Referendum on Vaddukoddai resolution (VKR):The case for a ‘Socialist Tamil Eelam’ and conflicting interests among the Tamil elite.

Referendum on Vaddukoddai resolution (VKR):

The case for a ‘Socialist Tamil Eelam’ and conflicting interests among the Tamil elite.

 Recently a referendum was held among the Tamil Diaspora in a number of western countries. This project was successful in achieving its stated aim, which was to gauge the majority opinion on the question of the demand for a separate Tamil Eelam. However the organisers insisted that this referendum must be based on the Vaddukoddai resolution (VKR, see the full text) agreed at the convention in Vaddukoddai in 1976.

But there was not sufficient discussion on the specific content of that resolution among those asked to vote. Instead the exercise was limited to a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to the question of supporting the ‘demand for a separate Tamil Eelam’. An overwhelming majority participated in the referendum, voted ‘yes’. But it is significant that a section of the Tamil population did not participate. Nonetheless this is an important result that reflects the mood among the Tamil speaking people for a continued fightback against the national oppression.

In reality, people voting in the referendum were not voting on the VKR resolution. They were voting on whether or not they support a separate Tamil Eelam. But the VKR resolution went much further than that. In fact, it specifically states that the aim is to establish a “free, sovereign, secular, socialist state of Tamil Eelam”. What does that mean today? And why was this resolution put to the Tamil-speaking people in the diaspora if its sentiment is not actually supported by the main Tamil organisations? In order to clarify those and other questions, it is important to give an explanation of the background and the context of the VKR resolution, especially so that the younger generations of Tamil-speaking people can understand the issues involved.

Within one year of the VKR the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) had already scrapped the true sprit of the resolution’s final demands. Soon after the 1977 election the TULF leaders made compromises with the leading right-wing neoliberal United National Party (UNP). This party took power and then set out to crush the Tamils’ aspirations and the workers’ movement. We do not want to see a repeat of this history!

 History never repeats itself exactly as before. However, there are sometimes parallels in history. The role currently played by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and other parts of the Tamil leadership could be seen as analgous with events in the late 1970s. In the recent presidential election the TNA was exposed as having no idea of how to defend the rights of the Tamil-speaking masses. It actually called on the very people who had suffered so much in the war to vote for their ‘butcher’, General Sarath Fonseka. Fonseka was a candidate for the UNP, the party that actually orchestrated the pogroms against the Tamils.

But the TNA is not alone in its confusion about how to build the fightback. Among the self-appointed Tamil leadership clarity on the way forward is lacking. Quite incredibly one section is now arguing that the Tamils in Sri Lanka now expect ‘investments and opportunities from the Diaspora rather than political lectures’! Another section seems to believe that making friends with the western establishment will strengthen the fightback! Some argue that we have to go along with ‘majority’ politics in Sri Lanka and navigate around the divisions within the establishment to win some rights! This is exactly what the Tamil elite leaders have done since Sri Lanka got independence and it is exactly what the TNA, the TULF and other so-called ‘Tamil parties’ are now proposing. This will be welcomed by the oppressive Sri Lankan government which claims that the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka is the most privileged minority in the world!

The Sri Lankan government is asking the Tamils to ‘behave like a minority’. This means that the Tamil-speaking masses should accept that some of their rights will be disregarded on the basis that they are a minority. They have a case for this approach based on the conditions faced by ‘minority’ communities in many countries, including the so-called developed countries such as the US, the UK, where these people do not enjoy equal rights. Hurricane Katrina exposed the ‘belly of the beast’ in the US. This event graphically showed the utter poverty and disgraceful conditions suffered by African American workers and poor in the US to the world. Black and Asian minorities in the UK are among the poorest and live in the most impoverished parts of the country.  

We cannot escape from this reality. This is the concrete situation we face. To fight for change we have to have political clarity, consistency and long-term commitment. The promise of an easy battle and the idea that ‘diplomatic manoeuvres’ can win are misleading.

Erik Solheim may not be a household name in Norway, but this minister in the Norwegian government is well known to the Tamil masses. He and his government portrayed themselves as the ‘Champions of Tamil rights’! Now he welcomes the re-election of Rajapaksa and promises a close relationship with the Sri Lankan government. But this comes as no surprise to those who understand the class nature of society and realise that pro-capitalist politicians are no friends of the working class and poor in any part of the world.

Internationally the ruling elite around the world may compete to defend their own bosses’ ability to loot the world’s resources, but they unite in their main objective – defending ‘profit making’ which will always be at the expense of the workers and poor. Some argue that any ‘international power’ who agrees to support the demand for the Tamils’ right to self determination should be offered the resources of the North and East. This is a grotesque mistake and is completely misleading the masses into developing trust in those who will inevitably betray them and act in the interests of the rich and the bosses.

