People's War in Nepal: Reaching New Heights in the Himalayas
Revolutionary Worker #1238, May 1, 2004
When the People's War in Nepal started in
1996, the fighters led by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)
were armed with only sticks, sickles, khukuri knives and a
couple of guns. Three years later, when I traveled through
the guerrilla zone, the Maoists still really didn't have any
modern weapons. Most of the fighters I met had really old-
fashioned single-shot rifles and relied mainly on homemade
hand grenades and khukuris. I heard many stories about raids
carried out in the first few years of fighting--attacks against
local police posts and money lenders, corrupt officials and
landlords. The guerrillas would always proudly report on how
many weapons they had captured--"six rifles, one pistol and
300 bullets," or "eight rifles, one revolver and 780 bullets."
I remember thinking at the time--how are they going to be
able to fight and win with so few and such primitive weapons?
Today, after eight years of fighting, the
People's Liberation Army (PLA) has modern weapons, including
GPMGs, LMGs, SMGs, SLRs, and rocket launchers.
When the Maoists initiated armed struggle
in 1996 they had no people's army, no trained fighting forces
and no experience in military warfare. They started off with
only small "fighting groups." After six months the first squad
was formed and after several months there were 32 squads (of
seven to nine guerrillas). When I interviewed the Central
Committee member in charge of the Maoist strongholds in the
Rolpa, Rukum and Jajarkot districts, he told me, "Sometimes
the squads had to retreat when the police came into a village
where the squad lived. But when the police left, the squads
returned and the village would be back in the political and
military control of the People's Army. There were many ambushes
of police, going from smaller to larger actions and also many
raids of police posts and mining of roads where police were
traveling. Some were successful, some not, due to lack of
experience. We were learning warfare through waging warfare."
Again, these were impressive beginnings but
still on a very small scale. The Maoists had squads and platoons
(with 24-30 fighters) but had not yet formed any company-size
units (of about 100 guerrillas).
By 2002 the People's Liberation Army (PLA)
had several permanent companies, and in some cases was fighting
in units of brigade strength--several hundred soldiers. Today
the PLA has expanded to the level of two divisions, seven
brigades, 19 battalions, several companies, platoons, sections
and tens of thousands of militia. And they are able to mobilize
thousands of fighters in a single battle.
When I was in Nepal, the Maoists were also
only in the beginning stages of establishing political authority
and organization in the villages. In the countryside there
were "guerrilla zones" where fighting was going on. But the
guerrillas had only just begun a campaign to establish "base
areas" that would serve as embryos of "red political power."
Less than three years later, by the end of
2002, 10 million people in the Western Region--out of Nepal's
total population of 24 million--lived in areas under Maoist
control. And "United Revolutionary People's Committees" were
exercising power, mobilizing the masses to administer production,
the supply of basic necessities, education, sanitation, communications,
transportation and the establishment of a judicial system.
Why and how has the People's War in Nepal
been able to make such impressive military and political gains?
First of all, this is a real war of the people
that has mobilized and gained the support of millions. Peasants
want land. Women want an end to their deep oppression. National
minorities want an end to discrimination and the brutal caste
system. Youth and students want a future other than poverty
and malnutrition. The people want an end to foreign domination.
The Maoists have given concrete expression to all these aspirations--and
provided the people with the necessary military and political
leadership to fight for such a future.
In developing their fighting capacity, the
PLA applied the principles of Mao Tsetung's military strategy--
tactically pitting "ten against one" and strategically "one
against ten." They recognized that on a nationwide level the
revolutionary forces were (and would remain) outnumbered by
government forces--and so, in an overall strategic sense,
faced "one against ten." But tactically, and in particular
battles, they saw it was possible to concentrate an overwhelming
superior force to wipe out concentrations of government forces--with
an orientation of "ten against one." So, for example, they
intensified their military assaults on weak links of the government,
mainly the less fortified police posts.
