Paper for the Marxist Study Group’s ,First Conference Towards Socialist Action held on 21-23 September 2012 at the Polytechnic Hotel School, Windhoek, Namibia.
Some political and economic background on Mauritius
Before going on to the question of the struggle for socialism in Mauritius, let us respect the long-lasting Marxist tradition of situating the subject historically, even though very briefly, in political and economic terms.
Where we are now
The political situation in Mauritius these days is hard to believe.
The last general election in 2010 brought the PT-MSM-PMSD (i) government led by Navin Ramgoolam into office. Despite their electoral victory, they did not get the 3/4 majority that they wanted, in order to change the Constitution to give Ramgoolam the king-size status in a new Presidential system he is craving for. One year later, the MMM (ii) opposition attacked MSM Ministers for intervening in the buying of a private clinic (Medpoint) owned by the MSM leadership’s family, the Jugnauths. The anti-corruption tribunal started an inquiry into the case and started calling in MSM Ministers for questioning. The MSM left government when they felt that Ramgoolam was not defending them. It was clear enough that the buying of the Medpoint clinic was part of an electoral arrangement between the Labour Party and the MSM. This is not the first time corruption scandals of this kind have happened in Mauritius.
Then came the first unbelievable part: once the MSM was out of government, the MMM that had for months attacked it, made a political alliance with the MSM. They baptised it the “Remake” in reference to the former governing MMM-MSM alliance of 2000-2005. Earlier this year, in 2012, the next unbelievable part, the MMM declared the Remake “off” and started negotiating an alliance with the Labour Party.
Negotiations were on the basis of a proposed electoral reform to introduce some proportional representation into the otherwise British-style “first past the post” electoral system and to set up a “Second Republic” involving a new system of “power sharing” between President and Prime Minister. The “Medpoint scandal” instantly disappeared from the news. The media announced that an agreement was imminent. Speculation began on timing of snap general elections.
Then, a few days later, the media announced that negotiations had fallen through. Media cartoonists had a field day when it was announced that the remake was “on” again.
Now, the “Remake” is “on” again.
The political system that capitalism has wrought in order to perpetuate its rule, is in crisis; a crisis that it part of the crisis of the capitalist system. A crisis both on a world scale, and at national level, both inextricably linked.
Mauritius, is in the throes of deepening capitalist economic crisis. We are simultaneously going through interlocked series of grave crises of capital. They are each different, and yet they each reflect the general crisis of capitalism. First there was the Mauritian systemic crisis with the end of the EU Sugar Protocol and the end of the textiles protective regime which hit employment in the sugar and textiles industry, destroying jobs by the thousands as these sectors that had traditionally been the so-called “pillars” of the economy. They are now a fraction of their size. Then came the oil crisis. Then came the food crisis. Then the financial crisis, then the economic crisis, and now the deepening of an unpredictable ecological crisis. Crises have over the last 10 years hit us, world wide, with vertiginous force.
Mauritius is being, and will continue to be, seriously hit by economic crisis, perhaps more than other countries, for the simple reason that Mauritius, as a nation, was invented by an emerging capitalist system that populated it though successive waves of Dutch, French and British colonisation and through the slave trade and indentured labour system that this colonisation imposed. The social organization of labour in Mauritius became the model for that of emerging capitalism in the north of England.
From colonial times, the historical situation was that the sugar estate owners, who controlled 70% of the most fertile land of Mauritius, plant sugar-cane and produce sugar for Britain, and later for Europe. This colonial agreement continued long after independence with the British State, then Europe, providing a guaranteed price and market, thus guaranteeing profits for the sugar oligarchy.
The world “sugar boom” in the mid ’70’s quickly became the economic crisis of the late ‘70’s, when the revenue from sugar was no longer enough to insure the cost of imports of basic needs, and when there were two devaluations making working people bear the brunt of the crisis. Instead of thinking about what long-term future the sugar industry really had, the ruling classes just went into textiles and tourism, while gradually giving more and more tax concessions to the sugar bosses, mainly reducing the Sugar Export Levy. The sugar companies went on planting cane and investing in textiles and tourism catering for the European markets, gaining short-term profits. Later these companies would take the surplus made by Mauritian workers and go and invest in other countries, where often they lost all that social capital.
