One of the reasons underlying the formation of the PAD and the willingness of so many supposed liberals, professionals and academics (both Thai and foreign) to applaud the 2006 military coup is the abandonment of the working class and working class culture. This is not unique to Thailand – indeed, it is a common phenomenon in Europe and many parts of the world. From the end of the Second World War until the 1960s and 1970s, the nature of society was much more appreciative of what are now considered left-wing ideas: solidarity with the poor, strong labour union movements, increasing social mobility and decreasing income inequality and so forth. In most countries, these ideas have become deeply unfashionable and unpopular – as typified by the Thatcher/Reagan/Kohl political revolution (although systemic change was much longer in appearance than these totemic figures). Since then, working class interests have been abandoned and working class culture denigrated by those who were once its friends.
Consider the role of NGOs in Thailand: many members, especially in management, of NGOs come from the bourgeois classes, often from urban areas. At first, the NGO people were in tune with the local communities with which they were working in partnership, learning from each other and so forth. Over the course of time, the NGO people began to feel that they were the source of knowledge and wisdom and the local people began to disappoint them because they were more interested in acquiring consumer goods and enjoying their lives rather than abiding by traditional methods of production which were quaint but inefficient. For example, Thai farmers embrace technology such as chemical fertilizers if it increased yield and hence income; the NGOs tended to deplore this for environmental reasons and, crucially, for moral reasons. The poor became blamed for failing to live up to the standards invented for them by the NGOs. The latter, then, started to blame the poor for being greedy, stupid, wicked and so forth and, from there, it is a short journey to joining the fascist organisation that tries to have the poor disenfranchised.
Well, it seems that reports of PM Samak Sundaravej’s political demise have been somewhat exaggerated. Breathless newspaper reports from the right wing press this morning (that’s, in fact, pretty much all of them) suggested Khun Samak was totally isolated and under extreme pressure and was sure to resign at the speech to be given to the media planned for this morning.
As it turned out, in what is described as a ‘rambling’ speech (I was teaching and did not hear it), Khun Samak surprised many (and delighted many more) by announcing that he was not throwing in the towel just yet. The Stock Exchange bounced on the news and faith was restored in human nature to some extent – it had been buttressed by further reports that the vast majority of the labour union movement had rejected the disgraceful, self-serving call by a tiny minority of union leadership for a strike in favour of the armed right-wing PAD thugs currently illegally occupying the government compound. Of course, it is difficult to know exactly how many supported the thugs because many of those involved would have taken a sick day off rather than officially gone on strike – laws against labour disputes are still shamefully fierce in Thailand and no national strike has ever been managed – this is a subject to which I may return subsequently.
The government is also proposing a referendum to sort out the political future – it will ask (there is some confusion about exactly how many questions will be asked and what they will be) whether or not the government should step down. Opinion polls fairly strongly suggest that the majority of Thais, even in Bangkok, prefer democracy to the authoritarian patronage system that the right wing PAD thugs are determined to bring about. Will it do any good? The PAD thugs have already made it clear that they do not accept the right of the poor to vote so why will they accept the referendum when it shows the majority of the people do not support them? Or is this a way for the government to return the onus on maintaining public order and the rule of law to the army – under the emergency decree, the army (which has been permitted to retain the bloated budget it awarded itself during the disastrous 2006-7 junta rule) should have taken action to disperse the armed right wing PAD thugs and arrested its leaders on outstanding arrest warrants for treason and other crimes against the state.
Armed right wing thugs continue to occupy the seat of government. One court issued arrest warrants against the leaders of the thugs for treason (they call themselves PAD and are an anti-democracy movement). The leaders, who were very vocal about their loyalty to the law, how other people escaped punishment etc, suddenly changed their tune and began skulking like the shameless cowards they are behind human shields – the ‘useful idiots’ who are happy to eat someone else’s food to be part of a protest.
The police moved in to disperse the illegal mob action and then the action becomes confused – well, perhaps it is just the inadequate Thai press who cannot or will not tell the real story. There were reports issued by the armed right wing thugs, brandishing expensive golf clubs, of ‘police brutality’ which seem underwhelming – but sufficient for another court (and we have seen what has happened in the courts recently) to rescind the arrest warrants and allow the mob to continue its illegal and dangerous occupation of the government.
Then there was the use of tear gas – the right wing thugs blamed the police for using tear gas and the police have strongly denied using it. There is talk of a ‘third hand’ which may or may not have used the gas. It is not clear. We can have a pretty good guess of what is going on but you would never know that from the rabidly anti-government press.
What is perhaps most depressing about the whole thing is the betrayal of democratic principles by people who should know better. It is not surprising that criminal mob leaders can shark up a group of armed thugs – such things could happen everywhere. It is not surprising that the disgraced quisling leader of the opposition should support the mob – we all know what kind of a person Abhisit Vejjajiva is and how totally unfit he would be for any kind of public office. It is not surprising that the group of junta cronies stuffed into the senate come out to support the mob – that is what the junta told them to do and why they receive their many allowances.
But when academics support armed thugs trying to bring down the government, that is a betrayal. And worst of all, when labour leaders order strikes to support right wing thugs, that is the most horrible betrayal of all. So many labour and union leaders have been murdered by the right wing thugs over the years, so many have been tortured and beaten, so many have lost their lives in wholly avoidable industrial ‘accidents’ covered up by the right wing mob that it beggars belief that today’s leaders would support the thugs. Few people come out of this well.