The real Karl Marx

IssueJune 2008
Feature by Sareena Rai

Karl Marx saw the red flag with Che Guevera’s silhouetted face on it on my bedroom door. Looking surprised he said: “Che. I read about his life. Tapain leh maanuhuncha? Do you respect him?”

I said yes, I did “respect” him. The question was so sincere that I didn’t feel right to add that Che had also become an over-hyped pop-art icon. It was kind of nice that this young man had no idea about that. Usually kids know the face without knowledge of the revolutionary stuff.

“And Karl Marx? Do you know about him? I read about him too,” he said. That’s how his nickname came about and I started to call him Karl Marx.

We became friends because he was working with us as one of the labourers on our stone and mud house that only his people from his village know how to build. He stayed with us for three weeks and, by the end of it, fellow labourers from his village were also calling him Karl Marx without even knowing what it all meant. When they saw a picture drawing of the real Marx one day on a book of ours, they burst out laughing. No two people could possibly look so opposite from one another.

One day, a staunch pro-royalist in the village passed by and we joked that we should dispose of him immediately. Karl Marx looked up with his spade in hand and said: “That is a thought based on violence. Before you get rid of the person, get rid of the thought in your mind.”

Karl Marx might be the new wave of politically-conscious youth coming from Nepal’s rural villages. However, let’s not make a Time or Newsweek “political poster boy of the month” out of him. He had a good sense of self; more than for any group, he spoke for himself. I would not call him naïve or “brainwashed” like a lot of western or anti-communist Nepali journalists might like to presume (never once thinking that they themselves could be victims of this terrible brainwashing machine). For me, he is an inspiring person for his sense of responsibility and humanity that is still possible after growing up during the ten years of civil war in Nepal.

This interview was conducted the day before Karl Marx left; he badly wanted to go back to school to learn more. We talked about Peace News, about activism and resistance. We all understood that words from one such as he were important in such a newspaper as this. I wished I had translated versions of PN for him.

Karl Marx usually gets paid 170 rupees a day (just over a pound) for carrying and breaking huge stones, digging, mixing mud mortar with his feet and a spade, and carrying heavy loads in huge wicker dokos (baskets) strapped to his head and back. He works from 6am to 6pm with two breaks. He represents a voter from Nepal, but more so, he represents himself – a farmer, a worker, a student.

Interview with Chaturman Tamang aka Karl Marx, an 18-year-old from Kavre district, Balwaparti VDC, Gairigaun

PN How did you begin to get politically conscious?
CT   I read the papers a lot. I read about our country, researched and thought a lot and decided I should get involved. I attended programs held by different parties coming to our village.

PN Where do you go to school?
CT A local, government village school. I’m in class 10. The district headquarters don’t care about our school and we don’t have an allocated budget to run it. So, we go on donation campaigns to the hotels in the area to keep the school running.

PN We know that you’re working right now as a labourer on a construction site and that your school begins in a few days. Tell us about that and your future aspirations.
CT Well, I need to do labour work to pay my school fees. It’s 1,300 rupees for yearly admission and exam fees are 50 rupees for each subject. I do eight subjects. I really want to study and there is one teacher who really encourages me.
In the future, I want to continue to study, continue in politics, and hopefully help to change society in some way.

PN Why do you think the CPN Maoists won the elections?
CT They captured the vote in different ways. There was definitely some intimidation. However, in a lot of areas I think they did good work, ie they used the government budget to do development work in a transparent manner. I think a lot of their popularity is due to the fact that there has been no party like them before. All the other major parties have failed in the past. The people have nothing to lose by voting for the CPN-Maoist. It’s something new; the people want to give them a chance.

PN Which party do you support and why?
CT Nepal Majdhoor Kisan Party or in English, NWPP – Nepal Workers’ and Peasants’ Party. From the centre of the party, they’ve always stayed opposed to whoever governed the country.
They say they want a Cuban-style government. First of all, this party wants equality without rich and poor. So many rich families send their kids to “boarding” schools [this means private schools in Nepal] whilst poor families can only send kids to government schools.

