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A. Roland

The Burmese People and
Their Struggle for Independence

(31 January 1942)

From The Militant, Vol 6 No. 5, 31 January 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

One Out of Every 218

The Burmese peasants would have liked nothing bettor than to have kept out of the war. Close to ninety percent of these people are growers of rice in the paddy fields of the valleys through which flow the three great Burmese rivers.

But the Burmese were hardly consulted in the matter of the war. Burma is itself of tremendous strategic importance in the war. It houses the great Indian Ocean port of Rangoon through which pass practically all the supplies for the Chinese, destined to pass over the famous Burma Road. The Japanese are interested not only in shutting off this road, but also in the seizure of the rich rice lands, the rubber plantations, and the oil fields, under the control of the Burma Oil Co. The English are most anxious to close this back door to India to the Japanese.

Some years ago H.G. Wells told of a conversation with the leaders of the Burmese nationalist movement. These leaders said to him: “We are the Irish of the East.” What they meant was that the Burmese were as proud a race as the Irish, and would wage a continual struggle, like the Irish, to gain their independence from British domination. Burma has, in fact, been a land of continual “disorder.”

If we go no further back than 1930, when the Ghandi [sic] non-cooperation movement was in full swing, we find the Burmese, who were then still in the Indian Empire as one province, unanimously supporting that movement. The time came, indeed, when one out of every 218 Burmese (there are 25 million people in Burma), was in jail. Britain was forced to isolate Burma from the rest of India and to grant her a separate constitution with limited democratic rights, but not with Dominion status. The new constitution set up two houses of parliament of which the House of Representatives was an elective body. The English hope that this would permit the Burmese a means of blowing off steam proved a vain one.

U. Saw Is Not the First

Burma became a separate colony in 1937. The first premier of the new native government (the royal governor was, of course, the real power) was Ba Maw. He proceeded to use the forum of the parliament to continue the struggle for freedom. He was at once arrested and thrown into prison. Thus it is no precedent for the English to imprison a Burmese prime minister. The charge against the present premier, U. Saw, is one of conspiring with the Japanese. We have no way of knowing the truth of this charge; but such amalgams have been so common in history, particularly recent history, that we may take the charge with a large grain of salt.

Skepticism is all the more in order when we know that U. Saw had just visited England for he purpose of presenting the case of his country for independence. Evidently the Churchill government feared his return to Burma at this critical time. The persistent demands of the Burmese for freedom are also the reason why the English never raised a Burmese army out of the big population of that land, and are now forced to call on the Chinese for quick aid. The comment of the American Correspondent, Cecil Brown, with regard to the Malayans and the failure of the English to train a Malayan army, applies equally to Burma.

Upton Close, writer on Far Eastern affairs, asked a very pertinent question in one of his broadcasts. Why do not the Allies issue a Pacific Charter to correspond to the Atlantic Charter? But even with respect to the Atlantic Charter, Churchill hastened to allay any doubts by stating that the Atlantic Charter did not apply to India. Implied in the query of Upton Close is a criticism of this policy. Evidently he wishes to have the Allies enlist the support of all the native races of Asia by giving them something to fight for other than the domination of their present masters. But to ask for any policy of renunciation of colonial domination on the part of the great powers, is to look for Utopia.

Common Aim of the Colonial Peoples

The Japanese have tried to use the propaganda of uniting the Asiatic peoples to throw off the yoke of the white man. But the utterly brutal end wanton outrages of the Japanese armies in their invasion of China and their attempt to force China into colonial status, long ago exposed this fake propaganda. The Burmese certainly have no cause for looking to Japan to aid them in the struggle for freedom. Nor do they look to any such program as that followed by the Japanese in the Tanaka Memorial to the Japanese Emperor.

The task of a real Pacific Charter remains the task of the colonial peoples themselves, aided by the workers of all lands. India, Burma and all the British colonies will not get freedom by looking for a grant of rights from Britain. Such freedom they will gain ultimately mainly through their own efforts and struggle. Certainly they cannot gain it by the slightest reliance on Japan.

A real union of Asiatic peoples for freedom is surely necessary to advance humanity along the path of civilization. We have no doubt that such a union will ultimately be achieved against all the forces tending to divide these peoples from each other, tending to set one off against the other. The Asiatic peoples learn painfully that all forms of imperialism have as their aim the old Roman maxim of Divide and Rule. Let this lesson be absorbed into the very marrow of the bones of the vast masses of Eastern peoples. Chinese, Hindus, Moslems, Burmese, Malayans, Mongolians — all have common strivings and a common struggle.

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