“When the ‘Socialist’ leaders entered a bourgeois Cabinet, they invariably proved to be figureheads, puppets, screens for the capitalists, instruments for deceiving the workers,” Lenin wrote in 1917.1
And when they have outlived their usefulness, it might be added, they are generally tossed aside like so many squeezed lemons.
Eleven years ago, the leaders of the Lanka Sama Samaja party 2 – Ceylon’s largest workers party and at the time a section of the Fourth International – accepted posts in a bourgeois coalition government. For this betrayal they were expelled from the Fourth International.
The first coalition government with the Sri Lanka Freedom party (SLFP) of Sirimavo Bandaranaike lasted only nine months. But the coalition took office again in 1970, this time with the pro-Moscow Communist party also participating.
On September 2, after eleven years of good and faithful service to capitalism in Sri Lanka,3 Bandaranaike threw the LSSP ministers – N.M. Perera, Colvin R. de Silva, and Leslie Goonewardene – out of her cabinet.
They were very reluctant to go. These “socialist” ministers groveled abjectly, proffered apologies, and pledged not to publicly criticize their coalition partners.
As they saw it, they had carried out their part of the bargain. They had deceived the workers, broke strikes, supported chauvinist policies against the Tamil minority, supported Buddhism as the state religion, preached austerity to the workers, and assisted in the brutal suppression of the revolutionary youth movement, the JVP.4 And their only reward was peremptory dismissal.
The end was not unexpected. Nor was it surprising to see these renegades carrying out the dirty work for the bourgeoisie in attacking the workers and peasants of Sri Lanka, once they had crossed class lines and joined a bourgeois government.
But how to explain the betrayal itself, one of the greatest setbacks to the Fourth International since its founding? How to explain such a desertion by a party that formally adhered to an international steeped in the study of and struggle against just such class collaborationism?
At the time of the LSSP’s betrayal in 1964, the Fourth International published numerous statements and articles, giving the stand of the Trotskyist movement on the issue and analyzing the reasons for the degeneration of the leadership in Sri Lanka.
Pierre Frank, a leading member of the Fourth International, wrote an article that was printed in the July 17, 1964, issue of World Outlook (the former name of Intercontinental Press), titled “The Wearing Out of a Revolutionary Leadership.” In it he traced the origins of the LSSP and the background to its capitulation. A lengthier analysis by Ernest Germain, also a leader of the Fourth International, was published in the fall 1964 issue of International Socialist Review, the theoretical magazine of the Socialist Workers party of the United States.5
Background to a Betrayal
When the LSSP was founded in 1935, it was the first – and for some time the only – working-class party in Ceylon. Its founders, wrote Germain, were “a group of brilliant young intellectuals who had studied at British universities, had been attracted by communism, repelled by the Moscow frameup trials and the ultra-opportunist policies of Stalinism in the late thirties, and who had therefore evolved in the general direction of Trotskyism.” Among the founders were Colvin R. de Silva, Leslie Goonewardene, and N.M. Perera.
On the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the LSSP opposed the imperialist war and led the struggle for independence from Britain. As a result, some of the party’s leaders were imprisoned; others escaped to India and continued to work underground there. A pro-Stalinist wing of the party that favored collaborating with British imperialism during the war was expelled in 1940. This grouping, led by Pieter Keuneman and S.A. Wickremasinghe, later founded the Communist party of Ceylon in 1943. After World War II the LSSP was recognized as the Ceylonese section of the Fourth International.
The party rapidly acquired great influence among the masses as the result of its leadership of the struggle first against the imperialist regime and then, after formal independence, against the government of the UNP (United National party, the party representing the layer of the Ceylonese bourgeoisie most closely linked with British imperialism). The LSSP participated in the 1947 elections and became the largest opposition party. A proud chapter in the LSSP’s history was its leadership of the August 12, 1953, hartal (a day of civil disobedience backed by a general strike and boycott of business).
Another political asset of the party was its courageous defense of the rights of the Tamil minority. About 22 percent of Sri Lanka’s thirteen million persons speak the Tamil language. The ancestors of about half the Tamil population migrated to Ceylon many centuries ago. Most of the rest are descendants of Tamils brought from India in the nineteenth century to work on British tea plantations. Most of the Tamil-speaking people are of the Hindu religion. They form the bulk of the plantation workers, the main sector of the Sri Lankan working class.
From its founding, the LSSP staunchly defended the rights of the oppressed Tamil minority against the chauvinism, which often took violent forms, of the Sinhalese-speaking Buddhist majority. In 1936 the LSSP was the first party to demand that the government and the courts use both Sinhalese and Tamil, rather than English, as official languages.
The leadership that founded the party and led these struggles, however, was not completely homogenous. “It was composed in reality of two wings,” Germain wrote, “one led by N.M. Perera and Philip Gunawardena which displayed petty-bourgeois nationalist inclinations and was opportunist from the start, the other, genuinely Trotskyist, led by a group of comrades around Colvin R. de Silva, Leslie Goonewardene, Bernard Soysa, Edmund Samarakkody, Doric de Souza and Bala Tampoe. Relations between these two wings were uneasy from the beginning. A split occurred in the forties in which a majority of the membership, under the leadership of Philip Gunawardena and N.M. Perera, broke away from the Fourth International for a time, and the genuine Trotskyists formed the Bolshevik-Leninist party headed by Colvin R. de Silva and Leslie Goonewardene.
“The opportunist character of the majority grouping was displayed when its members of parliament refused to vote against the status of ‘independence’ in 1947 that left key positions to British imperialism. The split was healed in June 1950 but only partially. N.M. Perera and the majority of those who had split unified with the Bolshevik-Leninist party. For some time Philip Gunawardena kept the so-called ‘old’ LSSP going, receiving reinforcements from a new split in the LSSP in 1953.”
In the early 1950s a new party emerged in Ceylon, the Sri Lanka Freedom party, which the LSSP correctly labeled a bourgeois party, wedded to the preservation of the capitalist system. It originated in a split in 1951 from the UNP led by Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s husband, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. The SLFP was based on the Sinhalese intelligentsia and national bourgeoisie and rapidly developed mass support among the Sinhalese peasantry on the basis of militant appeals to Sinhalese chauvinism and anti-Tamil prejudices and fears. It stood for some reforms in favor of the small peasantry, but at the same time became the spearhead of reactionary petty-bourgeois chauvinism directed against the Tamil minority.
With the increasing influence of the SLFP, some of the LSSP leaders began to waver and adapt to its ideas, especially after its stunning electoral victory in 1956. Germain wrote:
“The traditional firm Trotskyist positions of the ‘old guard’ inside the LSSP leadership were for the first time put in question immediately after the elections of 1956. Looking at the peasantry essentially from an electoral angle, part of the LSSP leadership became unduly impressed with the landslide victory given the SLFP as an alternative to the UNP.” The group of former Trotskyists around Philip Gunawardena capitulated completely to the liberal bourgeoisie and joined the first Bandaranaike government, dissolving the “old” LSSP into the MEP (Mahajana Eksath Peramuna – People’s United Front).
