Is There a Real Dilemma Facing the Revolution
Arms or Assembly: Does One Have To Be Abandoned?
Tidal waves of revolution are on the advance in Nepal. The 237 year-old Monarchy in Nepal, representing the virtual rule of two families, the Shahs and Ranas, is now crumbling under pressure of the revolutionary mass upheaval. The King, still holding the crown on his head, is haplessly seeing his ‘cashiering’, stripping of his powers, one after the other, at the hands of the Parliament and seeing Nepal going ‘Red’.
A cut-throat struggle for state power has already ensued between the proletariat-peasants on one side and capitalists-landlords on the other, and the Nepali Maoists are using correct tactics practically, to enter the Parliament and Government with arms in hands. At this critical juncture of history, counseling is coming to them from two different sides: while revisionists are calling upon them to abandon their ‘arms’ and take the path of peaceful co-existence inside and outside the Parliament with capitalist-landlord parties (the CPI-CPM type, what they term as ‘political competition’), the left adventurist CPI (Maoist) is advising them to abandon the idea of participation in the Constituent Assembly, Parliament and interim Government.
Parties like CPI(M) are showing a complete lack of ability to understand the question of arms. Recently, after returning from Kathmandu, Sitaram Yechuri has started advocating against the retention of arms by the Communists in the changed scenario. He has started presenting the matter as if the Nepali Communists had been committing a mistake by taking to arms and now they are making a correction by reversing this course. This is not the matter at all.
The recent spate of advice from CPI-CPM is in consonance with their own line. These revisionist parties have entered into a perpetual wedding with the capitalist-landlord parties in their own country; they have evolved a bogus non-revolutionary and collaborationist parliamentarism of their own and wish to derail the Nepali revolution along the same line. These revisionists have not only abandoned the idea of a revolution but of a sincere political struggle also. The capitalists-landlords do not look at them as serious class enemies, but in fact as capitulationists. The line that they are propagating as ‘competitive politics of the 21st century’ is nothing but a willful diversion from revolutionary struggle. This diversion is abundantly clear in the activities of these revisionists not only inside Parliament, but in the press and in mass organisations, in trade unions and everywhere. Their ‘political competition’ is nothing but anathema to revolutionary political struggle against the class enemy. Instead of undermining bourgeois parliamentarism, their activities are directed at strengthening it, while only paying lip service to the cause of revolution.
On the other hand, the advice of Indian Maoists – not to participate either in the interim government or in the Constituent Assembly etc. – stems from their own political weakness. They act on the wrong assumption that such participation would ‘infect’ the party of revolution with the virus of revisionism, and that revolutionary fervour would become absorbed and assimilated into reaction.
In our opinion, the only revolutionary answer to the question of arms, as presented by the revolution in Nepal, can doubtlessly and unconditionally only be in favour of retention of arms, whatever may come. Once the proletariat has become armed during the course of the struggle for democracy, the arms should be retained at any cost for the entire period of democratic revolution. Revolutions are made by arms and not by parliamentary chatter. There cannot be two opinions on this point among Marxists, and whoever does not understand this simple thing is a Marxist only in words. The only question which remains before us is, what organisational form exactly should the armed forces of the revolution take at a given moment, when not in direct action? Responding to this, we may only say at this stage that any answer to this problem should be in favour of retention of arms and armed forces by the proletariat, and not their surrender.
Contrary to the outdated belief that the retention of arms and participation in Parliament are mutually exclusive, or that one has to be abandoned in favour of the other, the development of modern revolutions is showing that the two may go simultaneously. That the proletarian masses are acquiring an ever greater role in making and advancing the democratic revolution with the aid of peasantry, is a factor which facilitates or rather ensures that the proletariat-peasantry may enter the corridors of state power without abandoning the arms. Proletarian parties leading one or another armed struggle, even if denied a formal entry, may successfully find many ways to intrude into parliamentary institutions and set up their contingents inside them, however small they may be, and may carry out the struggle, simultaneously, inside as well as outside these institutions.
