Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Nepal: the dialectical path of socialist revolution in semi-feudal societies by Kumar Sarkar.

In the  “Third Anuradha Gandhi Memorial Lecture” delivered on January 14, 2011, in Mumbai, India , Baburam Bhattarai , Maoist leader of Nepal presented his understanding of the democratic revolution in Nepal in the era of imperialism as follows:

Another theoretical issue currently being debated within the Maoist party is the nature of democratic revolution. In a semi-feudal and semi-colonial society one has to pass through a stage of bourgeois democratic revolution before transiting to socialism.

Especially in a country like Nepal, where autocratic monarchy has ruled for hundreds of years, it  would be prudent to go through a phase of democratic republic before completing the bourgeois democratic revolution. A democratic republic was established through a peace negotiation with the parliamentary parties after 10 years of ‘People’s War’.

But the question now is how to turn this democratic republic into a People’s Democracy or New Democracy. Can it be achieved through the Constituent Assembly? Or, is an armed insurrection necessary? Also, the usefulness and prudence of the democratic republic phase is being questioned. It is exactly here that the differences between anarchism, reformism and Marxism come out sharply. Whereas reformists disagree with a revolutionary leap, anarchists discard the need of passing through stages and sub-stages. Marxists support both revolutionary leaps and the need to pass through stages.

The question of imperialism and expansionism has been another important issue in Nepal’s revolutionary movement. Whereas globalised imperialism has spread its tentacles in almost all spheres of the Nepali economy, society and state, the domination of expansionism in the last 200 years has been the most vexing issue. There has been a razing debate within the Maoist party regarding the strategy to fight against foreign domination, particularly expansionism. Also, given the country’s sensitive position between the emerging global powers in India and China, a balanced relation with both neighbours is crucial for the success of the New Democratic revolution. It is thus prudent to focus on the internal democratic agenda to unify the country and to take on foreign domination.

The fight for loktantra in Nepal is sure to reach its climax in the next few months. Either we will move ahead by rising above the traditional parliamentary democracy on the way to drafting the constitution of a People’s Federal Democratic Republic or the country will move towards regression even before the May 28 deadline. In order to forestall this possibility and institutionalize a loktantrik government system in, all true republicans, patriots and progressive forces should not delay their joint effort towards this goal.” (Emphasis and italics added).

From the above extract of the lecture we observe the following:

1.       It is necessary  “to pass through a stage of bourgeois democratic revolution before transiting to socialism.”
2.       In Nepal’s specific situation of autocratic Monarchy, “it  would be prudent to go through a phase of democratic republic before completing the bourgeois democratic revolution.” And,  “a democratic republic was established through a peace negotiation with the parliamentary parties after 10 years of ‘People’s War’”.
3.       “The question now is how to turn this democratic republic into a People’s Democracy or New Democracy.” The “Marxist” answer to this question is the need for “both revolutionary leaps and the need to pass through stages.”
4.       Due to Nepal’s geopolitical position between the two rising world powers, “a balanced relation with both neighbours is crucial for the success of the New Democratic revolution. It is thus prudent to focus on the internal democratic agenda to unify the country and to take on foreign domination.” (Emphasis added)
5.      Finally, Bhattarai recognises the goal of  “rising above the traditional parliamentary democracy on the way to drafting the constitution of a People’s Federal Democratic Republic.”, which he has now abandoned.

It is extremely interesting to note (from 4) that, according to Bhattarai, “for the success of the New Democratic revolution” it is necessary to relegate the contradiction with imperialism and expansionism to a secondary postion, which is just “another important issue”, and make the “internal democratic agenda” i.e. contradiction with feudalism the principal one!! So, somehow, one has to separate the fight against the imperialist “tentacles in almost all spheres of the Nepali economy, society and state, the domination of expansionism in the last 200 years” from the democratic revolution  and ‘prudently’ “ focus on the internal democratic agenda to unify the country and to take on foreign domination” later!!

