It is a shame that both the Labour Party and the MMM have gradually given up on the ideologies on which they were originally founded.
This time around we shall be spared the sometimes almost comical propaganda battle around the numbers present at the 1st May meeting. The Lepep Alliance having had no competition they need not worry about the numbers game which usually follows the event. It suffices that they had a large enough crowd for the holding of a “decent” national public meeting to claim victory by points if not by knock-out.
From what the press has been reporting this objective seems to have been adequately met as the MSM-ML Alliance has seized the opportunity to monopolize the media/communications space so “gracefully offered” by its adversaries. Any impartial observer will have to agree that it was a political blunder on the part of the other mainstream parties to have allowed the Lepep Alliance such an opportunity.
For some this may be the last Labour Day public meeting before the next general elections. If this is really the intention of government, then one can consider last Tuesday’s rally as the soft start of the electoral campaign for these elections, and time will tell whether it has created the kind of momentum which this usually “accident prone” government will be able to maintain. The presentation of the Budget coming in the next month should provide it with yet another platform to carry forward the momentum.
What is a politically significant outcome of this 1st of May remains the fact that both the MMM and the Labour Party have refrained from holding the traditional meeting not for some circumstantial reasons but as a result of a deliberate political decision. In the case of the Labour party, invoking initially a religious festival was clearly a lame excuse put forward before its leader explained that this was a now a matter of course that the Labour party would not mark the Labour day celebration by a national public meeting.
The meaning and implications of such a decision by these two parties, both born in the womb of class struggle and the fight for liberation from capitalist and colonial exploitation, are so pregnant with consequences that one wonders whether their present leaders have really taken time to assess the political repercussions of such a stand.
The claim that Labour Day should be left to the workers and not be captured by political parties has been a longstanding position of conservative parties and the “bourgeois” press. The progressive forces, on the other hand, have always rejected this dichotomy on the grounds that political parties are instruments either at the service of the more progressive forces of change or the more conservative if not reactionary fractions of society. As such leftist/progressive parties embedded in the class struggle for the advancement of workers’ interests are constantly involved in the mobilization of the labouring classes in the political struggle for emancipation from exploitation.
It is true that over the past decades with the rise of market fundamentalism or neoliberalism which started under Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Reagan in the United States, most of the erstwhile leftist parties, “contaminated” by the dominant ideology, have for all intents and purposes given up on their basic “mission” of presenting a progressive alternative to the status quo. In most democratic countries as in Mauritius the notion that There Is No Alternative (TINA) gained grounds and dominated the thinking of political leaders whether in government or in the opposition – progressive or conservative parties.
Over time the Labour party and the MMM have both been engulfed in this prevailing trend of neoliberal ideology. Both parties although born at an interval of nearly 30 years were originally animated by the socialist ideology and the mobilization of the working classes. They were closely associated with the trade union movement and there was no distinction between the political struggle and the defence of working class interests.
The leaders of these parties, like Berenger for the MMM or Rozemont and Anquetil and later Jugdambi and Ramnarain for the Labour Party were simultaneously active in the party and trade unions. Working class mobilization and general strikes became the means through which most of the improvements in the conditions of the working classes were acquired. They also served to advance the political consciousness, and constitutional developments including the introduction of universal adult suffrage were a direct consequence of these mass mobilization.
It is a shame that both parties have gradually given up on the ideologies on which they were originally founded. After the 1980s, the adoption of pro-market policies and liberal measures accompanied by the constant threat of dismantling of the Welfare State have become the norm of governance when these same parties were successively in power. While the world has changed and new issues have come to the fore of preoccupation for progressives (climate change, for example) who have to adapt to the new environment of post-Cold War/hyperglobalization as well as the post 2008 Great Financial Crisis, it is a mistake to accept the justifications advanced by the conservative governments to justify austerity and other unpopular measures affecting primarily the working classes.
The divorce of political parties from their popular base is the beginning of a weakening of the power of labour and is the principal cause of the growth of unsustainable inequality in society.
* Published in print edition on 4 May 2018