"Whether the ideological and political line is correct or not, decides everything" - Mao Tse-tung
After weeks of negotiations, a final peace agreement was reached on November 21, and an arms agreement on November 28. Now talks for the new Parliament, an interim government and the future Constitution are under way. For genuine Marxists, however, the deal raises fundamental questions. In what way will a coalition government with pro-capitalist parties fulfil the aspirations of the masses?
Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. The overthrow of the panchayat system (established after a coup in 1960 and where ultimate power rested with the king) in 1990, had aroused hopes among the masses, but within a few years this ended in deep disillusion with the parties, parliament and global capitalism. That explains the April uprising.
The Maoist transformation
" ‘This ends the 11 years of civil war in our country' declared Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) Chairman Prachanda, as he and Prime Minister G. P. Koirala signed a ‘Comprehensive Peace Agreement' at midnight 21 November. The CPN-M and the seven-party alliance currently governing the country agreed to form a transitional government by 1 December and hold elections for a constituent assembly to establish a new constitution and governmental system by next June." (27 November 2006, A World to Win News Service). This is how the Maoist news service announced the peace treaty that ends an epoch in recent Nepali history.
The Maoists have moved from being one of the most powerful armed "terrorist" groups (according to the imperialists around the globe) to becoming the key of the new government advancing towards "a free democratic Nepal". The change has been so sudden and sharp that still many international organisations define the Maoists as "terrorists"! In reality, the Maoist leaders have quickly become "respected politicians" adopting a completely new line. In the first visit that the Maoist leader Prachanda made legally to India, he said, "We are going to India with a changed message" adding "we used to call India a reactionary power just because India used to back constitutional monarchy. Since India is no longer doing so, there is no need to term India reactionary". (Himalayan News Service Kathmandu, November 17). This will shock hundreds of Maoists in India that are facing the Indian state and probably thousands of Kashimiris that will wonder what kind of regime is oppressing them.
In recent years the armed forces of the state, before known as the Royal Nepal Army (RNA), had been closed in to the capital and a few major towns and a few heavily fortified barracks in different parts of the countryside, unable to travel except by helicopter or in large convoys with the constant danger of being attacked. The countryside was under Maoist control. The rise of king Gyanendra was linked to a promise to fight the guerrillas more efficiently. The RNA received substantial support from the US, India, Britain, China all of whom wanted to ensure the "stability" of the region.
Everyone in Nepal now seems to support the idea of a national coalition. Only the tiny Nepal Workers' and Peasants' Party (NWPP) decided not to join the interim government, but to play a "strong role" as an opposition in the interim legislature. (The Himalayan Times November 23). The President of the NWPP Narayan Man Bijukchhe said that since Nepal is currently at its "weakest stage" in history, political parties should exercise extreme caution and see to it that foreigners don't intervene in its affairs. (chinaview.cn 23 November, Kathmandu, Xinhua). This is a very polite way of raising a point of doubt on the direct intervention of India, China, the US, the UN and every other major imperialist force in the peace process.
The current "peace process" and Government agreement are simply negotiations on how best to divide the spoils of the revolutionary uprising in April. Prachanda, from being a guerrilla fighter, is now a respected bourgeois politician. The topic of discussion at the negotiating table is not whether or not capitalism should be abolished or how to achieve the emancipation of the working class, but simply whether or not the King should remain in Nepal and how this should be decided. This will cause some bitter debate among the Maoists around the world, as the idea of accepting capitalism in Nepal spread within the CPN-UML. This is because the process has a logic of its own and the Maoist leaders seem to have accepted one fundamental point, the viability of capitalism.
A theoretical problem
The dominant theory among all the Communist trends in Nepal was the Stalinist two-stage theory. This was the idea that since the tasks of the revolution are those of the bourgeois national democratic revolution, the leadership of the revolution should be taken by the bourgeoisie. The goal of the proletariat, therefore, was to ally itself with the bourgeoisie in order to complete the tasks of the bourgeois revolution. Then at some stage in the future, after the development of capitalism, there would be a socialist revolution led by the proletariat.
