Against the Current the Survival of Authoritarianism in Burma

Against the Current the Survival of Authoritarianism in Burma
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  Against the Current: The Survival of Authoritarianism in BurmaAuthor(s): Jalal AlamgirSource: Pacific Affairs, Vol. 70, No. 3 (Autumn, 1997), pp. 333-350Published by: Pacific Affairs, University of British Columbia Stable URL: . Accessed: 16/10/2014 07:04 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at  .  . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact  . Pacific Affairs, University of British Columbia  is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extendaccess to Pacific Affairs. This content downloaded from on Thu, 16 Oct 2014 07:04:31 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  Against the Current: The Survival of Authoritarianism in Burna* Jalal Alamgir I. INTRODUCTION THE LAST TWO DECADES have witnessed an unprecedented growth of democracy around the world. Freedom House estimates that the number of free ountries, hat s, democracies without erious violations of human rights, as gone up from hirty o seventy-six etween 1973 and the beginning of 1996.1 Burma, however, has gone against the current. n the Pacific Rim, South Korea and Taiwan have recently emocratized, nd so have Burma's neighbors, angladesh and Thailand. ndia is a democracy, nd the world's largest ne for that matter. urma seems the odd country ut in Southern Asia. It has been under continuous authoritarian rule since 1962. The regime has been isolated from most of the world, artly y hoice and partly by the unwillingness f many countries to support the repressive unta. Burmese authoritarianism oes not even have the high economic perfor- mance that has somewhat legitimized few ther non-democracies, uch as the big power adjacent to it China. How, then, has authoritarianism in Burma been able to survive or o long? This is the question the paper at hand seeks to answer. The global wave of democratization has inspired a spate of studies n the social sciences. Most, however, while underscoring movement oward democracy, usually omit from their nquiry the survival of monolithic repressive regimes.2 A more complete understanding of recent * For their helpful comments on previous drafts, thank Vikram Chand, Clark Neher, Ansil Ramsay, Nagesh Rao, Rachel Boynton, and two anonymous reviewers or Pacific Affairs. 1 Freedom n the World: The Annual Survey f Political Rights nd Civil Liberties 995-96 (New York: Freedom House, 1996), p. 4. 2 The literature is vast and expanding. Examples are Guillermo O'Donnell and Philippe C. Schmitter, Transitions rom Authorztarian Rule: Tentative Conclusions about Uncertain Democracies (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986); Alfred Stepan, Rethinking Military Politics (Princeton: Princeton University ress, 1988); Timothy Garton Ash, The Magic Lantern New York: Random House, 1990); Samuel P. Huntington, The Third Wave: Democratization n the ate Twentieth Century Norman: University f Oklahoma Press, 1991); Adam Przeworski, Democracy nd the Market (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991); Merle Goldman, Sowing the eeds ofDemocracy n China (Cambridge: Harvard University ress, 1994); Stephan Haggard and Stephen B. Webb, eds., Voting or Reform: emocracy, olitical Liberalization, and Economic Adjustment New York: Oxford University Press, 1994); and Stephan Haggard and Robert R. Kaufman, The Political Economy f Democratic ransitions Princeton: Princeton University ress, 1995). 333 This content downloaded from on Thu, 16 Oct 2014 07:04:31 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  Pacific Affairs democratization must incorporate findings from countries that have not democratized. Cuba, North Korea, Libya, Vietnam or Burma can provide more variability or studies that use democratization as the dependent vari- able. Other analyses that treat democratization as an independent variable can use these countries as control cases. This paper aims to contribute to the overall literature on democratization by exploring the Burma story. I intend to do that in two stages. The first tage, elaborated in section II of the paper, is theoretical. By looking at germane theories I identify he structural bases that support authoritarianism. I also make an inventory of strategies an authoritarian regime can adopt to maintain itself. My defini- tion of authoritarianism is simple: It is a system hat does not allow regular, institutionalized changes in government through free elections. The second stage, contained in section IV, is an examination of Burma as a case study. Here, based on the theoretical inventory, I review the actual survival strategies pursued by the Burmese state. The overall method, thus, s to first xamine what different heories propose as to how an author- itarian regime survives, and then to compare the Burmese experience against theoretical expectations or hypotheses. The concluding section of the essay summarizes