SEP-SL Assistant Secretary Condemns the CAC Campaign for Freedom of Art and Expression

By Nandana Nannetti

On June 17, the Assistant Secretary of the Socialist Equality Party (SEP), Sri Lanka, Comrade Saman Gunadasa participated in the online (Zoom) meeting held by the Colombo Action Committee (CAC). The meeting was organized to clarify the political, theoretical and organizational issues required in the fight to free the political prisoners including comedian Nathasha Edrisooriya, to defend freedom of art and expression and against government repression. There is no doubt that one would expect that, in attending the meeting, Saman Gunadasa would make an important contribution representing the Sri Lankan section of the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI). But soon it was made clear that his intention was to disrupt the entire discussion.

SEP-SL Asst Secretary Saman Gunadasa

Saman was enraged by CAC president Sanjaya Jayasekera’s insistence on the necessity to fight to build an international alliance of workers’ action committees, for which, the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) has given the initiative. Sanjaya arrived at this conclusion through a detailed objective analysis of the economic, political and historical factors behind Nathasha’s arrest.

Saman intervened, declaring the following: “Socialist Equality Party is the Sri Lankan section of the International Committee of the Fourth International. Sanjaya Wilson Jayasekara has been expelled from SEP for breaking SEP discipline.” In keeping with his practice of bludgeoning with any blunt weapon, Saman referred to a certain blog page reposting theSocialist.LK’s articles. Deliberately distorting facts, he claimed that, “he [Sanjaya] is using a blog called ICFI-1953 to promote him. This blog publicly accuses the International Committee.” This is a shameless attempt to seek to call upon a perfect lie for his assistance. But it was clear that Saman did not possess any real political argument against Sanjaya.

We have launched a national and international campaign on Nathasha Edrisooriya through the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS),” Saman announced. But there was nothing more to say about the campaign he refers to, beyond the fact that they have published two articles in WSWS, one in Sinhala and later another one in English. They described the incident of Nathasha’s arrest and expressed a lukewarm protest. That is because the party regime has not yet even attempted to discuss this matter at least among the party’s own membership – let alone a campaign among the public.

Later, Saman intervened again to say as follows:

These comrades may have an idea about where religiosity and racism are leading to. It is required to have a clear picture of the International Committee of the Fourth International. Whom does it represent? What is its program? This meeting has been organized by a group working against its (ICFI’s) program; working to suppress it; working to slander its program… It is necessary to expose it as a basic step in the fight to defend Natasha Edirisuriya.

The International Committee of the Fourth International organizes the working class.” Saying that it is “presenting a scientific program and fighting for it”, Saman reiterated that “as part of it, our struggle is to fight against all pseudo-left movements with programs of this type“.

According to Saman, the main criterion that determines the class character of CAC is the fact that two comrades who were victimized by the conspiracies of the SEP regime are in it. He had nothing to say about the fact that a number of comrades, who are active SEP members, are envaged in that committee too, since the struggle to build the CAC last year. Saman had nothing to say about the essential points of CAC’s political analysis, political positions, program and class base etc.

However, it has been affirmed through his intervention that, although the SEP bureaucracy initially acted upon the assumption that the possibility of Colombo Action Committee emerging as a genuine revolutionary organization of the working class is negligible and it can be ignored, in the context of it being established within the working-class movement, they are now convinced that they can no longer ignore it. They are compelled to go all out to destroy it.

CAC was not only founded upon the perspective of the International Committee from its inception, but also it sent the report of its establishment to the WSWS for publishing. The report was presented to the editor-in-chief of its Sri Lanka section, comrade K. Ratnayake, and his reaction was that ” [w]e are not publishing the report you have sent to the WSWS because it is a report from a committee  you have formed without the approval of the Socialist Equality Party.” He has not been able to provide any other reason for his decision until this date, and still maintains his subjective opposition despite the objective fact that it (CAC) was founded on the basis of the statement published by SEP on July 20, 2022. In contrast to this behavior, the July 20, 2022 perspective states that, “The foundations for the Democratic and Socialist Congress need to be laid by the workers and rural toilers themselves through the establishment of action committees…” The statement, towards the end of it, further affirmed that, “[t]he Socialist Equality Party is prepared and determined to assist and provide the political direction necessary for the development of the mass movement for the establishment of the Congress.” Thus, it is clear who has acted against the party, and the policies of the International Committee.

