Revolution at the roof of the world

Communists and democrats throughout the world have been inspired by the determined struggles of the masses in Nepal, writes Eddie Ford

As part of the revolt against the autocratic king Gyanendra - and the monarchical system as a whole - we have seen mass strikes and demonstrations, violent clashes with the police and 200,000 take to the streets of Kathmandu chanting slogans like, "Gyanendra, thief, leave the country".

Clearly, Gyanendra is in danger of being overthrown - whether forcefully by the masses or peacefully by some sort of palace-cum-constitutional coup. Of course, Gyanendra himself came to power after a bizarre palace massacre in 2001 - when a rat-arsed, and possibly coked-up, crown prince Dipendra (well known for his gun infatuation) killed both his parents - the then king and queen of Nepal - and seven other royals before killing himself.

Sensing his imminent demise as king in one way or another, Gyanendra has had to frantically backtrack. Indeed, he was left with no choice but to accede to the demands of the protesters. In his April 24 address on state-run television, a humbled Gyanendra said he was now "cognisant of the spirit of the ongoing people's movement" and recognised "the road map of the agitating" Seven-Party Alliance (SPA), asking it to nominate a candidate for the post of prime minister.

More importantly still, Gyanendra announced the reinstatement of the lower house of parliament, the house of representatives - which he had dissolved in 2002 before sacking the entire government in February 2005 and assuming full dictatorial powers. His grounds were that the political parties were failing to tackle the guerrilla insurgency led by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).

After hearing the king's speech, tens of thousands of Nepalese took to the capital's streets in a 'victory rally'. In turn, the SPA called off the weeks-long demonstrations and strikes - choosing the former prime minister and current president of the Nepali Congress Party, the octogenarian Girija Prasad Koirala, to head a new government.

Inevitably, having achieved a (partial) democratic gain, the masses and their organisations want yet more democracy - not a return to the miserable state of affairs before the present king became more oppressive and autocratic in his rule. The appetite grows in the eating. Thus we have heard the call for Gyanendra to be stripped of all powers; for Nepal to become a republic.

The SPA has raised the demand for a constituent assembly. But when, and with what end in mind? Madhav Kumar Nepal, general-secretary of the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninists) - a leading part of the SPA - told the BBC that the formation of the Koirala government would be "the first step towards" a constituent assembly, which should be tasked with rewriting the 1990 constitution.

We are glad to note what seems to be the 11th hour conversion of the CPN (UM-L) to some form of republicanism. The CPN (UM-L) is Nepal's largest 'official communist' organisation, securing 31.6% of the vote in the last elections. However, during the 1990s it effectively constituted itself as a royal 'communist party'. In 1997 the CPN (UM-L) participated in a non-Congress government with a faction of the ardently monarchist Rashtriya Prajatantra Party, and then, quite monstrously, in 2003 it actually joined the 'provisional government' formed by king Gyanendra after he dissolved parliament. And it was disgust with this betrayal - which was what it was - by 'official communists' like the CPN (UM-L) that boosted the prestige, and ranks, of the CPN (M).

In many respects, what we are witnessing in Nepal is a text-book example of a revolution - one that amply demonstrates the validity of the Marxist perspective.

Rather than essentially spontaneous economic struggles being the motor - with communists aiming to give it a 'political coloration' - what we have actually witnessed is how the struggle for democracy has led to a fundamental, strategic, confrontation with the forces of the existing state. Or, in other words, by challenging the existing constitution - and stressing democracy - the masses and their leaders have shaken the monarchy to its foundations. The masses no longer want to be ruled in the old way, and the ruling class are unable to rule in the old way. There is a revolutionary situation.

But the revolution has only just begun. This is the first stage. Indeed if we use a 'Russian calendar' as our guide, it is clear that Nepal has not even reached its February. But it is in sight.

What happens now? Well, the worst thing would be to settle for a deal under the existing 1990 constitution. Of course, it represented progress and was won on the streets after mass protests. The 1990 constitution established a multi-party constitutional monarchy. It is also worth recalling that until 1951 the country was governed by hereditary premiers! Indian intervention in 1950-51 ended that. Between 1960 and 1990 the king ruled as semi-divine hindu autocrat.

Today India remains the most influential power, with all manner of unequal treaties and business connections. Large numbers of Nepalese migrate to India in search of work. China too has its eye on Nepal's potential to generate hydro-electricity.

But, unsurprisingly, the 1990 constitution is far from democratic. There are all manner of checks and balances against democracy. Parliament is bicameral with a 60-seat upper house (the national council) which has 10 representatives appointed by the king. None of the other members are directly elected. Nepal's 1990 constitution allows the king to appoint the supreme court (or Sarbochha Adalat) as well as other judges (on the recommendation of the judicial council). He is also in supreme command of the army and appoints its commander in chief.

Clearly the upper house of parliament must go. So must the king and the entire monarchy system of behind-the-scenes bureaucratic wheeling and dealing. Nepal must become a democratic republic which enshrines the principle of the rule of the people by the people.