First, dialectics to Bhattarai is subjective and wishful thinking. Second, he does not recognise the nature of the New Democratic Revolution in the era of imperialism.

Let us examine thoroughly the issues raised in 1-4, and, from the outcome, investigate the source of major reversals in the socialist revolution in semi-feudal countries, from China to Nepal.

A. Transition from semi-feudalism to socialism.

The use of general Marxist theories of social revolution originating from European experiences, in Eastern semi-feudal countries, in the era of imperialism, has been historically  quite mechanical. The adopted model of ‘feudalism – bourgeois democratic revolution - proletarian revolution’ cannot be used as a straight-jacket to fit the model neatly into the respective stages of the European type. (Some historians have discussed this problem in the Mexican situation.) It is the original anti-feudal democratic revolutions of Europe that Bhattarai has in his mind, which he wants to copy and complete in Nepal. It is this dogmatic approach to democratic revolution that has found its place for decades in the programmes of the communist parties of feudal and semi-feudal countries in the era of imperialism.

Leaving aside Bhattarai’s strange usage of the concept of ‘anarchism’ to characterise the ideology of his leftwing critics, he does not answer the question raised by himself. While adequately describing in his lecture the “stages” he advocates, Bhattarai conveniently avoids elaborating on the “revolutionary leaps” he refers to. And here lies the crux of the problem. Let us see what Bhattarai’s problems are.

This revolutionary leap in transition from democracy to socialism is an old issue of fundamental importance, historically debated  in the international communist movement.  The Communist Manifesto (1848) stated:
“The Communists turn their attention chiefly to Germany, because that country is on the eve of a bourgeois revolution that is bound to be carried out under more advanced conditions of European civilisation and with a much more developed proletariat than that of England was in the seventeenth, and France in the eighteenth century, and because the bourgeois revolution in Germany will be but the prelude to an immediately following proletarian revolution.”(italics added)

On the eve of the fourth anniversary of the October Revolution in 1921, Lenin wrote:
Both the anarchists and the petty-bourgeois democrats (i.e., the Mensheviks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries, who are the Russian counterparts of that international social type) have talked and are still talking an incredible lot of nonsense about the relation between the bourgeois-democratic revolution and the socialist (that is, proletarian) revolution. The last four years have proved to the hilt that our interpretation of Marxism on this point, and our estimate of the experience of former revolutions were correct. We haveconsummated the bourgeois-democratic revolution as nobody had done before. We are advancing towards the socialist revolution consciously, firmly and unswervingly, knowing that it is not separated from the bourgeois-democratic revolution by a Chinese Wall, and knowing too that (in the last analysis) struggle alone will determine how far we shall advance, what part of this immense and lofty task we shall accomplish, and to what extent we shall succeed in consolidating our victories. Time will show. But we see even now that a tremendous amount -- tremendous for this ruined, exhausted and backward country -- has already been done towards the socialist transformation of society. (Emphasis added).

Bhattarai makes institutionalising” the achievements of the democratic stage as the pre-condition BEFORE going on to the New Democracy or People’s Democracy. On the contrary, Lenin superbly explains the relevant dialectics:
“But in order to consolidate the achievements of the bourgeois-democratic revolution for the peoples of Russia, we were obliged to go farther; and we did go farther. We solved the problems of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in passing, as a "by-product" of our main and genuinely proletarian - revolutionary, socialist activities. We have always said that reforms are a by-product of the revolutionary class struggle. We said -- and proved it by deeds -- that bourgeois-democratic reforms are a by-product of the proletarian, i.e., of the socialist revolution. Incidentally, the Kautskys, Hilferdings, Martovs, Chernovs, Hillquits, Longuets, MacDonalds, Turatis and other heroes of "Two and-a-Half" Marxism were incapable of understanding this relation between the bourgeois-democratic and the proletarian-socialist revolutions. The first develops into the second. The second, in passing, solves the problems of the first. The second consolidates the work of the first. Struggle, and struggle alone, decides how far the second succeeds in outgrowing the first.” (Emphasis added).

