The Struggle for Trotskyism in Ceylon
by Edmund Samarakkody
Spartacist No. 22, Winter 1973-74
The Editorial Board of Spartacist is proud to bring to our readers an important article making accessible to Trotskyists in the U.S. and internationally an analysis of the history and degeneration of the Trotskyist movement in Ceylon. This understanding is crucial for the rebirth of Trotskyism in Ceylon. The Ceylon experience has profound lessons for our movement, especially in the underdeveloped countries, in the struggle to build sections of an authentic Fourth International rooted in the working class.
The author, Edmund Samarakkody, is uniquely qualified to comment on this experience. A veteran Trotskyist militant and currently spokesman for the Revolutionary Workers Party of Ceylon, Comrade Samarakkody was a founding leader of the Ceylon section of the Fourth International. His early experience dates back to trade-union organizing for the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) in the years before World War II. During the war, Comrade Samarakkody, along with other central leaders of the LSSP, was interned by the British and, following his escape, was involved in coordinating the activities of the illegalized LSSP. He then joined other leaders of the LSSP in temporary emigration to India–a crucial internationalizing experience for the Ceylonese Trotskyists–until the end of the war.
Comrade Samarakkody’s oppositional history began in 1957, when he and other left militants in the LSSP resisted the LSSP’s accommodation to the bourgeois nationalist Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). Particularly crucial in understanding the degeneration of the international Trotskyist movement is the light cast by Comrade Samarakkody’s article on the wretched role of the Pabloist International Secretariat (now United Secretariat) in acquiescing to the LSSP’s accommodationist policy toward the SLFP until the USec revisionists were at last forced to disavow the LSSP when the LSSP entered the SLFP-led popular-front government of Mrs. Bandaranaike in 1964. As the article demonstrates, both the Pabloists of the USec and the Healyites (International Committee) must seek to ignore the real history of the LSSP before 1964 in order to conceal their own complicity, dictated by their pervasive opportunism.
After the 1964 debacle, the USec revisionists denounced the LSSP’s entry into the government and backed the LSSP(Revolutionary), led by the trade-union bureaucrat Bala Tampoe, which split in opposition to the entry into the government. Within the LSSP(R) Comrade Samarakkody led a left opposition against the Tampoe leadership. After two years of struggle, Comrade Samarakkody and his supporters left the LSSP(R) following a Special Conference (18-19 April 1968) and constituted the Revolutionary Samasamaja Party (now Revolutionary Workers Party) of Ceylon.
As part of his continuing political battle against the revisionists, Comrade Samarakkody was instrumental in bringing to the attention of the world Trotskyist movement the fundamentally corrupt role of Bala Tampoe, through forcing a special Commission on Ceylon at the “Ninth World Congress” of the USec in April 1969. Following the USec’s suppression of the accusations against Tampoe , and the findings of the USec’s own Commission, Comrade Samarakkody transmitted to us the actual reports of this Commission, which we published in Spartacist # 21 (Fall 1972).
During a period of two decades up to 1964, it was the claim of the leaders of the “United Secretariat of the Fourth International”1 that the LSSP2 was the strongest Trotskyist mass party within the “world organisation.” Undoubtedly, the LSSP was the working-class-based party with the widest mass base. It was in the leadership of a considerable sector of the trade-union movement and had strong support among sections of the peasantry and of the urban petty bourgeoisie. It had a reputation for intransigence in its opposition to capitalism-imperialism and for its incorruptible and militant leadership of the working class and toilers, and as a champion of the rights of the Tamil-speaking minority.3 In the words of Ernest Mandel, a leader of the United Secretariat, “Colvin R. de Silva and Leslie Gunawardena were brilliant Marxist thinkers who have written some of the best revolutionary pamphlets in South East Asia…. They undoubtedly assimilated the whole body of the basic Trotskyist concepts.”4
However, it was the same party, the LSSP, with its reputation for revolutionary intransigence, and with its “brilliant Marxist thinkers,” that ignominiously collapsed in June 1964, when, by a majority decision, it entered a coalition government with the SLFP,5 the party of the so-called national or liberal bourgeoisie, just when the bankruptcy of the policies of the Sirima Bandaranaike government was becoming manifest to the working class and toilers and when conditions were ripening for the development of mass struggle against the government and the capitalist class.
Not only did this reputed Trotskyist party join the ranks of the opportunists by this alliance with the bourgeoisie for the betrayal of the masses, but in 1971, it became directly responsible for the worst massacre of youth ever known in Ceylon or elsewhere–the police-army killings by shooting and torture of thousands of youth who rose in revolt against the capitalist coalition government. And, it is this party that today, together with the Stalinists, is sustaining a capitalist regime which is preparing the road, in the manner of the Allendes, for an open military dictatorship.
But why did this happen? How did this “Trotskyist” party collapse and join the ranks of Stalinist and social-democratic betrayers?
We shall let the same Ernest Mandel of the United Secretariat answer this question. Here is his explanation in his article published in the International Socialist Review in the fall of 1964. “It was never a secret to any member of the world Trotskyist movement, informed about the special problems of the Fourth International, that the section in Ceylon, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, was an organisation to which the term ‘Trotskyist’ had to be applied with a series of specific reservations….” Mandel, it would appear, had never any doubts about the character of the LSSP. According to him “the group of Trotskyist intellectuals suddenly found themselves at the head of the largest working-class organisation in the country…. However, the party which they led could not really be called ‘Bolshevik’.”
Mandel’s dilemma in characterisation of this party is understandable. For over two decades, the LSSP was the Ceylon unit of the International Secretariat (I.S.) and later United Secretariat (USec), which claimed to be the continuation of the organisation founded by Trotsky. Mandel and the leaders of the United Secretariat were called upon to explain how such a party as the LSSP could have remained a unit of an international organisation claiming to be Trotskyist! It was this question that Mandel has failed to answer. And his failure to face up to this question could well be the reason why he resorted to equivocation in regard to the character of this party.
In the view of Mandel, the LSSP had a hybrid character.
“It was a party that combined left-socialist trade-union cadres, revolutionary workers who had gained class consciousness but not specifically revolutionary-Marxist education, and a few hundred genuine revolutionary-Marxist cadres….
“In fact, while being formally a Trotskyist party, the LSSP functioned in several areas comparably to a left Social Democratic party in a relatively ‘prosperous’ semi-colonial country; i.e. it was the main electoral vehicle of the poor masses, it provided the main leadership of the trade unions.”
If indeed “the LSSP functioned in several areas comparably to a left Social Democratic party,” and if indeed it was functioning as “the main electoral vehicle of the poor masses,” it was by no means difficult to understand how the leaders of this party accepted portfolios in a bourgeois government in 1964 and have continued along this road thereafter.
But if, as Mandel insists, this was a “defeat for Trotskyism in Ceylon” it is necessary to ascertain what precisely in his view led to this defeat. “The defeat suffered by Trotskyism in Ceylon,” says Mandel, “is therefore essentially the story of how and why the Colvin R. de Silva and Leslie Gunawardena group [“Marxist”–E.S.] lost leadership of the party through their own weaknesses and inner contradictions….”
Mandel mentions these “weaknesses and inner contradictions”–the fatal flaw was that these key political leaders did not occupy themselves with full time party work–they remained part-time leaders… the leaders of the genuinely Trotskyist wing of the LSSP did not change their daily lives to accord with their revolutionary convictions.6
While the “weaknesses and inner contradictions of the leaders” were real, it is necessary for revolutionary Marxists to go beyond the personal qualities of the leaders of an ostensibly revolutionary party to ascertain why such a party betrayed the revolutionary movement and the masses. Mandel is completely wrong in stating that the weaknesses of the leaders were “essentially” the cause of the LSSP collapse. This is plain subjectivism.
Mandel’s dilemma remains. He and the other leaders of the United Secretariat were not prepared to accept their share of responsibility for the collapse of the LSSP, which for two decades was accepted as a section of the International Secretariat, later United Secretariat.
The formal acceptance of the program can never be the test of a revolutionary Marxist party. That is of course a commonplace. On the other hand, what is basic to the Leninist concept of the party is the basing of the politics of the party on the revolutionary program and above all on activity in a revolutionary perspective.
And, in regard to the LSSP, there was not even a formal acceptance of a Trotskyist program, because in reality there was no program as such. What was termed the program, as late as 1950 (unity congress) was only a listing of “fundamental aims,” a brief explanation of a transitional program, a list of transitional demands and the positions of the party on imperialist war, defense of the Soviet Union, on Stalinist parties and popular-frontism.
A Marxist analysis of the socio-economic factors in the country, class forces and class relations, the character of the Ceylon revolution and the dynamics of the Ceylon revolution–all these issues had no place in this “program”! Documents on programmatic questions were never the heritage of the party. Nor could the leaders of the United Secretariat, the Mandels and Pierre Franks, point to any intervention on their part with the LSSP in this regard.
The existence, from the beginning, of a Marxist wing in this social-democratic type party was the real hope for this party. And indeed, the leaders of the [International] correctly looked to this group for the revolutionary orientation of this party.
And the opportunity came to this group and also to the leaders of the [International], when the first split took place in the LSSP between the Philip Gunawardena/N.M. Perera reformist section and the Leslie [Gunawardena]/Colvin [R. de Silva]/Bernard [Soysa] Marxist section in 1942.
It was the attempt on the part of the Marxist wing to re-organise the party programmatically and organisationally on Bolshevik lines that led to opposition from the Philip Gunawardena/N.M. Perera reformist wing and to the split of 1942. The expulsion of Philip Gunawardena and N.M. Perera from the International and the acceptance of the Bolshevik Samasamaja Party (BSP)7 as the Ceylon unit created favourable conditions for the building of the revolutionary party.
Although at the commencement the politics of the split were not altogether clear to the rank and file of the BSP, the further evolution of the N.M./Philip group brought into the open the different orientations. For instance, the N.M./Philip group gave proof of its deep-seated opportunism when the parliamentary fraction of their party refused to vote against the status of “independence” granted by the British in 1947. The BSP fraction however voted against this fake independence.8
On the other hand, during the seven years of its independent existence, the BSP took meaningful steps to raise the ideological level of the party, develop revolutionary cadre and direct trade-union and other mass activities in a revolutionary perspective.
However, this favourable development for Trotskyism in Ceylon received a setback when the BSP decided on unification with the reformist N.M. Perera/Philip Gunawardena group (LSSP), which had, during this period, only strengthened its reformism, both in its trade-union and parliamentary activities.
And what is more, the unification was effected without any discussion on the fundamental problems of the Ceylon revolution, strategy and tactics, on Stalinism, reformism and parliamentarism. It was the failure of the Marxist wing (BSP) that no document giving the correct orientation on these relevant issues was adopted at this unification. Only the “program” which we have already referred to was adopted. This “program” was so sketchy and only in outline, that the N.M. Perera wing had no difficulty in taking the party along their reformist course.