In the ’80’s, the export levy on sugar was further reduced, until it disappeared altogether. At the same time mill concentration and mechanization of the fields went ahead full steam, supposedly to lower production costs. Once again, just as in the 70's, the working class was being made to bear the brunt of the crisis, because jobs themselves (not just individual workers’ salaries) were being destroyed. Already, the price that sugar was bringing was not increasing in real terms, nor in comparison with increases in the price of imports. But the sugar industry went on surviving because of the protectionism that Europe offered through the Sugar Protocol.
In Mauritius, successive Governments have initiated and encouraged a series of measures to absorb the reduction in real prices that sugar exports were fetching, and they did this with a sole aim: to maintain the profit levels of the sugar companies, that is to say of the “estates” themselves. This is the sign that it is around the sugar and cane industries that the political parties have constructed a “historic bloc”, to use the Gramsci term. Successive governments encouraged the separation of milling and planting into different companies. They encouraged land-parcelling, conversion to non-agricultural status, and the sale of agricultural land. Successive governments encouraged the acceleration of centralisation, mill closures, and getting rid of mill workers; the IRS (Integrated Resorts Scheme) projects allowed sugar estates to convert thousands of acres of good agricultural land on the coast-line into de luxe villas for the international jet-set. The government also encouraged sugar estates to produce electricity with cane bagasse in the 6 month harvest season (and with coal the rest of the year) and sell it to the national public Central Electricity Board (CEB) at a price higher than CEB-produced electricity, and the production of ethanol from the molasses by-product.
All these measures aimed at nothing else but to float the profits of the sugar estates, without the least regard for the livelihood of rural workers left without jobs, nor of the 30,000 to 40,000 small cane planters who provided sugar estate mills with cane, nor of working people and pensioners who have to pay more for electricity.
As from 2000, all this process accelerated further: rapid mechanization of planting and harvesting brought the VRS (Voluntary Retirement Scheme) that destroyed tens of thousands of labourers’ jobs and re-introduced seasonal work in the harvest season; one sugar mill on average closed each year, with a reduction in mill workers’ jobs to the point where there are only 5 mills left compared to the 21 mills of the 70’s; while the salaries and bonuses of the management remain a secret.
The sugar industry, which was the raison-d’etre of the country, would be moving from employing 50,000 workers to employing 5,000. The textile industry where 100,000 workers were employed in the ’80’s, now employs some 40,000 workers of which half are heavily exploited migrant workers from China, Madagascar or Bangladesh. With delocalisation of textile plants, all the profits produced by 30 years of workers’ sweat and tears, has flown away to be invested in deeper exploitation in China, Madagascar, Bangladesh and India, leaving no profound traces of economic development in Mauritius.
The sugar industry has gone into a crisis so deep that alleviation through the depreciation of the rupee, or even by a devaluation, does not seem sufficient to save it. The price of sugar is so low that cane planters have abandoned cane cultivation, thus leaving sugar mills with under the 100,000 tonnes of cane that is necessary for each of the five mills respectively to be profitable. The tourist industry that looked to Europe and South Africa to fill its luxury hotels and was to become one of the new “pillars” of the economy has been hit by the financial crisis and then Euro Crisis. The IRS luxury villa plans have had to be scrapped as so many IRS villas already built remain unsold.
The public sector is fast shrinking with the onslaught of neo-liberalist privatisation measures of successive governments: the most revenue-producing sectors of the public sector are in the process of being privatised: energy production, postal services, telecom while tertiary education and health services are also being attacked by means of “competition” with the public sector, resulting in more job destruction and deterioration in salaries, work conditions, and job security.
Last year, the government presented the health sector as a new emerging “sector” of the economy which Mauritian capitalists have been calling for quite a while. The government introduced a measure that would allow workers to transfer “their” money out of a collective fund, the Employees Welfare Fund, to place the money in private medical insurance; a measure aimed at undermining the relatively excellent public and totally free healthcare system in Mauritius, to benefit the private medical clinics.
All these measures that government and bosses are coming up with now will not have any really positive effect at all on the crisis, and this neither in the short nor long term.
