People's War in Nepal:
Reaching New Heights in the
by Li Onesto
Revolutionary Worker #1238,
May 1, 2004, http://rwor.org
When the People's War in Nepal started
in 1996, the fighters led by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)
were armed with only sticks, sickles, khukuri knives and a couple
of guns. Three years later, when I traveled through the guerrilla
zone, the Maoists still really didn't have any modern weapons.
Most of the fighters I met had really old- fashioned single-shot
rifles and relied mainly on homemade hand grenades and khukuris.
I heard many stories about raids carried out in the first few
years of fighting--attacks against local police posts and money
lenders, corrupt officials and landlords. The guerrillas would
always proudly report on how many weapons they had captured--"six
rifles, one pistol and 300 bullets," or "eight rifles,
one revolver and 780 bullets." I remember thinking at the
time--how are they going to be able to fight and win with so few
and such primitive weapons?
Today, after eight years of fighting,
the People's Liberation Army (PLA) has modern weapons, including
GPMGs, LMGs, SMGs, SLRs, and rocket launchers.
When the Maoists initiated armed struggle
in 1996 they had no people's army, no trained fighting forces
and no experience in military warfare. They started off with only
small "fighting groups." After six months the first
squad was formed and after several months there were 32 squads
(of seven to nine guerrillas). When I interviewed the Central
Committee member in charge of the Maoist strongholds in the Rolpa,
Rukum and Jajarkot districts, he told me, "Sometimes the
squads had to retreat when the police came into a village where
the squad lived. But when the police left, the squads returned
and the village would be back in the political and military control
of the People's Army. There were many ambushes of police, going
from smaller to larger actions and also many raids of police posts
and mining of roads where police were traveling. Some were successful,
some not, due to lack of experience. We were learning warfare
through waging warfare."
Again, these were impressive beginnings
but still on a very small scale. The Maoists had squads and platoons
(with 24-30 fighters) but had not yet formed any company-size
units (of about 100 guerrillas).
By 2002 the People's Liberation Army (PLA)
had several permanent companies, and in some cases was fighting
in units of brigade strength--several hundred soldiers. Today
the PLA has expanded to the level of two divisions, seven brigades,
19 battalions, several companies, platoons, sections and tens
of thousands of militia. And they are able to mobilize thousands
of fighters in a single battle.
When I was in Nepal, the Maoists were
also only in the beginning stages of establishing political authority
and organization in the villages. In the countryside there were
"guerrilla zones" where fighting was going on. But the
guerrillas had only just begun a campaign to establish "base
areas" that would serve as embryos of "red political
Less than three years later, by the end
of 2002, 10 million people in the Western Region--out of Nepal's
total population of 24 million--lived in areas under Maoist control.
And "United Revolutionary People's Committees" were
exercising power, mobilizing the masses to administer production,
the supply of basic necessities, education, sanitation, communications,
transportation and the establishment of a judicial system.
Why and how has the People's War in Nepal
been able to make such impressive military and political gains?
First of all, this is a real war of the
people that has mobilized and gained the support of millions.
Peasants want land. Women want an end to their deep oppression.
National minorities want an end to discrimination and the brutal
caste system. Youth and students want a future other than poverty
and malnutrition. The people want an end to foreign domination.
The Maoists have given concrete expression to all these aspirations--and
provided the people with the necessary military and political
leadership to fight for such a future.
In developing their fighting capacity,
the PLA applied the principles of Mao Tsetung's military strategy--
tactically pitting "ten against one" and strategically
"one against ten." They recognized that on a nationwide
level the revolutionary forces were (and would remain) outnumbered
by government forces--and so, in an overall strategic sense, faced
"one against ten." But tactically, and in particular
battles, they saw it was possible to concentrate an overwhelming
superior force to wipe out concentrations of government forces--with
an orientation of "ten against one." So, for example,
they intensified their military assaults on weak links of the
government, mainly the less fortified police posts.