This unification, which proved disastrous for the future of Trotskyism in Ceylon, nevertheless received the approval of the leaders of the United Secretariat (then the International Secretariat). And what is more, it was their view that a policy of co-existence with the N.M. Perera reformist wing was correct for the Marxist group. In the view of Mandel, “the problem of overcoming the old divisions and of blocking anything that could precipitate a new split with N.M. Perera became an obsession among the key political leaders. The policy was correct in itself since unification had taken place on a principled basis and since the party’s activities as a whole were proceeding in accordance with the general program of Trotskyism.”9 [our emphasis–E.S.]
General Program of Trotskyism
The program of Trotskyism in Ceylon had to be linked to the problems of the Ceylon revolution.
As in all backward countries, Ceylon had (1950) and still continues to have uncompleted tasks of the democratic revolution. The “Soulbury Constitution,” which was a deal between the Ceylonese bourgeoisie and the British imperialists, brought only fake independence. While there was political independence over a large area, yet there was room for imperialist interference and control, even politically. In any event, the economic dominance of British imperialism continued through the ownership and control by the British of the best tea and rubber plantations and the agency houses, which controlled the exports of all agricultural products and which also had a major share of the imports for the plantation sector. The operation of British and other foreign-owned banks, and the open-door policy for British and other imperialist investments reduced political freedom to a fiction.
Twenty-five years after the grant of so-called Independence and the adoption of a new constitution with republican status (1971), the socio-economic policies of Ceylon, over a large area, cannot be decided by a Ceylon Cabinet, but by the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the imperialists!
The revolutionary wing (BSP) which correctly denounced and rejected the Soulbury Constitution as “fake independence” while the N.M. Perera wing silently endorsed the bourgeois interpretations in that regard, failed to raise this question of the Soulbury Constitution with the N.M. Perera wing at the 1950 unification. Thus by implication the BSP endorsed the opportunism of the N.M. Perera wing.
This meant that the unified LSSP adopted, by implication, a view that the bourgeoisie of a backward country in the middle of the 20th century has been able to accomplish a basic task of the bourgeois democratic revolution, i.e. the achievement of national liberation from imperialism. This meant that the LSSP was in conflict with the central thesis of the permanent revolution, that, having arrived belatedly, a congenitally weak bourgeoisie in a backward country is incapable of playing a leading role in the democratic revolution; that on the contrary, this bourgeoisie is counter-revolutionary; that the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution could be accomplished only by the proletariat (dictatorship of the proletariat) in alliance with the peasantry and in the teeth of the opposition of the native bourgeoisie–whether they be the compradors or the so-called national bourgeoisie.
The false and untenable assumption that the bourgeois democratic tasks had been accomplished by the Ceylonese bourgeoisie led the LSSP to virtually ignore thereafter–(a) the struggle for completing Ceylon’s independence; (b) the struggle for minority rights of the 2 million Tamil-speaking people; (c) the struggle of the peasants for the land; and (d) the ending of the oppression and discrimination of the so-called depressed castes.
It was thus that the LSSP had no program to develop the anti-imperialist struggle although the party was opposed to imperialism. And it was thus that the LSSP had no program to develop the struggle of the peasants for land although the LSSP did demand land for the landless.
Although the LSSP supported the language and other rights of the Tamil minority and called for the acceptance of Tamil as an official language together with the Sinhala language, and also called for citizenship rights for the Tamil plantation workers, it did not have a strategy for implementing these demands.
It was thus that the LSSP failed to carry on a consistent struggle for the completion of Ceylon’s independence, for the abolition of the Soulbury Constitution. The party failed to raise the slogan of a Constituent Assembly.
The refusal of the LSSP to face the reality of the uncompleted democratic tasks gave the Ceylon bourgeoisie an unexpected opportunity to pose as the friends of the peasantry and to win over the petty-bourgeois masses generally, by putting on the mask of nationalism and talking the language of freedom fighters.
S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, who broke with the UNP10 on the succession to D.S. Senanayake, was quick to take the opportunity. Raising the slogans of “Sinhalese language only” as the official language to replace English, “Give back the military bases,” “Take over of foreign-owned estates,” “End feudal relations in land,” Bandaranaike was soon leading the mass movement, especially the peasants and lower middle class intelligentsia. From a leader of a small party of eight members in parliament, Bandaranaike found himself swept to power in 1956 (MEP–the 1st Bandaranaike Government).11
Although Bandaranaike and his SLFP soon showed their state of bankruptcy in regard to (a) the anti-imperialist struggle; (b) winning of land to the peasants; and (c) the grant of minority rights and so-called economic development, this party (SLFP) of the so-called national bourgeoisie was able to keep itself at the centre of the political stage during a period of nearly 17 years up to the present due to the wrong policies of the LSSP in regard to the so-called national or liberal bourgeoisie.
The Ceylonese bourgeoisie had, right up to the war period, remained a plantation and mercantile bourgeoisie. Their interests more or less dove-tailed with imperialist interests; they functioned in the perspective of continued co-existence with imperialism. They were the classic compradors.
However, it was inevitable that capitalist development in Ceylon would, even late, take the road of industrialisation. This meant that a differentiation within the bourgeoisie would sooner or later lead to the emergence of the industrial-minded bourgeoisie. And it could have been expected that this new section of the bourgeoisie would be in a state of conflict with the older plantation bourgeoisie or their party, the UNP, which had control of state power.
It was the existence of this new sector of the bourgeoisie–the industrial-minded sector–that found its reflection in the split away of Bandaranaike from the UNP (1951). Further, it was precisely the significance of this differentiation within the bourgeoisie that the LSSP, which according to Mandel, “functioned in accordance with the general program of Trotskyism,” failed to understand.
“National” or “Liberal” Bourgeoisie
The character and the role of the so-called national or liberal bourgeoisie in the backward countries was too well known, especially in the Trotskyist movement, by the time this differentiation took place in Ceylon. The tragedy of the Chinese revolution (1927), the triumph of Franco in Spain (1936-39), and the failure of the revolutionary movements in India and the other countries of Asia were basically linked to the failure of ostensible revolutionaries to understand the nature of the so-called national bourgeoisie, who seek to use the masses, not for struggle against imperialism but to win concessions from the imperialist masters.
The principal lesson derived from Marxist experience in this regard was that this sector of the bourgeoisie, while being capable of occasional but weak oppositional actions against imperialism, cannot, with any degree of consistency, develop any real confrontation with imperialism. In the context of the reality of the class struggle, the so-called national or liberal bourgeoisie must necessarily betray the struggle for national liberation and enter into treacherous compromises with imperialism. “The more to the East,” said Trotsky, “the more treacherous were the bourgeoisie.” That meant, the more belatedly they arrive, the more treacherous they are.
While revolutionary Marxists would give critical support to some oppositional actions of the so-called national bourgeoisie, they are unequivocally opposed to national bourgeois regimes; it remains their task to carry on a consistent and irreconcilable struggle to expose their real role of treachery to the national liberation struggle and to wrest the leadership of the national struggle from their hands.
The regimes of the so-called national or liberal bourgeoisie in Ceylon (SLFP, SLFP-LSSP, SLFP-LSSP-CP) have brought about a belated but limited development of the manufacturing industries, not in conflict with imperialism, but jointly with foreign capitalists, whether in the public or private sector, undermining in this process the political independence of the country.
It is precisely this question of the so-called national or liberal bourgeoisie–the Bandaranaike question–that LSSP leaders failed to understand in the light of Marxist experience. In the result, the leadership followed empirically a zig zag policy, which inevitably led them into the coalition government with the SLFP in 1964.
The 1953 Hartal–A Semi-Insurrection
It was in this state of ideological confusion and uncertainty that the LSSP was confronted with the opportunity of leading the masses in Ceylon’s first revolutionary mass struggle against the government and the capitalist class reaching to the level of a semi-insurrection.
With the end of the Korean boom and the fall in the prices of the main exports, tea and rubber, the capitalist UNP government decided to maintain the profit levels of the capitalist and vested interests by imposing drastic cuts on social services and by the increase in price of rationed rice. While the price of rice was raised from =/25 cents to =/70 cents [Ceylon currency] per measure, the government withdrew the free mid-day meal to school children and increased postal fares and train fares.
The LSSP took the lead in developing mass agitation on these issues. But even while the mass movement was visibly growing around these issues, the leaders of the LSSP, who had empirically moved into a struggle situation, failed to see the revolutionary possibilities in the situation. Their perspectives did not go beyond mass protest action against the actions and policies of the government.
In this context, the LSSP leaders were taken by surprise by the response of the masses to the one-day protest action that was decided upon.
Though acting empirically, the LSSP correctly applied the tactic of the united front. The Philip Gunawardena group (MEP), the Stalinists and even the Federal Party (bourgeois-led Tamil minority Party) were pushed into becoming the co-sponsors of the Hartal12 action.
The withdrawal of work (strike action) of the workers supported by the closing of business and the stoppage of work by peasants and other self-employed people, all of whom resorted to direct action struggle by barricading roads, cutting down trees and telephone posts, stopping of buses and trains–all this turned into a real confrontation with the armed forces of the government. What occurred was a semi-insurrection in which the masses fought the police and the army with stones and clubs and whatever they found by way of weapons. Nine persons were killed by police shooting.
What the working class and the masses that were in the struggle looked forward to was not a mere one-day protest action and a return to work the following day. They were in readiness for a struggle to overthrow the hated UNP government. In fact, this direct action of the masses continued on the next day also. There were clear possibilities of this Hartal action being continued for several days thereafter. But the LSSP leadership, despite the unmistakable moods of the workers and other sections of the masses, decided to keep to their plan of a mere protest action and called off the Hartal and prevented the masses from continuing the struggle.
Dynamics of the Ceylon Revolution
What the LSSP leadership had failed to develop theoretically–the dynamics of the Ceylon revolution–the Hartal struggle showed in practise, even in outline. The following features were prominently silhouetted in the political scene:
1. Contrary to the misgivings of the LSSP leaders (which some of them developed into theories later), the Ceylonese masses were not so steeped in parliamentarism that they would first have to go through a long parliamentary period before they got on to the road of revolutionary struggle. The Hartal showed that, given a revolutionary leadership, the masses could soon shed their parliamentary illusions and enter the road of mass struggle leading to the revolution itself.
2. The masses did not divide the Ceylon revolution into two stages, (a) an anti-imperialist and anti-feudal stage and (b) an anti-capitalist stage. The democratic revolution and the socialist revolution were telescoped in a single struggle. The issues that brought the masses into revolutionary struggle were issues arising out of imperialist capitalist oppression–increase of price of rice, train fares, postal fares, etc. The capitalist class had the need to save foreign exchange through a cut in the ration of rice and cutting down of social services for the maintaining of capitalist profit levels. The uncompleted democratic tasks, completing of independence, and the ending of minority and caste oppression could be accomplished only in the course of the socialist revolution.