These flawed ‘tactics’ must be abandoned once and for all. None of the establishment parties and leaders will take the side of the toiling masses. The Tamil-speaking masses must unite in their struggle with those who have consistently stood by them and defended their rights. Such a principled and united fightback is precisely what we are building through the Tamil Solidarity campaign (TSC).

Some pro-business advocates attack us for being ‘utopian’. They claim that without any government support we cannot achieve victory. The ‘international community’ is a term often used by the Tamil elite to refer to the ruling class of the developed countries – not those ordinary people around the world who have clearly shown their solidarity. It is breathtaking that even after the ‘international community’ stood silent during the war and incarceration of the Tamils some continue to place their hope in the very same people!

The fight against oppression cannot be won by collaborating and colluding with the oppressors themselves. Our fight can only be won by building a fightback on the ground with those who are prepared to struggle alongside us. We do not have any other option, but this is also achievable.

Quite incredibly there are some who, while they understand that the ruling elite have failed the Tamil masses, believe that they can beg their way out! But being ‘nice’ to pro-big business MPs from the main parties in Britain or anywhere will get us nowhere, either in terms of winning the rights of the Tamil-speaking masses in Sri Lanka or the rights of the Tamil-speaking people living in the UK. Those who argue this are either dishonest or politically blind. Members of the Conservative party in particular have argued quite vigorously for and defended the oppressing Sri Lankan government. How could anyone trust them.

Among Labour MPs there are some on the left, who despite their party’s neoliberal policies, genuinely defend the rights of the suffering Tamil masses. There are others, in both Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who do so in words but go along with the pro-business policies of their party which ultimately mean further oppression for Tamils and all working and poor around the world.

There is no harm in lobbying these politicians and protesting so they cannot ignore the denial of rights of the minorities. But it is not acceptable to work with them while they plot and collaborate with oppressive regimes such as that of Sri Lanka.

This is a life or death decision in Sri Lanka. The argument for giving electoral support to the likely ‘winning’ candidate must be abandoned. This tactic will undoubtedly end up serving the interests of the ruling elite. Building an independent force of the oppressed masses is not an easy way out, but it is the only way out.

A socialist Tamil Eelam, as part of a socialist federation of south Asia and beyond is something worth fighting for. If that is what is desired then it is absolute madness to ignore those forces who have consistently defended the right to self determination of the Tamil-speaking masses, including the right to separation if that is what the people want. One group that has stood for this right for decades is the United Socialist Party (USP).

Neither do the Tamil-speaking people in the Diaspora have ‘the life of Riley’. They also suffer from the failed policies of their respective governments. Aiming to defend the oppressed entails a struggle against these governments. Support for the pro-capitalist governments around the world is incompatible with a genuine struggle for the rights of the poor and oppressed. A line must be drawn between those who want to take the fight forward and those who want a chunk of the ‘fruits’ that come out of exploitation and repression.

It is with this understanding that we would like to draw attention to the content of the Vaddukoddai resolution.

Summary of Vaddukoddai Resolution

Until its final section, the text of the Vaddukoddai resolution (VKR) mainly focuses on the historical context. It provides a very brief summary of Sri Lankan history starting with the pre-colonial period.

It then briefly describes the demands for Tamils’ rights and the continued repressive nature of all the Sri Lankan governments since independence, highlighting the pogroms against the Tamils.

The VKR highlights criticism of the proposed Constituent Assembly of 1972 and its failure to recognise the aspiration of the Tamil masses. Finally it outlines its demands and calls on all, particularly the youth, to fight for it. This final part is the most important part of the resolution.

Weakness and strength of the resolution

During the recent international referendum a number of youth expressed dissatisfaction that a 34-year old resolution, the product of a completely different political context, was posed. The VKR does have number of weakness that make it a little out of date.

Need for a change of language

Despite calling for a ‘socialist Tamil Eelam’ this resolution fails to note the class character of society. This is reflected through the tone of the language used.

A number of mistakes are contained in the brief history, a product of the interpretation of history by the ruling class.

The first point to note that the Tamil youth, students and workers played a key role in the movement for independence, along with their Sinhala and Muslim counterparts, not their self-appointed leaders.

Terms such as ‘Sinhala nation’, ‘Tamil nation’ are used which are very unscientific. The ‘nation state’ as a modern concept did not exist before the colonial period. Tamil Eelam is a modern name which refers to the areas where mainly Tamils lived in Sri Lanka. Prior to the colonial period these areas were also divided into various autonomous regions and there was no time in history when there existed a consolidated nation called ‘Tamil Eelam’ or Eelam.

