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

The RCL and the United Front

28-1. An acute economic and political crisis dominated Sri Lanka throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s. As fighting broke out in the North between the LTTE and the Indian army, mounting unrest among the working class and rural poor was derailed by a combination of state repression and the JVP’s chauvinist campaign against the Indo-Lankan Accord. JVP gunmen targeted politicians and parties that supported the Accord. The government imposed martial law in November 1988, mandating the death penalty for organising or participating in strikes or protests. The UNP’s Ranasinghe Premadasa—who had opposed the Accord—won the presidential election in December 1988 and immediately sought a deal with the JVP in order to stabilise bourgeois rule.

28-2. A de facto alliance between the UNP government and the JVP confronted the working class with state repression as well as the JVP’s fascistic attacks on anyone who opposed its orders to join its “strikes” to “defend the motherland.” The RCL was the only party to fight for the independent mobilisation of workers against both the Indo-Lankan Accord and the JVP’s chauvinist campaign. On this basis, the RCL won the leadership of the Central Bank Employees Union (CBEU) in June 1988. As a result of its stand, the RCL confronted police raids and arrests as well as JVP attacks. JVP thugs murdered RCL members R.A. Pitawela on November 12, 1988, P.H. Gunapala on December 23, 1988 and Gretian Geekiyanage on June 23, 1989.

28-3. In collaboration with its sister parties in the ICFI, the RCL initiated a campaign in November 1988 for a united front of all parties of the working class to take immediate concrete measures to defend workers and their organisations from state repression and JVP attacks. In a letter to working-class parties, the RCL called for a break from the parties of the Sri Lankan bourgeoisie—the UNP, SLFP and SLMP—and the mobilisation of “the class strength of the working class to defend basic democratic rights.” The RCL called for workers’ defence squads and action committees, joint picket lines and a general strike, and despite extremely difficult circumstances, campaigned vigorously for its demands in the working class. The ICFI’s international campaign for the United Front included an extensive tour of Australia and New Zealand by two RCL members in conjunction with the Australian SLL.

28-4. The call for a United Front in no way implied a political amnesty for the opportunist parties, which unanimously opposed it. Speaking for all of them, the NSSP denounced the United Front as “sectarian” and “ultra-left” for refusing to include the SLMP, which the NSSP falsely described as the “new proletarian reformist mass tendency”. The NSSP’s own “United Socialist Alliance” with the SLMP, the LSSP and CP was classic popular frontism, aimed at soliciting protection from the UNP government and state apparatus. In its reply, the RCL warned: “In the first place, it [the rejection of a united front] is an act which is absolutely hostile to the active organisation of practical measures by the working class against its class enemy. Second, it ties the working class to fronts formed on bourgeois programs, weakens and politically disarms it, and creates the opportunity for the class enemy to drown the working class and the poor peasants in a blood bath.” The “left” parties dropped any criticism of the government’s repressive measures and received arms in return, while hundreds of militant workers and trade unionists paid for this treachery with their lives.