Ben Peterson is a young Australian socialist who spent four and half months in Nepal last year. Ben is crossing the Tasman for a speaking tour of New Zealand from 21–26 March. Ben was kind enough to answer some questions for UNITYblog about his experiences in Nepal.
When did you go to Nepal? How long were you there for?
I was in Nepal last year from the beginning of March to July, about four and half months in total.
Why did you go to Nepal?
I went to Nepal specifically to see the social and political transformations taking place there. I’d first come into contact with the revolutionary process there in 2006, but didn’t really start to study what was happening there until 2008 when the Maoists won the Constituent Assembly elections. The more I read into what was happening there the more excited I was. But all the time it was really hard to find good and reliable sources of information, particularly from a progressive point of view. So I decided that to really get a handle of what’s happening there, I should go and see it for myself.
Where you surprised by what you experienced there?
Well, yes I was. Its one thing to read about mass struggles going on, or about a peoples’ army, basically about a revolution, but its totally another to go and actually see it, to meet the people involved and to see this sort of process playing out in front of you. The level of popular engagement with politics, and how widespread the process was, was mind-blowing. Every little village had a union office, or a party organisation or something. It was amazing to see real revolutionary changes happening before my eyes, I couldn’t really be prepared for that, no amount of books can make you *really* understand these sort of processes until you see them.
The UCPN(M) won the elections a few years ago, but then resigned from government. Why did they do that?
They didn’t so much leave as were forced to. It is very important to recognise the Maoists leaving government as a coup. When the Maoists took government, they embarked on a very ambitious program, a revolutionary one. They started to try to provide employment opportunities and relief to the poor, but as revolutionaries and inline with the “New Nepal” process they started to build up new state structures and to attack the old. This naturally brought fierce resistance from the established elite, who are ingrained into the state as it stands. Particularly this came to a head with the continuation of the peace process and the Maoists legitimate attempts to dismantle the royalist military and create a new national army out of it and their People’s Liberation Army.
The military chief was repeatedly insubordinate, made public political pronouncements and protests, and questioned the very right of the government to have control of the military. In the name of civilian supremacy and democracy, the Maoist government naturally sacked the head of the military, which they had every right to do.
At this point however the President (from the conservative Nepali Congress Party) went outside of his constitutional powers and reinstated the Army Chief of Staff.
The Maoists resigned in the name of democracy and civilian supremacy. They left because the key institutions of the state proved not to be democratic, and didn’t answer to the people of Nepal, but to a tiny elite in Kathmandu, and the ambassadors of foreign countries.
Who is in government now?
The current illegitimate government is now an unprincipled alliance of supposed “communists”, nationalists, royalists, ethnic chauvinists and bureaucrats. The only commonality between them is that they are NOT revolutionaries, and they are against any real changes, particularly to the state, and specifically the military.
The current Prime Minister is Madhav Kumar Nepal. He was defeated not once but *twice* in the elections (he ran separately in two constituencies) and only got into parliament through an after-election nomination. The entire government is a farce. It’s unelected, unwanted, has no common program or aims, except to try and stop the revolution.
What does Maoism mean to the Nepalese communists?
It’s important to view the Nepalese Maoists as revolutionaries in their own right. You achieve nothing by putting a historic analysis of the Chinese communists on a situation in a radically different time, place and party.
Maoism in Nepal is pro-people and very conscious of developing a fighting base. It is open, democratic and has a strong criticism of bureaucracy. It champions the rights of women, oppressed nationalities and castes.
It’s a revolutionary movement challenging the state and trying to build one that is qualitatively different. In a word, it means revolution.
What does communism mean to them?
Well, the same thing as revolutionaries everywhere, the liberation of human society, ultimately a classless and stateless society.
What is important is what they think about how to get there. They know that the masses of people in Nepal must be mobilised. They actively involve and organise the masses of Nepali society into trade unions, student unions, peasants unions, women’s associations and youth associations etc. They are taking up peoples’ day to day struggles, distributing land to the landless etc.
Also, they are conscious that they need to develop a new and fundamentally democratic state to protect the rights of people in the transition, and they importantly recognise some of the mistakes of the USSR and China in doing so. They are aware that it is important for a new state to be developed, not just for their party to take power, and they are very conscious of the need to find ways and avenues to increase popular participation in society, especially in any new revolutionary state.
Do they see the goal of the revolution as “socialist” or “communist” or are they following some sort of “stages theory” where capitalism and democracy is established first?
This is a broad mass party, so there are differences of opinion about what the revolution can achieve at the present time. The economic and political reality of Nepal places very real limitations as to the pace that can move towards “socialism”, at least until there is real changes in India, or they were able to link up with broader successful revolutionary movements internationally.
Most importantly there is universal agreement within the UCPN(M) that a new pro-people state must be created in Nepal, and that the class nature of this state must be based on the proletariat and the peasantry. That’s the most important thing and there is no question around that. There are differences of opinion however amongst revolutionaries as to what the tasks of this state will be and how it will have to operate while internationally imperialism is still a reality.
MEETING TIMES & VENUES
• Sunday 21 March - Auckland
2pm @ Auckland Trades Hall, 147 Great North Road, Grey Lynn.
• Monday 22 March - Auckland
1pm @ Function Room (over Quad café), Auckland University.
• Tuesday 23 March – Hamilton & Rotorua
1-2pm (followed by discussion) @ SUB G.20 (Guru Phabians room), Student Union Building, Waikato University.
7.30pm @ Ghandi Hall, 16 Gibson Street, (opp ten-pin bowling alley), Rotorua.
• Wednesday 24 March - Wellington
6pm @ Newtown Community Centre, 1 Columbo Street, Wellington.
• Thursday 25 March - Dunedin
1pm @ University Union Main Common Room, Dunedin University.
7pm @ Knox Church Hall, George Street, Dunedin.
• Friday 26 March - Christchurch
1pm @ Steed Meeting Room (next to the International Room), UCSA building, Canterbury University
• Saturday 27 March – Christchurch
7:30pm @ WEA, 59 Gloucester Street, Christchurch.
To help support and promote Ben’s tour contact these people:
Auckland - Daphna Whitmore, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hamilton - Jared Philips, email@example.com, 029-4949 863.
Rotorua - Bernie Hornfeck, firstname.lastname@example.org, (07)345 9853.
Wellington - Alastair Reith, email@example.com, (04)384 1917.
Christchurch - Phil Ferguson, firstname.lastname@example.org, 021-443 948.
Dunedin - Andrew Tait, email@example.com, 027-606 9549.
National co-ordination/publicity - Vaughan Gunson, firstname.lastname@example.org, 021-0415 082.
You can join the Facebook group: Ben Peterson NZ Speaking Tour. More information on Ben's tour and events in Nepal can be found there.
To help pay for the cost of Ben’s international and domestic airfares please make a donation into this account: Nepal Solidarity, Kiwibank 38-9010-0315883-00.
Ben Peterson’s tour of NZ was initiated by Socialist Worker and the Workers Party (workersparty.org.nz), with the International Socialist Organisation in Dunedin (iso.org.nz). Meetings in each centre are being organised with the support of other groups and individuals.
If you would like more information don't hesitate to contact us.