Our comrade Maruthei Thangavel – the founder and a leading member of the RCIT’s section in Sri Lanka – has died after a long period of illness in August 2021.
On this sub-page we publish orbituaries and pictures in memory of our comrade.
Comrade Maruthei Thangavel – Presente!
An Obituary by the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 28 August 2021, www.thecommunists.net
It is with great sadness that we have to inform the public that our comrade Maruthei Thangavel – the founder and a leading member of the RCIT’s section in Sri Lanka – has died after a long period of illness at the age of 67 years. Comrade Thanga – as everyone called him – was a Tamil worker and a Trotskyist militant for many years.
Comrade Thanga dedicated his whole life to the liberation struggle of the working class. The focus of his political work was the Socialist Plantation Service Union, a trade union which focused on the improvement of the living conditions of the Tamil plantation workers. This work was very hard and difficult. The Tamil plantation workers are usually forced to live in small, isolated and very poor villages with only limited access to electricity and water. They face very harsh conditions of super-exploitation by the landowners. Furthermore, they are oppressed as they belong to a national minority which has faced horrific oppression by the state for many decades. Add to this that trade unionists like comrade Thanga also had to face the bureaucratic apparatus of the official trade union which has close relations to the landowners and the state, and which tries to harass socialist activists by any means possible.
Comrade Thanga was not only a dedicated trade unionist but also a Trotskyist activist for many years. First a member of the CWI section, he went with the comrades who split in 2007 with the faction which remained loyal to the center around Peter Taaffe. This group became the Socialist Party of Sri Lanka (SPSL) and joined our predecessor organization (the L5I) in the following year. It was in this period when the cadres who later founded the RCIT met the Sri Lankan comrades including comrade Thanga.
In January 2011 an internal debate about the Tamil question began in the SPSL which was provoked by discussion at the Asian congress of our predecessor organization at that time. At this congress comrade Michael Pröbsting –a member of the L5I’s international leadership at that time and the RCIT’s International Secretary today – argued that revolutionaries should support the slogan of an independent socialist Tamil Eelam if the Tamil people in Sri Lanka in their majority support such a goal. This was an application of the classic Leninist position that Marxists support the right of oppressed people to separate and build an independent state.
Comrade Thanga was the only Tamil member of the SPSL’s Central Committee. He fully supported this position and argued with comrades about this issue. However, the majority of the SPSL leadership strongly opposed this idea and urged the L5I’s international leadership to censor comrade Michael for a supposed “breach of discipline”. The majority of the L5I happily picked up this ridiculous and bureaucratic accusation and formally criticized comrade Michael because he had raised the slogan of a socialist Tamil Eelam at an internal congress! A few weeks later, comrade Michael, comrade Almedina Gunić (the International Women’s Secretary of the L5I at that time and of the RCIT today) and other comrades were expelled because we had launched a faction struggle against the centrist degeneration of the L5I.
Comrade Thanga was not deterred by this outburst of bureaucratic chauvinism. He stood by the Leninist program of national liberation of oppressed people despite the massive pressure of the majority of the SPSL and L5I leadership.
One should bear in mind that this discussion did take place not in “free” Western country but in Sri Lanka where the right-wing chauvinist regime of Rajapaksa had brutally smashed the de facto state of the Tamil people in the North and East of the country (led by the so-called Tamil Tigers) and slaughtered about 40,000 Tamils within a few weeks in spring 2009.
But despite all these difficulties, comrade Thanga continued to defend the Marxist principles. After a short but intensive internal struggle, he left the SPSL together with a few other comrades.
When the founders of the RCIT began to build a new international organization in April 2011, comrade Thanga and his friends immediately joined us. Despite the small numbers of militants, he dedicated himself to the task to build a new organization with the same energy as he did before. Soon he came into contact with comrade Kamalanathan and his friends and together they went ahead with building the United Lanka Workers’ Party – the RCIT’s section in Sri Lanka.
