The impasse facing the Nepalese Communists

Wednesday, 14 July 2004
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While the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) prepares to join a coalition government with bourgeois parties, the Maoist guerrillas of the CPN-Maoist continue their armed offensive. The situation in Nepal is an extremely unstable one. If the two Communist parties based themselves on the ideas, tactics, programme and perspectives of Lenin and the Bolsheviks power would be there for the taking.

As we have reported in previous articles the situation in Nepal is a very unstable one, one could even say that it is desperate. In the last three or four months the news from Nepal has been all about kidnappings, general strikes, ambushes on government soldiers and so on. We therefore have to put the recent political developments within this context.

A few weeks ago the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) General Secretary declared that the party is ready to join an all-party Government. Madhay Kumar said that, “for the sake of peace, we are ready to consider a roundtable conference and constituent assembly”. He also reiterated that peace was the main concern of his party at present rather than elections. (nepalnews.com June 24, 2004)

This statement follows the current policies of the CPN-UML (the main force in Nepalese politics with more than 60% of the MPs) of fighting together with the main bourgeois parties against both the corrupt dictatorship and the Maoist guerrillas. The Nepali Congress, which until the coup d’etat of 2002 controlled the government despite its minority in Parliament, proposed a minimum programme to the CPN-UML, which it accepted. Thus we have a situation where the main party of the working class in the cities is openly collaborating with the bourgeoisie, instead of putting forward an independent, revolutionary, working class position.

This situation is combined with the perseverance of the Maoist guerrillas in maintaining their offensive - making it clear they are going to maintain their struggle up until their so-called “People’s War” is finished. On July 20, for instance, the Maoists kidnapped a bus with more than 40 students on board. They were eventually released.

In the meantime, the Attorney General resigned over differences with the King on July 21, and on July 22 teachers began a protest against the government... The list of such incidents is endless in Nepal. This whole website could be filled solely with reports on the extreme political instability of Nepal.

Lack of Programme

 

The main problems are the policies of the biggest party of the left, which is also the major force in Nepalese society. The programme of the CPN-UML has many limitations. Their current demands and tactics are based upon the fact that there is no bourgeois democracy in Nepal. Their “Proposal for the Resolution of the National Government” is a vague demand for bourgeois democracy. Amongst their demands is a call for an all-party government, intervention of the UN to solve the problems, and peace with the Maoists, without any explanation of why they caused the peace talks to collapse.

The leadership of the CPN-UML should learn the lessons of the 1994 and 1997 governments when they were ousted because they did not represent all the interests of the oligarchy and the ruling class in Nepal. These events were also useful for the “hardcore” Maoists to engage in a campaign of individual terrorism that had some support amongst the poorest and more desperate layers of society.

If the CPN-UML were a revolutionary Marxist organisation, as they claim, by now, they would have understood the role of the UN. We have dedicated many articles on the In Defence of Marxism website explaining the role of parliamentary democracy in the epoch of decadent imperialism and what the needs of the masses are. What is needed is a programme of land reform, nationalisation of the main industries and resources and an internationalist policy to break the isolation of Nepal, and a workers’ government to carry out such a programme, which would also call for the support of the proletariat of the whole of the South-Asian subcontinent.

A rich minority surrounded by a sea of poverty

Nepal is a very backward country even for the standards of the South-Asian subcontinent. In fact Nepal is almost a colony of Indian capitalism. Imperialism and feudalism coexist in harmony for the ruling classes of Nepal and India. They use the country for its cheap labour to assemble goods manufactured in other more industrialised countries. We can see medieval characteristics, such as in the transport system, side by side with the most advanced technology available to the Western bourgeois and petit bourgeois for their climbing hobbies, which provides a good income for the few middlemen and the local elite who dominate the economy of the country. Nepal is also a country rich in hydroelectric power, which does not benefit their own masses but is exploited by the Indian bourgeoisie.

The living conditions for women and the lower castes are unbearable. The high rate of female illiteracy can be explained by their marginalisation within the education system. Nepal is a source of young girls for Indian prostitution networks as well as cheap labour for the Indian capitalists.

Nepal offers no future for its young people and there are few choices: migration, joining the army or the guerrillas… Productive land is controlled by a few landowners who also hold political power. In that sense Nepal reminds one of Western European feudalism of the Middle Ages.

These living conditions create a situation where the masses rally behind any alternative that claims to be fighting against the monarchy and their cronies. These conditions in Nepal explain why the guerrillas continue to have a base in society.

The Maoist guerrillas

The Maoist guerrillas in Nepal are exist and continue to have a base because of all the years of Stalinist betrayal and the lack of a genuine revolutionary mass international revolutionary movement of the working class.

The Maoist guerrillas organised and led by the CPN-Maoist have carried out some land reforms in the areas that they control. Despite the lack of real democracy and direct participation of the peasants, and the limited programme, these reforms, in such a poor society as Nepal, allow the guerrillas to keep their prestige high among the poor peasants that are the majority of the population.

The living conditions explained above, together with the lack of any genuine working class based revolutionary party, explain why the guerrillas have the support they need to maintain their armed struggle. One has only to read a report of any NGO to see what the living conditions of the masses in Nepal are really like, but Marxists have to go beyond the NGOs who limit themselves to describing the conditions and applying some mild charitable measures. We have to understand what the real way out is.

