David North
The Heritage We Defend

The Historic Betrayal in Ceylon

Within five months of the June 1963 Pabloite Reunification Congress, an event occurred which exposed the reactionary petty-bourgeois perspective that lay behind the SWP’s betrayal of Trotskyism. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963 as he rode through Dallas in a motorcade. The Socialist Workers Party’s response was unprecedented in the annals of revolutionary Marxism. Its national secretary, Farrell Dobbs, sent a message of condolence to Kennedy’s widow, which was published in The Militant December 2, 1963: “The Socialist Workers Party condemns the brutal assassination of President Kennedy as an inhuman, anti-social and criminal act. We extend our deepest sympathy to Mrs. Kennedy and the children in their personal grief. …

“Political differences within our society must be settled in an orderly manner by majority decision after free and open public debate in which all points of view are heard.”

During the controversy over Castroism, Hansen had argued that the SLL’s claim that the SWP had degenerated was disproved by its defense of the Cuban Revolution in the face of American imperialism. But when confronted with the Kennedy assassination, a cowardly panic seized hold of the SWP leadership. Terrified by the prospect of an anticommunist witch-hunt, the SWP leaders shamelessly groveled before US imperialism.

The first issue of The Militant published after the assassination, dated December 2, 1963, favorably quoted the eulogies of Kennedy given at the dead president’s funeral. The speech of Chief Justice Earl Warren was cited as an example of “penetrating and cogent comments by serious thinkers and writers.” A line from Warren’s speech was used as the headline of the The Militant’s article: “If we really love this country we must abjure hatred.”

Despite the fact that Banda’s “27 Reasons” is loaded with vitriolic denunciations of the SWP, he is strangely silent on this truly shameful episode. This is not accidental: he attacks the SWP only for those actions it took while it was still a Trotskyist party and was defending the principles of the Fourth International. But once the SWP broke with Trotskyism, Banda chooses to say nothing about its real crimes. Thus, he denounces Cannon’s conduct in 1941 while on trial in Minneapolis for sedition as “political cowardice and capitulation to the backward sections of the US working class. …” But he overlooks the SWP’s open declaration of solidarity with the American ruling class just a few months after its split with the International Committee.

The Socialist Labour League understood the class significance of the SWP’s telegram and denounced it publicly. In an article entitled “Marxists and the Kennedy Assassination,” Gerry Healy wrote:

The assassination of President Kennedy has given rise to a more than usual round of hysteria, tear-jerking and praise-mongering by the literary and political representatives of the middle class.

Reading some of the articles in the so-called socialist and liberal press about his life, one might be forgiven for thinking that Kennedy stood for the freedom of the Negro people and was, in fact, a socialist in all but name.

Thus do the hirelings of international capital endeavour to whitewash the most reactionary imperialist power in the world in its hour of crisis.

Kennedy was, of course, a most able representative of his class. Everything that he did had but one objective, to strengthen American imperialism.

When he spoke about Negro rights, he was merely using high-sounding liberal phraseology so that he could all the better, on behalf of his class, continue to enslave the Negro people.

Marxists express no sympathy whatsoever over Kennedy’s death. He was just another imperialist tyrant.

We do not condone the act of individual terror responsible for his death, not because we are squeamish or humanitarian about how it was done, but because individual terror is no substitute for the construction of the revolutionary party.

Terrorism is a weapon which in fact disorganises and leaves the working class leaderless. It creates the impression that the removal of prominent capitalist politicians and statesmen can solve the problems of the working class.

But for every tyrant shot, there is another ready to take his place. Only the overthrow of the capitalist system in the United States and its replacement by working-class power and socialism can solve the problems of the American working-class whites and Negroes.[1]

Healy then analyzed the response of the SWP to the killing:

When Lee Oswald fired the fatal shot, he did something more than assassinate a president.

He also destroyed utterly and completely the lie that the Socialist Workers Party of the United States is a Trotskyist party and that it continues the traditions for which it was founded in the struggle to build the Fourth International.[2]

Denouncing the SWP statement as a “nauseating report … written by cowardly liberals whose eyes are turned solely in the direction of the American middle-class,” Healy heaped scorn on the telegram’s call for the settlement of “political differences” in “an orderly manner.”

