The 1932 Revolution

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Thailand was well integrated into the world market in the 1930s and as a result of this, suffered the effects of the 1930s economic depression. The political fall-out from this was that a group of civilian and military state officials, under Pridi Panomyong’s Peoples’ Party, staged a revolution which overthrew the absolute monarchy of Rama VII in 1932. The first declaration of the revolutionaries clearly identified the economic crisis as bringing things to a head, with mass unemployment, cuts in wages and increased taxation experienced by the mass of the population. The Royal Family was notably exempted from these tax increases!

The 1932 revolution was carried out on the back of widespread social discontent. Farmers in rural areas were becoming increasingly bold and strident in their written criticism of the monarchy. Working class activists were involved in the revolution itself, although they were not the main actors, and cheering crowds spontaneously lined Rachadamnern Avenue as the Peoples’ Party declaration was read out by various representatives stationed along the road. The landmark work of Thammasart historian Nakarin Mektrairat details this wide movement of social forces which eventually lead to the revolution. It is important to stress the role of different social groups in creating the conditions for the 1932 revolution, since the right-wing historians have claimed that it was the work of a “handful of foreign educated bureaucrats”. In fact, there has been a consistent attempt by the right, both inside and outside Thailand, to claim that ordinary Thai people have a culture of respecting authority and therefore show little interest in politics.

The 1932 revolution had the effect of further modernising the state and expanding the base of the Thai capitalist ruling class to include the top members of the civilian and military bureaucracy, especially the military. The reason why the military became so influential in Thai politics, finally resulting in 16 years of uninterrupted military dictatorship from 1957, was that the left-wing revolutionary leader, Pridi Panomyong, failed to grasp the need to build a mass political party, choosing instead to rely on the military. In addition to this, the working class was still weak in terms of social forces which could oppose the military. Nonetheless, it would be quite wrong to conclude that class struggle was non-existent.

Pridi

Pridi wrote the first declaration of the Peoples’ Party, which was strongly anti-monarchy. He also drafted an economic policy paper which set out plans for the nationalisation of land, a super tax on the rich and a welfare state. Yet Pridi’s weakness meant that the economic plan was shelved and compromises were made with the conservatives about the role of the monarchy.

Never the less, the 1932 revolution meant that the role of the monarchy was significantly changed for the second time in less than a century. In the 1870s King Rama V abolished Sakdina rule in favour of a centralised and modern absolute monarchy. Sixty years later, the 1932 revolution destroyed this absolute monarchy so that the king merely became one weak and powerless member of the Thai ruling class. This is the situation today. It is important to understand this, because there has been a tendency by both the left and the right to exaggerate the importance of “long-lasting traditions” about the Thai monarchy. Todays’ monarchy may seem to have the trappings of a “traditional” king, especially to those observers who see the degree to which King Rama IX was revered among huge sections of the population. Yet the influence of this institution has fluctuated over the last sixty years and the “sacredness” of the monarchy has in fact been manufactured by military and civilian rulers to provide themselves with political legitimacy.

Thailand’s Military “New Order” Continues

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Three years ago I wrote about how Big Brother Generalissimo Prayut Chan-ocha had pushed forward the militarisation of politics, economics and society. The aim was to create Thailand’s New Order, Suharto-style, with a double function for the military. What Suharto called “Dwifungsi”, was designed to enshrine the political and social role of the military in addition to the usual defence functions. As with Indonesia under the dictator Suharto, the long-term aim of the Thai junta is to install “Guided Democracy” in the interests of the conservative elites.

The latest chapter in this militarisation is the enforced “induction” of state employed doctors, dentists and pharmacists, within the central region, in a military camp. According to reports, these new health care professionals are forced to undergo military style training while soldiers shout, insult and scream at them. The so-called induction involves standing in the sun and rain for hours, crawling through mud, jumping over fires and being humiliated by Drill Sergeants. Participants have described it as a form of torture. It is obvious that this has nothing to do with instilling the ideals of “patient centred care” or respect for future patients. It has nothing to do with democracy. But the military block-heads who are running the country would never understand such ideals anyway.

