The Spanish Revolution, which spanned the years between 1935 and 1939, will remain a historic event, glorious for the heroic sacrifice of the Communists and other left-wing parties, the struggle of the International Brigade against Fascism. There is, of course, another side to it. And that is the story of some contradictions that dogged the anti-fascist movement. A story that has, for most parts, been left untold. For a more truthful and unbiased assessment of the role of the Communist International (Comintern) and the international Communist movement all available information needs to be thrown open.
The Popular Front policy, scripted by the Comintern secretary-general George Dimitrov and endorsed by Josef Stalin, was preceded by the “third period”, or the ultra-left period of the Comintern. The Popular Front thesis was in sharp contrast to the new colonial, or shall we say deionization, thesis at the Sixth Congress (1928) of the Comintern –“Revolutionary Movement in the Colonies and Semi-colonies”. Introduced by Otto Kuusinen, under Stalin’s diktat, the thesis said the colonial bourgeoisie in India had gone over to imperialism and had no progressive role left to play. This was a drift from Lenin’s Theses on the National and Colonial Questions at the Second Congress of Comintern (1920). But we need to remember that Lenin correctly insisted on the temporary alliance with sections of the national bourgeoisie in colonies, while at the same time emphasizing on the independence of the proletariat. The Popular Front (PF) policy in Spain crossed the border of this temporary alliance, when Spanish Communists under the directive of the Comintern, which had by then became an instrumentality for Soviet Foreign policy, advocated the formation of a government with a section of the bourgeoisie, and thus subordinated proletarian independence to “democracy”. Moreover, the thesis of stagiest revolution, which states that in a backward country proletarian revolution cannot succeed, played a key role here.
One of the major blunders of the Comintern in its third period was Stalin’s theorization of Social Fascism. Social Democrats in Germany and elsewhere were identified as chief enemies. Comintern-affiliates among communist parties (called ‘sections’ of Comintern) in Germany and elsewhere initially participated in programmes jointly with the Nazis. It was left to Trotsky to advocate, in contrast to the Stalin-Dimitrov line, a United Front with the Social Democratic and other left parties instead. In 1931, he gave a call for the united front of Left Parties, including the Socialists, to defeat Fascism.
The theory of Social Fascism objectively helped Hitler in crushing the Left and democratic parties in Germany. A sharp rightward turn became inevitable when the Comintern advocated total unity against Fascism, and joined hands with major imperialist countries like Great Britain and the US. The only major imperialist power on the other side was Japan which did not embark on the Fascist path .The Popular Front was, in practice, an electoral coalition of the Communist Party, not only with the Socialist formations, but also with liberal-bourgeois parties. Dimitrov laid only one condition – opposition to Hitler and Fascism – thereby made PF the broadest possible formation
The PF experience in Spain deserves an examination all its own. It consisted of the Socialist Party (PSOE), Communist Party (PCE), Esquerra Party and the Republican Union Party. Groups from the far Right formed the National Front that supported Hitler’s Germany. Apart from the Socialist and the Communist party there were other left-wing groups – namely the Anarchists and Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM). CNT, the trade union of the Anarchists, had the deepest penetration in some places, while the POUM was close to Trotsky and the Fourth International, and its leader Andre Nin was an ex- Trotskyist. These groups initially did not join the PF, as the radical mood within the Spanish Society was on an upswing, thanks to a mounting capitalist crisis and Fascist aggression, what with worker’s and peasants councils being formed in many places.
Trotsky’s United Front (UF) – rather alliance of the Left – had many takers. The objective ground for such support grew when the dominant section of the Spanish bourgeoisie went over to the Franco’s camp in 1935. The republicans constituted a very weak section of the bourgeoisie. Hence it was not simply a question of an alliance with the bourgeoisie. The point was to confine the entire struggle of the proletariat to the struggle of democracy, i.e. form a bourgeois republic. The Comintern’s position was further based on its assertion that in a less developed country such as Spain, a working class revolution was not possible. This completely ignored the Russian experience of 1917, where in spite of the dominance of feudalism in the countryside, a socialist revolution had occurred in November.
One of the key tasks assigned to the revolutionaries the world over was to save the Soviet Union. But how? On one hand, it was envisaged as a matter of simply posing the question of bourgeois democracy in a country where the possibility of revolution was ripening. On the other, the emphasis was on adequate preparation for a workers’ and peasants’ revolt that would defeat Fascism and capitalism and thus help Soviet Union? And it was precisely this difference that formed the basis of the debate between Stalin and Trotsky. Trotsky, in spite of being expelled from the Comintern in 1927, still considered himself a part of it and advised his followers to do the same, at least till 1933. After that, he came to the conclusion that the Third International had drifted away from Lenin’s thoughts. Intra-Comintern democracy was suppressed. However, Comintern archives reveal that there was resentment. (Dimitrov’s doubts about Stalin’s portrayal of Nikolai Bukharin directly hint at concoction and distortion of facts about a man whom Lenin had described as the best young Bolshevik. That suggests Dimitrov had noted his reservations against Stalin on the question of Bukharin.)
The Spanish people voted on Sunday, February 16, 1936. Out of a possible 13.5-million voters, over 9,870,000 participated in the 1936 general election. And 4,654,116 people (34.3%) voted for the Popular Front, whereas the National Front obtained only 4,503,505 (33.2%), leaving the remaining 526,615 (5.4%) of the votes for the centrist parties. The Popular Front, with 263 seats out of the 473 in the Cortes, formed the new government.
