working people, the toiling people themselves, get more and more impoverished as a result of this ruthless exploitation – which has continued unabated whichever party was in power in Parliament.
Elections have never altered this situation. This is for the simple reason that the exploitation by the capitalists and the landlords is not protected or safeguarded by Parliament but by the machinery of the State which has been built up at great expense by the exploiting classes in order that it can act as their watch dog. By the machinery of the State we mean principally the armed forces as well as the legal system, the judiciary, the jails and the highly-paid bureaucracy – all of which are not subject to any election but carry on irrespective of whichever party is in power.
These are the men who really carry on the business of governing the country –no matter who is nominally in power. So long as the capitalist system is safeguarded, they do not care whom they serve. The present Permanent Secretary to the Prime Minister was Permanent Secretary to Mr. Maithripala Senanayake during the last government. He can equally well serve both governments. So did Mr. Rajan Kadirgamar who has just retired as Head of the Navy. He was promoted as Naval Commander in 1962 by Mrs. Bandaranaike after Royce de Mel was involved in that year’s attempted coup. But Dudley Senanayake kept him on and added new duties on to him.
There are, of course, some changes. A bureaucrat is transferred from Colombo to Matara or from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya. But the State machine remains intact and is not influenced by changes at elections. We have had two Bandaranaike governments. But, has anyone heard of a son of a worker being appointed the Naval Commander? No. The top posts in the State machinery are reserved to men who come from classes whose interest it is to safeguard capitalism.
These are the men who constitute the machinery of the State which acts as the watch dog of exploitation. Every worker who has been on strike knows that his employer, be he white or brown, has only to lift his telephone and, within minutes, an armed police party would be at the gate – not to protect the workers but to protect the private property and the person of the employer. But, let any worker who has been assaulted by a foreman or whose legal wages had not been paid by the employer telephone for the police. There would be no response – clearly proving our contention that the police force, like the other armed forces, are nothing but the watch dogs of the exploiting classes. They certainly do other jobs, like directing traffic and occasionally apprehending a thief. But their fundamental duty is to safeguard exploitation. That is why wherever and whenever there is a strike, the first to arrive is the police jeep.
And, they come armed. They will not come empty-handed. There would be guns in their hands. Why the guns? Mr. J. R. Jayawardene answered this question once in Parliament when the Opposition moved a vote of no-confidence over the shooting of a Buddhist monk by the police on January 8, 1966. He asked the SLFP leadership: did you not give guns to the police during the days you ruled? What were the guns for? Were they for fishing?, he is reported to have asked.
No. The guns are for shooting and, if you shoot, people die. Therein lies the power of the State machinery. That is why the greatest Marxist-Leninist of our era, Comrade Mao Tsetung, said that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” In whose hands are the guns today? They are in the hands of the watch dogs of the exploiting classes. Therefore, political power is with them. Only when the guns change hands, only when the working class and its allies can snatch them from the hands of the watch dogs of exploitation, i.e., when they carry out revolution, only then will political power come to the working class and its allies. Only when the repressive bourgeois State machinery is smashed by force and replaced by the State machinery of the working class, which Marx termed the dictatorship of the proletariat, can the working class achieve liberation and march to socialism.
Lenin has pointed out: “There is not a single state, however democratic, which does not contain loopholes or limiting clauses in its constitution guaranteeing the bourgeoisie the possibility of despatching troops against the workers, of proclaiming martial law, and so forth, in case of a disturbance of the peace., i.e., in case the exploited class ’disturbs’ its position of slavery and tries to behave in a non-slavish manner.”
He further said: “The bourgeois parliament, however democratic and in however democratic a republic – is nothing but a machine for the suppression of millions of working people by a handful of exploiters – if the property and power of the capitalists is preserved.”
That is why he said: “Bourgeois democracy. . . . nevertheless remains and under capitalism cannot but remain restricted, truncated, false and hypocritical, a paradise for the rich and a snare and a deception for the exploited, for the poor.”
Lenin pointed out that “the forms of bourgeois states are extremely varied, but their essence is the same: all these states, whatever their form, in the final analysis, are inevitably the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.” Whatever be the form of bourgeois rule – whether it be open fascist dictatorship, constitutional monarchy or democratic republic – they are all different forms of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.
