Nepal: Prachanda resigns ‑ a victory for the old regime?

After years of guerrilla struggle the Nepalese Maoists agreed to put down their arms, become a parliamentary party, and eventually enter government. Now they have been manoeuvred out of office and there is an urgent need to draw up a balance sheet and decide which way they are going to go.

The resignation of Prachanda after nine months in power leaves a poor balance sheet for the Nepalese Maoists. After ten years of guerrilla warfare where the Maoist forces controlled large parts of the country and a revolutionary wave that eventually engulfed the urban areas as well that allowed the Maoists to stand in elections and become a sizeable parliamentary force, they embarked on a road of attempting to refound the Nepalese state from within.

As part of this process, a Constituent Assembly was called, a new Constitution was drafted and a new Parliament was elected, in which they got an overwhelming majority and took the Presidency. A price the CPN-M paid for accepting their legalization and allowing a “peace process” to take place was that all its fighters had to be cantoned. The “Agreement on Monitoring of the Management of Arms and Armies” of November 28, 2006 was the basis of the current political set up and was under UN supervision.

Four months after their election, Baburam Bhattarai, the Finance Minister said that Nepal was

“passing through a very historical transition, our objective was to lay a solid foundation for economic development. With that objective in mind I put forward a budget that people termed ‘very ambitious’. But I remain unapologetic on that. We have to be ambitious if we are to transform this backward economy into a developed and vibrant one”. ( Interview with Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, Kantinpur Online, December 12, 2008).

Maoist leaders, including former prime minister Prachanda, have stated that Nepal is not ready for a transition to socialism. Photo by GAD.Maoist leaders, including former prime minister Prachanda, have stated that Nepal is not ready for a transition to socialism. Photo by GAD. The Maoists have clearly stated that their opinion is that Nepal is not ripe for a transition to socialism now, but what is needed is to modernise and strengthen the Nepalese economy. According to this line of thinking, in order to conciliate the interests of the workers and peasants with those of the capitalists and landowners a “social pact” was required. This is the final logic and practical outcome of following the old Stalinist theory of the revolution by stages, whereby the first stage is always the so-called “democratic” stage in which the working class is not supposed to assume any socialist task, but must first form an alliance with a so-called (non-existent) “progressive wing of the bourgeoisie”. Only once the country has carried out all the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution and the economy has become an advanced one can the tasks then be posed of the working class taking on an independent role.

All historical experience and events show abundantly clearly that such a theory means holding back the workers from taking power and allowing the feudalists and capitalists to reconsolidate their position in society. And once they feel they have used the workers’ leaders to achieve this they unceremoniously kick them out of office and move to re-establish government in the hands of their more trusted direct representatives.

The recent experience of Nepal confirms once again that those that believe in the nonsense of the “two stages” are doomed. If the Communists in Nepal do not understand that the Nepalese capitalists and landowners will not play any progressive role whatsoever, they will commit mistake after mistake.

What has to be understood is that the millions that took to the streets against the monarchy, were also fighting for a real improvement in their living conditions, not just for “democracy”. The Maoists in power, as well as the CPN-UML in coalition, had therefore to take a decision about whether to overthrow the ruling class or collaborate with the so-called “democratic” elements. What they failed to understand is that even the most reactionary bourgeois and feudal elements will eventually embrace “democracy” as a means of appeasing the masses, while at the same time not making any real material concessions and – most importantly – without conceding any of their real powers, property, wealth and privileges.

The Maoist-led government, in attempting to build “consensus” with and “confidence” in the business community in December, declared that,

“at least for some time, there should be no bandas and strikes in the industrial, health, education sectors, on the major highways, in the public utility sectors. The government is trying to build political consensus on this issue”. (Kantinpur online, December 12, 2008).

Dr. Bhattarai speaking to a mass rally in September 2007. Photo by Kamred Hulaki.Dr. Bhattarai speaking to a mass rally in September 2007. Photo by Kamred Hulaki. The idea behind this was to prove that the sabotage that the “business class” has started was not the fault of the government.

This behaviour is strikingly similar to some Latin American governments that respond to the attacks of the counter-revolution with more concessions, rather than going onto the offensive and mobilising the masses.

The UCPN-M has played out the parliamentary game, and now they are prisoners of their own policies. Although, while they have found themselves in this position, they had to maintain a left-wing posturing for the sake of their own social base, using language that would indicate some important social changes were on the agenda. The Nepalese masses have been, and still are, waiting for a real change in society.

