A Review of LALIT in 2016 – in Broad Brush Strokes
I’ll give the report first in terms of campaigns and then second in terms of party-building. But I’d like to begin by expressing my amazement, as I prepared this report, at the effect of our political campaigns – when we know how few of us there are. We are some 30 present today, from all the branches, and there are others who have sent apologies for today, but the point I’m making is how effective we are, and that is mainly, I believe, because we have a shared understanding of what to do, politically speaking. It’s quite different from even a big band of individuals following a populist without any of them sharing a program.
In the context of this political coherence that I’m commenting on, we can’t underestimate the importance of our Residential Seminar in helping us develop a common understanding of the year ahead, in particular as to what the tasks are before us. This way throughout 2016, we have been guided by our collectively laid plans. And this “plan of action”, in turn, prevents us from being slaves to reaction. Without a program and a shared plan, often parties find they are pinioned to defensive positions. An action plan means possible attack or, in a downturn, possible counter-attack. It means we can possibly get to define at least part of the agenda. And this is the way a revolutionary party should act. In 2016, we’ve done that quite well.
1. The Land Question – For over 20 years, we have been working at putting the land question on the agenda – especially since the fall of the sugar-and-cane industry – and this, without really succeeding before this year. How should the land of Mauritius be utilized? That is the question. Who is to take decisions as to how the land be utilized? That, too, is the next question, linked closely to the first one.
So 2016, has finally been the year that we have begun to succeed in putting this question on the mainstream agenda. At long last. When we contemplate the destruction that has been wreaked in the meantime over the past 20 years, we realize just how late we are.
In 2016, we found a way into the subject through the Government’s Smart Cities strategy, announced with such pomp. And then, although our main fight is with the sugar estates selling off land, the complete fiasco of the Government’s Heritage Smart City has somehow helped us get the subject on the agenda. And the very same Minister, something of a fiasco himself, is in charge both of the serious housing problems facing people all over the country and also the work of getting everything organized for billionaires from abroad to settle in villas they buy in exchange for permanent residence or even citizenship. So, these two Government fiascos helped us get an old subject on to the new agenda in 2016.
While the original colonization created the situation where most of the arable land is in the hands of very few land-owners, the sugar estates, and before this land question is even addressed properly, we find a new wave of colonization beginning at the very end of the 20th Century creating gated communities behind walls with armed guards, creating a new owning class to come and lord it over us all. The seriousness of the problem has meant that, for the very first time, we are right now putting the question on the table.
French colonization assured the inequality from day one: some were given private land as concessions while others were given as slaves to these same people who got the land concessions. So the people who owned the land did not work it, and the people who worked the land did not own it. They were not even allowed to own it. Or even to own themselves.
When the British took over, one thing that did not happen was to call into question the private ownership of all the land by a tiny handful of people.
And when in 1968, Mauritius got its Independence, despite the hopes of the labouring classes, there was no land reform; the masses of the people still had no say over how the land was used. People had dreamt of getting fodder for their animals after Independence. Or even of some land to plant on but the dream did not come true. Other than one nationalized sugar estate, Rose-belle, and the Government forcing the estates to give up to land-leasers some inter-line space for crops, and other than during the 2nd World War, the Colonial State having forced the sugar estates to grow food crops – the same extreme inequality as to decision-making on land-use has remained. The unequal access to land has stayed unchanged.
Even if we have to repeat it a thousand times – and we do have to – we say it again: We are not only talking about State Land – even though that too must be addressed – but we in LALIT are challenging the private ownership of vast tracts of arable land. People do not hear us right, when we say that. Perhaps the 300 years of slavery and indenture and wage slavery have made too many of us too scared of the land-owners to be able to challenge their ownership. Or perhaps we think we might lose the handkerchief-sized bit of land we live on if we challenge the ownership of arable land.
But at long last, just in the past month or two, we are succeeding in putting the land question on the agenda. This is our aim: the broad masses of us who work for a livelihood, men and women, will take decisions collectively as to how to use the land. And these are the principles that will guide us:
– the land will be used to create employment for all in the Republic of Mauritius: i.e. use the land and the sea so as to make products that can then usefully be preserved and transformed, traded with others, via export as well as within the country.
– the land will assure food security. We are a country too far from our sources of nourishment. We must have food independence, and seed independence.
– the land must be used for housing for all. And housing must be in the context of proper land-planning – pedestrian and cycle paths everywhere, playgrounds for children on many corners, open spaces.
