International Committee of the Fourth International
Fourth International (1990): 50 years since the assassination of Trotsky

Sri Lankan Trotskyists Commemorate Comrade Keerthi Balasuriya

Keerthi Balasuriya was general secretary of the Revolutionary Communist League and a leader of the International Committee of the Fourth International until he died of a heart attack at the age of 39 on December 18,1987. The RCL commemorated the second anniversary of his death at a meeting which also honored three RCL comrades who had been assassinated by the JVP fascists, comrades R.A. Pitawela, PH. Gunapala and Greshan Geekiyanage.

This article by the RCL appeared in the Bulletin on February 9, 1990.

On December 20, 1989 the Revolutionary Communist League, Sri Lankan section of the ICFI, held a meeting to commemorate the second anniversary of the deaths of Comrade Keerthi Balasuriya—a prominent leader of the International Committee of the Fourth International and general secretary of the RCL since its founding—and Comrades R.A. Pitawela, P.H. Gunapala and Greshan Geekiyanage, the RCL members who were assassinated by JVP fascists.

This meeting, held at the New Town Hall in Colombo, began by observing two minutes’ silence to salute the memory of the dead comrades.

On December 18, 1989, which marked two years since Comrade Keerthi’s death, the RCL Central Committee and its members, the relatives of Comrade Keerthi and of his companion Vilani Peiris paid homage to his memory by placing wreaths before his grave in the Borella cemetery in Colombo.

Comrade T.N. Nihishan, an RCL Central Committee member, chaired the commemoration meeting and explained how the revolutionary struggles of the international working class developing today confirm the perspectives of the ICFI to which Comrade Keerthi made an enormous contribution and the importance of the struggle he waged to build an internationalist revolutionary leadership.

Speaking of Comrades Pitawela, Gunapala and Greshan, he said they fought for a Sri Lankan and Eelam Socialist Republic. That struggle, on the basis of proletarian internationalism, is an inspiration to the Tamil nation, the workers and the oppressed peasantry.

The main report was given by Comrade Sunil, an RCL Central Committee member. He stressed that the aim of this struggle is not just to recall a dead past, but to shoulder the responsibility of mobilizing the working class on the basis of the lessons of the struggle carried on by our comrades. He said the struggle which Comrade Keerthi led and the other comrades were engaged in was the building of the international party, the Fourth International.

Comrade Keerthi entered politics in the period of the betrayals of the Pabloite revisionists, who capitulated to the postwar imperialist settlement. Joining the International Committee, he fought to form the RCL with other comrades against the betrayals of the Pabloite revisionists and to defend and develop the world party of socialist revolution, the Fourth International. It is this struggle waged through the mobilization of the RCL which is important in commemorating him.

Explaining the struggle Keerthi waged against the betrayals of Stalinism, revisionism, centrism and petty-bourgeois nationalism, Comrade Sunil said, “The betrayal of the struggle of the Bolshevik Leninist Party was an abandonment of the struggle for socialist revolution in the entire Indian subcontinent. Comrade Keerthi directed the RCL on the basis of the lessons of the struggle to build the Trotskyist party in this region.”

Sunil emphasized the decisive importance of Keerthi’s book, The Politics and the Class Nature of the JVP, vividly analyzed how the birth of the JVP, which came forward slandering the estate workers with the theory of “Indian expansionism” and branding the struggle of the working class as a “struggle for cups of porridge,” was rooted in the betrayals of the LSSP, and described the nature and future evolution of the JVP.

He explained the struggle waged by Comrade Keerthi to mobilize the working class on an internationalist policy, against revisionist theories such as Castroism, Maoism, Ho Chi Minhism and the struggle to defend the leading role of the working class in relation to the oppressed peasantry and youth.

The most important period in the political life of Comrade Keerthi was between 1985-87, he said. By the end of the 1960s, Healy, who had fought for proletarian internationalism since the formation of the International Committee in 1953 against Pabloite degeneration, had, along with Banda and Slaughter, started to turn away from this struggle and drift towards revisionism. During 1985-87, when the struggle against their opportunism reached its height, Comrade Keerthi played a leading role.

Comrade Sunil drew attention to the present treacherous positions of Healy, Banda, Slaughter, Simon Pirani and Savas Michael, who broke from the International Committee in 1985-86. They have capitulated to Stalinism and petty-bourgeois nationalism. They all hated Comrade Keerthi because he fought resolutely against petty-bourgeois nationalist opportunism. When Comrade Keerthi fought against the intervention of Indian troops in 1971 to smash the Bangladesh liberation struggle, Banda regarded the intervention of the Indian bourgeoisie as progressive and supported it. He acted to subordinate our movement to the imperialist partition of Indian which took place in 1947.

If the principles for which Comrade Keerthi fought were not clear then, they would be abundantly clear with the signing of the Indo-Lankan Accord in July 1987. It was on the basis of the position developed in 1971 that his analysis of the nature of this pact could be made, and the internationalist position could be developed, against the treacherous support given to this pact by the LSSP-CP-NSSP-GCSU-Ceylon Teachers Union and the Independent Students Union.

