SINCE THE collapse of negotiations in late August, over 1,000 have died in clashes between Nepal’s military and Maoist rebels. A weak ruling monarchy represses the masses in this impoverished and largely rural country of 25 million people. As HUGH CAFFREY explains, under capitalism, this beautiful part of the planet is a social nightmare for workers and the peasantry.
NEPAL HAS a long history of dictatorship, from its foundation in 1768 until 1990, with a one year (1959) multi-party constitution before the monarchy resumed power. Situated between India and China, the country is of strategic importance to both powers and to US imperialism.
The king is a military-police dictator hiding behind a weak parliament. The degeneracy of the ruling class around him can be gauged by continual corruption scandals, the playboy lifestyle of his son and, in 2001, the slaughtering of most of the dynasty apparently by the crown prince in a drunken, drug-fuelled shooting spree!
The social base of these parasitic degenerates is extremely small – the pro-monarchy parties in the weak parliament have tiny popular support. The economy is heavily reliant on aid since a disastrous ’neo-liberal’ experiment in the early 1990s. Traditionally, the Indian and British governments, and increasingly the US, heavily back the monarchist state which has killed thousands since 1996.
The ruling class, historically, has ruled mainly through the monarchy. Mass protests throughout the 1980s forced democratic reforms in 1990. But for the weak ruling class even a restricted democracy proved too risky. Successive governments imposed ’neo-liberal’ programmes, fuelling huge anger among the masses and election of a ’Communist’ Party (CP) government in 1994-95.
The current conflict began in 1996. The CP split, a minority declaring themselves leaders of a Maoist people’s war. The ruling class moved swiftly back towards monarchist rule. The king appoints and dissolves stooge governments at will, despite the official CP recently becoming the largest parliamentary party.
After 11 September 2001, the king branded the rebels as "terrorists". The US administration promptly came to his aid. Recently the Bush government declared Maoist assets frozen and dispatched increasing military aid, including up to 10,000 M16 assault rifles. Blair’s government has tagged along behind US imperialism.
The Maoists control between 40% and 80% of the countryside. One factor prompting a ceasefire in 2003 was the monarchists’ fear that Kathmandu (the capital) was about to fall as well.
Well-armed attacks on state forces are a regular occurrence, with the rebels promising ’more of the same’ for Americans now that US imperialism has intervened. Their fighting strength is estimated at 3,000-4,000 "hard core" fighters, and over 12,000 "militia" fighters.
The police have been driven from the rural areas – the great majority of Nepal – and the army seem incapable of crushing the rebels. The depth of the social crisis has enabled the Maoists to win substantial support.
Their demands include: "The redistribution of land, a minimum wage and free health care. Others seem more menacing. They include a ban on ’foreign culture’ – which apparently means ’X-rated cinema, videos and newspapers’." (The Guardian, 29/5/03).
The guerrillas demand the abolition of the monarchy. What they propose varies from a body to draw up a new constitution to a "non-revolutionary" constituent assembly. This is portrayed as a step towards a "people’s state", modelled on Maoist China.
This contradicts some actions during 2003. While on ceasefire, "Dr Baburam Bhattarai, the chief Maoist ideologue, even visited the capitalists of the Federation of Nepali Chambers of Commerce and Industry to assure them his group was committed to a market economy. " (BBC News Online, 20/9/03).
Moreover, the guerrillas have called for an anti-monarchist alliance with the pro-capitalist and reformist parties they have recently been shooting at.
SO, WHAT future for Nepal? Massive military support by US imperialism for the monarchy could inflict a temporary defeat on the rebels. further ceasefires and negotiations cannot be ruled out either. But capitalism cannot solve any of the fundamental problems.
The Maoists have gained ground above all because of the lack of a real working class movement. The parliamentary ’communists’, the UML, put forward a reform programme but within the framework of capitalism.
An economic upturn, dependent on massive foreign investment and growth in the export market, is highly unlikely given the current world economic slowdown. The gross stupidity of the Bush regime in hurling weaponry at an escalating war is making any form of ceasefire increasingly unlikely.
However, the potential power of the masses to stamp their mark on events is clear. A three-day general strike, called by the Maoists, in August brought the country to a standstill. Also, it was mass mobilisations which led to the democratic reforms of 1990.
Such power, harnessed behind a clear workers’ leadership with a genuine revolutionary socialist programme, could sweep away the feudal and capitalist relations, expel imperialism, and begin the real development of the country in co-operation with workers’ governments of the region, especially the neighbouring giants India and China.
The alternative is further conflict, possibly with neighbouring Bhutan over refugees, or spreading into Chinese and Indian provinces (which the ruling elites of both countries dread).
The mighty task facing the Nepalese masses, especially the workers, is their emancipation through their own actions and organisation. The first step will be the creation of a genuine socialist organisation, free from Maoism and reformism.
Such an organisation would explain that Nepalese capitalism can exist only through repression and dictatorship – parliamentary democracy will be a temporary product of mass pressure, its extent and duration dependent on the balance of class forces.
Capitalism cannot develop Nepal. Real land reform can be carried through only by a workers’ government in co-operation with the small farmers and agricultural labourers. Peasant guerrilla warfare is at best a secondary, supplement to the urban workers’ struggle. Under the banner of Maoism it will be a dead-end. Guerrilla warfare has not and cannot lead to workers’ democracy.
The only road to salvation for the masses is the socialist revolution, as part of the international revolution. Only the working class, with a mass revolutionary party organised and conscious of its own tasks, can smash feudal and capitalist relations and begin the socialist transformation of the region.
A socialist programme for Nepal would have to include:
- The abolition of the monarchy
- Imperialism out of Nepal
- Full democratic rights
- A revolutionary workers’ government in co-operation with the small farmers and agricultural labourers based on socialist policies
- Bring all privatised companies back into public ownership under democratic workers’ control and management. Compensation only on basis of proven need
- Nationalise the big companies and finance under democratic workers’ control and management
- For a socialist federation of the region
Maoism – Stalinism with Chinese characteristics
’MAOISM’ DESCRIBES the one-party dictatorship of Mao Zedong who came to power in China after the 1949 revolution, the result of a long peasant-based guerrilla war led by the Communist Party. The Chinese revolution subsequently inspired a series of guerrilla wars as part of national liberation struggles in many colonial countries.
The revolution defeated the capitalists and feudal landlords, and with the Soviet Union as a backcloth, a Chinese version of Stalinism came to power ie a planned, nationalised economy but without workers’ democracy.
But Chinese Stalinism, even with all the advantages of enormous natural resources and USSR support, was incapable of achieving socialism. By the 1980s, without workers’ democracy, the planned economies of the eastern bloc countries stagnated and collapsed, reverting to capitalism.
The Chinese Stalinists sought a way out of this impasse by managing capitalist restoration which they termed "socialism with Chinese characteristics".
From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales