People’s war marches on in Nepal

Until recently, very few people in the West have been aware that for the last six years, Maoist guerrillas in Nepal have been waging a revolutionary struggle against a reactionary feudal regime. In a country where the mass of the people are impoverished by feudal relations combined with imperialist exploitation, the Maoists have won over the support of huge numbers of peasants with their basic demands of land redistribution, emancipation of women and abolition of the caste system.

Nepal burst into Western headlines on 1 June last year when ten members of the royal family, including the king and his immediate heirs, were killed in a massacre at the royal palace in Kathmandu. The new king Gyanendra lost no time in placing the blame for the killings on his nephew, the former Crown Prince Dipendra. An official inquiry decided that the prince had been high on opium when he entered the palace dining room, shot his family and then turned the gun on himself. The Western media was immediately filled with suitable stories about the dead prince’s ‘instability’, his ‘fascination with guns’, etc.

Gyanendra himself had been conveniently out of town at the time of the massacre. His son Paresh had been at the palace at the time of the shooting but somehow escaped unscathed and fled to London the next day.

Gyanendra’s wife and sister were also among the few survivors.

Despite the best efforts of the Nepalese and international media to whitewash the affair, the people of Nepal took to the streets in protest, demanding justice and chanting slogans against the new king and Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala such as ‘Hang the murderer’ and ‘Nepalis unite’.

The background to the killings can only be understood in the context of the advance of the people’s war in Nepal, which has gone from strength to strength until a significant part of the country is now under the direct control of a people’s government. Of course, while this may please the peasantry it sounds the death-knell for imperialist interests in the region, who had been pushing for a stronger military solution for some time.

The slain king had been a thorn in the side of pro-imperialist factions, as he refused to call out the army against the Maoists, fearing to plunge the country into a full-scale civil war. Instead he relied upon the police to suppress the growing communist movement. Many Nepalese parliamentarians were themselves too busy fighting over the spoils of the nation to pay too much attention either, dismissing the Maoists’ advance as insignificant and temporary.

In the last ten years, six successive governments in Kathmandu have failed to develop the national economy or improve living conditions for the peasantry, who are suffering under super-exploitation and feudal repression, concentrating instead on helping the US and British imperialists to bleed the country dry. Not surprisingly then: “In the last decade, there has been unrest about corruption, the sell-off of government enterprises, sackings of civil servants and reduction of government expenditures. Unions are strong and active in political life.” (Vanguard, Paper of the Communist Party of Australia, 27 June 2001)

Having rid itself of the previous over-conscientious incumbent, the new regime lost no time in demonstrating its credentials as a suitable ally of imperialism. As head of the armed forces, Gyanendra ordered Nepal’s 46,000 strong army to join 40,000 police on the streets of the capital and other urban centres to squash the unrest following the massacre.

In November, the new king fulfilled all imperialism’s hopes of him when he declared a state of emergency in Nepal and called in the army to fight in place of the depleted and demoralised police force. Six months on, Luke Harding says of the Maoists: “They may have only 7-12,000 fighters, but they have so far proved more than a match for Nepal’s 45,000-strong, badly equipped army.” (The Observer, 12 May 2002)

Meanwhile, BBC News Online dutifully reports that: “The Nepalese Government has received broad national and international support in what it says is the fight against terrorism.” (BBC News Online. 9 May 2002)

Maoist support is by no means limited to the rural peasantry. In recent times they have called 15 successful general strikes, the latest lasting two weeks and bringing Kathmandu to a standstill, despite government threats of reprisals:

“The government had warned that public transport operators would lose their permits if they obeyed the strike call and promised compensation if vehicles were damaged by Maoists. Officials have also said that anyone trying to help enforce the strike would be shot.” (‘Maoist strike brings Nepal capital to a halt’, AFP, 23 April 2002)

The civil war continues to escalate as the army tries desperately to outmanoeuvre the guerrillas. In the week between 5-12 May alone, reports indicate that as many as 1,000 people were killed in fighting. The army has been quick to declare that Maoist casualties far outnumber their own, but initial reports of hundreds of Maoist fighters killed have since been exposed as hugely exaggerated.

BBC News Online reports as follows:

“A senior general inspecting the site ordered that the garrison make a tactical withdrawal to the nearest big town, the district headquarters of Rolpa and the army’s main base in the Maoist stronghold. “I was also told by senior officers who commanded operations in the earlier battle at the hilltop known as Lisne Lek that Maoist casualties may have been overestimated by officials and ministers in Kathmandu.

“One government official said last week that 500 Maoists may have been killed, but the army commander said he had seen only 21 rebels dead.

“What seemed at first to have been one of the most significant series of battles of this war so far now looks to be something less.

“The clashes cost more than a 100 lives for sure – but on both sides of this conflict.

“The army says its level of confidence remains high especially with promised help from the United States and Britain.