Indeed! Tell that to the Negroes of Birmingham, Alabama, and the miners of Kentucky. Tell that to the millions of colonial people in struggle against imperialism.

The settlement of class issues will not take place in an orderly manner, but in a violent way, because the ruling class will never give up its power peacefully. To the millions of working people in struggle against imperialism all over the world, Dobbs is just one more American liberal, who talks the language of “order” so as to mask the brutality of his own imperialist government.[3]

Healy was correct to stress the political significance of the SWP’s reaction to the Kennedy assassination. Suddenly confronted with a political crisis that reflected the enormous class tensions that lie just beneath the surface of American society, the SWP showed clearly where its class allegiance lay. One has only to compare Dobbs’ message to the simple and laconic remark of Malcolm X who, though not a Marxist, understood far more clearly than the SWP the implications of Kennedy’s assassination for American imperialism: “The chickens,” he said, “are coming home to roost.”

The reaction of the SWP to the Kennedy assassination provided irrefutable proof that its reunification with the Pabloites was bound up with its abandonment of a revolutionary perspective for the American working class. But it was, still, only an episode. The really world historic implications of the SWP-Pabloite reunification came in June 1964, when the LSSP, the Ceylonese section of the Pabloite “International,” entered the bourgeois coalition government of Mme. Bandaranaike. This was truly the August Fourth of Pabloism. For the first time in history, a party claiming to be Trotskyist had entered a bourgeois government. This betrayal had been prepared over many years, and the Pabloites were fully responsible for this political crime. After June 1964, there could no longer be any doubt about the counterrevolutionary role of Pabloism.

From 1953 on, the deepening political crisis inside the LSSP, its transformation from a revolutionary into a reformist party, was mirrored in its support for the liquidationist line of Pablo. The LSSP had opposed the issuing of the “Open Letter,” preserved its organizational links with the International Secretariat, and played a crucial role in orchestrating the reunification of the SWP with the European Pabloites. The LSSP’s support for the Pabloites was bound up with the development of powerful opportunist tendencies within its leadership who were pressing ever more openly for direct political alliances with the national bourgeoisie in Ceylon. In turn, the development of these relations, which led eventually to the LSSP’s entrance into a bourgeois government, were sanctioned by the Pabloites.

No one knows better than Banda the criminal responsibility of the Pabloites for the betrayal of the Ceylonese working class. He knows that from the 1950s on, the attitude of the ICFI to the politics of the LSSP was diametrically opposed to that of the Pabloites. After the 1953 split, both Healy and Cannon had recognized the opportunist character of the LSSP leadership. In 1957, Healy reacted hostilely to the unity proposal of Leslie Goonewardene by stressing, in letters to Cannon, the right-wing orientation of the LSSP. The clear political division between the ICFI and the Pabloites—that is, the struggle of Marxism against opportunism—found its most direct expression in their relationship to the LSSP. For this reason, Banda shamelessly attempts to suppress this record and rewrite history in accordance with his present factional needs. He declares:

More to the point is the manifest failure of the IC to make any effective intervention in the LSSP which since 1958 was drifting progressively to the right and towards accommodating with the SLFP. From 1960 to 1964 the IC said nothing in the hope that the centrists in the LSSP might come over to the IC. In this situation Pablo split from Mandel and augmented his credibility with the anti-coalition faction by opposing the N.M. Perera-Colvin da Silva group before the IC did so.

