15th  February, 2004 Volume 10, Issue 31



















Mother, daughter and revolutionary comrades

"Women hate revolutions and revolutionists. They like men who are docile and well regarded at the bank, and never late at meals."

- H. L. Mencken 

By D. B. S. Jeyaraj 

The United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) formalised by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna on January 20 revives memories of a similar tie up 40 years ago.

In 1964 then SLFP leader and Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike formed what was then called a coalition government with the Lanka Sama Samaja Party led by Dr. N. M. Perera.

It was in many ways similar to the present situation where Sirima's daughter Chandrika egged on by her brother Anura has entered into an agreement with what is regarded as the largest left party in Sri Lanka notwithstanding its national socialist policies.

At that time the LSSP was not only the largest and oldest leftist party in the country but also the biggest Trotskyite party in the world.

The link with the SLFP cost the LSSP its "accreditation" with the Fourth International. It was the Sama Samaajist faction led by Bala Tampoe that got the status subsequently.

Critics of the present  alliance point to the fact thatit was the JVP that assassinated Chandrika's husband Vijaya Kumaratunga the popular film star and progressive politician.

"How can she join forces with the killers of her husband and the father of her children?" they ask.

Chandrika's mother too was criticised severely then for linking up with the LSSP. 1956 -59 was the period when her  husband S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike was prime minister.

Those years were plagued by a series of strikes spearheaded by the LSSP which boasted of a powerful trade union network then.

The relationship between the SLFP and LSSP was so bitter then that Sirimavo Bandaranaike accused N.M. Perera of having "killed her husband without killing him" (nommaraa maru).

Burying the hatchet

Yet, when it suited her she thought nothing of burying the hatchet with NM and tying up with the LSSP. This in turn brought severe condemnation including the quip in poor taste that the acronym SLFP stood for "Sirima's Love For Perera."

The political distinctions of an earlier era about "left," "right," "center," "left of center," "right of center," etc. seem irrelevant and out of place in the present context. Nevertheless those descriptions are not inappropriate in analysing past politics.

Historically the left movement that had captured the imagination of substantive sections of the intelligentsia, working class and progressive youths missed several opportunities because of inner divisions at important junctures.

There were also several shifts and realignments caused by personal differences but rationalised brilliantly as problems of ideology. The old left had some really heavy stuff as far as intellectual equipment was concerned.

The left also failed to some extent because of its principled position on language and religion. It refused to cater to Sinhala Buddhist sentiments in the '50s and early '60s. As a result it failed to capture state power.

Later to its eternal shame the LSSP joined forces with the SLFP and capitulated to Sinhala chauvinism. This did not help it but only plunged it into further despair.

Nowadays whatever that is left of the old left under that old warhorse Batty Weerakoon takes up principled yet practical stances on most issues. Sadly it is a spent force.

Other remnants of what was described as the new left at a later stage are led by people like Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Wickramabahu Karunaratne. Both are exemplary in upholding progressive and consistent positions on the ethnic question.

Sadly they split up at a time when the Nava Sama Samaaja Party was showing signs of a left renaissance. The NSSP politbureau at one stage had 17 PhDs out of 21 members.

Divisive tendencies have been the bane of the left movements all along. The left as we knew it then was divided basically into Communists and Socialists.

The Communists broke with the old LSSP in 1943 and followed the Stalinist line as opposed to the latter espousing the seemingly lost cause of Trotskyism.

The CP later split in 1963 along the lines of the Sino-Soviet split. S. A. Wickremasinghe continued to lead the Moscow CP while Shanmugathasan took over the pro-Peking party.

The Sama Samajists were divided into the LSSP and Bolshevik Leninist Party at the time of independence. Later Philip Gunewardena (father of Indika and Dinesh) broke away from the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and formed the Viplavakari Lanka Sama Samaja Party in 1950.

The BLP led by Colvin R. de Silva and Leslie Gunewardena closed ranks with the NM's LSSP later. NM became the official opposition leader after this realignment.

Father of Marxism

Philip, the "lion of Boralugoda" was regarded as the father of Marxism in Ceylon. He teamed up with Bandaranaike in 1956. The Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) coalition swept the polls in 1956 on the Sinhala only cry. There was however a no contest agreement with the LSSP.

Philip and cabinet colleague William Silva left the government in 1959 and resurrected the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna again.

