Tag Archives: Taksin

Tong Jamsee, the CPT and the politics of Stalin and Mao

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Tong Jamsee (Thong Jamsri), the last Secretary General of the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) died this month at the age of 98.

20190714-img_9312

Once a beacon of hope for all those struggling against the Thai dictatorship in the 1970s, the CPT ceased to exist as an active organisation in the mid-1980s, when the student activists, who had joined the CPT in the jungle after the 6th October 1976, returned to the city. Changes in the geo-political climate, ending in the fall of the Berlin Wall, were also responsible for the decline of the CPT. [See “The rise and fall of the CPT” https://bit.ly/32wXO8v ].

At the end of 2009, a split among the old remaining CPT members occurred, mirroring the deep divisions in Thai society between the red and yellow shirts. One section joined the royalist, pro-military dictatorship, yellow shirts, under the ridiculous claim that Taksin Shinawat, as a “monopoly capitalist” was the number one enemy. To his credit, Tong Jamsee denounced these people and sided with the pro-democracy red shirts. The red shirts were mainly made up of ordinary working people in the cities and the rural areas. The yellow shirts were middle-class and reactionary.

Unfortunately Tong Jamsee’s main reasoning was that people ought to side with Taksin, as a “progressive capitalist”, rather than the need to side with workers and small farmers and to build a movement independent of people like Taksin.

Tong Jamsee wrote in 2009 that Thailand was “now” a capitalist society under the control of the “Feudal Monopoly Capitalist Class”. He argued that Thailand was a “new absolute monarchy” and that Taksin was a “liberal free-market capitalist”.

mde

For years the CPT had argued, along Stalinist-Maoist lines, that Thailand was a “Semi-feudal, Semi-Colonial” country and that the task of the CPT was to push forward with the “National Democratic” revolution to establish capitalism. This meant relegating the struggle for socialism to the distant future and the need to build a national alliance with the capitalist class against the feudalists. This was the same argument put forward by Stalinist-Maoist parties all over the world. It arose from Stalin’s emphasis on “Socialism in One Country” and the need to defend the Soviet Union at the expense of a world-wide socialist revolution. [See “The Failure of Stalinist Ideology and the Communist Parties of Southeast Asia” https://bit.ly/1OEfsJo ].

In a perverse and distorted way, the reasoning of the CPT members who joined with the yellow shirts also arose from the CPT’s emphasis of cross-class alliances and the rejection of the central role of the working class and peasantry in the struggle for a socialist revolution from below. This view was also shared by ex-CPT NGO activists who joined the yellow shirts.

Tong Jamsee retained much of the CPT analysis and emphasis on cross-class alliances, but argued that Thailand was no longer a colony of the USA since the withdrawal of US troops in 1976. As a result of retaining the basics of the CPT analysis, his statement in 2009 that Thailand was now “capitalist” was 140 years out of date, since the first Thai capitalist state was established under king Chulalongkorn in the 1870s. [See “Thailand’s Crisis and the Fight for Democracy ” http://bit.ly/1TdKKYs ]. His analysis that Thailand was a new absolute monarchy was also wildly inaccurate and reflects the views of those who exaggerate the power of the monarchy. [See “Wachiralongkorn’s power” https://bit.ly/2EOjsNL   “Absolutism” https://bit.ly/2teiOzQ ].

Tong Jamsee appears to have the ability to scare the Thai ruling class even after his death. Many activists who attended his funeral have been paid visits by the junta’s police.

D_FxFoOUwAE8FgZ

The strengths of the CPT and Tong Jamsee do not lie with their flawed analysis of Thai society or the lack of internal democracy within the party. Their strengths lie in the way that the CPT placed importance on building a militant mass party of the left, which was not pre-occupied with parliament, while at the same time attempting to put forward a unified analysis of politics.

Today Thailand desperately needs such a party, built by a new generation of activists who are prepared to learn lessons from the past.

