By Comrade “Sung”
When I stepped through the gates of Chulalongkorn University as a first year student I was determined to seek out more meaning to life. During the period following the overthrow of the dictatorship in 1973 and the blossoming of democracy, many Left-wing or so-called “front-line” books appeared on stalls. I wasn’t much of a reader but I chose titles on subjects which interested me, e.g. “Mao’s works on philosophy”, “Scientific thought” by Anut Apapirom, “Who builds, who grows our food?”, “The real face of Thai feudalism” by Jit Pumisak, “On practice and on contradiction”, “The theory of three worlds” etc. I also read various documents provided by older students for study circles which were organised during “self-development” camps in the countryside.
It was most exciting when demonstrations and protests took place in factories, such as the one at “Standard Garments”. We slept overnight outdoors at Sanam Luang, we issued proclamations, we put up posters, and we listened in on the police radio channel …. Studying at university became a mere sideline with others doing the studying while we concentrated on the more important work of struggling for democracy and ridding the country of U.S. imperialism.
Now, when some of my class mates called me an “extremist” or a “Left-winger” I always felt secret pride. At the start of 1975 I had the chance to talk to a woman who had previously been imprisoned for being a Communist. This led me to rethink the events which I had read about as a child in the dark past under the dictatorship, such as the members of parliament from Isan who had been murdered for being Communists or those other political prisoners who had been executed. I concluded that the parliamentary road was not the road for me.
At Thammasat University, which became a gathering point for activists, ex-political prisoners and plain clothed policemen, I met so many different people. We all became known as “the masses of Sanam Luang”. I tended to follow what the students leaders decided during their discussions without much thought or questioning. In fact there were no opportunities for open discussions on tactics or strategy because much of our work was carried out in an “underground” manner. We didn’t even know the names of the top student leaders who planned activities. We had no idea how activities were coordinated. At my level we just followed their lead. Secrecy increased after farmer and student leaders started to be killed in the middle of 1975. Many activists disappeared from public view as a result.
At the start of 1976 some of the older students in leadership positions warned us to be prepared to flee to the countryside in the event of a bloody crack-down. Some people had already visited the “Pink Areas”. They talked about the liberated zones, the strongholds, the front line, the liberation army, and the need for secrecy. The content of “Songs for Life” music started to reflect “revolution” rather than just the problems of poverty. We also listened to “The heroes of the revolution”, played over the air by the Voice of the People of Thailand, the C.P.T. (Communist Party of Thailand) radio station.
My life-style changed from that of a well-to-do student to that of a “progressive youth” according to the teachings in the book “Chiwatat Yaowachon” (Outlook on life for youth). We ate simply and those of us who were women cut out hair short, we wore the shirts of fishermen, jeans and rubber flip-flops and carried cloth bags on our shoulders. Whatever was associated with the consumption of happiness was cut out. I revolted against my parents. Love for my friends had to be secondary to “love for the masses”. In fact “personal” or “private” was cut away like our hair. I engaged in a huge battle with myself to deny the “personal” and just concentrate on the “communal”. Each battle resulted in my hair getting shorter.
The killings of students and members of the public who were deemed to be Communists and the lies about the students insulting the Crown Prince, which led to the bloodshed early on the 6th October 1976, pushed the student movement into the jungle to join the C.P.T.
I was one of those students who had been asked by a friend to join them in the jungle. I left whole-heartedly, without hesitation. I didn’t even wait to be contacted by the C.P.T. network. It was not fear that sent me to the jungle. I decided to go so that I could join the struggle instead of having to hide and await arrest.
At the edge of the jungle, 4-5 “jungle soldiers” were waiting for us. One of them, whom I suspected was the leader, was older and taller than the rest. I could only see their shadowy figures in the dark. I guessed that they were wearing smart military uniforms with tough leather boots, each carrying guns. We shook hands and then started to climb. My friends had to push and pull me all the way. I was so tired when we reached the first resting place that when a comrade tied a hammock between two trees, I fell asleep instantly.
More and more students joined us in the jungle until we had to build a new dormitory. It was wonderful being a new comrade in the jungle. Every night we would organise a welcome party for the new arrivals. There would be singing, dancing, poetry and always a play about the 6th October so that the jungle soldiers would know about the bloody events.
