Ben Peterson: On the Nepal Debate
Posted by n3wday on June 26, 2009
This article was written by Ben Peterson and published on his blog Lal Salam.
“In no way should the Peoples State in Nepal be dismissed, it was a highly significant part of the peoples war, and was able to make significant gains for women, people of low caste, ethnic nationalities and local governance, however, this state simply was not strong enough to be able to stand on its own against the central Kathmandu government. In time, it may have been able to develop into such a state, however this would have been a long and bloody process, and events transpired which fast tracked the revolution and brought urban areas and across the country. This was the conquest of one state over the other, but it was politically, and not physically or militarily.”
“As Marxists, we understand that the state has a class basis, however no one is born with that knowledge. The Maoists time in government showed in practice that no matter what people vote for, a revolution can not be simply elected. More then any speeches the experience of a people’s government in a bourgeois state has shown the masses of people that radical change is necessary, when previously many had illusions in the prospects of a peaceful gradual change. It has become apparent that imperialism is central to the state to the people of Nepal, not because the Maoists said so, but because of the role of the India and American governments in overthrowing the elected government. With only propaganda, revolutionaries would have struggled to convince a majority of people, but, by making principled decisions, more and more people have been pushed into the revolutionary camp, and have become open to revolutionary ideas.”
“Within Nepal revolutionaries have already used this tactic within their parallel state structures during the peoples war. Elections were held, and what forces for the opposition parties were left in these areas were allowed to participate. It opened a way for the revolutionaries to get feedback from the grassroots. In some areas these opposition groups did quite well in these elections, and this showed the Maoist party in which areas they were not fulfilling their tasks well, in which areas there had developed a bureaucracy or an automatic way of doing things, and in which areas they needed to improve. In this way they were able to build more responsive party, with closer links to the masses.”
On the Nepal Debate
By Ben Peterson
The revolution in Nepal has been nothing if not controversial, and naturally, as it has evolved and found its own way to progress in response to the conditions it faced, there has been an increasing amount of debate, and confusion about this process. In this debate there are a number of people who have, most probably unintentionally, come to incorrect conclusions, based on certain myths and misunderstandings that surround the situation in Nepal.
A revolution is and will always be the organic expression of the oppressed classes within a given situation. For revolutionaries on the outside of a revolution looking in, to see the revolution we need to look at the concrete situation it is in, look at the forces in play, find overall trajectories and only then make an analysis based on this. Revolutions look different in different situations. Russia, China, Cuba and Vietnam all had very different paths to power, but they were all revolutions, and we know this because of the class forces being mobilized, the nature of the leadership and the final outcomes of these struggles.
We know these were revolutions, thus they have certain similarities. In looking at new revolutions, we look for these similarities, we do not denounce them because of the naturally occurring differences which will always emerge from them when facing different situations.
Which brings us to Nepal. There is allot of confusion about the process that is unfolding there. There is agreement that in 1996 the Communist Party Nepal (Maoist) left the parliament and launched a peoples war, which was able to gain significant momentum. Within a few years hundreds of thousands, if not millions of the rural poor joined the Maoist movement and were able to control the vast majority of the country, inflicting many defeats on the army and the police. In 2005 they made alliances with the now illegal mainstream parties against the monarchy, and after a massive peoples uprising in 2006 joined a peace process. Here there are some common misunderstandings.
An incorrect analysis of Nepal states that the leadership has embraced reformist politics by abandoning “Red Power” in 80% of the country to be allowed into a petit bourgeois electoral system. It clearly goes against the traditional Maoist strategy of surrounding the cities with the Peoples army and then invading. Thus, the revolutionary leadership in Nepal have betrayed the peoples sacrifices made in the Peoples War to be integrated into the bureaucracy and for personal gain of the leadership at the expense of the revolution.
This analysis is based largely on myths and has to totally ignore the reality of the situation. It is incompatible with the actual balance of forces and in total contradiction to the processes at play. Furthermore, it totally ignores the actions and policies of the party leadership.
The first myth that this is based on is that by 2005 the Maoists and their People’s Liberation Army had complete control over 80% of Nepal. This is not true. By 2005 the PLA had de facto control over 80% of the country. The difference is seemingly small, but significant. The Maoists did control a new pro people local administration, they did set up peoples councils, they did have the peoples courts. However, all of these things needed to exist at very least semi-underground. The central Royalist state was still superior. While it wasn’t strong enough to be able to continue raising taxes or maintain its apparatus on a permanent basis in most of the country, it was still in control. It controlled the major urban centers, and the majority of the transportation system, and therefore, controlled the economy. The situation was therefore not one of two separate and relatively equal states struggling against each other, but rather, there was a new state emerging, but it was in every way except politically, inferior to its counterpart. There was no fully permanent alternative state.
This state was still weak and not fully mature. They were unable to make significant development projects, the political leadership of the peoples state had to live underground and was in constant danger of being murdered at the hands of the army/police. Even the communes had been burned down at different times. The revolutionaries needed to find a way to move forward, to strengthen their forces and overcome the royalist state.
