The Colombo Action Committee against State Repression and the Practice of Socialist Equality Party of Sri Lanka

By Nandana Nannetti.

On February 29, the Sinhala section of the World Socialist Web Site had published an article under the title, “Police claim one cannot be allowed to humiliate them through pamphlets, and pounce upon the Colombo Action Committee.” The relevant issue was the police raid to stop the CAC-led campaign against the suppression launched under the name of ‘Operation Justice’. The police charged CAC with “intentionally insulting with intent to provoke a breach of peace, and circulating false reports with intent to cause mutiny or an offence against the republic or public tranquility.”  The SEP letter has clearly expressed its opposition to the repression of the police, and has also raised the danger it poses to the public.

The prelude to the CAC campaign against the suppression operation called “Justice” was the police intimidation followed the arrest of Aruna Wijesuriya, son of CAC secretary and journalist Shanta Wijesuriya. Aruna Wijesooriya was arrested by the Kesbewa police, who later demanded and received a ransom of 10,000 rupees for his release. Another officer threatened to kill Shantha for lodging a complaint to the police regarding the whole incident. Shanta and his family then faced retaliation by the police. Shanta’s son was arrested and falsely accused of keeping the illicit drugs commonly called ice. His girlfriend, who went to visit him, was stripped and beaten within the police station for recording the conversation. 

On February 17, CAC issued the aforementioned statement, “Defeat the state terror campaign called ‘Mission of Justice’, unleashed against the people, including the oppressed youth”. “This attempt by the machine of state repression, posing as an agent of morality against immorality, is fraudulent, evil and despicable. It is a desperate attempt to suppress the opposition of the laboring oppressed people to the implementation of austerity measures as dictated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), hence imposing the crisis of the capitalist class rule on the shoulders of the oppressed masses,” it pointed out.

The campaign was expanded through pasting posters all over the area with the assistance of the Prisoner’s Rights Organization and local youth. The campaign invited people to join a picketing campaign at Kesbewa on February 27. On February 23, while CAC leaflets were being distributed, Shanta was summoned to the Piliyandala Police Station by the Superintendent of Police, Ratmalana saying that they would conduct an urgent investigation regarding the complaints of Shanta and his family. It was a naive attempt to stop the campaign. The next day, Comrade Punyawardena of CAC, who was distributing leaflets in Piliyandala town, was forcibly taken away in a three-wheeler under the direction of the same Superintendent of Police. The superintendent told Punyawardena that, he was sure that no wrongdoing of the type described in CAC statement had occurred in the Piliyandala and Kasbewa police stations.

CAC February 27 picket campaaign

Punyawardena was released after obtaining a statement. Meanwhile, CAC distributed more than 2,000 leaflets in the city and the public was informed against the action of the police. At the same time, the head of the criminal division of the Piliyandala Police warned Shantha to not to oppose the police and the operation of justice, because an investigation is underway into the incident. But that evening (24th), Kasbewa police obtained a search warrant from the court and raided Shanta’s house and seized about 500 CAC leaflets and materials that had been prepared for the campaign.

It has been noticed by the police that, CAC is the only organization that has been engaged in such an open struggle against this violent state repression campaign, until this date. Hence the police thought that it would be easy to suppress it under the circumstances that no other organization challenged the operation of justice. Even the Socialist Equality Party, the Sri Lankan branch of the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI), only documented their protest in two articles on the World Socialist Web Site in June and in January. But public opposition is growing strongly. This dire situation is reflected by the independent intervention of a group of members of the Frontline Socialist Party to support this struggle in several ways. 

It was in these circumstances that CAC convened a press conference on the 26th to explain the threat and to gather support against it. Despite the presence of representatives of the major electronic media organizations in Sri Lanka, most of the major capitalist media organizations avoided publishing the reports. Meanwhile, the CAC’s invitation to the Sinhala section of the WSWS to participate in the press conference was ignored due to the subjective dislike of Sri Lanka’s SEP towards CAC.  

The picket campaign was carried out at Kesbewa town on 27th evening, as per the schedule. The police did not step forward to implement the court order they claimed to have obtained against the campaign. Under the circumstances of continuing of the struggle by the CAC, not giving in to the pressures, it was not possible to prevent the wide publicity it received. As a last moment attempt to “protect its ‘good’ name”, the police constable Paulson and Sergeant Alwis of the Kesbewa Police, who posed a threat to Shanta and the family, were transferred to the Moratuwa and Mt. Lavinia Police stations respectively.

As CAC stated during this struggle, “the anti-democracy and terror-mongering displayed by governments, by bringing social media censorship laws and anti-terror laws, is not at all an expression of the strength of capitalist governments, but an expression of their organic weakness. …. Anywhere in the world, such regimes have been able to survive, because trade unions and pseudo-left fronts have invaded into every instance of class struggle to sabotage, control and compromise mass struggles. We workers, peasants, and the rest of the oppressed people, must understand that, for us, there is no self-defense through official capitalist institutions. Freedom and security cannot be guaranteed except through building of an independent mass movement under the revolutionary working-class program, against those very institutions.”

