Main Document Index  |  ETOL Home Page  |  Trotskyism in Ceylon


George Jan Lerski

Origins Of Trotskyism In Ceylon

Chapter IV
At War with London and Moscow

Regardless of Stalin’s power politics, reflected by the zigzagging tactics of the Comintern’s executive committee, it was definitely British domination that remained for twenty years the number-one target of the Samasamajist revolutionary struggle in Ceylon up until the final military withdrawal from the Katunayake and Trincomalee bases in the nineteen-fifties. Echoing the party’s first Manifesto, [1] which stressed “the attainment of national Independence” as a necessary precondition for the establishment of a socialist society, Dr. N.M. Perera bluntly stated in the State Council on July 22, 1936:

I represent a body, Sir, that does not accept the Donoughmore Constitution at all. We have been fighting against it. We oppose the reforms put forward by the Ministers. We go much further. We want complete independence outside the British Empire [2]

Philip Gunawardena explained that though the Samasamajists were neither pacifist cowards nor conscientious objectors, they were definitely opposed to any defense arrangements within the British Empire or for that matter to any “imperialist” war:

Sir, our party was attacked by several members because of our attitude in regard to the Defence vote ... If there is a group of people, who are ready to go through any sacrifice for ridding humanity of the course of militarism, of the course of ignorance, superstition, and poverty, I believe that group must of necessity be a socialist group. Throughout the world in the case of most ruthless brutality, barbarism and terrorism, the Communists and Socialists have fought for what they believe to be the correct attitude in life ... the members of the LSSP are ready to fight even with guns if necessary for the cause ... of Socialism humanity’s leap from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom.
Sir, we are not ready to fight the battles of the imperialists. We refuse to be cannon fodder for coining money for the dividendhunters of England. A really national revolutionary army, the members of the LSSP will join ... But we are not ready to join the Ceylon Defence Force because we believe that the imperialists will use these units for fighting the battles of England and not for fighting the battles of the people of this country.
We are not conscientious objectors. We oppose imperialist war. But we are ready to take our place in the battles of national wars for the liberation of the working classes and the peasantry of the country. We are determined to oppose this vote on Defence. As long as we remain in this House we will try our best to prevent even one red cent being spent for the Ceylon Defence Force or any other imperialist army [3]

The situation was naturally aggravated by the outbreak of World War II, when any such opposition was bound to provoke repressions on the part of a British government fighting for its very survival. Three years before the German invasion of Poland, Perera served notice of his party’s negative attitude toward involvement in imperialist defense matters:

From the time we entered this Council we have taken a very definitive attitude with regard to the Ceylon Defence Force. We repeat again, Sir, that this is not a Ceylon Defence Force ... This is only an excuse for a unit of the British Empire army to remain in this country.

Using Palestine as an example where an alleged ten thousand British soldiers were sent to “shoot down poor Arab men, women and children,” Perera expressed the fear that “the Ceylon Defence Force will be used for shooting Ceylonese.” He said,

We refuse to vote a single cent ... if a really national revolutionary army is started in Ceylon, the members of the LSSP will be willing to join the national army for the purpose of fighting the British and throwing out of this Island men of the type of the Chief Secretary ...
We stand on a definite principle. We are not in any way going to help - neither by our moral support nor by our material support - the Imperialists to maintain this oppression, this exploitation all the more effectively in this country.

Then, taking issue with the martial Minister of Labour Major Kotelawala, he ridiculed the latter’s servile posture:

I think the gallant Major was very nice and he clinched the matters when he said that if he was asked to shoot down our Kith and Kin he would have no alternative but to follow the orders of his imperialist masters ... an Imperialist lackey ... a Defence Force against whom? Whom are you defending, our people ... the suffering masses in this country? No, you are defending the capitalist of the type of the Chief Secretary. You are defending the capitalists in Lancashire, so that our people may be bled white by means of the quotas and the other things they have imposed on us. You are defending those Imperialists, and not defending a single son of the soil.
That is the crux of the matter ... At some stage of our existence the people, the masses of this country would rise and say: We will not have these Imperialists at all ... [4]

Stating with pride that there were fine soldiers among the Ceylonese and that he himself once served as a cadet, Perera emphatically declared his readiness to join the truly national army of Ceylon even “with our gallant Major at its head,” but he implored the front-benchers to create a national armed forces and “not an army of Imperialist lackeys.” The ominous word sedition was used for the first time with reference to the Samasamajists when the nominated Burgher member of the Council, G.A. Wille, called Perera’s arguments treasonable and seditious. The anti-imperialist utterances of the LSSP leaders were rising in crescendo, not even sparing the person of the monarch. When an address of loyalty to the new King George VI was submitted for debate, much to the horror of the loyalist Council members Dr. Perera rose to move:

as an amendment the addition of the words “but regret that Your Majesty’s Government in Ceylon has not done anything to ameliorate the conditions of the masses in Ceylon” ... In addition to mentioning our loyalty, we should also state facts with regard to the policy adopted by His Majesty’s Government in Ceylon ... I feel it a little awkward position, but if. {sic] only expression that is going from this House is that of mere loyalty I must with all deference dissent from loyalty. [5]

Considering such a demand as crimen laese maiestatis, Siripala Samarakkody retorted that “on a motion like this, the amendment that has been moved is merely in the interest of Communist propaganda.” [6]

Perera was exceeded in antimonarchical propaganda only by his colleague Gunawardena, who opposed the coronation celebrations and the spending of Rs.5000 for expensive fireworks:

If there is to be a coronation in England let the Imperialists have it. It is not a matter in which we need take any interest ... we happen to be a British Colony by accident ... The only matter which concerns us is the improvement of the conditions of the people. We were sent here by the people in our electorates to improve their conditions not to send old decrepit leaders on various pilgrimages to different parts of the world.
We are against the sending of delegates to participate in the Coronation celebrations, because we do not believe that slaves should go and participate with conquerors and show the people in England that we are treated just as the free people in England. We are slaves and as slaves it is our business to get rid of slavery; not to participate in Imperialist celebrations, not to hobnob with people who are ready to kick us at every turn.
As far as my party is concerned ... we are opposed to all Imperial celebrations. I move that the entire vote of Rs.62,500 be deleted [7]

Feeling, as usual, that one spokesman for the LSSP was not enough to express the party’s stand in any debate, Perera elaborated with dialectical skill a rather subtle anti-imperialist argument:

We as a party stand for national independence ... On that ground I am quite opposed to any show of any kind of loyalty. It is easy enough to riddle this whole proposition as wasteful expenditure ... When a subject race like the Ceylonese decide to celebrate an occasion supposed to be important from the point of view of the imperial authorities, I submit with all earnestness that to that extent we are denying the fight for independence. We are to that extent acquiescing in and accepting the permanent role of subjugation.
I was at the Indian National Congress celebrations last December, and I remember a motion carried with tremendous enthusiasm in that Congress for a hartal on May 12. Does it not strike us that in this matter we can emulate our neighbors? Surely, Sir, if we had any spark of independence, would we not follow India gladly instead of making a pretence of showing loyalty to some foreign power? Have we no backbone left that we can stand up and say that we will not participate in those celebrations, that we will fight for national independence ... We have been slaves for centuries and we are continuing to be slaves apparently to the end.
Although the House would agree to this kind of loyalty I am not willing to accept that the country will continue to be in this slavery. I am fully confident that if the issue is placed quite definitely before our people, they will not hesitate to say – “No, we must fight and fight for independence sooner or later.”
Then with regard to electric bulbs, it has been suggested that we should put a duty of 1,000% on Japanese bulbs in order to prevent them from being brought here. Sir, all this means more trade to England. That is the sum total of this. They are only concerned with Rupees and cents. That is all the loyalty they want from us.
And why are we going to make a military parade? Why Sir, in order to show the might of the Imperial power, in order to frighten the poor villagers and say “If you dare express disloyalty this is the way we shall scotch you.” That is the idea and here we are willingly granting this money ... also “Passages and expenses abroad of delegates including Defence Force Representatives ᰫ Rs.12,500.” ... Two Ceylonese and two Europeans ... It is bad enough to have them here and to pay them ᰫ these surplus gentlemen – and now we have to pay for the expression of their loyalty ... If we cannot find people with sufficient loyalty to go at their own expense we must not expect the poor man to spend in order to express his loyalty. [8 ?]

When Dr. Perera appealed to the State Council to throw out this supplementary estimate for costly loyalty demonstrations and the coronation expedition to London, his speech was termed by R.S.S. Gunasekera as inconsistent with the parliamentary oath of allegiance to the King:

I always thought that these Sama Samajists had one virtue, that is consistency, but in this particular case I am inclined to think they lack even this virtue. At least it strikes me as extraordinary that those who take the oath of allegiance and loyalty to the King ... come here and say “do not talk of loyalty.” ... They should remain outside the House rather than remain in this House. I would then admire them. [9]

Only two independent-minded members of the Council joined in a negative vote on that sensitive matter of loyalty. They were Dr. A.P. de Zoysa, representing the residential South Colombo constituency, and the then-young Dudley Senanayake (the Prime Minister of today), who had the courage to vote against his own father’s Council bloc. Other bold members, namely Tamil leader G.G. Ponnambalam and D.M. Rajapakse declined to vote. [10]

The antidefense stand of the LSSP expressed the national anxiety that British fortifications in Ceylon might provoke the bombing of the island by the future enemy. Thus, with regard to Trincomalee, Perera warned the Council in connection with the questionable anti-malaria measures in the north-eastern part of the island that they were simply a cover-up for war preparations:

The land adjoining China Bay is absolute jungle land. There are no villages in or about the place. The people who work there come from 15 to 20 miles away. It is not anti-malaria work in the villages, it is anti-malaria work in the jungle ... making it possible for the War Office to carry on their fortifications, providing oil installations so that we may be bombed all the more readily by an enemy at a vital spot in time of war ... Safeguard the health of the people by all means but do not undertake this work for the sake of the War Office ... [11]

The same naval base was discussed again when the supplementary estimate of Rs.20,000 was submitted to the Council for extension to the local hospital, in May 1937. Dr. Perera expressed his premonition in connection with any money granted to Trincomalee “that if any trouble comes to Ceylon in future it will be by way of Trincomalee, thanks to the Imperialists; if there is any invasion it will be through Trincomalee.” [12]

Correctly anticipating the wartime events, he opposed in January 1937 the Naval Volunteer Ordinance which stipulated that “any person who ... agrees with or induces or attempts to induce any member of the Force to neglect or to act in conflict with his duty or as a member of the Force shall be guilty of an offence.” Since there was no privileges bill and the members of Ceylon’s State Council, unlike the British M.P.’s, did not possess immunity with regard to freedom of parliamentary debate, he considered that particular clause of the Ordinance much too broad:

I want to submit to honourable members that any speech made in the State Council can be brought within the force of this clause.
As I see it, I think, Sir, it will certainly and definitely affect the members of my party ... and naturally I am definitely opposed to it ... I cannot in those circumstances subscribe to a clause that gives such far-reaching powers to the authorities ... when it is convenient ... it will be very well used against people who should have anything like a nationalist feeling.
I will not be in a position as a member of the State Council or as a citizen to attack the Volunteer Naval Defence Force and to say that their conditions are bad. I shall be charged if I say so.
Under the circumstances, I honestly feel nationalist as I am, that I cannot subscribe to this Bill. [13]

Perera admitted being a full-blooded nationalist. He ended with an appeal for postponement of the third reading of the Ordinance until 1940. As it turned out, by then the Samasamajists – whose votes were the only ones cast for their own amendment - were also the only Council members deprived of liberty under the emergency regulations.

Answering the logical argument of Francis de Zoysa that without independence for India there could be no independence for Ceylon either, Perera stated in a revolutionary vein: “I say that if we are ever to get independence ... if we are to get reforms, it will not be by begging at Whitehall or any other place, but by organized action of the masses of this country. That will be the real basis of reforms or independence.” [14]

If such was the tone used in parliamentary utterances, one can imagine the tone of their public meetings, held all over the island to arouse the dissatisfaction of the working masses. Whenever the favorite slogan of “defending democracy” was used by the Colonial Office, it was called a mockery by the LSSP speakers, most of whom by the middle of 1938 had become Trotsky-oriented. Admitting that eventually true democracy might be won in the British Isles for the British people themselves, D.P.R. Gunawardena argued, with resentment:

England must have a billion pounds armaments budget, and poor Ceylon must shoulder her share of Rs.2,000,000 increase ... when one looks at the activities of the British Empire, in the North West Frontier Province, where it is bombing defenceless women and children, destroying their houses, when we see the Black and Tan war being carried in Palestine ... the war to suppress the Irish people for freedom ... it is a mockery to speak of democracy. The Empire has not known what democracy is this idea of defending democracy is a mockery ... at least to the colonial peoples, and even to the Irish to-day ... in the West Indies, in Jamaica to-day and tomorrow in British Guiana – while people are being shot because they ask for an increase in their wages from fat dividend-hunters of Tate & Lyle ... Simply because people ask for better housing conditions, better medical facilities, because a man asks that the wages be increased by 4d ... those defenders of democracy ... would make use of their Defence Force for sending those people into the eternal realms of Nirvana.
Sir, we stand for complete freedom outside the British Empire. We are for the complete overthrow of Imperialism in Britain as well as in other parts of the world. We want this country and the people in this country to have the fullest freedom to manage their own affairs ... The people’s struggle for freedom will win in the end. [15]

There was no hint of compromise in these constant demands for complete independence; the Lanka Sama Samaja Party could not be accused of a lack of consistency on that score. Naturally, this began to be taken much more seriously by the British authorities when armed conflict with the Axis powers became almost certain.

No opportunity was missed by the two party representatives in the State Council to demonstrate against the Ceylon Defence Forces under British Command. During the December 1937 debate concerning minor personal emoluments for defense, Philip Gunawardena made the LSSP position crystal clear:

Personally I do not think the Ceylon Defence Force is worth anything; they are not even good enough for hooting mosquitos. We are wasting nearly two million Rupees and absolutely no purpose is served. Further I wish to state that as far as my Party is concerned ... we will not vote a single cent for the so-called Defence Force as long as the British remain in this island. The day the British leave this island we will vote any amount for the defence of this island. [16 ?]

