Australasian Spartacist No. 237
For a Workers and Peasants Government Centred on the Kanak People!
Independence for Kanaky!
For Permanent Revolution!
The following article is translated from le Bolchévik No. 226, (December 2018), newspaper of the Ligue trotskyste de France, with two minor factual corrections regarding French imperialist machinations in Ivory Coast.
The referendum held on 4 November last year in New Caledonia resulted in a win for the “no” vote for independence, but with a majority of less than 57 per- cent. This was a rude awakening for the loyalist partisans of France, who were counting on 10 or 20 percent more. The struggle for independence, which had been put on hold for 30 years prior to this referendum, has been re-ignited due to the narrow margin of the loyalist victory.
Kanak youth, who were said to be indifferent or even increasingly pro-France, in reality mobilised en masse to vote for independence. The lower voter turnout in the Loyalty Islands, which are overwhelmingly pro-independence, shows that some of the Kanak population abstained, not due to indifference but because they justifiably had little faith in the sincerity of a ballot organised by the colonial power. The principal Kanak union, the Federation of Unions of Kanak and Exploited Workers (USTKE), which is well established in the Loyalty Islands, called for non-participation in the ballot because of this.
This referendum marks another dark page for the French left on the colonial question: to our knowledge we are the only ones to have taken a position in favour of a “yes” vote on independence before the referendum. We reprint below, edited for publication the speech by our comrade Alexis Henri at the 25 October Paris meeting of the Ligue trotskyste de France (LTF), in which he showed how LO [Lutte Ouvrière, a prominent reformist group in France] distinguished themselves by their hypocrisy and hostility to independence.
LO found themselves to the right of the French Communist Party (PCF), which did express some sympathy for the indépendantistes, even though, as is usual for them, this was mostly for the purpose of promoting a “fair” neocolonial policy from the “country of the Rights of Man.” They wrote that if the “yes” vote were to win, “Our country [France] will also have to define financial relations with the new nation and a close and respectful partnership permitting the economic and social development of the territory-nation” (PCF Declaration, 30 October 2018).
The POID [Democratic Independent Workers Party, disciples of the late pseudo-Trotskyist Pierre Lambert] dodged the question by hiding behind the USTKE. As for the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA), they took advantage of the differences on the referendum between the USTKE and the other indépendantistes, who were advocating a “yes” vote, to declare: “It isn’t up to us to decide for the Kanak, either about their future or their attitude to the referendum” (l’Anticapitaliste, 25 October 2018). With such a “vanguard,” the Kanak don’t need a rearguard! In contrast, we Trotskyists struggle to mobilise the working class, both here and there, to wrest Kanaky’s independence from the claws of French imperialism, and to forge a revolutionary Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party.
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Dear comrades and friends, on 4 November a referendum will be held in Kanaky on the question: “Do you want New Caledonia to accede to full sovereignty and become independent?” Unlike the referendum of 1988, which was tied to the approval or not of a new colonial statute, this time the question is clearly posed and our call is to vote “yes.” Even if the “no” vote wins, we base ourselves on the Kanak struggle of more than a century and a half against French occupation in order to make a clear call for immediate independence, whatever the outcome of this referendum and subsequent ones planned for 2020 and 2022. We are for driving French imperialism completely out of the Pacific.
Independence would be an enormous step forward for the Kanak people and all the workers and oppressed of this archipelago. It would be a defeat for French imperialism, and therefore favourable for the class struggle here in France. The most eloquent precedent in this regard is Algerian independence, which opened the way for [the pre-revolutionary events of] May ’68, as we explained in le Bolchévik (No. 225, September 2018).
At the same time, we are very aware that independence alone is not sufficient to emancipate Kanaky from imperialist capitalist domination and oppression. We can see how French imperialism today continues to look for ways to “punish” neighbouring Vanuatu (formerly “New Hebrides”) for having freed itself from the direct tutelage of France and Britain in 1980.
This is why our perspective for Kanaky is for a workers and peasants government centred on the Kanak people. Such a government would be very conscious of the vital need to extend the revolution to the imperialist centres of the Pacific—that is to say, Australia, Japan and the United States—as well as the former French colonial power. This is the perspective of Trotsky’s permanent revolution.
