The working class will have an uphill battle becoming the backbone of the new opposition that is bound to build up against the new Lepep Government. And yet this is what is needed. What are the problems that need to be surmounted for the working class to become the opposition?
1. Structural, objective weakness of the working class, at present. With all the well-organized sections of the working class in temporary disarray in present objective conditions – cane and sugar no longer employing much of a permanent work-force, the port having become bureaucratized and becoming more and more a kind of free zone sector, transport with all kinds of structural threats on work conditions – one-operator-buses, individual buses, minibuses, more and more cars, etc. – and even the free zone, through less organized in the past, has decreased from employing some 100,000 workers to 54,000 in March 2013; and what with almost half of all workers (44%) working for small enterprises; with so many workers now on short-term contracts; and with only 31% of workers in the public sector.
2. Ideological weakness, hopefully temporary, of the working class.
a) In fact, the entire trade union leadership (Sadien, Gopee, Imrith, Subron, Bizlall-Tan-Yan, Seegum, even Jane and Reeaz) has been absorbed into the deadly bureaucratic logic of day-to-day, over-centralized unionism. Today labour laws even create leaders that the bosses and the State recognize and who are not on the site or even from the sector or site, called “negotiators”. This has locked all the federations/unions into “games” with the State and the bosses: sometimes purely bureaucratic, other times populist.
b) At the same time, the union leadership sees its main role as the “interface” between workers and bosses in the process of determining the precise level of wages. They end up being the enabler in fixing how many rupees will be paid for how many hours of labour-power. The negotiator thus becomes dependent on the continued existence (and good health) of capitalism, for his very role. (The negotiators are most often males). One sugar-cane negotiator assured the sugar-cane bosses that he
would support the bosses “cane industry”, thus selling out all political possibility of food production. In any case, without bosses, there are no negotiators. For so long as workers remain behind this kind of sporadic, populist, bureaucratic, pro-capitalist leadership, this represents a built-in ideological weakness.
c) This has worsened recently. Some negotiators, in fact many of them, now represent, and pretend this is normal, whole work sites when the workers are not even union members. Sometimes they are even proud of it. This drift into deep populism gives the State and the bosses inordinate power over the workers because they can choose with which “negotiator” to negotiate. And of course it allows a wide margin for the bosses, or the State, to cause deeper rifts than there already are between different negotiators, who are in any case, always at alpha-male-type loggerheads over their territory.
d) And the unions are structured as patriarchal hierarchies. There are union negotiators at the top, then their assistants, then the union officials and the workers are like extras in a film. Some negotiators even speak as though the unions they control are their “goods” that they can leave to another negotiator, as in a testament. Bizlall had no trouble in announcing in the press that he had two “heirs” (zeritye): Subron and Reeaz. That was before he fell out with Subron. Tan Yan announced with pomp in an interview that he was the “replacement” for Jack Bizlall in the FPU! This kind of concept operates in patriarchal hierarchies, like monarchies, the police force and private corporations. It is not conducive to socialist thinking.
e) The purely populist tendency has increased again, reliving the kind of Gaetan Duval unions, the Syndicat Populaire, where a single leader manipulated a base, and put political pressure on the State, often with support from the bosses, in order to get minor gains for workers.
That gives an idea of the situation in the unions.
What is the working class leadership like in the Co-operative Movement? It is true to say that the movement, while still existent, has degenerated from a lively sector to a rump sector. The falling apart under the weight of corruption of the big Vacoas Multipurpose Co-operative Society gives an idea of the disaster.
All this to say that with the kind of leadership that workers have, at the moment, it will not be an easy task for the working class to create a programmatic opposition to the new Government in the short term. All this to spell out how important it is, in the face of such colluding leadership in unions and co-ops, that a new leadership of the working class emerge at the level of the worksite, and of the neighbourhood where workers live.
