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New Left Review I/69, September-October 1971

Fred Halliday

The Ceylonese Insurrection

In April 1971 a revolutionary insurrection exploded in Ceylon. Unanticipated by imperialism, and unexpected by revolutionaries elsewhere, sections of the rural masses rose in organized rebellion against the very government they had voted into power in the previous May. This upsurge marks a totally new phase in the hitherto relatively tranquil history of the Ceylonese state. But the insurrection also has an importance far beyond the coasts of Ceylon itself. A brief resumé of the political situation in which it exploded will indicate its astounding and unique character. The government against which the people rose had come to power on a verbally ‘anti-imperialist’ and ‘socialist’ platform, and included representatives of the pro-Moscow Communist Party and the ex-Trotskyist Lanka Sama Samaj Party. It was generally regarded in imperialist circles as a dangerous and dogmatically left-wing régime. Secondly, the resistance to this government did not take the form of fragmented and spontaneous resistance, nor of organized strikes, nor even of initial low-level guerrilla actions: it assumed the form of a widespread armed insurrection, the most advanced and most complex from of all revolutionary combat. Moreover, the organization which led this insurrection, the Janata Vimukhti Peramuna (People’s Liberation Front), had an extremely unusual political origin and formation: it had developed as a split on the left from a pro-Chinese Communist Party. After working in clandestinity for five years before emerging in the election campaign of 1970, and after a further year of public work subject to constant harrassment, it was able to marshal thousands of insurgents against the Bandaranaike régime. Finally, the international line-up of support for the Ceylonese Government represented a wider and more advanced degree of international counter-revolutionary intervention than has been seen anywhere else to date. Within a few weeks of the outbreak of the insurrection, the Ceylonese bourgeois State had received military aid from the us, Britain, Australia, Russia, Yugoslavia, Egypt, India and Pakistan; and economic aid and political approval from China.

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Fred Halliday, ‘The Ceylonese Insurrection’, NLR I/69: £3

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