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Peoples Frontism in Ceylon

From Wavering to Capitulation

Ernest Mandel - Internet Archive
Ernest Mandel / Ernest Germain Print
From International Socialist Review, Vol.25 No.4, Fall 1964, pp.104-117.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Ernest Germain is a member of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International. The present article was written in response to a request by the editors of the International Socialist Review, that he write an exposition of the Ceylonese events for publication in this magazine.

THE DECISION of the majority at the June 6-7 special conference of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party to join the liberal bourgeois government of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike in Ceylon was a heavy defeat for the Fourth International. The fact that the world-wide Trotskyist organization decided unanimously to sever relations with the majority of one of its most important sections, because of this betrayal of the basic interests of the Ceylonese workers and poor peasants and of the basic principles of revolutionary Marxism, shows that the international Trotskyist movement as a whole remains faithful to the cause to which it is dedicated – the cause of world revolution.

The fact that a considerable minority of the LSSP, its Revolutionary Section, led by Comrades Edmund Samarakkody, a member of parliament, Bala Tampoe, one of Ceylon’s principal trade-union leaders, and Meryl Fernando, another member of parliament – a minority that includes 14 members of the Central Committee of the LSSP and one quarter of the membership – likewise refused to condone the betrayal and remained faithful to the banner of the Fourth International, indicates that the defeat suffered by Trotskyism in Ceylon is only a temporary one. With the help of the world Trotskyist movement, the LSSP (Revolutionary Section) will prove its capacity to regain a leading position for Trotskyism among the workers and poor peasants of Ceylon.

Nevertheless, the defeat is a fact; and it would be unworthy of a revolutionist to deny it or to try to soften it by taking a lenient attitude. It is necessary instead to explain the origin of this setback affecting a whole sector of the revolutionary movement in Ceylon and to draw the appropriate lessons. 

Particular Character of the LSSP

It was never a secret to any member of the world Trotskyist movement, informed about the special problems of the Fourth International, that the section in Ceylon, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, was an organization to which the term “Trotskyist” had to be applied with a series of specific reservations. The Lanka Sama Samaja Party was, in fact, the first working-class party to be organized in Ceylon and was for some time the only such party in the country. It was founded and led by a group of brilliant young intellectuals who had studied at British universities, had been attracted by communism, repelled by the Moscow frame-up trials and the ultra-opportunist policies of Stalinism in the late thirties, and who had therefore evolved in the general direction of Trotskyism. However, the question of affiliating to the world Trotskyist movement only arose after the outbreak of World War II and after breaking with the pro-Stalinist wing of the old LSSP led by Pieter Keuneman, who favored collaborating with British imperialism during the war and who later founded the Communist Party of Ceylon.

As a result of this first political differentiation, the small group of Trotskyist intellectuals suddenly found themselves at the head of the largest working-class organization in the country. They correctly applied the theory of the permanent revolution under the conditions prevailing in Ceylon and audaciously took the lead in struggling for national independence against British imperialism. They rapidly acquired great influence among the masses, becoming leaders of the popular opposition first against the imperialist regime and then the regime of the “national” bourgeoisie, a position they held for twenty-five years.

However, the party they led could not really be called “Bolshevik.” Nor was it a mass party comparable to the mass parties of the working class in Europe or other parts of Asia. Characteristically, while the LSSP could poll several hundred thousand votes, its active membership never went above a thousand. It was a party that combined left-socialist trade-union cadres, revolutionary workers who had gained class consciousness but not a specifically revolutionary-Marxist education, and a few hundred genuine r evolutionary-Marxist cadres. The overwhelming majority of the latter category are today members of the LSSP (Revolutionary Section). The majority of the two other categories followed N.M. Perera and his friends on the road of coalition with a bourgeois government.

Many political and organizational traits testified to the hybrid character of the LSSP. The party never had a theoretical organ in the Sinhalese or Tamil languages; it never translated the bulk of Trotsky’s writings or even the bulk of the resolutions and decisions of the congresses and other leading bodies of the Fourth International into these languages. But most of the rank and file and virtually the entire proletariat understand no other languages, although English is common currency among the upper strata of the population, particularly the intellectuals. Participation in the political life of the world Trotskyist movement, above all its internal political life, remained limited therefore to a minority of revolutionary leaders.

On the programmatic level, the party was born Trotskyist, and developed in sharp struggle with the Stalinist, later Khrushchevist, Communist Party of Ceylon. The struggle became embodied in two rival organizations of the Ceylon working class – the LSSP and the CP. No Social Democratic party existed in Ceylon. The party program, of course, correctly characterized the shortcomings and betrayals of the international Social Democracy and reformism in general; but it is important to note that unlike the differentiation from Stalinism, the differentiation from reformism existed only on the ideological and literary level, accessible only to a minority of party members. The differentiation was not experienced by the party membership in a flesh-and-blood way through actual struggle with a rival organization. In fact, while being formally a Trotskyist party, the LSSP functioned in several areas comparably to a left Social Democratic party in a relatively “prosperous” semicolonial country; i.e., it was the main electoral vehicle of the poor masses, it provided the main leadership of the trade unions.

Party membership was essentially formal, hinging only on the payment of dues. Party conferences were membership conferences, in which oratorical feats of the party leaders rather than sober discussion of principles and experiences carried the day. The Fourth International stubbornly sought to bring the LSSP around to the basic principle of democratic centralism, beginning with party conferences based on delegates democratically elected by the branches. After years of resistance, the principle was finally accepted – only to be transformed into a mockery at the crucial June 6-7, 1964, conference where the demand to enter a bourgeois government was put over. This conference was called as a “delegated conference,” in which delegates were elected on the basis of ... one delegate per member!

Recruiting to the party was conducted haphazardly, unsystematically, and, worst of all, was not concentrated among working-class and poor peasant youth. Some of the party’s trade-union leaders complained bitterly about the neglect in organizing study classes that could draw hundreds of young militant workers into the ranks. Such neglect permitted the opportunist right wing of the party to inflate the membership at the decisive moment with new recruits lacking socialist education and class consciousness, many of them of petty-bourgeois origin.

The Party Leadership

The party leadership itself was not homogeneous. It was composed in reality of two wings, one led by N.M. Perera and Philip Gunawardena which displayed petty-bourgeois nationalist inclinations and was opportunist from the start, the other, genuinely Trotskyist, led by a group of comrades around Colvin R. de Silva, Leslie Goonewardene, Bernard Soysa, Edmund Samarakkody, Doric de Souza and Bala Tampoe. Relations between these two wings were uneasy from the beginning. A split occurred in the forties in which a majority of the membership, under the leadership of Philip Gunawardena and N.M. Perera, broke away from the Fourth International for a time, and the genuine Trotskyists formed the Bolshevik-Leninist party headed by Colvin R. de Silva and Leslie Goonewardene.

The opportunist character of the majority grouping was displayed when its members of parliament refused to vote against the status of “independence” in 1947 that left key positions to British imperialism. The split was healed in June 1950 but only partially. N.M. Perera and the majority of those who had split unified with the Bolshevik-Leninist party. For some time Philip Gunawardena kept the so-called “old” LSSP going, receiving reinforcements from a new split in the LSSP in 1953. Finally, in 1956, he entered the first Bandaranaike government, dissolving the “old” LSSP into the MEP (Mahajana Eksath Peramuna – People’s United Front).

These ruptures, despite partial recoveries, left deep scars in the ranks of the leadership of the LSSP. Sensitivity resulting from the old wounds was all the keener in view of the fact that although the main forces had been brought together, the possibility of a fresh cleavage remained. While the group around Colvin R. de Silva and Leslie Goonewardene became undisputed political leaders of the party, N.M. Perera became an even more popular figure among the trade unions and masses.

The problem of overcoming the old divisions and of blocking anything that could precipitate a new split with N.M. Perera became an obsession among the key political leaders. The policy was correct in itself since the unification had taken place on a principled basis and since the party’s activities as a whole were proceeding in accordance with the general program of Trotskyism. The fatal flaw was that these key political leaders did not occupy themselves with full time party work – they remained part-time leaders. (For many years it was a standing grievance among party activists that Colvin R. de Silva, the party’s most able theoretician and one of the most powerful orators in all Asia, who could have rapidly built a mass following much larger than N.M. Perera’s, continued his career as Ceylon’s leading lawyer instead of turning full attention to party building.) The flaw led eventually to political wavering in face of Perera’s systematic opportunist inclinations.

The dialectical interrelationship between the two tendencies went even deeper. N.M. Perera, himself, and the trade-union cadres generally under his leadership, were in the beginning filled with respect and admiration for the political brilliance and revolutionary daring of the Colvin R. de Silva, Leslie Goonewardene group. The structuring of the LSSP leadership on this healthy basis – Perera’s opportunist inclinations notwithstanding – showed itself best during the August 1953 hartal (general strike). The LSSP leadership appeared as a really revolutionary team at the head of insurgent masses, fighting in the streets simultaneously for immediate material gains for the impoverished masses and for the socialist overthrow of the capitalist regime.

