by Steve da Silva
After decades of under-funding to First Nations schools – with high dropout rates and an epidemic of youth suicide that can’t be disassociated with the situation in schools – last Tuesday, October 22, the Federal government tabled their First Nations Education Act that will give it more direct control over about 515 reserve schools under its control.
Under the draft legislation, band councils would be allowed to operate schools directly – as many already do – or purchase services from regional or provincial school boards or the private sector. First Nations could also form education authorities that would oversee one or more schools in a region.
However, under the new legislation it would be the federal government that would set and enforce standards for schools on reserves (with the exception of Onkwehon:we nations that have established self-government agreements that cover education). The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development will retain the power to take over a school or if an inspector finds problems.
What the draft legislation is not clear about are the funding levels that fall far below funding provided to provincial schools. Funding short-falls have been a principal factor in keeping the standards in First Nations schools far below provincially-funded schools.
A piece of Canada’s Economic Action Plan, the Federal Conservative government claims their aim to be “improving graduation rates for First Nations students,” but First Nations (Indian Act) leaders are already decrying it as a renewal of the colonial legacy, by giving the Feds more control with no guarantee of the desperately needed funding increases.
In an October 25 press release, Chief Patrick Madahbee of the Union of Ontario Indians said that “The proposed First Nations Education Act (FNEA) is about control and false accountability,” says Madahbee. ”It is a colonial document and makes no attempt to close the gap on inequality in education.”
“Firstly, it gives our citizens, parents and students no say in their own education… This is the same mentality as the government-run residential school disaster that had a history littered with genocide and acts of inhumanity.
“Secondly, it ignores curriculum needs that experts agree are essential to the academic success of First Nations learners – curriculum that talks about our culture and beliefs, and an accurate account of our historical contributions.
“And thirdly, this government starts their so-called educational reform with a threat to First Nations that if they don’t meet Canadian standards they will be put under third-party management, despite the fact that First Nation schools are largely underfunded and are unlikely to meet standards set by other, better funded schools, for example, the school in Biinjitiwaabik Zaaging Anishinaabek (Rocky Bay First Nation) receives $4781 less per student than nearby provincially-funded Upsala School in the Keewatin Patricia District School Board.”
Final legislation is anticipated before the year’s end after “consultation” with First Nations (Indian Act) authorities.
By J. Lapierre
The right to education for children without status in Quebec comes with a $5,000 price tag.
This past July, the Quebec government shared a set of guidelines with Quebec school boards for dealing with children with precarious immigration status. While the guidelines expanded the number of children who could access free education, students without status are forced to pay $5,000 to $6,000 in school fees.
“The situation isn’t complicated” Jaggi Singh from Solidarity Across Borders told the crowd of people who had gathered outside an elementary school where a Montreal school board was holding one of its meetings.
“We want children to be able to access education no matter what their status is.”
It was the seventh time people had come to demand that the school board allow children without immigration status to be able to attend public school.
Some school boards have refused students entry if they do not pay the fees upfront.
“There’s a family with two kids in a school board in the east end. They tried to go to school, but they were refused. The same thing happened twice with families in a school board in the south shore.” said Singh.
Other school boards seem content to simply send a bill.
One of the speakers relayed that one of the commissioners at the meeting told her that “the parents can simply rip up the bill.” However, receiving the bills in the first place is unsettling for parents.
The group Solidarity Across Borders has encouraged parents to register their children and has offered to support who want to challenge paying the fees.
As the group of people outside began to discuss how to pressure the school boards and the minister of education, a representative from the board was sent to meet with the crowd. He quickly became upset seeing that people are organizing and he pleaded with the group to “wait for the results of the board meeting.”
“It’s been two years!” someone from the crowd shouted.
The Quebec government has been particularly slow on this question. Both the United States and the Ontario government were forced to confirm the rights of children without status to free public school education in the 1980s.
Solidarity Across Borders has been campaigning for over two years now. And parents began organizing many years before that.
Charging parents without immigration status, most of whom are working low wage, insecure jobs because of their lack of documentation, for the education of their child is outrageous and inhumane. This is just another example of governments in Canada and Quebec attempting to squeeze working people, especially those who are most vulnerable.
In this show we reflect on Sept. 11th and how imperialism has used it to propel war on the people around the Globe.
In our feature interview, we focus on the ‘Defederation Campaign’ and how and why students are organizing to defederate from the Canadian Federation of Student. Through our conversation with Ashleigh Ingle, Ontario Spokesperson, we explore why.
Radio Basics is the radio wing of BASICS Community News Service, a working-class community-based newspaper in Toronto and throughout other parts of Canada, serving the people in their struggles.
You can listen to us Live EVERY Monday 8 – 9 pm on CHRY 105.50 fm in Toronto, and for listeners outside Toronto, tune in at chry.fm; and every Friday, 4 – 5 pm, in Waterloo on Sound FM CKMS 100.3.
by Nicole Oliver (photos by Alex Felipe)
“Detachment is not indifference. It is the prerequisite for effective involvement. Often what we think is best for others is distorted by our attachments to our opinions. We want others to be happy in the way we think they should be happy. It is only when we want nothing for ourselves that we are able to see clearly into others needs and understand how to serve them.” – Ghandi
As a participant on the Biimadasahwin – ILPS Indigenous Commission cabin build project this quotation from Ghandi often enters my mind as I move from active participant in the building process to at times reflective observer of others and myself. Biimadasahwin means “life” in Ojibway. It is the name that Darlene Necan, a grassroots leader from the Ojibway Nation of Saugeen, has given to the project. This project has brought together community members from the Saugeen and individuals from various ILPS-Canada organizations such as Barrio Nuevo, Bayan, Basics, Binnadang-Migrante, CUPE 3903, and the Revolutionary Women’s Collective. For many of us, myself included, engaging in grassroots work that combines intense physical labor, roughing it in the wilderness, and cross-cultural exposure to the Anishinaabe way of life definitely pushes our personal boundaries, taking us away from familiar understandings and ways of being. At times our patient and wise leader Darlene expresses frustrations with us as we try our best to learn and adapt.
Sometimes as organizers, and I do not exclude myself here, we begin to think of ourselves as experts or as persons with particularized knowledge and lose sight of the fact that the community members whom we are working with are the experts in their own lives and communities. As community organizers in particular contexts our decision-making skills and responses to the challenges we face improve with experience. Due to the nature of our work many of these skills translate well into organizing in different contexts, but it is still necessary to recognize our boundaries and areas for growth as organizers when working in a new context, much like the cabin build project demands. Being overly confident in ourselves, our abilities, making assumptions, and not checking in with Darlene or the other Ojibway community members helping with the build while in the bush has resulted in setbacks and misunderstandings. For instance, one of the roles that I have been sharing responsibility for is that of cooking. Admittedly, there have been a few meals that I that I cooked a little too much to my taste regarding spice and heat. Upon reflection had I checked in with others regarding what they liked, especially given that food has both personal, cultural, and social elements attached to it, I would have been able to provide a meal that all could enjoy without wincing at the spice level. Thus, the bush and this type of work for myself reminds me to be humble, to check in with others, to respect the power of mother nature, and to listen to those who have walked these particular woods since they have taken their first steps.
So often as community organizers we are required to be active doers, leaders, initiators, and voices shouting to be heard. As we grow into the role of active doer and as our responsibilities increase with the demands of being an organizer, perhaps not enough space or time is dedicated to reflecting on our practices and our ways of being in community. Other times we dedicate too much time to conducting lengthy meetings, email exchanges, strategic planning, evaluations, and assessments; sitting around a table like a bunch of talking heads.
These issues in community organizing have also crept their way into the bush. One morning Darlene expressed impatience with us as our morning tasking meeting was pushing past brief. The other day when I showed Darlene my interview grid for an upcoming article that I wish to write about the trip, she exclaimed, “oh you people, why must you evaluate, assess, and dissect every little thing in such a way?” I think she was referring to how western academia has trained me to be so critical of every little thing, to overly categorize lived-experience into very structured and logical sequences, even that which is experiential and qualitative.