Kanak People’s History of Anti-Colonial Struggle
The Kanak people have hardly ever stopped struggling against the occupation of their country by French forces. The “taking possession” of the island in 1853 was marked by innumerable revolts over the years, generally drowned in blood. Of particular note was the revolt of 1878, led by Great Chief Ataï, which halted the colonists’ land-grabbing for more than 15 years.
Louise Michel, one of the surviving heroes of the Paris Commune of 1871, who had been deported to New Caledonia, famously solidarised with the revolt. We have to insist on the point that she was quite alone in this at the time. The French workers movement, which was just beginning to revive itself after the massacre of the Communards, has a sordid history on the colonial question, except for the period of the early Communist Party in the 1920s, which was born out of the Russian Revolution of October 1917. I will return shortly to this question, including to the LTF’s own serious deviations during the 1980s.
The French state profited from each defeat of the Kanak, carrying out new massacres and seizing the land of those they defeated. They took practically all the coastal plains and valleys to gradually “confine” the Kanak in “reserves” made up of the most mountainous and infertile lands, barely eight percent of the area of Grande Terre [the main island].
In April 1917, a new revolt broke out in the North of the country, specifically against conscription for the European battlefields. Once more, the French colonial troops carried the day. Around 300 Kanak were killed. In the 1920s, forced labour, which was already in effect throughout the French colonial empire, was systematised in Kanaky.
At the end of the 1920s, after three- quarters of a century of France’s “civilising mission,” the Kanak population was half, or even by some estimates a quarter, of what it had been a century earlier; they were less than 30,000. The colonial administration seriously considered the outright disappearance of the Kanak people. There was not one single Kanak doctor, or even a high school graduate.
The Kanak people didn’t have the right to leave the reserves except for tightly monitored work purposes. The colonial administration grouped the clans into “tribes” created arbitrarily in line with its confinements in the reservations, and named tribal “chiefs” who were to serve as go-betweens, in defiance of rules prevalent among the Kanak on the authority of clan chiefs.
However, the Kanak continued to resist their annihilation. During World War II, New Caledonia represented a strategic prize in the Pacific. For two years, it was one of the principal American military bases, with tens of thousands of soldiers permanently stationed there. Our U.S. comrades have written extensively on the racism against blacks in the army at that time, but for the Kanak, the treatment of black American soldiers compared favourably to the iron rule of the French. The only example in which the French imperialists showed themselves to be less reactionary, or more hypocritical, than their meddlesome American allies was their refusal to have brothels racially segregated!
For the first time, thousands of Kanak had access to steady jobs in order to serve the logistical needs of the American troops. At the end of the war, the French colonists were no longer able to reimpose the mediaeval practice of forced labour. Having seen the infrastructure deployed by the American army, the Kanak were now conscious that the Gaullists [post-war rulers of France under General Charles de Gaulle] were pathetic losers by comparison.
In addition, there was an exponential growth of the Communist Party among the Kanak, thanks to the work of Jeanne Túnica y Casas, who promised them complete equality with whites, even if it remained in the framework of the chauvinism of the Tricolour [French flag]. But Túnica y Casas had to take refuge in Australia after her house was blown up (quite possibly by the French state, even while the PCF was in government). Usually at loggerheads, Catholic priests and Protestant clergy united against the Communist danger, everywhere pushing the idea that Communists would take the remaining Kanak land away from them. This is the origin of the Caledonian Union, a party which had a base among the Kanak because it stood for their greater participation in public affairs and put forward some social measures in their favour.
In the 1950s, the increasing entry of the Kanak into the proletariat, including in the nickel mines and refineries, marked the birth of the trade-union movement out of the struggle for wage equality for all the different ethnicities. From this period, the Kanak won the right to vote, at least on paper. It is hardly accidental that many are still not registered.
Following the Gaullist coup d’état of 1958, the Métropole [European France] reclaimed strict control of New Caledonia. The Gaullists wanted to maintain control of the nickel industry from Paris, and they went back on autonomy provisions that had been decreed by Defferre [Minister for “Overseas France”] in 1956 during Guy Mollet’s [Socialist Party (SP)] government. (This was during the period of France’s war against Algerian independence.) Right-wing reaction struck the Kanak and the pressure on their lands intensified. In response, a new wave of struggle began to build. This was a direct product of May ’68. Caledonian students in France, both black and white, became radicalised as a result of the massive general strike. This was the Red Scarves movement. Another group called itself the “1878 Group” in memory of the great revolt led by Chief Ataï.
