Thailand: 25 years after the end of the Berlin Wall

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The end of the Cold War, as symbolised by the destruction of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago, had a political impact on Thailand and its effects can still be seen today in the present crisis.

The destruction of the Berlin Wall was the last nail in the coffin of the Maoist Communist Party of Thailand (CPT). The party was already in decline because of the disillusionment of the students who had joined the party in the jungles and mountains after the 6th October 1976 blood bath. The students were unhappy with the authoritarian nature of the party. Another factor in the decline of the CPT was the new international alignment where China improved relations with the Thai junta and the United States while becoming hostile to Russia and Vietnam.

Those who left the CPT jungle strong-holds and returned to mainstream society, while still being politically active, became divided into three main groups.

The first group eventually found a home in Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party (TRT) and the red shirts. They were attracted to TRT’s pro-poor policies and the Stalinist-Maoist policy of building alliances with “progressive business people” helped legitimise their alliance with Taksin. Pumtam Wechayachai, a prominent TRT politician, boasted that they had now “seized state power” without the privations of living in the jungle camps. Both Weng and Tida, UDD red shirt leaders, were once high ranking officials of the CPT.

The second group of activists set up NGOs and turned their backs on big picture politics. Their aim was to lobby the elites and use foreign funds to help poor villagers. They rejected the idea of the need for a progressive political party, believing that all parties would tend to authoritarianism. They also rejected representative democracy and wished to ignore the state. These anarchistic ideas de-politicised and weakened the NGOs and meant that they failed to build mass movements and any political power. Instead their NGOs functioned like authoritarian small businesses. When Taksin’s TRT came to power and used state funds to improve the lives of villagers in a significant manner, the NGOs turned their anger on the government which was making the previous efforts of the NGOs look irrelevant. But the NGOs lacked a mass movement and any political leverage. They therefore built a reactionary alliance with the yellow shirts and welcomed the intervention of the military.

The third group of activists who left the jungle became academics. Almost all of them drew the conclusion that “Socialism was finished”, despite the fact that what was really finished was Stalinism and the authoritarian State Capitalist regimes in Russia and Eastern Europe. The real world choice was never just between Stalinist State Capitalism and free market Capitalism. There was always a third choice of “socialism from below” as represented by the ideas of Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and Luxemburg. The 2008 world economic crisis shows this very clearly. So does the growing inequality resulting from free market neo-liberal policies in China, Vietnam and Eastern Europe; not to mention the rest of the world. These academics became right-wing apologists for the military and some can now be seen sitting on the junta’s anti-reform committees.

Looking back over the last 25 years it is clear that the paths of the two sides; that led to being red shirts or yellow shirts, were both problematic. They lacked a socialist strategy for empowering the growing working class and the small farmers through building a party and mass movement independent of the elites.