In no way should the Peoples State in Nepal be dismissed, it was a highly significant part of the peoples war, and was able to make significant gains for women, people of low caste, ethnic nationalities and local governance, however, this state simply was not strong enough to be able to stand on its own against the central Kathmandu government. In time, it may have been able to develop into such a state, however this would have been a long and bloody process, and events transpired which fast tracked the revolution and brought urban areas and across the country. This was the conquest of one state over the other, but it was politically, and not physically or militarily.
This all ties in with another myth, that the PLA was militarily equal to or greater then the Royal Nepalese Army. This is not the case. The PLA was politically and tactically far superior to the RNA, and this was the root of its success. The PLA was able to attack the RNA at its weakest points, or too pool its resources to overcome RNA bases or capture some large towns temporarily, but in set piece battles, or on permanent front lines, the PLA was inferior. Even by this late stage in the war, if they got together enough armed men, there was nowhere that the RNA could not go. Some places would be guaranteed to be expensive and for them to take heavy casualties, but there was not one inch of ground that was absolutely liberated. If the Peoples Army could have stormed Kathmandu, or been able to have done so in the foreseeable future, they would have done so.
In 2005 this was the situation. The revolutionary forces had de facto control of the nation. They were totally politically superior, and had the army well and truly on the defensive, a new peoples state was in existence. This said, there was still a long road to victory. The central state was shaken, but still stable. The end was not in sight.
Enter the Jana Andolan (Peoples Movement) in 2006. There are two particularly common misunderstandings relating to the Jana Adolan. First, that after the Jana Andolan the Maoists gave up aspirations of capturing Kathmandu. Secondly, that the Maoists did not display sufficient political leadership to this revolutionary situation and “sold out” at the expense of the people in the street.
Jana Andolan did in a way signal the end of the Peoples War, but this was not because the Maoists gave up on the war, in fact, the Jana Andolan was a direct result of the People’s War, its most decisive and final battle. The people of Kathmandu stood up for a republic, for the end of the monarchy and corruption, and for a new Nepal–these were the demands of the Maoists. It is true that the Maoists didn’t conquer Kathmandu by the might of its PLA, but this was the wave of the Revolution crashing into Kathmandu all the same. The revolution did conquer Kathmandu–not by might of arms, but through the might of revolutionary political ideas.
There has been some criticism of the revolutionary leadership during the Jana Andolan, and if they had been “more red” the Jana Andolan uprising could have completed the revolution then and there. At this stage public revolutionary consciousness was not yet high enough to complete a revolutionary process. People were united by a common hatred of the autocratic monarchy, but other then that the movement was very divided, liberals, soft monarchists, democrats and social-democrats all had considerable influence on the movement, as well as revolutionaries. The need to radically reorganize society, the economy, and the state, was not–and still is not quite yet–recognized by the mass of the population.
To reach this level of consciousness there needs to be a party-mass dynamic. The party provides revolutionary leadership and is constantly in contact with its mass base, working with them, taking up their struggles and their suggestions. The masses, if convinced by the situation and the politics of the party, will follow it. The party ultimately aims to lead the masses, but can only ever go as far or as fast as the situation permits. In the end, the revolutionary leadership must take its directions from the base. Any revolutionary party that tries to do otherwise immediately loses the support of the people, and its ability to influence the political situation evaporates.
During the Jana Andolan it meant that the Maoists pushed for and won a constituent assembly. Without the revolutionary leadership it is likely that the “mainstream” political parties would have just amended the old constitution to limit the monarch’s powers further, it was only the revolutionary leadership of the Maoists that pushed the other parties to ensuring that a new constitution was written by elected representatives. This increased popular support for the revolutionaries, which gives them a greater ability to push for bigger goals. The Maoists have taken a consistent revolutionary stand.
The Maoists entered into government not because they have abandoned revolutionary goals but in response to public opinion and to show the need for revolutionary goals. After winning the election, they had the right–by the logic of the bourgeois state–to form government and create legislation. As Marxists, we understand that the state has a class basis, however no one is born with that knowledge. The Maoists time in government showed in practice that no matter what people vote for, a revolution can not be simply elected. More then any speeches the experience of a people’s government in a bourgeois state has shown the masses of people that radical change is necessary, when previously many had illusions in the prospects of a peaceful gradual change. It has become apparent that imperialism is central to the state to the people of Nepal, not because the Maoists said so, but because of the role of the India and American governments in overthrowing the elected government. With only propaganda, revolutionaries would have struggled to convince a majority of people, but, by making principled decisions, more and more people have been pushed into the revolutionary camp, and have become open to revolutionary ideas.
At this stage there has not been a revolution, and a revolutionary peoples state has not been created, but the party is still very clear that this is still its objective, and is currently in a lengthy process of discussion as to how best to achieve this aim.
