[Imc-zimbabwe] MAURITIUS: Lalit's struggle for `equality, liberty,
glparramatta at greenleft.org.au
Fri Jun 3 00:12:07 PDT 2005
MAURITIUS: Lalit's struggle for `equality, liberty, humanity'
``Equality, liberty, humanity, feminism, ecology'' are the watchwords of
Lalit, the revolutionary socialist party active in the Indian Ocean
state of Mauritius. ``Lalit nurtures a love of and respect for ordinary
people, and gives value to their ongoing quest for freedom, equality,
justice, ecology and women’s liberation'', declares the party’s website.
Ram Seegobin, a leading member of Lalit, attended the Asia-Pacific
International Solidarity Conference (APISC), held in Sydney at Easter.
He spoke to Green Left Weekly about Lalit’s history and activities.
``Lalit is a revolutionary socialist organisation that has existed since
1982 as a distinct public party'', Seegobin explained. However, it has
its origins in the upsurge in class struggles in post-independence
Mauritius in the 1970s.
Lalit’s founders were radicalised in the 1975 mass student rebellion
that erupted under the slogan ``equality''. At the same time, other
activists were drawn into left activity through the women’s liberation
movement, which linked up with striking women workers from the
exploitative ``export processing zone'', and through trade union militancy.
The young Lalit leadership was also bolstered by Mauritians returning
from France, Britain, South Africa and the United States, who had joined
revolutionary parties while abroad. As a result, from the beginning
Lalit was influenced and enriched by the experiences of several Marxist
Throughout the mid- to late-1970s, there were mass strikes against the
anti-worker structural adjustment programs implemented by the Mauritian
government at the behest of the International Monetary Fund and World
Bank. The strikes culminated in a general strike in 1979. In the 1970s,
Lalit was already campaigning for the return of Diego Garcia to
Mauritius and for the right of its inhabitants to return home.
``In 1976, we began to organise around a publication called Lalit de
Klas, which means ‘the class struggle’. Most of us in the group were
militants in the trade union movement, the student movement and the
women's movement'', Seegobin explained. ``The publication was written
entirely in the Kreol language, the language spoken by Mauritius’
working class and poor. Kreol was rarely written at the time. Although
some people would complain that they had difficulty reading this new
phonetic language that we had started to invent, we stuck to our guns.
We wanted workers to read our political publication and write for it.
``Most trade union activists could not write in French or English
[Mauritius' official languages], whereas if the magazine was in Kreol
they could more easily write about their experiences and political
activities. We stuck to our guns, and we were right because literally
hundreds of workers, trade union activists and young people did in fact
write for the publication.''
``Over the years the publication developed into a structured thing, with
an editorial committee elected by an assembly of the people who were
distributing it'', Seegobin told GLW. The influence of the Lalit de Klas
magazine and the organisation that had grown around it resulted in Lalit
activists becoming the ``political leadership'' of the 1979 general
strike, he added. Lalit won the support of large numbers of
rank-and-file trade unionists, as well as winning some trade union
Through the 1970s and early 1980s, Lalit operated as a tendency within
the Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM), a broad left-nationalist front
that was supported by most working people. At the same time, Lalit
militants were also active in the various social movements.
``We used to be called the ‘class struggle tendency' within the MMM'',
Seegobin told GLW. ``Lalit left the MMM in 1982,after the leadership
started its drift to the right. It began to say that class struggle was
no longer necessary and proposed instead a ‘new social contract', which
meant class collaboration. Obviously, our presence within the MMM had
become totally incompatible, so we left as a group and set up Lalit as a
That same year, the MMM won the election and the Mauritian people
clamoured for real change. Unfortunately, the MMM imposed the same
IMF-World Bank policies as did the previous government. Ever since,
successive coalition governments have attempted to impose austerity
policies, rapidly lost support, causing each new governing coalition to
collapse and go to elections before their five-year terms were up.
Seegobin believes that Lalit has survived and prospered because it ``was
born in an organic fashion, through two big upsurges -- in the student
movement and in the trade union movement. Parties that are born in real
upsurges in the class struggle tend to survive better than the ones
formed in the telephone kiosk.'' Lalit's success is a product of its
membership and activity being firmly ``implanted'' in the working class
and that it continues to attract young people to its ranks, Seegobin
Apart from its key long-term campaigns of opposition to privatisation,
unemployment and austerity, and the closure of the US base on Diego
Garcia and its reunification with Mauritius, Lalit has also been at the
forefront of mass opposition to police brutality and to the introduction
of repressive ``anti-terrorism'' laws.
