An Interview with Comrade Kiran (Mohan Baidya), General Secretary of the Communist Party of Nepal (Revolutionary Maoist)
The following interview will appear in kites #4, which is due out sometime in late spring of 2021.
In the 1990s, when the ruling classes were proclaiming the permanent victory of capitalism-imperialism in all corners of the globe, a small cadre of revolutionaries in remote, landlocked Nepal dared to prove them wrong and waged 10 years of revolutionary people’s war that shocked local and international observers and inspired a generation of rebels around the world. Led by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CPN (M)), this people’s war was able to mobilize the masses in the largely agrarian country against forms of oppression both archaic (caste and national oppression, mass landlessness, and semi-feudal agriculture) and horrifically modern (labor export, including the widespread sex trade of girls and women) as well as against a ruling system that reflected those contradictions: a parliamentary monarchy.
As the forces behind the people’s war grew from scrappy guerrilla squads with a handful of antiquated rifles into a real contender for political power, and as they came to exercise political power over large swaths of the countryside, they also faced knotty tactical and strategic challenges: fear of intervention by Indian expansionism and US imperialism and a mass protest movement against the King led by a variety of political forces. To their eternal shame, two of the central leaders of the CPN (M), Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) and Baburam Bhattarai, led the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) right into a massacre—not by real bullets, but by sugar-coated ones—by signing a peace treaty and entering the CPN (M) into a constituent assembly that saw the heroic PLA dissolved, their weapons handed over.The story of Nepal’s revolution, however, is not over. A number of participants in the people’s war and a generation disgusted by the betrayal have formed new parties and organization to lead the masses in resistance and pave the way for the resumption of revolutionary struggle. Among those leaders is Mohan Baidya, better known as Comrade Kiran, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Nepal (Revolutionary Maoist).
Comrade Kiran is a veteran of the struggle in Nepal and an elder of the International Communist Movement. Kiran is known for his decades of service to the Nepali people and the world proletarian revolution, having been at the center of the struggle to establish a revolutionary communist vanguard party and to initiate the people’s war in which he played a leading role until his capture by the Indian state. Though imprisoned during the peace negotiations, Comrade Kiran has steadfastly refused to capitulate and continued to agitate for a revolutionary solution to the problems plaguing the Nepali people.
kites is proud to present the following interview with Comrade Kiran. This interview was conducted in January 2021 and has been lightly edited from the original to bring greater clarity in some sections. All footnotes, captions, and images are additions from the Editorial Committee of kites. All edits and additions have been reviewed and approved by Comrade Kiran’s party. Special thanks to Comrade Mukti Nepal for facilitating this interview.
1. First, a more personal question: you have remained a steadfast communist for decades, even in the face of major setbacks, betrayals, and imprisonment. What has kept you a communist all these years? And what advice do you have for new communists, or people trying to become communists, to persevere in the face of difficulties?
Mao has taught us that we must have the revolutionary spirit of going against the tide. I have made efforts to grasp what Mao meant by this. Perhaps my allegiance towards Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, my eternal faith in communism, and my conviction of revolution has enabled me to catch the revolutionary spirit of going against the tide. The successes and setbacks, allegiances and betrayals, and freedom and imprisonment are the unity and struggle of opposites. Maybe my attempt to grasp this law of dialectics has enabled me to persevere with revolutionary optimism.
2. One thing that stands out about the people’s war in Nepal is its rapid advance, from its humble beginnings in 1996 with little weaponry to a large People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the early 2000s that began to pose a serious challenge to the ruling class’s state power. How do you account for this rapid advance?
You are correct that the people’s war in Nepal had a rapid advance right after its initiation. The correct analysis of social contradictions, proper handling of them in sorting out the plan of waging the class struggle, and the people’s confidence in the party’s ideological and political line and leadership were the principal causes behind this rapid advance.1 The correctness of the ideological and political line, firm conviction towards revolution, and the sense of sacrifice for the cause of exploited and oppressed masses on the part of party leaders and cadres were the reasons that the vast section of the oppressed people were drawn towards people’s war in Nepal.
