The coup that returned Myanmar’s military to power in February 2021 caused shock and revulsion around the world. It brought an abrupt end t0 the limited democracy and real political freedoms that had emerged over the previous ten years after decades of army rule.1
However, the shortcomings in the democratisation process had been apparent from the start, with the Burmese armed forces, the Tatmadaw, holding all the trump cards. The National League for Democracy (NLD), victorious in the 2015 elections, did little to alleviate widespread poverty and check rampant corruption. Although a series of ceasefires under the previous regime had reduced the conflicts between the central government and some ethnic groups, fighting continued in other areas. In 2019, these limitations were made startlingly apparent to a global audience when Aung San Suu Kyi, the icon of Myanmar’s struggle for democracy and a former darling of the Western liberal establishment, went to The Hague to whitewash the brutal ethnic cleansing of the Muslim Rohingya people two years earlier.
All this raises a number of questions. Why did the NLD settle for such a truncated democracy? Why did Aung San Suu Kyi, the NLD leader, then go to such lengths to defend the army? More fundamentally, why does the military play such a dominant role in Burmese politics? Moreover, if this attempt to skin the tiger claw by claw has demonstrably failed, how can Tatmadaw rule be ended in favour of a lasting democracy that brings justice to the Rohingya and Myanmar’s other minorities?
The legacy of empire
The only place to begin to understand Myanmar’s current plight is with its past as a colony of the British Empire. Since independence in 1948, this colonial history has shaped the country’s development in ways that can be divided into three broad categories: the legacy of harsh military rule, economic subordination to outside interests and ethnic conflict.
Conquest and repression
Britain first invaded Burma, as Myanmar was then known, in 1824. At this time, the expanding Burman Empire, having overrun Arakan (Rakhine state in today’s Myanmar), threatened the interests of the East India Company in Bengal.2 In 1852-3, the Irrawaddy Delta was annexed by the British. Finally, in 1885, the remainder of what is now Myanmar was conquered, with the borders fixed against French expansion in Indo-China.3
In a lesson the British ruling class seems determined to endlessly relearn, the invaders found that they were not welcomed as “deliverers from tyranny”, but instead faced widespread and determined resistance. In the ensuing pacification campaign, lasting several years, “Entire villages were torched, and suspected rebels were tortured and summarily executed.” The death toll lay at around 40,000.4
As part of this brutal process of suppression, the British invaders destroyed the traditional administration, removing the possibility of ruling indirectly through local intermediaries. Instead, they had to rely on a “brutal and intrusive form of direct rule”, and Burma was consequently administered as an appendage of British India. Even though “beyond the main lines of communication in the central region, this state barely existed”, “the slightest challenge to the tenuous colonial order provoked automatic deployments of armed force”.5
One consequence of this predominance of armed force was that, when opposition to British rule emerged in the inter-war period, the Burmese nationalists organised their own armies or “tats”. These had limited impact before the outbreak of the Second World War and were largely tolerated by the British. However, when the Japanese advance reached the shores of Burma, leading nationalists created the Burma Independence Army to fight alongside them in the rather naive hope that the newcomers would deliver the country from colonial rule. This force would form the basis of the newly independent state’s army in 1948. Nevertheless, the tradition of extra-state military organisation continued too, so that “the tats became an indispensable part of the political apparatus necessary to accumulate and consolidate power in post-colonial Burma”.6
Marketisation and impoverishment
It is often claimed that the post-independence regime failed to take advantage of Burma’s undoubtable natural wealth, instead condemning the country to poverty in a futile attempt at state-led development.7 However, this narrative ignores how colonial economic priorities had syphoned profits out of the country while leaving the mass of the population in poverty.
By far the most important commodity produced in colonial Burma was rice. Increasing rice production was achieved by reclaiming large areas of the previously sparsely populated Irrawaddy Delta, a process begun in the second half of the 19th century by migrant farmers from Upper Burma. By the beginning of the following century, rice accounted for a full three-quarters of Burma’s seaborne exports, and it had become “by some distance the single most important rice-exporting country in the world”.8
By the early 20th century, ownership of this land was increasingly being taken over by non-resident landlords—mainly Chettiar moneylenders from India—and many farmers were struggling to make ends meet.9 This process accelerated rapidly with the onset of global recession in the 1930s, when collapsing rice prices proved disastrous for large numbers of farmers who defaulted on their debts and lost their land.10
Former colonial official John Sydenham Furnivall contrasted the “imposing government offices and business houses in Rangoon and gilded Chettiar temples in Tanjore” with “the rice districts, the source of almost all this wealth”.11 In these rice districts “nearly half the land is owned by foreigners, and a landless people can show little for their labour but their debts… For about half the year, most of them are unable to find work or wages”.12
The flip side of Burma’s integration into the world market was that most manufactured goods were imported. The dominance of rice production for the market meant that farmers had abandoned traditional cottage industries and now had to buy in other foodstuffs and items such as clothing. At the same time, the domination of the economy by foreign interests—large British companies but also smaller-scale Indian merchants and Chinese shopkeepers—meant that the funds that might otherwise have been invested domestically were taken abroad. Consequently, there was little industrial development; at independence, Burma remained mainly a producer of primary products, mostly agricultural.13
A prison house of nations
The British conquest created the geographical entity that would later become the independent country of Burma. This territory had no historical precedent. Its borders both divided people from their kin and forcibly included them in a state ruled by others.14 Colonial divide and rule policies also created antagonisms that would lead to decades of inter-ethnic wars.
As journalist Carlos Galache explains, it is “anachronistic to talk about borders, as we understand them now, before the arrival of the colonial powers, with their ideas of uniform nation-states”.15 Until the British arrived, “no state power controlled the vast upland regions” that encircle the Irrawaddy valley. The “Burmese kingdom was a little state in the middle of a 1,000-mile stretch of peoples without any state—small chieftainships and tribal groups that owed no allegiance to a higher power”.16
Ethnicity was of little importance in the pre-colonial kingdoms, where allegiance was owed to the person of the monarch. So, the “individual Mons, Shans, Siamese, Laotians, Yuans, and even Europeans who boasted special expertise or noble blood, were welcomed to high ministerial posts…without being obliged to adopt Burmese customs”.17 Indeed, the modern concept of ethnicity was only introduced by the British Empire, with its “obsession with racial classification”.18 Contemporary ethnic terms are “just collective names for the various ethnic sub-groups within each state, which have only become widely accepted terms of political identity within living memory”.19 The people that came to be known as Kachin, for instance, actually consist of several sub-groups speaking different dialects. The most important identity to these people was their clan, not their ethnic group.20
The distinction between what are now considered ethnic groups had more to do with livelihood and culture than biology, and so these identities were relatively fluid. For example, the Kachin hill people practised slash and burn farming and followed animist beliefs, while the Buddhist Shan people lived off irrigated agriculture in the neighbouring valleys. Kachin people who moved into the valleys would quickly become assimilated into Shan society. There was also a mutual dependence between the two groups; Kachin chiefs in some places offered protection to Shan settlements in return for rice, while some Shan statelets included Kachin villages. This interdependence was destroyed by the rigid categorisation and separation of peoples enforced by the British administration.21
On a larger scale, the colony was divided between Ministerial Burma, made up of the fertile lowland area of most economic interest to British capitalism, which was thus administered directly, and the so-called Scheduled Areas along the frontiers, where control was much more indirect.22 When the British authorities started to recruit indigenous people to their armed forces, they turned to these Scheduled Areas. By 1931, fully 85 percent of these recruits were Kachin, Karen or Chin, even though these groups made up just 13 percent of the population. The majority Bamar were grossly underrepresented.23
This was to have disastrous consequences during the Second World War, when Bamar nationalists siding with the Japanese fought ethnic minority troops on the British side. Atrocities committed by Burma Independence Army forces against Karen villagers poisoned relations between the two groups so that, in early 1949, the Karen became the first ethnic minority to rebel against newly independent Burma’s central government.24 In Arakan (Rakhine) vicious wartime clashes between local Buddhist forces armed by Japan and Muslims supported by Britain “marked the beginning of a geographical divide between Rakhine and Rohingya”.25 This was in an area that had never previously seen “any serious episode of sectarian violence”.26 Bitter memories of these atrocities go some way to explaining the hatred involved in the 2012 and 2017 pogroms against the Rohingya.
During and immediately after the war, British officials made various promises to their ethnic allies, indicating that no decision would be made on their future without consent. However, these turned out to be empty words. In the interests of avoiding the “Balkanisation of Burma”, they worked with the Bamar nationalists who had spent most of the war fighting against them in order to create a “united Burma in the shortest possible time”.27
The outbreak of the Second World War took the Burmese colonial experience to new depths. The imperialist powers of Britain and Japan fought across the country in a merciless struggle for the spoils of Asia. “What the invading Japanese army did not destroy”, Southeast Asia researcher Martin J Smith writes, “retreating British soldiers burnt down in a calculated ‘scorched earth’ policy. Three years later the pattern was repeated in reverse.” The destruction inflicted on infrastructure was followed by only “limited reconstruction” in the two years of post-war British rule.28 Moreover, the wide-ranging nature of the fighting meant the country was now awash with arms.29 Britain was forced to concede independence in 1948, but the Burmese nationalists who took over had to confront the legacies of colonial rule.
The territory bequeathed by the British Empire is centred on the major valleys of the Irrawaddy and Salween Rivers, populated mainly by the Bamar majority. To the south the Irrawaddy Delta spreads out into the Bay of Bengal, while mountains to the west, north and east are inhabited by a variety of ethnic groups. Among them are the Kachin in the far north, the Shan to the east and the Karen in the southeast. There is also a significant Karen population in the Irrawaddy Delta area, which lies in the Ayeyarwady region. Tanintharyi, a narrow strip of land that runs along the Malay Peninsula, was also included in the new state of Burma.
Figure 1: Map of Myanmar’s regions and states
The Bamar are Buddhist, and so too are the majority of the inhabitants of the southwestern state of Rakhine, while the Muslim Rohingya live in the north of the state. There are other Muslims in Myanmar as well, some of whom are the descendants of captives brought to the pre-colonial Burmese kingdom.30 Western missionaries have also left their mark; the Chin of the northeast, as well as the majority of the Kachin and Karen, are Christian. However, the leaders of independent Burma were, from the start, overwhelmingly Bamar.
A nation defined by colonialism
The roots of Burmese nationalism lie in the Dobama Asiayone (“We Burmans Association”), which was founded by a group of intellectuals in 1930. Its members called themselves “thakins” (lords) to show that they were the true masters of the country. One of their leading figures was Aung San, the father of current NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Dobama Asiayone was more activist than earlier nationalist groupings, and it organised demonstrations and strikes against British rule. A number of its leading figures were drawn towards Marxism and went on to form the Communist Party of Burma. Indeed, Aung San himself was a party member for a while. Others, including future dictator Ne Win, formed a right-wing faction that came to dominate after independence.31
Early in the Second World War, a group of thakins, who became known as the “30 comrades”, were taken for military training by the Japanese armed forces. When they returned, they founded the Burma Independence Army, which initially fought with the Japanese. However, it switched sides as the returning British gained the upper hand, and it went on to became the basis for the independent state’s army in 1948. So, from the very start, political and military power were closely intertwined in the country as a legacy of the colonial militarisation of politics.
The contradiction at the heart of Burmese nationalism, as Galache points out, is that it meant “restoring” power to a nation defined by colonialism. It thus “saw the Burman core as the seat of a civilisation to which the groups in the periphery should be subordinated”.32 Shortly before independence, at the Second Panglong Conference in 1947, which was presided over by Aung San, a more federalist approach was promised to representatives of some of the ethnic minorities. However, Aung San was assassinated later that year, and this approach was quietly dropped from the constitution that was subsequently adopted.33 Indeed, as Kazuhito Ikeda points out, the “structural character of Burma’s ethnic problem” means that, contrary to a common assumption, it is unlikely that things would have turned out very differently had Aung San remained alive.34
The first elected government, led by prime minister U Nu, very quickly faced armed opposition on two fronts: ethnic minorities resistant to Burman domination and Communist insurgents. At one point, the joke was that this was the government of Yangon because its authority reached little beyond the country’s capital.35 With the very existence of the new state called into question, the army quickly came to the fore as the only power possessing the potential to hold it together. In 1962, the military took over through a coup. It has remained at the heart of Burmese politics ever since, fearful that any relaxation of control risks seeing the country fall apart.36
The failure of state-led development
Both democratic and military governments faced enormous problems while trying to restore and then develop Burma’s economy. The devastation of war meant that GDP was just 60 percent of its pre-war level by 1949-50. Infrastructure and industry were in ruins. Additionally, the domination of the colonial economy and administration by the British and Indians meant few Burmese people possessed any business and administrative experience. As historian Ian Brown concludes, “Burma’s major economic problems at independence were a colonial inheritance”.37
Given there was “little prospect that private capital, either foreign or domestic, would show an interest”, it was inevitable that successive governments, like many of their contemporaries in the post-war developing world, would turn to state-led development. The dismal experience of integration into the world economy and the recent trauma of imperialist war made rejecting the colonial economy and adopting an isolationist approach politically necessary too.38
The problems, however, proved insurmountable. The attempt to use agriculture to fund industrialisation, as China was doing with somewhat more success at around the same time, contained a fundamental paradox:
In order to finance its industrialisation programme, the government sought to extract a major surplus from Burma’ s rice economy. But in doing so, it depressed domestic demand, and thus undermined the commercial prospects for the new industrial concerns that were being established to supply the local market.39
By the 1980s, the government’s so-called Burmese Way to Socialism had utterly failed. The economy was now dependent on foreign loans and aid that “covered the persistent substantial deficits in both the budget and the balance of payments” and “financed the expansion of state industrial enterprises”. The cost of servicing foreign debts amounted to no less than 80 percent of the value of exports by 1987. In an act of desperation, the regime demonetised most of the currency in circulation, ruining whatever savings the majority of the population had at a stroke and provoking the biggest uprising in Burmese history.40
When military rule was re-established under the name of the “State Law and Order Restoration Council” (later renamed to the slightly less Orwellian-sounding “State Peace and Development Council”), state-led development was abandoned in favour of a turn towards marketisation.
