Union of Burma (1962–74)
Pyidaunzu Myăma Nainngandaw
Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma (1974–88)
ပြည်ထောင်စု ဆိုရှယ်လစ်သမ္မတ မြန်မာနိုင်ငံတော်
Pyihtaunghcu Soshallaitsammat Myanmar Ninengantaw
Anthem: Kaba Ma Kyei
Till the End of the World
|Government||Unitary one-party socialist republic under a totalitarian military dictatorship|
• 1962–1981 (first)
• 1988 (last)
• 1962–1974 (first)
• 1988 (last)
|Historical era||Cold War|
|2 March 1962|
|18 September 1988|
|1974||676,578 km2 (261,228 sq mi)|
|ISO 3166 code||MM|
|Today part of||Myanmar|
The Burmese Way to Socialism (Burmese: မြန်မာ့နည်းမြန်မာ့ဟန် ဆိုရှယ်လစ်စနစ်; also known as the Burmese Road to Socialism) was the ideology of the military dictatorship in Burma under the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) from 1962 to 1988.
Ne Win and the Burmese military launched the March 1962 coup d'état to overthrow Prime Minister U Nu and the democratic Union Parliament due to economic, religious and political crises, particularly the issue of federalism and secession rights of the States of Burma. The Union Revolutionary Council established Burma as a one-party socialist state under the BSPP and adopted the Burmese Way to Socialism in April 1962 as a blueprint for economic development, decreasing foreign influence in Burma to zero percent and increasing the role of the military. Ne Win ruled Burma as a de facto dictator as Chairman of the BSPP and other top offices including Prime Minister and President. Burma was renamed the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma and the Union Revolutionary Council was replaced with the People's Assembly in 1974. The Burmese Way to Socialism was characterized by isolationism, totalitarianism, superstition, xenophobia, sinophobia, and the rejection of Cold War politics.
The Burmese Way to Socialism often described as Illiberal democracy and have been largely described by scholars as an "abject failure", and as turning one of the most prosperous countries (aka. Asia's Tiger) in Asia into one of the world's poorest. Burma experienced greatly increased poverty, inequality, corruption and international isolation, and has been described as "disastrous". Burma's real per capita GDP (constant 2000 US$) increased from $159.18 in 1962 to $219.20 in 1987, or about 1.3% per year - one of the weakest growth rates in East Asia over this period, but still positive. The program also may have served to increase domestic stability and keep Burma from being as entangled in the Cold War struggles that affected other Southeast Asian nations.
The Burmese Way to Socialism was overthrown in the pro-democracy 8888 Uprising in 1988 after Ne Win's attempt to make the Kyat based in denominations divisible by 9 wiped out the savings of millions of Burmese people. The 8888 Uprising was violently suppressed by the military, which later established the State Law and Order Restoration Council.
Burma under Prime Minister U Nu and the AFPFL-led coalition government in the Union Parliament had implemented left-wing economic and welfare policies, although economic growth remained slow throughout the 1950s. By 1958, Burma was largely beginning to recover economically, but was beginning to fall apart politically due to a split in the ruling AFPFL into two factions: the Clean AFPFL (သန့္ရှင်းဖဆပလ) led by U Nu and Thakin Tin, and the Stable AFPFL (တည်မြဲဖဆပလ) led by Ba Swe and Kyaw Nyein. This situation persisted despite the unexpected success of U Nu's "Arms for Democracy" offer taken up by U Seinda in the Arakan, the Pa-O, some Mon and Shan groups, but more significantly by the PVO surrendering their arms. The Union Parliament became very unstable, with U Nu barely surviving a no-confidence vote only with the support of the opposition National United Front (NUF), believed to have crypto-communists amongst them. Hardliners in the Burmese Army viewed this as a threat of the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) coming to an agreement with U Nu through the NUF, and resulted in U Nu inviting General Ne Win, the Army Chief of Staff, to serve as interim prime minister to restore order in Burma. Over 400 "communist sympathizers" were arrested, of which 153 were deported to a penal colony on Great Coco Island in the Andaman Sea. Among them was the NUF leader Aung Than, older brother of Aung San. Newspapers like Botahtaung, Kyemon and Rangoon Daily were also closed down.
On 28 October 1958, minor Skyfall of Once a great nation acted by Ne Win staging a coup d'état under the auspices of U Nu and successfully restored Burma's political stability, a period known as the "Ne Win caretaker government", until the February 1960 general election which returned U Nu's Clean AFPFL, renamed as the Union Party, with a large majority. Ne Win officially handed back power to the victorious U Nu on 4 April 1960. However, the situation in Burma did not remain stable for long due to petitions from the Shan federalist movement started by Sao Shwe Thaik, the first President of Burma from 1948 to 1952 and the Saopha of Nyaung Shwe. The Shan federalists were aspiring to create a "loose" federation in Burma, and were seen as a separatist movement for insisting on the Burmese government honouring the right to secession in 10 years provided for by the 1947 Constitution. Ne Win had already succeeded in stripping the Shan Saopha of their feudal powers in exchange for comfortable pensions for life in 1959, but the unresolved issues of federalism and social order continued.
1962 Burmese coup d'état
By 1962, the Burmese public perceived the elected civilian government as corrupt, inept at ruling the country, and unable to restore law and order, while the Burmese military were popular from stability created by Ne Win's caretaker government. On 2 March 1962, less than two years after returning to civilian rule, Ne Win launched a second military-backed coup d'état ( The rea, this time without U Nu's blessing. Ne Win established Burma as a one-party socialist state under a military government with the Union Revolutionary Council replacing the Union Parliament as the supreme governing body. Ne Win became a dictator as both the Chairman of the Union Revolutionary Council and the Prime Minister, the head of state and the head of government in Burma, respectively. In April, the Union Revolutionary Council government adopted "Burmese Way to Socialism" as its official political and economic ideology for governing Burma. In July, the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) was founded as part of the Burmese Way to Socialism to be Burma's sole legal political party. The BSPP became the official ruling party with Ne Win as its Chairman.
