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Report on Inner Party Democracy and Social Democracy

Organised by Nepal Studies Center (NSC)

7-8 August 2010

By Khagendra Prasai, Graduate Student of Philosophy, University of South Florida


On 7th and 8th August, 2010 Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) and Nepal Studies Center (NSC) organized a two-day national dialogue on "Inner Party Democracy and Social Democracy" at Local Development Training Academy, Jawalakhel.

In this two-day seminar, four papers-- inner-party democracy, social democracy, democratic socialism and social transformation-- were presented. Altogether 90 participants including 15 women representing three major parties-Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML), UCPN (Maoist) and Revolutionary Left Wing, party ideologues, Constituent Assembly members, youth wings, academics and civil society took part. This is the continuation of three previous dialogues on the same themes.

DAY ONE: The Inaugural Session

The seminar began with inaugural session chaired by senior journalist Mr. Rajendra Maharjan in which Head of Nepal office of FES Dev Raj Dahal delivered welcome cum keynote speech touching upon a number of important issues and ideas pertaining to inner-party democracy such as modernization of party, ties with ancillary organizations, inner-party debate, ideology and policy making, factional fight and funding. He asserted that inner-party democracy constitutes solution to numerous political evils surviving and emerging in Nepali society and politics. He concluded: "among all the available solutions to problems of politics in Nepal, inner-party democracy is the most urgent and thus most promising way for Nepal's democratic future." Rajendra Maharjan argued that in a contest between capitalism and democracy how solution of national problems can be found within capitalist framework. There is a need to debate to discuss on alternative means acceptable to majority of Nepalese and the ideological discussion like this is a step in right direction.

Second Day's Session I: Why Social Democracy in Nepal Now?

This session was chaired and conducted by CPN UML leader Ram Chandra Jha in which Professor Chaitanya Mishra presented his paper "Why Social Democracy in Nepal Now?" which was commented by UCPN (Maoist) leader Dharmendra Bastola and followed by questions and queries from the floor and subsequent responses from author and commentator. Chaitanya Mishra: There is a serious weakness present in both the 'communist' and bourgeois readings of contemporary society and the world, namely, ahistorical interpretation of society. The political programs based on such readings are almost certain to lead to unwarrantedly subjective, romantic and false. Given the historical specificity of Nepali society, namely, its being capitalistic and democratic, the most privileged model is social democracy. The social democracy, the contradictions within which become irresolvable, in the long run, however, can provide, for a long but not interminable term, a mechanism of resolving contradictions within the capitalist democracy. Social democracy has some essence which sets it apart from other forms of governance and effectively solves the contemporary problem: it creates a situation in which labour, market and state work as partner, the state being relatively autonomous rather than representing one class at the expense of the other; it tends to ensure the access prerequisite for effective citizenry as political agent; it creates in workers and other citizen a sense of ownership over the state; and it removes barriers to effective citizenship and selfhood and self respect faced by various subordinated and marginalized groups.

Dharmendra Bastola: The paper is very important as it explains the orientation of Nepalese society. Our party's second national convention discussed about inner party democracy. Without the removal of exploitative character of capitalism freedom of people cannot be possible. The question of who governs is important in our discussion about the appropriateness of the political system. The idea of autonomy of the state under social democracy seems untenable. Any state represents and is always inclined to certain class in any historical stage. Undoubtedly, the state has crucial role in creating environment conducive to effective political participation as well as assurance of justice and equity to all citizens. According to the principle of unity of opposites, democratic and dictatorial element of the state will continue to exist in the future also.

Mr. Purushwottam Neupane: What is the relation between socialism and state capitalism? My question goes to Mr. Bastola: How can idea of unity of opposite be practiced in real life if communists are bent on practicing one-party dictatorship and also regards communist party as the only legitimate source of all power? Mrs. Sabitra Bhushal (Leader, CPN UML and CA member): Is social democracy compulsion or choice? What is the ideological basis of social democracy-class struggle or class coordination? Matrika Poudel (Youth leader): What would the third kind of democracy look like which would be distinct from capitalist or communist system? Narendra Khatiwoda: How is privatization viewed in social democracy? Ghanashyam Bhushal (Ideologue, CPN-UML): My comment is directed to Bastola. The class approach as championed by Bastola arises when we are in hurry to carry out and complete revolution in one generation. What is to be noted is every generation has his own historical task, therefore, at this present historical moment, our generation has certain task which is much similar to building social democracy.

