Will Nepal Follow in the Footsteps of Cuba, Perú, or Neither of Them?
Why has Prachanda been successful in winning the popular support whereas Dr. Abimael Guzman of Shining Path in Peru failed to do so? Is Prachanda more like Castro than Guzmán? JOE GOLDSTEIN offers some perspectives.
When Fidel Castro and his supporters, after setting off from Mexico, landed on the shores of Cuba in their boat Granma in 1956, they were hardly prepared to overthrow dictator Fulgencio Batista. Castro’s small force, numbering a bit less than 200 men, was soon reduced to 12 or so individuals who retreated to the highlands and sought refuge and assistance from the impoverished peasants of that region.
At that moment in time, any political analyst who might have voiced her belief that Castro and his followers would ultimately triumph, would undoubtedly have found her views totally discredited by the experts. From a purely academic point of view, there were abundant reasons for Castro to fail, and precious few for him to succeed.
In this particular article, I cannot profess to be an expert in political analysis, nor can I make any claim to objectivity. Rather, I simply offer to the reader my personal theory with regard to the evolving crisis in Nepal. My premise is relatively simple. I believe that the success of a revolutionary movement depends largely upon the way the leaders of that movement treat the proletarian masses. Clearly, the support of the poor majority is absolutely critical in order for any revolutionary movement to attain victory.
I realize that a prevailing view among certain academics is the idea that socialist or communist revolutions ultimately depend upon the support of the middle or merchant classes, and some have even argued that no revolution can succeed unless a critical mass of industrialists support it. These views may be entirely true, but they bring up the chicken and egg question. That is, do the middle or merchant classes and industrialists ultimately cause the proletarians to join them in supporting revolution, or do the impoverished millions lead their frightened masters under such circumstances? Of course, there is no pat answer. However, let us venture to say that the poor form a critical part of the equation.
In his article for the Nepal Monitor, “A Chinese Perspective on the Nepali Situation,” posted June 4, 2006, Juyan Zhang notes that “the Nepali Maoist movement will very likely end up like being Dr. Abimael Guzman’s Shining Path in Peru.” Dr. Zhang gives a number of compelling reasons for why this should happen. In this list of reasons, I was struck by a number of points that reminded me also of Cuba. He mentions that there is no worldwide socialist movement to depend upon, that the Nepalese Maoists have the support of neither China nor India, that a superpower US opposes the movement, and that a communist Nepal cannot be used by either China or India as a means for the two countries to engage in geopolitical competition.
Let us recall Cuba in 1959, when Castro’s forces finally prevailed. There was indeed a worldwide socialist movement, but Castro could hardly depend upon it, nor did he initially wish to do so. Soviet support was only given grudgingly at first, and through the years experienced its ups and downs. For many years—on and off throughout the 1960s and from 1991 to the present day—the Castro revolution has had to mostly go it alone with relatively little backing from the outside world.
One might argue that current aid to Cuba from Hugo Chavéz’s Venezuela is tantamount to the support formerly given by the Soviet Union, but if that is so, it is admittedly on a much smaller scale. We should also remember that the US, a superpower nation in 1959, and only 90 miles from Cuba, soon made manifest its total disapproval of Castro’s regime, and even lent its support to a failed attempt to militarily retake the island, all to no avail. Finally, although Cuba was indeed used by the Soviet Union in its struggle against the United States, in the long run, this did not prove to be essential for sustaining the Cuban revolution. Castro’s regime has managed to outlive the 1991 collapse of its former benefactor.
I do not cite these examples to refute Dr. Zhang’s observations. I think it is quite possible that his views are entirely valid, and that the circumstances mentioned by him may ultimately lead to the failure of the Nepali Maoist movement. I will even go a step further and say that similar circumstances existing in the 1980s and early 1990s probably conspired to defeat Abimael Guzmán and the Shining Path in Perú. In brief, for Guzmán there was little or no material or ideological support from the socialist world outside, nor from any single nation, the superpower US was firmly opposed, and no strong nation stepped in for the purpose of using the Peruvian revolutionary leader as a pawn for its own competitive geopolitical interests.
