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 Barrio Nuevo
On the eve of Presidential elections in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, people from a number of cities came together to form a Canada-wide network to support the Venezuelan process of social transformation, debunk myths and lies perpetuated in the media, as well as denounce acts of aggression or interference by the Government of Canada in the affairs of Venezuelan people.
Organizations and groups from Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto, Kitchener, London, Hamilton, the First Nations were among those gathered in Ottawa to discuss the actions to support the Bolivarian Revolution, the legacy of President Hugo Chávez, and the future president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro.
The more than 120 delegates agreed to:
• Support the Bolivarian Revolution, the legacy of Comandante Hugo Chavez, the construction of socialism, the independence of Latin America and the Caribbean, and the eradication of capitalism
• Deepen the Solidarity, the exchange, and brotherhood among peoples of Latin America and Canada
• Gather Canadian organizations and groups to join the Venezuela Solidarity Network, in order to support and defend the Bolivarian Revolution.
Further, participants were asked to remain alert to any maneuvers to destabilize the country following the Presidential elections.
The candidate of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) for President, Nicolas Maduro, edged out the right-wing candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski of the MUD by just under 300,000 votes. Capriles, the favored candidate of the western imperialist powers, declared that he would not accept these results and called his supporters to the streets in protest. Supporters of the right-wing parties responded to these calls with violence, killing 6 supporters of the Socialist Party the day after the elections. Moreover, these groups attacked social programs identified with the Bolivarian Revolution including community health centers and people’s markets, while also targeting offices of the Socialist Party and its leaders. Public and community media outlets including Telesur were also targeted and journalists threatened.
“The right-wing has tried to claim fraud in every elections that they haven’t won,” said Santiago Escobar, Toronto spokesperson for the Venezuela Solidarity Network (VSN). “Despite their claims to be democratic and peaceful, their actions show that they are little more than US sponsored fascists who have no regard for the lives let alone the will of the Venezuelan people”.
Recently, federal Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis has been working with Venezuelan opposition groups in Canada to target the Bolivarian government. Karygiannis, also the Liberal Multiculturalism critic, went to Venezuela to observe the elections and met with Capriles and other members of the MUD.
The VSN, whose plans include opposing and exposing these plots against Venezuela being organized here in Canada, will hold another meeting this coming fall in Montreal.
by Kevin Rashid Johnson, February 2013
Things I Don’t Do
Even before I began my political journey in 2001, I maintained certain principles; a variety of things I just don’t do. And usually, if ever I deviated from those principles, even in error, I’d end up in a tangle of trouble.
February 2013 was an ordeal. I broke some of my rules and things got ugly. What happened is yet another experience that those who blindly trust the system, and those who don’t, need to know about.
Among my longstanding “don’t dos” are 1) I don’t do suicide and 2) I don’t do intoxicants. Suicide’s a no-brainer. Since I couldn’t fathom caving in to pressure – especially not from the opposition. Which is the only way I could see taking myself out. But more important is the political principle that my life is not mine’s to take. It belongs to the people. And that’s not to posture nor sound “politically correct.” It’s a genuine commitment. The intoxicant thing is a bit more complicated. For one, I don’t like not being in control of myself. Secondly, when under the influence I go soft in the head, being what some call “chemically imbalanced,” or in other words, I literally go berzerk when intoxicated. And since I don’t use, it doesn’t take much to tip me completely over.
Meet Mr. Highjinks
My troubles of February 2013 were the result of breaking these two particular “don’t dos.” Over a three day period I got intoxicated, then, under the influence, attempted suicide – twice. And the pigs and “professionals” quite blatantly watched and waited for me to die, which compelled me, once I sobered up, into yet another life and death struggle to not let that happen.
The intoxication wasn’t intentional (on my part), but the practical joke I might say of an apolitical and particularly mischievous peer. A fella who routinely makes and takes cocktails of various mind-altering prescription drugs he collects. Although he has consented to being identified by name, being remorseful and willing to confess his role in the ordeal his shenanigans caused, I’ll just call him Mr. Highjinks (for obvious reasons).
For some time he’d tried to convince me to pop some pills with him. Wanting to share his and many others’ method of escaping the maddening tedium of solitary confinement. I declined of course. But he kept at it, trying all sorts of enticements. To no avail. But what I didn’t realize was how determined he really was to get me pickled. Nor that he’d use devious methods to do it.
