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17 March 2021

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Myanmar: workers brave brutal military crackdown

Establishing a revolutionary constituent assembly is vital to take the struggle forward, photo MGHLA/CC

Establishing a revolutionary constituent assembly is vital to take the struggle forward, photo MGHLA/CC   (Click to enlarge)

TU Senan, Committee for a workers' International (CWI)

The call on 8 March for a second general strike in Myanmar was met with a brutal clampdown by the military. Several protesters were shot dead and overnight raids were conducted to arrest many leading activists and union leaders. Despite these ruthless attacks, protesters have built barricades and remain determined to resist the 1 February military coup.

The call for a full and extended shutdown of the economy was totally implemented in many parts. Dockers, railway workers, who blocked the rail tracks, and industrial workers made sure that the shutdown was strong.

This general strike involved workers from all sectors. Small businesses also shut and joined the protesters. Now the military (Tatmadaw) has stepped up the attacks against protesters. Despite the attacks and shooting with live bullets, protesters continue to defy the military and the enforced regulations used during the Covid pandemic. Hundreds of protesters have been killed and many more injured.

The military tops claimed 'election fraud' in last November's general election - in which the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won an overwhelming majority of seats (440 out of 476) - as a reason for the takeover. The election was not fully democratic, many minorities were excluded. But the military acted because the vote for its Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) showed extremely weak support.

The Tatmadaw has committed many brutal massacres and atrocities against the population - in particular its genocidal slaughter of the Rohingya people.

Chief military personnel also control parts of the economy. The military establishment is rife with war criminals, looters and corrupt individuals.

Ethnic minorities

The movement against the coup has now drawn in wider numbers involving the various ethnic minorities, including the Rohingya people.

There are over 100 different ethnic minorities living in Myanmar. Ever since the so-called 'return to democracy' (beginning in 2012), the Aung San Suu Kyi led-NLD made no effort to meet the demands of the minority populations.

Not only did the NLD share power with the military, but it also defended the military's atrocities, most brazenly when Aung San Suu Kyi spoke at the International Court of Justice in December 2019.

Aung San Suu Kyi's role in hiding the real truth in relation to the Rohingya people resulted in damage to her reputation as a 'human rights defender' - previously promoted by capitalist politicians and the media in the west.

She and her party have never delivered on improving rights or conditions for the majority of the population during the years they were in government. Instead, many attacks against workers' rights were carried out. Even the cybersecurity bill, that allows the military to imprison anyone who organises protests online, was drafted and implemented by Aung San Suu Kyi and her government.

Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD do not have support among the minority populations. The NLD agreed to not hold the election in regions where sizeable minorities lived. Candidates representing the Rohingya people were prevented from standing in November's election. In effect, over two million people were not involved in the election process.

Through the brave actions taken by health workers and other public servants, the masses have begun to gain the confidence to mobilise on the streets.

Various trade unions, including the main union federation, quickly joined the fight, setting up the Civil Disobedience Movement. This eventually led to a general strike that united the opposition even further. The formation of a General Strike Committee of Nationalities brought together 27 different ethnic groups.

However, the movement now faces a critical moment. The hope that existed among sections of people in relation to the west and the so-called international community has been diminishing. The crocodile tears of western capitalist countries have inevitably produced zero results.

China's role

The Chinese government, which maintains direct links with all political parties and the Tatmadaw, provided support for the regime, including sending a team of experts to block and control the internet and social media.

The Chinese regime has made significant investments in Myanmar, as part of its 'Belt and Road Initiative'. Although Chinese investment was initiated under the military, it was under the NLD government that the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor developed further.

Myanmar's General Min Aung Hlaing reportedly met the Chinese authorities prior to the coup. However, the Chinese had previously also had close ties with the NLD. The Chinese regime would prefer the previous arrangement, where the NLD is in power with the military under a thin veneer of democracy, to maintain its regional interests.

Myanmar's junta is also making deals with Russia that include military contracts and obtaining the Russian-produced Covid vaccine. Russia and China's regimes also blocked any condemnation of the coup at the United Nations Security Council recently.

Western capitalist governments, on the other hand, are only motivated by their own interests and rivalry against China and Russia. Western governments do not defend democratic rights when their interests are not challenged, for example in Saudi Arabia, India or Turkey where authoritarian regimes carry out gross human rights violations.

With all these factors keeping the military's grip on power strong, the developing opposition movement faces a bigger question than what it seems from outside: ie the simple return to rule by the NLD.

The NLD's attempt to 'balance' between these competing forces has now blown up in their faces. These factors along with repression can, for a time in the future, create a feeling of powerlessness that can demobilise the masses allowing the continuation of the military regime.

But the masses have already shown enormous strength in the powerful general strikes. It is evident in the 'democracy movement' that workers' involvement has helped to develop it further.

However, this alone will not be enough. Workers' councils in workplaces need to be set up and brought together. The movement should also appeal to the rank-and-file police and soldiers to join the opposition forces.

Solidarity should also be extended and requests should be sent to join forces with the mass movements that are taking place in other countries in the region.

Demands have now developed further than calling for the release of NLD leaders and all detained oppositionists. Now the demand for changing the rigged constitution altogether has also emerged strongly.

Workers' independence

The workers' movement needs to defend its independence. Struggling against the coup cannot mean political support for the NLD leaders. Demanding a civilian government should not mean forming a coalition with the NLD. The workers' movement needs to fight both for democratic rights and for the economic interests of the working people and poor.

The development of a mighty mass movement would raise the question of who should replace the military. Many, for now, support returning Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD to office, but while opposing military rule, socialists should argue that no trust can be put in those who, until now, were publicly defending the military elite.

Instead, calls must be made for a revolutionary government of representatives of working people and the poor that can defeat the coup, remove the plotters, and allow a democratic decision to be made on the country's future.

The demand for establishing a revolutionary constituent assembly can play a vital role in this struggle. Democratically elected representatives from all constituent parts of the country can come forward to discuss the future that they want to create for themselves. This links to the question of guaranteeing all democratic rights, including the right to self-determination of ethnic minorities.

However, this task cannot be left in the hands of the representatives of the capitalists or the landlord class who have a history of collaborating with repressive regimes. The working class must take the leading role and argue for a socialist alternative.

Under a workers' government, a genuine socialist confederation of Myanmar can be created. Of course, the task will not stop there. The implementation of a socialist, planned economy will be vital not only to secure these rights but also to take society forward. For the movement to succeed, these ideas should be discussed, debated and adopted.

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