The Maoists leaders have been carrying out a risky balancing act. An example of this is what was said in a speech on May Day by Baburam Bhattarai, the outgoing Finance Minister, and number two leader in the UCPN-M (the Unified CPN-M, the new name of the Maoist organization after uniting with two other minor communist organizations, the CPN-Ekata Kendra Masal]. This is what he said:

“So today in Nepal the United Communist Party of Nepal wants to establish a New Nepal under the rule of the proletariat. In the new Constitution we will make sure that the rights of labourers are guaranteed. To do this we recognise that the Revolution is not over, but simply its form has changed. We are not in the people’s war anymore, but we are still in revolution, and we will continue the revolution until the rights of the working proletariat are recognised and guaranteed! This New Nepali Republic should be a Republic for the People, and not for the counterrevolutionaries and feudalists and our party is as determined as ever to continue to fight for all of the peasants and workers” (Dr Babburam Bhattarrai's May Day Speech).

This is reminiscent of the old social democratic leaders in the advanced capitalist countries in Europe. They reserved any talk of socialism for their May Day speeches and then during the rest of the year they continued with their reformist policies and collaboration with the bourgeois. In their speeches socialism was something that would come about in a distant future.

In practice the Maoist leaders have been talking about socialism to the masses but about business to the capitalists. Some on the left will accuse us – the genuine Marxists of not understanding the Nepalese reality or they will say that we want to go “too fast”, but this is missing the point. What we have to understand clearly is that after the abdication of the king the rest of the old Nepalese state was left untouched and the oligarchs, the capitalists, the landowners and the feudal elements still retain real power in the country, and they will use this power, hand in hand with the imperialists, to prevent any real social change in society, while masquerading as “democratic” and “progressive”.

Now they have managed to carry out a successful “soft coup”. However, the situation is still open and the Maoists could recover the lost ground, but if the capitalists/feudalists should feel that their system is under threat they will not hesitate when the conditions are ripe to try to organise a “hard coup” as they have done in the past. Let us not forget the fact that it was Prachanda who waged a 10-year long guerrilla war because of the fact that the old CPN had accepted to play the parliamentary game after a coup. Does this mean that a generation of courageous fighters fought for nothing? That all those lives were lost, simply to end up in the same position as before?

The difference now is that the leadership of the former CPN-M has a responsibility to the tens of thousands of guerrilla fighters and tens of thousands of activists that had fought hard to ensure real change would be achieved for the oppressed and exploited in Nepal. They won the elections, and took office thanks to a mass movement of a revolutionary character. The task was then to take real power after having taken office.

In their official declaration after the unification congress which brought into being the UCPN-M, they declared that the Unified CPN-Maoist had adopted a new statute with an objective to reach communism through socialism. Rosa Luxemburg once said that socialists had to build a new state on the ruins of the old one, but this lesson has not be learnt by the leaders of the Nepalese communist movement.

When the Maoists reached office they solemnly declared that the conditions of the masses must now improve and this was the only criterion for a sustainable development. Therefore they launched a four-month campaign to census the needs of the people, and they also launched a programme of alphabetisation and a “struggle against imperialism”. This was meant to be the perfect counterweight to the agenda of the former King Gyaendra after Nepal had joined the WTO. However, even this very modest programme proved to be too much for the former supporters of the palace and the army who have therefore staged a manoeuvre to make Prachanda resign.

The line of the Maoist leaders is certainly not worth the qualification of “communist”. They have now declared that the Maoists are not like those traditional political parties who wish to stick to positions of office at any cost. They claim that as they are not like those shameless parties of the past, they decided to leave the government. But what alternative do they pose now?

The ruling elite of Nepal is playing for time, fearful of the consequences of integrating the guerilla fighters into the police and the army. Photo by Buddhas Breakfast.The ruling elite of Nepal is playing for time, fearful of the consequences of integrating the guerilla fighters into the police and the army. Photo by Buddhas Breakfast. Their remains the problem of the integration into the “New Army” of the “democratic state” of the 19,000 ex-Maoist guerrillas. The ruling elite is resisting this as they do not trust the former guerrillas. After all, what they require are “armed bodies of men”, to use Engels’ definition of the state, in the defence of private property. The former guerrillas have among them many self-sacrificing revolutionary elements who fought bravely in the past, seeing many of the comrades lose their lives in the struggle. These fighters are now supposed to become part of the army of the bourgeois state and play the role of policeman against the masses in struggle. No wonder the elite do not trust them. This explains why the new coalition parties are hesitating and playing for time.