Due to his severe illness, comrade Thanga could no longer do the same amount of political work in the last years as he did before. However, he remained a dedicated Trotskyist and a loyal member of our organization until his last breath. Physically, comrade Thanga is dead. But he continues to live in our memories and in the memory of thousands of Tamil workers whom he helped in their daily struggle for a decent living!
Comrade Maruthei Thangavel – Presente!
International Bureau of the RCIT
Un obituario de la Corriente Comunista Revolucionaria Internacional (CCRI) 28 de agosto de 2021, www.thecommunists.net
Es con gran tristeza que tenemos que informar al público de que nuestro camarada Maruthei Thangavel, fundador y miembro destacado de la sección de la CCRI en Sri Lanka, ha muerto después de un largo período de enfermedad, a la edad de 67 años. El compañero Thanga, como lo llamaban todos, fue un trabajador tamil y militante trotskista durante muchos años.
Thanga dedicó toda su vida a la lucha por la liberación de la clase obrera. El foco de su trabajo político fue el "Socialist Plantation Service Union", un sindicato que se centró en la mejora de las condiciones de vida de los trabajadores tamiles de las plantaciones. Su militancia allí fue muy dura y difícil, ya que los trabajadores tamiles de las plantaciones suelen verse obligados a vivir en aldeas pequeñas, aisladas y muy pobres con un acceso limitado a la electricidad y el agua. Se enfrentan a condiciones muy duras de superexplotación por parte de los terratenientes.
Además, pertenecen a una minoría nacional que ha enfrentado una terrible opresión por parte del estado durante muchas décadas. A esto se suma que sindicalistas, como el camarada Thanga, también tuvieron que enfrentarse al aparato burocrático del sindicato oficial, que tiene estrechas relaciones con los terratenientes y el Estado, y que trata de acosar a los activistas socialistas por todos los medios posibles.
El camarada Thanga no solo fue un sindicalista dedicado, sino también un activista trotskista durante muchos años. Primero, miembro de la sección del CIT, de donde se fue con un grupo de compañeros en 2007. Este grupo se convirtió en el Partido Socialista de Sri Lanka (SPSL) y se unió a nuestra organización predecesora (L5I) al año siguiente. Fue en este período, cuando los cuadros que más tarde fundaron la CCRI se encontraron con los camaradas de Sri Lanka, incluido el compañero Thanga.
En enero de 2011 se inició un debate interno sobre la cuestión tamil en el SPSL, que comenzó en el congreso asiático de nuestra organización predecesora. Allí, Michael Pröbsting, miembro de la dirección internacional de L5I -secretario internacional de la CCRI en la actualidad- argumentó que los revolucionarios deberían apoyar la consigna de un Tamil Eelam socialista independiente, si el pueblo tamil en Sri Lanka en su mayoría apoya tal objetivo.
Esta fue una aplicación de la posición clásica leninista, de que los marxistas deben apoyar el derecho de los pueblos oprimidos a separarse y construir un estado independiente. Thanga, siendo el único miembro tamil del Comité Central del SPSL, apoyó plenamente esta posición y argumentó con sus compañeros sobre este tema. Sin embargo, la mayoría de la dirección del SPSL se opuso firmemente a esta idea e instó a la dirección internacional de L5I a censurar al camarada Michael por una supuesta "falta de disciplina".
¡La mayoría de la L5I recogió felizmente esta ridícula y burocrática acusación y criticó formalmente al camarada Michael, porque había levantado la consigna de un socialista Tamil Eelam en un congreso interno! Unas semanas después, el compañero Michael, la compañera Almedina Gunić (Secretaria Internacional de la Mujer de la L5I en ese momento y de la CCRI en la actualidad), junto a otros militantes fueron expulsados por haber lanzado una lucha de facciones contra la degeneración centrista de la L5I.
El camarada Thanga no se dejó disuadir por este estallido de chovinismo burocrático. Apoyó el programa leninista de liberación nacional de los pueblos oprimidos, a pesar de la presión masiva de la mayoría de la dirección del SPSL y L5I.
