Edmund Samarakkody kept faith to the last

feature.jpg (9835 bytes)by Amaradasa Fernando
January 4th marked the 10th anniversary of Edmund Samarakkody’s death. He was one of the pioneers of the Left Movement. He came from what one would call a "wallauwa" in Panagoda. His elder brother Siripala was a member of the State Council and so was another brother Stephen. They were bourgeois nationalists, which was the political trend in the early nineteenth century. But young Edmund was to carve a different path for himself. While still a student he joined a young group of intellectual radicals who had returned to the island after finishing their studies in the US and UK in the early thirties. These young men, S. A. Wickremasinghe, Philip Gunawardene, N. M. Perera, Colvin R. de Silva T. B. Subesinghe and V. Karalasingham etc. Coincidentally all the above named were Anandians, except Colvin who came from Royal, while Edmund came from S. Thomas’ . With the advent of the great Russian October Revolution, Philip Gunawardene in particular had been influenced by Marxist and labour movements. Philip was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. He had been earlier introduced to socialist ideology while the others held socialist/nationalist views. He was introduced to socialism, by Prof. Scott Nearing an American, when Philip was at Wisconsin, while Harold Laski and Bernard Shaw influenced NM. at the London School of Economics when reading for his Ph.D., during the latter part of his stay in Great Britain Philip came to be influenced by the Russian Left Opposition against Stalin led by Leon Trotsky and his Theory of the Permanent Revolution.

Crown Colony

Sri Lanka, Ceylon, was a Crown Colony of British Imperialism. World War 11 which saw the decline of colonialism, had its impact on India and Ceylon. It was in these heady times that young Edmond was caught up in the nationalist movement. He became a member of the Colombo South Youth League, which was affiliated to the All Ceylon (Youth) Congress. In November 1933 the radical element of the Youth League was associated with the Suriya Mal Movement which was started as a counter to the Poppy organization on November 11 which collected money for disabled war veterans of Great Britain. Instead now the Suriya Mal Movement collected for the war veterans of Ceylon. In the years of the Malaria epidemic of 1934-35 in Ceylon which took a toll of over 100,000 lives, found the Suriya Mal Movement activists led by Drs. N. M. Perera, S. A. Wickremasinghe and Philip Gunawardene who took a leading role in relief work in the Kelani Valley. Thus the Suriya Mal movement saw the beginnings of the anti-imperialist movement in Ceylon, later to become the LSSP, an umbrella organization for all nationalists, socialists of different hues. At its founding conference of the LSSP on Dec. 1935 Edmund was elected to its Executive Committee. The more militant socialists in it grew into what was called the "T" group (Trotskyist) led by Philip. They included, NM, Colvin, Leslie Goonewardene, Robert, Vernon Gunasekera, P. H. William Silva and Edmund. There was a split party one led by the T. Group, who now sided with Leon Trotsky in the International Communist movement, while a group led by Dr. Wicks. M. G. Mendis, P. Kandiah etc. sided with Stalin, who were expelled and were to form the United Socialist Party, later the Ceylon C.P. Independence. The LSSP was the first party that stood for complete independence of Ceylon from the British Empire, while even the "father of the nation" D. S. Senanayake stood for "Dominion Status within the Commonwealth". A. E. Goonesinghe was the first to organize the both indigenous and Indian labour in the early 20s. With the appearance Colombo South Youth League and later the LSSP posed a challenge to Goonesinghe’s, Ceylon Labour Union. The tea, rubber D.C. mills, harbour the textile workers were mostly led by Goonesinghe who had got a head start. The Wellawatte Spinning and Weaving Mills led by the latter with a labour force of 1400 strong, 2/3 Malayalam, and 1/3 Sinhalese had led strikes in 1923,1926 and 1929. In 1933 because of the economic depression, the workers went on strike in defiance of A.E.G. They walked out in protest against a drastic cut in wages, besides they asked for a reduction in working hours from 60 to 54 hours. The young militants of the Colombo S. L. the supported the Indian workers, while A.E.G. used the Sinhala workers from the weaving mills and also from the harbour as black legs. Dr. Colvin R. de Silva, S. A. Wicks, Philip, Leslie and young Edmund who had by now passed out as a lawyer started the Wellawatte Mill Workers Union with Colvin as its President.

Workers Councils

His first brush against British interests was when he supported the workers of the Ms. Vavaseurs and the Colombo Commercial Company. This was done against the leadership of the Communist Party which was formed by the Stalinist nucleus within the LSSP, later expelled.

Workers Councils

The CP which was in control of the rubber, coconut, tea and the engineering firms had given "no strike" pledge, as they were supporting the British war effort, with the Nazi attack on the USSR, were given a free run supported by their managements. While Edmund was arrested along with Leslie Goonwardene for participation in these firm’s strikes. Edmund was involved in the wave of plantation struggles of Mooloya and Wevasse. There was a celebrated case of an Indian plantation worker Govindan, was shot dead at Mooloya (Jan. 18th) where Colvin R. de Silva, Jack Kotalawala and Edmund took up the legal defense of the estate workers. By the end of May the strike enveloped the whole of Uva like a forest fire. It was this direct clash with the British colonial interests, where some estates workers for the first time in working class history of Ceylon up "workers councils". In Badulla a mammoth meeting despite a police ban was held when the British military government decided that it was time to crack down these agitators.