But the bourgeoisie, especially in the so-called "Third World", is incapable of completing the tasks of the national democratic revolution. After the establishment of capitalism as a world system, the world was already divided up by the great imperialist powers. The bourgeoisie in the underdeveloped countries had come onto the stage of history too late. The bourgeoisie in countries like Russia in the early 20th century, or India and Nepal today, were and are too weak and reliant on imperialism and the landowners. They are wholly reactionary and are incapable of leading the revolutionary movement. Therefore it falls to the revolutionary proletariat to complete the tasks of the bourgeois revolution. But in doing so, they will immediately pass over to the socialist tasks of the revolution. The situation in Nepal before the peace agreement had many elements in favour of a rapid movement towards socialism.
According to the above quoted Maoist news service, "after ten years of people's war the great bulk of Nepal's countryside had been liberated by the CPN(M)-led People's Liberation Army. In areas under the control of the PLA, organs of people's power were created and real transformations have hammered away at the centuries-old backward social system headed by a king who claimed to be the reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. The poor peasants, oppressed nationalities and victims of the vicious caste system stood tall and helped exercise power together with those from the upper castes who broke with Brahmanism. In a few years the formerly horrendous position of women in Nepal went through astounding changes, with women playing a vital role in the revolution, enrolling in the PLA in vast numbers (35 percent of the troops) and starting to create a new democratic culture where more and more women and men married whom they wanted, going against barriers of caste or family."
That is an accurate description, from a Maoist point of view, of the achievements of their past tactics in Nepal. So even using their schemes, they only needed a Revolutionary upswing to do away with the feudal system and the capitalist system, and that is precisely what presented itself in April. The opportunity was there for the taking.
If, instead you leave the bourgeois politicians room for manoeuvre, they will use this to divert the revolution down safe channels. At the height of the April movement, these same bourgeois politicians were hiding under the tables in the Palace after the April movement, but now they are being given a new lease of life thanks to the Maoists.
That is what the Maoist tactic of vague support to the uprising in April has meant. They have moved from arguing for the need for a peasant revolution to talks to join a bourgeois government in the space of about six months. This is hardly surprising, however, as this is one of the main features of Maoist theory: the desperate search for some respectable bourgeois politician that then allows them to take part in the parliamentary game with the excuse of supporting the so-called "progressive wing" of the ruling class.
The game played by the ruling class is quite clear: to shift the focus from the streets to the parliamentary committees and to the negotiating tables. This only strengthens the position of the bourgeois parties (NC and NC-Democratic) within the SPA and within society as a whole. Their intention is to win time and demobilise the masses as much as possible. Of course if the arrogant king were to become too much of an obstacle, the most intelligent layers of the Nepali ruling class and Indian imperialists would push for a Republic, leaving capitalism and landlordism intact. At the moment this is the role of the Nepali Congress (NC), while in the meantime the king gains time to rebuild enough base of support.
To some degree, what will happen in the elections to the Constituent Assembly is similar to what is happening in Bolivia now. Reaction will mobilise to undermine the Maoists and the communist movement in general if they should win the elections. As a matter of fact the previous international backers of the king (India, the US and China) could easily switch support as long as their economics interests are kept intact.
Basically the position is one where capitalism remains untouched and the debate is centred around whether the king should stay or go and on the idea of a so-called "new" Nepal. The two stage theory in a nutshell! While the bourgeois parties do not make concessions on the question of disarming the Maoists, on the question of whether the king should go they may have to wait for a referendum. So the Maoists must give some concrete now, and in exchange they have a promise of something possibly in the future, and even that does not actually deal with the essence of the question, i.e. the economic and social system.
What now for Nepal?
A split within the NC is possible, the republican issue can divide the party into two camps, the intelligent more farsighted wing, close to imperialism, that would become republican if necessary, and the other wing that at the moment is on the defensive; the National Party and the right wing of the NC close to the state apparatus. A republic in and of itself cannot solve the problems of land reform, imperialist domination and lack of any future for the Nepali masses, so in that sense it is a safe debate for the ruling class. And the king might even make a comeback if the divisions within the republican camp continue.
On the other hand, the Maoists need a republic to convince their supporters that they have achieved their immediate aim and that the 10-year long struggle has been worth fighting. At the same time they also need to keep to their obligations established by the peace treaty (something which can lead to conflict with some local leaders and some peasants) and also be in a position to stand in the elections in direct competition with the CPN-UML.
