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International Socialist Review, Winter 1964



Sydney Wanasinghe

Split in Ceylon Communist Party


Source: International Socialist Review, Vol.25 No.1, Winter 1964, pp.2, 31.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Editor ISR:

The Ceylon Communist Party, which did not register even the slightest impact of events like the Hungarian Revolution, Poznan and the twentieth Congress, has cracked wide open in the current crisis facing the international communist movement. The split in this party, which has hitherto remained monolithic, is almost complete. It has only to be regularized at the “rebel”’ convention which is to be held shortly.

About two months back the Central Committee of the Ceylon Communist Party (CCP) adopted by a majority vote a resolution condemning the Chinese position in the current dispute. A minority in the CC, led by N. Shanmugathasan, Secretary of the Ceylon Trade Union Federation (CTUF) and Premalal Kumarasiri, editor of the CCP Sinhalese Weekly, declared that the CC had no legal right to take this action because its term of office should have expired in December 1962. Claiming that the lame duck CC did not represent the views of the party, they initiated a campaign for an immediate party conference to discuss this problem and elect a new leadership.

In spite of the CC decision the Sinhalese and Tamil weeklies of the CCP continued to publish articles supporting the Chinese position. The majority in the CC acted swiftly and removed Premalal Kumarasiri and H.M.P. Mohideen from their posts as editors of the Sinhalese and Tamil papers. Subsequently, notices were served on N. Shanmugathasan and Premalal Kumarasiri, requesting them to show cause why disciplinary action should not be taken against them for violating a CC decision. Shortly after this Premalal Kumarasiri left for Djakarta to attend the Afro-Asian Trade Union conference. The CC of the CCP then postponed action on Premalal Kumarasiri and decided by a majority vote to expel N. Shanmugathasan.

This led to an intensive campaign by N. Shanmugathasan inside the party against the leadership. He was later joined by Premalal Kumarasiri after the latters return to Ceylon. Party cell meetings and public meetings were held in a number of places in the city and the outstations. At these meetings the policy of the CP leadership came in for severe criticism. Attempts of the CP leadership to ban these meetings for CP members and to prevent the holding of these meetings proved futile. Shanmugathasan alleges that the CP leadership even resorted to bribery to disrupt his meetings. Most of these meetings were very well attended. CP members took a prominent part in organizing these meetings, but no disciplinery action was taken against them.

The displaced editors of the party papers were immediately appointed as the editors of the Sinhalese and Tamil papers of the CTUF. These papers, which are utilised to attack the CP leadership directly, were fortnightlies. Now they have been reorganized as weeklies and steps are being taken to bring out the Sinhalese paper as a daily beginning January 1964. The CTUF has set up a well equipped printing press with modern machinery obtained from the German Democratic Republic.

So far the only rebels to be expelled are N. Shanmugathasan and T. Moorthy. Both of them belong to the Tamil speaking minority. This and the failure on the part of the CP to take disciplinery action against a single Sinhalese-speaking rebel, together with the virulent communalist attacks levelled at N. Shanmugathasan and other Tamil speaking revolutionaries who reject the reformist perspective of power through parliament, proves beyond doubt that the CP leadership has acted communally in this matter.

The pro-Peking secretary and treasurer were removed from office by the pro-Moscow minority of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and Progressive Youth Leagues. Subsequently the majority in the Youth League CC (19 out of 30) met and expelled seven pro-Moscow members including its president. This majority claims that the president, Sarath Muththetuwagama, who was in agreement with the Chinese position earlier, is now a prisoner in the hands of the Kremlin wing.

The CTUF, which is the trade union organization of the CCP, forms the main base of the Peking wing. All attempts on the part of the CP leadership to take the trade unions away from Shanmugathasan’s influence have failed. A few meetings summoned by the leadership in the branch unions to rally support for the official line of the CP proved to be miserable fiascos. This gave rise to a spate of meetings in a number of branch unions which reaffirmed their faith in the Peking-line leadership. As yet the CP leadership has made no attempt to form a separate trade union organization. Attempts to capture the CTUF from within have proved futile. A few of the Moscow supporters in the leadership of branch unions have been removed from office at the branch level. But M.G. Mendis, a Moscow supporter, still remains in the leadership of the CTUF.

