Skip to main content

A new stage of resistance: Burmese communists return to armed struggle

The Communist Party of Burma has re-established its People’s Liberation Army. In an exclusive interview with the Morning Star, a party representative tells KENNY COYLE why communists have resumed armed struggle against Myanmar’s junta

AFTER a gap of more than 30 years, the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) has re-established its People’s Liberation Army, to fight Myanmar’s military regime.

The return to armed struggle has been years in the making. However, the process has been given a fresh impetus by the Spring Revolution, the mass upsurge inside the country that erupted after the military coup on February 1 this year. 

Then the army leadership ousted civilian parties, grouped around Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), from government.

Claiming electoral fraud in the 2020 Myanmar general election, General Min Aung Hlaing arrested several civilian political leaders including President U Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Su Kyi, and established the State Administration Council (SAC). 

Peaceful mass protests against the coup, including strikes and demonstrations, have been violently suppressed by the military. Numerous political and ethnic groups since have set up or revived armed resistance groups in response.

A Communist Party representative told the Morning Star: “It’s true that the Communist Party of Burma has started organising an armed force. But I must point out that our attempts to rebuild the PLA began before reports reached the media. 

“We have been trying to re-establish it for several years, but it has effectively come into existence now due to new possibilities that have emerged from the people’s resistance against the junta’s coup.”

The Communist Party spokesman says: “In a country like Burma, where the trigger-happy ruling elite resorted to arms even against unarmed students on university campuses, we have drawn lessons from history. It has taught us to resort to arms when fighting against fully armed demons.”

This is in no way minimises the peaceful mass struggles.

“We acknowledge the heroic valour and sacrifices of the people carrying out non-armed struggles. These movements are remarkable, and we salute them, both those who are still alive and those who gave their lives,” says the CPB leader. 

However, he continues: “We know very well that the military has murdered many of our comrades for the simple reason of standing up against them. We don’t believe that the power-thirsty generals, who are armed to the teeth, can be toppled by any form of struggle besides armed means.”

While the CPB is not opposed in principle to the idea of the opposition talking to the military, it is clear negotiations alone cannot dislodge the core of the military regime. 

Some opposition supporters have suggested that, at a certain point, the regime will have to pull back and reluctantly restore the pre-coup status quo. 

However, the communists have no illusions in either the military’s trustworthiness or its willingness to compromise. 

As the CPB made clear in a previous Morning Star interview, the pre-coup Myanmar constitution is entirely inadequate as a framework for popular democracy and social progress. 

It enshrined privileged positions for the military, positions that the military subsequently used to oust civilian politicians.

“We have our own reservations about holding talks with the junta, although we haven’t said that we have closed that door. 

“However, given our own experience of holding talks with the military ‘top brass’ in the past, we can say that the military chiefs have never been sincere or reliable during the meetings and the opposition always had to pay a very high price after every round of ‘talks’.”

Over a long historical period, the CPB has concluded that that the idea of a permanent compromise between the junta and democratic forces is an illusion.

“We say that Min Aung Hlaing and other generals have resorted to their old tricks, which they have been very well acquainted with since 1958 and 1962,” the years of previous military dictator Ne Win’s coups.

“Everything that has followed the February 1 coup is simply repeating history,” the CPB leader says.

“We, who have dealt with military dictators for decades in this country, believe that real change in Burma’s ruling group can be made only by means of arms,” the party representative insists.

The fractious nature of the anti-military forces is a serious weakness, in the CPB’s opinion, as is putting faith in solutions that do not rely upon the strength of the mass of the people of Myanmar, either through courting foreign influence or local elites.

“Our armed revolution hasn’t achieved its aim so far. But this is not because the universal law that ‘Rebellion against military dictatorships is right,’ does not hold true or has exceptions. 

“The most visible defect has been the opposition forces’ inability to unite themselves. They are used to relying on other people or forces (both domestic and abroad) for various resources, of course including financially ones. Put very simply, differences of interest create differences of views and objectives.”

Due to their lack of popular legitimacy and their Burman ethnic chauvinism, successive military regimes have been unable to unite this multi-ethnic country, even at gunpoint. 

Over the years, many armed organisations, even de facto statelet armies, have emerged in Myanmar’s regions. Some of these regional and ethnic militias have historically co-operated with the CPB. 

However, the party spokesman insists that, at this early stage, it is too soon to talk about formal alliances, although that stage may eventually come.

“The PLA hasn’t formed any official coalition or co-ordination with any existing armed resistance group yet. However, we have never ruled out joint efforts with resistance forces.”

The CPB began its armed struggle in 1948 and this continued until 1989, when a political and military crisis led to the dramatic collapse of its last base area in north-eastern Myanmar.

Today, the party acknowledges that during the late 1960s, the CPB mechanically imported not only the dogmatic ideas but also the practices of China’s cultural revolution into its party life, including the persecution of leading cadres, causing enormous harm. 

Nonetheless, although it is by no means the sole reference point, the CPB continues to hold the earlier military and political strategies developed by Mao Zedong in China in high regard. 

As an illustration, justifying the return to armed struggle, the CPB spokesman notes in a wry reference to a famous quote from Mao: “We firmly believe that the military has confirmed, again and again, the lesson that ‘political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.’ Why shouldn’t we grasp the same truth as they do?” 

Nonetheless, providing younger party members and PLA fighters with political education and consciousness rather than simple quotations or military training is considered an urgent task, but one that presents considerable challenges.

“PLA cadres are educated in basic Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought as well as the revolutionary experiences of all Marxist movements. 

“However, there has only been a very short period, since the PLA’s formation, and so political education among the ranks still needs time and the opportunity to apply this in practice. As you can imagine, each individual cadre’s ability to grasp these theories fully, differs from one to the other,” the party spokesperson concedes.

It’s far too early to judge whether the reborn PLA will become a significant military force in the anti-junta struggle. However, the fact that the communist response to the military junta is based neither on pro-Western liberal nor ethnic-nationalist ideologies opens up the possibility of a very different outcome to the current crisis in Myanmar.


We're a reader-owned co-operative, which means you can become part of the paper too by buying shares in the People’s Press Printing Society.



Become a supporter

Fighting fund

You've Raised:£ 6,330
We need:£ 11,670
16 Days remaining
Donate today