Eyes on the Maobadi: 4 Reasons Nepal’s Revolution Matters

Something remarkable is happening. A whole generation of people has never seen a radical, secular, revolutionary movement rise with popular support. And yet here it is — in Nepal today.

This movement has overthrown Nepal ’s hated King Gyanendra and abolished the medieval monarchy. It has created a revolutionary army that now squares off with the old King’s army. It has built parallel political power in remote rural areas over a decade of guerrilla war — undermining feudal traditions like the caste system. It has gathered broad popular support and emerged as the leading force of an unprecedented Constituent Assembly (CA). And it has done all this under the radical banner of Maoist communism — advocating a fresh attempt at socialism and a classless society around the world.

People in Nepal call these revolutionaries the Maobadi.

Another remarkable thing is the silence surrounding all this. There has been very little reporting about the intense moments now unfolding in Nepal , or about the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) that stand at their center. Meanwhile, the nearby Tibetan uprisings against abuses by China ’s government got non-stop coverage.

There are obvious reasons for this silence. The Western media isn’t thrilled when people in one of the world’s poorest countries throw their support behind one of the world’s most radical movements.

But clearly many alternative news sources don’t quite know what to make of the Nepali revolution. The Maobadi’s mix of communist goals and non-dogmatic methods disturb a lot of leftist assumptions too. When the CPN(Maoist) launched an armed uprising in 1996, some people thought these were outdated tactics. When the CPN(Maoist) suspended armed combat in 2006 and entered an anti-monarchist coalition government, some people assumed they would lose their identity to a corrupt cabal. When the Maoists press their current anti-feudal program, some people think they are forgetting about socialism.

But silent skepticism is a wrong approach. The world needs to be watching Nepal. The stunning Maoist victory in the April elections was not, yet, the decisive victory over conservative forces. The Maobadi are at the center of the political staqe but they have not yet defeated or dismantled the old government’s army. New tests of strength lie ahead.

The Maoists of Nepal aren’t just a opposition movement any more; they are tackling the very different problems of leading a society through a process of radical change. They are maneuvering hard to avoid a sudden crushing defeat at the hands of powerful armies. As a result, the Maobadi of Nepal are carrying out tactics for isolating their internal rivals, broadening their appeal, and neutralizing external enemies.

All this looks bewildering seen up close. This world has been through a long, heartless stretch without much radicalism or revolution. Most people have never seen what it looks like when a popular communist revolution reaches for power.

Let’s break the silence by listing four reasons for looking closely at Nepal.

Reason #1: Here are communists who have discarded rigid thinking, but not their radicalism.

Leaders of the CPN(Maoist) say they protect the living revolution “from the revolutionary phrases we used to memorize.”

The Maobadi took a fresh and painstakingly detailed look at their society. They identified which conditions and forces imposed the horrific poverty on the people. They developed creative methods for connecting deeply with the discontent and highest hopes of people. They have generated great and growing influence over the last fifteen years.

To get to the brink of power, this movement fused and alternated different forms of struggle. They started with a great organizing drive, followed by launching a guerrilla war in 1996, and then entering negotiations in 2006. They created new revolutionary governments in remote base areas over ten years, and followed up with a political offensive to win over new urban support. They have won victory in the special election in April, and challenged their foot-dragging opponents by threatening to launching mass mobilizations in the period ahead. They reached out broadly, without abandoning their armed forces or their independent course.

The Maobadi say they have the courage “to climb the unexplored mountain.” They insist that communism needs to be reconceived. They believe popular accountability may prevent the emergence of arrogant new elites. They reject the one-party state and call for a socialist process with multi-party elections. They question whether a standing army will serve a new Nepal well, and advocate a system of popular militias. And they want to avoid concentrating their hopes in one or two leaders-for-life, but instead will empower a rising new generation of revolutionary successors.

Nepal is in that bottom tier of countries called the “fourth world” — most people there suffer in utter poverty. It is a world away from the developed West, and naturally the political solutions of the Nepali Maoists’ may not apply directly to countries like the U.S. or Britain. But can’t we learn from the freshness they bring to this changing world?

Will their reconception of communism succeed? It is still impossible to know. But their attempt itself already has much to teach.

Reason #2: Imagine Nepal as a Fuse Igniting India

Nepal is such a marginalized backwater that it is hard to imagine its politics having impact outside its own borders. The country is poor, landlocked, remote and only the size of Arkansas. Its 30 million people live pressed between the world’s most populous giants, China and India.

But then consider what Nepal ’s revolution might mean for a billion people in nearby India .

