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Leslie Goonewardena

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Title: Leslie Goonewardena  
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Leslie Goonewardena

Leslie Goonewardena
Minister of Transport
In office
Preceded by E. L. B. Hurulle
Succeeded by K. B. Ratnayake
Member of the Ceylonese Parliament
for Panadura
In office
Preceded by D. C. W. Kannangara
Succeeded by Neville Fernando
Personal details
Born (1909-10-31)31 October 1909
Panadura, Ceylon
Died 11 April 1983(1983-04-11) (aged 73)
Political party Lanka Sama Samaja Party
Spouse(s) Vivienne Goonewardena
Alma mater St. John's College, Panadura
S. Thomas' College, Mount Lavinia
London School of Economics
Religion Christian/Agnostic
Ethnicity Sinhalese

Leslie Simon Goonewardena (31 October 1909 – 11 April 1983) was a prominent Sri Lankan independence activist, politician, Member of Parliament and cabinet minister. He was one of the founders of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party – the first Marxist party in Sri Lanka.

Early life and family

Goonewardena was born on 31 October 1909 in Panadura in south western Ceylon.[1][2] He was the son of Dr. Andrew Simon Goonewardena (President of the Panadura Maha Jana Sabha and chairman of the Urban Council).[1][2][3] Goonewardena was educated at St. John's College, Panadura, S. Thomas' College, Mount Lavinia and a public school in north Wales.[2][4] He was sent to Britain with the aim of making him a Methodist priest, where he became influenced by Marxism and received a BSc degree in economics instead from the London School of Economics.[2][4] He was admitted to the bar at Gray's Inn in 1933 but never practised law.[2][4]

Goonewardena met Vivienne Goonatilleka, niece of leading leftist politician Philip Gunawardena, at a political meeting.[5] They fell in love but Vivienne's father was against the relationship because Goonewardena was a Christian and from the minority Karava caste, misconstrued to be 'lower'.[6] She was kept a virtual prisoner at home and Goonewardena was forced at file a habeas corpus writ to get her released.[7] The couple were married on 30 January 1939.[4]

Though, in adulthood Goonewardene did not have any religious beliefs, as a boy he was influenced by the ideas of John Wesley. The Methodists had played a prominent role, both locally and internationally, in the campaign to abolish slavery,[8]education,[9]the Temperance Movement[10] (before it caught on with local politicians) and among other things to inspire many great men including Nelson Mandela.[11][12][13] Goonewardene's family were prominent figures of the Methodist Church of Ceylon and his father (Dr. Andrew Simon Goonewardene) was a lay preacher and Treasurer of the Home Mission Fund.[3] Goonewardene's grandfather Mathaes Swaris Rodrigo Goonawerdene had gifted the land for the Panadura Methodist Church (where Rev.David De Silva's sermon went on to trigger the Panaduravadya debate) and had invited the parties for a debate.[14][15] His grand-aunt Selestina Rodrigo and another relative Jeramias Dias were the chief sponsors of the Panadura Ronkoth Viharaya and the world famous Panadura Vivadaya debate.[16] Their ancestor, Thome Rodrigo was a prince who was a signatory to the Malwana Convention.[17] As traditional Chiefs of the area their ancestors had played a role in defeating Arya Chakrawarti's fleet at Panadura.

Goonewardene's mother died when he was a toddler. She was from the well known Sri Chandrasekara Fernando family of Moratuwa, who were one of the largest Sinhala land owners at the time. Leslie inherited all the wealth from his mother and as his eldest son, a major share from his father. Leslie Goonewardene was a major party (LSSP) financier.

