Peasants form action committee in southern Sri Lanka to fight government attacks
On July 16, peasants from Palagoda in Tangalle, southern Sri Lanka, formed an independent action committee to fight ongoing social attacks by successive Sri Lankan governments on their livelihoods.
The initiative marks an important step in the development of the anti-government mass movement of the working class and rural workers in Sri Lanka. Determined to win their fundamental social and democratic rights, this decision expresses the aspirations of millions of peasants, hard hit by the economic and political attacks of former President Gotabhaya Rajapakse and his government.
The creation of the Tangalle Agrarian Action Committee is significant for two main reasons: It was created under the political leadership of the Socialist Equality Party (SEP), as part of the campaign for an International Alliance of Committee Workers base, initiated last year by the International Committee of the Fourth International. Second, it was formed in opposition to the treacherous trade unions, peasant organizations and other bourgeois formations, all of which work constantly to prevent all mass struggles of peasants and workers challenging the capitalist profit system.
Sixteen peasants working as sharecroppers in the village of Palagoda, about 3 kilometers from the town of Tangalle in the agricultural district of Hambantota, participated in the inaugural meeting. Most of the people there are involved in growing the crops, as well as the day to day work as odd jobs to make ends meet.
The peasants must not only pay all the cultivation costs, but hand over a quarter of their harvest to the owners. They face the loss of their crops due to flooding during the rainy season, the lack of chemical fertilizers and the shortage of diesel for their agricultural machinery. Rural youth also face high unemployment rates.
Opening the inaugural meeting of the action committee, the leader, GB Padmasiri, said that the old, previously dominant peasant organizations had demonstrated their political bankruptcy and explained why new independent organizations, as proposed by the SEP, were needed.
“As the comrades know very well, we experienced how [government agricultural] come here, when they are summoned by official peasant organizations and how we engage in debates after presenting our problems to them. After these meetings ended, however, none of the solutions materialized.
“Through this experience, we understand why peasants need a new form of organization and a program to find solutions to our problems,” Padmasiri said.
Padmasiri heard about MS while reading the World Socialist Website and some books published by the party. He was drawn to the idea of action committees and understood why they were needed to lay the foundations for a workers’ and peasants’ government committed to socialist policies. He realized that this was the only viable solution to the pressing social needs of the working and rural poor.
After his brief introduction, Padmasiri invited SEP political committee member Ratnasiri Malalagama to address the audience. He began by explaining the catastrophic situation faced by peasants in the context of the worsening economic crisis.
While peasants, who have no other means of subsistence, cannot give up farming, their ability to grow their crops has been significantly compromised, he said, referring in particular to bans on imposed by the Rajapakse government on chemical fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides.
Although the Rajapakse government says it was concerned about preventing kidney disease, the drastic import bans were due to the lack of foreign currency, Malalagama said.
“You know how this debt crisis is impacting your lives,” he continued, but the solution sought by capitalist leaders is the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
“The IMF wants the government to repay its borrowing by cutting public spending. The rising cost of fuel and all foodstuffs, along with the destruction of ongoing hospital services and education, go in that direction,” he said.
The speaker explained that the popular uprising that ousted Gotabhaya Rajapakse, who initially came to power with 6.9 million votes, showed mass opposition to austerity and social destruction. He warned, however, that all capitalist and pseudo-left parties were working together to divert this movement to another bourgeois government, a multi-party caretaker government.
All opposition parties, Malalagama continued, support the use of the IMF and the implementation of its demands. The organizers of the Galle Face Green protests, including the Frontline Socialist Party and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, he said, are also hijacking the protests in this trap, which is to ‘buy time’ for the ruling elite to crack down. brutally the popular uprising.
The speaker explained that the social catastrophe was not limited to Sri Lanka and cited the struggle of millions of Indian peasants who had been protesting in New Delhi for about a year against the Modi government’s pro-corporate agricultural “reforms”. Sri Lankan health workers, plantation workers and teachers had formed action committees during the mass protest against the Rajapakse government, Malalagama said and outlined the basic policies of the SEP.
* For workers’ democratic control over the production and distribution of all essentials and other resources essential to people’s lives! Nationalize the banks, the big companies, the plantations and other big economic nerve centers!
* Repudiate all external debts! No to the austerity demands of the IMF and the World Bank which represent the bankers and the international financial institutions!
* Seize the colossal wealth of billionaires and corporations!
* Cancel all debts of poor and marginal farmers and small business owners! Restore all subsidies, including fertilizer subsidies for farmers! Abolish the feudal system of sharecropping! Give the land to the sharecroppers who cultivate it!
* Guarantee jobs for all with decent and safe working conditions! Index wages to the cost of living!
Malalagama quoted the SEP’s April 7 statement: “The struggle for this program is leading the way and will instill confidence in the working class in its abilities, draw the rural masses to its side and, through the development of a network of of action, providing the organizational basis for the working class to take power and establish a workers’ and peasants’ government to begin the socialist reorganization of society.
After Malalagama’s report, there were questions and answers on the program of action. There have also been talks of fuel shortages stopping the cultivation of paddy fields in the Tangalle region. The peasants said they were not even able to grow rice for their own consumption.
Audience members said that even though Grama Niladhari [a village officer] and the assistant agricultural officers had provided letters certifying the farmers’ fuel requirements, they had done nothing to provide fuel. The peasants said that every officer and every institution had abandoned their responsibilities. They also said government directives telling them to start cultivation immediately to overcome food shortages were not impossible under the current circumstances.
Participants at the meeting agreed that there is a need to form a network of action committees to develop united action on issues facing farmers. Accordingly, the audience decided that the meeting should call for the creation of similar action committees in the other provinces on the initiative and under the leadership of the Tangalle Agrarian Action Committee.
Intervening in the discussion, SEP representatives explained the need to build alliances of action committees between the working class and the peasantry in the struggle for solutions to the problems they face.
The following resolution was presented, discussed and adopted unanimously.
“The living conditions of millions of people have deteriorated considerably due to the worsening economic crisis in the country. The peasants have been hard hit by the brutal attacks launched in the name of international capital, including the IMF.
“Based on a proper program, the Tangalle Agrarian Action Committee will fight to solve the myriad problems including the lack of fuel, fertilizer and reasonable prices for their harvest. To this end, we invite peasants from other provinces and workers from different estates and the toiling masses to form a network of such action committees.
“This Agrarian Action Committee has no connection with any of the capitalist parties that have subjected the masses to immense hardship for decades. At the same time, we warn that the so-called multi-party government that will be formed with the participation of all capitalist parties will continue the attacks unleashed by previous governments. We are against such a government.
“We express our full support for the construction of a democratic and socialist congress of workers and rural masses to fight for the coming to power of a socialist government of workers and peasants, which alone has the capacity to bring real solutions to the problems facing the masses.”