Wednesday, 8 December, 2021

Which Socialism They Mean

Which Socialism They Mean

Prof. Bhupa P. Dhamala

Despite immense popularity that socialism gained in the previous century throughout the globe, in no corner of the world has it nonetheless yielded its true fruits to the best possible effect. Even the countries that have been practicing unfettered capitalism are talking about socialism. Nepali political parties too have been constantly in discussions about bringing in socialism since inception but to no avail thus far.

Social theorists and political actors have basically been divided into two schools. Marxist proposition that evolved in mid-nineteenth century triggered waves in early twentieth century in Russia under the leadership of Lenin to establish scientific socialism. The same concept which Mao Zedong termed rather differently travelled over the Chinese land in the name of New Democracy. The notion of scientific socialism still persists notwithstanding what Marx and Lenin said how it should go about. Then in the second half of the century Nepal Communist Party also propagated the concept of scientific socialism in the name of New Democracy borrowing the term from Mao.

During the same time Western Europe counterargued that “socialism” is good but it should be qualified by “democratic”. Their argument was that the notion of scientific socialism was based on proletariat dictatorship that would deny democracy and freedom. Hence the term democratic socialism was coined. Nepal also witnessed the arrival of the concept of socialism with the establishment of Nepali Congress which professed its aim to end the autocratic system and establish democratic socialism. The chief proponent of this notion in Nepal was BP Koirala who was able to organise Nepali youths under this banner.

Until late these two political forces were in antagonism in Nepal – one advocating for democratic socialism, and another campaigning for scientific socialism. Despite controversies, their lines were somehow clear and direct with less confusion. But with the restoration of multiparty democracy in 1990, CPN- ML embraced parliamentary democratic system which is popularly known as bourgeois democracy. Madan Bhandari, the then General Secretary of the party, proposed a system of People’s Multiparty Democracy blending the features of New Democracy and conventional multiparty democracy claiming it as the best ever system.

I would argue that it was at this point CPN- ML modified itself into a sort of bourgeois party in essence while keeping its name as communist party. This party later changed into CPN- UML and formed a minority government once becoming the largest party in parliament. As it assumed the power, it gradually plunged into a state of controversy in its ideological stand. Very few cadres of UML can now understand what People’s Multiparty Democracy actually means and what it can bring about.

This is not to say, however, UML should have adopted the policy of one party rule like in China and like what CPN- Maoist wanted to bring in with the People’s War. Instead the UML leaders should have honestly said they were no longer revolutionary party aiming at bringing in scientific socialism. The honesty of a responsible party, if indeed UML claims so, should explicitly declare that they are reformist party aiming at socialist democracy like some of the European politicians who openly advocated it. Being unable to accomplish the set goal is not so much condemnable as being dishonest to pretend what one is really not. The most contradictory position of UML and Maoist Centre at this time is to say one thing and do another. Their principles and practices are mutually exclusive. This is how confusion is created.

At a time when UML itself is in a state of controversy, currently its split offshoot, namely CPN –Unified Socialist, has called itself socialist but it has not explicitly explained what it means by socialism. It has not shown its initial sign of becoming truly scientific socialist if we consider its recent practice as well as the past behaviour of its leaders and cadres. Apparently, there are only two options for this party – to really opt for scientific socialism or to follow People’s Multiparty Democracy like how UML is doing. If it follows the latter, the split cannot be justified because there should be no confusion that to follow People’s Multiparty Democracy is to adopt social democracy. If it aims to follow the former, they may have to take a different political course with essential principles of socialism and their true practices. We can wait a bit until it makes its position clear but not too long.

Communist parties are not the confusion creating parties alone. Nepali Congress, Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP), and its recent offshoot Loktantrik Socialist Party (LSP) fare no better. Despite their documents, these parties have not yet established themselves as socialist parties because they too have been entangled in horse-trading. JSP, which once had been a coalition partner of the government led by UML, quit the alliance and became a vehement critic of the erstwhile premier Oli. Later LSP, the opponent of PSP, joined hands together with Oli and now seems inclined to NC. Needless to say, central members and MPs of both parties shift their affiliation from one group to another holding the power center whichever they think is favorable to them.

It is thus essential to understand that these political parties are socialist in words but capitalist in essence. Since they are adopting capitalism in politics, economy, and culture, they are by no means socialist. Their socialism is merely a rhetoric which is more said than done. Unless socialism of the Nepali context is defined on the basis of common consensus, we can never experience socialism of true spirit. Form does not matter as much as essence does.

(The author is the chairman of Molung Foundation.