The struggle in Nepal has reached a decisive moment. Faced with a mobilisation of civil society, the Maoists have called off the general strike.
The sixth day of the indefinite general strike began with a “peace” rally and ended with the Maoists temporarily calling off the strike. The rally was organised by business federations, human rights organisations and other civil society leaders, bringing the middle classes out in their numbers, no doubt some of whom are Nepali Congress and CPN (UML) supporters.
The organisers said the rally was not an attack on any particular political party, but the anti-Maoist sentiment was unambiguous.
After much deliberation amongst the leadership, Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” declared that the strike was called off “considering the difficulty caused to ordinary people, and also in view of the conspiracy hatched by this government to instigate violence,” but that protest programmes would continue until 28th May, the deadline for drafting the new constitution.
After that‚Äîor even before that‚Äîthe Maoists could call another general strike. He also said the decision had nothing to do with external pressures.
Meanwhile, it was clear the international community was growing impatient. Recognising the strength of Maoist support and the possibility that the general strike could go on, they backed the peace rally and put sufficient pressure on the Maoists to scale down their ambitious protest plans.
After all, these plans could have escalated not only to the point of challenging government but challenging class power more fundamentally.
So while the mainstream media talks of “people power” overcoming the general strike and fighting against the “unpopular” Maoists, the rally and the demonstration that followed were not representative of a broad cross-section of Nepali society, nor were they bigger than the Maoists demonstrations on May Day.
And at least a section of those on the demonstration calling for “peace” were conscious of the need to protect class interests.
Class tensions were palpable. The Maoists, many of whom are from modest backgrounds from districts outside Kathmandu and who have been demonstrating since May Day, have been sleeping on floors, mainly in schools and college campuses, with the most basic facilities.
During the first days of the strike there were reports about a number of cadre falling ill due to the lack of clean drinking water and washing facilities. This is in stark contrast to the living standards of the vast majority of those at the peace rally.
The Maoists raised the issue of class power in the capital city at a crucial point, but failed early on to develop a strategy that could have broken the unity of the middle classes, who showed their strength yesterday. The Maoists never meant to alienate businesspeople, who in theory would help industrialise Nepal and develop “national capital” in the coming years.
They never meant to alienate civil society, with their international backing and support. Yet it was these same people that hit back yesterday, the class alliances between the Kathmandu elite, middle classes, and the Indian ruling classes further reinforced.
Having taken the decision to bring tens of thousands of supporters to Kathmandu to launch the general strike, and not having planned beyond the democratic revolution, the Maoists were left with few options.
Either they take the revolution beyond the goals of leading government within the confines of parliamentary democracy or they accept defeat. The Maoist movement was forced then to take a decisive turn: the middle classes came out against the Maoists, and the Maoists accepted defeat. At least for that particular battle.
And now that the Maoists seem to have temporarily backed down, with the Prime Minister thanking the Maoists for withdrawing the general strike, the right must be strategising.
There are rumours that in the absence of a national consensus to extend the CA by six months‚Äîwhich is a possibility stipulated in the constitution‚Äîa state of emergency will be declared following the 28th May deadline.
The official reasons justifying an emergency could be firstly, the need to fill the political vacuum that will be created, and secondly, to prevent another potential general strike from being called by the Maoists. The real reason could be an attempt to deal with the so-called Maoist threat once and for all.
Much depends on the cadre, many of whom are expecting the “final battle” to be played out in Kathmandu in the coming months.
There are questions being raised about the strategy and tactics of the party in the context of the general strike. But if the Maoist cadre are to stay in Kathmandu indefinitely then the protest programmes will need to deliver satisfactory results.
To some this means a people’s constitution under Maoist leadership, to others this means a more fundamental social transformation. For now, it remains to be seen whether the “real drama” that Prachanda has promised following the end of the strike, actually takes place.
Feyzi Ismail teaches at Goldsmiths, University of London, and is active in UCU
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