Despite their so-called two-stage theory, the Stalinists found themselves taken along into an anti-capitalist struggle and an uprising against a capitalist government. Also, contrary to their so-called theory, they were shown in practise that the anti-UNP struggle could not be separated from the anti-capitalist struggle.
3. Again, contrary to the orientation of the Stalinists and later also of the LSSP, it was not the so-called progressive bourgeoisie or petty bourgeoisie that led the masses in this struggle, but the proletariat. Led by the LSSP, it was the working class that took the leading role in this struggle. The urban and rural petty bourgeoisie, the peasants and the students and youth all followed the leadership of the working class. The party of the so-called progressive bourgeoisie, the Bandaranaike-led SLFP, was not ready even to be one of the sponsors of the Hartal action.
4. The alliance of the proletariat and the peasantry, which is basic to the Ceylon revolution, was achieved in action. The struggle showed that it was not necessary for the proletariat to form a political alliance with a bourgeois or petty-bourgeois party in order to win the peasantry. The peasantry can be won to the side of the proletariat on the basis of support for their burning issues in opposition to the bourgeoisie.
The LSSP leadership failed to draw the lessons of this Hartal experience. It failed to theoretically evaluate the events of this semi-insurrection and relate them to the theory of the permanent revolution as it applied to Ceylon, a backward country. The LSSP leadership failed to realise that what was urgent and un-postponable was the raising of the ideological level of the party in the perspective of developing into a Bolshevik-type revolutionary combat party.
Politics of the International Secretariat
We have already noted that in the view of Mandel, in the post unification years (LSSP-BSP), the LSSP’s “activities as a whole were proceeding in accordance with the general program of Trotskyism.”
Thus, in the view of the International Secretariat, there was no occasion for any serious intervention on its part in regard to the LSSP.
The truth in this regard was that, with the new turn of the I.S. in 1951 (3rd Congress) under the guidance of Pablo, there could not be, in their view, any problems for the LSSP in regard to ideological development or the building of a Bolshevik-type party.
According to the thesis of the 3rd Congress there was no need to build independent Trotskyist parties; what was necessary was to take the “quickest road to the masses” where-ever they be, in the Stalinist or other reformist parties, for “the integrating” of the revolutionary Marxist cadre deeply into the so-called real movement of the masses.
The same thesis of the 3rd Congress left the door open for an interpretation that the Stalinist parties have transformed themselves from road-blocks to the proletarian revolution into parties that are capable of taking the revolutionary road.
It was against this liquidationist turn of the International that the SWP (United States)-led minority revolted and split in 1953. On the first news of the split the LSSP leadership leaned on the side of the minority and appeared to be willing to take up the struggle against Pabloist revisionism and liquidationism. But in the state of ideological confusion that reigned in the LSSP and its leadership, and in the context of the theoretical weakness of the International Committee (IC),13 the leaders of the LSSP wavered and jumped on to the bandwagon of the majority led by the Mandels, Pierre Franks and the Livios.
In reality, the liquidationist and revisionist line of Pablo, according to which there is no need to build independent Marxist parties, and according to which what was urgent was the “integration into the living movement of the masses”–all this dovetailed into the orientation of the LSSP leaders whose pre-occupation was developing mass activity–in the trade unions and in the electorates without revolutionary perspective.
On the other hand, the Pabloist pro-Stalinist orientation found more than a responsive echo with the Henry Peiris-led faction which emerged in the party in the fall of 1952. A resolution of this faction, led by Henry Peiris, William Silva and T.B. Subasinghe, “declared that in the elections the party should have put forward the slogan of a ‘Democratic Government which would have meant, at its lowest level, a Bandaranaike government, and at its highest level, a Government by a Sama Samaja majority’.” It also took the position “that the party should enter into the closest possible agreement and co-operation with the CP and Philip group in the trade union and political fields” (Short History of the LSSP).
This was clearly the moment to investigate into the roots of reformism and Stalinism that had grown within the LSSP, to draw up a balance sheet of the efforts of the LSSP to move in a Trotskyist direction. In fact, all the basic questions of Trotskyism, the program, the application of the theory of the permanent revolution, the character of the Ceylon revolution, the role of the “national” bourgeoisie, questions of strategy and tactics, the Leninist concept of the party, were the issues that were involved in this factional struggle that burst into the open.
But the LSSP leadership conducted the fight against the reformists and Stalinists within the party by their own empirical methods and in an ad hoc manner, counterposing Trotskyist orthodoxy to the politics of the revisionists, very much in the manner of the SWP in 1953 when it opposed the line of the 3rd Congress. In the result, the factional struggle did not lead to the focusing of attention on the fundamental questions that were clearly posed before the entire party. Nor did the factional struggle help even to educate the membership of the party and to raise their ideological level, especially when the party was moving deeper into parliamentary politics, where Bandaranaike was soon to become the principal actor.
Having failed to understand the role of the so-called national bourgeoisie, the LSSP leadership was at a loss to know how to deal with the Bandaranaike-led MEP government that was formed after the 1956 parliamentary elections.
Succumbing to the mass hysteria and enthusiasm at the election victory of the MEP to office, the LSSP announced its attitude to the new government as one of “responsive co-operation.” It was of course necessary to note the popularity of the MEP government. It was undoubtedly imperative for the LSSP to take note of the prevailing mass sentiment and the mass moods in relation to the first Bandaranaike government, before the party decided on its tactics in the situation. But it was unpardonable for a party claiming to be revolutionary Marxist to resort to equivocal formulae, and echo mass illusions when it was imperative to categorically state party positions. And in this case, it was the question of correctly characterising the MEP government which was a bourgeois bonapartist government that was seeking to deceive the masses with nationalist and socialist phraseology. It was the duty of the LSSP to patiently explain to the masses regarding the truth about the character of this government. On the contrary, the LSSP chose the occasion to opportunistically go along with the masses, whilst keeping the door open for later criticism of the government when the mass moods underwent a change.
The Mandels, Pierre Franks and the Livios of the I.S. looked on from a distance. They never once in this regard expressed their views on the LSSP line on this question. Either it was the case of the I.S. approving the LSSP line in this regard, or the I.S. did not seek to interfere in the internal affairs of a section of the International on the basis of its real orientation, that the Revolutionary International is a sum of several national parties that function independently of the International centre!
However, it was the Bandaranaike MEP regime itself that gave the LSSP the opportunity to re-assess the character of this government. Before long, the bankruptcy of “Bandaranaike principles” became evident to a section of the masses. It was to conceal this bankruptcy that Bandaranaike resorted to communalism that led to the worst anti-Tamil riots in Ceylon (1956-1958). And what was particularly helpful to the LSSP was that the organised working class lost faith in the promises of Bandaranaike and moved into strike action to win their wage demands.
But the LSSP, as before, acted only empirically. In a tail-endist fashion, the LSSP supported the working-class strikes and adapted only a more critical attitude to Bandaranaike.
Although the LSSP correctly noted that the Bandaranaike government (MEP) was bonapartist in character, it failed to draw the conclusion that mass illusions in such a government cannot easily disappear, that the LSSP had to launch consistent struggle on many fronts on reformism and Stalinism to win the masses away from “Bandaranaike politics.” On the other hand, the LSSP naively believed that, with the assassination of Bandaranaike, “Bandaranaike politics” had come to an end. The LSSP even believed that the road was now open for the party to ride to parliamentary power.
It was thus that the LSSP decided to throw all its forces in the 1960 elections (March) with the aim of winning a majority to form an LSSP government in parliament. And the International Secretariat, the Mandels and the Pierre Franks, looked on approvingly with hope that the LSSP would win a majority in this election.
But the SLFP, led by the widow of Bandaranaike, came out of the elections (March 1960), as the party with the largest number of seats, although it failed to win an overall majority to form the government. The LSSP was reduced from 12 to 10 seats and was thrown into a state of confusion.
But this outcome of the elections might well have been the opportunity for the party to review its election policy which contributed in a large way to increasing mass illusions in parliament and also to disorienting the party membership. In fact the decision of the party to bid for a parliamentary majority was evidence that the party had lost all revolutionary perspective and had accepted the reformist and Stalinist parliamentary or so-called peaceful road to socialism.
Nor did the Mandels and Pierre Franks of the International Secretariat intervene correctly even after the event, in this regard. The leaders of the I.S. could not realise that what was involved here was the disease of parliamentarism and reformism that had got a stranglehold on the party, and not a question of miscalculation or wrong evaluation. Here is a sample of their orientation in this regard–
“The starting point must be a frank self criticism of the errors in analysis and evaluation committed by the party prior to the 20th March elections, namely–
(a) It thought that the objective situation was favourable to the victory of the revolutionary movement;
(b) It supposed that the masses have already had enough experience with the SLFP and that as a result they might in their majority turn towards the LSSP.”
(I.S. Document on Ceylon, October 1960)
In this context, it was no surprise that the leadership of the LSSP, which was now steeped in parliamentarism continued to look desperately for solutions within the same parliamentarist perspective. And it was thus that the next step was taken by the right-wing leader N.M. Perera who challenged all the basic positions of Trotskyism, pronounced that the proletariat in Ceylon was petty-bourgeois in outlook, that revolutionary mass struggle leading to the dictatorship of the proletariat was impossible and crudely proposed that the LSSP enter a coalition front with the SLFP “on an agreed program.”
And as for the “brilliant Marxists” like Mandel, the Colvins and the Leslies, they were only a step behind N.M. Perera. In fact, it was Leslie Gunawardena that sought to give theoretical justification for the betrayal that Perera found no difficulty in proposing in the manner of the Social Democrats. Leslie Gunawardena, you see, was, in keeping with the traditions of the Trotskyist movement, against the popular front! But according to Leslie Gunawardena a popular front with an anti-capitalist program was in accordance with the program of Trotskyism! Thus Leslie Gunawardena was opposed to N.M. Perera’s proposal to form a coalition government on an agreed minimum program. “This action” wrote Leslie “was light-minded and unworthy of a party that claims to employ the Marxist method”!
Four years later, in June 1964, these same “brilliant Marxists” led by this same Leslie had moved far and away from Leslie’s own theory of 1960. They were opposed to the proposal of N.M. Perera not on the absence of an anti-capitalist program. Their difference with N.M. Perera was that they wanted a coalition government between the entire ULF14-LSSP-MEP, CP and the SLFP–They wanted a complete and proper popular front!
