NA – Anonymous – Na is a leftist political activist and organiser in Burma.
A protest organiser in Burma reflects on the current crisis following the February 1st coup. Examining the road that led there, the state of Burma’s “Military Bureaucratic Capitalist System” and the future of the movement.
Since the February coup, the back of the old Burmese society has been breaking. With on-going nationwide street protests against the military dictatorship, the decades-old military bureaucracy has been paralysed since February 2nd, after health-care workers began the civil disobedience campaign. Since then, civil servants from other state departments have joined them en masse.
The financial sectors are also collapsing as a result of staff from private and state-owned banks joining the campaign, people withdrawing their savings, and people swearing to not pay any tax money to the military government. The decaying military dictatorship is moribund now and is resorting to their oppressive apparatuses like the police forces, soldiers, and top-level bureaucrats in the civil administration.
These phenomena, of the people’s struggles against the military dictatorship, is not new to the people of Burma. What has happened in Burma is like a seasonal pattern. As the famous journalist and politician Hantharwaddy U Win Tin put it: “the revolution in Burma will happen once every decade, as long as the military dictatorship prevails.” The present nationwide struggles have done well to lend credence to his words, and also reflect the conflicts between the oppressor and the oppressed— the military-bureaucratic capitalist class and the masses. The root of this oppression can be found in the military-bureaucratic capitalist state.
Since 1958, Burma’s military leaders have founded military-owned businesses. They nationalized all industries in Burma after the 1962 coup in the name of the Burmese Way to Socialism. Actually, this was a crude imitation of Stalinist Socialism in Russia. As a result, the military-bureaucratic caste emerged within the civil administration through their economic planning. The democratic air was choked out of the people by the military-bureaucratic centralization and one-party rule. It is no wonder socialism could not work from the top command alone by blocking the democratic inputs from those below. Numerous labour and student strikes took place sporadically and were suppressed brutally, the economy was bankrupt, and the country became one of the least developed places in the world.
Against this backdrop, the students’ protests ignited a spark in 1988 and nationwide protests exploded and fractured the shell of the old society. People from all corners of the country took part in the 88 General Uprising under a banner calling for a multi-party democratic system. Intellectuals and leaders of the mass movement were crying out for an individual to focus and coordinate the nationwide general strikes.
A reductionist interpretation of history, following the axiom of, “The Heroes Make the World” might lead us to believe, that since The Burmese people were able to fight back against the Japanese Fascists and gained independence from the British colonials under the sole leadership of the national leader General Aung San, then his daughter would be the most suitable candidate to lead this new struggle. Aung San Su Kyi, who had come back from England to take care of her sick mother, was cast as the future national leader of the Burmese people. The movement came to accept her as their national leader and liberator, as did the bourgeois press and governments in the western countries who thought to cultivate their own jockey for capitalism praised her as a democratic icon.
From the beginning, Aung San Suu Kyi (ASSK) was an opportunist and never a revolutionary. She dared not challenge junta rule outright and asked for minor concessions, rather than mass reform. As a result, precious time and the revolutionary momentum of the people were wasted. Further, under the opportunistic and reconciliatory leadership of ASSK, and following a brutal crackdown by the military, the revolutionary energy of the masses was finally dissipated.
Then following the movement in 1988, another military coup took place and the top military leaders transformed their rule into another form by opening the capitalist economy, selling the state-owned enterprises and export-import permits for ludicrously low prices to their close associates. The Burmese economy became dominated by military conglomerates and their lackeys. Politically, they promised to draw a new constitution and hold an election in the name of democracy under the guidance of the military. Eventually, in 2008, the military-drafted constitution was ratified in a so-called popular referendum.
In 2010, the founding of political parties was permitted and an election was held. The majority of people, including ASSK’s party, The National League for Democracy (NLD), boycotted the election and the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) composed of ex-military leaders won comfortably.
Two years later in 2012, the NLD, led by ASSK, entered a by-election and went on to win a landslide victory in the 2015 general election. The so-called political analysts and think-tanks funded by western donors, and the so-called international community, dominated by the representatives of the global capitalists, praised Burma as now being in a transitionary state towards democracy.
