Observation #4: A militant group uses war to gain power unavailable through democratic means.
If the outside enemy benefits politicians of the State, violence itself does the same for a militant group. In my last post on the subject, I argued that government participation in the Sri Lanka conflict has more to do with internal divisions among the Sinhalese majority than with any real disagreement with the Tamils. Likewise on the LTTE side, the situation is more complex than it first appears.
The LTTE began as a group of low-caste Tamil militants. Increasing discrimination against Tamils by the Sinhala-controlled government meant fewer resources for all Tamils– and especially for those of lower caste. In addition, the caste structure itself enforced a kind of discrimination within the Tamil community. Low-caste youths, a minority within their own ethnic group, had no means of gaining political power through democratic means, not even within their own ethnicity. They had no hope of improving their situation, which they perceived to be relatively worse off, without violence. Thus in the early 1970s, the precursor to the LTTE was formed by a couple of dozen militant youths. Their first exploits were primarily robberies, but they quickly graduated to political targets.
Interestingly, in the mid-1980s, the LTTE had a significant following among college students and intellectuals in the Tamil community, who perceived that democracy had failed to address the grievances of the Tamils as a whole. The LTTE, which claims to be the “sole” voice of the Tamil people, at that time had a fairly broad base of support. But toward the late 1980s, the independent thought of these supporters became inconvenient, and the LTTE increasingly relied on low-caste recruits who had little to lose. The hero-culture promoted by the LTTE made possible acclaim that a youth from a poor village in the jungle could never otherwise hope to achieve.
Because the LTTE essentially represents a double minority, without a significant change in perspective it would not get elected in a free and fair election. Thus, it must ensure that it never faces one. Eliminating opponents is necessary, but not sufficient: it must prevent elections from taking place. That can easily be done by continuing the same course it has maintained for over two decades: violence. In a state of war, elections are impossible and the LTTE faces no opposition within its territory.
The pattern replays itself around the world: post-modern militants most often represent a minority position that could not win an election in a democracy. The position may be ethnic, religious, class, caste, language– almost any type of division within a society. Mao wrote that power grows from the barrel of a gun. By resorting to violence, the minority can co-opt both power and audience that they would otherwise not have access to.
A final note: the war in Sri Lanka has at times absorbed up to 40% of the country’s GDP. The LTTE, representing a minority within a minority, quite literally impacts the entire economy of the nation (though not with positive effect). It could never command such power through democratic means. While I do not condone violence, especially against civilians, I do understand this: violence works for a militant group; it provides the group with the power it seeks.