"Imperialism interferes and fails, interferes again and fails again, again it interferes and fails again, and this is how it invites its own end." That was Mao Zedong. Our comrades have taken that nugget of Maoism to heart, and are convinced that the demise of imperialism is inevitable.
Mao also used to say that imperialism is a paper tiger. But 60 years after Mao's revolution, and especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is clear that imperialism is a real tiger with stars and stripes.
The Maoists interpret the help in the form of hardware and advice from India, Britain and the United States for Nepal's counter-insurgency operation as the beginning of imperialist "interference." They see the social and economic contradictions within Nepal, in the region, and internationally, as stemming from a classic class war between rich imperialist oppressors and supressed poor nations.
This explains the thesis of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM) that the epicentres of all revolutions originate in countries under the imperialist yoke. What drives the Nepali revolution is the doctrinaire Maoist belief in the righteousness of the cause and in international solidarity among like-minded leftists about the "people's war". Our Maoists are the main actors in this larger global commune. South Asia, with its social injustice, exploitation and large masses of disenfranchised, has become the main laboratory to test RIM's thesis that total revolution is the only way out of the present morass in a region with 75 percent of the world's absolute poor.
Imperialism's present incarnation of globalism plays out at different levels. Socio-cultural imperialism not only binds the oppressed down to where they are, but also, through global media, influences the way they think. Trade imperialism works through supra-national entities like the WTO to protect the privileges of the powerful. Military imperialism after 11 September has moved from a low-intensity war to hot conflicts stretching from Khost to Basilan. The US president has called Iraq, Iran and North Korea the "axis of evil", the emphasise being that the "evil" has to be defeated for lasting peace. Any force against an elected government is terrorist, Colin Powell declared. Nepali Maoists automatically fell into that slot. This categorisation has in any case been made easier because the Maoists have increasingly targeted non-combatants and development infrastructure directly benefiting the poor.
Imperialist forces generally have a two-pronged strategy to deal with revolution: directly by sending in troops or hardware to fight rebels, and indirectly, through intelligence-sharing. One of the two will be visible in Nepal in the months to come, especially if this conflict does not enter a decisive phase soon. Elsewhere in the world in recent decades the US has tried both troops and intelligence. In Peru, the Americans passed on intelligence on the whereabouts of Abimael Guzman, leading to his capture, and ultimately the subduing of the Shining Path. In Colombia and the Philippines, they sent troops that got bogged down. The lesson for Nepal is clear: the best use of the imperialist Indo-US alliance will be to share intelligence. The Americans may be tempted to see some advantages in having a toe-hold in Nepal so they can keep tabs on rumblings in India and China, but they must tread carefully and not get us caught up in global rivalries.
The Maoist ideologues have a different perspective on this. Comrade Baburam Bhattarai in a recent issue of his party organ Jana Awaj postulates that American interest in helping fight Maoism in Nepal is to align with India in the encirclement of China. Whether China takes the development in the same vein is another matter. Beijing's geopolitical focus is on its eastern flank-along the South China Sea, Vietnam, Korea, Taiwan and Japan. It does not need the distraction of having to worry also about Tibet, Xinjiang, and now Nepal. Chinese officials never refer to our comrades as "Maoists", and have always characterised them a home-grown movement using the name of the Great Helmsman in vain.
Our Maoists seem confident that they are winning this war. But such revolutionary haste can also translate into an open invitation for outside powers to step in. This may not be as far-fetched as we perhaps think: who could have predicted last year that there would be uniformed US military in Libang? It wouldn't be surprising if the Americans conclude that the Maoists may indeed win unless the Royal Nepal Army is significantly beefed up.
The US and Indian positions on Nepal's Maoists are converging. By their own analysis, the Maoists say India will find more of its natural class-allies in the US and the Nepali state. These emerging alignments show that it is only a question of time before the Indians pull the rug from under the feet of our comrades
The Maoist war has entered a destructive phase, a sign of reckless hurry. The leadership is confident that another ceasefire, during which the group will rearm and retrain, can propel it to victory in Kathmandu. So a five-day bandh is likely to be followed by longer bandhs to put pressure on the government to agree to a ceasefire and talks. The Maoists need to keep the wheels of their revolutionary juggernaut turning so that they do not lose momentum. A continuing military stalemate will sap their energy. Also, because there is really nothing left to extort in rural areas, the "people's war" is now hurting the very people it was supposed to liberate. There is a real danger of massive disaffection, even within the rank-and-file.
The Maoist leadership therefore has two options: incite a mass uprising quickly, or join the parliamentary mainstream. The first path will keep the movement bogged down in a dead-end insurgency sustained only by a romantic dream of a utopia as with the NPA in the Philippines. The second could give them a stab at power through a king-making role in parliament, as with the JVP in Sri Lanka.
Landlocked as we are between two giant neighbours (and a meddlesome distant giant), it is difficult to see how the Nepali Maoists will win, let alone rule. Despite the odds, our comrades believe that the objective conditions are more favourable as the country's economy spirals out of control and public frustration with the elected government grows. They believe that the basis of their victory will be our economic and social inequalities, which will continue to ensure them more recruits. The faction-ridden and aimless government in Kathmandu will, on the other hand, only survive if propped up from outside. Even if the parliamentary parties are somehow sidelined in the coming months, there is no guarantee of lasting peace. For that to happen the rulers in Kathmandu (whoever they are in the future) will need to think about redressing the entrenched social and economic disparities.
(Puskar Gautam is a former Maoist district commander from Okhaldhunga.)