All posts by uglytruththailand

We are sick of the hypocritical and dishonest reporting of events by mainstream institutions in Thailand. This non-commercial, activist blog is dedicated to the political struggle for democracy, equality and human rights in Thailand. To contact the main writer please e-mail: ji.ungpakorn@gmail.com

Looking Back on the Thai 1997 Economic Crisis

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The period leading up to the 1997 economic crisis was a period in which the Thai economy grew at a phenomenal rate. Average GDP growth rates reached 8% and on occasions the annual rate was in double figures. The main beneficiaries, naturally, were the rich. Between 1975 and 1988 the richest 20% of the population increased their share of national wealth from 43% to 55.4%, while the share controlled by the poorest 20% dropped from 6% to 4.5%.

The economic crisis was a shock to almost everyone for most had predicted it. Once the crisis broke, political scapegoats were quickly found in order to protect the status-quo. The more neo-liberal sections of the big business community quickly suggested the idea that the crisis was all the fault of Prime Minister Chawalit Yongjaiyut‘s government. This ridiculous message was put across at the “Silom Road Business People’s Protests” in October 1997, where businessmen and professional people came down from their office blocks, to demonstrate. They demanded and soon achieved the resignation of Chawalit’s government. The rich were not, however, very good at demonstrating. Many complained about the heat and others brought their servants to make up the numbers and, no doubt, to serve them with cold drinks and drive them to the protest.

Once Chawalit resigned, his Government was replaced by a Democrat Party-led coalition under Chuan Leekpai. The new finance minister, Tarrin Nimmanhaemind, was regarded as a reliable “bankers’ man”. This suggestion was born out by the fact that the Government quickly moved to nationalise the private debts of 56 failed banks and finance companies, which the Chawalit Government had already closed, and then proceeded to set aside a further 300 billion baht of state funds to boost the capital of existing banks. In total, the Government committed at least 1.2 trillion baht of public money to prop up the banking system and the savings of the rich and middle-classes.

The same enthusiasm for the use of public finances was not shown towards helping the poor and the unemployed who were worst hit by the crisis. The Government passed a bill allowing it to withhold state contribution to the private sector employees’ Social Insurance Fund and repeatedly delayed the implementation of an unemployment benefit scheme. It also told the unemployed to “go back to their villages” and live off their relatives. According to one survey carried out for the National Economic & Social Development Board, there was a 12.6% decline in earnings rates and a 4.4% decline in hours of employment in the first half of 1998. These were the main factors behind a fall in real incomes of 19.2% over this period.

The racist explanations of the Asian crisis which talked about Asian corruption, Asian Crony Capitalism and lack of good governance in Asia, are hardly worthy of serious consideration. More serious mainstream explanations for the crisis pinned the blame on lack of proper controls over investment after economic liberalisation in the late 1980s. Although it is true that the increased free movement of capital in and out of Thailand made the boom and the crisis more spectacular, these highly visible movements of money were more a symptom of what was happening in the real economy rather than the cause of the crisis. The implication of this neo-liberal explanation was that if proper controls were established, then crises would never occur again. Clearly a review of Western economies shows this to be nonsense.

The Marxist theory of capitalist crisis identifies over-production and falling rates of profit as the key underlying factors causing a crisis. Both these factors result from the uncontrolled competition for profit found under Capitalism. The main cause of the tendency for a fall in the rate of profit is the increased investment in fixed capital as compared to the hiring of labour (from which surplus value is extracted). However, the falling rate of profit is only an overall tendency with many countervailing factors. Profit rates can be restored temporarily by increased labour efficiency, increased exploitation or the destruction of competitors.

In Thailand over-capacity and falling rates of return were seen in most of the export industries. This caused a shift in the direction of investment away from the productive sector towards speculation in real estate and the banking system. It is estimated that in 1996 about half of all investment was property related and this accounted for half of annual GDP growth.

The Thai working class reacted to the crisis in different ways. On the one hand, significant groups of workers were very angry when their annual bonus payments were cut. On one occasion, a Japanese-owned electronics factory was burnt to the ground. At many workers’ protest gatherings after that, someone could be relied upon to scare the management with a cry of “set fire to the bloody place!” Most of the time it was just a bluff. On another occasion workers at Summit Auto Parts blocked a main highway in response to a bonus cut, but they were eventually physically beaten by riot police, supported by volunteer “emergency rescue workers” and right-wing journalists from The Nation and their struggle was defeated.

A more organised response came at the Triumph underwear factory, where women workers had a long tradition of building a strong shop stewards network. Workers were able to achieve a respectable wage increase after a twenty day dispute in July 1999.

