The United Government

Oblivious of the deepening crisis within the whole structure of Ceylonese rural society, the UNP campaigned for the general election in May 1970 on the platform of its 'economic achievements': it claimed that it had reduced rice imports from 600000 tons per annum to 300000 won Italian cooperation in constructing an oil refinery outside Colombo, and reached agreement with the World Bank on finance for the Mahaveli hydro- electric scheme. In fact, as has been cut by reducing domestic consumption. Against the UNP, a so-called 'United Front' of the SLFP, LSSP and the pro-Russian CP had been formed, with a programme of vaguely reformist promises (restoration of the rice subsidy, control of the export-import trade, 'Ceylonization' of selected businesses, so on) burnished with rhetorical references to socialism. Desperate for alleviation of their condition, the Ceylonese masses turned once more - for the last time - to the SLFP and its allies on the 'Left'. The illusions of the exploited and oppressed workers and peasants found a tumultuous, if temporary, expression in a landslide electoral victory of the SLFP-LSSP-CP coalition, which won 125 out of 151 seats ( the SLFP took 90 alone). Poplar enthusiasm and expectations were at their height as the returns came in: crowds in Colombo marched on the Lake House combine, newspaper stronghold of the plutocracy, and attempted to sack it within hours of the announcement of the poll results. In the interior a spontaneous occupation of big estates followed the United front victory.

Yet, within five months, the British Daily Telegraph was reporting that: 'Ceylon's popular mood has slumped drastically from euphoria and hope to dismay and discontent. Seldom can Ministers have had to disappoint their followers so unkindly, backtrack so rapidly and pigeon-hole promises so irreverently,' It went on, however, to comment on the 'heartening' fact that 'the new Ministers, though largely armchair Marxists or doctrinaire Socialists wedded to untried and antique economic dogmas, have shown an unexpected readiness to temper their ideals with reality. (The Daily Telegraph, 27 October 1970.)

The SLFP were the dominant force within the coalition: they held 19 of the 23 Cabinet posts, while the Communists held one and the LSSP held three economics posts; the 'socialists' were there to provide left cover. It is clear that the coalition programme, even if implemented, would not in itself have altered the crisis inside Ceylon. What is certain is that the new Bandaranayake government was unable to make even a pretence of carrying it out. They were prevented from so doing by both internal and external forces. At home the very contradiction between the enormity of the problems and the class interests of the government meant that there was on middle road: any policy that would have tackled the problems frontally would have involved a revolutionary restructuring of the Ceylonese economy and of class relations. Externally the regime quickly succumbed to the pressures of the international monetary agencies, especially the IMF. With its spiralling foreign debt the regime had either to break totally with these financial extensions of imperialism or capital needed for development, and for debt servicing, could in the eyes of the coalition only come from foreign capitalist donors. Hence they were 'forced' by their own perspective to put through the standard IMF package of anti-inflationary measures, austerity, and encouragement to foreign capital. What has aptly been called 'international debt slavery' proved too much for the reformist fantasies of the Ceylonese bourgeoisie, just as it had undermined the socialist rhetoric of the Indian bourgeoisie in the late 1950 and the Goulart regime in Brazil. (See Cheryl Payer, 'The Perpetuation of Dependence: the IMF and the Third World', Monthly Review, Vol. 23, No. 4, September 1971)

Before the election, the SLFP-LSSP-CP had promised to reverse the rise in unemployment: its rate of increase accelerated after the election victory and, in his October budget, LSSP leader Perera announced that unemployment was now estimated at 7000000. They had sworn to restore the rice ration to the 1965 level-but they did so at a price nearly three times higher than they had promised. They were committed to 'Ceylonizing' some of the tea estates, but in October Perera announced: 'We have agitated for the nationalization of the tea estates for the Past forty years. After assuming office, I realize that it is not advisable to do so now,' The Coalition had promised to nationalize foreign banks-this plan was also shelved. They had said they would curb the power of the reactionary Lake House press combine; but nothing was done.

In foreign policy, the Bandaranayake government took some easy measures that involved little material cost and won it left approval: it suspended links with Israel, and established diplomatic relations with North Korea. North Vietnam and the Provisional Government of South Vietnam. But although preaching anti-imperialism, it continued the Rs. 10 million worth of tea exports to South Africa, and soft-pedalled even at the wretched Lusaka conference of 'non-aligned' countries. The coalition had promised to expel US Ambassador Strauss-Hupe, named by the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee as a CIA associate and vetoed as Ambassador to Morocco; he remained US Ambassador to Ceylon. The UF had attacked the UNP government for capitulating to imperialist financial agencies; yet Perera's first trip abroad as Minister was to the IMF meeting in Copenhagen, and in April 1971 he signed a letter of intent, the sixth since 1965, to arrange a stand-by credit. In his October 1970 budget speech Perera had promised to reveal the contents of future letters of intent: the terms of the April 1971 deal were kept secret. Moreover, the UF had committed itself to ending cooperation with the World Bank in the Mahaveli River scheme, because this gave the Bank a determining say in Ceylonese government expenditure and in the import of capital goods. This cooperation still continued.


The Emergence of the JVP


Such as blatant record of apostasy and complicity with imperialism was bound to have serious consequence on the working to traditional political mystification in Ceylon. In their economic despair, the masses had turned to the crisis prevented either Sirimavo Bandaranayake's lachrymose hypocrisy or the fake Left of Perera and Keuneman from retaining control, or of meeting the real challenge that came from a force that had broken with the paralytic structures of Ceylonese parliamentarianism and was in direct connect with the exploited. This challenge came from the Janatha Vimukhti Peramuna (People's Liberation Front) the JVP originated in a split from the pro-Chinese Communist Party in 1965, when it criticized the party from concentrating too exclusively on urban work and for ignoring the Ceylonese peasantry in the non-plantation sector. It had begun its political life on the basis of two theoretical premises, which had evolved out of its critique of the pro-Chinese Communist party and of the other parties of the established Left. These were: (I) that there was no independent national bourgeoisie in Ceylon, and (ii) that the non-plantation peasantry were the ' main force' of the Ceylonese revolution. Both Communist Parties and the LSSP held that the Bandaranayake clan represented a progressive national bourgeoisie which was to be supported in its fight against imperialism. The JVP attacked and denounced this myth:

 In order to understand the nature of the SLFP, it is necessary to analyse the nature of the national bourgeois class that it represents. This is a weak and vacillating class, which has no independent social status. On the one hand it was created by the imperialists they become 'socialist' and raise their voices against imperialism. This empty cry of socialism is born out of pure opportunism. It began with Bandaranayake and is still continued by the SLFP..... In a neo-colonial system like Ceylon it is characteristic of the national bourgeois class to from, in the final analysis, a united front with the imperialists. In a neo-colony the capitalist system is maintained to cater for the need of the imperialist. Therefore it follows that the national bourgeois class, by protecting capitalism in Ceylon, is in fact supporting imperialism through a parliament which was set up by the imperialists. But the national bourgeoisie of this country is not prepared to wage extra-parliamentary struggles against the imperialists. In this context anyone who thinks that he can achieve socialism through aligning with the national bourgeoisie is either a fool or an agent of the capitalists.('The SLFP - The Agent of the National Bourgeoisie', Vimukkti, No 7, 20 December 1970.)