All this ferment gradually pushed the Caledonian Union (UC) towards becoming pro-independence. Most of the white broussards [rural Caldoches (long-term European inhabitants), many of them cattle-ranchers] left the party. In 1981, its president Pierre Declercq, a French-born left-wing Catholic, was assassinated by loyalists. The UC found itself at the heart of an Independence Front.
Obviously, the vague deceptively soothing declarations of [then SP president François] Mitterrand on the destiny of the Kanak had nothing to do with any sympathy for their liberation. Mitterrand, had been with the Cagoule [“Hooded Men”] fascists in the 1930s, and then in the [Nazi collaborationist] Vichy government. He was the very man who in the early 1950s succeeded in “turning” Ivory Coast political leader Houphouët-Boigny, who was a deputy of the RDA [African Democratic Rally], allied to the French Communist Party. Houphouët went on to become the pillar of Françafrique [French neocolonial policy in Africa]. Mitterrand, the personification of French Algeria, as minister of police and minister of the guillotine during the Algerian War, had the blood of innumerable Algerian militants on his hands.
The Independence Front, renamed the Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS), boycotted the colonial elections of 1984. The secretary-general of the UC, Eloi Machoro, made a famous and heroic gesture, smashing a ballot box with an axe. Mitterrand quite simply had him assassinated later by a commando of GIGN [elite French police] killers, all the while inflaming French chauvinism by making everyone believe that it was a plot by perfidious Albion [Britain] and Australian subjects of Her Majesty to drive France out of the Pacific.
The Kanak revolt lasted several years. The Kanak suffered dozens of dead, killed by racist broussards and/or the forces of the French state. I don’t have the time here to go into more detail on the uprising, but I will say that the turning point was the Ouvéa massacre on the Loyalty Islands, where 19 Kanak were slaughtered—some of them in cold blood—by French special forces who stormed their cave hideout.
This massacre took place in the midst of the 1988 presidential election in France. The blood of the Kanak contributed to the defeat of [Prime Minister Jacques] Chirac. Unfortunately, the chauvinism of the French left meant that his defeat in the end simply contributed to the re-election of Mitterrand, with [Michel] Rocard as prime minister, who became one of the mentors of [current president Emmanuel] Macron.
Rocard knew how to wave the carrot as a complement to the bloody violence that the Kanak had just suffered. This carrot was the Matignon Accords, under the terms of which the FLNKS was offered the management—within the colonial framework—of the two majority-Kanak regions. The North Province afterwards obtained rights to the Koniambo mine complex and the promise of a refinery for the ore. But in fact, the Nouméa region and nickel production by the Société Le Nickel (SLN), the island’s main mining company for a hundred years, remained fully in the hands of French imperialism. The Kanak were also promised that a vote on self-determination would take place in ten years, in 1998. At the end of that ten-year period, it was Jospin [Socialist Party prime minister] in France (with the PCF again in the government) who negotiated a new postponement of a vote for 20 years, up until the present.
Nature of the 4 November Ballot
Now, 20 years later, the FLNKS has declared that independence is just around the corner and professed their optimism that the “yes” vote would win at the referendum. The opinion polls categorically deny such a prognosis, and six months ago I was struck by the unshakeable confidence that a pro-colonialist newspaper like Figaro had placed in the forthcoming result of the ballot.
The USTKE, the principal union organising the Kanak, and the second on the archipelago after the Federation of Unions of Workers and Employees of New Caledonia, which is linked to the [French trade-union federation] CFDT, is calling for non-participation in the referendum. They held several meetings in Paris and at the [French CP’s] l’Humanité Fête to explain their position.
For the USTKE, it is not a genuine referendum for self-determination in the sense that 20,000 Kanak are not even on the electoral rolls, while on the other hand thousands of colonists have been registered in the course of different revisions of the lists. In theory, in line with the accords signed in 1988 by the FLNKS, more or less only those who have been residents of New Caledonia since at least the 1980s, and their descendants, would have the right to vote. This therefore included the entire layer of Europeans brought in en masse by the Gaullist government at the end of the 1960s and early ’70s at the time of the “nickel boom,” which was explicitly intended to make the Kanak a minority population.
