A people's revolution shakes Nepal

Issue 

On May 28, 2008, an elected constituent assembly declared Nepal's centuries-old semi-feudal monarchy finished. As Nepalese people celebrated in the streets, the Himalayan country was declared a republic.

In 1996, Nepal's Maoists began an armed struggle against the monarchy and its backers among the large landowners and wealthy elites. The key demand of this struggle was for royal rule to be replaced by an elected constituent assembly to draft a new, democratic constitution.

A mass uprising in 2006 finally toppled the monarchy and paved the way for constituent assembly elections. In the April 2008 poll, the Maoists won more seats than any other party.

However, the coalition government headed by the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) was brought down in a soft coup in May 2009. The pro-royal head of the National Army refused to implement the peace agreements that ended the decade-long armed conflict and refused to accept his sacking by the UCPN-M government. With the other main political parties supporting the military, the Maoists resigned.

The UCPN-M continues to lead a powerful mass movement deeply rooted among the poor that is pushing for a return to civilian sovereignty and for a pro-people constitution.

US revolutionary socialist Jed Brandt, a member of the Kasama Project, is in Kathmandu. The article below is abridged from Jedbrandt.net.

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Most days the electricity is out in Kathmandu. You can hear chickens in the morning, children playing after school and quiet talk at night when the old women laugh and call across the rooftops.

Kathmandu is a valley. The white caps of the Tanglang range of the Himalayas are breathtaking when you can see them. Pollution is horrible.

Cars only arrived in Kathmandu 20 years ago. Most of the city is built for footpaths, but that doesn't stop every sort of vehicle from ripping through trying to cut around the traffic jams.

I've only seen one traffic light and it wasn't lit.

Did I mention there is a revolution going on?

The Maoists have defied everyone's expectations. They haven't confined themselves to some historical script handed down by the Comintern in 1930-whatever.

After a 10-year People's War, they grew exponentially among Nepal's rural population.

People were fed up with the absolute poverty, a despotic monarchy and a system that didn't let them advance no matter how hard they worked.

Millions cast their lot with the Maoist promise that it was they themselves who could fix what the ruling classes plainly didn't want to.

The Maoists started with two guns. They neither sought nor accepted shady foreign sponsors and still brought a king down. This was the achievement of the people — and a determined, revolutionary leadership.

When organised revolutionaries grew into a people who could not endure the old order, the very horizon of the possible shifted.

The US state department calls that terrorism. The administration of President Barack Obama continues to put the UCPN-M on its list of certified terrorists — even after it won Nepal's first democratic elections.

Terror is not a word any honest person could use to describe what is happening here. People are unafraid, and if anything impatient things haven't gone further.

New constitution

Refusing any offers to become another parliamentary party, who are widely despised here for their profound corruption, the Maoists demanded nothing less than a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution.

Through the course of the People's War, despite flexibility on almost everything else, the Maoists never departed from this insistence. And they got it.

I tried to think what could happen if we had our own constituent assembly in the US — a constitution not written by slave-traders to protect their own entitlement.

This idea that people constitute governments is not just radical in Nepal. It's as unheard of in New York as in North Korea's twisted hereditary monarchy.

Red flags are everywhere. When I've read books by the Maoists in restaurants, three different waiters have commented that the Maoists were the "real government".

The current government, led by the more conservative Communist Party of Nepal-United-Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML), replaced the one headed by the UCPN-M over the issue of whether the old army would accept control by the elected government.

There is a fluid split between the careerists and the honest revolutionaries in the CPN-UML. How they will act when the chips are down is still not clear — even to them.

Nepal's revolution is not over. The old army, bureaucracy and foreign treaties that disadvantage Nepal are still in effect.

No work can be done without the sanction of the Maoists — not construction or transportation — throughout the country.

Dual power

This is what Russian revolutionary V.I. Lenin called "dual power". There are two armies, the old royalist National Army and the Maoist Peoples' Liberation Army (PLA), and no real government.

It is a situation of increasing pressure where one side or the other will decide to act decisively.

