|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Issue 177 April 2014
Nepal: turning back the wheel of history
Revolutionary uprisings in 2006 and 2010 gave the workers and peasants opportunities to push through the socialist transformation of society. But the various Maoist forces, based on the ‘two-stages theory’, failed to live up to their historic task. That is the root of today’s deadlock – with potentially dire consequences for the masses – writes TU SENAN.
Political tug of war has become a common feature in Nepal. No decision can be made without a brawl between the political parties. The first meeting of the newly-elected second constituent assembly was held on 22 January, after it had been delayed due to a new quarrel about who should call the meeting. The first constituent assembly, formed in 2008, suffered similar shifting of deadlines, resignations and disagreements, and finally failed to agree on a constitution. It was dissolved in May 2012. The election to the second constituent assembly eventually took place on 19 November 2013.
The Nepali Congress party (NC), representative of landlords and capitalists, won the largest vote, 29.8% (105 of the first-past-the-post seats), an indication of a sharp shift to the right mainly due to the lost opportunities in the past. Close behind was the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist), with 27.6% (91 seats). The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) was pushed into third place, receiving only 17.8% (26 seats), a large drop from its previous 30.5%.
Like most political parties in Nepal, the NC claims to stand for ‘democratic socialism’, but it makes no secret of its commitment to ‘private investment and economic liberalisation’. The NC’s stubborn right-wing stance was a key factor in the continued mayhem during the first constituent assembly and played a major part in its collapse. It works closely with the Indian government and shares the neoliberal policies of its counterpart, the Indian National Congress.
An NC-led government will aim to bury all the demands of the revolutionary movement. The masses have shown unequivocally their desire to end poverty and inequality, in the revolutionary movements in 2006 and 2010. This will remain a dream under a NC-led capitalist constitution. The majority of people did not support the NC in the early stages of the movement in 2006. Promising revolutionary change, it was the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) – CPN(M) – now known as the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) – UCPN(M) – which emerged as a significant force.
Instead of basing itself on the movement and taking it forward to its ultimate conclusion – the establishment of a workers’ and peasants’ government – the UCPN(M) entered a coalition with the pro-business parties, hence the current deadlock in the situation. Endless negotiations between the NC and centre-left Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) – CPN(UML) – resulted in zero gains for the workers and poor.
The UCPN(M) perspective was trapped by its ‘two-stage’ theory: that a first stage of industrial development, land reform, democratic rights, and countering imperialism must be completed before a second stage of socialist change is considered. This approach stops it from taking the revolution forward, and compels it to collude with reactionary bourgeois forces.
Participation in the interim government from 2007 onwards signified an attempt by the UCPN(M) to accommodate itself with the old ‘reactionary state machinery’, as it puts it. Meanwhile, counter-revolutionary forces seized the opportunity to regroup. Now they are aiming to cut off the revolutionary process. This also caused a rift among the Maoists, contributing to the significant defeat in the election as a split-away group called for a boycott.
The UCPN(M) position on land, particularly returning captured land to the king and big landowners, angered many within the party. The All Nepal Revolutionary Farmers’ Federation, a former part of the UCPN(M), is now part of a split away from the party and has begun to reoccupy the lands. Maoist leaders, such as Baburam Bhattarai and Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda), are increasingly discredited among a layer of party members as they have shown they are unable to take the revolution forward. Under the leadership of Mohan Vaidya, known as Kiran, many split from the party in June 2012 and formed a new party called the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) – CPN(M). This is a new party and should not be confused with the old CPN(M) which became the UCPN(M).
Bound by two stages
However, while criticising the UCPN(M), the CPN(M) leaders do not put forward much more than a return to ‘real Maoism’. They accuse Prachanda of ceasing to talk about a ‘democratic republic of Nepal’ in favour of a ‘people’s federal republic’. From their point of view, the ‘reformist’ agenda of the UCPN(M) is the main obstacle for the revolution.
A return to ‘real Maoism’ for Kiran’s party is to return to a long guerrilla war against the state, mainly based on the rural poor and peasants. The CPN(M) believes that there are two ways to conduct a revolution: the ‘Russian model’ and the ‘Chinese model’. According to Kiran, the first involves the seizure of central power through armed insurrection and the expansion of revolution in the capitalist countries. The second involves building up a people’s liberation army and establishing a base in the countryside, with the aim of encircling the cities. This is a "model of new democratic revolution in the semi-feudal and semi neo-colonial countries". Once the cities are encircled, they argue, a ‘democratic revolution’ can be carried out by ‘insurrection’ in the cities. Kiran’s CPN(M) argues that the UCPN(M) has surrendered to ‘Indian expansionism’.
The CPN(M) sets out to rebuild a people’s liberation army, a united front with capitalist forces, and a communist party. This is nothing new. And, in reality, is also the position of the leaders of the UCPN(M). Their differences are not about how a revolution can be taken forward, but over what they call the ‘first stage’ of the revolution.
