Monday, May 12, 2008

Red Watch: CPN(M) second-in-command Bhattarai speaks tough (leftist) economics

Pretty good interview but seems that Nepal's economy would definitely slide towards the left. The leftist jargons- bourgeois, proletariat, land reform, socialism, redistribution, absentee landlordism, land to the tiller- are already popular in the Maoist's circle. Their land reform plan looks pretty scary. I hope this one would not turn out to be yet another repetition of the infamous Zimbabwean land reform. The Maoists want "New transitional economic policy," which basically is "development of industrial capitalism oriented towards socialism." I don't quite fathom what this really means. Is it close to the Nordic model or post-1990 Russian model or the recent Latin America model led by Chavez? Read the full interview here.

How are you dealing with the challenge of bringing in international capital and retaining domestic capital within the country, in a way that is in keeping with your own economic policy?

Our main emphasis will be mobilizing internal resources.  Until and unless we can mobilize internal resources, at least for basic needs, then we'll always be blackmailed by the international capital. So our first priority would be to mobilize our internal resources.  But even then, in the immediate sense, we'll need some foreign capital.  At least for long term economic development we have to make investment in basic infrastructure, and so on, using international capital.  For that we're trying to re-negotiate with the international agencies.  Of course they will try to put pressure.  But we are already in contact with some of them.  And they also have their own compulsions, you see.  If they don't cooperate, they will also face the resistance of the people.  They all have their strategic interests.  Nepal being located in a very strategic place between China and India, and these forces, I think they have their eyes on the big markets of India and China, and if there is not a favorable situation in Nepal, they will be hurt, you see -- not immediately, but in the long term strategic sense.  In that way they also have their certain interest in Nepal.  So that, if we negotiate very carefully, though they will try to bring pressure -- we know it, this is the nature of international capital, to twist the arms of the poor countries and poor people -- even then, I think if we move very carefully, we can take some liberties out of that.

Moving back to labor issues again, how are you involving the working class and in particular your unions in the economic policy of the country?

Our unions are the strongest in Nepal.  We came into this [peace] process two years ago.  In almost all the factories and workplaces, we have organized the workers, and our trade union is the strongest in the country.  Wherever there have been [union] elections, we have won almost all of them.  It may sound anachronistic, but just to give you an example, in the 5 star hotels where there were elections, we won all of them.  Our trade unions got strong because they bargained with the management for the rights of the workers.  To increase pay and provide benefits and facilities according to law.  They were not paid earlier, and they were not provided with facilities.  So the management were forced to pay.  And there was a lot of attraction of workers to our trade unions.  But on the other side, the reactionaries are instigating the management, saying that the Maoist trade unions are putting undue pressure, so there is no conducive environment for investment, and in this way they're encouraging capital flight.  Some capital has fled also, so we have to make that [. . .].  Just the other day we were at a gathering of nationalist [capitalists] and traders and we tried to show them that our main focus right now is to do away with feudalism and do away with the feudal relations of production, and the very dependent capitalism, not national and international capitalism.  So we try to distinguish between these.  Firstly, we want to do away with feudalism.  Then we want to develop our productive investment capital, not the very parasitic capital we have right now.  This is what we call comprador and bureaucratic capitalism which doesn't promote production, and doesn't promote employment.  It is only that type of distorted, dependent capitalism, which is developing in the country, that we are against.  We are not against productive and industrial capitalism, you know, which provides goods, provides jobs, creates value within the country, and at least resists the imperialist interventions within the country.  That type of national capitalism we promote.   We tried to convince the nationalists and traders that we'll create a favorable environment.

What's your position on Nepal's WTO membership in this context?  There are a lot of conditions within the WTO membership that preclude some of the things you're saying.

Yes.  That problem is there.  It's very difficult to totally come out of the WTO.  You can't be within the WTO, you can't come out of it.  That dilemma is there.

Following up on the role of the trade unions, theoretically in communism and socialism the working class are the rulers.  So how do the trade unions insert themselves into the party policy and your state policy?

So far, our trade unions are highly politicized.  Our workers have very good political consciousness.  When they put demands, for the most part they know they are fighting for political and state power.  We have tried to inculcate in the working class that unless and until you have state power in your hands, whatever economic gains you get, you won't be able to defend.  It is the first thing we try to inculcate in the working class.  So the trade unions are highly politically conscious.  But apart from that we have to make a balance also, because if we don't make economic demands then a large section of the working class wouldn't attain a very high level of political consciousness -- they won't be organized.  So that balance we have to make, between political and economic demands.  We are trying to create a balance.  And within the factories we try to create -- though we haven't called the system a soviet formally -- but in general since most of the workers, the majority of the workers are organized in our trade unions, they've been able to assert their position within the factories, so the management is forced to take the working class into confidence while making big policy decisions.  So that has been achieved.  Not formally in the sense of a soviet -- we haven't been able to organize as a political power in the factories.  But because of their strong presence, they have been quite successful in exerting pressure and influencing the decision making within the factories.