Prior trip departure, there has been a lot of time invested in planning, rapport building, fundraising, education, logistics and putting together a well-coordinated group of committed individuals. Given that much work went into the trip ahead of time persons most certainly arrived with opinions, personal expectations, goals, expected outcomes, and next steps. However, important preparation and planning are while engaging in the cabin build related work the need to be present, truly present in the experience should not be undervalued. Being truly present requires active listening and taking in the experience for just that, an experience in and of itself free of value judgments.
The need to be present and to actively listen in the bush can mean life and death. Time and again, as I work along side Darlene she points out the dangers of precariously hanging fallen trees, how to handle our tools, how to work together so we will not strain our backs, how to prepare the camp so that we will not be attacked by bears and other wildlife with which we share this environment. At times these constant reminders and Darlene’s mother-like watchfulness does cause some mild internal conflict for me as her directions collide with my own sense of self-sufficiency. When this happens respectfully I take a deep breath, actively listen and put my own sense of pride aside as her warnings come from a place of rich experience, deep care, and concern for those she is working with.
Being in the bush with Darlene on her family’s trap-line has taken many of us as organizers out of our comfort zones and away from the communities in which we typically organize. The transition from being a leader to being lead, from being a teacher to being a student, from being a voice to the active listener, I think is something that perhaps each of us at some point on this trip has had to confront. For some more than others being able to take a step back and to be open to being lead, to be open to being taught another way of doing and being has not been easy.
Much like the Ghandi quotation expresses there is much need here on the cabin build trip and in community organizing in general to put aside our own attachments, our own egos, our own desires, and needs to honor the needs of others. Despite knowledge and insights gained through our experiences as organizers we must allow ourselves to be humble and open-hearted to understand that people know their conditions, their lived experiences, their needs best and it is for us to listen to these needs and collectively organize around them.
by Julian Ichim
On May 15th, people gathered at the Queen St. Commons to participate in a popular education workshop on Venezuela.
The workshop started with Santiago Escobar of the Popular Front Hugo Chavez Network discussing the history of Venezuela’s struggle against imperialism. He then went on to discuss the role of corporate media in working to undermine the people’s struggle, and the role of people’s media as an alternative to inform people of the realities of Venezuela.
He also talked about the current attempts by the United States and Canada to undermine the election of President Maduro of the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela by supporting attempts by the opposition to destabilize the country. He ended his presentation by discussing the role of people’s media in giving the people of Venezuela means to inform themselves and mobilize in defense of the revolution.
The workshop ended with people creating a magazine in support of Venezuela and against imperialism and corporate media. We divided into groups and each created several pages. The event was informative and fun and we all agreed we would like to do more popular media and support to support Venezuela.
by Shahzali Samah
The Transitional Year Program (TYP) at the University of Toronto (U of T) St.George Campus is a historically significant program in education. TYP has the distinction of being the first full time access and equity program in the University of Toronto. For the past 43 years, TYP has worked to make U of T more accessible and equitable for Africans, First Nations, working class, LGBTQ, sole support parents and other marginalized, under-represented communities. The major accomplishment of TYP is that it proved that when educational and financial barriers are removed, students from marginalized backgrounds can succeed at University. TYP represents social justice in the education system and instills hope for marginalized groups.
In spite of TYP proving its worth in the face of many struggles and challenges since its inception, TYP is under attack by the U of T’s Central Administration. Although no one spoke in favor of eliminating TYP, the actions of the Central Administration will ultimately destroy TYP’s capacity and stability.
In essence, TYP will be starved out of existence.
Reducing the number of staff and faculty, restricting funding, and taking away TYP’s autonomy are not the actions of an administration that is dedicated to the work that TYP does and communities that it serves. TYP will be unable to continue to provide its mandate and support its students under the proposed changes. Reducing staff, faculty and funding, limits the ability of the program to meet the needs of its students.
Taking away our space by amalgamating TYP into Woodsworth College, U of T further marginalizes TYP. Under the proposal, the TYP Director will report to the Principal of Woodsworth, who reports to the Dean of Arts and Science, who reports to the Provost. This new reporting relationship places TYP where it will be subject to greater interference and struggle for scarce resources. Moreover, as per the proposal, Woodsworth Council will be the authority on all decisions relating to curricula and the needs of the program, eroding the democratic, self governing nature of TYP. This reduces TYP’s ability to assist students who have experienced challenges and barriers to education.
The funding restriction translates into TYP unable to replace retirees, cutting their faculty in half. TYP has been told there will be no continuing appointments and no sessional appointment and our current budget cannot support any more hiring. This effectively means that our entire part time teaching faculty (which includes two limited term appointments and three sessional appointments) will be axed. These are teachers who teach Aboriginal Studies, World Literature, Sociology, and Equity Studies. In real terms the TYP program in its current form will no longer exists. The staff and faculty is the heart and soul of TYP and their contribution past and present is immeasurable.
How does this indicate the University’s commitment to access and equity, inclusiveness? If the University is striving for commitment to access and equity in university, U of T needs to initiate an all-inclusive access and equity strategy. This is done, in part, by solidifying access as a financial priority.
We understand the University is an evolving entity that must adapt to changing circumstances. However, the central administration should work alongside TYP as a partner to ensure U of T continues to foster and promote access and equity in education. Access and equity is interconnected; one is not recognized without the other. They are principles embedded in social justice and respect for all peoples in a democratic society, for education is a human right. U of T should reconsider the destructive actions it is currently undertaking. As long as the challenges of oppression have not been met, access and equity programs such as TYP should not only go on but also expanded to serve marginalized communities.
by Noaman G. Ali
“I just want to help children,” a voice called out in English from a clothing store in Thamel, a tourist area of Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital city.
I saw a young white woman walking out of the store, and my curiosity got the better of me. “You want to help children?” I called out.
It was a dark, cold January evening and the narrow streets were lit largely from stores which had no front walls and the signs that hung over them. The woman stopped and turned around.
“Yeah. There are these street girls—and not the glue-sniffing kind—they’re really nice street girls, and they don’t have shoes or socks so I want to buy them socks. That’s a nice thing to do, isn’t it?” she seemed to be pleading.
“I guess,” I said. “But you know there are other ways of helping people here?”
“Like what?” she asked.
“You know about the revolution going on here, don’t you?”
“No. What revolution are you talking about?”
“The communist revolution,” I said, referring to the Maoist movement that has dominated the country’s politics for the better part of the last decade.
“Communism? Isn’t that bad?”
“Why is it bad?”
“Because communists want to take things over and run things and tell people what to do,” she said with conviction.
I tried to explain a bit of what the Maoist communists in Nepal were about, but she wasn’t convinced.
“I don’t know about all of that,” she said. “I’m only here for one more day, and I want to do something nice.”
A few days later, in the small city of Birendranagar in the western district of Surkhet, I was squatting on my haunches watching as barefoot men, women, and children sat next to mounds of gravel and smashed at stones with hammers.
Bits of stone flew in all directions and kept hitting me in the eyes. It took me awhile to realize that these people were producing the gravel.
A toddler wearing a black shirt and no pants—never mind shoes—was hitting at a rock with a hammer as a playtime activity, imitating the older children and adults around.
Other youth, in their teens and early twenties, were collecting large stones and rocks and arranging them in blocks to build a bridge.
The sun beat down on our backs as I asked Veer Bahadur, a 49-year old stone-breaker with dusty, bandaged thumbs, to tell me about his life.
His 35-year old wife, Jitmaya Nepali spoke more. We communicated through a translator, a small-business owner who was showing me around the city.
They explained that they were from the Thapa, a caste of historically-oppressed indigenous (janjati) peoples. Completely landless, they were living in a hut thrown up on some land near the construction of the bridge. They had four children. Only the youngest was in school.
I asked about untouchability, the political, economic, and cultural system by which people from upper castes would refuse to touch people from the lowest of castes, make them do the worst of jobs, and generally treat them with disrespect and contempt.
“There used to be a lot of that,” Jitmaya said. “But there’s not so much of that now.”
“Why is that?” I asked.
“The Maoists,” she said.
In the course of a ten-year long People’s War launched in 1996, during which they took control of some 80-percent of the countryside, the Maoists struggled against untouchability and for the rights of oppressed castes and nationalities, women, small businesses and, of course, workers and peasants.
