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New Budget Looms as Systemic Crisis Bites & Historic Bloc Wobbles

28.09.2010

The Labour-MSM Government is preparing its first budget since the May general elections in a climate of concern about the economic situation, and in the expectation of Municipal Elections due to be held before the end of the year. Labour can expect to end up with less control of Municipal Council after the coming elections, because it has a partner to share tickets with now (the MSM) and the MMM has clawed back some support in Beau Bassin & Rose-Hill as well as in Curepipe, since the last Municipals that Labour won in all cities. In Port Louis both the MMM and Cehl Meeah's FNS hope to win in some wards. In Quatre Bornes the MMM should win in some wards. Anyway, the Labour-MSM Government will hope to present a budget that facilitates their keeping some control after Municipal Elections even in the context of the worsening economic situation.

The Mauritian economy, tied in to world capitalism since the formation of the country during colonization, has been relatively resilient to the world economic crisis, but has suffered from its own "systemic crisis", and this, followed by the recent fall in the value of the Euro, can be expected to hit hard.

The Minister of Finance, MSM's Pravind Jugnauth, can be expected to continue to mask the crisis, however, with a mixture of putting windfall gains from real estate sales into the "FDI" column, and from his Restructuring and Productivity Package for enterprises in difficulty. But the balance of payments is not stable anymore. Unemployment is increasing, despite the changes in the way statistics are kept.

And the systemic crisis, as it worsens, will also, by its nature, threaten the long-standing historic bloc that has ruled for over 60 years.
So, Finance Minister Jugnauth can be expected to be trying to form a new "bloc historique", as capitalist rule struggles to extend beyond the grave systemic crisis that is shaking its reign at the moment. A new "bloc historique" is trying to happen right now before our very eyes, in 2010. Under bourgeois democratic regimes, capitalism does not, in general, manage to reign over us for any length of time without cobbling together some kind of "bloc historique" that includes a number of classes and parts of classes all in one big political "consensus", and in Mauritius this has always been cobbled together around the sugar industry, and has for 60 years nearly always been formed around the Labour Party. The historic bloc is what assures the hegemony of the ruling class. The particular form that the "bloc" has taken in Mauritius is not surprising because the sugar industry was no less than the raison d'etre for the country, while the Labour Party is the one that has been in power almost all the time, over the past 60 years.

The new "bloc historique" being formed now is no exception. If they succeed in cobbling it together, it will be multi-class in its nature and yet it will rule, in the final analysis, in the interests of capitalism, and the capitalist class. The consensus upon which the "bloc historique" is built, takes place once again around the sugar cane industry.

The formation of this new historical bloc has come at a time when the MSPA sugar bosses are in grave difficulty, what with the combined 36% decrease in sugar prices and the 18% decrease in the value of the Euro while they convert from being a "sugar industry" to being a "cane industry". Not that LALIT has not been telling them this would happen. The industry has also destroyed 45,000 jobs which could have been converted into other agro-industrial jobs, so the "victory" of the 20% wage increase had tragic roots. The BDO consultants' mid-term review of the Multi-Annual Adaptation Strategy confirms, for what it is worth, that the new cane industry is "not viable" on its present track. In addition to the predicted abysmal price of sugar, there is the question of the quantity of cane being produced. Many small planters have just abandoned their land, while the estates have destroyed agricultural land in their IRS projects, and there does not seem to be much hope of each of the 4 remaining sugar mill units in future being able to scrape together enough cane for the 100,000 tons of sugar they need to produce to break even. The target of 520,000 tons has been brought down in the short run to 450,000. At the same time, the cash flow problems that the Integrated Resort Scheme "windfall gains" were supposed to solve, have persisted as these millionaire land sales have fallen under the impetus of the crisis that has struck Europe. The ethanol part of the "cane industry" has not got off the ground at all. And uncertainty about the price of energy has meant the IPPs are also still awaiting contracts. Various currents in Government intend to rescind the existing contracts, considered rightly too favourable to the millers.

