LSSP: 75 Years of Struggle and Achievement

by Prof. Tissa Vitarana

(December 19, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) is the oldest political party in Sri Lanka and the first to be able to celebrate its 75th Anniversary . It grew out of the Suriyamal Movement and was established on 18th December, 1935, when the inaugural Conference was held. Dr. Colvin R de Silva was elected as the first and only President (as that post was abolished thereafter). The LSSP began as a Socialist Party that introduced the Marxist tradition of politics to Sri Lanka, but with a truly nationalist flavor. Among its founder leaders have been the most gifted and able political leaders that this country has produced – Dr. N M Perera, Dr. Colvin R de Silva, Philip Gunawardana (subsequent leader of the VLSSP, that joined Mr. Bandaranike, to form the MEP), Dr. S A Wickremasinghe (subsequent leader of the CPSL) and Leslie Goonewardene.

The LSSP had two main objectives – gaining complete political independence from the British, and putting an end to exploitation by creating a socialist "sama samajaya". It was the former that was the immediate short term objective, and the latter was a long term objective to be achieved progressively through the struggle for social justice and economic development. In this brief summary of the LSSP's struggles and achievements only a few highlights will be mentioned. It is our hope that a detailed history that does justice to its epic struggles and great achievements will eventually materialize and that its contribution to our country's history will be properly recognized and appreciated.

1. The LSSP led the struggle for complete political independence.

The people were left out of the struggle for independence. The English-speaking elite, led by the feudal and emerging capitalist forces, sought to do a deal with the British rulers, and unfortunately without a common Lankan approach so that narrow sectarian nationalisms surfaced. For the first time the LSSP had open air meetings in Sinhala and Tamil and placed the issues before the people, coining suitable terms to enable them to understand. It mobilized all cultural groups. The Tamil Youth League from Jaffna led by Handy Perimbanayagam joined them. It was the LSSP leaders like NM, Colvin, Philip, Edmund and Bernard who were imprisoned by the British both here and also in India, where they joined the Indian mass independence struggle led by Gandhi and Nehru.

The Independence granted in 1948 was a partial independence. Lanka was only given Dominion status – the head of state remained the British Queen, acting through the Governor General (who was appointed by the Queen), British troops continued to be stationed here, and the Privy Council in Britain was the final arbiter on all legal decisions. Even the Acts passed by the House of Representatives had to be approved by the Senate, half of whose members were appointed by the Governor General.

Complete independence was only gained during the SLFP/LSSP/CP Coalition Government, on 22nd May 1972, through the Republican Constitution, the architect of which was Dr. Colvin R de Silva. All powers of the British Crown to interfere in our affairs were totally removed by this Republican Constitution.

2. The 1972 Republican Constitution – a historic achievement.

It not only completely severed the umbilical cord that politically tied us to Britain, ever since the British gained full control of the island in 1815. It also signaled the end of colonial rule over our territory which began in 1505, with the Portuguese. It signifies the emergence of the Republic, of Sri Lanka in the international field as a completely independent, national and state entity. In fact the historical hold that the monarchy had over our people from ancient times was removed for ever.

By stating in Section 3 of the 1972 Constitution that "In the Republic of Sri Lanka sovereignty is in the people and is inalienable" the people of Sri Lanka were made sovereign in and over Sri Lanka for the first time in our history. The people could exercise their sovereignty through the National State Assembly. For the first time an extensive "Fundamental Rights and Freedoms" chapter, with adequate safeguards for the minorities, which was lacking in the Soulbury Constitution, was introduced into this 1972 Constitution. Even what was stated in Section 29 (2a) of the Soulbury Constitution that "no community shall have an advantage" is included there. In any case Section 29 was so weak that it failed to prevent the enactment of the Citizenship Bill that disenfranchised the Indian Tamils, as well as the "Sinhala Only" Act.

3. Protection of the Rights of the Oppressed and Uniting the Nation.

From its inception the LSSP has fought for the rights of all oppressed groups in the country. In the struggle for independence too the Party sought to unite all social groups and strata as one Sri Lankan nation. While respecting and promoting the diverse cultures, the LSSP has always tried to unite them all as one Sri Lankan nation, with an over-riding Sri Lankan culture.

It was the two leaders of the LSSP in the National State Assembly, NM and Philip, who initiated the process of making Sinhala and Tamil official languages by proposing that these two should be used in the Police stations and Courts as languages of record. When the labour from India was being brought into the country in large amounts to operate the plantations, while thousands were unemployed and deprived of their land in the villages, NM warned of the dangers and requested the British government to stop it. At the same time the LSSP demanded that all those who had come from India should be given all citizenship rights if they so desired it.

Oppression on caste and gender grounds was widespread both in the South and the North. The LSSP consistently opposed this and fought on the side of the oppressed. There was neglect and religious oppression against Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam during British rule, to which again the LSSP paid due attention. The LSSP opposed the Indian Citizenship Bill brought by the UNP which deprived the Tamils on the plantations of their citizenship rights.

The LSSP anticipated the unfortunate consequences of the Official Language Act of 1956 (the Sinhala Only Act). Colvin said "one language two nations, two languages one nation", N M said that "a river of blood will flow across the land which will get divided and the solution that can prevent it if given 20 years later will be inadequate". While supporting English being replaced by Sinhala as the official language the LSSP called for Tamil also to be made an official language with equal status. There was a racist onslaught against the LSSP and CP, and the LSSP lost support among both communities and thereby the position of being the main opposition party to the UNP. The LSSP did all it could to minimize the racist attacks and pogroms against the Tamils during UNP rule in the 1977 – 1983 period but without much effect.

