Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Fourth International, October 1946


The Program for Ceylon

Appendix to the Program of the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India
on the Tasks of Ceylon


From Fourth International, October 1946, Vol.7 No.10, pp.316-319.
Transcribed, edited & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


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 Lanka Sama Sarmaja Party 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 the program of action of the new party. But this program, drafted necessarily as a guide to the All-Indian Party as a whole, does not (especially in its transitional sections) pay attention to the specific problems of the revolutionary movement in Ceylon, where the political setting and the relation of class forces among the native population are in significant respects different from those obtaining on the continent of India. The old (1941) program of the LSSP is at the same time unsatisfactory in its theoretical aspects, chiefly because it adumbrates a “national” revolution in Ceylon, which is a false perspective. Hence arises the need for the present appendix to the program of the BLPI.

1. The Unity of the Revolution in India and Ceylon

The overthrow of British Imperialism is the indispensable condition for the liberation of Ceylon from its backwardness, and of its people from their present misery and economic slavery. At the same time, the 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 defense of their power in Ceylon, which is for them not only a field for economic exploitation, but a strategic outpost for the defense of the Empire as a whole. It does not follow from this, however, that the revolutionary emancipation of Ceylon is postponed indefinitely, or until British Imperialism as a world-wide system is destroyed by other agencies. For, the destruction of British Imperialism is posed as an immediate and practical task in India, where history has already mobilized the forces required for its achievement. The geographic 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 Imperialism, 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 and with it the whole exploitative social order maintained by imperialism. 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.

It would be entirely wrong to conclude from the unity of the revolution in India and Ceylon that the right of the Ceylonese people to self-determination has to be surrendered, or that their interests must in any way be subordinated to those of the Indians. Ceylon’s right of self-determination, on the other hand, can only be exercised after the destruction of the imperialist regime by the Indian revolution. Thereafter the Ceylonese people and they alone, will decide the political future of Ceylon, i.e. whether Ceylon will enter an Indian Federation, or having entered such a federation, whether she will at any time secede therefrom. To fail to recognize and emphasize this right of independence of the Ceylonese nation would in effect hinder the masses of Ceylon from uniting with those of India against British imperialism, and make it easier for the latter to utilize Ceylon as a base of support against the growing revolutionary movement in India and South Asia.

2. The British Conquest and Capitalist Development of Ceylon

The British completed in 1815 the conquest of Ceylon they began in 1795. The primary aim of this conquest was to win a strategic base for the defense and expansion of their Eastern empire, but the British sought also the rich profits of the island’s trade.

Before the advent of the British, the economy of the coastal districts and parts of the interior which had passed under European rule had already lost to a great extent its old localized and self-sufficient character, and had become linked through extensive external trade with European commercial capital. Correspondingly, the old social order had in great measure broken down in the Low Country areas. The sole bulwark of the old order remained in the feudal aristocracy of the Kandyan Kingdom. After the British conquest of Kandy, in their reprisals against the 1818 rebellion, they broke decisively their short alliance with the Kandyan aristocracy, and destroyed their power. The history of this class was thereafter one of degeneration and decay. They played no part in the revolt of 1848, and settled down in the end to carry out, in their districts, the more menial tasks of the imperialist administration through the Headmen system. In this role they distinguished themselves by their corruption, and by their unbridled gangsterism at the expense of a helpless peasantry. The relics of the feudal classes occupy an utterly insignificant position in the country today, and only the most immaterial vestigial traces remain in Ceylon of its old economy.

By 1834, the British had built up a modem administrative and legal system which cleared the way for the systematic capitalist development of the country. This was begun through the opening of coffee plantations in the upcountry. For this purpose, and for the building of roads, etc., in opening up the country, the British found it necessary to import very large numbers of workers from South India, where a supply of free labor had been created by the drastic expropriation of the peasantry and the destruction of handicrafts in the preceding period. The development of the plantations system by British capital investment and the exploitation of imported labor from South India continued without intermission down to the present period, when this system has become the centre and basis of the entire Ceylonese economy, accounting for the great bulk of the island’s production. With the exportation of plantation products for the world market, Ceylon became bound up inextricably with the imperialist economy of Britain, and ended once for all her isolation as an island.

To pave the way for the development of coffee, tea, and rubber plantations in the up-country, and of rubber and coconut plantations in the Low-country, the expropriation of peasant lands was carried out in repeated stages throughout the latter Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries. This was accomplished under cover of legal forms (e.g. the Waste Land Ordinance) as well as by more direct and open means. This process as well as continuance of the neglect of artificial irrigation by the government, and its indifference to the needs of peasant agriculture, spelt the ruin of the peasantry. The British did not, in Ceylon, introduce institutions analogous to those of Indian semi-feudal landlordism, but left the peasantry without any defense in the face of capitalist expansion. The consequence was that this class, through the ages the solid foundation of the whole national economy, perished miserably in the struggle for bourgeois existence, and rapidly lost their significance in the economic life of the island.