Before the People’s War, Jitmaya explained, she used to do the same work, but earned much less than she does now. “There’s more earning now for us to eat.”
When it came to politics, though, Jitmaya asserted that whoever won the elections, it just didn’t do much for her and people like her.
Still, she noted, “The Maoists are all right. Congress and UML only look out for themselves and for the rich. The Maoists at least look at and talk about the wretched and the poor.”
The Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist), or UML, were the largest parties in Nepal before the Maoists came onto the scene. Although they have opposed the attempts by Nepal’s monarchy to take total control, they have also leaned heavily on the highly oppressive semi-feudal landlords and sections of the bureaucracy to support them. The two parties are also often seen as being very close to India, whose control and influence is considered by many to block Nepal’s prospects for economic and political development.
Congress and UML’s reluctance to support the economic and cultural reforms needed to establish a true democracy played into support for the Maoists in the course of the People’s War. But when the monarchy took total control of the country in the early 2000s, the Maoists ended the War and joined hands with Congress and UML in a People’s Movement that decisively abolished the monarchy.
Surprising everybody, perhaps including themselves, the Maoists emerged as the largest party in the Constituent Assembly elections held in 2008. But the following years brought little political stability, as different parties cycled through Prime Ministerships. No administration could last very long—leading to intense dissatisfaction throughout the country.
“What’s politics got to do with us? Why should we go after politics? What will the Maoists do for us?” Balbahadur Viswakarma said when I asked him about his views on politics and the Maoists.
A couple of hours away from Birendranagar, in the “village development committee” of Maintada, Balbahadur is a labourer from the Dalit caste of “untouchables.” 50-years old, Balbahadur was squatting on a pile of rocks, which he was putting together to construct a home, when I went up to speak to him in Hindi.
“I have a little bit of land that can sustain my family for six months,” he explained. “The rest of the time I do this kind of work.”
His view on politics appeared thoroughly pragmatic. “We need development, we need jobs. We’ll vote for whoever gives us bread and livelihoods. The land we live on is not registered in our names, we’ll vote for whoever gets it registered.”
But his words further on betrayed some appreciation for the Maoists’ struggle.
“More people have gotten livelihoods as a result of the People’s War. Before the War, only the children of rich people got jobs and income. Those people who were already big leaders, or owned businesses, or had a lot of land.
“There was also a lot of untouchability and discrimination, but it was reduced as a result of the People’s War. Little people got the opportunity to speak out.”
Still, Balbahadur argued that the People’s War was not a success because the Constituent Assembly had proven incapable of producing a constitution.
Not only that, “Congress and UML are parties of the rich. They won’t do anything for the poor. Revolution is necessary. Things change so fast, but workers and peasants still need jobs, electricity, an end to load-shedding, irrigation. But not in this violent way. So many people died, there was so much loss, it’s not right.”
What is it about these Maoists that people could express, at once, their appreciation for their actions and skepticism about their intentions?
How are Maoists handling their departure from revolutionary politics and entry into mainstream politics?
And just who are these Maoists, who risked life and limb in a ten-year long People’s War against the police and army of Nepal?
Bimila Hamal was suffering from motion sickness and so she spent most of the bus ride to Surkhet half-asleep—on top of me.
Surkhet district is in the western part of Nepal, some fifteen hours west of Kathmandu by bus. The ride is bumpy and winds its way along precipitous mountain paths.
The 26-year old kept apologizing about giving me the trouble, and I sat there awkwardly trying to make sure she didn’t fly out of the seat every time the bus hit a bump, which was often. My head hit the coaster above me several times.
A screen at the front of the bus played a Nepali film, and Bimila was totally alert for one of the songs, explaining that she really liked it. From time to time her phone would go off to the tune of a sweet and sugary Hindi song.
An hour or two away from Birendranagar, as the daylight came up, the usually cheery Bimila turned sombre and pointed out a national park in the lush greenery of the hills and valleys below.
“There are elephants and tigers in this park,” she explained. “During the People’s War, we would have to march through these jungles, mostly at night.”
“Weren’t you afraid?” I asked.
“No. The animals were afraid of us,” she said. “We were afraid of the police.”
Bimila was part of a Maoist artists’ troupe. She joined the Maoists when she was 13-years old, in the middle of the People’s War. Completely banned, the Maoists were totally underground.
Her nom de guerre is Sarala. It means simple.
“We would often walk at night and I was so tired that I would fall asleep while walking! Then someone behind me would bump into me and ask, what happened?”
I first met Bimila in Kathmandu, when delegates and observers were taking a break from the Seventh National Congress of the Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist, held in mid-January. I asked her then about how and why she joined up with the Maoists.
Bimila is from a family of small peasants—poor, but not too poor. Her parents supported the Maoists and their ideology of equality and development. Her father was sometimes jailed, and to avoid police he was often not at home.
Bimila’s mother and her daughters faced the brunt of police repression. That just fueled even more resentment against the state and underscored the Maoists’ point that there could be no liberation under the existing political order.
“There was a lot of persecution. The police would harass us. They beat my mother because we would occasionally feed and house Maoist activists. The police slapped me around. My mother told me to go fight.”
So Bimila became a whole-timer (full-time activist) with the Maoists. Because she was young she wasn’t assigned to fighting. Instead, she joined in with the artists, and was trained in dancing. She was also trained in political and social science, public speaking and how to conduct mass work.
“There was so much injustice and persecution, I felt I had to go fight for liberation.”
For several years, Bimila explained, she and her comrades spent a lot of time walking from village to village, from district to district, from region to region, spreading the Maoist message through song, dance and theatre. “I’ve visited much of Nepal, on foot. People really loved us everywhere we went.”
The Maoists and communities that supported them were the frequent target of state repression, so even artists were trained in handling weaponry for self-defense, as well as in first aid.
Many of Bimila’s friends died in the People’s War, but she also remembered it fondly as a time of great camaraderie and solidarity. Bimila got married during the People’s War, and now has a five-year old son—named Soviet.
I bumped into Bimila a couple more times over the next few days, and when I learned that she was going to Surkhet with another comrade from the All Nepal Women’s Association (Revolutionary) (ANWA(R)), I asked if I could come along. That got me on the 15-hour bus ride to the western part of Nepal.
“Sometimes this peace seems like a dream,” Bimila told me. “In those years, I could never imagine that I’d be taking a bus on official roads to visit friends across the country.”
At one point in Surkhet, Bimila showed me two videos of herself dancing. One was filmed in one of the Maoists’ Base Areas during the People’s War. Bimila dances in a circle with other men and women in western Nepali style to a deuda, a man and a woman competing in singing verses—here, revolutionary verses. But in the other video, she dances by herself to a popular Bollywood song, at a picnic in peacetime.
After the War, Bimila resumed her education and is now enrolled in a B.Ed. program. I got the sense she’d like to be some kind of a performer. But, she noted, her husband encouraged her to continue as a leader instead.
Like so many others, Bimila is torn between the need to complete the revolution and the comforts of peace—“a morbid peace” because the efforts and sacrifices of the People’s War did not lead to the outcomes people fought for: No constitution, no government of the workers and peasants, no accelerated development toward equality.
Instead, the deep practices of the state came back, even when the government was led by Maoists. Politicians went back to the kinds of wheeling and dealing, corruption and scandals, and subordination to Indian expansionism that had led to the People’s War in the first place.
It seemed certain that the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (or UCPN(Maoist)) had abandoned its program of revolution. When those who were committed to the goal of revolution decided to split and to form the Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist (or CPN-Maoist, also called the Dash Maoists for simplicity’s sake) in 2012, Bimila sided with the revolutionaries.
Now Bimila is a regional bureau member of the Dash Maoists, a central committee member of the All Nepal Women’s Association (Revolutionary) and its district in-charge in Surkhet.
She often deals with cases of polygamy, violence against women, sexual harassment and alcoholism—these things go together all over Nepal—organizing ANWA(R) activists to empower women and to bring men around.
“First we try to persuade them, but if they don’t behave then we may slap them around a bit….” She laughed, somewhat apologetically, breaking out a brilliant smile, “Because we have to liberate women!”