Leaders arrested

Within a week of the fall of France to the Hitlerite forces the Governor issued detention orders on five leaders of the LSSP. "The Times of Ceylon" the news paper of the plantation Raj on 19th June 1940 the reported the arrest in head lines, "Red leaders in Welikade jail....three last night another today ....Swift action by the police. "N. M. Perera, Philip Gunawardene, and Colvin R. de Silva were taken into custody on June 19. Edmund was arrested in Mount Lavinia on the following day. But Leslie Goonewardene evaded arrest and went underground. In Welikade and following a hunger strike against poor conditions, the four detainees were removed to the British military prison in Bogambara, Kandy, where they planned there future political strategy. The prisoners with the connivance of a prison guard scooted out of jail to attend all night party meetings and returned to jail. They even attended a secret party conference of 42 delegates. It was Edmund and another comrade who remained in the cell to cover up their absence of the leaders. On another occasion a Indian comrade from Banares visited their cell surreptitiously to plan their escape and their future political strategy in India. On the night of April 7 1942 the four prisoners made a daring jail break, along with the prison guard, Solomon, whom they had won over to their cause. Philip, NM and Colvin, and crossed over to India in a "vallam" from Velvettithruai, while Edmund stayed behind in the underground help build the LSSP. In India they helped with Indian Troskyists to launch the Bolshevik Leninist Party of India, of which the LSSP now became its Ceylon Unit. While BLPI supported the Quit India Movement the Indian CP worked against it.

In 1943 the Indian Police swooped, on the fugitives, betrayed by a Stalinist mole Shukla, deporting Philip, NM, Colvin and Robert, while Doric de Souza, Leslie, V. Karalasingham, Bernard Soysa, Hector Abeyawardhana, Vivienne Goonewardena, and Allan Mendis who had also gone over to India, stayed behind to help build the BLPI.

In 1944 Edmund was re arrested and charged for conspiring against His Majesty’s Government and the jail break and had a six months rigorous imprisonment imposed on him. By the end of the war the LSSP split into two factions- the LSSP led by Philip and NM and the Bolshevik Samasamajaya Party led By Colvin, Leslie, Edmund and Bernard Soysa. In 1950 the parties re united. They fought the General Election of 1952, and Edmund was elected as member for Dehiovita. In 1960 he represented Bulathsinghala.

Sinhala Only

In 1953 a group split to toe an SLFP line of not anti capitalism but anti UNPism. In 1955 it was Edmund who seconded NM’s motion in Parliament to make Both Tamil and Sinhala as official languages. The UNP, SLFP, and the VLLSP of Philip had switched from on to Tamil and Sinhala as Swabhasa languages to one of "Sinhala Only". The LSSP, (NM, Colvin, Leslie) joined the in the formation of a Coalition Government with Ms. Sirima Bandaranaike in 1964. This made Edmund, Meryl Fernando, V. Karalasingham and Bala Tampoe, walk out in to launch the LSSP (R) as Trotskyist Party affiliated to the Fourth International, the Party built by Leon Trotsky after he was sent into exile by Stalin.

Press Take Over

An important episode in Edmund’s life should not be missed. In 1965 he as MP for Dehiovita and Meryl Fernando MP for Moratuwa, being in the LSSP (R) from the Opposition voted with the UNP on the Throne Speech on the specific subject of the take over of the Lake House and Times press. The UNP leading the Opposition found these two MPs, along with C. P. de Silva and thirteen others voting with the Opposition. The 13 crossed over to the UNP. The Coalition Government voting with the Opposition. The Government of Sirimavo lost by one vote! Because Edmund was such a purist in politics often left him isolated. He formed a splinter group, ran a Sinhala weekly and worked among trade unions in the last years of his life. There was one thing to be said of Edmund through his life. He was honest and steadfast to the cause of revolutionary socialism. He preferred to stick to othodoxy than compromise one bit and retain his political identity and remain as a small group. He was disillusioned with the turn of events in Sri Lanka in particular and the socialist world in general. He however kept his faith in socialism that in the parallelogram of forces, socialism like oil on water would surface ultimately. Another matter he felt strongly was the ethnic question relating to the minority Tamils whose he had so relentlessly pursued. From "parity of status" to both Sinhala and Tamil, he went to the extent of championing the cessation for a separate state for the Tamils. Only a few Marxists (Trotskyists) still remain to carry forward this ideal, and ideal very close to Edmund’s heart. Indeed he kept to his faith to the last!.
(I am indebted to "TN" whose appreciation of Edmund, from which I have borrowed)