Though late, left oppositional elements in the LSSP began to intervene. In 1957, one year after Bandaranaike assumed office, the opposition to the policy of “responsive co-operation” manifested itself through a small group in the Central Committee. In its amendment to the political resolution of the Central Committee, this group (W. Dharmasena, Robert Gunawardena, Edmund [Samarakkody], Chandra Gunasekera) stated–
“When the MEP government came into power the masses were intoxicated with illusions regarding this government. Large sections of the masses close to the party expected the party to support the MEP government. In this situation, partly due to lack of clarity (of the party) regarding the MEP government, the party offered co-operation (responsive) to the government whilst directing the parliamentary group to sit in the opposition. As the party failed to characterise the MEP government as a capitalist government, the fact that the parliamentary group sat in the opposition did not signalise its fundamental opposition or of being against the government. Whatever was the intention of the party, in the eyes of the masses, the key to the understanding of the fundamental position of the party in relation to the government was the offer of co-operation (responsive) by the party. This offer of co-operation to the capitalist government was wrong. The party could have and should have offered support to the progressive measures of the government while stating categorically that the MEP government was a capitalist government. However unpalatable and unacceptable it may have been to the masses, the party should have characterised this government as a capitalist government and thereafter proceeded to explain.”
(Amendment of Edmund-Robert group in the CC, 1957).
In the further efforts to combat parliamentarism and to take the party along the path of mass struggle the group insisted that “the aim of the party in relation to the MEP government is revolutionary overthrow of the government, i.e. by the method of the mass uprising. The masses are not ready now (today) for the overthrow of the government. But in view of the failure of the government to solve the pressing problems of the people, in view of the ever increasing dissension in the MEP, and the demoralisation of its own ranks, in view of the growing militancy of the working class, the situation can change very rapidly, and at any moment from now, the masses could well raise the slogan ‘Down with the MEP government.’ As a bridge between their present consciousness and the stage when they will be ready for the call for the overthrow of the Government, the party will adopt as a central agitational slogan ‘We do not want the capitalist MEP government, we want a workers and peasants government’.”
Undoubtedly this group failed to come to grips with the roots of reformism in the party. It only focused attention on some aspects of party policy. Nevertheless, the orientation of this group gave promise of possibilities for the growth of a real revolutionary tendency.
It was thus an opportune moment for the leaders of the I.S. to intervene on the side of the left oppositional elements that were definitively emerging. But there was no such intervention, for the reason that these leaders, the Mandels and the Pierre Franks, had no differences with the LSSP leadership in regard to their policy of “responsive co-operation” to the Bandaranaike government.
It was only when the LSSP leaders took the inevitable step from “responsive co-operation” to the call for support of an SLFP government that the leaders of the International Secretariat intervened with a document to register their opposition.
The leaders of the I.S. were in a dilemma. If the LSSP was right when it offered co-operation (responsive co-operation) to the first Bandaranaike government (MEP) how could the LSSP be wrong when it called for and supported the formation of an SLFP government in parliament?
The answer to this question is that the LSSP was completely wrong in offering co-operation (responsive) to the bourgeois MEP government of Bandaranaike in 1956. The LSSP was once again wrong in calling for support of the bourgeois SLFP in 1960.
But the leaders of the I.S. were not prepared to admit that it was their failure that they did not state categorically that the policy of “responsive co-operation” was wrong. It was thus that the Mandels and Pierre Franks found themselves on the defensive before the LSSP reformists in their attempt to explain what they really meant by “critical support” to the SLFP government. These leaders of the I.S. were guilty of a serious distortion of the Leninist-Trotskyist position in regard to the governments of the so-called national progressive bourgeoisie! And here is their orientation in that regard– “We do not forget that, in the case of colonial and semi-colonial countries, the revolutionary party can give its critical support to governments with a non-proletarian leadership, be they petty-bourgeois or bourgeois”! [our emphasis–E.S.] (Document of the I.S. on Ceylon).
However, in the same breath, the document continued, “The support of a revolutionary party for a bourgeois or petty-bourgeois government cannot be other than critical, namely strictly conditional and limited. That means in practise that this support can be granted for progressive, effectively anti-capitalist or anti-imperialist measures, either planned or carried out, measures that must be defended against any manoeuvre or sabotage by the reactionary forces.” But why this equivocation? A revolutionary Marxist party will not and cannot give even critical support to any bourgeois or petty-bourgeois government. If the Mandels and the Pierre Franks mean thereby critical support to only “progressive and anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist measures” then how do they talk of “giving critical support to governments with a non-proletarian leadership, be they petty-bourgeois or bourgeois”? They knew that what was involved here was the attitude of the revolutionary party to a bourgeois government in a colonial or semi-colonial country, and not to its attitude to certain measures of such a government. They know well that a revolutionary Marxist party could well give critical support to certain measures of bourgeois governments, even of military governments. But the attitude of a revolutionary Marxist party to a bourgeois government with even a “progressive” coloration can be nothing but irreconcilable opposition, although the manner of opposition to such a government will depend on the mass sentiment in relation to the government.
It is thus that support to a government, whether disguised as “responsive co-operation” or critical support, must be rejected as being in direct conflict with the fundamental programmatic position of the party.
But whatever were the weaknesses and equivocations of the International Secretariat, the reformist leadership of the LSSP had by their unequivocal call for support of an SLFP government in May 1960 exposed the hollowness of their claims to be a Trotskyist party. This meant that the task of revolutionary Marxists within the LSSP was to begin the struggle for a Trotskyist program and the organisation of a revolutionary tendency with or without the support of the International Secretariat.
However, the left oppositionists in the LSSP allowed themselves to be disarmed when the LSSP leadership empirically put on an oppositional stance in relation to the SLFP government, especially when sectors of the working class moved into strike action under the leadership of the LSSP. And, for its part, the International Secretariat even believed that an appeal to the party leadership from the World Congress would suffice to make these, now confirmed reformists, take a revolutionary road!
“The World Congress appeals to the Lanka Sama Samaja Party for a radical change in the political course in the direction indicated by the document of the leadership of the International.”
“The Congress is confident that the next National Conference of the LSSP in whose political preparation the whole International must participate, will know how to adopt all the political and organisational decisions necessary to overcome the crisis which was revealed following on the results of the March 1960 election campaign.”
(Letter of 6th World Congress to LSSP)
Far from any effective participation of the International or any participation at all by the I.S. in any national conference of the LSSP “for a radical change in its political course,” the Mandels and Pierre Franks were once again traversing the same parliamentarist road with the LSSP leadership, just when the working class had achieved, as never before, unity for struggle around 21 demands which could well develop into political struggle against the SLFP government and the capitalist class.
United Left Front
The Marxist tactic of the united front with Stalinist and reformist working-class parties and even bourgeois parties means nothing more than unity in action in concrete anti-imperialist or class-struggle situations. It can never mean a political alliance with such parties, which cannot have any other objective than the winning of reforms from the capitalists or the capitalist government.
The problem of the alternative government, alternative to the bourgeois government, is often posed before the revolutionary Marxists. But this question of an alternative government is linked to the dynamics of the revolution.
This means that revolutionary Marxists do not project a transitional reformist government prior to a workers government. But this was precisely the orientation of the LSSP leaders who in their search for an alternative to a bourgeois government, proposed a government of the so-called “United Left Front” composed of the two working-class-based parties–the LSSP and CP–and the petty-bourgeois MEP (Philip Gunawardena) on an agreed program (July 1963).
The concluding paragraph of the preamble to this agreement, containing a “General Program” (maximum) and an immediate program, revealed the reformist and Stalinist character of this “Front”.
“In accordance with the needs of this situation and in response to this mass urge, the Ceylon Communist Party, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party and the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna have agreed to form a United Left Front in order to mobilise and lead all anti-imperialist, anti-feudal and socialist forces in Ceylon in the fight to establish a government that will give effect to the following general program.”
The “immediate” or the minimum part of this program, which was the real program of the Front, speaks for itself. The following are among the demands of the “immediate” or minimum program: (a) Bring down Prices! Let the State import and undertake the wholesale trade in all essential commodities. (b) End the wage freeze! Political and trade union rights for teachers and other employees of the Government…. (c) Participation of workers in each work place in the management of state and nationalised undertakings. (d) Nationalise the 13 Foreign Banks!
The minority in the Central Committee (14 members), that had for some time been moving in a revolutionary orientation, were categorically opposed to the so-called United Left Front.
The minority (which included Meryl [Fernando], Edmund [Samarakkody], Karlo [Karalasingham], [Bala] Tampoe, D.S. Mallawaratchi, S.A. Martinus, W. Dharmasena) was quick to see the reformist nature of this ULF which it correctly characterised as popular frontism!
“The situation which now faces the party is one in which it is clear that the MEP and the CP are not contemplating the type of United Front activity that will in fact provide a united left lead to the masses against the SLFP government and the forces of capitalist reaction. These two parties are seeking instead, to secure the party’s consent to putting forward an agreed governmental program before the masses in the name of the United Left Front for the purpose of canvassing support for the establishment of a popular front type of government in parliament. This parliamentary reformist perspective for united front activity must be rejected by the party….
“…. The party must avoid any course of action which is likely to strengthen the illusions already created amongst the left minded masses that the road forward to socialism in Ceylon lies through the setting up of a United Left Front with the objective of establishing a coalition government in parliament, on the basis of any agreed program for that purpose.”
(Resolution of the CC minority)
With the emergence of a revolutionary tendency led by 14 members of the Central Committee, the time was opportune to begin in an organised manner the struggle against parliamentarism and reformism and for orienting the party in a revolutionary direction. And this was clearly the moment for the International Secretariat to come down decisively on the side of the CC minority, for a joint struggle for the building of the revolutionary party.
It was thus that the CC minority looked forward hopefully for support from the Mandels and the Pierre Franks, especially when the International Secretariat had once again, in the fall of 1961, reminded the LSSP leaders that it was urgent for the party to be re-oriented on the lines suggested by the I.S. and endorsed by the Sixth World Congress. By its August (1961) resolution on Ceylon, the I.S. reiterated the following matters.
(a) “The impossibility of the conquest of power by the parliamentary way and the necessity for never forgetting that the smashing of the bourgeois apparatus and the creation by the masses in the course of a revolutionary process as a whole, of new organs of power, remain the condition for the victory of the proletariat and its revolutionary party”;
(b) “The necessity of working to make possible a close alliance between the worker masses and the peasants and more particularly for the operation of the real junction with the Indian agricultural workers, who remain one of the motive forces of the revolution in Ceylon; the necessity to underline the principled attitude favourable to trade union unity.”
(c) The International Secretariat even reminded the LSSP leadership that “up till now, the conference of the LSSP, which should have discussed all these questions, has not been convoked and there is consequently no official stand of the party.”
All this and the initial reactions of the International Secretariat to the parliamentarism that was reflected through the first draft of the ULF agreement gave promise of principled positions in this regard by the Mandels and the Pierre Franks, especially in the context of the categorical opposition of the CC minority (14 members out of 44).
But it was just when the CC minority looked to cooperation from the Mandels and Pierre Franks to continue their struggle against the LSSP reformists that they were abandoned by these leaders who took the side of the N.M. Pereras and Leslies when the latter signed the so-called agreement of the United Left Front which was nothing but a modest programme of reforms to fight the next parliamentary elections in the perspective of forming a joint government in parliament. The I.S. issued a public statement hailing the formation of the LSSP-MEP-CP “Left United Front.”
