Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Coopting the Myanmar revolt posted by Richard SeymourAnyone watching the news might think that a bunch of Burmese monks have simply decided to stage protests for democracy and freedom in front of hidden cameras all of a sudden, and - well, what do you know? - the Bush administration and New Labour have decided to champion them and Aung San Suu Kyi. Possibly, when David Miliband started crowing about Burma, you were reminded of Britain's extensive imperialist involvement in the country, as well as New Labour's long-standing support for the dictatorship, including the provision of funds and arms to help it suppress dissent. Perhaps your suspicions have been raised by the fact that protests in Thailand against the US-supported putsch have been repressed even more violently, much more rapidly, and have produced a low-intensity war in parts of the country, without the splash headlines. Maybe you raised an eyebrow when an unshaven Brian Joseph of the National Endowment for Democracy, which has rarely seen a rightist coup plot it didn't like, started appearing as an expert on Myanmar in all the news reports. And perhaps when you heard that they were spending some of the US government's millions on the opposition there, your mind reeled with all the branding possibilities. The Garuda Revolution? Perhaps this was the point of Rambo's genocide tourism.
There has been a popular movement against the ruling State Law and Order Council for years, obviously, and this is part of a real revolt. The monks are an important and esteemed segment of society because they provide education and social services, whereas the dictatorship simply exploits people. So why should it be that the United States government has, for the last few years, been applying sanctions to Burma along with its allies? Why is it championing the main democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi? Only an ostrich would imagine it has anything to do with democracy. Well, it's the same as East Timor in many ways. The West, after having backed a genocidal regime for years, has terrorised the opposition into accepting a neoliberal programme. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has promised that, upon taking power, it will implement structural adjustments opening up huge parts of the economy to international investors. There is more than a parallel there: Suharto was one of the Burmese junta's closest allies before an uprising threw him off, and a polyarchical neoliberal regime in both states will restore the symmetry to some extent. So, it's another phase in the transition from anti-socialist dictatorships used by Washington to slightly less coercive regimes in which the opposition has basically been neutered. The experiment launched in Chile in 1973 was really that successful. Britain, which has been doing fine out of the old regime, now hopes to do even better out of the new one. And at the same time, it has a chance of re-moralizing its disgraced foreign policy. New opportunities for intensified capital accumulation will open up, and in all probability the health and nutrition indices - already so miserably poor that they contribute to genocidal levels of death in some segments of the population - will get worse. Of course, while the NLD are the natural beneficiaries of any successful rebellion, there is no guarantee that people will simply accept the neoliberal programme. It depends how much the overthrow of the SLORC is a result of mass mobilisation, and how much of it comes about as a result of the elite compromise and handovers that were prevalent in Eastern Europe after 1989, and in recent colour-coded revolutions. A recently victorious rebellious mass can be surprisingly disobedient.