And once again, on the eve of Hitler’s occupation of the defenseless Czechoslovakia, Dr. Perera voiced his party’s protest against any expenditure on the anti-aircraft regiment. Starting from the Leninist premise that imperialist wars are inevitable as long as conflicting interests exist in the colonial parts of the world, he argued that it is in the very nature of capitalist countries to become involved in an imperialist war sooner or later; hence he questioned the appeasement tactics applied by Britain and France in the Sudeten crisis:

Notwithstanding the fervent desire for peace, why should every country in the world to-day be arming more and more?
There are competent officers in England today who say that the September crisis was a deliberate endeavour by Mr. Chamberlain and Company to make a gift of Czechoslovakia to Herr Hitler. [17]

In his blind contempt for England, Perera made an entirely wrong prediction of British determination in the face of mortal danger:

The air raid precautions in England are the laughing stock of the people of the world, at present, and we are spending millions for air-raid precautions when we know that the English people are the most inefficient in this line ...
What we should consider at the moment is the crisis that is brewing. Herr Hitler has said “there are no other demands that I am making in Europe ... My demands are now turned toward the colonies.” What does that mean? It means that as between the so-called Imperialist Powers like Germany, Italy and England, it is a fight for colonies, exploiting the harmless natives with a view to having more markets for their expanding trades. .
They go further and say, “We are trying to protect you.” Sir, is it not absurd that we should be asked to expend our own money on armaments? ... When we ask for a few thousand Rupees for roads, hospitals and dispensaries, none of these needs is supplied, but we find that in three years a sum of Rs.i8,ooo,ooo is granted in order to safeguard the trade routes and the markets of England ...

People of the subject races should say “We won’t spend a cent to protect your interests, you must protect your own interests.”

Displaying very poor judgement, Perera evidently trusted the misleading words of Hitler more than those of the Western leaders. And apparently it did not bother him that in his antiwar fervor he was actually disclosing important military information to the potential enemies of the British Empire:

We know that Trincomalee is even more important to the British Empire than Singapore. We are aware of the large number of tanks that are underground in Trincomalee at the present moment. They are all under the protection of the East India Squadron.

Dr. Perera continued his attack on the proposed Supplementary Estimate for the Defence of Ceylon in a way that could hardly be distinguished from ordinary sedition. One can only admire the extreme patience of the British authorities with the Samasamajist demagogy-a tolerance that was bound, however, to be exhausted as soon as the shooting war began. Comparing the British defense plan with Mussolini’s aggression in Abyssinia, N.M. Perera challenged with unwarranted personal abuse Major Kotelawala’s motion to increase the army:

Now he is asking us to establish an army in order to meet the unemployment problem ... He is asking that there be an army in order to suppress the poor people of this country. He says that with the shortage of food and in the present economic condition of the country we cannot expect to have no trouble from the masses and therefore he is justified in increasing the army. At that stage I have no doubt that the Honourable Major himself will be the first person to shoot our own people.” [18]

Increased anti-British agitation was bound to call for additional vigilance on the part of the police. On August 30, 1939 Dr. Perera complained that there was a secret black list of forty Ceylonese known for their anti-imperialist views; these men were to be arrested in case of war. “There is definitely a list ... not all Members of the LSSP, at least forty prominent citizens are being watched ... these very gentlemen are being followed daily by C.I.D. officers-not of this country but Indians imported.” [19] Apparently Dr. Perera was completely unaware of the gravity of the world situation, international affairs never having been his forte. He argued with characteristic cocksureness on August 31, 1939 (a few hours before Hitler’s hordes invaded Poland) that “we are not considering a martial law situation.” [20]

Philip Gunawardena demanded a guarantee from the Chief Secretary that “in a situation when the Military is to be called to the assistance of the civil authority, it would be done only at the request of the Minister of Home Affairs ... and not at the request of Magistrates and the Police.” [21] Acting as the champions of nationalist interests, the Trotskyites managed to carry the majority with them and that particular expenditure was deferred.

In his last speech before the outbreak of World War II, Dr. Perera branded the Ceylon National Congress as mere

Imperialist lackeys who have been driving this country into slavery ... Is it surprising that we cannot get up even a nationalist movement in this country owing to people of this type? It is the tragedy of our national life ... as far as we are concerned we are not prepared to grant one cent for the glory of the Empire. [22]

No wonder that even at this late moment the Samasamajists were still called agents of Moscow by their opponents in the Council. Indeed, from September 17, 1939, up to June 22, 1941, there was no visible difference for the layman between the attitudes of the Trotskyites and the Stalinists toward the so-called new imperialist war, although the motivations for that anti-war posture were of different character. Let us remember that not only the leftists but also all true democrats in the world participated actively in anti-Fascist fronts until the Nazi-Soviet agreement of August 1939, when the executive committee of the Third International instructed its communist parties to immediately slow down the antiHitler propaganda; at the same time the communists stepped up their smearing campaign against the imperialists of “perfidious England” and of “decaying France.” That sudden shift caused a lot of confusion among the communist leaders, particularly in Europe. Professor Beloff, in his The Foreign Policy of Soviet Russia, justly claims that

One of the most significant results of the Soviet invasion of Poland and the Second Soviet-German treaty was its effect upon Communist Parties abroad ... Hitherto they had maintained their previous support for the policy of resisting Nazi aggression Now in the course of a few days everything altered. The Comintern swung into line behind the Soviet-German peace offensive. [23]

Failing to sense the way the Moscow wind was blowing, the leading British communist writer, J.R. Campbell, proudly stated on the outbreak of hostilities that “the British people would reject Nazi peace offers and see the war through to the end”; and Harry Pollitt, the party’s chief propagandist, even wrote an inopportune pamphlet, How to Win the War. They completely reversed their stand at the beginning of December 1939 and prostrated themselves in a published statement explaining “that their judgment had been so clouded by hatred of Fascism, that they did not see in time the true role of British Imperialism, and saw only German fascism as the main enemy of the British working class.” Rajani Palme Dutt, for years one of the main inspirations for South Asian Stalinists, claimed in a pamphlet Why This War? that “Poland was deliberately sacrificed by the British and French Statesmen in order to provide occasion for their predatory war.” [24]

The Comintern proclamation of November 7, 1939 established a new official guide by condemning both Germany and the Allies “for engaging in a war for world domination,” but, as pointed out by Max Beloff, “the emphasis in this period was on Allied responsibility for the war, and the Communist Parties which only yesterday had been the most bellicose advocates of collective resistance to an aggressor fell back into the more congenial atmosphere of revolutionary defeatism ...” [25] While this sudden change in tactics did not escape the attentive notice of the sharp Ceylonese observers, it was actually not in conflict with their own theory that British imperialism was the number one enemy of Ceylon’s working class.

However, in one of the subsequent official party publications, The Third International Condemned!, Leslie S. Goonewardene attacked the zigzagging policies of the British and French communist parties, concluding that “what is wrong is that the policy of the 3rd International should be subordinated to the Foreign Policy of the Soviet Union.” [26] He contrasted the opportunistic attitude of the French and British communist leaders with the consistently anti-imperialist stand of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party. On September 5, 1939, Philip Gunawardena in the State Council raised the classic Marxist-Leninist objection to any “loyal” support of the prosecution of the war:

The last world-war of 1914-1918 was an Imperialist war fought for the division of colonies and semi-colonies. This war too is a war between two Imperialist groups, the German Fascist Imperialism and the British and French Imperialisms. This war too is for the division and redivision of the colonies and semi-colonies. We refuse to be a Party to any Imperialist War. We are against all imperialist wars and exploitation. The class struggle has refused to stop because a country is at war. Therefore, Sir, on behalf of my Party, I state that we refuse to consider that the people of this country are at war with any people anywhere else in the world, and therefore we refuse to participate in any Imperialist war. We propose to decline to vote on this motion. [27]

Ominously, the only other member of the State Council who declared himself unable to support the motion of D.S. Senananayake assuring “His Majesty the King and the British Government of their whole-hearted support in the prosecution of the war” was the son of the mover, Dudley Senananayake. With those three eminent abstentions, the prowar motion was passed, forty-five members voting for and none against. [28]

The slavish subordination of European communists to the fluctuations of Kremlin power politics was ably exposed by Goonewardene’s dialectics in The Third International Condemned!:

Let us suppose for a moment that the present war was a war with France, England and the Soviet Union on one side and Germany on the other. What would be the duty of British workers, of colonial people like ourselves. To support the war because Russia is on the side of Britain or to oppose the war and make our Revolution.
It is true, opposing such a war and making a revolution in Britain would appear to be the military disadvantage of the Soviet Union. But such disadvantage, if any, would be temporary.
The best way that the British working class could contribute to the ultimate defence of the Soviet Union would be to make their own revolution and establish a Worker’s Government.
On the other hand the British Imperialism would be in such a war not to help the Soviet Union, but for their own Imperialist purposes. To support the war therefore would be an act of treachery to the British working classes. But on the instructions of the 3rd International it was precisely this act of treachery that the Communist Parties of England and France were preparing for. Expecting to be on the same side as England and France in the coming war, the Soviet Government through the 3rd International instructed the Communist Parties of England and France to support the war.
That there was such preparation for betrayal is proved by the French Communist Party voting for conscription and supporting the war for several weeks and by the British Communist Party supporting the war for over a month. [29]

Professor Hans J. Morgentau, in his incisive paper The Crisis of Communism, aptly assessed the situation by stressing that

the implicit alliance which the Soviet Union concluded with Nazi Germany in 1939 was, of course, a death blow to the faith of large masses of Communists who had believed in the inevitable hostility between Fascism, as the last defense of a decaying monopoly capitalism, and Marxism. [30]

Speaking for the leadership of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, Goonewardene explained how and why the Third International misled its followers in Western Europe:

The Communist Parties placing their trust in the Third International and its leader Stalin, prepared for a war against Hitler by England, France and the Soviet Union. But without the least warning to his supporters Stalin turned a “volte-face” on August 20th [sic]. He entered into a non-aggression pact with Germany.
On September 3rd the war began [sic] against Hitler, but without the Soviet Union. The Communist Parties of England and France stunned by the Russo-German Pact which had come like a bolt from the blue continued loyally to follow their old orders. The Communist International had evidently not had time to change instructions. This is the reason why the Communist Parties of England and France continued to support the war for some time.
But in due course they apparently received new instructions from the Communist International. Since Stalin was no longer on the side of England and France the Communist International which saw no point in the Communist Parties of England and France supporting the war sent fresh instructions to them to oppose the war ... The Communist Party of England which had been propagandizing for a month that this was a war against Fascism suddenly discovered that it was an imperialist war! Apart from orders from the Third International the Communist Parties of England and France both supported and opposed the same war for one and the same reason – that they slavishly followed the Third International.
A policy of this nature must be suicidal to the international working class movement ... the British and the French Communist Parties have by their disastrous policies helped the imperialists to deceive the workers and drag them into the war.
The reason for the identically wrong policies of the Communist Parties of Britain and France flows from the fact that they are members of the Third International ... the central organization of the Communist Parties of the world.
Conversely the Communist Parties of the world are sections of the Comintern whose headquarters are in Moscow. The Comintern helps financially its different sections and since the Russian Communist Party is larger and more influential than all the other Communist Parties of the world put together it is easy to see how the Russian party has predominating power in the International. The policy of the Third International is determined by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
It is thus seen that the policy of the Communist International and Communist Parties affiliated to it is determined and changed not by the needs of the revolutionary movements in those countries but according to the immediate demands of the Foreign policy of the Soviet Union.
This is a very dangerous state of affairs. If the workers are to be victorious anywhere the proletarian revolutionary movement of a particular country should be protected towards the victory of the revolution in that country. We are therefore forced to the conclusion that the leadership of the International proletarian movement by the Communist International is a danger to the cause of World Revolution and World Socialism. [31]

Goonewardene further developed his anti-Moscow argument in his devastating little book Rise and Fall of the Comintern, written in 1947 under the revolutionary penname of B.G. Tilak, the leader of the extremists in the Indian National Congress until his death in 1920. The Samasamajist stand was summarized in a collection of his seven articles entitled The Differences Between Trotskyism and Stalinism:

The first and most important difference is that ... while the Trotskyists at each stage will seek to adopt that policy which will help to develop the movement towards its goal of the abolition of capitalism and imperialism, the Stalinists on the other hand, seek at each stage to adopt that policy which will help the Soviet Government in its foreign policy, regardless of the effects of such a course of action on the mass movement. [32]

A similar collection of Colvin de Silva’s thirteen articles under the title Their Politics and Ours: Ceylon CP Turns Further Right appeared in 1954, dealing with the diametrically opposed positions of the two Ceylonese Marxist parties as they developed after the war. It became obvious from these anti-Comintern publications that the most important cause for the LSSP’s choice after four years of its existence of the politically hard but intellectually independent Trotskyite way was its utter disgust with Stalin’s un-Marxist conduct of international affairs; this was the South-Asian part of the price the Soviet Union had to pay for her September 1939 conquests in East Central Europe. A Stalinist spokesman for the opposition minority, the able Tamil dialectician A. Vaidialingham, answered Goonewardena’s The Third International Condemned by excusing Russia’s expansionism in terms of cynical geopolitics. Serving as the “base of the struggle for Socialism” built in consequence of the communist victory “over one-sixth of the earth surface,” the Soviet Union, according to him, simply utilized “the Imperialist contradictions to secure important naval and air bases to safeguard her North-West frontiers.” [33]

Such uncritical acceptance of the Kremlin’s interpretation went much beyond Trotsky’s general support of the Soviet Union’s defense, which would protect the world’s first workers’ state. Moreover, closer to home for Ceylonese Marxists than the purely European issue of a new partition of Poland were the Asian implications of Stalin’s shifting alliances with the colonial powers of Western Europe. In their revolutionary idealism, the Trotskyites considered the outbreak of the world war as the long-awaited chance to follow Lenin’s summons, “turn the imperialist war into a civil war!" [34]

Not all of the party’s leaders were willing, however, to reject the guidance of the Third International. For instance the majority of the London group, led by staunch Stalinist Dr. S.A. Wickramasinghe, decided to follow the Moscow line and to fight Trotsky’s thesis that the Comintern had degenerated into an abject instrument of Russia’s changing foreign policies, which pretended what was good for the Soviet Union must be good for world revolution. The clash between the Trotskyists and the Stalinists was bound to come into the open. In December 1939, the executive committee of the LSSP adopted (by twenty-nine votes to five) the crucial resolution (evidently prepared by the conspiring mainstream “T” group within the party)

Since the Third International has not acted in the interests of the international revolutionary working-class movement, while expressing its solidarity with the Soviet Union, the first workers’ state, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party declares that it has no faith in the Third International. [35]

The five Stalinists who opposed the resolution were Dr. S.A. Wickramasinghe, M.G. Mendis (who served along with avowed Trotskyite Jack Kotelawala as joint secretaries of the party), K. Ramanathan, editor of Samatharmam, W. Ariyaratne, and A. Gunasekera. They declared themselves in favor of referring the resolution on the Third International “to open conference of the party before the Executive Committee prejudiced the issue by expressing its opinion on the resolution.” [36]

At the next meeting of the executive committee, held early in 1940, its Stalinist members were expelled from the party. K. Ramanathan had been removed from his post as editor of the party’s Tamil organ and replaced by T.E. Pushparajan, who supported the majority Trotskyite policy. As proudly pointed out by L.S. Goonewardene in the official Short History of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, this “was possibly the first occasion in the history of party expulsions where the Trotskyites expelled the Stalinists, and not the reverse.”” This claim seems to be accurate, although the pro-Soviet Marxists put up quite a fight, according to their articulate spokeman A. Vaidialingham: “Over seventy Party members sent an application demanding that the Committee should call a conference to decide the question of disciplinary action against the four comrades. They also requested the Committee to postpone the decision, but agreed to convene a special General Meeting. [37 ?] The Stalinists’ request for a special conference was not heeded, however, by the overwhelming majority, and their appeal for restoring party unity, Sama Samajism and the Way Forward, published on May 11, 1940, “for the LSSP members only [38 ?], remained unanswered.