“The LSSP itself showed signs of wavering,” Germain continued, “advancing the proposal of ‘responsive co-operation’ with the liberal-bourgeois Bandaranaike government. However, when the race riots started, when the chauvinism of the enraged petty-bourgeois elements supporting W.R.D. Bandaranaike threatened the unity of the proletariat and the country, and when the right wing of the SLFP mounted sufficient pressure to have Philip Gunawardena thrown out of the government, the LSSP sharply radicalized its stand and courageously fought the SLFP Emergency. This was the positive side of its ‘tail-endism.’ Each time the workers went into action, the LSSP leadership took a new turn towards the left.”
It should also be added that the opportunist drift of the LSSP leadership toward the SLFP was repeatedly checked and reversed through political pressure from the rest of the Fourth International. “Before 1960,” Germain wrote, “the international leadership was concerned about erroneous attitudes on various questions, but it limited its communications to the Political Bureau and Central Committee, occasionally to party conferences.”
In 1960, however, the LSSP took a further step toward capitulation, and the Fourth International was compelled to take a public stand.
From Wavering to Capitulation
In September 1959 Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike was assassinated, and the new SLFP government was forced to the polls in March 1960. A UNP government was formed, although it had not won a majority of seats. This did not last long, however, and new elections were held in July.
In these elections the LSSP joined a tripartisan electoral bloc with the SLFP and the CP. After Siramavo Bandaranaike’s victory, the LSSP decided to vote for the throne speech (the declaration of the platform of the new government) and the budget, i.e., to give parliamentary support to a capitalist government. (Two LSSP MPs, Edmund Samarakkody and Meryl Fernando, defied the party whip and voted against the throne speech and budget.) A proposal by N.M. Perera to enter into a coalition with the SLFP was rejected by only a narrow majority.
This support to Bandaranaike, Germain wrote, meant the abrupt end of the previous stage of relations between the leaderships of the LSSP and the Fourth International. “It was clear that the problem was no longer occasional tail-endism or a threat of opportunism which could be corrected by fraternal discussion and comradely collaboration. More vigorous measures were required to bring the LSSP, or at least part of it, back to revolutionary Marxism.”
A split had taken place in the international Trotskyist movement in 1954, which lasted until 1963. Therefore, at the time of these developments in Ceylon, the world Trotskyist movement consisted of two factions – with the Socialist Workers party of the United States, together with other forces, supporting the International Committee of the Fourth International, and most European sections organized as the International Secretariat of the Fourth International. Both factions publicly condemned the actions of the LSSP in supporting a capitalist government.
In September 1960 the International Secretariat issued a public statement, published in issue No. 11 of the magazine Fourth International, saying among other things:
“The IS has not failed to express to the LSSP its disagreement in regard to both its recent electoral policy and its policy towards the SLFP after the March and July elections. The IS particularly believes that the no-contest agreement, extended up to a mutual-support agreement, involves the danger of creating illusions about the nature of the SLFP among the great masses, and that an attitude of support to a government such as that of Mrs. Bandaranaike should only be critical and hence limited to the progressive measures actually proposed and adopted.
“In the specific case of the Speech from the Throne, the IS thinks that the very moderate character of the government programme and its attitude against nationalisation of the plantations – a fundamental question for a country like Ceylon – is such as to involve a negative vote by the LSSP MPs.”
The October 3, 1960, issue of the Militant, the weekly newspaper reflecting the views of the SWP, carried the following as an editorial:
“The support accorded the Bandaranaike party by the Ceylonese Trotskyists, and their entry into an electoral alliance with it, constituted a complete reversal of previous policy. In the national elections last March the LSSP, the most influential working-class party in Ceylon, campaigned against the SLFP and all other parties on a program of revolutionary socialism under the slogan of ‘Elect a Sama Samaja Government.’ This line of independent working-class political action received an impressive ten per cent of the popular vote.
“At that time N.M. Perera, chairman of the LSSP, wrote: ‘A capitalist government whether of the UNP or SLFP brand will bring endless trouble and disaster to the country.’
“The LSSP had consistently condemned the policy of backing one group of rival capitalist politicians like the SLFP against another, explaining that such a policy deceives the masses. It counterposed to collaboration with capitalist parties or governments the objective of putting an anticapitalist workers and peasants’ government in power. Yet in July it reversed its electoral policy of March.
“This new political course not only overturned the past position of the LSSP but is at variance with the traditional socialist principles of the Trotskyist movement, which has opposed collaboration with capitalist parties as injurious to working-class interests. It follows the pattern of ‘Popular Front’ combinations in many countries whereby working-class parties have been lined up with disastrous results behind a section of the capitalist rulers.
“After the elections the Secretary of the LSSP, Leslie Goonewardene, issued a statement, published in the Aug. 4 Ceylon News, which read in part:
“ ‘The LSSP will co-operate with the SLFP Government as an independent party in every activity which carries the country forward along progressive lines. The LSSP will assist the SLFP Government to defeat and overcome any and every saboteur effort of Big Capital and the foreign imperialists. The LSSP will particularly assist the SLFP Government in every anticapitalist step it takes. The LSSP will resist to the utmost any effort from any quarter to throw the masses back in their struggle to go forward to a socialist society.
“ ‘In accordance with the above, the LSSP Parliamentary Group will not join the Opposition but will function as an independent group in Parliament.’
“It appears from this statement, which contained no criticism of the capitalist SLFP or warning to the people against the consequences of its actions, that the LSSP leadership is continuing its false policy of political support to the SLFP.
“The LSSP has correctly maintained in the past that abandonment of independent working-class politics and trailing behind capitalist politicians can only bear evil fruits. Further developments of the class struggle within the setting of the ascending revolution in Asia must also soon make this manifest in the present situation in Ceylon.
“As the damaging results of their new course become clearer, the majority of the LSSP will, we trust, reassert their adherence to the tested principles of Marxism and return to the revolutionary positions which gave the party such merited prestige among the Ceylonese masses.”
When the leaders of the LSSP did not heed the warnings on its grave errors, the Sixth World Congress of the forces supporting the International Secretariat of the Fourth International, meeting in December 1960, adopted a resolution that read:
“The Sixth World Congress, having discussed the situation in Ceylon, states that it disapproves the political line adopted by the LSSP following the election defeat of March 1960.
“The Congress condemns more especially the vote of parliamentary support expressed on the occasion of the Speech from the Throne, and the adoption of the budget by the party’s MPs.
“The Fourth International does not exclude support for the adoption of progressive measures, even by a national bourgeois or petty-bourgeois government in a colonial or semi-colonial country. But the social nature, composition and general programme of the Bandaranaike government does not justify the support which was accorded to it.
