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In Sri Lanka’s crisis, a new president and old problems

B. SKANTHAKUMAR

 

Sri Lanka has a new president. On 20th July, parliament in accordance with the Constitution elected by clear majority the acting president and former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. He succeeds Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was forced to vacate the presidency on 9th July and flee abroad, after resisting months of demands for his resignation in the public backlash to the island’s worsening economic crisis.

Wickremesinghe had been the pundit’s favourite in what began as a four-horse race, since the majority party in parliament – the Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP—People’s Front) of the Rajapaksa clan – declared in his favour. Hostility to his nomination from within the SLPP, smaller parties once aligned to it, and opposition parties, echoing the sentiments of substantial opinion within the unstructured protest movement, proved inadequate.

This result confirms the lack of public legitimacy of the 225-member parliament, expressed in the slogan of the Janatha Aragalaya (‘People’s Struggle’): “No to the 225!” The ineffectiveness of parliamentarians to arrest and address the breakdown of the economy and provide solutions to the people’s needs had in any case damaged trust and confidence in it. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s election is the last nail in the coffin. It fuels further political instability. The pressure for an early general election to choose new legislators will now grow.

Alongside the Rajapaksas, whose maladministration, nepotism and kleptocracy are now blamed by the ethnic majority Sinhala populace for Sri Lanka’s bankruptcy, Wickremesinghe has no popular mandate. His United National Party (UNP), an affiliate of the International Democratic Union that includes the Conservative Party, was wiped off the electoral map in 2020. It secured one seat through proportional representation. His surprise appointment as prime minister in May, was rightly seen as a deal within the political elite to safeguard the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration in return for a share in state power

As Wickremesinghe now assumes office as president, Sri Lanka is under a state of emergency that he proclaimed on 18th July. This suspension of democratic rights vests greater powers in him, including use of the military to clamp down on public protests. Already, a court order has been established to begin removing people who have besieged the president’s office in a continuous protest (‘GotaGoGama’) since early April, providing a rallying point to the movement across the island.

Meanwhile, big business, the upper middle class and mainstream media are already calling for the Aragalaya to wind up. It has accomplished their goal of reining in the Rajapaksas and securing a neoliberal in the highest office of state. The new president and the coalition government he will form in the coming days, should in their view now be allowed to stabilise the turbulent political order, as a precondition for economic stability.

The unlikely vehicle for such stability is the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The multilateral agency is expected to provide a funding line to a state whose coffers are empty – usable foreign exchange reserves are around USD250 million, which is under four days equivalent of imports – and that has nowhere left to borrow from.

Sri Lanka has lost access to the international capital markets through which it accumulated almost half of its US$51 billion external debt. Its sovereign credit rating was downgraded even further following a default on debt repayments in April. China, an important new lender in the Rajapaksa era, has held back on new credit during the crisis. India stepped in with bridging finance for imports of fuel and fertiliser, but this too is now exhausted.

This will be Sri Lanka’s 17th agreement with the IMF since 1965. In the decades in between, the country’s reliance on foreign loans and stock of debt has only increased sharply. Exhausted by the daily struggle of finding transport to move around for want of petrol and diesel; the scarcity of medicines (80% are imported) and cooking gas; the lack of forex to finance inputs in manufacturing, agriculture and services; and soaring food prices accompanied by shortfalls in domestic production; inflation spiking at 60% and wages trailing far behind; the consensus across social classes is that an IMF ‘bail-out’ will somehow rescue the economy.

In anticipation of the IMF’s structural adjustment conditionalities, the government had already increased the pump price for fuel by 300% and abandoned consumers to price-fixing by the cartels that supply the staple food, rice, as well as milk powder and sugar among other basic commodities. Once other reforms begin rolling out, including reduction of the state sector payroll – one in seven of the work force – rollback of public expenditure, user fees in education and health (that are free of charge though under-resourced), and ‘targeting’ of social programmes, the burden on the poor and lower middle class will only become more unbearable.

The election of the new president and evidence of his majority in parliament, along with the achievement of the initial objective of the protest movement to throw out the former president, will likely see some fall in support and intensity of public protest.

However, the co-dependence between Ranil Wickremesinghe and the Rajapaksas is a liability to both. There is no guarantee that the new cabinet of ministers he cobbles together will last long, as everyone schemes to minimise their culpability for what is a structural crisis of dependent capitalism and secure their political future in an upcoming general election.

On the streets and in social media, the activists of the Aragalaya have vowed to maintain their opposition to the Wickremesinghe-led government, including the ongoing occupation of the entrance and grounds of the president’s office and other sites in public places across the island. Their campaign for reduction in the executive powers of the all-powerful presidency will continue, pending constitutional change that abolishes these in toto. The democratic consciousness of the movement is high. There are novel demands for right of recall of elected representatives and the right to have referendums on matters of national importance.

While the largely Sinhala people’s movement has yet to confront the gross violation of human rights during Sri Lanka’s 26-year internal war and reckon with the demands of the Tamil nation for justice for war crimes, truth over the disappeared, and for internal self-determination, this difficult dialogue has begun among its most conscious elements. Already its most recent demands include the release of Tamils in long-term detention and for an end to racism, including the rampant post-war Islamaphobia directed at the ethno-religious Muslim minority. Whatever challenges are ahead, the gains of this moment and movement must be defended.

 

From International Viewpoint

Radical Socialist Perspectives: National and International

Adopted by the All-India Conference, May 27-29, 2022

            Our historical lineage is traced to those Marxist currents, that were committed to the pursuit of a democratic socialism that transcends capitalism, rejects one-party rule and seeks to institutionalize a much deeper and wider form of democracy in all respects--social, economic, cultural and political—that goes well beyond the limits imposed by the nature of capitalist liberal democracy and resolutely opposed to Stalinism from the left. In this regard it is a historical fact that only certain forces established (relative to all other anti-Stalinist currents) an organized body of resistance howsoever weak that carried the banner of theoretical-political opposition and on the ground practical resistance to Stalinism worldwide albeit it was unevenly spread geographically. Historically, the Fourth International (United Secretariat) was the largest and most important such current, keeping alive the principles and practice of proletarian internationalism. 