The LSSP representative in the APRC, as its chairman, has continued this role. The LSSP calls for further dialogue among the various political stakeholders to establish a consensus that can provide the basis for a new Constitution that will unite the nation through the empowerment of all its people. The LSSP supports the continuation of the APRC process to its logical conclusion as a means of achieving this objective.

4. Anti- Imperialist Alliance of Progressive Forces.

The LSSP has aligned with the SLFP and other progressive forces to defeat Imperialism and their agents in Sri Lanka in the interest of the people. When the UNP took over power from the British in 1948 they were considered invincible and to be there for ever. But the 1953 Hartal led by the LSSP changed all those and opened the door to power for the SLFP. The Hartal was a mass protest led by the LSSP against the rise in price of essentials (mainly rice) by the UNP Government and shook the comprador UNP Government. This forced the Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake to resign and handover power to John Kotelawala. Nine LSSP lives were lost in the police firing. But it gave the people the confidence and strength to topple the UNP at the 1956 election and paved the way for the SLFP led MEP, which was supported by the "Pancha Maha Balavegaya" to topple the UNP Government at the 1956 elections. The LSSP had a no contests pact with the MEP and gave it our full support. The LSSP has not only supported the SLFP led governments at all elections, but it has also proposed to the Alliance and supported progressive policies in the interests of the people and the country. However it has opposed wrong policies, such as those of a racist nature eg. making Sinhala Only the official language.

5. Gaining Independence of the Economy for National Development.

The LSSP has helped to form Centre – Left Progressive Governments in Sri Lanka. In 1964 it joined the SLFP-led Government, but it was soon defeated by a conspiracy from within the Government, but engineered by Imperialist forces (which had failed with the military/police coup of 1962). From 1970 to 1975 it formed a SLFP/LSSP/CP Coalition Government which broke the economic strangle hold that British imperialism and its agents had over the Sri Lankan economy.

Dr. N M Perera, as Finance Minister, was one of the leaders in establishing the G 77 group of Non-Aligned countries to fight for economic independence. To pave the way for economic independence and development it was necessary for Sri Lanka and where necessary the Government, to gain control of the commanding heights of the economy – like banks, insurance, the plantations, the ports, transport etc. The LSSP supported the progressive Governments led by the SLFP to achieve these objectives. This has laid the foundation for development of the economy in the national interest. The LSSP was a member of the SLFP led PA Government from 1994 to 2002, which failed to effectively depart from UNP policies. Today the LSSP supports the UPFA Government led by Mahinda Rajapaksa in its fight against Neo-liberal exploitation by Imperialism led by the US Empire, and its local agents led by the UNP, to continue the process of national economic development.

6. Workers Rights and Trade Union Leadership.

When the workers were being ruthlessly exploited by the British Imperialist rulers and their local capitalist and feudal agents it was the LSSP that built up trade unions in nearly all workplaces in the country – factories, plantations, offices (both State and private ), and the service sector. It fought for and helped to win the rights and privileges that workers enjoy today, like security of employment, an 8 hour working day, overtime payments, pension and EPF rights, mandatory leave etc. We appreciate the fact that much of these benefits have been won by the collective struggle of the workers through the trade unions that the LSSP, CP and SLFP established. The SLFP led progressive governments have contributed much to this process. The LSSP has always stood for responsible trade unionism that respects the real interest of its members, the public and the nation.

7. Social Welfarism

The high level of social welfarism and the good quality of life indices that Sri Lanka enjoys owes much to the LSSP that fought for free education and health and food subsidies from its inception. For example Dr. N M Perera who had been a member of the Education Committee chaired by C W W Kanangara in the State Council, published from jail the "Case for Free Education" to successfully overcome the resistance of the English speaking elite.

8. Promote Economic Development on Modern Lines.

The LSSP has always accepted the need to have meaningful national economic development so as to take our country out of poverty. For the emancipation of the poor people, social justice must be combined with economic development. Dr N M Perera as Finance Minister gave top priority to national economic development, as did Dr. Colvin R de Silva as Plantations Minister and Leslie Goonawardene as Transport Minister. With Bernard Soysa, Batty Weerakoon and Tissa Vitarana as Ministers of Science and Technology the LSSP has led the national effort to maximize the use of modern scientific technology to establish world class industrial, agricultural and service sector development so that we can successfully compete in the markets of an open economy.

9. Empowering the People

The LSSP supports the policy of giving maximum power to the people to develop their own economic and social activities and meet their needs. The LSSP promoted Workers' Advisory Councils in workplaces eg. CTB, Railway (Leslie Goonawardene took the lead), and People's Committees at village level to participate in the process of development of the workplace and the village. The proposal to strengthen Local Government eg. establishing Village Committees, is a part of this policy for empowering the people.

The LSSP has always supported the establishment of cooperative societies backed by a State wholesale establishment like the CWE, to ensure that the consumers get essentials at a reasonable price. This can be done in competition with the private sector, so long as at least 1/3 of the market is supplied by the cooperatives. The problems faced by farmers with regard to credit and marketing needs to be supported by the state in an effective manner and the LSSP has always been canvassing for this. Establishing Producer and Multi-Purpose Cooperatives, the Paddy Marketing Board, Marketing Department etc. have been promoted and supported by the LSSP.

10. Socialist Internationalism

The LSSP has taken a consistently anti-imperialist position in international affairs, supporting all socialist revolutions and national liberation movements from a constructively critical angle not hesitating to point out all shortcomings from a constructive point of view. It consistently opposed Stalinism, while defending the Soviet Union. The LSSP has warm fraternal relations with socialist governments and parties eg. Cuba, China, Vietnam, Laos, CPIM of India. It is in the process of establishing links with other socialist and Centre-Left Governments and parties, especially in Latin America. The LSSP has opposed the exploitative and aggressive policies of the American Empire, and demanded a fairer world order in which the Third World countries like Sri Lanka will get a fair deal.

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