Nepal: Turning back the wheel of history

Second constituent assembly election – a shift to the right

Events in Nepal will provide important lessons for the crucial task of finding the path to free workers and the poor from their shackles of exploitation. These experiences have in particular shown the weakness of the ideas of Maoism in the face of revolutionary developments. This has relevance worldwide, but particularly in places like India where these ideas have some support in one form or another.

In 2006 the Maoists enjoyed majority support. This was determined not just by the widespread hatred of the king but by the horrendous conditions in which the masses lived. If the Maoists had called for the setting up of committees or structures through which the masses could democratically exercise power, they could have taken power. But they didn’t.

In the vacuum created by the absence of such a democratic structure the movement was diverted towards the parliamentary plane. The movement then struggled and has now gone backwards. The theoretical incapacity of the Maoist leaders to provide a break with the landlords and with capitalism was the main reason for the stalling of the movement.

The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist, later known as the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) UCPN (M)) won more votes than any other party in the election for the first constituent assembly in 2008. But, having fallen short of obtaining a majority, they entered into a coalition with the pro-capitalist parties to form an interim government. The Nepali Congress party (NC), and Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist, CPN (UML)), portraying itself as left but in reality representatives of landlords and capitalists, acted as the centrifugal force against the Maoists.

The first constituent assembly suffered prolongations, shifting of deadlines, resignations, and disagreements and finally failed to establish any consent in forming a constitution. Endless negotiations with the NC and centre-left CPN (UML) resulted in zero-gain for the workers and poor. In the tit-for-tat that followed the Maoists showed they were imprisoned by their political limitations. The first constituent assembly was dissolved in May 2012 and the election to the second constituent assembly was postponed repeatedly until November 2013.

Political tug of war has become a common feature in Nepal – no force could decisively show a way forward. No decision can be made without a ‘brawl’ between the political parties. The first meeting of the newly elected second constituent assembly was held on 22 January 2014 after it was delayed due to a new quarrel about who can call the meeting. The Nepali Congress had won a majority in the November 2013 Constituent Assembly election – an indication of a sharp shift to the right, mainly due to the lost opportunities in the past. Coming close behind the NC’s 29.8% vote (105 seats) was the CPN (UML) with 27.5% and 91 seats. The UCPN (M) was pushed into third place, receiving only 17.8% (26 seats). This represented a large drop from its previous 30.5%.

This represents a major setback for the workers and poor in Nepal. No surprise that the first to celebrate the outcome was Binod Chaudhary, Nepal’s first billionaire to be listed by Forbes. He is also a former member of parliament for CPN (UML). This ‘noodle king’ who made money from instant noodle outlets, was a member of the first constituent assembly and advocated privatisation and other capitalist policies. The rich and the pro-capitalist elite have many reasons to celebrate the NC/UML win – they predict that a Congress-led constitution will undoubtedly be in their favour.

The pro-business Nepali Congress, with a majority in the constituent assembly will now push through their right-wing agenda. Like most political parties in Nepal, the NC claims to stand for “democratic socialism”. But it makes no secret of its commitment to “private investment and economic liberalisation”. The NC’s stubborn right-wing stance was a key factor in the continued mayhem during the first constituent assembly and played a major part in its failure. It works closely with the Indian government and shares the neoliberal policies of its Indian counterpart, the Indian National Congress (INC). The enormous corruption scandals of the INC and its allies – and the implementation of neoliberal policies – mean that the INC is hated by working people in India. This has created the possibility of the even more brutal, right-wing BJP party and its leader Narendra Modi, who stands accused of massacre, winning in the election.

The Nepal NC is not very different from the INC and the NC-led constitution will undoubtedly aim to bury all the demands of the revolutionary movement. The masses have shown unequivocally their desire to end poverty and inequality – which they demonstrated on at least in two occasions in 2006 and in 2010. But this will remain a dream under an NC-led capitalist constitution.

Limitations of the two-stage theory

The majority of the masses did not support the NC in the early stages of the movement when it developed in 2006. Promising revolutionary change, it was Communist Party of Nepal (the Maoists) that emerged as a significant force. But it failed to deliver what the masses demanded mainly due to its flawed ‘two-stage’ theory. It argues that the ‘first stage’ of development of industry, land reform, implementation of other democratic rights, and countering imperialism, must be completed before the ‘second stage’ of socialist change can be considered. This approach compels them to collude with reactionary bourgeois forces and prevents them from taking the revolution forward.