But as a matter of fact, the USTKE has shown that each time the Kanak pressed for their whole population to be actually registered, the government reopened the lists, and it was always the métropolitains [French-born residents] and other persons having so-called “material and moral interests” in New Caledonia who were added. The USTKE estimated that 6,000 to 7,000 such voters were improperly added. As a result, this long-time colonial tampering has made the Kanak a minority in a referendum that concerns their own destiny.
These denunciations by the USTKE are absolutely credible. We have no doubt of the deceit carried out by the French state, which uses all possible means to hang on to its colonial possessions. Joseph Andras also reports, in his recent book Kanaky, that there were pro-independence Kanak who refused to register on the list for the referendum since they considered that the whole ballot was a masquerade aiming to give a democratic face to colonial domination. However, to the extent that we can judge from afar, the situation is very different from the 1987 ballot organised by Chirac, when all of the Kanak pro-independence organisations called for abstention. Then, there was a 98 percent “no” vote regarding independence in a completely fake ballot marked by the near-total abstention by the Kanak.
The USTKE fears that if Kanak people participate, French imperialism will claim that the Kanak themselves contributed to the very strong result expected from the “no” vote and that this would show that they wish to remain French. Certainly, in any colonial conflict, there is also a layer of loyalists. But the reality is that a significant section of the Kanak want to take part in the vote, and doubtless there are some who believe in the promises of the FLNKS that the “yes” vote can win.
However, there are also some who don’t have these kinds of illusions but wish to take advantage of the first opportunity given to them to give voice to independence, even if the result is a foregone conclusion. In his book, Joseph Andras cites veterans of the struggles of the 1980s who, this time around, absolutely want to vote. There are also Kanak who fear an overwhelming victory for the “no” vote and for that reason want to vote “yes.” That is why we think that not only can one vote “yes” despite the electoral cheating of French imperialism, but that it is an opportunity to take a stand for independence.
In any case, even if the “no” vote wins, we would not conclude that the Kanak people have freely chosen their chains and that it would be necessary to respect this result. We will continue to call for immediate independence for Kanaky, including if the two additional referendums projected for 2020 and 2022 continue to give a clear victory to colonialism.
French Imperialist Manoeuvres to Stay in Power
This is, in short, the whole problem of referendums organised by a colonial power. Even when they are carried out in the framework of a growing struggle for independence, they are inevitably biased in favour of colonialism, independent of the problem of the electoral rolls. For a fair referendum, the prior withdrawal of all French imperialist troops would be necessary. Algeria’s independence referendum was held on 5 July 1962, after the French troops had been driven out. In the same way, in Crimea, the population was able to express its predominantly Russian identity in a referendum only after the withdrawal of the Ukrainian troops and under the protection of Russian troops.
Quite to the contrary, France sent thousands of extra cops and soldiers, supposedly to make voting conditions safe. Moreover, Macron had just reshuffled his government, naming as overall head of the police forces a man who was sub-prefect in Iparralde (Northern Basque Country) from 2010 to 2012, right in the middle of [the Basque separatist] ETA’s disarmament. The man chosen to run the political police (the “DGSI”) made his mark coordinating police repression in Corsica. This brings to mind Pasqua, Chirac’s police minister in the 1980s, who said that “Defence of Bastia [a Corsican city] begins in Nouméa.” The French bourgeoisie professes its confidence in the referendum but holds the truncheon and the gun at the ready. We say: French soldiers, cops and gendarmes out of Kanaky!
But the French bourgeoisie has other, more cunning, means to influence the situation in its favour. Since the 1980s it has increased the economic dependence of the archipelago on French state subsidies. First place in the colony’s economy goes not to nickel but to the financial transfers from Paris, notably the payment of public servants.
These functionaries, often of French origin, receive substantial colonial subsidies as expatriates, notably those designed to compensate for the high cost of living. Under this system, France artificially maintains the nominally high salary levels that make New Caledonia appear like a haven of very high GDP per inhabitant in comparison to the rest of the Pacific region, owing to the fact that the CFP (the colonial money in circulation) is tied to the euro. This helps to maintain the fear that the standard of living would collapse in the case of independence. (In reality, French money leaves the Hexagon [France] briefly at best, since a good part is deposited in French banks, and another part serves to import goods and services provided by French businesses.)
An additional consequence of the high level of nominal salaries and prices is that profits are higher for imports than for local products. All this is designed to maintain and reinforce economic dependence on Paris.