A new Nepal would have a long open border with some of India’s most impoverished areas. Maoist armed struggle has smoldered in those northern Indian states for decades — with roots among Indian dirt farmers. Conservative analysts sometimes speak of a “red corridor” of Maoist-Naxalite guerrilla zones running through central India, north to south, from the Nepali border toward the southern tip.

Understanding the possibilities, Nepal’s Maobadi made a bold proposal: that the revolutionary movements across South Asia should consider merging their countries after overthrowing their governments and creating a common regional federation. The Maobadi helped form the Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organizations of South Asia (CCOMPOSA) in 2001, which brought together ten different revolutionary groupings from throughout the region.

A future revolutionary government in Nepal will have a hard time surviving alongside a hostile India. It could face demands, crippling embargoes and perhaps even invasion. But at the very same time, such a revolution could serve as an inspiration and a base area for revolution in that whole region. It could impact the world.

Reason #3: Nepal shows that a new, radically better world is possible.

Marx once remarked that the revolution burrows unseen underground and then bursts into view to cheers of “Well dug, old mole!”

We have all been told that radical social change is impossible. Rebellion against this dominant world order has often seemed marked by backward-looking politics, xenophobia, lowered sights and Jihadism. And yet, here comes that old mole popping up in Nepal — offering a startling glimpse of how people can transform themselves and their world.

Some of the world’s poorest and most oppressed people have set out in the Nepali highlands to remake everything around them — through armed struggle, political power, and collective labor. Farming people, who are often half-starved and illiterate have formed peoples courts and early agricultural communes. Wife beating and child marriage are being challenged. Young men and women have joined the revolutionary army to defeat their oppressors. There is defiance of arranged marriage and a blossoming of “love matches,” even between people of different castes. There is a rejection of religious bigotry and the traditions of a Hindu monarchy. The 40 ethnic groups of Nepal are negotiating new relations based on equality and a sharing of political power.

All this is like a wonderful scent upon the wind. You are afraid to turn away, unless it might suddenly disappear.

Reason #4: When people dare to make revolution — they should not stand alone.

These changes would have been unthinkable, if the CPN(Maoist) had not dared to launch a revolutionary war in 1996. And their political plan became reality because growing numbers of people dared to throw their lives into the effort. It is hard to exaggerate the hope and courage that has gripped people.

Events may ultimately roll against those hopes. This revolution in Nepal may yet be crushed or even betrayed from within. Such dangers are inherent and inevitable in living revolutions.

If the Maobadi pursue new leaps in their revolutionary process, they will likely face continuing attacks from India , backed by the U.S. The CPN(Maoist) has long been (falsely!) labeled “terrorists” by the U.S. government. They are portrayed as village bullies and exploiters of child-soldiers by some human rights organizations. Western powers have armed Nepal’s pro-royal National army with modern weapons. A conservative mass movement in Nepal’s fertile Terai agricultural area has been encouraged by India and Hindu fundamentalists.

Someone needs to spread the word of what is actually going on. It would be intolerable if U.S.-backed destabilization and suppression went unopposed in the U.S. itself.

Here it is: A little-known revolution in Nepal .

Who will we tell about it? What will we learn from it? What will we do about it?

Mike Ely is part of the Kasama Project and has helped create the new Revolution in South Asia resource. Mike’s email is m1keely@yahoo.com. Read other articles by Mike, or visit Mike's website.

20 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. hp said on June 13th, 2008 at 11:46am #

    After reaching, and reading, Reason #2, I was struck dumbfounded by the fantasy of all this and found myself wondering what this guy was smoking.

  2. the burningman said on June 13th, 2008 at 4:11pm #

    Well, whatever it is – its beats the cynical claptrap that is the de facto wisdom of this age.

    I’ve been following the events in Nepal and India for about ten years, give or take, since the first announcement in 1996 that they had started a guerrilla war in the far west of Nepal. That’s a region that’s among the most isolated and backwards in the world.

    Zizek said it best: it’s easier for people to imagine the end of all life on earth (from global warming or a meteor or plague) than a change in the capitalist system. And ain’t that the truth.

    Here’s a group that has confounded everyone because they seem to actually believe what they say and fight for it… No Jihad, no McWorld.

    Socialism. Huh.

  3. Giorgio said on June 13th, 2008 at 7:12pm #

    Most interesting! and GOOD LUCK to them…

    “This revolution in Nepal may yet be crushed or even betrayed from within. Such dangers are inherent and inevitable in living revolutions.”
    - sure as hell, Big Brother CIA is watching them…

    “After reaching, and reading, Reason #2, I was struck dumbfounded by the fantasy of all this and found myself wondering what this guy was smoking.”
    - and, by the way, what are you smoking, hp, reading all this from your confortable, progressive armchair?

