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2nd Lockdown – Day Nineteen – Living in Purgatory


Mauritius has been variously described as “hell”, for example by VS Naipaul in “The Overcrowded Baracoon”, and as “paradise” by every other bad advertising text-writer from when the tourist industry began in the 1980s. 

In lockdown, it is more like living in Purgatory.

 Purgatory, as you may know, is temporary, apparently. And that’s a relief. It’s while we are being “sorted” for heaven or hell in the afterlife. So, they say. To take the metaphor further, since the Vatican closed down Limbo on 20 April 2007, at least we are not, like unbaptized babies were, relegated for eternity to it. So, that’s why it’s a relief. In this model, there is no re-incarnation, it seems. So, it’s either hell or heaven on the other side of lockdown. 

Outside the purgatory of lockdown, there is a lot else that is nevertheless pure purgatory about 21st Century life. 

We are, inasmuch as we do not involve ourselves in preventing it, just waiting around to see if the capitalists will mess even more things up, so they settle the outcome once and for all: hell.

Imagine a class of humans – I refer here to the capitalist class – building ships, loading them to the hilt, and then propelling them around the globe, when they know very well that they are so big they can get stuck askew in the world’s biggest ships’ canal, and then lodge there for a week. All because of a manoeuver in a sandstorm.

This class of people then can’t move the ship forwards, backwards or sideways. It won’t budge. They’ve tried digging, pushing and pulling, even pumping out jetsam. They’ve tried waiting for the high tides to float it. So far, all to no avail. Meanwhile, 300 ships are queuing up on the two sides of the canal. Some have livestock on board. Others, presumably those without animals on board, have pottered off around the Cape of Good Hope, an extra week on board ship for all the sailors. They were the only ones with a Plan B. 

The bosses live in another kind of fear, meanwhile. What if the ship tips over, out there in the desert? Or what if it were to break in half? Like the Wakashio did.

Yes, this same class of people sent another ship too big for its own good right on to the reef in Mahebourg last year, apparently while trying to get cellphone networks for the poor sailors throwing a birthday party after being imprisoned on board for months on end, not being allowed ashore because of the pandemic. Pure purgatory. Imagine the sailors aboard the “Ever Given” beached in the Suez next to the Sinai desert. I hope they’ve got cellphone networks at least, so they can say happy birthday to friends and relatives far away. The sailors, even when their ships are afloat in the queues, are much more locked-down than we are. That’s a reality check – should I really feel sorry for myself?

These impasses into which the Ever Given and the Wakashio have landed themselves are like warning symbols for the straits humanity is in. We are getting to places from which we cannot reverse, go forwards or even sideways. We are getting stymied. 

This is true of the way that the capitalist bosses, without any democratic control over them, are wrecking the planet. They pollute the air, the water, the soil. They deplete natural stocks. They kill off species at an alarming rate. They divide up and sell off the land in pieces that make ecosystems crash. They fell trees at a rate to starve everyone and everything of oxygen. And we are all embarrassed by our inability to get out of the fix we are in. We are in planetary-scale purgatory.

At the helm are managers, these are the ones who think they are the bosses until they get sacked or, in the epidemic, find their monthly wages slashed in half. 

They, in fact work, just like the rest of us, for an invisible class of capitalists who are indeed the unelected “masters of the universe”. This neo-liberal purgatory that Hayek and Friedman set up for Reagan and Thatcher and then the world, has for the past 10-20 years taken a nationalist turn into full-scale hell – firmly under the control of the same masters of the universe, who run a massive military-industrial-capitalist machine that will soon find itself unable to move in any direction.

Which is why we need to act.

And we can. We are reminded that we can by the brave people of Palestine, who live in permanent lockdown with an army of occupation checking that they stay within closed frontiers. They are still at it, struggling against a lockdown worse than ours, and having done so for decades. 

This very morning, a Muvman Liberasyon Fam member circulated a document we had thought lost. In June 1980 we denounced the Camp David Agreement two years after it was signed. It was in a book on the Agreement, edited by none other than Eshan Khodabux, today boss at Le Defi Media Group. In our article, we said the Agreement allowed Israel to deny a Palestinian State. That was 41 years ago. We were, of course, right. But the Palestinian people fought on. They fight on. Today, they – and we – accuse the Israeli State of imposing the crime against humanity of “apartheid” in the territory they control. Come, give us a hand, after lockdown ends  in the Solidarite Morisyin avek Lepep Palestinn. 

The Palestine struggle and the Chagos including Diego Garcia one are important struggles today. This is not just in their own right but because they are fault-lines today in the capitalist rule over the world. They are fault-lines because they still maintain the colonial, white supremacist, capitalist prejudices of a now-universally-accepted-as-unacceptable past. This is why they are so important in a program. The day before yesterday, Fridays for Future (Mauritius) has taken a brave stand on decolonizing Chagos, closing the military base on Diego Garcia and for the right to return of Chagossians. This is fine program-building on their part.

Rosa Luxembourg, in defending programs, is credited with the slogan when faced with capitalist purgatory: “Socialism or barbary!” Which is the secular form of heaven or hell.

Which is why we in LALIT are always going on-and-on about the importance of a program. A program is a common understanding – that we discuss together and agree upon, and then together fight for. A program that, like a bridge in the form of a rainbow, takes us from where we are today to the other side. And this way we avoid just sitting, like the jammed Ever Given, not able to budge. To avoid being like the livestock in the holds of those ships in the queues. 

A program is what makes that difference. A program needs an organization – for its constant amelioration, and for a democratic way to fine-tune the strategy by which we move towards its realization. Only a political party that functions democratically can do that. Which is why I am in one. I am a branch member. And you could also be in one. 

And even the women’s organization the MLF by taking a programmatic stand in 1980 against the Camp David Agreement paved the way for 25 years later a member to go to Palestine as part of a small-scale support brigade. It also helped women members, together, understand geo-politics from the times of colonization to today. 

And we also learn that, when we get out of lockdown purgatory, we must be ready to take position and act. And that involves a very special talent: knowing that one is neither powerless, nor overly powerful, neither impotent nor omnipotent. But that our power is in being able to agree with others on a program (as we go along) and in being able to imagine its realization by means of a close study of social reality as it, in fact, is. So that those who are exploited can, together, free all of us. 

If we don’t, it’s certainly hell. 

If we do, it may be, it could be, quite heavenly. Imagine everyone being assured food and comfort and the security of a warm blanket in winter and the dignity of being equal and the possibility of just playing around, as well as working at making the world go round. But, the best thing is that, once you decide to give organizing a try, you are already out of purgatory. You are happier.

Much better than sitting around waiting to follow some providential leader like Bruneau Laurette who, having left the MSM, comes to show us little arrows on a screen, to prove who-knows-what about how the Ever Given got stuck in the Suez Canal.

Lindsey Collen