Revolution Reports from Nepal - 1
By Stephen Mauldin at Apr 23, 2009
Revolution Reports from Nepal - 1
I was finally on the airplane from Beijing April 17. At this point I was getting a little jittery. I had made a few contacts in Kathmandu but as far as I knew there was no solid access established for me to the United Communist Party of Nepal Maoist or UCPN (M), popularly known as the Maobadi. I had a few avenues of approach, but today I will restrict the story to what happened with the first person I had been introduced to. Nick Glais of the blog Democracy and Class Struggle had put me in touch with a friend of a friend (Harry Powell) who had been helped by a young man named Puspa during a recent visit to Nepal. I got an email address. This turned out to be a fortuitous contact as you will see. Ironically, Puspa is the front office supervisor for the Vaishali Hotel where I had stayed during my last visit to Nepal in 2006. Our correspondence revealed he had relationships with the Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union and the YCL, the Youth Communist League of the UCPN (M). Later I was to find out what these relationships really meant.
Puspa's ID card shows he is a Central Committee Member - this rank is simultaneously his position in the union and his position in the UCPN (M).
Puspa met me at the airport with two of his lieutenants. A vibrant young man attired in camouflage, with a buffed physique and direct but respectful demeanor, Puspa soon proved to be more than I had hoped. First I had to be accepted. The next three hours consisted in questioning, more from Puspa than me, while we got through a wild ride through the motorcycle packed chaos of the narrow lanes of Kathmandu. The city is a jigsaw puzzle. Later there was a small group meeting in the lobby of the Vaishali. I'll tell you what they found out first. They wanted to know why I was here exactly. Also they were quite adamant about finding out about me personally. I recounted my previous visit. Then, I had come to investigate the child soldier issue; I suggested how this had been related to my background in veteran issues as far back as my own experience in the Vietnam War as a member of the American imperialist army. Not long before that previous visit to Nepal, I added, I had become interested in communism and as a result of that I had been studying the Maobadi and certain lines of communist theory. I told them that essentially I came to Nepal because I had reached a belief in the line of the Maobadi revolutionary struggle and that I had become involved in discussing theoretical issues with other international communists deeply interested in the Nepal revolution. I had come to find out what was really happening here on the ground and to see if my own thinking was accurate or not. This is my mission here.
My story had the desired effect. My explanation of my mission and my avowed support for the Maobadi made me a comrade. Now I would be given the information and help I needed. This warmth was very welcome I assure you, as I had had some trepidation I was going to find myself just another tourist on the roof of the world. As I could see, these hotel and restaurant workers were clearly a militant bunch. Puspa was definitely in command. These were his fellow hotel workers gathered off-duty, but the feeling was more like talking to a group of militants. Puspa was not just supervisor of the work in the hotel; he was also the leader of the All Nepal Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union for this area of Kathmandu where most of the hotels are located. For reasons I learned to understand, Puspa is also the Area Committee Member, ACM, for the Maobadi. The background for his getting to this position is instructive. He is 29 years old and has been working at the Vaishali 13 years. Obviously he is quite intelligent and his spoken English is good. He also speaks some Japanese and is studying for his Masters Degree in Sociology. He has had the experience of travel to Mexico and Cuba as a martial arts competitor. As I can see, he is busy 24/7 for the party and the union. Recently, Puspa has been elevated beyond his ACM duties and is now a Central Committee Member, CCM, for this district.
Four years ago when the negotiations of the Maobadi and the Constitutional Monarchy had temporarily improved the situation such that the Maobadi could become more active in Kathmandu, an important tactic was for them to establish a base of power among the unions and university students. Puspa says that the union pre-dates this development in a relationship with the National Congress. The NC political support, however, had little or nothing to do with benefits for the workers. Then, these workers were underpaid even in accord to the low pay mandated by government regulations and they were subject to dismissal or demotion at the whims of management. According to Puspa the NC had its own strong-arm resources and what they did mainly was collect money from the hotel owners. Puspa welcomed the Maobadi offer to support him in developing the union and has worked tirelessly since. Now as a CCM he is part of a select group of only a few hundred leaders from which are selected the Party Politburo.