It is to cover this naked fact of the oppression of the toiling people by brute force exercised on behalf of the exploiting classes that the latter invented the farce of bourgeois parliamentary democracy. Parliament is an adornment, a veil to cover the naked dictatorship of Capital. The fraud of bourgeois parliamentary democracy was invented by the imperialists as a weapon to deceive and divide the people, to dampen their class consciousness and their fighting spirit by creating the illusion about the possibility of a peaceful transition to socialism through parliament and to distract people’s attention from the real seats of power, which are the armed forces. It is an attempt to substitute the struggle by words for the struggle by arms.
It must be said that, in Ceylon, the exploiting classes have had a measure of success in deceiving the people with the fraud of bourgeois parliamentary democracy. They have been considerably helped in this task by the fact that parties, like the LSSP and the Keuneman revisionist clique, which once claimed to represent the working class, also fell a prey to the blandishments of bourgeois parliamentary democracy. Without their help, the reactionaries would have found it very difficult to dupe the masses with the farce of bourgeois parliamentary democracy.
Just as you need two teams to play a game of football, so also the game of bourgeois parliamentary democracy can be played only if there are two parties or two sets of parties. The Dudley Senanayakes cannot carry on the parliamentary-game by themselves. They need the services of N. M. Pereras and Pieter Keunemans on the opposite side. That is why the government pays a higher salary to the Leader of the Opposition so that he or she may “oppose” the very Government that pays him to do so. That is also why the bourgeoisie has invented all the mumbo jumbo associated with parliament which are collectively called parliamentary conventions and which are held to be more sacrosanct than the law itself. The greatest upholders of these conventions and the most devout worshippers at the shrine of constitutionalism and parliamentarism are the erstwhile Left leadership.
Some of these conventions are worth investigation and exposure. During the last Parliament, the Member tor Kcsbewa was ordered by the Speaker to sit down. Because he refused to comply, the Speaker had the Sergeant-at-Arms to carry the Member out of Parliament. The Opposition moved a vote of no-confidence on the Speaker. Curiously, the main accusation made by the Opposition leaders was not that the police had been used to eject a Member of Parliament; but that, contrary to British parliamentary traditions, the Speaker had remained and looked on. In Britain, the Speaker, after giving the order, would have retired from the Chamber!
Take a look at another tradition. On budget day, during tea time, it is customary for all party leaders to sit for tea at the Finance Minister’s table. So, on this day, every year, you will see men who abuse each other outside, sit at the same table and drink tea! The idea that is sought to be put across is that, despite hurling of abuses during parliamentary debates and on public platforms, members from both sides of the House were agreed on preserving the status quo, the bourgeois parliamentary democratic system which is only synonym for capitalist exploitation. It is for the same reason that cricket matches are played with Dudley captaining one side and N. M. the other. After all, the parliamentary game is very similar to cricket – a friendly game among friends, members of the same or similar class, and played according to well-accepted rules to which both sides subscribe!
During a bye-election for the Ratgama seat, Pieter Keuneman went down to campaign for his party’s candidate. He stayed at the Hikkaduwa Rest House which was also the headquarters of the UNP Chief, Dudley Senanayake. After breakfast, both would go their different ways – Dudley to condemn the Communist Party from UNP platforms and Pieter to condemn the UNP from his platforms. In the noon, both would return to the Rest House, get into swimming suits and could be seen together watching fish in the sea. What a charming sight–according to some. But there you have the quintessence of bourgeois parliamentary democracy – a sham battle between men whose fundamental interests are the same but squabble over trifles.
Dr. Colvin R. de Silva, who is today running round the country shouting himself hoarse about the next general elections being the greatest class struggle that the country has seen, had no qualms about inviting the leader of the opposing class, Dudley Senanayake, to his daughter’s wedding feast. Does any representative of the working class, who is sincere about class struggle and revolution, invite the chief representative of the opposing capitalist class to a wedding feast?
Can there be a worse example of class collaboration? This kind of real class collaboration and sham fighting has become possible because leaders of the two coalitions on either side of the House, despite verbal protestations, are defending more or less the same kind of vested interests. That is why both sides showed no keenness on declaring their personal assets and allowed the Bill, which was to have compelled them to do so, to lapse without any fuss.
