PEOPLE’S WAR REPORT: Burma’s Junta, the Communist Party and…?

— It’s been almost a year since the Tatmadaw military junta staged a coup of the National League for Democracy’s elected bourgeois democratic government.
— The fascists face military resistance from multiple fronts, not just the NLD’s armed forces and the communist-led People’s Liberation Army, but various national liberation armies with different ties and allegiances.
— The Burmese state has a history of dividing and conquering the various national liberation groups and crushing the people’s revolutionary spirit. They utilize the contradictions between the exploiters and the exploited inside each nationality wherever they can.
— It’s up to the Communist Party of Burma to unite the various national liberation struggles under working class leadership.

People’s War Report, 12.01.2021

Semi-weekly report on today’s people’s wars, their conditions and the perspectives they give us

Produced by The Red Flag

A brief explanation of the old people’s war bulletins for new readers

If you google Burma today (or Myanmar, the name given to the country by the fascist military junta „Tatmadaw“) and scroll through the news, you will see that every day there is a new report about an attack on soldiers of the junta or the latest massacre of a peasant village. All hell is breaking loose in the country right now; what began as a civil disobedience movement against the military coup has now erupted into a multi-front civil war, and Tatmadaw is ten times more heckled than they probably ever expected.

So far, we have focused primarily on Tatmadaw and the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) and its People’s Liberation Army (PLA). But the vast majority of what comes in the news in terms of clashes with the junta is not (at least not overtly) led by the CPB; there are far more forces at play. This is nothing unusual, for as Lenin said, revolution does not work in such a way that some take one side and say „I am for the revolution!“ while others from the other side counter „I am against it!“ It is worthwhile to get a brief overview of all the fighting forces in Burma, so that it becomes more recognizable why the CPB stands out from them and is the only force that also has the perspective to lead a real revolution in Burma.

Burma’s Shadow Government and the National League for Democracy

The main force of resistance most often reported is the National Unity Government (NUG), a shadow government made up of members of the overthrown electoral government, led by the National League for Democracy (NLD) and linked to various national minority insurgency groups in Burma. It organizes the „People’s Defense Force“ (PDF), its armed wing to fight the junta military. The NUG coined the term „people’s defensive war“, but this has nothing to do with a revolutionary people’s war. Currently, the NUG wants to consolidate the various PDF units with a coordination platform and make them capable of joint action.

Since its founding 33 years ago, the NLD has been the main domestic force working to ensure that Burma is ruled by a bourgeois-liberal democracy rather than a military junta. They seek a classic demoliberal multiparty system with separation of powers. The NLD had been Burma’s ruling party since 2015, after Tatmadaw conceded somewhat following several unrecognized elections; however, their control continued until last year’s coup.

The NLD is led by Aung San Suu Kyi, whose father Aung San was a founding member and the first party secretary of the CPB. However, he held this post for only a year before saying „bye-bye!“ to the principles of Marxism, and longtime CPB leader Thakin Soe replaced him.

The bourgeois press always emphasizes that the NLD won the 2015 and 2020 elections by a landslide. Take as an example the Burmese elections for the House of Representatives in 2015, in which the NLD got 57.1% of the vote. However, this does not mean that the broad majority of the population supports NLD.

Specifically, NLD received 12’794’561 votes (57.1%) in those elections. If we thus calculate the total number of votes cast, we can assume that only about 22’400’000 Burmese cast their votes. The counted population of Burma in 2015 was 52’680’723. The voter turnout was therefore about 42.5%. Only 24.3%, less than a quarter of the population, actually voted for the NLD.

In its five years in power, the NLD pursued an economic program of „liberalization“; specifically, it set itself the goal of modernizing agriculture and expanding the market for agricultural goods, which in Burma is controlled by China. The expansion of the independence of Burma’s central bank was also formative.

In contrast, the military junta relies on capitalism based on state-owned companies. These were responsible for 52% of Burma’s trade in 2007, for example.