The March 1960 polls would have provideda golden opportunity for the old left had it united. But that was not to be so. Temperamental incompatibility glossed over as policy differences got the better of political expediency.

The MEP, LSSP and CP contested separately fielding 102, 101 and 43 candidates respectively. They obtained only 10, 10 and three seats. The total votes polled amounted to 25%.

With that great chance gone the left began deteriorating and all chances of a "workers' paradise" were lost.

In 1960 July the MEP got only two but the LSSP that had an electoral pact with the SLFP won 12 out of 24. The CP got four.

 Again in 1963 there was hope in the air when the LSSP, MEP and CP got together as the United Leftist Front and presented the famous 21 demands to the SLFP government.

But political intrigue was afoot and Philip began preparing to join up with  the government leaving his erstwhile comrades in the lurch. Getting wind of this NM outsmarted Philip and struck a deal with Mrs. B in March 1964.

This in turn brought up a lot of problems within the LSSP. Bulathsinhala MPEdmund Samarakkody (who was perhaps the greatest of them all ), Moratuwa MP Dr. Merrill Fernando and Ceylon Mercantile Union strongman Bala Tampoe led a group outside the LSSP protesting the shameful betrayal of progressive principles.

These dissidents split again with Edmund leading the revolutionary LSSP and Bala Tampoe the LSSP revolutionary parties. Philip's brother Robert another colourful personality remained with the ULF in the 1965 polls.

People like Colvin, Leslie and Karalasingham too had reservations about the LSSP tying up with the SLFP. This resulted in lesser known persons like Anil Moonesinghe and Cholmondeley Gunewardena becoming ministers along with NM in the coalition cabinet of 1964-65.

Many years later in a private conversation with N. M. Perera this writer asked the LSSP leader as to why he joined the SLFP instead of continuing  alone with his party. He was candid enough to tell me that after the 1960 March elections he felt that there was no chance of capturing power and thought the best thing was to join the lesser of the two evils and bring about socialism through parliament.

Later Colvin and others too closed ranks. In 1965 the SLFP, LSSP and CP got 42, 10 and 4 seats respectively. With Dudley Senanayake forming a national government with the support of the Tamil parties the SLFP, LSSP,  CP combine adopted a chauvinist line. "Dudleyge bade masala vadey" was the slogan that encapsuled this line.

In 1970 the United Front under Mrs. B swept the polls getting 116. The SLFP got 91 out of 108; LSSP 19  out of 23 and CP six out of nine. The only seats lost by the LSSP and CP were in the north.

NM, Colvin and Leslie became finance, plantation industry and constitutional affairs and transport ministers respectively. In 1972 Colvin drafted the republican constitution that repealed Section 29, gave Buddhism the foremost place, provided constitutional status to Sinhala as the sole official language, abolished the senate and made Sri Lanka a unitary state via the constitution

The LSSP collaborated with the SLFP government in ruthlessly suppressing the JVP revolt of 1971. Later it was in the forefront of efforts to crush legitimate trade union protests and action. In another about turn the one time followers of the man who termed religion as the opium of the masses were seen carrying flower trays to Dalada Maligawa.


This shameful betrayal of most policies they stood for at one time had its toll. Summarily ejected from the UF government by Mrs. B in 1975 the old left teamed up with other like minded forces including dissidents from the SLFP like T.B. Subasinghe and faced the hustings in 1977.

Three LSSPers, Dhanapala Weerasekara, Neale de Alwis and Mangala Moonesinghe split and remained with the SLFP.

The LSSP and CP were ignominiously routed failing to win a single seat. This writer was then covering the polls in Colombo and the affable LSSP ex-MP for Kottawa, Chandra Gunasekera was sitting with pressmen as result after result came. Chandra was in a pensive mood and was relating all the mistakes and miscalculations made. He spoke wistfully of the infiltration theory that motivated  many cadres in teaming up with the SLFP. The LSSP had for long spoken about the revolution that was just around the corner and the crumbling of the capitalist class.

That phenomenon alas never occurred. The LSSP leadership justified its joining forces with the SLFP as that of strategic infiltration. The idea was to work insidiously from within and usher in a creeping revolution.