Hay que tener en cuenta que esta discusión no tuvo lugar en un país occidental "libre" sino en Sri Lanka, donde el régimen chovinista de derecha de Rajapaksa había aplastado brutalmente el estado de facto del pueblo tamil en el norte y este del país. (liderado por los llamados Tigres Tamiles) y masacró a unos 40.000 tamiles en unas pocas semanas en la primavera de 2009. Pero a pesar de todas estas dificultades, el camarada Thanga siguió defendiendo los principios marxistas. Después de una corta pero intensa lucha interna, dejó el SPSL junto con algunos otros compañeros.
Cuando los fundadores de la CCRI comenzaron a construir una nueva organización internacional en abril de 2011, Thanga y sus compañeros se unieron inmediatamente. A pesar del reducido número de militantes, se dedicó a la tarea de construir una nueva organización con la misma energía que antes. Pronto entró en contacto con el camarada Kamalanathan y sus amigos y juntos siguieron adelante con la construcción del Partido de los Trabajadores Unidos de Lanka, la sección de la RCIT en Sri Lanka.
Debido a su grave enfermedad, el camarada Thanga ya no pudo hacer la misma cantidad de trabajo político en los últimos años que antes. Sin embargo, siguió siendo un trotskista dedicado y un miembro leal de nuestra organización hasta su último aliento. Físicamente, el camarada Thanga está muerto. ¡Pero él continúa viviendo en nuestra memoria y en la memoria de miles de trabajadores tamiles a quienes ayudó en su lucha diaria por una vida digna!
Camarada Maruthei Thangavel - ¡Presente! Oficina Internacional de la RCIT
Obituary by the Executive Committee of United Lanka Workers’ Party, 27 August 2021
He was born to a working class family at Lellopitiya, Bopeththa, plantation area in Ratnapura district of Sri Lanka. He was inherited with gifted humanity to all human beings. He too was victimised to the grievances of plantation workers. He was well experienced at his early age how his parents were trying to survive as a family.
Thangavel was received his formal education at a school which was situated in his living estate. He excelled both Tamil and Sinhala language. He gained a fair knowledge of English language too. Young Thangavel always fought individually and organisationally against the injustice which occurred to his fellow workers. In term of the true sense, he was a humble and sociable character and gave a leadership to community works.
Thangavel continued his social works through various kind of charity organizations of the area. He felt thrust of doing social works and held various responsibilities in order to uplift the living condition of fellow state workers. He actively participated with “Shramadana Campaign” (collective charity works) and toiled his labour for the sake of his plantation community.
He was not only a social worker but also a militant. He was always grieved on poor living condition of plantation workers and the way them to be exploited by landlords. He led so many plantation struggles to win demands. He fought fearlessly against traditional state trade unionist, Savomyamurthi Thondaman and his movement. Therefore he had to face so many baseless allegations and had to spend his time at police stations and the courts.
During this period, he met comrade Kandaiah Kanapathy who holds an alternative leftist ideology. Thangavel was attracted to the organisation for which then Kanapathy holds the membership. Marxist workers Tendency (predecessor of United Socialist Party) .Thangavel became a Marxist and a Trotskyist and launched the socialist Plantation service union to fight against the monopoly of Thondaman’s Trade union hegemony.
In 2006, Comrade Thangavel fought against the theoretical derailment of United Socialist Party and finally formed The Socialist Party of Sri Lanka (SPSL) (a sister organization of L5I). Unfortunately he could not exist with the party for long time. SPSL leadership paid a loose stance on Self-determination rights on minority Tamil people of Sri Lanka. Therefore he re- launched a new workers organization by the name of United Lanka workers’ Party which affiliated with RCIT. Till his untimely death, he continuously held the red flag and was an active member of the party.
Red salute to Comrade Maruthei Thangavel!
