On Saturday, nearly a thousand family members, comrades and well-wishers gathered at the Borella Cemetery in Colombo, from all parts of the country, to pay their last respects to the late comrade Wije Dias, President of the Socialist Equality Party (SEP), the Sri Lankan branch of the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI).
The coffin containing Wije’s remains was carried to the cemetery by a solemn procession of 500 people, including SEP members and supporters, who walked the two kilometers from the funeral home. The Internationale was played throughout the march.
Wije Dias died on the morning of July 27 of a massive heart attack, just a month before his 81st birthday. His body remained at Jayaratne Respect Home in Borella, Colombo, since Thursday morning for those who wished to pay their last respects.
He was a founding member of the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR), the predecessor of the SEP. After the untimely death of Keerthi Balasuriya, the founding general secretary of the LRC, in December 1987, Wije assumed the responsibility of general secretary until last May, when he was elected to the new post of party chairman.
For three days, nearly 2,000 people from all parts of the island came to pay their respects, including SEP members, supporters, family members, artists, intellectuals, workers and students. Groups from the North and South as well as Central Plantation Districts turned out for the funeral despite severe transport disruptions caused by a severe fuel shortage.
Comrade Wije’s death and funeral was reported with photos on several private and state television stations in their prime time newscasts with brief commentary on Wije’s political role. Major Sinhalese, Tamil, and English newspapers also ran major stories that all referred to Dias as an uncompromising fighter who devoted his adult life to Trotskyism, and mentioned the SEP and its relationship with the ICFI.
the DailyMirror, a widely circulated English-language newspaper, titled its report “Legendary Trotskyist Wije Dias no more.” the Sri Lanka Mirrordeclared: “The deceased Sri Lankan Trotskyist icon”.
The funeral procession led by party members dressed in red attracted the attention of many people on the side of the roads. A banner at the front of the procession displayed his photo with the inscription ‘Our revolutionary salute to comrade Wije Dias, president of the SEP, the Sri Lankan section of the ICFI’. Members of action committees for health, education and plantations carried banners with messages of condolence.
The entire funeral was streamed live on the SEP’s Facebook page which had an audience of nearly 1,000 people, including from the United States, Europe, Australia, India, the Middle East and from several other countries. So far, more than 3000 people have watched the video and nearly 450 people have shared it. Many people, including members of sister SEP parties, commented, adding their messages of condolences and revolutionary greetings.
K. Ratnayake, a longtime member of the SEP, national editor of the Sri Lankan WSWS and close comrade of Dias, chaired the meeting. In opening, he referred to the founding of the LCR in 1968 following the betrayal by the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) of the principles of socialist internationalism when it entered the bourgeois coalition government of the first Minister Sirima Bandaranaike in 1964.
“When you look at the period around 1968, it was not a very easy period politically. The tide of reactionary, dead-end coalition politics – socialism through parliament – was spreading. At that time, Maoism, Castroism, Guevarism and armed struggle were the political fad internationally. Marxism and the revolutionary role of the working class were rejected. These ideologies have found an echo in Sri Lanka. Keerthi, Wije and other comrades who founded the LCR in 1968 rejected these anti-Marxist theories and founded the party on Trotskyism, the continuation of Marxism, which was defended only by the International Committee.
Ratnayake said Wije’s death was a great loss for the Sri Lankan section as well as the ICFI, adding, “But we pledge to honor him by fighting tirelessly for the Trotskyist perspective to which he devoted his entire life.” He explained that Wije viewed the struggles of workers, youth and the oppressed in Sri Lanka over the past three months with great optimism and that he was committed until the last minute of his life to arming and politically directing the SEP in the midst of these developments.
David North, president of the American SEP and of the international editorial board of the WSWS, addressed the assembly via the Internet. He began by expressing his regret at not being able to be present in Colombo for Comrade Wije’s funeral. Everyone gathered at Dias’ funeral, North said, “are aware that they are in the presence of history.” He continues: “It can be stated unequivocally that Wije Dias played a monumental role, for sixty years, in the struggle to build the Trotskyist movement.”
