National Sections of the L5I:

Tamil Tigers face defeat as Sri Lankan army pursues bloody campaign against civilian population

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As the Tamil Tigers face a historic defeat, Sean Ambler asks where now for the struggle for Tamil national liberation?

The Sri Lankan army's six-month offensive against the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) is reaching a bloody culmination. The LTTE' last major stronghold of Mullaitivu has fallen just weeks after government forces captured the administrative centre of the Tamil Tigers, Kilinochchi.

The SLA is already denying access to the area to the UN and World Food Programme, leaving 300,000 civilians without access to food supplies or drinking water. No respect for allowing medical aid into the area is being shown by the SLA, with threee shells exploding near a hospital on 27th January, just days after two medical workers were injured in a barrage on a hospital. A 'afety zone? has been set up by the SLA, but this is being repeatedly attacked by artillery fire and no shelter or supplies are being provided to those who are forced to move from unsafe areas. Forced identification, under the punishment of a year long prison sentence, is also taking place.

While this goes on the UN and countries of the world are silent or actively supporting the SLA. Indeed the UN spokesperson in Colombo, Gordon Weiss, has grossly underestimated the civilian casualties while stating that he does not know who is responsible for those who have been killed. While claiming that only ten civilians have been killed reports from the area suggest the figure is closer to three hundred.

A statement from the US embassy in Colombo has welcomed the SLA' attack on the LTTE, stating that: 'The United States does not advocate that the Government of Sri Lanka negotiate with the LTTE, a group designated by America as a Foreign Terrorist Organization since 1997.'

Aided by a reactionary consortium of military aid and intelligence from the USA, India, Pakistan, China, Iran and Israel, the government of Mahinda Rajapaksa may indeed be close to winning a strategic victory over the LTTE. Nevertheless whatever the fate of the LTTE armed struggle the Tamil people' legitimate fight for national liberation will not end.

The terrible sufferings of the Tamil people, once again on the receiving end of the genocidal actions of the Sinhala chauvinist ruling class, are in part the product of the historic failure of the once powerful and revolutionary workers movement on the island. The great majority of the trade unions and so-called socialist forces like the ex-Trotskyists Lanka Sama Samaja party (LSSP) and the ex-Maoists-Guevarist JVP, offer no principled opposition to the communalist massacres. Indeed in the case of the JVP they actively encourage them whilst their trade unions hold back the class struggle in the interests of the national war effort. Nor does the policy of the sections of the Fourth International and the Committee for a Workers International of joining popular fronts with the main bourgeois opposition party the United National Party (UNP) in the name of defending human rights offer an alternative. Only class unity and independence provides a political basis from which the present reactionary situation can be changed. An objective basis for doing so exists in the world wide economic crisis which is hitting Sri Lanka. The chauvinist intoxication of Rajapaksa' ?victory? will eventually wear off, revealing to millions their worsened economic situation and the high price of subordinating their needs to 'national unity.'

The strength of reactionary Sinhala nationalism, with over eighty percent of Sri Lankans supporting the war against the Tamils, combined with the defeat of the LTTE' ability to fight in open combat, makes ever more urgent the tasks of winning of progressive sections of the Sinhalese working class to defence of the Tamils and their national rights. A necessary starting point is the intransigent defence of the Tamils against the genocidal attacks of the government and the unconditional recognition of the Tamil people' right to self-determination, including an independent state.

The forces of reaction, through their mouthpieces in the international media, will cheer at the end of the 'terrorist threat'. Whilst we do not politically support the LTTE, they have hitherto represented the de facto leadership of the oppressed Tamil people. Any defeat of the LTTE by the Sri Lankan government therefore represents a reactionary victory. It is one the Sinhala workers will feel the evil results of too. Already the government is attacking democratic rights across the country as it moves towards victory. The constant attacks on prominent members of the media who have criticised the government by shadowy assassins, and the packing of the government with brothers of the President, are sinister pointers to the growth of anti-democratic forces in the country.

The roots of Tamil oppression
The roots of Tamil national oppression lie in the period of British colonialism where they followed their preferred tactic of ?divide and rule? ? which requires much less direct policing, thus allowing a large empire to be maintained with less ?imperial overstretch? by training a section of the population to take up managerial roles where they would benefit from colonialism and later imperialism. The British colonialists elevated the 'Ceylonese Tamils', a minority ethnic group making up half of the total Tamil population, roughly 9% of the island, into the middle class for positions in the civil service, medicine and law. While those Tamils who had a long ancestry on Ceylon enjoyed this privileged position, those who had emigrated more recently from Tamil Nadu in India were an exploited section of the agricultural embryonic working class along with the Sinhalese population which made up a majority of the Sri Lankan population. The effect was to create and foster ethnic tensions which, as with many other former British colonies, would rapidly becoming the defining feature of the politics of the state.

Although during the Soulbury Commission, and its following Donoughmore Commission, the influence of the 'Ceylonese Tamils' was declining, it remained the case that on independence in 1948, six out of ten civil service positions were held by this ethnic group. While this original disproportionality was the basis for later ethnic tensions, for a short time after independence the Sri Lankan working class was largely united on an multi-ethnic basis. However the national bourgeoisie of Sri Lanka were largely from the Sinhalese population, thus the two main parties have based themselves around different sections of this new ruling class.

