Crisis and mobilization: “On Galle Face Green, there is a real political turbulence”

For the past month, big social struggles have been taking place in Sri Lanka, an island of 23 million inhabitants. There is an average inflation rate of 20%, close to 50% for basic necessities. Electricity is rationed and residents have to queue all day to find gasoline. The state debt is equivalent to its GDP and the new government is negotiating a “rescue plan" with the IMF which will make the masses pay the bill. The nepotism of the ruling Rajapaksa clan – Mahinda is prime minister, Gota is president, and several ministers are from the same family – is reinforcing popular anger. On Thursday, 12 May 2022 the president sacked his brother and replaced him with a liberal bourgeois politician, Ranil Wikcramsinhe. Stan Miller spoke to a Sri Lankan Trotskyist activist in exile, Don Samantha.

What is the state of the mobilization?

The mobilization is significant, at the level of youth, trade unions and the women's movement. It’s the issue of the economic crisis, inflation and debt that has mobilized everyone. For 35 days, there has been a permanent encampment in Galle Face Green, Colombo (the island’s biggest city) in front of the president's residence, demanding his resignation (#gotagohome) or imprisonment (#gotagojail). After two years of economic crisis and sluggishness from the trade unions and left-wing parties, the mobilization surprised everyone. It is mainly based on young people, outside of the traditional organizations. There is a real political turbulence on Galle Face Green, with between 1,000 and 5,000 occupants. On 9 May, former Prime Minister Mahinda sent 2,000 armed thugs against the occupation. The police covered for them and there were deaths on both sides. They destroyed the camp, but on the same day the occupation began again. Big demonstrations in support of the occupiers took place throughout Sri Lanka.

What is the current political situation in Sri Lanka?

The new Prime Minister Wikcramsinhe, supported by the parties of the government majority, has already held this post five times. In 1983 his government massacred the Tamils [Sri Lanka's ethnic minority] and in 1989 it supported the bloody repression of the JVP [a Maoist party that had attempted a coup]. He returned to business in 2015 under the aegis of the Rajapaksas... who appointed him again, because the popular mobilization made it impossible for Mahinda to remain in office, and since he is a personal friend of the president, Gota could if necessary avoid prison.

What is the state of the economic crisis?

The two main problems are inflation and debt. The government has barely a week of monetary reserves in advance to pay civil servants or import oil. And the IMF believes that Sri Lanka's political instability is a brake on aid plans.

What is the objective of the mobilization now?

On 10 May, a legal ruling barred Gota and Mahinda from leaving the country. The current objective is to get rid of the Rajapaksas. Wikcramsinhe is in charge of the transition for the bourgeoisie, letting the Rajapaksas quietly disappear and reassuring international investors and partners (hence the recent replacement of the president of the Central Bank).

What is the role of revolutionaries in this situation?

Organizing local mobilization committees in the nine provinces of Sri Lanka, including the Tamil areas. We could form a government of the entire left as a counter-power. The crucial issue is that of the army, which really controls the country. The mobilization has support among non-commissioned soldiers. This government of the entire left will also have to decide on the national question (the question of Tamil self-determination). We also need the help of European revolutionaries.

18 May 2022

Translated by from l’Anticapitaliste