On Aug. 28, Baburam Bhattarai became the fourth Prime Minister in Nepal since 2008. He is vice-chairman of the United Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M), whose chairman, Prachanda (Pushpa Kamal Dahal), was unable to form a stable government three years ago. Bhattarai’s election was widely hailed in the bourgeois media as a step forward after two prime ministers from the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) were unable to broker a constitution or a final settlement of the civil war that ran from 1996 to 2006.
The Maoist party had waged a “people’s war” for a decade before the April 2006 uprising that overthrew King Gyanendra. A ceasefire was declared and the Maoists joined the government of the new Republic of Nepal, but their People’s Liberation Army had yet to give up its arms or integrate into the former royalist armed forces.
A general strike led by the Maoists in 2010 was unable to tip the situation in their favor and they returned to parliamentary tactics. Bhattarai’s ascent to power was centered on turning over the arms held in storage by the PLA, which has been done. Full integration is not yet complete but expected in the near term.
Bhattarai’s government has included significant participation from the Madhesi, an ethnic group in the southern plains of Nepal who had previously been excluded from the politics of Kathmandu and was a major supporter of the Maoists during the civil war. This has caused some strain inside the UCPN-M, as senior leaders of the party have alleged that the agreement with the Madhesi Front party was kept secret from them.
Timing is critical for Bhattarai’s government. The current parliamentary mandate will expire on Nov. 14, and both the peace process and the writing of a constitution need to be finalized by that point. If no further progress is made, it is unclear where the political process will move. Bhattarai, challenged by the opposition UML party, has already backed down from initial promises that he would finish integration and disarmament 45 days after taking office.
Nepal, a landlocked country between two rising world powers, is split between India and China. Many Nepali prime ministers have made their allegiance clear by scheduling their first foreign visit to India. Bhattarai has chosen to play a different game, going first to New York to visit the United Nations. He has vowed not to allow anti-India or anti-China activities in Nepal, and called for the country to act as a “friendship bridge” between the two greater powers. While Bhattarai plans to visit India on a goodwill trip, he is also pushing for Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to make a state visit to Kathmandu.
The four-point pact that brought Bhattarai to power includes an extradition treaty with India, and the presence of Indian air marshals at Nepal’s International Airport. His government has also endorsed an earlier deal that calls for a “No Work, No Pay” law and a ban on industrial strikes for up to four years in exchange for a Social Security Act and a Minimum Wage Board.
The Maoist party came out of its guerrilla war with deep divisions among its leadership. Bhattarai represents the right wing of the party, ready to make concessions as needed. The move to turn over the keys to weapons containers was protested by the hard-line faction led by Mohan Baidya (also known as Kiran) and pro-India moves have been criticized as surrendering a critical part of Nepal’s sovereignty.
Baidya’s threat of a boycott forced the UCPN-M leadership to delay a steering committee meeting, but his lieutenants have emphasized that a split is not coming. His faction is at a strategic dead end; dramatic torchlight protests did not stop the turnover of the arms. The Maoist party needed disarmament in order to capture leadership. The failure of the 2010 general strike sealed the fate of armed struggle by the Maoists and made the parliamentary road inevitable.
Since before 2006, the UCPN-M has aimed to establish capitalist development in Nepal and a democratic republic. This is based on the theory of stages put forward by Joseph Stalin in the 1920s, saying that every country needed to go through “democratic” capitalism before a socialist revolution would be possible. It led to disaster in China, Spain, and elsewhere.
In the modern world, as Leon Trotsky showed, the forces of imperialism make this transition a utopia. The local capitalist class in an underdeveloped country is bound hand and foot by international capital and cannot fulfill the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution—equal rights for oppressed nationalities, popular suffrage, land reform, etc. Only the working class can do this by taking over the means of production and using them for the common good of the workers and their allies.
Concessions to India and disarmament are key steps on the real “Prachanda Path,” as the Maoist leader has described his strategic vision. As long as they follow it, the UCPN-M will bow to international capital. Having surrendered their arms, they may find themselves defenseless if any regional powers, or local elites, decide that they need to be removed from power—or worse. As the opposition sets its feet in, this may happen sooner rather than later if the political impasse is not resolved.
Democracy in Nepal has a tragic history. The 1990-91 democratic wave washed up on the deep divide between the Nepali elites and the impoverished masses. Now the movement that began in 2006 is in danger of ending in another tragedy. Nepal has clear lessons for countries like Egypt that are going through democratic revolutions. It is not simply enough to throw out the king or dictator. The revolution must be fought to the end, and must become a socialist revolution. In an age of austerity, capitalism has nothing at all to offer the people of Nepal or Egypt. For a better future, for real development, the only road is socialism.
> The article above was written by Wayne Deluca, and first appeared in the October 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.