by Lionel Bopage
( April 6, 2017, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) At the outset let me express my gratitude to the comrades of the 71 Fraternity, for having invited me to express a few ideas on the Nature of State Repression in the Seventies, at the 46th Commemoration of the 1971 April Uprising.
Each time we speak of the 1971 April Uprising, the topic that always comes up is that the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna had been bent towards violence from its inception. To find answers to this, I like to pose a parallel question. That is, did the international and local political power camps that existed then, provide a peaceful path to fulfill or achieve the aspirations of young people? The answer is a resounding no; all they faced were discrimination, social inequity and state repression. To explain this, we need to discuss the international and national political climate, and the nature of the state repression that existed at that time. I am using this opportunity today, only to express a few ideas on the nature of state repression that existed in the seventies. This does not mean that I intend to exonerate the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna or myself from the responsibilities associated with the 1971 April Uprising.
Capitalism from the 1950s, in the guise of neo-colonialism was spreading its tentacles throughout the world. The United States of America and the CIA, covertly and or covertly were working to either overthrow or to destroy governments and powerful political movements, considered to be either socialist or supporting socialism throughout the world. For example, in Asia, Africa and Latin America several totalitarian regimes and military dictatorships had been established; or were being established. Murdering hundreds of thousands of communists, toppling the government of Sukarno in Indonesia and establishing a military dictatorship under the leadership of General Suharto, was a very deep negative experience to the Left in general, and specially to the “Movement”, which later came to be known as the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna.
In the meantime, the Cuban independence struggle was victorious, having fought against the pro-American Batista administration. Various types of liberation struggles t were being launched in Asia, Africa and Latin America; they were inspired like us with the example of the socialist countries around the globe.
In 1964, the Lanka Sama Samaaja Party and the Ceylon Communist Party, entered into a bourgeois coalition with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Following on this, the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna joined the bourgeois coalition of the United National Party. This bourgeois coalition under the leadership of the United National Party, specially Mr. J.R. Jayawardena, the Finance Minister representing the needs of neo-colonialism, proposed to fold the electoral map of Sri Lanka for twenty years.
In 1968 the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, the Lanka Sama Samaaja Party and the Ceylon Communist Party formed a United Front. This United Front became the major combined capitalist force during the next decade. This deterioration of the traditional Left provided a great opportunity to the ‘movement’ that became the new Left, to approach the ranks of the traditional left and win over their members as well as well-wishers to the ‘movement’. Most of the members and sympathisers within the ‘movement’ were those who had joined it from the ranks of the traditional left.
As a result, a hostile political attitude existed between the traditional Left and the ‘Movement’. They slandered us by spreading a number of patently erroneous claims, the most famous one being that we were agents of the CIA!As a result the state machinery began to focus on the ‘Movement’. Firstly, Comrade Rohana Wijeweera, and a few other political activists were arrested and imprisoned in 1970. It was a few comrades such as Ananda Premasinghe, Marshal Perera of the Lanka Sama Samaaja Party and Sarath Muttetuwegama of the Ceylon Communist Party who came forward to challenge the charges laid against the comrades in custody and provided help. Government intelligence services such as MI 5 (Military Intelligence 5) were alarmed at rise of this new left tendency they were discovering.; The government intelligence services and the news media named our movement the “Che Guevara” movement.
The main objective of the ‘Movement’ during this time was, to prevent the establishment of a pro-American neo-colonialist dictatorial regime like Indonesia. It was clear that even the Sri Lanka Freedom Party had realized the serious nature of the danger that existed then, as its leadership spoke openly against it. The ‘Movement’ took into consideration the toppling of governments that had taken place and were taking place at the international arena and the destruction of political movements, and the potential for establishing a neo-colonialist authoritarian government in Ceylon under the leadership of the United National Party. The ‘Movement’ had decided that only by beginning to arm themselves that such a military government established with the neo-colonial support and encouragement, could be faced.
The capitalistic United Front Coalition consisting of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, the Lanka Sama Samaaja Party and the Ceylon Communist Party contested the 1970 general election, based on a series of strong anti-imperialist policies. The United Front Coalition which received the support of the ‘Movement’ , won the elections with a two third majority. Yet before long, the leaders of the coalition, especially those of the Lanka Sama Samaaja Party, were saying that the anti-imperialist policies put forward by the United Front Coalition could not be fulfilled either short term or even during the whole term of the new government. The comrades of the ‘Movement’ who were in custody were later discharged from all charges. The first public lecture given by the Movement in July 1970 was dedicated to respond to the slanders and mud-slinging such as CIA, made by the Ceylon Communist Party and the Lanka Sama Samaaja Party.
Public displeasure was rising towards the end of 1970, over the implementation of the same old anti-people policies, the evasion of promises made to people at the general election. In the face of this displeasure, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna though small was able to build itself up as the main Leftist political force in the country. At the first public rally held on 10 August 1970, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna stated that it would support the government if the promises made to people at the elections were fulfilled‘
Yet on the same day, the newspapers published a joint statement issued by the secretaries of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, Lanka Sama Samaaja Party and Ceylon Communist Party. This statement appealed to the people that the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna was a right-wing reactionary force, and to fight it. The then permanent secretary to the Ministry of Defence Mr. Arthur Ratnavale stated that the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna was the number one enemy of the people and that it should be totally eradicated.
By the early half of 1971, the coalition government saw the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna as a highly imminent threat and was making plans to destroy it. The Army and the Police commenced establishing ‘anti-riot units’ for coordinating the activities against the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna. The major part of this work was done by Mr. Peter Keuneman who was then the secretary of the Ceylon Communist Party. He was the Minister of Housing of the capitalist coalition government and also acted as the chairman of the political committee established for leading the repressive operations against the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna.
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna made certain attempts to stop this vicious cycle from developing further. For example, I recall Comrade Rohana Wijeweera requesting a discussion with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party through Ms. Sunethra Bandaranaike. What we wanted was to explain that as parties to the coalition government, the traditional Left was using its influence to repress the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, and to stop this vicious cycle. But there was no opportunity given for such a discussion. I know such efforts were made through other means too.
Apart from this, Comrade Seelawathi, the deceased mother of Comrade Osmund from Borella who is here in the audience, was a leading comrade who joined the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna after being the chairperson of the women’s organisation of the Lanka Sama Samaaja Party. Under her leadership, a delegation representing the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, made attempts to hold discussions with the leadership of the Lanka Sama Samaaja Party in order to establish some understanding. But at that discussion, the leader of the Lanka Sama Samaaja Party, Dr. N.M. Perera who was the Finance Minister of the coalition government stated that they had in their possession a cheque sent by the CIA movement to the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna. Though Comrade Seelawathi challenged Dr. N.M. Perera to publish that cheque in the newspapers, until this day we have not seen such a cheque. We also discussed this situation with some comrades of the politbureau and the central committee of the Ceylon Communist Party. Through such discussions, we were unable to develop the kind of understanding we expected.
According to the information received the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna at the time, the Attorney General was preparing special legislation necessary for destroying the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna. In the name of protecting ‘law and order’, the agencies implementing law such as the Police and the Courts, violated the rights the youth movement had, for carrying out lawful political activities. They worked towards disrupting activities such as holding of public meetings and lectures, private political discussions, printing, sale and distribution of party newspapers and leaflets, putting up posters, and engaging in publicity activities of the party.
On 06 March 1971, the ‘Mao Youth Front’ held a march in front of the American Embassy in Colombo demanding an immediate end to the CIA funding that the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna was said to be receiving. A Police Officer died during this incident. Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna had heard of the relationship the leaders of this protest group had with the coalition government. The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna immediately issued a statement to the effect that they had nothing to do with this incident. Yet, what the collation government did was to use this incident to declare a state of emergency. Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna was proscribed. On 13 March 1971, some comrades including Rohana Wijeweera and Kelly Senanayake were taken into custody.
