Nepal and capitalism

  • It is time to begin on an interdependent and expansive path to a developed, socially just and less dependent capitalism
- Chaitanya Mishra
Nepal and capitalism

Jun 9, 2014-

It is a matter of great satisfaction to me that Punjibad ra Nepal (Capitalism and Nepal) after long years has finally outlived its immediate political utility. All major left and ostensibly 'communist' parties, ideologues and political leaders have come to realise that Nepal, after all, is no longer a 'semi-feudal' state. As Mahesh Chandra Regmi has reminded us, the state itself, and not a large landowner with an independent and hereditary political, economic, and cultural power base, was the true landlord—notwithstanding several layers of 'infeudation'. Landlordship was farmed out by the state to the highest bidder, who often extracted a modicum of unpaid labour from 'his' tenants. The state was far more powerful than the 'landlord' because the landlord was a functionary of the state and a tenant himself.

Potentially, and in a specific sense, the recognition that Nepal is a capitalist state constitutes no less than a revolutionary recognition. It does not politically matter all that much now that many parties, ideologues, and leaders date the demise of 'semi-feudalism' to recent years, particularly to the 2006 political change. This dating is not historically valid but then, we cannot expect intellectual honesty from parties, ideologues and political leaders. We know, at the very least that even towering intellects have made extremely damaging historical misinterpretations.

Consorted decision-making

I earlier said that the immediate political utility of the book had now been exhausted. That cannot be said, however, for longer term politics, not to speak of intellectual inquiry. Politically, now that the left and 'communist' political parties, ideologues and leaders have agreed that Nepal, in essence, constitutes a capitalist state, it remains to characterise this specific form of capitalism that Nepal finds itself embedded within and chart a suitable political-economic programme for short, medium and longer run futures.

This, of course, has to be done in recognition of the fact that some of Nepal's future will, in part, be sketched—if not designed—by world-systemic, regional and other structures, as also by its own past. If there is such a thing as a world-capitalist economy—as well as its relatively crystallised and legitimised world-political and world-cultural forms—it makes less sense to make intellectual, if not political, claims of nationalism and sovereignty. This by no means implies that the economic, political paths are given or that there is no latitude to strategise matters of economy, polity and culture. This does imply, however, that the latitude is narrower now than 50 or even 30 years ago. This is particularly so for debtor states. And it is even more the case for 'small' and less powerful states which adjoin states which are likely to become world-scale economic and possibly political powers within the span of one generation, as is the case with Nepal.

As things stand, Nepal will have less and less chance of autonomous decision making unless the decisions made fall into a pattern with those made in world capitals and, in particular, Delhi and Beijing. Autonomy has a nice ring to it. But consorted decision making, which is not the same as dependent decision making, will in fact tend to gradually widen the latitude more than autonomous decision making, which fails to take account for world systemic and regional structures and processes.

This means, among others, that it is time now to begin on an interdependent and increasingly expansive path to a developed, socially just and much less dependent capitalism. It is time to make a determination to move away from the periphery. Making such a determination, in turn, is contingent on several other mutually constitutive decisions.

Capitalism and the state

To start with, there are decisions to be made that seek to undo past determinations. There is much un-learning to be accomplished. Capitalism in Nepal ought not to be one that is driven by the state. The capitalist class that drives capitalism. State capitalism won't do. We have lived though many of those and they are stagnant, on the downslide or have devoured themselves altogether. Two, the imagination of a one-party state, which continues to lurk in the mental corridors of Maoist leaders—and, possibly, of the royalists and non-secular political forces—has to give way. The Constituent Assembly (CA) must no more be utilised as a pretext to buy time until an authoritarian and unelected structure, whatever the label, can forcibly be put into its place. Nor must it be utilised to force through one's political predilections. If no consensus can be achieved in the CA, if a draft cannot command even two-thirds of votes, let us have a majority-mandated set of laws. Let us not call it a constitution. Let us call it an interim set of laws. The objective, of course, is to get moving. Stalling has huge costs.          