The Maoists are like fish out of water on the electoral front, and they will have to comply with the 1001 conditions that the UN and the imperialists are going to impose. From a formerly strong position they are now forced to accept real blackmail. They are also in direct competition with the CPN-UML on the electoral front. To be seen as a respected party within the bourgeois milieu the Maoists will have to tone down their past "radicalism", something that has already started and that will have negative effects on its base. Whatever they do, however, will never be enough for the bourgeois. In spite of the enormous steps backwards, the local press still accuses the Maoists of not being moderate enough.
Prachanda in a public speech after the agreement, explained how he was thinking of taking Nepal forward, "To address the problems related to women, Dalits, indigenous people, Janajatis, Madheshi, oppressed, neglected, minorities and the backward by ending discrimination based on class, caste, language, sex, culture, religion, and region and to restructure the state on the basis of inclusiveness, democracy and progression by ending the present centralised and unitary structure of the state."(A World to Win News Service, 27 November 2006). This is how they envisage capitalism will change, through a reform of the structure of the state. This is somewhat of a comedown for people who have been quoting Marx and Engels almost in every other line.
It is important for those that regard themselves as Marxists to think through what could be the outcome of the elections and more importantly, how can social change be achieved. For those that believe that the motor of history is the class struggle, it is clear that a conscious shift from the streets to the bourgeois institutions is not only a step backwards, but also a serious mistake. The debate should not be about whether we should use parliament or not. Marxists have never denied the need for parliamentary work. But parliamentary work cannot become the be all and end all. The focus should be on how parliamentary work must be accompanied by the mobilisation of the workers and poor peasants and at the same time help them to create alternative power structures.
Undoubtedly, the political line of the leadership of the Maoists and of the official communist movement, which nowadays no longer differ much, will provoke infighting within the CPN-UML and CPN-M (and many smaller forces may join either of the two groups). There is a need for a real Marxist tendency that can capitalise on these debates and show the way forward. The situation in Nepal has changed very quickly within a matter of a few weeks and it also reveals how sudden and sharp changes can occur almost in any country in the world.
The guerrilla problem
It seems now that the question of the disarming of the Maoist guerrillas will be solved by integrating them within the Royal Army. It is, however, entirely possible that sections of the rank and file of the CPN (Maoist) may not accept this proposal. Some could revolt against the leadership.
In reality the agreement to integrate their guerrilla forces into the state's army is a major concession on the part the Maoists as they are armed to the teeth, controlling 75% of the country. The regime was in reality forced into negotiations with the Maoists by the revolutionary crisis that erupted earlier this year. The best outcome of all this will be a supposedly "democratic republic" under the domination of India with the same old ruling class at the helm. This is what all the Maoist radicalism has finally led to! It shows how far a political group can go if its fundamental theories are flawed.
More and more, the guerrillas will become dependent on the UN and the government - of which the CPN-UML is a member. To maintain this equilibrium, the Maoist leaders are going to have to use a lot of their credit to maintain the loyalties of many soldiers and low-ranking officers. Already provisions are being made for the guerrillas. The government has made 70 million rupees available to the Maoists for the immediate management of the PLA camps established in seven different sites around the country. The Maoists claim that the PLA is 35,000-strong. The United Nations is yet to verify the number of Maoist combatants and their arms. The verification process will start following a tripartite agreement involving the UN, the government and the Maoists, signed on 27th. (nepalnews.com, 27 November.)
How the class struggle unfolds in Nepal in the coming period, and how the monarchists may manoeuvre to make a come back, can determine the response of the guerrilla fighters. However, the fact that the Maoist leaders have accepted the idea of giving up their weapons shows how far they are ready to go to become key figures in the future Republic.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's Personal Representative Ian Martin and other UN officials have been closely and directly involved in the process. The next step after the Comprehensive Agreement and a precondition for further steps, is a tripartite agreement concerning the details of the management of arms and armies between the government, the Maoists and the UN team he heads. The UN is going to monitor the process with 60 more representatives first. What the UN is not going to manage is to do away with the causes that lead to the people's war and the mass support that the CPN-UML has.