There shouldn’t be two different classes of schools – it should be the same type of school for everybody. If you have money, you have more possibilities. There ought to be equal opportunities for everyone. Equal job opportunities will follow. Old people should have a pension scheme. Why are some of us unemployed whilst others make so much money? NWPP addresses these issues.

PN What’s the difference between NWPP and CPN-Maoist?
CT The Maoists say samaajbaadi ganatantra (socialist republic) but they do not practice it. They claim to be Maoist in theory, however what I see is that they are only concerned with their people holding all the top seats in the government. The election was held to build a new constitution but they seem to only be concerned with holding on to power.

PN How would have NWPP done it differently?
CT They would have focused instead on making fair laws for farmers who represent 80% of the population of Nepal instead of being concerned with putting their own people in top posts in the government.

PN So, NWPP wouldn’t have done the same?
CT No. See, that is what NWPP is against – the accumulation of power.

PN But don’t you think it’s important that your party maintains major posts/seats to be able to implement just laws?
CT I have the impression that it’s the bigwigs of the CPN-Maoist getting all the posts, as opposed to the more unknown, local Moaist leaders.
There could have been an even better representation of women and people from the lower caste (Dalits). I just think they could have done better.

PN Do you think the elections were conducted in a fair manner?
CT The big parties eg Communinst Party of Nepal – United Marxist Leninist [CPN-UML; not to be confused with the Maoists] and Nepali Congress [NC] definitely dished out a lot of money to people to get votes.
These are people who, when talking about border issues and old treaties with India, take India’s side saying that we should not offend our neighbours even though they have stolen our border lands. However, I feel we have to try to keep what is ours, otherwise these big neighbours will eventually eat us up.

PN Was there a lot of police presence when you went to the ballot?
CT In our village in Kavre district, Area 3, the cops were just sitting around not doing anything, not caring, just there for their salary. For example, people would show up to vote and bring a friend who wouldn’t have a clue who to vote for. They would make their friend vote for the party they were voting for. It was so obvious, yet the police just sat there when it was their job to make sure that kind of thing didn’t happen.
In our village, there were no proper enclosures where you could privately put your vote into the ballot box. People were queuing right next to you as you voted. There were people all around you and everyone could see the next person in line’s vote. It was terrible. Nobody seemed to say anything about it.

PN Were there any pre-election threats or violence from parties or groups or individuals?
CT Sometimes you’d see people from the three major parties CPN-UML, NC, and CPN-M [Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist] in tea shops discussing politics all night and if one party outnumbered another in the discussion, they would get into a petty brawl.

PN So, no real calculated violence?
CT As far as I know, none.

PN Was there any one particular bully?
CT I’d say it was a tie between the three major parties.

PN What about post-election violence or intimidation?
CT Before the elections, people would greet one another with a “namaste” in the streets in a friendly manner. Once everyone found out who voted for whom, there was outright bitterness. People who used to greet one another now ignore one another in public. The fact that there weren’t any gaps between where people were casting their vote and where people were queuing is to partly blame.

PN Do you think everyone should vote? Are elections a good thing?
CT In an election that decides the laws for the country [ie constituent assembly elections], I think it is important for all to vote. However, when people vote for parties who obviously don’t care about their voters after the elections, I feel it’s better those people don’t vote.

I see it as a kind of duty, but unfortunately most of the time whoever is elected usually doesn’t follow the will of the people. Elections are a good thing as a concept, but the way they happen makes them meaningless.

PN Who has inspired you?
CT I read some Karl Marx and the life of Che Guevera. I’m also inspired by Naryanman Bijukche, leader of NWPP.

PN Do you wish to be a leader yourself, later?
CT Not to be a leader of a party, but to be influential in changing society through individual effort. We do need leaders for awareness but I believe more in the power of individuals to change things.

PN What do you do when you want to have a good time?
CT I play volley ball with friends. I like chess – I’m just a beginner. During festivals I like to play the madal [small, two-sided traditional drum] and sing songs. [Incidentally, an image of the madal is also the symbol of NWPP.]

PN Do you have any particular message for Peace News readers?
CT [After a long thoughtful pause] I would like to sincerely request all who represent any form of underground / revolutionary resistance to please continue to do their good work; to create awareness about all the important issues and to do their best to achieve their goals.

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