That capitalists should run capitalism does not at all imply that the capitalists run the state. A democratic state run by elected representatives necessarily draws up the rules of the capitalist game and implements the rules that govern capitalist structures, institutions and norms. There is no going back on authentic popular representation. But there, the state stops and capitalists and labour organisers take over. The state, thenceforth, on the basis of the rules formulated, mediates between labour and capital. But, in doing so, it cannot act on the basis of ad hoc decisions. Legislations can surely be changed after an extensive review of the pros and cons. In addition, because the world and regions operate within a single capitalist system and because Nepal is a debtor country and falls flatly within the two largest and fastest-growing economies of the world, such decisions cannot be made without reference to what is happening elsewhere, whether in Washington and London, or in Delhi and Beijing.

The notion of 'national capitalism' is increasingly hogwash. This imagination, as also that of Maoist New Democracy, was historically bound with the practice of anti-colonial nationalist struggles of approximately 1885-1965, and the idea of strong, independent and bounded nation states. It has been abundantly clear for several decades that the most efficient and durable strategy to pursue 'national capitalism' is to entice capitalists, both local and those far and wide, by creating an investment and profit-friendly, lawful and stable political, legal and cultural setting. In a world where capital is almost borderless, it makes absolutely no sense to pursue a policy that seeks to make capitalists out of so-called nationalists. Nor is it possible to make a durable nationalist out of a capitalist. But in a world which comprises of states that are engaged in intense competition for capital, it is necessary and possible to invite capital and capitalists to become 'honorary' citizens in the hope that some level of belongingness, howsoever transient, will stick.

Employment and investment

The end objective of political-economic decisions for the next several decades if not more must be employment promotion and expansion and recycling of investment. A decision must be made to unleash investments of all kinds, government, national, international, 'voluntary,' etc. The old left must outgrow its fascination with public funds. Public fund is much too puny and much too limiting whether in terms of output, employment creation, or potential for expanded reinvestment. We must be reminded again and again that the leap made by post-1978 China and, to a lower extent, post-1990 India, had to do with welcoming private investment.

It ought to be a matter of great shame for the political parties and leaders in Nepal that more than three million young men and women seek low-paid jobs in other countries. Some of these workers have been trafficked or work within a setting that comes close of having been trafficked. Can the parties work for and work together to create jobs and income?

A broad ranging cultural-political initiative must be enforced concurrently with capitalism and democracy. Neither of the two can prosper in a society where caste, ethnicity and gender-based exclusion and discrimination remains rampant. The contest of the Dalits is particularly salient. Several religious and linguistic minorities face similar exclusion and discrimination. The indignities of such exclusion and discrimination must make all of us, as citizens and promoters of a social-democratic and capitalist order, cringe.   

The struggle to implement capitalism, even a social-democratic capitalism—the credential of which will gradually take hold, will by no means be easy in a setting which has more than half-a-century of Red Bookish, Cultural Revolutionist, Naxalist, and Nepali Maoist radicalisation. The possibility of a social democratic capitalist future will, in the first instance, be resisted by the 'communist' parties on 'revisionist' grounds. The radicals will find it very difficult to realise that short of a sincere and magical revolutionary takeover, social democracy offers the best chances for a negotiated class struggle that will benefit labour. But the political right will certainly oppose the social democratic line as well. It will systematically shy away from any redistributive measures and measures which seek to do away with inherited privileges. What the right does not realise, however, is that social democracy promotes law abidance, enlarges the pool of skilled and mobile workers and promotes not worker's strike but negotiation, and generally contributes to peaceful resolution of conflicts.  

The capitalist regime

Capitalism is not a permanent fixture of human society. But it has risen, expanded across the globe, is maturing and will go down. All indications are that the 'news' and forecast of the demise of capitalism, whether by Lenin or Wallerstein, are exaggerated. The rate of profit is falling, which is regarded as the primary indicator of the health of capitalism but then this may also be a cyclical rather than a secular feature of the capitalist regime. Capitalism may have covered the globe and there may be no more space or people to cover, the degree of intensification of the capitalist regime in life and society seems to have very large space to grow. Nor is the labour movement, which was considered by Marx himself and the communist parties as the bête noire of capitalism, sufficiently organised to take on capitalism. It is much too internally divided and disorganised to do that. All appearances are that capitalism will come to an end but not primarily because of the onslaught from workers. In essence, all three of the preceding conditions will have to take hold within a specific historical conjuncture for capitalism to see its last days. This will be quite some time coming.  

Excerpts from remarks made during a discussion organised to mark a reprint of Punjibad ra Nepal. Mishra is the author, most recently, of Badlindo Nepali Samaj

Published: 10-06-2014 11:32

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