Two Roads for Communists in Nepal: Capitulation or Revolutionary Struggle?

Unknown to most of the world, the poor peasant and isolated peoples of Nepal rose in struggle to overthrow centuries of feudal, capitalist and patriarchal oppression. Ten years of civil war waged by the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) ended in a stalemate with the forces of the old order.

Two roads now stand posed for Nepal: one leads to accepting the reforms which offer only cosmetic changes to the nation’s entrenched inequalities,  the other leads to a revolution that uproots its oppressive institutions.

For centuries, Nepal was ruled by a god-like feudal monarchy, a brutal army, a corrupt and ineffective parliament. Eighty-five percent of the population is composed of peasants living in the countryside with small plots of land, most unable to produce enough food for their families who are regularly fleeced by wealthy landlords. Nepal’s industry is not developed and largely controlled by its powerful neighbor, India. The majority of the people are unemployed, 65 percent of the people live below the poverty line.

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The police launched a terror campaign to stamp out insurgency, but the lower classes were able to unite in self-defense. From 1996 to 2006, the Maoist uprising slowly spread until it encompassed 73 of Nepal’s 75 districts. In 2001, as the insurgency grew the Nepalese monarchy sent in the army (by now advised by the US) to wipe out the rebels.  Throughout the war, the Royal Army subjected women to imprisonment, rapes, and murder.

To maintain his hold on power and conduct the anti-Maoist war, King Gyanendra abolished parliament in 2002 and seized absolute power in 2005. In April 2006 strikes and protests in the capital of Kathmandu forced the king to reinstate parliament. The ten-year-long people’s war, which claimed 13,000 lives, had seemingly come to an end.

The end of war brought new challenges for the revolutionaries and growing division in the Communist Party. While the monarchy was abolished in 2008, many of the central institutions of the old society are firmly in place: the feudal relation on land, foreign domination, patriarchy and Indian domination.

The right wing of the Party, led by Prachanda and Bhattarai, advocated a capitalist modernization of Nepal that would protect private property and open the country up to more foreign investment to develop the economy. The right wing did not believe that Nepal could make a revolutionary leap, but had to accept reforms from the status quo.

According to journalist Eric Ribellarsi, “these forces argue for abandoning further revolution and seek to occupy top government posts within the currently existing institutional framework.”

In accepting a place in the establishment, the Communist Party’s right wing dissolved the base areas in the countryside, people’s governments and returned seized land. In November 2011, the Party approved dissolving the People’s Liberation Army and integrating their soldiers into the unreformed Royal Army (now the National Army). Only some of the Maoists fighters were integrated into the new army, commanders were separated from the ranks, and others were given compensation to leave. Many guerrillas were not even given weapons in the integrated army, but assigned to jobs as forest guards.

To the Party’s left wing, dissolving the PLA is a clear sign of the revolution’s surrender. Many revolutionaries are asking if their struggle and sacrifice in the war were just to accept a position in government alongside the deeply ingrained and corrupt ruling class they had fought in the first place.

With the end of the war, the Party left has been conducting intensified struggle in urban and rural areas. This agitation is being conducted to prepare the people, Eric Ribellarsi says, “to see the need to sweep away the reactionary parties and their allied army force–to make a new leap in the revolution.”  They proposed making sweeping reforms to the social structures and civilian control of the army which have been blocked.

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While some former Maoists may accept a modernized capitalism as the only horizon for Nepal, others are regrouping and preparing for the next round of struggle. 

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