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The Recent Rise in Communalism


The sharp rise of communalist ideology in the past few years is, of course, in inverse proportion to class consciousness amongst workers. Communalism does not just rise all by itself. So, it doesn't help to moan about it as though it comes out of thin air like a mysterious virus. And it certainly doesn't help to agree with it, as if we were sheep as so many commentators and even academics are doing, just because it is on the rise.

Trade Union Splits
But once communalism does rise, it then contributes, in turn, to a further fall in class consciousness. And, the further fall in class consciousness engenders dangerous forms of bureaucracy in the trade unions, organizations that are important repositories of class consciousness. This bureaucracy then comes and strangles all democracy inside the trade unions and federations. It then feeds off intrigue, in-fights about money, fights over ILO goodies, which all, in turn, because of low class consciousness, lead to splits. Meanwhile the bureaucracy gets an increasing stranglehold over ever-smaller fragments of an ever-less-unionized organized working class. Class consciousness then, in turn, further diminishes.

Anti-communal Ramparts Broken as SILU and UASI separate
When, for example, the Sugar Industry Labourers' Union , after one of these bureaucratic fights, leaves the General Workers' Federation in 2005-2006, it also leaves its twin, the Union of Artisans of the Sugar Industry. The twinning of these two unions was, until that point in time, a vital rampart, in its own right, and consciously so, against communalism. So despite the heavy historical legacy causing potential ethnic divisions because of employers recruiting with a communal bias into different types of work, with the relatively well-off sugar mill workers mainly recruited by the Sugar Estates from one community and the so-called unskilled cane-field labourers mainly from another, these two sections of the working class were bound together as twin unions, by both their own class consciousness and by this organizational tie. The organizational tie then acted as a rampart against communalism. Even if class consciousness went down a bit for a while, the organizational twinning continued to act as a rampart against communalism. This twinning was also the strength of two unions with members who share the same employers.

When SILU breaks from UASI and leaves the GWF, this rampart is broken. The other unions for labourers and artisans of the sugar industry, Plantation Workers Union, Artisans and General Workers Union and the Organization de l'Unite des Artisans had already started a similar process by separating into different federations, one remaining in the MLC, one going into the MTUC and the third forming a new federation. These separations within the working class organizations mean that communal consciousness gets a fairly free run, specially in the countryside, but also in the working class neighbourhoods in towns that border on cane plantations and mills.

The question, more important for the SILU-UASI split, is how and why the existing twinning was broken? After all those years of the careful nurturing by workers and activists of this unity? The answer lies in two or three related causes, at two distinct times in history. The first damage was in 1982, when Berenger was in power. He broke up the SILU-UASI branch structures at the level of the 21 Sugar Mills, mainly through the control of the MMM over the Registrar of Associations. But SILU and UASI remained twinned, if centralized and weakened. Berenger was the union leader who understood as well as anyone else the rampart that this twinning represented. He was, himself, by 2003-2005 Prime Minister, and urgently needed a trade union movement broken, and on its knees, because by then he was even more bent on applying his ultra-liberal policies. He probably had his hand in the split at many levels. At the same time, Ashok Subron, defector from LALIT, seems to have been handy to history in provoking the departure of SILU from the GWF, according to the identical accounts related to LALIT members by both Serge Jauffret (UASI) and Pottaya Kuppan (SILU). While, in any case, without a political vision left to speak of, the GWF was no longer a compelling magnetic force that was both the result of high class consciousness and a source of the further vitalization of this class consciousness.

Harbour and Transport Workers of Port Louis separate
Similarly, from their inception the Port Louis Harbour and Dock Workers' Union and the Union of Bus Industry Workers were very different types of work sector and were also drawn by respective employers, in Port Louis particularly, largely from two distinct communities. Both unions being in the GWF together, represented, in a way, the most important part of the healing process within the working class after the ethnic wars in Port Louis in 1968 when the right-wing anti-independence forces funded and fuelled the fires of the most hideous ethnic violence. These two unions were bound together both by the class consciousness of their members and also, organizationally, by being together in the GWF. Recently, the PLHDWU has announced the suspension of its activities in the GWF, because, according to their letter to the GWF President, "Ashok Subron pa ti gayn droi intervenir ou donn so lopinion dan ka prezidan TUTF" and that therefore the "GWF pran enn desizyon kont Ashok Subron, setadir li bizin ale depi GWF. O ka kontrer PLHDWU ki pou ale." (Le Mauricien 25 April 2008). So another strategic rampart against communalism is broken. Again provoked by a bureaucratic question, concerning funds, this time concerning funding of the Unions - by the State.