The peasantry appears today as a class of paupers, either the proprietors of wholly uneconomic plots of land, or share-croppers for absentee landowners. In a majority of those cases they are compelled to work part-time as hired laborers on the plantations and elsewhere. The peasantry together with semi-proletarian elements engaged in peasant agriculture, still number about two-thirds of the population in Ceylon, but they produce only one-third of the Island’s food supply, and the total area under peasant cultivation is far less than that occupied by the plantations. The peasantry face only greater ruin and pauperization under imperialism. Their sole future lies not in the schemes of agrarian reform concocted by the big native bourgeoisie in order to win political support, but in their taking the revolutionary road along with the proletariat. Large sections of the peasantry have already slipped down to the ranks of the proletariat, or, as stated above, while attending to cultivation of their own, are driven to hire themselves as wage-laborers as well. The latter development renders easier their identification with the proletariat in its revolutionary future.

The most important local class that arose on the basis of the new capitalist order was the proletariat, whose nucleus was the thousands of South Indian workers brought over for work in the plantations, etc. The proletariat swelled thereafter, with ever fresh importations of workers from India, and later on, with the slipping down of native peasant elements into its ranks. The latter form today the main section of the urban proletariat. Numerically the working class population has grown to over one million out of a population of six million, a very high proportion in a backward colonial country. In composition, however, the proletariat is in overwhelming bulk unskilled and semi-skilled and is engaged in extractive industry, light industry and transport. Only a small sector of the working class is urban, and no heavy industry exists. “Immigrant” Indian workers (miscalled immigrant, since for the most part they have been resident in Ceylon for generations) still preponderate among the working class numerically, and this fact establishes a special tie between the workers of India and Ceylon, the significance of which for united revolutionary struggle will be immense.

The main section of the bourgeoisie in Ceylon is, of course, British, who dominate completely all economic spheres. The owners of capital are mainly coupon-clippers in Britain, whose local affairs are managed by Agency Houses, etc. Indian capital, too, is coming to play an important part in economic life. Indian interests monopolise the wholesale trade in foodstuffs and other necessities, and have wide ramifications in all fields including commerce, finance and industry.

The native Ceylonese bourgeoisie is dwarfish, not only in comparison with the white bourgeoisie in Ceylon, but also and very markedly, in comparison with the proletariat. The native bourgeoisie had its belated origin in the accumulation of capital through Government service perquisites and salaries, and through the farming of arrack and toddy rents, and grew to some extent as a class when they exported plumbago and opened up rubber and coconut estates in the present century. In the field of trade they play an unimportant part, not only in comparison with the British, but also with Indian interests. They have hardly entered the field of industry proper. The purely subsidiary role the bourgeois as a non-industrial bourgeoisie play economically to the imperialists doom them to subservience in politics as well. They have replaced the remnants of the feudal classes in the administration of the country, and in politics seek only to entrench themselves firmly within the imperialist system.

3. The Political Setting: The Bourgeois Parties

Ceylon has always been administered as a Crown colony by the British. Since the period of the Great War, they have sought to build up a facade of democratic institutions in the Island, with the establishment of elected legislatures, and the Ceylonization to a high degree of the administrative and judicial services, etc. At the same time, of course, the British continued to hold in their hands the whole substance of real power. Their policy in this respect was rendered easier by the loyal co-operation from the beginning of the native bourgeoisie, who have never shown more than the tamest constitutional aspirations. The highest point in the pseudo-democratic development referred to was reached in 1931, when universal franchise was granted. But the difficulty of accommodating the regime to the resulting mass pressure on legislation and administration, especially in a period of rising mass consciousness and action, had led the imperialists to a reconsideration of policy. In the projected new Constitution to be imposed on Ceylon they have substituted for progressive “democratic” development, a very close alliance with the native bourgeoisie against the masses, whose influence on government, through the universal franchise is to be undermined by establishing a Cabinet system and Second Chamber. The native bourgeoisie are daily taking upon themselves greater responsibility for the Imperialist administration of Ceylon, and can be said to have entrenched themselves politically within the imperialist system. An era of counter-reforms, however, has dawned so far as the masses are concerned and they are bound to recognize with increasing acuteness the fact that while further constitutional developments may satisfy the needs of the bourgeoisie they themselves can find no way out of their present plight except by the revolutionary road. It is unnecessary to argue to show that in the coming revolution the Ceylonese bourgeoisie will play a wholly counter-revolutionary part. They have taken up their positions in the imperialist camp already.