“The World Congress appeals to the LSSP for a radical change in its political course in the direction indicated by the document of the leadership of the International.”
Retreat From the Brink
This pressure from the world Trotskyist movement had some results, and the LSSP leadership took a step back from the brink they had reached. In 1961 it no longer voted for the budget.
The LSSP leaders were also helped along in this direction by a new rise of militancy among the Ceylonese masses. After a brief period of illusions in the possibilities of the Bandaranaike regime, the workers increasingly began to protest their deteriorating standard of living and poor working conditions. The LSSP played a commendable role in the wave of strikes in 1961. A sequence of strikes and demonstrations by dock and transport workers and others also erupted throughout 1962. In 1963 these struggles eventually led, for the first time in the history of the Ceylonese labor movement, to the establishment of a Joint Committee of Trade Unions – under LSSP leadership. Plantation workers also joined the joint committee, which grew to represent nearly one million organized workers. The trade unions united around a platform of twenty-one demands.
Out of this struggle a United Left Front of working-class parties was formed, composed of the LSSP, the CP, and the MEP. The LSSP set the perspective of an extraparliamentary struggle for power. It viewed the front of working-class parties as offering an alternative government to the capitalist governments of the SLFP or UNP. An LSSP Political Bureau resolution of August 23, 1963, declared that “the mobilisation of the masses for struggle is necessary if a government of the United Left Front is to become a reality.”
The formation of the United Left Front was hailed by the Seventh World Congress of the forces supporting the International Secretariat of the Fourth International as a step forward for the LSSP. The congress, meeting in June 1963 just prior to the Reunification Congress, regarded the line of the LSSP toward the ULF as fundamentally correct.
“At the same time,” Germain wrote, “the Congress drew attention, both publicly and through a special letter to the LSSP, to four key issues involved in the turn which the Congress thought had not been properly met by the LSSP leadership: (1) Insufficiently critical analysis of the 1960 mistake; (2) lack of clarity about the extraparliamentary nature and potentialities of the United Left Front in contrast to its parliamentary features; (3) lack of any kind of public criticism by the LSSP of the opportunist policies of the CP and MEP, contrary to the Leninist concept of the united front; (4) failure to involve the Tamil plantation workers and their organizations in the United Left Front. (This point blew up into a real scandal through failure to invite them to the platform in the May 1, 1963, demonstration, and the Congress strongly criticized the LSSP leadership over this.)”
The LSSP leadership again responded partially to the pressure of the international and took some steps toward interesting the Tamil workers in the draft program for the United Left Front. Under pressure from the CP and MEP, however, it retreated on this.
With the campaign around the twenty-one demands, the formation of the United Left Front, and the rising tide of mass struggles, the Bandaranaike regime was thrown increasingly on the defensive. The ULF started calling demonstrations attended by tens of thousands of workers and peasants, clearly testifying to the popular response to formation of the ULF and the objective possibility of launching an all-out campaign in favor of bringing to power a ULF government on a socialist program.
The Ceylon Mercantile Union – led by Bala Tampoe, a leader of the LSSP’s left wing – won an important victory over the government on January 13, 1964, after a protracted struggle that lasted seventy days. This strike was the first significant victory of the Ceylonese working class since Bandaranaike’s wage-freeze policy was decreed two years earlier. It brought a massive response from the rest of the organized working class, whose threat of striking in support of the CMU was largely instrumental in forcing the government to capitulate.
The working-class upsurge reached a high point on March 21, 1964, when 50,000 workers gathered in a demonstration in Colombo, the capital, in support of the twenty-one demands and in defiance of an “emergency” decree by the government. All political tendencies and sectors of the working class, including the plantation workers, were represented at the rally. Speakers demanded the immediate end of the emergency and warned against the threat of a reactionary coup.
N.M. Perera, who chaired the meeting, said, “We meet today when Parliament has been prorogued and the Government is facing a crisis. Political adventurists may try to stage a coup and establish a dictatorship. But this rally tells them now that they will be smashed if they resort to such action.”
N. Sanmugathasan, head of the Ceylon Trade Union Federation, who had recently been expelled from the Communist party because of his pro-Peking views, said that the sinking ship of the government had sought the aid of leftist leaders but he was sure that there were no fools among the leftist leaders who would accept the crumbs of office in this government. He said the government was bankrupt and had lost the confidence to face the parliament and the people. If anyone tried to join the government, he continued, and be appendages to assist its anti-working-class activities, they would not only be traitors but guilty of a crime of the greatest magnitude. The workers would not forgive them.
Bala Tampoe told the rally that the unity displayed by the workers had been answered by the government through the declaration of a state of “emergency” and the maneuvers seeking to draw representatives of the workers into a coalition government.
“Whoever may have been involved in these maneuvers,” he said, “one thing can be said categorically and that is that whoever goes to the side of the government in this situation will be no more, no less, a traitor to the entire working classes.”
Colvin R. de Silva, representing the Ceylon Federation of Labor, was reported as saying “that one thing was clear from the events of the recent past... that the Government was bankrupt financially, politically and in all other respects.” The leaders of this bankrupt government were trying to find other means of remaining in power, he said. There would even be attempts to withdraw democratic rights and set up a dictatorship. The possibility of the use of the armed forces and police for the purpose could not be overruled. The workers, he continued, would be the first to rise up and fight such moves.
Yet it was at this point, at the time of these powerful examples of the power and potential of the organized working class, that N.M. Perera treacherously engaged in secret negotiations with Bandaranaike for the purpose of entering a coalition government. This in spite of the demagogy he and de Silva used at the rally, in spite of the warnings from other working-class leaders, and in spite of the fact that this course was in complete opposition to the LSSP’s program and conference decisions.
Bandaranaike very clearly and frankly expressed why she wanted the services of Perera in a speech May 10:
“However much progressive work we do, we cannot expect any result unless we get the co-operation of the working class. This could be understood if the working of the Port and of other nationalised undertakings are considered. We cannot go backwards. We must go forward. Disruptions, especially strikes and go-slows must be eliminated, and the development of the country must proceed.
“Some people have various ideas on these subjects. Some feel that these troubles can be eliminated by the establishment of a dictatorship. Others say that workers should be made to work at the point of gun and bayonet.... My conclusion is that none of these solutions will help to get us where we want to go.... Therefore, gentlemen, I decided to initiate talks with the leaders of the working class, particularly Mr. Philip Gunawardena and Dr. N.M. Perera....“(Emphasis added.)
N.M. Perera, “leader of the working class,” was only too ready to oblige.
As soon as the United Secretariat of the Fourth International learned about Perera’s moves, it sent a letter to the LSSP Central Committee warning it not to contemplate such a betrayal. This letter, dated April 23, 1964,6 pointed out the “inability of the ruling SLFP to continue much longer in office, expressed in its rapidly dwindling parliamentary majority, its sudden prorogation of parliament and its ‘behind the scenes’ maneuvers to negotiate a fresh lease of life through an alliance with the parties of the left....