A two-stage theory was first advanced by the Mensheviks, the minority reformist wing of the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party until 1912 when it and the Bolsheviks became separate parties. The Mensheviks opposed the October 1917 revolution. They argued that the capitalists could carry through the tasks of the democratic revolution such as land reform and solving the national question, etc, only later constructing the democratic workers’ state.

This theory chops up the historical process of workers’ revolution into stages. When the masses are showing a readiness to push history forward and a desire to decide their own fate, the proponents of ‘stagism’ hold them back, allowing time for the bourgeois forces to recover and turn the wheel of history back. It often results in the eventual destruction of a mass movement and workers’ organisations as a whole. Everywhere this theory has been tried out it was a complete failure with the working class movement drowned in blood.

In the modern era the bourgeoisies in neo colonial countries are incapable of carrying out their own revolution. In the age of multinationals and imperialism, capitalism is a reactionary barrier to the development of society. Therefore a bloc with a so-called ‘progressive’ bourgeoisie is an utterly bankrupt formula.

Though the UCPN (M) in Nepal virtually had power, it formed a bloc with the shadow of the bourgeoisie believing that this particular ‘stage’ is necessary. Participation in the interim government meant they were attempting to accommodate themselves within the old ‘reactionary state machinery,’ as they themselves put it. With the Maoists constrained in this way, counter-revolutionary forces seized the opportunity to regroup and now they aim to cut off the revolutionary process. This also caused a rift among the Maoists, further contributing towards the defeat in the election as the split-away group called for a boycott.

The UCPN (M) position on the land, particularly the returning of captured land to the king and big landowners, angered many sections within the party. The All Nepal Revolutionary Farmers’ Federation, a former part of the UCPN (M), is now part of a new split away from the party and has begun to reoccupy the lands.

The Maoist leaders such as Baburam Bhattarai and Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) are increasingly discredited among a layer of party members as they have shown they are unable to take the revolution forward. Under the leadership of Mohan Vaidya, known as Kiran, many split from the party in June 2012 and formed a new party called the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists). This CPN (M) is a new party and should not be confused with its predecessor to UCPN (M) of the same name.

However, while criticising the UCPN (M), the CPN (M) leaders do not put forward much more than a return to “real Maoism”. Our old leaders have become ‘reformist,’ is the summary of their analysis. They accuse Prachanda of ceasing to talk about a “democratic republic of Nepal,” rather they say he is talking about a “people’s federal republic”. From their point of view the “reformist” agenda of the UCPN (M) is the main obstacle for the revolution.

A return to ‘real Maoism’ for Kiran’s party is a return to a “protracted peoples’ war”. This is a long guerrilla war against the state which mainly bases itself on the rural poor and peasants and will be, as they see it, carried out in three different stages (defence, equilibrium and offensive). Their perspective for revolution can be summarised briefly as follows: There are two ways to conduct a revolution – the Russian model and the Chinese model. The “first one is the seizure of central power through armed insurrection and the expansion of revolution in the capitalist countries. Second one is the model of finally encircling the cities to seize the central power through a protracted process of people’s war by gradually building a people’s liberation army and establishing base areas in the countryside”. And the second model is the “model of new democratic revolution in the semi-feudal and semi neocolonial countries”.

Once they “circle the cities” they argue a “democratic revolution” can be carried out by conducting “insurrections” in the cities. Kiran’s party argues that their predecessor party UCPN (M) surrendered to “Indian expansionism,” and they want to rebuild the three aspects of Maoism to carry through the tasks of the revolution as they see it – a people’s liberation army, a united front with capitalist forces, and a communist party.

This is nothing new. And this still remains the position of the leaders of the UCPN (M), as this argument forms a core view of the Maoist parties. Their theoretical differences are not about how a revolution can be taken forward; rather their arguments are limited to what they call the “first stage” of the revolution.

Prachanda argued in an interview that “the remaining tasks of new democracy (a part of which has been completed) and the strategy of socialist revolution have converged into one. The remaining task of new democracy and the task of completing the socialist revolution by way of people’s insurrection and armed insurrection have converged into one strategy rather than completing a new democratic revolution at one stage and socialist revolution at the other”.

Kiran’s CPN (M) wants to establish a “new state” to carry through a “democratic revolution” as it rejects the argument that the democratic revolution is not completed – even in parts. Only from this point of view they oppose the interim government. But Prachanda’s party continues its coalition with the wing of the right-wing elite in the interim government, arguing that completing the socialist revolution is now merged with the remaining tasks of the democratic revolution. This they hope to achieve through the interim government and so reject the people’s insurrection.