So it is also important to talk about the Maoists stated goals for the post-revolutionary state. In some circles they have caused considerable controversy particularly, with their statements that the future peoples state and their belief that the new revolutionary state can be a multi-party state. This comes from the UCPN(M) coming to a new synthesis based on their own experience during their own revolution, and by analyzing the historic examples of socialism and their downfall.
The impetus for this came from their analysis of the collapse of the Soviet Union and China. In short, the party came to the agreement that both these revolutions–despite the active involvement of the oppressed working classes–still succumbed to bureaucratic degeneration, and thus were eventually overthrown. Therefore, it becomes obvious that future revolutions need to find ways to prevent these kinds of outcomes from happening again. The idea of multi-party elections in a workers and peasants state is an attempt to allow room for working people to be able to have the space to overcome corruption and errors in the revolution and the revolutionary party, should they occur.
First it needs to be recognized that having multiple parties within a peoples state, is not an oxymoron, and in fact has historical precedent. At the beginning of the USSR after the October revolution, the Bolshevik party was initially in coalition with the left Socialist Revolutionaries, and certain factions of the Mensheviks were tolerated as well. These separate parties were under no restrictions within the workers state initially and were only removed from it after they degenerated and started acting against the interests of the state itself. During the revolution in Cuba there was no a single revolutionary party, there were in fact three, the July 26th Movement, the Revolutionary Directorate and the Popular Socialist Party. There eventually merged into a single party, but the fact is that the idea that within each situation there is and will only ever be one party that is absolutely “correct”, is not true.
The role of the revolutionary process is to destroy the old state (of the bourgeois class) and replace it with state structures that represent the working class (proletariat). State structure include the laws and court systems, education systems, as well as a number of other structures. Once the state has been set up and secured, firmly in the hands of the proletariat, then the proletariat has every right to organise and be active within the boundaries of that state, especially around questions of the running that state. Exceptions can be foreseen, such as the situation in the civil war in Russia, or the current situation in Cuba, where external forces and pressure make this desirable situation impossible. There are no contradictions, historically or ideologically, that mean that the revolution at all times is a monolithic party affair.
Within Nepal revolutionaries have already used this tactic within their parallel state structures during the peoples war. Elections were held, and what forces for the opposition parties were left in these areas were allowed to participate. It opened a way for the revolutionaries to get feedback from the grassroots. In some areas these opposition groups did quite well in these elections, and this showed the Maoist party in which areas they were not fulfilling their tasks well, in which areas there had developed a bureaucracy or an automatic way of doing things, and in which areas they needed to improve. In this way they were able to build more responsive party, with closer links to the masses.
Finally, there has been much speculation as to the role that a Nepalese revolution plays in the international situation.
When looking at Nepal and the international situation, the limitations of Nepal are immediately apparent. It is a landlocked nation, with an unbelievably underdeveloped economy, and is wedged between two superpowers, in a region with relatively weak socialist movements, and in a time where the socialist block is gone and Communist China exists only in name. The whole situation is pretty overwhelming for such a tiny Himalayan country.
So what are the responsibilities and possibilities for a revolutionary and internationalist force in Nepal.
By no means should we think the revolution is doomed. While USSR and China’s support was very welcome, it also brought with it distortions of their own, and sometimes limited the creativity of organic revolutionary movements, so on one level it does free up the Nepali comrades politically, albeit with limitations economically. Furthermore, the emerging revolutions in Latin America can provide a potential source of diplomatic and economic support, however limited it may be as these are also largely impoverished countries.
They do have an enormous responsibility to international revolution. Revolutions spread. Revolutions give an example that give evidence to revolutionaries claims for what is possible, can give ideological and logistical support to their comrades overseas and challenge the status quo in one country, which entices people to challenge the elite in their own. Historically we can see this, the situations in Europe following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 (Germany in particular), the role China had in inspiring revolutionaries in Vietnam and the Naxalites in India, the international phenomenon of 1968. Things spread. It is no coincidence that Latin America is now a hotbed of revolution, as there has been a socialist state, existing and providing an alternative example for the last 5 decades. In this time Cuba providing diplomatic, economic, ideological, and even military support for revolutions despite its own economic limitations.
Nepal’s has an opportunity to take state power and create a peoples state. Its first responsibility to international revolutions is to do that, and create state systems that are more representative, and re-gear the economy to focus on peoples needs rather then the needs of bureaucrats and monarchists. In doing so that provides an example–and proof to people, particularly in the subcontinent–that there is an alternative. The subcontinent has never had a revolutionary organization as successful as the Nepali Maoists. Even the Naxalite movement in its hey-day was nowhere near the level of challenging for state power. The power of example is enormous.
At any rate, the revolution is ongoing. It is by no means guaranteed success, the challenges are enormous, but the struggle has not yet come to its conclusion. Where it will go we do not know, but at this stage there is no reason to abandon hope for the direction of that struggle.