Was the International Secretariat correct in supporting the United Left Front formed in August 1963? What was their justification in this regard? Were they acting in accordance with the general program of Trotskyism?
Workers and Peasants Government
The call of the Bolsheviks in 1917 for a government of the Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks and their readiness to designate such a government as a workers and peasants government has been the excuse for revisionists of the United Secretariat and of the Healyite variety to call for support of governments of reformist working-class parties and petty-bourgeois parties, which are nothing but governments for bourgeois reform. And this was precisely the orientation of the Mandels and the Pierre Franks, especially since the 3rd Congress (1951).
Here is for example the section of the resolution of the 3rd Congress in regard to the tactics concretely proposed for Chile: “It [our section] will develop its propaganda for the slogan of the workers and peasants government which will eventually be concretised in this country as a government of parties claiming to represent the working class, notably the Communist Party and the Socialist Party.” (This meant that the coalition government of Allende that was recently overthrown by the military coup was the concretisation of the slogan workers and peasants government!)
And this was specifically the advice of the I.S. to the LSSP when these leaders intervened with the party in 1960 against their proposal to support an SLFP government in that year.
“It would be rather dangerous, however for the, workers parties to restrict themselves to the framework of the parliamentary aims and not look for a new, effective contact with the masses, through vigorous, extra-parliamentary activity among the worker and peasant masses; and at an electoral policy which puts forward a radical program to be realised by the United Front of the parties which claim to be working class.” [our emphasis–E.S.]
(I.S., Document on Ceylon, 18 May 1960)
But it is precisely against this reformist interpretation of the Bolshevik experience that Trotsky himself had warned.
Trotsky mentions the specific conditions under which the Bolsheviks put forward the slogan to the S.R.’s and the Mensheviks–“break with the bourgeoisie and take power.” Here are these specific conditions:
1. It was a slogan put forward during a particular phase in the pre-revolutionary situation of 1917–the period from April to September 1917.
2. In this context “the Bolshevik party promised the Mensheviks and the S.R.’s, as the petty-bourgeois representatives of the workers and peasants, its revolutionary aid against the bourgeoisie…”
3. The Bolshevik party categorically refused either to enter the government of the Mensheviks and the S.R.’s or to carry political responsibility for it.
4. In the specific context in which this slogan was projected “If the Mensheviks and the S.R.’s had actually broken with the Cadets (liberals) and with foreign imperialism, then ‘the-workers’ and peasants’ government’ created by them could only have hastened and facilitated the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.”15
The Transitional Programme (of the 4th International) left no room for any misunderstanding in regard to this slogan–“This formula, ‘Workers and Peasants Government,’ first appeared in the agitation of the Bolsheviks in 1917 and was definitely accepted after the October Insurrection. In the final instance it represented nothing more than the popular designation for the already established dictatorship of the proletariat.
“…The slogan ‘Workers and Farmers Government’ is thus acceptable to us only in the sense that it had in 1917 with the Bolsheviks–i.e., as an anti-bourgeois and anti-capitalist slogan, but in no case in that democratic sense which later the epigones gave it, transforming it from a bridge to socialist revolution into the chief barrier upon its path.”
The International Secretariat was completely wrong in regard to the so-called tactics of forming governments of working-class based parties and other petty-bourgeois parties which they proposed for the backward countries in 1951 (3rd Congress) and specifically to the LSSP in 1960 and when they gave their sanction to the United Left Front in August 1963. And; it is this wrong policy that the USec as well as the Healyites continue to follow up to the present.
The Coalition Government
From the United Left Front (LSSP-MEP-CP Coalition) to an SLFP-LSSP coalition was but a step. And this happened in June 1964. Of course the Mandels and the Pierre Franks were frantically wringing their hands when N.M. Perera took the lead to make this proposal. And this time “Barkis was willing.” The bourgeois SLFP government was in crisis and conditions were maturing for massive working-class action against the government at a time when its ranks were depleting. Sirima Bandaranaike needed a coalition with the strongest working-class based party. The SLFP leader readily agreed to form a coalition government with the LSSP which was ready to betray the working class and the toilers.
The revolutionary tendency categorically opposed coalition and denounced it as betrayal. However, even at this eleventh hour, the I.S. failed to establish direct contact with the revolutionary tendency led by the CC opposition of 14 members to jointly fight the reformists in this struggle. Instead, the I.S. sent a letter to the Secretary, Leslie Gunawardena, the contents of which were known to the minority and the party only on the day of the National Conference to decide on coalition.
Nor did the arrival of Pierre Frank, the USec representative, one day before the Conference, give any added strength to the revolutionary tendency that had through its own efforts organised for the final confrontation. And what is more, when the revolutionary tendency informed Pierre Frank that the coalitionists were certain to win at conference and that the only course of action that appeared to the minority as correct was the split from the coalitionists on this issue, the representative of the I.S. had no views to offer. His only words were–“that is for you to decide!” Thus, contrary to the claims of the I.S., its representative would not even associate himself with the decision of the revolutionary tendency to break with N.M. Perera, Colvin [R. de Silva] and Leslie [Gunawardena] when they took the road of open betrayal and when they struck a frontal blow at the World Trotskyist movement. Of course, later, the I.S. expelled the coalitionists from the International and recognised the LSSP(R) as its Ceylon section.
The task before the LSSP(R) was to draw up a full balance sheet of the whole of the LSSP experience and on the basis of these lessons to begin the building of the revolutionary party.
But, from the outset, the contradictions within itself made it impossible for the LSSP(R) to undertake any systematic efforts at party building. And the truth about the opposition that split from the LSSP in June 1964 was that there were four groups.
A basic contradiction in the LSSP(R) arose from the Karalasingham group.
Within the left opposition in the LSSP prior to the split Karalasingham gave promise of playing an important role in the struggle against revisionism and for the building of the revolutionary party. Karalasingham intervened sharply against the coalition line of the LSSP leaders. In his pamphlet for the special conference, which later he included in his book on “Coalition Politics,” Karalasingham effectively exposed the revisionism of the LSSP leaders especially by reference to Marxist theory and experience.
Significantly, however, from the outset Karalasingham stood categorically opposed to a split of the left oppositionists in the event of the acceptance of coalition by the party at special conference. Karalasingham did not clarify his perspectives for remaining within the LSSP in such a situation. And, on the other hand, he was vehemently opposed to any attempt to even form a faction when this was mooted about by some of those in left-opposition long before the proposal of coalition was made by the N.M. Perera group. And undoubtedly, the failure to organize a faction by the revolutionary tendency on a platform, which would have brought out clearly the differences among the oppositionists, was the most serious mistake of those who sought to fight the revisionism of the LSSP leaders.
Despite his orientation in this regard, Karalasingham, though reluctantly, joined the left-oppositionists who organised themselves as the LSSP(R). Karalasingham did not reveal his perspectives in regard to his decision to be in the LSSP(R).
But it was not long before Karalasingham’s motivation became manifest. In December 1964 the two party (LSSP-R) M.P.’s made a tactical mistake on the issue of the voting on the Throne Speech of the Coalition government.16 Voting against the government on this issue was not the mistake. The LSSP(R) CC had rightly taken a decision to vote against the Throne Speech. Their mistake was that they voted on the motion of the Independent (rightist) Member Dahanayake. As a result, the party was exposed to the attacks of the coalitionists, who alleged that the LSSP(R) M.P.’s joined the UNP and the rightists to defeat the government. That was the gravamen of the charge that could justifiably be leveled against them.
However, Karalasingham took the opportunity to launch an attack, not on the tactical question but on the question of the principal position of the party, that is the opposition to coalition politics. Without specifically stating so, Karalasingham developed his attack on the independent existence of the LSSP(R). His first move was to call for the defeat of the UNP in the election that was due (March 1965). He further proposed that the party call for support of Sirima Bandaranaike, SLFP leader, in her constituency. The next step was the organisation of a pro-coalitionist faction–the “Sakthi group”–which published a paper, which in direct opposition to the party line called for support publicly for a SLFP-LSSP government, to replace the UNP government that was elected in the March 1965 elections.
With the Healy group also supporting the Karalasingham-led “Sakthi” group, it was no easy task for the revolutionary tendency to fight successfully these revisionists, especially in the context of the USec’s calling for tolerance for this group. Mandel disagreed with the Provisional Committee of the LSSP(R) when it expelled two of the Karalasingham coalitionists who were responsible for the “Sakthi” paper and were not ready to admit that they had violated party discipline.
That Karalasingham’s perspective when he participated in the organisation of the LSSP(R) was none other than the betrayal of the left-oppositionists to the LSSP coalitionists received confirmation in his virtual confessions in the introduction to his book “Senile Leftism–A reply to Edmund Samarakkody,” which he produced as a passport to enter his “parental” party, the reformist LSSP. In a denunciation of the leaders of the LSSP(R) for their decision to split from the reformists, Karalasingham contended that “without reference to the process that was in motion within the LSSP, without regard to the consciousness and thinking of the advanced elements in the mass movement behind the LSSP and ignoring the deep divisions in their own ranks between the United Secretariat and the Healy caucus, they arbitrarily proclaimed themselves a new party.” Thus Karalasingham’s motivation for being one of the mid-wives of the “new party,” was to strangle it at its birth!
While Karalasingham sought to say that the split in 1964 was too premature and that he had a perspective of fighting the coalitionists from within, his real orientation was revealed in the very next paragraph: “The political tendency to which the writer belongs has decided to rejoin the parent organisation.” So it was a case of the prodigal son returning to the parental home not to continue his feud with the parents but to ask their forgiveness for his own past sins and to remain a loyal member of the parental home!
Nor did Karalasingham fail to give the “misguided” or “senile leftists” of the LSSP(R) the benefit of his superior understanding of Leninism-Trotskyism: “Equally important political considerations have made this necessary.” He then quotes from the Sakthi which he claimed as his factional paper…
“But between the regime of imperialism and the compradore bourgeoisie which exists today and the definite regime of the dictatorship of the working-class, it is likely that there would be a sequence of intermediate regimes initially reflecting the very backwardness, and subsequently in consequence of the growing political maturity of the masses, representative of the more advanced elements. Whatever be the manner of the down fall of the UNP government, so long as it is the result of the new mass uprising, it can be stated that its successor would be the government of the SLFP-LSSP coalition. The untimely defeat of the coalition, and that too at the hands of the class enemy of the working-class, has placed a coalition government of this type on the order of the day.
“But genuine revolutionaries, far from being dismayed by such a development–viz: that a SLFP-LSSP coalition should replace the UNP’s national government, would do everything to facilitate its formation….”
“Therefore,” concluded Karalasingham, “the place of all serious revolutionaries today is in the LSSP, so that in participating fully in the task ahead they could intervene energetically, when the inevitable class differentiation of the mass movement takes place.”
