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Report on LALIT’s “Etats Generaux” on Political Parties

03.11.2011


LALIT held a first-ever in Mauritius, and maybe in the world. It was two-day “etats generaux” on political parties. This, roughly translated from the French, means something like an “indaba”, to borrow a South African concept, or a putting together of heads on the question of “what is the state of political parties today”. The “etat de lieu” was organized by LALIT mainly in the face of the general perception in Mauritius (and it is not different in many other countries) that mainstream political parties are both corrupt and metaphorically bankrupt, an accurate perception, and in response to the danger that this “general perception” shifts to cover all forms of political organization. The “etat de lieu” was held in the Mother Earth Hall, over the two public holidays on 1 and 2 November, 2011, and was attended by some 70 people. The first day was an overview of the bankruptcy and corruption of mainstream political parties in Mauritius, and the second day an overview of the need for a form of political organization, like LALIT, around the emerging programs already in existence. The full title of the event was “Lalit’s open conference: In times of imminent ecological disaster, of the world capitalist system in economic crisis, of the failure of bourgeois political parties, what is the state of political parties in Mauritius: A historical, critical view from the independence movement until 2011.”

There were, over the two days, fifteen of the participants who either presented a paper or chaired a session. More than this number participated in plenary sessions from the floor.

The first session, chaired by Anne-Marie Joly and Rajni Lallah, began with a key-note address by Lalit member, Lindsey Collen, who outlined the need for such an “etat de lieu”, putting into perspective what political parties are, and how the mainstream ones in Parliament today are past their expiry dates, in respect of their capacity to bring positive change. Then there were three papers, all “tour de forces” which taken as a whole covered the totality of political parties in Mauritius, from the Independence struggle until today; Jean-Claude Bibi outlined the classes behind the Labour Party and the MMM, since their genesis in the working class, and through their histories, drawing comparisons between the two parties as they came to represent different parts of the present-day bourgeoisie; Alain Ah-Vee showed the Parti Mauricien Social Democrate’s birth as a party to represent the sugar oligarchs and rally “genuine Mauritians” (it was actually called “Ralliement Mauriciens”) against “immigrants”, and its very right-wing phases, today covered by a technocratic veneer; while the MSM, born of the PSM (right wing Sheva Shivir part of Labour) and part of the MMM, and their organization around a building and the family trust, Sun Trust. Ram Seegobin presented a huge drawing (on four sheets of bristol) showing all the parties that existed in the run-up to Independence, and others that were born since then, and how they split and re-united, until today 2011, where in two columns he put the existing parties in the National Assembly and those that are not in the National Assembly. The chair ensured that there were two generous time allocations for plenary debate and discussion during the session, and this turned out lively and informative.

The second session, chaired by Alain Ah-Vee and Didier Toussaint, was a broad over-view of the failure of traditional political parties to address the problems and issues of today. Rada Kistnasamy gave a strong and pithy speech on their failure to address the economy, which is the cause of social ills, including unemployment and under-employment. (He gave a hand-out on the destruction of employment). He referred to LALIT’s program on the economy. The emerging program on Food Security signed by some 10 organizations including LALIT was distributed. Emilie Wiehe presented a crack paper on how the Maurice Ile Durable that the Government has set up, though having the merit of admitting there is a problem, is doomed because it looks at the environment separately from the economy, which is the cause of its degradation. LALIT’s most recent paper on ecology was distributed, alongside another flyer with quotations from Karl Marx on ecology and its link to destructive fractures provoked by the capitalist economy. One after another, five speeches of the highest intellectual level, and the strongest emotional commitment, were then delivered on four subject. Imran Dhanoo and Ally Lazer of the Centre Idriss Goomany Committee spoke on the failure of mainstream political parties to address the drugs issue. Imran Dhanoo outlined the failure on the “demand” side, to address the scope of the problem, while Ally Lazer spoke of the notorious connivance of political parties with the supply-side of drugs. Lalit member, Kisna Kistnasamy, spoke on the Diego Garcia/Chagos issue, and how the MSM, Labour and MMM had all failed dismally to complete de-colonization, to re-unify the country and to put an end to the military occupation of part of Mauritius by the USA and UK. Alain Muneean spoke on the education system and how all the parties in the mainstream had failed. They even failed in their own terms, he said, quoting the proportion of children the system kicks out at various ages. The mother tongues are still not used in school as medium. Ahmed Khan gave an excellent account of the sources of communalism as an ideology, at a particular point in colonial history, and as part of a right-wing “cultural” challenge against the West, not against imperialism. He spoke with reference to the strand associated with the Independent Forward Block (IFB), and brought in new points, debunking the crass idea that as from 1983 communal politics suddenly appeared, replacing class politics. Debate followed.

The second session finished with two speeches on a theme never addressed in this way before, to our knowledge. Reeaz Chuttoo of the Konfederasyon Travayer Sekter Prive (Private Sector Workers’ Federation) said what the union movement, and in particular his current, expects from a political party, while Rajni Lallah, speaking in the name of the Muvman Liberasyon Fam spoke on what the women’s movement, in particular the current she is from, expects from a political party. She distributed copies of the MLF’s “New Women’s Manifesto”, which is, in itself, an emerging program that can be built on in the future. Again debate followed.

The third session, which was on the second day, was looking to the future. Chaired by Yannick Jeanne, who gave a summary of the previous day’s proceedings, and Lindsey Collen who chaired the brainstorming session, after a brilliant talk by Lalit member Ram Seegobin on what is a political party, what is a political program, and how do we build it and support for it.

At lunch time each day, and after the end of the sessions in the afternoon, groups stayed and shared ideas in animated debate, while others bought LALIT booklets and books, or gave their names for LALIT commissions.