Two countries two methods

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Both Thailand and Turkey have experiences of long periods of brutal military rule. In both countries the conservative elites have opposed democratically elected governments that have enjoyed the support of the poor. The judiciaries of both countries have tried to subvert the election process. In Turkey the Western-leaning middle-classes have usually allied themselves with the military, supporting “Kemalism” which is used in an attempt to suppress those who dare to criticise the old order. In Thailand the royalist middle-classes have allied themselves with the military, supporting the oppressive lèse majesté law, used against dissidents. In both countries the democratically elected governments had support from the poorer sections of society. But these government were not bastions of freedom and democracy and were prepared to use violence to oppress sections of society outside the mainstream. In Turkey the elected government oppressed the Kurds, dissident youth, journalists and the left. In Thailand the elected government oppressed the Muslim Malays in the south and waged an extra-judicial campaign of murder against drug users and small time drug dealers.

Supporters of Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, protest in Istanbul's Taksim square, early Saturday, July 16, 2016. President Erdogan told the nation Saturday that his government was working to crush a coup attempt after a night of explosions, air battles and gunfire across the capital. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
Supporters of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, protest in Istanbul’s Taksim square, early Saturday, July 16, 2016. President Erdogan told the nation Saturday that his government was working to crush a coup attempt after a night of explosions, air battles and gunfire across the capital. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

But one thing that stands out in stark relief today is the manner in which mass action by ordinary people in Turkey prevented the military coup on the night of the 15th July 2016. This should be compared to the almost laughable symbolic gestures of the New Democracy Movement in Thailand. (see picture below)

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However, the actions of the New Democracy Movement are not really laughable for two reasons. Firstly it is a tragedy that they sincerely believe that by making the news or by staging personal sacrifices, they can bring down the dictatorship. This is a kind of Ghandi-style or Aung San Suu Kyi style protest where the potential power of mass movements is reduced to the actions of a single handful of “heroes” or “heroines”. Look what is happening in Burma today where the military are still in power, fronted by a Suu Kyi government.

Secondly, it is not laughable because by ignoring the power of mass movements and by refusing to build such movements, the Thai military junta and its influence over society will never be fully destroyed.

Naturally there are always differences of detail in different eras and different countries. In Turkey Erdogan called for people to come out on the streets to oppose the military. In Thailand Taksin and the Red Shirt leaders have always called for calm in an attempt to demobilise the movement. In Turkey the military was split, but these splits can be built upon and magnified by mass protest movements. In Thailand the Red Shirt leaders called on people to place their faith in Taksin or pro-Taksin “water melon “military men or police. Such faith was misplaced.

In Turkey, my comrades in the Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party (DSİP) quite rightly called for mass opposition on the streets to the coup, but also made it clear that people should not have any illusions in Erdogan or the AKP. The struggle for democracy against the AKP must continue.

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In Thailand the experience of the mis-led Red Shirt movement and the autonomist or atomist ideas of the young students has meant that opposition to the junta is confined to weak symbolic gestures. The rich experience of Thai mass movements defeating the military in 1973 and 1992 and the huge potential of the Red Shirt movement have been laid to one side.

Yet the important strand of truth that we can get from events in Turkey and Thailand is that only mass movements can defend and extend democracy.

No such thing as the “Deep State” in Thailand

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The theory of the “Deep State” often wrongly presupposes that there is such a thing as a “regular state” which is visible, accountable and serves the people. The Deep State is supposed to be a unique set up in some countries appearing as “a state within a state” which is unaccountable to democratically elected governments. This flies in the face of reality.

For a start, states in the modern world today exist in order to facilitate the dominance of the capitalist ruling class over the majority of the population who are working people. This can be seen in many ways. For example, the state enshrines the so-called “right to manage and own” whole sections of the economy by business leaders. There is no requirement for them to be elected by the population or the workforce. Investment decisions affecting millions of people are never subjected to democratic control. The so-called “hidden hand” of the free-market attempts to claim that this is the “natural order”. The views of business leaders are given much more importance than the views of ordinary citizens. The media is mainly controlled by big business. Police and the military are used to break up strikes by trade unionists who try to redress the balance of power. These armed bodies of men are never used to arrest CEOs for closing factories, sacking staff, cutting their wages or moving investments out of communities.