Karalasingham thus unmasked himself. This is nothing else than the Stalinist “two-stage theory” with the projection of the transitional regimes of coalition with the so-called national or liberal bourgeoisie. With the tradition of LSSP opposition to this so-called theory of the Stalinists, the N.M.’s [Perera] and the Leslies [Gunawardena] and now Karalasingham could not give this designation to their “theory” and acknowledge Joseph Stalin as their “Marxist” mentor. But in any event now, the hollowness of Karalasingham’s claims to Marxist theory, his audacity in invoking the authority of Lenin and Trotsky in his attempt to mask his reformism and his unbreakable links with coalition politics and revisionism, stood exposed.
But even this complete unmasking of himself by Karalasingham did not prevent the Mandels and Franks from inviting him to participate in the 9th World Congress in 1968, several months after he had been re-admitted to the reformist LSSP!
The CMU17 leader Tampoe showed no interest in the building of a revolutionary leadership. His main preoccupation was the building of himself as a trade-union leader whilst talking “revolution.” What Tampoe wanted was to use the LSSP(R) to give himself a coloration as a revolutionary trade-union leader. And in his trade union he was the boss who maintained excellent relations with the employers, mainly the imperialist agency houses, while staging “token strikes” with the usual demonstrations and public meetings, at which Tampoe was invariably the only speaker.
Trotskyists in Ceylon could not hope to take even the first steps in the task of building the revolutionary leadership without, among other matters, effecting a sharp break with the trade-union reformist politics which was a heritage from the LSSP. In fact Tampoe’s break with the LSSP was to free himself for closer relations with the employers and with all bourgeois governments including the UNP for concessions for workers in the CMU.
And it was Tampoe’s rightist trade-union politics that led him to oppose, in the Provisional Committee of the LSSP(R), the proposal to develop the struggle against the UNP government on the concrete issues of the declaration of state of emergency (1966) and the police shooting, the victimization of workers for the strike (communal) led by the coalitionists, the cut in the rice ration in the latter part of the year followed by the devaluation of the rupee at the dictates of the IMF.
Tampoe even supported the declaration of the state of emergency (January 1966) in a letter he sent to Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake. Tampoe opposed joint (united-front) action with other trade unions against the UNP government on the issue of the victimization of the workers after the January 8 (1966) strike.
However, the Tampoe group maintained friendly relations with both the Karlo [Karalasingham] coalitionist group and with the Healyites. Healy’s special envoy, Mike Banda, paid several visits to Ceylon in his attempt to win over Tampoe to Healy. The SLL press gave Tampoe headline publicity for his two-hour token strikes which he called out on chosen occasions.
The break away of Karlo coalitionists from the LSSP(R) found the revolutionary tendency (Meryl [Fernando], D.S. Mallawaratchi, [Tulsiri] Andrade, Edmund [Samarakkody]) opposed by the Tampoe-Healyite alliance. Their common objective was to oust the revolutionary tendency from its position of leadership within the LSSP(R). And with regard to the Healyites, disruption of the LSSP(R) and not the building of a revolutionary party, was their chief preoccupation.
Despite the efforts of the unprincipled Tampoe-Healyite combination to disrupt the LSSP(R) there was a real possibility for the revolutionary tendency to win against these opportunists and rightists, but for the part played by Mandel and the leaders of the United Secretariat.
As previously, Mandel followed his policy of conciliationism, at first with the Karlo coalitionists, and thereafter with the rightist trade-union leader Tampoe whose 30,000 strong CMU and token strikes and demonstrations could provide occasional headline news of “Trotskyist militant struggles in Ceylon” in the journals of the United Secretariat.
It was thus that Mandel and the leaders of the United Secretariat closed their eyes to the politics of the split in 1968 of the RSP (now RWP)18 from the Tampoe-led LSSP(R) and adopted the Tampoe group as the Ceylon section of the United Secretariat, despite the fact that a commission appointed at the open sessions of the 9th World Congress unanimously condemned the politics of Tampoe.19 Here are some relevant extracts of this report:
“The Commission felt that some of the actions and policies of Com. Bala [Tampoe] and the LSSP(R) brought to our notice by Com. Edmund, and not denied by Com. Bala, could have seriously damaged the reputation of Com. Bala as a revolutionary leader, compromised the Fourth International in Ceylon and have been exploited by all the enemies of our movement….
“The evidence placed before the Commission tends to support the conclusion that the policies followed by Com. Bala, especially in his dual role as CMU Secretary and as LSSP(R) Secretary were gravely compromising to the 4th International. The Commission was not in a position to get a clear enough picture of the policies of Com. Bala in the concrete circumstances of Ceylon and the LSSP(R) to propose that this section be disaffiliated by the World Congress. But we strongly feel the need for the further investigation of this matter.”
Despite this devastating condemnation of Tampoe and his politics unanimously by its own Commission, the 9th World Congress, which was manipulated throughout by the bureaucratic leaders–the Mandels, Franks and the Livios–accepted Tampoe’s group as the Ceylon Section and decided to file the report of the Ceylon Commission! Incidentally, for alleged security reasons, the leaders of the United Secretariat decided to abruptly end the Conference allowing only a half hour (!) to the discussion of the Ceylon question.
It was clearly not possible for the Mandels, Pierre Franks, the Livios and the Hansens to reconcile their acceptance of the Tampoe group as their Ceylon section with their claim to be Leninists-Trotskyists. And that is why they used one “Vitarne” as their tool to “dispose of” the question by merely denying that there was any Commission at all on the Ceylon question at the 9th Congress. For, if there was no Commission there could not be a report to talk about! But it is relevant in this regard to ask why the leadership of the USec (Mandel, Pierre Frank, Livio and Hansen) allowed a person who was not a member of the Fourth International, a mere observer and an outsider, who had been invited among several such persons to this Congress, to report on the truth of what took place at the 9th World Congress in regard to the Ceylon question and the Tampoe group. We are certain that this question will remain unanswered by the leaders of the United Secretariat.
Tampoe Group Since 1969
The orientation of the United Secretariat as manifested in the documents and decisions of the 9th Congress, and Tampoe’s real aims left no future for the Tampoe group to develop as a viable political formation whether linked to the right-opportunist wing led by the Hansens and Novacks or the ultra-left opportunist wing led by the Livios, Mandels and Franks of the USec
The question has been and remains–“who is using whom?” Is it the case that the Mandel wing of the USec is using Tampoe to further their aims–i.e. to have a large trade union in Ceylon, through whose boss Tampoe, to get the United Secretariat an appearance of a strong base, though in reality without substance; or is it that Tampoe is using the Mandels, Franks and Livios to further his own interests as a trade-union boss-type leader?
The reality is that there is no political party or even a group that functions independently as the LSSP(R). The LSSP(R) has no political activity to its credit ever since the RSP split in 1969. It has long ago ceased to publish even an occasional newspaper.
With the rise of the JVP20 youth movement Tampoe, apparently with the approval of the Mandels, sought to opportunistically associate with Rohana Wijeweera21 and other leaders who were visibly growing in popularity. In order to win a place for himself at a time when this movement did not give any indications of preparing any confrontation with the coalition government, Tampoe rushed to befriend them in the courts during the first days of police action against them. Tampoe even went so far as to give a certificate to Wijeweera that he was no communalist and that he was a true Marxist, when he knew well that ex-Stalinist Rohana Wijeweera was consciously seeking to win over the Sinhalese petty bourgeois through his talk of the need to fight so-called Indian expansionism.
However, when the police were hot on the trails of the JVP, Tampoe judiciously moved away from the JVP and took a vow of silence during the period. And when the murderous campaign of the government against the youth was on, during which thousands were killed by shooting or torture, Tampoe had lost his voice. While within the first week of this campaign against the youth the RSP (now RWP) unequivocally condemned the actions of the government, demanded the end to killings and torture, and also invited the trade unions including the CMU to communicate their views in this regard, Tampoe continued to remain silent.
However, when it appeared quite safe, Tampoe very late in the day appealed to the Prime Minister that “it would be an act of inhumanity for you to order a concerted military offensive by the armed services against the insurgents,” etc.
And, as it happens in periods of crisis, it was not easy for Tampoe to indulge even in tilting at wind-mills especially under emergency conditions. It was thus that Tampoe did not move a finger during the 100-day strike of the bank clerks, led by the Bank Employees Union, whose leader was Oscar Perera, a member of the LSSP(R). Tampoe failed to take the initiative to get trade-union action in support of this strike. He only reluctantly participated in a joint trade-union meeting organised on the initiative of the RSP (now RWP) leader Tulsiri Andrade of the Central Bank Union. He thereafter washed his hands of this strike and silently watched this strike being smashed by the coalition government supported especially by the LSSP.
Having kept aloof from the politics of the LSSP from the time of the 1953 split of the International, the leader of the so-called International Committee and of the SLL, Gerry Healy, parachuted himself into the Ceylon scene in June 1964. Having arrived in the same plane with Pierre Frank a day before the LSSP conference, Healy, who had a few followers in the LSSP opposition, sought to gate-crash into the conference hall of the LSSP. Of course, he was not permitted to enter.
What Healy’s politics were in relation to the issues at the conference was unknown. Nor did he seek to place his views before the LSSP membership through documentation prior to the conference. Instead, what he sought to do was to take the left opposition into the fold of the International Committee by disruption.
It was this same line of disruption that his followers–Prins Rajasooriya (now with Tampoe), Sydney Wanasinghe (now with the LSSP coalitionists), Wilfred Perera and R.S. Baghavan pursued. It was thus that the Healy group gave full co-operation to the Karlo coalitionists to fight the revolutionary tendency. In fact, a section of the Healy group actively participated in the organisation of the Karlo faction, “the Sakthi group,” which in their factional paper publicly called for the support of a coalition government.
Nor were the Healyites strange bed-fellows with the Karlo coalitionists. While denouncing the Mandels and the Franks for the betrayal of the LSSP leaders, and while also denouncing the [Edmund] Samarakkody-Meryl Fernando group for advocating united-front action to include the coalition trade unions against the victimisation by the UNP government, the local Healyite “theoretician” Wilfred Perera was in fact pursuing coalition politics.
Here is a sample of Wilfred Perera’s theory which he put out in 1967 during the UNP regime.
“We should propose to the rank and file of the left parties [referring to LSSP and CP] and of the trade-unions under their control to bring pressure on the Left party leaders to demand–
“1. a revision of the Joint Program [coalition program] so as to include working-class demands and socialist measures [!], and that the demands should be formulated by a united front of the trade-unions. And we should make our own proposal regarding the demands;
“2. a more equitable apportionment of the parliamentary seats for the next election, say on a 50-50 basis as between the SLFP and the left parties.
