Wednesday, October 17, 2007 — Some Thoughts On Burma

Neighbourhood in Yangon, Burma --- Burma (also called Myanmar) is considered one the most economically mismanaged countries on earth.

Neigh­bour­hood in Yan­gon, Bur­ma — Bur­ma (also called Myan­mar) is con­sid­ered one the most eco­nom­i­cal­ly mis­man­aged coun­tries on earth.

The great­est shame and degra­da­tion for human beings is to be ruled by an aris­toc­ra­cy. Whether one is reduced to abject slav­ery, or mere­ly forced to sub­mit to grad­ed snob­beries and unearned priv­i­lege, it all comes down to the same truth. Aris­to­crat­ic gov­ern­ment is a vio­la­tion of fun­da­men­tal moral­i­ty, and an intol­er­a­ble insult to human dig­ni­ty. It fol­lows that the heroes of our species are those who defy, resist, and over­throw aris­toc­ra­cy, and strive for the only moral­ly accept­able arrange­ment of human pol­i­tics: democ­ra­cy. It also fol­lows that those who seek to impose or pre­serve dic­ta­tor­ship over human beings are the pal­pa­ble vil­lains. And as for those who stand by while oth­ers risk their lives for free­dom, encour­age their oppres­sors, and rush to trade and social­ize with the tyrants ― well, no lan­guage is vivid enough to describe their cow­ardice and treachery.

It’s not hard to pin­point who are the cur­rent heroes and villains.

The peo­ple of Bur­ma live under a bru­tal mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship. Mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship is one of the many forms of aris­to­crat­ic rule. That par­tic­u­lar aris­toc­ra­cy is, in turn, under the con­trol of the Com­mu­nist Par­ty in Bei­jing, and of the glob­al oil car­tel. Com­mu­nism and the glob­al oil car­tel rep­re­sent two more vari­eties of aris­to­crat­ic rule.

The oil car­tel is an assort­ment of kings, mil­i­tary strong­men, and cor­po­ra­tions. Most of the largest oil “com­pa­nies” are in fact nation­al gov­ern­ments, most­ly unelect­ed. The largest “non-state” com­pa­ny ranks only 18th in size. But even the “non-state” oil com­pa­nies are so close­ly inte­grat­ed into polit­i­cal oli­garchies as to be indis­tin­guish­able from gov­ern­ment enti­ties. The oil inter­ests in Bur­ma are chiefly in the form of the Chevron cor­po­ra­tion, which num­bers on its board of direc­tors for­mer U.S. Sen­a­tor (and cur­rent­ly ten­ta­tive pres­i­den­tial can­di­date) Sam Nunn, and Lin­net F. Deily, a for­mer U.S. trade rep­re­sen­ta­tive and U.S. Ambas­sador to the World Trade Organization.[i]

The moti­va­tion of the Com­mu­nist Par­ty in Bei­jing is pret­ty obvi­ous. Apart from their fun­da­men­tal hatred of democ­ra­cy, they have a great fear of see­ing a func­tion­ing democ­ra­cy on the bor­der of Yun­nan, where the exam­ple might inspire demands for democ­ra­cy among the peo­ple of Chi­na. But more urgent­ly and specif­i­cal­ly, they are try­ing to dri­ve an oil pipeline from Yun­nan to the gulf of Ben­gal. This pipeline will give them easy access to oil from Iran and the repres­sive Sau­di Ara­bi­an monar­chy. A demo­c­ra­t­ic regime in Bur­ma would demand that such a pipeline some­how ben­e­fit their own peo­ple, and would not be under Bei­jing’s absolute control.

The Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Par­ty is cur­rent­ly one of the major play­ers in glob­al impe­ri­al­ism. It’s behind the geno­cide in Dar­fur. It’s the largest sup­pli­er of weapons to the dic­ta­tor­ship in Sudan, where its sales include fight­er air­craft and heli­copters, and it uses its U.N. Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil veto to block any action to oppose that geno­cide. It sim­i­lar­ly arms and sup­ports sev­er­al of the world’s most vicious tyran­nies. In Bur­ma, com­mu­nist impe­ri­al­ism is the chief con­trol­ling polit­i­cal fac­tor. The Par­ty has been the Burmese mil­i­tary gov­ern­men­t’s main sup­pli­er of weapons — includ­ing artillery, trucks, logis­ti­cal sup­port and com­mu­ni­ca­tions equip­ment, ever since the 1990s. Tim Hux­ley, an Asia spe­cial­ist at the Inter­na­tion­al Insti­tute for Strate­gic Stud­ies in Lon­don has stat­ed “With­out Chi­nese arms sup­plies, the Burmese army would find it impos­si­ble to oper­ate.” Bei­jing calls the tune, and Bur­ma’s Gen­er­al Thwe is a mere pup­pet. [ii]

Despite the vast range of glob­al aris­to­crat­ic pow­er lined up against them, and bru­tal repres­sion at home, the peo­ple of Bur­ma have main­tained one of the world’s most coura­geous and deter­mined democ­ra­cy move­ments. The aris­toc­ra­cy has repeat­ed­ly used mas­sacres, tor­ture, slave labour, secret police ter­ror, and cen­sor­ship to main­tain it’s power.

In the last two months, resis­tance by the peo­ple has marked­ly increased, with many peo­ple risk­ing their lives in large-scale demon­stra­tions and in indi­vid­ual acts of protest. The aristocracy’s response has been swift and dev­as­tat­ing. Cred­i­ble eye­wit­ness tes­ti­monies have revealed that the regime’s noto­ri­ous tac­tic of burn­ing dis­si­dents alive is again being employed. Sev­er­al news agen­cies, and reli­able dis­si­dent net­works have con­firmed that the regime has erect­ed spe­cial cre­ma­to­ria north of Yon­gon [Ran­goon] to burn both exe­cut­ed vic­tims and liv­ing prisoners.[iii]

And how has the world react­ed? Both the com­mu­nist dic­ta­tor­ship in Bei­jing and Putin’s neo-com­mu­nist dic­ta­tor­ship in Moscow swift­ly employed their pow­er in the U.N. to crush any pos­si­bil­i­ty of world sup­port for the heroes of Bur­ma. China’s ambas­sador to the Unit­ed Nations gave an arro­gant, snig­ger­ing, sar­cas­tic, and unbe­liev­ably offen­sive speech in which he “wished the Burmese peo­ple good luck” ! How did the sup­posed bas­tions of democ­ra­cy react? George Bush issued a tepid state­ment of vague dis­tress, not that the Burmese gen­er­als rule with an iron fist, but that dis­tur­bances had tak­en place under their rule, and invoked the usu­al mean­ing­less blath­er about how the regime should “talk” to the dis­si­dents. Pre­sum­ably they will engage in casu­al dis­cus­sions with them while shov­ing them into cre­ma­to­ria. In 2005, the Bush admin­is­tra­tion made a sym­bol­ic snub of an ASEAN meet­ing [iv], which made him look less guilty on the record, but Con­doleeza Rice simul­ta­ne­ous­ly made sep­a­rate diplo­mat­ic meet­ings with the key ASEAN mem­ber states. The point of this was to reas­sure them that, for cos­met­ic pur­pos­es, Wash­ing­ton had to pre­tend to oppose the Burmese regime’s atroc­i­ties, but busi­ness as usu­al would be main­tained. Con­ser­v­a­tives have inflat­ed this lame stuff to claim that Bush is vig­or­ous­ly sup­port­ing democ­ra­cy for Bur­ma, but the admin­is­tra­tion’s actions tell the real sto­ry. The U.S. offi­cial­ly enforces “sanc­tions” against the regime in Bur­ma, but the U.S. com­pa­ny that does the most busi­ness with the regime, Chevron, is specif­i­cal­ly exempt­ed from those sanc­tions. Effec­tive­ly, only a small num­ber of insignif­i­cant tourist agen­cies and dis­trib­u­tors are affect­ed by the “sanc­tions”.

