Scenes from Nepal

The Daring of Revolution, The Shoots of the Future

by Li Onesto

Revolution #1, May 1, 2005, posted at


In 1999 I traveled through the heart of the Maoist People’s War in Nepal, deep into the guerrilla zones in the districts of Rolpa and Rukum. The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) had been waging armed struggle for three years and the police, corrupt officials, and greedy moneylenders had been run out of this area. The people were beginning to establish a new people’s power.

There were mass organizations of women, peasants, and students, and new people’s courts were administering justice. For the first time women had the right to own land and get a divorce, land was being redistributed, and peasants mercilessly cheated by usurers had torn up debt papers. 3-in-1 committees of guerrilla fighters, party cadre, and members of mass organizations ran the villages, creating new systems of taxation, laws and basic commerce, building schools and starting to organize collective farming. Cultural squads were creating a new revolutionary culture.

These were very fragile shoots and I wondered if they would survive. The Maoists were trying to establish base areas. But the police were arresting, killing, torturing, and raping anyone suspected of being a Maoist or a Maoist sympathizer, and the guerrillas were poorly armed. There were already hundreds of revolutionary martyrs and everyone knew that sooner or later the Royal Nepal Army will be sent against the people.

How could such a poor peasant army have such fantastic dreams and hopes of seizing power? How could they dare to challenge a government that was getting weapons from India—and would almost certainly, eventually, get money and arms from powerful countries like the United States? Could these poor, illiterate peasants really get rid of their oppressors, defy tradition’s chains and remake their world?


April 2005. A friend sends me a video, not yet available in the U.S., "Eight Glorious Years of People’s War"—hours of amazing footage from the liberated base areas, shot and edited by the Central Cultural De- partment of the CPN (Maoist).

It has been six years since my trip to Nepal, and the Maoists now control some 80 percent of the countryside. The People’s Liberation Army is able to wage battles against the Royal Army, involving thousands of guerrilla fighters. And there are now two governments in Nepal. The reactionary ruling class has the capital of Kathmandu and runs the cities and district headquarters. But the Maoists control most of the vast countryside, where 85 percent of Nepal’s... million people live.

The U.S., U.K. and India have all declared that the Maoists must not be allowed to win. And a "war on terrorism in Nepal" is being used to justify US money, weapons, and training for a brutal counterinsurgency. The Royal Nepalese Army has killed many thousands of people and arrested, tortured, and raped even more. But they have been unable to defeat the guerrillas.

The video takes me back to Rolpa and Rukum, to the same areas I visited in 1999, and it is deeply moving and exhilarating to see how things have changed. Over the years I have thought a lot about the political and military leaders I met, the guerrillas I traveled with, the families of martyrs I interviewed—wondering if they have survived. Now tears well up in my eyes when I actually see in the video some of these very same people fighting, working, and laughing in the base areas.

The video’s soundtrack transports me back to Nepal on another level, evoking memories of the cultural programs I attended, feeling again the passion and spirit of the new revolutionary culture that has been such a crucial part of this struggle. The lyrics flash across the screen.

This is the time to give birth to the tempest
This is the time to burst out like a volcano
To the soldiers of the war
To those red stars
Don’t be Stopped! Not by anyone!

The video takes me to a massive rally where the Magar people, an oppressed nationality, are celebrating the declaration of the new Magrat Autonomous Government.

A close shot of people streaming into the area. Then the camera zooms back, then back even more and the camera’s eye traverses the rocky terrain, giving a binocular-like survey of a human procession that snakes across the steep mountainside for miles. Back in the village there is visible joy amidst huge red flags. A man playing a drum tied to his forehead. A dance troupe of girls in traditional costume.

This is a vivid and many-faceted picture of the People’s War. Massive rallies of tens of thousands of peasants. Speeches by party leaders and military commanders. PLA training camps. Cultural performances. Revolutionary festivals, volleyball, and foot races organized in the base areas. And actual footage from the battlefield—the sights and sounds of rapid gunfire, back and forth. A voice in the darkness, "Take cover, don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid." Bodies of dead RNA soldiers. Wounded and dead PLA fighters. Caches of captured weapons and ammunition.

Segue to revolutionary construction in the base areas—schools, bridges, even an FM radio station. Text on the screen informs me that the first day of the month has been designated as a collective day of labor, and I see PLA soldiers, party cadre, members of revolutionary cultural troupes, and villagers working together to haul stones from the river to build a new wall.

Those who fatten on others’ labor have fled the villages
Those who rule with arrogance have run away
The people’s governments are organized in villages
The redness of victory is arising among the people
A custom of working together is established
Nepotism and injustice are eliminated in villages
Caste and untouchability are eradicated
Let us create a new culture and a new society

There is footage from a revolutionary "love marriage" ceremony. And I think about the young women guerrillas who told me how women in Nepal are suffocated by feudal tradition. Not allowed to go to school, subjected to arranged marriages and polygamy, lives crushed by the thriving sex traffic. Today in the base areas, a new culture aimed against the patriarchy and caste system is giving women and men new freedom.

In a liberated village people have gathered to greet scientists, professors, engineers, and artists who have come from the city. Suddenly I see a familiar face—a famous revolutionary writer, his face beaming, his right fist held in a lal salaam, red salute. I had interviewed him when I was in Kathmandu. Now he has gone to the countryside, to the Rolpa base area, to serve the people.


In the villages I visited in 1999, there were mainly women, young children, and old men. Most of the men were working in the cities or had been forced underground.

I think about how the 12-year-old girls and boys I met in the villages are now young men and women, old enough to join the People’s Liberation Army. What has it been like for them to grow up in a liberated village, in a base area where there is a new people’s power?

A new generation in Nepal is being shaped by the People’s War and, in the base areas, the youth are growing up as part of the struggle to create a whole new way of living —seeds of a whole new economic, political, and cultural life are being planted. And the guns of the People’s Liberation Army are protecting these shoots of the future, allowing them to grow and strengthen.

Power is won through war
Enhance people’s power
This old state is tiring
Let’s seize the central power
To those who are advancing, moving heaven and earth
To those who have given their lives to change the face of society
Welcome these red people of this new era

Li Onesto is the author of Dispatches from the People’s War in Nepal (Pluto Press and Insight Press), available at:,, and Revolution bookstores.


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Tune into to see Li Onesto on the TV show, Natural Progression, with Elaine Higginbotham-Schramm,
on April 29, 10:30 pm (Pacific Time) and May 1, 6 pm (Pacific Time), Channel 73.