In reality, the economic and political base of Burmese society has never been challenged and left untouched by ASSK. The military-bureaucratic rule allowed the people simply the freedom to criticize, whilst maintaining their monopoly on violence and power, continuously expanded their wealth by engaging with global capitalism, and exploiting workers and peasants by seizures of land. It is no wonder ASSK and her party became the representatives of military-bureaucratic capitalism in Burmese politics, and championed the economic and political interests of this class.
She even asked the people not to call the military lackeys, “cronies”, but rather as “tycoons” so as to soften the public’s hatred towards their wealth accumulation within the framework of the military-dominated economy. Finally, in 2019, she even defended the military, in front of the International Criminal Court, against the charge of genocide against the Rohingya people.
In the eyes of the military-bureaucratic capitalist class, the elected political representatives are no more than their employees. They could employ and fire them as they wish since the actual power is not in the politicians’ hands and does not rely on the power of people’s votes.
The current Commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing, who enacted the coup this year, has his own economic empire. Due to the changes by the International Court of Justice, I believe he decided to take the presidency in order to maintain his economic interests and to protect himself from becoming a sacrificial lamb for the ICJ, on behalf of other military bureaucratic capitalists’ interests, as his retirement was imminent due to his age being over the limit for military officers. He enacted the military coup on February 1, 2021. All the employees of the military-bureaucratic capitalist class and NLD leaders including ASSK were arrested.
The day after the coup, health-care workers (particularly doctors and nurses) initiated a civil disobedience campaign (CDM) calling for the release of the elected leaders including ASSK, and other NLD government officials and representatives. They also called for the restoration of the NLD government, which had won a landslide victory in the 2020 general election. Later, other civil servants from several state departments started the Red Ribbon Movement Campaign (RRM) and later joined the CDM under the same slogans.
Their slogans might be strange to our comrades in other countries since the workers and peasants suffered the same fate under the NLD government, which was not significantly different from the outright military rule. Following some limited political and economic liberalizations regarding international markets and donors, many jobs were created in private economic sectors (including many NGOs jobs). It was mainly the middle class that benefited from these opportunities.
The NLD government also put a significant emphasis on the healthcare system during the onset of Covid-19. Civil servants have a long history of hatred towards filling administrative positions with military personnel. For the middle class, as long as the elections and civilian rule continued, despite the presence of the existing military constitution which was designed to limit civilian government power, they seemed to be satisfied with the incremental and minimal changes they believed NLD government led by ASSK was trying to push.
Their tactical decisions centered around non-cooperation with the military government and they refused to go to work. As usual, the middle class dare not take the risk of actually protesting in the streets publicly. Expecting international pressure and intervention, they restrained each other to wait for 72 hours without taking any action on the streets. Some even believed the military would give back state power to the NLD government, and that it would enact a real coup if people took to the streets.
But no one could control the momentum of the coming class struggle arising out of the old decaying conflict-ridden society. A crack has already appeared due to the military coup and the façade of the old society has been unmasked by arresting ASSK and elected government officials. After seeing the unmasked old face of military-bureaucratic capitalism, the working class and the progressive youth stepped forward to try to shatter the shell of the old society into pieces.
The Burmese working class, historically, has never hesitated in class struggle and always takes the leading role in resistance against the military dictatorship. It is true in every mass movement that has ever taken place in Burma. After a small group of student protests in Mandalay on February 5th, thousands of workers from the Hlaing Thar Yar Township in Yangon marched in the centre of Yangon City ,combining forces with the progressive youth from the Student Union on February 6th. The next day, workers from the South Dagon Township joined the street protests, and some politicians and activists became involved in the movement as well.
After their outright challenge against the coup, the protests spread all across the country including among the ethnic minority peoples in the more remote areas, with the movement increasing in number day by day. Even the ethnic minority people who have endured great suffering and casualties in the wars and dehumanization in genocidal attacks during NLD rule, came out to call for the release of the NLD leaders and restoration of the elected government. Many of the workers and peasants who have faced suppression and imprisonment during the NLD rule also joined the movement and chanted the same slogans as well.
If you are not on the ground and don’t have access to the real movement, understanding who is leading the protests can be difficult. Even the domestic media and exiled broadcasting outlets can not explain what’s going on. For the security of our comrades, I would like to explain those questions generally.