And, in this context, it is important that LALIT has recently spelt out how we see the question of “leadership” – especially at a time when the USA Embassy is holding annual “leadership” training of the most complacent type in the country. (Diego Garcia exige). LALIT aims at being a party that is constituted by grassroots leaders – on the work site and in the neighbourhood. To do this, LALIT has developed and is always in the process of developing an anti-capitalist, pro-worker, socialist program. Right now, the working class is not yet rallying behind this kind of program. But, even if unions and co-ops present little hope for the working class at the moment, there is a political organization with a pro-working class program. (It is worth noting that in the last elections, Les Verts, also had a pro-working class program, and that they, too, were marginalized more than they had ever been before.)
But within the working class itself, are there any signs of hope for the emergence of a working class led opposition to the new Lepep Government? Yes, there are. And though small signs, the speed with which they may develop is fantastic. When the workers at Apollo and Courts (part of the dismantled BAI empire) were protesting, many spoke at meetings and over the private radios about “nasyonalization” – a term that had been almost banned over the past 20 years – and other went on directly to call for “workers control”. This is wonderful. Especially in this kind of sector, which is not one of the traditionally advanced sectors like organized manual workers. And at the General Assembly of the Vacoas Multipurpose Co-operative Society in the Cape Town Hall, there was an uprising against the government proposal to liquidate it, and members got together with an alternative program to re-take control over their own association. This, too, is a very important sign of the sudden leaps forward in ideology that working people, especially in a labile country like Mauritius, make.
But, let’s return to the question of what class is likely to rise up in opposition to the new Lepep regime.
For example, will the “state bourgeoisie – Labour Party version” that was in power until 10 December, 2014, rise up in opposition. The short answer is not at once. It was knocked out at the elections, and is not in a position to challenge the new Lepep Alliance in power. Many of those in its nexus are being hauled in by the police too often to even think of fomenting a challenge. When it is not the CCID or ICAC, it is Interpol. Navin Ramgoolam himself, the Rawat family empire, the Bhunjun bosses, Mrs. Soornack, etc. and Minister like Baichoo and Jeetah are all giving statements all the time. Others, like Gooljaury, are being kept in hand as State Witnesses against Ramgoolam.
So, from where will Opposition rise in class terms?
The answer right now is that it is sections of the petty bourgeoisie that are mobilizing, even if they are doing so only sector by sector. Their agitation is more coherent than that of the working class these past few months, and it has press support. But, like all petty bourgeois mobilizations – at least in times when the capitalist class is still strong – it is not worth much in terms of any change for the better. But let’s look at it anyway.
First there was the “BAI affair” and then the “DPP affair”. It is clear that in both cases, there is a lot of mobilization. Around the BAI dismantling, the 25,000 people, who had invested in Super Cash Back Gold, the 130,000 with insurance policies with BAI, over 10,000 investors in BAI Bonds, all the white collar workers threatened with being sacked; all these sections of the petty bourgeoisie allied together to fight for their “rights”. And they won significant victories. Though it is true to say that the workers at Courts, Apollo, and Iframac also mobilized, apart from the odd phrase here and there, there was no coherent anti-capitalist program to really advance their struggle. Last news was negotiator Subron contacting the bosses at Mercedes and BMW, etc. to get Iframac to keep these brands and the repairs of these cars!
Around the “DPP affair”, hundreds of barristers in the Bar Council, even lawyers in the DPP and SLO, mobilized to support a lawyer stopped at Immigration with his client, Mrs. Soornack’s dossier. Now, they are all protesting loudly to support the DPP, one part of the executive when he was attacked by the more elected part, the Cabinet. (We mention this because, when the petty bourgeoisie mobilizes, it is not always in favour of more democracy; they often entrench behind the potentially reactionary slogans of the bourgeois State: “separation of powers” and the “rule of law”, instead of mobilizing for more democracy.) The mobilization of lawyers seems to be a last hold-out of the old Labour Party “State” – in the Marxist meaning of State. They do not, for example, in their mobilization mention the Labour party repression against barrister De Speville, nor against Teeluckdharry, Ratnah and Valayden. Quite the contrary, Rama Valayden joins the very Labour Party that set the police on him!
Another source of a class rising against the newly elected Lepep Government is the local businessmen involved in offshore, i.e. part of the finance capitalist class. They seem to be furious with the new version of the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement with India that Bhadain and Lutchmeenaraidoo have negotiated. No doubt, their mobilization also takes invisible forms, like threats to destabilize the Stock Exchange. In the meantime, they, too benefit from support from the Press.