This kind of crisis has already begun to have dangerous social repercussions in addition to the obvious economic effects. Even when there are tourist hotels and free zone factories in the countryside in Mauritius, it is still, until today, life around the sugar mill and cane plantation that provided the social cohesion of village life. Rural areas were first to experience the effects of economic crisis as jobs disappeared and work became seasonal, casual, short-term contract and slowed down in the construction sector as well as in small enterprises producing things like shoes or furniture, and as textile factories closed down. Everyday, the newspapers are full of the tragic crimes within households, committed out of the desperation the whole capitalist economic and political situation has produced. Panic emigration is increasing. Drug problems and even suicide rates are becoming alarming. Social cohesion is being threatened by an increase in communal (ethno-religious) identification.
The Working Class and “socialism”
During the French period in Mauritius at the time of the French Revolution, there was a brief period of a few years, when revolutionary ideas took hold in some of the towns. And in 1848-1851, there was a tentative repercussion of the French revolutionary period. On an outer island, there was an early experience of a “utopia”.
But, political organization proper began in Mauritius began at the beginning of the 20th Century, and was often radical. However, there was an absence of any Marxist tradition. Fabianism and electoralism were stronger in the first working class party, the Labour Party (founded in 1936). National Liberation was strong in the Independent Forward Block. And the Communist Party was very much a minor outfit for giving scholarships to the USSR. The MMM, founded in 1969, was the first party to introduce some elements of Marxist analysis, under the combined influence of a French Communist Party and a rather libertarian anarcho-socialist current. It was only with the setting up of our current, LALIT in 1976 around the Lalit de Klas publication, that Marxism really began to influence political thinking.
But, at the same time, it is peculiar to Mauritius that all political parties, from the 1970s, address “the working class”, call everyone “comrades”, are against capitalism, for the Palestinian cause, against imperialism, against privatization, for “socialism” and in favour of the working class. Perhaps this left pro-socialist rhetoric being so hegemonic, is due to the lack of any real peasant ideology, because of the absence of any indigenous people, or peasantry. However, this political stand is only the essential rhetoric. In real political terms, all the mainstream political parties represent the totality of capitalist interests, and cede to the neo-liberal agenda, in as far as it is possible for them to do so. But the word “socialist” does not distinguish different parties in Mauritius: all claim to be “socialist”.
But, let us look at key issues in the working class struggle for genuine socialism over the past few decades.
General strike and near insurrection in 1979
The working class in Mauritius has had a tradition of militancy, both in the trade union movement and in broader political mobilisation. In 1979, there was a general strike movement (in the Rosa Luxembourg sense of the term) for two weeks that then led to a state of near-insurrection. The build-up had begun over a year earlier. The actual strike began when labourers and artisans (mill workers) downed tools for trade union recognition, against mill closures, and for the 40-hour week, at a time when the working class’s leading sectors, dock and transport unions, were being weakened by mechanisation in the docks and by individual buses (a bit like the “combi” system) being given licenses to operate, weakening organised workers in the bus companies.
After a week of the strike in the sugar industry, the rest of the working class consciously joined into what became a general strike “movement”, in order that the labourers and artisans’ unions could get strong enough to take part of the historic role of the leadership of the working class at this crucial time. The Labour Government in power still refused concessions, while bosses sacked striking workers. The general strike ended with a famous hunger strike without food and water that a LALIT comrade, Ram Seegobin participated in. The strike ended after four days, with a formal Agreement. The agreement included the undertaking to review trade union recognition, to halt mill closures, to set up a Parliamentary Committee to look into new industrial law, and to give alternative jobs to sacked workers. A year later, other than the halt to mill closures, the agreement had not been respected. So once again, there was mass mobilisation that this time round, was focused on a second hunger strike of union leadership, this time with water-only, thus giving time to mobilize. Again, the movement reached pre-insurrectionary intensity. Again demands were met. So, in Mauritius, there is still reference to “August 79” and to “September 80” as land-marks in the struggle against the bosses and the capitalist State.
