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Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna
History of the JVP
The JVP was founded in 1965 with the aim of providing a leading force to the socialist revolution of Sri Lanka. By 1965 there were four other leftist political parties of considerable size: the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), the first leftist party in Sri Lanka and established in 1935, the Communist Party of Sri Lanka (CP) which was a break away from the LSSP, the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) and the CP-Chinese faction. This was a period when economic crisis in the country was deepening. Since independence from colonialism the main two parties had governed the country, each for eight years, but according to the founders of JVP they had been unable to implement even a single measure to resolve the crises Sri Lanka faced.
JVP considered the intry into the government by three left parties in 1964 as a conscious betrayal of the aspirations of the people and the working class.
This was a period when the divisions between the Communist Party of China and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union were coming to the fore, undermining the cohesion of the international socialist movement. The Soviet Union was advising the communists of third world countries that since their leftist movements are not powerful enough to effectively dismantle the capitalist rule, they should consider joining with the capitalists in the government and develop the country with aid from the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union baptized this strategy as 'the non-capitalist path to development'. According to the founders of the JVP it was a wrong strategy and to them it seemed that the Soviet Union was preaching class collaboration. However, the JVP founder were alse disappointed by the role of China.
Emergence of a Leader
During this period, Rohana Wijeweera was studying medicine in the Lumumba University . Whilst at university, he witnessed and experienced for himself the benefits offered to the society by the socialist system. From this arose in him a deep desire to see his own countrymen enjoy the fruits of the socialist way of life - a lifestyle geared to meet the needs of all and not produce profits for the few. Extensive reading of socialist literature, the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin followed. Rohana Wijeweera along with many other students described the Soviet proposals as a betrayal of socialism. In the Soviet Union, this stand attracted controversy and when Rohana Wijeweera returned to Sri Lanka in 1964 for a vacation, he was not allowed to go back to the Soviet Union to continue his studies.
By this time, Communist Party of Sri Lanka was also divided on this issue and as a result broke down into two factions; the Chinese faction and the Soviet faction. The Chinese faction as led by Premalal Kumarasiri. Through his father's political activities, Wijeweera had come to contact with Premalal Kumarasiri on earlier occasions and now Wijeweera met Premalal Kumarasiri to say that he would like to work for the Chinese faction of the Communist Party on the basis of a well wisher. Wijeweera made the trade union office of the Chinese faction his home and plunged himself in work. No one in the Chinese faction was quite conversant with the Sino-Soviet dispute as to be able to offer a clear explanation of it to the membership. This task fell on Wijeweera who was met by the members wanting know about the prevailing situation. He was invited by various branches of the party to deliver lectures to their membership on the Sino Soviet dispute. With all these activities, before long, Rohana Wijeweera became a person known to everybody in the Chinese faction. When the youth congress of the party was held, Rohana Wijeweera acted as the translator for the Albanian delegation who participated in the congress. This period strengthened the link between Wijeweera and the membership of the Chinese faction. He also helped in selling the party organ Kamkaruwa (The Worker), in organising trade union action, etc. Thus with time he became a known and popular person within the Chinese faction of the Communist Party.
In late 1964, Premalal Kumarasiri along with a part of the membership broke away from the Chinese faction, due to internal strife. This split affected adversely the youth organizations of the party. Following the split Shanmuganathan became the General Secretary of the Chinese faction and under his leadership the party deteriorated precipitously. While mouthing words about revolution, he was torpedoing strikes and lived in a capitalist elite. The party continued to break up and disputes with the leadership became common. Wijeweera observed many shortcomings in the Chinese faction. According to him, the leadership had double standards. Political activities consisted only of maintaining trade unions and blind veneration of the Chinese leadership.
In this epoch the international political landscape was filled with a variety of trends. On one hand, under the 'guidance' of the Soviet Union, the international communist movement was embracing a slow death by willingly climbing on to the lap of the capitalist class. In certain other countries militants were being mercilessly eliminated by capitalist regimes. In contrast to these setbacks, the revolutions unfolding in Cuba and Vietnam gave new life to the communists' world over. Castro, Che Guevera, and Camillo made exemplary heroic figures for the younger generations sensitive to injustice and inequality. Just as much as in other countries, in Sri Lanka too a militant revolutionary trend against parliamentary politics was making its presence felt. Revolutionaries in every corner of the world could not escape from the impact of this revolutionary wave.
