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Social Transformation and Political Power

To what extent is the Maoist project in Nepal headed towards a future proletarian state, which is what the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) claims in its party documents? Alternatively, is the project headed towards the formation of a radical left-nationalist, anti-imperialist state, fostering "economism"? The article first presents the main strands of social movement thinking, which are then critiqued for overlooking the question of political power and the deep structural unity between capital and the state. In contrast, it is subsequently pointed out, the Maoists have taken the question of political power as fundamental to their project of revolutionary social transformation. The paper argues that the Maoists' stated ideological objective of smashing the present state order and developing a new proletarian state does not seem to be adequately confirmed by the flow of their current practice. They seem unable to develop alernative organs of proletarian political power at the centre in order to consolidate the gains made in the base areas.

Spacial articlas

Social Transformation and Political Power

Maoists in Nepal

To what extent is the Maoist project in Nepal headed towards a future proletarian state, which is what the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) claims in its party documents? Alternatively, is the project headed towards the formation of a radical left-nationalist, anti-imperialist state, fostering “economism”? The article first presents the main strands of social movement thinking, which are then critiqued for overlooking the question of political power and the deep structural unity between capital and the state. In contrast, it is subsequently pointed out, the Maoists have taken the question of political power as fundamental to their project of revolutionary social transformation. The paper argues that the Maoists’ stated ideological objective of smashing the present state order and developing a new proletarian state does not seem to be adequately confirmed by the flow of their current practice. They seem unable to develop alernative organs of proletarian political power at the centre in order to consolidate the gains made in the base areas.


ne of the pitfalls of social movement thinking in general has been the often debilitating emphasis on legal and constitutional (that is, juridical) aspects of socio-political processes. Thus, there are numerous social movements whose primary forms of struggle and demands are centred on taking recourse to the law or constitutional measures for the protection of certain rights, or reining in the destructive effects of the market or the excesses of the state. Social movements, therefore, almost inexorably end up upholding the “rights discourse” as the framework within which to address and redress questions of oppression and domination.

Juridico-political processes like the constitution and the entire system of rights and liberties enshrined therein, however, have their fountainhead in the state: the rights discourse being an expression of capital’s present conjunctural relationship to (or rather mobilisation of) its juridico-political apparatus. This of course indicates that the entire liberal apparatus, including the state, in turn both presupposes and is made possible by the existence of capitalist relations of production.1 In fact, while capital and the liberal state apparatus mutually feed on each other, the rationale of the system as a whole is really the reproduction of capital (rather than, strictly speaking, of the liberal state, this fact explaining how capital outlasts the liberal state, into the socialist state). The fight for rights by different social movements and their occasional victories might therefore be feeding onto the process of reproduction of capital thereby democratising (read legitimising) the system. At best, therefore, rights can force the system to expand its power-sharing base, which would effect some kind of an internal reconfiguration without however changing its essential character.2

This means that mediated though it might be by the liberal paraphernalia of rights (constitutional safeguards, legal protection, etc), the extraction of surplus value and of surplus power is taking place today as intensively as ever.3 In this light, the proliferation of rights and of social movements seems to be thickening the layers that mediate the extraction of surplus value and power: to that extent, the ability of these movements to raise the question of state political power and its role in the reproduction of capital seems that much more eroded. One force which today unfashionably places itself outside the juridicoinstitutional process and the apparatus of the state and instead calls for changing its very character through a revolution in the underlying social relations of production is the Maoist movement in south Asia. We are here going to discuss the Maoist movement in Nepal, along side or rather, through a critique of social movement thinking.

One is of course aware of the problems in placing social movements and the Maoist movement side by side; but this is deliberate. Steps towards developing a framework to put together the highly popular social movements with the much calumnied Maoist movement, is here an attempt to recognise that efforts to build a better, specifically post-captitalist society cannot shy away from getting sullied by the realities of power, “Machiavellian” politics, mass mobilisation and the role of violence in perpetuating, and sometimes, fighting to overthrow the present order for emancipation. My discussion here is based on what both social movements, and the Maoists are supposed to be doing: seeking transformation of the present unjust order. This means that, at least from a heuristic standpoint, placing the Maoist intervention side by side social movement thinking would, it is hoped, sharpen and broaden the co-ordinates of analysis of social movements, making room for a serious, embedded critique.

Unlike social movements, the Maoists give utmost primacy to the question of political power and the need to overthrow the present state order as a precondition for ushering in a new kind of economy and society. The Maoists in Nepal have displayed a fine, almost avante garde, understanding of the problems of making a revolution in the present period and seem to be culling out the best from the traditions of revolutionary communists.4 Synthesising the experiences of the Paris Commune, the October Revolution and the Chinese Cultural Revolution, their stated objective is to move towards a new revolutionary, proletarian state, which is supposed to be increasingly indistinct from the “armed masses of people”. However, the dominant trends in the flow of their present practice does not stand up to this objective as the Maoists seem unable to develop organs of proletarian political power that would consolidate the gains of the revolution, of the revolutionised social relations, at the central, national level.

In particular, the Maoists in Nepal seem unable to take their strategy of area-wise seizure of power (base areas) in large parts of the country to the higher phase of a nationwide revolutionary organ of power, the alternative proletarian state, which is supposed to accompany the smashing of the present state order. This has meant that the immense achievements of the “protracted people’s war” in decimating feudal, state power and revolutionising social relations in vast majority of rural areas, are unable to catalyse an urban insurrection which would smash the present state and inaugurate a new, proletarian state. As we shall see, the Maoist movements’ inability to develop nationwide revolutionary organs of power to replace the old state organs, akin to the Soviets in 1917 Russia, undercuts the rationale of an urban insurrection. Thus the Maoists’ latest announcement of “standing on the back and hitting at the head”, of concentrating on the capital city has meant no more than the 12-point agreement with political parties that are supposed to be still dominant in urban centres.

Contrary to Prachanda thought’s promise, therefore, the revolutionary overthrow of the present order and state by combining the tactics of armed urban insurrection with that of the protracted people’s war seems to be a perpetually deferred moment of revolutionary jouissance. The longer this deferral lasts the greater the chances that those tempered and solidified so far in people’s war, in revolution, might melt into the air of so-called democratic politics. Unless alternative organs of power, of the revolutionary proletarian state are developed at the central level, the Maoists’ oft-repeated commitment to multiparty democracy, competitive politics and dialogue with civil society can eventually bog them down to mere parliamentarism, to the democratic game, notwithstanding the presence of a people’s army (the only saving grace?). Such a possibility, while making so-called civil society and “democratic” forces happy, might however be no more than rites of passage for the Maoists to serve as the left-of-capital: the political revolution ending up in economistic restructuring.5

This raises certain larger questions. Does the Maoist reconfiguring of production relations, objectively speaking, come down to unleashing the development of productive forces, in a way which facilitates heightened extraction of surplus value in the interests of capital and a new, “progressive”, left-of-capital ruling class? To what extent is the Maoist project headed towards a future proletarian state, which is what they claim in their party documents? Or, are they headed towards a radical left-nationalist anti-imperialist state fostering some form of national capital, that is, towards a form of economism and not revolutionary transformation?

