Tag Archives: Communist Party of Thailand

Tong Jamsee, the CPT and the politics of Stalin and Mao

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Tong Jamsee (Thong Jamsri), the last Secretary General of the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) died this month at the age of 98.

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Once a beacon of hope for all those struggling against the Thai dictatorship in the 1970s, the CPT ceased to exist as an active organisation in the mid-1980s, when the student activists, who had joined the CPT in the jungle after the 6th October 1976, returned to the city. Changes in the geo-political climate, ending in the fall of the Berlin Wall, were also responsible for the decline of the CPT. [See “The rise and fall of the CPT” https://bit.ly/32wXO8v ].

At the end of 2009, a split among the old remaining CPT members occurred, mirroring the deep divisions in Thai society between the red and yellow shirts. One section joined the royalist, pro-military dictatorship, yellow shirts, under the ridiculous claim that Taksin Shinawat, as a “monopoly capitalist” was the number one enemy. To his credit, Tong Jamsee denounced these people and sided with the pro-democracy red shirts. The red shirts were mainly made up of ordinary working people in the cities and the rural areas. The yellow shirts were middle-class and reactionary.

Unfortunately Tong Jamsee’s main reasoning was that people ought to side with Taksin, as a “progressive capitalist”, rather than the need to side with workers and small farmers and to build a movement independent of people like Taksin.

Tong Jamsee wrote in 2009 that Thailand was “now” a capitalist society under the control of the “Feudal Monopoly Capitalist Class”. He argued that Thailand was a “new absolute monarchy” and that Taksin was a “liberal free-market capitalist”.

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For years the CPT had argued, along Stalinist-Maoist lines, that Thailand was a “Semi-feudal, Semi-Colonial” country and that the task of the CPT was to push forward with the “National Democratic” revolution to establish capitalism. This meant relegating the struggle for socialism to the distant future and the need to build a national alliance with the capitalist class against the feudalists. This was the same argument put forward by Stalinist-Maoist parties all over the world. It arose from Stalin’s emphasis on “Socialism in One Country” and the need to defend the Soviet Union at the expense of a world-wide socialist revolution. [See “The Failure of Stalinist Ideology and the Communist Parties of Southeast Asia” https://bit.ly/1OEfsJo ].

In a perverse and distorted way, the reasoning of the CPT members who joined with the yellow shirts also arose from the CPT’s emphasis of cross-class alliances and the rejection of the central role of the working class and peasantry in the struggle for a socialist revolution from below. This view was also shared by ex-CPT NGO activists who joined the yellow shirts.

Tong Jamsee retained much of the CPT analysis and emphasis on cross-class alliances, but argued that Thailand was no longer a colony of the USA since the withdrawal of US troops in 1976. As a result of retaining the basics of the CPT analysis, his statement in 2009 that Thailand was now “capitalist” was 140 years out of date, since the first Thai capitalist state was established under king Chulalongkorn in the 1870s. [See “Thailand’s Crisis and the Fight for Democracy ” http://bit.ly/1TdKKYs ]. His analysis that Thailand was a new absolute monarchy was also wildly inaccurate and reflects the views of those who exaggerate the power of the monarchy. [See “Wachiralongkorn’s power” https://bit.ly/2EOjsNL   “Absolutism” https://bit.ly/2teiOzQ ].

Tong Jamsee appears to have the ability to scare the Thai ruling class even after his death. Many activists who attended his funeral have been paid visits by the junta’s police.

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The strengths of the CPT and Tong Jamsee do not lie with their flawed analysis of Thai society or the lack of internal democracy within the party. Their strengths lie in the way that the CPT placed importance on building a militant mass party of the left, which was not pre-occupied with parliament, while at the same time attempting to put forward a unified analysis of politics.

Today Thailand desperately needs such a party, built by a new generation of activists who are prepared to learn lessons from the past.

 

The reactionary legacy of Prem Tinsulanon

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

General Prem Tinsulanon, who died last week, was a true representative of the reactionary Thai ruling class. He held the office of Prime Minister in a “Guided Democracy” system between 1980 and 1988. In this system he was not an elected Member of Parliament, but held office with the support of various right-wing political parties in an elected parliament. This is the kind of scenario that Generalissimo Prayut dreams about for his own political career.

Along with most military officers since Pibun, he was a royalist. This meant that he understood the importance to the military of using, promoting and defending the monarchy.

