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Report of Workshop on Inner-Party Democracy in Nepal

Organised by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)

18-19 July 2009, Nagarkot


Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), Nepal Office organized a two-day intensive residential workshop on "Inner-Party Democracy in Nepal" at Nagarkot on 18th and 19th of July, 2009. There were more than fifty participants coming mainly from major political parties, Constituent Assembly members, ideologues, constitutional lawyers and intellectuals. Majority of the participants were high-level decision makers in their respective parties. The overarching aim of this workshop was to instill democratic culture across political parties in their working modalities which are fundamentally amiss among them. The initiative of inner-party democracy has been undertaken by FES Nepal for the first time in 2006 which has already sparked a serious debate on the theme in all political parties. The other objective of this program was to develop "listening culture at various levels of party committees," "mutual perspective taking" and the culture of compromise within and across political parties to settle contentious political issues plaguing the nation. This is primarily required in the context of Nepal as, in many occasions; political parties of this country have failed to evolve "common ground" to strike a common consensus on major national issues and minimize the scope of non-democratic challenge to political power. This workshop is third in the series. They are aimed at transforming authoritarian leader party to mass-membership party and engage them in compromise - the ideal path to democracy. The documents prepared by Prof Thomas Meyer have contributed to this effort.

The Proceedings

Dev Raj Dahal, Head of FES, Nepal delivered welcome speech while Prof. Chaitanya Mishra from the Tribhuvan University chaired the session. From the chair Mishra said, "Party ties to both the state and society in Nepal are undergoing major changes. Expansion of their representational base is crucial to democratize party structures and stabilize political system. He underlined that social democracy can be a basis for governance for all parties in Nepal. Dahal introduced his organization and highlighted objectives of the seminar. He stressed on the equal importance of political freedom and economic justice contending that for a progressive, prosperous and peaceful world, these freedoms and rights must be equally guaranteed and promoted. He emphasized that this can only happen when political parties practice inner-party democracy.

That said when parties build up and maintain ideological platform and deliberation so that clarity on what the party believes and is ideologically committed becomes clear and ideology glues party members and increases their voluntary cooperation. In Nepal, Dahal added, there is a need to minimize extra-political participation in the face of the reality that communications between parties is drastically reduced. Similarly, other challenges and tasks includes democratization of the contents of party schools, maintaining institutional balance, a culture of deliberation in the parties on ideological, organizational and policy questions, congruence between party manifesto and constitutional vision, abolition of the politics of negation of dissident voice, periodic election of leadership and committee members, membership renewal, transparency and accountability of activities including finance to public, institutionalizing mechanism of conflict resolution and promoting civic culture and virtues. In a post-conflict state like Nepal, an essential aspect of politics is to foster peaceful coexistence of plural societies under the rule of law and provide opportunities for non-elites to move to leadership position by removing hereditary, caste, class and other privileges. He argued for social, gender and inter-generational justice in political parties.

Modnath Prashhrit, former education minister and leader of CPN-UML delivered keynote speech and said that geography determines human evolution, civilization, governance, production and circulation. By and large it shapes development or underdevelopment of human history. He stressed that every policy we adopt and practice should be based on our reality and if we try to implement uncritically borrowed ideas from outside they will create problem in society. We must understand historical and social context of the emergence of Nepali society. Nepal is different from European civilization, in terms of its evolution, development and governance but the Nepali Congress and left leaders have uncritically adopted those ideas. For example socialism was introduced in Nepal before industrial capitalism came into being in Western Europe; likewise parties were formed before classes were invented. National characteristics must be recognized while designing policies, without understanding historical trends it is difficult to project the values into the future. Nepal has tremendous resources but leadership must formulate vision to capture this complexity and steer formal healthy competition. Our problem is that political parties debate more on theoretical conclusion rather than objective grounds. We need to develop common outlets for collective action and have to look for the converging points on the model of 'democracy' and "geopolitical balance". The reality drives us towards 'social democracy." All these can only be achieved when political parties of different ideology work together. This can happen when they are driven by the culture of 'compromise," and social learning.