But when some of the leaders of the genuinely Trotskyist wing of the LSSP did not change their daily lives to accord with their revolutionary convictions; when they failed to devote themselves whole-heartedly to party building; when they began wavering on basic political questions; the N.M. Perera group, after some years of watching this, lost confidence in the old party leadership. They decided to “go into politics” on their own, and to develop their own line, with the disastrous results registered at the June 6-7 conference.

The defeat suffered by Trotskyism in Ceylon is therefore essentially the story of how and why the Colvin R. de Silva and Leslie Goonewardene group lost leadership of the party through their own weaknesses and inner contradictions, an outcome that was strikingly pointed up when the resolution presented by Leslie Goonewardene, General Secretary of the party for more than ten years, received only ten percent of the vote at the June 6-7 conference, and when the tendency led by these comrades wound up with only a handful of followers.

The Myth of Ceylonese “Exceptionalism”

THIS TRAGIC collapse of a group of genuine revolutionists, who displayed great heroism in the past, great daring and genuine revolutionary devotion [1] was not, however, the “inevitable” result of adverse circumstances. The development of the basic contradiction in the nature of the LSSP was inevitable since it corresponded to the hybrid origin of the organization. But it was not inevitable that Perera’s tendency should become as strong as it did, finally gaining a majority. The contradiction could have been overcome with a quite different outcome had the leadership carried out its clear duties. We have already noted the basic organizational weaknesses evident among some of the best representatives of the group (Leslie Goonewardene being an exception, however, in this respect) which centered around limiting themselves to literary and ideological leadership, leaving the actual chores of day-today party building to “activists” who tended to gather around N.M. Perera, the most popular mass figure of the party. But this fatal weakness on the organizational level was complemented by the appearance of parallel errors on the ideological plane.

Colvin R. de Silva and Leslie Goonewardene were brilliant Marxist thinkers who have written some of the best revolutionary pamphlets in Southeast Asia. They undoubtedly assimilated the whole body of basic Trotskyist concepts. But in the political arena in Ceylon, while trying creatively to apply the method of revolutionary Marxism to the specific conditions of their country and its mass movements, they committed a progressive series of mistakes that can be summarized in the formula of “Ceylonese exceptionalism.” They never set out to develop this theory in a systematic, organic way. Instead they fell into it pragmatically during the fifties, at first imperceptibly, without being aware of what was happening, until they fell victim to the logic of these false ideas and were drawn irresistibly towards conclusions which they would have condemned with biting scorn only a few years earlier.

The first indication of this theory of “Ceylonese exceptionalism” was at the Fourth World Congress in 1954, when, during the discussions of the theses on the “Rise and Decline of Stalinism,” the LSSP delegation suddenly came up with an amendment to change the demand for freedom for all working-class parties, under the proletarian dictatorship after the conquest of power, to freedom for all parties. In arguing for this astonishing amendment, they contended that due to the exceptional conditions in Ceylon, the masses there would not understand any other position. They added that in their opinion, “the masses cannot be wrong.” They seemed to have temporarily forgotten one of the ABC’s of Marxism – that the masses can often be wrong. (The masses were wrong when they cheered the departure of the armies for the front in Europe fifty years ago; they were equally wrong when they acclaimed the SLFP-LSSP coalition government in Ceylon a few weeks ago.) To reason like the Ceylonese comrades at the Fourth World Congress was to fall into tail-endism, a dangerous tendency, and one which these comrades were to display to an increasing extent as time went on.

Needless to say, the amendment offered by the Ceylonese delegation found no support among the delegates at the Fourth World Congress, and they dropped the matter, since they were not eager to defend this position at the Congress.

A second manifestation of the theory of “Ceylonese exceptionalism” appeared during the preparations for the 1956 general elections, a manifestation that was to reappear in each subsequent election. This was the view that under the “exceptional circumstances” prevailing in Ceylon, a revolutionary party could win power through the ballot. It was, of course, entirely permissible in principle for a revolutionary party with mass influence to participate in the elections under the slogan: “For an LSSP socialist government.” (It is quite another question whether the slogan was tactically correct; i.e., whether its correspondence to the long-range objective need also fit in with the subjective reflection of the situation in the minds of the masses. Looking back, one can question whether the Ceylonese masses have ever viewed a LSSP government as a realistic alternative to the bourgeois government. The problem of a transitional form, a Workers and Peasants Government, arises here.) It was wrong to suggest to the masses that power could actually be conquered, capitalism actually overthrown, solely by electoral means. It was just as bad, if not worse, for the LSSP leadership to become victim of its own propaganda and to begin thinking in terms of the “parliamentary road to socialism.”

Participation in Parliament

Here again it was argued that the masses in Ceylon don’t conceive of any other way to win power under the circumstances. The argument, however, not only left out the possibility of educating the masses; it was not entirely correct factually. The Ceylonese masses displayed great willingness to conduct extra-parliamentary struggles during the 1953 hartal. They displayed similar willingness again after the murder of Prime Minister Bandaranaike and the subsequent Emergency in 1960. And during the rise of working-class struggles from 1962 on, their attention again became focused essentially on the extra-parliamentary scene. In truth, the relationship between the parliamentary illusions of the masses and the parliamentary illusions and outlook of the LSSP leadership, which had started as a case of tail-endism, now saw the revolutionary party dragging the masses back to the scene of parliament at a time when experience was centering their attention more and more on direct action! [2]

A third manifestation of “Ceylonese exceptionalism,” inherent in a certain sense in the previous one of “the parliamentary road to socialism,” occurred during the 1960 crisis precipitated by the murder of Prime Minister Bandaranaike. The view was advanced that not only could power be won through the ballot box and parliamentary means, but the revolution itself could be completely “peaceful,” without any need whatsoever for defensive military preparations in the struggle for power. This theory was founded on the premise that the bourgeois army and constabulary in Ceylon were so weak that they would be unable to intervene actively in the class struggle. It was further pointed out that the “left parties” enjoyed considerable sympathy among the armed forces, the LSSP among the lower echelons, and the MEP of Philip Gunawardena among the noncommissioned officers.

However, life itself brutally refuted this theory of “Ceylonese exceptionalism”; in fact, an army conspiracy proved to be behind the murder of Prime Minister Bandaranaike in 1960! Preparations for an army coup were discovered and blocked only at the last moment in 1962. Again in the spring of 1964 rumors about a projected army coup became widespread in Ceylon (even playing a role in paving the way inside the LSSP for a coalition with the SLFP!) Despite this refutation of their assumptions, the LSSP leadership never drew any lessons from what had happened and never corrected the tendency toward tail-endism or the hope that Ceylon would prove to be an “exception.”

It may seem strange, at first sight, that experienced leaders and brilliant Marxists like Colvin R. de Silva and Leslie Goonewardene, who had torn to shreds the reformist illusions of the Stalinists about “people’s fronts,” about a “new democracy” (in France and Italy 1944-47), about the parliamentary road to socialism, who had no less effectively criticized the miserable performance of the postwar Labour government in pretending to introduce socialism “piecemeal” in Great Britain without touching the bourgeois state machine and the bourgeois army, solely basing itself on a majority in parliament – it may seem strange that such comrades, very well versed in Lenin’s State and Revolution, who had given lectures on this very subject, year after year, in their own party, could suddenly accept these tedious old illusions of “classical” reformism which had been so many times dispelled by historical experience. This is why it is correct to label their deviation from Marxism a case of “Ceylonese exceptionalism.”

The position they adopted was not at all a rejection of the Leninist theory of the state, of the necessity to destroy the old bourgeois state machine, to base the workers state on proletarian democracy as opposed to bourgeois democracy, not upon “parliament” but on self-governing committees of the toiling masses. No, they continued to swear by Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky. They made the sharpest possible critical analysis of people’s frontism and the policies of the postwar Labour government. They continued to swear by State and Revolution and the “permanent revolution” ... adding only that “exceptional” circumstances in their own country happened to make Ceylon an “exception” to the general rule. 

The “National Bourgeoisie,” the Peasantry, and the Theory of the Permanent Revolution

GRAVE as they were, these three instances of “Ceylonese exceptionalism” were relatively “mild” in their consequences compared to the fourth one. This concerned the problem of the relationship between the peasantry and the bourgeoisie, the peasantry and the working class, and the reciprocal relationship of the three classes in Ceylonese politics in general and Ceylonese revolutionary politics in particular.

It is well known that the peasantry plays a key role in all mass revolutions in backward, colonial or semi-colonial countries. Since it constitutes the bulk of the population, no popular revolution is possible in these countries without an uprising of the peasantry. So long as the peasantry is not in motion, the working-class minority cannot make a bid for power without the gravest risk of being isolated and crushed.

