The lukewarm reaction of the SEP-SL leadership toward the largest mass struggles in Sri Lanka, and the fight of the left faction to influence the course of history

By Nandana Nanneththi


As long as the Marxist constantly seeks to influence the course of history, aligning his policy with larger historical processes, such efforts can achieve significant gains..” (David North, March 5, 1990)

The Socialist Equality Party (SEP), Sri Lanka, shrank,  instead of growing, in the series of massive mass struggles of April-July last year (2022) and fostered disappointment among the most advanced sections of the international working class, precisely because of the long-time disregard for the Marxist practice that  North points out above.  Since at least 2015, the class struggle was growing markedly, but the bureaucracy worked to keep the party busy with its usual business of familiar activities. The party, which alone stood for the democratic rights of the Tamils and thereby the  unity of the working class in the face of state repression and racist attacks during the 27-year-long war, appeared to have  slipped to a position where the national question itself was considered to be over, after Rajapaksa’s victory in the war in 2009. It was in this political mindset that brutal acts against Minority ethnic groups such as forced cremation of Muslim dead bodies were tolerated.

The April 2022 struggles did not come about suddenly. From the Rs. 1000 wages  movement of plantation workers in 2017 to April 2022, there was enough time to assess the experience and draw up a real programme and mark the place of the party in the struggle of the working class by affecting the historical course. The party leadership was not ready for it and it was delayed. The struggle that broke out suddenly on March 31 unfolded as planned on April 3. On April 5, the editorial board of the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) wrote as follows:

“The Socialist Equality Party, the Sri Lankan section of the International Committee of the Fourth International, is fighting to rally the working class against the government and all the parties of the ruling class on the basis of a revolutionary socialist program.”

But, the party even kicked out the opportunity made available to it to intervene in the Galle Face Greens (GotaGoGama), the main symbolic site of the unfolding series of struggles, saying ‘we will not go without invitations’. It was not just an opportunity fallen  from the sky. On the one hand, there was the glorious history of the party, and on the other hand, the groups with progressive interests in the struggle had started to realize that the struggle itself was going astray.

Referring to Action Committees, the statement said,“[a]s these committees grow and prove themselves in struggle, rallying ever wider sections of the urban and rural masses behind them, they will become organs of independent working-class political power, in opposition to the parliament and the repressive institutions of the capitalist elite.”

But, even then the party had fallen to the point of reluctance to engage in the class struggle. It was also not possible to direct to it the cadre who did not have the necessary revolutionary exposure due to the fact that the party had for a long time avoided working to influence the historical course. While verbally agreeing to the perspectives of the International Committee, the regime was not at least interested in having the essential serious discussions within the cadre, to grasp them.  

These have serious historical reasons. In order to build itself as a mass party, the party must genuinely turn to assess the past experiences. The left faction of the party is determined to fight for that tirelessly.

The accompanying article here is a proposal, made by the left faction, with the emergence of the struggle in April 2022. Even the party members are reading it too for the first time. The leadership, which showed deadly hostility to these proposals, suspended the membership of Nandana Nanneththi twice. The membership of Comrade Sanjaya Jayasekara, former member of the Central Committee and  a resolute  fighter of the party, and Ananda Wakkambura, a founding member of the party, were suspended because of their decision to intervene in the people’s struggle with a revolutionary perspective, based on this understanding.

Later, comrades Nandana and Sanjaya were expelled and, thereafter, comrades Migara Malwatta and Amaratunga were also expelled for  supporting  the  faction. The other members were prevented from discussing these issues in  party  locale meetings.

We appeal to the SEP comrades in particular, the entire working class, youth and progressive intellectuals to consider this letter with the seriousness it deserves.


Nandana Nannetti

o7. o4. 2021

Dear Comrade Wije,

In the wave of mass struggles that are spreading like wildfire across Sri Lanka, the questions of where our party stands, where it must be positioned, and how to achieve that, are now emerging sharply.

According to the perspective of the editorial board of the World Socialist Web Site, April 4, ” The events in Sri Lanka demand the closest attention of workers throughout the world. The mass protests will have a consequential impact on the future development of the international class struggle.” ((Massive social protests erupt in Sri Lanka: A critical development in the working class.

