Why do so many Thais mourn the death of Pumipon?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Embarrassing pictures of thousands of Thais crying and wearing black after the death of king Pumipon might lead a sane person to conclude that most Thais were political half-wits with a slave-like mentality. That would be a wrong conclusion.


Firstly we have to factor in the royalist military repression where anyone criticising the king is sent to jail under the draconian lèse-majesté law. Added to this is the green light given by the junta for mobs of fanatical royalists to “deal” with dissidents.

This is also one of the explanations given for the “cult of the dead king” in a recent article by Narisara Viwatchara in New Mandala [see http://bit.ly/2etCiva ]. She also mentions mysticism surrounding the monarchy and state funded king promotion. But these two other reasons are not enough of an explanation.

It is also not very useful for anyone to talk about “brain washing” and any explanation which says that “Thais have always held their kings in high regard” is historically incorrect and not a scientific explanation at all.


What we must explain is how millions of Thais came to voluntarily love Pumipon, despite the fact that he never did anything useful for Thai society, as I have previously outlined in my obituary on this blog site. This phenomenon is also despite the fact that royalism goes against the class interests of the majority of Thais because royalist ideology is used to enforce inequality and lack of freedom and democracy.

The Marxist theory of alienation helps us to understand how millions of Thais came to voluntarily love Pumipon by explaining that widely held beliefs and appearances are often not based on the truth. We can also understand when socialisation and coercion can work and when it fails to work. Socialisation is not the same as so-called “brain washing” as the latter term implies “stupidity” of those whose brains have been warped. Thai royalists are not royalist out of stupidity, although the content of their beliefs is stupid.

We know that the capitalist ruling class boosts its power by getting us to believe that the market, the family or the monarchy are “natural and good institutions”. This socialisation relies on a feeling of lack of power and a feeling of insecurity among the general population.

Thailand has no welfare state and the labour movement is not yet powerful enough to collectively enable citizens to stand up and fight for equality. The quality of life for most people seems to depend on big powerful people because of the lack of confidence that ordinary people can bring about change.

It is this feeling of fear and lack of status and confidence in Thai society, which is encouraged by the ruling class because it helps to socialise people into believing that the monarchy is a powerful benefactor. Yet it is an instrument to strengthen, not just the monarchy, but the entire modern Thai capitalist class, especially the military. That is why Taksin, the military, the civilian bureaucracy and the corporations all support and promote the monarchy.

The important thing to also consider is that devotion to the king is not an unchanging thing. After the 1932 revolution or during the struggle carried out by the Communist Party in the 1970s millions of Thais hated the monarchy.

The Marxist George Lukács, in his book “History and Class Consciousness”, explained that ruling class socialisation, which leads to an alienated belief in lies, can be overcome by mass struggle because it allows people to see their own strength and ability to determine the future on their own terms.

By struggling against the dictatorship in a collective manner, millions of Red Shirts ceased to revere the monarchy, especially when the royalist military dictatorship shot down unarmed pro-democracy activists. This effect may now have been mitigated to some degree by the time spent in inactivity and the fact that Taksin sowed seeds of hope in peoples’ minds about the so-called “progressive nature” of Wachiralongkorn. Never the less I would be willing to bet that millions of Thais would be happy if Thailand became a republic, especially after the death of Pumipon and the prospect of king Wachiralongkorn.

In order to challenge the collective madness or the “cult of the dead king”, which is gripping the population, we therefore need to build a mass pro-democracy social movement against the military dictatorship which can develop the fight into a struggle for socialism. Such a movement will inspire people with the confidence that they have the potential power to determine their own futures.

Finally, we need to oppose the statement from many people that “we must respect” the grieving of millions of Thais after Pumipon’s death. This grieving is not about personal loss of a friend or relative. It is totally political. Would people have said that we must “respect” the political views of millions of Germans who loved Hitler? Do we have to “respect” the views of racists? No, we do not have to respect political views and feelings which lead to tyranny or enslavement.