Aung San of Burma

Critique on British Imperialism

Members of the Supreme Council

Over three months have elapsed since the first Congress of AFPFL. During that period, much water has flowed under the bridge, internationally and internally. Internationally, the prospects of world peace have become none too bright. In the U.N.O. and outside, the obsolete tactics of power politics has re-appeared visibly in a new garb; the time-worn theory of Balance of Power, the vain endeavour to re-distribute spheres of influence, the futile attempts to re-establish the old, effete world which is no longer tenable in the new circumstance of peace, these again are featuring in world politics. The Soviet Union and its supporters on one side and the Anglo-American combination on the other are fighting the furious battles of peace. One could not have but wished fervently that these battles of peace might not deteriorate into battles of war. Attitute towards fascist Franco's Spain, the situation in Greece, China, Indonesia, etc., still remain obscure and undefined. The Peace Conference originally scheduled to take place in this month is still to come and prove its competence to solve effectively the problems of peace. Meanwhile dissensions in Foreign Ministers conference swelled and grew and did not show signs of abating. Already one seems to hear the distant rumblings of another war, a war which, in the words of that sailor-statesman Lord Louis Mountbatten, will be "a war of colossal destruction and of immense distances." Those words like "Freedom, Democracy" etc., which not long ago rang so loudly out of the fury and din of the clashes of arms clanging through the world, seem to be dying away in the distance. O tempora! O mores!

I am not a cynical pessimist, but I must warn you all that reaction in the world is striving very hard to raise its head again. This, then, is the general picture of world at this moment. What of the situation in our own country? Again I must tell you frankly that it is continously worsening. Under the hammer blows of events, our people are reeling and suffering unprecedentedly. It is my purpose in this address to review the situation in our country at great length. Before I do so, I must ask you to join with me in mourning the death of a valued comrade of ours, U Chit Maung, who was, until a month and a half ago, alive and helping us actively with his wise counsels in the Executive Committes and Supreme Council of our national organisation. We greatly miss his presence in this conclave of ours. We send our heart-felt sympathies to his bereaved family.

At a Press Conference held on 25th April 1946, I gave a short sketchy review of the situation in our country. I then stated: - Money is scarce. Prices of consumer goods are high while those of rice and paddy are relatively too low. Agriculture is in chaos, and harvest and crop yield are not good. The food(rice) situation in Burma is continuously deteriorating. Education is in shambles. Salaries, allowances and wages are extremely low everywhere. Reports of acts od discriminations between servants and employees of Government, and of Government-subsidised companies and corporations are frequent. Law and order is seriously jeopardised. Political persecution is getting into stride. Civil liberties are still being severely curtailed, emergency laws and Defence Act continue. There are growing signs of discontent amongst peasantry and labour. The salaries of teachers have all along been low. Now they have been brough much lower. Even then, not all teachers are paid. In particular, the vernacular teachers suffer most. The situation amongst peasantry in several districts is getting from bad to worse. They have no sufficient wunsas (food grown by cultivator for domestic consumption), and yet they have to sell whole or part of their wunsas to repay Government loans, to pay taxes and rents and to buy essential commodities. In a number of cases, cultivators have been evicted from their holdings. But Government up to now is following a policy of drift. The situation is thus anything but a happy one.

