SEP holds May Day meeting in Colombo against imperialist war

The Socialist Equality Party (SEP) in Sri Lanka held a successful May Day meeting entitled “For World Socialist Revolution against Imperialist War” in Colombo on May 1.

More than 200 people attended from all parts of the island. Workers came from different workplaces, including a large contingent of Tamil-speaking plantation workers, both male and female. The majority of the audience consisted of young people from urban and rural areas, indicating that a new generation is looking to international socialism as the means to halt imperialist war.

The meeting took place despite attempts by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the police to block it by depriving the SEP of use of the New Town Hall—the venue reserved for the party. The government-owned media deliberately created further confusion by claiming that the SEP faced a crisis over the meeting and then broadcasting false information about the changed venue. The SEP countered with a vigorous poster campaign in many parts of the island.

K. Ratnayake, a member of the World Socialist Web Site editorial board, chaired the meeting. He opened by explaining that May Day was taking place under conditions of world historic changes with the US war against Iraq and the mass international upsurge of the antiwar demonstrations. The depth and extent of the movement against the war did not mean, however, that it could succeed without an international socialist program and a united world party to provide leadership.

Ratnayake pointed out that the United National Front (UNF) government’s attempt to sabotage the SEP’s May Day meeting was bound up with its overall policy of wresting democratic rights from the working class. The SEP had strongly condemned the Interior Minister who was the chief instigator of the move.

Ratnayake explained that the minister’s action took place in the context of ongoing peace talks between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). “The purpose of the talks is to draw the LTTE into a settlement arranged by the US in Sri Lanka in order to mend the Sri Lankan state machine and augment the state forces against the working class,” he said.

SEP General Secretary Wije Dias delivered the main speech to the meeting in Sinhala, which was translated into Tamil from the platform. He began by explaining that the US-led war against Iraq had deep-going political implications internationally and for the Indian subcontinent in particular.

“The ruthlessness with which the Bush administration bombed the Iraqi population is a sign of the desperation of US imperialism to redraw the world political map to suit its own interests. The US, which is separated from the rest of the world by two large oceans—the Pacific and Atlantic, took the unilateral and arrogant initiative to declare war against a foreign country in defiance of the concerns of even its longtime allies of the Cold War period,” Dias said.

“The blatant violation of all hitherto existing international law exemplifies the moves of the Bush administration that will not stop short of a third world war. Under these conditions, the programs presented at the May Day meetings of the pseudo-lefts and the pacifist antiwar radicals, not only in Sri Lanka but also throughout the world, are nothing more than ‘child’s play on the sloping side of a volcano before an eruption,’ as Trotsky said on the eve of the Second World War.”

Dias said that the most heinous crime, apart the grotesque atrocities committed within Iraq itself, was that the breaches of international law were being forced on the world as legitimate simply because they were carried out by the world’s strongest imperialist power. The international working class could not accept this crude pragmatic approach espoused by sections of the ruling class and middle class around the world.

Dias pointed out that international law limits the right of self-defence to situations of actual or imminent armed attack. The Saddam Hussein regime did not attack the US nor did it represent any threat. Iraq’s military capabilities were so curtailed in the 12 years following the first Gulf War that it could not threaten neighbouring countries, let alone the US.

“International law also speaks of the imperative nature of exhausting all avenues to a peaceful settlement of disputes under Article 33 of UN Charter,” he said. But the Bush administration simply ignored the UN and its weapons inspectors and launched war on Iraq unilaterally. If the offence was using so-called weapons of mass destruction, the guilty party was the coalition of US, British and Australian forces, not Iraq.

“We do not idealise international law,” Dias explained. “But its principles embody the concerns of the international community after undergoing the gruesome experiences of two world wars during the last century. Therefore the naked violation of these laws has raised grave fears among broad layers of society that cherish democratic rights.”

Dias quoted the statement of C. G. Weeramanthry, a former judge of the International Court of Justice, who criticised the US actions, saying: “We are faced with a fait accompli which we all must accept. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are in a situation where the basic fundamentals of international law, and around a dozen of its bedrock principles, have been violated. That sets the clock back by centuries. Unless all the world unites we will be the sufferers and so will our children and our children’s children. There has here been a series of violations which the world community will not accept.”