Big capitalists always have two ways to build their economic and political power. Either they operate through private firms (non-state monopolism) or more directly through the state (state monopolism). The Tatmadaw junta represents the state-monopoly wing of the bourgeoisie (= capitalist class) in Burma; the NLD the non-state-monopoly wing. The armed struggle of the NUG against Tatmadaw is thus a bitter struggle between the two wings of the big capitalists.

Here we must not forget that Burma is an oppressed nation, thus exploited by imperialist countries. As imperialist powers are in an ongoing struggle for economic and political control of the oppressed nations, the two wings of the bourgeoisie in these nations are mostly used by different imperialist powers to further their interests in the country and grab the biggest piece of the pie. On this point, too, the picture is quite clear: while China gets 50% of its rare earth minerals from Burma and currently still supports Tatmadaw (which controls this industry), the NLD or NUG is currently trying its best to get political and military support from the US and its allies. It fights for democracy but not for the working people; government elections every few years do not change which class owns the state as a whole and that the country is sold to imperialists, be they American or Chinese.

The aspiring country-seller (Suu Kyi) and a Yankee master (ew).
An experienced country-seller (Tatmadaw’s Min Aung Hlaing) and his Führer.

Burma’s many national minorities and their struggles

The National Unity Government is by no means the only force, apart from the CPB, offering armed resistance to the coup. As mentioned earlier, various insurgent groups of national minorities are also participating in the NUG and/or fighting in their territories themselves against the genocidal attacks of the junta soldiers.

A list of the most prominent armed minority groups:

Kachin Independence Organization

Armed wing: Kachin Independence Army (KIA)
Origin: late 1940s
Territory: Kachin state in Burma and across the border in India and China
Financing: Regional taxes; trade in jade, timber and gold
Activities since the coup: capture of ten junta military bases. Joint military training with CPB’s PLA.

Shanni Nationalities Army (SNA)

Formation: 2016; formed by Shanni who had previously been kicked out of the KUA.
Territory: Kachin state in Burma
Activities since the coup: Undecided on participation in armed struggle. Attempted RPG attack on military vessel loaded with jade that failed. Historically, the Shanni people sided with the junta due to repeated hostility with the KUA; parts of the Shanni exploiting classes want to maintain this relationship.

Reconstruction Council of Shan State (RCSS)

Armed wing: Shan State Army — South (SSA-S)
Origin: 1996 (SSA-S), founded by parts of the „Shan United Revolutionary Army“ who, unlike the army’s leadership, refused to surrender to the junta; later 2000 (RCSS)
Territory: Shan State in Burma
Activities since the coup: The junta broke the peace agreement with the RCSS, which had guaranteed limited autonomy for Shan State. RCSS unwilling to join broad alliance against junta; reports also circulate that RCSS and SSA-S engage in forced labor.

Progressive Party of Shan State (PPSS)

Armed wing: Shan State Army — North
Origin: 1964 formation of the army, 1971 formation of the party
Territory: Shan State in Burma
Activities since the coup: Also on the side of the junta + forced labor

Karen National Union (KNU)

Armed wing: Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) Origin: 1947, shortly before the end of direct colonial rule in Burma in 1948. A year later, the KNU launched the armed struggle against the Burmese state, which continues to this day.
Territory: Operates in eastern Burma
Activities since the coup: Repeated attacks on junta forces, especially against the „Border Guard Forces,“ former insurgent groups bought by the junta and more or less part of its military.

Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA)

Origin: 1989, when a local CPB leader, Pheung Kya-shin, threw in the towel, dissolved the party’s regional committee, and formed the MNDAA to negotiate a cease-fire with the junta. As a result, heroin and meth trafficking boomed in the region.
Territory: Kokang region of Burma
Activities since the coup: attack on a police post in Lashio along with the Arakan Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army; at least 14 cops were killed and the post was burned down.

It should be noted that this summary of the listed groups and their activities is very brief; the entire Burmese history of the last century is replete with events surrounding ethnic, religious, and national conflicts and how the state fights or exploits nationalities.

