Tag Archives: Monarchy

Why is the Thai junta paranoid about pictures and news of king Wachiralongkorn?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The Thai junta has warned that anyone who follows, contacts, or shares posts online with three prominent critics – historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul, journalist and author Andrew MacGregor Marshall, and former diplomat Pavin Chachavalpongpun – will be prosecuted under the Computer Crimes Act. Why is this happening? To understand this paranoid behaviour we need to look at the role of the Thai king today.

However, latest article about King Wachiralongkorn by my friend Claudio Sopranzetti in Aljazeera is disappointing because it is a sensational and unreal depiction of the awful Wachiralongkorn [see http://bit.ly/2oXtDae ].

Firstly, Sopranzetti claims that the king is trying to wrestle power from the military junta. Nothing could be further from the truth. Wachiralongkorn is on the throne because the military put him there. Like his father before him, he is totally beholden to the military who use the monarchy to justify their own power and “right” to intervene in politics.

The idea that Wachiralongkorn has been increasing his power is also parroted by The Guardian.

When talking about “power”, it is important to understand that it is a concrete thing, not some abstract concept. Political power comes hand in hand with the “power to shape society and politics”.

There was never any evidence that former King Pumipon ever had such power. He never shaped Thai foreign policy or had any influence on the direction of domestic political policies. He could not order military coups because he did not control the military. Pumipon always went with the flow, at times praising Taksin and his government. Pumipon shared his right-wing conservatism with most of the military and bureaucratic elites. It wasn’t his ideas that influenced events. He had no influence on the policies used by the Taksin government to dig Thailand out of the 1996 economic crisis. The anti-Taksin movement which emerged much later was not his creation. The conservatives merely claimed they were monarchists in order to try to obtain legitimacy. Pumipon once told the military not to buy submarines because they would “get stuck in the mud of the Gulf of Siam”, but no one took any notice of him. His “Sufficiency Economy” ideology was repeatedly quoted by the elites, but never acted upon by anyone. [See more here:  http://bit.ly/2oppTvb ]

Wachiralongkorn is less politically aware than his father, being completely uninterested in Thai society and politics. There is zero evidence that he is trying to wrestle power from the military in order to influence domestic political policy or foreign policy. [See also http://bit.ly/2kBwOlm ]

Secondly, Sopranzetti, and other commentators, can only raise the issue of Wachiralongkorn’s insistence on amending the constitution in areas that merely affect the organisation of the royal household, as an example of his quest for “power”. But Wachiralongkorn merely wanted to control his personal household staff and ensure that when he spent a lot of time in his palace in Germany, someone wouldn’t appoint a regent over his head without his approval. This is hardly an example of Wachiralongkorn amassing power to rule over the Thai population. As I have previously written, “Wachiralongkorn wants the Crown, but not the job”. He isn’t interested in the slightest in Affairs of State. His only interest is in his own “affairs” with numerous women, some of whom have been promoted to high army ranks. He also once promoted his former dog to an air force rank.

Wachiralongkorn’s so-called “power” is much more akin to that of a petty local Mafia boss who wishes to protect his patch.

As for the so-called “fear” factor, it must be frightening for those in his immediate household circle to serve such a self-centred and erratic boss. But a WikiLeaks episode some years ago exposed the fact that many high-ranking generals viewed Wachiralongkorn with irritation bordering on contempt.

Thirdly, Sopranzetti claims that the student activist Pai Daodin was jailed under the lèse-majesté law as soon as Wachiralongkorn became king, implying that Wachiralongkorn had something to do with it. This is conspiratorial nonsense. Pai Daodin is a pro-democracy activist and constant thorn in the side of the military junta. They were itching to get him for months and when he shared the BBC’s biography of Wachiralongkorn on social media, it was just the excuse they were looking for. We need to remember that hundreds of other Thais shared the same article but have not been charged with lèse-majesté.

Finally, Sopranzetti fails to understand that in order to be able to use the present and past king as a legitimising figure in their class rule over the population, the military and elites have to give them something in return. Since the image of the monarchy is there to protect the elites, the monarchy acts like a guard dog with all bark and no bite. But guard dogs need to be thrown a bone every day to keep them in line. The bone thrown to the Thai monarchy is the immense wealth given to them, the freedom for them to live their lives as they please, and the willingness of the elites to pamper the royal ego by grovelling on the floor in front of them and pretending to be under the dust of their feet. This latter bit of theatre is for the benefit of ordinary citizens while real power is in the hands of the elites.

