No more socialists
There are examples aplenty of how Nepali comrades have been hoodwinking the population in the name of communism
AUG 02 -
It was just after the 1990 People’s Movement and the Indian magazine, Frontline, had a long story about the rebirth of democracy in Nepal. At least for the post-1960 generation, it was a novel experience, seeing a publication, particularly a foreign one, commenting on Nepal’s politics and circulating without any hindrance from the powers that be. Time was when such articles could only be photocopied on the sly, passed around furtively, and read fearfully, only to be disappointed that most had nothing but a word or two of criticism of the king at most. I remember one such from sometime in the mid-1980s when it was either Newsweek or Time that had compared the Narayanhiti Royal Palace’s architecture to that of an East German railway station, and perhaps mentioned the lack of democracy in passing, and the issue had been promptly banned.
But, going back to the Frontline story, I still remember quite vividly the image of communist leader and prime minister-to-be, Man Mohan Adhikari, wearing what seemed like a balaclava hat, taken from a rather unflattering low angle with a caption that read: “End of harassment”. The coming together of the Nepali Congress and the United Left Front in 1990 implied that the communist groupings that were part of the anti-king alliance were ready to fight the battle of the ballot rather than make a grab for power. It was early days yet since the crumbling of the Soviet empire and the end of history had not quite been proclaimed. And, so, the Frontline reporter was intrigued that a communist party that had sworn revolution for 40 years was now ready to enter democratic politics.
Asked why then he and his comrades retained the term “communist” in the name of their party, the CPN-Marxist, Adhikari’s response was ingenious as much as it was ironic. He answered that the name of his party was a brand that has wide recognition…like Coke, he said. That a communist of such long standing should use arguably the most powerful symbol of Western capitalism to drive home a point perhaps foreshadowed the pragmatism that was to sweep Nepali communism in the years to come.
The merger of the CPN-Marxist and the CPN-ML (itself quite unknown to the uninitiated) gave Nepal a strong leftist group in the CPN-UML, which entered parliamentary politics with the gusto of a novice but with shades of their revolutionary past still trailing in their wake. But the rough and tumble of South Asian-style politics soon took a toll and the UML began to increasingly resemble the Nepali Congress, not only in style, but also in substance.
The Nepali Congress itself did nothing—and has not till date either—to justify its professed goal of democratic socialism. To the contrary, among its first actions in its first term in office was the sale of a number of public industries. While it may have made good economic sense to get rid of those perennially loss-making entities, the party did not bother to explain why socialists would adopt such a measure. To take a parallel example from around the same time, in the UK, at least Tony Blair and Gordon Brown reinvented their party as “New Labour” while adopting market economics, but the Congress did not feel the need for any kind of public engagement when executing such an ideological somersault.
In fact, if one were to retrace the political history of the 1990s, one finds that there is very little to distinguish between the major parties in terms of the policies they adopted when in power, or for that matter with that of the Panchayat governments of the late 1980s. Hence, although we have been ruled by various combinations of communist and socialists for most of the past 22 years, not one has had the guts to admit that ours is a market economy in all but name. The Maoists thought they could reverse the tide, but the world had moved on by the time they came to power in 2008, and there was little they could do in terms of adopting economic policies that could hurt the market. Instead, they called on “national capitalists” to join hands with them, a face-saving gesture that has meant absolutely nothing in practical terms.
In the article “What’s a Socialist?”(NYT, June 30) published a few weeks ago in these pages, Steven Erlanger questioned whether socialism as a movement is dead in France. He argues that many of the ideals of the left that make up a welfare state such as a national health care system, welfare benefits, trade unions, etc, have been adopted by centre-right parties in Europe, and are there to stay. That has left socialists, and their cousins further to the left, bereft of issues to champion. The French writer Bernard-Henri Lévy’s wry comment on the French Socialist Party said it all: “There are no more socialists—if they were honest they would change the name of the party.”
I would daresay the same is true of many of our own comrades for there are examples aplenty of how they have been hoodwinking the Nepali population in the name of communism. Besides their seemingly heretical economic policies, take religion, the much-derided opium of the masses. Man Mohan Adhikari, presumably an atheist, was cremated at Pashupati; having encouraged the destruction and desecration of holy sites during the ‘People’s War’, Prachanda now attends religious ceremonies with aplomb; and, another communist stalwart, KP Oli, is currently on a pilgrimage in India (although the temples he has been visiting all seem to be in Delhi), and we find nothing amiss in it all.
At least Adhikari was honest when he used the Coke analogy. It is time the left here understood that the customary airing of their ideological fathers’ portraits or the equally
customary mumbling of “The Internationale” does not a communist make for we have seen nothing that makes our socialists and communists stand apart from the myriad of other political forces operating in Nepal.
Writing recently about emerging trends in the Left movement worldwide, Indian scholar Jayati Ghosh contended: “The fundamental premises of the socialist project remain as valid: the unequal, exploitative and oppressive nature of capitalism; the capacity of human beings to change society and thereby alter their own future in a progressive direction; and the necessity of collective organisation to do so.” We may disagree with her on the source of oppression and exploitation, but there is more than an element of truth in what she says. Our tragedy is not the absence of collective organisations since we have more than we care to count but that their projects have so far been geared at self-aggrandisement and no more.
Posted on: 2012-08-02 08:34