Faith: The Journal of the International League of Religious Socialists

Summer 2001 Edition (HTML Version)

Previous Editions
An Introduction to Sri Lanka's Satyodaya Movement
Socialist International Celebrates 50 Years
Retrospective: Highlights from Past ILRS Congresses
Stockholm 1989: Marginalisation: Injustice at Work
Report from Broderskap Congress Harry Watson
Latin American Socialists Propose Deepening Democracy

An Introduction to Sri Lanka’s Satyodaya Movement

Sri Lanka is one of the world’s poorest nations, and one that has also been plagued by sectarian violence between Tamils and Sinhalas since the 1970s. In the midst of such strife, an interfaith community based upon religious socialist principles has managed to emerge and succeed as an example to the rest of the nation. Established in 1972, and now guided by Jesuit priest Paul Caspersz in co-operation with others in the community, Satyodaya is an example of how people from different backgrounds, with different histories, can come together to build a self-supporting sustainable community. Below we present the story of that community, in their own words.

The few who were there may remember the 11th of February 1972. They will remember the milk put to boil and boil over in the clay pot on the improvised fireplace in the main hall. Maybe the milk was insufficient or the pot too deep, Aaron gently stoked the fire and coaxed the milk, which seemed reluctant to respond. Finally in an upward spurt it reached the rim and overflowed. Satyodaya had received the blessings it sought and would attain what it was setting out to do.

Those anxious moments of Satyodaya’s birth presaged its future: risk, faith, undying hope. Faith and hope have their deepest meaning only in the presence of doubt and risk.

When there is much to do in the midst of risk, faith and hope, time marches swiftly on. The years have sped by. They may be reviewed in three distinct phases.

First, 1972-1977, the phase of pathfinding.

‘I don’t think we need a chapel,’ said Bishop Leo, Co-founder, ‘the Church will be where the people are.’ ‘You do the research. I’ll have others for the social work.’

Then came, quite unforseen, a new subject for research. On 1 July 1972 the then Government passed the first Law of Land Reform. The Law was greeted as a brave socialist and anti-imperialist legislative measure. In its implementation, however, the Law became a cudgel with which to beat the Tamil plantation workers. In several estates around Kandy, shrieking mobs entered the lines of the Tamil workers. “We have driven the white man out. Now out you go too.” Clutching whatever rags and jewellery they could, they went out to beg for food and shelter in the cities of the big towns.

But soon even action-oriented research proved to be utterly insufficient. Action itself became paramount. Friends and allies began to rally round: radical Christians, searching Buddhists, unbelieving Marxists. On 17 October 1974 at the end of a full-day meeting of all these in Kandy, the Coordinating Secretariat for Plantation Areas was born. Somewhat earlier Satyodaya was given its name by those who began to read its renewed monthly Bulletin which — still revealing the original impulse to give research the foremost place — was called Satyodaya, or the Dawn of Truth.

Among the friends and allies, two or three opted to reside at Satyodaya. The residential community — inter-religious, inter-ethnic, inter-linguistic (not yet inter-sex) — was born, fulfilling a youthful dream.

Second, 1977-1983, the phase of vision and mission.

It began with all-island communal riots and ended with even worse riots. In the interval Satyodaya’s stand for inter-ethnic peace-founded-upon-justice became clear to itself and to those who came to know it. In 1979 the Movement for Inter-Racial Justice and Equality (MIRJE) was born. Satyodaya gave it its first national President.

In 1977 Satyodaya directly helped 2663 estate worker families who lost everything, or nearly everything except their lives. On 18 August 1977 the father of Balakrishnan, a Tamil and Paul Caspersz’s then most trusted collaborator, was cruelly burned to death while his home was completely ransacked. Bala’s mother and three sisters came to live with us at Satyodaya for three weeks until they found another house. Satyodaya’s option was final and irrevocable: for the down-trodden of all communities and for the rights of the Tamil speaking people. The field work began to be systematically organized on several plantations and on the adjacent villages. Satyodaya had the task of showing the Tamil plantation worker and the Sinhala villagers that they were one of another and shared a common destiny.

Third, 1983 on, the unending phase of the People.

Bala left Satyodaya in 1981. His place in the community went to Lalith Abeysinghe. To Bala and Lalith, Paul has a knows he can never repay.

In the first phase, Satyodaya’s social action was inspired by the ideal of service to the People. In the second, the ideal was service with the People. In the third, and especially these last years, the People take the lead. In Lalith’s picturesque phrase, now well known at Satyodaya, Satyodaya has to be the carpet, or even the dust under the carpet, on which the People find their way to inherit the earth, which was theirs from the beginning.

