The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) has published an important article on “Myanmar’s Coming Revolution”. This article is important if for no other reason than that the CFR is the most important think tank for the strategists of US capitalism. Its purpose is to draw attention to and educate the US capitalists on different world issues so that they can develop a strategy that serves their interests. Added to the importance is the fact that the article is written by Thant Myint-U, grandson of U Thant, the former general secretary of the UN. The first 2/3 of the article lives up to its task. The last part, however, where it proposes a policy… Well, you will see.
“Myanmar Is A Colonial Creation”
“Myanmar is a colonial creation…. [which was] was forged through a military occupation and governed as a racial hierarchy,” writes Thant Myint-U. “Myanmar’s nation-building project has failed for decades, leaving behind a landscape of endemic armed conflict and a country that has never truly been whole.”
He explains how the weak Myanmar capitalist class has never been able to build a real base so its military stepped into the breech. He doesn’t adequately explain that this military is, in fact, a major capitalist power and owns banks, other businesses and land. But he makes the general point about the military’s role.
Myanmar and World Economy
Thant Myint-U explains how Myanmar’s economy is one of the weakest in the region. That economy includes environmental destruction/destruction of jungle areas that hold some of the world’s greatest biodiversity. This destruction is linked with the trade in wild animals. Both together are directly related to the rise of new zoonotic diseases (diseases that jump the species barrier to humans), and in fact it is thought that the virus that causes Covid may have first started to evolve in an area along the border of Myanmar. In another area of Myanmar meth labs provide a great profit as shown by the arrest of Chinese Canadian Tse Chi Lop in January. He is reported to have made as much as $17 billion a year in this trade. Also endemic are money laundering and other “illegal” industries.
When coupled with mass migration of people of Myanmar to Thailand and other surrounding countries, this situation threatens to disrupt the stability of the entire region. That is Thant Myint-U’s main point; that is why US capitalism must pay attention.
Aung San Suu Kyi and Tatmadaw
He explains how Aung San Suu Kyi rose to power in coordination with the military in 2011, and how she defended that military in its genocidal attacks on the Rohingya. However, she played a dual role, also trying to reform the military rule in Myanmar.
The military perceived a couple of threats: One was to their hold over the economy as global capitalism intruded further into Myanmar. The other was the continuing threat of the weakening of the bonds that hold the nation together, with the continuing of different regional, ethnic-based armies such as the Arakan army in Rahkine State. The Tatmadaw leaders felt they could not afford to lose control if they were to maintain their privileges and power.
So they instituted a coup under the guise of a “state of emergency” in 2021. They used the same myth that Trump tried to use – electoral fraud – to justify this coup. They responded to the protests with ever increasing brutality, forcing the movement on the streets to become an armed resistance.
Thant Myint-U’s Perspectives
Here is how Thant Myint-U analyzes the military perspectives: “These new guerrilla movements can certainly keep the junta off balance. But the insurrectionists will not be able to build a new army to challenge the existing one without significant help from a neighboring country, which seems next to impossible. And nothing in the history of Myanmar’s army suggests that a sizable chunk of its forces would break away and join a rebellion. That leaves the ethnic minority armies as the only other possible agents of a broader uprising. The Kachin Independence Army and the Karen National Liberation Army, in the far north and southeast of the country, respectively, have already mounted new attacks on army positions. Other groups, too, may move from statements of political support to armed action. But even the combined might of the ethnic armed organizations—numbering perhaps 75,000 fighters in total—would be no match for a military that has far superior artillery and a monopoly on airpower. Moreover, the most powerful ethnic armed organization, the United Wa State Army, with 30,000 troops, has deep links to China, having emerged from the old communist insurgency. It will heed the advice of Beijing, which has no love for the Myanmar army but does not want to see an all-out civil war.”
In other words, there may be a military stalemate, with the Tatmadaw controlling the major cities and possibly large parts of the Irawaddy valley and the rest of the country fragmenting, with control over different regions shifting back and forth between different ethnic armies and individual Tatmadaw officers who have their own little feudal-like fiefdoms. That is a prescription for the most corrupt aspects of capitalism to move in. The arrest of Tse Chi Lop serves as an example. Meth drug lords may establish themselves behind the rule of this or that particular military commander. In other areas, traders in wild animals and/or exotic hardwood timber could do the same, as could human traffickers. This, then, would tend to spread to surrounding countries.
