Lessons from the history of the Nepalese Communist movement

Monday, 23 June 2003
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Nepal is not often mentioned in the western media, apart from the occasional report of an attack of the Maoist guerrillas or such events as the royal coup. However behind this obscure image of Nepal being a far and distant place somewhere in the Himalayas, there is a real tradition of class struggle and revolutionary history.

Nepal is not often mentioned in the western media, apart from the occasional report of an attack of the Maoist guerrillas or such events as the royal coup. However behind this obscure image of Nepal being a far and distant place somewhere in the Himalayas, where you have just a few eccentric mountaineers and Buddhist monks there lies an important chapter of the world labour and communist movement. There is a real tradition of class struggle and revolutionary history.

This tradition has risen once more to the surface during the events that have been taking place over the past few weeks. These events have placed Nepal back in the limelight of the international media. Mass demonstrations against the king, student demonstrations for a better education together with the resignation of the Prime Minister have underlined the real processes taking place in this country. They show that the class struggle is once more on the agenda in Nepal.

One of the key actors in the process unfolding in Nepal is the Communist movement (both the Party and the wider organisation that it influences). The evolution and history of the Nepalese Communist movement is indeed important for those who want to learn the lessons of the past in order not to be doomed to repeat them in the future, especially now that a mass movement is taking place.

Origins in the 1940s

The history of the Nepalese communist movement begins in the mid forties in India when a struggle was being waged within the Indian National Congress. The National Party, the main bourgeois party in Nepal, also had its origins within that National Congress.

Many of the Nepalese exiles in India had worked closely with the Indian National Congress during its struggles against the British imperialists. At the time Nepal was in the hands of the upper layers of the Rana caste, which was backed by the British colonialists.

This has its origins in the British takeover of India. The Nepalese rulers had backed the British in their wars on India. In reward parts of its territory which had previously been removed were returned to it and it remained formally independent, but depending heavily on British backing. Nepal was ruled by a king and in 1858 king Surendra bestowed on his prime minister the title of Rana (an old title denoting martial glory). The prime minister's position was a hereditary one, and all the descendants of the then prime minister Jang Bahadur became known as the house of the Ranas. This led to a complicated Rana caste system, with higher and lower levels, depending on which wives of the prime minister they were descended from. Thus in the long run layers of the Rana emerged that had no real interest in maintaining this caste rule as they were excluded from the fruits of office.

Because the Rana regime depended heavily on the backing of the British colonial rule on the Indian subcontinent the exiles drew the conclusion that the Rana regime could only be brought down once its colonial backers had also been removed.

In the city of Banaras in October 1946, a group of middle-class Nepalese exiles formed the All-India Nepali National Congress (Akhil Bharatiya Nepali Rashtriya Congress). Many of its members were students who had been involved in the movements in India and had subsequently been jailed. During its council in Calcutta in January 1947, the new organization dropped its "All-India" prefix and merged with two other groups, the Nepali Sangh (Nepalese Society) of Banaras and the Gorkha Congress of Calcutta, which had closer connections with lower-class Ranas. The Nepali National Congress (Nepali Rashtriya Congress) was officially dedicated to the overthrow of the Rana dictatorship by peaceful means and to the establishment of democratic socialism. This was clearly influenced by the programme of the Indian congress.

Of course their real agenda was to establish a capitalist Nepal under their control. One of its first mass actions was participation in a labour strike in the jute mills of Biratnagar in the Tarai region, which disrupted traffic at the Indian railhead in Jogbani, and the army had to be brought in to break this action. Although this garnered much publicity for the party and brought thousands of protesters onto the streets, including those of Kathmandu, the strike was suppressed, and its leaders, including Bishweshwar Prasad (B.P.) Koirala, were imprisoned.

When Mohan Shamsher took over as prime minister in 1948, he quickly outlawed the Nepali National Congress and showed no interest in implementing the new constitution that was scheduled to take effect in April. That created the conditions for a mass movement. The Nepali Congress Party, after a couple of failed military coups, formally decided to wage an armed struggle against the Rana regime.

Permanent revolution

The Nepalese so-called "progressive" bourgeois based itself on different classes and casts to take power. As Trotsky had pointed out, those ruling classes that arrived late on the scene of history were to play no independent role. That was definitely the case with the Nepalese ruling class, which never had a real role in developing the country, and was thus unable to have an independent existence.