But fundamentally both arguments are tied to a two-stage approach. Given the experience of the impasse reached with the first constituent assembly, it is clear that there is no going forward without a power transfer to the workers. And this cannot be done in coalition with pro-big business parties. Both parties should instead come out for a workers’ and peasants’ government – a socialist government – with the perspective of establishing a planned economy, including nationalisation of industries and land reform, etc. No other bloc is capable of delivering these changes.

The limitations of the ‘Prachanda path’ are not new. The opportunity to carry through a successful transfer of power to workers, poor peasants, and others who are exploited by capitalism was missed in 2006 and in 2010. This has been shown, including in an article by members of the Committee for a Workers’ International [New foreword to Chinese edition of the book – Che Guevara – symbol of struggle’, by Tony Saunois, http://www.socialistworld.net/doc/4197, The great general strike – the permanent revolution, by TU Senan http://www.socialistworld.net/doc/4375]. But at that time these arguments were rejected and ignored by the Maoists in Nepal. The Maoist organisations in India and Sri Lanka, and their few supporters across the world loyally defended Prachanda’s path then. And now they make the same mistake again.

Revolutionary processes cannot be restricted to mere mechanical formulas or standard models. There are, however, a number of lessons provided by the Russian and Chinese revolutions. The Russian “model” has been rejected as not suitable for neocolonial countries – apparently it’s a model for capitalist countries only! But the conditions that existed in Russia at the time of the October 1917 revolution were in many ways comparable to the conditions that exist today in Nepal.

The Russian Revolution was carried through in 1917 by rejecting the idea of two stages. The Revolution then established a genuine system of workers’ and poor peasants’ government. This government degenerated later, mainly due to its isolation, the failure of the revolutions which came in the wake of October 1917, especially in Germany, and the emergence in those conditions of a bureaucratic regime under the leadership of Stalin. This repressive regime played a role in curtailing the Chinese revolution in 1925-7. Following this defeat the Chinese Communist Party took to the route of civil war.

Later, in 1949, the Chinese Revolution was carried through – but on the basis of a peasant war. Following the 1925-27 defeat, the Chinese Communist Party collapsed and was pushed into the countryside. Mao Zedong’s formal policies were in the spirit of the Mensheviks – he conceived of the revolution in stages. Later however, when he entered the cities, he was overtaken by the dynamic of the revolution. But he initially feared the workers, effectively banning strikes by urging them to ‘continue to work’. Workers’ membership in the party dramatically declined.

When he entered the cities Mao encountered a vacuum – the bourgeois forces had either fled or were in the process of fleeing the city. The bourgeois failed to form a popular front. In their absence a national government was formed for a short period. But Mao did what Maoists ever since failed to do. He took power, and was pushed into expropriating the landlords and capitalists.

If Mao had stuck to his idea that the capitalists should be allowed to play the first fiddle while the working class gave critical support, it would have enormously weakened the workers and peasants and led to failure. However, having taken control, with the Stalinist Russian state behind him, the state economy becomes the affair of one party. Following this revolution, Mao Zedong imported the “model” of Stalin’s state machine. But an element of workers’ democracy existed in the government that was formed. A state-owned, planned economy was established. This was enormously progressive compared to the rotten capitalism and landlordism it replaced but it fell far short of what was needed. Undemocratic and repressive measures were put in place. The development of the productive forces made the political revolution essential. But that came into collision with brutal suppression of democracy in China. This first gave rise to the bureaucracy which was modelled on Stalin’s bureaucratic regime.

Role of the working class

Despite these historical facts, various Maoists groups are today united in carrying on their fetish for ‘stagism’. But it has rendered them incapable of delivering what Mao did – they have not even established a Stalinist regime in Nepal. Instead, when they got to the cities they searched for the ‘national bourgeoisie’ and made a deal with its shadow.

The important lessons to be taken from this are on the role of the working class, the limitations of the two-stage approach and the importance of establishing a genuine system of workers’ and peasants’ government. Leon Trotsky was a leader of the Russian Revolution in 1905 and one of the leaders of the 1917 revolution when workers successfully took power into their own hands. He argued that social change could not be artificially divided into separate steps. Trotsky posed the important question – which class is in the leadership? Under the leadership of the working class a bloc can be formed with poor farmers and other oppressed and exploited sections of the society – and it is the only bloc that is capable to changing society. Trotsky explained, through historical examples, the importance of the working class and how the peasantry cannot play an independent role due to its heterogeneity and lack of cohesion. He argued that the working class taking power would be the only effective way to begin the process of implementing the bourgeois democratic tasks – and it will then, under the correct leadership, grow over to socialist change, a process which cannot be artificially separated out in time.