The expelled communists, together with their supporters, then set up headquarters at the Worker’s Club, 81 Hultsdorf Street, Colombo, in order to create a separate communist party, unreservedly obedient to the orders of the Third International and its successors. They started the Janasakthiya, a six-page Sinhalese paper edited by Dr. Wickramasinghe, on May 17, 1940. [39 ?] After eight weeks it ceased publication, but in August of the same year, a new four-page Sinhalese paper named Navasakthi, edited by D.P. Yasodis, was launched by the same group. Thus was laid the foundation for the formation of the United Socialist Party at the Peliyagoda Conference in November of 1940 and of the Ceylon Trade Union Federation a month later. The founding members of that “precursor of the Ceylon Communist Party” were the indefatigable Dr. Wickramasinghe, Pieter Keuneman, unscrupulous but no doubt very able follower of Moscow who was elected General Secretary of the United Socialist Party, M.G. Mendis, U. Sarananaka Thero, A. Gunasekera, W. Ariyaratne, D.P. Yasodis, A. Vaidialingham, K. Ramanathan, T. Durasingham, A.D. Charleshamy, p.Kandiah, Lionel Kulatunga, and K. Siriratne. The United Socialist Party, banned later in 1940 by the British, was dissolved at “a clandestine conference ... held in a house at Cotta Road, Borella, Colombo, on July 2-3, 1943 when a decision was made to set up the Ceylon Communist Party.” This was the first and most serious of the many splits in the ranks of the Ceylonese left movement which has suffered ever since from factional, ideological, and personal struggles. The communist party’s official explanation of the break reads as follows:

The break came in 1940 although the drift between the Communists and the Trotskyists in the Party had been widening of late. When, with the outbreak of the war and the Soviet-Finnish war, the imperialists let loose a world-wide anti-Soviet crusade, the petty-bourgeois leadership of the LSSP also fell a victim, passed a resolution condemning the Soviet Union and expelled from the Party the communists like Dr. S.A. Wickramasinghe, M.G. Mendis, W. Ariyaratne, D.P. Yasodis, etc. The reason for their capitulation to anti-Sovietism can, in part, at least, be explained by the petty-bourgeois origin of most of the leaders (they were mostly from the estate owning class) and the consequent lack of faith in the working class and the first working class state, the U.S.S.R. to withstand an onslaught from imperialism. [40]

The argument seems ridiculous, however, in view of the fact that the “English-speaking petty-bourgeoisie” origin of the LSSP applied at least to the same extent to Messrs. Wickramasinghe, Keuneman, Kandiah, et consortes, who belonged to the radical intelligentsia rather than to the genuine industrial proletariat.

Aware of doctrinal and organizational shortcomings, the executive committee of the LSSP, after getting rid of the Comintern followers, adopted a new revolutionary program and party constitution in consonance with the official Trotskyite line. According to the Short History of the LSSP,

Hitherto the programme of the party had been vague. Now a clear revolutionary programme was adopted, in line with the programme of the 4th International founded by Trotsky in 1938. The old constitution had granted membership to all those who paid subscription of 25 cents a month. The new constitution limited membership to those who paid a monthly subscription according to ability to pay, and who engaged in party activity as members in a party group or local organization. An effort was thus made to convert the party from a loose body of individuals into a fighting organization. [41]

Apart from the time-consuming ideological clash with the Stalinists and the subsequent decision to join the Fourth International, the LSSP became involved in political and economic struggles against the British Raj. After the 1938 setbacks in its attempt to unionize the bulk of the industrial workers, the party’s attention was directed towards organization of the Tamil labor force on the tea and rubber plantations. They capitalized on various grievances and unrest among the dissatisfied workers that occurred by the end of 1939 and during the first half of 1940. As recorded in the party’s History:

At the start the issues were generally trivial such as a discontinuance or a transfer, but basically it was a struggle of the workers to win the right of organization. There were two principal organizations working among the plantation workers, one the trade union organization of the Ceylon Indian Congress, and the other, the All-Ceylon Estate Workers led by Samasamajists.
In November and December the wave was more or less confined to the Central Province and was by and large under the leadership of the congress. In this area it reached the zenith in the Mool Oya Estate strike, which was led by the Samasamajists. [42]

Indeed, the story of this particular strike in the up-country Mooloya Estate at Hewahetta deserves to be told in detail because of its crucial importance in the mounting confrontation of the militant Trotskyite movement with the British authorities over the revolutionary agitation among tea plantation workers.

The strike ended with a tragic incident: the Tamil worker Govindan was shot and killed by the police and “became the first of a long list of Martyrs of the working class in the plantations.” [43] According to the State Council member for Nuwara Eliya, F.W. Abeygunasekera, the Samasamajists started agitation for higher wages, demanding that the daily standard rate of wages should be raised by at least sixteen cents. Robert Gunawardena, younger brother of the State Council member for Avissawella, and P. Veluchamy, secretary of the All-Ceylon Estate Workers’ Union, promised to give rice to the Indian coolies of the Mooloya Estate if they would strike. [44]

But, according to another version, given by Philip Gunawardena in the January 23, 1940 debate:

This was a spontaneous strike ... largely due to the harsh treatment meted out to the labourers by the Kangany [an overseer of plantation coolies] and some members of the staff. A spontaneous strike occurred on the 29th December. Representatives of the workers came to the office of the All-Ceylon Estate Workers’ Union on the morning of the 30th. Myself and the President of my Party, Dr. Colvin R. de Silva, happened to be present at the office of the All-Ceylon Estate Workers’ Union on the 3oth December. We asked the Secretary of our Union Comrade Veluchamy who has since been convicted of criminal trespass to go to the spot and if possible negotiate with the planter, Mr. Sparling, in order to settle the dispute on the spot.
But Mr. Sparling would have nothing to do with the officials of the All-Ceylon Estate Workers’ Union. Later this matter was reported to the headquarters of the Union in Kandy ... it was decided by the Union to raise the wages issue-if the planter was not willing to yield and negotiate ...

Another dispute arose at the same place over the dismissal of one Sevanathan. Apparently the workers refused to allow him to be transferred from the middle to the lower division of the plantation. Arguing with the version of the member for Nuwara Eliya, Mr. Gunawardena continued his grim story:

So they went on strike. What did Mr. Sparling do? He bundled the belongings of Sevanathan and his wife, put them into a lorry and took them out. Then Sevanathan and the workers met Veluchamy and the other official of the Union and asked the labourers of the upper and lower divisions, after raising the questions of increasing their wages by 16 cents, to go on strike.
It is a foul lie to say that any member of the Sama Samaja Party has asked them to attack other labourers or to attack anybody. I want to say very emphatically that there was no communal dispute in this matter. Sinhalese labourers went on strike with their brethren, the Indian labourers, and until an ex-police Inspector Buffoon came on the scene and encouraged communalism there was no question of race and nationality.
When the labourers went on strike Mr. Sparling with advice of the ex-Police Inspector thought he could starve back these people to work. It was only after the labourers had been on strike from the 29th December to 7th January the collections were made in different parts of the Island. Rice was distributed by the Estate Workers’ Union at Katugashena on the 7th January.
It was the most peaceful strike you can ever imagine; and I say deliberately that the shooting was a cold-blooded murder, that one Govindah was shot down dead and another man was run over purposely by one of the police cars. He is lying injured in the Deltota Hospital to-day. This man, whose name is Periosamy, tried to run away from the road, but the Police drove one of their cars over him and injured him. The late Govindan was not even a striker. He was coming down from the factory where he had been working that day. He was coming alone, he was not accompanied by a crowd; there was no crowd with arms; there was no unlawful assembly. This man was shot down in cold blood in order to terrorize the workers.
... before this, about 3 or 4 days earlier, an Inspector with 16 Constables had gone down to the lines and threatened the labourers saying “If you do not go back to work, we will shoot you.” Even after the shooting on the 12th morning - I have the written affidavits of the labourers - 3 Inspectors and two Constables had gone to the lines of the middle division and threatened to shoot the labourers.
That is the position, Sir, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party never incited anybody. There was a spontaneous strike, and we felt it our duty to go over there to aid all those who were helpless and who had gone on strike for a just cause.
Thirteen people have been charged for the deliberate purpose of preventing an inquiry in order to suppress evidence ... on Friday those 13 people were told that they were to be taken to another position of the estate area for vegetable gardening. They were taken bundled into a lorry, taken to Kandy and then charged. They were not even taken to Court; they were taken to the Magistrate’s house. That is how they were remanded.
A statement appeared in the Press that Govindan was an agitator ... if that statement had been made by a person who is not a Member of this House I would have no hesitation in calling it a foul lie ... [45]

On February 6, Dr. Perera gave a notice of the censure motion against the Minister for Home Affairs “for his failure to implement the decision of the House on the Mooloya incident, namely to take steps to have all criminal proceedings instituted in connection with this incident postponed.” [46] As a result of nationwide agitation, engineered by the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, the government was compelled to appoint a special commission of inquiry. Dr. Colvin R. de Silva, in his dual capacity as president of the party and as one of the most successful criminal attorneys in Colombo, “was able to make a very effective exposure of the combined role of the police and employers in the plantation raj of the white man” – as reported in the party’s History. [47]

The killing of Govindan dramatized the Mooloya incident and excited the country. Mass meetings were held all over the island, the main one being organized at the Galle Face Green with the participation of the non-Marxist ministers. The aging Leader of the House sent his resignation to the Governor over the insubordination of P.N. Banks, the Inspector-General of the Police; the latter was evidently backed by the Governor in his defiance of the elected Minister regarding the postponement of the criminal case. The Samasamajists immediately took advantage of the aggravated situation between the Ceylonese and British members of the administration. Philip Gunawardena introduced two revolutionary motions:

(1) That this Council whilst supporting the action of the Minister in resigning from office as a protest against the Governor’s attempt to take under his control the Police and other departments, calls upon the elected members of the State Council to resign their seats and urges the people immediately to prepare for a nation-wide direct mass struggle against British Imperialism for the abolition of the Governor’s Powers and for the attainment of complete National Independence.
(2) That this Council, whilst pointing out that the origination of the present crisis is the shooting by the Imperialist Police of the estate worker Govindan, emphasizes the leading role of the working class in the anti-imperialist struggle, and calls upon the working class to take the leadership in the oncoming direct struggle that is carried through to the victorious conclusion. [48]

The anarcho-syndicalist type of appeal for “direct action,” presumably through the means of general strikes, was much more than the conservative-minded leaders of the Ceylon National Congress were ready to accept. Sir Baron Jayatilaka soon withdrew his resignation, which gave the Trotskyites a chance to attack the “reactionary and cold-footed” ministers. The Sinhalese ministry reached a settlement with the Governor, who on his part agreed to submit the Inspector Banks’ case of insubordination to the Secretary of State for the Colonies in London. On the other hand, Dr. A.P. de Zoysa moved to censure the “Honourable Ministers for rashly tendering their resignation, and for acting in an irresponsible manner in relation to incidents directly or indirectly connected with the Mooloya incident. [49]

De Zoysa, multimillionaire representative of the residential Colombo South constituency, seemed to be completely unaware of the Trotskyite character of the LSSP, believing that Dr. Perera’s party was “prepared to condemn everybody but the Russians” – to which Perera for the first time officially replied “We have condemned Stalin.” [50] Apparently even the police authorities were still confused in February of 1940 as to the true character of the LSSP, because the Inspector-General complained about “the propaganda and advice handed out for months past by the Communist Party ... and by their creature the Estate Labour Federation of Kandy. They have consistently urged Tamil labourers on estates to strike and to defy the Police in order to obtain their demands.” Dr. Perera promptly answered that “There is no Communist Party in Ceylon.” Strictly speaking, his denial was correct at the time the statement was made, on February 22, 1940. [51]

Capitalizing on national emotion, Perera stressed in the Council on March 14, 1940, that in addition to the obvious culprit, the Inspector-General the Governor himself should be blamed as well for complicity in terrorizing and intimidating the up-country plantation workers:

It is airight when you have labour disputes down South-in the factories here at the Wellawatta Mills-it does not matter. But it is a vital matter for Imperial interests to suppress trouble in the Up-country areas ... Mr. Banks ... has already issued an order that if there is any dispute Up-country the Police must immediately go there and support the planters ... at every step Mr. Banks has been in consultation with the Governor in this Mooloya incident. On the ioth January when this man was shot I myself wanted to phone up Mr. Banks and inquire about the position. For hours I could not get at him ... He was with. the Governor ... That is very significant. At every step His Excellency was consulted by Banks and they were fully informed of every step that had been taken in this particular case from the day of the shooting up to the latest date ... In those circumstances can you excuse the Governor, can you absolve him of all blame?
Far from that, I say it was in their interests, in this particular case, to safeguard the Imperial interests; it was necessary for them to terrorize the estate workers; it was as they said to teach them a lesson so that they would not strike again. I know that it had some effect that in the Up-country areas some of the labourers have been frightened by the shooting. I will not deny that. And you find since then, letters appearing daily in the Times saying: “Take action against the LSSP. Put down with a strong hand all labour agitation.” [52]

Deploring the side-tracking of the issue by the retracting ministers, who were not bold enough to condemn the Governor, Dr. Perera stated:

Unfortunately we have been misled; we trusted too much; we were too gentlemanly in this matter ... I was prepared to support the Ministers on the condition that they were going to fight the cause of the people ... We are prepared to be behind them in their fight against the Imperialist. They have let us down. [53 ?]

This seemed to be the last time that the Trotskyites showed any readiness to cooperate with the Congress leaders in a sort of national front. From this moment on, they decided to step up their revolutionary activities among plantation workers and thus were bound to come to a final clash with the native plantocracy and the British rulers. After Mooloya, the strike-wave spread towards the feudalistic Uva Province, and, according to Goonewardene:

the raj of the white planters was beginning to crack ... with the workers showing increasing militancy and determination. The strikes became more prolonged (the strike on St. Andrew’s Estate, Talawalelle, continued for months), more basic demands such as wage demands were increasingly raised, and the workers began more and more to seek the militant leadership of the Samasamajists.

