Kyaw Win: From communist to neoliberal

Kyaw Win

Kyaw Win is a former communist who lost his beliefs in Marxism-Leninism, and Maoism. He is arguably the only individual in the history of Burma to decline the invitation of the Communist Party of Burma to become a member.

His political journey is indeed a complicated one that cannot easily be labelled. Some of his political insights were indeed useful and based on the material conditions of the country.

He alone managed to break the norms of the whole book market with the category "politics”. In Burma, especially before the 1980s, most of the books on politics and political ideology used to be full of books that praised Marxism-Leninism, Maoism, China, the DPRK, Cuba, the Soviet Union, and so on. He is undeniably the first to translate the economics book, development books, neoliberal ideas, and right-libertarian ideas to the general public. His writings indeed played a vital role for the general public, who are generally fed up with the so-called “Burma way to socialism” of the BSPP government. His introduction to neoliberalism, globalisation, and economics sparked anti-communist (Stalinist style) politics among the Burmese population.

For those reasons, he is one of the most hated people among the leftists in Burma, and most of the CPB sympathisers denounce him as a revisionist, renegade, gradualist, neoliberal, anti-radical, and counter revolutionary.

Submitted by heinhtetkyaw on November 6, 2023

Kyaw Win was a student activist who took part in the struggle against the military junta during the 1960s and 1970s.

He became a medical student in 1968–1969 at the University of Medicine, Mandalay. He served as the editor of the university magazine between 1975 and 1976. He worked as a part-time tuition teacher while he was studying at the University of Medicine, Mandalay. Unlike other student activists who are mainly sponsored by their parents when it comes to tuition fees and consider themselves full-time revolutionaries by discussing politics and taking part in student politics and activism, Kyaw Win was a part-time worker who also took part in student politics and activism.

During his senior years in university, he fled to the guerrilla warfare area where the Communist Party of Burma controlled since he was under the radar of the military junta (Burma Socialist Party Programme). He was appointed as a medical officer Peoples Liberation Army (the military wing of the Communist Party of Burma). He was given theoretical, doctrinal, and military training by the Communist Party of Burma. After a series of trainings provided by the Communist Party of Burma, Kyaw Win was one of the outperformers who was invited to join the Communist Party of Burma without submitting the application. At this time, every member or officer of the military wing can submit the application to the Communist Party of Burma if they’re eligible to do so. Kyaw Win was an exceptional individual who was invited to join the Communist Party of Burma without submitting a proper application.

Kyaw Win versus the Communist Party of Burma

However, some of his friends who joined the Communist Party of Burma earlier than him in the 1960s were murdered due to the internal coup (cultural revolution) within the Communist Party of Burma. Those friends were killed by the leadership of the Communist Party of Burma and were denounced as counter-revolutionary and traitors. A lot of politburos and other military officers of party were also murdered during this cultural revolution.

Besides, at the time, due to his relationship with one of the senior members of CPB and an opportunity offered by the Communist Party of China to allow CPB to send their medical officers to get formal education on medical studies, Kyaw Win had the privilege to access all the confidential letters and theoretical newsletters sent from CPC. Since CPC was no longer ruled by the gang of four and instead under the control of Deng Xiaoping, the theoretical approach CPC set to explore was indeed different from the orthodox Maoism or conventional Marxism-Leninism of that time. Instead of dialectic, CPC was discussing the new terminology called trialectics and in favour of new economic policies, which are nowadays called “Socialist Market Economy”. Due to the fact that he had the essential English reading skills to read all these books and the theoretical foundations of Marxism-Leninism, he favoured the Dengist approach over conventional Leninism, Stalinism and Maoism. In this way, since Kyaw Win already had a lot of doubts about the way the trainers as well as the higher ranks of the Communist Party of Burma understood Marxism-Leninism, he refused to accept the offer and requested to be transferred to the frontlines. However, the leadership of the Communist Party of Burma decided to suggest that he visit China and study medicine. In that way, he will become a better medical officer for both the army and the party. With his writings and skills, Kyaw Win was considered an asset not only for the medical sector but also for propaganda purposes by the party. However, during a mission around Shan State (which seems to be on the way to China for studies or a propaganda mission), Kyaw Win and his comrades were arrested by the military army of the Burma Socialist Party Programme (BSPP). He was sentenced to jail for his so-called “counter-revolutionary” acts against the Burma Socialist Party Programme and their socialist state.