On 16 March 1971, the government declared that it has found out about a conspiracy by Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna to overthrow the government. A state of emergency was declared. Power was bestowed on the state machinery of Ceylon to arbitrarily arrest anyone. As I recall, on 21 March, Part 3 of the State Emergency Law, Section 15 of the Emergency Law was declared. Permission was given to the security forces to destroy dead bodies without holding post mortem examinations, and even without informing relatives of those killed.
There was no Prevention of Terrorism Act then. The Public Security Act of 1947 was used as the basis for Emergency Law. The Public Security Act was the last of the laws passed by the British imperialists to suppress and control political opposition. Section 15 of the Act was an old order that came down from the colonial times. This had been used during the colonial times, especially to prevent the spread of diseases. This was the first time this law was used in Ceylon after the Uva and Kandy rebellions in 1818 and 1848.
Several countries including the United States of America, Great Britain, Singapore, Pakistan, India, Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China provided military assistance to the government of Sri Lanka. Such military assistance provided included officials and consultants on military, police and intelligence activities.
Obviously Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna saw this as the first step of the government’s declaration of war. As a launch of the strategy of ‘search and destroy’. Later, a 24-hour curfew was also imposed in Colombo. Comrade Bala Tampoe presented to the Criminal Justice Commission that by the end of March, around five thousand suspected of belonging to the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna had been under arrest. This is how the situation imploded in April 1971.
I see it as a shortcoming, not to mention about the Criminal Justice Commission (Special Provisions) Act enacted by the coalition government in 1972. Why? This Act is an extension of the State repression that existed at that time. This Act violated not only the Constitution that existed then; it also violated separation of powers of governance and the independence of the judiciary. The instigator of this law, Mr. Felix Dias Bandaranaike who was the Minister of Justice, said in parliament:
“The first of these is to lay charges under the law currently in force. That is one way. If we go to act according to that, you will never be able to prove even a single case. If you want all to be set free there is nothing wrong in following that procedure.” (04 April 1972, Hansard, P.107).
It is clear from reading these Hansard reports it, how threateningly the Minister of Justice has acted then towards the Members of Parliament to get this Act enacted.
The Evidence Ordinance was unilaterally changed. An accused was considered innocent until the prosecution proves his or her guilt, but under this law until the accused proved his or her innocence, he or she was considered guilty. A so-called confession extracted under whatever circumstances from an accused was used against the accused as well as others. The Criminal Justice Commission during its trials prevented from being called the witnesses the accused wanted to call to confirm their innocence. For the first time in the history of Ceylon, after an incident had taken place (post facto), after unjust investigations on that incident had been carried out using torture, a law was passed in Parliament under threat, to suit that incident, those investigations, and the results of those investigations. How just such a process could be?
Several countries including the United States of America, Great Britain, Singapore, Pakistan, India, Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China provided military assistance to the government of Sri Lanka. Such military assistance provided included officials and consultants on military, police and intelligence activities.
I consider it important to deal with the role the government of Great Britain played in order to repress and exterminate the 1971 April Uprising, rather than speak of countries such as India using Air Force units to protect the Katunayake Airport, the use of Air Force personnel to ride helicopters that dropped bombs on certain villages, use of war ships as well as the Navy to provide naval protection around the Indian Ocean. Firstly because, even then Sri Lanka was being governed as a Dominion under the Soulbury Constitution; secondly, because of the role the British state machinery and its security forces had played using pro-imperialist local forces in the recent past relating to the 1971 April Uprising, to suppress the struggles launched against colonialism in Asia, especially, in Malaya.
Comrades might remember the head office of the military intelligence Unit MI 5, which was then situated in Colpetty, Colombo. It was from that office that e Mr. Sherny Wijesuriya and Mr. Jeganathan, Inspectors of the CID operated. CID Inspector Upali Seneviratne operated from the 4th Floor of the CID Headquarters in Fort.