At the same time , now there are pressures and promises about returning property seized during the armed struggle, and your party has also made some [post-election] statements about carrying through with land reform.

Yes, this is one of the sticking points in the peace process, because the landlord's lands were seized by the peasants during the People's War.  In the peace accord, there was quite an ambiguous provision.  The land which was seized unjustifiably, that will be returned.  This is the word -- 'unjustifiable', 'unjustifiably'.  It is very ambiguous.  That is why it has not been resolved.  This has been the sticking point.  Our peasants are not returning the land because they think it is rightful seizure, because the landlord had in fact always seized it from the peasants, you see.  So they have seized it back.  This is the argument of the peasants.  And on the landlord side, they would say it is the right to private property, so that is the encouragement of the democratic [bourgeois] sides.  So that type of struggle is going on.  But in the interim constitution we put a provision for making scientific land reform.  Though we wanted to put the word 'radical' or 'revolutionary', we had to compromise on the term 'scientific' land reform.  So there is again an ambiguity there -- what do we mean by 'scientific land reform'?  Our interpretation is revolutionary land reform based on the principle of land to the tiller.  Those who are actually tilling the land should own the land.  This has been our interpretation.  The other side is trying to interpret it differently.  So there is also contention going on over this issue.

And this mandate for change has been taking the form of the slogan of a "New Nepal".  What exactly is meant by that and how is it expected to come about?

Yes, "New Nepal" has been a very effective slogan given by our party during the election.  "New thought and new leadership for a new Nepal," that was our basic slogan.  And I think that people took it very well, and that is why they voted for us.  So by New Nepal, what we mean is, first, politically, we want to dismantle all the feudal political, economic, social and cultural relations.  That will be one aspect of New Nepal.  The other aspect of New Nepal will be making drastic socioeconomic transformation in a progressive way.  The one is destruction of the old, the other will be construction of the new.  There will be two aspects.  And our basic focus will be on economic activities: the transforming of the agriculture sector, and then developing productive forces, industrial relations, so that the workers and the youth will be provided employment.  And that will create a basis for going toward socialism.  Our economic slogan that we gave was: "New transitional economic policy."  That means industrial capitalism -- development of industrial capitalism -- oriented towards socialism.  This has been our work for the interim period.

So now in thinking about transforming agriculture, which is one base of the economy, what kinds of things would you be concentrating on now?  Say you can take power in the government and set agricultural policy, what are your top three moves?

Well firstly, in the agricultural sector, we are going to change the production relations, and land-holding patterns we want to change.  Especially in the plain areas; landlordism is there.  The absentee landlords who own land, thousands of hectares of land they would own: they live in cities, they don't invest, they don't manage the production, so that way they exploit the poor peasants who till the land.  The peasants are exploited and the productivity is also very low.  So we want to abolish that type of absentee landlordism and enforce the principle of land to the tiller.  That land which is tilled will be redistributed.  So we will put a ceiling, say of some four or five hectares and above that land will be confiscated and redistributed to the peasants.  So this is one aspect of land reform.  The other will be that we are going to organize the poor peasants, because many of them will be very small landholders.  I've already told you, less that 0.5 hectares.  And they engage very much in subsistence farming.  So with that individual cultivation and farming, they can never improve their economic lot.  We want to organize these poor peasants into cooperatives.  That is the second aspect.  And thirdly, we want to modernize agriculture -- mechanization, modern irrigation, and so on.

And on the question of agriculture that is focused on food security within the country versus export economy agriculture, what's your view?

Our emphasis will be different from the economic policy determined by the World Bank and FAO, which has been export oriented, and peasants are not encouraged to produce food crops, they have been encouraged to produce cash crops for export.  The dependency has been increased, the food security has decreased, so you see the food crisis increasing.  This is one of the consequences of the World Bank policy -- wrong policy.  So we wouldn't like to just blindly follow that policy.  Firstly, the peasants' food security will be given high priority.  They should produce food and cater to the needs of the internal market.  And then secondly only, they can produce for export.  So that will be our priority.

We know that you have to go.  Is there anything you want to say to the Left in North America?

You see the crisis is international in scale: there is a direct fight between the proletarian ideology and  imperialist ideology.  This is in the whole of this so-called globalization.  Globalization has given this sharp class contradiction, of two classes.  So North America being the center of imperialism, the working class and Left forces there, I think they should organize themselves and the stronger the movement against imperialism there, that will be helpful for the Left and proletarian movement in the Third World countries, because the Third World countries are the most oppressed by imperialism.  If there is a strong working class movement and Left movement in the imperialist countries, that will directly help the revolutionary movement in the Third World countries.  That way we appeal to our friends in North America.  They should sharpen their struggle against imperialism.  That will help our movement in our countries.

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