But, while workers knew that mechanisation in the sugar industry and in the docks, the two sectors where workers’ consciousness, militancy and organisation were strongest, was just a question of time, and that this would weaken the working class as a whole, the movement was not strong enough to seize power. We, in LALIT, at that time called Lalit de Klas (meaning Class Struggle in the Mauritian Kreol language) were the leadership of the two movements. We were however still a “tendency” in a broader movement, and we were not strong enough, at the time, to form the kind of independent political leadership the working class then needed. The working class was wise enough to know there could only be a political socialist solution to address the conundrum it was in, and to know that it was not then strong enough.
Paul Bérenger, the MMM “charismatic” leader, was with Lalit de Klas tendency in the leadership of the 1979 strike, even though the MMM as a party, as a whole, was not. The MMM had, at the time, an electoral program that recognised the irreconcilability of class interests of workers and bosses, which was why we were in it. The MMM pledged nationalisation of more sections of the economy and more democracy in general. However, from 1981, the party re-neged on its working class line, and on its anti-communal politics, and LALIT was formed as a party, in its own result, in early 1982. LALIT went on to support the MMM in the general elections later that year, but warning of its deviation from any real socialist aim.
But meanwhile, the working class, in full-scale mobilisation during and after the strike, led the MMM to a landslide electoral victory in 1982, providing it with the totality of all the elected seats in Parliament. So, it was a massive mandate to bring in “socialism”. But, of course, by the time the MMM got elected, it had already swerved rightwards into “social consensus” class collaboration politics. In 1982, it was Berenger himself, as Finance Minister, who led the neo-liberalist assault against the working class. Just as Lalit de Klas that had acted as a tendency within the MMM since our formation in 1976, had predicted.
After the MMM got elected, LALIT thrived, forming branches in every part of the country. The trade union movement started re-organising to oppose Berenger's neo-liberalist politics. The MMM could no longer contain the situation and it split into two: on the one side, Berenger's MMM, and the other, the MSM (Mauritian Socialist Movement) led by Jugnauth that opposed Berenger's neo-liberalist politics that favoured the historical bourgeoisie rather than adopting politics that would continually kick-start the development of a new layers of the bourgeoisie through State backing: a bourgeoisie developed by the State. (Not unlike BEE in South Africa.) This was extremely unstable, and only 9 months after the general elections, snap elections were called.
The working class got divided into two camps in these new general elections, held in 1983 in an attempt to resolve the political crisis: the rural working class, seeing Berenger allying with the sugar estates, supporting the MSM whilst the urban working class seeing its leader, Berenger, under attack, supported the MMM. LALIT had not in the nine months after the ’82 general election, become strong enough to provide a new working class political leadership.
As from 1983, the working class became more and more defensive, facing wave after wave of neo-liberalist attacks. Mechanisation in the sugar industry and the docks where the working class was strongest sapped its strength as jobs got destroyed, forever lost. The working class was not strong enough to force the creation of employment at the same level of conditions as in the sugar industry and the docks mechanized. In the 1980’s, the Free Zone textile sector grew fast and became the biggest source of employment for the working class. The 200 years of experience of class struggle and political experience of workers in the sugar industry and the docks could no longer be transmitted on site. The free zone and hotel industry drew in mainly youth and women: a new generation of workers. The working class was fast demobilising under the two-pronged pressures of rapid economic mutation and the betrayal of its political leadership. “Full employment” brought on by the conjunctural expansion of the free zone textile sector and tourism masked the undermining of salaries and work conditions as more members of the household had to join the labour force, work longer hours and pool salaries together to make a living.
Despite its weakening, despite its demobilisation and it being on the defensive, the working class was still strong enough to split political alliances in government and bring about elections whenever they came up with aggressive neo-liberal measures. Between 1982 and 2000, there were elections practically every 1-2 years: general elections, by-elections that gained national importance, local elections with national issues dominating the electoral agenda. Government plans to privatise the water supply, abolish subsidies on rice and flour, obliterate universal old-age pensions – all these measures, even when government introduced them, were thwarted by the working class voting out the government that introduced them. The water system was to remain public, subsidies on rice and flour had to be re-introduced, as was the universal old-age pension system that had been briefly subjected to a means test. In Mauritius, there is still totally free health care, from medicines to heart by-passes, from on-going high-blood pressure treatment to the most sophisticated tests.
In the 2000 general elections, the PT-PMSD alliance had to offer free public transport for students, old age pensioners and disabled people, as well as the restoration of village councils that the former MMM-MSM government had abolished. In all general elections, capitalist parties have to offer massive socialist rhetoric and at least some token “socialist” measures in order to get the working class vote.
Since 1982, government alliances and even capitalist parties have split again and again as they tried to introduce neo-liberalist measures and have had to perpetually re-coalesce in new alliances so often, that all capitalist parties have worked together in the same government at one time or another.
We can say that the Mauritian working class has conducted a heroic defensive struggle, even as it has been weakened by objective factors. But socialism is not born of defense of past gains under capitalism!
The trade union movement
With the weakening of the working class, the trade union movement got further bureaucratised. Like capitalist parties and alliances, this bureaucratisation brought more and more divisions in the trade-union federations and confederations, splitting and re-coalescing them on the basis of bureaucratic interests, much like capitalist political parties and alliances.
The trade union bureaucracy has been so divided in the last years that it has not been able to oppose the introduction of the Employment Relations Act and the Employment Rights Act, two repressive labour and industrial relations laws that have given bosses a license to “hire and fire” workers more easily, and undermine salary and work conditions that were already minimal. The government at the same time also lured union bureaucracies with major concessions to bureaucratic demands within the trade union movement.
In the last years, despite a leftist discourse from some of the leaders of the union bureaucracy in the sugar industry, sugar industry unions have leaned heavily on political intervention within the main political party constituting government, the Labour Party and that of the Prime Minister to gain small concessions for the 5,000 remaining workers employed in the sugar industry, giving the government a “pro-worker” veneer when it is in fact politically responsible for the destructive neo-liberalist politics the working class is having to bear the brunt of as well as the repressive laws.
The 1999 revolt
The working class, especially the young urban working class, when confronted with the first signs of economic crisis and growing police repression against working class people in the late 90’s, rose up in revolt. After dozens of localized rebellions, the nation-wide revolt was triggered by the death in police detention of the famous singer, Kaya who had been arrested after singing in a concert for the decriminalisation of ganja in February 1999. The news of his death sparked off a mass rebellion of young people, particularly but not only in urban areas, who were already being affected by unemployment and were being forced into insecure, seasonal, temporary or contractual employment, and affected by the increasing police repression that neo-liberalism, specially in times of capitalist crisis, depends on.
During the rebellion, dozens of police stations were attacked, advertising billboards were torn down, barricades were put up on every street in the country, prison doors were stormed open and remand prisoners freed from a big prison. The police retreated in defeat for a day and a night. Looting and arson began. And then the authorities, by means of thinly disguised thugs, organized “communal” attacks. This “quelled” the rebellion. The revolt, quite naturally, ended in defeat – in the absence of a political program including political demands, and in the face of its spontaneous nature. Still, it generated some debate on the reality of police brutality and the need for demands to confront it: a political campaign taken on by LALIT that has made some headway on this issue in the last 12 years, even if we are in a period of downturn.
In the last years, LALIT as a party, has put a lot of emphasis on building a transitional program, a program that constitutes a common understanding of the political work before us; a programme that can address the level of consciousness of the working class today and mobilise on the basis of demands that can bridge the transition to socialist revolution. We believe such a programme to be of absolute necessity in particular, in times of capitalist crisis.
Our program is on three levels: an shared on-going analysis of the current political and economic situation and where it seems to be going; transitional demands that aim to shift the balance of class forces in favour of the working class, that increase class consciousness, and that release dynamics that work towards an overthrow of the capitalist system and towards socialist change; and a shared understanding of how constantly to popularise and mobilise on the basis of these demands, demands that adapt and change depending on where we are in the struggle.
In the past year, we have also organised party seminars that are strategy-oriented: on the state of political parties in a time when they all, apart from LALIT, seem to be incapable of generating a program that can respond to the crisis of capitalism, on how “mauritianism” and nationalism are no antidotes to communalism and imperialism; on class struggle and its importance in political struggle; on class consciousness; on internationalism; and what political struggle is when it is not electoralist. Our next one will be on the relationship in politics between the “historic bloc” (around the sugar industry), the state-supported bourgeoisie, and the Labour Party’s so-called “democratization of the economy”.