The rebellion of 1818 against British rule was led by the feudal aristocracy of the Kandyan districts. It was defeated, and the strength of feudalism destroyed forever. The revolt of 1848 saw the peasantry entirely without leadership from any class capable of coordinating their struggle on a wide or national scale. It was therefore a revolt of despair only. Between 1848 and the present day there has occurred no serious open challenge to British rule, since the riots of 1915 never developed the dimensions of a revolt. The long continued civil peace in Ceylon does not imply an absence of discontent among the people at all times, but only the hopelessness of this discontent. With the transformation of the country under imperialism, an entirely new setting for the political movement was created. The dissolution of the feudal classes, the smallness and political tameness of the new bourgeoisie, and above all, the relative insignificance in the country of the petty bourgeoisie (especially the peasantry) place on the proletariat the chief burden of the anti-imperialist struggle in Ceylon. This fact is borne out negatively by the recent political history of the island.

After a long period of passivity, the first stirrings of national revivalism in 1912-14 proclaimed that the native bourgeoisie had emerged as a political force. The distorted and infantile character of the revival itself, which never even approached the heights it reached in India, and the incapacity of the bourgeoisie to pose for itself higher aims than that of gradual constitutional progress won by begging nicely at Whitehall, testified to the essential weakness of native capitalism. The bourgeoisie were then, as now, fundamentally loyal to British Imperialism, but dared at least to be openly critical of the administration, and to seek a measure of broad mass support for their pleas for constitutional advance. But even this role of oppositional criticism played by the bourgeoisie, dwindled progressively with the rising of the working class movement in the twenties and still more afterwards. The march of events since 1931 illustrates the growing withdrawal of the bourgeoisie from oppositional, and even mass politics itself, in favor of harmonious cooperation, over the heads of the masses, with the imperialists. Their willing association during the war, in the administration of the repressive Defense Regulations regime decisively indicated the road they chose to follow. Today, with growing consciousness of their role, they act as the junior partners of the firm of British Imperialism and Company, taking practically full responsibility for the administration, though without any real power in their hands.

It is natural that the native bourgeoisie have not built a mass party or even sought to promote their interests by means of an active mass movement. This is entirely consonant with their character as a small, non-industrial bourgeoisie, whose economic interests do not bring them into serious conflict with the Imperialists. The National Congress (1918) came nearest to becoming the National bourgeois party, but with the turn of bourgeois politics in the thirties, this organization rapidly lost importance. Today, apart from the temporary exigencies of elections, etc., the bourgeoisie are content to secure their interests by means of behind-the-scenes bargaining with the British. The National Congress has accordingly been deserted by its most important old leaders, and is only an empty shell, despite the attempt of the Stalinists to convert it into the arena of the “National United Front” which they aim at building. The liberal and petty bourgeois elements who are temporarily in charge of the Congress exist only to show their impotence before the big bourgeois leaders, as was recently demonstrated when, after much fist-shaking, they capitulated to support the Soulbury Counter-Reforms at the behest of the Senanayake clique.

The insignificance politically of the Ceylonese petty-bourgeoisie is reflected in the absence of wide mass movements bearing their stamp, as have repeatedly occurred in India. There are no political parties which really draw their inspiration from the peasantry or the petty-bourgeoisie, and such bourgeois parties as go among these elements for support tend to do so on communal or other sectional grounds, rather than on basic social and political issues.

The Sinhala Maha Sabha is a communal organization which draws its chief support from the petty bourgeoisie, mainly from small traders, school teachers, government servants, etc., who place their faith and their hope of survival in the benevolence towards them of their communal bourgeois leaders. The latter, however, are adherents of the purest political opportunism, and have never dared to challenge the position or contest the policies of the Senanayake clique which attends to the affairs of the native bourgeoisie.

The Jaffna Youth Congress was the product of radical tendencies among the intelligentsia, but is a body whose influence is on the wane. It has never given a hint of struggle to achieve its aim which is stated to be national independence, nor does it show the slightest comprehension of the class issues involved in such a struggle.