In a response to our article dated 01 April, Comrade Dave wrote thus,” Sri Lanka working people must fight to take power.”

In the resolution adopted at the second national congress of SEP (US) in 2012, one year after the Egyptian revolution we wrote:

 “It is not enough to predict the inevitability of revolutionary struggles and then await their unfolding. Such passivity has nothing in common with Marxism, which insists upon the unity of theoretically guided cognition and revolutionary practice…The victory of the socialist revolution requires the presence of a revolutionary party. The Socialist Equality Party must do everything it can to develop, prior to the outbreak of mass struggles, a significant political presence within the working class – above all, among its most advanced element.” 

“Amid a renewed upsurge of the class struggle worldwide, this work must now be pursued with renewed energy. This is the task of the ICFI and its sections and sympathizing groups.” (Ten years since the beginning of the Egyptian revolution. WSWS)

The Cabinet ministers resigned, were re-appointed, withdrew again, was re-appointed, and 44 MPs left the government.

Yesterday, the police clashed verbally with an armed unit of the Motor Cycle Brigade who tried to come amidst the protestors surrounding the parliament; during this, the parliamentarians made their escape through the back door.

This afternoon the state of emergency, which had been in place for decades, had to be lifted. The public also surrounded the Katunayake airport to prevent the parliamentarians and ministers from fleeing. The ruling class laments that the struggle is extremely dangerous because it is being carried out without leadership of an organization.

In a speech in Parliament this afternoon, former Minister and Opposition MP Harin Fernando demanded that Gotabhaya step down and questioned, “Why has this happened to us? ” There must be someone to govern the country. otherwise, how are we going to be like this even for a month”. “It’s very sure that there will be an assault on the parliament within the next few days”, he lamented.

Such is the mental state of the ruling class. The people are taking steps towards the authority of decision-making and enforcement.

A campaign to get rid of all the 225 (parliamentarians) had been going on for some time. This campaign, which began with the display of stickers, took a few months to take shape before it broke into ‘Gota Go Home’. As we very correctly foresaw, this movement emerged out of the devastating effects of the economic, political, and social crisis exacerbated by the Corona epidemic.

During my contribution at the last months’ membership meeting held on 12-13, making use of the very limited few minutes I was allocated, I pointed out that the politics in the South Asian region are undergoing heated and rapid changes daily. I said that the ruling classes in the south Asia is driven by this unavoidable objective situation and that it would set off class struggles. Comrade Sanjaya and I explained, quoting the 1998 Party Statement, that the national Question will also be solved by only through the working-class taking power.

As all of us are basing ourselves on the 1988 perspective, that revealed the end of all nationalist organizations through the globalization of production and the internationalism that was acquired and defended from the 1985 split, I emphasized the need to resolve the disputes amongst us through discussion without treating them as crimes. 

You and the Political Committee introduced my proposal as fraudulent and avoided discussing it, spending a whole day on individualist condemnation (ad hominem attacks) and slander, not on the responsibility for the class struggle in South Asia. You announced to the Membership Meeting, that you have decided not to take up for discussion the letters we referred to the Central Committee and the International Committee for discussion of political issues because they are shameful.

These pragmatic policies that continue within the party have seriously damaged our struggle in the present struggle. The Ambalangoda Local Council has not been convened for the whole of the past month. Work is getting done by notifications only.

I do not know whether my suggestion that the party should be prepared to deal with this situation was discussed at the PC meeting on Saturday, April 2, while the struggle was rolling forward passing us by. The wave of struggles had already erupted and a few days before that, an islandwide campaign had been organized to take place on the 3rd.

Comrade Ratnasiri said that we were not doing anything because this was a spontaneous and dangerous struggle. It was not possible to know the decision taken by the PC.

In the morning on the 3rd, several villagers came to Comrade Amaratunga’s house in Hikkaduwa and asked him what “we should do”. He was hesitant.

