50 MIN READ
In a cautionary letter to Baburam Bhattarai, Mary Des Chene urges the self-declared Marxist to abandon the neoliberal path that will turn Nepal into wasteland
After reading your recent article in Nepal Saptahik (Khancho Naya Shakitko), I thought back to 2011 when you had just become prime minister and came to New York to attend the UN General Session. As you will remember, the New School for Social Research invited you to speak on the topic, “The Relevance of Marxism Today”. As one of four invited commentators on your paper, I was asked to make brief remarks and then pose one specific question to you.
I described you to that audience as a practicing Marxist. The emphasis on “practicing” was directed at the audience, which included several varieties of armchair and theoretical Marxists and anti-Marxists pre-disposed to find you either too reformist or too radical. I further described you as ideologically neither neo- nor dogmatic. In other words, as a Marxist in the direct line, not of distorted Marxism(s) and Leninism(s), but of Marx and Lenin. Insofar as those remarks were directed at you, they were also my well- wishes for your prime-ministership.
I then described some of the challenges facing you in government: the interventionist foreign aid regime and its economic clout, the yet-to-be consolidated transformation from monarchy to republic, the historical role of India in shoring up Nepal’s political and military elite, the many forces determined to prevent any real transfer of power (regional, class, or ethnic) in the new federal set- up, the role of the “conflict resolution” industry that had set up shop in Kathmandu, etc.
Lastly, I posed a question the gist of which was this: With all these forces at work that are determined to ensure the continuation of a neoliberal development agenda, what— practically and specifically —do you think you may be able to achieve while prime minister? What part of a Marxist agenda for social and economic transformation do you think you may be able to set in motion?
At the time you just said you agreed with all my remarks; my question went unanswered. But during your time in office, you answered it clearly enough in actions and words. At first it seemed that the answer was that you were not able, under conditions of a coalition government and and other constraints, to set in motion any part of that agenda. That could be taken as quite natural. But when you willingly, insistently signed BIPPA it became undeniable that your real answer to the question was: I have no intention of implementing a Marxist agenda for social and economic transformation. You have subsequently confirmed that position in a number of written documents and interviews.
Getting right to the heart of the matter, the idea that “national industrial capitalism” must be developed rapidly and intensively, appears to have become the directing or dominant idea around which all else is organized. It appears to have dominated your thinking to such an extent that now you have even spun up a theory in which the correct, revolutionary way forward is to fuse “the best of” neoliberalism and Marxism into a new political force to carry out “economic and social revolution” that, when its content is examined, turns out to be neoliberalism’s agenda! Has the koili bird made a visit to Parisdanda too, while you weren’t looking? Can you now do nothing but helplessly wait and become mother and father to Nepali neoliberalism?
I do not think things are so inevitable. In fact, these positions you are putting forth are so contrary to the actual needs of the country that I had to ask myself, “how could he think that?”. Here is my answer which consists of a statement of your economic agenda as found in various documents, my critique of it, a concept-wise discussion of the more serious conceptual confusions I encountered and, finally, a setting out of some crucial issues facing Nepal and the world that should be central to discussions about reorganising left forces effectively. And yet, they are absent from discussion, which does not bode well for success. I hope that will change now that they have been brought to your attention.
In the “package politics” of the Constituent Assembly era, it has become popular to say there is “no alternative” —no alternative to whatever immediate tactical move leaders want to make in the ongoing tussle for power. When what is “inevitable” does not come to pass, and a new inevitability must be substituted, the shift is sometimes dressed up as a flexible response to objective conditions. This has been developed into such an art that political satirists worry about becoming unemployed. I bring it up because your “package” for the country has been presented in the same “no alternative mode”. But I know you to be a serious thinker. Whatever tactical considerations may lie behind your adoption of these positions (not my concern here), I do not believe their adoption is merely tactical. Rather, you accept as valid a set of premises which have led you to adopt (or develop) this particular “package”. I also conclude that you must be very convinced that it is the correct one for the country and for progressive politics, since you are campaigning for it in the “no alternative” mode. Hence you will not easily toss it out and substitute another. I therefore aim to convince you that those premises are in error, and the “package” you propose nothing less than a disaster waiting to befall the country.
I. ECONOMIC/DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME
A) First I will set out just the core elements of your economic program, or your plan for “economic revolution” as published in several places, so that the “package” under discussion is clear.
• continuous double digit growth for some years is essential
• the goal is “national industrial capitalism” (ultimately serving as a step toward socialist construction)
• the agricultural sector must be capitalized and transformed into industrial, commercial agriculture
• for all this rapid and intensive expansion, a large amount of power is necessary
• for all this rapid and intensive expansion, a large amount of capital is necessary and due to the limited national capital, it must be acquired primarily from foreign investment
• for all this rapid and intensive expansion, the whole country must be penetrated by roads, and the northern and southern borders connected in multiple places.
• for all this rapid and intensive expansion the private sector must play the primary role
• to achieve these goals government’s role must be limited to that of regulator and facilitator
Putting these pieces together, the package looks like this: With a large amount of capital and power as inputs, widespread industrialization and the commercialization of agriculture can be achieved, yielding continuous double digit growth for some years to come. The governmental or public sector role that will allow this to be achieved is that of regulator and facilitator of maximum entrance of foreign investment, joining hands with private sector development of industry and commercial agriculture.
The result, you claim, will be a leap in prosperity, and a strengthening of sovereignty if the following three factors are given “appropriate” attention:
i) social distribution (along class, regional and ethnic/nationality lines) ii) expenditure on consumption iii) the entrance of foreign investment should not be completely unimpeded
This is the essence of the “Roadmap for Economic Revolution” section of your party’s manifesto for the 2nd Constituent Assembly elections last November. It was repeated recently in simpler form in your recent, much discussed article Kancho Naya Shaktiko (KNS).
B) Initiatives while in government in light of the above development program
Your economic development program begins to make sense out of some of what was done —and not done— during your prime ministership. These concrete examples give clearer shape to the neoliberal heart of that program:
While you mention that foreign investment should not be entirely unrestricted, in practice we have seen that your desire for rapid, intensive growth overrides such concerns. BIPPA made that vividly clear. You have shown that you are willing to trade workers’ basic rights and protections (waived within “special economic zones”), the right of the state to support and promote domestic enterprise (equal treatment for foreign investors), and even the right of workers’ to struggle against mistreatment or for basic livelihood and adequate working conditions (state compensation to individuals or corporate foreign investors for any loss, actual or potential, from ‘unrest’). BIPPA makes clear that prostrating the country and abandoning the interests of both workers and (in your terms) national bourgeois capitalists, looks like a fair trade to make for foreign investment and job creation. A Faustian bargain indeed.
In defending BIPPA you have said that it is necessary to bring in investment. Of course one has only to look at the equivalent agreement signed with Finland during the prime ministership of your own party chairman to see that there is no necessity to sell the country out in the manner of BIPPA in order to sign an investment protection agreement.
In KNS you at least talk about some degree of control over entry of foreign investment, but make no mention of arrangements for the exit of initial investment plus accumulated profit. Is it to be like under BIPPA - open the door wide and invite foreign investors to take their untaxed profits and run?