According to the information that has been published recently, with the approval of Edward Heath, who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1970 to 1974, the military intelligence unit MI 5 of Great Britain, throughout the seventies, had secretly provided advice on repression of riots to Ceylonese authorities. Though the security coordinating officer of MI 5 who was in Ceylon had maintained an excellent relationship with the Inspector General of Police in Ceylon, it appears that he either did not like or was unable to prevent the brutal acts which they knew were being carried out in the country.
Apart from this, Ms. Sirima Bandaranaike, who was the Prime Minister then was so impressed with the work of MI 5, she had appointed as her government’s counter insurgency specialist, Jim Patrick. He had been an officer in the military intelligence unit MI 5 – placed in the Office of the British High Commission in Colombo, to assist in the training activities of several relevant personnel from the Special Unit in Ceylon.
To understand the nature of State repression associated with the 1971 April Uprising, it is necessary to speak at least briefly about the history of State repression in Ceylon. Regarding this, what first comes to my mind is the general strike known as the Hartal of 1953. This struggle was totally different from the 1971 April Uprising. The Lanka Sama Samaaja Party called for this hartal. The other parties of the left and trade unions supported this strike or endorsed it. The Prime Minister then was Mr. Dudley Senanayake. Mr. J.R. Jayewardena was the Minister of Finance.
Workers in Colombo held demonstrations. The strike spread. Major strikes were launched at the Colombo Harbour, Bogala Mines, and Wellawatte Textile Mills. The major issues of the day were the price increase of rice; cutting down on various subsidies and payrolls; reducing the number of workers and sacking them. This struggle was not limited to strike actions only. Rural workers too joined hands with their urban brethren. I recall villagers in the South, especially in Galle district disrupting railway transport. Protests were launched in the form of strikes, demonstrations, disrupting transport services, closure of shops and boutiques, holding protest meetings, raising black flags, etc. Protests spread from Colombo to Matara, to Ratnapura, to Jaffna – the exceptions being the remaining central areas of the country.
For the first time in the island’s history workers rose unitedly with farmers against the capitalist system; the government got scared and declared the strike to be unlawful. They began to arrest workers who had gone on strike. The Police fired at the demonstrators in Colombo, and killed several striking workers including comrade V. Kandasamy. Many others were wounded. Fearing an imminent revolution, the Cabinet met in a war ship that had anchored close to the Colombo harbour.
The workers fought vehemently, demanding the government withdraw some of its decisions. Due to this, Mr. J.R. Jayawardena was removed from the post of Finance Minister. The price of rice was reduced; and the rice ration was increased. Yet there was no change in the economic policies followed by the government or the class privileges given to the elite. Issues such as industrial development, employment, unequal distribution of income, got more and more embedded. These were the issues that came up later in the South and the North East in the nature of economic, social and ethnic conflicts.
The feeling that existed at the time was that if the hartal had been continued, it would have paved the way to capture political power and for establishing a working people’s government. It became very clear if people unite and struggle, how much of strength they have. However, the hartal was given up half way through. Due to the compromises made, people who were at the receiving end, lost a fine opportunity for capturing power.
Yet the government, did not try to repress or exterminate either the Lanka Sama Samaaja Party that led the public uprising, or its leadership. Various factors can be attributed as the reasons for this situation. The political leadership f that began the hartal, stopped the hartal before its revolutionary potential was realized and made compromises. This uprising took place at a time when imperialists were engaged in a process of forming neo-colonies, as a strategy for repressing the independence struggles that had arisen in the colonies. This factor would have also played a part in the government’s strategy. The close class, family and cultural relationships that existed between the political leadership that led the hartal and the political leadership of the state, was also a factor.