The question of rights is more important than the question of who came first to the island. It is oppression that must be fought. In that sense the Tamil-speaking masses, including the plantation workers and poor, are entitled to all democratic rights including the right to self determination if that is what they want. When terms such as ‘Tamil nation’ or ‘Sinhala nation’ are used it is misleading and, at times, appears communal – or racist. The Sinhala communalists often use the term ‘Sinhala nation’ as a way of stamping ‘Sinhala superiority’ over the rest of the population. Tamil nationalism, which partly developed as a mirror image of Sinhala nationalism, also copied the phraseology of the Sinhala chauvinists. This can be seen in some of the terminology in the documents prepared by the Tamil elite in the 1970s and which set the trend for the ‘Tamil nationalist phraseology’. A significant part of the VKR suffers from this error.

Fighting against oppression does not mean that the oppressed have to copy the methods and language of the oppressors. This is why statements like “Sinhalese people have used their political power to the detriment of the Tamils” does not further the real aspiration of the Tamils to end all oppression as the resolution concludes.

Since Sri Lanka won independence a significant number of ‘Sinhala’ workers and poor have supported the rights of the Tamil people. Their support and unity is crucial to challenge the oppressors. It is the wealthy elite that used the ethnic divisions to maintain power and rallied mass support with nationalist propaganda. It is they who organised mobs and were responsible for the pogroms against the Tamil-speaking minorities. The Tamil-speaking minority suffered immense attacks as a result of the growth of ‘Sinhala nationalism’. But the Sinhala masses also lost out. They saw no improvement in their living standards as a result. In fact it was only after successfully defeating the workers’ movement in 1980 that JR Jayewardene, a hated pro-capitalist and chauvinist politician, was able to carry out the horrific pogroms against the Tamil-speaking people in 1983. All the blame lies with this ruling elite, rather than with the oppressed Sinhala workers and poor as a whole. It is necessary to make this distinction now to counter the continuing onslaught of Sinhala Buddhist nationalist propaganda.

VKR and the 1972 constitution

The VKR’s critique of the 1972 constitution has its pluses and minuses. On the minus side the political position of the TULF is reflected in it, rather than the interests of ordinary Tamils.

Despite their Tamil nationalist rhetoric, the Federal Party (FP) leaders were concerned by the youth’s growing domination of the party prior to the resolution. The FP’s decision to join the UNP government in 1965 was opposed by some left-leaning leaders and the majority of the youth. The demand for separation was dominant among the youth and they wanted the FP to openly declare that it was fighting for a separate land for Tamils. Some FP leaders expressed the same sentiment. One of its leading members, A Rajaratnam, expressed dissatisfaction with the FP leadership and briefly broke away to set up ‘Puli padai’ (tiger army) demanding outright independence. He was unable to get sufficient support at that stage as the FP leaders still dominated the youth wing until 1970 when militant activities increased among the youth.

 It is important to put this in its historical context. The 1960s and 1970s were decades of radical upheaval and revolution throughout the world. There had been a wave of revolutionary and? national independence movements ranging from Cuba to countries such as Angola, Algeria, Egypt, Iraq and Vietnam (to name but a few), as well as the mass black civil rights movement in the US, the revolutionary upheaval in 1968 in France, the former Czechoslovakia, etc. This had a radicalising effect on all mass movements, particularly on the young militants. It was reflected in the programmes and policies of armed movements such as the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). All of these groups and movements were based, to a lesser or greater extent, on some form of radical left-wing and socialist programme. This posed a great threat to the Sinhala ruling class as well as to the Tamil Leaders in the FP.

 To keep the FP on their side the UNP leader Dudley Senanayake came to an arrangement with SJV Chelvanayakam. A pact was signed on 24 March 1965. It was a whitewash agreement that only suited the FP and UNP leaders – a marriage of convenience. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) government also agreed to all the points requested by the FP in the agreement and promised to implement them. The Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), regardless of its rotten decision to work with the SLFP, stood for more far-reaching rights for Tamils than the FP at this stage. If the FP genuinely cared for the rights of the minority they could have easily seen through the UNP and chosen what was better for the minorities in the long run. Instead they selfishly put their own careerist ambitions first!

While the FP leaders were happily doing politics in Colombo, division was opening up within the party. The MP for Kayts, V Navaratnam, broke away from the party and called for self-government. He was also the only Tamil MP in the coalition who opposed the passing of the Indo-Ceylon Bill that refused citizenship for half a million plantation Tamils! But the FP leader Chelvanayakam persuaded Navaratnam to be absent from the parliament while the Bill was passed with the blessing of the FP!

During UNP rule FP members of parliament voted with the UNP in all their right-wing measures. During the SLFP government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike the FP opposed nationalisation, including the nationalisation of schools. But under the neoliberal UNP they even voted for the introduction of ID cards which demanded all citizens over the age of 18 to register with a government office which in turn issued a photo card. In fact Navaratnam was expelled from the FP for opposing this bill.

