Leon Trotsky
Historical and International Foundations of the Socialist Equality Party (Sri Lanka)

The liquidation of the BLPI

11-1. The waning of the post-war revolutionary movements and the granting of formal independence to Britain’s South Asian colonies generated enormous political pressures on the BLPI to adapt to the new national framework and state structures. For layers of the middle classes, “independence” opened up opportunities in the political sphere of parliament and careers in the expanding state bureaucracy and state-owned corporations. The stabilisation of global capitalism and the post-war boom led to rising prices for export commodities and enabled the bourgeoisie in the former colonies to make concessions, albeit of a limited character, to the working class. This was especially true in Sri Lanka where a weak capitalist class confronted a militant proletariat, sections of which were under the BLPI’s revolutionary leadership. Temporary economic gains fostered reformist illusions that a socialist revolution was not necessary and that the lot of workers could be improved piecemeal through a combination of parliamentary manoeuvre and militant trade union action.

11-2. Central to the BLPI’s liquidation between 1948 and 1950 was its retreat into nationalism. The opening section of the BLPI’s “Program for Ceylon” published in 1946 had argued powerfully that the socialist revolution in Ceylon and India were intimately entwined. “Even at its highest point of mobilisation, the revolutionary mass movement in this island alone could not, unassisted from outside, generate the energies required to overcome the forces which the imperialists would muster in defence of their power in Ceylon, which is for them not only a field of economic exploitation, but a strategic outpost for the defence of the Empire as a whole … On the other hand, the complete emancipation of India itself is unthinkable while Ceylon is maintained as a solid bastion of British power in the East. From this point of view, we may say that the revolutionary struggle in Ceylon will be bound up with that on the continent in all its stages, and will constitute a provincial aspect in relation to the Indian revolution as a whole.” Despite the BLPI’s critique of the partition of India and the independence of Sri Lanka, the party began to draw back from its internationalist perspective and accommodate to the framework of the newly-formed states. While it was not an issue of principle that the BLPI in India and Sri Lanka remain organisationally united, the formation of new sections of the Fourth International should involve intensive discussion on the way in which the unified revolutionary perspective would be fought for and close organisational collaboration maintained. Instead a de facto division emerged as most Sri Lankan Trotskyists returned to the island, which became the focus of their political activities at the expense of the party in India. As the political difficulties created by the post-war restabilisation of capitalism came to bear, the BLPI was liquidated into petty bourgeois radical parties on the false assumption that entrism and “left unity” offered a means of growing quickly.

11-3. It was the opportunists of the LSSP in Sri Lanka who initiated the push for the BLPI in India to enter into the Socialist Party of India, the party formed by the Congress Socialists in 1948 after they split from Congress. The LSSP’s supporters inside the BLPI in India argued their “entry tactic” corresponded to the method advocated by Trotsky in the 1930s to win over important layers inside the Socialist Party of America (SPA) and the French Section of the Workers’ International (SFIO) to the incipient Fourth International. Entry in the 1930s had taken place as a brief tactical manoeuvre under conditions in which, due to the rise of fascism and the betrayals of Stalinism, these social democratic organisations had become a pole of attraction for workers and young people moving toward revolutionary politics. The Trotskyists retained significant freedom inside these parties to fight for their revolutionary internationalist perspective and won over important layers of workers and youth. None of these conditions applied to the Socialist Party of India, which was evolving, not to the left, but along a rightward, nationalist course to parliamentarism. Although the question of entering the Congress Socialists was debated and defeated at the BLPI’s 1947 conference, supporters of the tactic pressed the issue, arguing for long-term entry into the Socialist Party in the hope of a future radicalisation in its ranks. The BLPI ignored the warnings of the International Secretariat of the Fourth International in Paris against any precipitous move and voted, at a special convention in Calcutta in October 1948, to proceed with entry.

11-4. Entry into the Socialist Party was a disaster from the outset. BLPI members had to apply for membership on an individual basis, could not form a separate internal faction and could not circulate discussion bulletins. At the same time, the Socialist Party exploited the talents and prestige of former BLPI members to build up their party apparatus, particularly in cities like Madras where none previously existed. As the Socialist Party leadership shifted further to the right, it increasingly blocked any criticism or debate. In 1952, the former BLPI members finally broke away from the Socialist Party, following its poor showing in the general election of that year and its merger with the bourgeois Kisan Mazoor Praja Party. By that stage, however, an opportunist current led by Michel Pablo and Ernest Mandel had emerged within the Fourth International reflecting political pressures similar to those to which the BLPI had adapted. Pabloism rapidly destroyed what remained of the BLPI in India.

11-5. In Sri Lanka, pressure mounted on the BLPI to merge with the LSSP, especially after a by-election in 1949 in which the split “left” vote enabled the UNP to win the seat. The by-election became an argument for unity to strengthen the party in the parliamentary and trade union arenas. The merger of the BLPI and LSSP in June 1950 is presented in the various LSSP histories as a fusion of two Trotskyist parties. In reality, it was the liquidation of the BLPI into what was an opportunist formation that was rapidly accommodating to parliamentarism and syndicalism. As a result of the merger, N.M. Perera, head of the largest bloc of opposition seats, became the parliamentary opposition leader. Unwilling to accommodate to the framework of the merged LSSP, Philip Gunawardena took a further step to the right, broke from the LSSP completely and formed his own party—the Viplavakari LSSP or VLSSP.

11-6. The program of the unified LSSP was confined to Sri Lanka. It was a collection of abstract truisms designed to avoid any examination of the critical strategic experiences through which the BLPI and the Fourth International had passed. It made no reference to any of the post-war political experiences of the working class in Sri Lanka, let alone elsewhere in Asia or internationally. The Chinese Revolution that had taken place less than a year before was not mentioned. The program made no explicit reference to the Theory of Permanent Revolution. None of the political differences that had emerged in the previous five years were discussed. The program declared that the party stood “uncompromisingly opposed to all forms of chauvinism” but did not discuss the LSSP’s adaptation in 1947 to the communal politics of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. Likewise it referred to the need for “real national independence” but did not deal with the LSSP’s abstention on the independence vote in 1948. In reality, the “fusion” amounted to a return to Samasamajism, that is, to the national tradition of Sri Lankan radicalism. The failure to discuss these issues demonstrated the real relations in the new party: the rightwing headed by N.M. Perera was in charge, while the former BLPI leaders provided him with “Trotskyist” credentials. Far from intervening to demand a political clarification and to oppose this unprincipled unification, the International Secretariat under Michel Pablo gave its blessing and accepted the LSSP as the Sri Lankan section of the Fourth International.