The rapid building of north-south corridor roads is an important component of your vision of Nepal as a “vibrant bridge” between India and China, that is between two of the biggest national economies in the world. If carried out as conceptualized, this will make Nepal not a bridge, but a little strip of denuded land, or perhaps a militarized no man’s land —anything but prosperous, independent, and sovereign. It is well documented that roads are an integral part of colonisation (you will agree that formal colonisation is not the only type) as a means to insert administrative hold while shipping out resources, products and labor. In Nepal, furthermore, north-south connector roads can easily become tools of struggle between the two regional hegemons. You remarked on the need to study the history of Prithvinarayan Shah’s time, but seem not to have applied any of his geo- political insights to thinking about the problem of roads and penetration. As a person with guerrilla war experience, you cannot be oblivious to the this aspect of road building, nor failed to have notice the immediate rush to fund roads penetrating into your former base areas by the foreign donors upon the commencement of the peace process. Beyond these aspects, it is the wholesale destruction (of local socio-economic systems and of fragile mountain ecosystems) that will be the inevitable (yes, some things are inevitable!) consequence of rampant, roughshod, reckless road-building of the type you propose that I urge you to consider. Please do not misunderstand: The point is not that all roads must be banned. It is that ecosystem, human system and national sovereignty considerations should be integral to their design and execution.
In Kathmandu, in defiance even of mainstream urban planning, never mind progressive, thoughtful urban planning, you went for expressways slicing the city into separated (and in some cases stranded) sub-sectors. The longterm negative consequences of that type of road building will themselves be developing for decades — as myriad studies of many cities in Europe, the USA, South America, have thoroughly shown. The rush to double digit growth evidently made you decide that the city should be organized for the ease of commerce and not at all for the health and cohesiveness of its neighborhoods or its residents. Since this is one of your subjects of study, it is somewhat inexplicable. Just a re-reading of Lewis Mumford’s great work on cities, should be sufficient to make you reflect on the damage inflicted on the urban fabric for years to come.
The attempt to put a highway and railway through Chitwan National Park displays extraordinary blindness to consequences. Just as when the city is sliced up by uncrossable barrier roads, its human and natural ecology suffer, so too for a wooded area. In this case we are talking about one of the most important habitats for endangered species in the country, as well as a significant destination in the tourist sector. All this was ignored in favour of rapid, intensive “development” — a perfect example of bikaas that is actually binaas in multiple respects. All the energy and resources that (still) must go to fighting such backward initiatives could be so much more productively utilized.
• Agriculture/ Biodiversity Preservation:
In the ongoing struggles against the entry of Monsanto, arguably the world’s most dangerous corporation, there has been a striking absence of and silence from your party. Where were you during the street campaigns and farmer demonstrations, and where are you now when the Seed Act and several other agriculture-related acts need immediately to be modified to eliminate the loop holes through which GMO is slithering into Nepal? In the whole struggle for food sovereignty, your party has been nowhere to be found, or on the wrong side of the barricades, including in this crucial struggle. Even with commercialized industrial agriculture as your aim, it is particularly short-sighted not to keep the country Monsanto-free.
• Facilitating privatization and overseeing significant reduction of sovereignty in the finance sector:
Am I correct to make sense of this in terms of the priority you give to the attraction of foreign investment? It appears that Mahat’s program is going to be pretty much a direct continuation of yours. Is that the shape of the new “fusion” of which you speak?
C) Some actual results if your economic program were implemented.
Again, I will comment on just a few areas, to better bring out the real nature of a neoliberal economic program:
• North-south China-India connector roads
All evidence points to some of the key consequences being:
i) development of underdevelopment within the ambit of the roads (for the overall population, not the few land speculators);
ii) large swathes of Nepal reduced to a way-station or petrol stop between China and India: all the country’s great river corridors turned into Muglings;
iii) truly profound environmental and biological destruction in some areas (e.g., Chitwan National Park; upper Mustang);
iv) further destruction of forms of livelihood intricately adapted to their environment, and/or destruction of the possibility of their restoration where such destruction has already rendered them less than fully functional.
• Special Economic Zones
The SEZ idea, as proposed in Nepal so far, exemplifies the organization of production purely for the benefit of corporations. They are little laboratories for establishing minimums: what are fewest rights for workers, the fewest environmental protections, etc., under which industry can operate? What can be gotten away with without full-scale revolt? Once such minimums are established in SEZs, such regressive conditions can be expanded into the wider economy, for there is competitive pressure from fewer worker protections, fewer environmental regulations, “one window” facilitation of export, etc.
SEZ’s, in their conception (and in their realization) are also a good example of the push for industrialization in and of itself, with no concern for what is to be produced, its use value, its polluting characteristics, etc. In other words, of humans placed in the service of production rather than vice versa. In the south, SEZs have the potential to amount to a maquiladorization of Madesh [the maquiladora system is the factory system on the US-Mexico border]. But instead of learning from the vast environmental pollution that has gone on in so many countries, and the real reduction in quality of life for workers in many instances, you seem determined to repeat these mistakes as quickly as possible and call it progress or even prosperity (in a full blown neoliberal system, since the corporations that do pollution clean up will reap nice profits, such pollution is just another input). Surely before embarking on this course (or even advocating it), it is time to really study the ecological effects of the USSR and China’s big industrial pushes, or the history of rivers on fire in industrial America in the 1950s, or so many other well- studied cases.
• “Vibrant bridge”: Recently you have often used the image of Nepal as a “gatishil pul” between India and China. I have already remarked on the north-south transport corridor system aspect of this (see B) above). Beyond that, the “bridge” image really highlights the unrealistic assessment of global forces and contemporary capitalism that underlies your economic program, as well as the undervaluing of broad and deep networks of direct democracy across the country’s communities as a key element of sovereignty. I think you will agree that a small nation in Nepal’s economic condition and geo-political situation is unlikely to be able to negotiate on its own terms the role it plays as an intermediary (including as a physical intermediary) between two regionally ascendant (even globally ascendant) imperializing powers. Darchula is evidence enough of that, or any number of border encroachments by India.
It is my speculation that what makes you so optimistic is China’s more respectful approach, its presentation of itself as a business partner rather than a donor, and simply the presence of its counter-balancing role after so many decades of fairly unimpeded Indian interventionism in Nepal. However, none of that changes the fact that the “vibrant bridge” is in fact a resource mine to be used up and stripped, by one or both neighbors. It may well happen that the global chains arrive in the high Himalaya —I believe it is already occurring. But like a weed patch that springs up and dies down quickly, it may be short lived. For the mountain ecosystem is too fragile for the stresses that corporate consumer commerce will place upon it, and its occupied portions are too dependent upon the labor of its communities for their viability. With those populations displaced or diverted to service jobs in fast food joints along the highways, the populated lands will deteriorate quickly, creating further dependency on the market for food. Macdonald’s may arrive, but landslides may also drive it out again. The destruction wrought, however, will be extensive and deep—economic, social and environmental. And it will not go away anytime soon. Why not think through these likelihoods before creating their conditions rather than afterward? Why not think about alternatives, which are right before your eyes?
