Nepal: Half a million people celebrate as the King reinstates Parliament

Demonstrations recede but political crisis will continue

Nepal’s 18 day-long general strike and protest movement receded on Tuesday 25 April as the dictator, King Gyanendra, reinstated Parliament which he dissolved in 2002 and promised new elections to a Constituent Assembly.

The general strike and protest movement had many features of a classical revolutionary situation: the mobilisation of the working class, poor peasantry and young people in an insurrectionary movement no longer prepared to live as before; the going-over to the side of the masses of the majority of the middle classes and intellectuals; and the loss of fear of the masses in facing the police and army (as well as the outlines of splits in the state forces which were apparent the day before the King backed down).

The marvelous general strike movement showed the huge potential power of the working class and poor peasantry. This strike movement posed the question of who controlled society. As such it could not go on indefinitely. Either the working class and poor peasantry would move forward to overthrow the regime of the rotten monarch or the movement would ebb away, diverted by the leadership of the opposition alliance into negotiations and compromise.

Opposition party leaders are celebrating this "victory". However, the leadership of the Maoist rebels initially opposed the agreement with the King, perhaps believing that by doing this they could gain future support if the masses become disillusioned with the rest of the opposition parties. It is also the case that possibly the Maoist rebels thought that it was possible to force the King out of office.

While people are celebrating there are doubts: young people express this by saying "This is not full victory, the king is still there but we want to see him dead".

It is true that the King was forced to make big concessions by the heroic and courageous struggle of the working masses. But the seven party alliance made big compromises with the King as they retreated from their main demand for immediate elections for a Constituent Assembly to draw up a new constitution.

Parliament will meet on Friday to elect a new Prime Minister. The opposition alliance has nominated Prasad Koirala who was Prime Minister on three previous occasions for the post. Koirala is a leader of Nepalese Congress party, pro-monarchy and has a record of implementing neo-liberal economic policies. No specific date has been mentioned as to when new elections for a Constituent assembly will be held.

Revolutionary upsurge

Many protesters wondered why opposition parties made compromises when clear victory was in sight. What is strikingly clear is that both the opposition parties and the King were terrified by the revolutionary upsurge which had at its core a general strike by Nepal’s working class, alongside mass protest and opposition in the countryside, 90% of which is controlled by the Maoist rebels. The situation was completely out of the control of King and his state forces. If concessions had not been made it was clear that the movement would have continued to gather strength and militancy with the result that the King would not have been able to hold onto power for more than a few days.

Protest demonstrations reached new heights in the last few days leading up to the King’s announcement on Tuesday. Last Friday public sector workers joined the general strike as it strengthened its support. The vast majority of trade unions took part in the demonstrations and street protests in the last few days leading up to the King’s concessions.

This movement was more widespread compared to the 1990 pro-democracy protests which were centered mainly in Katmandu. This time the numbers of protesters were in the thousands in the first ten days, but climbed massively in the last few days.

One of the main Nepalese newspapers, the Katmandu Post described the situation in the following way: "The protests were small in the beginning, but state repression and excessive use of force increased the anger. The situation changed when security forces opened fire and killed 12 protesters and injured hundreds. The people lost their fear of death and the situation radicalised to the levels of revolutionary insurrection". The working class, the rural and urban poor, showed their potential power by forcing the King to bow down on his knees.

A revolutionary party with roots amongst the working class and poor peasantry and a clear programme and strategy could have easily overthrown the monarchy paving the way for a democratic workers’ and peasants government.

One Japanese journalist, Kiyko Oguru (who spent 13 years in Nepal and also wrote a famous book on the democracy movement) explained, "I was here in 1990 to cover the pro-democracy movement. But this time it is more radicalised and widespread. The mood is angrier and people are more determined. They want to sacrifice every thing to overthrow the king. The situation is far more dangerous than I thought in the beginning".

The most popular slogans during the movement were "Hang the King", "Leave the Palace, we will run the country", "Burn the King and burn the palace", and "We have the power – not the King".

Monarchy loses control

It was very clear in the last three days of demonstrations that king had lost control over the situation. In reality it is no exaggeration to say that the opposition alliance including the Communist Party Unified Marxist Leninist (CPUML) handed power back to the King which he had lost during the movement. But the opposition alliance was not happy with the fact that with the masses moving in a more radicalised direction they increasingly seemed to support the Maoist rebels because of the latters appearance of implacable opposition to the regime through the armed struggle. The leadership of the Maoist rebels have constantly attempted to appear more radical in their rhetoric than the other members of the opposition alliance. But despite their radical rhetoric their actual programme is limited to a struggle for democracy rather than a fundamental socialist change in society (See Nepal – Where are the Maoists going?, 8 March 2006)

The statements of different diplomats clearly reflect that situation. The Indian special envoy Karan Singh (a relative of King Gyanendra and ex-ambassador to the US) said "The Prime Minister has asked me to go to Nepal to take a message to the King and to assess the situation. I am convinced that civil unrest against the monarchy is spinning out of control. We do not want to interfere in the internal affairs of a country, but we are deeply concerned with the situation. We have open borders with Nepal and worsening situation will spin into our areas. Violence is growing and there is a lot of unrest spreading throughout the kingdom. The King has certainly lost some control".

