Contrary to what the press tried to make out, that ‘the death of Edmund Samarakkody brought to an irrevocable close the first generation and age of revolutionary politics in Sri Lanka’, this is not so. Edmund left behind three contemporaries of the early period.
The first is Vernon Gunasekera, the first Secretary of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, who is a practising lawyer in Kandy, and a part time contributor to the popular press. The second was Jack Kotelawela, who has since died, who succeeded Gunasekera as party Secretary. He was formerly the LSSP MP for Badulla, and was a practising lawyer, and latterly a member of the SLMP, a petit-bourgeois outfit that recently split from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. The third is MJ Mendis, a Stalinist. Jack, as he was popularly known, was a contemporary of Edmund in law school, and was good enough to provide me with details of the early period. Edmund does not appear to have been a founder member of the LSSP when it was formed in 1935, but joined it a short time thereafter.
When Edmund had completed his law studies, he went into the plantation sector, and was living and working in Badulla. Plantation workers were not unionised in any great way at that time. Certain regional unions existed, and the LSSP set about the task of attempting to unionise and unite the plantation workers. Whilst he was in Badulla, Edmund played an important and militant role, but he did not remain there for long. He was replaced by Jack Kotelawela, and came to Colombo, where he continued his political work. He was a member of the T Group within the LSSP.
The LSSP at that time was a broad organisation with an anti-imperialist perspective. The T Group was composed of Trotskyists, and was responsible for the expulsion of the Stalinists and the adoption of a new party programme. The activities of the LSSP in the working class and the anti-war movement during the Second World War very soon attracted the weight of the imperialist administration and its war machine.
In June 1940 Edmund was arrested, together with Philip Gunewardena, NM Perera and Colvin R de Silva. Leslie Goonewardene was also sought, but evaded arrest. After being arrested they were incarcerated in a military barracks, but after converting some of their jailors to their point of view, they effected a dramatic escape, and, except for Edmund, were smuggled out of the country to India, where they organised the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India and Ceylon. Edmund, who was experiencing health problems, stayed behind. He was arrested in 1944, charged and convicted.
The party split in 1945 to form the LSSP and the Bolshevik-Leninist Party. In 1947 Edmund was chosen to contest for the BLPI the seat of DS Senanayake, the first Prime Minister of Ceylon. Although he did not win, he won a good vote.
The LSSP and BLPI held a unity conference in 1951, elected a new Central Committee, and functioned as a single party under the name of the LSSP. Edmund remained as a Central Committee member from then until the party split in 1964. In 1952 he became the MP for the Dehiowita Parliamentary Constituency. At one point he was Chairman of the Municipal Council of Dehiwela-Mount Lavinia. He was a member of many party bodies, including the Trade Union Bureau.
Edmund’s political life was composed of two distinct periods. The first coincides with the rise of the LSSP, a militant period when Edmund was in the forefront of most struggles.
In 1952 the Sri Lanka Freedom Party came into existence under the leadership of SWRD Bandaranaike. It was an alternative bourgeois party with a nationalist slant. It was different from the United National Party from which it emerged. The UNP was composed of compradors who leaned heavily on the imperialists, and were satisfied with the crumbs that fell their way, continuing to maintain the economic and social status quo with themselves in charge of the administration on behalf of the imperialists.
The SLFP, with its nationalist slant, set about mobilising new social layers behind it, particularly the vast petit-bourgeois strata. The LSSP leadership looked upon this new development as a threat, particularly to its parliamentary position, and from the mid-1950s it began modifying its political positions accordingly.
Opposition to this trend began to crystallise within the LSSP, particularly within the Central Committee. Edmund, as the most senior party member in opposition, would have been the natural leader of any move against this trend. But no attempt was made to form a united faction of the opposition.
In 1957-58 a campaign around the famous 21 Demands was organised in the working class. The response was tremendous, and virtually every section of the working class that mattered was included in this campaign. At the height of the campaign, the LSSP leadership, particularly NM Perera, subject to various pressures, such as from the Stalinist People’s Front, caved in and made approaches to the SLFP, abandoning the rising tide of the working class. Matters came to a head when Perera’s group moved towards accepting office in the SLFP government in 1964.
In the run-up to the party conference to decide this question, the writer himself was present at a discussion when a specific proposal was made to form a faction to fight at the conference against the proposals to join the SLFP government. Edmund’s reaction, once more, was negative. At that time no reasons for his attitude were apparent, but later events seem to provide an explanation. When the split in the LSSP occurred, no preparations of any kind had been made by the group as a whole.
Immediately after the split, Edmund, as the most senior LSSPer, was the natural choice for the Secretary of the new party, the LSSP (Revolutionary). A Central Committee and party bureaux were elected. It very soon became apparent that Edmund was leading a secret faction. Edmund’s faction was composed of Dharmasena, Mallawarachi, Merril Fernando and others. This did not auger well for the new organisation, and it soon became clear that this faction always met and arrived at party meetings with decisions already made. At this time, the United Secretariat of the Fourth International was treated as the holy of holies, and Edmund and his faction would brook no criticism of it.
Immediately after the split I proposed that the question of the affiliation of the new party to the USFI be put off until a complete and thorough discussion of past relations between the LSSP and the USFI was carried out. I was immediately dubbed a ‘Healyite’, and the matter was dismissed.
Matters were bound to come to a head, and things became unworkable with the party being deadlocked on numerous occasions. In the meantime, there was a vote in parliament, where in fact it was the votes of the two LSSP(R) MPs which tipped the scales and defeated the SLFP-LSSP-CP government.
In the pamphlet Senile Leftism Karalasingham says:
‘Twenty-four hours before 3 December 1964, comrade Edmund Samarakkody brought forward the startling proposal that the LSSP(R) support the amendment that stood in the name of five right wing opposition parties that now constitute the so-called National Government.
‘An attempt to make a snap decision on the night of 2 December was warded off, and on the morning of the 3rd the POB [Political Organisational Bureau] finally by a majority vote defeated the proposal to support the amendment of the comprador parties. But Edmund Samarakkody was the last person to be deterred by so trifling a matter as a POB decision, neither was the comprador right lacking in ingenuity...
‘And at 5pm, witnessed by Edmund Samarakkody himself, 13 members of the diehard right of the SLFP crossed the floor of the House of Parliament and joined the UNP, having proclaimed the bourgeois shibboleth that they wanted to “live as free men”. A few hours later, without so much as batting an eyelid, Edmund Samarakkody hurled himself into the reactionary cesspool, that is to say, voted with the “Black Hundreds”.’
This fatal step closed the door to any attempts by the LSSP(R) to make political advances to those in the ranks of the LSSP who were sympathetic to those who opposed the decision to join a coalition government. This vote also antagonised large sections of the anti-right, anti-UNP masses who supported the coalition government, particularly sections of the working class, who thereafter turned their backs on the LSSP(R), which was then doomed to isolation.