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Myanmar - Military Rule under General Ne Win

Ne WinOn March 2, 1962, the military under General Ne Win seized power. The demands of some minority leaders for "pure federalism" and the animosities sparked by the amendment to make Buddhism the state religion were perceived by the military as a threat to the union's very existence. U Nu's wavering commitment to socialism also alarmed the military. Prominent political leaders, including U Nu, were arrested and held without trial. The 1947 constitution was suspended, and parliament was dissolved. The Revolutionary Council, consisting of high-ranking military officers and headed by General Ne Win, was established and given the responsibility for administering the state. General Ne Win, by a collective decision of the Revolutionary Council, assumed "supreme legislative, executive and judicial authority."

On April 30, 1962, the council issued a 21-point basic policy statement, "The Burmese Way to Socialism," outlining long-range goals. Speaking as "we, the working people of the national races of the Union of Burma," it expressed its commitment to building a new nation. One central objective was the creation of a socialist economy-the "planned, proportional development of all the national productive forces," aimed at eliminating the exploitation of man by man and creating a more prosperous and "morally better" society. A clean break with the parliamentary institutions of the past was announced.

The "Burmese Way" stated that "parliamentary democracy has been tried and tested in furtherance of the aimes of socialist development. But Burma's democracy' has not only failed to serve our socialist development, but.., lost sight of and deviated from the socialist aims." The council promised to establish "mass and class organizations" based "primarily on the strength of peasants and other working masses who form the great majority of the nation."

After the coup, local and regional administration was brought under the control of the military through the creation of a system of Security and Administrative Committees (SAC). The Central Security and Administrative Committee, responsible to the Revolutionary Council, administered laws and directives, coordinated government projects, and was responsible for maintaining public discipline. Below it, there was a four-tiered hierarchy of state and division, district, township, and village SAC; their chairmen on all levels were military officers.

Although in control of state administration, the military leadership saw the necessity of creating its own political organization in order to gain popular support. In May 1962 an attempt was made form a single, united party drawing on those Pyidaungsu, AFPFL, and National United Front politicians who were not in jail. This effort failed, for only the last group agreed to cooperate. On July 4 the military established its own party, the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP-see Glossary). In March 1964 the Law to Protect National Solidarity banned all political parties except the BSPP, and Burma became a one-party state.

In January 1963 the BSPP published The System of Correlation of Man and His Environment, a detailed exposition of its ideology based on a theory of human nature and society. Although its author has never been officially identified, one scholar suggests that it was most likely U Chit Hlaing, a Marxist during World War II and member of the BSPP Central Executive Committee as late as 1981, who had received a traditional Buddhist education. The document is a somewhat vague and confusing mixture of Buddhist and Marxist themes. The first chapter, dealing with the "three worlds"--the material world, the animal world, and the phenomenal world-is drawn from Buddhist metaphysics and concludes that "matter and mind in man are inseparably linked on the ever-turning wheel of change." There are discussions of "The Determining Role of the Working People" and "The Laws of Process and the History of Society,' which reveal the influence of Marxist concepts.

Yet the significance of The System is its ultimate rejection of Marxist theory. This is apparent, first, in its denial of the reality of fixed laws of social change, such as Marxist dialectical materialism. Although there is a "law of dialectics" (a Buddhist term in Pali being used to denote this), it, like everything else, is subject to change according to the "law of impermanence" (a basic principle of Buddhism). Second, although the human mind and spirit are dependent on a material substratum, they attain a degree of independence (in contrast with Marxist economic determinism), which places the responsibility for social change and improvement on human will and cultivation of mind rather than on an impersonal process of evolution. Thus, the much emphasized maxim, "Man Matters Most."

The System rejects a "vulgar materialism," in which "some so-called 'leftists' appear to pay scant heed to mind and mental factors." It also embraces, in line with its affirmation of the "law of impermanence", a pragmatic point of view, asserting that the BSPP would examine and make use of any "progressive ideas, theories and experiences at home and abroad" that would benefit the Union of Burma. In a section entitled "Our Attitude to our own Ideology," it states that the party's ideology ought not to be regarded as complete and final, that it is constantly undergoing a process of formulation and reformulation in a manner consistent with the idea that "things in this universe are transient and every period in its own life is all too brief."

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Page last modified: 08-10-2011 12:16:28 ZULU