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Report on LALIT’s Conference on Nationalism and “Mauritianism”

18.03.2012


There were some of the best political discussions since the 1970s, everyone at the event agreed. On Independence and Republic Day, 12 March, LALIT held an open Conference on Strategy, which looked at the strategic implications of the clichés about “national unity” and “Mauritianism”. The Conference, held at the LPT Mother Earth Hall at Grande Riviere was open to people outside LALIT and was well attended. Its title was: “Is it really ‘Mauritianism’ that can combat communalism? Is it really nationalism that can combat imperialism? What are the strategic implications of our answers?”

The morning session was opened by Yannick Jeanne for LALIT. He spoke of the ludicrousness of the French regiment and even para-troopers taking part in formal Independence Day celebrations, and how this put our subject of discussion into sharp focus. When we ask if nationalism is the best strategy against imperialism, the image of French para-troopers being invited to the nationalist celebration itself, gives an idea of the answer. Similarly, “mauricianism” is a dubious tool. It claims to be the anti-dote to communalism, as in the Court Case of the Blok 104 which led march a couple of days ago, he said, and which sought to make way for a “fifth community” of “genuine mauritians”, while all the rest of the inhabitants of the country are not 100% authentic ones. He also showed a whole dossier of newspaper cuttings taken mainly from the previous day’s Le Defi Plus, as an example, to show how the bosses celebrate “nationalism” and “mauritianism” and to show their flag worship, in the whole-page and half-page, glossy and matt, advertisements they pay the press handsomely to produce. He also pointed to some billboards just outside the door of the Hall, bragging about boss’s nationalism. Some supermarkets offered “mauritian” prices, in an ad. One importer even had the colours of the flag rising out of a mosquito coil. The flour mills had their four huge mills depicted in the national quadricolour. And so on. No-one is more 100% “Mauritian” than the bosses. He said that in times of crisis, we have to have very good analyses so that our strategies can win. We are facing job cuts, privatization, price rises, and in general a massive economic crisis ahead. Our political program, and our actions, will have to be clear, he said.

Rada Kistnasamy then presented an analysis of the past debates on nationalism and mauritianism, since Independence. This is not the first time that these concepts are being challenged, he said. The debates in the 1970s, he said, took place under the impulsion of the capitalist-run press at a time when the entire bourgeoisie was despairing of its political representatives of the time, the PT-PMSD, and was desperate for a new representative. Rightly so, because PT-PMSD were heading for a zero seat election result. So, the bourgeoisie put pressure on the MMM leadership between 1976 and 1982 to try to force it to move to the right, towards the more nationalist, more mauritianist positions and away from workerist socialist politics. This way, the bourgeoisie was preparing the alternative it has, since then, had. So, the pressure came first, he said, from Lindsay Riviere, then editor-in-chief of two newspapers, Le Mauricien and Week-End, and now, as everyone knows, editorialist for La Sentinel titles. But this pressure from the capitalist side, alone, did not work, and could not work. So, pressure then came from two apparently “left”, but in fact right”, groups, pumped up by this same press, causing a scizzor effect which did work: first the MMMSP, which took a turn for the “mauritianist” and nationalist line from 1977, and had the same kind of press coverage that Rezistans has today, then almost immediately afterwards from the “Lel Gos” of the MMM, which was also equally nationalist, and actually got a majority on the MMM Central Committee, amidst a lot of press coverage, only to resign from the political bureau almost immediately, as if not knowing what to do with their “victory”. This double pressure worked, and by the 1982 elections (after LALIT de Klas had left the MMM earlier in the year), the MMM was associated with the nationalist slogan “enn sel lepep enn sel nasyon”, and had forgotten forever its original slogan of “lalit de klas pa lalit de ras”. Most of the people in these two nationalist currents, as Ragini Kistnasamy explained in part 2 of this paper, ended up in the Labour Party (Dev Virahsawmy, Dan Calllikan) or the MSM (Late Peter Craig even a representative of the bourgeoisie as well, notably being the link man with US capital!), while others drifted into bosses’ roles, Rajiv Servansing, Koom Sadien. And Jack Bizlall went into an anarcho-syndicalist anti-party phase, then later set up a party, the PMT, which disappeared without so much as a whimper, before his becoming incomprehensible in his supposed program entitled, like a foto-roman, “Toi et Moi”.

Alain Ah-Vee’s paper on what “mauritianism” is, called into question this kind of unity around a national concept. He said that it goes against class unity, which is the important unifying force in our strategy, and it does this by bringing people together as Mauritians, and therefore on an unprincipled, unprogrammatic basis. He said the idea that some people are more “Mauritian” than others is also rather confusing. He showed how at its outer edges this kind of idea, like of the “vrais francais”, inevitably slides into fascism as in the case of the French Front National, as do the “real Brits” the British National Party, or worse still, the German Nazi party, that differentiated proper Germans from other “races”. In Mauritius, there is also the problematic of Rodrigues, Agalega and the Chagos, who “Mauritianism”, he said, obviously seems to exclude.