3. How did the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) [CPN (M)] go about building a mass base in the years before the launch of people’s war in 1996? How did it multiply that mass base during the people’s war?
Nepal had remained an independent feudal country for a long time. The Sugauli Treaty, signed between British India and the Nepalese ruling classes in 1816, was a turning point from which an independent feudal country changed into a semi-feudal and semi-colonial one. Since then, Nepal and the Nepalese people have been weighed down by two big monsters – imperialism and feudalism. In the given socioeconomic condition, a section of the ruling class misrepresented the Nepalese people’s aspiration for national independence and exercised feudal autocracy upon them; and another section used democracy as a tool to mislead them with the “blessing” of imperialism and expansionism. Thus, the reactionaries, to fulfill their vested interests, succeeded in dividing Nepalese people along the line of national independence and democracy.
The Communist Party of Nepal, after its formation in 1949, launched a countrywide drive to politically train mainly the workers and peasants to recognize that the cause of their suffering and poverty was the dual oppression perpetrated by imperialism and feudalism. In the meantime, it carried out peasant struggles mainly in the southern plain lands and mobilized urban petty-bourgeois populations against the hegemonic interventions carried out by Indian expansionism in Nepal. In this course, a revolutionary pole that simultaneously advocated people’s democracy and national independence evolved in Nepal and continued sinking its roots among the masses. Although the Communist Party of Nepal splintered into many groups in the ’60s, their basic understanding of the interrelation between national independence and people’s democracy did not fundamentally change for a long time. Mainly two streams, the erstwhile CPN (Mashal) and the CPN (Marxist-Leninist), were the parties that actively worked along these lines during the reign of autocratic monarchy. It created a countrywide revolutionary base for the communists.
After the restoration of the so-called multiparty democracy under the constitutional monarchy in 1990, the CPN (Marxist-Leninist) united with the CPN (Marxist) to form the CPN (Unified Marxist-Leninist). It followed a right revisionist line and advocated for the three peaceful means coined by Khrushchev.2 On the other hand, the CPN (Mashal) adopted Maoism and the line of protracted people’s war to accomplish the new democratic revolution in Nepal. Later, it united with three other groups and thus formed the CPN (Unity Centre) in 1991. The intensive and extensive ideological and political struggle that took place during the period of the Unity Congress held in 1992 further enriched the party’s grasp of Maoism and protracted people’s war.
The period following this was a period of extensive political agitation and propaganda, of exposing reactionary political parties and revisionism of all shades, and of intense intraparty two-line struggle over the four preparations. The four preparations were: one, ideological and political preparation; two, organisational preparation; three, material preparation; and four, preparation for class struggle. The two-line struggle developed to such an antagonistic level that the party had to expel the right liquidationists from the party to clear the way ahead. Then the CPN (M) emerged in 1995 and developed an overall plan for initiation of people’s war.
The party divided the whole country into three different categories: the main zone, the secondary zone, and the propaganda zone. On February 13, 1996, there were about 5,000 actions all over the country but of different levels. They included actions upon police posts – the representative of state power; rural usurers – the representative of feudalism; the small farmer’s development bank – the representative of bureaucratic capitalism; and the Coca Cola factory – the representative of multinational companies, among other actions. This selection of targets in the course of the initiation of people’s war signified the enemies to overthrow in the new democratic revolution in Nepal. The party distributed leaflets and pasted posters all over the country. Unlike in Peru, the initiation of people’s war in Nepal was of a rebellious type.
No later than the execution of the plan of initiation, the party developed further plans one after another to continue people’s war. They consisted of two consecutive offensives: military offensives in the rural areas and political offensives in the urban areas. The former was aimed at militarily equipping the PLA and establishing base areas in the countryside and the latter at strengthening the mass base in the urban areas. All this helped consolidate the party both politically and militarily and expand the revolutionary mass base as well. The polarization of revolutionaries over the people’s war took a swift pace all across the country. In a short span of time, the oppressed people in Nepal started exercising people’s power in the vast area of the country, excepting the places where there were strongly fortified army installations.
