On 13 February 1996, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) [CPN(M)] launched a “people’s war” in one of the world’s most backward and impoverished countries. The casus belli was the refusal of the ruling coalition government, led by the Nepali Congress Party, to address a 40-point list of demands issued by the Maoists’ United People’s Front of Nepal, including a call for a “new constitution…drafted by the people’s elected representatives” and an end to the “special rights and privileges of the King and his family” (reproduced in Arjun Karki and David Seddon [eds.], The People’s War in Nepal: Left Perspectives).
Within 24 hours Maoist insurgents and their sympathizers had attacked a variety of targets throughout the country. The office of the state-owned Agricultural Development Bank was raided in the central district of Gorkha (the historical home of the famous “Gurkha” mercenaries) and records of debts worth several million rupees were burned. In the Maoist stronghold of the western Rolpa and Rukum districts, police outposts were stormed and weapons seized. According to the CPN(M), a Pepsi bottling facility in the capital city of Kathmandu was partially “torched,” a liquor factory owned by a “comprador bourgeois” in Gorkha was “blasted” and, in a raid on the house of a “notorious feudal-usurer” in eastern Nepal, 1.3 million rupees in cash was seized and many loan documents were destroyed (see The Worker No. 2, June 1996, excerpted in Deepak Thapa, A Kingdom Under Siege: Nepal’s Maoist Insurgency, 1996 to 2003).
A week after the declaration of “people’s war,” Interior Minister Khum Bahadur Khadka declared: “I am confident that we will be able to bring the present activities under control within four or five days” (Sudheer Sharma, “The Maoist Movement: An Evolutionary Perspective,” in Michael Hutt [ed.], Himalayan ‘People’s War’: Nepal’s Maoist Rebellion). By the end of the second week, almost 5,000 incidents had occurred, ranging from attacks on police outposts to the confiscation of landlords’ property. Khadka was soon replaced, but six years later he was reinstated. By that time, some 60 to 70 percent of rural Nepal was under Maoist control; by early 2005 it was 80 percent.
The guerrillas’ surprising success was facilitated by Nepal’s mountainous and largely inaccessible terrain, as well as by the regime’s inexperienced and brutally indiscriminate security forces and the venality, short-sightedness and incompetence of its ruling class. Yet the most important factor was the Maoists’ dedication to organizing a popular struggle against oppression. While Trotskyists advocate a strategy of mass proletarian insurrection, rather than rural “people’s war,” we unambiguously side with the Maoist insurgents in their military confrontation with the Nepalese bourgeoisie.
The CPN(M) strategy was outlined in a statement distributed in the hundreds of thousands across Nepal on the first day of the “people’s war.” It blamed “feudal and comprador and bureaucratic capitalist rulers” for Nepal’s economic underdevelopment and undemocratic political structure:
“the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)—the proletarian party of the sons and daughters of the masses of the people—has resolved to initiate the process of forcibly smashing this reactionary state and establishing a New Democratic state. This resolve is based on the feeling of service and devotion towards the people, on the commitment to the almighty ideology of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism to free humanity forever from the yoke of class exploitation, and on the study of history of the Nepalese society in that light….This path will unfold by making uses (sic) of all forms of struggle in keeping with the historical stage of development of Nepal and principally, as we have said all along, according to the strategy of encircling the city from the countryside, with agrarian revolution as the axis and from the midst of and in conjunction with the rural class struggle.”
—“March Along the Path of People’s War to Smash the Reactionary State and Establish a New Democratic State!”, reproduced in Karki and Seddon
The Maoists’ invocation of class struggle was not simply rhetorical. A significant socio-economic transformation was undertaken in their rural “base areas,” where landlords’ estates were redistributed, peasant debts cancelled, agricultural communes established, rudimentary road and irrigation networks constructed and a parallel government set up. After centuries of oppression, women, lower castes and minority ethnic/national groups were accorded legal equality for the first time, sharing the benefits of the meaningful, albeit modest, social reforms.
The success of Nepal’s Maoists ran counter to the reigning “death of communism” propaganda offensive of bourgeois ideologues in the immediate post-Soviet period, and exerted an appreciable influence on new layers of militants around the world. Following the triumph of counterrevolution in the USSR and East Europe and the defeat or co-optation of most insurrectionary Third World left-nationalist movements, many young leftists had embraced the amorphous and often overtly reformist politics of “anti-globalization,” anarchism and simple neocolonial “solidarity.” But for those disenchanted by summit-hopping and moral witness, the revival of Maoist guerrillaism in Nepal, India and the Philippines renewed the appeal of “Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought.” The Financial Times (21 February 2006) warned that the “menace of Maoism is making a comeback.”
The year 2006 proved to be a turning point for the Nepalese “people’s war.” In April a general strike and 19-day mass mobilization in Kathmandu and other centers paralyzed the monarchy. Having successfully “encircl[ed] the city from the countryside,” the Maoists played only a peripheral role in the strike. After a round of negotiations with bourgeois and Stalinist parliamentary parties, the CPN(M) agreed to participate in “multi party competition within an anti-feudal and anti-imperialist constitutional frame[work]” (Economic and Political Weekly, 22 July 2006). Two years later, after winning a plurality in national elections to a constituent assembly, the Maoists formed a coalition government with elements they had once denounced as members of the “reactionary camp.”
The price for admission to mainstream bourgeois politics was steep: landed property and factories seized from the landlords and capitalists were returned, the “people’s courts” and “people’s committees” dismantled and the People’s Liberation Army guerrilla force disarmed. In May 2009, when the CPN(M) was finally turfed out of the government after a constitutional wrangle, it had little to show for the sacrifices made by so many of its supporters, thousands of whom had perished in the “people’s war.” By contrast, Nepal’s ruling elite emerged in a much stronger position.
The outcome of the CPN(M)’s rapprochement with the ruling class, which continues to shape the contours of Nepalese politics, has produced considerable dissension and confusion among Maoist currents internationally. Many defend the CPN(M)’s coalition as an example of tactical flexibility. More left-wing elements characterize it as a “betrayal” resulting from a “right opportunist line” of adaptation to bourgeois reactionaries, rather than forging a “New Democratic” alliance with “progressive” capitalists.
In the end, the CPN(M)’s left-Maoist critics, like its rightist apologists, ignore the fundamental political fact that reconciliation to bourgeois rule is a logical outcome of the class collaborationism that lies at the heart of Mao Zedong’s concept of New Democracy, which is merely a variant of the Stalinist/Menshevik notion that semi-colonial countries must undergo a period of capitalist development before proletarian revolution is placed on the historical agenda. The necessary corollary to this “two-stage” theory of socialist revolution is that the “national bourgeoisie” (as opposed to the bad “comprador” capitalists) is identified as an ally of the working class and peasantry. The CPN(M)’s February 1996 statement made this clear:
“[W]hether it is workers, peasants, women, teachers, students, small traders, lower ranking civil servants, doctors, professors or members of other classes, including the national bourgeoisie, all are victims of this state of feudals and of comprador and bureaucratic capitalists.”
This petty-bourgeois utopianism derives from a peasant-based, rural-centric worldview. For the CPN(M), as for Mao himself, workers’ struggles are seen essentially as adjuncts to the broader strategy of encircling the cities with peasant “base areas.” When the proletariat finally did raise its head—independently of the Maoists—it was enough to persuade even the most ardent monarchists that the only way to safeguard the holdings of the ruling class was to opt for a republic. The CPN(M)’s commitment to two-stagism resulted in subordinating the working class and poor peasants to the newly-minted “anti-feudal” national bourgeoisie.
This is not the first time that workers and the oppressed have been sacrificed on the altar of two-stage revolution. However, unlike in Iraq in 1963, Indonesia in 1965 or Chile in 1973, Nepal’s rulers have not yet succeeded in decapitating the working class and driving the left underground. Invigorated by its show of strength in April 2006 and benefiting from the restoration of certain bourgeois-democratic rights, the Nepalese proletariat appears to be as combative and politically-conscious as it has ever been. But this militancy poses a threat that the bourgeoisie will inevitably attempt to crush. As the storm clouds of reaction gather, Nepal’s workers must seek to establish their own independent political organs with a perspective of leading all the oppressed in a revolutionary struggle to seize state power.
Western tour operators promote Nepal as a “land of contrasts.” As Michael Hutt observed in 2004:
“their brochures and guidebooks have regularly contrasted the steamy jungles with the rarefied atmosphere of the high snowpeaks, and the modern urban bustle of Kathmandu with the ‘traditional’ ways of the kingdom’s remoter ethnic communities. However, there are many other contrasts and contradictions that do not figure in tourist literature: between the constitutional definition of Nepal as a Hindu state and the presence of significant religious minorities; between its status as a multi-party democracy under a constitutional monarchy and the long term presence of a well-entrenched communist movement; between its status as a unitary state with one official state language and the presence within its borders of scores of different ethnic groups speaking dozens of different languages; between its status as one of the most aided ‘developing’ nations on earth and the impoverishment and marginalisation of a large chunk of the population; and between its reputation as a land of peace and the ruthless violence of the struggles for power that have taken place at several junctures in its history.”
—“Monarchy, Democracy and Maoism in Nepal”
Some 85 percent of Nepal’s 30 million people reside in rural areas, and 75 percent earn their living on the land, whether as paid laborers, sharecroppers or small farmers. The population is unevenly distributed across three distinct geographical zones:
“To the south, adjacent to India, is the fertile low-lying strip of the Tarai or plains region, home to 48 per cent of the population, mainly Madhesis. The central hill region—with altitudes ranging from around 600 to over 4000 metres—including Kathmandu, has long dominated Nepali politics; it contains around 44 per cent of the population. Finally, there are the precipitous peaks of the north—Everest, etc—rising along the frontier with the People’s Republic of China. The western hill and mountain regions have always been the poorest parts of the country and the strongest base of Communist support.”
—New Left Review No. 49, January/February 2008
In 2009 Nepal’s median income was $470, according to the U.S. State Department, and 66 percent of the population lived on $2 a day or less. Health expenditure per capita is extremely low—before the initiation of “people’s war” there were no hospitals in the Rolpa and Rukum districts. Life expectancy (60 years) is among the lowest in South Asia, while infant mortality is among the highest. Only 62 percent of men, and a mere 26 percent of women, are literate. Many villages lack reliable electricity, water and roadways.
The distribution of wealth in Nepal is extremely unequal—the bottom 10 percent of households have 1 percent, while the top decile has over 50 percent. In the countryside, according to the latest agricultural census (2001), 25 percent of households are “landless” (a proportion that is higher among ethnic minorities), 28 percent are “marginal cultivators” with less than 1 hectare and another 20 percent are classified as “small cultivators” with between 1 and 2 hectares. The paltry landholdings of marginal and small owners often require household members to work the fields of large landowners for wages or a share of the crop, or to engage in portering and other forms of day labor. Many work as wage laborers in Nepal’s urban centers and neighboring countries. Indeed, some 10 percent of Nepalese work abroad, and their remittances accounted for 17 percent of national income in 2008 (Economist, 1 August 2009).
Landlessness and tenancy are especially common in the southern plains region of the Tarai, where a form of bonded labor (Kamaiya) persists. Historically derived from a system of compulsory unpaid labor services rendered to the upper caste Brahmins and Chetris, modern Kamaiya allows poor peasants to service debts (often falsified) to large landlords. The Kamaiya system was formally abolished in July 2000, when the central government, under Maoist pressure, inaugurated a redistribution scheme. In many cases, however, the land doled out to former bonded laborers quickly reverted to the landlords, as the impoverished Kamaiyas once again fell into debt.
The glaring inequality in land ownership, the persistence of sharecropping, the survival of bonded labor and the primitive agricultural technology (hand tools and animal-drawn implements) are often cited by journalists and university professors as evidence of the feudal or semi-feudal character of Nepal’s economy. There is a tendency to ascribe the backwardness of the country to the “extractive” biases of its corrupt politico-economic elites and its supposed isolation from the global economy, and to conclude that if “feudalism” is the problem, then (more) capitalism, and further integration into the world market, is the solution.
Maoist intellectuals have offered more useful and sophisticated analyses of Nepalese underdevelopment, focusing on the role of class exploitation and imperialism. Baburam Bhattarai, the CPN(M)’s leading theoretician and number two leader (after Pushpa Kamal Dahal, aka Prachanda), wrote a doctoral dissertation at India’s Jawaharlal Nehru University in the 1980s that was later published as The Nature of Underdevelopment and Regional Structure in Nepal: A Marxist Analysis. Bhattarai’s study is a serious attempt to develop a detailed historical materialist understanding of Nepalese political economy. His basic thesis is stated succinctly in one of the CPN(M)’s key documents:
“After the rise of capitalism to its highest stage, imperialism—because of the process of centralisation and concentration inherent in the capitalist process of development—no social system in the world is able to remain outside the influence of imperialist intervention. The more these social systems are primitive and backward, the more damaging is the influence of imperialist intervention on their internal development process. Particularly in the case of societies that are on the verge of transition from feudalism to capitalism, the effects of imperialism distort the internal production relations, promoting the growth of comprador and bureaucratic capitalism (i.e. a capitalism that functions as an agent of foreign monopoly capitalism, engages in financial and commercial activities instead of productive activities and assumes a monopolistic character from the outset by relying upon the state) instead of indigenous forms of industrial capitalism. That is why it is necessary to smash the relationship with imperialism while bringing about a progressive transformation in ‘internal’ production relations through revolutionary means.”
—Bhattarai, “The Political Economy of the People’s War,” in Karki and Seddon
Bhattarai’s emphasis on the domination of global capitalism, the use of backward indigenous institutions by finance capital and the role of the domestic “comprador” bourgeoisie as an agent of imperialism have certain parallels with the concept of combined and uneven development elaborated by the great Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. In the 1938 Transitional Program, adopted at the founding congress of the Fourth International, Trotsky makes the following observation:
“Colonial and semi-colonial countries are backward countries by their very essence. But backward countries are part of a world dominated by imperialism. Their development, there-fore, has a combined character: the most primitive economic forms are combined with the last word in capitalist technique and culture….
“The central task of the colonial and semi-colonial countries is the agrarian revolution, i.e., liquidation of feudal heritages, and national independence, i.e., the overthrow of the imperialist yoke. Both tasks are closely linked with one another.”
Yet there are two key differences between Trotsky’s analysis and that of Bhattarai. First, Trotsky stressed not only the persistence of “primitive economic forms” but also their combination with “the last word in capitalist technique and culture.” Bhattarai and the Maoists tend to understate or even ignore the dynamic importance of the growth of wage labor in agriculture and the development of a small, but strategically significant, industrial sector in the Kathmandu valley and Tarai.
Secondly, while Trotsky explicitly asserted that the unsolved tasks of democracy and national independence can only be solved by a socialist (i.e., proletarian and internationalist) revolution against both imperialism and the “national bourgeoisie,” the CPN(M) poses the struggle “to smash the relationship with imperialism” in very different terms. Bhattarai argues that “there is no doubt that the semi-feudal relation remains the principal and determining relation, both qualitatively and quantitatively.” This recalls Mao Zedong’s assertion in 1945 that “[i]t is not domestic capitalism but foreign imperialism and domestic feudalism which are superfluous in China today; indeed, we have too little of capitalism” (“On Coalition Government”). Bhattarai and his party make an identical claim for Nepal:
“because of the backward semi-feudal state and very low level of development of the productive forces in Nepal, the principal form of the new production relations would not be socialist at the outset but capitalistic, and only after going through a transitional stage would a socialist transformation be carried out. In the New Democratic stage, the key basic industries and financial companies would come under the social ownership of the state, some of the larger means of production would be jointly owned by the state and private enterprise and in agriculture, the largest sector of the economy, there would be widespread private ownership by the peasants while in small and medium industry and trade there would be ownership by private industrialists and traders.”
