by Li Onesto
March 29, 2021 | revcom.us
[Editors’ Note: Revcom.us received the following correspondence from Li Onesto, who traveled deep into the guerrilla zones of Nepal during the People’s War in 1999, and is the author of the book Dispatches from the People’s War in Nepal.]
A recent New York Times article reports that in Nepal, child marriage has been increasing at alarming levels, that COVID-19 has made this situation even worse, and that there’s a link between marrying young and dying young.1 The Times has also run articles exposing how thousands of young women, trafficked out of Nepal, have ended up being forced to work in brothels in India.2 All of this is true—and it is horrific and utterly unnecessary.3
But there is rank hypocrisy here. Because there was a time, in fact, when the masses of people in Nepal took up a radical and revolutionary struggle against these horrific ways women are oppressed, aiming to get beyond these outrages—and the Times, along with others in the mainstream bourgeois press, viciously slandered that struggle, spreading disinformation to rally public opinion against the revolution in Nepal, as the U.S. government moved to attack and repress the revolution along with other reactionary powers like India.
In the 1990s, a Maoist People’s War in Nepal, centered in the rural villages, went up against the whole history of imperialist domination and feudalism. This was a genuinely liberatory revolutionary struggle even as it had shortcomings.4 Unfortunately for a number of reasons, this revolution went off course and the liberating and revolutionary advances it had achieved were seriously set back, and the reversals manifest in some of the horrors today.5 But while this People’s War was going on, a central aim of this revolution was fighting the oppression of women, including ending things like child marriage and the trafficking of women.
When I traveled through the guerrilla-controlled areas of Nepal in 1999, I saw how the liberation of women was a vital part of this revolution and how so many women surged to the frontlines of this struggle. I interviewed women and men who described how, when the armed struggle started, it was like the opening of a prison gate—with thousands and thousands of women rushing forward to claim an equal place in the war. Some had to defy fathers and brothers. Some had to leave backward-thinking husbands. Others ran away from arranged marriages where parents had decided their fate. They all had to rebel against feudal traditions that treated women as inferior, that made women feel like their ideas didn’t matter. I heard stories of how the rebels were combating domestic violence and rape, how for the first time, women were free to get divorced in the areas liberated by the People’s War, and how they were not only allowed but actually encouraged to go to school. Most inspiring, I saw how many women, both young and old, had found new freedom, raising sights to a whole different future, joining the People’s War to overthrow the corrupt and oppressive government.6
Slanders and Lies from the “Liberal” Media
But at the time, and in stark contrast to this living reality, what did the New York Times say and “report” about the People’s War in Nepal? What did it have to say about a revolution that was fighting feudalism, patriarchy, and imperialism—which was then and are now driving forces behind oppressive traditions like child marriage and the trafficking of women?
The Times lied about and slandered this revolution, consistently and repeatedly. They acknowledged the corrupt and oppressive nature of Nepal’s government but called the struggle to overthrow it “a crippling ‘people’s war.’”[Emphasis added]7 They repeated the lie that the rebels were guilty of “gruesome” human rights violations, describing a situation where “villagers hid their weeping children under beds” because they feared “the Maoists will return.”8
It called the People’s War a “criminal enterprise” guilty of kidnapping, extortion, forced conscription, and the use of child soldiers. And blamed the rebels for killing thousands of people—blurring the fact that government soldiers were most responsible for civilian deaths, for torturing those it suspected of being rebels and for raping women.9 This was a revolutionary civil war where government forces and reactionary forces mobilized by the government and their supporters were killed in battle. The New York Times along with some liberal human rights groups drew a broad brush in labeling such actions “human rights abuses” and “torture.” The vast majority of people killed by the Maoists were police and soldiers in combat. And when others, like informants, were targeted, it was because their actions directly led to Maoists and others being jailed, tortured, or killed. The New York Times applied odious analogies of the Maoists as a “creeper wrapping itself around a tree” because they used “entrenched poverty and discrimination of this Hindu kingdom’s deeply feudal society to build its insurgency,”10 as opposed to any sense of a righteous revolution against all this. In reality, the Maoists gained widespread support exactly because they were about putting an end to the outdated monarchy, the discriminatory caste system, and the feudal/capitalist system that kept the people in deep poverty.
The “liberal” Harper’s magazine, which also writes about women’s equality, also attacked the People’s War in Nepal. In a major article in 2005, Eliza Griswold acknowledged the rebels controlled 73 of the 75 political districts, then quotes a man saying, “99 percent of the country don’t like the Maoists,” as if this was a fact, with no mention of the widespread support, or any degree of refutation. This is a standard method of disinformation and slander used by the mainstream media: quote a backward person, with this “first-person” account creating public opinion in the context of and reinforcing their dominant “narrative”—for that’s what it was, a slanderous “narrative” largely at odds with reality. Starting out very small, how could the rebels have grown like this without the genuine support and participation of people throughout the countryside? Griswold says they did it through coercion and terror. But in fact, this is plainly untrue, even while there were real shortcomings. They worked to win people to their cause and in areas they controlled real changes were made reflecting their liberatory goal of getting rid of inequality and oppression. They did not torture captured soldiers and instead released many of them, in good health to the Red Cross or other human rights organizations. Released soldiers reported they had to “listen to propaganda” and were asked to join the revolution, but weren’t harmed. The rebels told them they would be punished if they kept fighting for the reactionary government and were then given money and food to go back to their villages instead of returning to the army.11
The Role of the Liberal Media
“Mainstream, liberal” institutions like the New York Times and Harper’s serve a very important role as part of and in defending the capitalist/imperialist system, and the role of the U.S. competing for dominance atop this system. At times, they do real exposure of some of the “problems” of this system and society, voicing concern and hope that such oppression can be made more “bearable.” But this is constrained by and within the confines of maintaining, and never fundamentally questioning, the underlying system of capitalism-imperialism or the role and nature of the U.S., even if there is some exposure of the visible economic, political, and social effects of the workings of this system and the history of this country.