Ask the world how many Burmese peo­ple need to die before we can live like human beings,” a Burmese caller told Pas­cal Koo-thwe, a writer exiled in Lon­don, before the regime cut off phone and inter­net com­mu­ni­ca­tions. “They can’t kill all 50 mil­lion peo­ple, could they? I hope the world will stop giv­ing us promis­es and do some­thing before our coun­try is destroyed utter­ly.” [v]

But the sto­ry is mere­ly a replay of Tibet’s lone­ly strug­gle. For decades, the White House has kept the Dalai Lama at arm’s length, allow­ing infor­mal vis­its, but avoid­ing any pub­lic meet­ing that would anger the com­mu­nist dic­ta­tor­ship in Chi­na. Their mes­sage has been, con­sis­tent­ly, “we can’t afford to pub­licly ignore a man that half the world con­sid­ers a saint, no mat­ter how annoy­ing he is to us, but don’t take it seri­ous­ly.” Nudge nudge, wink wink. France and Britain have indulged in the same kind of phoni­ness. How­ev­er, the Tibetan cause has almost uni­ver­sal sym­pa­thy among the peo­ple of the Unit­ed States, cross­ing all social and polit­i­cal divides, and few mem­bers of Con­gress can ignore it. Out­side of the ones with close ties to glob­al­ized trade, many mem­bers of Con­gress share that sym­pa­thy. In fact, the Dalai Lama has been award­ed the Con­gres­sion­al Medal of Honor.

Bush had to be there to present the award, as pro­to­col requires. On his face, you could see his alarm, as he observed the thun­der­ous applause on the floor, and the gen­uine respect that the Dalai Lama has earned from the broad pub­lic. No doubt he expe­ri­enced this as a humil­i­a­tion, as there is an obvi­ous under­cur­rent of repu­di­a­tion of his pres­i­den­cy in the val­i­da­tion of the Dalai Lama’s moral stature, com­pared to the pro­found con­tempt that both Con­gress and the major­i­ty of Amer­i­cans now feel for Bush. Bush spoke in care­ful, eva­sive plat­i­tudes. He spoke entire­ly as if the only issue was one of “reli­gious tol­er­ance”, strug­gling to evade any ref­er­ence to the real issues, the con­quest of Tibet by com­mu­nist impe­ri­al­ism, and the sub­se­quent pro­gram of geno­cide and polit­i­cal oppres­sion. Even this mild state­ment, care­ful­ly stripped of any hint of polit­i­cal sup­port for Tibetan free­dom, was enough to send the par­a­sitic rul­ing class of Chi­na into a furi­ous rage.

Bush may make attempts to play up to the pub­lic sym­pa­thy for the Tibetan and Burmese peo­ple, but you can bet it will not trans­late into any pos­i­tive action on their behalf. Democ­ra­cy has nev­er been, and nev­er will be a pri­or­i­ty of his admin­is­tra­tion. We all know that George W. Bush, Jr. has noth­ing but hatred and con­tempt for the very idea of democ­ra­cy, and any of the ideals which the Unit­ed States is sup­posed to be found­ed on. He has cer­tain­ly done his best to dis­man­tle democ­ra­cy in Amer­i­ca. But few peo­ple under­stand that he has no loy­al­ty to his coun­try in any form. Like much of America’s cur­rent polit­i­cal lead­er­ship, he has deep finan­cial involve­ment with the glob­al oil car­tel, and when push comes to shove, his loy­al­ty is to the glob­al aris­toc­ra­cy that it sup­ports, not to Amer­i­ca. This sim­ple fact has not pen­e­trat­ed the con­scious­ness of Amer­i­cans, who still imag­ine that Bush is a super-patri­ot try­ing to advance “Amer­i­can inter­ests”. Noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth. Bush seeks to advance his own inter­ests, which have lit­tle to do with the Unit­ed States. To him and his entourage, Amer­i­cans are noth­ing more than anoth­er set of peas­ants, just as dis­pos­able as Iraqis ― or Burmese.

So what can a sup­port­er of democ­ra­cy learn from this dis­heart­en­ing spec­ta­cle of tyran­ny, treach­ery, and hypocrisy?

