Sunday, September 04, 2005. The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) announced yesterday that its guerrilla forces, the New People’s Army, will observe a three-month ceasefire. This is particularly significant in that the move is a unilateral one. The regime might decide to respond in kind, and reign in the Royal Nepali Army, which is reportedly unhappy with the war and the king. But the Maoists, who will defend themselves in any case if attacked, seem less concerned with the government’s response than with the reaction of the mainstream political parties sidelined and abused since the king’s February 1 coup.
There have been two ceasefires since the People’s War began in 1996— from June to November 2001 and January to June 2003. But these were declared by both sides, and accompanied by peace talks with the regime. This time, having bested the RNA in at least one recent major battle, the Maoists control about 80% of the country. They already operate as a government (of the People’s Republic of Nepal) and from a position of strength have simply announced that they will conduct no offensive actions through November.
In past peace talks, the Maoists’ insisted on the convening of a national assembly to fashion a new constitution as their condition for ending the revolutionary war. They shelved their initial demand for the abolition of the monarchy, but talks deadlocked when the king and the parliamentary parties refused to abandon the current constitution. Persistent conflict between the legal political parties and the king, greatly exacerbated since King Gyanendra seized absolute power, has allowed the Maoists to play the two off against one another. Even before February the Maoists, noting that the parties lacked political clout, demanded direct talks with the king. But after seizing power, declaring martial law and unleashing a wave of terror against his mainstream political rivals, Gyandendra proposed holding talks with the Maoists only to find them no longer interested. “Gyanendra has pushed the country into darkness—there is no justification for immediate talks,” stated CPN(M) leader Prachanda (Pushpa Kamal Dahal). At the same time, the Maoists offered the parties facilities in liberated zones to conduct their own organizing efforts against the king. While Gyanendra closed down or took control of their propaganda organs, the five radio stations broadcasting from Maoist turf stayed on the air.
The seven political parties whose members constituted 190 out of 205 representatives in the dissolved National Assembly have formed an alliance against Gyanendra. They had not challenged the monarchy (which dates back to 1768, and involves a strong Hindu religious element) in principle, but recently the two largest parliamentary parties, the Nepali Congress Party and the Nepal Communist Party (United Marxist-Leninist), held important meetings in which they abandoned support for the institution. They have expressed interest in holding talks with the Maoists in order to coordinate opposition to the dictatorship.
Increasingly emboldened, the alliance held an illegal demonstration of over 5000 Sunday, the largest since the king seized power. Some participants holding signs declaring: “No Monarchy, Yes Democracy.” Led by 84-year-old Girija Prasad Koirala, long-time Nepali Congress chairman and former prime minister, it resulted in his collapse (from tear gas) and hospitalization, and the arrest of over 60 opposition party leaders. Some protesters, according to Reuters, “hurled bricks and security forces retaliated by firing teargas shells and charging the crowd with batons.” Perhaps these were Maoists in the crowd. More likely, they were supporters of other parties increasingly radicalized by the king’s dictatorship. Now, Gyanendra’s worst fear is a united front of the Maoists and the mainstream parties. The likelihood of that might be reduced if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the Nepali Congress Party, which has filed a lawsuit demanding the restoration of the legislature—something the politicians want but the Maoists consider pointless. The king’s international supporters urge a restoration of the parliament under the old rules as the best defense against Maoist revolution. But particularly if that doesn’t happen, it seems as though public demonstrations in Kathmandu will include a Maoist element agitating, alongside the alliance parties’ supporters, for an end to the monarchy.
The party presence in the capital and surrounding region (where most of the wealthy live) is reportedly weaker than in the provinces, although its student and women’s organizations are quite powerful in the city. A united front could provide conditions for a more powerful presence, even as a ceasefire allows the Maoists to further consolidate political power in the zones more or less under its control. The relationship between the People’s War in the countryside and the capital city of Kathmandu is the crucial issue as Nepal faces the very real prospect of revolution. Once pooh-poohed as scarcely possible—communism being “dead” and all— this prospect is now acknowledged even by the increasingly shrill U.S. ambassador. James Moriarty has warned that “Nepal is getting to the point where its very existence is at stake,” and in June raised the specter of guerrillas marching into downtown Kathmandu “within the next 12 to 14 months.” I assume he echoes the best U.S. intelligence on this issue.
