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Burma: once again the same lies!
Email: communism_icg (nospam) yahoo.com
06 Oct 2007
Down with democracy!
Burma: once again the same lies!
Bourgeois worship monks who quietly march.
Bourgeois idolize Nobel prizes who ever talk about "social pacification" .
Bourgeois like DEMOCRACY above all!!!
What happens today in Burma has strictly nothing to do with any struggle between dictatorship and democracy, but is a new outbreak of our old friend, the mole, Robin Goodfellow, the class struggle, that is digging and undermining this society close to death.
Down with democracy!
Down with all the social peacemakers, politician rabbles, clerics (priest, ayatollahs, monks) and other Nobel prizes of bourgeois peace!
No to elections - which are a swindle!
Long live social revolution!
The text we propose here about the struggles in Burma in 1988 could appear out of date, according to the merchant journalistic viewpoint which claims that the value of an article is the reverse of the geographical and temporal distance separating it with its publishing place. Our point of view, contrasting with the one we denounce, emphasizes the interest to relate some past events, either current or not, more or less present, because they express some forces in the lessons they reveal for the fight of our class. May the reader pay attention on the description of the lessons these struggles raised.
Burma : Struggles and Riots to be remembered !
* * *
In this text we are going to try to draw the lessons of the struggles that broke out in Burma in the spring of '88. First of all we would like to underline one or two points to place these events in their local and international context.
Considering, from a worldwide point of view, the past ten years, we can assert without much risk of making mistakes that there have been social tensions, confrontations, struggles, which confirm, if there has ever been any need to do so, that even in periods of profound social peace the proletariat is never crushed totally, that it never disappears completely from the scene of history. Of course, taking a closer look, we notice at once that those explosions of anger are weak, that the demands are confused, etc. The same weaknesses can be found in almost every struggle wherever it breaks out and the events in Burma are not exceptions to the characteristics of today's struggles, which are sporadic, rarely concomitant in different countries, and occur within sectorial, national or other sorts of frontiers. The reader will find in our reviews different attempts to understand, analyze and draw lessons of the struggles of our class: hunger riots in Morocco in 1984 and in Tunisia in 1986, the conflicts in Poland, in Gaza and the West Bank, in England during the miners' strike, in the Iran-Iraq war, in Algeria and in Argentina,.. .
As to the struggle of the proletariat in Burma, we want to underline some quite important qualitative differences in comparison with other struggles close in time. They are of relative importance of course. Their importance only exists in relation with the context of social peace, the context of our class anaesthesia.
First, the struggle in Burma can be distinguished by its duration: it lasted at least seven months. Then by its massiveness; indeed, even if we know very well that never during its history has the proletariat been defeated by the lack of numbers (the lack is rather qualitative than quantitative) , it's to be underlined that there were not just one or two sectors, one or two factories in the foreground, even though that's how the movement had started - like anywhere else. In Burma, all what the bourgeois press calls "the population", "the people", very quickly committed themselves in the struggle: some helped insurgents to hide, giving them shelter and food; others demonstrated in the streets or looted the shops, attacking all symbols of wealth, others, like the soldiers for instance, refused to shoot or even deserted. Many proletarians joined the general strikes and entire cities were paralysed.
Finally, the third important point of this struggle is the organization of the insurgents. We know that entire cities and ports were emptied of their administration and ruled by the insurgents for a while. We know that the targets of the looting were not chosen by chance and that facing the bourgeois terror a proletarian counter-terror was organized: self-defence groups were set up, police headquarters looted, the defence of large areas of the suburb of Rangoon assumed. We think we may affirm that for the past few years there have been many attempts to lead the struggles a proletarian way.
But, unfortunately, in this case even more than in that of the struggles in Iran and Iraq we depend on the information given by the bourgeois press. Therefore we have tried to gather as much information as possible from the largest number of newspapers available. We consulted the press of a lot of countries from China to France, from Cuba to Italy. But no information is reliable and the result is not the same as it would be if we could have gone there or received news from militants.
From October '88, the news items got rarer and fewer, so meagre, so poor that we don't really know what has been going on there since about December '88.
However, this doesn't mean that the bourgeois order has been restored or that the proletarian movement has been crushed. Experience taught us that the death of a struggle movement is generally proclaimed, shouted out and praised by the bourgeoisie as the victory of democracy over this or that dictatorship, as the triumph of a national liberation movement over a government paid by this power or that bloc. The withdrawal of the troops, the creation of a new independent State, the promises of elections very soon, the recognition of the opposition,. .. usually mark the defeat of the movement, the end of the struggle. We haven't heard anything like this about Burma. We haven't seen any clear signs of the political publicity generally mobilized by the bourgeois to mark their victory against the proletarians, the crushing of a proletarian struggle.
The bourgeois black out, the very fact that the subject of "Burma" almost completely disappeared from the pages of newspapers, have proved again that the bourgeoisie wants to divert the attention of all those who might have a feeling of community with this struggle. According to the bourgeoisie, of course, the proletarians in Burma set a very bad example to their brothers all over the world. The bourgeois world State does everything to repress the movement in the Burma itself by supporting the Burmese bourgeois on the one hand, and to smother its example, preventing its spreading outside, thanks to the powerful media. But the silence the bourgeoisie tries to impose does not mean that the bourgeois order has been restored in Burma. The social situation and the hatred for the State make the equilibrium the bourgeoisie tries to impose by terror extremely precarious. To live, the proletarians are forced to negate the laws and to confront the bourgeoisie. From this and the past waves of struggles the proletarians in Burma have drawn lessons which will make it possible for them to be in the vanguard of the world proletariat in this region for the big fights to come.
