LALIT held a Seminar at the Mother Earth Hall in Grand River North West on public holiday, 2 November, 2012 to discuss how it is that the electorate, composed of working class people in the main, votes in a Government, which then proceeds to reign in the interests of a totally different social class, the capitalists, who are a tiny economic class. It is clearly not enough to bemoan “the financement of political parties” by capital, though this is obviously true. Financement is, however, no more than a symptom of the problem, and certainly is not the cause.
We also situated the topic of the Seminar in terms of the reality of 30 years of neo-liberalism affecting the State in Mauritius. We bore in mind the drastic systemic crisis that has hit the country since 2005 with the end of the protective regimes that have existed, especially for sugar, since about 1815 in different forms, and englobing textiles as well, for the past 45 years.
The analyses during the Seminar involved three issues, all interlinked.
Firstly, throughout the Seminar we worked at deconstructing the Labour Party program of “democratization of the economy”so that we can understand what they actually mean by this deceptive phrase. It clearly means increasing the share of capital of people close to Labour – from Roland Maurel to the Jeetahs, from BAI to the Bhunjuns, from the Ah Tecks to the Jhuboos – relative to the old bourgeoisie from colonial times, which was strong in sugar and import-export, traditionally. Economic “democratization” has little, if anything, to do with community for the beneficiaries, but there is a strong dose of racist ideology in the anti-Franco-Mauritian propaganda that Labour uses, not dissimilar to the ANC propaganda around BEE in South Africa (Black Economic Empowerment). Labour’s “democratization of the economy” means no change for the working class, or even for the petty bourgeoisie, except the dubious satisfaction of being dominated and exploited by people who are predominantly of a different colour from the predominant colour of the old ones who had a monopoly on exploiting us. So obsessed is the Labour Party with putting the backs of the old bourgeoisie to the wall, that it is happy to support even foreign capital against the local historical bourgeoisie. This, too, is similar to what happens in many African states. Here, the controversial CT Power is Malaysian capital that plans to burn coal for electricity. In this case, Labour has resorted to Hindu communalism, because the capitalists are from a Tamil bourgeoisie in Malaysia, and the aim is to break the monopoly of coal-to-energy of the sugar estates, who already burn some 550,000 tons of coal. However, it is believed that sub-contracts, for example for transporting coal are, already being prepared locally, on a communal basis. That is “democratization” at its crudest.
Secondly, but at the same time, in the Seminar, we deepened our analysis of the State bourgeoisie, those actual owners of capital who use the State apparatus quite openly in order to increase their portion and proportion of capital in the country. For understanding this class, we have, over the decades, relied on the help of theories of the “independence” of the post-colonial bourgeois State apparatus, inherited as it is from the powerful Colonial Power, “independence” relative to the bourgeoisie itself. In fact, we found that the neo-liberal agenda of the past 30 years has had the effect of decreasing this “relative power” of the State over the historical bourgeoisie, and this is a contributing factor to Navin Ramgoolam’s repeated statements about needing “more power”, as well as to the need for an overt plan to “democratize the economy”, meaning create a broader social base for capitalists. The post-colonial State clearly has less power to dominate the old bourgeoisie than it once had. In response, we note that the Joint Economic Council and the Mauritius Employers Federation are preparing for an amalgamation, and this, in turn, is causing all sorts of fights in the bourgeoisie.
We also saw that the strategy for Ti et Mwayen Antrepriz (PME) has become essential because of difficulty of the State intervening as it used to in order to give advantage to its agents. Many contracts and tenders, under WTO rules, have to be open internationally, and there is no longer just a local Tender Board, but a Procurement Board that opens contracts and tenders to international capital, on the rules and regulations defined by international capital.
Thirdly, we went into the concept of the Historical Bloc (Blok Istorik)in depth, in the sense of the term coined by Antonio Gramsci about 100 years ago, to explain the break up today in Mauritius of the Historical Bloc that has been in power, more or less in its present form, from the mid 1950s when the by then “tamed” Labour Party came to power. The tiny capitalist class cannot rule alone, neither in Mauritius, nor elsewhere, so it builds up a “bloc”, which is not the same thing as an “alliance”. An alliance is a more rational coming to gether of fairly like objects, e.g. of political parties, for a precise aim, like an electoral purpose. The “bloc” that has been in power, and still is in power today, though undergoing massive crisis, is an amalgamation of political parties, socio-economic classes – often around a central industry, i.e. sugar and cane. Labour also pulls into the historical bloc other elements, like bits of the Press. Plus it relies more and more on a handful of ethno-religious organizations that are useful to the capitalist State in that they both divide the oppressed classes and act as a conveyor belt for ideology from the very rich to the very poor.The bloc is “historical” in the particular sense that it is supposed to last, and it does last over time, and is not interrupted by elections or other passing democratic events. (We noted that this meaning of “historical” can even mean something in the future, too. It is not a synomym with “old”, as the word “historic” is in the term “historic bourgeoisie”.)
A historical bloc is a cobbled together amalgamation of various interests that can and does last over time. Right now Labour is trying to reconstruct its historical bloc. Once we see its old form, and how Ramgoolam is trying to re-cobble a new one, many strange and wonderful phenomena become clear and readily comprehensible. For example, we begin to understand the delay from 2003 until today of the Ethanol industry, and if we read the final “deeds” of the company, we understand a lot about the “historic bloc” being attempted right now. Similarly, we can understand how Ramgoolam has got both “kamarad Jacques” (read d’Unienville of OMNICANE) and “kamarad Ashok” (of Rezistans), why the BAI was so vital to Labour, and why Labour agent Gordon Gentil organized for Ramgoolam to meet a supposedly “left” leader and his wife. It also explains why Ramgoolam waives costs in the Rezistans case. It explains why Ramgoolam let go of Plantation Workers’ Union, which had settled for 16%, and intervened to make Subron get 20%, for sugar cane industry workers. It explains why Ramgoolam rides on the Bizlall “nuvo Konstitisyon” and “2yem Repiblik” in order to try to claw back some of the power of the older generation “bourgeoisie deta”, who, before neo-liberalism came along and broke it up, had inherited the over-strong colonial State, that permitted SSR to be able to put the historical bourgeoisie in its place. It helps understand why Neeta Deerpalsing, Shakeel Mohamed, Reza Issack and Patrick Assirvaden, all have relatively free reign to ally with disparate groups, parties and trade unions, over various issues.
Structure of the Seminar
The structure of the LALIT Seminar was around two papers, presented by Ram Seegobin on the “State bourgeoisie” and the Labour Party “democratization of the economy” in the morning, and by Lindsey Collen, on “What is happening to the old historic bloc and how is a new one being constructed?” in the afternoon. Each paper was followed by plenary discussion, which, together with the presentations, is summarised above.
“It is as though we developed a template,” one participant, Kisna Kistnasamy put it, “for understanding economic and political events that otherwise seem so disparate and opaque.”
Present there were LALIT members and supporters, activists from associations and from unions as well as some academics from Germany and Scotland. The debate was generally thought to be of a relatively high level, each comment taking reflection to a deeper level of understanding, rather than again and again bringing it back to a superficial one, as sometimes happens.