Unlike the “semi-feudalism” that exists in Nepal today, the CPN(M)’s New Democratic capitalism would supposedly produce “independent and self-reliant development, free from the oppression and exploitation of imperialism and expansionism.” It would also conduct international trade “on the basis of equality, mutual benefit and national needs,” give “land to the tiller” and abolish the debts of the peasantry. Posing the central axis of social conflict as a struggle between “reactionary” and “progressive” classes (rather than between exploiters and those they exploit), the CPN(M) calls for “joint participation” by workers, peasants, the petty bourgeoisie and the “national bourgeoisie”—what Joseph Stalin referred to as a “bloc of four classes.”
In March 1926, while still paying lip service to the idea that the industrial proletariat would play a leading role in the coming Chinese revolution, Mao asked: “Who are our enemies? Who are our friends? This is a question of the first importance for the revolution” (“Analysis of the Classes in Chinese Society”). The passage is a favorite for Maoist advocates of a New Democratic alliance with “progressive” capitalists. Yet Nepal’s Maoists are unable to concretely identify any bourgeois “friends” of the working class and poor peasantry. Indeed, there is a profound contradiction at the heart of Maoist political economy. On the one hand, there is a recognition that imperialist domination stifles the formation of a national bourgeoisie capable of carrying out significant democratic reforms and launching indigenous industrial development. On the other hand, the whole strategy of two-stage revolution is premised on the notion that the social weight and political authority of the native bourgeoisie is so great that there is no possibility of overturning the entire exploitative system of capitalist private property.
In his 500-page tome on Nepalese underdevelopment, Bhattarai provides an intricate account of the historical development of the “reactionary” classes and the complex interdependencies between large landowners and usurer, merchant and “bureaucratic” capital and imperialism. Yet the “national bourgeoisie” barely warrants a mention, and there is no description of any actions that would qualify it as a “friend” of workers and poor peasants or as a supporter of any sort of “progressive” revolution. This is because, in the epoch of imperialism, there can be no historically progressive bourgeoisie in Nepal, or anywhere else.
The central premise of two-stage revolution—that colonial and semi-colonial countries must first undergo a prolonged period of capitalist development before becoming “ripe” for socialist revolution—has a sordid pedigree. Before the October Revolution of 1917, the Mensheviks insisted that the Russian working class could only act as an accessory to the liberal bourgeoisie’s supposed strivings for a democratic republic. In 1906 Pavel Axelrod, a leading Menshevik, argued:
“Social relations in Russia have not matured beyond the point of bourgeois revolution: history impels workers and revolutionaries more and more strongly towards bourgeois revolutionism, making them involuntary political servants of the bourgeoisie, rather than in the direction of genuine socialist revolutionism and the tactical and organizational preparation of the proletariat for political rule….
“We cannot, in absolutist Russia, ignore the objective historical requirement for ‘political cooperation’ between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.”
—“Axelrod’s Speech at the Fourth Party Congress,” in Abraham Ascher (ed.), The Mensheviks in the Russian Revolution
Lenin rejected the Menshevik strategy of class collaboration and observed that the entire bourgeoisie was so completely integrated with the landed aristocracy, so fearful of the proletariat and so dependent on the Tsarist autocracy for protection that it was incapable of carrying out any repetition of the “classical” bourgeois revolution of France in 1789. In February 1917, mass strikes and street demonstrations led to the Tsar’s abdication and the formation of soviets (workers’ councils) in the factories—the political nucleus of an alternative state power—but the Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary leaders of these bodies pledged allegiance to the newly-formed bourgeois Provisional Government. The initial response of many “old Bolsheviks” (including Stalin) was also to extend conditional support to the new regime as a manifestation of a “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry”—a conception Lenin had formulated without ever suggesting a bloc with the bourgeoisie. Lenin’s vigorous intervention (with his famous “April Theses”) reversed this policy and set the Bolsheviks on a course that permitted them to lead the working class to power six months later.
The October Revolution of 1917 provided a living refutation of the two-stage theory, which had mechanically projected the experiences of Britain and France into a universal model of socio-historical development. In the aftermath of the revolution, however, it was not clear to Lenin, Trotsky or the other leaders of the Communist International (Comintern) that the Bolshevik strategy was applicable in colonial and semi-colonial countries, which were generally more backward and had a far smaller proletariat than Russia. As a result, in the early 1920s, the Comintern endorsed the idea of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) entering into an alliance with the bourgeois-nationalist Guomindang.
Within the Bolshevik leadership, a group headed by Trotsky grew more and more concerned about the liquidationist trajectory of the Guomindang entry, while the dominant Stalin faction, which characterized the strategy as a “bloc of four classes,” gradually began recycling Menshevik arguments regarding two-stage revolution. The Guomindang orientation was increasingly shaped by the diplomatic exigencies of Soviet foreign policy and the ongoing internal factional struggles in the Russian party, rather than by the logic of the class struggle in China.
In March 1926 the CCP’s bloc with the Guomindang almost fell apart when Chiang Kai-shek carried out a mini-coup in Canton in response to what he mistakenly thought was a Communist plot to kidnap him:
“Chiang at once invoked his powers as garrison commander and…put Canton under martial law, posted loyal cadets or police in crucial buildings, disarmed the workers’ pickets, and arrested the more than thirty Russian advisers now in the city. A number of senior Chinese Communist political commissars were held in Whampoa for ‘retraining,’ and the publishing of CCP-affiliated newspapers was suspended. Within a few days Chiang slowly eased the pressures, and by early April he declared that he still believed in the alliance with the Soviet Union; but no one was sure how to interpret these statements.
“[Comintern envoy Mikhail] Borodin had been away from Canton since February, holding a series of secret conferences on Comintern strategy with Russian colleagues in Peking. In late April he returned, and over the next few days he and Chiang reached a ‘compromise’: in the future no CCP members could head Guomindang or government bureaus; no CCP criticism of Sun Yat-sen’s Three Principles of the People was permitted; no Guomindang members could join the CCP; the Comintern had to share its orders to the CCP with a Guomindang committee, and a list of all current CCP members was to be given to the Guomindang Executive Committee. Borodin accepted these terms because Stalin was just entering on a critical power struggle in Moscow and could not afford the blow to his prestige that would be caused by a complete eviction of the CCP and the Soviet advisers from Canton.”
—Jonathan Spence, The Search for Modern China
To avoid alienating the hypothetical “anti-imperialist” bourgeoisie, Moscow directed the CCP to tamp down class struggle in the cities and temper peasant revolt in the countryside. Trotsky acidly commented:
“The official subordination of the Communist Party to the bourgeois leadership, and the official prohibition of forming soviets (Stalin and Bukharin taught that the Kuomintang ‘took the place of’ soviets), was a grosser and more glaring betrayal of Marxism than all the deeds of the Mensheviks in the years 1905-1917.”
In early 1927 Trotsky warned that Chiang was preparing to crush the growing labor movement and advocated forming workers’ councils to lay the basis for resistance to such an attempt. Stalin dismissed this as “skipping over the revolutionary-democratic stage of the movement” (quoted in Spence) and claimed that Chiang and the rest of the Guomindang leaders “have to be utilized to the end, squeezed out like a lemon and then flung away” (quoted in Leon Trotsky, Problems of the Chinese Revolution).
But that is not how things worked out. During the Guomindang campaign against reactionary warlords, workers in Shanghai (traditionally the center of the Chinese labor movement) rose up and seized control of the city in anticipation of the arrival of Chiang’s forces. The CCP had its members use their positions of leadership to disarm the insurgents and surrender the city to the Guomindang. Chiang took advantage of the opportunity and, in collaboration with local rightist paramilitaries, massacred tens of thousands of Communists, militant workers and students.
In the aftermath of this enormous defeat, Trotsky generalized his theory of permanent revolution and concluded that the policy Lenin outlined in his April Theses a decade earlier was universally applicable:
“With regard to countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries, the theory of the permanent revolution signifies that the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, above all its peasant masses.”
Trotsky, following Marx, recognized that despite its numerical preponderance, the peasantry could not play an independent political role in the revolution. This does not negate the vital strategic importance in backward countries of revolutionary workers winning the support of the peasantry (or at least the more oppressed layers) in any struggle with the bourgeoisie and its imperialist backers. But history has repeatedly demonstrated that the peasantry, a highly stratified petty-bourgeois mass of (at least aspiring) property owners, must inevitably follow one of the two fundamental (and mutually antagonistic) classes in capitalist society, the proletariat or the bourgeoisie:
“As all modern history attests—especially the Russian experience of the last twenty-five years—an insurmountable obstacle on the road to the creation of a peasants’ party is the petty-bourgeoisie’s lack of economic and political independence and its deep internal differentiation. By reason of this the upper sections of the petty-bourgeoisie (of the peasantry) go along with the big bourgeoisie in all decisive cases, especially in war and in revolution; the lower sections go along with the proletariat; the intermediate section being thus compelled to choose between the two extreme poles. Between Kerenskyism and the Bolshevik power, between the Kuomintang and the dictatorship of the proletariat, there is and cannot be any intermediate stage, that is, no democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants.”
Mao played no particular role in the debates that convulsed the CCP and the Comintern over the Guomindang. His enthusiasm for poor peasant struggles in his famous February 1927 “Hunan Report” was not well received by the Comintern. Beginning in 1925, i.e., well before the Shanghai massacre, Mao focused his efforts on peasant organizing in Hunan, showing little interest in the urban proletariat. In assessing the turbulent events of 1926-27, including the failed “Autumn Harvest Uprising” in Hunan, Mao wrote that out of ten the “urban dwellers and the military rate only three points, while the remaining seven points should go to the peasants in their rural revolution” (quoted in Spence). After the 1927 debacle, the Communist Party as a whole abandoned the urban centers and concentrated on consolidating peasant base areas in the countryside, where the Guomindang exerted little influence. New Democracy was essentially a reformulation of the two-stage theory to fit these circumstances. While the CCP continued to formally acknowledge the centrality of the proletariat, in deference to the “class against class” rhetoric that characterized the Comintern’s “Third Period,” in practice it made little attempt to reestablish any influence in the working class.
Throughout the 20th century, in a variety of situations, the disastrous defeat suffered by the Chinese workers’ movement in April 1927 has been repeated, as Stalinist parties restrained mass struggles to avoid alienating the “progressive” bourgeoisie. Indeed, Mao and the CCP bear particular responsibility for the devastating bloodbath in Indonesia in 1965. The Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI—Indonesian Communist Party) was the largest Communist party in the capitalist world, with a membership of three million and another nine million in the affiliated Indonesian Peasants Association. Despite the party’s unparalleled objective strength and the clearly pro-socialist strivings of the masses, the PKI leadership, with the active support and encouragement of the CCP, pursued the chimera of unity with President Sukarno’s bourgeois Indonesian Nationalist Party.
The 28 May 1965 issue of Peking Review contained a letter from Mao Zedong congratulating the PKI on the occasion of its 45th anniversary and saluting it as “Faithful to Marxism-Leninism and resolutely opposed to modern revisionism, a staunch shock brigade of the international communist movement.” The next issue (4 June 1965), which was headlined “Great Victories of Indonesian C.P.’s Marxist-Leninist Line,” reprinted the full text of speeches delivered at a huge rally in Jakarta by the leader of the CCP’s delegation and PKI Chairman D.N. Aidit (it also contained excerpts from Sukarno’s address to the rally). Aidit began with a salutation to “Your Excellency President of the Indonesian republic, the great leader of the Indonesian revolution, beloved Bung Karno!” He went on to rebuff the “imperialists and their lackeys” who had complained that “during the celebrations of the 45th anniversary of the founding of the Indonesian Communist Party, the portrait of Sukarno is displayed together with those of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin.” Aidit explained:
“The relations between President Sukarno and the Indonesian Communists is not a secret or illegal one; it is an honest kind of relation—proper and legitimate—between revolutionaries who believe in the truth of Marxism and serve the cause of revolution.”
Pointing to the danger of an “invasion by imperialist troops,” Aidit proposed a “combination of the well-trained armed forces and the armed people” which, he asserted, was a “great possibility” because:
“relations between our people and the armed forces are daily becoming closer in the implementation of the task of the Indonesian revolution.
“I would like to avail myself of this opportunity to express thanks to President Sukarno for the promise he has made to arm the workers and peasants when necessary.”
It is hard to imagine anything more self-defeating or craven. “Beloved Bung Karno” of course never considered it “necessary” to arm the PKI. After a ritual call to “struggle against opportunism,” Aidit implored the PKI ranks to be “brave, and steeled and tempered Communists with strict discipline, both the Party’s discipline and the discipline of the state.”
While Aidit was groveling before Sukarno, the CIA was laying the groundwork for “disciplining” (i.e., exterminating) the PKI. In October 1965 the head of the military, General Suharto, closed the PKI’s newspapers, banned its affiliated organizations and ordered mass arrests. The party leadership did nothing to resist and continued to pathetically profess allegiance to Sukarno. While isolated pockets of PKI militants did spontaneously attempt to defend themselves, the party was easily routed and half a million leftists, workers and poor peasants were slaughtered. The Indonesian left never recovered from this debacle, and the country groaned under Suharto’s rightist military dictatorship for decades.
After the PKI was smashed, Beijing cynically criticized Aidit et al for “abrogat[ing] the independent role of the proletariat and turn[ing] it into an appendage of the national bourgeoisie” (Peking Review, 14 July 1967). While some surviving PKI leaders subsequently issued a “self-criticism” from exile, they continued, with the approval of their Chinese mentors, to advocate a strategy of “unity” with the bourgeoisie:
“By correcting the mistakes made by the Party in the united front with the national bourgeoisie it does not mean that now the Party need not unite with this class. On the basis of the worker-peasant alliance under the leadership of the working class, our Party must work to win the national bourgeois class over to the side of the revolution.”
—Peking Review, 21 July 1967
The idea that the national bourgeoisie has to be “won” to the side of what is, according to Maoist theory, its own revolution lays bare the fundamental incoherence of the two-stage strategy. Like the liberal bourgeois Cadets in pre-1917 Russia, Sukarno’s nationalists were simply pursuing a different policy than other, more overtly rightist, factions of the ruling class. They were prepared to make some reforms in order to stabilize capitalist rule, in contrast to Suharto and his backers, who sought to crush, rather than co-opt, the organizations of the workers and peasants. Such left/right divisions exist to varying degrees in every capitalist society. But while the ruling factions may quarrel with each other over tactics, they are united in opposition to any serious threat to capitalist property. No sizable section of a bourgeoisie ever has, or ever will, sign up to participate in a regime whose eventual goal is the liquidation of capitalist social relations. New Democracy was only established in China after the capitalist state was smashed through a civil war and the big bourgeoisie routed, leaving the CCP in complete control.
