Nepal and Venezuela:For Popular Democracy, against Ceremonial Democracy

Any serious and honest survey of the Maoist movement would convey the truth that its main agenda has been to establish essential democratic institutions that devolve political and economic power to the masses.   In every negotiation with the King and the parliamentary forces, the Maoists have asked for an unconditional constituent assembly, during whose election different political forces promote their favored political structures and ask for the people’s mandate.  Only a democratically elected constituent assembly that seats representatives from the exploited and oppressed majority has the capacity to create a democratic constitution.  Otherwise, a constitution is bound to be an eclectic compromise among the vested interests of the already empowered (Nepal, as well as many other “democratic” countries, has seen such compromises).  The Maoists have also demanded the subordination of the national army to democratic government. Which modern nation can deny that the “professionalization” of the armed forces, unaccountable to people, harms the democratic interests?

The Maoists have time and again emphasized their commitment to competitive multi-party republican democracy.  They know that the fight for their maximal goal, for socialism and communism, has to be a long-term one, taking into consideration “the balance in the class struggle and international situation.”  But as Prachanda, the Maoist leader, simultaneously stresses, this position “is a policy, not tactics.”1  Does this policy diminish the revolutionary agenda of the Maoists?  Not at all.  When Mao called for putting politics in command and guns under this political command, he meant the readiness of the revolutionary forces to change according to the exigencies of class struggle.  What the Maoists are struggling for is the establishment of a basic political structure that will release the energy of the exploited and oppressed masses in Nepal for intensified class struggle, creating conditions for an unfettered process of self-organizaion of the working class.

Well-known Indian Marxist Randhir Singh’s assessment of the place of the Nepalese movement among the post-Cold War revolutionary movements is quite apt: “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.”2

Latin American experiences and Nepal’s Maoist movement indeed have much in common.  Both aim at political exercises unprecedented in the world history of revolutionary movements.  In Latin America and Nepal, we are literally witnessing what Marx hypothesized: “The proletariat, the lowest stratum of our present society, cannot stir, cannot raise itself up, without the whole superincumbent strata of official society being sprung into the air.”3

In Venezuela (as well as Latin America in general), revolutionary transformation is made complex by the coexistence of the lingering capitalist hegemony on the one hand and the contradiction of bourgeois democracy which has put revolutionary forces at the helm of the state on the other hand.  Therefore, there exists a tremendous pressure to de-radicalize the social forces behind the revolutionary upheaval by accommodating their leadership.  The strength of the revolutionary forces will be determined by their ability to challenge the lingering hegemony and prevent the cooptation of their leaders by building and sustaining alternative radical democratic organizaions — self-government of direct producers — and subordinating the state to them.  “Only insofar as the state is converted ‘from an organ standing above society into one completely subordinate to it’ can the working class ‘succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew.'”4  Co-management (a partnership between the workers of enterprises and society) in Venezuela, as well as Asambleas Barriales (neighbourhood assemblies) in Argentina, seeks to transcend both statist socialism and “sectionalist” self-management (in which workers of a self-managed enterprise mind only their own particular interests, disregarding the rest of society) by establishing incipient social control over production.

Modern capitalism relies mainly on representative democracy as the political system to reproduce the general conditions of capitalist accumulation.  Therefore, “the crucial problem for the people in charge of affairs is to be able to get on with the business in hand, without undue interference from below, yet at the same time to provide sufficient opportunities for political participation to place the legitimacy of the system beyond serious question. . . . Parliamentarism makes this possible: for it simultaneously enshrines the principle of popular inclusion and that of popular exclusion.”  Thus gaining legitimacy, parliamentalism, ceremonial democracy, “de-popularizes” policy-making and limits the impact of class contradiction at workplaces and marketplaces upon the conduct of political affairs.5  Hence, the practice of “participative and protagonistic democracy in society as a whole, the idea of people communally deciding on their needs and communally deciding on their productive activity” definitely constitutes a grave crisis for global capitalism.  Participative and protagonistic democracy dissolves all “metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties” that characterize market relations and represent capitalist reality in a distorted manner by dividing the collective working class into various identities (consumers, citizens, unemployed, formal- and informal-sector workers) and engendering competition among them.  It reclaims the right to determine one’s own destiny, to realize the “creative potential of every human being and the full exercise of his or her personality in a democratic society,” as envisaged in the Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela.6

In Nepal, regular betrayals by self-identified democrats as well as monarchy had, again and again, scuttled the potential emergence of even the minimum semblance of popular democracy.  Therefore, the democratic movement was restricted to the petty bourgeoisie, who were fed by international aid, after the state took its own cuts.  Whenever the democratic movement seemed to integrate with the struggle of poor peasants, proletarians, and the landless for basic needs, a compromise between the state and petty-bourgeois democrats was forged, curbing the radical potential of democracy.