The rate of inflation, which quickly fell (after an initial rise) as the economy went into recession, was also a factor in determining the will to fight. For those who retained their jobs, a further sharp fall in living standards was avoided by the decline in inflation.

The dominant ideological response among organised workers and left-wing intellectuals to the crisis, and to the manner in which governments handled economic policy, was in the form of Left Nationalism. This ideology was a mirror image of ruling class nationalism.  A quick glance through the new book titles in any Thai book shop during the early part of the crisis would quickly have revealed the growing number of publications on “saving the country from the crisis”. In the main these publications were written by left-of-centre academics, many of them ex-CPT sympathisers, who regarded the 1997 crisis as a serious threat to “national independence”.

The cause of the crisis, according to the nationalists, was the imperialist designs of the G7 powers, especially the United States, in attempting to put the Asian Tigers under the yoke of Economic Colonialism. This could be seen from the proposal that the crisis was merely a crisis of a certain model of Capitalism: “fast-track” or foreign-investment-led export orientated manufacturing. Much of the Left Nationalist analysis also leant heavily on Dependency Theory, which saw the main divide in the world as between the “northern” industrial countries and the “southern” developing countries.

A number of solutions were proposed by the Left Nationalists; all within the framework of the capitalist system. Firstly there were the naive and utopian ideas of the “Community Economists” who believed that the Thai economy could somehow “turn back” to a self-sufficient low technology agricultural economy. Instead of foreign capital and technology, Thailand should use traditional “Thai intellectual resources”.

Secondly, there was a proposal to use Keynesian style economics. It was argued that the state should increase public expenditure in order to stimulate consumption. This strategy was eventually adapted for use by Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai (TRT) government after their election victory in 2001.

In the general election of January 2001, TRT won a landslide victory. The election victory was in response to previous government policy under the Democrats, which had totally ignored the plight of the rural and urban poor. TRT also made 3 important promises to the electorate. These were (1) a promise to introduce a Universal Health Care Scheme for all citizens, (2) a promise to provide a 1 million baht loan to each village in order to stimulate economic activity and (3) a promise to introduce a debt moratorium for poor peasants.

Ex-student and NGO activists, such as Pumtam Wejjayachai were recruited to TRT and became important links with the Peoples Movement. These activists encouraged the Prime Minister to meet with social movements like the Assembly of the Poor and they coordinated with movement and NGO leaders in order to solve disputes or dampen down protest actions against the Government.

Pumtam explained that Thailand needed a “Dual Track” development policy, where “Capitalism” and the “Peoples Economy” (community based activities) went hand in hand. This eventually evolved into the government policy of mixing neo-liberal policies with “grass roots Keynesianism”. The government also spent state funds on improving the lives of ordinary citizens and on developing infrastructure in order to raise productivity. These measures were helpful in reviving the economy, along with the fact that the Western advanced nations and China were not in crisis at the time, but they had little impact on preventing any future economic crises.

The popularity of Taksin and TRT with the electorate eventually resulted in increasing hostility against the government from conservative members of the ruling class, Taksin’s political rivals and members of the middle classes. They resented the alliance between the government and urban and rural working people and wanted to turn the clock back to the bad old days when the majority of the population were to be ignored by politicians and members of the elites. Today, we are still living under the shadow of military coups and a military regime which intends to craft a “Military Guided Democracy”.

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Economic Deja-vu

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

A recent analysis of the state of the Thai economy from the research department of Phatra Capital indicated two important structural problems. Firstly, continuing economic inequality means that any GDP growth at the present rates does not translate into increased well-being for the majority of the population. Secondly, Thai rates of productivity are too low to compete on the world market which is still growing slowly due to the long recession since 2008. A big factor here is that most industrial companies are still relying on cheap labour rather than trying to invest in modern technology and a higher skilled labour force. The cheap labour today comes from migrant workers from neighbouring countries. In rural areas productivity among small agricultural producers remains too low to raise people out of poverty. Where agriculture has a higher productivity it is among the agribusiness conglomerates.

This is exactly the same problem which faced the Thai economy just before the 1997 economic crisis. For this reason Taksin Shinawat and his newly formed Thai Rak Thai party set out to modernise Thailand, develop a higher skilled work force, increase productivity and raise the general standard of living of most working people, both in rural areas and in the city.

Thai Rak Thai called this a “dual track” policy, mixing grass-roots Keynesian state investment with promotion of the free-market at a national level. Among the policies initiated by Taksin’s government were universal health care for all, job creation at village level through cheap loans, measures to reduce farmers’ debt and increased investment in education and the promotion of digital skills. The Yingluck government’s rice price subsidy scheme was part of this kind of policy.