To my above rough survey of our national situation, the official organ of Government "The New Times of Burma" wrote an editorial rejoinder two days later. They agreed with my finding that the situation in our country is not happy. However, they did not agree with my diagnosis of the causes of the present situation. To my comment that money is scarce, they made a counter-comment and said: "Our observations (italics are mine) suggest that there is more money about than ever before. So much so that a wise economist has urged that a good deal of it should be taken out of circulation by savings until prices are nearer their pre-war value." Here then are two diametrically opposite observations. I observe that money is scarce. "The New Times of Burma" observe that it is not so and therefore they say that even a wise economist has urged that a good deal of it should be taken out of circulation. In either case, it must be noted, it is only a case of observations. Now all that I would like to ask "The New Times of Burma" is on what grounds their observations are based. Do they form their observations by seeing the attendances at not very many cinemas and theatres of Rangoon? Do they judge this question of money circulation by paying a stray visit to a local bazaar? Do they know that cinemas and theatres are not true indicators, at least in Burma, of the people's conditions? Do they know that there are many in this country who cannot think of going to these places by having to struggle for their bare existence from day to day? Do they know that those who nowadays patronise or frequent cinemas and theatres which exist only in Rangoon and a few big towns, belong generally to middle and upper classes and the very few of the many poor who can attend at all are doing so as a desperate form of relaxation just to make them forget their unsupportable existences for the while whatever may be the to-morrow that awaits them? I have been through a good many places in this country. I have known personally the actual plight of several people in several places. I also know that when the Japanese currency was abruptly declared null and void by the British Military Administration, even before the whole country was occupied and before the people in the countryside has knowledger of it, commercial adventurers from towns dumped all their currencies on the country folks in return for goods and thus aggravated the situation beyond measure. I have already referred, very briefly no doubt, to this point in my presidential address, delivered at the first Congress of AFPFL. The money certainly is not in the hands of people, whatever may be the argument of "The New Times of Burma." After all, we know very well that even before the war the greater bulk of the people were very poor while only a few, who were mostly Europeans and foreigners, were rich and in their hands was accumulated the far larger amount of the wealth of our country. Now this position has become much more accentuated. For the cost of living is four times higher than pre-war level according to the Burma Gazette only twelve days ago, and even if we assume that the figures they gave are correct and grant that there is a general fall in prices of essential commodities (which, however, I doubt for a good many reasons), it is still quite higher. Place this factor alongside of the havoc done by war, such as the fall in production, the absence of export returns, large slaughter of cattle, destruction of homes, materials and transport and the after-effects of the war such as bigger corruption, malpractices, maldistribution, increase in dacoities, with low prices of the main staple product of our country (rice and paddy), low wages etc., etc., anyone who is prepared to face facts must agree, then that money is scarce or, at any rate, not in the hands of the people. We would very much like to know exactly from the authorities concerned what the volume of money in circulation is like. Then we can compare with the pre-war condition, and also we must not forget here a huge amount od dislocations caused in our economy and finance by the Japanese occupation which resulted in pre-war currencies being replaced by the Japanese currencies which flooded this country and the huge consumption and appropriation of our goods, gold and silver by the Japanese war machine with no return in kind, etc. When therefore, it is said that there is more money about than ever before, a superficial comparison between the pre-war circulation and the present circulation will not give us a true perspective of things. For even if the amount of money in circulation is larger than that of pre-war period, that cannot mean in our country that there is too much money which must call for attempts to withdraw a good deal of it from circulation. The volume of money in circulation must be judged in relation to the actual cost of living in general and if for instance the cost of living now is over four times higher than before the war, and if the amount of money in circulation now is nearly two times higher than before the war it cannot be said that there is more money about than ever. And, as I have pointed out above, we must not forget the intervening factor of the Japanese occupation which upsets the equilibrium of our country's economy and finances and complicates the present situation all the more. Therefore when we tackle the inflationary situation, it is necessary that we do not over-correct ourselves and swing from one extreme to another. For in that case there will come about deflation, a deflation which will be far worse off than a usual sort we conceive it to be, in that the prices are still uneven and high, and the income of the people in general is very low, in fact lower even than pre-war level, according to my observation.

If Government or we desire really to know the true economic and financial position in the country, it is not by superficial observations such as looking at attendences at a few theatres and cinemas or a crowd of people in a bazaar stall struggling to buy daily necessities which for many have to be severely reduced in amount and kind, just enough for their bare subsistance, but by a deeper and more factual survey that we can hope to get a true picture. If at all we must withdraw a good deal of money from circulation, it is not by cuts in wages and salaries and allowances (so far adopted by the Government) of middle and poor classes but by curbing the activities of profiteers, hoarders, exporters of money outside of Burma, etc. And also by devising measures to take money out of the keeping of the rich few for circulation among the people in general we should rectify the present economic condition of the people.

