Submitted by Ret Marut on Jan 22 2009
As a strike wave sweeps the country, the Maoist leadership agrees to banning strikes.
Since the Maoists emerged in the April 2008 Nepal elections as the largest party (though without an absolute majority) to lead the new coalition government, they have failed to heal existing divisions - in their own party, within the parliamentary political system and its ruling class - or within the intermingled social, caste and ethnic tensions across the wider society. In fact, all these divides have widened. And since November a strike wave has spread across the country.
Maoist 'People's Vanguard' versus striking workers
And the conditions of life giving rise to the social unrest grow worse. Inflation of basic goods continues, the electricity infrastructure cannot meet anywhere near the demand of consumers; 16 hr interruptions to supply for "load-shedding" have become routine across the country and both domestic and business life is planned around them. (Some claim this is partly a result of the Maoist destruction of electricity sub-stations during the 10 year guerrilla war and the subsequent decline in infrastructure projects.(2)) This frustrates employers and workers alike, limiting productivity for bosses and also lowering pay for workers who aren't paid for interruptions. The hungry bellies of the poor are rumbling with discontent, and even the professional middle classes are feeling pangs of frustration.
Faced with the unrest, Maoist Party leader and Nepalese Prime Minister Prachanda proposed to fellow politicians a ban on all public sector strikes, to which the seven major parties all agreed. In a recent press interview, just prior to the agreement, the Maoist governmental Finance Minister Dr Baburam Bhattarai tried to justify a ban;
Q: The business community's concerns are exactly what you stated. One, they say,
the government's attitude to labour issues leaves a lot to be desired and that
labour problems are getting worse. Second, there cannot be high growth until
there is an adequate supply of power.
Bhattarai: I wouldn't say the situation
is getting worse. Things were much worse in the past. But the people wanted very
fast recovery; that hasn't happened. Things are improving but not to the desired
level. Both the management and workers have a common interest now, for the
development of the economy. They both fought against the feudalism, autocracy
and monarchy. Now, to create a vibrant industrial economy, is in the interest of
both the management and the workers. But this reality is not sinking in their
minds. This government is playing its role in creating a healthy relationship
between the two. There were some disputes, especially regarding the minimum wage
issue. This has been solved. So what I appeal to the management is that they
should provide the minimum wage. The workers shouldn't resort to bandas and
strikes. If this understanding is honoured we'll have a healthy environment in
the days to come.
Q: So the party wants to ensure that whenever there is a
labour dispute, legal recourse should be taken?
Bhattarai: Yes. At least for
some time, there should be no bandas and strikes in the industrial, health,
education sectors, on the major highways, in the public utility sectors. The
government is trying to build political consensus on this issue.http://www.kantipuronline.com/interview.php?&nid=175026
Nepal is in reality an underdeveloped capitalist economy with certain remaining feudal hangovers within social relationships. (These traditions are either declining or adapting to modern-day norms.) Abolition of monarchy and the pro-democracy movements in recent decades might be seen as part of an unfinished bourgeois revolution(3) - yet the Maoist leadership generally present their desire to move towards greater industrialisation as the beginning of a bourgeois-democratic revolution. The Maoists portray the present period as one in which Nepal is emerging from feudalism (as supposedly evidenced by the recent abolition of the monarchy; unlike, e.g, 'feudal' royalist Britain!) and so needs to build up a strong national industrial economy. The lack of a strong national entrepreneurial bourgeoisie has hindered such a development in Nepal, and - like nationalist and leftist parties across the '3rd World' - the Maoists intend to play that developmental role themselves, in alliance with other 'progressive' bourgeois forces. The Maoist leadership are reported to be discussing with China the creation of Special Economic Zones (SEZ) in Nepal. SEZ's are industrial zones offering partial or complete tax exemption to foreign investors (and sometimes also to native capitalists) along with other financial benefits including stricter labour discipline. Having just passed the relevant legislation, their concern to impose stricter discipline on unruly workers is clearly linked to establishing SEZ's and a general desire to attract greater foreign investment;
KATHMANDU, Jan 22: After four years of finalizing the draft, the cabinet on
Thursday endorsed Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Act, paving way for the
implementation of the SEZ projects in the country. [...]...the Act treats SEZ as
a land where other domestic laws related to labor and industries would not be
applicable. It has mooted an autonomous SEZ Authority to oversee its
The source stated that the ratification of the Act, which had so
far lingered due to the differences over the tighter labor provisions, had
became possible after the seven parties recently agreed not to launch strikes in
the industries or disturb productions.
