UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal used to say in his fiery tone that the revolution for the ‘21st century socialism’ in Nepal would spark off a wildfire of revolutions around the world. That it would be an inspiration for a fairer world. Now that the same Maoists are in power, and the party’s second man Dr Baburam Bhattarai is the prime minister, I cannot foresee the socialist flame rising and spreading even in the neighborhood, let alone around the world.
Some former comrades of Dahal and Bhattarai have split up, accusing the two of being ‘reformists’. Bhattarai, for his part, has already announced his ‘historical responsibility’ to develop the country within a capitalistic framework. Dahal too has expressed his ‘full faith’ in democracy in recent interviews (note: NOT ‘new democracy’).
I do not blame individuals for this reformist trend in Nepal. It is the geopolitical and economic realities of Nepal which pushes its socialists to become reformists. We are close to India in terms of culture, language, religion and trade. As much as Nepal would like to extend its hands to China, the ground realities to do so are difficult. One may confidently say that even leaning towards China will not allow real socialism to prosper. In any case, the centre-left coalition government in India and its Hindu nationalist opposition would not let traditional Stalinist socialism be established in Nepal and risk its spread to India. The million-plus people who marched against the Nepali royalty were not just Maoists. It was a rainbow of far-left, centre-left, centre-right and independent forces in Nepal that ushered in the era of republic. To be fair to Bhattarai and Dahal, even the breakaway Maoist faction has been unable to outline a radical socialist agenda. They have accepted many tenets of liberal democracy and have recently fielded their own PM candidate, but of course, in rhetoric, they are still purists of Maoism.
Let us give a global dimension to the possibility of a Maoist-styled socialism in Nepal. Ours is a country heavily dependent on development aid—currently around 22 percent of government budget comes by the way of foreign aid. There are thousands of I/NGOs donating to Nepal, from UN to DFID, and from DANIDA to USAID. But development aid and I/NGOs do not feature in traditional Maoist framework. Of course, self-sufficiency is desirable, and ideally, there should be no need to seek outside help. But, at the moment, the question is: how will Nepal run its day to day business without foreign aid? How will Nepal function if the Indian government decides not to supply oil, gas, salt and rice, as happened in 1989? These are pragmatic questions.
I clearly remember one of my Trotskyite friends from London enlightening me a year ago: the Nepali revolution should not have stopped within the country’s borders; it should have continued with an alliance between various Maoist groups in Nepal and India in order to start a subcontinent-wide movement. But the Naxalites, a prominent Maoist movement, have been waging their struggle since 1960s, without much to show for all the fighting. Yes, they claim to represent adhivasis (indigenous people), but no significant structural change has been achieved by their movement since 1960s, except looting landlords, which definitely is not a structural change. I often wonder if my friend meant that Nepal should have suffered from violence for another 60 years.
To mention a few real-life problems in Nepal, there is usually famine in far-flung districts like Mugu. Thousands of people have to cross large rivers dangerously by literally hanging on ropes—there are no bridges in remote parts of the country. Even in the capital, there are daily power cuts of about 10-12 hours. Drinking water does not flow from taps. People often die of diarrhea, an easily curable disease. Thousands of women and children are taken to Indian brothels and forced into prostitution; there is stark inequality in education provided in public and private schools; unemployment rate is a staggering 46 percent, which is why there is constant brain drain of educated population to the west for careers, and uneducated to the Middle East for manual labor. These problems call for immediate solutions. And that is what people really want—the bare basics to live on. This is the rationale for reformist politics of socialist forces in Nepal.
As a political force, I still feel Dahal’s Maoist party is authoritarian, with its centralized and dehumanizing history. Many of the disillusioned former Maoist guerrillas and sympathizers have been compelled to ask themselves: Why were nearly 18,000 people killed if the country was to come to the current state of perpetual impasse? History will always pose this question to the Maoist leadership. But the fact that the Maoists have entered pluralist politics is itself a big win for democracy and various forms of socialism in Nepal. The openly socialist parties would also put pressure on Nepali Congress to dig deep into its past and explain and perhaps implement their original course of ‘democratic socialism’, since the party has clearly been waylaid. In this way, I only hope to see a socialist consensus in Nepali politics.
Now, where does it bring world revolution to? Frankly, I do not know. But it for sure is not starting in Nepal. Activists at the core of the world economic system can draw inspiration from the periphery like Egypt, Venezuela, and even South Asia. However, if the real socialist dream is to come true, the movement has to start at the heart of the capitalist system: London, New York, Shanghai, Paris, Tokyo or Berlin. Besides, we do not have the economic means to sustain and continue great changes in the global south. Some might cite Venezuela as a country that has been able to sustain a big socio-economic change. Well, they have oil. Not every nation is gifted with such resources. People might cite Cuba as a communist success. But there are few countries as isolated from the world community as Cuba.
Nobody can hide the fact that the capitalist class in the rising economies are benefiting disproportionately from the wealth created. It will be a challenging job for progressives in global south to curb that insidious trend and to make development more re-distributive, sustainable and eco-friendly within a democratic framework. The more clearly we lay out the progressive path, accepting the evolution of national politics and without hiding inside the veil of revolution, the better.
The author is President, Middlesex University Students’ Union, London