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After the bloodbath at Thammasart University on 6th October 1976, hundreds of students went to join the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) in jungle strongholds. At the time, the Communist Party had a great deal of support among sections of the population and started to pose a threat to the ruling class. However, as the students became disillusioned with the lack of internal democracy inside the party and the loss of support from the China for the CPT struggle, which was a result of the changing geo-political situation, they started to drift back to the cities. The Chinese government placed more importance on building ties with the Thai government than supporting the CPT. [See https://bit.ly/2d1iZbj ]

Prem took advantage of this situation and reversed the hard-line policies of the post 6th October governments towards the communists. When he became Prime Minister in 1980, he announced the “Prime Ministerial Order 66/23”, which in effect, gave an amnesty to CPT fighters who wished to return to normal life. This helped to destroy the CPT and helped to end the armed conflict. Prem showed his political insight when he told the media that “the students joined the Communists because they were brutally suppressed. The way to undermine the Communists was to establish justice in society”.

Prem also seemed to understand the need for a political solution to the armed struggle in Patani. His government co-opted local religious leaders into mainstream politics in order to control the situation, while at the same time never giving in to separatist demands or any progressive policies which might go against the interests of the ruling class. This resulted in a temporary peace, but it did not last, since the real grievances were never addressed.

In April 1981, when Young Turk military officers tried to stage a coup against his government, Prem publically took the king with him to a military base in Korat, thus signalling to the Young Turks that their attempts had failed.

After stepping down as Prime Minister in 1988 he joined the Privy Council. As Chairman of the Privy Council, his main role was to be the key link between King Pumipon and the military and business class. He advised the weak and cowardly king on many key occasions.

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One such occasion was when the ruling class needed to find a way out for the generals to save face after General Suchinda Kaprayoon’s failed attempt to cling on to power one year after his military coup in 1992. A mass popular uprising overthrew Suchinda in 1993 but the ruling class needed to maintain control. Prem organised to get Suchinda and the leader of the anti-military uprising to grovel in front of King Pumipon on national TV.

Soldiers like General Surayut Julanon were under Suchinda’s command and during the attempts to put down the pro-democracy uprising in 1993, Surayut was responsible for violence against medics treating wounded demonstrators in the Royal Hotel. Later Surayut became a military appointed Prime Minister after another coup in 2006. He has now been appointed as temporary Chairman of the Privy Council.

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As so-called “Elder Statesman” and Chairman of the Privy Council, Prem always sided with military officers who staged coups and destroyed democracy, including Generalissimo Prayut’s military junta.

On the issue of the conflict in Patani he maintained his support for Thai imperialism by opposing the suggestion, made by the National Reconciliation Commission, that the local Yawee language be used as a working language, alongside Thai, in all government departments in Patani.

On the issue of Taksin Shinawat’s brutal war of drugs, where hundreds of people were killed without trial, Prem was featured of large posters warning people that using and dealing in amphetamines would send them to their graves.

Prem earned the intense hatred of red shirts because of his closeness to King Pumipon. Many red shirts mistakenly believed that Pumipon ordered the killing of unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators. It was in fact the military who gave the order and carried it out with the support of Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva. But Prem became a target for much abuse by people who were afraid to directly criticise the monarchy because of the draconian lèse-majesté law.

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General Prem Tinsulanon was a reactionary, anti-democratic, member of the Thai ruling class. His death is being celebrated by those who wish to see a democratic Thailand.

 

Further reading: Thailand’s Crisis and the Fight for Democracy (2010).  http://bit.ly/1TdKKYs

 

How to access my publications

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

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The Failure of Stalinist Ideology and the Communist Parties of Southeast Asia (1998). https://bit.ly/1OEfsJo 

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Thailand: Class Struggle in an Era of Economic Crisis (1999).   http://bit.ly/2kPNX9E  Book about the Thai labour movement.

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From the city, via the jungle, to defeat: the 6th Oct 1976 bloodbath and the C.P.T. http://bit.ly/1TKgv02   or   http://bit.ly/2d1iZbj

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A Coup for the Rich (2007).  https://www.scribd.com/doc/41173616/Coup-For-the-Rich-by-Giles-Ji-Ungpakorn or http://bit.ly/2aE7zc6  Book written in response to the 2006 military coup.

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Why have most Thai NGOs chosen to side with the conservative royalists, against democracy and the poor (2009).   http://bit.ly/1UpZbhh

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Thailand’s Crisis and the Fight for Democracy (2010).  http://bit.ly/1TdKKYs  Book written during the continued crisis of democracy.

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Thai Spring? Structural roots of the Thai political crisis (2011). http://bit.ly/245WxhD

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Lèse Majesté, the Monarchy, and the Military in Thailand (2011) http://bit.ly/1cLbFtr or http://bit.ly/2cexlW1

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The Festering Sore: Thai State Crimes Go Unpunished (2012)   http://bit.ly/1qGYT9r

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The Bloody Civil War in Patani (2013) http://bit.ly/2bemah3

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The role of Thai Social Movements in Democratisation (2015). http://bit.ly/2aDzest

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What led to the destruction of Thai democracy? (2016). http://bit.ly/2cmZkAa or http://bit.ly/2bSpoF2

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Thai Military Re-adjusts its Relationship with the Monarchy (2017).  http://bit.ly/2xGDiSu Paper which looks at the role of the military and the monarchy after Pumipon. Also discusses the 20 year National Strategy for “Guided Democracy”.