    Some people have this notion that ‘capitalism’ à la USA and its ancestral form ‘feudalism’ is an inspired God-given ‘system’ that is here to stay on Earth for ever and ever…and it’s just laughable that it will ever be challenged successfully by the abjectly poor and illeterate of this world.
    After reading this article, my simpeton’s gut feeling is that such changes won’t come from the Chomskys and Naders of this world but rather from the downtrodden who, like these Nepalese, will rise up and say ‘BASTA, NO MAS!’

  4. hp said on June 13th, 2008 at 8:16pm #

    Giorgio, I don’t smoke and even if I did I doubt very much I’d get too excited about a new commie government. Maybe if I were a feudal peon serf I might, but the author obviously is not.
    Progressive? Moi? Hardly.

    As far as India being a threat, India hasn’t invaded another nation in, well, 10,000 years. You have to go back to prehistory.
    “Nepal as a fuse igniting India.” Give me a break. India has absorbed everything under the sun, including the Christians, the British, democracy, communism, capitalism and ten centuries of Islamic invasion. I doubt very much if a little fledgling communist neighbor is gonna cause India to loose any sleep. Especially one quoting Marx to them.

    “The courage to climb the unexplored mountain.” Again, what does that mean? Maybe unexplored for them, but if they ask around I’m sure they can find examples of others having climbed, or attempted to climb that mountain before them.
    Also…”the Maobadi of Nepal are carrying out tactics for isolating their internal rivals, broadening their appeal, and neutralizing external enemies.”
    Not exactly a (reason #3) “radically better world” for the ones on the receiving end of these typical Maoist tactics. Is it?

    India is truly one of the few, if not the only place where “been there, done that” applies. Everything under the sun.
    Perhaps if Nepal starts off with a different demeanor other than one of seeing India as a threat, an adversary, this may help. And help tremendously. In fact, it could be the difference between success and failure. An attitude towards India such as..”A future revolutionary government in Nepal will have a hard time surviving alongside a hostile India. It could face demands, crippling embargoes and perhaps even invasion,” is counterproductive and overly paranoid, to say the least. Does the author mean China? Or is China seen as some benevolent commie brotherhood?

    I’m don’t mean to bash Nepal. Good luck to them. They’re going to need it.
    If all this altruistic benevolent commie nonsense gives you a giddy feel good rush, then good for you.

  5. vodka said on June 13th, 2008 at 11:11pm #

    “Or is China seen as some benevolent commie brotherhood?”

    Hardly, the Maobadi see the current Chinese system (socialism with Chinese characteristics!) a perversion of the original Marx/ Mao thinking.

    I am amazed by how many Westerns holding on to the very lame idea that China is commie. The only thing red about China nowadays is the 100 RMB notes.

  6. mr said on June 14th, 2008 at 12:14am #

    dude you got somethings wrong….

    Nepal is not the fuse to ignite india… it is the other way around..
    The nepal maoists have for long been inspired by the naxalbari uprinsing of 1971 in India which is located only a few100 km from the nepal border.

  7. Nando said on June 14th, 2008 at 7:37am #

    hp writes: “As far as India being a threat, India hasn’t invaded another nation in, well, 10,000 years. You have to go back to prehistory.”

    I think this is a misread of modern history. Through out South Asia the indian government is called “expansionist.” That is because (at one time or another) their troops have threatened each of their neighbors.

    The largest example of this was the severing of Bangladesh from the rest of Pakistan — in a series of military events that involved Indian troops. Indian troops absorbed Sikkim into India (it used to be independent). India has gone to war several times with its western neighbor (Pakistan) and in the 1960s engaged in military brinkmanship with china. (Chinese forces responded with a devastating blow and then stopped at the plains of India refusing to advance into India.)

    In the case of Nepal, the Indian government imposed the notorious treaty of 1950 on Nepal — that greatly restricts nepali sovereignty (it says that India considers Nepalis to be Indian citizens, it places requirements on Nepal to maintain an open border and gives India veto power on how the national military of Nepal is used and deployed.) and throughout the period of revolution in nepal (starting in 1996) there have been repeated rumbling from India that amount to threats that their armed forces may enter the conflict on the side of the Nepali royal army.

    One of the most acute manifestations of this has been the Indian encouragement of secessionist forces in the Terai (nepals main agricultural region, where the people have ethnic and cultural ties to Hindu India). One implication of those encouragements is that India has (essentially) fabricated for itself an available excuse for military adventures — an Indian attack against Nepal’s revolution could take the form of a military occupation of the terai.