Today is the most acute period of the death agony of capitalism. The fundamental contradictions of world capitalism have been intensified to an unprecedented level and all the compromises established in the postwar period to save capitalism have been shattered. American imperialism, which took the lead in establishing these arrangements, has been transformed into the world’s leading debtor nation, from the position of the world’s leading creditor nation, and inter-imperialist rivalries to re-divide the world market have been intensified.

In this situation, the ‘buffer states’ of Eastern Europe formed to prevent the socialist revolution have gone into crisis. It is the crisis of the Stalinist bureaucracy and the forward march of the working class which have started, from China and spreading through the Soviet Union, Poland, Yugoslavia, Romania and Hungary. These developments confirm the theory and program of the permanent revolution. The working class has come forward through a political revolt against the Stalinists, imperialists and the nationalists.

Comrade Keerthi participated in five out of the eight plenums of the ICFI held after the split of 1985. While the document forwarded by the RCL to the Tenth Congress of the IC in 1985 was rejected, the document ‘The Indo-Lankan Accord and the Tasks of the RCL* written in November 1987 by the International Committee with the participation of Comrade Keerthi was a powerful weapon, during the past two years, for our struggle.

In the preparation of the international perspectives of the IC, he played a prominent role. We are . living in a situation where these perspectives are being totally vindicated. A leader of the FI has gone to the Soviet Union and has presented our program to the Soviet workers for the first time. Comrade David North of the Workers League has spoken in the Moscow Historical Archival Institute, exposing Gorbachev’s policies, and has explained the nature of the crisis of Stalinism and the program of the Fourth International. He was able to address university students and workers.

The demolition of the Berlin Wall by the workers has destroyed the obstacles to the Fourth International. The BSA, the German section of the ICFI, is able to take the struggle for the Trotskyist program to the workers of East Germany. The Stalinist bureaucracy, thrown into crisis by this, used the police, television and radio to block our intervention. Despite this Stalinist provocation, we were able to distribute among the workers in East Germany thousands of leaflets containing our program. Our opponents in the past have said that we are isolated from the mass movement because we are firmly holding onto our program and principles.

But today this charge has been disproved.

The capture of the leadership of the Central Bank Employees Union by the RCL in 1988 and again this year assumes a revolutionary significance, Sunil said. These developments prove that this is the era of Trotskyism and the Fourth International.

“In this objective situation,* conditions have been fully created for the winning of the working class to the revolutionary party,” he said. “The role of the revolutionary party is to give revolutionary leadership to the working class. The working class cannot resolve the crisis of revolutionary leadership purely through spontaneous uprisings. It is to the task of providing this leadership that we are and Comrade Keerthi was dedicated.”

Explaining the crisis which the capitalist class in Sri Lanka is facing, Comrade Sunil showed how the capitalist class was unable to crush the Tamil liberation struggle as they had hoped in 1987 when establishing the Indo-Lankan Accord, and that they were also unable to suppress the working class. Ending a period of partial setbacks after the defeat of the July 1980 strike, the working class again started to come forward in struggle at the beginning of 1985. All the treacherous leaders supported the Indo-Lankan Accord, which was designed by the imperialists using the Congress rule in India to launch a civil war against the workers and oppressed masses.

By 1988, the fascist movement was developed as a supplementary force of reaction in order to prevent the working class from coming forward independently. But the capitalist class was unable to accomplish this as they had planned. The workers’ struggles in the Drayton estate, CTB workers in Maharagama and Kandy, and the workers in the Central Bank revealed that if leadership is provided, workers are prepared to come forward.

The LSSP and CP leaders maintain that the fascist danger has been lessened by the assassination of the JVP leaders. But workers can overcome this problem only by consciously mobilizing for the elimination of the fascist-military threat through its own independent action.

Under the instructions of the World Bank, the capitalist class is forced to attack the working class in the most vicious manner. Fearing that the working class will come forward against this in massive struggles, the UNP government assassinated the fascist leaders and attempted to unite the counterrevolutionary forces on its side. In taking forward the perspective of overthrowing capitalism and establishing a Sri Lankan-Eelam Socialist Republic, while taking practical steps for the defense of the working class against this offensive, the lessons of Comrade Keerthi’s struggle are essential.

In 1988, while the fascists were attacking the working class and while the other leaders were capitulating, the RCL was able to stand firm on an internationalist program and struggle for the rights of the working class and the Tamil nation, because it was based on the struggles that Comrade Keerthi had begun in the late 1960s.

Comrades Pitawela, Gunapala and Geekiyanage were assassinated because they fought on this revolutionary policy. This struggle was conducted by Comrade Pitawela in the Ceylon Teachers union, Comrade Gunapala in the Peradeniya area and Comrade Greshan in the Chilaw area. The fascists were afraid because the fight for revolutionary policies was gaining ground in the working class.

“The working class will write in its revolutionary history about the leadership given by Comrade Keerthi and the comrades who were assassinated in this fight,” said Comrade Sunil. He concluded by calling on workers and youth to join the RCL.