Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 16. September 8th 1971
This article was one of the first to come out of Ceylon after the recent fighting. Despite the arbitrary political analysis it represents one of the most complete accounts of, and commentaries on, the present Celonese situation available.
With the armed uprising of the youth a new epoch has begun in Ceylon. The parliamentary process which had been accepted as a permanent way of political life by reformist politicians has been seriously challenged.
The almost idyllic picture that bourgeois reformists, including Stalinists, have sought to draw of Ceylon, as a country where no armed struggles to overthrow the state power are possible, because it is a land whose people are predominently Buddhists, where violence is against their tradition and culture ahllowed and nurtured for, 500 years of their proud history, has been shattered with the armed struggle of the youth to seize political power.
This struggle of the youth, mainly from the Sinhalese Buddhist areas, which has continued now for over 40 days, has seen unprecedented mass slaughter of the youth and others by the government claiming to serve, especially the interests of the Sinhalese Buddhists a struggle which has filled the jails to over-flowing, turned universities into concentration camps, and led the government to obtain armaments from seven countries has in any event shaken to its very foundations the present coalition regime and also capitalist society.
Starting from 5th April, the youth - students, unemployed of both sexes, with young workers and school teachers launched armed struggle to seize political power. In the leadership of this uprising is the Janata Vimukthi Peramuna (People's Liberation Front), a Maoist style about movement which has had a clandestine existence for about five years to May 1970, and which, thereafter functioned openly till it was banned on 6th April. Among the known leaders are Rohana Wijeweera, a former student of Lmbumba University, and Mahinda Wijesekera, a student of Vidyodaya University, both incarcerated about two weeks prior to the launching of the armed stuggle.
During its clandestine existence, the Janata Vimukthi Peramuna had attracted to its banner thousands of the radicalised youth spread throughout the country. This youth was composed, in the main, of both sexes in the age group of 16-5 years, drawn from University Technical and secondary school students, Sinhalese educated unemployed youth in rural and urban areas, and young Buddhist monks. Also included in the fold of the Janata Vimukthi Peramuna, were young militant workers drawn mainly from the State industrial Corporations and the State-agricultural sector - e.g. the Land Development Survey Department and the Colonisation schemes. Further, among those who had played an important part in this movement were school teachers including even head teachers and University lecturers belonging to the next age group i.e. over 5 years.
Janata Vimukthi Peramuna;
The Janata Vimukthi Peramuna (People's Liberation Front) whose membership is drawn largely from the rural-lower middle class and partly from the urban lower middle-class and includes elements from the working class, claims to be Marxist-Leninist in orientation. Its aim is to bring about an egalitarian society by the abolition of the colonialist export-import plantation economy, in favour of an economy based on rice cultivation and domestic agriculture. The Janata Vimukthi Peramuna has not clarified its views regarding the role of the working-class in the socialist revolution and has discounted the one million plantation workers of recent indian origin. In this regard they have not explained what they mean by "Indian expansionism", to which they stand opposed The Janata Vimukthi Peramuna has not stated its attitude to Tamil and other oppressed minority rights. They have vehemently denounced imperialism, "Yankee, imperialism" etc., but have not projected an anti-imperialist program in relation to the Ceylon revolution. In their view the peasantry is the strongest revolutionary force.
The youth in Ceylon, the generation since the last War (1939-45), came into political consciousness and began to move in an anti-capitalist direction largely due to the influence of the Trotskyist Lanka Sama Samaja Party, the revolutionary oriented party of the working-class. The developing class-struggle under the leadership of the LSSP, and culminating in the great Hartal (one day's uprising) of 1953, was a further stage in the radicalisation of this youth.
However, since the mass-uprising of 1953, far from preparing for the next stage of revolutionary struggle, the LSSP leaned more heavily on parliamentarism. This meant that the youth that followed the LSSP developed parliamentary illusions.
On the parliamentary plane the LSSP found a serious rival in the Slfp, the alternative bourgeois party, which gave itself the image of the poor-man's party. With the Slfp's rallying slogans of "Sinhala only" as the State Language, and "rightful place for Buddhism" combined with the "progressive" colouration given to this party by ex LSS Per Philip Gunawardena, the youth of school-leaving age in 1955-56 went directly into the camp of Bandaranaike.