The JVP's second main thesis concerned the non-plantation rural sector. For it was there that the process of economic decline in the sixties was most clearly felt, and where there were three basic revolutionary forces in Ceylon: the urban proletariat, the plantation proletariat and the non-plantation peasantry. The urban proletariat were historically the most combative and best organized. However. 'the urban sector is controlled and organized under reformist leaders. These leaders have continuously fooled the masses with revolutionary rhetoric and have abandoned them at the moment of decisive struggle. As a result of its disenchantment with a reformist leadership, which has allied itself with the coalition government, the urban proletariat is now waging continuous struggle and is seeking an alternative revolutionary party.' The JVP considered the Tamil plantation proletariat to have fallen victims to the chauvinism of the SLFP and its allies, and hence t have become immured in a defensive communalism of its claimed, politically cut off from the other exploited classes within Ceylon, both in the town and in the Country.


For the JVP the 'Main force' of the Ceylonese Revolution, because it formed the overwhelming numerical majority of the population, was the peasantry in the non-plantation sector. Contrary to the these of the reformist parties, the JVP argued that this sector was now effectively capitalist, although broken remnants of feudal relations of production undoubtedly remained.


"Neo-colonialism prevails in the country today. According to existing social relations there is a capitalist system designed to fulfil the class needs of the foreign imperialists and their allies. There is no feudalism in our country today. Only a few remains of the old feudal system are to be found.... . The capitalist economic system has swallowed up the fertile lands in the up-country and wet-zone areas, thus creating a great shortage of land for the Ceylonese people ..... Liptons, Brooke Bonds and other white imperialist companies own thousands of acres; 90 local families share one acre .... The so-called left-wing leaders of our country have said that the peasantry is not revolutionary, and that they are against socialism. These leaders will never understand the problems of Ceylon. Due to a failure to analyse the problems of the peasantry scientifically and accurately, there has been no attempt to establish a worker-peasant alliance nor any move to unit the entire oppressed class and to work towards a socialist revolution...It is only socialism that could permanently liberate the up-country landless peasant, the peasant in the wet zone whose crops are being constantly destroyed by the floods, the dry-zone peasant who is the victim of droughts, the agricultural labourers, chena (slash- and - burn) cultivation and sharecroppers." ('The Peasantry is the Main force of the Ceylonese Revolution', Vimukthi, No. 4, September 1970.)


In its period of clandestine maturation the JVP also developed a third thesis that in Ceylon armed insurrection and not guerrilla war was the appropriate from of revolutionary combat. This developed party from an analysis of the geographical and demo-graphic structure of the island, a small densely populated area with a relatively weak repressive machine. But it is also expressed as instinctive rejection of the reformism of the established Left, and a straightforward enthusiasm for the most immediate militant alternative. It was this thesis, not very explicitly formulated but latent in the formation of the party, that guided its revolutionary strategy in the confrontation that began when the JVP emerged publicly in early 1970.


The JVP sent its first five years concentrated in the rural sector. JVP cadres gave elementary classes in political thought, divided into five categories, and these political lectures often hid themselves behind curtains, while speaking, to avoid police detection. According to one account the five lectures were on the following subjects: the greatness of the Sinhalese past and of the Buddhist kings; the economic crisis and the colonial formation of the tea economy; Indian expansionism through the tea plantations; the history of the Left in Ceylon and the failure of parlimentarism; the 'Sinhalese road' to revolution attacks the police stations, then popular insurrection. (Dumont, op. Cit, p. 75)


A leading militant later described the experience of breaking with the sclerotic practices of the orthodox reformist parties and discovering the life of rural Ceylon for the first time.


During this time groups of revolutionaries, disillusioned with all established political parties, met to discus the future of Ceylon and how to establish a true socialist government. We discovered in the course of our discussions that there wasn't a true Marxist-Leninist party, or a revolutionary party, or a party for the poor masses in the country. We realized the urgent necessary to mobilize the people to establish socialism in Ceylon ........ Our discussion lasted several months. We decide it was necessary to visit the villages and spoke with the people and convinced them of the correctness of Marxism-Leninism. In the villages we also studied thoroughly and deeply the difficulties and problems of peasants, workers, Students, Fishermen and even Street-hawkers and unemployed young men and women. We went all over the island and met the poor masses....,( Interview with the President of the Deshapremi Student Front of the JVP, in the Ceylon Sunday Observer, 23 August 1970.)


The JVP first emerged publicly during the election campaign of early 1970. The incumbent UNP government claimed there of early plot against it, and arrested about 12 young people suspected of connections with the JVP, including their public leader Rohana Wijeweera. They were accused of being 'Che Guevarists' - a term they have never applied to themselves and also of being CIA agents. The JVP at this stage gave support to the SLFP-LSSP-CP programme; hence the opposition parties committed themselves to releasing the JVP internees if elected. Even at this Stage, however, the coalition was very wary of the JVP and it took the new Bandaranaike government two months, till July, to release the JVP supporters arrested by the UNP. For a brief space of time the JVP now enjoyed relative political freedom, and was able to publish its paper Vimukhti, and hold public meetings unimpeded. At this stage, the JVP consistently reminded the government of its pre-election promises. In particular, the JVP pressed the following demands: the natioanlization of the plantations and land reform; the nationalizations of banks and agency houses; the implementation of all measures promised in the election campaign. They were demanding the implementation of a programme that was socialist in practice as well in words-'true socialism', as they called it .


The government in reply refurbished the old accusations first coined by the UNP regime. The JVP were 'CIA agents' - according to the SLFP, the LSSP and the pro-Moscow Communist Party, who spoke with one voice, the JVP restored by presenting its own independent position. The first issue of Vimukhti (I August 1970) carried an editorial starting that the JVP was 'pledged to liberate the people of Ceylon from oppression and 'exploitation' and 'to solve the problems of the unemployed youth of the country'. It added: 'We certainly wish to destroy British and US imperialism and Indian expansionism and capitalist anti-revolutionary plots. But we do not want to destroy any socialist programme that the government wishes to carry out.' On 10 August the JVP held its biggest public meeting to date, in Colombo, at which Wijeweera was the main speaker; 'We will continue to support the government if they progress towards socialism, they will receive all our support, but if they fail to reach the socialist goal, then we will do so,' he declared. ('We will support Govt. but want result, says PLF leader' Ceylon Daily News, 11 August 1970.)

But the political situation was already changing rapidly. During August the armed forces announced that they were taking special measures to prevent JVP supporters from staying in or entering the army. The size of the police force was raised by 55 present. Young people were being arrested in rural areas, while JVP meetings were everywhere harassed. The army and police further set up the special 'Counter-Insurgency Unit' to co-ordinate their work, of which subsequent ornament was Peter Keunamen, leader of the Pro-Moscow CP. In September government forced shot dead two workers on a the plantation workers at Keenagalla, and a strike was ruthlessly broken and several trade-union militants sacked at the Velona textile plant, one of Ceylon's biggest factories. In October Perera announced his first budget, containing an all-round retreat from the coalition's original economic policy. After the September strikes, the JVP declared: 'The government's socialism is socialism as practised by big company owners. This is why the government has issued the police force to break up the strikes.'('If we are Proscribed .....', Vimukhti, No4, 30 September 1970.) The October budget it denounced as 'the same medicine in a new bottle.'