The ultra-reactionary and backward character of Nepal’s ruling class should make the inherent danger of seeking a “progressive” bourgeois ally obvious. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the territory that comprises modern-day Nepal was divided into a number of petty hill states whose rulers claimed descent from the aristocratic Rajput families that had long ruled in parts of India. From the 11th century onward, warrior-leaders of high caste (Brahmin and Chetri) and Indo-Aryan extraction had gradually migrated from India to the Nepalese hills, conquering the various indigenous ethnic groups (collectively referred to as janajatis, or “hill tribes”). The new rulers typically integrated the janajatis by assigning them a lower caste status, subjecting them to mandatory military service and onerous taxation. The Indo-Aryan population was itself stratified with low caste artisans and peasants accompanying the warrior-leaders in migration. The complex social divisions of contemporary Nepal (there are an estimated 60-70 ethnic groups and castes, and some 70 languages or dialects) result from this history of conquest and social differentiation.
The origin of the Nepalese state is usually traced to the conquests of Prithivi Naryan Shah of Gorkha, the ruler of one hill state that successfully overran many of its neighbors. The “Gorkhali expansion” was facilitated by superior armaments, the weakness of neighboring Mughal India (then the object of French-British contention) and Shah’s willingness to promise land to the subjects of his rivals. By the end of the 18th century, the Shah monarchy controlled most of contemporary Nepal. Its expansion was eventually checked by an 1814-16 war with the British East India Company, which was then consolidating its control over the Indian subcontinent.
While Nepal avoided formal colonization, it had a semi-colonial relationship with Britain via the Indian Raj. As in Egypt, Ethiopia, Afghanistan and Persia, the engineers of the British Empire sought to reduce their overheads by permitting the Nepalese a measure of autonomy in exchange for control of foreign policy and trade. The 1816 Treaty of Sugouli, which remained in force until 1923, forbade Nepal from direct communication with any Western power:
“For nearly a century, then, Nepal was a kind of political dependency of Great Britain, an arrangement that had benefits both for the British and for the rulers of Nepal. The former were guaranteed a self-manning buffer against possibly hostile powers to the north, a regular supply of soldiers from the hill regions of Nepal (the famous Gurkhas), a small but growing captive market for manufactured goods, and probably even more important, at certain times raw materials and primary products from both Nepal and Tibet. The latter were guaranteed a minimum of support and protection, and—more importantly—virtual insulation from outside pressures for change.”
—Piers Blaikie, John Cameron and David Seddon, Nepal in Crisis: Growth and Stagnation at the Periphery
Unable to expand further through external conquest, Nepal’s leading aristocratic families intensified their exploitation of the peasantry and fought among themselves for control of the state. In the 1846 Kot Massacre, the Kunwar family (who later called themselves “Ranas”) were able, with British support, to gain control of the government, eliminate their main competitors and subordinate the weakened Shah monarchy.
The Ranas dominated Nepal for a century, during which time the country was gradually integrated into (i.e., subordinated to) the world capitalist market. The Ranas inherited and extended a system of land tenure under which all land, except for some communally-held territories occupied by janajati groups, was in principle controlled by the state. Chunks of state land—and the peasants who worked them—were allotted to noble families, soldiers, religious teachers and priests as a reward for their services to the regime. Most of this parceled (birta) land went to members of high castes who were related either to the Ranas or to the royal family. In exchange for access to a subsistence plot, peasants had to pay rent to the birta landlord, render unpaid labor services and also pay land taxes. In order to meet these requirements peasants frequently had to borrow from their landlords, a practice that often resulted in bonded servitude.
As the population grew, demand for land increased, permitting landlords to extract ever higher rents and interest payments. As agents of the state, the landlords found an additional revenue stream from administering “justice,” collecting fines and regulating local markets. Yet unlike European feudalism, no permanent landed aristocracy emerged because the state retained ownership and control of the birta allotments.
The British grudgingly allowed the Ranas to maintain a monopoly over internal trade. This led to the creation of a national network of market towns and bazaars, where Nepalese merchants eventually established themselves as intermediaries between the world market and the domestic peasant and artisan producers. The merchants played a key role in introducing industrial commodities into the country, which wreaked havoc on both peasants and landlords:
“[The merchants] destroyed peasant artisan and household industry, especially in textiles, and profiteered from the growing poverty by means of usury. They ruined and displaced many of the old landlords to establish themselves as a new class which entered land rents into circulation of industrial commodities and profits. They thus assisted the growth of foreign industrial capitalist preponderance over production in Nepal by impoverishing rather than transforming it, while establishing the international interests they represented in alliance with the village priests and state bureaucrats as an opposition or counter hegemonic force within the country.”
—Stephen Mikesell, Class, State, and Struggle in Nepal: Writings, 1989-1995
The traditional balance between agriculture and handicraft industry was shattered as indigenous products were displaced by the far cheaper imports. As the integration of remote Nepalese villages into the global economy grew and agricultural production became increasingly dependent upon the market for both inputs and sale of outputs, credit from Nepalese merchants became vital for both peasants and landlords.
The dominance of merchants (and through them foreign industrial capital) precipitated the transformation of the landed estates into private (i.e., capitalist) property. The Ranas, the royal family and their allies opted to transform their holdings into a convertible form of wealth by permitting landlords to sell, mortgage or rent their property without restriction. This accelerated the fusion of landed property and merchant capital under the domination of foreign capital. As the big merchants established themselves as landlords, they maintained existing sharecropping arrangements, while landed proprietors ventured into financial and commercial activities. In his Ethnological Notebooks, Karl Marx described a similar process in 1850s India, and ridiculed those who simplistically described these social relations as essentially “feudal.”
In the 1930s, the Ranas attempted to counter the effects of foreign capital penetration and revive indigenous manufacturing (particularly in textiles) through a combination of import quotas and subsidies from the newly created Cottage Industry Department. As time passed, many Nepalese elites (merchants, landowners and intelligentsia) became resentful of the Ranas’ control of the state apparatus. The Nepali Congress Party, launched in 1950 through a merger of two previously existing anti-Rana parties (the Nepali National Congress and the Nepal Democratic Congress), claimed to stand for “democratic socialism,” but was a thoroughly bourgeois-nationalist formation based on landowners. The new party was supported by King Tribuhaven, the rump Shah monarch, and also the Indian Congress Party, which was eager to displace the British-loyal Ranas. The Indian regime assisted Nepali Congress militias in obtaining weapons and provided a base for their insurgency.
Congress had relatively little difficulty overcoming the government’s troops, but was alarmed at the prospect that its narrow struggle against the Ranas might erupt into a wholesale rural revolt against the entire system of inequality and exploitation. To avoid such an outcome, Nehru and other Indian leaders helped negotiate an agreement between the king, the Ranas and Nepali Congress. The so-called Delhi Compromise of 1951 (aka “Democracy Revolution”) preserved the old state machinery and maintained existing social relations, while allowing a wider section of the ruling elites to participate in governmental affairs. The Shahs regained their position of supremacy, and the Ranas and Nepali Congress formed a joint cabinet. To appease popular demands for more radical change, King Tribuhaven cynically promised elections for a constituent assembly but then reneged.
The origin of Communism in Nepal is often traced to a 1947 strike at the Biratnager jute and cloth mills led by Man Mohan Adhikari, a militant of the Communist Party of India. The Biratnager strike, the first significant industrial struggle in Nepal, established a strong Communist tradition in the workers’ movement. In September 1949, Adhikari and his supporters joined with Pushpa Lal Shrestha and leftist dissidents from the Nepali National Congress to form the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN).
The king’s refusal to permit the election of a constituent assembly gave the CPN a focus for popular agitation. While the party rejected the Delhi Compromise, it embraced the debilitating Stalinist two-stage strategy, calling for an all-party conference, an interim government and a constituent assembly—essentially the same demands the CPN(M) would later put forward. For two decades the CPN was wracked by bitter personalism and internal squabbling over whether the class-collaborationist “first stage” should involve an “anti-feudalist” bloc with Congress against the monarchy or an “anti-imperialist” alliance with other bourgeois parties (and even the monarchy) against Congress, which was deemed a stooge of imperialism and Indian expansionism. Initially the CPN called for a People’s Front of “progressive forces” to oppose Congress. In 1955 the party dropped its demand for a republic and accepted the king as constitutional head of state—a move that had the additional benefit of restoring the CPN’s legal status.
In 1959 King Mahendra agreed to permit Nepal’s first general election under the terms of a palace-dictated constitution, which invested the monarchy with ultimate authority. When the victorious Congress party proposed a modest reform of what remained of the birta landowning system, the king invoked emergency powers, dissolved parliament, banned political parties and arrested their leaders. Nepali Congress attempted to organize another insurgency from Indian territory, but its plans were aborted when the outbreak of fighting between China and India in 1962 compelled Nehru to drop support for the rebels. For its part, Nepali Congress came to grudgingly accept the monarchy as a force for “stability” in the Cold War.
Mahendra’s dissolution of parliament and declaration of a new “partyless democracy” (Panchayat) in 1962 split the CPN into several competing factions. The central committee, backed by the most right-wing elements, welcomed the king’s move as “progressive.” Others in the CPN advocated a bloc with Congress to restore parliament. The largest faction, led by Mohan Bikram Singh, put forward the party’s original demand for a constituent assembly. The CPN(M) derives from Singh’s CPN (Fourth Congress), which in 1979 committed itself to “training guerrillas, proletarianizing party cadre, creating separate base areas, taking action against local cheats, and initiating an agrarian uprising” (quoted in Thapa). Until 1996, this commitment had remained entirely rhetorical.
For many years the most prominent Maoist group was the CPN (Marxist Leninist), which originated in the Jhapa Uprising of 1971 in eastern Nepal—the only significant Communist agrarian revolt prior to the CPN(M)’s “people’s war.” Modeling themselves on the Naxalbari Maoist guerrillas in neighboring India and the Red Guards of China’s Cultural Revolution, members of the Jhapa District Committee decided to eliminate rural “class enemies” and managed to execute seven before being crushed by government repression. This failed military adventure inspired many supporters of other Stalinist fragments and resulted in the CPN (Marxist Leninist [ML]) emerging as the largest Communist formation in the country by 1990.
Despite its militant record, the CPN(ML) consistently deferred to Nepali Congress. In 1979 it launched a student movement against the autocratic Panchayat system that rapidly gained wide support. But when Nepali Congress (operating from India) negotiated an agreement with the king to settle the issue by holding a referendum, the CPN(ML) demobilized the movement. The military then brazenly proceeded to fix the result through a combination of voter intimidation and ballot box stuffing.
By the end of the 1980s, the Nepalese economy, while still overwhelmingly agricultural, had developed a significant service and industrial sector. Many merchants made major investments in hotels and other tourist facilities, while the establishment of carpet and clothing factories permanently shifted the balance of Nepalese exports from agricultural to manufactured goods. The imposition of imperialist-dictated “structural adjustment programs” in the mid-1980s “liberalized” investment regulations and facilitated the penetration of foreign capital, primarily from India and the United States. All of these players had an interest in acquiring a degree of political influence commensurate with their economic clout.
Plebeian grievances against the regime were of an entirely different character. In the 1960s, King Mahendra’s land reforms redistributed a mere 1.5 percent of arable land and subdivided what remained of the communal lands into individual plots too small to be viable. The effect was to worsen the plight of landless and poor peasants, as many newly “enfranchised” smallholders fell into debt and dependence on large landowners. “Structural adjustment” and privatization, meanwhile, eliminated the subsidies for electricity, water, fuel and basic consumption goods that had allowed the rural and urban poor to survive.
In 1989 the CPN(ML) managed to enlist the support of a dozen or so left groupings to launch a Jan Andolan (“People’s Movement”) against the constitutional ban on political parties. This initiative was supported by Congress and the section of the ruling class it represented. From the first “mass gathering” of February 1990, the CPN(ML) allowed Congress to act as the public face and propagandist for the movement so as not to alienate the monarchy. However, vicious police repression and mass arrests radicalized the protests in both the countryside and the cities. The campaign grew for seven weeks before culminating on 6 April 1990, when 10,000 Jyapu peasant women armed with scythes joined workers in Kathmandu in a march on the palace. Carrying red flags and calling for an end to the monarchy, the demonstrators had moved far to the left of both Congress and the CPN(ML). As the crowd neared the palace, the military opened fire, massacring as many as 1,500 people. In order to dampen mass anger and demobilize the demonstrators, the king, Congress and the CPN(ML)-led Left Front quickly signed an agreement on 9 April to lift the ban on political parties. Once mass protests dissipated, Congress and the monarch brushed aside the CPN(ML)’s demand for an elected constituent assembly, and instead set up a narrow “constitution drafting committee” that included representatives of the CPN(ML).
The committee drafted a constitution that allowed a multi-party parliamentary system, but invested the monarchy with significant “emergency” powers. Like the 1951 “Democracy Revolution” before it, the Jan Andolan opened a path to government positions and sinecures for politically-disaffected sections of the privileged elites. In both cases all wings of the ruling class opposed significant mobilizations of the toilers out of fear that they might pose a potential threat to the entire system of private property. The CPN(ML)’s insistence that workers’ and peasants’ struggles must not offend its bourgeois “allies” was a far more valuable guarantee to the exploiters than anything their security apparatus could provide.
The actual experience of class struggle in Nepal refutes any claim that the primary objective for working people should be the elimination of “feudalism.” Trotsky’s observations regarding the situation in China in 1927 are entirely applicable to Nepal today:
“as it turned out, the bourgeoisie did not put forward a single political group that would agree to participate in revolutionary struggle against Bukharin’s feudalism. And it is not accidental. In China there are no noble lords standing in opposition to the bourgeoisie. The landholder as a general rule is the urban bourgeois. The small landholder—the kulak, the gentry—is closely linked with the usurer and urban bourgeois.
“Unless one is playing with words, there is no feudalism in China. In the Chinese village there are serf-owner relations which are crowned, however, not by feudal, but by bourgeois property forms and a bourgeois sociopolitical order….Of course, in China poverty and bondage take inhumane forms such as were hardly to be encountered even in the age of feudalism. Nonetheless, the attempt to create feudalism in China, still more its prevalence, relies not on facts, but on the naked desire to justify collaboration with the bourgeoisie. The facts have avenged themselves. In China there has been found no such bourgeoisie or section of the bourgeoisie that would agree to carry on a revolutionary struggle against feudalism, i.e., against itself.”
—“New Opportunities for the Chinese Revolution, New Tasks, and New Mistakes,” September 1927, Leon Trotsky on China
In 1991 the CPN(ML) merged with a smaller Stalinist organization and renamed itself the CPN (Unified Marxist Leninist), commonly referred to as the UML. With the introduction of a bourgeois parliamentary system, the UML began functioning as run-of-the-mill social democrats, making promises prior to elections, then reneging on them. Man Mohan Adhikari, the UML’s new president, candidly dismissed the label “communist” as merely a “trademark”: “But people recognize the name. I personally would have no trouble changing it to something else. In another country we could be social democrats” (Pacific Affairs, Spring 1995). The CPN(M)’s Prachanda denounced the UML for abandoning the perspective of New Democracy in order to become “the most reactionary of revisionists” (“The Third Turbulent Year of the People’s War,” quoted in Karki and Seddon). Yet the UML’s craven electoralism and eagerness to govern with bourgeois parties are entirely logical corollaries of the class-collaborationist, two-stage strategy. At its first congress in 1993, the UML endorsed the notion of “multiparty people’s democracy” as the road to a “multiparty polity and a pluralistic society with continuous struggle against feudalism, monopoly capitalism and all forms of suppression and exploitation” (Pacific Affairs, Spring 1995).
