Burma: The Way to Socialism-- & Havoc

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While the world's attention was focused on South Viet Nam, another Southeast Asian nation was quietly going from bad to disastrous. Burma's business is virtually at a standstill, credit is nonexistent, foreign investment has vanished — all because Dictator Ne Win insists on instant, total socialism. Burma has 1,370 miles of mountainous border with Red China, and, says an Eastern European diplomat, "practicing socialism in such proximity to Communism is like walking a tightrope in a typhoon."

In foreign affairs, Ne Win has not yet been blown off the tightrope, has man aged to maintain what passes for neutrality: mildly hostile toward the U.S., friendly toward China (without, however, endorsing Peking's attack against India), friendlier toward Moscow—and, of course, accepting aid from all three. But domestically, the typhoon is causing havoc.

Nationalization. Energetic Dictator Ne Win, who is part-Chinese, in 1958 pressured Parliament into making him Premier in place of dreamy, inefficient but popular U Nu. After ruling for 17 months, Ne Win permitted national elections. U Nu won an easy victory and proved even more ineffectual than before. In March 1962, Ne Win jailed U Nu and most of his Cabinet, abolished Parliament, imposed censorship, and began to rule through a 17-man Revolutionary Council of army officers. Leaving nothing to chance, Ne Win named himself leader of the council, President of Burma, Minister for Defense, Finance and Revenue, and chief of the military tribunals that have replaced Burma's graft-ridden judiciary. Devout Buddhist U Nu is still under house arrest and passes the time in meditation and, presumably, in pursuit of his special obsession—astrology.

Ne Win also produced a vague document called "The Burmese Way to Socialism" and nationalized industry, collectivized agriculture, and took complete control of foreign trade. One Saturday afternoon, he grabbed the nation's 24 foreign and domestic banks. Britain's prestigious Lloyd's bank was renamed People's Bank No. 19, and the same fate befell two Red Chinese banks, putting a crimp in Rangoon's Communist propaganda machine.

Industrial production has fallen 40% in three months and urban unemployment has soared. The few remaining private companies are clamoring for nationalization, hoping to get a better break on raw material allocations and some protection against strikes. Because there are too few trained administrators to run any more enterprises, Ne Win last week was forced to refuse all future nationalization petitions. Although in the past the government encouraged workers to strike against private employers—in state-run businesses, strikes are considered unpatriotic—Ne Win last week urged labor to moderate its wage demands, in a belated attempt to pacify businessmen.

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