Challenge To Define Vision Of Socialism

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Socialism has become a catch word in the political realm of Nepal.  Almost all political parties and leaders talk of socialism and swear by it in their manifestoes, statutes, documents and speeches. The federal Constitution of Nepal promises to build a socialist oriented state through implementation of appropriate social and economic measures. Socialism in Nepal has, therefore, become like a hat, as political thinker CEM Joad mentions, that has lost its shape because every leader and political parties claim that they wear it better than others do. Nepali Congress has indeed been the premier political organisation that has sworn by democratic socialism since its conceptualisation and establishment over eight decades ago. NC’s founder leader, BP Koirala, was known as a socialist leader across South Asia, if not throughout the world. Moreover, his camaraderie with Indian socialist leaders like Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia, Jaya Prakash Narayan, Acharya Narendra Dev and many leaders of stature was meaningful and significant.

Equity

BP also held a place of mutual admiration and respect with these Indian leaders. He had joined and cooperated with these leaders in their struggle for India’s freedom. In later part of life, BP was counted as a respected democratic socialist on par with German social democrat Willy Brandt and Swedish leader Olaf Palme, among others. BP’s socialist thinking in later part of life, according to his writings, was influenced by German born British economist E.F Schumacher’s who shot into global prominence due to his bestseller  book "Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered" published in 1973. The title of his book "Small Is Beautiful" came from a principle that advancing small, appropriate technologies, policies and polities offers a superior alternative to the mainstream ethos of "bigger is better". 

BP broadly defined his approach to socialism in terms of appropriate and just redistribution of resources to ensure that even the poorest of the poor could lead equity based dignified living. However, his vision of socialism had not been articulated in concrete institutional and methodological terms. NC has seldom clarified its way of thinking on socialism though it has been imbibed into one of its ideological key pillars. However, NC pushed for neo-liberalist economic agenda by giving way to privatisation of health and education sector, among others, which should be taken care of by the state itself. 

For several years during the cold war, Nepal’s political landscape was largely dominated by communist parties of radical and moderate variations. The communist parties have won the democratic elections time and again and become an inalienable part of the ruling establishment   for the last several years, playing an important role in democratisation movement. They have also worked closely with NC in the struggle to restore multiparty polity. Moreover, they organised powerful resistance to topple monarchy in Nepal. However, the radical Maoist party that had launched armed insurrection for almost a decade has finally reconciled to peaceful and non-violent politics. Though the communist parties keep carrying Marxist-Leninist and Maoist tags, they seem to be preposterously bourgeoisie in their behaviours, taste, manner and conduct. Marx and Engels are quoted by British historian Eric Hobsbawm in his book "The Age of Capital" to have said that the bourgeoisie culture is so luring and powerful that it draws even the most primitive ones into its definition of the civilised class. 

This is what has exactly happened in the case of the Nepali communists too. They have been irresistibly drawn into the world of bourgeoisie tastes, style, conduct and manner. Communist leaders have been part of liberalising and privatising education, health sectors and benefitted enormously from businesses in these sectors allegedly as rent seekers and enterpreneurs.  Though, of late, some of the communist parties seem taking cognizance of the futility and ludicrousness of clinging to the communist tags and ideas for the fact that these have lost their meaning and relevance in today’s world. They have come to network together under the banner of socialist alliance, even though they are still undecided to shed communist veneer fearing that this might tend to lose the traditional communist vote bank. 

Evolving context

This dilemma stalks more to the CPN (UML) than any other communist parties as it resists to shed Marxist-Leninist trappings fearing that this would lead to weakening of its vote bastion in the electoral competition.  CPN (UML) has not been part of the Socialist Alliance that was declared six months ago even though this party has long practiced political pluralism and multiparty politics in pragmatic consideration. It is reported that once ultra-radical party CPN (Maoist) is part of the so called Socialist Alliance and it is said to be mulling to shun its Maoist tag but not to wear off the communist cover. Former Prime Minister Madhav Nepal who split with KP Oli-led CPN (UML) almost two years ago named his newly created political formation as CPN (socialist).

Furthermore, former Prime Minister Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai who was once a radical communist ideologue is ranted for his decisiveness to dissociate from his party CPN (Maoist) almost seven years ago and declare that the party is likely to lose ground if it fails to democratise and reform from within. He argues that communist parties should not shy away to reframe and rebrand democratically to retain their relevance in the evolving context. However, Dr. Bhattarai himself lacks clarity on the pathways in building socialist democratic state to respond to the needs of the time.

(The author is presently associated with Policy Research Institute (PRI) as a senior research fellow.  rijalmukti@gmail.com)

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