On January 20, 1992, the magazine International Viewpoint announced that the NSSP of Sri Lanka had voted to affiliate to the United Secretariat. The following article examines the political implications of this development. The article first appeared as a Bulletin editorial on February 21, 1992.
There is an old saying that a criminal always returns to the scene of his crime. Ernest Mandel was the political architect of the catastrophe which the working class suffered in Sri Lanka in 1964, when the opportunist leadership of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, then a section of the Pabloite United Secretariat, entered a capitalist government. Now Mandel has found a new agency for betraying the Sri Lankan workers, the petty-bourgeois Nava Sama Samaja Party (NSSP). The January 20 issue of Mandel’s magazine, International Viewpoint, announced that the last conference of the NSSP voted to affiliate to the United Secretariat.
The working class should beware of any organization with which Ernest Mandel associates himself. His earlier role in Sri Lanka was to provide a political cover for the degeneration of the LSSP, the first revolutionary party of the Sri Lankan working class, which affiliated to the Fourth International in 1942, led the struggles of the working class against British colonialism and the native capitalists, and won the support of millions of workers and peasants. Throughout the 1950s the LSSP decayed politically, culminating in the great betrayal of 1964, when it entered the bourgeois coalition government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike.
From 1953 until 1964, Mandel and the Pabloite international deliberately covered up the growing opportunism in the LSSP and even sanctioned its reactionary policy of supporting bourgeois forces such as Bandaranaike’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party. In 1960, they wrote to the cadre of the LSSP: “We accept that it is possible for a revolutionary party to give critical support to a nonworking class government (whether middle class or capitalist) in a colonial or semi-colonial country.”
When the LSSP joined the bourgeois government, Mandel organized a hasty split, while suppressing any analysis of what had happened, above all, the role of the Pabloite international. In 1971 the coalition carried out massive repression against the rural youth, in which thousands were massacred. The betrayal of the LSSP, then the principal party of the Sri Lankan working class, both Sinhala-speaking and Tamil-speaking, caused a massive decline in the political authority of the workers movement among the peasant masses. In the largely Tamil north and east, this created the conditions for the rise of the bourgeois nationalist LTTE. In the south, this betrayal cleared the way for the Janatha Vimukhti Peramuna (JVP), which mobilized peasant youth on the basis of Maoist phrases, and ultimately developed into a fascist movement.
For more than 25 years, the Sri Lankan masses have paid the bitter price of the policies of Mandel and his political allies. Today, the Sri Lankan workers are showing signs of overcoming that betrayal. The Revolutionary Communist League, the Sri Lankan section of the International Committee of the Fourth International, is building upon the decadeslong struggle it has waged against the treachery of the opportunists. It is precisely at this moment that Mandel is preparing another betrayal, this time through the medium of the NSSP.
The NSSP forms part of the opportunist layer carefully cultivated by imperialism in the workers movement in Sri Lanka and internationally. Its political role is to safeguard capitalist rule and the interests of imperialism, at the expense of the working class and oppressed masses. The record of the NSSP clearly demonstrates that it is being groomed as a party of state power which will not hesitate to carry through the repressive measures deemed necessary by the ultimate economic masters of Sri Lanka, world imperialism.
The NSSP is a petty-bourgeois tendency rotten from its birth. Wickramabahu Karunaratne and Vasudeva Nanayakkara, the leaders of the NSSP, were members of the LSSP during the 1960s. So enthusiastic were they about the popular front line that the party leaders, N.M. Perera and Colvin R. da Silva, entrusted to them the leadership of the LSSP’s youth movement. Their departure from the LSSP, far from signifying a break with opportunism, was an indication that popular hatred for the coalition government had grown to such an extent that a new opportunist vehicle was necessary to head off the revolutionary development of the working class.
For years the NSSP has cringed before the bourgeois state’s repression of revolutionaries and even aided and abetted the state in its repression. In July 1979, R.P. Piyadasa, a member of the RCL, was brutally murdered by UNP thugs and police. A few months later, the officer in charge of the police station in the area where Piyadasa had lived was invited to be the chief guest at the New Year celebration organized by the NSSP.
In July 1983, a series of pogroms was carried out against the Tamil minority. Incited by the Sinhala racist government of the United National Party, mobs attacked homes in Tamil areas and brutal murders were carried out with impunity, often by members of the armed forces and the police. The NSSP supported this bloodshed, characterizing it as a “social struggle” directed against the very government which had fomented it.
The NSSP repeatedly entered into electoral alliances and blocs with bourgeois parties. In the 1982 presidential elections, it endorsed the campaign of the bourgeois SLFP and even condemned the reformist LSSP for running its own candidate. When the SLFP split in 1984 and a faction emerged, headed by the daughter of former Prime Minister Bandaranaike, which formed the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party (SLMP), the NSSP seized on this new formation as a political ally. The NSSP leaders pronounced the SLMP “the new proletarian reformist mass tendency” and established a coalition with it, the grotesquely misnamed United Socialist Alliance (USA).
