Nepal used to be presented as a small secluded Himalayan “Shangri-La.” But it is in fact a country with a population approaching thirty million and has long been very much part of the world. In the second half of the twentieth century, beneath the surface of a monarchy and its “traditional” feudal structures of rule, an independent, resourceful, and intelligent peasantry and a relatively small industrial working class increasingly turned to Marxist theory (and the then promising example of Mao’s China). In 1996, in the darkest days of global capitalist “end of history” triumphalism, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) responded to a wave of repression by beginning a People’s War—although at the outset it was armed more with Marxist theory than with guns, of which they had three, one of which was defective. By 2005 the revolutionaries had gained control of some 80 percent of the country, reducing the authority of the royal government to the few urban centers (in the November 2005 issue of MR see John Mage, “Nepal—An Overview: Introduction to Parvati” and Parvati, “People’s Power in Nepal”).
In 2006 the revolutionaries joined with seven parliamentary parties in an urban uprising that sidelined the palace. An agreement in the fall of 2006 provided that both the People’s Liberation Army and the Royal Nepal Army be confined to barracks, pending elections for a Constituent Assembly that would decide the structure of Nepal’s future. The critical decision not to seek a purely military solution bespoke the trust of the leadership of the CPN (Maoist) that in a free and fair election they would emerge as the dominant force in the country. And so it happened.
The elections were held on April 10, and voters were asked to cast two ballots—one for the representative of their local district to the Constituent Assembly in a “first past the post” race, and one for a party for seats in the Constituent Assembly to be distributed by proportional representation. (In addition to the 575 seats determined by these two voting processes, the cabinet shall nominate 26 members distinguished for their service to the nation, for a total of 601 members of the Constituent Assembly.)
Of the 240 “first past the post” individual districts CPN(Maoist) candidates won in 120, with the next largest party—Nepal Congress—winning 37. The CPN(Maoist) also ran first by a large margin for the 335 seats at stake in the proportional representation election. Voters in the proportional representation vote had a choice of regional and ethnic nationalist parties, a large bourgeois party (the Nepal Congress), royalist parties (who won no seats in the district elections and about 4 percent of the proportional representation vote), and no less than ten explicitly communist parties and popular fronts. The communist parties—which range from “center-leftist” to revolutionary—won about 60 percent of the proportional representation vote and of the seats in the Constituent Assembly, the CPN(Maoist) dominating with almost twice the number of seats of those of all other communist parties combined.
The task that lies before the Constituent Assembly, once it terminates the monarchy, is the step-by-step peaceful construction of a New Democracy in a new Republic of Nepal. We have in this space on occasion celebrated the accomplishments of MR authors, but rarely if ever with the enthusiasm and affection we have for MR author “Comrade Parvati”—Hisila Yami—of the CPN(Maoist) in winning election to the Constituent Assembly from her central Kathmandu district. The people of Nepal, thanks to a heroic revolutionary struggle that led to a more genuine democracy, had something better to choose from than a set of “lesser evils.”
The publication in April of former MR editor Robert W. McChesney’s The Political Economy of Mediawas a major event for Monthly Review Press and for the critique of the media. As Howard Zinn states on the back of the book “Robert W. McChesney follows in the great tradition of Upton Sinclair, George Seldes, I. F. Stone, and Ben Bagdikian in exposing the ruthless hold of corporate power on the nation’s media.” Over five hundred pages in length, and containing twenty-three chapters, The Political Economy of Media is full of razor-sharp assessments of the crisis of modern journalism, corporate control of communications, and the new media reform movement. The book consists of essays written over two decades, many of them published in MR, in addition to a number not published before.
The tradition of political-economic critique of the media within the academy, of which McChesney’s work has always been exemplary, peaked in the late 1990s around the time of the passage of the disastrous Telecommunications Act of 1996. But rather than simply disappearing with its ebbing in the academy, the political economy of the media and McChesney’s own investigations merged with the more popular critique of the media that had been developing in the work of Ben Bagdikian, Noam Chomsky, and Edward Herman—and in the critique of journalism by Alexander Cockburn, Jeff Cohen, and Norman Solomon. The political economy of the media thus became more directly political as it moved beyond its original academic moorings, while retaining its critical edge—appearing more frequently in left political publications, such as The Nation,In these Times, Monthly Review,and The Progressive (to all of which McChesney was a frequent contributor).
Indeed, it soon became apparent that the vital intellectual critique that arose from the merger of academic and popular investigations into a more concrete and at the same time theoretically sophisticated political economy of the media—and which is traced in McChesney’s own work—constituted the intellectual “pre-history” of what has now become a full-fledged radical media reform movement. McChesney argues that we are living through a “critical juncture” in the struggle over the media—one of those rare periods in which the decisions are being made that will determine the communication system for decades, if not generations, to come. As he concludes his book, “Today we understand that media systems are the result of complex political economic factors and crucial policy decisions. The need for engaged scholarship has never been more pronounced, in the United States and worldwide. This is our moment in the sun, our golden opportunity, and as political economists of the media we must seize it.” To order The Political Economy of Media call 1-800-670-9499 or visit the store.
In April John Bellamy Foster was in Sydney, Australia as a keynote speaker to the “Climate Change, Social Change” conference organized by Green Left Weekly“. For information on the important radical climate initiatives that came out of that conference see that publication at http://www.greenleft.org.au/ and its sister publication Links at http://links.org.au/.
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