In defence of SEP: The call to build on historical lessons of the Trotskyist movement for intra-party democracy

By Nihal Gikianage for SEP-SL Left Faction

Revolutionary Handbooks

The letter posted below was sent on October 28, 2022 by the comrades of the Left Faction of Sri Lanka Socialist Equality Party (SEP), Chilaw branch, to its General Secretary Deepal Jayasekara, to defend the party from the anti-democratic and conspiratorial activities of the party leadership.  Such efforts by the members were frowned upon by the party bureaucracy and led to the party leadership’s disastrous decision that there was no other option but to expel a large number of comrades.  It should be noted that the first time even the party members were reading this letter was when this was published originally in Sinhala language here on August 7, 2023.  Dozens of letters sent by the SEP-SL left faction to the party leadership were thrown into the dustbin without any discussion within the membership.


Deepal Jayasekara, 

General Secretary, Socialist Equality Party- Sri Lanka.

Dear Comrade,

Three months have passed since the membership of comrades Nandana, Sanjay and Ananda Wakkumbura has been suspended, but up to date no political issue has been raised regarding these three.

There must be political reasons for a dispute in the revolutionary party. They must be irreconcilable class antagonisms, not mere ‘reasons’. We categorically state in all seriousness that you have no such reasons to offer.

We are engaged in a continuous struggle in our branch opposing the undemocratic suspension of the party membership of these comrades. The branch leadership says that raising this issue itself is against the centralism of the party. Establishing centralism against democracy is the practice of the party regime. As against this, every effort made to examine the historical experience of the world Marxist movement was opposed by the party regime including the branch leadership. It is a sign that the political health of the party has deteriorated.

In analyzing the issues that arise within the party, the policy based on dialectical materialism is to call upon the historical wisdom of our movement. But it is difficult to get the majority of the membership towards this approach. Even under these circumstances, we the undersigned, Wijesinghe, Punyawardena and Nihal in the Chilaw branch are fighting without let up against this anti-democratic action taken by the party.

Engaging in political struggle or trying to develop discussions for political clarity are the real reasons for suspending the membership of these comrades. The leadership has worked to carry out their actions without facing serious opposition in the party membership although they were done without any discussion with the three comrades and without giving them an opportunity to present the facts. This was achieved by a campaign of lies and accusations against these comrades. For example, the propaganda that they have rejected the party’s invitations to negotiate. Another one is the propaganda that comrade Nandana chases away those who come to join the party saying they are police spies.

Nihal raised this question in his intervention at the members’ meeting last attended by Comrade Wijay in last July.

He quoted this passage taken from the Declination of the Bolshevik Party from Trotsky’s brilliant work “Revolution Betrayed” ” The inner regime of the Bolshevik party was characterized by the method of democratic centralism. The combination of these two concepts, democracy and centralism, is not in the least contradictory. The party took watchful care not only that its boundaries should always be strictly defined, but also that all those who entered these boundaries should enjoy the actual right to define the direction of the party policy.

Freedom of criticism and intellectual struggle was an irrevocable content of the party democracy. The present doctrine that Bolshevism does not tolerate factions is a myth of epoch decline. In reality the history of Bolshevism is a history of the struggle of factions. And, indeed, how could a genuinely revolutionary organization, setting itself the task of overthrowing the world and uniting under its banner the most audacious iconoclasts, fighters and insurgents, live and develop without intellectual conflicts, without groupings and temporary factional formations? The farsightedness of the Bolshevik leadership often made it possible to soften conflicts and shorten the duration of factional struggle, but no more than that. The Central Committee relied upon this seething democratic support. From this it derived the audacity to make decisions and give orders. The obvious correctness of the leadership at all critical stages gave it that high authority which is the priceless moral capital of centralism.” (Chapter 2: The Degeneration of the Bolshevik Party; 2nd Paragraph – Revolution Betrayed)

After this long quote, he asked Comrade Wijay to re-assess the decision taken against these comrades who are well experienced and very close to the International Committee, placing it in this context.

Taking this struggle forward when Comrade Nihal raised the question about these comrades in the Chilaw branch, Comrade Quintin threateningly requested the local secretary Kapila to call for a vote and throw him out, Kapila said that he would not hesitate to do so.

It was the Ratnasiri leadership of the Ambalangoda branch who first conducted this vote taking. Comrade Nandana accused the party leadership of using gimmicks during the recent party congress. He requested a discussion about the congress to solve these problems. Solely on this matter, when three members of the committee including Nandana were absent, Ratnasiri the local secretary, a member of the party’s political committee, confirmed the allegation by Nandana’s that the party leadership is resorting to gimmicks, by calling for a vote and banning Nandana’s membership. The political committee suspended his membership without any discussion.

We allege that there are threats to implement the same policy in other branches in which, there are members fighting for the suspended comrades. ie. Ambalangoda, Kandy, Kolonnawa and Chilaw.

In the Chilaw branch we continuously fought to consider these questions based on the historical knowledge of our own Trotskyist movement. But the branch leadership always declared that this is a petty bourgeois tendency and will be purged from the party. The party has not made any political explanation up to date of this so-called petty bourgeois tendency. Even if we accept that this is such a tendency for a moment, we cannot agree to the behavior of the leadership at all.

