The general strike called by the Maoists in Nepal continues, with tens of thousands of activists occupying the streets of Kathmandu.

“May Day was a beautiful day in Nepali politics. It was a huge demonstration, maybe more than 300,000 people on the streets in Kathmandu. Over a million on the streets across the country. Although it wasn’t as big as we had wanted and there were some shortcomings on our side, it was peaceful and disciplined. And those cadre and sympathisers who have come to Kathmandu are committed to staying until we get a people’s constitution.”
UCPN (Maoist) politburo member Swanaam Sathi

Nepal Police

The ongoing general strike following the May Day demonstrations in Nepal reflects Maoist tactics of fighting both within parliament and from the streets. They say they see no contradiction between these two courses of action. And while all sides talk of consensus, from donors to civil society to the political parties, including the Maoists themselves, the main questions relate to the nature of the compromise on which “consensus” is forged, and whether the strike can be sustained.

In the immediate future, the strike aims to achieve three things: a national unity government led by the Maoists, a people’s constitution and the culmination of the peace process. These form the first three demands of the Maoists’ current five-point demand. Fourth is safeguarding national sovereignty and fifth, civilian supremacy. More concretely, dialogue amongst the leadership of the three parties‚ÄîNepali Congress, CPN (UML) and UCPN (Maoist)‚Äîhas been taking place on the integration of Maoist combatants into the security forces.

Finalising such details in the constitution requires a two-thirds majority in parliament, which neither the Maoists nor the other parties have. Hence the Maoists have been accused of forcing from the streets what they couldn’t get through parliament. But according to the Maoists having a majority in the Constituent Assembly isn’t the main issue.

Maoist CA member Hari Roka contends that “there is no alternative to a national, united government that includes the other parties. But the Maoists would need to direct key ministries to ensure that economic development reaches the poorest and the workers.”

The Maoist strategy then is to bargain for power from a position of strength, which the general strike facilitates. They have challenged the idea that change cannot come from the streets and for this the Maoists must be supported.

Nepal Strike RallyThe human chain picketing the 27-km ring road, the cultural events and speeches on the streets, and the feeling that change is possible have kept the vast majority of cadre and sympathisers in high spirits. They want more than just the Maoists to lead government, they want to challenge existing class structures. And at least a section of them believe that a people’s constitution will do this.

But is a people’s constitution possible within a national unity government, with forces that the Maoists themselves have called reactionary? To what extent will the package of compromises they are being pressured to accept limit what is possible in government? And how different will it be than the previous Maoist government?

The Maoists believe that given the current level of economic development in Nepal, only bourgeois democratic demands are realistic. They are therefore not out to “capture the state” as they recently declared, but to gain the upper hand in a process of negotiation in which to lead government. This is the meaning of consensus.

The problem with the democratic revolution is that it always raises the question it cannot solve: the question of class power. A radical transformation cannot happen through constitutional means. And if the democratic revolution cannot satisfy its supporters among the exploited classes, then their disappointment may be the opening for a reactionary settlement that does not even get as far as parliament.

Depending on how long the Maoists can keep their cadre satisfied, the strategy of getting into government may just work. The process of mobilising hundreds of thousands and organising a successful general strike raises the stakes, and much depends on how the other parties and the security forces respond. What the strategy means for radical transformation in Nepal—the new Nepal that was promised—is an entirely different matter.

Feyzi Ismail

Feyzi Ismail teaches at Goldsmiths, University of London, and is active in UCU

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