Reflecting the SEP’s nervousness and fickleness, this principled struggle the CAC is engaged in, has been deliberately kept in the dark by the anonymous author in his article. At the same time, it did not forget to denounce CAC, as will be explained later in this article. However, this unknown so-called “our writer” claims that, “the repressive arm strengthened through the justice operation is being used to stifle those who criticize the government’s program in any manner.”

But it does not seem that even the ruling class themselves have believed “the repressive hand has been strengthened through the operation justice”. The police announced on Monday (11) that the army will also participate in this operation. Capitalist media, trade unions, pseudo-lefts have offered open and closed support, but only a feeble mind insensitive to the drivers of class struggle and class relations can assume that the regime, which is repelled and hated by the laboring masses, can be strengthened so easily. The campaign launched in the name of justice has shown the desperation of the ruling class, with the government, its police force and the army boasting that they will destroy the underworld. Currently, imprisoning beggars has also become a part of ‘justice’.

The responsibility of revolutionaries is to expose this situation and mobilize the working class against it. As CAC revealed in its struggle, the truth is that the operation of justice is evoking strong popular opposition and paving the way for the revolutionary organization of the working class. This protest is growing unorganized in all workplaces, and villages. There is no justification for depicting the desperation of the ruling class as a strength, instead of intervening in the situation. Such actions always allow opportunism, hence saving capitalism from danger.

As the International Committee of the Fourth International has pointed out, we are entering the fourth year of a revolutionary decade. The revolutionary struggle erupted in Sri Lanka in 2022 is still ablaze like the cinders under the ash. At a time like this, “it is necessary to utilize the favorable conditions of a revolutionary crisis in order to mobilize the masses; taking as a starting point the given level of their “maturity” it is necessary to propel them forward, teach them to understand that the enemy is by no means omnipotent, that it is torn asunder with contradictions, that behind the imposing facade panic prevails.” (Leon Trotsky, Class, Party and Leadership). 

CAC is following this revolutionary policy.

The SEP article ignores CAC’s this struggle and turns to condemn it. It says: “Despite deep political differences with the Colombo Action Committee, the Socialist Equality Party opposes this vicious attack on them.” Unable to find any of these “deep political differences” which have never been explained, the SEP writer washes its hands by saying that “The Colombo Action Committee was formed by a group expelled from the SEP on disciplinary charges” and recommends the reader to read the “Statement of the Socialist Equality Party of Sri Lanka on the Expulsion of Nandana Nannetti and Sanjaya Jayasekara”.

At the same time, it says, “the response of the working class to the Wickramasinghe government’s sharpening of the class war against the working class should be to develop its own class struggle. The lie of the trade unions that they can pressure the capitalist governments and win their demands is exposed through the repression being carried out by the Wickramasinghe government. By doing so, the government shows that it is not ready to take a step back from its austerity program in any way. Hence arises the urgency for the working class to form action committees, independent of these trade unions and capitalist parties.”

The primary responsibility of the Revolutionary Party, that is to develop perspectives, is not an astrological task, it is historical task. The revolutionary intervenes in what he is analyzing. The revolutionary who analyzes the world in dialectical materialism does not stop at that and wait. He is committed to change the world. SEP did not make any active intervention in the political incident which it emphasizes to take seriously. Even now, what the author of this article recommends to the public is to follow this and that procedures, to eliminate this and that disaster.

“Only with the help of such systematic, persistent, indefatigable, courageous agitational and organizational work always on the basis of the experience of the masses themselves, is it possible to root out from their consciousness the traditions of submissiveness and passivity; to train detachments of heroic fighters capable of setting an example to all toilers; to inflict a series of tactical defeats upon the armed thugs of counterrevolution; to raise the self-confidence of the exploited and oppressed; to compromise Fascism in the eyes of the petty bourgeoisie and pave the road for the conquest of power by the proletariat”, (The Death of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International, p. 18) hence culminating the program of the Fourth International. 

It is not our intention here to repeating our comments on the disgusting statement of expulsion, the document which the SEP leadership recommends to the reader. But we just say this much: The SEP leadership has repeatedly violated the party constitution and discipline on a large number of occasions, from very important matters such as congresses, not allowing to discuss the differences and expelling 12 members from the party, without disciplinary investigation. The expelled members have a written history of a fight against this situation. The SEP issued statements claiming that it stands with the struggle and, then expelled Comrade Sanjaya for staunchly defending the party line at the ground. According to them, his participation was a breach of discipline. There is no discipline to superior to fight for the program and perspective, and the SEP in Sri Lanka has made history within the history of the International Committee by expelling a group of members exactly that manner for breaching some superior discipline by fighting for the party program and perspectives. 

Thus, it should be clear that the SEP leadership’s disgust towards CAC is not just a question about CAC or its members. SEP should seriously consider this situation. The conditions that enabled the suppression of objective truth are collapsing. The growing class struggle will bring the truth to light.

[This is the English translation of the article originally published in Sinhalese here on March 13, 2024]

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