It is perhaps this tendency which allows certain progressive circles in south Asia to view the Maoists as forces that should not, for a change, be Othered, but as Us, as merely “the flowering of our discontent”, as though they are born out of some deviant malfunctioning of the system and not from its inherent, inner logic.6 Indeed, this kind of left-liberal warning to the present state not to treat the Maoists as just a law and order problem but to take account of their viewpoint and incorporate them for its efficient, smooth reproduction seems to set the stage for the Maoists to warm up to the “democratic process”.7 While the Maoists’ acquiescence to this left-liberal sanitisation of their revolutionary goals might be a part of their revolutionary-front tactic, a study of their actual politics shows that this acquiescence might follow with some necessity from certain gaps in their revolutionary practice. The gap identified here is the inability to develop alternative, organs of proletarian political power at the centre in order to consolidate the gains of the people’s war. In such a situation, any urban insurrection meant to smash the present state order would always seems premature, possibly leading the revolutionary struggle to the castrating terrain of formal democratic contestation and bourgeois right.

Thus, even as Maoists mark a definite advance over social movements and parliamentary communist parties, their project in turn needs interrogation regarding the possibility of extraction of surplus product (value) and of surplus power by a class which ultimately derives its power and legitimacy from its “revolutionary”– nationalist character. Such a state would moreover carry on the liberal dichotomy between the political and the economic, along with the paraphernalia of juridico-political rights that enshrine and encode inequalities and oppression. The struggle to decisively break from liberalism down to the inner recesses is therefore a problem for Maoists, as it is, to a much larger degree, for the social movements and the parliamentary communist parties.8

We start by presenting the main strands of social movement thinking. They are then critiqued, in the second section, for overlooking the question of political power and the deep structural unity between capital and the state. In contrast to this, it will be pointed out in the third section, the Maoists take this question as fundamental to any project for revolutionary social transformation. The following three sections then together make the point that the Maoists’ stated ideological objective of smashing the present state order and developing a new proletarian state does not seem to be adequately confirmed by the flow of their current practice as described in their own writings. Through an examination of Prachanda and Bhattarai’s writings, it will be argued that the crux of the problem seems to stem from the apparent inability of the Maoists to take what seems to be the largely accomplished task of building base areas to the higher level of developing and integrating them into an alternative, qualitatively higher form of revolutionary power at the national level which would then replace the old state order. The experience of Soviets during the Russian Revolution and Lenin’s engagement with them will be recalled in order to show gaps in the practice of the Maoists.

Finally, the discussion reveals the paradox in Nepal today of a largely revolutionised social relations at the base without a corresponding political consolidation “at the top”, leading to the failure of “holding together” the revolution, of consolidating it into a “victory”. Thus, in the conclusion, we raise the question: But can the Maoists not see that capital has too often in history fired its volleys through the ideology of nationalism, nay sometimes of revolution? Can the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist teaching, seemingly upheld by the Prachanda path, of the need to smash the present state as part of the process of developing alternative organs of proletarian state power, be reconciled with the present (left-liberal or radical bourgeois) initiatives of the Maoists in Nepal for an elected constituent assembly, interim government (radical-bourgeois) republic, etc?

Social Movement ThinkingSocial Movement ThinkingSocial Movement ThinkingSocial Movement ThinkingSocial Movement Thinking

Broadly speaking, the field of social movement thinking can be mapped through three principal positions identified here as progressive liberal, autonomist and the social democratic or parliamentary left. As we shall see, all three positions are ultimately oblivious of the question of political power and, in practice, also of the social forces that undermine radical social transformation. The Maoist position however appears to be much better grounded on this question.

Following Marx and Foucault, we can argue that the main problem with the progressive liberal position is that rights are often merely a veil on the actual process of extraction of surplus value or energy from the human body and nature. Duely endowed with rights, the sovereign individual of liberalism is, however, the “free” labourer, who is unfree in the free economy, the free market. Referring to the nexus between juridico-political institutions (rights) and the process of economic appropriation of life and nature, Agamben writes that “declarations of rights represent the originary figure of the inscription of natural life in the juridico-political order of the nation state”.9

Social movements fighting for rights for the individual or afflicted groups and for curbs on the economy and the modernist state might bring temporary respite but must very soon defer to the systemic logic. People-oriented mobilisation of the juridical resources of the state, with a broadened, holistic notion of rights to include capabilities and livelihood entitlements, too often gets frustratingly circumscribed by contrary pressures, apart from creating new interest groups which, in quickly becoming part of the bargaining game of market democracy, provides it fresh subaltern legitimacy. The right to information and the Rural Employment Guarantee Act in India are fresh instances of this process.10

Thus, far from posing the question of political power and the overthrow of the state as decisive to the any project for social transformation, the progressive liberal position merely further entrenches the liberal state. In south Asia, this is particularly pertinent in the Indian context, as large number of political commentators try to explain the “success of Indian democracy”, pointing to the incorporation of backward castes and other marginalised sections in the political processes since the 1970s.11 In the name of making the state more representative, more inclusive and more accommodative, what frequently happens is the trading off of historical injustices as bargaining chips for elites from “deprived sections” to join the coveted ranks of ruling elites. As an aside, one can here note that, in its structural logic, this process is not entirely different from the creation of zamindars by the British as the local watchdogs of empire in India. Some myopic dalit intellectuals’ most ignominious heralding of Macaulay’s policies, one of the key pillars of British colonialism, is then perhaps symptomatic of a larger trend which definitely also includes those who are not so politically incorrect.

The autonomist position is here taken to possess two strands of social movement thinking expressed in the form of either fighting for the rights of traditional communities vis-à-vis the disciplining and enumerating norms of the modern state and the “development process”, or in the form of considering labour as autonomous from capital. The latter position is easily associated with the ideas of Italian autonomism, identified more with Antonio Negri’s thinking.12 The other position which seeks or bases itself on autonomy from modernity or from the modern state is more in line with a good number of social movements in the third world who speak on behalf of traditional communities and groups.13 Such a position informs diverse movements from the Narmada Bachao Andolan to Chipko, to those based on the Gandhian idea of gram swaraj.

For Negri, “today capital is parasitical because it is no longer inside; it is outside the creative capacity of the multitude”.14 Since capital is “outside” and the workers are potentially autonomous from it (even within the existing capitalist relations of production), the task for social movements is then supposed to be one of reclaiming what belongs to the multitude, an uncoupling of the common, of the social cooperation from being exploited by capital. Italian autonomism tries to undermine the liberal juridical framework through invoking a multitude purportedly unrepresentable and building towards an eventual uncoupling from capital command.

This position is however too taken in by the apparently selfsubsisting and autonomous nature of the common of abstract labour and, following from this, too oblivious of the institutions of the state and particularly its political and repressive apparatus.15 In arguing that capital is outside of the creative capacity of the multitude and exploits workers from the outside (like a parasite), the constitutive role of the internal relations between capital and the state in the exploitation of workers is overlooked.16 Given such misplaced understanding of the nature of capitalism and the state, the autonomist position eventually contradicts itself by ultimately having to work within the juridicopolitical framework of capitalist democracy or its euphemism, radical democracy.