However, we are left wondering why Castro succeeded under these circumstances when Guzmán failed.
Undoubtedly, elements of chance, fate, luck, and perhaps divine intervention play their respective roles in the unfolding of history. Let us consider how many times over the years Fidel Castro has cheated death. One might well argue that the longevity of the Cuban revolution is nothing more than a spectacular fluke.
True as that might be, I also argue that Castro’s defiance of the odds likewise rests upon his excellent instincts for garnering support from the proletarian sectors of the Cuban population. Additionally, I assert that Castro ultimately ensured the success of his revolution by early on winning the loyal support of his critical power base—the impoverished masses—through carefully applied psychological strategy.
In the years leading up to the seizure of power in Cuba, Castro invited the poor to join his revolution, and strove to convince them that doing so was in their best interests. Most importantly, during this time Castro took special care not to alienate the countryside peasants whose land, resources, and personal support he was critically dependent upon. Although no fair-minded person can defend Castro from all accusations of brutality and coercion during those years, neither can one deny the Cuban leader his success in cultivating a generally benevolent image among the proletarian population at that time.
Guzmán, however, used a significantly different approach in dealing with the masses. Although initially enjoying a considerable degree of sympathy in highland Perú in the 1980s, he gradually lost a crucial share of popular support as a consequence of his heavy-handed tactics. He and his followers became infamous for forcing isolated Peruvian villages to collaborate with Shining Path whether they chose to or not. Also, Guzmán further outraged highland communities by assassinating certain individuals, such as priests and political officials, who, despite their opposition to Shining Path, had not themselves taken up arms against the movement.
In summary, Guzmán intended to bring about a revolution whether the common people supported him or not. In the end, they did not give him the necessary amount of backing that he needed, and he failed.
As for Nepal’s Maoist movement, perhaps the critical factor involved is, quite simply, the way in which the movement’s leader deals with rural Nepal.
It is an understandable tendency among revolutionary movements for power to gravitate towards one individual. Why this happens, one might venture any number of reasons, but in any case, history seems to confirm this idea. Some articles on Nepal’s Maoist movement appear to suggest that it is first a popular uprising, and second a leader-driven phenomenon. Such observations, whether implied or direct, tend to echo the revolutionary sentiment that populist leaders simply rise to the occasion to direct the will and energy of the people. These views likewise refute the notion that inspired rebel commanders are themselves largely responsible for guiding the populace’s own actions. Notwithstanding, for better or for worse, the cult of personality remains strong among human society.
As might be expected, one man, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known as Prachanda, has emerged as the leader of Nepal’s Maoist movement. He has openly stated that his movement has been inspired by Perú’s Shining Path, which seems rather odd, considering the latter’s failure. However, Prachanda vows that he will avoid making what he considers to be Guzmán’s critical mistake of trying to negotiate with the government in power. Nonetheless, he also appears to be applying to some extent his predecessor’s tactics of brutality and coercion. Still, it is also apparent that Prachanda has gained control over a far greater extent of his country than Guzmán ever did over Perú. Why is this? Why has Prachanda been more successful in winning the support of the Nepali population? Is he more like Castro than Guzmán in that regard?
Perhaps what is needed in order to more fully understand the chances of success for the Nepali Maoist movement, is a more complete understanding of Prachanda, his philosophy, and his methods. It seems that such information is, at present, in relatively short supply. It is not enough to simply know the well-worn political credo to which Prachanda subscribes. Rather, one must delve into the interpersonal skills of the man to see exactly what it is that he does to win loyalty and self-sacrifice from the Nepali population. Just how effective are Prachanda’s interpersonal skills? This one factor may very well determine the fate of an entire nation, region, and the world.
Joe Goldstein, Ph.D, has lived in Peru and teaches Spanish language in Sylvania, Georgia, USA. He can be reached at email@example.com
Posted by Editor on July 22, 2006 12:28 AM