I have an exam coming up so I am a low on time. I am skipping the predictions this week and diving right into the revolutionary situation.

What is winning?

The two factions here each seek control over the state. Control over the state has several components. It means the ability to use violence in the territory. It means the ability to command bureaucrats to carry out tasks. It means the ability to coerce the payment of taxes. It means control over the means to legitimate force and taxation. Those means of legitimation include judges, traditional leaders, media organs and religious leaders. There are others, but these are the most important.

In most modern societies a single faction or organization controls all of those powers. Split control over these powers is rare. In 1917 the Russian treasury refused to serve the Bolsheviks. On the 9th of Thermidor the Robbespiere faction controlled the prisons but the National Convention controlled the military. Controlling violence specialists is a powerful card, but no trump; in 1966 Mao transformed control over only the legitimation apparatus to complete dominance of the state. In each case the division of control was brief because the control of one state components makes it much easier to take others. Division of these powers is therefore unstable.

Currently the Hlaing regime has tight and uncontested control over the violence specialists. However, their command of the bureaucracy is weak and the legitimation apparatus is weak, restricted to hollow state media channels. The protestors, in contrast, have some fragmented control over the bureaucracy to launch a nationwide strike and

The conflict will end in one faction controlling the state, barring a civil war. For the military, that means using targeted sanctions and benefits to pick apart the strikers until they achieve some control over the bureaucracy. Crushing the protests is an important signal of strength, but not itself state power. For the revolutionaries, winning means compelling the regime to give up its control over the violence specialists and return to the barracks, likely in a negotiated settlement. They may also win if the regime slowly loses capacity to work together. Each side must strategically use its shattered pieces of the state to capture the others.

Review of events

The military evicted several hundred rail workers from a government housing unit two weeks ago. The rail workers are on strike, and have been fed by the local resistance movement. The military sought to arrest a list of ringleaders but was unsuccessful due as the workers adopted a uniform position. The military also hoped that evicting them would pressure them to return to work. To defeat this strategy, the revolution must distribute the costs of repression by taxing or donating resources to compensate the unemployed workers. The historic champions of this strategy were the Dutch resistance during WW2, who funded a nationwide rail strike at wage parity with debt from the UK. It is unclear if the revolutionary movement has successfully distributed these costs, or if the trains are yet running.

The regime has escalated urban violence. In Mandalay as of writing the regime is shooting live ammunition in protestors. The regime has also dispatched soldiers to walk the streets of Yangon and fire into the windows of apartment buildings, as a form of collective punishment. In the revolution-aligned Yangon suburbs the regime is now forcing people at gunpoint to clear barricades.

We have seen both rural and urban protests in the thousands this week. A quick twitter read shows a combination of some protestors escalating violence with bludgeons, shields and slingshots, but I cannot read enough tweets to follow the trends.

A disturbing new trend is urban flight. Tens of thousands are fleeing the cities to escape the violence into rural areas. This points to a potential end-game in which the regime forces enough people out of the cities to break organized resistance. That would return Myanmar to the pre-2010 equilibrium in which the military prevents congregation and fights an endless insurgent war.

What to watch?

In general, we want to watch for the following trends.

  1. Increasing defection or mutiny from the military.
  2. A gradual decline in protest attendance, accompanied by increasing radicalization. Regimes prefer to attack smaller protests.
  3. A decline in the regimes finances. I have not found evidence on who is collecting taxes and how large exports are.
  4. A return to work of the civil service.

Measuring true preferences

We have some very limited data on shirking in the military. Violence specialists have three responses to being ordered to repress; compliance, mutiny and shirking. If they expect other soldiers to comply the soldiers who value their safety will falsify their preferences, claiming they prefer compliance.

An article in Frontier Myanmar suggests that hundreds of Chin-province security forces have fled over the border to India. The article is vague and the defectors are in hiding, so we can only make rough guesses. I estimate ~200 have defected, from a province with population 400,000. One in a hundred Burmese are under arms, so that is the defectors represent 200/(400,00/100) = 1/50 soldiers. Also the Chin are a repressed minority in Myanmar, so we would expect less defection among Burmese soldiers.

Defector accounts suggest a generational guide between a hardened senior officer corp and a younger generation of troops that grew up in the prosperous power-sharing period 2010-2021. If the junta survives the current crisis, that yougner generation will eventually compromise the internal unity needed to support an unpopular and inept regime.

The defectors expressed clearly that they expect to be killed for shirking. This is supportive evidence of the expectation theory of repression.


2 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 10:43 AM
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Thanks for this analysis!  What is the involvement and impact of foreign actors?  I'd naively expected that Myanmar is an interesting size, big enough that it has neighbors and trading partners with very strong preferences, and small enough that relatively sane amounts of support (via aid, refugee tolerance, trade boycotts of one side or the other, etc.) could swing things.

I hope to find enough time to address this later. The foreign actors are affecting the revolution in two days. The western powers have revoked all aid and trade privileges, damaging the economy. The regional actors tend to side with the expected winner. The internal actors then update off the foreigners expectations.

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