Tag Archives: Racism

“Populism” a middle-class insult against working people

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

A lot of people use the term “populism” to describe a certain kind of politics in the world today, especially what is called “right-wing populism”, which is used to label fascist parties in Europe, UKIP in Britain and Donald Trump in the United States.

In Thailand the term “Populism” has been much in fashion to describe the politics of Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party.

Yet the use of “Populism” has nasty and insulting connotations towards ordinary working people and the poor. It is a middle-class form of abuse towards the poor by so-called “liberals” who deem themselves to be better-educated and more intelligent than the supposedly backward and narrow-minded unwashed “proles”.

In the Thai case, the use of the term “Populism” was used to condemn Thai Rak Thai’s pro-poor policies such as the Universal Health Care system, which gave affordable health care to all citizens for the first time. It was used to condemn the job creating schemes in rural areas and the rice subsidy programme of the Yingluk government. Those who use this term are in the main un-democratic right-wing free-market liberals and reactionary middle class academics and NGOs who believe that state budgets, built through taxation of ordinary people, should not be used to increase the quality of life for the majority.

These people lied and insulted ordinary working people, especially the rural population, by saying that Taksin had “bought votes” by offering pro-poor policies which won him many elections. For these liberals, the poor were just too stupid to see that increases in their standard of living was “bad for the country” because it destroyed fiscal discipline. The poor should have been “bright enough” to vote for the Democrat Party which promised them nothing. These same people keep quiet today about lavish spending on the royals and the bloated military budget. They also welcomed both recent military coups.

The present junta is busy designing a backward and reactionary “National Strategy” which will prevent future political parties from offering pro-poor policies at elections. At a stroke they will disenfranchise the majority of Thai citizens from any democratic choice.

In the West the term “Populism”, when used to describe the odious and reactionary policies of Donald Trump, the racism of UKIP and the naked fascism of Le Pen in France or Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, has the same nasty and insulting connotations towards ordinary working people and the poor. The implication is that the “proles” can be easily manipulated because they lack the intelligence and reason of the middle-classes.

Marine Le Pen with Geert Wilders (Getty Images)

The difference is only that these right-wing politicians in the West are out and out reactionaries or dangerous Nazis and they have to be vigorously opposed.

In Britain the middle-class so-called liberals condemn everyone who voted to leave the European Union as racists. Yet the Brexit vote was a protest vote against the entire British establishment which has been destroying the lives of millions of ordinary people. What is more, both sides in the referendum debates, with the exception of the Left, used racist language. The elites and the middle-classes are often more racist than ordinary workers because they come across less black people and do not need to unite with them in trade unions in the same way as workers.

In the United States these liberals try to paint a picture of red-necked ignorant US workers who are just racist and sexist and therefore support Trump. In reality Trump won the election because ordinary people were sick and tired of the elite pro-business policies of Clinton and Obama. It was a shame that Trump could opportunistically win as a result of this.

The middle-class liberals never care about the lives of ordinary working people. They keep quiet about increasing inequality, the destruction of living standards in Greece at the hands of the EU and the increasing official racism of the EU. Some of Trump’s odious policies were started under Obama. What is more these liberals never tire of attacking left-wing politicians like Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbin who would be able to harness the anger against the establishment in a  progressive and anti-racist direction. They also fail to name those like Le Pen or Geert Wilders as “fascists” and believe in allowing them space to spurt their filth.

It is time to stop using the term “Populism”. It is insulting to ordinary people, it white-washes the fascists and hides the real explanations for politics in Thailand and the West.

The myth of the “Land of Smiles”

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The recent video footage of a British family being brutally attacked by drunken thugs in the Thai seaside resort of Hua Hin should be enough to dispel the myth that Thailand is a “Land of Smiles”.

Associated with this myth is the idea that somehow the Buddhist religion ensures tolerance and a peaceful way of life. The truth is the absolute opposite. The violent behaviour of fascist monks in Burma and Thailand are confirmation of this. See http://bit.ly/1WA9UE0 and http://bit.ly/1W1AA3C

Thailand is a violent society in many ways. Politically the ruling class have always resorted to violence to suppress opposition. We have seen this on the streets of Bangkok many times in the last five decades. We have also seen this in Patani. The murder rate in Thailand is higher than the United States and approximately five times higher than Western Europe. People also die violent deaths on the roads due to poor public transport, poor roads and bad driving. This is a form of violence caused by the state of society.

