Tag Archives: Class

Not even an attempt to hide the lack of democracy

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

junta2

Generalissimo Prayut’s dictatorship continues without any attempt to hide the lack of democracy after the sham elections in March.

Pig face
Pig-face Prawit

The line-up of government ministers is the same as during the period after Prayut’s coup in 2014. The current parliamentary dictatorship merely brought in a handful of unprincipled anti-democratic politicians to act as decoration for the government. Apart from Prayut, the corrupt General “Pig-Face” Prawit is still in charge.

ภป-ตีจ่านิว
Ja New

Following the recent brutal attack on the pro-democracy activist Sirawit Seritiwat or “Ja New”, Pig-Face Prawit and the chief of police made the outrageous statement that Ja New would only receive police protection if he ceased his pro-democracy political activities!

The only thing we can conclude from this is that the military organised the gangsters who attacked Ja New as a warning to opposition activists to cease their activities or face violence.

Academics and activists who have raised the issue of this violence have received visits from soldiers.

Rather than trying to catch those who attacked Ja New, the police have concentrated on tracking down people who implied on social media that the authorities were involved in the outrage.

Meanwhile Generalissimo Prayut continues to rule by decree, using article 44 of the military constitution. He seems to see no real difference between his military government, with its appointed parliament after the coup, and the present parliamentary dictatorship, and he is right.

Prayut’s parliamentary dictatorship has retained the power of the military to detain pro-democracy citizens in military camps, without charge, for infamous “attitude changing sessions” [See  https://bit.ly/30ycYc1 ].

33580044_1064870037002013_7534326476405997568_n
village land rights activist jailed

More social inequality is being perpetuated with poor villagers being thrown off their land to make way for so-called national forest parks, and then receiving draconian jail sentences, when they try to reclaim their land. Meanwhile the rich and powerful can break the law with impunity.

The General Secretary of the junta’s Palang Pracharut Party, has announced that the rise in the minimum wage that the junta party advertised in their manifesto before the election will not now take place. The supposed reason is that Thai workers are lacking in skills!

561000011121202
Chatumongol Sonakul with best friend

The new Minister of Labour is reactionary aristocrat Chatumongol Sonakul, who is a member of Sutep’s whistle-blowing anti-democrats. As a former Governor of the Bank of Thailand, appointed by the Democrat Party, when they bailed out the rich at the expense of the poor after the economic crisis, he opposed Taksin’s measures to stimulate the economy and was replaced. He is clearly an extreme neo-liberal.

Both the above examples show that dictatorship is designed to reduce the democratic space and justice on a class base. Dictatorship and military coups are good for the rich and the business class. Dictatorship facilitates the use of neo-liberal, free-market policies against the interests of the poor.

As I have previously stated, it will take more than verbal opposition in parliament to get rid of Prayut’s parliamentary dictatorship.

Further reading:

Flawed Thai elections:  https://bit.ly/2RIIvrD

What now after the election: https://bit.ly/307AgpF

The Thai Junta’s Road Map to “Guided Democracy”: https://bit.ly/2QMrGf9

Guided Democracy after the Flawed 2019 Election: https://bit.ly/2Wm6bzI

Parliamentary Dictatorship:  https://bit.ly/2RTlleU

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.

1392561573-Pridi2490-o

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.

1968b

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.

ThuDecember2003-11-17-2-big4

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.

%e0%b9%80%e0%b8%82%e0%b9%89%e0%b8%b2%e0%b9%80%e0%b8%9d%e0%b9%89%e0%b8%b2

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.

262284

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

“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.

One Law for the rich, another for the poor

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Recently Premchai Gunasoot, president of the Italian-Thai Development PLC (ITD) construction company, was arrested in the Tungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary, in the west of Thailand, near the Burmese border. He was in possession of skinned carcasses of protected wild animals, including a black Indochinese leopard, a Kalij pheasant, and a common muntjac, also known as a barking deer, as well as three rifles and ammunition. The area was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1972 and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1991.

27654685_349935915483548_4033975747597056701_n

Apparently the Wildlife Sanctuary officials gave Premchai and his friends VIP treatment for help with their visit, but it is not thought that the Wildlife staff knew that it was in fact an illegal hunting party. A sanctuary patrol came upon their camp and arrested them. Premchai was given bail and not detained. There are questions about whether he might skip the country.

561000001286701coverblack

Illegal hunting by rich and powerful elites is commonplace, often involving police and military officers. The collection of grizzly trophies from these illegal hunts is much prized by them and they usually get away with it in much the same way that the elites get away with corruption and the cold-blooded murder of pro-democracy demonstrators.

PChai

Many people are now pointing to a poaching scandal involving high ranking police and military officers in the same sanctuary in 1973, which came to light after a helicopter crash. The military junta at the time refused to admit any wrong-doing by anyone. However the incident was one important factor in the rising tide of anger against the military dictatorship, which resulted in half a million people on the streets 6 months later and the overthrow of the regime.

mSQWlZdCq5b6ZLkmyyuT8uurHcZDgH4O

People are also comparing the treatment of rich and powerful poachers with impoverished villagers who are arrested for foraging for food plants in forest reserves. In 2014 two middle-aged villagers from the north-east were jailed for 17 months for merely collecting wild edible mushrooms in a protected forest. After being released from jail they were left with debts from legal fees with no prospects of earning a decent living.

While not condoning the plundering of forest reserves, it is worth pointing out that the collection of fungal fruiting bodies does not actually kill the plant, which remains buried under the ground or embedded inside rotting wood. It can produce more fruiting bodies at a later date. Foraging can even help preserve plants if villagers try to preserve their food source in a sustainable manner. Activists have long called for the local management of forest reserves by collectives of responsible villagers. There is also a history of the state declaring forest reserves on land which has been occupied for generations by forest dwelling villagers.

Efficient nature conservation in Thailand depends on reining in the arrogant power of the elites and big business, democratising society, and putting in place a system of collective management of natural resources by locals.

Class War

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The Thai military junta has been summonsing all chairpersons of local trade unions to report to army offices. So far only  about half the elected trade unionists are complying with the dictates of the generals.

jackboots

Of course, the junta has not summonsed employers or businessmen to report and be given a lecture in discipline.

Of course, the junta has not systematically summonsed NGO leaders or conservative academics who  have advocated shrinking the democratic space. Neither has it arrested and jailed the Democrat Party thugs who used violence on the streets earlier this year.

Taken with the general picture of the military crack down, it is obvious that red shirts, trade unionists, progressive academics and all those who are pro-democracy activists are the target of repression.

Make no mistake, this is a class war, waged by the conservative elites who hate democracy because democracy helps to empower the poor, the working class and the farmers. They hate Taksin because he won the hearts and minds of the poor and could win elections. They don’t hate Taksin for his human rights abuses or even the fact that he used the same corrupt practices as the generals and the Democrats.