For the past three months Nepal has been mired in its deepest political crisis since 1990. Two weeks of an all-out “bandh” (the local term for a general strike or total shutdown) has pushed the monarchy to the verge of collapse. The King finds himself completely isolated and the only support he has enjoyed so far, from the Chinese Government, remains suspiciously quiet. The King is currently only supported by the state apparatus. This will only last a few weeks or even days. The end of the line for the autocratic Nepalese monarchy means that in the next period Nepal will be a serious battleground for the struggle of the main social forces of the country.
The Maoist guerrillas and the SPA, the Seven Parties Alliance, which includes the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) (CPN-UML) and the Nepalese Congress among others, have coordinated their actions, resulting in the complete isolation of the King. Maoist rebels, who announced a cease-fire in the Kathmandu Valley for the strike, said that they support the protests. On Friday, April 14 the King released a statement in an attempt to buy some time, but only the most loyal newspapers came out in his favour. The King announced his desire to open up a dialogue with the seven-party opposition and hold elections, but the opposition countered that the King's offer contained nothing new so the protests continued. This was in itself a partial victory for the SPA, which had agreed to a 12-point political programme with the Maoists at the end of 2005. The King has been trying to break the alliance between the parties and the guerrillas, but has failed.
This movement is the biggest since the King was forced to dissolve the National Assembly in February last year. This is the first time that a curfew has been so widely defied by so many people over the last 16 years. Reports have been issued from the country saying that tens of thousands of people across the country have joined in the pro-democracy rallies organised by the SPA and that all sorts of rank-and-file organisations have denounced the royal regime and have called for the restoration of democracy. All sections of society have come out against the King: peasants, workers, lawyers, judges, students, etc.
The situation has crossed the point of no return. The indefinite general strike will sooner or later lead to the fall of the King, particularly if he carries on with his stubborn attitude. The ruling class will eventually realise that he is more of a hindrance to the system than a safeguard. The blindness of the King only plays into the hand of the Maoists. The statement of Prachanda, the Maoist leader, puts it bluntly, calling for a ceasefire “to expose the conspiracy of the autocratic feudal group to instill military terror on the capital-focussed peaceful showdown under the pretext of infiltration by the People's Liberation Army, to create an easy environment for the general public to move forward with the peaceful movement with determination, and taking seriously the requests made by the seven political parties and the civil society, all military actions in the Kathmandu Valley have been suspended until the next statement from the party.”
The statement, however, reiterates the Maoists' active support for the SPA's programme of peaceful protest and appeals to the people to come out on to the streets “to create a new history of a Loktantrik Nepal." (nepalnews.com April 3). The perspectives of the Maoists are to call for a Constituent Assembly to form a new government under a new republic.
The question now is how long the pro-bourgeois elements of the movement are going to manoeuvre, and how the mass movement is going to be led. We must remember that the King has tried almost every single political trick in the book, including the use of local elections, which were an absolute mockery and fooled no one. The problem is that the bourgeois elements in the SPA want to keep the movement under control at all costs. The demands of the communists must go beyond the resignation of the King. The removal of the King in and of itself will solve none of the fundamental problems facing the masses. The resistance against the King and the repressive autocratic system, and the solutions to the problems of the masses must be firmly linked with the overthrow of the semi-feudal system and the socialist transformation of society.
One of the most important factors of the current crisis is its urban character. While the guerrillas have been waiting, Kathmandu has become the centre of all action. This strategy is in keeping with the general line of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CPN-M), which wants to help topple the regime so they can sit at the negotiating table with some 60% of the country under their rule. What this situation also demonstrates is the need for a joint movement of the countryside and the cities to topple the regime – this implies a focus on the urban areas and the dominance of the working class. However, when the Maoists do organise the workers, they do so only to support themselves – that is, in the interests of the rural guerrillas by turning the focus of the workers away from in the cities and towards the rural struggle. The interests of the masses are more important than the interests of the guerrillas. The problem is that there is no stable organisation which is able to express this.
The SPA is politically led by the Nepalese Congress and its programme does not go beyond the framework of capitalism and bourgeois democracy. The CPN-UML simply provides the flesh, that is the activists, for the skeleton provided by the Congress. The CPN-M seems to be content to play a role in overthrowing the autocracy without challenging the real source of the problem: the rotten and corrupt system. This is very important because Nepal was a “democratic” country five years ago, when the King took over. The problems that affected the Nepalese masses were not solved under “democracy” and have not gone away since the King took over. To tick a box on a ballot paper will not solve the question of agrarian reform or the fleeing of thousands of young Nepalese to India to be used as cheap labour. The Maoists seem to believe that it is possible to improve the lives of the masses and solve the problems they face through elections.
