Nepal: Nepal—The Most Significant Popular Struggle for Freedom and Democracy in the World Today

Randhir Singh, former Head of the Department of Political Science in the University of Delhi, now retired, is a long time friend of Monthly Review. He sent the following essay to MR’s Harry Magdoff, and we think it deserves a wide circulation. The essay was written as the introduction to by Baburam Bhattarai [The publisher is Samkaleen Teesari Duniya, Q-63, Sector 12, Noida 201 301 (India). 196 pages; Rs. 250 / $15 (paper).].

The collapse of the Soviet Union and its ‘actually existing socialism’, the latter’s truly grave deformations notwithstanding, has had the consequence of a worldwide crisis of revolutionary politics, a crisis really of the social revolution of our times which, however, even in the failure of its first efforts, has left the world significantly changed for the better, and though in crisis, has enough resources left for revolutionary struggles of the future, a resumed struggle for socialism.

Apropos this, in the immediate aftermath of the Soviet collapse, taking note of ‘the historic significance of the world’s first socialist revolution’—the October Revolution—and the achievements of ‘the pioneering experiment in the erstwhile Soviet Union’—particularly the prodigies of its planned economic development and the life of material security and moral-aesthetic culture it assured for its ordinary citizens, far superior to what even the countries of advanced capitalism have to offer to their common people—I had written:

Indeed, without the ‘historical communism’ as it has been called, this world of ours would have been a far more inhuman and hopeless place. Beyond its historically specific achievements… is a somewhat intangible aspect of the social reality around us today, a general illumination, as it were, that bathes all the failed and successful peculiarities of our age. You have to take only one, quick look around to recognise the living presence of ‘historical communism’ in the enhanced awareness of humankind the world over concerning issues of human dignity, of justice and injustice, of equality, oppression and exploitation, in the voice and hope the poor and oppressed have come to acquire in our times, in the quality and spread of their struggles for a better life and, above all, in their confidence, despite all the retreats and reverses, that they can fight and win their emancipation…

The perspective underlying this statement was an early re-emergence of revolutionary politics, a revival of the revolutionary process in the world, proceeding as in the past, in its own historically specific ways. Not that it will necessarily produce a remake of the twentieth century. History does not repeat itself, we are told. But ‘history is more imaginative than we are,’ Marx had said. History certainly has its surprises—and revolutions by the oppressed and exploited are among them. The inventiveness of masses in revolt has been and will continue to be beyond the imagination of the most sensitive scholar or philosopher.

Quite expectedly, therefore, popular action by diverse sections of society expressing the desire for alternatives to the established order of things has been a significant feature of the last decade-and-a half: the Chavez phenomenon in Venezuela, mass mobilisations in support of his government in defiance of the local elite and US imperialism; the indigenous people’s revolts and struggles of the landless in Brazil; the anti-privatisation struggles and general strikes in Bolivia; a near insurrection in Ecuador against the IMF-imposed policies; the continuing guerrilla war in Columbia and Peru; the popular uprising and occupation of factories and sites of political power in Argentina in 2001-02; the French working-class’ militancy; the mass strikes by workers in Italy and Germany and the Europe-wide march of the unemployed; working class actions in India, South Korea, Nigeria and South Africa; the student anti-sweatshop agitation in the United States; worldwide protests against globalisation; the opposition to America’s war on and occupation of Iraq and the Iraqi people’s resistance, and so on. Che’s legacy, the influence of ‘Guevarismo’ lives on in the collective imagination of the fighters and in debates about the methods, the strategies, and the nature of their struggles, as the revolutionary process in Latin America—from Nicaragua to EI Salvador, from Guatemala to Mexico—enters a new phase. The Zapatista armed uprising stands as a powerful symbol of popular resistance to global capitalism’s neo-liberal policies—not only in Mexico but in all Latin America and beyond Latin America is in fact emerging as a particularly important zone of class struggle against international capital. Just as, far away, on another continent, Nepal exemplifies that, odds notwithstanding, people will continue fighting for life beyond the established capitalist or feudal social orders.

In this revived revolutionary process, the Chavez-led Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela apart, the Communist Party (Maoist)-led movement in Nepal—popularly known as People’s War—is undoubtedly the most significant popular struggle for freedom and democracy in the world today.