 

Two Versions of Thai Politics: Elite Theory vs Politics from Below

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The recent incident where Taksin’s Thai Raksa Chart party nominated Princess Ubonrut as a candidate for Prime Minister, only to be rebuffed by King Wachiralongkorn, has caused a frenzy among elite and conspiracy theorists. Foreign journalists and academics have been desperately trying to pick over the entrails of the events to look for omens. This is reminiscent of the behaviour of oracles in ancient Rome or Greece. Articles in a whole range of media publications, ranging from the New York Times to the South China Morning Post have regurgitated this nonsense. Thai politics, in the eyes of these academics and Western journalists, is quintessentially different and exotic. The most striking aspect that these commentators wish to emphasise is the supposed “child-like” and “ineffectual” nature of ordinary people in regard to Thai politics. For them, only the juicy drama of the elites really matters.

This elitist attitude was emphasised to me by a debate I had on social media with a couple of expats working in Thailand. At least one works for a media company. They basically told me that Thais “cannot think for themselves because they are denied a decent education.”

expat bubble
Living in the racist expat bubble

This elitist view has a long history.

In the 1960s David Wilson wrote that the 1932 revolution was merely a dispute among the elites with little popular participation[1]. John Girling repeated this claim in his 1980s book[2]. This view was repeated by David Morell and Chai-anan Samudavanija[3]. Yet there is much research that shows the key involvement of ordinary people in this event.

The daddy of this right-wing elitist view was Fred Riggs, who claimed in the 1960s that Thailand was a “Bureaucratic Polity”, where politics was the exclusive preserve of the elites and totally immune from class struggle or participation from below[4]. This became the political science bible for many conservative Thai academics.

Political Science in Thailand, up to the early 1990s, was dominated by these right wing ideas from the USA. Most mainstream academics agreed with the Structural Functionalist School of democratization[5]. The main ideas were about building “stability” and “social norms”. The emphasis was on crafting democracy from above by enlightened academics. The “people” had to be “educated” to understand democracy. Organisations like the King Prachatipok Institute, named after Thailand’s last absolutist king, took it upon themselves to craft Thai Democracy and educate the people. Today, the Thai military junta and its supporters have maintained the need to “educate” Thai people in democracy!

Academic Thinapan Nakata wrote in 1987[6] that “Most Thais prefer use of absolute power. They are obedient and submissive.” My former boss at Chulalongkorn University, Suchit Bunbongkarn wrote in the same year that Thais have a “non-participatory political culture”[7]. His aristocratic colleague Prudhisan Jumbala also wrote that “Labour associations are all created at the impetus of the bureaucracy”[8]. I am not sure that Prudhisan had ever met an active Thai trade unionist!

In terms of how to relate to the Thai military regime, the views about democratisation among mainstream officials and politicians close to Western governments are heavily influenced by right-wing “comparative politics” theories associated with academics like Guillermo O’Donnell[9]. For these people, democratic transition is all about the behaviour of elite factions and how they manage a stable transition to so-called democracy. They are blind to and terrified of the prospect of mass movements of the working class and the poor rising up to overthrow authoritarian regimes.

Untitled

This elitist narrative lives on. In his book The King Never Smiles[10], Paul Handley recycled the ideas of Fred Riggs by claiming that the entire political process in Thailand since the Second World War was determined by King Pumipon, claiming that Sarit was just Pumipon’s puppet. The exact opposite was the case[11]. Sarit and his military allies were responsible for promoting Pumipon and he was grateful and beholden to them. Handley also stated that ordinary Thai people, especially those living in the countryside, are blissfully ignorant of political events. He claimed that when Pumipon became king most Thais were uneducated, did not understand the concept of a modern state and were happy for the king to do everything for them. In fact Pumipon did very little and had no power. Handley also claimed that the 14th October 1973 uprising, when half a million students, workers and ordinary citizens drove out a military junta, was just the work of Pumipon and his advisors. Finally, Handley claimed that the 19th September 2006 coup against Taksin took place because the Palace and the military did not want Taksin to promote Wachiralongkorn as the next king over his sister Princess Sirintorn[12]. This final statement is rather ironic in the light of recent events.

Duncan McCargo sought to explain the war in Patani and the political crisis involving various coups against Taksin’s party by claiming that it was just an elite dispute between “network monarchy” and “network Taksin”[13]. The genuine sense of injustice felt by the Malay Muslim population of Patani or the activism of millions of Red Shirts was just written out of the plot.

In fact there is ample evidence that the crisis had deep-rooted structural causes and involved the building of the largest pro-democracy social movement in Thailand’s history. [See http://bit.ly/2bSpoF2 ]. There are also many accounts of how the struggles of ordinary people have shaped events throughout Thailand’s recent history. The writings by Katherine Bowie[14], Kevin Hewison[15], Somchai Pataratananun[16], Andrew Walker[17], Mary Beth Mills[18], and Bruce Missingham[19] come to mind. [See also https://bit.ly/2SyK7ok and http://bit.ly/1TdKKYs ].

13124929_1181060888592867_9078848768920258106_n
trade union mobilisation

More recently the view that the elites monopolise Thai politics to the exclusion of ordinary citizens has been reproduced again by Andrew MacGregor Marshall[20].  Eugénie Mérieau’s analysis in her paper on the “Deep State”[21] also comes from this elite tradition. Most recently, after the events involving Ubonrut, Mérieau characterised the military junta as a military dictatorship under royal absolutist command. What is different for MacGregor Marshall and Mérieau is that unlike Riggs and the other right-wing writers, they genuinely wish to see an end to dictatorship and the building of democracy. However, their analysis is incorrect and an obstacle to this. [See https://bit.ly/2EOjsNL ].

750x422_824879_1548144220

Apart from totally ignoring the social movements, actions by ordinary citizens and the excitement among Thais generated by new political parties in the run up to the elections, the power of Wachiralongkorn is grossly exaggerated by MacGregor Marshall and Mérieau. [See https://bit.ly/2teiOzQ and https://bit.ly/2oppTvb  ].

Power is not something which people can inherit in a passive manner. If Wachiralongkorn is now an “absolute monarch”, when did he rise to power by destroying his political opponents? Who was in charge during the 5 or 6 years when his father Pumipon was incapacitated and dying? Given that tyrants often get deposed when travelling abroad, why would Wachiralongkorn wish to spend most of his time living in Germany if he had ambitions to become an absolute ruler?

The nomination of Ubonrut by Taksin, was just a pathetic attempt to bargain with the military by claiming that he had a “sacred amulet” equal to the power of the military dictatorship. The power of Taksin’s sacred amulet was soon exposed to be nonsense within hours. [See https://bit.ly/2SHQrZW]. Taksin was using the princess, just like the military and the elites have used Pumipon in the past and are now using Wachiralongkorn. The elitist and conspiracy theorists totally ignored the fact that Taksin’s move had nothing to do with expanding and developing democracy, something which ordinary Thais have achieved in the past.

The real issues for most Thai citizens, as we approach Paryut’s flawed elections in a few days’ time, is how to dismantle the legacy of the military dictatorship and how to build a free and just society. No study of royal entrails will give any guidance for those seeking to carry out this immensely important task.

[1] David Wilson (1962) Politics in Thailand. Cornell University Press.

[2] John Girling (1981) Thailand. Society and politics. Cornell University Press, USA.

[3] David Morell & Chai-anan Samudavanija (1981) Political conflict in Thailand: reform, reaction and revolution. Oelgeschlager, Gunn & Hain.

[4] Fred Riggs (1966) Thailand. The modernisation of a Bureaucratic Polity. East West Press.

[5] Gabriel Almond & Bingham Powell (1966) Comparative Politics: a Developmental Approach. Little Brown, Boston. Gabriel Almond & Sidney Verba (1963) The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations. Princeton University Press. Lucian Pye & Sidney Verba (1965) Political Culture and Political Development. Princeton University Press.

[6] Thinapan Nakata (1987) Political Culture: Problems of Development of Democracy. In Somsakdi Xuto (ed)  Government and Politics of Thailand. Oxford University Press Singapore.

[7] Suchit Bunbongkarn (1987) Political Institutions and Processes. In Somsakdi Xuto (ed)  Government and Politics of Thailand. Oxford University Press Singapore.

[8] Prudhisan Jumbala (1987) Interest and Pressure Groups. . In Somsakdi Xuto (ed)  Government and Politics of Thailand. Oxford University Press Singapore.

[9] Guillermo O’Donnell, Philippe C. Schmitter, Laurence Whitehead (1986) “Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Comparative Perspectives.” JHU Press.

