A WORLD TO WIN    #32   (2006)


Torrents of Revolt Engulf the Throne

As we go to press in May 2006, it is impossible to predict what new twists and turns the revolution in Nepal will face in the coming months. In April, a massive three-week upsurge in the Kathmandu valley and other cities of Nepal has deeply shaken the ruling structures of the country and it is not at all sure that the monarchical regime will survive.

While it was the urban upsurge led by the parliamentary parties which came close to administering the coup de grace to King Gyanendra’s regime, it was the decade-long people’s war led by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) that set the stage for the recent developments. Since February 2005 the king had ruled with absolute power after dissolving the parliament. The parliament had been composed of numerous political parties, some even calling themselves “Marxist-Leninist”, which took turns occupying government ministries and squabbled bitterly amongst themselves. One guiding star united the parliament: opposition to the revolutionary war being waged in Nepal’s countryside.

When Gyanendra dissolved the parliament in February 2005and issued a nationwide clampdown (for example, even temporarily cutting off cellphone and internet service in the whole country), his agenda was openly announced. Ten years of Maoist revolution, the king said, had put the country “on the verge of a precipice”. In effect he was seeking to unite the whole Nepalese ruling class by force and concentrate the whole power of the kingdom on the overarching task of defeating the people’s war.

So how did the international champions of democracy, in particular the US, British and Indian governments, react when this feudal monarch backed by his generals dismissed parliament, put the leaders of the parliamentary parties under house arrest and suspended what few civil liberties the country still had, in a naked royal coup? Did they invade the country “to restore democracy and the rule of law”? Did they boycott the regime or subject it to international sanctions? Did they even take Gyanendra to the UN Security Council for a simple resolution of condemnation? Of course not. They issued a few mild diplomatic regrets, for public consumption, but for all practical purposes gave the regime virtual impunity to go about trying to drown the revolution in blood. And not without reason – hadn’t the US imperialists used this same approach in Peru, when they turned a blind eye to Fujimori’s 1991 “auto-coup”, which enabled his regime to deal sharp blows to the people’s war there, including through the arrest of its leader, Communist Party of Peru Chairman Gonzalo?

In truth, the plan of all the reactionaries and imperialists was simple: help the king crush the revolution, then find some means to “restore democracy” -- that is, put a less “absolute” face on the reactionary regime in place. The problem is that Gyanendra failed miserably. Even though the army unleashed a countrywide wave of terror, it was still unable to make any significant breakthroughs against the revolutionary forces. In the months after the royal coup the People’s Liberation Army launched major attacks on heavily fortified enemy outposts, each containing scores of hand-picked, hardcore-reactionary soldiers of the Royal Nepal Army (RNA), fanatically loyal to the king and ready to die to preserve his rule. The PLA attacked with forces in battalion and division strength (a division is about 2,700 soldiers) in what was called the First Plan of the Strategic Offensive. After some initial battles with heavy casualties on both sides, the military tide began to decisively turn. A major army base in Pili, in Western Nepal, was overrun in August 2005, with 159 RNA soldiers killed and 60 captured, and large amounts of ammunition seized.

The PLA grew to seven divisions, in addition to the many thousands more villagers enrolled in the militias. The rule of the reactionary state was limited to the major cities, district administrative centres and army bases. The hilly region of Nepal was almost completely liberated and under the control of the new revolutionary authorities led by the party and responsible to the people. While the flat fertile regions such as the Terai or Dang Valley which produce most of Nepal’s grain were not completely liberated, in these areas the PLA could function openly in both large and small units and the masses could be widely moblised in revolutionary activity. For example, the thousands of peasants from the Dang Valley who participated hiked up into the hills to take part in the building the “Martyrs’ Road” in the revolutionary base area of Rolpa. The RNA, on the other hand, could only venture out of their bases to terrorise the rural masses in heavy convoys.

The successes of the PLA and the inability of the reactionary regime to carry through its threat to decisively defeat the revolution intensified the crisis within the camp of the old state. A major development came when a 12-point memorandum was signed between the CPN(M) and the parliamentary parties, Seven Party Alliance (SPA), in November 2005. The agreement called for a united effort against the “autocratic monarchy” and the convening of a constituent assembly. The agreement caused something of a political earthquake in Nepal since, for the first time, the parliamentary parties were allied with the Maoists against the king. The US, in particular, vigorously denounced the 12-point memorandum and said that instead the king and the SPA must come to an agreement. Other reactionary forces, especially India, took a different attitude, hoping that the Seven Party Alliance could pressure the CPN(M) to “rejoin the mainstream” and give up on the people’s war.

Tension mounted throughout the country as the 6 April date for the nationwide general strike drew closer. In March 2006, the PLA paraded through a district capital, Gularia, in broad daylight, and also shot down a helicopter – the first time in South Asia Maoist forces had succeeded in knocking out this powerful counter-revolutionary weapon. Also, on the eve of the general strike the PLA successfully wiped out two key RNA outposts controlling the entry to the Kathmandu valley from both the east and the west. Mao Tsetung’s description of “encircling the cities from the countryside” was palpable.

