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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2705

Philip Gunawardena in his prime: 1940 to 1960

Dr. Susantha Goonatilake

Philip Gunawardena is known as a pioneer of anti-colonial and people oriented thinking in the country, as a fighter in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s against the fascist Franco regime, and as an author of a book on the Sitawaka Kingdom which fought the Portuguese. Philip Gunawardena also was part of those Sri Lankan leaders who were educated in the West and saw from the belly of the beast, the real dynamics of colonial rule. They included S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, N.M. Perera and Colvin R. de Silva. Their experience paralleled that of Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, Chou En-lai and Ho Chi Minh - leaders from other Asian countries who also got conscientised in the West.

In the immediate post-Independence period, Philip Gunawardena was also different from the Donoughmore Buddhists like the earlier Christian families of Jayewardenes and Bandaranaikes. The latter had been former beneficiaries of colonial rule and in fact spies who as we got universal suffrage, converted to Buddhism to farm majority votes. He was also different from the likes of N.M.Perera and Colvin R. de Silva who distrusted the local heritage.

To see parallels to Philip Gunawardena , we must shift our focus to Latin America. Latin America was like Sri Lanka, brutalized by the Iberian powers, the Portuguese and the Spanish. Political power in Latin America from both the right and the left till the last decade was restricted to whites or to those of mixed race /Mestizos/, /thuppahi/ (Phillip’s word). After 500 years, this situation has recently begun to reverse. Symptomatic of this new Latin American leadership is Evo Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president (a non-white, non-/thuppahi/). At his inauguration in 2006 he said, it was the end of 500 years of colonialism and the beginning of a new era of 500 years of indigenous rule. His inauguration was, as a symbol, celebrated with traditional music. Significantly Evo Morales wanted the original religion, which had to hide behind the symbols of Catholicism brought by the Spanish, to regain its standing. In other Latin American countries, the indigenous people who were suppressed for 500 years are now coming into leadership.

Sri Lanka is a bit like Latin America. At independence, Sri Lanka was handed over like earlier in Latin America, to social groups, very much derived from those favored by colonials. To examine the role of Philip in the first years after Independence, we must recall that colonial experience. We must also see how it is being partly replayed today. We must go to the beginning of our own 500 years of Iberian colonialism.

God, genocide and plunder

In 1493, through the well known Treaty of Tordesillas, the Pope divided the world between Spain and Portugal giving a global license for plunder, rape and mass scale genocide. The Church’s “civilization” mission killed millions and disposed whole nations of history and the will to survive. The prime Asian targets of this Papal muniscence were Goa, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. The Portuguese since the 1970s regretted some of those actions and has instituted an Inquisition Museum denouncing the church’s atrocities in Europe. One of the panels in this Inquisition Museum in Lisbon depicts Christian priests directing torture. The reading of the Pope’s instructions to the Portuguese and Spanish – the Papal Bulls – is to read a license for major crimes against humanity. The last Pope apologized for his ancestors’ actions in Europe, in Latin America, and in Muslim countries. But he did not apologise to Sri Lanka. As so much Sri Lankan politics is shaped by the Portuguese dark shadow, we must recall Philip’s interest on Sitawaka

We must recall that the Portuguese egged on by Catholic priests burnt all the Buddhist and Hindu temples. Today no temples older than 150 years exist in once Portuguese areas. The loot was sent to Lisbon and to build churches locally. They threatened those who would not convert, and as their own records show, they spiked children in front of parents who would not convert. They killed thousands.

But, lest we forget, we must also remember that in comparison with those Iberian buccaneers who traveled the world, the Sinhalese were also a global people. From at least the 1^st century A. C, the Sinhalese had traveled to many parts in the world - in the East to China, and to South East Asia, in the West to Rome, and to many parts of Asia. In the 1St C AC, we went to Rome, China and the lands in-between. In 429 A.C: Sinhala nuns went to China – the longest recorded women’s travel until then. Li Chao, the Chinese author recorded that ships from Simhala [Sri Lanka] were the largest ships in Chinese ports. We had recorded cultural contacts with most of Asia.

