The Real Truth About the People's War in Nepal
Revolution #013, August 28, 2005
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
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
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
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
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
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.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolution
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