Hotel Vaishali - Small Union Office at left where the workers check in and out every day
Before I had fully unraveled his relationship to the Party, my questions to Puspa were about how this union work actually corresponded to the communist revolution and its theoretical and revolutionary practice. What I was getting at was the idea that the workers had obviously been oppressed and would be attracted to the socialist benefits from changes occurring, the benefits of unionism; but were they in fact aware of the Party line and the more profound significance of the revolution. I was assured that I would have ample opportunity to find out. It was soon clear from our conversation that Puspa himself had developed his understanding of communist theory and practice and was a dedicated revolutionary. I shared with him some of the ideas I have been pursuing and found we had grounds for considerably more discussion. I would have the opportunity to see things for myself. We made plans to explore his work and relationships with the Maobadi as he is willing and interested in helping me with my mission here.
The next morning Puspa was on duty at the hotel very early. I had many tasks such as getting a SIM, card, getting an internet card for my computer and so on. Throughout the early part of day I was able to continue have short discussions with Puspa and he arranged for one of his security people, Buddi Man Khadka, to help me around the city and with product negotiations. Meanwhile I was noticing that Puspa, though busy with a lot of trekking groups checking in, was also taking care of union business. There were people coming and going after brief conversations with him. I was informed we would meet with someone important around noon and that there would be a meeting of his area's union members that afternoon when he was off duty.
As soon as I returned from some shopping, Puspa ushered me into a small office behind the front desk an introduced me to a waiting Badri Prasad Bajgai, Central Committee Member and Vice-President of All Nepal Federation of Trade Unions. I didn't have my camera. We had some talk but there was trouble with the language. Puspa was coming in and out from work at the front desk and essentially interpreted my ideas and purpose. I didn't learn too much new except that he reports directly to Politburo member Hitaman Shakkya (Suman) PBM. There may be a possibility of an interview with Suman at some point. Puspa is also in this line of command. Earlier I had been shown a photograph of Suman. Contact information was exchanged with CCM Bajgai and we will continue our conversation again at another time. I had introduced to him some assessment of theoretical lines I am evaluating - with Puspa's help. I will speak of this later. The conversation with CCM Bajgai is as yet inconclusive.
At about 2:30 I left the hotel with Puspa to go to the district union meeting. Several other union members working at the hotel went with us. As we walked the streets we were joined by workers from other hotels and by the time we reached the district union office were others were waiting the number of participants were about 20. There was perhaps one or two over 30 years old, about a third looked to be 18-22 and most of the rest about 25. Several were well conditioned physically.
District Union Meeting - Puspa is directly to my left
The meeting was in Nepali language but some observations of the character of the meeting are illustrative. First of all, the meeting began with one-minute of silence in honor of the revolution's martyrs. I believe the five young men not at the table and to my right were new union members. When they were introduced they gave a little speech - as with all speakers at the meeting they opened with a raised right fist and "Kantkari!".. "Revolution!". The speakers were sometimes a little shy but more often aggressive - and in any case what was said was said with feeling and seriousness well beyond what would characterize a "business meeting". Puspa gave a little talk about me in Nepali then he got up, as apparently we were leaving the meeting. I showed the fist and shouted "Solidarity!" and got some chuckles. We left.
Puspa and Nawaraj Khatiwada, DCM, UCPN (M)
After leaving the district union meeting we went to a restaurant where we were joined by three District Committee Members that are part of Puspa's Area Committee Member command. DCM Khatiwada, pictured, represents the district that Puspa originated from. To reiterate, All Nepal Hotel and Restaurant Union (NHRU) members are aligned with the UCPN (M) and all officers are Maobadi, beginning with DCM, then as ACM and then as CCM (Central Committee Member). At this point Puspa and the VP of All Nepal Federation of Trade Unions CCM Bajgai are the only CCM I have had a chance to explore my investigation with, and the latter only with interpretation by Puspa. Puspa is pretty familiar with what I am doing and facilitated the present meeting of his Area's DCMs in orienting them to my reasons for being here. I will outline that encapsulation for future reference:
1. I am here to observe and collect information and gain insight directly from the Maobadi as to the accuracy or needed modification of my understanding of their theoretical line and practice. The primary issues of practice I want to know about most are the problematic of the Armies integration, and the formation of a new kind of state in the writing of the constitution - as well as particular specific issues such as land reform, federalism, and others.