So, instead of calling on the working class to support the mobilization campaign for a shift in the economy away from cane, and for mobilization of the working class to force the State to use the European compensation money in order to oblige the oligarchs to move towards massive agricultural diversification and job creation not destruction, we can expect the bureaucratic leadership of the trade unions, newly being co-opted into the Historical Bloc, to continue to promise workers' support to the millers and their new "cane industry", while allying politically with the Labour establishment, represented sometimes by backbencher Neeta Deerpalsing, other times by her colleague Patrick Assirvaden, yet other times by the Labour nominee Prof. Torul, or even Minister of Labour Shakeel Mohamed, and yet other times still Navin Ramgoolam himself, against the millers. This is the opportunism of ordinary bourgeois politics. The usual Labour Party tactic-and-strategy rolled up into one. And the usual trade union political and bureaucratic collaboration.

At the same time as all this "rapprochement" of many trade union leaders with the Labour establishment which is in power, a series of attacks against the trade union movement is taking place both in the private sector under the new repressive laws labour brought in and, particularly, in the parastatals run by Labour nominees. There is a union leader suspended at the MBC and union officials suspended at Air Mauritius. The new Labour Laws, the Employment Relations Act and the Employment Rights Act have changed the balance of class forces decidedly in favour of the bosses, and in particular, facilitate sackings.

Meanwhile, the Government is setting up its new National Tripartite Forum. This Forum will replace the National Pay Council, by whatever name it is finally called. The Unions are vying for leadership of the union part of the "Forum".

What we are, in fact, seeing is a new "New Social Consensus" that will lead to a new "Bloc Historique" being formed to assure bourgeois rule in the post-sugar epoch. However, workers are less mobilized than when Paul Berenger did his "New Social Consensus" in 1981. He, Berenger, had to get his "New Social Consensus" accepted through open debate. Whereas today unions get theirs, hoping no-one will notice or point out what is actually taking place. They are managing their consensus with the bosses and State not by open political debate by, instead, depoliticising the union movement even further, moving into the purely union, purely "social" sphere, away from politics which is, by definition, open and debated publicly.
It is equally not strange that the "historical bloc" changes its form in different moments in history. Let us look at its past forms. For the early years, from when the Labour party was taken over by the joint operation of Advance (representing big planters, traders and professionals) and L'Express (representing an urban bourgeoisie and professionals, etc), the Historic Bloc was built up to consist of
-a small section of the sugar millers (Dede Maingard, and Messrs Leclezio and Claude Noel)
-The big planters (represented by Ramgoolam and Satcam Boolell, who was often Minister of Agriculture) and an urban bourgeoisie that gathered around L'Express.
-Thousands of small cane planters, who were Labour Party agents
-Most of the working class, still in the Labour Party from its working class roots, at the time.
The Labour Party then, almost continually, allied itself with the PMSD which openly represented the sugar oligarchy politically, thus stabilizing the "historical bloc" more thoroughly. Seewoosagur Ramgoolam just threw Gaetan Duval out before elections, much like Ramgoolam threw out Sithanen.
When the MMM was coming towards its decisive challenge for State power, in 1980, it quickly cobbled the same kind of alliances, but reflecting its different history. Already having most of the working class firmly with it from its early struggle years, already having the very small planters in the Mauritius Planters' Association of Jugdish Gobhurdhun newly with them, it then offered a "New Social Consensus" to the millers, offering a greater voice than Labour ever gave them (no doubt because it had such working class support), as well as giving 18 tickets to Harish Boodhoo, who represented big planters. Instead of L'Express behind them, they had the Le Mauricien/Week-End group.

This New Social Consensus, together with the alliance with Harish Boodhoo, was why LALIT left the MMM in the April 1982 split. So, by the time the MMM came to power later that same year, it had its own "Historical Bloc" characterised by giving more (symbolised in the Rs 57 million) to the sugar oligarchs than Labour ever did.
This "big share to the oligarchs" is until now the particularity of the MMM's "historic bloc".

