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(DV) Chandra: Nepal & Venezuela







Nepal & Venezuela

For Continuous Democracy, Against Ceremonial Democracy
by Pratyush Chandra
March 21, 2006

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Any serious and honest survey of the Maoist movement in Nepal can convey the truth that its main agenda has been to establish the essential democratic institutions that will allow a devolvement of political economic power to the masses. The Maoists can challengingly claim that in every negotiation they have indulged with the King and the parliamentary forces, they have asked for an unconditional constituent assembly, during whose election different political forces can go with their respective choice of political structure and ask for the people's mandate. And, of course, they have demanded a subservience of the national army to the democratic government. Only a democratically elected constituent assembly having representatives from the exploited and oppressed majority has the capacity to provide a democratic constitution. Otherwise a constitution is bound to be an eclectic compromise between the already empowered vested interests, as it has happened many times in Nepal, and in many other “democratic” countries. On the other hand, which modern nation can openly deny the “professionalization” of the armed forces, their ability to harm the democratic interests incapacitated and their subservience to those interests?


The Maoists have time and again emphasized their sufficiently theorized commitment to multi-party republican democracy and to political competition that it represents. They know that the fight for their maximal goal, for socialism and communism, has to be long drawn, taking into consideration "the balance in the class struggle and international situation." But as Maoist leader Prachanda simultaneously stresses, this position "is a policy, not tactics." (1) Does this stress diminish the revolutionary agenda of the Maoists? Not at all. When Mao called for putting politics in command and guns under this command, he meant the readiness of the revolutionary forces to change according to the exigencies of class struggle and revolution. What the Maoists are struggling for is the establishment of the basic political structure that will release the energy of the exploited and oppressed Nepalese masses towards an intensified class struggle, creating conditions for an unhindered process of self-organization of the working class.


In this regard, well-known Indian Marxist Randhir Singh's assessment of the place of the Nepalese movement among the post-Cold War revolutionary movements is quite apt: "Latin America is in fact emerging as a particularly important zone of class struggle against international capital. Just as, far away, on another continent, Nepal exemplifies that, odds notwithstanding, people will continue fighting for life beyond the established capitalist or feudal social orders. In this revived revolutionary process, the Chavez-led Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela apart, the Communist Party (Maoist)-led movement in Nepal -- popularly known as People's War -- is undoubtedly the most significant popular struggle for freedom and democracy in the world today." (2)


This comparison between Latin American experiences and Nepal's Maoist movement is quite meaningful. Both aim towards political exercises unprecedented in the world revolutionary movement. In Latin America (Venezuela, Argentina and others) and Nepal, we are literally witnessing what Marx hypothesized as "the whole superincumbent strata of official society [of global capitalism] being sprung into the air." (3)


In Venezuela (and Latin America, in general), the complexity of the revolutionary transformation is engendered by the lingering of the capitalist state machinery and hegemony, on the one hand, and the contradiction of bourgeois democracy, which has put revolutionary forces at its helm, on the other. In this situation, there exists a tremendous pressure within the capitalist state and society to de-radicalize the social forces behind the upheaval by accommodating their leadership. The strength of the revolutionary forces, on the other hand, will be determined by their ability to challenge the lingering hegemony and the danger of their own accommodation by facilitating the task of building and sustaining alternative radical democratic organizations ("self-government of the producers"), while subordinating the state to them.  "Only insofar as the state is converted from an organ standing above society into one completely subordinate to it can the working class ‘succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew’." (4) Asambleas Barriales (neighborhood assemblies) in Argentina and the practice of co-management (a partnership between the workers of an enterprise and society) in Venezuela seek to transcend the officialized practice of statist socialism and “sectionalist” self-management by establishing an incipient 'social' control over production.


Modern capitalism relies mainly on representative democracy as the political system to reproduce the general conditions of capitalist accumulation. Therefore, "the crucial problem for the people in charge of affairs is to be able to get on with the business in hand, without undue interference from below, yet at the same time to provide sufficient opportunities for political participation to place the legitimacy of the system beyond serious question . . . Parliamentarism makes this possible: for it simultaneously enshrines the principle of popular inclusion and that of popular exclusion." It 'de-popularises' policy-making and limits the impact of class contradiction at the workplace and market place upon the conduct of affairs. (5)