Crucially, the Tatmadaw putschists are facing resistance from all sides. The national minority liberation groups in Burma have decades of experience, not to mention of course the CPB and PLA, drawing on 200 years of working class struggle and its creative application to Burma’s conditions.

Important in considering the whole situation is the fact that our social class defines and distinguishes us more than our ethnicity or religion. Of course, every national minority in Burma has a right to autonomous administration up to and including secession from the country; no true communist has ever or would ever argue against this. But Burma is a semi-feudal country, just one-third of the population lives in cities, and in the countryside, big landowners and big corporations dominate the daily lives of the mostly poor peasants, no matter what ethnicity they belong to.

When a resistance movement makes the question of self-determination rather than the class question its main point, it is the ruling class that will benefit. Who benefits more from the class question being relegated to the background than the very exploiters who want to prevent at all costs the exploited and oppressed from uniting against them on a class conscious basis?

The Burmese state knows perfectly well how bogged down and exploitable national liberation struggles can become if the working class does not lead them. It began as early as 1947 with the „Panglong Agreement“ when part of the Shanni territory was handed over to the Kachin people; there lies the root of the modern enmity between the two ethnic groups. Add to that the reports of forced labor and warlordism among the Shanni, and it’s pretty clear that it’s the big landowners who dominate there-it couldn’t be any other way in this old society.

The divide-and-conquer strategy of exploiter states never just attacks head-on, but also always undermines. Almost every single national liberation group since 1947 has been involved to some point in peace negotiations in return for a bit of „autonomy“; these „autonomies“ have been spat upon piece by piece by the junta at least since the coup.

The situation becomes especially clear when we consider what kind of past the CPB has with all the national liberation groups. For example, in the 1960s, the left wing called the National Karen Union Party (KNUP) was dominant in the KNU, and some leaders tried to take up Mao Tse-tung thought for Karen liberation. The CPB sought to unite forces, but the KNUP saw them not as allies but as rivals, and eventually even cultivated relations with the fascist Kuomintang, which had genocidally ruled China before the 1949 revolution. This is just one example of many, and turning away from the CPB gradually led every national liberation group down the road toward capitulation to the state.

Kachin Independence Army soldiers.

Conclusion

If a revolution is to be victorious, 90% of the population must be united in participation in, support of, or neutral sympathy for the revolution. That the masses of all the nationalities are fighting in Burma is great, but the danger is high that ethnic conflicts and differences can again be used by the exploiters to fragment and stifle the resistance. It is necessary to unite all the efforts of the working people, whether they belong to a national minority or not. The masses of each national liberation group must increasingly draw a sharp internal line of demarcation with the people in their ranks who only want to enrich themselves even more and would sell everything to the state at the first opportunity. Moreover, there must be participation from all sides in the unification of the truly revolutionary forces in Burma.

But who should lead the unification? Even US-based bourgeois newspapers do not seriously believe that the NLD can do it:

Myanmar’s generals have been ruling with a heavy hand for decades. However, the desired demise of the power of the Tatmadaw might cause significant side effects to the broad population. A hypothetical new government will not be able to establish a solid security hold over all the country’s territory within a short span of time, especially when ethnic armed groups will notice a yawning void. New displacements and killings might happen if the leaders of ethnic armed groups fail to engage in a constructive dialogue, choosing to hark back to the past rather than build something new.“

https://thediplomat.com/2021/11/myanmars-army-is-fighting-a-multi-front-war/

This excerpt, of course, does exactly the same thing as the exploitative leaders of the KNU, SNA & co. by leaving the class question completely out front. But even a newspaper like „The Diplomat“ has recognized that the NLD will not be able to make the revolution in Burma (and does not want to, which of course the newspaper does not note). Only one organization can do it: the Communist Party of Burma!

