( May 5, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) In a pioneering and incisive article published 35 years ago in a Colombo-based monthly journal Lanka Guardian, Jayadeva Uyangoda, currently a professor at the Department of Political Science and Public Policy at the University of Colombo, articulated the Tamil Nationhood and corroborated Tamils right to self-determination based on the Marxists-Leninist principle. His article, condemning the Sinhala Left’s failure to grasp the National question in the island is remarkably applicable in the present context of protracted genocide and military occupation, and displays the resilience of Sinhala chauvinism, which is endemic to the Sri Lankan left, opines a Tamil diaspora student of Anthropology, reproducing the article authored by Professor Jayadeva Uyangoda in the Lanka Guardian of 15 March 1979.

“With the due exception of those courageous Sinhala comrades, many who are exiled, who have risked their lives due to the principled solidarity displayed towards the Tamil people and their struggle, most of the Sri Lankan Left displays the cognition and rationality which Uyangoda rightly criticizes as non-Marxist and chauvinistic three decades ago,” commented the Diaspora activist, sending the article of the Sinhala academic Professor Uyangoda to TamilNet.

“In the true spirit of Marxists Leninism and its commitment to democratic rights and socialist change, Uyangoda elucidates the Sinhalese are unable or unwilling to understand the fundamental characteristic of national oppression and the inevitable historical response to it by the oppressed,” the Tamil activist said.

“His article condemning the Sinhala Left’s failure to grasp the National question in the island is remarkably applicable in the present context of protracted genocide and military occupation, and displays the resilience of Sinhala chauvinism which is endemic to the Sri Lankan left. With the due exception of those courageous Sinhala comrades, many who are exiled, who have risked their lives due to the principled solidarity displayed towards the Tamil people and their struggle, most of the Sri Lankan left displays the cognition and rationality which Uyangoda rightly criticizes as non-Marxist and chauvinistic three decades ago,” the Tamil activist says.

Professor Uyangoda, in his 1979 article wrote: “It is a matter of regret that almost all the leftist political parties and groups in this country have been committing the fundamental error of considering the Tamil people in Sri Lanka only as a national minority. This failure betrays not only their residual traces of social chauvinism... but also their inability to grasp the Marxist-Leninist fundamentals on the national question.”

Regarding the ‘minority’ discourse which denies Tamil Nationhood Uyangoda wrote: " Even our leftists began to use the term ‘Tamil minority’ indiscriminately without giving thought to its dangerous implications. Dangerous because when one regards an oppressed nation merely as a national minority, then one easily tends to misunderstand, minimize and underestimate the oppressed status of that particular people. This ultimately serves to justify and even to defend the nationalist prejudices of the oppressor nation.”

Uyangoda wrote that the Tamils “[...] were/are being deprived of the fundamental democratic rights of a nation first of which is the right of political independence, that is of a separate political existence. Hence an oppressed nation [...] The demand for separation is only the concrete manifestation of the historical necessity, political democracy for an oppressed nation.“

In conclusion Uyangoda called for the Sinhala Left to rightfully study and address the Tamil national question and their right to self determination: “The time has come for most of our leftist political groups who claim to be Marxist-Leninists to reconsider their attitudes and strategies towards the struggle of the oppressed Tamil people. The failure to adopt a correct revolutionary strategy on this key political issue would definitely have its gravest implications.”

“His words proved to be prophetic, the Sinhala Left display a chronic inability to grasp the logic of the Marxist Leninist principle of Self-determination, that it is the oppressed nation which determines its political future according to its national aspirations. Moreover the Sri Lankan Left, holding a religious commitment to the oppressive unitary state, indulged in analysis and praxis, which denied Tamils national existence in order to legitimize the state structure,” the Tamil diaspora academic further says.

“Forsaking the basic principles of Marxist Leninism the Sri Lankan Left reiterated the Sinhala chauvinist concept of protecting the territorial integrity, sovereignty and unity of the Sri Lankan state. Uyangoda’s article is an excellent reminder of the historical failure of the Sri Lankan Left as well the continuity in their social chauvinism.”

“Furthermore it is also a reminder of the few genuine Sinhala comrades who espoused the Tamils inalienable rights during the early stages of the armed national revolution. Nonetheless many of the few Sinhala leftists, who understood and even advocated Tamils rights in the early phase, have either become silent on the genocidal oppression against Tamils or morphed into becoming active enemies to Tamils political struggle. Uyangoda displaying incredible incisiveness and comradeship in this article did become more timid in his analysis of the unfolding genocidal crimes against the Tamil Nation,” the young academic further observed.

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Are Tamils a minority?

by J. Uyangoda
Lanka Guardian, March 15, 1979 (page 20 and 22)

Mr. A. Jayaweera, in his polemic against Drs. S. C. Fernando and Carlo Fonseka states, in parenthesis, that the Tamil people in Sri Lanka are not an oppressed national minority, but an oppressed nation (Lanka Guardian - January 15th). I entirely agree with him on this point. It is a matter of regret that almost all the leftist political parties and groups in this country have been committing the fundamental error of considering the Tamil people in Sri Lanka only as a national minority. This failure betrays not only their residual traces of social chauvinism, as Mr. Jayaweera says, but also their inability to grasp the Marxist-Leninist fundamentals on the national question.

