Nepal: The Tactic of General Insurrection

[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.

Gary Leupp is a Professor of History at Tufts University, and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu. Read other articles by Gary.

14 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Michael Kenny said on November 2nd, 2009 at 9:21am #

    The last paragraph is a beautiful example of the screwball cloudcuckooland in which Americans live. And this is coming from a university professor …

  2. kalidas said on November 2nd, 2009 at 1:09pm #

    No kidding.
    Never could figure out what communism had to do with a classless society.
    I’ll have to reread the brothers Grimm.
    Maybe they know.

  3. Mike Ely said on November 2nd, 2009 at 2:05pm #

    I won’t comment on the two trolling (and typically empty) remarks above. There is no evidence or argument to engage. And how do you refute a sneer.

    But the events in Nepal have been exciting and inspiring — and the revolution there is now in the midst of potentially life and death events.

    And they are all the more significant now that, right across Nepal’s southern border, the Indian government is acknowledging the degree they have lost control of a growing swathe of territory to the Maoists of India. The Indian army is being mobilized for an occupation of tribal areas — that is expected to take years, and can be assumed to involve the kind of brutal counterinsurgency the world saw in Vietnam, or Gaza or Ayacucho.

    I see the events in nepal now as a “dress reheasal for insurrection” — revolutionary parties considering an uprising need practical ways to train their forces, practice their maneuvers, gauge their support, measure the mood of both their forces and their opponents.

  4. Mike Ely said on November 2nd, 2009 at 2:05pm #

    I won’t comment on the two trolling (and typically empty) remarks above. There is no evidence or argument to engage. And how do you refute a sneer.

    But the events in Nepal have been exciting and inspiring — and the revolution there is now in the midst of potentially life and death events.

    And they are all the more significant now that, right across Nepal’s southern border, the Indian government is acknowledging the degree they have lost control of a growing swathe of territory to the Maoists of India. The Indian army is being mobilized for an occupation of tribal areas — that is expected to take years, and can be assumed to involve the kind of brutal counterinsurgency the world saw in Vietnam, or Gaza or Ayacucho.

    I see the events in Nepal now as a “dress rehearsal for insurrection” — revolutionary parties considering an uprising need practical ways to train their forces, practice their maneuvers, gauge their support, measure the mood of both their forces and their opponents.

    The world now has too quite radical communist movements on the stage.

  5. kalidas said on November 2nd, 2009 at 2:55pm #

    Perhaps Mike, when he’s taking a break, settled down a bit from the excitement of playing soldier, might tell us, just once, what does communism have to do with a classless society.
    Perhaps he might offer an example of this mythical beast.
    Perhaps he might offer a explanation of why this isn’t and always will be pure fantasy.

    Tell us, instead of superstitious slandering.

    And no, Shangra-la, Utopia, Camelot, little red blue or pink books, etc., won’t pass muster.

    Talk about empty fantasy.

  6. apwsal said on November 2nd, 2009 at 3:53pm #

    yet another prof enjoying the benefits of a free capitalist society and playing to propaganda of outdated bunches like the maoists in nepal. these maoists are nothing more than a violent bunch of goons who couln’t win elections and gain to governance, so they started killing innocent nepalis in the name of mao. their offices and assemblies are lined with laughable photos of beasts like stalin & mao, and flowers & worship are offered to them before beginning their functions. their lack of ability to diplomacy & governance threw them out on street. and now they once want to use violence on the people to impose their rule. but people will not be patient for too long. they want to run their businesses, live their lives freely and advance their traditional heritage. as in the rest of the world, nepalis will also get fed up with these morons soon, and eradicate them and their outcast ideology from their country too.

  7. xristy said on November 2nd, 2009 at 5:59pm #

    I am a westerner living here in Nepal and the comments by apwsal, above, are much closer to what I have observed than the comments by Prof Leupp. The CPN (Maoist) used a combination of violent intimidation and rhetorical yet empty promises to gain the election results. Prachandra has promised young men who have little education in the Western sense that they are the vanguard of the true people’s revolution across the planet. The revolution that Mao failed to follow through on. To compare Prachandra to Gandhi is truly bizarre!

    Most of the people (from my observation) are much more interested in living their lives without oppression from either Kings or authoritarian Maoists who school their children in private schools in England. The rickshaw drivers of Katmandu would rather not be forced by Maoist cadres into paying nominally half their daily earnings to the Maoists (approximately 100 rupees per day). Who could imagine a more typical member of the “people” than a rickshaw driver?

    It is all too easy to observe from afar the inhumanity of the caste structures of Nepal and India and yet ignore the stratification that arises in every single society including PRC. The argument always seems to be from the leaders that the previous attempts were not pure or diligent enough – not enough of the people’s blood was spilled to properly fuel the true revolution. However, at the root of all these efforts are people who are ultimately not devoid of greed, aversion and a fundamental lack of understanding of this. Hence the stratification of power recurs, often in the most violent and non-productive ways.

    In the West we don’t like the overt caste system because we see it as demeaning the potential of the individual; however, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and their followers were as class laden as the current failing socio-economic system of the US with its wildly inegalitarian distribution of material wealth.

    Spend some time here in Nepal with a light foot on the ground and begin to see a bit of the truth of people living day to day and playing and working and striving and dying and really drink it in and then try and understand that the CPN (Maoist) are not caring for the people and they don’t have any sensible plan. Assuming that the general insurrection succeeds and Kamal Pushpal Dalal and friends ascend as an authoritarian regime then we can reasonably expect to see an utterly failed state that will rival Somalia for our collective tears – what a “worker’s paradise”!