From the beginning, the regime had faced opposition on three fronts: Communist guerrillas, armed ethnic rebels and mass movements in the urban areas. The latter two have continued to the present day.
The origins of Burmese Communism lay in the mass movement of the late 1930s, involving student and peasant demonstrations as well as strikes by workers. However, the militarisation of politics, particularly with the onset of the Second World War, quickly led the Communist Party of Burma towards an armed struggle strategy.41 Under the influence of Stalin’s popular front strategy, the majority of Communists identified the Japanese as fascist and took the British side during the war. This made it easy for the more right-wing nationalists to sideline them in the run up to independence.42 Nonetheless, the Communist insurgency that broke out immediately after independence was based in central Burma and posed a serious threat to the new government.
The Communist Party received substantial aid from the Communist state in neighbouring China, and the influence of Maoist politics was obvious. Burma, they claimed, was like China before the revolution: a “semi-colonial and semi-feudal state”. Therefore, their objective would be the “people’s democratic revolution, aimed at overthrowing imperialism, feudalism and bureaucratic capitalism”. This was a justification for cross-class alliances as a strategy to achieve national independence. The method, a direct copy of the Chinese experience, was armed struggle, with the goal of establishing rural base areas and surrounding the cities.43 So, in 1980, the party explicitly rejected a focus on urban uprisings. When the revolutionary movement of 1988 exploded onto the streets, the Communists were thus entirely irrelevant.44
The nationalism underpinning the Communist Party’s politics also meant that it accepted the colonial borders and did not seriously challenge Bamar chauvinism. The Communists “completely failed to understand the causes or grievances of the ethnic nationalist movement”. Instead, they brushed them aside, claiming that the Communist Party was a party of class and reducing the “armed struggle of the nationalities” to “an armed struggle of the peasants against feudal oppression”. This struggle would, of course, be led by the Communist Party itself, which was often accused by minority leaders of fomenting splits in the ethnic forces in an attempt to win over the more “progressive” elements.45
A surge in material support from China at the time of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s revitalised the Burmese Communists, enabling them to build bases in the borderland minority areas. Yet, by the 1980s, China had become more interested in improving relations with the Burmese regime in order to exploit its natural resources. The Chinese state significantly reduced its assistance to the Communists. In 1989, the Communist Party dramatically imploded as ethnic soldiers, first Kokang and then Wa, who had long been used as cannon fodder, revolted against the overwhelmingly Bamar leadership.46
The Karen were the first ethnic group to rebel against the new Burman state. Unlike groups living in the mountainous periphery such as the Kachin and Shan, many Karen lived alongside Bamars in Lower Burma.47 These areas became a flashpoint immediately after independence as they were excluded from the Karen federal state granted by the constitution, which probably included no more than a quarter of the total Karen population. The regime forced the issue, and massacres of Karen villagers were committed by paramilitary forces led by future dictator Ne Win. Karen regiments in the Burmese army then defected to join the insurgency. It is tragically ironic that just a few months earlier these troops, along with Kachin and Shan forces who would also later rebel, had saved the new government by ruthlessly defeating Communist insurgents.48
Chronic underdevelopment of ethnic minority areas became another source of resentment. In Arakan, for instance, “apparently deliberate neglect” meant that, some 40 years after independence, there had been “only a steady regression in the quality of roads, transport, housing, education, employment and life in general”.49
Religious persecution is another axis of repression. An attempt by Burma’s first elected prime minister, U Nu, to make Buddhism the state religion helped to push the predominantly Christian Kachin people into rebellion in 1961.50 The Chin people have also faced restrictions on their practice of Christianity.51 Muslims have been the victims more recently. The story of the Rohingya is well known, but other Muslim groups such as the Kaman, despite being officially recognised, are also in the firing line.52
The military coup of 1962 had a “profound galvanising effect” on the ethnic movements; armed struggle appeared to be the only way to resist.53 Within a few years, most of those minority ethnic groups not already in revolt began fighting the central government. Nonetheless, although there were a series of alliances between them, conflicting national objectives could also lead them to fight each other.
During the Cold War, conflict between the Communist Party and ethnic forces was often influenced by the global confrontation between the Western powers and the Communist world. For instance, Thailand’s government tolerated the activities of the Karen National Union taking place across its borders, seeing this as a bulwark against cooperation between the Burmese and Thai Communist Parties. The Thai government also enlisted the support of the Shan United Revolutionary Army in its fight against the Communists, turning a blind eye to the drug trafficking that financed it. However, if taking an anti-Communist stance was seen by the leaders of these ethnic armies as a way to get backing from the West, they were to be sorely disappointed—there was “never any tangible financial or moral support for their armed struggle by any Western government”.54
Cooperation between the non-Communist Bamar opposition and the ethnic armies was rare since it was hard to reconcile the contradictory ambitions of Burman and minority nationalists. Nonetheless, the National Democratic Front did manage to bring together the two largest ethnic minority parties of the time—the Karen National Union and the Kachin Independence Organisation—and attempted to win Bamar oppositionists by watering down their demands and calling for a “unified federal union”.55 Moreover, following the brutal suppression of the 1988 uprising, thousands of Bamar activists did find refuge in areas controlled by minority armies (as they were to again after the 2021 coup).56
Military rule has never been popular in Myanmar. On the rare occasions when reasonably free elections have taken place, candidates sponsored by the military have been consistently rejected.57 From the start, successive post-independence regimes also faced urban mass opposition movements, which have sometimes been insurrectionary. As early as 1949, a civil servants’ strike almost brought the government down.58 In a pattern that has become horribly familiar, peaceful student protests were brutally suppressed by the army following the 1962 coup.59 A strike wave in early 1974, sparked by food shortages, inflation and government corruption, was followed by more student demonstrations later in the year.60 The country’s military rulers were once again challenged in 2007 by the famous “Saffron Revolution”, led by monks and named after the colour of their robes.61
However, it was the revolutionary uprising of 1988 that presented the gravest threat to Tatmadaw rule. Despite its suppression, it had a decisive impact on the direction the country subsequently took. It also encapsulated both the possibilities and limitations of the democratic opposition in this period.