Taksin’s policies did not wipe out poverty or bring in economic equality. He denied that he wanted to build a welfare state, which would have been a vast improvement, and he was totally opposed to raising taxes on the rich. However, the policies did raise the living standards of most citizens and gave them hope for the future. This is why millions voted for his parties in elections without Taksin having to spend millions in buying votes like political parties in the past.

Yet the conservatives and neo-liberals derided these policies. The Democrat Party, the conservative bureaucrats, the right-wing academics and the middle classes called it “Populism”. Some foreign academics have gone along with this kind of right-wing discourse. For all these people, supporting the poor and the majority of the population was “bad for the country”. They wanted to return to the bad old days when the poor knew their place, state spending was concentrated on the military and the elites and elections were nothing to do with real policies.

In the end the conservatives and neo-liberals got their way with military and judicial coups. They are now ensuring that in any future elections, governments will not be allowed to support the poor, bring about modernisation or lower inequality.

In terms of the structural problems in the Thai economy, we are back to Square One.

But if we look at Taksin’s side, he and his party were reluctant in mobilising the mass of the population against the military and the conservatives. They have deliberately destroyed the pro-democracy red shirt movement. This is because they feared the results of any future mass uprising more than they feared the continued dominance of the military and the conservatives. We could even say that Taksin’s attempts to drag Thai society into the modern world and solve the problems of inequality were just half-hearted.

This reminds me of Leon Trotsky and Karl Marx’s theories of Permanent Revolution. The theory of Permanent Revolution argues that in less developed countries the modern capitalists and the conservative monarchists will seek compromise with each other and real progress towards a modern and equal society will need to be led by the working class and a working class based revolutionary party. This holds true for Thailand today. Taksin’s capitalist party attempted to carry out half-hearted modernisation, while always seeking to find ways to compromise with the conservatives and hold back the mass movement, and this has ended in the destruction of democracy and the fossilisation of society.

Materialist Power or Abstract Mystical Power of the Thai Monarchy?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

For some years I have argued that king Pumipon of Thailand never had any real power and that his role was purely to give legitimacy to the political actions of the elites, especially the military. He was used by them as a symbol of the “natural order of things in society” in order to maintain the status quo.

When I have debated the power of the Thai king with some of my colleagues, especially Ajarn Somsak Jeamteerasakul and more recently Eva Hanson, their argument against my position is to say that I am looking at a narrow definition of power: the power to order something to happen. But in my view this is the essence of political power. It is a materialist, real world concept of concrete power. No other power exists. Examples of this concrete power are the power to order the military to stage a coup, the power to order the shooting down of pro-democracy demonstrators, the power to order the judiciary to make decisions according to the views of the monarchy, or the power to dictate political, economic and social policy. Quite a few Thais actually believed that king Pumipon had such concrete power. Yet it could never be proved.

However, those who argue against my definition of power claim that the Thai king never had to order anything directly because people would “know” what he desired and would therefore issue the orders on his behalf.

Now, in my view, this is just playing with words. Those that claimed to “know” the king’s wishes, without him ever ordering anything must have been engaged in self-delusion for nothing can be proven. It is not only self-deception, but a great public lie in order to justify to society what they choose to do. Without clear instructions or rebukes from the monarch there is no way of knowing that these people have correctly read the mind of the king. In fact I would go so far as to state that those claiming to be carrying out the king’s wishes in this way are merely using the king to give legitimacy to their own political agenda. This leads straight back to my position which states that the king was weak and used by the elites.

There are people all over the world who claim to be carrying out “God’s work”. This claim is made without any attempt to ever show a concrete instruction from God. There are no letters, e-mails or sound recordings of God’s wishes for us to investigate. At most there are only ancient “holy books”, which were in fact written by ordinary human beings, who claimed to be carrying out God’s work, and often these books are full of contradictions.

As an atheist I do not believe that God exists. But surely Ajarn Somsak or Eva Hanson would have to agree that using their thesis, God is in fact a very powerful and real being?

Or is it really that God is a powerful excuse used by ordinary mortals, to legitimise their actions to other humans who also believe in God?

So surely those who claim to have carried out Pumipon’s wishes are really only using what they hope is a powerful symbol in the eyes of some Thais in order to legitimise their own actions. In plain language, Pumipon was a powerful excuse to legitimise the policies of the Thai elites, irrespective of whether he agreed or disagreed with them and he never had any say in the matter either. In other words, he had no power. He was just a tool.

Of course, the Thai ruling classes had to attempt to socialise the population into respecting and loving the king in order that he could be a useful tool in the first place. But this was just propaganda which could be countered. At certain moments in history, the Communist Party successfully countered royalist propaganda. More recently some Red Shirts have done the same on a smaller scale. This is just an example of Gramsci’s “War of Position”, an ideological war.

In many societies “the law” is used by the ruling class to legitimise their actions. But “the law”, which the ruling class has written for its own benefit, is only powerful if the general population accept it. Once they do not, the real naked power of the police and army have to be used. We have seen this recently in Catalonia. We also see how the Thai junta constantly quote their own laws to justify their actions, but they are commanding the guns, tanks and the courts. Once the theatrical mask slips, we see the true nature of power.

The argument that Pumipon never had to order anyone to do anything directly, but somehow remained the most powerful man in Thailand does not hold water. It is merely another way of saying that he was used by the powerful elites to justify their actions.

New Monarchy now less important to Thai Junta than before

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Despite the manic funeral ceremony from Pumipon, the new monarchy in the form of Wachiralongkorn will be less important for the junta and its conservative allies in the future.

King Pumipon was never a powerful figure who could order the military, the capitalists or the politicians to do his bidding. The reality was that Pumipon was merely a willing tool of those in power, especially the military. His role was always to provide a strong ideological legitimacy for the elites and their actions, especially the actions of the army. Pumipon was never brave or resolute enough to be a political leader. His ideological role was not just about defending the military and the undemocratic elites. His reactionary “Sufficiency Economy” ideology was designed to oppose any redistribution of wealth and to support neo-liberalism by opposing state intervention to alleviate poverty. [See http://bit.ly/2oppTvb]

King Wachiralongkorn is even more weak and pathetic than his father. This is because he lacks all credibility because of his terrible behaviour, which robs him of any respect, even among royalists, and the fact that he has absolutely no interest in affairs of state. In terms of providing any legitimacy for the actions of the military or the elites, Wachiralongkorn is not fit for purpose.

So what is the junta going to use to replace the role of Pumipon? One option which they are engaged in right now, is the crafting of the “National Strategy”. This is a set of political and economic rules which will have a higher status than any laws. It will restrict all future governments and government institutions to the narrow path laid down by the junta. It will be policed by the National Strategy Committee, headed by Generalissimo Prayut, various sub-committees filled with junta appointees, and by the military backed Constitutional Court and the Election Commission.

It is claimed that this National Strategy Committee, which is part of the grand design for a system of “Guided Democracy” will ensure good governance and good stewardship of the nation. The junta and its friends have been banging on about “good” people for years. Not surprisingly, good people are those who think and act like the authoritarian generals. So Thailand has had a number of “good” military coups and other “good” acts have included shooting down “bad” unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators.

It is also falsely claimed that the National Strategy can create unity, reconciliation and political reform.

The ruling class, and especially the military, will still cling to, quote and enforce the reactionary ideology of “Nation, Religion and Monarchy” and the use of the draconian lèse majesté law will continue when the military and the status quo is criticised by dissenters.

But those in power will now depend much more on quoting the “sacred” National Strategy, as though it had genuine legal status, in order to legitimise suppression of the opposition.

We should not be surprised at the changing role of the monarchy. It has never been set in stone. In the period up to the overthrow of the generals in 1973, King Pumipon was just one factor among many providing legitimacy for the military. Anti-communism and the ideology of “Nation Religion and Monarchy” were the mainstays of the dictatorship. Of course Pumipon was promoted as a symbol of anti-communism. But the manic propaganda promoting him to a god-like status only took off after the communist threat had subsided.

The lèse majesté law is also flexible in its purpose. After the recent military coups it was used more to protect the military than Pumipon and the recent  lèse majesté charge against Sulak Sivaraksa because of a public speech about King Naresuan, who ruled the Ayutthaya Kingdom 400 years ago, shows that it can be used against those who question Thailand’s manufactured nationalist history.  Questioning this history is a threat to the status quo.

In addition to this, the junta has drawn up a law to prevent anyone from criticising the Constitutional Court. Anyone who does this will risk a prison sentence. As already mentioned, the Constitutional Court is to be used to police the National Strategy and in the past it has been used to overthrow elected governments.

In some ways the Thai National Strategy can be seen as similar to Indonesia’s “Pancasila”, which was a set of five guiding principles initiated by President Sukarno and later used to suppress left-wing or religious opposition, especially under the dictator Suharto. Pancasila was also used to repress the rights of populations to break away from Indonesia and to justify a lack of democracy. Pancasila’s so-called legitimacy was based on the need for national unity and order and General Suharto often pointed to the chaos of the early years after independence to justify it. The Thai junta will use the same justification.

Whether or not the Thai National Strategy can become the “New Monarchy” remains to be seen and depends on whether the junta can convince the majority of citizens to willingly accept it. In the meantime, Wachralongkorn will enjoy spending his millions in his palace in Germany and the Thai ruling class will try to keep him out of the limelight.