In most Western countries which claim to be democracies, the secret services, top civil servants, judges and military commanders are not subjected to democratic election and are mostly a law unto themselves. In the past, the policies of elected governments, such as Labour governments in Britain, have been frustrated by these sections of the state, working with big business. It is a myth that controlling parliament means controlling the state.

The use of the term “Deep State” might be useful when talking about core remnants of the security apparatus which originated from a repressive authoritarian time and still exist under parliamentary democracy. The term has been applied to Turkey and some Latin American countries. However it is extremely questionable whether it is a useful term in Thailand. Yet, Eugénie Mérieau, in a recent article in the Journal of Contemporary Asia, and also at a seminar at the London School of Oriental and African Studies, has attempted to use this concept in analysing the Thai political crisis.

[See http://bit.ly/25RMW44 ]

In order to argue for the existence of a so-called “Deep State” in Thailand, the author has had to exaggerate the power of the king, overlook the long-running fractures within the military, ignore the fact that the Thai judiciary have never been strong nor independent of those in power and write mass movements out of Thai history. Her theory is yet another one-sided top-down view of Thai society, much favoured in the past by right-wing academics.

The author seems to imply that the so-called Deep State always opposed Taksin. Yet, she has to ignore the fact that Taksin Shinawat, as a member of the ruling class, commanded a great deal of influence over sections of the military and judiciary in his early days as Prime Minister. He was very popular among nearly all sections of the ruling elite because of his promise to modernise Thailand after the 1996 economic crisis. The king even praised his brutal extra-judicial killings in the War on Drugs. The conservatives only turned against him when they could not compete with his electoral advantage because they were either not prepared to join him, or were not prepared to offer the population the kind of policies that would improve their lives. The conservatives are extreme free-market neo-liberals.

It is not some Deep State that is fearful of the loss of privileges, as claimed by the author. Taksin never threatened privilege nor wealth. He was no socialist. But he did threatened their share of political power by his overwhelming electoral base. Instead, it is the whistle-blowing crazed middle-classes who saw the rural electorate as a threat to their privileges. Yet the middle-class do not appear in this paper.

Thailand does not have some stable, unchanging core, of conservative reactionaries embedded deep within the state. There are fluid and dynamic bonds between members of the ruling class as the various factions make or break alliances in an opportunistic manner. Some of Taksin’s faction were drawn from the left, others came from the conservative and royalist right-wing who took part in attacks against democracy during the Cold War.

Mérieau argues that the Deep State is trying to use the judiciary as a surrogate king as Pumipon nears his last years. She implies that the “power” of the king is being transferred to the judiciary. Yet, Pumipon has never been powerful. He is, and always has been, a tool of the elites, especially the military, who turned him into a semi-god for their own purposes. The king symbolises the conservative ideology which gives legitimacy to the authoritarian actions of the military and their allies. It is a double act of military “power” and royal “ideological legitimacy”. In this double act the weak-willed King has no real power, but he is a willing participant. Taksin also used the king during the time that he was Prime Minister. His Government took part in the hysterical promotion of the King around the 60th anniversary of his reign and started the “Yellow Shirt Mania”, where everyone was pressurised into wearing royal yellow shirts every Monday. Both the Taksin and Yingluk governments were keen to use the lèse-majesté law. All evidence points to the fact that Taksin is a royalist.

If the oath of allegiance of judges to the Thai king is evidence that the king controls the judiciary, as claimed by Mérieau, then Britain must be ruled by an absolute monarchy! We need to understand the ideological and ceremonial roles of monarchies in the modern world.

It is also rather too simplistic for many people to make glib conclusions that middle class demonstrators who hold up pictures of the king or military officers who wrap yellow ribbons around their troops are acting “on behalf” of the king or that they are under his command.

