A critical guest blog post on the National League for Democracy by John Moore
The anti-junta uprising in Myanmar/Burma, and its violent suppression by the military force, has placed the concerns of this county on the international stage. In New Zealand, political oganisations ranging from the National Party through to the Greens and ‘far-left’ Socialist Worker have issued statements of uncritical support for the pro-democracy movement. The military regime is clearly despised by a vast majority of the population in Myanmar/Burma. However, leftists who want to support the people of Myanmar/Burma should cast a critical eye on those leading the ‘pro-democracy’ movement there. By examining the policies of the Aung San Suu Kyi led National League for Democracy (NLD), the less than positive implications of an NLD-led government coming to power can be deduced. (Read more below)
Politics of the National League for Democracy (NLD)
The National League for Democracy (NLD), with its leader Aung San Suu Kyi, has been the main organised opposition to the military junta (which is euphemistically titled the 'State Peace and Development Council'). The NLD was overwhelmingly elected to govern by the Burmese people in 1990. The election results came as a great shock to the military, however, who then annulled the elections and heavily suppressed the anti-junta movement.
It is understandable the widespread international sympathy that has been shown towards Suu Kyi and other activists from Myanmar/Burma. However, those not wanting Myanmar/Burma to become just another US neo-colony ripe for economic exploitation, and opened further to the establishment of sweatshops for multinational companies, should carefully examine the politics of the NLD.
The Manifesto of the NLD, issued in 1989, is telling of its stance towards international bodies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and of the rightwing restructuring programme it intends to carry out. See: The Manifesto of the National League for Democracy
The NLD's intention to work closely with the IMF and World Bank in terms of implementing a rightwing restructuring programme is made clear with its manifesto statement that it aims to have, 'firm and close relations with the United Nations, World Bank, IMF...etc.' Furthermore, a future NLD led government would open up Myanmar/Burma to investment by multinational companies and would 'revise and amend foreign investment laws for setting multiple increases in foreign investment.'
A reading of the 1989 Manifesto indicates that if the NLD had been allowed to govern in the 1990s, it would have carried out a radical rightwing programme of economic reform, with mass privatisation of state assets and a general policy of removing legal restrictions on the ability of business to accumulate profits. The NLD’s favoritism towards unfettered capitalism is stressed in its policy that, ‘The present various types of revenue system shall be revised and amended to benefit the private enterprises.’
The NLD is an openly pro-business party. The extent to which it would reshape the Myanmar/Burmese economy in the interests of capitalists, both local and foreign, is spelt out in its policy that, ‘Various enterprises of economic sector must completely base itself on the market economy. Special encouragement shall be made for a quick development of private enterprises.’
The NLD, although having mass support amongst workers and peasants in Myanmar/Burma, is clearly a party that stands for the interests of capitalism. The interests the NLD serves is highlighted with its stance of handing back nationalized industry to its former owners. In this regard the 1989 manifesto states:
The nationalized economic enterprises that are included in all the above sectors of economy, shall be given back to their original owners respectively and for those enterprises whose original owners can no longer take responsibility for them, the state shall try and get the economic expertise and financial investment to continue to run the business.
