Totalitarianism of the right is easy to detect. They have a fascist streak and usually glorify a nation, a state or a race as better than all others. Totalitarianism of the left is politically correct and couched in the jargon of proletarian internationalism so it is more difficult to take to task.
Despite the failures of all kinds of communism, the colossal price paid by citizens for the cause of revolution, its fatal lure persists. It is not just our Maobadi, even analysts dissecting the sudden resurgence of armed insurrections worldwide carry a hangover from the early 19th century dogmas of conservative versus progressive.
Before she took her studies to Kumaon due to the insurgency in Nepal, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) researcher Marie Lecomte-Tilouine worked out of Dullu. She found the fascination of Maobadi cadre in Dailekh with the French Revolution intriguing. Even Baburam Bhattarai seems to revere Robspiere's Reign of Terror, forgetting its role in the rise of Napoleonic monocracy immediately afterwards.
Victor Hugo captures the tragedy and trauma of that period in Ninety-Three (Carrol & Graf Publishers Inc, New York, second printing 1989). He writes: 'The bronze mask of civil war has two profiles-the one turned towards the past, the other set towards the future, but both equally tragic.'
Responding to Edmund Burke's lament about the end of regal graces in France, Thomas Paine wrote that in mourning lost royal plumage, the British parliamentary orator had forgotten the birds from which the feathers were plucked. Hugo sums it all up in one sentence: 'Man breaks and destroys, man lays waste, man kills, but the summer remains summer, the lily remains the lily, the star remains the star.'
The seeds of Stalinist red terror were sown in the October Revolution itself. John Reed's Ten Days That Shook the World (Progress Publishers, Moscow) presents a 'slice of intensified history' as the author saw it in Petrograd of November 1917. Re-reading the book in Nepal in 2004 makes it clear why Rosa Luxemburg warned Lenin that their revolution could swiftly move from 'the dictatorship of a class to the dictatorship of a party, to be followed by the dictatorship of a committee of that party and eventually the rule of a single man who will soon enough dispense with that committee'.
Disintegration, decomposition and doom seem to be the life cycle of revolutions, as totalitarians who rule by terror reap what they sow. Tragically, our own comrades don't seem to take any lessons from history. The UML still carries the portraits of Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Kim Il Sung even though the late Madan Bhandari gave them a decent burial with his Bahudaliya Janabad in the early 1990s.
Rosa Luxemburg's dark predictions of revolutions devouring their own turned out even more chillingly true in New China where Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping evolved into The New Emperors (Avon Books, New York, 1993). Historian Harrison E Salisbury has painstakingly chronicled the internal feuds that triggered the Cultural Revolution and the purges of genuine revolutionaries as Mao's cult of personality took hold.
The true human cost of Mao's revolution on the Chinese people is chronicled in Jasper Becker's Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine (The Free Press, 1996). Becker traversed China interviewing survivors of the 1958-1962 famine in which up to 30 million Chinese died-more than Stalin's purges and Hitler's genocide put together. It is a chronicle of state terror, cannibalism, torture and murder during Mao's 'Great Leap Forward', an attempt at social engineering gone horribly wrong.
A more concise account of that period can be found in Alan Lawrance's China under Communism (Routledge, 1998) which looks at how Mao's brand of Marxism was forced to adopt Deng's reforms ("I don't care if a cat is black or white as long as it catches mice") after his death.
In Red China Blues (Bantam Books, London, 1997) the Chinese-Canadian author gives a first-hand account of the Cultural Revolution in which she participated as a starry-eyed Maoist. Jan Wong's disillusionment comes in the early 1990s, as she goes through her rites of passage in Beijing on the 100th birthday of the Great Helmsman himself when she starts singing in the Great Hall of the People.
Another insider's account is Red Color News Soldier (Phaidon Press, London, 2003, ?24.95) by Li Zhensheng, who used to be the official party photographer during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) when the Gang of Four ran amok. Estimates of the victims of Red Guard terror run into millions and millions, but the statistics don't have the power of Li's pictures. The most haunting is at the end of the book: a series on the execution of Wan Shouxin, a revolutionary killed by revolutionaries.
Often, war becomes a statistic. But images like these remind us that every number represents a human tragedy.