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JVP Insurgency of April 1971 Revisited
N. Sanmugathasan’s view
by Sachi Sri Kantha, April 2, 2011
Front Note by Sachi Sri Kantha
40 years have passed by since the words ‘terrorism’ and ‘terrorist’ entered the political or journalism lexicon in Sri Lanka. Among the active Sri Lankan politicians now, only four were in the parliament when the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) insurgency began in April 1971; Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, prime minister D.M. Jayaratne and Vasudeva Nanayakkara. The first three were SLFP MPs, while Nanayakkara then belonged to the Trotskyite LSSP party. Wickremanayake (then aged 37) had been an MP for 10 years. But, Mahinda Rajapaksa (then aged 24), D.M. Jayaratne (then aged 39) and Nanayakkara (then aged 32) were rookies, who got elected for the first time in the May 1970 general election. Among these four, Mr. Vasudeva Nanayakkara was detained after the insurgency for a short period, on suspicion that he was also a member of JVP.
The terrorists were rural Sinhalese youths, most of them unemployed. Their leader was Rohana Wijeweera (1943-1989), who had been to the Lumumba University, Soviet Union to study for a medical degree. But, he returned without completing his studies. After he returned, he joined the Communist Party (Peking Wing), then led by Nagalingam Sanmugathasan (1920-1993), one of a few Tamils who identified themselves as Communists since the 1940s. Why did Wijeweera join the Communist Party (Peking Wing)? His father Don Andiris Wijeweera was a member of the Communist Party, and he supported Premalal Kumarasiri (who was the Communist Party MP representing Hakmana electorate, during 1947 to 1952, and never got re-elected later. He died in 2004.) This Kumarasiri had joined the Communist Party (Peking Wing), when it was formed in 1963 and was the general secretary of the Youth League of the Party. In August 1964, Wijeweera’s application for a visa to return to Moscow was rejected. It has been alleged that his links to Communist Party (Peking Wing) was one of the chief factor in this rejection.
Though Wijeweera became a full time member of the Communist Party (Peking Wing), he had differences with the policies followed by Sanmugathasan. In August 1965, he was appointed as the Assistant Secretary of the Youth Front of the CP (Peking Wing), after his Sinhalese mentor Kumarasiri had left the Party. While working as a full timer, Wijeweera’s plans were to “promote the internal party struggle with the ultimate object of gaining control”, as A.C. Alles, the author of Insurgency 1971, noted. In the beginning of 1966, Sanmugathasan became aware of Wijeweera’s ‘secret activities and took strategic steps to protect his rank as the head of the CP (Peking Wing). In Sanmugathasan’s view, Wijeweera was a ‘plant’ by the Communist Party (Moscow wing), to usurp him from the power of Communist Party (Peking wing).
I quote one paragraph from Alles’s book, about Wijeweera’s expulsion.
Sanmugathasan was held in detention (what he called as “unjustly imprisoned by the Sirimavo Bandaranaike government”) for ten months, mainly for the reason that Wijeweera once belonged to Sanmugathasan’s party. What I present below are excerpts from the memoir of Sanmugathasan, first published in 1972. Sanmugathasan’s text (5,390 words) is interesting to read and preserve electronically. What one finds in this text about Wijeweera’s background and the JVP’s origin are unflattering and will not appear in the ‘sanitized’ versions that are presented in the Wikipedia entries, scribbled by Wijeweera’s followers. Though occasionally sprinkled with some condescending words [bourgeoise, modern revisionists - implying the Communist Party (Moscow wing), imperialists, feudal property, reactionary state machinery etc.] that are infectious for Left-leaning polemicists, Sanmugathasan’s word use still dazzles, as the situation in the island still remains the same. Here are some: “intellectual imbeciles holding forth about building socialism”, “a military government with a civil façade”. It should be noted that Sanmugathasan was a follower of Mao Zedong ideals. He had the distinction (probably the only Tamil) to meet Mao. In the text, he uses the then prevalent English spelling Mao Tsetung, as opposed to the currently popular Mao Zedong.
