From Class Struggle 50 May-June 2003
Backed by the US and the UK, the government of Nepal is trying to end a decades-long political crisis by winning international support and aid for its efforts to crush or co-opt internal political opponents. Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world, with 42 percent of the population below the poverty line, according to official figures. Per capita income is $250 and 36 percent of the population consume less than the minimum daily calorie requirement. About 60 percent of adults are illiterate, while for women the rate is 70 percent. Life expectancy is 58.1 years and the infant mortality rate is 75 per thousand births.
Since 1996 guerrillas of the Communist Party-Maoist (CPM) have fought an on-again, off-again war with the Nepalese government, which is run by a King with the help of a weak parliament. In all, an estimated 7,200 people have died in the fighting. Supported by UK military advisers and US cash, the Nepalese government has been guilty of numerous breaches of the human rights of the workers and poor peasants who form the base of the CPM’s support(1).
Myth vs Reality
Here in New Zealand, the Anti-Capitalist Alliance has written extensively about the situation in Nepal, and is holding a series of public meetings on the issue(2). It is certainly true that, with war in the Middle East and turmoil in Latin America, not enough attention has been given by the left to events in Nepal. However, the message the ACA is spreading about Nepal seriously misrepresents political events in that country. According to the ACA, the CPM is leading the Nepalese workers and peasants to an anti-capitalist revolution. Here are some excerpts from ACA leaflets and articles:
“People’s War (PW) in Nepal, which was initiated in February 1996 under the leadership of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) has been developing in leaps and bounds. The fire of revolution, which initially sparked in a few districts in Western Nepal, has swept all over the country...The reality is that the Nepalese people are in the process of building their own people’s government while attacking the old state power. ..The above affirms the truth of the dictum penned by Mao Tse-Tung, ‘Political power grows from the barrel of a gun’. To truly win political power the masses must take action and overthrow the old society. This is what is happening in Nepal”
Sounds great, right? Well, yeah, except that getting rid of capitalism is not actually high on the CPM’s list of priorities. When we say this, we’re not relying on rumours, or merely making a prediction – the CPM itself has repeatedly made it very clear that it is fighting for a capitalist, not anti-capitalist, Nepal.
The leaders of the CPM want to see a Nepal dominated by Nepalese rather than foreign capitalists. Like Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland and the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka/Tamil Elam, they are keen to sell out the struggle of their rank and file members in return for places in a capitalist government. The CPM’s military campaign is designed only to force the Nepalese ruling class to allow their leaders into the circle of power. When the Nepalese ruling class installed a new Prime Minister called Deuba in office in 2000, the CPM hailed it as ‘a great advance’ and a ‘victory over reaction’, called off its armed struggle, and appealed to ‘all parties’ to form a government of national unity.
The CPM only restarted its war after S 11, when the Nepalese ruling class was emboldened to try to crush it as a ‘terrorist’ force. Now the CPM has organised another ceasefire with the Nepalese government, and is trying to bargain its way into a government. To show just how bad the politics of the CPM are, we will quote from an interview that its deputy leader Baburam Bhattarai gave last year to the Washington Times (14/12). Commenting on international interest in the conflict in Nepal, Bhattarai noted that:
“It is good that the international community is now awakened by the ever-intensifying civil war in Nepal, and is showing concern for its just and logical conclusion...Our own preference would be to settle the problem internally without any external interference. But if the complexities of the situation, particularly Nepal's specific geostrategic positioning between two superstates, India and China, so dictate, then we would not mind facilitation or mediation of some genuinely neutral international organizations”
Bhattarai is saying that the CPM would like to come to an agreeable deal with Nepal’s capitalists on its won, but that if it is absolutely necessary outside capitalists can help to reach a settlement. Bhattarai’s faith in the existence of ‘neutral’ international capitalist organisations does not exactly mark him out as a revolutionary. Just like Stalin, the CPM hopes to use Europe and the UN as counterweights to US imperialism. Bhattarai goes on to say that:
“We have time and again made it clear that we will have diplomatic and friendly relations with all the countries of the world on the basis of five principles (Panchsheel) of peaceful coexistence — namely mutual respect for each other's sovereignty and national integrity, non-interference in each other's internal affairs, equality, mutual benefit and peaceful coexistence. Given the specific geostrategic position of the country sandwiched between the two huge and hostile states of India and China, we will strive to maintain friendly and equidistant relations with the two immediate neighbors. It is just ridiculous to presume that a state of Nepal's size and strength can inflict by design any harm to giant India”
Bhattarai is talking of friendly relations with a state that has for decades fought and repressed its own Maoist guerrillas. So much for socialist internationalism and spreading revolution. Bhattarai goes on to lay out his party’s politicalprogramme:
“Of course, the basic thrust of our economic development policy would be self-reliance and abolition of dependency, which has plagued the country's economy for long. For this we intend to restructure our economic relations with foreign countries and multilateral institutions in a friendly and cooperative manner...Please note that we are not pressing for a "communist republic" but a bourgeois democratic republic.”