D) Flaws in your economic development program, considered on its own terms
A proper discussion of logical fallacies will have to wait for another day. Here I just list a few blatant ones, logical errors that have been clearly in evidence in recent writings and statements. Perhaps no more need be said, for upon reflection you will surely see the gravity of them:
• historical necessity is treated as the main agent of history • unilinear evolutionary thinking
• false premises: apparent internal validity resting on false premises, which serve to falsify the argument
ii) As an assessment of the present
You rightly say Nepal cannot recapitulate the capitalist development of the west which used the resources of the whole world for its realization. But then it seems you lose track of your own insight, and make the assumption that basically the same type of development (or development with basically the same consequences) can be achieved by bringing in foreign capital, thus building up domestic capital. What happens to a place with Nepal’s characteristics when that is done has never been western-style capitalist development, and certainly would not be so now, under the conditions of contemporary capitalism. To my puzzlement, you ignore finance capital (or even a hybrid monopoly- finance capitalism) first of all.
Finance capital changes the equation even from the colonial period when some industrial base and infrastructure were one legacy of colonialism and there was often use of indigenous merchants for penetration into remote regions—in your terms, a building up of national capital and a capitalist class. Two points should be recalled however: i) what you call national capital consolidation primarily occurred in the post-colonial period and, ii) those former commercial agents of colonial penetration very often also because the agents of (indigenous) military dictatorships, in a direct continuation of their role in the colonial era. Thankfully, though, you do not propose that Nepal must go through a period of military dictatorship in order to complete the democratic or capitalist revolution. You only propose policies that leave the country more, rather than less vunerable to that possibility.
The key point is this: Nepal will be stripped mined by finance capital, nothing less. A few fortunes may be made; the overall population will be impoverished by its coming and its going (two separate processes, both observable in many countries), and by the destruction of existing relations of production and relations to land and community that it causes. You have only to study Central America to have fair warning.
You say that the “democratic revolution” is pretty much completed when people are as far from having decision-making power over the fundamental factors affecting their lives as ever. In your definition, I understand you to mean the declaration of a republic, secularization of the state, federalism and inclusive proportional representation. I do not dismiss or disregard those achievements at all. Though if they are to be the measure of the completion of a revolution, it should be noticed that some are only provisionally achieved (republic) or not yet institutionalized at all (federalism; PR).
My main problem with this definition is that it is merely an abstract, administrative ‘democracy’ of which you speak. Where are working people having any kind of genuine decision-making power over fundamental issues affecting their lives (working conditions; use of natural resources; water; urban planning, constitution writing....)? Why is that not a measure of whether the “democratic revolution” is completed or not? That the texts you draw your definition from do not include that criterion is no answer.
Even if the formal ‘democratic structures’ you list were all institutionalized, still it is not those formal structures themselves that comprise democracy. In modern capitalism, those structures have been little more than means for new capitalist and bureaucratic classes to access the benefits of the state, and a legitmizing tool for those class’s ascendancy. Some criticize your party for just such use of the partially institutionalized structures of formal democracy. The “freedom” that is said to go along with or issue from those formal democratic structures generally resides with parties controlled by very limited groups to compete for power in electoral contests. It is not in any sense “freedom” of the population to actually govern themselves. Some time ago, you would have explained all that to me yourself, I’m sure. But now you speak as if these formal structures do comprise democracy. The left used to speak a lot about parliamentarianism and distinguish sudharbaad from sudhaaratmak work also. But one does not hear those discussions anymore. It seems not to be chance.
You also say that the capitalist revolution is pretty much completed, though some tasks remain. Unemployment is as high or higher than ever, and about 1,000 leave the country every day to labour abroad. One of the country’s largest sources of foreign currency is their sweat and blood (and yet the donors have say in policy; workers abroad do not even get to vote). “Double digit” has arrived, but as inflation not as growth. A small middle and upper middle class has gone wild for imported luxury goods while malnutrition and maldistribution remain pretty much constant or perhaps increasing (whois really looking?). Rampant land speculation has been paving over some of the most productive soils of the country. Forests are being stripped and sold off. River bottoms are being dredged and sold off. Economic inequality is increasing rapidly (there is growth!).
The real economy consists importantly of households dependent on one or more foreign laborers. Those households are reliant on agricultural systems and agro-pastoral systems that have been finely tuned to their environments, with social structures in turn finely tuned to those economic systems, which are now breaking down, becoming unviable, and food sovereignty lost (reflected in the shift from food sufficient to food dependent nationally), in part for lack of labour. These problems in the rural economy are not new —Nepal’s farming systems and indigenous and janajati social systems have been under siege for a long time. These stresses have been greatly exacerbated in recent years, however. Yet there is no state support (and was none during your time in office either) for truly restoring these systems, for repatriating live workers from the Gulf, for reviving and rebuilding the profoundly skilled ways of living devised in the Nepal Himalaya over millennia. Nor does that form part of your economic development program. On the contrary, your program will make it doubly difficult for those systems and the agro- ecological communities base on them to survive, never mind thrive. It could well even represent the tipping point, rendering them completely unviable or extinct.
Perhaps to your way of thinking these conditions, and the dying away of these socio-economic systems, are elements of the material conditions that will enable socialism. I see them as little more than means for exploiting workers and draining the land of its resources. Even in industrial capitalist countries this program for preparing the way for socialism has never yet succeeded. Indeed in the most advanced one (by these measures), the United States, the people are the most backward politically. Strikingly, the only real social activism remaining is that of small family farmers fighting high-input corporate agriculture. A dispute over whether the time is ripe to struggle for socialism may not be focusing on the right question. Rather, since socialism has yet to emerge in this manner anywhere, it would be more pertinent to question the inevitability of pre-set stages, and to examine very carefully the possibilities that full democratic restoration of the Nepal Himalayas’ own socio-economic systems could prove to be a more viable stepping stone on the way to building a socialist future.
Your party leadership is fond of invoking “Nepali maulikta”, sometimes to justify an unusual turn in policy, sometimes to make a nationalistic bid for support. Despite this, you seem fundamentally uninterested in the lessons that actually existing Nepali maulikta has to offer. The extent of this outward orientation —all eyes westward— has been especially in evidence in the debates over forms of governnance, the form of the state, the distribution of powers, mechanisms of justice, and electoral systems in the Constituent Assembly. All models have been drawn from outside, and most of them from the the west. Your party never turned for inspiration, or even specific models, to the many historical examples right within Nepal’s borders —many still persisting in truncated form— of collective community decision making, collective labor, collective land ownership and resource management, of greater economic gender equality, or for that matter of conceptions of liberty and of social arrangements that achieve a balance between individual liberty and mutual collective responsibility. It seems that the same sort of blindness to the value of Nepali maulikta has beset your thinking about the economic sphere. Why should western neo-liberalism be the best, never mind the only, alternative for Nepal?
iii) As an understanding of the future
The capitalist model of continuous growth is simply no longer viable. Read that twice. You are someone who will immediately grasp the tremendous implications of that statement. It is a matter of science not wishes. Humans can just go on with it for a few more decades. The consequences of doing so are known and will render significant parts of the globe uninhabitable for our species and many others within 50-100 years. What we do right now is determining that. The Himalayas are certain to be among the more rapidly and significantly affected parts of the globe. The glaciers are melting, the monsoon patterns may well not persist or become highly irregular. The strong likelihood is that we (humans) will not change our energy use patterns sufficiently until after the global ecological consequences are unstoppable. The great struggle of our era is to change that, prevent it, quite literally to save the world as we know it -- that is, as a place that humans can inhabit. Nothing less.
