Navin Ramgoolam recently had an outburst against "mantalite dominer, rasis" [domineering, racist mentality; Le Maur. 10 Sept 07) that he claims was behind the demonstration against the private lease of an island, Ilot Gabriel. This is one of those clear cases of how racism and communalism, often disguised as defending against someone else's racism and communalism, are introduced into a debate in order to change the subject from something more profound. We need to remember that the main defense we have against the divisive tactics of racism and communalism is the process of the struggle for class equality, the process of getting rid of the economic hierarchy itself. Simply put, when we struggle for everyone to be in control of their means of survival, then racism and communalism, by definition, have no place in that struggle. On the contrary, racism and communalism only serve to change the subject away from the question of inequality, thus helping entrench inequality further. But in addition to the political struggle to change the way the economy is run, are there other things we could agree upon that would, at the same time, help decrease communalism?
This article argues that the iniquitous Best Loser System (BLS) is one such thing. Like the constitutional racism in Rwanda and the Lebanon, the BLS is dangerous. It must go. We need a mass movement that consciously rises up to do away with it altogether. The BLS remains the main secular institutional amplifier of communalo-religious differences outside of the domain of the economy itself. Schedule I of the Constitution, though a mere appendix, has for 40 years contributed to perpetuating communal politics by sanctifying them in the highest elected body in the land, the National Assembly (Against Communalism of the Best Loser System, LALIT, 2005). Whenever the people unite and succeed in going beyond communal ideology, then they find the BLS still there, lying in wait for them, entrenched in the Constitution. The people resent this, though they often only express it by insulting individual Best Losers.
At every general election we see the spectre of a new Constitutional Case on the BLS, each time more bizarre than the last. This is, in turn, followed by awkward Constitutional Amendments of the worst sort being rushed through Parliament. This undignified process has, in turn, caused experts in all related fields including Supreme Court judges, the highest electoral officers and editors-in-chief, to add their voices to those of Lalit and ordinary electors against the BLS.
However, there have been three recent actions that have objectively gone in the exact opposite direction, that of prolonging the accursed life of the BLS.
First there was the then Prime Minister Berenger's proposed law to give Best Loser seats for women, too (news archive, www.lalitmauritius.org), thus entrenching the communal Best Loser system itself. Fortunately this was ridiculed by everyone. Second, there was Ashok Subron's misguided attempt supported by then Prime Minister Berenger to get a fifth community consisting of "none of the other four communities" recognized by the Judiciary for those candidates not wishing to represent any of the four existing communities. This would mean leaving the whole putrid system intact, apparently sanitized (www.lalitmauritius.org). And third, there is now the demand of l'Union Chretien (LUC) and Federation des Creoles for "Creole and other Christian" to replace "General Population" in the Constitution. In 1968 "General Population" presumably covered everyone not stigmatised as an "immigrant". Almost the entire elite was in the "General Population". Now, 40 years later, there is a new configuration of elites in power. Now one elite sees advantages for itself, if it provokes deeper Creole communal identity and a new definition based on race and/or religion. As if responding to a death-wish for the country, LUC goes even further, proposing communalo-religious power-sharing along the powder-keg lines of the Lebanon.
If there is one thing a capitalist colonial power does not want to leave as a legacy to the people it has dominated when it is forced to retreat, it is the will for equality. The colonial power wants everything economic to go on as if the country were still a colony. It wants to leave no will for land reform and no will amongst the people to control their own means of survival. Mauritius in 1967-68 proved no exception. 40 years on, the yoke left by the British colonizer is still here on our shoulders. We can feel it as the Sugar Protocol gets cancelled, and we see that agriculture is still dependent on sugar and cane, the land still owned and controlled by a tiny elite 40 years later. We can see it in the new labour and industrial relations laws being proposed. The British powers-that-be wanted their own divide-and-rule policy to continue in perpetuity, not because of an obscure love for identity politics, but precisely because it thwarts the quest for equality and real freedom for all and precisely because it sets the scene for post-colonial subjugation. They did this mainly by means of fattening up new elites with a vested interest in inequality. And what's good enough for the colonial elites is, of course, good enough for the post-colonial elites, which keep the reigns of power by continuing to fatten up the bourgeoisie, and their own clans en passant, aided by the divide-and-rule politics they have inherited.
