Hector Abhayavardhana is 87 today :
The wise elder of the Left
At the age of 87 today Hector Abhayavardhana is the last of the great
stalwarts of the Lanka Samasamaja party, at 70 the country's oldest and
first organised political party whose history has been indissolubly
linked to Sri Lanka's politics since its birth.
As the foremost theoretician of the LSSP a writer and newspaper
editor Hector Abhayavardhana has had a ringside view of all major
Contemporary political, social and economic developments. He has been a
major force in the coalition partnership of the SLFP and the LSSP over
Now with 70 years of political experience behind him (he joined the
Ceylon University College at the age of 17) Hector although now out of
the hurly burly of the arena still contemplates the realities of the day
with all the distilled wisdom of a sagacious elder who has gone through
the mill and seen it all and seen it whole.
Hector Abhayavardhana's biography can be read as a parable of the
birth and evolution of the English-educated middle class produced by
British Colonialism following the Colebrook - Cameron reforms of 1832,
that class which in collaboration with the British and later in
succession to them was to keep the wheels of the colonial administration
He was born on January 5, 1919 in a vicarage in Kandy where his
maternal grand father was the Anglican pastor. He was the eldest child
of Hector Wilfred and Mary Millicent Abeywardena. (Hector was to later
revert to the phonefically correct version of his name.) On both his
father's and mother's side the family's roots can be traced back to
Galle and coming from the privileged Goyigama caste and Christianity,
the religion of the Establishment, the family belonged to the
influential privileged class of the day.
His father joined Government service and rose to be Chief Clerk of
the Governor's Office under Governor Stubbs (1933-1937) whose name
survives to this day on account of the Boxing Shield named after him.
Hector's childhood then was typical of the westernised middle-class
of that gathering twilight of colonialism. As a boy he was taught 'Good
King Wenceslaus' to sing solo in a Christmas carol and he recalls his
voice and nerves letting him down on his debut.
He began his schooling in 1923 at St. Thomas' College, Mount Lavinia
close to his home at Station Boad and won a first division in the London
Matriculation examination. As part of his extra-curricular activities he
also won the schools' Broadcasting Competition.
Hector's upbringing then was typical of the colonial middle-class of
the day and being anglicised both in cultural values as well as religion
he was at two removes from the generality of the Sinhala-speaking
Buddhist middle-class of the times.
But if this was his childhood and young adulthood he was soon to
break loose from these ancestral ties and taboos and strike out on a
distinctive path of his own. Aided by the writings of such iconoclastic
intellectual mentors as H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley and George Bernard
Hector at the age of fifteen renounced Christianity and became an
atheist. His gravitation to Marxism was to complete his rebellion
against the doddering old gods of Anglo-Saxon liberalism and seal his
Hector was 16 years old when the LSSP was formed in December 1935
Although he was unaware of it at that time. The year after he joined the
University College, Ceylon's only University then and popularly known as
Like most politically-conscious people of the time he was stirred by
the Bracegirdle episode where the Colonial Government sought to depot
Anthony Lister Mark Bracegirdle an Australian tea planter who had joined
the LSSP and was engaged in anti-imperialist agitation on the tea
estates, the citadel of colonial capital.
The LSSP challenged the Governor's deportation order and Bracegirdle
went into hiding. Hector's first exposure to radical politics was at a
mass meeting at Galle Face Green where Bracegirdle made a dramatic
appearance and a stirring speech before being whisked away into hiding.
The Governor was Sir Reginald Stubbs and Hector's father was the Chief
Clerk in his office. The son's dissident politics was certainly taking
an interesting turn.
After this Hector's political development gathered steady momentum.
He invited Dr. Colvin R. de Silva to address the Mount Lavinia Debating
Society of which he was a live wire at what turned out to be a public
He joined the LSSP and his first direct involvement in the party was
when he was assigned work in the underground network which the party was
preparing in anticipation of its proscription and the arrest of its
leaders which duly took place in June 1940.
Although early in his early twenties Hector was already very active
in the party so that when the proscription came he was among those who
fled to India to continue political work there.
There they formed the Bolshevik Leninist Party of India and in these
hectic political struggles Hector came into his element as a writer and
his two pamphlets 'The Saboteur Strategy of the Constructive Programme'
and on the Quit India Movement of the Congress Party were seminal
theoretical works of the time.
Since then Hector has been rightly recognised as a keen political
analyst, an outstanding authority on India and a major writer on the
Although all the main LSSP leaders returned to Ceylon after the grant
of nominal political Independence Hector remained there till 1960 which
makes India his second home.
He is credited with laying the ideological and theoretical
foundations of the SLFP-LSSP Coalition of June 1964.
Later under the United Front Government of the SLFP - LSSP - CP
formed in July 1970 Hector served as Chairman of the People's Bank and
worked closely with his comrade Dr. N.M. Perera the Finance Minister.
As a political analyst, thinker and writer Hector's contribution to
political literature and raising the political consciousness of the
masses has been considerable. His experiences shed light on a wide
spectrum of Sri Lankan politics sometimes hidden from the public gaze.
Of him one time Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka Gopalkrishna
Gandhi said in a tribute on his 80th birthday: "There was in him a
combination of mental attributes and approaches that struck one as being
profound without being ponderous; and as being intelligent in a way
qualitatively different from cerebral 'smartness.'
Sri Lankan that he was, Hector knew India better than the Indians
present (at a symposium) and could discuss the internal politics of the
countries represented in a manner his listeners found sobering. In the
observations he made Hector struck a balance between universal
principles and the specificities of nation, society and group."
Note: Some of the biographical details have been extracted from the
essay 'Hector Abhayavardhana: A Biographical Sketch' by Rajan Philips in
the volume of 'Sri Lanka: Global Challenges and National Crises,'
proceedings of the Hector Abhayavardhana felicitation symposium 1999 and
published by the Ecumenical Association for Study and Dialogue and the
Social Scientists' Association 2001.