Discontent at the failure of the government’s economic policies to deliver any sort of decent living standard to all but a privileged and corrupt few lay behind the uprising. In fact, the first protests erupted in September 1987 in response to the demonetisation of the Burmese currency. When protests broke out again in March, they faced a regime with no qualms about gunning down unarmed students in the streets. Yet, the deaths only served to broaden and deepen the movement. By June, other sections of the population were joining the demonstrations, and workers went on strike. Two months later, “the entire country ground to a halt” as a general strike was declared.62
The murderous response of the army was matched by the ferocity of the resistance, with the working-class suburbs at its centre. For instance, residents of Yangon’s North Okkalapa district described how “long processions” of “workers, students, housewives, Buddhist monks” were targeted by snipers. Nonetheless, they fought back, driving the police out of the area and then setting up their own guards, who were “prepared to fight if the army dared enter North Okkalapa again”.63
The unity of the movement helped overcome old divisions. In Rakhine state, the site of pogroms against Rohingya Muslims in more recent years, the “yellow banner of Buddhism fluttered beside Islam’s green flag” as the two communities marched hand in hand.64 As the movement grew, increasing numbers of military personnel and even police began to join the protests. “Pictures of these uniformed and smiling soldiers” appeared in the world’s newspapers, creating the “impression of a regime that had lost control”.65
As the regime started to falter, the movement was developing new levels of organisation. Citizens’ committees were set up in “almost every ward and township” in the capital city. Strike committees were formed in 200 of Burma’s 314 townships, often taking over the offices of the ruling Burma Socialist Programme Party and helping to distribute food and other supplies. While the committees met, groups of monks would keep a look out for soldiers and police. In August, a general strike committee was formed in order to coordinate the action.66
However, there were other political forces too. In reaction to the violence of the regime some students began looking to armed struggle, a tradition with a long history in Myanmar.67 Others were looking to compromise. Aung Gyi, a former army officer who had fallen foul of Ne Win and openly criticised the government’s policies, nevertheless encouraged protesters to trust the newly installed president, Maung Maung, and to “not feel bad about the army”.68 He was expressing a more general contradiction in the liberal opposition—in order to establish a parliamentary democracy they needed to end military rule, but in order to hold together a country created by colonialism they needed a strong army.
Despite the depth of the movement nobody was articulating a strategy that prioritised the demands of workers and peasants and saw the various committees thrown up by the struggle as the basis for an alternative, truly democratic form of government. A plan to declare a “parallel government” of “strike committees and workers’ unions” came too late.69 By then, the general strike committee had issued an ultimatum to the regime to form an interim government, effectively handing over the initiative.70
The generals had been given a breathing space. When they returned, they were ruthlessly and murderously efficient. Some estimate that over 10,000 died at the hands of the army.71 As the soldiers moved in, the youngest protesters were often the bravest. Many of the corpses wore the green longyi, the traditional Burmese dress used in high school student uniforms.72
Change and continuity
Despite the restoration of military rule following the brutal suppression of the uprising, 1988 was nevertheless a watershed in the history of Myanmar. Ne Win was gone and his Burmese Way to Socialism programme of state-led development was ditched. Instead, the new regime moved to integrate the country into the world economy and open opportunities for private capitalists. There was political change too. Ceasefires were signed with many of the ethnic rebel groups and, eventually, limited democratic reforms conceded. Yet, the regime also encouraged the growth of Buddhist sectarianism and a dramatic increase in the persecution of Muslims.
The turn towards a more neoliberal approach after 1988 was partly an acceptance of Myanmar’s position near the bottom of the global economic pyramid, abandoning any developmentalist ambitions in practice. The country would remain mostly a producer of primary products, although some could certainly still get very rich in the process.
A position in the upper echelons of the military, or having close connections inside them, was a prerequisite for success in the new economy. The army’s involvement in the economy started in the 1950s. Even though these interests were nationalised under the Burmese Way to Socialism, they were managed by military personnel, who were then in pole position to take advantage when the economy opened up.73
The establishment of two massive corporations in the 1990s enabled the Tatmadaw to become “Myanmar’s most powerful economic actor”, a phenomenon dubbed “khaki capitalism”.74 Consequently, “Burma’s formal economy including the state sector and much of the trade in energy, raw materials, precious metals and stones” is “dominated by the country’s ruling military regime” as well as “entities and individuals connected to it”.75
Even businesses not owned by the Tatmadaw could not succeed without close contacts in the military. The “principal beneficiaries were entrepreneurs who secured the lion’s share of lucrative deals via their close relations with leading generals”. Economic sanctions imposed by Western countries, political scientist Lee Jones suggests, “enhanced this method of control by intensifying business’s reliance on the state”.76 This whole process was inevitably deeply corrupt, and “Burma is routinely ranked among the most corrupt countries in the world”.77
“Peace is dangerous”
After the shock of 1988, the new regime moved to try to contain the opposition. Ethnic rebels had played almost no role in the uprising; indeed, a lull in the fighting allowed government troops to be moved to the cities to help suppress it.78 Nevertheless, “military leaders correctly calculated that, should an alliance develop between the opposition in central Burma and armed ethnic minority rebels beyond”, the army “lacked the capacity to fight battles” in both.79 Within a few years, ceasefires were being negotiated. By 2004, the Karen National Union was the only “sizeable” group still fighting.80
This change in policy also reflected a realisation that, although armed opposition had been contained, especially following the collapse of the Communists, it could not be defeated militarily. Rebel groups had been largely expelled from the lower lying areas, but many others were based in remote mountain ranges, ideal terrain for guerrilla warfare.
A further reason lay in the economic potential of these same hills. Smuggling their natural resources, such as jade and teak, over neighbouring borders had been an important source of income for the rebel groups.81 Ceasefires gave the regime an opportunity to staunch this flow of funds and claim at least some of the profits for themselves. Moreover, demand for these products, especially from booming China, was increasing rapidly.
In truth, the ceasefires were merely truces, with no attempt to address the underlying grievances of the non-Bamar peoples. Nonetheless, they gave the regime an opportunity to try and play the rebel groups off against each other while the army encroached on their territory. Infrastructural developments to access natural resources or facilitate cross-border trade gave the army a pretext to move into rebel areas.82 Troops in Shan state, for instance, are now “concentrated around major towns as well as being deployed to protect development projects and arterial roads” and used “along the route of the oil and gas pipelines” to China.83 Some of the smaller groups were coerced into becoming border guards for the government.84 Meanwhile, the existence of a ceasefire agreement did not stop the army from launching military offensives when it chose.