In short, the liberation of humanity will pass through the end of private property of the mother earth who nourishes us, of the land that feeds us. I’d like to quote the writer Leo Tolstoy (died 1910): “Land belongs to people as a whole. It is owned by humanity as a whole collectively, so it cannot be owned by private individuals.” And it is not only land that must always be collectively owned and controlled, but also the capital that our collective labour has produced. It too must be collectively developed.
During the last few months, we have brought the housing problem in Richelieu that people brought to LALIT; the problem with an IRS gated community that people in Baie du Cap brought to LALIT; similarly in Bambous Virieux and Anse Joncee where inhabitants told us how they are caught in a vice between the sea farms in the lagoon and the creeping IRS coming down the hills, literally squeezing them out; and the fishers of Roches Noires, the asbestos problem in all the EDC housing estates, and the generalized ubiquitous problem of “heirs’ housing” (lakaz zeritye) – all these problems brought to LALIT have been linked to each other and to the more general problem of the Government’s refusal to take control of the land – in the interests of the people. This is at the heart of the problem of unemployment, and the problem of people having no hope for future employment and of the Government’s continual masking of the unemployment problem instead of addressing it. It is also at the heart of the housing problem. And of the food security problem. (Each member was invited to take a copy of an internal document, reporting on the appearance of the avangard out-of-the-blue when it is usually so hidden in a downturn.)
And how dangerous for the State to tail-end a sugar estate bosses’ plan to make quick money by selling off land for good to international millionaires and billionaires, and by letting them pour concrete all over the whole island!
So, next year, this will be the wonderful political work for LALIT to continue. The issue is now on the agenda. The 25 local meetings we have had, that Alain mentioned, together with our two or three press conferences linking the localized issues with the hideous Government strategy, allowed this.
We have got to stop the present supposed real estate “development”, which is no more than destruction, and we must simultaneously put into action a new kind of development around jobs, housing and food. In short, around production.
2. Diego Garcia – 50 years have passed since Britain stole the Chagos and sub-letted Diego Garcia to the receiver of stolen goods, the USA. There have been many, many struggles. In LALIT, we have persisted against all the odds keeping this issue on the agenda. It is interesting to note, in passing, that the Chagos issue is also about who controls the land, and also who controls the sea. It is also a heavy legacy of colonization, like the whole of the land question.
And 2016, brought huge progress in the Diego Garcia struggle. The Mauritian State finally, at long last, after we have called for this since 1985, begun the process of taking Britain to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the Hague, by way of the political move of a UN General Assembly resolution. Now, the stage is set for possible victory. In itself, the fact that the State has taken this political and legal action is a victory. It is indeed strange, but just when everyone except LALIT is bemoaning supposed “defeat”, crying “Oh, dear, the British have renewed the lease with the US for Diego Garcia for the base,” and “Oh, dear, the British have tricked the Mauritian Government into a 6-month postponement of the debate-and-vote on the UN General Assembly resolution”, at this very moment, we in LALIT know that it is a moment to celebrate that finally the issue of sovereignty is on the mainstream agenda. We also celebrate that finally the Mauritian State and the Chagos Refugees Group have managed to build a joint platform and send a joint delegation to the UN General Assembly. This is a source of celebration because it is the only way, and always has been the only way, Chagossians can get back to their beloved Islands, and they will do it heads held high, and not as part of “resettlement” by a colonial power on their colony, BIOT. But naturally, in LALIT, we are very aware that this is not victory. For a start, neither the Mauritian State nor the CRG have yet seen that the only way to win is to oppose the military base that is the cause of all the tragedies on Chagos. And in opposing the military base, Mauritians and Chagossians gather all the human forces that oppose war; we get fine allies who will stand by us on principle – and not on the basis of some paternalistic pity for our suffering.
Our aim is a dignified one, for democratic control by the people of the Republic of Mauritius – so that we can prevent war being waged from there, so we can protect the environment there from nuclear and other pollution, so that we can prevent torture being perpetrated there. And so that everyone in Mauritius, including Chagossians, are free to go there, come back again, and go again, and settle when they wish. So that all the riches of the land and sea is brought under democratic control.
Since January, we acted towards these ends – through open letters, through the build up to our Conference, and finally during the Conference itself. As if symbolically, it was at the same time as our Conference that Prime Minister Jugnauth and Chagossian leader Bancoult were at the UN putting forward the Resolution to go to the ICJ.
