From the May-June 2022 issue of News & Letters
by Eugene Walker
Aung San Suu Kyi, the elected civilian leader of Myanmar (Burma) who was detained in a military coup last year, was sentenced to five years in prison in a corruption trial that was closed to the public. The military junta that seized power 14 months ago is detaining 10,000 political prisoners. More political prisoners are now being held in Myanmar than were imprisoned throughout the half century of military rule that ended in 2010.
Medical workers have been a special target of the junta. Some 140 doctors who participated in the national protest movement have been arrested. At least 30 doctors have been killed. The country’s health system has collapsed, obliterated by the military.
At the same time there is a growing resistance movement. Tens of thousands of young people from the cities—including university students and factory workers, especially young women—have left for the countryside to join the hundreds of civilian militias across Myanmar, organized loosely into what are called the People’s Defense Forces.
They have been joined by deserters from the military’s armed forces, the Tatmadaw. These groups often go to areas controlled by the many ethnic armed groups that have been fighting for autonomy for decades. A new unity is being forged.
For more information see “Driven From City Life to Jungle Insurgency” by Hannah Beech, The New York Times, March 30, 2022.
One thought on “World in View: Resistance in Myanmar”
The most dedicated young people from the cities have joined the resistance, primarily from the urban working class. But in rural ‘heartland’ of Upper Burma the PDF is a much broader phenomenon – hundreds of thousands have rallied to the red banner, more all the time. Many times more are taking on a supporting role (there is still a terrible lack of real guns).
This is not a peasant uprising like those Asia saw in the mid-20th century. The movement in the countryside erupted in response to the massacre of the factory proletariat, most of whom are women from villages, who stood at the head of the early protests. The movement is organized around a general strike, with an expectation that the post-coup government will outlaw counterrevolutionary capitalists and immediately reinstate workers in their posts, compensate those who sacrificed for the revolution, and develop the impoverished areas at the center of the uprising where villages are now being burned down daily. Banners at protests now have slogans like “Stand with Oppressed Workers to Tear Out Fascism by Its Roots”, and it is become more common to see hammer and sickles or anarchist ‘A’s than Aung San Suu Kyi’s portrait or the NLD flag (the latter are still seen mostly when there is a protest in a village that hasn’t demonstrated since last year). On Women’s Day this year, a Burmese translation of Alexandra Kollontai was circling. The centrality of the rights of the oppressed is the constant subject of discussion. The movement is self-organized into thousands of groups, which, despite being totally autonomous, are highly disciplined and capable of complex active cooperation with other groups.
The last wave of global capitalist development occurred on the backs of the dispossessed peasantry all over the world, above all through the super-exploitation of rural migrant workers in China. Now we see the revolutionary implications of the world that has created. Through the global economy, the oppressive reach of the modern state, and above all internet and social media, the rural poor and other previously marginalized populations have been drawn into the ranks of the proletariat – culturally, politically, and in their capacity for self-organization. This is what the Tatmadaw wasn’t counting on, and why it has thus far and will continue to fail to crush the revolution.