Now I shall come to deal with the prices of commodities. What I said was prices of consumer goods are high while those of rice and paddy are relatively too low. I know and everyone knows that Burma cannot be immune from world-wide trends; but the point I want to drive home is that the prices of essential commodities must be so fixed as to be fair both to the procedures and the consumers and that the present hiatus between the prices of consumer goods and those of the only staple product of Burma, on which the walfare of the greater bulk of our population depends, is certainly undesirable from any point of view of economics. As I have said, prices must be kept down by increasing the volume of consumer goods and also by other means; at the same time necessary measures must be taken to make the money circulate among the people in general. While the prices of consumer goods are, on the average, five or six times higher than pre-war level, the prices of paddy and rice are about the same as in pre-war days. Government agents are paying for paddy and rice only Rs. 180 and Rs. 540 respectively, must less than even what some private traders are paying, for the latter are paying Rs. 230 and Rs. 600 respectively. Government say it is not their intention to peg the prices at these figures but Government being the biggest buyer, the prices paid by them become more or less standard prices. Incidentally, I must say that Government should stop buying paddy or rice in deficit areas. By deficit areas, I don't mean only those areas which do not normally produce enough rice. Under normal circumstances, Pegu District is one of the biggest rice-producing areas but now badly short of rice. Serveral up-country places need rice but the required rice must come from surplus areas. Government should not adopt a policy of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

At the Congress of AFPFL held in January, we passed a resolution on agrarian questions of the day which inter alia, says as follows:-

  (a) That the price of paddy be fixed at not less than Rs. 500 per 100 baskets to bring it to the price level of essential commodities;

  (b) Standardised Baskets Act be applied systematically;

  (c) The Government export the surplus paddy only;

  (d) The Government purchase the paddy direct from the peasants;

  (e) A Rice and Paddy purchase Board be formed, including the representatives of the peasants, taking measures to ensure that:

    (i) only surplus paddy is exported;

    (ii) the profits from the government rice trade is declared;

    (iii) the profits made are spent only in such departments as are beneficial to the peasants directly;

    (iv) no pressure is resorted to in the purchase of paddy."

The above extract from the resolution we passed on agarian question is almost self-explanatory. I need to explain only a few things. The full benefits of current prices of paddy and rice, whether of Government or private traders, cannot be availed of by the agriculturists because baskets are not standardised and vary in sizes from locality to locality; because the cultivators get varying prices from Rs.50 upwards for their produce which are bought only by agents and middle men. In fact very few of them get full Government or current prices. We have also come across instances in which pressure ie resorted to in the purchase of paddy. And it must be noted in this connection that the legal sanction can, if Government desires, be applied in bringing such pressure though as yet not applied officially. If Government feels that to raise the prices of paddy to something like Rs.500 is not desirable, then the only other rational and equitable alternative is to bring down the price level of other essential commodities by all legal, economic and administrative measures open to them. As it is, while Government attempt to keep the price of paddy down, the prices of other essential commodities are allowed to rise up. Vegetable oil, for instance, fetches a current price nearly eight times higher than that of pre-war period. These trends of events cannot but remind us of the painful period of the Japanese occupation in Burma when we had more or less the same position. When "The New Times of Burma" gave us statistics and figures in regard to the cost of living and so forth, we cannot but receive them with a note of interrogation. Statistics and figures can be manipulated to suit one's argument. As a philosopher once remarked, arguments and logic are not the same as reasoning and reality. In our common experiences, we know three or four months ago our cost of living was nearly ten times higher than our pre-war standard, and though there is some fall in this respect, it is not as rapaid and as steep as "The New Times of Burma" painted it to be. Our friends from "The New Times of Burma" cannot think of reducing the cost of living further except when more shipping and consumer goods are available, although we appreciate the steady increase in import of clothing and textiles. What then shall we say of the effects of black market and pro-fiteering, hoarding of goods and money, the still undesirable state of communications which remain as they were six months ago and back, maldistribution of essential commodities, prevalence of crimes and so forth, on the prices of commodities? Apart from these, is Government aware of the fact that not all clothings and textiles imported reach all parts of the country?

