Revolution in South Asia

An Internationalist Info Project

On Nepal: What Should We Do and Say?

Posted by Rosa Harris on January 15, 2008

un_betweentwostones.jpgby Mike Ely

Recently reading Richard Dawkin’s atheist manifesto (“The God Delusion”) I came across a simple statement:

“There is nothing wrong with being agnostic in cases where we lack evidence one way or another.”

Dawkins then quotes Carl Sagan,

“I try not to think with my gut. Really, it’s okay to reserve judgment until the evidence is in.”

I think there is a lot to learn from these simple statements of scientific methodology (from these two controversial and deeply respected scientists).

A brief digression: The word agnosticism was coined by Prof. Thomas Henry Huxley in 1869. He took it from the Greek agnostos, a = without, gnostos = knowledge – and he used this term in scientific warfare against notions of spiritual or mystical insight (i.e., hunches from the gut). This did not mean that Huxley was wishy-washy: on the contrary, he is famous as “Darwin’s bulldog” because on matters where there was sufficient emergent knowledge he fought so fiercely for the most advanced understanding.

We need to be like Huxley in ferociously fighting for what is scientifically known, and cautiously identifying what is not.

Gut Thinking and Necessary Evidence

I raise this because I want to caution against “thinking with our gut” in regard to major questions of revolutionary theory. And I want to caution everyone to really consider what is the necessary evidence required for various conclusions we need to make. (And I say this acknowledging that several people posting here have, quite clearly, made this argument and called for serious investigation in a truly internationalist spirit).

We don’t need to be in a rush, for example to reach verdicts on the path taken by the Maoists in Nepal. And I say this precisely because of the prevalence in such discussions of talk of “vague discomforts” and “apprehensions” with events in Nepal.

The Maoists in Nepal have chosen to break with pre-prescribed “models” drawn from the Chinese experience. This is ruffling some feathers, and making many brains think hard. They got to a certain point in their protracted peoples war and then chose (for a whole list of reasons and through an intense inner-party struggle that seems to have brought them to the brink of a split) to shift course, and innovate strategically “and climb the unexplored mountain.”

Somecomments wrote: “Thus, the CPN(M) made a strategic shift to suspend the armed struggle and make political struggle principal.” That is true, if we add “…for now.”

Somecomments writes: “Several articles in the July 2007 issue of The Worker indicate that the CPN(M) is rethinking its strategy and is preparing for ‘the other option.’”

I suspect this is not a case of “rethinking its strategy.” I suspect that their dominant strategy all along was to make a political offensive after the anti-monarchist uprising and press for a revolutionary conclusion. I suspect the issue here was never the intent of Nepal’s Maoists (which in the main, has remained to wage revolution by all necessary means to reach New Democracy, a form of the dictatorship of the proletariat rooted in anti-feudal and anti-imperialist revolutionary changes.) I suspect the issue has always been whether they would be able to “pull it off” after moving their armed forces into cantonments, and focusing so many expectations on the Constituent Assembly. They still face the task of staving off (or defeating) the huge Indian Army. They still face the task of breaking up the Nepali Army. They still face the task of creating country wide revolutionary state power — through the next phases of this process.

Somecomments notes that the Nepali Maoist leader Guarav wrote: “It will be naive to think that the monarchy and the ruling class patronized by imperialism esp. the US imperialism, will accept its own overthrow without any resistance…. In every Socialist or New Democratic Revolution, there are some fundamental laws and ideological and political lines which are universally applicable and hold good, but succeeding revolution can not be replicated as the previous one. Every revolution discovers some thing which is new. When you are doing some new experiment there is always risk involved in it.”

This is not a rethinking, or a return to previous positions. This is what leading Nepali Maoists have been saying all along. And I suspect this is the approach that represents their leading line.

What should we do and say about this?

First I think we are witnessing some living revolutions and need to act (with some urgency) as internationalists on several political levels:

1) We need to politically expose and oppose U.S. intervention and lies about the revolutions in India and Nepal, and insist that “Maoists are not terrorists” — i.e. that Maoists should be taken off the U.S. State Department “terrorist list.”