The history of Nepal enters the age of modern polity after World War II, with the founding of the Nepali Congress Party in 1946 and thereafter the promulgation of the Constitution (the Government of Nepal Act) in 1948, introducing a non-party panchayat system of representation and elections. Since then, the political history of Nepal has remained the history of conflicts and collaborations between the Monarchy and political parties of all shades. The rule of the feudal Monarchy in Nepal has resulted in the total destruction of the local infrastructure – natural as well as human resources - and opportunities for eking out a living, resulting in a mass exodus from Nepal, the imbalance of the ecology and complete degradation of life inside the country. This has led to disgust and discontent among the people, 90% of whom are peasants. It was in 1980 that this discontent had surfaced and expressed itself in widespread and violent ‘mass riots’. In 1993, after the death of Madan Bhandari, the leader of CPN(UML) in a mysterious car crash, violent mass demonstrations had resurfaced in Kathmandu. In 1994, the CPN(UML), emerging as the largest political party, had formed a minority government but could not survive the no-confidence motion in 1995.
A new turn came to polity in Nepal in 1997, when the armed struggle against the monarchy was launched, pursuant to the disbanding of Parliament, suppression of all civil rights by the King and closure of all avenues of peaceful struggle; thus a decision was taken by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), to launch partisan warfare and mobilise a Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA).
With the Monarchy reeling under imminent destruction and relegated to the background for the time being, the question of dealing with the RNA (Royal Nepalese Army), the real bulwark of reaction in Nepal, which has sustained the Monarchy so far on Nepali soil, has come onto the agenda of the advancing revolution.
The forces which took part in the movement against the Monarchy are seriously divided on this issue. Whereas the proletariat-peasantry combination is in favour of disbanding the RNA, the capitalists-landlords favour its retention, with only a few reforms. The capitalist-landlord parties like the Nepali Congress, instead of looking at the RNA as a threat to democracy, see in it a counter to the armed force of revolution, the PLA – Peoples’ Liberation Army.
The biggest concern for the bourgeois-landlord combination is the arms and armed detachments of the Nepali proletariat and peasants. Knowing well that it is the force of arms in the hands of revolution in Nepal which has played a major role in ensuring the destruction of the feudal Monarchy, their first and foremost striving is to disarm the proletariat, even before the complete fall of the Monarchy. The capitalists-landlords in Nepal view the armed forces of revolution as a prospective threat to themselves.
The landlord-capitalist parties are vacillating, virtually blackmailing the revolution into adopting a policy on arms which best suits their class interests. The retention of the RNA and disbanding of the PLA is their agenda.
It is no way surprising that the Nepali bourgeois-landlord parties, organised under the seven party alliance (SPA), are not opposed to retention of arms by the reactionary Royal Nepal Army (RNA), which had been instrumental in suppressing the democratic aspirations of the Nepali people through brute violence, committed all sort of inhuman crimes against the people and which still remains loyal to the Monarchy even in defiance of the mandates of the Government. However, these parties are making an all-out effort to wrest away the armed power from the hands of the proletariat-peasants. As the RNA is the bulwark of reaction in Nepal, it is no matter of concern for the capitalist-landlord parties, as they themselves would need the aid of the RNA to deal with the future advance of the revolution in Nepal.
Irrespective of anyone’s wishes, the future path of political development in Nepal is not going to be peaceful. There is going to be a cut-throat struggle for the state power among the class forces. The revolution, in a short time, soon after the fall of Monarchy, has to be directed against the capitalists-landlords, if it is to advance further. It would be a hundred times more difficult to thwart the revolution if it marches forward, with arms in hands, on the tidal waves of a mass upsurge. In no time, 25,000 revolutionary fighters may grow to twenty five lakhs. This danger of a proletarian takeover is haunting the propertied classes of Nepal, who want to establish their hegemony over the new power structures. The capitalist-landlord combination in Nepal seems to be neither enthusiastic nor capable of advancing even the bourgeois revolution an inch forward on its own. The revolution has to advance, in any case, only under the proletarian leadership supported by the peasantry. The leadership of the capitalist-landlord combination would mean reaction and no further revolution. Only armed revolution can ensure a peaceful progress and transition to the next, higher stage.