Read full paper here: http://bit.ly/2xGDiSu 

Reflections of a student activist who joined the communists after the 6th October 1976

By Comrade “Sung”

When I stepped through the gates of Chulalongkorn University as a first year student I was determined to seek out more meaning to life. During the period following the overthrow of the dictatorship in 1973 and the blossoming of democracy, many Left-wing or so-called “front-line” books appeared on stalls. I wasn’t much of a reader but I chose titles on subjects which interested me, e.g. “Mao’s works on philosophy”, “Scientific thought” by Anut Apapirom, “Who builds, who grows our food?”, “The real face of Thai feudalism” by Jit Pumisak, “On practice and on contradiction”, “The theory of three worlds” etc. I also read various documents provided by older students for study circles which were organised during “self-development” camps in the countryside.

It was most exciting when demonstrations and protests took place in factories, such as the one at “Standard Garments”. We slept overnight outdoors at Sanam Luang, we issued proclamations, we put up posters, and we listened in on the police radio channel …. Studying at university became a mere sideline with others doing the studying while we concentrated on the more important work of struggling for democracy and ridding the country of U.S. imperialism.

Now, when some of my class mates called me an “extremist” or a “Left-winger” I always felt secret pride. At the start of 1975 I had the chance to talk to a woman who had previously been imprisoned for being a Communist. This led me to rethink the events which I had read about as a child in the dark past under the dictatorship, such as the members of parliament from Isan who had been murdered for being Communists or those other political prisoners who had been executed. I concluded that the parliamentary road was not the road for me.

At Thammasat University, which became a gathering point for activists, ex-political prisoners and plain clothed policemen, I met so many different people. We all became known as “the masses of Sanam Luang”. I tended to follow what the students leaders decided during their discussions without much thought or questioning. In fact there were no opportunities for open discussions on tactics or strategy because much of our work was carried out in an “underground” manner. We didn’t even know the names of the top student leaders who planned activities. We had no idea how activities were coordinated. At my level we just followed their lead. Secrecy increased after farmer and student leaders started to be killed in the middle of 1975. Many activists disappeared from public view as a result.

At the start of 1976 some of the older students in leadership positions warned us to be prepared to flee to the countryside in the event of a bloody crack-down. Some people had already visited the “Pink Areas”. They talked about the liberated zones, the strongholds, the front line, the liberation army, and the need for secrecy. The content of “Songs for Life” music started to reflect “revolution” rather than just the problems of poverty. We also listened to “The heroes of the revolution”, played over the air by the Voice of the People of Thailand, the C.P.T. (Communist Party of Thailand) radio station.

My life-style changed from that of a well-to-do student to that of a “progressive youth” according to the teachings in the book “Chiwatat Yaowachon” (Outlook on life for youth). We ate simply and those of us who were women cut out hair short, we wore the shirts of fishermen, jeans and rubber flip-flops and carried cloth bags on our shoulders. Whatever was associated with the consumption of happiness was cut out. I revolted against my parents. Love for my friends had to be secondary to “love for the masses”. In fact “personal” or “private” was cut away like our hair. I engaged in a huge battle with myself to deny the “personal” and just concentrate on the “communal”. Each battle resulted in my hair getting shorter.

The killings of students and members of the public who were deemed to be Communists and the lies about the students insulting the Crown Prince, which led to the bloodshed early on the 6th October 1976, pushed the student movement into the jungle to join the C.P.T.

I was one of those students who had been asked by a friend to join them in the jungle. I left whole-heartedly, without hesitation. I didn’t even wait to be contacted by the C.P.T. network. It was not fear that sent me to the jungle. I decided to go so that I could join the struggle instead of having to hide and await arrest.

At the edge of the jungle, 4-5 “jungle soldiers” were waiting for us. One of them, whom I suspected was the leader, was older and taller than the rest. I could only see their shadowy figures in the dark. I guessed that they were wearing smart military uniforms with tough leather boots, each carrying guns. We shook hands and then started to climb. My friends had to push and pull me all the way. I was so tired when we reached the first resting place that when a comrade tied a hammock between two trees, I fell asleep instantly.

More and more students joined us in the jungle until we had to build a new dormitory. It was wonderful being a new comrade in the jungle. Every night we would organise a welcome party for the new arrivals. There would be singing, dancing, poetry and always a play about the 6th October so that the jungle soldiers would know about the bloody events.

