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And the Art of a political publication

30.11.2020

After so much good discussion on a previous article called “The Art of Activism – Distributing a Recent Leaflet”, here is one about another political art for grass-roots militants in action: “The art of activism: the most recent regular political publication.” This one is perhaps the mother of all political arts. 


Let’s take as starting point the most recent edition of REVI LALIT, a bimonthly publication, its number 143 having come out on Wednesday last. A political publication, to be precise, does not just “come out”, though – although I used the phrase. The process is the thing. 


Each article begins with an idea, often discussed with others, an idea that someone converts into the written word. It fits, as an idea, in a flow of creative ideas, back into the writer’s past, and the society’s past, and human society’s whole history. No-one is paid by the word, or by the day, to write any article in Revi LALIT. It is activist work. The labour of love. Each article is then edited – again by members, voluntarily – and all are gathered together, the lay-out organized and done by members, then each page of the original gets physically printed into hundreds of copies – again by members without pay, the pages then collated into the magazine by a whole group of members, stapled before activists distributing copies to the readers. And this distribution, though the end of production, is the beginning of one of the most important parts of the publication, as we will see. And this is why a printed publication is so different from a web-site, which fulfills some of the functions of a party publication, and is totally different from a Facebook page. It is collective at each phase. Though it is dedicated individuals who make the contribution to the publication.


The whole event, publishing a regular magazine or newspaper, is, to a party like LALIT, as the heart-and-lungs are to mammals like humans.


Compare LALIT’s Revi LALIT with the other parties’ publications. Neither the MSM, Labour, MMM, PMSD, Reform Party, nor the MPM, nor Rezistans, nor 100% Citoyens – none of them – have a regular publication. The MMM used to: Le Militant was a daily, then a weekly, then occasional, then disappeared. As if the MMM does not want to commit itself to paper. Labour had Advance, Nation, Mauritius Today, and only Mauritius Times, in the wake of the Labour Party, has survived. The MSM had The Sun, which became independent and then disappeared. The PMSD had Populaire, and that vanished without trace.


While these parties do have web-sites, even these are not very helpful. They have Facebook accounts that are anecdotal, threadbare pages. As well as our publication, LALIT does have its website (www.lalitmauritius.org), and Facebook page (LalitMauritius), and they are perhaps more political and more programmatic than the other parties’ websites thus more substantial (even if we have to say so ourselves). 


But, our website and our Facebook page do not, as you will see, do the immense political work that the printed magazine does, and that is because of the magazine’s collective nature and face-to-face nature, and more than anything, it is what makes LALIT a living, breathing, thinking, acting party. It is what give us tensile strength, while society is going through this relative downturn in the struggle of the oppressed classes that we represent, and while we are thus, by the very nature of things, for the meantime, a small party.


The actual work of producing the Revi LALIT every two months, takes place over three Wednesdays in 15 days. So, this time it was 11 November for Part I, 18 November for Part II and 25 November for Part III. Although the work actually starts in the thinking-and-discussion incubation period long before the 11 November, and though it continues with its most, most significant distribution-and-discussion after the 25th.


Our editor presides over the Editorial meetings. So at the meeting of 11 November, arriving with some specific ideas from the last LALIT Central Committee, especially for the Editorial, which aims to be the state-of-the-art comment of the Party in the magazine for that moment in history, it was Rada Kistnasamy who presided our meeting. After his introduction, there is about a half an hour’s discussion – brain-storming type discussion – about what can be or what must be included – local and international, regular items and one-off items, dossiers and individual articles, book reviews, invitations and so on. Often, from a branch, there is already an offer for an article: for this Revi, there was an interview with a worker from Textile Industries, which is closing down, from a member of the Port Louis branch (see it on page 27); there was an offer of an article on fisherfolks’ status around Mahebourg after the Wakashio spill from Curepipe-South Regional (See it on page 24), and one on “How I did my activist work with LALIT’s program for village elections in my village” from the Rose-Hill-East regional (See it on page 18.). Once the list of all articles is drawn up, people offer to write the different articles, if they are not already claimed. Or, if no-one offers, someone suggests someone they think can do it, or should perhaps learn to do it. Rada, at this stage, hands out a spread-sheet to each of the seven-of-eight people at the editorial board meeting. This is list of what is already on the website and on our Facebook page, and we then mull over which, if any, of these articles need to be included in the Revi and, should they need translation, someone volunteers. As we go along, we estimate the length of each article – two-pages, half-a-page, and so on.


All the articles are then submitted by the following Wednesday – either in soft copy or hard – in this case by the 18 November. Rada brings us each a page with all the articles’ titles and authors on a spread-sheet. Each author has their own article, printed out, and reads out anything he or she feels needs to be checked by the editorial board. The editorial is always read in full by the person who had been delegated to write it on the themes chosen, and amended on-the-spot, as are any other articles that really define LALIT’s position on an issue. The Editorial and all the other articles (or to be exact, the quasi-totality) are in Mauritian Kreol, the mother tongue and vernacular in the country. This way, every member can write, or if need be, dictate an article. Every member can read, or if need be, be read an article and understand it spot-on. 


The Saturday that follows, three members of the editorial board put the articles all into one file on the computer, deciding the order, then proof-reading them, and removing all the different “instructions” that may have been imported with each article concerning lay-out from writers’ own computers, before standardizing the instructions for later importing into the design program.


