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The Ultimate Contradiction of the Revolution

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Pratyush Chandra

Published as Afterword in Ron Ridenour’s book “Sounds of Venezuela”, New Century Book House, Chennai, 2011. In this note I have tried to address some questions that many Tamil comrades have raised regarding the foreign policy of the Venezuelan State, especially in the context of state repression against the Tamils in Sri Lanka, and the Venezuelan and other ALBA states’ support to the Sri Lankan government in international forums.

The narrative Ron Ridenour has woven here in these pages provides a glimpse of the Venezuelan reality, which exposes not only the significance of the Bolivarian revolutionary processes, but also their contradictions. Obviously, these contradictions are the source of much anxiety among the friends of the Bolivarian revolution throughout the globe. But is it not true that a revolution is as much about hope as it is about apprehensions and dangers? A revolution is always unsettling. You cannot ever pronounce the final judgement about the event called revolution. That is why what famous Marxist historian George Rudé said about the French Revolution is true for all revolutions—”the Revolution remains an ever-open field of enquiry.”(1)

I

Nothing remains settled in the revolutionary process—otherwise how can it be called a revolution? We need to understand that this process is constituted by conflicts among various ever-new possibilities that emerge at every moment therein. Ideological struggles are nothing but representations of these conflicts; expressed in political programmatic language, these possibilities constitute the various lines within the revolutionary movement. These conflicts are what determine the course of the revolution.

To be more specific, there is always an impulse internal to the revolutionary process that seeks to control or limit the pace and extent of the revolution—to make things settled. It can have a positive implication to the extent that it compels the revolutionaries to be conscious of the course of the revolution and to be vigilant enough to differentiate between the forces of reaction and revolution that are internally germinating. The ‘faces’ of these forces do not remain the same—what seems revolutionary at one moment might dawn as reactionary at another. The conservative impulse we are talking about lies somewhere in the interstices of the moments of movement and consolidation, trying to break the simultaneity of these moments. When it is able to break this simultaneity, it morphs into a Thermidorian form with the apparent task of consolidating the revolutionary achievements and protecting them from the enemies. This Thermidorian power externalises all problems of revolution—it tries to cleanse the revolution of these problems so thoroughly that what emerges out of this deadly bath is a revolution sans revolution—sanitised of all contradictions.

The formalisation or institutionalisation of the achievements cannot be avoided. However, this is what gives birth to a new status quo, which tries to guard itself against revolutionary impermanence. It is a conflict like this that could be understood as a two-line struggle—between the emerging headquarters and the forces of continuous revolution. This struggle is in fact the revolutionary truth which cannot be avoided. No moment in the revolutionary movement is devoid of the forces of conservation, which have the potentiality of turning into a full-scale centrism or even reaction depending on the balance of class forces.

With regard to the revolutionary processes in Venezuela, it has been regularly emphasized that “the ultimate contradiction of the (Bolivarian) revolution” is the struggle internal to Chavism—”between the ‘endogenous right’ and the masses who have been mobilised.” Chávez himself frequently describes the Venezuelan reality in Gramscian terms—”The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born.” However, as Gramsci said, in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear—which appear in Venezuela (alongside the continued existence of the old oligarchy, latifundistas, monopoly capitalists and US imperialism) in the form of the new ‘boli-bourgeoisie,’ the military-civil bureaucracy, and ‘the party functionaries and nomenklatura’ who seek to thwart the class and mass initiatives from below.(2) These are the material forces, which with their dispassionate mannerisms try to conserve a pragmatic and ‘realistic’ Bolivarian future against the erratic spontaneism of grass roots initiatives. These are the Bolivarian headquarters.

II

As is well-known, historically there has been a systematic erosion of productive sectors in Venezuela which are not allied to operations of the oil industry. Since 1998, there has been a consistent endeavour to rebuild these other sectors of production and infrastructure around them. In order to achieve this, many steps both backwards and forward have been taken. Many bureaucratic, intermediary and petty bourgeois interests have not just been tolerated but even encouraged and promoted to compete with old oligarchies and corporate interests. Incentives to ‘native bourgeoisie’ and petty bourgeoisie have been an interim strategy of the Bolivarian regime to fragment the corporate unity of capital, while helping in diversifying the Venezuelan economy. In fact, the imperative to create an ‘alternative social bloc’ against corporate hegemony has forced a vision under which “capitalist sectors whose business activity entered into an objective contradiction with transnational capital” are not considered unapproachable.(3)

However, the radical supporters of the Venezuelan transformation have cautioned that the pragmatic need to neutralise private capitalist interests in order to develop a broader bloc against immediate enemies, like transnational capital and imperialist interests, must not scuttle the anti-capitalist nature of the transformation. It has been shown how “‘incentives’ to private capitalists in order to increase productivity” fail generally because they tend to strengthen the historically nurtured rentierist character of Venezuela’s native bourgeoisie. For example, incentives in agriculture without having a fundamental structural transformation have cost the Chávez government heavily, both politically and economically, as “the big landowner (latifundist) recipients of the Government’s generous agricultural credits and grants are not investing in agricultural production, in raising cattle, purchasing new seeds, new machinery, and new dairy animals. They are transferring Government funding into real estate, Government bonds, banking and speculative investment funds or overseas.”(4) These latifundistas have successfully used to their own advantage the Bolivarian government’s urgency to ensure domestic food security and agricultural productivity amidst volatile international relations by bargaining protection from the upsurge of peasants and landless organisations demanding radical land reforms. However, there has been an increasing realisation within the Bolivarian circles about the futility of such compromises with the rentierist forces.

The emergence of the Bolivarians at the helm of the existing political economic institutions has, of course, intensified the internal class struggle leading to a tremendous crisis for the status quo. But there still exists a considerable space for the consolidation of powerful economic interests because these institutions were essentially built for this purpose. The most recent case of their successful manoeuvrings has been exposed by WikiLeaks, which narrates how a radical Chavista, “Eduardo Saman was replaced as commerce minister following pharmaceutical companies’ efforts to protect old patent legislation and their profits.”(5)

There is a massive danger of the containment of the revolutionary pace and agenda, if the revolutionary forces are not vigilant enough with regard to the activities of those social classes that are crowding the institutions of revolution for incentives and patronage. The new intermediate interests that have emerged close to the state structure, along with the old ones, have resisted every popular attack on private capital. They have attempted to thwart endeavours to institute workers’ control over economic activities. Even within the oil and other ‘monopolistic’ industries, these interests have not conceded any substantial move beyond nationalisation, as state monopoly allows them to use their own proximity to the state machinery for intermediary profiteering. There has been a consistent resistance to the attempts to institute co-management,(6) not just from the side of corporate interests, but also from economistic trade unionism (especially in the state-owned petroleum company, PDVSA), which cannot envisage a system of workers’ control that questions the institutional hierarchy and labour aristocracy.

As long as there is a popular movement which questions and subverts the norms and everydayness of the bourgeois state in Venezuela, with the resoluteness to build ‘a new state from below’ with the novel institutions of protagonistic democracy and communal councils, there is a hope for the Bolivarian Revolution. Or else, “it will lapse into a new variety of capitalism with populist characteristics.”(7) That is why there has been a growing need to envisage the alternative bloc and class alliances which are subservient to the exigencies of “an overall system of socialized production.”(8) The accommodation of capitalist interests in any form (state or private), even when they are in consonance with the immediate interests of the revolutionary transformation at a particular juncture, is fraught with risks of the reassertion of ‘the logic of capital,’ and “there will be a constant struggle to see who will defeat whom.”(9) It is this logic and its constitutive representatives, who try to consolidate their position through the so-called ‘endogenous right’ of the revolution.

III

The emergence of headquarters in a revolution is linked with the question of state, state power and hegemony. During a revolutionary period the state returns to its elements—it emerges as a naked instrument of suppression—of holding down adversaries. The proletarian dictatorship too will not allow its enemies to have a free play. Revolution is a period when class struggles begin to explode the barriers of the existing state order and point beyond them. On the one hand, there are “struggles for state power; on the other, the state itself is simultaneously forced to participate openly in them. There is not only a struggle against the state; the state itself is exposed as a weapon of class struggle, as one of the most important instruments for the maintenance of class rule.”(10)

The global division of labour and the US hegemony reduced the Venezuelan economy to mere accumulation of oil rents, thus making proximity to the state the only viable route to economic success. In such an economy, the statist tendencies are bound to be very strong and entrenched in every layer of society. To complicate the matter, revolutionaries in Venezuela found themselves at the helm of the bourgeois state by following its rules, not by any insurrection. In such a situation, reformist tendencies will definitely be stronger among the ranks of the Bolivarians, who find revolutionary measures futile and even adventurist. These tendencies did suffer a temporary setback during the attempted coup of 2002, but as time elapses the cautious self-critical forces begin to find safe-play, gradualism and tactical compromises essential to consolidate power and achievements and to pre-empt any such drastic attack by counter-revolutionaries in future.

The left Chavistas, on the other hand, stress on the task of smashing the bourgeois state from within while positing a new state from below based on co-management of social and economic life. Like the ‘endogenous right’ they understand the need to consolidate, but for them consolidation is not separate from the destruction of the existing state form. Like Russian revolutionaries, they emphasize the development and independence of the working classes and their organs of self-activity, because only in this way can the workers protect their state, while protecting themselves from it! The defeat of the 2002 coup also demonstrates the impact of the unleashing of popular energy and self-activity and what that could achieve. Moreover, unlike in Russia, the state in Venezuela remains a bourgeois parliamentary state, which is alienated from the everyday life of the revolutionary masses.

IV

Among several valuable insights that Ron Ridenour’s text provides regarding the nature of contradictions that pervade the revolutionary transition in Venezuela, there is an important point on the Venezuelan state’s approach to the struggles of the Colombian guerrillas, the FARC. Ridenour hints at the vacillation in this approach. However, such anomalies are numerous, especially when it comes to international relations. Throughout the globe, post-1998 developments in Latin America have been watched very intently, with a lot of hope and expectation. The consistent defiance of US hegemony by the Chávez regime has been a source of inspiration for various progressive movements everywhere. At least with regard to its position on the American manoeuvrings globally, nobody can fault the Venezuelan state—it never wasted any time to decry the imperialist interventions anywhere in the world.

But this has led to a genuine rise of expectations for support from progressive Latin American regimes (if not materially, at least through statements) for local movements against their particular oppressive states, even when there is no direct western backing to these states. In recent years, with many states lining up to define their own ‘war against terrorism’ in order to crush local critical voices and movements against them, the stance of the Venezuelan and Cuban states has not been supportive of the oppressed. In fact, any official voice from the West critical of the local states has many a time provoked statements from the progressive Latin American regimes that are supportive of the southern states like Iran, Libya, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka even when these are highly oppressive. This has greatly frustrated the solidarity movements—some even going to the extent of calling the Latin American revolutionary processes ephemeral.

However, one must understand that the revolutionary process is not linear and smooth. It is not something homogeneous, and its targets are not just external. The intensification of revolution is the heightening of contradictions that constitute it. In fact, these constitutive contradictions internalise the so-called external elements—’alien’ class interests, the vestiges of old regimes, etc. Any attempt to avoid contradictions is a conservative attempt from the ‘endogenous right’ to homogenise the revolutionary voices behind the new institutions, alienating them from their organic roots in class struggle, thus giving birth to new bureaucracies—the agencies of the new order. It is the ‘endogeneity’ of this tendency that forces the revolutionary leadership to reassess the coordinates of the contradictions time and again. A fine discrimination of these coordinates in the revolutionary process gives an insight into the apparent anomalies. It was not for nothing that the 20th century revolutionaries time and again stressed the need to differentiate between the state (which even well into the first phase of communist society safeguards the bourgeois law) and the revolutionary masses. An understanding of this aspect is crucial in order to comprehend the problems and prospects of policy designs under a revolutionary regime, including its foreign policy and international relations.

It must be noted that revolutionary internationalism of the working class is an important weapon with which a revolution generalizes itself and resists its degeneration into nationalist statism by not allowing ‘revolutionary passion’ to die out. But it is not simply a subjective aspiration to generalize that gives birth to internationalism. Rather, it “is a necessity arising out of the fact that the capitalist class, which rules over the workers, does not limit its rule to one country.”(11) Thus, internationalism is a result of the class struggle going global—it is an endeavour to thwart the capitalist strategy of intensifying capitalist accumulation by segmenting the working class and its consciousness. It is in this regard that a revolution can be termed as international both at the levels of its causes and impact. It represents a crisis for the capitalist system.

Solidarity efforts in support of revolution beyond the immediate location of its occurrence, along with ‘indigenous’ revolutionaries’ support for movements beyond their location are crucial even for the survival of the revolution as a revolution. It can survive as such only by constantly asserting its international character, its inseparability from international class struggle. Otherwise, it will implode or be reduced to a mere regime change.

It is interesting to see how revolutionaries have time and again talked about the foreign policy of a revolution, not just that of the state. And this has been assessed by the revolution’s galvanising effect on the struggles of the working class and the oppressed in other locations. While criticizing the foreign policy of the Provisional Government (that emerged after the February Revolution of 1917) for conducting it with the capitalists, Lenin remarked:

Yet 1905 showed what the Russian revolution’s foreign policy should be like. It is an indisputable fact that October 17, 1905, was followed by mass unrest and barricade-building in the streets of Vienna and Prague. After 1905 came 1908 in Turkey, 1909 in Persia and 1910 in China. If, instead of compromising with the capitalists, you call on the truly revolutionary democrats, the working class, the oppressed, you will have as allies the oppressed classes instead of the oppressors, and the nationalities which are now being rent to pieces instead of the nationalities in which the oppressing classes now temporarily predominate.(12)

It is in this regard that many struggling peoples across the globe find the foreign policies of the progressive regimes in Latin America wanting. Especially, Cuba and Venezuela, the countries which are in the leadership of the anti-imperialist realignment in the post-Cold War era, have been criticized for not standing against the oppressive regimes of the Global South. They have been chastised for their frequent open support to these regimes, whenever they are attacked by the so-called international community.

The genuineness of these criticisms can hardly be questioned; however, they must go further and explain these stances in terms of their material foundation, rather than locating them in some sort of ideological and personality-oriented tendencies as many have done, who reduce the Chávez phenomenon to populist demagoguery and the Cuban regime to Stalinism. The existential anxiety of these regimes in the face of a strong imperialist unity against them is definitely one reason that must be considered. This makes them wary of any interventionist strategy on the part of the ‘international community’ against any regime. Further, the existentialist need to have an oppositional bloc in the international forums puts them in the company of strange allies.

However, we will have to make a fine distinction between the revolutionary process itself and the institutions, states and individuals that come up during this process. We cannot reduce the revolutions to their particular passing moments. We will have to recognize and accept that these revolutions are marked by intense internal contradictions, whose astute descriptions we find in Ridenour’s travelogue. The states in themselves have a conservative agenda, even when they are deeply embedded in the revolutionary process. They have the task to defend what has been achieved, and in mounting this defence they frequently fail to differentiate between the actual enemies of the revolution and the revolutionaries who are aware of the dilemma, of which Rosa Luxemburg talked about:

“Either the revolution must advance at a rapid, stormy, resolute tempo, break down all barriers with an iron hand and place its goals ever farther ahead, or it is quite soon thrown backward behind its feeble point of departure and suppressed by counter-revolution. To stand still, to mark time on one spot, to be contented with the first goal it happens to reach, is never possible in revolution.”(13)

Notes

1. George Rudé: Revolutionary Europe 1783-1815. Fontana/Collins, 1964.
2. Michael Lebowitz: The Spectre of Socialism for the 21st Century (2008). Available online at: http://links.org.au/node/503/1594%20.
3. Marta Harnecker: Rebuilding the Left. Monthly Review Press & Daanish, 2007, p. 35.
4. James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer: What’s Left in Latin America? Regime Change in New Times. Ashgate: 2009, pp. 192-3.
5. Tamara Pearson: “Venezuelans to Debate Patenting Laws after Revelation that Companies Conspired in Firing of Radical Minister,” http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/6490 (September 15, 2011).
6. The system of co-management envisages social control against any competitive congealment of sectionalist interests over economic activities. Under this system the economic sectors are co-managed by workers with the community at large.
7. Michael Lebowitz: Build it Now: Socialism for the Twenty-First Century. Monthly Review Press & Daanish, 2006, p. 116.
8. Petras and Veltmeyer, op cit, p. 234
9. Marta Harnecker, op cit, p. 36.
10. Georg Lukacs: Lenin: A Study on the Unity of His Thought. Verso, 1970.
11. V.I. Lenin: Draft and Explanation of a Programme for the Social-Democratic Party (1895-96). Collected Works, Vol. 2, p. 109.
12. V.I. Lenin: Speeches at First All Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies (June-July 1917). Collected Works, Vol. 25.
13. Rosa Luxemburg: The Russian Revolution (1918). Available at http://www.marxists.org.

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Written by Pratyush Chandra

March 19, 2012 at 7:15 am

Pure-and-Simple Revolutions in Nepal and Venezuela

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COUNTERPUNCH

For a decade or so, the media has been talking about new color and flower revolutions with colorful revolutionaries like “orange” ones in Ukraine. But, after so many sponsored, colored and sanitized revolutions, as additions in the market of “a series of products deprived of their malignant property: coffee without caffeine, cream without fat, politics without politics the other deprived of its otherness” (1), once again we are witnessing pure-and-simple revolutions and revolutionaries, in Latin America and Asia (and of course, there are many in the streets of Paris, and among the immigrants in the US, too). Nepal and Venezuela are two hot centers of pure-and-simple revolutions.

The parallel between the Nepalese and the Venezuelan movements that I draw rests upon some of their basic commonalities. There might be people for whom such comparisons would be outrageous–how can one compare the sophisticated experiments in Latin America with a violent and uncompromising movement of Nepal? Although it is not my purpose here to make the Nepalese movement palatable, but this parallel allows me to expose some of its basic facets.

1. “The Object and the subject of power”

Broadly, I attempt to understand the Nepalese experience as part of the global struggle for democracy, self-determination and socialism. As I see, both the Maoist movement in Nepal and the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela (along with other Latin American movements), evolve as continuous critiques of capitalism and its political forms, especially formal bourgeois democracy, from the perspective of the downtrodden classes and communities in the respective countries. The element of negativity defines the basic unity between them.