The United National Party (UNP), who gained victory in the 1947 elections, are the most conservative of the two parties representing the higher ranks of Sinhalese landowners. The alternative party of government, the Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP), represents the interests of the more traditional Sinhalese bourgeoisie including land owning Buddhist monks, has often been more virulent in its anti-Tamil policies as can been seen by its governments in the 1960s and 1970s. In order to maintain their position ethnic tensions were used to damage the once highly effective workers movement. The ostensibly Trotskyist party, an affiliate in the Fourth International, the LSSP refused to fight the Sinhalese chauvinism that was becoming engrained in the working class, clearing the path to it forming a coalition government in 1964 with the SLFP.

The combined effect of thirty-five years of governance by parties of the Sinhalese bourgeoisie meant that by the early 1980s a policy of educational discrimination against Tamils had reduced their numbers in the civil service to only five percent. This period also saw the banning of parliamentary representation, forced ?repatriation? of 300,000 Tamils to India since 1965 and the disenfranchisement of around three-quarters of the Tamil population, as well as the attempt in the 1970s to colonise Tamil areas in the East with Sinhalese settlers in a similar fashion to the West Bank.

The latter half of the twentieth century saw Anti-Tamil pogroms in 1958, 1961, 1977, 1981 and 1983, involving thousands of murders, and creating serious internal displacement, including 80,000 to 100,000 refugees among the Tamil community in Colombo alone. These pogroms can be clearly linked to an attempt to deflect class conflict into ethnic conflict by the Sinhalese bourgeoisie: the 1983 pogrom was incited based on debts of some Sinhalese workers to some Tamil petit-bourgeoisie. As recently as 7th June 2007, 375 Tamils were evicted from Colombo by police and soldiers of the Sri Lankan state, leading even TIME magazine to question if this could be 'ethnic cleansing'.

The combined effect of this increasing oppression of the Tamil people was to transform the political demands of the movement from bourgeois reforms for language rights and an end to discrimination into a demand for a separate state – and with this the formation of guerrilla groups. These were largely based around young Tamil petit-bourgeoisie took up this strategy after the failure of the left to consistently defend Tamil rights and the inability of the reformist movement to defend the Tamils.

Failure of the Tamil Tigers? strategy
The LTTE' strategy has proven to be one that cannot liberate the Tamil people. Whilst in defending Tamils against the Sri Lankan (and Indian) armies they played a progressive role deserving of critical support by communists, it was necessary to understand that in terms of the assembling the mass political forces that could liberate the Tamils and the Sinhala workers and peasants they played a reactionary role. The elitism of the group – an unwillingness to train the large numbers needed for the self-defence of the Tamil people, combined with their attacks and indeed elimination of other armed groups fighting for the defence of the Tamils meant they blocked the development of working class force able to take up all aspects of the struggle. Further their tactics of attacking Sinhalese civilians, including workers, in settlements in Tamil areas, were dictated by a narrow nationalist perspective and did not do not assist the process of winning the Sinhalese working class to a defence of Tamil rights.

Unity of the whole island' working class and poor peasantry is the progressive way forward but this will not be possible unless anti-communalist, internationalist forces in the workers movement win the Sinhalese workers away from all forms of chauvinism, defending their Tamil class brothers and sisters against pogroms and persecution.

The defeat for the LTTE, while in part caused by the failure of their own strategy , is nonetheless clearly a setback for the liberation for the Tamil people. Without an organised armed force to defend their rights it is likely that the Sri Lankan Army (SLA), almost completely composed of Sinhalese soldiers, will scale up the oppression of the Tamil population in areas recently captured from the LTTE.

Nor this the first major defeat for the Tamil Tigers – in the aftermath of the India Sri Lanka Accord of July 1987 the LTTE interpreted the deal, to which they were not party, as a signal for regional autonomy. Resultant from this the Indian and Sri Lankan armies attacked, resulting in a rout of the LTTE from its administrative control over most of the Jaffna peninsula, forcing the LTTE to retreat and regroup. While the current defeat is greater in scale, nevertheless it does not discard the possibility of a regroupment of the LTTE or another group based on the flawed strategy of guerillarism.

The tasks of Bolshevik-Leninists in Sri Lanka is to consistently defend of the rights of Tamils to determine their own future, even if this includes a separate nation state, and to win the Sinhalese working class to to defending this position. This is against the strategy of economism which argues for unity between Tamils and Sinhalese purely on a trade unionist level while leaving the question of the national oppression of the Tamils unanswered. The Socialist Party of Sri Lanka are beginning this process, we call on all class conscious Sri Lankan workers to join them. Mahinda Devage, the national secretary of the Sri Lanka Socialist Party stated that: ?The main bourgeois opposition forces keep quiet in this situation, not many people are willing to come forward and speak out. The anti-war movement is small and is isolated. It is hard to make the case for an anti war position, but it must be done.?

A strategy for the liberation of the Tamils is inherently linked in with the task of the overthrow of the bourgeois state as part of the programme of the permanent revolution. An ethnic conflict based on diverting the Sinhalese working class away from class struggle in order to be able to super-exploit Tamil and Sinhalese workers cannot be solved under capitalism, even with an independent Tamil Ealam.


Our comrades in the Socialist Party of Sri Lanka are swimming against the stream of Sinhalese chauvinism in the Sri Lankan working class, putting forward a consistent anti-war message even when eighty percent are in favour. There are only five trade unions with anti-war positions in Sri Lanka, our comrades are central to several of these. With a mounting economic crisis in part caused by the reckless spending of war by the Sri Lankan government these unions are in desperate needs of funds for equipment and organisers. We are calling on all working class internationalists to donate, or get their union branch to donate, to the Sri Lanka Trade Union Solidarity Campaign ( in order so that the essential work of winning Sinhalese workers away from a chauvinist anti-Tamil position can be taken forward.