Mr. Highjinks Spikes the Spread
To give a bit of diversity to the otherwise bland prison diets, prisoners – when we can afford it – sometimes make homemade pizza-like or casserole concoctions by combining foods purchased from the prison commissary and foods taken from our prison meals. Sometimes several prisoners will contribute various food items and one person will make the “meal” that is then shared around. The concoction is called different names depending what prison system you’re in. Here in Oregon it’s called a “spread.”
Well, on January 31st, I “put in” with Mr. Highjinks to make a spread, contributing items left over from our special Christmas commissary purchase along with some ingredients from the meal trays. Turns out Mr. Highjinks decided to spike the spread with one of his pill concoctions that has him bouncing off the walls for days at a time. To him it was all in fun.
I didn’t consume my entire portion of the spread until Saturday, February 2nd, and that’s when and how things went south. The result was a total loss of impulse control, and an odd compulsion toward self-annihilation. In short, I lost my mind.
Outta My Head
First I got into a fracas with the goon squad (about seven guards dressed out in full body armor with gas, taser and a large plexiglass shield). Then I overdosed on dozens of my own prescription anti-inflammatory medications. Followed by another clash with the goon squad, as I was being prepared to be taken to the hospital for the OD. At the hospital – St. Alphonsus Medical Center in Ontario, Oregon – no treatment was given, except a staged blood test while I was kept hidden away in an isolated back room. Within a couple of hours of arriving I was dischaarged back to the prison, where that same night (shortly after midnight, Sunday the 3rd), I was placed on a Close Observation Suicide (SCO) watch, inside a suicide monitoring cell where I found a razor blade. Obviously no coincidence.
The next day (Monday the 3rd), still out of my head, I broke the razor into three pieces and swallowed them. This was witnessed by a sergeant and captured on camera. The entire experience played before me like I was standing outside myself watching someone else.
I was again taken to the same hospital, where again no care was given. Although they went through the motions of taking x-rays (which they wouldn’t let me see), the hospital staff, who were pretty blatant about not wanting me there (apparently a skin thing), claimed the films showed definitively that no razors were inside me. By then I was sobering up, and, losing my suicidal compulsion, I contested that they were wrong or outright lying, and should do further investigation. With a bit of attitude the doctor – named Bean – declined and told the guards to be off with me.
To Eat or Not to Eat
Knowing the fatal danger of a punctured intestine I protested to prison medical and security staff upon my return that I still had three razor pieces inside me. They blew me off, citing the hospital report to the contrary. So I declined to eat or drink, expecting that stimulating digestion would cause the razors to move along and slice through my contracting entrails. Meantime I repeatedly requested medical staff to order further x-rays. They refused, indifferent to my protests.
Several admitted my concerns were valid if I actually did have razors inside me, but of course I didn’t, they contended, because the hospital said so. I went six days without food or liquids, and dropped twenty pounds in just as long. I requested intravenous hydration from nursing staff and the doctor – named Garth Gulick – which was also denied. I was told that I was choosing myself not to eat and drink, so they would not intervene.
The New Hippocratic Oath: “Do Nothing”
On the fourth day without food and water, I fell unconscious in the cell, and was taken by gurney to the prison’s medical center. Gulick was called, and simply told them to put me back in the cell. That my severe dehydration was my own fault.
To validate refusing me medical hydration, a nurse named Folkman lyingly documented in my medical file that she witnessed me drinking water on my 5th day without food or liquids. When on the 6th day without food or liquids Gulick assured me he’d watch me dehydrate to death, and he cited Folkman as a witness that I really wasn’t going without liquids (although my tongue was white and “furry,” my lips parched, and my skin scaly), I decided to risk drinking water.
Initially, I kept vomiting the water back up, while suffering extreme stabbing pains in my abdomen. Gradually, the water stayed down. Then later that night I defecated a puddle of blood laced with bile. A nurse Fritz was alerted to the situation and ordered x-rays, taking seriously my protests that I still had razors inside and obviously cutting me. The next day Gulick overruled her order for x-rays.
Meantime, everyday mental health staff attempted to meet with me to try and take me off SCO status. I refused to talk to them in order to remain on SCO status for as long as possible. This way I remained under documented close monitoring in case the razors otherwise caused serious complications. On SCO status I remained in a completely bare cold cell, naked except for sleeveless nylon smock and nothing else but two nylon sheets. I was left to sleep and lie on a bare concrete slab.