Political career

Goonewardena returned to Ceylon in 1933 and helped found of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) in 1935.[2][4][18] He served as the LSSP's General-Secretary from 1935 to 1977.[2][4] The LSSP was proscribed in 1940 and its leaders N. M. Perera, Philip Gunawardena and Colvin R. de Silva arrested.[19] Goonewardena evaded arrest and went into hiding and lead the party during its underground years.[19] He and other leaders of the party fled to India.[4][19] There he helped found the Bolshevik–Leninist Party of India, Ceylon and Burma (BLPI) and participated in the Quit India Movement. He remained uncaptured throughout the war years both in Ceylon and India.[4] Towards the end of World War II the LSSP split into two – a LSSP faction led by N. M. Perera and Philip Gunawardena, and the Bolshevik Samasamaja Party (BSP), the Ceylonese arm of the BLPI, led by Goonewardena, Colvin R. de Silva, Edmund Samarakkody and Bernard Soysa.[19] The BSP and LSSP merged in 1950.[19]

Goonewardena stood as the LSSP's candidate for Colombo North at the 1952 parliamentary election but was defeated by the United National Party candidate Cyril E. S. Perera.[20] He stood as the LSSP's candidate for Panadura at the 1956 parliamentary election. He won the election and entered Parliament.[21] He was re-elected at the March 1960, July 1960, 1965 and 1970 parliamentary elections.[22][23][24][25]

In the 1940s and 50s the LSSP and other leftist parties had led the opposition to the communal politics of successive governments. Leslie Goonewardene strongly opposed the racist Sinhala Only Act introduced by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party government in 1956 and was chief among the Sinhalese and Marxist politicians to do so.[26] During the parliamentary debate on the Act, Goonewardena prophetically observed that "There is a grave danger, if those people the Tamils, feel that a grave and irreparable injustice is done to them. There is a possibility of their deciding even to break away from the rest of the country."[27] In 1964 the LSSP abandoned its political beliefs and joined the SLFP government. Members of the LSSP who opposed this decision, led by Edmund Samarakkody and Meryl Fernando, formed the Revolutionary Lanka Sama Samaja Party.[19] Goonewardena and Colvin R. de Silva were also opposed to this decision but they remained with the LSSP.[28] But in 1970 Goonewardena also abandoned his beliefs and joined the SLFP led United Front government, becoming Minister of Communications (later renamed Minister of Transport).[29][30] Disagreements started appearing in the government in 1975 and on 2 September 1975 all LSSP ministers in the government, including Goonewardena, were dismissed.[31]

Goonewardena stood for re-election at the 1977 parliamentary election but was defeated by UNP candidate Neville Fernando.[32] His cousin Cholomondeley Goonewardene (1917– 2006) was also a prominent LSSPer.


Goonewardena wrote a number of books, sometimes using the pseudonyms Tilak and V. S. Parthasarathi:[2]

  • From the First to the Fourth International (1944)
  • The Rise and Fall of the Comintern (1947)
  • Open Letter to Socialist Party Members: The Coming Crisis in the Socialist Party (1947)
  • The Differences Between Trotskyism and Stalinism (1954)
  • What We Stand For (1959)
  • Short History of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (1960)

Goonewardena died on 11 April 1983.[33][34]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h
  3. ^ a b The Methodist Recorder, December 1943
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Missionary Arrival 1814, Richmond College Website
  9. ^ List of the oldest schools in Sri Lanka
  10. ^ Health Policy in Britain's Model Colony: Ceylon, 1900-1948 - Margaret Jones, p. 41 (Orient Blackswan Private Limited) ASIN: B00ECYFXNE
  11. ^ Biography: Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Former president of South Africa and world acclaimed international statesman By Alistair Boddy-Evans
  12. ^ Address by President Nelson Mandela to the Annual Conference of the Methodist Church on the AFRICAN NATIONAL CONGRESS (SOUTH AFRICA'S NATIONAL LIBERATION MOVEMENT) Website
  13. ^
  14. ^ The Story of Selestina Dias: Buddhist Female Philanthropy and Education - Manel Tampoe, p. 23 (Social Scientists' Association) ISBN 9550762165
  15. ^ Methodist Church, Panadura celebrates 150 years - Nalin Peiris (Daily News) Accessed January 15, 2015
  16. ^ The Great Panadura Debate by S. de F. Jayasuriya, Sunday Observer, 13/16/2010
  17. ^ The Rodrigo family of Panadura, Karava of Sri Lanka
  18. ^
  19. ^ a b c d e f
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^ Sri Lanka in the Modern Age: A History of Contested Indentities By Nira Wickramasinghe, pp. xii & 354 (C Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd) ISBN 978-1850658078
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^
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