What is required from the latter is a scientific evaluation of the experiences and mistakes made in the cooperation with national liberation groups in the last century. On such a basis, a stable front can then be built, promoting the revolutionary line in the various national minorities and isolating and destroying the reactionary one. We have, of course, no insight into the exact front activities of the CPB and PLA and in/with which organizations they operate with this goal (if any), but we are confident that the comrades can turn past defeats into victories and show the non-reactionary Karen, Kachin, Shanni, Arakan and all other nationalities of Burma the perspective out of their suffering and oppression: new-democratic revolution!

The people‘s democratic dictatorship needs the leadership of the working class. For it is only the working class that is most far-sighted, most selfless and most thoroughly revolutionary. The entire history of revolution proves that without the leadership of the working class revolution fails and that with the leadership of the working class revolution triumphs.“
[…]
The people‘s democratic dictatorship is based on the alliance of the working class, the peasantry and the urban small bourgeoisie, and mainly on the alliance of the workers and the peasants, because these two classes comprise 80-90% of China‘s population. These two classes are the main force in overthrowing imperialism and the Kuomintang reactionaries. The transition from new democracy to socialism also depends mainly upon their alliance.“

Mao Tse-tung: „On the People‘s Democratic Dictatorship“ (30.06.1949)
The old Burmese People’s Liberation Army.

Appendix: Latest actions from the people’s wars of the world

INDIA

Guerrilla combat

31/12/2021: Ambush in Sukma (Chhattisgarh) against a unit of the „Commando Battalion for Resolute Action“ (CoBRA) of the Central Police Reserve Force (CPRF), a counter-revolutionary battalion formed by the old Indian state solely to fight the Naxalites. A commander of the CoBRA was killed.

02/01/2022: Gunfight between Naxalites and teams of the CPRF’s Special Operations Command in Gariaband (Chhattisgarh). One reactionary soldier was wounded.

Sabotage

07/01/2022: Arson attack on 27 vehicles in Kumla mines (Jharkand, Gumla District) by a team of about 50 red fighters. The vehicles belonged to Hindalco, one of the largest aluminum producers in the whole of Asia, and a transporter; among others, 2 drills, 2 JCB machines, 4 Hyvas and 6 excavators were set on fire. The Cuckoo Shankh Zonal Committee of the CPI(M) left propaganda posters at the site of the sabotage; the comrades order mining companies in the region to stop their activities if they do not also want to be punished for their exploitation and pollution.

THE PHILIPPINES

Guerrilla combat

31/12/2021: The year-end statement of the NPA-Bikol reports: „As 2021 ends, NPA-Bikol casts the 9th IDPA, PNP Region V and the whole Joint Task Force Bicolandia with undeniable failure. The butchers are now stewing in silence and shame after the NPA’s valiant defense frustrated their shots at a last round of attacks before the year finally ends. Striking among these was Tomas Pilapil Command NPA-East Camarines Sur’s active defense against 9th IDPA troops’ attempt to overrun their unit last December 28 in Sityo Campo Nueve, Brgy. Del Carmen, Lagonoy. The Red fighters successfully drove the enemy troops to retreat. They were also able to seize four military packs and costed the enemy two wounded men and one dead element. Meanwhile, the NPA had no casualties.

To top JTFB’s pile of failures this year, they also failed in their attempts to hinder the Bikolano masses and their Red Army from celebrating CPP’s 53rd anniversary. Majority of Party units both in localities and the NPA, revolutionary mass organizations and revolutionary committees were able to successfully hold small and large assemblies to honor the advancements of the people’s democratic revolution. This is a clear picture of the dauntless struggle waged by valiant Red fighters of the NPA under CPP’s leadership.“

Selective annihilation

04&05/01/2022: Punishment of two informants of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Oriental Negros. Both had been notorious for years for „red-tagging“ masses (read: accusing masses of NPA membership to justify brutal repression). One informant, Bariga, had also led the AFP to NPA camps in the past and had been involved in the burning alive of the revolutionary Ka Jaguar.

Pack up, mining companies; the PLGA doesn’t fuck around!