Hence, Satyodaya in the last few years has sought to lay bare to everyone what it considers to be the greatest obstacle to the forward march of the People: the neo-imperialism of International Capital, controlled by the TNCs, the World Bank and its allies, the UN as at present constituted.

A long journey?

But longer has been the journey of the People over thousands of years. Both journeys have not ended.

Living and Working Together

Something somewhat special about Satyodaya during its history has been its attempt to fuse the idea of a live-in community with the idea of being with the People.

The idea of living in community first came to Paul Caspersz, the Founder of Satyodaya when he was a theology student in Naples from 1949-53. There he learnt of Cardinal Lercaro’s experiment of living in community in Bologna with twelve others drawn from the ranks of the so-called common People. ‘One day,’ thought Paul, ‘God willing, I shall live with others in the same way.’

The idea and the hope became a reality in Satyodaya. It did not take many months for the inter-religious, inter-linguistic, inter-sex, inter-social class community to begin to appear at Satyodaya. It developed additional point and purpose with Satyodaya’s early and ever increasing commitment to inter-ethnic justice and equality. ‘If at Satyodaya...’ we began .to ask, not self-righteously, but always intensely and humbly aware of the complexities of the question, ‘why not elsewhere?’

The growth in numbers of the community was not, however, and never can be, problem free. Some of us remember the early days when we were only five or six in the community. We took turns at sweeping the house and cleaning the toilets. It was easy to have very simple food, yet cater to each one’s needs and so on.

Yet the community exists for the work done on the field. In a radius of about 30 miles from Satyodaya, our men and women work on the plantations, in the villages close to the plantations and in urban areas.

What do we do on the estates and in the villages? Briefly, what we try to do at Satyodaya itself: build community. Current dominant ‘development’ models are a threat to community. Our communities have to be a threat to the dominant models. Unrealistic? The messianic complex? May be. Yet little sparks start the prairie fire.

What is Satyodaya doing?

It is a question we are often asked. Our answer is the following:

The Three Main Targets of Satyodaya Field Work Today

  1. Strengthening Civil Society through the Empowerment of the Powerless
  2. Protecting and Promoting the Environment
  3. Enabling Women to take their long-delayed place in Society.

The Six Field Work Areas of Satyodaya Today

Galaha, Kandy, Kegalle, Matale, Nawalapitiya, Wattegama.

In each of these areas there is a variety of programmes on estates and in villages, initiated, planned, implemented, monitored by the People with Satyodaya assistance as and when it is needed and requested by the People.

The Twelve Main Supportive Programmes of Satyodaya Today

1. Audio visuals - their production and use
2. Economic Activities through the amalgamation of two previously separate programmes:

  • supplementary income generation programme (IGF)
  • the self-employment programme (SEP)

3. Educational and Awareness Programmes
4. Emergency Assistance, Relief & Reconstruction, as and when necessary
5. Food for Work Programme
6. Health and Nutrition
7. Home Gardens
8. People’s Forums
9. Pre-Schools as a base from which local communities may work
10. The Sarasavigama Farm and Training Centre, called Satyodaya Jana Seva (SJS)
11. Vocational Training
12. Water and Sanitation

At each moment in the future we shall have to be faithful to the vision which has led us on in the past like a lodestar in the sky, or a leitmotiv in a piece of music — the vision of a new society of truth, peace, equality, justice, where all will be for each and each for all, where each person and nation will give according to ability and receive according to need.

Within Sri Lanka, in the future, as in the past, Satyodaya must continue to maintain its inter-ethnic, inter-religious, and humanist character. It must have an unconcealed partiality towards the disadvantaged, th eplantation Tamils, and the poor peasants. Their future, like the future of Satyodaya, lies in going forward together.

No wonder then that our house has been open to all. The poor from our estates, from our villages, the depressed areas of our cities have been our most favoured visitors. If two persons came to our door, one rich and the other poor, it was the poor person who walked in first.

We have many things now which we did not have then: buildings, a telephone and a TV, motor vehicles, and one of the best small libraries in our land.

They belong to our People.

They know it, when they come to use the telephone or wake us up in the night to take a pregnant mother or a sick child to the hospital.

So should it be, so will it be, in the coming years. Other leaders will take over. As Bishop Leo used to say, ‘Those who come after us will take Satyodaya further than we were willing or able to go.’ So shall we continue to be filled with concern for our plantation People. If Satyodaya ceases to work on the plantations, it would not be Satyodaya.

So shall we continue to be open to the concerns of our villagers and to our urban poor.

So shall we continue to discuss with the People, to read, to think, to analyze, to speak, to write.