The movement has by-passed the leadership of the SPA and is now becoming very dangerous for the ruling class, not only in Nepal but across the whole of the sub-continent. Revolution is contagious. When the masses get a taste of their power, they do not give it away easily. All the international powers are trying to get the King to understand that he is provoking a movement that will be too large for him to control. That is why the Indian Prime Minister is visiting Nepal this week - to try to restore some order and calm. However the masses will not easily forget the two weeks of general strike and toss their struggle aside simply because the good Prime Minister shows up for a visit.
Even the Christian Science Monitor, hardly a source of Marxism, noted that, “the protests started after an alliance of seven democratic parties announced a four-day general strike from April 6 to 9 against the rule of King Gyanendra. The strike quickly gained a life of its own, with party leaders not seen at the forefront of the demonstrations” (csmonitor.com April 11). That is what frightens the ruling class in Nepal, India and the United States.
Unlike past protests organized by the SPA, especially since the seizure of power by the King, the current demonstrations are part of a grass roots movement with the spontaneous participation of all layers of society. Ordinary workers and peasants fed up with the civil war, oppression and a dictatorial King who has abolished civil liberties, have clashed with security personnel during curfew hours, decrying repression, demanding the resignation of the King, and declaring their local areas and regions “Republics”. Bank workers, journalists, medical students have all taken part in the movement. From this it is clear that the movement has spread to all layers of society, even those that would be considered privileged.
In the capital Kathmandu, where public gatherings are banned, police forcefully broke up a demonstration of 200 journalists. On April 13, they opened fire on a group of lawyers protesting against the King, wounding three of them. The rottenness of the regime has been fully exposed and the people are saying, “Enough is enough”. Even those that were untouched by events in the previous movements have came out on to the streets. Hundreds of restaurant and hotel workers, along with travel agents and tour guides have staged protests in the popular Thamel district for the first time. They can see that the maniacal behaviour of the King is ruining their business. However, business prospects are not the only factor - the mood of disgust and discontent has reached an unprecedented level.
The international press has been shouting from the rooftops that this regime is not sustainable. This clearly reveals the level of the King’s isolation as well as how the international press views him. Even the US ambassador has been summoned to the palace to answer for the sharp comments he has made against the King. This is clearly an indication that internationally preparations are being made for the removal of the King.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal said in a statement last week that “the use of force against peaceful demonstrators is not acceptable”. The King, without the support of the US and the EU, and with the Indian government openly helping and supporting the SPA and manoeuvring to guarantee itself the dominant position once he goes, is under pressure from all quarters: from international NGOs, governments, and other organisations such as the UN, etc. In desperation the King has answered the movement with more repression.
In December we stated that India had withdrawn its support for the King and had more or less openly helped to establish an alliance between the SPA and the Maoists. Ironically the only reliable ally of the King at this moment is China, but this support is also very shaky. China’s only concern is to maintain stability, so if a joint government of the illegal parties can guarantee this better than the King, then China would quickly change allegiance. The pro-capitalist bureaucracy in China has in fact been immersed in realpolitik for decades. This is still the case, but the King is now a political corpse. While the masses take to the streets to take part in the indefinite general strike, showing the real force that can change society, all sorts of deals behind the backs of those making history are being made as a result of realpolitik.
As we stated previously, the Maoist leadership is basically sticking to the old Stalinist theory of the two stages: first a democratic Republic (and at this stage they only talk about a Constituent Assembly) and tomorrow, some time in the distant future, the socialist transformation of society. According to their thinking, the international context is not ripe for the establishment of a “People’s Republic”, so they are content to establish a nice little democracy in the form of a “Parliamentary Republic”, or something along those lines. If the King resigns, or even if he is ousted by the mass movement, the government that replaces him will be an alliance between the Communist movement and the main bourgeois party, with the Maoist guerrillas happily overlooking the events. This is hardly what the masses in Nepal really need.
Nepal is a backward country. It is still largely undeveloped and rural, and the peasantry form an important section of society. As long as the urban areas and above all the working class remained outside of the movement, the struggle of the peasants and the guerrilla struggle constituted an important part of the broader revolutionary struggle in Nepal. Although they still form an important part of the struggle of the masses, now that the revolution has hit the cities, a joint struggle of the workers and peasants is required to overthrow the regime and take power. On the basis of the unity of the workers and peasants, this would not be hard to do. The King has no basis of support amongst any section of society in either the countryside or the cities.
In a situation where the movement of the workers and the peasants could take power, it would simply be a manoeuvre and a step backwards to divert the struggle into the establishment of bourgeois democracy. This would only play into the hands of the ruling class. When the workers and peasants, through a revolutionary struggle, come to power, they cannot simply stop at tackling the tasks of the bourgeois revolution – in fact the solution of the tasks of the national democratic revolution, such as land reform, and liberation from the domination of foreign powers, can only be achieved and maintained through the implementation of socialist measures; by the revolutionary movement passing over to the tasks of the proletarian revolution. Once it has come to power, the proletariat will be faced with the reactionary opposition of the ruling class, and in order to maintain its liberation and the revolution, would need to begin the tasks of the socialist revolution. The bourgeoisie has proven itself historically incapable of solving the tasks of the national democratic revolution. Under the leadership of the capitalist class, Nepal will never be able to truly establish democracy. At a certain point, in order to maintain its rule and power, the bourgeoisie will break with the masses and turn on them, splitting the SPA. This is the main lesson of the Russian Revolution, and all subsequent revolutions, as Lenin explained time and time again.