However, when the MMM did give the millers more than before, by March 1983, the party became unstable. Too much was being conceded to the sugar oligarchy. So, this, more than anything precipitated the "kasir" in 1983.
The PSM and half of the MMM then patched together the MSM, which kept Government and organized its own "historical bloc". The MSM had and still has its own, more Bonapartist, approach, ruling often more overtly against the sugar bosses, attacking the sugar oligarchs, threatening the sanctity of private ownership of the means of production and even amending the Constitution to permit nationalization of private enterprises, while at one point going so far as to threaten the sugar oligarchs with letting sugar estate workers loose on them while locking the SMF up in the Casernes Centrales - if they don't watch it. The MSM managed this by a more openly communalist regime, and by allying with the fast-growing textile bosses and the huge retail industry, and by maintaining food subsidies and free education, even when the MMM had ceded because the IMF and World Bank were pushing very hard to make them fee-paying. The MSM was in the 1983 and 1987 elections in an alliance with the PMSD, although Gaetan Duval was thrown out even more royally than by Seewoosagur Ramgoolam: he was charged, at one point, with giving instructions to kill. Aneerood Jugnauth also attacked the working class and unions openly when there was contestation. However, in objective terms, the MSM, too, symbolized by Pravind Jugnauth's pride in the VRS schemes, paved the way for the continued rule of the sugar oligarchy, now helping convert it to a cane oligarchy.

So basically, the "historical bloc" remains more-or-less the same all along. It rules in the same interests. Its particular nature depends largely on how much opposition, and of the nature of this opposition, to it, and not just on its own strengths.

Today, unionists are, just like Shawkatally Soodun and Alain Laridon before them, or like Bidianand Jhurry before them, or like Ramnarain and Jugdambi before them, joining into the historic bloc. They represent, at the present time, an increasingly less mobilized working class within the ruling bloc, within the ruling consensus. But this ruling "bloc" is, of course, capitalist rule, anyway.

It is this continued rule which allows the continued banishment of human beings from the very Mother Earth that nourishes us, and the continuing expropriation of the fruit of previous and present generations of working people through the private accumulation of social capital, the continuous separation of natural beings from our own hands and minds in the expropriation of our own time as humans beings on this earth.

LALIT, of course, works for a different kind of political organization of the working class, which is independent of the bourgeois parties, the bourgeois State, and the bourgeoisie - not in consensus with them, not part of their historic bloc. In addition, we say what we mean, and mean what we say.
These are times of grave systemic crisis. The sugar industry is threatened, as is the cane industry. They have destroyed employment, and are now destroying the capital the EU paid as compensation. The world capitalist system has a financial sector which is still in ICU, after its collapse two years ago, even according to bourgeois economists. The food crisis and oil crisis are merely in temporary abatement. The ecological threat hangs over us.

We need to go to the heart of the problem: develop a program which envisages and shows the road map to a new economic system that has three or four main features:
It works towards:
-An end to the expropriation of mother earth's land by private money, and a move towards the democratic control of land, water, sea and space.
-An end to the metabolic rift that sunders the riches of agricultural land by, amongst other things, separating the urban from the rural, thus depleting the soil, and creating waste-disposal problems.
-An end to the fracture within human nature - whereby our time is bought and sold by a minority of private wage-slave dealers.
-An end to the expropriation of the product of our labour, expropriation by a minority of private pirates.

In short, towards the end of class rule, the left-over after 100 years of everyone working under the labour legislation of "slavery", a further 100 years where everyone worked under the labour legislation of indenture, and the next 100 years where we work under wage slavery.

To do this, we need a political struggle, with political demands that workers increasingly mobilize behind. Hence LALIT's demands like "Bizin plant manze lor later Tablisman", faced with the food crisis. Or "Bizin servi larzan Lerop pu kree travay pa detrir travay", instead of accepting sackings and negotiating VRS and Blueprint money. We need political demands like "Bizin deviz return ar Labank Santral pu diminye depresyasyon Rupi", to prevent the capitalists bringing about the gradual depreciation of the rupee.

It is not enough to support a trade union struggle, notably one that is always being drawn into consensus. What we need is political struggle. A working class struggle behind political forces with a program for working class power, political forces independent of any organizations that defend other classes. The struggle is against the bourgeois State that maintains this dangerous fragmentation of society into classes. So, the first thing we have to study is what the bourgeois State is. And to avoid becoming part of it or of its "historical bloc" that rules.


PS The concept of the "historic bloc" was developed by Antonio Gramsci in his Prison Notebooks, and is the political means by means of which the capitalist class maintains hegemony. A systemic crisis is a crisis that threatens to shake and destroy the "historic bloc". Both Gramsci and Lenin made immense contributions to Marxist understanding of politics and the economy, by showing, in two different ways, how the ruling class hegemony in fact can get and does sometimes get broken, paving the way to revolutionary change.