Category Archives: Thai politics

Class struggle has always been a feature of recent Thai history

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Given the recent discussions about the new “Future Forward Party”, whose leading members seem to deny the existence of class struggle [See http://bit.ly/2HAyO59 ], it is worth taking a long term look at class struggle in the country.

Since the transformation to a capitalist state in the 1870s, Thai society has been a constant battle ground. It has been a struggle between the rulers and the ruled. Naturally, different factions of the ruling class have also had their conflicts. But intra-ruling class disputes have been about which faction can benefit most from the wealth generated by the class exploitation of workers and farmers. Class struggle also existed in pre-capitalist Thailand.

In 1932 a revolution overthrew the capitalist absolute monarchy of King Rama VII. The revolution was staged by the Peoples’ Party, led by the socialist politician Pridi Panomyong. It was staged in the context of rising class discontent associated with the world economic crisis. The royal government brought in austerity measures which affected the civil service. Workers’ wages and farmers’ incomes fell dramatically as a result of the economic down-turn. Farmers’ and workers’ demands for the government to do something about the crisis fell on deaf ears. Although the revolution was staged by a coalition between civilian bureaucrats and the military, it enjoyed mass popular support. A royalist rebellion one year later was defeated by the government armed forces supported by worker volunteers.

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After the revolution, Pridi proposed a radical economic plan, including land nationalisation and a welfare state. However, he was defeated by forces from the Right. Pridi had failed to build a mass political party of workers and farmers. Instead he relied too much on the military which eventually pushed him out of power.

The long-term consolidation of military power in politics came with the Sarit military coup in 1957. The economic development during the subsequent years of the highly corrupt military dictatorship took place in the context of a world economic boom and a localised economic boom created by the Korean and Vietnam wars. This economic growth had a profound impact on the nature of Thai society. The size of the working class increased as factories and businesses were developed. However, under the dictatorship trade union rights were suppressed and wages and conditions of employment were tightly controlled. Illegal strikes had already occurred throughout the period of dictatorship, but strikes increased rapidly due to general economic discontent in the early 1970s. The influence of the Communist Party increased among workers and students.

Economic development also resulted in a massive expansion of student numbers and an increased intake of students from working class backgrounds. The new generation of students, in the early 1970s, were influenced by the revolts and revolutions which occurred throughout the world in that period, May 1968 in Paris being a prime example. The struggle against US imperialism in Vietnam was also an important influence.

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In late 1973, the arrest of 11 academics and students for handing out leaflets demanding a democratic constitution resulted in hundreds of thousands of students and workers taking to the streets of Bangkok in October. As troops with tanks fired on unarmed demonstrators, the people of Bangkok began to fight-back. Bus passengers spontaneously alighted from their vehicles to join the demonstrators. Government buildings were set on fire. The “Yellow Tigers”, a militant group of students, sent a jet of high-octane gasoline from a captured fire engine into the police station at Parn-Fa Bridge, setting it on fire. Earlier they had been fired upon by the police.

The successful 14th October 1973 mass uprising against the military dictatorship shook the Thai ruling class to its foundations. For the next few days, there was a strange new atmosphere in Bangkok. Uniformed officers of the state disappeared from the streets and ordinary people organised themselves to clean up the city. It was the first time that the pu-noi (little people) had actually started a revolution from below. It was not planned and those that took part had conflicting notions about what kind of democracy and society they wanted. But the Thai ruling class could not shoot enough demonstrators to protect their regime. It was not just a student uprising to demand a democratic constitution. It involved thousands of ordinary working class people and occurred on the crest of a rising wave of workers’ strikes.

Success in over-throwing the military dictatorship bred increased confidence. Workers, peasants and students began to fight for more than just parliamentary democracy. In the two months following the uprising, the new Royal appointed civilian government faced a total of 300 workers’ strikes. On the 1st May 1975 a quarter of a million workers rallied in Bangkok and a year later half a million workers took part in a general strike against price increases. In the countryside small farmers began to build organisations and they came to Bangkok to make their voices heard. Workers and peasants wanted social justice and an end to long-held privileges. A Triple Alliance between students, workers and small farmers was created. Some activists wanted an end to exploitation and capitalism itself. The influence of the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) increased rapidly, especially among activists in urban areas.

It was not long before the ruling class and the conservative middle classes fought back.