    One of the reason that Nepal even exists as an independent country is that (like Afghanistan) it is too mountainous and poor to make conquest worthwhile. The british did not seize nepal, but stopped at conquering the northern Indian plains. No one thinks that India will attempt to conquer the Nepali highlands — but they could occupy the terai lowlands (claiming to support ethnic Hindus there) and then try to starve Nepal (and the revolution into submission). Or they could just let the implicit threat of such an invasion hang in the air, with all the pressure that means on Nepal and its leading revolutionary forces.

  8. Nando said on June 14th, 2008 at 7:59am #

    hp writes:

    “As far as India being a threat, India hasn’t invaded another nation in, well, 10,000 years. You have to go back to prehistory.”

    I think this is a misread of modern history. Through out South Asia the indian government is called “expansionist.” That is because (at one time or another) their troops have threatened each of their neighbors.

    The largest example of this was the severing of Bangladesh from the rest of Pakistan — in a series of military events that involved Indian troops. Indian troops absorbed Sikkim into India (it used to be independent). India has gone to war several times with its western neighbor (Pakistan) and in the 1960s engaged in military brinkmanship with china. (Chinese forces responded with a devastating blow and then stopped at the plains of India refusing to advance into India.)

    In the case of Nepal, the Indian government imposed the notorious treaty of 1950 on Nepal — that greatly restricts nepali sovereignty (it says that India considers Nepalis to be Indian citizens, it places requirements on Nepal to maintain an open border and gives India veto power on how the national military of Nepal is used and deployed.) and throughout the period of revolution in nepal (starting in 1996) there have been repeated rumbling from India that amount to threats that their armed forces may enter the conflict on the side of the Nepali royal army.

    One of the most acute manifestations of this has been the Indian encouragement of secessionist forces in the Terai (nepals main agricultural region, where the people have ethnic and cultural ties to Hindu India). One implication of those encouragements is that India has (essentially) fabricated for itself an available excuse for military adventures — an Indian attack against Nepal’s revolution could take the form of a military occupation of the terai.

    One of the reason that Nepal even exists as an independent country is that (like Afghanistan) it is too mountainous and poor to make conquest worthwhile. The british did not seize nepal, but stopped at conquering the northern Indian plains. No one thinks that India will attempt to conquer the Nepali highlands — but they could occupy the terai lowlands (claiming to support ethnic Hindus there) and then try to starve Nepal (and the revolution into submission). Or they could just let the implicit threat of such an invasion hang in the air, with all the pressure that means on Nepal and its leading revolutionary forces.

  9. hp said on June 14th, 2008 at 10:24am #

    Vodka, that sounds good on paper.
    Last time I checked, the PRC (people’s republic of china) is led by the CPC (communist party of china) and has been since 1949. A one party system.
    Because they’ve adapted “market socialism” doesn’t make the CPC somehow magically disappear “Socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
    How quaint.

    Nando, you have a rather odd definition of “expanionist.”
    Losing entire parts of a nation, Pakistan, East Pakistan (Bangladesh), Kashmir(?) is the opposite of expansionist, is it not?

    Could , maybe, possibly, used to be, might have.
    Very strong arguments, Nando.
    If you want to bring up history, Pakistan was once India. As was East Pakistan (Bangladesh). As is Kashmir.
    History is the Islamic invasion and occupation and the loss of these parts of India. And now Kashmir. Now that’s expansionism. Islam, not Hindu.
    What’s next? Sikhistan?
    And after Sikhistan what will you say? More Indian expansionism?
    Dude! There really is a bizarro world.

  10. vodka said on June 14th, 2008 at 6:08pm #

    “Last time I checked, the PRC (people’s republic of china) is led by the CPC (communist party of china) and has been since 1949.”

    hp, what you stated is exactly what is on paper LOL

    stockmarkets, KTVs with naked dancing women, millionaire businessmen, local VCs, luxury brands, KFCs every street corner in Beijing/ Shanghai, Starbucks, credit cards, American/ European cars… the list goes on.

    “market socialism” just a term on the paper so that the CCP can retain power. Mark my words, the ignorance and stubbornness of the western world to see that China is no longer communist is creating a bigger problem, she is turning national socialist.

  11. hp said on June 14th, 2008 at 6:58pm #

    Vodka, yes, you have a good point. I see what you’re getting at..

  12. Lloyd Rowsey said on June 15th, 2008 at 9:22am #

    keep up the history lessons, hp. there’s a couple of us out here in DV-wonderland they’re not totally lost on. and as a nice counter-example to commie SHIT a-la-China, try reading what Cuba’s saying. or don’t you read spanish?