Just like the top bosses of most religions who claim to speak on behalf of non-existing gods, the military claim to speak on behalf of the monarchy.

In addition to this, in order to make this trick work, the monarchy needs to appear to be worthy of some respect. Yet Wachiralongkorn’s personal life style makes this difficult. That is why the exiles   Somsak Jeamteerasakul, Pavin Chachavalpongpun and Andrew MacGregor Marshall, have been singled out by the junta for publishing 2016 photos from Germany, of the tattooed Wachiralongkorn with his skimpily dressed girlfriend. They have also published news of his latest escapades. This poses a danger to his credibility to be a monarch in the eyes of most Thais and they are  therefore a threat to the military.

Discrediting the monarchy is useful in undermining the junta, but when taken to extremes, sensational stories about the royals tend to titillate people who are bored with reality while having little benefit in explaining the nature of Thai political society. Most importantly, they add nothing to the discussion about how to overthrow the dictatorship and build democracy through mass movements. Focusing only on the royals lets the military and their anti-democratic allies off the hook.

What do the royalist really want?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

In recent times we have seen anti-democracy mobsters roaming the streets of Bangkok demanding “True Democracy under the power of the King”. The military is constantly harping on about need to protect the institution and prerogatives of the monarchy. If we were to take the hysterical shouts from the Thai royalists at face value, we would be led to believe that they want to see a return to an Absolute Monarchy or at least an increase in royal political power.

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Yet this could not be further from the truth. These demands are a coded way of saying that they want less democracy and more authoritarianism under the power of the military and the conservative elites with the monarchy simply being used as a rubber stamp for everything they do.

Ever since the 1932 revolution led by the People’s Party that overthrew the Absolute Monarchy, amid mass support from the general population, there has been only one single royalist revolt and that was 1 year later in 1933. The Boworadet Rebellion was led by royalist Prince Boworadet in October that year. It lasted 12 days and was decisively defeated by government troops backed up by volunteers including trade unionists.

Decisive action by government troops and citizen volunteers defeated the Boworadet Rebellion .
Decisive action by government troops and citizen volunteers defeated the Boworadet Rebellion .

This was really the end of the dreams of the royalists that they could restore the absolute power of the monarchy. From this period onwards, according to historian Thongchai Winichakul, the royalists merely sought alliances to increase the importance of the monarchy in political society.

Pibun
Pibun

Until the military coup carried out by Sarit Tanarat in 1957, the most powerful factions of the armed forces and police under the triumvirate dictatorship of Pubun, Pin and Pao were strongly anti-monarchy, seeking to severely restrict the public duties and role of the king. The civilian faction of the People’s Party under Pridi, even though it compromised about moving forward to a republic, was never the less totally against restoring the power of the king.

Pumipon visits his patron, Sarit, who was on his death bed
Pumipon visits his patron, Sarit, who was on his death bed

It was the rise of Sarit, a military man with no connection to the 1932 revolution, that the royalists saw their opportunity to increase the status of the monarchy. This was made much easier by the heightened tensions in South-East Asia under the Cold War. The monarchy became a conservative anti-communist symbol and the U.S. very much supported this and the dictator Sarit.

But at no point did the royalists even dream of re-establishing the absolute power of the king. The military dictators who were in power in the 1960s, including Sarit, had no intention of giving up their power to the monarchy either. Their promotion of the king was so that he could be used more effectively as a tool to justify their actions and to justify elite class rule.

When we consider the situation in modern day Thailand, neither the present military junta nor politicians like Sutep Taugsuban had any intention of handing over their power and influence to the ailing king Pumipon and they certainly do not want king Wachiralongkorn to rule over them.

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The military justified their 2006 and 2014 coups by claiming that they were protecting the monarchy when the monarchy was never under threat from Taksin and his allies. It was merely their standard justification for toppling democratically elected governments. The military are very confident about using the monarchy for their own ends. They have had years of practice and high-ranking and retired military generals surround the throne via the Privy Council, allowing them to run the monarchy.