From August 1970 onward, the JVP faced a difficult strategic problem; how to attack the government, moving carefully enough not to outpace the disillusion of the masses of fast enough to hit before the government stuck at it. Ultimately, the JVP had to prepare for violent seizure of power after the masses were prepared and before the bourgeois state could strike it down. As the government discredited itself, the JVP rapidly grew in popular strength. Vast crowds of many thousand were now regularly drawn to its public meetings of explanation and denunciation. Yet this process also alerted Ceylonese reaction to the danger which was building up for it, and impelled it ever faster towards general and outright repression. This posed problems of pace and of preparation of an extremely difficult character for the JVP in late 1970 and early 1971.

Throughout these months the JVP was warning the masses of a possible government attack, while it prepared its own organization and sought to built contacts with the plantation proletariat and the unionized urban workers. Hitherto, it had confined its efforts to the Sinhalese peasantry of the centre and south of the island. By doing so, it had won a firm base in the very strongholds of rural traditionalism, which had provided the SLFP with its mass electorate: indeed it was soon to become apparent that the SLFP had scored its largest victories at the polls in May 1970. Naturally, this conquest of the home terrain alarmed the Bandaranaike clique intensely. However, this same fact also underlined the great limitation of the JVP's organizational work hitherto. Its political success was so far mainly confined to the Sinhalese peasantry, and among them especially rural youth. It had therefore not yet overcome the structural division of the exploited classes in Ceylon into two hostile ethnic communities. Given the dark history of Sinhalese chauvinism from the late forties onwards, it was absolutely essential for any vanguard aiming to achieve a socialist revolution in Ceylon to break down this division decisively and create class unity between the Tamil and Sinhalese masses. The very success of JVP mobilization in the Sinhalese central and south-western countryside thus sangha. The deep rural radicalism of the Sinhalese peasantry that had been destroyed and confiscated by 'Buddhist' demagogy was now for the first time finding an authentic expression; but for it to consolidate into a socialist consciousness, a clasps juncture with the Tamil rural proletariat and the urban working class was indispensable.


The JVP leadership thus now became increasingly conscious of the urgent need to extend its base to the urban and rural proletariat proper. To this end, there were tentative enacts with the two revolutionary nuclei which already existed in the urban working class and among the Tamil plantation workers: the LSSP(R), a group of 50-100 cadres, led by Bala Tempoe, and the Young Socialist Front led by Ilanchelyan. Tempo was secretary of the clerical-workers union, the Ceylon Mercantile Union, which has some 35,000 members and wields great economic power because of its strategic control of the port in Colombo. The YSF was a struggle against the traditional communal unions of the plantation workers led by Thondaman and Aziz, whose extreme reactionary character had hitherto been an insuperable obstacle to radicalization of the tea-workers. Thondaman is actually a large plantation-owner himself who has been made a 'distinguished citizen' of Ceylon for his work on behalf of the ruling class. The birth of the YSF was thus one of most vital and hopeful developments in Ceylon for many years: it corporated with the LSSP(R) and was very close to it politically. A convergence of all three organizations could thus have laid the groundwork for achieving the central goal of class unity between all the exploited in Ceylon. In November 1970, the JVP, LSSP(R) and YSF organized a joint mass meeting at the Keengalla estate, where two workers had been shot by the police in September. The Speaker included Wijeweera for the JVP, Tempoe for the LSSP(R) and Ilanchelyan for the YSF. In February 1971, the JVP held another mass rally in Colombo itself, attacking the Government's policies and demonstrating as increasing audience among the urban proletariat. But these were preliminary moves, and did not reflect a concrete practical alliance between the different organisations, let alone a sense of solidarity among the masses among which these organizations were working.


By March the economic situation was cascading towards disaster, and the JVP was winning more and more popular influence. Its success now posed an imminent threat to the SLFP-LSSP-CP coalition government and the local and government thus decided to strike first. On 6 March there was a demonstration outside the US Embassy by the Mao Youth Front, an Ultra-left organization led by Dharmasekara. In the course of it a policeman was killed. The JVP had nothing whatever to do with this demonstration outside the US Embassy, which it promptly denounced: it was either a deliberate government-organized provocation, or a confused melee used by the government now moved against the JVP. On 16 March, the cabinet announced that a JVP 'plot' to overthrow the government had been discovered, and declared a State of Emergency, a dust-to down curfew was imposed, and the police and army were given full powers of arbitrary arrest and disposal of bodies without having to carryout inquests or inform the relatives of those killed. Sirimavo Bandaranaike went on the radio to broadcast an 'appeal' to the Ceylonese people for ' vigilance against terrorist groups'. By 26 March the government had announced the arrest of ' about 300' people suspected of connection with the JVP, and report of discoveries of arms chases were broadcast almost daily.


The objective of this all-out attack by the government was to destroy the JVP as a political organization, and eradicate its influence in Ceylon. It was intended to catch the JVP head-on, before it or its allies had yet built a coherent base among either the Tamil plantation workers or the urban proletariat. For it was the fusion of these three exploited classes into a single revolutionary front that would have inevitably spelt the end of capitalism in Ceylon. It was above all to pre-empt this menace that the Ceylonese bourgeoisie now struck out viciously at the newly created vanguard that was threatening to bring this about. The JVP was consequently put in a grave dilemma. It had put down strong roots among the low-country and Kandyan Sinhalese peasantry; and had a nation-wide youth cadre. But it had not yet achieved any penetration of the Tamil proletariat, and had only embryonic contacts and links with a part of the urban working class. Organizational convergence with two revolutionary forces already working in these sectors was under way, but not yet consolidated. In principle, it was thus obviously premature to the make a direct bid for state power at this stage. But on the other hand the government's offensive threatened to annihilate the JVP as an organization if it did not resist and hit back. It had been prepared by years of clandestine work, and had seen from the lesson of Iraq and Indonesia that a party is only revolutionary if it is prepared to defend itself when attacked. (Vimukhti, No. 5, 1 November 1970, carried an article, 'Lessons from Indonesia', which contained the following assessment: 'The communists had not accepted the fact that the strongest weapon of the neo-colonialists was anti-revolutionary action. Thus they had not prepared or organized themselves to face such a situation. In short, their mistakes were: the lack of understanding of the nature of the enemy, mouthing parrot-like the sayings of Chairman Mao but neither understanding them nor applying them in practice.... Due to these mistakes, the communist party had no power to avert the rightwing coup. Those who sacrificed their lives in Indonesia have taught us a lesson which should never to forgotten.) There was debate inside the JVP after the government's wave of arrests and imposition of the State of Emergency. Two main strategies were defended: armed insurrection or protracted guerrilla warfare. The protagonists of armed insurrection swung the decision within the JVP leadership, arguing that the longer the JVP waited the more time the government had to crush them. The party therefore gave instructions to its militants for a counter-attack.


