Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 9 No. 4


Meryl Fernando (1923–2007)

With the death of Meryl Fernando at the age of 84 we find ourselves almost at the end of that illustrious generation of revolutionaries whose great achievement it was to build the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) from nothing, to defeat the Stalinist tendencies within the young party and to turn it into one of the most powerful and well-implanted Trotskyist parties in the history of our movement. It was the equally great tragedy of that generation that they were unable to prevent the deterioration of the LSSP which resulted in its entry into the Bandaranaike coalition government in 1964, and consequently a debilitating series of splits among the revolutionaries that left them marginal within a decade and a half.

The political formation of many of that generation of leaders in the London School of Economics will be a well known story to many of our readers thanks to the researches of Richardson and Bornstein, and of Bob Pitt as contributed to Blows Against the Empire, Vol. 6 No. 4 of this journal. Fernando however was not among them. Influenced by his older brother, Aloysius, he dropped out of university to undertake full time political work with the Bolshevik Leninist Party of India’s “Ceylon Unit” in 1944, a grouping which was critical of many aspects of the LSSP’s line until they merged in 1950. It was in the BLPI that he met Edmund Samarakkody, with whom he remained politically associated for most of his life.

He became the Secretary, and effective leader, of the workers at the Elephant Match Factory in Kelaniya, leading a successful strike. He also organised the workers in Moratuwa, his native town, against the Velona Garment Factory, and the Lanka Light Match Factory.

In 1950, following the merger, he was elected as LSSP member of the Moratuwa Urban Council for the Koralawella Ward. He held this position until defeated by the LSSP candidate Jayasumana Dharmabundu in1967, and chaired the Council for some years. He was arrested and imprisoned during the great Hartal of 1953. In 1956 he was elected to Parliament, again represented Moratuwa in the name of the LSSP. He held the seat until 1964. In 1958 he was one of twelve opposition MPs to be physically removed from Parliament while opposing the Government’s extension of security powers in response to the communal tensions of the time. (His resolute insistence on the legal and social equality of the Sinhala and Tamil languages was one of the points for which he was praised at his funeral.)

In 1964, in opposition to the entry of the LSSP into the coalition, he worked with Samarakkody, Bala Tampoe, Karalasingham and others to found the LSSP(R). This party was plagued by interventions as the USFI and the International Committee descended to pick over the bones, both of them having their own candidates for leadership. In 1968 Fernando and Samarakkody split to form the Revolutionary Samasamaja Party, which soon changed its name to the Revolutionary Workers Party. He actively supported the JVP uprising in 1971, and took a distinguished part in the 1980 General Strike.

He was never a prolific writer. In 1997 he contributed an essay on the history of the LSSP to Blows Against the Empire which was translated and republished in the Cahiers Léon Trotsky. His article Travelling the capitalist road appeared in What Next, No. 5. His biographical article on Bernard Soysa has not yet been published outside Sri Lanka but can be found on the internet.

He had been born into a rich tea-growing family, but devoted most of his life, and all of his fortune, to the revolutionary cause. He was buried at the General Cemetery, Rawathawatta, Morutuwa, on 29 May. We extend our condolences to his family and comrades.

J.J. Plant

Updated by ETOL: 31.10.2011