4. Cultural troupes seem to be a particular strength of the communist movement in South Asia. What role did the cultural troupes play in the people’s war in Nepal? Were they a stronger form than spoken agitation and propaganda for reaching the masses, and if so, why? What made them so popular among the masses?
Yes, the cultural troupes have been helpful to arouse the revolutionary consciousness among the basic masses in Nepal. The cultural programme emotionally attracts people towards it, whether or not they are politically motivated. The revolutionary songs and other performances teach them politics. They join the cultural programmes to get entertained by songs, dances, and operas, but return with their minds filled with revolutionary ideology and politics. It is an easy way to approach the common people and teach them revolution. It is our experience that a well-set revolutionary cultural programme can influence the general masses more effectively than a well-versed orator, who delivers lectures in a huge mass meeting. Folk songs and dances are more effective than a lavishly modernised orchestra.
5. During the people’s war, the CPN (M) seemed to do particularly well at tactically maneuvering between different sections of the ruling class, focusing its energy on attacking the bourgeois parties in power at any given time, avoiding confrontation with the monarchy, and playing one section of the ruling class against another. What was the strategic and tactical approach that enabled this maneuvering? Did this approach contribute to illusions about the possibility of alliances with sections of the ruling class and coming to power through elections? How can communists tactically maneuver between contradictions in the ruling class without letting that disintegrate our strategic orientation that the entire ruling class must be overthrown?
Nepalese society, which is in semi-feudal and semi-colonial condition, is one in which there is a mesh of contradictions. One of them is principal and the others are secondary. So, there is always room to tactically maneuver among different sections of the ruling classes and unite temporarily with petty-bourgeois classes based on the contradictions they have with the main enemy. Divide the enemy class, isolate a few, and unite more friendly forces is the Maoist approach in dealing with contradictions in society. The party handled it correctly.
As I said before, there was historically a contradiction between the monarchy and the parliamentarian political parties, with Nepali Congress in the main. There was a political tussle over sharing power, and the monarchy had the upper hand. Even in the period of constitutional monarchy, the King enjoyed sole authority over the Nepal Army. The government could mobilize only the Nepalese Police. Over time, people’s war in Nepal reached a stagnant state in which the Police were defeated while the military was not yet deployed. The political situation became even more formidable because King Birendra refused to deploy the Nepal Army against the Nepalese people and their revolution. In this situation, the diehard domestic reactionaries and the imperialist and expansionist forces removed this hindrance on their way to deploying an army against the people’s revolution in Nepal. The refusal of King Birendra to deploy the army against the people’s war was one of the main causes behind the royal massacre on June 1, 2001.3
In the face of these sharpening contradictions among the reactionaries, the PLA attacked the army barracks and collected heavy arms and ammunition. The days following this event turned even more tumultuous, and the people’s war advanced in leaps and bounds, generating heightened challenges and the possibilities. Reactionaries all over the world conceded that the Maoists exercised power in about 80% of Nepal. In this challenging situation, it was natural that the whole party, in general, and the main leader, in particular, were under extreme pressure. Because of his eclectic way of thinking, petty-bourgeois instability and spontaneity, and quick-victory mentality, Prachanda failed to withstand the challenge. As a result, he underwent an ideological and political deviation in his attempt to find new ways to complete the revolution. What happened next is open to all.
Dividing the enemy and uniting more friendly forces in favour of the revolution is a correct tactic to adopt by revolutionaries. The scientific grasp of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, persistent and firm resolve towards revolution, and the correct handling of contradictions allow a communist revolutionary to play between contradictions within the ruling class without letting the strategic orientation derail. Firm in strategy and flexible in tactics is the correct approach for a revolutionary.
6. In the people’s war in Peru, the slums of Lima became a crucial theater of war. What successes and failures did the CPN (M) have in organizing the slum population of Kathmandu for people’s war? In what ways did Kathmandu become a theater of war?
