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For a return to class politics by Ram Seegobin


This article was published in Le Mauricien 25 April, 2014

People who follow the politics of traditional parties have been experiencing a profound disgust, over the past fortnight, at the even more unprincipled manoeuvres and even more cynical horse-trading that the leaders of the main parties have been up to.

The secret and not-so-secret sessions of “koz-koze” between Ramgoolam and Bérenger had finally seemed, after the first Clarisse House meeting,to have engendered some kind of patched-up agreement around the question of electoral reform, an agreement they refer to as “unanimous”. The two politicians were clearly projecting a Labour-MMM alliance, which forced them to cancel their 1st May meetings. They announced post-electoral constitutional amendments in a scheme referred to as a “Second Republic”.

All this happened behind the back of the party structures of both parties.

Even worse, the poor delegates of the MMM were summoned and made to vote in favour of the MMM-MSM Re-Make, even while their leader was busy negotiating with the Labour Party leader. This autocratic behavior triggered unpecedented fury amongst MMM members at grassroots and even resignations, including that of deputy leader Collendavelloo. The overnight changes upset the balance of force on the ground between different bouncers/political body-guards in Number 8.The Labour and PMSD Ministers had already been openly ridiculed, when the Prime Minister presented a Government White Paper on Electoral Reform without the members of the Government even being aware of its content, let alone approving of it. After Clarisse House I, banners sprang up in Number 2 in Port Louis “Pa tus nu VPM” ,while others, responding to the perceived departure of Navin Ramgoolam to the Presidency, declared Arvind Boolell “our leader”.

Once the two leaders had reached so-called “unanimity” on the main elements of electoral reform,once the Bill was supposedly being drafted, there was still the utterly ridiculous open invitation to all those who wished to contribute to the process of electoral reform to submit documents to the PMO before the 5th May!

Then, after Thursday’s Clarisse House II meeting, the two politicians, clearly taken aback by the drastic reactions in their respective camps and alarmed at the virtual collapse of any “national debate”, acted in concert: They announced that they have “no agreement”. They acted to “calmer le jeu”, to prevent further MMM defections, to forestall banners appearing in favour of Anil Baichoo, and to calm down violent feuds. Ramgoolam even announced that the mini-electoral reform will only be after general elections. Otherwise, Ramgoolam and Bérenger maintain much of the Clarisse House I verbiage.

The profound disgust that most people feel at the moment is entirely justified and it should be voiced out. But the danger lies in the development of a cynical attitude towards politics in general: this type of cynicism unfortunately prepares the ground for the rise of undemocratic and even reactionary forces. We all have the obligation to find ways to counter the development of this cynicism. We can start to do this by trying to understand the historical processes that have lead the main parties into the political and ideological quagmire they are wallowing in.

The ideological degeneration of Labour and MMM

Both the Labour Party and the MMM started as parties practicing “class politics”, mobilising workers and poor people against the domination of the “capitalist classes”. Their political practice was no doubt dominated by a good dose of populism, their strategy confused enough to allow opportunist forces within their ranks to gain the upper hand and determine party strategies.

The original Labour Party was totally taken over in the 1940’s and 1950’s by a group of rich cane planters, wealthy traders, and ambitious professionals organised around the Advance newspaper as from 1940.The same class-based process continued in the 1960’s, this time by a grouping of an urban “elite” around the L’Express newspaper. At the end of this double take-over, there was very little left of the original platform of the Labour Party set up in the 1930’s. The “New Labour” set about to create a “state bourgeoisie” which soared to even greater heights under the “Democratisation of the Economy” platform: there was now even a Government Commission created to speed up the process.

