Marx dissed London’s Economist magazine, as the “optimist conjuror.” Lenin called that magazine: “A journal that speaks for English millionaires…” Our economists speak for them too!
Professor SBD de Silva passed away 2 years ago. We recall his near-40-year-old suppressed classic, The Political Economy of Underdevelopment (PEU), and stories from the blog eesrilanka.wordpress.com, dedicated to him. This series was denied publication by all the Sri Lankan media, from the mainstream to the so-called alternative.
“How was his classic suppressed?” demands one critic of our series on SBD de Silva. As the ongoing e-Con e-News series on DJ Wimalasurendra, architect of Laxapana, reveals: Wimalasurendra’s brilliant struggle to build an industrial state, 100 years ago, has been all but erased from the nationalist pantheon. He influenced Anargarika Dharmapala, Munidasa Cumaratunga and others. But absentified, he is.
Likewise, nobody burned SB’s books, or flung him in prison. Though he certainly went into an exile of sorts in Malaysia after being transferred from research at the Central Bank, for exposing the foreign exchange frauds of the plantation companies.
What we mean is erasure of ideas highlighted in his classic. SB rejected the “export sector as modern, progressive and advanced,” and “underdevelopment” was not just “confined to the peasant sector”.
His eventual denouement, based on experience, particularly from 1970-77, in the Ministry of Industries, of the trickeries committed by import monopolies, was that a truly independent state required a political, economic and military strategy, investing in modern (machine-making) industry.
Such ideas rarely feature in the monopoly media. Instead they blare saturated the whining of house-trained “economists’, who unanimously describe the 1970-77 iniatives towards self-sufficiency as an all-round failure, and keep shrilling for exports! Foreign investment! Etc.
A retired bureaucrat, who had worked in the Ministry of Planning under H.A. de S. Gunasekera, shrieked, “SBD de Silva? He was a total Marxist! A miserable man!” Dismissive about 1970-77’s industrial endeavors, he’d have disagreed with SB’s insistence that if not for those efforts, Sri Lanka would have suffered even worse.
SB saw the need to study the development of underdevelopment outside of “orthodox economics and development theory, taking in diverse disciplines – politics, economics, history and sociology.” “Before you study the economics, study the economists” was a favorite maxim.
In The Poverty of Philosophy, Karl Marx described economists once as “the scientific representatives of the bourgeois class”. Just as “the socialists and communists are the theoreticians of the proletarian class”.
SB’s book tracked the trajectory of classical economists who saw society as a connected whole. Whereas once the proletariat grew strong, capitalism manufactured “a herd of vulgar economic apologists”.
Marx dissed London’s Economist magazine, as the “optimist conjuror.”
Lenin called that magazine: “A journal that speaks for English millionaires…”
Our economists speak for them too!
Researching economists before 2007, or just before capitalism’s present nosedive (that was crashing despite Covid) all one sees is their bald optimism! The state simply had to stop regulating capitalists for utopia to reign triumphant. Now look, how private banks crave bailout! Banks that refuse to invest in developing an industrial Sri Lanka.
Just before SB passed away in 2018, I used the old McCarthyite hallelujah: “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” He immediately retorted: “Are you?” He had certainly suffered ostracism.
In socialist countries, a communist is not someone who wakes up in the morning and chooses a label for themselves, but requires active membership in a party dedicated to economically transforming society.
Michael Greenberg, Economic Advisor to the Central Bank of Ceylon in 1958, and later chief editor of the London Financial Times’ The Banker, noted that most financiers shared the Marxist analysis of capitalism but were quite happy with injustice.
A new Communist Manifesto could list such new categories as: NATO socialist, NGO socialist, Tenured socialist, Son of socialist, etc.
A trade-unionist told me that SBD de Silva was the only person in the country who had read all three volumes of Marx’s Capital! (One can’t verify her comment, except she clearly respected him. Veteran editor Jayatilleke de Silva eventually translated all three volumes of Capital into Sinhala by 2018)
To SB, studying underdevelopment requires classical Marxism’s concepts and categories, based on how one mode of production transitions to another. This requires rejecting ‘liberal developmentalists-cum-pluralists’ who, though claiming to be ‘radical’, don’t differ very much from neoclassical economists.
Why doesn’t SL have a homegrown economics syllabus, featuring homegrown historical analysis?
Why are local economists like SB not taught in a university syllabus?
Was SB also hounded out of Peradeniya by so-called Leftists?
SB often wondered why our university economics departments had no courses on the rise of Japan, Singapore, China, Korea, etc., countries that never adopted Anglo-American ‘free-trade’ dogma.
Our manufacturers of economists have no intention of learning from such neighborly examples, let alone escaping colonialism, let alone from an SBD de Silva about transforming this import-export slave-plantation economy.