The two Bandaranaike governments, 1956-59 and 1960-64, brought only disappointment to the youth in regard to their problems of unemployment and lack of educational and other opportunities. They soon found that the adoption of Sinhalese as the State-language and State recognition of Buddhism did not bring them jobs or any advancement.
By 1964, the present generation of the youth found that there was no solution to their problems through parliament. When this youth looked for an extra-parliamentary way out, the LSSP, the revolutionary oriented party of the working class had abandoned its revolutionary programme; it had betrayed the workers and toilers for office in a bourgeois cabinet (SLFP-LSSP Coalition Government).
The UNP victory of 1965 was further proof to the youth that parliamentary politics was a game played by bourgeois parties with their agents in the reformist parties. In the meantime, all the problems of the people were becoming more acute than before. In regard to their own burning problem of unemployment, the reality was that while general unemployment stood at nearly one million, the proportion of persons unemployed in the age group 19-5 was as high as 64.8 percent (Central Bank Bulletin April 1971). This means that a very large percentage of the unemployed consisted of young persons and that the bulk of the educated youth had no place in this socio-economic set up. It was clear to the youth of this generation that they were social rejects or out-casts, without any real hope of changing their condition within the existing society.
It was in this context, that since about 1965 the youth orientation was to reject the totality of society in which they had no place. In their state of growing alienation from society, the youth had no need for anything of the existing social order. As the traditional parties of the workers and toilers had betrayed and were tied to the establishment, they rejected these political parties as well and what appeared to be their ideologies. The youth took to armed struggle to destroy their destroyers, the society and its State power.
Outside their own sector, the youth found no hope or point of support In this situation the youth turned inwards. They formed their own organisation fro revolutionary struggle the Janata Vimukthi Peramuna.
This radicalisation of the youth in Ceylon took place in conditions of international revolutionary upsurge commencing with the great Chinese revolution, followed by the Algerian and Cuban revolutions, and the Vietnam liberation struggle. It was during this perios that the crisis of Stalinism also burst into the open with the twentieth Congress of the Communist party of the Soviet Union in 1956, and outcome of which was the Sino-Soviet conflict, and the Chinese cultural revolution. There is no doubt that the more recent US anti-war movement, the French revolutionary struggles of May 1968 the Pakistan struggles and also the Czechoslavakian mass mobilisation, con tributed to the further radicalisation of the youth in Ceylon. It is now a fact that a new world radicalisation of youth has taken place during the last decade, affecting not only the youth of both advanced and backward capitalist countries, but also the youth in workers States.
Preparation for struggle:
The Janata Vimukthi Peramuna's preparations for struggle were clandestine for nearly five years up to August 1970, from which time they appeared and commenced to function in the open. Their ideological preparation was also clandestine and confined to their cadres, membership and their periphery of sympathisers who were also of the youth. Their political training was through basic classes organised in secret. They is no evidence of the circulation of any literature or newspapers until they came into the open. In the light of the armed struggle they launched donning uniforms and using guns and bombs, it would appear that they had given military training to their cadres. Evidently from the very outset, their main preoccupation was preparation for armed struggle. The secretive nature of their military preparations was such, that sooner or later, they had to embark on armed struggle irrespective of the development of the mass situation.
When they came out into thyopen they held well attended mass rallies and published their own newpaper. At the time of their illegalisation the Janata Vimukthi Peramuna had several newspapers. It any event their open work was auxiliary to their preparation for armed struggle.
The reaction of the coalition government to the open political activities of the Janata Vimukthi Peramuna and their visible success was to denounce them as C.I.A, agents. A joint statement signed by the secretaries of the three coalition parties - SLFP, LSSP and CP in August 1970 was an announcement that the government had decided to attack this movement with strong-arm methods. And very soon this was happening. The full repressive force of the State apparatus was used. The police invaded the homes of the youth, arrested, beat them up and even tortured them, and thereafter had number of this youth remanded even when there was no evidence to place any charge against them in that regard.