“The first demand will show how far Mrs. Bandaranaike is prepared to go towards socialism, and at the same time expose the impotence of the left fakers to push her leftwards. The second will show how sincere Mrs. Bandaranaike is when she says she needs the co-operation of the working-class to defeat the UNP-led coalition.”
Advocating coalition politics could not be more explicit than this!
In this “theory” Wilfred Perera left the road open to a link up with Tampoe whose syndicalism he correctly denounced in an earlier part of the same document.
It was the contention of the Healy “theoretician” that they supported the resolution of the Tampoe group (1967 Conference) as against the Samarakkody group in order to “save” the party from the pro-coalition line of the latter! That was Wilfred Perera’s justification for supporting the syndicalism of Tampoe, which he explained as the meaning of his (Tampoe’s) line of “unification of the working-class under its own independent class banner”: “We see here,” wrote Wilfred Perera, “the illusions fostered by a blind faith in trade-union militancy without political perspectives and, a lack of understanding of the political issues involved.”
But here is a sample of Wilfred Perera’s own syndicalism cum coalition politics in this same document:
“The left fakers say they can achieve socialism by parliamentary means. Let them prove it by breaking their ties with the SLFP which are hindering them and make a bid for governmental power on their own and on a working-class program which the trade-unions will jointly formulate. In place of the coalition program we will propose a trade-union joint program” [!].
Healy Group Since the Split
Having helped the Tampoe rightists to defeat the revolutionary tendency at the 1968 (April) Conference, which led to the split away of the latter tendency and the formation of the RSP (now RWP), the Healy group found its task in the LSSP(R) was over. Without any explanation for their conduct the Healyites led by Wilfred Perera broke away from Tampoe, whom they had helped to install as leader of the LSSP(R).
Claiming that the mantle of Trotskyism had fallen on them, the Healyites announced their separate organisation, the Revolutionary Socialist League.
From the outset however, the policies and practice of this league were at variance and in conflict with the program of Trotskyism. Whilst their reputed leader Healy, of the so-called International Committee, continues to rightly castigate the Mandels and the Pierre Franks for their responsibility for the LSSP debacle, the RSL (the Ceylon Unit of this Healyite IC) called for and supported the SLFP-LSSP-CP coalition in the elections of May 1970, the outcome of which was the present SLFP-led coalition government.
The Healyites were thus consistent with their policy within the LSSP(R), when they compacted with the Karalasingham-led coalitionists, who in their factional paper “Sakthi” called for support of the SLFP-LSSP-CP coalition. However, the RSL suddenly somersaulted. About two months after the coalition government was formed (May 1970), when sections of the masses that supported these parties were expressing their disappointment at the policies of the government, the Healy group announced that they had made a mistake when they supported the coalition at the elections.
The new line of the Healyites, which they claimed was in accordance with Leninism-Trotskyism, is their call to the LSSP and CP to break away from the coalition and form a government. Of course, they had with them the history book of the Russian revolution. Apparently, with confidence, they referred to the Bolshevik experience in 1917, when in the special conditions and in the context of a revolutionary situation, Lenin called upon the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries to break with the bourgeoisie and take the power.
But in the hands of the Healyites it was a complete misapplication of the Bolshevik tactic. The concretisation of the slogan “workers and farmers government” through a government of the LSSP and CP is a farcical concept apart from the disorientation that such a slogan must lead to. There is no revolutionary or pre-revolutionary situation in Ceylon. It is not possible today to attempt a concretisation of the slogan workers and peasants government, that is, to indicate which organisation of the working class and toilers could constitute the new power or government.
On the contrary, the consciousness of the masses is at a stage when they are only seriously dissatisfied and disappointed with the coalition government. Of course sections of these masses are moving into opposition against the government without any perspectives yet of any struggle against this government. The working class, whose living standards are being systematically attacked by the coalition government, has not yet launched any large-scale trade-union action against the policies of this government. In fact, in the absence of a revolutionary party, with influence among the working class, it is possible that the masses including sections of the working class could well move in a rightist direction.
What is imperative today is to help the working class and toilers to understand that the blows struck against their living standards are the result of the treacherous politics of coalition–i.e. of the LSSP and CP betrayers. Those claiming to be Trotskyists cannot conceive of helping to create further illusions that the way forward is a labour government of the LSSP-CP which must necessarily be reformist in character. But this is just what the Healyite slogan does.
And, in regard to this slogan, it is necessary once more to state what Trotsky himself categorically stated–“The slogan ‘workers and farmers government’ is thus acceptable to us only in the sense that it had in 1917 with the Bolsheviks, i.e., as an anti-bourgeois and anti-capitalist slogan, but in no case in that ‘democratic’ sense which later the epigones gave it, transforming it from a bridge to socialist revolution into the chief barrier upon its path.”
Struggle for Trotskyism Today
Having participated in the left opposition (1962) as consistent oppositionists to the coalition and reformist politics of the LSSP leaders who betrayed the party, having continued the struggle against the Karalasingham coalitionists in the LSSP(R), having successfully faced the combined opposition of the Healyites and Tampoe, who was supported by the Pabloist United Secretariat, the revolutionary tendency that separated from these centrists, and which re-grouped itself as the Revolutionary Samasamaja Party, is today reorganised as the Revolutionary Workers Party.
During the first two years the revolutionary tendency had the task of drawing up a proper balance sheet of the experience of the LSSP and the LSSP(R) and to cleanse itself of the hangovers of Pabloism, which substituted empiricism and pragmatism for dialectical materialism and which abandoned the task of building the revolutionary party to the participation and “integration” in the so-called living movement of the masses, leading the Pabloites to parliamentarism and syndicalism. The Revolutionary Workers Party cannot but reject the politics of both wings of the United Secretariat–the ultra-left opportunist mixture of Mandel, Livio, Frank, as well as the opportunist group of Hansen-Novack.
While seeking to participate with its co-thinkers in the unpostponable task of regrouping of the Trotskyists in other countries in the perspective of contributing to the rebuilding of the revolutionary International, the Revolutionary Workers Party is bending its energies to the construction of the Trotskyist party in Ceylon on the firm foundations of the Transitional Program of the Fourth International and the relevant programmatic documents that remain the heritage of the Leninist-Trotskyist movement.
Objective conditions today are more favourable than ever before for the development of mass struggle for the overthrow of capitalist class rule in Ceylon and for the establishment of socialism.
World capitalism has entered into a new period of decline, reflected for a long time now in economic recessions in advanced capitalist countries, leading to fierce inter-imperialist rivalry, which has driven the capitalist class in each country to impose severe burdens on the workers and the wage earners in these countries.
For nearly a decade now the organised working class in these advanced countries has been engaged in wage struggles to defend their living standards. The French working class showed in their now famous struggle (1968) the revolutionary potentialities of the proletariat in these advanced capitalist countries.
An aspect of this new phase of decline of capitalism on a world scale is that Ceylon and other backward countries are more intensely exploited by imperialism in numerous ways. The economies in these countries, ruled invariably by the bonapartist “national” bourgeois regimes, face deepening crises, manifested by unbalanced budgets and serious lack of foreign exchange to pay for necessary imports, leading to increased burdens on the workers and toilers. The masses in these countries, despite the betrayals of the Stalinists, reformists and centrists, must sooner or later move on to the road of struggle.
Three years of the SLFP-LSSP-CP coalition government have brought unprecedented suffering to the working class and all the toilers. While extending the state sector without any real encroachment on the private capitalists, while appearing to strike blows at the capitalists and imperialists, the government is desperately seeking to maintain the profit levels of these very same capitalists and imperialists, at the dictates of the IMF.
In this perspective, this government adopted a policy of severe restriction of consumer imports and has even totally banned the imports of a large number of essential food imports, which has led to serious inflation. Also, at the dictates of the IMF, the government is implementing a virtual wage freeze. And since the April youth armed struggle, a state of emergency continues and strikes are virtually banned. The repressive apparatus of the State has been strengthened in an unprecedented manner.
The reality today, especially with the newest blows struck at the masses by further cuts in rationed rice, flour and sugar, and also by further increase of the price of these and numerous other commodities, is that the government is facing increasing unpopularity. This means, that from now on, sections of the masses who supported and identified themselves with the government will inevitably move away from the coalition parties and the government. There is now a real possibility of developing mass opposition leading to mass action against the measures of the government and the government itself.
On the other hand, the rightist forces led by the UNP are even now growing as a result of the policies of the government, which have in an unprecedented way impoverished the masses and increased their misery.
Up to now the working class has been held down from pressing their demands in the perspective of trade-union action, principally by the LSSP and CP–the partners in coalition, on the pretext of the need for the workers to sacrifice and produce more for “Socialism.”
While “sacrifice” was the key note of the LSSP propaganda, the CP (pro-Moscow) led by the [S.A.] Wickremasinghe wing had adopted, from the outset, more opportunistically, a critical stance in relation to the policies of the government which affected adversely the living standards of the workers and toilers.
With the severity of the government’s measures against the masses, the CP(M) became more “critical” and called upon the government not to increase the burdens of the masses, but instead, to strike at the imperialists and to move on to more nationalisations.
The motivation of the CP(M), Wickremasinghe wing, was not to weaken the coalition but to gather the coalition masses around itself as the most “progressive” and “dynamic” force in the coalition. However, unexpectedly for the Wickremasinghe-led CP, despite its expressions of continued loyalty, the coalition partners, SLFP and LSSP, in furtherance of the rightward course of their government, have shown them the door. This wing of the CP(M) has been expelled from the coalition government.
In response to the pressures of the rank and file of their trade unions, the bureaucratic leaders of the LSSP and the Keneuman wing of the CP(M) have sought to give themselves the appearance of being in readiness to lead the workers in struggle to defend their living standards. They have recently presented through the coalition trade union centre (JCTU) twenty-eight (28) demands to the employers and their own government.
The fraudulent nature of the moves of the LSSP trade-union leaders as well as both wings of the Stalinists (CP [Moscow]) already stands exposed by their defense of the coalition government in regard to the latest measures (October 1st cuts in rationed rice, flour and sugar with increase of prices). Far from seeking to mobilise the workers for struggle, they are vying with each other in calling upon the workers for further sacrifices in a so-called national food crisis.
In the plantation sector the two largest trade unions are the CWC (Ceylon Workers Congress-led by Thondaman) and CDC (Ceylon Democratic Congress-led by Aziz, allied to coalition). As an extreme right wing trade-union leader, who has affiliation with the U.S.-oriented ICFTU,22 Thondaman has been threatening to launch trade-union action to win the monthly wage demand for the plantation workers. However, Thondaman and some lesser union leaders allied to him have already abandoned all talk of strike action at the appeal of the Minister of Labour.