Violence by drunken thugs also happens regularly in Western Europe, but the main targets of young thugs are other young men. This makes the repeated attack on the British woman who is in her sixties particularly horrifying. Thai culture is supposed to teach people to respect elderly people. How did this happen? She was punched and then kicked in the head when on the ground. Of course racists are known to attack black people or Muslims in Europe, including elderly people and racism plays an important role in promoting violence.

However, to be fair, the video does seem to show her slapping the face of a Thai man earlier during the incident. But that does not excuse the brutal attack upon her later.

It is not enough of an explanation to say that the attack at Hua Hin was just local youth copying the behaviour of the Thai ruling class, especially the military junta. However, junta strong man Prayut  did threaten those sharing the above video with jail sentences because it “gives Thailand a bad name”!

Many Thais may appear to smile or laugh easily, but this is often a cultural way in which to cover embarrassment. In reality, in public settings, people in Thailand are less polite than the citizens of Britain. Some may question my assertion that British people are more polite to each other in public settings. But consider the way British people tend to hold open doors for each other, how many drivers thank other drivers for giving way to them, how flashing your car lights in Britain means “you go first”, while it means the opposite in Thailand. Consider how people getting off buses in Oxford thank the driver or how there is a serious attempt to show general respect for the privacy and dignity of others, especially in hospitals and schools. It comes from past collective struggles, especially by the labour movement, to promote equality and dignity. There is nothing specifically “British” about this. It is a result of class struggle.

Thais are warm and generous people and are open minded about children in a way that is not present in British society and they are more spontaneous in sharing meals with people. So it isn’t really a case of who is a “nicer” nation. After all, the British Empire has a long and bloody history of oppression, slavery and violence.

Biologically Thais are no more prone to any particular behaviour than any Europeans. But there are important social factors which lead to violence in society and a lack of politeness in public settings.  The most important factor is that Thai society is extremely hierarchical. The ruling class continues to do whatever it can to ensure that a “culture of citizenship and equality” is not allowed to grow. The idea that people should respect the elderly is often closely associated with more powerful elders like teachers, parents or people of higher rank, than poor elderly folk. There is as yet no welfare state in Thailand and the trade union movement is weaker than in Western Europe. Collective class struggle has not been strong enough so far. These are all factors which lead to a lack of mutual respect and a lack of collective consciousness among many ordinary people. Everyone is often too busy trying to make sure they can defend their individual way of life or the interests of their close family because there is no collective guarantee of security that one gets from a welfare state. That also explains why most Thais are so bad at queuing.

Those at the lower end of the pile, like the thugs at Hua Hin, can only seem to gain some false dignity by getting drunk and acting tough. Violence against women and children, worldwide, is often because oppressed men pathetically try to make up for their lack of power in the outside world by using violence against weaker people in their own family.

The racism, which is prevalent in Thai society, especially to people from other Asian countries, but also against Westerners, is encouraged by the extreme nationalism of the ruling class. This is part of the explanation of why Western tourists are sometimes attacked. They are seen as a privileged group of people and Western women are seen as lacking in morals. See http://bit.ly/1JaeTJY

All in all Thai society is sick because it is ruled by a brutal sick ruling class. Yet, millions of Thais try to lead decent and caring lives where they attempt to respect others. That is the glimmer of hope for the future. But to encourage the good and collective side of Thais, we need to end the dictatorship, destroy hierarchy, promote the idea of equality and citizenship, and build a welfare state to reduce inequality.

 

Laura Witheridge makes some serious points about the Thai justice system

 

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Any decent person must sympathise with the anger expressed by Laura Witheridge about how the Thai authorities handled the investigation of the murder and rape of her sister Hannah on Ko Tao. Hannah’s boyfriend David Miller was also brutally murdered there.