So, we have looked at the question of who will be the new opposition, in terms of social class.
In the past, under the Labour Party, we have seen a Historic Bloc built around cane-and-sugar. In it were the big planters without mills (as leaders), together with the millers, the small planters (as the ideological battering rams) and the mill worker and field worker unions. Now, for both economic and political reasons, this Historic Bloc fell apart in the last elections – but completely! But, what has replaced it, the Lepep Alliance does not have a very clear class base. This means that the Opposition to it, too, will no doubt be unclear. And the Lepep Alliance is trying to overhaul the State in ways never attempted post-elections before, and they are trying to do so without sufficient mobilization, no real program, and certainly no revolutionary capacity. They will not succeed. The reactionary forces, for one, will not let them. In fact, they only had enough oomph, in terms of mobilization, program and desire for change, to get rid of the putrid Labour-MMM alliance that intended to take the State right over.
Now let’s turn to the political parties. Which will take over the real opposition to the new Government?
Is there a link between the mobilization of different classes and any of the parties yet?
Until now, the reply is that there is not yet any sign in that direction.
What opposition is likely to emerge in terms of political party?
In fact, strange as it may seem, the parliamentary opposition parties are in more disarray than the new Lalyans Lepep Government in power. All three Parliamentary Opposition parties, the MMM, Ganoo’s Muvman Patriotik Ganoo, and the Labour Party, have got problems with leadership. [We should mention, as has been mentioned in other speeches, that Lalyans Lepep is in grave difficulty in the middle term because it may have no leader. Sir Aneerood Jugnauth is over 84 and his replacement Prime Minister, Pravind Jugnauth, has not only resigned as Minister after a guilty verdict in a rather technical charge of conflict-of-interest, but he will be caught up in a 4-5 year Court battle.]
Let’s deal with Ganoo’s party first. Ganoo is not exactly a charismatic leader. And that’s all to the good because on paper they have no leader. But as a Party, the Muvman Patriotik does not seem to know whether it wants to stay in opposition, or go into Government, even in the short term. They have no program. They have some vague valeurs militants and patriotiques. Their party was born to hang around for a lucky break. And they are hanging around for one. They represent little, except for a possible future holding of a key arithmetic balance-of-forces. A bit like the MMSD Mayor of Curepipe who held the post because the MMM and Labour each held the same number of seats, and, though he held just one, it made him Mayor.
For both Labour and the MMM, there are real “leader” problems.
And this problem is symptomatic of a deeper problem: neither has a program. They have less program than the Government Lalyans Lepep had in the general elections. So, they do not know what they represent – neither in class terms, nor in terms of program. And they don’t even know that they don’t know.
Let’s look at Labour and the MMM one by one. It is hard to believe that they were allied only 7 months ago, so swiftly did their alliance explode. In fact, their alliance for the last elections was so dratted that its name never got properly registered on the collective memory. Can anyone remember it?
The outgoing Labour Government fell so low at and after the elections that it is now Number Three (the third force!!) in the Opposition’s ranks. Third in the ranks of the Parliamentary Opposition. Labour has 4 MPs, the MMM has 7 left, and the Ganoo Muvman Patriotik has 5 ex-MMMs. Can you beat that for a defeat for an outgoing Government that had been seeking a 60-0 victory?
Anyway, Labour has 4 rather strange MPs. Shakeel Mohamed, the only one known to the public really has gone and got involved as lawyer in the Ramgoolam and the Rawat empire cases, instead of keeping a political distance. And the other three are unknown – except one as Prayag’s nephew.
And although the Labour Party was so thoroughly defeated at the Elections, worse was to come. It is getting “cleaned up” by the Lepep campaign of netwayaz. As every new scandal gets exposed, the political shame on the Labour Party grows, like an expanding oil slick.
