The situation in Sri Lanka in 2007
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party government headed by Mahine Rajapakse has dramatically escalated the war against the Tamil people. The civil war against the Tamil resistance movement, which is headed by the LTTE, also known as the Tamil Tigers, has been raging since 1983. Even though there is technically a ceasefire, the fighting in the last 6 months has left 4000 dead. The government escalation of the conflict resulted in a guns instead of butter budget with inflation of around 20 per cent. The fighting has disrupted food production in the already poor regions in the north and east, and now starvation is causing extra suffering. Thousands of people are internally displaced, living in refugee camps and shanty towns with no adequate facilities.
Sri Lanka has not been able to develop itself after the end of direct colonial rule. Despite growth in the public sector, wages are low and the promises of globalisation have failed to significantly increase the living conditions of most Sri Lankans. The majority of women are unemployed; those that do work are employed in garment factories earning about £1.50 a day. Only around 1 per cent of the population goes to university. The war has allowed the government to attack civil liberties and move closer to creating a police state - the army has powers of arrest and detention over the civilian population.
The Socialist Party of Sri Lanka contacted the League for the Fifth International because they wished to enter into political discussions. The SPSL was formed in the fall of 2006 from a split in the United Socialist Party, the CWI section in Sri Lanka. The dispute centred on the USP leader Siritunga Jayasuriya’s policy of joining a popular frontist anti-war coalition called the United People’s Movement, which also included the bourgeois UNP. A comparison would be a socialist group joining an anti-war coalition with the Conservative Party in Britain. The UNP were the party in government when the war started and have no real interest in defending the Tamils rights, other than to score points against the opponents in the ruling SLFP.
<strong>Conditions on the ground</strong>
The SPSL has a trade union in the health sector with over 2000 members and large branches in the main hospitals in Jaffna and Trincomalee, both areas affected by the civil war. Travelling around the country to meet comrades and union activists takes a lot of time, but every worker that we spoke to was eager to talk about the situation in Britain and internationally – and asked what we thought about the war in Sri Lanka.
The meetings with health workers, print workers, teachers and civil servants organised by the SPSL provided an opportunity to not only discuss the socialist solution to the war, but also the struggle for socialism around the world. Drawing on the lessons of the Russian Revolution and the previous four working class internationals, it was possible to demonstrate that the tasks of workers and socialists in the present is bound up with the necessity of creating a new international party. Since Sri Lanka had a mass party of the Fourth International, called the LSSP, the call for a fifth had real resonance amongst some workers and youth that had become disillusioned with the reformist and centrist politics of the LSSP.
The SPSL leadership agreed a draft fraternal relations document. We will carry on political discussions with the comrades and organise visits between our two organisations with the hope of reaching political agreement on the way forward. The breakthrough in South Asia represents an important development for our international organisation. We will work over the coming period to build and strengthen our sections and create momentum for a fifth international to unite the revolutionary working class.