The only difference between Taksin and his supporters and the yellow shirts and the military is that Taksin’s side could use economic and political policies to legitimise their role alongside royalism. The yellow shirts and the military could only use royalism.

Mérieau’s Deep State theory about Thailand is just another way to express the opinion that the king has been an all-powerful figure at the centre of the state. The dominant academic view which sees the king as all powerful, includes Paul Handley, Duncan McCargo, Same Sky (Fa Deaw Kan) Press, Kevin Hewison, Michael Connors and Niti Eawsriwong. There is a suggestion by these academics that Pumipon organised the 2006 coup and had been manipulating politics since the 1970s. Many of these intellectuals rely, consciously or unconsciously, on the old Maoist analysis, from the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT), that under-developed countries like Thailand had yet to complete their bourgeois revolutions and were therefore “semi-feudal”. This analysis sees the major confrontation among the elites as being between the old semi-feudal order and the new rising capitalists. It is a mechanical and banal application of the 1789 French Revolution to Thailand in the 21st century.

This school of thought ignores the fact that the ruling class networks which support the monarchy also include the major bankers and industrialists, including Taksin. They also ignore the capitalist nature of the king’s vast investments. They therefore believe the Yellow Shirt accusation that Taksin and TRT are crypto-republicans. This is the logic of Duncan McCargo’s network conflict and the logic of those who believe in the 2006 “Royal Coup”.

[See http://bit.ly/1UjXEaX   p107 onwards]

The Thai judiciary, civil service and bureaucracy have always been weak and under the control of whoever was in power at the time. Those with power or influence can always intervene in the bureaucracy and subvert the rules in order to obtain what they want. This is the reason for a total lack of any standards of justice and also the reason for rampant corruption among the entire bureaucracy. The mountains of paper work associated with the Thai bureaucracy only prove that all the individual petty bureaucrats are fearful of making any decisions themselves and hide behind red tape, passing decision making responsibilities up the ladder.

The military have always been divided by factionalism. This has often limited its power, although the military are the only force that was able to topple elected governments in recent years. Some military leaders accept democratic elections and others are more authoritarian. Some military leaders were against the monarchy in the 1950s, and others have shown leanings towards left-wing politics. Prayut’s faction is the extreme right-wing of the military today. This is not a unified part of a so-called Deep State. What affects the power of the military more than anything is the strength of social movements. Thailand’s political history since the early 1970s is a history of struggle from below against the power of the ruling class. Periods of democracy were the result of the strength of pro-democracy movements. Ironically, the present period of dictatorship has also been determined and influenced by the social movements. Firstly, because many social movement activist called for military intervention, but also because the conservative elites are still mindful of the democratic current within society. The democratic current means that the present junta need to write a constitution that fixes elections rather than just returning to the days of the dictator Sarit. Eugénie Mérieau acknowledges that this democratic spirit means that judiciary intervention is a preferable choice for the conservative elites to direct intervention by the military or even the king. But the key role of mass movements is totally ignored. For Mérieau it is almost as though the elites granted democracy to the plebs as some kind of experiment.

The concept of a Thai Deep State may appear to be an exciting, sexy, new fad in the rarefied world of academia, but it does not help us understand the Thai political crisis.

Further reading:  http://bit.ly/1WKss8d, http://bit.ly/1HFxyLM,  http://bit.ly/1Uu6oZz , http://bit.ly/1TdKKYs

 

Prison conditions in Thailand are a crime against humanity

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

In mid-June 2016 Somyot Preuksakasemsuk wrote a letter exposing the shocking deterioration of conditions for prisoners in Thai jails.

Since March 2016 the Department of Prisons has issued a number of new regulations that have reduced the standards of life and well-being for prisoners. This amounts to a gross abuse of human rights.

