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The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) has in the last week signed a pact with the alliance of seven parliamentary parties that have united in opposition to King Gyanendra and his dictatorial regime. They will, in the words of former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, soon "launch a movement to end the tyrannical monarchy and hold constituent assembly elections under UN supervision." This pact ushers in a new phase in the Nepali revolutionary process.
In essence, the Maoists have agreed to lay down their arms (although not immediately) in exchange for the parties’ support for a constitutional convention to replace the current one and hopefully produce a republican form of government. This doesn’t sound terribly revolutionary, and indeed so solidly Establishment a figure as Kofi Annan says he "welcomes and is carefully studying" its details. The mainstream Kathmandu Post editorializes that "the Maoists have shown immense political maturity and responsibility towards the country" by concluding the agreement. The Defend Human Rights Movement-Nepal, a coalition of over two dozen leading rights groups, welcomes it.
But it must worry U.S. Ambassador James F. Moriarty, who has called the Maoist threat "terrific," and who recently said that Washington "strongly caution[s] the political parties against considering any kind of formal relationship with the Maoists, unless and until the Maoists firmly renounce violence, put down their weapons, and commit to supporting the democratic process." King Gyanendra for his part calls the pact an "unholy alliance" (maybe thinking of the Holy Alliance that gathered in support of monarchy and religion in Europe against republican ideals in 1815).
The agreement should be understood, in any case, in the context of the "Prachanda Path," or the strategic thinking of the Maoist chairman Prachanda. According to this, the Nepali revolution will combine the Chinese People’s War model with the Bolshevik urban insurrection model. The latter phase may be in the offing. The People’s War, initiated in 1996, has brought about 80% of the country under Maoist control, and in recent years the guerrillas have been able to paralyze the capital city of Kathmandu by bandhs (strikes) and highly effective road blockades. Over a year ago they declared that they had entered the stage of "strategic offensive"-the last stage of the war. But in September they announced a unilateral three month ceasefire, which they may extend when it expires December 2. Prachanda hasn’t promised that yet, declaring, "Our party is yet to take a concrete decision whether to break the ceasefire or to extend it. The Party HQ will make a decision after considering the overall situation. . . We have done enough discussion with the parties regarding this. Therefore, even if the ceasefire is broken, it will not have any effect on the understanding."
There have been two earlier ceasefires, from June to November 2001 and January to June 2003. These were bilateral, and occurred while the Maoists negotiated with governments headed the prime ministers Sher Bahadur Deuba, Lokendra Bahadur Chand, and Surya Bahadur Thapa. In both instances, the talks deadlocked over the question of a constitutional assembly. After the second round failed, the Maoists declared that they were no longer interested in parlaying with such politicians but rather demanded to negotiate with the monarch himself. Gyanendra, frustrated with the failure of successive prime ministers to solve the Maoist problem, seized power on February 1, 2005, dismissed the cabinet, imprisoned leading politicians, muzzled the press and imposed draconian new laws that alienated the political establishment. The king then offered to conduct talks with the Maoists, but the latter declared the offer too late and commenced secret talks with the mainstream parties.
The seven parties, representing over 90% of the membership of the last parliament, include most importantly the Nepali Congress Party and the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist. The former recently withdrew its programmatic support for the monarchy. The 12-point agreement states that "CPN-M has expressed firm commitment to acceptance of [a] competitive multiparty system," something the Maoists have been saying for some years. But that doesn’t mean they’ve become liberal democrats, or will step back from the radical reforms implemented in the regions under their control, or disavow Mao’s dictum that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. They’re dedicated, ultimately, to establishing a socialist society, but they seem to reckon that in the immediate future they can lead that effort within a multiparty democracy.
In March CPI-M leader Baburam Bhattarai wrote that his party believes in "the historical necessity of passing through a sub-stage of democratic republic in the specificities of Nepal." He called for the "realization of this democratic republic through a Constituent Assembly," likening Nepal to Spain in 1873 and citing Friedrich Engels’ remark at the time that "Spain is such a backward country industrially that there can be no question there of immediate complete emancipation of the working class. Spain will first have to pass through various preliminary stages of development and remove quite a number of obstacles from its path." Marxists (as well as the Buddha, born on the border between India and Nepal, for that matter) teach that everything that exists is in a state of constant change. Nothing, including forms of government or social systems, is forever, and certainly there’s no such thing as "the end of history." The question is how long will the Nepali "sub-stage" last?
The pact specifies that "after ending autocratic monarchy" the Maoists as well as the Royal Nepali Army will disarm under UN or other international supervision.
So as long as the king is in place, and his army extant, the Maoists will retain their weapons. Meanwhile, the seven parties will redouble their efforts to topple the king through illegal demonstrations in Kathmandu. Prachanda has said that the Maoists will not at this time participate in the street protests, and Congress Party leader Koirala says "We will be fighting the monarchy from separate fronts." But presumably the Maoists are organizing separately for action in the city and will join in decisively when the moment seems right.
At some point, like the Shah, Marcos, and Mobutu before him, the king will be forced to flee. The Maoists and the seven parties disagree on what happens next. The only point of disagreement indicated in the 12-point pact is this, the second point:
The seven agitating parties are fully committed to the fact that only by establishing absolute democracy through the restoration of the Parliament with the force of agitation, forming an all-party government with complete authority, holding elections to a constituent assembly through dialogue and understanding with the Maoists, can the existing conflict in the country be resolved and sovereignty and state power completely transferred to the people. It is [on the other hand--GL] the view and commitment of the CPN (Maoist) that the above mentioned goal can be achieved by holding a national political conference of the agitating democratic forces, and through its decision, forming an interim government to hold constituent assembly elections. An understanding has been reached between the agitating seven parties and the CPN (Maoist) to continue dialogue on this procedural work-list and find a common understanding. It has been agreed that the force of people’s movement is the only alternative to achieve this.
Quite likely, a leader of the Congress Party will head up a provisional government, a sort of bourgeois-democratic government committed to what the document calls "absolute democracy" but divided on such key issues as land reform and caste discrimination. The seven parties will wish to undertake the disarmament of the Maoists and RNA (which will now just be the "Nepali Army") as soon as possible, while reinstating parliament as their power base before a constituent assembly can be formed. The Maoists may press for a national conference prior to disarmament, and perhaps have the political clout to make this happen.
Possibly, after some months of drift, dissatisfaction with the provisional government and pace of change will produce a second urban uprising, led by the Maoists and supported by new allies. In other words, following the Russian model, a February Revolution succeeded by an October Revolution. That could happen even if disarmament’s been carried out. In 1917 Lenin didn’t have a military. But as we speak the People’s Liberation Army surrounds Kathmandu. It may still be there as the Russian model meets the Chinese model, and the red star long hidden below the historical horizon reappears, this time in the Himalayan sky.
GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.
He can be reached at: email@example.com