So, it is in 2016 that LALIT’s approach to the Chagos issue is starting to become main-stream. All the other approaches – seeking just one or other redress in isolation – are doomed to failure.
LALIT’s strength was symbolized this year by the strength of our International Conference, bringing together such different strands, the past and present into the future, and a huge geographic sweep.
3. Language – In 2016, once again it is a watershed year, in that Mauritian Kreol in Parliament is now being discussed at all levels. The Vice Prime Minister is in favour and has said so. The Chief Whip is in favour and has said so. Neither the MMM or Ganoo’s party will block this. Labour is unlikely to. And now the debate is so far advanced that opponents say they are “in favour” of Kreol in Parliament, and they then try to block it by subterfuge by adding “on condition that Hindi is too,” as Tengur put it in a recent debate with me for an on-line video debate.
4. ID Card struggle – In 2016, and as we go into 2017, we are still using our old ID cards when such things are imposed. Who would have thought when we began the struggle in 2013 that we would have made this much progress. Consciousness about surveillance as a new form of repression is now much higher than before our campaign. When the University of Mauritius Staff union protest against police cameras on campus, saying, “Kot nu pe ale?” (What on earth is this?), we must know that LALIT helped create the political space for such thinking. With the new repressive amendments to the already repressive Prevention of Terrorism Act, again, it is our past work that makes present stands possible.
On Party Building
“NGO phenomenon” and the importance of political organization?
This year we challenged the anti-party and anti-politics tendency, the one that sees NGOs and “civil society” as a short-cut to by-pass the hard work of political struggle. We did it by organizing a two day Symposium on what we called the “NGO phenomenon” (so it was not so much on NGOs, but on the phenomenon of their massive expansion, and their barring of political terrain). It was in August at GRNW. We actually arrived at some common understandings – without particularly aiming at it – on the danger of NGOs, especially when they are, as they are, financed by the State, the private sector and imperialist Embassies. We also saw the danger that they limit the horizons of organizations to the “Elastoplast” solution instead of the capitalist system being the systemic illness causing so many of the symptoms we, as a society, suffer. In fact, the Symposium, while drawing a sharp line to distinguish between associations and NGOs, showed us that the NGO phenomenon is even more dangerous than we had thought while organizing it. We brought together a wide range of activists and academics, as well as our members and supporters. This meeting and the papers that went into and came out of it, helped us in party building. There is no short cut through NGO-type actions. They tend, instead, to reinforce our worst enemies i.e. the bourgeois state, the capitalist class and the imperialist embassies!
The role of art and culture in party building?
In June 2016, we held what we called a “Brainstorming Session” on Art and Culture, and it helped us make some distinctions that will be important for us in the future, especially for party building. First, it would have been better, and in future will be better, to bring together those who love art and want to nurture people’s culture rather than those who see themselves as producers of art and culture. Many artists today see themselves as entrepreneurs selling an entertainment product (a bit like Por Lwi by Light) and some are interested in self-promotion of the narcissistic kind, while others today see only themselves as the epi-centre of the universe, even if they are not of the commercial type. So while artists will have a role in a revolution, that’s for sure, their role in thinking about change during a downturn is not necessarily helpful. In any case, the session was very heavy going and quite boring. But it brought us many important and rich lessons. Members who missed it, missed something important, and there is unlikely to ever be one like it again, so they will never make up for their loss. The moral is: don’t miss open meetings!!
Our Party in 2016: Each regular branch meeting, each party commission meeting, each personal distribution of a Revi LALIT (or seeking a subscription), each program meeting, each central committee or political bureau, reinforces the Party. But more than everything else, the branches do. And they change over time. While Curepipe and the South was strong at one time, Rose-Hill later developed a network of branches, then while Port Louis which had been small grew apace, Rose-Hill shrank somewhat, and this time, by acts of voluntarism, and not because of any upturn in the struggle, it is the Western region that has expanded.
It is worth bearing in mind that recruitment is something that happens one-by-one. You don’t recruit a whole club, or a whole association to a Party. It takes individual commitment. Of those in the housing movement, for example, maybe just one or two might want to join the Party and come to regular fortnightly meetings. Because it is a one-by-one process, it is the conscious work of each of us. To recruit a new member. And to do this, quite often, through the bimonthly magazine.