Tag Archives: Red Shirts

Military Thuggery Rewarded

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Not only do the Thai military killers and thugs enjoy impunity after killing pro-democracy demonstrators, Malay Muslims or human rights activists, they also get promoted.

Army thug Apirat Khongsompong has been appointed as the new Commander-in-Chief of the Army. In early April 2010 he led a group of soldiers to attack unarmed pro-democracy Red Shirts at the Thai Khom Satellite Ground Control Station in Patum Tani. Several Red Shirts were injured in that attack. He can be seen in video footage shooting a handgun at the protesters. Obscenities were also mouthed.

The video can be seen on YouTube (assuming it isn’t removed at the request of the junta). The link is below.


The Thai military attack unarmed civilians as though they are enemy combatants, rushing forward as though they were involved in great feats of heroism. In fact they behave like cowardly thugs.

Some people have commented that because the new military reshuffle and appointments were done in the name of the king that Wachiralongkorn is somehow in charge of the military. This is just the usual nonsense from the conspiracy theorists. All such appointments have always been carried out in the name of the Head of State.

There is no evidence at all that Wachiralongkorn has any power over the armed forces and the military reshuffle was directed by the top generals and the ruling junta.

Military reshuffles and promotions are an occasion for top generals to get their turn to stick their snouts in the corrupt feeding trough and therefore much behind the scenes bargaining takes place between different factions.

In most European countries where there is a monarchy, top appointments of soldiers, Prime Ministers or judges are usually carried out in the name of the monarchy without the monarchy having any power whatsoever.

General Apirat clearly hated the Red Shirts and this is just another example of how the Thai military can never act as an honest broker between the different political factions.


Have the deep divisions between Reds and Yellows in Thailand been healed?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

When Generalissimo Prayut staged his military coup to overthrow the elected Yingluk government, he claimed that it was in order to bring about reconciliation in a country deeply divided between Reds and Yellows. He also claimed that the junta would push through political reform and end corruption. No thinking person ever believed him and, today, what seems to be the main achievement of the junta is the self-enrichment of its members.

“Reform” is a much abused word and is mainly used for what should rightly be called “anti-reforms”. This is true of Thailand, but also of the neo-liberals in the West who want to destroy trade union rights and the welfare state.

I have discussed the crafting of a system of military “Guided Democracy” by the junta in number of articles on this site, so I will address the question of whether the junta has healed the deep divisions between Reds and Yellows in society. [See: http://bit.ly/2hDTT6S ]

The fact that a number of former Yellows are now critical of Prayut’s junta might indicate that a Red-Yellow reconciliation might be possible. The exiled academic Somsak Jeeamteerasakul certainly feels that this is something worth serious consideration.

However, I have always argued that it is not possible or desirable to have unity between those who believe in freedom and democracy and those who believe that democracy has to be limited because the “wrong” people get elected by an “ignorant” electorate.

This is still the case despite the fact that not all Reds are totally committed to freedom and democracy in the strict sense of the word. Some hold narrow-minded views about Patani and GLBT people. Some supported the so-called War on Drugs. The reason why Reds can be regarded as generally pro-democratic is because they have maintained a position against military coups and unelected political bodies, while the Yellows have supported “any means necessary” to overthrow Taksin’s governments, even if it means supporting military coups. What is more, pro-democracy activists who have dared to challenge the military in recent times have generally sided with, or been sympathetic to, the Reds.

I have deliberately used a colour short hand to describe the two sides in Thailand’s political crisis. I have not used the term “Red Shirts” as this movement no longer exists, having been destroyed through deliberate neglect by Taksin and his allies. The Yellow Shirts also morphed into the multi-coloured shirts (“Salim”) and then into Sutep’s street thugs.

It is very unlikely that the mistrust and hatred of those who participated in the destruction of democracy can so easily be forgotten by the Reds and why should it be? This destruction of democracy continues with the junta’s plans for Guided Democracy. In practice it means that the kind of government favoured in the past by the majority of the population will be ruled out by the military’s constitution and its electoral rules. In the past his kind of government had many flaws but it was also forward looking, pro-modern and serious about some degree of poverty reduction. This means that if nothing changes in the near future, Thai citizens will be saddled with a neoliberal government which treats people, especially poor people, in a patronising manner while improving the lives of the rich.

Yet at the same time, what the junta, together with Taksin’s allies, have achieved is a demoralisation of hundreds of former pro-democracy activists. This has been achieved by both repression by the junta and neglect from Taksin’s people.

So an explosion of opposition to the military is not on the immediate horizon, although we must always be aware that in the right circumstances, things can change very quickly, especially if there is a new generation of activists who are determined to fight.

A regime built upon corpses

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The present Thai military dictatorship, which came to power 3 years ago, is not only built upon the corpse of Thai freedom and democracy, it is also built upon the real human corpses of those gunned down on the streets of Bangkok.

In response to a Red Shirt pro-democracy protest, which started on 14th March 2010, the army leadership, which included present dictator Generalissimo Prayut, and the military appointed Abhisit government, started to massacred unarmed demonstrators in cold blood. The Red Shirt protesters were demanding genuine democratic elections after the military, the judges and other elites, had removed a democratically elected government for the second time since 2006.

The military deployed the Queen’s Guard troops from the Second Infantry Division, under the command of General Prayut Chano-cha, to carry out a night time suppression operation. Company-sized army groups took up positions directly facing the Red Shirt crowd at the Democracy Monument and Khok Wua Intersection, where a standoff ensued for more than an hour. Troops fired live ammunition above the crowd, including heavy .50 calibre machine guns, together with sporadic live fire directly into the crowd.

The specific objectives of the 10th April operation, near the Democracy Monument, were to terrorise the demonstrators, assassinate the Red Shirt leaders, and suppress the Red Shirt movement. Contrary to common perception, the strategy was not to disperse the demonstrators. Rather, the operational strategy was to concentrate the demonstrators in a confined area, provoke the crowd to violence in order to create a perceived need for self-defence, and open fire.

The military opened fire on unarmed demonstrators who posed no threat to the soldiers. At most the demonstrators were throwing plastic bottles at the troops. Twenty-one civilians died and 600 were injured in this initial crack-down. Five soldiers were also killed when an M67 military grenade was rolled into the command post from behind army lines, probably by a rival military group. Yet this first army operation did not achieve its aim. The Redshirts managed to seize a couple of APCs and the Red Shirt protests continued for another month into May.

After the military operation on Rachadamnoen Avenue on April 10th failed to end the Red Shirt demonstrations, the army turned its attention to suppressing the demonstrations that had now concentrated at the Ratchaprasong Intersection. The army’s plan called for establishing a “free fire” perimeter around the area. During the period between May 13th and May 19th, the army deployed troops from the Second Cavalry Division and the First Infantry Division to seal off the Bon Kai area south of Ratchaprasong, and the Din Dang and Rajaprarop areas north of Ratchaprasong. Again, snipers were deployed from buildings, using live ammunition. Although the official orders were to shoot threatening targets only, the actual orders for the commanding officers, which were unwritten, were to: (1) shoot all moving targets, regardless of threat level; (2) prevent any photographic or video evidence by shooting neutral foreign press photographers; and (3) prevent the removal of any bodies. These orders signified that troops were permitted to kill any person they wished, which allowed for the shootings of civilians and medical personnel at the Wat Patumwanaram temple on the evening of the 19th May. Claims that the Red Shirts were also armed with automatic weapons are not supported by any evidence of captured weapons or deaths or bullet injuries of any soldiers at Ratchaprasong.

There is overwhelming photographic and documentary evidence that the military and the government ordered the killing of unarmed Red Shirts by bringing in tanks, heavily armed soldiers and snipers to crush the pro-democracy demonstrations in Bangkok. Nearly 90 unarmed civilians, including paramedics and foreign journalists were shot by snipers in the “free-fire zones” set up by the Military.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and all government representatives at the time repeatedly denied that pro-democracy demonstrators had been deliberately shot down by soldiers. Deputy Prime Minister Sutep Tuaksuban told the media in March 2011 that the government “had not killed anyone” and that the Red Shirts had “run into the bullets themselves”.  Army Commander General Prayut denied that the Army shot anyone. An official report revealed that the military had used 117,923 bullets against Red Shirts in April and May, 2120 of which were sniper bullets. No military or government official has ever been jailed and General Prayut is now Thailand’s self-appointed Prime Minister.