There had been struggles launched throughout the world in various forms prior to and after 1948, against colonialism which was the form of imperialism at the time. The British State apparatus in countries that Great Britain had conquered prior to World War II, with the collaboration of their security forces as well as pro-British, pro-imperialist class forces, had developed a suite of strategies to repress the progressive forces of the colonized countries. These strategies included developing and nurturing sections of the local elite, and the use of violence that they used in Kenya to suppress insurgencies. Strategies that came in handy to repress the struggle that developed in Ceylon in 1971.
Among the list of books recommended for reading on the defeat of the Mau Mau Movement in Kenya from 1953 to 1960, was the book “The Hunt for Kimathi” by Ian Henderson. It was this officer of the Colonial Special Force called Henderson who had captured the only surviving Mau Mau leader Dedan Kimathi. The British hanged Kimathi in 1957. The British Army Commander in East Africa at that time had stated that Ian Henderson was the major person who contributed to defeat the anti-colonial struggle in Kenya. In 1963 when the colonial rule was withdrawing from Kenya, thousands of files containing information on the crimes committed by them had been either burnt or drowned in the Indian Ocean.
Yet, as per the information revealed in 2012 from certain files kept hidden in the British Foreign Office, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) had agreed to pay around 20 million pounds to 5228 Kenyan natives in retribution for crimes committed by the British armies. On 6 June 2013, the Foreign Affairs Secretary in Britain, William Hague, accepted in the British Parliament the strategies used against the Mau Mau Movement in Kenya were illegal. Among the strategies were: declaration of emergency law; prohibiting political organizations; imposing laws to detain people without trial; unlimited killing of people; and keeping people imprisoned through so-called rehabilitation programmes. It becomes clear that the United Front government used similar strategies in repressing the activities of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna.
As per documents that are not secretive any more, Great Britain has continuously involved from that time onwards, in a conspiratorial manner, in the violent political repression process of the state in Ceylon. Edward Heath had given approval to provide necessary advice to the United Front government to crush riots, and to repress Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna in the seventies. In answer to a query raised in the British Parliament on 6 May 1971, on whether British army officers and consultants had been sent to Ceylon in addition to armaments, Defense Minister Whitehall had said that there has been no such request from the government of Ceylon. Directly contradicting this statement was the fact that the British had already sent two senior defense consultants to Ceylon.
The New York Times and Le Monde t first reported on the war crimes that had been committed during that time. Around 17th and 20th April they reported that prisoners captured during the counter attack launched by the government in Kegalle had been killed instantly. One of the officers had said that as soon they were convinced the prisoners were rebels, they were taken to the cemetery and destroyed. It is true that the government denied these allegations. But many had seen with their own eyes hundreds of dead bodies of young boys and girls floating in the Kelani river in Colombo, that they had been shot at the back and killed, and that army soldiers had collected these dead bodies and burnt them.
This did not happen only in Colombo district. In various areas in Kurunegala district, Galle district, Dadella cemetery, Ging river, Elpitiya, Matara district, Meddawatte, Akuressa, Nilwala river, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Hambantota district, Gampaha, Kalutara and Ratnapura districts, and in several other areas thousands of young boys and girls had been killed, their bodies burnt and destroyed. Seen in this light, there may be in many areas in Sri Lanka, mass killings and mass graves that have not yet been unearthed.
During the April Uprising, the Ceylon Communist Party and the Lanka Sama Samaaja Party directed their youth groups in the form of home guards to guard the Police Stations and to search and destroy those suspected to have links to the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna. The coalition government acted to change labour laws so that those not reporting to work could be taken into custody. Distribution of hand bills and display of posters were prohibited. Thus, while cleansing the work places, the government ordered that those under the age of 35 could not be recruited to armed forces. Hundreds of comrades laid down their lives at the battle front. Army troops trained within a cold war political mindset destroyed thousands of colleagues who had been arrested out of the battle fronts.
