The following is the online tribute by David North, President of the Socialist Equality Party (USA), at the funeral of Sri Lankan SEP President Wije Dias held in Colombo on Saturday July 30. Comrade Dias died at home on July 27 of a heart attack. attack just a month before his 81st birthday. A report of the funeral is available here.
I regret that I cannot be with you in Colombo as Comrade Wije Dias is buried. But physical distance does not lessen the deep sense of loss we feel today, nor can it lessen the strong bonds of solidarity that exist between International Committee members around the world and the section in Sri Lanka, which Comrade Wije has ruled for 35 years, a third of a century.
All those gathered here today to bid farewell to Wije Dias are aware that they are in the presence of history. It can be stated unequivocally that Wije Dias played a monumental role, for sixty years, in the struggle to build the Trotskyist movement. When a biography of Wije is written, it will necessarily encompass all of modern Sri Lankan history. He was 22 when the Lanka Sama Samaja party betrayed the Marxist-Trotskyist principles on which it was founded and entered the bourgeois coalition government of Bandaranaike. Wije was to devote the remaining 58 years of his life to overcoming the tragic consequences of this betrayal and to restoring the authority of genuine revolutionary Trotskyism in the working class.
Wije and a notable cadre of young Trotskyists, led by Keerthi Balasuriya, founded the Revolutionary Communist League—predecessor of the Socialist Equality Party—in 1968. In upholding Trotskyist principles, the RCL was obliged, like Trotsky the once described such circumstances as “swimming against the tide.” of the Fourth International and the revolutionary role of the working class in Sri Lanka and around the world.
Wije was an extraordinarily modest man who, as far as I remember, never sought to draw attention to his own contributions to the party leadership. But as the RCL faced the shock of Comrade Keerthi’s untimely death on December 18, 1987, Wije accepted the responsibility of assuming the leadership of the Revolutionary Communist League. He became National Secretary in the midst of the bloody war unleashed by the Colombo regime against the Tamil people. Under his leadership, the RCL-SEP remained adamant in its opposition to the Sinhalese racism promoted by the Colombo regime and the JVP, while refusing to make any political concessions to the petty-bourgeois nationalism of the LTTE.
During almost all of his political work, Comrade Wije had to fight under conditions where reactionary forces were on the offensive and the working class – betrayed by the LSSP, the trade unions and other opportunist organizations – was in withdrawal.
But in the last months of his life, Comrade Wije witnessed the resurgence of the working class. He enthusiastically welcomed the opportunity to go on the offensive against the ruling class. Despite his declining health, Wije mustered all his remaining strength and called upon his vast experience to provide political direction to the powerful spontaneous movement.
As recently as July 9, Comrade Wije took part in a meeting of the political committee of the Socialist Equality Party to formulate his response to the crisis of the Rajapakse regime. He spoke out forcefully against any political support for a caretaker capitalist government and advocated for the party by calling for a democratic and socialist Congress of Workers and Rural Masses, to lay the foundations for the transfer of power from the state to the working class. .
Wije devoted the last days of his life to working closely with the Political Committee and the International Committee to draft an important programmatic statement, which was published on the World Socialist Website July 20. Explaining why the PES rejected any support or participation in an “interim government”, the statement invoked a lifetime of political experience:
By refusing to participate in talks on the formation of an interim government, the SEP relied on the bitter political lessons of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party’s catastrophic betrayal in 1964 of the essential political principles of Trotskyism. In the midst of an economic and political crisis, and faced with the powerful movement of the “21 demands” of the working class, Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike, leader of the bourgeois Sri Lanka Freedom Party, turned to the leaders of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party ( LSSP) to support the capitalist regime. The entry of the LSSP into the bourgeois “Sinhalese first” government of Bandaranaike not only marked the end of the “21 demands” movement. It demoralized the masses, fostered ethno-linguistic conflict over class struggle, and paved the way for the dominance of reactionary communal politics and decades of civil war.
The SEP has not taken and will never take the path of treachery of the LSSP. We reject any form of direct and indirect support for capitalist governments. The SEP’s predecessor, the Revolutionary Communist League, was founded in 1968 as a section of the International Committee of the Fourth International in direct opposition to the LSSP’s repudiation of socialist internationalism and independent class politics – the pillars of the struggle for workers’ power. .
In what turned out to be the last political statement issued under Wije’s leadership, just seven days before his death, the Socialist Equality Party said:
We make a special appeal to workers in India and throughout South Asia, as well as internationally, for a common struggle for a socialist future for humanity. We call on workers and young activists in Sri Lanka to join the SEP and take your place in the revolutionary struggle for socialist internationalism.
How fitting that Comrade Wije concluded his long life with a powerful call for “revolutionary struggle for socialist internationalism”.
Comrade Wije Dias died in the midst of the struggle, supporting in old age and with undiminished passion the ideals of his youth. His legacy – of courage, commitment to Trotskyist principles and devotion to socialism – will provide an inspiring example to the working class in the great class battles that will decide the fate of humanity.
Long live the memory of Wije Dias
Long live the Socialist Equality Party in Sri Lanka
Long live the International Committee of the Fourth International