The CPN(M) agreed not to carry out military operations in the urban areas during the April general strike to avoid giving excuses to the regime to attack the masses. The Maoist support for the strike assured that there was 100 percent compliance with the ban on transporting people and goods on the highways, which the PLA can control at will.

Within the cities the strike immediately took on proportions far beyond what the parties that had called for it expected or probably wished. Repeated clashes took place between demonstrators armed only with stones and vicious club-wielding police and soldiers. On some occasions bullets were used against the crowds. About two dozen demonstrators were killed and as many as 5,000 injured in the three-week period.

The slogans quickly outstripped the demands of the Seven Party Alliance. While the SPA had been careful not to call for an end to the monarchy, on the streets masses in their hundreds of thousands were chanting for the king’s execution. Any sign with the word “royal” or “his majesty” was very likely to be destroyed. Under this avalanche of anti-monarchy sentiment the parliamentary parties themselves made half-hearted republican comments.

When it became clear that force alone would not break the movement, the Nepal ruling classes and their foreign backers scrambled to find a solution to the crisis. The US, UK, Indian and Chinese ambassadors made a joint call upon the king to lay down new rules: he was to immediately come to an agreement with the parliamentary parties. If not, US ambassador James Moriarity told the press, Gyanendra might have to leave the country “by helicopter”. The “international community” put great pressure on the SPA to accept the king’s offer to have the SPA name a new prime minister. However, the pressure in the street was too great for the SPA to dare to accept this proposal. Only when the King agreed to unconditionally reinstate the previous parliament did the SPA agree to call off the strike.

In the streets the people celebrated the retreat of the king. But in addition to jubilation, another incessant demand was heard: “Don’t betray the people!” And the people have every reason to fear such a betrayal. The new Prime Minister Girija Koirala, a leader of the reactionary Nepal Congress Party who heads the interim government, only three years ago was working hand-in-glove with the tyrant Gyanendra to bring out the Royal Nepal Army (RNA) to wage a counter-insurgency campaign. The very first declaration of the new government made no mention at all of the country’s central political issue -- the ongoing revolutionary war. Furthermore, one of the first acts of the nervous new government was to ban any demonstration in the centre of Kathmandu. And while the parliamentary parties agreed to convene some kind of constituent assembly, they started quickly running away from the demand to get rid of the monarchy completely and establish a republic.

US Ambassador Moriarty boasted that the “Bush administration’s policy of promoting democracy worldwide” (!!) had been “brilliantly successful” in Nepal – while the US and UK had backed the monarchy to the hilt for years and armed the Royal Nepal Army even as it conducted a bloodbath in the countryside. According to Amnesty International, the Gyanendra regime piled up the worst record of disappearances in the world. Moriarty imperiously declared that there is “a useful role for the institution of the monarchy as a unifying factor”. As for the CPN(M), Moriarity said they should be allowed to participate in the constitutuent assembly if they dissolve the PLA and renounce violence. Assistant US Secretary of State Richard Boucher voiced the goal of American policy: “I think we should work together as much as we can... to expunge the Maoists from Nepali society. I think it’s very much the attitude of the governments in the region, including India.”

The problem of the monarchy is a big one for the reactionary ruling class and its foreign backers. Up to now the monarchy, along with the RNA loyal to it, has been the pillar of the reactionary order. In the concrete conditions of Nepal it is not easy to “unplug” the king (who is considered a reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu) without the whole reactionary state apparatus coming apart—especially when the regime is being battered by revolutionary warfare. However, “Plan A”, for Gyenendra to crush the revolution, has failed. If “Plan B”, relying on the parliamentary parties with some kind of residual role for the king to defeat the revolution, also fails, perhaps “Plan C” of the imperialists and reactionaries may include a republic. One thing is certain: the enemies of the Nepal revolution will be working night and day using all kinds of carrots and all kinds of sticks in hopes of derailing the revolution and consolidating a new reactionary government.

At this writing, the new Koirala government has accepted an indefinite ceasefire with the CPN(M) and talks are scheduled at the highest level. The CPN(M), in its statement welcoming the first declaration of the new government, pointed out: “Having not spoken against mounting foreign intervention in the Nepalese politics, not mentioned anything about comprehensive restructuring of the state, which mainly means, in the context of Nepal, the right of self determination for the [oppressed] nationalities, not even touched the question of national and regional autonomy and a federal state structure, not mentioned anything about necessity of land to the tiller and an independent economic policy, not mentioned anything about the need to respect the people’s fundamental rights to education, health and employment, and nothing spoken about special right for the downtrodden castes [dalits, so-called “untouchables”] and women, it appears very clear that the fundamental problems the Nepalese people encounter day-to-day will not be solved by this Declaration.”

The period ahead will be no less critical for the advance of the Nepalese revolution than the tumultuous days in April that won major concessions from the king. In reality, two states confront each other in Nepal -- the old semi-feudal, semi-colonial state connected to the whole world imperialist system, and the people’s regime in Nepal’s countryside where for more than ten years the scaffolding has been constructed of a new political system based on the strength of the People’s Liberation Army and the mobilisation of the masses. In these vast areas it has already been possible to institute a new rule which has quickly improved the lives of the masses and already begun the arduous process of developing a different kind of social system that can develop in the direction of socialism and communism.

