The Leftist Movement and the Catholic community in
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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