Can the Red Shirts rebuild Thai Democracy?

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The simple and brutally honest answer to this question is NO.

Ever since Pua Thai’s election victory in 2011 and even more so since the same Pua Thai government was overthrown by the military in 2014, the Red Shirts have become a spent force. This is because Taksin and his allies in the UDD Red Shirt leadership have prevented the movement from being part of any serious pro-democracy struggle.

When social movements like the Red Shirts are frozen out of activity and starved of the oxygen of struggle, they die.

This is one reason, among a number of reasons, why the military’s draft constitution was accepted in the recent referendum.

Many people might wonder why the Red Shirts and their leaders seem to be paralysed in the face of violent and criminal actions by Prayut’s military junta and by the anti-democratic mobs who set the scene for the 2014 military coup.

The reason why Pua Thai and the Red Shirts are paralysed is that Taksin and his allies in the political leadership of these organisations were faced with a hard choice. Either they had to encourage a mass uprising in response to the coup, which would have involved the mobilisation of millions of Red Shirts, or they could choose to go for a grubby compromise with the conservatives and the military in the future.

To put it more bluntly, either Pua Thai and the UDD had to mobilise their millions of supporters to tear down the old order, or they had to make peace with their conservative elite rivals. Given that Taksin, Yingluk and Pua Thai are basically “big business politicians” wishing to return to the fold of the elites, they have naturally chosen the latter option. This is to avoid revolution from below which risks sweeping them all away.

Thailand’s “old order” is not some semi-feudal state structure. The state and the conservative elites are part of a modern capitalist semi-dictatorship controlled by the military, the business class and the top civil servants. They are all united in their royalism, but Thailand is not an absolute monarchy either. These conservatives are extreme neo-liberals who are totally opposed to spending state funds on improving the lives of ordinary people. They denigrated Taksin’s “dual-track” economic policies, which were a mixture of grass-roots Keynesianism to help the poor and free-market policies at a national level. They also hated the electoral advantage which Taksin had over them because of his pro-poor policies.

The Marxist theory of Permanent Revolution explains that we cannot hope or trust mainstream political parties of the business class to launch a serious fight for democracy against the conservatives. This means that we should not raise false hopes that Yingluk, Pua Thai or Taksin will ever carry out the necessary mobilisations to get rid of the old authoritarian order. That task must be led by a movement from below whose aims should be to go further than just establishing capitalist parliamentary democracy as seen in the West or just turning the clock back to Thailand’s political system before 2008.

If the Red Shirts are now a moribund force for change, it does not mean that individual activists from the movement cannot form an important part of a new movement for democracy.

Unfortunately, those claiming to be a “New Democracy Movement” in Thailand today do not take the important task of building a mass social movement seriously. They falsely believe that symbolic actions can “expose” the lack of democracy and lead to change. They are not serious in their analysis of power in society. This is a failure of politics. For too long now, activists in Thailand have rejected the need to study and debate political theory and to see the importance of class. They still reject the need to build a political party of the left.

Lessons from Thai history show that the power to take on the military and the elites lies with mass movements. The power of mass movements can be boosted to significant levels by building roots within the working class and utilising this economic power to confront the elites.

It is clear from the experience of the Red Shirts that we cannot rely on people like Taksin. We need to build a mass movement from below with links to the organised working class.

Further reading: http://bit.ly/1NsZDDa , http://bit.ly/1syU03r , http://bit.ly/245WxhD

The importance of strategy and tactics

Giles ji Ungpakorn

The mass uprising against the attempted military coup in Turkey has opened up a debate about the tactics of defeating military coups and military dictatorships in Thailand.

Chaturon Chaisang, one of the most principled Pua Thai politicians, has praised what he calls the “Turkish Model”. He and I share the belief that mass movements are needed to prevent or topple military dictatorships.

Of course, in my opinion, the mass opposition to the Turkish coup was to be celebrated. But the way that the Erdogan government has used this as an excuse to restrict democracy and human rights is expected and needs to be opposed. But this does not detract from the importance of the anti-coup mass movement. The fact of the matter is that the mass movement swung the balance of forces against the military coup in Turkey. It offers a possibility of using this force to expand the democratic space. Yet there are those who decry this and condemn the “mob”. The logic of this is to say that the mass movement was always under the control of Erdogan and it would have been better if the military coup had been successful. Those progressives who remember the legacy of military rule in Turkey would quite rightly disagree.