The Armed Instruction


On the night of 5-6 April, three weeks after the declaration of the State of Emergency, police stations in different parts of the island were assaulted by JVP cadres in-groups of 25 to 30. It arrears that one group attacked prematurely the night before, since on 5 April the government announced that a police station at Wellawaya in Uva Province had been attacked on that night and imposed a curfew in five administrative districts ( Badulla, Kandy, Moneragala, Amparai & Nuwara Eliya). (Financial Times, April 1971) JVP's weaponry in these attacks was entirely home-made: they had to get their first modern equipment by seizing these government outputs. The aim of this first attack seems to have been to capture a stork of modern arms, and to consolidate in a liberated region of the interior, blocking communications across the island and providing a base for a second offensive. On this first night several police stations fell, and the government soon evacuated many more: at the height of the government soon evacuated many more: at the height of the insurrection between 90 and 100 police stations, but this may have understated the number of attacks on that night and they certainly remained silence about subsequent attacks. Later in April a truer picture emerged: 'the government which had earlier said only about 25 posts were attacked, now says more than 30 were captured and held for several days by the insurgents. In at least nine areas of the countryside covering hundreds of square miles, the rebels maintained control uncontested by government forces.' (New York Times, 25 April 1971)


The government's immediate response to situation was to panic at the prospect of an insurrection in Colombo itself, and it temporary withdraw its forces to hold the capital, trying to calm the situation by issuing confident announcements. On 6 April the curfew was actually reduced, and a day later the Minister of Defence and Internal Affairs announced that the armed forces had achieved 'complete control' and were moping up a few areas of resistance. But on 8 April a clearer picture began to emerge from government announcements: it was revealed that the insurrectionaries had set uproad blocks at Warakapola and Kegalle on the main Colombo-Kandy road, and that the air force was attacking JVP positions on a strategic bridge at Alawwa. The next day the government imposed a 24 hours curfew throughout Ceylon and foreign newspaper reports spoke of 80,000 to 100,000 insurgents challenging the government. While these figures were almost certainly exaggerated they reflected the intense alarm that had seized ruling-class circle when the extent of the intent of the rebellion became apparent.


On 9 April Sirimavo Bandaranaike made another characteristic broadcasting which she informed the Ceylonese people that the JVP was the tool of 'big money, diabolical minds and criminal organizers'. A terrorist movement, 'hatched in secret', had to lunched a surprise attack on Ceylonese way of life. There was no hint in this speech that the insurrection had any social or economic basis whatsoever. In fact, it immediately become clear that the JVP had both mass support and a far-reaching organization in the south-centre and south-west of the island, and the insurrection covered almost the whole of the Sinhalese countryside. It is clear that the overwhelming bulk of the fighting was performed by units of armed youth, often including many members in their teens. The core of the insurrection seems to have been formed by ten administrative district where the army were given full control on 12 April: (The Gurdian, 12 April 1971. Other reports spoke of only six such districts.) these were Kegalle, Matale, Kurunegala, Anuradhapura, Matara, Polonnaruwa, Galle, Hambantota, Ambalangoda and Katunayake. On 10 April AP reported form Kegalle police station that tit was 'the only in a district of 700 miles not yet burnt down or abandoned in the face of a Cuban-style insurgency by an estimated 80,000 rebels'. (Evening Standard, 12 April 1971) Later in the month it was revealed that the JVP had held and administered two sizeable town in the Southern Province, Elpitiya (50,000 population) and Deniyaya: liberated in the initial onslaught, they were only reoccupied by government forces on 23 April (Elpitiya) and 25 April (Deniyaya). (The Guardian, 2 April, reported the reoccupation of Elpitiya; the International Herald Tribune, 26 April, reported the recapture of Deniyaya.)


Western press reports, our only source so far, have stressed information. ' There is no doubt that the villages are sympathetic to the young rebels. They were al received in a friendly manner by the local population.'(Le Monde, 30 April 1971) Even a British tea-planter, whose state was occupied by the JVP for three weeks, stressed their political formation and precise intelligence. (The Times, 4 May 1971) The tea plantations in the highlands seem to have been relatively unaffected, but in Colombo there was definite, if limited, supporting action by a JVP underground network. On 11 April the government announced that all but one of the Governing Board of the Ceylon Broadcasting corporation had been sacked: a JVP network had been uncovered, using the obituary and Listeners' Choice programmes to send out coded massages to the militants in the field. A day later there was an attack o the runway of Katunayake Airport, where military supplies was being flown in.


In the tempest of the April crisis, while JVP units were manoeuvring and fighting in the hills, the precarious hole of the government on the working class began to falter. Allegedly loyal trade unionists were sent to the province to guard police stations-but many had to be withdrawn rapidly because they developed sympathies for the JVP. Moreover , the government introduced new and unprecedentedly repressive labour laws on 21 April, banning the distribution of handbills and posters within employs' premises without the permission of the capitalists concerned, and imposing penalties for absenteeism an late attendance at work- a clear attempt to force JVP militants to return to work expose themselves by their absence.(Financial Times, 6 May 1971) The government also conducted a systemic purge of the educational system, by summoning all teachers to report on pain of dismissal if they failed to do so. 25 percent of those who did show up were arrested. But the most striking index of the fear-stricken isolated of the Ceylonese bourgeois stratum was a government decree calling up serves and recruiting new police and soldiers, which specifically excluded recruitment of anyone under the age of 35. A new regiment, the National Service Regiment, was recruited on this basis there could be no more damning sign that it felt the whole of the Country's youth to be in opposition to it. The very measures taken by Ceylonese capital to suppress the JVP only underline the reality of its mass strength.


'We Have Learnt Too Many Lessons from Vietnam'


By the end of May, after extremely fierce fighting and continual redeployments by the JVP, the government had temporary driven the insurgent groups back into the upland forests are re-established its control over the rural interior. There are two aspects of the government's counter-offensive that stand out: the extreme savagery of the repression, and the extraordinary line-up of international allies that rushed to Sirimavo Bandaranaike's aid. During the initial government counter attack in Kegalle, around 10-20 April, the first reports began to appear of summery executions. Sandhurst- educated Lt. Col. Cyril Ranatunga was quoted as justifying the education of his prisoners: ' We have learnt too many lessons from Vietnam and Malaysia. We must destroy them completely.' (International Herald Tribune, 20 April 1971) Another officer was quoted as saying: 'Once we are convinced prisoners are insurgents we take them cemetery and dispose of them.' The government subsequently denied this, but in later weeks hundred of bodies of young men and women were seen floating down the Kelaniya river near Colombo, where they were collected and burnt by soldiers: many were found to have been shot in the back. (New York Times, 25 April 1971)


Rene Dumont, in Ceylon during the insurrection, estimated that 8,000 people had been killed. Dumont wrote: 'From the Victoria Bridge on 13 April I saw corpses floating down the river which flows through the north of the capital, watched by hundreds of motionless people. The police, who had killed them, let them float downstream in order to terrorize the population.' Wijeweera, in a statement from prison in 1972, said that 15,000 revolutionaries had been killed, but twice that number of innocent people had also died. Other estimates rage from the official figure of 12,000 as high as 50,000.(Nouvel Observateur, 23 May 1971)What is clear is that the police and armed forces lunched as indiscriminate attack on the peasant population as a whole. The Washington Post reported in the early May that an army major had even welcomed the insurrection: 'we have near had the opportunity to fight a real war in this country,' he was quoted as saying. 'All these years we have been firing at dummies, now we are being put to use.'(Washington Post, 9 May 1971) In fact, the army have resorted to mass arrests, torture, executions and other terror tactics in attempting to put down young well-organized armed asurgents.'(New York Times, 25 April 1971.) Le Monde correspondent Deaconry gave the following pictures:

At Galle, in south, we saw three 'terrorists' who had just been arrested and whom the police were taking away. A local inhabitant remarked: 'They will be killed tonight, and their bodies will be thrown into the river.' The police, traditionally hated and today used without reserve by the 'progressive' government, are openly compared to Duvalier's 'tontons macoutes' and their crimes have shocked the population. Here are some examples, which if would be wrong to see as isolated indents. At Kataragama, a Village in the South, a girl was stripped and killed on the spot. At Akuressa, two young people were shot in front of the inhabitants and left to die, but only did so later, when their bodies were burnt. At Kosgoda, corpses were left hanging in public for several days. At Kandy, a lecture in geography was so savagely beaten that he died in hospital; a history student was tortured for two days. At Bandaragama a youngman was beaten up and the sole of his foot was cut open and covered with pepper. Another young man, while on a road outside Colombo, was arrested, tortured and left to the red ants. What is the point of going on ? (Le Monde, 16 June 1971. Decornoy's series of four articles on the insurrection, beginning in Le Monde of 16 June, give a forceful account of both the rising itself and the subsequent repression)


 The Theory and Practice of Neutrality.