In one instance, Sanmugathasan commented that during the 1971 insurgency of the JVP, “not a single imperialist lost his live, nor was any damage inflicted on imperialist or feudal property. Not were big capitalists or big landlords among the casualties.” (emphasis, as in the original.) One is not sure whether Rohana Wijeweera did read Sanmugathasan’s memoirs and took note of these two lines. When they repeated their insurgency during 1988-1989, the JVP did kill quite a number of ‘big capitalists' and ‘big landlords’. Prominent among them were two Tamils, namely K. Gunaratnam (Sri Lanka’s leading movie mogul and industrialist, killed on August 9, 1989) and ‘potato’ Shanmugam, a leading businessman (killed on February 6, 1989), one of whose daughters was a senior to me at the University of Colombo. The ‘potato’ monicker related to his business concern with which he minted money. Another prominent victim was one of my professors at the University of Colombo, and Vice Chancellor of the same university Stanley Wijesundera (assassinated on March 8, 1989), who married into a big capitalist family.
I should add two particular issues that Sanmugathasan failed to mention in his chapter on the JVP insurgency of April 1971. The first issue: as one of the ‘band-aid’ measures to alleviate the JVP insurgency, the Sirimavo Bandaranaike cabinet decided that one of the major issues was the unemployment of Sinhalese youth, who had completed high school education but couldn’t enter the university, due to tough competition for the limited spaces available on merit. Thus, to keep these ‘intelligent’ Sinhalese youths occupied for a period of another 3-4 years, they opted to tinker with the university admission system immediately, by means of a crude, discriminatory, ethnically biased ‘standardisation’ scheme. This in turn, resulted in igniting the dormant Tamil insurgency. The second issue: strictly limiting the recruitment to Sri Lankan armed services (army, navy, airforce and police) to Sinhalese ethnics, some of whom were ill-educated loafers, who had merely completed 10 years (up to GCE Ordinary Level) of school education. Available records show that the current Secretary of Defence, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, belonged to this category.
Lastly, I thank V. Anandaram, my classmate at the Colombo Hindu College, Ratmalana, for providing me with a copy of this second edition of Sanmugathasan’s memoir, dated December 1974.
Excerpts from ‘A Marxist Looks at the History of Ceylon’ by N.Sanmugathasan
This book was written during the ten months that I was unjustly imprisoned by the Sirimavo Bandaranaike government in 1971. I was determined not to let the enemy get the better of me by demoralizing me. Equally, I decided to turn a bad thing into a good thing.
Several times, in our Party, we had taken decisions to write a history of Ceylon, because it is a cardinal condition that revolutionaries should know the history of their country. Comrade Mao Tsetung has said: ‘No political party can possibly lead a great revolutionary movement to victory unless it possesses revolutionary theory and a knowledge of history and has a profound grasp of the practical movement.’
It was this that inspired me to write this book. I wanted to put into the hands of our comrades and our sympathizers a Marxist interpretation of Ceylon’s history – whatever shortcomings it might contain. Some people might imagine that my qualification to write this book was the fact that I had obtained a degree in history at the University of Ceylon. But, in those days, even though I did Oriental History, out of the ten papers I answered for my final examination, only one had a reference to Ceylon history. That, too, was entitled ‘South Indian and Ceylon History’. Therefore, all the Ceylon history I know I learned after I left the university. I have subjected this knowledge to a Marxist analysis.
Many of my interpretations are not going to please many, because I have attempted to demolish many myths which have hitherto gone as facts. But this book was not written to please anyone. It was written for the purpose of knowing the past in order to understand the present and to shape the future. If it helps, even in a small way, in this task, I shall be amply rewarded.
Chapter 6: An Analysis of the April 1971 Events in Ceylon [pp.82-96]
[Note: Words in italics, are as in the original.]
The gunshots that rang out on April 5th 1971 at Wellawaya, heralding the outbreak of the foredoomed insurrection by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), not only killed the policeman on duty at his desk. It also effectively demolished several myths about Ceylon, which had been sedulously cultivated by the bourgeois press and the bourgeois politicians.