At the same time, pictures have been published from an elite primary school in Bangkok of soldiers brain-washing little kids from years 3 and 4. The children were taught how to march like soldiers and no doubt had their heads filled with anti-democratic ideals.

Three years ago the junta made sure that all government ministries were controlled by military personnel.  Top civil servants who were in post before the coup were replaced by those who were loyal lapdogs or cronies of the junta.

New executive board members were appointed to state enterprises, with military men on every board and with HE Generalissimo Prayut as overall chairman. Civilian cronies were carefully chosen from among the ranks of the whistle-blowing middle class mobs who hate democracy. Historically the military has always used the state enterprises as cash cows to line their own pockets. This is especially the case with the profitable ones like the Petroleum Authority or the Airports Authority. This corrupt tradition started with the dictatorships in the 1950s.

Prayut also put himself in charge of the economy, ensuring that it took a nose-dive while the generals enjoyed huge benefits. Those who are poor have been insulted for “being lazy”.

Conveniently, the so-called Counter Corruption Commission stated at the time that junta members did not have to declare their ill-gotten earnings before and after holding office, unlike previously elected politicians.

In every region, military officers carry out normal policing duties and some people are still being tried in military courts.

Three years ago schools were having to change their curriculums to follow the dictates of the junta. Discipline, nationalism and love of Big Brother were emphasised in the new moral code. State employed teachers now have to strictly adhere to uniform dress-codes. But education must be done on the cheap in order to fund the bloated military and junta budget.

Three years ago the junta reassured the mass media that sending in troops to sit in their offices was “nothing to worry about”. According to the uniformed thugs, the media were “free to report the news”. They just had to avoid reporting anything critical of the junta. Now the junta has drafted a new law to heavily control the media in the future.

After his 2014 coup, Prayut ensured that the country had a military constitution and he packed the so-called “reform committees” with lackeys of the military in order to enshrine his dream of Military Guided Democracy.

A regime built upon corpses

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The present Thai military dictatorship, which came to power 3 years ago, is not only built upon the corpse of Thai freedom and democracy, it is also built upon the real human corpses of those gunned down on the streets of Bangkok.

In response to a Red Shirt pro-democracy protest, which started on 14th March 2010, the army leadership, which included present dictator Generalissimo Prayut, and the military appointed Abhisit government, started to massacred unarmed demonstrators in cold blood. The Red Shirt protesters were demanding genuine democratic elections after the military, the judges and other elites, had removed a democratically elected government for the second time since 2006.

The military deployed the Queen’s Guard troops from the Second Infantry Division, under the command of General Prayut Chano-cha, to carry out a night time suppression operation. Company-sized army groups took up positions directly facing the Red Shirt crowd at the Democracy Monument and Khok Wua Intersection, where a standoff ensued for more than an hour. Troops fired live ammunition above the crowd, including heavy .50 calibre machine guns, together with sporadic live fire directly into the crowd.

The specific objectives of the 10th April operation, near the Democracy Monument, were to terrorise the demonstrators, assassinate the Red Shirt leaders, and suppress the Red Shirt movement. Contrary to common perception, the strategy was not to disperse the demonstrators. Rather, the operational strategy was to concentrate the demonstrators in a confined area, provoke the crowd to violence in order to create a perceived need for self-defence, and open fire.

The military opened fire on unarmed demonstrators who posed no threat to the soldiers. At most the demonstrators were throwing plastic bottles at the troops. Twenty-one civilians died and 600 were injured in this initial crack-down. Five soldiers were also killed when an M67 military grenade was rolled into the command post from behind army lines, probably by a rival military group. Yet this first army operation did not achieve its aim. The Redshirts managed to seize a couple of APCs and the Red Shirt protests continued for another month into May.

