Victory celebrations – will the masses go further?
King retreats, as do opposition leaders
Weeks of heroic struggle by the people of Nepal have forced the tyrannical King Gyanendra to make new concession, in a desperate bid to cling to power.
Facing a two million-strong march this Tuesday, King Gyanendra of Nepal made new concessions (as of midnight Monday). Parliament, which was dissolved by the king four years ago, will be reinstated. Behind this move, there was intense lobbying from India, which feared a revolutionary mass movement in its neighbouring country.
While demonstrators in Nepal celebrated the King’s retreat, the opposition seven-party Alliance (SPA) immediately called off Tuesday’s mass march. Girija Prasad Koirala, an 85-year old former prime minister (four times), from the Nepali Congress will head a new government.
However, according to reports, many protesters were in no mood to accept this climb-down. Having faced brutal repression they demand an end to the monarchy and call for a republic. Demonstrators at protests called to celebrate this retreat denounced the King as a thief and demanded he leave the country.
The question now is whether the revolutionary movement will move ahead or be derailed.
There is no doubt the mass movement of the last few weeks aimed to go much further than the SPA leaders and became increasingly radicalised.
Three weeks of mass struggle, "Brought 6 million people on to the streets", according to Congress spokesman Krishna Sitaula (Nepal has 28 million inhabitants). He said 16 people were killed and 5,000 injured (Indian news agency, ‘Rediff’). "We have forced the king to his knees", said an activist, Rajan Sreshta. "It shows the people are the actual power" (AP, 25 April).
Most significant in this movement was the development of a mass general strike in the cities involving the working class and urban population. It was the coming together of this workers’ revolt against their exploiters and oppressors with the revolt of the peasants in the countryside. This movement was a clear demonstration of the power of the masses. After three weeks of a general strike, the question of power was posed and needed to be resolved. It was necessary for this challenge to the state to be taken forward in terms of a struggle for a revolutionary constituent assembly and a workers’ and peasants’ government or the movement would flow back into ‘safe’ channels which leave the old ruling class in control.
The king’s previous attempt on Friday to defuse the revolution was met by anger and more demonstrations. The SPA turned down the King’s offer to name a prime minister. The SPA’s ‘road map’ demands restoration of parliament, which would declare elections for a constituent assembly. The Maoists, whose armed forced controls most of the countryside, would be invited to parliament and an interim government. This is in line with the agreement between the SPA and the Maoists made last November.
The real reason for the SPA turning down the king’s offer last Friday, despite intense lobbying from European Union and Indian diplomats, was the mood of the masses. The King’s retreat emboldened the protests. On Saturday – the fifth day of curfew in the capital, Kathmandu – hundreds of thousands of protesters broke police lines, which included machine guns, and marched into the city centre. When they were pushed back, youth built barricades and burnt tyres. 250 people were wounded by police violence in Kathmandu, alone. There were demonstrations with tens of thousands in several towns around the city. To try to sabotage the demonstrations, the state shut down the mobile phone network.
"Kill the king, not us!"
The protesters carried effigies of the King, and pretended to march as if at a funeral. "Kill the King, not us", they shouted at police. They were supported by bystanders, who offered them water. "The movement reached its climax", said one Congress leader, as a reason for saying no to the King’s offer last Friday.
On the surface, the King’s latest retreat, satisfies the demands of the SPA and gives them an excuse to try to put a brake on the mass movement. However, it is clear that the King has not satisfied big sections of the masses.
The leaders of Congress, the communist CPN/UML, and other parties, in reality, are terrified by a movement they did not start and which they struggled to control. "The situation in Nepal is becoming explosive and uncontrollable", reported a Rediff correspondent. "The most surprising – and rather amazing – aspect of the struggle against the king in Kathmandu (and elsewhere) is that there are no key political figures leader the crowd and there are no heroes of the historical peaceful movement."
While the SPA greeted the King’s offer of a new parliament, the Maoists, at this stage, reportedly rejected it. On Sunday, Maoist rebels organised an attack in Chautara against military and police buildings. The Maoist leader, Prachanda, said earlier the guerrillas will agree to elections for a constituent assembly and keep the alliance with the SPA, even if the King was not overthrown.
The Maoist rebellion actually started after failure of a ‘communist’ government, 1995-96, to carry out reforms. Support for the Maoists is still mainly in the rural areas, where 90 per cent of the population lives. These areas are dominated by family-based agriculture.
Despite the victory proclamations of the SPA, the King will be in charge at a meeting this coming Friday to discuss opening the parliament next Monday. Congress only calls for limits on the powers of the King, so that he will not "misuse" his powers. It seems also the Maoists put a lot of emphasis on the written words in a new constitution. But the last few weeks showed that the struggle of the masses is decisive. The key question now is to what extent and for how long the SPA is able to block further mass struggle?
The imperialist and regional powers expressed satisfaction with the King’s latest offer and the SPA’s response. But during last weekend’s demonstrations protesters carried placards against the US and the UN. The US, once a strong supporter of the King, now asks the monarch to take on a ceremonial role.
For a workers’ and peasants’ government
The revolutionary movement now needs to build democratically-controlled committees of struggle. Committees of struggle in the urban areas need to be elected by workers, youth, and other layers of society exploited by capitalism, along with peasants’ committees in the countryside. These bodies need to establish a democratically-controlled armed militia to develop defend the movement. The movement needs to be intensified, to force the King from power. The King still controls the state armed forces and there are hundreds of political prisoners from the last few weeks. An appeal to the rank and file of the armed forces to join the rebellion, and for soldiers to establish elected committees, needs to be made. Democratically elected action committees in the cities and countryside could form the basis of a workers’ and peasants’ government. This could convene elections to a revolutionary constituent assembly.
Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world – placed in that situation by the global capitalist system. The revolution most go further, overthrowing the King, dissolving his repressive state apparatus, establishing democratic control over arms, including in Maoist-controlled areas, and take socialist measures against capitalism and imperialism. The revolution must appeal to workers in India, Kashmir, Pakistan and China.
Nepal needs a mass revolutionary socialist party to take the revolution forward; for a socialist federation in the region.