When the mass mobilizations of April 1990 forced an end to 30 years of Panchayat, there was widespread hope that “democracy” could somehow deliver relief from grinding oppression. It did not take long for these illusions to evaporate as the masses “increasingly realised that radical land reform, women’s liberation, the right of self-determination of nationalities and social justice could not be brought about through parliament under the 1990 constitution” (Economic and Political Weekly, 19 May 2007).
In 1994 Adhikari formed the first national “Communist” government in South Asia. During its nine months in office, the UML failed to enact even a modest land reform measure and did little to reverse the privatizations carried out by the previous Congress regime. It enforced World Bank and IMF-imposed “structural adjustment” measures, which helped push the ratio of Nepal’s debt service to exports (a rough index of the degree of domination by imperialist financiers) to an unprecedented 35 percent. Prior to dissolving his government in July 1995, Adhikari received (and ignored) a 38-point version of the list of 40 demands the CPN(M) delivered to Nepali Congress in February 1996 prior to taking up arms.
The immediate spark for the “people’s war” seems to have been a wave of vicious police repression aimed at breaking the back of resistance in the Maoist strongholds of Rolpa and Rukum. Dubbed “Operation Romeo,” the campaign, which was characterized by random arrests, torture, rape and extra-judicial killings, backfired badly. As one Maoist cadre observed: “They picked up a rock to drop it on their own feet” (quoted in Thapa).
The Maoists’ insurgency tapped a deep reservoir of anger and frustration among rural toilers. The CPN(M) rallied support on the basis of its unreserved condemnation of the existing system of exploitation and its willingness to organize a fight to transform Nepal into a New Democracy. While upholding the “national bourgeoisie” as an integral revolutionary ally in theory, the CPN(M) flatly denounced all other political parties as reactionary or revisionist. This left the identity of both the “national bourgeoisie” and its political representatives (with whom a “united front” was supposed to be forged) up in the air.
The eclecticism of the 40 demands only further muddied the waters. Some of the major social goals could only be achieved through smashing the bourgeois state, e.g., ending the dominance of foreign capital, giving land to the tiller and guaranteeing work for all. Most, however, were proposals for reforms: free speech, an end to the “special rights and privileges of the King,” equal property rights for women, autonomy for ethnic minority groups, revocation of unequal treaties with India, a new constitution to be drafted by “people’s representatives,” etc. A few had clearly reactionary implications, like the xenophobic call to stop “cultural pollution” from the importation of Hindi films, newspapers and magazines. Pradip Nepal, a UML spokesperson, commented:
“The demands were broadly similar to the demands made by all of the opposition political parties involved in parliamentary politics and could have been fulfilled by the general decision of the cabinet. Even pure rightist [monarchist] parties like the Nepal Sadvawana Party and the Rastrya Prajatantra Party are raising similar demands today.”
—“The Maoist Movement and its Impact on Nepal,” in Karki and Seddon
Of course, none of the opposition parties (including the UML) had actually attempted to implement these policies when they were in office. Their failure, combined with the CPN(M)’s apparent seriousness, gave the Maoist program considerable popular resonance.
During a decade of “people’s war” the Maoists pursued a two-track (and ultimately contradictory) strategy. On the one hand, they undertook a classic guerrilla campaign with nascent organs of political administration in rural base areas defended by a peasant army. At the same time, the CPN(M) leadership continued to pursue formal and informal talks with the government and opposition parties on the basis of their 40-point program. The relatively minimal nature of many of the demands opened the door to negotiations and made it possible to cast opposition parties which supported some of the CPN(M)’s positions in the role of “progressive,” “anti-imperialist” bloc partners. Gradually the list was whittled down, with three “political” demands—interim government, constituent assembly and republic—receiving the most attention. As early as 2001, the Maoists even signaled a willingness to drop the call for a republic in the interest of reaching a compromise agreement.
Left-Maoist critics of the CPN(M) tend to view the party’s post-2005 evolution as a case of the logic of negotiation overwhelming the imperatives of “people’s war.” The CPN(M) leaders, like those of the CPN(ML) before them, are derided as adherents of the “right opportunist line” who inexplicably abandoned the perspective of New Democracy and liquidated hard-won gains in order to sit at the table of the bourgeoisie. This explanation boils down to ascribing the failure of a strategy to the personal shortcomings of those who carry it out. What is missing from such analyses is any consideration of the integral connection between “people’s war” on the one hand, and class collaboration on the other. The success of the guerrilla campaign left the CPN(M) with only two options—to try to overthrow the ruling class or work out some sort of New Democratic modus vivendi with it.
As the prior experience of the Jhapa militants and the Indian Naxalites demonstrates, rural rebellions rarely go beyond executing a few landlords before they are crushed. By their very nature peasant struggles are isolated from centers of commerce, industry and finance. Even the poorest peasants—in Nepal, the sukumbasi—typically view the acquisition of land as the solution to their problems. They tend to be dependent on landed patrons for survival and are often hesitant to engage in a very risky struggle at the urging of de-classed intellectuals. When they are not immediately crushed, agrarian insurgencies usually survive by conciliating landlords and rich peasants, or by retreating into socially—and geographically—marginalized areas. This is essentially what the Naxalites have done, embedding themselves among indigenous “tribals” in India’s forests. The Naxalites are consequently absent not only from the towns and cities, but also from the large-scale capitalist agriculture in the heavily-policed plains (Economic and Political Weekly, 22 July 2006). Workers, unlike peasants, have the social power to stop the flow of profits, the lifeblood of capitalism, because of their strategic relation to the means of production, transportation and communication.
The exceptional success of “people’s war” in Nepal stems from a number of factors. The arduous terrain afforded a degree of protection that few other peasant insurgencies have enjoyed, while the extremely underdeveloped road and rail network made it difficult for government forces to speedily reverse guerrilla conquests. According to the Economic and Political Weekly (22 July 2006), roughly two-thirds of the country “had traditionally remained beyond the reach of any development projects, social welfare schemes, and agencies of administration (including police).” The comparatively large number of landless peasants, and the absence of big landowners in much of the west, also helped tip the balance in favor of the insurrection. Another important element was the undifferentiated brutality of the police and Royal Nepal Army (RNA), as the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) recently observed:
“Even before the significant escalation of late 2001 and entry of the RNA, police actions against the Maoists were brutal and targeted anyone suspected of being a sympathiser. They resulted in warrantless arrests, torture, rape and extrajudicial executions, as well as cases of excessive force—such as the burning of an entire village at Khara in Rukum district in 2000. These actions only increased the rebels’ popularity in the affected areas….”
· · ·
“The army promised to give the Maoists a ‘bloody nose’ and was under intense pressure by the high command and the palace to deliver results. Given its inexperience in counter-insurgency, the army was only able to deliver bodies rather than strategic gains. One source in close contact with the army during the latter stages of the conflict recalled that ‘there was tremendous pressure right down the chain of command every day for a high kill count’. There were also incentives: officers and other ranks were told that delivering results, even in these terms, would enhance their prospects of a coveted position on a UN peacekeeping mission.”
—“Nepal: Peace and Justice,” 14 January
Of the 13,000 people killed during the civil war, “the vast majority died at the hands of the state” (Ibid.). In April 2002, Interior Minister Devendra Raj Kendal explained the government’s program of offering cash incentives for turning in CPN(M) leaders, dead or alive: “Anyone reporting their (Maoists) whereabouts or submitting their heads can get the prize in the same bag they take the heads” (Economic and Political Weekly, 7 September 2002).
The Nepalese ruling class is supported by the country’s largest foreign investors, the U.S. and India. Itself a victim of imperialist domination, India is a major player in the strategically important Himalayas:
“The Nepalese are keenly aware their nation exists at the pleasure of India and could share the fate of their neighboring mountain kingdoms. The Indian Army occupied Sikkim in 1970 without a shot; the tiny mountain state was forthwith annexed to India. In 1975, Sikkim became a state within the Indian union….
“Thus, four long-independent Buddhist Himalayan kingdoms—Tibet, Ladakh, Sikkim, and Bhutan—were absorbed by their powerful neighbors, India and China. Though the religion and culture of the latter three were no less rich and distinctive than that of Tibet, the outside world paid scant notice to the annexation of the other ‘little Tibets.’”
—Eric Margolis, War at the Top of the World: The Clash for Mastery of Asia
India is anxious to prevent Nepal from developing economic or security links with China, which would undermine the raft of unequal deals Kathmandu has signed since the 1950s and potentially threaten Indian access to Nepal’s largely untapped hydroelectric capacity. In 1988, India imposed a 15-month blockade on Nepal for importing military equipment without New Delhi’s prior approval, as stipulated in the 1950 Peace and Friendship Treaty. The Indian bourgeoisie is also concerned that a successful Maoist uprising in Nepal could inspire its own hideously exploited toilers to “pick up the gun.” To avoid this outcome, the Indian government has been funding weapon acquisitions for the Nepalese military. Indian authorities have also worked with the West Bengal state government, led by the Stalinist Communist Party of India (Marxist), to detain exiled Nepalese Maoists.
American imperialism has long used Nepal as a base for intelligence gathering and covert operations in the region, particularly against “Red China.” Millions of dollars given to the Dalai Lama and his circle of counterrevolutionaries helped support the activities of “Khampa” Tibetan guerrillas who operated in the 1960s and early 1970s from bases in Nepal. Today, the primary U.S. objective is to maintain Nepal’s status as a pro-Indian buffer state to help militarily encircle and diplomatically isolate the Chinese deformed workers’ state. Washington shares the Indian bourgeoisie’s fears about the influence of Nepalese Maoists and the possibility of a “red corridor” stretching from Kathmandu to Naxalite-controlled eastern India. During the civil war in Nepal, the Bush administration placed the CPN(M) on its so-called terrorist watch list, where it remains. American Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage declared that the Maoists posed “a significant risk of committing acts of terrorism that threaten…the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States” (Strategic Analysis, January 2009). A similar sentiment was expressed by the U.S. ambassador, James Moriarty:
“‘It’s not Islamic fundamentalism, obviously,’ Moriarty said, ‘but it is a very fervent brand of Maoism that could cause great trouble in this area. They’ve said they’re going to invade the United States. I’m not too worried about that, but you ignore what they say at your own peril. You can’t pooh-pooh the Maoists and the threat that they represent.”
—Harper’s Magazine, May 2005
As part of its “war on terror,” the U.S. sent millions of dollars in military assistance, as well as 20,000 M-16 assault rifles and a squad of advisers, to strengthen Nepal’s security apparatus.
Against the all-sided social oppression and murderous exploitation perpetrated by Nepal’s ruling class, the Maoists could point to modest, but significant, social reforms in the areas controlled by the “United Revolutionary People’s Council” (URPC), which the CPN(M) established in 2001. The URPC was designed to function as a nascent alternative government and to institutionalize New Democracy, with “people’s committees” at ward, village, area and district levels. The Maoists termed them “3-in-1 committees,” after the “three-thirds” policy of Mao’s party during the second “United Front” with the Guomindang in the early 1940s:
“The so-called ‘three-thirds’ system—the practice whereby the Communists occupied no more than one-third of the posts in the guerrilla area governments—was not a ‘United Front’ in any functional sense, i.e., in the sense of its being necessary for peasant support. Unity between the peasants and the party was not based upon the three-thirds system, because the peasants actually supported the Communists through the mass organizations and the army. The three-thirds system was a device for incorporating local non-Communist leaders, landlords, rich peasants, and other well-known people into the regional governments.”
—Chalmers Johnson, Peasant Nationalism and Communist Power: The Emergence of Revolutionary China 1937-1945
The CPN(M)’s “3-in-1 committees” operated in practice as fronts for the party. A third of the members were open party members, while the rest mostly came from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and Maoist-led “mass organizations.”
In the CPN(M) base areas the estates of large landowners were divided among the peasantry, debts to moneylenders were eliminated, bonded servitude was abolished and the Kamaiya laborers, in some places at least, finally received modest tracts of land. The Maoists encouraged cooperative systems of farming in the “hills” to overcome the limitations of small landholding, while in Rolpa and Rukum three “communes” were set up (Monthly Review, November 2005). Small-scale production of cotton, soap, candles and paper was established along with food processing, while labor-intensive public works programs built rudimentary road and irrigation systems. Health care and education became more accessible to the poor, especially to women and dalits (members of the lowest caste—the so-called “untouchables”).
Following Mao’s example, the CPN(M) did not go after the land of the rich peasants, leaving merchants, traders and other private commercial interests to operate unhindered. Not only was this in consonance with New Democracy, it also provided the party and the PLA with a tax base. Despite fiery denunciations of Indian expansionism, the Maoists “fastidiously avoided touching any of the substantial Indian economic interests in Nepal” (Saubhagya Shah, “A Himalayan Red Herring?” in Hutt).
Of particular concern to the Maoists was the appalling oppression of members of lower castes and marginalized ethnicities. Dalits, for example, are forbidden to share water taps, roads and electricity in some areas. Ethnic minorities were historically integrated into the lower tiers of the caste system and prevented from owning significant tracts of land. This complex amalgam of class, caste and ethnic oppression is further compounded by a profoundly misogynist culture:
“The abject status of women in Nepal…is reflected in a Nepali saying: ‘If my next life is to be a dog’s life and I can choose, I’d rather be a dog than a bitch’. The faces of Nepalese women are of women trafficked, of anaemic women who die neglected in childbirth, of poor and illiterate women behind bars for miscarriages or abortions, of menstruating women sequestered in cold and unhygienic cauchholoo sheds, of women without a son abandoned or supplanted in a polygamous marriage and of culturally disadvantaged girl children burdened with a 1:4 ratio of labour load in comparison with their brothers.
“The gender profile of Nepal reveals that women suffer from 23 discriminatory laws. A woman’s life span is shorter than a man’s by two and a half years. More than 40 percent of girls are married off by age 15 and have their first child by 19. Nepal’s maternity death rate, 905 out of 100,000, is matched only by Afghanistan. Women watch one in every ninth child die under 5….Dowry, polygamy, wife beating and mass trafficking are common. Citizenship is through the male line and rights to ancestral property are restricted to unmarried daughters.”
—Cultural Dynamics Vol. 16, Nos. 2/3, 2004
In the Maoist base areas discrimination against dalits, ethnic minorities and women was formally banned and each group was guaranteed representation in the “people’s committees.” Women have a significant presence in the lower (though not higher) echelons of both the party and PLA—in the latter, the percentage of female fighters has been estimated at 40 percent. Images of ethnic Magar women carrying assault rifles have become emblematic of Nepal’s “people’s war.” Women are allowed to inherit property, attend school and get divorced. They are no longer subjected to child marriages or polygamy, while domestic violence and rape are both punished severely.