Armed forces, mobilised by the revolution under the banner of the PLA, are the only guarantee of a proletarian leadership and imprint on the revolution. The parties in the SPA, who are losing interest in the forward movement of the revolution after the fall of the Monarch, have thus launched a campaign aimed at destroying or at least weakening the armed might of the revolution.
In its campaign, the SPA is not alone. The international bourgeoisie, speaking through envoys and even the UN, is most keen on ensuring that the proletariat enters the corridors of state power only without arms. In the name of ‘arms management’, proposals have been made ranging from complete surrender of arms to merger of the PLA with the RNA.
The international bourgeoisie has already started to put its stakes in Nepal on the RNA. US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Richard Boucher, in his visit to Nepal, instead of meeting with the King, met directly with Army Chief Pyar Jung Thapa. Thereafter in a press conference on April 3, 2006, he clearly stated that he wanted to check if the RNA was supporting the civilian leadership, and how it sees its role in future, so that in the future, when a civilian leadership wants us to support them, we could do that. After the 12-point agreement was entered into between the parties opposing the Monarchy, US Ambassador James Moriarty has been continuously promoting the RNA, defending its existence at all events which could be of any importance. He has done this although everyone knows well that the RNA and its elite command, loyal to none but the Monarchy, is filled with hatred towards the democratic leadership. Now, things have taken a different turn. Leaders like G.P. Koirala and Sher Bahadur Deuba, who until yesterday were advocating ‘crushing’ the ‘Peoples’ War’, have come today to negotiate the state power with the proletarian parties. The international bourgeoisie, represented by US envoys, are making efforts to mobilise these elements with a common agenda of disarming the Proletariat. Their first preference was to keep the CPN(M) and the PLA away from the interim Government, but after this proved to be non-workable, they are making every effort to ensure that the proletariat does not enter the threshold of state power with arms in hands. How desperate the propertied classes are at the sight of arms in the hands of the Proletariat becomes clear from Moriarty’s statement to reporters on July 2, 2006, after an hour-long meeting with the King, that the US will not tolerate the CPN(M) joining the interim Government without first laying down their arms. He openly threatened to cut off all aid to Nepal in case of that eventuality.
We cannot ignore the fact that although the wings of the Monarchy in Nepal have been clipped and it has been relegated to the background, it is still not crushed to date, and is still alive. Supported by the elite leadership of the RNA, the forces of reaction may be awaiting an opportune moment to retaliate, after the tide of mass upsurge settles down, and to restore the Monarchy.
As for the proletarian revolutionary forces in Nepal, at this juncture of history there are two options open. The first is to carry forward the struggle to the end and to realise a proletarian democracy to the exclusion of bourgeois-landlord parties after so marginalising them. This is the option being advised by the Indian Maoists. This would mean dividing the forces in opposition to the Monarchy and thereby permitting the Monarchy to continue for some more time, and an opportunity for the capitalist-landlord political parties to continue as parties of opposition to the Monarchy, thus seeming to retain their progressive role, at least in the eyes of backward sections of masses. The second option, and in our opinion a better one, is to strike a temporary but immediate alliance with the capitalist-landlord parties, completely isolating the Monarchy in order to overturn it, thus paving the way for a democracy and a new Constituent Assembly.
Nepali proletarian revolutionaries have already decided for the second option and for all good reasons to be cited in support. The agreement reached between the CPN(M) and the seven party alliance (SPA) has reinforced this alliance of forces against the Monarchy. However, the fall of the Monarchy will make the capitalists-landlords on the one hand and Proletariat-peasantry on the other, stand face to face against each other and contend for their hegemony over the state power.