The agenda of the human race now must be reduction of rampant, unfettered production which is, at base, the transfer and exchange of energy. It is equally essential that we stop the reduction of biodiversity, cultural diversity, and destruction of human, floral and faunal communities. This necessity changes the equation in every sphere.
Around the world we can observe other progressive forces engaged in that struggle, or at least struggling against the particular manifestations of neoliberalism and finance capital in their own places. The struggles in India against nuclear power plants, the Narmada dam struggle; tremendous struggles over the displacement of farmers for industrialization. The Farmer-to-Farmer Movement, the Zapatistas’ challenges to the neoliberal agenda and development of new kinds of communities and local economies, are just a few examples. Traditional parties seem to be slow to take up these now evident challenges which must be prioritized, or to think through what forms of organizing, forms of learning, and movements they can contribute.
In Nepal, instead of taking on these fundamental challenges of the 21st century, you propose to be the principal agent of currently existing capitalism. At the last hour, when it is about to bring down the global ecosystem, you want to rush in and give it shelter in the Himalayas. In Nepal there is still great biodiversity. It is one of the most important places on the planet in that regard. Indeed Nepal’s biodiversity, if preserved and managed wisely, will be its great asset in the coming decades. “Quick, let’s destroy that!” Is that to be the slogan of your “Naya Shakti” ?
Nepal’s real wealth and resources lies first of all in knowledge and ways of living that hold great possibilities for its own people and lessons for the rest of the world -- the vast accumulated knowledge of peoples who learned to live in even the most difficult environment according to its and their own conditions. Your economic development program clearly conveys that you see all of these things as deficits, deficiencies, backward tendencies to be overcome or even eradicated. I urge you to look again.
II. SOME CONCEPTUAL CONFUSION: CAPITAL AND CAPITALISM
These terms are in heavy use: developing national industrial capitalism as the need of the hour; dealing with the effects of monopoly capitalism; having completed or being about to complete, or having mainly completed the capitalist revolution, etc. But what is meant by them? It is far from clear. What does seem clear is that there is a reification going on (capital as a thing), and that form is being favored over substance (capitalist revolution basically complete). Marx always stressed that capital is a relation, not a thing, and not even “wealth”. He said capital is a relation whose purpose is to extract surplus out of human relationships through the exchange of commodities, subsuming them to the movement, logic and purposes of capital.
And what, precisely does ‘completion’ mean — not just in Nepal but globally— when capitalism itself is continuously evolving, when new sections of the ruling class emerge and supplant others (witness the resurgence of the financiers at present who have transitioned from taking 3% of surplus to more than 60% of surplus in the period from 1972) while all the while permeating ever more deeply and more extensively into human relationships, transforming and subsuming communities, subordinating biological processes to its movement and transforming environments and the biosphere.
By the completion of capitalist revolution you may mean its commencement in Nepal. But that is a mistaken notion. Nepal has been embedded in a capitalist global economy for as long as one has existed, just in particular ways (as is true for everywhere, from center to periphery). You attach great significance to the of the Treaty of Sugauli. The Anglo-Nepal war was a direct encounter with expanding mercantile capitalism. Nepal contributed more soliders on a per capita basis to the two World Wars than any other country on earth. That did not occur outside of capitalist relations.
You emphasize continuous double digit growth over a period of years. That, together with foreign investment, is seen as the key thing that will comprise economic revolution. Economic revolution is simply equated with growth of the market economy, a great leap in production and productivity, to the exclusion of all other values. That many different kinds of changes in relations of production and relations to the means of production can comprise [be the elements of] economic revolution, that neoliberal economic change also brings changes to communities and to the environment, that it moves people into slums and brothels across the world, that it discounts local knowledge, ways of organizing and farming, is not even considered.
Foreign investment is treated as an undifferentiated object. It seems to amount to something like ‘capital from a non-Nepali source’ where capital is effectively equated with money and things, much of it diverted into consumption or means for acquiring property for elites who regulate or facilitate its entry into the country. For Marx, foreign investment is a mechanism for extraction, while capital is a relationship for such extraction. Yet your economic development program assumes that foreign investment will build up national investment, consolidate national capital, and create infrastructure for industrialization, and that this will occur in a manner that will somehow escape this extractive relation. However, if you study the history of other countries you will find case after case of becoming mired in debt through foreign investment until almost all domestic income is diverted to service that debt (you know firsthand the existence of this problem in Nepal already). There are countries all over the world that were in much better position than Nepal which are now fighting off creditors seeking to strip them of assets. Witness the debt struggles of various South American and Latin American countries, to say nothing of many states and cities in the United States. Or look at the studies of large dam projects around the world that have encumbered nations with such heavy debt that they lose control of the electricity and end up selling off other resources and labor to pay the debt. So much for double digit growth. How does it come about that we hear about this issue these days from Devendra Raj Pandey but not from you? How does it come about that your plan for economic development is so fully in accord with the bills (including “flexibility” of labor) that current Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat intends to introduce?
GDP is your single, apparently sufficient measure of economic revolution and “prosperity”. As your friend Dr. Stephen Mikesell has pointed out, a key problem with GDP is that it is based on market measures, while much of Nepal's rural economy still sustains and reproduces itself to a large extent outside the market. Consequently, an evaluation that relies on GDP is going to discount—even fail to notice— the ways that the rural economy actually sustains itself.
Reliance on GDP also robs you of access to the crucial information that comes from negative feedback. While the concept and techniques come from ecosystems research, they also provide much more useful and sensitive indicators of the condition of economic and social systems than the gross and misleading GDP. In Nepal, all indigenous systems, human and biological, are already under stress from global capitalism; parts are broken, “inputs” that an intact system would provide (e.g., labour in small scale farming) are missing. Problems, non-functionality, and “inefficiencies” in the favoured language of neoliberal economics, are all negative feedback, and will direct you —if you learn to read the signs correctly —to the sources of problems. Without doing that sort of analysis you can easily reach a mistaken conclusion that a system itself is not viable.
This sort of methodological point is a serious matter because it bears on the question of the depth of knowledge of Nepal’s natural and human systems that is required in order to make sound judgements about whether and how to attempt to change them. GDP can never be a sound guide for revolutionary praxis. Moreover, policies based on GDP are going to end up destroying not only the rural economy, but the very complex and delicate relations which tie people to their land and bind them to each other. Is this actually part of your intent on the view that such ties must be broken in the course of creating the conditions for the emergence of socialism? If so, I believe it is a view that calls for serious review and rethinking.
This is a subject that demands much more extended discussion than is possible here. However, this much can be said: A unilinear evolutionary model of development (a model characteristic of highly reductionist and mechanical interpretations of Marx) is evident in your thinking. In KNS historical necessity is treated as the agent of history.