“As far as the SLFP is concerned, two factors appear to motivate its present course of action: (1) lack of confidence in its ability to continue in office for the rest of its constitutional term; (2) a deep-seated fear of an upsurge in the working-class movement and the real possibility of the emergence of a government of the left. Clearly, it is this latter possibility which drives it today to seek a modus vivendi with the left and attempt a realignment of forces through a coalition with the United Left Front.
“Its calculations are fairly obvious. It hopes to gain strength by an infusion from the left. It hopes to disorient the masses by taking on left coloration. It hopes to weaken the threat from the left by splitting the left organizations (since acceptance of a coalition would obviously not be unanimous and would most likely open the most bitter factional struggles). It hopes to associate prominent left figures with its rule and thereby utterly discredit them for the following phase when this one comes to its inevitable end and social forces have reached unendurable tension and polarization.
“Its primary immediate aim is to stem the tide of rising mass unrest, contain the parties of the left within its own control and commit them to ‘progressive’ formulae within the framework of the capitalist structure. It is clear that the ‘concessions’ proposed by the Prime Minister and reported to the Central Committee meeting remain mere sops insofar as they leave intact the structure of capitalism and in no way touch the essential productive bases of the economy.
“It is necessary to declare at this stage, quite categorically, that we oppose our party entering any coalition government wherein decisive control is held by a party that has proved time and again its reluctance to move against the capitalist order, and furthermore has demonstrated in action its essentially anti-working-class character. We do not believe that the character of the SLFP is determined by the declarations of one or another of its individual leaders. Its character has been revealed by its whole history during its years in power. In this sense we see no reason for changing our characterization of it as a party essentially functioning within the framework of capitalism and utilized by certain layers of the bourgeoisie as a possible bulwark against the growing forces of the working class. Any form of coalition with such a party, as long as it remains the dominant majority within such a coalition, can only lead to the immobilization of the left in advance and its becoming itself a target for the growing resentment of the masses….
“The realistic alternative road for the party is evident from the crisis itself. The government could make its offer to the United Left Front only because it saw the ULF as already a power, as the key formation to the left, as the one potentially in position to install its own government.... Only one conclusion is possible in principle, and it also happens to be the most practical and realistic. The party must now fight hard and in a determined way for nothing short of a government of the United Left Front.... But such a struggle must not be conceived purely within the limitations of the parliamentary framework or purely in terms of parliamentary arithmetic. It must become a means of actively mobilizing the masses in action, above all through the unfolding struggle of the united trade unions. To make the United Left Front a living reality it is also necessary to continue within it the struggle for our perspectives, never surrendering for a moment our own independence and freedom of criticism. In struggle we must seek to make of it a dynamic center of polarization for the important working-class forces that still remain outside it. Every effort must be made, in action, to draw in the forces of the plantation workers and the unions led by the Peking-inspired Communist party. Every anti-working-class manifestation even with the ULF must be fought consistently and not glossed over or ignored in the name of a formal unity. The United Left Front will be a viable force only to the extent that we lead it in struggle and seek to make it a center for all the sectors of the developing mass movement in the country.”
The letter ended with the call:
“No coalition at the expense of socialist principles and the possibility of a socialist victory!
“Forward with the masses in struggle for a government of the United Left Front!”
The plenum of the International Executive Committee of the Fourth International met in May 1964 and unanimously endorsed the stand taken in the letter. According to a report in the June 5, 1964, issue of World Outlook, “The members of the International Executive Committee expressed unanimous opposition to any coalition in which the LSSP would serve in the role of captive to the bourgeoisie.... The IEC called on the LSSP to counterpose to these proposals a vigorous campaign for a United Left Front government on the basis of a socialist program that would signify a break with imperialism and capitalism in Ceylon.”
When N.M. Perera presented the LSSP Central Committee with the coalition proposal he had worked out in secret meetings with Bandaranaike, he was defeated by a vote of 21 to 19. A special conference of the party was then scheduled for June 6-7 to decide the matter.
In the deal accepted by Perera, Bandaranaike had agreed to accept a “minimum program” of ten points he put forward, and give the LSSP the portfolios of finance and planning, internal and external trade, and nationalized services. These ten points were mainly on economic issues, such as provisions to control banks, agency houses, and imports and exports; steps to break up newspaper monopolies; measures to control corruption and the export of capital; and the setting up of token “workers committees” and “vigilance committees.” None of the measures went beyond the framework of the capitalist system.
In exchange, Perera agreed to accept four conditions laid down by Bandaranaike: (1) a “rightful” place for Buddhism; (2) acceptance of Sinhala as the only official language; (3) recognition of the 1948 anti-Tamil citizenship laws; and (4) veto power by the SLFP over all electoral candidates selected by any of the coalition partners. In presenting his case to the special conference, however, Perera only revealed the last of these conditions.
In addition to issuing the harshest warning to the LSSP against embarking on the class-collaborationist course of coalition with Bandaranaike, the Fourth International also sent Pierre Frank to attend the special conference and fight against any coalition proposal. Frank reported the results of the conference in his article “The Wearing Out of a Revolutionary Leadership”:
“Three resolutions were offered. After a two-day debate, it was decided to present the Samarakkody-Tampoe motion first because it was opposed in principle to any coalition. It received 159 votes, about 25 percent of the party.
“Then, in second place, the de Silva-Goonewardene motion was presented; that is, the motion of the men who had actually led the organization for more than twenty-five years. It was presented by Goonewardene as in ‘the nature of an amendment’ to Perera’s motion. It got 75 votes, some 10 percent of the party.
“This was not all. Perera’s resolution received 65 percent; but among the 75 votes for the de Silva-Goonewardene motion, about two-thirds voted for the Perera resolution. Thus, the men who had played such an eminent role in the past, who had won so much prestige, found themselves, after a quarter of a century of leading the party, with around 25 votes, less than 4 percent.
“During the debate, while the other two tendencies displayed confidence in their position – the Perera group in their reformism, the Samarakkody-Tampoe faction in the program of revolution – the centrist tendency could only express their own uncertainties, their demoralization....
“With this conference, a team of revolutionary leaders came to an end. Perera won the vote for his reformism and the majority of the old leaders decided to follow in tow. The banner of socialist revolution in Ceylon passed into the hands of the comrades of the left wing, who left the conference following the tally and at once proclaimed the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (Revolutionary Section).”
Within four days, a coalition government had been formed, with N.M. Perera, Anil Moonesinghe, and Cholmondeley Goonewardene as the “socialist” ministers. Colvin R. de Silva and Leslie Goonewardene balked at accepting the portfolios offered them, but they nevertheless went along with the class-collaborationist course charted by Perera. That the three “socialist” ministers were nothing but figureheads and captives in Bandaranaike’s capitalist government was made clear in a none too subtle way – the former cabinet of twelve SLFP members was simply widened to fifteen to include the new LSSP ministers.
