Post-colonial ruling class.
Fiji is a tiny and poor semi-colony situated in the South Pacific between Vanuatu and Tonga. Since its ‘independence’ from Britain in 1970 it has tried to survive by fitting in with the plans of global capital. Fiji was ruled by the Council fo Chiefs which has always tried to balance Fijian paramountcy with the democratic rights of the Indians. Some have said that this balancing act was impossible because Fijian society was inherently despotic and that ‘democracy’ was not the ‘Pacific way’.
However, if you look at Fiji’s history since 1970, it is not ‘Fijian society’ that is despotic. Rather those chiefs who seek to exercise their authority as a capitalist class against all others –Fijians and Indians. In fact ‘Fijian society’ has been transformed by colonialism from a simple lineage society in which chiefs only ruled with the consent of the commoners, into a hybrid form of capitalism where the chiefs rule as a class. While they claim their right to rule on the basis of their traditional authority, their method of rule reflects their class interests in living off the rent from land leased to mainly Indian tenant farmers, or their role as politicians and administrators in the government.
But the chiefs have long been divided on how best to rule Fiji. Since 1970 there has been an ongoing struggle between those chiefs under Ratu Mara who tried to accommodate the Indians in the Alliance party, and the Fiji Nationalist Party that insisted that Indians should not have equal political rights. The Mara group represent those capitalist chiefs whose interests are to manage the state on behalf of the whole capitalist class, which includes Indians. This explains Mara''s and the Alliance's attempts to steer a moderate course between the interests of Fijian and Indian capital to form a national bourgeoisie.
On the other hand, the FNP/Taukei chiefs are motivated as landlords to increase their share of the rents from land and the exploitation of economic resources. This means controlling the state and excluding the Indian capitalists and tenant farmers to ensure that the landlord chiefs retain high rents on their land, and the ability to exploit resources such as native timber.
However, when both groups of chiefs are confronted with a greater threat –the mobilisation of Fijian and Indian workers –they are prepared to work together to maintain their authority under the principle of ‘Fijian paramountcy’ – Fijian control of land and the state. As early as 1977 there was an attempt to form an Indian led government when the Fijian vote was split between the Alliance and the FNP. But Mara ensured that parliament was dissolved. A second election returned the Alliance with much greater support.
The Rabuka Coups of 1987
Then in 1987 the workers and poor peasants voted in a Labour Party dominated coalition government under Timoci Bavadra. The new government was a popular front across classes and races and did not really pose a threat to the ruling class economic interests. However it did pose a threat to the hegemony of the Great Council of Chiefs as it was commited to stamping out cronyism and corruption. So the chiefly ruling class backed by the US staged a coup to remove it from office. Under the new dictator Colonel Rabuka, Fiji opened up to free trade to allow foreign capital to set up the garment industry and began selling off native timber etc.
But Rabuka’s dictatorship was outside the ‘rules’ of the US ‘new world order’, and the US and the Commonwealth pressured Fiji to return to ‘democracy’. The moderate wing of the Fijian ruling class under Ratu Mara once more moved towards reconciliation of the races. Rabuka became Prime Minister and made friends with the Labour Party. Paul Reeves the ex-Governor General of NZ headed a commission that re-wrote the racist 1990 Constitution in an attempt to move away from a racially divided government. The allocation of more Indian seats and general seats in the 1987 Constitution meant that a non-Fijian majority was possible.
So, in 1999, a majority of both Fijian and Indian voters elected a Coalition Government in which the Labour party was again the dominant partner. We had a repeat of the 1987 situation as the new Government began to ‘clean up’ the corruption and nepotism of the Fijian ruling class and their dubious links to their foreign masters, and spend more money on the poor. Once more, the intervention of a popular front government sought to put a stop to the corrupt business practices of elements of the Fijian ruling class in the name of ‘democracy’.
Enter George Speight
While this intervention was even less a threat to the rule of the chiefly class than the Bavadra government of 1987, it did hit at those Fjiian and Indian capitalists who were super-exploiting workers and resources. Among the casualties of this ‘clean up’ was one George Speight, a younger member of the Fijian capitalist class with business interests inside and outside Fiji. He was sacked from the Mohogany Board by the Government, and was charged with fraud. He and a number of other failed and frustrated businessmen cooked up the coup with the backing of the Taukei movement, the traditional hard-line Fijian nationalist movement based in the East of Fiji.
Speight was able to rally support from those chiefs who resented a multiracial government and in particular an Indian Prime Minister Chaudry ‘interfering’ with their freedom to super-exploit other Fijians of all ethnic backgrounds without discrimination! They mobilised suppport among the unemployed youth and villages claiming that the Government was about to take the land. The call went out to bring down the government and to go back to the 1990 racist Constitution that supposedly protected the interests of the ‘indigenous people’.
The outcome of Speight’s coup so far is a repeat of 1987 where the existing Government and Constitution have been overthrown and replaced by a dictatorship with significant backing from the landlord section of the Fijian ruling class. This time however, there is less support from other sections of the Fijian ruling class like Ratu Mara, and most of the Indo-Fijian ruling class, whose interests cannot be advanced by a military dicatorship that unleashes economic sanctions on Fiji. This explains why Speight was determined to rid the government of the moderates under Ratu Mara and replace them with a militant nationalist regime that will protect the interests of that section of the ruling class that wants to work hand in glove with imperialism to super-exploit Fiji’s economy.