Prachanda argued in an interview that "the remaining tasks of new democracy (a part of which has been completed) and the strategy of socialist revolution have converged into one. The remaining task of new democracy and the task of completing the socialist revolution by way of people’s insurrection and armed insurrection have converged into one strategy rather than completing a new democratic revolution at one stage and socialist revolution at the other". Prachanda’s UCPN(M), therefore, continues its coalition with a section of the right-wing elite in the interim government. It says that the democratic (bourgeois) revolution can be achieved through the interim government, and so rejects the people’s insurrection.
The CPN(M), on the other hand, wants to establish a ‘new state’ to carry through a ‘democratic revolution’, saying that the democratic revolution has not been completed – even in parts. From this point of view, it opposes the interim government.
Fundamentally, both arguments are tied to a two-stage approach. Given the experience of the impasse reached with the first constituent assembly, it is clear that there is no going forward without a power transfer to the workers. This cannot be done in coalition with pro-big-business parties, and there is a vital need to break with the Maoists’ two-stage approach. The CPN(M) and UCPN(M) should come out for a workers’ and peasants’ government, a socialist government with the perspective of establishing a planned economy, including nationalisation of industries, land reform, etc.
The power of the working class
Revolutionary processes cannot be restricted to mechanical formulas or standard models to be followed to conduct a revolution. Nonetheless, there are a number of lessons provided by the Russian and Chinese revolutions, and it is amazing that the Russian ‘model’ is rejected as unsuitable for neo-colonial countries.
The conditions in Russia at the time of the October 1917 revolution were comparable in many ways to the conditions that exist in Nepal today. The Russian revolution was carried through by rejecting the idea of two stages – an idea supported even by some figures, such as Stalin, among the leadership of the Bolsheviks. The revolution established a genuine workers’ and poor peasants’ government. This degenerated later, mainly due to the isolation of the revolution in one country with the failure of revolutionary movements in other countries, and the emergence and consolidation of a bureaucratic regime under Stalin. This repressive regime played a role in derailing the Chinese revolution in 1925-27, with Stalin’s revival of the disastrous two-stages theory. Following this defeat, the Chinese Communist Party took the route of peasant war.
In 1949, the Chinese revolution was carried through on the basis of a peasant war. Following this revolution, however, Mao Zedong imported the ‘model’ of Stalin’s state machine. No element of workers’ democracy existed in the government that was formed. Though the state-owned planned economy was established, undemocratic and repressive measures were put in place.
The important lessons to be taken from this are on the role of the working class and the importance of establishing a genuine workers’ and peasants’ government. We have seen a significant increase in the size of the working class in Nepal – and an enormous strengthening of the urban population worldwide in recent times. As the latest world perspectives document of the CWI commented: "Over 70% of the world’s population is now concentrated in urban areas, giving the working class greater potential, a bigger specific gravity, than at any other time to effect change". (The World Situation and Tasks for the CWI, November 2013: www.socialistworld.net) The Maoist perspective, in contrast, turns its back on the urban working class. As a result, the opportunities to carry through a successful transfer of power to workers, poor peasants, and others who are exploited by capitalism were missed in 2006 and 2010.
A test of strength
Achieving workers’ control of Nepal’s resources should take centre stage in the perspective. The development of the working class’s collective consciousness in workplaces and factories is vital to build a socialist society. This cannot be realised merely by surrounding the cities with a peasant army. The support of the rural poor and peasants, in countries like Nepal where they constitute a majority, can bring significant strength. As shown in the events in 2006 and 2010, however, workers’ actions, such as a general strike, played a decisive role in challenging the state power.
In May 2010, the country was brought to a standstill. Tens of thousands of people surrounded the capital, Kathmandu. The general strike that followed gave the UCPN(M), which led this movement, the authority to break the deadlock and go forward beyond the constituent assembly. The question of who actually controls the country’s affairs was posed. The governments of India, China and the west lined up behind the counter-revolutionary elements, while the masses gathered behind the UCPN(M).
In this test of strength, the UCPN(M) voluntarily surrendered to the right wing. When it called off the general strike, the UCPN(M) threatened another general strike in the future. But the promise of a threat in the future does not compare to an existing challenge to power. The UCPN(M) made a major blunder by treating the movement of the masses like a tap to be opened and closed at will. This defeat dented the workers’ confidence and led to a growth of discontent among the masses. Significantly, this also contributed to the demoralisation inside the UCPN(M).
Winning the city workers is vital to carry forward the revolution, but the UCPN(M) appears to be losing support in the urban areas. In the last election, it lost all four of its city seats. All the key leaders of the Maoist parties, including Prachanda, suffered an embarrassing defeat. Both the NC and CPN(UML) won more votes than Prachanda’s UCPN(M) where it stood. This is now used against the Maoists, presented as the people’s rejection of the federal constitution. Furthermore, the turn of Kiran’s CPN(M) towards the rural areas will further alienate the city workers.