Discussion in the plenary session was dynamic, people putting up their hands four at a time. At first some people had difficulty realizing that the LALIT papers were actually putting into question whether “Mauritianism” or nationalism had any use at all. They continued a kind of pretence that “we are all Mauritians” and “Mauritianists”. The Chair drew their attention to the fact that they were misunderstanding what was being said, or that, if they were understanding it, they were still talking as if they had not integrated these new ideas into their existing ones. It was then that the debate got really interesting, and very constructive.

In the after lunch session, Lindsey Collen presented her paper on the nation state and nationalism. (See on the website). It, too, was followed by debate.

All the young people present said they had never heard such deep debate before, and those who are older said it is not since the 1970s that such lively political discussion has been heard, so frankly spoken, in Mauritius.

The closing speech by Anne-Marie Joly was a plea for more of this kind of precision, to guide us in our actions, especially in times of crisis like those ahead.

P.S. The bourgeois ideologues of the “Democracy Watch” (Michael Atchia, Ban Bundhoo, Blok 104 member Yvan Martial, Roger Leung and Raouf Bundhun) have replied to LALIT’s Conference on Strategy, in an article published by Le Defi. They have defended “Mauritianism” and capitalism with extreme-right-wing lines that shock us. They even express well-nigh slave-owner mentality. Their article, therefore, proves the main point that came out of our LALIT Conference i.e. that the concepts of “mauritianism” and “nationalism” come from the capitalist camp and will likely end up in the capitalist camp, and are indeed dangerous as many agreed during our Conference on Strategy.

Here are some choice quotes from the Democracy Watch article:

“Toute lutte des classes ne peut qu'être l'opposition voulue d'une partie, même majoritaire, d'une population contre une autre, possiblement minoritaire. Il se peut que, quelque part, dans le temps, la lutte des classes a permis à un peuple de s'affranchir d'une intolérable situation d'inégalités sociales. . . . Une telle situation n'existe heureusement pas à Maurice, pour des raisons historiques. Notre histoire commune est, en revanche, la preuve vivante, qu'en donnant, à tous, le temps de se préparer à d'indispensables corrections d'inégalités sociales, nous parvenons à une situation de méritocratie et de justice sociale, se déroulant d'une manière harmonieuse, à la limite fraternelle.

“Le mauricianisme peut justement se définir par notre volonté de vivre ensemble [their bold] comme des frères et des soeurs d'une même famille humaine et mauricienne. Dans une famille, digne de ce nom, et profondément unie, il ne saurait y avoir de la place pour une guerre meurtrière entre des frères moins chanceux et des frères plus chanceux. La solution à toute réelle situation d'injustice et d'inégalités doit se régler, non pas d'une manière violente, capable de briser mortellement l'unité familiale, mais d'une manière harmonieuse de solidarité familiale (et nationale), solidarité que les plus chanceux doivent aux moins chanceux doivent de leurs frères et soeurs.

“ . . . Democracy Watch ne peut nier qu'il existe une part de communalisme dans l'esprit malade de certains de nos frères et soeurs mauriciens. Cela ne doit pas nous empêcher de voir la part forcément prépondérante de richesse produite à Maurice, par des Mauriciens, pour des Mauriciens, par leur seul travail, grâce à la méritocratie prévalant de manière exemplaire dans notre beau pays.

“Les faits sont là inexorables. Sur une population active de plus de 700 000 travailleurs, il ne doit exister qu'une petite centaine de milliers de fonctionnaires et de semi-fonctionnaires. Il n'est pas exagéré de soutenir qu'en dehors de cette catégorie de salariés, prévaut, au sein de la grande masse des employés mauriciens, des compatriotes travaillant pour leur compte ou ayant créé leur propre entreprise et des emplois productifs, la plus grande méritocratie, en raison justement d'un climat de concurrence et de compétitivité n'acceptant que les meilleurs, les plus utiles. . . .

“Demeure le sort des moins chanceux parmi nous. Democracy Watch croit que nous avons heureusement mieux à faire qu'à recourir à la lutte des classes pour régler ces cas de misère. Nous ne pouvons nier, non plus, que nombre de cas de pauvreté et de misère sont dus à des carences personnelles, pour ne rien dire des fléaux (drogue, alcool, jeux, prostitution, hédonisme, égoïsme, mentalité d’assisté) qui encouragent ces incapacités d'assumer des responsabilités propres à tout homme digne de ce nom. On ne peut pas indéfiniment demander aux plus laborieux d'entre nous de se sacrifier pour venir en aide à ceux d'entre nous qui entendent vivre comme des parasites.

“La lutte des classes est une idéologie importée. . . .

“Depuis 1968, sinon avant, l'électorat mauricien confie le gouvernement de notre pays à des partis politiques, ayant déjà soutenu, au départ, la lutte des classes.

“Democracy Watch ne peut que féliciter le Peuple mauricien d'avoir su se montrer plus clairvoyant et plus sage que notre classe politique. ”


If many of these paragraphs of the Democracy Watch article, as well as being obnoxious, do not seem to make much rational sense to you, do not worry, because the whole thing is riddled with non sequiturs that only a self-satisfied elite can think it can get away with. In LALIT, we usually prefer to reply to the best argument of our adversary on any point, for the simple reason that it is not much advantage to win against a poor argument. But this Democracy Watch article is truly low grade argumentation. (See brief LALIT reply to this article on the web.