Session II: Why Social Democracy?

The second session was also chaired by Chaitanya Mishra and the paper was presented by Khagendra Prasai, social democratic ideologue. Prasai said that the present-day multifaceted problems and crisis can be resolved only by adopting and practicing the principles and experiences of social democracy. The political freedom and economic rights and equality must be given equal value and importance. Neither is of secondary importance. They are indivisible and interdependent-one contributing to the growth of other. Human dignity, freedom, decent work situation, can be protected only by adopting social democracy. Human dignity needs to be ensured. Neither neo-liberalism nor authoritarianism and communism can help to do so. It is social democracy that brings societal forces together. It also works towards ecological balance both for the survival of human being as well as environmental sustainability.

Commentator Devendra Poudel (Sunil) UCPN (Maoist) politburo member: Sunil said that we must focus on our challenges - both internal and external. Internally we need to develop the culture of consensus across political parties and externally we have to balance our "geopolitics" as we are caught-up between two rising giant neighbors. We have to bring changes in our society and need to develop ideas which are compatible with our needs. The post-modernism and neo-liberalism have defined society by difference, production and commerce rather than consensus. After the collapse of communism in former Soviet Union new ideas have been developed. But we have to understand our own situation. The socialist thought taken up by B P Koirala was not bad. We are in transition from feudalism to capitalism. Monarchy is gone but we are still living under the hegemony of external actors. Our ideal choice would be to mark a shift from "necessity" to "freedom". We should focus on following areas: the beginning of the end of exploitation, foreign capitalist oriented rationalization must end. It ends citizenship and nationality, create gulf in class power, state should play active role (without undermining freedom) to force bourgeoisie to accept change, and 21st century is full of human challenges and concern. Inner-party democracy is essential. We should learn from outside but we have to contextualize what we take from outside. The central question is how we should go ahead in building a just, equitable, and peaceful society.

Commentator Ramesh Lekhak, leader Nepali Congress and former minister of labor: Lekhak said that the new social thinking is based on modification of capitalism rather than its total negation. Since there was no individual freedom in communism, the new approach in capitalism should minimize capitalistic exploitation and upheld social justice which is the base of social democracy. He said that Socialist International also advocated for freedom, equality and solidarity. As such modern socialism should not encourage state control, by contrast, increase the access of grassroots people on social security. We cannot discourage private capital, if we do so, there will be no incentive for production argued Lekhak. This will undermine distribution in the long-run. Let people produce and pay tax for distributive justice. We should also debate as how we can promote ecological balance in situation where countries like US have not ratified Kyoto Protocol. In the context of Nepal, we only understand the concept of class but forgotten its base such as gender, caste, ethnicity etc. We are developing a mechanism for 'group protection' and have completely forgotten about class. Perhaps, these all factors forces us to develop new social contract, based on social justice and this is the reason we are discussing about social democracy today. This type of approach needs to instilled across political parties said Mr. Lekhak to foster inner party democracy and expand the social base of representation.

FLOOR Discussion: Jhalak Subedi, left intellectual, journalist and writer: Does social democracy reflects Marxism or merely strengthens state institutions such as army, police and bureaucracy? Does it fit with the idealism of Marxism or differs from it? Is a strong state compatible with socialism? The state is always class-biased. Capitalism operates on free selection of goods and commodities therefore freedom of choice is capitalistic. Saurav, independent thinker, made bitter critique on the left's over preoccupation with theory and ideology without contextualizing them properly and making them relevant to the life-world of people. We have to rethink about the suitability of the forms of governance in Nepal.