Despite the notorious fact our our crime rate was about the third highest in the world, Ceylon was supposed to be a peaceful country, wedded to the doctrine of ‘maithiri’ and nonviolence, the Dhamma Deepa, whose protection had been entrusted to the special care of Indra by Sakra on the specific request of Lord Buddha just before he passed away. Despite the brutal violence witnessed during the communal troubles of 1958, when men were burnt alive because they belonged to the wrong race, the myth was created that the people of Ceylon were wedded to the democratic life, and were opposed to revolution and violence. In fact, at a public meeting held at Kandy a few weeks before the beginning of the insurrection, Mrs. Bandaranaike claimed that the country had been spared violence because it was specially protected by the gods.
But the biggest myth propagated about Ceylon was that its people were firmly wedded to the principles of bourgeois parliamentary democracy, that we were the only country that had zealously learned the art of democratic government from the British overlords, that we had successfully changed governments by the democratic process and that Ceylon was an oasis of stable government in an otherwise turbulent world.
All these theories lie shattered on the ground today. The readiness and the dedication with which numbers of young men and women came forward to sacrifice their lives, irrespective of the fact that they were misguided, badly led and followed completely wrong tactics, and were used from behind for reactionary purposes, once and for all disposed of the theory to the effect that our people were not revolutionary. They are second to none. Let this be a warning to the reactionaries and an encouragement to the revolutionaries.
Secondly, the most ‘democratically’ elected government is having to rule with the most unprecedentedly brutal dictatorial powers. Bourgeois democracy in Ceylon had always been a farce. Beginning as far back as the 1956 MEP government of the late Mr. Bandaranaike, rule by state of emergency had become a rule. Both the 1960 government of Mrs. Bandaranaike, and the 1965 government of Dudley Senanayake competed with each other as to which government shall rule under a state of emergency for a longer period. The UNP beat the SLFP by a small length. Anyway, both governments ruled for the greater part of their period under a state of emergency. That was democracy – a la Ceylon.
But the record has been improved under the present United Front government of Mrs. Bandaranaike. Coming to power with an unprecedented parliamentary majority of over two-thirds, it could not complete one year of its life without proclaiming a state of emergency. It is unlikely that it can lift the state of emergency during its span of life – however short or long it turns out to be. At the time the United Front government came to power in May 1970, Marxist-Leninists pointed out that the very vastness of the parliamentary majority contained within itself the seeds of its own destruction. The United Front, while in Opposition, had been lavish in its promises to the people. There was nothing they did not promise. Its leaders even boasted that, during the five long years they spent in opposition, they had drafted a master plan, which would be put in operation as soon as they climbed into the seats of power. They asked the people only for one thing: Give us an absolute majority so that we need not be dependent on other parties of groups. The people did more than that. They gave the UF a two-thirds majority. There was apparently nothing to stop the government from implementing its promises. A prostrate opposition also pledged its support. There could be no possible excuse for inability to implement the election programmes; and very soon signs were not wanting that the people were not willing to listen to excuses. They had done what had been asked of them, and now they wanted results.
Even before the election victory of May 1970, the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party, in calling upon the people to reject the farce of bourgeois parliamentary democracy, and not participate in the general elections in any way, had warned that, so long as the present imperialist-feudalist-big bourgeois economic framework was not broken, and the repressive bourgeois state machinery that acted as its watchdog was not smashed by force, whatever be the government that came to power through the means of bourgeois parliamentary democracy, it would not be able to solve the fundamental problems of the people.
The warning proved correct, parliamentary democracy in Ceylon has been a sort of a game of musical chairs between the Senanayake and the Bandaranaike families. From 1947 to 1956, for a period of 9 years, the Senanayake clan ruled. For the next nine years, from 1956 to 1965, the Bandaranaike – husband and wife took over. Then from 1965 to 1970, the Senanayakes took over. Now the pendulum has swung back to the Bandaranaikes, into whose bandwagon, in the meanwhile, had crept in the LSSP and the Keuneman revisionist clique (Ceylon’s revisionist Communist Party). But no fundamental change took place in the social and economic structure. Ceylon continued to be a neo-colonial and semi-feudal country. The commanding heights of its economy still continued to be occupied by foreign imperialists. The greater part of the tea and rubber plantations, which still brought in the greater share of the national wealth of the country, the majority of the country’s banks, the import-export trade, shipping – all remained in foreign imperialist hands. The puppets that danced on the political platform were made in Ceylon, but the invisible strings, with which they are manipulated, are still pulled from London and Washington.
