Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Fourth International, July 1948


S.B. Dissanayeki

A Letter from Ceylon


From Fourth International, Vol.9 No.5, pp.158-159.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


COLOMBO, Ceylon. – This letter is written in the very midst of the great “Independence” racket in Ceylon and just after its climax at both the official and mass ends. February 4th was “appointed day” on which Ceylon was to attain its new status. But the celebrations connected with them were really due for the period from the 9th when the Duke of Gloucester, brother of the, King of England, was due to arrive for the biggest-ever tamasha (shindig) planned by the sycophantic bourgeoisie of Ceylon.

The highlight of the Duke’s visit was to be the ceremonial opening of the (new) “Dominion” Parliament of Ceylon on the 10th. A special assembly hall was fitted out in an old RAF hangar. 20,000 spectators were to sit around and behind the 101 members of the House of Representatives and the 30 members of the Senate while the Duke intoned the “King’s speech.” And once the plaintive Strains of God Save The King had been wailed, the Prime Minister was to unfurl (not hoist – note the delicate distinction) a Sinhalese (Ceylonese) flag just outside the building.

Such were the plans! But everything went awry before and during the event. To begin with, the BLPI (Trotskyist) contingent in Parliament called the bluff about the flag business. What our new imperialist-agency holders had promised the masses was that the Duke himself would haul down the British flag and run up the Sinhalese flag! A little adroit Parliamentary questioning, along with a hard fight over the flag question, forced out the truth. The question was shown to be not whether the Sinhalese flag was to fly over all but whether it was to have the exclusive right to fly below the Union Jack. In other words, Ceylon was to continue under the British flag and the whole question of national flag was only so much eye-wash. Thus was the BLPI stand on this question fully vindicated and the emptiness of dissident LSSP (split off from BLPI) abstentionism once more shown up.

Then came the question of the ceremonial attendance at the King’s speech. That the BLPI Parliamentarians would not attend was expected for the simple reason that they alone had boycotted the King’s speech on the previous occasion when it was delivered by the Governor (now Governor General). The CP too soon announced their decision not to attend because this flowed from their having joined us in voting against the fake independence motion of the government. The question was the LSSP (which had abstained at the voting on the independence motion). What would they do? The whole working class of Ceylon was glad to hear their announcement that, despite their abstention from voting, they would abstain from attending the King’s speech ceremony. We can assure our readers that we did not in the circumstances enquire from them how abstention on this occasion was not “exhibitionism” as they had alleged our boycott of the Governor’s visit to have been!

It is necessary to say that on this occasion we proposed that boycott should proceed beyond mere abstention from attending at the Assembly Hall and take some more positive form, e.g., a public meeting. The CP was agreeable. The LSSP left the impression of being agreed, though its leader Dr. N.M. Perera was none too specific. But in the meantime, after the decision of the other sections of the Opposition to attend the ceremony got known, the government decided to snipe at the boycott.

A few days before the 10th the Speaker suddenly communicated with the working-class party members in the House of Representatives demanding that they declare their intention to attend before he provided seats for them in the Assembly Hall. The intent behind this move was to prevent there being empty chairs to greet the Duke and apprise him (and the host of international observers who would be present) of the boycott. But the Speaker was counting without his BLPI hosts. The leader of our Parliamentary fraction, Comrade Colvin R. de Silva, immediately wrote back demanding the unconditional provision of the seats under threat of a demonstration at the Assembly Hall itself! The Speaker scuttled – and twenty-five empty chairs duly protested the independence racket to the Duke of Gloucester! (7 BLPI, 10 LSSP, 6 CP – including a senator each – and 2 independents.) Incidentally, the Times carried a photo distinctly showing the empty seats.

In the meantime the BLPI took the initiative in addressing the LSSP and CP for a united front meeting during the celebrations, against this fake independence and for real independence. The CP agreed, and so did the LSSP at the first joint meeting of the three parties’ delegates. However, the LSSP recoiled from its agreement within 24 hours! The illuminating reason given by Dr. N.M. Perera was “theoretical differences”.

It is necessary to say that this allegation of Dr. N.M. Perera was correct. The LSSP and its theoreticians hold a novel dualistic theory of independence. According to them Ceylon has got “internal” independence but not “external” (whatever that may mean), or again, political independence but not economic. The British Government’s “Independence Bill,” it would seem, takes us forward towards independence while, presumably, the Defence and other Agreements (which preceded it and were the precondition to it) drag us back part of the way again! That the agreements were the precondition for the passage of the Bill is apparently irrelevant; and the analysis of the class relationships as a whole is seemingly unnecessary to these neo-Marxists. They prefer to work with the vulgar theory of a gradualistic progress toward independence instead of with the Marxist conception of the “dialectical leap” from colonial status to independence. The net result is that they cannot effectively protest the fak-ery of the “Independence” that has been “granted” to Ceylon and indeed fall into the position of having to persuade the masses that there actually is some progress” to enthuse about.

