Reports on Thailand from the Left


We have seen plenty of coverage of the red shirt demonstrations in Thailand from the right and the centre. How is it being reported on the left? In answering this, I am reminded of how far away and little known the Kingdom is in the west. Even the admirable Amy Goodman of Democracy Now has read out two short news items misidentifying the army with the police.

The Morning Star in Britain had a couple of articles on the 12th of April. The focus was on the red-shirted demonstrators as representatives of the rural poor, their support for the pro-poor Thai Rak Thai administration and the violent suppression by the state, in addition to suppression of political dissidence through censorship.

A longer piece by Kenny Coyle stressed the emerging class war element of the demonstrations and includes some comments on a central institution which it is not possible to repeat here (and which, I think, become simplistic in this piece). The article concludes:

“At the very least, international solidarity and vigilance might stay the hand of the Thai military from committing further bloodbaths. The Thai embassy in London should be bombarded with protests about the outrageous massacre of its own people and in support of the demand for new democratic elections.”

According to this argument, a victory for the red shirts would bring a new political space in which socialist ideas in the region (presumably the Mekong region) might be rekindled.

Over at the website In Defence of Marxism, which is led by Alan Woods and is I think the best of its type, a typically detailed piece on April 1st sought to explain the background of the current political situation and rooted the problems in the divisions and inequality in society. Here is a sample paragraph (note this is also a not-a-certain-institution-friendly-piece):

“The seedy industries for which Thailand is well known have their origins in the class division between anmart (bureaucrats or aristocrats) and phrai, or commoners and can be understood in the context of social conditions and low status enjoyed by the poor farmers. The bar girls in Soi Cowboy and older women in the sex industry appear undernourished compared to the tourists on the beach in Pattaya. Nearly all are working to support children who live with the grandmother in a village. The begging industry is fully Dickensian with businessmen of the street leading their captive cripples to prime sites to be artistically displayed spreading out the frayed trouser legs with no leg inside, for example, positioning a cute puppy in the arms of the beggar and studying from a safe distance the emotional impact on Japanese tourists leaving the Tokyu department store.”

The article continues to decry the lack of a large-scale political party that represents the interest of the working classes and notes that this has occurred since the demise of the Communist Party of Thailand. Author Joe Gold is optimistic that such a party may be created:

“What is required today is the building of a genuine party of the Thai working class, one that is capable of intervening in the present movement and placing the working class at the head of the people’s protest. All the potential for such a party exists today in Thailand.”

Finally, from International Viewpoint, the online socialist magazine reporting in support of the Fourth International, a piece appeared on April 14th, 2010, entitled “Neither martial law, nor state of emergency, nor coup d’etat! Democracy and social justice.” This article is again in favour of the red shirt movement, labels the Abhisit regime as ‘illegitimate’ and calls for immediate dissolution of parliament:

“The Fourth International is in solidarity with the fight for social justice and democracy of the “Redshirts”. The repression of the demonstrators in Bangkok has not dented their determination. Abhisit, the person responsible for the blood bath, must resign and call legislative elections as soon as possible.

There must be an end to repression, the censure of the media and the denial of democratic freedoms. The rights to organise, freely associate, strike and demonstrate must be respected.”

Again, the PAD yellow shirt movement is labeled as royalist, in fact as ‘reactionary royalist forces,’ which is unfortunate not because the description is untrue but because it implies that other parts of society are not equally royalist in nature. The PAD leadership, by relentlessly describing themselves as the ‘defenders of the monarchy,’ show the power of the right to distort the truth by repeating lies – consider the same phenomenon among the Tea Party supporters in the USA, for example.

One problem that the left faces in analysing the situation in class terms is that most red shirt supporters actually want capitalism in Thailand (with democracy) since it is better than the feudalism which was restored after the 2006 coup. Many, after all, continue to hope for the return of Thaksin Shinawatra and his administration, which of course is entirely a representative of capitalism (albeit certainly pro-poor and redistributive in nature). Thaksin is, therefore, referred to as a ‘transitional figure’ in a process which will lead to some kind of revolution that will go much further than the return of democracy.

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JW

JW has been one of the first contributors to this blog before he gave up on it all in April 2010, during a time when Thai society got more and more polarized about political matters because of red-shirt protesters.

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