Firstly, the prison authorities have removed all mattresses, pillows and blankets from prisoners and destroyed them. The excuse for this act of barbarism was that the authorities were searching for drugs. These items of bedding and blankets were originally sold to the prisoners by the prison. The new regulations state that prisoners will now only be allowed 3 extremely poor quality blankets given to them by the authorities. Such actions are having a negative impact on the psychological and physical well-being of prisoners, many of whom are in poor health or are elderly. Often at night, Thai prisoners are chained together in small rooms.

A couple of years ago Surachai Darnwatanatrakun, another activist who was also jailed for lèse majesté, described the disgusting conditions in Pataya jail. The prison was built for 600 inmates but was housing 3600 people. There was not enough space on the floor to sleep, so some had to sleep on cardboard covers over the toilets. Even then, 5-10 prisoners had to take turns to stand and sit during the night. Surachai was kept in a room 5X10 metres with 60 inmates at night. They had to build shelves to sleep on. Water was cut off except for 2-3 hours from 10 am to noon. No toilet paper was supplied and many prisoners had skin diseases. Fortunately, Surachai has been released, but Somyot is still in jail because he refuses to plead guilty and ask for “forgiveness”.

Thailand has the 17th highest proportion of citizens in prison in the world, with 340 prisoners per 100,000 people. This compares to 64 for Norway and 94 for France.

Secondly, Somyot reported that the prison authorities have now imposed further restrictions on access to news and reading material. Newspapers are now banned and prisoners can no longer buy books or magazines. Relatives of prisoners are only allowed to bring a total of 3 books or magazines per month from a tightly restricted list of “approved” reading material. This gross abuse of prisoners is designed to keep them totally in the dark about events in the outside world and is especially cruel to long-term prisoners. Such actions mean that prisoners are totally unprepared for life outside when they are finally released.

Finally there are new restrictions on the amount and frequency with which prisoners’ relatives can deposit money in prisoners’ accounts. Since Prayut’s military coup two years ago the number of people allowed to visit each prisoner has also been severely reduced.

Somyot is a Thai political activist and magazine editor who in 2013 was sentenced to eleven years’ imprisonment for lèse majesté over articles that he did not write. He was arrested on 30th April 2011 and has been in jail ever since. What is remarkable about Somyot is that he has continued to be an active advocate for justice even while in prison. Twenty years ago he was a trade union organiser who successfully organised a number of textile factories north of Bangkok.

As with most countries, Thai prisons are full of poor people, mainly on charges related to theft and drugs. There is not enough discussion in Thai society about the role of prisons and the human rights of prisoners. Naturally, the Thai ruling class does not even regard ordinary people as “citizens with rights”. They are made to grovel to the rich and powerful and prisoners are treated even worse.

Punishment in the Thai judicial system is totally out of proportion. People get just a few years in prison for murder or violence, while lèse majesté prisoners are sentenced to anything between 20 to 40 years. Those at the top of society who commit mass murder of demonstrators enjoy impunity.

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Defendants in trials are shackled and forced to wear inhuman prison uniforms. This means that they are abused before the outcome of the trial and have to attend court looking like “criminals”. This results in miscarriages of justice. In lèse majesté trials you can be found guilty even if what you said and wrote was factually true. Many political trials under the present junta are held in military courts. There has been a crack-down on those trying to campaign against the junta’s new constitution in the upcoming so-called referendum.

Young democracy activists, shackled and barefooted, being led to a military court
Young democracy activists, shackled and barefooted, being led to a military court

When a country like Thailand is ruled by a bunch of military gangsters who destroy freedom and democracy, those at the bottom of society are not even treated as human beings.

Watch this video:

Read also: http://bit.ly/28VRjzE

Yes, drugs ought to be decriminalised

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The announcement by junta minister for Justice, General Paiboon Koomchya, that he was considering decriminalising Methamphetamines or “Ya Ba” is welcome news. However, we cannot trust the military junta to follow through with the necessary policies which should accompany this. It is also not nearly enough. Other drugs should also be decriminalised.

In the past, criminalising drugs has led to violence and the abuse of human rights. It never works in terms of eradicating drug use and is an obstacle to the humane treatment of those addicted to drugs.