  13. hp said on June 15th, 2008 at 10:58am #

    Lloyd, the point I was trying to make is basically it seems Nepal is about to attempt to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. And its not like they have no examples of this political prestidigitation to learn from, or not.
    This isn’t to be construed as cheer leading for capitalism or any ism.
    It just seems to me that Nepal is gonna start up grandpa’s old Edsel and head on out in hope of making it to Disneyland.
    Good Luck..

  14. hp said on June 15th, 2008 at 11:11am #

    I’ll also say the reason I brought up China in the first place was not to argue isms, but to point out what I believe to be the greater ‘threat’ to Nepal’s fledgling whatever. And I believe this will be China, not India, as the author of this article insinuates.
    The author even goes so far as to remark on the abuse of Tibet by China, but then presses on with imagined threats from India, up to and including ‘invasion.” Huh?
    Vodka’s stressing China’s somewhat hidden motives, possible morphing into ‘national socialism’ also reinforces this idea as China being the greater threat rather than India.

  15. nando said on June 15th, 2008 at 12:55pm #

    Nepal shares a long, porous lowland border with india. almost all of Nepal’s trade is with India. Its economy is dominated by Indian merchants. Its culture is saturated with Bolliwood and other Indian exports. And, there are specific attempts at generating a secessionist movement in the Terai, among the ethnic groups along the Indian border. Nepali workers emigrate to work in desperate situations in Indian citites. and a notorious traffic in Nepali girls fills brothels from one end of India to another.

    In other words the domination and threat that Nepal faces from India is real and long-standing.

    Nepal also shares a border with china, but it is (in fact) the ridge of the Himalayas, and it is a border with the largely desolate tibetan plateau. there is only one road from Nepal to china. It has little trade, and virtually no military potential.

    No one here is prettifying the Chinese regime which long ago departed from its previous framework of “serve the people” — and now seeks an authoritarian modernization along the capitalist road.

    But China is not a threat against Nepal at this point. And India is.

    In many ways, the Indian ruling circles probably assume they can strangle any Nepali government in its cradle. The U.S. applied blockades and commando raids to destablize Castro. Certainly India’s rulers are in an even more powerful position to blockade-to-destabilize a Maoist Nepal. Thiere is a threat of an invasion (which after all is the whole point of maintaining modern multi-million man nuclear armies). but the likelihood is that a hostile India would seek to pressure (or break) Nepal by means short of war (after all India is also preoccupied with the recurring tensions along its western border, and has shifted some military forces toward suppressing their own people in Naxalite-influenced areas.)

    HP seems to vicerally reject any analysis of possible Indian threats — as well as any sympathy for radical social change in South asia. OK, hp has a right to his/her opinion. But the facts and geo-political dynamics are pretty clear.

  16. hp said on June 15th, 2008 at 3:24pm #

    Yes nando, the “radical Maoist communists” are going to succeed marvelously, wonderfully, in Nepal.
    If only mean old India will let them.

  17. nando said on June 15th, 2008 at 5:54pm #

    I don’t know whether the revolution in Nepal will succeed. that future is still unwritten.

    Clearly the Maoists of Nepal are making efforts to neutralize the Indian threat — and buy themselves some space to consolidate their movement and carry though the initial waves of social transformation.

    There are quite a few challenges for that kind of process — and the external threat of hostile powers has (historically) been one of them. (soviet Russia was invaded by 14 different powers, including the U.S., in the aftermath of the revolution. twenty years later it faced a new invasion from Nazi Germany. Revolutionary China faced U.S. and UN forces advancing up the Korean peninsula up to the Yalu river, accompanied with threats of nuclear attack on China itself).

    There are other threats to revolutionary change — all kinds of internal problems and forces and pitfalls. but the external problems of living as a non-capitalist state in a capitalist world are considerable.

  18. Lloyd Rowsey said on June 15th, 2008 at 8:04pm #

    “the external problems of living as a non-capitalist state in a capitalist world are considerable.” which brings us round to Cuba, again. thanx, nando, for a considerably updated and relevant history.

    and yeah, hp, I know what you were saying. like you with Israel, I have my little rants.

    i could swear you knew that making some tiny contribution to ending the embargo of Cuba is – second to making the same to ending America’s involvement in Iraq – where I come from.

  19. vodka said on June 16th, 2008 at 12:18am #

    hp – while i believe that china is no longer communist and is transitioning to a modern fascist state smiliar to singapore. i also believe that nepal is fairly safe from chinese intentions.

    the indians and chinese have an understanding and already carved up their respective spheres of influence amongst these highland territories. nepal falls within the indian sphere.

  20. hp said on June 16th, 2008 at 9:42am #

    Thanks everyone, for your input and interest.