The Maoist perspective, outlined here, turns its back on the urban working class. We have seen a significant increase in the size of the working class in Nepal. There has been an enormous strengthening of the urban population worldwide. The CWI in its recent document pointed out that in 2013 “Mass occupation of the squares took place in Turkey, followed up by action by the working class itself. Alongside Brazil, Egypt and not forgetting South Africa, these represented probably the biggest mass movements, certainly of the working class, in history!”

We also commented that “Over 70% of the world’s population is now concentrated in urban areas, giving the working class greater potential, a bigger specific gravity, than at any other time to effect change.” This factor should not be ignored.

(Another year of mass struggles beckons, Peter Taaffe http://www.socialistworld.net/doc/6604,

The world situation and tasks for the CWI’, http://www.socialistworld.net/doc/6586)

Achieving workers’ control of the country’s resources should take centre stage in the perspective. Assisting the development of the working class’s collective consciousness in workplaces and factories is vital to building a socialist society. This cannot be made possible by merely surrounding the cities with a peasant army. The support of the rural poor and peasants, in countries like Nepal where they constitute a majority, can bring significant strength. But as was shown in the events in 2006 and 2010, workers’ actions such as a general strike played the decisive role in challenging state power.

In May 2010, the country was brought to a standstill. Tens of thousands of people surrounded the capital city. The general strike that followed gave the UCPN (M), as they led this movement, the authority to break the deadlock and go forward beyond the constituent assembly. The question of who actually controls the country’s affairs was posed. The governments of India, China and the west lined up behind the counter-revolutionary elements in the country, while the masses gathered behind the UCPN (M). In this test of strength, the UCPN (M) voluntarily surrendered to the right wing.

When they called off the general strike the Maoists threatened another general strike in the future. But the promise of a powerful threat in the future does not compare to an existing threat to power. The UCPN (M) made a major blunder when they failed to see that the movement of the masses cannot be treated like a ‘tap’ to be opened and closed at will. This defeat dented the workers’ confidence and led to a growth of discontent among the masses. Significantly this also contributed to the demoralisation inside the UCPN (M).

Winning the support of urban workers is vital to carrying forward the revolution. But the UCPN (M) appears to be losing its support among this section of the population. In the last election the UCPN (M) lost all four of the seats it had in the city. All the key leaders of the Maoists, including Prachanda, suffered an embarrassing defeat. Both the NC and CPN (UML) won more votes than Prachanda where he stood. This is now used against the Maoists, presented as the people’s rejection of the federal constitution. Furthermore Kiran’s party’s turn towards the rural areas will further alienate the city workers.

Difficulties

While pointing out the mistakes of the Maoists, it’s important to recognise the colossal and complex tasks that they faced. On the one hand the competing Indian and Chinese interests aimed to paralyse any development of the revolutionary process. But difficult problems also arose internally. These conditions demanded far-sighted perspectives. To add to this, although Nepal is a small country in size, its cultural complexities are vast. More than 100 languages are spoken in Nepal. Society is divided into more than 100 different castes and is also divided into different religious groups. A particular caste or ethnic group living in a particular region can demand privileges which at times threaten the interests of the minorities in that region.

For example, the Madeshis live in the southern Terai region which borders India. They rioted in January 2007, demanding recognition of their independent identity. According to the 2011 statistics, 50.2% of the 26.6 million-strong Nepali population live in Terai land. But these plains are also separated by various castes and ethnic groups. More than half a million Daliths live in the worst conditions in Terai – even worse than the Daliths living in the mountains. They will have antagonism and fear against the oppressing caste which dominates the demand for self-determination. They risk continued suppression if no special rights and opportunities are given to them. Similarly the Newar people, who live in the capital city Kathmandu and nearby, are divided into various caste groups.

How can a constitution be created that will address all the complexities and satisfy the various demands of such a divided society? Marxists will defend the democratic, cultural rights of all groups and minorities. But faced with this difficult question the UCPN (M) entered negotiations with the pro-business parties in the hope of finding a solution within a ‘capitalist constitution’. The hope that the right-wing parties will come to an agreement to deliver on this is ludicrous.

