Mass demonstrations and political strikes by the people of Nepal have succeeded in not only reinstating parliament after over a year of absolute monarchist rule, but have also seriously threatened any control by the imperialist-backed feudal monarchy over parliament, the army and the country.
Such is the momentum of the people’s struggle that the seven-party alliance (SPA) that controls the new parliament is being forced to demand the replacement of the constitutional monarchy with a new democratic republic. A proclamation curtailing the powers of the king was delayed by the SPA, until, as the Financial Times aptly put it, “under pressure from renewed street protests, lawmakers have bought time with the resolution [curtailing the king’s powers], which provides a down payment to Maoist rebels intent on creating a secular republic ahead of promised elections to a constituent assembly” . (18 May 2006)
In the last few months, there have been reports, even in the bourgeois press, of protests by hundreds of thousands of people across Nepal “disregarding the curfew, shoot-at-sight orders, killing, bludgeoning, torture and imprisonment to defy the monarchic tyranny and to demand true democracy and the rule of law”. (Tapan Basu of the South Asia Forum for Human Rights, quoted in ‘Whither Nepal?’ by Pranav Jani, 1 May 2006)
Although the bourgeois press is working hard to hide the roots of this democratic movement in Nepal, the reader should not be fooled into thinking that it has sprung from nowhere. In stark contrast to the so-called ‘orange’ or ‘tulip’ ‘revolutions’ in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, which were engineered by external imperialist interests to overthrow governments that refused to comply with the desires of foreign capitalists, the current mass demonstrations in Nepal follow a decade-long struggle against the feudal monarchy that has been waged by the workers and peasants under the leadership of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CPN(M)).
Decade of struggle
Nepal is a country where the majority of the population survives on a per capita income of less than $200 a year. Access to electricity and clean water is limited to the bigger towns and villages, and 76 percent of its 28 million people are reliant on agriculture as their main means of subsistence. Until recently, life for the vast masses in Nepal has consisted of eking out a meagre existence while a tiny feudal and comprador bourgeois elite enjoys a life of luxury.
In 1996, under the leadership and inspiration of the CPN(M), an insurrection of the poor peasantry began in some of the more remote rural areas. A decade later, 80 percent of Nepal is now liberated and under CPN(M) administration.
The monarchy, the bourgeois political parties, and even parties that claim to be communist, have all opposed and fought against the CPN(M)-led insurgency. In 2001, King Birendra, who had adopted a relatively low key deployment of the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) in response to the uprising, was gunned down along with his immediate family. The official line is that he was murdered by his ‘disturbed’ son who then (conveniently) killed himself. This theory is widely discredited, and it is generally thought that Birendra was ‘removed’ at the instigation of the US as a result of his apparently relaxed attitude towards defeating the CPN(M). His hardline brother Gyanendra, backed by imperialist powers, came to the throne and unleashed the full force of the imperialist-equipped and trained RNA against the CPN(M)-led peasant forces.
For five years, Gyanendra led a violent campaign of disappearances, extra-judicial executions and brutal intimidation against the Maoist forces and anyone else who showed signs of opposition to the monarchy. This was all carried out with armaments supplied through trade agreements and donations by Britain and the US, along with India, under the guise of fighting the ‘war on terror’.
The results of this increased suppression, however, rather than reducing the support for the Maoists, served to do the opposite. The political support for republicanism that had previously been manifested mainly in the countryside was increasingly being echoed in the towns.
In 2005, Gyanendra, in a desperate attempt to regain control of the country, removed parliament completely and assumed absolute power. A state of emergency was declared and curfews with shoot-at-sight measures even in the towns became the norm. This only increased the demand for a republic.
Revolutionaries leading a bourgeois democratic revolution
The successes of recent weeks have been achieved through the courageous struggle of the Nepalese people with the CPN(M) in the leadership. The seven-party alliance is heading the reinstated parliament not because of its leading role in the struggle but in response to pressure of increased revolutionary activity. The parliamentarians have finally taken up the agenda of a democratic republic – the recent turn of events has left them with no alternative if they wish to maintain any credibility in the eyes of the masses.