Previous Thai governments have waged so-called “wars of drugs”. The worst case was under former Prime Minister Taksin Shinawat when approximately 3000 people were executed by death squads made up of police and military personnel. Top generals like Prem Tinsulanon were also featured on posters designed to create a climate of fear. Prem was quoted as saying that if you used Methamphetamines you would end up dead. During the Sarit dictatorship public executions of drug dealers took place.

The campaign of extrajudicial killings was not based on any scientific evidence of the relative harm of various drugs and no open discussion in society about this could take place. Figures from the Ministry of Public Health show that the main reasons why Thais die young is due to the following: (these are rough proportions of the causes of early deaths)

  • AIDS: 17% in men and 10% in women
  • Road accidents: 9% in men and 3% in women
  • Cardio vascular and pulmonary diseases, often caused by cigarettes and alcohol: 17% in men and 12% in women
  • Illegal drugs: 2% in men and less than 1% in women

As usual, there is a capitalist bias against illegal drugs when compared to alcohol and cigarettes. This is due to the interests of big business and also the ability by governments to tax these “legal” drugs.

Thai governments have never been serious about tackling the reasons why people turn to drugs, for instance, long working hours, alienation and a lack of opportunities in life. Thailand does not have a welfare state and the present junta are against spending state funds on improving the quality of life of citizens. The neo-liberals in the dictatorship have frozen the minimum wage and are trying to dismantle the universal health care scheme.

When waging war on small time drug dealers, the Big Fish always avoid any punishment. The big players in the drug trade are politicians, well-connected gangsters or high-ranking military or police officers. Sometimes these characters blend into one. Thailand is currently run by a bunch of military gangsters anyway.

Apart from decriminalising drugs, there needs to be a “Harm Reduction” policy to increase the ability of citizens who choose to use drugs to protect themselves. The supply of clean needles and the production of low cost good quality drugs, in a sensible manner, is part of this. If drugs are expensive then users will tend to commit crimes in order to get a supply. They will also need to push more drugs to increase their incomes. So if the government were to produce some drugs and guarantee their quality and safety that would be a good thing.

Another important part of Harm Reduction is to have a free and open society where people can discuss and learn about the effects of drugs and their potential dangers. They can also discuss the benefits too. This is vital if we are to equip young people to be able to make sensible decisions about drugs. They need to think for themselves. They need to be self-empowered.

But today there is no space for open discussion in society and young people are pressurised to take orders from teachers and military men.

My guess is that the junta want to decriminalise Methamphetamines because they know that they do not have the ability to control their use. They do not want to appear to have failed in an attempt to reduce drug use. They may also want to reduce the prison population. But it is hard to read the warped minds of these generals. Some claim that the generals want to make money from the open sales of Methamphetamines, but I doubt this is the real reason. However, what we can say with confidence is that they will not take the necessary measures to reduce harm for drug users or to increase the quality of life for the population and they certainly will not create a climate where open and free discussion about drugs or anything else can take place.

Further reading: http://bit.ly/28NKd1c

So-called “Succession Crisis” does not explain dictatorship

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

A couple of years ago it was fashionable for journalists and political commentators to try to explain the collapse of democracy in Thailand as being due to a “Succession Crisis”. The more extreme view was to predict a “Game of Thrones” war between the Prince and the Princess over who would succeed King Pumipon. Some muttered darkly that the Queen might take over. Those obsessed with military factions mapped out possible scenarios involving soldiers “belonging” to the Queen, the Princess or the Prince. The more subtle version was to say that there was “disquiet” among many Thais about what would happen when the King died. The king, so this argument went, was a “stabilising force” within Thai society.

thai-king-birthday_2011

Yet, observing Thai society today, Pumipon might as well be dead already. For some years now he has been so elderly and frail that he has not been capable of taking part in any public duties. Prayut’s military junta has not even bothered to perform the theatrics, common in previous times, of “taking orders” or consulting with the King. Today those insulting Generalissimo Prayut are now being charged with “breaking the law” as though the junta head himself was the monarch.