Anarchists and Poumists initially did not join the government, but rather concentrated on organizing independent worker and peasant militias. Although the Popular Front government was a Communist-Socialist alliance with weaker sections of the Spanish bourgeoisie, there was discontent inside both the Socialist and the Parties. Like almost every front, the PF too had inner contradictions. However, pressured by the Left, the PF government introduced some reforms — namely release of left-wing prisoners and limited agrarian transformation.
In September 1936, President Azaña appointed the left-wing socialist, Francisco Largo Caballero, as prime minister. Largo Caballero also took over the important role of war minister. He brought into his government two left-wing radicals, Angel Galarza (minister of the interior) and Alvarez del Vavo (minister of foreign affairs). He also included four Anarchists, Juan Garcia Oliver (justice), Juan Lopez Sanchez (commerce), Fredrica Montseny (health) and Juan Peiro (industry). That apart, two right-wing socialists, Juan Negrin (finance) and Indalecio Prieto (navy and air) were also inducted into the cabinet. Largo Caballero also gave two ministries to the Communist Party (PCE): Jesus Hernandez (education) and Vicente Uribe (agriculture).
After taking power Largo Caballero concentrated on winning the war, shelving social revolutionary imperatives. Playing to the gallery of foreign imperialist governments, he announced that his administration was “not fighting for socialism but for democracy and constitutional rule”.
And Caballero introduced changes that upset the left in Spain. This included conscription, the reintroduction of ranks and insignia into the militia, and the abolition of workers’ and soldiers’ councils. He also constituted a new police force, the National Republican Guard. He also agreed to hand over the control of the Carabineros to the finance minister.
At that time, official Communists – Stalinists — were an insignificant force compared to the Socialists. Even the POUM and the Anarchists, especially the latter, were stronger in some places than them. And that was the real reason behind their policy for not going far beyond “democracy”. Had the Comintern been alive to this task, the rank and file of the Socialists and other parties could have been encouraged to fight ahead. Anarchists fought heroically, but suffered from misconceptions about Marxism. At the decisive moment, they also joined the Popular Front. POUM, instead of appealing to the advanced workers, also joined the Popular Front. The contradiction between the rank and file, and the leaders remained alive. Moreover, as the name of Trotsky was once associated with the POUM, the Comintern and its Spanish section demanded suppression of the Trotskyites.
The Popular Front, thanks to such contradictions within, was no workers’ government as it did not go against the class interests of the bourgeoisie. It was trapped between a Fascist Franco on one hand, and the workers and peasants on the other. Hence when Franco and his right-wing party initiated a counterrevolutionary military uprising in 1936 to overthrow the moderate Popular Front government, and crush the workers and peasant’s movement that evolved out of the crisis, the government initially refused to supply arms fearing that it might lead to a workers’ revolution. But Spanish workers and peasants were advanced in their consciousness and did not keep silent. In several regions, land was collectivized, factories were occupied. A huge portion of Spain was coming under worker’s control. One of the finest examples was Barcelona, where CNT, the Anarchist union, and the POUM occupied the telephone exchange and many workplaces by putting armed workers in control. The Anarchists and the POUM fought heroically against the fascists but were slaughtered. The Comintern was unnerved by such uprisings because it was going beyond the limits of “democracy”. The government arrested numerous Anarchist activists, tortured and murdered some, and finally disarmed the workers. This gave Franco more breathing space. Incidentally, the French Popular Front Government also refused to supply arms to the anti-Fascist militants during the Spanish Civil War, obviously to keep the Comintern’s Stalinist leadership in good humour.
As the civil war was in progress, the Comintern under Stalin realized it was not possible to stop the Fascists simply through an electoral “Popular Front”. The realization came too late. It is only then Stalin began supplying arms to the Spanish republican government, whereas the right-wing under Franco had been receiving arms from Italy and Germany for long. The Spanish Communists, who were still not a very significant force, began to wield increasing influence due to the Soviet arms supply.
In 1937 an incident similar to the one in Barcelona took place in Catalonia. Like Madrid, Catalonia workers and peasants rose in revolt and set up armed militias under the leadership of the Anarchists and the POUM. They fought bravely against the Fascists. Thus, side by side with the official governments of Madrid and Catalonia there had arisen organs predominantly worker-controlled, through which the masses organized the struggle against Fascism. In the main, the military, economic and political struggle was proceeding independently of the government and, indeed, in spite of it. It was a classic example of dual power, similar to what had been seen in Russia after February, 1917.
The pro-Stalin Spanish Communists spread all sorts of provocative rumors about the POUM organizing an insurrection under Trotsky’s influence to essentially help Fascism. Throughout the world, Trotsky and the POUM were pictured as Fascist agents. The truth, however, was that the POUM had already joined the Popular Front government by rejecting Trotsky’s ideas. But that had clearly not prevented the outfit from organizing militias to fight Fascism. However, finally the Popular Front government, where Spanish Communists were now playing a major role, crushed the Catalonia workers and peasants, and arrested and murdered lots of Anarchists and POUM activists. POUM leader Andre Nin was captured, tortured and later murdered by GPU — Stalin’s secret police. This was consistent with the pattern that had earlier been discerned in China, where in 1927 thousands of Communists were massacred as a result of Comintern’s policy at the hands of Kuomintang, or in Germany where Fascists came to power because of the Comintern’s blunder. If those had been devastating mistakes in the Comintern policy, in Spain it was an act of counterrevolution. Of course, Spanish Communists and Republicans later fought along with the International Brigade against Fascism and lots of Communists were murdered. But that cannot erase the fact that it was because of the Comintern’s misplaced policy that Franco eluded defeat. In 1939, Franco overthrew the PF government and grabbed power.
