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Fourth International, April 1942


The Road to Freedom for Ceylon


From Fourth International, vol.3 No.4, April 1942, pp.117-118.
Transcribed, Edited & Formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for the ETOL.


EDITOR’S NOTE: On March 13 Governor Sir Andrew Caldecott of Ceylon announced that he had suppressed the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (Ceylon 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 party and its Indian following have played an important role in establishing recently the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India, adherent of the Fourth International.

The formal suppression of the Ceylon Socialist Party by the British is merely the latest repressive step. In September 1939, the British violated the parliamentary immunity of two party members who had been elected to the State Council, arresting them and others; seized the printing presses on which the party had been publishing organs in Sinhalese, English and Tamil (for the Indian workers); and this was followed by “unofficial” terrorism against the party by the plantation owners. The party has thus in reality been outlawed for more than two years.

We publish below a section of the program adopted by the party in 1941.

Introduction of Capitalism in Ceylon

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 necessitated the recruitment of immigrant labor from South India. 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 the 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 19th 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. It revealed that the hereditary feudal class had already ceased to exist as an independent historical force: in contrast with the 1818 revolt, the feudal elements did not play a leading part in 1848.

Indeed, the relics of this class have been utilized by the British as the instrument of imperialist administration in the rural districts. This role has been one of petty corruption and medieval oppression. Through the headman system they have been employed to carry out the more menial of the tasks of imperialist administration – a role distinguished by unbridled gangsterism over a disarmed peasantry.

With the exportation of plantation products for the world market, Ceylon entered the world economy. This fact, together with the newly adopted capitalist mode of production, created in Ceylon the main characteristic of capitalist society – the modern divisions of capitalist class and working class – and tied the destinies of our toilers to the whole system of world capitalism.

The New Classes

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 are the most important section of the working class in Ceylon. These workers constitute the vanguard of the revolutionary proletariat which is destined to be the emancipator of all our toiling masses.

A stunted native bourgeoisie has come belatedly on the scene to take part in the capitalist exploitation of the working class. But the ownership of the main and effective 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 Ceylon Merchants’ Chamber represents their more recently developed commercial and trading interests.

Nevertheless, the almost complete absence of manufacturing industries and the subsidiary role that the Ceylonese capitalist class plays in the economy of the country doomed it to subservience to British imperialism.

The stirrings of national-revivalism in 1912-14 proclaimed the fact that the Ceylonese bourgeoisie had at last arrived as a political force upon the social arena.

They organized themselves in 1918 in the Ceylon National Congress through which for almost a decade they played an oppositional role to British imperialism. Even that role began to be given up with the rise of the working class as a political force in the late twenties. Instead, consonant with their class position, they have replaced the feudal remnants as the instrument through which British imperialism administers the country.

It is not possible to serve imperialism and advance the interests of the toiling masses, because imperialism, itself subject to the iron laws of the capitalist process, can survive only by the bloody and ruthless oppression of the toiling masses. Consequently within the first decade of the accession of the bourgeoisie to puppet ministries, the position and relations of the various class interests have fully clarified themselves. Thus the native bourgeoisie can now play only a counter-revolutionary role in the national struggle against imperialism. The development of events since 1931, when the Donoughmore Constitution was introduced, amply illustrates this fact. Indeed, the increase in political consciousness of the masses consequent on 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 stage, the native bourgeoisie will completely side with the imperialists. Neither the urban petty bourgeoisie nor the petty-bourgeois 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 marketing 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 these reasons and because of the comparatively high literacy and 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 imperialism to a successful conclusion is the working class. The concentration and discipline induced by its very place in capitalist economy, its numerical strength, the sharpness of the class antagonisms which daily bring 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 imperialism, 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 anti-imperialist mass tide for striking a bargain 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 tasks 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 up-country 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.

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.

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