On This Day

When Myanmar’s Dictator Revealed the Burmese Way to Socialism

By Wei Yan Aung 30 April 2020

YANGON—On this day in 1962, one month after seizing power in a coup, Myanmar’s new military regime announced on the radio its ideology: the “Burmese Way to Socialism”, which would later throw the country into abject poverty.

The ideology stemmed from an economic treatise written by the Revolutionary Council, which was led by General Ne Win, and consisted of 21 points, including mandates to nationalize every major industry in the country.

Over the next 26 years, the Burmese Way to Socialism led to the demise of democracy in Myanmar, greatly lowered the social, economic and educational standards of the people, and forced workers and students to take to the streets frequently to voice grievances.

Veteran Burmese communist Thakin Pe Htay once told reporters from The Nation, a prominent English language newspaper in Myanmar at the time, “I, Thakin Pe Htay, do hereby announce that if I entered Ne Win through the anus it would be more likely for him to conceive and be with child than for his asinine policies to amount to socialism,” according to the memoir of Wendy Law-Yone, the daughter of The Nation founder U Law Yone.

As dictator, Gen. Ne Win faced strong opposition for his actions and a group of military officers led by Captain Ohn Kyaw Myint attempted to assassinate him in 1976.

The Burmese Way of Socialism described the socialist economy as the only means for the people to rid themselves of social woes, enjoy mental and physical well-being and create a new prosperous society but by 1987, Myanmar had become the one of the poorest countries in the world. This forced Gen. Ne Win to introduce some political and economic reforms but it took the pro-democracy uprising in 1988 to break apart the country’s socialist foundations and topple the one-party dictatorship.