Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Next Step in Nepal: An Interview with Dr. Baburam Bhattarai

Excerpt from An Interview with Dr. Baburam Bhattarai of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)
Interviewer: Stephen Mikesell and Mary Des Chene

Q. What steps are you taking to give people the means to exert that pressure from below?

Firstly, our party recognises that even when we participate in the government, this government is not a fully revolutionary government, it is a transitional government. So we’ll have to compromise with the other classes. But we would like to take the lead. We would like to transform the state from within. For that we have to create pressure from outside. For that our party’s position is that the whole leadership of the party won’t join the government. One section of the leadership will join the government, and the other section of the party leadership will remain outside and continue organising and mobilising the masses. So the party will take that route. Many of us will be [in the government]. The main form of struggle will be from within the government, to make the new constitution. But another section will remain outside the government. That’s why all of our central leaders didn’t participate in the elections. We want to organise and mobilise the masses so that they can put pressure on the government. So this is one aspect. And we want to develop certain institutions. Though we haven’t found the concrete form for them yet, we have made some policy decisions. When we put forth the concept of development of democracy in the 21st century, our slogan was that the government and the party should be constantly supervised by the masses, and the masses should intervene at times if need be. This is our policy. But we have not been able to find the concrete form. What will be the way of intervening in case the government deviates? What will be the form of putting pressure, apart from public demonstrations? How will they intervene in the state system? That mechanism we are trying to work out.

Q. How are you dealing with the challenge of bringing in international capital and retaining domestic capital within the country, in a way that is in keeping with your own economic policy?

Our main emphasis will be mobilising internal resources. Until and unless we can mobilise internal resources, at least for basic needs, then we’ll always be blackmailed by the international capital. So our first priority would be to mobilise our internal resources. But even then, in the immediate sense, we’ll need some foreign capital. At least for long-term economic development we have to make investment in basic infrastructure, and so on, using international capital. For that we’re trying to re-negotiate with the international agencies. Of course they will try to put pressure. But we are already in contact with some of them. And they also have their own compulsions, you see. If they don’t cooperate, they will also face the resistance of the people. They all have their strategic interests. Nepal being located in a very strategic place between China and India, and these forces, I think they have their eyes on the big markets of India and China, and if there is not a favorable situation in Nepal, they will be hurt, you see – not immediately, but in the long-term strategic sense. In that way they also have their certain interest in Nepal. So that, if we negotiate very carefully, though they will try to bring pressure – we know it, this is the nature of international capital, to twist the arms of the poor countries and poor people – even then, I think if we move very carefully, we can take some liberties out of that.

Q. Moving back to labour issues again, how are you involving the working class and in particular your unions in the economic policy of the country?

Our unions are the strongest in Nepal. We came into this [peace] process two years ago. In almost all the factories and workplaces, we have organised the workers, and our trade union is the strongest in the country. Wherever there have been [union] elections, we have won almost all of them. It may sound anachronistic, but just to give you an example, in the 5-star hotels where there were elections, we won all of them. Our trade unions got strong because they bargained with the management for the rights of the workers. To increase pay and provide benefits and facilities according to law. They were not paid earlier, and they were not provided with facilities. So the management was forced to pay. And there was a lot of attraction of workers to our trade unions. But on the other side, the reactionaries are instigating the management, saying that the Maoist trade unions are putting undue pressure, so there is no conducive environment for investment, and in this way they’re encouraging capital flight. Some capital has fled also, so we have to make that [...]. Just the other day we were at a gathering of nationalist [capitalists] and traders and we tried to show them that our main focus right now is to do away with feudalism and do away with the feudal relations of production, and the very dependent capitalism, not national and international capitalism. So we try to distinguish between these. Firstly, we want to do away with feudalism. Then we want to develop our productive investment capital, not the very parasitic capital we have right now. This is what we call comprador and bureaucratic capitalism which doesn’t promote production, and doesn’t promote employment. It is only that type of distorted, dependent capitalism, which is developing in the country, that we are against. We are not against productive and industrial capitalism, you know, which provides goods, provides jobs, creates value within the country, and at least resists the imperialist interventions within the country. That type of national capitalism we promote. We tried to convince the nationalists and traders that we’ll create a favorable environment.

Q. In Volume 3 of Capital, Marx made the point that if you just have straight redistribution into small plots it actually becomes a process of even more land consolidation because the small plots are facing a very concentrated capital, and it’s very hard for them to survive.

That’s why we’re trying to promote cooperatives. You see, one of our slogans has been that the small peasants should organise in cooperatives and the state should provide certain specific facilities and rights to the cooperatives. If they’re working and organised in cooperatives, then they can compete, or they can at least defend themselves from the encroachment of capital, and big capital.

Q: And this mandate for change has been taking the form of the slogan of a ‘New Nepal’. What exactly is meant by that and how is it expected to come about?

Yes, ‘New Nepal’ has been a very effective slogan given by our party during the election. ‘New thought and new leadership for a new Nepal,’ that was our basic slogan. And I think that people took it very well, and that is why they voted for us. So by New Nepal, what we mean is, first, politically, we want to dismantle all the feudal political, economic, social and cultural relations. That will be one aspect of New Nepal. The other aspect of New Nepal will be making drastic socio-economic transformation in a progressive way. The one is destruction of the old, the other will be construction of the new. There will be two aspects. And our basic focus will be on economic activities: the transforming of the agriculture sector, and then developing productive forces, industrial relations, so that the workers and the youth will be provided employment. And that will create a basis for going toward socialism. Our economic slogan that we gave was: ‘New transitional economic policy.’ That means industrial capitalism – development of industrial capitalism – oriented towards socialism. This has been our work for the interim period.

Q. We know that you have to go. Is there anything you want to say to the Left in North America?

You see the crisis is international in scale: there is a direct fight between the proletarian ideology and imperialist ideology. This is in the whole of this so-called globalisation. Globalisation has given this sharp class contradiction, of two classes. So North America being the centre of imperialism, the working class and Left forces there, I think they should organise themselves and the stronger the movement against imperialism there, that will be helpful for the Left and proletarian movement in the Third World countries, because the Third World countries are the most oppressed by imperialism. If there is a strong working class movement and Left movement in the imperialist countries, that will directly help the revolutionary movement in the Third World countries. That way we appeal to our friends in North America. They should sharpen their struggle against imperialism. That will help our movement in our countries.

Q. The workers there see themselves as being forced into competition with workers in Third World countries because all their jobs, that is, capital, is moving to the Third World and leaving them unemployed.

That is because of the nature of imperialism, you see. It is not the fault of the Third World countries. They want to exploit the Third World countries more.

Q. Exactly. They want to use these countries to weaken the workers in the…

They want to use the workers of the poor countries against the workers of the rich countries. Instead of that, I think that we should have international working class solidarity, and we have to coordinate the policy against imperialism. When you don’t have this political sharpness and political consciousness, the working class in the imperialist countries will think workers of the dependent countries or Third World countries are their enemy, you see. Workers are not their enemy; imperialism is their enemy. So I think this consciousness should be developed among the workers of the imperialist countries.

[Stephen Mikesell and Mary Des Chene are anthropologists who study Nepal’s economy and politics. This interview was originally conducted in Nepal for WORT-FM community radio, Madison, Wisconsin.]
It appears also in the april 2008 issue of Revolutionary Democracy

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