Revolution in South Asia

An Internationalist Info Project

People’s War…Women’s War?

Posted by celticfire84 on January 3, 2011

Front cover of "People's War...Women's War" by Butch Lee

The success of the revolution in Nepal has demonstrated that liberation from oppression is possible, and as that revolution continues to break down feudal oppression, foreign economic domination, and domestic reaction, the Nepalese revolution has marked a significant point in the liberation of women. Available from Kersplebedeb is the essay “People’s War…Women’s War” by Butch Lee, offers a revolutionary feminist take on the revolution in Nepal.

The People’s Liberation Army is composed of 40% female fighters, and women’s role in the revolutionary struggle have been present from the beginning, as demonstrated by one of its long time leaders, known as Comrade Parvati, who authored The Question of Women’s Leadership in People’s War in Nepal.

This collection lays bare both tremendous advancements for women’s liberation and the setbacks that remain. To continue the struggle for women’s liberation, the Maoist revolutionaries have organized groups like the Nepalese Women’s Association (Revolutionary) [ANWA(R)], which have empowered women to join the revolutionary struggle.

The pamphlet, while published in 2006 remains a powerful account for revolutionaries interested in the Nepalese revolution to study. As typical for our site, posting does not imply endorsement of the views presented in the following. We offer for our readers material for discussion.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction (Kersplebedeb)The Question of Women’s Leadership in People’s War in Nepal (Comrade Parvati)
  • People’s March Interview with Comrade Parvati
  • Where Do Correct Ideas Come From? (Butch Lee)
  • Prostitution Controversy in Nepal Revolution (Butch Lee)


by Kersplebedeb, June 2006

In the midst of the Himalayas, covering an area roughly twice the size of Ireland with a population only slightly smaller than Canada’s, until recently Nepal was a country that Westerners didn’t really think about. Except as a series of exotic stereotypes. But that’s all changing now.

The first anti-capitalist armed revolution in the world in twenty-five years has taken over the Nepali countryside and toppled the dictatorship of King Gyandra and his brutal Royal Army. The “Red” guerrillas of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) have joined with the former legal opposition political parties to form a new secular republic. In a celebration and a showing of strength, the Maoists recently held a mass rally in Kathmandu, the capital, of over two hundred thousand Nepalis. Busloads of guerrilla supporters from remote villages and underground party militants from the cities jammed the streets, wearing new red Maoist t-shirts, plastering the capitol with Communist posters. Events are changing the political landscape in Nepal almost evey day.

Nepalese Maoist leaders gathered in commemoration of International Women's Day. Photo by Jed Brandt.

One thing hasn’t changed, however. When the Maoist rebels and the interim anti-Royalist government leaders posed for the press on June 16th, after announcing their agreement to end the civil war, some forty-four faces are visible in the Reuters photograph of the successful negotiators. All of these faces are men (there are two obscured faces behind other participants who could be women). It hasn’t even occurred to the “democratic” leaders of the new Nepal yet to fake it, to add women sprinkled here and there as window dressing. Now that’s really backward by both capitalist and socialist standards, since faking it is what “democratic” politics is about.

But thousands of Nepali women have fought in the revolution as guerrillas. Thousands have risked death as underground organizers. Many were killed, captured and tortured, executed. The party lists of martyred women members are long. There is a woman who has spoken up for all these women, for her comradres and sisters. Comrade Parvati is a senior woman member of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), a member of both the party’s central committee and politburo. Despite her years of being underground, Parvati has become one of the best-known revolutionary women in Asia. Because of the strength and honesty of her political thoughts. In a party that believes in “continuous struggle” internally of evolving political views, comrade Parvati has distinguished herself. Her truth-telling pushes at the boundary between the old male revolutionary parties and politics and women’s liberation.

Here are two of comrade Parvati’s political assessments of her own party and its revolution. The Question of Women’s Leadership in Peoples War in Nepal published in 2003 and her Interview With Com. Parvati from the Indian Maoist journal People’s March from 2004. Both these writings have been available on the Internet (The Question of Women’s Leadership previously appeared in the u.s. journal Monthly Review). Neither is available in print in North America right now, and we have been encouraged to help make comrade Parvati’s voice from the Nepali revolution more available to women here. This is in no way an “authorized edition”. Nor is there any necessary connection between this publication and the views of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). Also included here is a critical commentary on Parvati’s political thinking by the amazon communist Butch Lee.

Women Fighters performing during International Women's Day in Nepal, photo by Jed Brandt

Nepal is the second poorest country in the world, one which for most of the past forty years has been ruled by a series of autocratic despots; global capitalism has relegated the vast majority of Nepalis to lives of dire poverty. The entire country’s GNP is just over 39 billion dollars (by comparison, Bill Gates’ personal fortune is estimated to be somewhere around $46 billion), 70 percent of the population live below the poverty line, 2.6 million children have to work as child laborers and one million work without pay as “bonded laborers”. The infant mortality rate is more than 75 per 1,000, about ten times the rate of Japan or Sweden; studies by UNICEF in the 1990s were showing that malnutrition was widespread, indeed it was the norm amongst children, with 64% of children aged 6-36 months being stunted and 6% suffering from wasting.