Towards that end all communists should immediately break with the SPA and declare their opposition to the Girija Prasad Koirala government. Nepal does not need (controlled and royalist-influenced) 'steps' to a constituent assembly. Nepal needs immediate, free and fair elections to a constituent assembly, and the only guarantee of that is a revolutionary provisional government. Unless that happens, Nepal will either become a corrupt constitutional monarchy (with the constant danger of another royalist coup) or a corrupt oligarchy, which is in effect a semi-colony of India.

To achieve a democratic Nepal requires a four-pronged approach from communists.

Firstly, there must be energetic republican agitation. Gyanendra is a criminal with the blood of at least a dozen protesters on his hands. He has also pursued a vicious war against the Maoist guerrillas in the countryside. Around 13,000 have died. He is hated by the masses. He should have no say in the country's future. Instead he must be put on trial before a people's court.

Secondly, communists need to be organising the masses as widely and deeply as possible. There now exists a huge opportunity for forward movement. Hundreds of thousands have demonstrated, millions are burning with anger. These people need a Communist Party which is democratic, not bureaucratic. They also need strong trade unions and self-administrating area committees.

Thirdly, the masses must be armed. In fact there can be no genuine democracy in Nepal while the people are unarmed and the army and police swear loyalty to the monarch. Amongst the rank and file many are deeply sympathetic to the masses. Communists support the legal right of the people to establish militias to protect their rights and overthrow despotic rulers like Gyanendra. But, with or without legal sanction, they must arm themselves. The army and police are ready to be broken. Morale is at rock bottom. The task of communists is to break the old state machine apart. The constituent assembly should be born from the armed people.

Thirdly, communists must establish the leadership of Kathmandu over Nepal's rural revolution. Three-quarters of the country's 30 million people live in the countryside. Most of them suffer appalling exploitation at the hands of local landlords. Women are particularly oppressed. There must be a far-reaching agrarian reform programme. The demand must be raised for the constituent assembly to decree the nationalisation of all big estates. In the meantime peasants should be encouraged to take matters into their own hands. Seize the big estates now.

Admiration for the courage of the Nepalese masses has to be tempered with an understanding of the limits of the Nepalese revolution, even if it manages to go from its February to its October. Self-evidently, in terms of material development and infrastructure, Nepal is terrifyingly backward and poor. So there is the danger that any revolutionary government or regime in Nepal would be forced to carry out the programme, not of the liberation of the workers and peasants, but their exploitation. In other words not the programme of socialism, but of capitalism.

Of course, this brings us to the CPN (M). Without doubt, it has been the growing military-political power of the Maoists which precipitated the current crisis. It is estimated that they now have between 10,000 to 15,000 fighters and are active across the entire country - with large chunks of the countryside completely under their control.

While not an actual formal member of the SPA, the Maoists were in a tactical (albeit uneasy) alliance with it - and co-signed a 12-point declaration of general intentions and aims, which includes an avowed commitment to "multi-party democracy". But with the appointment of Koirala as prime minimise that has all changed. The Maoists have rightly rejected the SPA's deal with the king.

Having said all that, there is little doubt that the two key CPN (M) leaders, Pushpa Kamal Dahal (better known as Prachanda, meaning 'the fierce one') and Baburam Bhattarai - recently 'rehabilitated' (he had supposedly called Prachanda "power-hungry") - have derived their programmatic inspiration from Peru's Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), and the Bakunin-Pol Potesque writings of its chairman Guzman.

Hence, it is only fitting that they are members of the same Maoist 'international', the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement - which also includes the Revolutionary Communist Party (USA), New Zealand Red Flag Group, Revolutionary Internationalist Contingent (Britain), Central Reorganisation Committee - Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), Ceylon Communist Party, Communist Committee of Trento (Italy) and the Communist Party of Bangladesh (Marxist-Leninist).

Guzman's programme was a utopian, and nightmarish, vision of an 'Inca communism' which would cleanse Peru of the decadent filth and spiritual pollution associated with cities. A recipe for barbarism - and the physical annihilation of the working class as a social-political class in Peru.

Somewhat ominously, in a display of his authoritarian Stalinist-Maoist credentials, Prachanda has promised to "outlaw" alcohol, gambling and "vulgar literature" from India and the US (http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/world/south_asia/4707058.stm). And what else would Uncle Prachanda "outlaw" if given half the chance?

To avoid the scenario of Maoism in another very poor country, communists opt for a strategy for uninterrupted revolution. As with South America and Europe, we think that a continental perspective offers the best road forward under present circumstances. There must be the revolutionary unity of Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and, crucially, India.

That perspective is perfectly realistic and is underlined, albeit negatively, by our class enemies. Fear that unrest in Nepal will spill over and destabilise the whole South Asia region has been the reason behind the steady stream of diplomatic missions from India, China, the UK and the US urging king Gyanendra to come to a compromise.