After the military operation on Rachadamnoen Avenue on April 10th failed to end the Red Shirt demonstrations, the army turned its attention to suppressing the demonstrations that had now concentrated at the Ratchaprasong Intersection. The army’s plan called for establishing a “free fire” perimeter around the area. During the period between May 13th and May 19th, the army deployed troops from the Second Cavalry Division and the First Infantry Division to seal off the Bon Kai area south of Ratchaprasong, and the Din Dang and Rajaprarop areas north of Ratchaprasong. Again, snipers were deployed from buildings, using live ammunition. Although the official orders were to shoot threatening targets only, the actual orders for the commanding officers, which were unwritten, were to: (1) shoot all moving targets, regardless of threat level; (2) prevent any photographic or video evidence by shooting neutral foreign press photographers; and (3) prevent the removal of any bodies. These orders signified that troops were permitted to kill any person they wished, which allowed for the shootings of civilians and medical personnel at the Wat Patumwanaram temple on the evening of the 19th May. Claims that the Red Shirts were also armed with automatic weapons are not supported by any evidence of captured weapons or deaths or bullet injuries of any soldiers at Ratchaprasong.

There is overwhelming photographic and documentary evidence that the military and the government ordered the killing of unarmed Red Shirts by bringing in tanks, heavily armed soldiers and snipers to crush the pro-democracy demonstrations in Bangkok. Nearly 90 unarmed civilians, including paramedics and foreign journalists were shot by snipers in the “free-fire zones” set up by the Military.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and all government representatives at the time repeatedly denied that pro-democracy demonstrators had been deliberately shot down by soldiers. Deputy Prime Minister Sutep Tuaksuban told the media in March 2011 that the government “had not killed anyone” and that the Red Shirts had “run into the bullets themselves”.  Army Commander General Prayut denied that the Army shot anyone. An official report revealed that the military had used 117,923 bullets against Red Shirts in April and May, 2120 of which were sniper bullets. No military or government official has ever been jailed and General Prayut is now Thailand’s self-appointed Prime Minister.

Let them eat cake!!

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Generalissimo Prayut has been frothing at the mouth about the poor. The junta’s idea about dealing with poverty was to make poor people go through the demeaning process of registering themselves as “poor” in order to receive small miserable payments. This year about 13 million people registered. At the same time, the junta has made attempts to cut the minimum wage and cut spending on health and education.

Millionaire dictator Prayut (worth 129 million baht three years ago) helped himself to state funded salaries by seizing power in a military coup. Top Thai generals grab much more than their military salaries by giving themselves multiple paid positions and creaming off percentages from arms purchases and other under the table activities.

Yet Prayut had the gall to give a lecture to the poor. The poor, he said, need to change their life-styles and stop being “lazy”. He ranted that the country could not afford to look after the poor. This is at a time when the junta’s cronies have been helping themselves to salaries for doing nothing, while never attending meetings. No doubt they have been “hard at work” lining their own pockets with various corrupt business dealings and state paid foreign shopping trips.

In the same week megalomaniac Prayut ranted about nurses. Thousands of nurses have been protesting because they are sick and tired of their temporary contracts and low pay. Their main demand is to be appointed as permanent state employees. At the same time, two thousand temporary staff at the Ministry of Justice are facing uncertainty about their futures.

Prayut harangued the nurses, asking them if they thought they were the only people who worked hard. He shouted that the country couldn’t afford to give everyone permanent jobs. The military then announced that they were in the process of buying some more tanks. This is after huge sums were spent on buying Chinese submarines. The junta are also spending millions on the late king’s funeral and the new king is enjoying himself flitting around in his own state funded airliner between his palace in Germany and royal palaces in Thailand.

Over the last three years since Prayut’s coup, military spending has sky-rocketed, increasing every year by huge amounts. Currently the military budget stands at 222 billion baht, more than the government spends on public health.

After the nurses protested, the Ministry of Health promised to gradually appoint some of them to permanent posts over a period of 3 years. This falls short of the nurses’ demands, but it does show that mass protests are effective and still possible if people have the determination.

After threatening to shut down Facebook unless they censored articles and pictures which the junta do not like, Prayut gave a TV lecture on the need for Thai people to “think outside the box”. He claimed that the government was doing all that it could to develop the use of the internet! In reality anyone daring to think outside the junta’s box faces being dragged off for “attitude changing sessions” in secret military camps and also being imprisoned under the draconian lèse-majesté law. Merely asking in public about the missing 1932 revolution plaque, or attempting to commemorate Prayut’s massacre of Red Shirt pro-democracy demonstrators in 2010, has resulted in arrests.

This is indeed a lying, corrupt and hypocritical authoritarian regime.

Three years of Prayut’s Dictatorship

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The past three years of Prayut’s dictatorship have caused immense damage to Thailand’s democracy and to the fabric of society.

I have posted many articles on this site about the way the junta and its allies have been busily crafting “Guided Democracy” in order to entrench the conservative elites’ dictatorial powers.

The past three years have also seen attacks on any fragments of progressive social policy.

The Thai military junta has been looking to slash billions of baht from the universal health care budget. The tired old excuse of the “aging population” has been trotted out. Working people who are now reaching old age are the very people who created the wealth in Thai society. They deserve better than this. Another stupid excuse, on a par with the nonsense coming out of Donald Trump’s mouth, is that “more people are getting sick”! There is absolutely no evidence for this. However, it might well be the case that more people are being treated in the health care system with better technologies. This is only right and proper. Yet, the elites and anti-democrats have always hated the universal health care system, preferring that the old and the sick just crawl into a corner and die. There is one exception, however, when Pumipon was old and sick, no expense was spared to keep this parasite alive. Even after his death, society is being forced to cough up huge amounts of money for his funeral.

At the same time the Education Ministry has announced that it will no longer give free text books to children in school. Instead the books will be “loaned”. This is an attempt to slash 5 billion baht from the education budget.

14041086241404108638l

The junta and its lackeys are well known for their extreme neo-liberal views and I have written about this before. [See http://bit.ly/2kiUZSl ]

At the same time, the purchase of more and more weaponry and increases in the military budget continue unabated. The latest waste of money is the buying of 50 Chinese tanks and a plans to buy  submarines.

The junta’s mismanagement of the economy is resulting in a drastic fall in treasury reserves from an average of 400 billion baht over the last ten years to only 75 billion baht at the end of 2016. Yet the military government has also announced that all members of the royal family will be exempt from inheritance tax. The Thai royals are among the richest people in the country. No doubt the junta will be seeking to increase the tax burden for ordinary working people, while the elites successfully avoid paying any significant amounts of tax. There is talk of increasing the regressive Value-Added Tax.

Oxfam produced a report showing that the richest 10% in the country own 79% of all the country’s wealth. They even held a seminar about it showing that the wealth owned by a handful of people could raise the entire population out of poverty.

25thailand.xlarge1

Yet because of the lèse–majesté law, no one could discuss the obscene wealth in the hands of the monarchy. The strangle-hold of the military and their constant chanting about the dead king’s neo-liberal “Sufficiency Economy” ideology also means that neo-liberal inequality is enshrined into the constitution and economic policy.

In addition to this, the lack of freedom and democracy under the military and the weakness of trade unions means that the ability of social movements to fight for a welfare state and redistribution of wealth is so far very limited.

Oxfam is able to highlight the symptoms of inequality but like most NGOs, it is unable to provide a solution other than inviting well-known people to make well-meaning but worthless comments about the situation.

The state of democracy and equality are closely connected to the strength of mass left-wing social movements, especially the trade unions. Yet another negative result of the three years of dictatorship has been the total destruction of the mass movement against the military. This has been achieved by a combination of repression and, even more importantly, the demobilisation of this movement by Taksin and his supporters.

Culture of dictatorship responsible for Thai education failings

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

While conservative newspapers like the Bangkok Post agonise over the state of the Thai education system, complaining about the inability of students to engage in critical thinking, they cannot identify the most important cause of this problem: the culture of dictatorship.