I was prepared to die there in the jungle or stay and fight for the revolution until victory. I thought, rather naively, that it would take 5, maybe 10 years at the most. “The Party” was what we called the Communist Party of Thailand. Sometimes we’d refer to it instead as “The Organiser” (Jat Tang), which really meant our own key party organiser or cadre. I was assigned to a group of 9 women intellectuals, half of whom were experienced comrades. The head of the unit would lead us in work and study. Various groups had different functions such as food production, fighting, agitation among the masses, transport, medical care, news, entertainment, sewing, cooking, library and newspaper production. For us newly-arrived comrades, it was agricultural work which was the heaviest.  We weren’t used to work like farming, weeding, finding firewood, cutting bamboo or cutting down logs. We soon had swollen and blistered hands from using spades and our bodies ached from the strain of work. Transport work was pretty tough too. We’d have to carry huge heavy loads up and down mountains until some people suffered from slipped disks, twisted ankles and damaged knees. Most of our time was spent in this kind of heavy work. We’d have to rise up early in the morning and go out to the fields in all weathers: baking heat, rain or cold. We had to adjust ourselves to mountain weather…and then there were various biting insects, leeches and ticks, not to mention malaria and typhoid which all helped to make us weak and sick.

We also all had to listen to the Voice of the People of Thailand radio station in the open meeting hall, which just had a thatched roof. The Organising Cadre forbid us to listen to any other radio stations. In the library, where there were a number of bookshelves and a large table, there were not that many books. Mainly they were translated books, picture books such as China Pictorial, cartoon books from the Communist Party of China (such as The Stupid Grandfather Moves the Mountain, Learning from the Example of Doctor Batoon, The Study of Character by Sue-ter, The Heroine Liew-Hu-Lan etc.. Marxist theoretical books such as Capital, The Communist Manifesto or the works of Lenin were absent. This was typical of all C.P.T. camps. Those who had not taken advantage of the flourishing of Left-wing books in open Thai society after the 14th October 1973 uprising, did not stand a chance of improving their reading in the jungle.

There were also the compulsory “Self-Criticism” sessions…..Our naivety in taking part in such sessions allowed the Organising Comrades to access our innermost secrets and to use such information in gossip circles. Some people would confess that they had committed the “sin of masturbation” while most of us did it but without making any confessions! Argument and criticism of The Party was not allowed. Anyone who asked the wrong questions was considered to be undisciplined, an enemy of the revolution or a “revisionist”.

If we had questions about politics, we seldom received answers. Discussing politics outside the official discussion circles or without an Organising Cadre being present was also considered to be “undisciplined”: building incorrect relationships outside the line of command. Those who were always reporting to the leadership, working hard, obedient, never asking awkward questions, never arguing and never complaining were “those without problems”. Soon they would be nominated for Youth Member (Yaw) and then Full Member (Saw).

Some of my friends who arrived in the jungle with their lovers had a worse time than me. Their private lives were always under scrutiny. They were banned by the Organising Cadre from speaking together alone. They had to think about each other secretly in their own hearts. They weren’t allowed to sit together at meal times. One of my male friends who was in this situation was soon sent away to another camp from his girlfriend. The two lovers who had fled together in solidarity to the jungle could now only see each other very occasionally. This was regarded as a “test of love for The Party”. It was a case of deciding whether The Party or your lover was more important. Did you love the revolution or were you more concerned for selfish private matters?

The Party had a “Three Slows” policy. This is how it went: if you did not have a lover, do not be in a hurry to find one. If you had a lover, do not be in a hurry to get married (and have sex) and if you were married do not be in a hurry to have children. I never understood why The Party was so against such natural human feelings, but I could never find anyone with whom to discuss this matter.

As time passed, we forgot to think, forgot to be creative, and forgot to question and research… I noticed that hardly anyone bothered to borrow books from the library anymore, people stopped writing and the study circles took place less often, only about twice a year.

In such a camp society, where the local leaders were peasants, the role of intellectuals carried no honour. Being a peasant was honourable. Sometimes we could not tell the difference between being monks and being revolutionaries, the difference between peasant narrow-mindedness and Marxism, or the difference between utopian idealism and scientific materialism. Why did we have to spend all our energy producing food while hiding in the jungle far away from the masses? How long would we have to carry on the fight like this? These were some of the many questions without answers.

By the 3rd and 4th year, many of my friends were “Youth Members” or “Full Members”. Some became section heads and went out on propaganda missions. I was not one of them. I was one of those people with problems and I still needed time to change. I once read the C.P.T. regulations for membership acceptance. Those whose parents were peasants or workers or who were ex-political prisoners or members of The Party, had priority. These were the people who had “inherited” their revolutionary spirit from their blood relations. And it was noticeable that the Full Members (Saw) and the sons and daughters of top cadres formed a kind of elite within the camps. They had more personal effects, baskets and sweet-smelling soap which would certainly be an impediment in the event of an evacuation of the camp. In contrast, people like myself had a few possessions arranged around our beds: In my case: an English-Thai dictionary, 3 changes of clothes (2 sets were work clothes, which were constantly patched and re-patched and one military uniform for special occasions), a torch, plate, cup, water bottle, hammock, blanket, mosquito net, rucksack and a pair of rubber sandals made from an old car tyre. I was truly someone without property!

