This excellent and detailed analysis of Bhattarai’s important Nepal Maoist document clarifies exactly the miscomprehension by some critics of his employment of Mao’s concept of Democratic Centralism. You can read the entire document from the link below and it is quoted extensively with appropriate gloss in this posting.
Baburam Bhattarai’s article entitled “The Question of Building a New Type of State” is at the center of many polemics today and has been the object of attack in the recent critique of the RCP to the Nepalese Maoist
“Alarmed by the positions put forward in the ‘New State” article,” the following is how Revolutionary Communist Party,USA describes Bhattarai’s intervention:
1-”have loudly proclaimed loyalty to ‘democracy’—meaning Western-style bourgeois democracy,”
2-”expressed a negative verdict on the whole first wave of proletarian revolution,”
3-”advanced a series of arguments about democracy and dictatorship and how they related to the struggle in Nepal that,” the RCP argued, “would, if followed, lead to not establishing a proletarian dictatorship or to abandoning it if it were established.”
4-”basically placed the extension of formal democracy (including elections with competing political parties) at the heart of the socialist transition and as some kind of supposed “guarantee” for the prevention of capitalist restoration”
5-”proposed that upon reaching socialism the standing army could be dissolved and replaced by militias,”
6-”the model of the Paris Commune, with direct elections and recall of officials, was raised as a more positive model than the experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union and China.”
7-”argues that Nepal must first develop the productive forces before the revolution can advance further, and that only capitalism can achieve this… some compare him to China’s Deng Xiaoping.”
(From the RCP long essay in Revolution 160, March 29, 2009 entitled “On Developments in Nepal and the Stakes for the Communist Movement: Letters to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) from the â€¨Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, 2005-2008 “)]
Given the distortions and misrepresentations of Bhattarai’s article in these current debates, I feel the need to summarize its main ideas so that people can judge for themselves. I want to contrast the way RCP summarizes this article with what the article really said.
I am not going to develop my own critique to this article here. Instead I hope to bring the basic elements and ideas of Bhattarai’s article back into the public discussion – many of which have been ignored and distorted by RCP. And I would like to help open a serious discussion on the main proposals by Bhattarai and Nepalese Maoist on the re-envisioning of communism in the 21st century.
Before I summarize Bhattarai’s article, I would like to say that many of the ideas in his article were first vetted during a group discussion at the National Convention of the United Revolutionary People’s Council (URPC) of Nepal held in September 2001. During this National Convention, Bhattarai presented a draft report of entitled “Common Minimum Policy and Programme of United Revolutionary People’s Council (URPC)” while Dev Gurung presented a draft of the URPC constitution.
The group discussion of Bhattarai’s draft report centered on:
“…how it was more difficult to fight against counter-revolution than making revolution. Referring to the loss of once well established socialist states in the world, particularly those in China and Russia, it was opined that the challenge today lies in creating a 21st century state which will not only consolidate the dictatorship of the proletariat but at the same time it will have elements of pave way for the withering away of the state. Today, the starting point of any attempt to create a new state should begin with incorporating the spirit of the GPCR [Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution], at the same time one must go beyond it so as to pursue a continuous revolution. Discussion was also centered on the dialectical relation between the Party and the people’s government and correct method of ensuring continued proletarian leadership over the government. After intense discussion the draft report and the constitution were unanimously passed with some amendments” (”National Convention of the United Revolutionary People’s Council (URPC),” THE WORKER No. 7, January 2002: 9-10).
Moreover, in the Second National Conference of CPN (Maoist) of February 2001 the Nepali Maoist leader Prachanda presented a historic document approved by the conference entitled “The Great Leap Forward: An Inevitable Need of History” (The Worker, No. 7, January 2002: 26-63). This long document is an important summary of CPN-Maoist’s understanding and evaluation of the problems of the international communist movement in the 20th century and constitute an important antecedent to Bhattarai’s article on “The Question of Building a New Type of State.”
Anyone interested in understanding the Nepalese Maoist perspective, should take a close look at all of these documents.
I mention this because it is sometimes implied or openly stated that Bhattarai’s “New Type of State” is a deviation from the previous line of the UCPN(Maoist). In fact, these two antecedents were publicly known but ignored by the RCP. This way they could focus primarily on the 2004 article by Bhattarai and make claims about deviation. In fact, Bhattarai’s article is a continuation of UCPN-Maoist previous documents, resolutions and discussions.
Bhattarai’s article develops a discussion at two levels:
One level is the international historical experience of the communist movement in the 20th century and its lessons for re-envisioning communism in the 21st century.
The other level is the national context of Nepal.
