Reflections on the April 1971 Uprising and Current Political Realities

The imperative of building solidarity across diverse social movements cannot be overstated. Collaboration between leftist and green movements is essential in envisioning a sustainable and just future.

2 mins read
Wijeweera with his associates [File Photo]

It has been 53 years since the April 1971 uprising. Over time, many of the comrades who participated have aged, fallen ill, or passed away. Yet, the collective aspiration that drove them, including those who made the ultimate sacrifice during the uprising, remains clear: to forge a society where every individual can live freely with dignity, underpinned by social and economic justice.

The majority of the JVP membership hailed from Sinhala Buddhist rural backgrounds, with limited exposure beyond their immediate environment. Our understanding of societal diversity and the challenges faced by minority communities was rudimentary. Our worldview was shaped by the prevailing political and cultural milieu, gleaned through books, newspapers, and social interactions.

Despite the political constraints of the time, I firmly believe that we were not tainted by racism, nationalism, casteism, or religious extremism. Our primary aim was to establish a socialist socio-economic system rooted in social justice and economic democracy. Our policies and strategies were crafted in response to the socio-economic and political landscape of the era.

Reflecting on the aftermath of the April 1971 Uprising, we have scrutinised our policies, strategies, and tactics. This soul searching gave rise to various political groups with diverse inclinations. While acknowledging past mistakes and offering critiques, the focus of our discussions remains centered on learning and improvement, not on causing discomfort or denigrating individuals like Comrade Rohana Wijeweera.

However, it is imperative to critically examine the movement under Comrade Rohana’s leadership and its subsequent ramifications. Failure to do so would not only be unjust, but also hinder our ability to learn from past experiences and differentiate ourselves from other ruling classes and political groups.

Drawing proper lessons from the April 1971 Uprising could have potentially averted many of the tragic events Sri Lankan society endured during the 1988-89 period. Thus, as we contemplate our common objective, we must address the prevailing social, economic, and political challenges.

The April 1971 Uprising unfolded in a unique historical context. Comparing that backdrop with contemporary global and national dynamics reveals both similarities and differences. It is imperative to grasp the evolving dynamics of the global capitalist system and its impact on our society.

The principles of social justice, particularly socialist ideals, must be adapted to our complex socio-economic and cultural conditions. Through critical analysis of historical struggles, we can refine our approach to contemporary quests for social justice.

The 1970s marked a shift where the left relinquished its pivotal role, yielding ground to the emergent New Right. Today, as we confront the dominance of neoliberal ideology, discussions on charting a path forward are paramount.

Neoliberal strategies epitomized by leaders like Thatcher and Reagan reshaped the capitalist agenda, precipitating global repercussions. The militaristic expansion of neoliberal capitalism and its adverse effects necessitate concerted resistance and alternative socio-economic models.

The ongoing socio-economic, cultural, and refugee crises underscore the imperative of challenging capitalist hegemony. The failures of past socialist endeavours necessitate a nuanced understanding of contemporary challenges and pragmatic solutions.

Achieving systemic change requires inclusive policy formulation and broad-based participation. Policies must be tailored to address the issues of prevailing social forces, fostering a cohesive movement for radical democratic transformation.

The imperative of building solidarity across diverse social movements cannot be overstated. Collaboration between leftist and green movements is essential in envisioning a sustainable and just future.

In confronting the existential threats posed by capitalism, it is incumbent upon progressive organizations to transcend divisive ideologies and prioritize democratic rights for all. Our collective struggle must encompass environmental sustainability, social justice, and inclusive governance.

As we commemorate the April 1971 Uprising, let us reaffirm our commitment to building a society founded on freedom, dignity, and equity. Regardless of our diverse backgrounds, our shared aspiration should be to realize social justice and economic democracy.

In conclusion, our political ethos must prioritise the establishment of a society where every individual can flourish, irrespective of socio-economic or cultural differences.

Lionel Bopage

Lionel Bopage was an Editorial Adviser of Sri Lanka Guardian from 2010-2019. He is a passionate and independent activist, who has advocated and struggled for social justice, a fair-go and equity of opportunity for the oppressed in the world, where absolute uniformism, consumerism and maximisation of profit have become the predominant social values of humanity. Lionel was formerly a General Secretary of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP – Peoples’ Liberation Front) in Sri Lanka, and he now lives in exile in Australia.

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