The only force that is really able to carry through the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution in an underdeveloped country like Nepal is the organised working class leading the peasants and poor masses in society. The experience of the Russian Revolution of 1905 and later the February 1917 Revolution, convinced Lenin that the key role in the revolution belonged to the urban proletariat leading the poor peasants behind them. If there is any place in the world where there is need of the permanent revolution that country is indeed Nepal. (see The Permanent Revolution and Results & Prospects for more on Trotsky's important theory on this question).

A genuine socialist government, i.e. a government of the organised working class under a Marxist leadership, hand in hand with the poor peasants, would be the only form of government that could grant full democratic rights to the Nepalese masses. It would also improve the living conditions of the masses by expropriating the capitalists and landlords. It would become a revolutionary pole of attraction in the whole of the Indian subcontinent, and thus would affect the entire world.

Squeezed between Russia, China and India

Initially the new Indian Government under Nehru had not supported the Nepalese autocracy that was regarded as one of the pillars of British imperialism in the region. Also the victory of the Chinese peasant army in 1949, which had inflicted a major blow against the landowning class, was seen a real threat to the interests of the Indian ruling class in the region. As the Nepalese "rebels" had been helped and financed by India, once it became clear that the future of a stable ally in Nepal necessitated having a friendly regime there, the Indian ruling class gave the green light for a regime change in this neighbouring country. The behaviour of India in the region towards its smaller neighbours has always been one of an imperialist power. The Indian ruling class has always exploited its "little" neighbours like Nepal or Bhutan in order to extract natural resources and maintain a strategic role in the Indian subcontinent.

The late 1940s Nepalese revolution consisted of scattered fighting, mostly in the Tarai region, together with increasingly large demonstrations in the hill towns. Armed struggles did not develop in the actual Kathmandu Valley itself, but there were big demonstrations, with up to 50,000 people taking part. This led to the collapse of the Rana regime and the old king returning to Kathmandu. Together with the Nepali Congress Party he nominated an interim government headed by Mohan Shamsher with five members from the upper layers of the Rana caste and five from the Nepali Congress Party.

The Communist Party of Nepal was established in Calcutta in 1949 and was immediately faced with the dilemma of which road to take. In India the Communist Party was supporting the Indian National Congress, abandoning any immediate perspective of the workers taking power. This was in line with the dictates of the Soviet Union which was backing the nascent Indian bourgeoisie. Across the border in China Mao's Communist Party was leading a peasant army. His perspective was one based on the two-stage theory, and therefore envisioned a period of capitalist development for China. But the objective conditions ruled that out and in spite of his own perspectives Mao found himself in the process of coming to power, and establishing a regime modelled on that of Moscow. (See The Chinese Revolution  and Reply to David James, by Ted Grant for more on this)

The Nepalese Communists were squeezed between these apparently contradictory trends. Their reasoning led them to refuse to take part in the armed struggle, which was being waged by the National Party, condemning it as a "bourgeois" revolution.

In a country where more than eighty percent of the population was made of peasants the option of the guerrilla struggle along the lines of the Chinese model must have seemed the easiest option. This was especially the case if we consider that China was in the middle of a peasant Civil War.

The Nepalese Communist Party leadership proved incapable of solving this dilemma. They correctly organised in the cities among the working class and among the poor peasants, but they effectively left the initiative in organising the armed struggle in the rural areas in the hands of the bourgeois.

Despite all these difficulties with the internal divisions, the party managed to grow. Unfortunately, in line with what was going on internationally in the official Communist movement, the party adopted the usual Stalinist two-stage theory and called for a broad-based alliance of all the "progressive forces" for the establishment of a "people's democracy", the meaning of which remained unclear. It could be interpreted as genuine workers' and peasants' power, but in reality it involved an alliance with a wing of the bourgeois, which meant subordinating the interests of the workers to those of the bosses and landlords. A popular front was what they were aiming at.

Lost opportunity of the 1940s

That was probably the first missed opportunity of the young Nepalese communist movement. A correct approach and a unified and cohesive leadership could have given them a real base in society. The idea that the way to achieve socialism by stages has been proven wrong by the course of history. The Stalinist method of "democracy first" and "socialism later", while all the time supporting the so-called progressive bourgeois has proven to be a fatal mistake for the communist movement internationally. The examples of Indonesia, Sudan or Iran are full of important lessons for today's communists, and should be studied by the Nepalese communists also.