The guerrillas consciously carried out
Mao's strategy of protracted warfare--avoiding all-out battles
and instead taking the approach of waging guerrilla warfare, luring
government forces deep into "red areas," encircling
them and striking big blows at their weakest links. Broad popular
support provided the Maoists with intelligence and reconnaissance,
and local militias played an important political and military
role. In this way, the PLA was able to carry out successful military
actions, even with primitive weapons and relatively small fighting
units, and the police were increasingly put on the defensive and
eventually forced to stay holed up in their barracks most of the
From the very beginning, establishing
base areas and new political power has been a crucial component
of the overall strategy of the Maoists.
As police, officials and landlords were
driven out of the countryside, the authority and institutions
that had ruled over and oppressed the people ceased to exist--making
it possible for the Maoists to set up a "new people's power."
The more the guerrillas were able to "liberate" territory
through military struggle, the more they were able to consolidate
political authority in a more ongoing, even if still relatively
Today the Maoists control 80 percent of
the countryside in Nepal. And in the base areas the Party is leading
the masses to exercise "red power"--to destroy the old
oppressive system and its infrastructure of exploitation and oppression,
and build a new economic base, new revolutionary forms of government,
a new culture and new relations between people. In early 2004,
several Autonomous People's Governments were formed--giving concrete
expression to the Party's policy of granting autonomous rule and
the right to self-determination among oppressed nationalities
These tremendous advances of the People's
War have been made in spite of a brutal counterinsurgency. The
Royal Nepal Army has carried out search-and-destroy campaigns
in the countryside--killing, torturing and arresting anyone suspected
of being a guerrilla or "Maoist sympathizer." A massive
disinformation and censorship campaign has closed down revolutionary
newspapers, jailed journalists, and spread lies and slanders about
the Maoists. Nepal's ruling class has been in constant crisis,
fraught with deep divisions and in-fighting, over how to deal
with the growing insurgency. And in October 2002, King Gyanendra,
in what amounted to a palace coup, removed the Prime Minister,
assumed executive power, and dissolved the parliament.
Meanwhile, the U.S. global "war on
terrorism" has provided new freedom for foreign intervention
and support for the counter-revolution in Nepal. The Nepalese
government has officially branded the Maoists "terrorists"
and the U.S. State Department has put the CPN (Maoist) on one
of its lists of `terrorist' organizations. The U.S. has given
the RNA military training and advisers, at least $22 million in
military aid and more than 5,000 M-16 rifles. Britain has provided
$40 million and played a leading role in getting other countries
to give political, financial and military support to the Nepalese
regime. India has provided truckloads of military hardware and
helicopters and is hunting down and arresting leaders of the CPN
(Maoist) in India.
The U.S. is attempting to label as "terrorists"
any movement that dares to challenge their domination--or rises
up against a regime they support. Meanwhile, the system has worked
hard to get people to embrace facile verdicts on people's wars--which
in essence condemn the masses for daring to fight against their
oppression. And there have been attacks and threats aimed at forces
outside Nepal which politically support the People's War. U.S.
State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher recently stated: "We
have designated the Maoists under an Executive Order, blocking
any Maoist assets in the United States or held by U.S. persons,
wherever located, and bars U.S. citizens from most transactions
or dealings with the Maoists." ( Kathmandu Post , April 24,
In such a situation it is important to
distinguish between the unjust violence of the oppressors and
the just violence of the oppressed. And people need to seriously
discuss and understand the right of the people of the world to
There are many who are inspired by the
revolution in Nepal and oppose the counterinsurgency being carried
out by the U.S.-backed Nepalese regime. But even those who do
not support or have questions about the People's War in Nepal
should oppose U.S. intervention--and cannot allow attacks on those
If the U.S. is allowed to attack real
liberation struggles and call them "terrorist". If those
who politically support people's wars are attacked and called
"supporters of terrorists". If those who say we need
revolution are targeted and persecuted. If the government succeeds
in distancing the most radical elements from other activists.
If red-baiting tactics succeed in dividing the movement... this
will affect all the people and put an even deeper blanket of repression
on all progressive organizations, movements, thinking, and actions.
Is another world possible? Can humanity
ever get rid of the inequalities between countries, nationalities,
men and women, and different religions? Is there a path for the
planet other than McWorld globalization and the jihad of religious
Defenders of capitalism may answer this
question by declaring that "communism is dead" and that
the path of Maoist people's war is passé. But the fact
is, in the Himalayas, new heights are being reached towards the
goal of building a new society free of all forms of oppression