>When the strike wave reached Uva Province, the Samasamajists were in leadership. In a desperate effort to stem the tide, the Badulla Magistrate issued an order banning the holding of the meetings. On a decision by the party N.M. Perera broke the ban and addressed a mammoth meeting in Badulle on May 12th. The Police were powerless to act. Willie Jayatilleke, Edmund Samarakkody and V. Sittampalam did invaluable work in the struggle in Uva. [54]

The high point in that wave of strikes was reached on the Wewessa Estate; the workers there elected their own council and the accommodating superintendent of the estate agreed to act in consultation with the workers’ council. That precedent was bound to alarm planters and officialdom alike. According to the party version: “An armed police party that went to restore ‘law and order’ was disarmed by the workers, and on the orders of the workers’ council the rifles were returned to the policemen on their furnishing a signed receipt.” Only when the North-East monsoon floods cut off the remote Uva Province from the rest of the country for more than a week did the police manage to liquidate the strike by “a literal armed invasion ... followed by a rule of terror which compelled scores of workers to seek refuge in the jungle for several days.” [55]

The Samasamajists hit hard indeed, causing particular anxiety on the part of the British planters. The best account of the other side’s reaction came in the form of a lengthy appeal to the Right Honourable Lord Lloyd, His Majesty’s Secretary of State for the Colonies, sent by the “Comrades of the Great War” and their supporters; they had assembled in Kandy on June 4, 1940, worried by “the complete loosening of the reins of Government ... and the laissez-faire attitude of those in authority for the past three years.” According to the disgusted planters, the government “has allowed the Communist Party [sic] in Ceylon to stir up strife and disaffection among His Majesty’s previously contented subjects until the labour unrest which commenced in April 1939 has, since the commencement of hostilities, reached a critical and alarming stage.” [56]

That passionate warning on the part of the World War I veterans was followed by a long list of incidents beginning with

  1. The January 1940 Mooloya Estate crisis, followed by
  2. April – Seven hundred excited rioting labourers, armed with clubs and sticks, surrounded the bungalow of a married Superintendent on Ramboda Estate. The Superintendent was stoned ...
  3. April – on Vallai Oya Group, the labourers rioted and injured an estate conductor.
  4. May – strife occurred between two lots of labourers on Naseby Estate. Five of the injured were admitted into a Hospital.
  5. May – there was serious trouble on Needwood Estate and the Police were attacked, one being seriously injured and the other less seriously.
  6. May – in a riot on Weywellaena Estate a large number were injured, as many as forty being removed to a hospital.
  7. May – the Kangany on Mola Radella Estate was injured and removed to the hospital.
  8. May – the Police were assaulted by armed labourers on Wewessa Estate and the Superintendent was asked to leave the Estate as the Police would not be responsible for his safety or that of his wife.
  9. May – the Superintendent of St. Andrew’s Estate was assaulted by labourers and both his arms were injured-one arm being fractured.

From the above instances, the petitioners drew the logical conclusion that the aggravating situation in Ceylon might lead towards “bloodshed and rioting ... with undoubted repercussions of the utmost seriousness in India.” [57]

In view of the critical war-situation, a major crisis for the LSSP was approaching. After all, with the invasion of Norway and Hitler’s attack on the Western European countries, Britain, with all her dominions and colonies, found herself in the spring of 1940 on the front line and she could hardly tolerate open revolutionists on the strategic island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Patience was bound to be exhausted at some critical moment. The Samasamajists were evidently aware of the forthcoming danger. Already in September of 1939, Philip Gunawardena spoke against the internal security scheme, allegedly drawn by Sir Herbert Dowbiggin, “the hero of the shootings of 1915.” The uncompromising member for Avissavella was particularly concerned about Chapter VIII of the Defence Scheme:

I must state, that in the interest of this Island it is necessary to warn the people before the time comes. It will be too late to do so when His Excellency, the officers of State, and the Military officers take the entire control of this Government into their hands and ask the Ministers after kicking them in their pants, to go home ... [58]

Dr. Perera raised the same constitutional issue in a more analytical manner. On October 31, 1939, he claimed that “those Regulations cited as Defence (Miscellaneous) Regulations ... have put a tremendous amount of power into the hands of Police officers ... thus nullifying any civil liberties that we may have enjoyed so far, and all under this pretence of a so-called emergency.” [59]

Revolutionary activity among the plantation workers was linked with increasing political agitation against the British war effort, with some dangerous meddling in the defense matters of the Commonwealth in South Asia. Even in late 1939, the LSSP State Councillors were still claiming that in spite of the war in Europe, normal times were prevailing in Ceylon.

We are not actually in the war zone. Although general power under the Emergency order in Council has been granted to His Excellency the Governor, when he agreed to utilize the normal machinery we understood that unless there was an immediate enemy attack, or the threat of an attack, the normal machinery would be utilized and therefore the normal procedure would be followed.

Contrary to these expectations, Section 18 of Part III of the Regulations dealing with public order and safety extended the jurisdiction of the police into the field called “Misleading acts and misrepresentations.” As argued somewhat pro domo sua by N.M. Perera:

It is not necessary for the person actually prosecuting to prove that an offence has been committed. It is sufficient if an attempt has been made to commit the offence or if it is supposed to have been attempted ... According to section 19 (1) (b), if anybody in this country, who apparently is a pacifist, were to have in possession a book which pleads for peace, which pleads against war, he will be liable to be punished ... which means that no person shall endeavour, whether orally or otherwise, to influence public opinion.
I think a large number of Members of this Council have books which are considered as progressive books ... there are a large number of such books in the Library of the State Council.
We have no privileges in this House. We are liable for every word ... and this section is so worded that strictly speaking no person, at the present moment, is safe in this island. [60]

Granted that there was a lot of exaggeration in Dr. Perera’s apprehension, it must be admitted that the civil liberties which the average British citizen was allowed to enjoy in the United Kingdom, even during the war, were denied to the colonial subjects. This was pointed out by Philip Gunawardena:

These Regulations completely abrogate the Donoughmore Constitution ... The electors of this country, the people who sent Honourable Members to this House, will not be satisfied when Police officers enter their homes and search people and arrest them ... They wanted at least the powers they enjoyed under the Donoughmore Constitution to be safeguarded.

Though never enthusiastic supporters of the 1931 Constitution, the Samasamajists tried to take shelter in the civil liberties secured by it and claimed that the war situation did not warrant any emergency police regulations in the island:

Sir, the theatre of war has not yet moved to the waters of Ceylon. I do not think that even for the sake of the efficient prosecution of the war in which we are not concerned, even for the efficient prosecution of a war for Imperialist ambitions, for the selfish purposes of Great Britain, we are ready to give up the liberties we enjoy ... in order to enable exploiters, the Imperialist Powers, to prosecute a war for their own selfish aims although some elected Members, because they are afraid to face a court-martial, are ready to give up power the people of this island are not willing to give up the civil liberties they enjoy. [61]

Twelve members of the State Council rose in support of the LSSP motion for adjournment, indicating that the Trotskyists were making some headway in their anti-British agitation in Ceylon’s Parliament. Next to come under Samasamajist attack was the sensitive issue of British intelligence service on the island, personified by the new Information Officer, who was to be paid from the Ceylonese budget. In a speech on December 12, 1939, Perera openly attacked the war measures taken on the island by the British authorities;

this Information Officer ... is an Intelligence ... Officer for the Information Officer in England ... That is, they are getting information which they want from Ceylon at our expense instead of going through the trouble of paying some agents for getting that information ... it is for Honourable Members to decide whether under those circumstances we ought to pay any money for this purpose. This seems to be utterly ridiculous on the very face of it.
Then there is this Command Intelligence Service ... It is an intelligence service for the Naval and Military units ... at the expense of the Ceylonese taxpayer.
There are a large number of daughters and wives of well paid officials in Ceylon who are placed in this Intelligence Service Office and who are doing work and are paid. I know it as a fact that the Naval Office in particular employs a large number of women who are doing this work. Anyhow why should we pay for this service?

After questioning the wisdom of the expenditure of Rs. 24,000 for intelligence services, performed to some extent by high-society ladies, Perera claimed that the so-called economic warfare measures hit Ceylon harder than Great Britain:

I think the Honourable Chief Secretary made a mistake when he said that censorship was merely economic warfare. I think that censorship is spying to get political information. But the economic war comes into the control of imports and exports. I am credibly informed that even articles which are not prohibited for export in England are prohibited here, and imports not prohibited in England are prohibited here. There is a greater rigidity in the control of exports and imports here than in England. [62]

Dr. Perera rightly linked obvious intelligence activities with economic warfare, since in Great Britain the former were during the war under the supervision of the Ministry of Economic Warfare. Professor Hugh Dalton of the Labour Party and later Lord Selbourne of the Conservative Party, were the Cabinet members responsible for intelligence operations, including sabotage and diversion behind the enemy lines. The Ceylonese were particularly annoyed by the fact that the profitable plumbago export was prohibited and that an increased duty was imposed on unmanufactured tobacco. Taking advantage of xenophobic feelings among some of the Ceylonese military personnel, Perera unleashed his rare demagogy against the British command on the island:

I have not yet met a single Ceylonese Military Officer who is not thoroughly disgusted with the discriminatory treatment meted out in the Army. I am making the statement quite boldly. Ask the Honourable Major [Kotelawala] how many of them were carrying the bags and baggage of European Military officers at Trincomalee. They are doing the work of the porters for the Europeans. There is one thing I am glad about – there will be an increase in the ranks of the Sama Samaja Party. All the Military officers who are thoroughly disgusted will come and join us ...
Why should we pay for what is necessary for the Imperial Government to enable the Empire to maintain us in subjugation? Let the ... Imperial Government pay for it.
I do think that honourable Members should at least try and safeguard their own self respect in the matter. If the Imperial Government wants to impose anything let them do so; and then the people will realize how we are being treated, and how our wishes are being considered. We are merely “natives”. “Why should we bother about these people? They are prepared to accept our kicks.” That is the mentality of the people who represent the British Empire, and the sooner we convince our people that that is the mentality of the British Imperialist, the sooner will they realize that they are being kept down, the sooner will they rise and demand their freedom. The treatment that is being meted out to India is a clear indication of the attitude of the Imperialist authorities and no doubt, ere long, the situation will arise when we can ask for our freedom. [63]

Attacking the establishment of the new Royal Air Force base, Dr. Perera complained that whenever the Samasamajists asked for a dispensary or a new school they were told by the Board of Ministers that there was no money during the war period. He contrasted this with their eagerness to spend for defense installations:

I am surprised that the Board of Ministers never seems to lack any money when it is a question of providing funds for military purposes. I could understand their readiness to provide funds if this vote was for the purpose of advancing civil aviation, but when money is required for a military aerodrome, I cannot understand why the Board of Ministers cannot insist on the Imperial authorities providing it. Even the planters say that this is an Imperialist war, waged for the defence of the Empire, and that therefore the Imperial authorities should be prepared to meet the increased rates of pay demanded by the European members of the Ceylon Defence Force, but here we are asked to pay for the cost of aerodromes for the Royal Air Force. There must be some method in this madness. [64]

N.M. Perera was wrong more than once in his military predictions. For instance, on February 20, 1940, while opposing the Rs. 98,7000 Supplementary Estimate for Air Defence Communications, and speaking on the basis of his personal investigation on the spot of the actual R.A.F. installations in Ceylon, he expressed his opinion about the improbability of an air attack in the future. And it was that very first and only air raid of the Japanese Air Force on Colombo which enabled the Doctor and his associates to escape from prison in April 1940. After all, even the high Marxist brahmins cannot always correctly determine historical events:

I do think we saw how money is wasted by the Air Defence people and this Estimate shows how they are wasting it. Judging purely from what I saw this morning I feel that this is unnecessary ... This morning the officer commanding informed us that there was a possibility of a so-called air attack ... We really need not bother about expanding this sum for this extremely remote possibility of an air attack. [65]

This obsession with air-force matters led Dr. Perera into open abuse of the British war effort. His sarcastic defeatism could not be tolerated for long. On May 17, only a few days after the German invasion of the Low Countries and Eastern France, he interpolated the following in connection with the provision of funds for an air-force base in Ceylon:

Might I first ask the question, whether the Honourable the Chief Secretary is very serious, because the latest information is that they [the British] have practically capitulated? I do not know whether this is necessary. By the time they get ready, the war will be over; and there is nothing to provide for. Secondly might I know whether the Royal Air Force is now retreating to the East because they make it their practice or their habit to retreat according to plan?
I say it is criminal folly on our own part even to pass one red cent for Imperialism purposes, for the purpose of keeping us in subjection. [66]

Implied in such an inflammatory argument was the consideration of possible Nazi victory and thus an eventual recognition of Hitler’s Germany as a temporary ally of the revolutionists among Asian subjects of Great Britain. Evidently in spite of all his London training and faultless command of the King’s English, Dr. Perera was unable to comprehend the basic character traits of the British and rejoiced much too early in their defeat. After all, the London Cockneys were soon to demonstrate an admirable stamina in the face of the greatest national danger during the epoch-making Battle of Britain. The last thing the English were ever able to accept from any foreigners was mockery, such as that expressed by the contemptuous Philip Gunawardena:

what the Britishers need is not money; it is courage. They lack it ... The British are a declining and decadent race ... We say that it is a conspicuous waste of money to build an aerodrome at this place particularly for the R.A.F. when the British are running away and retreating.
In view of ... the police terrorism, the beating up of workers on estates and charging them, bringing them on false chargesit is criminal folly ... on the part of the representatives of the people of this country, to vote a single cent, because the R.A.F is not going to be used for fighting the enemy of this country but for bombing helpless men, women and children in this country. [67]

Recalling a recent assault on Dr. Perera, Philip Gunawardena almost pledged to fight a sort of private war of independence against Britain, although not in an overt alliance with the Nazis:

I wonder Sir, whether these people when they bribed and hired hooligans to stab the honourable Member for Ruanwella, paid “red cents” or white cents.
This is the reason why we, at least members of my Party have persistently refused to grant any votes for war expenditure; and we are going to maintain that position.
Sir, the position we take is that although Britain is engaged in a war, although we are not supporting the enemies of Great Britain, we have not stopped to drive the Imperialists out of this country ... The fight must continue, and any expenditure that is likely to prevent the struggle of the people of this country for freedom will be opposed by us. [68]

Only the two lonely voices of the Samasamajists were registered against a supplementary estimate for Rs. 100,000 to meet the cost of acquisition of the forty-four acres needed for the new allied air base at Katunayake near Negombo, a major strategic installation in South Asia. Gunawardena’s aggressive argumentation had managed to antagonize even the regular supporters of the LSSP.