After a few years, he was released from jail since he was a medical officer in the army and not a combat soldier. When he was released, since the informers and the military spies were keeping their eyes on him, he tried his best not to contact the connections he had with the party. He pursued his career again as a tuition teacher in his hometown, Monywa, since the University of Medicine Mandalay has been ordered by the BSPP to refuse his enrolment application. In 1988, nation-wide protests, strikes, and mass movements were resurrected. Kyaw Win, along with his comrades from Monywa who endorse democracy and parliamentary politics, founded a left-leaning political group named “Every Green Yong Men Association”. “Every Green Yong Men Association” was one of the earliest political groups that were declared illegal by the BSPP within a year, on September 19, 1989. Kyaw Win was once again accused of having connections with the Communist Party of Burma and got sentenced to jail for a couple of years. In reality, he was already considered an ex-communist by the CPB of that time for his previous record of letting down the offer of the CPB to join the party and for criticising their politics of supporting the Gang of Four, along with the positive possibility of the guerrilla warfare area strategy against the BSPP. He was already considered the Karl Kautsky of Burma for endorsing gradualist parliamentary politics against the BSPP by most of the communists and left sympathisers at that time. However, none of these stopped the BSPP from arresting him.

Theoretical Battle (Liberalism versus Communism)

After his release in the 1990s, he stopped taking part in politics, where most of his former comrades from the CPB and the party sympathisers don’t welcome him back. Since 1994, he has been a full-time advocate for economic reforms that focus mostly on the subjects of “development”, "globalisation,", “Keynesian economics,” and so on. He wrote numerous books on these subjects, which later influenced a lot of centre-left and centre-right democratic liberals, which consists of most of the NLD party, even though some former communists and military officers are also in the leadership positions of the NLD party.
Burma is historically dominated by left-wing politics. The very first government, the prime ministers of Burma, and his party are social democratic, thus can be considered centre left. The Communist Party of Burma, the Red Flag Communist Party of Burma, and the Red Socialists were all far-left Marxist-Leninist or Maoists at that time. Among the far-left circle, some sided with the Soviet Union and some sided with China. Some stayed neutral. Domestically, even among the far-left circle, since after the BSPP regime, the whole far-left population is divided into two camps too. A lot of former co-founders of the Communist Party of Burma saw no difference between the BSPP and Stalin’s Soviet Union and consequently endorsed the BSPP regime and encouraged the CPB to join the alliance with the BSPP. Historically, even the CPB and Red Flag, despite their armed struggle, indeed met with the representatives of the BSPP to form an alliance. However, the BSPP insisted on dismantling their armed wings and their political parties to join the BSPP, since a multi-party alliance is not a model of the Soviet Union. For that reason, both CBP and Red Flag refused to do so. However, it’s undeniable that a lot of CPB members and Red Flag members quit their respective parties and joined the BSPP. All these former CPB members and former Red Flag members not only sided with the Soviet Union (Stalinism) over China (Maoism) but also portrayed the CPB and Red Flag groups as counterrevolutionaries. CPB was denounced as a revisionist Maoist tendency, and Red Flag was denounced as a Trotskyist tendency. Given all these infightings, Kyaw Win and his writings were indeed unique. Among the sectarian Marxist infightings, Kyaw Win was one of the first who encouraged them to keep up to date with globalisation, Keynesian economics, and neoliberalism. Even though he wrote about globalisation, Keynesian economics, and neoliberalism, he was also endorsing the “Socialist Market Economy”, the model China implemented and proven to be successful. Due to the fact that he wrote a lot of neutral or positive perspectives on the subject of globalisation, Keynesian economics, and neoliberalism, he was more hated by the far-left circle, regardless of the sectarian tendencies. When he was asked about the reason he wrote about these subjects, he answered that he was simply writing about some gaps in knowledge that no one was talking about.

Unlike most writers, he didn’t stop at translating articles by scholars, politicians, and journalists; he went far enough to translate some of the writings of and on the original philosophers of neoliberalism, which included Adam Smith and others. Furthermore, when it comes to history and journalism, he translated “The Rise and Fall of the Communist Party of Burma”, one of the best books of the author Bertil Lintner, who managed to travel to the headquarters of the CPB to do qualitative research. Also, he wrote semi-fictional and semi-historical books that blended his personal experiences with fictional history, which portrayed him as a fictional character who knew himself and followed him to the CPB. That book, “The Lost Generation,” became one of the essential books for all student activists. In that book, he criticised a lot of communists from the CPB about their ignorance of Marxist theories, their conservatism, their racism, and so on. When approached to confirm if it’s fictional or historical, he always said his book is semi-fictional and semi-historical. He was hated more by the far-left circles since those arguments he made inside the book as a fictional character indeed exposed the hypocrisy of Marxism-Leninism, Maoism, and all these dictatorship red states of bureaucratic collectivist state capitalism. Also, these arguments are absorbed by both anti-communist liberals and dissent communists who are looking for materialistic and non-dogmatic versions of Yankie Doodle-type communism that would reflect and be compatible with the material conditions. Such kinds of situations are too difficult for the dogmatic Leninists to respond to since they don’t have answers, and their dogmatic idealism is destroyed whenever these arguments appear.