 

Why is the Thai Left so weak?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The answer to this question lies with the history of past struggles against the military and especially the role of the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT). The CPT was established in the late 1920’s among urban workers of Chinese ethnicity who made up the early Thai working class. Unlike some other communist parties, there is no indication that it was ever anything else but a Stalinist organisation.

In 1973 half a million people, mainly young school and university students, but also ordinary working people, managed to overthrow the military dictatorship of the time. It was the first mass popular uprising in modern Thai history.

Under the dictatorship trade union rights had been suppressed and wages and conditions of employment were tightly controlled. Yet, illegal strikes occurred throughout the period and increased rapidly in the early 1970’s due to general economic discontent.

Economic development also resulted in a massive expansion of student numbers and an increased intake of students from working class backgrounds. These students became radicalized due to the 1968 events abroad and the defeat of the USA in Indo-China.

In October 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. The successful 14th October 1973 mass uprising against the military dictatorship was a watershed event. Workers, peasants and students began to fight for more than just parliamentary democracy. In the two months following the uprising, the new appointed civilian government faced a total of 300 workers’ strikes. New radical student bodies sprang up. 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. 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 illegal Communist Party of Thailand increased rapidly, especially among activists in urban areas.

Originally the party organised urban workers in the 1940s and 1950s, but it took a Maoist turn away from the working class and towards the peasantry, in the 1960s.  This Maoist turn to the countryside became a serious problem for workers and the Left in general.

The Thai ruling class’ desire to destroy the further development of the socialist movement, came to a head with the 1976 bloodbath at Thammasat University. Thousands of students went to the countryside to join the armed struggle against the Thai State led by the CPT but the problem with the party’s Maoist strategy was that it more or less abandoned the city and the working class to government repression.

Three years after 1976, splits and arguments between the student activists and the conservative CPT leaders resulted in an exodus from the CPT camps. It was the failure of the CPT to develop a credible strategy for the Thai socialist revolution and a failure to relate to the new generation of young activists who joined the struggle in the 1970s. The emphasis on rural armed struggle in Thailand did not fit reality. Since 1932 all significant social changes have taken place in the cities. The authoritarian nature of the CPT leadership alienated the students. The main experience of student activists in the jungle with the CPT was a stifling of all original ideas and a lack of any freedom to debate. Finally, the party’s Maoism backfired when the Chinese government turned its back on the party in order to build a relationship with the Thai ruling class in the new geo-political situation after the Vietnam War.

By 1988 the student activists had all returned to the city as the CPT collapsed. In the eyes of thousands of activists their experience of communist ideas and organisation was a deep disappointment. Unfortunately, unlike in the West, alternative and “new” Marxist organisations, especially those from a Trotskyist tradition, had no significant presence and could not rescue the Marxist tradition.

Today, even among the best anti-junta activists, there is still an unwillingness to build mass movements and an aversion to party organisation. [See https://bit.ly/2cj7nCx ].

In the late 1990’s I was involved in re-establishing a Marxist and Trotskyist current among small groups of students and trade unionists. But our organisation was not strong enough to withstand the repression and use of lèse-majesté following the two recent military coups. Never the less, interest in Marxism and socialism, especially among some young people, has not been totally snuffed out. It is hoped that this will eventually lead to a revival of the organised Left at some stage in the future.

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

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.

The Thai version of Marx’s Capital

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

It is 150 years since the first publication of Capital. Despite the fact that 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, Karl Marx’ s monumental study of capitalism was not translated into Thai until 1999, long after the collapse of the party.

The reason for this is that during the CPT’s entire existence until its demise in the late 1980s, it was a Stalinist party and in the early 1960s it adopted the Maoist version of Stalinism.

Stalinism is the antithesis of Marxism. While maintaining Marxist jargon, Stalin turned the whole notion of Socialism and Communism on its head. Socialism or Communism which had previously meant the self-emancipation of the working class and the abolition of classes and the eventual withering away of the state, became a dictatorship of communist party over the working class, thus allowing the state to exploit and extract surplus value from workers. It was therefore hardly a priority for Stalinists to read and study Marx’s Capital. In fact it would have been positively dangerous for workers under “Communist” rule to understand how they were being exploited, just like workers in the West.