the findings and offers ome theoretically informed speculations on the future of Burmese politics. II. FRAMEWORK OF ANALYSIS: THESES ABOUT MAINTENANCE OF AUTHORITARIANISM The central theoretical argument of this essay is that authoritarianism has both structural nd strategic ources. The long-term basis of the survival of authoritarianism may be found in structural characteristics, such as tra- dition and social order, classes, ethnic and religious divisions, ideology (nationalism, socialism/communism), economic institutions and condi- tions, and long-term economic performance. These are structural because they represent not human actors per se, but the social, cultural, or economic arrangement, ordering, or situation in which actors find them- selves. I emphasize here social, cultural, and economic, but not political structure, because I treat the political structure - authoritarianism - as given. I will argue that the structural base of support for authoritarianism was put in place in Burma between 1962 and 1988, during Ne Win's rule. The structural base gradually eroded or changed and became more dif- ficult to hold on to by the late eighties. Domestic and international pro-democracy forces posed strategic hallenges to the regime. These forces, which represent actors within he tructure, nclude students and the intelli- gentsia, the clergy, foreign powers, and the media. Our objective will be to examine how the State Law and Order Restoration - SLORC - regime responded strategically o these forces in the post-1988 period. 334 This content downloaded from on Thu, 16 Oct 2014 07:04:31 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  Burma - Against the Current Structural ources f Authoritarianism Modernization theorists, starting with Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Talcott Parsons, posit that authoritarianism generally exists in soci- eties that have pre-modern structures, nd that t s eventually replaced with democracy, which is automatic if the societal variables, such as value-system, mode of production, and above all, rationality, ave sufficiently rogressed. This implies the following theses on the survival of authoritarianism: Thesis 1: Authoritarianism arises in a pre-modern setting. It will main- tain itself by thwarting modernization, and by appealing to traditional values, culture, and religion. Modernization theory, however, can lead to opposing theses. Neil Smelser argued that social disturbances accompany modernization, espe- cially in countries that undergo rapid industrialization. In such instances, there is a functional necessity for a strong, centralized government. 3 Accordingly, Thesis 2: The structural source of authoritarianism is instability and dislocation in the context of modernization. An authoritarian regime claims to maintain order. Within the Marxist literature, there are two general perspectives on authoritarianism. First, here is bourgeois authoritarianism, encapsulated as follows: Thesis 3: An authoritarian regime under capitalism arises to serve the interests of capital and to confront organized labor. The other way authoritarianism can arise is through a socialist revolu- tion, during which, as Marx put it, the state can be nothing but the revolutionary ictatorship f the roletariat. 4 Thesis 4: Authoritarianism arises from/during a revolution in order to successfully omplete the transition to a postrevolutionary era. Neo-Marxist analysis of underdevelopment, especially dependency theory, proposed the following general hypothesis:5 'Neil Smelser, Mechanisms of and Adjustments to Change, in T. Burns, ed., Industrial Man (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969). 4 Karl Marx, Critique f the Gotha Program, eprinted n Robert C. Tucker, The Marx-Engels eader, 2d ed. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1978), p. 630, srcinal talics. And as Engels put it, though a bit sar- castically, A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is, in Friedrich Engels, On Authority, eprinted n Tucker, The Marx-Engels eader, . 733. 5A recent application of such a thesis s Dietrich Rueschemeyer, E. H. Stephens, and John D. Stephens, Capitalist Development Democracy Chicago: University f Chicago Press, 1992), which finds the working class as the most consistent pro-democratic force, and that their weakness per- petuated authoritarian coalitions between the middle class and the landed aristocracy. Barrington Moore also highlights he antidemocratic nature of the landed gentry. Barrington Moore,Jr., Social Origins fDictatorship nd Democracy Boston: Beacon Press, 1966). See, in addition, Hamza Alavi, The State in Post-Colonial Societies: Pakistan and Bangladesh, New Left Review, o. 74 (1972), pp. 59-81; and Alavi, India and the Colonial Mode of Production, The Socialist Register 975 (London: Merlin, 1975). 335 This content downloaded from on Thu, 16 Oct 2014 07:04:31 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
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