[10] Paul Handley (2006) The King Never Smiles. Yale University Press.

[11] Thak Chaloemtiarana (1979) Thailand: The Politics of Despotic Paternalism. Cornell University Press.

[12] Paul Handley (2006) “What the Thai Coup was really about” 06 November 2006 Asia Sentinel website.

[13] Duncan McCargo (2005) Network Monarchy and the legitimacy crisis in Thailand. The Pacific Review 18(4) December, pp 499-519.

[14] Katherine Bowie (1997) Rituals of national loyalty. Columbia.

[15] Kevin Hewison (1996) Emerging social forces in Thailand. New political and economic roles. In: Robison, R. & Goodman, D. S. G. (eds) The New Rich in Asia. Routledge, UK.

[16] Somchai Pataratananun (Phatharathananunth) (2006) Civil Society and Democratization. Social Movements in Northeast Thailand. NIAS press.

[17] Andrew Walker (2008) The rural constitution and the everyday politics of elections in northern Thailand. Journal of Contemporary Asia, 38:1, 84 -105.

[18] Mary Beth Mills (1999) Thai women in the global labor force. Rutgers University Press.

[19] Bruce Missingham (2003) The Assembly of the Poor in Thailand. Silkworm Books.

[20] Andrew MacGregor Marshall (2014) “A Kingdom in Crisis”. Zed Press.

[21] Eugénie Mérieau (2016) “Thailand’s Deep State, Royal Power and the Constitutional Court (1997–2015).” Journal of Contemporary Asia 46(3).

Thai Politics: If you want titillation just follow Conspiracy Theories. If you want analysis you need to look elsewhere.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

A few weeks ago, the Thai Conspiracy Theory networks were humming about goings on among the royals. We were told that top serving military generals were summoned to Wachiralongkorn’s villa in Germany and that the junta heads were not invited. We were told that the movement of tanks towards Lopbury was the beginnings of a military coup. There were dire warnings about a possible “civil war” between troops supposedly commanded by Wachiralongkorn and his opponents.

Yet, a less sensationalist explanation would be that the top generals were going to see the King about the final arrangements for his coronation in May, while Prayut, now a retired officer, concentrated on fixing the election. The armoured vehicle movements were part of the Cobra Gold military exercises with the US.

In terms of the civil war, we’ve been here before with similar dire warnings about a war for royal succession between the troops of Wachiralongkorn and those loyal to the Princess Siritorn (Sirindhorn). Of course this never happened.

Before this, the Thai Conspiracy Theory networks drove themselves into a climax by discussing the relationship between Ubonrut, Taksin and Wachiralongkorn. What was totally ignored was the discussion of the need for a mass social movement for democracy in order to end the legacy of Prayut’s military junta. Without such a movement, the flawed elections in March will not bring an end to the dictatorship. But this is not the kind of reality that excites and titillates the Thai Conspiracy Theory networks.

Some weeks have passed since the supposed “earth quake” in Thai politics, which resulted from the nomination of Ubonrut. But there has been no coup or civil war or attempt at a Palace Coup against Prayut. In any case, an “earth quake” in Thai politics cannot result from the petty manoeuvrings among the elites. An earth quake would look like the Arab Spring or the 14th October 1973 uprising in Bangkok or the fall of the Berlin Wall.

๑๔ตุลา

TanksRed

During the election campaign, when Sudarat Keyurapan from Pua Thai Party proposed a cut in the military budget, General Apirat Kongsompong, army chief, suggested that she listen to an ultra-right song from the 1970’s which was used to mobilise thugs to kill leftists. Apirat is the son of General Sunthorn Kongsompong, who led the 1991 coup against an elected government. The resulting junta was overthrown by mass popular protests in 1992. The reactionary tirade by General Apirat, and his father’s coup in 1991, was a symbol of the military’s wish to monopolise politics and the power struggle between the military and civilian politicians. It was certainly not a result of following orders from Wachiralongkorn!