What an outrageous liar! Banda’s deviousness is illustrated by his cynical selection of 1958 as the year in which the rightward drift of the LSSP began to manifest itself. He chooses 1958 simply to avoid having to take note of the criticisms of the LSSP’s line made by the ICFI as early as 1956. As we have noted in previous chapters, the SWP characterized the line of the LSSP as “national opportunism” in January 1956 and publicly condemned its opportunism in relation to Chinese Stalinism in an editorial published in The Militant in March 1957. In April 1957 Healy wrote at length about the degeneration of the LSSP in a letter to Tom Kerry:

One of the things which greatly disturbs us is the deterioration in Ceylon. Colvin de Silva and Perera were here a few days ago and made no effort to see us. We learned that they were defending their policy on Chou En-lai and attacked us as sectarians. There seems to be a definite movement away there and this could of course be very important for the future. In 1954 they were with us fairly solid politically but now they are heading over towards Pablo. Here is an extract from a report submitted to our E.C. by one of our comrades who spoke to an English Pabloite.

“Bornstein told us that Colvin visited him on March 20. Colvin R. de Silva told him that he has recently received a letter from Comrade G. Healy ‘asking him to make specific demands to the Chinese delegation.’ Colvin stated that when he finished reading the letter he burst out laughing and thought that ‘Healy is mad.’ Bornstein said that he has seen the letter and agreed with Colvin that the demands contained in the letter were not only infantile but impossible at this stage because, as Bornstein puts it, the Stalinists are in process of change for the better and that it was possible, Bornstein added, for the Stalinist leadership to learn from their own terrible experiences; and that to make such demands would impede the democratisation of the C.P. in China.”[4]

On May 10, 1957 Healy wrote again to Cannon and again raised the question of the crisis in the LSSP:

Pablo is well aware of the opportunism of our Ceylonese leadership and true to type he is pushing them along. It is impossible for us to remain silent on this matter. Furthermore we have to take into account that the LSSP leaders have moved further away from the orthodox Trotskyist position since 1954. At his Fourth Congress Pablo included a few of their amendments and they capitulated. They are now further away from us politically than at any time previously. For example, the Trotskyist-dominated Ceylon Federation of Labor sent the following May Day Greetings to the Russian Trade Unions:

“Ceylon Federation of Labour sends you and Soviet people fraternal May Day Greetings and pledges support against all imperialist threats to your country.”—N.M. Perera, President.

Not one word about Hungary and the revolutionary fighters in the USSR. Instead it lends aid and comfort to the Stalinist bureaucracy which in turn will use this to maintain its hold over the Soviet masses.[5]

Banda is, of course, familiar with these letters; he probably worked with Healy in drafting them. Yet he makes no reference to them because they underscore the opposition of the International Committee to the opportunism of the LSSP, an opportunism that was abetted by the Pabloites. If it were not for the fact that it would cut across his present political needs, Banda could write volumes about the insidious role played by Mandel and Pablo in preparing the ground for the betrayal of the LSSP.

When the bourgeois Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP) came to power in 1956 with the support of the Philip Gunawardena group and formed the MEP government, the LSSP gave it critical support, while the revisionist International Secretariat applauded the “irreversible movements” towards socialism. The Bandaranaike government attempted to utilize the general upsurge of the masses and the conditions of the economic boom in the West to wrest some concessions for the native capitalist class and even created the illusion, albeit temporarily, that the national bourgeoisie could establish its independence from imperialism.

Bandaranaike nationalized the transport services and the Colombo Harbor, closed down the imperialist bases at Trincomalee and Katunayake, protected the local market from the penetration of cheaper commodities from the imperialist countries and used income from tea and rubber to give an impetus to the development of local industry. These measures exhausted the ingenuity of the Ceylonese bourgeoisie. Simultaneously, it implemented a viciously chauvinist policy directed against the Tamils and plantation workers.

The ranks of the working class expanded considerably, due to the increased activities of the private and public sector. Bandaranaike’s anti-imperialist demagogy, however, could not contain the demands of the working class for higher living standards and it won important concessions from the state. The LSSP was forced to lead these struggles.

When Bandaranaike sought to curtail the democratic rights of the working class through the introduction of the Public Security (Special Provisions) Act, the LSSP organized a one-day protest general strike, against which the Stalinists, predictably, scabbed. Sections of the native bourgeoisie came into conflict with Bandaranaike over his inability to deal with working class militancy and they organized his assassination in 1959.