The powers ranged against us are many: international capital led by the multinationals and the World Bank, those of our own elites in Church and State who have no real concern for the People.

We shall look for models of society which the world has not yet seen.

We shall discover inspiration in a radical understanding of the great religions of our land.

We shall find enlightenment in socialism and humanism.

In all these things we are fully aware that Satyodaya is a small organization.

Yet, we know that it is little drops of water that make the mighty ocean, little grains of sand that make the motherland, little sparks of fire that set the world ablaze.

Socialist International Celebrates 50 Years

In 1951, six years after the end of the Second World War, representatives from socialist, social democratic, and labour parties from 34 countries gathered in Frankfurt, Germany to put back together the pieces of the international socialist movement that had been once again torn apart by a brutal world war. While the founding of the Second International actually dates back to 1889, the modern Socialist International begins with that Frankfurt meeting, and this was acknowledged formally as the International celebrated 50 Years of Solidarity at its Council meeting in Lisbon in June.

Today the Socialist International (SI) is the largest political organisation in the world, with 143 member parties and organisations from all continents.

As part of the occasion, a fascinating exhibit on the history of democratic socialism was presented by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, but celebrating was not the only purpose of the meeting. Three primary themes were addressed by the Council: ‘Social Democracy in the World Today’, ‘Ratify Kyoto Immediately’, and ‘Humanising Globalisation’.

Noting the strong presence of social democratic parties in governments throughout the world, SI Secretary General Luis Ayala said, ‘We reaffirm our principles at a time when social democracy continues to inspire more and more poeple everywhere.’ ‘As we move further into this new millenium, we gather to reaffirm our belief in peace, democracy, and social justice — fundamental values that we understand must go hand in hand.’

The focus on ratifying the Kyoto Protocol was made all the more urgent by the United States’ decision to pull out of the process. As the US is the world’s leading consumer of fossil fuels, it is essential to the very health of our planet that the US return to the negotiations, and ratify the Protocol in order that the rest of the world can begin to implement changes in energy policy by 2002. The SI is also encouraging member parties to take a special interest in the World Summit on Sustainable Development scheduled to take place next year in Johannesburg.

The session on ‘humanising globalisation’ focused upon the ongoing work of member parties and their governments to bring dramatic reforms to the World Trade Organisation, in order to make that body more accountable to democratic processes as well as to harmonise world trade agreements with the standing conventions on labour and enivronmental concerns. The SI has stated clearly that the WTO must not be the sole organisation relied upon to deal with matters of globalisation and trade. Trade agreements produce externalities which will always affect civil society, labour and the environment, therefore, it is essential that the input and long-standing work of international bodies and NGOs which represent these concerns be brought into the decision-making process in matters of world trade and the global economy. This is what is meant by democratising the process of the WTO.

In the area of conflict resolution, the Council addressed the worsening conflict in the Middle East. Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat addressed the meeting, and the Council urged both parties in the region to do their utmost to return to the negotiating table, offering the full services of the SI in helping to work for peace.

The ILRS was represented by President Evert Svensson and Secretary General Andrew Hammer, who were welcomed to Portugal by Socialist Party MP Mafalda Troncho. Svensson and Hammer met with Ms. Troncho at the Portugese Parliament to discuss the state of religion and politics in her country, as well as the possibility of building a network of religious socialists in Portugal.

They also had the opportunity to meet with former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to discuss religious socialism from an Islamic perspective, as well as other representatives from Lebanon, the Kurdish community in exile, and Morocco.

Retrospective: Highlights from Past ILRS Congresses

Stockholm 1989: Marginalisation: Injustice at Work

As we are improving our archive of ILRS documents available online, we decided to feature some highlights from previous ILRS congresses. In this issue, we are featuring two speeches from our 1989 Stockholm congress, which focused on marginalisation.

What is interesting is that this conference took place over a decade before the beginning of the current efforts to bring attention to globalisation and its effects. The comments of the two contributors below are just as relevant now as they were then, if not more so.

Paul Caspersz, as mentioned in the article above, is the director of the Satyodaya community in Sri Lanka.

Internationally noted economist Philippe van Parijs offers a classic religious socialist critique of neo-liberalism at its roots.

Paul Caspersz, S J
go to the article

Philippe Van Parijs, Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium
go to the article

from the Broderskap Congress

Harry Watson

The Congress of the Broderskaprörelsen (Brotherhood movement), the Swedish affiliate of the ILRS, was held on the site of the People's Baptist High School in the beautiful setting of a Swedish lake near the town of Avesta, from 5-8 August.

The Congress was attended by 220 delegates and visitors from throughout Sweden. One elderly couple had travelled by bike 1,000 kilometres but were returning by train! Even though membership of local groups have reduced in recent years, one-third are showing an increase. Branches in Sweden tend to function better than the UK.