Nilam Sharma, Assistant Dean of Tribhuvan University: Prasai has not dealt with economic aspect of socialism. Private property is fundamental and crucial for individual freedom. We must operate how it shapes political culture of parties. Dina Mani Pokhrel, Constitutional lawyer: The paper is rich in concept but it needs to address some questions related to our context. I think we must decide which rights is primary- political or economic? How do socialism and capitalism differ in terms of looking at environment and organizing production and building political institutions? The centre of debate is neo-liberalism? Is there possibility of Keynesianism on private property - accumulation and investment? Pushkar Gautam, former Maoist commander of Okhaldhunga district: What is meant by secular democracy? With whom should competition be made in socialism as there are not contending classes and interests represented by party spectrums? What is the most appropriate means to socialism? Does globalization support this? Matrika Poudel, Revolutionary Left Wing, a breakaway faction of UCPN (Maoist): How can socialist consciousness be built? Is Nepalese critical mass ready for this? Who makes it percolate down to people? Kamala Parajuli: State should play more proactive rules in terms of providing social security to the people. Perhaps social democratization of political parties would be the right way to do this. The paper has not dealt with ethnic issues which are emerging as frowning phenomenon. Tika Ram Bhattarai, Constitutional Lawyer: The upcoming constitution should have vision of social democracy and create an environment to develop infrastructure for that. For social justice - distribution of property is essential but "nature based" property should not be privatized only the arable land can be privatized.

Ram Kumari Jhankri, student leader: We must engage ourselves in understanding historical context as well as present character of Nepali society, economy and polity. She pointed out that does state only oppress or provide "service delivery" as well. Rajendra Gautam, CPN-UML leader: We talk much of "necessity" and "freedom" and Maoist preferred transformation for freedom. But the challenge that lies ahead of us is how we can institutionalize "freedom" and deal the question of necessity
under social democracy which we are going to adopt in the future as common ideological platform of major political parties. But what use is freedom if it is not felt by the people at large? Rajendra Maharjan, left intellectual: Is socialism relevant? First we have to define the character of our society. Does an ancient European value fit with Nepali conditions? Is social democracy bourgeoisie? If we merely incorporate rights in the constitution does it promote empowerment of people? How can capitalist liberate/empower "powerless" ? The author has rightly mentioned Marx's ideas on relationship between individual and society but Lenin has been misquoted.

Damodar Poudel, CPN-: Our ideas need to be based on our reality. Geja Sharma Wagle, NC intellectual: We must be objective. The paper has blended socialism and democracy and ways to achieve them through the democratization of political parties. Surendra Raj Pandey, NC leader: We are happy to hear that Marx stood for democracy and he was never prepared to compromise freedom for equality. There is fusion of ideas between NC and UML. When our ideas are converging, it is right time for us to plan for the future action for social justice. The need of hour in Nepal is communist should democratize and Nepali congress should socialize their party structures. Bimal Karki, district leader CPN-UML: The global financial crisis can be resolved through socialists approach. We have to focus on building infrastructures for social democracy.

Response from Ramesh Lekhak: My stand on property is that private property has to be guaranteed to provide economic incentives. I am of the opinion that there has to be no limit on size of ownership. If limit is imposed, incentive suffers.

Response from Khagendra Prasai: As far as question of private property is concerned, there can be no justice without equitable distribution of economic opportunities and resources which can be ensured only through distribution of property. I have argued in my paper why socialist policies are needed to make sure that one and everyone must be ensured property for economic incentive. History and present evidences show that social justice and unlimited property rights are incompatible. On question of class biasness of state, I do totally agree. But, democracy and state are not the same. Democracy is primarily a power of public while statehood is a way of organizing society. The present day democracy, by virtue of its being secular, gives everyone opportunity. It depends on how we organize ourselves and use our political freedom to accomplish our cherished goals. As regards whether socialism has to be our constitutional goal, it is a kind of ''constitutional authoritarianism''. If we believe in competition, constitution must ensure that all political parties and ideologies should have reasonable opportunities to compete peacefully. If we bar non-socialists from competing, how can that be democratic? If we do not bar then there is no sense in having socialism as our goal in constitution.