2. The historical context of the social explosion
26 years of General Ne Win's leadership at the head of the BSPP (Burmese Socialist Program Party) only resulted in accelerating and catastrophically deepening the ruinous effects of the capitalist world crisis. Burma, considered in the fifties as one of the biggest rice producers and exporters, has now become one of the "poorest" countries of the planet. The living conditions of the proletarians have extremely rapidly deteriorated. The annual per capita income has tumbled from $ 690 in 1960 to $ 190 in 1988, which is lower than that in China.
However, in this region, Burma is a little different from the other countries. In the beginning of the fifties, the bourgeoisie applied there a stalinist social democratic "anti-imperialist" policy with nationalizations and one-party system (the BSPP). The leader, U Nu, put forward a policy of virulent nationalism. He had fought against the British in the colonial times. U Nu tried to arrive at a synthesis between "marxism" and buddhism. He was the first translator of Marx into Burmese. His faction represented an anti-imperialist- social-democrati c-buddhist line, which means, in practice, the reinforcing of the "Independent National State" and the crushing of the proletariat in the name of nation and democracy (a well-known method from the Philippines to Nicaragua, from Europe to China). U Nu, overthrown by General Ne Win in 1962, went into exile and later came back to take the lead of the "democratic opposition".
The proletarians' economic situation has become catastrophic during the past years: the average wage was worth one cup of tea daily for each member of a family of 3 members, in 1988. The black market is the only way to survive. In September '87, the government removed 70% of the banknotes without warning or compensation.
Even so, the proletarians in Burma do not live in conditions as miserable and extreme as our brothers of Bangladesh and India do. The rapid concentration of capital, and of exploitation determined in Burma the development of the proletariat and of its struggles, even though the latter were controlled and repressed by a national union of the stalinist kind. Due to this "development" , on the one hand, there is an "educated" proletariat, "organized into trade unions", but on the other hand, the traditions of struggle are much stronger than in the neighbouring countries.
In Burma, religion is not of much importance, but it is interesting and characteristic that there, the same way as in Russia (where the Orthodox Russian Church coexisted with the one-party government and took an active part in the military mobilization of proletarians for the 1939-45 war), the Stalinist faction of the bourgeoisie has maintained a considerable number of Buddhist priests, even though their ideological influence on the proletariat has been insignificant (this isn't true for India, for instance). The religious institutions have served as a kind of security reserve for the bourgeoisie and during the last period of the uprising, Buddhist monks would do the job for which they have been kept in reserve: pacifying the movement, imposing the banner of non-violence and democracy, fighting (sometimes physically) the violent manifestations of the need of the proletariat.
The past three decades have seen the slowly increasing militancy of the proletariat (violently expressed in the '70s) determined by the deterioration of the living conditions. To face this, the bourgeoisie had to develop a lovely range of different and competitive bourgeois factions to channel the revolt, to enrol the proletarian fights in fights which are absolutely alien from the causes of their revolt, from their needs. Until 1988, the most efficient factions were the guerilla movements, the pro-Chinese, pro-Indian, pro-British, pro-Russian, ... nationalist groups (1).
That assortment proved to be enough during more than twenty years to enrol the discontent proletarians and to kill them slowly in fights between the various armed groups and in the army of the State. But inside the army a growing discontent was developing because of the deterioration of the living conditions there also, the weariness, the lassitude of the endless combats. The relative equilibrium expressed by a relative social peace, with continuous combats in the mountains and along the borders on the one hand, and, the violent imposition of work in most areas, and first of all in the big cities, on the other hand, thus, this relative equilibrium worked thanks to (and in) a context of relative economic stability.
But, since the deepening of the world economic crisis in the seventies, problems began to accumulate: the world market prices moved violently up and down, the competition between various groups of capitalists sharpened and the exploitation increased. In Burma, the ruling faction was in a dilemma as to how to adapt to the changing international conditions while facing the real menace of working class uprisings. This phenomenon became more and more acute, because, facing the development of the wrath of the working class, the bourgeoisie had already been forced to put forward its radical faction. But if Stalinist reformism (considered erroneously as a "violation of general norms of capitalism") is necessary to fight against the working class; on the other hand, Stalinism as a ruling bourgeois faction is a trump the bourgeoisie burns, making it useless for the future. So the hands of the Stalinist governments are more or less tied when they have to consider (because of the local concretizations of the world crisis) the possibility of reforms. They have to shake the status quo in which they feel at ease to avoid the weakening of their country in the international competition. But they know by experience that shaking the form of their extremely static government might cause even more trouble because the proletarians might see a breach and rush into it.
The bourgeoisie won't forget the "destalinisation" in Russia which resulted in "outflankings" it would rather have done without. "Conservative" forces following the letter of the stalinist dogma refuse any kind of reforms, because their fear of the proletariat is greater than the weight of the necessity to make the country competitive in the world market (cf. Ceausescu, Brezhnev,... ); the "reformists" rather choose a general reform of the economic - and, accordingly, political - structures, they incline to favour "a sort of westernization" (cf. Yeltsin,...) . Eventually, the "pragmatic" faction overcomes (cf. Gorbachev, Ne Win,...) undertaking half-hearted reforms and trying to conserve the essence of the old version of bourgeois government.