It was a coincidence of necessity and chance that all the founding leaders of the Communist Party of Nepal were from the Kathmandu Valley. And also, they were from the same indigenous nationality, the Newar. Historically, the Valley has remained a theatre of anti-establishment politics in Nepal. It is one of the main characteristics of Nepal that even a small political event in Kathmandu throws its influence all across the country, and likewise, events in the countryside shake the people of Kathmandu. In addition, the vast majority of poor people, including those in the slum areas of Kathmandu, had good support for and participation in the people’s war.
7. How did the petty-bourgeoisie react to the people’s war over the course of its development? Was the CPN (M) able to affect a shifting of allegiance among the petty-bourgeoisie? If so, how? If not, what were the challenges?
Nepal did not have an industrial revolution. It does not have manufacturing industries and the classical type of proletarians working here. However, there are workers who come from a petty-bourgeois class base: the poor and lower-middle-class peasantry, specifically. The base from which communist leaders emerge in Nepal is this petty-bourgeois class base. The students, who were involved in politics in their school and college lives, later turned into underground professional political leaders, and many of them became part-time activists as school teachers. This was true for both revolutionary and the parliamentarian parties in Nepal, particularly when political parties were banned during the autocratic monarchical system.
Hence, the main problem in Nepal was not the shifting of allegiance towards revolution among the petty-bourgeoisie, but the revolutionary transformation of the communist leaders from their petty-bourgeois ways of thinking. Many leaders, including the main leadership, failed to transform themselves into proletarian revolutionaries and thereby fell prey to petty-bourgeois mentality. The betrayals by Prachanda and Baburam have their roots deeply sunk into this failure to transform.
8. It seems like the advances in the people’s war had a lot to do with a willingness to innovate, with Prachanda playing a leading role in that innovation. How can communists stay grounded in the core principles of communism that have been proven true through history and experience, but at the same time innovate and rupture with aspects of communist philosophy and strategy that are outdated?
The people’s war in Nepal, like others, had both universal and particular features. So its initiation and continuation were not replicas of other people’s wars. It developed in leaps and bounds in a short span of time, garnering new experiences for revolutionaries, generally, and revolutionaries in Nepal, in particular. Despite this, it was a premature decision to synthesise those experiences as “Prachanda Path.”
This terminological innovation does not correctly address the sense of what we are talking about here. Marxism is not a dogma, but a guide to action. Lenin asserted this. Marxism is not merely a philosophy, but a social science that guides revolution. When it is creatively applied in practice it develops, and in turn, guides us to solve the new challenges proletarian revolution confronts. The development of both Marxist principle and revolutionary practice is not linear, but spiral. It is through this process that Marxism developed into Marxism-Leninism and then into Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. There is a dialectical relation between theory and practice, but practice is the base. The development of theory detached from practice does not have any relation to Marxism, and the notion of rupture with aspects of “outdated” communist philosophy and strategy smells like post-Marxism.
9. What were the principal reasons, especially in terms of political line, for the betrayals by Prachanda and Bhattarai? What were the different lines on the state and bourgeois democracy within the CPN (M) that led to the end of the people’s war?
The ideological and political roots behind the betrayal of the revolution in Nepal have been discussed before. The document “The Development of Democracy in the Twenty-First Century” that the party had put forward for discussion has its root linked to bourgeois democracy. Later, it was in the Chunwang meeting that the party deviated from its revolutionary line when it officially adopted the democratic republic as a tactical step in between bourgeois democracy and the new democracy. The tactic of the Constituent Assembly ultimately turned out to be a strategy when the party introduced the democratic republic – to be established by the Constituent Assembly – as a new step above bourgeois democracy and below people’s democracy. The end of people’s war, the exchange of people’s power for the interim parliament, and the disarmament of the PLA were the consequences brought about by that deviation, among others.
10. One of Prachanda’s justifications for betrayal was that since Nepal is a small, landlocked country surrounded by two large powers, a dictatorship of the proletariat could not last even if the revolution was successful at overthrowing the Nepali ruling class. Though his ideological perspective is capitulationist, it seems he may have had a point about the difficulties of establishing and defending proletarian dictatorships surrounded by hostile, more powerful forces when the international communist movement is at an all-time low. How can communists deal with this challenge? Might we have to go through a Paris Commune-type scenario before we can establish an enduring proletarian dictatorship?