1.      Nationally, this means moving towards the overthrow/replacement of bourgeois capitalist rule in which the working class majority and its social allies will for the first time rule through newly institutionalized democratic structures that are both direct and indirect. “Politics is that domain of social life that is concerned with how we arrive at and give effect to collectively binding decisions and rules.”  

            Even among the working class there are sectoral divisions and categories. To maximize popular control and influence over decisions that in closer and more distant ways affect the actual lives of people, RS subscribes to the application of the principle of subsidiarity and therefore of structures that are both de-centralised and united pyramidically. 

2.      The post-capitalist worker’s state that we must strive for will be a ‘transitional society’ and is not a socialist order. We reject the notion of ‘socialism in one country’ since the construction of a socialist order will necessarily be extra-regional and more global involving powerful solidarities between the more developed and less developed parts of the world. 

            As it is, the transcendence of capitalism worldwide has become more necessary than ever before and will require much greater levels of global cooperation between countries as a matter of immediate urgency. This is the only way to decisively overcome the five great evils of our time, two of which threaten in large part or whole, the human species itself.  

            These are (i) Ecological devastation through and in addition to climate change.; (ii) The danger of a nuclear holocaust. (iii) Persistence of mass poverty (undernourishment and malnourishment as well as unmet basic needs) amidst obscenely rising inequalities of income and wealth. (iv) The rise of rightwing /far-right regimes and forces based on the ‘politics of cultural exclusivisms’ in one or more of its variants, namely ethnicity, race, religion, nation; (v) Regularly repeated global health pandemics resulting from a) seriously shrinking distances between wildlife domains and substantial human habitation; b) industrial farming including concentrated factory-based forms of livestock production; c) growing urban megapolises replete with massive slums; d) seasonal and regular migration flows between urban and non-urban areas; e) global tourism. 

            The need to forge an institutional embodiment of a progressive internationalism that is anti-capitalist is more urgent now. We cannot overcome the above evils within capitalism even as we can and must pursue crucial reforms to address these dilemmas. 

3.      The nation-state, however, remains the initial terrain on which bourgeois domination must be defeated. Success here will have a dramatic ‘spread effect’; the bigger or more developed the country in which this takes place, the more powerful its global impact and likely emulation. 

4.      We must recognize the new historical conjuncture of global capitalist development and draw the proper lessons. The first great global crisis of capitalism---the Great Depression---was partially overcome by New Deal type policies and more decisively by the emergence of the war economy in several countries. 

            The mass mobilization of the working class during WWII in advanced countries and therefore its carry over effect after 1945, along with the survival of the USSR and then the breakaways from capitalism of China, Yugoslavia, Albania, Easter Europe (under Soviet tutelage), North Korea, North Vietnam, proved decisive for the establishment of Keynesianism and of mass-scale welfare measures. 

            The Keynesian crisis of the mid-70s onwards and the major political defeats of working class power in N. America, UK and Western Europe in the early 80s enabled the turn towards neoliberalism as the new system of capital accumulation. Here the prior political shift in the class relationship of forces between labour and capital in the advanced capitalist world was the pre-condition for the more secure establishment of neoliberal globalization---an order further reinforced by the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the shift towards state capitalism in China which massively increased the size of the labour market available at much more depressed average wage levels for transnational capital. 

            The last great crisis of global capitalism arising from its internal contradictions was the 2008-12 ‘Great Recession’. However, unlike on previous occasions this time instead of a new system of capital accumulation being inaugurated, there was the re-assertion of the same neoliberal pattern of accumulation. This is because the working class and its potential peasant and other allies have not been able to shift the socio-political relationship of forces in its own favour.  

            Two consequences have followed: a) In response to the continuing impoverishment and inequalities as well as the psychic disorientations caused by neoliberal globalization, in a context where socialist progressive forces have been relatively so weak, has resulted in the rise of rightwing/far-right forms of authoritarian populisms. b) Given the massive political shifts of the relationship of forces in favour of capital against labour, the belief that one can ‘restore’ and ‘stabilize’ the old kind of welfarist-Keynesian order in the advanced countries or that we can succeed in establishing in most of Africa, South and Central America, Asia the kind of capitalist developmentalism that emerged in a few Southeast Asian countries, is a chimera. 

            This is because, to break from this neoliberal order, the shift in power relations in favour of labour will have to be much greater than ever before, given the transformation in the nature of the states themselves that now serve and protect the strongest sections of their respective capitalist ruling classes. This means that the process of reversing this huge political gap in relative class power will have to make such great strides that it will unavoidably threaten the very existence of capitalist ruling classes. That is to say, it will inevitably put the question of transition beyond capitalism on the political agenda, i.e., to reach the level where the working class and allies can successfully threaten the neoliberal system of capital accumulation will at the same time threaten the existence of the capitalist class itself. There is not and will not be an alternative to neoliberal capitalism and the dominance of finance in all the countries—richer or poorer---where it currently reigns. 

            China is the one exception which will not be repeated anywhere precisely because its ruling elites broke away from the capitalist order and later returned to it on their own terms. The political relationship of forces and power between the state and its capitalists (key sections of which are imbricated with and dependent upon the state) make it fundamentally different from all other capitalist countries. It is possible that China might transit over time towards the kind of system of capital accumulation that exists elsewhere but that remains to be seen. 

5.      What is the key implication that follows from this existing reality of the neoliberal capitalist character of the global order? This has to do with what can be called the ‘path to revolutionary change in the nature of the state’. Elections are now held in most of the world’s countries even those that are highly authoritarian or becoming increasing so, such as the US, India and others conventionally characterized as ‘liberal democratic’ polities. The Maoist path of trying to create ‘liberated zones’ from where to launch a “prolonged peoples war” of “countryside surrounding the cities” can, for a host of reasons we do not need to go into here, be considered a dead-end and must be rejected as such. 

6.      This leaves two basic strategies for revolutionaries seeking to transcend capitalism insofar as they correctly understand, as Lenin said, that addressing the question of state power remains central. Each of these two strategies believes that it is the realistic one which has drawn the proper lessons from the course of history in regard to revolutionary struggles and its successes and failures. 

