In Defense of the LTTE Tradition
Originally published at Sanhati
“our friend, valiant heart,
exemplary child, golden warrior:
we swear in your name to continue this struggle
that your spilt blood may thus flower.”
A few weeks back, in an interview to the right-wing Indian news channel Times Now, Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa stated that they still feared the rise of LTTE in Sri Lanka. Likewise, the paranoia of the Lankan army was so high on the Heroes Day week (November 21st to 27th) that it even forbade the ringing of temple or church bells, lighting of candles or public gatherings in this period. Despite this, the Heroes Day torch was lit in the University of Jaffna and people in Batticaloa gathered in public, in open defiance of the occupying Lankan military, to commemorate the occasion. Likewise, the Tamil Sovereignty Cognition declaration that was released on Heroes Day also stated that the symbols and expressions of the national struggle of the Eelam Tamils must be upheld.
The Other observed the occasion too. Sinhala officers in the Anuradhapura prison gave the Tamil detainees a present by stripping them and trashing them on the Day. It was rather obvious that even after their claims to have defeated the Tigers, the Sri Lankan government is unable to get over the spectres from the past that haunt their present. But just why this persistent obsession with an organization that has been, by all accounts, considerably militarily weakened? Is it the simple paranoia of the dictator of a banana republic or is it something more? While it might appear that what Rajapaksa and co. fears is a military regrouping of the Tigers, the essence of their apprehension lies in the persistence of the LTTE tradition.
The difference between LTTE as tradition and LTTE as organization needs to be emphasized here. As an organization, a movement can be crushed by assassination of its leaders and brutal suppression of its followers. But once the organization creates a tradition that stands above it, as ideas that reflect on society and provides a framework of and inspiration for action, a mere military defeat is never enough. The oppressor needs to do a lot more.
Every progressive national liberation struggle, especially when it is an armed struggle, creates, fashions and refashions traditions in the concerned society. A movement like the LTTE, an organization with a leadership and cadre that emerged almost entirely from the popular classes, the peasantry, women and other historically backward sections, works with traditions in a dialectical fashion.
First, it filters those traditions from the nation’s past and deploys them concretely, not as abstract cultural lamentations, in field as praxis. Second, via revolutionary praxis and the subjective pressures of the popular classes it serves, it purges tradition of its rot and heralds in a new one. Thirdly, and most importantly, the new tradition constitutes a radical rupture with the schemata of the oppressor regime in that it creates the political polarization that makes collaboration ethically difficult. Such a tradition exposes the Manichean reality of oppression and compels one to take a side.
The struggle is formed out of identity and the struggle itself takes identity to a new level . For a people that were inferioritized by systemic state violence for decades, the counter-hegemonic violence of the LTTE was therapeutic – for a people who were made to accept an inauthentic existence through the look of the Other, it gave an option of becoming authentic subjects. Fanon writes in The Wretched of the Earth that“At the individual level, violence is a cleansing force. It rids the colonized of their inferiority complex, of their passive and despairing attitude. It emboldens them, and restores their self-confidence.”
More so for the Eelam Tamil woman, the worst ‘casualty’ of the occupation, for whom the violence of her participation in the Tiger resistance killed three birds in a stone – not only did she annihilate a colonizer and clean herself of inferiority, she also asserted her feminity by her symbolic castration of the Sinhala patriarch’s penetrative presence. Her weapon and her uniform was not just her humanity, it was her Tamil feminity. The authentic Tamil who backs the Tiger tradition fully comprehends the violent reality not just of war, but of Lankan socio-politics as such and realizes his identity, his politics through a movement that allows him to transcend his individual frailties and by engaging in a liberation of his group, through it achieving his own realization and liberation.
Once this phenomena is grasped, it is easy to understand patterns of Sri Lanka’s colonization of Tamil Eelam, its repressive apparatus demolishing all symbols of resistance and imposing physical threats on those who seek to adhere to them while its ideological apparatus, with aid from the collaborator-intellectuals in the Lankan institutions, funded NGO’s, spiritual organizations etc steadily perpetuate a discourse that the Tiger resistance was harmful to Tamil interests. The strategy of the Sri Lankan state and the powers that support it to prevent the mass discontent that prevails among the Eelam Tamils from breaking out into revolt – which would inevitably involve an appropriation of the LTTE tradition, would be to prop up dummy figures from among the various Tamil political groups as a voice of the people. Such figures would be used to deradicalize sentiments, deny the past resistance and its goals, and eventually made to settle for a solution that works against the interest of the majority of the Tamils.