At the time of the Matignon Accords 30 years ago, the FLNKS won an in-principle-agreement for the reopening of the Koniambo mine in the North and the building of a refinery complex for the ore in order to counterbalance the overwhelming power of the SLN, whose backers are French capitalists like the Duval family. The Koniambo complex was to be controlled by the council of the region, which is in the hands of the indépendantistes.
To begin with, the operation enabled Jacques Lafleur, one of the principal Caldoche capitalists and one of the negotiators of the Matignon Accords, to get rid of his mining interests at a good price. As the region did not have the capital for the enormous investments at stake, the sell-off served as a facade to enable the entry of big international mining conglomerates, today notably Glencore, whose CEO is a white capitalist of South African origin. In South Africa it’s called Black Economic Empowerment.
Furthermore, a third nickel company suddenly appeared in the South Province, this one being controlled by the Caldoches. The bottom line is that there is no way for the Kanak to have real influence in the extraction and refining of the principal wealth of their country. All that the FLNKS achieved is the job of running the social services of the French colonial power, by administering the North region and the Loyalty Islands. That won’t advance the cause of independence one iota.
All this underlines that the leaders of the FLNKS claim in vain that independence is on the way and that the “process of decolonisation” is inevitably going ahead. But in reality it will not come from this referendum. Massive social and class struggles will be necessary to drive out French imperialism. Economic dependence vis-à-vis imperialism is deep and multifaceted. Independence in and of itself will not abolish it. What is necessary is a workers and peasants government centred on the Kanak people to expropriate the capitalists and extend the struggle until they are expropriated in the imperialist centres.
That is the basis of our fundamental difference with the nationalists of the USTKE and their political wing, the Parti travailliste [Labour Party]: they want an independent Kanaky in a framework which remains capitalist, but which is more equitable toward the Kanak people and the exploited. Capitalism cannot be equitable for the Kanak and the exploited. For our part, we want all power to the workers by means of socialist revolution.
At their Paris meeting on 19 September, USTKE leader Rock Haocas convincingly showed that independence could not be expected from a referendum whose dice is loaded so much in favour of French imperialism. He added that “We have to think of a new strategy to win independence.” But what is it? A mystery. Radical nationalism is at an impasse. We intervened at this meeting to present our program, laying out our proletarian, revolutionary and internationalist perspective to drive out French imperialism.
French Imperialism and the Pacific
France will not leave Kanaky without being driven out. It has been preparing this referendum for 30 years. The Macron government has even recently changed the weather bulletin on the 8 p.m. news on France 2 to also give the weather report for Nouméa. In other words they hammer away every day that New Caledonia is French, whether it is raining or whether the wind is blowing.
New Caledonia is French imperialism’s key possession in the Pacific. French Polynesia is thousands of kilometres away and has lost its strategic interest with the end of nuclear testing. On the other hand, New Caledonia is a military rampart just to the east of Australia, as I have already mentioned. Its nickel resources are potentially strategic, even if they are no longer exported to France.
The claim of French imperialism to still be a player in the big league rests on its possessions in the Pacific. Before that it was Polynesia, which allowed it to maintain its nuclear arsenal. The exclusive economic zone around New Caledonia represents more than three times the area of France. As the bourgeois chauvinist [Jean-Luc] Mélenchon said in his presidential program, “France is a maritime power without really being aware of it. Nevertheless, it is a question of essential sovereignty for our country, which has a presence in all the seas across the globe.” With declarations like this, there is no need to ask him what he thinks of independence for the Kanak people. In the best of cases he would do as his mentor and role model Mitterrand did.
France is manifestly an imperialist power in decline and on the road to marginalisation. But it has not renounced its role, which only makes it more dangerous. It wants to play its small part in the great game in the Pacific to try to destroy the bureaucratically deformed Chinese workers state and restore capitalism in that country. It has sent warships to provoke the Chinese navy in the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands. It has sold new-generation attack submarines to Australian imperialism, armaments that make sense in the region only for conflict with China. It is constantly stirring up fear over the so-called transformation of Vanuatu into a Chinese aircraft carrier and saying that New Caledonia itself would take the same road in the case of independence.
In the face of these Cold War-style provocations, Marxists proclaim loud and clear that we are for the unconditional military defence of China against any imperialist threat and against any internal threat of capitalist counterrevolution. This is also an aspect of our demand for the withdrawal of French troops from New Caledonia. We fight for proletarian political revolution in China to establish a regime based on workers councils. Such a regime, inspired by proletarian revolutionary internationalism and not the narrow Chinese nationalism of the bureaucracy in power in Beijing, would aid the Kanak people to finally liberate themselves from the stifling yoke of French colonialism.
The Land Question
Our political perspective is not simply independence. In Kanaky, it is above all for a workers and peasants government centred on the Kanak people, a formulation of the dictatorship of the proletariat allowing two of the crucial aspects for Kanaky to be put into sharp relief: the question of land and the question of national liberation of the Kanak people.
I think the second point is straightforward. Contrary to the claims of the chauvinist French press, the Kanak have always emphasised that they were a hospitable people and that they had no intention of throwing the European or Oceanian immigrants into the sea. Their concept of Kanaky was not racial but national, but the Kanak had to be masters in their own country. The Caldoches have a choice: either they accept living in an independent Kanaky, where they will have their place, or they consider themselves French above all else, in which case their only choice is to leave for France. For immigrants to Kanaky from the surrounding region, the question posed is their integration into this society. We are for their integration into a society dominated by the Kanak people rather than by French imperialism. This is an evident consequence of our support for independence.
A fundamental aspect of Kanak identity is the land question. At the time of the arrival of the Europeans, the Kanak people had a society of patrilineal clans based on the horticulture of taro and yam. They maintained hillside terraces with efficient irrigation systems for the taro plantations. Each clan was identified by its own ceremonial mound. The land dispossession of the Kanak and their confinement in reservations constituted a profound trauma. The Kanak people want to recover their land. This is quite legitimate. Nationalisation of the land will allow the soviets (councils) of peasants in the rural areas to reappropriate the land as they judge fit.
The very large landed estates have declined since the 1950s. Since the 1980s, there has been significant agricultural reform. What this means in practice, is that a significant number of the Caldoche broussards, especially on the east coast of Grande Terre, got rid of their land at a good price, paid for by the state. Today, a clear majority of the land on the east coast that is not state property is in the hands of the Kanak. However, the best lands are on the west coast—with the most value being below the ground—and in the metropolitan area of greater Nouméa, the only real city in the country and where real estate remains, as before, in the hands of the whites.
There has never been modern agriculture of the capitalist type in New Caledonia. This is very different to South Africa or Zimbabwe where, after the socialist revolution, the direct transformation of the large properties into collective production units controlled by soviets of rural workers can be envisaged. In New Caledonia, the large properties of several hundred or several thousand hectares on the west coast now remain essentially in the hands of the Caldoches, and are dedicated to the extensive raising of cattle with a reduced personnel.
The colonial rulers tried to introduce coffee growing but this continues to decline and it is in fact quite marginal today. Typically you have a coffee plantation of a hectare or less, a supplementary crop for some Kanak. In practice, the banks systematically refuse to lend even the smallest amount of money to the Kanak. From their viewpoint, tribal or clan land, being inalienable, cannot guarantee a mortgage. Thus, even the Kanak who would like to develop commercial agriculture remain deprived of any perspective of economic development. Agriculture practised on the Kanak lands, and it is the same for fishing, is essentially destined for self-sufficiency and customary exchanges, not for the market.
How would socialist modernisation of agriculture be carried out? This is something which is impossible to sketch out with our very limited knowledge, from afar, and especially without a Trotskyist organisation in place. A workers and peasants government centred on the Kanak people means that the dictatorship of the proletariat leans consciously on the Kanak peasantry to create the means for a progressive development of labour productivity and harmonious development of the country outside of greater Nouméa.
For Permanent Revolution!
If we are able today to present a Marxist line on Kanaky, it is because we have been able to reappropriate a Leninist framework on the national question thanks to a crucial fight that was conducted in our party last year to break with particularly English and French great-power chauvinism. This fight culminated at our last international conference. I am not able to elaborate on this today, but I will refer to the latest issue of Spartacist [No. 65 (English-language edition), Summer 2017] which presents the question better than I can do here.