Politicians like Sutep and the middle-class Yellow Shirts also need a justification for calling for the overthrow of elected governments or for wrecking elections. When they call on the monarchy to intervene, as they did in 2006, it was a call for a military coup under the guise of a “neutral and unifying” king. When in 2014 they called for “True Democracy under the power of the King”, they wanted authoritarianism under the power of the military and themselves. At that point king Pumipon was clearly on his deathbed and incapable of intervening in anything. Their excuse for the destruction of democracy was that the poor were too stupid to deserve the right to vote and were therefore manipulated by Taksin.

The middle-classes, the military and the conservative elites have appropriated both “the Nation” and “the Monarchy” to mean themselves.

Why is there no “power vacuum” in Thailand?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

For years many Thai and Western commentators incorrectly claimed that King Pumipon was a powerful monarch who controlled the military, the judiciary and the civil service. If this were true, then there would be a serious power vacuum in the country today, months after the king’s death.

The fact of the matter is that no such power vacuum exists.

This important fact should be a wake-up call for academics and commentators to reassess their flawed analyses. Yet there has been total silence from those who once claimed that Pumipon was an all-powerful monarch.

Why is there no power vacuum today in Thailand?

It cannot be that Pumipon is still controlling things from the grave!!

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No one with any intellect would try to explain it by saying that Wachiralongkorn had stepped in as the new King and was now exercising power instead of his dead father. As a clueless playboy, Wachralongkorn has the unenviable task of trying to behave in a regal manner. He was put on the throne by the military and conservative elites and he is totally beholden to them in every way, just as his father before him was beholden to them.

Of course the powerful elites have to throw Wachiralongkorn a few expensive bones to keep him sweet, including pandering to his vicious and demented whims, when it does not affect their power, and also giving him an enormous amount of wealth which was originally created by poverty stricken working people.

One of his whims is to spend most of his time outside Thailand, in his palace in Munich. This is what lies behind his demand to change the junta’s constitution so that he has flexibility in appointing others to sign laws on his behalf (or not) while he has a fun time abroad. Yet some misguided folk try to paint this as “royal meddling in politics”. The truth is that demanding to amend the military’s awful and authoritarian constitution to suit his personal lifestyle, is of little overall significance to the present state of democracy. It merely reflects the fact that he cannot be bothered with the tedious ceremonial duties of kingship and doesn’t want to live in Thailand. He wants the Crown, but not the job.

In some ways, the intermittent “exile” of Wachiralongkorn may be a good thing for the military and the elites. He can be out of the lime light when he lives abroad, causing less scandal, while the military can keep on using the monarchy for their  own legitimacy.

To understand why there is no power vacuum in Thailand today, we have to understand the nature of the Thai ruling class and the source of its power.

Power at the top of society comes in two major forms: naked coercion and ideological legitimisation. Examples of naked coercion are the actions of the ruling class’ security forces. In Thailand this has included gunning down pro-democracy activists in the streets, numerous military coups and the use of the courts, the lèse majesté law, and the prison system to muzzle dissidents.

The Thai ruling class is a poisonous and vicious patron client network which draws in new recruits to its “elite feeding trough”, where fortunes are to be made at the expense of the hard-working poor. During Pumipon’s life, this vast parasitic organism maintained its legitimacy by creating a false image of the King as an all-powerful god and benefactor to “his people”.

The high profile ideological status of the King started from his systematic promotion by the military dictator Sarit Tanarat. Therefore the increasing importance of the monarchy after its initial overthrow in the 1932 revolution was closely connected to the need have an ideology to counter Communism in order to protect the status quo.

The use of “Nation, Religion and King” as a conservative ideology, where the King symbolised the “heart of the nation”, the head of religion and the embodiment of “all that is Thai”, has remained central to Thai ruling class ideology to this day. Socialisation of the population using this ideology is an attempt to create a population loyal to the generals, the top officials and the rich. Gross inequality is an integral part of this ideology.

The Thai ruling class, which is made up of the army, the capitalists and high-ranking officials, are a modern ruling class: conservative, anti-democratic and barbaric. It is not the King who is in charge of this bunch of thugs. It is they who use the symbolic role of the King to protect their interests. Therefore army generals, politicians, businessmen and privy councillors prostrate themselves on the ground and pay homage to the monarchy in order to protect the vital false images which underpin their ideology. Many have mistaken this play act as a sign of royal power. But this is only a shallow analysis.

