International Committee of the Fourth International
Fourth International Vol. 15 No. 3-4 (July-December 1988)

Long Live the Memory of Comrade R.A. Pitawala!

Mobilize the Working Class against the JVP Assassins! Down with the UNP Government! Smash the Indo-Lankan Accord! Build the Trotskyist Revolutionary Leadership!

The political committee of the Revolutionary Communist League, the Sri Lankan section of the International Committee of the Fourth International, pays its revolutionary tribute to Comrade R.A. Pitawala. A member of the RCL for 14 years, he was murdered on November 12 by the racist counterrevolutionary killers of the JVP.

The killer squad consisted of about 10 JVP members who forced their way into the house of Comrade Pitawala at 7:30 PM, prevented his wife and children from leaving the house, and took Comrade Pitawala outside. They claimed that they wanted Comrade Pitawala to locate a path for them outside the village.

The killers then marched him about one mile away from his house, shot him in the head, and hanged his body from a lamppost. The body was found the next day.

Comrade Pitawala was 36 years old and was the father of three children.

Why did the JVP counterrevolutionary killers decide to murder this Trotskyist fighter? It is because he was involved in a courageous struggle to mobilize the working class against the extreme right-wing policies of the petty-bourgeois Sinhala racists of the JVP and the military-police dictatorship plans of the UNP government and the bourgeois SLFP.

Comrade Pitawala was murdered in the midst of an anti-working class terror campaign mounted by the JVP in order to uphold the authority of the Sinhala bourgeois unitary state over the oppressed Tamil nation and the Tamil-speaking estate workers. Moreover, the UNP government, pursuing the logic of the Indo-Lankan Accord, has been utilizing the JVP provocations to escalate its own preparations for a military-police dictatorship.

The attack on Comrade Pitawala is the action of a petty-bourgeois gangster organization which is carrying out fascist assaults on behalf of and in the interests of the imperialists and their regional bourgeois agents. Therefore, it is an attack by the class enemy against the international proletarian movement and against the working class, the Tamil nation and the oppressed peasants of Sri Lanka.

Comrade Pitawala, a long-standing member of the RCL, was also a member of the Ceylon Teachers Union. He played a prominent role in fighting for the program of the ICFI among the estate workers of the Uwa-Paramagama and Badulla areas, the poor peasant youth, and within the Ceylon Teachers Union.

From the very beginning of his political life as a member of the Revolutionary Communist League, Comrade Pitawala became a target of attack by the enemies of the working class: first by the 1970-77 coalition government of the SLFP-LSSP-CP, then by the state machinery after the UNP regime came to power, and finally by the JVP.

The JVP killers murdered Comrade Pitawala because they had failed in their efforts to intimidate him into submitting to their reactionary terror campaign. He publicly resisted with all his might the racist politics of the JVP and was the only one in his village who refused at gunpoint to join the demonstrations and pickets organized by the JVP on an anti-Tamil basis.

Frightened by the impact of his example on the villagers, the JVP racists vowed that they would force Comrade Pitawala to publicly submit to their policies. Despite these intense threats, Comrade Pitawala,

along with another RCL member, organized a door-to-door campaign against the JVP on November 5. He sold copies of the Sinhalese and Tamil language newspapers of the Revolutionary Communist League, Kamkaru Mawatha and Tholilalar Pathai. He warned the workers, poor peasants and youth of the counterrevolutionary implications of the government’s military preparations and the racist politics of the petty-bourgeois JVP. Comrade Pitawala insisted on the need to build a revolutionary party to defeat these threats.

According to the information which the RCL has gathered since the assassination, the JVP killers, hoping to discredit the RCL in the eyes of the villagers, attempted to force Comrade Pitawala to sign a confession admitting guilt to 10 false allegations. In the face of death, he defiantly refused to yield to the JVP’s demand.

Because the village had been terrorized by the JVP, the family of Comrade Pitawala was forced to hold his funeral the day after his death, even before the RCL had learned of his assassination. Nevertheless, about 1,000 came to pay their last respects, thus manifesting the political prestige acquired by Comrade Pitawala among the workers and oppressed rural masses in the course of his struggle as a member of the Revolutionary Communist League.

In December 1987, not long after the sudden death of Keerthi Balasuriya, the late general secretary of the RCL, Comrade Pitawala spoke at an aggregate meeting of the Kandy, Badulla, Galle and Chilaw branches of the party. He recalled that he had joined the RCL in 1974 during its campaign for the release of JVP political prisoners who had been brutally repressed by the coalition government. At that time, the JVP was still identified with the 1971 uprising of rural youth and had not yet degenerated into the anti-working class organization that it is today.