රත්නපුර ලෙල්ලොපිටිය බෝපැත්ත වතුයායේ වතුකම්කරු යුවලකට දාව උපන් මොහු කුඩා කළ පටන් අසාමාන්ය මානුෂික උත්තුංග ගුණාංගවලින් පිරිපුන් සැබෑ මිනිසෙකු විය.ශ්රී ලංකාවේ වතු කම්කරුවනට උරුම දුක්ඛ දෝමනස්සයන්ගේ ගොදුරක් වීමෙන් ගැලවීමට තංගවේල්ට නොහැකිවිය.තම දෙමාපියන් තම දරුපවුල රැකගැනීමට දරන අපමණ වෙහෙස කුඩා තංගවේල් සිය දෑසින් මෙන්ම අත්දැකීමෙන් හොදහැටි තේරුම් ගන්නාවිට ඔහු ගතකරමින් සිටියේ සිය හිරිමල් ළමාවියයි.
තමන් ජීවත්වූ වතුයායට අයත් පාසලේ මූලික අධ්යාපනය ලැබූ ඔහු දෙමළ සහ සිංහල භාෂා චතුරව භාවිතා කිරීමටත් ඉංග්රීසි භාෂාවෙන් වැඩකිරීමේ හැකියාව ද ලබාගනු ලැබීය.වතු කම්කරු ප්රජාව තුළ සැලකියයුතු අධ්යාපනයක් ලද තංගවේල් තරුණයා සිය ප්රජාවට සිදුවන අසාධාරණයන්ට එරෙහිව තනිවමත් ඇතැම් අවස්ථාවල සංවිධානාත්මකවද නැගී සිටියේය.එනිසා මොහුට බොහෝ ජන අරගලවලදී නායකත්වය හිමිවිය. ඉතා සමාජශීලී චරිතයක්වූ තංගවේල් පොදු සමාජසේවාවලද ප්රමුඛයෙකු බවට පත්විය.
සමාජසේවා කටයුතු කිරීමට ඔහුට තිබූ පිපාසය නිසාම ප්රදේශයේ පැවති නොයෙක් සමාජසේවා සංවිධානවල ක්රියාකාරී සාමාජිකයෙකු මෙන්ම නිලතල දරමින් සිය ප්රජාවගේ යහපත උදෙසා කටයුතු කරනු ලැබීය.කැත්තට උදැල්ලට සිය දෑත හොදින් හුරුව සිටි තංගවේල් ශ්රමදාන ව්යාපාරවලදී සිය කායික ශ්රමය වගුරවා ආදර්ශමත්ව කටයුතු කළ තරුණයෙකි.
සමාජ සේවකයෙකු සේම සටන්කාමියෙකු වූ මොහු වතු කම්කරුවන්ගේ දුගී ජීවන මට්ටම පිළිබදව අතිශය කණගාටුවූ පුද්ගලයෙකි.එසේම වතුකම්කරු අරගලවලට නායකත්වය සපයනු ලැබීය.සෞම්යමූර්තී කොණ්ඩමන්ගේ සාම්ප්රදායික වතු කම්කරු ව්යාපාරයට මොහු දැක්වූයේ අතිශය විරෝධයකි.මේ නිසාම අභූත චෝදනාවලට ලක්වූ හෙතෙම පොලීසිය සහ අධිකරණ වල කාලය ගතකිරීමට සිදුවිය.
කන්දයියා කනපති නැමති වාමාංශික විකල්ප මතධාරී ක්රියාධරයා මොහුට හමුවූයේ මෙම අවදියේය.කනපති සහෝදරයා සම්බන්ධවී සිටි මාක්ස්වාදී කම්කරු ප්රවනතාවය (පසුව එක්සත් සමාජවාදී පක්ෂය) වෙත තංගවේල් සහෝදරයා ආකර්ෂනය විය.මාක්ස්වාදියෙකු මෙන්ම ට්රොට්ස්කිවාදියෙකු වූ තංගවේල් සහෝදරයා සිය කම්කරු ජනයා වෙනුවෙන් විකල්ප වෘත්තිය සමිතියක් ගොඩනැගීමට කනපති හා එක්ව වැඩකටයුතු ආරම්භ කරනු ලැබීය.ඒ අනුව සමාජවාදී වතුසේවා සංගමය බිහිවූ අතර තොන්ඩමන් ගේ වෘත්තීය සමිති ඒකාධිකාරයට එරෙහිව අභීත අරගලයක නිරත විය.
2006 පමණ වන විට එක්සත් සමාජවාදී පක්ෂයේ න්යායික පීලිපැනීම් වලට එරෙහිව මාක්ස්වාදයේ ආරක්ෂාව වෙනුවෙන් පෙනීසිටි තංගවේල් සහෝදරයා ශ්රී ලංකාවේ සමාජවාදී පක්ෂය(පස්වන ජාත්යන්තරයේ ලංකා ශාඛාව) බිහිකිරීම වෙනුවෙන් කරඋර දෙනු ලැබීය.නමුත් අවාසනාවකට එම පක්ෂය තුළ දීර්ඝ කාලයක් කටයුතු කිරීමට මොහුට නොහැකිවිය. විශේෂයෙන් සුලු ජාතීන්ගේ ස්වයංතීරණ අයිතිය පිළිබද එම පක්ෂයේ නායකත්වය දැක්වූ ලිහිල්බුරුල් ප්රතිපත්තිය හේතුකොගෙන එම පක්ෂයෙන්ද ඉවත් වූ මෙම සහෝදරයා විප්ලවවාදී කොමියුනිස්ට් ජාත්යන්තර ප්රවනතාවය (RCIT) සමග එක්ව එක්සත් ලංකා කම්කරු පක්ෂය ගොඩනැගීමට කටයුතු කළේය. මිය යන තුරුම එහි ක්රියාකාරී සාමාජිකයෙකු වූ මෙම සහෝදරයා සිය රතු ධජය බිම නොහෙලීය.
මරුදෛයි තංවේල් සහෝදරයාට අපගේ විප්ලවීය ආචාරය!
විධායක සභාව - එක්සත් ලංකා කම්කරු පක්ෂය
An Obituary by Michael Pröbsting, International Secretary of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 28 August 2021, www.thecommunists.net
It is never a pleasant task to write an obituary. However, it is particularly sad to write such reminiscences about a departed comrade who was so dedicated and unselfish like our Sri Lankan comrade Maruthei Thangavel! As both our Sri Lankan section as well as the RCIT’s International Bureau have already published obituaries (see the link below), I will not repeat at this point the biographical notes about the life of comrade Thanga (as he was called by everyone). Rather, I wish to take this opportunity to add a few personal notes about this extraordinary comrade.
The first time, I met comrade Thanga was in March 2010 when we were still members of our predecessor organization – the League for the Fifth International. Comrade Almedina Gunić and myself – both members of the LFI’s international leadership – visited the section in Sri Lanka in preparation of an impending congress. For most of the time, comrade Thanga accompanied Almedina and myself and supported us with the daily challenges during our stay.
As part of our trip, we also visited several tea plantations which have been a key sector of the country’s economy as a result of the legacy of British colonialism. Part of this legacy was also the fact that all plantation workers have been Tamils who initially were brought to the island from India by the colonial masters in the 19th century. They did calculate that these workers could be exploited particularly profitable.
Comrade Thanga, himself a Tamil worker, lived among the plantation workers. Usually, these workers live in isolated places, poor villages where people often have no electricity and water in their small houses. Comrade Thanga had a very small “house”, more precisely it was a small hut with two rooms.
He was an extraordinary dedicated comrade. He was heart and soul of “his” trade union – the Socialist Plantation Service Union – which fought for the interests of the plantation workers. He spent most of his time in supporting other workers and defending them against the greedy and cruel landowners. He went to the bosses arguing on behalf of these workers, writing formal letters, giving legal advice, organizing meetings, recruiting new members, etc.
When he told us stories about his trade union work, one could see in his eyes how deeply interwoven he has always been with these workers. His kind of trade union work was not limited to the “usual” wage negotiations etc. To give only one example which he told me. A female plantation worker broke her leg during her work (the plantations are often in mountainous areas with steep hillside so their work is often very dangerous). The criminal landowner instructed his workers to continue their job and not to care about her. At one point, the workers refused the order and brought her to a doctor. The landowner tried to punish these workers by reducing their wage. Comrade Thanga stepped in and supported the workers in their protest.
