- Category: South Asia Revolution
- Created on Thursday, 22 October 2009 09:19
- Written by Mike Ely
A bit of a strange speculation has rippled through the world of online Trotskyism. It was triggered by the circulation of an article entitled “Communist Party of Nepal Recognises Role of Leon Trotsky” (including on the Marxmail list). The authors of the piece are Pablo Sanchez and Kamred Hulaki.
In breathless tones, this piece claims that the world’s most prominent Maoist party has decided Trotsky was right and Stalin was wrong. The article’s opening paragraph reads:
“This summer The Red Spark [Rato Jhilko ...], a journal of the Communist Party of Nepal published an article by Baburam Bhattarai, which stated that, ‘Trotskyism has become more relevant than Stalinism to advance the cause of the proletariat’. This is the result of concrete historical experience that has revealed the real essence of Stalinism and vindicated the ideas of Leon Trotsky, in the case of Nepal in particular of the theory of the Permanent Revolution.” (from In Defense of Marxism, IDOM)
When we first received these claims (weeks ago) here at Kasama, we didn’t feel the need to post them or comment — since on the surface the various claims were hyped, false and even silly. But now this article from IDOM is unfortunately being taken seriously, so some comment is in order.
Just for starters: This piece does not even manage to get the name of the Maoist party right anywhere, including in its headline. There is no “Communist Party of Nepal” — as anyone familiar with Nepal knows. There are many parties with the word “Communist” in their name. The Maoist party is called the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) — a fact apparently unfamiliar to the folks behind this IDOM article.
Such a error is not fatal in its own right — but it highlights that these authors have a real indifference to the most basic facts. This ignorance marks the rest of the piece in perhaps-less-obvious ways.
Here is the heart of the matter:
The claims of this IDOM piece are based on a quote they have translated from an article written by Baburam Bhattarai, one of the most prominent leaders of the UCPN(M).
“Today, the globalization of imperialist capitalism has increased many-fold as compared to the period of the October Revolution. The development of information technology has converted the world into a global village. However, due to the unequal and extreme development inherent in capitalist imperialism this has created inequality between different nations. In this context, there is still (some) possibility of revolution in a single country similar to the October revolution; however, in order to sustain the revolution, we definitely need a global or at least a regional wave of revolution in a couple of countries. In this context, Marxist revolutionaries should recognize the fact that in the current context, Trotskyism has become more relevant than Stalinism to advance the cause of the proletariat”. (The Red Spark, July 2009, Issue 1, Page-10, our translation from Nepali language).
For starters, let us just say that we have no reason yet to accept this translation is accurate. It has emerged from marginal forces with an ax to grind — and their piece suggests (as i said) a militant indifference to facts. The whole chatter pivots on one sentence above. Bhattarai may have said this, or he may not. He may have said something similar to this, but subtly different. So we will discuss the quote — but note that both the citation and the translation needs to be confirmed by much more reliable forces.
Look At the Actual Context
If you read closely what Bhattarai is alleged to have said, you can see that the IDOM distorts this in some extreme ways. And it does so by ignoring what is actually being discussed and debated.
Here is that context — i.e. the outlines of the real-world real-time debate in Nepal:
Nepal is one of the world’s poorest countries. It is landlocked. It has virtually no industry. And it is surrounded by two of the world’s largest countries (India and China). It is vulnerable to blockades. Its main natural resource (hydroelectric power) requires massive capital investment to exploit or export in any major way. And its lowland agricultural regions are very vulnerable to military occupation from India.
In that context, there is a debate within the Maoist party of Nepal over whether they can take a road of socialism in the current international climate (where there are no socialist countries and not yet a clear prospect of revolutionary victory within India over the short term).
They are debating whether to soon seize power, establish a peoples democracy, and take the socialist road. Or to postpone it, operate within a bourgeois democratic framework of post-monarchical Nepal, and solicit international investment in hyroelectric projects — and then, when a more favorable context develops internationally, to seize power and take the socialist road.
One argument says it would be reckless and premature to go it alone in this context. Another says that waiting may mean the chance of revolution will slip away.The painstakingly gathered revolutionary forces could be demoralized, dissipated, or even crushed by such a delay.
The debate (in short) is over whether to draw out the current “transition” period — or to cut it short by now preparing a seizure of power.
In that context, Bhattarai is associated with the line of extending the transition period. He was also a major author of the whole substage of “transition period” and the proposal for the 2006 negotiated ceasefire and political offensive.
So to be clear: what Bhattarai is arguing for is the opposite of Trotskyist Permanent Revolution. And he is not making an argument that Trotsky was right in 1920 — but rather that major changes in the last decades mean that the old communist verdict (in favor of socialism in one country) may not apply today in some universal or mechanical way, and so Nepal’s situation should be thought through (and debated) in light of current concrete conditions.
The Trotskyist theory of Permanent Revolution holds that one stage socialist revolution is the universal necessary model for overthrowing capitalism — including in poor agricultural third world countries. This theory of permanent revolution exists in sharp and direct opposition to the Maoist theory of New Democracy (two stage socialist revolution) in third world countries.
Bhattarai seems to arguing for drawing out the stages — and perhaps making some form of bourgeois democracy into its own extended indeterminate stage (preceding the transition to socialism).
Again: His argument is the opposite of Trotskyism.
So why would he quote Trotsky?
Bhattarai is raising the question of “socialism in one country” for fresh consideration.