This government repression carried through in April and May receive powerful support from an unprecedented bloc of international allies. The Sirimavo Bandaranike government has shown that its domestic 'socialism' was a feeble fraud: its reaction to the April insurrection revealed that its foreign policy was equally bogus, the same press adopted a tone of triumphant arrogance. While enthusiastically supporting the regime's requests for arms, the London Daily Telegraph told its readers that: 'It seems absurd in many respects that Britain should be supplying arms for Mrs Bandaranaike's irresponsible and bankrupt government', and concluded by saying that 'if she has not learned her lesson it must be hoped that the people of Ceylon have done so.' (Daily Telegraph, 14 April 1971) A week later, while warning of the danger of the Russian presence in Ceylon, the Telegraph did not miss the opportunity to belabour 'the egregious and self-righteously non-aligned Mrs Bandaranaike'.(Daily Telegraph, 21 April 1971) The times headline its editorial 'Ceylon can learn from the shock', (The Times, 21 April 1971) 'For the present,' he wrote, 'one's thoughts turn to the extra-ordinary situation in Ceylon and Mrs. Bandaranaike's spectacular demonstration of the theory and practice of neutrality. Of cause we ought to wish her well, but I just hope she knows what she is about.' (The Sunday Times, 25 April 1971.)


Sirimavo Bandaranaike, of course, knew very well what she was about. In January she had demurred from the British government's policy of selling arms to South Africa, during the Commonwealth Conference in Singapore, but she had always continued Ceylon's trade with South Africa and the first supplies of foreign arms she received in April were flown by Air Ceylon Trident from the British base in Singapore. These initial supplies consisted of small arms stored in Singapore, and the first consignment arrived on 10 April the British government announced that it had received a request for helicopters, and had agreed to supply Ceylon with six Bell Jet Ranges: as Britain had done of these herself she bought them from the US for Ceylon, at $ 100,000 a time. (The official British Statement on these supplies was made in Parliament on 22 April in reply to a dubious spontaneity from a Conservative MP. This was the third occasion within six months when a British-armed and trained army had attacked a popular movement with intense savagery: in September 1970 the Bedouin army of King Hussein (the former ' Arab Legion') had launched a genocidal assault on the Palestinian resistance; in March 1971 the Pakistani Army had murderously attacked the whole people of Bengal. A few months afterwards, the Sandhurst-trained Sudanese Army launched a fourth such massacre in the Sudan. British imperialism, which prides itself on the tranquillity of its domestic politics, has nothing to concede to other imperialisms when it comes to neo-colonial brutality. The continuing killing in Israel is a further reminder of the Violence bequeathed by the British.)The US also flew in supplies of helicopter spare parts. Meanwhile both India and Pakistan were sending in arms counter-insurgency expects to Ceylon. On 13 April 'at least four Indian warships' were reported patrolling off Colombo harbour, and on 14 April Six Indian and two Pakistani helicoptersarrived in Ceylon. India was alarmed at the prospect of just off her shores, (On 16 April the Indian paper, The Hindu, wrote: 'This is the first time since Independence that Indian personnel have been sent out to help a friendly neighbouring country in distress, barring India's participation in the international peace-keeping operations under the auspices of the United Nation in Korea, West Asia, the Congo, Cyprus and the Indo-China states. But India has given arms aid to countries like Burma, Indonesia and Malaysia in the past for their internal defence against insurgency and subversion.') and Pakistan sent aid in return for the landing facilities provided at Katunayake airport after India blocked direct flights between Pakistan and Bengal. On 21 April Australia announced that it too word send arms to Ceylon, following the lead of Britain and the US. The Soviet response was equally prompt and enthusiastic. On 17 April an Air Ceylon Trident was dispatched to Cairo, via Karachi and Bahrain, to collect a consignment of nine tons of Soviet weapons from stores in Egypt, (Daily Telegraph and The Hindu , 18 April 1991) an don 20 April Antonov transport planes arrived from Tashkent with sixty-three Soviet technicians and helicopters packed in crates. (Daily Telegraph, 21 April 1971) On 21 April Antonovs brought six Mig-17s for assembly in Ceylon. (The Hindu, 22 April 1971) The Soviet pilots refrained from flying combat mission against the JVP and agreed only training Ceylonese pilots- for same future insurrection, perhaps. On 6 May the Soviet Union announced that it would also send twenty armoured cars. (Financial Times, 6 May 1971) Yugoslavia, loyal to a fellow 'non-aligned' country, supplied mountain artillery which was reported by The Times to have been particularly useful to Lt. Col. Ranatunga in his counter-offensive in the Kegalle region. (The Times, 22 April 1971)

As if this consortium of supplies was not enough, Ceylon also received emergency economic aid from China, in the from of a Rs. 150 million interest-free loan, announced on 26 April. This loan constituted a direct and express support for the Ceylonese counter-revolution: it was accompanied by a personal message from Chou En-lai to Sirimavo Bandaranike giving a blanket blessing to her capitalist government in its suppression of the popular rebelling led by the JVP. This abject document faithfully repeated the language of Colombo officialdom about the JVP.( The next of the Chinese letter, published in the Ceylon Daily News of 26 May, is printed as Appendix 4 to this book. It was reported in June that Chou En-lai, in a conversion with the Ceylonese Ambassador of Peking. I. A. Karannagoda, had disavowed the 'Guearists' and the criticized the political practice of Guevara himself. 'The Ambassador said the Chinese Premier was surprised that the left-wing Government was being attacked by 'revolutionaries' Chou added: 'Who can we support in Ceylon except Mrs Bandaranaike?' (Morning Star, 21 June 1971, quoting a Reuter report from Colombo.) The Chinese provision of economic aid to Ceylon could in isolated have been seen as part of legitimate stae policy, a continution of China's earlier economic aid to Ceylon. But the letter to Bandaranaike giving explicit Political support and the timing of the loan leave no doubt that Chinese policy is of another character al together .) In fact, not even the most rabid imperialists were pretending that the JVP represented ' a handful of persons'. References in the letter to Mao Tse-tung merely figure as an ideological cover for the naked great-power opportunism of the Chinese intervention. One of the most basic principle of Marxism and of Leninism is that when the masses rise, revolutionaries support them, even if their action is adventurist, as Marxism did over the Paris Commune and Lenin did over the July days. In fact, far from solidarizing with the oppressed, the Chinese government went out its way to congratulate and aid their oppressors- in company with the USA, USSR, Brain & India, Chou En-lai's letter was released in Colombo on the same day as ceremony in which the Chinese Ambassador signed the new loan to the Bandaranaike government and publicly applauded the ' happy coincident' of this occasion's tenure of power. Thus did Chinese diplomacy celebrate the grim date of a year of uninterrupted betrayal and repression of the Ceylonese masses by the United Front regime.