            The first sees revolutionary change including the transformation of the bourgeois capitalist state as only a gradual and accumulative process of achieved reforms. This process must be peaceful and will not involve a violent confrontation with the state which radical forces cannot hope to win and therefore must be avoided at all costs. 

            The second approach sees revolutionary change as both a process and an event. Yes, we have to fight for cumulative reforms but we believe that no capitalist ruling class or its state managers will ever give up its power and position without resort to the armed apparatus of the state. As both Weber and Marx have pointed out---ultimately the state is at rock-bottom 'bodies of armed men'!  

7.      What this means is that a) there has to be a politics of appeal and intervention directed to this armed apparatus that aims to not just neutralize but win over important sections of it. This is possible if one can establish a solidity and scale of mass support precisely at those key times (which can never be anticipated long beforehand) when the state is in deep crisis and its radical overthrow becomes a real possibility. b) Since we have been in a prolonged period of low-level class struggle, a transitional perspective will be to push for left oriented reforms, conceivable only if there is active mass support on a sufficient scale constantly demanding as much. This politics will involve the pursuit of various kinds of reforms better termed as 'anti-capitalist structural reforms' as embodied in the Trotskyist Transitional Programme that not only materially improve the condition of the working class and poor, but actually help to enhance the organizational-political power of the working class, i.e., shift the class relationship of forces in its favour. As times change so also must new reform projects emerge. Thus growing awareness of the ecological devastation requires us, for example, to demand a transition from fossil fuels to renewables even as the current reality makes more necessary than ever  the transcendence of capitalism itself. 

            Since both adherents of the first and second approach have a very long way to go towards the final culmination of their projects, there is no reason why this should prevent a ‘collective long march’ of struggling together for a host of reforms. Of course tactical differences may well arise on issues and struggles but these will also emerge among those who share the same basic long term ‘strategic line of march’ i.e., agree on the path to revolutionary change and victory. We must be alert however to the possibility of sudden and dramatic positive shifts in the relationship of class forces and the opportunities thereby presented. 

8.      This issue of tactics and tactical alliance will emerge and what we do in this regard will be based on the general principles we uphold and the concrete circumstances we encounter. Alliances may well take place on specific issues or sets of demand between revolutionary groups and other left and social democratic groups. Issue based joint struggles can happen even with bourgeois parties and organizations on occasions.  

            In the Indian context, the RS makes important distinctions between Maoist groups, the mainstream left of CPI//CPM (which are basically social democratic parties maintaining a more radical rhetoric while sections are moving rightwards) and left parties with different historical origins, like the RSP, which moved from a position close to revolutionary Marxism to a more parliamentary one; or the CPI(ML) Liberation, which has moved from Maoism to adopting a mass orientation as well as occasionally a pure electoralism, these being parties that have conflicting positions on critical questions. Then there are bourgeois formations which are in their overall programme and practice rightwing but nevertheless qualitatively different from the BJP-RSS-/Sangh which is the most dangerous far-right force either a fascist variant or having pronounced fascist characteristics. However, these other bourgeois forces are increasingly accommodating themselves to the policies and perspectives of the Sangh Parivar. Theoretical agreement on the precise characterization of the Sangh Parivar and its components may differ but it is the programmatic agreement on how best to fight it in the short, medium and longer term that is far more important.  

            We believe that the Sangh is seeking to expand its hegemony and that if it is in the longer term to be decisively and permanently defeated then there has to be the creation in India of a resolutely revolutionary and much more democratically ‘renewed Left’. This can be expressed in the form of a new party or---given the inescapable heterogeneity of the working class---a set of parties that will have to work together. 

9.      RS believes in the necessity of creating a new Left and that history has so far shown that the most important organizational form for the successful pursuit of revolutionary ends has remained the party. RS is committed to the building of such a formation. It does not see itself as the nucleus of such a party which will then grow through a steady accumulation of forces around this ‘true and only’ revolutionary force. Rather more modestly and realistically it sees itself as one element in the pursuit of building such a nucleus or one such nuclei. A process of dialogue and collaborative practice with other revolutionary groups and radical progressive movements is the way that this desired outcome can be realized. 

10.  Internationally, the RS seeks to participate in the building of a revolutionary Communist International. 

 

Resolution on Reservations

Adopted by the All-India Conference of Radical Socialist, May 27-29, 2022

 

1.    We support reservations as part of measures to reduce social oppression as a strong form of affirmative action. We support the demand for extension of SC/ST reservation to Muslims and Christians wherever applicable.

2.    Reservation is not a purely economic, job-creation measures, so reservation is not the road for tackling economic deprivation, and particularly not a measure intended for economically less advantaged persons from oppressor castes (which means we oppose EWS).

3.    The tensions over reservations conceal the reality that reservations in education and jobs exist only for government, public sector and state-aided institutions. For the last three decades and more, governmental expenditure to create jobs and educational opportunities (new schools and colleges, UGC grants, and other forms), have been shrinking. As a result, right now the reserved jobs amount to around 1.5% of the total number of salaried jobs in India. We therefore condemn the attacks on reservation as casteist and motivated.

4.    We demand the application of a properly formulated roster system for recruitment in reserved categories, with prescribed penalty for managements who do not follow this.

5.    We demand an expansion of overall jobs, and educational opportunities, especially permanent jobs in government/public sector/government aided sectors, through increase in public expenditure.

6.    We demand a reversal of the privatization of education.

7.    We demand the expansion of reservations to the private sector as well.

8.    We demand affirmative action in other forms, notably greater investment in schools, hostels etc. for the Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs.