It is in this background that Rohana Wijeweera holds a discussion with a number of members of the Chinese faction known to him. The date was 14th May 1965. The group consisted of five people including Wijeweera. Forming a new political party was no where in the agenda of this discussion although history later proved it to be the meeting that saw the seeds for the creation of a new party, the JVP. The theme of the discussion was the leadership crisis facing the working class of Sri Lanka. The LSSP, which was allied with the capitalist SLFP or the CP, which tried in its turn to join the SLFP but was rejected or the MEP, which was running after the capitalist UNP, were see as no longer conscious of the needs of the working class and lacking the political will to guide the working class. The Chinese faction appeared to be the most revolutionary party at that time and most of the genuine revolutionaries in the country were flocked around it. It was decided at this meeting that they should concentrate their efforts to breathe life in to this stagnating Chinese faction. To realize the potential the Chinese faction contained to become the revolutionary movement of the country. To this end it was decided that Rohana Wijeweera should obtain the membership of the Chinese factions and work as a full time party activist and that together they should attempt to campaign within the party to correct its various shortcomings. In the period, which followed these decisions, were put in to action. They also made a concerted effort to extend the membership by persuading workers, peasant and soldiers to join the party. The campaign of constructive criticism within the party led to the baring of malpractice's of the editor of the party organ, Kamkaruwa, by the other members of the editor board. Not stopping at that, in the meeting of party distinct committee members, held in April 1966, criticisms were leveled against the conduct of the party leadership.
The party leadership was taken by surprise with this internal rebellion and instead of reforming the party in consideration of the criticisms offered by the membership, they commenced a witch-hunt within the party. The leaderships need to stifle dissension claimed victims from the most active members of the party including Rohana Wijeweera. By this time a committee had been appointed to recognize the youth organization of the party which had suffered due to the break away of Premalal Kumarasiri. Rohana Wijeweera was the secretary of the youth organization during the youth congress; the party general secretary Shanmuganathan rejected the proposal using his powers. He also withheld the full time membership status of Wijeweera. Some other members were also relieved of their responsibilities. The internal struggle to rebuild the party in to a true revolutionary movement came to a halt in this fashion.
In mid-1966, another discussion was held in Akmeemana (Galle district) by a group of members of the Chinese faction including Wijeweera. This group consisted more or less of the same people who had participated in the previous meeting in May 1965. Here it was decided that, since the Chinese faction leadership was blocking every effort at correcting the party, a movement truly revolutionary in body and spirit should be created in spite of the numerous certain obstacles to confront such a venture. Everybody present was conscious of the fact that they had absolutely no material resources to employ in their project. The only resources they had, the human resource comprised for the moment of only them. This was in complete contrast to the birth of other political parties in Sri Lanka. For example, the Communist Party was founded in 1943 by reading off considerable party of the LSSP membership. The Chinese faction was founded in 1962 in the very same fashion and took away with it over half of the trade union movement affiliated to the CP. When the NSSP was founded it carried with it a large portion of the membership of the LSSP. The UNP was deprived of a large part of its membership as S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike broke away from it to form the SLFP. Similarly Chandrika B. Kumarathunga and her husband carried with them not only part of the membership but also party funds and printing office from the SLFP when they fell out with it and formed their own party the SLMP.
But when Wijeweera and others decided in mid-1966 to launch a new revolutionary party they had to literally start from the scratch. The left movement that has existed (which is now generally referred to in Sri Lanka as 'old left') up to then had not produced even at least a fez professional revolutionaries. They had never made a meaningful effort to educate the masses on Marxism. The words mouthed by the leaders of the 'old left' were accepted by workers as the final word. Even more pathetic was that the leadership of the 'old left', aware of this aspect, utilized it to the fullest to blunt the militancy of workers. Instead of developing the political outlook of the workers, late N.M. Perera , then the leader of the LSSP, declared that revolutions could not be realized in Sri Lanka and that the left leaders were doing the maximum possible. The working class accepted unsuspectingly this defeatist and opportunistic stand of their self professed leaders and in fact loyally defended this leadership against criticisms. Such was the state of the working class when the embryo of the future JVP without any fanfare embedded itself in the political milieu of Sri Lanka.
In the period that followed our the cadre engaged themselves in political activities that comprised mainly of trying to increase the political awareness of the working class.