Marx saw historical necessity as the result of a particular trajectory of convergences of developments and events in history. He spend a lifetime try to understand this matter fully. He worked at it so diligently because he wanted to understand its workings sufficiently well that it could be acted upon and reliably redirected through the struggles and agency of common people who, through study and struggle, would come to see what they are participating in. Completely contrary to the substance and spirit of Marx’s life work on this question, you appear to have grasped onto a model that is forcibly being imposed from outside (the neoliberal model), and which will never operate in favor of the common people, and justified your adoption of it in these terms, as recognition of historical necessity.
Individuality under Socialism and Capitalism:
At the heart of your proposal for a fusion of neo-liberalism and Marxism lies an assessment of the relative strengths of each in accommodating the individuality of persons, and the collectivities that we comprise. You take the various attempts during the 20th C. to establish socialist states to have actually represented socialism in operation, and conclude that socialism (not merely the states that called themselves socialist) is unable, in practice, to give scope to individuality, to the variability in people’s character and personality, to the independence of the human character, but rather tries to press everyone into the same mold. You describe neoliberalism as giving priority to individuality over collectivity, and say that neoliberal states gave priority to individual interests and possessive tendencies over the social good, creating unmanageable conflicts over inequality and discrimination. This societal conflict you see as the underlying cause of the world wars.
First, a simple correction. You date neoliberalism back to 200-300 years ago, and describing it as giving primacy to the individual. Clearly you are speaking of liberalism as a political philosophy, not neoliberalism, in these passages, and I will simply do the same here. You say that liberalism and Marxism are thus both incomplete, and propose that they will be completed through their fusion. You present this as an original path that must be developed. As the article by Evelyn Woods in this issue will make clear, there is nothing new about dilutions of Marxism with liberalism. I refer you to her article on the point.
But while I do not agree with your conclusions, I agree with the priority you give to the question. A lot of conscientious Marxists have ended up in the liberal or even neoliberal camp over it. I notice that there is a key slippage in your argument. I have already mentioned it above. You take the socialist states, by which I presume you point mainly to the Soviet Union and Eastern European states, to have been actually practicing socialism. I am not an expert on those states, but I don’t believe that anyone (of any political persuasion) who studies their “socialist” periods closely finds that to be true in any straightforward sense. The point is important because you slip from the nature of specific states which, I contend, were not practicing socialism but only claimed to be doing so, to the nature of socialism. You also seem to accept in a straightforward manner the claim that capitalist states (with neo- or liberal political ideologies) do give primacy to individuality. These two claims are precisely the ones that liberal and neoliberal theorists make, and it seems you may have been persuaded by them.
Here I present you with an alternative reading on this important question, one of the most thoughtful discussions on the subject that I know. It is from an interview, originally in Persian, by Mansoor Hekmat, leader of the Worker-Communist Party of Iran. The date is 1992, and the interview centers around how to understand the downfall of the USSR and the eastern European ‘socialist’ states and the implications of those events.
Question: How about the point emphasized by bourgeois commentators in the West, particularly in the light of the collapse of the Eastern bloc, namely the issue of individuality and the primacy of the individual in both economy and polity. They argue that not just the Soviet-type economies but all those countries which during the last two to three decades went for some kind of welfare economy, based on the active role of the state, are facing economic apathy and technical stagnation due to this increased state responsibility and the weakening of competition and individual motivation. They claim that not only are competition and individualism the mainstay of capitalist society, but an inseparable and irreplaceable part of man’s economic activity as such. Socialism is accused of giving priority to society over the individual and even of aiming to standardize people and obliterate their individuality. In what way have such factors contributed to the economic dead end of the Eastern bloc, and, generally, how do you see the relation between socialism and the individual?
Mansoor Hekmat: First of all we have to be clear about the meaning of individual and individuality in bourgeois ideology. Here, individual does not mean human being. Nor should the primacy of the individual be taken to mean the primacy of human being. It is, incidentally, the capitalist society itself and the bourgeois notion of human being which abstracts from humans’ individual specificity, i.e., all those qualities which make each of us unique individuals and which define our individual identity. It is this notion which gives a faceless image of man – both in material and economic, as well as in intellectual and political-cultural terms. In this [capitalist] society human beings confront each other, and interact with each other, not with their individual identity and characteristics, but as human bearers of definite economic relations. The relation between people is a form and an aspect of the relation between commodities. The first element in the definition of the characteristics of the individual is the relation that he/she has with commodities and the process of commodity production and exchange. The individual is a living entity representing an economic position. Worker is the bearer and seller of labour power as a commodity; capitalist is capital personified. The consumer is the possessor of a definite purchasing power in the commodity market. In capitalism the human being is identified and recognized by these capacities.
When the bourgeois thinker talks about the primacy of the individual he/she is in fact talking, not about the primacy of humans, but about the necessity of abstracting from human features peculiar to each human being, about his/her integration, as a unit, and nothing more, in the economic relations. For the bourgeoisie, man’s primacy means the primacy of commodity, of the market and of the exchange of values, as the basis of human interrelations, for it is only in this form, i.e., as exchangers of different commodities in the market, that each person’s peculiar identity and personality is taken away from him, and he confronts others as an ‘individual’, as a human unit bearing a commodity which has exchange value.
In capitalism the reduction of the human being to individual is necessary and unavoidable, since people must carry out the logic of their economic positions, replacing their human judgments and priorities with this logic. Worker should sell his labour power and deliver the commodity after sale, i.e., work for the capitalist; the capitalist should carry out the requirements of the accumulation of capital. The worker should compete with the sellers of a similar commodity. The capitalist, to increase his share of the total surplus value, must continuously improve labour productivity and the production technique. He must make layoffs in time and recruit new workers in time. If in any of these roles people were to impose their extra-economic priorities and judgements the economic mechanism of capitalism would be disrupted.
It is the same at a political level. Individualism is the basis of parliamentary systems, where at the best of times, i.e., where the conditions of having property, being male and white, etc, as preconditions for voting rights, have been omitted after years of struggle by people, each person has one vote in the election of national parliamentary representatives. After the elections, people go home and the elected, at least on paper, take up the legislative work on their behalf. Each individual is one vote, not a human being with powers to constantly judge the needs and priorities and have the opportunity to fulfill them. A political system in which there is this permanent intervention by people – a council system, for instance, which provides for continuous presence by people themselves in the decision-making process, from the local to the national level, is not considered ‘democratic’ in the parliamentary system of thought. In the bourgeois system the political concept of individuality is the direct derivative of the economic concept of individuality.
Going back to your question about the Soviet Union. The Soviet economy was not an economy in which the human being had primacy. What curtailed individuality in this system was the massive hold of an administrative system on the market mechanism. When the official commentary in the West refers to the violation of individuality and individualism in the Soviet Union its objection is primarily to a system in which personal ownership of capital was severely restricted, and so the industrial lord obeyed not the economic logic of capital but the decisions of an administrative system. In other words, capital lacked multiple individual and private human agents. Secondly, the Soviet worker, though politically totally atomized vis-à-vis the administrative system, economically did not figure as an individual seller and in competition with other workers. Though the administrative system tried by its own economic accounting to direct, just like the market, the units of capital to more profitable areas or itself fix the value of labour power at the lowest possible level, from the viewpoint of the bourgeoisie this was no substitute for the free and competitive confrontation of capitals, and of capital with labour under a competitive labour market. The slogan of `man’s primacy’, counterposed to the Soviet model, was a slogan against this administrative system, in favour of freedom for private capital and for increasing economic competition among workers and their atomization in the labour market. As I said, this administrative system was no longer able to assume the complex and diverse functions of the market. In particular, it could not incorporate into the Soviet economy the technological revolution underway in the Western industrialized countries.