On all sides, we hear talks about socialism. But this talk is in direct proportion to the wealth they are amassing through exploitation. Lenin is once reported to have remarked: “When you talk to a social-democrat, do not look at his lips, watch his hands.” If we might slightly paraphrase it for Ceylon, “when you are talking to a socialist, do not look at his lips, count the number of estates he has got.”
Talk of socialism on public platforms and private accumulation of capital through exploitation. This is the double-standard of most leaders on both sides of the House. That is why none of them can be sincere in wanting to abolish exploitation and establishing socialism. The whole thing is a sham. Is there a single leader of the Coalition parties who spouts socialism on public platforms who is not himself living on the exploitation of the working people? Can such people – be believed when they say that they would abolish capitalist exploitation? Would it not be like committing suicide? Is this not double talk?
Parliamentarism also breeds opportunism of the worst sort. We saw the defection of LSSP stalwarts, like Jack Kotelawala and P. B. Wijesundera, to the UNP. Percy Wickremasinghe of the revisionist clique did likewise. Patty Mahatmaya of Galle crossed over from the UNP to the SLFP. All these somersaults were caused not by changes in political beliefs but because they were not allowed to contest the seats of their liking. If Jack is allowed to contest the seat he wants, he is LSSP. Otherwise, he is UNP. It is as easy as changing shirts.
The best example of opportunism is to be seen at Galle in connection with the coming general elections. The man who started political life as a candidate from the “Left” is today contesting from the Right. The man who consistently contested from the Right is today contesting from the “Left”.
Some might find consolation in that, despite the crossings, there is a Right and Left. Unfortunately, this is not so. That they are able to cross so easily only denotes that there is nothing basic that separates the Right from the so-called Left. That is also why there is such frequent talk of an alliance between the UNP and the SLFP to save the Sinhala race!
The same lesson has to be drawn from a recent article in the bourgeois press by an ex-MP to the effect that the ’Left’ has been moving to the Right while the Right has been moving to the ’Left’. If this is so, then both sides should meet somewhere in the centre. Then, what are we fighting about? It gives food for thought!
Other disgusting forms of crass opportunism are the example of men who claim to be believers in dialectical materialism beginning their election campaign by going on pilgrimage to Kataragama or by offering flowers at the foot of the statue of Lord Buddha! Or the example of erstwhile champions of the minorities stooping so low as to swallow the “Masala Vadai” line of the SLFP’s right-wing.
It is not necessary for us to point out that elections in Ceylon are synonymous with large-scale corruption, mass impersonation, bribery, the free flow of liquor, thuggery, etc. Where democracy comes in, we do not know. Or again, after all these years of “training” in democracy, can any party nominate a candidate for Balapitiya or Ratgama who does not belong to one particular caste? Or can any Jaffna seat be won by a member of the so-called depressed caste? Have we any right to talk of democracy after this?
All these instances of crass opportunism and the exposure of the fraud of bourgeois parliamentary democracy must at last open the eyes of all honest-minded people. They must realise that all these much publicised parliamentary struggles between so-called opposing parliamentary parties are all a sham and are only intended to deceive the people and to prevent them from embarking on the revolutionary path.
The people must understand that their present misery is due to the continued subjugation of our economy to foreign imperialist control and to the exploitation of the people by imperialism, feudalism and the bourgeoisie. Since the UNP, which is the party of the comprador bourgeoisie, returned to power in 1965, it has still further tightened the chains of our economy to the chariot wheels of foreign imperialism and has, thereby, plunged the country into a permanent state of economic crisis.
The cost of living has soared to its highest point. Essential consumer goods are unavailable. Unemployment has reached unmanageable proportions. People’s livelihood has been attacked by halving the rice ration and by devaluing the rupee three times.