Marxism is a science. Science begins its task by distinguishing between the ‘reality’ revealed by proximity senses and perception, and the ‘reality’ developed through the process of complex and extended analysis and theoretical abstraction. The SEP regime, including Saman and Ratnayake, has not cared about this principle at all in tackling the said question.

As we explained in this very meeting, Saman’s aim was,  under the guise of opposing the CAC, to undermine the struggle which the CAC had taken to the fore with Nathasha’s imprisonment. Although the words, “willingness and determination to provide necessary support and guide in political direction” implied adherence to the policy of the International Committee, the majority of the SEP regime always subordinated the Action Committee program to their own subjective responses rather than to the rich historical experiences of the Trotskyist working-class movement. As reflected from their own actions, they do not believe that the working class can build its own organizations. This is why the Action Committee for the Defense of Freedom of Art and Expression (ACDAE), which started in 2019, was disbanded, and instead of fighting for convincing about the necessity of action committees and leading the workers to build action committees, they replaced themselves for action committees and then unsuccessfully called the workers to join them.

ACDAE led two very successful political campaigns. Comrade Sanjaya was then its president. These campaigns were able to win exceptional support from workers, artists, intellectuals and youth. The party regime consciously intervened and dissolved it. The regime argued that the formation of action committees was part of the recruitment of members into the party, and that they were formed from among those who agreed with the party’s perspectives. These views have nothing to do with the principles of the International Committee and Trotskyism. Accordingly, Saman’s intervention, rather than being simply opposing those who have been ‘expelled’ from the party, and a matter of mere subjective enmity, weighs more. 

As stated in the CAC’s statement with the heading, “Free Comedian Nathasha Edrisooriya!”, “she has been hunted, because holding free opinions, appearing for them and socializing them through artistic creations are challenging the existing social hegemony. Accusations of insulting Buddhism, destroying religious harmony and insulting girls’ colleges have been raised against her. Its aim is not only to trample on the freedom of art creation, speech and expression, but also to crush in the bud the feelings of equality that are generally burning in the oppressed people and the emancipatory feelings that arise from women themselves against the capitalist pressure placed on women”.

The article published in the Sinhala section of the WSWS on June 1, on the same day the CAC statement was issued, testifies to the shallowness of their approach to the problem. It wrote; “the proximate cause of the campaign against her for defaming Buddhism, was her recent stand-up comedy program which satirized a legend in Buddhist literature and the ethics of female students’ conduct in Buddhist schools.” We feel that these two paragraphs represent the exact difference between us and the SEP adopted line.

Further, the campaign carried out by CAC is also against the above beliefs of the party regime. Accordingly, the party regime attacks the initiative taken by CAC and, despite what they think they are doing, their actions will essentially serve the interests of the capitalist class. This occurs in a situation in which the ruling class cannot survive without the support of an organization with a revolutionary heritage, like the SEP. In the face of the government’s intensifying attack on the working class, a revolutionary party cannot continue to exist as a revolutionary party without basing itself more and more on principles, and its own historical foundations, and fighting to actively seize the leadership of the class struggle. The lesson of history is that, whenever this task is avoided, the party will be bereft of the working class interests, bewildered and intimidated by the class struggle, and will play an extremely vicious role in crushing emerging revolutionary movements. That is why the SEP should take steps to analyze this situation on a historical basis.

Raising the consciousness of the working class is the task of the revolutionary party and it is neither just a journalistic task, nor a mere propaganda task. Man has always changed himself in order to change the world, and anyone who rejects this theory does not serve the working class. The contrary is an impossibility. 

[This article was originally published in Sinhalese on June 25, 2023]

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