Nepal ­ A Revolution in Progress

-Alastair Reith
The Spark
December 2008-January 2009

Ever since the destruction of the Soviet Union, the capitalist class has told us that communism is dead. We are expected to believe that this is as good as it gets, that the inequality and oppression inherent within the capitalist system will be with us forever and there will be no more revolutions. The ruling class declared the end of history. Unfortunately for them, the people of Nepal have decided not to listen.

The red flag flies from Mt Everest

A communist revolution is unfolding in Nepal, a small Himalayan country just to the North of India. Led by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the workers and peasants of Nepal are rising up and challenging the feudal oppression they face in their daily lives, and the neo-colonial domination they face as a nation.

The last time the Spark published news of the revolution in Nepal, the results of the Constituent Assembly elections had just come in. Despite the corporate media predictions that the Maoists would come in a dismal third place, the Maoists shocked the world by winning a landslide victory, taking 220 out of 575 seats, making them by far the largest party in the Assembly, with more seats than the next two largest parties combined! The elections revealed the level of mass support the Maoists have amongst the people.

A history of struggle

The revolution began in 1996, when CPN (M) fighters carried out a number of armed attacks on police stations, government offices and foreign-owned factories. These actions began the People’s War, which in just ten years liberated 80% of the countryside, effectively expelling the government and its police forces from the countryside. In the liberated zones, society was radically transformed. Land was seized from the parasitic landlords and distributed amongst the peasants, women were freed from their inferior status and given the equality and respect they deserved, People’s Committees were set up to involve the masses in direct democracy and the making of decisions that affected their lives.  The Maoists began with one .303 rifle, and ended with control of the country.

Eventually the situation reached a critical point. King Gyanendra (who in February 2005 dissolved parliament and declared an absolute monarchy) and his forces controlled the cities, major roads and scattered strongholds throughout the country, while the Maoists controlled everything else. Neither side  had the strength to destroy the other, and the situation had reached what Maoists call “strategic equilibrium”.

The Maoists did not feel that they had the strength to defeat the Royal Army in battle and conquer the capital, Kathmandu, but they knew they could not just sit still. So they began looking for ways to move their revolution forward, to move into the cities and connect with the urban workers, to move from strategic equilibrium to strategic offensive.

The Maoists took the initiative and began negotiations with various now-outlawed political parties, including the two major bourgeois parties, the Nepal Congress Party and the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist), a phoney communist group. These two parties had been in government during the People’s War and had offered rewards for the heads of Maoist leaders, but now they were forced to align with the Maoists against the monarchy. After much negotiation, in December 2005 the Maoists and the parliamentary parties signed a 12 Point Agreement to struggle together for the restoration of democracy and civil rights, and declared a Seven Party Alliance.

Fall of the monarchy

In 2006, the Seven Party Alliance called a nation-wide general strike between April 5 and April 9. The urban masses responded with massive enthusiasm, and the strike quickly grew into a mass movement, with over a million people taking to the streets of Kathmandu, a city with a population of just under two million people! The monarchy put troops on the streets and threatened to crush the protests with tanks and guns, and a tense situation developed. Then, on April 21, the King caved in and declared that he would return political power to the people, calling for elections to be held as soon as possible.

The Maoists had brought down the monarchy. Although the King was not dragged from the palace at gunpoint by PLA soldiers, the success of the People’s War was nonetheless responsible for the King being forced to hand over power. The citizens of Kathmandu received enormous courage from the knowledge that the Maoist army was right outside the gates of the city, and that if the Royal Army did attack them the revolutionary forces would take a terrible revenge. With the confidence that only comes from ten thousand rifles at your back, the people of Nepal took to the streets and won their freedom.

The Maoists participated in the Provisional Government formed after the restoration of democracy, the PLA confined itself to a number of cantonments throughout the country, and after a great deal of arguing and tension elections were finally held in April 2008. The people voted for their liberators, and the stage was set for the first communist revolution of the 21st century to begin.

Forming a government

The Maoists had won by far the largest number of seats and the largest popular vote, but they didn’t win an outright majority. This led to huge problems trying to form a government, as they had to work out a common agreement with parties they went to war against only a few years previously and who were not especially keen on the radical Maoist agenda and the transformation of Nepal. This contradiction has caused the Maoists headaches from then right up to the present day, as on the one hand they cannot afford to alienate their coalition partners to the point that they pull out and the government collapses, but on the other hand the Maoists refuse to abandon their goal of radical social change and the improvement of the people’s lives.

After a long period of indecision, a coalition government was eventually hammered together consisting of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the Madeshi People’s Rights Forum, the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist), the People’s Forum Nepal, the Nepal Sadbhawana Party and the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist). This coalition contains everything from parties based on ethnic chauvinism (the Madeshi Forum) to phoney communist parties, and of all the parties the only ones interested in radical social change are the Maoists.

The Maoists originally aimed to have their leader Prachanda become the first President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, but the reactionary parties banded together and prevented this. Prachanda instead became Prime Minister, and the Presidency went to Ram Baran Yadav of the Nepal Congress, which chose to remain in opposition to the government.

Under a Maoist government ­ struggle and compromise

The Maoists are faced with an incredibly difficult situation. They are constrained by their coalition partners, who resist every radical move. But even if the Maoists had complete and unrestricted power, the situation would still be difficult. Nepal is a severely underdeveloped country with little or no industry and very poor infrastructure.  Of its 26.4 million people, 80% are peasants. The material basis for an immediate transition to socialism does not exist, and the Maoists must seek foreign investment to help them develop the country and improve the living standards of the people. This obviously carries great dangers, and the Maoists will have to walk a very thin line between encouraging foreign capital to invest in Nepal and moving to advance workers and peasant’s power.

