Nepali Times
Here And There
Poor Winston Churchill


If the pugnacious, arch-Tory British wartime leader were with us today, he'd be furious.

For despite what many believe, he never said the following words.

"Not to be a socialist at twenty is proof of want of heart, to be one at thirty is proof of want of head." No, that was George Clemenceau, a French Prime Minister and statesman from the early part of the 20th century, also renowned for combativeness, iron will and catchy phrases.

His most famous quote in English turns out to be one that most of us wrongly attribute. Such is life. But let's examine M Clemenceau's thinking and apply it to South Asia today, Nepal in particular.

Socialism as he knew it meant workers committees manning barricades and shutting down cities and industries. Basically it meant revolution as defined by Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto of 1848.

Today, we have a broader, gentler definition of socialism and fondness for its methods, if not the nomenclature. To be a contemporary socialist is to be broadly in favour of an equitable, rights-based agenda that admits the existence and desirability of free well-regulated markets. Socialism, as we know it now, thrives in Sweden, Spain, Canada and many other well-off countries.

Defined as allowing governments to run, regulate and occasionally bail out the marketplace, socialist thinking informed both the George W Bush and Barack Obama administrations' approach to current economic turmoil.

General Motors, once the mightiest of global capitalist behemoths, is now nearly three-quarters owned by taxpayers in America and Canada.

What global centrists can't afford is hard-line ideology of right or left. World conditions are too fragile, interconnected and uncertain at the best of times. Only the nimble survive.

What's pretty clear is that the world has rejected coercive Marxism (Communism) and anyone who believes otherwise is dangerously deceiving themselves.

Nepal and parts of India are among the last places where people who believe they find wisdom and solace in Stalin, Lenin and Mao still get a chance to serve as legislators, even Prime Ministers.

Hell, you can find people here who admire Kim Il Sung and Pol Pot. It helps that Nepal, and for that matter West Bengal and Kerala, are isolated, full of a self-righteous sense of carefully cultivated uniqueness, and largely at the fringes of the modern world.

Local Hindu caste patterns help too. The purity so beloved at the Brahminical heights sits comfortably alongside the doctrinaire Left's obsession with examining primary political texts in search of self-confirmatory analyses.

In fact, were Marx, Engels or even Lenin with us today, they'd have a hard time recognising their handiwork in the positions and political records of our South Asian Marxists-Leninists. Not that I'm arguing for a return to basics, far from it. But a little intellectual honesty from all who bask in the prefix 'Comrade' would go a long way.

On the surface, they claim work for the rights of workers and peasants but the best they have ever achieved has been through compromise with a broad range of political ideas that they sniffily dismiss as bourgeois democracy.

They conveniently forget that their own Marx was a middle class nightmare of a human being who loathed the idea of a day's work for a day's pay. Far easier to sponge off his wealthy friend, Engels, who inherited his wealth from a capitalist father.

There are no working men and women at the top of today's South Asian leftist movements, just bourgeois hypocrites and 'whole timers' who have lived off the toil of their own party cadres as they espouse respect, equity and revolution.

Even so, voters in India gave their Communists decades to deliver the goods but recently found them wanting. Nepal's leftists need to see this as an early warning, a signal that change, compromise and nimble politics will keep them relevant. Marx will not.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)