Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Video: Wellington public meeting on the Nepal revolution

There’s a revolution going on, but most New Zealanders – including most activists – haven’t heard of it.

That’s why the current national speaking tour by Australian socialist Ben Peterson is important.

Ben has been talking about the unfolding revolution in Nepal. Last year, he spent four months in the country with the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).

“It’s so hard to get good information about what’s going on”, says Ben. “That’s why I decided to go there myself”.

The national tour was jointly organized by the Workers Party, Socialist Worker (publishers of UNITYblog) and the International Socialist Organisation.

The third meeting of the tour drew over 20 people to the Newtown Community Centre in Wellington. Ben explained some of the history of Nepal and its oppressive monarchy, before focusing on the development of the Maoist revolutionary movement.

“They launched a People’s War On February 13, 1996. It wasn’t a meaningful insurgency initially, but the Maoist movement started to gain popular support.

“They would take up people’s day to day demands, the rights of women, people of low caste, of national groups to be taught in their native language. They would redistribute land to people without it and force corrupt police, or money-lenders, out of the village.

“In 2001, the Maoist Party adopted the Prachanda Path, getting away from some of the more dogmatic beginnings and started to look to the cities for people to get involved in a broad democratic movement against the King.

“In 2002, King Gyanendra dismissed Parliament and took all power back under his personal control. In 2006, the Jana Andolan 2 (the Second People’s Movement) started as a call for a general strike. The King declared ‘shoot on sight’ notices for protesters. He was forced to back down.

“Under popular pressure, led by the Maoists, elections to the Constituent Assembly were finally decreed in 2008. The Maoists won 40 percent of the seats. The Royalist parties got less than half a dozen seats. It was a vindication of the revolution.

“As part of the peace agreement, it was agreed that the old Royalist military and the Maoist Peoples Liberation Army would be integrated into a new army around a new constitution drafted by the people.

“After repeated insubordination, the Maoists dismissed the head of the army. Then the right wing parties used the president to reinstate him unconstitutionally. The Maoists resigned from the government.

“The whole time this process has been happening, the real fundamental change has been happening at the grassroots level. I spent two weeks with the Peoples Liberation Army. There’s a lot of frustration. They wanted to be out doing meaningful development tasks.

“The biggest changes in Nepal are the social changes. The fact that a dalit (someone from a low caste family) can marry someone from a different ethnic group would not even have been close to a realistic possibility a few years ago. The gender roles have been challenged, too.

“The Maoists are a listed terrorist organisation in the US. From the mainstream political parties, there are accusations that there is supposedly a culture of fear in the countryside. Those claims of oppression are hollow.

“In the villages of Rolpa, road building was organized by the Maoists and made by their activists and the local community. The police and military arrested people for working on the road, and some were shot. That shows how oppressive the police and military are.

“Since 2006, the Maoists have been able to operate overground. They’ve been able to play a role in trade union organizing, building up democratic, rank-and-file unionism.

“The thing that’s exciting, that makes it a revolution, is that the people of Nepal have the absolute knowledge that they have the power to change the way their society operates. That is what I saw when I was in Nepal.”

The discussions and questions from the floor that made up the last part of the meeting focused on the current balance of power in the country, the tactics and alliances that the Maoists have pursued, the role of Western NGOs and aid agencies operating in Nepal and the Maoist approach to the peace process.

You can watch full video footage of Ben’s talk below.

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