Democratic thinking

Articles on democracy in the independent online media

April 22, 2006

Revolutions in Nepal and Venezuela?

For a decade or so, the media has been talking about new color and flower revolutions with colorful revolutionaries like "orange" ones in Ukraine. But, after so many sponsored, colored and sanitized revolutions, as additions in the market of "a series of products deprived of their malignant property: coffee without caffeine, cream without fat, politics without politics the other deprived of its otherness", once again we are witnessing pure-and-simple revolutions and revolutionaries, in Latin America and Asia (and of course, there are many in the streets of Paris, and among the immigrants in the US, too). Nepal and Venezuela are two hot centers of pure-and-simple revolutions.

The parallel between the Nepalese and the Venezuelan movements that I draw rests upon some of their basic commonalities. There might be people for whom such comparisons would be outrageous--how can one compare the sophisticated experiments in Latin America with a violent and uncompromising movement of Nepal? Although it is not my purpose here to make the Nepalese movement palatable, but this parallel allows me to expose some of its basic facets.

Broadly, I attempt to understand the Nepalese experience as part of the global struggle for democracy, self-determination and socialism. As I see, both the Maoist movement in Nepal and the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela (along with other Latin American movements), evolve as continuous critiques of capitalism and its political forms, especially formal bourgeois democracy, from the perspective of the downtrodden classes and communities in the respective countries. The element of negativity defines the basic unity between them.

In the Americas, there are many "sui generis" laboratories of revolution, where people in their daily practice of "humanist and cooperative logic" transform themselves colliding at every step "with the capitalist logic of profit" and their own exploited existence. In this daily experience they find their own power and political expression. "Rather than putting the Venezuelan people asleep in order to enslave by making the act of voting 'into the beginning and end of democracy,' Chávez wrote in 1993 that 'sovereign people must transform itself into the object and the subject of power. This option is not negotiable for revolutionaries.'"

On the other side of the global south, who understands better than the Nepalese, the farce of voting as "the beginning and end of democracy"? They also know the various ways in which this farce could be enacted. Each time their grassroots consciousness become a decisive challenge to the status quo, a newer version of this farce has been enacted in Nepal to distract them, co-opt a few representatives, de-popularize policy-making and dissipate whatever energy is left in the streets.

Even the day, which is celebrated as the "Democracy Day", was the day when Indians re-instated the Shah Dynasty on the throne with an arrangement with the Nepali Congress to preempt the radicalization of the uprising in the countryside. Eight years after that, when the unrest on the unfulfilled promises seemed simmering again, elections were held in 1959. B.P. Koirala won on the plank of providing 'land to the tiller'. But in December 1960, King Mahendra banned all parties for dividing the country and found, on the basis of researches probably done in the US' universities, that the parliamentary system, being a foreign creation, was not much in "step with the history and traditions of the country". The homegrown panchayat 'democracy' institutionalized the indigenous Hindu hierarchy as a political system with the King on its top as the reincarnation of Vishnu. Destroying commons, unprecedented commercialization, uprooting the people and growing unemployment radicalized the youth and forced the rural poor to self-organize in the 1970s; and the political elite--the royalty, with the democrats' assent--needed to stage another 'democratic' farce--a referendum on the panchayat system, with far more ballots than registered votes. Finally, right at the time when global imperialism was full of expectations for its hegemonic stability in the late 1980s with the crumbling of East Europe, a new compromise in Nepal was reached in 1990 to preempt the organized revolutionary tide that seemed certain.

From CounterPunch.