When the failure of the coalition government with regard to the pressing problems of the workers, peasants, youth and students made the Janata Vimukthi Peramuna a left oppositional rallying centre which was visibly growing, police action against this movement stepped up. In March (1971) this police action came to a head with the arrest of the two well-known leaders of this party, and also a large number of their members and supporters. It was in this context, that the Janata Vimukthi Peramuna launched their uprising on 5th April.
The strategy of the rebel youth was apparently to launch a co-ordinated series of surprise attacks on police stations mainly in the rural area — to seize weapons and ammunition and to paralyse the main government organs of administration in the districts.
They succeeded in putting out of action a large page break number of police stations and also destroyed some government buildings. They dynamited bridges and put up barricades by felling large trees across roads, seriously disrupting traffic and communications. Within a few days, some areas came vitrually under their control. There was no attack on Colombo, except that an attempt was made to attack a police station in the city, which proved to be unsuccessful.
This uprising, despite its inevitable limitations, especially without the participation of the organised working-class and othere sections of the oppressed masses, was however, the most serious attempt to overthrow the State power in this country. With unexampled courage and heroism, thousands of youth, males and females, laid down their lives for what they believed was their struggle to win socialism. And perhaps, it would not be possible to discover an historical paralled of an organised youth uprising of this nature, directed to the seizure of political power, by a frontal attack on police stations and other organs of the capitalist state, lasting for over a month.
While rebel attacks had taken place in seven out of nine provinces, their concentrated attacks were in six of them - North Central, Southern, Central, North Western Sabaragamuwa and Uva. This means that the uprising was spread over a large area covering about two-thirds of Ceylon. The rebel strongholds were not only in the rural areas of the interior rice plains, but even in the low-country plantation areas.
In areas that came under their control, the rebels hoisted red flags with the hammer and sickle and also put up the banner of their organisation - the Janata Vimukthi Peramuna. In certain areas, they had distributed the land of the capitalists among the landless peasants, although not in a systematic way. Contrary to the reports circulating through government sources, that the rebels harassed the people, there was praise for the behaviour of the rebels especially towards women and girls. Their armed forces were directed against police stations. District Revenue Offices, rural banks and post offices.
The government from the outset denounced the young rebels as terrorists and began all-out war against them with all the armed forces at its command both internal and external. It sought and obtained armaments including helicopters from US and UK and other capitalist countries, India, Pakistan and the UAR. It obtained troops and warships from India. It also obtained armaments from the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. The Soviet Union supplied Mig Jets together with pilots to train local personnel.
The armed forces of the government did not confine their attacks on the young rebels. They commenced a campaign of slaughter of thousands of younf persons and others unconnected with the rebels who happened to be in the same age group as the rebels, or happened to be relatives, neighbours or acquaintances of the rebels Thousands taken into custody on suspicion have been summarily executed by shooting Victims have been lined up near graves dug by the victims themselves and thereafter shot and killed Public hangings and executions of young persons including girls have been carried out by the police and the military often accompanied by extreme sadism. Police and Army men have raped women and girls and thereafter have shot them. The wounded who are still alive have been burnt or buried together with the dead. Dead bodies of young persons and others have been seen daily floating down the rivers. The horrific public displays was intended to terrorise thy people.
These medieval atrocities have of course not been committed in the view of the International Committee of the Red Cross. That is perhaps the reason why Roger Du Pasquier, the representative of this committee hastened to grant the Ceylon government and its armed forces a certificate of good behaviour when he visited the country one month after the government's military offensive began. "I have seen" said Rogers "that the treatment given to those held in custody is in accordance with article 3 of the Geneva Convention"! That Roger Due Pasquier should have lent himself to the complete distortion of the truth after a conducted tour organised by the torturers and killers themselves, does not speak well for the International Committee of the Red Cross that seeks to function as a non-partisan humanitarian society.
Government forces have destroyed and razed to the ground a large number of houses of poor people. Whole villages have been burnt down and even bombings and strafing from air planes and helicopters have been carried out by the armed forces.
The government's offensive supported by the armaments of seven foreign countries has pushed the forces of the rebels more into the interior parts of the country and into the forest-covered hills. In certain areas the military and police vehicles can move only on the main roads, and that too, not after dark.