To be fully effective anti-imperialist preaching had to reach the people through some mass media. Revolutionary pamphlets in Tamil, Sinhalese, and English were distributed in the spring of 1940 throughout the island, spreading the following slogans:

(a) If all unite together and strike with help of the Union the cruel and exploiting planters will feel stifled;
(b) The strike started by the estate labourers against the white planters is the most powerful fight today against the Imperialist System;
(c) 0 Comrades, if we fight united and unfurl the red flag all the exploitation will cease today;
(d) It is revolutions that are wanted in order to secure freedom;
(e) The real war the British are fighting now is in Ceylon. For them the remaining theatre of war with any chances of success is the plantations against the unarmed plantation workers;
(f) Workers of the world unite! Down with police cruelty! May revolution spread!
(g) We should not support in any way this mastery over colonial people. Rather we should seek to overthrow this system and work for the day of our freedom that must arise from the downfalls of the contending forces. .
Don’t support the Imperialist war.

The pamphlets ended with a quotation from the English poet Shelley, the last words of the verse being underlined in black – “forge arms – in your defence to bear!

The chairman of the special committee appointed by the meeting of British World War I veterans held in Kandy on June 14, 1940 quoted as typical, the seditious propaganda published in the Sinhalese and Tamil languages:

(a) John Bull (England) who is under the strong grip of war is unable to extricate himself and is strangled.
(b) Just as the Russian labourers did the Imperial War should be converted into a [sic] internal war and we should array ourselves to fight for freedom.
(c) The day has approached when your uncontrollable thirst for freedom should gush out from your strong heart, your eyes should redden with rage, you should beat the wardrum ... for the fight.
(d) Boycott English goods. Effect general strikes, bring deadlock in Council ... With such awful weapons, we will make the Empire choke and bring it to a stand-still.
Down with War!
Let the Empire die-off! [69]

Naturally British planters in Ceylon were becoming somewhat frightened; they feared that the revolutionary wave might soon be beyond control. They decided to pressure Whitehall into taking action to ensure that the Marxist leaders were suppressed before they did any more damage to the British war efforts in Ceylon. While the examples of sedition mentioned are difficult to check, and were, no doubt, partly exaggerated by the petitioners, in substance it was true that the Samasamajists were vigorously attacking all the symbols of the British Raj. The “Comrades of the Great War” complained in their petition:

The Hammer and Sickle Flag has openly been flown in Colombo and to make the insult more galling it was flown near the foot of the Victory Column – our largest War Memorial. My Lord, it was not so that this flag should be allowed to fly in Ceylon that those of us who are comrades fought.
On the day of the National Prayers the walls of the town of Moratuwa were plastered with posters saying – “Down with the British! Don’t pray for the Allied forces!”
In one instance the poster was exhibited on a Church. On the day on which the flags were sold for the Gloucester Fund, Communist Literature containing such remarks as “to Hell with the Gloucester Fund” were distributed freely in the streets of Colombo by women in red shirts.
“White dogs” has become the regular expression used by some of the agitators when referring to planters and the police are frequently referred to as “dogs”.

In the concluding part of the petition British ex-servicemen appealed to Field Marshal Birdwood that in 1940, owing to the current restive state of mind in the island, it became “practically impossible to allow any loyal men to proceed overseas,” in contrast to Ceylon’s effort in World War I. They also indicated that the vacillating Sinhalese Board of Ministers should be replaced by a firm wartime government:

We all anticipate that unless we have in the very near future a strong Government which will take strong action to prevent this canker of unbridled sedition from spreading, we shall soon have bloodshed and rioting throughout this Island.
In view of the foregoing facts we would respectfully request you to use your powers, with the least possible delay to prevent what was and still is at the heart a peaceloving and intensely loyal population from becoming, owing to slack Government and unbridled seditious leadership, enemies of our Empire. My Lord, we think that we all, and especially those of us who are Comrades have the right to make this request ... [70]

This alarming memorial was sent to Lord Birdwood through a trusted British planter who left for London to hand it without delay to the Secretary of State for Colonies. It is quite possible that this particular memorial, in addition to the regular security information provided by official channels, may have influenced Whitehall’s decision to liquidate the Marxist opposition.

The Samasamajist leaders seemed, by this time, to have been fully aware that their revolutionary propaganda might soon exhaust British patience. In anticipation of the party’s ban and the possible arrest of its leadership, the cover organization party was called into being with Reggie Senanayake and Doric de Sousa in charge. And the last Trotskyite utterances in the second State Council dealt with the protection of civil rights under the emergency law marked by the rigidity of the prison rules. Dr. Perera moved on May 30, 1940, that “this Council expresses its strong disapproval of the action of the Home Committee in opposing the regulations under the Emergency Powers Order in Council, regulations which purport to destroy the most elementary rights of the people, the liberty of person, of speech, and of meeting.” Since these strict regulations were not yet officially published, Dr. Perera felt it necessary to explain his defense of democratic parliamentary procedures:

My reason for introducing this motion was to prevent a fait accompli, because the House will not have an opportunity of expressing its opinion before the Governor ratifies the regulations. I want the Honourable Minister of Home Affairs to make a statement since an item of news which has appeared in the Press has caused a certain amount of disquiet in the country.
These regulations have been passed by the Executive Committee. The difficulty is this, these regulations, unlike normal regulations, will never come before this House. They will automatically become law once they are published in the Gazette, and we will never get a chance of considering these regulations ... It is certainly a peculiar procedure that has been adopted ... [71]

Philip Gunawardena demanded the right “to express an opinion before the Home Minister commits this House to these regulations,” [72] but the two Samasamajists had no more chance to comment on this important constitutional matter. They were arrested on June 18, 1940, together with their comrade Dr. Colvin R. de Silva. The young Edmund Samarakkoddy, wealthy but ultraradical organizer of labor unrest, was detained the following day. Apparently the Lanka Sama Samaja Party proved to be a definite menace to the war effort, particularly with its new militancy among the restive plantation workers. With the fall of Paris on June 13, and the capitulation of France on June 17, the new Prime Minister of the British coalition, the indomitable Winston Churchill, had to mobilize all the resources of the Empire to continue the lonely fight against Hitler and Mussolini. Without exaggerating the importance of Ceylon, anyone would have to admit that the island was strategically of great importance in maintaining the southern route from the British Isles through the Suez Canal to the ports of the Bay of Bengal, to Singapore, Hongkong, Australia, and New Zealand. British authorities could no longer tolerate the Trotskyite irridenta and one could almost visualize Churchill’s irritation with the growing unrest. “No more nonsense” instructions were sent to those responsible for further conduct of the war in the Indian Ocean. Britain was just about to face the most crucial moment of its struggle for national survival; there was not much time left for any leniency. In anticipation of militarist Japan joining the Axis camp, the defense of Ceylon had to be put on a wartime basis, with immediate elimination of subversive trouble-makers. Thus, on June 18, 1940, Governor Sir Andrew Caldecott addressed the following communication to the Speaker of the State Council:

Sir, I have the honour to inform you that I have found it necessary under Regulation 1 (i) of the Defence (Miscellaneous No. ) Regulations directing that the following members of the State Council be detained:
Mr. Don Philip Hupasinghe Gunawardena
Dr. Nanayakkara Pathirage Martin Perera
I have, etc.
Governor [73]

Leslie S. Goonewardene was the fifth Trotskyite leader who was to be imprisoned at the same time, but “on prior instructions of the party,” he managed to evade arrest and went underground. The clerk of the State Council received information from the two Council Members that together with the other two comrades they had been detained in the Welikada Jail in Colombo. [74] As Minister of Home Affairs Sir Baron Jayatilaka submitted an explanatory statement:

the detention orders were made by His Excellency in virtue of certain Defence Regulations dated the rd June, 1940, the actual regulation under which the order was made reads as follows:
“1 (i) If the Governor has reasonable cause to believe any person to be of hostile origin or associations or to have been recently concerned in acts prejudicial to the public safety or the defence of the Island or in the preparation or instigation of such acts and that by reason thereof it is necessary to exercise control over him he may make an order against that person directing that he be detained.”
His Excellency consulted me as Minister for Home Affairs in regard to these regulations. I consulted the Executive Committee for Home Affairs which by a majority advised His Excellency to make these regulations in the form in which they have been promulgated.
On the 17th the Inspector-General of Police placed before me certain information and recommended that detention orders should be made against certain persons including the two Members of this Council. He based his recommendation in part on acts committed subsequent to the promulgation of the regulations.
On the same day the Chief Secretary who had received information from a different source, made a similar recommendation to His Excellency, thereupon at His Excellency’s request, the Chief Secretary and myself saw His Excellency and discussed the matter with him. Both the Chief Secretary and I concurred in the making of the orders which His Excellency made.
The persons detained have a right to object both to His Excellency and to the Advisory Committee. They have been informed of the right and His Excellency after consultation with me has appointed a Committee. [75]

While Sir Baron failed to indicate either the sources or the character of that “certain information” it must have been of a nature serious enough from the viewpoint of island defense to convince that aging but still alert and patriotic leader to cooperate with the security-police authorities against his fellow-members of the Ceylonese Parliament.

Far from being terrified, the Samasamajists immediately organized a counter mass-demonstration in Colombo. The protest meeting against the arrest of the party leaders, held despite a police ban, was broken up by the police. Jack C.T. Kotelawala, the defiant party secretary, managed to deliver the following speech:

Comrades: We are assembled here to protest against the arrest of our leaders. They have been put in jail without charge or trial, but everybody knows what they are guilty of. They have consistently fought in the struggle of the workers against capitalist oppression and exploitation. They have pointed out to the masses of Ceylon that the causes of their oppression and sufferings lies in British Imperialism. They have pointed out that the sufferings and oppression of the masses can only end with the downfall of the capitalist system and the establishment of Socialism.
The British are today fighting an Imperialist War against Germany for the right to exploit colonies like India and Ceylon. The British attempt to disguise this fact and pretend to fighting in defence of democracy and freedom. But the real facts are quite different; the German Imperialists have overrun Poland, Norway, Belgium, Holland and France and the British are in dire straits. They can only continue the war by increasing their exploitation and oppression of the colonies to pay for it. Far from defending democracy in the colonies the British are destroying every civil and political right of the Ceylonese masses. In the estates particularly the Imperialist police are attempting to smash up the legitimate organizations of the workers. It is for defending the workers’ rights in Ceylon from Imperialist oppressors and capitalist exploiters that our leaders have been jailed.
But Comrades, the arrest of our leaders is a sign of the weakening of British Imperialism. The death-struggle of the Imperialists, German and British, weakens them both. Be assured that in the end they will be defeated by the working classes of the world, through the Socialist Revolution. Our leaders are today in jail. But we must fight harder for that making every sacrifice for the cause of Socialism.
Down with Imperialism!
Long live the Revolution!
Long live the Lanka Sama Samaja Party! [76]

Leon Trotsky would have been proud to hear Kotelawala’s oratory in face of the charging mounted police, who finally broke up the demonstration but not the anti-imperialist spirit of the persecuted party membership and its followers.

Eleven people, including Selina Perera, Reggie Perera, and Boyd Wickremasinghe, were arrested and charged in connection with this mass meeting. D.M. Rajapakse, the State Council’s member for Hambantota, brought the matter to the attention of the House on June 27, 1940, with two bold motions, seconded by B.H. Aluwihare:

(1) That this Council is of the opinion that the conditions of internment of political prisoners should be made less cruel and more pleasant.
(2) That this Council calls upon the Government to enquire into the brutal and illegal conduct of the Police at Price Park and Galle Face on Sunday, June 23, 1940, in assaulting men, women, and children at two public meetings without banning the said meetings. [77]

The LSSP press was sealed by the police simultaneously with the detention of the Trotskyite leadership; regulations were promulgated which made open party work almost impossible. But a legal Sinhalese weekly, Kamkaruwa, and the irregular English paper Straight Left, were published until late November 1941, when they were banned by Admiral Layton, the new Allied High Commander in Ceylon.

The cover organization of the party enabled Leslie Goonewardene for a period of fifteen months to write an heroic chapter in the clandestine struggle against British imperialism. Despite a prize offered for his capture, all the police efforts to arrest this conspicuously good-looking and wellknown politician proved unsuccessful until he left for India late in 1941. According to the party’s official Short History, its activities were continued under duress:

The party press was sealed and guarded. But the Samasamajaya, printed at the secret party press and produced at first on a two-page sheet, began to appear. The Tamil and English illegal sheets also appeared at irregular intervals. Illegal leaflets too were distributed.
The reorganisation of the party in a manner suitable to the new, illegal conditions went forward. Special mention should be made of the indefatigable work under the most trying conditions of Henry Peiris who was the editor of Samasamajaya during the entire illegal period. On April 20th, 1941 a secret conference, attended by 42 delegates was held. Leslie Goonewardene, who was in hiding, also attended this conference, at which the new programme and constitution were adopted. The party actively participated in the strike wave of the urban workers which commenced in May 1941, and affected the workers of the Colombo Harbour, Granaries, Wellawatta Mills, Gas Company, Colombo Municipality and Fort Mount Lavinia bus routes. [78]

The revolutionary program adopted by the LSSP at that April meeting started with a deterministic analysis, tracing the island’s development under the British since a modern administrative system was first introduced in the 183os. The document is worth quoting, since it was the first fully Trotskyite party platform in Asia and the last “manifesto” before the party was completely disbanded in March 1942:

The British completed in 1815 the conquest of Ceylon which they had begun in 1795. By 1834 they built up a modern administrative system which cleared the way for the systematic capitalist development of the country.
The first introduction of capitalism to Ceylon was through the opening of coffee plantations by British capital. This process of the development of the country by means of British capital investment and the exploitation of immigrant labor has continued steadily to the present day. The birth of capitalism was signalized to the people, in its stark reality in the ruthless expropriation and decimation of tens of thousands of the peasantry in the Kandyan districts to make room for plantations. The same process was to be repeated in large areas of both the up-country and the low-country with the opening of tea plantations in the late i9th century and of rubber and coconut plantations in the 20th century.
In 1848 upon the heels of the economic crisis in Europe and the resulting coffee crash, there occurred a peasant revolt throughout the Kandyan districts. The movement represented the reaction of the peasantry to their ruthless expropriation the exportation of plantation products created in Ceylon the main characteristic of capitalist society-the modern division of capitalist class and working class-and tied the destinies of our toilers to the whole system of world capitalism.