And now as to agriculture "The New Times of Burma" find it dificult to know just what I mean by "Chaotic". At the Congress of AFPFL held in January, we resolved, among other things, on the following, in order to alleviate the present plight of agriculturists:-

Agrarian Affairs

Burma's economy is mainly peasant economy. The main task, therefore, is to rehabilitate immediately the peasant economy which has been destroyed to its foundation during the Japanese occupation. Owing to scarcity of cattle, agricultural implements and clothings and the rise of prices of essential commodities, the cost of cultivation has risen ten times. Yet the price has been fixed at Rs.120 per 100 baskets. The peasants are, therefore, inclined to abandon agricultural operation which are keeping them over-burdened with such heavy debts that they would become slaves to their creditors.

"This Conference demands that the following recommendations be adopted as a basis for the rehabilitation of agriculture with a view to increasing their prosperity and to enable them to take an interest in their work."

1. Tenancy

 A. That, owing to the change of currency, shortage of cattle and agricultural implements, rising cost of cultivation, rising prices of esential commodities and crop failure, the peasants not being in a position to pay rents for the year, 1945-46:-

  (a) an Ordinance exempting the payment of rents by tenants be promulagted.

  (b) An order remitting totally the land revenue for 1945-46 be issued.

 B. That agricultural co-operative credit be established in big villages to enable cultivators to borrow money for immediate needs.

2. Agrarian Indebtendness

That outstanding agrarian debts be totally cancelled and an Act passed to control and regulate money-lending.

3. Cattle

  (a) That, owing to shortage of cattle at the present moment, cattle slaughter licenses be stopped for good or for a definite number of years;

  (b) Cattle be imported from abroad and sold to the peasants at reasonably fixed prices;

  (c) Cattle breeding centres be opened;

  (d) Cattle loans be advanced as long-term loans to be repaid in instalments.

4. Rehabilitation

  (a) That peasants be allowed to cut wood and bamboo from the nearest forest without payment;

  (b) The peasants be permitted to fetch sufficient timber to rebuild their dwellings; the government giving assistance in the case of people who live far away from the forests;

  (c) The Government issue loans for rehabilitation purposes.

The above resolution does not contain long-term and long range requiremets of the agarian population. It specifies only their immediate needs. If our friends, after seeing these immediate needs of the peasants, see how much and how far Government have done for the peasants, they will get some idea of what I mean by "chaotic" in describing the present state of agriculture. From the above resolution, our policy in connection with the payments of rents and revenues for 1945-46 is quite clear. To say that "no rent" and "no revenues" campaigns are launched or are generally supposed to be associated with AFPFL is, to say the least, highly misleading. What is happening now has been visualised by AFPFL as inevitable if Government does not take prompt measures which we suggested at our Congress. As a matter of fact, every credit should be given to AFPFL for the present situation not getting worse, for we have hitherto sedulously refrained from exploiting the situation to our advantage, or as the saying runs, fishing in troubled waters. We too earnestly desire, as indeed cultivators themselves do, to do everything possible to launch an extensive cultivation drive so that we might be able not only to feed ourselves but also the starving millions in the world. But surely, without the essential prerequisites to enable extensive cultivation which we pointed out in the resolution above, to ask our peasants to produce rice and yet more rice simply means to ask them to make bricks without straw. And what have Government done to fulfil those immediate needs of the peasants? Government no doubt has decided to advance agricultural credit to the extent of three crores of rupees and a subsidy of Rs.12 for every acre of fallow land brought back into cultivation. But seeing the complete absence of normal sources of credit now, the large destruction of cattle, ploughing materials and homes, etc., and a host of other factors engendered by a war twice fought over our soil, the economic life of the peasants has been thrown so much out of gear that the situation calls for more and direct assistance from the Government which must also be prompt and quick, for for already the cultivation season has arrived, and our former Governor will surely know very well that much also need to be prepared before the actual cultivation starts. Rs.12 subsidy is, of course, quite attractive on paper but unless, in practice, it goes to all agriculturists who bring back fallow lands into oultivation whether they worked any land or not last year, only a small percentage would benefit by it.