This is a basic tenet of Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution, and the Stalinists (as well as Khrushchevists and Maoists) either speak out of ignorance or deliberately lie, of course, when they declare that Trotsky was “guilty of underestimating the role of the peasantry” in revolutions in backward countries. Suffice it to quote the following passage of his key book The Permanent Revolution:

“Not only the agrarian, but also the national question assigns to the peasantry – the overwhelming majority of the population in backward countries – an exceptional place in the democratic revolution. Without an alliance of the proletariat with the peasantry the tasks of the democratic revolution cannot be solved, nor even seriously posed.” (pp. 152-53)

While the theory of the permanent revolution recognizes the key role of the peasantry in any popular revolution in a backward country, it also calls attention to the fact that historical experience has shown that the peasantry is unable to build independent political parties of its own. It can act either under the leadership of the liberal national bourgeoisie or under the leadership of the proletariat. And since the liberal national bourgeoisie is unable to play a revolutionary role in the epoch of imperialism, it therefore follows that a proletarian party must succeed in winning the political allegiance of the peasantry and carry the revolution through to victory by establishing a workers’ state; i.e., the dictatorship of the proletariat, or the peasantry will remain under the political leadership of the national bourgeoisie, in which case there will be no victory (or no revolution at all under certain circumstances).

“No matter what the first episodic stages of the revolution may be in the individual countries,” writes Trotsky, “the realization of the revolutionary alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry is conceivable only under the political leadership of the proletarian vanguard, organized in the Communist Party. This in turn means that the victory of the democratic revolution is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat, which bases itself upon the alliance with the peasantry and solves first of all the tasks of the democratic revolution.” [3] (p.153.)

Let it be noted in passing that after the experience of the October Revolution, Lenin fully accepted this basic postulate of the theory of the permanent revolution, stating again and again that the peasantry either fought under the leadership of the proletariat or the bourgeoisie – a third road, involving an “independent” peasant party, he explicitly excluded. [4] All historical experience has completely confirmed the correctness of this theory.

Need for Agrarian Program

Now it is nearly incredible, but nonetheless true, that comrades who had been fighting for nearly thirty years in defense of the correctness of this theory of the permanent revolution on a world scale and especially in their own country; who had paraphrased the above-mentioned quotations in hundreds of lectures, speeches, articles and pamphlets as well as several books [5], failed to recognize the very things they had been talking and writing about when they ran up against them face to face in their own country! For the basic, fatal departure from revolutionary Marxism into which the LSSP leadership fell after 1960 hinged precisely upon a correct analysis of the class nature of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and government, which were based mainly on the Ceylonese peasantry.

The LSSP, it is worth observing, has always analyzed the situation in the Ceylonese countryside in too sketchy a way, paying insufficient attention to the specific problems of the village poor; the slogans and agrarian program of the LSSP thus proving insufficient to meet the needs of these poor villagers. Outside the plantations – which are run by the rural proletariat and for which the LSSP correctly raised the slogan of nationalization [6] – it is true that the majority of the agricultural producers of Ceylon are small independent peasants whose standard of living is higher than that of the abjectly poor, average village dwellers of say India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Vietnam or China prior to the victory of the revolution.

But it is also true that there is heavy unemployment and underemployment in the Ceylon village, that the latest census disclosed that one-fourth of the village families own no land whatsoever, another one-fourth, less than half an acre; that since independence, the average indebtedness of village families has more than tripled and that more than sixty percent of the village families are saddled with debt. Such conditions have long made urgently necessary a detailed analysis of the agrarian problem in Ceylon and the drafting of a comprehensive program of transitional demands for the peasantry which the party could actively advance not only during election campaigns but also in normal day-to-day work. We are sure that the LSSP(RS) will make up for the long-standing deficiencies and failures of the past in this field.

The LSSP leadership took an essentially pragmatic, electoralist approach to the peasantry. As a result, they were badly surprised by the triumph of the SLFP in 1956, and even more by the relative stabilization of the SLFP in 1960. What had happened, however, was a quite common “electoral” evolution in a relatively stable semicolonial country. The traditional party of the bourgeoisie and rural rich, the UNP (United National Party), had become utterly discredited in the eyes of the toiling masses through its bungling of the rice-subsidy issue (which led to the hartal of 1953), its general corruptness and conservatism, its ties with British imperialism, etc., etc.

The masses wanted a radical change. But the LSSP, although preeminent among the working class, had not organized a systematic drive to win the peasant masses to its own program for a revolution in the countryside. In short, it lacked the necessary program for a thoroughgoing agrarian reform. Consequently, the “national” bourgeoisie could carry out a traditional maneuver. It divided its own forces into “conservative” and “liberal” wings, and the latter entered the elections on an opposition platform of essentially political reforms (progressive substitution of the poorer, Sinhalese-speaking petty bourgeoisie in key posts in local and national government administration), thereby winning overwhelming support among the rural petty bourgeoisie and peasantry.

No trained Marxist, however, could doubt that the SLFP was essentially a bourgeois party; i.e., the party of the “liberal” wing of the “national” bourgeoisie. It was bourgeois not only in origin (the founder, W.R.D. Bandaranaike, had been one of the main leaders of the UNP for many years) and program, but especially in actual political practice: bourgeois property and bourgeois “law and order” were upheld under the SLFP government exactly as under the UNP government. Which of the two regimes was most corrupt is hardly worth arguing.

And if this appeared self-evident to any Marxist, it should have been a thousand times more evident to any revolutionary Marxist; i.e., to any Trotskyist, who, having thoroughly assimilated the theory of the permanent revolution, knew that of course an “independent” party of the peasantry has never appeared anywhere; that no exceptions are known, not even in Ceylon; and that even a party whose membership is composed ninety-nine percent of peasants will act objectively in society under the leadership of the remaining one percent of the upper strata middle-class and bourgeois members as a party of the liberal national bourgeoisie unless by some magic it has been transformed into a working-class party. To our knowledge, even N.M. Perera would hesitate to call the SLFP a proletarian party ...

From Wavering to Capitulation

DOESN’T the danger exist that a revolutionary party can become “isolated” if it remains hostile to a liberal-bourgeois “new deal” which is at the same time violently opposed by conservative reaction? Isn’t there even the danger of a military coup? Of course the “danger” exists. The Bolsheviks, not unexpectedly, found themselves “isolated” during the first days after April 1917 when, under Lenin’s pressure, they came out vigorously in opposition to the “Provisional Government.” This was also the reason why Trotskyist opposition to the Popular Front government in France in June 1936, not to speak of the Trotskyist opposition to the Popular Front government in Spain, which was under open military fire from the fascists, was, at least in the beginning, neither easy nor “popular.” Nevertheless opposition of this kind is the very essence of Leninism, of Bolshevism, of revolutionary Marxism.

Of course, this does not imply that a revolutionary working-class party will use the same methods and same language against a liberal-bourgeois government supported by the majority of the people, and a conservative, reactionary or fascist regime, hated and despised by the people. It does not even imply the impossibility of offering such a regime a united front against the aggression of reaction or imperialism (such as the Bolsheviks offered Kerensky against Kornilov, and as it would be correct in Ceylon to offer the SLFP against a military coup or against “reprisals” undertaken by US imperialism in defense of the oil trusts).

But the conditions for such a united front are well known: strict independence in the party’s policies and organization; firmness in marching separately while striking together; stubborn efforts to warn and educate the masses on the absolute ineffectiveness and inadequacy of the policy of the liberal-bourgeois SLFP to stop reaction; continuous propaganda against imperialism, against capitalism and in favor of genuinely socialist solutions.

Above all, under no conditions to share the least responsibility for the bankrupt liberal-bourgeois regime (whose very bankruptcy is the greatest feeder of reaction!); under no condition any coalition with the “left wing” of the bourgeoisie; under no condition any relinquishment of constant propaganda – and, whenever possible and necessary, agitation – in favor of a Workers and Peasants Government, which, under the concrete conditions of Ceylon, could only be a government of the working-class parties with a socialist program.

The dynamics of such an initially “unpopular” stand are well known. Relatively soon, the honeymoon atmosphere of general rejoicing at the supposed “victory of the left” is dissipated, inasmuch as experience soon shows the masses that little has changed in the economic and social situation they face. They begin to realize that something much more radical is required. The initial “popularity” of the government changes into something quite different. And if the revolutionary opposition has handled itself correctly, has followed a correct policy, its own popularity then grows day by day, since it offers an alternative governmental solution, with an alternative program, to the bankrupt “liberal” regime.