The New Class

In Ceylon the proletariat has had as its beginning the thousands of expropriated peasants of India brought into the plantations. Side by side with them grew in numbers the expropriated peasantry who flocked into the towns to form the urban proletariat.
But in virtue of their overwhelming numbers, their complete class differentiation, their ruthless and direct exploitation by imperialism the plantation workers constitute the vanguard of the revolutionary proletariat which is destined to be the emancipator of all our toiling masses.
A stunted national bourgeoisie has come belatedly on the scene to take part in the capitalist exploitation of the working class. But the ownership of the means of production has been and still is in the hands of British capital. Consequently the working class in Ceylon has developed out of all proportion to the relative growth of the native bourgeoisie.
The Ceylonese bourgeoisie had its origin in the primitive accumulation of capital firstly through government service of salaries and prerequisites and contracts and next through the forming of Arrack and Toddy rents. At the beginning of this century, through the export of plumbago and later of coconuts and rubber, the Ceylonese bourgeoisie grew in dimensions as a class. Their planting interests are represented by the Low Country Products Association while the Merchants Chamber represents the more recently developed commercial and trading interests.
Nevertheless, the almost complete absence of manufacturing interests and the subsidiary role that the Ceylonese capitalist class plays in the economy of the country doomed it to subservience to British imperialists.
It is not possible to serve imperialists and advance the interests of the toiling masses, because imperialism, itself subject to the iron law of the capitalist process, can survive only by the bloody and ruthless oppression of the toiling masses ... Thus the native bourgeoisie can now play a counter-revolutionary role in the national struggle against imperialism. The development of events since iggi when the Donoughmore Constitution had been introduced, amply demonstrates this fact. Indeed the increase in political consciousness of the masses consequent of the exercise of the adult franchise and general deterioration of economic conditions has only served to make the native bourgeoisie increasingly conscious of its counter-revolutionary role.

The Struggle Against Imperialism

The first and foremost task facing the toiling masses in Ceylon is the overthrow of British imperialism. With the entry of the anti-imperialist struggle to the openly revolutionary struggle the native bourgeoisie will completely side with the imperialists. Neither the urban petty bourgeoisie nor the petty bourgeoisie intelligentsia, because of their position of dependence on the capitalist class, can play an independent role in the revolution. Yet because there is no prospect whatsoever of improving their conditions under imperialism but on the contrary they are actually faced with actual decline and pauperization, they are forced on the revolutionary road.
Although the Ceylon economy is mainly agricultural, the Ceylon peasantry is not subject to the usual form of tenure prevailing under landlordism. The bulk of the peasantry are still proprietors although of uneconomic holdings. The fragmentation of holdings, and the joint ownership of fragmented holdings, the heavy load of peasant indebtedness, the absence of credit and market facilities, and the heavy indirect taxation of necessities, all continue to drive the peasant into a chronic state of degradation and misery. At the same time the number of landless peasants has increased and is increasing even more rapidly. By reason of the fact that these landless peasants and even sections of the small peasant proprietors do part time work in the plantations, they constitute a link between the working class and the peasantry. For those reasons and because of the contemporary high literacy of the already noticeable growth of political consciousness among them the peasantry will play an important role. Nevertheless because of their isolation, lack of cohesion, political backwardness, and because of the veiled nature of their exploitation by imperialism, the peasantry cannot play an independent revolutionary role.
The only class capable of leading the struggle against imperialists to a successful conclusion is the working class. The concentration and discipline induced by its very place in the capitalist economy, its numerical strength, the sharpness of the class antagonism which daily brings it into direct conflict with the imperialists who are the biggest capitalists in Ceylon, its organization and experience of struggle, and the vital position it occupies in the economy of the country, as well as its steadily worsening conditions under imperialists, combine to make the working class the natural and inevitable organizer and leader of the toiling masses for the overthrow of imperialism.
In India today the bourgeoisie is either openly with the imperialists or is engaged in utilizing the growing antiimperialist mass tide for striking a deal with British imperialism while simultaneously diverting the mass movement into innocuous channels. The revolutionary foreground is already occupied by the proletariat, which is the only class capable of leading the peasant majority against imperialism, landlordism and the Native Princes. This opens to the Indian workers the prospect of capturing power before this takes place in the advanced countries of the world. The Indian revolution to be victorious must result in the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
In Ceylon the social task of the bourgeois democratic revolution, namely the liquidation of landlordism and other feudal forms have already been accomplished in the low-country through the impact of repeated foreign invasions and in the upcountry by the British to meet the needs of the plantation development on capitalist lines. Consequently, the development of the struggle against imperialism leads directly to the proletarian revolution.
But this does not mean that the seizure of power by the workers in Ceylon can take place only after the proletarian revolution has occurred in the advanced countries of the world. Since the revolution in Ceylon is dependent on and is indeed an integral part of the Indian revolution, the prospect of proletarian revolution, before that can take place in more advanced countries, arises for Ceylon as much as for India. (italics added)
For this purpose the working class must win the support particularly of the peasantry with whom links exist already in the landless peasants and the small peasant proprietors working on capitalist estates. The proletariat can win for itself the support of the peasants by the slogan of “land to the landless” and establish with this support the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The dictatorship of the proletariat neither in India nor in Ceylon, however, can maintain itself permanently against imperialist reaction, without the support of the international proletariat. Nor can the proletariat of either country, isolated from the world proletariat, solve the economic problems of the country. Only with the support of the international proletariat through world revolution can the dictatorship of the proletariat be finally established, and the victory of the socialist revolution be completed. [79]

Two important aspects of that Trotskyite program should be emphasized, namely the long Marxist-Leninist road that the Lanka Sama Samaja Party took toward a revolutionary international platform since its first manifesto of December 1935, and the definite linking of Ceylon’s revolutionary plans with those of India, the latter being the result of the LSSP leaders’ major decision to work in the immediate future in a broader South-Asian framework. These two trends closely reflect Trotsky’s guide-line in his Open Letter to the Workers of India. [80]

Indeed, in spite of the repressions, the Samasamajists continued their revolutionary activities, and can thus be considered the only active resistance movement against the British in Ceylon. That role gradually gained them substantial sympathy among the young Ceylonese intelligentsia. To a large extent, this was due to the unique and pioneering role played by the Trotskyites in that bold struggle for their country’s full independence.

Even some conservative-minded and pro-British Council members must have admired the courage of the Trotskyites. When the liberal Kandyan George E. de Silva demanded late in 1941 the release of the Samasamajists, the resolution was defeated by only one vote. [81] Leslie Goonewardene was able to get his comrades out of jail for secret underground meetings with the envoys of the American Trotskyites. The latter were actively supporting the LSSP throughout the war with literature and some money delivered by sailors from the maritime branch of the Socialist Workers’ Party, who served with the merchant navy and were used to contacting their comrades in distant ports. [82]

On April 20, 1941 an important secret conference was held to adopt a new revolutionary program in line with Fourth International strategy. The meeting was attended by as many as forty-two delegates, including those in hiding, such as Leslie Goonewardene. [83] Actually, the first contact between the Lanka Sama Samaja Party and the Socialist Workers’ Party of America was established much earlier, probably by Stanley Sherman, who visited Ceylon and India after the outbreak of the war and wrote his observations in a series of articles published in The New International. Belonging to the highly sophisticated Burnham-Schachtman faction of the SWP, Stanley, in addition to his journalistic curiosity, tried to enlist the support of the LSSP for his American friends who were outwardly disillusioned with Trotsky’s ambiguous attitude toward Soviet Russia’s new imperialism. In this endeavor his success was limited, as, after some initial confusion, the Samasamajists totally embraced the political line of the Fourth International as did the mainstream of the American Trotskyites. [84 ?]

When the new Workers’ Party was created in America as a splinter group from the main-current Socialist Workers’ Party, Stanley wrongly claimed in the Bulletin on Ceylon:

On political issues of the American factional dispute, namely, the question of Russia’s participation in this war, the entire leadership was and remains in accord with our views of the matter. Specifically as between the minority and majority resolutions on the Soviet-Finnish war – both of which they have studied-they openly support ours. Because of circumstances no formal declaration has been made, but I am authorized to state that they do not support the position advocated by Trotsky and the Socialist Workers’ Party. [85]

These allegations were subsequently denied by the editors of the Fourth International in the March and April, 1942, issues as “false stories,” on the basis of documents received from the “Ceylon Equality Party” (LSSP) and the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India. Though not in favor of the Soviet expansionist adventure in Finland, the Samasamajists, who had just got rid of the Communist minority, decided to cling to the anti-Stalinist, but generally pro-Soviet, policy. The following explanatory letter was published by Felix Morrow in the November 1942 issue of the Fourth International, closing that particular incident in Ceylonese-American relations within the Trotskyite camp:

As to the attitude of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party on the Russian question we have read a copy of S. Stanley’s report on Ceylon ... Stanley has been mistaken in supposing that the LSSP or the leadership of the LSSP took any definite position regarding this question on the occasion of his visit. The minority position that S. Stanley espoused was received with an open mind and was given sympathetic consideration, but the question of taking any stand on the matter was deferred, first till the Party leaders, who were in jail and secondly the Calcutta group could be consulted. In any event the position of the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India (of which the LSSP is a part) is fundamentally in agreement with the position taken by the majority of the Socialist Workers Party. [86]

Relations between the Ceylonese and American Trotskyites have been very cordial ever since, an interesting footnote to the recent polycentrism in Marxist movements. [87]

The splinter Stalinist group, consisting of approximately one-tenth of the LSSP membership, which established in November 1940 the United Socialist Party, had like the Trotskyites rather a tough time under the British during the early stage of the war. Generally speaking, it sought to carry forward an antiwar policy, hard to distinguish from that of the LSSP, until the unexpected outbreak of German-Russian hostilities. Several communist leaders, such as Dr. S.A. Wickramasinghe, U. Sarananaka Thero, and D.P. Yasodis were arrested and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment for their disloyal activities. Nevertheless the heated argument between the Stalinists and the Trotskyites continued, as evidenced by the front-page attack in the first issue of the new Samasamajist organ Straight Left, branding the United Socialist Party in the headline as “Fifth Column for Stalin!”:

The Samasamajists who were expelled not long ago for carrying on disruptionist propaganda on a lying basis coalesced with certain others in a new political party “ The United Socialist Party. The agents of the degenerated Comintern, having failed in their efforts (pursuant to instructions from abroad) to capture the LSSP or to disrupt it beyond repair from within, have been compelled to come into the open with their Anti-Sama Samajist campaign. The virulence of the attack on the LSSP by these renegades from Marxism no doubt arises from natural chagrin and the oppressive consciousness that they will go down to history as the first group of Stalinists to be expelled from a revolutionary party. In every other country Russian money enabled the Stalinists to expel the Marxists (dubbed by them Trotskyites). In Ceylon alone it happened otherwise.

In an involved argument concerning the role of the bourgeoisie in the anti-imperialist struggle, the Trotskyites attacked their expelled competitors’ non-Marxist claim that “the basic antagonism lies between Imperialism ... and the entire nation.” The Samasamajists, having openly embraced the basic precepts of the Fourth International, maintained that not a single revolutionary task could be solved in colonial and semicolonial countries under “the leadership of the ‘National’ bourgeoisie, because the latter emerges at once with foreign support as a class alien or hostile to the people.” They quoted Trotsky’s views concerning class struggle in colonial environment:

Every stage in its development binds it only the more closely to the foreign finance-capital of which it is essentially the agency. The petty-bourgeoisie of the colonies, that of handicrafts and trade, declining into economic insignificance, becoming declassed and pauperised. It cannot even conceive of playing an independent political role. The peasantry, the largest numerically and the most atomised, backward and oppressed class, is capable of local uprisings and partisan warfare, but requires the leadership of a more advanced and centralised class for this struggle to be elevated to an all-national level. The task of such leadership falls in the nature of things upon the colonial proletariat which from its very first steps, stands opposed not only to the foreign, but also to its own national bourgeoisie. [88]

Providing evidence for the pro-imperialist role of the native bourgeoisie, both with regard to its behavior towards the working classes and toward the world war, they argued in a hair-splitting battle of words:

There is no colonial country in the world ... in which the slogan “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” is more completely appropriate. But, say the United Socialists, this amounts to “mechanically transferring” the slogan. On this allegation they found the accusation that “the LSSP failed to work for the building up of a national movement for liberation.” The LSSP will readily plead guilty to this latter charge. It never aimed at building a national movement for liberation. It worked (successfully, as everybody knows) to create a movement for national liberation.

Following the general line of the Fourth International’s publications in the West, the editors of Straight Left attacked the personal cult of Stalin as the major sin of the Moscow-oriented communists:

The basic tenet of Stalinism is blind faith in Stalin. It is therefore no matter for surprise that a principal count in the United Socialist indictment of the LSSP is in its attitude to that executioner of the Bolshevik Party-Stalin ... Apparently, according to United Socialism, it is obligatory for a Revolutionary Party to give the “fullest support” to “Each and every action” of the Soviet Union ... In the vernaculars the phrase is “Soviet Union under the leadership of Stalin.” ... Thence arises the grand conclusion that the “acid test” of a Revolutionary Party is “full support” of “each and every action” of Stalin.

This demand for complete submission to Stalin and his “Stalintern” amounted in Trotskyite opinion to complete betrayal of the October Revolution and connoted

“full support” of the replacement of workers’ control of industry, established by the October Revolution, by bureaucratic control. It connotes “full support” of the emasculation of the Soviets through bureaucracy and a so-called “democratic” constitution. It connotes “full support” of the disgraceful trials and purges which have resulted in the destruction of the whole generation of Bolsheviks in whom the October Revolution found its leaders. It connotes “full support” of the foul Stalinist-organised murder of the co-leader (with Lenin) of the October Revolution, the organiser of the Red Army, the greatest Marxist of the post-war period, Comrade Leon Trotsky. It connotes “full support” of the disarming by the bureaucracy of the masses whom the October Revolution armedÔthe armed people has been replaced by a standing army under the control of the bureaucracy, an army which they do not hesitate to behead in the course of their factional disputes. It connotes “full support” of the re-enslavement by the bureaucracy of women whom the October Revolution liberated; the re-enslavement and forcing back into uniform of the youth whom the October Revolution liberated at the same time that it abolished the Czarist uniform for students and the tyranny of examinations. It connotes “full support” of the Police-regime that Stalin and his bureaucracy have established over the Poet, the Musician and Savant, so that the poems are panegyrics of Stalin, the songs glorifications of the Chauvinist Fatherland, and the discoveries coincident with bureaucratic requirements. It connotes also “full support” of an education that has become falsification and of a history that has been re-written, then erased and written over again. Lastly, to cut short a lengthening list, it connotes “full support” of the Comintern which, though it arose from the social-patriotic betrayal of the Second International, has become the disseminator of social-patriotism in the world today. In short, “full support” of “each and every action” connotes nothing less than that every revolutionary party, to gain recognition from the Comintern, must degenerate into a mere fifth column for Stalin!

But, in pursuance of the confused policy line of the Fourth International, the Samasamajists tried to distinguish between “full support” of Stalin’s dictatorial leadership and “unconditional defense of the Soviet Union against capitalist attack from without or from within.” This fidelity to the Soviet Union derived from Trotsky’s claim that ideological degeneracy of the USSR could not erase the historical importance of it as a first workers’ state. Quoting Comrade Trotsky, the author argues:

As Trotsky states: “We will sustain Stalin in his bureaucracy in every effort it makes to defend the new forms of property against imperialist attacks. At the same time we try to defend the new forms of property against Stalin and the bureaucracy, against inner attacks, against the new forms of property. That is our position.” The slogan thus involves the defence of the substan tially intact gains of the October Revolution, viz. socialised industry and the monopoly of foreign trade, from which alone have flowed the great economic achievements of the Soviet Union, against all-comers, including the Stalinist bureaucracy itself which has fastened itself parasitically on the body politic of the first workers’ state in history. It therefore involves also open criticism of the dangerous zig-zag policies of the Stalinist bureaucracy, and the ready recognition, and examination with a view to preventing recurrence, of every mistake made by the workers’ state and those who speak and act in its name. It is neither science nor socialism to place blind faith in a “leader” and his every act. That is the principle underlying fascist organizations-the “leadership” cult and the “monolithic” Party.