Weeramanthry was not a socialist, Dias said, but he expressed the concerns of liberal-minded people who demonstrated in the tens of millions throughout the world against the war in Iraq. “Their protests against imperialist war expressed powerfully the potential for an international struggle to end the epoch of imperialist wars. But those progressive aspirations can only be fulfilled if the international working class based on a socialist program takes the lead in the struggle to rally the oppressed masses for the task of overthrowing imperialism on a world scale.”

US interventions in South Asia

The speaker then focused on US interventions in the political affairs of the Indian subcontinent—all in the name of settling long-standing communal disputes. “In Sri Lanka, the US State Department is acting as a de facto colonial office in running the day-to-day affairs of the island. US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and his ambassador in Colombo are dictating what to do and what not to do to all parties.”

When the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) recently suspended its participation in peace talks, the US ambassador to Sri Lanka, Ashly Wills, arrogantly called for the decision to be reversed, even before the Colombo government made a response. The attitude of sections of the Sri Lankan bourgeoisie was summed up in an editorial in the Island newspaper, which welcomed the intervention as a “resounding slap” to the LTTE “blackmail” and urged stronger US action.

“The attitude of the LTTE was no different,” Dias said. “The chief LTTE spokesman Balasingham immediately issued an apologetic statement assuring the US State Department that its decision to suspend participation in the peace talks was only temporary.” The speaker pointed out that, whatever their tactical differences, both the Sinhala and Tamil bourgeoisie were subservient to the same masters and paved the way for imperialist intervention.

“What we find on the Indian subcontinent is similar. Using the dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, US administrations, particularly since Clinton, have continuously strengthened Washington’s hand in the political affairs of the region. Both India and Pakistan are facing the severest crisis since the partition of the sub-continent in 1947 and cravenly seek US intervention in the dispute.”

Dias noted that Kuwait was the pretext for the first Gulf War against Iraq and ongoing aggression, which had now resulted in the US military occupation of Iraq. He warned that the settling of local disputes whether in Sri Lanka or on the Indian subcontinent simply provided the means for further US interventions as part of its strategy of global domination.

Dias concluded his speech by calling workers in Sri Lanka and throughout the Indian subcontinent to demand the abrogation of all military agreements with the US. “This must be part of the independent program fought for by the working class for the internationalist unity on the basis of socialism. Only the International Committee of the Fourth International and its international organ the World Socialist Web Site fights to rally the masses on the basis of this program,” he said.

SEP Central Committee members Vilani Peiris and M. Aravindan also addressed the meeting. In her contribution, Peiris explained said the US had intensified its intervention in the South Asian region following the Iraq war. While this took the form of pushing India and Pakistan to reach a settlement over Kashmir, its purpose was not to achieve peace on the Indian subcontinent, but to clear the way to intensify the pressure on China. In doing so, the US will only inflame the tensions throughout the region.

Peiris quoted Keerthi Balasuriya, the founding general secretary of the Revolutionary Communist League, the forerunner to the SEP. He pointed out that the imperialist division of the Indian subcontinent in 1948, which was meant to end communal tensions, had only created carnage and piled up incendiary material for future conflagrations. “Only a solution based on an international socialist program can solve the problems arising out of the decay of the capitalist system. Such a program is the need of the day under conditions in which imperialism is dragging mankind towards a Third World War,” Peiris said.

M. Aravindan spoke at length about the international situation and the role of the WSWS, reviewing in particular the bankruptcy of the LTTE’s nationalist and chauvinist perspective. The LTTE claimed that its armed struggle would compel the major powers to pressure Colombo to grant democratic rights to the Tamil masses and, on that basis, sacrificed the lives of tens of thousands of Tamil youth. “What is the political balance sheet of more than 20 years of armed struggle for a national separate state of Eelam?” he asked. “Ultimately the LTTE has ended up as every other nationalist movement by toeing the line of the western powers.”

The meeting concluded with generous donations to the SEP’s party building fund totalling 3,670 rupees. Many of those who attended remained for informal discussion with the speakers and other SEP members.