In the Americas, there are many “sui generis” laboratories of revolution, where people in their daily practice of “humanist and cooperative logic” transform themselves colliding at every step “with the capitalist logic of profit” and their own exploited existence.(2) In this daily experience they find their own power and political expression. “Rather than putting the Venezuelan people asleep in order to enslave by making the act of voting ‘into the beginning and end of democracy,’ Chávez wrote in 1993 that ‘sovereign people must transform itself into the object and the subject of power. This option is not negotiable for revolutionaries.'”(3)

On the other side of the global south, who understands better than the Nepalese, the farce of voting as “the beginning and end of democracy”? They also know the various ways in which this farce could be enacted. Each time their grassroots consciousness become a decisive challenge to the status quo, a newer version of this farce has been enacted in Nepal to distract them, co-opt a few representatives, de-popularize policy-making and dissipate whatever energy is left in the streets.

Even the day, which is celebrated as the “Democracy Day”, was the day when Indians re-instated the Shah Dynasty on the throne with an arrangement with the Nepali Congress to preempt the radicalization of the uprising in the countryside. Eight years after that, when the unrest on the unfulfilled promises seemed simmering again, elections were held in 1959. B.P. Koirala won on the plank of providing ‘land to the tiller’. But in December 1960, King Mahendra banned all parties for dividing the country and found, on the basis of researches probably done in the US’ universities, that the parliamentary system, being a foreign creation, was not much in “step with the history and traditions of the country”. The homegrown panchayat ‘democracy’ institutionalized the indigenous Hindu hierarchy as a political system with the King on its top as the reincarnation of Vishnu. Destroying commons, unprecedented commercialization, uprooting the people and growing unemployment radicalized the youth and forced the rural poor to self-organize in the 1970s; and the political elite–the royalty, with the democrats’ assent–needed to stage another ‘democratic’ farce–a referendum on the panchayat system, with far more ballots than registered votes. Finally, right at the time when global imperialism was full of expectations for its hegemonic stability in the late 1980s with the crumbling of East Europe, a new compromise in Nepal was reached in 1990 to preempt the organized revolutionary tide that seemed certain.(4)

The history of Modern Nepal is the history of the crisis of democracy, as a system of “elite decision and public ratification” (5). The exploited and downtrodden Nepalis have time and again refused to accept this opiate of voting as “the beginning and end of democracy” and took the burden of exercising democracy in the streets and in their daily lives. The Nepali ruling classes and their international sponsors in their desperation have tried many exotic forms of putting them to sleep in order to control them, but have repeatedly failed. The Maoist uprising is the longest and most systematic (in official terms, brutal) attempt by the Nepalese landless, poor peasantry and the proletarians to transform themselves “into the object and the subject of power”. And thus they refused to be duped.

2. “New Democracy”

As far as the details of what the movements in Nepal and Latin America posit and the way they posit are concerned, there are definitely many differences. But then, as Lebowitz tells us,

“We all start from different places in terms of levels of economic development— and, that clearly affects how much of our initial activity (if we are dependent upon our own resources) must be devoted to the future. How different, too, are the situations of societies depending on the strength of their domestic capitalist classes and oligarchies, their degree of domination by global capitalist forces and the extent to which they are able to draw upon the support and solidarity of other societies which have set out on a socialist path. Further, the historical actors who start us on the way may be quite different in each case. Here, a highly-organized working class majority (as in the recipe books of previous centuries), there a peasant army, a vanguard party, a national-liberation bloc (electoral or armed), army rebels, an anti-poverty alliance and variations too numerous to name or yet to emerge— we would be pedantic fools if we insisted that there is only one way to start the social revolution.”(6)

The Maoist movement might seem as a critique of global capitalism from outside the political economic mainstream–the ‘marginal majority’ of the peasantry and the landless. But the ‘outside’ is not equal to something autonomous from global capitalism. In fact, on the contrary, in the stage of imperialism, capitalism flourishes by preserving its diverse stages and even ‘pre-capitalism’ simultaneously–backwardness and advancement together. The persistence of the agrarian ‘outsiders’, as in Nepal, contributes in stabilizing the global rule of capital by providing a stable and informal reserve of potential proletarians to be drawn as scums and blacklegs whenever needed, guardsmen for international security and imperialist agencies, and peripheries for expansion of the late capitalist economies like those of India and China. It is in this regard that I find the “instability” in Nepal, the rise in the democratic aspirations of the Nepalese people and their struggle for advancement and development as a definite crisis for the politics of imperialism, for global capitalism in South Asia.

One might object to the above perception by saying that the Maoists have defined the goal of their struggle as “new democratic”, not socialist. Moreover, a new democratic revolution, classically, intends to complete the ‘national’ transformation towards capitalism. But it is important to note the factors that left this transformation incomplete, and for whose elimination we need a revolution. Even for Mao who defined “new democracy” in the Chinese context, the most formidable hurdle in such a transformation in a “semi-colonial” society was clearly global capitalism that had reached the stage of imperialism (“the invasion of foreign capitalism and the gradual growth of capitalist elements”). Moreover, for him, “any revolution in a colony or semi-colony that is directed against imperialism, i.e., against the international bourgeoisie or international capitalism is no longer a revolution of the old type led by the bourgeoisie with the aim of establishing a capitalist society and a state under bourgeois dictatorship.” The ‘new democratic revolution’ “serves the purpose of clearing a still wider path for the development of socialism. In the course of its progress, there may be a number of further sub-stages, because of changes on the enemy’s side and within the ranks of our allies, but the fundamental character of the revolution remains unchanged”, i.e. it is “part of the world revolution”, which “no longer refers to the old world revolution, for the old bourgeois world revolution has long been a thing of the past, it refers to the new world revolution, the socialist world revolution”(7).

So the immediacies of the ‘new democratic revolution’ constituting the “sub-stages” are determined by the task of intensifying the class struggle, which is the only road towards the “development of socialism”. Imperialism or global capitalism with its ‘national’ hegemonic nodes peripheralizes and retards economic development at various locations to stabilize those hegemonies. Any democratic assertion from below in any form in these peripheries is an assault on imperialism and its political arrangements. Venezuelan and Nepalese movements are united in this regard.

Further, after Soviet Union and China succumbed to the political economic exigencies of international capitalist competition and the politics of “peaceful coexistence”, there was a temporary crisis for the world revolutionary challenge to capitalism. With the vestiges of official socialism swept aside, the global challenge to imperialism, the “highest” stage of capitalism, is once again visible, and only naive journalistic exercises, which fiddle with apparent dissimilarities and descriptions, will find the linkage between the Venezuelan and Nepalese movements uncanny. Even the police state of global capital is far more aware of the underlying unity challenging its hegemony, forcing it to mention the “demagogue” Chavez, the “anti-American dictator” Castro and the “vicious” Maoists together in its National Security Strategy 2006.

The dissimilarities between these movements are rooted in diverse “concrete situations” in which the revolutionaries find themselves. Obviously, as Michael Lebowitz time and again reminds us, “socialism doesn’t drop from the sky”. Venezuela with its tremendous oil assets and relatively higher level of systematic industrialization and proletarianization, along with its (counter-)hegemonic relationship with other Latin American countries bestow on the revolutionaries tasks very distinct from those in the backward, aid-driven economy of Nepal. But none of these ‘concrete’ local conditions can undermine the basic unity and complementary character of these movements in challenging the “concrete whole” of global capitalism. In fact, what makes the Venezuelan and Nepalese experiences stand out among the plethora of anti-capitalist, anti-globalization movements is the definiteness of their goals–the political-economic self-determination, to create a situation where the laboring majority would toil to satisfy their “own need for development”. As the Latin American working classes have evolved co-management and asambleas barriales to reclaim their collectivity and its fruit, the Nepalis for their self-liberation will need to first destroy the shield of the whole hierarchy of the officialdom and its privileges fed and armed by foreign aid and ensure a complete agrarian transformation to reclaim their resources and labor from global capital and its local agencies.

3. The Inside-Outside Dialectic

However, there is an interesting political economic dialectic that operates in Nepal and Venezuela making these movements mirror images of one another. Both are engaged in the process of transcending the dichotomy between the ‘outside’ and the ‘inside’ that global capitalism creates for its own expansion. The Maoists are doing so by forging an alliance with the forces that are struggling ‘within’–the trade unions, other working class organizations and petty bourgeois parties/fronts, while the Bolivarians are trying to establish a democratic space beyond the institutionalized framework of bourgeois democracy that subsumes every participatory initiative into its competitive dungeon.

As mentioned earlier, the loci of Venezuela and Nepal in global political economy are highly dissimilar, even opposite. Venezuela as a fully capitalist economy challenges capitalism from within; hence the Bolivarian movement for a complete social transformation needs to build and sustain apparatuses and institutions outside the established political and economic paradigms. Co-management and barrios formed on the participatory principles are the expressions of this ‘convex’ need of the movement. As Massimo de Angelis rightly puts, “The “outside” created by struggles is an outside that emerges from within, a social space created by virtue of creating relational patterns that are other than and incompatible with the relational practices of capital”(8).

In Nepal, on the other hand, the six decade-long Nepalese democratic movement achieved its partial victory in 1990, with the accommodation of the “democrats” in the power structure, which eventually frustrated the movement’s vigor, alienating its committed vanguards and grassroots–institutionalizing “popular exclusion”, without the semblance of “popular inclusion” that bourgeois parliamentarism or representative democracy provides for self-legitimacy. Herein lies the root of the internal instability that has marred the political arrangement of 1990 and the secret of twelve Prime Ministers in thirteen years. In fact, parliamentarism became Monarchy’s instrument of legitimacy.

It was this ‘illegitimate’ arrangement that provided a ready opportunity for an independent political mobilization of the ‘excluded majority’–mobilization and dispersal of the movement ‘outside’/beyond a few urban centers. The cry for democracy ­ for “self-determination” ­ reached hitherto untouched zones of the society, giving birth to the “dual power”. Evidently, it aggravated the crisis in the established hierarchy (broadened by the 1990 arrangement), which sustained itself and the hegemony of its international sponsors by such exclusion–sustaining Nepal’s peripheral character, as a ‘reserve’ for capitalist expansion and accumulation. The Maoists assaulted right at the middle of the passage, through which the “included minority” leeched upon the ‘excluded’. The consequent internal mutation choked the parasitic political economic hierarchy. The 1990 arrangement was critically shattered in 2005.

A decade long success of the Maoist movement today has reoriented the aspirations of the Nepalese petty-bourgeoisie forcing the “democratic” parties to form an alliance with the revolutionaries against “the autocratic monarchy”. The 12-point agreement between the Maoists and seven parliamentary parties last year, along with the unilateral ceasefire by the revolutionaries marked the beginning of a critical phase in the Nepalese democratic struggle, in the struggle for self-determination. This agreement creates the possibility for an open ‘competitive’ struggle (as a manifestation of the deeper class struggle) between democracy as a mere form or mode of decision-making and democracy as practice or “a way of people developing in struggle and emerging as a class for itself through a process of self-transformation” (9). In other words, it potentially opens the road for a confrontation between the practice of formal democracy and “insurgent” popular democratic “practice” based on the collective needs and aspirations of the landless, proletarians and the poor peasantry that the Maoists have helped in developing and sustaining in their decade long armed struggle.

In other words, the “outside” is increasingly reclaiming the “inside”–i.e., the Nepalese movement is ‘concaving’ in, seemingly in contrast to the Venezuelan experience. It is in this dialectic of inside/outside that these movements realize the complete transformation of the respective societies. Only by transcending this dichotomous binary can a society comprehensively move “beyond capital”.

4. “Sukumbasis” as the protagonists

For many years now, the aid and remittance economies have fed the mainstream political economic institutions in Nepal. They nurtured a polity based on the ‘cut and commission regime’, which in turn facilitated these businesses of foreign aid and legal-illegal human trafficking. They survive on the toil of millions of exploited and oppressed Nepalis working abroad and for the agencies usurping the indigenous commons and resources. Internal and international migration has been a persistent feature of Nepal motivated by immense agrarian inequality, reinforced further by the commercialization of the local societies through foreign aid. Industries that were established in the country have been heavily dependent on foreign capital, especially from India, and do not generate sufficient employment because of their capital intensity. Of course, ‘alternative’ industries in service sector like tourism have definitely flourished, but only the local population knows what it means to work in this sector heavily based on informal labor with no security and degenerating exploitation of human beings, not just their labor. Hence, circular migration across the borders, even beyond the seas, with falling back on land is a viable option before the Nepali.

Regarding the rural scene, a prominent Nepali political economist, Nanda R Shrestha says, “Overall, near-landlessness remains prevalent as a permanent fixture of the Nepali agrarian economy” and outmigration–especially, circular migration to India–has been an important survival strategy, that helps sustain “the hill economy in general and the hill near-landless in particular”(10). However, since the 1970s there has been a remarkable degree of self-organization among the landless peasants (Sukumbasis), which has been evident in their organized land encroachments and spontaneous settlements, time and again crushed by the Shah Regime. It is beyond the class capacity of the petty-bourgeoisie and the legalist-opportunist politics of petty-bourgeois radicals and democrats, who generally represent the landed gentry and are ever ready to compromise on any concession from the royalty, to give a radical turn to this ‘new’ peasant spontaneity.

However, “the rage simmering under every poor peasant’s feet is finally being ignited by a cadre of unwavering Maoists. Irrespective of political persuasion, few can deny that this is a fire that can no longer be smothered by the state and its armed forces no matter how much larger and better-equipped these forces are in relations to any force that the Maoists can muster with its limited resources. What looms heavy over Nepal’s political horizon, therefore, is the unyielding question of who the masses will side with–with the forces of fractured democracy, with the ever-sinister hands of the absolutely dysfunctional royalty, or with the uncharted territory of the Maoist vision. Maoists derive their power from the people.”(11)

It is evident that the agrarian question which confronts Nepal today and provides the basis for the Maoist upsurge, once again, puts the Nepalese movement in line with the great “new peasant movements” (as James Petras describes them) in Latin America and Africa that decisively threaten ‘third world’ dependency and the global capitalist hegemony. In this regard, it is worth noting that as global capitalism develops, ‘unresolved’ agrarian question becomes more and more that of labour, less of capital. As Henry Bernstein tells us, “the many popular struggles over land today are driven by experiences of the fragmentation of labour (including losses of relatively stable wage employment in manufacturing and mining, as well as agriculture), by contestations of class inequality, and by collective demands and actions for better conditions of living (‘survival’, stability of livelihood, economic security), and of which the most dramatic instances are land invasions and occupations. There is now a revival and restatement of the significance of struggles over land to the social dynamics and class politics of the ‘South’ during the current period of globalization and neo-liberalism.” Referring to James Petras’ work on Latin America and Paris Yeros’ work on Zimbabwe, Bernstein concludes, “Contemporary land struggles are significantly different from the (‘classic’) peasant movements of the past, and are much more rooted in the semi-proletarian condition: that of ‘a workforce in motion, within rural areas, across the rural­urban divide, and beyond international boundaries’.”(12)

5. “Human beings in all their determinateness”

One may have doubts about the “participatory” element in the Maoist movement. But this doubt comes from a sterile presupposition and deification of trans-historical pluralism and democracy. It is important to keep in mind the class composition of every movement that shapes the character of ‘democracy’ and ‘participation’ in it. The experiences of the peasant movements and struggles show that democracy from below in a rural setting will come with all its ‘violence’, ‘primitiveness’ and ‘distortions’, devoid of the preconceived urban sophistications. What is important is the raised political consciousness of the Nepalese landless, poor peasantry and proletarians, and their active willingness to decide and build their own future. However, the tension between the participatory element and its institutionalized alienation in the process of consolidating movemental gains, which create status quoist interests, is always there, as also with the Venezuelan experience.

It is well recognized that a fundamental contribution of the Maoist movement has been to inculcate the issue of self-determination at every level of the Nepalese society. Even the most vehement critiques of the Maoists recognize that it is the contribution of these “economic determinists” that the issues of socio-cultural oppression based on identities, gender, nationalities, castes have found definite political expressions. As one analyst complains, the Maoists “were quick to identify” the ethnic discontent in the Nepalese society and tried “to ride it to their purpose, taking advantage of the supposed correlation between ethnicity and poverty”.(13) Another notes that the Maoist movement “has also set precedents for alternative experiences, practices and discourses on gender equality”.(14)

Dalit intellectuals, from the communities that are lowest in the caste hierarchy, find, “Insurgents have raised the economic, social and political issues of Dalits as well as the issues of women, indigenous people and others”. Further, in “people’s war”, “Maoists refocused on social intervention in their stronghold areas. Maoists have initiated a campaign called ‘caste integration and people’s awareness campaign’ in order to overcome hesitation of non-Dalits in breaking age-old practices of untouchability. In the Maoist heartland in Rolpa district, the untouchability and caste discrimination has been reduced. They have declared ‘caste free villages’. They have strictly made villagers not to practice caste discrimination. The Bista System (in which occupational Dalit castes receive grain annually for the services they provide to non-Dalit households), considering it an economical exploitation as well as a way of maintaining feudal relations of domination and subordination, has been transformed into daily remuneration for labor, which is now the norm in the Maoist base areas”.(15)

Since its inception, the Maoist movement in Nepal understood the fact that, “While no one liberates himself by his own efforts alone, neither is he liberated by others.”(16) The Maoists facilitated the creation of a definite space for solidaristic praxis where these autonomous ethnic, gender and community-level struggles for self-determination could coordinate their liberatory praxes. The active participation of the oppressed identities in “people’s war” has armed their identity assertion, their aspiration for self-dignity and freedom against a brutally oppressive Hindu hierarchy. In its turn, the ‘reflective participation’ of these entities has strengthened the support base of the Maoist movement.

However, this identity of the oppressed and exploited in diverse social relations with a class movement derives from the basic fact that this class of proletarians and semi-proletarians are “human beings in all their determinateness”. Hence their complete liberation requires liberation from all forms of oppression and exploitation. The unity between dalit, women, national and other liberation movements is the laboring majority’s self-assertion as human beings. It means that they are fully aware of the secret through which the global capitalist class, directly or indirectly, maintains its power, i.e., by the ‘parcelisation’ of their ‘selves’ according to sex, age, race and nationality, among other aspects.(17)

In “participatory” experiences of both countries–Nepal and Venezuela, despite differences in the levels of sophistication (due to the differences in the “levels of economic development”), the element of force or “coercion” is important. In the case of Venezuela, it is provided by the ‘transitional’ State, while in Nepal, it is the ‘provisional’ state, constituted by the Maoists, that stands in the background of those experiences. However, arbitrariness is the price of the provisional and the insurgent nature of the ‘force’ in Nepal. But post-2001 developments demonstrate that the Maoists are fully aware of this problem, and their internal debates and readiness to form an alliance with other ‘forces’ are indicative of their efforts to transcend it. It will be interesting to see if their resistance against the local representatives of the extraordinarily dense and widespread imperialist network of relationships and connections will bear any immediate success. Or, will global hegemonies and their agencies succeed in buying a compromise and betrayal that the Nepalese people have seen so many times in their struggles for self-determination?

Pratyush Chandra can be reached at: ch.pratyush@gmail.com

References:

(1) Slavoj Zizek (2004), A Cup of Decaf Reality.

(2) In the laboratory of a revolution: Interview with Marta Harnecker, Venezuela Analysis, Sep 22, 2005.

(3) Michael Lebowitz (2006), BUILD IT NOW: SOCIALISM FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY, Monthly Review Press, forthcoming

(4) For an interpretation of the political history of Nepal, see my short articles–‘Pre-1990 “Democratic” Experiments in Nepal and The Evolving Pattern’ (August 2005) and ‘The 12-point Agreement and the Future of Democracy in Nepal’ (December 2005)

(5) Noam Chomsky (1987), ON POWER AND IDEOLOGY: THE MANAGUA LECTURES, South End Press

(6) Michael Lebowitz (2006), op cit

(7) Mao tse-Tung (1940), ‘On New Democracy’, Selected Works Vol. 2, Peking

(8) De Angelis, Massimo (2006), ‘Enclosures, Commons and the “Outside”‘, University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society Colloquium on the Economy, Society and Nature, Durban

(9) Completing Marx’s Project: Interview with Michael Lebowitz, Weekly Worker 608, January 19 2006.

(10) Nanda R. Shrestha (2001), THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF LAND, LANDLESSNESS AND MIGRATION IN NEPAL, Nirala, New Delhi. (New edition of ‘Landlessness and Migration in Nepal’, West View Press, 1990)

(11) Ibid.

(12) Henry Bernstein (2004), ”Changing Before Our Very Eyes’: Agrarian Questions and the Politics of Land in Capitalism Today’, Journal of Agrarian Change, Vol. 4 Nos. 1 & 2.

(13) Deepak Thapa (2001), ‘Day of the Maoist’, Himal South Asian, Vol 14 No 5.

(14) Mandira Sharma & Dinesh Prasain (2004), ‘Gender Dimensions of the People’s War: Some Reflections on the Experience of Rural Women’, in Michael Hutt (ed) HIMALAYAN PEOPLE’S WAR: NEPAL’S MAOIST REBELLION, Indiana University Press.

(15) Tej Sunar (2006), ‘Fighting Caste Discrimination in the Context of Conflict in Nepal’, DNF.

(16) Paulo Freire (1993), PEDAGOGY OF THE OPPRESSED, Continuum Books, New York.

(17) Michael Lebowitz (2003), BEYOND CAPITAL: MARX’S POLITICAL ECONOMY OF THE WORKING CLASS, 2nd Edition, Palgrave.

Written by Pratyush Chandra

April 21, 2006 at 9:39 pm

Nepal & Venezuela

with one comment


Pratyush Chandra

INSN, DISSIDENT VOICE, COUNTERCURRENTS, ZNET

Any serious and honest survey of the Maoist movement in Nepal can convey the truth that its main agenda has been to establish the essential democratic institutions that will allow a devolvement of political economic power to the masses. The Maoists can challengingly claim that in every negotiation they have indulged, with the King and the parliamentary forces, they have asked for an unconditional constituent assembly, during whose election different political forces can go with their respective choice of political structure and ask for the people’s mandate. And, of course, they have demanded a subservience of the national army to the democratic government. Only a democratically elected constituent assembly having representatives from the exploited and oppressed majority has the capacity to provide a democratic constitution. Otherwise a constitution is bound to be an eclectic compromise between the already empowered vested interests, as it has happened many times in Nepal, and in many other ‘democratic’ countries. On the other hand, which modern nation can openly deny the ‘professionalisation’ of the armed forces, their ability to harm the democratic interests incapacitated and their subservience to those interests?

The Maoists have time and again emphasised their sufficiently theorised commitment to multi-party republican democracy and to ‘political competition’ that it represents. They know that the fight for their maximal goal, for socialism and communism has to be long drawn, taking into consideration “the balance in the class struggle and international situation”. But as Prachanda simultaneously stresses, this position “is a policy, not tactics”.(1) Does this stress diminish the revolutionary agenda of the Maoists? Not at all. When Mao called for putting politics in command and guns under this command, he meant the readiness of the revolutionary forces to change according to the exigencies of class struggle and revolution. What the Maoists are struggling for is the establishment of the basic political structure that will release the energy of the Nepalese exploited and oppressed masses towards an intensified class struggle, creating conditions for an unhindered process of self-organisation of the working class.

In this regard, well-known Indian Marxist Randhir Singh’s assessment of the place of the Nepalese movement among the post-Cold War revolutionary movements is quite apt: “Latin America is in fact emerging as a particularly important zone of class struggle against international capital. Just as, far away, on another continent, Nepal exemplifies that, odds notwithstanding, people will continue fighting for life beyond the established capitalist or feudal social orders. In this revived revolutionary process, the Chavez-led Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela apart, the Communist Party (Maoist)-led movement in Nepal – popularly known as People’s War – is undoubtedly the most significant popular struggle for freedom and democracy in the world today.”(2)

This comparison between Latin American experiences and Nepal’s Maoist movement is quite meaningful. Both aim towards political exercises unprecedented in the world revolutionary movement. In Latin America (Venezuela, Argentina and others) and Nepal, we are literally witnessing, what Marx hypothesized, “the whole superincumbent strata of official society [of global capitalism] being sprung into the air”.(3)

