It’s not six weeks since the 7 November General Elections and the political situation in Mauritius is still strange: it feels like the beginning of the end of an epoch yet there’s no major sign yet of the new era to come. Here is an article based written by Lindsey Collen based on her report to Lalit at its last Central Committee meeting on Saturday.
Victorious MSM-ML and Allies
Let’s look at the victorious Government side first. The L’Alliance Morisien won a big electoral victory but there has been little or no sign of celebration of this victory. Their score in terms of seats is a fine one. So, the lack of jubilation is weird. But before we look into possible reasons for this, let’s make a comparison with the recent election of Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in the UK. Jugnauth and his allies, including the OPR, has won 44-17-9 over the Labour-PMSD Alliance and the MMM – or 63% of seats. Boris Johnson in the UK this week won a victory that the Conservatives are celebrating to the hilt – with less than this i.e. 56% of seats! In addition, Johnson’s biggest competitors have a bigger share than Jugnauth’s have.
So, why is there such a dull uncelebratory atmosphere around the MSM’s victory?
MSM borrows electors from Labour
There are perhaps three reasons. Firstly, the MSM is a party that swells this way only as the Labour Party weakens. The Labour Party “lends” Labour agents and electors to the MSM under such circumstances. This is another way of saying that throughout its history the MSM has had a problem concerning the absence of a “base” that is independent of Labour. This base is not going to celebrate too wildly because its “real” party, Labour, is in such disarray.
Victory in large part due to ex-MMM structures
Secondly, the MSM won in large part because of the support of the ex-agents of the MMM – those around Ganoo, Lejongard, Joomye, Ramano, Obeegadoo and all that resigned from the MMM with him – like Labelle, Moorgesh Veerabadren, Varden & Co. So, the MSM’s base, for what it’s worth independently of Labour, did not want to celebrate the victory won by ex-MMM agents, who were, in turn, also not so happy to celebrate.
No social class mobilized behind MSM
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the MSM has no social class mobilized behind it. It has not even got a program that relies on this mobilization of a class. The MSM only presented a shopping list of “measures”.
So, for those measures which mainly benefitted the working class and poor, the MSM receives a kind of “Mersi, Misye Jugnauth” lukewarm support from the working class and its leaders in the union movement, not wild celebrations. And the measures for pensioners also provoke the “Mersi, Misye Jugnauth” response, as do the minimum wage, and the improved work conditions in all of 33 different work sectors. The working class has sufficient class consciousness to know that the “thank you” is formal and that those measures are what they are owed. So, since we have given this absence of working class mobilization as a reason for the absence of any celebratory mood, it is worth dwelling for a minute on why the MSM made these concessions to the working class when it was not mobilized. There are two or three factors, which are linked together:
(i) The Mauritian working class instilled terror into the capitalist class and the bourgeois State as recently in history as the huge mobilizations of a near insurrectional nature in August 1979 and September, 80. Although 40 years is a long time, this movement was followed 20 years on, that is only 20 years ago, by the unique working class unity at the trade union level in the movement called All Workers Conference 1996-2000.
(ii) In turn this mobilization – not of the entire class, but of its entire leadership at site level – prevented the conditionalities of the IMF and World Bank being implemented and this in turn prevented the kind of destruction of the working class and working class gains that has been experienced elsewhere. There is still completely free health care up to cardiac surgery and dialysis, and free education up to university level, with universal old-age pensions.
(iii) The MSM has, since its inception, had a “bonapartist” nature, that is to say one of those rare cases of “relative independence” from the owning classes. This is, in turn, due to having inherited a colonial state apparatus that is strong enough to impose measures on all classes including the local bourgeoisie, while maintaining bourgeois rule.
Capitalist Class furious with MSM
So, the MSM rules in the capitalist class’s interests – it can do nothing else – but with the capitalist class absolutely furious with the MSM, and against it. The rage is precisely because of the MSM’s battery of “measures” in favour of the working class. The capitalist class is hopping mad at the MSM. But the capitalist class was unable to express itself. Why? Here are two or three possible reasons for the bourgeoisie stifling its fury at the MSM:
(i) In electoral terms, if the big bourgeoisie takes a position too clear against the MSM, it knows this risks provoking the opposite reaction from what it intends. There is sufficient working class consciousness remaining from past mobilization to enable electors to divine that, if the bosses oppose a party, it may mean the party is in favour of the working class. So, this is one reason the bosses stayed so quiet, even as they fumed.