The same issue of Straight Left published a long, critical examination of “Stalin’s ‘Special Contribution’ to Marxism.” His neo-imperialistic concept of “building socialism in one country” was severely scrutinized. The article ended with five fundamental questions addressed to the United Socialists, namely:

2. Does the United Socialist Party stand for the violent overthrow of British Imperialism?
3. Was it not Stalin who stated in an interview with the Chairman of the American Scripps-Howard group of newspapers that “the idea of the export of the revolution is nonsense” and repeated that it was as a result of “tragi-comic misunderstanding” that such idea remained?
4. Was it in fact not Stalin who said this, may we ask what it was that Stalin exported to Finland, Poland and Rumania?
5. Is it not true that the Communist Parties of the “Democratic” Imperialisms on the outbreak of the Imperialist War declared it to be a war of Democracy against Fascism? And that the British and French Communist Parties actively supported the war at that time?

The questionnaire ended sarcastically:

We shall look out for the answers to these questions in the next few copies of the United Socialist. But we will generously understand their non-appearance! [89]

The political gap between the Stalinists and the Trotskyites widened further with the outbreak of German-Russian hostilities on that memorable day of June 22, 1941, when Hitler committed the greatest of his strategic blunders. From then on, the Soviet-oriented communists switched their attitude in favor of England, once again one hundred eighty degrees. This sudden about-face in the United Socialist Party’s policy was bound to affect a change for the better in the British attitude toward them. Colvin R. de Silva, in his penetrating brochure Their Politics – and Ours, clearly formulates the difference between Trotskyism and Stalinism with regard to the new phase of World War II:

After the USSR was drawn into the Hitlerite war, the CP refused to recognise the imperialist nature of the war of the imperialists who were fighting Hitler. The Stalinists claimed that the attack on the USSR by Hitler converted the previously imperialist war on the side of British, French and American Imperialism also into a so-called People’s War. The Stalinists made this claim not only for the war of these so-called democratic imperialisms against Fascist Germany. They claimed that the war of these “democratic” imperialisms against Japanese Imperialism was also a People’s War. They made this claim although the USSR was not at war with the Japanese at all! The Stalinists therefore collaborated whole-heartedly with the British, French and American imperialists in the Second Imperialist World War. Moreover, in furtherance of that class-collaboration, they sabotaged and betrayed every strike of the Ceylon workers during the war. [90]

Indeed, the policy of the Moscow-oriented communists was, from now on

full cooperation with the British in an anti-Fascist People’s Front during the war. They aided the British war effort on the basis of a “United-Front-from-Above” tactical line discouraging strikes and urging greater productivity. They used their wartime opportunities to develop a party organization and had some success in taking over selected port and transport unions hitherto organized by the LSSP [91]

While the communists entered into an opportunistic period of collaboration with the British authorities, the Samasamajists continued their adamant resistance, acquiring the repute of being the only consistent anti-imperialists on the island. The LSSP continued its courageous opposition to the British war effort in the hope of creating a revolutionary situation, both in South Asia and indirectly in Great Britain. In particular, the openly functioning section of the party instigated a new strike wave in the capital city that affected the workers in a number of sensitive war-connected industries (May 1941). This section of the party was ably led by Robert Gunawardena, K.V. Lourenz Perera, William Silva, and the two Tamil Marxists, V. Karalasingham and S.C.C. Anthonipillai. (This last one was later to become a widely known union leader in India as the National Chairman of the trade union federation Hind Mazdoor Sabha.) To evade further arrests and police interference, the LSSP had to adjust its organization to the new wartime conditions. But unlike in Nazi – or Soviet – occupied Europe, police control must not have been too strict, as evidenced by the fact that on two occasions the imprisioned leaders of the LSSP “had left the jail in the night for all-night consultations with the party and had returned to jail before dawn.” [92] But this state of affairs could not be tolerated anymore, especially in view of the outbreak of the new war in the Far East and the rapid progress of the Japanese against the Allies. When, to use Churchill’s words, “the worst disaster and the largest capitulation in British history” occurred with the fall of Singapore on February 15, 1942 – the main British naval base in the Malaya Straits – and was followed by the fall of Burma and the Dutch East Indies, the Japanese thrust had brought Ceylon straight into the very front line. Naturally, a new stress was going to be placed on the strategic value of the Colombo Harbor or the splendid natural port of Trincomalee. Moreover, as pointed out by S.A. Pakeman, another aspect of Ceylon’s economics increased further her strategic importance, namely the natural rubber production:

The loss of Malaya and the Dutch East Indies left Ceylon as the only [italics added] considerable producer of natural rubber, a commodity so essential to the war effort, available to the Allies. Recourse was therefore had to what was called “slaughtertapping”, i.e. drawing from the rubber tree more latex than was healthy for the tree’s life, which would inevitably mean the shortening of the period during which it could produce rubber in economic quantities. The rubber companies and the planters willingly co-operated. [93]

The British could no longer afford the risk posed by the Samasamajist’s intensified campaign among plantation workers and among all the workers in the industries of possible strategic importance. The emergency created by the entry of expansionist Japan into the War of the Pacific called for drastic new measures. Professor Ludowyk quotes in connection with this geopolitical situation, an unnamed official source:

[There was] no base for operations in the Pacific nearer than Ceylon or Australia, Ceylon itself was threatened and the British fleet was for a period in 1942 forced back to the coast of Africa. Japanese naval and air power dominated the Bay of Bengal which meant that - again for a period - not only was the great port of Calcutta closed to shipping, but the eastern coast of India was open to invasion.” The Indian Ocean had become vital, not only on account of its importance to British armies fighting in the Middle East, but also to the war in the West for through Persia ran one supply line to the USSR. [94]

The above estimate of the vital importance of Ceylon as an Allied base may have had special significance for all those who were deeply concerned about the defense of the Soviet Union as their ideological Motherland.

Recognizing the gravity of the situation the British War Cabinet decided to send to the island an energetic commander in the person of Vice-Admiral Sir Geoffry Layton, with clearly defined military and civil powers of almost dictatorial character:

You are appointed Commander in Chief, Ceylon. All naval, military, air and civil authorities in the area, including the Governor and the Civil administration will be subject to your direction. Your immediate task is to ensure that all the measures necessary for the defence of Ceylon are taken forthwith and that the military and civil measures are properly co-ordinated. The Governor has emergency powers under the constitution and the power to issue defence regulations which he can use to the extent you may require for any such measures ... In the exercise of your authority in civil affairs you will have regard to the importance and value of the maintainance of the services of the civil government as long as they can operate efficiently in the prevailing conditions. [95]

It may thus be safe to assume that one of the most urgent matters for the Commander in Chief to deal with was that of sedition, as openly practiced by the irreconcilable Trotskyites. Accordingly Sir Andrew Caldecott, as Governor-General of Ceylon, announced that he had suppressed the Lanka Sama Samaja Party altogether. The New York editor of the Fourth International, in his comments on The Road to Freedom for Ceylon, linked the suppression decision with Sir Stafford Cripps’ cabinet mission to India and testified beyond doubt that the Lanka Sama Samaja Party was, by that time, a fully recognized member of the Trotskyite International:

On March 13, Governor Sir Andrew Caldecott of Ceylon announced that he had suppressed the LSSP (Ceylon’s Socialist Party), adherent of the Fourth International. This act, coming simultaneously with the British War Cabinet announcement of Cripps mission to India, indicated in advance the reactionary character of Cripps’ proposals. The Ceylon Socialist Party has been especially successful among the Indian proletarians who are imported to Ceylon to work the plantations.
The formal suppression of the Ceylonese Socialist Party by the British is merely the latest repressive step ... The Party has ... in reality been outlawed for more than two years. [96]

Meanwhile, the four detained party leaders were busy planning their immediate escape to India, and on the theoretical level, future socialist reforms in Ceylon. N.M. Perera wrote a perceptive program for educational reform [97] and Philip Gunawardena gave special thought to basic paddyland reform (which took in 1958 the shape of the official Agricultural Plan, presented by him in his capacity as the Minister of Agriculture and Food under the late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike’s eventful Premiership).

An important and much needed chapter of revolutionary heroism in Ceylon was written by the Trotskyites with their sensational escape from jail on the night of April 5, 1942, when Dr. de Silva, Philip Gunawardena, Dr. Perera, and Edmund Samarakkody, along with one of their guards, Solomon, took advantage of the confusion caused by the only Japanese night air-raid against Colombo. Their success in that endeavor was enhanced by the close relations the four detenues had established with their wardens, particularly with the jailer in charge, Neville de la Motte. According to Senator Reggie Perera’s vivid account of that memorable Easter Sunday:

Powerful cars were outside with their friends; some of them were armed. Jail guard Solomon unlocked the door for the last time and the detenues stepped out one by one. Everything seemed to be moving with clockwork precision. But wait! N.M. is walking back to his cell. Something wrong? Something important? No, he was going to retrieve a pair of old bathroom slippers he had left behind. [98]

The fugitives were well-hidden by their party friends but it was safer for them to proceed to India. Only the most militant of the revolutionists, Samarakkody, decided to stay in Ceylon, so as to be able to continue his subversive activities. But police repression was intensified after the jail-break, an altogether humiliating experience for the British war-lords of the island. The Lanka Sama Samaja Party was now formally illegal. The remaining leaders, detained under the Defence Regulations in a grim Remand prison in Kandy, were jack Kotelawala, general secretary of the Party, Terence N. de Silva, Willie Jayatilleke, Hector Abhayavardhana, p.Veluchamy, secretary of the All-Ceylon Estate Workers’ Union, Hemarasiri de Silva of Kollonnawa, editor and publisher of the Sinhalese weekly, Kamkaruwa, H.A.C. Wickremaratne, Boyd Wickremasinghe, Martin Silva, and Stanley Mendis. An amusing description of Reggie Perera’s imprisonment and the way in which he met his comrades in the Kandy jail appeared later in the Ceylon Observer:

By the time we reached Kadugannawa I had established a favourable understanding with this officer so much so, that he suggested that we go to the buffet car and have some tea. Leaving an anxious and bewildered sergeant to look after our belongings in the train, we left our compartment to locate the buffet car. While we were walking along the officer met a young lady for whom he manifestly showed great regard and after some time forgetting his prisoner he drifted away lost in eager conversation. Temptation came in the way of a down train to Colombo. However it would only have been an escapade and not an escape. There was also the question of trust shown by this young officer who was still engrossed with the young lady.
It was nighttime when we arrived at the Remand jail in Kandy. After a few formalities at the gate we entered the prison courtyard. The stillness of the night was suddenly broken by a voice that yelled “Shoot that bloody Trotskyite”. “Shut up” I shouted back and suddenly everything again became clear as daylight. It was Jack Kotelawala’s idea of a joke. News of my arrest and arrival had leaked to them and Jack had arranged this reception. [99]

Jack Kotelawala preserved in his private archives the following document, issued on June 22, 1942, by the “Judge’s Chambers,” Supreme Court (on Circuit), Kandy, to justify the arrest order:

1. You have been a leading member of the LSSP which has in newspapers owned and controlled by or associated with it namely the Sama Samajaya, Straight Left, Kamkaruwa, Ginipupura, Nidahasa, and the Samadharman, or in leaflets printed or caused to be printed by it, published statements or comments calculated to:
(a) incite hostility towards or contempt for the authority entrusted with the preservation of law and order in the Island;
(b) bring about civil commotion in the Island;
(c) create a belief in the defeat of the Empire and villify the Empire’s cause or effort in the present war; and thereby to prejudice the public safety and the defence of the Island.
2. In a public speech at Kandy delivered in 1938 you stated:
“This state of affairs was due to the fact that the Britishers, the overlords of the Island took all the money from the Island to their motherland ... All the Sinhalese should unite and try to drive out the Britisher from the Island even at the cost of their own lives.”
3. You are Vice-president of the All-Ceylon Estate Workers’ Union which is an organization created and controlled by the Lanka SSP for the purpose of establishing contact with Indian immigrant labour in up-Country estates.
4. You paid frequent visits to the party leaders, Messrs Colvin R. de Silva, D.P.R. Gunawardena, N.M. Perera and Edmund Samarakkody during the period of their detention at the Kandy Detention Barracks and at Negombo jail. Some of these visits were paid on dates subsequent to the order of His Excellency the Governor, dated 12th March 1942, whereby the provisions of Regulations 23 (etc.) were applied to the organization aforesaid.

III Further Particulars Relating to Mr. J.C.T. Kotelawala

At the time of your arrest consequently on the order of detention made against you numerous copies of Sama Samaja literature were found in your possession, showing that you were engaged in the dissemination of Sama Samaja propaganda in the Badulla District. [100]

Apparently new police measures against the Ceylonese Trotskyites were taken by the determined British authorities on the basis of the Special Regulations of April 7, 1941, section 23c, which stipulated that “if the Governor is satisfied with respect to any organization – (a) that it is subject to foreign influence or control ... he may outlaw the said organization and detain the persons in control concerned.” As a good practicing lawyer, Kotelawala tried to argue, somewhat casuistically, against the sedition charges:

I am not aware that the papers referred to in Part II of the particulars thereof have, or have had, associations with persons concerned in the government of, or sympathies with the system or government of any power with which His Majesty is at war; or that there is danger of action by the organization in a manner or for purposes prejudicial to the public safety, the defense of the Island, the maintenance of public order, the efficient prosecution of the war, or the maintenance of supplies or services essential to the life of the community, he may by order published in the Gazette, direct that this regulation shall apply to the organization.

In his personal defense, Kotelawala stressed that he had no connection whichsoever with the four mentioned party papers, as stated in the accusation, while the other two, namely Sama Samaja and Samadharman were not official organs of the party, although they were controlled by some members of the LSSP:

I was not in any way connected with the publication even of these papers and the Party as such, so far as I am aware, takes no responsibility whatsoever for the views expressed in them. All these papers have been, I understand, duly registered according to the law of the land and their publication has in no way been interfered with by the authorities. I understand that the Sama Samaja and the Samadharman have ceased publication. [101]

But the British had had enough, and all those arguments, even by a learned nephew of the most loyal servant of the Crown Major Sir John Kotelawala, the future Prime Minister of Ceylon, failed to convince the authorities that the Trotskyite movement could be further tolerated. Thus, a large number of other warrants of arrest and detention were soon made and in 1942:

with the failure to find the wanted persons, in addition to the detenus who had escaped, the following also were proclaimed and attachment of their property ordered: Leslie Goonewardene and his wife Vivienne Goonewardene, Selina Perera (wife of N.M. Perera), Kusuma Gunawardena (wife of Philip Gunawardena), Robert Gunawardena, Reggie Senanayake, Reggie Perera, V. Karalasingham, P.H. William Silva, S.C.C. Anthonipillai, Lionel D. Cooray and K.V. Lourenz Perera. Many of these people were subsequently arrested and detained. [102]

While the leadership of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party was at least temporarily suppressed on the island by the British authorities, the pro-Moscow communists led by their rising star Pieter Keuneman, the Secretary General of the party, were actually protected by the “imperialists.”