And to make matters worse, the Party seems unable to get rid of the main cause of its shame, its leader, Navin Ramgoolam. He has become a ghastly burden, but he remains leader. He remains leader despite the exposure of his conspiracy of lies and mistress around the Roches Noires campement; despite all those bank notes in dollars and in rupees serially numbered and worth over Rs200,000,000; despite the Betamax having to be publicly rescinded; despite the 4% commission around concessions for airport businesses; despite his protection exposed in the BAI scandal; despite the question on acquisition of aeroplanes by Air Mauritius; in spite of all this, and more, he stays leader. This puts Labour into dire straits.
When Arvin Boolell, the Labour Number Two, calls for Ramgoolam to step down, Navin Ramgoolam sets bouncers on him. And Navin Ramgoolam stays on as leader.
At first, the only support he had (other than co-accused Ministers, or bouncers against Boolell) were the Moollan and Mohamed clans, as legal teams. Ramgoolam’s treasurer left him. His wife seems to live separately from him. His mistress fled to Italy before counting was over. Dr. Bunwaree left the ship before it sank. Mrs. Bappoo has quietly retired. Varma has taken his distance, even deserting Mrs. Soornack as barrister. Neeta Deerpalsing has taken a political sabbatical. Dulthumun has swiftly aligned himself behind Lepep.
But now, in the past few weeks, Labour has slightly enlarged its base – although not openly proclaimed as “Labour” supporters. There are the angry barristers around the DPP (Satyajit Boolell is from the Labour clan of Boolells, although not associated with party politics himself) and there is Rama Valayden (also with barristers around him) who has joined Labour. This mini-mobilization of petty-bourgeois mainly lawyers gives a little help to the Labour Party in its complete and utter disarray, especially as the Press has given the lawyers support. But the mobilization, like the Labour Party, has no real programmatic bite. The old Labour slogan of “Democratization of the economy” has been totally discredited, shown up to be crony capitalism of the purest ilk.
What will happen to Labour? When Rama Valayden is now a member, is it possible for an ex-PMSD to fulfill any really central role? It seems implausible, but given the implausibility of the whole political situation, we have to consider the implausible as perhaps plausible! Some Labour people have even gaily proposed that Mrs. Veena Ramgoolam, the estranged wife, become the Labour “figurehead”, as it were warming the Leader seat, while waiting for Navin Ramgoolam to extricate himself from the criminal prosecutions he is entangled in. All this to say that what’s left of Navin Ramgoolam’s base, and he himself, do not want any Boolell taking the leadership in case the clan manages to install itself for the long term. Is it possible that someone else now outside Labour like Varma or Dr. Bunwaree, in a fashion a-la-Collendavelloo for the MMM, propose themselves as new leader of Labour? Far-fetched. But then again, as we say, the already-existing situation itself is almost too far-fetched to believe.
But, even though Labour lies in utter ruin as a party, it has one other strength that is, unfortunately, not to be dismissed. It has in its favour the fact that it has a Labour Establishment, sitting pretty for the moment, but in place, in the entire non-elective part of the State Apparatus. The State, in the broader Marxist sense, is a Labour State.
Meanwhile the MMM is in equal disarray.
In fact, the total disintegration that we see the MMM in today is the exact way LALIT predicted in 1981-2 that it would end up. The MMM has destroyed itself as a force for political change for the better. It has liquidated itself, as we so accurately predicted it would when it formally and specifically abandoned both the anti-capitalist and the anti-communalist struggles that had built its power. This liquidation obviously accelerated with the cynical “on-off” process during negotiations for the alliance with Labour in 2014.
The new MMM Parliamentary Opposition has continued the process of disintegration that began before elections with the departure of Collendavelloo to form the ML and call by Lalyans Lepep for people to “Vire mam!” (i.e. leave the MMM) and join the PMSD, MSM and, in Rose-Hill, the ML. Now, even as before elections, Collendavelloo, as if it’s a normal thing to do, calls for a re-unification of the MMM with himself as leader. Sometimes Ganoo even supports him in this. As though Bérenger did not exist. As though they were still in the MMM! (But this is not the first time we have heard of this kind of ludicrous plot: 3-4 years ago, there was a hair-brained scheme that Bérenger foiled, around a Labour Day when Bizlall and L’Estrac conspired, though neither are in the MMM, to overthrow Bérenger in the MMM!