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There is no power vacuum today because the ruling class, especially the generals, have not lost their naked power of coercion in any way. In fact the demobilisation of opposition to the dictatorship by the Red Shirt leadership has only strengthened the power of the junta. In addition to this, the ruling class are still coasting along, using up the reserves of their royalist ideology left over from Pumipon’s time. However, at some point they will have to recharge their legitimising ideology. How they actually achieve this will be an important question on their minds given the real nature of the new king. For now they are hoping that fixing the political system into a 20-year straight jacket will ensure that their interests are protected.

Thailand is a grossly unequal society

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

A recent report by Credit Suisse showed that the top 1% of Thais owned 60% of the nation’s wealth. This should come as no surprise to anyone. When challenged about this, the Dictator Prayut only managed a pathetically feeble excuse, saying that it would be “very hard” to do anything about this “because people don’t trust the state”. Well, it might be true that people don’t trust the dictatorship, but that is hardly a reason for the gross inequality in Thailand. In fact, if there was a popular uprising against the dictatorship and the state, it would do much to help eradicate inequality.

Thai-Rut newspaper cartoonist, "Sia", drew this to expose inequality. In the past he has been summonsed to an "attitude" changing session by the junta.
Thai-Rut newspaper cartoonist, “Sia”, drew this to expose inequality. In the past he has been summonsed to an “attitude” changing session by the junta.

The causes of Thailand’s inequality lie with the lack of democracy, the domination of the military, the extreme ideology of the monarchy and the fact that there is a serious lack of a strong labour movement with its own political party.

Despite the fact that Thailand’s GDP is 40 times smaller than that of the USA, Thailand has 3 billionaires who are among the world’s richest 85 people in the world. They are the monarchy, which is the 8th richest monarchy in the world with $44.24 billion, Dhanin Chearavanont, 58th richest man in the world with $12.6 billion and Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, 82nd richest man in the world with $10.6 billion. Taksin Shinawat is the 882nd richest man in the world and the 7th richest Thai with $ 1.7 billion. At the same time, most ordinary workers in the private sector earn a minimum wage of 300 baht per day ($9.3) and migrant workers and workers in the agricultural sector earn even less.

Generalissimo Prayut’s official salary is ten times that of a qualified nurse and 16 times what ordinary workers earn. But of course that does not include all the shadowy earnings and multiple positions that many top generals enjoy, which far exceed their official salaries.

The rich, from the monarchy downwards, pay little or no tax. The majority of the tax burden being placed upon ordinary working people and the poor. Eighty percent of government tax from Thai citizens is collected in the form of regressive Value Added Tax and taxes on petrol, alcohol, cigarettes and vehicles. Only 19% is collected from income tax, which the rich avoid anyway. It has long been this way with ordinary people being forced to keep the elites in their luxurious life styles through exploitation of labour and collection of taxes. The rich are parasitic blood-suckers.

Abolition of the monarchy, down-sizing the military and introducing progressive taxation on the rich would go far towards redressing inequality.

Diamond-studded "Santa" outfit for one of the Princess' dogs.
Diamond-studded “Santa” outfit for one of the Princess’ dogs.

Thailand has no welfare state. There is no universal unemployment benefit and most elderly people do not have real pensions. Yet billions are spent on the already over-rich monarchy and the bloated military. A Welfare State was proposed by the leftist revolutionary leader Pridi Panomyong just after the anti-monarchy revolution in 1932, but it was successfully and vigorously opposed by the conservative ruling class, including the monarch, Rama 7th. Pumipon was also very much against a welfare state, instead proposing the reactionary “Sufficiency Economy” ideology. In this ideology, the richest man in Thailand claimed that the poor needed to “learn” to live within their means.

