Rebels to give up arms and to enter new coalition government
“Our experience has shown that we could not achieve our goals through armed revolution so we have chosen the path of negotiation and formed an alliance with the political parties”. This was how Nepalese Maoist leader, Prachanda (BBC 9 Nov) described the latest deal with the government parties, disarming the Maoist guerrilla and giving it five ministers in the government.
After years of war and despotic rule, it is not surprising that supporters of the Maoists and wider layers in society have high expectations of the new peace deal. On 10 November, Maoists held celebration rallies around the country, including in the centre of the capital Kathmandu. "We want a republic state. Long live the Maoists," were the slogans shouted by 20,000 mainly young supporters and ex-guerrillas.
Optimism surrounded media reports on the deal. The agreement received welcoming remarks from rulers in China, the US and the UN. “We have reached a historic agreement which has drawn up a road map for Nepal”, Prachanda commented.
This deal, however, was a result of secret talks between the political elite and the Maoists, not in any way involving workers, youth and poor masses from the April revolution this year. It was this mass movement that came close to overthrowing the absolute monarchy, established by king Gyanendra in February 2005. The masses defied soldiers with shoot-to-kill orders, but they also caught the political parties, including the Maoists, unaware.
This deal is what both the seven party alliance (SPA) and the Maoists have aimed for since they formed an alliance in New Delhi a year ago. Without any political programme, they wanted to limit the power of the king and form a coalition government. Sooner than they believed, this was made possible by the April revolution.
The present deal includes:
By 21 November, the Maoist guerrilla weapons will be held under UN-remote supervision. An equal number of the state army’s weapons will also be under supervision.
Up to 35,000 Maoist rebels will be placed in 21 camps in seven regions, where they will be held until elections in June. The Nepali Army (formerly Royal Nepalese Army) is, at the same time, supposed to stay in barracks.
On 1 December, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) will get five out of 23 ministers in a transitional government.
At the same time, the Maoists will get 73 MPs in parliament. That is two less than the Nepalese Congress, and the same number of MPs as the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninists), a pro-capitalist party which resembles European social democracies, in all but name.
To underline its entrance into the state machine, the Maoists promised to dissolve the local authorities in its “liberated areas”, called “people’s governments”, and “people’s courts”.
By 1 June, at the latest, elections will be organised for a Constituent Assembly with 425 legislators (16 of its members, however, will be appointed by the prime minister). Among its first decisions, the Assembly will decide if the monarchy should be abolished or not.
Other points in the agreement include, a ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ to be established, and nationalisation of all property acquired by king Gyanendra since he came to power in 2001.
Prachanda, and other Maoist leaders, firmly stress they are serious about the deal. “We will become part of the government and no violence will be tolerated by our party”. Following the elections and the formation of the Constituent Assembly, the Maoists even agreed to full disarmament of their forces and their inclusion into the state army.
Can the coalition government deliver for the masses?
For genuine Marxists, however, the deal raises fundamental questions. In what way will a coalition government with pro-capitalist parties fulfil the aspirations of the masses? Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. The overthrow of the panchayat system (with ultimate power resting with the king, established after a coup in 1960) in 1990, which aroused hopes among the masses, ended, within years, in deep disillusion with the parties, parliament and global capitalism.
This created the conditions for the Maoist “People’s war”, from February 1996. In the early 1990s, small ‘communist’ parties were merged into the United Left Front, which also had MPs. The ULF, with Prachanda as its general secretary, renamed itself the ‘Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)’, in 1996, and started the guerrilla actions.
From the beginning, the Maoists called for a “democratic and secular” Nepal, and did not put forward a socialist programme. They demanded, for example, free education and healthcare, and carried out parts of their programme in areas of the country they subsequently ruled. On an all-Nepal scale, however, their demands for nationalisation only concerned foreign capital and those companies cooperating with imperialism. Since the ULF was a run as an army, it had no way of involving workers and no democratic structures.
Several times, over the years, the Maoists even dropped their main demand, for a republic, and limited themselves to calling for an abolition of privileges. For example, in negotiations with the regime, in 2001, the Maoists demanded reduction of the power and influence of the royal palace. Following the massacre of several members of the royal family and a resulting crisis, also in 2001, the Maoist leader, Baburam Bhattarai, even praised King Birendra, one of those shot dead.
The paradox for the Maoists, over the last 6 years, is their growth in support and increase of their local power, on one side, and their leadership realising the war could not be won, on the other side. Since 9/11, the Nepalese army (RNA) was deployed against the Maoist guerrillas with the support of China, the US and India. This impasse led the Maoist leadership to change course, from “militant” Maoism, in the shape of guerrilla war, to ‘popular-front’ Maoism, by seeking alliances with so-called “progressive bourgeois leaders”.
But if Prachanda needed ten years experience to understand that the guerrilla war – on the basis the Maoists conducted it, without a socialist programme and without a mass workers’ party in urban areas – was a dead-end, the masses will soon realise how little will change with the Maoists entering government. Any movement fighting for a real change in the lives of the masses will immediately come into confrontation with the local capitalist class and their political representatives, as well as with imperialism. A real revolutionary socialist party in Nepal would prepare the masses for such a confrontation, not spreading illusions in the seven-party Alliance (SPA), the Indian government or the European Union, as the Maoist leaders did.
Revolutionary socialist party needed
What is most needed in Nepal is a revolutionary socialist party that can organise the masses in a democratic and fighting movement, against feudalism, capitalism and imperialism. To defend itself, such a movement would need democratically-organised defence committees. A peasant army, fighting for land reform, could serve as a valuable support to the main struggle by the workers in the cities. The Maoists, however, have left their weapons under the control of the UN, not the masses, in Nepal.
This month’s agreement is far from the end of the struggle in Nepal. There is still the possibility of a split between the SPA and the Maoists, as well as possible splits within the Maoist movement. Despite the agreement, elements of dual power still exist, with up to 100,000 people in an armed militia formed by the Maoists. Since April, Maoist police patrols appeared in the capital city, Kathmandu. If the Maoists restart the war, it would not be because they are struggling for “communism”, but rather for their own reasons of power and influence, if the result in the elections, next June, is a disappointment to them. That could be the case even locally, where Maoist ‘committees’ are used to collect taxes.
The support for and expectations in the Maoists are now at a peak. Many public rallies, involving tens of thousands of people celebrating the deal, are both a cry for peace and hope for a better life. In many cities, the rallies turned into, in effect, one-day strikes, with communications, shops and factories closed down. Amongst the youth and workers attending these rallies, many will start to look for a socialist alternative, which is not provided by the Maoists. The latter are also extremely limited by their nationalist outlook, and make no attempt to distinguish between workers and rulers in India and other neighbouring countries. The struggle in Nepal can only be victorious as part of a fight for a democratic and socialist Nepal, in a voluntary and equal federation of socialist countries in the region.