Though apparently it seems that the proletarian forces have already taken a lead in the alliance, the real alignment of forces would be reflected in the future general elections in a somehow different way, as the real balance of power is never reflected in Parliamentary institutions. Bourgeois parties always have an undue advantage in these institutions, stealing a march over the proletariat from thousands of routes which money, both local and International, reserves for them well in advance. Thus, the alignment of forces in the future parliament, or even in an interim parliament, a constituent assembly, etc. may defy the real alignment of power, the extent of which will be decided in the future.
The alliance of the proletarian revolutionaries, primarily with the bourgeoisie and all who are opposed to the Monarchy, is on the agenda of the day. The bourgeois parties, still hobnobbing with the Monarchy, are entering the alliance with caution and hesitation as well. The proposed head of the future Government, Girija Prasad Koirala, openly favours retention of a ceremonial Monarchy in Nepal. Initially the SPA had demanded disarming of the CPN (M) through surrender of arms, but finding this impossible, they have come to negotiate on putting the armed forces under joint command. Still many options are open even within these proposals.
The stance of the Nepali Maoists in these developments is the issue of immense importance in the strategy of the revolution. Refusing to accept even a ceremonial existence of the Monarchy or the disarming of its own armed forces, the CPN(M) has clearly expressed its intention to participate in the run for the Constituent Assembly, general elections to parliament and then in parliament itself. They are also ready to participate in the Government.
The general direction and the decision of the CPN(M) to ‘participate’ in the democratic process, though correct in itself, still demands one to have a look at the perception behind this general direction. This perception is reflected in the recent statements of Nepali Maoist leaders, where they visualise this ‘participation’ as what they term ‘political competition’ or ‘competitive politics’ with the capitalist-landlord parties. We have no hesitation in saying that this perception of our Nepali friends on the question of participation is completely misplaced in the revolutionary parlance of Marxism and is contradicted by the experiences of revolutions and the mandates of the Comintern.
No one should entertain any doubt or misconception that as long as the means of production and consequently the means of communication i.e. the media and press remain in the hands of capitalists-landlords, there can be no question of either ‘competitive politics’ or ‘political competition. Bourgeois democracy is nothing but a deceptive cover for the simple and pure class rule of the propertied classes. The task of the proletarian parties, in the course of a democratic revolution, is not to ‘participate’ in these institutions to ‘compete’ with the propertied classes, but to ‘participate’ to undermine their legitimacy in the eyes of people. During the democratic revolution, the arena of ‘competition’ for the proletariat with the rival social classes - the capitalists and landlords - is not the Parliaments or Assemblies, but the ‘street’ which is the only place that shows the real relationship of forces. Given all the means at the disposal of the propertied classes, winning of seats in parliaments can be no criteria of ‘competition’.
As has been pointed out in detail in the article ‘The Attitude and Tactics of Communists towards Bourgeois Parliaments’ (Revolutionary Democracy, Vol. XII, No. 1), the only purpose for which the revolutionary proletariat may participate in bourgeois parliaments, is to facilitate their decay, to expose them and dismantle them, undermining bourgeois parliamentarianism itself. This line of action advocated by the Comintern is based on the understanding that the Parliaments, which are organs of bourgeois power, are inherently bourgeois in their character. Neither do they reflect the true alignment of class forces nor can they be put to any positive service to the proletariat. Parliament retains only a false mirage of power, while the true power of the bourgeois state is retained and exercised through the armed forces at its disposal. There can be no question of competitive politics, as long as the bourgeois and landlord classes retain all means – press, media etc. at their disposal, depriving the proletariat of everything necessary to take part in political competition. The slogan of competitive democracy is nothing but an absolute farce ensuring eternal victory for the propertied classes against the proletariat.
History is witness to the fact that the proletariat cannot gain victory over the capitalists-landlords through this ‘political competition’, and even in case of an emergency, the armed forces are always ready to overturn this victory.
However, our Indian Maoists derive a wrong conclusion from these facts. Adhering to their ‘purist’ but impractical approach, they decry the participation itself, saying that parliament is nothing but a bourgeois pigsty. On the other hand, the Nepali Maoists have become so enthusiastic to take part in parliament that they raise the ‘participation’ to the level of ‘political competition’, forgetting that there can be no such competition unless the propertied classes, the capitalists and landlords are deprived of all means at their disposal, to steal the march over the proletariat, through legal and illegal means.