“But a senior officer admitted that its going to take some time to win this war.” (‘Eyewitness: Nepal’s bitter war’ by Daniel Lak, BBC News Online, 11 May 2002)

The same article reports the aftermath of a recent Maoist victory:

“Atop a barren ridge surrounded by Himalayan foothills a nervous garrison of army and police officers guard little more than burnt-out buildings and the scattered possessions of dead colleagues.

“Dozens of soldiers and policemen died here several days ago, badly outnumbered by attacking Maoist rebels. “The Maoists eventually overran the garrison but fled several hours later with all of the weapons and ammunition stored there.

“The army says it was a costly victory for the rebels; officers estimate that up to a 150 may have died under heavy fire from defending government forces.

“I saw about 20 bodies of Maoist rebels that the army had exhumed from nearby shallow graves.”

In fact, it seems far more likely that the massive casualties are the result of a deliberate policy of shooting innocent civilians in an attempt to undermine and terrorise the guerrillas’ support among the local populace.

Amnesty International have charged the Nepalese security forces with deliberately killing Maoist rebels without trying to arrest them and detaining civilians solely because of their alleged sympathies for the insurgents: “Journalists, academics, lawyers and human rights defenders have been arrested and detained for long periods of time simply because they are believed to be sympathetic to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). They have not committed any criminal acts,” Amnesty said.

Amnesty went on to say that some prisoners may have been tortured in custody, including a lawyer detained for his membership of a leftist-oriented forum and being the editor of a weekly newspaper. The rights body said in a statement it feared that among those killed since the state of emergency was imposed “are scores of civilians and Maoists who were deliberately killed as an alternative to being taken prisoner.”

But despite stepping up a vicious campaign on all fronts, the army has so far failed to squash the rising tide of revolution and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is increasingly turning to outsiders for support. In March, he travelled to India to talk to the Hindu nationalist Prime Minister, BJP’s Atal Behari Vajpayee, asking for help in closing the borders to guerrillas, who have links with Indian Maoist movements.

In May, he met with George Bush and Tony Blair, both of whom have promised aid:

“Nepal’s Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, is seeking military assistance from Britain and the United States, and last week President George Bush promised him $20m to help to crush the Maoists. American military advisers have already secretly toured the Maoist-controlled west of the country, reconnoitring its dense, lowland jungles, inaccessible mountain valleys and poverty-stricken villages.

“Tomorrow Deuba meets Tony Blair in Downing Street and there seems little doubt that Britain will also offer assistance. ‘We have a very long-standing relationship with the Nepalese army,’ a British diplomat in Kathmandu told The Observer last night. ‘That relationship will continue,’ he added.” (The Observer, 12 May 2002)

The American military team in Nepal has recommended upgrading the army to 200,000 men and establishing an air force, as well as offering modern helicopters and military equipment.

In response to these moves, the Maoists have now announced a month-long ceasefire, during which they are calling on all patriotic forces to unite against foreign interference:

“The killers of brothers, who have reached power by tyranny, have now gone begging to the American imperialists. They are committed toward crushing the evolving political forum by not hesitating to call upon the foreign military inside the country. The American imperialists are openly moving towards establishing a military base in Nepal, as they have done in Afghanistan and Central Asia. This establishment will be used for a long term strategy to surround China and India, and therefore America is indicating openly that they will support these political parties.”

The statement goes on to call for a joint struggle of all patriotic Nepalese against American aims in the country, naming the government and the army as traitors to the people for their role in seeking US and British military aid:

“If this is the situation, we will declare a joint effort to fight against these traitors. Whatever, 25 May 2002 being the end of six months of emergency, and due to the requests of our friends to have working flexibility and strategic commitment on our side for the upcoming political possibilities and our revolutionary possibilities, we have declared ceasefire from our side from 15 May 2002 for the period of one month. If also in this period, there is suppression on all grounds and anti-national activities are carried on, we will conduct a massive war!” (Statement by Maoist Party Chairman Prachanda, 9 May 2002) The government has exposed itself as being the only real impediment to peace by dismissing the offer of talks, saying that the Maoists will simply use the truce as an opportunity to regroup.

Attempting to get to the bottom of the people’s support for the revolution, a BBC reporter in a recent Newsnight special report asked a group of villagers if they knew any Maoists. Solemnly the people shook their heads: “No, no, there are no Maoists here. Try the next village.” (Newsnight, BBC2, Monday 13 May 2002)

But, as the reporter herself was forced to conclude, someone must be supporting the Maoists! In fact, for their struggle to have been so successful, quite a lot of someones must be supporting them. She went on to concede that, of course, their programme has obvious appeal for the poor, lower castes, and especially for women, since Nepal is the only country in the world where women are so oppressed that they defy the worldwide trend by dying younger than men.

The report also took note of the barbarism and corruption of the police, who for the first five years were given the job of suppressing the Maoist insurgency. Taking a congratulatory tone toward the new king’s regime for getting serious and bringing the army in, the disapproval of the correspondent was not aimed at exploitation per se, but with the unveiled form of feudal exploitation prevalent in Nepal, and the Nepalese government’s failure to ‘modernise’ and throw a few sops to the workers and peasants.