China's actin constituted an ought violation of proletarian internationalism, in activity helping a capitalist government to suppress a mass rising. Defenders of the Chinese position have argued that this aid accorded with China's general line at the time, one of working on an international scale to from an 'international united front' of small nations to combat the US and the Soviet Union. Diplomatic alliance with capitalist state, so longer as they are genuinely directed against the most dangerous imperialist powers. The Chinese claim that their present united front work they did within China during the anti-Japanese struggle. But there are two crucial differences, highlighted by the Ceylonese events, and by China's actions in Pakistan and the Sudan. United Front work must always include the ability to criticize the bourgeois partner - whereas China had remained uncritical these instances.


And no revolutionary concept of a united front can be stretched to cover active support for bourgeois regimes in counter-revolutionary activity. It is no defence of China's action in Ceylon to say that they flow her general line, since it is this general line itself which is exposed by the specific applications of it. The Pro-Peking Ceylon Communist Party has praised China's actions: 'It was only the correct diplomatic behaviour of the Chinese and their generous aid that prevented the government sliding completely into the imperialist camp', wrote party secretary Shanmugathasan after the events. What this assumes is that that task of revolutionaries is to inflect the policies of bourgeois regimes with aid and support - whereas what the JVP had shown was that the Bandaranaike regime should be overthrown. On the purely empirical level, the right ward drift of the regime ever since it came to power should dispel any illusion about keeping the Ceylonese bourgeoisie out of the imperialist camp. (For a more general assessment and critique of China's foreign policy, and of the relationship between her state relations and her professions of internationalism, see Fred Halliday. 'China's New Course', 7 days, No. 18, 1-7 March 1972.)


The cynicism of the Chinese collusion with Ceylonese capital may be judged from the fact Chou En-lai's letter was carefully concealed from the Chinese people themselves. The Chinese press, indeed, censored all new about the mass upsurge in Ceylon, no word of which has been published in China. Symbolically, in a map of ' the excellent situation in the world', published in Renmin Ribao on 22 May 1971, there was an emblem for mass action in India, but nothing whatever for Ceylon.

After the Rising: Permanent Emergency

The insurrection raged unit the end of May, by which time the government succeeded in restabilizing the situation. A few small groups continued to survive in the remoter jungles, but they constituted no threat to the regime, and subsequent alarms about a repeat of the insurrection did not prove accurate. In all, the government now led over 16,000 people in detention: some arrested under the state of Emergency regulations, some sized in the fighting, and some who had given themselves up under the various government amnesties and now found they were not being released. They were held in overcrowded prison and in converted university buildings; within these centers there was a continued political discussion, and in several cases detainees were shot dead attempting to escape in or dispute with prison officials. Thought opposition political activity outside was banded, a newly formed Civil right Movement, founded by opposition intellectuals, was set up and proceeded the challenge the State of Emergency. They call for the restoration of democratic rights, and for the trial or release of those detained. They also insisted on government investigation of crimes committed by the army and the police in April. One particular case, involving the multiple rape and sadistic murder of Manamperi, a local beauty queen in the town of Kataragama, received publicity outside Ceylon but was censored from the Ceylonese press itself. A British Observer sent by Amnesty International in September was thrown out of the country.


Although the government promised to bring the detainees to trial, they did not begin to do so until more than year after the revolt began. They could neither release nor try them. In a speech to parliament in July, reviewing the course of the revolt, Premier Bandaranaike said that trials would begin once the detainees had been investigated. But in November Interior Minister Felix Bandaranaike reported that the government could not start the trials as long as the legislation remained unchanged: the emergency law now in operation would have to be made into permanent features of the statute book. But although this was announced in November it was only in April1972 that the Criminal Justice Commissions Bill was put through parliament, and the first trials began in July 1972.


The bill enabled the Governor-General, in consultation with the prime minister, to set up special courts outside the Common Law to hear specific types of case. There was no right of appeal against the decisions of these courts, excepts when death penalties were free to decide what procedure they thought best for discovering the truth. Under a special new law on evidence, confessions 'given' to police officers were to be classed as valid-evidence-with the result that thunders of young people ended up aimed as a result of Police attempts to extract these 'confessions' through torture. Under the new laws defendants were not entitled to know what changes were pending against them, or even whether they would appear as defendants or merely as witness in specific cases. The Commissions were entitled to hold proceeding in camera whenever they so wished, and those who had served their sentences or who had been acquitted was not entitled to automatic release. It is odd that the Ceylonese regime even bothered to put through the law making these Commissions operative: they might just as well have abolished law and the courts altogether.


While holding the detainees and repressing political activity, the government faced the continuation of the economic crisis that had continuation. Perera's November 1971 budget was prolonged lament: whereas Sirimavo Bandaranaike herself had put the total cost of the revolt Rs. 100 m. Perera now upped it to Rs. 400 m and blamed the JVP, together with foreign catalysts, for the economics situation. He pleaded for time to institute 'socialism', quoting from Isaac Deutscher's Stalin to compare the Ceylon of 1971 to the Russian of the NEP. He remained those who invoked the models of Cuba or Yugoslavia that the Cuba prime minister had just offered to resign after the failure of the 10 million-ton sugar harvest, while Yugoslavia was crippled by inflation and had to export thousands of thousands of its workers to the EEC.


Unemployment in Ceylon was now at 550,000 - 12 percent of the labour force - and the terms had declined by another 4 percent in the year 1970 - 71, Perera's response was a series of austerity measures: attempts to increase the price of flour and ration sugar with the backbench opposition and had to be dropped, but a levy was now imposed on the free hospital service for out-patients, and the price of rice was raised by 25 percent. Perera, unable to conceal the bankruptcy of his polices, ended in tearful form. He said:


"This has been a hard budget. It has not been a pleasant or easy task for me. Poignant memories of the past keep crowding round me. All my life I have fought to ease the burdens of the poor and the humble. I am now the instrument not of easing but of heaping additional burdens on them. Even with a heavy heart I have to act with a vision of the future. Even as we travel in the midst of the gloom and the darkness of the present, I can see a light of distant dawn. We have begun well. By our indefatigable energy and selfless devotion, let us usher in the dawn of prosperity for all."


Perera's hypocritical speech and his attacks on the 'striplings' of the JVP deceived no one. Far from ushering in prosperity, his government continued to avoid the necessary anti-imperialist measures and to protect the interest it represented. A key added expenditure was the new allocation to the armed forces. In the year 1972 - 3 the expenditure on the army went from Rs. 81 m. to Rs. 152 m. while that on the navy went from Rs. 24 m. to Rs. 37 m. The army and the police were to be expended by 25 percent.


The opportunists the government realized, however, that they had to take certain token anti-imperialist measures in order to head off popular anger. The UF government instituted a faint attempt at import substitution , banning the import of chillies and onions. In a series of nationalization measures some British tea estates were taken over, and the number of British tea-planters dropped from 100 to 30 by the spring of 1972. A land reform act set a maximum of 50 acres per family unit, and income was limited to Rs. 2,000 per month Constitutional reforms were also brought in. the senate was abolished in September 1971, and in April 1972 a new constitution was instituted, breaking Ceylon's allegiance to the British Crown and declaring a republic under the name of Sri Lanka. But these feints were a substitute for concrete anti-imperialism. The country remained crippled by this dependence on imperialist markets: in February 1972 alone its import bills rose by 11 million with the rise in world prices for crude oil, milk foods and sugar. The real diversification that could have broken Ceylon's ties with the west was undertaken, and the land reform, pitting a ceiling on larger holdings, was no answer to the poverty and growing landlessness of the Sinhalese peasantry. The constitutional changes were standard demagogic moves. Ceylon's decision to break with the British monarch went together with her continued membership of the neo-colonial Commonwealth federation. As for her renaming herself- it is a traditional ploy of neo-colonial regimes to conceal the continuation of their ties with the imperialism by a cultural flourish of this kind. An imperialism that had kept its grip on Eire, Zaire and Malawi was unlikely to have any trouble in swallowing Sri Lanka.