Resolution on Revolutionary Organization and Electoral and Parliamentary Politics

[Adopted by All India Conference, May 27-29, 2022]

 

I.                The Historic Experience:

Classical Marxism has insisted on the maximum expansion of democracy. By designating the Paris Commune as an example of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat,  Marx and Engels indicated that the term was equivalent for them to workers’ democracy. But the historic experience has also been that the road to workers’ democracy does not lie through a simple expansion of democracy by peaceful, especially electoral means. Classical Marxism has therefore stressed the need to prioritise and combine mass mobilizations and extra-electoral struggles with elections and parliamentary activities. It has rejected pure legalism, i.e., it has supported ‘illegal’ or ‘wildcat’ strikes, opposed state regulation of unions which ensure tame, pro-government trade unions, it has supported road blockages, occupation of public spaces, and so on. In cases of open dictatorships it has also supported mass resistance to dictators (as in Nazi occupied Europe, or in colonies, etc) while keeping the focus on proletarian and popular resistance, not individual or small group substitutionist actions. Electoralism was not historically the main arena for Marx-Engels, Luxemburg, Lenin or Trotsky. But they took elections seriously, for specific purposes.

 

II.              Boycottism:

Boycotts are historically justified under specific circumstances. Thus, when elections are held under conditions of complete absence of rights (not merely restriction of rights), or when elections are presented as alternatives to actual revolutionary upsurges, they can be boycotted. Even referenda can be boycotted, as when the Indian takeover of Sikkim was followed by a referendum that asked the people of Sikkim to vote jointly for a rejection of the monarchy (which they mostly disliked) and joining India instead of making these the subjects of two separate votes. However, making boycott of elections a matter of ‘principle’ has nothing in common with the classical Marxist position.

 

III.           The Uses and Abuses of Lenin’s Left-wing Communism—An Infantile Disorder

The lessons of the Russian revolution were often misread in the early years of the Communist International. This was the context in which Lenin wrote his pamphlet, stressing the need to work in trade unions, to work in the electoral arena, and so on. He emphasized that participation in a bourgeois parliament is obligatory and specifically for educating the working class, in particular its more backward, politically less conscious elements, because they have great illusions about the benefits conferred by bourgeois democracy. Hence there is a need for demystification from within the institutions of bourgeois democracy. But this must be coupled with two core Marxist arguments—that the emancipation of the working classes must be a task of the working classes themselves, and that to achieve this goal the starting point must be independence of the working class from bourgeois politics and ideology. Accordingly, when Lenin’s arguments about participating in elections, supporting the Labour Party, are twisted to call for votes for bourgeois parties, or when Lenin’s call to enter the British Labour Party is distorted into calls to join bourgeois parties, these go against the basic politics of Marxism.

IV.           The Long-Term Success of Bourgeois Democracy and its Implications for Revolutionary Politics:

(a)  Arguments from the late 19th and early 20th centuries need to be re-examined in the light of the experience of the past one hundred years. Contrary to what Engels or Lenin had thought, bourgeois democracy proved more durable and tenacious. On one hand, the very existence, however briefly, of workers’ democracy made the ruling classes take bourgeois liberal democracy as a form seriously, even as they strove to dilute its content more and more. From rule of the people as it had been with the Greeks, democracy was reduced to the act of voting, and that too in as undemocratic a way as the ruling classes could manage (the First Past the Post [FPTP] system in many countries, the large-scale role of money power, restrictions on who can vote, and other kinds of measures).  On the other hand, the masses wanted to sustain and strengthen it from below. The historical experience of the extreme right (fascism in Germany and Italy, fascist-turned Bonapartist and other extreme right regimes in Spain, Portugal, Hungary, and elsewhere) in Europe, the experience of colonialism and the hegemony of bourgeois/petty bourgeois forces in most newly independent countries, all imbued large parts of the working classes across the world with more parliamentary illusions than before. The existence of parliamentary elections periodically made them a key ideological component masking the reality of the rule of capital. Fighting against this illusion in a sustained manner is a vital task. The very durability of bourgeois democracy, however dilute, has meant that real prosects of proletarian revolution have receded, making engagement with and in practice showing the limits of bourgeois democracy essential tasks of revolutionaries.

(b)  This prolonged power of bourgeois democracy has left its mark on working class parties as well. Not only the social democratic/reformist left but even those who position themselves on the radical left often feel the need to support bourgeois parties electorally, painting them as ‘lesser evil’ as well as enter into extra-electoral agreements with them. Our perspective sees the tasks of revolutionary Marxists as being based on the following:

·       Whenever possible, a revolutionary organization should seriously consider standing their own candidates. This is an important way to get recognition as an independent political force, even if the chances of getting elected are low. Many working people, burdened with the cares of everyday life, take elections as the only period when they take participation in politics seriously, even though in a very atomized and passive manner by simply casting their votes. This therefore is a time when we can reach out to them.

·       When the party/group is small, it should still take part, even if it is only to call for a NOTA. The function of participation is to deliver a revolutionary message, to promote independent class action.

·       For small groups, but even for parties, not only is the task the presenting of a general slogan on who to vote or not vote, but also the task of winning over the more conscious or advanced sections of the working class and wider radical circles already open to revolutionary  ideas.

·       If the revolutionary group/party does not or cannot put up its own  candidates, but extends support, that must always have a critical edge. This has to have practical articulations as well. Thus, a revolutionary party asking workers and the popular masses to vote for a reformist party must use mass meetings, leaflets, etc, to explain why that support is limited and in what ways critical.

V. Voting the Bourgeois Lesser Evil because the Left is Weak?

(a)  As explained earlier, we do not support bourgeois parties. There have been rare cases, as when much of the French Far Left supported Chiraq against Le Pen. But this too was debated, and generalising from this, as in regularly calling upon US workers to vote for the Democratic Party candidate, first holding up a ‘progressive’ from Jesse Jackson to Sanders but ending up with a call to vote for a thoroughly rightwing candidate because ‘this is the most important election of our lifetime’, is a political hoax in support of the bourgeoisie.  

(b)  We see Social Democrats, Stalinists and Maoists who contest elections as distinct. These come from parties we characterize as working class parties, based partly on their programme, and partly on the relationship between the working classes and the party/ies. Despite their inadequacies, their unprincipled compromises, the Social Democrats/reformist Stalinists are what Lenin once called them – bourgeois workers’ parties, ie, parties  who do not move out of the bourgeois horizon, but who continue to have a working class connection in a way that bourgeois parties do not.

