Spartacist Canada No. 161
Asylum Now for Tamil Refugees!
Defend the Tamil People!
The savage 26-year war waged by the Sri Lankan government in the North and East of the Indian Ocean island ended on May 18 with the destruction of the remnants of the Tamil mini-state and the execution of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. But if the goals of the blood-drenched Sinhala-chauvinist regime have been achieved, its merciless repression of the Tamil people and their national rights continues.
Since January, at least 8,000 Tamils and perhaps as many as 20,000 have been killed in a war that had already taken at least 70,000 lives. Cutting through the wall of press censorship, reports are emerging that an estimated 300,000 Tamils—40 percent of them children—are now imprisoned in a network of prison camps and interrogation centers. Particularly chilling was a May 23 account by the Toronto Globe and Mail’s Doug Saunders, who reported that the detainees “are not just those who have fled the violence, but the entire civilian population of the northeastern conflict area, which is being swept clean of inhabitants by the military.” Those in the camps will be “screened” as a precondition to release, a process which a government spokesman says could take up to two years.
Against the bloody vengeance of the Lankan government, the international working class must rally to the defense of the Tamil people. Tamil émigrés in Canada, Britain and elsewhere now watch in helpless agony, knowing their families could be dead or held in the army’s camps. We stand with them demanding asylum now for Tamil refugees!
In the months leading up to this catastrophe, in cities around the world Tamils have carried out protest after massive protest. In Toronto where the 200,000-strong Tamil community is one of the largest outside South Asia, the demonstrations were among the biggest in the city’s history. The sight of tens of thousands of angry Tamils choking major Toronto streets in a sea of Tamil Eelam flags (which resemble the flag of the LTTE) sparked howls of outrage from bourgeois politicians and journalists.
The U.S., Britain, the European Union and Canada had all banned the Tigers earlier, declaring them a “terrorist” organization. In doing so, the imperialist powers effectively gave the green light to the Lankan regime in its murderous army offensive. This underscores that the repeated calls on the Canadian, U.S. and other imperialists to intervene on behalf of the Tamils could only be in vain, for they have overwhelmingly supported the Lankan government’s war against the Tamil people. From the start we denounced the bans on the LTTE, which signaled the repressive attacks on exile Tamil organizations that continue to this day. It is in the clear interest of all working people to defend Tamil organizations against state repression.
The Trotskyist League/Ligue trotskyste and other sections of the International Communist League have joined in the Tamil protests, distributing literature in solidarity with the besieged Tamils and putting forward our proletarian-revolutionary perspective for national and social liberation. As we wrote in SC No. 160 (Spring 2009):
“We have long upheld the right of self-determination for the Tamil people—i.e., their right to form an independent state in the largely Tamil North and East. We stand for the military defense of the LTTE against the army assault and demand the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the Lankan army from the area.
“At the same time, we give no political support to the LTTE—bourgeois nationalists who, carrying out the logic of nationalism, have staged their own interethnic attacks on Sinhalese villagers and expelled Muslims from the historic Tamil city of Jaffna, the capital of the northern region, while employing murderous violence against other Tamil nationalist groups.”
In the wake of the devastating bloodbath, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa staged grotesque chauvinist rallies in Colombo and declared a national holiday. Meant to further degrade an already defeated Tamil population, this sickening triumphalism underscores that the communal divisions fostered by the regime and its predecessors are deeper than ever. What we wrote at the time of the government-orchestrated anti-Tamil pogroms in 1983 retains all its force and more today:
“The government-orchestrated Sinhala-chauvinist bloodbath against the Tamil people in the small Indian Ocean island nation of Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) has catastrophically altered for the foreseeable future the prospects for common class struggle between the Sinhalese working class and the oppressed Tamil minority.”
—“Massacre in Sri Lanka,” Spartacist No. 35, Autumn 1983
Our organization had always upheld the right to Tamil self-determination while counseling against its exercise, arguing in favour of united working-class struggle for Tamil freedom and socialist revolution in Lanka and its extension through the Indian subcontinent. But, as we wrote, “in the wake of the mass killing of Tamils, the bitterness and hostility between the peoples of Ceylon has evidently become insurmountable at least in the short run.” Thus we raised the call for the right of Tamil Eelam:
“The bloody communal struggle argues that even with proletarian revolution in Ceylon and South Asia generally, a federated socialist republic in Ceylon will be necessary to achieve the unity of Tamils and Sinhalese on a basis of justice and equality (and to take into account Sinhalese fears of vengeance at the hands of the millions of Tamils in south India).”
At the same time, we noted that the prospects for an independent Tamil capitalist state in the arid and underdeveloped North were not good. Nor would the formation of such a state ensure the national survival of the Tamils, who were (and remain) interpenetrated with the Sinhalese majority throughout much of the island. On the other hand, the establishment of a federated socialist republic of Eelam and Lanka would be a beacon to the oppressed and subjugated masses throughout the subcontinent, including among the 65 million Tamils across the Palk Strait in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
The struggle of the Tamils is today at its most desperate pass. Drawing the lessons from a bitter history is difficult but necessary for pro-working-class elements, Tamil and Sinhalese alike. The once-Trotskyist Lanka Sama Samaja Party abandoned the interests of the proletariat and the defense of the Tamil people when it entered the Sinhala-chauvinist government of the SLFP in 1964.
Today the struggle to forge a Trotskyist party in Lanka must begin with the understanding that the eradication of national oppression and true social progress for the peoples of Lanka and the region will come when the barbaric rule of capital and the divisions inherited from imperialist domination are overturned through socialist revolution. Lasting national and class justice for the Tamil working people will be secured through permanent revolution—rule by the workers and peasants in a socialist federation of South Asia, and the extension of proletarian revolutions into the imperialist centers.