Firstly, Prachanda was aware that Nepal is a small, landlocked country surrounded by two giant rival powers when he was writing a political line for the new democratic revolution in Nepal. At that time, he did not foresee that the democratic dictatorship led by the proletariat could not last even if it succeeds. Later, he produced this logic to mislead the revolutionary people all across the world. You have correctly noticed that his ideological perspective is capitulationist.
Secondly, our country is small and landlocked, but it has many complexities to sustain revolution and continue proletarian dictatorship. This is not only true for our country, but also for others. As Marxists, we believe that every negative aspect is accompanied by its opposite. The neighbours are powerful, but there is a rivalry between them. The contradictions between them may be utilized to help sustain the revolution. And it is not correct to presume the problem before it emerges. Abortion is not justified by the presumption that the newborn baby may die of a certain disease.
Thirdly, we know that full-fledged Marxism developed after synthesizing the entire experience of the Paris Commune. The Commune-type political system cannot grasp the content of Marxism, let alone Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. We have to creatively apply Marxism-Leninism-Maoism to fit the present context, not the premature Marxism from prior to the Paris Commune.4
11. How did the existence of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM) help the advance of the people’s war in Nepal? What lessons, positive and negative, do you take from the 20 years of the RIM? What kind of international organization among communists is possible and desirable today?
The formation of the RIM was a victory for revolutionaries over the apologists of imperialism, who were trumpeting the end of history due to the “failure” of Marxism. The adoption of Maoism as a third, higher stage of Marxism was a great achievement on the part of the RIM. It played a very important role in bringing together revolutionary forces internationally, allowing them to learn from and share experiences with one another. Among others, the experiences of people’s war in Peru, Turkey, Iran, and Bangladesh that the Committee of the RIM helped share with our party were of great internationalist help in developing the line of people’s war and advancing it in Nepal.
The RIM is now completely defunct. The need for an international centre of Maoists has increased manifold. It can be the reactivation of the RIM or some new formation. However, it should now be a forum-type structure, because the level of unity Maoists have internationally does not presently allow going beyond this.
12. What are the ramifications of recent changes in the imperialist system, such as the growth of slums, information technology, artificial intelligence, and growing rivalries between imperialist and expansionist powers, on revolutionary strategy in Nepal and in the world more generally?
The world has undergone many changes – the growth of slums in the cities, information technology and artificial intelligence, etc. They have different implications in developing class struggles. The growth of slums in the underdeveloped countries suggests that the potential for waging revolutionary class struggles in the cities has increased. The development of information technology can hinder the possibility of establishing relatively stable base areas in the course of protracted people’s war. In the same manner, robotics and artificial intelligence have started displacing workers from their jobs, causing additional problems of unemployment all over the world and in the imperialist countries, in particular. In addition to these changes, there are others that impart effects on strategy and tactics that revolutionaries have been utilizing. So, all these factors necessitate developing strategy, tactics, and a path to revolution for communists not only in the oppressed countries, but in the imperialist ones as well. We have to be dynamic enough to develop our strategy and tactics in agreement with changes in the objective and subjective conditions.
13. The following are a series of tough questions asked with deep humility and great sympathy: How can communists in Nepal come back from the betrayal of the people’s war by several of its key leaders and their participation in bourgeois government? What effect did this betrayal have on the masses and on party cadre who did not follow the revisionist line? How have genuine communists worked to sort through the line issues that led to the betrayal, and what practical strategies are being implemented to rebuild the subjective forces for revolution? What can comrades internationally do to support these efforts?
Revolution and counter-revolution constitute a unity of opposites. Revolution is necessary because there is counter-revolution in society. First of all, revolutionary communists must recognize and follow this dialectical relationship. The counter-revolution in Nepal has added further hardship to people’s lives, national independence has been further jeopardised, and people’s democratic rights appear on paper, but not in practice. The democratic republic, guided by neoliberalism, has exacerbated these problems rather than solve them. It is new democratic revolution, and nothing else, that can solve them. Once this is correctly grasped, a revolutionary communist must strive hard to find ways to make revolution. This is what is happening now among revolutionaries in Nepal.