Throughout the ordeal I endured constant severe abdominal and kidney pains, and was discharging blood in my urine daily.
Gulick made a game of it all. Being such a fanatic for denying prisoners needed care, every time I saw him he’d play a debating game with me attempting to rationalize how he knew I was faking about the razors and why he would give me no medical care for that, my pain, nor an of my other issues. He accused me of everything from malingering the abdominal and kidney pain (although urine tests repeatedly confirmed blood in my urine), and “tricking” guards into thinking I’d swallowed the razors, to trying to “extort” x-rays just so I could look at myself on film (!?). He ultimately admitted a concern to save the state money by not giving prisoners needed care.
The Uncover Up
During the ordeal several prisoner witnesses sent letters out to my supporters and comrades, only one of which actually made it out – a letter from Cory Freiberg. Cory’s letter succeeded in prompting outside protest and inquiries on my behalf. Apparently officials didn’t expect word to get out — in fact they acted at every turn to prevent it.
Although I’d had consent for release of information on my medical condition and treatments on file for several of the inquirers since February 2012, the prison’s medical staff lied to them for almost a week, claiming they had no such consents on file so they couldn’t discuss my medical situation with anyone who called. In fact the forms on record required them to alert the inquirers when I had to be sent out to the hospital or had any other serious medical problems, but they didn’t.
Each prisoner witness who sent out letters was promptly moved out of the unit with me under some pretext. Meantime my mail was withheld and denied, then ultimately a large amount of it was “confiscated” by an Assistant Superintendent Judy Gilmore, without explanation or justification.
Also, based on a completely fabricated disciplinary report from February 2, 2013, that was later dismissed, I was placed on a completely unrelated status where once off SCO status, I could not possess any mail nor any other property (except legal papers in pending court cases) but for four hours per day.
A Cutting Edge Discovery
After repeated documented complaints of severe abdominal and kidney pain, another nurse ordered x-rays for me. Gulick promptly overruled her, too. Only with mounting outside pressure about my situation and a lawyer Benjamin Haile having arranged a call with me, did Gulick finally allow the x-rays, just to “prove,” he said, that I had no razors in me.
On February 21st the x-rays were filmed and the “independent” radiologist’s report came back confirming that pieces of metal were indeed in my intestinal tract, having passed through my system and settled in my transverse colon.
I didn’t see Gulick again nor find out about the x-ray report until February 28th, at which time he changed his tune. He knew word had gotten out about my actual situation and I was scheduled to speak with Mr. Haile for the second time the next day. So Gulick’s angle then became to try and interpret and “prove” the metal showing on the x-rays was something other than razors. He admitted consulting with other doctors to this end. Another set of x-rays was taken on that day also.
The next day, one of the more candid nurses assured me with the February 21st x-rays showing the razors having passed into my large intestine, they were unlikely to cause serious damage if I ate. I then accepted my first meal in 25 days. The next day I passed my first stool in 26 days, where one of the razor pieces was found and documented by the same nurse. Overall I’d lost 29 pounds since February 4th.
I next saw Gulick on March 5th, where the February 28th x-ray results couldn’t be found and he then claimed belief that the metal showing on the February 21st x-rays were staples, or something I’d swallowed since my February 4th hospital visit. Yet another theory he abandoned when I pointed out that I was on a closely monitored SCO status since returning from the hospital.
He finally admitted an initial concern to protect the hospital from liability, and now himself. Once again it came down to placing monetary interests before human life and professional integrity.
On March 8th the nurse who confirmed the razor in my stool on March 2nd searched for, found and showed me the report for the February 28th x-rays, and it showed at least two pieces of metal in my lower large intestine, one of which she said matched exactly the measurements and dimensions of the razor piece I passed and she collected on March 2nd. She said Gulick had not yet seen the report, and I haven’t seen Gulick again since.
This particular nurse went on to express relief that the razors had passed through my system without any apparent serious injury in light of Gulick’s and others’ persistence in doing nothing to help me. She compared the “miracle” to one she said she’d experienced when her young daughter swallowed an open safety pin and it passed through her without injury.