Laura Witheridge cuts through the myth about Thailand being “The Land of Smiles” and the image of beach paradises which attract holiday makers from abroad. Thailand is not a country of only warm gentle people who are constantly smiling. The murder rate is shockingly high and many political activists are gunned down in cold blood in the streets. The murderers, often state officials or people with powerful connections, go unpunished. The so-called “beach paradises” are often controlled by money-grabbing mafia types who viciously exploit migrant workers from neighbouring countries in order to provide services to holiday makers.

For many years now I have felt a mixture of sadness and disgust at the way holiday makers from Europe and other countries come to Thailand and stay in a complete bubble, showing little interest in what is happening in Thailand. The idea that I would go on holiday to a place without taking an interest in its politics and society is perplexing to me.

Ms Witheridge is 100% correct when she lambasts the Thai police for being both corrupt and incompetent. Most ordinary Thais, including myself, have experienced this first hand for all of their lives and are genuinely fed-up with the situation. Many people are angry and fed-up with the arrogance and callousness of government officials when communicating with the public. This is also something mentioned by Ms Witheridge and it all sounds convincing.

The reaction of the police to the Ko Tao murders reminds me of the words of the Chief of Police in the film “Casablanca”. “Round up the usual suspects!” he barks at his underlings. In Thailand the “usual suspects” are Burmese migrant workers.

Ms Witheridge also makes an important point about the racism of many Thais and how they despise foreigners including Western tourists. In previous posts on this site I have criticised the racism in Thai society. See http://bit.ly/1JaeTJY and http://bit.ly/1ZEwTnj

I can easily forgive Laura Witheridge for making angry sweeping statements about Thais and the society in which we live. What happened to her sister is appalling and the pictures of her sister which I witnessed being posted on Facebook showed an unbelievable callousness. (http://bit.ly/1n4bged)

But we must never forget that most Thai people, like most Britons or most ordinary French people, Syrians or Iraqis, are not vicious nor callous.

There are many Thais who show warmth, compassion and solidarity. There are many who are upset by rape and vicious murders and many who wish to see the police and the criminal justice system subjected to root and branch reforms. While some Thais are conservative and supportive of authoritarianism, others fight for freedom, justice and democracy. Thai society has two faces.

That Thai society has two faces is hardly surprising. It is after all a class society. This helps to explain much of what Ms Witheridge is criticising.

At the best of times, Thailand has been ruled by a hierarchical ruling class which is selfish and brutal. That is why wages for ordinary working people are pitifully low. That is why most working Thais and migrant workers are viewed with contempt. There is not justice for most citizens. Vicious laws, like the lèse-majesté law, are there to try to enforce loyalty to the monarchy, the elites and the military. On top of this steaming heap of dung, we now have a military dictatorship which acts with impunity.

The Thai ruling class uses the extreme ideologies of Monarchy and Nationalism to support their brutal rule and these things are socialised so that they are instilled in most people from an early age. Apart from this being an explanation for the outward and false appearance that everyone loves the monarchy and is proud of being Thai, it explains the racism in society.

Viewed in this wider manner, what Ms Witheridge describes about Thailand is what most Thais experience. It is a symptom of authoritarian rule in all its complex forms. Apart from the urgent business of overthrowing the dictatorship and building a more just and socialist society, there is a very urgent task concerning the Ko Tao murders. We must fight to save the lives of two innocent Burmese men who have become the junta’s scapegoats. These men must be regarded as “innocent” until proven guilty and the so-called evidence concocted against them by the Thai police is contradictory and highly suspect. The police have also used torture to obtain so-called confessions, a practice widely used by both the police and military.

Tragically nothing is going to bring back the lives of Hannah Witheridge or David Miller. But the lives of two other people can still be saved. We must do all we can for Zaw Lin and Win Htun.

What the Rohingya slave labour and Ko Tao scandals reveal

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Both the Rohingya slave labour scandal, exposed by the Guardian newspaper and other media, and the police handling of the brutal murders of two British tourists on Ko Tao, reveal a very nasty side of Thai society.

While large numbers of decent Thai people would condemn the human trafficking, systematic rapes, imprisonment on large cargo ships and the eventual enslavement in the fishing industry, of hundreds of Rohingya refugees from Burma, much more needs to be done. Thai organisations and political groups should be mobilising and campaigning over this issue and trade unions should be making a stand against the shocking labour conditions in the fishing industry.

There might be sympathy in Thai society for those at the sharp end of human trafficking, when it is exposed in the media, but deep-rooted racism and nationalism, which infects most Thais, means that when the issue of welcoming the refugees and re-settling them in normal Thai society is raised, there is widespread hostility. This spills over into the blatant disregard for the plight of migrant workers from neighbouring countries. When not being trafficked, they are abused, beaten and robbed of their wages by employers and members of the security forces. Government posters reinforce derogatory views about migrants, accusing them of crimes and of carrying diseases. Ordinary Thais routinely use racist terms like “Kak”, “Yuan”, “Farang”, “Aye-Meud” (Darky) etc. to refer to people of other ethnicities.

This poisonous racism is responsible for the continuing miscarriage of justice over the Ko Tao murders. The two Burmese migrant workers, who are in court facing serious charges, are the “usual scape-goats”. There is also an appalling attitude among many Thais towards European women and the wearing of normal swimwear on the beach, as though it was an indication of “loose morals”.

Yet just look at the lack of morals in Thai society. We have a thriving sex industry where young people are exploited and trafficked. Thais are the predominant clients and beneficiaries of this industry. The country’s rulers, past and present, including Prayut, Abhisit and Taksin, are usually mass murderers who will never face trial for human rights abuses. Corruption and exploitation by the rich and powerful is the order of the day.

The root cause of this appalling situation is that there is far too little opposition to authoritarianism in all its forms. This is a vicious circle because when individual people are brave enough to speak out, they are subject to repression. The left is weak, the trade unions are disorganised or mainly apolitical and the pro-democracy Red Shirts have been demobilised by the UDD and Taksin. The National Human Rights Commission is staffed by members of the security forces, fanatical royalists and reactionaries. The NGOs are either with the military or are only interested in campaigning for fragmented single issues.

Fundamentally it is the weakness of the left and organised labour which accounts for a lack of strong opposition. Not only is the opposition to authoritarianism too weak, but there is almost no opposition to nationalism and racism in society. In such circumstances, ordinary Thai working people are tied to the mainstream ideology of the ruling class. Karl Marx once commented that British workers would never be able to liberate themselves until they got rid of racist ideas about the Irish. We could say similarly that ordinary working Thais will not be able to liberate themselves until they reject nationalism and racism. Throughout Europe today in an era of austerity, nationalism and racism are used to weaken movements opposed to neoliberalism and the impoverishment of workers. It is socialists and left-wing organisations which form the core of opposition to racism and nationalism in Europe.

In Thailand we desperately need to revive the left in a struggle for democracy and against national chauvinism.

Thailand is an extremely racist society

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

When the beach chair attendant, who kicked sand at a tourist sitting on the ground, was discovered to be a migrant worker from Cambodia, many Thais were relieved, believing that “a Thai would never do that”. But no one bothered to ask whether his boss was a Thai and what pressure was put on this worker to try to make sure that everyone paid to sit on the beach chairs.

When Prayut and his cronies ordered his Thai troops to gun down 90 pro-democracy demonstrators in 2010, some red shirts claimed that the snipers were Cambodian because “Thais could never shoot Thais”. But the facts are the opposite. Thai soldiers have murdered pro-democracy citizens on many occasions since the early 1970s.

It is common to hear many Thais referring to something which is stupid as being “Lao”.

Most Thais refer to anyone who looks Malay, Indian, Turkish or Arabic as “Kaak”. This is no different from Anglo-Saxon racists referring to “Wops”, “Spiks” or “Dagos”. The highly offensive word “Kaak” is also used to belittle the Muslim Malays of Patani, thus increasing their oppression.

A lot of Thais refer to black people of African origin as “Aye Murd”, the equivalent of “black bastard” or even the “Nigger”. The word even appeared in a public statement by a pro-democracy academic.

All Thais refer to white people as “Farangs”, a derogatory word equivalent to the use of the term “white devils” by Chinese racists. The term is used by academics. It depicts difference. “We are Thais”, they say and think proudly. But they are Farangs. And of course all Farangs think alike because democracy is a Farang concept. There is no recognition that there are right-wing and left-wing westerners. And of course, Farangs cannot possibly understand Thailand.

Until recently many Thais, including those of Chinese ancestry (which they covered up in the past), used the term “Jek” to refer to Chinese people. Today they refer to Vietnamese people by the offensive term “Yuan”. Japanese people are called “Aye Yun”.

It is common to see official posters in the streets telling people that illegal migrant workers bring in diseases and crime. There is no outrage at this racism.

When challenged on this continuous racism, most will deny that they are racist; some will say it is the “Thai way”. Intellectuals will say that to discuss these things is just “political correctness”. But the real political correctness is the enforced grovelling to the elites, calling them “Tan” and using royal language for the royal family.

All this is the result of the constant socialisation of Thais by the ruling elites which reinforces jingoism every morning and night when the national anthem is played. Thai is best and everyone else is foreign and inferior, is the message. It is also a sign of the weakness of a progressive Left.

Leon Trotsky once wrote that the middle classes in Nazi Germany waged war on workers and Jewish people while bowing down before the capitalists. While Thai racists grovel to those in power they look down on foreigners. And Karl Marx once wrote that the British working class would never liberate itself while they continued with racist attitudes to the Irish. Thais cannot liberate themselves while being racist about others.

Junta whips up nasty nationalism

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

In an attempt to prove itself to be even more repressive and “manly” Prayut’s vile military junta is playing the nationalistic and racist card.

Hundreds of thousands of workers from Cambodia and Burma are being persecuted and driven out of the country. As usual the junta claims they are “cracking down” on “illegal” workers. But the Thai ruling class has long used a hypocritical and repressive policy towards workers from neighbouring countries.

On the one hand, important sections of the Thai economy are reliant on cheap unskilled labour. This demand is met by migrant workers from Cambodia and Burma who do the dirty, dangerous and low paid jobs in sweatshops, agriculture and fisheries. Migrant workers also work in the catering industry and as domestic workers. Thai workers, who have developed more skills and are better educated, are no longer prepared to endure such poor working conditions. They work in higher paid, higher skilled jobs. Some Thai workers also become migrants themselves, working in Taiwan, Korea or the middle-east.

There is no question that the Thai economy and Thai capitalists need migrant workers from Cambodia and Burma and to throw them all out on a permanent basis would create an economic crisis. But the junta are just playing with peoples’ lives to make them nationalist and racist scape-goats. Soon they will return because they are desperate for work and the employers are desperate for labour.

Intermittent crack downs on “illegal” workers, together with cruel and pretend schemes to “register” foreign workers legally, is a long used tactic to keep migrant workers in a constant state of fear and illegality. The registration process is too difficult and costly for most migrants. This helps to keep down wages, prevents the formation of trade unions and also acts as an obstacle to unity between Thai and migrant workers. This is especially important in factories which employ a core permanent workforce of Thai workers alongside casual contract migrant workers.

Police and gangsters also benefit because they can demand bribes and vicious employers can often deny full payment of wages.

While playing this racist card against migrants in a pathetic attempt to win domestic support, the junta is also trying to promote a nationalist film about King Naresuan who led a victorious battle against the Burmese during the Ayuttaya period. Naresuan is portrayed as a “Thai nationalist hero” who defeated the Burmese King while riding an elephant. Free tickets to the cinema have been given out as part of the junta’s “happiness programme”. What next? Perhaps they’ll give the population free tickets to boxing matches or even gladiator fights to the death, Roman style! You can see how the military despise ordinary people. But this will never be enough to make the army popular.

The Naresuan story is just pure fiction anyway. No such thing as the Thai nation existed in the Ayuttaya period, Naresuan’s father collaborated with the Burmese kings as part of an internal power struggle, and most ordinary surfs who were forced to fight in various wars loathed and hated their exploitative masters who lived off their backs and stole their daughters.

It seems to have escaped the junta that Taksin’s popularity was based on real policies like the universal health care scheme, job creation and modernisation of infrastructure. Free tickets to the cinema and vicious racist gimmicks don’t come anywhere near to matching this.