Unfortunately the Maoist leaders, rather than break with bourgeois politics and mobilise the masses, have declared that they will now be a “loyal opposition”. This comes after they defused the mass movement of three years ago, demobilised the most revolutionaries sectors of Nepalese society playing the parliamentary game and have not challenged in any serious way the property of the ruling class. They have thus learnt nothing from the recent history of Nepal, or of any other country if it comes to that.

What happened in 1994 should be a warning to the Maoists in Nepal. The CPN-UML formed a minority government that also lasted for nine months until the state managed to force their resignation and ever since they have accepted the limits and confines of bourgeois parliamentary democracy. By all accounts, the Maoists are now on the same road.

A group of Nepalese political parties agreed to form a "national government" a day after Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal resigned. After a meeting in Kathmandu, members of the Communist UML party agreed to head the government. (see Nepal deal on national government, BBC World, May 5, 2009).

If the Nepalese Maoists were to once again mobilise the masses, they could overthrow the rotten feudal and capitalist elite. Photo by Izahorsky.If the Nepalese Maoists were to once again mobilise the masses, they could overthrow the rotten feudal and capitalist elite. Photo by Izahorsky. This is a de facto “soft coup” that has, however, provoked a large number of daily demonstrations across the country to demand respect for the “people’s will”. This fact alone demonstrates that there is still a large reserve of popular support for the Maoist leaders, despite the fact that they banned strikes while they were in power and bowed to the pressures of international imperialism. It shows the resilience of the Nepalese revolution, which is embedded in the real material needs of the masses.

Simply because there has been a short-lived coalition government involving the Maoist leaders, does not mean that the UCPN-M has no further role to play. The conditions of the masses will push them again and again down the path of revolution. The leaders of the UCPN-M can still make up for lost time. If they gathered together the forces of the peasantry, together with the urban population, and maintained the guerrillas as a fighting forces, they could quite easily mobilise the masses for the overthrow of the rotten feudal/capitalist elite that has proved time and again that there is not an ounce of anything progressive within them.

However, it is also true that the masses cannot wait for ever. History shows that you cannot simply turn the mass movement on and off like a water tap. One must strike while the iron is hot. Revolutionary conditions do not continue indefinitely. At a certain point tiredness and demoralisation can set in. On this basis support fort the Nepalese Communists can be eroded.

What is required is for the Nepalese communist movement to adopt a programme of socialism that includes land reform (a combination of land to the small peasants and collectivisation of the big farms), the nationalisation of the key sectors of the economy and the launching of programme to combat unemployment and poverty. This can only be achieved if the commanding heights of the economy are placed under the democratic control of the workers and peasants of Nepal and run according to a centralised plan. That means breaking with the idea of the “two stages” and understanding that there is one single unified process, one revolution which will complete the tasks of the bourgeois revolution and at the same time carry out the socialist revolution.

If the Communists overthrew Capitalism in Nepal they would become a becon for workers and peasants around the world. Photo by Kamred Hulaki.If the Communists overthrew Capitalism in Nepal they would become a becon for workers and peasants around the world. Photo by Kamred Hulaki. Nepal is a small underdeveloped country and many on the left will say that such a programme cannot be carried out because there will be imperialist intervention. To base oneself on this concept means paralysing the Nepalese communist movement and keeping it within the confines of the feudal/capitalist set up. This de facto means doing nothing, or worse it means consciously holding back the masses and thereby discrediting the Communists in the eyes of those same masses.

The only answer is to launch the Nepalese revolution with a perspective of spreading it to the rest of the South Asian subcontinent, to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and beyond. The present world crisis of capitalism is creating the conditions for revolutionary ferment in all countries. The conditions of the masses are worsening by the day everywhere. The Nepalese communists have a choice before them: either succumb to the pressures of bourgeois liberal politics or lead the masses in revolution. If they follow the first path their experience will be added to the many experiences of defeated revolutions; if they follow the second they could set in motion a chain of revolutions that would be the beginning of the socialist transformation of the whole of the South Asian subcontinent and would be seen as a beacon by workers and peasants around the world. The choice is theirs!