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The mask hiding the real power in Thai society has finally slipped. Ever since the 1932 revolution that ended the absolute monarchy, the military, the business elites and the top bureaucrats have been the real power in Thailand, hiding behind a myth that the King is somehow “in charge”. This elite myth inflated the King into a god-like figure. Yet the King-God has no clothes.

The Prince is clearly set to be the next King, unless we can turn Thailand into a republic. There is no internecine war over the succession and the middle-classes and even a substantial number of Red Shirts are prepared to tolerate or even carry-on worshipping the Prince. This is despite the fact that Wachiralongkorn is a half-wit who is only interested in indulging his own whims.

The Queen is equally incapable of anything, being even frailer than the King.

There is no quarrel over succession. There is no “instability” caused by succession either.

During the entirety of Pumipon’s reign he was a weak and cowardly individual who owed his position in society to the actions of the conservative elites, especially the military. He is beholden to them and only acted when told to do so by them. The military’s obsession with using and protecting the monarchy stems from this. They are extreme royalists because, for them, being a royalist means being pro-military. Lèse majesté exists in Thailand in order to protect the un-democratic powers of the elite who masquerade as incarnations of the King.

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All the political activists charged with lèse majesté in the last ten years, including myself, have primarily been critics of the military and the conservative elite’s interventions in politics against elected governments.

During the entirety of Pumipon’s reign, Thailand experienced decades of political crisis between 1973 and the mid-1980s. The present political crisis erupted in the run up to the 2006 military coup. Pumipon cannot be said to have provided any significant “peace and stability” for the Thai people. The opposite is true. He has tolerated and looked kindly upon those causing carnage in society and those who have sought to destroy democracy.

What the elites mean by “stability”, in association with the King, is really about using the King to stabilise elite power and privileges. This is why millions of Thais are holding their breath, waiting for things to get better after the King dies. But things will not get better just because of Pumipon’s death in the future.

The present Thai crisis and the authoritarian rule of the military junta, who have long out-stayed their welcome, are due to a three dimensional conflict between the unelected conservative elites who have held power under military rule or have monopolised electoral politics since 1932, and a new brand of electoral politics introduced by Taksin Shinawat’s Thai Rak Thai Party in 2001. It is a three dimensional crisis because Taksin’s policies were extremely popular with the electorate, especially the universal health care scheme and a number of pro-poor job creation projects. The majority of the population, who in reality had been totally ignored or suppressed by previous governments, found that they had a political stake in society. Taksin needed their electoral support and they relied on his government to improve their lives. Taksin’s electoral power could not be challenged by the unelected conservative elites at the ballot-box. The old elites and the middle-classes felt that they had lost out to a winning coalition between Taksin and the rural and urban working people.

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It is this that explains the violent middle-class Yellow Shirt protests and the various military and judiciary coups against elected governments led by Taksin and his supporters. It is this situation that explains why the present military junta are trying to force through an undemocratic constitution in order that they and the other conservative elites can retain power in future sham elections.

Obsession with the monarchy and life after Pumipon cannot explain anything about this crisis.

[In the next few weeks I shall be publishing a critique of the “Deep State” theory which some are attempting to use to “explain” the Thai crisis. ]

The Chronic Problem of Single-Issue Politics

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Single-issue politics has been a chronic problem which has dogged the Thai movements for many years. The root cause of this debilitating disease started with the collapse of the Stalinist communist parties and the rejection of what the Post Modernists and Anarchists called “Grand Political Theories or Narratives”.

When the Communist Party of Thailand collapsed in the mid-1980s, activists turned towards single-issue campaigns along with a rejection of politics and the need to overthrow the repressive state. They may have kidded themselves that they could somehow turn their backs on the state or steer a path round the state, as advocated by people such as John Holloway or Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, but reality they just transformed themselves into NGO lobbyists. These NGO activists were happy to lobby anyone in power, irrespective of whether they were democratically elected or military juntas. They also ignored the politics of the powerful elites and rejected the idea of class.

