Nepal: What exactly does "Maoist" mean, nowadays, outside China?

News reports of recent political events in Nepal always refer to the principal rebel group as “Maoists.” What exactly does that mean in this context? I find it unlikely they have anything in common with the Chinese Communist Party in its present form. What kind of society are they hoping to build in Nepal?

Good question, and I’ll be interested in answers better than mine.

Mao’s point of difference from other Communists as a revolutionary (as distinct from his reign, although there were similar themes there) was his focus on peasants rather than the urban proletariat as people to be stirred to action on behalf of the people.

The current Chinese government opposes the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).

Lots of ‘angels dancing on pinheads’ theoretical stuff that only a Marxist bookworm could care about.

Mao rejected (out of necessity) the Marxist idea that revolution would come from the urban Working Class and then bring the more backward Peasant Class along with it. He turned this on its head.

(So, for example, the Khemer Rouge who emptied the cities to force people back into the countryside were Maoists.)

Maoist thought rejects (or is at least leery of) all that long-haired book learning of the urban elite. (Note that Marx called for a party of the urban elite to lead the Working Class to revolution.) Oddly of course Mao was not in any way a farmer, he was the sort of person his philosophy tended to despise.

So sort a back-to-nature sort of Communism, only with mass murder and famines.

That’s a great description! I love it.

When I stumbled in to a war-struck village in Nepal (not so smart, I know) it was explained to me like this.

Nepal is nearly all peasants. They have no industry. Just peasants and tourists. Nearly everyone lives in a village and farms. The place is dirt poor, but clean and pleasant.

However, 80% of Nepals land is owned by something like five big landowners. Often peasants have been tricked in to giving up their land- the landowners will come around with a paper saying “sign this and we will give you some money”. The illerate peasants do sign it, and next thing they know, they’ve lost their land. The landowners have been very, very dirty about things… And abuses have been getting worse and worse. think this is pretty well documented.

Added to that is the fact that the current king doesn’t have much of a mandate and really hasn’t been great. The entire royal family was killed in, I think 1992, when a prince got upset and shot everyone at the dinner table. So this new king doesn’t really have much of a legit claim to power, and he’s been acting like quite the autocrat and generally being in bed with the big landowners.

So the Maoists (who are also active in northeast India) popped up. It’s a pretty indiginous movement and I think “Maoist” is something they just kind of latched on to and not really a perfect explaination of their views. They promise things like land, education, sanitation and democracy. They have gotten a lot of good will for the public works projects they’ve done and the mystery of their shadowy leaders.

Many of the poor see them as a way to get their land back and maybe get democracy instead of the current autocracy. Not the the Maoists have been angels- they’ve pretty much forceably conscripted every male in the countryside, leaving villages full of women. But it’s hard to fault them too much when you see the poverty and you hear them say stuff like “We will let the king rule if he wins in an election.”

The mood I got when I was there (2004) was that the Maoists were going to win. The king just doesn’t have enough power. But everyone mostly just wants the war to end and will be happy to get behind the winning side. It’s not making anyone happy and since tourism is the only source of income for the country, it needs to end if the country is going to survive. However, with US and Indian support of the king and arms ship,ents, it may be a long battle.

It seems like most of the peasants don’t have much of an idea of what the ideology of the Maoists is beyond that they are for the peasants and might give them their land back. I got quite a grilling about what Cuba was like from some villagers, because they had heard that was what their future state would be like (and Cuba would be a huge improvment for them, frankly).

Another thing that makes the Maoists appealing to Nepal is that they believe in equality for women. Though Nepal is largely Hindu, which in modern times can be very restrictive of women, the Nepalese were never fully comfortable with that and women in Nepal act a lot different than in India. They ride bikes, laugh and chatter on the bus, and look people straight in the eye- not something you’d see among peasants in most of India. The Maoists have promised equal education for women and have many female heros.


Wait, the US supports the king? It was my impression that the US and India was softly pressuring the king to let his (non-Maoist) opposition in Parliament run the government.

But that may only have been since he disbanded parliament and turned into a complete autocrat.


Well, we’ve sent some covert shipments to the Royal Nepal Army. It’s only in keeping with the US’s policy of opposing anything even vaguely communist anywhere, without too much regard for what the alternative is.

It’s not worth pissing India off over. Although Nepal is a sovereign state, they have very close ties economically and culturally to India and I think India kind of considers them a bit of a vassal state.

China has enough trouble with Tibet and wouldn’t want to repeat all that business for a pretty worthless strip of land.

In addition, ‘Maoist’ means a ‘Party of the Masses,’ while ‘Marxism-Leninism’ means a ‘Vanguard Party.’ Meaningless? Certainly, Tens of thousands have been killed over this sort of obscure difference.

It is noteworthy that the Maoist flavor of Communism is the current record-holder for mass killing, taking credit for the 1958-62 famine now thought to have starved thirty million to death. Less than a quarter this many died under the collectivization famines in the old Soviet Union.