The revolution in the underdeveloped former colonial countries can only be successful if it proceeds to the socialist tasks. It cannot remain at the "first stage" for this will inevitably lead to defeat. For this to happen it needs to be under the leadership of the working class (however small this may be in numbers) guided by a Marxist party with a clear Bolshevik programme. That is why genuine communists would never accept the idea of compromise with the so-called "democratic" parties. The experience of Nepal itself shows over and over again that this always leads to defeat in the end.

In the past the taking up of the armed struggle in the countryside could have served to build a strong base among the peasants. By raising together with this the demand for the expropriation of the landlords with the land being given to the peasants the Nepalese communists could have won the leadership of the peasant movement. This would have involved maintaining a strict Bolshevik approach towards peasant guerrilla warfare. The armed peasant struggle should be used as an auxiliary to back up the struggle of the workers in the urban centres, not as an alternative to it. Unfortunately this is precisely what the Maoist wing of the movement has been doing for some time.

As many as seventeen factions - ranging from the quasi pro-establishment "royal communists" to the extremely radical fringe groups - vied for leadership and control, preventing the movement from making significant gains. In the first democratic elections the CPN got only 4 MPs. When the parties were banned in the 1960s the communist factions worked in underground conditions which helped to widen the political differences between the different Stalinist-Maoist groupings.

As in any other country the social and economic conditions of Nepal determined the real tasks of the movement. Nepal had a peculiar class structure that did not help the young communist movement to reach the correct conclusions and move away from all the different forms of Stalinism. The party was in fact founded with many of the "clichés" of both the Moscow and Beijing bureaucracies.

Nepal was one of the least urbanized countries in the world, with only 6.3 percent of its total population residing in urban areas in 1981. When the Ranas fell in the early fifties, only 2 percent of the adult population was literate, the infant mortality rate was more than 60 percent, and average life expectancy was thirty-five years!

Despite all this the tiny working class was organised in a "modern" manner. The first trade union was the All-Nepal Trade Union Congress established in 1947 in the struggle against autocracy. The movement for democracy and workers' rights that took place in Biratnagar in 1946 was the catalyst for such a development.

Less than one percent of the population was engaged in modern industrial occupations, and 85 percent of employment and income came from agriculture, mostly performed by tenants using archaic methods and working under temporary contracts. There were only approximately 100 kilometres of railroad tracks and a few kilometres of paved roads in the entire nation. Telephones, electricity, and the postal services served only 1 percent of the population and reached only certain small pockets of the country. The Nepalese currency circulated only in and around the Kathmandu Valley. Government expenditure went almost entirely on salaries and benefits for the army, police, and civil servants, with any savings going to the prime minister. Health and education received less than one percent of the government's budget.

The nation still contained autonomous principalities (rajya) based on deals with former local kings, and landlords acting as small dictators over their own land. Caste, ethnic, and linguistic differences abounded, but only three groups – the Chhetris, Brahmans, and some Newars - had any say in the national government. The Tarai, the richest area in the country, had been systematically ignored by the government and exploited for 200 years, and many of its people felt more at home in India than in Nepal. National integration was a major problem.

These facts and figures serve to underline the point that the Nepalese ruling class had not achieved a single task of the bourgeois revolution despite the formal independence they enjoyed. And all these problems made the task a huge one. But the King was simply waiting for an ebb in the movement to put an end to the so-called "democratic experiment" which had started with the revolution at the end of the 1940s.

For almost ten years the king ruled through interim governments. This was an unstable period where two factions within the ruling elite were contending for power. Finally in 1959 the first national elections in the history of Nepal were held, and the Nepali Congress won an overwhelming victory. It took 74 out of 109 seats. B.P. Koirala, after almost ten years of revolution, at last became prime minister. There were clearly illusions among the masses that this would open up a period of real change.

The new government was clearly influenced by the geo-strategic position of Nepal. They opened relations with the USSR, India, the USA and China. That is also when their first "five year plan" started. The army, the former aristocracy, the conservative landowning groups, and the king were all uneasy about the democratic reforms of the Koirala government. They were also concerned with the pressures to go further on the part of the opposition groups inside Parliament, including the Gorkha Parishad and the Communist Party of Nepal. It was clear that they saw these "reforms" as a threat to their interests.

