Monday, May 05, 2008

The Maoists’ Russian Roulette?

Although officially an adherent of the Great Helmsman, Comrade Prachanda has managed to pour far greater public admiration on Vladimir I. Lenin. The founder of Soviet Russia, to be sure, remains firmly in the pantheon of Reds of all hues. Yet Prachanda’s devotion to Lenin has, at times, seemed, well, revoltingly lopsided.
After the April Uprising, Nepalis didn’t hear the Maoist chairman talk about the siege of Chengdu, the last decisive battle Mao Zedong led against Chiang Kai-shek before establishing the People’s Republic in 1949. Lenin’s October Revolution was the talk of the nation.
Bolstered by his latest popular mandate, Prachanda has now begun describing himself as the local equivalent of Lenin. The other day, he went a step ahead and brought back the memory of Vladimir’s elder brother Aleksandr in the form of Ram Raja Prasad Singh, the pioneer of Nepali republicanism. “I had met Singh several times during the decade-long rebellion…and had the chance to learn a lot from him,” Prachanda declared at the launch of a biography of Singh.
Singh was the first Nepali practitioner of the art of entering the legislature to expose it. Like the Maoist forerunners in the 1991-94 parliament, Singh was in no position to undermine the status quo. That someone elected from the graduates’ constituency, the closest thing you could get to open elections in those days, could muster the courage to demand the abolition of the monarchy was truly ground-breaking.
Singh’s subsequent defiance on how trees would start producing bombs stirred up audiences of all persuasions because of the haste with which hyperbole had turned heretical.
Prachanda must have continued studying the 1985 bomb blasts in Kathmandu long after the gruesomeness had faded away from public memory. So long after Singh claimed responsibility – and was convicted in absentia – for carrying out synchronized blasts, people still believe the palace masterminded them to thwart the civil disobedience campaign launched by the then-banned Nepali Congress.
Singh saw no need to dispel the perception of the top republican’s collusion with the palace against the monarchical mainstream. The future People’s Warriors must have taken copious notes right there.
What Prachanda might have learned from Singh during the insurgency remains in the realm of speculation. It must be substantial, since the Maoist leader indicated that Singh might be asked to oversee the transition to more perfect republic. Singh, after all, was the consensus presidential candidate of all those madhesi groups united by their hatred for the Maoists.
For our purposes, Prachanda’s Aleksandr analogy must be probed a little deeper. In 1883, the elder Lenin graduated from the College of Simbirsk with a gold medal and entered Petersburg University. There he majored in natural sciences, earning another gold medal for his work in zoology.
Aleksandr took part in underground meetings and illegal demonstrations, carrying out propaganda activities among students and workers. In 1886, he became a member of the Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will) party, ultimately affirming terror as a means of struggle. Aleksandr and his allies began plotting an assassination attempt on Tsar Alexander III, and were arrested. In court, Aleksandr gave a stirring political speech, and a few weeks later he was hanged.
Surely, Aleksandr’s execution radicalized Vladimir, who was then 17 years old. He became more involved in student protests and revolutionary propaganda. Grief has often been attributed to Lenin’s decision to choose a Marxist approach to popular revolution, instead of anarchist or individualist version.
The Lenin analogy, as Prachanda knows well, is capable of being repeated as tragedy as well as farce. After he suffered his first stroke, Vladimir Lenin dictated to his wife several papers. Among these were Lenin’s Testament, which criticized leading communists, including Joseph Stalin, Grigory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, Nikolai Bukharin and Leon Trotsky. Lenin said Stalin, who had been the Communist Party’s general secretary since April 1922, had “unlimited authority concentrated in his hands.” He suggested that “comrades think about a way of removing Stalin from that post.”
After Lenin’s death in 1924, his wife mailed his testament to the central committee so that it could be read at the 13th Party Congress. The central committee, at the instigation of Stalin, Kamenev and Zinoviev, kept it from the wider Soviet public. It argued that Lenin had been mentally ill in his final years and, as such, his final judgments could not be trusted.
The following year, Lenin’s testament was published in the United States. Trotsky wrote an essay downplaying its significance. He argued, among other things, that Lenin’s notes should not be regarded as a “will” and had neither been concealed nor violated.
Of course, Trotsky fell out with Stalin a few years later and began using Lenin’s papers to step up attacks against his former ally. The Soviet dictator subsequently had Trotsky assassinated in his home in exile in Mexico City. Amid the rumblings of confusion within the triumphant Maoists, this Leninist legacy casts the longest shadow on Nepal.