|Sunday, 10 October 2004|
Premalal Kumarasiri - dedicated Communist
by M. P. Muttiah
Sri Lanka has lost yet another anti-imperialist, working class, progressive - Premalal Kumarasiri. A staunch fighter for the rights of the down-trodden, he dedicated his life for the communist and working class movement of this country for more than a quarter century.
Premalal Kumarasiri was born in a poor family in Baddegama electorate and received his education at Richmond College, Galle and later at Ananda College, Colombo. The influence of P De S. Kularatne turned him towards the nationalist movement. In the late 1930s most of the Left leaders were sent to jail and the movement was banned in Sri Lanka by the colonial rulers.
Recalling those days, Premalal in an interview has said that it was a "thrill" to sell 'Samasamajaya", the party organ of the LSSP, under clandestine conditions. He became a member of the United Socialist Party that was formed in 1941, and later changed its name as the Ceylon Communist Party. Premalal became the editor of the Party organ Janasakthi.
In the 1947 General Elections to the First Parliament, Dr. S.A. Wickremasinghe, Communist Party leader, was debarred from contesting since he had spoken of anti-imperialism. He was jailed for two years and that made it illegal for him to contest. Therefore, young Premalal got the opportunity to contest Hakmana electorate in Matara District, the organiser of which was none other than Dr. Wickremasinghe.
Premalal was only 27 when he entered Parliament with Harry Abeygoonawardene, Wilson Wickremasinghe, Lakshman Rajapakse and Pieter Keuneman. Lakshman was the youngest and Premalal was among the young MPs in that Parliament.
Winning Hakamana seat was not an easy task for him. He fought with UNP giants C.A. Dharmapala (who came second with 6,152 votes), P.A. Wickramasuriya (5,056 votes) and A. F. Wijemanne (2,365 votes). Wijemanne became Justice Minister of the UNP government in later years.
Premlal faced death threats before and after elections. He had a direct threat from an influential candidate that he would be killed even after taking his oaths. But Premalal's support among the masses, especially the protection under the feathers of Dr. Wickremasinghe, saved the day.
As a Member of Parliament, he showed much interest in the trevails of poor peasants of this country. Speaking on Tenant Farmers in Parliament he said: "I do not believe that the proposals set out in this Motion will be satisfactory or adequate in order to meet all the demands of the peasantry. Until such time as those who till the land also own the land, I am proposing that they should have at least these two conditions satisfied.
I propose that there should be guarantee of security of tenure by legislation and that by legislation the share which tenant farmers get of the produce should be stipulated and that it should be an adequate share. .....Unless the interests of the peasants who are directly responsible for the production of food are protected, they will not be able to show good results.
Human beings who produce food must be first protected; their security must be first guaranteed. It is only then we can ask them to produce more food. .....Then there is a question of cash payments made to agricultural labour for the work they do. There are Wages Boards to cover almost all classes of workers in the country, but there are no Wages Boards covering agricultural labour working on paddy fields and producing other forms of food. Therefore, I ask that District Boards be set up in order that term of employment, especially wages, of these agricultural labourers, may be determined."
This was how Premalal spoke for the emancipation of the peasantry.
In an interview a few years ago Preamlal said that his first night after marriage was at the Party Office at Cotta Road. What he earned as an MP he gave it to the Party. He and his family lived in a small room given by the Party at its headquarters.
The division in the international communist and working class movement had its effect on constituent parties. The ideological differences that arose within the movement seriously eroded the unity of the working class and its international image. The Ceylon Communist Party too suffered the impact of the differences.
As a result, Premalal Kumarasiri was suspended from the membership in October 1963 by the Politburo of the Party. His response to this suspension indicates the calibre of Premalal as a staunch fighter for the emancipation of the working class.
Premalal wrote: "In reply to this letter , I am directed by my loyalty to the sacred proletarian movement for which I have dedicated myself and have already devoted 22 years of life, to state as follows:
"I am a founder member of the Party. Even before the Party was formed I was in the underground movement of the United Socialist Party during the War. I have to my credit 20 years and 10 months of devoted and unblemished service to the Party as a humble full time Party worker. I have been at various times a Vice-President, National Organiser and Treasurer and Acting General Secretary of the Party.
I have been the Editor of the Party organ for quite a long time. I have been a Member of the Central Committee of the Party and its Politburo continuously. Since the last National Congress of the Party, I have been a member of the Secretariat of the Central Committee.
"I have been at various times, General Secretary of the Ceylon Trade Union Federation, first secretary of the Lanka Motor Workers Union, first President of the Communist Youth Federation, Member of the Party CC's Organisational Bureau, peasant bureau, cultural bureau etc.
Since the last Party Congress I have been the Secretary of the Party's Educational Bureau in which capacity with many shortcomings which deserve justifiable criticism. I have done, may I say a fair amount of work to teach Marxism-Leninism including its philosophy of Dialectical and Historical Materialism to Sinhalese comrades. You have, though sometimes reluctantly, admitted the value of my theoretical contributions which you know saved the Party from a mess on many an occasion.
"I have represented the Party, as a delegate at the 1957 and 1960 Moscow Meetings of the international communist movement which fact helped me to understand the currents and under-currents in the international ideological dispute. I have participated in all mass campaigns and mass struggles of the Party whether they were trade union and peasant struggle in the Kandy and Kegalle districts and in the Southern Province or the famous harbour, tramway, tea and rubber strikes of yore in Colombo or the historic hartal of 1953 or whether they were campaigns for anti-imperialist demands, people's rights and a correct way forward."
Premalal wrote this letter exactly forty-one years ago. Premalal and several others left the Communist Party and formed another of their own with N. Shanmugadasan as the General Secretary. This Party, though it grew in strength had to face the consequences of April insurrection of 1971.
Since then Premalal Kumarasiri lived a secluded life, but believing in the victory of working class and the international communist movement. Premalal is no more, but his exemplary life will always be remembered.
Produced by Lake House