Nepal: Which Way Forward?

In Nepal the stalemate in power is continuing while the ideological battle inside the communist movement intensifies. The struggle for power through constitutional means by the largest party in parliament UCPN (M) faced another defeat when on November 1st parliament failed to elect a new Prime Minister for the 16th time. [Originally published in the Think India Quarterly]

The bourgeoisie and ruling elite of Nepal is putting up hurdles against the handing over of power to the Maoists and are using every available means to sabotage the process. The nine month short stint in power by the Maoists also came to a bitter end in May 2009 when they were unable to remove the Army chief.

The Maoists rose to power after they led the Jana Andolan-II in 2006. Hundreds of thousands of people came out onto the streets of Kathmandu and raised their voices against poverty, hunger, unemployment and the despotic rule of King Gyanendra. According to some estimates two and a half million people came out in this revolutionary movement. Power slipped from the hands of the King and was there in the streets to be picked up.

The reluctance of the Maoists to take this power led to a long series of discussions, meetings, walk outs and talks that have resulted in a painful lengthening of the process. Elections were held in April 2008 in which again the masses expressed full support for the Maoists and they emerged as the largest party in the Constituent Assembly.

But since then they proved unable not hold power as it shifts away from the capitalists and landlords that form the ruling elite of Nepal. The class balance of forces in Nepal is still swinging unless there is complete victory of one class over the other.

The ruling classes are unable to get complete grip on the situation as the masses have risen against their exploitation and have expressed a clear verdict against them time and again. Their capitulation to the imperialist masters and inability to carry out any reforms has exposed their true reactionary character in the eyes of the toiling masses. Currently 35 percent of the total population is living below the poverty line, earning less than one US dollar per day while one third of the population has no access to clean water and 85% of Nepalese don't have access to health services. It is one of the poorest countries of the world where 10% of the population has 50% of the wealth while the bottom 40% has only 10%. Prices of basic necessities are always increasing and inflation is very high.

The bourgeoisie even proved incapable of removing the age old monarchy, which could only be overthrown after the revolutionary movement of Loktantra Andolan. Due to their belated entrance onto the arena of history they can never play a progressive role and are destined to be a subservient slave of their imperialist countries. In Nepal even a country like India is acting as an imperialist state, where a big majority of the population lives in poverty and its own bourgeoisie is unable to carry out the historical tasks of the bourgeois revolution which were completed in 17th and 18th centuries in the advanced capitalist countries.

On the other hand the reluctance of the Maoists to take power completely into their hands and crush the ruling elite by expropriating the land, banks and industries in Nepal lies deep in their Stalinist ideology of the two stages. According to this theory the first stage of revolution is a democratic stage in which, supporting the so-called progressive bourgeoisie, the 'revolutionary' party has to complete the tasks of the capitalist revolution and after that at some later stage the path for socialism will be taken. This theory has revealed its bankruptcy time and again since it was propagated by Stalin and is actually a negation of Leninist principles. Lenin and Trotsky who led the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917 never relied on the so-called “progressive” bourgeoisie of Russia to complete its historical tasks but went forward to a socialist revolution under the leadership of the proletariat and completed not only the democratic tasks but built a workers’ state and a planned economy.

Lenin’s April Thesis and the Theory of Permanent Revolution by Trotsky both argue that in a backward country the only path forward is through a socialist revolution. It is the task of the proletariat to carry out the fundamental transformation of society and end poverty, hunger and misery by expropriating the imperialist assets and capital, local capitalists, landlords and nationalizing the commanding heights of the economy and putting them under the democratic control of the workers.

In Nepal we have seen that adhering to the Stalinist theory of two stages has solved nothing and though the monarchy has been abolished the fundamental character of the state is the same and is still a tool of oppression in the hands of the capitalists and landlords. The Maoists' tenure in power also could not change the class character of the state and they were thrown out of office as soon as the movement of the masses started to recede and the ruling classes recovered from their defeat. If the Maoists had gone forward to take socialist measures by expropriating the banks, industry and land, the real strength of these ruling classes could have been broken and the working classes could have been strengthened. As the masses could see the real transformation of society taking place they would have defended the gains of the revolution themselves. But here another important question arises about the dependence of the Nepalese economy on the imperialist powers. Also, with the presence of India and China on its borders how could this socialist revolution survive in a small country?

The bankruptcy of the Stalinist theory of “socialism in one country” again seems evident here which cannot answer this question. However, if we look at the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 we see that its leaders never had an idea of halting the process inside the boundaries of Russia but on the contrary their utmost desire was to spread it to the whole world rapidly. The socialist measures in Nepal can only find support in the proletariat and peasantry of the region and beyond. The Indian bourgeoisie and State can never tolerate such measures and will definitely use every means to sabotage and crush it. They would certainly fear the danger of spreading this revolution inside India’s borders and its proletariat following the example of their Nepalese counterpart and start doing the same. They even can't tolerate the current situation where a revolutionary process has unfolded and is challenging the class nature of Nepalese society. The arrival of the dethroned King Gyanendra in India for a two week visit on 15 November points in the same direction. According to Review Nepal he was going to meet Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and Congress leader Sonia Gandhi. On the other hand the Chinese government seems to support the Maoist movement in this regard. But first of all a complete understanding of the character of the Chinese State should also be discussed.