Never before had the Fourth International been faced with such a monstrous betrayal of revolutionary principles. The renegades were summarily expelled from its ranks by a unanimous vote of the United Secretariat. The resolution, released to the press June 22, said in part:
“(1) We condemn the secret personal negotiations with the head of a bourgeois government which N.M. Perera engaged in behind the back of his party, without the authorisation of the party’s Central Committee, without the knowledge of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International and in defiance of the express opposition voiced by the United Secretariat to any course except one leading to the establishment of a workers and peasants government....
“(2) We condemn N.M. Perera’s crossing of class lines.... The same condemnation applies to Perera’s disciples, Anil Moonesinghe and Cholmondeley Goonewardene, who joined him in capitulating to the Prime Minister. These three former Trotskyists, by giving up their revolutionary aims and joining in Mrs. Bandaranaike’s frantic effort to bolster her crisis-ridden government and to save capitalism in Ceylon, have betrayed the most elementary principles of revolutionary socialism.
“(3) Through their own actions, these three placed themselves outside the ranks of the Fourth International. The United Secretariat recognises this fact and in view of the gravity of the crime expels them forthwith. In addition the United Secretariat suspends all members of the Lanka Sama Samaja party who voted at the June 6-7 conference for Perera’s proposal to enter a bourgeois coalition government, referring further action to the next meeting of the International Executive Committee.
“(4) We urge those members of the Lanka Sama Samaja party who supported Perera in the mistaken hope that his proposal to enter a bourgeois coalition might signify a step forward, to reconsider their position. We urge all those who continue to collaborate with Perera, in the mistaken hope that this will save the unity of the LSSP, to break at once and to rally to the side of the comrades who are upholding the program of Trotskyism on which the party was founded....
“(5) We commend all the leaders and members of the Lanka Sama Samaja party who launched an internal struggle against Perera’s opportunism, who fought his capitulationist course without concessions, who have done their utmost to maintain the honor and integrity of Trotskyism in Ceylon, and who have continued to battle for establishment of a workers and peasants government as the only realistic road for the Ceylonese masses....”
The LSSP’s revolutionary wing – led by Edmund Samarakkody, one of the earliest leaders of the LSSP, and a member of parliament, and Bala Tampoe, leader of the Ceylon Mercantile Union – held their own conference on the evening of June 7 and constituted themselves as the LSSP (Revolutionary Section). Samarakkody, as secretary of the LSSP(R)’s Provisional Committee, issued the following statement June 7:
“The decision of the reformist majority of the LSSP to enter into a coalition with the capitalist SLFP (Sri Lanka Freedom Party) government and thereby to become an instrument of the capitalist class in Ceylon, constitutes a complete violation of the basic principles of Trotskyism on which the revolutionary program of the party is based.
“This degeneration is the logical outcome of the parliamentary reformist line which the majority of the leadership of the party has followed for several years and the substitution of parliamentary and reformist struggle in place of class struggle and revolutionary perspectives, and the systematic recruitment of nonrevolutionary elements into the party on that basis.
“The revolutionaries of the LSSP have, in this situation, decided to organize themselves on the basis of the party program. They therefore withdrew from the conference and will hereafter function as a separate organization under the name of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (Revolutionary Section).
“In order to carry forward the revolutionary struggle for power, the LSSP (Revolutionary Section) calls upon all the adherents and supporters of the LSSP in the country to rally round the revolutionary banner which it refuses to surrender to the SLFP Government and the capitalist class.”
The LSSP(RS) held another Emergency Conference July 18-19. The United Secretariat sent a letter to the conference stating that it had voted “to recognize this Emergency Conference as officially constituting the continuing body of the Trotskyist movement in Ceylon and to empower it to speak for and conduct any matters pertaining to the section of the Fourth International in Ceylon.” 7
Although the betrayal by the leaders of the LSSP represented a major defeat in the history of the Fourth International, the banner of the Fourth International itself remained unstained. The international unanimously opposed the capitulators, and at every step of the way did its utmost to check the opportunist course of Perera and preserve the cadre of genuine Trotskyists. In an introduction to a pamphlet published by the LSSP(R) called Politics of Coalition, Ernest Germain wrote:
“After having combatted the growing opportunism of the LSSP leadership within the organisation by patient political means, the Fourth International unhesitatingly broke with its strongest section the day its leaders crossed the line from opportunism to betrayal by joining a coalition government with the bourgeoisie.”
The program of Trotskyism and the honor of the Fourth International were preserved by the courageous fight waged by the revolutionary wing of the LSSP. In the debate on the platform of the new coalition government in the Ceylonese parliament on July 15, Edmund Samarakkody scathingly attacked the LSSP traitors:
“They have done their dirty work,” he said. “Now, this is the situation we are faced with. For the present, there is the expectation and the hope that something will arise out of this coalition. The organized working class is watching, is waiting. But the situation is fast developing when the struggle will be the order of the day, and it will be the duty of the revolutionists in this situation to regroup themselves and regroup the militant elements in the working class, keep the fire of the class struggle burning round the 21 Demands of the working class, link up this struggle with the struggle of the peasants, of the rural masses, in this country, and go forward. In this situation, the L.S.S.P. (Revolutionary Section), united with the Fourth International, will bend all its energies to rally round itself all the revolutionary elements and go forward in the struggle for the achievement of socialism in this country.”
The Roots of the Betrayal
What were the causes of the degeneration of the LSSP? How was it possible for a section of the Fourth International to commit such a betrayal? Mention has already been made of the fact that the LSSP had always consisted in reality of two wings, a revolutionary wing and an opportunist wing led by Perera. But how was it that leaders such as de Silva and Goonewardene, who had fought Perera’s reformism in the past, capitulated in the end as well? And how were the capitulators able to drag the majority of the party down with them?
From its founding, the LSSP was marked by many contradictions. It could never really be called a “Bolshevik” party, Germain wrote. Although it could poll several hundred thousand votes, its active membership never went above a thousand. “It was a party that combined left-socialist trade-union cadres, revolutionary workers who had gained class consciousness but not a specifically revolutionary-Marxist education, and a few hundred genuine revolutionary-Marxist cadres....
“Many political and organizational traits testified to the hybrid character of the LSSP. The party never had a theoretical organ in the Sinhalese or Tamil languages; it never translated the bulk of Trotsky’s writings or even the bulk of the resolutions and decisions of the congresses and other leading bodies of the Fourth International into these languages. But most of the rank and file and virtually the entire proletariat understand no other languages, although English is common currency among the upper strata of the population, particularly the intellectuals.”
Germain also pointed out that although the LSSP had developed in a fierce fight against Stalinism, the absence of an indigenous mass Social Democratic party in Ceylon meant that the ranks had no firsthand experience in combating reformist ideas. “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’ semicolonial country; i.e., it was the main electoral vehicle of the poor masses, it provided the main leadership of the trade unions.”