Despite all the loud and empty talk of socialism, no fundamental changes were made in this situation after the United Front government came to power in May 1970. Instead, the people were treated to the sight of intellectual imbeciles holding forth about building socialism, while the majority of the country’s money spinners – the tea and rubber plantations – and the banks continue to be in foreign imperialist hands. New definitions of socialism were invented. People were told that socialism meant greater discipline, hard work and tightening of belts. But they saw no matching sacrifices at the top. Members of Parliament voted themselves additional allowances. ‘Socialist’ ministers built themselves new air-conditioned offices. The prime minister’s children went abroad for their education. The number of Benz cars and palatial buildings were on the increase. Not even the much publicized rent restriction laws could be brought into effect, because some of the country’s biggest house owners were inside the Cabinet. The much-promised declaration of the assets of the MPs never saw the light of day.
In the meantime, the cost of living kept sky rocketing. The already insurmountable problem of unemployment was made worse by the new government’s action in taking political revenge and dismissing thousands of workers engaged by the last regime in many of the State Corporations – including 10,000 from the Land Army recruited by the former regime. Only China’s generosity in supplying rice and interest-free loans enabled the government to fulfill its promise of granting a second measure of rice on the ration, and to just carry on. Men who had been most vehement critics of the former government’s policy of seeking loans from the World Bank overnight became mendicants with begging bowls and implored loans from the same World Bank.
It was no wonder that frustration and disillusionment swept the country – particularly, the youth. The disillusionment was made worse by the fact that people expected a lot from the Trotskyites and the revisionists, who were now part of the government, and who, in their time, made the most revolutionary speeches and even more revolutionary promises. But no sooner had they donned the robes of ministerial office and occupied their air conditioned offices, they became the most stout defenders of the establishment and the status quo. Correctly did Lenin describe a coalition government as a joint cabinet of the bourgeoisie with the renegades from socialism.
There cannot be any doubt that these erstwhile left parties has completely forfeited the confidence of the people and, more particularly, of the youth. The April events completely stripped these sham revolutionaries and exposed them nakedly as a bunch of counter-revolutionaries, who did not have the slightest compunction in condoning the worst blood bath and mass murder that Ceylon had seen, as well as in condoning the detention without trial for already 12 months of over 14,000 detainees of all political hues.
The present state of affairs, where all civil and democratic rights, including the right of Habeas Corpus and the right to hold public meetings have been suspended, and a virtual military rule exists under rigorously enforced state of emergency, and a strict press censorship has completed the disillusionment about bourgeois parliamentary democracy. The people’s government, which was supposed to have been elected by the overwhelming majority of the people (actually it was only by 49%) cannot today show itself before the people without a show of armed police might. The ‘People’s’ prime minister can hardly move out of her house without heavy armed escort.
The Marxist-Leninist analysis that, whichever of the bourgeois parties occupy the seats of power, the real power resides with the army, navy, air force and the police forces, the real guardians and watchdogs of exploitation – whose officers are still trained at Sandhurst and New Scotland Yard – has been proved to the hilt. An unelected minor minion of bureaucracy, like a village official, e.g. a grama sevaka, was able to get an MP or an MMC into jail, while an elected House of Representatives looked on helplessly and impotently and even devoid of the power of speech. The performance of Ceylon’s House of Representatives, which counts in its ranks some of the loudest tub-thumpers that Ceylon has produced, will surely go down in the history of bourgeois parliamentary democracy as one of the most impotent ones. One and all were scared; and one and all did not dare go to their electorates for quite some time. Even the Prime Minister’s appearance at parliament became a rare occasion. The military and the police had the government exactly where they wanted it. Ceylon had perfected another first – a military government with a civil façade.
It is these twin factors – people’s disillusionment with bourgeois parliamentary democracy and with former Left parties – coupled with the bankruptcy of the UF government to solve the people’s problems that paved the way for the JVP to win the support among a certain section of the rural youth who, in Ceylon, constitute a big share of the population.
The exposure of both the bankruptcy of the bourgeois parliamentary democracy and the betrayal and treachery of the Trotskyites and the modern revisionists and the advocacy of a revolutionary path as the only means for a social change was really done in Ceylon most consistently and systematically by the Marxist-Leninist Ceylon Communist Party – ever since it split from the revisionist party and constituted itself as a separate party in 1964.