This in a country where ten percent of the population earn 46.5 percent of the national income and own 65 percent of the cultivable land.

In 1990 a broad-based “People’s Movement” (the Jana Andolan) claimed to put an end to decades of absolutist rule by the Nepali monarchy. Nevertheless, what followed was a period of political turmoil as representatives of feudal and ruling class power succesfully resisted the various proposals – some radical, some reformist – which sought to better the lot of the Nepali majority, who remained super-exploited both by “their own” ruling class as well as foreign imperialism (most notably that of India to the south).

This deadlock was one of the factors that led to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)’s 1996 initiation of “protracted people’s war”, a path that led to an escalating confrontation against the State, with the king increasingly isolated and eventually opting to suspend parliament, declare a State of Emergency and violently suppress any and all signs of dissent.

At first the initiation of armed struggle alienated some intellectuals and middle class elements, but the vacuum was quickly filled by a new generation who were inspired by the break from “politics as usual”. These people had been looking for a way to fight against their oppression, and in joining the CPN(M) they transformed the Party, in some ways taking it over and making it their own. Ten years later the CPN(M) controlled most of the country, laying the groundwork for the massive uprising against the monarchy which rocked the country earlier this year.

This popular revolt, the Loktantra Andolan, has politically disarmed the State, forcing the king to reinstitute parliament and recognize the CPN(M), releasing hundreds of political prisoners. Things are changing every day now, but what is remaining constant is the fact that the Maoists are more influential than ever, and seem guaranteed to play a decisive role in Nepal’s future.

As Butch Lee puts it in her commentary, “It is a milestone every time women put out truths about our own movements.”

“Where Do Correct Ideas Come From?”  a review of Parvati’s interview & writing

by Butch Lee

Hisila Yami (Comrade Parvati) at International Women's Day celebration in Nepal. Photo by Jed Brandt.

As usual, the squad of local guerrillas were all women. They were armed with only handmade, single-shot muskets of the kind last used by Western armies in the mid-19th century, but were dressed in their green Communist militia uniforms. The squad arrives at a shack and quickly dragged a man outside. Well-known for beating his wife every night, the husband was given a beating himself by the women guerrillas in front of the neighbors. Then was warned that any further violence against women or continued alcohol abuse would be bad for him.  Women onlookers were invited to reinforce the lesson by contributing punches at  him, which some enthusiastically did. For most it was the first time they had ever had a chance to strike back at the violent men who had terrorized their lives.  Then the village squad dispersed, another mission completed for the revolutionaries who are the only anti-patriarchal violence in Nepal.

As usual, when the Communist Part of Nepal (Maoist) and the Nepal government held unsuccessful but highly publicized peace talks in 2003, all the negotiators in the room were men. That year comrade Parvati, the senior woman leader in the party and head of the Women’s Department, wrote about the progress of women advancing in the party’s leadership: “In the United Revolutionary People’s Council, which is an embryonic central people’s government organizing committee, there are four women out of 37 members.”  So, as usual, a leadership of men has been preparing a new government of men. Parvati added then that as a new goal, the party had ordered that all leadership bodies in their party, army, and mass civilian organizations have at least 10% women. The part has at least advanced from the stage of exclusion to the stage of tokenism.

There is an obvious tension between these two realities. And straight up exploring this contradictory terrain inside her own revolution and past Communism itself, comrade Parvati raises questions that are vital. These two documents that we have — The Question of Women’s Leadership in the People’s War in Nepal and the Interview with Comrade Parvati – are a gift, then. A sharing of thought between women who want to be free of capitalism and slavery.

Nepalese Women during strike led by the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)

The question i am centered on is the contradiction of women’s liberation within the revolutions of men. Revolutions that have led women not to freedom but back to domesticity.

i am not an expert about Nepal and their Communist movement, and i certainly do not have advice for Nepali women. But this Parvati has particular revolutionary ideas interesting to women like me who believe in armed struggle as the means of ending mass rape and killings. Suits and their pets have wishfully consigned armed revolutionary women to the dumpster of the departed 20th century. Still, we are growing, advancing. Not willing to just leave it on that self-congratulatory note, we are also at the same time shrinking and retreating. Check out Darfur and child porn or tv shows about serial killings of women. Daily entertainment in our world. The dead-on contradiction between learning our skills from men & having our our own.

Whether men like it or not-and there are ment men of both right and male left who do not-millions of our sisters have found training camps for themselves within the Maoist revolutions of the capitalist periphery.

J. Sakai has written recently on this: “Over one hundred and fifty years ago, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels challenged capitalism to class war with their opening words in the Communist Manifesto: ‘A spectre is haunting Europe. It is the spectre of Communism.’ Well, today we could say that a spectre is haunting Globalization. Surprising to many, it is the spectre of Maoism.”

* Note: Butch Lee writes with an uncapitalized ‘i’, this is not a transcribed error.

One Response to “People’s War…Women’s War?”

  1. […] are two excerpts from a longer post on the Revolution in South Asia […]

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