As a result of this correction of our program on the national question, we have rejected the whole of the numerous articles published in the 1980s in le Bolchévik on “New Caledonia.” At that time, our organisation consciously refused to use the word Kanaky. These articles are marked by a vulgar French chauvinism, in practice little different to what Lutte Ouvrière published in the May-June issue of Lutte de classe [Class Struggle] except for the fact that, on paper, le Bolchévik called for independence.
In contrast to our current position, LO openly affirms its indifference on this question, saying that the victory of the “yes” or “no” vote at the next referendum would only result in influencing “the redistribution [between the Caldoche right and Kanak indépendantistes] of posts and positions, but always under the aegis of the French state.” A bit further down in their article, they insist that “even if independence were voted up, the workers would not be liberated in any way: certainly not from exploitation, and not even from discrimination as Kanak.” At the same time, LO absurdly makes out that French imperialism could in the case of independence grant the Kanak petty bourgeoisie “a majority stake as shareholders in the SLN.”
French chauvinism always accompanies the absence of a revolutionary proletarian perspective. Our propaganda of the 1980s practically disappeared the existence of the proletariat in New Caledonia. Actually, unlike most of the islands of the Pacific, a proletariat has existed for a hundred years on Grande Terre, certainly small, but endowed with a considerable social power disproportionate to its numerical size. It is concentrated significantly in the mines, in nickel refining, the ports and airports.
This proletariat is multiethnic. Over time the French capitalists have resorted to various waves of indentured labour, from Japan (later interned and then expelled by the Gaullists during the war), Indonesia and Indochina (the latter were expelled at the beginning of the 1960s because they were increasingly being won over to Communism, at the height of the Vietnam War). More recently there has been a notable immigration of Wallis Islanders.
There are also Kanak in the proletariat, especially since the breakdown of the Indigénat [the racist “Indigenous code”] regime after the war. As I have already said, the development of the trade union at the SLN from the 1950s onwards was intimately linked to the struggle for equal pay for equal work, irrespective of ethnicity. I have already also spoken about the brief upsurge of the Communist Party after the war. The essential question dominating the history of the workers movement of New Caledonia is the question of equality for the Kanak.
Certainly the Kanak remain concentrated at the bottom of the salary ladder. There is an unspoken racist glass ceiling which reserves the qualified jobs for white Caldoches or more recent arrivals from France. The lack of qualifications and low educational achievement of the Kanak are products of the policy of the French state to impose teaching in French and not in the mother tongue. This, in turn, has served, since the 1960s, as an additional pretext for the pursuit of France’s colonial policy of making the Kanak people a minority in their own country and bringing in qualified personnel from France.
The proletariat in power will, as a priority, struggle to put an end to this state of affairs. This will mean in particular radical changes in education policy, with teaching carried out in the mother tongue and considerable investments in educational infrastructure for the benefit of Kanak and other peoples who are today oppressed.
Such a policy will be linked to the promotion of paid employment for women, also with equal pay for equal work. It will be a question of laying the material bases for a real socialisation of education and childcare, which will permit the gradual replacement of the family, pillar of social conservatism and the oppression of women, by freely consensual relations between individuals. For the Kanak, this will also include an end to the oppressive forms of clan-based family structures, which include arranged marriages and the prohibition of divorce.
Obviously, it is not possible to construct socialism in a single island. The program of socialism in one country is a Stalinist program which proved its failure in the Soviet Union, leading finally to the capitalist counterrevolution in 1991-92. The Soviet Union was roughly a thousand times larger and more populous than Kanaky. The immediate struggle for the extension of a socialist revolution in Kanaky is of vital importance, because the imperialists, whether they are French, Australian or others, would do everything possible to crush the revolution before it could be extended.
But the seizure of power by a workers and peasants government in Kanaky would be an enormous step forward to break the French proletariat from the chauvinism which ties it to its own bourgeoisie. It would be a boost for the proletarian revolution here in this country. The allies of a revolutionary workers government of Kanaky are not the UN where French imperialism sits on the Security Council, they are the workers and oppressed masses in Indonesia, in France, in Australia and elsewhere. This perspective cannot be conceived without a revolutionary workers party in Kanaky, a party composed in its overwhelming majority of Kanak people. Without such a party, the inevitable uprisings to come of the Kanak and the workers risk falling anew to the cruellest setbacks. This struggle is intimately linked to the fight to reforge the Fourth International, with sections deeply anchored in the working class, in Kanaky, in France and in the rest of the world.