That the above remark about the LSSP is correct will be shown by the outcome of our plans. Although we were let down by them we went ahead with the CP with our plans for a meeting. The police refused us permission for any day on which the Duke was in Colombo. We could not therefore arrange for a meeting on the 10th as originally contemplated but had to make do with the 11th. But what an 11th it proved to be!

The meeting was fixed for 4:30 p.m. Several thousands had already gathered at the Galle Face Green by that time despite the burning afternoon sun and although many a workplace was not yet closed. But the crowds kept streaming in; and even the bourgeois Times of Ceylon was compelled to state next day that over 35,000 attended the meeting. The Sinhalese Lanka Dipa estimated the attendance at over 50,000. Such was the mighty demonstration which the Colombo masses made against fake independence and for real independence in the very midst of the celebrations which had been planned in order to lull them and dull the edge of their hostility.

The meeting found the LSSP in a fix. “Theoretical differences” being too hot a potato to carry in public, they had shifted their emphasis to “untimeliness” as their reason for not participating in the meeting. Indeed, they actually set going rumours that the meeting would be wrecked by our opponents – the wish being father to the thought, as was shown by a scurrilous article they circulated at the meeting itself. The position they took was: this was “a period of reaction” in which the flag-wagging of the bourgeoisie had “thrown to the surface the worst kind of ultra-nationalist sentiments.” Class issues had “temporarily got blurred.” To organize a “counter-demonstration” to the Senanayaka celebrations “in this setting,” said they, was therefore “stupid adventurism” to which “the LSSP had refused to be a party.” “A revolutionary movement,” (don’t you see?) “should not be jeopardized by any desires for cheap adventurism and snobbish exhibitionism.”

The sheer spite of the phraseology we have quoted is a measure of their chagrin when over 35,000 of the people who were alleged to be drugged by patriotic propaganda attended the meeting and applauded enthusiastically every attack on Senanayaka’s fake independence. The truth, of course, was that they were foisting on the masses their own idea that this “independence” constituted considerable “progress” even though it did not amount to “complete independence.” The masses looked on it otherwise. This was apparent to us at very stage and especially when, in the very midst of the Assembly Hall tamasha and after, we went down into the streets selling a pamphlet denouncing both the fake independence and” its celebration. Fully 8,000 copies were sold in two days despite the high price of ten cents for five pages! Besides, even little children had been heard remarking that there was a noticeable lack of cheering for the Duke. Only the LSSP discerned in the inevitable sightseers at a pageant a drugged mass, and that because they had drugged themselves with a false theoretical position. What a remarkably instructive example of the importance of a correct theory as a guide to action.

Despite the rank provocations of the LSSP, both the CP and the BLPI speakers at this meeting took care, while repudiating this nonsense, to repeat their call to the LSSP even now to join the united front. In fact, our line calling for a united front of the working class parties was rapturously received. The Stalinist Democratic Front was not only not understood but actually got lost on the way – their chairman, Dr. Wickre-masinghe, who spoke last, virtually followed our line in his speech!

All Colombo, if not all Ceylon, was openly hostile to the action of the LSSP. Mass pressure on. them to come into the demonstrations became irresistible. Their own rank and filers had been seen at the meeting denouncing their leaders’ mistakes. The result was that the LSSP had to go back on its position within 24 hours! Their top leader, theoretician and mass speaker, Philip Gunawardene, himself appeared at a meeting organized by the (Trotskyist-dominated) United Youth Front on the 12th to ask apologetically whether they “really believed” that the LSSP, “which had always been with them in their struggles since 1936,” would desert them in this struggle.

What a plea! And what a confession! And this ironically enough, at the very moment when a letter from his twin, Dr. N.M. Perera, appeared in the bourgeois Times denouncing the meeting as “adventurist,” “exhibitionist,” etc., etc. The LSSP attempt to sabotage the demonstration had failed. The BLPI had succeeded in mobilizing mass pressure on these recalcitrants and dissidents. A long step had been taken towards the BLPI-LSSP-CP UNITED FRONT for which the masses in process of a regroupment after the June strike defeat patently thirst. Trotskyism had triumphed over sectarianism and ultimatism once more!

Yours Comradely,

Top of page

Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 25.2.2009