Well, all right.
There was some mischief in Kanta Poudel’s eyes.
In Kothikada, on a peak overlooking the Surkhet Valley in which Birendranagar is located, the 30-year old schoolteacher was telling me about the situation of women in her region.
We weren’t alone. We were surrounded by over a dozen men and women listening to our conversation.
“There was violence against women in general and domestic violence as well. Our voices weren’t heard, many times we literally couldn’t even speak,” she explained.
Many of the women nodded or muttered in agreement. The men looked on.
“All we were good for was cooking food and cutting grass. We had no rights to property—in law, yes, but not in reality. Things have gotten better. They are not as good as they should be, but they have gotten better.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because of democracy and peace. There has been education and general social change. Things change with time.”
“Okay,” I said. “But what about struggle?”
“Yes,” and here the twinkle in her eyes was betrayed by the slight, sly smile on her face. “Because of struggle—people’s struggle.”
Among the spectators was Kanta’s father, 72-year old Tikaram Devkota, a small peasant from an upper caste, a committed monarchist and an opponent of the Maoists.
Some ways down from Kothikada in Chhera, I met with 33-year old Balkrishna Bandhari, who owned a small roadside shop from which he sold food (noodles, rice and dal, so on) and basic condiments.
“Politics in Nepal is golmaal [a circular mess],” he said, as the sun settled and we sat around a fire. “What’s happening is bad and dirty. Politicians have no principles. They’re treacherous. And not just any one leader, all leaders are like this. There’s no constitution, no rule of law, no stability. Foreign companies won’t invest because of the war and so there are no jobs.”
“Isn’t foreign investment a problem?” I asked.
“Regulate it! But we need it. We don’t want it like British companies did to India, but we need jobs.”
I asked him what he thought of the parties. “I’m not with any party. I haven’t voted for anyone. There’s UML and Congress and the Maoists and the khaoists”—meaning ‘eaters’—“but I am not with anyone.”
I heard that kind of skepticism in politics from dozens of people all over Nepal.
“I am definitely not with the Maoists, although I had faith in the person of Baburam Bhattarai.”
Baburam Bhattarai is a senior leader of the UCPN(Maoist), and an accomplished academic and intellectual. He was finance minister from 2008 to 2009, and won widespread admiration for his performance, particularly by pressuring the bureaucracy to collect more taxes than had ever been collected by any government before. His administration also managed to control prices of petrol and other essentials.
But the first Maoist administration under the prime ministership of UCPN(Maoist) top leader Prachanda (Pushpa Kamal Dahal) was forced to leave government in a struggle with the army and other parties in 2009. Bhattarai then became prime minister in 2011, but instead of delivering on a constitution, he dissolved the Constituent Assembly in May 2012. To make things worse, inflation kept rising as joblessness increased.
Meanwhile, the struggle inside the party between revolutionaries and reformists continued.
In the course of the People’s War, Maoists had set up Base Areas, where the government forces could not enter, and in which they developed organs of people’s power from below. These included people’s councils for governance and administration, people’s courts, people’s micro-industries (including a people’s micro-hydroelectric project), and much more.
Even where the Maoists were not in full control, they had mobile people’s councils and mobile people’s courts, delivering quick dispute resolution rather than having people travel far to district courts. In many areas they took over land from large landowners and redistributed it to poor peasants. It was part of what made them so popular.
But upon ending the War in 2006 and entering the peace process, the opposition set conditions upon them to reverse the land reforms and to dismantle structures of people’s power. Prachanda and Bhattarai accepted this condition, saying they could achieve the revolution through other means. Though the revolutionaries in the party were skeptical, they went along with it.
But six years later, the struggle sharpened, especially after the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly. The Maoists had suspended the revolutionary process so that they could play the game of parliamentary politics, only to find that they couldn’t play it that effectively. In fact, it seemed like Prachanda and Bhattarai had given in to the logic of the top-down parliamentary process rather than looking to build people’s power from below.
The revolutionaries finally broke in mid-2012, accusing Bhattarai and Prachanda of having no intention of walking down the revolutionary road.
“I used to like Bhattarai,” a small-business owner, who chose to remain anonymous, told me in Birendranagar. “But not anymore. Instead, I support the Dash Maoists,” he said, referring to the faction that had split by its popular name. He was not, however, a member.
I sat across the table from him, talking over dinner in a small hotel. I was having a hard time believing him. “You do know that communists want to take over property and redistribute it?”
“Let them!” he said. “There are people richer than me. Every day, I work from four o’clock in the morning to ten o’clock at night. What for? Eight to ten hours of work is enough But here in Nepal, only a small fraction of the population actually works. Everyone else just eats.”
I was confused. “You mean, most of the people work and a small fraction eat?”
“No. There are a few rich people who live off of exploitation, but go outside, what do you see? You see these youth doing nothing but standing around and playing carrom all day.”
He was right. Just next to the hotel was a dingy, seedy bar-café, with a carrom board outside, around which were half a dozen to a dozen young men. In fact, as I traveled through the countryside for long hours on buses, passing through small villages and towns I saw carrom board after carrom board surrounded by young men. In the city of Kathmandu, in district Nawalprasi in the south and, of course, in Surkhet, I saw it on the ground.
“There’s no electricity so they can’t sit at home watching TV all day. They have no jobs. There’s nothing for them to do but to play carrom, or to go get drunk. They have to live off other people’s money.”
He explained that despite belonging to an upper caste, he came from a poor, landless working-class family. His father worked in other people’s homes. He left Nepal at a young age to study in India but could not complete his university education. So he started working there when he was 18-years old, then in other parts of Southeast Asia, before very recently returning to Nepal. He was now 45-years old.
“I was compelled to go abroad, like so many youth. Our youth have no future in Nepal. They are wasted here. If the communists take my property to create development and jobs for everyone, then I am happy to give it all up!
“I took a loan to start this business, and I make a little bit of a profit that pays it off and feeds my family but everyone should work equally. My prime minister should work as much as I do—and I should work only eight hours.”
So what was his problem with Baburam Bhattarai? By all accounts he was a hard worker, and he was trying to invite foreign investment to the country.
“India’s rulers have always tried to dominate Nepal,” he explained. “India demonstrates friendship, but actually it loots our resources.”
He went on to explain how Nepal has entered into many unequal treaties with India, and that Bhattarai’s government had, in fact, entered into even more unequal relationships like this.
Nepal’s population is some 26 million, whereas India’s is over 1.2 billion. A lot of small business owners and workers flow into Nepal from India—while the reverse also happens. But the major threat appears to be the wholesale exploitation of Nepal’s resources by large Indian companies.
In fact, Bhattarai had signed onto the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPPA) with India, which was roundly criticized even by members of the UCPN(Maoist), never mind the Dash Maoists.
Despite having the world’s second-largest potential for hydroelectric generation, Nepal lags far, far behind, with several hours of load-shedding in major cities and practically no electricity in rural areas. Instead of using state power to raise national capital in order to develop the capacities, Bhattarai’s government was continuing to sign over national resources to Indian companies.
“The Karnali River, I mean the river itself, was all but sold to an Indian company,” he explained. “I am not against foreign investment, let them develop the resources and take money—but then they restricted Nepali businesses from doing the same, they have to take permission from the Indian company! Let them take our money, but not our national property.”
In fact, the Dash Maoists have started a company to try and raise the capital necessary to develop the hydropower project and replace the Indian company, demonstrating the potential for Nepalis to form their own alternatives from the ground up.
“Instead of developing our own resources, Bhattarai has continued our dependence on Western powers.” He explained how the World Food Program was being relied upon to get food to remote areas in Nepal.
“What they need is roads, education, agricultural training, and whatever else is necessary to make them self-reliant and to make our country self-reliant. At first, we will be happy to work twelve to fifteen hours, if that’s what it means to stand on our own feet. How long are we supposed to last on handouts? The first day, okay; the second day, okay; but the third day? Who will keep giving us free food? They’ve ruined our habits. We’ve become dependent on others. We need business, we need jobs.”
To him, Bhattarai and Prachanda’s leadership had shown itself to be incapable and steadily more corrupt.