In reality, the majority of people are from labour organisations in the Hlaing Thar Yar and South Dagon Townships, as well as the progressive youth forces, led and organised by our experienced comrades. These people have tremendous experience of economic struggles in their industries, and have the class solidarity already formed in the democratic trade unions in their own factories for years. Everyone else has followed their lead spontaneously out of their shared hatred for the military dictatorship.
While our comrades have to play low-profile roles due to security, some opportunistic former political activists as well as one of the leaders from the 88 generation, Ko Min Ko Naing, has been making empty interviews with the media and using his old political credits. In reality, he has no real popular base and no leading role in the daily mass movement. But I have to admit that since the Burmese people in the countryside have to struggle for their daily meals and have no time to study the daily political news, they only know of Ko Min Ko Naing, since they rely only on the radio for their political news. Thus, his political demands, of releasing the NLD leaders and the restoration of the NLD government, have become the widespread slogans of the people.
International political analysts should not be rash and assume the Burmese people still admire or believe in ASSK. They want to fight against the military dictatorship firstly and foremostly, and do not like to argue about the controversial matters that would disintegrate the solidarity of the people before any overthrow of the military dictatorship.
The progressive youth in Burma have said in reference to ASSK’s cult-like status, “No Supreme Saviour,” and so they continue marching instep with other comrades in the working class and other progressive forces
The military government now has one last resort, to utilise the oppressive apparatuses like the police force, military, and top-level bureaucrats. The police started firing on protesters in Myawaddy on February 7. Some protesters were arrested and some have been killed.
Our comrades spread pamphlets on that day, proposing to form self-defence organisations under a self-governing body in every neighbourhood which should work to disobey the authority of the government. On February the 10th, the police and authorities from the Township General Administration started night raids to pressure and arrest the protest organisers and lower level NLD representatives.
The opportunistic old leaders from the 88 generation followed only part of our pamphlet and agreed to form the neighbourhood protection group to protect the targets of the raids, but the only tactics they proposed is that the people should beat the pots and pans to frighten the night raiders who came in the area.
We have repeatedly said that this is not enough, and the youth from the self-defence organisations must form small units composed of not more than five people in each unit, whose duty is to disarm the weapons and communication materials of the night raiders and arm themselves for the coming street fights when necessary. Later, the military government started using soldiers for the night raids who do not hesitate to fire the real bullets.
On February 10, riot police used water cannons to disperse protesters and fired on the crowd. Myat Thet Thet Khaing, a 19-year old girl, was shot dead. On the night of February 14, the protesters in Myitkyina were shot at by riot police. Protesters in Mandalay were also shot by riot police and soldiers as well. Live rounds, teargas and water cannons were used in dispersing protestors as well as night raids. In Yangon city, the military tanks have been stationed near the central bank since February 14.
The dictatorship is gasping and convulsing by now, having reached the last of their violent measures. At present, the organisers from the middle class still stick to the illusion of non-violence. Some of them are even spreading belief in the myth of military intervention by the US or a UN peace-keeping task force.
This of course will not happen. The masses, in my opinion, are now calling for the complete overthrow of the military-bureaucratic capitalist system, in line with the policy, ‘Combating the military three’ (Military businesses, military bureaucracy, and the old military structure). Ultimately we hope to replace them with a people’s democracy.
The next steps we are now proposing, are to set up strike groups in every neighbourhood, to form the self-defence groups, to disarm the oppressor’s apparatuses, arm our democratic organs by any means, to convene the National Congress with the elected representatives from each strike group and form a Provisional Revolutionary Government which would command the remaining police forces and soldiers loyal to the military dictatorship to throw down their weapons and obey a newly established Provisional Revolutionary Government.
To sum up, no one can bring the Burmese people back into the shell of the old military-bureaucratic capitalist society and the old society. Neither can bourgeois democracy or global capitalism that encourages reconciliation with the old Burmese order solve the age old conflict in Burma.
The only solution to these problems is to completely shatter the old society into pieces and burn them into ashes, and to build a new democratic and socialist society which can serve the majority of the Burmese people including the peasants living in the sprawling, rural lands, the workers in the major cities, and as well as the ethnic minorities who have suffered for decades under the brutal oppression of the militaristic state.
To strive for that, the only motto we have to remember in our mind, is the line from The International, “No Supreme Saviour.”