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Editorial: Myanmar - Imperialist war drives racist refugee crisis

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05 July 2024 645 hits

On June 23, rebel forces in Myanmar seized control of Thandwe Airport in western Rakhine State, a logistics hub for the ruling military junta and the gateway to prized coastal resorts. It’s just the latest win for the surging anti-junta forces, now estimated to control more than half the largest Southeast Asian country in land mass (The Irrawaddy, 6/25).

While the world watches in horror at the unending, racist U.S.-backed slaughter in Palestine, civil war rages in Myanmar. Well into its third year, the conflict has killed tens of thousands of workers and children, displaced millions more, and made life practically unbearable. Inflation has spiraled out of control. Millions of jobs have been lost since the military takeover, and nearly half the population lives below the poverty line (East Asia Forum, 2/27). With workers denied legitimate opportunities, the cultivation of opium has skyrocketed (NBC News, 5/30).

On the surface, the Myanmar civil war is a battle between a well-armed, brutal military junta and a growing coalition of ethnic-based militias. But closer examination reveals the devastating impact of inter-imperialist competition, with the U.S., Russia, and China vying for influence by funding and arming different warring factions—and spilling the blood of our class every step of the way.

From Myanmar to Sudan to Palestine/Israel, the working class must take up arms to smash our capitalist oppressors. But we must refuse to fight and die for the capitalist bosses’ rotten nationalism and liberal democracy. As communist revolutionaries, we emphatically state that the only just war is a class war that overthrows the capitalist exploiters and their whole damn racist system. Workers now fighting in Myanmar must be won to wage a communist revolution led by a mass, international Progressive Labor Party.

Strategic battleground in deadly inter-imperialist rivalry

A former colony of the racist British Empire, sharing a border with capitalist powers China and India, Myanmar (formerly Burma) has long been a point of geopolitical significance. In early 2021, a shaky power-sharing agreement between the civilian government and the powerful military, the Tatmadaw, broke down. The Tatmadaw seized control through a coup d’etat and formed a governing junta. 

In the years leading up to the coup, the U.S. imperialists had cozied up to popular misleader Aung San Suu Kyi, the face of the ousted liberal democracy government. The U.S. was looking for a friendly politician to steer the country out of its orbit around China, with whom Myanmar has significant trade and military relations.

But the rising Chinese imperialists weren’t so easily pushed out. Determined to solve their “Malacca Dilemma,” they’ve invested tens of billions in Myanmar for roads and gas and oil pipelines. By shipping their Middle East oil imports through Myanmar, China could avoid the Malacca Strait, a chokepoint between Malaysia and Indonesia that might be threatened by the U.S. Navy (China Research Center, 2020). 

While China has thrown its formal support behind the ruling generals, it now seems to be hedging its bets. Enter imperialist Russia, a more reliable junta ally. As Myanmar’s generals back Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian arms companies have made a literal killing by selling weapons to Myanmar, including fighter jets the junta has used to bomb civilian targets (Fulcrum, 11/30/23). 

Meanwhile, the declining U.S. bosses have seen their influence wane. U.S. sanctions against Myanmar’s oil and gas bosses have minimal impact when the junta can readily tap China and Russia to make up lost revenues (CSIS, 2/6/23).

Capitalist war drives racist refugee crisis

Although Suu Kyi remains under house arrest after the junta removed her from power, the U.S. stands behind the former Nobel Peace Prize winner as a once-and-future foil to the junta and their Chinese and Russian backers. But given Suu Kyi’s past complicity in the military’s genocide of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Rakhine State, the U.S. condemnation of the junta’s human rights abuses falls flat (CFR, 1/31/22).
The plight of Rohingya refugees is one of the most appalling human disasters in recent memory. Over a million people have been forced out of their homes to eke out a wretched existence in concentration camps in neighboring Bangladesh and other countries (Guardian, 2/29). 

More than half a million Rohingya remain in Myanmar, caught in the crossfire between the junta and the rebel armies. It is no coincidence that the worst anti-Rohingya attacks have occurred in the unstable Rakhine State, home to deepwater ports financed by China (FirstPost, 1/8). In a perverse twist, the junta is trying to fill their hollowed ranks by forcibly recruiting young Rohingya men, the same workers they’ve ruthlessly targeted for death and ethnic cleansing (Economist, 6/6). Meanwhile, the racist rebel groups persecute the Rohingya as Muslim workers in a predominantly Buddhist country.

Nationalism: a dead end for the working class

A complex alliance of ethnically based militias has coalesced around the goal of overthrowing the junta and restoring the emerging pre-coup “democracy”. To that end, the National Unity government-in-exile (including members of the monstrous Suu Kyi’s party) and its military wing, the People’s Defense Forces, have recruited many young workers to fight, including some from outside the country (Al Jazeera, 5/17).  Spurred by cash incentives, thousands of junta soldiers and police have defected to the other side (BBC, 5/30/23).

But as history repeatedly shows, armed struggles without the explicit goal of communist revolution and workers’ power are bound to betray workers’ interests. The anti-junta leaders are competing for their own piece of the capitalist pie—in this case, Myanmar’s natural abundance of metal ores, precious stones, fossil fuels, and forests. Without antiracist politics leading the way, there will be more waves of violence based on religious and ethnic differences. Only communist leadership, the goal of a classless workers’ society, and constant ideological struggle can overcome these capitalist divisions.

One world, one class, one party

Despite their contradictions and the liberal bosses’ misleadership, many workers and soldiers have shown great resolve and courage in fighting the junta. Forces. Young workers and students are leaving the cities to join the battles raging in the countryside (NYT, 6/24). Their selfless commitment deserves a better future than any capitalist government can ever offer. They deserve communism! Build Progressive Labor Party and the fight for worker power!