What Bhattarai says about the lessons and re-envisioning of communism and his strategic proposal for a re-foundation of communist theory and practice is a powerful intervention into matters that are fundamental for communists. In the current debate, Bhattarai’s position is profoundly distorted by the RCP when they collapse what Bhattarai proposes for the strategic goals and re-envisioning of Communism in the 21st century into his tactical proposals made within the national context of Nepal. Although RCP insist that they are criticizing neither tactics nor negotiations (per se), what they really do is to criticize the specific short-term tactics while implying they are intrinsic to the CPN-Maoist’s strategic line.
In his article Bhattarai reveals that the need for a transitional state which is a step below the New Democratic/People’s Democratic state “has been provided in the ‘An Executive Summary of the Proposal Put Forward by CPN (Maoist) for the Negotiations’ [See, CPN (Maoist) 2004] proposed by the Party during the latest round of negotiations on April 27, 2003.” He continues,
“The Party believes that the concept of such a transitional state rising above the bourgeois parliamentarism but not yet reaching the level of New Democracy is appropriate both theoretically and practically in the concrete conditions of Nepal.”
I am not going to focus this article on the validity of this tactical move in the context of Nepal. This has been done in a more intelligent and informative way by Nepalese Maoist themselves (see for example the intervention by Nepalese Maoist leader C.P. Gajurel, known as Gaurav, at University of London on November 11, 2007:
What I would like to focus in this articles is on Bhattarai’s critical evaluation of the experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the 20th century, its lessons and his re-envisioning of communism for the 21st century — in other words, how to make socialist revolution better next time. This is the aspect of Bhattarai’s contribution that gets absolutely distorted and ignored in RCP critique of Bhattarai’s article. Why? Is it because it proposes a different approach and conception from RCP’s chairman Bob Avakian’s so-called “New Synthesis”?
Bhattarai’s essay starts by emphasizing that the question of state power is the central question of New Democratic revolution in Nepal in late 2004. Bhattarai explores two contradictions in developing his argument:
1) One is the contradiction between the international context and the national conditions for state power in Nepal; and
2) the other is the contradiction between universal communist principles and their application within the particularities of the struggle in Nepal.
These two contradictions (international vs. national and universal vs. particular) are interrelated and yet distinct. It would be a mistake to conflate or collapse one into the other.
Thus, in the relation between the universal and the particular, the international context is not equivalent to the universal principles and the national context is not equivalent to the particular application of those principles. Both the international and the national context form part of both the application of universal principles to a particular situation. The international and the national are the contexts that form the particular context where universal principles are applied.
The articulation of these two levels does not have easy solutions. If it is true that the universal principles provides general guiding lines, those principles cannot be mechanically applied, but need to take into account the very particular conditions (both international and national) of the country. The international context and the national context provides the concrete space for the application of universal principles in order to apply them to a particular situation.
Although formally speaking almost everybody in the international Marxist-Leninist-Maoist (MLM) movement agrees with the formulation that universal principles has to be applied to particular conditions and that you cannot collapse one into the other in a mechanical way, there are disagreements in how to interpret this formulation.
For right wing revisionist, the particular is so particular that universal principles never apply to concrete situations justifying the elimination of principles in ways that foster class conciliation, reformism and, thus, give lip service to principles or make them irrelevant. Meanwhile for dogmato-revisionist trends, universal principles apply to all concrete situations without exception in a one-to-one direct correspondence between the abstract principles and the concrete situation. Principles apply without a nuanced understanding of concrete historical conditions. A dialectical understanding of this question is fundamental here. There is a fine line to transit between the dogmatic-revisionist danger of abstract affirmation of principles with no consideration of particularities and the revisionist danger of exaggerated affirmation of particularities throwing away principles.
Strategy and tactics are always informed by the principles that guide the immediate and ultimate goals of the revolution and the particularities of the local and international historical conditions and relations of forces within which a revolution is situated.
Bhattarai starts the essay making three statements. First, he affirms one universal principle :
“[T]he proletarian (i.e. New Democratic or Socialist) state power is of a ‘new type’ as compared to all the state powers of minority exploiter classes in history.”
This principle implies that the proletarian state cannot have the same form and content as the states of the exploiter classes before (including all exploiter classes in history).
This universal principle is followed by a second statement that is of a different order:
“[A]fter the downfall of all People’s Democratic or Socialist state powers including those in Russia, China and others in the past, the proletarian state powers arising in a new setting in the 21st century have to be of a further newer type.”
This statement implies an orientation within a new international historical particularity: The defeat of the People’s Democratic and Socialist states in China, Soviet Union and other places, the restoration of capitalism in the formerly socialist states of the 20th century, now requires a further development of the universal principle of a new type of state.
The third statement is about the particular national context of the struggle:
“In the concrete semi-feudal and semi-colonial national context of Nepal, where even the old bourgeois revolution and state has not been accomplished, the prospective proletarian state would naturally be, and have to be, of a ‘new’ type.”