As a vital part of its attack on the working class and its revolutionary leadership, the JVP has now placed the Revolutionary Communist League on its hit list. During the past few months, the JVP has issued death threats against RCL members active on the campus of Peredenaya University and in the Kandy and Ambalangoda areas. In Ambalangoda, the JVP actually named two RCL members whom it intended to kill.

The assassination of Comrade Pitawala shows that the JVP is now implementing its counterrevolutionary threats against the RCL.

During the past month, the JVP has frantically escalated its terroristic activities in defense of the Sinhala bourgeois unitary state. What underlies the recent frenzy of this petty-bourgeois organization is the deepening crisis of the capitalist system and its rule in Sri Lanka as part of the crisis of world capitalism.

Last year, when the Sri Lankan capitalist state faced its greatest crisis since its foundation in 1948, the Indian bourgeoisie, acting in behalf of world imperialism, sent its military forces to crush the Tamil liberation struggle and strengthen the UNP government against the workers and oppressed masses of Sri Lanka. The post-World War II settlement, imposed in this region in the form of a series of bastard states, is now facing an unprecedented crisis. The struggle of the workers, poor masses and the oppressed nations has risen to threaten the whole postwar setup. In this situation, the counterrevolutionary strategy of the imperialists in the Indian subcontinent attains a new level through their use of the Indian bourgeoisie as the chief policeman in the region.

But despite the Indo-Lankan Accord, the imperialists and the ruling classes in India and Sri Lanka have failed to resolve their crisis. Even though the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam suffered initial military setbacks, the Indian Army has failed to subdue the Tamil national struggle. In the South, the working class is responding to the attacks of the imperialist bankers and transnational corporations with strike action. A rebellious mood is also mounting among the rural semi-proletarians and the poor peasants.

Having announced a presidential election, the UNP government relies on the treacherous leadership of the working class and a layer of the petty bourgeoisie to hold back the proletariat. Simultaneously, the regime is escalating its preparations for a military-police dictatorship. Within this situation, the JVP seeks to aid the government’s counterrevolutionary plans by unleashing its frenzied petty-bourgeois forces against the working class.

The JVP counterrevolutionaries are based on a program which demands the repression of the Tamil nation, the defense of the unitary Sinhala state and capitalist property relations through the smashing of working class organizations and their leaderships. Their Sinhala racist agitation inflames the fratricidal war between the workers and peasants of Sri Lanka and Tamil Eelam.

It is also engaged in a chauvinistic anti-Indian campaign, which lumps the impoverished Indian workers and peasants together with the pro-imperialist ruling class.

Comrade Pitawala based himself on the revolutionary role of the working class as an international force and on the tasks of the ICFI in resolving the crisis of leadership of the world proletariat. He understood very clearly that the only viable perspective against the imperialist strategy in the region is one based on the fight for a Soviet Socialist Republics of Sri Lanka and Tamil Eelam as part of the socialist unification of the entire Indian subcontinent.

He grasped that the axis of the struggle against the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois reactionary racist strategy must be the fight for the international unity of the working class on the basis of smashing the Indo-Lankan Accord, forcing the withdrawal of the Indian and Sri Lankan armies from the Tamil homeland, supporting the right of self-determination for the Tamil nation, and winning citizenship rights for the estate workers. Comrade Pitawala stressed that the working class is the sole historical force which can resolve through its struggle for socialism the democratic tasks of the Tamil nation and oppressed peasants.

This is not the first time that the UNP government and its murderous squads, as well as the JVP racists, have made clear their deadly hatred and fear of the perspectives of the Revolutionary Communist League. In July 1979, during a wave of racist violence unleashed by the UNP, the RCL organizer in the Rajangana area, Comrade R.P. Piyadasa, was brutally murdered.

Since then the government has used its state apparatus on several occasions to witch-hunt the members of the RCL. In November 1987, a goon squad organized by the UNP threatened to kill comrades who were engaged in an RCL political campaign in Colombo.

Today, the RCL’s revolutionary agitation has become completely intolerable for the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois reactionaries. This is because the perspective of the RCL provides the working class with a sure guide to lead its struggle for the socialist revolution.

Comrade Pitawala fought, alongside other comrades, for the program of the Revolutionary Communist League inside the Ceylon Teachers Union. He always insisted that the military-police threat and the reactionary JVP agitation is strengthened above all else by the support extended to the Indo-Lankan Accord by the Stalinist, centrist and reformist leaders of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), Communist Party (CP) and the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC).

It was his firm conviction that the reactionary JVP could be defeated in the rural areas only by the independent mobilization of the working class on a revolutionary program which can win over the rural poor to the side of the socialist revolution. For this, he maintained, it is necessary to defeat the popular front policies pursued by the LSSP, CP and CWC and establish the political independence of the working class.

The struggle against the centrist leadership of the Ceylon Teachers Union was an essential part of the education of the working class along these lines. These centrist leaders, who once claimed to support the Tamils’ right to self-determination, lined up with the LSSP-CP traitors at the decisive moment by accepting the Indo-Lankan Accord, thereby proving that they function as a secondary agency of the ruling class.

The international Pabloite movement bears a criminal political responsibility with regard to the development of the reactionary JVP. Not only did the betrayal of the LSSP in 1964—its entrance into a coalition government with Bandaranaike—pave the way for the emergence of this petty-bourgeois movement. These same Pabloite renegades from Trotskyism actually hailed the JVP as a revolutionary movement in the late 1960s. This bankrupt assessment was in keeping with the Pabloites’ universal capitulation to petty-bourgeois radical tendencies all over the world and their abandonment of the essential historical struggle to establish the political independence of the working class on the basis of its own unique socialist program. The RCL was founded in Sri Lanka in direct opposition to the Pabloites’ betrayal of the fundamental class principles of Trotskyism.

Today, the JVP, once the heroes of the Pabloites, have not only assassinated a member of the RCL, but have also murdered dozens of working class militants and several leaders of trade union and other labor organizations. Unable as yet to defeat the working class and take power into its own hands, the JVP is campaigning for a patriotic military government—i.e., for a military coup d’etat to establish a dictatorial junta that would drown the working class in blood. With this appeal, the JVP is seeking to curry favor within a bloated and embittered bourgeois military apparatus which proved unable to destroy the liberation movement in the North.

Vastly expanded for the purpose of waging the war against Tamil Eelam and thoroughly intoxicated with racist chauvinism, the military views the socialist proletariat of Sri Lanka with bitter hatred and is rife with JVP sympathizers. Were the military to seize power, the JVP would openly provide it with the shock troops required for the torture and killing of working class militants and revolutionaries.

The struggle of Comrade Pitawala for revolutionary internationalism was not an abstract propaganda exercise. Honor to his memory requires that we cite a few episodes in his short but heroic life.

In 1978, he was interdicted (suspended) from his job as a teacher as part of the vicious victimization launched by the UNP government against the working class militants. About 700 villagers surrounded the school where he was working to demand his immediate reinstatement. After several weeks of popular mobilizations, the regime was forced to cancel the interdiction order.

He lost his job again for participating in the strike of July 1980, where approximately 100,000 workers were victimized. As a revolutionary fighter, he never lost confidence in the capacity of the working class to fight back and win its legitimate rights. He continued his revolutionary struggle under the most difficult conditions to mobilize the working class against the attacks of the state as well as the treachery of the LSSP, CP, CWC and NSSP (Nava Sama Samaja Party) leaders. Comrade Pitawala was in the forefront of the struggle launched by the RCL in defense of the estate workers against the racist attacks of the UNP and SLFP goons. The courage he displayed in confronting the racists of the big bourgeoisie, as well as the petty bourgeoisie, convinced the JVP that they could not carry out their reactionary work without killing so respected a revolutionary fighter.

Although Comrade Pitawala had taken measures to avoid assassination by either UNP thugs or the JVP, the murderers were finally able to strike the death blow.

The Revolutionary Communist League is saddened by the assassination of this courageous fighter. At the same time, we affirm our dedication to the struggle to mobilize the working class to definitely defeat the counterrevolutionary danger.

We emphatically state that the working class must view the assassination of Comrade Pitawala as a dire warning.

The LSSP, CP, CWC, NSSP and all other revisionist and centrist organizations have completely abandoned their political responsibility to undertake the defense of the working class and its organizations. The workers have been left on their own to be intimidated, terrorized and murdered by the JVP’s petty-bourgeois and lumpen thugs on the one hand and by the Indo-Lankan military forces on the other.

The pathetic demand of the LSSP, CP, NSSP and other centrists for a general election as a remedy to this grave danger facing the working class is a fatal evasion of political responsibilities. The capitalist class and its petty-bourgeois hirelings have already resorted to extra-parliamentary methods in defending its rule over the working class and the rural poor.

The only way forward for the working class is to form its own defense committees to safeguard its organizations and protect its meetings, demonstrations and leaders. A catastrophe threatens the working class unless it repudiates the parliamentary cretinism of its reformist leadership and undertakes practical measures to organize its own defense.

This is an urgent matter that must be confronted by all working class organizations. Without retreating from or modifying a single criticism which we have made of the Stalinist, centrist and revisionist parties, the Revolutionary Communist League calls upon the leaders of the LSSP, CP, NSSP and CWC to agree immediately to a joint conference of all working class organizations to agree upon and adopt practical measures for the defense of the workers’ movement.

The thugs of the UNP and JVP must be countered blow for blow. The plans and movements of the military conspirators must be carefully monitored. It is the inescapable responsibility of the working class organizations to guarantee the safety of their members in their workplaces and in their villages against the violence of petty-bourgeois fascist marauders.