The guerrillas consciously carried out Mao's
strategy of protracted warfare--avoiding all-out battles and
instead taking the approach of waging guerrilla warfare, luring
government forces deep into "red areas," encircling them and
striking big blows at their weakest links. Broad popular support
provided the Maoists with intelligence and reconnaissance,
and local militias played an important political and military
role. In this way, the PLA was able to carry out successful
military actions, even with primitive weapons and relatively
small fighting units, and the police were increasingly put
on the defensive and eventually forced to stay holed up in
their barracks most of the time.
From the very beginning, establishing base
areas and new political power has been a crucial component
of the overall strategy of the Maoists.
As police, officials and landlords were driven
out of the countryside, the authority and institutions that
had ruled over and oppressed the people ceased to exist--making
it possible for the Maoists to set up a "new people's power."
The more the guerrillas were able to "liberate" territory
through military struggle, the more they were able to consolidate
political authority in a more ongoing, even if still relatively
Today the Maoists control 80 percent of the
countryside in Nepal. And in the base areas the Party is leading
the masses to exercise "red power"--to destroy the old oppressive
system and its infrastructure of exploitation and oppression,
and build a new economic base, new revolutionary forms of
government, a new culture and new relations between people.
In early 2004, several Autonomous People's Governments were
formed--giving concrete expression to the Party's policy of
granting autonomous rule and the right to self-determination
among oppressed nationalities and regions.
These tremendous advances of the People's
War have been made in spite of a brutal counterinsurgency.
The Royal Nepal Army has carried out search-and-destroy campaigns
in the countryside--killing, torturing and arresting anyone
suspected of being a guerrilla or "Maoist sympathizer." A
massive disinformation and censorship campaign has closed
down revolutionary newspapers, jailed journalists, and spread
lies and slanders about the Maoists. Nepal's ruling class
has been in constant crisis, fraught with deep divisions and
in-fighting, over how to deal with the growing insurgency.
And in October 2002, King Gyanendra, in what amounted to a
palace coup, removed the Prime Minister, assumed executive
power, and dissolved the parliament.
Meanwhile, the U.S. global "war on terrorism"
has provided new freedom for foreign intervention and support
for the counter-revolution in Nepal. The Nepalese government
has officially branded the Maoists "terrorists" and the U.S.
State Department has put the CPN (Maoist) on one of its lists
of `terrorist' organizations. The U.S. has given the RNA military
training and advisers, at least $22 million in military aid
and more than 5,000 M-16 rifles. Britain has provided $40
million and played a leading role in getting other countries
to give political, financial and military support to the Nepalese
regime. India has provided truckloads of military hardware
and helicopters and is hunting down and arresting leaders
of the CPN (Maoist) in India.
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. Meanwhile, the system
has worked hard to get people to embrace facile verdicts on
people's wars--which in essence condemn the masses for daring
to fight against their oppression. And there have been
attacks and threats aimed at forces outside Nepal which politically
support the People's War. U.S. State Department spokesman,
Richard Boucher recently stated: "We have designated the Maoists
under an Executive Order, blocking any Maoist assets in the
United States or held by U.S. persons, wherever located, and
bars U.S. citizens from most transactions or dealings with
the Maoists." ( Kathmandu Post , April 24, 2004)
In such a situation it is important to distinguish
between the unjust violence of the oppressors and the just
violence of the oppressed. And people need to seriously discuss
and understand the right of the people of the world
to make revolution.
There are many 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. If the government succeeds in
distancing the most radical elements from other activists.
If red-baiting tactics succeed in dividing the movement...
this will affect all the people and put an even deeper
blanket of repression on all progressive organizations,
movements, thinking, and actions.
Is another world possible? Can humanity ever
get rid of the inequalities between countries, nationalities,
men and women, and different religions? Is there a path for
the planet other than McWorld globalization and the jihad
of religious fundamentalism?
Defenders of capitalism may answer this question
by declaring that "communism is dead" and that the path of
Maoist people's war is passť. But the fact is, in the Himalayas,
new heights are being reached towards the goal of building
a new society free of all forms of oppression and inequality.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolution
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