These three statements are going to organize the rest of the article. The first part of the article is a discussion of the question of state power in the international communist movement. The following is a group of theoretical universal principles that Bhattarai raises about the MLM understanding of the state based on a historical materialist analysis as opposed to the three evils such of “anarchist, revisionist and dogmato-revisionist views, which may also be called petty-bourgeois, bourgeois and bureaucratic bourgeois views on the state.”
The state is:
- A dictatorship of one class over the others
- The centre of class struggle in every historical stage where every victorious class has further sharpened and strengthened this weapon of the state according to its class interest
- Although initially born as ’servant’ of the society, gradually separated itself from the society and took the form of ‘master’ of the society
- By the time the state reached the ‘highest’ and ‘ultimate’ stage of the bourgeois republic it became terrible parasitic machinery over the society armed with a huge bureaucracy and standing army
-Similar to the law of dialectics that requires everything that is born to meet with its death, the state is also inevitably destined to die someday
- The concept of building a new type of transitional state in lieu of the bourgeois state, whose essence would be the dictatorship of the proletariat.
After raising the above principles, Bhattarai defends the critique that Marx and Engels made of the anarchist concept of the state and he supports the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a new form of state for the long transitional period between capitalist and communist society. The need of the dictatorship of the proletariat arises from the need to exercise dictatorship over the capitalist class and the need to overcome the unsolved contradictions of the capitalist mode of production. The dictatorship of the proletariat is not only the state of a transition — but a transitional state as well.
Bhattarai emphasizes that,
“Engels had further expounded that after the displacement of the state of the minority exploiter classes by the social revolution of the conscious masses the majority exploited classes should establish a ‘transitional’ state to apply dictatorship over the defeated exploiter classes and to move towards a classless society, and such a state would be ‘no longer a state in the proper sense of the word’.”
The Paris commune was for Engels the example of such a state. It was created through a social revolution that defeated the bourgeois state. The new type of state established by the commune was characterized by the following:
a) Direct election by the workers’ universal suffrage of the commune’s officials
responsible and revocable at short terms with public service done at workmen’s wages,
b) directly defended by the armed masses after the dissolution of the standing army
c) and equipped with all the executive and legislature powers.
This new type of state known as the Paris Commune was upheld by Marx and Engels as the most shining example of the “dictatorship of the proletariat.”
Bhattarai goes on to say that Marx’s expression, that “this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to… a classless society” clearly asserts that the new type of state (in the form of dictatorship of the proletariat) is not a state “in the proper sense of the word” and is a means to do away with all the classes and state. Then he passes on to discuss the contributions of Lenin in the eve of the October Revolution:
1-Using Marx’s expression the proletariat must “smash” the ready-made machine and replace it by a new one that will merge the police, army and bureaucracy with the “entire armed people,”
2-the “entire armed people” composed of the exploited section of the population lead by the proletariat should take directly into their own hand the organs of state power in order that they themselves should constitute a new type of state,
3- this new type of state in the Russian context was identified as the Soviets of workers, soldiers and peasants.
Bhattarai cites Lenin’s:
“…I advocate not the usual parliamentary bourgeois state, but a state without a standing army, without a police opposed to the people, without an officialdom placed above the people.” (Lenin 1917c: 49)
After this clear Leninist orientation, Bhattarai denounces right wing revisionism:
“However, Kautsky and other Right revisionists of the Second International had sought to discard the very class concept of the state and the dictatorship of the proletariat and to spread the illusion of bourgeois parliamentarism in the form of so-called “pure democracy” within the proletarian movement, against which Lenin had launched a severe polemics. In his famous work “The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky” (1918), Lenin had amply clarified that in a class divided society ‘democracy’, too, would have a class character and bourgeois democracy and constituent assembly were mere concrete forms of bourgeois state.”
This long quote of Bhattarai’s article is crucial to keep in mind given the kind of accusations raised recently by the RCP.
Bhattarai positively mentions and upholds the Bolsheviks’ strategy after the October Revolution of dissolving the bourgeois representative organ, the Constituent Assembly, in order to replace it with a more democratic and revolutionary structure such as the dictatorship of the proletariat in the form of the Soviets:
“Thus, an extensive network of local to central Soviets of workers, peasants, soldiers and other revolutionary classes developed in the model of the Paris Commune was the practical expression of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ and a new type of socialist state after the October revolution. When there arose a contradiction between the bourgeois representative organ, the constituent assembly, and the socialist representative organ, the Soviet, immediately after the revolution, the constituent assembly was dissolved as a historically retrograde organ, and the forward-looking Soviet democracy was institutionalized. Even when a vicious imperialist aggression and internal civic war ensued in the immediate aftermath of the revolution, the congress and meetings of the elected Soviets were held in short and regular intervals and all-important decisions of the state were taken through the Soviets.”
According to Bhattarai, the civil war against the Soviet power had long lasting negative consequences for the proletariat Soviet state power. This is a crucial historical point in order to understand the spirit of the rest of Bhattarai’s article calling to further develop the concept of a new type of state