Rapacious resource extraction in this lightly regulated and endemically corrupt milieu could be devastating for the local environment and the people who lived there. In 1998, China imposed a logging ban following disastrous flooding, and large parts of Kachin territory across the border were deforested to fill the void.85 As the democratic reforms were taking hold in 2012, a new round of ceasefires was signed, but the exploitation of people and nature did not change. Instead, it was just given a more legal face with the passing of land laws that “aim to turn land solely into a commodity”.86 These fail to recognise the “customary and communal tenure systems” common in the highland ethnic areas. So, such land is declared “vacant, fallow and virgin”, available for expropriation by the military and businesses with close connections to the armed forces.87 “Rather than bringing peace and inclusive development”, political scientist Tom Kramer argues, “the ceasefires and economic reforms have brought loss of land and related natural resources and the destruction of local cultures”.88
Although the ceasefires were disastrous for many ethnic people—one Karen representative even concluded that “peace is very dangerous”—some of their leaders did not fare so badly.89 Describing what he calls “ceasefire capitalism”, researcher Kevin Woods shows how the central government allocated logging concessions in rebel areas to Burmese and Chinese businesses, with these then taxed by rebel leaders.90 The Kachin Independence Organisation’s leaders, for instance, “seemed more interested in plundering their territories together with the Tatmadaw generals…than in looking out for the rights of Kachin people”.91 However, this approach eventually backfired on them when the membership of the group, frustrated at its unwillingness to resist the depredations of the army and their cronies, organised a grassroots rebellion that installed a new, younger and more combative group of officers in control. The new leadership retained their popularity even after the ceasefire broke down in 2011 following attacks by the Tatmadaw.92 Similar tensions have grown among the Palaung and the Karen following their ceasefires.93
Elections, promised following the bloody suppression of the 1988 movement, were indeed held in 1990. However, the regime was shocked when, despite its ongoing martial law and the arrest of many leading figures including Aung San Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy scored an overwhelming victory. The NLD won some 392 of the 425 seats contested, while the army-backed National Unity Party (the successor organisation to Ne Win’s Burma Socialist Programme Party) managed just 10.94
The NLD was founded immediately after the suppression of the 1988 uprising, and its stunning victory two years later drew on the last hopes of the movement. Nonetheless, the new party was very much a top-down establishment-led affair. Several of its founding figures were former military officers, including ex-general Tin Oo and retired colonel Kyi Maung. By far the best known of the leaders was Aung San Suu Kyi, who could draw on her enormous popularity as the daughter of the country’s founding figure, Aung San. At this time, she also made concerted efforts to win support among the insurgent minorities.95
Predictably enough, though, the Tatmadaw failed to honour the democratic mandate given to the NLD, instead announcing a National Convention, which would be firmly under military control, to design a new constitution. Progress was glacially slow until the re-eruption of mass protest in 2007 put some fear back into the generals.96 There were other incentives for change from above too. Sanctions imposed by the West following the 1988 clampdown never came close to bringing the regime down, but they did make the country increasingly reliant on China, both economically and politically.97 Reforms offered the prospect of reopening ties with the United States and Europe, reducing dependence on China and even attracting Western investment.
Things moved quickly now. In 2012, two years after Aung San Suu Kyi was released from prison, the NLD won 43 of 45 seats in by-elections. Then, following a landslide win in the general election of 2015, the NLD formed Myanmar’s first elected government since 1962.98 As the process unfolded, Myanmar became the destination of choice for Western leaders. Hilary Clinton, and then Barack Obama, visited Aung San Suu Kyi, and the poor woman even had then British foreign secretary Boris Johnson inflicted upon her. Sanctions were duly removed.
However, there were deep problems. In this “discipline-flourishing democracy”, as the regime called it, a quarter of the seats in the legislature were not elected at all, but rather appointed by the army. At the same time, constitutional change required support from 75 percent of members, giving the Tatmadaw a veto over any further reform.99 The seeds of the 2021 coup were built into the settlement.
So, why did Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD settle for such a limited form of democracy? The deal was, as Galache argues, a pact between the military and democratic elites that would allow their “hitherto isolated country” to be thrown into the “neoliberal world order”.100 The vision of Aung San Suu Kyi and her allies was limited to making Myanmar a source of cheap labour for Western corporations. They had to accommodate the Tatmadaw because it was the only force that could keep the country, with its colonial era borders, together against both the centrifugal pull of ethnic insurgency and the willingness of its people to risk their lives fighting for freedom and an end to poverty. Thus, Aung San Suu Kyi, in an interview with the BBC shortly after her release, reached out to the army, saying she “didn’t want to see the military falling” but instead “rising to dignified heights of professionalism and true patriotism”. After the 2015 election victory, many of the aides she appointed were retired officers or officials from the previous military regime.101
Buddhist sectarianism and religious persecution
However, the generals had other ideas. They had long ago learnt to use the old colonial tactic of divide and rule, but now they plumbed new depths. Ramping up Buddhist sectarianism and scapegoating the Muslim Rohingya would, they hoped, help cement their role as defender of the nation. It would also set a trap for Aung San Suu Kyi.
Buddhism is deeply embedded in Burmese society. There are some 3-400,000 monks and around 50,000 nuns (out of a population of 54 million), in 45,000 monasteries.102 Given its huge influence, successive military regimes have made attempts to control the Sangha, the Buddhist church, and keep it out of politics. Yet, they have also tried to use Buddhism to bind the majority population to the regime by privileging it over, and turning it against, other religious groups.103
Starting in the 1990s, a series of government measures made Buddhism the country’s “de facto state religion” with negative consequences for practitioners of Myanmar’s other religions. Christian Kachin and Chin people, for instance, were the subject of coercive conversion campaigns.104 However, from the start the main target were Muslims. As ceasefires were signed with many of the ethnic groups, the Muslim Rohingya became the scapegoat—the enemy—around which to unite the “national races”.
The Rohingya, who had been excluded from a list of the 135 recognised “national races” under Ne Win, are falsely claimed to be recent interlopers from Bengal intent on destroying Buddhism.105 In fact, the large majority are descendants of migrants who moved from Bengal before the British invasion of 1826, when Arakan was “a frontier area between Burma and Bengal in which the two cultural worlds mixed indistinguishably” until the British classified them as “separate entities in opposition to each other”.106 Others arrived during the colonial period, when there was no obstacle to movement between these two parts of the British Empire. Nevertheless, the lie of illegal immigration has been used to justify increasingly severe restrictions on their movements and expropriation of Rohingya land. This is a system that Rohingya writer Habiburahman has compared to South African apartheid.107
When this campaign of hatred led to a series of horrific pogroms against the Rohingya and other Muslims, it was clear that state forces, the army and police, were heavily involved. Also among the perpetrators were shadowy groups of extremist monks, tacitly encouraged by the regime. Their leading figure, Ashin Wirathu, had been jailed for inciting riots against Muslims in 2003 but, 11 years later, the government turned a blind eye.108 These violent bigots were seemingly a useful tool not just for encouraging hatred of Muslims but also as a counter to the long tradition of opposition to military rule in the monasteries. In 2013, a particularly gruesome attack saw Muslims murdered in the streets of the central Burmese town of Meiktila, with some of these monks not only encouraging the attackers, but even taking part in the violence themselves.109
These murderous assaults culminated in the virtually complete ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya from Myanmar in 2017. The method—atrocities committed against individual villages in order to terrorise the remaining population into fleeing—was chillingly reminiscent of the Nakba, when Palestinians were forced off their land in what became the State of Israel in 1948.110 For instance, in the village of Tula Toli, soldiers first gunned down the men and older women, piling up their bodies and setting them alight. They then set about systematically raping the younger women before burning them alive. Few managed to escape.