Certainly, the betrayal of the revolution has created some sort of pessimism among cadres and the masses, but annoyance and hatred towards the betrayers is the other aspect that goes side by side with that. Rising hardship always pushes people towards finding a solution, and revolutionaries need to provide the way out. This is how the hatred and annoyance among cadres and the masses of people can be transformed into revolutionary optimism. We are working hard to consolidate our subjective strength along these lines. Our party has assessed the whole process of counter-revolution. It has developed its ideological and political line and its military line as well for the seizure of political power. The complete failure of the revisionists in state power, with their infighting for power and privileges from the state, has nakedly exposed the futility of the parliamentary system and the new neoliberalism that guides it. We are hopeful that we can emerge as an alternative political force sooner rather than later.
14. You have a personal interest in literature. How has your love for literature shaped you as a revolutionary leader?
Literature, philosophy, economics, science, etc. are different forms of social consciousness. They are interrelated and influence one another. Though I started my academic study in literature, the litterateur movement based on socialist realism attracted me towards Marxism and Marxist philosophy.
15. As a great elder of the international communist movement, what, to you, does it mean to be a communist?
It is my experience that it is easy to become a communist when there is a rising tide of revolution. But the real test of an individual on his allegiance to Marxism and revolution is at the time of setback and counter-revolution. Thus, it carries that the real meaning of being a communist is remaining steadfast when the communist revolution is in the ebb.
16. Why does revolutionary China, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, and the spirit of Maoism have a special place in your heart?
The new democratic revolution in China led by Mao was a trailblazer of liberation for the semi-feudal and semi/neo-colonial countries oppressed by imperialism. This path pioneered by Mao proved to be a correct path to revolution for the countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America oppressed by imperialism. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution is the pinnacle of the application so far of dialectical materialism, the science of proletarian revolution, in socialist society. The theoretical content of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution – that the revolution must continue under the dictatorship of the proletariat – is the crux of Mao’s contributions, which opened up the path towards communism and, by so doing, developed Marxism-Leninism to its next, higher stage: Maoism. Today, no one can become a Marxist without becoming a Maoist.
1 All references to “the party” during the people’s war by Comrade Kiran refer to the CPN (M) during its revolutionary period.
2 The “three peacefuls” or “three peaceful means” were policies at the core of the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union: peaceful coexistence among social systems, peaceful competition between social systems, and the peaceful transition from capitalism to socialism. For important contemporary critiques of Khrushchev’s revisionist policies from revolutionary China, see “A Proposal Concerning the General Line of the International Communist Movement” (1963) by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and “Long Live Leninism!” (1960) by the Editorial Department of Hongqi, both available on Marxists.org. For a contemporary breakdown of these issues, see “Theses on Capitalist Crisis and Class War” by José San Miguel in kites #2.
3 Comrade Kiran is referring to the 1 June 2001 murder of King Birendra, his wife, and eight other relatives by then Crown Prince Dipendra, which paved the way for King Gyanendra to ascend the throne. Official stories at the time suggested that the Crown Prince was drunk and upset about his parents’ refusal to allow him to marry whom he pleased, but many questions are unanswered, including the roles of Gyanendra and outside actors. While Birendra favored some cooperation with the parliamentary parties and had thus far not deployed the Royal Army against the people’s war, Gyanendra was a hardliner who deployed the Army within a year of taking the throne.
4. The last element of this question was interpreted differently than how kites had intended it, one of the real challenges of international correspondence. kites was referring to the possibility that a “Paris Commune-type scenario,” in which the proletariat seizes power briefly before likely being crushed by imperialist encirclement and aggression, could inspire a kindling of revolutionary daring and spirit worldwide. Comrade Kiran understood the question as a reference to the return of bourgeois democracy masked as a return to the values of the Paris Commune, which has been part of the debate among communists in South Asia for decades.