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Review: Yogendra Dhakal's "Revolution, Yes! Right Liquidationism, No!"

The People's War in Nepal was a significant event for the Maoist International Communist Movement. Like the People's War in Peru years earlier, this protracted event was another site of theoretical and practical explosion that demonstrated that the revolutionary ethos of the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st Century was in fact Maoist. While it was indeed the case that the PW in Nepal was largely ignored by the mainstream left in the imperialist metropoles it was still something that mattered for those who cared about third world revolution: the theoretical developments it produced (for example Hisila Yami's work on proletarian feminism), the practical experience it imparted, seem all the more tragic in its failure to accomplish its aims when the Prachanda-led leadership capitulated to revisionism––the always present danger that the Maoist theoretical tradition has elucidated.

Yogendra Dhakal's Revolution Yes! Right Liquidationism No! is a book that returns us to the moment where the revolutionary aspirations of the Communist Party Nepal (Maoist) were still keenly felt by those members of the party who were also critical of its refoundation as the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) [UCPN (Maoist)] that, upon abandoning the People's War in favour of the electoral path, began to slide into the revisionism of peaceful co-existence. As a revolutionary who would eventually exit the UCPN (Maoist) with the Kiran-led faction that would become the Communist Party of Nepal–Maoist [CPN–Maoist], Dhakal's book is historically significant in that it represents the critique of a revolutionary's party degeneration by a high level cadre structured in the form of six letters.

Sadly, the most immediate problem with Dhakal's book is that is largely opaque to those unfamiliar with the Nepal PW outside of the international Maoist milieux, particularly in the imperialist metropoles where Marxist historiographies are published and distributed at a greater level than the peripheries. This opaqueness is of course not Dhakal's fault because it has more to do with the Eurocentrism of first world anti-capitalism that, despite providing lip-service to third world revolt, remains largely ignorant of third world revolutionary movements. Indeed, years before Dhakal ended up in the position that necessitated the writing of this book first world Marxists generally had no interest in Nepal despite the fact that it was the main place, at the time, where an actual revolution was happening. Hence, the background required to understanding and the enjoying Dhakal's book might be inaccessible to a first world reader, the kind whose eyes would glaze over upon reading the above paragraphs about the acronyms of organizations and factions. If this myopia did not exist Dhakal's book would most probably be treated with the relevance it demands… In this sense we should probably question why genealogies of, for example, Syriza's failure will be more popular than similar works about the failure of Nepal's PW when the latter was clearly more revolutionary––and thus fell from much greater heights––than the social democracy of the former. But this is another issue.

But for those of us who remember the aspirations of the CPN (Maoist)'s revolutionary movement, who held out great hope all the way up to the Prachanda faction's final capitulation, who still believe that this failed revolution was an important instance of Marxist-Leninist-Maoist eruption, and are interested in thinking through the reasons for its failure, Dhakal's book is important. What will make it a difficult read for those unfamiliar with the sequence of the PW in Nepal is that its six letters to a leadership embarking on the revisionist path (the national question, state and revolution, democracy in the 21st century, the role of the communist party in the proletarian revolution, independence/sovereignty/territorial integration, peaceful development of revolution) require a certain level of familiarity with this failed revolution––with the positions and practices Dhakal critiques.

Whereas the editors rightly point out that Dhakal's use of Stalin as a revolutionary authority might alienate him from western Marxists (and they also rightly point out that Stalin's legacy is perceived differently in the third world Marxist context), I think that the main thing that makes this book alienating to a western audience is that the unfamiliarity with the Nepal PW relegates the book to a specialist historiography. This is unfortunate, and not the fault of Dhakal but rather quite circumstantial, but it is the fact of the matter. At the same time, however, most of academic Marxism even in the first world is generally "specialist" (i.e. think of all the political economy works focused on the labour theory of value or debates about the tendency of the rate of profit to fall) so this should not be allowed to disqualify it from critical consideration.

Rather than summarize and assess all of the chapters, which would over bloat this review due to the necessity of explaining the historical context of their importance and thus the overall meaning of the critique, I'm simply going to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Dhakal's book assuming some familiarity with the failed Nepal PW.

Dhakal's critique of the revolution's slide into revisionism shines when he is engaging critically––using logical arguments and revealing the core contradictions––with the liquidationist/capitulationist positions it took after deciding to halt the PW and enter the electoral arena. These are the moments where he demonstrates that he is a seasoned revolutionary familiar with the party's line both before and after the electoral capitulation. Two chapters in particular stand out as exemplars of insightful critique: "Liquidationist View on the State and Revolution" and "On the Opportunity for the Peaceful Development of Revolution". This is not to say that the author doesn't demonstrate the same insight in other chapters but that these two chapters, at least for me, came across as the strongest and most rigorously argued.

In "Liquidationist View on the State and Revolution" Dhakal elaborates on the thesis of his entire book: participation with various elements of the old state liquidates the revolution in favour of capitulation. That is, the party ended up endorsing an "old type of democratic republic by dropping the new democratic revolution as the minimum programme, and ending the protracted people's war to escape bloodshed" (94) which was a position that flies in the face of making a revolution that will smash the old order. Such a position led immediately to the subordination of the people's army on the part of a state that was not smashed and replaced so that the people, whose army represented their revolutionary aspirations, were returned to subordination. While the party should command the gun and not vice versa (i.e. the party should not be militarized and determined by its army), a party in bed with the old state is not longer capable of commanding a people's army. To do away with the people's army in this context is to allow the old system to flourish and deprive the masses of the weapon they themselves had built against this oppression.