After he gave a general description, they went on to say, “You’re just talking. Doing nothing.” I confirmed my participation to those who came to me, but I was hesitant because the party had no plan.

The Local Secretary of Bandarawela told Comrade William, a member of Bandarawela local who lives hundreds of miles away close to Colombo, that ‘we are reaching hundreds of thousands of people through Facebook’.

As comrade Williams kept on insisting, he was told to print and distribute the party statement.

Meetings were held in some Locals on the 3rd. When Comrade Ivan spoke of participating in the campaign in the Kandy Local, he was attacked as displaying middle-class impatience.

Similarly, despite the island-wide campaign, the Chilaw Local Council was directed to work in the Katunayake Free Trade Zone as usual just as any other day, but was prevented by the curfew. 

On the 4th, a group of fishermen came to Comrade Nihal’s house and asked him advise as to the slogans and the manner of participation in the agitations. Nihal spoke to Kapila the Local Secretary. Kapila instructed to see whether we could get an opportunity for addressing the gathering. 

The children of Comrade Sunil of Ratmalana Local Council participated in the demonstrations mocking him “you all are talking and writing but no action”. 

A longtime sympathizer of the party commented on Comrade Lasitha’s Facebook post and advised him to come off the balcony and come down to the ground (where things happen). 

Comrade Kapila today (7) participated in the campaign with the teachers in Chilaw. It was an influential intervention. 

Minor interventions made after some delays were unorganized and slip-shod. The slogans we displayed were even hard to read. That itself shows that we are still going about in the semi darkness about the growing revolutionary situation. 

Meanwhile, the JVP, which has been branding the protests as dangerous because there is no organization behind it, is gradually creeping inside the agitation. Yesterday’s agitation in Maharagama was led by the Frontline Socialist Party. The real danger is now emerging, with the benefit of our delay. 

Secretary of Defense Kamal Gunaratne, a former army commander, said a survey had revealed that there was a peaceful as well as violent group in the protest movement. People like the owners of PG Martins, a leather goods company, also campaigned for Gota’s expulsion. Gunaratne’s peaceful group is the bourgeoisie that lined up to oust Gota because of his failure to control the working class and maintain the nation state and the petty bourgeoisie that represented that need. The other group is the oppressed stratum that speaks of national unity against racial and religious divisions, including the youth, workers, and housewives. Gunaratne said the government would not hesitate to defeat violence.

Gunaratne’s army initially arrested hundreds of protesters. We must make a strong intervention among workers and other oppressed to demand the release of these political prisoners who are still being held. The other struggle for the protection of democratic rights in the people’s movements. One of the primary goals of our struggle is the conscious endeavor within the mass movement for the defense of democratic rights. The taking over of power by the working class is the basic need for the activation of workers’ democracy. That is the aim of our struggle.

The exposure of the bourgeois parties, the pseudo-left parties, and the other opportunist movement are at the center of the struggle. It is crucial that we take the leadership. It will not happen without a fight, without a party. This is the challenge we face now.

But instead of boasting that we have the best policy, we must now turn to educate the masses in the living struggle in which we are fighting shoulder to shoulder with the workers youth.

Meanwhile, while the bourgeoisie considers the campaign to be dangerous, the pseudo-left and the political weak see it as leading to an inevitable defeat because of the lack of leadership. 

History is quite different. The 1953 Hartal chased the government to the British ship ‘Newfoundland’ that was anchored in the Colombo harbor. It was only brought back by the leaders of the working-class parties, namely the CP-LSSP. 

Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike had the backing of LSSP and COPE leaders to suppress the ‘21 demands movement’. They took part in it, touting it as an intermediate step in the struggle against the reaction, for the abolition of the capitalist system and the building of socialism. In 1976 too workers fought against the government’s emergency laws and overthrew the United Front government. 

In May-June 1968, Prime Minister De Gaulle, survived with the help of the Stalinist Communist Party, when the army commander did not have the confidence that he could lead his army to suppress the French workers’ struggle. 

Our party was formed in 1968 through an international struggle against Pabloism, the global phenomenon that defended these past betrayals and betrayals that were to happen in the future. 

