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Sherman Stanley

Breaking Through the Oriental Censorship

Ceylon: The Island of Paradise

(November 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 32, 18 November 1940, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

COLUMBO, Ceylon – American tourists in great numbers used to call at this large island lying off the southernmost tip of India, while en route to Bombay. All this has hailed since the war – along with Ceylon’s vital international trade in rubber, copra and tea. Out here the effect of the war is not as direct as in Europe, but just as bad. trade, communications, almost all necessary supplies are cut off as the Axis snips, one by one, the threads of the British Empire. If Egypt falls, then Churchill’s warning that all imperial communications may cease will become a reality for Ceylon and India.

This amazingly beautiful tropical island has been called in tourist literature blurbs the “Pearl of India”, “The Garden of Eden”, an “Oriental Paradise”, etc. So far as its scenic beauty is concerned, for once the blurbs are true.

It’s Hell For Bosses

As for Ceylon being a “Paradise” that is true in another sense, with a slight modification. It is a “Paradise” for nationalists, revolutionists and colonial workers and peasants striving to rid themselves of Britain’s death grip. But for the English plantation owners and the British authorities it is far from a “Paradise”! It is a Hell on Earth!

All this is due to the famous (in Asiatic circles) Lanka Sama Samaj Party – the Ceylon Socialist Party. This Party, originating a bare 5 years back, has grown with great speed and assumed leadership over the island’s labor and peasant movement. Particularly strong is its influence among the hundreds of thousands of Tamil tea laborers who are the proletarians of Ceylon.

It is worth while mentioning the reasons that lie behind the success of the Sama Samajists. I would summarize them as two-fold.

First, over a period of years they steadily evolved their own revolutionary political program, clarifying its practical and immediate details. They learned the doctrines of revolutionary Marxism and faced the War with a clear program – against both imperialist war camps; for the colonial socialist revolution.

Secondly, these comrades – most of whom are from middle class backgrounds – deliberately set out to make themselves revolutionary leaders. By their energy, total devotion to the Sinhalese people and dynamic participation in the daily lives and struggles of the island’s workers and peasants they have succeeded. Today their leadership is unrivalled and recognized by all – including the clique of British planters who dominate Ceylon’s politics. Every labor strike, every peasant move, every anti-war action, every progressive political step is guided by the Ceylon Socialist Party! It has won the justified support and protection of the masses whom it serves.

Threats Fail

Since the war began the Party has been systematically attacked and threatened by the British authorities. Driven underground by repressive measures, it functions with almost as much effectiveness as previously. Here are several illustrations: When its two members in the Ceylon State Council were jailed for delivering anti-war speeches and demanding Ceylon’s independence, the Party organised a demonstration of many thousands of workers within 24 hours. The demonstrators defiantly marched to the jail where their leaders were being held, organized a mass meeting, sang revolutionary songs and listened to their leaders who spoke through the bars of their cells!

The island is plastered at regular intervals with posters expressing revolutionary demands and numerous leaflets containing stirring messages from Party leaders are broadcast. The illegal publications of the Party appear with a regularity most annoying to the British.

In the numerous strikes on Ceylon’s tea plantations these comrades have had a leading role. Some strikes have been bloody affairs, with the planters not hesitating to murder and employ all sorts of violence against the strikers. But the laborers’ union has stood firm and continues to press its demands.


In various court cases and trials the Sama Samajists have made it abundantly clear in their testimony that they are internationalists, having no interest in either of the warring camps. Accused of being “Fifth Columnists” their answer was that they oppose Hitler first of all by fighting the British authorities and plantation masters who have adopted all the methods of Hitler in this colony.

The British have given up any hope of winning the masses of Ceylon to their side in the war. Instead, they aim solely at suppressing the Party as much as possible, terrorizing its leaders, preventing the spread of its influence to India and adjacent sections of their Empire. Their objective is to hold on to power by sheer military force and weight. So far as destroying the Sama Samaj Party is concerned, they do not have the ghost of a chance because its roots have sunk far too deep.

In Ceylon we have a brilliant example of what can be achieved by a fighting party of genuine socialists. It is also an illustration of independent action on the part of the masses: of the Third Camp at work among the colonial people. Naturally – as in every other section of the world – a long, tough road is ahead for the Sama Samajists. If the totalitarian attack on the British Empire succeeds. Ceylon may fall under domination of one of the fascist powers. But from our knowledge of and experiences with this Party we know it will doggedly plug away, fighting against any and all imperialisms for the program of revolutionary internationalism. By one of those ironic developments of history, the small and relatively unimportant – from an economic standpoint – island of Ceylon has become a major revolutionary center on the Asiatic continent. On its shores there lives the most powerful colonial section of our world-wide movement.

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