The “Sufficiency Economy” dogma was enthusiastically taken up by the rest of the ruling class, especially the military dictatorships of 2006 and Prayut’s present dictatorship. As an extreme neo-liberal ideology, it fitted well with free-market beliefs and both the worship of the free-market and the “Sufficiency Economy” were written into various military sponsored constitutions, binding future governments to anti-poor policies. The yellow-shirted middle-classes loved this because they had long derided Taksin Shinawat’s Universal Health Care scheme and his weak attempts to improve the standard of living for ordinary people. The present junta are threatening to introduce “co-payments” into the healthcare scheme and have devolved the minimum wage rate in order to keep wages low. They have also tried to prosecute former Prime Minister Yingluk for her government’s rice price support scheme which helped farmers. Of course Taksin was no socialist, he tried to avoid tax, and was also committed to the free-market, although he also favoured grass-roots Keynesianism by which the state intervened to help the poor. These policies were denounced by yellow-shirted academics as “populist vote-buying”. It would be “better” for the country if the poor, who make up the majority of the population, just starved or lived short and bitter lives.

What was shocking was the way in which many NGOs lapped up the “Sufficiency Economy” ideology because of their anarchistic rejection of state welfare. Academics like Chris Baker also praised it.

Welfare states are built through the struggle of social movements, especially the trade unions. Unfortunately, a combination of Maoist rejection of the working class by Thai left-wing radicals in the past, a patronising attitude to unions by the NGOs today, and ruling class repression, has meant that both the left and the unions remain too weak. This a problem which needs to be urgently addressed if we are to build a more equal society.

Abolition of the monarchy would not only save millions of baht, which could be put to better use, it would also end the obscene crawling on the ground in front of “big shots” and would be a political and ideological blow against inequality.

Conspiratorial nonsense exposed

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Now that King Pumipon has died and it has been officially announced that the loathsome Wachiralongkorn is to be the next king, it is time to ask questions about all the conspiratorial nonsense surrounding the Thai royal family which has kept fairy-tale fans and lazy journalists occupied for years.

Firstly, if Pumipon had political power, why is there no political vacuum in Thailand? A recent rubbish article in the British newspaper, The Guardian, claimed that Pumipon could force soldiers and politicians to crawl on the ground in front of him “in order to keep them in check”. Others have claimed that Pumipon ordered various military coups, including Paryut’s coup in 2014. If so, who is giving orders to the generals now? How could they possibly have a clue about what to do without their king’s instructions?

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The truth of the matter is that Pumipon had no power what so ever and it was always the military and other senior members of the Thai ruling class who advised (told) him what to do and say. What is more, Pumipon was incapacitated for years previous to his death and the military junta has ruled the country just like previous Thai military juntas. When we had elected governments, they also ruled the country along with other members of the ruling elites. Pumipon was just a symbol of their status quo.

Following his death that symbol of status quo has to be honoured in the long, expensive and tedious funeral ceremony. Coercion and socialisation are being used to continue the life of this reactionary symbol with those not wearing black being subjected to abuse and threats of violence and extra long royal anthems introduced into cinemas.

Secondly, supporters of the “Succession Crisis” conspiracy theory have suggested in the past that there was going to be a war or at least a serious fight between the Crown Prince and the Princess and their respective supporters. Where is the evidence for this civil war now?

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Failing to show any evidence for the above, they quickly and conveniently “moved on” to hint that the delay in the Crown Prince’s coronation was an indication that he might not be king. They wet themselves with excitement when it was also announced that General Prem, top Privy Councillor, would be the Regent. Swiftly the junta announced that Wachiralongkorn was going to be the next king and Generalissimo Prayut and Genarl Prem went to see Wachiralongkorn, supposedly to “take orders”. In reality they were probably telling the half-witted thug about their plan for him and the country. Never the less, they emerged from the meeting to announce that “his majesty” was concerned about the happiness of the Thai people and that he had “instructed” them to protect the well-being of the population. That would be a first! Normally Wachiralongkorn is only concerned about his own happiness!

Those who fear that Wachiralongkorn would not make a good king (if there is such a thing) have nothing to fear. As Thomas Paine once wrote in the Rights of Man: being a mechanic requires some skill, but being a king only requires the animal body of  a man.

The delay in Wachiralongkorn’s coronation is just an act designed to show the population that he is sad about his father’s death and is not impatient to sit on the throne. In fact he and his father never really liked each other. He was closer to his dreadful mother.

The delay in the coronation could be useful to the junta in dragging out this whole tedious mourning event and keeping up the royalist hype and repression. What is more we should not be at all surprised to learn soon that elections will have to be postponed until after the funeral and the coronation…. Taking us into 2018 or even 2019 and beyond.