I too think that in this sense the individuality and competition of commodity-owners is an indispensable part of the capitalist economy, an essential mechanism in this system for technical development. But capitalism owes its survival also to the fact that the bourgeoisie has itself constantly and at crucial junctures limited the scale of this competition and individuality, going for economic, as well as extra- economic, interventions through the state and administrative institutions. Economic crises with devastating consequences, and acute recessions are as much intrinsic to capitalism as constant accumulation and improvement of technology. Capitalism restructures and purges itself in this way. The bourgeoisie’s need to keep the extent of these crises in check and, more important, its need to protect the system politically against the struggle of the working class, has forced bourgeois parties and states to frequently intervene in the economy from above and impose some restraints on the market mechanism. The Thatcherism and Monetarism of the ‘80s was thrown up against a powerful Keynesian tradition and Social Democratic policies which emphasized significant state intervention and the role of state expenditure in economic growth. It seems that today this trend itself is in retreat. Anyway, the point I am making is that to accept the central place of competition and market in capitalism’s technical development doesn’t yet mean that the bourgeoisie itself seeks, or has sought, the long-run survival and growth of capitalism in free market and perfect competition. The free market, perfect competition and extreme economic individualism advocated by the New Right are as baseless and unrealistic as the idea of a planned and competition-free capitalism.
Much can be said about socialism and individual, or rather, about socialism and Man. To this day, Marx has been the most important and profound critic of the dehumanization of humanity under capitalism. The gist of the discussion of commodity fetishism in Capital is to show how capitalism and the transformation of the production and exchange of commodities into the axis of human intercourse are the basis of the alienation and lack of identity of humans in capitalist society. Socialism aims to return this identity to human beings.
The slogan ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his need’ is entirely based on the recognition and guaranteeing of the right of every person himself/herself to determine his/her position in society’s material life. In capitalist society the human being is slave to blind economic laws which determine his economic fate, independently of his thinking, reasoning and judgement. As I said, in bourgeois thought by the individual is meant the human being stripped of identity, self-alienated, robbed of all the particular characteristics and individual qualities peculiar to him, a human being who may therefore be transformed, as a unit, into the living agent of some economic relation and role in production, into the buyer or seller of a particular commodity.
It is in fact this society that in this way standardizes human beings, reducing them all to the patterns set by the economic division of labour. In this system we are not particular human beings with our individual views to life, with our particular psychology, temperament and emotions, but holders of particular economic posts. We are living agents in the exchange of lifeless commodities. Even in our intimate personal and emotional relationships with each other we are primarily recognized by these characteristics of ours: what is our job, how much purchasing power we have, what is our class? We are classified and judged on the basis of this economic status, on the basis of our relation to commodities. The capitalist society has even created the blueprint of the life style of each of these groupings: what we are supposed to eat, what we are to wear, where we are to live, what is to make us happy, what is to frighten us, what our dreams and nightmares are to be. Capitalism first takes away our human identity and then introduces us to one another by the standard economic labels that it has stuck on us.
In contrast, socialism is a society in which human beings gain control over their economic lives, are freed from the chains of blind economic laws and themselves consciously define their economic activity. The decision is with the person not with the market, or accumulation or surplus value. This liberation of entire society from the blind economic laws is the condition of emancipation of the individual and the restoration of humanity and human specificity of every individual.
Capitalism’s exalting of individuality is in fact its exalting of man’s atomization. Human masses then become so indeterminate and flexible as to be able to be tossed around in accordance with capital’s economic requirements.
Look where the bourgeoisie remembers individuality and individual rights: when it wants to counter attempts for any form of economic planning which disturbs the market mechanism and involves extra-economic social priorities; when it wants to attack national health care, state-financed education, nurseries, social welfare services, unemployment insurance, calls for ban on sacking [firing workers] and so on; against trade unions and labour organizations as a whole, since these organizations, to whatever degree, reduce workers’ fragmentation and the individual competition between single sellers of labour power, and somehow impose on the naked laws of the market certain people’s discretion on wage levels, working conditions, etc. They remember individuality and “individual rights” just when workers and people want to exercise their human character and take economic decisions on the basis their human principles and needs. So much for the primacy of the individual in capitalism.
The basis of socialism is the human being – both collectively and as an individual. Socialism is the movement to restore man’s conscious will, a movement for freeing human beings from economic necessity and enslavement in pre-determined production moulds. It is a movement for abolishing classes and people’s classification. This is the essential condition for the growth of the individual.
Neoliberalism is a loosely used concept. Still, your own use of it in KNS is most unusual. Although your discussion of it there appears to confuse neoliberalism with the older tradition of political liberalism (you date its origins to 200-300 years ago), in both writing and practice you have made clear that you now favor a neoliberal economic model to achieve your agenda of national industrial capitalism in Nepal.
About the very positive evaluation of neoliberalism in KNS, I will only say that you appear to have been fooled by the neoliberal practice of adopting the appealing terminology of liberalism. And in making that confusion, you may also have mistakenly believed you had found points of convergence with Marxism. For liberalism and Marxism do share a deep interest in the liberty of the individual. They differ fundamentally in the conditions of life and social organisation that they believe can bring about genuine and universal individual liberty, but they are both centrally concerned with the matter. Neoliberalism, on the other hand, has no concern whatsoever with the liberty or any other aspect of well-being of the individual. It seems you have fallen into the trap described by David Harvey, who succinctly characterizes neoliberalism as “accumulation by dispossession”:
“It has been part of the genius of neoliberal theory to provide a benevolent mask full of wonderful sounding words like freedom, liberty, choice, and rights, to hide the grim realities of the restoration or reconstitution of naked class power in the main financial centers of global capitalism” (A Brief History of Neoliberalism, p. 119).
What is the content of neoliberalism? Its principle characteristics include the following:
• expansion of finance capital
• subordination of all human and natural processes to the needs and purposes of finance capital
• discounting of local ecological systems and communities and their purposes to be replaced by measures of value drawn up in the finance centers of the world
• subordination of all governance institutions to the governance of finance capital and corporations
Michel Foucault identifies two main formulations of neoliberalism. The first emerged from a critique of Nazism and called for a “state under the supervision of the market rather than a market supervised by the state.” The American form of neoliberalism developed out of a critique of Keynes and the New Deal (social welfare programs in the United States). In Foucault’s view, the American version of neoliberalism penetrates more aspects of life, using “market economy and typical analyses of market economy to understand non-market relationships.” In other words, all spheres of life begin to be referred to the market, deciphered in terms of the market, and commodified.