In a chapter on Ceylon in his pamphlet Marxism vs. Ultraleftism, 8 Germain summarized the “theoretical and practical roots of the degeneration of the old LSSP leadership:
“(a) The concept of ‘Ceylonese exceptionalism’; i.e., the illusion that for some peculiar reason, Ceylonese revolutionists could conquer power by essentially electoral and parliamentary means (whereas these same leaders rejected such a possibility for the rest of the world).
“(b) The inability of the old LSSP leadership to seriously penetrate the countryside and build up a strong organisational base or political following among the village poor (which led it in practice to view the alliance of workers and peasants as an alliance with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, which the LSSP leadership considered as representing the peasantry).
“(c) The weakness of the party as an organisation, the insufficient recruitment of workers into the party, the absence of a full-time leading cadre outside of the parliamentarians, and the excessive involvement of party leaders in their own professions or in electoral activity, as against party building and Marxist educational work.”
Party membership was essentially formal, hinging only on the payment of dues. At the same time, recruiting was haphazard, and the education of the membership badly neglected. In addition to many of the key members of the party being only part-time leaders, many of them also came from comfortable bourgeois backgrounds and they did not change their daily lives to accord with their revolutionary convictions.
Faced with this situation, what could the Fourth International do to help the LSSP along the path of revolutionary Marxist principles and organizational norms? Since only a sector of the leading cadre was really integrated into the Fourth International, Germain wrote in his ISR article, the international leadership had no choice but “to try to bring the LSSP progressively close to the norms of a real Leninist-type organization through comradely collaboration with the LSSP leadership. What was involved was essentially patient education.” This line was consistently followed from 1945 to 1964.
“The line involved a basic organizational principle – how to facilitate the selection of national and international leaders in the Fourth International. We do not believe that hard-handed intervention from an international center can substitute for the patient selection, in a democratic way, of a mature revolutionary leadership in each country.
“The International can and must help to clarify political issues, but it is duty bound to refrain from setting up artificially, from the outside, any tendencies or factions, or from engaging in organizational reprisals against national leaderships in which it has misgivings or holds reservations because of their political tendencies. To act otherwise does not lead to political clarification; on the contrary, it inevitably leads to organizational grievances becoming substituted for political discussion, and thus, in the long run, hinders and delays the process of creating an independent-minded revolutionary leadership. This responsible attitude – really a norm – is all the more necessary where language obstacles and distance make it impossible to conduct a direct dialogue with the majority of the membership and where the leading cadre displays loyalty to the international organization, attending congresses, distributing communications as they are received, and taking the opinions and arguments of the International into careful consideration, adjusting or changing deviations in political line in response to suggestions or criticisms from the International.”
Several factors, however, were working against the Fourth International’s efforts to keep its Ceylonese section on the revolutionary track. In addition to the insufficient degree of integration of the LSSP ranks into the life of the international – the failure to translate material into Tamil or Sinhalese – the material weakness of the Fourth International at the time also had a limiting effect. An international with more resources could have been able to maintain greater personal contact with its group in Ceylon.
But possibly more important than these factors was the split in the Fourth International. Peng Shu-tse, a founding member of the Chinese Communist party and a veteran leader of the Chinese Trotskyist movement, wrote: 9
“If the Fourth International had not split, or had reunification been realized earlier, the reformist and parliamentary tendency among the leaders could possibly have been corrected under the united influence of the International. At least the strength of this tendency could have been considerably reduced. Unfortunately the split in the International was prolonged for almost ten years (from the end of 1953 to June 1963).”
Peng accused Gerry Healy, the leader of the British Socialist Labour League (now the Workers Revolutionary party), of bearing a big responsibility for prolonging the split. Healy sought to block the reunification and refused to participate in the reunification congress, instead setting up a rump “International Committee.” Thus Healy must bear much of the responsibility for the triumph of the reformist tendency in the LSSP and for the loss of part of a revolutionary cadre in Ceylon.
The Renegades Do Their Dirty Work
It was not long before the fruits of the betrayal became evident. The LSSP leaders betrayed the program of revolutionary socialism by their very act of entering a bourgeois government – resulting in the disorientation of the working class, the squandering of a revolutionary opportunity, the destruction of revolutionary cadres – but their treachery also had an immediate impact on the life of the Ceylonese masses.
One of the first acts of the coalition government was to lock out 3,000 workers at the central workshop of the nationalized transport industry. This sector was under the administration of new “socialist” Minister of Communications Anil Moonesinghe. Before the coalition was formed, a slowdown was in progress at the shop as part of a protest against unfair pay differentials. When the unrest culminated in “acts of indiscipline” such as the throwing of nuts and bolts, the government cracked down June 17. The move, said the Colombo correspondent of the London Times, indicated that the “coalition government intends to be firm in labour disputes.”
The coalition government again showed whose interests it served during the strike at the Velona factory following the suspension of some of the workers who had organized a union there. The workers were expecting the “progressive” government to protect them against victimization; instead it sent in police to brutally break up the picket line. Perera and Co. were highly embarrassed by the strike. One LSSP leader even went to the extent of declaring publicly that the strikers were provoking the police in order to embarrass the LSSP. When the factory owner dismissed all the striking workers, numbering about 1,000, the workers demanded the government take over the factory and restore their jobs. The LSSP leadership publicly opposed this demand, since it went beyond the limits of the coalition’s common program.
Perera showed his true colors from the start, as Edmund Samarakkody pointed out in his July 15 speech in parliament:
“The earliest statement made by the Hon. Minister of Finance to the working class of this country was to ask them to work. He said: ‘I want work. Everyone should come to work at 9 a.m. I want an eight-hour day!’ What have the capitalist class and the employers been saying all these days? ‘We want an eight-hour day!’ Yes, what Sirimavo Bandaranaike could not say through her mouth, they have got the working-class leaders, the traitors, the renegades to say it. That is the situation. He can say ‘work hard’ and he can go to work by 9 o’clock in the morning because he has got a car, while hundreds of workers have to walk ten miles, board three buses and walk another ten miles to get to their places of work.”
Perhaps the most despicable act of the coalition regime was its stepped-up attacks on the Tamil minority. Under the Citizenship Acts of 1948, nearly one million Tamils of Indian origin were deprived of citizenship and reduced to the status of “stateless” persons. Through this act they were denied the right to vote and denied access to such social services as free education and unemployment relief.
With the support of the LSSP, Bandaranaike pressed this attack on the Tamil minority further in 1964. She negotiated the Sirima-Shastri pact with the then prime minister of India, Lai Bahadur Shastri, whereby about 525,000 Tamil-speaking workers were threatened with forcible deportation to India. The pact provided that for every three Tamils “granted” Ceylonese citizenship, seven Tamil deportees would be accepted by India.