“Nation, Religion and Monarchy” is a constant source of violence

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The images of mob violence carried out by fanatical royalists after the Thai king’s death is a stark reminder that the ideology of “Nation, Religion and Monarchy” is a constant source of violence in Thai society. This is why calls for peace and understanding are likely to fall on deaf ears.

In historical terms it comes as no surprise that the institution of the monarchy has always been associated with violence. In the feudal “Sakdina” period, forced labour and the trade in products of forced labour, was the source of wealth for the monarchy. Many ordinary people tried to escape this violent coercion by moving into rural areas far away from kings and their soldiers. Naturally, the process of becoming a king was little different from the process of becoming top boss in a criminal gang. It relied on naked violence. Frequently big men fought it out to take the throne, even in the early Bangkok period.

Even when the Sakdina system was no longer sustainable and the Absolute Monarchy came into being under king Chulalongkorn, violence was at the heart of the new royal dictatorship and it was used to suppress those who wanted to seek political self-determination, such as those in the north-east or Patani.

After the 1932 anti-monarchy revolution, the ideology of “Nation, Religion and Monarchy” was redefined and modernised in the 1950s for use in the Cold War by the dictator Field Marshal Sarit, who used military violence to take power. Sarit was a brutal and corrupt ruler who promoted and used the monarchy for his own ends. The monarchy became a symbol of the collective conservative Thai ruling class.

Sarit executed socialists like teacher Krong Jundawan without any trial. This was justified by saying that it was necessary for national security and to protect “Nation, Religion and Monarchy”.

After the 14th October 1973, when Sarit’s protégés killed pro-democracy students in the streets to try and maintain power, the king had to step in to protect “Nation, Religion and Monarchy” from the rapidly radicalising movement of students and workers. The royal family, top military generals and conservative politicians cultivated fanatical royalist mobs and para-military police who eventually attacked students and workers at Thammasart University on 6th October 1976. People were hung from trees, shot and beaten to death. The justification was that these were leftists bent on insulting and overthrowing the monarchy. “Nation, Religion and Monarchy” were saved through a bloodbath against unarmed civilians.

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In more modern times the ideological slogan of “Nation, Religion and Monarchy” has had a fourth word reluctantly added, almost as an afterthought. We now see the slogans “Nation, Religion, Monarchy and the People” as a backdrop to military press conferences.

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The royals have always been photographed in military uniform, often holding guns and even the females like the queen have used the language of violence. A few years ago she was quoted as saying that she wished she could just pick up a gun to fight Patani dissidents.

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Today during the imposed mourning period for the king, a mixture of violence and socialisation are being used to enforce a public expression of royalism. Howling mobs of fanatical royalist attack anyone believed to be anti-royalist and this has the backing from the general who runs the so-called ministry of justice. Those in power today got where they are now through the barrel of the gun and seek to maintain power to protect the monarchy using all sorts of violence, including the lèse-majesté law. Victims of royalist mob violence are arrested and charged under this draconian law. The use of the law is an act of violence against thought and body. It is there to prevent free thinking and to lock up dissidents.

Lèse-majesté cases mushroom under military regimes, both the present one and the previous Abhisit led government which was controlled by the military.

We need to build a counter ideology which opposes nationalism, fanatical Buddhism and royalism in order to reduce state-sponsored violence in Thai society. That involves building a strong social movement opposed to military rule.

Thai Paris Debates: Gramsci and building political consensus

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

During the recent Paris seminar on Thai politics, held on the tenth anniversary of the 19th September military coup, there were many interesting debates. I shall comment on the discussion around consensus and divisions in Thai society.

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Somsak Jeamteerasakul explained that in the 20 years up to the 2006 military coup, there was a “royalist” consensus or hegemony among the population, with little divisions in society. Yet since the 2006 coup, Thai society has been deeply divided. This, Somsak believes, is something that does not exist in Western democracies where he claims there is a democratic consensus.