Both of them forget that for the proletarian party, the purpose of participation in Parliament cannot be to compete with the bourgeois, but instead to ‘dismantle’ the Parliamentarianism itself.
Be that as it may, ‘perception’ is a matter which can be corrected in the course of time. In case it is not corrected in time, it may prove detrimental, causing immense damage to those taking part in this misconception. For the time being, the decision of the Nepali Maoists to go for participation is correct in theory as well as in practice and its condemnation in the press of the Indian Maoists is not only misplaced on theoretical premises, but is incorrect from the practical side, too. What these Maoists in India fail to understand is that the fall of the Monarchy is a hundred times easier than the ouster of parliament, in which ordinary backward masses of the proletariat and peasantry still have faith and see therein the embodiment of their democratic aspirations. In the due course of time these masses will see through their own experience that the rostrum of parliament is nothing but a farce to dupe the toiling masses. To bring that day closer, the Nepali Communists will have to work patiently inside and outside the Parliamentary institutions, evolving a whole set of tactics to catalyse the degeneration of the bourgeois parliament in Nepal, and to undermine it as soon as possible, substituting the same with the organs of proletarian power at all levels.
The question of arms, though related to the question of participation in democratic institutions in general, has already presented itself in a more complicated form in Nepal. The CPN(M) has a 25,000-strong armed forces at its disposal, which have proved their military superiority over the Royal Nepalese Army; it has succeeded not only in inflicting heavy damage on the RNA but also in swelling its ranks continuously in the past years. Now that the Monarchy is already degraded and on the verge of falling, the bourgeoisie is afraid of the armed forces under the command of the Communists. It is threatening an immediate split in the United Front, if the Communists do not concede to some sort of disarming, what they call ‘arms management’. As the RNA still showing loyalty to the beleaguered King, the proposed disarming becomes even more risky for the Communists. There is no doubt that the armed struggle waged under the leadership of the CPN(M) in the rural areas has had a significant role in bringing down the Crown. Now to remove the armed forces from the command of the Party presents a potential danger.
However, the proposal for putting the PLA together with the RNA, to be renamed as the ‘National Army’, under a joint command, or even a merger of both into one National Army, is something interestingly different and given certain conditions, it may be more to the advantage of revolution, instead of reaction. Firstly, we must not ignore the fact that the PLA is an indoctrinated force with political consciousness, while the RNA by and large is a mercenary force. The merger of the two armies can thus lead to a historic opportunity for the revolutionary forces to win over the entire armed forces in favour of revolution, taking them out of the ideological influence of reaction, with only the exception of the elite officers. This ‘merger’ would depend on several factors including the preparedness and capacity of the political cadres in the PLA to carry out revolutionary propaganda and agitation, the degree of freedom to carry out such political campaign inside the National Army etc. It is through organisation of political work inside the joint army that the loyalties of the rank and file coming from the RNA can be changed over to the side of revolution in Nepal. This would be easier if there was a constitutional freedom for political work inside the armed forces. Even if law does not permit such work, no power on earth can prevent the revolutionising of the RNA after it comes in touch with the PLA. The task of the Party should thus be to carry out extensive propaganda inside the armed forces, so as to undermine the Royal and capitalist-landlord influence inside them. Making this activity inside the armed forces the prime focus of their struggle, it is not impossible for Nepali communists to turn the tables to the complete disadvantage of the reaction. We are thus not opposed to the idea of coming closer or even merger of the armies of revolution with that of the National Army of Nepal; rather we are in favour of it. The only thing we advocate is that the proletarian party should not abandon its arms at any cost.