The coalition government was defeated in a vote in parliament December 3 after some SLFP members who felt the regime was not moving fast enough in granting concessions to reactionary pressures voted against the government.
The also opposed Bandaranaike’s clumsy attempt to impose government control on all newspapers by trying to nationalize Lake House, a large capitalist press monopoly.
The LSSP(R) vigorously opposed Bandaranaike’s press bill and issued a statement calling on the labor movement to oppose the attempt by the bourgeois regime to restrict democratic rights. The LSSP(R) “cannot under any circumstances entrust to the state the task of controlling even the admittedly corrupt Press of Ceylon,” the statement said. “To do so would be to aggravate all the existing problems created by the bourgeois Press and to give them a highly concentrated and, therefore, an even more terribly oppressive character.
“It is true that the freedom of the Press, like all the other rights in a bourgeois democracy, is heavily weighted in favour of the capitalist class as to make a mockery of it when it comes to its exercise. But despite the lack of real equality in the exercise of the known democratic rights, including the freedom of the Press, the revolutionary party of the working class defends unreservedly the existing democratic rights, however meagre these rights are; indeed, it constitutes the spearhead of the fight for their extension.
“This is done, not out of veneration for ‘democracy,’ but because the most favourable arena for the party of the working class to carry out its historic task is that which contains the widest democracy....
“The LSSP(R) warns the people that all repressive laws, whatever the declared purpose at the time of legislation, are finally used against the working class and the toiling people. The present bill is no exception to the general rule....” In place of the coalition plan, the LSSP(R) put forward its own transitional program to break the power of the press magnates.
The regime’s record was summarized by Edmund Samarakkody in an article in the January 1, 1965, World Outlook. On the one hand attacks on the working class were continued – a continuing wage freeze, high prices, and rising unemployment. On the other hand, the coalition granted numerous concessions to reaction:
“(1) Abandonment of the proposal to allow licences for tapping of toddy [coconut wine] to please the Maha Sangha [Buddhist clergy].
“(2) Failure to implement the proposal to tax tea estates of the rich.
“(3) Failure to implement the proposal to tax immensely rich house owners.
“(4) Further concessions to Sinhalese Buddhist bourgeois reaction by a cabinet decision to bring legislation to give ‘proper place to Buddhism.’
“(5) Failure to grant any concessions to the Tamil minority on the language issue. On the contrary the implementation of the government language policy to the severe harassment of Tamil government employees.
“(6) Concessions to Sinhalese chauvinism through the recent Indo-Ceylon Agreement by which the coalition government proposes to send by force to India 525,000 persons of Indian origin (mainly plantation workers).”
Following the defeat of the coalition in the March 1965 elections, the United Secretariat of the Fourth International issued a statement summarizing the lessons of the previous nine months. Perera, of course, had not learned from the experience. Even while Bandaranaike was conceding defeat to the UNP, he was still trying to patch a new coalition together. For this, wrote the United Secretariat, “Perera reaped nothing but contemptuous laughter from all sides. He began his coalition as a would-be big-time operator in bourgeois politics; he ended within a few months as a ridiculous clown in the shambles of his experiment.”
The Second Coalition Government
After five years of UNP rule – three and a half of which were under the aegis of emergency powers legislated by a previous SLFP government – Bandaranaike was swept back into power in the May 1970 elections. The rising tide of militant actions by workers and students had taught both bourgeois parties a thing or two by now; they both proclaimed they were for “socialism,” the SLFP for “socialist democracy,” and the UNP for “democratic socialism.”
Almost all left-wing parties except the LSSP(R) threw their support behind the new SLFP coalition government. The LSSP joined the coalition, as did the pro-Moscow CP for the first time. The pro-Peking CP, although rebuffed from joining the coalition, supported the SLFP candidates. The rapidly growing radical youth movement, the JVP, also supported the coalition.
The coalition won by a landslide vote, and the election results were greeted by mass demonstrations and massive physical attacks on buildings representing pro-imperialist institutions.
The LSSP very quickly applied itself to its assigned task of keeping the workers in check. During the Colombo port strike from December 12, 1969, to February 12, 1970, the LSSP had already given its capitalist masters a preview of its strikebreaking capabilities. It now set to work in earnest.
Even some parliamentarians from Bandaranaike’s own party were responding to the overwhelming mass sentiments for nationalizations. Bandaranaike accused them of “embarrassing the government.” N.M. Perera, “leader of the working class,” was dispatched into the breach:
“We have agitated for the nationalisations of the tea estates for 40 years,” he said. “But today, after assuming office as minister of finance, I realise it is not advisable to do so now.”
Unemployment had risen to 800,000, and the standard of living of the masses was falling. What solution would a “socialist” minister offer for this crisis?
“Austerity,” Perera announced in his budget speech November 1, 1970, “must be the keynote of our social thinking during the next few years.” Some were required to be more austere than others, however. The government also announced that it had decided to extend a five-year tax holiday to certain industries it wanted to encourage.
Perera explained what the regime meant by its “austerity” program in a speech January 30, 1971. For the working class, it would mean a ban on strikes.
“Strikes will retard the progress of the People’s government’s plan to achieve socialism. So, help the government by rendering your services and assistance, appealed Dr. N.M. Perera,” the February 11 Ceylon News reported. To show that the workers alone would not have to bear the burden for the construction of “true socialism,” the regime also prescribed an “austerity” program for state functionaries. It included such measures as requiring all cabinet ministers except the prime minister to drop the titular prefix “Honorable” and banning the importation of foreign liquor.
Perera also introduced an “austerity” budget the following year, with increased taxes and other measures attacking the living conditions of workers and peasants. However, one item specifically exempted from his increased taxes was barbed wire.
During the September 1972 national bank workers’ strike, Perera issued an ultimatum that unless the strikers returned to work they would lose their jobs.
The second coalition government also continued its racist attacks on the Tamil minority. During the period of the UNP regime, the coalition had persisted in its racist policies, even to the extent of inciting anti-Tamil riots. It accused the UNP regime of being “pro-Tamil.” A resolution adopted by the LSSP(R) on February 7, 1966, charged that “in furtherance of their aim of somehow winning more support among Sinhala Buddhist masses in preparation for another parliamentary election, the coalitionists led by the SLFP, LSSP and CP have recklessly raised the anti-Tamil and anti-minority slogans and strengthened the forces of Sinhala racialism and Buddhist clericalism.”
Immediately after gaining office again in 1970, the coalition announced it was speeding up the massive deportation of Tamils to India. With the passage of time, the scruples of Leslie Goonewardene and Colvin R. de Silva had eroded still further, and they were now prepared to accept portfolios in the government along with Perera. As minister of plantation industries, de Silva was assigned the dirty job of attacking the Tamils. The June 18, 1970, issue of Ceylon News reported that he promised:
“Now that the United Front has assumed power it will expedite the implementation of the Sirima-Shastri Pact and many Indian Tamil workers in the estates will be repatriated. It will be the responsibility of the Plantation Ministry to train Ceylonese workers to take their place in the plantation sector.”
