March 15, 2007

A Civil Discussion: Views on Current Debates in the Karenissues Forum

By Naw Show Ei Ei Tun
School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS)
Johns Hopkins University

It's been a privilege to read what's on the mind of my fellow Karen people. I have no single doubt that you all love the Karen people and want to do something for a positive change in whatever way you can. Otherwise, you won't even be reading or participating in this forum.

On the Four Principles, I strongly do think it is a very good thing that we all put the Four Principles on the table and openly discuss about it. I appreciate all those who have boldly shared your thoughts and opinions. Otherwise, we all turn next to our graveyard and find out our revolution is far from reaching its goal before we realized it. Some of us have even got very emotional and anxious as if we were betraying the Karen revolution by critically reviewing the Four Principles. And I acknowledge it is very hard to swallow as many lives have been lost, valuable lands and farms have been taken away, and families have been torn apart. Thankfully, this forum is not a contest of racing who is more faithful or loyal to the Karen people, but to openly discuss with an "open-mind" to explore feasible options and alternatives. I don't want to make any comment on the soundness of the Four Principles and what not, because I just simply do not know enough about it. And I have never read the actual writing of Saw Ba Oo Gyi either. But I just wanted to share some perspectives.

A struggle of such is not only unique to the Karen people. And it is not only among the Karen leaders or only Saw Ba Oo Gyi who came up with a set of principles to initiate and guide a certain revolution. Look around us.

Even "Marxism," the idea of one of the greatest philosophers, political economists and revolutionaries, Karl Marx from Germany, had been so powerful and influential across the globe that it even divided the world apart and turned it into a major Cold War. But finally people do have to all acknowledge that Marxism, no matter how ideal it is as an ideology, does not work as it glorious slogan sounds. Even still, Marx did not leave only four sentences but carefully articulated in an entire book (I cannot remember how many pages). At the same time, now a days "democracy" itself is now facing numerous challenges and uncertainties. If you want to know more, please read the article written by Fareed Zacharia, called "the Rise of Illliberal Democracy."

Let me give you one example of someone who strongly subscribed "his version" of "Marxism": the founding father of today's People's Republic of China (PRC), Mao Zedong. Firmly believing in "Marxist" ideology, Mao tried to implement it in many ways, the two most well-known or perhaps, tragic of which were the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Both of them turned out to be a deadly blunder and put millions of Chinese starved to dead. Mao cut off diplomatic or trade relations with other countries. At Mao's death, his very close colleague and subordinate, Deng Xiaoping, realizing the critical needs of his countrymen on the ground and sensing changes in the global world order, decided to not be immensely ideological as his leader, Mao but to be boldly "pragmatic." As such, he took a sea change policy with the famous slogan "whether a cat is black or white as long as it catches mouse" and adopted an Open Door economic policy and began normalizing diplomatic relations with other countries. Was Deng a betrayal of PRC's founding father? Till today, as much as the Chinese leaders and people continue to revere Mao as the great leader of modern China, they also acknowledged and admitted that Mao's policy did not work. These are not my arguments but widely accepted facts of life in the history of China.

Next, please allow me to give another example: a very simplified version of Indonesia's story although it is not precisely analogous to China's story. By discussing very briefly about such as complicated issue, I know I'm risking the danger of being miss-interpreted. Even if it has to be that way, let it be so. Take a look at the founding father of modern Indonesia, Sukarno. On the verge of getting Independence from the Dutch colonial power, President Sukarno came up with the idea of "Five Principles" or "Pancasila" as a recipe for Indonesian nationalism:
1. Belief in the one and only God
2. Just and civilized humanity
3. The unity of Indonesia
4. Democracy guided by the inner wisdom in the unanimity arising out of deliberations amongst representatives
5. Social justice for the whole of the people of Indonesia

Each of the principles and all as a whole sound very good, inclusive and forward-looking. However, when Sukarno become highly ideological about nationalism but paid no attention whatsoever to the economic deprivation of his country at the time, he has no choice but to step down. In fact, he was even put under house arrest. People cared less about the principles on the ivory tower as they were not meeting the brutal needs of the people on the ground. Despite of all, the people of Indonesia till today respect and acknowledge Sukarno as the founding father of modern Indonesia, but not with a blind eye to his weaknesses. His daughter, Megawati, was even elected as the President of the country over thirty years later.

The point of all is that it is nothing wrong with reviewing the Four Principles. Please continue to do so. But please don't loose focus on aiming a better future or a positive change for the war-torn land and war-weary Karen people. But we should try our best not to hold personal grudges upon each other. If not, it will be counter-productive and fruitless. And I am not saying the Four Principles will end up like Marx's ideology or Sukarno's Five Principles as I said I personal don't know enough about it at the moment.