Now a similar problem exists with the position of those autonomists who critique modernity or capital from the vantage of the traditional or pre-modern society, for example the more poststructuralist strands of subaltern studies. Here, it is not the workers or artist-activists who are regarded as (potentially) autonomous from capital but traditional communities, tribals and ways of life and modes of being that are supposed to emphasise, say, on “belonging” rather than having or owning and are supposedly resistant to (linear) historicisation. Not only does this perspective wrongly assume the autonomy of the traditional communities from capital, the collusion of the oppressive relations within these communities with those of capital and the state is grossly underestimated or overlooked.

Such an autonomist position derives from the larger problem of positing domination as occurring between capital and the modern state on the one hand and the traditional community or multitude on the other. That is, the relation between the two, between the two aspects of the relation of domination, is taken to be a relation of exteriority, not an internal relation, a relation of unity and struggle with each other. Both the above two autonomist positions posit the workers or those who are exploited and dominated as somehow not internally constituted within capitalist relations of production.17 From such an understanding, the task of the social movements turns out to be one of merely uncoupling or unhinging the community or multitude from capital command or from the stranglehold of the modern state.

Both the alternatives to the liberal juridico-political order deriving from the above two autonomist positions, therefore, seem to be terribly lacking. The Negri-type autonomist position premised its alternative on the supposed nature of society today wherein capital lives off the common of abstract labour, of social cooperation in such a way that it can be disconnected “in a flash” from capital command. The power of the state in perpetuating the power of capital is wished away with the consequence that the question of the state and political power is not regarded as decisive for any project of social transformation.

The second type of autonomist position, on the other hand, presupposes that the present order is based on the supposed (and forgone) failure of modernity to incorporate all social sections, factors and tendencies into anything called capitalist relations of production that would define a social whole.18 The preexclusion of the subaltern and the worker-as-the-Other, from any internally constituted relation of domination and exploitation (thereby fissuring the social whole) centred around capital and state power creates the false sense that those sections can as it were be transported outside of these oppressive relations without having to take full cognisance, in fact face the repressive might, of the state and its interstices with capital. Social movements’ de-emphasis on the question of political power and the state therefore follows from their flawed understanding of the social ontology of domination and resistance.

What is at stake in both the autonomist positions, though in different ways, is a notion of society where the social relations do not fully define itself as a unity with a specific character, where for example the non-modern eternally refuses to be part of history, or where a fully homogenised, deterritorialised, omniscient capital is in an external relation to the multitude. This internally fractured notion of society, in one case between modernity and premodernity (indigenist), in the other, between capital and the common of labour, the multitude (Negri-type autonomism), however means that for them the radical break posited for a new, better society is not embedded in the working out of a logic internal to the system, in contradictions internal to the system. What will come as a future possibility is not as of now part of the internal logic of capital but is autonomous of it. To use Laclau’s phrase, the “constitutive outside” of society is not itself constituted within and by the inside.19

Thus what is needed is a notion of society which takes contradictions as internally constituted by capital and state. Such a position would then allow us to take cognisance of the decisive role of political power and the state in social transformation. This will allow us to distinguish the Maoists in south Asia from other forces that claim to be agents of social transformation. In order to clarify this, we need to take up the position of the parliamentary communists.20

The recognition of the inside as internally constituted social relations that define a differentiated unity is what marks the thought of the traditional, organised or parliamentary left, broadly speaking. This position indeed understands all social sections, classes and identities as irretrievably bound up in the economy of capital and the modern state. It however falls short of visualising any radical restructuring of the system in spite of all its rhetoric and promises. Thus the parliamentary left stops short of conceptualising the system in its widest, most far-reaching ramifications, in its full-blown strength and internal constitution, which would have allowed for the positing of a new society emerging from deeper, internal contradictions. What follows from this, therefore, is a politics of seeking redressal and fighting for the rights of marginalised sections of society through recourse to legal, constitutional, that is juridical processes. In its concrete actions and their largely in-built consequences, the parliamentary communists in practice approach the position of progressive liberalism and autonomism.21

While the autonomists distance themselves from the state in the belief of self-regulating capital or of a failed capitalism and state or failed bourgeois hegemony (Ranajit Guha), the parliamentary communist wants to work through the already-existing state following from the cognisance they take of the state’s role in “humanising” capitalism (welfarism). The political aim here is to make the capitalist state more people-oriented and pro-poor, increasing its collaboration with the people rather than with the private interests.22 This is a recipe for social democracy so that in spite of its theoretical differences with the autonomist position, the parliamentary communists end up, particularly given the stridency of present-day free market fundamentalism, circumscribed by the same limitations that mark the autonomist and progressive liberal attempts at social transformation.23

Thus, even though the parliamentary left position comes closer to taking account of the fact that in effect either discovering or fighting for autonomy from capital and the modern state is not a sound position in the fight against capital and the state, it cannot conceive of any radical restructuring of society. For the autonomist position the constitutive outside is not based on the inside, that is, on the internal contradictions of the system, with the result that the outside or any radical positing of another society becomes in effect unattainable and hence ends up reinforcing the present through fetishising the project for a better society.24 The parliamentary left position, on the other hand, has in practice no outside at all, with the result that social transformation cannot, even at its best, look beyond the goods and services provided by the social democratic, welfare state.

The parliamentary left’s fight for “freedom” or rights very often ends up as temporary spurts that even (or sometimes precisely) in their success get completely sucked in the dominant order and can also become the latter’s constituent factors. Thus, it is that “ideals of freedom ordinarily emerge to vanquish their imagined immediate enemies, but in this move they frequently recycle and reinstate rather than transform the terms of domination that generated them”.25

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In overlooking the intermeshing of capital and the state, representative of political power, and the depth of internal relations in society that provide the basis for radical restructuring of social relations, both the autonomist and the parliamentary left positions tend to treat the political and economic fields as comprised of relations of difference, a hegemonic field without any constitutive universal.26 The most radical position they take basically derives from a conception of society comprised of relations of power between different groups, classes and their interests, an on-going, immanent struggle where everything is ‘political’: but in the very crucial sense of this contestation taking place at the level of particulars, not of universals or “metanarratives” – particular issues, particular demands, rights for minorities, immigrants, etc.

Thus, the universal, as Judith Butler writes, “will not be found as a regulative ideal, a utopian postulation, which transcends the particular but will always be politically articulated relations of difference”.27 This in other words is the economism of the “new social movements” where the “personal is the political” is arrived at by splitting the political, by splintering it into so many spaces of everyday life. Based on a forgetting of the abstract logic of capital (remember commodity fetishism) and the state, the political struggle that follows too remains shallow, reflecting their refusal to grasp the social in its full-blown depth or, as Lenin said, reality by its roots (his definition of “radical”).

The point is that both the autonomist and the parliamentary left positions in their own way reinforce the liberal contagion of separating the political and the economic so that the field of economic production, the logic of the economy is never really problematised. They do not take up, or rather, include in their political programme, the task of building of a new type of economy and instead restrict themselves in actual fact to making progressive demands for curbing the excesses of the economy (e g, Tobin tax) or attenuating its negative effects (compensation for workers retrenchement, etc). And, even when they have a much radical, comprehensive critique of the system, there is no political programme to back it up or the willingness to assume power and attempt setting up a new social order. Certain social movements who propose “sustainable alternatives” (small dams), people’s plans and decentralisation, etc, often recycle circuits of power in new forms.28

It is perhaps understandable why the autonomist and the parliamentary left, indeed most streams of social movement thinking, do not raise the question of building a new type of economy and society, except as enclave-type “sites of a new subjectivity”, for this immediately brings up the question of what are the conditions necessary for it. Is it possible to build a postcapitalist economy and society within the present juridicopolitical system, which legitimises state power and the prevailing/ corresponding social relations? That is, the problem no longer lies in the realm of the paraphernalia of the juridico-political institutions and provisions but, given the internal relations between capital and state power, it is a question of political power.

