Tribute to Comrade Subramaniam
The political arena of Sri Lanka has seen many a politician. A majority of them entered politics out of desire for power. Desire for power did not spare many of the exceptions. It was only the principled few who lived for their policy to the very end. Among them, of those whose voices rang out against authority as the voice of the toiling masses, a most remarkable voice was that of Comrade KA Subramaniam.
Comrade KA Subramaniam was the Founder Secretary of the New-Democratic Marxist-Leninist Party ― then the Sri Lanka Communist Party (Left) ― and he played a distinct role in leaving the Ceylon Communist Party led by Comrade N Sanmugathasan and building the new party.
His initiatives as the leader of the new party are memorable. The new party was founded, based on the decision that the path of liberation of the people of Sri Lanka comprised two revolutionary stages, namely the New Democratic Revolution and the Socialist Revolution, and that the party of the proletariat should carry forward the revolution.
When the liberation of the nationalities was put forward as a part of the programme for the New Democratic Revolution, Comrade Subramaniam asserted the position that the struggle against national oppression and a minimum solution for the national question should be included in the immediate programme for national democracy.
The Party acknowledged that, although the armed struggle that arose from amid the Tamil people of Sri Lanka cannot be considered a revolutionary struggle, it was a national democratic struggle against national oppression. Based on that, his contributions extended to initiating mass struggles against the Government’s military actions against the Tamil people and showing the way to the setting up of the Mass Movement for Human Rights.
His interest and competence in building a revolutionary party, carrying forward mass struggles, and adapting Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought to the conditions prevailing in the country, and analyzing the national question were commendable.
It was because he had in him clear thinking, firmness, composure, courage, simple living and defiance of the enemy class to the very end, which are desirable characteristics for a communist fighter to posses that he was able to successfully perform his leading role in building a party of the proletariat and guiding it.
It will be appropriate to remember two important attributes of his leadership. The first is his carrying forward a struggle to build a communist party that was correct in both ideology and practice. This struggle has thus far been arduous in the context of the historical impact of Trotskyism on the left movement in the country.
Prospects for building a proletarian party appropriate to the specific conditions of the country were retarded by the mistakes made by the parliamentary left under the influence of Trotskyism. Yet Comrade Subramaniam struggled resolutely to his very end to build a correct communist party and successfully laid a foundation for it.
Secondly, rather than wait for a correct communist party to be built in order to carry forward mass struggles, he actively pursued revolutionary mass struggles for problems of the repressed people.
The value of the historical role played by Comrade Subramaniam will be understood if evaluated in the context of the events of that period against the above background. There are many lessons to learn from the history of the Communist party of Ceylon and the history of the Sri Lankan left movement in general. The success of the Hartal of 1953 was the success of united struggle. But it was not followed by the building of broad based unity led by the working class. The price that the left movement paid for that lapse was heavy.
If the Sri Lanka Freedom Party could destroy the unity of the workers, based on the 21 demands put forward by the powerful Joint Committee of Trade Unions Organisation, by tempting the left leaders with a few portfolios, it nothing but evidence of the sad state of the leaders of the let movement.
If right opportunism betrayed the working class struggle in that manner, the strength of the Marxist Leninist Communist Party which showed a steady growth between 1963 and 1968 was gradually depleted by dogmatic application of Marxism, using right opportunism as pretext. The rise of Sinhala chauvinism and of Tamil narrow nationalism as response to it also contributed to the weakening of Marxist Leninists.
One cannot deny the contribution of the shortcomings of the leadership to enable a movement like the JVP to project Sinhala chauvinist politics with an illusive impression of Marxism. We need to view the policy of Unity in Struggle comprising unity and struggle as an important lesson to learn from the 80-year history of the left movement. Comrade Subramaniam takes pride of place as one who practised it with clarity, both in theory and practice. That was why he was able to demonstrate that a Marxist Leninist party could be built in Sri Lanka, even after the severe setbacks suffered by the left.
A most important landmark in the history of the Sri Lankan left movement is the struggle against casteism. Comrade Subramaniam deserves credit for successfully leading and guiding the struggle. Revolutionary mass struggles arise from practice. Thus, the ‘Mass Movement to Eliminate Untouchability’ emerged from the uprising of 21st October 1966. During the struggle against casteism, some indulged in betrayal and some others in compromise with the enemy. On the other hand, a bogus left extremism sought to isolate the struggle by transforming the struggle against casteism into a struggle between castes.
Amid these, Comrade Subramaniam demonstrated through his deeds that the struggle for the people oppressed by caste, by working in collaboration with even those who upheld erroneous views, based on the line of Unity and Struggle, could transcended the caste barrier to achieve a class dimension and a character of broad-based mass struggle.
Another important attribute of Comrade Subramaniam was his ability to identify friendly forces and joining hands with them. All people have skills and capabilities, but they are not identical. Each of a variety of abilities, when encouraged in its own sphere, helps the advancement of society. Likewise, a communist party should make use of the abilities of people for the growth of the party and in its struggles.
It is a major responsibility of the leadership of a party to use the abilities of not merely those in the party but also those outside it. In that respect, Comrade Subramaniam identified the abilities of a wide range of people and used them for the benefit of the Party and its struggles.
He classified them into three groups as ones in the Party, friends of the Party and people at a distance from the Party but not hostile to it in conducting hid work. He studied the abilities of members of all three categories and patiently encouraged their capabilities. He had the knack to obtain from them in a systematic manner work that they could do for the party.
Of relationships that he maintained in this manner, that with Professor K Kailasapathy was important. Although there was a bond with Professor Kailasapathy from earlier on, it was the relationship with Comrade Subramaniam that was responsible for the continuous publication of articles by Professor Kailasapathy in the poetical journals of the Party.
Many who would not agree with the positions taken by the Party remained friendly forces. An instance where Comrade Subramaniam obtained useful inputs concerns his friendship with AJ Canagaratna.
Comrade Subramaniam was not a communist only in name or one who advanced his personal life by going along with the cruelties of society. Nor was he one who made dogmatic utterance of Marxist phrases.
One who take a political stand opposed to those in power and those who believe in military might needs exceptional courage. It takes more than courage to avoid being swept away by waves of narrow nationalism while rejecting the majoritarian racist positions. It takes determination, unfailing confidence and clear vision. Comrade Subramaniam was a fighter combined all these attributes in him.
It is no exaggeration to say that Comrade Subramaniam was a great communist fighter who guided others through living a revolutionary life in word and deed.