From all this I recognized that from the hospital to the prison staff, a series of events played out that showed at very least gross neglect, and at worst a consistent and shared intent to see me die (no surprise to me by the way). However foolish my actions that created the predicament, their responses can’t be justified. Now granted, I’m not exactly loved by prison officials so they’ve some strong motives to see me out of the way once and for all. But the outright indifference and intransigence of these medical “professionals” and the doctor’s admitting to prioritize penny-pinching over needed care even in life-threatening cases, demands that everyone who cares about human life, and anyone with loved ones behind these walls raise a sustained hue and cry, and mobilize resistance and awareness concerning medical “professionals” relating to us with such overtly fascistic mentalities. Otherwise many loved ones will return to homes and others’ lives with all manner of medical disorders (even communicable ones) and expenses they didn’t leave with. As for others, we should remember that the evil people do is in knowing of abuse and turning a blind eye.
Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win!
All Power to the People!
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 James Chemose, Eric Omwanda & Owen Sheppard – LCO
In the year 1963, Kenya attained a partial, political independence from the hands of its British colonial masters by both the edge of the sword and political negotiation. For many within Kenya, this was a cherished dream come true after many years of labour and sacrifice: freedom from the colonial government, which forced Kenyans to carry identity papers called kipande, engaged them in forced labour, alienated them from their lands, and paid low wages and salaries to black Africans, just to mention a few abuses.
From the early days of British imperialism in Kenya, communities resisted this invasion and abuse in unique ways.
The Giriama community of the coastal region was one of the first to rebel against the British. This group showed enormous bravery and strategic acumen through the guidance of their leader Mekatilili wa Menza, a woman who spearheaded their guerrilla campaign against colonial rule between 1913 and 1914. Despite slowing the progress of colonialism at a crucial moment when the balance of forces did not clearly favour imperialism, Mekatilili was eventually captured in 1914 and taken to Western Province, where she was assassinated.
Other elements within indigenous communities opted to collaborate with the colonialists. Settlers and missionaries often tricked local leaders by offering them presents, such as a bicycle that was offered to King Mumias of the Wanga in exchange for his cooperation. These early comprador elements greatly smoothed the way for theft and militarization of land and resources.
Settlers soon controlled a sufficient base to occupy the land, confiscate livestock and other resources from indigenous peoples, and appropriate or import the capital necessary to begin building inland cities. Kenya’s capital Nairobi was established in 1899 as a supply depot along the new East African railway system built to hasten resource extraction from interior areas of the continent.
As colonialism reached maturity, indigenous people were increasingly denied the right to grow cash crops such as tea and coffee, these industries being placed under strict settler control. Indeed, settlers took over much of the fertile land and left Africans with less productive areas. The British occupation of Kenya’s Central Highlands, where favourable climatic conditions allowed for European-style farming and the absence of endemic malaria, was so intensive that the region became known as the “White Highlands”.
Necessarily, this process of settlement caused mass displacement of indigenous people. This and the machinations of colonial divide-and-rule policy stoked so-called “tribal” rivalries that continue to simmer today. Far from a clash of cultures, these tensions stem from ongoing issues of land appropriation.
In fact, the expulsion of subsistence farmers from their lands and the complete, imposed transformation of the economic system in most communities created a class system. Farmers became indentured labourers in rural areas, or members of the new urban proletariat. Inevitably, this created exactly the conditions of impoverishment, class solidarity, and organization needed for the coming independence struggle.
By the 1950s, numbers of trade unionists and freedom fighters had joined the Kenya Land and Freedom Army (KLFA), which became known as the Mau Mau movement. Mau Mau was a guerrilla army under the leadership of Stanley Mathenge and Dedan Kimathi, the objective of which was to harass the colonialists off the land. According to Ogot and Ochieng’ in their book Decolonization and Independence in Kenya, members of Mau Mau and their allies set aside ethnic differences incited and heightened through colonialism, instead drawing on solidarity against their common imperialist enemy. In fact, although the Mau Mau movement largely drew its membership from the Kikuyu ethnic group, Luo people calling themselves Onegos also formed a Mau Mau group to fight alongside them. (p40)
Many Mau Mau militants were killed in brutal repression and reprisals including RAF bombing raids and civilian concentration camps not unlike those the British had recently liberated in the fascist-held Europe of WWII.
Ultimately Britain’s superior military resources exhausted the capacities of the armed resistance. But the fighting had also sapped the colonial government’s resources. The administration realized it would be economical to release the the Kenya colony into the hands of moderate African independence activists such as Jomo Kenyatta. Trained in the UK as a lawyer, Kenyatta successfully presented himself as the civilized alternative to armed struggle. In return for guaranteeing the undisrupted flow of capital, he was permitted to become the first president of an independent Kenya.