The FP leaders began to lose their grip on the Tamil youth. One of its prominent leaders, Amirthalingam, was dubbed ‘cardboard Hitler’ even by his colleagues like C Rajadurai. A district council bill drafted by Thiruchelvam was also an indirect implementation of the Language Act despite opposition. The ongoing Sinhala communal opposition was due to the fact that it was drafted by a Tamil minister rather than a strong criticism of its content.

The TULF leaders consistently failed to gain the trust of the workers and poor by standing shoulder to shoulder with the right-wing Sinhala elite, such as that of UNP. It was no secret in the north at that time that TULF leaders rubbed shoulders with UNP leaders. The TULF’s closeness to the UNP did not score points with the SLFP government and they systematically worked to keep the TULF away. TULF never made an appeal to the Sinhala workers and poor to cut across the ruling class interest.  

The 1972 constitution did not reflect the aspirations of the Tamil masses. On the contrary a great opportunity to do so was missed and all the parties including the LSSP lost the trust of the Tamil-speaking masses. The TULF’s attempt to capitalise on this mood to strengthen themselves also later failed as they underestimated the boiling anger among the youth.

So the TULF’s claim that they ‘tried and failed’ is not credible. To say that they ‘gambled and failed’ may be the correct way to describe it. It is an attempt to hide their rotten role in collaborating against the interests of the Tamil-speaking masses.

Declaration of the resolution

The final part of the resolution is the strongest part. It is quite easy to understand that the right-wing TULF leaders did not contributed here. However, it also reflects the confusion in understanding class society and what the ‘right to self determination’ actually means. Regardless it is a very powerful statement demanding a secular socialist state. For example it states that the observance of caste will be punishable by law. It was no secret then that most of the TULF leaders did not agree with this point.

Further more the VKR declares that economic “development shall be on the basis of socialist planning and there shall be a ceiling on the total wealth that any individual of family may acquire.” This bold declaration reflects the mood of the youth quite accurately.

In order to come to a clear understanding of the context in which the VKR was made please read the following brief notes on the historical background.

Historical background

The Federal Party (FP) is largely to be blamed for the contradictions that existed among the youth on the question of tactics and strategy. The FP leaders continued to be confused about of what they stood for. They needed the support of the youth to mobilise the masses. And for that they gave rabblerousing speeches and organised protests. But they did not come out with any programme or strategy or even put up strong resistance in the parliament against the growing communal forces within it. They completely failed to identify the forces in the south, which could potentially support the Tamil-speaking masses. Instead treating the situation as a game of ‘clever politics’ and waved between capitalist parties who in turn used them in their ‘clever politics’ to carry out attacks against all workers and poor. When some youth took the initiative to set up youth committees and a student organisation with the aim of changing society and introduced the ideas of socialism, for obvious reasons, the FP leaders felt threatened and they preferred the right-wing militants. But they quite wrongly calculated that they could control these youth to achieve their own political ambition just as JR Jayewardene had used the Sinhala communalists in the south.

But by 1975, several student organisations had been set up, including some militant groups such as the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO – a predecessor of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, LTTE) with some assistance from the Indian government. Debate and discussions within the student movement pushed the youth to the left at the same time the Sri Lankan left going through a crisis due to LSSP/CPSL leaders alliance with SLFP. With a fragmentation of the various organisations fast developing, by 1976 the call for a united struggle was urgent.

Meanwhile in the south, the UNP sensed diminishing support for the SLFP led government among workers and began to gather its strength, once again using communal tactics. JR Jayewardene, then the leader of the UNP, unchallenged after Dudley Senanayake died, began to organise satyagraghas (non-violent resistance) and protests along communal lines in order to win back support. The united front government also took drastic measures to keep themselves in power. Without proper planning, rigorous rationing was introduced. To this day, people associate that period with the long bread queues. The UNP capitalised on this and campaigned to get rid of the queues if they were elected in the next election. JR Jayewardene, the architect of the march to Kandy against the Tamil rights, the man behind many riots and communalist slander against the Tamils, now had the UNP fully under his control. He had directed the whole party machine to organise a series of marches to Buddhist temples and also organised so-called ‘non-violent’ sit-ins. As a reaction to this, the Sinhala-nationalist section within the ruling SLFP, also wanting to take the party more to the right, started attacks on the left. There are divisions and battle took place between right and left within the so-called United from coalition. The Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) defended the rights of the minorities in the past came under the attack by the right wing.

In order to undermine the stand of the LSSP on language rights, the government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike used a variety of tactics. Despite intimidation, the LSSP ministers refused to resign until the government finally expelled all the LSSP ministers in 1975.