After 4 years, some of the student intellectuals asked to leave the jungle to go home. They felt that after all this time nothing had progressed and agitational work was not moving forward. What was worse was that the Communist Party of China was now holding hands with our enemy, the Thai Government. They wanted to turn battle fields into markets and our radio station, The Voice of the People of Thailand, was now being forced to leave Chinese territory. I was shocked at the Chinese lack of international solidarity for our cause.

The Party called us counter-revolutionaries, revisionists, those with a bad attitude to the party, those with problems or those who had not the courage to change. And when we arrived back in the city we were called “those who had lost their way, disappointed Lefties, people whose principles had been crushed. In my last month in the jungle, in late 1980, I was so disillusioned because the old comrades looked at us 6th October students as though we were the enemy. Many times they would take off the safety catches on their weapons or brandish knives in our faces to show us that if we did not obey the Party or insisted on asking questions of Organising Comrades, they would deal with us. There were many questions to ask.  I wanted to know why students in other areas were leaving the camps and why this fact had been kept from us. They concluded that the intellectuals had refused to change. It was all our fault, not that of The Party. For them the Party was right in following the lead from China because the Chinese had shown the way with a successful socialist revolution to build a new and better society. The strategy of Surrounding the City with the Countryside and relying on a peasant army to stage the revolution was still correct and that was why we had to come to the jungle camps. In their eyes there was nothing to question about the strategy and tactics of The Party.

Nine years later, when the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union disintegrated, Socialism seemed to have come to an end. Many ex-Communists had continued their studies abroad; one academic suggested to me that there were at least 40 Ph.D.s among them. Many others entered politics within the existing system. They became Ministers, members of parliament or advisors to politicians. Still others became business people, owners of factories and large companies. Some became N.G.O. activists. The overwhelming conclusion for all these people was to never again believe in Communism and the C.P.T. People frequently tried to forget the past, even changing their names and keeping quiet about their past. For them Socialism is dead.

The experiences with the C.P.T. have sown much confusion among us October Generation people. Some say Socialism will have to wait another 50 years. Hardly anyone looks for answer about what Communism should really mean. But for me the past experiences with the C.P.T. are very valuable. The present crisis of capitalism with its unemployment and social problems and the attempts by capital, along with its state, to seek a recovery on our backs, merely confirm to me that the real power to change society and build Socialism in Thailand lies with the working class. This is not because they are the poorest or most oppressed in our society, or because they have automatic class-consciousness, but because the working class have the power, should they chose to use it, to stop all production and take on the capitalists. And certainly, we must have a workers’ party to organise this change in society. This must be a powerful party, but an extremely democratic one. Revolution must be led from below by the masses, not by some small elite or some outside army. The Stalinist method of revolution from above, military style, can only result in the bureaucratic nightmare of state capitalism.

[Read the article “The rise and fall of the Thai Communist Party” next week]

From Catalonia to Patani

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The recent events in Catalonia throw up some similarities and lessons for understanding the struggle of the people of Patani. The independence movements in Catalonia and Patani both deserve our support and solidarity.

In both cases, a conservative constitution rules out the democratic right of self-determination for peoples in different regions. The Spanish constitution, which was drawn up by many of Franco’s nationalist supporters after his death, stipulates that the Spanish state is indivisible. For many people living in Catalonia and the Basque country, the unitary Spanish state was imposed upon them by force. In the years of the Franco fascist dictatorship their local languages were also banned. We have just seen the brutal violence of the national police and the hated Guardia civil in trying to prevent voting in the referendum and the Spanish king also went on television to condemn Catalan independence.

In Thailand, the first constitution, which was written under the guidance of Pridi Panaomyong immediately after the 1932 revolution, did not stipulate that Thailand was a unitary and indivisible state. Pridi even supported a level of autonomy for the Muslim Malays of Patani. But successive right-wing military dictators inserted the clause about an indivisible state in all subsequent constitutions. The formation of the Thai state was carried out using military force and an agreement with the British to carve up the independent state of Patani. The Thai state has also systematically tried to suppress the local Malay language in Patani and used brute force to enforce its rule. The Thai Queen is also on record as saying that she wished she could pick up a gun to fight against the Patani separatists.

The current Catalan government has introduced measures against evictions and energy poverty; a ban on fracking; a tax on nuclear power; a law promoting women’s equality at work and against sexual harassment; a ban on bullfighting… All of these measures have been overturned by the Spanish Constitutional Court.

