Giles Ji Ungpakorn
Conservative western academics and royalist Thai commentators like to paint a picture of the 1932 revolution, which overthrew the absolute monarchy, as a “mere coup” with little support from the general population. In the past I have mentioned the work of historian Nakarin Mektrairat in challenging these distortions of history. In addition to this, a book published last year by Nuttapon Jaijing about the abortive Baworadet royalist rebellion in 1933 has some very interesting details.
Prince Boworadet assembled rebel soldiers at Korat in October 1933, ready to move down by train to attack Bangkok and restore the power of the monarchy. The royalists spread propaganda that the government, and especially Pridi Panomyong, were communists who wanted to establish a republic. The rebels planned to assassinate leaders of the People’s Party when they entered Bangkok.
As soon as news of the royalist rebellion reached Bangkok, many citizens volunteered to form an army to fight off the rebellion and defend the constitution. Military reservists started reporting for duty even though the government had not yet issued any orders to report. Civilians also volunteered to help the police in intelligence gathering about those involved with the royalist rebellion. Boy scouts reported for duty to help keep the peace in the capital city and they also played an important role in supplying government troops with ammunition and other essentials.
Trade unionists were prominent in volunteering to fight against the rebellion. Workers from munitions factories, aircraft maintenance workers, Siam Cement workers, boatmen, taxi drivers and railway maintenance workers at the Makasan repair shop, all expressed enthusiasm to join the fight against the royalists.
The Siam Tram Workers Union, led by the radical trade union leader Tawat Rittidet, offered on two separate occasions to go straight to the front to fight Baworadet’s army. The government politely declined the offer, stating that at that moment they had enough soldiers. As a result, the tram workers organised teams to act as guards in Bangkok and also collect intelligence, instead of going to the front. The Siam Tram Workers Union already had a long history of opposition to the Absolute Monarchy and apart from printing a workers’ newspaper, its offices were open for use by radicals who campaigned for women’s rights. After the Baworadet rebellion was crushed, Pridi Panomyong made special mention of the support from the union.
In Samut Sakorn young men assembled to form a volunteer force to fight the rebellion and they also demanded that the government send them arms. There are numerous records of different groups of citizens in the provinces forming volunteer teams. A group of ordinary women in Gang-Koi, near Saraburi, volunteered to help supply the government troops. Even monks volunteered to help the government.
In Kon Kaen troops and members of the public mobilised to stop the rebels from moving north to seize the city and after the rebels retreated from Lak Si, north of Bangkok, they tore up the railway lines and damaged bridges to prevent the rebels from moving north beyond Korat.
The rebels had another centre in the south around Petburi and Hua Hin, near the king’s palace. A low-ranking railway clerk at Petburi railway station organised workmates to secretly empty diesel fuel from locomotives to stop any military advance on Bangkok.
In the end the rebels were unable to advance on the capital city and were defeated at Lak Si where a monument to the victory against the royalists was erected.
Nuttapon Jaijing’s book is an important source of historical research which helps to destroy the right-wing myth that the 1932 revolution was merely a military coup by a small group opposed to the monarchy and that the revolution “lacked legitimacy in the eyes of most Thais”. It is a snap-shot of the radicalisation that was taking place among ordinary citizens at the time.