Nepali Times
Guest Column
October revolutions


MOSCOW-The striking resemblance of contemporary Nepal to the October 1917 coup in Russia offers insight into Comrade Pushpa Kamal Dahal's talk of a 'October Revolution'.

Just like the Maoists, civil society and the seven party alliance, the main demand of Russian political parties, intelligentsia and Bolsheviks ever since World War I started in 1914 was for a constituent assembly. King Nicholas II was unpopular after he dissolved the State Duma in 1906 and during the war, protests over food shortages turned into a full-fledged anti-monarchy revolt. Ignoring the Tsar, the Duma chose a provisional government represented by middle class liberals while worker councils (or Soviets) dominated mainly by Bolsheviks took over local governance. In March 1917, with the Tsar's abdication, the three-century reign of the Romanov dynasty came to an end.

Dethroning an unpopular king was surprisingly easy in a country where 'God, Tsar and Russia' was a time-honoured formula of statecraft. However, preventing the country from sliding towards anarchy after that proved more difficult. Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, social democrats, and former royalists intensified their struggle for power targeting the constituent assembly election scheduled for November the same year.

The Bolsheviks had a strategic advantage as the workers and soldiers' councils had the local governments under control.

The central government was weak, local governance lay in tatters. On the eve of the October coup, an impatient Lenin asked his comrades to recognise that "an armed people's struggle is the only remaining option left to achieve our goal or else disappear into political oblivion". Then with Trotsky, he organised a spontaneous storming of the Winter Palace which housed the provisional government.

The Soviet of Workers and Soldiers Deputies set about nationalising land and replacing the old judiciary with people's tribunals. A flurry of laws designed to tame the national army were passed. But the Bolsheviks needed to legitimise their coup and the constituent assembly election offered a favourable opportunity. Their initial reluctance to consider peasants as 'proletariat' and the image of being led by workers undermined their position.

They won only 25 percent of the seats, while liberal democrats and moderate socialists had a majority in the assembly. Lenin rejected the verdict, declaring the Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Council the supreme authority, higher than any constituent assembly, saying: "All power to the Soviets." The Bolsheviks dissolved the assembly after a one-and-half day session.

The system finally crumbled in 1990, but not before more than 40 million people had died in war, repression and famine.

The Russian experience shows that with careful application of land, peace and local government any spontaneous revolution is possible as long the urban presence is strong. Just as workers and soldiers councils, Maoists have local jana sarkars to implement their agenda.

The seven party alliance's vacillation on the status of the defunct monarchy must have further encouraged Dahal. Civil society street protests provide the Maoists a much-needed urban platform. Kathmandu is festooned with Maoist banners this week that read 'Sampurna shakti krantikari jana parishad ma" similar to Lenin's 'all power to the Soviets'.

Nevertheless, Russia in 1917 did not have mass-based political parties like the Nepali Congress which is able to resist the extreme left despite being targetted in the past 10 years. Hence, despite Dahal's repeated threats of an Oktober kranti political parties and the NC in particular will continue to remain the biggest deterrent. The Russian experience proves that democratic forces and especially the two factions of the NC must strive for lasting unity.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)