Ted Grant and his fictional history of Burma

Thakin Soe quote on leadership quality.

Ted Grant was a South African white Trotskyist who founded British Trotskyist groups such as Militant and later Socialist Appeal, a predecessor of the International Marxist Tendency. So-called Trotskyists who blindly follow the ideological cult of international Marxist tendencies tend to believe that Ted Grant firmly follows the ideas of Trotsky. However, some larger Trotskyist groups, such as WSWS, CWI, ISA, and so on, think Ted Grant is not qualified to be hailed as a Trotskyist leader given his pseudo-intellectual roots and his mistaken analyses on a lot of different matters.

Submitted by heinhtetkyaw on August 27, 2023

Burma is a third-world country with a long history of left-wing politics dating back to the colonial era. Unlike the rest of the world, politics in Burma was totally a battle between left-wing groups. The main political group around the 1940s was the AFPFL, a centre-left social democratic force. AFPFL was split into two groups: one of them is "clean AFPFL" and is led by Thakin Nu. The other group is "Stable AFPFL" and is led by leaders from the Burma Socialist Party like U Kyaw Nyein. The Burmese military had a stable relationship with people from the Burmese Socialist Party, like U Kyaw Nyein. According to Colonel Chit Myaing, after Stable AFPFL lost the election, most of the high-ranking military officers complained that they thought we could have won.
The other main oppositions were the Communist Party of Burma, a Maoist group, and the Red Flag Burma Communist Party, a radical communist tendency from Burma.In 1959 and 1962, the military conducted several coups against U Nu’s government, given a lot of situations such as civil war and global imperialism. Ted Grant wrote in another article, "The Colonial Revolution and the Deformed Workers' States," around 1978, as follows regarding Burma:
Ted Grant

In Burma, where the regime newly emerged from British domination and the ruling class was incapable of successfully 'holding the country together', it faced a series of rebellions and wars. The army was formed by the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League, which described itself The army was formed by the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League, which described itself as "socialist." With China as a model next door, the army leaders were tired of the incapacity of the landowners and capitalists to solve the problems of Burma. Basing themselves on the support of the workers and peasants, they organised a coup, expropriated the landowners and capitalists, and established Burma as a 'Burmese Buddhist Socialist State'.

Basically, Ted Grant claimed that the military junta conducted coups with the support of workers and peasants, according to his articles from 1978 and 1964. However, the realities were different. "Burma Socialist Programme Party" was declared on April 30, 1962. 

The reaction of local Communists

Thakin Phay Htay, a leader of the Red Flag Burma Communist Party, publicly said in a media interview that, Thakin Phay Htay

• "There is a chance for General Ne Win to get pregnant if I fuck him despite he is a biologically cis-gendered male but the socialism of BSPP will never succeed".

Thakin Soe, a leader of the Red Flag Burma Communist Party, publicly said in a media interview that,Thakin Soe

• Ne Win is selling dog meat by displaying the goat’s head.

What Thakin Soe meant was that Ne Win was trying to sell socialism, but yet, what he is selling is not socialism. It has to be noted that U Ne Win himself used to work closely with Thakin Soe, the leader of the Red Flag Burma Communist Party. Also, the BSPP regime has support from several ex-leaders of the Communist Party of Burma, such as Thakin Thein Phe Myint and so on. A lot of ex-red-flag communist members and ex-CPB members were also involved in the intellectual rank of the BSPP.

Between two imperialist alliances: the Red and the West
During the early stages of independent Myanmar, the army gained respect and was viewed as the country's protector. The Myanmar military army, 'Tatmadaw', claims to be the founder of the Union of Burma as well as the main force holding the country together during the civil war and preventing the country from disintegrating. Following independence, a constitutional government was formed, and U Nu was appointed as the country's first Prime Minister. However, the newly formed civilian government led by U Nu failed to keep the country united in the face of domestic problems, ethnic issues, ideological armed groups, corruption, mismanagement, and ethnic insurgencies that took up arms against each other. In addition to the domestic ethnic insurgencies and ideological militias, Kuomintang also tried to invade Burma with the help of a western imperialist camp. KMT troops and their families began crossing into Burma in late December 1949 and early January 1950, when the Communist People's Liberation Army (PLA) invaded Yunnan Province. The KMT army in Burma grew steadily over the next few years as more stragglers crossed the border and the army recruited locals. By March 1950, the KMT had approximately 1,500 troops occupying territory between Kengtung City and Tachilek. By April 1951, the number had risen to more than 4,000, and by the end of the year, it had risen to 6,000. It would then more than double in 1952. The Burmese government demanded that the KMT either surrender or leave Burma immediately in June 1950. The KMT field commander who received the Burmese request not only refused to comply but also declared that the KMT troops had no intention of surrendering or leaving the area and that if the Burmese Army initiated military strikes, they would retaliate with force. The KMT military in Burma could not have enlarged as rapidly without logistical support from the United States and the financial revenue of the region's opium trade. With President Truman's approval, the CIA established a secret air supply network that shipped weapons and supplies from Thailand to General Li Mi's forces in Mong Hsat. It’s reported that CIA advisers even accompanied the KMT army in its invasion of Yunnan. The invasion of KMT troops into Burma created serious internal and external security issues for the newly independent country. Internally, the KMT's outreach to local insurgents aggravated the already-existing civil war between the Burmese government and ethnic and Communist insurgents. Externally, the presence of anti-communist KMT troops on Burma's borders with China jeopardised the country's neutral foreign policy. The Burmese government feared that the presence of anti-communist KMT troops on its borders would enrage Communist China and provide an excuse for an invasion of Burma. Such apprehension was totally rational during the ongoing Korean War between the United States and China. Communist China, for its part, was concerned that the US would open a second front in its southern provinces by using Burma as a base of operations and KMT troops as a nucleus for an invasion army. Here, let me quote Noam Chomsky to justify the rationality of such worries:• In 1958, the Eisenhower administration was involved in serious clandestine operations all over the region. They were also trying to harass China, and one of the ways they were doing this was by bringing Chinese nationalist forces and exporting them to northern Burma so that they could carry out terrorist attacks from China.

Out of fear, in March 1953, Burma filed a formal complaint with the United Nations. The KMT problem, on the other hand, was never properly resolved by the UN. In the 1956 elections, the AFPFL was re-elected to office, while the opposition left-wing coalition, the National United Front (NUF), received 37% of the vote and 48 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Amidst an economic recovery and the unexpected success of U Nu's "Arms for Democracy" offer, which resulted in the surrender of many insurgents, by 1958, the AFPFL's internal schisms had worsened. Due to the split, U Nu almost got defeated in a parliamentary motion of no-confidence by eight votes. U Nu wouldn’t survive the motion of no-confidence without the support of the opposition NUF. The army hardliners were concerned that the communists would be allowed to re-join mainstream politics due to Nu's need for continued support from the NUF. Moreover, the KMT invasion, the communist insurgency, and ethnic military organisations are also worrisome for the Myanmar military. The volatile situation resulted in the formation of a military caretaker government led by General Ne Win from 1958 to 1961. The military government reduced corruption, increased bureaucratic efficiency, and managed to handle militant insurgencies. In 1960, the Burmese Army conducted a series of successful military operations with the assistance of Red Chinese troops, finally "breaking the back" of the KMT militias. At the same time, the military junta announced that an election would be held.

In the election held by the Myanmar military, U Nu’s party was elected by the people as their government. However, the civilian government led by U Nu was unable to resolve and rectify the situation. Instead, the military believed it compromised the country's national integration. Such situations led to the coup led by General Ne Win on March 2, 1962. The main reasons for the coup were reportedly political infighting, policy gridlock, multiple large-scale insurgencies, and a declining economy.

Let me quote Noam Chomsky again, who had a similar view on this.

• The Chinese nationalist generals had different ideas. Instead of moving into China and getting killed by the Red Army, they decided to organise tribesmen in the hill areas, start narcotics production, and enrich themselves, and in fact, that’s one of the main sources of the famous Gold Triangle. It became one of the major centres of opium production worldwide.• Burmese tried to repress it, but they were unable to. The military was upset about it and eventually staged a coup, which overthrew the parliamentary government. The junta is still there now.
Class Interests of BSPP

Ted Grant wrote in one of his articles,
Ted Grant

"The Colonial Revolution and the Sino-Soviet Dispute," around 1964, as follows regarding Burma:• Some form of Bonapartism, some form of military-police state, was inevitable in Burma. The army officer caste saw itself in the role of the only strata that could "save" society from disintegration and collapse, as the feeble bourgeoisie obviously offered no solution. Consequently, the officer caste, which had participated as one of the "socialist" factions, decided that the only way forward was on the model of "socialist" China but called it a "Burmese model" of "socialism". They have moved rapidly along familiar lines—a one-party totalitarian state and the nationalisation of foreign-owned interests, including oil, teak, transport, etc. They have begun the expropriation of the indigenous bourgeoisie. They even threatened the nationalisation of the small shops. They based themselves on the peasants and the working class. But they do not have a model of scientific socialism; on the contrary, their programme is one of "Burmese-Buddhist socialism".