Remarks from the Chair Chaitanya Mishra: Let us think in relative terms. Capitalism is progressive in some stages of its development compared to feudalism as it gave us rights, rule of law, democracy, social justice, constitution, etc. It is, however, like everything else, moribund. Democracy is meaningful and effective only when people are enabled for which economic and social rights can be guaranteed which is an important ingredient of social democracy. Access of citizens to democracy can be enhanced by doing so. Social democracy is an attempt to seek cooperation between capital and labor, therefore, it can be a meeting ground for all political parties in Nepal. It also moderates the capitalism, entitles citizens with civic, political, social, economic and cultural rights and increases the stake holding of citizens in the political system.

SESSION III: Social Democracy and People's Multi-party Democracy

The session was chaired by Surendra Raj Pandey. The paper titled "Social Democracy and People's Multi-Party Democracy" was presented by Pradip Gyawali, CPN-UML leader and former minister: People's Multi-Party Democracy (PMPD) propounded by Madan Kumar Bhandari was based on the theory of revolutionary transformation and democratization of entire party movement and state. Social democracy and people's multi-party democracy approximates in that they advocate peaceful transformation but differ in that former is evolutionist and the latter is revolutionist. Jhalak Subedi: In its contents, people's multiparty democracy has dropped revolutionary essence. The democracy it advocates is more of bourgeoisie. State and democracy are always class-biased. How can society move ahead in a revolutionary way? Yogesh Bhattarai, youth leader, CPN-UML: The chief characteristics of the context in which People's Multiparty Democracy was conceived and propounded was that communist movement was facing serious setbacks in theories and movement. Authoritarian model of communist state, party and society has caused irreversible damage to the people's movement. In this context, vibrant civic revival and reinterpretation of Marxism and socialism appeared as pressing need. Madan Kumar Bhandari made serious and honest attempt to that purpose. People's Mulitparty Democracy is revolutionary transformation of society through democratic process. It is of strong conviction that revolution and democracy are not opposed and mutually exclusive to each other, but rather that they are indispensable to each other.

FLOOR: Bimal Karki: We claim that we have perfect theory but our performance in every front is far less than satisfactory. Matrika Poudel: If the doctrine had been revolutionary as claimed by the author, another party with allegedly 'revolutionary stand' would not have appeared. Pushkar Gautam: PMPD advocates essentiality of competition even in socialism. My question is: why is competition needed in that state? What will be the economic base of competition? Nur Raj Basyal, District leader of CPN-UML: How can PMPD be actually a theory of transformation? Ramesh Adhikari: It is said that PMPD emphasizes too much on use of force for revolution rather than party competition. What do you have to say on that?

Response from Author: We have good reason to believe that PMPD is a novel idea and also that it advocates revolutionary change through democratic means and process. As far as use of force is concerned, I think the force advocated by PMPD is not the force of violence but of people power-the mobilization of masses for collective action.

Remarks by Chair Surendra Raj Pande: I appreciate my friends' willingness and readiness to have open debate on such crucial theoretical question about ideology, party building and democratization of political institutions. Actually, PMPD, I suppose, has made some contribution in democratizing Nepali communists. They have tried to get rid of dogmas and have become successful to some extent.

SESSION IV: Democratic Socialism Today

The session was chaired by Dr. Ram Sharan Mahat, NC leader and long-time finance minister, and the paper was presented by Mana Mohan Bhattarai, ideologue of NC party: Socialist theory and movement has long history with countless ups and downs. The first fundamental ideal of socialism was sharing of fruits of human labor on the basis of freedom, equality and human unity. Socialism became popular in Northern Hemisphere which was industrialized or rapidly industrializing first. But later on it took its roots in Southern hemisphere. Here, its popularity in theory and movement had to do with aspiration for national independence and freedom from poverty and want. For some reasons, socialism, here, was conceived as being equivalent to state interference in all economic businesses and elimination of private property and enterprises. In some case, the idea went so far in practice that socialism became authoritarian statism. State became all powerful vis-a-vis individual freedom and dignity. Hence, with failure of these regimes, the cry for de-alienation became prevalent. The crisis that some so called socialists states and societies brought them to collapse and many western ideologue have defined and propagandised this as collapse of socialism. "Socialism has failed and will always fail", they cried. But it is totally mistaken idea. It was not the failure of socialism but failure of authoritarian statism that is mistaken for socialism.