The FP, under pressure from the youth, moved from demanding federalism, to calling for a separate nation. The increasing militancy among the youth posed a threat to the FP leaders. The youth either attempted to kill or attacked any MP who voted with the government. They also threatened to attack anybody who opposed the Tamil youth’s demand for a separate country. Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the LTTE, on occasion stayed at the house of Appapillai Amirthalingam, the FP president, but also continued to argue for the abandonment of parliamentarianism. In their annual convention on 9 September 1973, Amirthalingham proposed a resolution which stated that: “the only way open to the Tamil nation is to establish self-rule in their traditional homeland in the exercise of the inalienable right of every nation to self-determination”.

The Tamil students’ forums, were dominated by those on the left politically. They opposed the caste system and leant towards socialist ideas. Amirthalingam and other leaders in the FP were from the upper caste and strongly disapproved of the tendency towards socialist ideas among the youth. They sought the youth as a political power base for themselves, just as the one JR Jayawardene had developed in the south. But the political heat had its own momentum. The youth wing was developing fast and even the right-wing youth who stood alongside the FP leaders grew more restless.

The FP leader, SJV Chelvanayakam resigned his seat in parliament in protest at the government’s constitutional changes, which he argued did not adequately reflect the aspirations of the Tamil masses. He challenged the government to call a by-election which would be a referendum on the will of the Tamil people. But the Sirimavo government refused to call it immediately. The youth began to intensify their campaign for separation. They borrowed hugely from the Dravidian rhetoric from Tamil Nadu. In January 1974, the Tamil Nadu government also helped to organise the fourth World Tamil Research Conference in Jaffna. What started as a minor incident with the police due to alleged intimidation then turned into horrific attack against ordinary people. Nine people died and at least 50 ordinary people were injured.

Chelvanayakam’s victory in the belated by-election in February 1975 gave a massive boost to the youth, who saw it as a triumph for their stand for separation. The LSSP completely underestimated young current within the FP, and opted to collaborate with the Communist Party to support a candidate against Chelvanayakam in the bye-election. Some left-leaning students did support the CP candidate and he managed to win a respectable vote. Youth Supported Chelvanayakam also attracted by socialist ideas but rejected CP and LSSP who they saw as collaborators with the SLFP

Their campaign to make the FP stand firm for separation won support, and in 1976, out of this pressure, all the Tamil parties came together to form Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). They adopted the famous Vaddukoddai resolution at the first national convention held in Vaddukoddai on 14 May 1976. This resolution was heavily influenced by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s agreement with India in the struggle for Bangladeshi independence.

Vaddukoddai Resolution

The background of this resolution must be clearly understood as it is often referred to as a milestone in the Tamils’ demand for separation.

What happened in Vaddukoddai, Amirthalingam’s constituency, was more a direct result of the youth campaign than what the FP leaders actually wanted. By then, a number of small militant groups were formed. All of them received support from the Indian and Tamil Nadu governments. They also organised bank robberies and other activities to fund themselves. By then, the majority of the groups had significant funding and weapons, while militants were sent to India for training. Attempts were made to contact other independence movements such as the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) which was formed in 1964. Students and some elites who lived in UK and other parts of the world offered assistance to these groups, with each of them having a particular favourite. Almost all of the young leaders were hugely influenced by Che Guevara and the Cuban revolution, which alongside other world events had done more to radicalise them than the FP leaders. They formed student committees and education groups. Had the LSSP had the vision to organise them, the history of Sri Lanka could have been very different. But these young militant organisations were largely ignored by the so-called left in the south.

While the students were drawn to socialist ideas, they were by no means fully developed Marxists. Among them, an elite layer existed who came from a middle class upper caste background. They made no attempt whatsoever to learn and understand what socialism meant or to work out a programme for winning the rights of the oppressed masses. They focused on social reforms. But even these reforms put them miles ahead of the FP leaders who represented backwards capitalist policies.

Amirthalingam, for example, never seriously believed in eradicating caste oppression or achieving a ‘socialist Tamil Eelam’. However, he gave in to the demands of the ‘boys’, both in fear and to control them. Almost all the groups formed by the ‘boys’ at that time demanded a ‘socialist change of society’ and this is what was partly reflected in the Vaddukoddai resolution which declared:

This convention resolves that restoration and reconstitution of the Free, Sovereign, Secular, Socialist State of Tamil Eelam, based on the right of self determination inherent to every nation, has become inevitable in order to safeguard the very existence of the Tamil Nation in this country.”

This shows the confusion that existed regarding the meaning of the ‘right to self determination’.

All the parties involved agreed on the points made in the VR except the Ceylon Workers’ Congress, the trade union of the plantation workers. The CWC voiced some reservation as the majority of the plantation workers lived outside the territories defined by the resolution. This was registered at the convention before further points were made. In summary following points are made in VKR.

