daughter and revolutionary comrades
hate revolutions and revolutionists. They like men who are docile
and well regarded at the bank, and never late at meals."
H. L. Mencken
D. B. S. Jeyaraj
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.
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.
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.
that time the LSSP was not only the largest and oldest leftist
party in the country but also the biggest Trotskyite party in 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.
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
can she join forces with the killers of her husband and the father
of her children?" they ask.
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.
years were plagued by a series of strikes spearheaded by the LSSP
which boasted of a powerful trade union network then.
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).
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."
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
tendencies have been the bane of the left movements all along. The
left as we knew it then was divided basically into Communists and
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
and cabinet colleague William Silva left the government in 1959
and resurrected the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna again.
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.
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%.
that great chance gone the left began deteriorating and all
chances of a "workers' paradise" were lost.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
LSSPers, Dhanapala Weerasekara, Neale de Alwis and Mangala
Moonesinghe split and remained with the SLFP.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
disturbing feature is the JVP's full throated support of
Chandrika's anti-democratic actions. This trend spells further
disaster in the future.
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
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.
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!