Comment by NP Saud, NC leader and former Minister: It is indisputable that over-preoccupation with socialist thought has weakened Nepali Congress. I agree with Mana Mohan that socialism has to guarantee personal liberty, equality and human unity. It should also be based on the condition of particular nation. Blind imitation has caused and will cause serious harm to such noble ideas. Democracy, undoubtedly, is indispensable to building socialism. But, before that political parties, the infrastructures of democracy must be democratized.

Comment by Dr. Bijaya Poudel, ideologue of CPN-UML: The idea of socialism has to be based on scientific analysis of society and history. The role of the state is of particular concern here. Downsizing the state, at present, creates favorable condition for well-off class and marginalized section will be pushed into further marginalization. This creates massive inequality in wealth and opportunities.

FLOOR: Thakur Gaire, Youth leader of CPN-UML: Cutting down the role and authority of state would not help us develop and progress. Moreover, it also creates inequality and lawlessness. Damodar Poudel: Nepali congress's democratic socialism equates with capitalism in practice and theory. Kamala Parajuli: Who will protect the poor and marginalized if state is downsized? Nilam Sharma: Nepali Congress which advocated democratic socialism for a long has given this up. I think there is a strong need to revive and explain the ideology of democratic socialism and reinvigoration of party structures. The attempt made by author in this paper is worth appreciating. Bimal Karki: I have question concerning the size and role of state. Does downsizing the state help at present in view of the need to articulate our economic and social life which has stagnated? I am of firm conviction that state can and should play vital role in this regard.

Response from Author Man Mohan Bhattarai: Many questions have come up but I will focus much on the role of state today. My idea on the size and role of state are totally misunderstood. My idea is simple and straightforward: the State should have crucial role but all mechanism and apparatus of state has to be formed democratically which alone can prevent the state from being authoritarian and irresponsible. Only can such State protect the liberty and well-being of its citizens because citizens themselves manage and operate it through political parties, representative institutions, civil society and civic groups.

Remarks by Chair Ram Sharan Mahat: We all talk about socialism, justice, equality and freedom. But we should not forget the role of capitalism in creating wealth and prosperity without which social justice and well-being are utopian. Some countries which were bent on building socialism have now realized that without creating abundant wealth socialism cannot be constructed. Therefore, they have introduced capitalist and liberalist policies to boost up production. And equally important is that freedom cannot be compromised at all because it stimulates innovation, efficiency and incentives. By crushing freedom and liberty, nation can gain tempo of development but that is short-lived. Therefore, for a sustainable development, incentive must be provided continuously. When we ponder on socialism and any other political doctrine, we must keep these in minds and shape our political parties accordingly.

SESSION V: Socialist Party Organization.

Ghana Shyam Bhushal, CPN-UML leader: The experience that we have gained from history has compelled us to seriously reconsider the organizational principles on which party, state or any other activity is based and conducted. Nowadays, inner party democracy has become an unanimous agenda for all political parties in Nepal. Inner-party democracy is aimed at creating democracy by giving freedom and responsibility to each member of party. But this has been interpreted and practiced in such a way that some individuals have really been empowered but organizations have weakened. This has assumed a liberalist not socialist stand. As socialist principles of organization, individual should not prevail over group or vice versa. They should be in interdependence and harmony. The majority and minority situation in party is being handled in such a way that they are majority and minority of parliament. Of course, there is a need to manage differences of opinion without which party becomes militarized, authoritarian and personality oriented.
But if majority and minority inside party are treated as majority and minority in parliament, the party becomes a purely bourgeoisie, good at managing interest of various factions of elites rather than serving the people. One of the most crucial issues of socialist party organization concerns means-end philosophy. If end is noble, means should necessarily be noble and democratic. The idea that end justifies the means is absolutely wrong and does not become of socialist party and social movement. If the goal of socialist movement is equality of all human beings, the organization of socialist party must necessarily be based on and should guarantee equality of all members. In the past, different models of organization were proposed and they were hotly debated. Lenin was in favor of centralized organization based on hierarchy and system of instruction, whereas, Rosa stood for the organization in which much emphasis was put on initiatives to be taken by each member consciously. "Spontaneity or management?" was the center point of many other debates. Too much emphasis on spontaneity would lead to dissolution and inaction of political party. Whereas too much emphasis on management would lead, as history shows, to centralization and hierarchy which is a threat to democracy as people are distanced from participation.

