6-12 September 2013 #672

Skeletons in the closet

The theory of revolutionary violence justifies the taking of human lives in order to overthrow an unjust political order. It has been seen historically as a legitimate, and necessary, means to an end when all other political measures have been exhausted. The argument is that a state that is either repressive or perpetuates structural violence through neglect and exclusion can only be brought down through revolutionary counter-violence.

This Robin Hood doctrine was given the imprimatur of political legitimacy by Lenin, Stalin and Mao. Indeed, these three gentlemen were together responsible for the deaths of nearly 80 million people in the last century, justifying the bloodshed through the 'scientific logic' of revolutionary violence to establish a dictatorship of the proletariat. 

History books tell us that the Soviet comrades actually used the term 'revolutionary terror' or 'red terror'. They were just following their guru Karl Marx, who had written: ‘There is only one means to shorten, simplify and concentrate the murderous death throes of the old society and the bloody birth pangs of the new, only one means – revolutionary terrorism.’

Marxian doctrine was obsessed with blood and the shedding of it to lay down the justification for 'mass terror' as a weapon to further the class struggle. Leon Trotsky later started having doubts about the zeal of his comrades for violence, and felt that the end had started justifying the means. But even he believed that feudalism would never reform by itself, and had to be terrorised into submission.

The word ‘terrorist’ has today been hijacked to describe religious extremists, but neo-Maoist revolutionists are proud ‘terrorists’ in the purest original definition of the term: terrorising oppressors with torture and executions, and terrorising the populace to toe the partyline by making an example of those who deviate from the revolutionary path.

The chief ideologue of the Maoist party, Baburam Bhattarai, told this newspaper in an interview in 2002 that no price in terms of human life was too great for the liberation of the people, and added that the Khmer Rouge genocide was exaggerated and “western propaganda”.

The rationale and limits of revolutionary violence, and who should be held accountable for violations of human rights during the insurgency, has now come back to haunt Nepal’s revolutionaries. The Maoists took up arms in 1996 against a democratically-elected government, and although discrimination and social injustice were rife in society, this could have been addressed through political evolution. One didn't need to kill 17,000 people to achieve it. Today, looking at the behaviour of the comrades, one is forced to ask: is this what it was all for?

Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal told BBC Nepali in 2006 that he had given orders to execute enemies of the people with a bullet to the temple. This week, he dared human rights activists: “I gave the order to kill, arrest me if you can.” His spokesman, Agni Sapkota who is himself accused of summary execution, fell back on the usual Maoist argument that raking up war crimes would “wreck the peace process”.

The Maoists may have suspended their armed struggle, but they have never to date publicly renounced the use of political violence. In fact, they continue to use the residual terror in the public mind of their past brutality to instill fear and acquiescence. As former Chief Election Commissioner Bhojraj Pokhrel points out in his new book, they repeatedly blackmailed other political forces with a return to war if they didn’t get what they wanted. It may be too much to expect Maoists to change their spots, their ideology is intrinsically violent, intolerant and unrepentant of the suffering they caused.

Both sides in the Nepal conflict are now trying to protect each other from facing up to the atrocities they committed. It is now meaningless to segregate war crimes by who perperated them, the guerrillas or the army. Both now represent the state, and it is the state’s responsibility to deliver truth and justice to the families of victims like Krishna Adhikari, Maina Sunwar, Dekendra Thapa, the Doramba 18 and Bhairabnath 36.

The Maoists say individual insurgency-era killings should be addressed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), but their government was complicit in watering down the TRC ordinance until it was toothless and meaningless. The former enemies both want conflict era crimes to be buried, but the skeletons are rattling in their closets.

Far from endangering the peace process, addressing truth and justice will protect it. Without justice, there is no process, and there will be no long-term peace.

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