(ii) In economic terms, the big sectors that dominate capital (ex-sugar estates now in cane-for-electricity as well as for sugar and hotels & tourism), are making massive “windfall” gains from real estate, from selling off Mauritius’ land to foreign millionaires. This has been possible through Jugnauth measures, so it’s as though he stuffed their mouths with gold.
(iii) The “historic Bloc” that has ruled for over 60 years was put together by some sugar estate bosses allying big planters without mills as well as small planters and also with sugar factory workers’ unions and agricultural workers’ unions. That was the stable historic bloc. But, with sugar having lost its importance, the historic bloc has disintegrated. And the bourgeoisie has not been able to cobble together the beginnings of a new one around, say, tourism and real estate.
Petty Bourgeoisie also Furious with MSM for being Squeezed
At the same the MSM has had to face, and is still facing, a hornets nest of a petty bourgeoisie. Why is it so cross? It is squeezed as is often the case. It does not have land to sell off like the bourgeoisie does. And the price of land has risen so steeply that they can’t afford housing. They don’t take big loans, so the low interest rate just means their savings get whittled away by inflation. Many in the petty-bourgeoisie have been hysterical after losing money in the BAI scandal, and having to mobilize to get it back. At the same time, the petty bourgeoisie is too rich to benefit from most of the MSM’s “measures" which, in the main, benefit the poorer end of the working class:
- The new minimum wage does not affect them.
- They are too rich to benefit from NHDC housing plans.
- All the new Awards or Remuneration Orders in 33 sectors are working class sectors and do not affect them.
- Negative Income Tax does not apply to them.
- The NEF anti-poverty measures certainly do not benefit them.
- The SRM (Social Register of Mauritius) is designed to end extreme poverty, as the State calls it.
The grant to taxi drivers for car replacement is the only measure that directly benefitted that one small section of the petty bourgeoisie.
The hysteria that spread about the election results being the result of some kind of fraud was created primarily within the petty bourgeoisie, supported by the big bourgeoisie’s newspaper empire, La Sentinelle, typified by the unity of the staff at the news empire and the owners of the empire to come up with the scurrilous clip trivializing electoral malpractice while propagating xenophobic views and erroneous conceptions of democracy. (You can look it up as an example of the worst type of flippant propaganda that fuels fascism without even meaning to. It’s called lareg-gate.) Another sign of the petty bourgeoisie’s anger is its persistence with demands that are bound to turn everyone in ever-diminishing circles, if not worse, if put in place. Demands like limits on terms in office instead of mobilization to remove people democratically. Or demands like somehow putting the State in control of political parties, instead of tightening up electoral expenses laws, and putting the people in control. All of this shows a cornered petty-bourgeoisie, unable, as usual, to propose any overall political project. The petty bourgeoisie is, during crisis times like the ones we are experiencing, always on the brink of being hurled into the proletariat, while it maintains a pretense of being “bourgeois”. People in the petty bourgeoisie are convinced they are “bourgeois” until, if employees, they get the sack. Then they find out, too late, that they were “mere” workers. They think they are “bourgeois” until, if in business, they go bust and are hurled, indebted to the hilt, into the ranks of the unemployed. Then despair and hysteria follow. Then they run the risk of being part of the social basis for populism, or worse still, fascism.
So, the MSM Government won a big victory at the elections (in terms of the numbers). And it did so by means of working class support that was lukewarm. The MSM is against working class mobilization. It is a party that likes to “give” measures to “the poor” because of its “vision”. And the MSM won against a furious bourgeoisie and an enraged petty bourgeoisie.
The Parliamentary Opposition has, since the election results, found itself in an even more desperate situation than the winning Alliance around the MSM.
The Labour Party (with its 24% of seats) got the Leader of the Opposition post, which is a constitutional one.
But, Labour lost the entire countryside to the MSM. And the countryside is its stronghold. Worse still, any hope of re-gaining strength is stymied by the irreducible nature of the leadership conflict. There are two leaders, both still completely immobilized, nailed to the ground.
