Tag Archives: The Left

Future Forward Party blurs the difference between Right and Left

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

In a recent Reuter’s article about the Future Forward Party, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit was compared to France’s Emmanuel Macron [See https://reut.rs/2ugDj39 ]. This seems to make sense since both Macron and Thanathorn claim to be “new blood politicians”. Macron has set his sights on destroying trade union rights and workers’ living standards in France, while Thanathorn has a record of suppressing the Thai Summit union and preventing strike action through a management lock-out. Thanathorn also told Reuters that his policies include business deregulation and he distanced himself from the so-called “populist” policies of Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party.

Thanathorn claims that he wants to get rid of business monopolies that have a strangle hold on the economy and he wants to introduce more free-market forces.

In an international context, business deregulation is a right-wing neoliberal agenda to improve corporate profits by cutting back on state regulations which protect workers’ rights, safety and environmental protection. It changes the balance of power, favouring big business at the expense of workers and ordinary citizens. In the Thai context it would be difficult to see how business could be given more power and freedom since corporations already have a free hand to repress workers’ rights, ignore safety standards, ignore environmental issues and conduct their business activities by encroaching on villager’s land. This is all thanks to the legacy of military rule over the last 60 years and the lack of any parliamentary political parties representing workers or small scale farmers.

By flagging up business deregulation and distancing himself from Taksin’s previous pro-poor policies, such as universal health care, job creation funds and debt relief for poor farmers, Thanathorn has clearly indicated that he believes that The Future Forward Party should be a right-wing, business-friendly, neoliberal party that opposes military dictatorship.

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Yet his co-organiser Piyabutr Saengkanokkul has previously stated that the party should be built in the mould of left-wing parties such as Syriza, Podemos and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise!! How are the two founders of the party going to square the circle?

The only way out is to totally ignore real politics and blur the differences between right-wing and left-wing politics. Piyabutr has previously claimed, incorrectly, that the concept of right and left wing politics is not applicable to Thai society. That would imply that there are no differences between the interests of ordinary working people or poor farmers and the big corporations; no differences between the poor and the rich. This is despite Thailand being an extremely unequal society! Such a position from a university law academic is beyond belief. It appears like an attempt to perpetuate the widespread ignorance among many people regarding contested issues of political economy and political theories. For decades the Thai ruling class and the military have stated that there are no alternatives to the right-wing conservative narratives.

All too often, denying the real differences between Right and Left has been used as a cover for those who want to maintain mainstream pro-business politics. It is similar to claims by those on the right that they are “non-political”.

This does not bode well for those who are hoping that the Future Forward Party will be a new progressive party. Instead it looks like it will be an anti-military, neo-liberal, party of the middle classes. But without building links to the working class and poor farmers, the party will never be able to reduce the power of the military.

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Thailand’s Disorganised Left

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Forty years ago left-wing political parties in Thailand managed to win 14.4% of the vote or 2.5 million votes in the General Election of 1975. Three main “Left” parties were represented in parliament. They were the Socialist Party, the Socialist Front and Palang Mai (New Force). These parties won many seats in the north and north-east of the country. Outside the arena of legal politics, the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) had enormous influence among student and worker activists and the CPT set the ideological agenda for the legal socialist parties in parliament.

Many people are aware of the uprisings around the world in 1968. The struggles by Thai activists also formed part of this wave of radicalism, leading to the 1973 uprising which overthrew the Tanom Kittikajorn military dictatorship. On 14th October 1973 half a million people, mainly young school and university students, but also ordinary working people, protested around the Democracy Monument. The wave of student revolts and the activism among young people in Western Europe and the United States were the inspiration which ignited the left-wing struggles in the early 1970s in Thailand. Libertarian left-wing ideas from the Western movements entered Thai society by way of news reports, articles, books, music and the return of Thai students from the West, especially art students in the first instance. The victory of Communist Parties in Indochina, after the USA began to lose the war in Vietnam, and Mao’s Cultural Revolution, also had a massive impact in igniting struggles for a new society in Thailand.

As always, the Thai ruling class reacted with violence against the rising left-wing movement, using armed thugs, soldiers and police. The height of this violence was the massacre at Thammasart University on 6th October 1976. This destroyed the democratic space created by the 1973 uprising and led directly to an intensification of the armed struggle in the countryside led by the CPT. Thousands of urban activists and students travelled to the CPT bases.

But the problem with the CPT’s Maoist strategy was that it more or less abandoned the city and the working class. The CPT argued that since the cities were the centre of ruling class power, a communist victory in Thailand would only come about by surrounding the cities with “liberated zones”. Their Maoist strategy meant that they never at any time planned to resist the right-wing backlash in Bangkok. Yet, since 1932, all significant social changes have taken place due to struggles in urban areas, especially in Bangkok. The CPT was also an authoritarian “top-down” Stalinist party and this did not sit well with the libertarian views of many students. In addition to this, the struggle by small farmers, which the Maoists favoured, was fundamentally a defensive and conservative struggle to survive, not a struggle for a future society.

What was missing from the CPT’s strategy in the late 1970s was trying to build the party among urban workers so that it could organise mass strikes. Previously the CPT had some influence among unions and large strikes had taken place. However, the turn to Maoism changed the party’s emphasis.

This disinterest in the working class was also apparent with the UDD Red Shirt strategy to beat the dictatorship in 2010. At no point was there any attempt to build an organisation among democratic workers which could stage strikes to stop the military from shooting street protesters.

Both the CPT and the Red Shirts were defeated because of this weakness.

The CPT’s rural armed struggle failed by the mid-1980s and the party fell apart when international events began to undermine Stalinism and Maoism as a world current.

Three years after 1976, the Government decreed an “amnesty” for those who had left to fight alongside the communists. This coincided with splits and arguments between the student activists and the conservative CPT leaders. By 1988 the student activists had all returned to the city as the CPT collapsed. Thailand returned to an almost full parliamentary democracy, but with one special condition: it was a parliamentary democracy without the Left.

The collapse of the CPT resulted in a shift in ideology among activists towards autonomist ideas and the lobby politics of the NGOs. Worker activists who were left-wing, turned to syndicalism and rejected the need to build a party. . Taksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party was then able to monopolise political leadership of the poor through his populist policies and through the UDD red shirt leadership. This meant that new generations of activists did not try to build a political party of the working class and small farmers. Autonomist ideas dominate among the new student activists who oppose the junta.

We are paying the price today, given that Taksin and the UDD leadership have capitulated to the military.

From Athens and Madrid to Bangkok the important questions for activists are how to build independent revolutionary parties, how to relate to the working class and how to place the struggle of social movements above purely electoral politics.

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.