This is obviously a broad view which ignores the continuous discontent among the Malay Muslims in Patani. But in my opinion what appeared as a “quiet period” with little political divisions among the Thai population was merely a shallow surface view. In every society there are divisions based on competing class interests. A brief look at Western Europe or the United States today reveals serious conflicts around the issues of austerity, defending the welfare state, labour rights, support or opposition to the European Union, the issue of war or the attitude to migrants and refugees. This has resulted in growing support for Socialists but also for the Fascists.

The supposed Thai consensus for 20 years before the 2006 coup was a result of economic growth but also the defeat of the Communist Party of Thailand and the weakening of political dissent. Even so, class struggle continued to bubble under the surface with strikes and protests by workers and small farmers.

The point to keep in mind here is that there is no real consensus in any capitalist society and periods of apparent class peace soon end in explosions of discontent. An important factor which ended the quiet period in Thailand was the 1997 economic crisis and the choices made in response to this by various political actors, especially Taksin and his Thai Rak Thai Party. [See http://bit.ly/2d9UUAu , http://bit.ly/2bSpoF2   or http://bit.ly/2cmZkAa  ]

Somsak is now trying to find a way to build political peace in Thai society by seeking a “democratic consensus” between red shirts, other pro-democracy activists, and the middle class. Remember that the middle class has a recent history of outright opposition to democracy and to associated measures which improve the economic status of workers and small farmers, which Taksin’s political parties tried to push forward.

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Somsak, who I regard as a friend, seems to view Marxists like myself as figures of fun who are hopelessly deluded, but he also tries to legitimise his views by quoting Gramsci on the issue of hegemony.

Now this reminds me of the mis-use of Gramsci by the leaders of the Spanish left-wing party Podemos. They claim to be attempting to build political hegemony in Spanish society by moving beyond the concept of “Left” and “Right”. They also wish to ignore the issue of class and class struggle.

Yet Gramsci was a Marxist, who did not in anyway, believe that you could move beyond or ignore class struggle. His ideas about hegemony were about how to counter the prevailing ideas of the ruling capitalist class with ideas which were in the interests of workers and small farmers. This was with the aim of moving towards a socialist revolution. It was not about building cross-class unity.

Instead, Somsak wants to distort the ideas of Gramsci in order to achieve a compromise and political peace between the reactionary middle-classes and the workers and small farmers in Thailand. It would be a pseudo-peace based on giving up the ideals of equality, human rights and democracy. The explanation for Somsak’s views lies with his rejection of the possibility of building mass movements from below. He regards the red shirts as mere foot soldiers of Taksin and can see no way forward in terms of social movements.

Another pro-democracy activist, Rangsiman Rome, from the student NDM, also expressed a desire to “talk to the other side” in a recent BBC interview. Again, this arises from the rejection of a need to build mass social movements. [See  http://bit.ly/2dizkuE %5D and http://bit.ly/2a0A4TK   ]

Yet there is a real potential for building a new mass movement for democracy, independent of Taksin, out of the remnants of the redshirts, from the 10 million people who voted against the military’s constitution, and from the progressive students. This needs determined political and organisational work and also the creation of a left-wing political party. If such a movement became strong in the future it could pull many elements of the fractured middle-classes to support its agenda, rather than capitulating to the current reactionary agenda of the right-wing core of the middle-classes. In the past the Thai middle-classes have been pulled in the direction of supporting democracy or dictatorship, depending on the balance of class forces. This is the same for other countries. [See http://bit.ly/2aDzest ]

The sad fact that the pro-democracy movement is currently weak means that it is highly unlikely that Thai society is “waiting to explode”, as claimed by pro-democracy academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun, who also spoke at the Paris seminar.

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Somsak and Pavin’s “top-down” view of society means that they believe in the political power of the king, which is something with which I disagree. I believe that the king is a puppet of the military. But for Somsak the king’s power comes from the fact that no one can criticise him while he does not necessarily have to give out obvious orders to the military. My answer to this is to say that God can also not be criticised in many societies, yet God, despite not existing in reality, can be used as a puppet by many ruling classes! [See http://bit.ly/2cBnidg ]

Finally, one further interesting point came out of Somsak’s talk about consensus and military coups. He pointed out that a number of military coups in the past have been directed against military governments by their rivals. In other words the military has been highly fractured. For me this is another nail in the coffin of the theory of a “Deep State” opposing Taksin. [See http://bit.ly/29H0FC9 ]