Himalayan Maoist-Communist Movement First to Make Major Breakthroughs in 21st Century
by Derek Rosin
Basics Issue #13 (Apr/May 2009)
Revolution is very much alive, and nowhere is it stronger than in the Himalayan country of Nepal. Today in Nepal, a country of 30 million people, there is a real communist revolution taking place, something most of us have never witnessed in our lifetimes. It's uplifting, exciting, dangerous, complicated and contradictory. And it needs to be studied carefully by anyone who's ever thought about what it would take to make a real revolution.
Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. Most people are poor peasants who can barely eke out a living. It's a country dominated by foreign powers, especially its southern neighbour. India has historically strangled Nepalese domestic industry and controlled its resources. Internally, the Nepalese people are kept down by caste oppression – a system of discrimination based on the family you were born into. Women also suffer tremendously. The combination of poverty and oppression has forced tens of thousands of Nepalese women into prostitution in India. Communists have been active in Nepal for decades, searching for ways to solve these basic problems.
A turning point came in 1996, when an insurrection was launched by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). Starting off small, the Maoist movement was able to strengthen and grow by relying on and leading mostly poor Nepalese peasants to fight and overthrow the forces of government in the countryside, then represented by an absolute monarchy. In their place, they began constructing a new society – by taking steps to end gender and caste oppression, introducing forms of popular democratic government, and providing for people's needs like basic health care and education. The Maoists called this the “People's War” - a revolutionary war of the people that seeks to overthrow the old system.
Within 10 years, the Maoists controlled 80% of Nepal. Only the cities remained firmly under government control. It was at this point that the Maoists decided to change tactics. Although they had built up a powerful People's Liberation Army (PLA), they did not feel it would be best to capture the cities militarily. They faced several obstacles: weak support among middle-class people in the cities, who would have to be important allies in any future society; an unfavourable international situation with no real socialist countries who could assist their extremely undeveloped country; and the mood of the masses themselves, who were justifiably exhausted by a decade of bloody conflict and yearned for peace.
In November 2006, the Maoists ended one phase of the revolution by signing a peace treaty with the government on the condition that elections be held for a Constituent Assembly – a temporary governing body that serves to write a new constitution for how society will work. The peace treaty gave the Maoists the freedom to begin doing intensive political work in areas they had previously been weak – namely in the cities and the heavily populated Southern Terai region. A tactic during this time was to politically isolate the leadership of the mainstream parties and reach out to their supporters by demanding the unconditional dissolution of the corrupt and widely-hated monarchy.
In April 2008, elections for the Constituent Assembly were held and the Maoists emerged as the biggest and most influential party. This shocked everyone in the world except the Maoists themselves, who knew the huge support they had been building throughout Nepal. In May, the monarchy was abolished.
Today, the situation is extremely complex. Although the Maoist leader Prachanda has been elected Prime Minister of the country, the revolution is far from complete. In nearly every way, it is just beginning.
Prachanda, whose real name is Pushpa Kamal Dahal, has been clear for a long time that the process of negotiations and entering government is a temporary tactic, and that this phase will not last forever. He has also been clear to emphasize that all their gains have rested on the foundation of the People's War. For this reason, the Maoists, despite entering the government, have refused to disband or disarm their army. They want to fuse their army with the old National Army, maintaining their leaders and influence over it.
Maoists have also emphasized the need for a thorough agrarian revolution that would give peasants land and break the power of landlords. They want to push forward with what they are calling the “People's Federal Democratic National Republic”. This is a slogan that encompasses many demands: autonomy for minority nationalities, multi-party democracy and democratic rights, national sovereignty and independence, women's equality, the end of caste discrimination and more.
The old mainstream parties, who enriched themselves by defending the old society, are bitterly opposed to these plans, and will try to block the Maoists.
So now there exists an uneasy dance between the Maoists and the representatives of the old system, as each tries to manoeuvre for their very different goals. It's an unsustainable situation, one where something definitely has to give.
This is what a real revolution looks like. Messy, complex, full of new approaches, unorthodoxies, and compromise. Study intently and stay tuned.