Of course, it is not a question of choosing a "better" or a "worse" solution, it is a question of emergency in the context of the deepening world crisis of capitalism. One expression of this is the pendular movement, the oscillation movement swinging to "the right" then to "the left"; pendulum movement between taking reform measures and their withdrawal, one step towards the "westernization of the economic politics", then another step towards the reinforcement of central control; measures to change the political structures, then (in the form of "counter-reforms" or sometimes of a "military coup") measures to consolidate the old structures.
In the seventies, this swinging movement was characteristic to Burma: political opening, loans on the international financial market, encouraging people to learn English,... and then, isolationist moves with increasing efforts to pay the debt back, increasing central control in the political life, a ban on the English courses at the schools,... But all this couldn't stop the local effects of the world crisis of Capital and the worsening of the social situation. The bourgeoisie, no matter what their ideology is, necessarily MUST diminish the social wage, increase the exploitation, deteriorate the working conditions, directly or indirectly (shortages) raise the prices, reinforce state terror making reference to the interests of the "true" (parliamentarist) democracy (reforms), or to those of the "people's democracy" (called "dictatorship of the proletariat" by stalinists).
We mustn't forget that the situation had already been tense in Burma since the fifties which implied, even before the deepening of the world crisis, a local militarization of the State administrative apparatus and the economy.
From the bourgeois point of view, the worsening of the social situation meant the accumulation of problems with the industrial and agricultural production (in '87 they decreased drastically and the exports went down to a minimum level mainly because of internal tensions), the weight of the debt,... The fragile stability was disappearing with the price-rises, the increase of the pressure of capital on the working class; the situation of the latter became unbearable. For the proletariat, life was getting more and more expensive every day and the wages were insufficient to feed the families, which compelled the workers to work ever more to buy rice.
An example: the daily wage of a worker amounted to 10 kyats in 1988 (officially, in August '88, one dollar was worth 6 or 7 kyats while on the black market the exchange rate was 40 kyats for one dollar). In 1988 the price of the rice increased by 400%, we can imagine the situation of the proletarians whose average wage was 10 kyats while it cost 50 to feed one family!
What's more, the commerce totally aligned itself to the black market prices, that is to say goods were sold at a price six times higher than the regular ("official") price. For the proletarians it became impossible to avoid the deepening of poverty, even trying some funny business, working overtime,... weren't enough any more.
From the point of view of the capitalist order, the everlasting solution to escape the crisis is the massive destruction of commodities (mainly the proletarians, because they are the most dangerous ones). This destruction will then make it possible, just like a good breath of fresh air, to re-invest, re-build, give work... Therefore, this capitalist order has to massacre the proletarians: "peacefully" starving them to death, if possible, or by killing them more rapidly and efficiently in internal or international wars.
In Burma, the decrease of wages went thus under the minimum level of daily existence, and this situation, permanent in Bangladesh or in India, provoked here a real shock. The difference between "life" in 1988 and twenty years before was all the less bearable since all the expectations that the situation would take a change for the better had gradually vanished. On the other hand, the situation of the soldiers (proletarians in uniform) followed the same pattern: problems of food, permanent wars against the autonomists, families ruined by the crisis and on the verge of starvation, etc. These elements led to desertion and refusal to shoot at demonstrators.
3. The Struggles
In February and March '87, more than 200 officers of Rangoon (capital of Burma) and Mandalay (the second largest town) were arrested for having criticized, during a religious service held for the soldiers, Ne Win's economical policy of the "empty iron rice bowl" (ironical diversion of the declarations and goals of General Ne Win who claimed he would give a rice bowl to every citizen). Then, in March '88, riots broke out after the police murdered a student during the repression of a demonstration. Confrontations lasted more than a week and the initial reasons of the rioters changed into a refusal of the government decision to take out of circulation all the banknotes of more than 15 kyats ("to fight against black market" - the same measure with the same argument was taken in Russia by the Gorbatchev administration, in 1991). The real aim of this step was to diminish even more drastically the "buying power" of the proletarians in Burma.A massive revolt followed: rioters set shops on fire and attacked those they considered rich, taking their possessions away.
In May and June '88: further strikes and demonstrations, further looting. General Ne Win imposed the martial law and the curfew. As it often happens, the social movement in Burma started from the "student" sector, which isn't surprising, considering how faint their hopes were to get a job and how dark the future they had to confront was - "they": the proletarians not yet unleashed in the employment arena. But the worsening of the economical situation rapidly made thousands of people go down to the streets and support the young "student" proletarians. General Ne Win mobilized the elite troops in the capital to crush the movement.
During the summer, the number of rioters increased. In August '88 some reports spoke about millions of demonstrators. Several police quarters were looted. "Protesters seize guns", China Daily wrote on 11th August, "A number of police stations are in the hands of the demonstrators and they have seized the weapons from the police". The Burmese bourgeois reacted with the well-known mixture of promises and repression. The government promised to introduce reforms in the economy, and, as it always happens in countries ruled by a Stalinist government, stressed the "westernization" , which "will bring welfare to the people". At the same time, the police and the army fired at the crowd and killed several demonstrators.