As for Feminism, many Progressive forces mouth support for the politically underrepresented. History has shown again and again that once these elements come into power, they become as reactionary and traditional as the people they represented.

Did Hitler, Mao or Stalin live up to their revolutionary rhetoric? Like politicians everywhere they say what they must to take power, then do as they please.

Is that how you would expect it to go if these “Maoists” should win in Nepal?

I just don’t think this current batch of Maoists in Nepal really have much to do with Stalin, Lenin or Mao. It’s an old fashioned peasant revolution and caste war- the kind you find in any feudal society. The kind that has been going on in the region since the begininning of time. You are better off looking at the caste wars in India than looking out towards Russia or Cambodia.

One thing that makes this different is that tourism is the only industry in Nepal. The Maoists actually expect to win this thing. It’s not a joke or a dream- they started out as nothing more than a political party looking to be elected, and they never lost sight of the fact that they would like to run the country in a very real way.

They don’t want to inheret a ruined country. So while things have gotten worse lately and tourism might be shot anyway, they have no intention of becomeing Myannmar, which tourists won’t touch. I don’t think we are going to see a lot of death marches or collective farming or whatever. They don’t want an ideological state. They seem to want the state they have now, but with the villages owning their land instead of paying rent on it and without the autocratic king. They recognize that widespread human rights abuses, etc. would ruin the country economically.

Also note there are successful models in the area. Kerala, in India, is a Communist state. It’s also one of the poorer states. But they are one of the cleanest, healthiest and happiest states in India. They have some of the highest literary rates and life expectancies, as well as being one of the best places in India to be a woman. It really is a nice place, and doesn’t have much of the drawbacks of communism. I think it really is an acheivable dream for Nepal.

As for feminism…I’m reporting what I saw. In many traditional Hindu household, women are put in to seclusion just the same as you’d see in Taliban Afghanistan. I’ve met women who were married young, forcibly, and confined to the home as pretty much slave labor for the rest of their days. It doesn’t happen everywhere, but it does happen. Nepal doesn’t seem to have much a tradtion of opressing women, but with Hindu fundamentalism being such a strong force in India, it could be a problem. We can’t just think of opression of women as a relic of the past. A lot of things like sex-based abortion, the rise of doweries, "kitchen accident’ wife burnings, etc. are thouroughly modern phenomenon. This stuff is less common in Nepal, but with a high-caste India-aligned city-based monarchal system, it could start bleeding over.

Thats how it all got to India in the first place- with the rule of the Sultans. People imitate the upper class and if the upper class secludes women, soon everyone will.

And the Maoist movement does offer a lot to women. There are a lot of women in the upper ranks. There was a lot of freedom for women in the villages I visited.

Here is a brief but well thought-out over view:

Here is a bit on the role of women in the insurgency:

I’m not saying the Maoists are great. They have their abuses and most of the Nepalis I talked to pretty much wished they’d all go away- Maoists and kings. My hope is that it all settles down, the tourists return, and the world gets to see this beautiful country and the beautiful people who inhabit it.

But it’s a mistake to simplify this or to pretend like it’s not a unique situation in a unique country. This isn’t China. It’s not Cambodia. It’s not usefuly to act like it is.

When were there caste wars in India?

Pretty much throughout history. For example, every one of the major religions to come out of the area (Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism) have “no caste” as a major belief. It’s always been a cause of unrest and caste is still simmering on the backburner in modern politics and the many seperatist movements that rage in India. While most of India is peaceful most of the time, there are and always have been pockets of unrest, riots, and local guerrilla movements throughout the state.

The state of Bihar is the most visibly caste-torn place today, to the point that it’s generally considered unwise for tourists to venture there. A good place to start learning about it is the story of Phoolan Devi, which is both a facinating tale and an interesting look at how caste, outlaws, and politics all come together in really complicated and unexpected ways at times.

Just a correction on timings: Nepal has been a constitutional monarchy since 1990; the Maoists have been around since 1996; the (popular) king was allegedly killed by his son in 2001. The new king (conspiracy theories abound that he set up the Palace massacre to gain power) has merly made an already dodgy situation much worse.


Not to mention that a major factor in the cause of the Indian Mutiny was the perceived violation of Hindu’s caste (and Muslim’s religion) by the British.

I wondered the same thing as the OP when I learned that now, today, there are Maoists in America! I met leftists of all sorts of bizarre orientations in college. The ones who identified as Maoists were by far the weirdest, from what I could see. They were always shouting, sometimes through megaphones, about how we should all support the Shining Path movement in Peru, who most people think of as terrorists. So they had kind of a hard time giving away their pamphlets. Better to go find a sane, sincere, nebbishy Trotskyist to talk to, as there were plenty of them and they were much less frightening.

How about that Shining Path anyway? Speaking of Maoism outside China?