We believe that such a programme and political thinking towards strategy have helped us gain some victories in a period of downturn and use these victories to consolidate a socialist program as a totality.
Partial victory on abortion decriminalisation
LALIT is the only party in Mauritius that has consistently, since 1976, struggled for the decriminalisation of abortion as part of our wider program for women’s liberation. We place women’s emancipation at the heart of our struggle for genuine socialism. Our militants in the women’s movement have managed to keep the issue on the agenda over the years through mobilisation in different phases in the women’s movement and in the international women’s movement. Our militants have also campaigned for it within the trade union movement in Mauritius.
In 2009, LALIT militants in the women’s movement initiated a Common Front on abortion after a press photographer, Marie-Noelle Derby, died after having an illegal abortion. The demand that we proposed and that was adopted by the Common Front was to suspend the 1838 law that makes all abortion illegal and to amend laws relating to illegal practice of medicine to prevent backstreet abortion. The Common Front was able to force the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition into taking stands in favour of abortion legalisation. LALIT militants in the women’s movement also, at the same time, took the initiative of supporting a young woman who was being prosecuted for having had an abortion. The Common Front followed suit. The Director of Public Prosecutions dropped charges against her after a big campaign we ran, challenging the legal validity of the 1838 abortion law that referred to abortion being an offence if a woman is “quick with child” (when foetal movements can be felt).
In March 2012, LALIT militants in the women’s movement organised a procession of women together with the mothers of Marie Noelle Derby and Sharonne Marla, another young woman who died after having an illegal abortion on Christmas day in 2011. The procession was held on the 8th March, International Women's Day, in the two relevant cemeteries. The processions began with a speak-out laying the responsibility of women dying because of the abortion law remaining unchanged on the shoulders of government and political parties in Parliament.
The Minister of Justice had announced that a bill to legalise abortion was being prepared. Such announcements had become common since 2009. In 2012, the Director of Public Prosecutions announced that the abortion law too “ambiguous” and was relieved that a new abortion law was in the pipe-line. In May, the Common Front on abortion was reconstituted, this time including trade unions and trade union confederations that LALIT had built links with over the years. The Common Front met the Minister of Justice, calling on him to come forwards with a Bill to legalise abortion.
A bill to partially legalise abortion passed the Cabinet of Ministers. The Common Front accentuated mobilisation in favour of the bill. The Government Teachers Union took a public stand in favour of the Bill. The biggest nurses union mobilised its members. Candle-light vigils were organized. Over a thousand local women’s organizations (WA’s) took a stand in favour. During the weeks the abortion bill was debated in Parliament, the public galleries there were full of women, union members every single time the abortion bill was debated.
The debates in Parliament reflected the gains made by LALIT. In the absence of party lines, many parliamentarians in favour of the bill leaned on the “class argument”: that illegal abortion put working women's health and lives at risk whereas women with the means, could travel to countries where abortion is legal to have safe abortions. Most of those in favour saw the decriminalisation of abortion as part of a wider struggle for women’s emancipation. Many of those supporting the bill saw it as a measure against fundamentalist ideology entrenched in the 1838 colonial law. Only 20% of MP’s voted against the bill, reflecting a new balance of forces in the country.
This victory, even if a partial one, has had interesting dynamic in class terms, in terms of women liberation and in terms of secularisation.
Partial victory for the mother tongues
This year, the Kreol language and the Bhojpuri language, the two main mother tongues, were introduced as a subject in schools for the first time in history. This is also something LALIT, as a party has been consistently fighting for since 1976. The languages of the Mauritian working class, the Kreol and Bhojpuri languages is being given recognition on a par with other languages taught as subjects in schools by the State, but not yet as medium. Foreign languages are still used for the medium!