In Thailand the Constitutional court has been used to axe progressive infrastructure improvements and to sack democratically elected governments

In recent years those who wish to see an independent Patani state have mainly resorted to taking up arms against the Thai state. This is quite understandable given the level of repression. A recent example of such repression is the massacre at Tak Bai in 2004.

In contrast, the recent independence struggle in Catalonia has taken the form of a mass movement, including organised labour. The mass of the population turned out to defend polling stations and dockers, fire fighters and other workers staged actions in support, including the general strike to protest against police violence.

In terms of the power to challenge the state, the Catalan mass movement is much more powerful than the armed struggle in Patani. Of course the small population in Patani and the low level of unionisation means that the struggle in Patani cannot copy the exact tactics from Catalonia. However, an emphasis on building a mass social movement and on attempting to win solidarity for their demands in other areas of the Thai state would be much more productive than the current armed struggle. Linking up with those who are opposed to the Thai military junta would also be vital. This would mean that those seeking independence for Patani should view ordinary Thai citizens as potential allies and ordinary Thai citizens need to be encouraged to support the people of Patani rather than listening to islamophobic politicians and priests. Progressive Thais need to oppose Thai nationalism and the current clause in the constitution about an indivisible Thai state. To achieve this we need to build a left-wing party. The present situation means that this will not be achieved easily in the short term but there is no objective reason why it cannot be done in the longer term.

Why have the Thai generals no shame in talking rubbish about democracy?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

We are ruling in a democratic system without elections” – General “Pig-face” Prawit, deputy junta leader.

“Thailand’s democracy has not developed properly because Thai people have no morals” –Generalissimo Prayut, head of the junta.

“I am a democrat….. If the country isn’t ready for democracy, I’ll stay on longer. Those protesting against the government will be the first to be dealt with.” Generalissimo Prayut, head of the junta.

It would be tempting to explain this verbal nonsense by questioning the intellect of the generals that now rule Thailand, but although they are certainly not that bright, the real explanation is more complex.

Arrogance, stemming from their monopoly control of the means of violence is an important factor. Like most powerful gangsters, the top generals of the military junta have little need to justify anything they do or say. Waving a gun in someone’s face or bringing the tanks on to the streets can be very persuasive. In fact, Generalissimo Prayut also has a law (article 44) where he can rule by decree, bypassing even his tame military-appointed parliament. They feel confident that they can spout any old rubbish and know that they will never face scrutiny from an electorate in the future. They are also prepared to lock up people who criticise the junta, whether it be via the use of the internal security article 116 law, which is being used against a prominent journalist, or via detention in army camps for “attitude-changing sessions”. If all else fails they can also accuse opponents of Lèse-majesté, like in the case of student activist Pai Daodin.

The fact that the generals do not care what the general population think, because they never face elections, is an indication that Thai citizens use their intellect when choosing politicians. Most of the general population know very well that the junta leaders talk rubbish all the time. The middle-classes ignore this rubbish because they prefer dictators who rule in favour of the rich and powerful and they are probably under the illusions that the “stupid” poor people will believe anything coming out of the mouths of the big shots.

The generals do not care either what the so-called “international community” might think about their rantings. Foreign governments might make lame statements about the need to return to democracy, but the generals know that in practice relations with foreign governments will be “business as usual”. Junta leaders are never excluded from international meetings and arms sales to the junta continue, despite the fact that these arms may be used to kill pro-democracy demonstrators in the future. General “Pig-face” Prawit was invited to the giant arms fair in London by the British Government and the US has just sold more weapons to the junta and still conducts military events with the Thai army.

However, despite the various reasons given above for the nonsense “Junta-Speak”, there is also a sly reason why the generals constantly talk about freedom and democracy. They are busy designing a system of “Guided Democracy”, under their control, via the National Strategy and National Strategy Committee. All public agencies and elected politicians will have to abide by the National Strategy, which acts like a “super law”. This means that when elections are finally held, any future government will remain under the control of the military. This is similar to the “Burmese Model of Democracy”. As previously flagged-up on this blog site, even British Foreign Office consultants believe that Burma is a “beacon of democracy” in the region. The “Junta-Speak” on democracy will provide an excuse to foreign governments to accept that Thailand’s “Guided Democracy” will be “democratic” after elections are held. It will provide cover for all those Thai anti-democrats among the middle-classes, bureaucrats and the Democrat Party, to claim that the country has returned to democracy under the guidance of the democracy-loving junta.

The majority of the Thai population have never been fooled by “Junta-Speak” and they are well aware of the plans from “Guided Democracy”, but awareness is not enough. In order to bring about freedom and democracy there will have to be a mass pro-democracy movement from below. Unfortunately, this movement is yet to be built.