MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Organisations
Labour Popular Socialist Party
During the First World War the P.S.s took a social-chauvinist stand. After the February revolution of 1917 the Popular Socialist Party merged with the Trudoviks and actively supported the Provisional Government, in which it was represented. After the October Revolution the P.S.s participated in plots and armed acts against the Soviet government. The party dissolved during the Civil Wars of 1918-1922.
The party's leaders were A. V. Peshekhonov, N. F. Annensky, V. A. Myakotin, and others.
The Lanka Sama Samaja Party
The Lanka Sama Samaja Party was the first modern political party in Sri Lanka and the first party to have an indigenous name rather than an English one. The Sinhala term samasamajaya was one coined by Dally Jayawardena in the Swadesa Mitraya to translate the term ‘socialist’. However, the usage of samasamajaya has since been superseded by samajavadaya (which corresponds to similar usage in various Indian languages) in everything but in the names of the LSSP and various of its splinter-groups. The Tamil term samadharmam was used to translate ‘socialist’, but nowadays the English term is used.
The Lanka Sama Samaja Party was founded on 18 December 1935 with the broad aims of Independence and Socialism, by a group of young people who had gathered together for that purpose. At its core was the ‘T-group’, a groupuscule of Trotskyists motivated by Philip Gunawardena, who had been active in Comintern politics, being expelled for Trotskyism and who had built up links with the Left Opposition on the continent.
The LSSP grew out of the Youth Leagues, in which a nucleus of Marxists had developed. The leaders were mainly educated returnees from London, youth who had come into contact with the ideas of the European Left and were influenced by Harold Laski. Dr S.A. Wickremasinghe, an early returnee and a member of the State Council from 1931, was part of this group. The Youth Leagues campaigned for independence from Britain, notably organising opposition to the so-called ‘Ministers’ Memorandum’, which essentially only begged the colonial authorities for more power to the ministers and not even Dominion status.
The group, through the South Colombo Youth League, became involved in a strike at the Wellawatte Spinning and Weaving Mills. It published an irregular journal in Sinhala, Kamkaruwa (The Worker). In 1933 the group got involved in the Suriya-Mal movement, which had been formed to provide support for indigenous ex-servicemen by the sale of Suriya (Portia tree) flowers. The Suriya-Mal movement surged as a reaction to the fact that at the time Poppy Day funds went solely to British ex-servicemen. The movement was honed by volunteer work among the poor during the Malaria Epidemic of 1934-1935. The volunteers found that there was widespread malnutrition, which they helped fight by making pills of ‘Marmite’ yeast extract.
In 1936 the LSSP contested the State Council elections in four constituencies and won two of them, Avissawella and Ruanwella. The two new members, Philip Gunawardena and N.M. Perera, proved to be a thorn in the side of the British Colonial government.
The LSSP began fraternal relations with the Congress Socialist Party (CSP) of India. Mrs Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya of the CSP was invited by the LSSP for a highly successful political tour of the island. Simultaneously, the LSSP maintained a clear distance from the Indian radical left, and considered the Communist Party of India to be an extremist force.
In 1937, the British Colonial Governor Sir Reginald Stubbs attempted to deport a young Anglo-Australian planter, Mark Anthony Bracegirdle, who had joined the LSSP. He went into hiding in defiance of the Governor and the LSSP started a campaign to defend him. He made a dramatic appearance on the platform at that year’s May Day rally. Bracegirdle won his case in the courts and the deportation order was quashed. The Governor was isolated and the cause of independence was very much strengthened, as the Bracegirdle incident had brought almost the entire State Council into opposition to the colonial government.
Bracegirdle had been working among the plantation labourers, who were treated inhumanely, receiving very little health care, even less education and living in ‘line rooms’ which were worse than cattle sheds in England. Militancy among these workers was increasing at the time. In 1940 the Lanka Estate Workers’ Union (LEWU) intervened in a strike at Mooloya. This became the harbinger of a wave of trade-union action on the plantations.
Meanwhile in the LSSP a number of members had become influenced by the ideas of the Left Opposition led by Leon Trotsky. Individual LSSPers, notably Philip Gunawardena, had encountered Trotskyist groups during stays in Britain and the USA. The Trotskyists within the LSSP came together and formed a secret fraction known as the "T" (after Trotsky) group. Its original members were Philip Gunawardena, N. M. Perera, Colvin R. de Silva, Leslie Goonewardene, Robert Gunawardena and Vernon Gunasekera, the Party Secretary. It was later joined by Edmund Samarakkody and V Karalasingham.