By that time, the degeneration of the LSSP was far advanced. In the 1960 general elections, the party put forward, for the first time in its history, a perspective of coming to power through parliament. It contested about one hundred seats, but only fifteen were elected. The elections showed that the capitalist class was working for the return of the old UNP, which formed a minority government in March 1960. When the new government collapsed immediately after issuing its basic policy statement, the LSSP decided to support the SLFP in the July 1960 elections.

At its party conference in 1960, N.M. Perera moved a resolution to form a coalition government with the SLFP. This was accepted by the conference, but overturned by the Central Committee. The arguments advanced by Perera were entirely compatible with the conceptions that had been advanced by Pablo for years. Perera’s resolution declared:

Concretely … the LSSP party will have to take the following steps. First of all enter into a no-contest pact to fight the forthcoming elections. In the campaign itself, declare our readiness to support the formation of an SLFP (Sri Lanka Freedom Party) government. This must not be hedged about with conditions otherwise we will weaken the forces ready to rally round an alternative government. Secondly, steps must be taken to bring about a programmatic agreement with the SLFP with a view to forming a joint government. …

It is possible to denigrate such a line of action as class-collaboration and condemn it out of hand. This charge of class collaboration is only tenable if the class character of the SLFP as a petty-bourgeois party is not accepted. In any case, such entrist tactics in respect of reformist social-democratic parties are nothing new. Admittedly we are taking entrism a stage further by accepting office. But is this not the best way of taking the masses through the experience necessary to dispel their illusions, and creating confidence in our genuineness. A few bold progressive measures sponsored by us will enable them to learn more than years of propaganda by us. These measures should be such as to be in line with our socialist programme and such as would carry our socialist policies forward.[6]

On September 16, 1960 the International Secretariat wrote a lengthy document addressed to the ranks of the LSSP, which justified every point of the LSSP’s capitulation to the SLFP:

A dangerous situation arose especially after the Bandaranaike assassination. It is the political leadership of the capitalist class which forced this crisis. As a result of the death of the Prime Minister and the weakening of the parliamentary power of the SLFP a majority of the middle class population were attracted to the TJNP, the party of the imperialists. Meanwhile the more reactionary sections were entering the hope of strong government outside the parliamentary democratic system. … In other words, although the masses were prepared to defend their gains, they were not ready to launch an anti-capitalist movement on a revolutionary political basis.[7]

All these arguments were rationalizations which served to cover up for the opportunism of the LSSP. Adapting itself to the LSSP’s capitulation to the SLFP, the International Secretariat declared:

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. But this support should be on two important conditions. One is to support the progressive measures helpful to the victory of the revolutionary movement. The other is to educate the masses who are under the leadership of the capitalist class or the middle class. This does not imply consistent, direct and unconditional support for non-working class governments.[8]

The Pabloites differed from the LSSP only in that they were in favor of inconsistent, indirect and conditional support for bourgeois regimes, and their acceptance of the right-wing orientation of the LSSP made their mild rebuke of Perera’s open call for coalition hypocritical. With the help of the cover provided by the International Secretariat, the LSSP began to move toward accepting a racist policy of rejecting full citizenship rights for the plantation workers.

At the Reunification Congress of the Pabloites in June 1963, the revisionists again covered up the extent of the LSSP’s degeneration: “Our Ceylonese section has progressively corrected the wrong orientation adopted in 1960 of supporting the liberal-bourgeois government of the SLFP. Since the masses began to go into action, it has not hesitated to place itself at their head against its electoral allies of yesterday.”[9]

The Pabloites proposed to the LSSP that it form a “really socialist united front government” through an alliance with the Communist Party and Philip Gunawardena’s MEP. The real meaning of this “United Left Front” line was to complete the conditioning of the LSSP for participation in a popular front government, as the MEP was a racist petty-bourgeois outfit. One month after the Reunification Congress, the LSSP received instructions from the Pabloite International which sanctioned the Indian-Ceylonese agreement to deport hundreds of thousands of plantation workers to India. In a letter written in July 1963, the United Secretariat stated that “ ‘we recognize that there is nothing wrong in the principle of negotiations between India and Ceylon on the subject.’ ”[10]