The troops had been given the go-ahead by General Min Aung Hlaing’s description of the “Bengali problem” (that is, the Rohingya) as an “unfinished job”.111 The general became prime minister of Myanmar following the coup in February 2021. Most Rohingya, some three-quarters of a million people, fled in panic across the border to Bangladesh, where they remain in sprawling refugee camps to this day.
For Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD the question was this: would they break with the generals and denounce the massacres or would they turn a blind eye and line up with their former persecutors? When they took the latter path, it was a huge shock to Aung San Suu Kyi’s liberal admirers in the West. Nonetheless, as we have seen, accommodation with the army was an essential component of the NLD’s project for integrating Myanmar into the neoliberal world order. So, in December 2019, Aung San Suu Kyi stood up at the International Court of Justice in The Hague to defend the indefensible. A little over a year later, she would be jailed by the Tatmadaw once again. Politically, however, she was already their prisoner.
Rakhine state, the area the Rohingya were expelled from, is one of the most impoverished parts of a poor country. Yet, if the army thought that handing over the Muslims’ confiscated land would win the hearts and minds of the region’s Buddhists, they were badly mistaken. With the removal of the scapegoat, Rakhine’s own independence struggle reignited.112
Coup and resistance
The coup of February 2021 came as a nasty shock to most commentators. However, if reasons for the military takeover are difficult to find, it is easier to see why the top brass might have become disillusioned with the democratic process. If they had expected a surge in investment after their rapprochement with Western governments, they were to be sorely disappointed. Western investment was already very low before sanctions were reimposed following the Rohingya atrocities.113 By 2020, it was negligible; of the top 10 foreign investors in Myanmar only one, Britain, was not Asian, and it accounted for just 0.7 percent of the total.114 Countries such as Singapore, China and Thailand, by far the three biggest investors, were unlikely to show the same hostility to a military takeover as the Western powers.115
Any hope of democratisation reducing economic dependence on China had evaporated too. As well as being a major investor, China accounted for over a third of both exports and imports by 2016.116 Estrangement from the West over the Rohingya issue also meant a return to relying on the Chinese government’s political support.117
Elections at the end of 2020 brought humiliation for the generals. The NLD scored a landslide victory, taking 396 of the 426 seats available. Meanwhile, the Tatmadaw-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) won a derisory 33 seats. On 1 February, the day the parliament was due to meet to form a new government, the army took control, citing spurious allegations of electoral fraud. Many have seen the personal ambition of General Min Aung Hlaing as the main reason for the coup, with the failure of the USDP closing off his constitutional route to the presidency. Yet, although this may have been a factor, he was able to count on wide support within the army top brass. As regional analyst David Steinberg notes, “By the day before the coup, all of the regional military commanders had agreed to it”.118
The response from the mass of the population was furious and immediate. The democratic reforms may have been severely limited but some important freedoms had been gained. The right to join a union, for instance, was conceded in the Labour Law of 2011 for the first time in decades.119 These rights would not be given up easily.
Workers quickly joined the resistance, with nurses and doctors organising a walk out on the day after the coup.120 Young female workers from the growing garment sector also struck; one group gave voice to the mood of resistance by adapting Karl Marx’s slogan from the Communist Manifesto, chanting, “We have nothing to lose but our chains!”121 Strikes spread rapidly across the country, gaining participation from groups such as teachers and from many government staff. Bank workers shut down the banking system, and rail workers did the same to the railways. Even the army’s own Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise was forced to cease production in a sector that is a key foreign currency earner.122
As had happened in 1988, the movement started to organise its own social support in place of state services:
Aid networks are providing financial support to help striking civil servants and private sector workers… Grocers provide rations to keep food on protesters’ tables. Medical professionals help those hurt in the protests and provide free healthcare to their families. Teachers provide free education.123
The picture was more mixed in ethnic minority areas, where disillusion with the failure of the NLD government to address minority issues was widespread.124 However, in contrast to 1988, protests quickly spread beyond the Bamar heartland. Here too there was a distinct class divide in attitudes, with “ordinary citizens… fighting for democracy at all cost” while “the business-owning class and elites”, many of whom have benefited from “ceasefire capitalism”, sat on the fence and waited to see which side won.125
However, the movement faced a formidable enemy. From its inception, the Tatmadaw has always been almost entirely concerned with internal repression rather than external defence. It now claims to be over half a million strong, and is just as brutally ruthless as it was under Ne Win.126 The army is a blunt weapon though. It was able to bludgeon the movement off the streets, but the government’s repeated claims of a return to “normality” ring hollow. Widespread strikes and instability meant that the economy collapsed, and GDP fell by 18 percent in 2021 despite steady growth in previous years.127 Resistance has continued in the face of severe repression. The first anniversary of the coup was marked by a “silent strike” which, in spite of multiple threats from the government, shut down the major cities and left the streets deserted.128 Frontier Myanmar magazine also reported two at least partially successful strikes at the end of the previous year, mounted in resistance to an employers’ offensive launched off the back of the military takeover. Another strike, at delivery company Foodpanda, was reported in summer 2022 and had already lasted over 2 months at the time.129
Western governments responded to the coup by imposing sanctions, but there are a number of problems with supporting this approach. First, Myanmar’s previous military regimes were able to endure long periods under sanctions without falling from power. As we have seen, the country’s economy is far more integrated with other Asian countries than it is with the US and Europe. Second, sanctions look more effective on paper than they are in reality. Justice for Myanmar report that teak exports to the US in 2021 were only marginally smaller than the previous year despite sanctions against Myanmar Timber Enterprise, which effectively controls the industry.130 Real change in Myanmar will only come about as a result of struggles from below by ordinary Burmese people. Indeed, sanctions against the previous military regime undermined these struggles when, for example, thousands were laid off in the garment sector, a bastion of industrial militancy.131
Although the democratisation of Myanmar was not a direct result of a mass revolutionary movement, it bears comparison with some of the aborted democratic transitions that followed recent uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. In her recent study of these revolts, Anne Alexander argues that the reformist leaders accepted a “Faustian bargain” with the ruling class to continue the “existing form of the state”, while hoping for a “lasting shift from authoritarianism to democracy”. Keeping the armed forces onside was essential to these projects because the military is “indispensable” to maintenance of the existing capitalist order, with “no viable alternative” available.132
The attempt by Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD to follow this route has palpably failed. Their objective was to paint a democratic face on continued capitalist rule in a territory originally defined by the British Empire. A “Faustian” pact with the Tatmadaw was a necessary part of this project because there was no alternative force capable of maintaining the existing order. Yet, in taking this road they “systematically marginalised street protests and strikes” so that citizens would exercise influence as “voters not protesters”, thus undermining the only bulwark they had against the generals.133
The clear necessity of unity against the might of the military meant that, in the aftermath of the coup, the NLD had to change tack and make overtures to the ethnic leaders. In the guise of the so-called Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, it abolished the 2008 constitution and issued a “Federal Democracy Charter”.134 However, even leaving aside the question of how the mostly Bamar Tatmadaw could be transformed into a “federal army with a broad ethnic base”, it is difficult to see how this plan would work in an impoverished country like Myanmar.135 A system that gave more representation to the ethnic minorities (and the proclamations have been notably short on specifics) could quickly degenerate into conflict over resources and access to trade routes, making a return to armed conflict highly likely.