And yet there is a real problem as long as Bérenger remains leader. It was under his leadership that, in 2005, in alliance with the MSM, they lost. It was under his leadership that the MMM, in 2010 lost the elections. And in 2014, in alliance with Labour, again the MMM lost. What option remains? None at all. Unless the MMM looks to Bizlall and Subron, who, curiously both have quite pro-Labour and anti-MMM rhetoric.
Besides, Bérenger has had health problems. He has been treated for cancer and has admitted on radio having had a drink problem. He has political problems, in that he has gradually discredited himself more and more over the past 36 years, since 1981, and seriously ruined any reputation he had left over the “on-off” episodes last year. So he is, despite his claims to the contrary, not in any position of strength.
Bérenger has continued to get weaker since the electoral defeat, too. He has made a fool of himself by blaming his ally of the time, Navin Ramgoolam, for the defeat. And then after having had 12 MPs elected, he promptly lost them to the newly formed Muvman Patriotik. The MMM then went on to get thrashed 120-0, in the five Municipals elections, where the MMM was supposed to be strong. Bérenger shows no capacity to stand back or to do a mea culpa, but plunges ahead as if everything were hunky-dory. He has the capacity to put into question absolutely nothing.
Now, however, one thing has become clear. When Bérenger makes public statements, he is not, in fact, talking to the public at all, nor even to his members, or even to the MMM electorate. He is speaking only to some future possible ally. Usually either Jugnauth or Ramgoolam. This is why he seems to be speaking nonsense. He is not speaking to us at all. If we persist in thinking he is speaking to the public, we will think he’s gone off his rocker. But the minute you realize he is addressing future allies, then all his little ruses become clear as a bell. (We learnt this from the informal institution known as Parlman Ebenn.) But this kind of ludicrous behavior of Bérenger’s is a sign of the MMM’s degeneration. The MMM is not a political party in its own right anymore. It is a part of a future alliance, and nothing more.
And it has certainly been ages since the MMM had any sort of real program. Neither the MMM nor its leader Bérenger have any vision for a better society. The MMM has been reduced to a shrinking group of “Bérengists”. All they want it so get into power and manage things supposedly better than they are so far managed. The MMM still has some of its “electorate”, that may vote for the MMM, or abstain if too narked with Bérenger. Some of its electorate has, of course, migrated to the PMSD. Especially those MMM families that had previously been PMSD. They have returned home, as it were.
But, the tragedy is that if Bérenger retires as leader, the others are not at all inspiring. There’s Ajay Gunesh, who is a bit weak, Steve Obeegadoo, who has gone silent, Bhagwan who had been about to retire before the elections. None are very convincing leaders. Maybe this lack of a clear replacement is what makes the re-unification that Collendavelloo and sometimes Ganoo dream of not as far-fetched as it seems? But then again, it’s not likely. But in times of far-fetched realities, the unlikely is possible. For example, there are people who write in all seriousness that Emmanuel Bérenger, Bérenger’s son, should become the new leader, or his son-in-law, Frederic Curé, who is also in the MMM Political Bureau. Should something like this happen, it would be a bit like the Gaetan Duval “heirs” - Herve Duval, Xavier Duval, Richard Duval, and Rama Valayden making up a new PMSD as they did.
But, despite all the reality and the speculation, and despite the MMM’s fall from grace, Paul Bérenger remains Leader of the Opposition. Even if hanging on to the cliff by a fingernail.
Remember that if the Labour Party and the Ganoo lot get together, Bérenger can, at any moment be ousted as Opposition Leader. He knows it, too.
Bizlall, Subron, Ah-Yan, Ensam, Sheila Bunwaree, Parlman Popiler, Dis Moi, Dr Bunwaree, Dr. Madhewoo
If we want to imagine where Jack Bizlall and Ashok Subron are headed, and in particular which direction they seem to be taking in the future, we suggest reading Alain Ah-Vee’s excellent article in our magazine, Revi LALIT 119. That gives a good idea.
Neither Bizlall nor Subron have, themselves, a clear idea of where they are headed. If they have, they keep it a secret. Their groups (are their organizations organizations? Are they parties? It’s not clear), too seem to have no clear idea of where they are intending to be in the future. Neither have programs. Bizlall has set up and then seems to have abandoned his “muvman larz” (broad movement), that was so broad that anyone in the whole world could be in it. Rezistans ek Alternativ (RA) have a list of what they call “Measures” in their electoral pamphlet, but not a real program. So, how does one judge their direction for the future?
One way is to look at who their “heirs” are. This gives an idea of their possible futures. Kuggan Parapen (RA spokesperson) and Ivor Tann Yann (Bizlall’s self-proclaimed heir) say it all: Both are not revolutionaries (Tan Yan calls revolution a connerie! Or idiocy!). They see socialism and capitalism as complementary. (Parapen says this. He adds that there is good in both systems. It makes one wonder what he is resisting in Rezistans and what Alternativ he is proposing if capitalism is half-good anyway. They are neither right nor left (Tan Yan dixit). They both talk as though they are within the bourgeoisie. Tan Yan says: “Nu lafors, se nu resurs imin”. “Our strength is our human resources.” As though he owns these “resources” that are “his”. Parapen, clearly sees his future in finance capital where he has already worked and still works (MCB and Axis), while Tan Yan has given 10 years of his life to politics, after which he will go back to working as a consultant..... Another young Rezistans cadre Sebastien Sauvage, is in charge of a project (ecology and art sponsored by big business) in alliance with the CEO of the MCB, and the Labour party capitalists, the Jhubboos!
Another way to judge these two groups is by the way their two all-powerful leaders, both Subron and Bizlall, act most often as trade union negotiators, not as political party activists committed to struggle. Their politics is an “add-on” to their union roles. They use their “union base” in the same way as the MMM and other bourgeois parties have a “depo fix”, but the union members are hopefully for them their fixed deposit instead.
Let’s look at the “divers gos”. There is the party of Roshni Muneeram and Gaetan Siew, Ensam. They have announced the suspension of the political existence, and you can see why. Gaetan Siew has been nominated by the new Guvernman Lepep to be the man in charge of the Smart Cities and more. Sheila Bunwaree has gone depoliticized again, and acts as an individual, her party Social Justice having disappeared. Georges Ah-Yan continues rightly to agitate about the encroachment of private enterprises on to public beaches, and has recently been congratulating the Minister of the Environment, Raj Dayal for his reassurance that the public beach at La Cambuse will not shrink with the new Currimjee hotel. But none of these groups seems to be busy building a political organization, or any organization at all that might build socialism.
Whereas other organizations, that say they are not parties, are acting like parties. Let’s look briefly at two:
There is Dis-Moi. When Amnesty International (Mauritius) got closed down Amnesty (the Main outfit in London) announced that it would never be able to open up again. Instead of an explanation for what happened, we have had rumours about mishandling of finances, and have had a group of ex-Amnesty people around Lindley Couronne just setting up a new Mauritian human rights organization called “Dis-Moi”. They appear to have had a lot of support from the COI and from the Labour State (Ramgoolam and Varma) and had seemed to continue getting support from the Lepep Government until now Lindley Couronne has declared war on his past friend, Minister Bhadain. Lindley Couronne gets a lot of support. As Amnesty, he used to get a page in L’Express and now as Dis-Moi he gets a page in Le Defi. He gives platforms to Jack Bizlall and Ashok Subron. He offers LALIT platforms, but we refuse. Anyway, in all, Dis-Moi posits itself as a “left” outfit of sorts.
And then there is the Parlman Popiler. By the way, Dis-Moi and Parlman Popiler do joint education sessions. And the Parlman Popiler also acts a bit like political party. It takes position on all sorts of issues that the real Parliament discusses. But to speak there, you have to be an atomized individual. You cannot speak in the name of your organization. Bizlall in fact called for it, but then after Catherine Boudet was employed to do sessions, he fell out with her and seems to have withdrawn. Now Reeaz and Jane are in it, as individuals, which is the usual formula used for union leaders in a political party!
All this to say, that the political work before us in LALIT, and before all socialists, to mobilize the working class and other oppressed classes together with an anti-capitalist program and a program to build socialism is more important than ever. In fact it is essential.
And, it is not easy.
AMS & LC, 21 July, 2015