The Ceylon experience is no exception to this. Prior to the 1960 general elections, the LSSP leadership constantly stressed the growing unpopularity of the SLFP government, which had been so popular in 1956. In the same way, the LSSP leadership stressed very strongly in 1962-63 that the SLFP government had become utterly bankrupt. The July 7, 1963, document drafted by the LSSP majority for submission to the CP and MEP for formation of the United Left Front, begins with the following sentence:

“The first task of the Front is to mobilise the masses in their own organisations and behind the Front in a campaign of struggle centering around the following demands against the bankrupt SLFP and capitalist reaction.” (Emphasis added.)

Formal Coalition

It is hardly believable that less than one year after having drafted that sentence – a year which showed steady decline in the popularity and voting strength of the SLFP – the same comrades of the majority of the LSSP, backed, by and large, by Colvin R. de Silva and Leslie Goone-wardene, reached the conclusion that having won growing successes for several months by extra-parliamentary means against a bankrupt bourgeois government, it now became necessary ... to join the bankrupt party in parliament and the government!!! [7]

The traditional firm Trotskyist positions of the “old guard” inside the LSSP leadership were for the first time put in question immediately after the elections of 1956. Looking at the peasantry essentially from an electoral angle, part of the LSSP leadership became unduly impressed with the landslide victory given the SLFP as an alternative to the UNP. A group of former Trotskyists under Philip Gunawardena capitulated completely to the liberal bourgeoisie and joined the coalition government. (They stood for some reforms in favor of the small peasantry – the paddy land act – but at the same time became the spearhead of petty-bourgeois reactionary chauvinism directed against the Tamil minority. This split the Ceylonese proletariat – the bulk of the plantation workers, the main sector of the proletariat, being of Tamil, or Indian, origin.) The LSSP itself showed signs of wavering, advancing the proposal of “responsive co-operation” with the liberal-bourgeois Bandaranaike government. However, when the race riots started, when the chauvinism of the enraged petty-bourgeois elements supporting W.R.D. Bandaranaike threatened the unity of the proletariat and the country, and when the right wing of the SLFP mounted sufficient pressure to have Philip Gunawardena thrown out of the government, the LSSP sharply radicalized its stand and courageously fought the SLFP Emergency. This was the positive side of its “tail-endism.” Each time the workers went into action, the LSSP leadership took a new turn towards the left.

The traditional Trotskyist position against collaboration with the liberal bourgeoisie was again questioned in 1960. After the unexpected electoral victory of Mrs. Bandaranaike, the LSSP decided to vote for the Throne Speech and the Budget; i.e., to give parliamentary support to a capitalist government. A proposal made by N.M. Perera to enter into a coalition with the SLFP was rejected by only a narrow majority. A big step had been taken from wavering towards betrayal. However, once again the Ceylonese working class saved the LSSP leadership temporarily from ignominy. After a short glow of hope about the possibilities of Mrs. Bandaranaike’s government, the workers started on the road of growing economic struggles. This led eventually, for the first time in the history of the Ceylonese labor movement, to the establishment of a Joint Committee of Trade Unions – under LSSP leadership – which the plantation workers also joined and which represented nearly one million organized workers. In the course of this experience, the LSSP leadership was pushed towards the road of essentially extra-parliamentary struggle, implying a struggle for power [8], and towards the United Left Front of working-class parties conceived as offering an alternative government. (The LSSP Political Bureau resolution of August 23, 1963, declares that “the mobilisation of the masses for struggle is necessary if a government of the United Left Front is to become a reality.”) This represented a sharp turn to the left compared with the attitude of 1960-61.

However, under the surface of these declarations, the party leadership had undergone the fundamental change noted above. The Perera group had cut itself loose from “political control” by the Colvin R. de Silva, Leslie Goonewardene tendency and had started to “play politics” on its own. Such politics could only be of an extremely opportunist, reformist type. In the spring of 1964, recklessly overthrowing the very United Left Front for which he had fought so strongly nine months before, N.M. Perera abruptly opened secret negotiations with the SLFP concerning the setting up of a coalition government. The road from wavering to capitulation was completed when the majority of the LSSP, which in 1960 had still drawn back from spelling out the meaning of the fascination of the SLFP, this time followed Perera to the bitter end ...

The Attempt to Find Some “Precedents”

FOR THOSE who had struggled a lifetime against Stalinist people’s frontism it was not so easy to discard overnight what had been their guiding concepts and to replace them with what they had formerly rejected as stupefying poison. The nagging voice of conscience had to be stilled. Rationalizations were needed for what was indeed only a new, pitiful edition, of an old and familiar course – common, ordinary capitulation. (Comrade Karalasingham has drawn an excellent parallel between Lenin’s indictment of governmental class collaboration in Russia and the latest example of Ceylonese Menshevism. See his article, Analysis of the SLFP-LSSP Coalition, in World Outlook, Vol.2, No.26, June 26, 1964.) The rationalizations involve two concepts:

  1. “Precedents” of “coalitions” that have led to “victorious socialist revolutions” in Eastern Europe, Cuba and Algeria;
  2. the “accepted program” of the SLFP-LSSP government.

Did “coalition” governments appear in most of the Eastern European countries after World War II? Yes, they did. Did these “coalition” governments lead to the overthrow of capitalism? Yes, they did. But what was the real nature of these “coalitions?” The actual power of the state (“the state is, in the last analysis, a body of armed men”) no longer rested in the hands of the local capitalist class or foreign imperialism. It was in the hands of the Soviet army and its local CP agents (in the case of Czechoslovakia, the working class, partially armed and under tight control of the Communist Party, was brought in, too). In Yugoslavia, real state power was already in the hands of the Yugoslav CP and the Communist army which had just brought a long civil war to victorious conclusion, completing a genuine, albeit a bureaucratically distorted, social revolution.

In other words, the cases in Eastern Europe between 1945 and 1948 were just the opposite of the “classical” coalitions between representatives of working-class parties with the bourgeoisie. In the “classical” cases, the representatives of working-class parties in coalition cabinets are the prisoners of capitalism, because capitalism controls the economy and the state. In the East European “coalition” cabinets, the representatives of what remained of the bourgeoisie were the prisoners of the Soviet bureaucracy, because it was this bureaucracy, its army and its local agents, who controlled the economy and state power. The proof of the pudding being in the eating, the real nature of these governments is generally shown by what occurs to the unhappy prisoners in the coalition. When they have played out their usefulness to the genuinely dominant social force, any illusions they may have about being in “power” are ended by a simple kick in the pants. They often find that the bars of their gilded cage in the coalition have suddenly changed to bars in a very real prison. That was the fate of the Scheidemanns and Herman Müllers in Germany, the Léon Blums in France, Thorez and some of his co-ministers in the Fourth French Republic. It was the fate of the bourgeois ministers after 1948 in Eastern Europe.

Were coalition governments formed at the beginning of the Cuban and Algerian revolutions? Yes, coalition governments were formed. Did they prevent the overthrow of capitalism? In the case of Cuba, certainly not. In the case of Algeria, the social outcome has not yet been decided, but in any case the temporary coalition between Ben Bella and Ferhat Abbas did not prevent the revolution from advancing along the road to overthrowing the bourgeois state.

Beyond Coalitions

Why didn’t the coalition block the victory of the revolution in Cuba? Because it was broken at the decisive moment. When the Cuban revolution reached the point where it was imperative to nationalize the big estates and to break the stranglehold of foreign imperialist and native capital on agriculture, all the representatives of the “national” bourgeoisie left the government or were given a kick in the seat of the pants. They went over to the camp of the counter-revolution, thereby again confirming another of the basic postulates of the theory of the permanent revolution; i.e., that the fundamental tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution in backward countries, in the epoch of imperialism cannot be carried out under the leadership of the “national” bourgeoisie, or even be tolerated by them, but requires a proletarian revolution and the establishment of a workers state as a necessary precondition. And, as Trotsky pointed out many times, a radical agrarian reform is precisely the fundamental task of the bourgeois democratic revolution.

In other words, a coalition government is not an absolute obstacle to the overthrow of capitalism either when it is a sham coalition (when the bourgeois ministers are captives because they have already lost all real power in the economy and state to their class enemy) or when it is a passing phase that is transcended by the development of the revolution.

Isn’t it clear that under these conditions, references to such “precedents” to excuse the coalition in Ceylon lack the slightest justification? Ceylon is not occupied by the Soviet army. The Ceylonese bourgeoisie have not been deprived of power by “military-bureaucratic” means. Mrs. Bandaranaike is no languishing “captive” of Messrs. Perera, Moonesinghe and Cholmondeley Goonewardene. Economic and state power remain fully intact in the hands of the Ceylonese bourgeoisie, not to mention the strong grip of British imperialism. There is not the remotest analogy with the cases of Eastern Europe in 1945-48.