000001
leftist student being lynched in Bangkok 1976

These are uncertain times in Thai politics and it is not possible to predict what will happen after the March election. However, the military have 3 levels of action to maintain their power. The first plan is to get Prayut elected as Prime Minister with the support of the 250 military-appointed senators This means that his party only needs 126 elected MPs out of a total of 500 seats in the lower house. The second plan is to restrict the actions of any elected government not headed by Prayut, using the powers of the 20 year National Strategy and various junta appointed bodies like the judiciary and the senate. The third and most desperate action would be another military coup if the election does not give them what they want. But the choice and outcome of any of these 3 actions will not merely be decided in Prayut’s military headquarters or even in Wachiralongkorn’s German palace. It will have a real dialectic relationship with the reaction of millions of ordinary Thais.

Recently, a British socialist posted a comment on the so-called “Jewish Conspiracy”, so beloved by the Nazis. He wrote that “conspiracy theories can take hold when people find themselves incapable of explaining the malign features of our social existence and feel they lack any genuine democratic control over their daily lives. These theories act as an indispensable substitute for a genuine opposition to the real power in society.” This could equally apply to what has been happening in Thailand.

Those who are addicted to Thai conspiracy theories are not interested in helping to build a mass social movement for democracy. Those who claim that Thailand is run by Wachiralongkorn’s absolutism, which controls the military and a supposed “Deep State” are in the same boat. They dismiss the possibility that ordinary people can make “earth quake like” changes to society and instead shrink into gossip about the royals and various conspiracies. And foreign news outlets, looking for juicy exotic news about Thailand, are also happy to lap up all this nonsense. The Thai political crisis is seen as just an elite dispute and mass activity to expand the democratic space is dismissed as impossible. The result is apathy and helplessness.

But as I have previously written; “People who spend their time looking up at the view above risk stepping in dog shit”. The crisis that has divided Thai society for the last decade is about the significant changes to the social and economic conditions of millions of citizens and their unmet political aspirations.

In a previous article I wrote that… “The 1997 economic crisis exposed the material reality of the lives of most Thai citizens whose way of life had developed rapidly over many decades but which was in conflict with an unchanged and outdated “Superstructure”. This is the dynamic of conflict which was harnessed by Taksin. [See https://bit.ly/2I9WcLO ].

This crisis is part of an on-going struggle between ordinary Thai people and the elites who lord it over them. [See https://bit.ly/2SyK7ok ]. If we draw the correct lessons from the struggles of the past, we can begin to organise the overthrow these elites.

Conspiracy theories concerning the elites totally ignore these important issues and cannot begin to explain the complexities of the changes in Thai society. Instead they prefer to discuss Thai politics as though it was some kind of fairy-tale or sensational soap opera.

Post-Script on Ubonrut’s Nomination

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

[This article should be read together with my previous post “Politics of the Sewer” https://bit.ly/2SHQrZW ]

Now that King Wachiralongkorn has scuppered Ubonrut’s nomination as Thai Raksa Chart’s candidate for Prime Minister, it is worth looking at what the incident exposed.

Firstly, most of the analysis concentrated on the politics of the top elites without raising the question about how a military dictatorship can be brought down in order to achieve real democracy.

People who spend their time looking up at the view above risk stepping in dog shit.

So once again we had people claiming that if Ubonrut became Prime Minister that this would reinforce the supposed growing power of the “Absolute Monarchy”. They were soon proved totally wrong when it became obvious that Wachiralongkorn and Ubonrut did not see things in the same way.

Those who have always been mesmerised by the monarchy and conspiracy theories about a “New Absolutism” have been twisting their theories into a contradictory muddle. Some claim that Ubonrut “must have” consulted the king beforehand since he holds absolute power. Is this really the case?

The question which has been posed now is why Wachiralongkorn intervened to stop his elder sister from entering politics. The most likely explanation is that he was politely “ordered” to stop Ubonrut by a junta agent who pretended to grovel to him. The reality is that the military are Wachiralongkorn’s golden meal ticket. Without them, his position would be very weak. The military were very annoyed by Thai Raksa Chart’s move, which threatened their monopoly on power. If possible they would prefer not to do a power deal with Taksin, which was the aim of Ubonrut’s nomination in the first place. But Wachiralongkorn would not be threaten by Taksin at all. After all, Taksin had paid off his gambling debts in the past. It is true that the competing egos of Wachiralongkorn and Ubonrut and their wish “to be number one” might have helped to persuade Wachiralongkorn. But that was not the key issue.

