The UDD Red Shirts leadership isn’t up to the job of defending democracy

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

One thing that the Thai political crisis over the last 8 years has proved is that being in government does not mean controlling the state. Ever since the time of Marx and Engels, Marxists have argued that the state is made up of much more than the government. There are the “bodies of armed men”, courts, prisons, top civil servants and elite CEOs of big business. The state is the unofficial, unacknowledged, committee for managing the affairs of the entire capitalist ruling class. Its pretence at being neutral and law-abiding is a mechanism to win legitimacy among the population. There will be differences of opinion within the state. But its overall aim is to rule over, control and oppress other classes. In Thailand its function is to rule over ordinary working people and farmers who make up the majority of the population. It has not yet faced the power of the organised working class like in Europe or Egypt. The Thai state has yet to make serious concessions to democracy.

Over the last 8 years of the Thai crisis the Thai state has set its face against democracy and the idea of a free universal franchise. We have had one coup d’état by the army and 3 judicial coups. This repression of democracy is backed up by armed Democrat Party thugs on the streets who act with impunity. It is backed up by military appointed so-called “independent bodies”, acting under a military drafted constitution. It is supported by middle-class academics and NGO leaders. They also all claim to be “protecting the monarchy”, although the draconian lèse-majesté law prevents people from questioning or testing this.

It is obvious that to achieve freedom and democracy we shall have to pull down all the old structures of the Thai state.

But Taksin, Yingluk and Pua Thai have no intention of doing this. Their aim is to re-join the elite club who now run the state. They are not pro-democracy out of principle, merely out of convenience. The UDD Red Shirt leadership is wedded to Pua Thai. It is incapable of leading the necessary fight.

Any defence of democracy must come from the Red Shirt movement. There is no other movement which is remotely interested in doing this and no other group which has the potential capabilities. The Red Shirts are the largest pro-democracy social movement which has ever existed in Thailand. The majority still support Taksin, but at the same time wish to fight for democracy as a matter of principle and personal interest. They have a contradictory relationship with Taksin and Pua Thai.

The weakness of the Red Shirt movement comes in two forms: political leadership and power. What is needed is new leadership which is independent of Pua Thai and Taksin, with more self -organisation. There is an urgent need to assess the required task of overthrowing the old state structures and how this can be done. Power needs to come from being more closely allied to the organised working class, especially the private sector unions. Power also comes from the mass movement being made up of farmers throughout the country. Until this happens the Red Shirts will not be able to rebuild democracy and expand the democratic space.