This also means that in practice the critique of the dominant liberal juridico-political framework cannot be complete without formulating the conditions under which a new relation between humans and of humans to nature can be established, which is not based on exploitation, domination and repression. Most social movements have not only failed in carrying out this task but they do not even pose the question in the first place, perhaps in tune with the conservative anti-political, non- or post-ideological age we are supposed to be living in, coupled with a power-shy, antipower progressive thinking.29 Thus, one particular form this has taken at the ideological level within social movement thinking, is the disavowal of any attempt to take power and, what is its obverse, the belief that attempts to take power invariably smack of totalitarian ambitions.30

The Maoist InterventionThe Maoist InterventionThe Maoist InterventionThe Maoist InterventionThe Maoist Intervention

The refusal of social movements to fight towards ridding capital of the power of the state through dismantling the latter has meant that they are never really able to transcend the juridico-political framework of liberalism. To be sure, the specific depredations of capital and its “excesses” are challenged and sometimes even halted, but its political form, provided by the liberal democratic state, is never sought to be dismantled and frequently not even properly, foundationally critiqued. Fighting capitalism or the globalised economy without questioning the fundamental structure of parliamentary democracy, of the political, has become the dominant form of left wing politics.31 This is where one can talk of the Maoist intervention in Nepal and India, particularly Nepal.

Bereft thus of political abstraction, the autonomist and parliamentary communist positions lead inexorably to economism in its different forms, not excluding the possibility for progressive changes: the economism of the new social movements in its bid to undo the old economism found within Marxism of a certain kind.32 In contrast to this, understanding the economy, state and social relations as constituted in accordance to a logic which goes beyond particulars, opens the way to raising the question of political power and the state along with that of the depth of social relations that provide the basis for a radical restructuring of society. This is the perspective from which the Maoist movement needs to be approached. Indeed, in relation to their emphasis on the capture of political, state power, questions have been raised in some quarters about the Maoists in Nepal heading towards imposing terror and violence in the manner of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot.

In other words, would the Maoists, at least in certain phases of their revolutionary fervour, really relinquish economism in all its forms, only to impose political terror from above, or would they just arrive at economism via the added trauma of political terror? Or, is there a better option available, one which would transcend the binary between economism and political terror? That is, can we visualise a revolutionary intervention which, in going beyond a new social movement, does not lead to the imposition of a “revolutionary” political logic from above? It is proposed here that the theory and practice of Maoists can be meaningfully interrogated from such a perspective.

It will be seen here that the Maoists in south Asia, particularly in Nepal, are clearly aware of the need to ground the political and often necessarily abstract logic of revolution in the concrete restructuring of social relations.33 It is reflected in the questions they raise about the need to always take the people as the final repository of power and the need to finally eliminate distinctions between the people and the (future revolutionary) state. This involves revolution, not just at the level of coming to power at the helm of the present state, but revolution at all levels of social and political life.

In the context of the actual revolutionary process and the current people’s war in Nepal, the grounding of the political logic of revolution in corresponding restructuring of social relations is reflected in Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)’s attempts to grasp the revolutionary dialectic on several fronts. From their writings, it will be seen that they are struggling to embed the revolutionary process in the interrelation between the local and the national, between developing local organs of power (building base areas) and connecting them up with the central state level, between the Peoples Liberation Army and the United Revolutionary People’s Council (URPC), and ultimately in the balance they try to bring about between the tactics of urban insurrection and protracted people’s war.

In a recent interview Prachanda claimed that the only reason Maoists, in spite of their required ability and strength, did not capture power at the centre is the fear of foreign intervention in Nepal.34 However, it seems that the deeper political reason for that seems to be their inability to develop an alternative, revolutionary form of the state specific to the Nepalese context. While the Maoists in Nepal are fully aware of the danger of getting ghettoised at the local level and being unable to develop the state form at the centre (this is their criticism of the Indian Maoists), they are still unable to live up to this task in their concrete practice. Interestingly, one of the key insights of Prachanda’s thought has been the idea of combining the tactics of people’s war with the tactics of urban insurrection so that an intervention at the central level is rendered possible in order to ensure the success of the revolution. This is his conception of total war, which we now examine. We will then dwell upon the URPC as an attempted development of the new democratic state.

People’s War as Total WarPeople’s War as Total WarPeople’s War as Total WarPeople’s War as Total WarPeople’s War as Total War

According to Prachanda, “in today’s context, people’s war can only be carried forward in the form of total war”.35 This total war seems to bridge the gap between the local and the national level. As total war, people’s war is supposed to take account of revolutionary activity on all fronts, including the countryside and cities, legal work and illegal work, etc. In order to fully appreciate the importance the Nepal Maoists give to people’s war as total war, we need to explore their views on people’s war as traditionally understood.

As pointed out above, from a Marxist-Leninist perspective, the question of political power, of assuming power is the fundamental question in the attempt at social transformation. This involves first and foremost the dismantling of the old state apparatus and old organs of power and the setting up of new organs of revolutionary power, constituting a proletarian state. This was carried out in Russia through urban insurrection and the consolidation of the new proletarian power through the Soviets as the emerging organs of the proletarian state. Such a revolutionary strategy, the Maoists in south Asia believe, was suited to the conditions of Russia with a large industrial working class and substantial urban development. In the context of a rural-based semi-feudal, semicolonial society like Nepal or India, however, the strategy for revolution is of protracted people’s war. Following classic Maoist strategy, the military policy of the protracted people’s war is based on the strategy of encircling cities from villages, through building of base areas and guerrilla warfare.36

However, the negative experiences in Peru, where “the people’s war received a setback”, as well as in other places, show that some new elements need to be introduced in the policy of people’s war.37 It is here that the Maoists in Nepal are formulating the idea of bringing together the strategies of the “Russian model” of armed insurrection and the “Chinese model” of protracted people’s war. The Second National Conference of the Maoist Party stated, “there should be no illusion that the path of revolution in the oppressed nations of the third world is still the path of protracted people’s war”.38

All the same, “the end of the Cold War, the emergence of the so-called unipolar imperialist world, the processes of globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation, … along with the world military strategy developed by imperialism using the recent developments in electronics, information technology and science means that the proletarian class must rise up to rethink its military strategy for people’s war in the 21st century”.39 In the changed circumstances therefore, “it is almost impossible, in any Third World country, to successfully carry forward the protracted people’s war strategy of encircling cities from villages and developing base areas without incorporating several characteristics of armed insurrection from the very beginning”.40

Prachanda’s notion of total war can, therefore, be understood as the incorporation of the specificities of armed (urban) insurrection within the overall strategy of protracted people’s war from the very beginning. The adoption of the tactics of armed insurrection right from the outset of the people’s war calls for political mobilisation at the national as well as international level and not just area-wise seizure of power at the local level, all over the country. It presupposes the engagement of the party and various frontal organisations in all kinds of issue-specific, group-specific struggles, at different levels, that are directly or indirectly linked to the central strategy of the overthrow of the present state and the capture of power. This calls for a lot of flexibility in the party’s approach. It is such extreme flexibility in strategy and tactics, while steadfastly upholding the political line of capturing political power, which characterises total war. This therefore seems to be the Nepal Maoists’ answer to the problem of translating and consolidating the seizure of power in vast expanses of the countryside into capturing state power at the national level.

The following are some of the tactical principles of total war: prioritise work in rural areas, but don’t give up work in cities either; prioritise illegal work, but don’t give up legal possibilities either; prioritise work of people’s war, but don’t give up people’s movements either; prioritise underground work, but don’t give up open political work either; prioritise class struggle in the countryside, but don’t give up countrywide struggles either; prioritise guerrilla actions, but don’t give up exposing enemies and political propaganda either; prioritise development of armed organisation, but don’t give up work of forming fronts, organisations either; prioritise relying on your own strength and organisation, but don’t give up tactical alliance, international opinion-building and support either, etc.41 It is these tactical principles of total war whose formulation and adoption is supposed to provide the Nepalese people’s war its uniqueness and revolutionary energy. This is supposed to be part of the creative application of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism to the specific conditions of Nepal giving rise to Prachanda thought in the process. One of the promises of Prachanda thought is to have found an insight into the causes of the stagnancy and very often defeat of people’s war in India, Peru, Philippines and other countries.

One concrete instance of the protracted people’s war incorporating key elements of the strategy of armed insurrection was, according to Bhattarai, the launching of the February 1, 1996 people’s war in a countrywide insurrectionary manner.42 Alongwith continuing the task of legal, open struggles, there is also focus on central political intervention and armed action which would involve propaganda work in cities and constant attempts to intervene in the centres of reactionary state power.43 Such a kind of concerted, multifaceted political struggle, is an important part of and feeds into the core political line of building base areas as the backbone of the people’s war, guerrilla warfare around these areas, and routine political work outside guerrilla areas, including propaganda work in cities.44

Organs of Revolutionary PowerOrgans of Revolutionary PowerOrgans of Revolutionary PowerOrgans of Revolutionary PowerOrgans of Revolutionary Power

Now, how does such a strategy of total war affect the overall trajectory, the build-up of the entire revolutionary process? What is crucial here is the question of political power and, specifically, the development of new revolutionary organs of power as the germ of the revolutionary apparatus at the central level. This has been the experience of the October Revolution. Writes Lenin, “if the creative enthusiasm of the revolutionary classes had not given rise to the Soviets, the proletarian revolution in Russia would have been a hopeless cause, for the proletariat could certainly not retain power with the old state apparatus, and it is impossible to create a new apparatus immediately”.45 Prachanda’s notion of total war, however, does not really address this key question with any significance.

Interestingly however, as we will soon see, the writings of Bhattarai seem to be more aware of this question. Moreover, the Maoists in Nepal do refer in their documents of “building a state of conscious and armed masses as a guaranteed organisational methodology of reaching communism through people’s democracy and socialism”.46 The questions that are left unanswered in both Maoist theory and, more so in, practice seem to be: What however are the organs or platforms of proletarian power around which the armed masses would rally and consolidate their victories? How would such organs representing the area-wise seizure of power through base areas in large parts of the country be woven together to feed into the formation of a proletarian state at the centre?

This is the question of bridging the local-national gap, which we raised above. This problem is their apparent inability to devise an alternative organ of power around which vast masses of people can rally around and which can emerge in place of the old state apparatus and bureaucracy. Does the capture of power in large parts of the country lead on its own, progressively, to the capture of state power in the centre without the need for an alternative political institution for proletarian power?

To be sure, the Maoists in Nepal have developed what are called People’s Committees functioning at village and district levels that come closest to the role played by the Soviets in Russia. These Committees are representative of the united front strategy, including all oppressed groups, castes, nationalities, etc, as part of the New Democratic Revolution. Thus, the germ of the future political, state power, which is “a central broad-based united people’s front incorporating all these oppressed groups”, called the United Revolutionary People’s Council (URPC), was formed in September 2001.47

Quoting a Maoist leader, the monthly Mulyankan reported on the URPC: “given the process of destruction of the old state power in rural areas and the establishment there of revolutionary people’s power at different levels and forms, the URPC was created in 2058 B S (2001) for providing coordination and direction to local people’s power, and which would work as the germ of state power at the central level”.48 The Maoists themselves report that the URPC is supposed “to intervene not only at the local level but also at the central level so as to enable the integration of insurrectionary tactics within the strategy of protracted people’s war”.49

Going by the documents of the Maoists and looking at their actual practice, the URPC however does not seem to be so important in the overall thinking and practice of total war. Of course, one cannot say for sure what role the URPC will take in future, given the extremely tumultuous turn of events gripping Nepal recently. There does not however seem to be a thriving political culture developing around the People’s Committees nor has it emerged as a live organ of proletarian power at the local level, not to speak of the central level. This might be explained to some extent by the extremely repressive conditions and situation of emergency imposed by the monarchy there. And, maybe such Committees are indeed functioning as future repositories of proletarian power in say the base areas but about which we do not know due to lack of information and of access.

However, as we saw above, at least the notion of total war seems to have overlooked this question of the development of proletarian organs of power as the harbingers of the incipient proletarian state. The other indication of this comes from Bhattarai’s article on ‘The Question of New Kind of State’ and other writings on the question.50 He discusses at length the Leninist position on the need to dismantle the old state and the role played by the Soviets in building of the new proletarian state. The point about the Maoists’ ideological commitment to such a line of thinking is also convincingly made alongwith some key insights of Prachanda thought. However, frustratingly enough, it has hardly anything to say about the Maoists’ own activities along these lines, with no more than an oblique reference to the URPC.

Bhattarai writes that the Programme of the URPC is supposed to contain “the overall framework of the new democratic or people’s democratic state to be established after the revolution”.51 So if it is meant to be an organ of state power ‘after’ the revolution, the function of the People’s Committees, as the Soviets did in Russia under Lenin, seems doubtful. Thus, the URPC declaration without any other balancing assertion in the article gives the impression that far from being akin to Soviets as the harbinger of proletarian state power, the URPC and its local committees would only be more like a government in exile (not the germ of future proletarian state power) meant to stake power at the opportune moment as a radical left nationalist force in Nepal. The danger of the revolution heading towards radical left nationalism rather than towards proletarian socialism seems a bit too real here.

