Labour Party: Glorious Past and an Uncertain Future

The Mauritius Labour Party (Labour) celebrates this year the 80th anniversary of its foundation in 1936. Indisputably, this venerable establishment of the local polity was born out of a lofty idea about society. At the root of its philosophy lay the political principle of giving the population decent living conditions through the fair distribution of the fruits of labour and capital while fostering the further quest for a better future for all. It drew its inspiration from the Fabian socialism which sprouted up in Britain during the post-World War period.

The philosophies of other political parties bent on defending the privileges of the owner-proprietor class helped foster the mass appeal of Labour as an alternative political force at its beginnings. But its followers – the large mass of the population without distinction of race, religion and communal belonging – adhered to the party because it held hopes of a better future for everyone.

Its approach to a fairer-sharing society was espoused at the time by numerous political parties across the then world of colonies fighting for liberation from colonial shackles. Labour’s struggle for national emancipation resembled closely that of several other societies ranging from Africa to Asia and to Latin America, many of which also drew inspiration from the UK Fabian Society. It was a common cause that involved the struggle for better human conditions and decent living standards for all across the planet. Labour was thus part of this widespread initiative to rise from the dark recesses of a dominant feudal society.

The persistence of conservative, ultra-liberal politics across diverse societies of the world today – resulting in the most unequal distribution of the wherewithals of life for the planet’s largest swathes of population – pleads in favour of the type of socialist ideology Labour stood for at its origins. Had it not been for parties like Labour in different countries of the world, the uplifting of societies we’ve seen in their wake in the past three-quarter century would not have happened.

Before we consider the current plight of traditionally left-leaning political parties like Labour born out of the revolution against conservative forces, we must acknowledge that the present across-the-board awakening would not have been possible without the dedication with which the political leaders of those times fought to regain every inch of territory from indomitable adversaries of social emancipation.

Those leaders belonged to a different category. They did not come to politics to forge a career for themselves. So, it was easier for them to give up their personal pursuits when in the presence of a higher call to sacrifice for the general good. This sterling quality was the hallmark of the first generation of Labour’s leaders. This is why there was vision and realisations right from the start.

Sometime later, the poison of communalism was distilled in local politics in the pursuit of divide-and-rule objectives by conservative political parties which opposed the political struggle for independence. There now started emerging even stronger micro-partitions of the social construct. Fissiparous forces arising from such self-seeking threatened to drown the grand design for which Labour had been set up originally. Nevertheless, those who had been groomed in the universal values of Labour refused to be swept away by such selfishness. This remains at the core of Labour even today.

Political parties opposed to Labour, while declaring themselves in favour of national unity, made full use of the divisiveness so introduced in their attempt to wrench political power in their favour. It was hypocrisy. It still is. It is the dominant factor on which leaders of some major political parties play to this day in their bid to secure power by all means.

No doubt, this hypocrisy has kept distorting local politics and putting excessive power in the hands of political party leaders who have the final word in the selection of candidates. Rather than seeking to perpetuate the noble idea on which the party was constructed, this system helps the leaders perpetuate themselves instead.

The last elections of December 2014 cast Labour in its worst ever plight. It didn’t carry conviction with its own traditional base which, short of a better alternative, voted a hastily concocted alternative alliance of parties to power. Those who still believe in the fundamental values for which Labour stood are frustrated at the incapacity of the party, post its electoral rout, to assert itself credibly on the political stage.

The people recognize that, with the passage of time, all other political parties don’t abide by the core values for which they first came into existence. This is true not only for local political parties. It is the case across the world for political parties which showcased the highest national aspirations at one time, which have reduced themselves to unrecognizable caricatures of themselves with the passage of time.

Enormous damage has been done to Labour’s national standing. The leadership which was once respected for sticking to the highest principles is totally unrecognizable by those standards today. The question is whether the Phoenix will rise from its ashes.

Looking at the kaleidoscope of political parties occupying the front stage of Mauritian politics today, it should be clear that their leaders have just as well devalued and disfigured their parties, thinking that voters have no choice but to stick to them no matter how far they have run the parties down. Labour finds itself on a par with them in this regard with the difference, however, that it has a proven track record of glorious past achievements and has been the architect of the very transformation of society for the better.

The values by which the party has lived need to be preserved. This is indispensable. But things cannot go on along the same ruinous trajectory the party has followed. As Labour stands today, it suffers from a serious void of a credible leadership, as do the other major parties. The difference in its favour is that it has the capacity to galvanize society towards as high a future project as was the dream of its founders when faced with a different reality at the time. It can build therefore something better from the ruins it has ended up with.

The irony of a party like Labour, which has given the country its Constitution with separation of powers and the necessary checks and balances among the different arms of the state, to enable the taking of non-conflicting decisions by them, has not made a similar check-and-balances constitution for itself. With time, it was becoming increasingly clear that Labour’s leadership was too authoritarian and centred on a single individual. Voices of sanity which used to dominate the earlier Labour’s debates to help the party make the right collective decisions, were not heard anymore. They were gradually silenced by the leadership. Dissent was not allowed. Party members now had to keep praising the leader if they wanted to conserve the chance of securing a ticket for elections. It is the reason the party sank so low in the 2014 polls.

Surely, this monopolising trend cannot continue if the party doesn’t want to make the same kind of blunders and meet again another 2014-type disaster. Not one but multiple sound voices should be given the chance to assist in making policy choices within the party. Genuinely, not faked up. Spin doctoring after the wrong decisions have been made will finish off the party for good.

The future of the party will forcibly depend on whether it can democratize itself and live up to the collective responsibility for which its original leaders set up the party. It requires courage to prevent the abusive destruction the party has brought upon itself in past years. If this turnaround towards a greater democratisation of the party is convincingly achieved, Labour will then deserve to be given an honest chance to inspire the people to come together behind it, not for giving abusive power to the party’s leadership but for rekindling hope in them of better days to come.

* Published in print edition on 19 February 2016

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