The Com­mu­nists are tak­ing over … (yawn)

With the domino the­ory dead (or at least dor­mant), there’s no panic

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - GWYNNE DYER

The Com­mu­nists are tak­ing over in Nepal, and no­body cares. Thirty years ago it would have caused a grave in­ter­na­tional cri­sis; 50 years ago there would even have been talk of for­eign mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion. To­day — noth­ing. Out­side Nepal, it has barely made the news at all.

In the grand old Marx­ist tra­di­tion, Nepal’s Com­mu­nists have split and split again over fine points of doc­trine and strat­egy. Re­cently, how­ever, the Com­mu­nist Party of Nepal – Uni­fied Marx­ist-Lenin­ist (CPN-UML) and the Com­mu­nist Party of Nepal (Maoist Cen­tre) man­aged to form an elec­toral al­liance that swept the re­cent na­tional elec­tions, the first since 1999.

Var­i­ous Com­mu­nist lead­ers have held of­fice in the re­volv­ing-door coali­tions, none last­ing much more than a year, that have gov­erned Nepal since it be­gan its demo­cratic tran­si­tion a dozen years ago, but you couldn’t truth­fully have said that ‘the Com­mu­nists are in power.’

Now you re­ally can say it. The CPNUML and the CPN (Maoist Cen­tre) ran a sin­gle joint can­di­date in ev­ery con­stituency in Nepal, and won two-thirds of the seats (174 out of 275). The two par­ties are pledged to unite, and they will form a gov­ern­ment with­out non-Com­mu­nist mem­bers that will rule Nepal, if all goes well, for the next five years.

They are real Com­mu­nists, too, un­like the namby-pamby ‘Euro­com­mu­nists’ who sought pop­u­lar sup­port in Western Europe by dis­avow­ing vi­o­lent rev­o­lu­tion in the fi­nal decade be­fore the col­lapse of Com­mu­nist power in Eastern Europe in 1989-91. Nepal’s Com­mu­nists fought a 10-year ‘revo­lu­tion­ary’ guer­rilla war that killed 17,000 peo­ple be­fore a cease­fire was signed in 2006 and the demo­cratic tran­si­tion be­gan.

Nepal is not some tiny, ir­rel­e­vant back­wa­ter. It is a coun­try with more peo­ple than Aus­tralia (al­though much less land or money), and it takes up half of the Hi­malayan bor­der be­tween China and In­dia. In the self-serv­ing def­i­ni­tion of the world’s think-tanks and ‘strate­gic stud­ies in­sti­tutes,’ it is im­por­tant strate­gic ter­ri­tory. Yet Washington doesn’t re­ally care that the Com­mu­nists are tak­ing over, and nei­ther does Moscow.

New Delhi and Bei­jing care a lit­tle bit, be­cause of their in­evitable ri­valry as Asia’s and the world’s two big­gest coun­tries (1.3 bil­lion peo­ple each).

But the lights are not burn­ing late ei­ther in South Block or in Chaoyang. The fact of the mat­ter is that Com­mu­nists com­ing to power in Nepal in 2018 makes no more dif­fer­ence to the rest of the world than Com­mu­nists com­ing to power in South Viet­nam did in 1975.

Well, you knew where I was go­ing with this, didn’t you? South Viet­nam had about the same num­ber of peo­ple in 1975 as Nepal does now, and it was just as ‘strate­gic’ – which is to say, not very strate­gic at all.

When the Com­mu­nists won in the South and re­uni­fied Viet­nam, it may even have changed the lives of most South Viet­namese for the bet­ter, al­though that de­pends on what you mean by ‘bet­ter.’ It cer­tainly didn’t change any­body’s do­mes­tic poli­cies else­where in South­east Asia, or change the cal­cu­la­tions of the ma­jor pow­ers in any way.

You can’t even blame the Cam­bo­dian geno­cide on the Com­mu­nist vic­tory in South Viet­nam. Cam­bo­dia, like Viet­nam, was likely to end up un­der Com­mu­nist rule any­way, be­cause it had also been part of French Indo-China and it was the Com­mu­nists who led the an­ti­colo­nial re­sis­tance.

But it was Henry Kissinger’s sav­age and il­le­gal bomb­ing cam­paign in Cam­bo­dia, not the war in Viet­nam, that turned the Kh­mer Rouge into geno­ci­dal mon­sters. And it was the Viet­namese Com­mu­nists who fi­nally in­vaded Cam­bo­dia in 1978 and put an end to the geno­cide.

The whole Viet­nam War, which killed 55,000 Amer­i­can sol­diers and about three mil­lion Viet­namese, was founded on the delu­sion that there was a mono­lithic Com­mu­nist bloc that threat­ened ‘free­dom’ all over the world. (‘If we lose in Viet­nam, Cal­i­for­nia will be next.’)

Cer­tainly there were Com­mu­nist fa­nat­ics who dreamed of spread­ing their ide­ol­ogy (which pri­or­i­tized equal­ity over free­dom) all over the world, but the re­al­ity was geopol­i­tics as usual. The Soviet Union and Com­mu­nist China fought a bor­der war in 1969 to demon­strate that fact, and for slow learn­ers Com­mu­nist China and Com­mu­nist Viet­nam fought their own bor­der war in 1979 to drive the les­son home.

Now, mer­ci­fully, the ‘domino the­ory’ is dead (or at least dor­mant), and the ar­rival of Com­mu­nists in power in Nepal through en­tirely le­gal and demo­cratic means is caus­ing no panic what­ever. Whether their new gov­ern­ment will serve the Nepalese well re­mains to be seen, but Nepal’s Com­mu­nists are pub­licly com­mit­ted to re­spect­ing the rules of par­lia­men­tary democ­racy, and a ma­jor­ity of Nepalese clearly be­lieve them.

Gwynne Dyer is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist whose ar­ti­cles are pub­lished in 45 coun­tries.


A man on the streets of Kath­mandu sits by the side of the road eat­ing dhal ghat, one of Nepal’s sig­na­ture dishes con­sist­ing of lentils and rice. A Com­mu­nist al­liance will form Nepal’s next gov­ern­ment.

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