Bhattarai isn’t lying when he denies plans for communism. He and the CPM have nothing to say about the seizing of property and capital by the workers and peasants of Nepal and the establishment of a planned economy. Seizing US-owned factories and farms wouldn’t be ‘friendly’, so it’s not an option. Bhattarai’s vision is of a national capitalism in Nepal, not of socialism. The CPM has not taken control of private businesses in the so-called ‘red zones’ of Nepal it controls. It merely taxes these businesses, like any good capitalist government would. Since Bhattarai’s interview the CPM has moved even further to the right, giving up even its demand for a republic in Nepal. It is now prepared to put up with a constitutional monarchy. Some revolution.
What’s behind the CPM’s Sellout Politics?
The CPM won’t challenge capitalism in Nepal because its leadership is made up of Stalinists. Their political heroes are Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot (Bhattarai actually makes a point of defending Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime in the interview quoted above). The CPM even features a picture of Stalin on the cover of its official magazine, The Worker. The party leaders agree with Mao’s assessment of Stalin as ‘a great Marxist-Leninist’ and employ the ‘two-stage’ strategy Stalin laid down for revolution in the semi-colonial world. According to Stalin, the semi-colonial world had to become capitalist before it could be socialist.
Socialists had to make political alliances with local capitalists to oppose the foreign capitalists, and then allow local capitalists to take the lead in any post-colonial government. Stalin used his theory of two-stage revolution to make deals with Western imperialist governments. He would order local communists to work for ‘national capitalism’ not socialism, and grateful imperialists would make concessions which strengthened his regime in the USSR.
Stalin’s two-stage strategy was opposed by Trotsky, who pointed out that the October revolution had happened only because Russian revolutionaries had not made a political alliance with the local capitalists who took power after the February revolution. Trotsky argued that revolutionaries should make only a ‘military bloc’ with their local capitalists to get rid of foreign capitalists. In other words, they should aim their fire in the same direction as the local capitalists in the fight against imperialism, but keep their independence and be ready to get rid of the local capitalists when the foreign capitalists were defeated. Only by overthrowing capitalism can Third World nations break out of the global grid of capitalism and establish a planned economy aimed at meeting people’s needs, not the needs of the global marketplace.
The ‘national capitalism’ that the two-stage strategy brought about in many postcolonial countries has proven Trotsky to be right – in country after country, national capitalism has meant neo-colonial economies still dependent on the West and overseen by corrupt and brutal dictators bankrolled by the West(3).
Still lost in the Congo?
So why is a group calling itself the Anti Capitalist Alliance giving good PR to Stalinists who want to bring national capitalism to Nepal? The ACA has quite rightly been a staunch critic of leftists who thought that the UN or European Union could provide a progressive ‘solution’ to the crises in Iraq and Palestine.
Why doesn’t the ACA criticise the CPM’s appeals to the UN, European Union, and other ‘neutral international organisations’? The ACA has pioneered the view that left reformism is finished in New Zealand because there is no ‘material base’ for it – in other words, because New Zealand is too poor to payfor left-wing reforms. How then can the ACA support the CPM’s reformist capitalist programme in Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world?
In Auckland, the ACA consists of the Workers Party, a group which shares the Stalinist politics of the leadership of the Communist Party-Maoist in Nepal. In his booklet Apostles of Treachery, Workers Party founder and chief ideologue Ray Nunes summed up the party’s thinking:
‘Let us put it in the form of a simple equation: Stalinism = communism, therefore Hate Stalin = Hate communism’ (pg 41)
Like the Nepalese Stalinists, the Workers Party is strongly influenced by Shining Path, the Peruvian group which modelled its politics on Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, and seriously disorganised the fight against US-backed governments in Peru in the 1980s and 90s.