Some racist foreign observers, who repeat all the conspiracy theories and are not interested in searching for the truth, just laugh smugly at the stupidity of Thai citizens and the bizarre nature of Thai politics. These people should be treated with contempt.

There were many other people who claimed that Ubonrut’s nomination was a clever chess move to beat Prayut. No sooner had they said this than the junta’s side shouted “checkmate”!! People who seek short cuts in order to win in politics often come unstuck.

Check2

After Pumipon’s death many Red Shirts deluded themselves that Wachiralongkorn would turn out to be a friend to their side and might even abolish lèse majesté! If they hadn’t already realised how wrong this myth was, they do now.

Many former Red Shirts and Taksin supporters defended Taksin and Thai Raksa Chart’s role in this chapter of the “Politics of the Sewer” because they mistakenly believe that the junta is all powerful and there is nothing that ordinary people can do.

This bring us to the main issue which has almost totally been ignored by the dog-shit-stepping, star-gazers: How can a military dictatorship be brought down in order to achieve real democracy? This is a key question because the coming elections are rigged in favour of the military and their 20 year future influence on politics. [See https://bit.ly/2RIIvrD ].  It is also a key question because most people who support Taksin’s parties want genuine democracy, even if that is not the priority for Taksin and his team.

The answer is that there are no short cuts. Ridding Thailand of military influence and building democracy means building a pro-democracy social movement which coordinates its struggle with pro-democracy parties. We know from Thai history that such a movement can be built and can be successful so long as it is not controlled by elites. If this reality is rejected and the role of ordinary citizens is denied, the result is a political farce where a royal is posed as an alternative to Prayut’s junta.

Comparing Thai Rak Thai and the “Future Forward” party

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

With all the talk about a “new” political party of the “new generation”, it is worth comparing what little we know of this party with Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party which was formed after the 1997 economic crisis. The reason for this is that Taksin and his team used the slogan “New Thinking, New Implementation” in their first election campaign. In other words both TRT and the “new generation” party have emphasised their “newness”.

14552694321455269471l

We have to be fair to the “Future Forward” party because the military junta has prohibited and publications of party manifestos at this point in time. Why this should be the case is unclear, but it may be that the junta want to set the rules for what policies are allowed through the National Strategy, which is designed to create the junta’s system of “guided democracy”.

NewParty

Never the less, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul have given a number of interviews about their political beliefs which give some insight into any future policies. One thing which is clear is that the “Future Forward” party is absolutely opposed to the intervention of the military in politics and any attempts by the junta to extend its power and build “guided democracy”. They also say that they will defend human rights.

In contrast, most of Taksin’s allies in Pua Thai, with some honourable exceptions like Chaturon Chaisang and Watana Muangsuk, have sought to compromise with the military. When Yingluk was Prime Minister, she failed to cut General Prayut down to size and appeared in public with him on many occasions.

bibfbecb7f9kb5cjefejh
Chaturon Chaisang
hqdefault
Watana Muangsuk

Thailand desperately needs a political party opposed to the military, but winning seats in parliament will not be enough. What is required is the building of mass social movements. Thanathorn and Piyabutr have so far failed to mention the need for such an extra-parliamentary movement. This is unlike the stated aims of the “Commoners Party” which identifies itself with the poor and the “movements”. Taksin’s political allies also built the Red Shirt movement which was once the largest pro-democracy social movement in Thai history. But they then demobilised and destroyed it after the Prayut coup in 2014.

Piyabutr has indicated that he wishes to build an anti-neoliberal  party similar to Syriza, Podemos, La France Insoumise and the racist 5 Star Party of Italy. At the same time he has indicated that he believes that the division between left and right does not exist in Thailand, implying that there are no class issues in Thai politics. This is a highly contradictory position, but what seems to be emerging is the fact that he is aiming for young middle-class activists, rather than trying to build a party of the left allied to the labour movement or the poor. Piyabutr has said that he wants the party to “develop the welfare system for all”, from cradle to grave. But this has been said by people like Taksin before. Piyabutr remains unclear as to whether he wants to see a Welfare State, paid for by progressive taxation of the rich.