2) We need to popularize information and analysis about these revolutions (which are hard for even progressive people to learn about and understand) — so that people broadly know that something important is happening and are prepared to act politically (now and as events further unfold).

3) We need to generate a creative public exchange of analysis of the theoretical questions thrown up by the real-life revolutions in South Asia. (I.e. the very issues we are discussing here, deepened and organized in accessible ways.)

4) We need to see South Asian political work as a major project for revealing that revolutionary communism is a living and attractive option in the world today — as a counteroffensive against the “communism has failed” verdict. People need to know how revolution liberates and how new society can develop out of communist revolution. A major advance for communist revolution in South Asia would have a huge impact on the world.

We don’t yet need to reach elaborate or fixed or common verdicts on the actions and lines of the revolutionaries in these countries in order to start to act along these lines.

Second, meanwhile, as we start public political work in support of these living revolutions, I think we need to dig deep and wrestle with cardinal questions of line and theory that are being posed so vividly by life itself in South Asia. We need to watch, study critically, discuss intensely and simply learn – with a materialist sense of our own limited knowledge and from the perspective of preparing well to fulfill our responsibility here.

I think we need to acknowledge (in the spirit of Dawkins and Sagan) that it is not wrong to reserve judgment until the necessary evidence is in. And it would be wrong to withhold judgment once the situation becomes clear. We need to have a methodological discussion to understand what evidence is necessary and what evidence is sufficient for verdicts — and what ideological and political basis to draw our verdicts from.

What Lines Unleash the Gut Response

One criticism I have is that some people seem too too ready to jump to conclusions (and do so half-cocked).

I run into people who say “I am very concerned that the Nepalis put their troops into cantonments. I am disturbed that they joined the government.” But too often I discover that this “concern” is not really rooted in much serious study of the available material, documents, interviews and reports. People often have not yet thought through (for example) what this particular coalition government represented in Nepal (after the mass anti-monarchy uprisings in the cities, and in contrast with previous parliamentary configurations) or what major obstacles the Nepali Maoists are seeking to transform through struggle.

Sometimes without delving deeply into actual facts and real contradictions facing the revolution, people jump to the conclusion that “Nepal’s Maoists have laid down their arms to take an electoral and parliamentary road.” How many of us have studied what a “constituent assembly” (CA) represents in the midst of a revolutionary crisis (what it meant in Russia for example? how such a CA in Nepal might be different from, say, the long-established “pigsty parliament” of the Indian ruling classes?)

My observation and criticism does not crudely apply to everyone certainly, but it does apply, specifically to many comrades here in the U.S..

Why is this? Why is there a quick “jumping to conclusions” and casual expressions of queazy unease? What is the line that allows this kind of “thinking from the gut”?

I think one reason is the influence of ideological lines which greatly simplify reality and reduce Marxism to simple formulas– as if the path to revolution is clear and laid down, as if our task is merely to grasp Marxism (as it has been handed down to us) and stubbornly “adhere to,” “stay true to,” “not deviate from” the path laid out for revolution.

Mao made revolution by encircling the city from the countryside, he proposed a coalition government with the oppressors but didn’t actually join one. It is as if Mao’s specific actions and policies have been transformed into a “how to” guide for future revolutions in the third world. With that approach, communists in various countries could study what was done in the two successful communist revolutions (Russia and China) and quickly get a sense that the Nepali Maoists are “deviating” from the prescribed script… and quickly get a sense (in your gut) of unease and unnecessary danger.

Not everyone is this crude, but some are. One form it takes here in the U.S. is not really appreciating the particularity of countries: We are in the belly of the beast. The long established and entrenched bourgeois democracy is the form the ruling class has created and elaborated over two centuries to administer their system here. As revolutionaries it is important to understand (and constantly reexamine) why this system is worthless, and be part of the living political process by which the illusions of many people collide with their real needs and desires.

