Myanmar: Military Coup Reveals Contention within Ruling Class

Photo credit: Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

By Rachel Foster

The Myanmar military staged a coup on Monday, declaring a state of emergency and arresting the leaders of the ruling party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). The military denied the legitimacy of the November 2020 elections, the second electoral process since open military rule was replaced by a partial parliamentary system.

This comes in the context of a push in March 2020 to amend the 2008 constitution, taking legislative power away from the military. The 2008 constitution guaranteed the military 25% of seats in parliament, as well as veto power for any constitutional changes, which they used to block this amendment. The empty parliamentarianism of the 2008 constitution comes after decades of on-and-off military rule in the country following its independence from Britain in 1948.

Aung San Suu Kyi became state counsellor in 2016 after decades of campaigning for parliamentary democracy against the military junta, for which she was recognized by western imperialists with a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Since becoming state counsellor, she has grown closer to the military and has continued economic liberalization, opening the country up to imperialist economic interests.

Military Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hliang has taken the position of chairman of the State Administrative Council, becoming the effective head of state. Age restrictions would have forced him to retire from military leadership this year, but the coup has allowed him to keep a position of state power.

As a result of decades of imperialist domination and military rule, Myanmar has developed a form of bureaucratic capitalism in which large sections of the economy are owned by the military and controlled by military leaders like Min Aung Hliang. The coup therefore represents a new stage in struggle between two factions of monopoly capital in the semi-feudal and semi-colonial country.

Myanmar has also seen a decades-long civil war between the central government and regional nationalist armies fighting for independence or autonomy. Both the NLD and military leadership have shown disregard for the interests of minority groups and have persecuted them to the point of genocide—in 2019, Aung San Suu Kyi defended the military’s genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority before the International Court of Justice.

US imperialism has condemned the coup, with Joe Biden threatening to resume sanctions against Myanmar, while the UN is meeting to discuss possible responses, which may include sanctions as well. Although the US preaches about ‘restoring democracy,’ this only suggests that parliamentary rule is more amenable to the interests of US imperialism in this case, which will only invest in private industry and bans investment in the military-owned industry.

Chinese social imperialism, for its part, is taking a neutral stance to the coup, which doesn’t greatly affect its economic interests in the country. China is a supplier of the Myanmar military and has significant investments in both state and private industry. Both the NLD and the military have increasingly subordinated the country to Chinese social imperialism, representing private and state monopoly capital respectively.

While the ruling class media has framed the coup as a struggle between ‘democracy’ and ‘dictatorship,’ they fail to understand the underlying struggle between the two factions of the ruling class, namely the compradors represented by private monopoly capital, and the bureaucrats represented by state monopoly capital. Both sides of this struggle are lackeys of imperialism and only differ in the way in which they serve these interests—neither are capable or willing to deal with the issues that are weighing heavy on the backs of the people of Myanmar: imperialist domination, semifeudalism, and bureaucratic capitalism.

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