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

The Socialist Equality Party

31-1. The transformation of the RCL into the Socialist Equality Party (SEP) in 1996 flowed from the conclusions drawn by the ICFI about the transformation of all the old organisations of the working class. In conditions of the post-war stabilisation and economic expansion of capitalism, the various trade union, social democratic and Stalinist organisations had, within the framework of national economic regulation, been able to make limited immediate gains for the working class, while betraying its long-term historical interests. The IC sections had taken the form of leagues in recognition that the social democratic and Stalinist organisations still held the political allegiance of broad layers of socialist-minded workers, intellectuals and youth. The RCL’s demand that the LSSP and CP break from the SLFP and take the road to the formation of a workers’ and peasants’ government based on socialist policies was aimed at exposing these parties and winning the most advanced layers of the working class. However, the globalisation of production had destroyed any objective basis for national reformism and transformed the old organisations into direct agencies of the national bourgeoisie in slashing jobs, conditions and living standards in the never-ending race for “international competitiveness.” In no sense could these parties and trade unions any longer be considered organisations based on the working class or speaking in its name.

31-2. The LSSP and CP entered a third SLFP-led coalition government in 1994 under prime minister, later president, Chandrika Kumaratunga. The two parties had never recovered from the profound hostility in the working class generated by their participation in the Bandaranaike government of the 1970s. By the time they joined the People’s Alliance (PA), the LSSP and CP were hollow shells. No workers expected either party to fight for basic social reforms, let alone take up the revolutionary struggle for socialism. Any lingering illusions were quickly dispelled by the LSSP and CP’s support for Kumaratunga’s escalating war and attacks on basic democratic rights and living standards. They have subsequently functioned as virtual factions of the SLFP, rather than independent parties.

31-3. The NSSP, whose leaders never opposed the first two coalition governments, backed Kumaratunga’s election. One faction headed by Vasudeva Nanayakkara drew the logical conclusion from the NSSP’s program of class collaboration and joined the PA government. The NSSP and its offshoot, the United Socialist Party (USP), have remained as satellites of the Colombo establishment, entering into a series of increasingly grotesque political marriages. In the mid-1990s, as hostility to the PA government grew, the NSSP struck a deal with the JVP, whose gunmen had been killing its members just a decade previously. The JVP, which had been legalised by Kumaratunga, used the NSSP as a stepping stone to establishing a presence in the trade unions then broke off the alliance. Throughout their various political twists and turns, the NSSP and USP have maintained one constant: their visceral hostility to the SEP’s fight for the political independence of the working class.

31-4. The evolution of the trade unions in Sri Lanka paralleled that of the union apparatuses in the advanced capitalist countries. Under the impact of globalised production, the union bureaucracies abandoned the defence of even the most basic rights of the working class and have been transformed into direct agents of management. In the wake of the unions’ betrayals, particularly after the 1980 general strike, union membership plummeted. However, unlike their counterparts in the US and Europe, the unions in Sri Lanka, for the most part, lacked alternate sources of income and rapidly decayed. As the unions were federated by party affiliation, disgust with the old party leaderships compounded their precipitous decline.

31-5. The so-called plantation unions, in the first instance the Ceylon Workers’ Congress (CWC), form a special case. The CWC always functioned more as a paternalistic benevolent society than a trade union. It retained a significant membership and resources due to its control, with the support of management, over every aspect of life on the plantations—from housing, health care and schooling to marriages, funerals and religious celebrations. Using its members as a captive vote bank, CWC leaders entered parliament and bartered for ministerial positions and privileges. The various alternative unions such as the Up Country People’s Front (UPF) operated no differently. None of these organisations, which together act to suppress one of the most oppressed sections of the working class, commands any significant positive support among workers.

31-6. The establishment of the SEP was the pivotal first step in preparing for new movements of the working class. These movements will not take place through the old organisations, but in a revolt against them—a revolt that has to be politically prepared and organisationally led by the SEP. The Socialist Equality Party was adopted as the new name after extensive discussion in the International Committee to focus on the essential aim of socialism—to end social inequality—that had been obscured by decades of misuse of the term by Social Democracy, Stalinism and Pabloism. In its 1996 perspectives document, the SEP concluded: “The recognition of the changed relationship of the working class and the oppressed masses to all the old parties and bureaucracies demand that the sections of the International Committee assume the leadership of the impending revolutionary struggles of the masses.”