The other response to the military takeover has been a return to armed struggle. Yet, as Alexander points out, armed national liberation struggles reached their peak in the anti-colonial revolts in the decades after the Second World War. Subsequently, they have “diminished” and become a “mechanism to extract concessions from a repressive regime”.136 This can be seen clearly in Myanmar, where armed insurgencies have gone from threatening the very existence of the state in the years following independence to agreeing rather unequal ceasefires with the central government.
Although the violence of the Tatmadaw certainly cannot be ignored, a revolutionary socialist strategy in Myanmar has to start with the mass movements that have been most threatening to military rule. The uprisings in both 1988 and immediately after the 2021 coup were centred on the major cities and involved large numbers of workers taking strike action. This reflects a steady increase in the size of the urban working class. Even though development has been slow and the country remains predominantly rural, the urban population increased from about 19 percent in 1960 to 31 percent today. In the 25 years after 1991, the World Bank estimates that employment in industry and services grew from 11 percent each to, respectively, 16 and 32 percent, with a commensurate decline in agricultural work.137 This gives the workers’ movement a power that other sections of society lack, highlighted by the way strikes closed down government departments and military-owned businesses in 2021.
In the past, the regime has been able to play urban movements and armed ethnic groups off against each other or concentrate its forces on one while buying time with another. To be successful a revolutionary uprising in the cities needs to win the support of the country’s ethnic minorities, which make up some 30 percent of the population. Any appeal to these people will be limited while the leadership of the movement prioritises maintaining the current state of Myanmar. A socialist programme has to reject the colonial borders in favour of the right of minorities to self-determination, including the right to declare independence. It would also include the right of the Rohingya people to return to the land from which they were expelled. Such a position would demonstrate to the minority peoples that hope for a termination to the seemingly endless round of wars and poverty lies with the revolutionary movement. This would also undermine support for some of their more compromised leaders.
In a “symbiotic relationship”, Buddhist monks “depend on community support for their lives” in return for “spiritual guidance and comfort”, and they are thus directly affected by the impoverishment of the laity.138 Consequently, they have been an important component of past uprisings and are likely to be again. However, the regime’s promotion of Buddhist sectarianism has meant persecution for Muslims and Christians. Advocating the separation of the Buddhist Sangha from the state needs to be combined with support for the freedom of religious practice for the believers of all faiths.
Finally, a strategy is needed to destroy the power of the Tatmadaw in a way that decades of armed struggle based in the countryside has failed to do. There are two elements to this. The first element is winning the rank and file to breaking army discipline and coming over to the side of revolution. This happened to an extent both in 1988 and 2021, but not on a scale anywhere near large enough. The Tatmadaw has expanded massively since 1988 by recruiting from poor rural areas where it offers the only hope of some stability and a minimal income. However, there are huge class divisions in the ranks. Top generals can make fortunes from their business interests, but most soldiers are poor and exploited.139 When mass movements against the regime have erupted, the main objective of the leadership has been democratic reform, but the “central demands” of most protesters were “economic, focused on fuel prices and common suffering”.140 A movement that makes “the collective struggles of workers to improve their livelihoods” the central objective of the uprising can begin to peel away sections of the armed forces that the state relies on for its survival.141
The second element is the development at the height of the struggle of an armed militia for the defence of working-class areas along the lines of the Red Guards that emerged during the Russian revolution of 1917.142 The guerrilla forces that have played such a large role in Myanmar’s history are self-selecting and isolated from urban mass movements. A workers’ militia would necessarily be very different, based in the working-class districts of the cities and accountable to the movement. This in turn implies the emergence of organs of revolutionary democracy of the sort that have frequently emerged at the high points of struggle globally, from the Paris Commune in 1871 through the soviets during the Russian Revolution to the Resistance Committees in the ongoing Sudanese uprising.143 Both forms of organisation—self-defence groups and popular councils—have been seen in embryonic form during the major uprisings in Myanmar.
“The chain of world capitalism”, Leon Trotsky wrote, following the 1917 Revolution in Russia, “tends to break at its weakest link”.144 Myanmar is certainly one of contemporary capitalism’s weakest links. The scale and savagery of its military regime is a sign of weakness, not strength, and an indication of its utter failure to build any consensus behind army rule. From its inception, it has faced hostility on all sides: from ethnic rebels, from impoverished workers and farmers, and even from the monasteries so central to Burmese society. It has survived only “because its multiple opponents…have found it impossible to unite”.145 A revolution that broke the Burmese link would certainly need friends in order to survive. Yet, while Myanmar is very much on the periphery of the world economy, it borders two emerging powerhouses of 21st century capitalism—India and China—with their millions of workers and potential allies.
Simon Gilbert is a member of the Socialist Workers Party and is based in Oxford.
1 Thanks to Joseph Choonara, Richard Donnelly, John Newsinger and Sheila McGregor for their comments on an earlier draft.
2 The country was renamed Myanmar in 1989.
3 Randolph Churchill, secretary of state for India and father of Winston Churchill, even hoped this last act of aggression might help bring a Tory election victory—see Thant Myint-U, 2020, p15.
4 Thant Myint-U, 2020, p16; Galache, 2020, p131.
5 Callahan, 2009; Callahan, 2005, pp23 and 31.
6 Callahan, 2005, pp36-39 and 44.
7 Brown, 2013, p203.
8 Brown, 2013, pp6 and 9.
9 Chettiars are a caste-based social grouping who are indigenous to southern India and are historically associated with moneylending.