The success of the Maoists lies in the fact that they integrated struggles in the remotest corners of Nepalese society with the struggle for popular democracy.  They exposed the class content of the formal democratic exercises of the 1990s.  They demonstrated how the formal democratic institutions that emerged in Nepal through the arrangement among the royalty, landlords, and the upper crust of the petty bourgeoisie, supported by global imperialism, were designed to benefit only the local agents of primitive accumulation and commercialization, perpetuating Nepal’s dependency.

What role did the Maoists’ armed struggle play in this regard?  Firstly, it was a veritable boost to self-confidence of the oppressed and exploited, building their capacity for self defence.  Secondly, it politicized the downtrodden and allowed them to begin to govern themselves, freed from the ruling coalition’s coercive power and manufactured consent.  The virtual emergence of dual power could not have been possible without the masses’ own defence mechanism.  Thirdly, the decade-long people’s war and land reforms undertaken in the countryside, establishing incipient alternative democratic institutions, have radicalized Nepalese society.  It halted the continuous draining of Nepalese natural and human resources for the profit of global imperialism, the draining mediated and buffered by the local coalition of Nepalese landlords, merchants, and corporations under the leadership of the royalty.  Those internal and external forces had combined to put a stranglehold on the democratic aspirations of Nepalese society in the name of maintaining stability and allowing a “controlled transformation of the economy to suit the imperialist calculus.”7  The Maoist upsurge liberated democratic potentialities in Nepal from that stranglehold.

Through their recent alliance with other democratic forces in Nepal, the Maoists won back “middle forces” (to use Mao’s term), achieving nationwide unity among the exploited and oppressed sections of society.  It marks the Maoists’ willingness to challenge formal “democracy from above” by incipient “democracy from below,” through “political competition” between them.  The Maoist movement in Nepal is part of the global struggle for freedom, democracy, and socialism.  We will have to wait and see what specificities the Nepalese struggle will acquire, whether it can avoid becoming another saga of historic betrayal forged by an alliance of imperialist forces and the local ruling coalition.

Global imperialism is again hyperactive with its armies and ideologies today.  Only the working classes of the world can defend the movements for social transformation in Nepal, Venezuela, and beyond through their “fraternal concurrence” (to use Marx’s words).  They must live up to their “duty to master themselves the mysteries of international politics; to watch the diplomatic acts of their respective governments; to counteract them, if necessary, by all means in their power; when unable to prevent, to combine in simultaneous denunciations, and to vindicate the simple laws or morals and justice, which ought to govern the relations of private individuals, as the rules paramount of the intercourse of nations.  The fight for such a foreign policy forms part of the general struggle for the emancipation of the working classes.”8



1  “Interview with Prachanda,” The Hindu 8, 9 and 10 February 2006.

2  Randhir Singh, “Foreword,” Baburam Bhattarai, Monarchy Vs. Democracy: The Epic Fight in Nepal, New Delhi: Samkaleen Teesari Duniya, 2005, pp.vii.

3  Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, The Manifesto of the Communist Party, 1848.

4  Michael A. Lebowitz, Beyond Capital (2nd Edition), Palgrave, 2003, pp.196.

5  Ralph Miliband, Capitalist Democracy in Britain, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982, pp.38.

6  Michael A. Lebowitz, “Constructing Co-Management in Venezuela: Contradictions along the Path,” MRZine 24 October 2005.

7  Baburam Bhattarai, The Nature of Underdevelopment and Regional Structure of Nepal: A Marxist Analysis, Delhi: Adroit Publishers, 2003, pp.46.

8  Karl Marx, “Inaugural Address of the International Working Men’s Association,” 1864.

Pratyush Chandra keeps a blog titled India, South Asia, and the World at