In Venezuela (and Latin America, in general), the complexity of the revolutionary transformation is engendered by the lingering of the capitalist state machinery and hegemony, on the one hand, and on the other, the contradiction of bourgeois democracy, which has put revolutionary forces at its helm. In this situation, there exists a tremendous pressure within the capitalist state and society o de-radicalise the social forces behind the upheaval by accommodating their leadership. The strength of the revolutionary forces, on the other hand, will be determined by their ability to challenge the lingering hegemony and the danger of their own accommodation by facilitating the task of building and sustaining alternative radical democratic organisations (“self-government of the producers”), while subordinating the state to them. “Only insofar as the state is converted from an organ standing above society into one completely subordinate to it’ can the working class ‘succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew’.”(4) Asambleas Barriales (neighbourhood assemblies) in Argentina and the practice of co-management (a partnership between the workers of an enterprise and society) in Venezuela seek to transcend the officialised practice of statist socialism and ‘sectionalist’ self-management by establishing an incipient ‘social’ control over production.

Modern capitalism relies mainly on representative democracy as the political system to reproduce the general conditions of capitalist accumulation. Therefore, “the crucial problem for the people in charge of affairs is to be able to get on with the business in hand, without undue interference from below, yet at the same time to provide sufficient opportunities for political participation to place the legitimacy of the system beyond serious question… Parliamentarism makes this possible: for it simultaneously enshrines the principle of popular inclusion and that of popular exclusion.” It ‘de-popularises’ policy-making and limits the impact of class contradiction at the workplace and market place upon the conduct of affairs.(5)

Hence, the practice of “participative and protagonistic democracy in society as a whole, the idea of people communally deciding on their needs and communally deciding on their productive activity” is definitely a grave crisis for global capitalism. This practice shoos all ‘metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties’ that characterise market relations (presenting the capitalist reality in distorted manner), dividing the collective worker into various identities (consumers, citizens, unemployed, formal and informal sector workers) and devise competition among them. It reclaims the right of determining one’s own destiny, to realise the “creative potential of every human being and the full exercise of his or her personality in a democratic society”, as envisaged in the Bolivarian constitution of Venezuela.(6)

In Nepal, on the other hand, regular betrayals of the democratic movement by Monarchy and democrats have time and again scuttled the potential emergence of even the minimum semblance of popular democracy. Therefore, the movement was restricted to petty bourgeoisie, who were heavily fed by international aid and its ‘cut and commission’ regime. Whenever the movement seemed to integrate with the struggle for the basic needs of the poor peasantry, landless and proletarians, a compromise was forged curbing the radical potential of the movement.

The success of the Maoists lies in the fact that they integrated the remotest corner of the Nepalese society with the mainstream struggle for popular democracy. They exposed the class content of the formal democratic exercises undertaken in the 1990s. They demonstrated how the formal democratic institutions that emerged in Nepal with the arrangement between the royalty, landlords and the upper crust of petty bourgeoisie along with global imperialism were designed to integrate the neo-hegemonic interests, the local agencies of commercialisation, dependency and primitive accumulation.

In this regard, we must not forget that the armed struggle was the major catalyst in the achievements of the Maoist movement. Firstly, it was a veritable boost to self-confidence and self-defence of the oppressed and exploited in Nepal. Secondly, it allowed sustaining politicisation and democratic practice of the downtrodden undiluted by the hegemonic coercive and consensual influences. The virtual emergence of dual power could become possible only if it had its own defence mechanism. The decade long people’s war and radical land reforms undertaken in the countryside with alternative incipient democratic institutions have radicalised the Nepalese society. It halted the continuous drainage of the Nepalese natural and human resources for economic profit, leisure and security of the external hegemonic forces, buffered by the Nepalese landlords, merchants and corporates under the leadership of the royalty. Time and again all these forces combined to scuttle the democratic aspirations of the Nepalese society in the name of maintaining stability, however allowing a “controlled transformation of the economy to suit the imperialist calculus”.(7) The Maoist upsurge liberated the potentialities in the Nepalese polity and economy.

The recent alliance between the Maoist and other democratic forces in Nepal can be seen, on the one hand, as winning back of the “middle forces” (using Mao’s phrase) and on the other, it signifies a nationwide unity among the exploited and oppressed sections of the society. Further, it marks the willingness to challenge the formal ‘democracy from above’ by the incipient ‘democracy from below’, to allow a “political competition” between them. It is in this respect we can understand the Maoist movement as part of the global struggle for freedom, democracy and socialism. We will have to wait and see, what specificities the Nepalese struggle would acquire. Or, will it be another saga of historic betrayal forged by the imperialist forces and the local ruling coalition?

Seeing the way global imperialism has been once again hyperactive with its ideologies and armies, one can only rely upon the working classes of the world to defend these movements for social transformation with their “fraternal concurrence”. They must realise their “duty to master themselves the mysteries of international politics; to watch the diplomatic acts of their respective governments; to counteract them, if necessary, by all means in their power; when unable to prevent, to combine in simultaneous denunciations, and to vindicate the simple laws or morals and justice, which ought to govern the relations of private individuals, as the rules paramount of the intercourse of nations. The fight for such a foreign policy forms part of the general struggle for the emancipation of the working classes.”(8)

Notes:

(1) Interview with Prachanda, The Hindu (excerpts published on February 8, 9 and 10, 2006)

(2) Randhir Singh (2005), Foreword in Baburam Bhattarai, Monarchy Vs. Democracy: The Epic Fight in Nepal, Samkaleen Teesari Duniya, New Delhi, pp.vii.

(3) Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels (1848), The Manifesto of the Communist Party (Chapter 1).

(4) Michael Lebowitz (2003), Beyond Capital (2nd Edition), Palgrave, pp.196

(5) Ralph Miliband (1982), Capitalist Democracy in Britain, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp.38

(6) Michael Lebowitz (2005), Constructing Co-Management in Venezuela: Contradictions along the Path.

(7) Baburam Bhattarai (2003), The Nature of Underdevelopment and Regional Structure of Nepal: A Marxist Analysis, Adroit Publishers, Delhi, pp.46

(8) Karl Marx (1864), Inaugural Address of the International Working Men’s Association.

Written by Pratyush Chandra

March 20, 2006 at 2:37 pm

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