Are Nepal Maoists More Mature than Indian Communists?

The pragmatic good sense shown by the Nepal Maoists stands in sharp contrast to the ideological rigidity of the Indian communists.

Whether it is a mainline outfit like the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and its allies in the Left Front or the insurrectionary "underground" organizations of the Indian Maoists, their guiding principle is the standard Marxist ideal of a one-party state.

The Nepal Maoists, too, had started out on the same "revolutionary" path. But their distinctiveness lies in their abandonment of the classical Marxist dogmas in favor of a multi-party system.

This radical change in their outlook had taken place around 2003 when, seven years into their "people's war", a party conclave came to the conclusion that the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European "empire" was the result of a perversion of the Marxist concept of democratic centralism, where centralism had vastly outweighed internal democracy.

It was the arbitrariness of a dictatorship, with its danger of slipping into outright tyranny, which had eroded the base of a superpower like the Soviet Union. Hence the acceptance of a multi-party system by the Nepal Maoists underlines a maturity that the Indian communists haven't shown.

Although the latter promised to analyze the causes of the Soviet Union's demise, they have failed to come to a definite conclusion. Instead, a party like the Communist Party of India, known for its earlier proximity to Moscow, has merely switched its ideological loyalty to Beijing.

In contrast, the dramatic decision of the Nepal Maoists can be compared to that of the Italian communists who converted their once-powerful organization into Democratic Party of the Left in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.

The step taken by the Nepal Maoists has understandably horrified their Indian counterparts, or the Naxalites, as they are also called. The latter believe that the Maoists in Nepal have wasted a golden opportunity to take their "revolution" to a successful conclusion by toppling the monarchy and the "bourgeois" government.

Since the Naxalites have been able to establish a presence over large parts of India in what has come to be known as the "red corridor" and have been identified by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as a serious security threat, they are evidently unable to understand why the Nepal Maoists threw away their chance of winning a "revolutionary" war when they were apparently winning.

The CPI-M and its allies may not endorse the Naxalite line, having decided to participate in a multi-party democracy themselves. But while their present position is no more than a tactic since their ultimate objective is to usher in a people's democracy, to the Maoists in Nepal, there is apparently no subterfuge involved in the acceptance of a multi-party polity.

But that may not be the end of the story. For, while the Maoist leadership comprising Pushpa Kamal Dahal or Prachanda (the fierce one) and Baburam Bhattarai claim to have left the revolutionary path, it is yet to be seen whether they will be able to convince their rank and file to do so.

Their task will be all the more difficult because Prachanda has also already referred to the role of the private sector in Nepal's development, marking yet another departure from the traditional Marxist line. It is not impossible, therefore, that an extremist group will break away and vow to continue the "people's war". The history of politics of all kinds is replete with such episodes.

For the present, however, like Prachanda in Nepal, the CPI-M Chief Minister of West Bengal, Buddhadev Bhattacharya, has stressed the importance of the private sector. But that his party is not fully convinced about this heretical attitude from the Marxist point of view is evident from the criticism of Bhattacharya's pro-capitalist policies by his Kerala counterpart V.S. Achuthanandan.

What we are about to witness, therefore, is an intellectual tussle among South Asian communists where the focus will be as much on the market as on revolution.

There is little doubt that it is the responsibility of running a government within the "bourgeois" system that has induced rethinking about the old shibboleths.

In the past, the differences of opinion on the Left related to the various stages of the communist movement. For instance, while the Naxalites believe that the time is ripe for launching an armed struggle, the CPI-M wants to wait. But rarely before had the economic paths - capitalism or socialism - gained such prominence along with the advantages of the multi-party system identified with capitalism vis-'-vis one-party rule associated with socialism.

If the Nepal Maoists seriously embark on market-oriented policies on the lines of what Bhattacharya is attempting in West Bengal, then the communist ideology cannot but be severely jolted - and not in this part of the world alone.

Since the communists are among the few who take their ideology seriously, there are bound to be intensive debates in the jungles of the "red corridor" as well as in the fashionable drawing rooms of Kolkata and the academic forums of Left-leaning institutions like Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), about rewriting of the Leftist dogma. The repercussions may even be felt in distant Cuba, where the owning of cell phones has been recently legitimized.

Twenty years after 1989, the communist world is astir again with new unorthodox ideas.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at aganguli@mail.com)


More by :  Amulya Ganguli

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