Nawaraj Khatiwada: My question goes to Bastola: "On what ground could you claim that Nepal is a semi-feudal society?" "How could you claim that democracy and dictatorship are the same?" Gautam Rai: Question to Prof. Mishra: How could you claim that Nepal is a capitalist society? How does social democracy solve ethnic and other forms of social inequality? Jhalak Subedi (left intellectual): How can social democracy reconciles the interest of capital and labor under fundamentally capitalist setting? Thakur Gaire (Student leader): If major political parties dialogue freely and openly, they all reach social democracy? Uttam Niraula: How can we find a common ground on which all political parties can work? Ms. Usha Kiran Timsina (youth leader), asked how social democracy is possible in Nepal whose society and economy are capitalist? Are there programs for social democracy? Can they be incorporated in the new constitution? Devraj Dahal: Under social democracy, state can maintain relative autonomy and underprivileged class may rise up the ladder as tax money from the rich can subsidize the welfare of the poor like in Germany and Scandinavian countries. In the actually existing social democracy, reconciliation of labor and capital is effected through constitutional provisions, law enactment, co-determination of policy, workers' right to free collective bargaining and social security to under classes of society. The sate represents both capital and labor, rather than only the capital.

Bastola in response said that the heightening of class struggle is historical task of our time and solution to contemporary problems consists in revolutionizing production relations, social relations, cultural relations and innovation of ideas. Nepal is still a semi-feudal, semi-colonial society. Concerning unity of opposites that operates in democratic society, democracy goes hand in hand with non-democracy or dictatorship.

Professor Mishra said that I would restate that advocates of great leap forward and status quo both do not understand Nepalese society and the meaning of revolutionary transformation; both are ahistorical and non-dialectical. Nepal is not semi-feudal, semi colonial, rather a dependent capitalist society within the capitalist world system. I have ample evidence and theoretical framework to confirm my claim. The principal reason for its being a non feudal society is that unlike in feudalism in which land ownership is concentrated in few hands, the land ownership in contemporary Nepal is dispersed, widely dispersed. The autonomy and isolation of a nation has come virtually to a complete end therefore Nepal can be understood only by understanding the world system. Social democracy is both compulsion and opportunity, a historically needed and appropriate system of economy and politics; it valorizes labor and also contributes to capital formation. Sum-up by Chairperson Ram Chandra Jha (CA Member): We have agreement and disagreement but deliberation of this kind help in clarifying ourselves and identifying the common ground of agreement. He added that Nepal should address the problem of social conflict by integrating social struggle and class struggle; social integration is complementary to class struggle. These social movements and class struggles have the potential to broaden the base of political parties and democratize them internally.

SESSION II: Inner-Party Democracy and Party's Capacity Building

This session was chaired by the senior journalist Yubraj Ghimire in which Khagnedra Prasai (graduate student of philosophy at University of South Florida) presented paper which was followed by comments from CPN UML leader Pradeep Gyawali (also CA member) and questions and queries from the floor.

Khagendra Prasai: The principal problems facing the democratic political parties in Nepal includes lack of adequate democracy within the party and exercise of bureaucratic and strictly hierarchical structure which divides the party members into two fundamentally opposing classes-the subject and the object, the former authorized to think and make decision on behalf of the entire party and the latter prepared to work under the instruction and tutelage from above. Such structure creates condition in which both subject and object classes become debilitated and enervated in their power to reason and thereupon become politically, intellectually and morally incapacitated. The only remedy consists in democratizing the party in which all members are required to and get ample opportunity to qualitatively participate in the life of party as a free and conscious subject. The principal measures of democratization includes election and recall, complete transparency, participation of all members in formulation of ideology and principal policies, and development of critical mindedness on all members.

Pradeep Gyawali: I do fully agree with Prasai that lack of adequate democracy within the party causes and has caused serious damage to the ability of all members, party leaders and the entire party. But when we propose remedies we need to take into consideration the goals for which parties are formed. The goals largely shape the internal mechanism and structure of the party in question. The party and movement must be distinguished; the former is a tightly organized structure whereas the latter is loosely organized, more flexible and open. The other important thing is that parties have social-historical basis of their formation and the same rule or prescription does apply to all parties. Transparency is strongly recommended but some business of party must be kept confidential. No doubt, leaders must be made accountable. He said that after party conventions inner dynamics of NC and CPN-UML is changing but there is a serious need of critical reflection about civic competence of party cadres, accountability of leaders, decentralization of power to party committees and smooth transfer in leadership.