The All-Ceylon Tamil Congress was formed in 1944, ostensibly to command the adherence of all the Tamils, as such, in the island, and to advance their common interests. It was really the product of the temporary collaboration of widely different elements (Indian and Ceylonese) in the attempt to cash in on the visit of the Soulbury Commission for their various sectional interests. With the first acid test that was applied, however, in the publication of the Soulbury Report, which was unfavorable to the communal demands they had supported, the Tamil Congress tended to break up into its constituent elements. There is no evidence that the Tamil Congress will long survive the defection of so many of its leaders who accepted the new Constitution. What is certain is that no ties exist among the Tamils as a community which are capable of standing the strain of the class divisions that exist among them.

In recent years, sections of the Indian capitalists in Ceylon became aware of the possibility of utilizing to their own political advantage the civic disabilities and economic grievances of the Indian “immigrant” workers. For this purpose they set up the Ceylon Indian Congress in 1939, and with it the Ceylon Indian Congress Trade Union. The pressure of the workers on these organizations was exercised strongly from the beginning, and reflected in the repeated struggles for leadership which took place within them. In 1941-42, the big bourgeois leaders were temporarily defeated by the section having the support of the trade union officials, etc., led by Azeez, and some of these bourgeois leaders withdrew from playing an active part in the Indian Congress. Today, however, the capitalist elements, through Thondaman and others are again making a bid for full control of the Congress. It is not certain whether, in view of the conflicts that have arisen, the bourgeois elements will succeed in consolidating the Indian Congress as their political instrument. The Congress Labor Union has become to a great extent a bureaucratic and reformist trade union basing itself on the kanganies and other intermediate strata among the plantation population, and these elements continue to exercise pressure on Congress as a whole.

If the political parties above described are insignificant and formless this applies all the more to the other groupings that have a shadowy existence in the backwaters of politics. It is not an accident that in Ceylon, the only political parties which show growing mass influence and a capacity for organization are those which work among the proletariat.

4. The Working Class Movement and Its Political Parties

With the big transport strikes of the twenties the proletariat of Ceylon commenced its history of militant struggle. The first organized centres of the workers’ movement were the Ceylon Trade Union Congress (1928) and the Labor Party, formed as the political wing of the TUC in 1929. Under this leadership the working class played a leading part in the agitation for universal franchise, which was won in 1931, in the teeth of the opposition of bourgeois parties. The Labor Party and the TUC were alike under the personal control of Mr. A.E. Goonesinghe, and when the latter from a strike leader, turned into a strikebreaker and labor agent of the big employers, these organizations followed consistently reactionary policies. The TUC has since 1929-30, opposed almost every workers’ strike, and has been turned into a union of the privileged section among Sinhalese workers, giving open support to racial agitation against Indian workers, and maintaining very friendly relations with the employers. The Labor Party, likewise, is today a loyal supporter of the Imperialist system.

During the thirties, ideas of revolutionary socialism spread widely among the workers, chiefly due to the propaganda of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party. The end of this decade was marked by the militant uprising, for the first time in their history, of the plantation workers. Huge strikes in which thousands of workers were involved, took place especially on the tea plantations in 1939 and 1940. This upsurge was followed by a new wave of struggle among the urban workers culminating in the widespread strikes of 1941-42. The workers’ movement subsided only with the stringent enforcement of Defense Regulations, under which strikers, and militant workers’ leaders were prosecuted or detained without trial, and the entire working class regimented under a system of military fascist regulations. The end of the Imperialist war in 1945 saw a new upswing of the workers’ economic struggles. This upswing has by no means reached its culmination, and the post-war years are sure to see bigger struggles than ever before in the history of the Ceylon workers.

A feature of the period after 1938 was the spread of trade unions among hitherto unorganized workers. During the war, however, only those trade union organizations whose leaders could be relied on not to impede the war effort in anyway were permitted to work unpersecuted, and after 1942 such unions as the Industrial and General Workers’ Union and the Estate Workers’ Union which followed uncompromisingly militant policies, were deliberately smashed by the arrest and detention without trial of their leaders. A consequence of this is that the trade union movement in Ceylon emerges at the end of the war under the leadership of reformists of various shades, whose position, however, is rendered insecure by the certainty of big working class struggles in the near future.

The chief centres of the trade union movement today are: The Ceylon Indian Congress Labor Union (51,000 members); The Trade Union Congress of Mr. Goonesinghe (16,000 members); The Ceylon Trade Union Federation (15,000 members); and the Industrial and Estate Workers’ Union (12,000 members).

Apart from the Labor Party of Mr. Goonesinghe, which is only an appendage of the TUC, and does little more in politics than contesting municipal elections for Mr. Goonesinghe’s personal supporters, there are three main parties working among the proletariat. These parties represent different trends which were originally accommodated within the Lanka Sama Samaja Party. The LSSP was formed in 1935 as a radical mass party with an anti-imperialist and socialist program, which was, however, vague in character. The main section of the leadership of the LSSP became increasingly aware of the need to transform it into a proletarian party with a clear revolutionary program of action. This aim was in the end, realized, though repeated crises split the party in the meantime.