 Indian Expansionism

 In foreign policy the regime strengthened its ties with both the United States and China. Whereas before the insurrection relations with the US had been muted, and Ceylon had bleated about the need for 'non-alignment' in the Indian Ocean, the US now stepped in as a welcome ally to the Bandaranaike clique. In the first months of 1972 US ships of the seventh fleet paid a series of visits to Colombo. The first ship to arrive, the 18,000-ton supply ship USS Mobile, brought $3M. worth of military aid, and armoured cars, helicopters and transport planes were to follow. In March , Admiral John McCain, Commander of the Us pacific fleet, paid a four day visit to Ceylon. The Commander of the murderous naval war against the Vietnamese people was greeted by Sirimavo Bandaranaike. At the same time, the strengthening of ties with people's China developed and went beyond the linesalready established in previous Sino-Ceylonese relations. After the economic aid of April, China went on to the provide military aid as well. In December She gave Ceylon Five military speedboats, equipped with rockets, and in may 1972 She sent guns and ammunition to assist Ceylon's 'internal defence', according to Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Economic relations were also encouraged: a new joint shipping line was instituted, and the annul rice-for rubber deal was signed on terms particularly favourable to Ceylon.

The major reason for these policies was the Ceylonese fear of Indian expansionism, and hence of that of the power backing India, the Soviet Union. The weight of India had always hung over Ceylon: it constituted a real threat, and was also mystified by Sinhalese chauvinists wishing to turn the masses against the Tamil plantation workers. Both Indian and Pakistan had used the April insurrection to insert a military presence for themselves in the island, but the defeat of Pakistan in December Indo-Pakistani war put an end to this competition. From then onwards India became the dominant power in the subcontinent. With a strengthened and aggressive bourgeoisie, it was clearly able to dominate Ceylon; and latter's overtures to China and the US reflected a fear of this.


Within Ceylon itself politics was still dominated by the April insurrection and its aftermath. The coalition party that experienced the greatest difficulties was the pro-Moscow Party, four of whose six MPs opposed the Criminal Justice Commissions Bill; it was frequently rumoured to be about to resign from the government, and its position must further have been weakened by the government's attempts to resist Soviet influence as manifested through India. Both the pro-Moscow Communist Party and the LSSP had difficulty in controlling their extra-parliamentary membership, in particular the youth; although these follows did not support the JVP they were provoked by the emergency laws and by the government's failure to meet the crisis of the country's economy. Another index of the government's drift was its growing closeness to the faction of the opposition UNP led by Jayawardene. Two yeas before, the United Front had been voted into power against the UNP, promising to make sweeping changes in Ceylon and to institute socialism. Now, in the spring of 1972, there was so little difference between the interests of the two formations that there was open talk of the coalition, without there being any compelling technical reason for it, such as a precarious parliamentary majority.


Out side parliamentary lobbies, the political situation was less clear. By prolonging the life a parliament to six rather than five years, and by quelling all popular expression, the government ensured it that was as insulated as possible against popular angers. The small pro-Peking Communist Party had its leadership arrested and its offices broken up during the insurrection, but it continued to deny any support for the JVP and in time was able to restart its activities. It begun calling for an end to the State of Emergency and to release of trial of those in detention. In an analysis of the insurrection written while he was imprisoned, Party Secretary Shanmugathasan recognized the courage and honestly of the JVP rank and file, but judged the movement as a whole to have been 'counter-revolutionary'. He also repeated, in a disguised from, the thesis that reactionary forces had contributed to the growth of the JVP, and he advanced the fantasy that ' this movement was called into being to oppose the growing influence of Mao Tse-thung thought in Ceylon'. In the summer of 1972 this party split, with a majority favoured closer ties to the regime. The small urban-based LSSP (R), led by Bala Tampo, did not condemn the JVP, although it had criticism of the insurrection. The LSSP (R ) was not, on the other hand, affected by the kind of repression that fell on the pro-Peking Communist Party. It was able to continue some of its public activities, and it addressed a series of public appeals to the government, calling on them to rescind the State of Emergency and release the detainees.


The greatest question mark hung over the JVP itself. In the year following its defeat, no clear position emerged from its leadership on the lessons of April, the state of the movement or the future path to be followed. Loosely co-ordinated in the first place, it was further fragmented by the defect of the rising. Many cadres were dead, many others in hiding, and many in different prisons with no way of communicating with each other. Discussion continued within the prisons, and moral remained high. Outside, popular resentment against the government continued. But the JVP in its 1971 from appeared to have ceased to operate. The nucleus of a future revolutionary organization joining ex-factions of the JVP to other non-JVP elements existed. But in the immediately context it did not present a direct threat to the government, or a structure around which revolutionary or groups could organize.


Any all assessment of the Ceylonese insurrection will have to await the long-term development of Ceylonese politics. But certain effects are already clear. The insurrection was an ambitious and highly organized attempt to seize state power: it failed to achieve this aim. After three weeks of widespread military activity, the courageous Ceylonese revolutionaries were driven on the defensive. Thousands of militants were killed, wounded or arrested; an unknown number of Ceylonese youth not directly part of the JVP were also killed. The JVP organization was severely hit. It is possible that such a below could set the revolutionary movement in Ceylon back for some years and demoralize or terrorize the masses who rose enthusiastically to support the JVP; although, as will be seen, there are good reasons for doubting whether this will in fact be its effect. The insurrection has also alerted and hardened the Ceylonese 'counter-revolution' in Debray's phrase. Quite apart from the direct military aid given in April, imperialism will now redouble its vigilance. This is no doubt that political and military organization will be more difficult in the future than hitherto.




Nevertheless, the Ceylonese insurrection was in no sense a putsch. Despite a superficially 'banquets' character, owing to its apparent suddenness, the rising was a popular insurrection in which a vanguards organization led the impoverished rural masses against a capitalist state. Why did it not succeed? No revolution can be hundred percent of success, so the fact of its temporary defeat is not in itself proof that it should not have been attempted. But the insurrection was lunched in conditions and in a from that limited its chances of success and validated the strict Leninist insistence on the necessary preconditions for a successful socialist insurrection. First of all, at the political level, the JVP seems to have had a loose and unsystematized internal structure. It was not a Leninist party; there were loosely coordinated factions within the leadership, reflecting different groups that had fused in the JVP at the beginning, and the relationship between these factions and the base was imprecise: so far as is known, the JVP had never held a national congress and had no elected officials. Moreover, there was an internal tendency towards adventurism as a spontaneous reaction at once against the predominance of parliamentarist reformism in Ceylon and out of the realization, blinding to a generation reared on the bromides of the Pereras and Keunemans, that the achievement of socialism ultimately demanded armed struggle. This tendency was strengthened by the sense of imminent government repression in the period after August 1970,,when it seems that the JVP militants might well be struck down ' in their beds'. The experiences of Indonesia and Greece seemed the relevant warning. The result was that after a debate within the JVP, the decision was made to hit the government with an armed insurrection rather than a protracted guerrilla war, and to strike immediately after the State of Emergency.