Since July proletarians had gone to the offensive: more and more often in Rangoon, but also in other big towns like Mandalay, rioters undertook an active fight against the state and the private property. They fought with iron clubs and sharpened bicycle spokes, with knives and swords, machetes,... they beheaded militaries, attacked the villas of government officials, etc.
In the port of Rangoon the workers refused to unload the freighters. Those carrying food were looted. The insurrectional pressure was so strong that General Ne Win resigned on 23rd July. General Sein Lwin, called "the butcher of Rangoon" for his role in the bloody repression of the March demonstrations, took his place. It was him who gave his soldiers the following order: "Hit to kill, shoot to kill". General Sein Lwin pledged a total reform of the economy and the introduction of a multiparty system in Burma. "General Sein Lwin's reputation for brutality has been balanced (sic) in recent weeks with a rare show of pragmatism in promoting reforms" - The Guardian, August 11.
Although the press tried to underestimate the insurrectional elements of the demonstrations (and will always do so), stressing (as it always does) the democratical aspects of the struggles, the latter reached, at the end of August, such a violence that the press just didn't talk about it any more. Only a few lines filter here and there, as for instance the burning of the houses of 36 ministers and deputies by angry demonstrators.
August was a month of continuous riots. The proletariat took the power in several towns. In the port of Kowsong, the inhabitants assaulted the office buildings and threatened to set them on fire. They expelled the employees and the police. In Pegu, a lot of soldiers joined the insurgents and together they prevented the arrival of military reinforcement coming from the capital. In Prome, some soldiers refused to shoot at the crowd. In Toungoo, an officer is said to have been killed by his soldiers who also refused to shoot at demonstrators. In Rangoon, different units of the army shot at each other, which shows the social confrontation existing within the army; all the accesses to the city were closed to prevent the inhabitants of other cities from going to help the insurgents of the capital. The buddhist clergy interceded and implored the government to give the proletarians some concessions in order to be able to impose law and order again. On 10th August, an incident quite revealing of the depth and the extent of the social confrontation, an airplane was dropping leaflets on Rangoon threatening to bomb the city if the people kept on resisting the army. On 14th, a diplomat holding a post in Rangoon said: "Hunger is the engine of the uprising, democracy comes after"; and the French newspaper "Libération" wrote on 30th: "Burma is drifting (off), the insurrection has spread all over the country and is on the capital doorstep..." It is quite significant that the government accused (and therefore recognized the existence of) "a network of clandestine organisation that feeds and coordinates the movement". "The present instability is due to the organization and the intervention of these trouble-makers" , it said. Liberation on 14th August added: "The movement is structured into closed cells, gathering a few individuals knowing each other very well and trusting each other". Contacts were made with old militants who had participated in the movements of '70 in Burma and '73 in Thailand (those movements directly belonging to the worldwide wave of struggles of 1967-1973). The press talked about at least 6 clandestine groups acting together, and about 30 secret leaders acting through the student union created on 17th March and banned by the authorities without any delay. The bourgeoisie might spectacularly stress the aspects of organization and leadership of the struggle, which does not always exist, to frighten the citizens, nevertheless this kind of campaign there was based on real aspects of organization and leadership of our class.
During August, thousands of demonstrators were massacred by the army. Reports speak of 3,000 deaths in only one week. General Sein Lwin, unable to calm down the confrontations in spite of the promises and massacres, resigned on 12th, giving his place to Maung Maung, a lawyer. The bourgeoisie tried to calm down the situation, placing a puppet at the head of the government. Straight away the latter demanded peace and tranquillity, a sine qua non for the recovery of the economy. He suppressed the martial law to show his will of pacification (but of course the army kept on shooting at demonstrators) . Maung Maung's fight against the proletariat was supported by part of the "democratic opposition", like General Aung Gyu, a reformist military leader, who had accused the former governments of corruption and had been arrested in July for having "attacked the state". Confident in the "good image" his past of "an oppressed of the regime" gave him, this general stood for non-violence on both sides "to avoid anarchy and more bloodshed", as he said. Maung Maung introduced an amnesty for some prisoners, most of whom (but it was kept secret) were members of the bourgeois factions jailed by the military regime: democrats, nationalists, liberals,... Many thousands of proletarians remained in jail, which later led to one of the biggest massacres in Burma.
It is important to stress that the common efforts of the government (promises of reforms, amnesties and police terror) and of the opposition (discourses on anarchy, participation in the demonstrations to impose non-violence and the respect for property) didn't manage, at this stage, to pacify, calm down or crush the movement of resistance, which was threatening to escalate into a general insurrection.
The opposition supported the government and cooperated with the army, while always stressing the importance of "pacific protests against dictatorship" and of the necessity of avoiding chaos. Monks also participated in the struggle against subversion, calling the army units to defend a factory attacked by "a gang of more than 500 criminals", then they organized an "alternative system" of self-management, shouting loud and clear their submission to the rioters interests! Another figure of the opposition came into the limelight: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (nicknamed by the media "the Burmese Cory Aquino"), the daughter of a Burmese independence leader, Aung San killed by a bourgeois rival faction in 1947. With this aura of prestige, she fought for democracy and multiparty system, with the clear conscience of the bourgeois humanists, exterminators of the working class in struggle.
By the end of August, the proletarians' movement gained importance in the army as well as in other capitalist institutions. Defections from the army became massive, soldiers turned their arms against their officers. At the same time, there were proletarian revolts in several prisons of the country. Some escaped and many prisoners were massacred. 13kms from the capital, in the prison of Insein, surrounded by the army, rioters set the buildings on fire and tried to break through the military cordon to escape. 2 of 6 thousand managed to fight their way out but at least 1,000 prisoners were killed in the continuous outfire of the army. Later, the government ordered a new amnesty and freed the rest of the prisoners from the jails, which had become in all cases unusable and uncontrollable, almost everywhere in ruins... In August and September, more and more soldiers could be seen with other proletarians. Rifles appeared side by side with the bicycle spokes and machetes, though the latter remained the dominant weaponry and beheading the dominant method to kill the bourgeois.
At this point it is important to go into details speaking about the role played by the different bourgeois factions, and, on the other hand, about the way the international press reported the events. Two kinds of pacifism, of non-violent discourses have emerged:
The first one was the traditional propaganda for non-violence: "We demonstrate peacefully, we demand reforms, rights, amnesty, change of government, and all this in a peaceful way", (even the catholic priests and nuns joined the demonstrations in September with the slogan "Jesus loves democracy"; Burma's Supreme Buddhist Patriarch called for restraint while the troops pursued demonstrators into the hospitals shooting at everybody). Events, however, quickly surpassed that kind of propaganda. Proletarians resisted the massacres and the attempts to lead their struggle astray. This is why the bourgeois opposition pushed by the necessity to stay credible began to radicalize itself and accepted, and even encouraged, violence against the ruling faction. The former, absolute non-violence- type discourses transformed into a propaganda for "differentiated violence".
The other pacifism tried to be more... violent! "One may behead soldiers and policemen of this government because it has no right to exist, terrorism can be OK but only as a means of installing a pluralistic democracy. BUT, shoplifting, stealing in offices or boats, looting houses of the rich, etc. are counter-revolutiona ry activities. Criminals who take alien properties will be executed." That was the discourse and the ideology of those radical democrats.
In some towns, where the representatives of the national State administration had been chased by the insurgents, the local democratic forces, supported by the commercial bourgeoisie, the professionals and the monks, organized structures to maintain the production and the market, to defend the private property,... , leading astray towards bourgeois interests the attempts of proletarian leadership. But the proletarian movement still wasn't defeated and kept the strength to fight, strength shown by the constitution of self defence militias and proletarian organizations in the worker neighbourhoods of the suburbs and even in whole towns.
The two stars of the opposition, Daw Aung San Kyi and General Aung Gyi, issued then a call to create an "interim" government "to give democracy to the people". The call didn't take any effect. Looting continuously spread and in almost every case the targets were stores of food (mostly rice). To crush the proletarian resistance, the bourgeoisie resorted to massacres.
4. Social tensions within the Army
Within the army, known as one of the most disciplined armies of Asia, dissensions were more and more fierce. The living conditions of the soldiers, while better than those of the other proletarians, were far from being good. The compulsory military service was long and hard, the pay was meagre, the canteen rationed, the iron discipline was maintained by extreme brutality; corruption was widespread. On the other hand, the army was constantly on war against the different guerrilla groups. This situation brought along increasing discontent. The tension had increased so that in August '88 "elements of the army came in the National Bank of Commerce to take under the threat of their weapons 600 millions of Kyats to be distributed to the soldiers." -Libération, 9/9/88-
The discontent and the resistance of the proletarians wearing a uniform increased day after day. Soldiers participated in looting. Mutinies burst in several military bases. In at least 3 towns soldiers went over to the side of the rioters. But in spite of all this the army did not disintegrate; it always remained master of the terrain and, in spite of defections and mutinies, the proletariat could not emerge out of and against this structure of the bourgeois state.
5. The Government needs the opposition
The vital necessity for the bourgeoisie to deny the class confrontation taking place in Burma expressed itself in different ways: according to some there were only "students' demonstrations" , or "groups of people" defending their "specific interests"; according to others it was the defence of the "general interests of the people", it was "democratization" that was claimed for. But, during the summer of '88 the difficulty to hide the tendency of the proletarians in Burma to "anarchy" (2) urged the media to concentrate on the "political aspects" rather than on the events. The chorus about the danger of chaos and anarchy was followed by discourses and declarations of oppositional factions and of daughters of heroes of independence, etc.
At the beginning of September the government rejected the call for an "interim government". Maung Maung seemed to have understood the overriding general interest of his class: to preserve an opposition whose influence on the movement might become important. Neither the world capital nor its local managers had any interest in destroying the nascent credibility of the opposition by letting it enter the government.
Moreover, it is much likely that this premature opening would not have been sufficient to channel the movement, while it would have risked to weaken the local bourgeois. Far from being able to understand it, Daw Aung and her friend, the old General, as well as the grandson of the ex-secretary general of the United Nations, U Thant, and other democrats would have been ready to decredibilize themselves in exchange for government power. But, to let it happen would have been stupid of the bourgeoisie. It was much more useful that the general strike paralysing several towns and carried on in Rangoon, could remain a "protest action" claimed by the "democratic forces", which had just got on the moving train. U Nu, an anti-fascist bourgeois leader of the early 60s, formed a "transitional anti-government" with his "League for Democracy and Peace" joining Daw Aung San to try to channel the general discontent towards the claim for a multi-party system, for democracy and for the human rights - rights of the good citizen, faithful patriot, good worker and serious family man!