Under the guise of riot control activities, comrades such as Premawathie Manamperi were severely tortured and killed and there were many other comrades who had been raped and killed. Certain colleagues taken into custody were burnt alive. Certain other colleagues such as Comrade Kamalabandu who was the organizer for Baddegama were sliced into strips with saws. Some who had surrendered following a statement made by Prime Minister Ms. Bandaranaike had also been killed.
I must state that, according to the information presented to the Criminal Justice Commission, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna was responsible for the deaths of 41 civilians, deaths of 63 army personnel, and the wounding of 303 army personnel. The government forces were responsible for the deaths of 5,000 to 10,000 people arrested on suspicion of having links to the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, and for imprisonment of around 15,000 to 25,000, under the political direction of the United Front Coalition. Though cases had been filed against all those of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna related to these incidents, and punished, cases filed against those from the security forces have been only minimal.
According to the published documents, the British government had known that war crimes had been committed in Ceylon at that time. A telephone message sent from the British High Commission in Colombo on 19 April 1971 has confirmed that Army and Police troops had been carrying out such brutal murders. The British High Commission has stated that the political and state authorities in Ceylon were going to totally exterminate the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, and for this purpose were ready to engage in any type of brutal violent process.
They stated proudly that:
“ … what was most important was the small arms, gunpowder, armed vehicles and other necessary things supplied by the Queen’s government making a considerably quick and decisive impact.” Even though taking stricter measures was considered, such measures were abandoned based on “technical and presentation reasons”. Alec Douglas Home who was the British Foreign Secretary during that time decided on “the use of machine guns supplied together with Bell helicopters as an alternative to Napalm bombs.”
In addition to the supply of weapons in this manner, the Army, Police and Intelligence Officers of the British FCO had provided necessary advice to the officers of the State of Ceylon on efficient use of these weapons in acts of repression. According to the facts contained in the files, among the consultants selected by the FCO for a five-day consultancy service from 21 to 28 April, were Colonel Roger May, who had gained experience from repressing anti-colonial struggles in various places around the world, and Police Consultant on Foreign Affairs, Michael Macone who had gained similar experience as the former Police Commissioner in Uganda.
The information contained in these files shows that Macone had supplied a list of war equipment, goods and needs that should be obtained by Ceylon Police. It had been proposed that when faced with situations of unrest to follow an approach that is increasingly devoid of compromises and a paramilitary approach in Police activities and maintaining public order.
As I stated earlier, the major qualification of Jim Patrick of the British MI 5 Unit, whom the then Prime Minister Ms Sirima Bandaranaike appointed as the counter-insurgency expert, was the experience he had gained from activities in repressing Maoist anti-colonial struggles in Malaya from 1948 to 1960. The strategies of repression of struggles carried out in Malaya had been carried out in unison with the British Special Bureau.
At this point we should not forget certain experiences of the repression carried out in Malaya. Because such experiences are relevant to our global as well as local present. These experiences are common to all of us, because these experiences are common to the 1971 struggle, to the 88-89 struggle as well as the struggle of the Tamil militants that lasted for over thirty ears. Just as the Tamil as well as Muslim communities were displaced from their villages during the war, about five hundred thousand Chinese in Malaya were forcefully settled in 500 new villages.
In Malaya, too there had been many mass killings. For example, look at what is known as the ‘Mi Lai’ massacre carried out by the British. In the village called ‘Batan Kali’ 24 unarmed villagers had been murdered in cold blood by an army unit known as the Scots Guards. The government of Edward Heath, whom I mentioned earlier, stopped the investigation in 1970 saying there was not enough evidence for the trial to continue. A few decades later it was revealed, that those who did the investigation had with them a confession made by a soldier in the army unit that carried out this massacre. According to that confession, their higher officers had ordered them to carry out the mass murders. Information on this incident had been kept hidden until 2012. In the end, these files were made open to public.