Coup of 1960

On December 15, 1960, with the army's support and with little warning, the king used his emergency powers to dismiss the cabinet and arrest its leaders on the charge that they had failed to provide national leadership or maintain law and order. A few months later all parties were banned and a wave of repression swept across Nepal. This again shows the limitations and the contradictions that afflicted the Nepalese ruling class. There was the nationalist bourgeois wing that was pushing for some form of modern capitalist development. However this came up against the interests of the old land-owning class, which had the big advantage of controlling the state apparatus, in particular the officer caste in the army.

As the nationalist bourgeoisie was showing all its limitations what emerged was the need for a Marxist leadership capable of unifying the workers in the cities with the poor peasants in the countryside, together with the students and small businessmen, in the struggle against the false "democracy" of the bourgeois parties. The communists should never create any "democratic illusions" in the capitalist class and their hangers-on. These will always betray the workers in the last analysis.

In 1962 war broke out between India and China and as a consequence India stopped supporting the opposition to the king and chose to support a stable dictatorship rather than an unstable "democracy". Showing their real interests in the region the Indian army smashed the Nepalese resistance based on the National Party.

After the 1960 coup the support for the Communist movement was maintained through the All-Peasants Union and the Nepal Trade Union Congress. This was forced to work underground because the dictatorship had set up a "yellow" union to keep a respectable face inside the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The NLO (Nepal Labour Organisation) was this state puppet. During the dictatorship the union movement was fragmented and it did not manage achieve any kind of united front and thus many local organisations developed. The cadres of the communist movement played a key role in the development of that trade union movement.

The international splits in the world communist movement had an important and devastating effect on the CPN. The divisions about the line that the party had to adopt in relation to the dictatorship in Nepal, and the question of alliances, emerged just as the Sino-Soviet split was taking place on a worldwide scale. (See also The Colonial Revolution and the Sino-Soviet Split)

The influence of Maoism

In Nepal as in the rest of the official communist movement internationally, there was a reaction taking place against the de facto reformism (or popular frontism) of the official Soviet backed communist parties. But because there was no genuine mass Marxist pole of attraction this led to ultra-left tendencies in the form of guerrilla warfare as the only way of transforming society. But history has always shown that none of these methods alone have ever achieved any real solution for the masses of Africa, Asia or Latin America. They have either led to outright defeats, or where the guerrilla armies have come to power, they have led to terribly deformed regimes where the working class has never had power. This is now leading to a situation where the so-called Communist parties (of China, Vietnam, etc.,) are ruling over a process where capitalist methods are gradually being introduced.

The second congress of the CPN in June 1957 had rejected an approach to a more pro-Chinese policy. The conference adopted a "republican" platform, but the leadership was under the control of the Rayamajhi group which was in favour of a more Maoist (pro-Chinese) policy. The decision of the Second Congress to organize a party congress after a two-year interval had been postponed for 6 years by the Rayamajhi group on the basis of the "central committee majority".

Eventually the Third Congress was held in April 1962. By that time the country was under the new dictatorship and the party was in a deep crisis. When the coup was carried out in 1960, Keshar Jung Rayamajhi, general secretary of the CPN, was attending the World Communist Conference in Moscow in October 1960. He issued a statement from Moscow in favour of the king saying he had taken a "progressive step". This was very much in line with the Stalinist tradition that cynically supported kings and dictatorships if these were considered useful to the interests of either the Soviet or the Chinese bureaucracies.

However, the CPN-Politburo under the leadership of Puspa Lal opposed this move of the king as an attack on the movement and demanded a conference of all the parliamentary parties. This shows the deep divisions that existed within the party leadership and how disastrous the two-stage theory was for the CPN. It was one thing for this policy to be proposed from Moscow in a nice cosy conference. It was another thing for the thousands of activists who were being arrested and attacked.

In February 1961, the Central Plenum of the party was organised in India and this revealed that three factions now existed, one led by Rayamajhi including the majority of the Central Committee in favour of a "constitutional monarchy and directive democracy" (basically a variant of Stalinism, but maintaining the king, and with close links to China), another led by Puspa Lal in favour of dissolving parliament and a united mass movement; and a third led by Mohan Bikram Singh in favour of elections for a constituent assembly. The majority of the participants supported the third option, but there were no supporters for this position on the Central Committee apart from Mohan Bikram himself. Unfortunately for the CPN and the Nepalese masses the degeneration of the communist movement by the 1960s had reached such a degree that there was no hope of any decision being taken in consultation with the rank-and-file of the movement.