I was prepared to die there in the jungle or stay and fight for the revolution until victory. I thought, rather naively, that it would take 5, maybe 10 years at the most. “The Party” was what we called the Communist Party of Thailand. Sometimes we’d refer to it instead as “The Organiser” (Jat Tang), which really meant our own key party organiser or cadre. I was assigned to a group of 9 women intellectuals, half of whom were experienced comrades. The head of the unit would lead us in work and study. Various groups had different functions such as food production, fighting, agitation among the masses, transport, medical care, news, entertainment, sewing, cooking, library and newspaper production. For us newly-arrived comrades, it was agricultural work which was the heaviest. We weren’t used to work like farming, weeding, finding firewood, cutting bamboo or cutting down logs. We soon had swollen and blistered hands from using spades and our bodies ached from the strain of work. Transport work was pretty tough too. We’d have to carry huge heavy loads up and down mountains until some people suffered from slipped disks, twisted ankles and damaged knees. Most of our time was spent in this kind of heavy work. We’d have to rise up early in the morning and go out to the fields in all weathers: baking heat, rain or cold. We had to adjust ourselves to mountain weather…and then there were various biting insects, leeches and ticks, not to mention malaria and typhoid which all helped to make us weak and sick.
We also all had to listen to the Voice of the People of Thailand radio station in the open meeting hall, which just had a thatched roof. The Organising Cadre forbid us to listen to any other radio stations. In the library, where there were a number of bookshelves and a large table, there were not that many books. Mainly they were translated books, picture books such as China Pictorial, cartoon books from the Communist Party of China (such as The Stupid Grandfather Moves the Mountain, Learning from the Example of Doctor Batoon, The Study of Character by Sue-ter, The Heroine Liew-Hu-Lan etc.. Marxist theoretical books such as Capital, The Communist Manifesto or the works of Lenin were absent. This was typical of all C.P.T. camps. Those who had not taken advantage of the flourishing of Left-wing books in open Thai society after the 14th October 1973 uprising, did not stand a chance of improving their reading in the jungle.
There were also the compulsory “Self-Criticism” sessions…..Our naivety in taking part in such sessions allowed the Organising Comrades to access our innermost secrets and to use such information in gossip circles. Some people would confess that they had committed the “sin of masturbation” while most of us did it but without making any confessions! Argument and criticism of The Party was not allowed. Anyone who asked the wrong questions was considered to be undisciplined, an enemy of the revolution or a “revisionist”.
If we had questions about politics, we seldom received answers. Discussing politics outside the official discussion circles or without an Organising Cadre being present was also considered to be “undisciplined”: building incorrect relationships outside the line of command. Those who were always reporting to the leadership, working hard, obedient, never asking awkward questions, never arguing and never complaining were “those without problems”. Soon they would be nominated for Youth Member (Yaw) and then Full Member (Saw).
Some of my friends who arrived in the jungle with their lovers had a worse time than me. Their private lives were always under scrutiny. They were banned by the Organising Cadre from speaking together alone. They had to think about each other secretly in their own hearts. They weren’t allowed to sit together at meal times. One of my male friends who was in this situation was soon sent away to another camp from his girlfriend. The two lovers who had fled together in solidarity to the jungle could now only see each other very occasionally. This was regarded as a “test of love for The Party”. It was a case of deciding whether The Party or your lover was more important. Did you love the revolution or were you more concerned for selfish private matters?
The Party had a “Three Slows” policy. This is how it went: if you did not have a lover, do not be in a hurry to find one. If you had a lover, do not be in a hurry to get married (and have sex) and if you were married do not be in a hurry to have children. I never understood why The Party was so against such natural human feelings, but I could never find anyone with whom to discuss this matter.
As time passed, we forgot to think, forgot to be creative, and forgot to question and research… I noticed that hardly anyone bothered to borrow books from the library anymore, people stopped writing and the study circles took place less often, only about twice a year.