The economic hardships to be faced were crippling. They walked miles for the want for bus fare. Slept in bus halts or temples. Some times the only meal of rice for the day was got from the mid-day alms offered to temples. The mornings were spent to earn some money by carrying loads in the vegetable markets and the afternoons were devoted to political work.
In this early period, to overcome the economic hardships, it was decided to try out livestock farming. The first farm in Anuradhapura, in North Central province failed. The second started in Kataragama , in Southern province had to be later moved to a location close to Kirinda bay in the same province, since goats would otherwise regularly destroy the crops. The farm work completed during daytime, political work occupied the evenings. At this time only Rohana Wijeweera among them were politically educated to a degree necessary to direct political discussions. The others engaged in winning over people and organizing the meetings and discussions. After one and a half years of this difficult trek, the number of the group had increased to 78. Not all of them were Marxists. Their level of education and level of knowledge spanned a wide range. They held differing views on political issues. While some favored a rapid strike on the system as done in Cuba. But all were united in the point of rejecting the 'old left' and its embrace of 'parliamentary capitalism'.
In order to forge ahead as a political party and to crystallize the policies and strategies of the new party, twenty new-comers from the group of 73 assembled in a hut overlooking paddy fields in Keleththewa, a remote village in [Anuradhapura] district. Their different views were subjected to open discussions and finally emerged the common view that the oppressed classes should be organized to establish a revolutionary dedicated for their service, not to blindly follow another country's methods but to learn from them and develop new strategies that the particularities of the Sri Lanka society and its political structure demands for the realization of socialist revolution. The need to create a revolutionary party was underlined again. A comprehensive educational program to improve the political knowledge of the proletariat and to develop them in to Marxism was perceived as a prerequisite to the creation of a revolutionary party.
The Keleththewa discussion raised in its wake a number of issues. One of the more important was how best one could approach the goal of politically educating the masses. According the the group, none of the 'old left' parties had so much as focused on this need. Simple and easy to understand translations of at least basic Marxist literature was not made available to the working class. Following deliberations on this issue, it was decided that an uncomplicated Marxist analysis of the socio-politico-economic problems of the country should be the introductory step. The Marxists analysis was staggered in to five discussions along with five main themes. This was to be followed by a longer educational camp for those wishing to advance their knowledge. The capacity of the party to mount such a project at this stage was quite limited. Wijeweera was educated in Marxist tradition during hi stay in Moscow and he was the only person in the group who had a solid understanding of Marxism and its application. The others, although sacrificing all their energies to propagate the politics of the new party and were professional revolutionaries in that sense, were no sufficiently conversant with Marxist ideology to present it to another. Therefore, when this project was commenced in early 1968, the main responsibility of it fell on Wijeweera. He was charged with preparing the analysis as well as conducting the political classes on those analyses. Throughout rest of the year 1968, Wijeweera walked the length and breadth of the country conducting political classes for the members of the party.
Famous 'Five Classes'
The five basic political classes were to be followed by an education camp and the first of such was held in early 1969 in Akmeemana at the same premises where the earliest discussions were held. This was in fact the home of the member Karunaratne. Precautions had to be taken to keep this educational camp a secret to avoid alarming the government as well as the 'old left'. This was a lesson invariably offered by the history of all revolutionary movements. The lack of economic resources made it felt in no uncertain terms. The breakfast for the 25-30 people participating in the camp, cramped in a small room, comprised of a tea. Often there were only two solid meals per day. The classes all conducted by Wijeweera stretched from 17 to 18 hours per day interrupted only by meals. Sleep was confined to five hours and it was not possible to have showers during the seven days of the camp. These rigorous conditions had to be borne on one hand due to the lack of resources and on the other hand to assure protection from and early onslaught by capitalist rulers and their cohorts. Two years later, by 1971, the JVP had established itself as a political party and offered an alternative to those disillusioned with the politics of the 'old left'. The majority of the members and supporters of the JVP, at this time, were in the young adult age group. Ignorant of the revolutionary strength of the founders of the JVP, unaware of the years of sacrifices and hard work that was put in to build up the party and alarmed at the political potential and the political challenge of the JVP, the government and their leftist collaborators leveled a variety of slanders against the fledgling party. JVP has later admitted that by 1971, it was not a completely mature political party. There were many shortcomings of which they sought to rectify.
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