At its creation, the MMM brandished the slogan: “No to racial conflict, Yes to class struggle”. The slogan immediately attracted the students and young workers who had recently lived through the horrific race riots which followed the propaganda of the anti-Independence forces, financed by the reactionary bourgeoisie. But the 1969 Labour- PMSD alliance left a political vacuum, which an opportunist MMM leadership dashed in to fill, using the “libertaire” aspect of its Marxist discourse. The MMM political leadership opted for an unprincipled electoralist strategy, which would lead to a series of alliances defying all logic. The MMM leadership exposed its total lack of any principle just before the 1987 General Elections: it invented a whole scenario of lies which it printed in Le Militant and managed to destroy a platform that represented a left challenge to its “L’Union” with Baichoo etc.

Thus both the Labour Party and the MMM had followed political trajectories that had allowed opportunist forces within the parties to take control and caused constant ideological degeneration, and, in the process, the throwing overboard of all principles. Their fundamental “program” was how to win elections and stay in power.

The Neo-Liberal Hegemony

After 6 years in Parliament as the official Opposition from 1976 and after a series of defections of its MP’s, the MMM finally came to power in the landslide victory of 1982. But this was at a time when the IMF and World Bank were busy imposing the neo-liberal agenda inspired by the Friedman-Hayek school and transmitted politically by the Reagan-Thatcher tandem. When the new Minister of Finance Bérenger signed the “Letters of Intent” that would lock Mauritius into the neo-liberal agenda, there were protests from the trade union movement and parties like LALIT. Bérenger brushed aside all these protests, saying that “Structural Adjustment Programs” were not being imposed, but that they represented “Une gestion saine de l’économie”. Could Bérenger possibly not have realised that he was implementing the political and economic agenda of the international and local bourgeoisie?

Subsequent governments followed the same course and got locked into the same populist but hypocritical discourse of “defending workers” and “fighting poverty”, while applying the neo-liberal agenda in favour of the economic ruling classes, and increasing inequality.They had transformed hypocrisy into an art.

What principles?

The above brief analysis of the trajectory of the Labour Party and the MMM should provide sufficient reasons for us to not expect these two parties to be encumbered by principles when it comes to achieving political power, and even sharing it. If, as now seems quite likely, there is a Labour-MMM alliance at the next general election, it is quite likely there will be another clean sweep, and with the threshold for proportional seats being what it is, there will be practically no Parliamentary opposition. We will be faced with two parties in power who have already exposed a remarkable lack of principle and political morality, in addition to being openly “pro-finance capital”.

Does that mean that we should give up and allow them a free reign? Does that mean we should restrict our indignation to “zure gro-gro betiz anba labutik” and shouting “vander” from time to time? Given what we already know of the MMM and Labour (and the MSM and PMSD as well), should we expect otherwise?

No. And there is plenty that we can do to prepare for the future.

For a socialist agenda

What we now need is a new political platform for working people, a platform based on a program that not only challenges the neo-liberal agenda, but questions the logic of the capitalist system itself. Poverty, social inequality, unemployment, injustice cannot be tackled unless we recognise that they derive from the dominant economic system itself. We need a platform that proposes an alternative economic agenda based on agricultural diversification, transformation industries geared to agricultural products, development of a large scale, sustainable industrial fishing industry, food security, massive investments in genuinely renewable energy. We need above all else “development” that guarantees stable employment. We need a housing policy that caters to the needs of all. We need education for all our children. We need to re-unify the territory of the country by regaining the Chagos, getting the Diego Garcia base closed down, and assuring real reparations for all Chagossians. We need a democratic system that enables people to control the economy, a democratic system that guarantees equal rights to all in the Republic.

Now that most people have come to realise that the traditional parties that are in Parliament at present, and that have been in power at some time or other, are unable or unwilling to fulfil those needs, our political priority has to be to mobilise support around such a program: A Program for Socialism.

This is perhaps the only answer to the otherwise increasing cynicism amongst workers and young people against all forms of politics. And remember, politics is the only way out of this quagmire. It needs to be proper politics based on shared ideas, principled actions and alliances, and a lot more hard work than just going and putting “Three Crosses” on a bit of paper once every five years.

Ram Seegobin, pu LALIT
25 April 2014