Nepal has a quite different history: millions of people there have lived in feudal conditions under an absolute monarchy that has closely controlled the army. There is a mass revolutionary movement to demand “Let the people decide” how the country will be organized and ruled. There has to be, there too, a real living process that many people need to go through to understand why bourgeois democracy is not a liberating path, and to unite closely around a revolutionary path to revolutionary new state power, New Democracy and the transition to socialism.

Is there danger of defeat, capitulation, dispersal and self-deception in the path taken in Nepal? Of course. But isn’t such danger inherent in the revolutionary process and inevitable when any real world approach is taken to power? What does it look like when a revolution extends from its initial base and hard core support – to touch, reach and win over the much broader forces needed to lead a whole society and defeat a possible invasion? Can any party reach for power without powerful forces within the party itself having quite different conceptions of what is being tried and where the process is going?

I think we urgently need a verdict on this: A method of rigid models (and general dogmatic approach to politics, history, revolution, principles and life itself) is all (to be blunt) utterly worthless.

There are no recipes or scripts for revolution. Our principles exist (drawn from a protracted disputed scientific summation of reality) but they are not simple or obvious. We must not take our wonderful capsulized popular formulations and confuse them for the communist analytical method itself. One is a set of quotes that can be memorized, the other is a living method needs to be learned through difficult application and creative thinking. Any correct understanding of “what to do” can only arise from the application of our most advanced methods to very specific and dynamic NEW situations and places.

History (and the experiences of other revolutions) are at best case studies in method, dialectics and (when we are lucky and perceptive) some larger lessons about handling recurring contradictions. But history is rarely ever a laboratory of models-for-future-use.

Speaking for myself, I don’t think it is wrong in principle to break with models (in fact I think it is necessary). On the contrary, I tend to agree with Bob Avakian when he wrote (before his 1980 “epistemological break”):

“It can further be said that it is even a law of revolution, and especially of proletarian revolution, that in order for it to succeed in a particular country, the struggle in that country and those leading it will have to depart from and even oppose certain particular conceptions or previous practices which have come to be invested with the stature of ‘established norms’ in the revolutionary movement. This is an expression of materialist dialectics, because every revolution arises out of the concrete conditions (contradictions) in the country (and the world) at the time it is occurring, and every new revolution inevitably involves new questions, new contradictions to be resolved. It is the basic principles and the method of Marxism-Leninism that must be applied as a universal guide for revolution – but these, too, are constantly being developed and enriched, just because scientific knowledge is constantly being deepened, including the Marxist-Leninist comprehension of reality in the fullest sense and because reality is constantly undergoing change, which requires and calls forth the continuous deepening of this knowledge.” (Mao’s Immortal Contributions, p. 312)

Let’s Get On Top Of It

Joeblow describes himself as someone “feels very shaky about the Nepal situation & would like get on top of it as much as I can.”

Somecomments says: While we have to be conscious of what we know and don’t know about what is going on in Nepal, and while final “verdicts” (either endorsing or condemning the strategy of the CPN(M) cannot be made in the midst of a developing and unstable situation), we do have an internationalist responsibility to evaluate what is happening in Nepal and raise important questions and make comradely criticisms. Internationalism also requires us to act in solidarity with the revolutionary masses of Nepal (and India as well), an important part of which is exposing and opposing the counter-revolutionary maneuvering and actions of the Indian state and the U.S. imperialists behind it.”

I basically unite with that. And think we should all work hard (collectively) to “get on top of it as much as we can.” We have some work to do – to gather, analyse, synthesis, and popularize what is happening in both Nepal and India. And I want to call on everyone reading this to join in this project: Documentation, communist analysis and communist debate over South Asia’s revolutions needs to be made available broadly in the U.S. And we need to do it.

If you are interested in this project — email me now.

Specific task: Let’s expand the existing online archives of key materials. Volunteer to identify suitable materials and convert them for web posting.

