LALIT is a very unusual party. It has stubbornly survived, now heading for its 50th anniversary, and it has done this by always renewing itself successfully. With the mass uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East giving new impetus to struggles against capitalism world-wide, LALIT’s politics have come to seem eminently “possible”.
From its foundation in 1976 as a left “free-expression monthly magazine”, it has developed by 2011 into a thriving party, which has recently accelerated its campaign for an “alternative political economy”. This was necessary because Mauritius is falling into a systemic crisis, with the collapse of sugar prices in a society socially and politically organized for 200 years around sugar. And, as other left parties in Mauritius have risen and fallen over the decades, most often disappearing into oblivion one after the other, LALIT has not only persisted but also grown in stature.
LALIT’s longevity is probably due to the objective fact that LALIT was the political leadership of the country’s two biggest ever mass movements, the August 1979 general strike movement and the September 1980 mass uprising. It is one of those parties that bears the memory of working class struggles and other stories of rebellion within its structures. Over recent years, LALIT has integrated its internationalism into its day-to-day struggles in a more coherent way, with demonstrations against the Israeli State, with members going to Palestine, reporting back; with international conferences against militarism; with groups working on geo-politics, understanding Afghanistan and Pakistan, for example, post assassination of Bin Laden; with members going on international brigades to Cuba and Venezuela and reporting back from there. LALIT, as well as its web-site has a magazine that comes out once every two months, some 40 pages in A-4 format, almost entirely in the peoples’ language, Mauritian Kreol. Its 100th number bears witness to its sustainability.
Because there is a large working class and no real peasantry in Mauritius, all political parties in Mauritius have adopted the discourse of the left. All parties absolutely have to say they are “in favour of socialism”, they all absolutely have to speak out “for the working class” and “against capitalism” - or else they risk plummeting at the next election. The electorate in Mauritius hurls out parties in power, sometimes returning a Government party with no seats at all, for introducing pro-capitalist social policies.
But LALIT is the only party that is, and has been, a kind of beacon, showing the way from where we are today to where, if we work at it and if conditions permit, we might be tomorrow. And the path towards those always-being-discussed goals is “the Program” as it too unfolds and develops, and as it too is understood consciously by those who support it. The program analyzes the realities of present-day history and also presents the demands that flow from that analysis and around which we can mobilize today to build tomorrow’s future. Seen this way, the struggle is, in some ways, so simple.
These demands are, and have to be, both understandable to any ordinary person today, which means they start at the level of today’s workers’ consciousness, and they must also be capable of bringing the far-reaching gains we want for tomorrow, if they start being attained. So, we work towards socialism, and we do it through a historical process that can, even if only vaguely most of the time, be understood. That is what a program helps us to do: mobilize behind a consciously understood common understanding of the tasks before us. The program is neither minimum demands nor maximum demands, but a way of moving from the minimum to the maximum. And not in a sneaky way either, but openly and consciously.
LALIT has to distinguish itself from all the demagogy in favour of socialism that abounds in Mauritius. We have to make clear the sober realization that, during the course of the struggle, the existing State will need, at some point, to be confronted and overthrown, not just taken over as is - if we are to achieve a society where equality, freedom, justice, humanism, women’s liberation and ecology are all on the immediate agenda. Reducing human beings to wage slavery will have to, at some point, become illegal.
So that one day people will no longer have to resort to selling part of their daily lives, in order to stay alive. This aim is the key difference between LALIT and the other parties in Mauritius that pretend to be socialist. The others think wage-slavery is normal. At best, they want a better price for the labour. They do not see that it is a left-over from real slavery.
Democracy will have to be extended into all fields, including those of production and exchange. That aim, too, is unusual in a world where the “left” used to be associated with Stalinist movements, who had little esteem for democracy.
