[N]ow we are focusing on the mass movement… [N]ow we [can] really practice what we have been preaching. That means the fusion of the strategy of PPW [Protracted People’s War] and the tactic of general insurrection. What we have been doing since 2005 is the path of preparation for general insurrection through our work in the urban areas and our participation in the coalition government.
— Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai, interview with the Britain-based World People’s Resistance Movement, October 26, 2009
Today (November 1) Nepal’s Maoists initiate, with torch rallies in Kathmandu, a mass movement to bring down the regime. This is the regime that succeeded the one their chair Prachanda headed as prime minister from August 2008 to May 2009–a compromise arrangement, always understood to be temporary and transitional, that collapsed when the Nepali Army refused to take orders from the Maoist prime minister.
Prime Minister Prachanda, noting the obvious (that the Maoists’ suspension of the People’s War and participation in parliamentary processes had not really given them state power), might have then ordered the resumption of the war. Instead, the first elected Maoist national leader made a surprising (I think even shrewdly Gandhian) move of resigning his post, while his party, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) redoubled its efforts to organize support among the urban masses of Kathmandu.
The Maoists claimed that acquiring top posts in the government following the toppling of the monarchy in 2008 was less important than two other tasks: achieving goals in the composition of the new constitution and building that mass urban movement. The “Prachanda Path” has always been about combining Mao’s theory of People’s War (surrounding the cities from the countryside) with Lenin’s model of the urban uprising—the October Revolution.
As of November 2005 the Maoists controlled about 80% of the country. They surrounded Kathmandu Valley but felt incapable of taking it militarily. Meanwhile King Gyanendra, deeply unpopular, had made himself even more widely despised by dissolving the parliament and arresting mainstream political leaders. The Maoists cut a deal with the legal political parties to coordinate actions to bring down the king. They agreed to eventually lay down their arms under UN supervision, in return for the other parties’ acceptance of new elections for a Constituent Assembly to author a new constitution. In the April 2008 elections, Maoists won 220 of 575 seats in the assembly, double the figure of their nearest competitors. International observers such as Jimmy Carter verified that the elections were free and fair. There is no question the Maoists have a mass base.
And there’s no question there are real limits to what you can accomplish following the normal rules. Hence “the tactic of general insurrection.”
The U.S. State Department has always seen the Maoists as “terrorists” and even keeps them on the terror list now. That’s not because they’ve used violence to overthrow a social order that inflicts misery in subtle and not so subtle, violent and not so violent ways every day as the Nepali state presides or looks on indifferently. “Terrorism” in the State Department’s lexicon refers to anything that terrifies State Department officials, and the prospect of the red flag flying over Mt. Everest is one of their nightmares. But the fact is they do believe in the violent overthrow of oppressive institutions, they do believe the revolution isn’t by any means over yet, and they do have a program for seizure of power through what Bhattarai terms “the tactic of general insurrection.”
Knowing this, U.S. Charge d’Affaires in Kathmandu Jeffrey Moon called on Prachanda at his home in the city Oct. 28 to express U.S. concern about these upcoming protests. He was apparently told that the Maoists remain committed to the peace process and the drafting of a new constitution. But suspension of the guerrilla war is one thing. General insurrection centered in the city is another. And the People’s War and the urban insurrection may connect at some point in the near future, just as the government of neighboring India undertakes an assault on the Maoist movement that has come to control vast regions of that county.
I have no idea what the outcome may be. But history is clearly not over, Communist movements are clearly not dead, and the ideal of classless society has clearly not vanished in societies where class oppression is most intense.