In contrast to the cover-ups and deceptions of the United Secretariat, the Socialist Labour League openly denounced the LSSP’s treacherous policies. In a letter written by Healy on June 12, 1963 to the SWP National Committee, condemning its reunification with the Pabloites, he pointed bitterly to the SWP’s silence on the LSSP’s preparation for a betrayal of the Ceylonese working class:

Recently we have read in The Militant that 100,000 people attended a May Day rally in Colombo. “The huge turnout,” says The Militant “was attributed to enthusiasm among the masses at the prospect of a united front between the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (Trotskyist), the Communist Party and the MEP (a smaller group led by Philip Gunawardene)”.

Here we go again. Just at the moment that you are splitting from the SLL and are reaffirming Peng as the leader of the Chinese section, you turn the attention of your membership towards “the great LSSP in Ceylon.” Of course, you remain discreetly silent about the proceedings at that meeting. You did not tell your membership that when the three left parties, that is the LSSP, the CP and the MEP, were discussing the preparation of the meeting Philip Gunawardene insisted that only political parties should be represented on the platform. His motive was simple and quite reactionary. He wished to exclude the Indian working class from being represented through their trade unions.

The LSSP to its eternal shame agreed to this farce. It must be remembered that in the past the LSSP was the only party in Ceylon to stand unconditionally for the equality of the Indian Tamil working class. It always sharply opposed Philip Gunawardene of the MEP, whose role at this meeting was utterly reactionary.

You remain silent about what Philip Gunawardene said. With a slip of the tongue he used the word “race” instead of “nation” and then corrected himself. His supporters in the audience shouted “No, not nation: race!” All this time the LSSP sat silent on the platform. Here is the price for such unity.

It is now freely admitted in the LSSP that the leaders are prepared to make real and large concessions on the question of parity of status for Tamil and Singhalese. This is the logic of the capitulation which has led them to support the capitalist government of Mrs. Bandaranaike. You should have told your membership that N.M. Perera, Anil Moonesinghe and other leaders of the LSSP are practicing Buddhists who worship regularly at the temples.[11]

In the critical months preceding the entry of the LSSP into a coalition government led by Bandaranaike, the Pabloite United Secretariat opposed any discussion of the right-wing line of its Ceylonese allies. While Banda refers to Pablo’s tactical differences with Mandel over the line on Ceylon—an episodic dispute which has no bearing whatsoever on the evaluation of Pabloism as a political tendency—he does not mention the reply given by the United Secretariat in defense of the LSSP. Declaring that it was necessary to give the LSSP time to prove their “sincerity” and “good faith,” the United Secretariat maintained that criticism of the LSSP

would mean first of all to deliberately heat up the atmosphere in the LSSP by injecting the sharpest kind of factionalism; secondly, to exacerbate matters still further by transferring the dispute to the public arena. A divisive policy of this kind would put in jeopardy if not destroy, fraternal relations between the United Secretariat and the leadership of the LSSP. The end result could be highly injurious to the Fourth International and to the LSSP, including its left wing which has absolutely no interest to put in question the unity of the party through the creation of undue internal friction and tension from any source.[12]

The record proves that Banda is lying through his teeth when he claims, “The IC intervention was made only on the very eve of the split conference in Colombo when Healy tried to gate-crash the conference and gain a cheap advantage at the expense of Pierre Frank and the United Secretariat.”

This adolescent gibe does not deserve to be taken seriously. Healy traveled to Ceylon as the representative of the only international tendency that had fought for more than a decade the revisionism that led to the final betrayal of the LSSP. The Pabloite Pierre Frank, a leader of the United Secretariat, had helped prepare that betrayal.

No less cynical and dishonest is Banda’s claim, “The IC had no perspective for Sri Lanka except to denounce N.M. Perera ex post facto. It was left to Cde Tony Banda to try to pick up the pieces and construct a section.” Are we to assume that Tony Banda was working on his own as a political freelancer, and not as a member of the SLL and the ICFI when he traveled to Sri Lanka? If the IC had no perspective, how then does Banda account for the formation of the Revolutionary Communist League, which became the Sri Lankan section of the International Committee?