At the annual general meeting of the Afro-Asian solidarity league the two wings clashed openly. An attempt by the CP leadership to out Mrs. Theja Gunawardena from her post as president of the league failed. The Peking wing also alleges that the party leadership maneuvered to get her out of the press commission. They charge that in doing so the CP leadership served the interests of the bourgeois press. Mrs. Theja Gunawardena is a prominent supporter of the Chinese position in the Sino-Soviet and the Sino-Indian disputes. She is the author of a book entitled Khrushchevism, a vigorous attack on Kremlin policy. She has been very active in many of the front organizations of the CCP, like friendship associations, solidarity leagues, etc. The Cuban Solidarity League has also become inactive. It is partly due to the factional fights in the CP and partly due to admission of petty bourgeois communalist carreerists into its ranks.

Eighty-seven leading members of the CCP met on Sunday, November 17 and decided to summon the seventh National Conference of the Party. These eighty-seven members signed an appeal addressed to “the real Marxist-Leninists in the CCP.” They elected an organizing committee of thirty-five to make the necessary preparations for the conference. Premalal Kumarasiri was elected secretary of this committee. Addressing the meeting he stated,

“The present reformist trend is not only a deviation from communism. It is a deadly enemy destined to destroy the communist movement. It is a treacherous current which betrays the proletarian revolution. It is the historically assigned duty of the real Marxist-Leninists to smash the current reformism.”

Speeches made at this meeting reported in the Worker, weekly organ of the CTUF, shows clearly the determination of this hard core of members to form a party of their own. The eighty-seven members present at this meeting and twenty-nine others who subsequently added their signatures to this appeal, are drawn from the leadership of factories, Youth Leagues, district committees and party locals. Ten of them are members of the CC of the CCP. They have levelled the following charges against the leadership in this appeal.

  1. Failure to summon a National Conference which fell due in December 1962.
  2. Refusal to call a conference of the Party to settle the current dispute despite the fact that a request to this effect was made in writing by more than half the party membership.
  3. The suspension of recruitment to the party.
  4. Refusal to lead working class struggles and acting against them.
  5. The betrayal of the Ceylon Transport Board strike of January-February 1963.
  6. The unwillingness to mobilize the working class for action on the 21 demands which were unanimously ratified by the historic conference of the representatives of the entire organized trade union movement in the Island, held on September 29.
  7. Putting forward the perspective of power through parliament.
  8. Failure to mobilize the peasantry,
  9. Failure to translate Marxist classics into Sinhalese and Tamil.
  10. Failure to undertake the Marxist education of the party and the working class.
  11. Failure to get out a daily paper.
  12. Engaging in Communal propaganda.

The factional struggle in the CCP has brought to light the corruption that existed in it. Building up “yes men” by granting favours like providing jobs in embassies and firms that engaged in trade with Soviet-bloc countries, organizing trips abroad for their henchmen, racketing in commissions from trade with Soviet-bloc countries, covering up embez-zelment of party and trade union funds and thereby building up corrupt stooges while victimizing those who disagreed with the leadership. All of this is in the process of being unravelled. This will no doubt serve to rid the working-class movement of this country of these parasites.

The “rebels” in the CCP, like their co-thinkers in the Chinese Communist party, have come out in defense of Stalin. In this matter they merely repeat what the Chinese are saying.

The Ceylon Communist Party is thus faced with a serious crisis the like of which it has never experienced before. Hitherto there had been only isolated cases of expulsions and resignations. But in none of those instances has there been a challenge to the leadership comparable to the present one. This is not a revolt but a rebellion of the first order. The bankruptcy of the leadership is seen from their helpless attitude of allowing things to pass by without intervening. They cannot afford to intervene because that will only strengthen the tide against them. The inevitable split is only a matter of time.

Sydney Wanasinghe
November 29, 1963

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