In the early hours of 6th October 1976, Thai uniformed police, stationed in the grounds of the National Museum, next door to Thammasat University, destroyed a peaceful gathering of students and working people on the university campus under a hail of relentless automatic fire. At the same time a large gang of ultra-right-wing “informal forces”, known as the Village Scouts, Krating-Daeng and Nawapon, indulged in an orgy of violence and brutality towards anyone near the front entrance of the university. Students and their supporters were dragged out of the university and hung from the trees around Sanam Luang; others were burnt alive in front of the Ministry of “Justice” while the mob danced round the flames. Women and men, dead or alive, were subjected to the utmost degrading and violent behaviour.

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The actions of the police and right-wing mobs on 6th October were the culmination of attempts by the ruling class to stop the further development of a socialist movement in Thailand. The events at Thammasat University were followed by a military coup which brought to power one of the most right-wing governments Thailand has ever known. In the days that followed, offices and houses of organisations and individuals were raided. Trade unionists were arrested and trade union rights were curtailed. Centre-Left and left-wing newspapers were closed and their offices ransacked.

Thousands of activists joined the armed struggle led by the Communist Party of Thailand in remote rural areas. However, this struggle was ultimately unsuccessful, but it managed to put a great deal of pressure on the ruling class.

Three years after 1976, the government decreed an “amnesty” for those who had left to fight alongside the communists. This coincided with splits and arguments between the student activists and the Stalinist CPT leaders. By 1988 the student activists had all returned to the city as the CPT collapsed. Thailand returned to an almost full parliamentary democracy, but with one special condition: it was a parliamentary democracy without the Left or any political parties representing workers or small farmers. But the economic boom helped to damp down discontent.

Three years later the military staged a coup against an elected government which it feared would reduce its role in society. Resistance to the coup took a year to gather momentum, but in May 1992 a mass uprising in Bangkok braved the deadly gunfire from the army and overthrew the junta. Many key activists in this uprising had previously cut their teeth in the struggles in the 1970s.

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Four years after this uprising, Thailand experienced a deep economic crisis. Activists pushed for a new, more democratic constitution, in the hope that the country could escape from the cycle of corruption, human rights abuses and military coups. There was also an increase in workers’ struggles and one factory was set alight by workers who had had their wages slashed as a result of the crisis.

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In the general election of January 2001, Taksin Shinawat’s Thai Rak Thai Party (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 during the crisis. 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 job creation loan to each village in order to stimulate economic activity and (3) a promise to introduce a debt moratorium for farmers. The policies of TRT arose from a number of factors, mainly the 1997 economic crisis and the influence of some ex-student activists from the 1970s within the party. The government delivered on their promises which resulted in mass support for the party.

Eventually, there was a backlash from the conservative sections of the ruling class and most of the middle-classes. By allying himself with workers and farmers, Taksin had built a coalition between them and his modernising section of the capitalist class. TRT policies were threatening the interests of the conservatives and upsetting the ruling class consensus which had determined the nature of Thai politics since the defeat of the Communist Party. This political consensus had managed to exclude the interests of workers and farmers. The conservative backlash re-established the era of military rule which we see today.

Anyone who studies this period of Thai history, since 1932, cannot fail to see the importance of class struggle. Denying the importance of class struggle, or a divide between left and right, can only be either sheer ignorance or an excuse to ignore the interests of the majority of citizens.

 

 

Read more in my book “Thailand’s Crisis”….at: http://www.scribd.com/doc/47097266/Thailand-s-Crisis-and-the-fight-for-Democracy

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Thailand lacks adequate rights for those accused of mental illness

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

A recent incident where a pro-democracy activist was forcibly taken away to a mental hospital by police after giving a speech at Thammasart University, raises issues about a lack of rights for citizens accused of mental illness and also the use of mental illness as a means to punish political activists.

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Sasinut (“Pen”) Shinthanawanitch gave a speech on the “People Who Want an Election” stage at Thammasart University on Saturday 5th May and talked about Thai monarchs, demanding that the present king stand with the people in promoting democracy. The organisers tried to shut her up and after leaving the stage she was taken away by plain-clothed policemen, who took her to the local police station. She was then forcibly taken to Somdet Chaopraya mental hospital.