Bhattarai is of course clear about the interrelationship between the local and the central organs of power in the course of the revolution. He quite incisively points out the necessity of a central organ “not just for purposes of centralised coordination of the struggle but for the development of a new form of political power”.52 However, the overwhelming emphasis is always on local organs of power, so that the central organ of power seems to be never more than the arithmetic addition of base areas. The idea of the central organ of power, the new form of the proletarian state, representing a higher form of power seems to be lost in the detail of local power. Bhattarai’s writing shows this limitation when he states that “the resilience of base areas and local people’s power requires not just their own military and popular strength but also continuous cooperation and protection from the central level”.53

That is, while Bhattarai is acutely and rightfully aware of the need to strengthen the local base areas and local organs of people’s power as the basis for central power, he seems to be viewing local bases of power as themselves adding up in linear fashion to such a power: where the leap from expanding local power to a higher form of central power takes place is not addressed at all. The question of how and in what manner these local bases of power provide the conditions for a higher form of central power is discomfortingly skipped. In the language of dialectics, this is the question of the transformation from the quantitative to the qualitative. His view about central power formed out of the (quantitative) addition of local base areas is clear when he writes about “the formation of a base area out of the addition of local organs of people’s power and the formation of a new central democratic state from the addition of base areas”.54

The URPC, otherwise supposed to be the germ of the future proletarian state, therefore, does not seem to represent a whole which is more than the sum of its parts: being a mere agglomeration of the parts, its power is merely the combined, quantitatively cumulated power of so many base areas. The URPC does not represent a qualitatively higher form of power, namely, proletarian state power. There is no real dialectic between the local and the central power, so that the question is never raised about the conditions that the central power is supposed to provide for the base areas to finally weave themselves into a proletarian state of the future. In practice, this has meant the failure of the Maoists in Nepal to develop a proletarian state form that would create the politico-material basis for the destruction of the present state. The paradox of the Maoists wielding de facto power in Nepal today and yet not able to translate it into state power therefore seems to be the result of their failure to develop organs of central power similar to the countrywide Congresses of Soviets of Workers, Soldiers and Peasants Deputies in Russia during the October Revolution.

Revolution Beyond the Base?Revolution Beyond the Base?Revolution Beyond the Base?Revolution Beyond the Base?Revolution Beyond the Base?

The paradox is however deeper and reveals a tragic revolutionary situation. And this takes us back to the question of political terror versus economism, which we raised above. So often have revolutions failed due to the intransigence of the old form of social relations. Such failures, often accompanied by terror, revealed that society cannot be revolutionised through imposition of a political logic of revolution from above without accompanying restructuring of social relations. Nepal today proves the opposite point: that the revolution fails even if the bottom is revolutionised but there is nothing “at the top” to consolidate the gains. Ageold traditions and deeply embedded hierarchical structures and practices have been, by all accounts, massively challenged by the mass energies triggered by the Maoist movement in vast areas of the country. But this historic revolutionary churning is taking place at the level of base areas, which is at the local level: the question of how to consolidate this at the central level therefore seems to be a crucial question.

The gaping vacuum of a dialectic, which would provide the foil for local revolutionary power to flower into something higher, as the new form of proletarian state power, is perhaps what is goading the Maoists to adopt their present line of reforming the present state through an elected constituent assembly and a republic. Destruction of power at the local level and refusal to do so at the central level, and alongside it, development of new proletarian organs of power at the local level and inability to develop them at the central level have meant that the Maoists are constrained to restrict their present political objectives to what seems most progressive within the present state form. And, with the utterly reactionary moves of the king having reduced the threshold of what and who is progressive, the stage seems set for the Maoists’ engagement with so-called civil society and with objectively bankrupt political forces.

If the destruction of the existing state is the core part of any socialist revolution then would the Maoists in Nepal, true to their revolutionary credentials, smash the state once it is duly formed as a republic, through the process of an elected constituent assembly? If that seems unlikely then the inability of the Maoists to smash the present state and develop their own form of proletarian state power in spite of wielding de facto power means that the prospect of the Maoist project ending up as (yet) another radical nationalist project cannot be ruled out. This raises the ugly prospect of the movement degenerating into a form of economism albeit of the progressive, radical leftnationalist variety.

And, it is here that we need to point out the need to expose the juridico-political framework of liberalism and of social movements, and its possible extension, mutatis mutandis, to any left-of-capital regime.55 This means that the Maoist movement must be able to do away with the old state and replace it with the new proletarian state as the prelude to communism and removing the distinction between the state and the people, if surplus extraction for capital accumulation is to be ended.

Cunning of Capitalist ReasonCunning of Capitalist ReasonCunning of Capitalist ReasonCunning of Capitalist ReasonCunning of Capitalist Reason

Let us recall some of the points made above regarding the three different viewpoints and corresponding strands of social movement thinking.

The progressive liberal position was seen to be characterised by ideological blindness to the extraction of surplus value and surplus power under the guise of defending the rights of the sovereign individual through the juridico-political paraphernalia whose concentrated expression is ultimately the state. Even as the autonomist position often mounts such a critique of liberal thinking, it restricts itself in its political vision to either withdrawing from the system’s (modernist) logic (neo-traditionalist position) or of identifying such characteristics (e g, the common of abstract labour) spontaneously generated by the system (or capital) that in itself supposedly throws up the possibility of “unplugging it from capital command”. This position, it was pointed out, ultimately ends up taking no more than a progressive liberal position of reforming the capitalist system. In this sense, the parliamentary left position is no different, even though in its critique it does take account of the role of the state in fostering the existing social relations of capital.

It is precisely in formulating a political programme that would steer clear of either a left- or a right-deviation (political terror or economism), and yet raise the question of political power as the principal question, that our understanding of society in terms of internal relations and the depth of the social assumes crucial salience. The unity of social relations cannot be affirmed for sure without identifying the point where all its factors and elements converge and affirm their systemic character. Thus, not only is it needed that society be viewed in terms of internal relations, social relations as a differentiated unity, but this unity would not carry much meaning if the point of convergence and divergence of its inner unity cannot be identified and, given the respective strength of the constituting classes and other social actors, acted upon or brought about through political intervention. To the extent that the internal unity of the social is itself a function of the power relations that define and hold it together in the existing form, plodding the inner layers and structural density of the social cannot be done without overturning the existing power relations, that is without a revolution.

It is the depth of power relations that pervade society and find their congealed expression in political or state power, which provides the conditions for an emancipatory programme based on the dismantling of the old state and replacing it with new revolutionary centres of power as the way forward for setting up new social relations, a new economy or mode of life. Now, the Maoists in Nepal have so far been largely successful in revolutionising the social relations in large parts of the country. The future of the revolution now crucially hinges on their ability to spread the revolution to urban centres culminating with an urban insurrection as its determining turning-point. How are the Maoists doing on that front?

As pointed out above, Prachanda recently claimed in an interview that but for the unfavourable international situation, the Maoists would have captured power in the capital. However, this seems only partly and secondarily true, for regardless of foreign intervention, the Maoists do not yet know how to transform their strength on the ground, their superior prowess, given the most unpopular monarch ever, into proletarian state power.

Specifically, they seem to be unable to come up with new organs of revolutionary power in order to replace the old organs. They seem to be falling short on their declared objective of replacing the centralised, old state with armed masses of people who will take charge of the whole state, thereby creating conditions for the eventual withering away of the state. We here tried to show how the Maoists’ inability to realise their declared ideological programme seems to carry the danger of leading to merely a form of left-nationalist (radical bourgeois) economy and state, and fail to develop real proletarian power.

