Thursday, February 17, 2011

Nepal: lessons for revolutionaries everywhere


The Nepalese revolution: how to unlock it?


Many lessons can be drawn from the recent history of Nepalese revolutionary movements, and many dangers for the Tunisian and Egyptian masses can also be highlighted if we carefully study the situation in Nepal. [Note: as this article was being written the Maoists decided to return to government.]

Communist Party celebrating Day of the Republic in 2009. Photo: Ingmar Zahorsky
The present world crisis that we are passing through has many expressions, one of them is the political stalemate that we see in several countries, where bourgeois politicians have struggled to reach a compromise to form a government. Nepal is one of such countries with a political crisis. About four year ago the masses carried out a revolutionary uprising – similar to what we saw in Tunisia and Egypt recently – that ousted the monarchy after centuries at the head of the state.

After six months of being without a government a “raw” deal was reached early in February. In the end, Prachanda [the former guerrilla leader and chairman of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist] withdrew his candidacy and supported the CPN-UML [Communist Party of Nepal, Unified Marxist–Leninist] candidate, Mr J N Khanal, thus allowing the parliamentary standstill to be unblocked.

Before filing the nomination on February 2, Prachanda had assured Baburam Bhattarai [a senior Standing Committee Member of the Politburo of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist and former Finance Minister] that he would not withdraw his candidacy, but, Prachanda eventually withdrew and by doing so, he blocked the candidacy of Baburam who is very popular among the general public in Nepal. If Prachanda had allowed Baburam Bhattarai to file his nomination, there was a strong possibility that Baburam could have been elected as Prime Minister, but due to the inner party struggle within the Maoist Party, Prachanda probably did not want Baburam to become leader of the country with the current internal dispute, and in the end the Maoist leader supported JN Khanal instead, a member of the previously arch-rival CPN-UML. To do that they signed a seven point agreement and they abstained during the Prime Minister vote1 (Nepal News, 10 February 2011)

Baburam wrote a note of dissent on Prachanda’s proposal to withdraw as Prime Ministerial candidate. Inter and intra-party fighting is now going on. And there is also no sign yet that there will be a constitution by end of May. The "peace process" has now a Prime Minister and a Government that is supported from the outside by the UCPN-M.

Nepal has been steeped in a permanent parliamentary and political crisis since the election took place in April, 2008. Now with a Prime Minister that belongs to a minority party any issue will have to undergo a colossal work of compromise and consensus in the corridors of power. The outcome of the elections that were to write a new constitution and to establish a Republic, which were the two main demands of the movement of the great people's uprising of April 2006 that made the monarchy fall, have created this mess.

At that time we warned that:

“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 measures2”.

This is precisely what has now happened. Some democratic reforms have been put into place: such as the declaration of the Republic and the recognition of ethnic differences, but the social and economic situation has fundamentally not changed, an example are the power cuts that had to be imposed this winter. Nepal only produces about half its electricity needs, despite massive hydropower potential, less than half of the population is connected to the electricity grid and power has to be imported from India. If a socialist Government had been in place in the almost five years since the people’s uprising, a massive programme of electrification to improve the living conditions of the masses could have been put in place. This is just one of many examples of the concrete consequences of the false theoretical standpoint of the Maoist leadership.

The old bourgeois and the oligarchs linked to imperialism have stayed in place and used the leavers they have in society to delay a process that if it had not been stopped by the Maoists and its two stage approach, could have done away with capitalism. When Prachanda took office and started to make appeals to all sort of capitalists to help to develop Nepal we also warned:

“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 [Seven Party Alliance]. This is the main lesson of the Russian Revolution, and all subsequent revolutions, as Lenin explained time and time again”3.

The current impasse for the Maoists, that won the elections but cannot govern, is the expression of this breaking away by the oligarchs, bourgeois and imperialists that are slowly taking the initiative.

The stalemate in Nepal at parliamentary level is unbearable for the masses that fought for land reform, jobs and a better life. Because their living conditions are not only not improving but they are getting worse due to the increase of the price of basic products as a result of the crisis.