Comrade Thanga was a kind of full-time trade union organizer (and also working for the party) but he hardly got a regularly wage. One always wondered how he managed to survive. But his “secret” was that he was so beloved by other workers that they always supported him on one way or another.
While building the trade union and defending the day-to-day struggle of the plantation workers was the focus of his activities, comrade Thanga was not only a trade union activist but also a revolutionary militant and party member.
During resp. in wake of my second visit to the country – in January 2011 – I learned another side of his personality. As mentioned in the RCIT’s obituary, I raised at an international congress of our predecessor organization the necessity to support the slogan of an independent socialist Tamil Eelam if the Tamil people in Sri Lanka in their majority would support such a goal. This was only an application of the Marxist position of the right of oppressed people to separate and to build an independent state. However, the majority of the SPSL leadership was very hostile to this idea.
Comrade Thanga was very interested in this issue and in a break of the congress he came to me and asked me questions about the Marxist program on the national question. He was not quick in drawing conclusions and while I had the impression that he sympathized with this idea he didn’t tell me anything about his conclusions about this issue. Then, at a next session of the congress there was a certain tumult among the delegation of the Sri Lankan section (all in all about 10 comrades or so). They discussed animated in Sinhala so I couldn’t understand what it was about. When other delegates asked what the cause of the debate was, the leaders of the delegation refused to answer and just said that everything was fine. When we later found out that the reason were differences on the Tamil question, it became clear that the majority of the SPSL leaders had already developed a strong bureaucratic mentality.
Comrade Thanga was very loyal and did not want to undermine his comrades. So he too didn’t tell me what was the issue of the tumult. When the congress had finished and I left the country I had no idea about the differences within the Sri Lankan section. I only got a hazy notion when the majority of the LFI leadership informed me some weeks later about the outrage of the SPSL leaders and censored me – for defending the Leninist program at an internal congress!
However, we only got a clear picture when we received a postal letter from comrade Thanga in which he informed us that he and some other comrades had to break with the SPSL because of their hostility to the program of national liberation for the Tamil people. This letter filled us with enthusiasm as we received it in the very days of our bureaucratic expulsion from the L5I in April 2011. Similar to the SPSL leaders who could not stand the Leninist program on the Tamil question, the majority of the L5I leaders could not stand our defense of the Leninist principles. (For more details of our faction struggle against the centrist degeneration of the L5I and our expulsion, see my book: Building the Revolutionary Party in Theory and Practice. Looking Back and Ahead after 25 Years of Organized Struggle for Bolshevism, December 2014, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/rcit-party-building/)
Comrade Thanga was not a theoretician. He was a revolutionary activist, fighting for the interests of his class brothers and sisters and his strong sides were agitation and organizing. But while he might have read less from Marx, Lenin and Trotsky than some of his comrades in the SPSL leadership, he knew what was right and what was wrong. In this situation he demonstrated an extraordinary courage. He was the only Tamil member in the Central Committee of the SPSL and he was alone in consistently defending the right of national self-determination of the Tamil people. He was bureaucratically harassed and only few comrades among the membership supported him. Still, he refused to capitulate and he did stick to the principles. He was prepared to face the consequences and worked towards building a new organization. Soon, he joined us but we could also not offer him a rosy future as we were very small at that time. But for him, principles were more important than positions and Marxism more important than money.
In this way, comrade Thanga became the founder of our section in Sri Lanka and together with other comrades he eagerly worked towards building a revolutionary party – both nationally as well as internationally. Despite his declining health he never waivered in his dedication to the revolutionary cause. I remember him very well during my third visit to the country when he spoke at a conference with passion. His contributions were always clear and concrete, orientated to solve problems.
We will strongly miss comrade Thanga! Naturally we can not bring his body to life again. But we can – and we will – continue the struggle for the revolutionary program of liberation of the workers and oppressed, for the very ideas for which comrade Thanga did dedicate his life. In our struggle, in our collective organizations, comrade Thanga and his contribution to the cause of revolution will continue to exist. It is in this way that we will make him immortal!