In Bhattarai’s scenario of the consolidation of the achievements of the first stage in isolation of the incoming proletarian power, the second stage never comes. What comes in place is moving into the opposite direction – surrendering the PLA, returning the liberated land to the landlords and dismantling the parallel people’s power, which Bhattarai once headed.

Hisila Yami explains the “internal democratic agenda” in her article, “Women’s Role in the Nepalese Movement: Making a People’s Constitution” in the Monthly Review, in March 2010, in the concluding section: “Today class war is being waged in different forms. In short there is a big struggle between those forces wedded to the old feudal and comprador mode of production and those who are struggling for new nationalist capitalist mode of production as a stage on the road to communism.” Apart from the bankruptcy of Bhattarai’s characterisation of the Nepali Congress as a party of anti-feudal and nationalist “liberal democrats”, what is the specific danger today of trying to deal with this democratic revolution with its “nationalist capitalist mode of production” on Yami’s “road to communism”? The Fourth Congress of the Communist International in 1922, stated: “The objective tasks of the colonial revolution areto go beyond the bounds of bourgeois democracy because a decisive victory for this revolution is incompatible with the rule of world imperialism. The colonial revolutionary movement is at first championed by the indigenous bourgeoisie and the bourgeois intelligentsia, but as the proletarian and semi-proletarian peasant masses become more involved and the social interests of the ordinary people come to the fore, the movement starts to break away from the big-bourgeois and bourgeois-landowner elements. A long struggle still lies ahead for the newly-formed proletariat in the colonies, a struggle that will cover an entire historical epoch and will confront both imperialist exploitation and the native ruling classes, who are anxious to monopolize for themselves all the gains of industrial and cultural development and to keep the broad working masses in their former ‘pre-historic’ condition.” (Emphasis added).,

Since the Fourth Congress in 1922, the ‘historical epoch’ it referred to has greatly matured, particularly with the help of the then existing Socialist camp. However, this outstanding tenet of incompatibility of victory of bourgeois democracy today with the rule of world imperialism was never satisfactorily developed further. Successive Congresses of the CI, initially starting with Roy–Lenin controversy in the Second Congress in 1920, took up the issue, debated, but never resolved it adequately. This has been the most serious weakness in the Marxist strategy for socialist revolution in feudal or semi-feudal countries. Mao was able to pursue his  New Democracy  because of the specific existence of a nationalist bourgeoisie in China led  by Dr Sun Yat Sen. Moreover, China had the benefit of proletarian help from the Soviet Union. The existence of the nationalist bourgeoisie in some parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America prior to the Bandung conference in 1955 was shortlived. In fact, the role of the “indigenous bourgeoisie” in the colonial countries has since become overwhelmingly comprador, because the development of a significant independent national bourgeoisie under imperialism is not possible. Nor is there any longer any scope for a “nationalist capitalist” development in any form whatsoever, particularly when the global imperialism is going through its worst crisis.

B. Post-colonial class structure in semi-feudal countries.

This is an area, which like the democratic revolution under imperialism needs thorough Marxist investigations in order to assess the role of different classes and groups in the socialist revolutionary process in the colonies or semi-colonies. One phenomenon is very noticeable in these types of societies – the existence of various ‘intermediate groups or strata’, which cannot be always equated with the 19th century European  ‘petit-bourgeoisie’ existing between polarised classes of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. These intermediate groups are clerical employees, teachers, doctors, nurses, solicitors, journalists, writers, artists etc.  In South Asia, in semi-feudal societies, these groups, originating from feudalism, which is also caste-based, carry a dual or mixed ideology, a halfway house between caste-feudalism and capitalism. In India and Nepal, most of these intermediate groups belong to two upper castes, i.e. Brahmins and Khatriyas or Chetris in Nepal. These intermediate groups or strata dominate the political and administrative institutions. They lead all political parties including the revolutionary organisations.