Goonewardene was assigned the task of providing a theoretical justification for their racist and anti-working-class policies. An article by him in the December 31, 1970, Ceylon News titled “New Outlook of the LSSP” on the thirty-fifth anniversary of the LSSP explained that “in the recent period our Party has made one adaptation and two changes on the plane of its ideas.”
“By adaptation I refer to the attempt to move towards Socialism with the assistance of the Parliamentary system. By the two changes in policy I mean first the setting up of a Government in alliance with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, and, second, the policy of Sinhala only as the Official Language.”
As justification for the racist policies of the coalition in favor of the Sinhalese, Goonewardene advanced the fantastic argument that the Sinhalese are really a minority.
“Even though the Tamil people who inhabit Ceylon are a minority in Ceylon, if they are regarded together with the Tamil people who live in South India near the northern boundary of Ceylon, the Tamil people appear as the majority and the Sinhala people as the minority....” Therefore, he argued, it was necessary to provide special assurances to the Sinhalese “minority.” Goonewardene’s arguments were analyzed by Les Evans in the March 8, 1971, issue of Intercontinental Press:
“It is not hard to imagine what the world would think of a party, in the United States let us say, that advocated disenfranchising 50 percent of all Black people on the grounds that their ancestors were brought to the U.S. as recently as the nineteenth century, and furthermore supported a law to forcibly ship these Black victims back to Africa. Such a party’s position would hardly be improved by the plea that racism had ‘sunk deep roots among the majority nationality’ and that one must therefore accommodate to it. Even in the United States only the most bigoted Neanderthals will invoke the argument that white chauvinism is justified by the fact that in the world as a whole there are more black, brown-, and yellow-skinned people than whites, making American Caucasians a ‘minority.’“
The camp in which the renegades wound up was illustrated most starkly in 1971 when the regime carried out its bloody massacre of the JVP youth. Thousands of young revolutionists were murdered by Bandaranaike’s police and army. Tens of thousands were imprisoned and tortured. Thousands still remain in concentration camps today, including JVP leaders Rohana Wijeweera, who was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment.
The LSSP leaders did not merely sit idly by while their coalition partners carried out this bloodbath; they participated in it and were among the most vociferous defenders of the slaughter. Colvin R. de Silva and MP Bernard Soysa were appointed by the regime to a seven-member committee to “reestablish civil authority” in the areas that had come under rebel control.
The “socialist” leaders denounced the JVP youth as “CIA agents.” Leslie Goonewardene wrote in the April 27, 1971, Ceylon Daily News: “The swift growth of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna after the popular electoral victory of May 1970 points to financial and other help which may have been forthcoming from frustrated reactionary forces.”
Goonewardene praised the government for its “fortitude and firmness” in putting down the rebellion. He denounced as a “vicious and false rumor” the reports that appeared in the international press about the repressive forces slaughtering rebel prisoners.
The United Secretariat of the Fourth International issued a statement April 19, 1971, in defense of the JVP. Despite all its rhetoric about socialism, the statement said, “the coalition government has demonstrated that its real role is to maintain capitalist property relations and preserve the imperialist stranglehold on the Ceylonese economy....
“The Fourth International calls upon revolutionists everywhere to break the conspiracy of silence covering the repression in Ceylon. It declares its full support to the repressed and persecuted Ceylon revolutionary militants. It calls upon the international working class, all working-class and anti-imperialist organizations to do everything possible to block the shipment of military supplies, and all workers states to immediately stop sending military aid and equipment to the Ceylon government, which is used only to murder and terrorize its own people....
“Down with the traitorous Keunemans, N.M. Pereras, Colvin R. de Silvas, and Leslie Goonewardenes, who, like their forerunner Noske, now arm reaction, let a bourgeois army murder revolutionists, support the murders or participate in the suppression of the masses of their country, and help suppress all democratic freedoms for the workers.”
The End of the Road
“In the socialist road there were hills and slopes and drains and obstructions,” N.M. Perera said August 15, 1975, 10 just before being given the boot by Bandaranaike. But the fact is that Perera definitively left the socialist road in 1964, after several meanderings sideways and backwards in earlier years.
On September 3, having dispensed with the services of “leader of the working class” N.M. Perera, Bandaranaike could describe him as an “obstacle” on her “socialist road.” 11
Some previous traitors to the working class have pocketed their rewards and lived happily ever after. But what have Perera and his crew received for their eleven years of faithful service? Right to the end – and after – they stooped to the most shameful bootlicking, and their reward was to be thrown out. They will be lucky if it ends there for them.
When the unhappy prisoners in past coalition governments have played out their usefulness to the genuinely dominant social force, wrote Germain, “any illusions they may have about being in ‘power’ are ended by a simple kick in the pants. They often find that the bars of their gilded cage in the coalition have suddenly changed to bars in a very real prison.”
The responsibility of the LSSP traitors is not just for their last eleven years of crimes against the working class. They bear responsibility for any coming attacks that the Ceylonese masses might face. Bandaranaike could well unleash an even harsher wave of repression – getting her cue from the “socialist road” taken by Indira Gandhi – that will encompass her erstwhile servants as well.
1. “Lessons of the Revolution,” Selected Works, vol. II, part I (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1952), p. 107.
2. LSSP – Ceylon Equal Society party.
3. On May 22, 1971, Ceylon became the Republic of Sri Lanka (Holy Ceylon).
4. Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna – People’s Liberation Front.
5. Both these articles have been reprinted in an Education for Socialists bulletin published by the National Education Department of the Socialist Workers party titled Revolutionary Marxism vs. Class Collaborationism in Sri Lanka. It can be obtained for 60 cents by writing to SWP, 14 Charles Lane, New York, N.Y. 10014. The bulletin also contains “The LSSP and Class Collaboration: Lessons of a Popular Front Betrayal,” by Caroline Lund, and the July 10, 1964, letter from the United Secretariat supporting the LSSP(R) Emergency Conference. Pierre Frank’s article was also reprinted in Intercontinental Press, September 22, 1975, p. 1262.
6. The full text of this letter was published in Intercontinental Press, September 22, 1975, p. 1261.
7. The LSSP (Revolutionary Section) later changed its name to LSSP (Revolutionary), and became the Revolutionary Marxist party at its December 1973 conference. Samarakkody split from the section with a small group after the April 1968 conference.
8. Reprinted in the Education for Socialists bulletin Marxism vs. Ultraleftism: The Record of Healy’s Break With Trotskyism, issued by the SWP National Education Department. Available for $2.50.
9. “The Man on the Flying Trapeze: An Open Letter to Gerry Healy,” published in the fall 1964 issue of International Socialist Review.
10. As paraphrased in the August 28, 1975, Ceylon News.
11. As paraphrased in the September 11, 1975, Ceylon News.