The "Burmese Way to Socialism" has been described by some commentators as anti-Western, isolationist and socialist in nature, characterised also by an extensive dependence on the military, emphasis on the rural populace, and Burmese (or more specifically, Burman) nationalism. In January 1963, the "Burmese Way to Socialism" was further elaborated in a political public policy called the System of Correlation of Man and His Environment (လူနှင့် ပတ်ဝန်းကျင်တို့၏ အညမည သဘောတရား), was published, as the philosophical and political basis for the Burmese approach to society and what Ne Win deemed as socialism, influenced by Buddhist, humanist and Marxist views.
The fundamentals of the "Burmese Way to Socialism", as outlined in 1963, were as follows:
- In setting forth their programmes as well as in their execution the Revolutionary Council will study and appraise the concrete realities and also the natural conditions peculiar to Burma objectively. On the basis of the actual findings derived from such study and appraisal it will develop its own ways and means to progress.
- In its activities the Revolutionary Council will strive for self-improvement by way of self-criticism. Having learnt from contemporary history the evils of deviation towards right or left the Council will with vigilance avoid any such deviation.
- In whatever situations and difficulties the Revolutionary Council may find itself it will strive for advancement in accordance with the times, conditions, environment and the ever-changing circumstances, keeping at heart the basic interests of the nation.
- The Revolutionary Council will diligently seek all ways and means whereby it can formulate and carry out such programmes as are of real and practical value for the well-being of the nation. In doing so it will critically observe, study and avail itself of the opportunities provided by progressive ideas, theories and experiences at home, or abroad without discrimination between one country of origin and another.
The policy sought to reorganize the Burmese economy to a socialist economy, to develop the Burmese military, and to construct a national identity among many disparate ethnic minorities and the majority Burmans.
The effects of the "Burmese Way to Socialism" were multi-fold, affecting the economy, educational standards, and living standards of the Burmese people. Foreign aid organisations, like the American-based Ford Foundation and Asia Foundation, as well as the World Bank, were no longer allowed to operate in the country. Only permitted was aid from a government-to-government basis. In addition, the teaching of the English language was reformed and moved to secondary schools, whereas previously it had started as early as kindergarten. The government also implemented extensive visa restrictions for Burmese citizens, especially when their destinations were Western countries. Instead, the government sponsored the travel of students, scientists and technicians to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, in order to receive training and to "counter years of Western influence" in the country. Similarly, visas for foreigners were limited to just 24 hours.
Furthermore, freedom of expression and the freedom of the press was extensively restricted. Foreign language publications were prohibited, as were newspapers that printed "false propagandist news." The Press Scrutiny Board (now the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division), which censors all publications to this day, including newspapers, journals, advertisements and cartoons, was established by the RC through the Printers' and Publishers' Registration Act in August 1962. The RC set up the News Agency of Burma (BNA) to serve as a news distribution service in the country, thus effectively replacing the work of foreign news agencies. In September 1963, The Vanguard and The Guardian, two Burmese newspapers, were nationalized. In December 1965, publication of privately owned newspapers was banned by the government.
The impact on the Burmese economy was extensive. The Enterprise Nationalization Law, passed by the Revolutionary Council in 1963, nationalized all major industries, including import-export trade, rice, banking, mining, teak and rubber on 1 June 1963. In total, around 15,000 private firms were nationalized. Furthermore, industrialists were prohibited from establishing new factories with private capital. This was particularly detrimental to the Anglo-Burmese, Burmese Indians and the British, who were disproportionately represented in these industries.
The oil industry, which was previously controlled by American and British companies, such as the General Exploration Company and East Asiatic Burma Oil, were forced to end operations. In its place was the government-owned Burma Oil Company, which monopolized oil extraction and production. In August 1963, the nationalization of basic industries, including department stores, warehouses and wholesale shops, followed. Price control boards were also introduced.
The Enterprise Nationalization Law directly affected foreigners in Burma, particularly Burmese Indians and the Burmese Chinese, both of whom had been influential in the economic sector as entrepreneurs and industrialists. By mid-1963, 2,500 foreigners a week were leaving Burma. By September 1964, approximately 100,000 Indian nationals had left the country.
The black market became a major feature of Burmese society, representing about 80% of the national economy during the Burmese Way period. Moreover, income disparity became a major socioeconomic issue. Throughout the 1960s, Burma's foreign exchange reserves declined from $214 million in 1964 to $50 million in 1971, while inflation skyrocketed. Rice exports also declined, from 1,840,000 tons in 1961-62 to 350,000 tons in 1967-68, the result of the inability of rice production to satisfy demand caused by high population growth rates.
In the First Burmese Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) Congress in 1971, several minor economic reforms were made, in light of the failures of the economic policy pursued throughout the 1960s. The Burmese government asked to rejoin the World Bank, joined the Asian Development Bank, and sought more foreign aid and assistance. The Twenty-Year Plan, an economic plan divided into five increments of implementation, was introduced, in order to develop the country's natural resources, including agriculture, forestry, oil and natural gas, through state development. These reforms brought living standards back to pre-World War II levels and stimulated economic growth. However, by 1988, foreign debt had ballooned to $4.9 billion, about three-fourths of the national GDP, and Ne Win's later attempt to make the Kyat based in denominations divisible by 9, a number he considered to be auspicious, led to the wiping of millions of savings of the Burmese people, resulting in the 8888 Uprising.
- Titled "Chairman of the Union Revolutionary Council" until 1974
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