Philip Gunawardena

Don Philip Rupasinghe Gunawardena (11 January 1901 – 26 March 1972) was a prominent Sri Lankan politician and founder of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, the first political party in Sri Lanka. He is known for having introduced Trotskyism to Sri Lanka, where he is a National Hero for his role in the Sri Lankan independence movement, and is known as 'the Father of Socialism' and as 'the Lion of Boralugoda'. He was a long-time member of parliament and had served as Minister of Industries and Fisheries in Dudley Senanayake National Government Cabinet of Ceylon, as well as Minister of Agriculture and food under S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike from 1956-1959.

Philip Gunawardena

Minister of Fisheries and Industry
In office
MonarchElizabeth II
Prime MinisterDudley Senanayake
Preceded byW. J. C. Munasinha
Succeeded byGeorge Rajapaksa
Minister of Agriculture and Food
In office
MonarchElizabeth II
Prime MinisterS. W. R. D. Bandaranaike
Preceded byJ. R. Jayewardene
Succeeded byC. P. de Silva
Member of the Ceylon Parliament
for Avissawella
In office
Personal details
Born(1901-01-11)11 January 1901
Sri Lanka
Died26 March 1972(1972-03-26) (aged 71)
NationalitySri Lankan
Alma materAnanda College
University of Colombo
University of Illinois

Early life and educationEdit

Don Philip Rupasinghe Gunawardena, popularly known as Philip, was born on 11 January 1901, to a well-to-do family in Boralugoda, Avissawella, in Sri Lanka. He attended the local village school 'Boralugoga Siddhartha Primary School' for his primary education and went on to the Prince of Wales' College, Moratuwa. He attended Ananda College in Colombo and then University College, Colombo. He joined the Ceylon National Congress, but was drawn towards the activities of the Young Lanka League.[1][2] At the age of 21, he moved to the United States where he studied Economics at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. He became radical minded and associated himself actively in the mass struggles which stormed the United States at the time.

Two years later, he moved to the more radical University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he met Jayaprakash Narayan. The two were introduced by Avrom Landy to the Communist Party of the United States.[3] Woodward has recorded that Gunawardena received his training in Marxism from Scott Nearing (1883–1983). He completed bachelor of science & master of science degrees in Agricultural Economics. In 1925, he joined Columbia University for post-graduate (doctoral) work.

Early political career in the US and EuropeEdit

In 1927 Gunawardena joined the League Against Imperialism in New York, where he worked with José Vasconcelos of Mexico, gaining a working knowledge of Spanish.[3][4]

In 1929 he went to London, where he participated in mass agitations and anti-colonial movements, excelling as a brilliant orator, trade unionist, and political columnist. Shri Jawaharlal Nehru and Krishna Menon of India, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Tan Malaka of Indonesia, and Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam of Mauritius were some of his contemporary colleagues who later played prominent roles in their motherlands.[5]

He joined the staff of the new Daily Worker and took over the Workers' Welfare League of India, an organisation founded by Shapurji Saklatvala. He later crossed the channel to Europe and worked alongside socialist groups in France and Germany.[3][6]


In the midst of the Comintern's 'Left Turn', Gunawardena surreptitiously joined the Marxian Propaganda League of FA Ridley and Hansraj Aggarwala, who opposed the Stalinists' characterisation of the Social Democratic parties as social fascist. When Ridley and Aggarwala broke with Leon Trotsky, Gunawardena sided with the latter. In 1932 he travelled on the Orient Express to meet Trotsky at Prinkipo, but was stopped at Sofia by police.[3][7]

At the British conference of the League Against Imperialism, in May 1932, Gunawardena introduced a counter-resolution on India against those moved by Harry Pollitt.[8] As a result, the Communist Party of Great Britain expelled him for Trotskyism.[3][9]

Lanka Sama Samaja PartyEdit

However, he had gathered around him several like-minded Sri Lankans, including NM Perera, Colvin R de Silva and Leslie Goonewardene. They came to be known as the 'T-Group' – later forming the nucleus of the Trotskyist faction of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party.[3][10]

Scotland Yard, under orders from the India Office, thwarted him from his aim of going to India to build a new Communist Party there.[11] He set out for the continent, meeting members of the Left Opposition in Paris. He then hiked over the Pyrenees to Barcelona, where he had a rare opportunity to meet the Trotskyists of Spain – who were soon to undergo a civil war.[3]

Early political career in Sri Lanka and IndiaEdit

Soon after his return to Sri Lanka in November 1932, he plunged into active politics organising rural peasants, plantation workers and urban workers. He pioneered the founding of Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) in 1935. In 1936 he was elected to the State Council from Avissawella electorate where he continued his struggle for the betterment of workers and peasants.[12][13]

When World War II broke out Philip Gunawardena was detained on Governor's orders. However, in July 1942 he escaped to India and participated in the independence struggle there. In 1943 he was rearrested and detained in Mumbai, and after many months deported to Sri Lanka to be imprisoned till the end of war.[14]