``We are well known for massive leaflet distribution. Every month or
two, if there's an important issue, we distribute something like 15,000
leaflets. In a small country like Mauritius [population 1.1 million in
1997], that means we have a constant presence among the working class.''
Lalit also participates in municipal and general elections, said
Seegobin. ``There is a very strong polarisation in electoral politics
between the two big bourgeois electoral alliances and most people vote
to either vote one bloc in or bring down the other bloc. So although a
lot of people approve of our politics, Our electoral strength is fairly
limited. At the 2000 election, Lalit got more votes than ever before. In
some constituencies we got up to 7%.
``Because we have existed for such a long time and developed a certain
credibility among workers, young people and women, our political
influence is much more than our electoral results. Quite often we are in
a position to influence the agenda of an electoral campaign, even if we
end up with just 1% of the vote. For us, elections are a tactic, not a
strategy. Six months before an election, we've already decided what will
be the central points of our campaign. We campaign really hard until we
manage to make those issues central in the electoral agenda, and force
the mainstream bourgeois parties to reply to them.''
Seegobin outlined two major issues that Lalit today is attempting to
force to the top of the political agenda. The first is the struggle to
have the illegally excised Chagos Archipelago returned to Mauritius, so
that the dispossessed Chagossian people can return to their homelands
and the massive US military base on Diego Garcia can be closed and
removed (see GLW #623). The second is the need for an ``alternative
political economy'' for Mauritius.
Neoliberal ``free trade'' has placed the Mauritian economy ``on the edge
of a real precipice'', Seegobin explained. Due to World Trade
Organisation rules, the country's two main export industries, which
employ tens of thousands of Mauritians -- sugar and garments -- are
about to lose their preferential access (via guaranteed quotas and/or
above-market prices) to markets in Europe and the United States,
resulting in foreign corporations shutting up shop in Mauritius.
The termination of the 30-year-old Multi-Fibre Agreement on January 1,
which gave former colonies access to Western markets through a quota
system for textiles and garments, means that Mauritius' exports must
suddenly compete with much cheaper products from China, India and
Vietnam. ``This is putting terrible downward pressure on the prices
received for products produced in Mauritius. Every week a textile
factory is closing down'', Seegobin noted. With the loss of Mauritius'
preferential access to Western markets, foreign- and Mauritian-owned
corporations are relocating to countries where wages are much lower and
trade union rights non-existent.
``All our sugar is exported to Europe, at the moment the European Union
is proposing a 35% reduction in the price it will pay for sugar. We
don't think the sugar industry in Mauritius will survive (I don't think
it will survive in Fiji or Trinidad either). Already, the sugar industry
in Mauritius has started laying off people in their thousands.
``Every time a sugar factory closes that's 300-400 jobs that disappear.
The government is introducing measures that will allow the sugar
corporations to parcel out agricultural land to build luxury bungalows
on and sell them to the international jet set for cash flow. That is not
going to help much in terms of employment and long-term economic stability.
``The government is also trying to get the sugar companies to burn
sugarcane fibre to produce electricity in privately owned power plants,
so the government is privatising electricity production. It is paying
the sugar companies far more for the electricity they produce than it
costs the government itself to produce electricity.''
Seegobin said that in response Lalit is calling for a radical
restructuring of Mauritius' economy based on developing new forms of
agro-industries. As Lalit pointed out in a statement on the January 16
launch of its campaign for an ``alternative political economy'': ``The
landowners and sugar corporations have the land but do not want to
create jobs or plant food crops. The people who want jobs and would like
to cultivate food crops do not have the land. This is why Lalit members
met to launch the new campaign to bring about new forms of agro-industry
that are based on the peoples' traditional knowledge and science.''
Lalit expressed complete opposition to the government's promotion of
genetically modified organisms, which it sees as another attack on
traditional Mauritian farming methods.
Another key element of Lalit's ``alternative political economy'' is the
encouragement of clean and renewable production of energy.
[Visit Lalit's website at <http://www.lalitmauritius.com> for more
From Green Left Weekly, June 1, 2005.
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