VI.           Against Hindutva-fascism:

(a)  In the specifically Indian context we need to realize that the old Congress hegemony has given way to a Hindutva hegemony mediated at the parliamentary level by the BJP. The BJP is the one  bourgeois party that secures votes because  of its programme. Other parties are  cynical, and by programme mean little more than periodic electoral pledges, forgotten whether elected or defeated. More, they have all accepted soft Hindutva and neoliberalism. Thus, to call upon working people to vote for these parties in the name of halting BJP’s road to power merely puts the revolutionary organization as an agent of unprincipled and degenerate bourgeois parties.

(b)  The mainstream left cannot parallel the BJPs road to power. The destruction of the BJP’s Hindutva hegemony is only possible by prioritizing class struggle on the political as well as the ideological plane. For the left to focus on political power at the parliamentary or the assembly level by raising slogans like ‘bring back the eighth Left Front government’, is to succumb to neoliberalism at best, and give up even the struggle against Hindutva at worst. It is by focusing on the extra-parliamentary struggles on a priority basis that the left can hope to change the class relationship of forces.

(c)  Rejection of both neoliberalism and Hindutva politics will then provide the necessary and sufficient preconditions for an anti-capitalist politics. To say that one must put anti-capitalism on the back-burner because fighting Hindutva is the first task makes the working class subordinate to the bourgeois opposition. To ignore the specificities of Hindutva fascism by saying that all non-revolutionary parties are fascist (including calling or implying that the reformist left is “social fascist”) is a horribly sectarian politics. But given the relative strengths between the reformist left and the far left even now, the main danger comes from not recognizing that revolutionary anti-capitalism must be highlighted.  This has to reject illusions, such as green capitalism, bourgeois secularism, or bourgeois welfare statism as adequate safeguards. Only by building a strong revolutionary left can this fight be waged. Such a fight is not mainly electoral. But our electoral struggle cannot follow a path going in a direction opposite to our principal struggles.

 

VII.        The First Past the Post, and other weaknesses of Bourgeois Democracy:

 

(a)             Bourgeois democracy with right to vote for all adults came only in the twentieth century. Immediately, the ruling class tried to minimize the democratic content of the democracy. This has been done in a number of ways. They include, the use of various means to exclude people from the list of voters, the use of political mechanisms to reduce the role of parliaments and other elected bodies, and the use of money and various mechanisms to eliminate or marginalize the leftwing or parties representing any kind of oppressed people.

(b)            The most undemocratic of the electoral systems is the system followed in India and in many other countries, often called the First Past the Post system. This is a system where there are many single constituencies, and each voter has a single vote in that constituency. This means that representation is extremely uneven. The candidate securing the highest votes is elected, even if they get much less than the majority of the total voters in the constituency or even less than the majority of the votes cast. And it becomes possible for a party to get a significant share of votes but still get no seats because their support base is spread across the province. In addition, the electoral system in India has grown increasingly worse. The huge role of money means parties on the left find it difficult to win even when they have some support on the ground. Voter choice has come to matter less and less. Voters mostly vote because of a political party. So when elected candidates move to a different party, voters have no control. Parties have a degree of control, through the Parliamentary whip and the anti-defection law, but these actually render parliament useless as a space for reasoned discussions, and since the passing of the law, time spent on debates has steadily declined, making parliament a place where the majority party simply passes laws. The arguments in favour of the FPTP system are that it increases stability, and ensures homogeneous government. In itself, a stable government need not be a sign of a healthy democracy, because it does not represent the heterogeneity of the people nor allow people’s actual views to be expressed. Moreover, in any country, but certainly in a country like India with its heterogeneous population, this parliamentary stability actually reduces real popular representation. This is why, a revolutionary democratic socialist answer must look for a better electoral system. The Proportional Representation system with an Open List party system allows voters a choice, it allows parties to send representatives in more or less the proportion of votes they get in assembly or parliament and is therefore a better system. It is opposed by the bourgeoisie and the entrenched interests in the big parties because oppressed people may get more voices, the preferred parties of big capital may not get full authority to ignore popular will.

 

VIII.      For a transitional set of demands:

In fighting elections, we must fight for democratization. At the same time, the demands we raise must increase working class awareness, and be in line with what we want for the future. We therefore fight in electoral matters for the following:

·       For a fully autonomous election commission, with provision that nobody retiring after a stint in the EC may hold any governmental position of any kind. Nor may they be allowed to contest on any party tickets.

·       For a scrapping of the contested EVM system and a return to the ballot paper.

·       For the introduction of a proportional representation with an Open List party system.

 

·       For full state funding of elections and an immediate abolition of private election funding including through election bonds.

RS Code of Conduct

[Adopted by All India Conference, May 27-29, 2022]

 

The 2022 Conference of RS resolves to approve the following document which lays down rules and norms for dealing with

a)     A comrade’s ‘personal’ life.

b)     Relationship of comrades to one another within the Group.

c)     Relationship of individual comrades with other organisations and their non-RS participants.

All of us have some awareness of what constitutes a ‘revolutionary’ but it can happen that comrades of any gender are confronted with practical problems like their relationship with other comrades or whether a group member should be a member of the managing board of a company, and many similar problems. This Code of Conduct lays down how to properly deal with these issues or give satisfactory guidelines or answers. Comrades sometimes confront such problems and have been hesitant in squarely dealing with them for fear of alienating the comrade concerned who might otherwise be an active member of the Group.

A person is deemed to be revolutionary not only by the political beliefs that they adhere to, but also by the personal life that they lead.

1.     A person may be a staunch supporter of the Group’s position on gender justice and yet in their personal life might be extremely oppressive as far as relations with partner, family members and other comrades or outsiders are concerned. We cannot remain silent spectators to this and satisfy ourselves with the fact that at least that person's ‘public image’ is in consonance with that of the Group position? In so far as the relations with the partner, family members and other comrades or any other persons are concerned, it can, depending on circumstances, become a group concern. In such cases it has to be handled carefully and sensitively and can lead to the establishing of a gender diverse Inquiry Committee of a minimum 3 persons. A comrade’s political life cannot be completely separated from their personal life. There can be certain comrades now or in the future who have extremely conservative and traditional views regarding gender, and yet may go along with the majority position for fear of being branded. Conservative beliefs may have become ingrained over a period of years and might be difficult to change. But this does not mean that the question should not be discussed. It becomes even more imperative that we bring these problems however ‘minor’ they might seem into the open and sort it out.

