With the fall of the communist regime in Russia and the “counterrevolution” in China, many Western intellectuals naively adduced that the world would no longer see the rise of any radical communist movements in the world. When the Nepali Maoists formally announced an armed insurgency to subvert the state structure in the spring of 1996, the bourgeois intellectuals quickly dubbed the move an anachronism. But history proved them wrong. The Protracted People’s War, launched with a few homemade weapons, spread by leaps and bounds across the hills and plains of Nepal and shook the unitary state and feudalism to their roots, posing a serious threat of instability to the whole subcontinent. Subsequently, the People’s War in Nepal resuscitated a new life into the moribund world communist movement and became a beacon of hope for the revolutionaries the world over.
But things began to go wrong after six or seven years of the insurgency and more so after it came to a screeching halt with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2006. While the signing of the peace agreement was not a mistake per se, given the yearning for peace among the people, the party leadership was more involved in power games, neglecting the immediate tasks to keep alive the revolutionary spirit in the open politics.
The new political development offered an opportunity for leaders and cadres to indulge in the world of consumerism and bourgeois culture, deviating from the established proletariat culture, while the party leadership itself was beholden to the regressive domestic and international power centers for welcoming it into the “mainstream Nepali politics.” No surprising then, the UCPN (Maoist), which had evolved into a disciplined and formidable revolutionary force, developed cracks and unhealthy class differences within the party. The former rebel party now stands at a very critical mode and faces an immediate threat of splits, like a wrangling couple waiting for a legal divorce.
It is no longer a secret that the then underground CPN (Maoist) and the current UCPN (Maoist) are markedly different in their organizational character, culture and ideology, despite a façade of similarity in their names. What went wrong with the party? The bemused cadres frequently pose this question to the party leadership, but they always get the same readymade answer: “The party is sailing through a transitional phase and you will soon see everything okay.” But the cadres want answers – not rhetoric – from their leaders.
It is no longer a secret that the then underground CPN (Maoist) and the current UCPN (Maoist) are markedly different in their organizational character, culture and ideology, despite a façade of similarity in their names. What went wrong with the party?
Why does it happen during transition and what is its corollary? What is the status of revolutionary parties in other countries that went through political transitions? After transitional phases, revolutionary parties have either grown stronger or become weaker, either consolidated themselves to evolve as a formidable force or taken steps backward and faced self-destruction. This scribe wonders if there are exceptional cases where revolutionary or rebellious parties have got adjusted to the status quo. Against this backdrop, let’s ruminate over the course of the Maoist party since the declaration of the people’s war to find answers to these unanswered questions.
END OF WAR COMMUNISM AND GENESIS OF FALL
There started to trickle down treacherous changes in the ways of the Maoists seven or eight years after the declaration of the People’s War. With the rapid growth in the insurgency, the party also saw erosions of its established ideals and norms and values.
It appears that the party committees were genetically different during the initial days of hardship. Committee secretaries were always concerned with the views of the co-warriors for the legitimacy of their leaderships. Though they were directly appointed by the committees above, they could not hold their positions without winning hearts and minds of comrades subordinate to them. To be precise, the committees functioned in the fashion of an ancient society with a democratic system where the chieftain gained his legitimacy from the consents of the society’s members. The party members would say “our world” and “their world.” "New Man" was a buzzword. We may say that these were the expressions of the “war communism,” an egalitarian economic system developed within the party conditioned by the nature of the people´s war. The party leaders and cadres had similar appearances and lifestyles. The ironed suits and polished boots lost their charm before the dirtied shirts and muddied shoes.
With the march of victory and expansion of the liberated zones, the journey toward decadence had already begun. The periods of ceasefires and peace talks saw the culture of war communism dwindling away, and ultimately vanished without any traces. Here I´m trying to juxtapose situation of 20th century Russia and 21st century Nepal. This juxtaposition at first seems weird but I´m doing it not without reason. In Russia, war communism ended with the beginning of the New Economic Policy (NEP), while the party leadership in Nepal resorted to backdoor financial channels instead. It was a historic mistake on the part of the party not to chalk out a NEP to replace war communism, at least in the economic life of the party. Consequently, thousands of party cadres are not involved in any productive sector, but survive on something else. The party doesn’t have any transparent financial system and ordinary party members don’t know anything about the party’s resources and expenditure.
SURVIVAL OF THE FATTEST
During the people’s war, there were mainly four financial resources: Tax, seizure of properties belonging to the gentry, donation and levy. It was regarded legitimate to raise tax by the party that was leading Local People´s Governments. The donors maintained connections with local cadres at grassroots levels.
After the peace process began, the Local People’s Governments were dismantled, while tax collection and seizure of private properties became illegitimate. Collecting large amount donations was no longer the fruit of the party´s prestige, but became a matter of dealings between top leaderships and businessmen. At the local level, commissions generated through construction contracts and settling of financial disputes became the main financial resources. Collection of levies was never systematized. To put in a nutshell, the peace process witnessed direct roles of the party leadership in the collection of finances, while it was the other way round during the People’s War period: The rank-and-file cadres used to play major roles in the financial sector and the leadership used to act only as planners and supervisors.
Without any economic program to make the cadres self-dependent, livelihoods of cadres became dependent on leaders who enjoyed fat income from dubious financial dealings. This in turn gave birth to new classes: Lumpen proletariats and parasite capitalists, who survive on the labor of others with serious consequences on the wellbeing of the national economy. Turning the party’s old economic system upside-down, the party, which has apparently been advocating equity and social justice, enforced the law of political jungle – the survival of the fattest.
WEAK INTELLECTUAL TRADITION
Why is the party in the initial years of war markedly different from the one around 2002-03 or later? First, the party was teeming with the leftist dreamers and adventurists during the initial years of the insurgency. Second, the leadership was underground and its poor cultural tendency had not yet penetrated the party rank and file. A revolutionary culture was flowering at the grassroots levels, despite the fact that the party was reeling under shortages.
After the Second National Convention in 2001 and the subsequent ceasefire, the party reached a new high of success in both military and political fronts, and pulled a large section of unemployed youths from the lower class. It was an achievement for the party, but it was a great mistake not to train the new entrants with the party’s ideology and discipline. Result: The party seriously lacked a strong intellectual tradition, and now faces the risks of being subsumed into the bourgeois culture and cacophonous crowd.
Can there be regeneration of the Maoist party? It is difficult, but not impossible. First, the party should adhere to the Leninist principle of the organization where individuals are subordinate to the party organization, irrespective of how prestigious or talented a leader is. Second, the party should immediately make its financial system transparent, and more importantly, the party must forge “new economic program” for the survival of the party cadres and their self-dependence. Third, the party must make its official policy clear: Whether it wants to launch a revolt or make do with a progressive constitution for now, and whether it wants to join the mainstream politics for now or go back to the insurgency. And lastly, and more importantly, the party should categorically tell the people about what corruption is and what is not, so that they can keep critical scrutiny of the leaders and punish the mal-practitioners. Else the consequences would be dire.
Writer is a Maoist revolutionary journalist