This theme of liquidation/capitulation is consummated in Dhakal's final chapter before the appendix, "On the Opportunity for the Peaceful Development for Revolution" where he establishes how all of his previous critiques intersect in a complete revisionist turn where the UPCN (Maoist) finally endorses a peaceful co-existence with capitalism. Here Dhakal examines the typical errors for rejecting the capture of state power, the error of moving unto the parliamentary road, and argues vigorously for the anti-revisionist approach to revolution. In one very insightful passage Dhakal sets up an important antimony between capturing state power and capitulating to an already existent power:
"There is a fundamental difference between the slogan of power and that of making and breaking of governments. The slogan of power is related to capturing of state power earlier or later, and it strives to take power into its hands. Doing this, the party can raise its own class to the position of the ruling class. To raise the working-class to the position of ruling class is far from forming a government on the basis of a strong presence in parliament, or constituent assembly. Firstly, the meaning of forming a government under the leadership of the UCPN (Maoist) means the presence of other parties in the present composition of the constituent assembly. Such a government cannot take any decision against the basic interest of the old power in relation to our country and the feudal, comprador, and bureaucratic capitalist class. If it goes to the extent of affecting the basic interests of the class and their political representatives involved in the government they will oppose, and if necessary, topple it to. Due to the pressure from the other parties, standing in opposition and participating in the government, the party will have to drop revolutionary claims one after the other." (244)
Clearly Dhakal was correct in this assessment since the UCPN (Maoist) did drop its demands but even this was not enough. It eventually fell because even its capitulation was not enough and, when it returned to the constituent assembly many years later it had become far meeker.

The weaknesses in Dhakal's book, however, seem to stem from the fact that much of it is a doctrinaire Marxist-Leninist critique of Maoism rather than a Maoist critique. Indeed it is quite telling that he uses the old terminology of "Mao Zedong Thought" even though the CPN (Maoist) was part of the former Revolutionary Internationalist Movement [RIM] that, following the PCP, rejected Mao Zedong Thought in favour of Maoism. In this sense some of his critiques about the party's revisionism become conflated with critiques of its possible theoretical creativity. This weakness is compounded by a tendency to rely on arguments from authority, i.e. simply quoting Lenin or Stalin in the place of an argument. While I agree that references to Stalin should not be rejected by first world academics over-conditioned by a cold war apprehension of Stalin's legacy, I don't think it's entirely useful to simply quote Stalin (or any Marxist revolutionary leader for that matter) instead of making an argument. Past revolutionary leaders, including Marx and Engels, were often incorrect and thus the trick of any good argument is to reference them within a critical discourse in a way that simply doesn't say "x is wrong because y authority said so." Indeed, Mao broke from many of Lenin and Stalin's claims, just as Lenin broke from many of Marx's. These weaknesses manifest in two significant ways: with Dhakal's treatment of the national question in the first chapter, with his rejection of a multi-party dictatorship of the proletariat in the fourth chapter. None of this is to say that his position in regards to the revisionist UCPN (Maoist) in these issues was incorrect only that his arguments are often undermined by doctrinaire arguments of authority.

In his first chapter about the national question Dhakal argues that the treatment of multiple Indigenous ethnicities violates the proper Marxist-Leninist definition of a nation and that the revolution would be better served by treating these groups according to a multi-ethnic singularity. While I do not know enough about the context of Nepal to argue that Dhakal is incorrect (he might even be right) the fact that he mainly relies on Stalin's definition of the nation to make this point is something of a problem. As I have stated before, the theory of the national question has developed since Stalin and should also take into account the work of Mariategui and Frantz Fanon––that is, it requires the addition of anti-colonial theory. While it may in fact be the case that Dhakal's critique is correct in the case of Nepal (I'm willing to accept that it is) the way in which he argues for his position reifies a particular approach to national self-determination and anti-colonial struggle that in the context of imperialist nations that are settler-colonial would be quite in line with the national chauvinist and revisionist communist groups that deny Indigenous nationhood. Indeed, Dhakal's doctrinaire approach to the national question is undermined by Kaypakkaya's foundational work in the Maoist struggle in Turkey as well as sometimes veering close to weird idealist race theory (arguably a translation problem) where he talks about the difference of a "racial" and "national" difference. (15)

Dhakal's critique of multi-party class dictatorship in the fourth chapter is similarly based on fidelity to traditional Marxism-Leninism without any argument beyond this. Indeed, it is quite impossible for him to make a materialist assessment of this theory since the UCPN (Maoist) never produced the dictatorship of the proletariat that could be multi-party. To say it was wrong because it flies in the face of traditional Leninism does not critique the revisionist sequence of the organization because the revisionism was not in its multi-party class dictatorship but that it entered the parliamentary arena before seizing state power (as Dhakal points out) and creating a context where this theoretical wager could be applied. Indeed, it couldn't even push through the constitution that would help permit multi-party socialism. None of this is to say that I necessarily agree with the idea of multi-party class dictatorship, only that Dhakal's arguments against it are telling in that they demonstrate a very traditional Marxist-Leninist apprehension of reality.

In any case, despite the problems I outlined in the previous two paragraphs, Dhakal's book is necessary reading for anyone interested in the failure of the CPN (Maoist)'s revolution. If we are to learn from both the height and dissolution of this PW we need to read this book alongside the work of Yami and Sigdel. Despite its specialist nature, if one cares about the vicissitudes of a recent revolutionary movement and wants to think through how it failed to complete its aims, Revolution Yes! Right Liquidationism No! is definitely worth reading.