“They’re doing what other politicians have done, eating up our tax. There’s a 13% value-added tax on everything we buy. Where does it go? What are they doing with it? Prachanda and Baburam used to be like us, but now they’re living in palaces. They’re getting cozy with big capitalists who are themselves cozy with and depending on foreign powers.”
He repeated a joke popular among the Dash Maoists, “These are the Dash Maoists, but Baburam and Prachanda are the Cash Maoists.”
“Well, all right,” I said. “But development takes time. It won’t happen in a day even if the Dash Maoists come to power. So how can you blame the ‘Cash Maoists’ for that?”
“Yes, development takes time and will take time. But where is the Cash Maoists’ plan for development? Where is their plan for irrigation in agriculture, for electricity, for industries? There is no constitution now and that’s because those in power never accept demands unless we back them up with force.”
The next morning he took me around the city to meet with the stone-breakers and to see his own homes. He had a modest, solid home in which his sons lived as they studied—one of his sons had quit his studies and, typically, was working abroad—and another home was just a shack, out of which his wife operated a little store selling some biscuits, snacks and tea. Behind the shack was a tiny plot of land on which he wanted to build a solid house.
There were goats tied to slim trees and posts. “We’re raising these goats to sell them. You’ll find just about every middle-class family in Nepal doing three or four things to make ends meet,” he said. “The poorer don’t even have these options.”
He also showed me a couple of large plots of land he said were government owned. “There’s nothing going on here, they lie empty. Do something, anything. Build housing, give people a place to live. Start a factory, give people work to do. People in Nepal want development. Too many of them think it’ll come from shanti [peace], but unfortunately those in power have left us no choice but to get it through kranti [revolution]. I support the Dash Maoists, but ultimately all of these leaders put together won’t set the path. We, the people, are the ones who have to do it.”
“The geography really helped us,” Khagendra Rana said to me, as we stood on the roadside in rural Surkhet, looking at the majestic hills covered magnificently from bottom to top in dark green trees. “We would walk through these jungles on these hillsides.”
At one point as we drove through the hills, he perked up. “This is the spot where we ambushed about a hundred Nepal Army soldiers. There were maybe five of us. We retrieved a lot of weapons that time.”
I wasn’t entirely convinced. “How could five of you ambush a hundred soldiers?”
He explained. “They were in two trucks. We set up an IED on the roadside, that flipped over one of the trucks.” I looked down, it was a dizzying tumble into the lush green brush.
“The rest we scattered from up above.” I looked up. Rocks and trees provided extensive cover.
The 30-year old is a former guerrilla, he used to be a battalion commander in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). His nom de guerre was Jalan—it refers to a feeling of burning.
Jalan was in India over ten years ago studying to become a medical doctor when the People’s War picked up. He left his studies midway and came back to Nepal to get involved in the struggle.
“We started off by cutting the tails of the landlords’ and government agents’ horses and buffaloes. They would ride around on their horses and people would laugh at them,” he said with a mischievous smile. From there, the youth graduated onto more militant, and then armed activities.
“We had nothing but simple weapons at first. The clothes on our back, a t-shirt and a pair of pants. I didn’t even have slippers when I carried out that ambush. Afterward we went back to command and the villagers celebrated and got us flip-flops. I remember how proudly I received those flip-flops that day.”
At some point, we talked about courtship and marriage during the People’s War.
“During the People’s War, if you met someone you liked, you had to get the permission of your party committee to court them,” Jalan explained to me. “The courtship period had to be for one or two years, so that you could get to know your potential partner properly.
“Sometimes a party committee might suggest it was time for you to get married. That’s what happened to me. I wasn’t even thinking about it, but party leaders said I should start thinking about marriage, and even encouraged a partner for me.”
The party, in some ways, had come to replace the role of parents and families. It was the party that would approve and conduct marriages. “But it wasn’t to the kind of arranged marriage where people would be forced to marry.”
Bimila had told me how worried people would be for their partners. She married someone from the PLA, and because their assignments were so different—he, like Jalan, a roving guerrilla, and she a roving artist—she would often have no news of her husband for months on end.
They would meet at party functions, like secret rallies or meetings, or could arrange to meet if they found out their assignments were close-by.
The emotional toll of these fragmented relationships was heavy as well.
“I met my wife twice in two years before I got married to her; and I met her twice in the three years after we got married,” Jalan said. “When we would part, there was no guarantee that we would return.”
Over 15,000 people were killed or disappeared during the People’s War, mostly by government forces (though the Maoists seem to count both party and government combatants as martyrs).
“Once I led a mission of forty-seven men near Pokhara. Only seven returned. Thirteen were arrested. The rest died.”
Pokhara is the country’s second-largest city. The arrested were taken there.
“I myself was arrested,” Jalan said to me. “I still can’t believe how I escaped alive. I was surrounded on all sides by cops, but I broke free and lashed out. I injured seven of them. I jumped on a motorbike and got out of there. It was like a miracle.
“In the main city of Pokhara, I blended into the crowds and got out of there.”
“We were fighting for world revolution,” he sighed.
Bimila once said that her unit was told that after they liberated Nepal, they would go and help liberate people in other countries.
“We were told that, too,” Jalan said. “We were going to help liberate oppressed and exploited people around the world.”
But then, without the completion of the revolution, Maoist leaders completely disbanded the PLA. In 2011, Prachanda and Bhattarai signed a Seven-Point Agreement with opposition parties to effectively liquidate the PLA. A few thousand former guerrillas could opt to join the Nepal Army while others would be given compensation packages ranging from 500,000 to 800,000 rupees.
“In my cantonment, about half of us just walked out—we were about 1,500. We went to the main square in Birendranagar and burned the Seven-Point Agreement. I could have opted to become a major in the Nepal Army. I would have been getting training right now and a nice salary.
“But I fought for revolution. We gave up so much for the revolution, and in the end our leaders gave up the revolution. It was nothing less than a betrayal of the revolution.
“It was wrong of the party to turn Prachanda into a god-like figure. It was wrong for the now-leaders of the Dash Maoists to not tell us sooner about the contradictions in the united party.
“After the PLA was demobilized into cantonments, we’d get a monthly stipend of 3,000 rupees, and many of us would give 1,000 rupees back to the party in Prachanda’s name.
“During the War and after, we used to think that death was inevitable, but hoped it would happen only after seeing Prachanda’s face.”
The sense of betrayal runs deep among thousands of former guerrillas, as does the sense of loyalty to Prachanda. A sizeable portion of the former PLA broke with the UCPN(Maoist) and went over to the Dash Maoists, looking to complete the revolution. Many remained with the main party out of a sense of loyalty.
“There are honest PLA even in the Prachanda faction,” Jalan said. “One former commander burned his uniform rather than hand it over to the Nepal Army. He also refused to hand over his arms to the Army, depositing them directly with Prachanda instead.”
A third section simply took the compensation and abandoned both.
A former guerrilla couple I met at the Kohalpur bus stop on my way to Surkhet had used the compensation they received to start a small roadside café serving passengers who got off from buses for fifteen minutes. The wife sat nursing a baby, and the husband spoke to me as he prepared tea.
“We don’t have faith in either the UCPN(Maoist) nor the Dash Maoists. Let them earn our faith now. And if they want to revive the struggle then let it be in the streets. We’re done with guns.”
There was a tiredness etched onto the faces of even those former guerrillas who hadn’t abandoned the idea of eventually returning to arms.
Jalan showed me the river and the bridge that used to separate a Base Area from a “red zone” village, an area that was under Maoist influence but still very accessible to the government due to the main road.
The village was built on a hill that sloped down to the river. As we returned from the bridge and climbed up the slope toward the main road, the dashing Maoist was as out of breath as I was.
“I used to run daily when we were in the cantonments, but since then, not so much,” he said somewhat sheepishly.
After the end of the War, many of the guerillas had turned to civilian pursuits, even if they were in the cantonments. Many took up their studies again. Jalan had completed his B.Ed. and planned on getting his M.Ed. and eventually his PhD.
He had a daughter to look after now as well.
I bumped into some members of the UCPN(Maoist) at a hotel restaurant in Surkhet, while I was with Dash Maoist members. We sat at two tables next to each other, eating lunch.