The government tried to smuggle in some arms from India in violation of the peace agreements. They couldn't even sneak them in.

The Maoist Young Communist League (YCL) members assembled 200 unarmed activists and blockaded the convoy. They alerted the United Nations (overseeing the peace process) and were attacked by armed police reinforcements.

This revealed the Maoists have the organisational capacity to act. And that even the National Army and police may not be reliable should they be called out against the people.

After all, how did these Maoists even know about the arms shipment arranged behind closed doors?

Should the right-wing Nepali Congress (NC) and sections of the National Army attempt an Indian-backed military coup (plans for which have been rumoured), the Maoists are sure the entire population would rise up.

Maoists have not limited their demands and struggle to what the semi-feudal, semi-colonial system can bear.

They maintain the PLA. The YCL is the most powerful social action force in the country, unarmed but disciplined.

The UCPN-M left the government it was elected to lead rather than pretend that "representation" was enough when the National Army and bureaucracy resisted transformation and civilian control.

The Maoist leadership had the chance to become broker-politicians, and they said no.

The Maoists returned to their base and have launched a series of mobilisations and public education forums that will escalate if a constitution to their liking is not delivered.

The UCPN-M is the largest party, the opposition to an unelected government wrapped around what's left of the deposed monarchy's state apparatus.

Deadline

May 28 is the deadline for Nepal's constitution to be delivered. That doesn't look likely due to substantial interference from foreign powers and the parliamentary cretinism of the corrupt political class.

The only way it could come to pass is if the CPN-UML reformists (called here "status quoists") were to unite with the Maoists. Leftist parties of one stripe or another won 62% of seats in the Constituent Assembly, enough to ratify a "people-centered" constitution.

The CPN-UML leaders have ruled that out unless the Maoists disband the PLA and YCL, which they say will not happen until the new constitution is ratified to their satisfaction.

For its part, NC is utterly despised as a tool of India and the landlords. It received around 20% of the vote in the 2008 poll, act like king-makers and keep forgetting that the crown lies in the gutter.

Every event, each provocation and mobilisation, is about contesting the allegiance of the broad mass of people.

Prachanda told a training session for 5000 Maoist cadre that if a constitution isn't ratified to guarantee social transformation and national sovereignty, the people would revolt and the UCPN-M was prepared to lead it.

The Maoists have looked back at previous attempts to build socialism and learned uncommon lessons.

What they've come up with, and this has been noted in every conversation I've had, is that without revolution coming from the conscious activity of the most oppressed, the working people and democratic intellectuals, communism would not be worth the word.

That's what they learned from 20th century socialism.

The depth of commitment, among Maoist cadre and common people alike, is startling.

Nepal is confirming to me that, all rumours to the contrary, people aren't stupid. When they can stand on their own feet, people will embrace a force that gives them dignity and refuses the narrow confines of "what's in it for me and mine".

Fighting the feudal caste system, the Maoists do not engage in demagoguery against the privileged castes. In place of feudal entitlement, where chauvinistic rules kept state jobs in the hands of the privileged, the Maoists have already declared autonomous national territories as part of a federal democratic republic.

If a new constitution is blocked through parliamentary tricks, or some form of putsch, risk a popular uprisings from the peoples who would most benefit from a new, democratic constitution.

Any effort of the old structure to perpetuate itself will be broadly seen as a direct attack on Nepal's heretofore excluded peoples.

Federalisation

The argument for a federalisation of the state itself, and its democratic potential, has been wildly popular. Nepal has two major religions, a southern Tarai region that has been denied self-determination and dozens of language groups.

No other social demand has so frightened the elite as the Maoist insistence on a federal democratic republic.

The Maoists do not agitate against religion or the religious. From a position of respect, they advocate for science, technology and Marx's dialectical materialist understanding of the world.

They want schools to be public to educate everyone, not the largely private financial rackets they still are here for all but the wealthy.

Great powers are allied against this revolution. India, the United States and the entire disinformation machinery we call mainstream media has insisted that communism is done.

Here, people are fighting for it. And it is those people who need honest solidarity, which more than anything means letting the world know what is happening.