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Fourth International, October 1942


The Real Situation in Ceylon


From Fourth International, vol.3 No.10, October 1942, pp.301-303.
Transcribed, Edited & Formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for the ETOL.


The following article appeared in the June 10, 1942 issue of the English-language edition of the Samsamajist the organ of the Ceylon section of the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India.

The lying propaganda about Ceylon issued by the British and obligingly published by all the “democracies” is typified by an item in the September 13, 1942 issue of the New York Times: “Ceylon Eager to Fight” was the headline, and the story pictured “Ceylon” as “anxious to turn its defensive efforts into offensive efforts radiating from the island.” The item reported that “Ceylon” had sent 150,000 pounds to the “Send a Plane Fund” in England.

The Samasamajist must answer these British imperialist lies under illegal conditions, since the party and its Press have been outlawed by edict of the British Governor-General. The illegal party paper comes out in Ceylon in three languages: Sinhalese, the language of Ceylon; Tamil, the language of the South Indian plantation workers in Ceylon; and English. The latter edition is fortnightly, and the other two are weekly.

The fall of Singapore, Rangoon and Port Blair, the air raids on Colombo and Trincomalee, and the imminent westward drive that Japan is organizing in order to link up directly with her Axis partners, have thrust Ceylon into the international headlines. All the world is keen for information about this island. And British propaganda has hastened to assure the world that all is perfect in this imperialist garden.

If we are to believe their propagandists, this is a prosperous and democratically ruled country with a contented population among whom disloyalty is rare and fifth columnists unknown. Here, if we are to believe them, no ripple of resistance disturbs the even tenor of British rule, and everybody loves to be oppressed by profane Britishers and even to kiss the iron heel that grinds them down or rather, according to them, there is neither oppression nor iron heel, but only mutual cooperation arising from the people’s faith in British benevolence and the people’s belief in British justice. In a word, here imperialism has apparently changed its very nature and transformed itself into democracy and justice.

What a charming picture! And how charmingly untrue!

Ceylon is certainly rich in natural resources and grows products that are sold in the markets of the world. It has vast tea and rubber plantations which bring swollen profits and fat dividends to their owners. But who are the owners? Ninety per cent of the tea plantations and sixty per cent of the rubber plantations in Ceylon belong to the foreign imperialists who rule and exploit this island. And they certainly are prosperous.

But what of the masses? What of the army of workers who toil and sweat on these very plantations to produce these profits? They are among the most fiercely exploited workers in the world. Held in semi-slave conditions, they eke out a bare existence. The standard wage of a fully employed adult male on the plantations is about 70 cents (Ceylonese) [1] a day. Women of course receive far less.

What of the Colombo workers, who are supposed to be in somewhat better condition? Their average wage before the present crisis was about one rupee [2] a day. And how many got even that? According to official statistics, there were in Colombo over 40,000 registered unemployed in 1939: the actual number was much greater. Since the population of Colombo at the time was about 350,000, this signifies that at least every third adult in Colombo was unemployed!

Turn to the peasantry. What is the condition of these folk, who constitute the major section of the toiling masses in Ceylon? The word “prosperity” in relation to them is sheer blasphemy. The official Government rural surveys have shown that fully sixty per cent of the people in our countryside do not earn enough to get a regular two full meals a day. And fully twenty per cent go through life without even knowing what it is to have a decent full meal.

So much for the vaunted prosperity of Ceylon. What of the democracy alleged to prevail in it? The propagandists delight to point to the State Council as proof of its existence.

Of all the institutions in Ceylon the State Council is easily the biggest fraud. It is a painted screen behind which an autocratic Governor operates. Its Ministers are but puppets while the Governor pulls the strings. For the Governor has the power – and frequently exercises it – to legislate independently and against the will of the State Council. In fact, today, this country is openly ruled by Governor’s legislation without even the pretense of consulting the State Council. And none dare protest, as is shown by the failure of even a single Councillor to protest against the utterly inhuman conditions that have been imposed on political detenus. [3] More, the Governor has detained with impunity even two State Councillors and threatened publicly even a Minister.