In any case, unprincipled and opportunist methods aimed purely at manipulating other trade union bureaucrats only brings about factionalism in the workers' movement and further undermines class consciousness amongst workers. The confusion and manoevres around the National Pay Council are threatening to be the latest factors in this process.

These types of broken rampart, as SILU and the PLHDWU leave the GWF, cannot be repaired just by the unions being "brought back" into the GWF. The rampart from past common struggles is broken forever. New relationships and links will have to be created, consciously created, in the heat of new struggles that will also bring about a rebirth of class consciousness.

Communalist Organization Run by ex-unionist, Funded by Bosses
Meanwhile, at another level Mario Flore, had long before and in an even more overtly drastic way, changed sides. When the working class was strong he was, himself, a leader of the class. During the 1979 general strike movement he was even a member of Lalit de Klas (though not for long), and a leader of the port workers for a few years after that. But as soon as the working class began to weaken (after mechanization of the port, the introduction of individual buses, the centralization and mechanization of sugar industry) he set up a communalist, even racist, organization, and further contributed to working class weakness by doing so. Today he admits in the Press that his organization was funded by Thierry Lagesse and Jean-Michel Giraud, two big private sector bosses (L'Express, 20 March, 2008), who also admit this to be true. Flore went round and picked up a cheque every week. Imagine what it does to class consciousness when an ex-working class leader takes money from the bosses to run a communal organization.

Another tributary to the communalisation of the working class is that in 1992 Roger Cerveaux, a Catholic priest, invented the rather insulting term "malaise Creole" to explain the supposed "sickness" of the Creole community, meaning basically that this section of Church-goers were blocked from individual advancement and/or did not strive to get ahead individually. This ideology represents, amongst other things, a major attack against the working class and its collective nature, an attack which still persists, implying that anyone of any religion who does not seek individual advancement, and who does not rely on communal networks, is somehow degenerate. The way to get ahead, so this ideology goes, is through communalist favouritism, individualism, business-mindedness and probably even corruption.

Made-in-the-USA mass preacher
And it is at this point that, in 2008, another priest, Jocelyn Gregoire, takes over the scene as an already-trained-in-the-USA mass-preacher. (In this sense maybe he is a Trojan Horse, as Berenger described him.) Anyway, the field was free for Gregoire by 2008 to be able to come and gather people on Labour Day, of all days, on an ethnic basis. And get applauded by almost the totality of opinion makers - from the Social Alliance side, through the MMM and MSM, and to Malen Oodiah and other debile social commentators - while getting the full backing from, of all places, the Church Hierarchy itself. He can come and suggest at a mass meeting in Champs de Mars that the "role models" for young people, as far as he is concerned, are Jean Suzanne and Lise Coindreau! Imagine what this does for class consciousness? He has a free hand to rally people on a religious basis, address them on ethno-communalist basis, and build a political movement with political demands. And, if he gets into a tight corner in one register, why, he just switches to another. Right now he has announced that he is in search of a leader for his political movement, the implication being that if he can't find one, he will have to be the leader, himself. Meanwhile, he gets carried into his gathering on the shoulders of human beings, just like Gaetan Duval, the extreme-right libertarian communal leader and friend of French fascist Jean-Marie Lepen, was. Meanwhile, he is protected by a massive team of bruisers in dark glasses, again just like Gaetan Duval was. Meanwhile he gets offered office space in the centre of Port Louis by the private sector, financed just as Gaetan Duval was, by the sugar oligarchy. There will soon be nothing left to change except his priest's gown to make him Gaetan Duval.

But this kind of playing on three registers at the same time was all already past history in another communalo-religious demarche. The Hizbullah, as class consciousness fell, had already succeeded in mobilizing the disillusioned youth in the Muslim community on ethno-religious grounds. Even without support from the religious hierarchies in the Mosques, and often in direct opposition to them, it lured people in their masses from the traditional parties, particularly from the MMM, until the Hizbullah was, at its peak, clearly the majority party in parts of Port Louis. It was only grotesque and sustained State repression that then weakened Cehl Meeah and his party. In 2005 his party was reborn as the Mouvement Solidarite National, and Meeah is positioning himself at his Labour Day meeting in Plaine Verte as an overtly manipulative communalist leader who denies his communalism in a token way for the gallery, and in this he now very much resembles Harish Boodhoo.

