Democracy has been an elusive term, one that has been used to mean different things. The much effective propaganda of the Western imperialist world that presents ‘liberal democracy’ as the only legitimate form of democracy has always tried to position Marxism, socialism and communism as the opposite of democracy.
But Marxists have been and should be the most relentless advocates, defenders and practitioners of democracy. Marx and Engels stated in the Communist Manifesto of 1848 that, “The first step in the revolution by the working class, is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy.” The Marxist project, for the first time gave a class perspective to democracy by providing an incisive and holistic critique of ‘neutral’ liberal state and ‘free-market’ economy under bourgeois democracy. But perhaps even more significant than this critique was the development of the Marxian idea of democracy as a class state; dictatorship of the proletariat would replace the dictatorship of the capitalists; it would use its power to abolish the legal basis of capitalism and replace private ownership and control with social ownership and control of production. The whole purpose of this period of proletariat rule, or the higher form of democracy would be to establish a classless society.
The democracy of capitalist society is curtailed, wretched and false; it is a democracy for the rich minority. The dictatorship of the proletariat and the period of transition to communism will, for the first time, create democracy for the majority) and the necessary suppression of the exploitative minority. As Lenin told us in State and Revolution, “Communism alone is capable of providing really complete democracy, and the more complete it is, the sooner it will become unnecessary and wither away of its own accord.”
Fight for democracy
Nepal is a semi-feudal and semi-colonial country that has been ruled by an autocratic monarchy for several hundred years. The movement for New Democracy started with the establishment of the Communist Party of Nepal in 1949. The more-or-less peaceful movement, which lasted until the 1990s, brought about only cosmetic changes. The protracted ‘People’s War’ initiated in 1996 destroyed the roots of feudalism, ending in the abolition of monarchy in 2008. Since then, a Democratic Republic has been declared in the country and an elected Constitutional Assembly is now in the process of institutionalising democracy.
The rapid success of the ‘People’s War’ was mainly attributed to the raising of the democratic agenda against feudal autocracy. Also the class question was very judiciously fused with national, regional, gender and caste questions. As the traditional parliamentary democratic forces could not mount a decisive struggle against feudal autocracy due to their vacillating and compromising character, the Maoists could effectively champion the cause of democracy and lead millions of people, emerging as the largest political formation in the country.
The struggle against imperialism in general and expansionism in particular was also a part of the struggle for democracy. In other words, the struggle for nationalism and democracy was correctly blended to unite the whole country behind progressive forces. However, the delicate geo-strategic position of the country puts serious constraints on charting an independent path of development.
After 2006, the UCPN (Maoist) has signed a comprehensive peace accord with the parliamentary parties to abolish monarchy and establish the democratic republic. However, after the abolition of monarchy, the inevitable contradiction between the bourgeois democratic forces and the proletarian revolutionary forces has sharpened leading to a prolonged political impasse. The razing struggle between bourgeois democracy and proletarian democracy has been sharply manifested while drafting a new constitution. The issue of PLA integration into the traditional Nepal Army (NA) has also hindered the peace process.
As a country of tremendous ethnic, regional, linguistic and cultural diversity, the question of federal restructuring of the state is another thorn stalling the political process. The internal nationality question is part and parcel of the broader democratic question. The ability to resolve the nationality question in the most scientific way will determine the success of the democratic movement in the country.
The overwhelming majority of the population in Nepal is part of the poor peasantry. Rampant poverty, unemployment, inequality, and dependence plague the economy. As such, a new democratic restructuring of the economy is the immediate democratic agenda including revolutionary land reform based on the principle of ‘land to the tiller’.
Problems and challenges
The foremost challenge to be faced by any revolutionary movement is the question of development of the ideological and political line based on Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (MLM). The defence, application and development of MLM are the most important tasks of the proletarian revolutionaries.
Whatever gains we have made in Nepal in advancing the revolution so far are primarily because of our constant thrust to guard against both dogmatic and pragmatic distortions of Marxism. Even while launching the armed ‘People’s War’ in 1996 and practicing peaceful development of revolution since its end, we have been constantly hammering the need to defend and develop MLM and to discard dogmatism and pragmatism. We have tried to be ‘critical’ and ‘revolutionary’ throughout, as Lenin and Mao used to exhort. We have strived to learn bitter lessons from both ‘left’ and ‘right’ liquidation of revolutionary movements especially during the past few decades. The debacle faced by the Peruvian revolution has been our latest reference point. At times our friends, both inside and outside (including India), have been alarmed by our bold experiments in revolutionary practice, especially during the recent peace process. But we have consistently proved their apprehensions wrong and resolve to continue to do so.
Another theoretical issue currently being debated within the Maoist party is the nature of democratic revolution. In a semi-feudal and semi-colonial society one has to pass through a stage of bourgeois democratic revolution before transiting to socialism. Especially in a country like Nepal, where autocratic monarchy has ruled for hundreds of years, it would be prudent to go through a phase of democratic republic before completing the bourgeois democratic revolution. A democratic republic was established through a peace negotiation with the parliamentary parties after 10 years of ‘People’s War’. But the question now is how to turn this democratic republic into a People’s Democracy or New Democracy. Can it be achieved through the Constituent Assembly? Or, is an armed insurrection necessary? Also, the usefulness and prudence of the democratic republic phase is being questioned. It is exactly here that the differences between anarchism, reformism and Marxism come out sharply. Whereas reformists disagree with a revolutionary leap, anarchists discard the need of passing through stages and sub-stages. Marxists support both revolutionary leaps and the need to pass through stages.
The question of imperialism and expansionism has been another important issue in Nepal’s revolutionary movement. Whereas globalised imperialism has spread its tentacles in almost all spheres of the Nepali economy, society and state, the domination of expansionism in the last 200 years has been the most vexing issue. There has been a razing debate within the Maoist party regarding the strategy to fight against foreign domination, particularly expansionism. Also, given the country’s sensitive position between the emerging global powers in India and China, a balanced relation with both neighbours is crucial for the success of the New Democratic revolution. It is thus prudent to focus on the internal democratic agenda to unify the country and to take on foreign domination.
The fight for loktantra in Nepal is sure to reach its climax in the next few months. Either we will move ahead by rising above the traditional parliamentary democracy on the way to drafting the constitution of a People’s Federal Democratic Republic or the country will move towards regression even before the May 28 deadline. In order to forestall this possibility and institutionalize a loktantrik government system in, all true republicans, patriots and progressive forces should not delay their joint effort towards this goal.
- Barburam Bhattarai, Democracy and Class Struggle