Unfortunately, despite the Uhuru (Independence) government’s pledges of harambee (“let’s pull together”) and “African Socialism”, full measures were not taken to build an equal and democratic society. Public control over the economy, including vital services like transportation and telecommunications, was not protected. Public assets were gradually sold to foreign-based companies more interested in making profits for European shareholders than serving the needs of people. Issues left over from the colonial period, such as uneven infrastructure development and land distribution, were never remedied.
All these factors have worsened social inequality following independence, and opened the door to continued ethnic tensions often incited by politicians. In 2007, this sort of political incitement along ethnic lines resulted in rampant horizontal violence, characterized as a “war”, following the general elections. A thousand were killed in fighting and approximately 600,000 internally displaced.
Now, with another General Election just around the corner on 04 March, it remains to be seen whether the dispossessed of Kenya will remember their tradition of resistance to exploitation and stand united in the face of those politicians who mediate public dissent against the demands of foreign and local capital. The many ongoing “peace campaigns” in poor and working-class areas of Nairobi rarely develop beyond sloganeering, and certainly do not place a class analysis at the centre of the electoral violence issue.
It is ironic that those who desire peace in Kenya might do well to think on the words of one of its chief historical detractors, the very Winston Churchill who served as British Prime Minister through much of the Mau Mau war: study history.
by Renu Singh
Whether it’s Tahrir Square in Cairo, streets of New Delhi, France, Pakistan, or Sri Lanka, there is an fierce demand for equality in the voices of all those protesting against sexual violence inflicted on women around the world. The India gang rape incident sparked anger and outrage at national and international levels, fueled by international media coverage, and showed that women are still struggling for the right to live and be treated with fairness and respect.
This is not the first time a woman has been sexually assaulted in India. Women, especially in the bottom tiers of the caste system continue to endure harsh inhumane treatment in India, most of which goes unreported or unpunished. They are ridiculed, assaulted, sexually molested, and harassed by the looters and by those that are supposed to be their protectors. Police and army have been torturing and raping young girls and women in Kashmir for years. Indigenous women and girls from Jharkhand and other surrounding areas suffer at the hands of Indian uniforms on a daily basis.
In the wake of the recent gang rape incident in India and mob sex attacks on women protesters in Egypt, the international media has provided a significant insight into issues of violence against women in India and other countries. As time goes by, we only hope that this is not just another knee-jerk response from the media and activists around the world. The progressive voices must continue to pierce through the laws that only protect the perpetrators and further victimize the victims.
Most of all, perspectives need to be changed—notions that have been founded in our attitudes toward women need to be injected with common sense and awareness. The world needs to learn that sexual assault against women is not a feminist issue, but a serious matter for everyone that needs aggressive laws to address it. An assault on a woman’s dignity is an assault on a family, a community, a nation, and the society we live in. It is a crime against the people and a strike on the dignity of all humanity.
The intent to report effectively and honestly goes a long way for both mainstream and social media, but reporting on incidents like this dies down as other more important issues take over the centre stage. But, where the intent is to bring about a change and right the wrongs of a society and the system of justice that runs it, it will go a long way. Demonstrations against sexual assaults on women in India, Egypt, and other countries must transform into a progressive movement, a well coordinated and organized rebellion that will eventually force lawmakers to pass and enforce strict laws. As Bhagat Singh said, “It takes a loud noise to make the deaf hear.”
By Rhea Gamana
I used to say that activists, especially the youth, were just complaining, paralyzing the traffic, and that they should do more productive things rather than going out to yell on the streets. I used to say to myself that they should just go abroad and earn a living. Then they would have a better life and could be able to provide their families. I changed my attitude when I reunited with my mother. Now I understand why they do those things. I am now one of them.
My mother used to be a government employee in the Philippines, but since her salary wasn’t enough to provide for us, she decided to come to Canada and be a live-in caregiver. She left my brother and I behind. This is a common story for Filipinos.
In the last four decades, a Labour Export Policy (LEP) has been implicitly implemented to address the economic crisis in the country. This is not a long-term and people friendly solution to poverty.
The Philippine economy does not have a national industrialization plan to end underdevelopment. Instead it depends on remittances from overseas Filipino workers. Their numbers continue to rise under the administration of current President Benigno Aquino III. The LEP divides families. There are now 4500 leaving every day to work in different countries. The Philippines is the number one source country of migrants to Canada.