Several thousands who have been arrested are confined in dungeons and concentration camps. The number in the Jails is over 12,000. Even hostages are taken and include the parents and the younger children in the family. Neither their relatives nor their lawyers are permitted to see them. The so-called "Advisory Committee" is the only body to which a detainee could make any kind of representation. But, strangely enough, detainees who are either members or suspected of membership of a proscribed party are debarred from making representation to even the Advisory Committee. And whether a person was a member or suspected of having been a member of the proscribed party (Janata Vimukthi Peramuna) is arbitrarily decided by the Permanent Secretary to the Minisrty of Defence.
The full use of legislation through R Egulations under the Public Security Act has led to a virtual military-police regime. The curfew has been continuously in force throughout the country for nearly 9 hours daily. All democratic rights are withdrawn. Police and military enter houses and buildings at any time for search and arrest of persons. The Courts have no jurisdiction with regard to a wide range of alleged offences. And even where Courts have jurisdiction the police authorities counter the orders of Magistrates and do not allow suspected persons to be brought before the Courts.
There is draconian legislation to cover activities vaguely referred to as being "prejudicial to" so-called public order or public safety The death penalty, and terms of twenty years imprisonment with confiscation of property can be meted out on evidence of even association with persons suspected of conspiring to overthrow the State.
The Janata Vimukthi Peramuna has been banned Thirteen political newspapers have also been banned. There is severe press censorship. Public meetins are not permitted.
A large number of government employees have been dismissed from service for failure to report for duty on a particular date, whatever excuses they offered in regard to their absence from duty These dismissed have no right of appeal to any tribunal. Government has taken the opportunity also to discontinue thousands of workers, mainly engaged in construction work treated as 'casuals' and now declared redundant. Schools remained closed for two months while universities are indefinately closed. Concentration camps, euphemistically called rehabilitation centres have been set up at two universities for all those who have been arbitrarily arrested and called 'insurgents'.
A wide range of services in the public and private sector have been declared "essential services". This means that employees in such places have no right to strike A so-called code of conduct for all employees, issued by the Ministry of Labour has negatived most of the rights won by the workers over the years.
Who are the Rebels?
The government was concerned to link this uprising with the rightist forces within and without the country. But police investigations before and after the commencement of the armed struggle have not brought out any evidence to support such a theory. The Prime Minister who spoke to the nation five days after the outbreak could only say that the rebels were misguided youth who were impatient for radical changes, that their movement was "backed by big money, diabolic minds and criminal organisers".
The truth in regard to the "criminal organisers" of this movement is that they are none other than the youth themselves, most of whom actively worked for the election victory of the Coalition parties last May 1970. They include the youth, students, young workers and unemployed who in their thousands participated in the massive Coalition May Day (1970) demonstration in Colombo raising the slogans "Our Road is the Road of Che Guevara" — "Our Road is the Road of Ho Chi Minh" — "Along this road we shall shed Blood" "Give us Revolvers, Give us Rifles".
In fact a fair number of those arrested are from the youth leagues of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party of Mrs Bandaranaike and the LSSP and the CP. The Chief youth organiser of the LSSP who is a Member of Parliament and other branch Secretaries of the LSSP are among those in custody. The arrest of Shanmugathasan, leader of the CP (Peking) was only for diplomatic reasons. A fair number of youth of the CP (Moscow) are also in ustody. The Government took the opportunity to point an accusing finger at Red China in regard to this uprising. They believed this was helpful to get the support of reactionary capitalist forces in Ceylon and outside; and also of Indira Gandhi of India through whom they hoped to influence the 700,000 plantation workers of the Indian origin.
It was not possible in the light of all the facts in regard to this uprising, for the government to cloud the reality that it was a youth uprising. In fact the several broadcasts of the Prime Minister and other Ministers have a common refrain. "I appeal" said the Prime Minister in on of these broadcasts, "to them even at this stage to drop off from their mad campaign of destruction and come back to saner living." Leslie Gunawardena, Minister of Communication in a public article stated "There is no doubt that the essence of the matter is that it was the revolt of the youth. Those participating are in their large majority between the ages of 16 and 23. The numbers are not known but they run into several thousands."