As for the other analogy, no one as yet, unfortunately, is able to point to revolutionary events in Ceylon in any way comparable to those of Cuba or even Algeria. No spontaneous occupation of factories and estates by workers and poor peasants has occurred. We are not faced with a panic-stricken attempt of the liberal bourgeoisie to hang on, if even to the coat-tails of a revolutionary government, in the wake of a powerful mass uprising. We are not faced with a team of LSSP leaders resolved to push forward a seething revolution at all costs until it reaches a complete break with imperialism and expropriates the propertied classes even if a government coalition must be swept into the dust pan. On the contrary, the reality is that a liberal bourgeois government has just tricked the leading party of the working class into a coalition in order to prevent an upsurge of the mass movement, in order to stifle mass action, in order to stop the threat of potential revolution. And far from showing willingness to break up any coalition that stands in the way, the majority of the LSSP leadership revealed shameful eagerness to join such a coalition under conditions set by the bourgeois masters. All references to the Cuban and Algerian revolutions are therefore as much out of place as the references to Eastern Europe. What we have is a classical case of class collaboration in a coalition government in order to “fool, divide and weaken the workers,” as Lenin so aptly put it.

Again the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The real nature of the passing “coalitions” in Eastern Europe and in Cuba was revealed by their very transitory character and by the socio-economic results which afterwards became evident: expropriation of the bourgeoisie; a break with imperialism; destruction of the bourgeois state and the bourgeois army and police; slow emergence of a state apparatus of qualitatively different character. If it should turn out, to everyone’s surprise, that a comparable process occurs in the immediate future in Ceylon, we shall of course humbly admit that we were wrong and that this coalition, after all, was only a passing phase in the rise of the Ceylonese revolution. But we observe that no one in the LSSP leadership, absolutely no one, has dared to hurl this challenge against those who accuse them of betrayal.

On the contrary, in a guilty way they promise only a few miserable reforms (workers advisory committees in state industry, such as Winston Churchill introduced in British plants nearly twenty-five years ago!) which do not threaten capitalist property and the bourgeois state in the least way. When the genuine revolution breaks out in Ceylon, it will most certainly not be in consequence of any inspiration from this government, but the result of a mass uprising against this government or the reactionary regime for which it is paving the way.

Who is Responsible for the Revisionism?

WHEREAS the LSSP leadership in their rationalizations use the “analogy” to Eastern Europe, to Cuba and Algeria to excuse capitulating to the liberal bourgeoisie, some sectarian critics of the Fourth International use the same arguments – a most telling parallel! – to condemn the stand taken by the world Trotskyist movement in relation to Eastern Europe, Cuba and Algeria. The saddest case is that of Healy, who, taking as his main foundation a deliberate lie [9], sees in the betrayal of the LSSP leadership the “logical” outcome of our alleged “revisionism” on an international scale. If you hold that a “petty-bourgeois nationalist” like Fidel Castro can make a revolution and set up a workers state, Healy argues, then you are logically driven into taking the position that it can also be done through a coalition with Mrs. Bandaranaike. The method of arguing by analogy, whether used by opportunists in Ceylon or ultra-lefts in Britain, degrades Marxist dialectics to scholasticism and pure sophistry.

Healy’s position, however, lacks even logical self-consistency. Having delivered his “crushing attack” against the “revistionists,” he at once becomes subject to a still more crushing attack from Messrs. Schachtman, Tony Cliff and Co., who quite justifiably demand more thoroughness from him and equally justifiably accuse him of being the biggest “revisionist” of all; for doesn’t Healy admit that in Eastern Europe workers states appeared not only without revolutionary parties but also without revolutions! Isn’t Healy logically responsible, therefore, for Perera’s betrayal? Once you admit, as Healy does, that capitalism can be overthrown without a revolutionary party, without a revolution, and after a coalition with the native bourgeoisie, as he teaches was the case in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Rumania, Albania and East Germany, how then can you consistently draw the line on the possibility of capitalism being overthrown in Ceylon without a revolution, simply through a coalition with Mrs. Bandaranaike?

A whole queue of sophists thirsting for revenge now forms. Messrs. Schachtman, Tony Cliff and Co., themselves come under crushing attack from Bordiga and other ultra-leftists:

“You are not ‘in principle’ opposed to the United Front, are you? Then, Healy, Schachtman, Cliff and tutti quanti, you are responsible not only for Perera’s betrayal, but also for the betrayals of the French and Spanish people’s fronts and all the opportunism of the Communist parties for the last thirty years.”

All these betrayals, they contend, were the logical consequence of the basic revisionism that occurred at the Third Congress of the Communist International, where it was decided that so-called ‘united fronts’ with opportunist working-class parties was a permissible tactic. We happen to know, they argue, that Lenin himself said in the First and Second Congresses of the Communist International, that these opportunist parties of the working class are in reality bourgeois parties objectively, in fact the best and main props of the bourgeois state and bourgeois private property under conditions of working-class upsurge. Therefore, any ‘united front’ with such parties is shameful revisionism and betrayal. Once you condone such betrayals, they triumphantly conclude, the logical consequence is the ultimate betrayal of you yourself joining in a coalition government with these or other bourgeois parties.

To make a long story short, Bordiga himself is not without sin. His “revisionism” comes under crushing attack from the anarchists. They point out that the ultimate source of all the crimes and betrayals committed by all the opportunists in the labor movement is the original sin of “accepting the idea of the state.” Once you agree to the argument that the workers must conquer state power, you find that the next step is acceptance of the view that a majority must be won. To win a majority you must take into consideration the views of opportunist elements among the masses. Once you start kowtowing in this way, it is an easy step first to negotiate with and then to ally yourself with political parties that represent these conservative elements. You thereby become hopelessly revisionist. When you accepted the idea of conquering state power you were already on the road to a coalition with the bouregoisie. It was really the idea of conquering state power that was responsible for Perera’s capitulation. Thus to simon-pure anarchists, Perera, Cannon, Healy, Schachtman, Cliff and Bordiga are just one reactionary revisionist mass ...

Basis of Social Revolution

Is it so difficult to unravel this sophistry? A social revolution signifies the replacement of one mode of production by another, of the economic, social and political power of one class by that of another. In the mainstream of history this can be done only if the revolutionary class is led by a revolutionary party. Under wholly abnormal circumstances, however – especially if it has been previously weakened to the extreme by war and uprisings – a ruling class can also be dislodged without such a party. This is not a new phenomenon; it is as old as the Paris Commune; and it was acknowledged and faithfully noted by Leon Trotsky in the very Transitional Program which Healy brandishes the way a Protestant cleric brandishes Holy Scripture, carefully avoiding citing the passages that don’t suit his sectarian politics. [10]

What should revolutionary Marxists do? Deny the truth? Defend the fantastic idea that the Cuban bourgeoisie is today politically in power (when its state apparatus has been competely destroyed, when its army has been totally crushed, when the Cuban state, equalling “men in arms” is the armed proletariat and poor peasantry) ? Maintain that the mode of production in Cuba is still capitalist (when not only industry, transport, banking and wholesale trade are one hundred percent nationalized but even agriculture is seventy percent socialized; i.e., when the socialization of the means of production is in fact more advanced than it was in Soviet Russia ten years after the October Revolution)? Should such realities be denied out of fear of succumbing to temptation, the real “moving spirit” of sectarianism, as Trotsky correctly declared? Consider the completely hallucinatory character of Healy’s position: He argues that without a revolution workers states were created in Rumania, Bulgaria, Poland, nay, even in East Germany where the working class was completely crushed and exercised no form of “power” for even a single moment. He cites the nationalization of the means of production as the acid test, proving that workers states were established. But he argues that in Cuba where nationalization of the means of production occurred in the process of and as a consequence of a genuine revolution, the deepest and most popular seen since 1917, deeper and more popular than the Spanish Revolution, bringing into united action up to seventy percent of the population, establishing committees with two million members in a population of seven million, with workers wielding actual power for years now in many areas, forms and plants, that all this does not mean a workers state but only a variety of ... bourgeois power!

We do not care to share any such hallucinations. In our opinion, Marxism begins with a scrupulous critical analysis of reality and its own relation to it, and never sacrifices truth for the sake of any formula which would thereby be converted into a scholastic dogma. From the Marxist point of view there is no escaping the admission that under certain exceptional circumstances capitalism can be overthrown without prior formation of a revolutionary Marxist party – even without prior formation of Soviets. While admitting something that has been confirmed by life itself, it is necessary to determine the exact reasons which made it possible, thereby reinforcing the theoretical conclusion that it can happen only under exceptional circumstances, is not a general rule, and most certainly does not apply to imperialist countries where the bourgeoisie is still very powerful, economically as well as socially. [11] Such an analysis, far from being “revisionist,” strengthens and enriches revolutionary theory, for in order to transform reality, Marxists must start by understanding and accepting it. Merely repeating formulas in parrot-like fashion dooms a grouping to the fate of a politically bankrupt sect that can never win leadership of the masses and never make a revolution.

