“Maoism Rises Again” lamented a Financial Times editorial a few weeks ago.
This was provoked by the crisis in Nepal, where a combination of mass protests in the capital, Kathmandu, and Maoist guerrilla warfare in the countryside last week forced King Gyanendra to promise a return to parliamentary rule.
Events in Nepal are yet another example of the process of democratic revolution that has swept much of the world in the past two decades. Gyanendra imposed his personal autocracy a year ago in a desperate effort to prop up an oligarchy fatally threatened by the guerrilla campaign mounted by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).
This step backfired explosively by forcing the mainstream opposition in the Seven Parties Alliance (SPA) into coalition with the Maoists. Gyanendra’s retreat has now opened up a fissure in the forces ranked against him.
The SPA has accepted his offer of a return to parliamentary rule. But the Maoists are holding out for the full implementation of the 12-point agreement they made with the SPA last November. This calls for a constituent assembly that could declare a republic and for radical land reform.
This split poses the question of what democratic revolution means. Is it just a matter of creating the political institutions of liberal democracy, as the Western powers insist? Or does it embrace introducing economic democracy as well, in which case it pushes beyond the limits of capitalism?
The fear that revolution in Nepal might spill over, not just economically but also geographically, united all the major powers – the US, Britain, India, and China – behind “reconciliation” between Gyanendra and the opposition.
Nepal is in a pivotal geopolitical position, situated in the border region contested by India and China. India is already facing spreading guerrilla attacks mounted by its own Maoist groups.
Maoist rural guerrillas have been active in India since the Naxalite rebellion in West Bengal in the late 1960s. Despite ferocious repression the Maoists remained active in some of the poorest parts of the countryside, such as Bihar, and are now expanding their sphere of operations.
According to a Financial Times article, Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh said that the Maoists are “the single greatest threat to Indian national security”. The article continues, “By Mr Singh’s estimates, Maoist groups are running parallel administrations, including legal systems, in as many as one in four of India’s 600?odd districts. Thirteen out of India’s 28 states have been affected, extending from the border with Nepal to the south.”
An Indian Marxist told me recently that the Maoists are strongest in the forest areas where the so-called “Tribals” live. These communities have been largely excluded from the hierarchies of power of pre-colonial, colonial and independent India. The BBC reported last December that their traditional livelihoods are threatened by the Indian government’s drive to consolidate privately-owned smallholdings as part its broader effort to open the economy up to the world market.
China too is worried that the turbulence in Nepal could spill over into its neighbouring dependency of Tibet. This is particularly ironic since the Communist Party regime in Beijing still traces its legitimacy to Mao Zedong, whose ideas inspire the rebels in Nepal and India.
The rapid capitalist development of China and India that has been so trumpeted around the world is likely to provide fertile soil for such insurgencies. The Asian Development Bank reported last week that high economic growth has still left 500 million unemployed or underemployed in Asia out of a total workforce of 1.7 billion.
Another 245 million are due to join the labour market over the next decade. In India alone there are 38 million unemployed, and the working-age population is projected to grow by 71 million within the next five years.
Today’s Asian “miracles” may bring greater prosperity for a minority, but they leave out vast numbers of people. This contrast is likely to provide plenty of recruits for Maoist armies and other forms of resistance to global capitalism. The process of democratic revolution still has a long way to go.