Later in the day, some activists and two human rights lawyers tried to telephone her and later they tried to visit her at the hospital. When they arrived at the hospital they found that her hands and feet had been tied to a wheel chair and the doctors refused to let them speak to her. She reports that she was forcibly medicated and made to undergo a blood test. She was also stripped naked along with other patients and given a shower. She was detained in the hospital until Tuesday afternoon.

China World Mental Health Day

Pen might hold, what I perceive to be, slightly eccentric views, but during a recent video interview with the exiled journalist Jom Petchpradab on Thai Voice TV, she did not exhibit any psychiatric problems.

Her plight only came to light because of the efforts of an exiled Thai political activist in Cambodia, a group of lawyers for Human Rights and the actions of a Prachatai reporter.

The 2008 Mental Health law in Thailand allows the police to detain people after any complaints and it also allows mental hospitals to detain citizens and forcibly treat them without proper checks and balances.

This is not the first time that a pro-democracy activist has been accused of having mental health issues in Thailand. It is similar to the way that political dissidents are treated in Russia, China and other authoritarian countries.

The lèse-majesté law also means that people are fearful when someone starts talking about the monarchy from a public stage, even when it is something as mundane as demanding that the king stand with the people for democracy.

The treatment and human rights of people with mental health problems and those accused of having mental health problems is something which has for too long been ignored in Thailand. This is similar to the lack of human rights and civilised treatment of prisoners in Thai jails.

Somyot Released but We Still Need to scrap Lèse Majesté!

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, the Thai journalist and trade union activist, has been released from prison after serving 7 years for lèse majesté.  He was a prisoner of conscience. He was convicted in a Thai Kangaroo court for publishing two articles in an anti-establishment magazine that made negative references to the crown. On principle, Somyot always refused to admit any guilt and he spent his time in prison trying to organise the library and act as a leader and mentor to other prisoners.

On being released, Somyot indicated that he would campaign for the rights of prisoners and try to improve their conditions. He has told stories about the conditions in jail. The prisoners have to wear chains on both legs which weigh 5 kg. The prisoners have to clean the chains regularly otherwise they go rusty and people’s legs become infected. There is also a chronic shortage of bedding. According to Somyot, standard practices in jail are mainly designed to reduce the humanity of prisoners. “If you are in jail you are treated like an animal”.

When I moved back to Thailand in 1996, in order to become a politics lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, I headed straight for meetings and gatherings of the Thai labour movement. I had been an active socialist and trade unionist in Britain before that. As I started talking to women factory workers from the Rungsit area, I would start to hear the name Somyot Pruksakasemsuk.

Rungsit trade union activists would explain to me that Somyot had been a very clever and skilful trade union organiser and that he had led the unionisation of many textile factories in Rungsit. Union activists risked being sacked if they were known to management as being involved in building the union and Somyot had many ideas about building. Workers told me that he would advise them how to leave union leaflets in secretly in strategic places such as toilets and dining rooms. Eventually many unions won recognition.

There are still many political prisoners sentenced to jail under lèse majesté in Thailand and we must not forget them.

The lèse majesté law in Thailand represents a gross attack on the freedom of speech, freedom of expression and academic freedom. It is a fundamental attack on democracy carried out by the military, royalist judges and bureaucrats, and all the political elites, including Taksin and Pua Thai. Lèse majesté prisoners are tried in secret courts and denied bail. The royalist judges claim that the offense is “too serious” and “a threat to national security”. Thai dictatorships have long used the excuse that their opponents were seeking to “overthrow the monarchy” in order to kill unarmed demonstrators or throw people into jail. Jail terms for lèse majesté are draconian. Meanwhile, armed anti-democracy thugs and state killers continue to enjoy freedom of action and impunity.

The lèse majesté law in Thailand is an authoritarian law which has been designed primarily to protect the interests of the un-elected elites, especially the military. It is used hand in hand with the computer crimes law and the contempt of court law to stifle full debate and accountability in society. Lèse majesté and the computer crimes laws have resulted in many outspoken critics going to prison or leaving the country and they have also resulted in the systematic censorship of books and the internet. Government departments, both civilian and military, have been set up to spy on citizens who use the internet, and those involved with radio and television, with a view to prosecuting citizens under the lèse majesté law. People have also been encouraged to spy on others and report them to the authorities.