There are, clearly, many lessons to be learnt from Spain. While Spanish Communists, along with the Anarchists and the POUM, fought a dogged battle against Fascists in the later stages, the treacherous policy of subordinating working class revolution to republican democracy hampered the anti-fascist movement a lot. The victory of revolution in Spain could have ushered a sea change in whole of Europe and could have helped in creating an international socialist confederation. But the Comintern, which already became a tool in the hands of the Soviet official bureaucracy, which was armed with the theory of “Socialism in one country”, was only interested in keeping its own regime stable by indulging in all sorts of maneuvers. Ultimately, the Red brigade of Soviet Russia did succeed in defeating Fascism. But it was at a terrible cost.
While pointing out important contributions of Trotsky and the Trotskyists in the context of World War II and Fascism, we need to point out their mistakes too. Trotsky, although he maintained that the Stalinist parties would under pressure from the masses go further than they wanted, outlined two sorts of possibilities. Either a political revolution in Soviet Russia would be victorious or a Fascist reaction would triumph. Ultimately, neither of the two happened. Soviet Russia became victorious militarily, although at terrible cost, thus further strengthening the Soviet bureaucracy.
The Spanish experience receives less attention among official Communists for whom Trotsky is an anathema. That is unpardonable.
What is the significance of the Spanish experience today? It is the task of the Marxists to draw lessons from the past and apply those in the concrete objectives conditions today. In this context, let’s take the example of India — the biggest country in south and south-east Asia – and Nepal, probably the smallest, but where a powerful revolutionary movement has overthrown the monarchy, but where revolution is not complete and there is a probability that it will be lost.
The Left movement in India
It will not be wise to compare the Indian situation with the one in Spain. In Spain 1936-1939, a revolutionary mood prevailed among the workers and peasants. Workers’ and peasants’ councils were formed in several places such as Madrid, Catalonia and Barcelona. At issue there was the subjective factor — a powerful revolutionary party armed with revolutionary theory. The Anarchists and the POUM cadre, although they did fight heroically, unfortunately fell for the idea of Popular Front and yet could not escape its cynical repression. Such militant mood is evidently absent in India, where the Congress, the key party of the big bourgeoisie, has been returned to lead the central government in the recent parliamentary elections. The debacle of the so-called Left in the parliamentary arena, what with its seats in the Lok Sabha dropping from 61 to 24, is a much discussed topic. These parties, although Marxist in name, symbolize right-wing Social Democracy. The reason for the debacle must be attributed to their reformist-cum-reactionary politics. In states such as West Bengal, where they are in power, they have clearly sought to implement the neo-liberal policy to grab the fertile land of peasants and give it to industrialists like Tata, Salem and so on. That has stoked the embers of a dormant militant heritage in the state, leading to the emergence of a powerful mass movement in places such as Nandigram, Singur and elsewhere. The effect of the people’s anger was felt in the ballot box, where the ‘Left’ lost most of its seats. As for the states where they are not in power, the ‘Left’ parties such as the CPI and the CPI (M) are sometimes involved in local struggles but they essentially limit themselves to the parliamentary arena by collaborating with different wings of the bourgeoisie. After the last Lok Sabha elections they went with the Congress, while this time around they fought the polls in tandem with parties such as the TDP, AIADMK, Janata Dal (Secular) and the BSP, which have been driving the implementation of neo-liberal policies in their respective states. The CPI (M) has been theorizing that the present stage is the stage of capitalist development, where multinationals and corporate bodies need to be invited to increase productivity. This stage, according to the largest Indian Communist party, will be followed by the stage of struggle for socialism. It has, therefore, formulated its own new theory of two stages, which is just a pretext for covering up for its bankrupt politics. Leaders of CPI and CPI (M) have clearly become direct agents of capitalism.
Some would want to ascribe the bankruptcy of such parties and their current electoral debacle to their Stalinist origin. But this simple and direct correlation is unscientific. The Spanish Communist Party, under instructions from Moscow, had committed heinous crimes by murdering the activists of POUM and the Anarchists, thus weakening the anti-Fascist movement. Yet, at a later stage it carried out an armed struggle against the Fascists. At least, during the period the Spanish Civil War, the Communist parties, even when they were taking directives from Moscow, sincerely believed in revolution. It was their erroneous belief in the theory of two-stage revolution that put them on the side of counterrevolution at the decisive moment. Today, the leaders as well as the rank and file of the CPI and CPI (M) have become so paralyzed, thanks to their practice of the policy of direct collaboration with the bourgeoisie, that they have no power left in them to as much as think about revolution.
Along with the political degeneration, personal degeneration and corruption prevailed at every layer of the party hierarchy: from top to bottom.
