Socialist Equality Party (UK)
The Historical and International Foundations of the Socialist Equality Party (Britain)

The 1963 Reunification and the “Great Betrayal” in Ceylon

132. In a letter of January 2, 1961, to the SWP leadership, the SLL outlined its essential standpoint. The letter stated:

“It is because of the magnitude of the opportunities opening up before Trotskyism, and therefore the necessity for political and theoretical clarity, that we urgently require a drawing of the lines against revisionism in all its forms. It is time to draw to a close the period in which Pabloite revisionism was regarded as a trend within Trotskyism. Unless this is done we cannot prepare for the revolutionary struggles now beginning”.[1]

133. This principled position of the British Trotskyists cut across the steady rightward drift of the SWP. Efforts by the International Committee to work out a common attitude towards the Pabloites proved futile. Cannon denounced the formation of the SLL, stating that Healy was on an “Oehlerite binge”—a reference to Hugo Oehler, the leader of a sectarian tendency in the US Trotskyist movement in the 1930s.

134. In June 1963, the SWP held a unification congress with the Pabloites to form the United Secretariat (USec). There was no discussion on the split of 1953, which was deemed irrelevant in the context of a “new world reality”. The conference produced a document co-authored by Hansen and Dobbs, “Reunification of the Fourth International”, explicitly rejecting the building of Trotskyist parties. Hailing the Cuban revolution as “the opening of the socialist revolution in the Western Hemisphere”, Hansen and Dobbs denounced Healy for his “simple-minded sectarian pattern of thought”, for maintaining that “It is impossible to carry a revolution forward to the successful establishment of a workers state without the preceding construction in every instance of a revolutionary-socialist party”.

135. Within a year the SWP’s opportunist course was to exact a terrible price, when the LSSP entered the bourgeois coalition government of Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike.[2] “The Great Betrayal” of the LSSP rescued the government from imminent collapse, discredited Trotskyism amongst the Sinhala and Tamil masses and paved the way for a bloody civil war spanning a quarter of a century. The Pabloites had prepared the way for the LSSP’s capitulation, writing in September 1960, “We accept that it is possible for a revolutionary party to give critical support to a non-working class government [whether middle class or capitalist] in a colonial or semi-colonial country”. The Pabloites refused the SLL’s demands for a discussion on the LSSP’s actions. Healy travelled personally to Sri Lanka to intervene at the LSSP congress, whereas the USec insisted that any criticism of the LSSP would only “put in jeopardy, if not destroy, fraternal relations between the United Secretariat and the leadership of the LSSP”.[3]

136. An illustration of the patient approach taken by the SLL during this fight was its political mentoring of a minority tendency within the SWP, led by Tim Wohlforth. Healy cautioned the SLL’s American supporters to avoid factional conflicts over secondary issues, recognising they were involved in a struggle to clarify the cadre of the SWP and reorient the International Committee on issues of political principle. This advice was heeded by Wohlforth’s group, in contrast to a minority tendency led by James Robertson, which proceeded on the basis of its own factional interests. The Wohlforth minority continued to work inside the SWP after the 1963 reunification congress, until it was suspended from membership for calling for a discussion on the roots of the LSSP’s betrayal.


Cited in The Heritage We DefendA Contribution to the History of the Fourth International, David North (1988), Labor Publications, p. 376.


One of the three LSSP Cabinet members in Bandaranaike’s coalition was Anil Moonesinghe, a supporter of Cliff’s state capitalist tendency. In the early 1990s he was elected a vice-president of Bandaranaike’s SLFP and briefly held the honorary rank of Colonel.


Cited in The Heritage We DefendA Contribution to the History of the Fourth International, David North (1988), Labor Publications, p. 401.