Early in 1940, all the adherents of Stalinism in the LSSP were expelled, who later formed the United Socialist Party. This party in turn divided into various groupings, of which the most important is the Communist Party of Ceylon, the official exponent of Stalinism in Ceylon. The more general description given of the Communist Party of India in the main body of the program applies equally to the CP of Ceylon. Specific features of Stalinist reaction which must be mentioned regarding the Ceylon CP are:

  1. Its support of, and entry into the National Congress, and its aim of making this impotent body the arena of a “national united front.”
  2. Its abandonment of all revolutionary propaganda against imperialism in favor of innocuous pleas for independence, and all sorts of constitutional panaceas for the social evils of the country.
  3. Its adaptation to petty-bourgeois pressure and a vulgar trade union outlook in the support of governmental restrictions on Indian immigration.

The chief strength of the CP of Ceylon lies in its control of the Ceylon Trade Union Federation, in which are organized a substantial number of urban workers in light industries.

The reorganization of the LSSP on proper (i.e. Bolshevik) lines aimed at by a majority of its leadership was begun in 1940, and steadily carried on in the years of war. The 1941 Conference of the LSSP authorized this development. This conference also adopted a proletarian revolutionary program, though this program displayed the limitations earlier referred to. The conference finally decided unanimously to proceed with the steps taken towards the formation of the Bolshevik-Leninist Party, in association with various Indian groupings of Fourth Internationalists. The LSSP consequently entered the Bolshevik-Leninist Party at its inauguration in 1942, with the unanimous consent of its membership.

A new party, falsely calling itself the “LSSP” was formed in 1945 by a grouping of members which split from the BLPI for no principled reasons, together with other elements who were not members of the BLPI Although the differences of those who split away from the party were mainly organisational there is no doubt that the continued existence of the new “LSSP” will lead to its adoption of policies of a petty-bourgeois character, and the consequent growth of a party resembling the LSSP at its formation in 1935. The way for this is paved by the organizational Menshevism of this party. It is not possible however at this stage to make a stable characterization of this party which has not yet settled down to well defined policies, or clearly deviated in political line from the program of the BLPI.

5. The Transitional Program: Special Features In Ceylon

In mobilizing the revolutionary forces in Ceylon, the following peculiarities of the national setting have to be emphasized:

  1. The political separation of Ceylon from India; the economic conflicts that exist between the Ceylonese bourgeoisie and sections of the petty-bourgeoisie, on the one hand, and their Indian rivals on the other; and the whole national cultural heritage of Ceylon – are the basis of strong nationalist and anti-Indian sentiments which have been repeatedly transmitted to the working class as well. It is necessary for the party to fight unremittingly against chauvinism in all its forms, in order to point out the unity of the revolutionary struggle in India and Ceylon, against British Imperialism. At the same time, it is the duty of the Bolshevik-Leninists to uphold the right of self-determination of the Ceylonese people. Accordingly, a central agitational slogan of the party must at all times be: “Complete Independence Through the Overthrow of Imperialism in India and Ceylon.”
  2. Even in the transitional period, the class (i.e. anti-capitalist) character of the political struggle of the working class must come more into the open in Ceylon than in India. This is due (a) to the close and harmonious cooperation of the native bourgeoisie with the imperialists, and their increasing sense of responsibility for the existing regime; (b) to the low specific gravity of the peasantry and the petty bourgeoisie in general in politics; and (c) to the lesser weight of the purely democratic demands among the transitional demands in Ceylon, where there is greater political freedom in normal times, and where no feudal forms of oppression persist.

It is clear that as the post-war crisis in Ceylon assumes full proportions, the chief slogans upon which the workers will mobilise in their struggles will be the demands for (a) Minimum wage fixed by law; (b) Statutory 8-hour day; (c) Work or Maintenance. The party will place these slogans in the forefront of its propaganda and agitation among the working class, particularly because these demands serve to bring the workers directly into political struggle against the government.

Among the plantation workers, the following demands will be placed by the party in the forefront of its work, in addition to those given above:

The BLPI (Ceylon Unit) puts forward the following immediate demands on behalf of the Ceylonese peasantry:

Apart from these special slogans and demands, and the qualifications noted above, the transitional program of the BLPI is an adequate guide to the work of the Ceylon Unit of the party in the transitional period.

Top of page

Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

Last updated on 12.2.2009