Without a programme to solve the problems of the masses, a constitutional solution is in reality no solution. The Maoists seem to believe that the removal of the King is a solution in itself, not a means to an end. The SPA also agrees with this line. The problem is that they have no real solution to the economic and social problems of the masses, because the removal of the King will only strengthen the bourgeois elements in the Nepalese Congress, which will have a predominant position in any future transitional coalition government. Nepal has already gone through a period during which the King was ousted and parliamentary “democracy” introduced. To go down this road again will be a bad dose of deja vu for thousands of people.
The Nepalese masses have shown that they are ready for a fight. The 10 day “bandh” and the deaths of five protesters (so far) have not slowed down the movement. On the contrary, it seems to be growing stronger with each passing day.
In a previous article we wrote that everything indicates that Nepal is heading towards a pact where the Maoists will be brought into the fold. They will be called upon to guarantee this process. This is happening right now. The problem for the CPN-M and the SPA is that the movement has developed a life of its own. The movement of the masses cannot be turned on and off like a tap, as the Maoists and bourgeois politicians would like to believe. Nepal is in the middle of a revolutionary crisis and the masses will not stop with the formation of a parliament. As we have explained, once the masses get a taste of their strength, their confidence will grow and they will demand what is theirs.
Uncertainty is what surrounds the situation in Nepal. However, what is almost certain is the departure of the King. After that a period of negotiations will open up where, no doubt, the bourgeois leaders will try to derail the mass movement with parliamentary and electoral tricks. Communists must defend the interests of the mass of workers and poor peasants in Nepal and launch a campaign to abolish the caste system and to achieve land reform. The masses have felt the power they have and it would be a crime to take it from them by leading their struggle into the safe channel of parliamentary and constitutional struggle. The resignation of the King will open a new epoch in the history of Nepal, but without a genuine revolutionary Marxist party, a party that refuses to bow to the bourgeois leaders, the solution to the problems of the Nepalese masses will be long and painful.
The Maoist guerrillas could take power now if they so wanted. They could march into Kathmandu and overthrow the Monarchy. As far as they are concerned, the conditions in Nepal and internationally rule out the victory of the workers and peasants in Nepal and the socialist transformation of society. Instead they stick rigidly to the Stalinist theory of two stages. Their perspective is for the establishment of bourgeois “democracy”. This could even mean that they end up joining a coalition government. Sadly, when the conditions are ripe for the overthrow of the Monarchy and capitalism in Nepal and the coming to power of the workers and peasants, the Maoists could find themselves on the opposite side of the fence from the mass movement – holding the movement back in order to prop up bourgeois “democracy”, which would be artificial and weak, with its only real point of support coming from the Maoists!
Obviously Nepal, on its own, could not build socialism. Because of their narrow nationalist outlook, the Nepalese Maoists have no perspective of the world revolution. This is what limits their vision to the establishment of bourgeois “democracy”. But in a country such as Nepal, the revolution depends on events internationally – they must spread the revolution and link up with the workers and peasants around the world, especially in Asia. The Maoists may fear the intervention of the powerful armies of India against their revolution. But the Nepalese workers and peasants have even stronger allies – the workers and peasants of India, Pakistan, and China. To successfully defend the revolution in Nepal, the workers and peasants would have to appeal to the workers and peasants of the region to come to their defence. The best defence for the revolution in Nepal would be revolution in India and Pakistan, etc.
The coming to power of the proletariat and peasantry in Nepal - the victory of the socialist revolution - would be an enormous inspiration for the workers and peasants of the whole region. The workers and peasants of India, Pakistan and China would see a clear way forward. This would radically alter the situation and the balance of forces across the whole of Asia, and open the door to the socialist revolution across the region.
Nepal: the Kingdom is hanging by a thread by Pablo Sanchez (April 20, 2006)
Nepal after the coup – business as usual? by Pablo Sanchez and Fred Weston (February 10, 2005)
The civil war in Nepal intensifies by Pablo Sanchez and Fred Weston (October 28, 2004)
The impasse facing the Nepalese Communists by Pablo Sanchez (July 14, 2004)
Nepal - The collapse of the "Peace Talks" and the impasse facing the workers and peasants
by Pablo Sanchez (October 3, 2003)
- Lessons from the history of the Nepalese Communist movement by Pablo Sanchez (June 23, 2003)