Marxism has always stressed the power of the working class, even a tiny working class as in Nepal. With only 12% of the population living in the cities and a high rate of illiteracy, (more than 70% amongst women) it is not an easy task to try to organise the working class. But this has never been an “easy” task. The Bolsheviks in Russia faced very similar conditions. They were a tiny minority rooted among the advanced workers in a handful of cities surrounded by a sea of peasantry. In spite of this it was only the Marxist programme that allowed the workers to take power. As Trotsky put it, it was the party of dialectical materialism and not the party of the bomb that made this possible.

The Nepalese Maoists have observed the degeneration of the so-called “Marxists” that used guerrilla forces as the main force of the revolution in the past. Such is the case in countries like China, North Korea and Vietnam. One would have to be blind not to see the monstrous regimes of North Korea, China or any of the others. The Nepalese Maoists have indeed drawn some conclusions from this. They say: “it should be guaranteed that the people’s army of the 21st century is not marked by modernization with special arms and training confined to barracks after the capture of the state power but remains a torch-bearer of revolution engaged in militarization of the masses and in the service of the masses.” (CPN-Maoist 2004: 147)

The Problems of the Armed Struggle

The splits within the communist movement over the question of “armed struggle” on the one hand, and cooperating with bourgeois parties on the other have only benefited the ruling class. Individual terrorism and class cooperation did not allow for the unification of the struggles of the working class in the cities and the peasants in the rural areas. The state has been able to exploit these policies to justify an increase of repressive measures.

Maoism in Nepal, and elsewhere, has the classical limits of all forms of Stalinism. IT still sees things in terms of “national revolutions”, “democratic revolution”, etc. It is thus incapable of understanding that the Nepalese revolution is linked to the revolution in the rest of the sub-continent, and therefore their grandiloquent speeches about working class unity make no real sense whatsoever. They talk about class unity but their confusion over the role of the peasantry and their limited nationalist outlook isolates them from the masses of India or Pakistan. In fact the survival of the guerrilla movement in Nepal, can only be explained by the impasse of capitalism on the South-Asian subcontinent and on a world scale.

The Colonial Revolution, a revolutionary process that took place in the oppressed countries to smash the yoke of imperialism, in many cases took the form of a guerrilla struggle based on the peasantry. But to be successful the national leadership of these movements had to lean somehow on the urban working class. Even in those countries where the idea that the peasant armies alone achieved victory was dominant, they actually were successful thanks to the passive or active actions of the working class. Because the workers had no party of their own they rallied behind the leaders of the peasant armies, or the guerrillas.

As the Marxists said in 1949 “one of the outstanding facts of the situation in China is the relative passivity of the working class (...) the workers, for the lack of a mass alternative, can only rally to their banner” (E.Grant, The Unbroken Thread, page 286, emphasis in the original). But without the direct and conscious action of the working class in these events only a distorted, bureaucratised caricature of socialism, could develop, as we saw in China or Vietnam.

In fact the leadership of the CPN-Maoist is trying to copy the model that brought Mao to power in China in 1949: first, create an army that will liberate part of the country and put the majority of the peasants behind their leadership and then take power, like Mao. If the price the workers pay for this is a process of decades of suffering the Maoist leaders have no problem with it. Instead of basing themselves on the urban proletariat to lead the revolution, bringing the peasants behind them, as the Bolsheviks did, they prefer the longer and more painful process of peasant war.

International observers claim that the guerrillas control about 75% of the country. If the Maoists had a clean record and were a truly revolutionary force they would be able to call on the poor Nepalese to overthrow the present corrupt regime, now that there are mobilisations taking place against the monarchy. At the same time they could call on the Indian proletariat, as well as the Pakistani working class, to mobilise against their own governments that conspire against the Nepalese masses.

But their own methods put them in a blind alley. Years of bombs in Kathmandu and other cities, and killing of the leaders of the CPN-UML and the left in general cannot be understood by the thousands of supporters of the biggest left party in Nepal and the millions of left activists in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

In spite of their declared aims, the Nepalese CPN-M leaders are providing the state with an excuse to strengthen its machinery of repression. On the other hand the CPN-UML leaders, because of their lack of a revolutionary programme, are not in a position to challenge the ruling class of Nepal and provide a real solution to the masses of Nepal.

Break with reformism: a revolutionary policy is needed!

The situation in Nepal is a desperate one, as in many other parts of the ex-colonial world. The masses cannot wait for the workers in the advanced capitalist countries to lead the world revolution and therefore they will strike against imperialism and their own local ruling class with whatever means they have. The events in Latin America over the last five years, the overthrow of Suharto in Indonesia, the mass movement in the Philippines, are all events that sooner or later will be echoed across the entire South-Asian subcontinent and throughout the whole of Asia. Asia is on the edge and is in the middle of a huge geostrategic battle for resources on the part of imperialism.

The situation in Nepal is quite advanced, from a revolutionary point of view. There is a Maoist guerrilla army that talks about revolution and controls around 70% of the countryside and a “Communist party” that has overwhelming support in the cities and the main valleys. With a programme like that of the Bolsheviks power would be there for the taking. If Lenin’s revolutionary Communist International still existed today things would be very different. A situation like that of Nepal today would be unthinkable. Unfortunately, the lack of any Marxist analysis and perspective causes the leadership of both movements to swing from ultra-leftism to reformism and back again.

The Communist movement in Nepal needs to return to the ideas of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. The objective situation is rotten ripe for socialist revolution. It is the leadership of the movement that is lacking. That is the contradiction that must be resolved.

All serious and thinking Communist activists in Nepal must be asking themselves how do they get out of the present impasse. It is their task to win back the parties of the working class to the genuine ideas of Marxism.