2.     Similarly a comrade might publicly oppose any form of communalism, racism, ableism, ageism or caste-ism and yet in their personal relations either with comrades or persons outside the group they might adopt, for example, a communalist or caste-ist attitude and behaviour. Every communalist and/or caste-ist incident on the part of the comrade may constitute that proper action be taken. It cannot be taken lightly and must be discussed in the group. And if it is a serious incident it might even necessitate the expulsion of the comrade concerned. The same applies to other forms and practices of social discrimination and also includes insensitive attitudes and behaviour towards those having mental health issues.

3.     As far as Religion is concerned, many but not all might be atheists. A recruit, from the working class or otherwise, might be a militant and yet in their personal life be extremely religious. Here we should remember Lenin’s dictum that we are out to create a heaven on earth and not preoccupied with disproving the existence of heaven above. There should not be a compulsion on recruits to be atheists. How a member expresses their religiosity can be left private. There is no absolute separation between the private and the public and it is another matter if public expression takes a form which can be considered obscurantist, undemocratic or oppressive. This is unacceptable. To bring about greater clarity and sanity in our approach to religion, such matters and others that are closely interwoven with the personal lives of members and comrades, should be taken up for discussion.

4.     The next most important question that we will have to deal with concerns our relationship with comrades who either run a business and employ labourers or are on the managing board of a company in their personal capacity. (i) There can be comrades who run a business establishment and for the purposes of which they engage employees. (ii) There may be others who engage agricultural employees on their plots of land. (iii) There may be comrades on the managing boards of companies of NGOs.  The question therefore is whether comrades should at all allow themselves to be put in a position where they have to play the role of an employer. However well intentioned the comrade might be conflict of interests are bound to arise. For example, to what extent can a pro-labour executive member of the board ‘change’ the views of other members?  Similarly, the interests of the owner of a commercial establishment or landholder are basically counter-posed to the interests of the labourers. A group member who holds such a position must eventually give up that position so as to prevent any eventuality where he/she might have to take up such a stand which could be basically counter-posed to the interests of the oppressed.

 

Insofar as recruiting new members are concerned we have to adopt fairly strict criteria. No persons who are owners of factories, establishments can be recruited to the Group. They can remain sympathisers.

Existing members/sympathisers who are owners of factories and/or engage employees, the following norms must be followed:

a)     Where agricultural workers are employed, all the labour laws, including payment of minimum wages, should be applicable. There can be no excuse that the comrade concerned is facing severe financial hardships.

b)     Those on the managing boards of companies should make arrangements to withdraw.

c)     Those running a factory or engaging a large number of workers should dis-associate themselves from the position of an employer.

 

An individual comrade’s relationship be with other organisations.

There is the particular issue of NGOs. These work for the most part in specialised areas like health, documentation, women, adivasis, rural development, civil liberties, law, etc. The majority of these organisations have been started by activists who were already working in that particular area. They may not be funded by the government.

However, some receive funds from foreign agencies. It may well be the case now or in the future that some of our comrades are actively involved in such bodies, possibly playing a leading role. Even when foreign funded in their specific fields they have taken up activist issues and have succeeded in mobilising a large number of people who are interested in working on specific areas like women, health, etc. On the other hand, there may be organisations which have evoked controversy among activists. In such cases if or when our comrades are involved an embarrassing situation for the group can be created whereby withdrawal from that body may be required. Some of the problems which can crop up in bodies that are partially or fully funded by foreign agencies are:

(i)              Since these organisations get a major chunk or all of their funds from foreign agencies, there is the constant fear of misuse and misappropriation. The comrade concerned might not be personally involved in it, but is bound to be associated with any scandal that might come to light.

(ii)            Secondly, a dependency might develop amongst persons receiving funds.

(iii)          Thirdly, the organisation may become detached from the problems of activists and those working in the foreign funded NGO may develop a ‘holier than thou’ attitude since one is providing a ‘vital service’ to the community. Funding issues may assume disproportionate importance at the cost of alienating oneself from the movement. The shift towards accepting the dictates of funders may become increasingly important if not paramount.

(iv)           Organisational set-up—A comrade who is a member of the executive committee is bound to be confronted with the problem of what should be the organisation’s relationship with its employees. What should be the wages paid to employees? Should their wages be graded according to their ‘skill’.

 

Recommended Guidelines:

 

Comrades should work in these organisations only if the following conditions are met:

A.    The organisation should be activist oriented.

B.    There should be no political strings attached to the funding organisation.

C.    The funds that the organisation gets from various foreign agencies should be open to public scrutiny. The audited accounts and balance sheets should be available to anyone with the organisation.

D.    If the comrade who is a Trustee member is placed in an embarrassing position regarding relationship with employees, the comrade should discuss it in the group at the local level. Though the group cannot dictate terms to the organisation or overrule the decision of the Trustee Board, the group can certainly discuss and decide whether the continuation of the comrade in the organisation would be detrimental to the interests of the group.

Developing a culture of decency by word and deed.

a)     Whether inside or outside the group there is no place whatsoever for sexist, racist, caste-ist, communalist language to stigmatise people. These should not ever be used by members either with respect to each other or to sympathisers or to ‘outsiders’.

b)     Expletives and cuss words are best avoided. If used, judgement of acceptability or otherwise is determined by evaluation of the context in which these utterances occur. Under no circumstances can demeaning labels be used in reference to anyone.

c)     Intimidation by word or act towards members must be shunned and in general a culture of routine civility be developed and also extended to interactions with outsiders.

d)     Reform and education rather than punishment must be the guiding principle of our efforts. Disciplinary action, if required, must be proportionate to the gravity of the incident.