Despite their innate hostility toward the revolutionary forces and their universal condemnations of violence (the violence of the oppressed that is, not the violence of the oppressors), the liberal press is forced to concede that the people have some cause to be fighting. Luke Harding describes an ambush in The Observer of 12 May 2002:

“The Maoists had emerged from Nepal’s scented pine forests late on Tuesday night. They were not in a mood to dispense mercy. ‘The male Maoists held the officers down. The women Maoists then slit their necks using sickles,’ Kapil Shrestha, of Nepal’s Human Rights Commission said. ‘The women soldiers bear far more grudges. Most of them have been raped by the police or their families have been killed by the security forces.'”

A Western diplomat in Kathmandu is quoted later in the same article: “The Maoists are a very intelligent organisation. Their leaders are well educated. They are fired up with a vision and sense of dynamism.” Still, the main agenda in the Western press is to back the Nepalese government in what it has opportunistically dubbed its ‘fight against terrorism’. The revolutionary upsurge of the masses is depicted as senseless, barbaric and innately backward:

“Outsiders dismissed them as an eccentric throwback to an earlier era, but over the past four months the Maoists have dramatically escalated their campaign. They have blown up bridges and electricity stations, plunging entire districts into darkness, destroyed water plants and tortured and executed their opponents – chopping off limbs, slicing away skin, and severing necks. Tourists, who once thronged the medieval streets of Kathmandu, drifting between email kiosks and bagel bars, are staying away and the country’s economy is close to collapse.” (The Observer, 12 May 2002)

No mention is made here of the daily robbery, repression and torture suffered by the people of Nepal at the hands of the Nepalese state, and quite why the people of Nepal’s priority should be the preservation of internet cafes and bagel bars for tourists is not made clear. Nor does the writer see anything wrong in Nepal having an economy that relies on Western tourists to stay afloat.

Describing the Maoists as “a terror stalking the country”, the BBC’s Newsnight correspondent accused them of “blasting the country’s infrastructure” and was keen to point out that the bombing of a power station had put back the electrification of the area by 10 years. But seen from a revolutionary perspective, her criticisms hold no water whatsoever. The people’s war is advancing in Nepal and as it advances it is indeed destroying the infrastructure of the present state machinery, much to the chagrin of the ruling clique and their imperialist masters. When the revolution triumphs the people will be able to institute all kinds of progress, not only electrification, with a speed impossible under either feudalism or imperialism.

In the mean time, what of parliament? Along with the various rival parties and factions, some pro-India, some pro-imperialist, one of the major parties in the Nepalese parliament is the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxists Leninist). One might have thought that with such a proud name, this party would be firmly on the side of the Maoists. In fact, though, the policies of this rotten revisionist outfit bear so little relation to Marxism Leninism that they have relegated themselves to mere advisors to the present regime. In an article by Bhim Rawal, one of the CPN(UML)’s leading lights, first published in The New Era, journal of the CPN(UML), in December and reprinted in the NCP’s New Worker on 8 February this year, the author bewails the failure of successive governments to take the Maoists’ demands seriously and castigates them for “providing the pretext for the Maoists to undertake their unconstitutional activities (!)”

The leaders of the Nepali Congress party, we are told, “kept quarrelling for power, instead of searching for a solution to the Maoist insurgency.” The author continues querulously:

“Neither Koirala [the NC President] nor Prime Minister Deuba have seriously given their attention to the proposals put forward by the opposition [ie. the CPN(UML)], while telling all of their own ideas.

“They both have not made any proposals to address the demands of constitutional, political, economic and social reforms voiced by the opposition and common masses.

“They seemed to be fighting a battle for power, even in the present critical situation faced by the country. Such activities of the ruling NC leaders are disappointing the people.

“… The Maoists’ violent actions and the government operations against them have left the country in a difficult situation. Development priorities and social welfare have been overshadowed.”

A funny kind of Marxism Leninism! To denounce the revolution as ‘uncon-stitutional’! To rebuke the corrupt and senile regime for acting too slowly to suppress it! This is where the logic of revisionism leads! The army has estimated that it will take 10 years to squash the people’s war in Nepal, but they have reckoned without the people. All over Nepal, the peasants are getting their first taste of true democracy and people’s government. They have shown their support for the people’s army, which has brought them education, liberation and emancipation, and they will not give it up but rather swell its ranks in ever-increasing numbers.

The job of progressive people everywhere is to support the people’s war in Nepal in any and every way they can. By sending delegations to see for themselves the successes of the revolution, by holding meetings and educating workers about the reality of the conflict, and by fighting British and US imperialism at home so that it has no ability to continue with its rampant aggression and interference abroad.

Down with imperialism!

Victory to the people’s war!

Long live the revolution in Nepal!