A special hell for principled pundits

BY SARATH DE ALWIS (Sunday Observer)

 

In his classic narrative poem ‘Divine Comedy’, Dante Alighieri chronicles his journey from the depths of hell to the splendors of heaven. The medieval poet describes punishments suffered by sinners with piercing precision.

With his guide Virgil, the Poet discovers a group of dead souls outside the entrance to Hell. Hell wouldn’t let them in, and heaven will not accept them.

These are individuals who, when alive, remained neutral at a time of great moral decision. Virgil, the guide, explains to Dante that these souls cannot enter either Heaven or Hell because they did not choose one side or the other. They tried to evade reality with intellectual ambiguity.

They are therefore worse than the greatest sinners in Hell. They are repugnant to both God and Satan alike. They are condemned to mourn their fate as insignificant beings neither hailed nor cursed in life or death, endlessly hankering below Heaven and precariously perched outside of Hell.

If I do not support Sajith Premadasa however much I disapprove of his politics and allow Gotabaya Rajapaksa to win the presidency, I too would be condemned to that terrible agony of occupying the remorseless vacuity separating hell and heaven! Principled punditry has a special purgatory. I shall not fall into that trap no matter what preposterous adjective Sajith choses to describe his determination to put things right.

It is given that I find both Anura Kumara Dissnayake and Mahesh Senanayake as better beings in terms of an incisive reading of what is rotten in our polity. This presidential election is not about overnight ‘nirvana’. There are factors other than good intentions and renunciatory declarations.

The purpose of this essay is to persuade the two candidates – Anura Kumara Dissanayake of the NPP and Mahesh Senanayake of the NPM that they should not allow their substantial support base to be squandered away under an electoral system that offers no provision for a runoff election.

At this critical point in the election, these two candidates must reconcile with the materiality that they are out of the real race. They can only contribute to either sustain the dysfunctional democracy we have or to replace it with the functional autocracy of Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

They must persuade their support base to indicate their second preference for Sajith Premadasa who holds the optimum promise to beat Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

In this presidential election we are fighting what many contemporary political theorists describe as modern fascism.

To understand fascism, we must turn to a Marxist theoretician and revolutionary who paid the ultimate price for his intellectual integrity and for his accurate reading of the totalitarian mind.

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Leon Trotsky defined fascism. Fascism was not a simple system of reprisals, of brutal force, and of police terror.

Fascism is a specific governmental system. It mercilessly uproots all elements of proletarian democracy within bourgeois society. Mere physical annihilation of the most revolutionary section of the workers would not be enough. It must smash all independent and voluntary organizations. Now you will understand why Gotabaya Rajapaksa hates civil society outfits.

Leon Trotsky explained why Gotabaya is the heartthrob of middle-class matrons who shed their excess fat by jogging on the paved footpaths around Independence Square.

Trotsky also solved the riddle of why captains of commerce and industry prefer the retired Lieutenant Colonel to bring order to the chaotic world of democratic dissent.

“The bourgeoisie does not like the ‘plebeian’ means of solving its problems… for the shocks and disturbances, although in the interests of bourgeois society, involve dangers for it as well. This is the source of the antagonism between fascism and the traditional parties of the bourgeoisie… The big bourgeoisie dislikes this method, much as a man with a swollen jaw dislikes having his teeth pulled.”

If Gotabaya wins the presidency, those who weakened the anti-fascist constituency would be eternally trapped in the dark vestibule that separates heaven and hell. They would be condemned to listen to howls from hell and repentantly hungering for heavenly hush.

A heavy price to pay for brave, blunt, bona fide, buffoonery!

It is a tight race. It is a tight race because the country is sharply polarized. Presidential candidate Mahesh Senanayake explains why the country is sharply polarized.

At a meeting held for party representatives of his National Peoples Movement yesterday on October 22 in Balangoda, the retired General pointed out that immediately after the Easter Sunday carnage there was a virulent anti-Muslim storm.

Now it has subsided. Why? The presidential candidate who represents the disillusioned political center provided the answer himself.

As the Commander of the army who swiftly and surely responded to the national crisis we should pay heed to his sage advice.

The hysteria is no more because those people who orchestrated the mind-blowing mob madness are now engaged in the presidential election campaign.

“If you look at social media until the month of August, after the Easter Sunday bombing, until August there were posts of hatred towards Muslims every fifteen minutes every day. Words such as Thambiya or Halal were used to spread hatred. Suddenly it disappears in August. Now you tell me whether or not you got anti-Muslim posts today. You are not getting those today. Why not? That is because the person who did it is now contesting the election.”