1.         Full equal rights to all the citizenship of the state of Tamil Eelam

2.         Adopted democratic decentralisation

3.         Caste system will be eradicated

4.         Secular state

5.         Tamil as a national language with organisational rights to Sinhala language

6.         And the final point declared:

That Tamil Eelam shall be a Socialist State wherein the exploitation of man by man shall be forbidden, the dignity of labour shall be recognized, the means of production and distribution shall be subject to public ownership and control while permitting private enterprise in these branches within limit prescribed by law, economic development shall be on the basis of socialist planning and there shall be a ceiling on the total wealth that any individual or family may acquire.’

The above declaration was the bravest and most advanced declaration to come out from the Tamil minority since the early days of the struggle for independence. To demand a socialist state, with full equal rights to all citizens including the eradication of the caste system was a formidable step forward.

However none of the FP leadership believed in this resolution. Hence they made no attempt whatsoever to work out a programme or strategy to fight for these ideas. They only talked about a ‘separate Tamil Eelam’ and assumed themselves as the future leaders of that separate state. It is reported that when the TULF leader Amirthalingam was asked in 1986: “When you passed the Vaddukodai resolution, what were your plans about how you were going to achieve Tamil Eelam?” Amirthalingam replied, “Thamby, whoever thought about all that at that time!’. Thiswas the nature of the TULF leaders.

The ‘boys’ however set out to form ‘socialist programmes’ for their groups. In 1976 the LTTE was formed. Their first manifesto published in 1978 was translated to many languages and appealed to the youth movements around the world. It bears a remarkable resemblance to the VKR and outlines the aims of LTTE as follows:

‘Our fundamental objectives are:

•           Total independence of Tamil Eelam. The establishment of a sovereign, socialist democratic people’s government.

•           Abolition of all forms of exploitation of man by man and the establishment of a socialist mode of production ensuring that the means of production and exchange of our country becomes the ownership of our people.’

This document also works out a strategy for the LTTE as follows:

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has resolved to work in solidarity with the world national liberation movements, socialist states, international working class parties. We uphold an anti-imperialist policy and therefore, we pledge our militant solidarity with the oppressed humankind in the Third World in their struggle against imperialism, neo-colonialists, Zionism, racism and other forces of reaction.’

This was the period of the revolutionary tendency among Tamils. The LTTE is one of many but is significant because it was to become the dominant force later in the 1980s. Some even attended JVP lectures and appointed former LSSP and CP members to give them lessons. The majority of the Tamil LSSP members were leaving the LSSP at this stage as they had completely lost faith in their leaders due to their participation in the coalition government.

It has been reported that within a year of signing the VKR, and agreeing to the demand for a socialist Tamil Eelam, the FP leaders made a secret pact with the right-wing capitalist and communalist UNP leader JR Jayewardene. Later JR Jayewardene used this agreement to persuade the CWC leader Thondaman also to accept his proposals.

1977 general election Last stand of TULF

The ‘boys’ campaigned for the TULF in the 1977 election. The election manifesto, called ‘Tamil Eelam: the right to self determination’ was certainly not written in the sprit of the VKR final demands. After the deaths of GG Ponnampalam, M Tiruchelvam and SJV Chelvanayakam , the TULF leadership came into the hands of Amirthalingam, a right-wing leader who had lost his seat in the 1970 election and was supporting the boys’ activities and pushing for the development of a separatist ideology within the TULF to establish his personal domination. Under his leadership, the election manifesto combined the attack on minority rights with hatred against Sinhala people.

During the election campaign, Mr and Mrs Amirthalingam spoke at numerous places and directed their aggressive and insulting remarks more towards the Sinhala masses as opposed to the Sinhala leadership or government. Many young people who attended these meetings remember how Mrs Amirthalingam promised to rip off the skin of the Sinhala people and wear it as slippers when they were elected. A number of Tamil youths were recruited to the militant organisations by attending these meetings but were given no education whatsoever about the history of Sri Lanka or the origin of the ethnic conflict.

Right-wing propaganda claimed that the Sinhala people have always been racist towards Tamils. They made no attempt whatsoever to explain how Sinhala workers and poor stood shoulder to shoulder with Tamil workers and poor to defend the rights of minorities. No mention is made about how the Sinhala ruling class systematically used the ethnic division to come to power and to hold on to power. No indication was given about how much worse it would be under the coming JR Jayewardene regime. It was a monstrous mistake not to warn the Tamil masses of the dangers of the UNP government. Instead the Tamil elite collaborated with the UNP!