But, just as in 1956 the late Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, with the addition of a judicious appeal to issues of religion, language and race, ran away with the radical slogans popularized by the Left movement before his time, so now the JVP reaped the benefit of the work of the Marxist-Leninists by adding an appeal to communalism (anti-Indianism) and caste. To understand this might appear to be difficult. In the past, politicians from D.S. Senanayake to R.G. Senanayake and Hema Basnayake and K.M.P. Rajaratne combined communalism with reactionary politics. The JVP tried out a new mixture. They wrapped up a crude appeal to anti-Indianism (the plantation workers of Indian origin, who form a substantial portion of Ceylon’s working class, were portrayed as pawns of Indian expansionism) with a revolutionary phraseology. In this they seemed to have have been more successful. For additional measure, they also subtly exploited an appeal to caste. Most of the leaders of the JVP belong to one caste.
This brings us to an analysis of the character of the JVP. Most of the analyses made by the leaders of the government are devoid of any seriousness. Starting from an analysis that the JVP was an agent of the reactionaries, they ended with the analysis that they were extreme Left adventurers. What is the real nature of the JVP?
The first point that must be made is that, whatever be the questionable nature of the leadership, the rank and file seems to have been honestly revolutionary minded, with a sense of dedication that must be admired, and a willingness to sacrifice even their lives – unheard of before in Ceylon. The pity is that such sacrifice was made in vain. There cannot be any doubt that a section of the leadership was manipulated from behind by reactionary forces for their own end.
There is little doubt that this movement was called into being to oppose the growing influence of Mao Tsetung Thought in Ceylon. Since the theories of Trotskyism and the revisionist theories of peaceful co-existence and peaceful transition through parliament were getting increasingly discredited, reaction had to summon to its assistance the pseudo-revolutionary theory associated with the name of Che Guevara in order to distract the attention of the youth from the revolutionary truths of Mao Tsetung Thought. They used half-quotations from Mao Tsetung to deceive their followers. But their philosophy was out and out anti-Marxist-Leninist.
They popularized the theory of Che Guevara that a relatively small group of armed bravadoes or guerrillas could capture the state machine, and afterwards attract the people to itself. This is a favourite theory of the petty-bourgeoisie, with its strong individualism and its distrust of the working class. It rules out mass participation and is the very anti-thesis of the theory of people’s war as expounded by comrade Mao Tsetung.
Comrade Mao thought us that, ‘The revolutionary war is a war of the masses; it can be waged only by mobilizing the masses and relying on them’ The almost complete lack of mass support and near complete isolation from the organized working class was one of the most noticeable characteristics of the so-called insurrection by the JVP.
Their military tactics were also derived from adventurist theories of a quick victory in a one-day revolution, which sprang from complete lack of understanding of the real strength of the enemy, as well as of the well known theories of a protracted people’s war advanced by comrade Mao Tsetung. The tactics employed by the JVP in simultaneously attacking so many police stations, which are the centres of the strength of the enemy, was almost infantile in conception, and could only result in the mass slaughter that took place.
The leader of the JVP was an ex-student of Moscow’s Lumumba University, who had been given an anti-Soviet certificate and expelled from the Soviet Union in order to facilitate his infiltration of Marxist-Leninist ranks. Having failed to win the leadership, he went out to form the JVP.
The JVP itself was not organized as a political party in any sense we know. It held no conferences – secret or public. The leadership was not elected, while the leader was surrounded by the most unimaginable and false cults of personality. Despite calling themselves Marxist-Leninists, they were innocent and ignorant of democratic centralism. This was an ideal situation in which agent provocateurs and even hidden reactionaries could function and direct the movement from behind for their reactionary ends.
There is a number of points about the JVP which would probably now never be fully cleared up. It has now been established that, during the former UNP rule, two special reports on the activities of the JVP, prepared by the special security adviser to the government (a former Inspector General of Police) and a further and fuller report, compiled on the basis of two reports by the permanent secretary to the Ministry of Defence and External Affairs, had been submitted to the then prime minister. These reports are said to have contained accurate information (as events proved them) of the places where the activities of the JVP were centered, and a list of their important personnel and the type of activities they were engaged, including the type of training they were having. The prime minister did not submit this report either to the security council, which is composed of the chiefs of the armed forces, or to the Cabinet. Nor did he take any action whatsoever on these reports. The police merely arrested a few individuals, including the leader, and later released them – thus giving them a political build-up.