Today, anyone who criticises the military junta is faced with repression, insults from the authorities, or short stretches in military camps undergoing “attitude changing sessions”. The military are present at all levels of society, enforcing dictatorship down to grass-roots levels. Last year, the mere distribution of red plastic bowls at Songkran was enough to invite arrest.

However, when I talk about the culture of dictatorship in Thai society, I do not mean just the fact that the country is ruled by a military junta today and for long periods in the past. This is an important part of this appalling culture, but it is only one aspect.

The draconian lèse-majesté law, which forbids any critical thinking about the monarchy, is part of this culture of dictatorship even when there are elected civilian governments. The extreme right-wing ideology of “Nation, Religion and Monarchy”, enforced in all schools and constantly promoted by the military, is part of this. The ingrained hierarchical nature of Thai society, where citizens have to crawl on the floor before the royals, where lower-class people have to bow their heads and show respect to those who are richer and more powerful than themselves, and where all this nonsense is decreed to be “Thai Culture”, cannot possible encourage critical thinking.

Long periods when it was deemed to be a “crime” to be a communist or socialist also blocked off the flowering of alternative viewpoints in open society. “National Security”, for the elites, is used to silence dissent. The idea of “one Thai nation” was not even challenged by the Communist Party because of its nationalistic ideology. Public playing of the National Anthem and the fact that citizens are forced to stand to attention at 8am and 6pm mean that there is no room for critical thinking about Thai nationalism. This is reinforced by the extremely high levels of official racism.

Until recently, people were afraid to admit to being atheists on official documents because it would lead to accusations of being a communist. This is part of the culture of dictatorship.

The weakness of trade unions in Thai society is linked to the main stream anti-socialist ideology. This in turn strengthens hierarchy and undermines alternative views about society which could encourage critical thinking.

Justification for military coups and so-called “reforms”, which decrease the democratic space, send out a message that citizens are “too stupid” to be allowed to choose their own governments. The middle-class reactionaries claim the people are not ready for democracy because of poor education. Therefore they need to be educated “in the right way”. Of course, this is a lie. Lack of democracy, caused by the actions of the elites, is the real obstacle to critical thinking.

Given that no mainstream newspapers or TV stations and no mainstream academics ever question this culture of dictatorship, it is a wonder that any young students can learn to think for themselves. Even the term “think for yourself” has been hijacked by the dictatorship to imply that those who have dissenting views are somehow brain-washed by people like Taksin and therefore those who “think for themselves” must obviously agree with the military and the conservatives.

Yet, as a former university lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, and a follower of Thai current affairs, I know that each generation of young Thais throws up critical thinkers. But it takes courage to do this. Today there are young students locked away in Thai jails for thinking for themselves, most are charged with lèse-majesté.

Apart from the culture of dictatorship, inequality in education is also a factor helping to keep the Thai education system in a poor state. This was highlighted by a couple of Finish educational researchers recently. But here the issue is closely linked to the culture of dictatorship because this culture exists to entrench inequality and to protect the elites. Those who have taken part in the destruction of democracy in Thailand are extreme neo-liberals who are totally opposed to a welfare state, progressive taxation or increasing wages. They justify all this with free-market ideology, including the former king’s reactionary “Sufficiency Economy”. Finland’s high education standards are a result of a welfare state, strong trade unions and a history of democracy.

The struggle to educate oneself, and the struggle to liberate oneself, are part of the same struggle. Thai citizens do not need to be fed “better” education by conservative experts, they need to throw off the chains of the culture of dictatorship.

Monument Wars

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Many historians have described the importance of monuments in modern day to day political struggles. This is part of what Gramsci would have called “the War of Position”. It is an ideological war between different sides or classes. The recent disappearance of the metal plaque celebrating the 1932 revolution against the king is part of this war.

The plaque was removed in secret sometime in April this year and replaced with what can only be described as a ridiculous right-wing pro-monarchist “drain cover”.