LALIT has from its beginnings been enriched by both the previous struggles of working people and the broader masses in Mauritius, and by their present-day struggles - those of workers, women, homeless people, those displaced from Diego Garcia and Chagos, young people, fishermen, ecologists, mother-tongue activists, and small planters. In fact, in Mauritius LALIT is almost synonymous with the struggle against the military base on Diego Garcia, the struggle for women’s emancipation and liberation, the homeless peoples’ movement, the working class struggle against trade union bureaucracy, and the struggle to popularize Mauritian Kreol and Bhojpuri, as well as getting them recognized by the State. LALIT has inherited traditions from the best of the early Labour Party, the early Mouvement Militant Mauricien, and MMMSP, from the Communist League and the Independent Forward Block. And LALIT has learnt vast amounts from the huge traditions of struggle in India and Africa, and world-wide - workers’ struggles, liberation struggles, women’s struggles, progressive political struggles of all kinds. Generations of political analyses enrich our party.
LALIT in 2010 challenged the ecologist organizations that fell into the UK plot, later proven to be a plot, to keep the US Diego Garcia military unchallenged, when they all signed up to a Marine Protected Area in Chagos, even though the polluting base was just before their eyes. LALIT has been one of the organizations that spear-headed the setting up of the NO BASES movement in 2007. It aims at the closure of all military bases, starting with foreign ones. Our history of struggle to get the US-UK base on Diego Garcia (Mauritian land) closed down put us in a position to help launch this important world-wide movement. LALIT was one of the co-organizers of the No Bases Conference in Ecuador, a Conference which contributed to getting the US military base at Manta closed down. In fact, military base closure has become a central issue in the anti-war movement now, as a result of the strategic aim of the No Bases movement being popularized in the movement.
The anti-war struggle, we believe, needs this kind of permanent, strategic aim i.e. to close down all the bases that make war possible.
Our militants have on three occasions been to Palestine as volunteers who also bear witness what exactly the illegal occupation by the Israeli State of Palestine means to Palestinians. Understanding the nature of the Zionist State, through hands-on experience as well as theoretical study, has helped us understand more clearly the bourgeois State itself. One of our members was in the Gaza Freedom March, which was prevented by the Mubarak Government in Egypt from using the Rafah Crossing to get into Gaza.
On the Mauritian front, LALIT, single-handed succeeded in forcing the Government to re-introduce in 2005 the village elections that had been abolished in 2004. Elections were then held in 150 villages, as they had been before. We also forced the Government to re-introduce old-age pensions on a universal basis, and scrap the means-testing that that had been introduced. We have been in the forefront of the struggle that has seen the 2011 victory of the Mauritian Kreol and Bhojpuri languages being introduced in schools.
The strongest and most reliable force for change is the organized working class. But with the bureaucratization of the trade union movement, the neo-liberal all-but-destruction of the co-operative movement, the NGO-ification of many associations in the country, new forms of independent organization of working people are becoming a crying necessity.
Artists are sometimes staunch allies, at moments when bourgeois ideology is strongest. LALIT is very close to the artistic community in Mauritius.
Women, when confronted with persistent patriarchy, are also a broad-based force for change. LALIT has been in the forefront of the struggle to get abortion decriminalized, a struggle that is still going on, as well as the debates on the necessity to oppose patriarchal hierarchies, themselves, rather than be satisfied with re-enforcing such hierarchies by recruiting women into positions of power within them.
Young people, disaffected with so many things about society, are often a strong force for change, as we have seen in the uprisings against dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt.
Environmentalists and ecologists can be a force for change at some moments in present-day history, because their most simple demands are not respected by the powers-that-be. LALIT has recently enriched its ecological analyses by incorporating the recent work by John Belamy Foster on the ecological foundations of Marx’s thinking.
We are a party that relies on self-organization. So that we are often in alliance with homeless people as they rise up for housing, and by families suffering police violence, who have united to oppose torture and other violence by the State.
The aim in all these struggles is towards the political vision and struggle that will bring socialism. And in the act of rising up and struggling, we are already assuming our liberty.