Foucault argues that the neo-liberal theory of “human capital” reverses the Marxist conception of labour. In the neoliberal theory of human capital, people work for a wage, which is an income, not a price for a good sold. Thus, “an income is quite simply the product or return on a capital’, i.e. human capital. The human does not have labor power as a commodity, but is an enterprise, a one-person business.
David Harvey defines neoliberalism as “a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong property rights, free markets, and free trade” (2). He traces its history as a project of the corporate sector and describes its manner of operating as “accumulation by dispossession” through a process of privatization, financialization, management of crises, and state redistribution (via the financial system). He shows how neoliberalism has been a vehicle for the restoration of class power, with the new elite class being financiers and bankers, rather than owners of the means of production. As an economic theory, neoliberalism serves as the ideological cover for that class restoration.
As a political ideology (and practice) one of the most important aspect of neoliberalism is the discounting and even negation of local structures and experience. Neoliberal economic theory uses economic measures that don’t account for, and do not even know how to account for, communities and ecologies, or any historically or evolutionarily derived needs, purposes, values or imperatives independent of those of finance capital. All measures are in terms of markets; all measures are measures of market value.
One consequence of the imposition of neoliberal terms of reference is that the initiatives, creativity, decision making skills, organisational capacities, etc. of ordinary working people in their local communities effectively vanish from view. Being invisible through the lens in use, they can be assumed not to exist. When policy is based on neoliberal assessments and criteria, there is a cumulative, insidious effect, which disenfranchises communities and even disappears local needs, knowledge and abilities. Local people are assumed not to be able to make their own decisions or chart their own paths. You can easily see for yourself the incompatibility between neoliberalism and serious promotion of local-level democracy and decision-making.
In KNS, prosperity is simply equated with increase in GDP with some kind of nod to distribution and “adequate” spending on consumption. The actual condition of the people, the well-being of communities, the condition of the environment, are all rendered irrelevant. I wonder what ‘adequate’ means? In a neoliberal economic agenda it means just enough to keep workers alive and to prevent revolt, and just enough to produce a consumer class if non-export goods are involved. For your economic agenda as well, it appears to mean just that. As you well know, GDP tells you nothing about distribution. A sharp rise in GDP and a sharp rise in income disparity, relative impoverishment, etc. can co-occur. Indeed it is common, and not accidentally so. You may say one controls for that when utilizing GDP as an indicator. But there are further complexities. Does increase in income always equal increase in prosperity or well-being?
Is the family whose son died under inhumane labor conditions in Dubai and who have received a cash settlement — let’s say more money than they have ever had at once before — now more prosperous? What of an immediate increase in income that has as its longer term costs the dissolution of family life, depopulation of the countryside, destruction of the diverse forms of interaction of agricultural communities with their environment? Consider a community that used to be self-sustaining in vegetables grown organically using their own inputs. It now makes steady income from selling pesticide laden vegetables, and pumps more energy into the growing of crops than the energy yielded by them. Is that community more prosperous? Is that community’s society more prosperous? Will the growers and consumers be more prosperous in the long run, when they later contract cancer?
What is prosperity, and whose will be counted? The massive increase in the import and consumption of luxury goods since 2006 surely indicates increased “prosperity” of a few. When the purchasing power for those luxuries comes from selling the poisonous agricultural inputs that are destroying farmer-nurtured natural soil fertility, and wrecking the health of agricultural workers, is it still prosperity? GDP yields no answers to these kinds of questions, but it does mask these and many other common consequences of neoliberal capitalist expansion. A Marxist economist looks at the whole picture and at the long term picture.
III. SOME CONCEPTUAL ABSECENES
The concepts critical to a genuine shift to worker-centered and worker-led politics in Nepal are so many and so important, that they cannot be dealt with in a single letter. They are, in sum, a group of concepts that are crucial to understanding the state of the planet today, and the consequences of imposing the neoliberal economic agenda on Nepal. All these concepts are entirely absent from debates, yet they point the way to the substance of movements that actually could create a “New Nepal” of sovereign people living well in a healthful environment, with a noteworthy degree of choice about the conditions of their own lives.
Beyond an occasional passing mention of climate change, where is discussion of the environment and of ecology? In the rush to industrialization, where is discussion of restoration of Nepal’s finely calibrated agricultural and agro-pastoral systems, work that holds the key to employment, to food sovereignty, to sustainable and healthful export commodity production, to ecologically and socially sound tourism, and more. Where is discussion of small scale farming, ecological agriculture, biointensive and organic agriculture?
It will take a great deal of self-study to remove the prejudices that equate western consumerism with modernity, industrialization with advanced civilization and culture, and non-industrial, small scale production-for-use oriented ecologically sound agriculture and animal husbandry with backwardness and primitiveness. You are far from alone in needing to engage in such self-study. Indeed, in this respect, you are truly part of the “mainstream”! But it is long past time to erase those prejudices and take seriously what science is teaching us about the non-viability of the global fossil fuel economy and of ambitions for continuous growth in production. Nepal has resources, including knowledge held by fewer and fewer of its small-scale farmers, that will be of great value to the world in the near future. It will be best to realize this before destroying it all.
In KNS, you yourself point out that Nepal’s economy is very small. You made the point in looking at domestic production, and see it as a deficiency needing immediate and radical correction (hence sustained double digit growth, rapid industrialization, and dependency on foreign investment) But it is also a tiny economy on a comparative global scale, and that is a factor that gives Nepal great options -- if its politicians were to recognize those possibilities, instead of seeking to import the so-called “modernity” of the unsustainable consumption societies of the west.
How does it give Nepal great options? In global terms (i.e. in terms of the amount of surplus capital accumulation roaming the globe looking for a place to alight and feed) Nepal needs a tiny, negligible amount of investment. You can be choosers not beggars; BIPPA-type compromises are not necessary. There is relatively (it will always be relatively, being still within the capitalist ambit) green money looking for relatively clean places to invest (‘green’ and ‘clean’ are used in the sense of ecologically sound and environmentally sustainable). There are green experiments and new technologies looking for places to be tested. Here we are not talking about allowing Nepal to be a guinea pig as in too many stealthily carried out experimental drug-testing episodes of the past. Quite the opposite. Nepal could become known as a place for green investment.
But at present state and party economic development agendas are not proceeding along these lines at all. What initiatives there are in that regard are all going on in the interstices, while the main thrust of “bikaas” is all in the wrong direction. There are many dynamic experiments going on all across Nepal, in farming, green housebuilding (which Nepalis did for centuries until recently), and indigenously developed or acquired technologies, experiments that seek to solve the very problems you identify. These could be nurtured and supported; self-sufficiency can only be built collectively and with the materials at hand. There are ample skills and material and labour. It is a question of priorities, organization and commitment to this kind of path rather than the neoliberal one which will disperse workers and consume the very resources out of which self-sufficient self-respecting livelihoods could be built. Nepal can genuinely prosper with a green economy, which can be established by correcting wrong roads taken, and avoiding taking (or building!) more of them in the future. I urge you to reject the whole model of slotting Nepal into the lowest rung on the ladder of neoliberal capitalist extraction and environmental destruction, and instead join the global struggles for a real alternative, the struggles to wrest back local control over human exchanges of every kind, and control over the use and stewardship of natural resources. Nepal has a great deal to contribute to those struggles.