The truly repressive nature of lèse majesté can be highlighted by the fact that some Thai citizens are too afraid to refuse to stand up at the cinema when the king’s anthem is played. It is an image that would not look out of place in Nazi Germany or North Korea.

As Somyot left the prison, he gave a defiant three-fingered, anti-dictator salute. He clearly has not been crushed.

The rise and fall of the Thai Communist Party

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) was established in the late 1920s and played an important role in the struggle against the military dictatorship from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s. The high point of struggle for the CPT was when student activists started to support the party in the 1970s.

Many people are aware of the uprisings around the world in 1968. The struggles by Thai activists also formed part of this wave of radicalism, leading to the 1973 uprising which overthrew the Tanom military dictatorship. On 14th October 1973 half a million people, mainly young school and university students, but also ordinary working people, protested around the Democracy Monument. The wave of student revolts and the activism among young people in Western Europe and the United States were the inspiration which ignited the left-wing struggles in the early 1970s in Thailand. Libertarian left-wing ideas from the Western movements entered Thai society by way of news reports, articles, books, music and the return of Thai students from the West, especially art students in the first instance. The victory of Communist Parties in Indochina, after the USA began to lose the war in Vietnam, and Mao’s Cultural Revolution, also had a massive impact in igniting struggles for a new society in Thailand.

As always, the Thai ruling class reacted with violence against the rising left-wing movement, using armed thugs, soldiers and police. The height of this violence was the massacre at Thammasart University on 6th October 1976. This destroyed the democratic space created by the 1973 uprising and led directly to an intensification of the armed struggle in the countryside led by the CPT. Thousands of urban activists and students travelled to the CPT bases.

But the problem with the CPT’s Maoist strategy was that it more or less abandoned the city and the working class. The CPT argued that since the cities were the centre of ruling class power, a communist victory in Thailand would only come about by surrounding the cities with “liberated zones”. Their Maoist strategy meant that they never at any time planned to resist the right-wing backlash in Bangkok. Yet, since 1932, all significant social changes have taken place due to struggles in urban areas, especially in Bangkok. The CPT was also an authoritarian “top-down” Stalinist party and this did not sit well with the libertarian views of many students. In addition to this, the struggle by small farmers, which the Maoists favoured, was fundamentally a defensive and conservative struggle to survive, not a struggle for a future society.

What was missing from the CPT’s strategy in the late 1970s was trying to build the party among urban workers so that it could organise mass strikes. Previously the CPT had some influence among unions and large strikes had taken place. However, the turn to Maoism changed the party’s emphasis.

The CPT analysis of Thailand was that it was a semi-feudal semi-colony of the USA. The immediate aim of the struggle, according to the party, was for national liberation and capitalist democracy, which was called the “national democratic stage of the revolution”. The aim of building socialism was postponed to some future date. Yet Thailand was never a colony of the USA and feudalism had been abolished during the nation building process at the end of the 19th century. The party adopted a Stalinist/Maoist cross-class alliance policy of working with the military dictators, “progressive capitalists” and nationalists. At one time the CPT even supported General Sarit before he became a right-wing dictator. The repression carried out by the military against the CPT did not change the party’s policies towards “progressive capitalists” and nationalists. It merely meant that the party was forced to fight the military dictatorship, which was now characterised as being in alliance with US imperialism.

The lack of progress in the armed struggle, carried out from jungle hide-outs, and the fact that China established friendly relations with the Thai government threw the CPT into confusion. Most student activists were demoralised and returned to the city. The students were also unhappy with the authoritarian nature of the party. The destruction of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the European Stalinist regimes was the last nail in the coffin of the CPT.

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, 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 against Taksin’s elected government.

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. Many of these academics became right-wing apologists for the military and some cooperated with the military on anti-reform committees.

But the idea of “socialism from below” remains a living spark in some sections of Thai society, waiting to be ignited.

“Class” really does matter in Thai society

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

In previous blog post I argued that without solving the real contradictions between lives of most Thai citizens whose way of life has developed rapidly over many decades and an unchanged, outdated and conservative “Superstructure”, Thai society cannot escape from a vicious cycle of crisis and coups. I also argued that what is needed is concrete measures to modernise the country and to drastically decrease inequality between the poor majority and the rich elites.

Merely ignoring the root causes of the political crisis and hoping to “move on” will do nothing to solve these deep underlying problems. We also need to be clear that these are “class” problems. Those who deny the importance of class in Thai society cannot hope to get to grips with the problems.

