Clarence Chrysostom, who died on 5 July aged 92, was one of the last survivors of the early revolutionary period of the Sri Lankan Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), one of the few Trotskyist parties in history so far to win a mass following.
Joining as a young man, he later sided with the revolutionary minority when the leadership joined a bourgeois coalition in 1964. He came to England shortly afterwards and, after a very brief membership of Gerry Healy’s Socialist Labour League, joined the International Marxist Group, becoming part of the pro-Labour Party faction round Al Richardson in 1968-9.
This faction later became the Chartist group in the Labour Party, in which Clarence was active through the 1970s. Subsequently he was involved with the research and publication efforts of Socialist Platform and the Revolutionary History journal, and in Hampstead Labour Party.
Clarence continued to attend the London circuit of left meetings and demos for as long as he was able. He retained a wider interest in the revolutionary left in Britain and Sri Lanka, corresponding with ex-LSSP comrades, particularly Prins Rajasooriya.
Though not in an organisation, Clarence was not dismissive of those who were and one of the first questions he always asked me when I visited him was: “Have you got your paper?” He perhaps identified with a generic Trotskyism that no longer existed, but at the same time had a sharp eye for the foibles of the left, which he would discuss with an impish grin and a chuckle. One favourite topic was the twists and turns of the career of Ken Livingstone, whom he had known in the early years of his rise.
As was pointed out at his funeral, Clarence was not a star either as theoretician or organiser. He was, however, in his personal qualities — lack of ego or concern for material advancement, generosity and solidarity — as well as his solid, lifelong political commitment, the sort of person who forms the bedrock of the revolutionary movement.
In my original text, I wrote that Clarence had a "short stay" with Healy's SLL. That was edited to read "a very brief membership of the SLL." I'm not sure he ever joined (perhaps others can say for sure). The story he told was that on arrival in England he was courted by the SLL as a member of the LSSP minority and invited as a guest to their summer camp. The way that he saw the Healyites operating there - Healy was notorious for bullying leading members of the group - led Clarence not to want to have anything further to do with them. So the phrase "a short stay" was chosen deliberately to describe - ambiguously but perhaps literally - his relationship with the SLL.