Post-war political careerEdit

On his release in 1945 he again started political and trade union activities. At the General Election in 1947 he was elected to the first Parliament to represent Avissawella seat, but soon he was unseated on his involvement in the General Strike in 1947, and lost his civic rights for seven years.[15]

He led the Viplavakari Lanka Sama Samaja Party (VLSSP) since 1951 and as a constituent party formed the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP, Peoples' United Front) in 1956 under the leadership of Mr.SWRD Bandaranaike to form the first people's government in 1956 General Election. At that election, in 1956, he won the Avissawella seat with a large majority and served as a key member of the Cabinet of SWRD Bandaranaike as the Minister of Agriculture, Food, & Co-operatives.[16] He is remembered as the architect of the Paddy Lands Bills which brought relief to the tenant cultivator and spearheaded the Port & Bus nationalisation, introduction of Multipurpose Co-operatives movement and establishing of the People's Bank, those brought tremendous change to society in Sri Lanka.[17]

In 1965, having won Avissawella from the MEP, Philip Gunawardena served in the National Government led by Dudley Senanayake, 1965–1970, as the Cabinet Minister of Industries and Fisheries. He established the Industrial Development Board, strengthened & expanded state industrial corporations and national private sector industries, and planned the development of the Fisheries sector.[18]

Personal lifeEdit

Philip Gunawardena married Kusuma Amarasinha, in 1939, who later served as Member of Parliament from 1948–1960. They are parents to Indika (Ex-Cabinet Minister), Prasanna (Ex-Mayor of Colombo), Lakmali (State Award Winner of literature), Dinesh (Cabinet Minister & Leader of the House - Parliament), & Gitanjana (Ex-Minister).[19][20] His niece was Vivienne Goonewardene, who married Leslie Goonewardene, another founder of the LSSP.[5]


Philip Gunawardena died on 26 March 1972 at the age of 71.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Remembering Philip Gunawardena, a man of the people". Sunday Observer. 23 March 2008. Retrieved 4 October 2020.
  2. ^ "Philip Gunawardena, an illustrious son of the soil". Daily News. 26 March 2009. Retrieved 4 October 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Charles Wesley Ervin, Tomorrow is Ours:the Trotskyist Movement in India and Ceylon, 1935–48, Colombo: Social Scientists Association, 2006
  4. ^ Administrator (22 April 2015). ""Boralugoda Sinhaya"Philip Gunawardena Tried to Blend Nationalism and Marxism Into "Jathika Samajavadaya"". Retrieved 7 March 2020.
  5. ^ a b Ervin, Charles W. (January 2001). Philip Gunawardena: the making of a revolutionary. Social Scientists' Association. ISBN 978-955-9102-34-2.
  6. ^ Books, L. L. C. (May 2010). Sri Lankan Socialists: Anil Moonesinghe, Jeanne Hoban, Philip Gunawardena, N. M. Perera. General Books LLC. ISBN 978-1-155-98084-3.
  7. ^ Guṇavardhana, Pilip; Meegama, Ananda; Society, Philip Gunawardena Commemoration (2006). Philip Gunawardena : the state council years 1936-1942 : speeches made in the Legislature (1st ed.). Colombo : Godage International Publishers. ISBN 978-955-20-9707-2.
  8. ^ "Parliamentary speeches of Philip Gunawardena released". Daily News. Retrieved 7 March 2020.
  9. ^ Alexander, Robert Jackson (1991). International Trotskyism, 1929-1985: A Documented Analysis of the Movement. Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-8223-1066-2.
  10. ^ "Philip Gunawardena commemoration". Sunday Observer. 25 March 2017. Retrieved 7 March 2020.
  11. ^ "Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958–1960, South and Southeast Asia, Volume XV - Office of the Historian". Retrieved 7 March 2020.
  12. ^ "Glossary of People: Gu". Retrieved 7 March 2020.
  13. ^ Llc, Books (September 2010). Sri Lankan Communists: Tissa Wijeyeratne, Philip Gunawardena, N. Shanmugathasan, Hedi Stadlen, Rohana Wijeweera, Saman Piyasiri Fernando. General Books LLC. ISBN 978-1-157-34347-9.
  14. ^ "47th Death Anniversary of Philip Gunawardena - March 26 The Fiery Marxist who Valued Local Culture". Retrieved 7 March 2020.
  15. ^ "featur02". Retrieved 7 March 2020.
  16. ^ Wilson, A. Jeyaratnam (10 June 2010). Electoral Politics in an Emergent State: The Ceylon General Election of May 1970. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-15311-9.
  17. ^ "47th commemoration of the late Philip Gunawardena Archives". Sri Lanka News - Newsfirst. Retrieved 7 March 2020.
  18. ^ "Philip Gunawardena: Highly intelligent, well-read and acutely observant master of trade | Daily FT". Retrieved 7 March 2020.
  19. ^ Gunawardena, Charles A. (2005). Encyclopedia of Sri Lanka. Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd. ISBN 978-1-932705-48-5.
  20. ^ "Colombo Telegraph". Colombo Telegraph. Retrieved 7 March 2020.

External linksEdit

Personal profile of Philip Gunawardena in the European Parliament's database of members