A similar tactic can also be observed among the powers that seek to manipulate the Eelam Tamil diaspora. While a vast majority retain their sense of identity around the tradition of the LTTE, preserving its political and cultural symbols, there is also a privileged ‘Tamil aristocracy’ that is promoted by the host countries as a counter-weight to the voices that emerge from the grassroots. Splits are engineered, voices are divided, dubious NGO’s and organizations like the oxymoronic ‘Sri Lanka Without Borders’ are assisted in order to sow confusion among the people, and attempts are made through grand terms and tall promises to pacify a community that has a sharp sense of injustice. Vacillating elements that have lesser understanding of ground realities owing to both objective class positions and subjective decisions tend to move towards a piece-meal solution as it is put across as ‘reasonable’ while those who reject to compromise on the struggle’s goals are painted as ‘irrational’ or ‘extremists’.
The fundamental problem that such ‘reasonable’ people overlook is that unless the representatives of the oppressed community place their demands, in their terms and in view of the larger interests of their people, the powers have more than enough resources to scuttle the essence of the struggle and churn out a solution that would stop short of addressing the fundamental national question. As Sartre said, “If you accept to play the games by the rules set up by those who own or control the board, you will always lose.”
Progressives must, then, denounce such ‘reasonable’ solutions that would give the Eelam Tamils neither justice nor a lasting peace, but would only mask the mutilation of their polity. The LTTE had issued a statement in the early 90’s that defined a traitor as “whoever accepts or supports the Sri Lankan unitary constitution, the Sinhala national anthem, the Sinhala national flag.” In a scenario that is being hailed as ‘post-LTTE’ one should take this a step further and unhesitantly mark as renegades those who deny and/or denigrate the LTTE’s tradition of uncompromising emancipatory struggle against oppression.
The political resolution adopted by the 5th conference of the Co-ordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organizations of South Asia (CCOMPOSA) on March 2011 said that “the defeat of LTTE is an immense loss to the struggling people of the world.” LTTE was not defeated because the Sri Lankan government was strong, LTTE was defeated because the LTTE was strong and it presented a model of development and resistance that was not in tune with the paradigms of the world imperialist forces. The credit for the military defeat of the LTTE then should not be given to the ‘genius’ of the Lankan government but rather to the calculated designs of the geo-strategic compulsions of world powers that had much to lose had a Tamil Eelam been formed in the wake of the Tigers. The weakening, distortion and the destruction of their tradition are a must not just for Sri Lanka but for these powers as well. Marx said that life may die but death must not live. Eelam Tamils were left to die. If the now ‘united Sri Lanka’ is allowed to live, as a system it is not only hostis Tamil generis, its very idea is hostis humani generis, an idea that the resistance of a people can be crushed by brute military force, pillage and unrestrained colonization. Its sinister implications for other people’s movements in the region and in the world should be obvious. The idea and the system need to be intellectually and politically defeated even as the tradition of the Tamil resistance is defended.
But this again should not lead to an over-confident assumption that the tradition of the LTTE cannot be defeated. Highlighting the role of principled subjective commitment even if there was no guarantee of success Lenin polemically asked “shall socialists behave like socialists or really breathe their last in the embrace of the imperialist bourgeoisie?” So the question we can ask is whether Eelam Tamils will behave like the inheritors of the Tigers’ tradition or will they walk like sheep into the welcoming arms of those who facilitated their genocide? For just as the LTTE tradition is the only potent force that can give the Tamils a practical rigor, an idea of an egalitarian society, a sense of dignity, a collective hope – all of which are necessary for future struggles to defeat the oppressor regime – the only force potent enough to defeat the LTTE tradition are the Tamils themselves if they waver in their understanding or commitment. And this is something that the oppressors know very well. And if there could be a worse crime in the history of the Tamils than Mullivaikaal, it would be if the latter is allowed to happen.
1. See ‘Eelam Tamil’ – The Politics Behind the Term for further on LTTE’s role in Eelam Tamil identity formation and consolidation