But here’s where the “Prachanda Path” comes in. That’s shorthand for the CPN(M)’s strategy of combining the Chinese and Russian models of revolution. The Maoist strategy involves protracted People’s War and the surrounding of cities from the countryside, where the communist-led forces establish base areas and liberated zones, expanding through the stages of strategic defensive, strategic equilibrium, and strategic offensive. The Maoists believe they are now in the last phase. This strategy relies on an oppressed peasantry as its main force. The Bolshevik strategy entailed the political organization of urban workers, and resulted in the October Revolution in 1917, the storming of the Winter Palace, and the overthrow of the czar. The Maoists plan to complement their conquest of the countryside with an urban insurrection. As Prachanda told Time Magazine in April, “Our strategy for this last stage will be to fuse urban insurrection to protracted People’s War.” The plan, as I understand it, is that the residents of Kathmandu won’t simply line the streets to meet columns of arriving guerrillas, but be active participants in an uprising during or before the latter’s advance. Officially embraced by the party in its second national conference in February 2001, the Prachanda Path is summed up in the slogan: “Let us consolidate and expand our base areas and move forwards towards a people’s government in the center.” (See Sudheer Sharma, “The Maoist Movement An Evolutionary Perspective,” in Michael Hutt, ed., Himalayan people’s War: Nepal’s Maoist Revolution [Indiana University Press, 2004]).
The base areas have indeed been consolidated and expanded in the last four years, and Prachanda has intimated that victory (i.e., seizure of power in Kathmandu) may be near. Moriarty for his part told the Nepali press last month, “If I were a Maoist, I’d think I was making good progress… I would try to put differences between the parties and the palace, and get them to do the Maoist business of tearing down the political structure.” I wouldn’t put it that way, but I think the ambassador’s quite perceptive. The Maoists do want to encourage the mainstream parties’ actions against the palace, and to promote the advocacy of democracy versus monarchy, as key to winning in the city. Not because they want a return to the former set-up in which corrupt parties (including the several “communist” ones) serving the elite dominate an ineffectual parliament. They want a secular, socialist republic, radical land reform, universal education and medical care, equal rights for men and women and members of all ethnic groups, abolition of the caste system. But short term, they want a constitutional assembly, involving all parties. Perhaps they anticipate a two-stage revolution, the first to attain limited objectives, the second more ambitious. It’s a question of winning over more and more people to that world-transforming agenda in the process of joint work.
In any case, if we start to hear about massive rallies in Kathmandu involving both the alliance parties and the Maoists, and maybe defectors from the military and police, we will hear the death-knell of Nepal as a Hindu kingdom trapped in the Middle Ages. And then maybe, soon thereafter, the strains of the Internationale.
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I notice that Chairman Prachanda and Ganapathy, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), have just signed a joint statement announcing their determination to “fight together and establish socialism and communism” in the two countries.
Indian Maoists are most active in Andra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Orissa and Bihar, and with their Nepali comrades seek to construct a “compact revolutionary zone” connecting all these states. The U.S. press tends to ignore the Indian Maoists, but they too have been growing, acquiring broader support, consolidating organizationally, holding huge rallies, successfully calling for bandhs, creating guerrilla zones preparatory to establishing base areas, engaging in what they consider People’s War. Over the weekend, 23 soldiers were killed by suspected Maoist rebels in Chattisgarh.
Last month, 10 officials were killed by CPI(M) forces in Andra Pradesh. Over 250 have been killed in that state in violence related to the People’s War since January. http://in.news.yahoo.com/050815/43/5zq20.html The Indian press claimed that 21 were killed “in the first coordinated attack involving both Nepali and Indian Maoists” in Bihar in June.
So what’s been happening in Nepal since 1996 has been happening in India as well, and events in the two countries will inevitably impact one another.
The Nepali Maoists expect Indian attempts to crush them if they rise to power, simply because facing its own bourgeoning insurgency New Delhi can’t afford to let Nepal become a base for revolution. But an invasion of a Red Nepal would likely trigger a ferocious nationalist response, a huge antiwar movement among the Indian masses, and greater support for the Indian Maoist movement. And while China deplores the insurgency in Nepal, even denying its Maoist character, Beijing would not be enthusiastic about Indian forces intervening in the Himalayan nation that separates Tibet from India. The U.S. is hopelessly overextended and probably heading into deep political crisis; it cannot meaningfully intervene. So geopolitics just might permit the hoisting of the red flag atop Mt. Everest. In all, these seem auspicious times for Maoism, the practical revolutionary Marxism of the twenty-first century.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org