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Workers Vanguard No. 1155

17 May 2019

France’s New Caledonia Colony

Independence for Kanaky!

For a Workers and Peasants Government Centered on the Kanak People!

Part Two

The following is the second part of an article translated from le Bolchévik No. 226 (December 2018), newspaper of our comrades of the Ligue trotskyste de France. Part One appeared in WV No. 1154 (3 May). The article is based on a talk given by the LTF last year, shortly before New Caledonia’s November 4 referendum on independence, in which the “no” vote prevailed.

At the time of the Matignon Accords 30 years ago, the FLNKS [Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front] won an agreement in principle for the reopening of the Koniambo mine in the North [Province of New Caledonia] and the building of a refinery complex for the ore in order to counterbalance the overwhelming power of the SLN [Société Le Nickel], whose financial backers are French capitalists like the Duval family. The Koniambo complex was to be controlled by the regional council, which is in the hands of the indépendantistes.

To begin with, the operation enabled Jacques Lafleur, one of the principal Caldoche [long-term European inhabitants] 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 in reality served simply 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 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 obtained 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 two things. First, despite the fact that the leaders of the FLNKS pretend that independence is on the way and that the “process of decolonization” is inevitably going ahead, the reality is that it will not come from this referendum. Massive social and class struggles will be necessary to drive out French imperialism. Second, economic dependence on imperialism is deep and multifaceted. National independence in and of itself will not abolish it. What is necessary is a workers and peasants government centered on the Kanak people that expropriates the capitalists and extends the struggle until they are expropriated in the imperialist centers.

That is the basis of our fundamental difference with the nationalists of the USTKE [Federation of Unions of Kanak and Exploited Workers] and their political wing, the Parti travailliste [Labour Party]: They want an independent Kanaky in a framework that remains capitalist, but which is more equitable toward the Kanak and the exploited. Capitalism cannot be equitable for the Kanak or for the exploited. For our part, we want all power to the workers by means of socialist revolution.

At their Paris meeting on September 19, USTKE leader Rock Haocas showed convincingly that independence could not be expected from a referendum whose dice are loaded so much in favor 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 [TV station] to also give the weather report for Nouméa. In other words, they hammer away every day that New Caledonia is France, whether it is raining or the wind is blowing.

New Caledonia is French imperialism’s key possession in the Pacific. French Polynesia is thousands of kilometers away from anywhere 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 what he thinks of independence for the Kanak people. In the best of cases, he would do as his mentor and role model [former Socialist president François] Mitterrand did.

France is manifestly an imperialist power in decline and on the road to marginalization. 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 whose only use in the region is 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 follow 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 defense 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 ruling bureaucracy in Beijing, would help the Kanak people 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 centered on the Kanak, a formulation of the dictatorship of the proletariat that highlights two of its crucial aspects for Kanaky: the land question 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 emphasized 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 the immigrants into 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 directly flows from 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 had a society of patrilineal clans based on the cultivation 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. Nationalization of the land would allow 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 [rural] 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 most of their value found below ground—and in the metropolitan area of Greater Nouméa, the only real city in the country, where real estate remains, as before, in the hands of whites.

There has never been modern agriculture of the capitalist type in New Caledonia. This is very different from 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 reduced manpower.

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 practiced 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 modernization of agriculture be carried out? This is something that is impossible to sketch out with our very limited knowledge, from afar, and especially without a Trotskyist organization in Kanaky. A workers and peasants government centered on the Kanak means that the dictatorship of the proletariat leans consciously on the Kanak peasantry to create the means for a progressive development of labor productivity and harmonious development of the country outside of Greater Nouméa.

For Permanent Revolution!

If we are able to present a Marxist line on Kanaky today, 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 English and French great-power chauvinism in particular. 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 [English-language edition No. 65, 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 entirety of the numerous articles published in the 1980s in le Bolchévik on “New Caledonia.” At that time, our organization consciously refused to use the word Kanaky. These articles are marked by a vulgar French chauvinism, in practice little different from what [the reformist group] Lutte ouvrière published in the May-June [2018] 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 either the “yes” or the “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 Kanaks.” 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 on most of the islands of the Pacific, a proletariat has existed for a hundred years on Grande Terre, certainly small, but endowed with 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 labor, from Japan (later interned 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 during 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 [World War II]. 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 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 wage scale. There is an unspoken racist glass ceiling that 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 themselves products of the French state policy of imposing 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 the 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 basis for a real socialization of education and childcare, which will permit the gradual replacement of the family, a 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 on a single island. The program of socialism in one country is a Stalinist program that 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 that 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 is inconceivable 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 suffering the cruelest of setbacks again. 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.


Workers Vanguard No. 1155

WV 1155

17 May 2019


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France’s New Caledonia Colony

Independence for Kanaky!

For a Workers and Peasants Government Centered on the Kanak People!

Part Two