On what grounds can one describe the Tamil people in Sri Lanka a national minority? In this country the term "minority" had been used in relation to the Tamil people first by the British rulers and then by so—called patriots in the time of colonial rule. Since then the word come to the official jargon to be used as an adjective to the word "Tamils". Even our leftists began to use the term ‘Tamil minority‘ indiscriminately without giving thought to its dangerous implications. Dangerous because when one regards an oppressed nation merely as a national minority, then one easily tends to misunderstand, minimize and underestimate the oppressed status of that particular people. This ultimately serves to justify and even to defend the nationalist prejudices of the oppressor nation.

It is true that in terms of numerical strength Tamils are secondary to the Sinhalese. But this population criteria must not be applied to determine the superiority or otherwise of a particular nation. Moreover Marxists never subscribe to the medieval notion of ‘superiority‘ or ‘inferiority’ of any nation. Any nation which, in actual fact is in a lesser position in terms of population must not be deprived of its legitimate place and rights. Thus, the Tamils though they are not the major ethnic group in Sri Lanka, are essentially not a national minority. They possess a fairly contiguous traditional territory, a common language and culture of their own, and a common economic life though the latter to a certain extent, has been intermingled with and interrelated to that of the Sinhalese due to specific historical conditions. Hence a Nation. They were/are being deprived of the fundamental democratic rights of a nation first of which is the right of political independence, that is of a separate political existence. Hence an oppressed nation.

Only if and when we identify and locate the main problem in this way that we are able to perceive the essential historical meaning of the demand of the Tamil people for a separate state. They strive for separation not because they are instigated by some foreign power, but because they need for themselves the right to determine their own destiny. The demand for separation is only the concrete manifestation of the historical necessity, political democracy for an oppressed nation.

Most of the leftist political groups, let alone the right wing parties, seem to think that the fundamental characteristic of the "Tamil Question" is that the Tamils are discriminated against by the Sinhala dominated capitalist ruling class. This is both a misunderstanding and a misrepresentation of the problem of national oppression. If we present the problem of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, concretely and historically, as Lenin put it, we may come to the inevitable conclusion that the national question is one of the unresolved tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution. In the classical bourgeois revolutions or during the process of those revolutions in Western Europe the oppressed nations formed their own national states. The slogan of the right of nations to self¬-determination came into being in the 17th and 18th centuries only as a petty-bourgeois slogan with the characteristic of a democratic demand of the rising bourgeoisie against feudalism and feudal state structure. The raison d’etre of the demand to self-determination in the context of the present day historical situation in this country is that the local bourgeoisie, unlike most of the classical European counterparts, is incapable of carrying out the tasks of the bourgeois revolution through to the end. This of course is true of all the neo-colonial bourgeoisies. The present agitation and struggle of the Tamil people in the North is nothing but a nationalist movement of an oppressed nation for political democracy. Those who consider the Tamil people merely as a national minority inevitably fail to understand this essential democratic context of the demand for political independence. It is this very failure, which has led most of our leftist groups to be content with merely believing that the "Tamil problem" can be solved by ending “all sorts of discrimination" in a future socialist society.

It is not disputed that only in a socialist society that all sorts of discrimination, racial or otherwise, can be brought to an end effectively and forever. But “The socialist revolution is not a single act, it is not one battle on one front, but a whole epoch of acute class conflicts, a long series of battles on all fronts i.e. on all questions of economics and politics, battles that can only end in the expropriation of the bourgeoisie. It would be a radical mistake to think that the struggle for democracy was capable of proletariat from the socialist revolution, or of hiding, overshadowing it, etc. On the contrary, in the same way as there can be no victorious Socialism that does not practice full democracy, so the proletariat cannot prepare for its victory over the bourgeoisie without an all round, consistent and revolutionary struggle for democracy." (Lenin the Socialist Revolution and The Right of Nations to self-determination—Theses)

Lenin's words are categorical and unambiguous. The proletariat, in its series of struggles for socialism, must fight for democracy too. The proletariat fights for democracy not to confine itself within the limits of a capitalist system, but with the sole purpose of transcending those limits with the view of extending and intensifying the struggle for every fundamental democratic right up to the socialist revolution that expropriates the bourgeoisie.

The time has come for most of our leftist political groups who claim to be Marxist-Leninists to reconsider their attitudes and strategies towards the struggle of the oppressed Tamil people. The failure to adopt a correct revolutionary strategy on this key political issue would definitely have its gravest implications.

* * *


Professor Jayadeva Uyangoda, a senior academic in the University of Colombo, is a well-regarded political commentator in the Sinhala and English media in the island. He was one of the Marxist rebels, who led the armed insurrection to capture state power in 1971 and was incarcerated for many years after the rebellion was ruthlessly crushed by the Sri Lankan regime at that time.

Towards the end of the Vanni war, Professor Uyangoda visualized the situation as one such in which Tamils have to survive in the ‘magnanimity’ of the Sinhala majority in the island.

‘Magnanimity’ coming in the forms of militarization, colonization, structural genocide and the annihilation of the Eezham Tamil nation and its territoriality is what is seen as the outcome of the war, jointly waged by powers of vested interests in the island.

Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki), a renowned Tamil journalist, political analyst and senior editor of TamilNet was perplexed by the irrational ways of the Sinhala national psyche which turned advocates of Tamil self-determination into the staunchest of Sinhala chauvinist and wrote: “If we have to find explanations for all these, then we have to do an in-depth analysis of the psyche of the Sinhala Nation. Based on that alone can we firm up our approach on how to deal with the Sinhala nation.”

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