I was a good student and daughter in the Philippines. I took care of my family. Yet I was always sad that I couldn’t speak to my mother face-to-face if I needed advice from her.
When the time had come that we were going to reunite with her, I was nervous but happy. Prior to coming here in Canada, we attended a few orientations where they told us that Canada was a better place to achieve the future I wanted.
My Philippine educational attainment was considered nothing here in Canada. I had graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English, and wanted to become a lawyer or a teacher. A week after our arrival here in Canada almost 7 years ago, I applied for a job at a fast food chain.
I resigned myself to working as a part-time cashier while waiting for the right time to go back to college. After working for almost a year, my workplace got robbed. I thought I would die that day. The robber pointed the gun towards my stomach, and hit my head on the cash register.
That day changed me. I was diagnosed with PTSD, and that lasted for three years. This was not what I expected from a country like Canada. It was not what was described to us in the pre-departure orientation session we received in the Philippines.
According to a study titled “Filipinos in Canada: Economic Dimensions of Immigration and Settlement” by Dr. Philip Kelly of York University, Filipino immigrants have the highest educational attainment of all migrant groups yet still tend to be deskilled. For example, if I was a nurse in the Philippines, I could only work here as a nanny or personal support worker. In my case, I wasn’t able to use my education here in Canada at all.
Research also shows that children of Filipino migrants make less money than their parents and have a lower educational attainment. According to Statistics Canada, 32% of first generation Filipinos have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 28% of the second generation.
The Philippines is a semi-colonial country, which means that the country itself is not independent and remains under the control of Western imperialism. The Philippines is a semi-feudal nation. Big business landlords and elites exploit the natural resources and the cheap serf-like labour of the country. This results in the displacement of families who then migrate to urban areas or to other countries to find a better living.
It makes me wonder why the Canadian government only allows one family member to come to Canada if they need more people here.
The Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) is a program of the federal government allowing Canadians to import temporary migrant live-in caregivers, known around the world as domestic workers.
If they complete the program they can become Canadian citizens and sponsor their family through the reunification program. This takes an average of seven years, sometimes more. That’s a long time to be separated from your family. A long time spent taking care of the children of others, while your own need you at home.
This aspect of the program causes damage to family relationships, one that affects the children deeply—this I can tell you from personal experience.
Canadians need to be aware that we are part of this system. Not only here in Canada through our immigration policies, but also in the Philippines where Canadian imperialism contributes to forced migration. Part of our taxes goes to fund Canadian companies in the Philippines (especially in the mining sector), and Canadian military training of the Philippine armed forces to help protect those companies and forcefully displace Filipinos from the countryside through militarization.
I want a Philippines with true democracy and true independence. I want justice for the marginalized and underrepresented.
Today I am the Chairperson of Anakbayan-Toronto. We advocate for human rights, and we struggle for national industrialization that will keep Filipino families intact and ensure that no one will have to leave the country for a better life. I don’t want any child to suffer what I went through.
Anakbayan-Toronto will not stop calling for national industrialization and genuine land reform in the Philippines, This is the only way that Filipinos will be able to work decent jobs, and not have to leave the country.
by Nicole Oliver
Dancing flash mobs popped up across the world in what was described as “a global strike” and “an invitation to dance” for women and those that love them to demonstrate commonality in the struggle against violence and women’s oppression. Toronto was among several Canadian cities “rising up” on Feburary 14th to a call to action made by Eve Ensler, the creater of the Vagina Monologues. The messaging of the event, called “one billion rising” is that “one in three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime – one billion violated is an atrocity – one billion women dancing is a revolution.” But is it?
One billion persons across the globe dancing in the streets to end violence against women may have some value in terms of awareness raising and offering participants some form of release in collective dance, but in absence of a clear message as to the root causes of violence against women and removed from educational programming taking place in communities, the ripple effect of ‘One Billion Rising” [OBR] looks more like a drop in a bucket.
The differences in messaging and participant involvement at the various OBR events taking place worldwide was largely shaped by political context, the organizers, and communities they were hosted in. For example, GABRIELA-Ontario hosted their own community event that included dancing, but was also accompanied by discussion about violence experienced by Filipina women domestically and abroad in relation to social-economic factors, labor export policies and the commodification of women’s bodies and their work.