Becoming a Boomer or Generation Lee

However, in the 21st century, a lot of left-leaning student activists who managed to break their ties with the dogmatic Leninists and synthesise the new forms of Marxism, given the internet and ease of accessibility, Trotskyism, democratic socialism, and anarchism have been trending, at least on a label-fetish level. Recently, Kyaw Win, despite his old age, managed to translate the book “The Rise and Fall of Communism" by the author Arche Brown. In that book, he unintentionally proved the fact that he was also a product of his own time and era. He still clings to the label “communism” on Stalinism alone, just like most neoliberals nowadays. That explains the fact that instead of learning the other left alternatives, he shifted to right-wing neoliberal politics out of his own ignorance. Newer and proven ideologies that are more superior than the dogmatic Leninism, Stalinism, and Maoism are being introduced in the 21st century. However, his failure to educate himself on these ideologies and movements paved the way for Trotskyists, so-called democratic socialists of Scandinavia’s social democracy, and anarchists to criticise him. His knowledge on global politics seems to be stuck on the politics of the cold war era. However, those who are radicalised by Kyaw Win still are far better than those radicals of Stalinism and Maoism, the same fascistic, totalitarian and cult-styled politics of the classical fascism in my opinion. It's undeniable for most of the Burmese civilians and those who have suffered under the communist (Stalinist) countries that western liberal democracy is much better than communism of Marxism-Leninism (state socialism, a.k.a state capitalism).

Kyaw Win and federalism
Kyaw Win was indeed one of the pioneers among the Burmese politicians who advocated for the needs of federalism given the different interests and hatred between different ethnic groups. In one of his talks, he mentioned that people should avoid denouncing the struggle of the ethnic communities as mere nationalism and the religions as reactionary (the talk where he discussed how to combat the religious fundamentalist movements in Burma along with other scholars).

While the CPB thought of federalism as a nationalistic, reactionary separatist movement, just like the BSPP, Kyaw Win was one of the figures who advocated for the democratic federal states of Burma from his neoliberal outlook.

Kyaw Win and his transformation process in Burma.

Kyaw Win is a historical and political figure who is indeed worthy of both praising and denouncing, given his record. He played a vital role in helping the NLD party to pursue the peaceful transformation of democracy from military dictatorship, which later ended up with a coup in 2021. Some said it was a bad decision and self-defeating approach to follow the 2008 constitution, which enables the military junta to become innocent legally; however, given the fact that every armed struggle that was being tried before 2000 was lost to the Myanmar military, this has led him to pursue that route. Given the fact that most of the PDFs and revolutionary armed forces at the moment are full of young people who have managed to absorb the western way of technological and gig economy culture, which were the result of the strategy he endorsed, despite the fact that he was sort of reactionary in terms of ideology, it’s fair enough to conclude that he indeed can read the material conditions. Back in the 1900s and 2000s, even though there were a lot of mass movements and armed struggle, participation was limited to the political consensus student class and a minority of the working class. Even though 1988 had the record participation of most of the whole population, the revolutionary potential was never able to be maintained. For those reasons, most of the armed struggles always ended up either losing to the Myanmar military or ended up massacring each other over the accusations of spies and so on.
However, in the 21st century, these two generations of Generation Z and Generation Y, being familiar with stable internet connectivity, stable electricity, gig economy, startup culture, and a capitalistic wealth accumulation mindset, fought with everything they could to live in a country where all the basic needs won’t become privileges.

During these years, 2010 and 2020, where we could live in a country where basic needs such as internet connectivity, water, and electricity were provided properly, it reminded us that we don’t want to go back to where we didn’t have proper electricity, water, and internet connectivity while we were young. Since the first coup, all these nightmares have happened again. This fear indeed served as one of the most important catalysts to grow the revolutionary potential of our generations. If we don’t have the taste of living our lives with stable internet connectivity, stable electricity, and a gig economy culture which were available around 2010 to 2021, most of us won’t be too interested in revolting against the military junta.

Summing up

Kyaw Win, even though he is a former communist and currently a neoliberal, is indeed a dissenter who dares to think differently, despite the fact that he was being denounced with every possible word, such as reactionary, counterrevolutionary, traitor, and so on. Even though a lot of his political insights and strategy are challengeable, most of his political insights and strategies were indeed better than the dogmatic communists who still couldn’t manage to break their ties with the 19th and 20th century-based personality cults of Mao Zedong, Stalin, Lenin, and so on. On the other hand, it’s undeniable that he still echoed the mainstream anti-communist politics of US right-wing figures, which essentially overlooked a lot of left opposition movements and complex historical movements. Even though his anti-communist politics resemble the “Turning Point” talking points of anti-communism, most of his economy policies and his articles suggested the approach of Social Liberalism. On principal, it can be observed that most of the economic policies he encouraged are more or less likely to be pro-Keynesian, even though he also translated the books of the free-market capitalist books. Afterall, just as he claimed, maybe he was just writing the different subjects no one cared to talk about.