If you examine the markets that exist for “green products” and for organic products globally, you will also see that there are respectable and healthful means to engage in commodity production and export and its income generation. What is progressive about being in favour of production of any thing whatsoever, regardless of its consequences for human life, for the planet’s sustained existence? To give just two examples: Nepal’s bamboo and its neem alone can support myriad small-scale sustainable environmentally sound income-producing industries -- bamboo bicycles, properly designed and built are sold for over USD$2000 each in certain markets. One could, for example, make sustainable transportation for the domestic market at a very reasonable rate, and a specialty line for export that would bring ample capital back to a cooperative enterprise to sustain a health cooperative. Neem is one of the most widely used organic pesticides in the world. The neem tree grows in some of the very districts that are sending hundreds of their young people into the hell of the Gulf labour market every day. It could be used domestically in place of the extremely toxic imported pesticides (some of them outlawed elsewhere) that are currently sprayed rampantly and causing untold health problems. And it could be sold for export -- a healthful contribution to the world and a source of income for its producers. No toxic-to-workers BIPPA required.
Similarly, in tourism, there is no need to promote 5-star high-consumption, high- pollution tourism. Green or eco-tourism is well-established in the world at various price levels, and is expanding. People will come to Nepal from around the world to learn from elderly farmers who Nepal’s own “progressives” too often ignore. If you want to promote tourism, then present Nepal’s people and their cultures as an alternative and source of insights for confronting the immense problems currently facing the world.
These are just a few examples. They have this in common: utilizing what exists, recognizing simple technologies not as backward but as the promise of the future, and understanding that Nepal has great wealth in its biodiversity, not as a commodity to let neoliberal capitalism siphon off, but as the country’s enduring legacy that will sustain generations if properly nurtured now.
In the Soviet Union, after Lenin’s death, state capitalism was consolidated in the guise of constructing socialism (many would say bureaucratic state socialism, but I think that Dunayevskaya1 is right). You seek to do something different, and maybe that is
evidence of having learned from history. But if so, it was a half-lesson reaching a wrong conclusion. For you now seek to consolidate neoliberal capitalism financed by international monopoly-finance capital in the guise of preparing the way for constructing socialism. The choice of a wrong economic model is something that can be corrected. I am rather hopeful that you will take a hard look at the premises of your position on the correct model of economic development for Nepal, and make some fundamental changes in your position.
But there is another matter that strikes me as much more difficult to correct. How can a political force, whether the one you are currently part of, or the neoliberal one you propose, speak of preparing the path to socialism, or being revolutionary, or being communist (even in aspiration) while showing no signs whatsoever of being focused on putting workers (in which I include peasant farmers) in power, without organizing to put human beings in control of their own labor power and determine the path of their future, and to provide opportunities to learn (in the manner of Paulo Freire’s education of the oppressed) about the global mechanisms and forces that condition their working lives, indeed their very existence? Reducing the state to the role of “regulator” and “facilitator” of the advance of neoliberal capitalism bears no relation to the ‘withering away of the state’ which, if it ever takes place in the manner predicted by Marx and Engels, will be a matter of the working class filling up the space that it once occupied.
You say both that the political revolution is basically completed. and that it is now time for economic and social revolution. In the recent past, when removing armed struggle from your party line, you also said that it is now time for a phase of construction. Yet the type of economic development you propose to spread across the country as rapidly as possible, erasing wholesale the physical and social ecologies that exist, would likely be far more enduringly destructive than any damage that took place during the armed conflict. History provides uncountable examples showing that whole civilizations can be eradicated, whole ecologies eviscerated, and precious elements of the solutions to the world’s most pressing problems can be destroyed without the destroyer even being aware of what they have wrought. Even if you ignore the human cost, just the species loss in both flora and fauna that will result (is resulting) from letting neoliberal capitalism ravage Nepal, will impoverish the world in very concrete ways, and steal yet more resources from ordinary Nepali people, the stewardship of which they could have turned into a meaningful, sustaining livelihood.
Rejection of your economic development program does not amount to an argument that nothing must change, everything is perfect as it is. Pointing out the significance and value of existing socio-economic systems, existing low energy-use technologies, existing not fully commodified social relations, etc., does not amount to saying that only the old ways and all of the old ways are good. I doubt you will make either of these mistakes, but I don’t doubt that some other readers will do so. My point, to use an old proverb is simply, “don’t through the baby out with the bathwater”.
Rejection of your economic development program and advocacy of small scale ecological-agricultural and bio-intensive farming methods, local and sustained resource use, strict ecological and other criteria for foreign investment, etc. is not not an anti-technology position, nor is it one that argues that the right course is no development (though I do urge a very rigorous examination of what passes for “development” and of the conceptual and rhetorical abuses of that term). Rejected here is the wholesale, unthinking importation of technologies and techniques of resource extraction and resource destruction that will impoverish Nepal rapidly and to an extent it has not yet suffered. Advocated here are solutions that are within Nepal’s grasp, and that can deliver — over time and with sustained, organized effort — genuine sovereignty, not for a ruling class but for the majority rural agricultural population. I do reject blind copying of western hyper-consumption in the name of modernity. Nepal’s left is far from immune to that disease as the last eight years have shown so vividly. What is needed is critical consciousness about what is bikaas and what is binaas — looking at the whole picture and over the long term.
You say you want to build a New Nepal. I say get to know the current one anew, and build from its elements. Your current path will leave a wasteland, nothing less. It may have a signboard that says Nepal, or it may one day say something like Demilitarized Zone. But to think it will be a prosperous home for the Nepali people is to be satisfied with an ignorance of the facts that does not suit you, and which Nepal does not deserve to bear the consequences of.
1. In 1941, Raya Dunayevaskaya wrote, “The determining factor in analyzing the class nature of a society is not whether the means of production are the private property of the capitalist class or are state-owned, but whether the means of production are capital, that is, whether they are monopolized and alienated from the direct producers....is it necessary among Marxists to stress the fact that socialization of the means of production is not socialism but as much an economic law of capitalist development as is monopoly? The weak Russian bourgeoisie was incapable of accomplishing either the democratic tasks of the revolution or the further development of the productive forces. Its task was accomplished by the masses with the method of social revolution. However, the task of the young proletarian rulers was greatly complicated by the backwardness of Russia; and the treachery of the Social-Democracy left them unaided by the world proletariat. Finally, the Stalinist counter-revolution identified itself with the state. The manner in which the means of production were converted into state property did not deprive them of their becoming capital.” http://marxists.org/archive/dunayevskaya/works/1941/ussr-capitalist.htm
This article was originally published in Prasthaan, v. 1, Baisakh, 2071–3
Cover Photo: Baburam Bhattarai in New York. By Prerana Marasini.
Mary Des Chene Mary Des Chene is an anthropologist who studies state-people relations in Nepal. Subjects have ranged from Gurkha soldiery and Rana-era foreign relations in the 19th and 20th centuries to janajati, dalit, and women's struggles, the public health system, the impact of foreign aid on public policy, and progressive politics. She was a founding editor of the journal Studies in Nepali History and Society.
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