It is also unbearable for the thousands of fighters that live in cantonments, like refugees in their own country. This has led to deep divisions within the Maoist camp, divisions that help the bourgeois camp to gain terrain and influence as the situation provides no clear way out.

Two years ago we wrote:

“In April 2006, contrary to the perspectives of Prachanda, the Loktantra Andolan [people’s movement] was concentrated in Kathmandu, the largest city of Nepal. The students and workers of Kathmandu came out on the streets demanding an end to the oppression and tyranny of the ruling class. The CPN-M [UCPN-M today, in short the Maoists and 6 other bourgeois parties, according to the 12-point agreement signed in New Delhi], called for a strike, and the movement grew well beyond the expectations of the leadership of the party. The movement began by making the most basic of demands. They quickly began to challenge the system and rallied in front of the royal palace determined to overthrow the monarchy. Just before the demonstration reached the palace, the leadership of the CPN-M intervened and called the strike off, because the King had agreed to call a new parliament. Once again the movement was derailed. The opportunity of overthrowing the monarchy and capitalism was lost due to the lack of a revolutionary leadership. The Maoists have retreated from their demand for the establishment of People's Republic of Nepal. They are making inroads in parliament in order to better grab a piece of the pie4.

Lamentably, this perspective has come true. Last year, the Maoists tried to form a Government calling a national general strike [bandh] during the planting season. When they realized that they were not going to take office, they called it off. They have in fact been playing with the masses as if they were a tap that you can open and close as you wish. Uprisings have their own dynamics and a revolutionary party has to guide the movement and not use it for its short-term interests, this is precisely the lesson of the recent history of Nepal.

After the withdrawal of the UCPN from the Government, a period of political crisis opened up, as well as a division within the Maoist camp. Since July 2010 on more than 17 occasions MPs have voted to elect a new Government and political differences have arisen within the leadership of the Maoist movement. Unfortunately the CPN-UML, a former Maoist organization that has chosen the parliamentary road and abandoned a revolutionary perspective is playing a subsidiary role to the NC, instead of helping Nepal take the road of revolutionary transformation. They now hold office but they are prisoners of the will of the Nepali Congress that will manipulate them.

Now we have a weak minority Government that has to the task of improving the economic and social situation while being a prisoner of the Nepali Congress and under pressure from imperialism. This situation is untenable for the masses that forced the monarchy out four years ago. The internal split in the Maoist camp is also developing, and with the fact that they are not in Government the differences are widening. Many activists and cadres do not understand why there has been such hesitation and why after a decade in the jungle everything has to be solved in the corridors of the different ministries and asking for permission from the Indian and American imperialists, especially when the entire world is witnessing revolution in places like Egypt and Tunisia.

Divisions at the top and malaise at the bottom

Shortly after the UCPN-M had taken office, in October 2009, we reported how Baburam Bhattarai, Vice President, and one of the long-standing leaders of the Maoist organisation recognised the role of Leon Trotsky; this can be considered the starting point of an internal debate about the role of the UCPN-M.

At the time we said “Now in Nepal there is a growing interest in the theory of the Permanent Revolution. The fact that a Maoist leader has recognised that ‘in the current context of globalised capitalist domination, Trotskyism has become more relevant than Stalinism’ is an extremely interesting development”. During a bitter three-way debate in the leadership of the party, Bhattarai changed his mind and has stopped openly advocating the revolutionary ideas of Trotsky, as he had done a year ago, partly to avoid the attacks from the Stalinist elements within the party and also to avoid attacks from Maoist-Stalinist groups internationally.

Baburam's latest 'revelations' regarding the political differences between Trotsky and Stalin are stated in his article titled "Today's Imperialism" in the April - September, 2010, Issue 4-5 of the magazine "Raato Jhilko” [The Red Spark]. He writes on page 49:

"After the death of Lenin; Stalin and Trotsky one-sidedly exaggerated the possibility of victory of socialism in a single country or of the impossibility of victory in a single country; and this one sided exaggeration has created lots of confusion in the international communist movement. The revolutions and counter revolutions of 20th century demand to review the successes and failures afresh. Having said that, the Leninist principle that says that ‘imperialism is the eve of the epoch of the proletarian revolution’ is a correct analysis even today. However, there is also a need to analyse why imperialism survived for more than 100 years after Lenin said it [was] dying, and decaying capitalism demands serious analysis and review".

