Fight for Democracy Key to Popular Power

5 March 2021


Phil Hearse examines the resistance to the Global Police State.

In his 2018 book, Robert Kuttner asked whether democracy could service global capitalism[1]. His answer was ‘probably not.’ The reasons for his scepticism have been on dramatic display across the world in the last six months. Simultaneously dictatorial regimes have used street violence by security forces, backed up by compliant judges, in Myanmar, Hong Kong, Uganda, Russia and Belarus. But each regime has been faced with growing levels of resistance.


In each case, those in power have attempted to suppress the results of elections, or simply to prevent opposition candidates from getting on the ballot, by harsh repression. The Global Police State is on blatant display.


The military coup in Myanmar led by top general Min Aung Hlaing has given a clear answer to the question of whether the military would ever voluntarily relinquish their role in government. Their 2008 deal with the National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Ky gave the military a key role in government, which enabled them to hold on to their massive business interests, an icy grip that the election results put in question. As Kate Mayberry reports:

From SIM cards to beer, skydiving and jade mining, there are few areas of Myanmar’s economy that escape the long arm of its military, the Tatmadaw. But after Senior General Min Aung Hlaing led a coup on February 1 that scuppered a 10-year experiment with democracy, campaigners have once again set their sights on the military’s sprawling, and highly lucrative, business interests.[2]

It is not just that the military uses its political power to secure it business interests, the relationship works in several directions. Huge private financial resources enable the financing of additional repressive units. Campaigners report:

During the NLD period (from 2011 until the coup-PH), the military’s businesses empowered them and enabled their campaign of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The military is able to use funds from business to support military units, including those committing atrocity crimes, and it meant they were not reliant on the defence budget allocation from parliament.[3]

In recent years the Myanmar military has been engaged in a huge process of weapons procurement from its key ally China, but also Russia and India. There is nothing progressive or anti-capitalist about any of these regimes, even if they are sometimes in conflict with the United States. Weapons production and their international sale in these countries is an integral part of the Global Police State, not something opposed to it.


Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) shared power and enabled the military to pretend that there was a ‘transition’ to democracy going on. The NLD stuck rigidly to the alliance with the generals, including by shamefully justifying the savage attacks on the Rohingya Muslims by the army and Buddhist mobs. Thousands died, dozens of villages were burned and rape was widespread in 2017. Aung San Suu Kyi repeated the military’s propaganda line that the Rohingya were harbouring ‘terrorists’. This is the same shameful line used by the Chinese government to justify their mass incarceration of the Uighur Muslim minority and by numerous other repressive governments. The military successfully used ethnic hatred to prop up support for its rule, and Aung San Suu Kyi went along with it.

Aung San Suu Kyi and Min Aung Hlaing

Myanmar military leader Min Aung Hlaing has directed this coup, not just because of his personal business interests, but because he represents a caste of military-bureaucratic capitalists who are determined to hang onto their privileges. The methods used by the military are those of fascism. Thousands of prisoners were released in return for attacking the opposition[WU1], absolute control of the mass media has been used to justify absurd military lies, and police and judicial repression is used to instil a climate of fear.


The same process is playing out in Uganda, where incumbent president Yoweri Museveni is using the full spectrum of state repression and media lies to suppress the result of the January 20 election, probably won by opposition candidate Bobi Wine (real name Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu).


Museveni represents a corrupt bureaucratic-military capitalist elite, much of whose wealth depends on mineral exports —especially gold[4], but also key metals like copper, tungsten and cobalt. Control of the mineral wealth depends on their control of the state apparatus. As the price of gold began to mushroom after 2014, exports also rocketed, despite domestic production not appearing to significantly increase. The source of this extra gold is not a mystery—it is stolen from the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) North Kivu province where Ugandan troops vie, with those from Rwanda and local militias, for control of the mineral wealth[5].


Museveni’s base is in the networks of corruption and patronage that control of the state apparatus gives. Some analysts claim his election opponent Bobby Wine, an MP and former reggae artist, has mass support from urban professional elites who feel excluded from power by the military-bureaucratic capitalists. For the present, this is a side issue for socialists. The road to working-class and popular power and legitimacy lies through the fight for democracy, even if that means fighting alongside middle-class pro-capitalist forces. Standing aside from the democratic struggle will only discredit anti-capitalist forces.

Myanmar Protest in Hleden

According to Khin Zaw Win[6], in Myanmar, the struggle is spontaneously outstripping the democratic objectives of the NLD. In this vast movement, ethnic divisions are being challenged, the issue of class is coming to the fore and women are playing a central role—all features that the vast democratic struggle has enabled. The scale of the violence being used by the regime illustrates that they think they are fighting for their very existence as a ruling elite.


The pattern of military-bureaucratic elites being deeply entwined with local capitalism is repeated in Russia and China. Vladimir Putin’s kleptocratic regime puts those in Myanmar and Uganda to shame. Billionaire state theft and corruption have subsisted since the fall of the old state-run economy regime in 1989-90. Now, this corruption is reflected in the huge personal wealth of Putin, and his family and friends whose grotesque displays of personal wealth sometimes rival those of the Trump family.[7]


The poisoning and now imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny is based on the self-same desire to defend a corrupt capitalist elite as the repression in Uganda and the coup in Myanmar. When Navalny accuses Putin of crude corruption and running a ‘feudal state’ he is speaking the truth that many millions of Russians immediately understand

China’s economic and political conflicts with the United States have led some left-wingers down the false path of supporting the Chinese regime or pretending that it is somehow more progressive than Western capitalism or to side with China’s brutal crackdown on democratic protest in Hong Kong. But China’s billionaire rulers are not defending socialism, even in a degenerated or distorted form. Their biggest fear is that the democracy movement will spread to the mainland, something that would strike at the foundations of their rule.


For the moment, the democracy movement in Belarus has paused for breath. But the movement against the regime of Alexander Lukashenko has been promising a Spring of renewed protests and struggle.


Against the grim background of economic crisis, the pandemic and growing climate catastrophe, the dictatorial political regimes that neoliberalism has delivered are facing an increasing political challenge from a new generation—often referred to as Generation Z, those who were born after 1998[8]. The current struggle in Myanmar is part of a global process of resistance, under the banner of democracy, which will be resisted bitterly by capitalist elites armed to the teeth by the United States, Russia, China, Israel and some European states. The question is not just whether democracy can survive global capitalism, but whether global capitalism can survive the fight for democracy.

[1] Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism? Norton and Company, 2018

[2]https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/2/26/follow-the-money-myanmar-coup-puts-pressure-on-army-businesses

[3] Op cit

[4]As the Guardian puts it, “However, analysts say incumbent leaders benefit from powerful patronage networks, long-established political machines and links to big business, as well as support from the military or other security forces.” https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/22/reggae-star-bobi-wine-launches-new-political-party-in-uganda

[5]https://www.thebrokeronline.eu/fighting-over-congo-s-mineral-wealth/

[6]https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/revolution-making-taking-place-myanmar

[7] See https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/russia-capitalism-daughters/

[8] See https://www.anticapitalistresistance.org/post/why-it-s-kicking-off-everywhere-again

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