Just before the coming of the Portuguese, Sinhalese culture transmitted from the 10^th to the 15^th century became a dominant factor in Southeast Asia – in Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, southern Vietnam and the Yunnan Province of China.

However, all these achievements were lost on a new class. During our colonial occupations by different European powers, a local class fed by colonial crumbs and subservient to the occupiers was created. This intermediary class helped maintain control for the colonizers and denounced the locals. And even after Independence, aspects of this class persisted.

Phillip’s best times

Philip Gunawardena ’s best contribution was from the 1940s to the late 1950s, that of the young Philip. During that period, a strong social gap created by colonialism - between the Anglicized /mahattaya/ wearing trousers and the others wearing sarong was an indicator of colonial times. Just a year before Independence in 1947, the Archbishop of Colombo was advocating Sinhala and Tamil children to abandon their local names and use Christian names! This was nearly a century after the first Buddhist temples reappeared in Colombo and half a century after Christianity was defeated at Panadura in open debate.

The young Philip was known then as the “father of the Marxist movement”. But he was no puppet just repeating secondhand what other left leaders had learnt from left circles in the West. These ideas in the West themselves, we should note, arose out of concrete and dramatic changes in Europe, on which changes Western left theorists had pondered. But Philip unlike other Left leaders – and like the Chinese and Vietnamese Left – got inspiration from our past. Philip G said "we swear by our national heroes, our literature and our heritage". He was proud of Rajasinghe who fought the Portuguese. He was proud of Puran Appu who fought the British.

He allied himself with the ideas of a long civilization which had thought on serious matters for nearly 2,500 years. In his actions and writings he brought together this anti-colonial civilisational strand which in the 19th century and early 20^th century had not only made distinctive contributions in challenging Western, specially Christian thought, but also had exported Buddhist ideas to the West. The civilisational anti- colonial strand was exemplified by Anagarika Dharmapala, Vidyalankara and Vidyodaya Pirivenas as well as the key 40 scholar monks of Sri Lanka who interacted with the world on equal terms. They were equally the younger Philip’s intellectual territory.

These civilisational groups brought in a different strand of thinking - hat the need was not just to replicate the West. Monks such as Walpola ahula, Kalalelle Ananda Sagara and Yakkaduwe Pragnarama and especially idyalankara Pirivena became a key turning point for the national syche. One of those Left civilisational puppets - Doric de Souza - had ven wanted to suspend N.M. Perera for attending a /dana/ for Buddhist monks! (More recently I looked on with amazement at the funeral of my riend the LSSP stalwart Osmund Jayaratne where the ceremony was Nearer, My God, to Thee" – hardly a Marxist farewell.)

Thus long before Frantz Fannon’s /Wretched of the Earth,/ a new intellectual and social protest movement combining different social groups had been formed in Sri Lanka. Its full story (and as well as that of its later revolutionary successors) has not yet been written in the formal academic literature. That formal literature is dominated by foreigners and the NGOs manned mostly by the very social strata who lost power after decolonization.

Young Philip’s legislative thrust

Philip Gunnawardena’s legislative thrust, as we read in the excellent book by Dr. Ananda Meegama was on land reform, agricultural development and the village economy, peasant friendly banking, rational nationalisation, labour relations and welfare. This was not received from simplistic Marxist theories but from his own reading of local conditions.

His programme of land to the tiller - the Paddy Lands Act - of giving incentives to the cultivator was severely attacked. But the United States, the mentor of those who attacked it, had introduced years before, land reform in Japan and Korea which was to later provide the local purchasing power for their respective economic miracles

The younger Philip commented on being amazed at the number of top government officials who were being entertained by Western diplomats’ parties. He said that this was a process of undermining the morale of local officers. The young Philip warned against secret gatherings of the heads of the Armed Forces with a leading Catholic priest. His warnings were to be realized in 1962 by an attempted coup led by Catholic officers. He spoke for a co-operative development bank. He was interested in the development of science and in his address to the scientists of the country, he emphasized that dissent was the essence of science.