When I was in the Philippines in October working with the militant grassroots women’s rights alliance GABRIELA, I had the opportunity to work on the OBR campaign with this organization. For nearly 30-years GABRIELA has been fighting for women’s rights connecting women’s liberation to national liberation struggles in the Philippines recognizing that much violence against women and oppression stems from a system of domination created by a history of colonialism, capitalism, and imperialism.
Upon returning to Canada, I signed up to volunteer with OBR-Toronto hoping to carry forward my work with GABRIELA. Here, the OBR campaign was shaping up very differently than my experience with GABRIELA. The organizers of OBR-Toronto are well intentioned volunteers, but with little experience in popular organizing and few connections to local communities in Toronto. This was a stark contrast to GABRIELA, who viewed OBR as an opportunity to advance their long standing commitment to social service provision, educational programming, and awareness campaigning.
While people gathered in Nathan Phillips Square for OBR to “Strike, Dance, Rise” another formation of protest was happening up the street at Police Headquarters. Indigenous women and their supporters were hosting Toronto’s 8th Annual Ceremony for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. When asked about this action, Farial Ali an OBR participant who was unaware of the event and its history stated, “It’s really sad. It’s really unfortunate as indigenous communities are so undermined in this society. It saddens me to find out that about that event, yet we are here standing for the same cause.”
When asked about what she would like to see come out of events like OBR and the next steps, a participant named Raheena said, “I’m really worried that this is going to be one of those things where people come out, there is a huge rally, people get pumped, and three days into work people are going to completely forget it. I am hoping that this is a global call for a conversation even louder and in more depth.”
Work to end violence against women is ongoing and must happen in alignment with broader movements of liberation that confront the root causes for domination and oppression stemming colonialism, capitalist plunder, and imperialism. We should take this opportunity to salute those who rose on Feb 14, but also commend those who continually work on highlighting the connections between economic policy, development aggression, and violence against women. For it is the peoples organizations that not only mobilized women and their allies to participate in OBR, but it is also their ceaseless efforts to organize communities step-by-step and empower people toward becoming agents of change that will result in the end of violence and genuine freedom.
by Pablo Vivanco, for Barrio Nuevo
It was the 13th of April, 2011. Thousands of people were flooding the streets of Caracas, making their way towards Miraflores, the Presidential Palace reserved for the President to operate from. Just months after torrential rains destroyed hundreds of homes in the barrios, the Venezuelan President had ordered that those without homes be provided shelter in Government Ministry buildings, including Miraflores.
Nine years prior, thousands of people also descended onto Miraflores, but for a different purpose. The came from all over Caracas after learning that their President, Hugo Chávez, had been kidnapped in a coup organized by the military, economic and religious elite in the country with the support of Washington. The people, along with the vast majority of lower rank military, resisted the coup on the streets and forced a return of Chávez barely 72 hours after the coup began.
But on this day in April 2011, the people didn’t have the gates to Miraflores closed to them. They weren’t confronted with tanks and snipers. The gates were open to welcome a sea of red and green in the streets – red, the signature colour of the Bolivarian Revolution and green, the colour of the fatigues worn by the thousands of peoples militias on hand to celebrate the 9th anniversary of the popular victory over the fascist coup.
In the heavy rain, people danced, sang and chanted slogans undeterred and unbothered by the weather. The crowd, which included high-ranking military and Cabinet members including current Vice President Nicolas Maduro moved and mingled without the slightest tinge of formality. Indeed, it was perfect chaos.
About 45 minutes into this, with now hundreds of thousands in the streets, President Chávez came out to a deafening roar. In Canada and other places, the media ascribes those in the crowds like this with condescending terms – ‘followers’, ‘devotees’ and other terms which ascribe religious connotations of fanaticism. To Chávez, they say even worse things – strongman, dictator, ruler or virtually anything other that what he actually is – the elected President and the leader and spokesman of a movement.
That day, in that crowd, as I swayed with the music and the mass of bodies crowding towards the stage, I saw how false both those labels were. I saw Chávez converse with the crowd, responding to questions and comments while urging the people and organized movements to take greater control of the revolution in its trajectory towards socialism. I heard the crowd providing feedback to him, even sometimes vocally contradicting statements that he made (including those about a comedian, who many in the crowd thought was a right-winger. Chávez responded that he still considered the comedian to be funny). The relationship between Chávez and his supporters was clear – it wasn’t Chávez who acted like the people and country belonged to him, but rather the people who believed the country and the President belonged to them.