This is the way in which Baburam has found to detach himself from his previous statement not to antagonise the core Stalinist group of the party.

There have been widespread divisions within the Maoists, starting with the trade union wing, but this has then spread to the rest of its movement. The Maoists’ Hong Kong Bureau has also split into two rival factions. This process of factional fighting will be ongoing, until and unless the top leaders strike a deal on strategic issues which is pretty difficult with the current antagonism.

An interesting element is that the party has undergone several splits and mergers and there has been no formal congress to discuss these events or the Nepalese Revolution in course. Many central committee and cadre meetings have been held, but the key debate about revolutionary strategy have been held only at the top level of the party.

Unfortunately the looming split in the Maoist trade union has just taken place and there have already been clashes between the two sides, while GEFONT, the CPN-UML trade union organisation, is ready to mobilise for wage increases5 (Nepal News, 10 February). Also Maoist leader from Madhesh, Prabhu Sah is creating a new Communist Party in Madhesh by collecting Madhesi communist leaders from different left parties. This is the logical consequence of not opening the debate up at all levels of the party about the future of the Nepalese revolution.

Three positions - no clear differences

The divisions within the leadership are incarnated by Prachanda, Baburam and Mohan Baidhya (Kiran), the latter having stated that joining the peace process was a mistake and the party should return to the old Maoist Line and immediately adopt a strategy of people’s insurrection. This line means going back to the jungle and ignoring the world social and economic situation; it is also based in the belief that the UNMIN [United Nations Mission in Nepal] is leaving and that the balance of power will therefore be in their favour, as they have carried out ten years of armed struggle. Prachanda has been playing a centrist role criticising the peace process but not pushing for going back to the jungle. Unfortunately Baburam is a strong defender of the peace process and in the current Maoist terms, i.e. defending the two stage theory. The latest u-turn of Prachanda will no doubt have an effect within a layer of the party that should organise to ensure that the Maoists return to office but with a revolutionary programme.

The current dispute has helped the “left-wingers” in attacking Baburam. The “hardcore Stalinist” faction has devoted a total of 32 pages of their factional magazine "Samayabaddha" (September 2010, Issue #7) in providing Stalinist slanders against Trotsky, which is a way of attacking Baburam.

One Baburam supporter, Comrade Ram Karki (Partha Chhetri), member of the Maoist CC, has countered the Hardliners in an article in "Raato Jhilko" (The Red Spark, Issue 4-5, September 2010) and countered the 'Samayabaddha' article (mentioned above) and wrote this: "Some of our comrades have out-smarted Stalin's Henchmen like Vishinsky (Moscow Trial Prosecutor), Beriya (NKVD Boss) and Ulrich (President of Moscow Trials), in putting nonsense slanders on Comrade Trotsky".

From the pages of In Defence of Marxism we welcome this debate to clarify the role of Trotsky during the Russian Revolution, and more importantly, the role of the theory of the Permanent Revolution and the need for a correct analysis of the current world situation. But for any party to advance, this kind of debate has to be held at all levels of the organisation and not just as feudal infighting to share out the places on the future Central Committee.

At this moment there is a very interesting debate going on between the rival Maoist factions: on the roles of Stalin and Trotsky. To simplify the terms of the debate: the Prachanda-Kiran group has been strongly advocating in favour of Stalin, whereas the Baburam faction is saying that Stalin made many mistakes, which should be thoroughly reviewed and corrected so the Nepalese revolutionary movement can learn the lessons.

Reports of the current “debate” inform us that:

“While the party had struggled hard to give full shape to the All Nepal National Independent Students Union-Revolutionary (ANNISU-R) central committee, All Nepal Peasants´ Association (ANPA) has not even been able to appoint office bearers for the last two months, with competition among rival factions giving rise to an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion. The party is vertically divided into three factions led by Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Senior Vice-chairman Mohan Baidya and Vice-chairman Dr Baburam Bhattarai respectively6.

After witnessing growing factionalism in the general conventions of its student and peasant wings two months back, the UCPN (Maoist) has delayed the general conventions of the rest of its sister organizations, which together number 39. This is clearly not the way to raise the level of their cadres and members. Baburam Bhattarai said that there is still a chance for the peace process and the party should try to negotiate with the parliamentary parties "till the end"; and if the peace process fails, only then go for a people’s insurrection. Baburam says that the party leaders are just using the Maoist line to take power.

Prachanda has adopted an opportunistic centrist line; as he is trying to take advantage of the factions of Kiran and Baburam and project himself as the re-conciliator within the party. But, Prachanda has been badly shaken up by Kiran and Bhattarai (the two vice-presidents), the latter having accused Prachanda of mismanaging the party, misusing the party funds, and undermining party discipline amongst other things. We need to remember that the entry into Government of the Maoists two years ago split the international Maoist movement. It seems that Kiran is siding with Naxalites, Bhutanese Maoists and other so-called orthodox Maoists or anti-revisionists from around the world.

Another interesting point of struggle is about identifying the "Principle Contradiction" for their campaign. Prachanda and Kiran say that India is the principle contradiction, and therefore the struggle should be focussed on fighting India. Baburam, however, has said that the Principle Contradiction is within the country and therefore the struggle should be directed at fighting the bourgeois parliamentary parties and elements of feudalism. This central element, which is not portrayed correctly by any of the factions, is key. So far, Prachanda has used the fight against imperialism as an excuse to find a progressive wing within the local bourgeoisie. Baburam is right to focus on the internal enemies, but this needs a revolutionary programme and he should base himself on the masses that have shown its willingness to struggle.

The debate is now degenerating:

“In a clear manifestation of boiling intra-party turmoil, the rival factions of the UCPN (Maoist) have intensified their media war against each other – attacking the rivals’ characters and ideological positions. The deepening animosity between Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Vice-chairman Dr Baburam Bhattarai is reflected in the latest issues of Lal Rakshak and Samaya Bodh — two magazines launched by those close to Dahal and Bhattarai factions respectively.

“Lal Rakshak accuses Bhattarai of fearing the ‘hurricane of people’s revolt’ and running away from it, while Samaya Bodh paints Dahal as a leader obsessed with power and bereft of political vision. ‘The main concern of the party chairman after the Palungtar plenum was how to reign the party unchallenged and show the domestic and international power centers that he alone can be the party chief,’ states the magazine edited by revolutionary journalist Lekhnath Neupane, who is close to Bhattarai. The magazine claims that the main objective of Dahal’s political document, which was endorsed after incorporating the views of Senior Vice-chairman Mohan Baidya, is not to drive the party toward revolution, but ‘entrap the cadres and the masses into an illusory eclecticism.’

“The Lal Rakshak has, in return, called on the ‘headquarters of the proletariat’ – referring to Dahal residence at Naya Bazaar – to immediately take measures to silence the Bhattarai faction.7

This debate, in the way that it is being carried will only be beneficial to the bourgeois forces, and especially the Nepali Congress. The fact that the CPN-UML is in office is a clever manoeuvre by the ruling class to ensure a swift return of their party to office. Now JN Khanal has said that he wants to form an all-party consensus government, but the Nepali Congress has said that it will not join such a government. On the other hand the UCPN-M is supporting the Government, leaving the NC as the opposition of a left leaning Government that cannot do anything.

Non revolutionary situation

The common denominator of the theoretical debate that has been taking place within the Maoist camp is the idea that the revolutionary situation internationally would not be favourable for a Revolution in Nepal. This was voted in one of the latest theoretical documents agreed by all factions of the leadership.