Development of the Class Struggle

Finding the State Council to be useless as an instrument for bettering their condition, the workers have increasingly resorted to independent and direct action. The last few years have witnessed wave after wave of strikes in Ceylon up in the plantations. The long suffering workers rose at last and, with incredible tenacity in the face of rank brutality, fought time after time during a whole year and more for increased wages and for their right to form unions. The Government and the planters met them with police brutality and fascist thuggery. Workers were shot, maimed, beaten, dismissed in droves, imprisoned in crowds, and victimized by the thousand. But they fought on grimly and won grudging recognition of their unions.

Meantime the war had begun. There followed a sharp upward swing of prices and an increase in unemployment. Conditions became so intolerable, especially in the urban centers, that the workers were driven to use the strike weapon once more. In Colombo and its environs a wave of strikes spread from factory to factory and workplace to workplace. The Government promptly struck back with prosecutions under the Defense Regulations. But the wave rose higher and higher until it culminated in a widening series of strikes at that nerve center of imperialism, the Colombo Harbor, just about the time that the Japanese came into the war.

Taking advantage of the war situation, the Government struck fiercely at the workers. It banned strikes and illegalized even efforts at organized protest against working conditions. By sheer legal trickery and administrative bludgeoning, it emasculated the trade union movement in Ceylon.

Today the Government has gone further. It has conscripted labor under the guise of creating military units on the railways and in the Harbor. It has set up scab squads in the guise of the so-called Essential Services Labor Corps. It has illegalized strikes and even resistance to employer oppression as hampering the war effort. It has made trade union work impossible not only by such legislation, etc., but also by promptly arresting trade union organizers and militants. Trade union offices have been raided by the police, their documents seized and their occupants arrested, beaten up and tortured until trade unions had to close down from the sheer impossibility of carrying on with their work. There is no longer any freedom of speech, writing or organization; no hope of successful defense in the courts where terror-stricken magistrates hasten to convict workers on the flimsiest evidence, no possibility of public protest with even the State Council bullied into hushed acquiescence. An utterly fascist regime has come into being with a military dictator at the head. Admiral Layton has become the dictator of Ceylon.

The Revolutionary Movement

The battered and oppressed working class has met the ever tightening repression with an ever growing revolutionary movement directed against imperialism itself. As far back as 1935 this movement found organizational expression in the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, the only revolutionary party in Ceylon. This party is now a section of the revolutionary Fourth International, the only international organization which upholds the banner of proletarian revolution since the degenerate Comintern turned traitor to the working class.

The LSSP has led the workers in their political and economic struggles since its formation. In June 1940, four of its principal leaders were detained under the Defense Regulations, thus becoming the first political prisoners in Ceylon. At the same time, the party press was confiscated and many of its members jailed. The Government hoped thus to smash the party. But the party resolutely continued its work both legally and illegally, and with considerable success. Thereupon the Government banned the party and also struck at its ancillary organizations. The party promptly went underground and retaliated with even more militant activity, including the dramatic escape of its four imprisoned leaders in April. It has not been deterred by police raids and police brutality, by prosecution and frame-ups and the imposition of intolerably inhuman conditions on political prisoners drawn from its ranks. There can be no doubt that on the not distant date when the mass upsurge against imperialism comes in Ceylon, the LSSP will be at the head.

In that task the workers of Ceylon look for help to the British workers in uniform who have come to Ceylon. There are no fifth columnists among the Ceylon workers. They are not pro-Japanese but anti-imperialist. The only pro-Japanese fifth column elements in Ceylon are to be found among the native bourgeoisie, among the Kotalawalas and their ilk who tomorrow will lick the boots of the Japanese imperialists as cheerfully as they today lick the boots of their British imperialist master.

Among the British soldiers here are large numbers of Unionists and politicals. We ask them: Can you in the conditions in Ceylon believe you are fighting for democracy? Can you believe that claim when our working-class organizations are banned and our trade unions are smashed, when our leaders are imprisoned and our rank and file are prosecuted and persecuted, when we are denied the right of free speech, publication and organization, and when the very capitalist press is gagged and harnessed to the purposes of imperialist war and imperialist oppression? Can you not see that the British bosses have created in Ceylon only a bastion of fascism? Can you not see that only the workers, through , revolutionary action, can convert it into a veritable bastion of freedom?


1. About 20 cents American.

2. 32.5 cents American – Ed.

3. Political prisoners, arrested and held indefinitely without indictment or trial.

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Last updated on 13.9.2008