… alle Verhältnisse umzuwerfen, in denen der Mensch ein erniedrigtes, ein geknechtetes, ein verlassenes, ein verächtliches Wesen ist … (Marx)

Upali Cooray (1939-2009)

Posted by entdinglichung - 31. August 2009

Quelle: ESSF:


Comrade Upali’s Unfinished Task

We mourn the sudden and untimely death of Comrade Upali in the early hours of 21st August 2009, and pay our tribute to his active political life as a champion of the oppressed and the poor of the world. Had he recovered from his sudden illness he would have celebrated his 70th Birthday on 17th September. At this sorrowful occasion we join his wife Sylvia, son Alex and daughters Samantha and Jasmine in sharing their grief over the loss of a dear husband and a father for we have lost a dear friend and a comrade.

Comrade Upali, throughout his active political life, spanning over 50 years, stood at the forefront of struggles of the oppressed people all over the world. He was a socialist intellectual and an internationalist who spearheaded anti-neo-colonialist, anti-capitalist and anti-racist campaigns both in Britain and in Sri Lanka. He fought tirelessly and passionately against the oppression of workers, women and minority nationalities. In Britain he played a key role in the anti-Vietnam War Movement as its secretary. He vehemently opposed the war in Sri Lanka, denounced human rights violations, political assassinations and other atrocities committed by successive regimes and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). However, from 1979 onwards, in the context of anti-Tamil rhetoric and riots and the banning of the Tamil United Liberation Front’s demand for a separate State in the North-East of Sri Lanka, comrade Upali as a founder-member of the Movement for Inter-racial Justice and Equality (MIRJE) played a leading role in formulating and articulating the principle of Tamil people’s right to self-determination. In 1983, during the ‘Black July’ pogrom against the Tamil people in the south comrade Upali physically intervened to protect individual Tamils from attacks by Sinhalese thugs.

Comrade Upali firmly believed in the ability of the oppressed people to change the socio-economic and political conditions of their oppression and make a better world. He never used his intellectual abilities for his personal gain. Motivated by socialist ideals comrade Upali committed all his strengths and abilities for organising, educating and empowering of the oppressed people. He did not merely stand by them, he stood with them and fought with them and sought ways and means of resolving their issues.

It was his unwavering commitment to the cause of the oppressed that led him to join the Lanka Sama Samaja Party’s (LSSP) Youth League. But in the 1960s when the majority leadership of the LSSP joined a coalition government with the Communist Party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) comrade Upali broke away with the minority who opposed the coalition with a capitalist party. In the aftermath of the split within the LSSP he emigrated to Britain and graduated in Economics from the London School of Economics and joined the International Marxist Group (IMG), the British Section of the 4th International. Comrade Upali matured as a militant socialist in the thick of anti-neo-colonialist, anti-war and anti-racist struggles and campaigns in Britain. When the Sri Lankan coalition government of the LSSP, CP and the SLFP crushed the youth rebellion led by the Janata Vimukti Peramuna (JVP) in 1971, and imprisoned a large number of young rebels including their leadership comrade Upali joining with activists of the Ginipupura group campaigned for their release.

In 1975, Comrade Upali returned to Sri Lanka and as a leading member of the Revolutionary Marxist Party he immersed himself in the activities of building a revolutionary party and worked closely with leading activists of the Ceylon Mercantile Union (CMU). He inspired younger comrades and dedicated his time to educating and encouraging them to play a leading role in the decision making bodies of the party. Comrade Upali played an instrumental role in initiating joint discussions and activities with other leftist groups and individuals with a view to regrouping and rebuilding the revolutionary left in Sri Lanka. He contested the Dehiwala-Galkissa constituency in the 1977 general elections and, probably, for the first time on a Sri Lankan election platform comrade Upali articulated women’s rights. He actively defended the rights of the Tamil people and workers’ rights when President Jayawardena’s regime unleashed repressive laws such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and Emergency Rule to crush the Tamil liberation movement and the trade unions. He made an immense contribution to building MIRJE as a broad-based movement that campaigned for the rights and the political aspirations of the Tamil people. He initiated alternative institutions to organise and educate women workers in the Katunayaka Free Trade Zone by setting up a Women’s Centre, a Legal Advice Centre and assisted women activists in publishing Da Bindu and Nirmani to raise awareness of women’s issues. He set up a Resource Centre for Community Groups with modern printing machinery and internet technologies to help community groups in mass communication. He also set up another Centre in Balangoda as a meeting place for Tea plantation workers. In 1984 while comrade Upali was having a meeting with plantation workers at this Centre he was arrested by the Balangoda Police and was held in custody for 20 days under the PTA. He initiated Janahanda and Venasa, Sinhala language newspapers to counter capitalist media, war mongering and anti-Tamil propaganda in the Sinhala media. He also launched several projects such as Development Education Publications and Workers’ Rights Publications under which books such as Aid: Rhetoric and Reality by Teresa Hayter, Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire were translated into Sinhala. He himself wrote a series of booklets titled Workers’ Rights explaining legal jargon in simple language for the benefit of worker activists. During this period comrade Upali’s family was with him in Sri Lanka and we were aware that they had to undergo severe hardships and we pay our gratitude to them for standing by him and supporting him in his political life.

In the late 1980s comrade Upali returned to Britain and tirelessly campaigned against disappearances and assassinations during the reign of terror in Sri Lanka under President Premadasa’s regime. He together with democratic and leftist Tamil/ Sinhala individuals and colleagues founded Friends of the Disappeared and the Committee for Democracy and Justice in Sri Lanka to highlight human rights violations and disappearances in international arena. He strongly opposed both state-sponsored violence and that of the LTTE. In this spirit he was involved in a continuous dialogue with non-LTTE Tamil leftists and others in forums such as the Sri Lanka Democracy Forum to forge links and to find alternative strategies to fight for democracy, justice, equality and dignity for all the people within a united Sri Lanka.

Finally, in paying our tribute to Comrade Upali we quote Marx, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” That was the point of Comrade Upali’s life, and that was his unfinished task.

Wilfred Silva & Redley Silva
28th August 2009

Eine Antwort zu “Upali Cooray (1939-2009)”

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