It is this TULF education that is imprinted on the minds of many cadres of all the movements that spread in the 1980s. However, the election manifesto adopted the VKR in principle. One section of it is entitled: “Liberation – how will it be achieved?” The following answer is given: “The Tamil Nation must take the decision to establish its sovereignty in its homeland on the basis of its right to self-determination. The only way to announce this decision to the Sinhalese government and to the world is to vote for the Tamil United Liberation Front. The Tamil-speaking representative who get elected through these votes, while being members of the National State Assembly of Ceylon, will also form themselves into the “NATIONAL ASSEMBLY OF TAMIL EELAM” which will draft a constitution for the State of Tamil Eelam and to establish the independence of the Tamil Eelam by bringing that constitution into operation either by peaceful means or by direct action or struggle.’ !

The manifesto also stated:

Hence, the Tamil United Liberation Fronts seeks in the general election the mandate of the Tamil nation to establish an independent sovereign, secular, socialist state of Tamil Eelam that includes all the geographically continuous areas that have been the traditional homelands of the Tamil-speaking people in this country.”

The ‘boys’ and people soon discovered what monstrous lies these claims were. The election result was a decisive statement of what was to come.

The SLFP suffered a major defeat and only managed to retain eight seats. The UNP won 140 seats with 50.9%. TULF won a landslide in the Tamil areas with 18 seats and become an opposition party, the first Tamil party to do so. The LSSP, having managed a major victory in the last election, lost more than half of its vote and lost all its seats. The LSSP never recovered from this defeat. The workers and poor never forgave them for their cross-class approach. A section of the LSSP (under Siritunga Jayasuriya, Vickramabahu Karunararna, Vasudeva Nanayakara) split away from the LSSP and formed the Nava Sama Samaja Party (NSSP) which still managed to command the support of the workers and poor and had a principled position on the national question. Minority within NSSP under Sritunga Jayasuriya leadership, who previously opposed LSSP cross class coalition, argued for a united struggle of working masses and stood for the right to self determination of the Tamils speaking minority up to and including separation.

Even after overwhelming support for struggle shown by the Tamil masses which reflected in the election result TULF wavered and as an position leader A Amirthalingam opted to work with the government. While the TULF leaders were negotiating with the UNP government for district minister positions, the minority in the NSSP stood for the right to self determination of the Tamils. What stood between NSSP and the Tamil youth was the rotten right wing leadership of TULF who systematically prevented any united struggle as they thrived on the Tamil/Sinhala divide to share power with Sinhala right wing leaders.

The TULF leader, Amirthalingam, now the opposition leader at the parliament, was forced to back away from the UNP as JR Jayewardene began to show his true colours. His election was a disaster for all the masses in Sri Lanka. He immediately started the process of reforming the constitution and establishing a semi-dictatorial executive presidency. He also immediately started to implement neoliberal policies such as privatisation. The transport board, for example, suffered hugely. In order to show that the Ceylon Transport Board (CTB) was running on a loss, he let his accountants in the business circle run loose and loot government properties. Government properties were either sold cheap, or stolen and sold in parts! JR Jayewardene simply announced that the CTB was running on loss and began the privatisation process.

He also unleashed all the communalist ‘lumpens’. Within a month of the election victory, an organised gang attacked Tamils in the south. It must be emphasised here that there is clear evidence published on how these attacks were carried out by very well-organised gangs. But the UNP government maintained that it was a spontaneous reaction. For more than a week, the government refused to take any action to stop the attacks. When JR Jayewardene was questioned by opposition leader A Amirthalingam in the parliament he delivered his famous reply:

People become restive when they hear that a separate state is to be formed. Whatever it is, when statements of that type are made, the newspapers carry them throughout the island, and when you say that you are not violent, but that violence may be used in time to come, what do you think the other people in Sri Lanka will do? How will they react? If you want to fight, let there be a fight; if it is peace, let there be peace; that is what they will say. It is not what I am saying. The people of Sri Lanka say that.”

The sentence: “If you want to fight, let there be a fight; if it is peace, let there be peace” was published in many versions in the Tamil media. “If you want war we will give you war” became the very famous sentence that particular generation still remembers. We must also note here that how JR Jayewardene manipulating public opinion when he said ‘that is what they will say. It is not what I am saying. The people of Sri Lanka say that.’ This is exactly how the Sinhala nationalist right wing rulers justify their attacks. His claim that the ‘people of Sri Lanka’ wanted war is a monstrous lie. Tamil masses never wanted war. All they wanted is their rights. Similarly Sinhala masses also wanted a better living conditions and respect for their rights. Its only the ruling elite wanted war to maintain themselves in power.

Having obtained an unexpected outright majority in the parliament, the prime minister also deserted the TULF and refused to give five district minister seats he promised. Instead one Tamil UNP member was chosen. He also gave another district minister position to another TULF leader who crossed over to the UNP for that position. He was soon murdered by the militants after being publicly accused of being a traitor by A Amirthalingam. It was soon clear that JR Jayewardene was determined to increase the attacks on Tamils rights. However he needed the TULF support to change the constitution which established the executive presidency and JR Jayewardene became the first executive president of Sri Lanka. However his attacks on all workers’ rights did not go unchallenged, despite intimidation and bullying by organised gangs of UNP taken up important places in the government and work places.