Representatives of these groups are attracted to join the communist party by the slogan of democracy. They often sincerely believe that they are socialists. Whatever their subjective thinking may be, objectively they bring with them bourgeois ideology into the communist movement. They are champions of the so-called ‘theory of productive forces’. They use socialist apparatus to develop capitalism. They practise democratic centralism virtually as a feudal hierarchy. Often, cadres follow the leaders on an individual basis. Some of these elements do integrate themselves with the proletariat to various degrees. However, their ‘socialism’ hardly goes beyond the level of egalitarianism or European Social Democracy, and that too is marred with residual feudal ideology. Encircled by feudal or capitalist environments, their eventual degeneration is not totally unexpected. They cannot be accepted into the communist leadership.

The Second and the Fourth Congresses of the CI held in 1920 and 1922 respectively already identified the problem of bourgeois nationalists presenting them as socialists or communists: “Often, as the Second Congress of the Communist International pointed out, the representatives of bourgeois nationalism, exploiting the political and moral authority of Soviet Russia and adapting to the class instinct of the workers give their bourgeois-democratic aspirations a ‘socialist’ or a ‘Communist’ guise, in order – though they may not themselves be aware of it – to divert the first embryonic proletarian groups from the real tasks of a class organisation (the Eshil-Ordu party in Turkey giving a Communist coloration to its pan-Turkism; some representatives of the Kuomintang in China preaching ‘State Socialism’) (Fourth Congress, 1922)

A signed article in Peking Review in 1976 discusses the specific problem as it appeared in China: “The deepening of the revolutionary mass debate has raised a number of thought-provoking questions: why is it that some people who were revolutionaries in the period of the new-democratic revolution have become capitalist-roaders in the period of the socialist revolution?” In the concluding section of the article the answer is given precisely: “ But because the party over a long period in the past led revolutionary movements which were bourgeois democratic in nature, many bourgeois and petty-bourgeois democrats joined the revolutionary ranks and the vanguard of the proletariat.  Many who were educated in Marxism-Leninism and were tempered in protracted revolutionary struggles gradually abandoned their bourgeois world outlook and accepted or fostered the proletarian stand and world outlook. But there are a still a few who have been profoundly influenced by bourgeois ideology but have not accepted the Party’s education and remoulding , and their stand and world outlook remain unchanged.” (Chih Heng, PR No 13, March 26, 1976)

C. To avert future debacles

Learning from these past lessons and serious reversals, we need to find specific political and structural mechanisms  against the possibility of elements from the bourgeoisie and intermediate groups and strata reaching and being accepted in the top leadership of the revolutionary party.

Politically, accepting any section of the bourgeoisie as a leading partner, as in the National Democracy / Bhattarai’s sub-stage, and to expect this stage to fulfil some of the basic democratic tasks i.e. anti-feudal land reform is incompatible with today’s global imperialism. Thus, National Democracy has become generally obsolete. Second, the appropriate alternative stage of People’s Democracy, led by the worker-peasant alliance, with subordinate allies from some of the intermediate strata must necessarily be a non-perpetuating stage and should aim at defeating feudalism and comprador bourgeoisie, and neutralising or winning over the intermediate strata. Third, the interwoven nature of democracy and socialism must be paramount

a.       The membership of the communist party should be two-tiered. The candidate membership of non-proletarian domain must necessarily be much longer than that of proletarian candidates.
b.       When a member of non-proletarian domain has demonstrated consistently the ideology and life style of the bourgeoisie or the intermediate strata, his or her membership will be reverted back to candidacy.
c.       The Party vertical organisation  must be as simple as possible. (As an example: between the Congresses, the Central Committee elected by the Congress is the supreme body. The CC elects an Executive Committee for day to day functioning of party policies and a Poliburo for day to day political guidance.)
d.       The central committee must have a majority quota for proletarian members and its membership  is restricted to only those, who have been a full member of the Party for several years, irrespective of their previous status in any organisation they might have belonged to.
e.       There will be no post for a Chairman.

Kumar Sarkar,
11th January, 2012.

No comments: