The revolution in Myanmar has continued after two years of courageous mass resistance. While the protest movement transitioned from large-scale strikes and rallies to localised guerrilla protests and nationwide military conflicts, the administration is still cracking down brutally.
2021 Coup and Mass Strike
The Myanmar military leadership decided to conduct a coup against the result of a popular vote election. The National Democratic League, a centre-right neoliberal party under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi, won the election in the 2020 Myanmar general election under the 2008 constitution, a constitution developed by the military leadership and its puppets since 2007.
The military junta made sure the electricity and internet were shut down during the coup attempt. To quell the public’s provoked uprisings, they utilised deceitful propaganda and insincere hopes. It claimed that “if the people don’t carry out the strikes within 72 hours, the United Nations will deploy ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) to Myanmar in order to overthrow the military regime.” Even though this kind of psychological warfare was initiated by the military junta, it was mainly echoed by some of the NLD leaders and activists. However, the civil disobedience movement (CDM), which was organised by students and medical professionals, refuted this “72-hour propaganda.” CDM is a movement where all the peaceful means of resistance are taken into consideration, ranging from small-scale labour strikes to simply not showing up to the government jobs.
The very first mass movement in Yangon is credited to the Federation of Garment Workers Myanmar, consisting of thousands of members. The public was inspired by their initial strike to take to the streets to denounce the new junta. Unfortunately, some well-known opportunists concealed these facts from the public. Liberals attempted to depict the workers as followers of a populist politician named Ei Thinzar Maung, a centre-left civil rights campaigner who was barely there taking photos and was reported to have disappeared from the crowd afterwards.
The establishment of an exiled government
Inside a Naypyidaw government housing complex, 400 elected members of parliament (MPs) were placed under house arrest. Social media users started urging MPs to hold a parliamentary meeting in a government guesthouse because the group had the quorum necessary to do so. The military responded by issuing a second order granting MPs 24 hours to vacate the guesthouse grounds.
In the meantime, the NLD members who were not arrested and the elected officials from the 2020 general election who were not arrested managed to form an exile committee, “Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw”. Later, CRPH was transformed into an exiled government called the National Unity Government, along with some other ethnic leaders and popular figures.
Armed struggle for Federal Democratic Union
Several protests were organised by several groups, ranging from student unions to labour unions, and civil society organisations as well as political parties. The military junta didn’t hesitate to brutally crack down on the peaceful protests with smoke bombs and weapons. After a few days, the military junta has ordered to shoot the peaceful protesters in the head with Uzis, other submachine guns, and even snipers. Despite not having any military grade weapons or guns to defend themselves, people produced the metal shield to protect themselves from the bullets, smoke bombs, and so on. Even though there were some radical youths who wanted to attack back with Molotov cocktails, the older generations were a bit too reactionary to allow that.
People cannot lawfully possess firearms in Myanmar. However, some rural communities have residents who possess hunting rifles since they rely on hunting for their survival needs. With their hunting rifles, locals and hunters began to annoy the professional-grade soldiers. Due to this, the entire villages were destroyed by airstrikes. The military junta also used rape as a weapon to terrify the villagers. They didn’t even spare the disabled women and old women from the rape terror.
Out of anger against the military junta, young adults with college degrees from the metro region fled the cities and enlisted in the ethnic army to receive military instructions. Some folks were forced to sell everything they had to get a firearm. Early in April 2021, loosely organised associations began to emerge, primarily in the Chin State’s western and Sagaing Region’s north-western hinterlands. The first spontaneous movement, the Chin Land Defense Force (CDF), announced its existence on April 4th.
By the middle of July 2021, more than 125 different urban and rural groups had formally declared their opposition to the military junta. In late April and early May, there had been a large increase in the number of groups with diverse skills. These loosely affiliated militias all swore allegiance to one another and elected to go by the name “People’s Defense Force.”
The military junta arrested a number of peaceful protestors. Moreover, it’s reported that if the military junta failed to find the people they were looking for, they arrested their family members at their registered residential address and blackmailed the actual protestors to turn themselves in to save their family members. Similar situations happened to the people who had connections with PDF and who had fundraised for them. Recently, in 2022, the military junta announced that every individual citizen who has contributed a minimum of 1 Myanmar kyat can be arrested under the terrorism act.