Therefore Thai NGO activists, who called themselves “the peoples’ movement”, enthusiastically lobbied Taksin’s government. When the Taksin government out-manoeuvred them with its pro-poor policies and also threatened them with mild repression, they became disenchanted with Taksin. As a result they chose to make an alliance with the most backward and conservative elements among the powerful elite, forming the royalist yellow-shirt “Peoples’ Alliance for Democracy”. They celebrated when the military eventually overthrew Taksin in the 2006 military coup. Some members of international NGOs based in Thailand, such as “Focus on Global South”, supported this reactionary position. The Thai NGOs continued along this path, trying to work with or lobby various dictatorships and some even joined with Sutep Tuaksuban’s anti-democratic mob.

Lately the NGOs have become “disappointed” in the junta’s reforms. What a farce!

The NGOs may or may not have learnt a lesson about supporting the destruction of democracy, but most have not given up their single-issue politics. Some of the recent NGO critics of the junta’s draft constitution, especially those concerned with health issues, have merely concentrated on their own single issues in their opposition. Instead they should be combining a general analysis about the destruction of democracy with a multitude of concrete issues to build a big picture criticism of the junta’s plans. This big picture analysis should go beyond the crude listing of all the various single issues in one place, as NGO coordinating networks tend to do. It should explain why all the issues are linked to the political and economic system. In terms of the present draft military constitution links must be made to military rule and the destruction of democracy since 2006.

When I was involved with the Thai Social Forum in Bangkok in 2006 I and my comrades tried to promote the inter-linking of various issues but experienced stiff resistance from most Thai NGOs.

The problem of “single-issue cretinism” is not confined to just some NGOs. On International Workers’ Day this year the “New Democracy Movement” issued an 8 point statement about why workers should reject the constitution. It was a dumbed-down document which merely talked about workers’ bread and butter issues. It failed to mention the attack on the universal health care system, presumably because they thought it was “nothing to do with workers” who have their own national insurance scheme. Yet workers’ families rely on the universal health care system. The worst offence by the “New Democracy Movement” was a failure to mention the problem of prolonging the dictatorship and the destruction of democracy. It was like they assumed that workers were too stupid to understand general big-picture politics.

The labour movement in Thailand contains progressive groups who have a big picture analysis of politics and have already rejected the military junta. Yet the “New Democracy Movement” ignored them and chose instead to take up a position alongside the most backward elements of the labour movement who reject or ignore politics.

This is such a shame because the “New Democracy Movement” has a good record of organising anti-dictatorship events, the latest of which, was the recent march to the democracy monument on the anniversary of Prayut’s coup.

One aspect of the NGO-style single-issue disease is that the former leadership of the railway workers union also supported the yellow-shirts and celebrated the 2006 military coup because they hated Taksin. But now the military have turned on them, threatening sections of the railways with privatisation. Of course, Taksin would have done the same as the military, but there was no excuse for the support given to the reactionaries.

Political theories and strategies have real concrete effects. It is not just an academic debate.

We need a revolutionary Marxist party in Thailand that can act as a bridge to link all the various single bread and butter issues with a class analysis of Thai capitalism in order to agitate for fundamental change. Such a party would also be at the forefront of building a mass social movement to get rid of the military. This is something we are trying to do, but so far the progress is painfully slow.

Further Reading

http://bit.ly/1UpZbhh On Thai NGOs and their politics

http://bit.ly/1TdKKYs  “Thailand’s Crisis and the Fight for Democracy”

 

The myth of the “Land of Smiles”

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The recent video footage of a British family being brutally attacked by drunken thugs in the Thai seaside resort of Hua Hin should be enough to dispel the myth that Thailand is a “Land of Smiles”.