Class against Race
There can be no progressive solution to this situation short of a return to democracy. Such a struggle is not futile. Dictatorship is not inevitable in Fiji. It is not the traditional despotism of Fijian society that explains the frequency of coups. Rather it is the rivalry between sections of the ruling class for control of Fiji’s few profitable resources. Each time the ruling class acts against the advance of democracy it declares its naked class interests more openly. Such is the case when George Speight himself a European-Fijian commoner uses force to join that ruling class.
Thus the appeal to indigenous rights that has drawn Maori activists like Tama Iti to support Speight is a total red herring. Unlike NZ, Fijian’s still ‘own’ about 83% of the land. Fiji is a unique capitalist country where the labour of most of its workers is exploited on the basis of commonly owned land. It is not the Indo-Fijians who exploit the Fijians, but their own Fijian landlord’s who pocket most of the rent paid out of the labour of tenant farm families. Because under capitalism they have become an exploiting class it is futile to expect the chiefs to distribute the rent fairly to their kin as they would have done before colonisation.
Therefore the real issue is the legacy of colonialism and the persistent super-exploitation of the workers and poor peasants of both Fijian and Indian ethnicity. Indigenous rights are not the problem but rather workers’ rights. The majority of Fijians and Indians are not exploited because of their race, but because they are workers or poor peasants. It is reactionary to call for the unity of Fijian’s of all classes against the Indo-Fijian when it is the Fijian ruling class that is in power and which exploits its own kinfolk.
Similarly, it is reactionary to call for Indo-Fijians to unite across all classes as it is the Indian ruling class that has financially propped up the Alliance ruling party for generations. There can be no way out of this situation other than by means of the building of class solidarity across race lines between the growing worker and poor peasant majority in Fiji for the defence of democracy.
Nor is it in the interests of Fiji’s workers and poor peasants to appeal to the Commonwealth, the UN, Australia or NZ to take action to remove Speight. On June 5 the Fijian Council of Trade Unions put out an appeal to the Commonwealth Ministers Action Group to take action along the following lines:
- Continue to recognize the People's Coalition under the leadership of Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry as the legitimate Government of the Fiji Islands. This would be consistent with the principles of the Harare Declaration.
- Warn the Fiji Military Forces that its failure to restore the democratically elected People's Coalition Government and the 1997 Constitution in a reasonable time frame will result in the imposition of the full force of the Commonwealth and international sanctions against the illegal regime set up by the Fiji Military Forces.
- Impose an immediate ban on travel to any Commonwealth Country: · of Speight and all members of his interim government, · all members of the military's Council of Advisors · heads of public service.
- Specify that should the democratically elected government not be restored within two months, the sanctions will include: i) Fiji's expulsion from the Commonwealth ii) A unified suspension of diplomatic relations with the illegal regime set up by the Fiji military Forces by member states; iii) Suspension of technical assistance, development aid and other assistance or support by member states and the Commonwealth Secretariat; iv) Activating a comprehensive trade, sporting, travel, cultural and educational regime of sanctions; v) Total freeze on all links with Fiji Government, its public service, the military and other institutions; vi) A Commonwealth commitment to pursuing further diplomatic, political and economic isolation of the illegal regime through the United Nations and other international agencies; vii) A commitment to pursing leaders of any unconstitutional government and Speight and his supporters for human rights abuses under international law, a freezing of their assets in Commonwealth countries.
- We further ask that the CMAG call for the unconditional and immediate release of hostages.
- If the Fiji Military Forces does not restore the elected Government and the 1997 Constitution within 2 months, we ask that the Commonwealth take necessary measures in response, including the setting up and rapid deployment of a stabilizing/peacekeeping force.
The reason that the coup has succeeded so far is that the Fijian working class has yet to organise itself independently of its own ruling class. Now that this ruling class has fallen out over who should rule Fiji and get the franchise to exploit Fiji’s resources, it makes no sense to appeal to those captalist states and the multinationals they represent, whose only interest is in exploiting those resources, to come to their aid.
The only demands that workers should put on their bourgeois states are those that break down national borders and strengthen the international ties of workers. In the case of the coups and military dictatorship our demands should be for immediate political asylum with no strings attached for all who want to leave Fiji.
International working class action
The international outrage among unionists is a healthy start to this process. Workers do not call on bourgeois governments to impose bans but mobilise internationally to impose their own bans directed at the capitalist class. The Fijian Council of Trades Unions has put out the call for a workers’ international boycott independent of their bourgeois states. Australian and NZ unions have declared a boycott and ban on handling trade with Fiji. Workers internationally must be prepared to back up this call with similar.
The unity of the Pacific region working class in the struggle for democracy will demonstrate that in Fiji (as elsewhere) there are only two courses ahead – either the constant threat of military rule sparked by the Rabukas and Speights playing the race card and threatening ethnic cleansing to keep the ruling class in power as the agent of global imperialism, or the struggle to forge unity across the racial divide and to fight for workers and farmers governments that will take power in the name of all the exploited regardless of ethnicity, nationality or gender.
For a Federation of Socialist Republics of the Pacific!
From Class Struggle No 33 June-July 2000