First of all, it should put to rest the non­sen­si­cal idea that transna­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions are in any way oppo­nents of, or hos­tile to com­mu­nist dic­ta­tor­ships. They nev­er have been, and nev­er will be. The glob­al aris­toc­ra­cy sees and under­stands that a com­mu­nist dic­ta­tor­ship is a cor­po­ra­tion. A com­mu­nist par­ty is an orga­ni­za­tion whose pur­pose is to cap­ture a pop­u­la­tion and enslave it, so that it’s pro­duc­tion can be sold on the glob­al mar­ket, for the ben­e­fit of a con­trol­ling aris­to­crat­ic elite. The peo­ple ruled by a com­mu­nist regime are its cows and pigs, and glob­al busi­ness is per­fect­ly hap­py to see them slaugh­tered and turned into sal­able prod­ucts. The Par­ty lead­er­ship is the cor­po­ra­tion’s board of direc­tors and major share­hold­ers. The glob­al aris­toc­ra­cy rec­og­nizes them as an oli­garchy just like them­selves. It will hap­pi­ly do busi­ness with them, pro­vid­ed they play by the rules, ful­fill their con­tracts, and don’t ran­dom­ly expro­pri­ate glob­al invest­ments. No com­mu­nist dic­ta­tor­ship has ever lacked eager invest­ment and co-oper­a­tion from major corporations.

This is what com­mu­nism, as an ide­ol­o­gy, is all about. It’s what Marx intend­ed, and what it has been in prac­tice, in every case, with­out excep­tion. Once in pow­er, the regime may chose to use ter­ror and slave labour to extract resources, in a crude way, such as Mao, Lenin, and Stal­in did. They mur­dered mil­lions to cre­ate the max­i­mum state of fear and sub­mis­sion, then set the sur­vivors to dig­ging in mines or har­vest­ing soy beans or sug­ar cane, and sold the prod­uct on the glob­al mar­ket. But a com­mu­nist regime may also set up a more feu­dal arrange­ment, eas­ing the reigns, giv­ing their cap­tive pop­u­la­tion enough elbow room to pro­duce more effi­cient­ly by per­son­al enter­prise, but always retain­ing the pow­er to extract a lucra­tive per­cent­age, and always main­tain­ing the ulti­mate pow­er to crush dis­si­dence and con­trol all trans­ac­tions. It is this hold on cen­tral pow­er that is the heart of the com­mu­nist ide­ol­o­gy, not some par­tic­u­lar arrange­ment of man­age­ment pol­i­cy. If the regime choos­es the loos­er option, it is not any less com­mu­nist, and it is not in any sig­nif­i­cant way chang­ing its ide­ol­o­gy. Much non­sense has been writ­ten about Chi­na “aban­don­ing com­mu­nism”. This is not even remote­ly the case. Any­one who is naive­ly wait­ing for “demo­c­ra­t­ic reforms” to blos­som in the regime will wait for eter­ni­ty. As long as the cash flows in abun­dance, from glob­al cor­po­rate and state trans­ac­tions, the com­mu­nist aris­toc­ra­cy will nev­er vol­un­tar­i­ly relin­quish their pow­er. Why should they? What would make them? In fact, the Par­ty in Bei­jing has made it per­fect­ly plain that any move­ment toward democ­ra­cy among the peo­ple of Chi­na will be swift­ly and bru­tal­ly crushed. This will not change. Ever.