At this stage, world capitalism had already begun to prepare the future arrangements and inter-imperialist struggles after the smashing of the proletarian movement. Since long many countries had already fought to get a part of the territory surrounded by the Burmese borders, and some of them were still interested in setting up military bases along the Indian Ocean coastline.
6. The opposition unites to get rid of the Government
While riots continued in many places, democrats hurried to take the situation in their hand. Meanwhile the army "reinforced defensive positions at the Ministry of Defense, the radio station, the main railway bridge, the residential district of the ruling elite...". Little by little everything was being set for the "last" ideological as well as military massacre of proletarians. .. Before this, the bourgeoisie took the last step to divide the proletariat into "criminals" and "democrats".
On 11th September, the parliament decided the ratification of the pledge to have free elections and establish a multi-party system (3). The New York Times reported on 13th Sept.: "demonstrators do not follow the official democratization line or the oppositional groups", which "can not offer any immediate leader or organization" acceptable for the insurgents. U Nu, the self-made leader of the "rival government" "appears to have been mostly ignored by the demonstrators" . Tin Oo, former defense minister who had defected from the Socialist Program Party (the governing party of the country), Aung San Kyi and Aung Gyi asked protesters "to be patient", saying that "the people should continue peaceful demonstrations, using the weapon of moral courage"... By the middle of September, as Time wrote, Burma was "at the edge of anarchy", because "the government agreed to elections, but mass protests continued". At this moment, and for a little while, the balance of forces between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat seemed to be hanging on, the struggle seemed to have arrived at a key moment when any action matters concerning to the future events.
The army went on reinforcing its positions. The government went on pledging to do this and that and the oppositional factions went on preaching democracy and tolerance as well as the need to avoid anarchy. Then came the call for the general strike "to demand democracy at once": a bourgeois attempt to recuperate at least the apparent leadership of the events, which progressed in fact towards a general refusal of work. We may compare this situation with that in Poland in 1981, when the Solidarnosc was forced - in order to protect the state and channel the radicalization of the struggles - to threaten the government with a general strike. The threat led to a vast military repression, a coup. In Poland, the same way as in Burma, the general strike declaration followed a movement that - in practice - had already refused to work and had organised strikes for a long time.
The opposition tried to recuperate and transform the struggle. But public order hadn't been restored, the proletarians refused to go home or to go back to work. After the failure of the attempts of a "soft" recuperation, the pendulum swung to the other pole: after the carrot, the stick! On 18th September General Saw Maung seized the power, and imposed curfew. The day before, in the evening, a group of insurgents had fought against army units outside of the Ministry of Commerce. Proletarians captured soldiers who had shot at the crowd. They wanted to kill them, but "the opposition leaders intervened and pleaded for peace" (Reuter, 19/9/88). Soldiers had their life saved.
On the other hand, there were no "peaceful methods" used by the army, which had several reasons to practise the hardest repression: on the one hand, the general interest of the bourgeoisie was to put an end to the insurrectional state of the country (surely because of the possible repercussion and contagion in the neighbouring countries, or elsewhere in the world, where proletarians can easily identify their own situation with that of their brothers in Burma); on the other hand, within this general interest, the particular interest of the Burmese army was to stop the defections. According to reports, in only one week before the coup some 6,000 soldiers, marines and airmen joined the insurgents.
Some other factors are also to be taken into account - factors that push the bourgeoisie to use the "heavy-handed" method: the anger of the old governing generals confronting the oppositional factions' refusal to collaborate and the necessity to put an end to the violence raging against the army, the police and all the signs of richness.
From the moment of the coup (which was a real butchery) strikes and demonstrations were banned. This coup, as well as that in Poland in 1981, was not a real change of government (in the sense of the replacement of a bourgeois faction by another one) but only a purification of the state carried out by the former local leaders because of the need to get straight to the point: to protect itself from disorder and anarchy.
General Saw Maung, chief of the military committee, who had been minister of defense in Ne Win's government (a post he took up again later) rapidly committed himself, just like Jaruzelski had done it in Poland, to "carry on" with the reforms, democratization, ... Later, the General declared that he had used the army only "in order to halt social chaos in Burma and ensure that the elections could be held". The bourgeois oppositional factions reacted to the coup with mild protests and demanded talks with Saw Maung. They rebuffed offers of support from the autonomist groups. The Buddhist monks also lent a hand, issuing a statement calling for the "dialogue" (remember the role of the church in Poland). At the same time, army patrols shot to kill without any warning when they saw any group of more than 5 people in the streets.
But the proletariat, weaker and weaker, wasn't yet defeated. On 20th September the suburb of Rangoon still put up a fierce resistance to the army. The latter could not enter the quarter, or demolish "the barricades made of cut pipes and trees. These positions were defended thanks to wooden spears, bottles of acid mixed with gravel, molotov cocktails and 'jinglees' (catapults and darts)" -Liberation, 20/09/88.
The day after the coup, groups of proletarians raided police stations in Rangoon, taking rifles and ammunition. Rangoon radio spoke of a "mob" of 1,000 attacking police and "killing seven policemen, including two deputy station commanders". On 21st September, three days after the coup, "the barricades of the worker suburb of Okkalapa, one of the resistance bastions, were defeated". Instantaneous executions were innumerable, and the crematoriums of the country worked day and night to wipe all traces of the slaughter as soon as possible.