The Workers Party believes in a two-stage strategy to revolution in the Third World, and has a long history of supporting ‘national capitalist’ regimes there. They praised the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe, for instance, as an exponent of ‘African socialism’.
Back in 1997 the Workers Party launched a heated attack on our group for publishing an article criticising Laurent Kabila, the rebel leader then about to take power in Zaire/the Congo. Written in collaboration with comrades in Europe and South America, our article argued that Kabila was a would-be national capitalist who wanted to exploit rather than liberate his country, and should therefore be given no political support. For the Workers Party, Kabila was leading ‘something close to a peoples’ war’, and his coming to power would be ‘excellent news for the African peoples and indeed for those of all countries’(4).
The years since 1997 have shown how wrong the Workers Party was about Kabila, who was such a popular leader that one of his own bodyguards assassinated him. Today Kabila’s son rules the Congo, which remains an impoverished semi-colony dominated by the US. Why won’t the Workers Party and the Anti Capitalist Alliance learn from history?
From sellout to repression
It is the bankruptcy of the Stalinist political programme that makes the repressive features of Stalinism necessary. Bankrupt politics can’t be defended in open debate – that’s why Stalinist parties ban factions and open debate, and Stalinist governments build labour camps. In the 1980s and early 90s in Peru Shining Path massacred thousands of members of other leftist groups and trends, justifying its actions with the slogan ‘We cannot have the victory of two revolutions’. Our group has comrades in Peru who struggled to survive in the atmosphere of terror Shining Path and the US-backed government of Peru together created.
The Workers Party gave verbal support to the Shining Path’s campaign of repression. When Shining Path rivals the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement were holed up in the Japanese embassy in Lima, surrounded by government troops, the Workers Party used its paper not to support them, but to condemn them as ‘counter-revolutionaries’. In Nepal, the Communist Party-Maoist uses typical Stalinist tactics to suppress dissent. Since the beginning of its guerrilla war, it has killed 29 teachers who belonged to a union sympathetic to the government.
So much for revolutionaries winning debates in the labour movement with the force of their ideas. In 2000, some CPM members in the Jajarkot area of Nepal organised a faction to oppose the efforts of their leadership to make a peace deal establishing national capitalism with the Nepalese government. The CPM suppressed this faction, as well as a senior leader of the organisation who took its side.
It is difficult to get reliable information out of Nepal, but it seems safe to assume that resistance to the Stalinist leadership continues inside the CPM. After all, the needs of the rank and file of the party are completely at odds with the national capitalist strategy of the leadership.
No solidarity with Stalinism
There is no doubt that the workers and peasants in the CPM are fighting a heroic struggle in Nepal. But the Stalinist leaders of the CPM only undermine that struggle with their plans to negotiate a ‘national capitalist’ future for Nepal. The Anti Capitalist Alliance is right to raise the issue of solidarity with Nepal on the New Zealand left, but it is undermining its own good work by giving uncritical support to the Stalinist leaders of the CPM. The ACA should not repeat the mistakes of the Communist Parties of the 1930s and 40s, who cuddled up to Stalin when he was busy undermining the cause of socialism.
Solidarity with Nepal means opposition to Stalinism. We thank comrades on the Indian subcontinent for supplying some of the information given above.
Because we believe that this an important issue which needs to be debated openly, we offer the Anti Capitalist Alliance space in our paperClass Struggle to reply to the arguments made above.
1 The CPM maintains a number of websites. One of the biggest can be found at http://www.insof.org/
2 The Anti Capitalist Alliance website can be found at http://anticapitalists.tk/
3 For a proper introduction to Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, check out http://www.workerspower.com/wpglobal/LDTch2.html
4 See the articles ‘Kabila Foils Imperialists’ and ‘Stupidity Incarnate!’ in the April and June 1997 issues of The Spark. For an online attack by the Workers Party on our group, see ‘Trotskyists Rival Capitalists with Big Lie Campaign [against Stalin]’, http://home.clear.net.nz/pages/wpnz/raytrotsky1295.htm