International Committee of the Fourth International
Fourth International (1990): 50 years since the assassination of Trotsky

Two Years Since the Death of Comrade Keerthi Balasuriya

This article originally appeared in the Bulletin on January 12, 1990.

December 18, 1989 marked the second anniversary of the death of Comrade Keerthi Balasuriya, the general secretary of the Revolutionary Communist League of Sri Lanka and a leader of the International Committee of the Fourth International.

In paying tribute to the memory of this irreplaceable revolutionary fighter, the Workers League rededicates itself to the principles and program of revolutionary proletarian internationalism for which Comrade Keerthi fought so intransigently up until the moment of his sudden death at the age of 39.

The fullest measure of this life-long struggle is the movement which he left behind—both the Revolutionary Communist League, which alone has provided revolutionary leadership to the working class under the conditions of civil war and revolutionary crisis presently raging in Sri Lanka; and the International Committee of the Fourth International, which has grown powerfully in its political and theoretical stature before workers all over the world as a result of the struggle against national opportunism in which Comrade Keerthi played such a decisive part.

Comrade Keerthi came into revolutionary politics at the age of 16, part of a generation of young Marxists who were steeled in the fight against one of the greatest betrayals of the postwar period. This was the entry of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, which had previously won the leadership of the Sri Lankan working class based on the program and principles of the Fourth International, into the bourgeois coalition government of Mme. Bandaranaike in 1964.

The Revolutionary Communist League was founded in 1968 in an implacable struggle against the betrayal of the LSSP, as well as in battle against the revisionist LSSP(R) which sought to defend the same anti-Marxist and opportunist politics which led to this betrayal and opposed any fight against Pabloism, the petty-bourgeois revisionist trend within the Fourth International which had paved the way to the LSSP’s capitulation in Sri Lanka, as well as betrayals all over the world.

At the age of 19, Comrade Keerthi was selected by his comrades as the general secretary of the RCL, a position which he held over the next two decades until his death. His selection at this young age was an indication of both Comrade Keerthi’s recognized brilliance as a Marxist, even then, as well as of the depth of the betrayal by virtually the entire older generation of the LSSP.

From the beginning, Comrade Keerthi developed as a revolutionary Marxist in struggle against Pabloite opportunism, which rejected the revolutionary role of the proletariat, abandoned the fight for the development of Marxist consciousness in the working class and ceded the function of revolutionary vanguard to the Stalinist bureaucracies, the national bourgeoisie in the colonial countries and various reactionary petty-bourgeois forces.

Rejecting all of these bankrupt theories which rationalized the abandonment of Trotskyism and the program of world socialist revolution, Comrade Keerthi and the RCL upheld the program of permanent revolution, which begins from the international character of the socialist revolution and demonstrates that the liberation of the backward countries from the yoke of imperialism can be achieved only by the proletarian revolution. He furthermore enriched this theory on the basis of the whole postwar experience and the abortion of the various national independence movements under bourgeois leadership, which found its most infamous form in imperialism’s communal carve-up of the Indian subcontinent.

This defense and development of Trotskyism brought Comrade Keerthi and the RCL into an inescapable conflict with the leadership of the British Workers Revolutionary Party, which by the 1970s was increasingly basing itself on a national opportunist outlook. The WRP leadership of Healy, Banda and Slaughter systematically sought to isolate the RCL within the International Committee and to silence its Trotskyist perspective and criticism.

With the split in the International Committee of October 1985, however, this isolation was broken, as the RCL united with the majority of the sections of the ICFI in overthrowing the domination of the petty-bourgeois national opportunists in the WRP leadership and forging an unprecedented level of international unity within the world party. Comrade Keerthi played a leading role throughout this struggle which was unquestionably the preparation of the ICFI for the revolutionary decade which we have now entered.

The long struggle which Comrade Keerthi waged against Pabloite revisionist opportunism has found its greatest vindication in the revolutionary developments of the recent period, most particularly the eruption of mass movements of the working class against the Stalinist bureaucracy. While he did not live to see these developments, he consciously prepared for them and, most decisively, played a key role in forging an international cadre capable of providing the revolutionary leadership which the working class now requires.

For 20 years, Comrade Keerthi fought against the Pabloite opportunists who sought to endow Stalinism with a progressive character and claimed that the police states set up in Eastern Europe represented the necessary historical path through which world socialism would develop. Basing himself on the principles of the ICFI, he defended Trotsky’s analysis of Stalinism as a counterrevolutionary agency of imperialism and the program of political revolution. Comrade Keerthi likewise opposed their attempts to advance petty-bourgeois radical and nationalist movements (like the JVP in Sri Lanka) as worthy substitutes for proletarian Marxist parties organized as sections of the Fourth International.

Now the balance sheet on this struggle is being written by history itself. The deformed workers’ states which the Pabloites claimed would endure for centuries have been challenged by mass rebellions of the working class, while the various petty-bourgeois nationalist and radical movements have moved steadily to the right, with the JVP itself going over to outright fascist attacks on the Sri Lankan working class.

Only the International Committee of the Fourth International has entered these struggles armed with a scientific revolutionary perspective and certain of the coming mass revolutionary struggles of the international working class. The lifelong revolutionary work of Comrade Keerthi Balasuriya contributed decisively to this confident perspective and thereby lives on in the struggle of every section and every cadre of the ICFI.