The International Committee, founded in the struggle against Pabloism more than a decade before revisionism resulted in the entry of a so-called Trotskyist party into a bourgeois government, had a very clear perspective for work in Ceylon. It alone recognized the world-historical significance of the LSSP’s betrayal for the Fourth International. In a statement dated July 5, 1964, the ICFI declared:

The entry of the LSSP members into the Bandaranaike coalition marks the end of a whole epoch of the evolution of the Fourth International. It is in direct service to imperialism, in the preparation of a defeat for the working class that revisionism in the world Trotskyist movement has found its expression. The task of reconstructing the Fourth International must be undertaken from the firm basis of constructing revolutionary proletarian parties in every country in struggle against the bureaucratic and opportunist servants of imperialism and against their defenders the revisionists who usurp the name of Trotskyism and the Fourth International.[13]

Banda makes no reference to another crucial by-product of the Pabloite betrayal in Ceylon. Supporters of the ICFI, led by Tim Wohlforth, who constituted an official minority within the SWP, were suspended because they insisted on a discussion within the party of the historic betrayal that had been carried out by the LSSP, with which the SWP was politically allied. For the “crime” of attempting to circulate to members of the SWP a statement on the entry of the LSSP into a coalition government—an unprecedented event in the history of the Fourth International—Wohlforth and eight other members of the minority tendency were suspended.

The minority tendency had since 1961 fought alongside the International Committee against the degeneration of the SWP leadership. It continued this fight even after the split with the International Committee in order to do everything possible to return the SWP to the road of Trotskyism. However, the events in Ceylon required that extraordinary action be taken to demand a discussion on the crisis in the world Trotskyist movement. The minority’s statement, June 30, 1964, declared:

During the whole period from 1961 to 1963 we reiterated time and time again, in political solidarity with the International Committee, that a reunification of the Fourth International without the fullest political discussion prior to the actual reunification could only lead to disaster and the further disintegration of the international movement and the party here. Our position has been fully vindicated. …

There can no longer be any further refusal to face up to the political, theoretical and methodological crisis tearing apart our party and the international formation to which it is presently in political solidarity. For the very survival of the party a thoroughgoing discussion of these questions must be organized immediately in all branches.

We are well aware that such a discussion in between preconvention periods is an extraordinary step. We are demanding such a discussion precisely because we face a crisis of the most extraordinary character. Leninists are never fetishistic over organizational matters. They willingly make adjustments in organizational forms to fit the political needs of the movement. To perpetuate a sterile discussion during a period when the party has important external work to do is a criminal act against the Bolshevik party. Not to organize a discussion when a deep political crisis tears apart the party and the international movement is at least as criminal an action. Those who counterpose pressing and necessary party building work to a process essential to the very survival of the party itself are in no sense of the term Leninists.[14]

Ten days later, all nine signatories to this letter were suspended from the SWP. However, they proceeded to form the American Committee for the Fourth International, which in November 1966 was transformed into the Workers League. Thus, the struggle waged by the ICFI against Pabloite revisionism preserved the historical continuity of the Trotskyist movement in the United States.


Newsletter, 7 December 1963.






National Education Department Socialist Workers Party, Education for Socialists: The Struggle to Reunify the Fourth International (1954–63), vol. 3, May 1977, pp. 31–32.


Ibid., p. 33.


Cliff Slaughter, ed., Trotskyism Versus Revisionism: A Documentary History (London: New Park Publications, 1974), vol. 4, The International Committee Against Liquidationism, p. 58.


From a copy of the original document.


From a copy of the original document.


Seventh World Congress of the Fourth International, “The International Situation and Our Tasks,” Fourth International, no. 17, October-December 1963, p. 45.


Slaughter, ed., Trotskyism Versus Revisionism, vol. 4, p. 235.


Ibid., p. 162.


Ibid., p. 240.


Newsletter, 11 July 1964.


From a copy of the original document.