Even though challenged in parliament, the former prime minister had given no satisfactory explanation for his inactivity. Equally intriguing is why the new government, too, failed to act. The reports were all at the office of the Special Branch of the CID. The same personnel, with minor changes, continued. Why did they not take any action or advise the government to take any action? We will, perhaps, never know. However, it is interesting to note that it is this same personnel, who had known all about the JVP intentions all along, who are today conducting the investigations!
Equally intriguing was the press build-up given to the JVP by the bourgeois press. Hardly a day passed, when one or the other of the three main newspapers of the bourgeois group did not carry some news or other about the JVP. No other political movement in Ceylon had ever enjoyed such a propaganda build-up. The Ceylon Daily News would not like to be reminded of it, but it actually carried a centre page article, wherein Wijeyaweera was described as next in succession to D.S.Senanayake and S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike! All these cannot be accidents!
Then comes the question of arms and ammunition. Even if we accept the story that the guns were stolen, where did such a collection of sophisticated bombs, never before seen in Ceylon, come from? Worse, where did so much ammunition come from? The amount of money alleged to have been spent by the JVP also needs accounting. The only satisfactory answer so far given is that the merchants belonging to a particular caste down south, had so far swallowed the anti-Indian propaganda that they coughed up thousands of rupees! It is not an altogether improbable explanation.
In any case, the crude anti-Indian communal campaign carried out by the JVP is undoubted. They even talked of oceans of Tamil blood through which the Sinhalese would have to wade to protect the Sinhala state. This accounts for the fact that hardly any worthwhile incident occurred in the Northern and Eastern provinces, and the plantation districts, where the Ceylon and Indian Tamils live. It is also a fact that there were no Tamils among the membership or leadership of the JVP.
The timing of the insurrection itself, without giving sufficient time for the new government to get exposed and isolated from the people, betrayed either political immaturity or the presence of agent provocateurs. We have already referred to the idiocy of the tactics of attacking all police stations simultaneously – considering the fact that the government’s armed forces could at any time have mustered a much larger force – as, indeed, they did.
The JVP also had no clear-cut political programme – apart from the criticisms of the government and certain points picked from earlier programmes of the Left parties. The political maturity of the membership of the JVP was shockingly low. All their political education was condensed to a bare five lectures, and they were not encouraged to read outside it. There was also the practical difficulty of the paucity of books in Sinhala on Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung thought. Therefore, a mixture of crude communalism and revolutionary phraseology, which Wijeyaweera had learned at Lumumba University, were passed off and accepted as Marxism-Leninism.
In fact, it was this low political level and haphazard method of recruitment that brought about the situation under which many of those arrested turned informers and gave information to the CID. The JVP also made no attempt to build a united front of all revolutionary classes and groups against the common enemy.
At the same time, we must be objective, and point out the positive aspects of this movement. The JVP preached the gospel of revolution. But in this they were not unqualified like the Marxist-Leninists, because the JVP supported the UF candidates at the last elections and, even after the government was formed, declared their willingness even to dissolve themselves, if the government would build socialism. Thus, the illusion in parliamentary socialism was kept going. However, the main emphasis was on revolution.
They also did correct by concentrating on the rural students and youth. This was a generation which had not listened to the political classes conducted by the LSSP and the CP in their earlier revolutionary period. The sense of dedication, with which they imbued these youth, was truly remarkable. Their earlier tactics of carrying out all their activities in secret was correct, although they negated this after the UF election victory, and started functioning openly and concentrating on mobilizing all their resources for spectacular public meetings – thereby revealing their cadres openly and permitting infiltration of their movement. The resourcefulness they used in collecting arms and training at least a section of their members in their use was also praiseworthy.