Among the boys, anger was mounting against the TULF leaders. The VKR and all the revolutionary promises during the election had come to nothing. There was no sign of firm action from the TULF leaders. Popular among the militants was a book entitled ‘Towards the socialist Tamil Eelam’. Anton Balasingam, who later became the LTTE’s chief advisor and was living in London at that time, was the author. Militant youth already had been travelling to Lebanon, Palestine, and other places for their military training. A huge gap opened up between the militant youth who wanted solid actions and the TULF elite who mingled in elite political circles and were locked in negotiations and the ‘day to day political game’. Quite incredibly, when draconian laws such as the prevention of terrorism act was passed in the parliament, the TULF did not attend parliament to oppose it. Instead it was the left who voted against it and organised a protest meeting outside the parliament.

As a result of the vicious economic policies of JR Jayewardene, unemployment soared, wages declined, inflation increased. Farmers and small traders suffered most under the open economy. Workers again organised under the leadership of the NSSP. But this time JR Jayewardene was waiting for the head-on collision with the workers. He had learnt a great deal during Sirimavo’s brutal suppression of the JVP in the early 1970s. With an increase in investment in defence and with organised mobs behind him he refused to give into any of the demands of the workers.

What began as isolated strikes, gathered together into a general strike in May 1980. But the government was waiting for the moment and called in the military to suppress the strikers. Despite JR Jayewardene’s warning that all workers would lose their jobs, more than 40,000 workers went on strike. Cyril Mathew, the Minister for Industry was allegedly involved in all the racist attacks against the Tamils in the south. His book, titled ‘Sinhalese! Rise to Protect Buddhism’ was circulated to recruit gang members and he ordered his men to take control of the streets. The government crackdown on the strikers was brutal. Leading trade unionists were attacked, arrested and inprisoned. A number of workers lost their jobs, posts that were quickly filled by lumpens under the orders of Cyril Mathew. It was a clamp down on a grotesque scale. The trade union movement took a long time to recover from these attacks. With the workers’ movements out of the way, the JR Jayewardene government went ahead with moving to a free market economy. Sri Lanka was the first country in the region to open up its economy for global exploitation.

Tamil militants supported the strike despite the TULF elite’s disagreements. Many workers went on strike in the north and east. The TULF rottenness become even more clear when Amirthalingam decided not to stand in the presidential election held in 1982 after he was persuaded by prime minister Ranasinge Premedasa, another notorious leader of the UNP who carried through further neo liberal attacks and attacks against minorities.

The government continued to provoke the militants with direct attacks. One of the major events that stayed in the minds of the militant youth of that time was the burning of Jaffna library in 2 June 1981. This library was considered to be one of the biggest libraries in Asia with over 90,000 books. Government officials recently accepted that this was an organised act by the government of the time. Attacks on education were one of the leading recruitment agents for the militants. The burning of Jaffna library further strengthened the militants. Under all these circumstances TULF leaders continued to collaborate with the government.

Having crushed the workers movement and eliminated any possible fight back and established control of the government with the help of TULF, UNP government went on all out offensive against the Tamil-speaking minorities.

Within three years of brutal suppression of general strike, the month of July in 1983 saw violent attacks against the Tamil-speaking people. 1983 pogroms against the Tamils that saw thousands die within few days was the final blow that further pushed Tamil youth towards arms struggle.


The youth in 1970 faced both discrimination at the hands of the state and the inability of the Tamil elite to take the struggle forward. The Sri Lankan government, along with the Tamil leaders, bears the responsibility for pushing the youth towards armed struggle.

We face a similar situation today. But this time the fresh memory of the defeat of the armed struggle and the heightened brutality of the state feature in the situation. In the context of the global recession, with a sharpening of the brutality of governments around the world, we cannot expect even a little favour in the interest of the workers and poor.

However, today we have more favourable conditions for building the fightback and international solidarity. Nothing can be won without a clear analysis of the kind of society we currently live in and a worked out strategy for changing it. We must open up an honest and transparent political discussion with the masses, about the nature of class society. The bosses’ class interests underlie division, oppression and state terror. We must challenge the capitalist mode of production which is solely for profit and replace it with a plan for running society. A genuine socialist democracy would mean the working class owns and controls production and it is run for the needs of all not the profits of a tiny number of super-rich.  It is crucial that the fight for democratic rights is linked to the fight for socialist change. Only then can the right to self determination of the Tamil-speaking minority be achieved.