Ted Grant deserved to be acknowledged for his writings that anticipated the Bonapartism of the BSPP. However, in 1964, it was already late. This Bonapartism of the so called socialist state or communist state of several regimes including Stalin, Tito, and so on have revealed the potential of new class since 1920s. A lot of left-communists such as Otto Rühle had warned about such future since before Lenin died. A lot of orthodox marxists such as Rosa Luxemburg had warned about this right-wing deviation of Leninism since 1917s. A lot of democratic socialists such as Milovan Djilas had managed to speak out about these since 1950s. Ted Grant should be ashamed to reach this kind of conclusion only in 1960s honestly. Till his death, he failed to see the acutal right-wing devation of Leninism.
According to Thakin Soe, the red-flag communist leader from Burma,
Thakin Soe

Those who had to think for several years in order to see reality are not the leaders of the masses. Those who can manageto point out the "dangers" since its birth are the leaders of the masses.

In this sense, Ted Grant and most of his comrades are not qualified to become leader. Those who warned about the right deviation of Leninism such as Otto Ruhle, Julius Martov, Emma Goldman, those revolutionaries from Kronstadt and other poor peasants from the Green armies are qualified to be announed as such.

All Ted Grant did was blaming everything to Stalin as a scapegoat. Even in this article, he was again circling his fictional historical conspiracy that the BSPP regime based itself on the peasants and the working class. All of these revealed the intellectual limitation Ted Grant has and his incapability to understand the scientific materialism in a non-dogmatic and non-cultist perspective.
In 1951, General Aung Gyi founded a DSI company and started doing trading (import) business. Its target audience was military soldiers and their immediate families. Since it has special privileges authorised by the government, the profit margin was too huge, and the business grew really quickly. Since the foreign products imported from DSI Company are not accessible to the general public, only those who have relationships or mutual economic interests can have this sort of privilege to buy the products. For the private capitalists, they had to bribe government officials to get their permits approved for trading businesses, especially when it comes to exports and imports. Since the military has a close relationship with those individuals from the Socialist Party, most of the permits and authorisations needed for DSI Company are easily bypassed. Only a few independent officers treat them like other private capitalists. Moreover, the low-ranking military officers do the duties of the DSI Company with free labour. As a result, DSI Company has easily grown up to BEDC Corporation. Even among corporations, BEDC Corporation, owned by high-ranking military officers, is one of the strongest corporations. Even though public politicians and some capitalists also have similar corporations, they don’t have the same privileges as the military. Once the AFPFL has split into two "Clean AFPFL" and "Stable AFPFL", most of those who have great relationships with the military belong to the stable AFPFL. So the military class used the stable AFPFL as their political representation for the elections.
Since the previous AFPFL government, there have been local medicine manufacturing companies run by the government. However, all the company statements were full of losses due to the quality. However, when it comes to the hands of the military, the company statements are no longer full of loss reports. They used the unsellable or leftover products to give away to the people from the war areas, poor peasants, and so on, to buy their votes and loyalty. So, it can be concluded that the economic interests of the military class also played a vital role.
BSPP tried to implement the one-party leadership that could also be found in Marxist-Leninist doctrine. Thus, due to the leadership conflict, the Communist Party of Burma and the Red Flag Burma Communist Party didn’t accept the terms and continued their armed struggle.In 1964 and 1965, Burma's economy was nationalised. This matches the state-capitalism of Stalinism, not that of Lenin and Leon Trotsky.Significantly, given the colonial history of Burma before and soon after independence, the majority of Burmese represent the poor working class and the peasant class, whereas foreign ethnic-based people such as Chinese, Indians, Muslims, and whites are almost all of the capitalist class. As a result, this process affected 6,700 Chinese stores, two Beijing-based banks, Chinese schools, and foreign-language newspapers in Burma.

Summing up
In contrast to the claim of Ted Grant, the BSPP regime in Burma is far from representing or basing workers and peasants in the first place; they were serving their political interests as a military officer class and conducted the coup not only to justify their moral superiority in their role as defenders of the country but also to expend their economic interests. So, it can be claimed that the BSPP regime didn’t represent the working class or the peasant but represented their own new class "the military bureaucratic capitalist class".

Referenced Books:

  • Comrade Phoe Than Chaung – Military & Politics

    • Political Affiliation – Spokesperson of Communist Party of Burma
  • Thakin Phay Htay - Thakin Phay Htay’s Thakin Phay Htay
    • Political Affiliation – Lifelong member of Red Flag Communist Party (Burma)
  • Thein Phe Myint – Unreturnable U Nu
    • Political Affiliation – Co-founder of Communist Party of Burma, ex-CPB and became Supporter of BSPP
  • Dr. Maung Maung – The Burma’s Constitution
  • Resonant and unwavering: Noam Chomsky interviewed by Stuart Alan Becker
  • Comrade Thit Maung - The History of Civil War and Insurgencies in Burma
  • Former Brigadier General Kyaw Zaw - From Saizu to Manhisi
  • Bertil Lintner - Burma in Revolt
  • Win Tint Htun - The index of political parties and their relationship (Burma)