The promotion of mother-tongues is a political struggle. LALIT took on this political struggle so that the use of these languages can contribute towards the working class and the oppressed gaining a greater capacity of understanding their own struggle to overturn the capitalist system, seize power and establish socialism. Such a program, which is LALIT’s program, involves shared language skills in all knowledge that is useful in the socialist struggle, both theoretical and practical, as well as in developing the program, in building strategies and tactics. And this is, and needs to be, primarily in the mother tongue for everyone involved in the socialist struggle here to be able to contribute to it.
LALIT has produced prolific literature in the Kreol language since 1976, in all kinds of forms: leaflets, posters, pamphlets, newspapers, books, articles on our web site, political diaries, translations of political works such as the Marx and Engels Communist Manifesto into Kreol, seminar papers. We have done it over the years as part of our work of building a programme, popularising it, and mobilising on the basis of it. We have done it as a necessary part of democratic organising. All of our meetings and minutes are in the kreol language.
We have fought and continue to fight for the recognition of the Kreol language as an official language to be used in Parliament, in schools as the medium of instruction, in Courts, in industrial tribunals, in police stations, in the media, in general election proceedings and the news on television. One of our members, Suresh Ramsahok, even lodged a formal Constitutional case in Court so that national television news be in the Kreol language.
Many LALIT militants are involved in organisations that struggle for the recognition of the Kreol language. We have worked closely with comrade Neville Alexander who recently passed away, sharing with him the knowledge that the recognition and development of mother-tongues is of prime importance in the struggle for socialism.
The challenge of the economic crisis
These beginnings of victories have made us realise the importance of political action based on a program, even in a period of downturn. Our biggest challenge now, and one that we have been preparing for some years now, is to popularize our program for alternative politics of the economy.
LALIT has always worked for land reform, for agricultural diversification and for the development of a modern agro-industry. Since 1982, LALIT is known to be the only political force to have systematically warned against the kind of economic strategy based on sugar, free zone and tourism. Today we are being proven right.
We used the 2005 general elections to popularize our Campaign on Agriculture, Agro-Industry and Electricity: An Alternative Politics of the Economy on a national scale, and continued political action and mobilisation based on this program after the elections. The campaign was primarily two-fold: forcing the sugar-estates to convert to agro-industrial food production on a mass scale instead of cane, providing food security, jobs by the thousands and forcing the private sector into investing in fishing on an industrial level, or the government might itself invest in this sector. This would of course, involve claiming our rights on our Economic Zone around all the islands of our Republic, including Chagos and Tromelin; Mauritius is, curiously, one of the largest countries in the world by surface area, when the sea-area of the country is included.
In the present context of food insecurity, of growing unemployment, of world economic crisis, of systemic crisis in Mauritius, this demand seems entirely reasonable. Yet capitalism is unable to bring about this kind of change: it puts into question capitalist ownership and control of land, and it puts into question the dictatorship of capital to decide what is to be produced and how.
Our political campaign has begun to take hold, and the government, in the absence of a political response to the economic crisis, has had to make small concessions: the Ministry of Agriculture's name was changed to “The Ministry of Agro-Industry” right after the 2005 elections. In 2008, the government introduced a “Food Security Fund” of Rs 1 billion in which it was announced 1,237 acres would be allotted to food production. The Minister of Foreign Affairs has introduced the concept of presenting Mauritius as an “Ocean State” as a first step towards reclaiming the economic zone surrounding islands including Chagos, that form part of the Republic of Mauritius. And in 2010, after LALIT campaigned nationally and internationally on the Chagos question, the government for the first time ever, put in a formal case against Britain before the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
In the past years, we in LALIT have learnt the importance of integrating an “international” dimension to all areas our political work as well as working towards political links internationally. We realise that there can be no socialist resolution to the present capitalist crisis without internationalism. We believe that it is necessary to contribute as much as we can to internationalism which is why we were so keen to contribute to this conference towards socialist action through this paper.
For those of you interested, we invite you to read a report of our internationalist work in our report on LALIT's work over the last 6 years that this paper is an introduction to, which you can find in the document section of our website on www.lalitmauritius.org
10 September, 2012
(i) Parti Travailliste (Labour Party) – Mauritian Socialist Movement – Mauritian Social Democratic Party
(ii) Mauritian Militant Movement