But still the theory of Popular Front and Spanish experience has its significance in the theoretical discourse of the Left. The undivided Communist Party of India, following the Comintern line, opposed the Quit India movement in 1942.
The Spanish situation repeated itself in India in the sense that some CPI members even handed over the freedom fighters by terming them as Fascist agents, to the British colonial administration. The CPI, albeit it corrected this mistake of its later, never really engaged in a thorough-going criticism of its stand. Throughout their history, both the CPI and the CPI (M) maintained that revolution in India will be a democratic revolution, where a section of the national bourgeoisie will play a progressive role. Their alliance with the bourgeoisie, their claim that the fall of Soviet Union was the collapse of a model ‘Socialist’ state and things like that ought to be attributed to the degeneration of these parties. The major responsibility for all that must, however, be placed on their leadership, which consciously abandoned its organically acquired role of leading the toiling masses of the country, and succumbed to the temptations of Parliamentary politics. Instead of tactically envisaging Parliament as a site for raising questions that would articulate a critique of the system and thus, in turn, sharpen class consciousness of the people, they have shamelessly involved themselves in hobnobbing with other bourgeoisie parties for some space in the bourgeois power structure. The Popular Front policy has, in such circumstances, come to be no more than a justification for such leaders.
That, however, has done little by way of disabusing other non-CPI, non-CPI (M) radical communist and left parties in India – which are clearly not tainted by parliamentarism and which are into organizing workers, agricultural laborers and peasants against the barbaric onslaughts of the New Economic Policy – of the utterly mistaken idea of a two-stage revolution as also the belief that a proletarian revolution could not succeed in a backward country. Most of those parties originated from the Naxalbari peasant uprising and derive their ideological sustenance and vision from what is called the Mao Tse Tung thought. Inspired by Mao’s thesis of New Democracy, they believe the Indian revolution will be new democratic in nature, whereby a section of the national bourgeoisie will be their ally. This erroneous idea has sometimes forced these otherwise honest revolutionaries to strike alliances with one or the other section of the kulaks or rich peasantry. Needless to say that such an erroneous programmatic line, notwithstanding their consistent opposition to the CPI and CPI (M) and the doggedness of their struggles, runs the risk of derailing the revolution at its decisive moment.
It may well happen that just like in China the revolution here might, under decisive pressure from the proletariat and the peasantry, succeed. But that is highly improbable because during the Chinese revolution the Soviet Union was a model for honest revolutionaries, something that is lacking in today’s world. We will look at the Chinese case in detail when we analyze the revolutionary process in Nepal later. For now it will suffice to point out a key difference between the Spanish and the Chinese examples. In Spain, the Popular Front, of which the Spanish Communist Party was an important constituent, directly crushed the uprisings of the workers and peasants, and tortured and murdered Anarchist and POUM activists and leaders under the instruction of the GPU, thereby weakening the anti-Fascist movement and derailing the revolutionary process. In China, no such incident occurred. The Comintern, on the pretext of containing Fascist aggression, was able to directly control and manipulate the politics of the Spanish Communist Party. In China, the Comintern tried to establish its control and force its line on the CPC but that did not eventually happen. Even after the anti-Japan national liberation movement was victorious, thanks to the sacrifice of communist leaders and activists and the tactical alliance the CCP had struck with the Kuomintang (KMT), the Comintern advised the CPC to start a dialogue with the KMT for building a democratic republic. CPC did initially accept that line and started the dialogue, which broke down later when Chiang Kai Shek refused to engage. Thanks to the powerful peasant army, the CPC was able to defeat Chiang Kai Shek and capture power.
But if we peruse the writings on New Democracy by Mao Tse Tung, we will realize that even his conception of New Democracy could not rid itself of the stagiest theory of revolution, wherein democratic revolution has to triumph first before a successful socialist revolution can follow. Although in China, under peculiar objective conditions the revolution marched forward, the theory of this stagiest revolution played a detrimental role in the revolutionary movements of several countries, the most notable of which is Indonesia. Although today’s objective conditions in India differ both from China’s and Spain’s, the idea of stagiest revolution prevails in the theoretical discourse of the radical Left in India. This is related to the characterization of the Indian state as semi-colonial, which has consequently led to attempts at artificially relating the Indian situation to that of China in 1949.
Considering that significant sections of Indian capitalists such as the Tatas, Ambanis and so on have become founts of monopoly capitalism and given that India has consistently struck aggressively imperialistic stances vis-à-vis neighboring countries such as Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan, is it not time to wonder whether India is actually semi-imperialist, instead of the traditional characterization of it being semi-colonial? Is this not the time to go back and study the Russian experience to take guidelines from Lenin’s The April Theses?
The Revolutionary Process in Nepal
Nepal is a classic example of a semi-colonial, or even colonial, country and is, indeed, the poorest country in south Asia. The monarchy ruled the country in direct collaboration with imperialism before it was overthrown by the powerful revolutionary movement. Nepal has been a stronghold of Maoist movement for a long time. The turning point came in 1996 – after the CPN (UML) had betrayed the working people’s cause to merely become a constitutionalist party – when an insurrection was launched by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). (It has recently renamed itself as the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)). Starting off small, the Maoist movement was able to strengthen and grow by relying on and leading the mostly poor Nepali peasants to fight and overthrow the forces of government, then represented by an absolute monarchy, in the countryside. Heavy clashes between the Nepali Maoists and an army loyal to the monarchist government resulted in more than 10,000 casualties. The former call this a “Peoples War” – a revolutionary war of the people that seeks to overthrow the old system. It would, at this juncture, be useless to raise questions about the heavy bloodshed that this war entailed, and whether or not that could have been avoided. But what is clear is that the heroic armed struggle of the Maoists against the feudal and imperialist oppression earned them the branding “terrorist” from US imperialism and its strategic partner, the expansionist Indian ruling class. As opposed to the CPN (UML), which like the CPI (M) drowned itself in parliamentary politics by collaborating with the Nepali Congress, a representative of the weak Nepali bourgeoisie and a collaborator with the monarchy, the Nepali Maoists concentrated their political-organizational work in the rural areas, rapidly expanding their base. On the verge of the anti-monarchy uprising in 2006, they controlled approximately 75-80% of the country. Their power centre was in villages such as Rolpha and Rukum, and the movement spread from there. But the Maoists’ aim, from the very beginning, has been the establishment of a new democratic state as opposed to a socialist one. In 1996 itself, the CPN (M) declared:
“We are fully conscious that this war to break the shackles of thousands of years of slavery and to establish a New Democratic state will be an uphill battle, full of twists and turns and of a protracted nature.”
Now what is New Democracy? In his 1940 article, ‘New Democratic Constitutional Government’, Mao writes: “What is constitutional government? It is democratic government. I agree with what our old Comrade Wu has just said. What kind of democratic government do we need today? New-democratic government, the constitutional government of New Democracy. Not the old outmoded, European-American type of so-called democracy which is bourgeois dictatorship, nor as yet the Soviet type of democracy which is the dictatorship of the proletariat.”
He again writes:
“What is new-democratic constitutional government? It is the joint dictatorship of several revolutionary classes over the traitors and reactionaries. Someone once said, “If there is food, let everyone share it.” I think this can serve to illustrate New Democracy. Just as everyone should share what food there is, so there should be no monopoly of power by a single party, group or class. This idea was well expressed by Dr Sun Yat-sen in the Manifesto of the First National Congress of the Kuomintang: ‘The so-called democratic system in modern states is usually monopolized by the bourgeoisie and has become simply an instrument for oppressing the common people. On the other hand, the Kuomintang’s Principle of Democracy means a democratic system shared by all the common people and not privately owned by the few.’.”
So that is the theoretical foundation of a New Democratic government. Although in practice CPC disobeyed the imposing guidelines of Stalin and the Comintern, in essence Mao’s line was not fundamentally different from that of Stalin’s. He raised the idea of joint dictatorship of a bloc of four classes to establish a New Democratic government.
It is true that unlike Russia, China was a colony or semi-colony where the national liberation movement played a great role in jump-starting the revolutionary process. In the ‘Draft Thesis on Colonial Question’, Lenin insisted on a temporary alliance with the bourgeoisie in the course of struggle. In the struggle against Japanese Imperialism, the CPC correctly forged a united front even with the reactionary Kuomintang. But none of that was a joint dictatorship of several “revolutionary classes or the block of four classes”? What does it mean? What program can a New Democratic government deliver if the proletariat and sections of the National bourgeoisie are in the same government? The relevance of this question needs to be understood on the ground of backwardness, not on the ground of colonialism or semi-colonialism. The question of colonialism leads to a revolutionary movement for national Independence, but the question of socialist government or New Democratic government needs to be understood in the context of a society’s backwardness, where the usefulness of the concept of dictatorship of the proletariat or early Soviet-type democracy needs to be understood.
If we take the example of Russia, we can see Lenin opposed such an alliance or entering into a provisional government with the bourgeoisie, not simply in February 1917, when Russia was on the verge of a civil war, but as early as in 1906 too. Though Lenin characterized Russia as an imperialist state, Russia was strongly under the control of feudalism and hence a backward state. China, which was clearly a more backward state than Russia, had a fairly evolved working class in cities such as Shanghai and Canton. In the initial stages up to 1927, the CPC organized a large section of the urban proletariat to fight against imperialist oppression. In 1927, thanks to the policy of working inside Chiang Kai Shek’s KMT, thousands of workers and Communists were massacred in the city of Shanghai. Subsequent adventurist uprisings cost more lives, and as a result the urban population became passive. This objective condition forced the CPC to turn to the villages to implement the policy of agrarian revolution and there was no alternative to that then. But later, the CPC never considered the significance of independent assertion of the proletariat and virtually considered them as a supportive population of the rural guerilla warfare policy. But as discussed earlier, this conception of a bloc of four classes, or the illusion of a democratic government which is essentially a distortion of even Lenin’s theorization of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry prior to April 1917, worked as a detrimental counterrevolutionary theory in the revolutionary process of several countries such as Indonesia.
In China, in spite of this theory, the revolution transcended the limits of New Democracy, i.e. the bloc of four classes, because of the pressure of the masses, the presence of a powerful peasant army and the existence of Soviet Russia as a model ‘Socialist’ state. The victorious Chinese revolution of 1949 was a somewhat distorted playing out of Trotsky’s idea of permanent revolution. For, even though the working class did not consciously start the uprising, the powerful peasant army captured the cities with the help of the urban populace and drove away Chiang Kai Shek, and the bourgeoisie and feudal landlords. A remnant of the bourgeoisie was, however, still there. But that was not of much significance. The nature of the revolution is determined by how the class configuration of power changes. In that context, the socialist revolution can be said to have triumphed in Russia in November 1917 as political power passed to the proletariat and its ally, the poor peasantry, from the weak bourgeoisie. In 1949 China similar thing happened, but in a different manner. That difference hinged on the conscious intervention, or not, of the working class. Several people confuse the nature of socialist or permanent revolution with the immediate implantation of socialism. This is not quite a correct way of envisaging a working-class revolution. Even in the advanced capitalist countries, where probably there is no debate regarding the characteristic of the revolution, there will be a period of transition to socialism. But this period will be much shorter than in the backward countries. Moreover, the questions of international revolution and international socialism need to be discussed. Like China, in Russia too, the Bolshevik Party did not nationalize all the industries for the first one year because of objective difficulties. That did not alter the nature of the revolution. The classical concept of Marx’s two-stage revolution, which Marx himself questioned in his later phase, was entirely rejected by Lenin who broke with it in The April Theses, albeit on the pretext of an imperialist war. Trotsky, however, predicted in his Results and Prospects in 1905 that the Russian Revolution will not be contained within the democratic boundary, it will end in a socialist revolution.
But Trotsky’s position was derived chiefly from his Petrograd experience, where he had correctly assessed that it was not possible for the weak bourgeoisie to carry out a democratic revolution even as an ally of the working class and the peasantry can have a revolutionary role only when it is in alliance with the proletariat, and not by itself independently. Lenin in 1906 had, however, insisted on the assertion of the working class in the revolution and believed that the peasantry could have independent revolutionary role. Hence he insisted on the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. In 1917 April, during the ongoing imperialist war, he wrote the famous The April Theses, which outlined the need to raise the banner of socialist revolution even in a backward country. This shows how, in spite of the differences in opinion, the earlier two positions merged together at the decisive moment. It is true that Lenin did not generalize this idea in the case of other backward countries, namely colonial and semi-colonial countries. But then even Trotsky did not generalize his idea of the permanent revolution at that time. In fact, he favored, up to 1927, a democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry in China. It was only after 1927 that he began applying the concept of permanent revolution to China. The Comintern, under Stalin’s leadership, followed a zigzag path. In the ultra-left period they favored an adventurism uprising in China and elsewhere, which finished off all revolutionary possibilities. Later, in the context of Fascism, they fall prey to the theory of Popular Front. Considering the devastating situation in the 1930s, a diplomatic tie-up was probably needed with Britain and the US, but the Popular Front policy was something more than that. It brought the international revolution to a grinding halt.
Let us now come back to the situation in Nepal. The CPN (M), although it controlled large swathes of rural territory to become a significant force in the politics of Nepal, did not concentrate on the urban population, which constitutes a small, though important, 12% of the Nepalese population. Here we need to look at the pattern of industrial growth and development of the urban proletariat in Nepal, which despite its weakness can still be compared with that of Soviet Russia in 1917 and that of China in 1949. It is discussed earlier that Nepal is a classic example of semi-colony, or colony, of India and the US.
Until the 1980s, modern industry was almost non-existent; only 0.66% of Nepal’s GDP was derived from industry in 1964-65. Since then, industrial development has been given emphasis in economic planning. Manufacturing as a percentage of total GDP at current factor cost rose from 4.2% in 1980 to 6.1% in 1990 to 9.2% in 1995 to an estimated 22% in 2000. However, manufacturing is a sector that has been hit particularly hard by the Maoist insurgency and the intensification of violence since 2001. The CIA estimates that the industrial production growth rate for 1999-2000 was 8.7%. However, this had dropped to less than 1% for 2001-02 according to IMF estimates. Major industries in Nepal include tourism, carpets, textiles, small rice jute, sugar, and oilseed mills; cigarettes, cement and brick factories. Aside from small-scale food processing (rice, wheat and oil mills), light industry, largely concentrated in south-eastern Nepal, includes the production of jute goods, refined sugar, cigarettes, matches, spun cotton and synthetic fabrics, wool, footwear, tanned leather, and tea. The carpet, garment and spinning industries are the three largest industrial employers, followed by structural clay products, sugar and jute processing. Sugar production was 49,227 tons in 1995, jute goods, 20, 1870 tons; and soap, 23,477 tons. That year, 14.7 million meters of synthetic textiles and 5.06 million meters of cotton textiles were produced. Industrial production from agricultural inputs included 20,800 tons of vegetable ghee, 16.76 million liters of beer and liquor, 9 billion cigarettes, and 2,351 tons of tea.
Heavy industry includes a steel-rolling mill, established in 1965, which uses imported materials to produce stainless steel. During the 1980s, the government gave priority to industries such as lumber, plywood, paper, cement, and bricks and tiles, which make use of domestic raw materials and reduce the need for imports. Production by heavy industries in 1995 included 326,839 tons of cement and 95,118 tons of steel rods.
That is a snapshot of the Nepalese economy. It is even much more backward than India, where development of capitalism has reached the monopoly stage despite its comparative backwardness vi-s-a-vis other developed capitalist economies. Nevertheless, Nepal has a developed section of urban population and proletariat, which has gone on strikes many times and has revolted against the oppression of imperialism and the national bourgeoisie.