Meanwhile, with no access to mother earth to nourish us, all working people have to submit to the capitalist class and its State in order to seek a monthly, fortnightly, weekly, or even hourly income, from piecemeal sale of their physical or mental labour-power. That is the modern slavery at the very heart of the system. You wake up in the morning and you have to rely on someone else, an "employer", for your means of survival. Except of course for the very few "employers" who wake up in the morning and think, inter alia, about who to hire or to fire. This relationship between human beings is what needs to be challenged, not the colour or religion of the different actors. Which brings me to a short digression on the precision of the terms we use. Once when he was employed as a newspaper journalist, Finlay Salesse called out rowdily and I believe affectionately to me when I didn't see him sitting under a tree as I accompanied Lalit candidates to the Riviere des Anguilles Government School where they were submitting their Nomination Papers for a General Election, "To pa koz ar mwa zis akoz mo enn burzwa?" I took the joke, but replied "Depi kan to enn burzwa, twa?" It's my guess, however, that he never understood that I was being quite serious - at least, not until 20 years later when his boss publicly suspended him from his job, then re-employed him on the basis of a new contract after a disciplinary hearing. Finlay Salesse, as well as other journalists and academics often misuse the noun, "burzwa". Each of them is an employee like almost everyone else, or put more generally, "a worker". A journalist or academic is not "a bourgeois". They are only "bourgeois", if at all, as an adjective, in the sense that they are often pro-bourgeois in the position they take on the side of Mister Capitalist in the ongoing struggle between capital and labour, even though they possess not a cent of capital, themselves.
Anyway, when people unite and rise up against the iniquitous tyranny of having to stay alive without access to the means of survival, the first hurdle they meet in this legitimate struggle is the divide-and-rule policy in place i.e. identity politics. This, too, was organized by the retreating British State, partly through the BLS. So, just as two puppies end up fighting when a child grabs each puppy by the scruff of its neck and persists, again and again, hitting the two puppies' heads together, so working people, though 95% of the population, often end up fighting each other, instead of against those that again and again bump their heads together so as to provoke division and conflict in the interest of their continued reign.
The people instinctively despise these politics of division. They often see right through them. They only succumb to them under extreme provocation in times of deep despair, when they are without any rational and visionary political programs to unite them.
The Best Loser Appendix to the Constitution is one of the finest examples of a constitutionally imposed divide-and-rule mechanism. It, too, the people despise with a rare wrath. The people seem instinctively to know that it corrupts not just 8 best losers, but the other 62 who get classified by the Electoral Commission in just the same way, and then the Cabinet, and then the entire political system (Bibi and Kistnasamy, 1995). The words "majority" and "minority", words that are key to existing democracy (however miserly it may still be), even get their meaning corrupted. So-called "minority communities" need to be "protected" according to a logic that assumes a "majority community" Prime Minister. Whereas in fact, the broad masses, the real political majority, are totally excluded from standing for office (by Constitutional linguistic and language barriers, and by multi-communal and capitalist lobbies), or even from controlling the parties and alliances that are brazenly funded by different sections of the capitalist class. The alliance gathering more sections of the capitalist elites usually wins; in any case, when it doesn't, as in 1982 and 1983, the winner is also very soon controlled by capitalist interests. One of the mechanisms of this control is identity politics, whereby the elite of each community "speaks for" the working people of the community. One of the institutional mechanisms of identity politics is the communal Best Loser System. Lalit proposes doing away with this by converting it into some form of non-communal proportional representation ("Lalit's proposals for electoral Reform and Proportional Representation", 1999).
People with no interest in divide-and-rule politics need to unite to do away with the entire BLS, as well as oppose all identity politics and communalism that underpin them. We need also to maintain the difficult program of justice and equality for all. As Barbara Jean Fields (New Left Review, 181, 1990), the finest academic scholar on racism, slavery, ideology and US history puts it so well, and we quote her because it is so fitting to the Mauritian context: "Those who create and re-create race today are not just the mob that . . . join the Klan . . . They are also the . . . spokesmen for affirmative action, unable to promote or even define justice except by enhancing the authority and prestige of race; which they will continue to do forever so long as the most radical goal of the political opposition [to racism] remains the reallocation of unemployment, poverty and injustice rather than their abolition."
13 October 2007