The fact that the monument was removed, while leading members of the junta and various authorities all deny knowledge or responsibility, raises some interesting questions. Those who have questioned the whereabouts of the plaque have also been detained by the military for “attitude changing sessions”.

A study of the works of Thai historians shows that the Democracy Monument, in the centre of Bangkok, is also part of the continuing Monument War. The Democracy Monument was in fact built by the military dictator Pibun in the 1930s as an anti-royalist monument. Pibun was a nationalist republican who favoured dictatorship over democracy. The monument was built in the middle of the “King’s Avenue”, a bit like giving the “middle finger” to the monarchy. It is worth visiting this monument to look at the modernist imagery which does not contain a single reference to the monarchy.

Pibun also built a huge nationalistic monument in Ayuttaya in the shape of the old provincial administration centre and the clumsy “restoration” of three pagodas. The old provincial administration centre has statues of past kings, much like the king statues built by the Burmese junta or statues of past kings built by modern day despots in former Soviet republics. Neither Pibun nor the Burmese junta nor the despots of former Soviet republics wanted a return to the days of monarchy.

The Democracy Monument in Bangkok is interesting because it shows that through popular struggle the meaning of monuments can change. Ever since the days of the royalist dictator Sarit, who overthrew Pibun, Thai citizens have seen this monument as a symbol of democracy. No dictatorship has ever dared to demolish it because of the strength of the democratic ideology among Thai people. In fact all these dictatorships, including the present Prayut junta, have all had to claim that they are “democratic”. None have dared to openly celebrate dictatorship over democracy.

When Sarit came to power, he promoted King Pumipon in order to give himself more legitimacy and power. He never had any intention of giving Pumipon any power and Pumipon was never powerful. We need to remember that “political power” is concrete. It determines social and economic policies and international relations. Neither Pumipon nor his idiot son have or have ever had this kind of power.

Lak-Si

The 1932 revolution plaque was and still remains an anti-monarchy symbol, like the monument at Lak-Si, north of Bangkok, which commemorates the military victory against the royalist rebellion just after the revolution. At one time Sarit ordered the removal of the 1932 plaque, but it was returned to its original setting after his death. However, the conservatives have also tried to cover up and dismiss the history of the 1932 revolution. That is why most Thais probably have never heard of the 1932 plaque or the Lak-Si monument. That is also why the conservatives built the moment of the deposed king Rama 7 in front of the present parliament after the 6th October bloodbath in 1976. It is like building a monument to King George in front of the US Congress!

In this Monument War, the progressives fought back by building monuments to those who were killed by the military in 1973 and 1976. The latter monument is inside Thammasart University, which is also the location for a monument to Pridi Panomyong, founder of the People’s Party and a key leader of the 1932 revolution.

There are the usual conspiracy theorists who make up ridiculous stories about how King Wachiralongkorn ordered the removal of the 1932 revolution plaque. It is likely that the intellectually challenged new king was not aware until recently of the existence of this plaque.

Now a member of a strange right-wing sect called the “Smarn Si Ngarm Group” has claimed responsibility for removing the plaque. We shall have to see whether this is true or not. The “Smarn Si Ngarm Group” evolved from an earlier group set up by Communist Party turn-coat Prasert Supsuntorn. Prasert Supsuntorn joined with the military in opposing the CPT’s armed struggle. He then became a royalist. He and Smarn Si Ngarm use the language of the Left to promote pro-military ideology and royalism. Using secret funds from the military, they tried to spread their ideas among trade unionists and other political activists. They even provided some generals like Chawalit Yongjaiyut with “political education”.

But more importantly, we must not forget that for ten years now, the royalist anti-democrats have acted to destroy the democratic system and invite the military to take power. They acted on their own initiative, but the military was happy for the excuse to stage two coups. These fanatical royalist also threatened to take away the 1932 revolution plaque, especially after pro-democracy activists started to hold small ceremonies around the plaque coinciding with an increasing republican political mood in society. This is truly a “Monument War” in the War of Position.

Thai politics