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The Evolution of Ideology in Independent Mauritius by Ram Seegobin


Inheritance at Independence

The de-colonization ideology or even nationalist ideology that developed during the years leading up to independence was relatively weak in Mauritius: the dominance of colonial languages and of colonial culture in general was not really challenged; the distorted economy inherited from colonial days was not really put into question, skewed land-ownership was never addressed. Curiously, the pro-independence movement was politically and culturally close to one lot of colonial masters, the British, while the anti-independence forces were equally close to the previous lot of colonial masters, the French. Although the issue of independence did bring about the logical class alignment with the organized working class in favor and the bourgeoisie against, the hysterical communal propaganda of the right, also produced the communal polarization that has poisoned the political and social spheres in Mauritius until today; the racism of colonial times has persisted. Communal politics has left the legacy of the Best Loser system which continues to distort the democratic process in the country.

But the political and ideological predominance of the "independence movement" in Mauritius was relatively short-lived, compared with other colonies achieving independence. In fact it hardly lasted any time at all. The year following independence saw a political coalition between the independence parties led by Labour and the reactionary forces of the PMSD that had campaigned against independence: that coalition was made politically and socially "easier" because of the communal violence that flared up (and was provoked) around the time of independence, and was facilitated by the crass intervention of the French Embassy which saw in such a political development, the possibility of consolidating its influence in the region.

But paradoxically the same coalition produced a massive political and ideological vacuum, and led immediately to the development of a new movement, the MMM, which was to come and challenge the economic and cultural legacy of colonialism.

The Seventies

During the decade that followed independence, the feudal ideology produced by a plantation economy was still dominant, and the "historical bourgeoisie" in the sugar industry and the large importing companies, was still very much in control. But this hegemony was being challenged consistently by the Labour Party in government. Even then the Labour Party already had the ideology that is nowadays referred to as the "democratisation of the economy". The economic strategy at the time that corresponded to this particular ideology was the development of "import substitution" industries. This meant political backing for the chosen few capitalists and it meant the expansion of the State apparatus together with the development of parastatal bodies and corporations that could all orient the flow of capital in the direction of these emerging medium-sized capitalists, and bless them with the discretionary award of contracts, import permits, and bank loans. The relative autonomy that the neo-colonial state enjoys allows the political regime to influence class structure in ways that would not be possible in, say, Europe, and this has in turn led to the development of what has in Mauritius been termed the "state bourgeoisie", a fully-fledged capitalist class.

Nowadays this term "state bourgeoisie" is very often misinterpreted and misused: the most flagrant examples being when the term is used purely to describe senior civil servants, or when it is given a communal connotation it has never had. The very first time the concept of a "state bourgeoisie" is integrated into a class analysis of Mauritian society is in an article in the LALIT de KLAS publication, in November 1976. This article made reference to the development of the post-colonial state in African countries, and suggested that the post-colonial state, although it is essentially a "bourgeois state", nonetheless has inherited enough autonomy to challenge the hegemony of the existing economic ruling class. This is how the article describes the "state bourgeoisie":

"Burzwazi deta zordi li inklir politisien o-puvwar, kapitalist ki zot proteze dan sekter prive, o-fonksyoner ki finn akimil kapital. Nu truve ki sa grup dimunn-la zot form parti enn klas ekonomik, parski zot ena enn plas spesifik pu zot-mem dan relasion de prodiksion existant." (Revi LALIT de KLAS, No.1, November 1976, page 42)

The same article describes how the two sections of the bourgeoisie - the historical bourgeoisie and the state bourgeoisie - frequently enter into phases of conflict, but that these are secondary conflicts and are resolved after a new power relation has emerged, and that this has brought about a strengthening of the economic ruling class, taken as a whole.

It is often said that theoretical analysis needs to stand the test of future factual developments. The recent conflict between the Labour-dominated regime of today and the corporate sugar sector around the MSPA, for anybody who does not wear racial blinkers, fully demonstrates the correctness of the analysis we in LALIT proposed thirty years ago.

The emergence of the MMM

The seventies saw the rapid rise of the MMM as a political force, which developed a militant trade union movement, and which had a special appeal for students and for young people in general. The original MMM political leadership was strongly influenced by traditional communist party ideology (in particular the French CP), and based its propaganda on the need for "class struggle" to replace "communal strife". Although the Labour leaders of the 1950's had been branded as "communists" by the reactionary press, and although some of them did have close links with the Soviet Union, it was the MMM that introduced Marxist terminology and concepts into Mauritian political discourse. But it is also true that the MMM's brand of Marxism was more of the "libertarian" current, influenced by the European May '68 Movement.

Although the MMM talked about "the class struggle", "socialism" and "working class emancipation", the leadership of the movement was at all times solidly petty bourgeois with at the most a nationalist ideology uniting them.

My participation, together with other friends, in the monthly publication of Revi LALIT de KLAS as from 1976, was precisely aimed at opening up debate on this ambiguous aspect of the MMM's political and class strategy. And there was debate. And, because the publication was entirely in the Kreol language, a large number of people, specially in the working class could and did participate actively in that debate. The main contradiction in the MMM strategy arose from its proposal to form a "historical block" comprising the working class and the "petite" and "moyenne" bourgeoisies to fight against the "grande bourgeoisie". The flaw in this strategy was that the main political opponent of the MMM, the Labour Party, was theoretically, and in many senses practically, within that "historical block". The shallowness of the class analysis of the MMM leadership was cruelly exposed by this major flaw in its strategy, and it was, in turn, responsible for the large number of political zigzags that the leadership was able to perform with aplomb over the years.

Towards the end of the '70's, the group of militants involved in the publication of the Revi LALIT had become a well organized tendency within the broad movement that was the MMM, although some members of the group were never in MMM structures. The thinking and mobilization behind the 1979 General Strike, and the following mass mobilization against the IRA in 1980, was very much the result of patient work of members of the LALIT de KLAS group, active within the trade union movement. The mass movements of 1979 and 1980 were the absolute peaks of the working class struggle in Mauritian history. They left definite gains for the working class.

But, as from 1979, there developed within the MMM another political tendency with a downright nationalist ideology, which aimed to postpone the class struggle for workers' emancipation to a future stage. As the MMMSP had already been preaching "national liberation" and "Maoism", there was an affinity between these two groups, and they came together to oppose the LALIT de KLAS group, describing it as "Trotskyist", and "therefore CIA agents"! Things came to a head when a group of MMM militants in Port Louis organized an open debate between the "nationalists" and us, the supposed "trotskyists". The debates took place in the "Maison des Jeunes" behind the Port Louis Municipality, and they continued over a number of months. The MMMSP very soon disappeared after that, and the "nationalist" tendency within the MMM became politically inactive, as the MMM leadership itself prepared for the great about-turn of the '80's.
To the ideological debates within the broad MMM movement in '81 and '82 were added debates on political strategy: the MMM's planned alliance with the PSM of Harish Boodhoo was opposed by the LALIT group as a dangerous concession to communal ideology; and finally in 1982, after much debate, the MMM adopted the New Social Consensus strategy which in theoretical and ideological terms, was the absolute opposite of the "class struggle" of the 70's.

This about-turn of the MMM leadership represents a good example of how ideology does not develop in a vacuum, but is influenced in a dialectic way by the major waves sweeping the world. By the late '70s, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank had already started to get their claws into the economic and social policies of Mauritius. The Friedman-Hayek school, and later the political hatchet-men, Reagan and Thatcher had launched the ultra-liberal assault on the world. In the same way as the 1968 worldwide movement had left an ideological imprint here in Mauritius, the ultra-liberal assault did not spare us. Similarly the collapse of the Soviet Block in the late '80s would have a very profound ideological impact in the world and here. The "demise of Marxism" was announced and "ideology" was given a noisy burial. The so-called intellectual class did not even notice that what had in fact collapsed was brutal and undemocratic "Stalinism", a system that is the diametric opposite of socialism and of Marxism.

So what are we left with? We are left with free-market ideology masquerading as economic laws; with imperialist exploitation, nowadays called globalization; with "structural reforms" aimed at rolling back economic and social rights representing a half-century of hard struggle by the organized working class and social democrats.

At the present time, the ideology of the ruling classes has become so dominant that it is truly hegemonic. The major intellectual fraud prevailing in these times is that of describing any challenge to ruling class interests and ideology as being "just ideology".

So, what flourishes in the absence of principled political programs based on ideology?

Opportunism and Obscurantism

Beginning in the early '90s and right up to now, instead of political debate based on ideology, we have lived through a veritable quagmire of alliances and splits, with the inexorable concomitant rise of racist and communalist ideology. As the masses lose faith in mainstream bourgeois political parties, as ultra-liberal economic and social policies cause more hardship, as class consciousness is being consciously pushed into the background as being too "ideological", it is hardly surprising that people end up reacting in communal terms. At the same time, religiosity has fast been replacing faith in collective actions to solve social problems.

Economic insecurity is now pushing more people towards emigration, often through what are very risky channels.

As the systemic crisis bites deeper, families, neighborhoods, and sometimes whole villages fall into the grip of senseless violence, increasing the feeling of insecurity that is already present because of petty theft and burglaries. This feeling can sometimes become a real "insecurity psychosis" which in turn encourages the political call for more "law and order" which in turn encourages all sorts of abuse by police officers.

Forty years after

As the main traditional political parties in Mauritius reach more or less the end of their historical relevance, as developments in capitalist globalization bring about more and more crises, we will soon find that what was dead and buried was not Marxist ideology, but just the impostor represented by Stalinism.

8th February 2008