By Benjamin Welton

Among Asian nations, Nepal is not high on Washington’s list of foreign policy priorities. The mountainous nation, which is consumed by the massive Himalayas, is mostly known for its Buddhism and its Gurkhas—a warrior people who still provide mercenary services for the British, Indian, and Singaporean armies. Overall, Nepal produces very little that Americans consume. Nepal is also not the home to a large American military contingent, nor is it seen as an important ally in America’s never-ending quest to be the major hegemony in West and East Asia. Nepal, to put it bluntly, is not important to American interests.

This view will almost certainly change, however. The reason for this is that a powerful Communist party, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) recently acquired the levers of power in Kathmandu after a democratic election. According to all international observers, the Communists in Nepal have close connections to the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing. This all but guarantees that rustic and rural Nepal will become a Chinese satellite on the border with India, a close American ally and a long-time opponent of China owing to a border dispute that once erupted in violence.

Democracy, Civil War, and Insurgency

In order to appreciate the importance of this victory, one must understand the history of communism in Nepal. Himalayan Communists are not the typical neckbeard professors that one encounters in the West; they are experienced guerrilla fighters who waged a war against the central government for almost two decades.

The Communist Party of Nepal is led by two former prime ministers, K.P. Sharma Old and Pushpa Kamal Dahal (both of whom fought against the center-left government during the 2000s). These two men managed to unify two competing factions of the far-left party in order to sweep the country’s Parliament and Provincial Assembly. With this mandate, Nepalese Communists are expected to both follow a harder line against India and be more cooperative to Chinese business interests in the country. It is predicted that one of the first orders of business for the new government is to pass through the Chinese hydropower project that the former prime minister, Kamal Thapa, cancelled less than a month before the election.

In 1994, the government of prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala, the first democratically elected leader of Nepal and a member of the center-left Nepali Congress Party, suffered a vote of no confidence. That same year, new elections brought the Communists into power. Communist leader Man Mohan Adhikari became the prime minister and briefly led a minority government. That same government dissolved less than a year later. After that, Nepalese Communists, especially the Maoists among then, began their long insurgency.

A brief paper written by Yurendra Basnett in 2009 laid out the reasons underlying the vicious civil war that rocked Nepal between 1996 and 2006. Basnett writes that Western scholars were baffled by the far-left insurgency given that “Nepal enjoyed [an] unprecedented level of economic and political freedom” at the start of the rebellion.[1] The Maoists themselves argued that their war began because of economic inequality, rural poverty, and chronic landlessness in the country. Basnett argues that these invocations of economic disparities do not amount to much given that they have been “omnipresent” since the formation of modern Nepal.[2]

What Basnett’s critique of the Maoist movement misses is that Communist movements rarely come from times of economic disparity. Except for the rise of far-left movements during the Great Depression of the 1930s, most of the seminal Communist movements have sought to obtain power just at the time when their respective nations have achieved some form of unprecedented growth or stability. When the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 erupted, the Russian Empire that they overthrew was far more liberal, progressive, and economically advanced than Western liberals and socialists realized. According to UNZ Review writer Anatoly Karlin, the Russian Empire of Tsar Nicholas II was even more “progressive” than such typically modernist bastions as London, Paris, and Berlin:

“Access to higher education was actually more meritocratic in the late Empire than in contemporary Germany or France by a factor of 2-3x. Women constituted about a third of Russia’s total numbers of university students, a far larger percentage than in any other European country—and Russia by 1913 had the largest number of university students in Europe (127,000 to 80,000 in Germany, around 40,000 in France and Austria each). Likewise, they constituted an absolute majority in grammar schools, many decades ahead of most of the rest of Europe. In 1915, restrictions on co-education were dropped across a range of Russian universities by decision of the Tsar and his Council of Ministers.”[3]

Tragically, this liberal attitude allowed a radical student body to fester and become many of the same Bolsheviks who oversaw the genocidal regime that would rule Russia until 1991. Such a scenario played out in China as well, for when the Chinese Communist Party began life in the aftermath of World War I, China was modernizing at a rapid pace. Thanks to World War I, which did not damage China, Chinese exports rose and the nation’s trade deficit dropped by an astounding 80 percent. While this success proved temporary, China before Mao was politically unstable but considered one of the world’s greatest jewels. Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s was a cosmopolitan city beloved by Asians and Westerners alike.

Maoism in Nepal follows a discernible pattern—as prosperity increases or stabilizes, discontent grows as well. Like Marx, the social leech who had servants and never worried about earning a dollar, many of today’s Communists are full of the same greed that they constantly accuse capitalists of harboring deep in their benighted chests.

In Nepal, Maoist violence reached a terrifying apex in November 2001, when more than one hundred people were killed in violent confrontations between rebels and government forces. As a result, the central government declared a state of emergency. An absolute monarchy returned to power amidst the chaos. All told, almost 20,000 people were killed and another 2,000 remain missing.

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  1. Basset, Yurendra (2009). From Politicization of Grievances to Political Violence: An Analysis of the Maoist Movement in Nepal. Development DESTIN Studies Institute, Working Papers Series. p. 4.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Karlin, Anatoly (2017). The Russian Empire: Too Nice For Its Own Good.