In 1940 the LSSP split with the expulsion of the pro-Moscow fraction led by S. A. Wickremasinghe, M. G. Mendis, Pieter Keuneman and A. Vaidialingam . The expelled members formed the United Socialist Party (USP) which later evolved into the Communist Party of Ceylon (CPC). The LSSP was thus confirmed as a Trotskyist-led party.
At the outbreak of the Second World War the party was forced to go underground due to its opposition to the British war effort. The experience gained in hiding Bracegirdle proved valuable for the illegal and underground activities of the war years. The two State Council members of the party and others on its Central committee were arrested and jailed.
On 20 April 1941, a secret conference, attended by 42 delegates, was held. Leslie Goonewardene, who was in hiding, attended this conference at which the new programme and constitution were adopted. An openly functioning section of the party was established, led by Robert Gunawardena, S.C.C. Anthonipillai, V. Karalasingham, K.V. Lourenz Perera and William de Silva. The ‘open’ section of the party led a strike wave in May 1941 and strikes in 1942 and 1944.
Following the Japanese raid on Colombo on 5 April 1942, the imprisoned leaders escaped and fled to India. In India, the emigre LSSPers merged their party into the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India, Ceylon and Burma(BLPI). LSSP thus became the Ceylon section of BLPI. Through the BLPI, the Lankan trotskyists attained their formal membership in the Fourth International.
During the war there was a split in the movement. N. M. Perera and Philip Gunawardena opposed a merger into the BLPI and formed the ‘Workers’ Opposition’. After the war, they reconstructed LSSP as an independent party. Members of the other section, formed out of the exiled BLPI nucleus, effectively maintained a separate party, the Bolshevik Samasamaja Party. The latter group functioned as the Ceylon section of BLPI and was led by Colvin R de Silva, Leslie Goonawardena and Edmund Samarakkoddy, who had been the second tier of the party leadership at the beginning of the war.
The relation between the two groups was often antagonistic. The BSP accused the LSSP of ‘organisational Menshevism’. The LSSP accused the BSP of being introvert doctrinaires. LSSP wanted to build a mass-based party, whereas the BSP concentrated on building a cadre party. On 25 October 1945 fist-fights broke out at between the two groups at a meeting of the BSP.
The LSSP and the BSP were both at the helm of the strike waves that occurred in the post-war period. In 1946 there was a brief reconciliation between the two factions. At the general election of 1947 the LSSP emerged as the main opposition party, with 10 seats. The BSP obtained 5 seats. They also had the support of the Ceylon Indian Congress (CIC - which later became the Ceylon Workers’ Congress) of Natesa Iyer, which had 6 members in Parliament and of various independent members. However, SWRD Bandaranaike and his Sinhala Maha Sabha backed the newly formed United National Party.
The BLPI-affiliated BSP became an independent party in 1948, and was recognised as the Lankan section of the Fourth International, when the BLPI was dissolved.
In 1948, the country was granted Dominion status by the British. The armed forces continued to be commanded by British Officers and the Royal Navy and the RAF continued to have bases on the island (at Trincomalee and Katunayake). The Government was heavily pro-British and anti-Soviet.
The new government proceeded to disenfranchise the plantation workers of Indian descent, the Indian Tamils, using the Citizenship Act of 1948 and the Parliamentary Elections Amendment Act of 1949. These measures were intended primarily to undermine the Left electorally. Of these acts Dr. N. M. Perera said: ‘I thought racialism of this type died with Houston Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler. We cannot proceed as if we were God’s chosen race quite apart from the rest of the world; that we and we alone have the right to be citizens of this country.’(*)
The split between the LSSP and the BSP had weakened the movement, and in particular the BSP which was clearly the smaller of the two parties. A process of reunification was initiated, and in 1950 the BSP merged into the LSSP. Through the reunification LSSP became the Lankan section of the Fourth International. However, Philip Gunawardena opposed the reconciliation with the BSP. Thus he left LSSP and formed a new party, Viplavakari Lanka Sama Samaja Party.
At the 1952 general election, there was a set-back for the party. The country was relatively prosperous due to the price of natural rubber being driven up by the Korean War. Also, the disenfranchisement the Indian Tamil estate workers by the UNP government deprived the LSSP of one of its main bases. Moreover it damaged the electoral fortunes of its ally, the CIC, which went unrepresented.
Hartal and after
In 1953 the LSSP took the lead in organising the Hartal. The immediate cause for the Hartal was a hike in the price of rice from 25 cent to 70 cent per measure by the UNP government. At the time J.R. Jayawardena was the finance minister of the country. Maintaining the price of rice at 25 cent had been an electoral promise given by UNP in the 1952 elections, and when the new rates were introduced to the public there was a massive anger against it. Other harsh ingredients of the 1953 budget included suspension of the meals given to schoolchildren and hikes in rail ticket fares and postal fees.
A hartal is a form of general strike, which attempts to bring all commercial activity to a standsstill for a limited period. Prior to 1953 it was a relatively unknown concept in Ceylon. But the LSSP leaders who had been in exile in India during the war had witnessed the immense impact of the hartals during the Quit India Movement.
The Communist Party and VLSSP supported the Hartal. SLFP and CIC expressed sympathy for the demand of the Hartal, but did not actively support the call for strike. The Ceylon Mercantile Unionsupported the demands of the strike, but in not take part in it. Rather CMU encouraged their members to go to work wearing black armbands as a means to protest.
The Hartal took the country to a complete standstill. Afraid of a revolution in the making, the government cabinet sought refuge on the HMS Newfoundland, a Royal Navy warship offshore. The mass upsurge that accompanied the action of the strikers caused Dudley Senanayake to resign from the premiership. The Hartal emoboldended LSSP to start to consider that the party might be able to seize state power.
In 1956 the LSSP went into a no-contest pact with the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (People’s United Front) of SWRD Bandaranaike, which he had formed with Philip Gunawardena and the VLSSP. The MEP won a landslide in the polls held that year. The LSSP once again became the main opposition party, and N. M. Perera became the Leader of Opposition. LSSP supported the reforms initiated by the new government, but opposed the policy of ‘Sinhala Only’. In July 1959 both LSSP and the Communist Party withdrew their support for the government, as inner-party feuds within the SLFP had resulted in a temporary victory for the right-wing and expulsions of leftist ministers like Philip Gunawardena.
In March 1960, the LSSP contested the general elections on the slogan ‘forward to a Sama Samaja Government’. The votes won by the LSSP, the Communists and the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (a new party, not the 1956 front) of Philip Gunawardena, were sufficient to have made them the biggest bloc in Parliament. However, due to their contesting separately, the LSSP and the MEP won just 10 seats each, the CP a mere 3. Elections were held again in July and the LSSP had a no-contest pact with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) of Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike, which was thus able to form a government. The Fourth International was highly critical of the electoral tactics of LSSP, and the LSSP chose not to attend the World Congress of FI the following year.
In 1962, officers of the Army and Police attempted a coup-d’etat aimed at overthrowing the government and bringing the UNP to power. This plot was foiled, and the SLFP lurched left-wards. The local branches of the petroleum companies was nationalised, leading to a boycott of the country by the oil multi-nationals; the boycott was broken with help from the Kansas Oil Producers Co-operative and the Romanian Government.
A parallel process was one of increasing self-confidence and unity amongst the Lankan left-wing. In the parliament they were in the opposition. On May Day 1963 the three main left parties (LSSP, CP and MEP) held a massive joint rally. That was followed by the launching of United Left Front on August 12, the tenth anniversary of the 1953 Hartal. ULF launched agitations on issues like bring down the prices of essential commodities. ULF represented an immediate threat to the governance of SLFP, and SLFP were not late in reacting to it. It began to offer the left parties ministerial posts and worked intensively to break the unity of ULF.
Trade Union Activities
The 1950s and 1960s were in many ways the "Golden era" of LSSP. At the time the most most powerful trade unions in the country supported LSSP politics. The most prominent trade union in the public sector in this period was the Government Clerical Service Union, which gave the a great support to the political struggle of LSSP. The forefront leader of GCSU, I. J. Wickrema openly appealed for support to the LSSP-CP coalition in order to defeat imperialism. The GCSU publication Red Tape constantly criticized the UNP government and asked the people to support the left.
In 1964 the LSSP held a conference, at which the majority agreed with a theoretical categorisation of the SLFP by Hector Abhayavardhana as a petty bourgeois party, leaving the door open to a united front with it. A minority faction, led by Colvin R de Silva and Leslie Goonewardena, opposed the move but opted to stay within the Party. Another minority faction led by Edmund Samarakkody, Merryl Fernando, V Karalasingham and Bala Tampoe, left the party and formed the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (Revolutionary).
Later that year, the LSSP joined the coalition government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Three of its MPs became Ministers; Dr N. M. Perera (Finance), Cholomondely Goonewardena (Public Works) and Anil Moonesinghe (Communications). The LSSP was expelled from the Fourth International, and the membership was passed on to LSSP(R).
The Lanka Sama Samaja Party-R
Literally the Ceylon Equal Society Party-Revolutionary is a Trotskyist political party in Sri Lanka. The party was founded in 1964 in opposition to the LSSP joining the coalition government ruling Cyclon in that period.