The emancipatory role of Nepalese Maoism has, however, been limited. This is due not only to the extremely low level of the productive forces in the countryside, but also to the political program and petty-bourgeois class basis of the CPN(M) itself. Like the Russian and Chinese Stalinists upon whom they model themselves, Nepal’s Maoists embrace and promote the reactionary institution of the nuclear family. A Le Monde journalist traveling in Maoist-held Rukum in 2003 visited a makeshift jail where a third of the inmates were being punished for “sex before marriage and extra marital sex” (Ibid.). Marriage and fidelity are, if anything, enforced to an even greater degree inside the party than outside it. Hisila Yami (aka Parvati), a leading female cadre who is the party’s chief spokesperson on gender issues, commented: “a code of conduct is formulated for women and men, particularly for the combatants, so that sexuality leads to marriage, if both partners are not married…If one or both are married, they are warned and punished” (Ibid.). Parvati seems to be comparatively more enlightened than other leaders of the CPN(M). In her recent book, People’s War and Women’s Liberation in Nepal, she even advances some criticisms of “the marriage institution”:
“It is an alliance of convenience for men to perpetuate their hegemonism in property relations. For women the same alliance in fact marginalizes them to domestic slavery. Sadly this holds true amongst the communists too, although to a lesser degree.”
A leading member of the CPN(M), Pampa Bushal, was dropped from the Central Committee and sent to a village for “re-education” after his “sexual misconduct” with a married female comrade came to light. Homosexuals are also reportedly ostracized.
The Maoists’ views on sexual morality recall what Trotsky termed the “Thermidor in the family” in the Soviet Union, when the conservative bureaucratic caste headed by Stalin reversed the Bolsheviks’ unprecedented efforts to liberate women and decriminalize homosexuality. Ultimately they reflect the class basis of the CPN(M). Sexual oppression and patriarchal ideology are materially rooted in the institution of the family, which is endemic to all class-divided societies. Women’s oppression is a function of their role as the unpaid providers of household labor. To sustain their support among the smallholding peasantry, the Maoists cannot afford to offend the conservative social mores that enforce monogamy as a means of ensuring rightful inheritance of property.
While celebrating the nuclear family, the CPN(M) seeks to ameliorate some of its symptoms with moral exhortation, e.g., campaigns to share household chores more equally between the sexes. Yet women’s liberation is only possible through massive investment in the construction of institutions—daycare centers, schools, laundries, cafeterias, etc.—to socialize the household tasks traditionally assigned to women. The liberation of women in Nepal cannot be achieved even on the basis of the creation of a collectivized, planned economy on a national scale; it requires a level of development that would only be possible through the extension of the revolution to other countries with far higher levels of labor productivity.
The CPN(M) was only able to establish stable and authoritative “people’s committees” in a relatively small portion of the 80 percent of Nepal they eventually controlled. Outside their secure base areas where their grip was much more fragile, the PLA was subject to periodic, but crippling, assaults from the security services. Parvati’s triumphant declaration in 2005 that the “old state’s presence is now limited to the capital, district headquarters and highways” (Monthly Review, November 2005) revealed just how tenuous the Maoists’ hold really was. With the major urban centers of industry, finance, commerce and political administration secure, along with the country’s major transportation network, the Nepalese state was “encircled” but not imperiled. The RNA was unable to regain control of the entire country, but the PLA was incapable of conquering the heavily-defended urban areas. With generous imperialist support, the RNA had grown to a well-equipped force of 90,000—far larger than the estimated 30,000 poorly armed (if highly motivated) members of the PLA and Maoist militias.
The CPN(M) seems to have anticipated this state of affairs. At its Second National Conference in January 2001 it adopted the “Prachanda Path”—a combination of rural “people’s war” with urban insurrection. Previously the CPN(M) had considered a strategy of armed working-class uprising to be applicable only in advanced capitalist countries, but with this turn it formally recognized the validity of both the Russian and Chinese models and concluded that at least since the 1980s it has been necessary to meld the two strategies:
“There should be no confusion at all that basically, the developed imperialist countries must essentially pursue the path of armed [urban] insurrection and the oppressed countries of the third world protracted people’s war even today. But the change occurred in the world situation as mentioned above has created a situation that necessarily links the characteristics of armed insurrection and protracted people’s war with one another, and, moreover, there is a need to do so….
“The military line of general armed insurrection contains some fundamental characteristics such as continuous intervention by the political party of the proletariat at the centre of reactionary state on the ground of political propaganda right from the beginning, training the masses including the workers with continuous strikes and street struggles on the basis of revolutionary demands, developing works in the military force and bureaucracy of the enemy in a planned way, waging intensive political struggle against various revisionist and reformist groups from the central level, and, lastly, seizing the central state power through armed insurrection in appropriate international and national situation, etc. It is evident that the proletariat of a third world country should concede and apply the above-mentioned characteristics of general armed insurrection, too.”
—“The Great Leap Forward: An Inevitable Need of History,” The Worker No. 7, January 2002
Nepal has undergone a significant transformation since the early 1970s, when 94 percent of the “economically active” population was involved in agriculture. Today 13 percent are engaged in industry and another 21 percent are employed in providing services—together accounting for over 60 percent of Nepal’s GDP. Nepal’s working class, which is concentrated in the urban areas of the Kathmandu valley and the Tarai, is militant and relatively politically conscious. The Economic and Political Weekly (12 August 2006) reported that newsstands commonly sell Marxist classics alongside mainstream magazines. There is also a high level of unionization: a U.S. State Department publication recently estimated that approximately one million workers belong to a union (“2009 Investment Climate Statement—Nepal,” February 2009). Nepal’s unions are organized not along industrial lines, but rather by political party affiliation. The largest labor grouping, the General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT), is linked to the UML, while the Nepal Trade Union Congress (NTUC) is aligned with Nepali Congress. Both federations have representation in the textile and carpet industries, but the membership of the GEFONT has a higher proportion of blue-collar workers while the NTUC tends to have more civil servants and petty-bourgeois professionals. Although the control of the parties has weakened somewhat in recent years, on important issues both of the major federations continue to subordinate their activities to the requirements of their respective parliamentary godfathers.
In laying the basis for the armed insurrection dictated by the Prachanda Path, the CPN(M) worked hard to expand its influence in the cities. The Maoist student union, which was already an important force in 2001, initiated a campaign against educational inequities and private school fees. Other CPN(M)-aligned groups organized protests against the monarchy, government and army abuses as well as caste and religious discrimination. The Maoists also established their own All Nepal Trade Union Federation (ANTUF). Reflecting the CPN(M)’s ambivalence toward workers’ organization, the actions of the ANTUF did not seem to be governed by any consistent strategy. It commenced operations with a series of explosions intended to encourage industrialists to make “donations.” While sometimes linked to demands for improved wages and working conditions, many of these actions did not appear to have substantial support from the workers in the factories targeted—perhaps because successful bombings often meant significant staff cutbacks, if not the closing of the enterprise altogether. Support for the ANTUF grew after it organized a strike against 12 major businesses in September 2004.
The CPN(M)’s view of the cities and the struggles of the proletariat as mere adjuncts to agrarian-based “people’s war” has limited its capacity to win the confidence and allegiance of the urban working class. In neither its popular agitation nor its theoretical documents has the party projected the formation of workers’ councils or any other organs of proletarian rule. Instead, the Maoist-controlled trade union is touted as the most appropriate body to represent workers within a multi-class “united front.” The prospect of “new democratic” exploitation by “national” capitalists is unlikely to have a great deal of appeal for most workers, as many already toil for Nepalese industrialists. What is indisputable is that despite widespread discontent with the parliamentary cretinism of the UML, the urban working class has not embraced the Maoist alternative.
The CPN(M)’s failure to win the allegiance of the urban proletariat left it without a viable road to taking state power, compelling it to seek a rapprochement with the parliamentary parties in order to gain influence in Kathmandu. Following King Gyanendra’s October 2002 dismissal of the government, Bhattarai wrote that the conflict “between the retrogressive and progressive forces” would continue until “the feudal-bureaucratic forces are completely swept away by the ultimate victory of democratic revolution.” But he also complained that the CPN(M)’s projected partners in the “democratic revolution” were far too cozy with the “feudal-bureaucratic” forces:
“The principal weakness and mistake in this whole process of major parliamentary parties was not to grasp the age-old feudal monarchy as the foremost bulwark of reaction and instead to fancy it as an ally of ‘democracy’. Consequently, during the past 12 years in power these parties could not introduce a single programme to cut the roots of feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism and prepare a material base for sustainable bourgeois democratic institutions….
“Also, the CPN(Maoist) has publically committed itself to a multiparty system in the future. That is why their constant appeal to all the parliamentary parties has been—‘you accept republicanism, we will accept multi-partyism’.”
—Economic and Political Weekly, 16 November 2002
The only limitation to “multipartyism,” according to Prachanda, was that “the activities of such elements upholding feudalism and inviting foreign domination will be curbed” (Economic and Political Weekly, 7 September 2002). In June 2003 the CPN(M)’s central committee formally approved a “multiparty competitive democratic system” (quoted in Economic and Political Weekly, 22 July 2006).
But despite their differences with the monarch, neither the UML nor Congress found the Maoists’ overtures enticing. During the preceding five years, these parliamentary lackeys of the Nepalese ruling class had themselves shown little regard for democratic niceties in their drive to stamp out the Maoist insurrection. And following the dissolution of parliament, members of both the UML and Congress had accepted positions in subsequent governments appointed at the king’s discretion. The picture began to change in February 2005, when the king declared an “emergency” and assumed full executive powers (as he was entitled to do under the 1990 constitution). Only after the monarch proceeded to arrest scores of prominent political activists and suspend media and communications did the parliamentary parties and bourgeois “civil society” begin to raise serious objections. Even then the UML and Congress, at the behest of their Indian and American backers, limited themselves for months to merely calling for the re-instatement of the old parliament. This had no popular appeal, and as the Maoists’ demands for a republic and constituent assembly rapidly gained support (even within the ranks of the UML and Congress) the leaders of these parties changed tack.
Over the summer of 2005, India facilitated discussions between the Seven Party Alliance (SPA), a coalition of all parties enjoying significant parliamentary representation, and the Maoists. Bhattarai began to float the possibility that it might be necessary to undergo a preliminary sub-stage of a democratic republic because of the “vacillation of a large section of the urban and rural middle classes toward revolutionary change,” and the opposition of both China and India to major upheavals in the region (Washington Times, 30 July 2005). In November 2005, the SPA and Maoists signed a 12-point agreement to work toward “ending autocracy and establishing absolute democracy” (Economic and Political Weekly, 21 October 2006). The SPA rejected the Maoists’ call for a republic, but agreed to the idea of a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution. The agreement was vague on specifics and left open the possibility of a restoration of the old parliament. It also included a clause calling for United Nations “supervision” of the Maoists and RNA—a longstanding demand of the CPN(M).
In March 2006 the SPA and Maoists issued separate but identical calls for a four-day general strike and campaign of civil disobedience to begin on 6 April. Contrary to the plans of the party leaders, however, the strike and demonstrations did not conclude on 9 April, but instead grew larger and more militant. Like the Jan Andolan of 1990, the protests developed a momentum of their own, and soon participants were demanding an end to the monarchy. According to the ICG:
“Initially, party cadres and leaders were hardly seen in the protests and very rarely in the lead. Party flags, a staple of any organised demonstration, were few and far between. Most corner meetings, rallies and marches were spontaneous, managed by local activists or instigated by Maoist cadres rather than guided by central party planning. The participants were overwhelmingly ordinary people, neither hardcore mainstream party or Maoist supporters.”
—“Nepal: From People Power to Peace?” 10 May 2006
The RNA’s attempt to impose a curfew enforced by a “shoot to kill” policy failed to quell the protests—firing on the crowds only further stoked popular anger. Between three to four million participated in the demonstrations and strikes over 19 days. The largest protests took place in Kathmandu, with smaller ones occurring in district centers across the country. Some 6,000 demonstrators were injured—in Kathmandu 18 people were killed and another 150 suffered broken arms or legs. Unlike in 1990, there were few instances of pro-regime thugs in “retaliation committees” attacking protesters, and there were reports that many retired soldiers and even cops participated in the demonstrations.
Nepal was in a pre-revolutionary situation in April 2006. By bringing normal life to a standstill, the general strike clearly posed the question of which class should rule. The mainstream party leaders, especially those of the UML, were widely discredited and unable to offer any practical solutions to the problems faced by the workers and peasants. The state machinery ground to a halt as much of the civil service, including many in senior positions, joined the demonstrations. Intellectuals and professionals abandoned the regime, and some sections of the security services defected as well. Such situations pose tremendous opportunities for a revolutionary party that has won the confidence of the most militant workers and is able to connect the immediate demands of the masses to the need to seize state power. A Bolshevik-Leninist party would have linked the call to abolish the monarchy and convoke a constituent assembly to the need for democratically-elected workers’ and poor peasants’ councils to give direction to the struggle, along with workplace-based militias capable of dealing with attacks by the RNA or other components of the bourgeois repressive apparatus. The next logical step would have been to organize the expropriation of the big landowners and capitalists, both foreign and domestic. An organization which, during those critical few days, had been able to pose a clear alternative to the existing order could have ignited a social revolution that would have reverberated across South Asia and far beyond.
The CPN(M), the only party claiming to represent any sort of revolutionary alternative, did not and could not offer such a program. Its cadres played an instrumental role in the smaller centers, but had little influence among workers in Kathmandu. The CPN(M) leadership, moreover, opted to align with the parliamentary parties to assume responsibility for restoring bourgeois law and order in the capital. When the king made a desperate last-ditch offer to appoint a civilian government, even his formerly servile parliamentary lackeys in the SPA were forced to spurn him:
“Far from pouring oil on troubled water, the king’s proclamation had, in the Nepali phrase, added ghee to the fire. People poured onto the streets in greater numbers than ever, determined both to send a message to the palace both by defying the curfew and to let the party leaders know compromise was not an option.
“Kirtipur, the small and independent-spirited town outside the capital that had earlier hosted one of the most impressive peaceful mass meetings, was deserted. ‘No one’s here. We’re all heading to Kathmandu’, said young men walking toward the ring road. ‘We want a republic—everyone’s supporting that now’. Crowds breached the security cordon around Kathmandu’s twin city, Patan, and picked up numbers as they moved downhill towards the bridge into the capital. ‘We’re marching on the palace’, shouted exuberant protestors above the din of anti-king slogans….
“At one point on the route taken by the largest procession, a Western military expert estimated the crowd that had passed him numbered some 200,000 to 300,000.”
In an attempt to stop things from spinning out of control, the SPA and the palace worked out a hasty backroom deal. The king restored parliament and vaguely nodded at the “road map” provided by the 12-point agreement. This was enough for the SPA to abruptly declare victory, call off further mobilizations and claim credit for all that had been achieved. The CPN(M) denounced the deal as a “historic mistake,” but its willingness to sign onto the November 2005 agreement undercut its criticism of the parliamentary parties. When the SPA leaders asked the Maoists to lift their blockade of Kathmandu, they grudgingly did so. The second Jan Andolan came to an end.
The CPN(M)’s good behavior during the April 2006 events impressed both its parliamentary allies and the Nepalese ruling class. Over the next two years there was a series of negotiations involving the SPA, the Maoists and (to a lesser extent) the palace over the form of bourgeois democracy to be installed. The first step was a number of agreements between the CPN(M) and Nepali Congress’ G.P. Koirala, who headed the restored parliament. When Koirala was prime minister in the late 1990s, he had directed the anti-Maoist offensive. At the time Prachanda characterized him as a “fascist,” but now Koirala was employing Maoist language to warn against disruption by “reactionary forces” (BBC News Online, 9 November 2006). The restored parliament was supposed to be replaced by an interim government, a temporary constitution and eventually the election of a constituent assembly. To secure representation in the provisional government, the CPN(M) agreed to a wholesale reversal of everything achieved during 10 years of “people’s war.” The “people’s committees” and “people’s courts” in the Maoist base areas were to be dissolved, and all property expropriated during the civil war was to be returned. In line with a vague agreement that eventually PLA forces would be “integrated” into the bourgeois state apparatus, the Maoists agreed to UN “monitoring” and partial disarmament. PLA cadres were sequestered in seven cantonments, with their weapons warehoused under lock and key, although the key apparently remained in the possession of the CPN(M).
In return the Maoists received various paper commitments from the government: a worthless pledge by the army not to use its weapons against “the other side,” i.e., the Maoists. The agreement made a pretense of subjecting the RNA to restrictions similar to those on the PLA—it was to remain in its barracks and have a “like number” of its (far more numerous) weapons locked up. The agreement also provided for the deployment of the army as border guards, airport security, etc., with the police force (which had been charged with suppressing the Maoists prior to 2001) handling domestic security. Other provisions included promises of an end to caste, ethnic, regional and gender discrimination, “scientific” land reform and “inclusive democracy.” Prachanda declared that the sub-stage of multi-party competition had proven to be “a necessary process for the bourgeoisie and the national capitalists alike, let alone the middle-class” (quoted in Journal of Contemporary Asia Vol. 38, No. 2, May 2008).
The CPN(M) pointed to three objective factors that made it necessary to abandon the “Prachanda Path”: the lack of economic development in the base areas, the need to win more support in the urban areas and the risk that a foreign military intervention would crush any attempted urban insurrection. While any revolutionary movement has to contend with the possibility of imperialist interference, the other two factors derive wholly from the strategy of rural-based guerrilla warfare. In pursuit of expanded influence in the cities, the CPN(M) opted to join the bourgeois interim government. Prachanda spun this overt class collaboration as an important step on the road to New Democracy:
“we’ve raised the class question, nationality question, gender question and the regional question. If all these four issues are solved then it amounts to having a new democratic republic…but since we are also talking about peaceful competition with the bourgeoisie, its form looks like bourgeois democracy, whereas it is new democratic in essence.”
—quoted in Economic and Political Weekly, 19 May 2007
The Maoists were presented with an unusual opportunity to realize this program after their surprisingly strong showing in the 10 April 2008 constituent assembly elections. The Economist (12 April 2008) reported, in advance of the results, that “the Maoists are believed, in the absence of any reliable opinion poll, to be widely detested.” When the votes were counted, the CPN(M) had won 220 of 575 seats in the assembly, twice as many as Nepali Congress, which finished in second place. The Maoists took half of the first-past-the-post seats, and another 30 percent of those assigned by proportional representation:
“Kathmandu-based Western diplomats and their Indian and Chinese counterparts could provide no credible reason why the Maoists made such surprising gains. On the contrary, it had been believed that the election would bring the Maoists down to their proper size—putting them in a position from which they could neither think of going back to the jungles for another phase of armed struggle nor command enough assembly seats to shake the foundation of a newly-installed government.”
—Asia Times Online, 19 April 2009
The first sitting of the constituent assembly in May 2008 declared Nepal a republic. The question of the monarchy was no longer important to the ruling class—even many of the royalists in the assembly voted for a republic. The bourgeoisie was far more concerned with ensuring an orderly return to the status quo in both the cities and the countryside, where the top priority was to completely liquidate the Maoists’ alternative organs of power. While the CPN(M) was not the capitalists’ preferred option, its presence in the government provided valuable cover for maintaining the existing system of exploitation and oppression.
In the summer of 2008 the CPN(M) entered a coalition government with the UML and the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF), a regional party led by a former Maoist. Ostensibly a representative of the madhesi people of the Tarai, the MJF is in fact an agency of large landowners fiercely opposed to agrarian reform. Prachanda became prime minister and Nepali Congress leader, Ram Baram Yadav, was elected (with the support of the UML) to the supposedly ceremonial position of president. In fact, the office of president was created in order to divide authority over the army, thus ensuring that even a Maoist parliamentary majority would not legally exercise full control of the state apparatus. The CPN(M) went along with this, as it was anxious to reassure the ruling class that it posed no threat to its essential interests. Bhattarai made this very clear during the negotiations to put together the coalition government:
“Just the other day we were at a gathering of nationalist [capitalists] and traders and we tried to show them that our main focus right now is to do away with feudalism and do away with the feudal relations of production, and the very dependent capitalism, not national and international capitalism….We are not against productive and industrial capitalism, you know, which provides goods, provides jobs, creates value within the country, and at least resists the imperialist interventions within the country. That type of national capitalism we promote. We tried to convince the nationalists and traders that we will create a favourable environment.”
—Economic and Political Weekly, 10 May 2008
Bhattarai spelled out the class-collaborationist implications even more clearly in a subsequent interview:
“Both the management and workers have a common interest now, for the development of the economy. They both fought against the feudalism, autocracy and monarchy. Now, to create a vibrant industrial economy, is in the interests of both the management and the workers. But this reality is not sinking in their minds. This government is playing its role in creating a healthy relationship between the two. There were some disputes, especially regarding the minimum wage issue. This has been solved. So what I appeal to the management is that they should provide the minimum wage. The workers shouldn’t resort to bandas [political general strikes] and strikes. If this understanding is honoured we’ll have a healthy environment in the days to come.”
· · ·
“…At least for some time, there should be no bandas and strikes in the industrial, health, education sectors, on the major highways, in the public utility sectors. The government is trying to build a political consensus on this issue.”
—Kathmandu Post, 12 January 2009
The interviewer posed a question that went to the core of the two-stage strategy:
“Q: Have there been efforts by your government to distinguish between the two categories among capitalists in Nepal, and formulate policies that will help industrial capitalists but not bureaucratic or comprador capitalists?”
The CPN(M) leader responded by admitting that the Maoist distinction between “reactionary” and “progressive” elements of the capitalist class was essentially meaningless:
“The same person or the same group often has a double character in Nepal. Class differentiation is very low. The same person may be doing an agricultural job and a service job. It is very difficult to categorise which class a particular person or group falls into. Among industrialists also, they may be doing some good work, making investment within the country, and they may also be playing a comprador capitalist role, trading in foreign goods and making profits. There is this dual character. This is the character of a transitional society, so we should be patient and transform this situation.”
The Maoists will have to be very patient indeed if they intend to wait until the capitalists lose their appetite for “making profits” and instead begin performing “good work.”
Tensions within the CPN(M) over its abject capitulation to the class enemy came to a head when it turned out that land previously belonging to the royal family and seized from peasants in the Tarai had been turned over to a member of the MJF who had somehow in the interim acquired formal title to it. This was too much for Matrika Yadav, who resigned as Minister for Land Reform in the coalition government and eventually left the party altogether, charging that it had “abandoned its revolutionary character and has been entrapped in the whirlpool of the parliamentary parties and practices” (Telegraph Nepal, 12 February 2009). Yadav has since set up a new party, which claims to be the real CPN(M).
After the CPN(M)—which merged with a smaller group in early 2009 to become the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) or UCPN(M)—had returned property to landlords and publicly embraced former royalists as “nationalists,” Nepal’s rulers and their imperialist godfathers concluded that it was no longer necessary to have Maoists running the government:
“Despite the transition to a federal democratic republic and continuing rhetorical commitments to a progressive, socially inclusive ‘new Nepal’, rumours of the old Nepal’s death have been greatly exaggerated. The end of the monarchy has in many respects benefited the interests it used to serve: the scapegoating of former king Gyanendra, much as he was responsible for his own woes, has freed the Kathmandu elite to regroup and rebrand themselves. With the UCPN(M) now cast as the authoritarian ruler, and providing examples of continued illiberal behaviour, it is easier to categorise anti-Maoist resistance as democratic.
“The noisiest conservative revival has been spearheaded by the urban upper classes. That the Maoists are not the new Khmer Rouge they predicted has not deterred constant cries of ‘totalitarian dictatorship’….Ironically, it is only when they propose genuinely illiberal measures such as completely banning strikes that the ‘liberal democrats’ have rushed to embrace them. In contrast, a budget so un-Maoist that it satisfied the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was greeted with derision for its excessive ambition as well as claims that programs such as a national literacy scheme were camouflaged steps towards a takeover of the state.”
—ICG, “Nepal’s Faltering Peace Process,” 19 February 2009
While the capitalist media was full of denunciations of thuggish behavior by members of the UCPN(M)’s 50,000-strong Young Communist League, it was in fact the police who were responsible for most killings in the first half of 2009. According to a 13 August 2009 ICG report, Maoist supporters were far more frequently the victims of violent assault than perpetrators.
Opposition squealing reached a crescendo in early May 2009 when the government attempted to dismiss the Chief of Army Staff, General Katawal, who had publicly stated prior to the formation of the coalition government that he would not permit the integration of “indoctrinated” PLA members into the army. Ignoring the Maoist defense minister’s objections, Katawal enlarged the army by 3,000 and postponed the retirement of eight officers responsible for some of the worst brutalities of the civil war. He also ostentatiously boycotted a national sporting event that included UCPN(M) participants. When the “Marxist-Leninist” defense minister finally moved to dismiss Katawal, the opposition parties, the capitalist media and the ruling class exploded with anger. For them, an “independent” army was the guarantee that nothing much would change under a Maoist-led bourgeois government.
The situation became so tense that Prachanda was forced to cancel a planned trip to Beijing to sign a new “Peace and Friendship” treaty that would have provided $16.4 million in economic aid and made China Kathmandu’s chief international backer (Asia Times Online, 17 March 2009). With Indian representatives engaging in a flurry of backroom diplomacy, the Maoists’ coalition partners, the UML and MJF, both came out in opposition to the dismissal, as did President Ram Baram Yadav, who cited a clause in the interim constitution requiring “political consensus” on such matters. Ironically, Bhattarai had earlier touted this clause as evidence that “the system conceived by the present interim constitution is not yesterday’s parliamentary system” (Journal of Contemporary Asia, Vol. 38, No. 2, May 2008). Faced with a non-confidence motion in the assembly, Prachanda was forced to step down, and his government was soon replaced by a UML-led coalition.
The UCPN(M)’s “flexibility” provided the Nepalese ruling class with a very cheap victory. Not only were the “people’s committees” and “people’s courts” largely liquidated and the PLA demobilized, but the landowners had their property returned. The UCPN(M)’s most important service, however, was to stabilize the tottering capitalist social order at a time of popular turmoil and acute revolutionary possibility by legitimizing a refurbished brand of bourgeois democracy. Having exhausted their utility for the elites, the Maoists were cast aside like a “squeezed lemon.”
Despite this dismal record, the UCPN(M) remains a potent force in Nepal. Since May 2009, hundreds of thousands of people have participated in a series of nation-wide demonstrations demanding “civilian supremacy” over the army. In the areas where the Maoists have influence, the “people’s committees” have been reactivated and land seizures have resumed. In late November 2009, the party orchestrated a move by thousands of landless squatters onto a tract of land in the country’s far west. The government responded by sending in police, who cleared the camps, burned down 1,500 shacks and killed four squatters. The Maoists countered with a one-day general strike on 6 December 2009, which closed shops, roads and public transport in the capital.
The Maoist leadership is aware that if it is to maintain its base and increase its authority, it must continue to organize militant actions. It is feeling some pressure on its left from Matrika Yadav’s “real” CPN(M), which has managed to win over a significant number of disaffected Maoist cadres with radical rhetoric and bold land seizures in the Tarai. The events of May 2009 appear to have strengthened left-wing elements in the UCPN(M) who had argued for moving more rapidly toward establishing a “people’s federal democratic national republic” (conceived as full New Democracy) as opposed to Bhattarai’s policy of “consolidating” the “federal democratic republic.” In the aftermath of the May debacle, Bhattarai sought to distance himself from his previous conception of a protracted “sub-stage” of bourgeois rule:
“We knew the bourgeois forces, after the abolition of the monarchy, would try to resist, and our main contradiction then would be with the bourgeois democratic parties….
“After April 2009…that phase of the Constituent Assembly and implementation of the bourgeois democratic republic was more or less complete. Our understanding is to now carry on the struggle forwards to complete the New Democratic Revolution.”
—“Nepal: Interview with Baburam Bhattarai,” World People’s Resistance Forum (Britain) website, 30 October 2009
This renewed commitment to a “New Democratic Revolution” does not represent a break from the fatal logic of the two-stage theory, and thus it opens the door to another round of class collaboration. The Maoists’ militant street demonstrations chiefly serve as a means to exert pressure on the other parliamentary parties. In October 2009, the UCPN(M) suspended its boycott of the constituent assembly to lend its support to the UML-led government’s budget. Two months later it announced that the “main contradiction” had shifted: “According to the party CC [central committee] decision, the contradiction has been changed. The question of nationality has been in the centre and the main contradiction is decided to be in between the interference of imperialism (specially the Indian expansionism) through the puppets and the remnants of feudalism, and the Nepalese people” (“UCPN-Maoist Develops a new Tactical-Line,” Red Star website [English], 6 January). This paves the way for another “anti-imperialist” lash-up with the “patriotic” bourgeoisie, while encouraging a dangerously complacent attitude toward the army as the guarantor of “national independence.” Echoing Aidit’s illusions in the Indonesian military in 1965, Maoist leader Lila Mani Pokharel is reported to have claimed that the army would side with the Maoists in any showdown: “The Nepal Army has the clear idea as to who were traitors and who were the real nationalists….Unequal treaties and unequal relations with India should be the major concern of the youth population and remain committed to safeguard Nepal’s National Independence” (Telegraph Nepal, 28 December 2009).
This combination of popular mobilization with delusions regarding the capitalists’ repressive apparatus is likely to prove fatal. For the first time since 2005, India has resumed military assistance to Nepal and is openly encouraging the government to formally renounce any plans for integrating the PLA. To date, nothing has changed—the UCPN(M) is pressing for all its fighters to be incorporated, the army is opposed to accepting any of them and the United Nations (which is supervising the cantonments where the PLA is languishing) has proposed a partial integration.
The army is seeking to end restrictions on the import of weapons imposed by the 2006 peace agreement. It is also actively intervening in domestic politics with lengthy policy documents calling for a referendum on secularism and federalism, and upholding Nepal’s first monarch, King Prithvingrayan Shah, as a symbol of national unity. There are clear signs that preparations for an offensive against the Maoists have begun:
“Continued observance of CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement] formalities is far from guaranteed. Generals have not hidden their desire for a decisive, ‘do or die’ assault on the Maoists. They have increasingly argued that the stalemate in the insurgency was solely attributable to external factors rather than lack of army capacity: [King] Gyanendra let them down with his foolhardy and underdeveloped political strategy; international backers froze support just when they needed it most; the NA [Nepal Army] was constrained by its own determination to minimise casualties and treat the Maoists as ‘misguided brothers and sisters’ rather than military opponents.
“Such arguments are tenuous at best. They have been deployed not for their accuracy but to salvage wounded pride and, for some, to support the argument that Nepal needs a ‘Sri Lanka solution’: an intensely bloody endgame in which Prachanda would play the part of Prabhakaran, the late leader of the Tamil Tigers….
“…Some in India have publicised their willingness to tolerate army rule to counter Maoist entrenchment or disorder.”
—ICG, “Nepal’s Future: In Whose Hands?” 13 August 2009
In December 2009, Nepal’s ambassador to the U.S., Sukhdev Shah, ominously suggested that the liquidation of the PKI in 1965 and the bloody right-wing military dictatorships in Chile and South Korea provide the Nepalese bourgeoisie with a model for a possible “last option”:
“There is little or nothing to take a bet on how the events are going to unfold over the coming months and years, but the present cat-and-mouse maneuverings by political parties and Maoists are likely to move the conflict to center-stage for a showdown. If this comes to pass, [the] army will have a greater chance of claiming victory, provided that the conflict involves mostly the leadership on the top. Another big uncertainty is if Nepal has the good fortune of some strongmen rising to the occasion—the likes of Korea’s Park Chung-He, Chile’s Pinochet, Indonesia’s Suharto—to take up the challenge of suppressing dissent and mobilizing the machinery of the State to focus on only one mission: Building a strong and prosperous nation.
“With so many options tried over so many years to eradicate poverty and catch-up on the bandwagon of growth, opportunities and prosperity, this last option may just have a chance to succeed.”
—My Republica [Kathmandu], 20 December 2009
While Nepal’s ruling class clearly recognizes that there is a fundamental antagonism between the interests of the exploiters and their victims, the Maoists continue to pursue the same strategy that proved fatal for the PKI.
The dramatic developments in Nepal have produced considerable discussion among Maoists internationally—particularly within the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM), which was established in 1984 by 20 Maoist organizations from around the world, including the CPN(M). RIM represented the first serious attempt to form a Stalinist “International” since the 1943 dissolution of the Comintern. However, it is not a centralized organization, but rather a confederation of disparate national groups, united only by their common identification with “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism” and a magazine (A World to Win). Some RIM affiliates have uncritically defended the UCPN(M) at every step, portraying its mistakes and zigzags as clever tactics. The Quebec-based Parti communiste révolutionnaire, for example, simply dismisses criticism of the Nepalese Maoists:
“For our part, we never hesitated to support the revolution in Nepal. And we are continuing to do so, very clearly and with all the enthusiasm that the possibility of a communist victory should inspire. The revolutionaries in Nepal certainly don’t need a crash course about the Marxist understanding of the state; they don’t need sermons but revolutions.”
—Red Flag No. 1 (English), December 2009-January 2010
A group of former supporters of Bob Avakian’s Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCP) who run the “Kasama” website share this view:
“When making revolution, there are no guarantees and no proscribed path to power. There are not only two models (as some claim). Or to put it another way: If at this point in history the proletariat had made twenty revolutions, perhaps there would obviously be twenty ‘models,’ meaning we might have realized there are no fixed models.”
—J.B. Connors, “Learning from the Maobadi,”30 March 2009
For almost a decade, the RCP breathlessly retailed the exploits of their Nepalese comrades, giving special prominence to the enthusiastic dispatches sent by Li Onesto, an RCP supporter who became the first “foreign journalist” to report from the guerrilla zones. When the CPN(M) decided to join the bourgeois government in the aftermath of the April 2006 showdown, the torrent of RCP coverage turned into a trickle. In early 2009, the RCP published an exchange of letters with the CPN(M) dating back to October 2005. In explaining the decision to go public with the dispute, the RCP solemnly invoked “Marxist principles” and “internationalist” duties, but it seems that the largest factor may have been the UCPN(M)’s lack of respect for the profound wisdom of RCP Chairman Bob Avakian:
“Just as we had decided that it is now correct to take this course of action [going public], an article written by Roshan Kissoon appeared in your English language journal Red Star (#21) in which there is an open repudiation of the whole of Marxism, beginning with Marx himself, an open rejection of the whole experience of the proletarian revolution up to this point, and an open proclamation that the revolution in Nepal can do no more than build a modern capitalist state, leaving the question of the struggle for socialism and communism to future generations.
“As part of the anti-communist diatribe in Red Star #21, Kissoon launches a vicious and unprincipled attack and personal slander on the leader of our party, Chairman Bob Avakian, which is reprehensible and unacceptable.”
—“January 29, 2009 Letter from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)”
Kissoon had apparently been unimpressed with Chairman Bob’s homemade “new synthesis,” ungenerously remarking that “nobody outside of the RCP USA actually believes this nonsense, and the RCP USA resembles a strange cult rather than a real Communist party. Ground Control to Chairman Bob...” (Red Star Vol. 2, No. 1, 1-15 January 2009). The UCPN(M) was apparently unaware that, according to Bob Avakian, “today Maoism without Bob Avakian’s new synthesis will turn into its opposite. Instead of making the leap forward that is required, there will be a retreat backward, ending up sooner or later—and perhaps not that much later—in outright opposition to revolutionary communism” (Revolution No. 162, 19 April 2009). Kissoon has a point about the RCP and its fatherly leader, just as the RCP makes a case that the UCPN(M)’s policies amount to “an open repudiation of the whole of Marxism, beginning with Marx himself.” (Of course the same could be said of Mao Zedong’s endorsement of the PKI’s prostration before Sukarno, but the RCP is unlikely to go quite that far.)
The Avakianites’ critique of the concessions made by the Nepalese Maoists is pretty sharp:
“The organs of people’s power built up in the countryside of Nepal through the revolutionary war have been dissolved, the old police forces have been brought back, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), although never defeated on the battlefield, has been disarmed and confined to ‘cantonments’ while the old reactionary army (formerly the Royal Nepal Army, now renamed the Nepal Army) which previously feared to travel outside its barracks, except in large heavily armed convoys, is now free to patrol the country—with the blessing of a CPN(M) Defense Minister.”
—Revolution No. 160, 29 March 2009
The RCP traces the origin of the problem to Bhattarai’s October 2005 “New State” article in which the idea of adding a “sub-stage” of bourgeois democracy was originally proposed. In a 4 November 2008 letter, the RCP denounces this as a deviation that opened the door for “astounding theoretical propositions…such as the ‘joint dictatorship of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.’” The RCP is aware of the disastrous experiences of two-stage revolution in Iran, Iraq, Indonesia and Chile, and the contrast with the success of 1917: “Lenin’s line was clear—the task of the revolution was not to consolidate a bourgeois republic but rather to fight to ‘smash’ the bourgeois state apparatus and establish a completely different type of state. And this, of course, is exactly what he did” (letter of March 2008).
True enough, but what about the concept of New Democracy, which provided the framework for the CPN(M)’s class collaboration? After all, Bhattarai was explicitly endorsing “multi-partyism” years before the 2005 “New State” article without any objections from the RCP. Yet Lenin’s policy was one of intransigent opposition to all wings of the ruling class. The central proposition in State and Revolution is that there cannot be any middle ground between the dictatorship of the proletariat and the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. In a tortuous attempt to reconcile Lenin with Mao, the RCP argues that New Democracy is merely a form of the dictatorship of the proletariat:
“New democracy requires a joint dictatorship of the revolutionary classes under the leadership of the proletariat and its vanguard, that is to say, a specific form of the dictatorship of the proletariat appropriate to the stage of the democratic revolution. While the system of new democracy recognizes and protects the interests of the national bourgeoisie, it targets as an enemy the comprador and bureaucrat capitalist sector which is, after all, the dominant form of capitalism in Nepal.”
—“November 4, 2008 Letter from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)”
So the RCP believes that antagonistic social classes can collaborate in establishing a “joint dictatorship” because under “proletarian” leadership this cross-class regime would somehow constitute a form of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
These mind-numbing metaphysics are intended to demonstrate that the theory of New Democracy was validated by the experience of the 1949 Chinese Revolution. If the Indonesians got it wrong, the Chinese at least got it right. And there is indeed a crucial difference between the two experiences: unlike the Indonesian (and Iraqi, Iranian, etc.) Communists, Mao’s CCP did carry out a social revolution that resulted in the expropriation of both foreign and domestic capital. But this was not, in fact, what Mao had envisaged in the program of New Democracy; and the ultimate victory of the CCP demonstrated not the viability, but the impossibility, of “joint dictatorship.”
New Democracy was the Chinese version of the “popular-front” strategy formally adopted at the Seventh Congress of the Comintern in 1935—a panicked attempt by the Stalinist bureaucracy to line up capitalist allies to counter the rising danger of Nazi Germany. After the CCP’s “Long March” from its rural “Jiangxi Soviet” in southeastern China to the isolated caves and mountains around Yan’an, in northwestern Shaanxi province, it became increasingly apparent that Japanese imperialism was preparing to invade northeastern China. The CCP responded by attempting to establish a second “united front” with the Guomindang. The Communists had already significantly moderated their agrarian program by adopting a policy of safeguarding the property of rich and middle peasants, as well as the lands of “all anti-Japanese soldiers” (a category that could include even large landlords with a son in the Red Army). The Guomindang responded with several preconditions which, in February 1937, the CCP accepted. These included the incorporation of the “Soviet” government into the Guomindang’s Republic of China and the absorption of the Red Army into the National Revolutionary Army, an end to land confiscations and the introduction of a “thoroughly democratic system based on universal suffrage.” Chiang Kai-shek had never been particularly concerned about “universal suffrage” in the areas the Guomindang controlled, but he was anxious to introduce it in the CCP’s territory as a means of providing leverage for rich peasants and landlords. The significance of this turn was not lost on the CCP’s peasant supporters:
“Fear of and hostility to the Second United Front tended to be strongest where land revolution was most successful, that is where the return of the former elite threatened the new economic and political order, and where peasants had already embraced a revolutionary political vision. The party called on those whom it had led in the land upheaval, primarily poor peasants and hired laborers, to accept concessions in the soviet area in the interests of anti-Japanese national unity and for the quid pro quo of enabling workers and peasants in other parts of China to win freedoms, including the right to vote. These were rather abstract propositions to convey to a peasant population that had not itself experienced the hardship of Japanese attack but had known landlord and warlord oppression prior to the exhilaration of land revolution.”
—Mark Selden, The Yenan Way in Revolutionary China
This was the context for the introduction of the term New Democracy as a designation for the system introduced in the CCP base areas following elections in May 1937.
Although the Red Army was formally designated the “Eighth Route Army” and nominally placed under the control of the Guomindang’s Military Council, it continued to operate independently. The base areas, as well, remained autonomous of the central government. A series of clashes with the Guomindang in 1938-39 compelled the CCP to reiterate its commitment to the “united front” by formally introducing the “three-thirds” system. It was during this period that Mao wrote a number of articles in which he elaborated his strategy of class collaboration. Among the most important of these texts are “The Chinese Revolution and the Chinese Communist Party” (December 1939), “On New Democracy” (January 1940) and, somewhat later, “On Coalition Government” (April 1945). These works are known to Western Maoists primarily through the expurgated English-language versions published in the Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung. Stuart Schram, the foremost anthologist of Mao’s writings in the English-speaking world, noted in 1969:
“The Selected Works, published in Peking [Beijing] in Chinese in 1951, and then translated into various languages, include only about half of Mao’s writings during the past half century. Moreover, the texts included in the Selected Works have been subjected to such numerous and profound changes by the author that one cannot accept even a single sentence as being identical with what Mao had actually written without checking it against the original version.”
—The Political Thought of Mao Tse-tung
For example, the Selected Works version of “The Role of the Chinese Communist Party in the National War” (October 1938) omits the following paean to the Guomindang:
“The Kuomintang and the Communist Party are the foundation of the Anti-Japanese United Front, but of these two it is the Kuomintang that occupies first place. Without the Kuomintang, it would be inconceivable to undertake and pursue the War of Resistance. In the course of its glorious history, the Kuomintang has been responsible for the overthrow of the Ch’ing, the establishment of the Republic, opposition to [the rightist] Yüan Shih-k’ai, establishment of the Three Policies of uniting with Russia, with the Communist Party, and with the workers and peasants, and the great revolution of 1926-7….
“In carrying out the anti-Japanese war, and in organizing the Anti-Japanese United Front, the Kuomintang occupies the position of leader and framework….Under the single great condition that it support to the end the war of resistance and the United Front, one can foresee a brilliant future for the Kuomintang.…”
Mao’s theoretical pronouncements on New Democracy undergo similar revision. According to Schram, the original definition of New Democracy in “The Chinese Revolution and the Chinese Communist Party” read:
“A new-democratic revolution is a revolution of the broad masses of the people led by the proletariat and directed against imperialism and feudalism; it is a revolution of the united front of several revolutionary classes. China must go through this revolution before she can go forward to a socialist revolution [changed to ‘socialist society’ in 1951]; otherwise, it is impossible.
“This kind of new-democratic revolution differs greatly from the democratic revolutions in the history of European and American countries in that it results in the dictatorship of the united front of all revolutionary classes [‘under the leadership of the proletariat’ added in 1951], not in the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. During the Anti-Japanese War, the anti-Japanese democratic regime that ought to be established [changed to ‘the political power built up in the anti-Japanese base areas under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party’ in 1951] is a regime of the Anti-Japanese National United Front, which is neither a ‘one-class dictatorship’ of the bourgeoisie nor a ‘one-class dictatorship’ of the proletariat, but a ‘joint dictatorship of several parties’ belonging to the Anti-Japanese National United Front [changed to ‘a joint dictatorship of several revolutionary classes under the leadership of the proletariat’ in 1951]. All those who stand for resistance to Japan and for democracy are qualified to share this political power, regardless of their party affiliations.”
Mao not only explicitly denied that the “joint dictatorship” envisioned under the “new-democratic revolution” would be a form of the dictatorship of the proletariat; he also played down the “leadership” role of both the CCP and the proletariat. It is clear that in the early 1940s Mao anticipated that the CCP would participate in some sort of “democratic regime” alongside the Guomindang as a representative of the “revolutionary classes.” The resemblance to Bhattarai’s “democratic” sub-stage is unmistakable.
Schram also shows that the Selected Works version of “On Coalition Government” has similar post-facto inclusions of the phrases “led by the Communist Party” and “under the leadership of the proletariat.” This was presumably designed to balance the document’s projection of a lengthy period of capitalist development:
“Some people fail to understand why, so far from fearing capitalism, Communists should advocate its development in certain given conditions. Our answer is simple. The substitution of a certain degree of capitalist development for the oppression of foreign imperialism and domestic feudalism is not only an advance but an unavoidable process. It benefits the proletariat as well as the bourgeoisie, and the former perhaps more. It is not domestic capitalism but foreign imperialism and domestic feudalism which are superfluous in China today; indeed we have too little of capitalism.”
The CCP had been negotiating with the Guomindang for a role in such a “democratic” capitalist regime since 1943. Especially with the entry of the United States into World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Guomindang had focused at least as much attention on eliminating the Communists as on fighting the Japanese. A Guomindang assault on the CCP’s New Fourth Army in 1941 killed some 3,000 Communist troops. Despite the Guomindang’s clear intentions and American promises of up to $600 million in equipment for Chiang’s armies, the CCP participated in the January 1946 Political Consultative Conference (PCC) sponsored by U.S. General George Marshall. The Chongqing conference produced an agreement to form a coalition government, with half the members from the Guomindang and the other half from other parties (including the CCP). There was also an agreement to integrate CCP military units into the national army, which the U.S. would help train and equip.
Mao was enthusiastic about these agreements, which a February 1946 Central Committee statement hailed as “a great victory for China’s democratic revolution. From now on China has reached the new stage of peace, democracy, and reconstruction” (quoted in Odd Arne Westad, Cold War and Revolution: Soviet-American Rivalry and the Origins of the Chinese Civil War). The Yan’an center informed each party bureau that all “of the party’s activities must be suited to this new stage,” and warned against any “left-wing” deviations. Although Liu Shaoqi was later blamed for the “right-opportunism” of this period, Mao himself was reportedly the most ardent exponent of the turn, which he expected to herald a “new democratic era.”
The Chinese Communists agreed to dismantle the institutions of political power in their base areas in exchange for a legal presence in the Guomindang-controlled cities, just as the Nepalese Maoists have recently done. In an interview with U.S. observers, Liu acknowledged the possibility of a Guomindang double-cross, but suggested that the likelihood would decline “after democracy has been carried out in China for a certain period.” Liu said that the next step of the process was “drafting the constitution through which a parliamentary and cabinet system of government akin to that of the United States and Great Britain will be adopted” (Ibid.).
The only reason that the CCP did not enter a coalition government in 1946 was the intransigence of its would-be partner. Flush with military aid from the U.S., Chiang unilaterally revised the PCC agreement and launched an offensive in Manchuria, where Communists had taken over from the Japanese. The CCP countered by tightening its grip on its base areas, reorganizing the People’s Liberation Army and renewing land confiscations. The ensuing civil war raged for three years until the Guomindang fled to Taiwan and Mao proclaimed China as a People’s Republic in October 1949.
In June 1949, with the PLA in control of the north and sweeping through Guomindang strongholds in the south, Mao wrote “On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship,” which became a classic text in the Maoist canon. Unlike the essays already cited from 1939, 1940 and 1945, it did not have to be retrofitted with references to the leadership of the working class and the Communist Party. All attempts to inaugurate a New Democratic alliance with the national bourgeoisie had failed, since the Chinese capitalists had overwhelmingly supported Chiang during the civil war. As the PLA consolidated its military control, Mao reinterpreted New Democracy to mean a “democratic coalition government” uniting the working class, peasantry, urban petty bourgeoisie and national bourgeoisie, but excluding the Guomindang and its “accomplices.” In Mao’s conception, this was not the dictatorship of the proletariat, but simply the long-awaited realization of the “joint dictatorship.” Not until 1958, during the disastrous “Great Leap Forward,” did the term “dictatorship of the proletariat” replace “people’s dictatorship” as the official description of the character of state power in China (Maurice Meisner, Mao’s China and After).
New Democracy was a complete fiction right from the start. The big bourgeoisie, which had sided with Chiang during the civil war, fled to Taiwan, Hong Kong or the West. The capitalists who remained were retroactively classified as the “national bourgeoisie.” Most of them were pretty small fish: shopkeepers, owners of small-scale enterprises and managers of industrial and commercial establishments. They had little clout under Chiang and even less under Mao. The bourgeois state had been smashed and was replaced by the PLA. Mao nonetheless went through the motions of establishing a New Democracy. In September 1949 a new “Political Consultative Conference” was convoked with participation from 14 small political parties. Eleven of the new government’s 24 ministries were initially headed by non-Communists. In reality, these parties were entirely subordinate to the CCP and had no role in determining policy. While encouraging the elimination of the landlords in the countryside, the CCP initially allowed some industrial and commercial concerns to remain in private hands, but by 1956 even these had been nationalized.
The Chinese Revolution of 1949, in short, did not produce any approximation of the New Democracy that Mao had projected as a necessary historical stage. Instead, China was transformed into a society qualitatively similar to the Soviet Union under Stalin, with collectivized property and central planning, in which a petty-bourgeois bureaucratic caste monopolized political power. The People’s Republic was therefore a deformed workers’ state from its inception. This once again confirmed the fundamental Marxist proposition that a “joint dictatorship” of antagonistic social classes is impossible—the state power must defend either bourgeois or proletarian property forms.
The program of New Democracy, like all other variants of Stalinist two-stage theory, presumes that capitalism is potentially capable of acting as an agency of social progress, economic development and national emancipation in semi-colonial countries if only the “national bourgeoisie” can be freed from the shackles of imperialism. But this is utopian and completely unrealizable. The emergence of a world capitalist market dominated by a handful of monopoly players foreclosed any possibility of colonial and semi-colonial countries retracing the path of “classical” development taken by the advanced countries. The search for a progressive “national bourgeoisie” is not only illusory, but as the case of Indonesia demonstrates, can often prove fatal.
The “national bourgeoisie” is a category that can be defined and redefined according to political convenience. When Prachanda pledged in June 2008 to establish “special economic zones” (SEZs) in Nepal, the Communist Party of India (Maoist) was sharply critical. The Indian Maoists have taken a leading role in struggles against attempts by the Stalinist-led Left Front government in West Bengal to set up SEZs on vast tracts of land seized from poor peasant cultivators. The fact that West Bengal SEZs have benefited major Indian firms, like the Tata conglomerate, as well as foreign corporations, led the CPI (Maoist) to label Indian industrialists as “compradors” on the grounds that their activity is “part and parcel of imperialist policies of globalisation.” Instead it proposes that capitalists pursue a “people-oriented model of development,” which would “be organic to the growth in people’s living conditions, serving their needs and [arising] from an indigenous bourgeoisie and not from giant corporations of the TNCs [transnational corporations] and compradors” (People’s March, July 2007).
Despite their disagreements about who constitutes the “national bourgeoisie,” the CPI (Maoist) and UCPN(M) both agree that a stage of capitalist development is necessary before there can be any talk of socialist revolution. The fact that serious subjectively revolutionary fighters persistently adapt to the bourgeoisie is intimately connected to their acceptance of the Stalinist dogma of “socialism in one country.” Stalin’s formula, which he initially introduced as a factional weapon within the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union after Lenin’s death, implicitly rejected the Leninist understanding that capitalism in the imperialist epoch is a global system binding the social structures of different countries together.
If one begins by assuming that a precondition for socialist revolution in any given country is economic self-sufficiency, then the idea that backward countries like Nepal must undergo an interim stage of “genuine” capitalism follows logically. The UCPN(M)’s conception of New Democracy has been premised on the idea that by breaking the connection with imperialism (and its domestic agents, the “compradors”), Nepal could develop a modern capitalist economy and thus lay the material basis for the later establishment of a fully socialist society within the confines of its own borders. The UCPN(M)’s adaptations to Nepal’s ruling class flow from this mistaken conception.
One of the fundamental tenets of Marxism is that capitalism in the imperialist epoch operates as a brake on the development of the productive forces on a global scale, despite the existence of technology that makes material abundance for all achievable. In an 1878 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Marx described socialism as “not merely a local, but an international problem, to be solved by the international action of workmen” (Marx and Engels On the United States). The RCP, which insists on defending Stalin’s anti-Marxist conception of socialism as a nationally-isolated phenomenon, implicitly recognizes the problem that economic backwardness poses in Nepal, but advises the UCPN(M) to “solve” it as Mao did in China—through utopian idealism:
“Earlier in the history of the Chinese revolution, the question was clearly posed as to whether it would be possible to build socialism in a backward country. Indeed, Mao’s whole thesis of new democracy was based very much on showing how it was possible to do so and, of course, he then went about doing so in practice. In the course of the Cultural Revolution Mao raised the slogan ‘grasp revolution, promote production’, thus correctly showing that the productive forces of society could be unleashed by further revolutionary transformation—the exact opposite of the argument that many are making in Nepal now that development must come by capitalist means.”
—letter of 4 November 2008
Mao’s economic voluntarism was simply the flip side of his previous New Democratic Menshevism, which projected an extended period of capitalist development that never happened. In order to build “socialism” in a country significantly more backward than Tsarist Russia, Mao opted to deny reality, and in 1956 declared that China was on the verge of completing the “transition to socialism.” The Cultural Revolution of the 1960s was premised on the absurd notion that a fully communist society could be created by revolutionary will alone, and that Mao Zedong Thought could surmount all material obstacles. The inevitable exhaustion that followed this utopian experiment prepared the ground for the subsequent turn to market reforms under Deng Xiaoping, whose ascension RIM mistakenly claims marked the restoration of capitalism in China.
Despite their bitter experiences in conciliating Nepal’s rulers, the leaders of the UCPN(M) have given little indication that they are seriously questioning the central tenets of New Democracy. That has not prevented the ostensibly Trotskyist International Marxist Tendency (IMT—associated with the late Ted Grant) from asserting that the Nepalese Maoist party “recognises [the] role of Leon Trotsky” (www.marxist.com, 20 October 2009). The basis for this claim was an article by Bhattarai that appeared in a UCPN(M) Nepalese-language journal in which, according to the IMT translation, 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’. (The Red Spark, July 2009, Issue 1, Page-10, our [IMT] translation from Nepali language).”
—“Communist Party of Nepal recognises role of Leon Trotsky,” www.marxist.com, 20 October 2009
If the translation is accurate, it is indeed highly significant that Nepal’s leading Maoist theoretician is prepared to acknowledge the importance of aspects of Trotsky’s political analysis. But the IMT goes further:
“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 we welcome and encourage.”
· · ·
“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 time has come for Marxist internationalists to give a helping hand to the Nepali Maoists to resolve the contradictions that flow from their past mistakes and help develop a workable strategy based on proletarian internationalism.”
—“Maoists in Nepal looking for new strategic direction,” www.marxist.com, 20 October 2009
There has been no sign of any “synthesized” permanent revolution in the discussions within the UCPN(M), although its members are clearly not satisfied with the standard Maoist explanation “as to why those proletarian powers [the Soviet Union under Stalin and China under Mao] turned into their opposites without any bloodshed, right after the demise or capture of the main leadership” (CPN[M] letter to RCP, 1 July 2006). Bhattarai, who originally espoused the idea of a bourgeois democratic sub-stage prior to New Democracy, has continued to advocate the strategy of a “transitional stage” against proponents of a more rapid push for a “people’s republic.” We have seen no evidence that he has changed his mind regarding the necessity of a period of capitalist development for Nepal and other neocolonial countries. His comments about Trotskyism are ambiguous at best. It seems likely that having recognized the impossibility of economically transforming Nepal through exhortation and Mao Zedong Thought—and the equal impossibility of enticing Nepal’s rulers into voluntarily liquidating their privileged position in some sort of New Democracy—Bhattarai has concluded that socialist revolution is off the agenda in Nepal, except as a by-product of struggles elsewhere.
Whatever the case may be, the ultra-liquidationist IMT is hardly qualified to lecture on “proletarian internationalism” given its lengthy record of opportunist promotion of various petty-bourgeois bonapartists and counterrevolutionaries like Poland’s Lech Walesa and Russia’s Boris Yeltsin (see Marxism vs. ‘Militant’ Reformism). The IMT’s attempt to claim that Bhattarai has transmogrified into some sort of crypto-Trotskyist did not impress one UCPN(M) supporter, who commented:
“This is not (as the [IMT] website consciously implies) some vindication of Trotsky’s historic role or core positions, but a provocative way of arguing against dogmatic assump-tions and mechanical thinking.
“It is relatively unusual for supporters of Mao to cite Trotsky in this way (but among the Nepalis there have been references to Rosa Luxemburg, Che and Trotsky before).
“But…it is certainly not the case that if ‘XXX is mentioning YYY, he must be a closet YYY-ist.’ Similarly when Chavez mentions Trotsky (as he occasionally does) some of these same international Trotskyist forces think that this must mean Chavez too is a closet Trotskyist. The simple-mindedness of this speaks for itself.”
—Nando Sims, “On Rumors of Nepali Maoists, Trotskyism and Socialism in One Country,” kasamaproject.org, 22 October 2009
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who claims to be using his position as head of the capitalist state to incrementally transform Venezuela into a socialist society, has occasionally sought to give his bourgeois-nationalist policies a more leftist coloration with references to the writings of Leon Trotsky. The IMT has interpreted the populist demagogy of the leader of the “Bolivarian Revolution” as evidence that Venezuela is headed in a socialist direction (see “Venezuela & the Left,” 1917 No. 30).
The need for programmatic clarity and revolutionary leadership in Nepal is becoming ever more acute. By mobilizing the masses while leaving them politically unarmed, the UCPN(M) is laying the basis for a bloodbath, just as surely as the PKI did under Mao’s tutelage. The growing danger of a final military “solution” cannot be countered by another rotten alliance with some elements of the bosses’ parties. Time is running out:
“The refrain of ‘give war a chance’ has grown steadily louder and more insistent in the months since the Maoists first assumed leadership of the government….”
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“This means the priority for spoilers is to create circumstances where a return to conflict appears a reasonable option. The possibilities here are numerous….A push for ‘zero tolerance’ policing, already being touted in the press, could be used to crack down on the YCL [Young Communist League] and provoke a response. Stirring up trouble in the Tarai would not be difficult, given the volatile political mix and the opportunities to play on multiple divisions. The declaration of a state of emergency could be proposed as a reasonable step to contain disorder, especially as it would grant the delayed constitutional process a six-month extension. The president, given the green light by parties happy that he intervened against the Maoists, may be encouraged to take further steps.”
—ICG, “Nepal’s Future: In Whose Hands?” 13 August 2009
Echoing an increasingly common theme in Nepal’s bourgeois media, the ICG has challenged dissatisfied Maoists to put up or shut up: “If Maoist ideologues Kiran, Gaurav [leading “left” figures] and their cohorts really want to be pure revolutionaries then they should go back to the jungles, resume the ‘people’s war’ and stop pretending to be part of the process” (Ibid.). To avert disaster, Nepalese revolutionaries must indeed renounce participation in “the process” of bourgeois stabilization and explain to the restive masses that the only way their needs can be met is through the seizure of state power and the expropriation of the exploiters.
Yet a workers’ revolution in Nepal could not survive indefinitely, much less achieve a classless society, in isolation. What the working class requires is a consistently internationalist perspective premised on the recognition that any revolution must spread to the powerful Indian proletariat (including its hundreds of thousands of immigrant Nepalese) and attempt to mobilize support from workers throughout the region and in the imperialist centers of Japan, Europe and North America. Key to the situation is the massive Chinese proletariat. A revolutionary workers’ government in Nepal would make clear its unconditional defense of the surviving gains of China’s 1949 revolution and appeal to Chinese toilers to sweep aside the ruling Stalinist bureaucracy and establish their own institutions of proletarian political power.
The road to overcoming Nepal’s profound backwardness, ending sexual and ethnic oppression and achieving a socialist future runs through the struggle for a Socialist Federation of South Asia. Time and again, Nepalese workers and peasants have demonstrated extraordinary revolutionary fervor. To harness their heroic energy it is necessary to overcome what Trotsky called the “historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat” through the construction of a Bolshevik-Leninist party whose cadres possess not only courage, stamina and a willingness to sacrifice, but also a capacity to learn from and apply the lessons of revolutionary history.