The 1962 conference proved to be the final showdown after all the intrigues of the previous nine months. All the factions were pulling in different directions. "Commitment to Unity", as it had been defined during the Congress, could not last long. As usual the call for unity was a disguise for what was to be a rather rapid split.

Splits in the movement

The Rayamajhi group organized a conference in 1966 and put forward the programme of National Democracy and amended the constitution. It organized its own "Third Congress" in 1968 and elected a central leadership. That was a de facto split – the first of many. On the other hand, because of the passive Central Executive of the Third Congress of 1962, Puspa Lal and his comrades organized a convention in 1968. Altogether these factional divisions within the CPN were to create more than a dozen communist parties! It would take more than one article (several in fact) to deal with the disastrous situation in Nepal in the 1970s and 1980s.

But what really was to shock the Nepalese communist movement was what happened in 1974, when the Jhapa District Committee under the East Koshi Zonal Committee came out in opposition and declared that it was launching an armed struggle. Influenced by the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the Indian Naxalite movement this faction took a so-called "leftist" turn in reaction to the official party policy. This was a new development and a break with traditions of the Nepalese communist movement and also a big mistake.

It was a mistake, not so much because it was armed, but because hand in hand with this went the abandonment of any real attempt to concentrate the main work of the party on building up among the organised workers in the cities. The tactic of the armed struggle can in fact lead the party away from its main task of building among the working class. This means the party abandons the traditions of genuine Bolshevism which was always based on the industrial and urban working class. As we have already pointed out, it can at best be used as an auxiliary to the mass movement in the cities. It should never become an alternative to it.

This "turn" had serious repercussions for the long run. Thousands of revolutionaries ended up being arrested, killed or executed in a heroic but desperate battle that developed out of a lack of understanding of the meaning of "National Liberation" in the context of the Nepalese conditions.

First regrouping

The CPN(ML) was established on December 26, 1978, as a regrouping of many smaller "Marxist-Leninist" groups when a desire for unity swept across the movement. As a result of this the CPN(ML) developed as the most influential party within the communist movement of Nepal.

The splits within the communist movement over the question of the "armed struggle" including the tactic of individual terrorism only benefited the ruling class. It did not allow for the unification of the struggles of the working class in the cities together with that of the peasants in the rural areas. The state was also able to exploit it to justify an increase in repressive measures. The split also led to bitter recriminations between different wings of the movement. These ended up with members of the different "Communist" parties solving their differences with the use of machine-guns and petrol bombs rather than the pen and paper. This widened the gap between the difference factions while the ruling class were rubbing their hands.

In 1989 the fourth congress was held of the CPN(ML), the main group left from the fragments of the old CPN. It came to the conclusion that it was necessary to democratise the communist movement. This was an important development and a step forward for the movement. It was also clearly influenced by what was going on internationally.

The major decision of the Fourth Congress was the formation of a United Left Front for a joint mass movement in 1990 and "functional unity" (Karyagat Ekata) with the Nepali Congress for Democracy Movement. The Congress elected Madan Bhandari as General Secretary. This was a move to abandon the armed struggle and to establish parliamentary democracy. Again the communist movement committed similar mistakes to those of the past. In abandoning the blind alley of guerrillaism they swung once more back to the other extreme of popular frontism. They thus moved from one extreme to the other without clearly analysing their own past experience.

Of course the fact that a conference had not been held for 25 years did not really contribute towards guiding the internal factional discussion along healthy lines. The Nepalese communist movement was established as a photocopy of the Moscow party, and later on they copied the Chinese model. But they had now at least some sort of internal democracy. The fact that factions with some internal discussion were allowed was a promising feature of the renewed young communist movement.

Formation of the CPN(UML)

In 1990 seven different Communist Parties and groups, including the CPN(ML) and CPN(M) came together to launch a mass struggle against the Partyless Panchayat system under the banner of the United Front. After the establishment of the multi-party system in 1990, in January 1991 the CPN(ML) and CPN(M) fused to form the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) or CPN-UML. There was a very positive development in this because there was a clear break with the Stalinist traditions of the past and the new party had a more open approach. However, there was also a negatives side in that they abandoned some of the Leninist principles. In practice they accepted parliamentary democracy as a goal in itself. A truly healthy debate about the events in Russia during the 1918-1924 period would have been a big step forward, but the various communist groupings were still too much under the influence of the debates that had been taking place either within the CPSU or the Chinese CP in the late eighties.