But these factors do not distract from the fact that, fundamentally the movement, as a whole, was counter-revolutionary. The main section of the leadership lent itself to be manipulated by reaction. Tey did not correctly answer the question: Who are our main enemies? Who are our friends? In other words, they had an incorrect understanding of the stage of the revolution and the nature of its immediate tasks. Glaring proof of this was the fact that not a single imperialist lost his live, nor was any damage inflicted on imperialist or feudal property. Not were big capitalists or big landlords among the casualties.
There was also a complete lack of an effort to build a united front of all revolutionary forces that could be united against the common enemy. We have already commented on the completely wrong and infantile military tactics used by the JVP leadership without any thought for the countless young revolutionary lives that were to be sacrificed as a result. Sacrifice is unavoidable in any revolutionary struggle. But revolutionaries must avoid unnecessary sacrifices.
But all this was no excuse for the mass repression that was let loose by the government and its reactionary state machinery – principally the police and military. Under the rigorous state of emergency and complete press censorship, the country was virtually placed under military rule. Ceylon underwent a blood bath it had never dreamt of in its history.
Professor Rene Dumont, who was then in Ceylon at the invitation of the government, wrote in Le Nouvel Observateur, Paris: “From the Victoria Bridge I saw corpses floating down the river which flows from the north of the capital, with hundreds of immobile onlookers. This was on the 13th of April. The police who had killed these people, let the bodies float with the current in order to terrorise people.”
Wilfully exaggerating the extent of the danger involved to the government, not only were all the local reactionary armed forces let loose on the people, the foreign assistance of the Indian expansionists, the western imperialists, and the Soviet social imperialists were pressed into service. The Indian navy and helicopters, Russian MiG jets and Anglo-American arms and ammunition were used to hunt down and terrorize the people in an unprecedented manner. At one stage, there was even talk of calling in the US fleet. Anti-Korean and anti-Chinese provocations were resorted to. The staff of the North Korean embassy was packed off despite subsequent protestation about the non-involvement of any foreign forces. The Chinese News Agency’s office as well as the Bandaranaike Memorial Hall site, where the Chinese engineers and workers were putting up a Rs. 35 million project free was also raided by the police. Hundreds of books by Mao Tsetung and his pictures were confiscated, and in at least one case, the police made a bonfire of all Chinese literature.
It was only the correct diplomatic behavior of the Chinese and their generous aid (actually offered before the insurrection) that prevented the government sliding completely into the imperialist camp. But it is worthwhile to note that the Cabinet took one month to announce to the public the Chinese offer of a Rs. 150 million interest free loan.
Mrs. Bandaranaike has worked overtime to prove that the military aid she received from the imperialists and the Indian expansionists was the supreme justification of her government’s policy of non-alignment. In actual fact, it was nothing but blatant interference in the internal affairs of another country. In particular, the prompt action of the Indian navy in throwing a ‘protective’ ring round Ceylon sounded ominous for the future, and in the light of declared expansionist views in certain Indian quarters. If it is true that this government’s survival was due to foreign military assistance, then it can no longer lay claim to the title of a people’s government. Where were the people in the hour of need? Even if they did not actively side with the insurgents, why did they not rise in support of the government they elected?
One reason for the popular apathy was the unheard of brutalities that were inflicted on the people, guilty or innocent, by the police and the military. People were shot at sight, and arrested by the hundreds on mere suspicion or false complaint, women raped and young people subjected to unmentionable sadistic tortures that have left many crippled for life. It is only the existence of the state of emergency and full dictatorial powers granted to the armed forces that has so far saved them from the revenge of the people.
In many respects, the so-called insurgency was a god-send to the reactionary forces within and behind the government. They made wholesale arrests of any and every person who had been critical of the government or not supported it one hundred percent – irrespective of whether such a person was connected with the insurgency or not. In particular all revolutionary and potentially revolutionary forces felt the heavy hand of repression. Several leading members of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party as well as the leaders of the trade unions led by it were detained and continue to be so detained, despite the fact that the party had been the first political organization to expose the counter-revolutionary nature of the JVP long before the insurrection. Among those arrested was the general secretary of the Party. The Party’s headquarters was raided, its press willfully damaged, and several hundreds of Sinhala and Tamil translations of works by Comrade Mao Tsetung as well as other books removed and never returned. Thus, the reactionary forces hoped to silence the revolutionary movement once for all. Included among those arrested and detained were several prominent members of the SLFP, who however, were known to be pro-Chinese.