Getting to the heart of the split between the UCPN(Maoist) and the CPN-Maoist means looking past the confusing jumble of alphabet that their names represent and looking at the subtlety of their different theoretical positions. I’m going to try and do that in this section, bear with me.
Narbahadur Bista, an elected member of the former Constituent Assembly and a regional committee member of the UCPN(Maoist), began commenting on the size of the Dash Maoists’ recently elected central committee.
The central committee is a representative body elected from delegates sent to a communist party’s general congress. The Dash Maoists had elected 51 central committee members at their congress. Although the UCPN(Maoist) was yet to hold its congress, its delegates would end up electing 99 and leaving it up to the provisional central committee to select an additional 55 or so.
Basically, Bista was saying that his central committee was bigger than Bimila’s. Bimila was responding that it wasn’t size, but what you did with the central committee that mattered.
In classic Maoist theory, the goal of a revolution in a “semi-colonial, semi-feudal” country is to rally the popular, democratic class forces—workers, peasants, middle-classes, and nationalist business classes—into a United Front, but under the leadership of the workers and peasants.
The United Front has to defeat imperialism and feudalism, both the actual representatives and armies of these forces, and the political economic system they embody. This means that the revolution must redistribute lands to producing peasants and then begin collectivizing farms to achieve economies of scale and production, and also must promote then appropriate the resources of the capitalists, in order to build the infrastructure necessary for a socialist society.
This, in a nutshell, is the theory of the New Democratic Revolution—a continuous but prolonged move from an underdeveloped economy to a socialist society.
In theory, a revolutionary party has to be tightly disciplined if it’s going to defeat the organization of the ruling classes—that is, the imperialists, the feudal classes, and the capitalists who are allied to them rather than to the nation.
So during the People’s War in Nepal, the Maoists had a very tight, highly disciplined underground party, even though it was vast and commanded the support of millions of people organized into all kinds of mass associations and unions.
Adding many people to the Central Committee makes more sense when the party comes to power after a revolution. But here, the UCPN(Maoist) was doing that before the completion of the New Democratic Revolution, meaning it was building A kind of a mass party more geared toward parliamentary elections.
That meant wheeling and dealing to bring a lot of people with vastly different theoretical and ideological positions into the same party. It probably couldn’t be focused in the same way on revolution any more.
It wasn’t all that simple for the Dash Maoists, either, given their broad membership of 160,000 or so. But they were trying. So did that mean that the UCPN(Maoist) was abandoning revolution?
“There’s no truth to that,” said Kamalesh D.C., a journalist and a district committee member of the UCPN(Maoist), who I met along with Bista. The Dash Maoists had left me alone with them.
“Marxism is not dogmatic, it has to be creative and respond to social phenomenon. We can’t apply it here as if this is Russia or China or Vietnam or Peru.”
The Maoists had ended the War because they decided that, although they had occupied most of the countryside, they simply could not penetrate the heavily fortified cities—large and small alike. So the party decided to enter into a peace process to gain access to the cities.
The idea was to launch an insurrection, and something of the sort was attempted in May 2010 but the Maoist leadership called it off after a few days.
“There is no fixed date of insurrection. What we are saying is that we have to use the People’s War and the nineteen-day People’s Movement [that overthrew the monarchy] as the basis to move forward,” Kamalesh said. “We have to preserve and institutionalize the changes, that is, the republic.
“Besides, we now think that peaceful change is possible. Armed bloody revolution is not in the interests of the people. If we hold the state mechanism in our control, then class struggle doesn’t need to take the same form everywhere.”
I asked Kamalesh how what he was saying, about peaceful transition to revolution through parliamentary government, squared with revolution, which was about smashing the old state institutions and their replacement with people’s power. In fact, at that time, the Supreme Court, in alliance with the status quo parties, appeared to be going after Maoists with a vengeance.
“Well, yes, not all state institutions are under our control, but we are in government. And we keep the class struggle going in all these institutions.”
“But why dissolve the organs of people’s power that were developed over the course of the People’s War? Couldn’t they be expanded into a people’s state?” I asked.
“The dissolution of people’s power was a step back. We had to take a step back so that we could take a step forward. We had to agree to the peace process, and that meant we had to agree to these conditions.”
This was one of the cruxes of the disagreement between the Prachanda faction and the Dash Maoists. The Dash Maoists saw the dissolution of institutions of parallel, people’s power as a tremendous mistake. It meant that from now on, the Maoists would have to play the political game by the rules of the existing political order rather than putting forward a politics of oppressed classes from a position of strength.
The point of New Democratic Revolution is that state institutions are under the control of the workers and peasants. But the UCPN(Maoist) appears to have a strictly economic approach to the question.
“New Democratic Revolution means what? It means capitalist revolution. For us to get to New Democratic Revolution we need to achieve economic development first, and we are doing that through the stage of the capitalist revolution.
“People are disappointed because they think that the New Democratic Revolution is complete, but it is not complete. We have to go to the people and tell them that the revolution is not over, we have to finish it. We may eventually need armed revolution to complete the transition, but just now there is no situation of armed revolution. It’s philosophical, we haven’t given it up.”
This is the other crux of the problem. New Democratic Revolution does not wait for the capitalist revolution to happen first. Workers’ and peasants’ control of the state is supposed to be the condition necessary for developing capitalist relations and replacing them with socialist relations.
In effect, it appeared to me that the Prachanda-Bhattarai UCPN(Maoist) position was that Nepal needed to achieve a capitalist revolution before workers’ and peasants’ power could be established, that the transition to socialism could be achieved peacefully and through parliamentary means.
In theoretical terms, this is the complete opposite of the positions that led to a crystallization of Maoism as revolutionary politics in the first place. In fact, the UCPN(Maoist)’s congress later passed precisely this line of capitalist revolution, sidelining the New Democratic Revolution.
What’s more, in my time there, Bhattarai’s focus seemed to be on building or improving roads in certain areas of the country—those likely to attract foreign investment. Prices for essential goods kept increasing and there was little respite for the poor. There appeared to be no effort toward developing and implementing social welfare programs.
In many areas of the country, agricultural land was being sold off not for productive purposes but for real estate development. In Nawalprasi I saw the board of a developer showing how a site was to be divided into plots for homes. Dash Maoists claimed Bhattarai and Prachanda were facilitating such processes.
Even if they weren’t, they didn’t appear to have a plan to stop them, and that might have been a result of their preoccupation with political matters.
But even under non-revolutionary, social democratic developmental theory, the state is supposed to take a more active role in guiding investment, pooling together capital, and making investments itself. It’s domestic investment, not foreign investment, that leads to substantial industrialization and economic development. Agriculture is supposed to be promoted through subsidies and focused planning, not replaced with real estate.
It seemed that not only had Bhattarai gone from being a revolutionary Maoist to a supporter of capitalism, he was doing it in a way that submitted Nepal to policy prescriptions of neo-liberal international financial institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund! That could only end up benefiting the already-rich, as well as companies in large countries like India and the United States, not the masses of Nepal. Cash Maoists, indeed.
If this is the case, then what was the point of the People’s War and the whole fight for revolution? No wonder so many see it as betrayal.
“We draw a line on the blackboard and we ask, ‘Can you erase this line without rubbing it?’
“They say, ‘No.’
“So we ask them, ‘If you cannot erase this line without struggle, how can you change society without struggle?’
“Then we ask them, ‘If you go on the street by yourself and struggle, can you be successful?’
“They say, ‘No.’
“So we ask them, ‘If you cannot struggle without a collective, then why don’t you join us?’”
Bishal Giri, 23-years old, was explaining to me how he approaches and recruits students to the All-Nepal National Independent Students’ Union (Revolutionary) (in Nepali that mouthful is abbreviated to Akhil Krantikari). He was a member of ANNISU(R)’s Nawalprasi district committee, in the southern plains.
Bishal’s simple exposition reminded me of that Western woman who wanted to help barefooted children in Kathmandu.
Can social change be accomplished without struggle? Can it be restricted to a few charitable or NGO programs? Or does it require mass transformation?