In China the planned economy has been gradually dismantled over the last two decades and now it is one of the few largest capitalist economies in the world. Property relations in China have been restored on a capitalist basis and the market economy has taken the place of the planned economy. The Stalinist bureaucracy which emerged after a successful revolution in China has been transformed into a ruling class whose members are the latest billionaires of 21st century. The capitalist restoration in China has also given its State an imperialist character which is using all its potential to exploit as many resources in the world for its profit driven economy. The new emerging conflict between a weakening US imperialism and an infant Chinese imperialism is also creating ripples in the region. Obama's recent visit to Asia to empower other small economies against China has increased the tensions. But the recent conflict between China and US imperialism is quite the opposite to the cold war between the USSR and US where two opposite economies and modes of production were in conflict. Here both have same market economy in their country and therefore where they have conflicts with each other they have their interests tied together in many places. China is the largest exporter of goods to US and many US companies have their plants inside China. In this context China is using the peoples' movement in Nepal as a pawn for its imperialist interests against India and ultimately the US. They will try to restrain this movement inside the democratic farce and parliamentary cretinism.

In the case the movement should go forward towards the expropriation of land, industries and banks, the Chinese State would try its best to sabotage it and if it gets the opportunity it will join hands with the Indian State to crush the movement, as this movement can set an example for the Chinese proletariat who are already struggling for better living conditions and higher wages. The number of strikes and protests are increasing every day where the largest proletariat of the world exists and whose lives have turned into a living hell since the restoration of Capitalist economy. This proletariat is also the real ally of the revolutionary masses of Nepal who can support them by rising against their own ruling class in China. However, the decisive role has to be played by the poor peasants, workers and revolutionary youth of Nepal. More than that, the members and cadres of the UCPN (M) have to play a leading role.

Already a debate is heating up on similar lines inside UCPN (M) and after so many years of armed struggle, protests, strikes, elections and constitutional harping, no fundamental change in the lives of people can be seen. This is the reason for the current fractures opening up in the leadership of the UCPN (M) which held its week-long sixth plenum after five years in Palungtar, Gorkha District which started on 20 November. It was the largest meeting in the party's history in which more than 7000 members participated. In this plenum three documents were presented from the party leadership. The first document was present by the party chairman Prachanda. According to news reports he emphasized on the need for a serious dialogue to draft the constitution and to conclude the peace process. He also criticized the imperialist role of the Indian State. The other document was presented by Vice-Chairman Mohan Kiran Vaidya that challenged Prachanda's line and appealed for returning to the armed struggle. The third document was presented by another Vice-Chairman Baburam Bhattarai. Bhattarai has had differences with Prachanda for the last few years which has resulted in his demotion in the party along with his wife Hisila Yami and his other supporters. He was the Minister of Finance in the August 2008 coalition government.

In the summer of 2009 Bhattarai had openly written about the failure of Stalinist ideology clearly supporting Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution. In The Red Spark (Rato Jhilko), a journal of the UCPN (M) he wrote an article advocating Trotsky's position rejecting the party's line of Stalinist ideas. He wrote:

“Today, the globalization of imperialist capitalism has increased many-fold as compared to the period of the October Revolution. The development of information technology has converted the world into a global village. However, due to the unequal and extreme development inherent in capitalist imperialism this has created inequality between different nations. In this context, there is still (some) possibility of revolution in a single country similar to the October revolution; however, in order to sustain the revolution, we definitely need a global or at least a regional wave of revolution in a couple of countries. In this context, Marxist revolutionaries should recognize the fact that in the current context, Trotskyism has become more relevant than Stalinism to advance the cause of the proletariat”.

Bhattarai was, however, mistaken on one point. In 1917: neither Lenin, nor Trotsky, nor any other leader of the Bolshevik party (not even Stalin himself) considered that the revolution could be confined to one country. Nobody even mentioned this idea before it became the motto of Stalin from 1924 onwards. But regardless of this factual error of Bhattarai, the fact that a senior leader of a traditionally "Stalinist" party recognized the validity of the ideas of Trotsky was a very significant development. This has stimulated a very useful discussion within the Communist movement on the historical roots of Stalinism and the ideas of genuine Marxism.

In his article, Comrade Bhattarai, suggested new strategic directions for his party, summarized in the following points: There is a need to develop Marxism to a new level by analyzing and synthesizing the lessons of China, Russia, Nepal, India etc., and the new initiatives being taken in some countries in Latin America.