The reason for Chávez’s support and the participation of the Venezuelan people in the Bolivarian revolution are a mystery to no one actually willing to honestly assess Venezuela over the last fifteen years. Tens of billions of dollars invested in poor and working class neighbourhoods, particularly in areas of health and education, eradication of illiteracy, subsidized super markets, hundreds of thousands of homes for poor, worker run factories, funds for the 60 000 cooperatives and over 35 000 Communal Councils among the incredibly long list of investment and achievements in Venezuela since 1998.
On the international stage, Chávez was likely the first (and perhaps only) world leader to oppose the bombing of Afghanistan in response to 9/11, as well as a vocal opponent to the war in Iraq and a strong advocate of Palestinians. In Latin America, Chávez was the only opponent to the Free Trade Area of the Americas in the 2001 Quebec summit and then spearheaded attempts to break with US Hegemony in the region, pushing for solidarity based regional integration initiative like ALBA, Petrocaribe and later, UNASUR. His support base extended well beyond the Venezuelan borders.
On March 5th, 2013, Hugo Rafael Chávez Frias, the second of seven children born to working-class parents, lost his two-year battle with cancer, just four months after winning his 4th Presidential election. Without a doubt, this represents a great loss for the Venezuelan people and for anyone who has rightfully drawn inspiration from the Bolivarian Revolution under his leadership.
While the enemies of the people and their media mouthpieces rejoice, we should remind them that the mark of this extraordinary human and revolutionary will remain in the spirit of the Venezuelan people and in all those who will continue the fight against injustice and imperialism while carving the path of socialist revolution. Rest in peace comandante and know that we will not.
by Noaman G. Ali
Hugo Chávez, the president of Venezuela and commander of the Bolivarian Revolution, died on March 5, 2013, after a long battle with cancer. There are many who will criticize Chávez and his legacy. Some are from entrenched upper classes, who want to maintain inequality and protect their privileges, and so oppose anything that Chávez or Bolivarian revolutionaries do. Others, however, are friends of the people, but tend to look at everything with a critical eye out of adherence to abstract notions of human rights or democracy.
We have a different view of Chávez and his legacy.
Of course we disagree with many of Chávez’s ideas and positions. Of course we understand that the Venezuelan revolution is far more complicated than one person. Of course we recognize that it has many problems, that it needs to institutionalize people’s power, that it needs to beat back the bureaucrats and sycophants and put spending, investment and development funds firmly in control of the people and their class representatives, and that this can only be achieved by sharpening the class-struggle within PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) and among the peoples’ forces. Of course we recognize that the revolution has a long way to go, and that perhaps Chávez himself did not push it as far as he could and should have. Of course we recognize that Chávez’s positions on Iran, Libya and Syria were not fully acceptable and were guided more by exigencies of Venezuela’s foreign policy than by principles of proletarian internationalism — we unequivocally oppose imperialism’s interventions in these countries, yes, but we must also stand for the people’s right to rebel against repressive and increasingly neo-liberal rulers imposing their own brands of capitalism on their societies.
But we must not forget… When everyone else was talking about the wisdom of invading Afghanistan, Chávez was calling it for what it was — US terrorism. When everyone else was bowing down to the destructive economic policies of neo-liberalism imposed by international financial institutions, Chávez was calling it for what it was — imperialism. When everyone else was saying that regional integration was a pipe dream unless under the dictates of imperialism, Chávez was putting forward something else — regional integration on fraternal grounds of solidarity and resistance to imperialism. When everyone else was saying that socialism is stupid, Chávez was chosen by millions to lead a movement that put mass literacy, healthcare, food security, land reforms, worker-run factories, and so much more squarely back on the agenda and back in the imagination. When everyone else was saying that mass movements, people’s power and revolution were no longer possible, Chávez was calling it for what it was — a temporary setback, a way for us to learn from mistakes of the past, a stepping stone to a better and brighter future.
Not for a second and not for a moment do we condone his failures. But not for a second and not for a moment to do we forget the contributions that this person has come to symbolize. Not for a moment do we forget the millions who have risen up and who have used their voices, their hands, and their faith to raise the banner that says now and will say for a long time to come — ¡Viva la Revolución Bolivariana! Long live the Bolivarian Revolution!
We learn from the struggle, from its failures and its successes. God forbid we ever abandon it; let us take it to our graves.
Viva Chávez. Todos somos Chávez.
Long live Chávez. We are all Chávez.