Associated with this myth is the idea that somehow the Buddhist religion ensures tolerance and a peaceful way of life. The truth is the absolute opposite. The violent behaviour of fascist monks in Burma and Thailand are confirmation of this. See http://bit.ly/1WA9UE0 and http://bit.ly/1W1AA3C

Thailand is a violent society in many ways. Politically the ruling class have always resorted to violence to suppress opposition. We have seen this on the streets of Bangkok many times in the last five decades. We have also seen this in Patani. The murder rate in Thailand is higher than the United States and approximately five times higher than Western Europe. People also die violent deaths on the roads due to poor public transport, poor roads and bad driving. This is a form of violence caused by the state of society.

Violence by drunken thugs also happens regularly in Western Europe, but the main targets of young thugs are other young men. This makes the repeated attack on the British woman who is in her sixties particularly horrifying. Thai culture is supposed to teach people to respect elderly people. How did this happen? She was punched and then kicked in the head when on the ground. Of course racists are known to attack black people or Muslims in Europe, including elderly people and racism plays an important role in promoting violence.

However, to be fair, the video does seem to show her slapping the face of a Thai man earlier during the incident. But that does not excuse the brutal attack upon her later.

It is not enough of an explanation to say that the attack at Hua Hin was just local youth copying the behaviour of the Thai ruling class, especially the military junta. However, junta strong man Prayut  did threaten those sharing the above video with jail sentences because it “gives Thailand a bad name”!

Many Thais may appear to smile or laugh easily, but this is often a cultural way in which to cover embarrassment. In reality, in public settings, people in Thailand are less polite than the citizens of Britain. Some may question my assertion that British people are more polite to each other in public settings. But consider the way British people tend to hold open doors for each other, how many drivers thank other drivers for giving way to them, how flashing your car lights in Britain means “you go first”, while it means the opposite in Thailand. Consider how people getting off buses in Oxford thank the driver or how there is a serious attempt to show general respect for the privacy and dignity of others, especially in hospitals and schools. It comes from past collective struggles, especially by the labour movement, to promote equality and dignity. There is nothing specifically “British” about this. It is a result of class struggle.

Thais are warm and generous people and are open minded about children in a way that is not present in British society and they are more spontaneous in sharing meals with people. So it isn’t really a case of who is a “nicer” nation. After all, the British Empire has a long and bloody history of oppression, slavery and violence.

Biologically Thais are no more prone to any particular behaviour than any Europeans. But there are important social factors which lead to violence in society and a lack of politeness in public settings.  The most important factor is that Thai society is extremely hierarchical. The ruling class continues to do whatever it can to ensure that a “culture of citizenship and equality” is not allowed to grow. The idea that people should respect the elderly is often closely associated with more powerful elders like teachers, parents or people of higher rank, than poor elderly folk. There is as yet no welfare state in Thailand and the trade union movement is weaker than in Western Europe. Collective class struggle has not been strong enough so far. These are all factors which lead to a lack of mutual respect and a lack of collective consciousness among many ordinary people. Everyone is often too busy trying to make sure they can defend their individual way of life or the interests of their close family because there is no collective guarantee of security that one gets from a welfare state. That also explains why most Thais are so bad at queuing.

Those at the lower end of the pile, like the thugs at Hua Hin, can only seem to gain some false dignity by getting drunk and acting tough. Violence against women and children, worldwide, is often because oppressed men pathetically try to make up for their lack of power in the outside world by using violence against weaker people in their own family.

The racism, which is prevalent in Thai society, especially to people from other Asian countries, but also against Westerners, is encouraged by the extreme nationalism of the ruling class. This is part of the explanation of why Western tourists are sometimes attacked. They are seen as a privileged group of people and Western women are seen as lacking in morals. See http://bit.ly/1JaeTJY

All in all Thai society is sick because it is ruled by a brutal sick ruling class. Yet, millions of Thais try to lead decent and caring lives where they attempt to respect others. That is the glimmer of hope for the future. But to encourage the good and collective side of Thais, we need to end the dictatorship, destroy hierarchy, promote the idea of equality and citizenship, and build a welfare state to reduce inequality.

 

Thai politics

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