The June 1932 revolution

The June 1932 revolution

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

On the 24th June 1932 the Thai absolute monarchy was overthrown in a revolution.

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     Thailand was well integrated into the world market by 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 successful revolution against the absolute monarchy of Rama 7th in June 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. 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 capitalist state that had previously been created by King Chulalongkorn in the 1870s, expanding the base of the 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 the fact that the Peoples Party lacked a solid mass base beyond the bureaucracy. In addition to this, the private capitalists and the working class were still weak in terms of social forces which could compete with the military.

Pridi’s attempts to build social democracy and a welfare state in Thailand after the revolution were obstructed by royalists loyal to the deposed king and also by the military. Pridi  was eventually driven out of Thailand and into exile.

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 Chulalongkorn abolished Sakdina feudal 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 section of the Thai ruling class. It is important to understand this, because there has been a tendency by both the Left and the Right to exaggerate the importance and “long-lasting traditions” of the Thai monarchy. Today’s king may seem to have the trappings of “tradition”, yet the influence of this institution has fluctuated over the last sixty years and in many cases its “sacredness” has been manufactured by military and civilian rulers to provide themselves with political legitimacy .

Many commentators argue that the “weakness” of Marxist or Communist ideology in Thailand was mainly due to the fact that there was no mass-mobilisation in the struggle for national liberation such as was seen in Indonesia, Burma or Vietnam. It is not true that Communist ideology was weak in Thai society, especially in the 1940s, 1950s and mid-1970s, and mass-mobilisation for the purpose of nation-building did occur in the 1932 revolution. However, the fact that the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) placed capitalist nation-building as its primary aim, in a similar vein to all other Stalinist-Maoist parties, did mean that the CPT had little to achieve, since the task of nation-building had already been started by the Chulalongkorn and was subsequently followed through by the 1932 revolution.

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     Since the 1960s, the conservatives in Thai society have sought to bury the history of the 1932 revolution and turn history upside down.

Read more in my book “Thailand’s Crisis”….at: http://www.scribd.com/doc/47097266/Thailand-s-Crisis-and-the-fight-for-Democracy

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