2. Personally I have been supporting the Maobadi against some attacks on their theory and practice by Western communists, particularly the RCPUSA. At the same time I am not a member of any communist party myself. My understanding of communism has come through the study of philosophy and psychoanalysis - most specifically I am aligned with the communist philosophy of Alain Badiou. I think this philosophy supports an interpretation of the Maobadi's 21st Century Communism.
3. My belief is in the possible confirmation that the Maobadi's tactical and strategic objectives in the formulation of the new constitution are the following sequence:
a. The Maobadi adhere to the necessity of smashing the state along with ending the reactionary standing army. This may or may not be accomplished by peaceful integration of the NA and PLA. In any event the Maobadi are intent on arming the people and eventually having local militias representing different masses of the oppressed population rather than maintaining a standing army.
b. The multiplicity of masses comprised of the oppressed classes represents the proletariat. This proletariat is to form a new government comprised of a plurality of oppressed groups in multiparty negotiations of all unresolved issues between them. The Maobadi may or may not retain majority in the new government which is to decide matters of what is to be New Nepal. The reason for this is either the withdrawal of or the exclusion of parties representing reactionaries.
c. The Maobadi will continue to be the vanguard party of the revolution. Essentially this means leading the proletariat in a dictatorship over oppressor classes. This also means they will protect the government of the New Nepal from the rise of any revisionist actions deigned to foster capitalist exploitation. The new government will be an interim government; it will be a "democratic centralist" government in the sense defined by Mao. It is to wither away leaving a communist society.
It is to Puspa alone that I have probably conveyed the general outline above. He understands me quite perfectly I find. Without going into much detail he did share something of my general views in support of the Maobadi in the meeting with his area DCMs. This was done in Nepali. I don't find that the general English level is sufficient for in-depth conversation with many. Anyway the outline I have provided above gives a point of reference to the discussions I am to have - in fact for the very next discussion which occurred at a meeting at the Area Maobadi headquarters.
Photos at the Maobadi Area offices - Photographs are of photographs of Puspa with Prachanda and Babaram Bhattarai.
As I mentioned earlier, at one point the Maobadi began exercising a policy of integration with existing and new unions as well as student unions and the Youth Communist League, YCL which is not limited to university students. Interesting for readers may be to learn that YCL sounds like "Why-Shell" when pronounced in Nepali. I found out when I asked "who is this ‘Waishel' group you have mentioned?" More chuckles at the funny gringo. They also liked the joke regarding the banner of photos from Marx to Mao as "The History of Shaving" - I heard it from Ben Peterson, a fellow comrade also in country. I guess by now its making the rounds in Nepali. At the area headquarters I had the opportunity to meet and discuss in some detail with CCM Prakash Shresha theoretical issues and particular aspects of practice, especially regarding the Army integration issue which is the focus of the current making of history in Nepal. His English is quite good. He is perhaps in his later 30s or early 40s, a seasoned Maoist combatant and one of those Maobadi who came into the city and began organizing Maobadi assumption of labor union and youth groups. In an earlier life he had worked for a 5-Star hotel, now he works for one red star. Naturally he is senior CCM for the All Nepal Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union. Under his and Puspa's leadership the union has become a militant organization.
Prakash Shrestha , Senior CCM
CCM Shrestha was very interested in hearing about international communist's views on the Maobadi. We had a little Q&A conducted by him during which I began to outline what is above. On his part, the line emphasized was quite congruent with Bhattarai's presentation of 21St Century communism on which I base my own views regarding the enactment of Mao's concepts of democratic centralism. Prakash Shrestha eloquently defended the Maobadi in its conscious attempt to understand and avoid the mistakes of 20th century communist revolutions while recovering and reenacting the positive strategies of the Paris Commune, Lenin's Soviets and Mao's Cultural Revolution. I introduced him to the Kasama project as a source of novel communist thinking - that it originated from among many members of the RCPUSA who had become disaffected with what a growing number of communists believe is too dogmatic a line for the 21st Century communism. I explained that at Kasama has been a concerted effort to refute the RCPUSA polemic against the Maobadi. I also introduced to him that there was a development among continental communist philosophers which is also supporting the idea that a novel form of communism needs to emerge.
Prakash Shrestha responded regarding the RCPUSA attacks (to paraphrase): "We carefully read their ideas, about 23 pages of their ideas. We feel Comrade Bob is a very smart man and should understand our position, so we prepared a detailed response".
I said something like: "Yes, many of us have read that response and understood and support your answers and clarifications and attempt to have the RCP understand and agree with the Maobadi line - but it seems they continued to send more instructions to the Maobadi on the errors of your way, which I notice have not been answered."
PS: "We will complete our revolution and this will be evidence that Comrade Bob is wrong."
I did not record the conversation but I am absolutely certain of the content of the closing parts of this discussion which I will continue to paraphrase:
SDM: OK, for the purposes of this discussion we assume there is no question but that the NA's standing army cannot continue. We are aware of the growing possibility of a showdown. Should the NA stage a military coup or a coup in support of reactionary parties, isn't that a serious threat to the revolution and it would therefore be a mistake to continue to provoke the NA such as with the dismissal of the generals and the call for resignation of Katawal?
PS: We don't think the NA would dare to do this. They are well aware of the people's support for the Maobadi and such a move would lead to a mass insurrection.
SDM: But isn't it true that the NA is a more powerful force than the PLA? The people may protest but they are not an army - plus wouldn't widespread insurrection simply lead to chaos and the possibility of intervention from India?
Puspa: If the Indians intervened directly what do you think the Chinese would do?
PS: There are reasons to say the Indians would not directly intervene. For one thing they have a problem within their own Army because a good percentage are of Ghurka ethnicity and loyal to Nepal. Then not only the Chinese, but also what may happen with Northern India's Naxalite Maoists. It is not just the PLA that would fight. There is the numbers of the union cadre, the YCL and others who would fight.
Note: The closing of this interview cocerned questions and answers regarding the people, union members, YCL etc. as to their readiness and capacity to fight if this happens. When initially posted, some comrades immediately began telling me the information may be too sensitive to share publically. This part has been omitted.
That conversation ended by the time I had been in Kathmandu only 36 hours. Another 36 hours has almost past. I immediately got sick from breathing the air in Kathmandu, not heeding the many wearing masks. It's also been a pain getting a working SIM and internet card for my laptop - buying defective goods nonetheless sold by the shops etc. . Because of power outages and heavy user traffic it is only efficient to surf in the night. It's a lot harder to keep track of the news even though I am here. On the other hand I can get direct verifications of things as above - such as for:
The United Marxist Leninist influential leader Mr. K.P. Sharma Oli has said that the Maoists' with the intent to exacerbate the already deteriorating situation in the country were inviting further bloodshed. "I have the information that the Maoists have already in a clandestine manner brought in arms and ammunitions in the country, they are preparing for yet another war", alleged Mr. Oli. "The Maoists in the government instead of guaranteeing peace and tranquility is preparing for further bloodshed", said Oli at a press-meet organized at the UML headquarters in Balkhu, Kathmandu, April 21, 2009. Mr. Oli was also of the opinion that the Maoists now see the Nepal Army and Judiciary as the main obstacle to capture the State, thus the unabated attack." "I appeal the Maoists not to carry on with this dangerous agenda". "The Maoists' fresh attack on institution of the Nepal Army is nothing but their inner intent to capture the State."
No shit, Oli!