Does this mean, then, that because history has provided examples of a capitalist class being overthrown without the previous existence of a revolutionary Marxist party that some kind of opportunist policy; i.e., a coalition with libsral bourgeois parties, can lead to a revolution? Certainly not. Experience is enormously rich in demonstrating that such a policy, far from speeding a revolution, only betrays the hopes of the working class and helps a tottering capitalist class to remain in power. To argue that “revisionism” in the case of Cuba – meaning admitting the facts – “logically leads” to Perera’s policies reveals complete incapacity to see the difference between a case where the bourgeoisie has lost power and a case where its power has been saved. What the Popular Front accomplished for the French bourgeoisie, or what Perera is trying to accomplish for the Ceylonese bourgeoisie today, is completely clear to all the political forces directly involved in these operations. On the other hand, no amount of sophistry from Healy will convince the Cuban bourgeoisie, in emigration in Miami or huddling together in the miserable gusano circles of La Habana, that they are really still in power today under Fidel Castro the way the Comite des Forges still remained in power under the Popular Front government of Léon Blum in 1936 and 1937. [12]

ONLY a sector of the leading cadre of the LSSP became really integrated into the Fourth International. The international movement had no way of influencing the rank-and-file members of the party except through this cadre. But it must be said, in all fairness, that this cadre was much more politically advanced and much closer to the general program and current political line of the Fourth International than the average member of the LSSP. From the start, therefore; i.e., from the recon-stitution of an International Center at the close of World War II and from the first formal relations with the Ceylonese section, the international leadership had no choice, even if some other recourse seemed more advisable, but to try to bring the LSSP progressively closer to the norms of a real Leninist-type organization through comradely collaboration with the LSSP leadership. What was involved essentially was patient education.

The problem was not a matter of correct or incorrect tactics. The same line was consistently followed from 1945 to 1964 – nearly ten years of this period being in close consultation with Healy and with his complete approval. The line involved a basic organizational principle – how to facilitate the selection of national and international leaders in the Fourth International. We do not believe that hard-handed intervention from an international center can substitute for the patient selection, in a democratic way, of a mature revolutionary leadership in each country.

The International can and must help to clarify political issues; but it is duty bound to refrain from setting up artificially, from the outside, any tendencies or factions, or from engaging in organizational reprisals against national leaderships in which it has misgivings or holds reservations because of their political tendencies. To act otherwise does not lead to political clarification; on the contrary, it inevitably leads to organizational grievances becoming substituted for political discussion, and thus, in the long run, hinders and delays the process of creating an independent - minded revolutionary leadership. This responsible attitude – really a norm – is all the more necessary where language obstacles and distance make it impossible to conduct a direct dialogue with the majority of the membership and where the leading cadre displays loyalty to the international organization, attending congresses, distributing communications as they are received, and taking the opinions and arguments of the International into careful consideration, adjusting or changing deviations in political line in response to suggestions or criticisms from the International.

It should be added that this attitude was not only correct in principle; it corresponded in the current situation to the feelings of the leaders of the left tendency that fortunately arose spontaneously in the LSSP and which sought the closest consultation and contact with the International. Several times in the past year, when pressure from other sources rose for “vigorous” intervention, the comrades of the left tendency warned against any “factional” moves in the internal struggle in the LSSP on their behalf. In this situation any violation of the principle involved would have had immediatepractical consequences that could only damage their work. These comrades thereby demonstrated how well they understand the principle of democratic centralism as bequeathed to our movement by Leon Trotsky. They fought against the opportunist trend, organizing a tendency the better to defend the traditional Trotskyist positions; yet they helped the United Secretariat, which shared their basic views, to maintain normal, comradely relations with the elected leadership of the party.

The influence which the International Center sought to wield among the leaders of the LSSP falls into two periods sharply divided by the 1960 experience.

Before 1960, the international leadership was concerned about erroneous attitudes on various questions, but it limited its communications to the Political Bureau and Central Committee, occasionally to party conferences. It was critical over the lack of integration of the LSSP leadership into the International, its failure to make financial contributions in proportion to organizational strength, its failure to maintain close relations with the Indian section (which was abruptly “abandoned” by the Ceylonese comrades in the late forties), its lack of a Leninist-type organizational structure, its lack of systematic recruitment especially among the plantation workers, the lack of party educational work, etc., etc. On some points, such criticisms led to favorable results. Membership conferences were formally given up. The work among the Tamil population became more energetic, a Tamil newspaper was published, a Tamil-speaking plantation workers union was organized with promising results. The Youth Leagues became a mass organization, including tens of thousands of members, sympathetic to the LSSP. An attempt, later abandoned, was made to have the party study the agrarian problem. Several attempts (which failed) were made to have the main party leaders give up activities that blocked them from full-time participation in party work.

On many occasions the International had reason to be proud of the LSSP and its leadership, as for example in the 1953 hartal, in the race riots of 1958 and in the 1961 strike wave. In instances like the race riots it upheld the banner of internationalism in the most stubborn way, holding tough against the petty-bourgeois chauvinistic pressure mounting on all sides until it reached pogrom level, yet never giving up its fight for equality of status between Sinhalese and Tamil, always defending the political rights of the oppressed minority, even at the cost of “popularity.” It is sad to have to say that such a fine record was marred in 1963 when the party leadership began to give up what it had maintained under the severest hardship, for opportunistic reasons conceding on the language question to the CP and MEP leaderships during the 1963 United Left Front negotiations.

The decision of the LSSP after the 1960 elections to support Mrs. Ban-daranaike’s government meant the abrupt end of this stage of relations between the leaderships of the LSSP and the Fourth International. It was clear that the problem was no longer occasional tail-endism or a threat of opportunism which could be corrected by fraternal discusion and comradely collaboration. More vigorous measures were required to bring the LSSP, or at least part of it, back to revolutionary Marxism.

That is why the LSSP decision to support the Bandaranaike government in 1960 met with a sharp public censure from the International leadership. And when the majority of the LSSP did not correct this grave mistake after a public warning from the Fourth International, the Sixth World Congress, meeting at the end of 1960, again publicly criticized and attacked the Ceylonese section for its opportunistic behavior, a measure without precedent in the history of the International in relation to an organization that had not split away. At the same time The Militant, the American weekly expressing the viewpoint of the Socialist Workers Party, completely independently of the Sixth World Congress, also found it necessary to publicly condemn the opportunistic support which the LSSP leadership was offering to a bourgeois government. [13]

This pressure from the world Trotskyist movement was not without results. The LSSP leadership began a retreat. In 1961 it no longer voted for the budget. The upsurge of working-class militancy favored this development. Satisfaction could be registered over the left turn of the LSSP leadership. And for the first time since the birth of the Ceylonese section, it could be recorded that the organization now had a permanent representative in the international leadership (a representative who happened to be a leading member of the left tendency).

When the Seventh World Congress assembled, preparing the ground for the Reunification Congress of the Fourth International that followed, the delegates, among whom was Edmund Samarakkody today secretary of the LSSP(RS), were faced with a new turn of the LSSP leadership, one that began in March 1963, the turn towards a united front of all working-class organizations in Ceylon. On the trade-union field, the turn at once yielded the most promising results, which we already noted above. On the political level, the turn was expressed in a drive towards a United Left Front of working-class parties.

This was undoubtedly a step forward compared with support to the SLFP government. It had the merit of presenting a working-class alternative to a bourgeois government. This the World Congress correctly saluted as a fundamentally correct orientation. At the same time, the Congress drew attention, both publicly and through a special letter to the LSSP, to four key issues involved in the turn which the Congress thought had not been properly met by the LSSP leadership:

  1. Insufficiently critical analysis of the 1960 mistake; [14]
  2. lack of clarity about the extra-parliamentary nature and potentialities of the United Left Front in contrast to its parliamentary features;
  3. lack of any kind of public criticism by the LSSP of the opportunist policies of the CP and MEP, contrary to the Leninist concept of the united front;
  4. failure to involve the Tamil plantation workers and their organizations in the United Left Front. (This point blew up into a real scandal through failure to invite them to the platform in the May 1, 1963, demonstration, and the Congress strongly criticized the LSSP leadership over this.)

The LSSP leadership, now faced with an officially constituted Left Tendency in the party, again partially responded to the pressure of the International. It took some steps on the question of interesting the Tamil workers in the draft program for the United Left Front, only to partially back down under pressure from the CP and MEP. The ULF started to call big mass demonstrations, which were attended by tens of thousands of workers and peasants, clearly testifying to the popular response to formation of the ULF and the objective possibility of launching an all-out campaign in favor of bringing to power a ULF government on a socialist program. Strike struggles of the working class grew sharper and sharper. The program of twenty-one points was adopted by all the trade unions. A mammoth demonstration of 40,000 people supported it on March 21, 1964.