North said Wije and a notable cadre of young Trotskyists, led by Keerthi Balasuriya, had to “swim against the tide” to found the LRC. But Wije, Keerthi and their comrades, said North, “did it with an unshakable confidence in the power of historical truth, the correctness of the perspective and program of the Fourth International, and the revolutionary role of the working class in Sri Lanka and around the world.”
The full text of David North’s tribute is published here.
Vilani Peiris, a member of the SEP political committee, described the crucial role played by Dias in the formation of the LCR. She explained that Dias, alongside Keerthi Balasuriya, was brilliantly inspired by the political guidance and decisive intervention of the ICFI, which explained that the root of the LSSP’s great betrayal was not at the national level. , but international in Pabloite revisionism.
Saman Gunadasa, Deputy Secretary of the SEP, explained that Comrade Wije had worked with great enthusiasm to prepare the party for the class struggle now developing in Sri Lanka. He paid tribute to Wije’s tireless efforts in his last days: his active participation in the Third National Congress of the SEP in Sri Lanka and his close collaboration with the ICFI to produce the last landmark declaration of the SEP titled “For a Democratic and Socialist Congress of workers and the rural masses. Saman concluded his speech by promising that the party would continue the struggle for the Fourth International, as Wije had done and would have wished.
Speaking in Tamil, SEP political committee member Mr Thevarajah said: “I met Wije in Jaffna in 1976, just two months after I joined the party. He had come there to take theory lessons on Lenin’s book ‘What Is to Be Done’. He insisted that the working class was the only revolutionary class and that socialist consciousness could only be provided by a revolutionary party. He insisted on the role of the Marxist party for the victory of the socialist revolution. After 45 years, we can see how justified it has been…
“Amid the many nationalist tendencies, Comrade Wije, together with the determined young comrades of the LCR led by Keerthi, fought firmly for internationalist policies based on the understanding that the working class is the international revolutionary class. We should learn from the life of Comrade Wije and dedicate ourselves to bringing the working class to power.”
Janarthi, Wije’s 12-year-old granddaughter, addressed the gathering on behalf of her family. She said her grandfather was an amazing person who constantly cared about her and what everyone said about him inspired her to be as determined as he was. “Throughout his efforts to bring about a workers’ revolution, he always found time for his family and time for me,” she said. On behalf of the family, she thanked everyone who participated in the event.
Kapila Fernando, a member of the SEP’s political committee and responsible for Students and Young Internationalists for Social Equality, said: “It must be mentioned in particular that all comrades in the youth movement have received immense advice from comrade Wije to hold public meetings and to write articles for the WSWS on attacks on public education, youth unemployment, and other cultural issues.” In some cases, he himself wrote the analyzes necessary for the development of the youth movement, drawing on his vast knowledge and political acumen.
Kapila recalls that Wije was arrested in 1986 while speaking at a meeting in Chilaw to defend free education. He was kept in jail for six weeks, along with two other party members, by the police as part of the crackdown unleashed by the then United National Party (UNP) regime.
“All of us in the youth movement considered it a great privilege to work with him,” he said.
Deepal Jayasekara, SEP General Secretary, delivered closing remarks. He said that beginning with the fight against the betrayal of the LSSP, Comrade Wije’s commitment to the principles of Trotskyist socialist internationalism remained unbroken throughout his political life. “In the midst of all the difficulties our party faced as the LCR from 1968 to 1996, and since then as the SEP in Sri Lanka and around the world due to the evil nature of capitalist class domination , he fought for these principles without hesitation and with indomitable courage.”
Explaining the decisiveness of Wije’s leadership in advancing the SEP’s struggle to build unity among the Sinhalese and Tamil working class, Jayasekara said, “Comrade Wije has committed himself very firmly to the struggle to unify the working class against the Sinhalese chauvinism of the Colombo government, as well as the Tamil separatism of the LTTE…
“We will give Comrade Wije the respect he deserves by building the SEP as the mass revolutionary party in Sri Lanka and the ICFI internationally and by advancing the socialist internationalism to which he has devoted his entire adult life. .”
(Article published in English on August 1, 2022)