The “leader” Navin Ramgoolam is completely discredited. His reputation has descended to near zero. First there is his womanizing, then widespread talk of domestic violence, as well as the case for safe-fulls of money not very convincingly justified. When he loses his seat, as well as his reputation, he refuses to step down. This has gone on since 2014, completely crippling the Labour Party.
Arvin Boolell, meanwhile, cannot take on the leadership even though he is now the Leader of the Opposition, so long as Ramgoolam remains as leader. What gives Ramgoolam all this power is not clear – other than all the mainstream parties having this kind of all-powerful “leader”. There is the fact that he is his father’s son, on the one hand, and his capacity to mobilize strong-men bouncers. We saw how he set them on Boolell after the catastrophic defeat of the Labour-MMM alliance in the 2014 elections. So, all Ramgoolam can do is create waves of hysteria about electoral malpractice and go ahead with court cases galore against the Electoral Commission, and then ride these waves as the petty-bourgeoisie also creates them. All Boolell can do is act like the “constitutional creature” he is, without the real power of being leader.
Attempts to unite the opposition around Labour are doomed. The attempt over the electoral petitions has failed, and each of the three parties has its own petition or petitions.
The MMM’s disintegration, more accurately its complete liquidation, continues apace. LALIT predicted in 1981-2 that this kind of liquidation would unfurl when the MMM leadership went ahead to abandon its class struggle politics, and also allied with the communal party of Harish Boodhoo. Our prediction was made at the time the Lalit-de-klas tendency resigned en-bloc from the MMM and formed LALIT. The liquidation has continued, slower than we predicted, but with the same kind of infernal inexorability.
Until, before the elections of 2014, the MMM lost Collendavelloo & Co. because the MMM allied with Labour. Then, when Berenger blamed Ganoo for the dratted alliance, this provoked the resignation of Ganoo & Co. Before the 2019 elections when the MMM decided to go it alone, it then lost another group who were in favour of an alliance with the MSM – to assure a place in Government, they said. And since the election results, there is an internal uprising of rural agents because they had said the MMM had to make some kind of pre-electoral alliance to prevent the routing that transpired. Now, the MMM is check-mate. In the future it cannot go it alone again. Nor can it ally with the Labour Party. The only other alternative with the MSM is no longer a reliable option because the MSM has no need for the MMM.
The PMSD has all but disappeared as a political force.
Outside Parliament, there is Jack Bizlall. He and Dev Ramano, the two spokesmen for the MPM, have had some ill-defined dispute. The MPM now seems to exist even less than before the elections. This despite Bizlall’s pride in his fine results in the by-election or 2017 (which were mainly due to the absence of the MSM in the election).
Ashok Subron and the Rezistans ek Alternativ Party, a bit like the MMM has done, has check-mated itself, but in a different way. RA’s single issue political campaign has been the absurd strategy it adopted in order to do something that needs doing, i.e. to get rid of the best loser system. RA decided to rely upon, not political mobilization, but legal deviousness, in order to weaken the best loser system. And this has backfired again and again. RA only persists because, for inexplicable reasons, the Press (in general) has given him and his RA a “press pardon” for this failed strategy. RA members swore under oath that they were not attacking the BLS which could continue unhindered, they swore. This was both "true" (it did) and just not true in the sense that they are trying to get rid of the BLS. But for the purposes of their litigation, they swore they were not. This deception was enacted again and again, in an attempt to be able to stand as candidates without declaring their community in their Nomination Papers, but without confronting the BLS head on. This strategy got them into further difficulties. When they put in a complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee under the ICCPR, they included in their arguments that the communal question in the 10-year Census gave out-dated results because the State was using the 1972 Census. (This is true. It happened because when the MMM-PSM was in power for 9 months in 1982-3, it had enough guts to remove the question from the Census but not enough to remove the entire Best Loser System from its place as an addendum to the Constitution). The RA then got a judgment from the UN Human Rights Committee that opens the road to the reactionary demand, now taken up by all sorts of people for the re-introduction of the communal question in the Census, which would re-enforce the BLS.
So, RA managed to provoke the exact opposite from what it aims for.