So what kind of political and social reforms would go some way to solving the crisis?

First of all it is necessary to explain that such reforms would be resisted by the conservatives in the ruling class and among the middle classes, much as Taksin’s modernisation programme was resisted.

An important issue which needs to be tackled is the gross economic inequality between the life styles of the rich and the middle classes and the rest of the population. To deal with this Thailand needs to build a well-funded welfare state, funded by progressive taxation. This would give most citizens a sense of security and make them feel that they were stakeholders in society.

Naturally, higher rates of tax for the rich and large corporations would be vigorously resisted by those who stood to lose. But strong social movements could contain such resistance. According to the book “The Spirit Level”, by Kate Pickett and Richard G. Wilkinson, even the rich would eventually benefit from a more equal society, but in the meantime they would have to bow to public opinion.

Apart from constructing a welfare state, workers’ wages need to be raised to a level where they can enjoy a decent life, rather than living from hand to mouth on the inadequate minimum wage, as many are doing today. Strengthening trade union rights would also help to improve living standards and would be a natural part of democratisation.  Small farmers need help to manage and own their own land.

The infrastructure in Thailand needs large amounts of public investment in order to build safe and efficient public transport, both in the cities, but also between cities and the rural areas. This would lower the appalling rates of road accidents and help reduce global warming. Investment also needs to be made in renewable energy generation, especially solar energy. We should be mindful that the conservative judges opposed the Yingluk governments plan to upgrade the railways. They also helped to pave the way for Prayut’s military coup.

Apart from improving the material aspect of people’s lives, the huge inequalities in status between the rich and powerful and most working people have to be significantly reduced through a process of promoting “equal citizenship”. This would involve ended the enforced grovelling to people of higher status, including the royal family. A change in the use of language, especially pronouns, to encourage equality, is also necessary. Part of this process should also involve the removal of uniforms, especially those worn by teachers and civilian civil servants. Local people should also have the right to elect representatives to run schools, hospitals and manage natural resources.

Yes, this is a big “wish list” and would take hard struggle by social movements and radical political parties of the left for it to be achieved. But for those who really want to “move on” from the crisis, it is necessary to face up to the long hard tasks of reforming Thai society, rather than just ignoring them and hoping for some kind of abstract solution.

Ignoring the roots of the Thai political crisis will not bring about democracy

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Today there are people who say we need to move forward and away from the past divisions between yellows and reds, as though the long lasting Thai crisis of democracy was just about people who wore different coloured shirts or merely a dispute between a few political personalities.

This is just political stupidity and intellectual bankruptcy. The crisis occurred, not because some people hated Taksin, but because of the underlying political differences based upon different visions about the future of Thai society. Class is also an important component.

In 2006 the military, the middle-classes, and the various sections of the conservative elites, set about to destroy democracy. Since 2006 there have been two military coups, a number of judicial coups and mass anti-democracy protests by royalist middle-class mobs, supported by the Democrat Party. Over a hundred pro-democracy activists have been shot down in cold blood by the military and Thai jails now hold more political prisoners than they have done for decades. How and why did this happen?

The Asian Economic crisis in 1997 was the spark that exposed the existing fault-lines in Thai society, and the actions of political actors in response to this, eventually led to a back-lash against democracy by the conservatives.

The main reason for the present Thai political crisis can be traced back to this 1997 economic crisis and the attempt by Taksin Shinawat to modernise Thai society and reduce inequality while relying on mass support for his policies at elections. These policies were also designed to benefit big business, increasing profits and competitiveness. Taksin called this a “dual track” strategy, using a mixture of neo-liberalism and “grass-roots Keynesianism”. Among this raft of policies was the first ever universal health care scheme.

Because the Democrat Party, and other elites, had ignored the plight of the poor during the crisis, while spending state finances in securing the savings for the rich and the middle-classes in failed banks, Taksin was able to say that his government would benefit everyone, not just the rich. Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party won the first post-1997 elections. The government was unique in being both popular and dynamic, with real policies, which were used to win the elections and were then implemented afterwards. Never-the-less, his government was not unique in the fact that it committed gross human rights abuses. Previously, the old parties had just bought votes without any policies. Taksin’s real policies reduced vote-buying and his overwhelming electoral base came to challenge the old way of conducting politics, eventually angering those who could not win the hearts and minds of the people.