Britain intervened secretly in Ceylon’s internal affairs in 1971 was only a part of the work pattern of keeping the island under colonial control. After Jim Patrick left Ceylon, Jack Morton who had been the director of MI 5 Unit in Malaya came to Ceylon in 1979. After 1971 the intelligence network that operated in Ceylon was based on the “Morton Report” that Jack Morton prepared. Information on British interference in Ceylon’s internal affairs based on this network was kept secret for a period of 30 years. However, the basic role the British had played in creating a structure of mass repression, can be seen clearly in the repression launched against Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna from 1983 to 1989, and then against the struggle of Tamil militants of over thirty years.
Some pose the question, whether the 1971 April Uprising was a struggle to capture State power in Ceylon? My view still is, that it is an action to protect our political existence. On the other hand, if capturing state power was not a long-term objective of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, there was no other strategic reason for its existence either. But we did not have a clear idea about the mutual relationship between revolution and armed uprising; as we substituted the party for the working class and the working people.
The basis for the first decision taken by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna to be armed for self- defense, was based on the concept that revolution means an organized Party capturing power by staging an armed uprising. Therefore, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna did not rely on broad mass action.
It is not only the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, even militant organizations of different forms that exist today are suffering from this confusion. Social revolution is reduced into an armed uprising carried out by an organized Party. Since we did not comprehend that revolution means a climax of broad collective mass action of the working class and working people, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna substituted itself on behalf of the working class.
Therefore, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna placed its confidence on armed uprising, and prepared for it. As a result, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna was unable to organize the broad masses, working class and working people towards an uprising of their own. This situation was advantageous to the capitalist state apparatus. If Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna had placed its trust on broad mass action, it would have been able to face the State repression that existed in the seventies more successfully. Looking back, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna would have been able to respond and oppose the government’s criminal plan of ‘search and destroy’ by engaging in other types of actions such as agitations and protests, by placing its confidence on mass action.
At the same time, I would like to emphasize that today’s situation is more serious than in the sixties and seventies. The capitalist state today is a neo-liberal one. It surpasses national boundaries. The repressive machinery has grown larger both in quantity and quality. Highly developed technologies have been used for repressive activities. Neo-liberalism stands up instantly anywhere in the world for protecting its interests and privileges. Therefore, I like to emphasise over and over again to the comrades who are working for a change in society, to understand the seriousness of this new development and the need for adjusting our strategies accordingly.
Social revolution does not represent a Party getting armed and capturing power. It is a climax of collective action by the working class and broad working masses. Similarly, social revolution does not mean establishing the dictatorship or the autocratic rule of a party on society. It represents the working class and the broad working masses themselves establishing their democracy within their places of work. It is not something that can be imposed by an external agency.
However, the violent actions that increased gradually in the seventies paved the way for a vicious cycle. It is sad that certain intellectuals are yet denouncing this uprising identifying it as a misconduct of youth who have been led astray, or the work of some mad people. These intellectuals are politically myopic when looking at the major economic, social and political factors that were the triggers that led to violent situations that have arisen from time to time in Sri Lanka. They have become apologists for safeguarding this corrupt social system. Representing the inactive strata of society, they have become obstacles to social progress. We can ask such people to open their eyes wide and see the statements that incessantly reveal the political ideology of the armed forces.
In conclusion, I would like to quote a statement made by Lieutenant Colonel Cyril Ranatunga, who received training at Sandhurst in Great Britain, was the Military Coordinating Officer of Kegalle district in 1971 and later appointed as a foreign ambassador:
“… We have learnt more than enough lessons from Vietnam and Malaysia. We should destroy them completely.”
In political tandem, a Sama Samaaja Leader Mr. Leslie Gunawardena who was the Coalition Government’s Minister of Media and Communications, said:
The state of emergency was declared “with the fullest cooperation of the Cabinet”; the armed forces have been given the “necessary powers”, “to wipe out the disruptive sections and maintain law and order.”
Thank you very much.
‘We will support Govt. but want result, says PLF leader’ Ceylon Daily News, 11 August 1970
International Herald Tribune, 20 April 1971
Ceylon Daily News. 19 March 1971