The Real Truth About the People's War in Nepal

by Li Onesto

Revolution #013, August 28, 2005, posted at

The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) has been waging armed struggle against the government since 1996 and now controls most of the countryside. Their People’s Liberation Army is able to mobilize thousands of guerrillas against the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA), and in areas run by new revolutionary governments, they are leading millions of poor peasants to radically change the economic, political, and cultural life. Lately there has been a rash of reports in liberal publications like Harper’s, Rolling Stone, and Newsday that have attacked the people’s war in terms that are at minimum distorted and in some cases outright slander.

Revolution asked Li Onesto to respond to some of the disinformation and lies being put out about the People’s War in Nepal. Li Onesto traveled deep into the guerrilla zones of Nepal in 1999 and is the author of the book Dispatches from the People’s War in Nepal (Pluto/Insight Press, 2005).

Why are the Maoists in Nepal waging an armed revolution?

In Nepal over 85% of the people are peasants in the countryside, desperately poor, malnourished, and exploited by corrupt officials, landlords, and moneylenders. Lower castes and oppressed ethnic groups face systematic discrimination under a rigid caste system. Women are intensely suppressed and treated as inferior in every facet of society. A king controls the army and an oppressive monarchy is deeply embedded in the ruling structures of society. The whole country is subordinate to, dependent on, and dominated by India and imperialist countries like the U.S.

The ruling class and the government in Nepal defend and serve this whole oppressive setup. They have amply shown that they will use torture, rape, and summary executions against anyone who seriously opposes them. And the Nepalese people can never be free until this state power is overthrown.

Through armed struggle the Maoists have been able to carve out liberated areas, establish revolutionary governments and mobilize the people to begin transforming things: the redistribution of land, equal rights for women, an end to the caste system, autonomy for oppressed ethnic groups, healthcare, education, and the building of roads and bridges.

The broad masses of people are putting their minds and hearts into building the embryo of a new society. But this is limited as long as the reactionary regime holds state power. To seize nationwide power the Maoists have to defeat the Royal Nepalese Army. They can then build a new socialist society which they see as part of the worldwide struggle to bring about a communist world--free of all oppression and exploitation.

Some reporters say the common people in Nepal are "caught in the middle" between the Maoist guerrillas and the government forces.

This so-called "analysis" echoes the disinformation put out by the U.S. State Department that completely distorts what is really going on in this war.

The People’s Liberation Army is made up of tens of thousands of common peasants who are not "caught in the middle" but have joined the insurgency. And many more are participating in the new revolutionary governments.

The Maoist revolution aims to get rid of the whole economic, political and social system that oppresses the people. The Nepalese regime rules over, enforces and is fighting to preserve the status quo. Are the masses of people caught between these two fires? No! Sure, there are people who don’t fully support the government or the Maoists. That happens in any civil war or revolution. But more importantly, the Maoists are organizing and providing leadership to millions who are brutally and systematically oppressed by the system AND who are inspired by and support the Maoists’ vision and concrete program for building a new liberating society.

What kind of support do the Maoists have?

Those trying to justify the brutal counterinsurgency claim the masses don’t support the Maoists, that people are being coerced into joining the revolution. Anyone who seriously studies this situation knows this is a lie.

When I was in Nepal I interviewed military commanders and political leaders as well as rank-and-file guerrillas, poor farmers, and peasant youth. Something that struck me over and over again was the political consciousness of the participants in this revolution. These people were not unthinking robots, terrorized into joining the revolution. I met young women who had been denied an education--who were fighting with rifles as well as learning to read by studying revolutionary theory. This is a revolution of desperately oppressed peasants who are inspired by the vision of a whole new society and world.

The guerrillas started off small and up against a brutal regime backed by India and the U.S. They could not have achieved their current military and political strength without the genuine support and participation of thousands who believe in the goals of the revolution and on this basis go into battle and risk their lives.

What about all the people who are dying in this conflict?

First of all, we should look at all the people who needlessly die every day in Nepal, of starvation and disease and brutality under the "normal" workings of this system. But even in terms of this war, the vast majority of the 12,000 killed since the start of the war have been civilians murdered by the police and Royal Army, along with suspected revolutionaries also tortured and murdered. The U.S.-trained RNA has carried out human rights abuses against a wide swath of the population, killing thousands suspected of "supporting the Maoists," which could mean simply providing food and shelter for the guerrillas. Human rights organizations have documented how the police and RNA have burned whole villages and rounded up, tortured, murdered and jailed thousands of people. In 2003 and 2004, Nepal recorded the highest number of new cases of disappearances by security forces in the world.

On the other hand, the vast majority of people killed by the Maoists have been police and soldiers in combat. When others, like informants, have been targeted, this is because their actions have directly led to Maoists and others being jailed or killed. On several occasions, the Maoists have issued self-criticisms of actions they felt were wrong and have changed some policies after being criticized.

There is widespread censorship and government disinformation which claims the Maoists "kidnap students," "use forced labor," "execute teachers," etc. These outright lies and distortions about the nature of the Maoists are aimed at justifying a brutal counterinsurgency, backed by India, the UK and the United States.

What is the role of women in this revolution and how are the Maoists addressing the question of women’s oppression?

For centuries, feudal traditions like arranged marriages, dowries, and polygamy have been enforced in many ways and under a mixture of feudal and capitalist rules; women’s bodies are owned, controlled, and bargained over in everything from marriage to sex trafficking. Religious and cultural practices promote and perpetuate male domination. And everywhere a woman turns, her freedom and independence is policed and smothered.

Where the guerrillas have control, land is being redistributed, and for the first time women own land. Arranged marriages, polygamy, and other feudal traditions oppressive to women are no longer practiced. Wife beating and rape are severely punished by people’s courts. Women are equal participants in the new economic, political, and social life of the villages. Women are given the right to divorce, go to school, and fight in local militias as well as the People’s Liberation Army. Women make up at least 30% of the guerrilla army and there are women military commanders and political leaders.

The U.S. has called the Maoists in Nepal "terrorists" and is supporting the Nepalese government with arms, money and military training to defeat the guerrillas. Should we be concerned about this?

The Maoists in Nepal have nothing in common with groups like al-Qaida, but this has not stopped the U.S. from fabricating a comparison or arguing that if the Maoists are not defeated the country will become a "failed state" and "safe haven" for other terrorists. The U.S. is attempting to label as "terrorists" any movement that dares to challenge their domination--or rises up against a regime they support.

There are many people who are inspired by the revolution in Nepal and oppose the counterinsurgency being carried out by the U.S.-backed Nepalese regime. But even those who do not support or have questions about the People’s War in Nepal should oppose U.S. intervention--and cannot allow attacks on those who do. If the U.S. is allowed to attack real liberation struggles and call them "terrorist"… If those who politically support people’s wars are attacked and called "supporters of terrorists"… If those who say we need revolution are targeted and persecuted.... this will affect all the people and put an even deeper blanket of repression on all progressive organizations, movements, thinking, and actions.

READ: Dispatches from the People’s War in Nepal by Li Onest

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