    Assuming Prof. Leupp is on the ground here in Nepal and writing from the depth of his own experience I would like very much to have the opportunity to meet and discuss the apparent gulf that separates our mutual understanding of what is happening here and why.

  8. Shi said on November 2nd, 2009 at 8:31pm #

    xristy, step out of the cocoon called Kathmandu and you would begin to appreciate Prof. Leupp’s real concerns.

  9. Red Side said on November 2nd, 2009 at 9:02pm #

    Nepal is a poor, small country in South Asia. Its people have been subjugated by a feudal caste system for centuries. The Maobadi (Maoists) are the only ones to challenge the status quo successfully. Mike Ely is right to ignore silly sneers such as “monster” this or that and focus on the substance of the present struggle.

    As re Xristy’s comments that we in the West don’t understand. Let’s be clear, there’s no room for agnosticism here: the Maobadi would be crushed if they did not have a large degree of the popular support of the people in Nepal. Let’s also be clear that it was President Yadav who started the present crisis, not the Maobadi.

    President Yadav made the first move by choosing to ignore the 2006 peace treaty that stipulated the democratization of the military.

    It was President Yadav who tried to reinstate General Katawal, which is both unconstitutional and undemocratic. It’s the Maobadi who are trying to maintain civilian control. The Maoists, for their part, have so far been peaceful and they have asked the military not to get involved in the protests. The Maobadi protests, in the last analysis, are justified.

  10. henriyardy said on November 3rd, 2009 at 2:37am #

    Voice heard like bomb blasting and gun firing. The period was of peace process. The place was of the central office of UCPN(Maoist), at Perishdanda, in the Capital city Kathmandu. Leaders of UCPN (Maoist) were sat in the row of the guests. The ‘blasting” voice made the Security forces alert !

    The voice was the opening of the cultural programme organized to welcome the leaders of People’s rebellion. The blasting voice opened the programme to welcome the leaders and the participants.

    It was the first cultural programme after the invention of the tactics of People’s Federal Republic, after a month long meeting of central committee.

    Absolute Acai Berry

  11. xristy said on November 3rd, 2009 at 2:44am #

    Red Side: 1) I would say that the Maoists are the only ones to challenge the status quo violently. 2) It’s disingenuous to suggest that cowed and intimidated equals popular support. It’s also confused thinking to suggest that much of the support that the Maoists enjoy is informed support. One has only to look at the US today to see just what sort of confused ideas garner absurd degrees of support.

    For the benefit of readers that may not be up on all the ins and outs of the current conflict between the Maoists and the rest of the government let’s be clear that it is open to considerable dispute as to 1) whether Yadav ignored the peace treaty or not and 2) whether Yadav’s reinstatement (or staying of the order) of General Katawal is in fact “unconstitutional and undemocratic” since in fact there are figures on all sides of this argument. One of the issues has been how and when to incorporate Maoists soldiers who hold clear specific political allegiances versus the mandated politically neutral army personnel.

    In the last analysis the Maoist protests are indeed protests. Justification is in the eye of the beholder.

  12. bozh said on November 3rd, 2009 at 8:04am #

    In communist-ruled countries such as yugoslavia and USSR, the sharp societal divisions were eliminated overnight.
    Communist and socialist parties have always ruled over fascists and socialists-communists.

    It takes time, perhaps centuries or even millennia, to teach people who support feudal structures of society to begin to accept or love a nonfeudal one.
    I do not care a whit if fascist deride communist countries as being poor as long as everybody gets healthcare, free higher education, three healthy meals a day, and roof over one’s head.

    And in communist societies people wasted less; thus contributed much less to pollution and global warming.
    If there had not been constant military threats and actual military aggressions by fascsit lands-empires against communist lands, USSR might have still be around.

    If it wasn’t for mortal enemies of decency, justice, peace, and more egalitarians societies, communist lands cld have slowed dwn industrialization and manufacture of arms or WMD.

    However, cold war had been won by fascist, hence ever greater crimes by them against afgh’n, iraq, palestine, cuba, venezuella, nicaragua, somalia, pak’n and elsewhere.
    And being now almost totally unimpeded, US-nato can commit even more astounding crimes against humanities. tnx

  13. Gary said on November 3rd, 2009 at 9:20am #

    xchristy speaks eloquently out of a pool of who knows what experience “on the ground” in Nepal. But the fact that he immediately refers to the comments of apwsal (who trumpets the benefits of free capitalist society and labels Maoism “outdated”) suggests to me that even were he and I together on the ground in Boston Massachusetts we would see the landscape differently.

  14. John Sinclair said on November 5th, 2009 at 7:20pm #

    The situation in Nepal is as bleak as ever. The Maoists simply take uneducated, desparate children from the countryside and fill their minds with false hope for a better future. These children would follow anybody that gave them hope. The tactics of the Maoists are the same as any gang of thugs. Intimidate people and they will do what you want. Prachanda is nothing more than a power-hungry thug. His resignation as Prime Minister shows exactly that he is unwilling to resolve disputes judicially. When things don’t go as he wants, he simply threatens an uprising. He wants power by force. These Maoist thugs terrorize the people of Nepal. They lie, cheat, steal, vandalize, and murder. The people in Kathmandu need to rise up and put an end to the madness. The Maoists will set Nepal back another 50 years!