Comment by Rajendra Maharjan: I fully agree with author that socialist party organization suffered a lot from method of organization which, in large, can be attributed to organizational principles. There is a serious need to reconsider organizational principles that we have adopted. Comment by Muma Ram Khanal, ideologue of Revolutionary Left Wing, a breakaway faction of UNPN (Maoist): I do agree with author on several organizational questions. The principles of party organization that were propounded by Lenin and practiced later by communist parties needs serious scrutiny. We know that such principles led party to bureaucratic and militarized machine and alienated it from 'demo", the people. Consequently, party lost its life and met the destiny which was inevitable.

FLOOR: Surendra Raj Pandey: The paper tells nothing about our situation and context. It would have been better if it was contextualized. Dhyan Bahadur Rai, youth leader: It is widely agreed, except by some orthodox, that principle of party organization needs revisiting. Our task at present is to think of principle which will democratize entire party system and in the meantime make it capable of leading drastic social transformation. Nura Raj Basyal, CPN-UML: Do you mean that inner party democracy leads party to bourgeoisie organization? Ram Kumari Jhakri: I do agree we should democratize ourselves, but without concrete ideology, democratic exercise is meaningless. It converts party into an anarchic club without any mission.

Response from Author: My principal concern is that democracy, in which only individual freedom and responsibility are emphasized, cannot ensure transformation of society. If democracy alone would ensure such transformation, many bourgeoisie parties would have led this. What history has shown is that those party emphasizing democracy one-sidedly have ended up as bourgeoisie and those that have stressed management have ended up as military party and even collapsed at the end of the day. With regards to the comment that this is too theoretical, all have to say is to build up a party capable of leading social transformation; we must have fundamental clarity on principal theories of party organization. The problem with many of us is that we do not want to enter theories and even condemn such attempt.

Remarks from the Chair: As everybody feels that the paper is theoretically rich and has raised many serious questions. Our willingness or unwillingness to accept or even listen to such ideas is largely determined by our schooling and also by preparedness and knowledge of the past. As contended by the author and added by some participants, the principal task before us is to build a truly democratic and transformational party. These two substances are indispensable and inseparable.

SESSION VI:

The seminar concluded with the remarks by Pushkar Gautam, Saurabh, Geja Sharma Wagle and Chandra Bhandari. All contended that our democratic movement has suffered from lack of adequate deliberation within the parties and stressed a need to continue this kind of debate and deliberation on socialism, democracy, inner-party democracy, public policies and other institutional questions that affect our personal and public life and contribute to reform the state and execute social transformation. Inner party democracy offers old parties an opportunity to renew beyond the patchwork of elite consensus for cooptation and cohabitation, encourages party members to participate actively both inside and outside the party platforms where open discussion takes place about public affairs. Injection of fresh bloods in the various committees of these parties is expected to inspire innovation, creativity and dynamism for popular mobilization. This minimizes friction and strengthens the electoral synergy. The constituency of peace must be built within the conflict actors' rank and file and generate benefits of peace dividend so that benefits of peace are higher. Development projects and institutionalization of all pillars of peace including local peace committees beneficial to all sides establish trust and begin reconciliation process. When the soft faction fails to get sufficient gain the hardliners prevails. This weakens the culture of democracy to resolve conflict through negotiation and compromise.

 
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