Building a Road to the Future

Revolution #014, September 18, 2005, posted at

The following is from A World to Win News Service:

September 5, 2005. A World to Win News Service. Rolpa, Nepal. With political power in their hands, today tens of thousands of people of Rolpa in Western Nepal are building a major road in difficult terrain. Rolpa is a backward area of the country far away from the capital of Kathmandu and the country’s other main economic and tourist centers. Ever since this region was incorporated into the kingdom of Nepal by force in the mid-18th century, the central authorities have done nothing to raise the living standards of the people. At the heart of this region is the district of Rolpa, home to 70,000 peasants who eke out a living in subsistence farming in the foothills of the Himalayas. While Rolpa includes people of several nationalities, most of the people are part of the Magar nationality. Their language has nothing in common with the official language Nepali. Since their fields can’t grow enough grain to feed the people all year long, many men must spend half the year working in neighboring India for little more than a dollar a day, from which they must deduct their expenses. Women do most of the cultivation of maize, wheat, and barley.

In recent years Rolpa has become more known around the world as the center of the insurgency led by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). Although the people of Rolpa have had to bear the brunt of the Royal Nepal Army’s attacks, the atmosphere among the people is exciting and uplifting. The women and men in Rolpa are aroused in a way far too rare in today’s world, standing tall and daring to take their future into their own hands. For many this means participation in the revolutionary war that has grown by leaps and bounds since it started in 1996. But as the revolutionaries in Nepal stress, the insurrection they are waging is not just a military battle—it is a People’s War, an all-out mobilization of the peasants, workers, students and others to fight in every sphere against a decrepit semi-feudal regime headed by a king who claims to be god’s incarnation on earth.

Now all observers agree that the great majority of the Nepalese countryside has been liberated from the control of the king’s regime. Already major transformations have taken place in the lives of the people. Two of the most important of these are the uprooting of the barbaric, age-old caste system and enabling women to take an active part in all aspects of society, abolishing child marriage, and so forth. The revolution now is facing a great challenge: to begin to construct an economic system based on the self-reliant actions of the people, an economy that is not tied into the world system of imperialism and which begins to break down the inequalities and injustices that have long existed in Nepal.

One factor that has kept Nepal backward both economically and culturally has been the inability of the peasants in areas like Rolpa to communicate and trade with any but their most immediate neighbors. There are virtually no roads in the hill regions of Nepal, and this lack is one of the most deeply felt needs of the people. Previous governments in Nepal have done almost nothing to build roads. This means, for example, that peasants can’t trade their apples, which grow well in the hillsides of Rolpa, for much-needed grain. It makes it very difficult to get sick people to a hospital. It means that except for those who are forced to travel to India for work, many people have never been to neighboring districts.

Rolpa is the center of the Magarat Autonomous Region, so named because the majority of the population are Magars, one of the many nationalities in Nepal that have long been oppressed by the central authorities. Under the party’s leadership, the Autonomous Region and a people’s government were formed in a mass meeting of 75,000 people in this area in January 2004. Things are beginning to change. A bold decision was made to build a 92 km (57 mile) road through the heart of Rolpa. AWTW News Service had a chance to interview the leader of the Magarat Autonomous Region, Samtosh Buddha Magar, a long-time leader of the people’s resistance in Rolpa.

Samtosh explained that the road is being built relying on the peasantry itself. Families are mobilized to send one person to work for 15 days, or for 10 days in the case of those living in districts farther away where it can take several days of walking just to reach the construction sites. The people have no earth-moving equipment, and the one and only jackhammer broke down. Instead they are using picks and shovels and occasional dynamite to dig the road out of the hills. In particular there is the challenge of building about a hundred bridges, including 15 major ones. The road is wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other comfortably. While motorized vehicles have already started on 14 kilometers (about 9 miles) of the gravel-surfaced road, the most immediate benefit will be the ability to use horses more extensively, not to mention that even foot traffic is much easier than on the hillside trails. Samtosh stressed that, in addition to the immediate economic benefits of the road, it will serve to “change people’s concepts. The feudal outlook still exists. Anything new changes people’s outlook. The road is the main connection to the city, which is a vehicle of culture.”

The fact that the people are building a road with little more than their hands and backs is a source of great pride throughout the region. The people have named it “Martyrs Road” in honor of those who have fallen in the revolutionary war. While previous governments have done nothing for the benefit of the people, the phenomenal progress of the road—35 percent was built in the first six months, when originally the Maoist leaders had thought three years would be needed for the whole project—is an example of what can be accomplished once the enthusiasm and capacities of the laboring people have been unleashed. It is living proof that there is another road of development that does not require the aid or supervision of the imperialist countries and which can really serve the interests of the people.

The tens of thousands of volunteers who are taking turns building the road is itself a major political event in the life of the whole region. Most come as part of a group from one or another village or mass organization. They are asked to bring their own food to keep from overwhelming the resources of people in the immediate area. Food is provided by the home local organizations for those they send who are too poor to provide their own.

One middle-aged poor peasant of the Tharu nationality in the Dang Valley, a fertile farm area south of Rolpa near the Indian border, had just returned from working on the road for eight days (and spending several days walking to get there and return). It was the first time in his life he had been in the hilly region of the country. He commented on the great experience of working with different nationalities from all over western Nepal. “It was so much fun, it didn’t feel like work at all.” His group had included several dozen people from the local peasant association who had organized their food collectively.

It seems that most of the volunteers are men, reflecting the fact that women with children have less mobility. Despite this, many women participate in different ways in the road project and are no less enthusiastic over the importance of the project.

Already simple signs of commerce are seen along the road—a small country store, people transporting goods, renting out horses, and so on. Transportation is crucial to economic and cultural development, which was long undermined by the reactionary system. It is easy to see how this kind of economic development could facilitate the emergence of capitalism in a backward, semi-feudal country like Nepal. At the same time, the road project is a profound illustration of Mao Tsetung’s description of the “new democratic revolution” aimed at feudalism, imperialism, and bureaucrat capitalism (meaning the largest capitalists linked to foreign imperialists and landlords). Mao points out that the new democratic revolution “opens the door for capitalism. But it opens the door for socialism even wider.” In other words, by sweeping aside the backwardness of feudalism and the chains of imperialism a national capitalism can develop, but the leadership of the communist party and the working class can lead the energy unleashed by the masses in a different direction—toward the construction of a socialist society and eventually to a communist world. It is easy to read in the faces of the road volunteers that they are motivated by more than just the promise of immediate economic benefit. The possibility of building an economic and social system based on cooperation and self-reliance, without exploitation, is coming into closer focus.

For the revolutionary leaders, the road is also “a self examination,” as Samtosh put it, “to see if the people come when we call them. To see if we can fulfil a plan. What can we do if we have total power?”

The first results of this “examination” are more than satisfactory. As Samtosh said, “We have great confidence that we can do something if we have power. There is the confidence of the masses themselves. Even without full nationwide power, look what we are doing.”