MAURITIUS A Historical Mass Gathering

A historical popular mass gathering took place on 29 August following the oil spill that devastated the coasts of the island of Mauritius after a Japanese cargo began leaking tonnes of oil into the Indian Ocean. Activists of the workers’ organisation for socialism Lalit (« Struggle ») have sent us their thoughts on this event.

Bruno Laurette

The organisers of the march spoke of 123,000 to 157,000 demonstrators (i.e., more than 10% of the Mauritian population). This mobilisation was unexpected, all the more so as it had been called by one Bruneau Laurette – largely unknown to the public – who is the owner of a small security company, trained in martial arts in the U.S.A. and in the State of Israel. (1)

The social make-up of the demonstration was marked by the predominance of the “middle class”. Although, as always, the workers and the poor have been the hardest hit by this catastrophe, surprisingly it was the middle classes and fractions of the bourgeoisie who made up the greater mass of the gathering. Present also, however, were some leaders of trade unions and workers’ groups.

While emotion caused by the oil spill and the way it has been managed by the authorities has played a role, many other factors cannot be overlooked. Particularly there is the anger that was provoked by the measures that were taken during the lockdown – and especially the anger of the small entrepreneurs who have lost everything, because the dominant sector of the bourgeoisie – the tourist industry – has been affected by the closing of the borders. In addition to this are the consequences of the political crisis: for the first time since independence in 1968, the two major political parties (MMM, Mauritian Militant Movement of the left, and PMSD, the right-wing Mauritian Social-Democrat Party) were removed from power and are ready to support any movement that opposes the Prime Minister, Pravind Jugnauth. Finally, the U.S. and U.K. embassies must not be under estimated, as they too have accounts to settle with the current government (2).

It was this grouping of factors that sent tens of thousands of demonstrators into the street, chanting in Mauritian creole “Lev pake, ale!” (Pack you bags and leave!) – directed towards the government – in the vague hope that getting rid of the government would magically resolve the anxiety of the various classes of the society and settle their expectations.

What this gathering has shown is that when the people decide to, they can set forward in movement. It can be a movement that can open a positive perspective, when it sets itself to impose a change defying class inequality, if it is a movement led by the working class. Just as it may also, inversely, lead back to the darkest times, as the characteristic of fascism is having a base in the masses, a “patriotic” ideology, a “strong man” and “ethnic” and militarist tones. It all depends on the programme that the movement sets itself.

And now? What will follow? For Lalit, what remains on the agenda is the patient work of organising the working class (3). Because, once again, what has happened demonstrates the importance of raising the issue in terms of class.

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  • At the press conference, Bruneau Laurette and his entourage admitted to being disappointed by the Prime Minister’s party, (MSM, the “social-democrat” Militant Socialist Movement). The speakers at the gathering made speeches that went off in all directions (even “anti-vaccination” speeches) and, notably, “for re-opening the borders” – a demand made by the big bosses of the tourism sector.
  • Following the decision by the International Criminal Court which in February 2019, after a long anti-imperialist mobilisation, finally recognised the Republic of Mauritius’s sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago (up until then a British colony, where the military base Diego Garcia is located, a base that the U.K. government leases to the U.S.)
  • Lalit has been committed for years to mobilisation from below: renters committees, fishermen committees and women’s committees mobilise on issues concerning them particularly; for the promotion of the creole language; support for the Palestinan people; refusal of police violence and the fight against the British and U.S. presence in the Chagos Archipelago.