Maoism in China retained all these aspects of Stalinism, but also relegated the role of workers to a secondary position. For Mao, the victory of the Communist Party would rely on a military victory of a peasant army led and controlled by Communist Party intellectuals. Instead of the cities being the centre for the struggle for socialism, the strategy was to “surround the cities with the countryside”. The true and immediate aim was national liberation and the creation of a strong China, not socialism. The CPT followed this Maoist line by inventing colonialism in Thailand. It built a popular front of people from different and antagonistic classes to fight for the so-called liberation of Thailand from the USA. For the CPT, Thailand was a “semi-feudal, semi-colonial” society. This was despite the fact that Thai feudalism had been overthrown from above by King Chulalongkorn in the 1870s when he set about building the Thai capitalist state.

Maoism also encouraged an anti-intellectual attitude. Instead of studying the works of Marxists throughout the world, and the works of other progressive thinkers, Maoists were urged to learn by rote the rather mundane writings of Chairman Mao in his Little Red Book. Former students who joined the CPT in the jungle, after the 1976 massacre of the Left, recalled how there were no works of Marx available to read in CPT strong-holds.

Wanla Wanwilai wrote that his CPT base had a small library but apart from a single book by Lenin on Historical Materialism, the other books were by Chairman Mao. They often sat in the library talking but never really read anything. According to Wanla they were ignorant of politics, economics and world affairs.

Wipa Daomanee (Comrade Sung), who looked after a CPT library in a jungle camp, wrote that those who had not taken advantage of the flourishing of left-wing books in open Thai society after the 14th October 1973 uprising against the military, did not stand a chance of improving their reading in the jungle.

Another ex-Maoist activist from the 1970s, now a well-off businessman, told me during a CPT re-union, that “Marxism was useful to me in developing my business”. It is most probable that he had never read any Marx while he was with the CPT.

For these reasons, the CPT never organised the translation of Marx’s Capital into Thai and it certainly did not encourage party members to read it in other languages. Before the 1970s some left-wing intellectuals like the economist Supa Sirimanon were the first Thais to read Marx in English, and Supa’s writings on political economy reflected this. He was influenced by the British Marxist J. F. Hutjesson, who was invited to teach political economy at Thammasart University by Pridi Panomyong, leader of the 1932 revolution against the absolute monarchy. But Supa Sirimanon was never a member of the CPT and he did not attempt to translate Capital into Thai.

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The first Thai to translate Capital was Matee Eamwara (เมธี เอี่ยมวรา) and his Thai translations from Chinese of Capital volumes 1 and 2 were first published in hardback in 1999 by Teeratus Publishing Company (สำนักพิมพ์ธีรทรรศน์). He also use an English version, translated by Ben Fowkes and David Fernbach, to compare with the Chinese. Matee Eamwara was previously known for his work in producing dictionaries. He also wrote a book on Marxist political economy. Unfortunately, it seems that he did not manage to complete the translation of Capital volume 3 as he was very old when he produced the first two volumes.

The first translation of Marx’s Capital produced by Matee Eamwara was a land mark in Marxist political economy for those of us who had re-established a small non-Stalinist Marxist organisation in Thailand at the time. University students were also able to read the work. However, the language in Matee’s translations reflected its Chinese source and was difficult to read, unlike the European translations.

Despite the fact that the first Thai translation of Capital only appeared in 1999, other works by Marx and Engels had been translated in the 1970s. “Wages, Price and Profit” was one such work which is still used by militant trade unionists to discuss the Labour Theory of Value. Other works included “The Communist Manifesto”, “Socialism Utopian and Scientific”, “The Origins of the Family Private Property and the State” and “The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man“. They were either translated anonymously or by people using pen names for obvious reasons. Only the translations of Engels’ “The Origins of the Family Private Property and the State” and “The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man” were translated by a known writer: Kularp Saipradit, who was a contemporary of Supa Sirimanon.  None of these translations were done by the CPT.

In 2010, I produced a digital note-form summary or guide to reading Marx’s Capital volumes 1-3 in Thai, based on the Penguin English version, translated by Ben Fowkes and David Fernbach, and this is available on the internet at http://bit.ly/129xlhF. Readership of this document is probably limited.

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In 2016 a much more substantial abridged version of all the 3 volumes of Capital, translated by Boonsak Sang-rawee (บุญศักดิ์ แสงระวี) was published by Chum Silapa Tamada (สำนักพิมพ์ชุมศิป์ธรรมดา). Boonsak Sang-rawee has translated many works from China, including books on Mao. Indications are that this is a much easier version to read than Matee Eamwara’s original translation. This latest publication should make Capital more available to a wider range of Thais.

Further reading

Wanla Wanwilai วันลา วันวิไล (๒๕๕๙) ตะวันตกที่ตะนาวศรี 2519 Net.

Wipa Daomanee (2003) Looking back to when I first wanted to be a Communist. In: Ungpakorn, Ji Giles (ed) Radicalising Thailand: New Political Perspectives. Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University.