Most of the mainstream communist groups in the 1980s had moved to supporting democracy and a multiparty system. They had no allegiance to any kind of international communist "headquarters" or leadership. Most of them also renounced the Maoism that many of them had embraced earlier. But some groups did not and these developed the Maoist methods of guerrilla warfare even further, something that in the past the Nepalese communist movement had rejected, and correctly so.

Because the divisions among the different communist groupings had existed for so long this led to the tragic situation where former "comrades" started killing each other. This was especially the case once one of the communist parties had grown sufficiently and was thus sucked into the structures of the state by being involved in coalition governments. They were seen by their former comrades as enemies and thus legitimate targets. This understandably hardened the already hostile positions they had to each other.

The fact that so-called communists or revolutionaries have on their agenda the assassination of activists and leaders of another "enemy communist party" is to be condemned. It is tragic especially if we consider that these people were all "comrades" in arms no so long ago. We do not support the lunatic policy of individual terrorism which involves the placing of bombs in public places as this does not bring the movement a centimetre closer to the goal of the socialist transformation of society and at the same time it merely gives an excuse to reaction. However the killing of communist activists by another group of so-called communists is a criminal act that should be condemned by all those who sincerely wish to unite the Nepalese communist and struggle for a genuine Socialist Nepal.

The 1990s: a decade of instability and civil war

The United Left Front coalition that had been organized in late 1989 supported multiparty democracy. During the pro-democracy movement this front played a crucial role by joining the interim government led by the Nepali Congress Party. At the same time they ceased to make any criticisms of this party, fully backing government policy. Although differences inside the communist camp had been endemic when the movement had been underground, these internal conflicts lessened as communists started operating openly and began to look towards future electoral gains. As a partner in the interim coalition government, the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) did endorse the new constitution which retained the monarchy, albeit "reluctantly".

The Fifth National Congress of the CPN(UML) was held in January, 1993 in Kathmandu. This Congress marked a big change in the history of the communist movement of Nepal. It was convened in an apparently open and democratic atmosphere and many foreign political leaders were present as observers. The Congress adopted the "People's Multi-Party Democracy" as the political programme of the Nepalese revolution. The slogan of the congress was: "Oppose dogmatism and liquidationism, uphold the Banner of Marxism Creatively". That isn't doing too badly as a slogan for a party which up until not too long ago had been under the influence of Moscow and Beijing.

In this process the party adopted a much more reformist line, at the same time abandoning the hard line Maoist policy of guerrilla warfare of the past. It also openly defends the Welfare State as a goal for the party. A very strong nationalist element is also a feature in the propaganda of the re-unified CPN.

Thus the trajectory of the leadership of the communist movement in Nepal has been from reformism to ultra-leftism and again back to reformism. They now began to see parliamentary politics as the final goal of the struggle, and not a means to an end. This left them in a very weak position and made it practically impossible to maintain any credible revolutionary propaganda.

Also on the union front things changed in 1989. Most of the trade unions that had been set up during the dictatorship came together and established the General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT), the Communist led trade union. Also the Nepalese Trade Union Congress was re-launched in 1991. These are now the two main trade union confederations.

CPN(UML) involved in government

The CPN(UML) formed a minority government in December 1994 as it had emerged as the largest Party in Parliament after the lections that took place that year. Man Mohan Adhikari, Parliamentary leader of the Party, became the first Communist Prime Minister of Nepal and a 15 member Cabinet was formed. But the Government only lasted nine months. All the contradictions of a society like Nepal came together to create the conditions for an unstable government.

The CPN(UML) was ousted from the government in August 1995 and a rightist coalition government uniting most of the bourgeois parties, led by the Nepali Congress, was formed. This is a traditional feature of bourgeois politics. In times of crisis the workers' parties can come to power. But if they insist on staying within the confines of the capitalist system they simply play into the hands of the bosses who can then place all the blame on the left parties and thus prepare the ground for a return of the conservative parties. These parties are used by the ruling class as a kind of joker in the pack, to be pulled out when needed. That is why the communist activists should learn a lesson from this experience. They must base themselves firmly on the working class and the agricultural proletariat and refuse any idea of "alliances" with the bourgeois parties. This is the only way of achieving any real change in society.

In spite of the bitter experience of 1994-95, again in 1997 a new coalition government was formed and again the CPN(UML) leadership accepted to be a part of it, which was to last only until 1999. This "coalition" government was set up at the same time that the hard-line Maoist split away from the CPN was carrying out a guerrilla war in the mountains. Some even claimed that they controlled up to 80% of the country at one time.

In 1999 new elections were called and the CPN(UML) got 31% of the vote and they were excluded from government. Again, an alliance of right wing parties formed the government. But this was not to last long, and in May 2002 parliament was dissolved. Elections were supposed to be called in November, but these still have not been held. Thus for the past year Nepal has been ruled by a de facto dictatorship of the king.

Meanwhile between 1996 and 2002, Nepal's civil was festering out of sight of the capital Katmandu and the other major cities. Last year, the Maoists' guerrilla war with the royalist troops escalated tenfold, claiming 4,655 lives, while Nepal's economy shrank by one percent and foreign tourist arrivals fell to 216,000, half the level of 2000. This destroyed Nepal's economy, provoking a major split in the ruling class. The "royal massacre" that we saw last year is a confirmation of that split.

Today the Maoist guerrillas claim that they control more than half of the countryside and that their student and labour unions have made deep inroads into the cities and towns. The fact is that the guerrillas have indeed gained some support among sections of the population in the past period. This support can be easily explained and it is not due to some devious plot on the part of the guerrillas. The support is there because of the deteriorating living conditions in Nepal. The masses are looking for an alternative and a layer sees this alternative in the guerrillas.

On the other hand, the king is preparing to strengthen his military apparatus to combat the guerrillas (while at the same time pretending to accept "peace talks"). He is aiming to increase the size of the Royal Nepal Army by 50 percent, to 65,000 soldiers by 2006, with new weapons and equipment arriving from India, Britain and the United States. This kind of "war on terror" will easily find an echo in the present warmongering Bush US administration. And they will easily find a link with Bin Laden's al-Qaeda to justify this if necessary.

In a country where almost half of the population is under 20 years of age, young people leave school and discover that their only option is to emigrate — the poorer ones to India, the better off ones to the Persian Gulf states or to South Korea. That is why the mass student demonstrations of the last few weeks have such an important significance. The list of 68 demands raised by the students is a clear indication that the youth want a better education and a better future. The unified struggle of seven different student unions is an important development. It can be used as a means of spreading the struggle to other sectors who are only too ready to take up the fight. It can be a lever to unite the whole of the labour, student and peasants' movement in their struggle for their legitimate demands and for an improvement in their living conditions.

In Nepal, newspapers have been carrying articles about hundreds of workers on a food-for-work programme that blocked the construction of a road because the project manager had stolen the food. This kind of thing is what creates a base of support to the guerrillas, especially when the CPN(UML) has chosen the wrong road of popular frontism (i.e. class collaboration), which is simply a concession to some of the corrupt ruling class parties.

Nepal's five major political parties are in reality excluded from key issues of peace and war. A series of street demonstrations have culminated in the resignation of the king's handpicked prime minister, Lokendra Bahadur Chand, Nepal's 12th prime minister since 1990! The CPN(UML) in reality provides the mass social base for the coalition that they are leading. A rally was organised by the CPN(UML) where more than 70,000 people participated in the demonstration. That shows their real potential.

The movement is now at a crucial stage, after the cease-fire agreement that was signed on January 29, when five Maoist leaders surfaced in town, and peace talks began. There is a mass movement where the traditional communist organisations are playing a leading role. Thus the "war" has stopped. There is a change taking place in favour of real class politics and this can be seen from the fact that the students and the masses as a whole are demonstrating on the streets. The danger is that this will once more lead to class collaboration and popular frontism as it has done so many times in the past.

The CPN(UML) should change course before it is too late and return to the real Leninist traditions and base themselves on the only force in society that is able to overcome the problems of the entire population, that is the working class and the poor peasants under a Marxist leadership. And the programme of such a party should be that of the expropriation of the landlords, the nationalisation of the main industries under workers' control and management and genuine rule of the people, which can only be achieved by the introduction of socialism. These are the main tasks of the moment.