In such a camp society, where the local leaders were peasants, the role of intellectuals carried no honour. Being a peasant was honourable. Sometimes we could not tell the difference between being monks and being revolutionaries, the difference between peasant narrow-mindedness and Marxism, or the difference between utopian idealism and scientific materialism. Why did we have to spend all our energy producing food while hiding in the jungle far away from the masses? How long would we have to carry on the fight like this? These were some of the many questions without answers.
By the 3rd and 4th year, many of my friends were “Youth Members” or “Full Members”. Some became section heads and went out on propaganda missions. I was not one of them. I was one of those people with problems and I still needed time to change. I once read the C.P.T. regulations for membership acceptance. Those whose parents were peasants or workers or who were ex-political prisoners or members of The Party, had priority. These were the people who had “inherited” their revolutionary spirit from their blood relations. And it was noticeable that the Full Members (Saw) and the sons and daughters of top cadres formed a kind of elite within the camps. They had more personal effects, baskets and sweet-smelling soap which would certainly be an impediment in the event of an evacuation of the camp. In contrast, people like myself had a few possessions arranged around our beds: In my case: an English-Thai dictionary, 3 changes of clothes (2 sets were work clothes, which were constantly patched and re-patched and one military uniform for special occasions), a torch, plate, cup, water bottle, hammock, blanket, mosquito net, rucksack and a pair of rubber sandals made from an old car tyre. I was truly someone without property!
After 4 years, some of the student intellectuals asked to leave the jungle to go home. They felt that after all this time nothing had progressed and agitational work was not moving forward. What was worse was that the Communist Party of China was now holding hands with our enemy, the Thai Government. They wanted to turn battle fields into markets and our radio station, The Voice of the People of Thailand, was now being forced to leave Chinese territory. I was shocked at the Chinese lack of international solidarity for our cause.
The Party called us counter-revolutionaries, revisionists, those with a bad attitude to the party, those with problems or those who had not the courage to change. And when we arrived back in the city we were called “those who had lost their way, disappointed Lefties, people whose principles had been crushed. In my last month in the jungle, in late 1980, I was so disillusioned because the old comrades looked at us 6th October students as though we were the enemy. Many times they would take off the safety catches on their weapons or brandish knives in our faces to show us that if we did not obey the Party or insisted on asking questions of Organising Comrades, they would deal with us. There were many questions to ask. I wanted to know why students in other areas were leaving the camps and why this fact had been kept from us. They concluded that the intellectuals had refused to change. It was all our fault, not that of The Party. For them the Party was right in following the lead from China because the Chinese had shown the way with a successful socialist revolution to build a new and better society. The strategy of Surrounding the City with the Countryside and relying on a peasant army to stage the revolution was still correct and that was why we had to come to the jungle camps. In their eyes there was nothing to question about the strategy and tactics of The Party.
Nine years later, when the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union disintegrated, Socialism seemed to have come to an end. Many ex-Communists had continued their studies abroad; one academic suggested to me that there were at least 40 Ph.D.s among them. Many others entered politics within the existing system. They became Ministers, members of parliament or advisors to politicians. Still others became business people, owners of factories and large companies. Some became N.G.O. activists. The overwhelming conclusion for all these people was to never again believe in Communism and the C.P.T. People frequently tried to forget the past, even changing their names and keeping quiet about their past. For them Socialism is dead.
The experiences with the C.P.T. have sown much confusion among us October Generation people. Some say Socialism will have to wait another 50 years. Hardly anyone looks for answer about what Communism should really mean. But for me the past experiences with the C.P.T. are very valuable. The present crisis of capitalism with its unemployment and social problems and the attempts by capital, along with its state, to seek a recovery on our backs, merely confirm to me that the real power to change society and build Socialism in Thailand lies with the working class. This is not because they are the poorest or most oppressed in our society, or because they have automatic class-consciousness, but because the working class have the power, should they chose to use it, to stop all production and take on the capitalists. And certainly, we must have a workers’ party to organise this change in society. This must be a powerful party, but an extremely democratic one. Revolution must be led from below by the masses, not by some small elite or some outside army. The Stalinist method of revolution from above, military style, can only result in the bureaucratic nightmare of state capitalism.
[Read the article “The rise and fall of the Thai Communist Party” next week]