The 1997 economic crisis exposed the material reality of the lives of most Thai citizens whose way of life had developed rapidly over many decades but which was in conflict with an unchanged and outdated “Superstructure”. This is the dynamic of conflict which was harnessed by Taksin.

It would be a mistake to see the present crisis as merely a dispute between two factions of the elite. It has another important dimension that cannot be ignored. We need to understand the role of the Red Shirts who had a “dialectical” relationship with their idol Taksin. There existed a kind of “parallel war” where thousands of ordinary Red Shirts struggled for democracy, dignity and social justice, while Taksin and his political allies waged a very different campaign to regain the political influence that they had enjoyed before the 2006 coup d’état.

The hypothesis that the present long-running unrest in Thailand was primarily caused by a “crisis of succession”, is a top-down view which assumes that the Thai monarch has real power and that it has been constantly intervening in politics. That is just not the case. The present junta is run by powerful generals who have used the monarchy as their tool.

It is simply banal to try to build some kind of political consensus in civil society by ignoring the root cause of the crisis just by bringing in new political faces who are not associated with Taksin’s team or the Democrat Party or the yellow shirts. This is the main idea behind the party of the “new generation”.

Without solving the real contradictions between lives of most Thai citizens whose way of life has developed rapidly over many decades and an unchanged, outdated and conservative “Superstructure”, Thai society cannot escape from a vicious cycle of crisis and coups. What is needed is concrete measures to modernise the country and to drastically decrease inequality between the poor majority and the rich elites.

For further reading on this subject see: http://bit.ly/2bSpoF2   or http://bit.ly/2cmZkAa

 

How can we reduce the power of the military?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Many people in Thailand are thinking about how to reduce the power of the military and prevent future coups and the never ending destruction of democracy. This is especially important given that the power of the junta will be extended into the future after the next elections. The junta has organised this “Guided Democracy” state of affairs through its constitution, the military appointed senate, the military appointed judges, the election rules and the National Strategy.

In order to make sure the military are unable to intervene in politics we shall have to change the constitution, scrap the National Strategy, replace the generals, judges and appointed senators and drastically cut the military budget. Ending conscription would also help. The abolition of the lèse-majesté law and the de-mystification of the monarchy are also necessary in order to reduce the power of the military because the generals rely on the monarchy as a tool for legitimisation. This necessary and difficult project will have huge implications.

Some are placing their hopes in the election of new political parties which are opposed to the role of the military. But even if these parties manage to win seats, and even form a government, they will not have the power through parliament to reduce the influence of the military.

This is not because of some secret “Deep State” but it is because the military and the conservative anti-democratic sections of the ruling class hold extra-parliamentary power. The military have their power based upon their weaponry and other sections of the conservatives control the large corporations, courts, the senate and the mass media.

This is not just a problem confined to Thailand. In Britain, if Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party wins the next general election, and I hope they will, the government will face an entire conservative establishment hell-bent on frustrating the democratic wishes of the people. Apart from threats of military coups, which may merely be the demented dreams of some backward generals, the business class will try to cause a financial crisis by withdrawing capital from the country. The mainstream mass media will be hysterically anti-Labour and the permanent secretaries in the civil service will try to frustrate the Corbyn government’s policies. The EU and the IMF will also put pressure on the government. This has happened in Britain in the past. The same kind of pressure was applied to the Syriza government in Greece.

The only way in which an elected government can have the power to face up to this kind of extra-parliamentary force from the conservatives is for the government to be supported by mass movements on the streets and in work places. Protests and strikes can balance and push back the power of unelected conservatives.

This is not some wild pipe-dream. In the past it has been the mass movements of 1973 and 1992 which have knocked back the power and influence of the military in Thailand. In South Korea, Argentina, Venezuela and Turkey, mass movements have played crucial roles in preventing coups, cutting the power of the military and even punishing the most brutal dictators.

In Burma, it is Aung San Suu Kyi’s demobilisation of the mass movement in 1988 and her compromise with the military that has allowed the Burmese junta to survive despite the elections. In Indonesia and the Philippines, dictatorships were overthrown by mass movements.

In Thailand if we are ever to get rid of the vast parasitic and authoritarian organisation of the military we need to rebuild a mass pro-democracy movement irrespective of the results of the next elections.