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Sunday, 5 April 2009





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The Leftist Movement and the Catholic community in Sri Lanka:

LSSP goes underground during WW II

In 1940, when the World War II was in progress, the Board of Ministers in Sri Lanka decided to extend unconditional support to the British. They expected that such a move would make the matters easy for the country to gain independence. The LSSP however condemned the war as an imperial struggle and opposed vehemently for imposing burdens on people by supporting the war.

Kusuma Gunawardena Edmund Samarakkody Robert Gunawardena

In the meantime, the LSSP organised strike actions in the plantation sector and the planters in turn pressed the Government to take some stern action against the LSSP. In this background the colonial government decided to take the LSSP leaders into custody. Accordingly Philip, N.M. and Colvin R. De Silva were arrested on June 18, 1940 and on the following day Edmund Samarakkody was taken in. After a couple of days, they were taken to Kandy with police escort and kept under detention in a house in King's Street under the custody of prison officers.

The second rank leaders of the LSSP organised various types of protests against this action. On June 23, 1940 Reggie Perera, Terrence N. de Silva, Boyed Wickremasinghe, Selina Perera, Dharmawardena, Herman Appu and some others were arrested for holding a protest rallied defying the police ban. When the question of the detention of LSSP leaders was taken at the State Council, not even a few friends of the LSSP questioned its propriety.

After the expulsion of Communist, LSSP was re-organised with a Trotskyite outlook. Earlier anyone who accepted the party manifesto and paid the subscription of 25 cents could become a member of the LSSP. Now you had to be a candidate for some time and membership had to be sanctioned. This was both a safety measure for a proscribed underground party and a necessity for an organisation with a revolutionary agenda.

Peace treaty

Although Hitler of Germany had a peace treaty with Stalin of Russia when German forces marched forward with victories in Europe and in spite of the peace treaty, Hitler sent a battalion to invade Soviet Russia as well. As a result, Stalin entered into an agreement with the allied powers, Britain and America. The Communist parties in other countries followed suit and supported the allied powers, Britain, America and Russia. The Communists in Sri Lanka too joined hands with the National Congress and extended support to the war efforts of the colonial government.

In the meantime, the leaders of the LSSP like Robert Gunawardena, P.H. William de Silva and Anthony Pillai maintained the continuity of the party despite many obstacles. They formed trade unions in both the public and private sector and even organised strikes in palaces like Colombo Port's granaries and the gas works. They also managed to print the LSSP journal `Samasamajaya' in an underground press and managed to circulate it.

When the Japanese bombed Colombo on April 5, 1942, there was confusion in the country. The LSSP leaders took advantage of the situation and with the assistance of jailor Solomon, broke out of the Bogambara Prisons and Philip, N.M., Colvin and Edmund Samarakkody escaped. The colonial government got infuriated. It proscribed the LSSP and issued warrants to arrest other leaders as well.

Now the LSSP began to function as a secret underground organisation. The LSSP journals were printed on the sly in a secret press at Eheliyagoda. Henry Peiris functioned as the editor of Samasamajaya and Soloman looked after Samadharmam. Although the LSSP leaders managed to avoid being arrested for about three months, they realised that it would be dangerous to remain further in Sri Lanka and decided to flee to India.

Besides, in India, the anti-imperial struggle was more powerful than in Sri Lanka. The LSSP leaders also had an idea to participate in the struggle in India, at the back of their mind. Philip, Colvin and Anthony Pillai were among the first batch who fled to India. N.M., Robert and Lionel Cooray belonged to the second batch. Others including Kusuma Gunawardena escaped to India at intervals. The eldest son of Philip and Kusuma was born in India and they named him as `Indika'.


Most of the LSSPers who fled to India lived in Bombay and others took up residence in Madras. They lived in disguise with assumed names. Philip was Gurusamy. N.M. - Vishwanath, Colvin-Govinden and Leslie-Tilak.

At this time in a letter sent by Trotsky to Selina Perera, he had expressed that a revolution in India would be more appropriate than that in Sri Lanka. Accordingly Colvin, Leslie and Doric de Souza took up the position that if the national struggle in India could be converted into a revolution, Sri Lanka could follow suit. They propounded that the LSSP should be the Sri Lanka section of the Bolshevik Lennist Party of India. Philip's opinion was different. He held that instead of forming such an ambitious party, they should collaborate with other revolutionary organisations in India.

However, the majority opinion prevailed and in India they formed a new organisation called 'Bolshevik Lennist Party of India, Ceylon and Burma. This party was confined mostly to the Sri Lankans in India.

When the Police in Sri Lanka realised that the LSSP leaders had fled to India, it obtained open warrants against them. A special CID team was also despatched to India for their arrest. Within a short time, Philip, N.M., Robert and Kusuma were apprehended.

However those who later formed a different party called the `Bolshevik Lennist Party of India' managed to escape the arrest.The LSSPers were able to evade arrest in a small country like Sri Lanka.

It was a matter of surprise as to how leaders like Philip, N.M., Robert and Kusuma were arrested so quickly in a large country like India and later it was put down to someone who had gone to India was who may have been a police informant.

Philip,N.M., Robert and Kusuma were subsequently brought back to Sri Lanka. Later, Philip and N.M. were sentenced to six months rigorous imprisonment for braking out of the Bogambara jail.

When the World War II ended in 1945, the LSSP leaders were unconditionally released and the proscription of the party was lifted. Although from 1940 to 1945, the party activists outside the jail managed to maintain the continuity of the LSSP, there was a setback. Since 1942, the trade union movement of the party was not that effective. During the war days the Communist Party was not a banned organisation and it could make a headway in the trade union movement.During the World War II (1939-45), the LSSP branch in Negombo played a prominent role in the underground activities of the party. As the police would least suspect underground activity of the LSSP in a Catholic stronghold like Negombo, some of the secret party conferences were held in Negombo.

LSSP literature

They were organised by Santiago Fernando and Dr. Hector Fernando. Santiago Fernando acted as the Secretary at all those conferences.Santiago Fernando produced the LSSP literature hiding than in a house at Dehiowita. Once in a train at Hatton, he was distributing a bundle of anti-imperialist literature and the police was hot on his trail. He crossed over to the next compartment, pretended to help the police to find the culprit and escaped.

When the Governor Andrew Caldecott paid an official visit to negombo, the LSSP carders plastered the walls in Negombo with hammer and sickle symbol and anti-imperialist slogans. When there was an army battalion close by the LSSP branch organised an anti-imperialist rally at the Negombo esplanade and it was indeed a surprise to all.

According to Emergency War Regulations, organising a strike was an offence punishable with 7 years rigorous imprisonment. Nevertheless the LSSP organised a strike by minor employees of the Negombo U.C. and won their demands. At a later inquiry against Santiago Fernando who was a member of the Negombo U.C., the workers stated that it was their belly that prompted them to strike and saved his skin.

During the war some traders in Negombo hid their goods and jacked up the prices. The LSSP branch in Negombo organised protest rallies against it and persuaded the government officials and co-operative societies to distribute goods at the controlled price.

The LSSP cadres also assisted authorities to apprehend the traders who had sold goods at exorbitant prices and prosecute them.For some time Philip and N.M. were incarcerated in the Negombo Prison. The LSSPers in Negombo visited them often and received their instructions to be conveyed to the LSSP cadres outside. They also made available the necessary facilities that could be provided to them.In 1945, when the LSSP leaders were released from prison, the mammoth rally organised by the LSSP branch to welcome them was an event hitherto unprecedented in Negombo!


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