This article originally appeared in the “Bulletin” on December 14, 1990.
December 18, 1990 marks three years since Comrade Keerthi Balasuriya, leader of the International Committee of the Fourth International and the general secretary of its Sri Lankan section, the Revolutionary Communist League, died suddenly at the age of 39.
On the occasion of this tragic anniversary, the Workers League sends its revolutionary greetings to all its comrades in the International Committee, and particularly to the Sri Lankan comrades of the Revolutionary Communist League. We must commemorate Keerthi’s death by rededicating ourselves to the principles and program of proletarian internationalism for which he fought so implacably throughout his life.
In the three years since Comrade Keerthi’s death, his lifelong struggle to build an internationalist revolutionary leadership in the working class has been ever more powerfully vindicated. The perspectives of the International Committee which he defended and developed against all forms of Stalinism, Pabloism, petty-bourgeois nationalism and opportunism have been confirmed by the growing revolutionary crisis which grips imperialism and all its agencies. This crisis has exposed the historic bankruptcy of all of these tendencies and demonstrated the objective necessity for the development of Marxist consciousness in the working class as the only means of preparing the socialist revolution.
Comrade Keerthi entered revolutionary politics at the age of 16. While still a youth, he was a founder of the Revolutionary Communist League and became its general secretary at 19. This party was built in a bitter struggle against one of the greatest betrayals carried out against the working class in the postwar period. In 1964, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), which had won the leadership of the Sri Lankan workers movement based on the program and perspective of the Fourth International, consummated a prolonged drift to the right by entering the bourgeois coalition government of Mrs. Bandaranaike.
The great betrayal in Sri Lanka in 1964 was the bitter fruit of Pabloite revisionism within the Fourth International. The Pabloites covered up for the movement of the LSSP into the camp of the bourgeoisie as they developed the revisionist perspective that Stalinism, petty-bourgeois nationalism, Castroism or other nonproletarian class forces could replace the international working class, led by the Fourth International, as the destroyer of capitalism and builder of socialism.
Basing itself on a relentless struggle against this revisionism, the RCL, under Comrade Keerthi’s leadership, was able to provide revolutionary leadership to the Sri Lankan working class. Comrade Keerthi implacably defended and developed the fundamental perspective of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution. He insisted that genuine self-determination and the completion of the democratic revolution could be carried out in Sri Lanka, the Indian subcontinent and all of the backward countries only by the working class forging its alliance with the poor peasants, conquering power and destroying the existing bourgeois state, as part of the world socialist revolution.
Based on this perspective, the RCL waged a fearless campaign against Sinhalese chauvinism and in defense of the right of the Tamil minority to self-determination, while upholding the class independence of the proletariat against the political line of the Tamil bourgeois nationalists.
In 1985, Comrade Keerthi made his greatest contribution to Trotskyism by uniting with the majority of the sections of the International Committee in struggle against the national opportunist leadership of the British Workers Revolutionary Party which had abandoned the Trotskyist foundations of the ICFI and was seeking to liquidate its sections. Comrade Keerthi brought to this struggle his own vast experience in the battle against Pabloism, as well as the essential lessons drawn from more than a decade of clashes with the WRP leaders as they capitulated ever more openly to Stalinism and the national bourgeoisie and consequently were forced to attack the principled line of the RCL.
In the two years following the split with the WRP renegades, Comrade Keerthi was at the center of the struggle within the ICFI to draw the full lessons of this split and on that basis forge an unprecedented international unity within the world party and elaborate a scientific revolutionary internationalist perspective to arm its cadres.
The objective crisis of world capitalism is now creating the conditions in which that perspective will be tested in the great class battles which are emerging in the Indian subcontinent, Europe, the Americas and internationally and in which the political legacy of Comrade Keerthi Balasuriya will become a material force in the struggles of millions of workers.