While pointing out the mistakes of the Maoists, it is important to recognise the complex tasks that they faced. On the one hand, the competing Indian and Chinese states’ interests aimed to paralyse the revolutionary process. Difficult problems also arose internally. These conditions demanded far-sighted perspectives. To add to this, although Nepal is a small country in size, its cultural complexities are vast, with more than 100 languages spoken. Society is divided into more than 100 different castes, as well as into different religious groups. A particular caste or ethnic group living in a particular region can demand privileges which at times threaten the interests of the minorities in that region.
For example, the Madeshis live in the southern Terai region which borders India. They rioted in January 2007, demanding recognition of their independent identity. According to 2011 statistics, 50.2% of the 26.6 million-strong Nepali population live in Terai. But these plains are also separated by various castes and ethnic groups. More than half-a-million Dalits live in the worst conditions in Terai – even worse than the Dalits in the mountains. They have antagonisms with and fear of the oppressing caste which dominates the demand for self-determination. They risk continued suppression if no special rights and opportunities are given to them. Similarly, the Newar people, who live in Kathmandu and nearby, are divided into various caste groups.
Though all parties agree with the need for a ‘federal’ arrangement for the Terai people, it remains mere rhetoric for the NC and CPN(UML). The NC in particular has a long history of opposing such a solution, while the UCPN(M) and CPN(M) agree with the right to self-determination ‘in theory’.
Before 1997 the Maoists claimed that the nationalities in Nepal were not developed, hence they did not support the demand for the right to self-determination. They argue that ‘Indian expansionism’ will use the opportunity to divide Nepal and that the demand for the right to self-determination will help that process. They fear Madeshis, in particular, can be used by India’s ruling class. This position resembles that of the Communist Party India (Marxist) which argues that Kashmiri demands for the right to self-determination will help the Pakistan state to infringe Indian sovereignty. The fact that the pro-monarchy Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal made a comeback in the election, coming fourth with 24 seats (up from four seats previously), should also be seen in the context of the general insecurity of the majority of the population.
Marxists oppose all sorts of discrimination and defend the democratic and cultural rights of all groups and minorities. We cannot defend a right in theory and then deny it in practice. Unquestionably, the Indian and Chinese governments will try to exploit the divisions within Nepal for their own interests. But to deny the rights of the people on the basis of the fear of the divide itself will play into the hands of the very forces that seek to exploit it. The national aspirations of Terai people must be adequately addressed. Curtailing their rights will only play into the hands of the Indian capitalist state.
How can a constitution be created that will address all the complexities and satisfy the various demands of such a divided society? Faced with this difficult situation, the UCPN(M) entered negotiations with the pro-business parties in the hope of finding a solution within a capitalist constitution. The hope that the right-wing parties will come to an agreement to deliver on this is ludicrous. Only the living experience of the working class and poor peasants running society themselves will provide the basis for meeting the national and cultural rights of all.
Land, freedom, socialist planning
The majority of the divisions and discriminations stem from the economic conditions – in connection to the land in particular. Those from the hill areas own significant land in Terai, for example. Making Terai a federal area will not solve the problem of land ownership in that region. Among the 80% of the population who live in rural areas, over 70% do not own more than one acre of land. Six million people do not own any land at all. Dalits are the majority of the landless. King Gayandra remains one of the biggest landowners in the world, with 57,000 square miles, including parts of Mount Everest. Having allowed the king to keep a significant section of Nepal, the UCPN(M) began to return all the lands that they captured during the ‘people’s war’ period to the other big landlords.
Without freeing the masses from the land ties, real freedom cannot be achieved. Even by a conservative assessment there are more than 300,000 bonded slaves in Nepal. They must be freed. The land should be expropriated from the king and the big landowners to be distributed among the landless and small farmers. But land distribution alone is insufficient. Major investment is needed to help the small farmers cultivate the land, such as into modern technologies, etc. Of course, this can only be possible with the sustainable development of industry. That is closely linked to the implementation of the planned economy. Without moving towards a workers’ and peasants’ government how can the planned economy be implemented?
The very thought of establishing a planned economy is beyond the reach of the Maoists, however, as they argue that Nepal needs to first pass through a stage of establishing ‘bourgeois democracy’. Neither the NC nor the CPN(UML) is capable of completing the bourgeois democratic tasks that are required. By handing over that task to the capitalist parties – or expecting them to deliver them – the Maoists limit themselves.
The social change that the masses need cannot take place in stages. Rather, it is linked to the development of the productive forces. Ironically, the Maoists do not argue that the NC or CPN(UML) and their capitalist allies will develop them. The enormous wealth of Nepal can be planned to assist the development of industry and agriculture. But this does not mean that socialist planning can be achieved and sustained in Nepal alone.
International relations, particularly the revolutionary developments in neighbouring countries and across the region, are vital to continue any such process in Nepal. This is why it is crucial to build support and solidarity among workers internationally. Revolutionary developments will come under enormous pressure in small countries like Nepal. For a revolution to succeed in Nepal it is vital to appeal to the working class, peasants and poor in India, China and other countries in the region and worldwide, with the objective of spreading the revolution.