There is a clear parallel with the situation in Thailand. There were those who decried the Red Shirt movement as being “merely” pawns of Taksin Shinawat, rather than celebrating the existence of a mass pro-democracy movement. Many among the Thai middle classes thought that a military dictatorship was better than a democratically elected Taksin government. The Taksin government was similar to the Erdogan government in Turkey because it was a pro big-business government which offered a better life for working people and the poor. Both governments abused human rights, but the alternative of military rule was worse. Both governments were opposed by entrenched conservative elites among the military, judiciary and civil service. The Turkish elites were anti-religious “Kemalists” while the Thai elites were royalists. Both used their ideologies to oppress those who disagreed.

When the need to find ways of rebuilding pro-democracy mass movements is raised in Thailand, especially after the events in Turkey, there have been three negative responses.

Firstly, there are those who say that the events in Turkey are different from Thailand because in Thailand the king is the power behind the military and the king is so powerful that he cannot be opposed. This is a big lie and a big excuse for doing nothing. The view that the king is all powerful is a wonderful excuse used by people who want to chatter and gossip about the royals but do nothing. In actual fact the king has always been a weakling, dependent on the military. Today he is totally incapacitated by old age. The real anti-democratic power lies with the military, not unlike in Turkey.

Secondly, there are those who claim that it is not possible to oppose the military in Thailand because they shoot down pro-democracy activists. Yes, they do, and so did the Turkish coup plotters. So did the Thai military in 1973, 1976, 1992 and 2010. Yet the mass movement beat the Turkish military in 2016 and the Thai military in 1973 and 1992. The real question is how to build an affective mass movement and how it relates to the power of working people. The other side are always prepared to use violence. But violence can be overcome by mass movements.

Thirdly, there are those who want to silence debate about strategy and tactics. Some claim that this is necessary in order to build “unity”. Unity built on stifling debate is a false unity which disrespects debate and wants to close its eyes to all discussions about seeking the best way of overthrowing dictatorships. Others are offended by criticisms of “holy sacrifices” made by sincere but misguided young students in the NDM who turn their backs on building mass movements. They are offended by criticism of symbolic and elitist gestures by a handful of people. These actions are elitist because ordinary people cannot afford to go to jail repeatedly to make a point. But Thais have shown repeatedly, that if conditions are right, and there is good organisation, they are prepared to join huge mass movements for democracy and face down the military.


The red shirts were the biggest pro-democracy mass movement in Thailand’s history. The tragedy was that they were demobilised by the UDD leadership along with Taksin. The answer is not to celebrate powerless symbolic gestures by a few dedicated people who rely on the internet, but to rebuild a mass movement with independent leadership based among grass roots activists in the working class and poorer sections of society. A further discussion about this is sorely needed.

Two countries two methods

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Both Thailand and Turkey have experiences of long periods of brutal military rule. In both countries the conservative elites have opposed democratically elected governments that have enjoyed the support of the poor. The judiciaries of both countries have tried to subvert the election process. In Turkey the Western-leaning middle-classes have usually allied themselves with the military, supporting “Kemalism” which is used in an attempt to suppress those who dare to criticise the old order. In Thailand the royalist middle-classes have allied themselves with the military, supporting the oppressive lèse majesté law, used against dissidents. In both countries the democratically elected governments had support from the poorer sections of society. But these government were not bastions of freedom and democracy and were prepared to use violence to oppress sections of society outside the mainstream. In Turkey the elected government oppressed the Kurds, dissident youth, journalists and the left. In Thailand the elected government oppressed the Muslim Malays in the south and waged an extra-judicial campaign of murder against drug users and small time drug dealers.