In addition, it has check-mated itself by cutting itself out from elections altogether. So long as they do not declare a community of some sort, they cannot stand in elections. And the BLS continues as if nothing happened, hobbling on beyond its expiry date. This far-fetched legalistic strategy then keeps the party as a one-issue campaign. Its Blok 104, was reduced to a Blok 24 over the course of a decade or so. RA now cannot even stand for elections, while being a rather electoralist party. This, in turn, has caused a lot of internal problems.
Problems for the traditional political party as an institution
All this to say, that the entire spread of political parties, the entire traditional party system, is in trouble.
Even new and minor parties like the Parti Kreol Morisien, a communal party, has had such bad fights after the elections that they ended up at the police station, as well as with resignations. This seems to be due to the PKM apparently having been set up to benefit the MSM by taking some votes from the PMSD and MMM, but this without all its members being aware of the party’s raison d’etre. Then after elections, when the hysteria about “fraudulently won elections” broke out, half of their party joined in, while the other evidently could not. It was supposed to be celebrating the MSM win!
Even the new 100% Citoyen has suffered resignations since the general elections. One member who resigned told a LALIT member that it was due to “mink transparent”. What is evident is that there was some class interest behind the Party, but it was not clear what. After the elections, it became fragile. Even before the elections, its Deputy Leader and others resigned – without much explanation.
So, to round off, let’s look at where we, in LALIT, are after the elections. We, with our very low score, find our party stable, doing some recruitment, which is unusual after elections, and our future looks good. Why? Probably because we represent a social class, the working class. Also because we were born during those huge uprisings of the organized working class in 1979 and 1980. And we represent a class that has, or can have, a coherent and shared vision of a different kind of society. And the way to get nearer to that is through our program. We were of course, the first to present our program before elections. It was the only one that was a coherent view of the future for society, based on reality at the same time. And our party acts in a way that keeps the program and our members around the program in integrity. The only reason we are electorally weak is that the class we represent is weak. And that for many reasons, but the main one, for the moment, is having been replaced by electronic goods and robot-like machines, while within the capitalist coalition, it is the worst of the lot – finance capitalists – that are at the helm.
And after elections, all our major campaign, as if pushed by our electoral campaign, claim centre stage
- Diego Garcia and Chagos, with a new phase of decolonization and demilitarization ahead. We have written open letters to the Prime Minister Jugnauth (see web article) and to anthropologist/litigation person/author, David Vine (see another web article), and had a delegation participate in the Chagossian-led demonstration before the British high Commission on 22 November, the day the British were due to withdraw.
- Housing, and in particular asbestos housing. Two Ministers have taken public stands on the end to asbestos housing.
- The Kreol language. Another two Ministers and the new President have all taken a stand, in the name of Government, that Kreol will be introduced as one of the languages that can be used in Parliament.
- Investment into Speculation, no! There is a growing current amongst bourgeois economists to denounce the fact that FDI is, instead of boosting production, none other than speculation in real estate. This can be seen in editorials and in interviews with economists in the press. This line is part of LALIT’s program, now finally being of concern to the whole of the bourgeoisie.
So, LALIT comrades, that is where we are as we head for a new year.
The old system is exhausted, corrupted to rotten. Many parties are backed into corners, others face “forks” in their path where either road ahead is a dead-end. The bourgeoisie has nothing to offer in the sense of a rebirth for society. The petty bourgeoisie has less still to offer, not even knowing such a vision and program are needed. And the working class is still reeling under all the big productive sectors having been closed down or shifted to countries where workers are paid less still than in Mauritius. Half all workers now work in small enterprises, where work conditions are hard to enforce. All this points to the importance of the working class getting new forms of organization together. It all points to parties like LALIT needing to continue developing their programs, and to all of us agreeing that only an internationalist program will be able to defeat the capitalist rulers, as they, all enmeshed together even when in trade wars, inexorably lead the planet to ruin.
So, we in LALIT are more-or-less on course. But times remain difficult for socialists like us. Rebellions break out all over. People go out on to the streets. But the hard political work of agreeing on programs and demands, so that after the overthrow of Governments, we can together be organized enough to maintain power in the hands of the people, while dismantling the autocracy of capitalism and while creating the foundations for a truly socialist society. It is this organization that must be democratic, and not be left to slide into bureaucratic shortcuts.
[Light editing on 17 Dec 2019.]