We never got any news of what happened next. The blackout became complete, concerning the following events of the class struggle in Burma. But in spite of the silence, we know that violence against our class has increased, we know that the bourgeois, conscious of the weakening of the proletarian forces, have increased the cruelty of the white terror to an enormous extent.
7. By way of conclusion
The bourgeois press has fulfilled its function: on the one hand, hiding and transforming the reality of the social movement (which from revolutionary became "student", then "democratic" , etc.), on the other hand and later on, simply hiding the reality of the bourgeois terror. But beyond the horror, beyond the cannibalism of counter-revolution, above all the press tried to hide the strength of the revolution: it was very difficult for the bourgeoisie to make the proletarians in Burma leave their own terrain of struggle. The strength of the proletarian struggle determined the extent of the means the world bourgeoisie set up for repression.
The difficulty met by the bourgeoisie to crush the proletariat locally in Burma, shows more clearly than any discourse that the proletarian forces did not fight for "more democracy", for "a changing of the ruling faction" (i.e. the change of torturers), but did fight to defend our class interests. The answer of the bourgeoisie was and will always be a deluge of fire and blood, accompanied by discourses on the "necessary reforms". The clear refusal of the proletariat forced the bourgeoisie to develop a very strong repression immediately. But it could not isolate the most combative and radical vanguards by granting reforms and making promises. This solution would have made it possible to isolate the vanguard to massacre it and this way to crush the proletariat, repressing, torturing slaughtering it massively. For the bourgeoisie, it would have had the advantage of opposing one faction of the proletariat against other ones, of imposing its own lessons, of trying to make people believe that the repression applied by one particular sector of the bourgeoisie (the army, the fascist,...) was due to the excesses of a minority of irresponsible proletarians (hooligans, "terrorists" , agent provocateur of the enemy,...). The bourgeois in Burma do not seem to have been able to arrive at this level of division of the proletarian forces.
This partial failure is very encouraging for our class and its future struggles. It means that lessons of this movement will remain alive for most of the proletarians. If it is true, these lessons will permit the movement to start again straight away or to reach a higher level of force more quickly (centralization, political clarity, refusal of divisions and reforms, knowledge of the enemy's methods and of the necessities of the revolutionary struggle, etc). Besides, it is possible, even probable, that some of the (clandestine) structures set up by the proletariat during these seven months of confrontation have slipped through the net of repression and are working to maintain the indispensable continuity between the different moments of the social confrontation, which can't do anything but develop. The proletarian movement in Burma wasn't strong enough to prevent the repression (it couldn't be in just one country), but it has probably been strong enough to slow it down, to diminish it. The bourgeoisie can only develop its repression WITHOUT LIMIT when the proletariat has lost its capacity of resistance. Facing a movement of those dimensions, the bourgeoisie was obliged to restore social peace by repression. But when the proletariat remains strong, the bourgeoisie has to prevent it from reacting against repression and must therefore modulate it, limit it.
In Burma the situation has remained quite explosive. The national economy, paralysed for months during the struggle as well as during the repression, continues to be hit by (and to contribute to) the effects of the deepening crisis of the world capitalism. There are shortages, unemployment, misery, and many proletarians have been fired for having participated in strikes. All these factors, the depth of the economic and social crisis prevent the proletarians from respecting the laws.
Although we do not say that the proletarian struggle in Burma during those months of 1988 can be considered as something of crucial importance as to the development of interclassist confrontations, it was, at the same time, an important event of class struggle (also because of the concentration of proletarians, the proximity of China and therefore, the point of the possible contagion from one "bloc" to another,...) ; the exceptionally high level of confrontation between the two classes in this local case proved what we had already said many times before: There is not ONE centre of the revolution that should be the reference or the leadership, the guide for the struggles everywhere else.
These divisions between "developed" and "underdeveloped" countries, between socialist or non-socialist, between "aggressive" and "less aggressive" countries, etc. are based on moralist, progressist and racist conceptions. They only divide the world proletariat and slow down its struggle. As many times in other periods and in other places, the proletariat in Burma has proved that there is only one working class and only one way to make its (our) revolutionary project triumph. The world proletariat doesn't draw strength from those who give lessons, or from the experiences of the "mature proletariat" of this or that area, but indeed from its own practical struggle against the bourgeoisie to re-appropriate its own history.
Instead of looking for privileged areas and dividing the proletariat by this way, it is much more important to understand that the emergence of our class and of its vanguard everywhere in the world is historically and universally determined by the antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.
The development of the social confrontation, when it becomes acute as in Burma, tends to revolve around the question of the military confrontation. This question is essential for the proletariat because it is forced to turn the weapons of the criticism into the criticism by the weapons (to prevent the cannibalism of counter-revolution) , as it involves the danger of the social confrontation to be transformed into militarist interbourgeois confrontation. In order to satisfy its needs and to defend itself, the proletariat in Burma was capable of retaliating by the arms against the bourgeoisie. It undertook the military confrontation and the preparation against the police in a more and more global and general way. Thus organized and armed structures were created for the self defence of workers' areas, for the attack of state buildings, for the looting and re-appropriations. It is important to stress the numerous attempts of the proletariat to organize itself. Through the information that have filtered, it seems evident that structures like that emerged. Of course, according to its Machiavellian vision of history, the bourgeoisie always talks of one unique centre of subversion, but it seems, that on the contrary, these structures were and remained strongly decentralised (we regret it but understand it very well). On the one hand, it can be explained by the will to resist the extremely violent repression, but, on the other hand, it scatters the proletariat and slows down its tendency to constitute into one unique centralized force.