On the military level, the JVP was also at a disadvantage. It could not have avoided the birth of the international consortium of arms supplies that developed. But its work among the armed forces, an essential Leninist precondition of insurrection, had been hampered since August by careful government screening. Thus there was no significant weakening of the police or army during the rising. A case of 18 naval cadets going over the JVP was reported, (Daily Telegraph, 6 May 1971) but a counter-revolutionary army can always sustain a certain level of individual desertion-it is only decisively crippled by mass desertion, or by the mutiny and loss of whole units. In Ceylon, the army appears to have gone into battle unimpaired. The JVP was also weakened by it s lack of independent arms supplies: the traditional revolutionary practice of acquiring arms by winning them from the enemy is adequate for protracted guerrilla war, but the rapid escalation involved in an armed insurrection puts a great premium on acquiring sophisticated weapons very rapidly, and this does not seen to have been achieved in the first few days of the JVP offensive.

The last, and much the most fundamental, of all its handicaps was that the JVP did not have the necessary social base for a truly nation-wide insurrection. It was solidly implanted among the low-country and Kandyan Sinhalese peasantry of the central massif and the Southwest. But it was only just developing links with the Tamil rural proletariat and the urban working class. The communal and reformist leadership of these two classes had not yet been really undermined. Thus when the insurrection broke out, the JVP quickly found itself penned within the south-central dry zone, where the bulk of the actual fighting seems to have been done by rural unemployment youth. Moreover, the lake of a revolt in Colombo was fatal to the chances of the rural rising, because it allowed the State of deploy the full panoply of its military apparatus in the plantation workers meant that the central productive branches of the economy of the island were not affected by the insurrection. These twin basic absence probably doomed the rising to short-term defeat independently of any other factors. The attitude of the urban working class to the insurrection was not clear: sections of it were confused and misled by their reformist trade-union leadership. The preventive government measures recounted above prove that the potential proletarian sympathy with it was nevertheless very great. But the JVP urban cadre was still too weak to be able to mobilize this into effective actions. This was in contrast to the Great Hartal of1953, in which urban and rural movements co-ordinated spontaneously: it was also in contrast to JVP theory, which called for a three-way worker-rural-proletarian-peasant alliance, in which the peasantry would be the ' main force'. One source of this problem lay in the gap between the JVP leadership and the rank and file. The energy behind the movement came from the frustration of the Sinhala peasantry, and the JVP expressed the contradictory aspects of this frustration. There I no doubt that in their attacks on Indian expansionism and foreign domination the leadership were careless about the danger of this arousing anti-Tamil feeling among their less politically formed followers. And in their critique of monoculture and Ceylon's economic crisis, there was a mixture of a prospective call for a socialist economy combined with a retrospective invocation of a mythical Sinhala past. The spontaneous response of many peasant societies faced with an imposed economic crisis is to look backwards to a mythical communist golden age: ever since the German Bauerkieg of 1525, per-capitalist peasantries have reacted to the advance of market relations in this way. The task of a socialist leadership is to redirect and transform this movement ideologically, to provide a materialist and attainable policy instead of the fake historical dreams that the movement spontaneously throws up. But in Ceylon the JVP did not show whether it could have carried through this task and built the ideological and organizational structures to link the three oppressed sectors of that society.


Equally important in analysing the weaknesses of the JVP is the question of what they intended to do if they gained power. The confused semi-chauvinist view of the crisis evident at the base, and the failure to work within the urban working class, were paralleled by vagueness about the concrete alternatives. This is not to say that revolutionaries must have a blue paint. But the JVP seem to have based their alternative on a mystical return to primitive pre-capitalist subsistence. More concrete evidence of their confusion is provided by accounts of what actually happened in the liberated areas, which they held in April and early May. There is little evidence of their actively mobilizing the population and incorporating them into their work. So far as is known there was no land distribution and confiscation of landlord property. Their insurrectionist and militarist conception of the revolution appears to have connected here with their lack of perspective about the form that revolutionary economic and political would take.


Nevertheless, despite their defeat, the JVP has shown that struggle in colonial and ex-colonial countries today. Debate since 1945 about revolutionary strategy has tended to concentrated either on various forms of protracted guerrilla struggles (liberated areas v. mobile focos, urban v. rural groups) or on a critique of parliamentarist reformism on the one hand and elitist military putsches on the other. Despite and through its defeat, the Ceylonese insurrection has re-emphasized the possibility of armed insurrection, ' the highest from of political struggle', (A. Neuburg, Armed Insurrection, New Left Books, London, 1970, p.25. Chapter 2, 'Bolshevism and Insurrection', presents the Leninist position on insurrection. Cf. Also the review of this book by Ben Brewster[New Left Review 66]) under definite and carefully prepared conditions. The insurrection led by the JVP suffered from political, military and social limitations, which after a month of the utmost self-sacrifice and heroism led to its defeat. Unconditional solidarity with the rural poor their vanguard, who fought with the most primitive weapons against the massed might of the Ceylonese bourgeois state and its array of international allies, is an absolute duty of all revolutionaries elsewhere. A critical Marxist balance sheet of the insurrection does not contradict but reinforces this solidarity. The socialist revolution has no need of falsehoods and euphemisms: it has confidence in the truth. The history of the international working class is rich in cases of successful revolutionary movements living through defeats of the April insurrection are being studied and assimilated by the underground in Ceylon today. A long hard task of preparation and consolidation now confronts the JVP and its allies: but it has proved itself to be a genuine vanguard of the masses and has shattered the parliamentary veil that has hung over Ceylon for fifty years.


The Ceylonese insurrection of April 1971, like the French revolt of May 1968, was unexpected by revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries alike. But Marxists can never accept the concept of 'surprise'. Mass explosions can't occur without a long previous history of silent oppression: the very unexpectedness of such as event is itself a contribution to the violence of the subsequent outburst. The JVP was able to win deep popular support of such an event is itself - a crisis that was ignored by the political parties that dominated the island's life and concealed by the wide cultural and social gap that divided the palsied philo-British oligarchy of Colombo from the urban and rural masses. This crisis has not disappeared since the insurrection: it has deepened. There is little prospect of halting the remorseless rise in unemployment, the growing pressure on the land, or the increasing disaffection of the younger generation. Systemic terror and demagogic appeals to the country's 'misguided' youth by the SLFP - LSSP - CP government will not win back the masses two followed the JVP into rebellion. It was the insurrection that gave authentic voice, for the first time since independence, to the real crisis of Ceylonese society.


It is for this reason that the JVP's rising will reverberate, again and again, throughout the island even after its suppression. For there are some spectacular defeats which from the very moment of their consummation are already secret victories, because the time in which they occur and the split with which they are fought lead to a sudden political awakening far beyond themselves. Their hidden effective can act like a depth-change for wider and wider layers of the exploited masses, within a very short space of time. The Ceylonese insurrection of 1971 has every chance of being such a turning point. For its most important lesson of all is that, in Ceylon, the masses have a revolutionary character. Despised, exploited and manipulated by their own domestic enemies by the ferocity of their revolt. They have written another heroic chapter in the history of the Asia and world revolution. All revolutionaries throughout the world must hope that the present lull will followed by an even greater and successful storm.

OUR VOICE WILL LAST FOREVER! The speech to the Criminal Justice Commission

by comrade Rohana Wijeweera