 

Limitations and Necessity of the Code of Conduct:

No Code of Conduct can ever be comprehensive enough to anticipate all exigencies that would require moral-political judgement as to what should be the proper action to undertake by the organisation and its members. But having a Code of Conduct, howsoever incomplete, is always a necessity and whose purpose in laying down norms and principles to follow helps cultivate a deeper and wider ethos of compassion and integrity that will guide the behaviour of RS members towards one and all, in and outside the organisation.

 

 

Constitution of Radical Socialist

Article I; Radical Socialist (RS) is a group that sees itself as a component body that can contribute through its own development and expansion to the formation of a revolutionary proletarian political vanguard organisation based on and of the working classes, urban and rural. Our intention is to fight against all social oppressions and exploitations, and recruit from all the oppressed.

 

Article II: Guiding Principles

(i)              RS will be guided by the best of the corpus of classical Marxism, notably the perspectives of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg, Gramsci, Bhagat Singh, Saumyendranath Tagore and other revolutionary socialists committed to the development of a socialist democracy far superior to anything achievable within the capitalist framework. This mean the adoption of a resolutely anti-Stalinist framework of theory and practice, critical appreciation of the documents of the first four Congresses of the Third International, the Transitional Programme, subsequent developments and contributions based on this tradition of anti-capitalist socialist democracy as well as incorporation of the later advances and insights that have emerged in the course of struggles against all forms of oppression---racial, gender, ethnic, religious, caste, national---and for environmental sustainability and environmental justice.

(ii)            (ii) RS will also draw lessons from progressive social reformers and emancipatory fighters who have made marks in the struggles of the oppressed.

(iii)          The Code of Conduct in its mandatory provisions must be obeyed. There will be a Coordination Committee that will adjudicate on claims concerning its violations and if necessary will set up an impartial investigative body if required.

Article III: Membership:

Membership of RS is open to those who:

i.                 Agree with the programme of the RS (What We Stand For), the Constitution and the Code of Conduct [all are available on our website]

ii.               Participate in the Group’s activities

iii.             Pay dues regularly as per laid down procedures.

 

Article IV: Organisational Principles

(i) Maximum internal democracy compatible with the discipline required of any group having to collectively make effective, disciplined and coherent interventions in practical activity.

(ii) Decisions are arrived at after adequate participatory discussion and by majority vote. Those disagreeing with majority viewpoints can take their disagreements outside the group only if this explicitly allowed for by prior decision in the appropriate forum, local or national, and in accord with the general principles already laid down. Endorsement by the Coordination Committee may be required where there is uncertainty as to whether to make such an allowance or not.

(ii) Minorities will not be forced to represent the organisation in public to defend decisions that they are opposed to in principle but nor can they work against them outside the group as in on the ground movement-building and recruitment. Greater flexibility can be shown, i.e., allowances made for purely counter-propaganda by minorities outside the group. This sanction can be given through a laid down procedure e.g., assent from a majority of the group members other than the minorities or by a majority in the Coordination Committee.

Article V: Organisational Structure

Given what we are today, our structure must necessarily be a modest one very different from those of a party.

1.     The key decision-making body should be an annual All-India Conference (AIC) which must be attended in all its sessions by all existing members. Any absence must be on legitimate and exceptional grounds such as a family emergency, grave sickness, etc. Sympathisers who are not actual members may be invited to attend any open session that may be declared as such.

2.     Apart from this All-India Conference there will be

a) local units whose geographical demarcations will be related to membership numbers present and their territorial proximity to the proposed unit. These local units have autonomy to conduct their affairs  but in accordance with the basic political-organizational perspectives of RS as a whole.

b) Representation at the All-India Conference shall be from the local units based on larger territorial geographical demarcations (for example state, a zone comprising several states, etc).

c) Primary units shall consist of around twenty members at most. If units grow larger they will be split int smaller units based on local considerations (workplace, geographic etc) to ensure proper functioning and proper participation of all comrades.

d) The All India Conference will decide on the size and composition of the Coordination Committee. Its composition will keep in mind the need to respect geographical diversity. This Committee will be responsible for:

(i) Finalization of any RS Statements brought on contemporary issues Indian or international. Other members can suggest the need for a particular statement and can also prepare a draft of such a statement once the committee has accepted and conveyed the need for such a statement.

(ii) Will also be, if necessary, the mediating body in respect of any disputes arising among RS members or units that is otherwise not sorted out.

(iii) The Committee should meet periodically on or offline so as to enable sharing and spreading of experiences of different local units.

(iv)           The Committee will decide after due consultation with RS members on the dates of the next All India Conference.

 

3.     All members of RS must pay monthly dues. Collection shall be by local unit, and 20% of the funds shall be transferred to the CC for its work. One person can be the treasurer for the whole of RS to which those dues not going directly to full-timers can be sent. Or else we can have each unit organizing its own treasurer and arranging for dues to be collected locally.

4.     Sympathisers are those who generally are in tune with the politics and practices of RS and agree to contribute to the activities, perspectives or funds of the RS. Currently the minimum annual contribution is fixed at Rs. 600/-. Sympathisers should have a basic appreciation of the spirit and content of our Constitution and Code of Conduct. Suggestions regarding our documents, positions and practices are always welcome. If required, sympathisers should be willing to publicly declare themselves as such.

5.     The All India Conference will decide the composition of the Editorial Board of the RS Newsletter, the Website Team and the Social Media Team. The All India Conference will decide the composition of a Gender Sensitization Committee as well as appointing an all-India Treasurer.

 

Radical Socialist (RS) Positions on Important National and International Issues

[Adopted at the All-India Conference, Delhi, May27-29, 2022]

 

1.     Russia and China are bureaucratised authoritarian capitalist states which are also imperialist powers.

2.     We support the application of the principle of the 'right to political self-determination' of historically oppressed nationalities or regional groups not only in India but in all countries including Russia and China.