Police brutality is worse for those who have connections with PDFs as they can be tortured to retrieve sensitive information against them. The military junta used rape and sexual harassment as a weapon in the prisons against the prisoners. Rape was widely perceived as a weapon used against female prisoners by the majority of the population. However, there was a reporter called Ye Mon who worked for an international media outlet called “Frontier Myanmar” who testified that he was forced to rape a female prisoner and had been raped by the soldiers during his prison time. According to a statement from the All-Burma Federation of Student Unions on February 22, 2022, soldiers sexually abused a woman and two men while they were being held at Mandalay Palace. Similar occurrences occurred in numerous other prisons run by the military dictatorship.According to women’s rights campaigner Ei Ei Moe, who was imprisoned during the military junta, women were surrounded by four or five male jail officers, made to kneel, and then hit on the hip while being recorded. In addition, several racist, homophobic, and transphobic acts were carried out by the soldiers against the prisoners during their prison time. One of the female prisoners has a Nigerian lover. About five or six of them showed her their male private parts when the interrogators learned of it. They questioned her, “Do you exclusively prefer a foreigner’s private area?” In addition, she was told to get down on her hands and knees and had cane sticks tapped against her hip while being photographed. According to the LGBT Alliance-Myanmar, a jail guard sexually assaulted a transgender prisoner who had been incarcerated in the Monywa Prison in the Sagaing Region for anti-junta activities.
We need military weapons to defend ourselves
The PDF forces are currently employing Lee-Enfield-style weapons against an army ranked 39th out of 142 in terms of military power. Even though they can still fight a professional army that’s equipped with Heckler & Koch G3, IMI Galil, and Type 95 automatic rifles, PDFs cannot compete with the military’s air force. Recently, the military junta decided to attack a school full of students and teachers with their air force. At least 11 children and 2 adults died as a result.
The military junta justified their attack by claiming that there were PDFs hiding inside the school to attack their convoy. Myanmar’s resistance desperately needs weapons by any means. Currently, China is unofficially selling weapons to the ethnic armed groups. The EAOs sell back to the PDF and resistance forces at an expensive price.
Imperialist Camps in Spring revolution
On the other hand, Myanmar’s military is supplied by Russia’s imperialist camp, Israel military contractors, and China’s imperialist camp. Yet, it’s important to note that China still exists as a neutral imperialist camp that hasn’t decided to take a side in this revolution. They’re willing to protect their economic zones as China has a lot of economic investment and interests. China is vocal about the security and health of Aung San Suu Kyi. In contrast, China never hesitated to block UN Security Council statements condemning the military coup in Myanmar. On the other hand, Russia openly supports military juntas by any means possible. Myanmar’s ultranationalist Buddhist monks, as well as top-ranking military officers, including the military junta’s leader, Min Aung Hlaing, are welcomed in Russia. Russia is still supplying weapons to the military junta that will be used to attack civilians, public buildings, and private properties.
The National Unity Government (NUG) and its Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) have been asking the Federal Reserve to endorse their bid to use $1 billion in funds frozen by the US. With such budgets, PDF militias can be properly armed and prepared to defend against the air strikes of the military junta. Moreover, NUG and NUCC are also seeking western liberal democratic countries to sell military grade weapons at a cheap price. There is a belief among the public in Myanmar that since Burmese are not white like the Ukrainians, Burmese are being ignored and will never get military support from the west. Politically, it’s right to an extent, even though it has nothing to do with race. The western imperialist camp has nothing to gain from doing so.
Nonetheless, it’s been two years since NUG and NUCC have been begging for western imperialist camps to help them with military supplies or intervention. But the western imperialist camp was more reactive than proactive. Recently, some fractions of NUCC have decided to endorse Chinese imperialism over western imperialism against the military. They try to compromise with China that China’s economic interests will be protected and prosperous under their administration. In a statement published by NUCC in the wake of the 20th national congress of the CPC, NUCC calls for strengthening the “Pauk-Paw” relationship between the two countries, which means Myanmar will endorse China’s imperialism. The statement also mentioned that NUCC is eager to work with China towards restoring peace and stability in Myanmar.
