The Greatest Problem of Mauritius

Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago


By Jay Narain Roy

People are often prone to lay the wrong emphasis on public matters. We want this, that and the other. But most of all we want to ensure happiness to the multitude. The Benthamite conception of the greatest good of the greatest number has now been incorporated in the socialist pattern of things. How to achieve this great ideal?

To ensure happiness is a vague moral, metaphysical concept but it is given material shape only through economic planning. So that talking of people’s welfare to mean anything at all must be measured in terms of hard cash.

It is flamboyant to stand on housetops and demand everything under God’s glorious sun. How can that be given? It cannot be somebody else’s business to give and our easy business to claim martyrdom by merely asking. Politics goes through many stages and political maturity can be gauged solely on our capacity to think concretely. Thinking concretely means an understanding of the material resources of the land and a clear idea as to the distribution to benefit the greatest number without killing the goose.

There is no state of war between the vested classes and the have-nots. It is a difference between socialism and communism. The communist believes in class war while socialism of the Fabian type looks at it as a difference of ideologies that can be bridged through peaceful legislation. Pledged as we are to the socialistic ideal, we should try and visualise the type of legislation that can, within the shortest possible time, usher in an era of peace and prosperity in this beautiful island of ours.

It is near about two decades since we have been discussing constitutional issues. Some of us have felt complacent to make long-winded speeches without the desire to relate it all with the actual state of affairs. Or we have been too much under the spell of things urban to see the colossal changes that are being wrought in the economic structure of the colony. The industries have been allowed to be centralised, mechanised and amalgamated under the glittering slogan of progress and technical efficiency.

But no one has cared to see how the small planter, artisan or labourer has fared in all this concentration of power. How we not blindly looked at one aspect of things and made the small man an unconscious vassal of this financial combine? Have we not thereby killed his capacity to collectively bargain for better wages and conditions of work?

Has not this huge Leviathan reduced him to a mere helot?

Surely wages have gone down terribly. Unemployment is growing fearfully when some people get so much salaries and bonus that they cannot keep their stability. Where does all this floating money for elections and propaganda come from?

The economic structure has changed in two ways. From an industrial combine the movement has reached such a financial phalanx that everyone appears to cow down under its stare. Next to fighting it, it is better to chant its hymn and to bask in its sunshine is the mood in quarters from which the people expected most protection and aid. The abyss between classes has widened beyond recognition. This is the new shape of exploitation: it is the post-Wilberforcean slavery which is gripping the brain, body and soul of man in many parts of the world today.

When unemployment is growing, when the population is increasing with alarming proportions, how can we allow the terrible menace of roaring wealth coexisting with extreme wretchedness and starvation? If we do not forestall events then events will forestall us and allow the Tories to import communism under extreme exigencies. This I consider to be the most important problem. It is the problem of planning out a necessary and early levelling of society with a double purpose: to ward off communism and also to ensure the maximum material happiness to the maximum number of people.

Mr Peter Ibbotson has thrown light on the nationalisation of docks. I have written about this in the past and I still feel that the Docks, Syndicate, Brokers and all should come under the sway of a single Government Department. It can be done very easily and without bringing any serious industrial dislocations. After this it will be redundant to nationalise the rest of the industry. We should also lay down expense proportions of management, labour and processing according to accepted economic principles.

The first step is to make a financial survey of the position. I am really interested in what Mr Jules Koenig has been saying regarding a financial survey by two British economic experts. I hope my friend Koenig will pursue this point, and, at the earliest, table a motion to ask this financial enquiry. I am sure he has, to quote one of his favourite phrases, “hit the nail on the head”. We shall wait and see and we shall find if the Parti Mauricien will be able to deliver the goods or flounder in the high seas.


Friday 19th October 1956

* Published in print edition on 15 February 2019

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