Rohini Hensman: Sri Lanka’s democratic revolution. The latest episode in a decades-long drama

n July 14, 2022, Sri Lanka’s parliamentary speaker announced that he had accepted the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, sent by email from Singapore where he had fled via The Maldives. That this former military commander—known as “the terminator” due to his propensity to get critics assassinated—was forced to resign by an overwhelmingly nonviolent mass movement marks this as a major episode in Sri Lanka’s protracted democratic revolution.

The term “bourgeois-democratic revolution” is confusing because it suggests that democracy is a gift from the bourgeoisie, is inseparable from capitalism and has nothing to do with socialism, whereas in fact most sections of the bourgeoisie have no interest in it and the Communist Manifesto states that “the first step in the revolution by the working class is … to win the battle of democracy.” Democracy—freedom from killings, torture and enforced disappearances, freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, equality of rights and opportunities, and the right of people to participate in making decisions that affect them—is only won and defended by struggles of working people in solidarity with one another. Furthermore, while a bourgeois revolution can be accomplished quickly, a democratic revolution may take decades and encounter serious setbacks.

The uprising in Sri Lanka, which started with a few small candlelight vigils in early March 2022 and developed into a full-scale revolution with protesters taking over the presidential palace and prime minister’s office, was triggered by critical shortages of food, fuel, cooking gas, and medicines, accompanied by long power cuts and skyrocketing prices. As Nimanthi Rajasingham explains, the protesters blamed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his family members, including then-Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, for the catastrophe. Demonstrations spread throughout the country, the most iconic location being “GotaGoGama” at Galle Face Green in Colombo opposite the Presidential Secretariat. She also points out that although criminal mismanagement by Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s regime dealt the final blow to the economy, the mountain of foreign debt had been growing for more than four decades after J.R. Jayawardene of the United National Party (UNP) won the elections of 1977 and introduced neoliberalism…