However, in April 2006 the stage was set in Nepal for a revolution that could have not only done away with the centuries-old monarchy, but also swept capitalism aside, laying the foundations of a socialist society.
In April 2006, contrary to the perspectives of Prachanda, the revolutionary movement –the Loktantra Andolan concentrated in Kathmandu, the largest city of Nepal. The students and workers of Kathmandu came out on the streets demanding an end to the oppression and tyranny of the ruling class. Due to its traditional organisational weakness CPN (M) was not able to dominate the movement at this time.
The CPN-UML called for a strike, and the movement grew well beyond the expectations of the leadership of the party. The movement began by making the most basic of demands. They quickly began to challenge the system and rallied in front of the royal palace determined to overthrow the monarchy.
Just before the demonstration reached the palace, the leadership of the CPN (UML) intervened and called the strike off, because the King had agreed to call a new parliament. Once again the movement was derailed. The opportunity of overthrowing the monarchy and capitalism was lost due to the lack of a revolutionary leadership.
After many incidents, the peace process got started between the Maoists and the Seven Party alliance (SPA), including UML and Nepali Congress. What was the role of the Maoists in this transition? Apart from their organisational weakness in the cities, they have not given a call to overthrow the monarchy by popular uprising. This call could have dissociated the rank and file of UML from their treacherous leadership. What was the reason for this position, which was essentially a retreat from their early demand for the establishment of Peoples Republic of Nepal? This was because the Prachanda Path is no different from Mao’s conception of New Democracy, which has earlier been discussed. There are, however, some characteristics that distinguish, at least at a normative level, the CPN (M) from other Maoist parties such as the Communist Party of India (Maoist) or the Shining Path of Peru. The CPN (M) has, for instance, talked about uprising in rural areas as well as insurrection in cities. The party, especially Baburam Bhattarai has criticised Stalin for his propensity to impose diktats and has declared: “Our system will not be a Stalinist monolithic system”. It needs to be, however, mentioned that Bhattarai is critical of Trotsky’s “intellectual self indulgence” too. The CPN (M)’s perspective of multi-party democracy is, therefore, clearly not akin to socialist democracy with multiple left parties, as was the case in Soviet Russia during 1917 to 1921. Rather, it is a form of new democracy, which envisages an alliance with a section of the national bourgeoisie.
Maos’ peasant army, thanks to the peculiar constellation of objective and subjective conditions, marched into cities and drove the capitalists and the landlords away to capture power. Similarly, it would have been easier for the CPN (M) to overthrow the monarchy with minimal bloodshed, while breaking away a section of the army to its side, if it had considerable influence in the cities of Nepal. Even now, when it continues to suffer from the lack of such influence in urban areas, the CPN (M)’s peasant army can victoriously enter Nepali cities if the party manages to break a section of the UML rank and file by issuing an appeal for mass insurrection to the urban population of Nepal, particularly its working class.
The chances that this could result in unprecedented bloodshed, sparking armed external interventions by India, China and the US – countries which seek to control Nepalese affairs to conserve and perpetuate their respective vested interests in the country – are great. All that, coupled with the absence of the example of a model ‘socialist’ state – much like what Soviet Union was for China during its period of revolutionary upheaval – and the complex and complicated question of building socialism in a highly backward society such as Nepal, are considered pertinent reasons by many (including some among the committed Indian revolutionaries too) for not advocating capture of power by revolutionary class forces in that country. Hence each of these reasons must be examined carefully and systematically before arriving at any definitive conclusion, one way or the other.
The question of external intervention is a very legitimate question. But it would be hard to predict exactly how much bloodshed there would be for the revolution to succeed. And that is mostly on account of the fact that as inter-imperialist contradiction has acquired a new dimension now than in 1917. But if we were to see in this threat of external intervention a reason for not envisaging capture of power by working-class forces in Nepal, it would be a fait accompli for no revolution anywhere.
The absence of an example of a model ‘socialist’ state is also a legitimate question, but what happened in case of Russia in 1917? Nobody was there to help her and 10 different imperialist countries had surrounded it to choke off the revolution. The difference between Russia and Nepal is one of size. But that cannot be an argument because by that logic there cannot be any revolution in small countries in today’s world. The next, and the most important, question is the building of socialism in Nepal. As we have earlier discussed, this can certainly not be accomplished by immediately implanting socialism in the soil of Nepal. Rather, the key, determining question in that context is one of completing the revolution to abolish the monarchy and capitalism, too. This line has never figured in the CPN (M) agenda. And now the party has even retreated from its original position. It is, of course, true that the revolution, even if the Nepali Maoists were to complete it, would not survive if that revolution does not spread to India and elsewhere. That said, a successful revolution in Nepal could give tremendous impetus to forces of revolution in other neighbouring countries.
All the objections stated above against advocating a complete seizure of power by Maoists in Nepal are, willy-nilly, rooted in the concept of revolution by stages. And this theory will continue to keep even the honest revolutionaries in this part of the world in its thrall unless and until the Nepalese revolution succeeds.
