Below is an interesting article by LALIT branch member, TR:
0‘Why is the MBC afraid of Ram Seegobin?’ Contextualising the Question using a Gramscian Perspective
I will attempt to answer an apparently subconscious rhetorical question of Lalit’s supporters and other Mauritians, ‘Why does the MBC fear Ram Seegobin?’ (1) by letting loose the ensuing questions bursting out from the first as though the Pandora box has been opened. Hence, ‘Why the Advance newspaper fears Ram Seegobin and Lindsey Collen to the point of fantasising about their retirement from politics?’ (2) or ‘Why the government or opposition fear Lalit party?’ And the list of dangerous questions keeps overflowing as a flash flood.. To wrap up all these questions in a framework, I use a few theoretical tools proposed in a recent conference by Lalit on the historic bloc. (3)
To begin, the concern of Lalit is to pull together a different kind of society where the majority worker class have direct charge over their economic activities. Its activists wish to elaborate on the complex implication of this project. This has also been Antonio Gramsci’s concern, to understand capitalism with its offshoot of fascism and look for an alternative system. (4) Collen uses Gramsci’s theoretical tools to explain the otherwise abstract local political situation. Gramsci’s approach is historical, so he brings us in contact with an actual situation thus enlarging the meaning of the concepts he uses. Collen performs a similar kind of examination relating the historical with present situation of Mauritius.
Gramsci’s background research of the term “hegemony” is from the Bolshevik revolution and the writings of Machiavelli. This helps him to relate historical context with actual circumstances, which brings precision in the analysis that otherwise would be ahistorical and universalistic. His main objective is a Marxism of political action. His idea of hegemony is that of consent among allied classes, and all dictating the enemy class. His originality is in applying his analysis to the bourgeois class which allows him to fathom if the class has hegemonic leadership on other classes or not. The acquiescing of subordinate classes implies concessions that allow some form of social democracy where workers and petty bourgeois find capitalism acceptable. He goes on to show that the state extends beyond the administrative and executive as the hegemony of the leading class leads to broader social formations. This involves underlying institutions like the church, education, the press that create consistent modes of behaviour and expectations of the hegemonic order. From Machiavelli’s perspective, Gramsci looks to the revolutionary party and its dialogue with its supporting base. He adopts his image of power from the Centaur- half human and half beast - to show that both consent and coercion are needed, the former at the forefront and the latter applying to the deviant class.
In the conference, Collen uses the term hegemony to prove Lalit’s standpoint of a systemic crisis occurring across the fabric of capitalist ideology. Chinks and fissures are seen growing within the capitalist ideological armour. After the recent world financial crisis, tax payer’s money has been used to bail out collapsed banks and throughout the developed world people have been protesting against the present capitalist system. They talk of the 1% who owns nearly everything while it gets more and more difficult for the 99% to put food on the table. The relationship between State and financial and other institutions was facing a major setback. With waves of protests across Europe and the Arab spring, it is clear that we are having a clear situation of class confrontation and a breach of consent on the part of the people. Collen calls that a shift in hegemony. When people do not give their full consent then it is mere coercion that remains, a majority becomes the deviant and in practice that gives a sharp rise in the intensity of class conflict. We are presently witnessing this situation in Syria with the government being charged of crime against humanity for bombarding civilian facilities like hospitals just to keep control.
Collen’s next move is to use the concept of “historic bloc” to explain shifts in hegemony. For Gramsci when workers and peasants start a movement that can destabilise the state he calls it a displacement of the basis of the state. The foundation of the state is the sort of links developed by different groups at a certain period in time forming a basic bloc. Gramsci discusses post World War I in Italy when this displacement is towards the petty bourgeoisie in which fascism anchored itself. The silent revolution of fascism that followed could not get the support of workers and peasantry thus producing ceasarism. Gramsci explains this as forces that are balanced in a catastrophic way so that in a situation of interacting forces, one force may overcome the others or they may bleed each other with some new force taking over. One local example that depicts ceasarism can be seen in the various coalitions that happened in forming both government and opposition throughout Mauritian political history. We remember how in the bleeding after the 1982 elections, a hidden fabricated force took over, as the MSM, and ruled the country for more than a decade.