But the Ceylonese Trotskyites were far from idle, although the party was proscribed until the end of the war. During the imprisonment of the four top leaders, they and their comrades in the underground embraced the somewhat unrealistic idea that, in view of the opportunistic behavior of the communist party in India, the Samasamajists had a revolutionary mission to perform - the implementation of Trotsky’s summons for civil war in India. They could not anticipate the dynamic impact of Ghandi’s “Quit India” campaign, launched later in August of 1942 as a protest against the proposals brought from London by Sir Stafford Cripps. Preparatory work to organize the few Trotskyite groups in India had been done by such dedicated Samasamajists as Bernard Soysa, V. Balasingham, Doric de Souza, and Leslie Goonewardene. As a result of these steps, the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India was formed in April 1942; it was affiliated with the still esoteric Fourth International, with the remnants of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party as its Ceylonese unit. [103] The above-mentioned four organizers were soon joined by the three fugitives – Colvin de Silva, Philip Gunawardena, and N.M. Perera - and others like S.C.C. Anthonipillai, V. Karalasingham, Allan Mendis, Lionel Cooray, Reggie Senanayake, and Robert Gunawardena. The leadership of the LSSP moved thus in 1942 from its native Ceylon to seething India. The history of the Bolshevik-Leninist Party constitutes a rather futile attempt on the part of the Samasamajists and, to a lesser degree, on the part of the indigenous Indian Trotskyites, to stir revolution in India. The rationale of the Samasamajists’ decision to shift their main activities was to conduct a joint struggle against the British Empire where it seemed particularly vulnerable:

Recognizing the unity of the revolutionary struggle in India and Ceylon, and the need to build a single revolutionary party on a continental scale, the LSSP entered the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India as a constituent unit at the inauguration of the latter in 1942. By this act the LSSP ceased to exist as an independent party and its members adopted as their own program of action that of the new Party ... The overthrow of British Imperialism is the indispensible condition for the liberation of Ceylon from its backwardness and of its people from the present misery and economic slavery. At the same time, revolutionary struggle in Ceylon cannot proceed in isolation, and with its own independent forces, to the stage of the overthrow of the imperialist regime. Even at its highest point of mobilization, the revolutionary mass movement in this island alone could not, unassisted from outside, generate the energies required to overcome the forces which the imperialists would muster in defence of their power in Ceylon, which is for them not only a field of economic exploitation, but a strategic outpost for the defence of the Empire as a whole ... For the destruction of the British Empire is posed as an immediate and practical task in India, where history has already mobilized the forces required for its achievement. The geographical proximity of India and Ceylon, the very close economic and cultural ties which bind their peoples together, and above all, the common enslavement of India and Ceylon by British Imperialists make it certain that the masses of Ceylon will have the opportunity by participating fully in the Indian revolution to throw off the British yoke ... On the other hand the complete emancipation of India itself is unthinkable while Ceylon is maintained as a solid bastion of British power in the East. From this point of view we may say that the revolutionary struggle in Ceylon will be bound up with that on the continent in all its stages, and will constitute a provincial aspect in relation to the Indian revolution as a whole. [104]

The identification of Ceylon’s long-range interests with those of the working classes of India was to cause the Samasamajists in the postwar period serious trouble; it clashed with the strong communal feelings of the Sinhalese Buddhist majority against the Tamil Hindu minority.

Nevertheless the well-deserved romantic legend of a movement totally dedicated to freedom made the Samasamajists for years the largest and most vigorous opposition group in national life in spite of the bitter factionalism that finally, in June 1965, broke the party into two irreconcilable parts. The mainstream, composed of pragmatically inclined politicians led by the weary ex-revolutionaries N.M. Perera and Doric de Souza, today seems eager to implement at least some of their socialist ideas through a coalition with the Sinhalese nationalists and the Moscow-oriented communists; the militant though shrinking Trotskyite minority led by the intransigent Edmund Samarakkody still strives toward the fulfillment of their apocalyptic dream of permanent revolution.

One should remember that the seminal doctrine of “permanent revolution,” though originally conceived by Trotsky in 1906 primarily with regard to the peculiarities of agrarian and backward Russia, was also to determine “a whole number of most important decisions on problems bound up with the revolutionary struggle of the countries of the East.” [105] The Permanent Revolution (first English version of which appeared in New York in 1931) became together with his The Revolution Betrayed the most widely read and influential works of Trotsky in South Asia in the late 1930’s. On the other hand, the “exiled prophet’s” fundamental claim that the permanent revolution is not just “a ‘leap’ by the proletariat, but the reconstruction of the nation under the leadership of the proletariat” remains unfulfilled sixty years after its formulation. One can therefore well understand a growing skepticism among the more pragmatically inclined Ceylonese Trotskyists. Their conviction in the so-called basic postulates of a permanent revolution was bound to be shaken one day. Some may still believe, however, that as Trotsky claimed:

With regard to countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries, the theory of the permanent revolution signifies that the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all of its peasant masses. [106]

However, it is rather in the universal aspects of the revolutionary conflagrations that the few remaining disciples of Trotsky in Ceylon may seek comfort. For the majority of the former LSSP leaders it became obvious that without the sufficient support of the working masses, most of whom happen to be the peasant Buddhists, Trotskyism today is mainly the abode of radical intellectuals and idealistic student agitators. With the decline of the last serious Trotskyite party in Ceylon, it is rather with the Chinese Red Guards, Castroite guerrillas in Bolivia and Venezuela, Japanese radical rebels within Zengakuren (National Students’ Union), some Berkeley highbrows, and the Black Power advocates in American cities that the spell of Leon Trotsky seems to persist.



[1] Cf. LSSP Manifesto as quoted supra on pp.27-28.

[2] Hansard (1936), p.839.

[3] Ibid., pp.1394-95.

[4] Ibid., pp.2905-6.

[5] Ibid., pp.3263-64.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Hansard (1937)), pp.725-26.

[8] Hansard (1937), pp.730-32, passim.

[9] Ibid., p.737.

[10] Ibid., p.744.

[11] Hansard (1936), p.3111.

[12] Hansard (1937), p.922.

[13] Ibid., p.56-59, passim.

[14] Ibid., p.871.

[15] Hansard (1938), pp.2S22-23.

[16] Hansard (1937), p.2252.

[17] Ibid., p.520.

[18] Hansard (1939), pp.520-21.

[19] Ibid., pp.3340-41.

[20] Ibid., p.3409.

[21] Ibid., p.3415.

[22] Ibid., p.3425.

[23] Max Beloff, The Foreign Policy of Soviet Russia (London: Oxford University Press, 1949) II, 288.

[24] Extracts from the ECCI Manifesto on the 22nd Anniversary of the Russian Revolution, The Communist International, 1919-1943. Documents, Volume III, 1929-1943, Jane Degras, ed. (London: Oxford University Press for the Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1965), pp.439-48.

[25] Beloff, The Foreign Policy of Soviet Russia, p.288.

[26] Leslie S. Goonewardene, The Third International Condemned! (Colombo: The Lanka Sama Samaja Party, March 1940), p.3.

[27] Hansard, (1939), p.3480.

[28] Ibid., pp.3481-82.

[29] Goonewarclene, The Third International Condemned!, pp.4-5.

[30] Hans J. Morgentau, The Crisis of Communism; Paper No.?? (Cincinnati: Center for the Study of U.S. Foreign Policy of the Department of Political Science, University of Cincinnati, 1965), p.10.

[31] Goonewardene, The Third International Condemned!, pp.5-7, passim.

[32] Leslie S. Goonewardene, The Differences Between Trotskyism and Stalinism (Colombo: The Lanka Sama Samaja Party, March 1954). p.4. Cf. K. Tilak, Rise and Fall of the Comintern; From the First to the Fourth International (Bombay: Spark Syndicate, 1947) and Colvin R. de Silva, Their Politics and Ours; Thirteen Articles from Samasamajist; Ceylon CP Turns Further Right (Colombo: A Lanka Sama Samaja Publication, September 1954).

[33] A. Vaidialingham, Sama-Samajism and the Way Forward; Crisis in the LSSP, for LSSP members only (Colombo: May 11, 1940), pp.1-2.

[34] Abhayavardhana, Categories of Left Thinking in Ceylon, p.46 (footnote 28).

[35] Goonewardene, A Short History of the LSSP, p.15.

[36] S.Taidialingham, op. cit., p.ii.

[37] Goonewardene, A Short History of the LSSP, p.15.

[38] Vaidialingham, op. cit., p.ii. In view of the well-known fact that the Trotskyite groups were often infiltrated with Soviet agents the question arises whether all convinced Stalinists actually left the LSSP or whether perhaps a couple of shrewd well-disciplined communist conspirators were left behind to influence future politics in Ceylon through that established and respected channel. A possibility of such a planting operation can not be entirely dismissed. The postwar story of Trotskyite factionalism in Ceylon may indicate that at least some of the splits or the recurrent drives for United Left Front and the unusual political alliances on the part of some of the LSSP founding members were due to outside inspiration. Like the “permanent” Secretary General of the Ceylon Communist Party Pieter Keuneman, a few of the outwardly top Trotskyites seem to support in crucial issues the Moscow strategy in South Asia, though it may be just accidental and not necessarily connected with the December 1939 clash between the then followers of Trotsky and those of Stalin’s Moscow establishment.

[39] The Communist Party Papers, Forward: The Progressive Weekly, X, 17 (1963), p.7.

[40] The Communist Party-Its History and Policy (Colombo: People’s Publishing House, n.d.).

[41] Goonewardene, A Short History of the LSSP, p.15.

[42] Ibid., pp.11-12.

[43] Ibid., p.12.

[44] F.W. Abeygunasekera, in Hansard (1940), pp.21-25.

[45] Ibid., pp.26-28.

[46] Ibid., p.197.

[47] Goonewardene, A Short History of the LSSP, p.12. Cf. Ludowyke, The Modern History of Ceylon, pp.182-84.

[48] Hansard (1940), p.480.

[49] Ibid., p.1143.

[50] Ibid., p.675.

[51] Ibid., p.465.

[52] Ibid., p.646-47.

[53] Ibid., p.675.

[54] Goonewardene, A Short History of the LSSP, pp.12-13.

[55] Ibid.

[56]Wright, op. cit., pp.163-164

[57] Ibid.

[58] Hansard (1939 ?), pp.3365-66.

[59] Ibid., p.4394.

[60] Ibid., pp.4395-96.

[61] Ibid., pp.4402-3.

[62] Ibid., p.4873. Cf. also Wright, op. cit., p.165.

[63] Ibid., pp.4874-75

[64] Hansard (1940), p.89.

[65] Ibid., p.1008.

[66] Ibid., pp.1009-10; also Wright, op. cit., p.165.

[67] Ibid., p.1010.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Wright, op. cit., p.165.

[70] Ibid., pp.166-67.

[71] Hansard (1940), p.1093.

[72] Ibid., p.1094.

[73] Ibid., p.1176.

[74] Ibid.

[75] Ibid., p.1179. More detailed information is probably held in the closed British Archives of the Colonial Office for this period. Hector Abhayavardhana claims that “the LSSP leadership was arrested and detained under the Defence Regulations in 1940 as the direct outcome of these (plantation workers) strikes.” Cf. his Categories of Left Thinking in Ceylon, op. cit., p.44 (footnote 23).

[76] MS of Mr. Jack C.T. Kotelawala’s speech kindly shown to me at his residence in Badulla.

[77] Hansard (1940), p.1248.

[78] Goonewardene, A Short History of the LSSP, pp.17-18.

[79] The Road to Freedom for Ceylon, Fourth International, III (1942), pp.117-18.

[80] Cf. supra, pp.177-84.

[81] Goonewardene, A Short History of the LSSP, p.18.

[82] This information was given to me personally by Mr. Leslie S. Goonewardene M.P., Secretary General of the LSSP in 1963, interviewed in his Colombo residence. The role of the American Trotskyites was confirmed in oral interviews with both Mr. Tom Kerry, editor of the International Socialist Review and Mr. Max Schachtman, once the most prolific Trotskyite writer in the United States.

[83] Goonewardene, A Short History of the LSSP, pp.18-19.

[84] Sherman Stanley, The Story Behind Tea, The New International, September 1940, pp.266-68.

[85] Fourth International, May 1942, p.82.

[86] Fourth International, November 1942, pp.345-46.

[87] It was only after World War II that the respective leaders of the two parties could meet, either at the Fourth International congresses usually held in Paris, or during Senator Douric de Souza’s and Dr. N.M. Perera’s visits in the United States.

[88] The United Socialist Party; A Fifth Column for Stalin!, Straight Left: An Occasional Paper of Views and News, 1 (1941).

[89] Ibid.

[90] Colvin R. de Silva, Their Politics and Ours: Thirteen Articles from Samasamajist. Ceylon CP Turns Further Right (Colombo: Lanka Sama Samaja Party, September 1954), p.5.

[91] Wriggins, Ceylon: Dilemmas of a New Nation, p.127.

[92] Goonewardene, A Short History of the LSSP, p.19.

[93] Pakeman, Ceylon, pp.137-38.

[94] Ludowyk, Short History of Ceylon, pp.261-62.

[95] Ibid., p.262.

[96] The Road to Freedom for Ceylon, loc. cit., p.117.

[97] Cf. Dr. N.M. Perera, The Case for Free Education (Colombo: Old Book Company, n.d.) and Agricultural Plans: First Report of the Ministry Planning Committee (Colombo: Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, 1958).

[98] Reggie Perera, Jail-Break: The Escape of the Political Prisoners, Ceylon Observer (Sunday edition), September 9, 1962, p.7.

[99] Ibid.

[100] Ms. from the private archives of Jack Kotelawela of Badulla

[101] Ibid.

[102] Goonewardene, A Short History of the LSSP, p.20.

[103] Ibid.

[104] The Program for Ceylon (Appendix to The Program of the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India and the Task of Ceylon), The Fourth International, V (1946), pp.19.

[105] Leon Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution and Results and Prospects (London: New Park Publications, Ltd., 1962), p.1.

[106] Ibid., p.152.


Main Document Index | Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 17.10.2003