Global Capitalism’s Strategy
This destabilization of this entire region – a region that is critical to global capitalist production – is a threat to world capitalism. The purpose of the Council on Foreign Relations running this article is to alert their capitalist strategists to this threat to their rule and profits and to propose a strategy to deal with it.
That strategy amounts to the same one that the US strategists pursued regarding Assad in Syria. His rule makes even the Tatmadaw seem benign in comparison. The strategists for US capitalism have no principled objection to his having tortured tens of thousands to death. Their problem is that Assad has made it difficult for US capitalists to invest in the country profitably. The greater danger they see, though, is a popular uprising that overthrows Assad. Therefore, they have pursued a strategy of a negotiated settlement between his opponents (as long as they aren’t Islamic fundamentalists!) and Assad, with Assad remaining in office until such a settlement is reached. Meanwhile, Assad has a free hand to loot, plunder, pillage and rape the country, and if and when he were to leave office, his entire criminal state apparatus would remain to carry on.
Without directly saying so, the Council on Foreign Relations proposes something similar through the article by Thant Myint-U:
He first of all recognizes the role of Myanmar’s heroic and determined youth: “Myanmar’s young people are determined to alter the course of their country’s history. It is they who must chart a path forward.” So they, or at least a section of those youth, must buy into any proposals. In order to convince them, Thant Myint-U suggests some UN civilian force in Myanmar, one which can help with health care, food, etc. Connected with that, Thant Myint-U calls for foreign diplomacy to encourage the “broadest possible coalition”. What would be the nature of that “coalition”?
Thant Myint-U calls for “appreciation of Myanmar’s unique history, one in which past army regimes have withstood the strictest international isolation, and the unique psychology of the generals themselves, molded by decades of unrelenting violence.” When translated from diplomatic double-speak into plain working class language (whether that be Burmese, English or any other language) that means that the military must be part of that coalition! In other words, a return to a government similar to that of Aung San Su Kyi – where there was a formal civilian rule but with the Tatmadaw calling most of the shots from behind the curtain.
Regarding China, Thant Myint-U writes: “China must be on board; there is simply no substitute for China’s involvement because of its economic clout in Myanmar and its deep ties to many of the country’s ethnic armed organizations.” In the world, US imperialism has traditionally looked at Latin America as its backyard, where it has the right to manipulate politics and control economies in its interests (although that power has been weakening recently). The CFR, through Thant Myint-U, is recognizing that China will play a similar role throughout Southeast Asia, including in Myanmar.
Which “International Community”?
This solution is only a solution for US, Chinese and global capitalism. It is one purely aimed at stabilizing Myanmar and the entire region in order to maintain their profits and power. It is not even the beginning of a solution for the working class of Myanmar. Yes, the “international community” is needed for the Myanmar revolution, just as it was (and still is) for the Arab Spring and the Syrian revolution. But which international community – that of the world capitalist class, the same class that has allowed Assad to brutalize Syria, the same one which is tied in with drug traders, human traffickers, and money launderers through the world banking system? Or the world working class that is linked together today far more than ever in human history? The Council on Foreign Relations is trying to educate the capitalist class on the importance of what is happening in Myanmar. Our class – the world working class – also has much to learn from, and also much to contribute to the Myanmar revolution. Together, we can learn from that revolution, especially in the context of the successes and defeats of the Arab Spring, and also all the other struggles, including the Black Lives Matter movement here in the US.
The Myanmar revolution may yet spread to a workers revolution throughout this crucial area of Southeast Asia, which is a center of world industrial production. As it does so, it can become the basis for the rise of a world, working class international. Now that would truly start us down the road towards a transformation of all of human history.
First of all, we urge our readers to read the full article in Foreign Affairs, which is the journal of the Council on Foreign Relations. Non-subscribers can read the article by just registering on their site. Myanmar’s Coming Revolution
Oaklandsocialist has also published several other articles about Myanmar as well as some videos of zoom meetings we have held and of solidarity protests in San Francisco. They can all be found here.
Included among them are these articles: General Strike in Myanmar; Don’t Forget the Rohingya! and Myanmar is Struggle: Workers of the World, Unite!
For those wishing to learn more about the Syrian Revolution, here is one article among many that we have published: Theory of Permanent, or Uninterrupted, Revolution and Syria.
Categories: Asia, Marxist theory, Uncategorized
You might also read this critique of capitalism in Myanmar by same author: