Nepal is gearing up for elections in April. The monarchy will be dissolved, ending its 300-year reign, and elected representatives will draft a constitution. The elections are part of a peace package which suspended an eleven-year people’s war led by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). Is this an inspired move by the Maoists to spread their revolution or are they on a course to capitulation?
The Maoists are clearly trying new avenues. The wisdom of this will ultimately be measured by their success, not by preconceived notions of the “right revolutionary path”. Nevertheless, there are some fundamental principles of the science of revolution that, if abandoned, spell the end of a revolution. Similarly, ultra-left dogmatists never get to see their textbook revolutions materialise.
So far, the Maoists’ new tactics seem to have propelled the movement forward, enabled them to work openly in the cities and sealed the fate of the monarchy. But these gains may also come at a cost to revolutionary progress in the countryside if the new people’s organisations are dismantled.
Every revolution is shaped by the existing conditions. Most of Nepal’s 24 million people are dirt poor. Around 80% are rural, and 50% of the workforce is either unemployed or underemployed. Fewer than half of the people get a secondary school education; industry barely exists, and the economy is propped up by $US1.2 billion in remittances each year from Nepalis abroad.
In 1996 the Maoists began an anti-feudal and anti-imperialist New Democracy movement. The people’s war spread rapidly, and within a decade most of the country was being transformed. In these base areas agricultural cooperatives were set up, people’s committees challenged the old conventions, and feudal traditions, like dowries, were dispensed with. A genuine women’s liberation movement took hold. The countryside was being radicalised, but the cities were still under the thumb of the monarchy and the feudal elite. It was a strategic stalemate - and the revolutionaries were not yet in a position to stage an uprising in the cities.
April 2006 marked a turning point. A mass protest against King Gyanendra, who had abolished parliament two months earlier, erupted in Kathmandu. Workers and students demanded a republic. The Maoists, who until then were only able to work in underground organisations in the cities, took a leading role in the protests. They turned a spontaneous urban outburst into a sustained movement.
But the mainstream parties still had influence and were able to cut short the struggle on the condition that parliament be reinstated. Had the protests lasted a little longer, as the Maoists hoped, the monarchy would have been finished.
Nevertheless, the mobilisations overturned the king’s direct rule and stripped him of his power and his position as head of the army.
The parliament was restored, and in November 2006 a peace accord with the Maoists was signed. It stipulated there would be an interim government including the Maoists, and by June 2007 there would be elections for a constituent assembly. The Nepalese Army would be largely confined to barracks and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) fighters would be confined to quarters. The PLA’s weapons would be put in caches watched over by unarmed UN observers. The constituent assembly would be elected through a mixed first-past-the-post and proportional system, and would decide the future of the monarchy.
It can be argued that the interim government is not a standard capitalist government. While the largest party is the conservative Congress Party, the second and third largest groups are the Maoists and the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninists).
The merging of the Nepal Army and the People’s Liberation Army is contentious. However, every revolutionary force has to deal with the question of how to win over a large portion of the reactionary armed forces. So far the Nepal Army has refused to accept any merger process.
Also controversial is the Maoists’ proposal to allow some foreign capital for the development of large-scale heavy industry and infrastructure such as mega power stations. Given the very low economic base and the absence of a socialist state to give support, it is hard to see alternatives. The need to turn to foreign investment is more a reflection of the failure of the far left in the imperialist world to advance socialism than of shortcomings on the Nepali Maoists’ part.
Back on the streets
The ruling elite put up obstacles at every turn in a bid to hold on to power. So in September 2007 the Maoists walked out of the government in protest at the lack of progress. They said Nepal should become a republic immediately and that electoral representation should be fully proportional. They led street protests again around those demands and were able to sway the parliament.
On December 23rd the parliament ruled that the monarchy would be abolished immediately following the April elections. The Maoists rejoined the interim government, and four of their MPs were sworn in as cabinet ministers with portfolios including information, planning and women.
At the same time as the Maoists rejoined the government they reactivated the Young Communist League to carry on mass revolutionary work.
The new direction of the CPNM drew criticism from many quarters. Within the Workers Party there are differences of opinion on the course the CPNM is taking. Some think that the signs in Nepal are not encouraging and argue that taking part in a bourgeois government is a bridge too far. Others, including this writer, consider the experiment has the potential to succeed.
Despite the mixed views, there is a consensus in the Workers Party that it is too soon to draw hard and fast conclusions.
There is a risk that too many expectations may be placed on the constituent assembly, which can only be a stepping stone, not an end in itself. Leaders in the CPNM point out that their decision to engage in parliamentary struggle arose from the need to win over the urban masses. They insist that their involvement in government is just one front in the fight for revolution.