On the eve of World War II, the economic and social plight of the Burniese people had become worse. The peasants had lost three-fourths of their lands to a handful of absentee landlords, mostly British banks and Indians. What remained was under heavy mortgage. The export and import trade, the major industries such as oil, timber, and mining, were in the hands of foreigners. Even the professionals, the lawyers and doctors, were foreigners, and a continuous flow of Burmese university graduates found themselves without adequate careers. The country presented the picture of a social pyramid which had the millions of poor, ignorant, exploited Burmese as its base, and a few outsiders—British, Indian, and Chinese—as its apex.
In protest against such a situation the Burmese nationalists repeatedly but unsuccessfully rebelled against the British regime. The outbreak of the Second World War gave them another opportunity. The Burmese people rose up in arms against the British, then later on fought the Japanese when the latter did not keep their promise to bestow independence on the country. At the end of the war, the Burmese found themselves with a Resistance movement, whose strength, abetted by the anticolonial principles of a Labour Government in England, led at last to real freedom.
Burma declared her independence in 1948 and chose to withdraw from the British Commonwealth, though retaining financial ties with the Sterling Bloc. But the whole country was in complete ruin, fought over twice by the Japanese and Allied armies, both of which had used "scorched-earth" strategy. Three-quarters of our towns and villages had been razed to the ground. The national income, small enough before the war, was reduced by half. Hospitals and schools were gone, oil fields destroyed, cattle slaughtered, and population decimated. Our people had hoped that with independence and the withdrawal of the British capitalists social and economic problems would be quickly solved. But they were soon to be disillusioned.
A constitution, democratic and parliamentary, enshrining the best and noblest principles of individual freedom and social justice, was solemnly proclaimed, and an independent government sworn in, under the leadership of the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League. This was the organization which had led the freedom movement against both the British and Japanese; it was a united front of nationalists, democratic socialists, Communists and various racial and ethnical minorities. The new government started its business in all seriousness.
But only three months passed before the Communists, who had collected weapons during the Resistance, made an armed rising. (Simultaneously there were Communist outbreaks in Malaya, Indonesia, and South India, all based on the decisions taken at the Asian Communists’ meeting at Calcutta in February, 1948, which were in conformity with the "Zhdanov" line adopted by the Cominform.) The Burmese Cabinet was accused of being a stooge for Anglo-American capitalism and the old landlords. The Communists held before the peasants the promise of a new heaven and a new earth, where there would be no landlords and no moneylenders.