It is two members who then do the layout on the computer over the next two or three days, and another two members who do the duplicating of the pages.


And the final Wednesday is collating day, when from 2:00 pm onwards, a group of, say, a dozen, members put the pages together, staple them, hammer the staples safe, count them into piles of 10 – all in good spirits, with lots of banter. Collating is also a time for recruiting new members. Then the magazine is distributed to the distributers already present and working at it, and hand in cash for the last edition, number 142. These members will then do their regional sub-distribution, to people who will deliver copies, in turn, to 3 – 10 people. One member, meanwhile, takes charge of preparing the envelopes for subscriptions that will be sent by post – they are pre-paid to members who give her the money when someone subscribes for a year or two years.


And it is from the time of individual distribution that the key work really blossoms for a political party.


Each activist uses his Revi, as the connecting tissue with other members in his branch, and with supporters around his neighbourhood or at work, and, it is key, as a basis for recruitment to the party. 


So, when you deliver, say, five to a branch member, you ponder over the contents page with him, suggesting articles he or she might like to read, and/or to draw the attention of his readers to. For example, “You have two or three readers who live in asbestos housing, and there’s a copy of our letter to the Minister on page 15, and it’s the only column in English this time and so you might need someone to translate it for them. If someone has Chagossians on his list, then you draw attention to the whole dossier updating the Diego Garcia issue, pages 28-31. Or, if someone is interested in Palestine, draw their attention to the forthcoming candlelight, on page 9. This way, over five to ten minutes, there is a process of homogenizing ideas, picking up new ideas from members, sharing what’s been written into this magazine. When you leave a copy with one supporting member, you might know that they were in a village election team, so you can show them the article on the history of village elections right up to this one, on pages 16-18. And so on.


Branches often read an article, the Editorial or another key article, out aloud, taking turns – so that all those who can read get a turn – and so that everyone knows some of the content and can distribute the magazine with confidence, even if they cannot themselves read and write. 


And it is through our regular publication, too, that we recruit people. You meet someone at a demonstration, or even at the beach, or at a book launch, or a sports event, or wherever, and get talking. If the subject moves towards politics, you ask if the person is interested in a regular political magazine, like LALIT? Often, they are. Then you pull one out of your bag, and go through the contents page, and introduce the person to it. 


The reaction is often startling: “Why didn’t any one ever tell me there was a thing like this?” or else, “Yes, I’d like one each time!” “Here is my Rs20!” 


If you know someone quite well, a young nephew or neighbour’s daughter, you can just say, “Hey, kid, give me Rs20. When you’ve read it, come and see me or give me a ring if you’re interested to help with this kind of thing. OK?”


Now, compare this with how other parties recruit people.


Their line is: Our party is the best. (No content provided.) Our party is the biggest. We have the most MP’s. We are in Government. (Power is all – it does not matter what is being done with it.)  Our party can get you ahead in life – we are in power (The beginning of personal corruption). Our party has got the best leader. (Follow the caudillo).  Our party represents change, or youth, or our party has values. (Vague statements meaning nothing. Who goes around, in any case, having “no values”?) Our party has experience in Government (No specifications as to what this means). Our party is on the radio, in the newspapers more often. These are all hollow arguments at best, and just con-tricks at worst.


So, our line, while distributing the REVI LALIT, is clear. Here is our program in action. This magazine is written and produced by party members. Members write articles and submit them and distribute the magazine. The content is our program in action. Our magazine takes no ads, so owes no sponsor a penny. It is paid for by your Rs20 when you buy one. We do not want to take power, but for the working classes to take power and thus to change the nature of power. It is up to all of us to act. Only our mobilizing behind the program we all agree on collectively will bring significant change. Distributing and producing this magazine is one form of mobilization.


All this is the art of a party publication – from the inception of each idea that leads to an article to its changing hands.


It bears little resemblance to any commercial publication: We have no vested interests. We do not aim at profit. We are not employed to do this, as paid work. We are not structured in a hierarchy, but in a democratically organized structure. We do not think that someone who writes an article has single-handedly thought up every thought in it: the writer has, personally speaking, added a last creative element – to ongoing creative political programs and conversations. So, the writer of any article is vital – but part of ongoing human thought, learnt from those who came before us, and passed on, changed, to those around us, and when useful, to those who come after us. 


Because LALIT is a part that represents the working class, and other oppressed groups, we have to be organized this way. Otherwise we run the risk of being beholden to other social classes. So, our magazine is run in a way that maintains the working class nature of our party.


In point of fact, LALIT as a party, was born from the “Assembly of distributers” of the magazine Lalit de Klas, an Assembly that elected an Editorial Board for a year. It was founded as a “left-free tribune” magazine in 1976. In fact, number 143, that has just come out represents the 44th anniversary issue. There is an article on that on page 36 of Number 143. It was only after the big general strike movement in 1979 and the follow-on in September, 1980, when the leadership of these mass working class movements were foisted upon us that in April, 1982, we constituted ourselves as a Party, LALIT. And we have maintained a regular publication throughout. Not always the magazine, sometimes a newspaper, but always a publication.


Lindsey Collen


for LALIT