In the Soviet Union, in the mid 1920s there was a debate over whether it was possible to take the socialist road in the former Russian empire. Trotsky said you could not, and instead needed the support of forces in the more advanced countries, and that you could not build socialism in one country. The Stalin-Bukharin forces argued that such support was not coming. The revolution in Germany had been defeated repeatedly. And so the Stalin-Bukharin forces argued that the Soviet Union had no choice but to proceed on the socialist road alone, if necessary, pending some new wave of world revolution in the future.
China and the Soviet Union were (after all) two of the very largest countries on earth — with large populations and many diverse resources for developing complex economies and for conducting credible military defense against reactionaries.
This previous has always begged the question: Is it possible to build “socialism in one country” universally? In all countries? What about very small, poor and isolated ones? Can one build socialism in just El Salvador? Or in Zimbabwe? Or Nepal? The previous answer was that they could integrate themselves into an existing socialist camp. But there is no such camp now. Is it the case that smaller countries now need regional revolutions to lay a sufficient basis for socialist transformation and economics?
And, in addition, there have been changes (as Bhattarai is arguing) in the world economy — as the circuits of production and exchange have internationalized in highly unprecedented ways. Is it possible to conceive of a socialist country today with the kind of the semi-isolated economy that was attempted in Russia and China?
In Nepal, there is for example the acute reality that they have one major national resource (hydroelectric power) and some potential for tourism — neither of which will develop if Nepal is cut off from neighbors and the world market. If Nepal take a socialist road that assumes a form of autarchy (isolation), what does that mean for its chances of advancing, and what does that mean for its internal political conditions. Is it possible to imagine a lively open society of debate if economically the whole is confined to subsistence agriculture by embargo? Or is it possible for the seizure of power in Nepal to be a kind of manifesto that draws forward positive conditions — and perhaps accelerates radical movements and changes in India?
So, in that difficult debate, Bhattarai is saying (in a provocative way) that it would be wrong to take Stalin’s 1920s position as some kind of universal verdict that applies in all places and all times. And that (ironically) he believes that some of the arguments made against socialism in one country (in the Soviet Union) may apply today to Nepal.
This is not (as the IDOM implies) some vindication of Trotsky’s historic role or core positions, but a consciously provocative way of arguing against dogmatic assumptions and mechanical thinking.
It is relatively unusual for supporters of Mao to cite Trotsky in this way (but among the Nepalis there have been references to Rosa Luxemburg, Che and Trotsky before).
But (to draw again from someone else’s post) it is certainly not the case that if “XXX is mentioning YYY, he must be a closet YYY-ist.” Similarly when Chavez mentions Trotsky, (as he occasionally does) some of these same international Trotskyist forces think that this must mean Chavez too is a closet Trotskyist. The simple-mindedness of this speaks for itself.
In fact, some in the UCPN(M) have argued to debating these urgent matters without clouding the issue by injecting Trotsky’s name. One Central Committee member Kushal Pradhan is quoted saying:
“If a simultaneous wave of revolution is necessary to sustain the revolution in each country and if such a position is in line with the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist thought, then there is no point in dragging Trotsky into this debate. Secondly, the idea of revolution in a single country belongs to Lenin; and Stalin created the structure of the first socialist state. Stalin might have made some mistakes, but he was a great Marxist and Leninist practitioner and his contribution should not be underestimated.” (The Red Guard, September 2009, cited by IDOM)
It is true (imho) that thinking in terms of regional revolution is quite compatable with Maoism and does not require some reference to Trotsky. Just a few historical example: In the 1970s, Mao urged the people of Indochina to view their revolutionary process as linked. Another: There was considerable debate in Central America during the 1980s that anti-imperialist revolution had to take a regional form. Or see the occasional speculations of Peru’s Maoists about regional revolution in Latin America. And, the Nepali and Indian Maoists have discussed various forms of regional cooperation for a while — with the Nepalis actually proposing a post-revolutionary regional socialist federation. There is nothing particularly or inherently Trotskyist about any of this.
This above quote from Kushal Pradhan also confirms that the IDOM (and its headline) is simply wrong in implying that Bhattarai is somehow speaking for the “Communist Party of Nepal” in all this. Bhattarai is speaking as part of a debate within the UCPN(M) — and his views on this (and certainly any quip about Trotsky-Stalin) is not some reversal of views by his party-as-a-party.
It is well known that among the Maoists, the Nepali party has had the most harshly critical stand on Stalin — in particular in their willingness to move away from assumptions of a Soviet-style one-party state. But there is no indication (zero) that they have any inclination toward the core concepts of Trotskyism. .
* * * * * * * *
At the risk of stating the obvious:
There has been a flurry (in some corners) of accepting the IDOM report at face value. And for some it seems like wishful thinking: I.e. some trotskyists see this as a vindinciation of their own defense of Trotsky’s 1920s arguments. Other political forces (who have sought to merge Trotskyism and Maoism in various ways) have seen this as a vindication of their politics. And so on.
It needs to be pointed out that people should not be so gullible or superficial. Should we really ourselves descend to the mindless world of 10-second soundbites — flung around without thought or context?
Bhattarai’s remarks were taken out of the context of an intense real-world debate (a debate in which Trotskyism and Permanent Revolution are NOT one of the significant poles).
More to the point: Revolutions produce clouds of disinformation and false claims. And too many people seem willing to pick this or that claim from the bourgeois press or other sources (in this case IDOM) — and spin a chatter of superficial speculation. Is that wise? Is it helpful? Does it help anyone understand what is actually going on?