Without overthrowing the UNP and its imperialist and feudal masters and, thereby, liberating our economy, and establishing a government under the leadership of the working class, there cannot be any amelioration in the conditions of the people. What the anti-UNP and anti-imperialist forces must realise is that defeating the UNP at the polls is not the same thing as overthrowing it. The UNP has been defeated twice in parliamentary elections. In 1956, when the UNP’s strength in Parliament was reduced to eight seats, there were pundits of the LSSP, like Dr. Colvin R. de Silva, who said that the last nail had been driven into the coffin of the UNP. Yet, today, the corpse has escaped from the coffin and is ruling the country.
The ability of the UNP to re-raise its ugly head and come back to power was due to the fact that, though defeated in an election, its economic base, which was foreign imperialism and feudalism, was not broken. As a result, foreign imperialism was able to revive the UNP back to power. That is why we say that the UNP cannot be overthrown except in the context of overthrowing foreign imperialism and feudalism. That is why we must not dissipate our energies in these futile attempts to defeat the UNP through elections but, instead, unite together all revolutionary forces and establish a revolutionary united front of the workers, the peasants, revolutionary intellectuals and all patriotic people to overthrow by force foreign and local reaction once for all.
Only through the forcible overthrow of foreign and local reaction through revolution and the establishment of a government led by the working class can the fundamental problems of the people be solved. There is no other way.
That is why we say that it is a deception to tell the people that the power of the UNP can be overthrown by defeating it at the polls. We wish to tell the people that without smashing the present imperialist-bourgeois repressive state machinery and without breaking up the imperialist-feudal-big bourgeois economic frame-work, no matter which party comes into power by means of bourgeois parliamentary democracy, the fundamental problems of the people cannot be solved.
This, of course, does not mean that we say that the UNP is not more reactionary than the SLFP. It is. It is the most reactionary party in the country, representing as it does the compradore bourgeoisie, which is straight-forwardly pro-imperialist. As against it, the SLFP represents the national bourgeoisie who are anti-imperialist to a certain extent. (We are not discussing the nature of the LSSP or the Keuneman revisionist clique because we consider them traitors to the working class movement and, therefore, counter-revolutionary in nature.)
There is no doubt that behind the SLFP, there is a potentially revolutionary section. But this potentiality can become a reality only in the course of anti-imperialist and anti-UNP revolutionary struggles. But, as long as they fall into the trap of bourgeois parliamentary democracy and help the UNP to deceive the masses, they will be playing a reactionary role. This is what they are doing today. They are helping the UNP to bolster up capitalism.
Some people are bound to ask whether, by our policy, we would not be indirectly supporting the UNP. It is our duty to answer this question. For answer, we ask the people to study the reply of Mrs. Bandaranaike to the boast of the Prime Minister that he was the first person to complete five years as Premier. What was her reply? That such an achievement was possible only because they (i.e., the Coalition) were a democratic Opposition. They did not seek to overthrow the UNP by extra-parliamentary methods. It is a fantastic confession to make. But it represents the truth.
Mrs. Bandaranaike is admitting the truth: that, when thousands of workers were dismissed or otherwise punished for participation in the January 8th strike, the Coalition parties rejected our call for a general strike; that, when the rice ration was halved, the Coalition parties refused to organise a second Hartal; that during the private sector general strike in 1967 and the government sector general strike in 1968, the Coalition parties rejected our call for organising a general strike in support of these strikes.
Were not these spineless policies which restricted all activities to the four walls of Parliament that were responsible for propping up the UNP for five miserable years? Can this be denied by any honest person? Can it lie in the lips of the supporters of the Coalition parties now to accuse those of us who refuse to participate in the fraud of telling the people that their fundamental problems could be solved through Parliament as being pro-UNP? A thousand times “No!”
To participate in the bourgeois parliamentary game where, like in a game of musical chairs, two parties or group of parties, with little differences on fundamental issues, replace each other within the existing political and economic setup is to perpetuate the deception of the people. Our Party refuses to be party to this crime.
All genuine opponents of the UNP must realise that the only way of overthrowing the UNP once for all is to smash by force the existing imperialist-bourgeois repressive State machinery and to replace it by the State machinery of the working class and its allies, which we call the dictatorship of the proletariat. Only then can we achieve the liberation of the toiling people. Only then can the fundamental problems of the people be solved!
It is towards this goal that we call upon all revolutionary and genuinely progressive forces to mobilise themselves.
April 22, 1970.