In the meantime, the influence of the CPN(M) is so strong that it cannot be ignored; in fact, it is setting the pace day by day. In a statement on 13 May, Prachanda, the leader of the CPN(M) warned that if the alliance acted against the “people’s interest for a republic … there will be another armed struggle and Maoists are ready to lead this struggle as well”.
Eighty percent of Nepal liberated
In the liberated areas of Nepal, the CPN(M) is held in high esteem. The life of the remotely-situated workers and the poor peasantry, even in so short a space of time and while engaged in fighting a revolutionary people’s war, has undergone a radical transformation. The main advances have been related to agricultural reforms, which have seen the expropriation of land from the landlords and its redistribution to the peasants. In addition, the ‘land tax’ has been abolished in these areas and the CPN(M) encourages cooperative farming methods to increase production. Agricultural education classes have also been introduced. These changes alone have increased agricultural productivity by 10-15 percent.
For a population that has previously had very limited access to healthcare, the CPN(M) have set up clinics throughout the liberated areas and have set about training both ‘barefoot doctors’ and midwives.
In a country where patriarchal traditions and the caste system have dominated for centuries, the people in the liberated areas have worked hard to eliminate these hierarchies. Women are given the same work opportunities and expectations as men, and vast numbers of women have taken up the rifle to fight alongside their male comrades in the anti-feudal People’s War.
The autonomous regions have also begun to develop road networks – a painstaking task when the only equipment available is hands and shovels, but a task that is providing the potential for better links between the remote areas of Nepal. “Ima Kumari, a 43-year-old mother of three, explained, ‘I’m still illiterate. I don’t know much about books. But I know that the road is a good thing. We’re building a new country. It used to take days to get salt and clothes, but with the new road we can do it in hours.’” (‘Report from liberated area in Nepal by the first international road building brigade’, Revolution, #037, 5 March 2006)
The significance of Nepal
Nepal is not a country that carries the ‘burden’ of being rich in resources, like, for example, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) or Iraq. And it is not a country of vast size or population that has great potential as a market or for investment. It is, however, a country of great geo-strategic importance. Both Britain and the US realise the strategic significance of Nepal, and it forms a crucial part of the US strategy of encircling China. Nepal has additional geo-political significance due to its position in relation to India.
However, neither Britain nor the US has the control it would like, because of the unreliability of Gyanendra and his squabbling with the SPA. Imperialism just wants the Maoists defeated. Sean McCormack, US State Department spokesman, confirmed the failure of the king to bring the parties back into a “process to restore democracy” when making the following statement:
“As a friend of Nepal, we must state that King Gyanendra’s decision fourteen months ago to impose direct palace rule in Nepal has failed in every regard. The demonstrations, deaths, arrests, and Maoist attacks in the past few days have shown there is more insecurity [for the ruling class], not less. The king’s continuing failure to bring the parties back into a process to restore democracy has compounded the problem.
“The United States calls upon the king to restore democracy immediately and to begin a dialogue with Nepal’s constitutional political parties. It is time the king recognises that this is the best way to deal with the Maoist insurgency and to return peace and prosperity to Nepal.” (‘Nepal: A message to the king’, US State Department, 10 April 2006)
However, it is the CPN(M) that has the initiative and is leading the struggle for the defeat of Gyanendra and neutralising the parties of the SPA, who will never be able to lead a resolute republican struggle, because they fear it will get out of control and go further than they want.
In leading the struggle, the CPN(M) is truly serving the interests of the Nepalese peasantry and workers. We wish them every success in steering the struggle through the current complex and daily changing situation towards the achievement of a thoroughgoing democratic revolution, and, ultimately, to socialism.
The Nepalese struggle is an inspiration to all workers and oppressed people.
Long live the Nepalese revolution!