by Vinod Moonesinghe
Hector Abhayavardhana, the last of the early leadership of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), passed away last Saturday (September 22).
He was the principal theoretician of the party and was responsible for the formulation which enabled it to join the coalition government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike in 1964.
Coming from a Christian background, he studied at St Thomas’ College – where he renounced religion and became an atheist. He read the liberal arts at Colombo University, where he was influenced by the Marxist academics Doric de Souza and EFC Ludowyk.
He was one of the many young intellectuals who were inspired by the anti-colonialist struggle. He was especially stirred by the episode involving the attempted deportation the young Anglo-Australian planter Mark Anthony Lyster Bracegirdle, the first European member of the party.
He attended the Galle Face rally at which Bracegirdle, who had been in hiding, made a dramatic appearance.
He was recruited to the LSSP by Esmond Wickremasinghe and plunged into clandestine work following the proscription of the party by the British authorities in the aftermath of the Dunkirk debacle. The party sent him to India together with Indian Trotskyists, the party had formed the Bolshevik Leninist Party of India, Burma and Ceylon (BLPI), which was active in the Quit India revolt and subsequently in the mass movement associated with the Bombay Mutiny.
Detained, but released on parole back in Sri Lanka, Hector travelled to Mumbai disguised as a Christian priest – on the way he was asked by devout Christians to bless them! Arriving in Mumbai, he found a shortage of accommodation and went to a remote village in Gujarat, where he developed smallpox. Working clandestinely in Allahabad, Bihar, Kolkata, Mumbai and Uttar Pradesh, he used the pseudonyms Suren Morarji, Surendra and H.A. Vardhan.
Following the war, when the other LSSP leaders returned to Sri Lanka, Hector remained in India. He was editor of the BLPI organ and a member of its central committee and politburo. In 1947, he succeeded Leslie Goonewardena as General Secretary of the BLPI.
The following year, the BLPI fused with the Congress Socialist Party of Jayaprakash Narayan to form the Socialist Party of India and Hector became its first General Secretary.
He subsequently edited its organs, Socialist Vanguard and Socialist Appeal.
In 1952, when the faction led by Narayan joined Jivatram Bhagwandas Kripalani’s Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party to form the Praja Socialist Party, Hector remained with the loyalists led by Karuppiah Appanraj. In 1956, with the loyalists he joined Rammanohar Lohia’s Socialist Party, which had broken away from Narayan and Kripalani.
In 1960, having married Kusala Fernando (later to be LSSP MP for Borella), he returned to Sri Lanka and rejoined the LSSP, in which he became a member of the central committee and the politburo. With his Indian experience, Hector feared that the LSSP, as a party based on the working class, would be isolated from the peasantry and the petty bourgeoisie, who formed the vast majority of the population.
It was he who analysed and identified the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (hitherto labelled ‘bourgeois’) as a movement of the petty bourgeoisie; which the faction of the LSSP led by NM Perera (of which my late father, Anil Moonesinghe was a leader) used as theoretical justification for joining the SLFP at the 1964 party conference which sanctioned entry to the coalition government.
He was founder-editor of The Nation, the mass-circulation weekly which was to be the principal English organ of the United Front.
The title came from his obsession with the need for Sri Lanka to become a ‘nation’ in the fullest meaning of the word, in which pre-modern identities such as ethnicity were merged into a ‘national’ one and in which modern capitalist economic relations supplanted feudal forms and subsistence agriculture.
During the United Front government of 1970-75, Hector served as chairman of the People’s Bank, launching its organ, the Economic Review. He resigned when the LSSP was expelled in 1975, thereafter editing the Socialist Nation and heading the party’s educational bureau.
Although I had known him since childhood, I only came to work closely with him in the late 1970s and early 80s, when I wrote for the Samasamajaya and the Socialist Nation as well as lecturing for the educational bureau.
He introduced to me the subtle minutiae of the Sri Lankan situation, which differentiated it from the Marxian model.
It was in this period that he formulated the idea that the LSSP should adapt its theoretical basis to the democratic situation; revolution was to be carried out in the parliamentary arena. The party should abandon the model of the ‘revolutionary vanguard elite’ it had hitherto used and adopt a more conventional structure.
Unfortunately, the smashing of the General Strike emasculated the LSSP and the Left generally. With the decision to run Colvin R de Silva for the presidency instead of supporting Hector Kobbekaduwa, the party lost more ground and ended up a shadow of itself.
In 1992, along with Vivienne Goonewardena and Bernard Soysa, he was a guest of honour at the celebrations to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Quit India revolt.
In his last years, Hector grew frail and was frequently unwell. I had the privilege, in 2009 to introduce him to the grand-daughters of Mark Bracegirdle, whose actions had helped radicalise him in the first place.
The last remaining link to the heroic era of Left politics, he will be sorely missed.
(The writer is the Son of LSSP stalwart Anil Moonesinghe)