With regard to Tampoe, his usual fake fighting has been displayed now quite for some time. With the assistance of his centrist friends of the United Secretariat Tampoe obtained publicity in their journals for a “One-Day Hunger Strike” of workers in protest at the actions and policies of the government. In fact, during all this time, workers in a number of work places belonging to other non-coalition unions came out on strike despite the possibilities of government action against them. It was thus a false picture which Tampoe sought to paint, that where no one dared to call strikes under emergency conditions, he at least called a “Hunger Strike” of workers against the government! In fact, the journals of the United Secretariat had referred to a “Hunger Strike” of one million workers! But this so-called one-day hunger strike was farcical.
The response from vested interests was especially interesting. In its editorial comments of the Ceylon Daily News which congratulated Tampoe on this one-day non-violent “Hunger Strike,” called upon him to continue longer this strike as Finance Minister N.M. Perera himself would readily approve in view of the worsening food situation in the country!
And Tampoe’s reaction to the talk of presenting “twenty-eight demands” of the coalition unions was to call his usual “short leave” strike (2-hour strike) for a mass rally of the CMU at which he was the only speaker, and at which he called upon Ceylon’s working class to abandon the coalition and other trade-union leaders and adopt the banner of the CMU!
Tampoe’s political line in the present context is the same treacherous line of “Left Unity” that the LSSP and CP peddled before they finally adopted coalition with the SLFP. Tampoe has issued a call to “Re-Build the Left Movement” when what is imperative is to consistently and uncompromisingly expose the “Leftism” of the LSSP, of both wings of the CP(M), of the groups of the CP(Peking) and all other “left” fakers. It is the task of the revolutionary vanguard to expose the fraudulent politics of Tampoe which he continues in the name of Trotskyism.
The revolutionary vanguard has the task of exposing both the fraud of the CP(M) Wickremasinghe wing which continues to peddle coalition class-collaborationist politics and also the rightist course which the SLFP and LSSP are pursuing to please the vested interests, local and foreign.
It is necessary more especially to warn the working class that the coalition government is now moving, not to woo the working class, but to suppress and destroy the trade-union movement and all the organisations of the working class, which could well pave the way for a fully fledged military police regime.
It is clear that in the present state of the trade-union leadership, both of the pro-government coalition unions and of the so-called independent unions, the task of mobilising the workers for united struggle against the government and the capitalist class is far from easy. Nevertheless, this remains the burning question for the working class today. This means it is the task of the revolutionary vanguard to begin now the struggle against the latest measures of the government and for other pressing demands of the workers and toilers including demands of a transitional character, in the teeth of the opposition of the bureaucratic trade-union leaders–of the coalition as well as of the so-called independent unions, including the Tampoe-led CMU.
In fact, in recent times anti-bureaucratic tendencies have appeared in many trade unions both pro-government and in others. In certain unions the anti-bureaucratic oppositions have succeeded in ousting the conservative and bureaucratic leaderships in such unions. This process could well grow.
The revolutionary vanguard, while taking active steps to root itself within the working class will fight for a program of demands which will include trade-union demands and also demands of a transitional character, e.g., nationalisation without compensation of the whole of the plantations, of manufacturing industries, workers control in all nationalised undertakings. It will also include demands for the withdrawal of the state of emergency and for the release of all political prisoners. In this regard the tradition of reformists and centrists has been to merely list transitional demands without seeking to develop any struggle around these demands.
It is in this perspective that the Revolutionary Workers Party is seeking today to intervene in the Ceylon situation. And it is not the futile and divisive policy of building new trade unions that is needed, but a policy of giving revolutionary perspective and bringing revolutionary politics to the advanced elements in the existing trade unions, by the building of political caucuses in them; that is the task.
This intervention by the Revolutionary Workers Party is necessarily limited by its present forces and resources. But it is to the extent that the Revolutionary Workers Party succeeds in intervening in the living working class and mass movement in a revolutionary perspective, and to the extent that it succeeds in carrying on an uncompromising and consistent struggle against Stalinism, Maoism and all forms of reformism and revisionism, whether of the United Secretariat variety or of the Healy variety, that it will be able to engage with success in the struggle for Trotskyism, for the building of the revolutionary leadership, i.e. the revolutionary party, in Ceylon.
Note: All footnotes and bracketed material, except that initialed “E.S.,” are by the Spartacist editors.
⇑ 1. The fake-Trotskyist “United Secretariat” was formed in 1963 as a result of the reunification of the Socialist Workers Party (U.S.) led by Farrell Dobbs with the “International Secretariat” (I.S.) of Michel Pablo, Ernest Mandel, Pierre Frank and Livio Maitan. The SWP had broken with the I.S. in 1953 in protest against Pablo’s liquidation of the sections of the Fourth International into the dominant Stalinist and social-democratic parties. The “reunification” amounted to a non-agression pact, sweeping under the rug issues which had divided ostensibly Trotskyist forces for a decade, and codified the SWP’s capitulation to Pabloism by calling for support to bourgeois nationalists and peasant guerrillaists in the backward countries.
⇑ 2. The Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP–Ceylon Socialist Party) was founded in 1935 by a group of young, British-trained intellectuals. During its early years the LSSP was a loose mass organization committed to socialism but with a basically reformist program. The Stalinist wing led by Pieter Keuneman was expelled in 1940 in the wake of the Hitler-Stalin pact and the Stalinists’ flipflops in their attitudes toward the Second World War. The LSSP opposed the war, causing the British to jail its leaders.
⇑ 3. A minority of southern Indian descent. One section of the Tamils has been on the island from early, pre-colonial, times. The great majority, who make up the bulk of Ceylonese plantation workers, were originally imported by the British in the middle and late 19th century to work on coffee and later tea estates. Tamils make up roughly 10 percent of Ceylon’s population. However, in 1949 several hundred thousand Tamil plantation workers (who had had the right to vote since 1931) were disenfranchised. Since then discriminatory citizenship requirements have made the great majority of Tamils officially stateless, without legal rights in either Ceylon or India.
⇑ 4. Ernest Germain, “Peoples Frontism in Ceylon: From Wavering to Capitulation,” International Socialist Review, Fall 1964.
⇑ 5. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) originated in 1951 when S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike split from the until-then dominant United National Party (UNP) amid widespread uneasiness in the ruling class over the rampant corruption of the UNP government. Bandaranaike, former right-hand man of UNP leader D.S. Senanayake, combined a program of virulent Sinhalese chauvinism and Buddhist clericalism with timid land reform. His SLFP appealed particularly to the Sinhalese peasantry and rural intelligentsia.
⇑ 6. Germain, op. cit.
⇑ 7. The Bolshevik Samasamaja Party grew out of a 1942 factional polarization and split in the LSSP, which resulted in two groups both calling themselves “the LSSP” operating in Ceylon during the later years of the war. The more leftist group remained affiliated with the BLP(India) and after the war a BLPI letter of 8 October 1945 expelling the leaders of the rightist group (N.M. Perera and Philip Gunawardena) formalized the split. Following an abortive attempt in late 1946 to reunify the two groups, the leftist group led by Leslie Goonewardene, Colin de Silva, Samarakkody, de Souza and others, which was the smaller group, changed its name to the BSP. However, on 4 June 1950 the two groups were reunified to form the LSSP, with a grouping around Philip Gunawardena splitting away to the right.
⇑ 8. The British government granted Ceylon a Constitution recommended by the Soulbury Commission in 1946 in order to placate demands for political independence following the war. This constitution retained an appointed Governor-General who retained control over foreign affairs, defense and minority rights. The constitution did not even provide dominion status–“independence” within the Commonwealth–which was granted separately in 1948. Other agreements guaranteed the British continued use of military bases on Ceylon and other privileges.
⇑ 9. Germain, op. cit.
⇑ 10. The United National Party (UNP) was established by the plutocrat D.S. Senanayake in June 1946 and took over the government from the British in the 1947 election. Senanayake had split from the Ceylon National Congress, a loose pro-independence, exclusively Sinhalese, bourgeois formation when the CNC admitted the Stalinists during World War II.
⇑ 11. The Mahajama Eksath Peramuna (MEP–People’s United Front) was formed in February 1956 as a coalition of the SLFP with various religious and Sinhalese chauvinist groups and the “LSSP” of Philip Gunawardena. When the Bandaranaike government collapsed in 1958-59, the Gunawardena group took the name MEP for themselves in subsequent election campaigns.
⇑ 12. A political mass strike.
⇑ 13. The International Committee was formed by those sections of the Fourth International who broke from the Pabloist International Secretariat in 1953. The IC included the SWP led by J.P. Cannon, the majority of the French section led by Bleibtreu-Lambert, and the British grouping led by G. Healy.
⇑ 14. The United Left Front (ULF) was an electoral bloc in the 1963 elections of the LSSP, the Communist Party and Philip Gunawardena’s MEP on a joint program of minimal reforms.
⇑ 15. L.D. Trotsky, “The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International (The Transitional Program),” 1938.
⇑ 16. The Throne Speech, given by the prime minister, presents the government program at the beginning of a parliamentary term. The vote cast by a party on the Throne Speech is an important indication of that party’s attitude toward the government.
⇑ 17. The Ceylon Mercantile Union (CMU) is a medium-sized union of government employees, white collar workers and miscellaneous other office employees. Led by Bala Tampoe of the LSSP(R), it was one of the few important unions standing outside the federations led by the by-now thoroughly reformist LSSP and pro-Moscow and pro-Peking Stalinists.
⇑ 18. The Revolutionary Samasamaja Party (RSP), which at a convention in late 1972 changed its name to the Revolutionary Workers Party (RWP).
⇑ 19. For further information on the attempted cover-up of the Tampoe scandal by the USec, see “The Case of Bala Tampoe” in Spartacist No. 21, Fall 1972.
⇑ 20. The Janatha Vikmuthi Peramuna (JVP-Peoples Liberation Front), a Guevarist organization of student and peasant youth, led a large-scale youth revolt in the Sinhalese rural areas in the spring of 1971 which was directed against the coalition government of the SLFP, LSSP and CP (Moscow). In a remarkable demonstration of counterrevolutionary solidarity, the government was aided by the U.S., Britain, the USSR, India, Pakistan and Egypt, while China gave its explicit political endorsement of the bloody repression of the uprising!
⇑ 21. Wijeweera is a former member of the pro-Moscow CP who had begun organizing the JVP in 1966, building a large following among university students and unemployed graduates. His own politics were essentially “insurrectionary Stalinism” of the Guevarist type. As Comrade Samarakkody noted in “Politics of Deceit,” “… the JVP had completely discounted the plantation workers (largely of Indian Tamil origin) and that it did not have any position on the burning question of the Tamil minority–their language and other rights … Sinhalese chauvinism was clearly evident in their politics.”
⇑ 22. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), formed in December 1949 under the sponsorship of U.S. American Federation of Labor leaders, was a CIA-backed international center for anti-communist unions. The CIO immediately entered it, accepting CIA funds in the process. Many of the ICFTU unions had earlier been part of the Stalinist-dominated World Federation of Trade Unions and their split was one of the first steps of the “Cold War” launched by U.S. imperialism.
Posted: 12 December 2005