Can you tell us a little bit about your work in Nepal, and your views on the role of an intellectual?
My work in Nepal started back in 1985 when I did a study in Western Nepal looking at the rise of merchant communities, and how they participated in the expansion of British capitalism from colonial India and extended that into Nepal, in terms of relationships and communities. Also, how the merchants expanded as a class in the countryside, and how they got control over land and other productive assets, by the means of the institution of the merchants bazaar. I have also worked on other things such as radio, and I was one of the news editors of the Everest Herald when it first started, for about six months or so. I have also been looking at the development of struggle in the movements in Nepal.
Regarding the role of the intellectual, I am a great believer in intellectuals getting their hands dirty, in my personal life I do gardening and construct houses, and I have been learning how to build natural houses out of clay or mud and straw, which are much more comfortable than cement houses and even the mass produced houses that they put up in the United States. I have been involved with different agricultural movements. I have ridden my bicycle around the US looking at intentional communities, which are communes which people have designed, I guess its another word for socialism, although these are very small and isolated, and not related to struggles for state power, at least not in the short run. I feel that intellectuals should be very closely tied to productive activities and not just keep a pen in their hand.
Could you tell us a little about your understanding and approach to Marxism?
In my own studies, I entered into Marxism through Anthropology, so I already had training in dealing with people empirically, and the whole approach of Anthropological work is to live with people for months and months before you even start doing any kind of formal analysis, and doing research in which you develop close relationships with people. So, when I entered into Marxism it was a Marxism informed by Anthropology, and I really entered into it by reading Marx’s own works. I didn’t go through interpreters or other people, and so I started reading the Grundrisse, because there he was grappling with anthropological ideas, and then I read Kapital, and developed from there. I returned to Anthropology with a more informed view; anyway that’s how I got into Marxism. For me the most important part of Marxism is the dialectical perspective, in which you look very closely at how the world is, that you are looking at the world as a constant creation, so its very open ended, both where its going and also in terms on how you interpret where it came from.
When did you get involved politically?
I was swept into things back in the 1960s when all young men had the prospect of the draft into the US military hanging over their heads, and in the 1960s the US was involved in a big colonial war in which they were drafting all the young men, so I had that prospect over my head. Since my family was anti war, and I was anti war, and I was from a Quaker background, even our religious outlook was anti war, we were often on anti war marches and demonstrations. After the war ended, many people lost touch with the struggle and got into other things. When I studied Anthropology I got swept up with a group of Marxist anthropologists, and when I got to Nepal, since there had been a long struggle here already, it helped my interest develop further.
From your work, have you any thing you think that people in Nepal should know or think about?
My question for Nepal is that there is lots of talk about development, but how much of that has really been thought through? In my own work I have come to the conclusion that what we call ‘developed’ societies are those that are running on petroleum as opposed to societies that are running on more renewable sources such as solar energy. So instead of saying societies are developed or underdeveloped, I feel that there are societies that are solar based or petroleum based, and unfortunately in this world the solar based societies have been undervalued, even though they have tremendous complexity and also tremendous knowledge from thousands of years; whereas industrial society has reduced all human activity down to being powered by petroleum energy, which itself is peaking right now, and the next forty years we will probably see a decline that takes us back to the pre petroleum stage. In my mind, a society that is looking to the future would be looking towards at how to intensify solar processes, and there is a lot of knowledge already in Nepal, and knowledge throughout the world. So maybe that is one issue that kind of overarches everything that I do.
What do you see as prospects, possibilities and dangers in the future?
I think one of the biggest dangers for Nepal, which we should look at as a challenge, is that Nepal is not isolated from the world political economy, and to extract out of that takes a tremendous independence and independent activity of people in which they need to give up a lot of things. So, in my mind, a danger is that people may need to give up things and pursue an independent life. Another danger is the bureaucratisation of parties; if the new Nepal is framed in terms of being led by parties; is the development of parties the objective and is working struggle subordinated to them? Or does the working struggle always relate to the parties as a tool of the struggle but not the essential aspect itself? Parties are themselves from the 19th century, and they carry a lot of baggage with them. So, these are two things.
You emphasise the term independent working class struggle, could you say something about ‘struggle’?
I think sometimes struggle is looked at as a immediate thing, but, returning to the dialectical perspective; that there is always a process of creating the world, and so historically the class struggle has been framed in terms of groups in society who, as they developed within society, started harnessing the different processes of society to their own purposes and gradually got more and more control over it.
The most important thing about struggle is that we have to be creating the world that we are struggling for, and not think to fight for democracy or communism, and that one day we will control the state and then we’ll get communism. I don’t think it works that way, if your fight does not have what you want within it, once you get control of the state it is very easy to end up somewhere quite different, which is common to various working class revolutions. Like China now is very capitalist, and in the Soviet Union we saw a tremendous bureaucratisation of the social movement. So, within the communities, we already need to be creating the means in order to take direct power, so for me the struggle is much more about the process that we have to be constantly working for; what we have to be constantly working for is in the process itself.
Stephen Mikesell and Roshan Kissoon (Red Star)