“Transformismo” is the other concept that Gramsci uses to characterise the kind of historic bloc formed. It is a maximum coalition of interests like that which takes place in Italy before the advent of fascism. For example Giovani Giolitti’s attempt is to bring industrial workers into a common front with industrialists through policies of protectionism. Transformismo attempts to gather leaders of subaltern social groups and by extension it assimilates dangerous ideas adjusting them to the policies of the dominant coalition. After the MMM’s betrayal of the working class in the late 70s and early 80s (5), we can witness their strategies of transformismo of adopting the terms of capital and when they fall back on the lowly practice of ethnic communalism as from the early 80s. (6)
With the idea of historic bloc Gramsci overcomes transformismo with its co-optation and protectionism. Rather, the historic bloc dialectically creates a larger unity between structure and superstructure. Gramsci views ideas with material implications involving social relations and physical means of production. In this way the concept does not become a reductionism and involves revolutionary orientation. So a new bloc is formed when there is a change in hegemony of the dominant class where a subordinate group achieves hegemony over other subordinate groups. It is a process requiring intensive dialogue among leaders and followers to make a ‘war of position’ (7) possible which brings an alliance between the working and subordinate classes. For the sake of a ‘war of movement’ an avant-guard party may lead an immature working class. The organic working class Intellectual plays the key role of keeping the class and the historic bloc as one identity. To Gramsci the party is the collective intellectual. The movement towards hegemony is a passage from structure to the sphere of complex superstructures, moving away from the interest of a class or group to building the fabric of institutions.(8)
And it is precisely in this context that Collen affirms the state is barely recognisable anymore. There has never been any passage from structure to superstructure. The PT for instance is just good at winning elections but unable to muster intellectuals, ideas and the complex superstructures beyond the formal structure of institutions and parliament. The only symbolic piece of superstructure available is the now and then formative history of the Labour Party but uninspiring with the amount of MBC regurgitations around the Ramgoolam father-figure. There is actually no real dialogue between leaders of the state bourgeoisie and subordinate groups. What is seen is the interest of small groups or individuals fulfilled at the expense of subordinate classes and this undermines the main interest of a supportive hegemonic middle class to the state. Perry Anderson tells us of Lenin’s final strategic advice, just like Gramsci’s imperative, is to win the working class, not power, not institutions of state but the convictions of workers.(9)
Since independence, there has never been any revolutionary change where the historic bloc has been constructed by the working class. MMM leaders and intellectuals have attempted to gather a working class but slowly abandoned their very foundational ideas that get stifled in the womb, like the nationalisation scarecrow supposed to scare the bourgeois class. The MMM has always worked at a trade unionist level never thinking of hegemony from the perspective of relations of production as Gustavo Fishman and Peter Maclaren explain. Following Lenin in What is to be done, we understand MMM mostly abandons workers to themselves by developing a mere trade union consciousness fighting for better conditions but remaining within the vague boundaries of a stifled revolution . And this trade unionism has been perpetuated and popularised into the personality cults of Ashok Subron and Jack Bizlall. Revolutionary change is something else where, as Lenin explains, the Bolsheviks come to a position of hegemony in the struggle against the tsarist regime. Then it’s clear the Mauritian working class will never come to a position of hegemony if kept at a trade union level. Trent Brown notes of Lenin saying that to bring the hegemony of the proletariat, the urban proletariat has to maintain continued relations with rural peasants and to maintain national leadership the bourgeois must be compelled to manage the state industries. So these two aspects of hegemony, consent and coercion form the basis of Gramsci’s writings.
Lalit endeavours to promote the building up of a new historic bloc of opposition by countering the very fractures happening in the capitalist economic system and its old historic bloc. This opposition would consist of the working class, the youth, the unemployed, the women’s movement, small planters and businesses. Lalit proposes working towards an alternative economy, against the very process actually splitting apart the old historic bloc. Firstly, Collen explains, it is a new historic bloc that keeps in mind the challenge to capitalism by representing the working class. And by an alternative economy it does not mean shifting from sugar to cane but rather use the compensation from Europe to diversify the economy outside the sugarcane trap, use the sugar estates infrastructure for food production, preservation and transformation, give money to estates only if they implement intercropping with food products and make sure the government keeps control on foreign exchange and the central bank.
As you can easily guess, all those propositions are exactly what the government, the opposition, the trade unions and naturally the MBC don’t want to hear about: the immense possibility of a decent and humane alternative that makes them afraid of Ram Seegobin and Lalit!
LALIT Port Louis Evening Branch,
(1) Lalit press conference on floods and MBC version: http://www.lalitmauritius.org/viewnews.php?id=1489
(2) Advance 2013, 5-11 April
(3) Collen. Lindsey. Historic bloc in power today in Mauritius, is in crisis. 2012: http://www.lalitmauritius.org/viewnews.php?id=1464
(4) Cox Robert. W. ‘Gramsci, Hegemony and international relations: An essay in method.’ in Gill. Stephen (ed). Gramsci, Historical Materialism and International Relations. Cambridge University Press, USA. 1994.
(5) Alain Ah-Vee et al. L’histoire d’une trahison, MMM so sosyalism. Lalit, Mauritius.1987.
(6) Selvon, Sydney. A comprehensive history of Mauritius.2005.
(7) Chattered, Partha. Nationalist Thought And The Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse. Zed Books Ltd. 1986.
War of position: is warfare carried out on various fronts in order to transform the state by neutralising opponents, converting sections of the ruling classes into allies, undertaking economic reforms to get support of popular masses but keeping them out of direct governance.
War of movement: a frontal assault on the state.
(8) Cox. Robert 1994. (See note 4)
(9) Latham. Peter. The relevance of Gramsci’s life, times and theory to today. 2009. (https://groups..com/forum/?fromgroups=#!topic/sadtu-political-education-forum/r2L5HSMF2TQ)