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Nepal: General strike fails to win support

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Huge mobilisations in Nepal signal the revolution has entered a new stage. But, asks Dave Stockton, can the Maoist strategy lead the masses to victory?

On May Day hundreds of thousands flooded the streets of Kathmandu, capital of Nepal in a demonstration called by the Maoists.

At a mass rally, the Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, known as Prachanda, declared an indefinite general strike. Its aim, he said, was to force the 20-party coalition government to resign and for the Constituent Assembly to draft the long-delayed new constitution. Prachanda also demanded a new government with the Maoists taking the premiership and having a majority of ministers.
The Maoists (or Unified Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist) had already headed such a government – from September 2008 to May 2009 – with Prachanda as prime minister. He resigned when the president refused to support his sacking of the commander in chief of the army, who had refused to incorporate 19,000 Maoist guerillas into the army. Now, the Maoists want to force their way back into a coalition.

General strike aims
For the six days of the strike the country was shut down, largely as a result of the actions of the Maoist Youth Leagues – young people from the countryside who flooded into Kathmandu to enforce a general shut down of factories, businesses, shops, and so on. This meant the indefinite strike did not have the organic involvement of the urban Nepalese working class, but was effectively imposed on them by the Maoist youth.

Many of the Maoist youth, who have as yet gained little from the 2006 revolution that overthrew the King of Nepal, saw the strike as bringing their party to power, not just to gain ministerial portfolios, but to take revolutionary measures to seize the land from the big landlords and to take socialist measures in the interests of the poor, the youth and the workers. A young cadre interviewed by a foreign journalist about their objectives replied, “We come for socialism. We say ‘Peace and Constitution.’ People will have the same rights. We do not come to retreat.”

For the Maoist leaders the general strike arose purely from their impasse in persuading the 20-party coalition government to re-admit them to government in a leading role. There is therefore a clear contradiction between the limited reformist aims of the Maoist leaders and their rank and file.
Also the revolutionary tactic of the indefinite general strike was used for very limited aims and without the positive, democratic involvement of the urban working class on whom the strike really depended.
Prachanda’s reasons for calling off the strike shows how unprepared the Maoists were for a struggle for power. “We have decided to stop the general strike considering the difficulty caused to the ordinary people, and also in view of the conspiracy hatched by this government to instigate violence. But we have not stopped our people’s movement,” he said.

Clashes with the Maoists
Without a doubt it was better for it to end in farce than as a tragic conflict between the peasant youth and the urban working class. But the bureaucratic leaders of the Maoists had no understanding that a general strike cannot succeed if it does not involve the workers in the factories and small workshops from day one, if it does not express their needs and demands first and foremost, and if, the workers through democratic councils and committees are not in charge of it.

The reason the strikes failed to actively involve the workers were that many, including those in the largest union federations, did not support a purely political strike aimed at governmental parties that their unions support. As a result, the youth sections of these parties increasingly clashed with the Maoist youth who were trying to enforce the strike. Prachanda was terrified that large-scale street violence would wreck all prospects of a new government with himself as premier once again.

The Maoist leaders are pursuing a parliamentary road, with a long period of capitalist democracy, in which Nepal is supposed to be modernised by capitalist development led by a Maoist dominated coalition government with the bourgeois parties. The utopian project includes encouraging foreign capital (Indian, Chinese and Western) to set up in Nepal in Special Economic Zones (SEZs). When in power in 2008-9 the Maoists ministers drafted legislation to ban strikes in the these zones – hardly a measure likely to win over Nepal’s workers from the reformist-led unions.

A leaflet handed out on May Day by League for the Fifth International supporters and members of Revolution-Nepal, the socialist youth movement, offered a revolutionary alternative to the workers. It said:

“Nepal needs a revolution – one which gives power not to a government of politicians but to assemblies of workers and peasants. To achieve the goal of socialism, we need to build a revolutionary party which can take power and end capitalism now. Its programme would fight for to take Nepal out of feudalism and primitive capitalism and towards a socialist economy by taking power into the hands of the workers and peasants. For socialism in Nepal as part of a socialist federation of South Asia.”