What do we see when we compare the 6th October massacre with today’s crisis?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The 6th October 1976 massacre at Thammasart University in 1976 was an attempt by the Thai ruling class to crush the growing left-wing movement which had developed out of the successful uprising against the military dictatorship three years earlier.

An important point about the 1973-1976 movement was that democracy and economic equality could not be separated. The 1973 uprising was a protest movement against dictatorship, but also against the repressive neo-liberal policies of the military governments, when the rulers and elites enriched themselves while wages remained stagnant and rural development was almost non-existent. The events were closely tied up with workers’ strikes and protests by farmers. Students and workers supported the Communist Party (CPT) because it stood against both dictatorship and economic injustice.

The present political crisis and successions of military and judicial coups since 2006, is also a result of the revolt against economic inequality by the mass of the population. But it is a revolt in a different form. Since the collapse of the Communist Party, the Left has been too weak to articulate the frustrations of ordinary working people in the cities and villages. It was the big business tycoon Taksin who opened up a can of worms by proposing concrete policies to modernise the country after the 1996 economic crisis. These policies included a universal health care service and job creation schemes. Taksin declared that the majority of people who were poor were potential stake-holders, not a burden on society. The majority of the population responded with enthusiasm because the ruling class had previously made the poor pay for the crisis. Even when the economy was booming, wages never rose as fast as the vast profits made by businesses and the population were never given any respect by the elites. This alliance between Taksin and the electorate was intolerable to the conservatives, the military and the middle classes. The present dictatorship wants to roll back the free universal health care policy and make people pay for hospital treatment. It opposes wage rises to give people a living wage and it promotes the King’s ultra-right-wing Sufficiency Economy ideology.

Another important point when looking back to the 1970’s is the issue of organisation. The Communist Party set out to build a mass party based on its Stalinist/Maoist version of left-wing politics. When the party was defeated in the 1980s ex-members turned their backs on political organisation and conscious political theory. They rejected the need to seize state power. Some joined Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai party, some became NGOs and others became reactionary royalist business people or academics. The lessons of how to build a mass political party were lost. The red shirts built a mass movement for democracy, often from grass-roots level, but leadership was in the hands of the UDD who followed Taksin. Now that Taksin and Yingluk have capitulated to the military for their own ends, grass-roots red shirts are at a loss about how to fight the dictatorship.

A third important issue to consider when looking at the 6th October 1976 and today is the sheer brutality of the Thai ruling class. Since the 1970s, again and again, up to the massacre of red shirts by the army in 2010, the Thai ruling class has been prepared to drown any movement for freedom, democracy and economic equality in blood. That is their true nature. They commit violence against Thai people in order to protect their class interests. Yet some Western idiots still talk about how “Thais seek to avoid confrontation”.

The middle-classes backed the brutal dictatorship back in 1976, some standing around gloating as students were hung from trees and burnt alive. Today they back the dictatorship and have taken part in violent acts to prevent elections. They are happy to see pro-democracy activists incarcerated in prison.

The 6th October 1976 massacre, and the eventual defeat of the Communists ten years later, opened the door to a form of money politics based on the patron-client system. This only began to change after the 1992 uprising against another dictatorship, the 1996 economic crisis, the drafting of a new constitution and finally the creation of Thai Rak Thai.

Now the military, together with their reactionary friends wish to turn the clock back again with their anti-reforms.

No wonder that the junta and the reactionary university authorities have banned the annual commemorative events for the 6th October and banned all public seminars about democracy. They want to bury our history of struggle.