A political action I was involved in has remained carved into my mind. It was at the level of the area around the Medine Sugar Estate. It was in 1979. In Bambous, Medine labourers and mill workers were enraged by something called “Sugar Time” that had been organized as an annual event by the sugar bosses as from 1971. It was a kind of “fancy fair” co-ordinated by PROSI, which stands for the “Public Relations Office of the Sugar Industry”, and was held antrekup. Workers were supposed to put their heads in buckets of flour, and pull them out white, and other such stupid things, and were supposed to find it hilarious. One event in Sugar Time was called “Radio Crochet”, where the “Crochet” was a gaff hook – with which someone with power would catch a vocalist competing in a singing competition by his clothing and then remove him – but only after the crowd had booed him, humiliated him, and shouted , “Krose! Krose!” It could also be a “her”. We, in the Lalit de Klas team painted hand-made posters before the 1979 version of the event, with slogans like, “Al rul u prop latet dan lafarinn, Misye!” and so on, deriding and mocking the event. “Go stick your own head in a bag of flour, Mister Boss!” We will come back to this later.
There has been a political leitmotif, you will have noticed in my daily blogs: how will society come out of the epidemic and lockdown? World-wide and here? While I’ve emphasized the new possibilities for struggle for socialism during such historical moments when all is suddenly in flux, I have also warned of the dire dangers of rising fascism in these very moments. Fascism feeds on the scars of the past during the despair of the present.
In the USA, the past few days have exposed the worst of such rising fascism.
In Minneapolis this week, a police officer, aided by three other officers, killed a man they have already handcuffed and already got lying on the ground. They murder him by slow suffocation over 8 minutes. They do it in public. His name is George Floyd. He was lynched, just like Ahmaud Arbery was on 23 February in Georgia, by racist white men. But this time those who committed the murder were officers of the state. Both murders were filmed. Both show that the lynchings were perpetrated with seeming impunity by armed white men on unarmed, isolated individual black men.
Both videos are the most painful experience to watch.
They expose the systemic racism that has been perpetuated by the entire American society ever since the Jim Crow laws. After the end of the Civil War in the US, slavery was abolished and a process of “reconstruction” was financed for some decades and there was the beginning of genuine emancipation and the possibility of equality. But soon, the funds were cut. And then local laws began to impose apartheid and oppression of black Americans, with the Ku Klux Klan murderers as the enforcement branch. The laws were called Jim Crow laws. They were named after the notorious “plays” a bit like the “Sugar Time” and “Radio Crochet” were in Mauritius – where descendants of slaves and indentured labourers were made to look fools while everyone was supposed to be laughing.
The Sugar Time and Radio Crochet were first attacked by our poster campaign in the Medine sugar estate area. And then, same year there was a tragic accident. A minibus organized by the estate got out of control on the way to one of these events, killing a number of workers. The awful annual event was never held again.
Yet curiously in the USA, such events continued, or were resuscitated. Let us see how.
Donald Trump, before becoming President was already one of the most recognizable figures in American society because he was actor and producer of his own “Radio Crochet” called The Apprentice. If you are a Mauritian of a certain age, when you watch just one episode of this Reality TV show, you recognize the formula: you humiliate and kick out the loser. Hoorah! Donald Trump has people competing to get a job. Yes, the ultimate symbol of the capitalist class versus the working class – wage slaves – is that the boss has the power to hire or fire. While in Mauritius, everyone shouted “Krose! Krose!”, in Trump’s show, he ends the episode with his majestic, “You’re fired!”
Capitalist society is already proud of being good at praising and singling out, at the expense of the “losers”, the “winner” – which is bad enough – but these two shows, one in the US and one in Mauritius, do something much, much worse. They isolate and humiliate the loser. And we laugh. While the joke is on us.
Imagine the rage in the working class. Rage suppressed, like for Jim Crow shows. Like for Radio Crochet.
George Floyd, the man killed by police this week in a racist attack, has caused such outrage in the city of Minneapolis, such agony, that people have taken to attacking symbols of wealth as well as the police station, itself, setting fire to them.
And of course the President of the USA is more outraged by damage to property than by the murder in cold blood of a man because of the colour of his skin.
This cold-hearted man Trump was outraged by the proud image of American footballer Colin Kaepernick “taking a knee” in 2016, kneeling being curiously the ultimate Christian sign of respect, when the American national anthem was being sung before a football game, as a sign that the nation did not yet respect black people to merit him standing for its anthem. But Trump remains heartless at the image of a police officer’s knee slowly killing an unarmed black man over eight minutes of film images. These two images have been juxtaposed on the web to make this point.
Now, the President of the USA is threatening to send the army in with orders to shoot.
The police officers have not yet, as I write, been arrested or even charged.
Racism is part of fascism. And the epidemic and lockdown are making the dangers imminent.
We must organize at once. In our party, in our unions, in our associations, on our sites, in our neighbourhoods. Before it is too late.
for LALIT, a personal view.