Comrade Nihal brought forth an example from Trotsky’s ” In Defense of Marxism” to inform the branch members about how the Trotskyist movement fought with petty bourgeois tendencies. This was not regarding a bogus charge of ‘petty bourgeois tendency’ that is thrust upon on Nandana, Wakkumbura and Sanjay by the leadership, but of an actual petty bourgeois tendency that arose in the Socialist Workers Party in 1939. “The following question can be posed: If the opposition is a petty-bourgeois tendency does that signify further unity is impossible? Then how reconcile the petty-bourgeois tendency with the proletarian? To pose the question like this means to judge one-sidedly, undialectically and thus falsely. In the present discussion the opposition has clearly manifested its petty-bourgeois features. But this does not mean that the opposition has no other features. The majority of the members of the opposition are doubly devoted to the cause of the proletariat and are capable of learning. Tied today to a petty-bourgeois milieu they can tomorrow tie themselves to the proletariat. The inconsistent ones, under the influence of experience, can become more consistent. When the party embraces thousands of workers even the professional factionalists can re-educate themselves in the spirit of proletarian discipline. It is necessary to give them time for this. That is why comrade Cannon’s proposal to keep the discussion free from any threats of split, expulsions, etc., was absolutely correct and in place.”


Trotsky’s attitude towards the Burnham, Shatman and Abern group, which clearly showed petty bourgeois characteristics in the Trotskyist movement, is clear.

Moreover, let us consider by a short excerpt, how Comrade North used Trotsky’s explanations in ‘In defense of Marxism’ in the work, ‘how did the Workers Revolutionary Party betray Trotskyism’, in his struggle. “To make matters worse, the political differences raised by Thornett, to the extent that they had been developed in the autumn of 1974, had not reached the level at which a split could be justified in front of the working class. It was not sufficient for Healy and Banda to have a hunch, no matter how astute, that Thornett was functioning as an agent of the OCI. In 1940 Trotsky had warned Cannon not to take premature organizational measures against the minority, insisting that “you must act not only on the basis of your subjective appreciations, as correct as they may be, but on the basis of objective facts available to everyone” And he cautioned that organizational impatience “is not infrequently connected with theoretical indifference.” (In Defense of Marxism, New Park, p. 198)

( )

It is clear that the party has resorted to a policy of those who turned their backs to Trotskyism instead that of Trotskyism. It is a matter that needs to be examined. We are working on it and we think the party leadership will consider it seriously.

For that, we suggest that the party leadership, including you, should re-assess this organizational step in this historical context.

Over the past period, the entire party revolved around secondary issues, and as a result, the party failed to anticipate the class struggle that started in Sri Lanka in April and is still going on, and to make a successful intervention in it. In order to cut through the party’s past political setbacks and make a revolutionary intervention in the class struggle implementing the perspective of developing Action Committees and proceeding towards a congress of Action Committees in keeping with the perspectives of the International Committee, the internal problems of the party must first be resolved. This is because the International Committee has very clearly and brilliantly identified that this decade as the decade of revolutions and wars, and identified this as a unique period for the world Trotskyist movement. The political setback of our party is taking place in this context.

The leadership did not undertake the task of understanding the idea of building Action committees through a serious discussion within the cadre. In a discussion about action committees in the Chilaw branch, we presented a quote from Trotsky’s ‘Death agony of Capitalism’. ” Soviets are not limited to an a priori party program. They throw open their doors to all the exploited. Through these doors pass representatives of all strata, drawn into the general current of the struggle. The organization, broadening out together with the movement, is renewed again and again in its womb. All political currents of the proletariat can struggle for leadership of the soviets on the basis of the widest democracy. The slogan of soviets, therefore, crowns the program of transitional demands.” (The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International; Chapter 14 – The Soviets – Paragraph 3) On these occasions, the branch secretary Comrade Kapila said, “We are not building them so that each and every person could walk through these doors.” This exposes the party leadership’s idea about working committees.

These differences of opinion call for a genuine democratic discussion to consider the responsibilities our party in facing the current class struggle.

In the book “The Russian Revolution and the Unfinished Twentieth Century”, Comrade Noth’s explanation about internal party democracy, ” The importance of inner-party democracy was not simply one of abstract principle, nor was its practical significance limited to its direct impact on the field of economic policy. What was ultimately at stake in the struggle waged by Trotsky in defense of Soviet democracy was the fate of the entire heritage of socialist culture and revolutionary thought as it had developed in the international workers movement over the previous century. The bureaucracy dealt with Marxism as it did with Lenin’s corpse: it was mummified and made the object of ritualistic and semimystical incantations. After 1927 Marxism, for all intents and purposes, ceased to play any role whatsoever in the formulation of Soviet policy. The defeat of the Opposition sounded the death knell for the development of critical thought in virtually every sphere of intellectual and cultural activity.”

( )

Drawing your attention to the points we explained in this letter, the suspension of the party membership of the three comrades should be removed, and this discussion should be resolved within the party. If there is a reason for not doing so, please explain. 


Nihal Geekianage, 


K. Wijesinghe 


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top