The People’s War may have given a shock to some of the worst aspects of social discrimination against oppressed classes and women. But it doesn’t seem like it changed any of the class structures that made that discrimination so potent.
At the ground level, many people realize this, largely because they find themselves unable to feed their children adequately, or if they can feed them then to educate them, or to get them jobs even if they are educated.
For all the NGOs and charities operating in Nepal, people find themselves all the more pressured every day.
Meanwhile, having mobilized hundreds of thousands of people across the country, and tens of thousands of actual cadres, the Maoists did nothing with their enthusiasm and the political and administrative skills they developed over the course of the People’s War.
The Base Areas were dismantled. People’s power and people’s courts were dissolved. Land reforms were often reversed. Micro-industries and agricultural communes that had developed in the Base Areas, and that could have served as a starting point for a real people’s economy, were all but abandoned.
What’s worse of all is that the passion and movement of the masses was stopped in their tracks.
Cadres at the grassroots of the Maoist party recognized this, just as radicals in the leadership did. But it was primarily members of the artists’ front and the guerrillas—people like Bimila and Jalan—who pushed to have the debates at the top tiers of the party spread throughout its rank and file.
Ultimately, that cleared the ground for the Dash Maoists to break away and form a party seriously committed to revolution. There are two major obstacles they face.
Not only are they up against international powers, other parties that want to maintain social inequality and their own privileges, but they are also going to struggle against their former friends and comrades who were, once upon a time and not so long ago, right there with them fighting for revolution.
They also face the skepticism of the masses whose hopes were brought up when the Maoists first put forward and fought for their program of class, caste, gender and ethnic equality—only to be shattered and brought back to the ground.
The CPN-Maoist’s members know that they have to practically demonstrate that they are not hungry for seats or power, but that they are committed to serving the people and agitating for their needs and rights.
And they plan on doing just that, through agitations for Nepal’s sovereignty and for the rights of the people, and through programs that serve the people and organize their power autonomously from that of the ruling classes.
In the days, weeks and months ahead, they face the task of putting together the pieces of the once mighty struggle of the workers, peasants, women, oppressed castes and nationalities, to revive structures of people’s power, and to complete the revolution.
These artists, these guerillas, these students, these business-owners, these 21st century revolutionaries are not throwbacks to another era of armed struggles and people’s revolution. They fight not only for their own country but with a keen awareness of the fact that the success of their struggle can have reverberations around the world.
Where, in Libya, Syria, Egypt and all of these other places, people’s struggles seem to be heading to no popular and democratic resolution, they pose a model for revolution that puts the process firmly under the hands of the oppressed and exploited classes.
Just like Hugo Chávez was not merely the comandante of the Venezuelan revolution, but, because he stood up to neo-liberal policies on a world scale, a comandante of the anti-imperialist revolution worldwide, we need to understand that the Maoists in Nepal fight not just for themselves but for all of us.
Their revolution is not just their own, it is ours, too—a revolution to put people’s democracy and socialism back on the world’s agenda.
We can help them, at least a little bit. They don’t want our handouts—a few socks and shoes. They want us to put pressure on our governments to stop interfering in their country’s matters in ways that try and undermine the revolution. Hell, what they want is for us to make socialist revolution in our own countries!
Given the intensity and speed with which the political and economic system around is experiencing crises after crises, that may not be a long ways off. But as we prepare the ground for our own struggles, it’s up to us to give these revolutionaries in the Third World the moral and political support that they deserve.
Noaman spent almost a month in Nepal from January 7 to February 4 in 2013 for research and reporting. He can be reached at noaman [dot] ali [at] gmail [dot] com.
By Soledad Superville
On Feb 13th a town hall meeting was held by students of U of T’s Transitional Year Program (TYP) to talk about the latest threat to the 43 year old program’s existence. The Provost (administration) of the university is attempting to break-up the program to merge TYP with the less successful Woodsworth bridging program, a move that has been heavily criticized by racialized students. It will lead to a loss of autonomy in making decisions on how to run the program and students will lose the close-knit community of peers and faculty that have been critical to their success.
TYP allows access into the university for the most marginalized peoples in society, particularly racialized, working class, gender and sexual minorities, disabled, Aboriginal people, refugees, and low income women and single mothers. It creates access to the university for all those who have been unable to finish high school, either because they’ve been pushed out of school due oppression in their schools or because they’ve been unable to study as a result of the struggle to survive while in poverty.
The Provost did not attend the town hall meeting, sending a representative in her place that presented a statement. The Provost stated that apparently there was “no decision to eliminate TYP”. In reality there have been huge cuts to the program. Over the past five years 4 full-time faculty members have retired but the Provost has turned them into barely part-time positions. These workers are doing the same if not more work as the previous faculty but for a fraction of the wages and without any of the benefits or job security that comes with full-time status.
By turning racialized educators in into little more than Wal-Mart style workers the Provost’s actions have gutted the long term stability and security of the program and the program’s capacity to meet the needs of the students and the marginalized communities they come from.
The Provost did say that that there would be more money for the budget, but only if TYP “formally unified” with the Arts and Science Program of Woodsworth College, which she claimed has “excellent” administrative support. Yet this means that TYP’s own racialized, working class, and disabled administrative staff (who students love and trust) are not wanted and their jobs will be cut. On top of this, full-time retiree pensions are paid for out of the $1.4 million TYP budget. This means that unless the Provost substantially increases the TYP’s budget it will be starved of funds necessary to pay for its day to day needs.
The entire part-time faculty of the program are racialized people whose negative experiences as educators mirrors that of racialized peoples everywhere in Canada. Racist hiring practices that have ghettoized racialized educators into spaces of lowly professional status have made them ripe for exploitation. Part-time members whose jobs are currently on the chopping block should have been in a position to apply for the full-time positions of those who have previously retired, in keeping with the University’s supposed commitment to employment equity.
Of the last 5 full-time positions left vacant by those who have since retired, 2 of these posts were held by racialized teachers, one African Canadian and one Aboriginal. Both of them taught classes related to their racial and cultural identities and group membership. Turning these teaching positions into casual labouring jobs means that the Provost’s office has made a racist assault on the life chances of African Canadians and Aboriginal peoples as a group.
White educators held 3 of these 5 full-time positions. White educators dominate positions of power at U of T. For the university to change the full-time status of jobs held by white educators to low income part-time status once they have retired and then to fill them up with racialized working class is to keep a racist, oppressive, class-based system of power going where racialized communities are oppressed as an underclass for the purpose of economic exploitation. It also hinders resistance because people are kept busy just trying to survive.
The destruction of TYP must be resisted. TYP’s destruction has implications for communities everywhere, particularly when the current school system that is a pipeline for pushing racialized low income students into the prison system. The time to act is now to demand an expansion of funding and support for the TYP program. It is time to take back the University as a public space that belongs to us the people and not to corporate elites and capitalist interests.
By Hassan Reyes.
A report released this week by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) shows that an alarming number of students suffer from feelings of insecurity and stress, particularly about their future.
The Toronto District School Board’s, the largest school board in the country conducted a survey in 2011 with more than 100,000 students in grades 7-8 and 9-12. This student census showed that 73 per cent of students between Grades 9 and 12 say they are worried about their future, with 57 per cent saying they were frequently losing sleep because of their worries. 66 per cent also reported being under a lot of stress, sometimes or often.
This report represents the first time the TDSB has looked into the mental health of students, and sends a strong signal that there are major issues faced by youth. Shari Schwartz-Maltz, TDSB spokeswoman acknowledged the report “showed us is that there’s certainly a gap in the area of mental health and we need to focus more of our resources”.
Tatiana Wyse, of the Schizophrenia Association of Ontario states that the mental health problems among youth are endemic, and often caused or exasperated by social factors such as poverty. “We talk about different factor including internal factors and those in the environment… in the external factors, we can mention that there have recently been substantial cuts in the supports that are available to youth from social assistance to recreation… we are living in a time of economic crisis where everyone is worried about their job, and this also impacts youth.”
In April 2011, the TDSB also presented finding from previous studies that revealed that over 50% of students come from families earning less than $ 49,000.