So, not having forgotten the lessons of the past, the proletarians in Burma put forward the necessity to organize and protect themselves very quickly. But this vigilance against repression, expressing a level of understanding the real nature of the antagonism, must be surpassed by structuring different levels of contacts and centralization to reinforce the struggle by giving it a unique leadership. If, at the beginning, it's mostly the homogeneity of living conditions, the starvation,. .. which determined the quick development and extension of the struggles, very quickly, attempts to generalize the movement, making contacts between different towns appeared. It is highly probable that those structures played a role in the refusal of the solutions the bourgeoisie proposed.
Tens of structures were set up, militants went to ask the militants of the previous struggles to give them advice on what the necessities of the struggle are. Many of these newly created groups were opposed to China, to the USA, to Cuba, USSR,... considering them all alike, as they are in fact, even if sometimes, still under the influence of nationalism, these groups stressed the "will for independence of the Burmese people" as the reason for their opposition (4).
During the violent workers' uprisings that burst out recently (Algeria, Venezuela, Morocco, Tunisia, Mexico,...) the proletariat confronted the bourgeois repressive forces - armed with machine guns and armoured cars - with stones, knives and sticks as their only weapons. In Burma it was different: partly due to the continuity they were able to give to their struggles, the proletarians had drawn lessons and refused to let themselves be slaughtered, disarmed. First, proletarians used home-made weapons, then, whilst the movement was developing, they showed that the bourgeoisie would not have to disarm bleating sheep but proletarians fighting, determined to defend their struggle. This determination as well as the large number of deaths in the ranks of the army pushed a lot of soldiers (proletarians wearing a uniform) to refuse to assassinate their brothers, to desert, to struggle against the state.
This permitted the proletarians to get more weapons and increased the destabilization of the state. But, if it is clear that the proletarian struggle destabilized the army to an extent that soldiers confronted other soldiers, nevertheless, this destabilization was never deep enough to really threaten the state. To reach that level the struggle must overpass a lot of limits, and, for example, practically and directly internationalize itself, knocking about ideologies such as the "bad management", the false opposition between "socialism" and capitalism, the "specifically national" problems, etc.
On the other hand, during their struggle against the state and its repression, the proletarians did not only refuse to confront the state with bare fists, they chose the targets according to their/our needs: the needs of our struggle. They also systematically refused to go where all the forces of opposition, all the ex-members of the regime, the monks... wanted them to go, that is to say: to confront the machine guns of the army. Such a refusal expresses the change from a reaction against misery to an organized action against the whole society, and it also undoubtably expresses a step forward for the proletariat. But it is very difficult to give a continuity to it because of the isolation of the proletarians in Burma. This is the reason why the bourgeoisie has been able to transform the social confrontation into a purely militaristic interbourgeois confrontation, a terrain on which the bourgeoisie is of course dominant today. In the course of such a development those who gradually take the lead of the movement against its own interests are the "military specialists" : armed groups for national liberation, guerrilla groups, etc.
* December 1988 *
1. There are many ethnic minorities in Burma that are fighting for the independence of their patch of land. These autonomist groups are generally situated along the borders and have been waging war against the government for more than 20 years while fighting each other as well. The strongest guerrilla group during the revolt in 1988 was that of the CP of Burma, which practically didn't intervene at all during the struggles. The next is the Karens, a real state within the state with its own army of course, and with compulsory military service, as well, its cops, its universities, its own laws, lawyers, its highly developed network of production and exchange,... The Karens occupy a zone of about 600 kms along the Thai border. They are more than 2 million and 4,000 of them are constantly armed. They represented in 1988 the second strongest oppositional armed force just after the "CP" guerrilla group that is situated along the Chinese frontier. The Karens' principal income come from smuggling.
Right from the beginning of the movement the Karens tried to contact the insurgents and form "activists" for the combat. Though after the coup, 5,000 to 10,000 young men joined the Karens to learn the army drill; no autonomist-type demands occurred during the struggle, nor did the proletarian militants let themselves be enroled by separatist groups during the fight. Today there are at least 9 groups supposed to be united within the National Democratic Front, which comprises about 30,000 armed fighters who are in a constant discord.
2. By these "tendencies to anarchy" we mean disrespect towards private property, law, etc., we mean disrespect for the bourgeois values and norms, for those who defend them and for those who teach them. We support this kind of anarchy and stand for it as the struggle of our class for the satisfaction of its needs.
3. These declarations had very little effect upon the demonstrators. No trace of quietening down, content or satisfaction was expressed.
4. It is almost sure that, just as the opposition campaigns and the slaughters by the government, the autonomist and guerrilla groups participated in the crushing of the movement, recuperating for themselves the militants who managed to escape from repression. Enroled as they are, those militants deviate their hatred for the bourgeoisie into the hatred for the governing faction and wage war against the latter. Separatist groups lead astray the armed struggle of our class towards an interbourgeois militaristic fight for the national autonomy of this or that piece of land.
This work is in the public domain