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Colvin R. de Silva

How England “Frees” a Colony

(16 February 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 7, 16 February 1948, p. 3.

President Truman last week sent his congratulations to the government of Ceylon on the occasion of final enactment of the Independence Bill by England. The article we are publishing below, originally appearing in New Spark, was written by Comrade Colvin R. de Silva, leader of the Ceylon Trotskyists and one of its elected spokesmen in the Ceylon Parliament. It analyses the real character of the fictitious independence attained by the 6,000,000 people of the famed island.Editor

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The British government’s so-called Independence Bill and the agreements attached to it constitute the final stage in the long intrigue of the imperialist masters with the Senanayake caucus. Through the Soulbury Constitution British imperialism sought to install representatives of the capitalist class in Ceylon permanently in office as against the masses. Now it seeks formally and officially to hand over to that class the monopolistic agency for protecting British imperialism’s interest in Ceylon. In a word, British imperialism, consistent with the Labor government’s policy of reconstructing imperialist relations has switched over in Ceylon also from a policy of direct rule to a policy of indirect rule.

The new bill undoubtedly establishes a new status for the Ceylon capitalist class within the British Empire. They received by this bill the only freedom which the servile bourgeoisie begs from its imperialist bosses. The freedom they want is not freedom for the masses, but freedom for themselves to exploit the masses within the framework of continued capitalist exploitation. This the Ceylon bourgeoisie have been given with the due safeguards in imperialism’s interests. This is the real change of status which this bill brings.

Ceylon Is Still in Chains

Is this new status dominion status? It is clear from the bill itself that it is not. For the bill carefully avoids the term and uses the phrase “fully responsible status within the British Commonwealth of Nations.” If the bill was intended to confer dominion status there would have been no difficulty in saying so.

However, in our view, the question whether the bill, gives dominion status is a sterile one. Dominion status is a dependent status, whereas the demand of the people of Ceylon is for complete independence. What does complete independence mean? Obviously it must mean at least that every vestige of military control of Ceylon by British imperialism should be removed.

Does the new status even fulfill that condition? Clearly not! Even the most cursory perusal of the defense agreements which Mr. D.S. Senanayake has signed without consulting even the Parliament, still less the people, will show that Ceylon continues to be tied to British imperialism’s military chariot.

By this agreement the British and Ceylon governments undertake to assist each other militarily. Such is the form and surface meaning of the agreement. In fact, however, the agreement is really ah undertaking by the Ceylon government to permit Britain to continue to use Ceylon as its military base and imperialist fortress in the Indian Ocean. We are free to be Britain’s military base! And Britain is free to use us as her base. What a travesty of freedom!

The importance of this defense agreement cannot be overestimated. It is the key document of the documents that the Senanayake government has published. When the first new parliamentary bill was announced, we said that its true meaning can never be gathered until the agreements were published. We have proved to be a thousand times right.

It is true that the will itself speaks of fully responsible status within the British Commonwealth of Nations. But it is only in the defense agreements that the principle is accepted and established that Ceylon has an interest in maintaining and perpetuating the British Empire. Unlike of old when we at least were supposed to resent the imperialist shackles, now Mr. Senanayake has contrived to make it appear that we consider these to be no chains of slavery but only a voluntarily tightened love-knot.

Ceylon is thus not free, but continues to be in chains. Only now our imprisoned nation has a new and locally recruited warder. Ceylon for the Ceylonese is to mean the Ceylonese are to be held down by Ceylonese for and on behalf of British imperialism. Mr. Senanayake is but the head jailor of the British imperialist prison house.

Our Immediate Task

Such being the situation, what is our immediate task? Obviously to develop a powerful struggle for the rejection of the agreements. The British parliamentarian bill is no concern of ours. If the British Parliament wishes to divest itself of any powers in and over Ceylon, who are we to object to it or reject it? But when the condition of the bill itself coming into operation is the acceptance of an agreement imposed by the British government in Ceylon, then we have both a right and the duty to fight the agreement. We say: No agreements with British imperialism while Ceylon remains on a dependent status! Reject the slave agreement, throw out its signatories and down with British imperialism and all its native agencies!

It is important to stress that under the new status the essential features of the Soulbury set-up continue unchanged. We do not here refer to such things as the reserved powers. We refer rather to the technical manipulations of the Soulbury Constitution, directed toward permanently enthroning reaction. The reactionary cabinet system, the obviously reactionary second chamber and the covertly reactionary delimitation system, coupled with the creation of the Public Services Commission and the like remain unchanged. The true representatives of the masses are deprived of real influence in Parliament. A clique regime rules and calls itself a Cabinet.

There can be no possibility of our drafting a constitution of our own freely and without imperialist intervention from influence, so long as a single British soldier remains on Ceylon soil. We have therefore to struggle immediately for the withdrawal of all British troops from Ceylon. There can be no possibility of freedom from British influence so long as Britain’s stranglehold remains over Ceylon’s economy. We must therefore fight to end this stranglehold. Out of such a struggle alone can arise a body or an organ sufficiently independent of British imperialism to be able to summon a genuine constituent assembly of a free people. The slogan of the day is: For a constituent assembly summoned by a body independent of the present imperialist regime on the basis of a direct, universal, equal and secret suffrage!

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