It was at this point that N.M. Perera, in complete opposition to the party’s program and its conference decisions, treacherously embarked on secret negotiations with Mrs. Bandaranaike for the purpose of entering a coalition government. Mrs. Bandaranaike herself very clearly and frankly expressed why she wanted such a government:

“However much progressive work we do, we cannot expect any result unless we get the co-operation of the working class. This could be understood if the working of the Port and of other nationalised undertakings are considered. We cannot go backwards. We must go forward. Disruptions, especially strikes and go-slows must be eliminated, and the development of the country must proceed.

“Some people have various ideas on these subjects. Some feel that these troubles can be eliminated by the establishment of a dictatorship. Others say that workers should be made to work at the point of gun and bayonet ... My conclusion is that none of these solutions will help to get us where we want to go ... Therefore, gentlemen, I decided to initiate talks with the leaders of the working class, particularly Mr. Philip Gunawardena and Dr. N. M. Perera ...” (May 10, 1964, speech. Emphasis added.)

As soon as the United Secretariat of the Fourth International was informed about this step, it sent a letter to the LSSP Central Committee, warning it not to undertake a step which would be utter betrayal and counterposing to the idea of coalition with a bourgeois party the correct perspective of a united front government of all working-class parties based on a socialist program. [15] The Plenum of the International Executive Committee of the Fourth International, held in May 1964, unanimously endorsed this stand. At the same time it was decided to send a representative of the Fourth International to attend the LSSP special conference and fight against the coalition proposal, making it clear to everybody, inside and outside the party in Ceylon, that the Fourth International would have nothing to do with the betrayal if Perera should succeed in carrying it out. [16]

Thanks to the collaboration between the International and the courageous action of the Left Tendency of the LSSP, the banner of Trotskyism remains unstained in Ceylon – the Fourth International is not identified with the disastrous opportunist course of Messrs. Perera, Moonesinghe and Cholmondeley Goonewardene. The bulk of the Trotskyist-educated cadre has been saved for the Ceylonese revolution. When the inevitable clash between the Ceylonese working class and the capitalist government occurs, many working-class members of the LSSP who mistakenly followed N.M. Perera will turn to the LSSP(RS). Fresh layers of militant workers will come to the organization that knew how to stand firm against the opportunist wing. Given a correct orientation, a resolute break with all the opportunist and sectarian habits of the old LSSP, and an energetic turn towards mass work and mass education among the workers and poor peasants, the LSSP(RS) can and will build an alternative revolutionary leadership for the Ceylonese toiling masses.

What lessons should be drawn from this experience? Opportunism remains a constant danger for any revolutionary organization once it gains mass influence, especially if it faces conditions in which the revolution is deferred. There is no other final guarantee against this danger than the thorough education of the cadre through study and action in revolutionary Marxism. The party members must root themselves in the working class and absorb the program of the Fourth International until it becomes second nature, lodged in their very bones, without any illusions about “exceptionalism” of any kind.

The opportunist deviations of the Perera group are so spectacular and so criminal that they are easily perceived. But this should not cause us to overlook an opposite kind of error that can prove just as harmful from the viewpoint of building revolutionary mass parties and preparing for revolutionary action on a big scale. This is the error of sectarianism and ultra-leftism which often appears as an offset to opportunism. This error is much less spectacular and those who fall into it are seldom faced with problems of conscience, consequently it can often prove to be more insidious in causing a revolutionary cadre to miss a big possible breakthrough towards mass influence.

Opportunism generally represents a caving in to the direct pressure of a hostile class environment. In underdeveloped countries, tail-endism in relation to the masses paves the way for opportunist adaptation to bourgeois parties momentarily wielding wide mass influence. The social nature of such opportunism is very clear: adaptation to the petty bourgeoisie, which in turn is following the leadership of the liberal national bourgeoisie.

The roots of such opportunism are “national,” not “international.” The petty bourgeoisie – to speak of the liberal bourgeoisie in this connection is ridiculous – cannot directly influence the Fourth International with its particular kind of pressure. Its pressure is exerted on national sections that happen to be living in a given environment where this is possible. To battle that pressure, the Fourth International has the resource of sections that are free from the pressure, or more capable of resisting it, plus a team of leaders who tend, out of long experience, testing and selection, to reflect the interests of the movement as a whole. But to bring these resources to bear in an effective way in a given situation precisely when they can do the most good requires a certain material weight.

We know, as materialists, that politics are decided in the last resort not by ideas but by social forces. Even the strongest ideas do not triumph if there is not enough material strength behind those ideas. The most powerful counterweight to opportunist deviations in national sections of the world Trotskyist movement is a strong International, with strong cohesive forces, with enough material resources to make possible effective and benign political aid in fields and areas where it is most required [17], with enough weight and prestige to make any centrifugal tendency stop short and think twice before taking any decisive step in the way of breaching the political line determined by the world Trotskyist movement at its congresses.

The split in the world Trotskyist movement in 1953 undoubtedly weakened the deterrents to the growth of opportunism in the LSSP. The 1963 reunification came too late to be able to reverse the trend. Let all those who sought to block that unification, who managed to hinder it and defer it for some years, or who refused to participate in it when it finally came about, ponder the lesson of Ceylon. They bear much of the responsibility for the loss of part of a revolutionary cadre in that country.


1. During the war, imprisoned for their revolutionary opposition to imperialism, some of the LSSP leaders escaped, fled to India and built a Trotskyist organization there, the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India [BLPI]. One of them, Anthony Pillai, became a widely known trade-union leader as national chairman of the trade-union federation Hind Mazdoor Sabha. It must be said, however, that acting more and more as a left reformist, Anthony Pillai’s development foreshadowed the opportunist degeneration of part of the central leadership of the LSSP.

2. As late as August 23, 1963, the LSSP Political Bureau published the following estimate of the situation and the temper of the mass movement in Ceylon:

“In the period facing us, there are two broad possibilities of development. In the first place, there is the question of the direct struggle of the masses leading to the capture of power. The mass struggles of today are still economic in aim. But we are living in a period of sharp changes, which included an attempted coup by reactionary forces. Although the repetition of such an attempt from the same quarters is unlikely, it is not excluded that attempts of such a nature may be made from other quarters ...

“The other possibility is the question of the ULF [United Left Front] coming to power in a parliamentary election. This is a possibility that depends on the state of the mass movement at the time of such an election ... If indeed such an effort is successful and a ULF government is formed, the revolutionary mobilisation of the masses will be enormously facilitated. The LSSP which does not believe that the socialist transformation of society can be accomplished except by the masses themselves, will in such a situation, both by its actions from within the ULF government and outside, set about the revolutionary mobilisation of the masses.”

Instead of which, ten months later, the LSSP joined a bourgeois coalition government with the express goal of limiting and preventing “industrial strife!” It is hard to find a quicker and more cynical shift than the one between the August 23, 1963, resolution and the coalition policy of the present LSSP leadership!

3. It is worth underlining here that Trotsky explicitly states that the first tasks of the permanent revolution to be solved are, naturally, those of the democratic revolution. Otherwise, a revolution in a backward country wouldn’t be a permanent, that is, a continuously advancing revolution, but an instantaneous one. This is a reminder to all those sectarians who criticize actual revolutions for not beginning with what they can only end; i.e., the complete destruction of the bourgeois state and bourgeois property. This and the preceding quotation are from the 1962 edition of The Permanent Revolution printed by Plough Press Ltd.

4. See, for instance, Lenin’s speech at the third Pan-Russian Trade Union Congress on April 7, 1920.

5. See, among other things in K. Tilak’s excellent book: Rise & Fall of the Comintern, the chapter on the Chinese Revolution of 1925-27, the chapter on the Spanish Revolution, etc.

6. It should be added that prior to the Cuban Revolution, the LSSP was the only party with mass influence in a semicolonial or colonial country consistently to fight for nationalization instead of distribution of plantation land among landless peasants.

7. As late as March 21, 1964, Colvin R. de Silva was reported as saying at a giant rally of the United Left Front on Galle Face Green in Colombo “that one thing was clear from the events of the recent past ... that the Government was bankrupt financially, politically and in all other respects.” Yet only some weeks later he supported the position that all working-class parties should ... join the bankrupt government. He did that instead of calling upon the toiling masses to replace the bankrupt government with a genuine socialist government of the ULF based upon a genuinely socialist program.

8. See the resolution of the LSSP Conference of July 20-22, 1962, which states:

“The struggles to come will not be waged only against this or that measure of the SLFP government, but against the whole policy of the SLFP government, especially in the field of wages and taxation. It will be a struggle which, even if it appears in the beginning as having the aim of forcing the SLFP government to give up various measures, will in its development rapidly reach the point where the need to replace the SLFP government itself by a government which corresponds to the demands of the masses will be felt. In other words, the struggle will tend from the beginning to pose the problem of power.

“In preparing the masses for direct struggle, the Party cannot advance slogans which envisage a solution of the government problem mainly through the parliamentary process and on the parliamentary level. Any slogan of that kind would dampen the initiative of the masses and tend to divert the masses themselves from the perspective of direct action.” (Quatrième Internationale, No.17, December 1962, p.63. Emphasis added.) [In the absence of the original text, this has been retranslated from the French.]