The Maoists plan to rapidly modernise Nepal. A major part of their plan is the development of electricity. Nepal is a mountainous country with countless rivers, lakes and waterfalls, and the government plans to exploit these resources through dams and massive hydro-power projects, with the stated goal of producing 10,000 Megawatts of electricity within 10 years. If the Maoists succeed in their goal, electricity can be extended to the poor peasants and workers, and it can also be exported abroad to put Nepal’s economy on a sound financial basis.

There are also plans for land reform to be carried out nationwide, with the government talking about its plans for “scientific land reform”. The land question has already led to conflict, with the Maoist Land Reform Minister Matrika Yadav causing an uproar amongst the reactionary parties when he led armed PLA soldiers out of their cantonment to drive off police who had retaken land seized during the People’s War. Squatters had set up residence on the land, and Matrika personally oversaw the reconstruction of the squatter’s homes. In order to placate the other parties he resigned from his position in the Cabinet, but the land seizures continue and Matrika talks of developing a massive land reform movement.

The formation of a Maoist-led government has also led to increased levels of working-class militancy. In response to their bosses’  refusal to negotiate with the union for a better pay deal, workers on Gurash Tea Estate, Kuwabashi Tea Plantation and Joon Tea Garden seized control of the tea plantations and factories and started running them under workers control! The workers’  union is affiliated to the CPN (M), and the workers are confident in the knowledge that the government will support them when they take these actions.

This illustrates how difficult and complex the task ahead is for the Maoists. Even as Prachanda was abroad seeking foreign investment in Nepal, the Maoist-affiliated All Nepal Trade Union Federation Revolutionary forced the closure of Indian medical giant Dabur’s subsidiary in Nepal, shutting down its main factory, demanding a 10% bonus for the workers and other benefits. Addressing a meeting in Kathmandu, senior Maoist leader Khim Lal Devkota said “It is futile to talk about industrial security until the workers’ rights and welfare are guaranteed.”

Despite the endless deadlocks caused by the resistance of its coalition partners, the Maoist government has still managed to enact some progressive social change. It has abolished slavery, banning the Haliya system of bonded agricultural labour.

It has also given formal recognition to Third Gender people, with a 21 year old lesbian woman receiving the first identity card stating her gender as “Third” in early September. This is an extremely radical move considering how dominated Nepal is by its feudal culture, with all the backward ideas that entails. Nepal’s first openly gay MP has been elected to the Constituent Assembly, representing a minor communist party separate from the Maoists. Despite the fact that he is not in the CPN (M), the conditions for his election only exist because of the new, revolutionary culture the Maoists are trying to create.

Revolution far from over

The situation in Nepal is complex and rapidly changing, with new developments springing up almost every day. The Maoists face enormous challenges, and the outcome of this process remains undecided. But the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) has shown a remarkable ability to adapt its tactics and continuously move forward over the past decade, and it has achieved huge things against grave odds.

There are still issues that urgently need to be resolved in Nepal. The burning issue of land reform becomes more important by the day. A new, democratic constitution that enshrines the rights of the people must be written. The most controversial issue of all, the integration of the Maoist army with the former Royal Army (now just called the Nepal Army) still needs to be carried out, and every major party apart from the Maoists has declared opposition to this happening, as have the generals of the former Royal Army itself. This is understandable, as the massive influx of committed, passionate Maoist militants into the army should at the very least make it extremely difficult for the army to stage a coup in the future, and could perhaps lead to the reactionary army being taken over by the revolutionary army! The Maoists have spoken of the need for the PLA to be “professionalised”, and the former Royal Army to be “democratised”.

As well as this, there are increasing divisions and internal struggle within the CPN (M) itself, with the Party reportedly having fierce arguments about how and at what pace to move forward towards a People’s Republic, and ultimately socialism. But these internal struggles are not a bad thing, and it is extremely positive how the leaders of the Maoist party have spoken about how “a party without debate and disagreement is dead”, and how the right to criticise and the responsibility to accept criticism are essential to maintaining a healthy, democratic organisation. The Maoists have rejected the dogmatic approach that so many revolutionary groups have adopted over the years and have boldly taken new positions and put forward new ideas about how to carry out a communist revolution in the 21st century. They have proposed the very new and radical idea of continuing multi-party competition even under socialism, and Chairman Prachanda has publicly stated that they see themselves as continuing in the tradition of Lenin, not Stalin, who they see as having made severe errors.

It’s too early to say how things are going to turn out, but we can be sure that things are going to be very interesting over the coming years . The victories of the working people of Nepal are victories for the working class in every country, and any defeats they suffer are our defeats too. The revolution in Nepal needs our support and solidarity - Lal Salaam.

2 Responses to Nepal ­ A Revolution in Progress

  1. Raghu Ghimire says:

    It is a very objective article, thanks a lot….

  2. Alastair Reith says:

    Cheers mate. I feel that with developments like this it is the duty of all revolutionaries to offer solidarity with what’s taking place, regardless of whether it’s exactly what they would have done in the same situation. The fact of the matter is that tiny groups in the West do not have the right to lecture actual revolutionaries in the Third World on what they should and should not be doing.

    The revolution in Nepal is the biggest development for the socialist movement in years, maybe even decades, and I’m really inspired by it.

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