Two Roads for Communists in Nepal: Capitulation or Revolutionary Struggle?

by Doug Enaa Greene on April 15, 2013

First published by Boston Occupier. Reprinted with author’s permission.

Unknown to most of the world, the poor peasant and isolated peoples of Nepal rose in struggle to overthrow centuries of feudal, capitalist and patriarchal oppression. Ten years of civil war waged by the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) ended in a stalemate with the forces of the old order.

Two roads now stand posed for Nepal: one leads to accepting the reforms which offer only cosmetic changes to the nation’s entrenched inequalities, the other leads to a revolution that uproots its oppressive institutions.

For centuries, Nepal was ruled by a god-like feudal monarchy, a brutal army, a corrupt and ineffective parliament. Eighty-five percent of the population is composed of peasants living in the countryside with small plots of land, most unable to produce enough food for their families who are regularly fleeced by wealthy landlords. Nepal’s industry is not developed and largely controlled by its powerful neighbor, India. The majority of the people are unemployed; 65% of the people live below the poverty line.

The oppression of women is tied deeply into Nepal’s social fabric. When Nepalese women gained voting rights in 1977, it did little to increase their autonomy. Of this, journalist Li Onesto said that “everyday life in the villages is ruled by religious and cultural practices that promote and perpetuate male dominance.”

In the late 1970s, Nepalese women could not choose their husbands, and were forced into arranged marriages. Once married, women lived under the domination of their husbands. who relegated women to houseworkand bearing children.

“Society didn’t want women to involve themselves in politics or to get education,” said Jayapuri Gharti, a soldier and a leader of the women’s rights organizatio, the All-Nepal Women’s Association. “Women had no right to private property. Socially and culturally, the women of Nepal were second-level citizens.”

To address the deeply rooted inequality found in Nepalese society, in February 1996 the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (UCPN [M]) began a guerrilla war to topple the monarchy. The goal of the UCPN (M) was to establish a new democratic state led by the working class that would abolish feudal classes and defend the interests of oppressed nationalities, castes, and women. The Maoists envisioned a thorough revolutionary land reform which would give land to the poor peasants.

The Maoist People’s War brought about major changes in women’s status. At its height, women composted 35% of the People’s Liberation Army, many of them serving as platoon commanders and commissars. “The women fought for more than just political and economic justice, they fought for equality,” said Dipak Sapkota, author of a book on the war says of women’s participation. “The People’s War gave women an opportunity to strike back violently against the system that restrained them for centuries.”

Although the UCPN gave prominence to the development of women’s leadership in the party, army, and the people’s government, this was not carried out in practice. The party overemphasized the class struggle at the expense of women’s exploitation rather than seeing the connection between the two. The traditional division of labor was repeated in the movement with men being given leadership positions and women doing physical work.

However contradictory the actual Maoist practice, there were genuine leaps forward for women. For instance, the Maoists did not just want to overthrow the old monarchy and society, they wanted to overthrow the culture that it engendered. New egalitarian values challenged the conservatism and patriarchy that had held sway in Nepal for centuries. Drastic changes could be seen among women in the liberated zones who could now marry whoever they wanted, had equal rights to property, and were encouraged to attend schools. Thousands of women filled the ranks of the party and its related organizations during the war serving as soldiers, doctors, workers, and political leaders.

The police launched a terror campaign to stamp out insurgency, but the lower classes were able to unite in self-defense. From 1996 to 2006, the Maoist uprising slowly spread until it encompassed 73 of Nepal’s 75 districts. In 2001, as the insurgency grew the Nepalese monarchy sent in the army (by now advised by the US) to wipe out the rebels. Throughout the war, the Royal Army subjected women to imprisonment, rapes, and murder.

To maintain his hold on power and conduct the anti-Maoist war, King Gyanendra abolished parliament in 2002 and seized absolute power in 2005. In April 2006 strikes and protests in the capital of Kathmandu forced the king to reinstate parliament. The 10-year-long people’s war, which claimed 13,000 lives, had seemingly come to an end.

The end of war brought new challenges for the revolutionaries and growing division in the UCPN. While the monarchy was abolished in 2008, many of the central institutions of the old society are firmly in place: the feudal relation on land, foreign domination, patriarchy and Indian domination.