It is interesting to note that it is the first time that Maoists have done something that Stalinists have always been very keen on, joining bourgeois governments. So far their doctrine was of no collaboration and despite the fact that they have reached agreements with what they called the "progressive wing of the bourgeois", once they launched the people's war they tended to either win that war or be smashed. The Shining Path experience in Peru is quite recent and highlights this. Interestingly enough that group in Peru, with most of its members in jail, is also offering a peace process now.
In India where the Maoists have some base of support in certain areas and where they have managed to have a unified organisation, the effects of the Nepalese agreements will split them into two camps, but again it will only be between those who wish to continue the people's war or those who wish to collaborate with the state. For some within the Maoist movement, this Nepalese "betrayal" is an important issue and the Nepalese right-wing press has being talking of splits within the Maoist international organisations. Maybe it will lead some to think through the fundamental errors in Maoist theory and come round to a genuine revolutionary Marxist view of the processes taking place.
What future for the Nepalese masses?
This is a question that both the Maoists and the bourgeois politicians tend to ignore. At the top of their agenda is the present agreement. The bourgeois are using it to regain control of the situation. The Maoist leaders believe that it will give them more of a role within (bourgeois) society. The real future conditions the masses will live under seem not to enter their thinking. But in Nepal class struggle is on the agenda. The Republic (which the best case scenario) will not solve the fundamental economic and social problems of the masses. It will still be a capitalist republic, with the same oppressive ruling class holding the real economic reins of power in their hands. In the end Mao's famous statement will prove correct and it will also prove that the Maoist-Stalinist approach is not what is required for the masses to take power. The wrong approach, the wrong priorities and the wrong alliances will lead to a dead end.
All historic experience shows that the democratic and socialist tasks are interlinked. Otherwise you will get abortions like in South Africa, where a tiny layer of the black petit bourgeoisie has been promoted and is governing the country with the same ruling class that in the past ran the hated Apartheid system, but where the overwhelming majority of the black population remains downtrodden, unemployed, underpaid, etc.
Real, genuine, democratic gains are won as part of a struggle to fundamentally transform society and those democratic rights won through mass struggle can be threatened again if the capitalists and big landlords are allowed to hold on to power. Of course the Republic would be a major "reform", and may do away with some of the old feudal forms, but this would be achieved only after a hard struggle against the landlords.
All this could have been avoided had the April revolution been led by a Marxist organisation. A genuine Marxist leadership at the head of the working class and peasantry would have combined the land question with the movement in the cities. An alliance of workers and peasants could have brought down not only the old feudal relations, but also capitalism.
Issues such as the land that has already been taken over during the guerrilla war and how the land reform will be carried out, will remain totally unsolved with the proclamation of a bourgeois Republic.
The April revolutionary movement has opened up a new period. The divisions at the top can deepen the revolutionary crisis, but the Maoists and the left organisations must abandon their mistaken policy of class collaboration and stop trying to achieve a "little South Africa" in the Himalayas. The role that revolutionaries in Nepal can play is to be the spark that ignites the Indian revolution. If the Nepali masses were to take power, this would stand out as a beacon to the masses of the South Asian subcontinent in the current climate of war between India and Pakistan and wars against terror.
It comes down to a question of Marxist understanding, of confidence in the ability of workers and peasants to change society. It is time to believe that the oppressed and the workers can storm the heavens again, as they are doing in Latin America. In Nepal the real danger exists that a revolutionary movement can be derailed in exchange for a few hundred Maoist leaders being accepted as "respected" politicians. Very little will improve for the masses in all this. After all, the deal being proposed and brokered by imperialism is aimed and guaranteeing the fundamental economic interests of the ruling class. Thus Nepal will continue to be a small link in the chain of the world market. But it is a weak link, and it can be broken. It depends now on the Communist parties.
- Nepal - A revolution lost! Yet masses struggle on! by Adam Pal (October 30, 2006)
Nepal: Is the game up? by Pablo Sanchez (May 2, 2006)
Nepal: The end of the line for the King by Pablo Sanchez (April 20, 2006)
Nepal: the Kingdom is hanging by a thread by Pablo Sanchez (December 15, 2005)
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)