There is no doubt that this entire process has provoked lots of debate in the rank and leadership of the CPN (M). But finally, thanks to the peace process and the consequent Constituent Assembly elections, the Maoists have emerged as the single-largest party in the country’s parliamentary polity. Their long-standing struggle against the monarchy, clearly, delivered an overwhelming majority to them in the Constituent Assembly polls, and yet that was not enough for them to gain an absolute majority, necessary to form a government on their own. They were compelled to appeal to the UML to form an alliance government. The latter, as is its wont, insisted on taking the Nepali Congress too on board. Ultimately, a coalition government was formed and Prachanda became the prime Minister. It is basically due to the pressure of the Maoists the monarchy has been removed from the palace. But that amounts to no more than a formal abolition of the monarchy. The ongoing peace process also meant the Maoists gave up arms.
But none of that could ensure the Maoist-led government would not be short-lived. In a dispute with the army chief regarding the question of integration of the CPN (M)’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) with the Royal army, Prachanda had to resign as President Ram Baron Yadav of Nepali Congress overruled his decision. The UML, meanwhile, once again showed its true counter-revolutionary colours by withdrawing support from the government at such a decisive moment. The army chief, whose removal had been sought by Prachanda, continues in his position clearly due to the support given by the Indian ruling class, which is part of an unholy nexus comprising the Nepalese bourgeoisie, its representative party, the Nepali Congress, and their close collaborator, the CPN (UML). Maoists now sit in the Opposition. This situation is merely a repetition of Nepal’s recent history.
The Jana Andolan of the 1990s in Nepal forced the King to move from an absolute monarchy to a parliamentary monarchy and a multi-party system. It was in this system of parliamentary monarchy, which was an outcome of a popular mass movement that the CPN (UML) leadership settled for a role and a share in the power and exploits of the government. After the collapse of the Congress government, the CPN (UML) formed a minority government. CPN (UML)’s Manmohan Adhikari became the prime minister while the King remained in command as the highest authority of the state. The government lasted for all of nine months.
The parliamentary system with the King at its head could not solve a single problem of the masses, who continued to suffer. It was at that point that the CPN(M) started its people’s war, which has culminated in the official abolition of monarchy in Nepal. But, unfortunately, the country once again has a government formed by parties that are collaborating with the political structure of monarchy that is still extant in the country. The condition of the masses is all set to worsen even further. In the past five years, textile industries have shut down. That has, in turn, affected the hospitality industry. The problems of agriculture, too, remain unresolved. Nepalese women are the most oppressed and many of them are sold to India as the prostitutes.
So which way will Nepal go now? We need to wait and observe the process, while at the same time should come out with a clear-cut class agenda. A large section of the Nepalese masses have rallied under the flag of the CPN (M), which they see as the only revolutionary party. Masses continue to clamour for change even now. But it will not be wise at this moment to once again take up arms and re-start the armed struggle as the masses will probably be tired and upset after so many zigzags and upsets. The CPN (M) needs to mobilise the masses by sitting in Opposition and by organising strikes and other forms of mass movement against any sort of oppression in both urban and rural areas. But before that they need to have a clear-cut perspective. For, any attempt to put in place a short-term perspective that is oriented towards acquiring a majority in Parliament would, in the absence of a clear-cut socialist perspective will be self-defeating. As the conflict with the Nepali ruling elite and Indian expansionism grows, the CPN (M)’s influence is likely to increase and country may once again head towards a civil war. That also needs to be taken into consideration.
There is a popular speech by a CPN (M) leader in which he says: “The revolution cannot be replicated, it needs to be developed”. This is absolutely indisputable. But then a revolution cannot be developed in an ad hoc manner. It must proceed by learning from past experiences in both the national and the international arenas. Both the Spanish and Nepalese revolutionary processes indicate that revolutionary moments do not appear again and again. Once the opportunity is lost, it may take long time for a similar moment to reappear. In the case of Spain, the presence of a so-called Socialist state adversely affected the process of Spanish revolution, whereas at the same time its existence acted as an inspiration for Chinese, Cuban and Vietnamese revolutions. The role of the CPSU in China, Cuba and Yugoslavia was doubtless detrimental. But at least its presence inspired millions of people throughout the world. Today, there is no such model and moreover the revolutionary opportunity in April, 2006 was lost. That has certainly been a severe setback for the revolutionary process behind. But there is hope. In Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin America, masses are on the move. In Greece, France and in some other places in Europe, the students and the working class have once again begun flexing their revolutionary muscles against the powerful capitalist class. Clearly, all is not over. What is needed is a power revolutionary party armed with a rigorous revolutionary theory.
Some of the best revolutionary elements can, in Nepal, be found among the rank and file, and sometimes even in the top ranks of the CPN (M) leadership. A major chunk of the UML ranks must also be won over. But what is more important is to have a clear-cut perspective. A lot depends on the objective conditions, particularly on how the international revolution spreads in the subcontinent. But without a clear theoretical perspective nothing is achievable. There is a need to question the rigid framework of the theory of two-stage revolution. In the arena of practice, international solidarity and consolidation needs to be forged to muster support for the Nepalese revolution and against the interventionist nature of the US, India and China. Last but not least, pressure must be mounted on the CPN (M) leadership to advance the revolution in Nepal.
Homage to Catalonia – George Orwell
The Lessons of Spain – Leon Trotsky
New Democratic Constitutional Government – Mao Tse Tung