In fact, those who think that critically reviewing the Four Principles isn't a good idea, I would encourage you to come up with a set of arguments and shed some lights on how the Karen can achieve their goals by subscribing and practicing the Four Principles or share an evaluation of how the Karen have achieved their goals so far by doing so. I personally cannot wait to hear what you all have to say and I believe everyone will be benefited from such an analysis.


Anonymous said...

Hi Naw Show Ei Tun,

If I am not mistaken, I have heard of you since back in Burma (and I used to be your brother's schoolmate).

If I may, I'd like to discuss something about Marxism. I am sure this is not the main theme of your discussion, but I just want to express my take on Marxism and Maosim. But noway I am defending any of these -ism.

1. Mao didn't implement Marxism, but he has his own -ism.

2. If you go back to Marx's writing about social transformation and productive forces, you will realize that it is too soon to assert that Marxism (or socialism) has failed to materialize. Just to briefly and plainly discuss, Marx said when productive forces become incompetable with underlying social conditions, social transformation has to take place. I admit that capitalism is adjustable to social circumstances and I am not sure that social transformation necessarily has to be 'socialism'. ANyway, my point is the rise of China with potential to expoit the world's natural resources for its population will made current productive forces incompetable with the contemporary global environmental crisis, which might lead to the downfall of capitalist accumulation. So, Marxism is not dead yet in this particular sense.

3. Very very important point, but most people overlook is the death caused by the Chinese revolution (Cultural revolution, the great leap forward, etc). Well...this is not unique to China. How many millions of people have died because of capitalism? Since the very early stage of colonialism (which is the backbond of capitalism)? How many people are dying from starvation, hunger, poverty, HIV/AIDS as results of the so-called global economy which basically is capitalism?

4. Lastly, I think we cannot reduce the Cold War to the effect of Marxism. But many things including ideological positions, material interests, etc involved.

5. Yet, I agree with you and your colleagues that revolution, in particular armed struggle, is not a favorable means to pursue 'democracy' today, given contemporary global politics.

Thank you very much.

Anonymous said...

Hi ma Maw Chi,
Even i am karen,i don't really know about the four principles.Pls can u share these four principles to me.
However,in my view, some of our karen's mindset and points of views are need to adjust with what was really happen in this world,now a day.Let me know 4 principles and lets discuss with u nest time.

thank you and see u

Naw Show Ei Ei Tun said...

Dear Friend,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I sincerely appreciate it. I'm very glad to hear a young fellow from Burma (such as you) is thinking deeply. Please allow me to respond to your comments.

1. Yes, we can absolutely say that Mao did implement Marxism per se. But we cannot conclude either that Mao did what he did completely independent of the influence of Marxism. Yes, he has his own -ism. So is the case for democracy. There is no such thing as a standard democracy system.

2. Here, you probably know better than I do as I admit I haven't had a chance to spend time significantly on Mao's own original writings, nor Marx's writing. So I don’t many thoughts to respond to you on this.

With regards to the downfall of capitalism, haven't we already seen the drawbacks of capitalism, which you have somewhat rightly alluded to already?

I'd like to ask you this: How can you equate the downfall of capitalism with the not-yet-dead or perhaps revitalization of Marxism? I am quite convinced or I am quite sure if I get the connection that you are trying to make.

3. You are totally right on this, and I was not arguing that the Cold War was largely due to the effect of Marxism.

4. Given today's prevailing socio-economic and political climate in our region, armed struggle is no longer favorable. I do, however, acknowledge how and why armed struggle got started in our country. But, we cannot stop at right there. If it is not an armed struggle, what then?

And "democracy" isn't a goal. It is a means to the goal of creating a stable, peaceful and prosperous nation. But, "democracy" is not monolithic. It has proven to come in many shapes and forms for better or for worse. At the end of the day, systems are to serve the people. But, if we, the people, are not smarter than the systems, those very systems will end up swallow us.

Thankfully, we have plenty to lessons to learn from the countries around the world that had gone through successful or unsuccessful transition around the world.

Thank you, again.

Naw Show Ei Ei Tun (Mawchi)

Anonymous said...

Hello there,

Thanks for posting your comment. You're right, we all need to collectively change our views and mindset with proper education and open-mind in a changing world. I am not that knowledgeable about the four principles either. Please read the following article if you would like to know more about it.


Anonymous said...

Just seeing these posts of
" collectivism shows me why
you have this conflict for 60 years.

Many of youu are fortunate to escape the destruction of your people and country and the first thing you
speak about is Communism and Marxism. Your all on the wrong path
Some of you even subscribe to
Che and Castro. If this was a high priority why do you all condemn
China who is a part of your country

You need to revisit Communism

get into the world today we have a new - ism called Islamo-Facism
The world has passed you by

Work for the good of your people
Some of you have scholarships
work to heal you people and
help them.

Marxism is alive today in the
democratic liberal system of America. In fact your part of it/
They Take American tax money and
give it to fund your school