Background On Nepal's Revolution
By Walter Smolarek
12 May, 2009
Fiery speeches about revolution and socialism ring across factories, fields, and the slums. A new, radically left-wing government takes power and attempts to fundamentally change the country. Opposing them in this nation of thirty million are the landowners and capitalists, while imperial powers play a hand in a secessionist movement. This isn't Venezuela; in fact it's thousands of miles from Latin America. A revolution has rocked the former Hindu kingdom of Nepal, and it now faces one of its greatest challenges as the army blatantly disregards the constitution and massive demonstrations are held daily. While the situation in Nepal may have just now caught the attention of the wider progressive community, it's important to go back and understand the roots of the movement against both autocracy and capitalism, twin agents of exploitation.
The revolutionary process can be traced back to 1990. It was then that the first People's Movement, commonly referred to in Nepali as the Jana Andolan, was launched. The movement was led by both the Nepali Congress (an organization that will be dealt with further on) and the United Left Front (which was in many ways a precursor to the Communist Party of Nepal Unified Marxist-Leninist, another group that will be analyzed later). Thanks to massive popular mobilizations, it partially succeeded by bringing about the creation of a constitutional monarchy as opposed to the previous absolutist system.
However, this type of government proved to be a disappointment, and parliamentarianism, as it always has done, marginalized the demands of the people. The anti-feudal elites stopped fighting after the enactment of the new constitution, but the poor majority, living in one of the most impoverished nations in the world, did not. In 1992, there was a wave of strikes and protests led by a coalition of communist parties that was brutally repressed. This made it clear to some that the social relations that persisted in Nepal could only be changed by force of arms.
In 1996, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), led by the charismatic Chairman Prachanda, launched what became known to their supporters as the People's War. Rallying the peasantry around their revolutionary message, the war intensified at the turn of the century, and the United States began giving military aid to the repressive government. It was under these conditions that the Royal Massacre of 2001 (in which the ruling King Birendra was killed by his son) took place, which led to the ascension of Gyanendra to the thrown. To repress the Maoists, he took full control of the state and reestablished the absolutism that prevailed before the 1990 People's Movement.
This move alienated the Nepalese bourgeoisie, who found themselves no longer allied with, but in opposition to the ruling feudal class. As the CPN (M)'s People's Liberation Army captured more and more of the countryside, the revolutionary movement climaxed in 2006 with the Peoples Movement II, which definitively overthrew the monarchy. A provisional government took its place, led by the Seven Party Alliance, which consisted of various social democratic and reform-communist parties. The Seven Party Alliance was allied with the Maoists, who suspended the People's War and prepared to contest the election for the Constituent Assembly, a body that would be charged with drafting the nation's constitution.
Postponed twice, the election was finally held on April 10th, 2008. Recognized as free and fair by international observes like the Carter Center (1), the results revealed an overwhelming leftist victory (2). Combined, the various communist parties won a little less than 60% of the vote, with the CPN (Maoist) itself winning 38% of the seats, becoming, by far, the most popular political force in the nation. It soon assembled a government along with the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and the Madhesi People's Rights Forum (MJF), with Prachanda as the Prime Minister.
The Political Forces
Overall, the political landscape is firmly orientated to the left, but in many cases only rhetorically. There are three significant parties/ movements that can hinder or further the creation of a New Nepal.
With tremendous support from the impoverished peasantry, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which added "Unified" to its name after its merger with the Communist Party of Nepal (Unity Centre-Masal), is in (not unchallenged) command of the revolution. They have won the support of such a significant portion of the population due to their ability to take real steps towards radical, systemic change in Nepalese society. They advocate the redistribution of land, equal rights for women, a decent minimum wage, and a myriad of other pro-people stances. They have the courage to uphold these positions because, although they aren't flawless, the Maoists are loyal to the working people of Nepal, in whom they seek to vest supreme political power.
In constant opposition to fundamental change, the Nepali Congress is, in word, a social democratic party affiliated with the "Socialist" International. In deed, however, the party is situated to the right and strongly supportive of capitalism. Sometimes in alliance and other times in antagonism with the monarchy, the NC has tried to advance Nepal to bourgeois democracy, and no further.
In lukewarm support of the UCPN (M) until very recently, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) is, despite its revolutionary-sounding name, a largely Eurocommunist outfit. They had supported the revolutionary government but dragged their feet when it came to transferring political and economic power to the people.
Finally, a complex situation is found in the Terai region of Nepal, home to the Madhesi ethnic group (although several other ethnicities reside there). The two major political parties representing the Madhesi people are the Tarai-Madhesh Loktantrik Party (TMLP) and the MJF. The TMLP opposes the Maoists, but the MJF, led by former Maoist Upendra Yadav, seems to have a progressive outlook. The demands of the Madhesi people for sovereignty (to one degree or another) have a good deal of merit, but only after the capitalists, who divide-and-rule the people, are marginalized can the question of nationalities be adequately addressed and a just solution materialize.
As the people of Nepal continue to fight against oppression and for democracy and socialism, it is absolutely essential that we reciprocate with solidarity. Their revolution is one of the least known despite being one of the most harrowing and inspiring. It is essential that all people who believe that more just and democratic world is possible educate and inform their friends and comrades of the struggle for New Nepal and participate in solidarity demonstrations so that the rebellious masses of this Himalayan nation can go forward knowing that they have the support of progressive people the world over.
Walter Smolarek is a student from Pennsylvania that supports the movement for Socialism in the 21st Century. He encourages you to send him your comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org