Tag Archives: Mass resistance

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.

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Mass resistance to the coup smashes political myths

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The most striking thing about this coup d’etat is the speed and size of the anti-coup protests. For the last 3 days, immediately following the coup, mass protests of ordinary people have simultaneously erupted in many areas of Bangkok but also in Chiangmai and other towns. This is history in the making.

These protests are spontaneous but it would be a mistake to think that they were “unorganised”. For years pro-democracy activists have been creating their own grass roots networks which are independent from Taksin, Yingluk, Pua Thai and the mainstream UDD leaders of the redshirts. Never the less, many redshirts who are still loyal to the UDD are also taking part. So are ordinary working class people, although not as organised trade unionists. The more the protests grow, the more confidence is gained by those taking part and those watching and sympathising. Such grass roots protests make it more difficult for the military. There are hundreds of grass roots leaders, with new ones emerging every day. Arresting a few will only enrage people. It is not like arresting the UDD leaders and stopping the redshirt protests as before. Communication in these networks can be via social media, but “word of mouth” is also extremely important. This is the most positive development in Thailand’s political crisis for years.

Do not doubt for one moment that it is easy to defy a military junta and stand in front of armed soldiers who in the past have not hesitated to shoot down unarmed protesters. Some activists have been arrested and taken away. Others have been taken from their homes. Many people have been ordered by the junta to report to the army. This includes prominent progressive academics, some from the Nitirat group, and also including people like Ajarn Charnwit and Ajarn Suda. Some have been incarcerated in army camps. Those who are charged with “offences” will face military courts and prison.

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     But amazingly the protesters return in larger numbers. The hope is that this movement will grow and will reach out to the organised working class. But this will take time. It may well be a case of “two steps forward, one step back”.

There are a number of myths that have been shattered in the last few days. The first myth, constantly repeated by lazy journalists and elitist academics, is that the pro-democracy movement is predominantly rural. Millions of rural people will be enraged by this coup and hopefully they will organised themselves to oppose it in the coming days. But what we are seeing is an anti-coup movement developing in Bangkok and containing many redshirts. I have argued for years that the redshirt movement has significant support in Bangkok and that the capital city is not just made up of the conservative middle classes.

The second myth that has exploded is the idea that the palace is all powerful and controls the army. General Prayut staged his coup d’etat without even bothering to inform the king until one day after the event. There were no pictures of the monarchy behind the junta as they read out their declaration. Again this is something I have been arguing for years. The military is a law unto itself, only using the monarchy to legitimise what it does. Given this fact, the Thai crisis cannot be explained as merely an elite dispute over the issue of royal succession. There is no point in fighting over a weak and powerless institution.

What the succession mongers are saying to the brave people who are on the streets and facing arrests is that they “shouldn’t bother”. “The gods on Mount Olympus will fight it out and determine your fate”.

The crisis is really about the democratic space in society. It is a two-dimensional struggle with an elite fight over the conduct of politics linked, in a contradictory and dialectical manner, to the struggle of millions of ordinary people for freedom, democracy and social justice. On the streets this is not a fight between two groups of people who support different elites, as conservative academics and NGO leaders claim.

Whether the rumours put out by Robert Amsterdam that Taksin is considering setting up a government in exile are true or not, such a move would be irrelevant to the real struggle for democracy. Taksin is firmly in the camp of the elites, though he favours the democratic process as a means to achieve power. He and his fellow party members have no intention of leading a real struggle for democracy which could tear down the structures of the old order, destroying the power of the army, abolishing lèse-majesté, punishing state killers and bringing in standards of human rights and equality via a welfare state. As Leon Trotsky argued in his theory of Permanent Revolution, such a task lies with the modern urban working class, in coalition with the small farmers.

A third myth which has been exploded is the claim by the junta that it was “an honest broker”, trying to bring about peace and stability between two warring sides. No one with half a political brain really believed this because the army and Sutep’s mobs were working together. They also were on the same side as the PAD yellow shirts back in 2006. What is now very clear is that almost all the people who have been arrested and ordered to report to the military are redshirts or progressive pro-democracy activists.

There has been a total silence from the various NGO and conservative academic “worthies” over this coup. In fact they helped create the conditions for it to occur in the first place, by demanding the elected government resign and compromise with anti-democratic thugs. The National Human Rights Commission, which is stacked with uniforms, has pleaded with the junta not to be too harsh. It is a disgrace to its name. The most that a small group of NGO figures linked to “FTA Watch” and consumers’ and environmental groups could bring themselves to say is that they hoped that the junta would return Thailand to democracy “at the earliest opportunity”. In other words, the junta should relinquish power when it feels the time is right. They also called on “both sides” in the crisis to negotiate and compromise. The result would be “half democracy”.

Supporters of Thai democracy abroad can do two simple and very important tasks. The first is to try to protect and publicise the plight of those who are arrested and imprisoned, including those who are already in jail for lèse-majesté. The second thing is to try to counter the lies and nonsense coming from the junta which appears in your own national media.

Photos: Facebook