The CPN (M) has made it clear, and rightly so, that only after ascertaining the composition of new legislature, would they be ready to put their armed forces under the joint command of the RNA and PLA. We do not think that this policy needs a correction, except to make a note of caution that the efforts of revolutionary propaganda and agitation must be carried on inside the new armed forces. For this, the PLA cadres should be trained in advance. We must not forget that the new arrangements, whether in parliament or in the armed forces are emerging out of the strength of the proletariat and not from its weakness. The springboard for all these new institutions is the mass upheaval and as long as its tide continues, the revolution is bound to advance forward.
As the other extreme of thought the CPI(Maoist) is coming out with their old rhetoric. They are soliciting the CPN(M) to continue the struggle in the old way and thus bring itself immediately into direct conflict with the bourgeois parties. This counselling is suicidal for the revolution in Nepal. Firstly because the Monarchy in Nepal has not formally fallen yet, and its mainstay, the RNA is intact and is eagerly looking forward for a split inside the movement for democracy in order to rejuvenate itself. The bourgeois parties, if threatened by the CPN(M), may take shelter once again under Monarchy/RNA combination. The CPN(M) has already pointed to the reality on the ground, that the ouster of the monarchy cannot be done by it alone. Though proletarian parties have taken a leap forward in mobilising the peasantry behind it, still vast sections of the peasantry, in their innocent belief, follow the capitalist-landlord parties even to this day. These capitalist-landlord parties, which are still vacillating, demanding now the retention of the ‘Monarchy’ in ceremonial form and then the existence of RNA, may still go back to overt or covert support of the Monarchy.
Thus the preservation of the united front of all political parties representing various social classes who oppose the monarchy is the call of the hour, and this united front has to be kept intact even at the cost of big concessions. With the death of the monarchy, the situation would become different and very conducive for the Communists to overturn, in the course of time, and we cannot predict in what time, the capitalist-landlord combination also. But at this moment a combination of the King and the parties organised under the SPA may be fatal for the cause of revolution. Thus, any step which facilitates the making of this joint front would be a big mistake.
The Nepali Communists are right in demanding the disbanding of the RNA along with the end of the Monarchy. They must demand this with all their might, though bourgeois parties would hardly concede to this. But if this happens, it would be of great importance for future clashes.
The two social classes in Nepal, the proletariat-peasantry on the one hand and capitalists-landlords on the other, have come to face each other directly in an open arena of political struggle. In the struggle for the capture of the State, these classes are already engaged in battle, represented through their political parties, with the rider that this struggle, at the given moment goes through the table of negotiation. The future course of political development in Nepal, though, is not going to be so peaceful.
Another point of vital importance which should be understood with all clarity is that the Communists in Nepal should gear themselves up for more violent and extensive conflicts in very near future, which may even take the form of civil war. The end of the Monarchy does not mean the end of conflict. The insistence of the Nepali capitalist-landlords and their foreign counterparts on disarming of the PLA beforehand clearly shows that the Bourgeoisie would leave no stone unturned in disarming the revolution in Nepal. The revolution must thus, from the very beginning arm itself for such exigency not only by retaining its armed forces intact but also by making all-out efforts to snatch away the armed forces of the bourgeoisie through political indoctrination.
The revolution has armed itself gradually in the course of more than a decade, and now this achievement cannot be permitted to be drained out. Those like CPI(M) who are preaching in the name of changed circumstances, have to understand that any effort at disarming the revolution is patently reactionary, defeatist, unnecessary, and is indicative of pacifism and capitulation. It is not only the capitalists-landlords of Nepal who would set out to suppress the revolution in no time, the interests of the revolution itself would soon demand suppression of capitalist-landlord combination, after the defeat of the Monarchy, and the question as to who would prevail over whom would be resolved only through force, the force of arms. The honeymoon between the bourgeois-landlord combination and the proletariat in Nepal, it appears, would not go on for long. Nepal being a small country with very limited resources, it would very soon become ripe for yet further conflicts between social classes. It is not only the might of the local capitalist-landlord classes, but foreign intervention, both financial and military, which continues and will continue to pose a live threat to the revolution. The further path of the revolution in Nepal may be more violent and preparedness of the revolution for its non-peaceful development would ensure its progress.
Click here to return to the September 2006 index.