These are, as Bob Avakian says, “crude propaganda organs of the ruling class posing as news media. These are not just, as it is sometimes said, corporate or corporate-controlled media. They are propaganda instruments of the ruling class of this system—capitalist-controlled, imperialist-controlled media” and they play a crucial role in why and “how people are kept deliberately uninformed or systematically misinformed and miseducated under this system.” (Emphasis added.)
For these “liberal” voices, when a revolutionary force comes along like the People’s War in Nepal that actually threatens the system and the foundation of the relations of exploitation and oppression, the slanders and distortion come spewing out, almost on cue and on message, like an orchestra with its different instruments, but all playing the same song. Even reporters who may have good intentions, who genuinely want to see oppression mitigated, find this clashing with their petit bourgeois outlooks, making them recoil at a real revolutionary solution that requires actually overthrowing the present setup, fearing its radical nature, its upheaval and chaos involved in forging a radically new and better social order on the road to genuine emancipation.
The New York Times sets the tone for national public opinion, not only for millions of readers influenced by it, but for other media outlets as well. And in an ongoing way, the Times trains people in what and how to think and approach the world—including instilling the notion that “while there might be things wrong with the system, this is still the best of all possible worlds.” The New York Times and other mainstream media, in fact, helped ensure that most people, at least in the U.S., remained unaware there was an inspiring, liberating People’s War in Nepal—and that if they did know anything about it, this was based on a reeking vat of slanders and lies.
1. “In Nepal and Across the World, Child Marriage Is Rising,” by Bhadra Sharma and Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times, March 8, 2021. [back]
3. For more on this, see the excerpt from an interview by Sunsara Taylor with Indian journalist Ruchira Gupta, featured in episode 44 of The RNL—Revolution, Nothing Less—Show. [back]
4. The revolutionary People’s War in Nepal, led by the then Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) was launched in 1996, and by the early 2000s, had grown to control most of the countryside. By 2005, they were approaching the threshold of and grappling with nationwide seizure of power, with influence in the main cities, including the capital, Kathmandu, with larger middle-strata of people—and all this posed major new challenges, including threats of armed intervention from India, the U.S. and other reactionary powers against the revolution and the masses of Nepal. In the face of these challenges, interrelating with and exacerbating existing shortcomings and weaknesses in line, method and approach, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) started going seriously off-track in 2005-2006, eventually ending up abandoning the revolutionary goal altogether a few years later, a very negative development for humanity.
For more on this, and the lessons on communist leadership, we highly recommend Bob Avakian’s The New Communism, “Part IV, The Leadership We Need,” including and especially pages 356-361, and pages 174-176 in an earlier chapter.
These sections also describe some of the key line struggles between the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and the RCP, USA, which were made public and published in 2009. See Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, “On Developments in Nepal and the Stakes for the Communist Movement: Letters to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, 2005–2008 (With a Reply from the CPN[M], 2006).” [back]
5. See the polemics from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA: “On Developments in Nepal and the Stakes for the Communist Movement: Letters to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, 2005-2008 (With a Reply from the CPN(M), 2006)” on revcom.us. [back]
6. In 1999, Li Onesto traveled to the guerrilla zones in Nepal. Dispatches from this trip, which can be found at revcom.us, provided the basis for the book, Dispatches from the People’s War in Nepal, by Li Onesto, Pluto Press and Insight Press, 2005 (available from Amazon). [back]
7. “Ending crippling ‘people’s war,’ Maoist rebels in Nepal sign peace deal with government,” New York Times, October 21, 2006, emphasis added. [back]
8. “As Maoist Revolt Grows, Nepal Fears for Its Democracy,” by Celia W. Dugger, New York Times, April 24, 2002 [back]
9. Human rights organizations also contributed to this by repeating the “both sides are to blame” narrative—a common method to attack revolutionary forces. [back]
10. “Maoist Rebellion Shifts Balance of Power in Rural Nepal,” by Amy Waldman, New York Times, February 5, 2004 and “Insurgents Create Growing Instability in Nepal,” by David Rohde, New York Times, December 29, 2002. [back]
11. “It’s Not Easy Here in Katmandu,” by Eliza Griswold, Harper’s magazine, May 2005. Also see: “A Refutation of Harper’s Article on the Maoists in Nepal—Telling Lies in Kathmandu,” by Li Onesto, revcom.us, June 26, 2005. Note that Griswold’s main “sources” are people who opposed the People’s War including a government general, a conservative editor, the U.S. ambassador to Nepal, and people at a center set up for “victims of Maoist torture.” [back]