06 April 2012

The State as toilet-seat and toilet-paper for the capitalist class

I have a friend, a Sri Lankan, whose US wife can’t stand him talking to any Sri Lankan and just loses it if the conversation moves from English to Sinhala.  He called me one day, about 10 years ago, and Sinhala being our preferred language, we were chatting away in the good old Mother Tongue. The good lady, as I said, lost it. She was screaming and screaming so loud that I could hear her. 

‘You have to look after your wife!’ she yelled.

My friend was not the kind to be intimidated. He didn’t yell, but he was still quite firm: ‘the state will look after you!’  They have since divorced.

What is the responsibility of the state, I’ve often wondered and each time I reflect on this I recall the above exchange.  There are those (like the Inter University Student Federation – IUSF – and other organizations with Socialist/Left leanings) who believe that it is the responsibility of the state to ‘take care’ of all citizens, from womb-time (courtesy midwife) to death.  They get so much and they still complain, ‘the state doesn’t do anything for us’ is the constant whine.  Either they are ungrateful or suffer from selective memory loss. 

They tend to think, though, that they are self-made men and women, forgetting that someone picked their education bill, someone paid for medicines and medical attention, someone pays when they take a housing or vehicle loan at concessionary rates etc.  No, they believe it is their birthright to demand a job from the state upon graduation.  They are pampered out of their minds, this must be said, even as we fault government after government for doing very little to streamline things so that education-employment mismatches are minimized and for totally ignoring the civil education that should accompany ‘free education’ and indeed ‘free’ anything.

It is this same mentality that allowed I/NGOs to run rings around our people.  It is an easy formula: make dependency, then controlling is on cruise-control.  It is the same formula that politicians use.  It is about constructing, maintaining and using hierarchies. 

Time has passed though, and, as evidenced in the slogan api wenuwen api, this country seems to have recognized the truth value of the words of that incomparable human being Siddhartha Gauthama: atta hi attano nato (your hand is the one shade-giver to your head).  Take metaphor out and the lesson is simple: you are your own master, you make your own future. It is the bottom-line conviction of every freedom fighter, every liberator. 

We are talking not about liberation-prerogative or the tenets that revolutionaries should follow. We are talking about the state, the state as giver to be more accurate.  We’ve read enough about the above-mentioned pampered class.  Now let’s talk the un-talked, let’s talk of the other and ridiculously pampered class whose leisure hours are in many ways secured at the cost of denying even subsistence wages to the aforementioned pampered class, whose pampering in comparison seems little more than pittance, the crumbs off the tables of the rich, almost literally. 

When J.R.Jayewardene ‘opened’ the economy, he not only completed the destruction of the local entrepreneur (a process that N.M. Perera launched in the name of nationalization, dressed of course with a lot of nationalistic/revolutionary rhetoric), he gave the green light to the ‘Robber Baron’ (‘Let the robber barons come!’ he thundered, not in the, ‘let’s-show-them’ mode, but in the ‘come f*** us’ sense).  What was that process if not a streamlining of all state mechanisms to facilitate a) plunder of resources, b) exploitation of labour and c) dismantling of our way of life? 

What was the ‘free economy’ about?  Who benefited?  The investors came to a Paradise. Paradise?  Yes, Paradise.  Paradise had a province called ‘Tax Free’. It had another called ‘No labour rights’.  There was more: dirty cheap water, dirty cheap electricity, free land.  Capitalists in this country have had a ball.  A never ending party.  They always had the ear of the rulers. They always got their way.  When Mahinda Rajapaksa, as Minister of Labour, tried to bring in a Workers’ Charter in the mid-nineties, President Chandrika Kumaratunga scuttled it upon the advice of the then spokespersons for capital interests, in particular Thilan Wijesinghe.  Chandrika responded to the spate of strikes that followed her election as President with a crack-down underlined with the classic dismissal: ‘I didn’t promise freedom of the wild-ass’. She dropped the necessary qualifier, ‘for the working class’, for ‘freedom of the wild-ass’ is what the class she represented and pampered had enjoyed since 1977 and what she ensured they would continue to enjoy.

In recent times, we had the big boys in business whining about the war-situation and its negative spin-offs.  They whined that the preferential quota system would end and begged for all kinds of support.  They did not mention anywhere that if the state played any important role in the economy, it was to subsidize capital interests in one for or the other, it was to facilitate the (continued) exploitation of the poor and weak, it was to consolidate entrenched class divisions, it was to keep intact the perimeter walls of Members’ Only clubs, it was to maintain the snooty-yak (yakkhos) distinction in society, especially Colombo.  

When the GSP Plus issue came, the Snooty Class whose traditional homeland is the UNP ranted and raved (the results of the electorates within the Colombo Municipality show where their loyalties lay) and screamed that the Government had failed (not them, but the garment workers who would have to be laid off, how very touching!).  What about the free market, though, with its invisible hand and all?  Intervention by state amounts to fiddling with the demand/supply factors, right?  That’s what the text book says, but outside, where political economy and not economy operates it is about using everything in the rule book and everything outside it to secure/retain edge.  It is not about the free play of economic forces, but the deliberate twisting of factors and no ‘factor’ has as sweep-potential as the state. 

I believe that it is time for the pampered to grow out of their diapers.  If they can’t compete with global brands/products, then should say so instead of hiding behind the nationalist rhetoric (new found, let me add; for they were the cheer-leaders when Ranil Wickremesinghe signed the Ceasefire Agreement with Prabhakaran).    Such agreements can be objected to, only in terms of any negative impact on our strategic interests, national security and the fate of the less-pampered (much-less, I should have said) sections of our population.

The truly pampered, we know, have had a ball. For decades!  They’ve got all kinds of concessions. They’ve used and abused institution and law, arm-twisted and/or bribed, been the biggest contributors to the culture of corruption and been the main and biggest beneficiaries of the state’s tendency to pamper.  The state is not a roll of toiler paper.  Neither is it toilet seat.  It is or should be regulator and it is not the leftist/socialist remnants in our society or the IUSF that is preventing it from being this; no, it is the capitalist class, the local robber barons or the local lackeys of international brigands. 

How about some good governance, efficiency, transparency and clean operation from this class?  Will our I/NGO boys and girls want to take them on?  Or are they not interesting in hauling their aunties and uncles over the coals?  I wonder….I really do.  

[first published in the Sunday Island in July 2010]
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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Crony capitalism at work. It has got so rotten since 1977 I just do not know what the solution is exept for having "honest brave patriotic politicians" together with similar people in law enforcement and administration. Time for a special force like the Jedi Knights supported fully by the honest, hard working intelligent, educated people which is impossible to corrupt. this force is not unswerable to any political party but only to an authority which has the well being of the country and it's people at heart. Sorry I was just dreaming.

Uditha said...

I remember reading somewhere how Ravi Karunanayake called the Workers' Charter "nonsensical" in Parliament once, claimed that the Charter wasn't needed to protect workers (perhaps preferring the way his class had "protected" them during the "robber baron days"), and ranted on how if the "economic war" was lost we'd lose everything (perhaps implying that the "other war" he and his band were ignoring paled into insignificance). I also remember Thilan Wijesinghe calling the Charter "misplaced" once. Never knew how capital interests could be so intertwined with government-politics here till now. Eye-opening article.