“The Act allows workers to unite and
practice collective bargaining, but prohibits them from undertaking activities
that affect production and normal operations of industries,” said the source. It
also allows the entrepreneurs to hire workers on a contract basis. [Our
Any future Maoist rule in Nepal, whether in local or central government is
likely to try to model itself on the regimes of those Indian states run by local
'Communist' Parties - crude forms of municipal Stalinism with an increasingly
market-oriented openness to foreign investors enticed by tax-free Economic
Processing Zones. Much like those typically seen in other more developed Asian
economies, but with even more 'competitive' wage levels. But that is so far
wishful thinking for Nepal; one of the least developed economies with one of the
least skilled workforces and a weak infrastructure - and consequently, so far,
one of the least attractive investment options. http://libcom.org/news/nepal-terai-ethnic-strike-ends-concessions-01032008
The Nepalese and Indian armies have traditionally had a close relationship. The famous Ghorkas serve in both armies. The Indian army trains most Nepalese officers - there is such a close relationship that the Indian Army chief is honorary chief of the Nepali Army traditionally and vice-versa. The negotiations that are dragging on over how/if/when Nepal's Maoist ex-guerrillas should be integrated into the Nepalese Army are therefore of some concern to India. The Maoists are attempting to gain greater control over the Army, causing serious unease in rival parties.
Old or new Maoism for the Party?
Meanwhile, the lower level party cadre have gained little from the electoral road. Unlike in many other 'national liberation struggles', the Nepali Maoists did not decisively defeat other ruling class factions - instead, they achieved political power via a compromise with them. So many of the comfortable official posts are already filled; as one of the poorest countries in the world, Nepal has too few resources to expand its existing bureaucratic class or its entrepreneurial middle class sufficiently to absorb former guerrilla personnel to their satisfaction. So, after ten years of war, what's on offer for those lower in the Party hierarchy seems scant reward for their efforts. Now a faction led by a senior Party leader Mohan Biadhya, popularly known as Kiran, are demanding an immediate progression towards 'full communism'; i.e., a one party state capitalist system in the style of traditional Maoism.
What's in a name? The PFDNR
Those brilliant Maoists have been banging their heads together for six days to
try and mend a catastrophic rift in their party. It seems most of the
hard-liners want to announce an all Communist "People's Republic" immediately;
while Prachanda wants to go a little slower so as not to throw the country back
into chaos. After what blogdai can only assume to be an excruciating application
of sheer brainpower, our boys in red have decided to call Nepal the "People's
Federal Democratic National Republic." Just think of the expense in stationary
this will incur! PFDNR Nepal.http://nepalnow.blogspot.com/
There is general disbelief at the small number of PLA fighters registered in the cantonments. It seems that the party transferred a substantial number of PLA personnel to the YCL so that they could move around freely, provide support to the party’s activities and continue their fundraising activities of extortion and protection rackets levied on businesses.
At present, the frustrated former soldiers have too much time on their hands, too little money and few prospects for advancement. This is a serious problem for the Maoist politicians and for the wider society. Their racketeering and extortion, intimidation and assassination of political rivals and critics destabilises the country, inhibits industrial production, retards the formal political process and encourages the growth of other paramilitary factions such as the UML 'Youth Force' and various ethnic/separatist groups.
Paramilitary or parliamentary?
In response to growing post-election Maoist brutality, other political parties have formed youth groups. Youth cadre of the non-Maoist Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML)(6) - the third largest party in Parliament - have been abducted and murdered by the YCL; last week another was viciously attacked with machetes by YCL cadre. Now the UML Youth Force - itself accused of intimidation and involvement in extortion - is threatening its own 'People's War' against the Maoist-led government if the YCL are allowed to continue in their gangsterism. As one former UML leader put it, when expressing fears that the Youth Force may become as much of a problem as the YCL;
"If the ruling party itself keeps a paramilitary force then there is no reason
why other parties won't also try to form their own," he said, adding "and if
everybody starts to form their own paramilitary forces then the atmosphere in
the country will be very dark. The Prime Minister should seriously think about
this thing," Nepalnews reported. http://www.newkerala.com/topstory-fullnews-59575.html
Maoists have also intimidated journalists critical of their brutality and have admitted murdering at least one(7). Several newspapers have been targetted and temporarily shut down by Maoist trade unions and journalists attacked by Maoist goon squads; the union activity here being used for intimidating critics rather than pursuing workers' interests. The UML's Youth Force have also recently carried out a similar attack on a newspaper office.
In the southern Terai plains region an ethnic Madhesi movement (which includes ex-Maoists) continues to call for national independence for the territory and to compete with Maoists and other factions for paramilitary dominance of the area. A female journalist, Uma Singh, was killed in Terai last week; her murder may be a response to her writings against the dowry marriage-payment system that has such oppressive consequences for women in Nepal (8). But she was also critical of land seizures and extortion rackets in Terai carried out by a former Maoist cabinet minister (now sacked)(9), and her father and brother were 'disappeared' by the Maoists during the civil war. Some suspects have now been arrested, one a local Maoist leader.
Class, state or nation?
And the consequences for the development of any autonomous movement of
self-organised class struggle beyond and against bourgeois democracy? The
industrial working class is a minority in a predominantly peasant population. We
make no hierarchies of one sector of the poor being more important or radical
than the other; but the industrial workers have certain specific potential areas
of struggle (transport, industry etc) that are unique to them and would be of
crucial importance in any future movement. The rural and urban poor are
dependent on an alliance with each other to affect any real change in their own
mutual interests. So far they have only taken sides with one or other of the
factions competing to rule over them. To go further than a more democratic
management of continued poverty they will have to stop taking sides and start
making sides. Despite the limits of the pro-democratic framework of recent
events, many of the poor may have realised, through the flexing of their
collective muscle, a sense of their own potential power to act more directly in
their own class interests. Without wanting to be determinist, in the absence of
an autonomous movement of the poor moving beyond demands for democracy, there
will probably need to be a period of disillusionment with a new Kingless
democracy system before any such autonomous movement will emerge.http://libcom.org/news/article.php/nepal-maoists-protests-analysis-2006
If the Maoist hardliners break away from the parliamentarians and take the YCL paramilitaries with them, this could easily spark a renewed civil war involving the national Army, various paramilitary wings of parliamentary parties (including Maoist oppositionists) and also smaller ethnic separatist groups.
Perhaps the one bright spark is the ongoing strike wave; maybe an independent social movement of rural and urban poor will emerge from the growing cynicism with the false promises of political solutions. Most Nepalis appear weary of war and many disillusioned with politics. But with these class struggles surrounded by a tangled web of intersecting ethnic, separatist, nationalist and political group tensions, and these divisions and rivalries becoming more brutal and militarised - the potential of an autonomous working class movement emerging look difficult, to say the least. And divided though the ruling class is, the one thing that unites them, from left to right, is the necessity to ban strikes. The politicians have already illustrated that - whatever the gloss put on it - they understand their conflict as an inter-class one to decide among themselves who will govern and exploit the poor, and by what methods.