The right wing of the party, led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” and Baburam Bhattarai, advocated a capitalist modernization of Nepal that would protect private property and open the country up to more foreign investment to develop the economy. The right-wing did not believe that Nepal could make a revolutionary leap but had to accept reforms from the status quo.

According to journalist Eric Ribellarsi, “these forces argue for abandoning further revolution and seek to occupy top government posts within the currently existing institutional framework.”

In accepting a place in the establishment, the UCPN’s right wing dissolved the base areas in the countryside, people’s governments, and returned seized land. In November 2011, the party approved dissolving the People’s Liberation Army and integrating their soldiers into the unreformed Royal Army (now the National Army). Only some of the Maoists fighters were integrated into the new army, commanders were separated from the ranks, and others were given compensation to leave. Many guerrillas were not even given weapons in the integrated army, but assigned to jobs as forest guards.

To the party’s left wing, dissolving the People’s Liberation Army is a clear sign of the revolution’s surrender. Many revolutionaries are asking if their struggle and sacrifice in the war were just to accept a position in government alongside the deeply ingrained and corrupt ruling class they had fought in the first place.

With the end of the war, the party left has been conducting intensified struggle in urban and rural areas. This agitation is being conducted to prepare the people, Eric Ribellarsi says, “to see the need to sweep away the reactionary parties and their allied army force – to make a new leap in the revolution.” They proposed making sweeping reforms to the social structures and civilian control of the army which have been blocked.

The elections of 2008 gave the Maoists the impetus to actually take power. The revolutionaries organized for a breakthrough to topple the government and usher in a people’s republic. In 2010, there were mass mobilizations, blockades and strikes in Kathmandu and across the country. However, Maoist party leaders “Prachanda” and Bhattarai backed off from a showdown and called off the movement. As a result, revolutionaries became disenchanted with the party leadership’s commitment to fundamental change and considered new avenues of struggle.

In June 2012, the revolutionary left split from the main party and established the UCPN that now comprises 95% of the young cadre and 60% of the ex-People’s Liberation Army, accounting for hundreds of thousands of people. The new party plans for anti-feudal revolution as a substage of a rapid transformation in a socialist direction. However, to implement these changes the Maoists need armed revolutionary power.

While some former Maoists may accept a modernized capitalism as the only horizon for Nepal, others are regrouping and preparing for the next round of struggle. Jayapuri Gharti says:

“There is a fight between old visions and new visions. One that wants to make a status-quoist Nepal and one that wants to make a more equal Nepal…We need to have a society where there is total equality between men and women. We want to eradicate all feudal, capitalist and patriarchal visions. We want to create a new society where there is no inequality.”

For more information on current developments in Nepal see Winter Has Its End, at http://winterends.net/

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

David Berger April 15, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Just a quicky. I followed the events in Nepal over the past few years slugging it out against Maoists at revleft. What was clear and what was denied by them is:

(1) That the Maoists in Nepal are now running a fully capitalist state.

(2) The opposition that has split from the main Maoist party opportunistically accepted their entire line up to and including entering the government.

(3) The notion of the opposition of an “anti-feudal revolution as a substage of a rapid transformation in a socialist direction” is nothing more than the policy that the Maoists carried out before they entered the government and after that.

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Arthur April 15, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Its true tha a substantial section has split from the Unified CPN Maoist but not true that they have anything like the numbers suggested in this article or any clear alternative program.

They are serious people and no serious person would imagine that Nepal could have a “rapid transformation to socialist revolution”. There will have to be decades of capitalist development first.

The People’s War did not end in stalemate. It ended in a peace agreement (also accepted then and now by the minority). That agreement resulted in abolition of the monarchy and a representative Constituent Assembly in which the Maoists were the largest party following their victory at the elections but still did not have support of a majority.

There have been significant gains for the overwhelming majority of the population and as a result the old parties have continued growing weaker and it is likely that the Maoists, allied with Madhesi parties also supporting federalism, will have a working majority following elections due in November.