Hence, the practice of "participative and protagonistic democracy in society as a whole, the idea of people communally deciding on their needs and communally deciding on their productive activity" is definitely a grave crisis for global capitalism. This practice shoos all 'metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties' that characterize market relations (presenting the capitalist reality in distorted manner), dividing the collective worker into various identities (consumers, citizens, unemployed, formal and informal sector workers) and devise competition among them. It reclaims the right of determining one's own destiny, to realize the "creative potential of every human being and the full exercise of his or her personality in a democratic society," as envisaged in the Bolivarian constitution of Venezuela. (6)


In Nepal, on the other hand, regular betrayals of the democratic movement by Monarchy and democrats have time and again scuttled the potential emergence of even the minimum semblance of popular democracy. Therefore, the movement was restricted to petty bourgeoisie, who were heavily fed by international aid and its "cut and commission" regime. Whenever the movement seemed to integrate with the struggle for the basic needs of the poor peasantry, landless and proletarians, a compromise was forged curbing the radical potential of the movement.


The success of the Maoists lies in the fact that they integrated the remotest corner of the Nepalese society with the mainstream struggle for popular democracy. They exposed the class content of the formal democratic exercises undertaken in the 1990s. They demonstrated how the formal democratic institutions that emerged in Nepal with the arrangement between the royalty, landlords and the upper crust of petty bourgeoisie along with global imperialism were designed to integrate the neo-hegemonic interests, the local agencies of commercialization, dependency and primitive accumulation.


In this regard, we must not forget that the armed struggle was the major catalyst in the achievements of the Maoist movement. Firstly, it was a veritable boost to self-confidence and self-defense of the oppressed and exploited in Nepal. Secondly, it allowed sustaining politicization and democratic practice of the downtrodden undiluted by the hegemonic coercive and consensual influences. The virtual emergence of dual power could become possible only if it had its own defense mechanism. The decade long people's war and radical land reforms undertaken in the countryside with alternative incipient democratic institutions have radicalized the Nepalese society. It halted the continuous drainage of the Nepalese natural and human resources for economic profit, leisure and security of the external hegemonic forces, buffered by the Nepalese landlords, merchants and corporates under the leadership of the royalty. Time and again all these forces combined to scuttle the democratic aspirations of the Nepalese society in the name of maintaining stability, however allowing a "controlled transformation of the economy to suit the imperialist calculus." (7) The Maoist upsurge liberated the potentialities in the Nepalese polity and economy.


The recent alliance between the Maoist and other democratic forces in Nepal can be seen, on the one hand, as winning back of the "middle forces" (using Mao's phrase) and on the other, it signifies a nationwide unity among the exploited and oppressed sections of the society. Further, it marks the willingness to challenge the formal “democracy from above” by the incipient “democracy from below,” to allow a “political competition” between them. It is in this respect we can understand the Maoist movement as part of the global struggle for freedom, democracy and socialism. We will have to wait and see, what specificities the Nepalese struggle would acquire. Or, will it be another saga of historic betrayal forged by the imperialist forces and the local ruling coalition?


Seeing the way global imperialism has been once again hyperactive with its ideologies and armies, one can only rely upon the working classes of the world to defend these movements for social transformation with their “fraternal concurrence.” They must realize their "duty to master themselves the mysteries of international politics; to watch the diplomatic acts of their respective governments; to counteract them, if necessary, by all means in their power; when unable to prevent, to combine in simultaneous denunciations, and to vindicate the simple laws or morals and justice, which ought to govern the relations of private individuals, as the rules paramount of the intercourse of nations. The fight for such a foreign policy forms part of the general struggle for the emancipation of the working classes." (8)


Pratyush Chandra lives in Maryland, and can be reached at: ch.pratyush@gmail.com.




(1) "Interview with Prachanda," The Hindu (excerpts published on February 8, 9 and 10, 2006)


(2) Randhir Singh, Foreword in Baburam Bhattarai, Monarchy Vs. Democracy: The Epic Fight in Nepal (Samkaleen Teesari Duniya, New Delhi, 2005), p.vii.


(3) Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, The Manifesto of the Communist  Party (1848).


(4) Michael Lebowitz, Beyond Capital (second edition, Palgrave, 2003), p.196.


(5) Ralph Miliband, Capitalist Democracy in Britain (Oxford University Press, 1982), p.38.


(6) Michael Lebowitz, "Constructing Co-Management in Venezuela: Contradictions along the Path,” MR Zine, October 24, 2005.


(7) Baburam Bhattarai, The Nature of Underdevelopment and Regional Structure of Nepal: A Marxist Analysis (Adroit Publishers, Delhi, 2003) p.46.


(8) Karl Marx, "Inaugural Address of the International Working Men's Association," 1864.