One Chinese diplomat said "Time appears to be running out for the monarch". According to one European diplomat, "We could see him (the King) toppled, if he does not do something in next few days. I am very afraid we are moving into a revolutionary situation".

The King held talks with US, Chinese and Indian ambassadors on Sunday 23 April to try to come up with measures to defuse the situation. An American Embassy official said after the meeting, "We gave him (the King) a clear message that you do not have a lot of time, you have to move and make concessions. You have not only endangered your rule but also the whole system".

American ambassador James Moriarty put it more bluntly, "The King of Nepal must act fast to save his crown. I have a gut feeling that ultimately the King will have to leave if he does not compromise. And by ultimately I mean sooner rather than later. The King will lose his kingdom, if he does not move fast". Moriarty is also reported to have said in an interview with CNN that the "US did not want to see King Gyanendra forced to flee clinging on the wings of a helicopter".

An AFP reporter said, "I have spoken to different diplomats, police and army officers in Katmandu and they all fear a revolutionary insurrection in the next couple of days if the situation does not improve. They fear that Maoist rebels will exploit the situation.

The US and Indian governments not only put pressure on the King to make compromises with the opposition but similar pressure was applied to the opposition parties to accept a deal. Indian Special Envoy Karan Singh met the leadership of the Nepalese Congress Party and the King several times to make this deal. He also met with the leaders of CPUML to reach some sort of compromise.

Unity or Class Collaboration?

The Communist Party Unified Marxist Leninist (CPUML) still follows the incorrect idea that first the masses have to struggle for democracy under capitalism and only sometime far in the future will a socialist transformation of society be possible. Unfortunately these ideas – those of the stages theory of revolution – have often been put forward by the Maoist and Stalinist leaderships of the Communist Parties internationally and have always led to the defeat of revolutionary movements.

The main demand of the CPUML was to establish a "Democratic Republic" and making the monarchy a ceremonial position before moving towards socialism. On this basis the CPUML and other left parties in Nepal formed alliances with capitalist opposition parties. Despite the fact that these so-called left parties describe this approach as necessary for maximum "political unity", it is in reality a position of class collaboration where these parties act as a left cover to keep capitalism in power.

Rather than putting forward the independent demands of the working class and poor peasantry in the movement (which would include taking up the demands and problems of all of those exploited by capitalism), the CPUML is supporting the capitalist class’s attempt to control the movement and instead maintain the rule of the Nepalese elite with a façade of minimal democratic rights.

Unfortunately, the Communist Parties in Nepal are following the same mistaken and bankrupt policies of the CPI and CPIM leadership in India.

The events in Nepal have once again proved the relevance of the position of genuine Marxism which from the time of the 1917 Russian Revolution has explained that in countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America otherwise known as the neo-colonial world, the question of land reform, achieving basic democratic rights including the freedom of assembly, and creating a modern nation state can only be solved by the working class drawing behind it the poor peasantry and leading a struggle for the socialist transformation of society. These ideas were first expounded by Leon Trotsky, one of the leaders of the Russian Revolution, in what he called the theory of the permanent revolution.

The ruling elite in Nepal is so closely linked with international ruling class that they can not take a step against their interests. Introducing genuine land reform and democratic rights is not supported by imperialism internationally and the local regional capitalist powers. Such reforms could not be afforded by the Nepalese elite who are linked to the feudal landlords. They would also destabilise capitalist rule in the whole region. The overthrow through of the rotten capitalist and feudal system and transformation of society on socialist lines is necessary to achieve full democratic rights. The experience of "democracy" under the monarchy has clearly showed in the past that nothing can be achieved for the working class and poor.

The 18 day long general strike and protest movement showed that the potential for a revolutionary insurrection was there, but no genuine revolutionary party and leadership existed to carry that task forward.

The general strike and street protests paralyzed the state machinery and whole country came to a standstill. But the Communist Party leadership in Nepal was not interested in organising an insurrection. In fact they were terrified by the increasing radicalisation and confidence of the masses.

As a result of the bankruptcy of the Communist Party leaders an opportunity to overthrow the monarchy and establish a genuine workers’ and poor peasants’ government was lost.

The celebrations will turn into big disappointment soon. The Maoist rebels, because of their record of armed struggle, could take advantage of the situation to further consolidate their position, by attracting a layer of youth who have been disillusioned by the pro-democracy movement leaders.

The political crisis is not yet over in Nepal. This compromise will lead to a new crisis in the country. This is a beginning of new profound crises. The new government will not be able to provide a solution to the problems which lay behind the ten year long insurgency by the Maoist rebels. Under the umbrella of the King, the new government will not be able to solve any fundamental problems faced by the working masses. The capitalist and feudal aristocracy will continue to super exploit the working class and the poor.

The working class and poor peasantry need a revolutionary party to end this exploitation and repression. Such a party having a clear program and strategy to struggle against feudalism and capitalism and appealing to the Chinese and Indian working class and peasantry to support their cause can lay the basis to end this endless crisis and uncertainty. One of its tasks would be to fight for the formation of democratically elected workers and poor peasants committees at all levels of society to take the struggle against capitalism and feudalism forward.

Only a revolutionary party committed to the idea of the overthrow of capitalism and for the struggle for socialism can make reality of the slogan of the mass movement "We will burn the crown and we will run the country".

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April 2006