Berenger and Boodhoo
Harish Boodhoo was a key player in the communalization of mainstream politics after the rise of the MMM. Berenger sold out the MMM's entire history of struggle against communalism by allying with this communalist in 1981. This was the biggest rampart against communalism ever broken, in all Mauritian history. This was what led to LALIT's leaving the MMM in early 1982, before the general elections. The MMM had, in effect, declared itself a communal party, representing so-called minorities, by pretending it needed an alliance with Harish Boodhoo to represent the so-called majority. When the Berenger left Government 9 months later, the split thus created came and consecrated his self-made communal disaster. The scene was set for Lavwa Creole, Voice of Hindu, Hizbullah and a whole array of other sub-divisions of each supposed community to rally people on ethno-religious platforms. Sadly, we are today still suffering the consequences, as predicted and spelt out in detail by LALIT at the time, of Berenger's 1981 treachery.

And at the same time that Berenger sold out his anti-communal struggle, he also sold out the class struggle. He did this by means of his 1981 "New Social Consensus" which pretended that even while the bosses ride on the living backs of the workers they exploit, the workers should agree to take decisions in "consensus" with the bosses riding their backs. Boodhoo, himelf, was, in any case, an enemy of countryside workers, because he represented large planters' interests.

This double treason is what set the scene for 25 years of joltingly slipping towards communalist politics all over again.

The continuing rise in communal consciousness has thus happened in jerky stops and starts ever since 1981.

Fighting Gregoire on his Own Terrain?
Meanwhile, in response to Gregoire's playing on three different registers - the religious, the communal and the political, and this sacrilegiously on Labour Day - the Federation of Progressive Unions' leader, former Maoist then Trotskyist and now maverick, Jack Bizlall, replied by playing on - all three registers. He was reduced to making abject communalist generalizations with all the stereotyping involved in his pathetic response to the grotesquely insulting generalizations made so often by Gregoire and other "malaise Creole" propagandists. Bizlall was even further reduced to accusing Father Gregoire of not being "a Christian", and sending him off to "Go re-read St. Paul!" Then at his own May Day meeting he lost his temper with trade union members who support Gregoire, did a walk-out, and announced in the Press that he will abandon the trade unions (in three months' time, he specifies) in order to be free to "okip" Gregoire (Hebdo, 4 May). This is about the fifth time, over the past 15 years, that he has announced to the Press that he is "leaving the trade unions", only to re-appear the next week or month without a word of explanation, and without a single journalist asking why he changed his mind. Whether in or out of the union movement, he will do no good if he opposes Gregoire on the man's own terrain of communalism and religion.

As it is, as from today the threat of counter-communalist surencher is beginning (L'Express, 8 May 2008). So, things will get worse, if we do not watch out.

A Conscious Political Vision
What is needed in these times of a relatively weak working class is the development of a clear, rational political program. At the same time as defensive struggles, including broad class struggles, there is the need for a vision of a new society that is worth fighting for. What is needed is a shared, conscious political analysis and strategy. What is needed is working class actions that participants in them understand, and in which they can begin to see the direct and indirect effects and how these are progressing relative to their program. This is what builds class consciousness. It is an ongoing process. In due time, as we know, the broad masses of the working class will, as capitalism becomes more chaotic and crisis-ridden, inevitably act. People are not submissive, as animals are. They will rebel. There will be riots. In the past there were, whenever there was not a proper political program to guide working people. And in the future there will be. The systemic crisis provoked by the end of protected markets, specially for sugar, will cause unemployment, dislocation, confusion, and spontaneous actions like this again. These actions, if they remain isolated riots and angry uprisings without any political program will bring no progress whatsoever. But they will often only end up provoking repression and State violence. When commmunalist consciousness goes berserk as it is doing now, blind rebellion will unfortunately leave the working class open to the provocation of ethno-religious conflicts, too. And as usual, the bourgeoisie and the State will prefer to deflect riots off themselves on to fratricidal, senseless communalist violence.

Which makes it all the more important that the programmatic work being done by LALIT, continues, and gains wide support in the working class and amongst all thinking individuals.

Lindsey Collen
For LALIT, 8 May 2008