The fact that one trade union leader, Surin Kamsuk, was present at the launch of the party, does not indicate that the Future Forward Party will be a party of the working class in any way. Thai Rak Thai also had a trade union leader within its ranks. Satarporn Maneerat, from the electricity union, even became a government minister.

Thanathorn, who is a millionaire businessman, has admitted that he played a role in a factory lock-out to crush a strike and weaken trade unions at a Thai Summit factory. This does not bode well for reforming Thailand’s repressive labour laws, inherited from previous military dictatorships, or strengthening the rights of workers.

Thanathorn, talks a lot about the new generation. But apart from his obvious opposition to the military and the old elites, the only concrete proposals he has made so far are to devolve health and education to the provinces and let each province raise their own taxes. This is a neo-liberal policy which goes against redistribution of wealth from rich regions to poorer regions and would increase the gross inequality which already exists in Thailand. In contrast to this, Taksin’s TRT and also Pua Thai were in favour of using central government funds to pay for health and education and also to raise the living standards of the rural poor. They brought in the first ever universal health care system for the country.  Yet TRT committed gross human rights abuses in its war on drugs and in Patani. So some statements by “Future Forward Party” members about Patani, if they proves to be true, would be one improvement.

35325500736_f90767b2d5_o

People have stated that it is a good thing that a millionaire businessman with new ideas, like Thanathorn, has entered politics on the side of the people. But we have been here before and it is nothing new. Taksin also built a party with new ideas which won the hearts and minds of the majority of rural and urban working people. Yet Taksin proposed and implemented a whole raft of pro-poor and modernisation policies after extensive meetings with grass-roots people.

Thanathorn and Piyabutr ‘s party will have to do much more if it even hopes to match this record of achievement.  It will need to reach out to workers and small farmers and build a grass roots base. But it is doubtful if they have this in mind. We shall have to see what concrete proposals they come up with in the coming months.

Without such policies their new party will merely be a right-wing liberal party of big business and the middle-classes.

“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.

Unfortunately, Taksin is a royalist

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Thai police have arrested a man that they claim to be “Banpot”, the famous internet alias, who regularly published audio clips criticising the Thai Royal Family. The suspect has been identified as Hasadin Uraipraiwan. Earlier, an extremist media channel tried to falsely claim that “Banpot” was the Chiang-Mai academic Professor Tanet Charoenmuang.

The military junta is desperate to link Banpot to Taksin and they are making remarks about a “big capitalist” who is funding these activities. This is not the first time that the anti-democrats and the military have tried to accuse Taksin of wanting to overthrow the monarchy. They believe that it would help legitimise their destruction of democracy.

But nothing could be further from the truth. Unfortunately, Taksin is a royalist.

Taksin has often been accused of wanting to usurp the monarchy and become president. There is absolutely no evidence for this. In fact, throughout the period when Taksin was Prime Minister, he promoted and was seen to be servile to the King, just like the conservative generals who are his rivals. His government paved the way for and participated in the lavish royal celebrations on the 60th anniversary of the King’s accession to the throne in 2006.His government also introduced the “Yellow Shirt Mania”, where we were all told to wear yellow royal shirts every Monday. Both Taksin and his conservative opponents are royalists because they seek to use the institution of the monarchy in order to stabilise the status quo and class rule in a capitalist society.

Following the July 2011 election we saw Prime Minister Yingluk’s Pua Thai Government making it clear that they were royalists. If we look at the use of lèse majesté, the Pua Thai Government’s record of abusing freedom of speech was just as bad as Abhisit’s military-backed Democrats. The Minister for Information Technology and Communication Anudit Nakorntup showed himself to be a rabid royalist censor, threatening Facebook users who so much as clicked “like” in response to a post deemed to be insulting to the monarchy. Worse still, Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung was appointed as “lèse majesté supremo” to hunt down dissenters.

The reason why Taksin will not lead an all-out struggle for democracy against the dictatorship is linked to Taksin’s royalism, or more importantly, to his commitment to defending the status quo and the Thai ruling class in its present form. He and the generals are merely rivals for power. Taksin wants to re-join the elite club at some point in the future. He is desperate to prevent radicalisation of the democracy movement. But we must do everything to encourage such radicalisation and the struggle for a democratic republic.