A specifically Nepalese, historically inevitable response, what is on in Nepal since February 1996 is a ‘revolutionary democratic movement for total reconstruction of the state and society’ in the country. Facing any number of intractable problems of theory and practice, all the more intractable in a country like Nepal, learning from the past experience of both the Communist Parties and the revolutionary regimes, and making innovative use of the resources of the revolutionary traditions available to it, the movement over these years has struggled forward, against the heaviest of odds and on a most difficult terrain.

As the movement has progressed, the struggle today has come to be specifically focused on the question of democracy. The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) is today fighting for democracy—of course a democracy that takes care of the interests of the oppressed people, particularly ‘the oppressed (minority) nationalities, oppressed regions, and the women, and the Dalits’. In terms of their theory what they are fighting for is ‘a completion of the democratic process’ in Nepal. The immediate demand is for the election of ‘a Constituent Assembly which will draft a new democratic Constitution’. They are committed to ‘a multiparty system in the future state set-up’. As they have specifically declared:

There is absolutely no basis to suspect and fear that we will impose one-party dictatorship once we assume power in Kathmandu.

And this is a fundamental principle for their politics in the future too:

It is thus not only in the current phase of bourgeois democratic revolution but also in the subsequent phase of socialist revolution that we want to develop a new model of democracy in which people’s right to dissent and rebel in an organised form will be institutionalised.

As elsewhere, here too they have learnt well form the past experience of Communist Parties and revolutionary regimes. Again, they are not after imposing any ‘immediate communist agenda’:

Our economic policy would be self-reliance and abolition of dependency which has plagued the country’s economy for long.

Very appropriately, what they seek is ‘self-reliant economic development… oriented towards socialism’. It can be emphatically stated, and needs to be recognised, that in terms of their theory and practice, including practice in the areas under their control, in matters of both politics and economy, the CPN (Maoist) is today the most committed and effective force for democracy in Nepal.

It is not at all surprising that the people’s struggle in Nepal, the Nepalese people’s assertion of their right to determine their own future, has evoked hostility and opposition, and fear, among the ruling classes, not only at home but in the neighbourhood and abroad. Led by or coordinating with the United States, the chieftain of global capitalism—‘world’s gendarme of counter-revolution’, as Isaac Deutscher had called it—they are intervening against it with military aid and otherwise. Hypocritical as ever, they are doing so in the name of ‘restoring’ democracy—‘parliamentary democracy’ to be precise—that never really came to exist in Nepal. A campaign of lies and misinformation, of falsification, misrepresentation and slander has been mounted against the struggling people of Nepal. If their enemies at home or abroad have gone to town with their vulgarisations of Maoism, the lazy Maoism of their friends has only obscured the real issues and fed into the hostile propaganda.

Insofar as the interests of the common people everywhere, especially in India and the Third World, are vitally involved in the present and future of the Nepalese people’s struggle, they need to counter the imperialist intervention and propaganda, that is, counter-intervene on behalf of the struggling people of Nepal, stand in solidarity and support with them. This obviously points to the need of understanding what the struggle in Nepal is about. The present admittedly modest publication is a timely response to this need.

The author, Baburam Bhattarai, is an acknowledged leader of the CPN (Maoist), whose self-identification—‘as a typical representative of a Third World educated youth of peasant background, who finds the gross inequality, oppression, poverty, underdevelopment and exploitation of the overwhelming majority of the population in a class-divided and imperialism-dominated world just intolerable, and grasps Marxism-Leninism-Maoism as the best scientific tool to change it positively’—in its own way well expresses the essential nature of the struggle in Nepal. And, as he says in his preface:

The historical struggle between monarchy and democracy in Nepal has drawn the attention of the whole world in recent years. However, there is considerable lack of understanding about the real nature of this struggle even among the close observers of the Nepalese politics. This issue has been all the more blurred and made complex by a seemingly triangular contention along feudal monarchist, parliamentary democratic and revolutionary democratic forces. Hence it has become imperative to delve into the basic issues involved in the conflict and the present collection is a humble effort in that direction; of course from a radical perspective.