In August 1987, the NSSP and all the other opportunist parties took part in the round table conference organized by President J.R. Jayawardene to clear the way for the signing of the Indo-Lankan Pact, an agreement between the governments of India and Sri Lanka under which nearly 100,000 Indian troops occupied the northern part of the island nation to suppress the Tamil uprising. The NSSP shares political responsibility for the massacre of tens of thousands of Tamils which followed.
The relations between the NSSP and the state developed still further from 1988 on, when the petty-bourgeois JVP launched a series of attacks on the Tamil and labor movement and evolved into a fully-fledged fascist movement. The Revolutionary Communist League fought for the formation of a united front of working class organizations to defend the working class against the attacks of the JVP. The NSSP leaders angrily opposed this campaign, counterposing instead its popular front with the bourgeois SLMP. Fearing above all that the working class would resort to its own independent methods of self-defense, the NSSP called for state intervention against the JVP.
But perhaps the NSSP’s most nakedly reactionary move came in July 1990 when Vasudeva Nanayakkara, the parliamentary representative of the NSSP, voted with the UNP government to pass a supplementary budget of five billion rupees for the racist war being carried out by the UNP government against the Tamils. NSSP leaders regularly denounced the LTTE as fascist, while solidarizing themselves with the Tamil groups which were serving as stooges and hitmen for the UNP government and military, describing several of these organizations as “Marxist.”
In the trade unions the class collaborationist politics of the NSSP translate into corporatism and outright corruption. The multinational corporation Unilever now uses an agreement signed by the NSSP trade union leaders as a model for its plants in other countries. The NSSP leaders agreed that no struggle would be conducted on wages or working conditions during the full period of the contract. Out of gratitude for the treacherous policies of the NSSP in the unions, one employer recently contributed 5,000 rupees to the campaign fund of a union official in his factory who ran as an NSSP candidate in last year’s local government elections.
The NSSP is currently involved in an organization called “the movement of the parents and relatives of the disappeared,” which aims to exploit and mislead the indignation of the rural masses over the brutal torture and killing of more than 100,000 youth by UNP and military death squads during the past two years. The NSSP has sought to inject anti-Tamil racism into the Sinhala-speaking rural areas, equating soldiers killed in the war against the Tamils with the young victims of the death squads. The NSSP has offered the leadership of the anti-repression movement to the SLFP, which Karunaratne himself has admitted gives “indirect support” to the repression. At a rally organized in Colombo by the NSSP, LSSP and CP leaders on the question of repression, the chairperson was the leader of the SLFP. The main demand issued by the rally was to “bring before the law courts all those who should be charged under the law and release the rest.”
The class nature of an organization is always revealed by the international alliances it forms and the NSSP allied itself unerringly with one of the most degenerate of the Pabloite tendencies, the Militant group in Britain. With the internal crisis and collapse of the Militant, the NSSP has found a new international affiliation with Mandel, and his American supporters in the Socialist Action group, which sent greetings to the NSSP conference.
Mandel’s alliance with the NSSP is an alliance with the Sri Lankan state. The NSSP leaders have deliberately blurred the lines of demarcation between the NSSP and two main parties of the bourgeois state, the Sinhala racist SLFP and UNP. On the eve of the nominations for the local council elections, Karunaratne wrote a letter to the party branches stating: “There are good leaders who are being left out not only from the SLFP but also from the UNP candidate lists. We must look for them and use them as our own candidates” (letter issued on March 19, 1991). These elements, which were duly recruited into the NSSP as election candidates, include notorious Sinhala racists who had been involved in mobilizing mobs to attack Tamil homes. In some cases they had even participated in the murder of Tamils.
The issue of International Viewpoint which reports the NSSP conference also carries an interview with two members of the party’s leadership. One of them, Linus Jayatilaice, is a Catholic priest. The other, Baddegama Samitha, is a Buddhist monk. Asked how he became involved in politics, Jayatilaice explains that “it started with the ‘mystical’ or spiritual side of Christianity, which,” he adds, “many Marxists might find difficult to understand.” He goes on to say that “Buddhism is more logical in its basis than Christianity, and therefore has a more straightforward foundation to develop towards Marxist thinking. The problem is that its logic is not yet dialectical logic. For that you need Marxism.” Such a melange of Marxism and religion was once found only in the publications of Stalinism. International Viewpoint’s comment is: “Sri Lanka is a country in which many people with religious faiths rally to the fight for socialism.”
In November, the ICFI warned at the World Conference of Workers against Imperialist War and Colonialism: “The United Secretariat of Mandel performs vital services for world imperialism. Its specific function is to put together new political mechanisms which are needed by imperialism to maintain its rule under conditions where its old props have completely disintegrated and to mobilize sections of the petty-bourgeois radicals against the Trotskyists of the International Committee and the program of socialist internationalism for which they fight.”
Now in Sri Lanka Mandel is assembling new forces in an attempt to destroy the revolutionary internationalist struggle of the RCL. As the ICFI declared, Mandel is not a wayward or misguided socialist, but a bourgeois politician, working consciously to defend the bourgeois order against the revolutionary intervention of the working class, whether in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe or Sri Lanka. The cleavage between Trotskyism and forces such as Mandel and the NSSP is an unbridgeable class difference. The fight to resolve the crisis of revolutionary leadership in Sri Lanka will require the most ruthless unmasking of this sinister political maneuver.