Giles Ji Ungpakorn
A lot of people use the term “populism” to describe a certain kind of politics in the world today, especially what is called “right-wing populism”, which is used to label fascist parties in Europe, UKIP in Britain and Donald Trump in the United States.
In Thailand the term “Populism” has been much in fashion to describe the politics of Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party.
Yet the use of “Populism” has nasty and insulting connotations towards ordinary working people and the poor. It is a middle-class form of abuse towards the poor by so-called “liberals” who deem themselves to be better-educated and more intelligent than the supposedly backward and narrow-minded unwashed “proles”.
In the Thai case, the use of the term “Populism” was used to condemn Thai Rak Thai’s pro-poor policies such as the Universal Health Care system, which gave affordable health care to all citizens for the first time. It was used to condemn the job creating schemes in rural areas and the rice subsidy programme of the Yingluk government. Those who use this term are in the main un-democratic right-wing free-market liberals and reactionary middle class academics and NGOs who believe that state budgets, built through taxation of ordinary people, should not be used to increase the quality of life for the majority.
These people lied and insulted ordinary working people, especially the rural population, by saying that Taksin had “bought votes” by offering pro-poor policies which won him many elections. For these liberals, the poor were just too stupid to see that increases in their standard of living was “bad for the country” because it destroyed fiscal discipline. The poor should have been “bright enough” to vote for the Democrat Party which promised them nothing. These same people keep quiet today about lavish spending on the royals and the bloated military budget. They also welcomed both recent military coups.
The present junta is busy designing a backward and reactionary “National Strategy” which will prevent future political parties from offering pro-poor policies at elections. At a stroke they will disenfranchise the majority of Thai citizens from any democratic choice.
In the West the term “Populism”, when used to describe the odious and reactionary policies of Donald Trump, the racism of UKIP and the naked fascism of Le Pen in France or Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, has the same nasty and insulting connotations towards ordinary working people and the poor. The implication is that the “proles” can be easily manipulated because they lack the intelligence and reason of the middle-classes.
The difference is only that these right-wing politicians in the West are out and out reactionaries or dangerous Nazis and they have to be vigorously opposed.
In Britain the middle-class so-called liberals condemn everyone who voted to leave the European Union as racists. Yet the Brexit vote was a protest vote against the entire British establishment which has been destroying the lives of millions of ordinary people. What is more, both sides in the referendum debates, with the exception of the Left, used racist language. The elites and the middle-classes are often more racist than ordinary workers because they come across less black people and do not need to unite with them in trade unions in the same way as workers.
In the United States these liberals try to paint a picture of red-necked ignorant US workers who are just racist and sexist and therefore support Trump. In reality Trump won the election because ordinary people were sick and tired of the elite pro-business policies of Clinton and Obama. It was a shame that Trump could opportunistically win as a result of this.
The middle-class liberals never care about the lives of ordinary working people. They keep quiet about increasing inequality, the destruction of living standards in Greece at the hands of the EU and the increasing official racism of the EU. Some of Trump’s odious policies were started under Obama. What is more these liberals never tire of attacking left-wing politicians like Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbin who would be able to harness the anger against the establishment in a progressive and anti-racist direction. They also fail to name those like Le Pen or Geert Wilders as “fascists” and believe in allowing them space to spurt their filth.
It is time to stop using the term “Populism”. It is insulting to ordinary people, it white-washes the fascists and hides the real explanations for politics in Thailand and the West.