The Floor Discussion

Basanta Basnet: My question goes to Gyawali. Why do we need secrecy or confidentiality? How can we practice equality in such a condition? Muma Ram Khanal (Revolutionary Left Wing): Prasai's analysis and prescription seems too generalized; parties are of different types in terms of their goals and structure. Inequality is practiced everywhere. What we see is leaders have rights and cadres have only duties to perform. The crucial challenge in Nepal is leaders do not know the goals of parties and nation and, therefore, do not behave accordingly. Similarly, another challenge is to build party consciousness and discipline. Maoist party is centralized completely. How can they enter into democratic discourse? Surya Thapa (Journalist): Do these prescriptions apply to all parties? This is too generic. This sounds like post-modernist. Gautam Rai: I do agree with Prasai that parties do not adequately practice democracy. Yam Lal Kadel (political leader): These prescriptions sound abstract. The parties are so weak, how can we implement inner-party democracy? Jhalak Subedi: This sound idealist and post-modernist. All members are not equal. For example, the members of central committee have control over information and decision making. Now, a new development is occurring in both NC and CPN-UML as cadres are questioning the leaders accountability.

Ramesh Adhikari: The problems and prescription for inner-party democracy needs to be contextualized by analyzing the political culture of each political party. Ms. Narayani Devkota (youth leader): asked a question as to how leaders don't feel that they are superior to cadres. In fact, most members of political parties are cadres who follow instruction and work under tutelage. Usha Kiran Timsina: In all parties, deliberation has been undermined. Tika Ram Bhattarai (constitutional lawyer): I do agree with general orientation of the paper. But, in the sense equality is advocated, it seems that it leads to anarchy and chaos in the party. Party and movement are different. Response from Gyawali: I, unambiguously, stand for transparency and accountability but I strongly hold that some issues connected with strategies and tactics have to be kept confidential. We need to distinguish discrimination and inequality. Response from Prasai: It is obvious that prescriptions for inner-party democracy apply to democratic parties. It is equally obvious that there are certain universal principles of democracy which must be adopted and practiced by all democratic or constitutional parties, regardless of their goals. The idea that parties arise and exist in certain social and historical conditions should not be used as excuse to avoid democracy in the party. More importantly, democracy can proliferate in society only when the political parties practice democracy adequately. Mr. Pradeep said that he champions accountability, but, in the meantime, he holds that certain party business can be kept secret. How can accountability be meaningful without complete transparency?

Session III: Transformation of Nepali Society

This session was chaired by Pradeep Giri, Nepali Congress leader and CA member, in which. Ghanashyam Bhusal, CPN UML leader presented paper which was followed by comments from Muma Ram Khanal and questions and queries from the floor. Ghanashyam Bhusal: We must learn two crucial lessons from our history. Firstly, capitalism and communism practiced so far have dehumanized and alienated human beings. Secondly, armed struggle committed avowedly to liberation of nations and people have cost dear to humanity and revolution and stood eventually against people. Only by giving serious consideration to these historical processes and tendencies, we can think of and formulate program of social transformation. As pre-requisite to social transformation we must possess adequate knowledge of political-economic character of our society. The political-economic nature of our society is comprador or dependent capitalism which constitutes the principal reason of not only economic backwardness and inequality but also of other forms of inequality such as regional and ethnic. Therefore, the principal solution consists in creating industrial or productive capitalism which will solve present-day contradictions. Such historical task must be discharged through peaceful and democratic means.

Muma Ram Khanal: I do agree with many positions that the author holds and advocates. It is true that socialism has fallen victim of ultra-leftism or terrorism, so to speak. One point that I strongly disagree with him is his unqualified inclination to peaceful transformation of society like ours. Is use of force always detrimental and damaging? The culture of using force for the resolution of problem is not conducive to democratic political culture.

The Floor: Ms. Narayani Devkota: My question goes to the commentator, Khanal. What do you think is the appropriate way of transformation if the peaceful method is not viable? Matrika Poudel: We have borrowed revolutions, therefore, they fail. What we think to be revolution, in fact, is revolt. We could not indigenize them. Ramesh Adhikari: What constitutes core of colonialism? What is the nature of Nepal-India relation? Could you throw some light on class analysis of Nepali society? How do we judge the appropriateness of theory? Gautam Rai: It was pretended by Lenin and other that capitalism is moribund, then why is it still surviving? Ms. Usha Kiran Timsina: Why doesn't your party CPN-UML discuss these things? Ms. Nabina Lama (Youth leader): I think Nepali society is capitalist and therefore, the solution of our problem cannot be found in capitalism. Nabaraj Khatiwoda: Khanal did not propose a solution of the current problems Nepal is facing.

Yogesh Bhattarai (youth leader): How can revolution go independently in different nations? Do we need an international network in the globalized context in order to survive? Purushuttan Neupane: Bourgeois democracy is democratic in name only. Prakash Jwala: Has feudalism come to a complete end? If reactionary stand with force, how can peaceful transformation be feasible? How can transformation be brought about by developing the existing productive forces? Jhalak Subedi: I appreciate the paper for its emphasis on logic and reason in place of faith. Sabitra Bhusal: The author claimed that ours is capitalist society, but what is to be noted is that our traditions, backwardness, superstitions etc all suggest the existence of feudalism. Yug Pathak (Journalist): I disagree with the statement that feudalism no longer exists in Nepal. The nature of state is still feudal. We are not territorial colony but still semi-colony. Ram Kumari Jhakri: I agree with the author that we are not semi-feudal society. What defines feudalism is not the backwardness of technology but social relations, actually existing relations of production-existence of feudal lord and serf. Basanta Basnet: We need more debates on these kinds of questions. Rajendra Maharjan: The paper misses geopolitical dimension of the problem. Response from Muma Ram Khanal: All I mean is that People's Multi-Party Democracy espoused by CPN-UML is not well-defined; it contains a great many ambiguities and confusions. What Maoist has proposed as program of social transformation is problematic because it has its ideological base on cultural revolution and constant revolution.

Response from Ghanashyam Bhusal: I am of firm conviction that use of force in revolution is not only unnecessary but counterproductive. Whether or not we are a feudal society can be resolved by defining feudalism and objectively identifying the political-economic character of Nepali society. International network will come to develop sooner or later. The emancipation of man is the realization of human essence for himself and by himself. What revolution will have to do is gradually extend this self-realization and freedom. Sum-up by Chair Pradeep Giri: Socialism, in general, and Marxism, in particular has become a subject of controversy. Marx came from a highly complex intellectual tradition which was built up by philosopher like Kant and Hegel. For this reason, Marx thoughts are rarely understood and therefore subject to various interpretations. Of course, if politics does not follow right track, fascism is not far off. In attempts to intellectualize us, we often ignore or devalue indigenous knowledge.

SESSION IV: Democratic Socialism: Question of Bottom Ten Billion

This session was chaired by NC leader Narahari Acharya (CA member and ideologue) in which NC leader Manamohan Bhattarai (CA member) presented paper which was followed by comments from economist Keshav Acharya, Advisor of Finance Ministry, and questions and queries from the floor.

Manamohan Bhattarai: The contemporary population is sharply divided in terms of the standard of living in which ten billion falls under absolutely helpless category. They are deprived of human needs and utterly dispossessed. The present-day war is not governed by ideology but occurs over resources. Capitalism has not only ruthlessly exploited human labor but also Mother Nature. On the other hand, planned economy has also met failures. Therefore, it is advisable that state must take up responsibilities in certain areas and the rest should be opened up for individuals. The present day democratic socialism should mediate individual's productivity and role of state in fostering it. Keshav Acharya: I do agree that the present-day battle takes place over resources. But, I strongly hold that role of state is substantial in initiating productivity as well as in ensuring social justice. Why is HDI higher in Scandinavian countries? Why is Vietnam much better than Thailand? Why is Kerala better than other Indian states? The simple answer is that state has taken role and invested much in health, education, employment, social security etc. Capitalism makes us consumer who use resources as just as raw materials. The contemporary capitalism is financial capitalism in which money makes money in distinction to industrial capitalism in which money makes commodity and commodity makes money. Our system should be based on human essence espoused by social state.

The Floor

Deepak Bhattarai: The author said that planned economy has failed, could you elaborate on that? Apart from war over resources, the new dimension that constitutes an important part of contemporary politics is identity politics. Surya Thapa: I don't think advocates of communism are few in number. Is this the crisis of socialism or efficiency? Matrika Poudel: A sustainable democracy can be achieved only by empowerment, employment, peaceful transformation and obligation. Pradeep Giri: State intervention on certain areas like health and education has accomplished good results as in China. I think we need focus on creating decent employment rather than increasing national prosperity. National prosperity does not necessarily mean well-being of all citizens. Ms. Nabina Lama: Does the author mean that we do not need ideology and politics? If this is the cause what is the message for young generation who are engaged in politics to change the society for better? Ram Kumari Jhakri (student leader): Are economy and politics independent or interdependent? So far I have seen they are interrelated and reform in one leads the betterment of the other. We need to make both accountable to public interest. Response from Keshav Acharya: As a result of present liberalist policies, both private and public investment on agriculture has significantly decreased which has caused damage to our productivity. The growth that has come about in some countries like India is jobless, therefore, would not help much. Response from Author: All I mean is state should not directly engage in economic activities but work as facilitator. Imported plans have failed therefore we need indigenous planning. Resource constitutes the basis of conflict. I do agree that other forms of conflict such as identity politics have also crept in. Sum-up by Chair: The identity politics is also concerned with resource and its distribution. The contemporary development models have created huge gap between village and city even in developed countries. We cannot rid ourselves of ideal and ideology which will continue to influence our politics. Spreading democratic equity requires good governance.

 
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