It is enough to consider a few key features of Nepalese society to see how liberating the transformations brought about by the people’s war have been and to see what the imperialists and reactionaries are so determined to reverse. In the first place, the caste system has played a central role in Nepalese society for hundreds of years. Political power, land ownership, and higher education have been almost exclusively in the hands of high caste Hindus while the vast majority of the lower castes are locked into a life as peasants and labourers. In addition to enforcing exploitation, the feudal superstructure has meant a life of humiliation for the lower castes who were forbidden even to enter the houses of the upper castes or drink water from the same wells. In the liberated countryside giant blows have been dealt to this hateful system. The lower castes walk with their head high and play a central role in all aspects of the new society, including exercising political power, together with enlightened elements and revolutionaries from the upper castes who have broken with the ideological chains of Brahmanism. Marriages between castes, the ultimate taboo of the caste system and virtually unheard of before the revolution, are more and more common. Closely linked to the caste system is the oppression of minority nationalities in Nepal. In fact, taken together, the minorities make up the majority of the Nepalese population. Under the reactionary system no rights were granted these peoples – no schooling in the local languages, no respect for indigenous culture and so forth. Great transformations have already taken place in this sphere as autonomous regions have been formed in the liberated base areas, bringing self-government to many oppressed nationalities.

Finally, the great changes in the condition of women speak volumes about the revolutionary transformation the people’s war has introduced. Where arranged marriages between even children were widespread in the past, now strict prohibitions are placed against child marriage and in the liberated areas the party has been leading a tenacious fight to convince young women and men to marry at no younger than 18 for women and 21 for men. And while no doubt backward thinking remains, more and more women and men are marrying whom they want -- regardless of caste or nationality or the opinions of parents. Public drunkenness, once a scourge in the countryside and often connected with wife-beating, has been essentially eliminated. Previously women were usually illiterate and limited to the household. Today large numbers of women have joined the revolutionary armed forces, making up approximately one-third of the PLA regular soldiers not to mention the widespread militias. Many of the commanders and political leaders are women as well.

All of these changes are, of course, basic democratic transformations and not yet the kind of changes that socialism could bring. But it is also a fact that under the rule of the reactionaries and dominated by the world imperialist system, these most basic democratic transformations have been impossible.

By way of comparison, in India, the “world’s largest democracy” and a far more economically advanced country than Nepal, more than 90 percent of marriages, including among the educated urban dwellers, respect caste barriers. This is an illustration of why Mao stressed the need for a new-democratic revolution (NDR) led by the proletariat. He pointed out that the NDR is no longer part of the old bourgeois-democratic revolution but part of the new world proletarian revolution. From the initiation of the people’s war the strategic goal of the party has been to fulfil the NDR and to proceed after that to the socialist revolution.

So at the present time two futures and two states in Nepal are colliding, the one based in the countryside representing new democracy and pointing to the socialist future, and the old Nepal enchained by imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism and subservient to Indian expansionism. Which new state power will be established and consolidated throughout the country is the central problem of the revolution and the focus of the very complex problems and sinuous path of the Nepalese revolution at this crucial juncture.

On one level the task of the revolution is the same as that when the war first began on 12 February 1996 with small forces but great revolutionary ambitions and Marxism-Leninism-Maoism as the party’s compass to navigate the unknown and perilous waters. The reactionaries boasted they would snuff out the hardly armed incipient rebellion within 15 days! In order to initiate the revolutionary war Chairman Prachanda and other leaders had first to refute the revisionist fallacy of MB Singh that Nepal’s geopolitical situation locked between the giants of India and China made it impossible to sustain a people’s war and to develop it to victory. The subsequent development of the people’s war, with the exponential growth of the PLA both in quantity and quality, proved the correctness of the Maoists. But achieving and holding onto nationwide victory is still no easy matter, especially with the US, UK, India, indeed the whole consortium of reactionary states known as the “international community” determined to do everything necessary to block the emergence of a new-democratic Nepal. The relationship between advancing the revolution in Nepal in the face of reactionary encirclement and supporting the revolutionary struggle in the region and the world has gone from being just principle and theory to an immediate and burning problem.

There is no question but that the revolution in Nepal, like all great revolutions, will necessarily go through unexpected and unpredictable twists and turns. Today the party is faced with both new questions and new problems as the real possibilities as well as the challenges and difficulties of completing the new-democratic revolution take on sharper focus.

Millions of the oppressed people in Nepal have been fighting for a different future and put their hopes and dreams for a better future in the revolution. Throughout the South Asia in particular, many millions more are intensely watching the developments in Nepal unfold, sensing that the advance or setback of the revolution in the Himalayas will greatly influence the course of history in the region. Revolutionary communists in every country consider the Nepalese revolution their own and are determined to render every possible assistance to the revolution in Nepal and to oppose the foul plans of the imperialists and reactionaries to derail and/or defeat the revolution.