Leon Trotsky
Historical and International Foundations of the Socialist Equality Party (Sri Lanka)

The United Socialist States of Sri Lanka and Tamil Eelam

25-1. In November 1987, the ICFI published a comprehensive statement entitled “The Situation in Sri Lanka and the Political Tasks of the Revolutionary Communist League” that for the first time raised the slogan of a United Socialist States of Sri Lanka and Tamil Eelam. The statement, based on the Theory of Permanent Revolution, unambiguously insisted that the democratic rights of Tamils would only be realised through the struggle of the working class for socialism. In other words, national self-determination, like other democratic tasks, could not be resolved by bourgeois and petty-bourgeois movements no matter how courageous or militant. The slogan clearly demarcated the RCL’s orientation in fighting to mobilise the working class—Sinhala and Tamil—to defend basic democratic rights through the struggle for socialism from any tendency to reduce the party to the role of cheerleader and political adviser to the Tamil national movement—as the WRP had done.

25-2. As the ICFI statement explained, none of the so-called independent states established after World War II had met the democratic aspirations or basic material needs of the masses. “Invariably, imperialist-sanctioned ‘independence’ has meant the setting up of bastard states whose very foundations have been built upon a fatal compromise of democratic principles. In this process, the national bourgeoisie has functioned not as the liberator of the oppressed masses, but as a junior partner in imperialist plunder. The type of state created in this process has been nothing more than a prison ground for putrefying capitalism, upon which the progressive development of the productive forces has been impossible ... Arising out of such conditions, with the joyous approval of the bourgeoisie, are the horrors of intercommunal warfare. This state of affairs cannot be altered as long as bourgeois rule prevails. The post-independence history of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Burma—in fact, of every former colonial country in the world—decisively proves that the bourgeoisie cannot establish genuine national unification and political independence.”[1]

25-3. Consequently, these bourgeois democratic tasks fall to the proletariat. While upholding the right to self-determination, the ICFI statement insisted that national self-determination could only be achieved through the strategy of socialist revolution and was therefore subordinate to it. “It [the working class] is the only social force that can realise the right of nations to self-determination. However, it does this not as an appendage to the national bourgeoisie, but rather as its implacable enemy. It fights for self-determination with its own weapons and on the basis of its own program, rallying behind it all the oppressed masses of the villages and countryside. Self-determination is achieved as a by-product of the socialist revolution led by the proletariat which, having established its dictatorship, guarantees to all oppressed people their legitimate democratic rights. As the framework for the genuine equality of nations, it proposes the creation of a voluntarily united socialist federation. While believing that the voluntary amalgamation of all oppressed nations offers the best opportunity for economic and cultural progress, the proletarian dictatorship pledges that those nations which wish to secede shall have the right to do so. This is the essential content of the program advanced by the Revolutionary Communist League for a United Socialist States of Tamil Eelam and Sri Lanka.”[2]

25-4. The ICFI statement also began the process of reassessing the character of the various national liberation movements in the light of the LTTE’s political capitulation to the Indian bourgeoisie. In contrast to the broad anti-colonial movements before and after World War II that drew in the masses across ethnicity, language, religion and caste, organisations such as the LTTE were based on national exclusivity. This, as Lenin had warned, was the outlook of the national bourgeoisie which conceived self-determination solely in terms of establishing its own national privileges and the conditions for the exploitation of workers and peasants within its own “independent” state. In the case of the LTTE, its program for an independent Eelam was drawn directly from the bourgeois TULF that represented the meagre aims of the Tamil bourgeoisie in Sri Lanka, which had no perspective either for the hundreds of thousands of Tamil plantation workers in the centre of the island or for the Tamil masses across the Palk Strait in southern India.

25-5. An RCL statement cited in the document explained: “[N]ational liberation cannot be achieved through a movement based on national exclusivism and aimed to win one’s own rights only. In our epoch, such a movement will find itself isolated among capitalist nations, whatever the strength of the mass movement it may generate. A liberation movement of a particular oppressed nation can go forward only as part and parcel of a movement fighting fully and unreservedly for democracy. National exclusivism prevents the national liberation struggle of an oppressed nation from becoming part of such a movement. This is because, in the last analysis, national exclusivism is connected to the attempt made by the national bourgeoisie to exploit the workers and peasants in its own country. Herein lies the source from which flows the political impotence of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.”[3] The ICFI statement laid the basis for a wider consideration of the support of the Marxist movement for the right of nations to self-determination.

25-6. Shortly after the statement’s publication, Keerthi Balasuriya died suddenly and tragically on 18 December 1987 from a coronary thrombosis. He was just 39 years old and had devoted his entire adult life to the struggle for Trotskyism. At the age of 19, amid the political confusion generated by the LSSP’s betrayal, Balasuriya undertook the huge responsibility of leading the RCL and, in so doing, reknitting the ties of the Sri Lankan working class to the international Trotskyist movement. He and the RCL stood against the tide of middle-class radicalism and the cult of the “armed struggle” that animated movements such as the LTTE and JVP in the late 1960s and 1970s. He defended the Theory of Permanent Revolution when it came under universal attack not only from the Stalinist parties and their various Pabloite apologists, but also from the WRP within the ICFI. In doing so, Balasuriya made an indelible contribution to the struggle for Trotskyism in Asia and internationally.

25-7. In his funeral oration, David North explained: “Comrade Keerthi was profoundly convinced of the scientific validity of the perspective for which Trotsky had fought. While the petty-bourgeois radicals were impressed by the ‘successes’ of Mao Tse-tung, Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro, Comrade Keerthi insisted that the political orientation of Marxists had to be to the proletariat as the sole consistently revolutionary force on the planet ... In the period immediately ahead, the workers, not only in Asia but throughout the world, will read and study the writings of Comrade Keerthi. And we are confident that it will not be the Mao Tse-tungs, Ho Chi Minhs and Castros that will be the teachers of the youth. Rather, it will be from Keerthi Balasuriya, the Revolutionary Communist League and the International Committee that the advanced elements among the workers and the youth will learn their revolutionary lessons.”[4]

25-8. Balasuriya’s untimely death was a major political blow to the RCL, to the ICFI and to the international working class. It came at a critical time when the process of clarifying and consolidating the RCL in the immediate aftermath of the split with the WRP renegades was still underway. It is testimony to Balasuriya and the principles for which he fought that the cadre he had been instrumental in training was capable of withstanding the loss, reconsolidating under the leadership of Wije Dias, and waging a consistent struggle for socialist internationalism under the difficult conditions of an escalating civil war.


Fourth International, Volume 15, No. 1, January–March 1988, pp. 20–21.


Ibid., p. 21.


Ibid., p. 20.


Ibid., pp. 9–10.