The ruling class is already trying to avoid defeat. As we have foreseen, the bourgeoisie has no left props as they had in the yester years. No one today has a program that can promise to deliver socialism someday. 

This is not Greece or Egypt. The pseudo-left cannot act freely as they desire. There is a party here that has fought for internationalism, especially for the permanent revolution, against Pabloist betrayal for 54 years. 

Victory or defeat will be decided by the struggle. All the so-called left has been exposed. The unions have been exposed. The parties and leaders who fell to their death beds were propped up and kept erect by the ruling class only. Now those leaders can do nothing. 

As we had understood for some time, the ruling class needs an agency from the International Committee to Survive. That is why capitalism, with the assistance of its pseudo-left groups, is exerting intense pressure on the working class and thereby the SEP. This underscores the need for a more open democratic dialogue within the party.

As per all the evidence, Sri Lanka today is the touchstone of the liberation of the international working class. At the very least, this revolutionary crisis is an opportunity to build the South Asian Party and, in the event of any defeat in the people’s struggle, will definitely act to minimize its damage. If we procrastinate, we will not only be responsible for a bloody historical crime but we will not be forgiven. The most important thing is the damage it can do to the world’s working class. It is in the struggle that we develop perspectives. It must be developed by standing with the mass movement, organizing pickets, public meetings, occupations, and demonstrations. 

“The turn must now be to the working class, to the active intervention in every manifestation of the opposition of workers and youth to inequality, war and dictatorship. There must be tireless work to rise the political level to create a cadre in the factories, and in the schools, to explain the lesson of history and the nature of the capitalism. There will be no shortage of people determined to fight for socialism.

But this determination must be armed with a strategy that unify the struggles of the working class in the worldwide movement for socialism” (

 “Revolutionary party, “participates in the event that it analyzes, and, through its leadership in the struggle for workers ‘power and socialism, strives to change the world” (the resurgence of class and the tasks of the socialist party)

We have already developed the essential perspectives. So far, the party’s special call on the people’s struggle is not in the WSWS. Comrade Wije statement has been released as a video today. It is an important step. As I suggested through comrade Ratnasiri to the PC, the intervention should be intensified by distributing tens of thousands of pamphlets. 

To this day we have failed to convene the Central Committee on this issue. This is not just a bad habit that has been going on for a long time but one of the main reasons for the current problems. It is very easy for us to convene the CC under the current technology. You did not convene the CC in order to avoid the emergence of questions as far as possible. But now the problems have fallen onto our heads. There is still time. We have everything we need to emerge as a massive people’s party. We must seize the opportunity consciously. 

‘’We analyze the conditions of development as they take shape behind our backs and independently of our will in order, after having understood them, to act upon them through our active will, i.e., the will of the organized class. These two sides of our Marxist approach to history are linked most closely and indissolubly. Were we to confine ourselves solely to take into account what is happening, then such an approach would in the long run degenerate into fatalism and indifferentism, into social apathy, and at a certain stage, it would assume the aspect of Menshevism, which contains a large dose of fatalism and worshipful acceptance of what takes place behind the backs of people? Were we to confine ourselves, on the other hand, solely to revolutionary action, to the revolutionary will, we would then incur the risk of falling into subjectivism, which is multiform: one of its varieties in anarchism, Left S. R.” ism is another, it is our native Russian variety of subjectivism, and finally included here are those manifestations in communism itself which Vladimir Ilyich (Lenin) called “the infantile diseases of leftism?” The whole art of revolutionary politics consists of incorrectly combining objective analysis with subjective action. And in this is the gist of the Leninist school.’’

Revolutionary Salutations 


PS –

The party has published a statement under the caption, ‘Bring down Sri Lanka’s Rajapakse government!…’, while this letter was being finalized. This is an important step. We as a party must make a collective effort to resolve the theoretical issues of the struggle. It is a requirement that the Central Committee meet as many times as possible. I propose that steps be taken for that.

[This article was originally published here in Sinhala on May 16, 2023]

Image: A scene from April-July 2022, Mass Struggles around Galle Face Greens, Colombo, from fb.

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