For some students, these issues are reduced by extracurricular activities. “TDSB should make joining two clubs/sport teams/play dance show mandatory. Real learning exists outside of the classroom. … [these] can all provide life-long lessons, academics [alone] cannot” stated a student in a feedback letter highlighted in the report. This year, almost all extra-curricular activities in the TDSB have been cut due to a labour dispute caused by the Provincial Governments attacks on school teachers which included removing the right to strike. Teachers have responded by limiting their unpaid, volunteer work with the Board including leading extra-curricular activities.
Unfortunately, for most students, participating in activities outside of school can also be a challenge due to costs and family issues. The same April 2011 report indicated that only 39% for students whose family income was less than 30K participated in extra-curricular activities, compared with 82% for students from families with incomes of 100k.
Certainly, mental health at an individual and social level is a complicated issue, and one that needs to be discussed openly in our communities. Given the insecure times we are living in, where income and job insecurity are being coupled with the social pressures exerted upon youth in this hyper-materialistic and competitive society, it is not surprising that many people let alone youth are having difficulty coping.
Parents and youth alike can benefit from accessing the community and health resources that are available to help people deal with these mounting pressures. At the same time, there needs to be an understanding that there are social issues that needs to be addressed, and social problems like poverty and unemployment just to name a few, which need to be eliminated in order to have youth look at their future with hope.
Un informe publicado esta semana por el Consejo Escolar del Distrito de Toronto (TDSB) muestra que una cantidad alarmante de estudiantes sufren de sentimientos de inseguridad y el estrés, en relación a su futuro.
El Toronto District School Board, la junta escolar más grande en el país, llevó a cabo una encuesta en el 2011 con la participación de más de 100.000 estudiantes entre los grados 7-8 y 9-12. Este censo estudiantil mostró que el 73 por ciento de los estudiantes entre los grados 9 y 12 dicen estar preocupados por su futuro, con un 57 por ciento diciendo que con frecuencia sufrían de insomnio debido a la preocupación. Además, un 66 por ciento también declaró estar bajo mucho estrés, a veces o con frecuencia.
Este informe representa la primera vez que el TDSB ha estudiado la salud mental de los estudiantes, y envía una fuerte alerta de que hay problemas importantes que enfrentan los jóvenes. Shari Schwartz-Maltz, portavoz del TDSB reconoció que el informe “nos demostró quesin lugar a dudas, hay un vacío en el área de la salud mental y es donde tenemos que centrar más de nuestros recursos”.
Tatiana Wyse, trabajadora de prevención temprana de la Asociación de esquizofrenia de Ontario, dice que los problemas de salud mental entre los jóvenes son endémicos, y muchas veces causada o exacerbada por factores sociales como la pobreza. “Hablamos de factores diferentes, incluyendo factores internos y ambientales …En relación a factores externos, se puede mencionar que recientemente se han producido recortes sustanciales en los apoyos que están disponibles para los jóvenes que van desde la asistencia social hasta a la recreación … estamos viviendo una crisis económica en la que todo el mundo está preocupado por su trabajo, y esto también afecta a los jóvenes.”
En abril de 2011, el TDSB también reveló que más del 50% de los estudiantes provienen de familias con ingresos menores a los $49.000 anuales. Del total de estudiantes latinoamericanos, el 65% de ellos provienen de familias con ingresos iguales o inferiores a los $ 49,000 anuales.
Para algunos estudiantes, estos problemas se reducen con participación en actividades extracurriculares. “El TDSB debe hacer obligatoria unirse a los clubes, equipos de deporte, espectáculo de danza. El aprendizaje real está fuera de las aulas. … [y éstos] pueden proporcionar lecciones para toda la vida que no se pueden lograr solo con lo académico”, afirmó un estudiante en una carta acerca del informe, destacada en dicho documento. Este año, casi todas las actividades extra-curriculares en el TDSB se han reducido debido a una disputa laboral causada por los ataques y recortes del gobierno provincial hacia los profesores, que incluyen la eliminación del derecho a huelga. La respuesta de los profesores ha sido la de limitar su trabajo no remunerado y voluntario, como la participación en las actividades extraescolares.
Desafortunadamente, para la mayoría de los estudiantes, la participación en dichas actividades también es limitada debido a los costos que implican, y diversos problemas familiares. El mismo informe de Abril 2011 indicaba que sólo el 39% de los estudiantes provenientes de familias con ingresos menores a los treinta mil dólares participaba en actividades extra-curriculares, en comparación a un 82% de participación para los estudiantes de familias con ingresos de 100 mil dólares.
Ciertamente, la salud mental a nivel individual y social es un tema complicado, y uno que necesita ser discutido abiertamente en nuestras comunidades. Dados los tiempos de inseguridad que estamos viviendo, donde la inseguridad laboral e ingresos impredecibles, se conjugan con las presiones sociales que se ejercen sobre los jóvenes en una sociedad híper-materialista y competitiva, no sorprende que muchas personas están teniendo dificultades para enfrentar tantos óbstaculos.
Tanto los padres como los jóvenes pueden beneficiarse al acceder a los distintos recursos de la comunidad y de la salud que existen para ayudar a las personas a lidiar con estas presiones. Al mismo tiempo, es necesaria la comprensión acerca de la necesidad de abordar ciertas cuestiones sociales, y problemas sociales como la pobreza y el desempleo, por nombrar unos pocos, que deben ser eliminados para poder asegurar que la mirada esperanzada de la juventud hacia su futuro.
by Jordy Cummings
Across Ontario, teachers have been mounting resistance to the newly enacted provincial bill 115, which effectively removes the right of collective bargaining and the right to strike of all public sector workers. The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) are in a legal strike position and as of Monday Dec. 10, are staging rolling one day strikes, while the (Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) have launched a coordinated work-to-rule campaign, cutting extra-curricular activities as well as any voluntary work.
In response, media coverage has been mixed. The worst has been 680 News, a radio station marketed towards the working class, as it spreads outright misinformation to affected communities. Their report on December 10 portrayed the various high school student walk-outs across the province as “neutral” and a protest against “both sides”, when in reality the high school students were standing with their teachers against the aggression of the McGuinty government. The portrayed high school students as the “silent majority” being held hostage by greedy teachers and government bureaucrats. Poorly edited and likely out of context soundbites included one student who claimed to be “caught in the middle” and another complaining that no one was “putting students first”. This is a common move to turn public sector service recipients against public sector service providers and their unions. Recent examples include the drawn-out lockout of education workers by York University in the winter of 2008, that ended with the increasingly common tactic of back-to-work legislation.
When the state can use back-to-work legislation at a moment’s notice this greatly weakens labour’s side at the bargaining table and makes the strike tactic a risky one, given the huge fines that a labour union can be charged with for wildcat action. To add to their dishonesty, 680 News has been portraying itself as a resource for parents and families, even publishing a FAQ file on their website. While again feigning neutrality, the file is designed to portray this as essentially a struggle between union leaders and education bureaucrats. (http://www.680news.com/news/local/article/428317–faq-bill-115-teachers-job-action-explained
Sadly, there is a certain truth to this. Given the unprecedented measures outlined in bill 115, it is nothing short of remarkable that the public sector unions of Ontario have only now just begun – particularly within CUPE –attempting to develop a fightback for their basic rights. Contrast this with Wisconsin, where similar legislation provoked an immediate occupation of the state capital, first by publicly paid teaching assistants, then by others. As labour writer Doug Nesbitt points out, the entire strategy of the union leadership is to wait on a court challenge to Bill 115, rather than organize their members to engage in struggle. Thus a lot of the campaign rhetoric is focusing on how this is a violation of charter rights. Yet, as has been shown by the BC nurses charter challenge, an individual judge finding that back to work legislation violates the charter has not stopped the state, from legislating both public and private sector workers back to work. Depending entirely on a legal strategy is misguided at best.
The small but feisty band of teacher-activists attempting to radicalize this struggle, as well as those in the broader public sector (from community centres to universities), have to unite and fight Bill 115. It is not merely “undemocratic” in the narrow technical sense of parliament, but if overturned and discredited would be a victory that will strengthen workers’ and community capacities to defend against the austerity onslaught, and, one hopes, move from defensive struggles to keep what little services we have, to offensive struggles to build something better. After all, we have a world to win.