The current crisis of capitalism and the previous era of so-called “neo liberal” development have made many, like the Maoist leaders, realize that “today, the globalization of imperialist capitalism has increased many-fold as compared to the beginning of 20th century. Development of information technology has crossed national borders and transformed the world into a village. On the other hand, the inherent unequal and extreme development of capitalist imperialism has caused disparity among different nations”. This is a tentative step in explaining the theory of combined and uneven development. The Nepalese example shows that the country has a mixture of different historical formations within it (feudal, semi-capitalist, capitalist, etc). In the past, the Nepali Maoists used to blame “revisionism” introduced by Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Deng for the failure of socialism in Russia and China, but now they have put the blame squarely on Stalinism. This is a development that should be encouraged.

However, Dr Bhattarai's paper is not accepted by the Stalinist hardliners within the UCPN (M). They have argued that Leon Trotsky was “outside of the Marxist-Leninist ideological current” and his role in the proletarian revolution, as well as his commitment to Marxism, are doubtful and therefore comparing Stalin with Trotsky and drawing conclusions on that basis is subjective thinking and irrelevant.

In a recent paper, Central Committee member, comrade Kushal Pradhan wrote:

“If a simultaneous wave of revolution is necessary to sustain the revolution in each country and if such a position is in line with the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist thought, then there is no point in dragging Trotsky into this debate. Secondly, the idea of revolution in a single country belongs to Lenin; and Stalin created the structure of the first socialist state. Stalin might have made some mistakes, but he was a great Marxist and Leninist practitioner and his contribution should not be underestimated.” (The Red Guard, September 2009, pp.18-20)

Comrade Pradhan also argues that the idea of world revolution or Permanent Revolution belongs to Marx and not to Leon Trotsky.

The ongoing debate and the recent inconclusive plenum on the strategic directions of the UCPN (M) has clearly placed the party in a big dilemma: the Nepali Maoists are neither in a position to return to the jungle to start the second edition of the “People's War”, nor are they able to deliver what they had promised to the people through the current “stage of peaceful development of the revolution”. In the past, the UCPN(M) had trained the party cadres exclusively on the basis of Maoism and Stalinism, but the lessons of their 10-year armed struggle have stressed the correctness of the principles of the Permanent Revolution (as synthesized by Dr Bhattarai) and refuted the Maoist-Stalinist theory of revolution, i.e. 'revolution in one country' and the 'two-stage theory'.

The confusion and rift inside the Maoist leadership could be seen in the general strike of May this year. First, a call for the general strike was made which was moving towards success and which had the potential to overthrow the present regime and move towards a Socialist revolution in Nepal. But after 5 days the strike was called off. The leadership 'explained' that the strike was off but the protests would continue. A general strike of such a nature poses the very question of power, of who governs the country. Instead it was used as a measure to put pressure on the government. However, subsequent events showed that the preparations for a general strike were not properly carried out. If the leadership discusses its internal weaknesses in basic ideology and the true ideals of Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 it can move again towards an indefinite general strike until the fall of the bourgeois government.

An indefinite general strike until the fall of a bourgeois government, organized by a communist organization that has the majority of the workers must be based on a serious evaluation of the mood of the masses and there must be serious preparation, campaigning in every workplace and mobilization for its successful turnout. And because such a powerful general strike, which mobilizes the whole of the mass movement, means that one must work not only for the victory of the strike one must be prepared for what comes next and prepare the masses for taking power through an insurrection, with the creation of strike committees in all corners of Nepal, linking the “liberated” areas with the main urban centres, issuing propaganda explaining that the only way to achieve a genuine Constitution that will liberate peasants and workers would be through the mobilization and participation of the masses themselves in the running of the state.

What is required is decisive and bold action to be taken to ensure that the old state apparatus is removed and a new power is built, firmly in the hands of the poor peasants, workers, youth and oppressed people. The conditions for this now exist. In the past the Maoists successfully organized the peasants and controlled large areas of the country. Now they have shown that the urban masses can also be mobilized. The general strike of May [2010] is proof of that. All the forces are lined up for the workers and peasants to take power. The UCPN (M) leaders should review their position and understand the historical task that lies on their shoulders. They are the leaders; they have the authority and they should use it. Otherwise we will have paralysis and the initiative could pass into the hands of the ruling elite.

By leading the masses to power and carrying through a genuine Socialist revolution in Nepal, they would be lighting a beacon in Asia that the downtrodden masses would look up to in countries like Pakistan, India, China, Bangladesh and beyond. Conditions for revolution are maturing well beyond the borders of Nepal. The present world crisis of capitalism is making unbearable living conditions even worse for many of the workers in these countries. They would instinctively move in the direction of solidarity with the Nepalese masses across the South-Asian subcontinent. Parliamentary politics in Nepal has reached its limits. The power is there for the taking and the working masses under the leadership of genuine communists must take it. This is a decisive moment in the history of the class struggle of Nepal.