National Sections of the L5I:

Burmese junta massacres its own people

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More and more reports are emerging from Burma of the enormous scale of the massacres of unarmed protestors, including the young monks whose participation has been such a feature of the mass demonstrations of the last weeks. “Many more people have been killed in recent days than you’ve heard about. The bodies can be counted in several thousand”, says a high-ranking intelligence officer for the junta, who defected to Thailand at the end of September. Photographs of the mutilated bodies of monks floating in the rivers have appeared on the internet. A blog by a pro-democracy activist describes a raid on a monastery by riot police. “They systematically ordered all the monks to line up and banged and crushed each one’s head against the brick wall of the monastery. One by one, the peaceful, non-resisting monks fell to the ground, screaming in pain.”

The military regime, which has held Burma in its iron grip for nearly twenty years, when faced with an unarmed and consciously peaceful revolution, reacted with wholesale and savage repression. It has taken for its model its own actions in September 1988, when the army and police slaughtered 3,000 people, drowning in blood the last great popular uprising. It also copies the “successful” model of its main ally and backer the Chinese Communist Party: the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. This is not, as some say, simply mindless brutality but a calculated attempt to destroy an entire new generation of young militants and atomise and terrorise the great mass of the population. It must not be allowed to succeed. Its perpetrators and their international backers must be branded with infamy now, so that as soon as possible the Burmese people can deal with all those who ordered and organised it in the manner they so richly deserve.

United Nations useless and reactionary
Meanwhile the United Nations special envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, shakes the bloody hand of the military dictator, General Than Shwe, urging him to “engage in dialogue with the protestors”. In fact the UN is a broken reed for the Burmese masses to rely on. Calls for UN “blue helmets” intervention are a reactionary diversion.

Even worse are calls on United States imperialism to intervene. In the person of Barbara Bush, it condemns the repression and offers words of support for democracy. But in reality it is only interested in seeking a democratic and humanitarian rehabilitation for itself - discredited as it is by its invasion of Iraq (and with it the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of its people). The US, European Union, Russian and Japanese imperialists, plus China and India are reactionary forces that would only act in pursuit of their own economic and strategic interests. They have no progressive role to play in Burma. All their talk of human rights and democracy is a cruel and cynical deception.

Condemnation of Burma for human rights abuses is also preparing the way for future pressure on China when cooperation turns to open rivalry for energy resources and markets. Indeed, the Russians and the Chinese have threatened to use their vetoes on the UN Security Council over any forthright criticism of the murderous junta precisely because their records in Chechnya and Tiananmen would hardly bear examination on this score.

Only the international working class, the antiwar and anticapitalist youth worldwide can render any active assistance to the Burmese people. What, then, can we do to aid the Burmese resistance and help it to ultimate victory?

Workers’ solidarity
We must take immediate action to expose the crimes of Than Shwe and his butchers to the workers and youth of the world. We can and need to do this by organising our own demonstrations and pickets of Burmese embassies in every country. We must use the internet to spread reports of it in every language. We must demand that all support for the junta ceases, that it is isolated by workers’ and popular sanctions, that all states that continue to support it are added to the list of outcast nations.

We must force our governments to demand the immediate release of all political prisoners, to stop the repression of the monks and demonstrators. Nothing that the regime does carries any legitimacy; it must be treated as an pariah by the international working class and all progressive activists around the world.

The International Trade Union Confederation has correctly called on workers to exert pressure on the great multinational corporations to stop propping up the Burmese dictatorship. Burma was already a target for international trade union protests. Its police state promotes the systematic use of forced and unpaid labour (a form of temporary slavery) on infrastructural projects for joint ventures with multinationals, notably in building pipelines for the gas and oil sector, the country’s biggest source of foreign currency. International arms companies also service the murderous junta. The ITUC lists amongst the major traders with Burma: Caterpillar and Chevron (USA), GlaxoSmithKline (UK ),Total (France), Siemens (Germany), Swift (Belgium), Daewoo and Hyundai (Korea), China National Petroleum Corp and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (China), Gas Authority of India and ONGC Videsh Ltd (India).

