Words ||May Thet Naing
socialism /ˈsəʊʃəlɪz(ə)m/ (noun)
- a political and economic theory of social organisation which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.
- (in Marxist theory) a transitional social state between the overthrow of capitalism and the realisation of Communism.
4th January 1948: Burma gains independence from Britain
2nd March 1962: General Ne Win orchestrates a coup d’état, subsequently paving the way for socialist rule in Burma (also referred to as Myanmar) and parachuting him into office as the totalitarian leader of the nation
26th April 1972: My mum is born in Dufferin Hospital, Yangon
8th August 1988: A student-led series of marches, protests, and civil unrest known as the 8888 Nationwide Uprising
Along with many others in her generation, my mother was institutionalised at an early age. From the age of five, all the kindergarten students across Burma were required to join the socialist party in school and pay their party membership fees along with their school fees together at the beginning of every term. On Saturdays, all the children would attend socialist training to learn party policies, practice marching, and recite texts – all while clad in the traditional light blue and white uniforms of the socialist party. Students’ engagement and involvement in the socialist party was mandatory for them to participate in extracurricular activities, attend school excursions, and pass grades.
Every year, the government would hold elections for the population to ‘vote’ but there would only ever be one party on the ballot slip to vote for (Hint: it was the socialist party). With the constant push for nationalism, the State had the right to take away civilian properties and businesses: many of my friends and family members fell victim to this and were forced to downsize or move out of family homes. Under Article 109/110, my grandfathers were arrested for having long hair. The government had every authority to do whatever they wanted at any given time. My parents grew up in an environment where you did not own yourselves.
“When the army shoots, it shoots to hit.”
–General Ne Win
And yet, my family – along with many others who grew up in a similar situation – had (and to some extent, still do have) a false sense of nationalistic pride. You had to be at the top of the socialist ladder to enjoy the perks of elitism, which was of course the perverse irony of it all. There was a sick prestige associated with being a member of the ruling class. The clout that came with being big in the socialist party, intertwined with our ‘patriotism,’ transcended the hierarchical barriers of race, religion, class, and gender.
After decades upon decades of being a British colony, Burma was hot and ready to jump on the bandwagon that is independence but was instead left to unpack the issues of civil unrest amongst our 110 ethnic groups. General Ne Win, feeling as ballsy as ever, used nationalization as the political propaganda disseminated throughout the country. He did so to confiscate the wealth of ethnic minorities under the guise of socialism in order to keep them systematically poor and dependent on the State and Burmese people for their livelihood – haha omg how quirky! Unfortunately, under the facade of patriotism, many flirted with ideas of socialism and communism, tempted by the idea that it gave them the type of leadership and government Burma had lacked in the past.
“I think it was properly orchestrated. Though I know that it’s not right, there’s this deeply rooted notion which prevents me from separating socialism from my patriotism.”
Having grown up in the quaint suburb of Castle Hill, I lived a very different lifestyle to that of my parents and family in Burma. In 2012, I moved to Burma where I finished high school and sat for my GCSE’s (General Certificate of Secondary Education). Over the past 25 years that my family had lived in Australia, Burma had changed drastically. The way Burmese culture intertwined with elitism and post-socialism was all one fat acid trip. The same kids flexing BAPE hoodies were the ones that had benefited from grandaddies’ involvement in the socialist party and totalitarian government.
The recent rise of MILLENNIAL SOCIALISM in the West is cute at best and problematic at worst. While socialism may seem like a seductive alternative to Sydney’s overpriced housing market, it is deeply seated in privilege. On a Saturday morning sometime last month, I trekked out to my old primary school (Excelsior Public School xoxo we steady reppin) very very hungover, covered in hickies, and voted for the first time in the New South Wales State Election. Understanding and navigating the political landscape in any country as a young voter is always difficult, but there is nothing I look forward to more than rocking up for my democracy sausage to cast a vote on a ballot slip with more than one party listed.
“It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.
– Aung San Suu Kyi