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LSSP - 75 years of struggle and achievement:

Sri Lanka’s oldest political party

The Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) is the oldest political party in Sri Lanka and the first to be able to celebrate its 75th Anniversary. It grew out of the Suriyamal Movement and was established on December 18, 1935, when the inaugural Conference was held.

Dr Colvin R de Silva was elected as the first and only President (as that post was abolished thereafter). The LSSP began as a Socialist Party that introduced the Marxist tradition of politics to Sri Lanka, but with a truly nationalist flavour. Among its founder leaders have been the most gifted and able political leaders that this country has produced - Dr N M Perera, Dr Colvin R de Silva, Philip Gunawardena (subsequent leader of the VLSSP, that joined Mr. Bandaranaike, to form the MEP), Dr S A Wickremasinghe (subsequent leader of the CPSL) and Leslie Goonewardene.


Dr N M Perera

Philip Gunawardena

Dr Colvin R de Silva

The LSSP had two main objectives - gaining complete political independence from the British, and putting an end to exploitation by creating a socialist ‘Sama Samajaya’. It was the former that was the immediate short-term objective, and the latter was a long-term objective to be achieved progressively through the struggle for social justice and economic development.

In this brief summary of the LSSP’s struggles and achievements only a few highlights will be mentioned.

It is our hope that a detailed history that does justice to its epic struggles and great achievements will eventually materialize and that its contribution to our country’s history will be properly recognized and appreciated.

The LSSP led the struggle for complete political independence

The people were left out of the struggle for independence. The English-speaking elite, led by the feudal and emerging capitalist forces, sought to do a deal with the British rulers, and unfortunately without a common Lankan approach, so that narrow sectarian nationalisms surfaced. For the first time the LSSP had open-air meetings in Sinhala and Tamil and placed the issues before the people, coining suitable terms to enable them to understand.

It mobilized all cultural groups. The Tamil Youth League from Jaffna led by Handy Perimbanayagam joined them. It was the LSSP leaders like NM, Colvin, Philip, Edmund and Bernard who were imprisoned by the British both here and also in India, where they joined the Indian mass independence struggle led by Gandhi and Nehru.

The Independence granted in 1948 was a partial independence. Lanka was only given Dominion status - the Head of State remained the British Queen, acting through the Governor General (who was appointed by the Queen), British troops continued to be stationed here and the Privy Council in Britain was the final arbiter on all legal decisions. Even the Acts passed by the House of Representatives had to be approved by the Senate, half of whose members were appointed by the Governor General.

Complete independence was only gained during the SLFP/LSSP/CP Coalition Government, on May 22, 1972, through the Republican Constitution, the architect of which was Dr Colvin R de Silva. All powers of the British Crown to interfere in our affairs were totally removed by this Republican Constitution.

The 1972 Republican Constitution - a historic achievement

It not only completely severed the umbilical cord that politically tied us to Britain, ever since the British gained full control of the island in 1815. It also signalled the end of colonial rule over our territory which began in 1505, with the Portuguese. It signifies the emergence of the Republic of Sri Lanka in the international field as a completely independent, national and State entity. In fact the historical hold that the monarchy had over our people from ancient times was removed forever. By stating in Section 3 of the 1972 Constitution that “In the Republic of Sri Lanka sovereignty is in the people and is inalienable” the people of Sri Lanka were made sovereign in and over Sri Lanka for the first time in our history. The people could exercise their sovereignty through the National State Assembly. For the first time an extensive ‘Fundamental Rights and Freedoms’ Chapter, with adequate safeguards for the minorities, which was lacking in the Soulbury Constitution, was introduced into this 1972 Constitution. Even what was stated in Section 29 (2a) of the Soulbury Constitution that “no community shall have an advantage” is included there. In any case Section 29 was so weak that it failed to prevent the enactment of the Citizenship Bill that disenfranchised the Indian Tamils, as well as the ‘Sinhala Only’ Act.

Protection of the rights of the oppressed and uniting the nation

From its inception the LSSP has fought for the rights of all oppressed groups in the country. In the struggle for independence too the Party sought to unite all social groups and strata as one Sri Lankan nation.

While respecting and promoting the diverse cultures, the LSSP has always tried to unite them all as one Sri Lankan nation, with an over riding Sri Lankan culture.

It was the two leaders of the LSSP in the State Council, NM and Philip, who initiated the process of making Sinhala and Tamil official languages by proposing that these two should be used in the Police stations and Courts as languages of record.

When labour from India was being brought in to the country in large amounts to operate the plantations, while thousands were unemployed and deprived of their land in the villages, NM warned of the dangers and requested the British Government to stop it.

At the same time the LSSP demanded that all those who had come from India should be given all citizenship rights if they so desired it.

Oppression on caste and gender grounds was widespread both in the South and the North. The LSSP consistently opposed this and fought on the side of the oppressed.

There was neglect and religious oppression against Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam during British rule, to which again the LSSP paid due attention.

The LSSP opposed the Indian Citizenship Bill brought by the UNP which deprived the Tamils on the plantations of their citizenship rights.

The LSSP anticipated the unfortunate consequences of the Official Language Act of 1956 (the Sinhala Only Act).

To be continued

 

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