An article of May 2010 by Gajurel Guarav (Party Secretary) titled “Favourable or unfavourable” puts the common Maoist position clearly (we quote at length as we think this article is important to understand the Maoist behaviour):

“Success or failure of revolution of individual country also largely depends on favourable or unfavourable international situation. In many cases, the question of ‘unfavourable international situation’ is being (mis)used by rightists or revisionists to justify their degeneration from a communist or revolutionary to a revisionist or a bourgeois politician. None of the revisionists of the world declare themselves as revisionists; rather they try to show that they are revolutionaries and are still communists. […] We should be realistic in making assessment of the international situation. We should adopt Maoist approach while making assessment of the international situation. Definitely there are some serious unfavourable factors which we cannot ignore. Side by side there are some favourable factors which we have to take into account. Let us try to make a brief summation of bright side as well as the dark side of the present international situation in making revolution. […] It is true that there was no international centre like Comintern during the time the Chinese revolution that became victorious in the year 1949. But there was socialist Russia and international socialist bloc which provided very significant support to the Chinese revolution. We have no such international socialist bloc today. This is darkest part of the present international situation. It seems that had there been international socialist base, the New Democratic Revolution would have succeeded long before and the Nepalese society would have been grappling for socialism by now.

“Dearth of international working class movement. It is also true that there was neither Communist International nor Socialist bloc during the time of Socialist revolution in Russia in 1919. But there was very strong working class movement in Europe and socialist revolution in Germany was very close to success. The strength of the working class movement was a very strong support to the Russian revolution. But we have no such strong working class movement in any continent at present. [...]

“Hostility among imperialist countries not in climax. There is one common international factor in Russian and Chinese revolution that the Russian revolution succeeded during the time of 1st WW and the Chinese revolution succeeded during the 2nd WW. It does not mean that WW is essential part of the success of every revolution.

“It is worth to be considered that during the time of WW, the imperialist powers were cutting each others' throat. One imperialist country was enemy for another imperialist country. The hostility among the imperialist countries was so ferocious that one's existence depended on elimination of the other. They had little time to fight against communist forces during the time of WW. There is no doubt that contradiction among various imperialist forces exists today, but it has not reached to the level of hostility of eliminating each other [...].

“What we have explained above clearly shows that present day international situation is not clearly favourable for any revolution led by genuine communist party in the world today. To get readymade favourable international situation is well and good and definitely we all will be happy to get it. But to find such a situation is very difficult. Our responsibility is not fulfilled only by making such analysis and statement that the international situation is not favourable so there cannot be a revolution in Nepal and any part of the world. Now we can see that this unfavourable international situation has become a pretext for the reformist and degenerated ‘communist’ parties to justify their degeneration into reformism and revisionism.” [Source: http://drapeaurouge.over-blog.com/ext/http://sd-1.archive-host.com/membres/up/205030527444844614/RedStar_May.pdf]

It is interesting to note that in Tunisia and Egypt, unlike in Nepal, there was no party that led the recent uprisings. One could be led to thinking that it is better to have no leadership than a bad leadership. In any case, the theoretical denial of the possibility of a revolution in the world today [i.e. the entrance of the masses into political action for a fundamental change in society] will be only maintained by those who refuse to see or do not want to lead a revolution.

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” is 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 tasks, 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.

It has to be understood 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 role of the revolutionary party

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 are 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 that fought bravely in the past, seeing many of their comrades lose their lives in the struggle.

These fighters are now supposed to become part of the army of the bourgeois state apparatus 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.

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.

Time is ticking away and the divisions within the party will be exploited by the bourgeois and imperialists in order to form a Government to demobilise the masses as much as possible. Given the current wave of revolution sweeping across the planet, letting the opportunity go would be a criminal policy by the Maoist leaders.

Notes

1 http://nepalnews.com/archive/2011/feb/feb10/news05.php

2 http://www.marxist.com/nepal-end-king-revolutionary-crisis200406.htm

3 http://www.marxist.com/nepal-end-king-revolutionary-crisis200406.htm

4 http://www.marxist.com/nepal-revolution-lost-masses-struggle301006.htm

5 http://nepalnews.com/archive/2011/feb/feb10/news07.php

6 http://www.myrepublica.com/portal/index.php?action=news_details&news_id=27610

7 http://revolutionaryfrontlines.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/nepal-maoist-rival-factions-in-media-war/

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