Also arrested was an LSSP MP [Note: this was Vasudeva Nanayakkara] and president of its Youth League on charges of being suspected of being a member of the JVP. The failure of the LSSP, the second biggest partner in the United Front government, to obtain his release, will go down as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of LSSP. In contrast was the way in which Mr. J.R. Jayewardene got his son released within four hours of his arrest on similar grounds. This was a shrewd investment for the government, because it effectively shut the mouth of Mr. Jayewardene, Leader of the Opposition, on all fundamental matters concerned with the emergency and the detenues. But it also showed the class bias of this government. After all, the Jayawardenes and the Bandaranaikes belong to the same class!
Apart from these, over 15,000 people, mainly the youth, were arrested and are being kept detained without trial for being suspect of having been connected with the JVP. Several thousands surrendered on a solemn promise of an amnesty by the prime minister. But they too, are being kept in continuous detention. It took Egypt and Pakistan, which were faced with a much bigger political upheaval, to sort out matters, bring the ring-leaders to trial, release the rest, and remove the state of emergency and lift press censorship in a much shorter period. But in our little Ceylon, the investigations are going on at a snail’s pace – if they are going on at all.
One aspect of these arrests that cannot escape comment is the fact that not a single Trotskyite was arrested, despite the fact that Ceylon boasts of a number of Trotskyite groups, and that the leaders of some of these groups had appeared on common platforms with the JVP and were quite close to it. That is another mystery, which we cannot unravel.
But it is in the economic front that the government took hold of the opportunity with both hands to introduce anti-popular measures, which even previous UNP governments had not dared to do. Taking shelter under the bayonets pointed at a helpless people, who had been denied the right of assembly, speech or strike or any other form of protest, the government proceeded to fulfill almost all the conditions laid down by the American-dominated World Bank before it would grant Ceylon a loan. Bus and train fares, postal and telephone rates, electricity charges, were all upped. The prices of bread, sugar, milk, petrol, cigarettes, were increased. The rice subsidy was slashed, while a charge was made for the health services, which were hitherto free. The cost of living soared still higher. The UNP’s supporters greeted this year’s budget by the LSSP’s Dr. N.M.Perera with lighting of crackers!
Accompanying the heaping of all these huge burdens on the people was the terrific increase of expenditure on behalf of the armed forces. This island of peace, the repository of the pure doctrine of nonviolence preached by Lord Buddha is to increase the strength of the armed forces and the police by 25% during the current year. The total Army vote in the 1971 budget has gone up from Rs. 81,069,093 to Rs. 151,779,255. The Navy vote has gone up from Rs. 23,778,540 to Rs. 36,601,880. The vote for purchase of arms and ammunition and stores have gone up from Rs. 1,490,000 to Rs. 4,800,000. Ceylon is well on the way to becoming a police state.
The conditions are all being laid for Ceylon to be the beneficiary of neo-colonial aid from the World Bank, which will still further tie our economy to the chariot wheels of foreign imperialism. The United Front government has proved that, no matter whether Rama rules or Ravana rules, so long as the present economic set up continues unbroken, the system of imperialist, feudalist and capitalist exploitation will continue uninterrupted.
The masses are now being told that socialism means greater discipline and hard work. This is bunkum. Socialism means the abolition of capitalism, and this is precisely what Messers Bandaranaike, N.M. Perera and Pieter Keuneman have not done and never intend to do. Hard work has to be a common factor for both capitalism and socialism. Under capitalism, the results of the back-breaking toil of the workers goes to enrich the capitalist and landlord. Under socialism, the benefit of hard work should accrue to the workers and peasants. No amount of dishonest sophistry by men with double doctorates can hide this simple truth.
The net result is that the outbreak of the insurgency has given a god-sent opportunity to the government and the reactionaries behind it to impose a virtual military dictatorship over the people, and, under cover of it, introduce all the unpopular economic measures to prop up the existing imperialist-feudal-big bourgeois economic system of exploitation, which is making the rich richer and the poor poorer.
A.C. Alles: Insurgency-1971 (An Account of the April Insurrection in Sri Lanka), 3rd ed., printed at Colombo Apothecaries Co., Colombo, 1979. (1st edition published in 1976).