Supporters of Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, protest in Istanbul's Taksim square, early Saturday, July 16, 2016. President Erdogan told the nation Saturday that his government was working to crush a coup attempt after a night of explosions, air battles and gunfire across the capital. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
Supporters of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, protest in Istanbul’s Taksim square, early Saturday, July 16, 2016. President Erdogan told the nation Saturday that his government was working to crush a coup attempt after a night of explosions, air battles and gunfire across the capital. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

But one thing that stands out in stark relief today is the manner in which mass action by ordinary people in Turkey prevented the military coup on the night of the 15th July 2016. This should be compared to the almost laughable symbolic gestures of the New Democracy Movement in Thailand. (see picture below)


However, the actions of the New Democracy Movement are not really laughable for two reasons. Firstly it is a tragedy that they sincerely believe that by making the news or by staging personal sacrifices, they can bring down the dictatorship. This is a kind of Ghandi-style or Aung San Suu Kyi style protest where the potential power of mass movements is reduced to the actions of a single handful of “heroes” or “heroines”. Look what is happening in Burma today where the military are still in power, fronted by a Suu Kyi government.

Secondly, it is not laughable because by ignoring the power of mass movements and by refusing to build such movements, the Thai military junta and its influence over society will never be fully destroyed.

Naturally there are always differences of detail in different eras and different countries. In Turkey Erdogan called for people to come out on the streets to oppose the military. In Thailand Taksin and the Red Shirt leaders have always called for calm in an attempt to demobilise the movement. In Turkey the military was split, but these splits can be built upon and magnified by mass protest movements. In Thailand the Red Shirt leaders called on people to place their faith in Taksin or pro-Taksin “water melon “military men or police. Such faith was misplaced.

In Turkey, my comrades in the Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party (DSİP) quite rightly called for mass opposition on the streets to the coup, but also made it clear that people should not have any illusions in Erdogan or the AKP. The struggle for democracy against the AKP must continue.


In Thailand the experience of the mis-led Red Shirt movement and the autonomist or atomist ideas of the young students has meant that opposition to the junta is confined to weak symbolic gestures. The rich experience of Thai mass movements defeating the military in 1973 and 1992 and the huge potential of the Red Shirt movement have been laid to one side.

Yet the important strand of truth that we can get from events in Turkey and Thailand is that only mass movements can defend and extend democracy.

The Red Shirts Today

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

A recent article at the end of last year in the web-newspaper “Prachatai” discusses the state of the red shirt movement under the military dictatorship in the north-east and north of the country. It is based on interviews with local activists. All the activists have been visited repeatedly by military officers. People have been taken to military camps for “attitude changing” sessions and some have been ordered to report to the military on a weekly basis. Naturally this has not been the general fate of most yellow shirt royalists or any supporters of Sutep’s mob.

While many red shirt activists still support Taksin, they stress that they are not his followers or servants and they can make political decisions for themselves. Many are very critical of the UDD leadership, stating that they seem to have no strategy for continuing the struggle. Some more independent-minded activists are also critical of Taksin and want to see a more militant approach.

When talking of past mobilisations, they paint a picture of self-activity and fund raising in order to travel to large protests, such as those which took place in Bangkok. Many red shirt groups originally coalesced around local community radio stations after the 2006 military coup. Some groups are also led by local “Hua Kanan”; people who negotiate with politicians in order to bring in the votes at grass-roots levels during elections.

One interesting development is that many activists see the need for local people to vote on who should stand as their Pua Thai MPs in the area, rather than having a candidate imposed on them from above.

After the brutal military crack-down in 2010, when Abhisit’s military backed government, together with Prayut’s gang, deliberately shot down unarmed demonstrators in the street, a number of red shirt activists are still suffering mental trauma. They fear loud explosions or similar noises. Local red shirt leaders see it as their job to help such people and also the families of those who were killed.

Given the military repression at present, open political activism is seen as risky. However, many red shirt activists meet at social gatherings such as temple ceremonies or weddings. In a way, this is what locals would have been doing anyway, irrespective of the political crisis. But these social gatherings are hard for the military to repress and provide opportunities for political discussions.

Many red shirt activists see this period as a “quiet interlude” for reflection, political discussion and study and perhaps for reorganisation of the movement in preparation for the next struggle. But the history of social movements teaches us that prolonged inactivity can lead to the withering away and disintegration of movements. Whatever happens in the future, the red shirt movement is now more fragmented and autonomous than before with many activists rejecting the centralised leadership of the UDD. This can be both a source of empowerment and a source of weakness, depending on whether activists manage to rebuild a united movement from below or allow the fragmentation to continue.