Such a possibility has a logic beyond the merely empirical. Certain pockets in the world capitalist chain, for example Nepal, are less fully integrated due to capital’s inability to impose historically more efficient forms of exploitation and surplus extraction there. That this task of rationalising production, mobilising labour, increasing productivity – of capital accumulation – in the name of revolution or anti-imperialist nationalism or self-reliance (Nehruvian socialism) is sometimes paradoxically pushed forth by the most progressive, nay most revolutionary forces, in such areas cannot be ruled out. The cunning of capitalist reason sometimes free rides on those who intend to make history. The Maoists erring on the side of economism seems real if they fail to translate their present de facto power into a higher form of proletarian state power by dismantling the present state order in Nepal.

Now Prachanda, in a strikingly candid moment (of Maoist transparency!), seems to be himself suspecting the cunning of some kind of Reason, a hidden logic, what he calls, perhaps wrongly, a conspiracy: “The matter here is one of a grave conspiracy. Either destroy at the very start, if not, prolong it. Keep strategic bases under one’s control, and leave out the rural areas. This looks like a conscious strategy to push us towards what happened in Peru and Philipphines”.56 He is of course talking about how the people’s war gets protracted and increasingly confined and ghettoised in rural areas away from the strategically important urban areas, leading eventually to the kind of failures witnessed in several countries.

If Prachanda, suspects such a dark prospect for the Nepalese people’s war, is he then hinting at the limitations of his own thought? The suggestion here is that the oversight, if not limitations of Prachanda thought, might exist in the Maoists’ inability to develop organs of proletarian political power extending across the country right till the central level, which would replace the old state and political organs as they get overthrown through an urban insurrection. This inability might mean an indefinite deferral of any proper urban insurrection and hence of the consolidation and success of the revolution in Nepal today.

The Maoist intervention, the people’s war in Nepal, undoubtedly ruptured the given social relations and its ideological, politicohegemonic plane by revolutionising the very terms of political contestation and the balance of class forces: if this negation is, however, not to remain an internal moment of the old society, the negation of this negation must take place sooner than later. If not, the revolutionary project might end up, through a different and tragic route, in the economism of social movements and of parliamentary communists.




1 The juridical understanding of rights and power conceals, according to

Agamben, “the hidden point of intersection between the juridico

institutional and the biopolitical models of power” (Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Stanford University Press, Standford, 1998, p 9).

2 Writes Foucault, “the essential role of the theory of right, from medieval times onwards, was to fix the legitimacy of power; that is the major problem around which the whole theory of right and sovereignty is organised” (M Foucault, Power/Knowledge, Pantheon Books, New York, 1980: 95).

3 Following Agamben’s insight that what characterises modern politics is “the fact that life as such becomes a principal object of the projections and calculations of State power”, we need to ask what are the material relations of power, the social relations of production (the conditions for the reproduction of life) and the changes in them that are enframed in and give rise to certain juridico-political and constitutional regimes of the said power (Agamben, op cit, p 23).

4 It should be noted here that the Nepalese Maoists have displayed acute awareness of the more tricky questions about democracy and dissent, both inner-party as well as at the mass level.

5 Perhaps this is what is indicated by a recent report on the Maoists in Nepal which says, in a veiled laudatory manner, that “the insurgents are pragmatic and tactically flexible…and are willing to compromise to some degree and are keen to engage with domestic and international forces” (Nepal’s Maoists: Their Aims, Structure and Strategy, International Crisis Group, Asia Report No 104, October 2005).

6 See Sankarshan Thakur, ‘The Flowering of Discontent’, Tehelka, New Delhi, November 26, 2005. In this context, have a look at the collection of articles on Maoists written in similar vein in Himal Southasian, September-October 2005. All, except Dilip Simeon, go soft on the Maoists, treating them as not a law and order problem but without really focusing on their ideology. Simeon, however, fetishises “democracy”, portrays Maoists as embodiment of “revolutionary terror” and repeats the Gandhian position about how the means of political struggle influences the goals.

7 Another confusing trend seems to be the attempt by Maoists to often purge their core revolutionary thinking in order to render themselves palatable to liberal-democratic opinion. Thus, Bhattarai’s recent book, Monarchy vs Democracy, very defeatistly titled to garner liberal-democratic approval, includes no essay on questions of ideology or even the central political line of the Maoist party. The politically bland spirit in which the essays were selected is perhaps brought out by the inclusion of the ‘Open Letter to Foreign Tourists’ when there were other politically incisive essays of Bhattarai that are hardly available in English.

8 In this context, the imposition of revolutionary terror from above regardless of a radical restructuring of social relations, a la Stalin, is supposed to be at one level only an example of the dichotomy drawn between the political and economic so characteristic of liberal political theory. Perhaps there is a similarity here between Stalin’s Problems of Leninism and John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice. On the affinity between liberalism’s politicaleconomic dichotomy and Stalinism, see Slavoj Zizek, Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? Five Interventions in the (Mis)use of a Notion, Verso, London and New York, 2001, Chapter 3.

9 Agamben, op cit, p 127. Social movements who fight for the rights of the marginalised, for example, citizenship rights for immigrants should keep in mind that: “It is as if, starting from a certain point, every decisive political event were double-sided: the spaces, the liberties, and the rights won by individuals in their conflicts with central powers always simultaneously prepared a tacit but increasing inscription of individuals’ lives within the state order, thus offering a new and more dreadful foundation for the very sovereign power from which they wanted to liberate themselves” (Ibid, p 121).

10 The incremental gains from the Right to Information Act do not at all outweigh the negative effects of the false belief it created among people that if only we are more vigilant and aware of our rights we can ensure justice. On how ‘The Right to Information Has So Far Proved a Frustration for Those Who Have Tried to Invoke It’, see Tehelka, March 11, 2006.

11 See, for example, Atul Kohli (ed), The Success of India’s Democracy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2001. Also articles in Francine R Frankel, Zoya Hasan, Rajeev Bhargava, Balveer Arora (eds), Transforming India: Social and Political Dynamics of Democracy, Oxford, Delhi, 2000.

12 See Antonio Negri, Marx beyond Marx: Lessons on the Grundisse, Pluto Press, London, 1991. Also see Paolo Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude, Semiotext, New York, 2004.

13 From Ashis Nandy to Vandana Shiva and to a large extent the Subaltern Studies collective takes such a position. One paradigmatic presentation of this approach is Dipesh Chakrabarty’s ‘Two Histories of Capital’ where he pits what he thinks is Marx’s instrumentalist, historical world of labour with Heidegger’s ahistorical world of belonging and somehow identifies the latter world with the subaltern as some kind of a bulwark against global capitalism. The attack on modernity, emanating from a critique of reason and valorisation of an undifferentiated subaltern world based on affective relations is the hallmark of lot many social and “grassroot” movements often of a politically dubious character. Refer Dipesh Chakrabarty, ‘Two Histories of Capital’, Provincialising Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference, Oxford, Delhi, 2001.

14 Antonio Negri, ‘Public Sphere, Labour, Multitude: Strategies of Resistance in Empire’ posted at

15 See Antonio Negri, ‘Public Sphere, Labour, Multitude: Strategies of Resistance in Empire’.

16 Thus labour is not “directly exploited”, but, for Negri, “exploitation is only exploitation of the ensemble of this creation” of labour. This positing of capitalism, indeed exploitation itself, as self-subsisting, self-regulating is what leads to de-emphasising the state’s central role in capitalism and, on the other, to social movements’ misplaced search for alternative subjectivities, of trying to “change the world without taking power”. See Antonio Negri, op cit.