But the ITUC calls only for public exposure and disinvestment. We appeal to dockers and stevedores, often in the forefront of progressive international causes, to take direct action, alongside seafarers, rail and airfreight workers, to halt all trade from and to Burma. Some commentators talk of Burma’s economic isolation meaning that it is impervious to outside pressure. This is not true or, rather, is no longer so. India’s trade alone has grown from some $341 million in 2004-05 to $650 million the following year, with a target of $1 billion expected for 2006-07. Action by India’s workers, alongside similar actions across the region, as well as in the imperialist countries, can hit the generals hard. All progressive forces must impose boycotts of Burmese companies and products, and imperialist multinationals that invest in Burma. Anything that generates revenue for the country should be targeted by a global campaign.

In addition we must demand that all states open their doors to political refugees from Burma, grant them full asylum rights, including the right to continue their struggle from their country of refuge. We must demand that countries, like Britain, that are still deporting Burmese refugees stop this loathsome practice.

Where next for the Burmese revolution?
Whether this horrific massacre will in fact drown the developing revolution in blood will depend on whether the Burmese working class and its illegal, but existing trade unions can take mass strike action, even under the conditions of repression. The underground Federation of Trade Unions – Burma, which has sections amongst factory workers, energy workers, civil servants, stevedores, post and telecommunications, rubber plantation workers, health workers, etc. declared; “We highly regard those monks and the students and youth who sacrificed their lives bravely confronting the military dictatorship.” The FTU-B on 29 September called a general strike and for workers to take any action they can to halt the repression.

Whether the repression succeeds will also depend to on whether the army ranks crack under the impact of the horrors they are being forced to commit. We, too, can play a significant role by showing that the whole world is watching and that we will not allow business as usual with this vile regime.

Above all what this carnage shows is that a capitalist army, led by its high command and officer corps, is a permanent, terrifying danger, first of all to its own people, those it is supposed to defend. It shows, too, in the most horrible manner, that hopes for peaceful revolutions, of non-violent direct action being sufficient to remove this, of leaving the working class and mass strike action out of the strategy are vain hopes. They are a strategy for defeat and for worse bloodshed than so-called violent revolutions, i.e. ones where the masses are prepared in advance to use force. If such armies are not disintegrated by winning over the rank and file soldiers, if such high commands are not overthrown and liquidated in the course of a revolution, then the tragic experience of Chile in 1973, of China in 1989 and of Burma itself in 1988 will be repeated again and again.

Indeed, those, like Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy, which urge restraint in front of the army, which call on the people to blunt their criticisms of the regime, which look to the United Nations to oversee a transition leaving the multinational corporations and even some of the generals and the army in a powerful position, are currently attempting to lead the protest movement into this trap.

Important, and indeed almost inevitable, as mass unarmed street demonstrations are at the beginning of any revolution, alone they are insufficient to win. Only mass workers’ strike action, halting the wheels of the national economy, only workers and peasants’ militias, culminating at a critical moment with an armed uprising, can destroy such regimes and replace them with one based on democratically elected councils of delegates of workers, peasants and the youth. In Burma, too, the oppressed nationalities, Karen, Kachin, Chin, Mon and others, whose resistance to military repression has been a permanent feature of Burmese politics, must play a vital role; working class and progressive forces must support their right to self-determination and independence if they wish it.

Above all, the vanguard of all these struggles needs urgently to create a revolutionary workers party.

In spite of the bloody “order” that reigns in Rangoon and Mandalay, we remain convinced that the Burmese people, workers and youth, will eventually overthrow this regime. The power of an awakened and mobilised working class ready to fight to the end for its social and political freedoms is unstoppable. Even if the present phase of the uprising has been defeated, yet more will come. The heroic youth of Burma alongside the workers, despite their present terrible sufferings will learn the necessary political lessons and learn them well.

League for the Fifth International
2 October 2007