Tinyism: a possible future to a grassroot democratic communes
Ironically, these NUCC factions were critical of the NUG and the previous NLD administration for keeping quiet about the Rohingya genocide. They accused some members of the NUG and NLD administration of keeping quiet to work closely with the military junta in the hope of avoiding a possible coup. In 2022, the same fractions that managed to get into NUCC decided to ignore the Uyghur genocide to get support from the Chinese imperialist camp against the military junta. This kind of hypocrisy reveals that the NUCC leadership is full of opportunistic liberals who are not taking social justice, human rights, and grass-root democracy seriously.
Myanmar is well-known for having the longest civil war among the ethnic groups for their independent state rights since its independence. Since the military dictatorships and the last pseudo-democratic governments under the 2008 constitution, Myanmar has been divided into seven regions, seven ethnic states, one union territory, one self-administered division, and five self-administered zones. Under the leadership of NUG and NUCC, the concept of having eight ethnic states with variable self-administered division as well as zones has been introduced. Seven regions and one union territory will be merged into a single state for Bamar ethnic people. Superficially, this seems to be the solution that will put an end to all the ethnic conflicts in Myanmar.
Myanmar has 135 distinct ethnic groups but only has 7-8 ethnic states. When the national question is seriously considered, tinyism is the only solution to a grass-roots democratic confederation with such diverse ethnic groups. For example, Shan ethnic state is a state for the Shan ethnic majority in Myanmar. However, Shan itself is a majority of several minority ethnic groups. For example, within Shan states, there are several ethnic armed organisations that represent different ethnic groups, such as Shan, Wa, Pa-O, Ta’ang, and so on. The Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) is one of the largest EAOs in Shan state. RCSS is based on Shan nationalism and is calling for a Shan independent administration that includes the whole Shan territory. However, the United Wa State Army, an ethnic military split from the People’s Liberation Army of the Communist Party of Burma, claims that the Wa ethnic group is different from the Shan ethnic majority and is demanding an independent administration from the Shan region itself. Similarly, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, an ethnic armed organisation representing the Ta’ang ethnic group, is also echoing the similar demand that Ta’ang ethnic groups demand an independent region that’s free from Shan administrations. Similarly, the Shan ethnic state shares a long borderline with the Kachin ethnic state. Since they shared a long border, there were a lot of migrations between each state. As a result, there are some Shan ethnic people in Kachin state and some Kachin ethnic people in the Shan region. Thus, these areas are historically claimable by both sides. Some Shan ethnic people inside Kachin state are demanding those Shan-condensed areas from the Kachin state be a part of the Shan region. The Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which represents Kachin nationalism, refused to accept such a split. Due to these disputes, the KIA itself became divided, and the Shanni Nationalities Army (SNA) was created to liberate those areas from the Kachin ethnic group.
Such kinds of nationalist conflicts among diverse ethnic groups might be solved by having autonomous regions for every ethnic group. Then, if the neighbouring ethnic states still insist on forming a federal administration or confederal administration, such an alliance should be conducted voluntarily. Neither ready-made band-aid solutions from liberal leadership of having eight ethnic states within a union nor the Bamar chauvinist solution of maintaining the status quo by force will solve such complex nationalist ethnic liberation movements. Advocacy movements should be carried out to replace nationalism with communal consciousness in a near future to achieve the legitimate communal tinyism that will put an end to the spooky concepts known as the state and nationalist organisations. Such movements shouldn’t limit themselves within Myanmar region and extend to neighbouring states to weaken the imperialist nature of neighbouring countries.
Summing up, the concept of having eight ethnic states within a union under some neoliberal government is more likely to be the result of this revolution if the people failed to organise themselves spontaneously to create democratic autonomous regions that are run communally. In the worst-case scenario, the military junta might be able to maintain the status quo if the PDFs didn’t get enough military supports.