On China 1976

Was it possible to make a summation of the Deng/Hua coup in 1976 – yes it was. There was considerable evidence of capitalist restoration, if one had the method to see and understand it. But just because that could, then, be “understood from afar” (largely using a close read of a decade of documents and programs) does not mean that the actions of revolutionary parties in the thick of complex struggles can automatically be understood from afar simply through a close read of their public statements.

I was startled when Joeblow wrote: “I hope Comrade Biplab is paying attention to this thread & will provide us with answers to our questions. I do not doubt his/her sincerity but this is no substitute for clarification…”

Look, our comrades are in the midst of a revolutionary situation, walking a tightrope – facing real armies. I can’t imagine you mean to imply that their leadership owes us (us!) public “answers to our questions”? I imagine we will ultimately get their “answers to us” in flames on the canvas of real life, and we will watch and learn as complex events unfold (in either success or defeat).

A perhaps-unneeded analogy: Just imagine it is September 1917 in Russia, and Lenin’s party is close to splitting over whether to go for the October revolution, while its left wing is moving forces around in order to create a striking force for insurrection. Do they really owe their comrades around the world “answers to our questions”? Can they possibly provide them? Should they?

An even more redundant analogy: Mao is sitting in the Chunking negotiations with the hangman dictator Chiang Kai-Shek, pressured by Stalin to give up his army, facing a super-arrogant nuclear-armed U.S., struggling with forces in his party who want to cave into all the pressure. Would it make sense for comrades (in the U.S. of all places!) to say “We don’t question your sincerity (!), but we really think you should provide us clear answer to our questions including: are you really planning a coalition government, when will you launch your armies against the oppressors, and a few other issues that we think are very important for you to keep in mind.”

Yes, Let’s Dig Deep into This Together

Matagari Says:

“I was also apprehensive—though just slightly—about how ‘[o]ne of Mike’s remarks in this regard could be very off-putting, where he seems to pour cold water on evaluating the CPN(M) from ‘afar’.’ The entire thrust of 9-Letters goes against interpreting Mike’s remark as an attempt to discourage wrangling over & evaluating the views & actions of revolutionaries all over the world. Nonetheless, what Mike E. said could easily be read that way, especially given his lack of comment on the Azad criticism.”

I appreciate that Matagari (and others) realize that I am not (at all) arguing against wrangling over and evaluating all the events of the world – including the actions of revolutionaries in other places. There are cultural relativists who think it is structurally impossible to understand or judge the actions of others – I am not among them.

And we need a whole new culture (here! among communists!) where there is actually wrestling over such things (not merely lipservice to “wrangling.”)

I have not made comment on the Azad criticism or the Nepali moves because (like Sagan) I think “It’s okay to reserve judgment until the evidence is in.” (And BTW: Some of “the evidence” is very “in” — i.e. available — and I have not had a chance to deeply study and digest it. The last two issues of the Nepali Worker, 10 and 11, are very deep and revealing, and I urge everyone to study them, and prepare for some collective discussion. I.e. while the RCP has fallen silent (only for now!), it has been the Nepali Maoists who have published initial documents from various sides of these sharp international debates over line.)

And I don’t think we should be in some big rush for verdicts: A lot is required of us now theoretically, practically and organizationally — including (with special urgency) some major internationalist initiatives around South Asia that the RCP is essentially abdicating in a sectarian way.

I think we need to engage the burning line questions posed in South Asia – because it is vital that revolutionaries (both here and around the world) develop, collectively embrace and apply a creative revolutionary theory (not a sterile dogmatic one). I think we need (together) to learn how to tirelessly identify and resist pulls to capitulation and cooptation.

But no one in the world is waiting breathlessly for us (especially in our present primitive and scattered state!) to hurl our various personal verdicts into the fray. We have much work to do before that is possible or relevant. We really need to learn from others, and from the living tapestry of revolution unfolding in several places. We need (at long last) to listen deeply before we speak.

Quick verdicts now would simply mean we were running on auto-pilot — i.e. it would mean we are on the wrong road.

We need to re-conceive as we regroup.

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