10 Brown, 2013, pp33, 47 and 59.
11 Rangoon is now known as Yangon. Tanjore, also known as Thanjavur, is a city in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
12 Quoted in Brown, 2013, p60.
13 Brown, 2013, pp13-14, 20-21 and 63; Callahan, 2009.
14 Callahan, 2005, p67.
15 Galache, 2020, p109.
16 Thant Myint-U, 2011, p38.
17 Lieberman, 1978, p459.
18 Wade, 2017, pp35-36.
19 Smith, 1999, p30.
20 Leach, 1970, pp44-45, 57-58 and 214.
21 Leach, 1970, pp187 and 244.
22 Smith, 1999, p42.
23 Galache, 2020, p187. The Bamar ethnic group makes up around 68 percent of the population of modern Myanmar.
24 Crane, 2015, p254.
25 Wade, 2017, p80.
26 Galache, 2020, p156.
27 Smith, 1999, pp72 and 76-77.
28 Brown, 2013, p203.
29 Smith, 1999, p97.
30 Wade, 2017, pp18 and 26; Galache, 2020, p116.
31 Galache, 2020, pp144, 148-49, Smith, 1999, pp54-58.
32 Galache, 2020, p290.
33 Brenner, 2019, p36.
34 Ikeda, 2004, p182.
35 The capital was moved to Naypyidaw in 2005.
36 Smith, 1999, p424; Jones, 2016, p97.
37 Brown, 2013, pp96, 103, 109, 111 and 119.
38 Brown, 2013, pp96 and 102.
39 Brown, 2013, p110.
40 Brown, 2013, pp155-6 and 164-165.
41 Taylor, 1983, p97.
42 Taylor, 1983, pp101, 106. The Communists themselves split at this time into the pro-Russian Red Flags and the White Flags, who were drawn towards the Chinese Communists. The smaller Red Flag group dwindled into insignificance within a few years, and so the subsequent discussion concerns the White Flags (referred to here simply as the Communist Party). See Smith, 1999, p132.
43 Lintner, 2021, p9.
44 Smith, 1999, pp235 and 317.
45 Smith, 1999, pp322-323 and 349.
46 Smith, 1999, pp359-360 and 374-381.
47 Ikeda, 2004, p182.
48 Smith, 1999, pp109, 116-118 and 146.
49 Smith, 1999, pp244-245.
50 Lintner, 2009, p37.
51 Callahan, 2007, p40.
52 Thant Myint-U, 2020, pp183-184.
53 Meehan, 2016, p366.
54 Smith, 1999, pp296-9, 335 and 432.
55 Smith, 1999, p385-6.
56 Callahan, 2007, p15.
57 This was the case in 1960 and 1990 and again in 2015 and 2020. See Smith, 1999, p187; Thant Myint-U, 2020, p219; Steinberg, 2021, p28.
58 Callahan, 2005, p138.
59 Smith, 1999, p202-203.
60 Smith, 1999, p269.
61 Callahan, 2009.
62 Lintner, 1990, p112.
63 Lintner, 1990, pp101-102.
64 Lintner, 1990, p114.
65 Smith, 1999, p15.
66 Lintner, 1990, p90; Smith, 1999, pp6 and 8.
67 Smith, 1999, p406.
68 Lintner, 1990, p113.
69 Smith, 1999, p15.
70 Lintner, 1990, p125.
71 Smith, 1999, p16.
72 Lintner, 1990, p134.
73 Brown, 2013, pp192-193; McCarthy, 2019, p13.
74 Brenner, 2019, p44.
75 Turnell, 2010, p24.
76 Jones, 2014, p150.
77 Turnell, 2010, p25.
78 Lintner, 1990, pp151-152.
79 Callahan, 2007, p17.
80 Brenner, 2019, p42.
81 Brenner, 2019, p40.
82 Brenner, 2019, p79.
83 Meehan, 2016, p373.
84 Smith, 1999, p350; Brenner, 2019, p78.
85 Brenner, 2019, p80.
86 Kramer, 2021, p490.
87 Ra and Ju, 2021, p503.
88 Kramer, 2021, p477.
89 Quoted in Kramer, 2021, p493.
90 Woods, 2016, p135.
91 Brenner, 2019, p78.
92 Brenner, 2019, pp92-95.
93 Meehan, 2016, p376; Brenner, 2019, p73.
94 Smith, 1999, p414.
95 Callahan, 2005, p214.
96 Steinberg, 2021, p27.
97 Jones, 2014, p156; Lintner, 2021, pp193-194.
98 Thant Myint-U, 2020, pp155 and 218-219.
99 Reny, 2021, p143.
100 Galache, 2020, 289.
101 Thant Myint-U, 2020, pp129 and 249.
102 Lintner, 2009, p9.
103 Lintner, 2009, p12.
104 Galache, 2020, pp205-206.
105 Steinberg, 2021, p23.
106 Galache, 2020, p286.
107 Habiburahman, 2019, p125.
108 Galache, 2020, pp58, 72.
109 Wade, 2017, pp159-63. It should be pointed out that other monks stood up to these mobs, with one abbot bravely protecting over a thousand Muslims in his monastery—see Thant Myint-U, 2020, p187.
110 See, for instance, Rose, 1986, pp50-51.
111 Galache, 2020, pp258, 260-261.
112 Galache, 2020, p291.
113 Win, Thein and others, 2015.
115 Steinberg, 2021, p34.
116 Bernhardt and Hein, 2019, p368.
117 Lintner, 2021, p210.
118 Steinberg, 2021, pp28-30.
119 Bernhardt and Hein, 2019, p359.
120 Frontier Myanmar, 2021.
121 Jordt, Than and Lin, 2021, p8.
122 Lin, 2021.
123 Than, 2021.
124 Loong, 2021, p7.
125 Jap, 2021.
126 Jordt, Than and Lin, 2021, p6.
127 See World Bank data at https://databank.worldbank.org/source/world-development-indicators
128 Kyaw and Ratcliffe, 2022.
129 Maung and Campbell, 2022; Frontier Myanmar, 2022.
130 Justice for Myanmar, 2022.
131 Jones, 2014, p166.
132 Alexander, 2022, pp301 and 324.
133 Alexander, 2022, p315.
134 Loong, 2021, p18. The Pyidaungsu Hluttaw is the Burmese parliament.
135 Thwanghmaung and Noah, 2021, p306.
136 Alexander, 2022, pp319-320.
137 See World Bank data at https://databank.worldbank.org/source/world-development-indicators
138 Lintner, 2009, p63.
139 For instance, contributions to UMEHL, a military-owned and lightly taxed conglomerate, are coerced out of rank and file soldiers for the benefit of “higher ranking officers”—McCarthy, 2019, pp23-25.
140 Callahan, 2009.
141 Maung and Campbell, 2022.
142 Trotsky, 1980, p230.
143 For a discussion of workers councils, see Alexander, 2022, pp350-359. On the Sudanese Resistance Committees, see Alexander, 2022, pp399-410.
144 Trotsky, 1932.
145 Callahan, 2009.