Marxism certainly appears to be Nepal’s dominant political philosophy. Parties that call themselves ‘communist’ have 61% of the seats in parliament; and the figure increases to 90% with the Madheshi Forum whose leader was a Maoist and the Nepali Kangress that volunteered as a willing porter for the Maoist agenda of “climbing on liberal shoulders to smash the head”. Is Marxism the wave of Nepal’s future or merely the opium of its Left?
Being a Marxist politician in Nepal entails doing political somersaults that would amaze a veteran circus acrobat. During the Panchayat years, they perfected the art of cohabiting with feudal partylessness to the extent of manning its politburo, the Gaon Pharka and the entire rural educational structure, prompting BP Koirala to complain that they used the ‘Adit formula’, named after the Indonesian communist leader who had similarly infiltrated Sukarno’s rule. In 1979, during the National Referendum, the dominant Marxist-Leninists supported the ‘yellow’ Panchayat against the ‘blue’ multiparty proponents who lost by a narrow margin. Going by the reports in the press this week, the Maoists – who spearheaded the republican agenda and steam-rollered the constitutional monarchists among the Kangress and the RPP – seem tactically nimble enough to suggest a ‘cultural king’. To understand the contradictions of Nepali Marxists, whose leadership has picked up that philosophy not from original sources in the European languages but from the Hindi writings of Rahul Sankirtyayan and others, one only has to look at their Indian gurus. They had actively opposed Mahatma Gandhi’s Quit India movement against the British in 1942! Obviously, any tactics that exacerbates the contradictions, even sleeping with the enemy, is OK if it allows capturing state power.
These contradictions come from Nepali Marxists being both vernacular rural politicians rooted to their place and time unlike their more uprooted urban political competitors, as well as beholden to an ill-digested political philosophy whose premises have little bearing with Nepali social history. When Nepali political realities creep upon and strangle fanciful Marxist theoretical constructs, much like a peepul tree smothering an old temple, a bitter debate ensues that has factions determined to construct anew their own edifices off-limit to other Left untouchables. Marxist parties split like amoebas and denominations multiply to match the Hindu pantheon as they engage in internecine wars of purity in interpreting the shastras handed down by the Bearded One.
There have been some stunning admissions by Marxist intellectuals in the last month alone. Ghanashyam Bhusal is a UML ‘young Turk’ and a leading light of what is known as the Third Current that shuns both the ideological extremism of the Maoists and the pro-Kangress ideological barrenness of the Oli faction. He laments in Naya Patrika that UML party cadres are not engaged in productive enterprises but in NGO-milking and forming alliances with CDOs and LDOs for rent-seeking corruption including hydro license speculating. For them, the critical study of Marxist literature and refining UML’s ideology of bahudaliya janabad might well be arcane nuclear physics! Khagendra Sangraula, the prolific and popular Left columnist, describes in Nepal Weekly his epiphany when he encountered Kathmandu’s communists as a student: “Mao’s Red Book was the Holy Gita and changing even a comma was an unpardonable betrayal of the cause. The communist path was one of doubtless faith and unquestioned dedication.”
The most interesting exchange has occurred in the quarterly Raato Jhilko, a name borrowed from Lenin’s Iskra, which was run by Baburam Bhattarai decades ago and now has been revived by his daughter. Baburam admits that Stalin “did make some mistakes” and perhaps his rival Trotsky had a more correct analysis of the overall situation (horrors!), but continues to stubbornly insist that Prachanda Path is the culminating glory of global Marxism. Chaitanya Mishra, by far the most erudite neo-Marxist Nepali scholar today, annihilates that position as never done in Nepali before. Tracing the distorting of Marx’s thought to Lenin himself – and borrowing from Meghnad Desai’s revised outlook in Marx’s Revenge of Marxian thinking (as opposed to Marxist party theology) being more relevant for social justice today after the collapse of the Berlin Wall – Mishra concludes (correctly) that no socialism can occur, let alone communism, in a pre-capitalist economy. Today’s task therefore is hardly the violent overthrow of everything old but the political re-orienting of the state mechanism towards social justice even as the economy develops the essentials of a capitalist base and superstructure. It is only the contradictions therein that can develop into a socialist revolution.
It must be with horrifying pain that that these Marxist idealists must be coming to terms with the gruesome, “actually existing” realities of communist party practices in Nepal: the love triangle murder in the Maoist Saina-Maina camp, the extortionist criminal activities by the likes of Kali Bahadur Kham protected by the revolutionary party, M-L MP Sarda Nepali’s suicide attempt and the ensuing revelation that even a fringe communist party can brazenly engage in illegal and quite feudal taxation of its serfs, etc., etc. How would they explain, for example, that, contrary to accepted Marxist beliefs, the most vitriolic opposition to the successful community electricity movement or for efforts to reduce electricity theft by NEA employees comes from the trade unions of the Left parties? They should ask, how can the Left ‘progressives’ be even more reactionary than ‘rightists’ and royalists?!
The answer actually lies in the century and a half of developments in the social sciences, economics and philosophy since Karl Marx, Ricardo and Hegel. And the big names that Nepal’s Left needs to begin engaging with are the other two great Karls, Polanyi the political economist and Popper the philosopher of science and freedom. Polanyi’s ‘double movement’ argues, in a manner far superior to Marx, why it is the space given to civic movements in a democratic polity that ameliorates the negative consequences of the capitalist ‘satanic mill’. The alternative to such a polity is the fascism of ‘public-private partnership’ that does not allow for civic voices, where business interests subsume the public as their handmaiden. This is proven by all major Nepali communist parties that have nominated not social activists but the scions of trading houses to the Constituent Assembly. Polanyi’s political economy is more relevant today, simply because it is the egalitarian global Greens who advocate environmental and social justice and not the bureaucratic Reds, who have become just another group of corporate interests carving out an exploitation sphere in the state mechanism.
The other Karl, the Viennese-LSE philosopher Popper has demolished all claims of Marxism to be scientific, so much so that Oxford philosopher and socialist Labour MP Bryan Magee confesses he “cannot see how any rational man can have read Popper’s critique of Marx and still be a Marxist”. Its fundamental theoretical pillars stand falsified: communism has not come about in advanced industrial countries and, where it has, it has not been brought about by the workers; the proletariats in the North have not gotten poorer but become richer; wealth has not concentrated in fewer capitalist hands but, through joint-stock companies, been ‘democratized’ as never before; and, most tellingly, its experiments in the Soviet Union and China have failed. Yet Nepal’s Left continues to genuflect as if drugged with opium before its doctrines.
Perhaps they should pursue a more basic question: is today’s need a revolution wiping the slate clean (and being unable to write anything on it afterwards, educated writers having been thrown into the dustbins) or is it social justice? If it is the latter, Edmund Burke is right to say: “The only political change that is an improvement over the past is one that is organic, not revolutionary”. His unromantic assessment of the French Revolution explains how it was hijacked by unscrupulous public creditors, much as in Nepal today by the Left’s corporate unions.