The Sovi­et regime col­lapsed when it went into bank­rupt­cy. It was a poor­ly man­aged cor­po­ra­tion, and investors backed off when it became evi­dent that it was hope­less­ly insol­vent. Some of its cap­tive impe­r­i­al pos­ses­sions suc­ceed­ed in free­ing them­selves, but the core ter­ri­to­ry has not estab­lished any viable demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tions in the wake of the col­lapse. In fact, the old aris­toc­ra­cy is back in pow­er, and estab­lish­ing a new, more effi­cient­ly run com­pa­ny with the same assets. China’s com­mu­nist cor­po­ra­tion is not insol­vent, it is flour­ish­ing. Com­mu­nist exploita­tion there is quite prof­itable. The aris­toc­ra­cy has access to plen­ty of mil­i­tary and finan­cial resources with which to guar­an­tee its hold over the peo­ple. The only way democ­ra­cy will come to Chi­na is if the peo­ple rise up and destroy the com­mu­nist aris­toc­ra­cy that exploits them. That is not in the cards, right now, as the pop­u­la­tion is too busy absorb­ing the eco­nom­ic gains it has made. It is only when the Par­ty re-tight­ens the noose, as it inevitably will, that this pos­si­bil­i­ty will present itself.

The gospel of con­ser­v­a­tive ide­ol­o­gy in the Unit­ed States, Cana­da, and Europe, claims that democ­ra­cy is of no val­ue, and that “eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment” is of supreme val­ue. Con­cen­trate, con­ser­v­a­tives urge, on extract­ing the max­i­mum cash flow from peo­ple under dic­ta­tor­ships. Democ­ra­cy, sup­pos­ed­ly, will “evolve”, all by itself, at some time in the remote future ― the remot­er, the bet­ter. This is an idea they share with Lenin and Stal­in. Marx­ism, being the ulti­mate ultra-con­ser­v­a­tive ide­ol­o­gy, suits the devel­oped world’s con­ser­v­a­tive agen­da just fine. As long as com­mu­nist dic­ta­tor­ships per­form as effi­cient cor­po­ra­tions, then any amount of tyran­ny they exer­cise is agree­able to conservatives.

Sec­ond of all, we learn that those who strug­gle for free­dom should expect no help from any­one in pow­er, any­where in the world. A super­pow­er may tem­porar­i­ly help some small demo­c­ra­t­ic move­ment, if it is a use­ful strat­e­gy to embar­rass or dis­com­fit a rival pow­er, but it will always aban­don them, turn on them, or crush them when it suits their pur­pose. The suc­cess of a democ­ra­cy move­ment nev­er serves their pur­pose. As long as Con­ser­v­a­tive ide­ol­o­gy con­trols the major gov­ern­ments of Europe and the Amer­i­c­as, then democ­ra­cy move­ments in places like Bur­ma and Tibet have no hope of suc­ceed­ing. Aris­toc­ra­cy is aris­toc­ra­cy is aris­toc­ra­cy, and no aris­toc­ra­cy likes to see any oth­er aris­toc­ra­cy over­turned in favour of democ­ra­cy, no mat­ter how much it might be a rival with­in the aris­to­crat­ic com­mu­ni­ty. The glob­al polit­i­cal and glob­al cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ty are absolute­ly deter­mined that the Com­mu­nist Par­ty shall remain in pow­er in Bei­jing, and will ignore any amount of geno­cide and ter­ror it employs in Tibet or Bur­ma, or against its own peo­ple in Chi­na, under any cir­cum­stances. The Dalai Lama has no doubt fig­ured this out. The best he can do is main­tain his pop­u­lar image as a saint, hop­ing that it will keep the plight of Tibetans known to the gen­er­al pub­lic, and make it more embar­rass­ing for Bei­jing to car­ry out its pro­gram of geno­cide. But noth­ing he can do will change the sin­gle-mind­ed evil of glob­al aris­to­crat­ic pow­er. It must be a soul-crush­ing tragedy he con­fronts in the mir­ror every morn­ing. The peo­ple of Bur­ma have even less to work with.

[i] Chevron cor­po­rate web­site:
[ii] Luard, Tim — Buy­ers line up for Chi­na’s arms. BBC NEWS 2006/06/16 13:04:11 GMT
[iii] AsiaNews 10/08/2007 13:11.
[iv] Acharya, Ami­trav — Democ­ra­cy in Bur­ma: Does Any­body Real­ly Care? — 2005 — Yale Cen­ter for the Study of Globalization
[v] Koo-thwe, Pas­cal — Bur­ma’s ghosts rise to con­front the gen­er­als — Tele­graph (U.K.) 28/09/2007.

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