Though all parties agree with the need for a ‘federal’ arrangement for the Terai people, it remains mere rhetoric for the NC and CPN (UML). The NC in particular has a long history of opposing such a solution. The UCPN (M) proposed a ‘federal constitution’, and attempted to solve the problems of the other minority groups by giving them autonomy within a federal region. However, on how “power-sharing” will actually be done inside the federal region and what sort of power the ‘autonomous’ will have, the Maoists remain vague. They agree with the right to self-determination only ‘in theory’.

Before 1997 the Maoists claimed that the nationalities in Nepal were not ‘developed’, hence they did not support the demand for the right to self-determination. Now they accept it – in ‘theory’. They argue ‘Indian expansionism’ will use the opportunity to divide Nepal and the demand for the right to self-determination will help that process. They fear Madeshis living along India’s border, in particular, can be used by India. This argument resembles that of the Communist Party (CPI (M)) in India which argues that Kashmiri demands for the right to self-determination will help the Pakistan state to infringe Indian sovereignty. Similarly the Maoists’ proposal of a ‘caste-based autonomy’ will not address the antagonism of the majority of the oppressing caste which is around 81% of the population. This will provide opportunities for reactionary forces such as the pro-monarchy, pro-Hindu forces. In fact the pro-monarchy Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal (RPP-N) made a comeback in the last election coming fourth and winning 24 seats, up from four seats in the previous election! The gradual growth of the pro-monarchy forces should be seen in the context of the general insecurity of the majority of the population.

The Maoists argue that the ethnic sentiments will dissolve into a “greater national identity”. On this basis they propose a more centralised national government which determines all the key aspects of the economy, etc, and a federal set-up with limited power. This is vehemently opposed by the right-wing forces.

Marxists oppose all sorts of discriminations. We cannot defend a right in theory and then deny it in practice. Unquestionably the Indian and Chinese governments will try to exploit the divisions within Nepal for their own interests. But to deny the rights of the people on the basis of the fear of the divide itself will play into the hands of the very forces that seek to exploit it. The national aspiration of the Terai people must be adequately addressed and should not be curtailed in fear of “Indian expansionism”. Curtailment of their rights will only play into the hands of Indian capitalist state.

New Constitution alone is not a solution

A constitutional arrangement within the limits of capitalism and feudalism alone will not solve the real problems faced by the various social groups in Nepal. The majority of these discriminations stem from the economic conditions – from the connection to the land in particular. Those from the hill areas own significant land in Terai, for example, and making Terai a federal area will not solve the problem of the ownership of the land in that region. Among the 80% of the population who live in rural areas, over 70% do not own more than one acre of land. Six million people do not own any land at all. Daliths are the majority of the landless. The King Gayandra remains one of the biggest land owners in the world. He owns a mammoth 57,000 square miles of land which also includes parts of Mount Everest. Having allowed the king to maintain the ownership of a significant section of Nepal, the Maoists began to return all the lands that they captured during the ‘People’s war’ period to the other big landlords.

Without freeing the masses from the land ties real, freedom cannot be achieved. Even by a conservative assessment there are more than 300,000 bonded slaves in Nepal. They must be freed. The land should be appropriated from the king and the big land owners to be distributed among the landless and small farmers. But land distribution alone is insufficient. Instead major investment is needed to help the small farmers to cultivate the land – such as investment into modern technologies, etc. Of course this sort of large investment can only be possible with rapid development of industry. And that is closely linked to the implementation of the planned economy. Without moving towards a workers’ and peasants’ government how can the planned economy be implemented? This is not possible on a capitalist basis.

But establishing a planned economy is beyond reach, as the Maoists argue that they need to first pass through a ‘stage’ of establishing ‘bourgeois democracy’. Neither the NC nor the CPN (UML) is capable of completing the bourgeois democratic tasks – such as land reform – that is required. By handing over that task to the capitalist parties – or expecting them to deliver them – the UCPN (M) limit themselves. The social change that the masses need cannot take place in stages. Rather it is linked to the development of the productive forces. Ironically the Maoists do not argue that the NC or CPN (UML) and their capitalist allies will develop the productive forces in Nepal. The enormous wealth of Nepal can be planned to assist the fast development of industry and agriculture. This doesn’t mean however that socialist planning can be achieved and sustained in Nepal alone.

Of course the international relations and particularly the revolutionary developments in the neighbouring countries and across the region are vital to continue any such development in Nepal. This is why it is also crucial to build support and solidarity among workers internationally. Revolutionary developments will come under enormous pressure in small countries like Nepal. For a revolution to succeed in Nepal it is vital to appeal to the working class, peasants and poor in India, China and other countries in the region and worldwide, with the objective of spreading the revolution.