Biography of N. Shanmugathasan

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Trade Unionist N. Shanmugathasan Biography
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N. Shanmugathasan (right) meeting with Mao Tse-tung. Nagalingam Shanmugathasan was a trade unionist and Maoist revolutionary leader in Sri Lanka. He was the founding General Secretary of the Ceylon Communist Party (Maoist).

N. Shanmugathasan Life

Shanmugathasan hailed from a family of modest means in the town of Manipay in Jaffna district.

He began studying history at the University College Colombo in 1938, where he first came into contact with communist ideas and met supporters of the Communist Party of Great Britain who had returned from studying at Cambridge University.

In 1939 he and two fellow students were suspended, but soon reinstated, from the university for distributing anti-imperialist flyers after the outbreak of World War II.

Shanmugathasan gained notoriety among the students after this action and in 1940 won in the student election to become General Secretary of the University Union Society.

The next year he was elected President of the Society. In the meantime, he was organizing a group of Communists among the students that opposed both British imperialism and the Trotskyists of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party who opposed the socialist Soviet Union.

After graduating from the university in 1943, Shanmugathasan joined the trade union movement, and became a full time activist of the Ceylon Communist Party.

N. Shanmugathasan became the head of the Ceylon Trade Union Federation and led several strikes, including the general strike of 1947, the Hartal (general strike) of 1953, and a transport strike in 1955

In the aftermath of the Soviet-Chinese split of the Communist movement, he was expelled from the Ceylon Communist Party in 1963 for pro-Mao views. In 1964 he became the general secretary of the Ceylon Communist Party (Peking Wing) (later CCP(Maoist)).

N. Shanmugathasan contested the 1965 general election as a Communist Party (Peking Wing) candidate, but was unsuccessful: he won only 0.5% of the vote. The party at its ninth Congress held in 1969 upheld Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
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Shanmugathasan visited China twice during the Cultural Revolution and was important enough to have addressed thousands of Red Guards. After the formation of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), which conducted armed struggle, Shanmugathasan played the role of liaison between China and CPI(ML).

In 1971 Shanmugathasan was imprisoned for one year during a crackdown on revolutionaries following the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People’s Liberation Front ) rebellion.

Shanmugathasan was targeted by the government for his espousal of armed revolution for political change and for being identified as one of the political mentors of Rohana Wijeweera, the founding leader of the JVP. While detained in prison Shanmugathasan authored a book, A Marxist Looks at the History of Ceylon.

In 1973, Shanmugathasan’s party was estimated by the US State Department to have approximately 500 to 800 cadre, and possessed “the ability to control the Ceylon Trade Union Federation and the Ceylon Plantation Workers’ Union with a combined membership of some 110,000”.

In 1976, after the death of Mao Tse-tung and the defeat of the Gang of Four and the revolutionary pro-Mao forces in China, Shanmugathasan sided with the pro-Mao forces internationally.

He played an important role in the foundation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, which he hailed as a “milestone in the history of the international communist movement”.

In 1991 he convened a conference of the Communist Party of Ceylon (Maoist) to promote new leadership and assure the longevity of the party. His last public appearance was at the first press conference of the International Emergency Committee to Defend the Life of Dr Abimael Guzmán in London.

Shanmugathasan was one of few national level politicians of Sri Lankan Tamil origin. He died of natural causes on Feb. 8, 1993[12] in England, where he had gone for medical treatment near the end of his life.

N. Shanmugathasan Works

Political Memoirs of an Unrepentant Communist by N. Shanmugathasan, published 1989

This is a partial list of books and articles written by Shanmugathasan.

  • A Marxist Looks at the History of Ceylon, 1974, Colombo: Sarasavi Printers
  • The Bright Red Banner of Mao Tse-tung Thought, 1969, Colombo: Communist Party Publications, written to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (excerpt from Chapter IV)
  • “Castro Joins Anti-China Chorus,” Peking Review, Vol. 9, #9, February 25, 1966
  • Enver Hoxha Refuted, originally published in A World to Win magazine
  • How Can the Working Class Achieve Power? A Selection of Articles of Interest to the Working Class Movement, 1963, Colombo: Worker Publications
  • The Lessons of the October Revolution, 1964, Colombo: Workers’ Pub.


  • “N. Sanmugathasan on Indonesian Revolution,” Peking Review, Vol. 9, #37, Sept. 9, 1966
  • “Nurtured by Mao Tse-tung’s Thought, China Grows Young,” Peking Review, Vol. 9, #46, Nov. 11, 1966
  • Political Memoirs of an Unrepentant Communist, 1989, Colombo (excerpts online)
  • “Sri Lanka’s Week of Shame: an eyewitness account,” Race & Class, A Journal for Black & Third World Liberation, Volume XXVI, Summer 1984, No. 1: Sri Lanka: Racism and the Authoritarian State
  • Some Notes on Mao’s Philosophy, 1986
  • “Tremendous International Significance of Mao Tse-tung’s Thought,” Peking Review, Vol. 11, #43, Oct. 25, 1968, pp. 22–23

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