Nepal: King’s coup worsens crisis

The king of Nepal, Shah Gianandra, fired his hand-picked Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, and government cabinet, on 1 February. In dissolving the government, the King cited its failure to hold elections and to maintaining law and order, as the reasons for his repressive actions.

King Gianandra also imposed a State of Emergency across the country indefinitely and banned all political activity.

This is the second time that Sher Bahadur Deuba has been sacked as prime minister. He was removed from the job by the King in October 2002 and re-appointed, in June 2003, after country wide protests and strikes.

The real reasons behind the latest demotion for Sher Bahadur Deuba and the coup are not those given by the King or the kept media (The media rights group, ‘Reporters Without Borders’, noted that in 2004, for the third year running, more journalists were arrested in Nepal than in any other country). The crackdown was triggered by recent large demonstrations in the cities by unemployed youth and students. They were protesting against the government’s fuel price increases. The latest 29% increase is the third hike in fuel prices this year. During the protests, the police attacked demonstrators and injured many of them.

The mass protests co-incided with a siege, by Maoist rebels, of the capital city, Katmandu. The guerillas ringed the city for the second time in the last 5 months.

In the last three months, 450 people were killed in rebel-related violence, the highest number of killings in one year’s quarter. But now the situation will get much worst after the king’s coup.

A sea of poverty

Nepal is a very poor country, with an estimated 40% of the majority living in abject poverty. Gross national income per head stands at US $240, according to the World Bank (2003). Unemployment is very high. In many ways, Nepal exists as a colony of Indian capitalism. Imperialism and feudalism co-exist in the country. The local rich elite dominate the economy and use cheap labour to assemble goods manufactured in other more industrialised countries. Nepal may be rich in hydroelectric power but this does not benefit the mass of working people; this resource is exploited by the Indian capitalists.

Living conditions for women and ‘lower castes’ are unbearable. Nepal is a source of young girls for Indian prostitution networks. There is no future for young people under capitalism. They have only three choices: Immigration, joining the army, or joining the Maoist guerrillas.

Atrocious living conditions create a situation whereby the masses rally behind any alternative that claims to be fighting against the monarchy and its cronies. This explains why the guerrillas continue to find support.

The Maoist guerrillas

The Maoist guerrillas control around 73% of the country, including most of the rural areas, where

88% population lives. The rebels are organised and led by the CPN-Maoist (Communist Party of Nepal), who aim to abolish the monarchy and to establish a democratic republic.

These armed forces have engaged in a six year bloody civil war with the monarch that has led to the deaths of more than 12, 000 people, out of a population of 25 million. Nepal has difficult relations with its neighbour Bhutan over an influx of some 100,000 refugees. Vicious military repression and torture has failed to end the rebellion.

The Maoists enjoy support in areas they control because they have introduced some land reforms. Despite the lack of real democracy and direct participation of the peasants, and the limited programme of the Maoists, these reforms, in a desperately poor society like Nepal, give the guerrillas support and prestige among the poor rural population – the majority of Nepal’s people.

But the problem with guerrillas is that they want to overthrow the monarchy without the help of the working class and youth in the cities. It is true that workers are a tiny minority in Nepal but they are still decisive in ending the monarchy and capitalism. Even though small in numbers, workers run the most decisive parts of the Nepalese economy. They have proved their importance and key role in many strikes and protest demonstrations.

Of course it is not easy to organise the working class in a country like Nepal. But this is not the first time or first place that workers have faced such conditions. The Bolsheviks in Russia, at the turn of the last century, faced very similar conditions to the underdeveloped and poor countries today. From the Bolsheviks legacy we learn that it is as equally important to organise the working class on a bold, socialist programme in the poorer countries, as it is in the richer ones.

The Bolsheviks were rooted among the relatively small numbers of advanced workers who were surrounded by a sea of peasantry. But it was with socialist ideas and policies that the workers were able to form an alliance with peasants and to take power. To paraphrase Trotsky, the party of dialectical materialism, and not the party of the bomb, made this possible.

In a predominantly peasant or rural country, guerrilla struggles can play an important part in struggles against dictatorship and oppression. But, even in these circumstances, it is the working class in the cities and towns that are essential to overthrowing regimes, winning real democratic rights, ending capitalism, and introducing socialism. Guerrilla campaigns should be auxiliary to the predominant role of the working class in the fight to change society, and guerrilla campaigns need to be democratically controlled by peasants and working people. Without the conscious and active participation of the working class – the most collective and progressive class in society – and the spreading of the socialist revolution internationally, particularly to the richer countries, it is not possible to bring about a genuinely socialist society.

The betrayals of workers and the poor by the CPN-UML (Communist Party Nepal – United Marxist Leninist) has made the situation more complex. This main party of the working class in the cities openly collaborates with the ruling class, instead of putting forward an independent, revolutionary, working class position.

The CPN-UML was part of the recently sacked government (initially installed by the King), in which they had thirteen ministries alongside the right wing National Democratic Party. The leadership of the CPN-UML failed to learn from the experiences of 1994 to 1997, when they were ousted from power because the ruling class did not feel the communists properly represented their interests.

Lack of a socialist programme

The CPN-UML is a major force in Nepalese society and, therefore, its lack of socialist policies are a major roadblock for working people in their struggle for a better life. The CPN-UML programme is very limited. Their current demands and tactics are based upon the fact that there is no bourgeois democracy in Nepal. Their main proposal therefore is a vague demand for ‘bourgeois’ or ‘liberal parliamentary’ democracy. Their other demands are for an all-party government, the intervention of the UN, and for peace with the Maoist guerrillas (The CPN-UML does not give an explanation as to why previous peace talks failed). This programme – which appeals to the so-called ‘progressive wing’ of capitalism, at home, and internationally, – is not the programme that can end civil war and bring peace to Nepal.

What is really needed is a programme of land reforms, the nationalisation of the main industries and resources, under the democratic control and management of working people, and an internationalist, working class policy to break the isolation of Nepal. To carry out these policies needs a workers’ government, which would call for the support of workers and the poor throughout south Asia.

Unfortunately, the current dominant left forces in Nepal – Maoism and the CPN-UML – have all the classic features and limits of Stalinism. They still see things in terms of a so-called, ‘national democratic revolution’ or a ‘people’s democratic revolution’, and they are confused over the role of working class and peasantry. The call for stable liberal, parliamentary, democracy (which is impossible in the conditions in Nepal), and then, some time in the future, for a struggle for socialism, is a cruel illusion. When previously adopted by communist parties with mass support in other countries (Spain in the 1930s or Indonesia in the 1960s, to give just two examples), these types of policies often led to the massacre of many militants and were a serious defeat for working people. The communist parties gave up an independent, class position for an alliance with parties and forces that supposedly represented the ‘progressive’ capitalists – only to find these same ‘progressives’ turn on them when the demands from the working class became a serious threat to the interests of capitalism.

Only workers’ unity, with a revolutionary socialist programme, can overturn the Nepalese monarchy, the capitalist and feudal elite, expel imperialism, and transform society on socialist lines. Only this will end civil wars and the exploitation and misery of the working class in the Himalayan state.

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February 2005