“Today, I declare that gentleman and the people around him are the ones who created it or else it couldn’t have stopped in August,” says candidate Mahesh Senanayake.

The Easter Sunday massacre has served a purpose. It has now successfully divided the country into supporters of a candidate who wants the people to be safe and other candidates who want the people to be unsafe.

One candidate alone possesses the military moustache irretrievably linked to the emotional argument about the safety of the people and the overpowering intimidatory imperative of national security.

A tribe survives on its collective capacity to hate an enemy. This tribalism desensitizes democracy. It dehumanizes our norms.

Thanks to the ruling of the district court in California we now know the ‘Factual Background‘ of Lasantha’s murder. We now know how neo fascism dehumanized our society.

On January 8, 2009 as Lasantha drove to work, “he was swarmed by black-clad plainclothes commandos on motorcycles at a busy intersection in an area secured by military checkpoints,” who smashed the windows to Lasantha’s car and attacked him. Plaintiff alleges that mobile telephone tower logs showed that the attackers were “part of, or worked in concert with, the Directorate of Military Intelligence’s Tripoli Platoon.” One of the attackers punched a hole in Lasantha’s skull with a sharp instrument, and Lasantha also suffered a number of lacerations and abrasions on his chest, arms, neck, and face during the attack. The attackers allegedly sped off in the direction of a military checkpoint and entered a “High Security Zone” policed by the Sri Lanka Air Force. Lasantha underwent emergency surgery but died several hours later.

The Candidate we must defeat at all costs promises order, stability and efficiency. It is a powerful manifesto. I know of two people who are ardent supporters of the candidate.

One is a graduate of an Ivy League university with impressive post graduate academic pursuits behind him and a thriving star in commerce.

The other is one of those congenital dullards who dropped out of school when in sixth grade. The first supports Gotabaya because he would be good for business. The latter supports Gotabaya because he speaks with authority and his promises sound true.

He dazzles the literate and muddles the illiterate. He wins both ways.

Let us not underestimate his grip and appeal. He has what it takes to lead the mob and motivate the masses. He is the exceptional leader who appeals to the elite and the oligarchs. He is the heroic savior of the tribe and its theocratic order.

We must draw lessons from our recent history. We have witnessed how well-meaning people spellbound by an idealistic tribal purpose abandon reason to elect narcissistic monsters driven by an imagined magniloquent destiny.

Have we seen such political formulations and currents? Of course, we have.

Now we must address the other presidential candidate comrade Anura Kumara Dissanayake.

Karl Marx has foreseen the phenomenon and the dynamics of Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The threat of a ‘Gotabaya’ is ever present in the market driven bourgeois liberal democracy.

It is well demonstrated and documented. Predictable relationship between capitalist wealth, authoritarian institutions, and the capacity of politicians to fool most of the people at least some of the time is part of bourgeois liberal democracy.

In some instances, as in the case of Ranil Wickremesinghe, politicians fool themselves as well. I don’t need to remind comrade Anura Kumara of Ranil’s last ditch attempt to resurrect the 20th Amendment!

Marx has adequately written on the delusionary politics of bourgeois democracy. Marx has identified ‘dictatorship’ as a structural and ever present possibility within ‘bourgeois’ democracy, precisely because of the way that he separates out the complex class-relations within the bourgeoisie.

Marx is unmatched as a political prophet in defining mass electoral politics. He called it “hallucinatory politics of delusions”. The Hungarian Marxist Philosopher Georg Lukács has explained with disarming clarity our current predicament and comrade Anura’s and the JVP’s current search to remain relevant.

“In the context of democratic politics, it should come as no surprise that for Marx the individual in history is not a hero in the classical mode, such as Caesar or Napoleon, but rather an image, an empty signifier, a cypher who wins elections.”

Comrade Anura Kumara, the JVP and the coalition of civil society and intellectual activists must break out of their hallucinatory world view of white knights entrusted with the sacred mission of rescuing the vestal virgin of our parliamentary democracy.

Field your candidate. That is the only way you can build the broad coalition that can make a credible difference in the next parliament.

That said, please do not waste your votes. Implore your supporters to cast their second preference to the candidate who can beat Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Who is Gotabaya Rajapaksa? He is the chosen successor of Mahinda Rajapaksa. The Mafiosi of the Medamulana ménage claims his primary loyalty.