Apart from the 19 LSSPers and six CPers there were 37 other MPs in the SLFP who were at one time members of the LSSP, MEP and CP  (T.B. Illangaratne, Somaweera Chandrasiri etc, T.B. Subasinghe, Pathirajah Tennekoon, Prins Gunasekera, Stanley Tillekaratne etc). Thus, 62 of the UF were supposedly "leftists."

Yet, the grand dame of Sri Lankan politics Sirima Bandaranaike was too smart for the top heavy left. She used them and discarded them at the appropriate time. The respected socialists were reduced to the status of hanging on to the "Saree pota" and nothing more.

Instead of working for revolutionary ideals from within the old left, compromised on principles and policies tragically. They lost their positions, power and above all self-respect and integrity as a result of teaming up with the mother.

The wheel has turned full circle. Now it is the turn of the JVP to tie up with the SLFP of the daughter. Unlike the case of 1964 it is the SLFP re-moulded in a progressive image by Chandrika that has compromised on principle for expediency by tying up with the JVP.

Unlikely event

It remains to be seen whether the SLFP-JVP combine can win a majority based on arithmetical calculations of 2001 results. Even if they edge out the UNF the prospect of forming a government is difficult because minority party support may not be forthcoming.

Also international financial support for a Marxist government with outdated policies may not be forthcoming. Besides there is the question mark over resumption of war with the LTTE.

Under these circumstances Chandrika  too may be shrewdly planning to use the JVP to win elections and then seek fresh options later. She may try to ditch the JVP and strike a deal with the UNF for the sake of governance.

But the point is whether she can emulate her mother in this respect. The JVP is not a parlour room Bolshevik party like the LSSP . It has a history of bloodshed having launched insurgencies in 1971 and 1988-89.

The old LSSP by the '60s was restricted to pockets of support in Colombo, suburbs, areas in Kalutara, Galle, Matara, Ratnapura and Kegalle districts. The JVP has more widespread support in most rural areas of the south.

The growing problems of the agrarian community is helping the JVP build up a base among the Govigama community too. The earlier insurgencies had greater Batgama, Wahumpura, Karawe, Salagama and Durawe involvement in contrast to the Govigama community.  Now the JVP is making vast inroads into the numerically large Govi constituency . It may not be an accident that Nandana Goonetilleke is appointed chairman of the new combine.

The JVP has been promised 40 to 45 candidates on the various lists. Given the single minded discipline and devotion of its cadres the JVP is capable of channeling the most number of preferences for their men at the expense of the SLFP. So the JVP could end up with 30 to 35 seats.

It would be very difficult for Chandrika to discard the JVP in a post-election scenario as in the case of her mother. She has been very careful so far in maintaining a visible distance with the JVP . Her choice of Susil Premjayanth for the powerful post of secretary is also significant.


It is possible that Chandrika may be hoping to even transform the JVP into a bourgeoise outfit in the future. Wijeweera who sported a blue beret after his release in 1977 later married into a rich yet revolutionary Moratuwa family. Who can forget the sight of the revolutionary leader arriving for a May Day rally of the proletariat in the back seat of a chauffeur driven Benz and alighting after the door was opened?

The JVP too could be 'corrupted' through the taste of office and become respectable and tamed in the future. This however is not a dead certainty. Even if that were to happen a significant idealist segment is sure to  rebel and break ranks.

The other danger to the 'middling' SLFP is the allure and power that the JVP holds out to some of its leaders. It is the JVP that has been calling the shots in the run up to and after the alliance.

Despite the majority of SLFP MPs being opposed to a link with the JVP a powerful pro-JVP ginger group was able to persuade Chandrika to throw in her lot with the JVP.

The SLFP has seemingly lost its zest and it is only interaction with the JVP that is giving some sections enthusiasm. The national patriotic movement inspired by the JVP has greater chances of weaning away SLFP rank and file.

Another disturbing feature is the JVP's full throated support of Chandrika's anti-democratic actions. This trend spells further disaster in the future.

There is also trepidation that the JVP maintaining tactical silence on the three issues of devolution, talks with the Tigers and Norwegian facilitation could throw a spanner in the works at a critical stage.

It would not be easy for the daughter to eject the present generation of revolutionary comrades as her mother did to an earlier generation 29 years ago.

Worse still is the scenario of another outbreak of violence aimed at capturing state power in the aftermath of a split with mainstream politics. Is it going to be another massacre of innocents then? Troubling questions needing adequate answers!

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