Relevance of Philip

The question we have to ask is of the relevance of Philip of that time to today. What would Philip Gunawardena have done in today’s context?

The younger Philip would have scoffed at the present day parties of the LSSP and CP who have tied their lot with those against Sri Lanka. He would have laughed at their embracing racist separatist ideology and attempting to dismantle the good features of the very 1972 Constitution that was created by their betters Colvin R. De Silva and Peter Kueneman.

He would have opposed the Indian proxy invasion, the so-called Indian Accord and the 13th amendment. He would have applauded the separation of the North and East. He would have been against formal ethnic enclaves pointing out that the very multi-ethnic United States has no such ethnic boundaries. He would have spoken against Chandrika Kumaratunga and Ranil Wickremasinghe wanting to celebrate 500 years of the Portuguese coming. Philip would have demanded that the Pope first apologise before he was given, under Chandrika, the largest reception afforded to any religious
figure in Sri Lanka.

He would have opposed the dismantling of the state sector, done by both the UNP and SLFP. The younger Philip would have been appalled at the handing over of easy-to-make- profit, monopolistic organizations such as the Distilleries Corporation, the Insurance Corporation and the Petroleum Corporation to the private sector. These monopolies, we should note, just add a margin to their easy-to-sell products and farm huge profits. The irony is that the Petroleum Corporation was “privatized” to the state sector in India.

Philip would have spoken against the gross misinterpretation of the economic miracle in China as privatization. All the leading firms in China are publicly owned especially those now investing abroad. He would have also denounced the fact that the Chinese private sector is dominated by children of corrupt Party officials. Like in India, China and even the United States he would have spoken against ownership of strategic sectors by foreigners. Philip would have spoken against private monopolies that have emerged today in certain sectors and would have given the example of the anti-trust laws in the very capitalist United States to be followed. He would have been appalled at political patronage influencing management decisions.

Philip saw also some of the bureaucratic inefficiencies in the state sector. He proposed as a remedy joint stock companies with state and private capital. Sri Lanka Telecom which has improved its service through a tie up with a foreign private firm could have been a partial example.

Philip would have screamed against attempts to erode our sovereignty. He would have spoken against every possible Western government and international agency (as well as India) today attempting to trample on us. He had spoken against foreign vested interests as a hidden arm. Today the old Christian missionaries have been replaced by a new set of missionaries - Western funded NGOs without any local popular base and pretending to be civil society and exporting lies. In India, they are correctly called FGOs Foreign Government Organizations. Philip would have spoken against both retired RAW agents as well as FGO spokesmen who have become columnists in our newspapers.

It is no surprise that there has been an easy alliance between these NGO groups and the earlier procolonial elements of the churches. In fact many of the leading lights of these organisations are themselves from those very groups that lost privileges after Independence. They attempt today to become proxy rulers for the West.

The younger Philip would thus have spoken strongly against Foreign funded NGOs like the National Peace Council, Berghoff Foundation, Centre for Policy Alternatives, International Alert who in our own soil are allowed to question our very sovereignty. Philip would have railed against the activities of IA which was accused of diamond smuggling, arming of illegal groups and supporting a coup in Sierra Leone. Philip would have pointed out that all these groups welcomed the CFA, ISGA and P-TOMS which would have simply handed over control to the LTTE. He would have spoken against the National Anti-War Front which was against the taking back of the areas under the LTTE.

The younger Philip would have spoken against these new missionaries who have infiltrated with foreign money various sectors from media to academia to the Armed Forces. He would have railed against organisations such as Berghoff having ex-army generals on their pay propagating the need to downsize, and essentially disband the Armed Forces. Philip would have been delighted at the recent expulsion of Berghoff’s Director Roper. He would have been delighted at the recent expulsion of ICES’ Mani who wanted to bring R2P. He would have called for the expulsion from Colombo University of International Alert which wanted to m systematically erodes Sri Lanka’s sovereignty.

Above all, the younger Philip would have pointed out that Sri Lanka today should not be the odd man out in a resurgent Asia, that it can still be sovereign, rich and great. That it has nothing to lose, but its new chains. And all to gain.

- Asian Tribune -

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