The Congress was reminiscent of the former Labour Party conferences with set key speeches and motions covering a wide variety of subjects. A lot of heat was generated by the motion of joining the Euro monetary system and was defeated but it was agreed to support a nationwide referendum. The main concern of a number of speakers was the possible loss of freedom to influence financial policy and levels of taxation.

The morning worship was a special feature especially the hymn singing in the Swedish language. The capacity congregation of 500 people attended the especially written Mass in the Lutheran village Church which was a source of great inspiration.

Jan Elissson, Sweden's ambassador to the United States, called for early intervention into potential conflicts areas in the world before they became major conflict situations. He expressed regret that the major powers only seem to take notice as and when conflict breaks out.

The election of the Executive Committee saw a significant change in personnel. Eight men and seven women were elected. Olle Burell from Stockholm was elected as the new Secretary General. The Chairperson, Anna Berger Kettner, former free church minister opened the Congress, which was celebrating its 72nd year. She wanted to see more grassroots involvement of members in policy matters and wants the organisation to be a challenge to the Socialdemocratic Party.

International guests were present from Norway, Belgium, Somalia, Bolivia, the Congo, Finland, Britain, Belgium, Western Sahara and a PLO representative.

One of the most challenging speeches was given by a former Priest, Marc Luycks from Belgium, who was an advisor to Jacques Delors and EU President Santer.

He referred to the obsession of the EU with markets and self interest which in his opinion was unsustainable. The enlargement of the EU will bring about significant changes and costs. The main agenda should be about ethics and not market forces, which help the strong and neglect the weak. The current disenchantment with materialism is widespread and there is a sign of hope in the rediscovery of the sacred and of spirituality, with a move towards a more ethical approach which sees values in human capital.

The overall impression is that the Broderskap is in good heart, even though their membership has decreased. Their weekly newspaper, which has declined in circulation, is heavily subsidised by half a million kronor. As in many European countries, state funding via political parties provides sufficient funds for its activities and staff. The relationship with the Socialdemocratic Party appears to be good in that the General Secretary and Youth Officer from the Party attended the Congress.

The close cooperation which has existed for many years is strengthened by the fourteen members of parliament who are active in the organisation. There was a strong wish expressed to build good relationships with other religious socialist groups worldwide.

Harry Watson is Vice-President of the ILRS.

Latin American Socialists Propose ‘Deepening Democracy’

Stating the need to overcome corruption as well as neo-liberal economic solutions to the problems of Latin America and the Caribbean, the Socialist International Committee on Latin America and the Caribbean (SICLAC) met in Buenos Aires on June 10.

The primary focus of the meeting was finalisation of a draft document that arose out of the previous meeting of the committee in Kingston, Jamaica. The document, entitled ‘Deepening Democracy’, offers a brief but comprehensive assessment of the problems facing the region. Dividing the concerns into four main areas — The State, Political Parties, Regional Integration, and Social Capital — the document proposes that in every case, democracy must not only be defended in developing nations, but extended into every area of public life.

For most nations in the region, the problem facing socialists and other progressives is not merely trying to bring about the necessary policies which would allow for the basic needs of the people to be met, or to prevent the ongoing privatisation of what few public services are available in their countries, but to defend the need to use democratic methods to work for social change.

While many of the difficulties facing Latin America are universal today — the public frustration with and perception of stagnation in political parties has been sharply felt in Europe, as well as North America and Asia — the most crucial task for our comrades in this region is to convince both the masses as well as the ruling classes that an open, pluralistic society built on democratic principles is the only way to overcome the dire poverty that has held back both the economic and social development on the continent. In the past (and even today in nations like Venezuela) it has been all too common to find people in the region supporting what they feel will be quick, sharp, strongman solutions to their nation’s ills. The goal of socialists in Latin America and the Caribbean is to show that such authoritarian populism has only lined the pockets of the élites while at the same time preventing the genuine economic development of the region. Only by investing in the people, not only economically but socially, by encouraging their greater participation in governance, can the region begin to rise up out of poverty, and begin to develop a genuinely stable infrastructure for the future.

The full text of the document can be read here.

Other points of the meeting involved:

  • The issue of international drug trafficking and the adverse effect it has had on the region. The Socialist International has resolved to work on a World Summit Against Drugs, in hopes of more effectively addressing the problem.
  • The continued exploitation of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques by the United States Navy. The committee reaffirmed the standing position of the International that the Puerto Rican people have a right to self-determination, and that the actions of the US military must come to an end.

The ILRS was represented by Secretary General Andrew Hammer.

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