But its certainly true that the old state apparatus has not been smashed and the people do not yet have state power. Although the minority that split are highly critical about the dissolution of the People’s Lieration Army without the old army having been smashed they are not at all serious about resuming an armed struggle. A People’s War requires popular support and there is overhwelming popular support for the peace agreement and resolving matters through elections.

If that path for social change becomes blocked again, for example by a military coup, the Maoists are in a far stronger position than ever to resume armed struggle, now with strong organization in all the urban areas as well as the countryside. For that reason it is highly unlikely that the path will become bloked. The reactionaries already know they cannot win and are just trying to obstruct and delay, while their mass base distintegrates as a result.

They are not going to imitate King Gyanendra by abolishing parliament to seize absolute power. Instead they want to maintain a multi-party competitive political system including their opponents. This is a major break through based on summing up the historical experience of the degeneration of the one party states in the Soviet Union and China.

The real reason for virulently hostility towards the Nepalese Maoists expressed by groups like Kasama is that this theoretical breakthrough, from a party that has led a successful armed struggle thoroughlly exposes the lack of any perspective whatever for preventing degeneration among the pseudo-leftists and social-fascists pretending to be Maoists in countries like the USA.

Here’s some some excerpts from a 2004 document explaining their position:

http://southasiarev.wordpress.com/2008/05/28/where-do-they-stand-the-question-of-building-new-type-of-state/

“In this context it would be worthwhile to note the warnings of Rosa Luxemburg made from a left revolutionary angle, despite her certain idealist and voluntarist limitations, on the future of the Soviet state:

“Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element. Public life gradually falls asleep, a few dozen party leaders of inexhaustible energy and boundless experience direct and rule. Among them, in reality only a dozen outstanding heads do the leading and an elite of the working class is invited from time to time to meetings where they are to applaud the speeches of the leaders, and to approve proposed resolutions unanimously-at bottom, then, a clique affair- a dictatorship, to be sure, not the dictatorship of the proletariat, however, but only the dictatorship of the handful of politicians, that is a dictatorship in the bourgeois sense…”. (Luxemburg 1918:118)…

“A Party, which may be proletarian revolutionary, and a state, that may be democratic or socialist, at a particular time, place and condition, may turn counter-revolutionary at another time, place and condition. It is obvious that the synthesis of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, namely the masses and the revolutionaries should rebel in such a situation, is fully correct in its place. However, as if a particular Communist Party remains proletarian for ever once a New Democratic or Socialist state is established under the leadership of the Party, there is either no opportunity, or it is not prepared, or it is prohibited, for the masses to have a free democratic or socialist competition against it. As a result, since the ruling Party is not required to have a political competition with others amidst the masses, it gradually turns into a mechanistic bureaucratic Party with special privileges and the state under its leadership, too, turns into mechanistic and bureaucratic machinery. Similarly, the masses become a victim of formal democracy and gradually their limitless energy of creativity and dynamism gets sapped. This danger has been clearly observed in history. To solve this problem, the process of control, supervision and intervention of the masses over the state should be stressed to be organized in a lively and scientific manner, according to the principle of continuous revolution. Once again the question here is to dialectically organize scientific reality that the efficacy of dictatorship against the enemy is dependent upon the efficacy of exercising democracy among the people.

“ For this, a situation must be created to ensure continuous proletarization and revolutionization of the Communist Party by organizing political competition within the constitutional limits of the anti-feudal and anti-imperialist democratic state. Only by institutionalizing the rights of the masses to install an alternative revolutionary Party or leadership of the state if the Party fails to continuously revolutionalize itself the counter-revolution can be effectively checked. Among different anti-feudal and anti-imperialist political parties, organizations and institutions, which accept the constitutional provisions of the democratic state, their mutual relations should not be confined to that of a mechanistic relation of cooperation with the Communist Party but should be stressed to have dialectical relations of democratic political competition in the service of the people. It should be obvious that if anybody in this process transgresses the limits legally set by the democratic state, he would be subjected to democratic dictatorship. “ [CPN (Maoist) 2004:148-49]

