I find it curious that Dr. Baburam Bhattarai in his recent interview said that Nepal’s “capitalist revolution,” as he called it, is “complete,” when such a revolution is still ongoing, with devastating consequences, all over the rest of the world, including the leading capitalist countries.
Bhattarai’s presumption that society inevitably progresses through predetermined states derives from Lenin and more-so Stalin, not from Marx. Neither is it scientifically valid, since the context itself is vastly changed. The capitalism of Stalin, Lenin and Mao was one dominated by large industrial and commercial enterprises, with finance taking a mere three percent share of the profits as late as 1972. At the beginning of the 21st century, finance capital’s share of worldwide profit had exploded to over 60 percent, creating a very different, short-term, orientation for investment.
The tendency is more towards stripping countries of their assets, such as the sale of Nepal’s public corporations in the 1990s, diversion of rivers, and privatization generally, than setting a country on the road to long-run prosperity.
Writing in the 1870s in his Ethnological Notebooks, which were suppressed by the Soviet Union’s Institute of Marxist-Leninism until after Stalin’s death because they did not fit Stalinist orthodoxy, Marx himself said that to think that India was feudal is “asinine.” He wrote that Indian agricultural communities in the 1870s were already incorporated into capitalist circulation. Typically traditional forms persist, but they experience what Marx in his last, also suppressed, chapter of capital called “subsumption.” By this he meant that traditional forms of society—local landlords, merchants, moneylenders, peasants, etc.—had been brought under and made a part of capital’s own development.
In India, Mughal forms of administration had already been privatized, to use current parlance, soon after the Rebellion of 1856, with loss of some 30 million lives to famine in North India as Britain sought to transform agriculture to produce for its own industrial needs.
Nepal, which had been progressively drawn into the circulation of industrial commodities by its own merchants trading British, American, Japanese and Indian textiles in the country’s bazaars, and by the large Indian wholesale houses in Kathmandu and northern Indian cities, followed suit with revision of property laws to formally recognize private property in the 1920s. In 1939-44, Prime Minister Juddha Shamsher Rana tried to revive the country’s indigenous textile production, which had been eroded by imports that began in the mid-19th century but turned into a flood when depressed Western markets searched for new outlets for overproduction in the 1920s and 30s. Nepal’s “revolution” of 1950-51 was recognition of the changed balance of class power within the subcontinent as indigenous businessmen, who had always controlled upcountry markets in India as well as Nepal, now sought to control political power as well.
Certainly by the end of last century, the problem of the country was not a persistence of feudalism but a thorough subsumption of the countryside to capitalism. As always happens with capitalism, local operators (landlords, businessmen, administrators, priests, politicians, etc.), Bhattarai’s semi-feudals, had become an important means for international capitalism to enter goods, labor and resources into commodity circulation and divert the life processes of a society to its own purposes. The current flood of Indian and desi money into the burgeoning monasteries on Nepal’s southern border is not merely a project of ushering people into the afterlife.
The problem is that if you make your objective the elimination of the people Bhattarai calls semi-feudals, it doesn’t currently follow that you also open the way for the development of advanced indigenous business classes—a questionable proposition for any small country anyway. Rather, without building up a self-aware, self-sufficient and fairly united population, particularly in the countryside but with strong urban solidarity and support, as a means to resist the incursion of international capital into the space once occupied by the old landed classes, you open the country to looting by globally dominant finance capital, as presaged for example by the explosion of international banking in Kathmandu and other cities in the last two decades, and more generally in terms of what comes under the rubric of “development.”
What you end up doing essentially is collaborating with international finance capital’s program of destroying people’s age-old ties to their land. What you get as a consequence is a stripping of the country’s physical, biological, intellectual and cultural resources, and further colonization of its agricultural communities. This asset stripping is happening even in many European countries and the US, which in the last quarter century saw its industrial base dismantled and moved overseas, lost its tax base, became mired in unprecedented debt, is now giving up its control over its resources and land, and is said by the Russian-American energy engineer Dmitry Orlov to be facing epic collapse on the scale of the former Soviet Union. No, the capitalist revolution is a long way from being complete in Nepal.
The writer is an anthropologist who studies Nepali economy and politics.