It is impermissible that working class parties should stand by complacently with their arms folded, while a handful of JVP thugs, armed with knives and revolvers, arrogantly assign to themselves the “right” to order workers out of their workplaces and arbitrarily impose curfews in order to further their anti-proletarian and racialist goals.

The cowardly passivity of the LSSP, CP, CWC and NSSP has left workers to be individually bullied by, on the one hand, armed JVP thugs who order them out of the factories and workplaces, and, on the other, by armed soldiers who order them back to work. Thus, while the workers are being used as pawns in the cynical love-tussle between Jayewardene and the JVP, the reformists refuse to independently mobilize the working class.

Indeed, so desperate have the reformist leaders been to avoid any struggle in defense of the working class that they have in many cases agreed to subordinate the workers’ movement to the JVP’s racist campaign. During the week of November 7, the high point of the JVP’s terror campaign, the Ceylon Mercantile Union, led by the well-known Pabloite Bala Tampoe, opportunistically adapted to the JVP by calling a one-day strike on the basis of a program similar to that advanced by the petty-bourgeois racists.

Only the Central Bank Employees Union, under the leadership of the RCL, refused to surrender the independence of the working class to the petty-bourgeois terrorists and intransigently opposed proletarian participation in strikes called by the JVP.

Despite a degree of political confusion that was manifested in the working class during the first days of the JVP offensive, the antiworking class character of its campaign soon became apparent and encountered increasing resistance from rank-and-file toilers. The JVP’s hysterical reaction to the growing signs of working class resistance—exhibited most nakedly in its murder of approximately 20 transport board workers—has deepened the resolve of the Sri Lankan proletariat to fight against the petty-bourgeois gangsters.

The events of the last month have left an indelible impression on the consciousness of the working class. An invaluable lesson has been learned as to the utterly reactionary character of the JVP. Now the necessary practical conclusions must be drawn. We repeat: the time has come to form a united, front of all working class organizations to undertake concrete measures in defense of the workers’ movement. The Revolutionary Communist League stands ready to fully cooperate with its political opponents in the labor movement in the practical organization of defense measures.

However, we are not proposing nor are we requesting any sort of mutual political amnesty. Our opponents are free to criticize us just as we retain the right to criticize them. Indeed, the defense of the working class is inextricably bound up with the struggle to defeat the bankrupt and reactionary political line pursued by the CP, LSSP, CWC and NSSP.

Were it not for the foul class collaborationist policies of the Stalinists and the LSSP reformists, their participation in two coalition governments, their slavish endorsement of the reactionary 1972 constitution, their betrayal of the national rights of the Tamil people, and their support for the Indo-Lankan Accord, it would not have been possible for the JVP to find support within sections of the rural poor.

Not even the most skillful defensive measures are sufficient to protect the working class against the menace of fascism. The JVP draws its political sustenance from the despair of petty-bourgeois layers of the population who have been alienated from the working class as a result of the opportunist policies of the reformist leaders. But as of yet, the JVP is not a mass movement. There is still time for the proletariat to rally the rural and village poor against imperialism and the national bourgeoisie.

This is why the Revolutionary Communist League, as it calls for and undertakes bold defensive work, will intensify its political agitation demanding that the LSSP, CP and CWC repudiate the Indo-Lankan Accord, break with the UNP regime and bourgeois parties, and fight for a workers’ and peasants’ government.

We call for the formation of soviets as organs of workers’ and peasants’ power that will overthrow the capitalist state.

The struggle of the Sinhalese and Tamil proletariat is unfolding within the historic context of a world crisis that is now engulfing the entire Indian subcontinent. The upheavals in Burma, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka all testify to the death agony of the reactionary state structures erected by British imperialism and its native bourgeois lackeys in the aftermath of World War II. The brutal repression of the historically-legitimate strivings of the oppressed nationalities was the inevitable byproduct of the preservation of bourgeois property and the global interests of imperialism on the Indian subcontinent. Today, imperialism and its bourgeois lackeys can only survive by unleashing different forms of communalist frenzy and creating the most barbaric regimes. In essence, the JVP is a manifestation of this process.

The sole alternative to the nightmarish plans of imperialism is the revolutionary perspective of international socialism advanced by the Revolutionary Communist League. The future of all the oppressed peoples of the Indian subcontinent depends upon their revolutionary unification under the leadership of the socialist proletariat.

This is the perspective that guided the life of Comrade Pitawala. Let his struggle be an inspiration to the workers of the entire subcontinent and, indeed, the entire world.

We thus call on the most courageous and class-conscious workers and youth to rally to the banner of the world socialist revolution by joining the Revolutionary Communist League.