Similarly, as practiced during the GPCR [Chinese Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution], such methods like guaranteeing the freedom of expression, press, strike etc. for the masses, public criticism of and mass action against persons in high authority of Party and state, etc. should be institutionalized. Also, drawing correct lessons from the bitter experiences of failure of the masses to stage organized rebellion against counter-revolution in the past, we should ensure a system in the new context whereby political parties may be allowed to get organized keeping within definite progressive and revolutionary constitutional limits and they may be encouraged to function not only in a ‘cooperative’ manner but in a ‘competitive’ spirit vis-à-vis the formal Communist Party. There can be no objective and logical reason for the Communist Party claiming itself to be the representative of the majority proletarian and oppressed classes to hesitate to enter into political competition within a definite constitutional framework, once the economic monopoly of the feudal and bourgeois classes over land and capital and military monopoly over the mercenary professional army, which are the sources of their political hegemony, are thoroughly smashed. One should earnestly acknowledge that this is not an advocacy of bourgeois pluralism but is a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist method to objectively solve contradictions among the people as long as the class division in society exists.”

Its worth studying the whole article, as an imporant perspective for solving the discrediting ofcommunism by the social-fascist regimes an pseudo-left oppositions that the masses still associate with communism and completely despise because they are in fact not even democrats, let alone communists.

Its hard for an outsider to tell, but it looks to me likely that it won’t be all that long before competition between the two main Maoist parties will replace competition with the increasingly irrelevant Congress and “Unified Marxist Leninist” parties. That would certainly offer better prospects of avoiding degeneration than the one party state yearned for by the likes of Kasama.

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David Berger (RED DAVE) April 25, 2013 at 3:01 pm

ARTHUR: ts hard for an outsider to tell, but it looks to me likely that it won’t be all that long before competition between the two main Maoist parties will replace competition with the increasingly irrelevant Congress and “Unified Marxist Leninist” parties. That would certainly offer better prospects of avoiding degeneration than the one party state yearned for by the likes of Kasama.

DAVID BERGER: But that “competition” is basically between two factions of a political tendency that has been exposed, over and over again, as leading to state capitalism or straight to corporate capitalism. Does anyone really believe that the actions of the Nepalese Maoists have anything to do with socialism?

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David Berger (RED DAVE) April 26, 2013 at 12:19 pm
Jacob Richter May 2, 2013 at 1:23 am

This shows yet again the dual failure of pre-constitutional government by “Constituent Assembly” and of glorified, ad-hoc town hall meetings (“assemblies” and “councils”) to offer durable governance (beyond the local level).

It is the cabinet form that is most effective public policy-making means in any pre-constitutional government or in any “workers government.” Of course such a Cabinet, even a workers’ Cabinet, should exist alongside a much larger debating body, but such body should be at best a Political Consultative Conference (like Mao’s first years in power), while the Cabinet should be able to call all the legislative shots (like Castro’s pre-1976 Council of Ministers).

Where’s Nepal’s popular Cabinet when the country needed/needs it?

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Arthur May 2, 2013 at 5:54 am

This comment has no connecion with Nepal. There never was “government by constituent assembly”. There have been several cabinets, sometimes including, sometimes excluding and sometimes led by Maoists since the peace agreement. Currently there is an interim cabinet for holding elections in November chaired by Chief Justice advised by a High Level Political Committee representing major parties. Most likely after elections there will be a Maoist led cabinet in alliance with Madheshi parties united on adopting a federal constitution.

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Jacob Richter May 2, 2013 at 10:21 pm

Arthur, of course there was such an arrangement. The fact that several cabinets were formed *by* the Constituent Assembly shows such public policy-making power by the CA.

A Revolutionary Provisional Government should be way more durable and not subject to even the formal whims of the CA. Heck, such Cabinet could be formed on a popular basis but apart from the CA. To go further, the CA itself should be no more than a Political Consultative Conference!

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Arthur May 3, 2013 at 12:11 am

Your “should” again has nothing to do with Nepal. The result of the people’s war was a peace ageement with free elections, not immediate smashing of the old state power. Of course the enemy “should” just disappear or “should” be decisively defeated, but it has not yet.

So far nobody has succeeded in avoiding later degeneration despite acheiving a revolutionary government not subject to the “whims” of elected assemblies. You have not even attempted to respond to their view that such open multi-party competition is essential for avoiding degeneration. See extracts and link above:

http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=8492#comment-46751

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