The NLD does not offer a progressive alternative to the despised generals. It is a party that openly stands in the interest of local and foreign bourgeoisie, and so is opposed to the interests of the working class and oppressed groups in Myanmar/Burma. The IMF- and World Bank-dictated restructuring programmes that the NLD intends to execute, have bought misery and poverty to working people throughout the world. The nature of the NLD’s programme was put succinctly in a recent article on the World Socialist Website: 'The NLD’s basic program, which consists of implementing IMF-dictated reforms to open Burma up to foreign investors, would be just as catastrophic for ordinary working people as the junta’s economic policies'. (See: Burmese troops gun down protesters)
The role of imperialist powers
Significantly, the most vocal opponents of the ruling junta in Myanmar/Burma have included the United States and British governments. Both governments have shown various degrees of support towards the plight of Aung San Suu Kyi and the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar/Burma. President George Bush recently denounced the actions of the military government when he said at the United Nations that Americans were ‘…outraged by the situation in Burma, where a military junta has imposed a 19-year reign of fear’. These are in line with British Government statements. British foreign secretary David Miliband expressed solidarity with the NLD when he declared at a Labour Party conference, ‘Wasn’t it brilliant to see Aung San Suu Kyi alive and well outside her house last week? It will be a hundred times better when she takes her rightful place as the elected leader of a free and democratic Burma.’ For a more in-depth examination of the motives of Western governments in regards to Myanmar/Burma see: Burma needs democratic revolution, not intervention
The open support shown by the British and American administrations towards Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD should raise alarm bells for leftists and opponents of imperialism and capitalism. Questions need to be asked about what are the motives of Western powers in showing solidarity toward the anti-junta movement. A clear motivation on the part of American and Anglo imperialism is the desire to open up Myanmar/Burma to western investment and to have a government in Myanmar/Burma that is compliant to imperialist bodies such as the IMF and World Bank. Back in 1990 the Clinton administration started exerting greater pressure on the generals. The motivations for this were clear in a report given by Bill Clinton to Congress, which was reported in New Sources of Opposition - July 2000:
The United States mounted a tougher stance against the State Peace and Development Council junta in May when President Clinton reported to Congress over their continued failure to end its repression of the NLD. The report blamed repeated flouting of IMF and World Bank recommendations for the parlous state of the economy and recommended the suspension of economic aid and the withdrawal of Burma’s eligibility for trade and investment assistance. An embargo on arms and investment, the downgrading of diplomatic representation, and visa restrictions on senior figures and their families were also proposed.
More recently, arch rightwing neo-con John Bolton, in his role as US Ambassador to the UN, agitated for the situation in Myanmar/Burma to be placed on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) agenda. Bolton made clear the stance of the US administration when he indicated, after a UNSC meeting in 2006, that the US would ‘... work to seek a UNSC resolution later in the year, demanding the release of political prisoners and a democratic movement toward an inclusive national reconciliation.’ (See: The UNSC Backlash? – Nov 2006)
Burmese opposition groups have generally welcomed these moves by the US Government. In the same article quoted above, the NLD’s willingness to work with American imperialism was illustrated by its endorsement of the US position in the UNSC: 'The NLD and the so-called 88-generation students leaders (most of whom were released from long prison sentences last year) went public calling for political dialogue, release of prisoners and national all-inclusive reconciliation, while welcoming the discussion of Myanmar issues in the UNSC'.
The issue of sanctions
The implementations of sanctions by western governments, including the US, have clear motives behind them. A careful reading of statements issuing out of Washington show that imperialist powers wish to open up Myanmar/Burma to further capitalist exploitation through a combination of greater foreign investment and IMF and World Bank restructuring programmes. The policy statements of the NLD indicate it is more than willing to comply with these dictates. It is therefore surprising that groups such as Socialist Worker in New Zealand are so willing to push the pro-boycott stance. (See: Unityblog) Although their motivations are in contrast with those of imperialist powers, they do, in their own small way, offer a left cover for western intervention in Myanmar’s/Burma’s affairs. (I will explore the issues of sanctions in more detail in a future blog post).
The choice for Burmese workers
Neither isolationist national capitalism or unfettered free-market capitalism are systems that offer anything for the Myanmar/Burmese masses. That the junta offers the former and that an NLD-led government would serve up the latter, points to the quagmire facing workers, students and peasants fighting for change in that country. This points to the desperate need for a radical socialist movement in Myanmar/Burma, dedicated to leading a real revolution that would fully dismantle the current state apparatus. This is a basic prerequisite for any radical transformation of that society in the interests of workers and oppressed groups.
John Moore has travelled extensively through Myanmar/Burma
Note: I have deliberately referred to the country as Myanmar/Burma. The anti-junta opposition and imperialist powers deliberately refer to the country as Burma. Their argument is that Myanmar is the name given to the country by the illegitimate military regime, and so should not be used by 'pro-democracy' advocates. However the name 'Burma' is a racist one as it refers to the dominant ethnic group in Myanmar/Burma.