One year after the military coup in Myanmar, mass resistance continues

Protesters at an anti-military rally in downtown Yangon, Myanmar, 9 February 2021 (Photo: VOA Burmese/Wikimedia Commons)

2022 has seen great courage by the Myanmar people, who remain steadfast against the coup carried out by the military Tatmadaw regime. The news of Aung San Suu Kyi’s four-year prison sentence was received with widespread scepticism, and the detention of the 75-year-old leader is seen as nothing but dirty tactics by the regime.

This marks the latest development in the ongoing crisis. Aung San Suu Kyi’s jail sentence did not come as a surprise for millions who are struggling in the country’s chaos, an end to which is not visible. The protest movements that erupted subsequently were mostly made up of the younger generation. This time, the youth and the wider masses have sworn not to budge and make any compromises on the demand to remove the military regime from power. Protest slogans like “Make sure this is our last revolution!” and also “The revolution will succeed!” show the mood of the masses.

However, the concrete development of the class struggle will produce factors that are beyond the anticipation of the masses. The ongoing struggle has already produced exhaustion which has enveloped some sections of society, who are increasingly becoming desperate due to the difficulties that plague their lives. Therefore, it is important for young people and revolutionaries in Myanmar to understand the intricacies and concrete situation so that we can navigate the struggle towards a precise perspective and, at the same time, lead to actions capable of fully liberating the people.

Economic chaos

The global health and economic turmoil are also affecting Myanmar’s economy. The political coup d’état and the Covid-19 pandemic have dragged down Myanmar’s economy from bad to worse. The World Bank estimates around 18% to 30% of the country’s economic contraction is due to the dual crises which swept Myanmar by storm.

The value of the currency, the Kyat, against the US dollar has already fallen by 23%. Exports have fallen by 18% while imports have plummeted by 26%. In the agricultural sector, rising costs and credit barriers will cause a 10% devaluation and will have a significant impact on farmers. The worsening uncertainty and instability have further exacerbated the current situation in Myanmar. It has disrupted the conduct of business, employment processes, consumption, investment and even trade taking place in the border areas. As reported by the International Labour Organisation and the United Nations Development Programme, a crisis that covers a wide range of issues will result in a doubling of the poverty rate in the region.

The regime’s ‘Myanmar Economic Recovery Plan’, which is largely based on documents and plans of the previous government and the National League for Democracy (NLD), has also failed to strengthen the government or the country’s situation. The act of mortgaging assets worth $140 million and the implementation of various other forms of intervention also cannot guarantee effective stability under the leadership of a government that is vehemently opposed by the people.

The people’s struggle

The people’s struggle which began at the start of the military coup with symbols of Aung San Suu Kyi has now extended to a more formidable political movement: namely to abolish all forms of military control and domination. The regime’s failure to control the country has taken many by surprise. The new generation does not want to allow any form of political domination by the military. However, the regime continues to kill, torture and arrest the people who continue to rise up against them. To date, the junta has killed nearly 1,500 residents, over one hundred have been tortured to death, and nearly 11,300 have been arrested. We can expect these atrocities to continue and, with that, the anger and determination of the people to abolish Tatmadaw’s power will also grow stronger!

Recently, videos and images of the Tatmadaw’s brutality surfaced on social media. For instance, the video of Tatmadaw soldiers killing innocent protestors, including children, in Kyimyindaing and Sailingyi townships showcased the arrogance and level of brutality of the regime, which is willing to go to any length in order to control the populace. Attacks on the People’s Defence Force (PDF) were also launched using gun-powered helicopters, fighter jets and drones. Villages and residences were destroyed by bombs and airstrikes, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee to save themselves.

The People’s Defence Forces have also retaliated and caused a few headaches to the military regime. The announcement made last September by the National Unity Government (NUG), organised by the opposition political forces, of a ‘national uprising against military rule’ has led to an escalation of armed conflict between the PDF and the regime. In November, Thein Aung – the chief financial officer of Mytel, a telecommunications company owned by the junta – was shot dead in his residential area. Incidents like this are part of the ‘Operation Swallow’ campaign which has killed two hundred figures involved with the Tatmadaw. So far, more than 1,000 soldiers have been killed in battles and attacks carried out by the PDF.

Is the military apparatus becoming weaker?

The PDF counterattacks have certainly annoyed the Tatmadaw regime, especially when it is becoming difficult to recruit new soldiers, so much so that it had to recall retired military personnel back to duty. The rate of demoralisation among low-ranking soldiers began to increase. This has further intensified the efforts and campaigns of the people to convince the soldiers to disobey the orders of the leadership and, together with their weapons and military skills, to go down to fight with the people’s movement.

But it must also be acknowledged that these campaigns have not yet led to significant changes. Tatmadaw’s military also commands great economic power, and the regime is strengthening its cooperation with the two big military powers, China and Russia, which market and sell their weapons to the regime. Thus, according to the arguments made by the CWI previously, the perspective of leadership and tactics of the PDF coalition and armed ethnic organisations remains an important question in Myanmar. The CWI has argued that a people’s defence coordination should be democratically controlled by the leadership of the labour movement in Myanmar and cannot be separated from the broader struggle for the liberation of the people. Currently, the protest actions and movements are still sporadic and largely unorganised. The level of struggle varies by region and the involvement of ethnic organisations has not been successfully consolidated under a clear programme representing the aspirations of the oppressed people, as a whole.

In order to achieve a revolutionary change, it is essential to provide a programme that can shake the foundations of the ruling military regime. The takeover of the means of production, which include the assets of the regime, to be democratically controlled by the working class, can guarantee a change that is truly in favour of the majority and towards the development of socialism that liberates the working class in Myanmar. This requires an organised revolutionary organisation to launch effective slogans and propaganda that call on the workers to unite on a class basis and oppose military power, as well as the power of capitalists, both local and international. This united working-class force has the ability and opportunity to drive fundamental change throughout the region immediately. Marxists argue that revolutionary power lies in the leadership of the working class and, as an independent political power, the working class is capable of overthrowing the regime that oppresses all the people at this time.

The unresolved national question

To replace the 2008 constitution drafted by the Junta, the Federal Democracy Charter (established by the NUG) now faces a bigger question, which is not only the abolition of military power alone but also the interests of the various ethnic minorities in the region, especially in the border areas.

The Federal Charter of Democracy was drafted and mobilised by the National Union Consultative Council (NUCC), including representatives of some of the ethnic minorities but also elements of the bourgeoisie who will oppose the interests of the working class in general. The strong capitalist representation in NUCC will prioritise the harmony of the capitalist system and the continuity of its domination in Myanmar. The absence of an independent and revolutionary working-class organisation will hamper the people’s struggle and will not provide a way forward to achieve a stable constitution and system for the working class to live in peace and prosperity.

At the same time, it is also not impossible that a compromise could be made between the NUG and the Tatmadaw, as the NLD has done before. The NUG leadership, which is largely made up of former NLD leaders, is a group that has previously worked with the Tatmadaw and wallows in the illusion of reform without changing the fundamentals that are the basis of power and domination of the Tatmadaw. The NUG’s proposed People’s Congress should be represented by the working class, ethnic minorities and the oppressed. It should also be centred on class lines and led by the working class to ensure that the interests of the people can be distinguished from the interests of the pro-capitalist elites.

In addition, the disintegration of unity and opposing positions among ethnic minority leaders and armed organisations is also posing a challenge to uniting a strong opposition against the Tatmadaw regime. Currently, the Chinese superpower, with its own geopolitical interests in northern Myanmar, is trying to arrange a ceasefire process to ensure a stable situation for the continuation of its Belt and Road Initiative, which covers the border areas. Inevitably, the complex national question in Myanmar requires working-class leadership that mobilises the entire population of ethnic minorities. This would unite them under a programme that can truly guarantee their democratic rights based on class lines. It would differentiate their interests from the interests of the current leadership, which are tied to long-preserved advantages under traditional arrangements.

Where is the labour movement in Myanmar heading?

Reportedly, nearly half of government employees, more than half a million, have been involved in the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM). The number of workers opposing the coup is a sign that the regime has not succeeded in consolidating its power and has already lost the legitimacy of leading the country. In desperation, in order to prevent the collapse of their apparatus, the Junta is sending its officers to homes of striking workers to force them back to work. All other threats and intimidations have so far failed to force the working class to comply with their quest to stabilise the nation.

However, the strength of the CDM did not lead to the establishment of an independent and militant labour movement. The absence of a mass revolutionary party has caused the labour movement to face a crisis of leadership in terms of clear perspective and programme to take the movement further forward. The boycott tactics carried out by the labour movement, which call for a cessation of inward investment to Myanmar, will not strengthen the political power needed by the working class by itself. The current revolutionary situation is an important turning point to change the existing dynamics, and it is necessary to strengthen the independent labour movement and move towards revolutionary socialism with haste. The perspective of taking over the means of production needs to be adopted and led by the major labour movements in Myanmar and thus, provide a programme to take over government power from the capitalists, as well as the Tatmadaw regime. 

Internationalism and the solidarity of the world labour movement

The working-class power in Myanmar needs to be strengthened and expanded with calls for solidarity by the working class around the region and of the world. Myanmar workers who are in Thailand and other countries need to work together and implement acts of solidarity. They can campaign against the violence and domination of the brutal Tatmadaw regime and its continued oppression of the people.

International solidarity that will lead to united action among the workers will put real pressure on the capitalists in Myanmar. Reliance on the great powers of the world to salvage the situation in Myanmar will only continue the order of the capitalist system in favour of the capitalists and their interests. Meanwhile, the regime’s diplomatic relations with China and Russia will continue to increase, with the two countries yet to condemn the actions of the Tatmadaw military coup of last February. A year after the coup, relations between the three countries are stronger and are more determined to fend off any geopolitical interests of the western powers in Myanmar.

The condemnation of the coup by the US imperialists, who recently visited several countries in the region, has also put pressure on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to increase their involvement in the unfolding situation in Myanmar. With Cambodia becoming the chair of ASEAN and trying to get a seat for General Ming Aung Hlaing of Myanmar at the upcoming ASEAN conference, actions and receptions of leaders within ASEAN are unclear at the moment. Countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore are keen on taking a stronger stance against the coup while Cambodia and Vietnam are looking towards conciliation and dialogue.

The inability of the major powers to intervene significantly, as part of a ‘wait and see’ geopolitical tactic, has nothing to do with the numbers of people who have been murdered and tortured but everything to do with the profit motive of major capitalist corporations. The representatives of capitalism, both outside and inside the country, must be opposed to the utmost and their interests must be exposed by agitation focused on the objective struggle towards socialism.

The emphasis on the political power that the working class needs to lead is a critical question for the people of Myanmar. Revolutionaries and leftist organisations need to study and learn from previous revolutions, especially the events of the Russian Revolution. The Bolshevik programme managed to unite the diverse ethnic minorities and address the national questions. They were able to unite the peasantry under the leadership of the working class (land-workers still comprise a large part of the population in the neo-colonial world). Brutal oppressive regimes can be overthrown under the banner of socialism. 

The developing situation in Myanmar will also play a vital role in relation to the question of change towards socialism for the region and the whole world.