17 One specific manifestation of this is perhaps the manner in which capitalist exploitation in the west is now so often relegated to the question of immigrant rights, as though workers are exploited only to the extent that they are excluded from full citizenship rights: multicultural rights as the panacea to capitalist exploitation. Only those who can be marked as the other, those who are exploited in a relationship supposedly external to the system, qualify as providing an alternative, emancipatory, subjectivity a la the “voice of the subaltern”.

18 One of the key proponents of the Subaltern Studies in historiography, for example, understands colonialism in India as having failed in imposing bourgeois hegemony; the problem being that it then tries to identify this as colonialism’s failure, equating colonialism’s success with the success of the modernist bourgeois hegemony, as though western colonialism’s rule through the native “idioms of power” could not be counted as its success. This seems to be another consequence of viewing the modernpremodern fissure as the fundamental characteristic of society: a variant of the autonomist position we are critiquing here. See Ranajit Guha, ‘Colonialism in South Asia: Dominance without Hegemony and Its Historiography’ in Dominance without Hegemony: History and Power in Colonial India, Oxford, Delhi, 1998.

19 Ernesto Laclau, New Reflections on the Revolution of our Time, Verso, London and New York, 1990, p 18.

20 It is indeed on the question of giving up the revolutionary path by getting bogged down in the “parliamentary pigsty” that Maoists in south Asia have most sharply distinguished themselves from the parliamentary communist parties. One distinctive feature, however, of the Maoists in Nepal, unlike their Indian counterparts, have been their ability to successfully participate in parliamentary elections (legal activity), and still, at an appropriate time, go underground for “illegal” political work as part of the path of armed struggle.

21 The coming together of the parliamentary communist parties, that is, CPI and CPI(M), social movements and NGOs for the World Social Forum in Mumbai is therefore more than coincidental or tactical on behalf of those parties.

22 As Archana Prasad, who defends the left position vis-à-vis what I here call the autonomist position, writes: “the long-term challenge thus lies in reversing this trend, which can only be done if the State monopoly is not reinstated but reinvented through the collaboration between people and the State rather than the private sector and the State” (Archana Prasad, Environmentalism and the Left, LeftWord, New Delhi, 2004, p 114).

23 At one level, it is this convergence between social movements and the parliamentary communists in south Asia, with the latter further diluting its ideology into almost total bankruptcy, which provided the ideological backdrop to the World Social Forum in Mumbai in 2004. Perhaps, as a result, the distancing from the Maoist position was clear in the WSF’s position on the question of “legitimate” political modes of struggle.

24 On the consequences of merely crying for change and transformation without actualising it, Eagleton says that merely “projecting the future, may just be an attempt to control and manipulate it”, Terry Eagleton, ‘Utopia and Its Opposites’, Leo Panitch and Colin Leys (eds), Socialist Register 2000, KPB, Calcutta, 2000, p 34.

25 Wendy Brown, States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity, Princeton University Press, 1995, p 7.

26 Laclau epitomises this argument par excellence when he writes, “universality belongs to an open-ended hegemonic struggle…” Indeed, the most respectable, radical interpretation of this line of thinking is to be found in the thinking of Ernesto Laclau. See E Laclau and C Mouffe, Hegemony

and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics, Verso, London and New York, 1985.

27 J Butler, Ernesto Laclau and Slavoj Zizek, Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left, Verson, London and New York, p 33.

28 See Strange Victories: Midnight Notes posted at cordobakaf/vict.html in the Class against Class series.

29 On anti-power, see John Holloway, Change the World Without Taking Power, Pluto Press, London, 2002.

30 The charge of totalitarian ambitions is expressed in too many works, this being almost the zietgeist of the present times, right from Isaiah Berlin to Jean-Francois Lyotard. A recent engaged and sharp rebuttal of this ubiquitous position is to be found in Slavoj Zizek, Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? Five Interventions in the Mis(use) of a Notion.

32 Invoking Lenin against economism and calling for “a political intervention proper”, Zizek critiques most social movement and left wing thinking by arguing that “anti-capitalism without problematising the capitalism’s political form (liberal parliamentary democracy) is not sufficient, no matter how ‘radical’ it is”. He effectively attacks those who believe that “one can undermine capitalism without effectively problematising the liberal-democracy legacy which – as some Leftists claim – although engendered by capitalism, acquired autonomy and can serve to criticise capitalism” (Slavoj Zizek, ‘Repeating Lenin’, posted at reference/subject/philosophy/works/ot/zizek1.htm).

32 Hope my argument here is not regarded as unaware of the stated rationale of most new social movements being precisely to challenge the economism of emancipation projects that privilege some “singular” agent over the actual process. The point here is however to draw attention to what is being inaugurated in the name of fighting the old economism.

33 Thus, they do not seem, for example, to be in a hurry, nor do they aim, to capture state power from above through some quick armed action (guevarismo) and then impose their revolutionary will over the people.

34 The interviewer writes that “Prachanda said his party would have captured Kathmandu by now if countries like the US, India and the UK had not extended military support to Nepal’s ‘tottering’ feudal rulers” (Interview with Keshav Pradhan, The Times of India, New Delhi, September 13, 2005).

35 Prachanda, Nepali Kranti ko Samasyaharu, Vol 3, Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), no place, 2003, p 53 (In Nepali. Translation mine.)

36 This is, of course old classic Naxalite strategy in India. The Maoist Communist Centre’s Bengali organ Dakshin Desh, in its 1969 piece on ‘The Perspective of the Indian Revolution’, emphasised on the need “to constantly consolidate and expand the people’s army and the base areas, gradually to encircle the urban areas from the countryside by liberating the countryside, finally to capture the cities and to establish the state system and political authority of the people themselves by decisively destroying the state power of the reactionaries” (Red Star, Special Issue No 2, Organ of the Central Organising Committee, Maoist Communist Centre, 1981, p 43).

37 Prachanda, op cit, p 56.

38 Ibid, p 55.

39 Ibid, p 55.

40 Ibid, p 55.

41 Ibid, p 53.

42 Baburam Bhattarai, Nepali Krantika Aadhaarharu, Jandisha Prakashan, Nepal, 2003, p 72 (in Nepali).

43 Ibid, p 72.

44 Prachanda, op cit, p 54.

45 V Lenin, Collected Works, Vol 26, Progress, Moscow, 1964, p 105.

46 ‘People’s War in the 21st Century and Prachanda Path’, posted at

47 ‘National Convention of United Revolutionary People’s Council’, The Worker, No 7, Organ of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) posted at

48 Mulyankan, No 126, Poush 2061 B S, Kathmandu, p 42 (In Nepali).

49 ‘National Convention of United Revolutionary People’s Council’, The Worker, No 7.

50 Bhattarai, op cit.

51 Ibid, p 362.

52 Ibid, p 347.

53 Ibid, p 347.

54 Ibid, p 320.

55 Maoists here needed to be reminded of the article, ‘Breaking Away from the Idea of Bourgeois Right’ by Chang Chun-Chiao, often approvingly cited by them and one of the Gang of Four (Chang Chun-Chiao,Bombarding the Capitalist Road, Progressive, New Delhi, 1984).

56 See Jana Aastha, January 4, 2006, p 1 (Nepali weekly).

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