The governments decision to ask the North Korean Embassy personnel to leave the country was taken without any evidence of direct or indirect complicity of the embassy or any of its officials with the rebel government This step was clearly motivated by the desire of the government to establish closer links with the US and UK imperialism as the only means of sustaining the capitalist economy and maintaining capitalist rule, in the present situation.
The Working Class:
The organised working class as such did not participate in this armed struggle of the youth. As already mentioned, groups of young workers have been active participants, but not as a section of the working class.
It is true that, in response to the call of the Coalition leaders of the LSSP and CP, trade union bosses and bureaucrats pledged support to the government and have even assisted the police and military to hunt down and murder the youth and left critics of the government. But there were indications that rank and file members of trade unions were not with their leaders in regard to their conduct of supporting the armed forces against the youth. For instance, many workers of coalition trade-unions had refused to contribute to the so-called "Insurgent Victims Fund" which the coalition leaders sponsored.
The treacherous behaviour of coalition trade union officials and some of their followers and the failure of the organised working-class to be even articulate against the murders and atrocities of the governemnt is the measure of the disorientation of the working-clas that had taken place through coalition politics since 1964 and the process of absorption of the trade-union apparatuses into the capitalist State-structure which has been taking place.
The armed struggle is the first real challenge in Ceylon to a capitalist regime from the side of the oppressed people. It is also a challenge to all those who were peddling theories about achieving socialism through bourgeois parliamentary means. Since the collapse of the revolutionary oriented LSSP in June 1964 the country was totally dominated by parliamentarism, electoralism, and political manipulation by the party of the so-called national or progressive bourgeoise, the SLFP, supported by the two revisionist working-class parties, the LSSP and CP. The bourgeoise SLFP collosus-like, strode the political scene and the so-called Bandaranaike policies appeared inseperable from socialist ideology. The youth uprising has shown that this popularity of the SLFP was a temporary phenomenon and the collosus after all had feet of clay. The youth uprising has shown that the unprecedented mass support that the coalition government enjoyed since coming to office has even now, to a large extent, evaporated.
Apart form the young rebels, large sections of the masses who had supported the government have already broken with it. The mass slaughter of youth as well as others and the atrocities perpetrated by the armed forces with the direct responsibility of the government and its leaders, is even now, leading to a growing hatred of the government among all section of the people. It is the unprecedented repression, the withdrawal of democratic rights and the state of virtual martial law now prevailing, that has prevented the people from becoming articulate in this regard.
Whatever may be the fortunes of the youth still in armed struggle, one real possibility in this situation is that wide sections of the masses could well develop an anti-capitalist left orientation not only in relation to actions of the government and the capitalist State during the youth uprising, but also in relation to the pressing problems of the people which have now become more acute than ever before, through the actions and failures of the government.
How soon the working class and the rest of the masses can take the road of struggle against the government and the capitalist class is problematical, especially under conditions of a ruthless military-police dictatorship which is today's reality.
In any event the armed struggle of the youth has posed sharply the questions of correct strategy and tactics for the socialist revolution in Ceylon, not only in the light of the experiences of this struggle, but also in the context of the lessons of struggles in Asia, Latin America and Europe in recent times, as well as their more distant history.
Concretely, the successful outcome of revolutionary struggles in Ceylon is inescapably linked to the great debate that will centre round the questions of:— what are the real socialist alternatives to the present capitalist-imperialist plantation and domestic economy; what are the forces of the Ceylon revolution; what is the place of the working class including plantation workers in this revolution; what is the place and role of the revolutionary youth in the socialist revolution; what is the class that will control the new state-power; and if armed struggle is the continuation of politics tv other means is not the ideological programmatic and organisational arming primary, and the technical question of armaments secondary?
To what extend, and how speedily, a re-groupment of the revolutionary forces could take place on the basis of a correct anti-capitalist orientation on all these burning questions, in the perspective of united action to mobilise the working class and other oppressed sections against the capitalist class, its state-power and government will be crucial in determining the course of the coming revolutionary struggles.