9. In The Newsletter of July 4, 1964, Healy, General Secretary of the Socialist Labour League (Great Britain) states that the United Secretariat of the Fourth International supported the “center” position of Leslie Goonewardene and Colvin R. de Silva, demanding a coalition between the United Left Front and the bourgeois SLFP. The truth is that the position of the “center” group was consistently opposed by the United Secretariat which counterposed the slogan of a government of working-class parties to any thought of coalition with a bourgeois party. Again, Healy states in The Newsletter of July 11, 1964, that the United Secretariat “advocated support for the centrist wing of Leslie Goonewardene and Colvin de Silva ... right up until the vote was taken at the LSSP conference of June 7.” This is an outright falsification. From the moment it learned of Perera’s secret negotiations, the United Secretariat urged that the firmest stand be taken on the Trotskyist positions; i.e., opposition to any coalition with the bourgeois SLFP. This included any ULF coalition with the SLFP along the lines advocated by Leslie Goonewardene and Colvin R. de Silva. The documents, which have been scheduled for publication, will show how gross Healy’s attempt is to saddle the United Secretariat of the Fourth International with the position taken by the “center” grouping.

10. “However, one cannot categorically deny in advance the theoretical possibility that, under the influence of completely exceptional circumstances (war, defeat, financial crash, mass revolutionary pressure, etc.). the petty-bourgeois parties including the Stalinists may go further than they themselves wish along the road to a break with the bourgeoisie. In any case one thing is not to be doubted: even if this highly improbable variant somewhere at some time becomes a reality, and the ‘workers’ and farmers’ government’ in the above-mentioned sense is established in fact, it would represent merely a short episode on the road to the actual dictatorship of the proletariat.” (Transitional Program, p.37, Pioneer Publishers, 1946.)

11. This is done in detail in the document The Dynamics of World Revolution, adopted at the Reunification Congress of the Fourth International. (Reprinted in the International Socialist Review, Fall 1963.)

12. The “petty-bourgeois nationalist” label that Healy pins on the government of Fidel Castro involves a fundamental revision of Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution:

1. The petty bourgeoisie is suddenly granted the capacity to build an independent movement; otherwise Healy would have to call Fidel Castro’s movement either a bourgeois movement or a petty-bourgeois working-class movement (of the left socialist or semi-Stalinist variety).

2. This imagined “independent petty-bourgeois movement” (or, still worse, a bourgeois party!) is suddenly granted the capacity to solve the basic demand of the bourgeois-democratic revolution: a radical agrarian reform – seventy percent of all the arable land is socialized today in Cuba and there are no more unemployed or landless peasants. Thus, reasoning from Healy’s assumption, the social and economic problem that provides the main motive power driving the revolution forward in “permanent” fashion no longer exists in Cuba; Castro solved it. (Rather than revising the theory of the permanent revolution reality compels us to deny Healy’s contention that a capitalist state still exists in Cuba.)

3.If Healy is right, then it is clear that the leadership of the proletariat and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat is no longer a necessary precondition for solving the agrarian question and bringing the agrarian revolution to successful conclusion.

If Healy is right we would be obligated to admit that Trotsky turned out to be dead wrong on a key postulate of the theory of the permanent revolution. Healy can’t have it both ways!

13. In September I960 the International Secretariat of the Fourth International issued a public statement, published in issue No.11 of the magazine Fourth International, saying among other things:

“The IS has not failed to express to the LSSP its disagreement in regard to both its recent electoral policy and its policy towards the SLFP after the March and July elections. The IS particularly believes that the no-contest agreement, extended up to a mutual-support agreement, involves the danger of creating illusions about the nature of the SLFP among the great masses, and that an attitude of support to a government such as that of Mrs. Bandaranaike should only be critical and hence limited to the progressive measures actually proposed and adopted.

“In the specific case of the Speech from the Throne, the IS thinks that the very moderate character of the government programme and its attitude against nationalisation of the plantations – a fundamental question for a country like Ceylon – is such as to involve a negative vote by the LSSP MPs.

“A discussion on the Ceylonese situation and the policy to adopt has been opened in view of the next conference of the LSSP and of the World Congress of the International.” (pp.53-54)

At the Sixth World Congress itself, the following resolution was adopted and printed in issue No.12 of the magazine Fourth International:

“The Sixth World Congress, having discussed the situation in Ceylon, states that it disapproves the political line adopted by the LSSP following the election defeat of March 1960.

“The Congress condemns more especially the vote of parliamentary support expressed on the occasion of the Speech from the Throne, and the adoption of the budget by the party’s MPs.

“The Fourth International does not exclude support for the adoption of progressive measures, even by a national bourgeois or petty-bourgeois government in a colonial or semi-colonial country. But the social nature, composition and general programme of the Bandaranaike government does not justify the support which was accorded to it.

“The World Congress appeals to the LSSP for a radical change in its political course in the direction indicated by the document of the leadership of the International.

“The Congress is confident that the next National Conference of the LSSP, in whose political preparation the whole International must participate, will know how to adopt all the political and organisational decisions necessary to overcome the crisis which was revealed following the results of the March 1960 election campaign.” (p.50)

This resolution shows what a shameful lie was printed by Healy’s Newsletter in the July 4 1964, issue:

“The Pabloite International Secretariat endorsed [!], with reservation, the main line of the LSSP in the I960 elections ... Thus it supplied them with further cover for their capitulation to the SLFP.”

Readers and friends of The Newsletter should ponder why the group that edits this paper feels compelled to use systematic lies and distortions of the truth as political ammunition whereas Trotsky said that the revolution, the biggest truth of our times, doesn’t need lies ...

14. See Quatrième Internationale, No.19, July 1963, p.49.

15. This letter, dated April 23, 1964, called attention to the “inability of the ruling SLFP to continue much longer in office, expressed in its rapidly dwindling parliamentary majority, its sudden prorogation of parliament and its ‘behind the scenes’ maneuvers to negotiate a fresh lease of life through an alliance with the parties of the left.”

The letter continued:

“As far as the SLFP is concerned, two factors appear to motivate its present course of action: (1) lack of confidence in its ability to continue In office for the rest of its constitutional term; (2) a deep-seated fear of an upsurge in the working-class movement and the real possibility of the emergence of a government of the left. Clearly, it is this latter possibility which drives it today to seek a modus vivendi with the left and attempt a re-alignment of forces through a coalition with the United Left Front.

“Its calculations are fairly obvious. It hopes to gain strength by an infusion from the left. It hopes to disorient the masses by taking on left coloration. It hopes to weaken the threat from the left by splitting the left organizations (since acceptance of a coalition would obviously not be unanimous and would most likely open the most bitter factional struggles). It hopes to associate prominent left figures with its rule and thereby utterly discredit them for the following phase when this one comes to Its Inevitable end and social forces have reached unendurable tension and polarization.

“Its primary immediate aim is to stem the tide of rising mass unrest, contain the parties of the left within Its own control and commit them to ‘progressive’ formulae within the framework of the capitalist structure. It is clear that the ‘concessions’ proposed by the Prime Minister and reported to the Central Committee meeting remain mere sops insofar as they leave intact the structure of capitalism and in no way touch the essential productive bases of the economy.

“It is necessary to declare at this stage, quite categorically, that we oppose our party entering any coalition government wherein decisive control is held by a party that has proved time and again its reluctance to move against the capitalist order, and furthermore has demonstrated in action its essentially anti-working-class character. We do not believe that the character of the SLFP is determined by the declarations of one or another of its individual leaders. Its character has been revealed by its whole history during its years in power. In this sense we see no reason for changing our characterization of It as a party essentially functioning within the framework of capitalism and utilized by certain layers of the bourgeoisie as a possible bulwark against the growing forces of the working class. Any form of coalition with such a party, as long as it remains the dominant majority within such a coalition, can only lead to the immobilization of the left in advance and its becoming itself a target for the growing resentment of the masses.”

16. Comrade Pierre Frank’s stay in Ceylon during and after the LSSP conference greatly helped the cause of the Fourth International. Besides his speech at the conference, he conferred with many leaders and members of the LSSP. The press was quite interested in what he had to say as it was known that he represented the main stream of the world Trotskyist movement and that his opinions carried weight. His statements were extensively reported in the Ceylon press and he was thus able to make clear to the whole general public that the Fourth International rejected Perera’s coalition politics and had nothing to do with his moves and negotiations

17. On five occasions the Fourth International sent leading members of the Center to Ceylon in order to participate in discussions involving the leaders and rank and file of the Ceylonese section. Three of these trips were made after the 1960 crisis. It is evident, however, that this was not enough. A stronger International would have been able to send some of its leaders for a prolonged stay in Ceylon to help in the necessary fundamental educational work.


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