3.     (i) Cuba is not a capitalist state, certainly not socialist but a non-capitalist society under one-party rule. Significant and remarkable gains in popular welfare have certainly been made in Cuba. There is, however, a tendency towards bureaucratic dominance and little space for the maturing and development of working class power. We unconditionally condemn US Imperialism vis-a-vis Cuba and its brutal embargo. We also recognise the generally progressive role played internationally by Cuba which was earlier motivated by a wider public sense of revolutionary internationalism but for some time now has been driven primarily by the progressive elements of the Cuban state. Moreover, current economic policies favouring greater development and entry of private capital  and market-based production and exchange along with the absence of greater democratisation and efforts towards workers' control, means both the orientation of the regime and rebellion against the one-party bureaucracy can lead towards a restoration of capitalism.

(ii) North Korea is not a capitalist state and certainly not socialist, but a highly authoritarian form of one-party rule with tremendous bureaucratic control of economic and social life. There is little that is redeeming about the North Korean leadership who have created a cult of personality and a highly centralised form of rule. While we categorically oppose American imperialist designs on North Korea, and call for both the normalisation of relations between North and South Korea (without US stipulated pre-conditions) as well as a formal peace treaty between the US and North Korea, we also look forward to the overthrow of the North Korean regime by the North Korean proletariat.

4.     RS supports Ukraine's right to self-determination and independence and therefore unequivocally condemn Russia's brutal invasion. We call for Russia's complete military withdrawal and for it to pay full reparations. We have always called for the complete dismantlement of NATO and opposed its expansionist efforts. But this cannot be made an excuse to justify or rationalise the invasion. Russia under the Putin government is an ambitious imperialist power seeking to expand its own regional dominance through its own arrangements such as the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) to shore up repressive allied regimes. The Russian government is a declared anti-communist one which explicitly repudiates Lenin's legacy and its own anti-capitalist past. We support Ukraine's right to obtain arms for its self-defence from wherever it can and through its struggle achieve a just settlement and an honourable end to the war. We, of course, remain free and willing to criticise the anti-democratic, anti-socialist and anti-left/progressive policies and practices of the current Ukraine government. 

5.     India is a capitalist aspiring regional hegemon.

6.     We support, in the name of building a more robust and democratic Indian federalism, greater devolution of power to the states.

7.     We call for Indian de-recognition of Israel which is a settler-colonial and apartheid state and therefore an end to all diplomatic, political, military and economic relations between the two countries. We also support the global BDS campaign against Israel and call for India severing all government to government diplomatic, economic and military relations.

8.     We support all efforts to establish a South Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (NWFZ) covering India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri-Lanka as a regional disarmament measure along with all efforts to promote other regional and global nuclear restraint and disarmament measures.

9.     (i) We oppose the strategic partnership between India and the US in all its forms including the Quad arrangement.

(ii) We support the pursuit of a final border settlement between India and China on the basis of territorial give-and-take. This can become a realistic solution if India rejects a strategic partnership with the US and its allies.

10.  We want very substantial cuts in India's defence budget so that funds can be diverted and used for setting up a much stronger free, high-quality and universal public welfare system especially in the domains of health, education, social security and housing. There must be a strategic shift away from the current and fairly longstanding policy of military power projection regionally or globally (with its always escalating costs) towards a much more modest strategic policy perspective that confines itself to securing and maintaining the military means for adequate /appropriate territorial defence.

11.  We reject the strategy of "Protracted Peoples War" as the working class road to power and socialist transformation.

 

12.  We reject all two-stage theories of revolutionary change. Our struggle is to transcend capitalism and bring about a post-capitalist order moving towards socialism. In this respect we believe the leading socio-political force for bringing this about is the working class in the broadest sense, namely those who in order to materially survive, i.e., secure their means of subsistence, are decisively dependent on their wages/salaries (the proletariat in rural and urban India) for this and do not belong to the upper rungs of the managerial category. Important allies of this working class include the small and marginal farmers as well as lower rungs of self-employed small-assets holders such as hawkers, skilled and semi-skilled artisans who hire themselves out to companies and/or customers on a task-based or time-based manner.

 

13.  We are open to United Fronts with left forces (social democratic or further left). Tactical agreements with bourgeois forces on a specific issue/demand or a set of demands in the framework of extra-parliamentary campaigns is possible under exceptional circumstances. In the case of UFs, there is 'unity and outflanking' but more importance and weight is to be given to the former than the latter for the sake of sustaining the UF for fulfilment of its tasks. In the second case the general principle is 'march separately strike together'.

 14. We are totally opposed to nuclear energy in India calling for it to rapidly shut down with alternative public sector employment for workers displaced.

15. We support gender just laws which will be inclusive and for an optional common gender just code alongside reform of all personal laws for gender justice. Abolish HUF (Hindu Undivided Family) and de-criminalise Triple Talaq.

16. Withdrawal of existing 'freedom of religion' laws in states that unjustifiably make conversion difficult or somehow dependent on authorisation by some higher body. The only basis for opposing conversion is force--NOT 'fraud' nor 'allurement'. It is not for others apart from those converting, to judge their grounds for doing so or to decide whether to remain or not in that religion. This principle applies to a) freedom of marriage by personal choice; b) freedom of exit from a religious community.

17. We demand a constitutional amendment to add to the goals stated in the Directive Principles the abolition of the caste system itself. This does not mean doing away with affirmative active policies, which must be retained.

18. An end to and repudiation of all laws everywhere on buffalo and cow-slaughter. There should be full freedom to eat or not eat beef whenever people wish.

19. There must be no restriction on wearing of hijab in educational institutions. There should be a law against the forced imposition of dress codes of any kind on adults over 18, whether by their families or otherwise, wanting to discard that form of dress.

20. No government aid, even partial, to educational institutions controlled by any religious body and imparting religious instruction. Even in such institutions attendance in such classes cannot be made compulsory for any student. These classes are distinct from the study or discussion of religion in social science studies or syllabi which of course is acceptable.

21. Unconditional release of all Undertrials who have been incarcerated beyond a certain designated period, itself short and clearly specified in law.

22. The Constitution must be amended whereby laws on sedition, special anti-terrorism laws that move cases to special courts, those giving  special powers that abrogate the fundamental rights of people are all nullified. 

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